IN THE first two and a half years of the 1939-1945 War when the Germans were gaining in battle and ravaging Europe those pilots on operations who were captured were sent to many and various prisoner-of-war camps mainly occupied by the armies of the allies; These airmen did not behave in the way anticipated by the Luftwaffe (Air Force).
Reichmarschall Hermann Goering who took pride in his own Luftwaffe, but, who at the same time held the Royal Air Force in high respect, decided that the only way to contain his rather special captives was to house them in an ‘escape proof’ camp and so he ordered Stalag Luft 3 to be built in the heart of a pine forest at Sagan in Silesia, Germany.
It was a motley crowd that descended into the cage of the East Compound of Stalag Luft 3 in the spring of 1942; Reichmarschall Goering’s ‘luxurious and secure camp’! Every officer at the time was desperately determined to escape and there was con- siderable distrust amongst themselves, a rivalry between the longer term prisoners-of- war from Stalag Luft I, Barth, and the newcomers from Warburg and elsewhere, there was very little discipline. Lt. Commander Jimmy Buckley RN Fleet Air Arm tried to draw the two sides together to achieve a semblance of order for the purpose of escaping but with little success, the escape set-up being quite shambolic. As with all big families, life in the camp was not always smooth and calm.
Then, in the summer of 1942 a brilliant, flamboyant, charismatic, humorous, and courageous South African, a member of the Royal Air Force, Squadron Leader Roger Bushel!, walked alone through the gates into the camp. The effect was electrif~ring; it had previously been rumoured that Roger Bushell was in the hands of the Gestapo and true to rumour he had been, in solitary confinement for nine months. The response to his presence was astounding, trust came about, Jimmy Buckley having escaped and lost his life, Roger Bushell took command of the camp and all escaping activities. Whilst humour, essential for survival, continued as normal, life came under tighter control.
With the ‘falling leaves of autumn’ in 1942 the camp was abound with rumours, rumours the plague of all kriegies, of an impending invasion of France: Rumour that we were to move to the newly prepared North Compound; later confirmed to be in March 1943.
Roger had a great vision, we must do our collective bit to aid this invasion whenever it were to come in whatever way we could; It was Roger’s idea, a burning desire, an obsessive ambition, his brain child, which he masterminded that our collective best must be to create a massive escape, he set his goal on an escape of 200 officers in one night — Operation Escape 200. To this aim he wanted three tunnels built simultaneously, he gathered together 600 officers like himself all leaders of high calibre, and he chose his own working team consisting of all the ‘Fifty’ officers and Peter Fanshawe, Wally Flood and others: History knows the rest.
The Operation Escape 200 which took place two months and one week before the invasion of France was in itself a successful military operation by the Royal Air Force, Dominion, and Allied Air Forces disrupting the German war effort to the extent that it diverted a German SS Panzer Division, up to 700 thousand troops, and indirectly some four million Germans in all with the declared KRIEGSFAHNDUNG — (translated) a manhunt involving the WHOLE ARMY, A NATIONAL ALERT.
WE SHALL REMEMBER THEM