Royal Air Force Pays Tribute to the Fabled Great Escape

The Great Escape was something of a pyrrhic victory for the Allies, as numerous soldiers lost their lives in the attempt to escape from a German prison during World War II. It has been almost seventy years since then, and the citizens as well as the military of Zagan, Poland, decided to pay honorary tribute to the Great Escape that claimed the lives of several so many decades ago.

A tunnel was dug in the German prison, the StalagLuft III, through which seventy-six Allies crawled their way to potential freedom. All of the soldiers, save for three, were captured again. The majority of those caught were shot in execution. The tribute in Poland involved the placement of wreaths at the fabled tunnel of the Great Escape to honor the fallen prisoners.

For each of the prisoners lost in the Great Escape, there was a Royal Air Force member at the tribute holding a picture of one. There were also in attendance some of the few remaining StalagLuft survivors. Air Vice Marshal Stuart Atha spoke in honor of the prisoners, stating that although their plan may have failed, it was a testament to their rebellious spirit and willingness to continue the fight, even when all seemed lost. Although there may have been few survivors, the Great Escape of 1944 still touches many of those who know the story of bravery and fortitude.

Atha went on to state that the participants in the Great Escape may have actually aided the war effort in ways of which they were completely unaware at the time. Due to the seventy-three prisoners that had to be recaptured, a great deal of German resource was wasted on locating the refugee airmen, the BBC News reports.

The tribute involves more than air personnel simply standing on the graves. While the tribute starts in Zagan, it ends over 100 miles away in Poznan where the executed airmen of the Great Escape lie at rest. The march there will help further immortalize the efforts put forth by the imprisoned airmen seventy years ago. All three of the successful escapees have now passed away, with the only survivors being those who did not escape at all or those who were lucky not to be executed upon their return.

The Great Escape increased tensions between the Germans and the Allies at the camp, especially following the horrific executions of most of the escapees. Still, those who survive recall the event as something to be applauded, a fantastic effort on the part of the Royal Air Force to maintain their spirit of resilience when times were at their darkest.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE