German officers being held in Island Farm camp (left) and Hut 9
UNDER cover of darkness scores of men tunnel their way to freedom from a prisoner of war camp. They melt into the night and use a variety of cunning ruses to evade recapture, with varying degrees of success.
Most people are familiar with the plot of The Great Escape, the everpopular Hollywood fi lm. It’s based on actual events in 1943 when Allied prisoners staged a mass breakout from Stalag Luft III, about 100 miles from Berlin.
What’s not so well known is that the Germans staged their own version in the Second World War, and it has striking similarities. The other great escape happened at the Island Farm prisoner of war camp in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1945.
On the night of March 10, 70 German prisoners fled using a tunnel concealed beneath an accommodation hut. It was the biggest mass escape involving German prisoners during the war. Now, after years entombed in concrete, the 30ft escape route has been examined by scientists using ground-penetrating radar. Remarkably it’s largely intact, still propped up with wooden beams made from benches stolen from the camp canteen more than 70 years ago.
Built in 1938, Island Farm on the outskirts of Bridgend was originally intended as a dormitory camp for female workers at the nearby munitions factory. After a period housing American troops ahead of the Normandy landings it was hastily converted into a PoW camp in late 1944.
“At its peak Island Farm held 2,000 Germans,” says historian Brett Exton. “It was a huge place with 30 huts.” It’s thought some of the prisoners began plotting their escape almost immediately. According to locals one tunnel was detected in January 1945 but the warning was ignored.
“The second tunnel was dug below Hut 9 because it was near the perimeter fence and also on the edge of the camp where it was less likely to be observed,” says Exton, who is also chairman of the Hut 9 Preservation Group. “The sub-soil in this area is vibrant orange so the prisoners concealed it behind a false wall.”
One of the tunnels is examined soon after the Germans’ escape from Island Farm camp in Bridgend
THE Germans used knives and meat tins to dig their escape route which ran about 30 feet to the other side of the barbed wire. A ventilation pipe was made from empty cans and air was forced through by a handoperated fan. When supplies of wood from the stolen benches ran…