Stalag Luft Tour
Stalag Luft III in Żagań
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Included in the price: hotel pickup, transportation, parking fees, driver/guide, taxes, entrance fees.
In the spring of 1942, to the south of the town and to the west of the already existing Stalag VIII C camp another camp was created, the Kriegsgefangenen Stammlager der Luftwaffe III Sagan, intended for soldiers/pilots: pilots and crew members from US Air force and the RAF, regardless of military rank. Soldiers from many countries who fought against the German military ended up here. Airmen from Australia, New Zealand, The Republic of South Africa, USA, Canada, and many other European countries were imprisoned here. At the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945 10,949 prisoners of war were interned in the camp, among them about 100 Polish airmen.
At this time, the Stalag Luft III camp was divided into 5 sectors intended for POWs as well as a sector for German guards and the camp commandant. The camp was under the jurisdiction of head of the Aviation District, gen. Rudolf Hoffmann. During the entire time of the camp’s existence it was constantly expanded. The first prisoners were British airmen sent here from the Stalag Luft I Barth camp, the Dulag Luft in Frankfurt am Main, and a small group of airmen from camps for land forces. In 1942 prisoners were placed in two of the then existing camp sectors (the sector names are from a later period):
- central, intended for privates and non-commissioned officers
- eastern for officers
The location of the camp in the area of Zagan, far from borders and neutral countries (625 km to Switzerland and 275 km to the Baltic coast) meant, that even after a successful escape through the camp’s barbed wire, a prisoner still had to overcome great distances in German territory. Escapees were most often caught by police forces. The camp was far from town in a forested area, which meant that it was isolated from human habitation. The immediate area surrounding the camp was even off limits to Germans. The sandy soil on which the camp was built was to ensure that tunnels couldn’t be dug. Loose, golden sand was visible everywhere, and tunnels collapsed right away. The location, and the design of the camp and equipment, were the results of more than two years of experience with prisoners by camp officials. Their experience mostly applied to escapes and attempted escapes.
Camp security consisted of double rows of 2.5 m hight barbed wire fences. On the camp grounds, at a distance of 10 m from the fences and set at a height of 45 cm, was a wire that prisoners were not allowed to cross. Along the fences, at 100 meter intervals were guard towers with electric flood lights and machine guns. At each tower was a guard who would shoot at any prisoner entering the off limits area. The terrain around the camp was cleared, trees and bushes cut, creating good conditions for observation and shooting.
More frequent air raids on the Third Reich and efficient German anti-aircraft defenses resulted in an increased amount of prisoners: allied airmen shot down during action. This forced the German authorities to enlarge the camp and build new ones. At the end of March 1943, to the west of some German barracks a new sector, called northern, was created.
The new northern sector was much larger than the earlier ones. It consisted of 15 residential barracks. In early spring of 1944, three more sectors were built: south and west of the camp. They were similar in size to the northern part and could houses two to three thousand prisoners. The sectors were independent and self sufficient. They had kitchens, food supply warehouses, and social facilities. Every sector had a water basins for fighting fires. The basins are among the few structures that have survived to our times. Especially designed larger barracks were furnished with chapels and theaters, in which theatrical troupes, music groups and choirs performed. There were large areas set aside for playing sports. Sectors had their own social areas (Vorlager) that prisoners didn’t normally have access to. They could only go there in the company of a German guard. In these extra, fenced off areas were: sick rooms, storerooms for care packages sent to prisoners, storage areas for firewood and building materials, the censors quarters, and a guard house for the Germans working on a particular day.
In March of 1943 in the north sector of Stalag Luft III in Zagan, X Committee was formed, which was led by major Roger J. Bushell. The task of the committee was to plan and lead a mass escape of 200 prisoners. They began the preparatory work, including the digging of three tunnels, which they named „Tom”, „Dick” and „Harry”.
One of the most important and most difficult tasks was the preparation, digging, and masking of the tunnel entrances. Tunnel „Harry” started under the stove in the living quarters of barrack 104 and was supposed to run to the north. „Tom” began in barrack 123 and had its entrance in the base of a chimney. „Dick” had its entrance in the drainage pipe of a sink in barrack 122. The last two tunnels were supposed to be dug to lead west.
All of the tunnels were of an identical construction.
After breaking through a layer of concrete and brick, digging of a tunnel was begun. After removing many tons of golden sand a depth of 8 to 9 meters was achieved.
„Tom” was discovered by the Germans and destroyed. „Harry” was used during the „great escape” in March of 1944. Work on „Dick” was halted because the Germans had begun to build the western sector. It was used as a storage area and sand was placed there from the „Harry” tunnel. It wasn’t discovered by the Germans.