The Great Escape murders: How the Nazi slaughter of escaped heroes led to one of post-war Europe's biggest manhunts
By SIMON READ
PUBLISHED: 17:00 EST, 2 March 2013 | UPDATED: 03:27 EST, 3 March 2013
Immortalised in the film The Great Escape, the mass breakout from PoW camp Stalag Luft III on March 24-25, 1944, was swiftly followed by terrible retribution – the cold-blooded murder of 50 recaptured prisoners, on Hitler’s direct orders
On March 29, 1944, Australian Squadron Leader James Catanach and three fellow Allied airmen found themselves languishing in a Nazi prison just a few miles short of the Danish border.
After being prisoners inside Stalag Luft III, a notorious PoW camp located 100 miles south-east of Berlin, freedom had seemed so close just days before.
Two years after being shot down over Norway, Catanach had been part of the most daring escape of the war. Some 76 Allied airmen had tunnelled out, before attempting to disperse across Europe and escape back to Britain.
The 22-year-old Aussie spoke fluent German and believed – wrongly, as it transpired – that he had a reasonable chance of making it to neutral Sweden.
Catanach and Arnold Christensen of the Royal New Zealand Air Force had managed to make their way to the railway station at Sagan, the town nearest the camp, and catch the express to Berlin. They spent the night in the capital, avoiding detection, and purchased train tickets to Flensburg.
It was here, in this ancient city on the Baltic coast, that they were spotted and arrested.
Now, with Christensen and fellow escapees Hallada Espelid and Nils Fuglesang, Norwegians with the Royal Air Force, Catanach sat wondering what awaited them. They assumed the Germans would return them to a prison camp, as was normal protocol.Murdered in cold blood: A list of the escapees, with photos, who were shot. Among the dead were 25 Britons, six Canadians, three Australians, two New Zealanders, three South Africans, four Poles, two Norwegians, one Frenchman and a Greek
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