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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 13:27 GMT
Greatest PoW escape from Wales
Former prisoners of war visiting the camp in 1976
Former prisoners made a return visit to the camp in 1976
Wales and not Germany saw the biggest escape effort of World War II, according to new research.

Eighty-four prisoners tunnelled 60ft out of Island Farm camp in Bridgend, south Wales, in March 1945.

South Wales writer Peter Phillips has also questioned the belief that no German escapees ever made it home.

Three were spotted in Kent around the time but they were never mentioned in official figures, possibly to preserve Britain's 'no escapees' record.

During the war, news of successful break-outs from camps like Colditz was spread widely as part of a morale-boosting propaganda effort.

In 1944, 76 Allied airmen staged the biggest escape from Germany's Stalag Luft 3, an event made all the more famous by the film, The Great Escape.

South Wales-based writer and broadcaster Peter Phillips, author of The German Great Escape, has suggested in BBC History magazine that the number of escapees who tunnelled out from the Bridgend camp was deliberately changed so it would not eclipse the success of the Allied prisoners the year before.

The tunnel
The break-out happened on 10 March 1945

National news reports at the time of the break-out mentioned 84 escapees.

But camp commanders immediately discounted the 14 prisoners picked up outside the perimeter fence shortly afterwards, referring to only 70 escapees.

Mr Phillips said: "When you compare it to other escapes, you have to say 84 got out and, on a like-for-like basis, it was bigger than the Great Escape.

"This figure of 70 was adhered to by the Army throughout and I think it's too coincidental that on the Wednesday (three days after the Island Farm escape), three German detainees were spotted in Kent.

"After that sighting, the government said only 67 prisoners escaped," he added.

"If I was writing the film script of this, you would have a scene where you would watch a plane disappear off to the Continent with three Germans on board!"

A massive man-hunt led to Island Farm prisoners being recaptured as far apart as the Forest of Dean, Birmingham and Southampton.

BBC History editor Dr David Musgrove said: "None was picked up in Kent, despite confirmed sightings of three Germans in Canterbury - close to numerous small harbours and the Channel.

"Intriguingly, when Parliament discussed the break-out, war minister Arthur Henderson gave the number of escapees as 67," he said.

"Sixty years on the discrepancy remains. So was there a counting error, or did Britain choose to ignore that the 'Canterbury Three' probably got home to preserve the no escapees record?"


SEE ALSO:
Rugby academy plan scrapped
26 Jan 05 |  South East Wales
Row over 'crude' POW pictures
15 Aug 03 |  Wales


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