Back to Top
AR banner
Search Tips Advanced Search

The Fifty - The Great Escape

The Great Escape, as it came to be known, was a mass escape attempt from the Prisoner of War camp Stalag Luft III located near the town of Sagan in Lower Silesia (now Żagan in Poland).

The purpose-built camp was opened in April 1942 and the Germans considered it to be practically escape-proof. Prisoners were fairly well treated and the Geneva Convention of 1929 regarding treatment of Prisoners of War was followed.

The camp housed mainly British and American airmen whose planes had crashed on Axis territory. The Germans generally captured prisoners with the words ‘For you the war is over.’ It is generally believed that it was the sworn duty of all captured military personnel to continue to fight the enemy by surviving, communicating information and escaping, but in fact for British forces no such duty existed. However, for US forces Article lll of the Military Code of Conduct states

'If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.'

Many of the prisoners at Sagan were re-captured escapees. The Germans believed that security at the new camp was so tight that it would be impossible for anyone to escape.

F/O. Henry Birkland MiD. J/5233 RCAF Age 25. 72 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire Vb W3367 on the 07th November 1941. PoW No: 689. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Canada) (Born 16 August 1917. Son of Kristian M. Birkland and Botilda Birkland, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.)

Plt Off. Edward Gordon Brettel DFC. MiD. 61053 RAFVR Age 29. 133 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire IX BS313 on the 26th September 1942. PoW No: 760. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 19 March 1915. Son of Vivian Brettell and of Eileen Isabella Brettell, of Farnham, Surrey, England)

Fl/Lt. Leslie George Bull DFC. 43932 RAF Age 28. 109 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington Ic T2565 on 06th November 1941. PoW No: 667. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 7 August 1916. From Highbury, London, England)

Sq/Ldr. Roger Joyce Bushell MiD. 90121 RAF (A) Age 33. 92 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire I N3194 on 08th November 1941. PoW No: 621. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (South Africa) (Born 30 August 1910. Son of Benjamin Daniel and Dorothy Wingate Bushell, of Mossel River, Cape Province, South Africa)

Fl/Lt. Michael James Casey MiD. 39024 RAF Age 26. 57 Squadron. Pilot. Blenheim I L1141 on 16th October 1939. PoW No: 24. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 19 February 1918. Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India)

Sq/Ldr. James Catanach DFC. MiD. AUS/400364 RAAF Age 22. 455 Squadron. Pilot. Hampden I AT109 on 5th September 1942. PoW No: 702. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Australia) (Bon 28 November 1921. Son of William Mercer Catanach and Ruby Catanach, of Malvern, Victoria, Australia)

Fl/Lt. Arnold George Christensen MiD. NZ/413380 RNZAF Age 21. 26 Squadron. Pilot. Mustang Ia AL977 on 19th August 1942. PoW No: 676. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (New Zealand) (Born 8 April 1922. Son of Mrs L. Christensen 813 Dufferin Street, Hastings, New Zealand)

F/O. Dennis Herbert Cochran MiD. 122441 RAFVR Age 23. 10 Operational Training Unit. W/Op. Whitley V AD671 on 08th October 1942. PoW No: 727. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 13 August 1921. Son of Herbert William and Ethel G. L. Cochran, of Ilford, Essex, England)

Sq/Ldr. Ian Kingston Pembroke Cross DFC. MiD. 39305 RAF Age 25. 103 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington Ic Z8714 on 12th February 1942. PoW No: 2. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 4 April 1918. Son of Pembroke H. C. Cross and Jeannie Cross, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, England)

Lt. Halldor Espelid 378 NAF Age 23. 331 Squadron Pilot. Spitfire Vb BL588 on 27th August 1942. PoW No: 634. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Norway) (Born 6 October 1920. Son of ivar Espelid and Gudrid Eidnes of Askøy, Norway)

Flt Lt. Brian Herbert Evans MiD. 42745 RAF Age 24. 49 Squadron. Pilot. Hampden I P4404 on 27th December 1940. PoW No: 456. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Australia) (Born 14 February 1920. Son of Herbert and Dorothy May Evans, of Manly, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)

Lt. Nils Jørgen Fuglesang 742 NAF Age 26. 339 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire IX BS540 on 02nd May 1943. PoW No: 1264. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Norway) (Born 7 October 1918. From Rasvåg in Hidra, near Flekkefjord, Norway)

Lt. Johannes Stephanus Gouws MiD 103275 SAAF Age 24. 40 Squadron. Pilot. Tomahawk P-40 on 09th April 1940. PoW No: 116. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (South Africa) (Born 13 August 1919. Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Gouws, of Bultfontein, Orange Free State)

Fl/Lt. William Jack Grisman MiD. 45148 RAF Age 29. 109 Squadron. Observer. Wellington Ic T2565 on 05th November 1941. PoW No: 45148. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 30 August 1914. Son of William Charles and Gertrude Ellen Grisman, of Hereford, England and husband of Marie M. Grisman)

Fl/Lt. Alastair Donald Macintosh Gunn MiD bar. 60340 RAFVR Age 24. 1 Photo reconnaissance Unit. Pilot. Spitfire IV AA810 on 05th March 1942. PoW No: 5. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 27 September 1919. Son of James Turner Gunn, and Adelaide Lucy Frances Gunn, of Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland)

Fl/Lt. Albert Horace Hake MiD 403218 RAAF Age 27. 72 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire Vb AD258 on 04th April 1942. PoW No: 6. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Australia) (Born 30 June 1916. Son of George and Lillian Maud Hake, of Sydney, Australia and husband of Noela Aundree Lillian Hake, of Carlton, New South Wales, Australia)


Fl/Lt. Charles Piers Egerton Hall MiD. 5096 RAFVR Age 26. 1 Photo reconnaissance Unit. Pilot. Spitfire IV AA804 on 28th December 1941. PoW No: 1423. Murdered on the 30th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 25 July 1918. Son of Aubrey and Marcella Egerton-Hall, of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, England)

Fl/Lt. Anthony Ross Henzell Hayter MiD. 42124 RAF Age 23. 148 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington Ic BB483 on 23rd April 1942. PoW No: 199. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 20 May 1920. Son of Lt.-Col. Herbert Roche Hayter and Elsie Helen Evelyn Winterton Hayter, of Newbury, Berkshire, England)


Fl/Lt. Edgar Spottiswoode Humphreys MiD. 44177 RAF Age 29. 107 Squadron. Pilot. Blenheim IV T1860 on 19th December 1940. PoW No: 406. Murdered on the 30th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 5 December 1914. Son of William Spottiswoode Humphreys and Lydia Humphreys and husband of Lilian Humphreys, of Oxford, England)

F/O. Gordon Arthur Kidder MiD. J/10177 RCAF Age 29. 156 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington III BJ775 on 13th October 1942. PoW No: 116. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Canada) (Born 9 December 1914. Son of Arthur G. Kidder and Ethel M. Kidder, of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada)


Fl/Lt. Reginald Victor Kierath MiD. AUS/402364 RAAF Age 29. 450 Squadron. Pilot. Kittyhawk P-40 on 23rd April 1943. PoW No: 128. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Australia) (Born 20 February 1915. Son of William and Ada Elise Kierath, of Narromine, New South Wales, Australia)

Fl/Lt. Antoni Władyslaw Kiewnarski P-0109 PAF Age 44. 305 Squadron. Observer. Wellington I Z1245 on 27th August 1942. PoW No: 42801. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Poland) (Born 26 January 1899. From Moscow, Russia)


Sq/Ldr. Thomas Gresham Kirby-Green MiD bar. 39103 RAF Age 26. 40 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington Ic Z8862 on 16th October 1941. PoW No: 652. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 27 February 1918. Son of Sir William Kirby-Green, Dowa, Nyasaland, Africa)

F/O. Adam Włodzimierz Kolanowski P-0243 PAF Age 31. 301 Squadron. Observer. Wellington IV Z1277 on 07th November 1941. PoW No: 678. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Poland) (Born 11 August 1913. From Pawłowice, Leszno County, Poland)


F/O. Stanislaw Zygmunt Krol P-0237 PAF Age 28. 74 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire V W3263 on 12th April 1944. PoW No: 1392. Murdered on the 13th April 1944. (Poland) (Born 22 March 1916. From Zagorzyce, Kielce, Poland)

Fl/Lt. Patrick Wilson Langford MiD. C/1631 RCAF Age 24. 16 Operational Training Unit. Pilot. Wellington Ic R1450 on 29th July 1942. PoW No: 710. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Canada) (Born 4 November 1919. Son of Richard Wilson Langford and Olive Mary Langford, of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada)


Fl/Lt. Thomas Barker Leigh MiD. 46462 RAF Age 25. 76 Squadron. Air Gunner. Halifax I L9516 on 05th August 1941. PoW No: 63. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Australia) (Born 11 February 1919. Son of David and Constance Emily Carena Leigh, of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)

Fl/Lt. James Leslie Robert Long MiD. 89375 RAFVR Age 29. 9 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington Ic R1335 on 27th March 1941. PoW No: 522. Murdered on the 13th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 21 February 1915. From Taunton, Somerset, England)


Lt. Clement Alwyn Neville McGarr MiD. 95691 SAAF Age 27. 2 Squadron. Pilot. Tomahawk P-40 on 06th October 1941. PoW No: 655. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (South Africa) (Born 24 November 1917. From Johannesburg, South Africa)

Fl/Lt. George Edward McGill MiD. J/5312 RCAF Age 26. 103 Squadron. Observer. Wellington Ic Z1142 on 10th January 1942. PoW No: 1431. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Canada) (Born 14 April 1918. Son of George Wellington and Rita (née Strahmayer) McGill of Toronto, Ontario)


Flt Lt. Romas Marcinkus MiD. 89580 RAFVR Age 34. 1 Squadron. Pilot. Hurricane IIc BD949 on 12th February 1942. PoW No: 19. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Lithuania) (Born 22 July 1907. Son of Pranas Marcinkus and Honorata Kroazė-Marcinkienė of Jurbarkas, Lithuania)

Fl/Lt. Harold John Milford MiD. 103586 RAFVR Age 30. 226 Squadron. Observer. Boston III AL743 on 22nd September 1942. PoW No: 715. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 16 August 1914. Son of William John Milford and Ada Frances of Streatham, London, England)


F/O. Jerzy Tomasz Mondschein P-0913 PAF Age 35. 304 Squadron. Observer. Wellington Ic R1215 on 25th March 1944. PoW No: 680. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Poland) (Born 18 March 1909. From Warsaw, Poland)

F/O. Kazimierz Pawluk P-0740 PAF Age 38. 304 Squadron. Observer. Wellington Ic R1215 on 25th March 1944. PoW No: 23. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Poland) (Born 1 July 1906. From Warsaw, Poland)


Flt Lt. Henri Albert Picard 87693 RAFVR Age 28. 350 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire Vb BM297 on 27th August 1942. PoW No: 685. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Belgium) (Born 17 April 1916. From Etterbeek, Brussels, Belgium)

F/O. Porokoru Patapu Pohe MiD. NZ/402894 RNZAF Age 30. 51 Squadron. Pilot. Halifax II JN901 on 22nd September 1943. PoW No: 2433. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (New Zealand) (Born 10 December 1914. Son of Whatarangi Ropoama Pohe and Honoria Maraea Pohe, of Taihape, Auckland, New Zealand)


Lt. Bernard Scheidhauer 30649 FFAF Age 23. 131 Squadron. Pilot. Spitfire Vb EN830 on 18th November 1942. PoW No: 832. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (France) (Born on the 28 August 1921. Son of Michel Scheidhauer, originally from Llandau, Germany)

P/O. Sotiras Skanzikas 213 RHAF Age 23. 336 Squadron. Pilot. Hurricane - further details sought. PoW No: 1822. Murdered on the 30th March 1944. (Greece) (From Greece, no further information)


Lt. Rupert John Stevens MiD. 47431 SAAF Age 25. 12 Squadron. Pilot. Marauder AH297 on 14th November 1941. PoW No: 712. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (South Africa) (Born in London 1919. Son of Mr. and Mrs. G. R. Stevens, of Cape Town, South Africa)

F/O. Robert Campbell Stewart MiD.130452 RAFVR Age 33. 77 Squadron. Navigator. Halifax II DT796 on 27th April 1943. PoW No: 1279. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 07 July 1911. Son of Alexander Campbell Stewart and Augusta Mary Campbell Stewart and husband of Doris Marjorie Campbell Stewart, of Golders Green, Middlesex, England)


F/O. John Gifford Stower MiD. 107520 RAFVR Age 28. 142 Squadron. Pilot. Wellington III BK278 on 17th November 1942. PoW No: 836. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 15 September 1916. Son of the late Gifford Stower and Mrs. Euphemia Stower (née Moffatt) of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Also care of Mrs M.H. Dobson of 25 Walsingham Road, Hove, Sussex, England)

F/O. Denys Oliver Street MiD 123026 RAFVR Age 21. 207 Squadron. Pilot. Lancaster I W4931 on 30th March 1943. PoW No: 992. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born April 1923. Son of Sir Arthur William Street and Lady Street, of Mill Hill, Middlesex, England)


Fl/Lt. Cyril Douglas Swain MiD. 37658 RAF Age 33. 105 Squadron. Pilot. Blenheim IV T1893 on 28th November 1940. PoW No: 388. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Britain) (Born 15 December 1911. Son of Percival and Beatrice (née Townsend) Swain, of Wem, Shropshire, England)

F/O. Pawel Wilhelm Tobolski P-0375 PAF Age 38. 301 Squadron. Navigator. Wellington IV Z1479 on 26th June 1942. PoW No: 300. Murdered on the 02nd April 1944. (Poland) (Born 21 March 1906 of Bydgoszcz, Poland)


Fl/Lt. Arnost Valenta 82532 RAFVR Age 32. 311 Squadron. Navigator. Wellington IV X1479 on 03rd April 1944. PoW No: 415. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Czechoslovakia) (Born 25 October 1912. From Czechoslovakia)

Flt Lt. Gilbert William Walenn Mid bar. 73022 RAFVR Age 28. 25 Operational Training Unit. Wellington Ic N2805 on 11th September 1941. PoW No: 3776. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (Britain) (Born 24 February 1916. Son of Gilbert and Aida Walenn, of Hampstead Garden Suburb, Middlesex, England)


Flt.Lt. James Chrystall Wernham MiD. J/6144 RCAF Age 27. 405 Squadron. Observer. Halifax II W7708 on 09th June 1942. PoW No: 564. Murdered on the 30th March 1944. (Canada) (Born 15 September 1917. Son of James C. Wernham and Flora Wernham, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

Fl/Lt. George William Wiley MiD. J/7234 RCAF Age 22. 112 Squadron. Pilot. Kittyhawk III on 12th March 1943. PoW No: 930. Murdered on the 31st March 1944. (Canada) (Born 24 January 1922. Son of Morley Riley and Ethel May (née Root) Wiley of Windsor, Ontario, Canada)


Sq/Ldr. John Edwin Ashley Williams DFC. MiD. NZ/40652 RNZAF Age 24. 450 Squadron. Pilot. Kittyhawk III FR270 on 31st October 1942. PoW No: 838. Murdered on the 29th March 1944. (New Zealand) (Born 6 May 1919. From Wellington, New Zealand)

Fl/Lt. John Francis Williams MiD. 106173 RAFVR Age 26. 107 Squadron. Observer. Boston III Z2194 on 27th April 1942. PoW No: 992. Murdered on the 06th April 1944. (Britain) (Born 7 July 1917. Son of John and Bertha Ada Jane Williams, of Ewell, Surrey)



The award of Mention in Dispatches was at the time the only posthumous award available.

3 of the 76 however did manage to evade capture and return to England:

Fl/Lt. Jens Einar Müller. MC. Pilot. Spitfire Vb AR298 on 19th June 1942. Passed away in 1999 age 81. (Norway) (Born 30 November 1917. Son of Einar Jønsberg Müller and Daisy Constance Russell of Aker, Norway)

Fl/Lt. Peter Bergsland. MC. Pilot. Spitfire Vb AB269 on 19th August 1942. Passed away in 1992 age 74. (Norway) (Born 17 January 1918. From Ullernåsen, Norway)


Fl/Lt. Bram Van der Stok. MBE. Pilot. Spitfire Vb BL595 on 12th April 1942. Passed away in Hawaii in 1993 age 77. (Netherlands) (Born 13 October 1915. Husband of Lucia Maria Beata Walter)

Of the remainder that escaped and captured, 5 were sent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Oranienberg, Germany, 2 were sent to Colditz, Silesia, Germany and 1 was sent to Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang. The remaining 15 were returned to Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria. All survived the war.

Traugott Vitz and Ralph Snape have researched many war crimes committed on airforce personnel and others.

Further details can be obtained within the Vitz Archive.

We of course welcome any new information. Credits will be placed as applicable.

KTY 22.03.2019

RS 20.04.2020 - Addition of Link to report - Flt Lt. Brettell

RS 03.06.2021 - Addition of Link to report - Flt Lt. Evans

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered and should not be used without prior permission.
© 2012 - 2021 Aircrew Remembered
Last Modified: 03 June 2021, 14:46

If you would like to comment on this page, please do so via our Helpdesk. Use the Submit a Ticket option to send your comments. After review, our Editors will publish your comment below with your first name, but not your email address.

A word from the Editor: your contribution is important. We welcome your comments and information. Thanks in advance.
Monitor Additions/Changes?Click to be informed of changes to this page. Create account for first monitor only, thereafter very fast. Click to close without creating monitor