Strona pamięci ppłk. pilota Tadeusza Blicharza
Copyright © 2010 by Andrzej Kalus · All Rights reserved · E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
As a prisoner of war of Kriegsgefangen (Kriegee), I was in Stalag Luft 3, a camp for R.A.F. officers who were shot down by German fighters. The camp was in Sagan next to Breslav (now Zagan) near Wroclaw in Poland. I would like to describe one of the most remarkable escapes of World War II. According to the Geneva Convention, R.A.F. officers were paid 300 marks (Lagermarks) by the Germans. Instead of receiving it personally we established what was called “the Fund”. The money from the Found was used to improve the live of prisoners of war. We built a Theatre; bought instruments for our orchestra; sporting equipment such as hockey skates, hockey sticks, balls, etc.; financed escapes; bribed the German guards, etc.
There was an Escape Committee in the camp. No one was allowed to escape unless the Committee in the camp. No one was allowed to escape unless the Committee approved the plan. If the attempt was approved the Escape was equipped with maps, compass, forged papers, money, clothing and food. The Escape Organization consisted of many sections: forgery, tailors, carpenters, photography, topography, electricians and others. Special officers, who spoke fluent German, made contact with so-called “Ferrets” (Germans who came to the camp to search for the tunnel or to foil other attempts of escape). Normally they engaged the Germans in conversation, inviting them for coffee, giving them small presents (chocolate, of cigarettes). When they became friendly, thay asked the Germans for small favours such as pencils, writing-pads, ink and other small items. With time the Germans were bringing cameras, films, developing equipment and other materials which were requested. During the conversation Germans gave us information on what was going on in the administrative compound, (when and which barracks were to be searched, what precautions were going to be taken, stc.). The Escape Committee decided to build three escape tunnels - “TOM”. “DICK” and “HARRY”. I shall describe the digging of the main tunnel “HARRY”. The camp was in the form of a square, each side was about 350 yards long. Two barbed-wire fences existed which were 7 ft. hight and 7 ft. apart and which ran around the compound, inside which were located coils of barbed wire. Outside, around the fence, there were sentry towers, built about 15 feet above the ground and separated from each other by about 170 feet. The sentry in tower had a rifle, mounted machine-gun, a search-light and binoculars. Outside the compound to the north was the German Vorlager, which contained the administrative huts and the “Cooler”. Between our compound and the Vorlager were the main gates. The German Vorlager was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with two sentry towers. Inside the compound, about ten yards from the main fence, was a special warning wire. Outside the camp, about 30 yards away, were thick pine-woods which separated us from the outside world. Inside the camp were 15 huts, or living quarters, each being about 100 feet long, built from wooden poles two feet above the ground. Each hut was divided into 16 rooms, kitchen, washroom and small toilet. The latrines were located outside. Each hut had a double floor or six Kriegees. The washroom, kitchen and the place were the stove was standing had a brick and concrete foundation. One of the Polish officers, Gutowski (GUCIO), invented a trap-door to the tunnel. He made a moveable cast (2 square feet) that could be lifted or lowered into place as required. He chiseled the entrance to the exact size in the concrete plate (on which the stove was standing). The exact fitting took a long time to fabricate, but finally it was achieved in a fashion so that nobody would notice anything. The stove had a chimney pipe though the roof. Any time the stove was put aside the trap-door could be lifted up. Below this, a shaft was dug out. At the bottom of the shaft a small chamber was excavated where an air pump was installed which provided fresh air to diggers in the tunnel. Next to the “air-pump chamber” was a “temporary chamber” for storing excavated sand. The third chamber was used as a work-shop. Shaft, chambers and walls of the tunnel were shored up with solid wooden walls, which were made from bunk-boards and floor-boards. Because the boards from the bunks were used for the walls of the tunnel, I was compelled to sleep on the string-net attached to the frame of the bunk. Only two or three bunk-boards were left for the comfort of the Kriegee. The tunnel was dug between morning roll call (9:30 a.m.) and evening roll call (5:00 p.m.). One “Stooge” (lookout man) was always near the trap door to give warning to the diggers if the ferret was near. Stooges were instructed to watch approaches to the huts, where the entrance to the tunnel was. The tunnel was 30 feet underground, so that the sound of digging couldn’t be picked up by sound detectors which were located around the boundary wire. The digging shift consisted of four diggers. One operated the air pump, two men dug the tunnel and the fourth man collected and stored the excavated sand in the temporary chamber and at the same time he cut shoring frames and passed them to the diggers and required. Direction of the tunnel was checked by prismatic compass. The tunnel was 2 feet square. As soon as a few inches were dug, box frames were fitted to prevent sandy soil from falling. Electric lights were installed in the tunnel. When the Germans cut the power, the diggers used home made light (tins from Red Cross parcels and pieces of tie-string from pajamas were used.). As the tunnel was dug, the air pipeline was extended (the tin from powered milk boxes was used.). At the same time the tunnel railways were installed, which were used for passing boxes of sand from face of the tunnel to the base. The railway trolleys a rope was attached for the purpose of pulling. “Penguins” were officers who were dispersing sand, (tons of sand was excavated from the tunnel). Each penguin cut legs of his underpants, making two bags ans connecting them with string. The bottom of each bag was tied with a small string. The bags were filled with excavated sand, hung around his neck, and inserted into his trouser legs. Walking around the barbed-wire fence, the bottom of the bags were opened to let the sand go down though the legs of the trousers. At the same time the penguin would be mixing fresh sand with the old sand on the ground by shuffling his feet. As winter approached, the digging slowed down. Dispersal of the sand became a problem. A decision was made to put this excavated sand under the theatre floor. The Germans never searched the theatre. Under the floor of the theatre was a long space which could take tons of sand. Penguins dispersed this sand during evening hours. Not to complicate the working of the railway in the tunnel, every 100 feet a halfway chamber was built (10 feet long, 2 feet high and 6 feet wide). In January, 1944 the first chamber, code-named “PICADILLY”, was finished. No rails were laid in Picadilly. Up to this time the diggers had electric light, but from this point home made margarine lamps were used. In February, 1944 another 100 feet of the tunnel were finished and another half-chamber, “LEICESTER SQUARE” was built. Meantime the kriegees obtained extra electric cable which they stole from the German workers who were installing loud speakers in the camp. In a very short time extra electric light was reestablished in the tunnel. Intense searches started, but nothing was found. The digging of the tunnel went on with full speed. Two men were in Leicester Square, two men were in Picadilly, and at the base of the tunnel were: a pump operator, a frame cutter and storer. In March, 1944 the third half chamber was finished (the biggest one) and at this point the tunnel measured 350 feet long, 30 feet deep and was ready for opening. The digging upward started. The digger fitted a solid box frame and as work progressed he nailed a section of the ladder to the side of the shaft. Standing on the section of the ladder he could then dig further upward. The first 30 escapees were selected by the Escape Committee and the remainder of the men had their names drawn at random. The first thirty were fully prepared for escape (most of them spoke fluent German). There were scheduled to go by train; the rest of the escapees were going cross country by foot. The escape took place on the 24th of March, 1944; the snow was still on the ground. Planks were nailed on flat frames of the trolleys. The escape would lie on the trolley and would be hauled from one chamber to the other. A total of 200 men were chosen to escape. The escapees assembled at the barrack that contained the entrance to the tunnel. The barrack was duly closed by the German who didn’t notice anything amiss. The tunnel was opened. The outlet of the tunnel did not extend as edge of the woods. The first man, with a rope in his hand, went out of the tunnel and hid behind the bushes, (a ferret used to hide behind these bushes while spying on the camp with binoculars). By tugging the rope the “All Clear Signal” was made for the next escape to get out. The evacuation was very slow. Sometimes the escape was stuck in the tunnel or the trolley was derailed. At one time the electric power was cut off due to an air and evacuation was stopped. The homemade lamps were put into use. One by one the escapees emerged from the tunnel. At 5:00 a.m. the guard noticed the hole in the ground and gave an alarm by firing his rifle. Back in the barrack the kriegees, after hearing the shot, started destroying the evidence of their escape by burning civilian clothing, maps, false papers, stc. The escapees who were not yet out in the open returned from the tunnel. The trap-door was closed and the stove moved back to its place. Some of the Kriegees jumped from the windows and ran to their barracks, risking bullets from the guards. Meantime, the Germans entered the camp and surrounded the barrack. Shouts-“Everybody raus, raus (out, out) were heard. Everyone was stripped and left in his underwear while the search was going on. Later on, all of them were marched to the cooler (jail). Escapees who got out earlier from the tunnel went to the railway station which was not far from the camp, bought tickets and left in different directions by train. The others went cross country, walking mostly by night. The German radio stations were broadcasting about a great escape from Stalag Luft 3; everyone in Germany was on alert and searching for escapees. Most of them were caught in different parts of Europe in a very short time. On the bulletin board in our camp, the names of the captured men started to appear - Germans gave us their names, ranks, serial numbers and places of capture. All of the captured men were transferred to Gliwitz (Gliwice - Poland) which was a Gestapo prison. In each cell there were four to six men. Four of the escapees were returned to our camp and they were put in the cooler for two weeks (no Red Cross parcels, no books, no cigarettes). A total of 77 escapees went out of the tunnel and escaped. Four escapees were caught when the tunnel was found. Soon afterwards the Gestapo arrived in our camp. They didn’t find anything. To compensate for their searched and investigated the Germans. These German workers who did not report the stolen electric cable were shot. The tunnel was flooded with waste from the latrines and the other of the tunnel was blown up. A few weeks after the break, the German Commandant informed Group Captain Massey, our Cammanding Officer, that 50 R.A.F officers were shot by the Gestapo. No-one in the camp believed the Germans at the beginning; the prisoners of war thought the Germans lied - that they moved them to another camp. A few days later the Germans presented us the list of the dead, and after two weeks the urns with ashes arrived. On each urn was the name, number, rank and date of cremation. They Germans allowed us to build vault in the local cemetery. There was a proper military funeral with a German unit and a delegation of prisoners of war from our camp. In 1966 the urns were transferred to the military cemetery in Poznan, Poland. Among the dead escapees were 5 Polish officers: F/O W. Kolanowski, F/O Z. Król, , F/O K. Pawluk, , F/O J. Mondschein and , F/O P. Tobolski. 50 officers were shot, 4 returned to our camp, some of them were found in a Concentration Camp after the war and remaining are still missing.
Strona pilota Władysława Chciuka, kolegi Tadeusza Blicharza o którym opowiada w Cz.10 Ewakuacja obozu: