|The Tunnels at Oflag would have been similar to this picture of one of the Great Escape Tunnels - USAF Academy|
The morning after the Asselin tunnel breakout, the usual body of German soldiers marched with fixed bayonets into the compound of POW camp Oflag XX1B. They separated into the various barrack blocks, unlocking the doors with their usual vocal ‘Raus, raus.’
The POWs knew that appel later that morning was certain to take a different turn to the usual routine. The more experienced men fortified their usual breakfast of three thin slices of black bread with what additional food they could muster before stuffing their pockets with other provisions. Fully dressed against the weather and chill, they were ready to stand outside all day once the headcount did not match. Barrack blocks and the whole camp would be searched until the means of escape was discovered.
|POWs on the Parade Ground at Oflag V1b|
The men were right to stock up with food, as they remained outside for hours whilst every hut was searched. A guard searching around the outside of the camp in the potato field discovered the tunnel exit, so the Germans sent a Russian prisoner at bayonet point into the hole with a rope tied around his waist for fear of cave ins or booby traps. It was a total surprise to them when he emerged from inside one of the latrines.
|SD Sicherheitsdienst -Germanicinternational.com|
|SD Sicherheitsdienst pictured in Poland|
The searches were not without their lighter moments though. In one hut a barrel of home brewed beer was discovered. Instead of destroying it, the SD asked how much it was for a glass. Lieutenant Commander H H ‘Bungie’ Bracken a naval pilot charged them fifty pfennigs each and the money went straight in to the escape fund. A POW being caught with German currency automatically received a long spell in solitary, but the visiting Germans seemed more than happy to form a queue and hand over their money. There was an extra twist to the tale, as one SD officer sat holding court on the barrel totally unaware that it had a false bottom concealing most of the forged papers and maps in the compound. POWs observed that the SD could rummage and ransack huts, but unlike the ferrets they had little idea of what they were looking for.
|Squadron Leader David ‘Dim’ Strong pictured after the war|
|Shaft Entrance to 'Harry' in the Great Escape. Strong's entrance shaft|
would have been much more shallow & not as wide, but had the same
principle of shoring up the sides with boards
2) An earlier project, abandoned because of flooding had been restarted. Behind the hospital was a cookhouse where the POWs got hot water in the morning. Four large boilers were standing in a row on an apron of concrete against the farthest wall of the room. The fourth boiler was not used and underneath it a narrow trapdoor had been made (concrete set on a shallow wooden tray). The fit was exact and to reach it the tunnellers had to slide under the small gap beneath boiler and floor.
|Work at the Tunnel Face - F/L Kenyon (T Kilminster)|
Initial work concentrated on strengthening, shoring and repairing damage to the tunnel before they could start digging again towards the wire. When excavations restarted at the face, clay soil was hauled back up the tunnel through the gluey substance on the floor via a toboggan pulled with rope made from thinly plated sisal string obtained from the Red Cross parcels. It was then smuggled back to the barrack block in water jugs, jam tins or packed into small bags made from shirts and underclothes. Some of these bags were taken to the latrines whilst suspended by a piece of string and hanging around the men’s necks under their coats. The contents were then disposed of in the normal way. The rest of the bags got hidden under bunks and in the short interval between dusk and lock up the men buried the clay in the ground outside the huts. The whole end to end process was painstakingly slow work.
Work continued under the cookhouse with a shift system of diggers tunnelling flat out during the day. Completion was imminent and a provisional date had been set for the breakout when news came through that the camp was to be completely evacuated within forty eight hours. There was insufficient time to finish the job – a case of so near but so far. The prisoners were to be transferred in four purges – their destination Sagan Stalag Luft 111. The Great Escape took place a little over 11 months later.
THIS BLOG claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it appear on this site, please message me with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed