The Escape Committee

The Escape Committee

Some of the finest escape artists in the Allied Air Forces arrived at Luft III. Squadron Leader (S/L) Roger J Bushell, CO of No 92 (Spitfire) Squadron had been shot down in May 1940, during the Battle of France. On a previous escape he had been hiding in Prague and was caught in the aftermath of the Heydrich assassination. The family hiding him were all executed by the Gestapo and Jack Zaphouk, his Czech co-escaper, was purged to Colditz Castle. Bushell developed a cold unyielding hatred for the enemy but failed, however, to distinguish between the Gestapo and the far better type represented by the Camp Kommandant.

Although the first SBO (Senior British Officer) was Group Captain Harry “Wings” Day (57 Sqdn, shot down 13-Oct-39, Blenheim I, L1138), he was succeeded by the arrival in June 1942 of a more senior officer, G/C Herbert M Massey, a rugged veteran WW1 pilot, and in October 1942 Wings Day was sent to Offizierlager (Oflag, or Officer Camp) XXIB. Bushell masterminded the Luft III Escape Organization, together with an executive committee of Flying Officer (F/O) Wally Floody (J5481), Peter ‘Hornblower’ Fanshawe RN and Flight Lieutenant (F/L) George Harsh (102 Sqdn, shot down 5/6-Oct-42, Halifax II W7824).

(Ranks Page)

Bushell collected the most skilled forgers, tailors, tunnel engineers and surveillance experts and announced his intention to put 250 men outside the wire. This would cause a tremendous problem and cause the enemy to divert men and resources to round up the escapers. His idea was not so much to return escapers to the UK but mainly to cause a giant internal problem for the German administration. He went about this task with a typical determinedness, despite having been officially warned that his next escape and recapture would result in him being shot.

Key Personnel

Tunnel engineering was in the expert hands of Floody, a Canadian Spitfire pilot and prewar mining engineer. The original ‘Tunnel King’, he masterminded the construction of all three tunnels, aided by F/Lt R. G. “Crump” Ker-Ramsey (Fighter Interception Unit, shot down on a night patrol 13/14-Sep-40, Blenheim IVF Z5721), Henry “Johnny” Marshall, Fanshawe, and a host of others. The dapper Rhodesian Johnny Travis and his team of manufacturers made escape kit such as compasses from fragments of broken Bakelite gramophone records, melted and shaped and incorporating a tiny needle made from slivers of magnetised razor blades. Stamped on the underside was ‘Made in Stalag Luft 3 – Patent Pending’.

F/L Des Plunkett (218 Sqdn, shot down 20/21-6-42, Stirling I, W7530 HA:Q) and his team assumed responsibility for map making. Real ID papers and passes were obtained by bribery or theft from the guards and copied by F/L ‘Tim’ Walenn and his forgers. These two departments were known as “Dean and Dawson” after a well-known firm of travel agents. Service uniforms were carefully recut by Tommy Guest and his men, who also produced workmens’ clothes and other ‘civilian’ attire. These were often hidden in spaces created by ace carpenter Pilot Officer (P/O) “Digger” Macintosh (12 Sqdn, shot down 12-May-40, Battle I, L5439 PH:N).

A surprising number of guards proved co-operative in supplying railway timetables, maps, and the bewildering number of official papers required for escapers. One tiny mistake in forgery, or one missing document would immediately betray the holder, a problem complicated by the fact that the official stamps and appearance of the various papers were changed regularly by the Germans. It was necessary to obtain details of the lie of the land directly outside the camp, and especially ascertain the location of the nearest railway station. Bribery by cigarettes or chocolate usually worked. In one case, a less than intelligent guard provided key information for which he was paid in chocolate. The prisoner asked him to sign a receipt, explaining that it was necessary to account for the chocolate. The guard obliged, and was soon blackmailed into bringing in a camera and film, Bushell being quite ruthless in exploiting such opportunities.

Forged papers included Dienstausweise (permission to be on Wehrmacht property), Urlaubscheine (military leave pass), Ruckkehrscheine (for foreign workers returning home), Kennkarte (general identity card), Sichtvermark (visa), Ausweise and Vorlaufweise (pass and temporary pass). Many of these required weeks of work to reproduce.

No More Articles

Subscribe to Newsletter