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The War behind the Wire: The Battle to Escape from a German Prison Camp Author(s): Jonathan F.

Vance Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Oct., 1993), pp. 675-693 Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/260860 . Accessed: 31/12/2012 03:25
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Jonathan F.Vance

TheWarBehindthe Wire: TheBattleto Escapefroma GermanPrison Camp

It is a well-worn cliche that newly-captured prisoners of war have usually been greeted by their captors with the phrase, 'For you the war is over'. It was the captors' fervent hope that the prisoner would play no further role in the larger conflict and would settle down in a prison camp to await the outcome of events. Though one phase of a serviceman's war certainly did end with capture, for some POWs capture merely meant that a new phase of the war had begun. The objective was no longer a piece of ground or some portion of the enemy's forces; the objective of this phase was to escape from captivity. One of the most active prison camps in escape terms was Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan in Silesia, which was the site of two of the most famous breakouts of the war, the Wooden Horse escape of October 1943 and the Great Escape of March 1944, as well as a host of lesserknown but no less ingenious efforts. Dozens of different tactics were used in the battle to escape from Luft 3, but the success of each depended on the prisoners' securing the best possible conditions and procuring the equipment that was needed to break out of the camp and travel across Europe. In the effort to achieve these goals, the camp itself became a battleground and almost every aspect of life was hotly contested by prisoners who wanted to get out of the camp, and captors who wanted to keep them inside it. The prisoners had no compunction about using every means at their disposal, fair or foul, and were also confronted with the realization that, as in the larger conflict they had recently left, the escaping war occasionally took its toll of innocent victims. The impulse to escape has many different roots. At the deepest level, it is the natural urge of an individual in captivity to attempt to
Journal of ContemporaryHistory (SAGE, London, Newbury Park and New Delhi), Vol. 28 (1993), 675-693.

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regain freedom. Beyond this, each escaper most likely had a different combination of motives.' Some chafed at the boredom of captivity and turned to escape out of a thirst for adventure;others saw in it the prospect of a quick return to loved ones. For many who assisted with escape schemes but never left the camp, the belief that they were doing valuable work did much to counteract feelings of uselessness and the resultant lowering of morale that so often went along with capture. Other prisoners were doubtless attracted by the fact that escaping seemed to be such an irritant to their captors, while many believed that escaping was the only way they could continue to contribute to the war effort. Underlying all of these motives was the fact that many POWs considered it their duty to attempt to escape.2 It is easy to see why so much emphasis was placed on escape. In the first place, a successful escaper could be a valuable source of intelligence, gleaned either while he was in camp or during the course of his escape.Aside from detailsabout bomb damageand new industrial installations, even general information about conditions in the enemy country was immensely useful.3Just as important as intelligence was the diversion of resources created by escape activity and, in this respect, an escape did not need to be successful to contribute to the war effort. As first world war escaper E.H. Keeling wrote in a letter to The Times, 'Those who break out of camp render the greatest service, for while they are at large thousands of Germans are searching for them and every escape causes an increase in the number of guards.'4 Escaper Aidan Crawley calculated that, on average, every four Allied airmen in prison camp occupied the services of one guard, a very uneconomical use of manpower from the Allied point of view. When a prisoner escaped, though, an inordinate number of the enemy had to be devoted to the search operation. One source estimated that 3000 troops were mobilized to track down the eighteen prisoners who escaped from Dulag Luft near Frankfurt in June 1941; none of the airmen reached neutral territory, but each of them temporarily occupied the services of over 160 Germans. Another prisoner claimed that the escape of a single airman in 1942 resulted in changes to the security system in all POW camps which required the posting of 12,000 extra guards.5By late 1943, it was stated that roughly 400,000 German soldiers were directly involved in POW supervision, while many more might be mobilized to deal with mass escapes. After the Great Escape of March 1944, SS Reichsfiihrer Heinrich Himmler complained that he would have to allot 60,000 to 70,000 auxiliary troops to recapture the seventy-six airmen who were on the loose.6

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Because of the perceived value of escaping, attempts were made by POWs of every rank and service, but for various reasons airmen were overrepresentedamong escapers.7The first Allied airmen to fall into German hands were captured early in September 1939, and by the summer of 1940 the RAF community in captivity had begun to make itself a thorn in the side of its captors. Carefully planned escapes began as soon as the airmen reached their first permanent camp, at Barth on the Baltic coast, and continued in every camp in which they were incarcerated.By the spring of 1942, the number of Allied airmen in German hands had increased to such an extent that the Germans decided to build a large new facility to hold the aviators, and Stalag Luft 3 was constructed in a pine forest just south of the town of Sagan, roughly halfway between Berlin and Breslau. In its original form, it consisted of two separate compounds, one for officers (later known as East Compound) and one for NCOs (later known as Centre Compound). Adjacent was the German staff compound, known as the Kommandantur, each compound also had a Vorlager,housing and the punishment cells and administrative buildings. Later, further compounds were added to handle the growing number of airmen captured. The first of the new compounds, designated North, opened in the spring of 1943; South and West compounds, for American prisoners, were completed later. Though each compound had a different number of huts, they were similar in appearance. In constructing Luft 3, the Luftwaffe used all of the escapeprevention techniques learned in the first years of the war. The plain wooden huts were erected on stilts so that guards could crawl underneath and search for tunnel traps or fresh sand; trap doors were also cut in the ceilings to allow easy access during searches for tunnel sand or escape contraband. The huts were placed at least 40 yards from the wire, so that, should anyone manage to start a tunnel undetected, the distance to dig was considerably longer than had been attempted in the past. Furthermore, sensitive microphones were buried at 30 yard intervals around the perimeter wire; designed to detect sounds of tunnelling, they were connected to a central listening post in the Kommandantur. The wire itself presented special problems for anyone who planned to go over. It consisted of two 10-foot high fences with thick rolls of concertina wire filling the gap between them. To dissuade prisoners who contemplated climbing the wire, the top of the fences sloped in towards the compound, and the entire perimeter was brightly lit to discourage night attempts. A single wire, 18 inches off the ground,

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known as the warning wire, was placed 10 yards inside the inner fence; any prisoner who crossed it was liable to receive a warning shot over his head. Guarding the wire were 15-foot high watch-towers, sited every hundred yards along the fence and manned by guards equipped with searchlights and machine-guns. Under the towers, armed sentries walked the perimeter and, occasionally, a soldier with a pack of dogs patrolled the compounds after dark. From a physical point of view, then, the battlefield at Sagan was more formidable than anything the airmen had encountered so far. Like most prison camps in Germany, Luft 3 was inspected regularly by representatives of the Protecting Power and various humanitarian organizations to ensure that the Geneva Convention which protected POWs was being observed. The neutral delegates were empowered to hear complaints from the prisoners, and take them up with the camp staff if they considered that the protests had merit.8When Luft 3 was first inspected on 14 May 1942, the facilities had not yet been completed; consequently the airmen who had arrived from camps across Germany were greeted with unfinished buildings, a dearth of fixtures and other similar problems which are associated with any new facility. However, the Commandant, Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, reacted sympathetically to the prisoners' requests for improvements and displayed a spirit of co-operation that drew praise from the Protecting Power delegates:
The general impression is doubtless a good one, specially from the point of view of the treatment of the prisoners; the camp commander shows great understanding and treats the prisoners in a sporting way; he is certainly prepared to do his best to improve the camp's conditions.9

The inspectors felt that, once the facilities were completed, conditions in Luft 3 would be admirable. Some prisoners, however, were more concerned with the prospects of getting out of the camp than the arrangements made for them should they remain inside. It seemed self-evident that the easiest way out of a prison camp was through the main gate, and it was here that the first battle to secure the optimum conditions for escape was fought. The main gate could be breached in two different ways. The first involved hiding in a vehicle which was leaving the compound and hoping to avoid detection at the gate. In a camp the size of Luft 3, vehicles of various descriptions came and went frequently, and

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prisoners secreted themselves in rubbishwagons, ash carts, lorries full of wooden crates, sacks of paper, tree branches or stones, and occasionally even wedged themselves into the chassis of lorries.'0 Despite the number of opportunities for escape which presented themselves in this fashion, it was an uncertain method; prisoners could not control the movement of vehicles, and consequently could not alter the conditions of escape in their favour. An opportunist could take advantage of any vehicle that entered the compound, but he would have only a few minutes to plan his escape and collect the necessary equipment. On the other hand, it was possible to study the movements of vehicles and plan a break in advance, but schedules and routes changed frequently and could not be counted upon. In an experience that was not unique, two prisoners who had spent days studying the movement of the cart which dumped ashes outside the wire noticed with dismay on the day of their planned escape that the refuse was now being dumped inside the wire." The other obvious way to go through the main gate was in disguise, a method that offered more scope for escapers who believed the conditions could be altered to improve the chance of success. Indeed, one of the first escapes from Stalag Luft 3 was made by three airmen who disguised themselves as Germans and tried to walk out the main gate.'2The trio was found out but similar attempts continued through the summer, both from East and Centre Compounds, and a number of escapers reached temporary freedom. The boldest attempt of this sort, though, came shortly after the officers moved to North Compound. It was common knowledge that the Germans feared epidemics in their Commonwealth prison camps and moved quickly to eradicate any pests which might carry disease. With this in mind, X Organization, as the escape committee was known, decided to create the ideal opportunity for escape. Realizing that the Germans would send parties of prisoners to the nearby delousing station in the event of a pest infestation, the escape leaders intended to raise a 'lice alarm' and plan a mass escape around these escorted parties. Most of the groups of POWs would be genuine, but in the middle of the delousing operation, X Organization would insert a party escorted by two German-speaking prisoners disguised as guards. They would be followed after a short delay by a number of senior officers, also escorted by a disguised prisoner, who were ostensibly on their way to meet with the Commandant. Once out of sight of the camp, the groups would split up and the escapers would flee the area singly or in small groups.

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The plan was executed in early June 1943 and went off almost without incident; though the senior officers were discovered, the first group was waved past by the guards and the twenty-six escapers scattered into the woods. All were eventually recaptured, but the camp staff were outraged by this brash escape and were even more angered when one of the prisoners was caught near the Swiss frontier and two others were picked up on a nearby airfield, where they were about to climb into a training aircraft they had managed to start.'3 The use of POWs disguised as guards in this attempt was particularly galling to the staff, who went to great pains to discover the identities of the airmen who had posed as escorts for the first group.'4 Despite intense questioning, they were unable to determine the identities of the 'guards', so they vented their rage on the two airmen who had donned the German uniforms after the party left the camp: These two men, Flight Lieutenants W. Morison and P.D.L. Welch, were the only escapers singled out for special punishment as a result of this attempt. Both were transferredto the fortress prison camp, Oflag IVC in Colditz Castle, to which another prisoner who had escaped in German uniform the previous year had already been consigned. The message being sent to prospective escapers was clear: the wearing of false German uniforms in escape bids was unacceptable and would be harshly punished. Luft 3 was inspected twice by neutral parties in July 1943, and both reports reveal how seriously the captors reacted to the delousing party escape. During his visit of 6-7 July, Protecting Power representative Gabriel Naville noted that 'surveillance in this camp has been severely reinforced', while the Red Cross delegate reported the advent of 'severe discipline as a result of the attempted escape'.'5 Among the measures taken were the prohibition of communal sporting events and meetings between the leaders of the various compounds, the shuttering of the barrack huts at night, and the cancellation of bathing parties to the shower block in the Vorlager. Such punishments, though, were clearly not as effective as trying to prevent escapes in the first place and, to make conditions less favourable for escaping in disguise, the Commandant ordered that each prisoner be allowed to retain only one uniform. Von Lindeiner pointed out that the order was necessitated by the fact that spare uniforms were too often altered into clothing which could be used during an escape. 6 This order, though, was not sufficientto dissuade the prisoners and when another escape in German uniform came on 14 July 1943,'7the

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Commandant was moved to further stringency:prisoners escaping in German uniform, or even in civilian clothes, were now liable to court martial, a move that was considered by the Swiss to be in contravention of the Geneva Convention.'8 However, neither the prospect of more severe punishment nor the restrictions on clothing deterredescapers. In the late summer of 1943, Norwegian Lieutenant Per Bergsland escaped in a German uniform he had made from dyed handkerchiefs. Upon recapture, Bergsland was placed in solitary confinement and kept on a severely reduced diet for some weeks; though threatened with court martial, he was never tried and was returned to Sagan later in the year.'9The following year, during the Great Escape of March 1944, sufficient clothing was made from scratch or from altered uniforms to outfit 200 escapers, including Flying Officer Pawel Tobolski, who escaped in the uniform of a Luftwaffe corporal.20 The apparent ease with which the prisoners evaded German clothing regulations must have frustrated the camp staff, and they reacted by invoking further restrictions. For example, parts of Fleet Air Arm uniforms which arrived in private parcels were to be confiscated because the trousers and double-breasted jackets concerned were too easily converted to civilian dress. The order was objected to on two occasions, but was never rescinded.2' Nevertheless, victory in this minor battle went to the prisoners. What began as a struggle for the main gate had developed into a battle over clothing supplies in general, and there is no indication that the escape organization was either seriously concerned or inconvenienced by German attempts to restrict the availability of clothing. The only hardships were suffered by those prisoners whose clothing was confiscated, a fact that was especially unfortunate for those POWs who were never involved in any escape attempts. While the struggle over the main gate was revolving around the safety with which the prisoners could don altered uniforms, another struggle was under way at the wire. Though apparently an impregnable barrier,the wire was vulnerable both to climbers and to anyone with a pair of homemade wire-cutters. The great disadvantage, though, was the warning wire which made it dangerous for prisoners to approach to within 10 yards of the main fence. In order to achieve optimum conditions for assaults on the wire, the prisoners had to secure safe access to as much of the compound as possible, particularlythe area nearest the fence. However, because of a number

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of early tunnel attempts, the POWs faced tougher resistance at the wire than they had encountered at the gate. The airmen had started a handful of tunnels during their first months at Sagan, but the distance from the huts to the wire made tunnelling a difficult proposition. To solve this problem, Flight Lieutenants J.W. Best, L.J.E. Goldfinch and H.W. Lamond formulated a plan that was a textbook example of escapers altering conditions in the camp to suit their needs. Best, Goldfinch and Lamond began with the assumption that their tunnel was best launched from the middle of the compound; in this way, the distance to the outside world was reduced by about half. In sinking a shaft from the middle of the compound, though, they were faced with a dilemma: either the excavation had to be camouflaged in some way, or the prisoners needed a plausible excuse to dig in the middle of the compound. The three settled on the second option.22 To begin with, they created a blockage in the camp latrines and used the resultant flood as an excuse to persuade the camp staff to allow them to dig a run-off ditch for drainage. They even persuaded the Germans to provide the tools for the work. The first days of the operation were spent convincing nearby guards that their excavation was legitimate and, after the sentries had lost interest in the work, an entry shaft was sunk from the bottom of the drainage ditch. Obviously, it was impossible to remove any quantity of sand from the tunnel and hide it, so the three decided to dig part of the tunnel, seal themselves in, and burrow towards the wire. Each man would push the sand back to the last man, who would pack it tightly behind himself; consequently, the tunnel was known as a mole. The operation went off without a hitch and at the beginning of July 1942, the three airmen made their break, only to be recaptured four days later in possession of a boat they had stolen.23 Best, Goldfinch and Lamond were deservedly congratulated by all in the camp, including the Germans, who moved quickly to discourage further shallow mole tunnels by digging a deep trenchjust inside the warning wire. The escape organization, however, soon realized that this merely improved conditions in escapers' favour, for short tunnels could now be started from the bottom of the trench, which could be reached under cover of darkness. In the weeks following the original mole escape, two imitations were attempted, In though neither succeeded.24 fact, the second group became trapped in the tunnel and had to dig straight up to free themselves, emerging

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between the two fences. In the wake of this attempt, von Lindeiner moved to regain control of the area nearest the main fences and ordered that any POW who crossed the warning wire would be shot on sight. However, shortly afterwards, Canadian Flight Lieutenant Ken Toft and American Flying Officer William Nichols discovered that, because of the thickness of the wire and the placement of the guard towers, there was a blind spot directly between the towers. The matter was raisedwith X Organization and a prisonerworking in an adjacent compound confirmed that a prisoner could indeed cut through the fence at one point and be invisible to both towers. The most dangerous part of the plan was reaching the fence in the first place, since a POW crossing the warning wire was plainly visible to either guard tower and could be shot on sight. Clearly, conditions for this escape needed to be improved and, in a dangerous precedent, the neutral inspectors were brought into the scheme as unwitting accomplices. Though the Senior British Officer (SBO), Wing Commander H.M.A. Day, never explicitly admitted using the neutral visits for escape purposes, the circumstantial evidence is convincing: during the inspection on 13 August 1942, Day made a formal complaint to the Swiss delegates that the Commandant's order was a hazard to innocent prisoners participating in sporting activities. He requested that the command be changed so that shots would not be fired until the prisoner approached the first fence; at that point, if Toft and Nichols had been unnoticed, they would be out of danger. Von Lindeiner, however, was unwilling to be flexible where security was involved and maintained that, since the order was well known, it posed no danger to innocent prisoners. Furthermore, he pointed out that the warning wire had already been moved closer to the inner fence, to a distance of 5 yards. After considering these facts, delegate Gabriel Naville decided that the order was reasonable and that the matter should not be pursued.25 Disappointed but undaunted, X Organization developed an alternate plan; while Toft and Nichols were crossing the danger zone, two prisoners would stage a boxing match to divert the guards' attention while individual prisoners kept the patrolling guards engaged in conversation. When the scheme was carried out in September, the diversionsworked perfectlyand the two escapersgot safely throughthe wire,only to be recaptureda few days laterin Frankfurt-an-der-Oder.26 Despite von Lindeiner's order that prisoners near the wire would be fired upon, the escape of Toft and Nichols proved to many POWs

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that attempts to cut the fences could still be made with an acceptable degree of risk. Accordingly, such attempts continued through the winter of 1942-43. Shortly after the escape of Toft and Nichols, Flight Lieutenant N.E. Canton and WarrantOfficerA.H. Johnson cut through the wire to temporary freedom and, later in the autumn, five In other officers followed them in three separate attempts.27 the same there were four similar attempts in Centre Compound. period, Though only Canton and Johnson succeeded in getting outside the camp, the level of tension in Luft 3 slowly began to rise, a situation which was not remedied when von Lindeiner's order regarding the warning wire claimed its first victim. On 27 February 1943, a sentry in Centre Compound fired at two prisoners crawling towards the wire and one, Flight Sergeant A.E. Joyce, was wounded. Though the Swiss inspector reported that the guard had been warranted in firing, the incident had serious repercussions. For the first time, after nearly a year of glowing reports of the admirable relations between the prisoners and the camp staff, the inspector was forced to report that relations between Air Commodore H.M. Massey, the new SBO, and von Lindeiner 'are sometimes rather tense'.28 They would soon deteriorate further. Flight Sergeant Joyce lay in the camp hospital for several months and on 12 June 1943 succumbed to his wounds. He was the first airman to die as a result of an escape attempt at Stalag Luft 3. Shortly before Joyce's death, many of the officers from East Compound had been transferredto the new North Compound and it was not long before the battle for access to the wire was joined in the new compound. The first move was made by the Commandant, who issued a new order that any prisoner seen outside the barracks after dark would be shot. With the increase in tension caused by the June mass escape, this decree could result in further loss of life. Indeed, on 1 July 1943, Lieutenant J.B. Kiddell of the Fleet Air Arm, who was known to the camp authorities as mentally disturbed, escaped from detention in the hospital and attempted to climb the wire in full view of the sentries. He was shot and killed, the guards later maintaining that they did not recognize the prisoner. In spite of a protest by Naville and the SBO, von Lindeiner defended his order, admitting that it was hard but maintaining its fairness. Clearly, the climate in the camp was changing, as the ICRC delegate's assessment of conditions in the camp reveals: 'The relations between the Camp Leaders, their assistants and the German authorities, are, however, not as smooth as they were before the recent occurrences.' Naville

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was more direct, pointing out that the worsening relations were due to 'the constant and very clever attempts to escape'.29 In the meantime, obviously because of the continued problems with escape attempts, von Lindeiner reissued his order that guards could fire into the compound if prisoners were seen outside the huts at night or during an air raid. The danger of such an order in the case of Kiddell was obvious enough but on 29 December 1943 American Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Stevenson, who was innocently playing cards inside his hut, was severely wounded by bullets fired at a prisoner walking in the compound. A few months later, on 9 April 1944, another American, Corporal C.C. Miles, was shot and killed while standing in the doorway of his hut during an air raid.30Like Kiddell, Stevenson and Miles were innocent victims of the escaping war. Unlike the battle at the main gate, the results of the battle at the wire were less favourable for the prisoners. While the struggle over escape clothing could be carried on with little more than inconvenience to innocent POWs, the campaign to improve conditions for escape through the wire brought with it the real possibility of injury for anyone inside the camp. Furthermore, successful escapes through the wire were much less frequent than at the gate; cutting the wire was in all respects a less cost-effective method of escape. All things considered, then, victory at the wire went to the camp staff. The disputes over clothing and the open space near the wire both related to improving the conditions of escape, but the search for the material requiredfor escape bids was just as important. Because only a limited amount of equipment could be spirited into the camp from outside,3' it stood to reason that most escape essentials had to come from within the camp; in a very real sense, material to assist in escaping from captivity had to be provided by the captors themselves. When escape activity in the camp was confined to small-scale attempts, the stripping of the camp's fixtures for escape purposes rarely became a serious problem, because so little material was needed that missing fixtures often went undetected. However, the search for escape material became a major bone of contention after the prisoners moved to North Compound. Before the transfer,X Organization had decided that the most effective use of resourceswas to concentrate on large escape schemes and to reduce as much as possible the effort that went into individual attempts.32 According to this plan, work began almost immediately on three large tunnels, code-named Tom, Dick and Harry. From the outset,

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the construction of the tunnels required a substantial amount of material;vast quantities of wood to frame and shore the tunnel and to build the fittings, like shaft ladders and the rails and trollies which transported workers to and from the tunnel face; rope to pull the trollies; electric cable and bulbs for lighting; tin cans for air pipes to ventilate the tunnel; shovels and scoops for digging; cloth bags to transport the sand that was removed; and tools to assemble all of the component parts. In addition to this were the materials required to supply the 200 escapers who were intended to leave through the tunnel: sufficient material for civilian clothes; equipment to make compasses, forged papers and maps; food which was compact yet nutritionally complete; and water bottles. Responsibility for securing these items fell to the procurement branch of X Organization, whose efforts are clearly visible in the camp inspection reports. The report of 26 July 1943 mentions that 'a considerable amount of interior installations and material is lacking' and reveals that the subject was raised with the camp officials. Von Lindeiner, however, quickly dismissed the protest, pointing out that 'the material required by the Camp amounts to five times the amount which would be used for German troops using the same accommodation'.33According to statistics regarding the three tunnels, the Commandant's point was well taken. Aside from the bed boards, the tunnels also consumed 1000 feet of electrical wiring, 1370 feet of beading battens and 660 feet of rope. Other miscellaneous items which went missing during the construction of the tunnels were summarized in September 1944: 1699 blankets 192 bed covers 161 pillow cases 165 sheets 3424 towels 655 palliasses 1212 bolsters 34 single chairs 10 single tables 52 tables for two men 76 benches 90 double tier bunks 246 water cans 1219 knives

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Vance: The War Behind the Wire 582 forks 478 spoons 69 lamps 30 shovels34

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Such losses led to the prisoners being presented with bills to cover the costs of broken or missing fixtures, but fortunately the prisoners and camp staff were able to reach an agreement and the matter never became the subject of an official Allied protest. This was just as well, because both Britain and Canada routinely held back a portion of enemy POWs' assets to pay for collective damages.35 In January 1944, having lost tunnel Tom to the Germans the previous September, X Organization decided to concentrate all resources on Harry, to complete it for use as soon as the weather improved. Accordingly, another concerted effort was made to strip the camp of anything needed for the tunnel. Faced with a shortage of lightbulbs, the escape leaders again decided that boldness might pay off and lodged an official protest through the Swiss delegate which claimed that 'only a small proportion of the worn-out or broken bulbs are replaced by the Camp Authorities so that in many rooms not all the lamps can be lighted'. Von Lindeiner's response was curt: no further fixtures were available and the prisoners must be more careful with the stocks on hand. As he did on every occasion when similar protests were made, the Commandant pointed out that the camp had already been supplied with much more material than a German army camp of a similar size would use. The delegate took up the case, despite the fact that he had few illusions as to the reasons for the shortages:
There seems to be some truth in this statement that in this camp prisoners are rather careless in the handling of material (besides a great amount of bulbs and other material is undoubtedly broken when being used for digging tunnels).36

It was also clear to Allied officials who monitored the neutral reports that protests of this sort would have to take into account the use to which camp supplies were put by the prisoners. After the Great Escape and its aftermathbecame public, a Canadian officialofferedhis advice on the advisability of pressing the protest over shortages of electric lightbulbs:

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In the somewhat more powerful light of later events, it becomes clear that the prisoners have used these in the famous tunnel, and I daresay you will agree that the less said about it for the moment the better.37

Tunnel Harry broke on the night of 24-25 March 1944 and, in doing so, drastically changed the parameters of the escape war, not only in Luft 3 but across the German POW camp system. The escape of seventy-six airmen was a profound shock to German authorities, a fact that is obvious by the decision to execute fifty of the recaptured escapers as a deterrent to future attempts. Within Luft 3 itself, the prisoners realized that conditions for escape had worsened appreciably, not simply because of the new climate outside the camp but because of the new regime in the camp, which was determined to close off every possible avenue for escape activity. Access to anything which could even remotely be connected with escape was severely restricted, with the result that more innocent prisoners began to suffer. In East Compound, the site of the Wooden Horse escape, dozens of officers had to sleep on the floor because twenty-five double beds had disappeared. The Commandant maintained that the beds had been cut up for use in the construction of tunnels and refused to make replacements available.38In Belaria, one of Sagan's auxiliary compounds, the camp theatre was closed after a secret chamber containing escape tools was discovered beneath the stairs leading to the stage. Aware of the necessity for food on an escape, the camp authorities refused to issue an allotment of tin billy-cans which had been sent by the Canadian Red Cross, on the grounds that they constituted a 'food-storing container par excellence for escape'. To discourage further the stockpiling of food for future escapes, the camp staff also decreed that all food delivered to prisoners had to be consumed immediately or returned to the authorities.39 These restrictions were troublesome enough, but the aftermath of the Great Escape also proved yet again that the continued preoccupation with escape activity could have unforeseen lifethreatening consequences. During the February 1944 inspection, the prisoners of North Compound requested a supply of wood to build air raid shelters but the request was refused because it was claimed that the materials would be used for the construction of escape tunnels. After the March escape, there was not the slightest chance that the camp staff would even entertain the request; whenever it was brought up by the inspectors, it was immediately dismissed. The prisoners even offered to dig the trenches themselves but the camp

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staff refused, stating that the tools provided might be used for digging tunnels, as they had been during the mole escape. In this case, ulterior motives had been ascribed to an innocent request. By mid-1944, the danger posed by air raids was becoming acute and, over the next few months, hundreds of POWs would be killed by Allied bombs in With this in mind, it is unthinkable that the camps across Europe.40 SBO would have allowed materials provided in good faith for the protection of the prisoners to be diverted to other uses. Nevertheless, the damage had been done; because of the past efforts of X Organization, the camp staff had become suspicious of virtually every request emanating from the prisoners.41 The debate over the provision of air raid shelters provides a useful perspective from which to assess Sagan's escaping war. In the course of the struggle to secure the optimum conditions and the necessary equipment for escape, decisions were made by the camp leaders which were bound to have an impact upon the entire community. In some cases, the consequences involved material inconvenience: prisoners, even those who were not involved in escape work, had to go without extra clothing, lightbulbs or other amenities when such things were withheld as punishment. At other times, the consequences could be more serious. The refusal to allow the construction of air raid shelters on the grounds that the supplies might be used for escape certainly put innocent prisoners at risk, while the changing regulations covering movement in the compound eventually cost the lives of prisoners who were in no way involved in escape work at the time of their deaths. It remains to consider how the airmen in Stalag Luft 3 reacted to the fact that the smooth operation of the camp and the once-amicable prisoner-captor relations gradually deteriorated because of escape activity. In the first place, it must be said that there was wide support in Sagan for escape work. In most camps, only a minority of prisoners were involved in escape activity but in Luft 3's North Compound, roughly two-thirds of the prisoners worked in various capacities as members of X Organization.42 Furthermore,all of Sagan's SBOs were fully committed to the importance of escape and lent their complete support to any scheme that had the backing of X Organization.43 Consequently, while there was no pressure on individual prisoners to become actively involved in escape work, it must also have been fairly clear to those who contemplated complaining about the power of the escape organization that they were unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing. This is even more true today. Because the exploits of escapers

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have been lionized in the decades since the war, there are few former inmates of Stalag Luft 3 who will admit any resentment over the influence of Sagan's escape lobby.44 By the same token, it was not difficultto portray escaping in the best possible light to those prisoners who had no strong feelings one way or the other towards it. Because collective punishment for individual acts was expressly prohibited under Article 46 of the Geneva Convention, the POWs' leaders were able to place the blame for any punitive revocation of privileges squarely on German unreasonableness or overreaction. The shootings in the compound were considered in the same light, if not by the neutral inspectors, at least by the prisoners themselves: none of the post-war memoirs of former POWs makes any direct connection between the shootings and escape work.45In the minds of ex-prisoners, Kiddell, Stevenson and Miles were shot by vicious and trigger-happy guards, not by guards who were made more liable to open fire because of the continued activity of X Organization. However, this is not to suggest that the camp leaders acted irresponsibly in putting the whole camp at risk for the benefit of escapers. Though the impact of escaping on the war as a whole remains to be examined, there is no doubt that Sagan's senior prisoners honestly believed that escaping was of sufficient value that casualties had to be sustained. That losses were acceptable was even more apparent when it was recalled that all of the prisoners had friends and squadron mates who continued to risk their lives in air operations over Europe. By the same token, as one former prisoner pointed out, escaping from Luft 3 was carried out by air crew who were accustomed to high casualty rates.46 had an inmate of Sagan So, ever protested about the diversion of resources to escape purposes or the fact that innocent lives had been put at risk because of X Organization's activity, he would likely have been answered with another clich6: 'Don't you know there's a war on?'

Notes
The author extends sincere thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for financial assistance which made this article possible. 1. Many former escapers have written of their own personal motivation. See, for example, Eric Williams, The Escapers (London 1973), 22.

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2. For post-war examinations of this aspect, see George S. Prugh, 'Prisoners at War: The POW Battleground', Dickinson Law Review, 60 (October 1955-June 1956), 125, and Michael Walzer, 'Prisoners of War: Does the Fight Continue After the Battle?', American Political Science Review, 63, 3 (September 1969), 783-5. 3. For detailed discussions of intelligence gathering, see M.R.D. Foot and J.M. Langley, M.I.9.:Escape and Evasion, 1939-1945 (London 1980), chap. 7 and Arthur A. Durand, 'Stalag Luft III: An American Experience in a World War II German Prisoner of War Camp' (PhD diss., Louisiana State University 1976), 371-92. 4. E.H. Keeling to The Times (London), 22 May 1944, 5. 5. Aidan Crawley, Escapefrom Germany(London 1985), 6. Crawley's study was commissioned after the war by the Air Historical Branch of the RAF, and was not published in its entirety until 1985; Sydney Smith, Wings Day (London 1968), 71; Kingsley Brown, 'Barbed Wire Memories', Dalhousie Review, 28 (1948-49), 319. 6. Document D-730, statement by General Grosch, Office of the US Chief Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Nazi Conspiracyand Aggression (Washington 1946), 7: 180;Statement by General Westhoff, International Military Tribunal, Trialof the Major War Criminals(Nuremberg 1947), 11: 159. 7. Various explanations for this fact have been given. See, for example, Foot and Langley, op. cit., 102, Albert Biderman, March to Calumny(New York 1963), 86. It should be stressed that escapers were almost always in the minority in German prison camps. 8. For a detailed discussion of these visits, see my article 'The Politics of Camp Life: The Bargaining Process in Two German Prison Camps', War & Society, 10, 1 (May 1992), 109-26. 9. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 13 August 1942, National Archives of Canada (hereafter NAC) RG24 C2f, vol. 8024, file 21-1. 10. Escapes of this type are described in numerous accounts. See for example, the reports by SL Reavell-Carter, Public Record Office (hereafter PRO): WO 208/3335 #1840 and FL Ellis, PRO: WO 208/3334 #1673; Crawley, op. cit., 186; Calton Younger, No fight From the Cage (London 1956), 26. 11. Correspondence with D.L. Plunkett, Harare, 18 August 1988. 12. Smith, op. cit., 100; Paul Brickhill and Conrad Norton, Escape to Danger (London 1946), 106. 13. 'History of Stalag Luft 3, North Compound', PRO: WO 208/3283; correspondence with R.D. Mellor, Durban North, 9 May 1986; interview with C.D. Noble, Collingwood, Ontario, 28 June 1986; reports of FL McIntosh, PRO: WO 208/ 3331 #695, and FL Lukuciewski, PRO: 208/3333 #1228. 14. Correspondence with Roger De Wever, Lowestoft, 25 May 1986. 15. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 6-7 July 1943;undated telegram [August 1943], International Committee of the Red Cross (hereafter ICRC), Geneva to ICRC Delegate Maag, Montreal, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 16. Reports of the Protecting Power visits of 6-7 July 1943 and 22-24 February 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 17. 'History of Stalag Luft 3, North Compound', PRO: WO 208/3283; George Harsh, Lonesome Road (London 1972), 184. 18. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 25-26 October 1943, NAC: RG25, vol. 2832, file 1426-B-40 pt 6. 19. Correspondence with Per Bergsland, Oslo, 16 January 1979.

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20. H.M.A. Day to Mrs J. Tobolski, 14 July 1945, P. Tobolski Collection, Banff, Alberta. 21. Reports of the Protecting Power visits of 17-18 April 1944 and 17 July 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 22. The first option, which was later used in the Wooden Horse escape, was not deemed feasible at the time. Even when this method was first suggested in 1943, one of the workers recalls that escape experts considered it to be a 'crack-brained scheme'. Correspondence with L.R. Sidwell, Poynton, Cheshire, 13 December 1983. 23. J.W. Best, 'The Mole Escape, Sagan, 30th June 1942', unpublished manuscript (photostat), J.W. Best Collection, Leominster; correspondence with H.W. Lamond, Newark, 31 December 1978;interviews with J.W. Best, Leominster, 4 December 1987, and H.W. Lamond, St Ives, 19 January 1988. 24. Interview with C.D. Noble, Collingwood, Ontario, 28 June 1986; T.D. Calnan, Free as a RunningFox (New York 1970), 158. 25. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 13 August 1942, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/ 21-1. 26. Smith, op. cit., 105; Kingsley Brown, Bonds of Wire (Toronto 1989), 141. 27. Crawley, op. cit., 189-91; 'History of Stalag Luft III, East Compound', PRO: WO 208/3283; Gwyn Martin, Up and Under (Aberystwyth 1989), 141; Les Harvey, 'Over, Down and Out: Recollections of an Airman Captured by the Germans in 1942', unpublished manuscript (photocopy), 19, Les Harvey Collection, Clunes, New South Wales; report by FL Dowse, PRO: WO 208/3329 #102; interview with Sydney Dowse, Menton, France, 13 February 1988. 28. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 22-23 March 1943, NAC: RG25, vol. 2833, file 1426-C-40 pt 1. 29. Reports of the ICRC visit of 26 July 1943 and the Protecting Power visit of 6-7 July 1943, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 30. Reports of the Protecting Power visits of 22-24 February 1944 and 17-18 April 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1; 'South Compound Log', in R.W. Kimball, Clipped Wings(private 1948). 31. On this subject, see Clayton Hutton, Official Secret (London 1960). 32. Nevertheless, one prisoner counted 103 officers who attempted to escape in smaller efforts between April 1943 and April 1944, an estimate that is, if anything, conservative. Diary of FL R.A. Bethell, 48, R.A. Bethell Collection, Montreal. 33. Report of the ICRC visit of 26 July 1943, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 34. B.A. James, Moonless Night (London 1983), 200. 35. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 25-26 October 1943, NAC: RG25,2832/ 1426-B-40 pt 6; Report by repatriate on SS Gripsholm, undated, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8021/19-7-2; 'Use of canteen profits for payment of charges for collective barrack damages', undated memo [March 1943] prepared for Directorate of POWs, NAC: microfilm reel C-5330, Department of National Defence file HQS 9050-4 v2. 36. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 22-24 February 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1. 37. S. Morley Scott, Canada House, London, to H. Feaver, External Affairs, Ottawa, 6 June 1944, NAC: RG25 A6, vol. 428, file Cas 1/4 Pt V. 38. Report of the Protecting Power visit of 17-18 April 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024-21/1. 39. Reports of the Protecting Power visits of 17-18 April 1944 and 17 July 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1.

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40. Reports of the Protecting Power visits of 22-24 February 1944 and 17-18 April 1944, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8024/21-1; Foreign Office report 'POW Camps in Germany in Dangerous Areas', received at Ottawa 12 January 1945, NAC: RG24 C2f, 8026/24-44. 41. An examination of the inspection reports reveals that, before the Great Escape, a compromise acceptable to all parties was reached in roughly half of the matters protested about by the prisoners. After the Great Escape, only one-fifth of complaints were redressed to the satisfaction of the prisoners and the neutral inspectors. 42. Crawley, op. cit., 225. North Compound's population, according to neutral reports, averaged 1400 for the year ending July 1944. 43. Harsh, op. cit., 195-6; Paul Brickhill, The Great Escape (London 1951), 35; Delmar T. Spivey, POW Odyssey (private 1984), 107. 44. Of the one hundred-odd former inmates of Luft 3 who have been canvassed, )nly two expressed any discontent at the role of the escape organization. 45. See, for example, Brickhill, op. cit., 229, and Smith, op. cit., 107. 46. Correspondence with J.L. Lyon, Salcombe, 15 December 1986.

Jonathan F.Vance is a Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada post-doctoral fellow at Wilfrid Laurier University's Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies. He is currently researching popular perceptions of the first world war in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s.

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