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I recently watched a series of videos on WW2TV about the escape of 76 prisoners of war from Stalag Luft III in Germany (now Poland) — an event now known as The Great Escape. The story was immortalized in a large-budget Hollywood movie called The Great Escape.
While the movie did a good job of describing the construction of the tunnel, much of the rest of the movie was pure fiction. Watching the movie did motivate me as a boy to read the book of the same name by the Australian author Paul Brickhill, a prisoner at the camp who assisted with the escape, but was not one of the escapers.
One of the great inaccuracies of the movie was in the role of the American prisoners. While some Americans assisted early on with the tunnel operation, none were at the camp at the time of the escape (link). One of The Great Escape segments on WW2TV mentioned that most of the escapees were not British, which motivated me to look at the nationalities of those who escaped. This was a nice little Excel exercise whose results are presented below. For those who like to follow along, my workbook is here.
The prisoners started three tunnels, called Tom, Dick, and Harry, but only Harry was used in the escape (Figure 2). The construction of the tunnels required an impressive level of organization, particularly considering how the camp was built on sand that required shoring to prevent collapse. The plan was to free 200 prisoners, but various difficulties limited the number of escapees to 76. Of these, 50 were executed for escaping. My objective here is to break down the 76 escapees by nationality.
Figure 3 shows a video (part of a series) on The Great Escape. The content is excellent.
|Figure 3: Good Video on the Canadian Contribution to the Great Escape.|
Wikipedia lists the escapees, their nationalities, and those who were killed (here). I simply read the table using Excel.
Nationality Pivot Table
Figure 4 shows a screenshot of my pivot table. I list the nationalities of all seventy-six escapers and the fifty that were murdered. I highlighted in gold the nationalities where every escaper was killed. Why these nationalities?
The Great Escape is an amazing story that is best learned from the written accounts by authors like Brickhill. The movie, while great cinema, is too full of inaccuracies to depend on it for facts.