In the 1963 film The Great Escape, directed by John Sturges, is based on the true story of how the Allied servicemen escaped Stalag Luft III and is perhaps one of the most audacious prisoners of war break out in the history of World War II. It was based on the 1950s book of the same name written by Paul Brickhill on his firsthand account of when the British Commonwealth POWs escaped from the German POW camp in Zagan, Poland. Did you know the Germans had their own version of The Great Escape when they attempted to escape captivity on Island Farm.

Camp 198

By 1944, Hitler’s whole Third Reich thing began to collapse right before his eyes as the Allied forces pressed in from the East, West and South.  As the number of captured Germans skyrocketed, Britain needed more places to house these POWs that were just about spilling over the fences of the camps they had so far.

Some of a party of three hundred German prisoners of war from Normandy leaving an LST at Southampton Docks
Some of a party of three hundred German prisoners of war from Normandy leaving an LST at Southampton Docks (Allen, E E (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Before the Nazis were captured, Camp 198 on Island Farm, situated just outside of Bridgend in South Wales, was originally built as a temporary home for women who were hired at the local munition factory. During D-Day, it housed American troops as they prepared for the invasion of Europe. Soon, the War Office declared Camp 198 a prison exclusively for German officers. In November of that same year, the first batch of the POWs arrived at the local train station, singing as they marched toward their new home as if they were going to summer camp.  Actually, they had a lot to be happy about.  The Germans knew they would be well treated in the camp and their war was over, they would survive the war and live to go home, unlike millions of their comrades.

Escaping the Barbed Fence

All soldiers held as POWs have a duty to escape and some Germans in the camp took that seriously.  Soon enough, they began digging their tunnels. It was a common thing during the war that prisoners would dig more than one tunnel simultaneously so that they had Plan B or maybe C in case one of them was discovered, and that’s what the Germans did. One of the tunnels was discovered in January 1945, and the camp guards, perhaps not aware of the golden tunnel prison rule, did not attempt to search for more.