‘The Great Escape” is one of the most thrilling movies that I have seen. The fact that it was based on a true story made it even more admirable.
A recent attempt by British engineers, archeologists and historians to establish clearly how the escape was accomplished, as reported in this article in the New York Times, made interesting reading.
The team’s task was to employ “reverse engineering” by uncovering the tunnels and what remained of the tunnelers’ jury-rigged equipment to replicate the wartime fliers’ ingenuity. Ultimately, the team members were stunned that, even without the menace of the ever-watchful Nazi camp guards, they were unable to match their wartime counterparts fully, particularly in the most crucial skill, digging a tunnel 30 feet below the camp surface without repeated collapses of the sandy soil above .
The team concluded:
What those men did at Stalag Luft III was an astonishing feat of improvisational engineering. Their resourcefulness was beyond belief. It wasn’t a case of one man’s genius, more the accomplishment of a team, one man’s skills complementing another’s. And they had one precious resource, time. If you have time, somebody will eventually come up with something, and the others will say, ‘Let’s give it a go.’
…By the measures of ingenuity, courage and persistence, the tunnels built almost 70 years ago in sandy scrubland near the small town of Zagan, 130 miles southeast of Berlin in what was then Hitler’s Germany and is today western Poland, were a legendary feat of engineering.