Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Great Escape

70 years ago today - 3rd Reich awoke to the stunning realization an additional front had been opened up in the Fatherland itself!

76 RAF POW's busted out of Luft Stalag III in occupied Poland. 
With only their bare hands and the crudest of homemade tools, they sank shafts, forged passports, faked weapons, and tailored German uniforms and civilian clothes. They developed a fantastic security system to protect themselves from German surveillance. It was a split-second operation as delicate and as deadly as a time bomb. It demanded the concentrated devotion and vigilance of more than six hundred men—every one of them, every minute, every hour, every day and night for more than a year. 
Deutschland - fighting in Italy, the Eastern Front and in the air - had to allocate resources and the general population for a massive man hunt

Of 76 escapees, 73 were captured. Hitler initially wanted the escapers to be shot as an example to other prisoners, as well as Commandant von Lindeiner, the architect who designed the camp, the camp's security officer and the guards on duty at the time.

Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, Field Marshal Keitel, Major-General Westhoff and Major-General von Graevenitz, who was head of the department in charge of prisoners of war, all argued against any executions as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Hitler eventually relented and instead ordered SS head Himmler to execute more than half of the escapees. Himmler passed the selection on to General Arthur Nebe.

Fifty were executed singly or in pairs. Roger Bushell, the leader of the escape, was shot by Gestapo official Emil Schulz just outside Saarbrücken, Germany.

3 cats, Bergsland and Müller made it to neutral Sweden first, by boat, while Van der Stok travelled through France before finding safety at a British consulate in Spain

The British government learned of the deaths from a routine visit to the camp by the Swiss authorities as the Protecting power in May; the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden announced the news to the House of Commons on 19 May 1944. Shortly after the announcement the Senior British Officer of the camp, Group Captain Herbert Massey, was repatriated to England due to ill health. Upon his return, he informed the Government about the circumstances of the escape and the reality of the murder of the recaptured escapees. Eden updated Parliament on 23 June, promising that, at the end of the war, those responsible would be brought to exemplary justice. When the war ended, a large manhunt was carried out by the Royal Air Force Police (RAFP) investigative branch.

American Colonel Telford Taylor was the U.S. prosecutor in the High Command case at the Nuremberg Trials. The indictment in this case called for the General Staff of the Army and the High Command of the German Armed Forces to be considered criminal organizations; the witnesses were several of the surviving German field marshals and their staff officers.

 One of the crimes charged was of the murder of the 50. Colonel of the Luftwaffe Bernd von Brauchitsch, who served on the staff of Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, was interrogated by Captain Horace Hahn about the murders.

Several Gestapo officers responsible for the executions of the escapees were executed or imprisoned.

Pic - "Tom, Dick and Harry"