March 24th 1944, 76 allied officers escaped Stalag Luft III which came to be known as The Great Escape. While little in the film version is true the real story is an interesting slice of history. In the real story no Americans escaped, there were no motorcycle chases etc.
The real plan was hatched about a year earlier, dig 3 tunnels simultaneously so if one was discovered the guards would believe that they had foiled the entire plot. The Tunnels were nicknamed Tom Dick and Harry.
The real Great part of the great escape was in its engineering. tools were crafted out of powdered milk cans and the tunnel wall supports were made up of any scrap wood that could be found on the camp such as bed boards. The tunnels were deep about 9 meters. In the end they had even made makeshift air and water pumps.
Like in the film the dirt from the tunneling was scattered about the camp. However the Germans were getting wise to this method so they decided to start filling the Dick tunnel. Dick tunnel hid supplies, tools and contraband obtained by bribing solders.
About 600 soldiers had helped in the construction (some American’s did work on Tom) but only 200 were planed to escape. Freezing weather on the day of the escape stalled much of the effort and only 76 prisoners made it out of the tunnel. Deep snow prevented the escapees from running through the forest and in the end only 3 people escaped. The rest were captured and executed.