Stalag Luft III - May 2007 - My Modern Photographs
After many years of wishing, on May 23rd 2007 with my friend James I finally made the 'Pilgrimage' to Zagan, Poland and visited the site of Stalag Luft III and 'the Great Escape'. Here are only a few of the photos we took.
The site is quite "open" and there are no visiting restrictions or charges. Approaching Zagan from the west side, drive around to the south of the town. If you don't spot the signs for the Museum, look for the railway lines which lie directly to the north and immediately next to the camp. Turn right out of the "Museum of Allied Prisoners of War Martyrdom in Zagan" entrance and 1/4 mile down the road is a wooden sign saying STALAG LUFT III pointing to the right down what looks like a farm track. 51.36.02.02 N / 126.96.36.199 E
Here is a Google Earth link to the Stalag Luft III site and below is a Google Earth view:-
Drive down this and about 400 yards later you will cross the tunnel line for "Harry" with the camp site on your right. If before spotting the wooden sign for the camp, you get as far as a double bend with cobbled surface and under a railway bridge, you have gone too far. It's generally best to find the Museum and they will direct you to the camp and Memorial sites. Museum entrance is free and they speak enough English to direct you. It's closed on Mondays.
The Fire Pool - water reserve for putting out fires, also used for swimming, skating, and sailing model boats (copyright Rob Davis)
General view of the 'Huts' area - now very overgrown with trees, but concrete bases and plinths still in evidence (copyright Rob Davis)
Entrance point for the successful tunnel 'Harry' through which the 76 men made their bid for freedom (copyright Rob Davis)
Exit point of 'Harry' some 336 feet away from the entrance, and across the forest road (copyright Rob Davis)
The inscription reads "To all the Allied Airmen / Prisoners of Stalag Luft III / Participants in the Great Escape"
The tunnel line has been recreated on the surface using concrete edging and gravel. (copyright James Fairfax)
I walk along the tunnel line and over 'Leicester Square' one of the two halfway haulage points. Where I am standing is the site of the Cooler, with the Hospital block - still evident and with its cellars explorable - a few yards to my left (copyright James Fairfax, his bike in the distance)
Here are the memorial slabs at the starting point for 'Harry' (copyright James Fairfax)
We arrived via our trusty old CX500s - a 2,500 mile round trip via Prague, Colditz and the Eder Dam.
A correspondent emailed me and asked "I'd like to do this trip, is it possible to get close to the Luft III tunnel site?" (copyright James Fairfax)
Nearby is the memorial to the Fifty. An emotional moment (copyright Rob Davis)
Three quarters of a mile down the road is the Museum, in the grounds of which an excellent 'Tunnel Experience' has been created, partly underground but mostly topped with Perspex. It's complete with a replica trolley, on which you can do your impersonation of Charles Bronson or Steve McQueen scooting along on the wheeled contraption. But bear in mind that in summer it's sweltering under that Perspex (copyright Rob Davis)
The Theatre, from the stage end, looking up the 'banked seating' towards the site of 'Harry' (copyright Rob Davis)
The staked-out tunnel line for 'Tom' - discovered and destroyed by the guards (copyright Rob Davis)
The underground entrance to the local railway station's platforms and booking hall. Although the stairway entrance is no more than a few hundred yards from the camp perimeter, the escapers could not find it in the dark (copyright Rob Davis)
As dawn broke they were left standing around on the platforms, trying to ignore each other (copyright Rob Davis)
There are video sequences shot on this trip on Youtube - do a search on 'Great Escape' or 'Zagan' or 'Stalag Luft III'
You can (no longer) own a small piece of Stalag Luft III
At the time of my visit to Stalag Luft III at Zagan I took a quantity of sand mixture from the Parade (or Appell) ground, close to the location of the tunnels 'Tom' and 'Dick'. I had available a very limited number of 60cc bottles of this sand. Whilst I can't guarantee that it came out of any of the three tunnels and went down a PoW's trouser leg in one of the famous 'Penguin' dispersal operations, there is is fair chance that it did, bearing in mind its source and location within the camp.
SORRY but the 60cc bottles of sand have all gone - as of January 13th 2008. I hope those who were interested enough to obtain some are happy with this curious possession. It would be easy of me to pass of any old sand as that from Stalag Luft III ... but there's a little piece of each prisoner in it, and that, you can't reproduce. Maybe I'll go back one day. Watch this space. I did donate one of the bottles to the RAF Museum at Hendon, for their 'Great Escape" display,
However ... you can own a small piece of Omaha Beach
The sand from Stalag Luft III was so popular - which took me by surprise - that whilst at Omaha Beach at the end of May 2009 I harvested some sand from there. Details are here.
We happened to encounter a dreadful "Battlefield Tour Guide"
Whilst we were exploring at the entrance to 'Harry' a UK based coach tour party arrived, accompanied by a guide. There seemed to be about 15 tourists. We didn't know who the guide was or which tour company was involved. We moved our CX500 motorcycles out of the way so that they could take photos and I listened horrifed as the guide gave scant and inaccurate information about the site and its history. Although he showed them 'Harry' and the Fire Pool, he failed to take them into the woods to the site of 'Tom' and 'Dick' and the Theatre. In all he gave them about 40 minutes on the site before moving on - we were there half a day. Clearly they were 'doing' the Great Escape and if I'd paid good money for that tour I'd have put the guide straight in the cooler. Appalling! So if you're one of these tourists who encountered two UK bikers at Zagan, you were well and truly done - if I were you I'd complain to the tour company. I can only hope that if the guide took you to Colditz or other places of similar interest, he did a far better job than he did here.
On 10-July-2007, an email correspondent said : "I've just come upon your pictures of Zagan from May 2007 and your article "We happened to encounter a dreadful Tour Guide" which brought a wry smile to my face. My husband and I were part of that tour, in fact I stopped to talk to you both as the rest of the party chased after the guide. My husband and I have known each other for 40 years and during that time I suppose I've been indoctrinated by his passion for Guy Gibson of the Dambusters, and the RAF of WW2 inc Colditz and the Great Escape.
"When I learned of this tour by Leger with a specialist battlefields guide, I thought this a perfect present for his 60th birthday on 12th May. We too looked upon it as a pilgrimage where we could pay our respects to those we admired so much. Bearing in mind that all the 36 pilgrims were there for a special reason, not your normal package tour, with quite a lot of previous subject knowledge, there were many mutterings about inaccuracies and on a few occasions members of the party interjected with items of interest.
"On the bright side, you mentioned
Colditz , there we had a wonderful guide provided by the castle who made the
visit fascinating - did you catch it? [Yes, we did, the next day]
"On our return, we did indeed write to the company voicing our concerns, in which they assured us they would review the guide's knowledge . However, in compiling our photo album, we are continually discovering that certain crucial information was omitted or incorrect, so another letter looks probable!"
On September 24th 2007 I received a similar comment : "We returned yesterday from a tour of Germany, including a visit to this site, and were also short-changed by the tour operators - although we knew of the existence of memorials, tunnel markings and so on before we left the UK (Wolverhampton), we were not told as a group that these existed, nor were we encouraged to go and look for them when we asked about them."
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