The Great Escape

Corrected entry: Most of the film is based on true events. The only fabricated events were the Fourth of July celebration, the motorcycle scenes (which were added at the request of Steve McQueen), and the theft of a German airplane by Hendley and Blythe.

Cubs Fan

Correction: ARE YOU KIDDING? This film is fiction, almost from start to finish. There were no Americans in Stalag Luft III at the time of the escape. The fifty murdered escapees were shot in small, isolated batches, not taken into a muddy field and machine gunned, and the murders were carried out by the Gestapo - civilians - not uniformed troops. The three successful escapees were Norwegian and Dutch - no New Zealand or other Allied servicemen made it out. Need I go on? This film, entertaining though it is, is full of "fabricated events"!

Respectfully disagree. My father was a B-17 pilot who was shot down and went to Stalag Luft Three with many other American prisoners. (he wore dirt suspenders and dropped the dirt in gardens as seen in the movie). He was in the camp for two years. I have, and read, his POW diary. I'll grant the Mcqueen motorcycle chase was questionable wanna be drama. But, there were three tunnels and our POWs were "shot by the Goons." (his quote).

All Americans were transferred to a different compound before the escape. There were none in the escape.

Correction: Though some were involved in the initial planning and of the escape and the start of the excavation of the tunnels, the last American POW was transferred out of Luft Stalag III seven months before the night of the escape. There were no escapes by motorcycle (and certainly not by a 1960 Triumph 650) or by stolen aircraft and the escape took place in heavy snow. There were no British, Polish, or Australian/New Zealander (hard to tell from that shonky accent) escapees. They were Norwegian - Jens Müller and Per Bergsland - and Dutch - Bram van der Stok. The fifty murdered escapees were shot in ones and twos, not in a single group, and they were murdered by the Gestapo, not the German military. The film omits the involvement of the Canadian prisoners (there were hundreds)... and... like I said, why go on?

Corrected entry: Hendley creates a diversion so that he can get two tire irons from under a truck to make into a pick - later we see a pick that is welded together. But when the chaps are gardening - they are using picks!

Correction: The equipment given to the prisoners for gardening is counted when it's distributed and collected when the prisoners are done. A missing pick would have been a gigantic red flag.


Corrected entry: When the Australian POW is stealing a bicycle, he wire cuts a padlock. As he gets on the bike in the next shot, the padlock has completely vanished.

Correction: Not true. If you look closely, you can see the chain falling from the wheel as he pulls the bicycle from the rack.

Corrected entry: Bartlett is waiting for Ashley-Pitt to attend a meeting about getting rid of the dirt from the tunnels. When Pitt arrives, Bartlett says, 'Don't they teach you promptness in the RAF?' Ashley-Pitt was in the Navy.

Correction: He actually said "Don't they teach you promptness in the RN", as in Royal Navy.

Corrected entry: Ives never got shot, in fact he was one of the three out of all who escaped to make it back to England.

Correction: Duplicated, and already corrected : Nobody called Ives escaped from Stalag Luft III. The three 'home runners' - successful escapees - were Flight Lt Peter Bergsland, Jens Muller (a Norwegian civilian) and Flight Lt Bob van der Stok. The character of 'Ives' most closely resembles Flight Lt H W "Piglet" Lamond in terms of character, but Lamond escaped through the tunnel and was recaptured (and survived). Thus 'Ives' is at best a semi-fictional character and his being shot is not a film mistake.

Corrected entry: After the men escape they are all standing at the train station because the train was late, or there was a hold up of some kind. Was this possibly a ribbing kind of gesture at the term used in Nazi Germany "The government stinks but at least the trains run on time"?


Correction: That wasn't about Nazi Germany, it was about Fascist Italy. The phrase "He made the trains run on time" was coined by one of Mussolini's propagandists, and became widely believed, although there was little or no truth to it (source: Montagu, A. and Darling, E. (1967) The Prevalence of Nonsense, Dell/Delta, New York. Page 19).

J I Cohen

I believe (but I'm not 100%) that Patton once said the Nazis made the trains run on time when, after the war, he was questioned about not removing them from official posts in the Austrian Government. That is from memory and I might be wrong.

Correction: The late trains were directly due to the POW escape. The Germans were scouring the countryside searching for the escapees and knew they'd be trying to board trains and other public transportation. They'd be checking every station and depot in the vicinity as well as boarding buses and train coaches to search them, thus delaying the regular transportation schedules.


Corrected entry: While the men are in the truck toward the end of the movie, Big X says that he hopes he hadn't just blotted 70-odd ledgers. How did he know that only about 70 men had gotten out?

Correction: Big X and McDonald had been covering the "exit station" of the tunnel until they moved out themselves. So they knew how many men had escaped before them. They also knew that they were the last ones who made it, because they actually witnessed how the exit was discovered just after they had gotten out. Remember they were still hiding in the forest when the first shots rang out.

Corrected entry: When the three Americans invite the British to join their 4th of July celebration, Hilts lowers the fife from his mouth, but the music continues for a few beats.

Correction: The reason you still hear music is because some of the POW's are whistling. You can actually tell that it's the sound of those men whistling, and not the fife.

Corrected entry: In the scene where the Americans are making moonshine, they are simultaneously mashing potatoes and distilling the moonshine, but there's no sign of any fermentation going on, so it's not clear how the alcohol is created.

Correction: It's mentioned earlier that they've been collecting the potatoes and doing something secret in that shed for days, so the batch that's distilling currently has had time to ferment and the potatoes that are still mashing are likely preparing for another batch later.

Captain Defenestrator

Corrected entry: When Ramsay, Bartlett, Cavendish and Mac are discussing the distances 'Tom' and 'Harry' have been dug, Cavendish is smoking a pipe. Although he has the right end in his mouth, the part with the tobacco in it is facing east instead of north. It stays like this for about 3 seconds before he realises and corrects it. (01:14:15)


Correction: The fact that the pipe bowl is turned to the side for a couple of seconds is certainly not a 'movie mistake', since this can occur to any pipe smoking individual, such as my late uncle, when not paying attention. Then, as you say, he realized its position and turned the stem to place the bowl upright. It happens.

Super Grover

Corrected entry: Ives never got shot, in fact he was one of the three out of all who escaped to make it back to England.

Correction: Nobody called Ives escaped from Stalag Luft III. The three 'home runners' - successful escapees - were Flight Lt Peter Bergsland, Jens Muller (a Norwegian civilian) and Flight Lt Bob van der Stok. The character of 'Ives' most closely resembles Flight Lt H W "Piglet" Lamond in terms of character, but Lamond escaped through the tunnel and was recaptured (and survived). Thus 'Ives' is at best a semi-fictional character and his being shot is not a film mistake.

Corrected entry: When Hilts tells Bartlett and MacDonald that the tunnel is 20 feet short of the trees, they call for 30 feet of rope to set up the signal system where the men wait in the last chamber for a tug on the rope to come up. The tunnel is 30 feet below the surface, meaning they'd need at least 50 feet of rope, yet the 30-foot length suffices.

Correction: The escape chamber is not '30 feet below the surface', but only a few feet down. Men climbing out are only halfway up the ladder when their heads pop out of the exit hole.

Corrected entry: After the Great Escape, Hilts is the ONLY prisoner out of 26 brought back to the camp who is sent to the Cooler.

Correction: There were not 26 escapers brought back to the camp. That is the number of escapees that were not shot; 8 were sent to other camps instead of being returned to Sagan and another 3 made it to England. Only 15 of the escapees were returned to Sagan. In the context of the film (as Hilts is not based on a real person) maybe he was sent to the cooler for his antics while on the run (assaulting German troops etc.) and not for the escape itself.

david barlow

Corrected entry: Blythe doesn't need to escape - thus endangering fellow escapees and taking the place of another man - since the Geneva Convention (which the Luftwaffe generally adhered to as the Allies held many German prisoners) required that all POWs who suffer severe disability that would prevent them from fighting were to be repatriated.

Correction: Blythe hid his condition. He was essential to planning the escape and would not want to desert his comrades. The Germans didn't release him because they didn't know he was visually impaired. No one did until it was discovered shortly before the escape. Also, Blythe wasn't actually blind. He'd become severely myopic (near-sighted), which had progressed fairly quickly, and was only able to see things extremely close up. His vision could have been corrected with strong prescription eyeglasses, but a POW camp did not have that kind of medical care. His condition was such that if he was repatriated to the Allies, he could, with corrected vision, once again be an active soldier in some capacity and would have substantial knowledge of the enemy's POW camps locations inside Germany and their operations.


Corrected entry: An essential part of the escape plan is the obtaining of a still camera to take photographs of the camp boundary fences, enabling accurate measurements to be made. What are they going to use the camera for? A paperweight? First, how do they obtain 35mm film for the camera? In the late stages of World War 2 film would be almost unobtainable for a well-heeled civilian. A prisoner of war? No chance. Even if they did do so, how would they develop and print the film? They'd require a working darkroom - where? - with developing fluid, fixer, a lot of running water, photographic paper, the tubs necessary for all of these processes, and a photographic enlarger which is a complex piece of equipment. We see none of this gear and in a prisoner of war camp in Poland in the latter part of World War 2, we aren't going to, either.

Correction: Wrong on all counts. The film shows that the request for a camera was made by the forger in order to get photos of the prisoners for forged identity documents - nothing to do with photographing the boundary fences. This actually happened. The prisoners managed to get one of the guards to provide them with a tiny camera, developing and printing materials. They then set up a studio in the room and took the necessary photographs. This is reported in the book "The Great Escape" by Paul Brickhill, one of the prisoners who participated in the plan. So the film is correct. They really did get hold of a camera and all the other necessary materials.

The book you reference, I believe was called "The Last Escape." Fascinating read...but in agreement with you otherwise.

Correction: So? Coming from another country doesn't automatically mean a deep accent.

Grumpy Scot

Correction: He definitely has an Australian accent. American actor James Coburn wasn't perfect, but one can definitely tell it is supposed to be Australian.


Factual error: A convoy of open trucks arrive at the camp bringing the latest batch of prisoners, many of whom are carrying rucksacks and tote bags of clothing and other possessions. Where did they come from? Combat servicemen in World War Two did not carry overnight bags with them - a change of clothes or a handy supply of toiletries was the least of their concerns. A prisoner of war arrived in the camp with the clothes he stood up in and nothing else.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: These prisoners were being transferred from other camps to this camp. As Big X said, "they are putting all their eggs in one basket." It's likely they are carrying possessions they've acquired during their time in captivity.

What "possessions"? Do you think they had Oxfam shops in POW camps during World War 2? They would be dressed in their combat fatigues and nothing else.

They would have possessions as they would receive parcels from home and Red Cross parcels.

Prisoners of war would receive Red Cross parcels, and may have also scrounged, made or been issued a few other bits and pieces. In particular, they'd probably have a change or two of underwear, some toiletries and a few books or games at the very least.

POWs acquired possessions by hand-making, scrounging, care packages, 'selling' watches and rings to guards or local civilians.

Agreed, there was always a bit of trading going on for little trinkets. As has happened in many wars.


They were universally known for their trading and scrounging abilities. Remember these were the "worst of the worst" in offending.


Just to clarify. They weren't exactly the "worst of the worst" for bad or incorrigible behavior. They were the best at attempting to escape POW camps or otherwise subverting their German captors. The fed-up Germans decided to contain them all in one prison to stop the constant breakouts. They only succeeded in creating a POW "think tank" by pooling together the most talented escape artists who combined their skills and knowledge.


In international conflicts, in addition to prisoners regularly receiving Red Cross care packages, the Geneva Convention requires captors to treat all POWs humanely, and provide food, clothing, housing, medical treatment, and hygiene. As mentioned, these prisoners brought their belongings with them from other camps. International Red Cross inspectors monitor POW camps for compliance. Failure to comply with the rules constitutes war crimes, which are adjudicated after a conflict. Germany was generally compliant. POW camps were to detain captured soldiers and prevent them rejoining the war. They did not punish detainees as "criminals" but disciplined them when they were non-compliant or for other misbehavior. Once the war was over, POWs were repatriated.


The Great Escape was from a POW camp specifically set up to hold trouble makers from other camps. Also, sometimes people expect to be captured and prepare to for it! Today, during funeral of John Lewis, speakers repeatedly mentioned that he was carrying a backpack with 2 books, an apple, an orange and a tooth brush. Which haven't been seen since his head was beat in. A least one German Fortress commander, sworn to defend his fort until he and all those under his command were dead, surrendered with multiple suit cases to make his incarceration more comfortable. Like the character Yossarian in Catch-22. [Spoiler alert: he makes elaborate preparations to the paddle in a life raft from Italy to Sweden.].

More mistakes in The Great Escape

Col. Von Luger: Group Captain Ramsey, in the past four years the Reich has been forced to spend an enormous amount of time, energy, manpower and equipment hunting down prisoner of war officers.
Group Capt. Ramsey: At least it's rather nice to know you're wanted, isn't it?

More quotes from The Great Escape
More trivia for The Great Escape

Question: How come Hilts could not answer the German at the end of the movie when he said he could speak German to Colonel von Luger?

Answer: He could have only known a small amount of German, enough to answer a question or two, but not enough to carry on a full conversation. Also, the German seemed to be wanting to have a full conversation with him. He was on the run and didn't have time to talk. He was most likely being a smart ass saying he knew German.

Answer: .And, just to add to the previous answer: even if he could speak conversational German, he would likely do so with a very strong American accent (as he does when he speaks the few words to the Commandant earlier), so the guard would have picked up on that right away, anyway.

More questions & answers from The Great Escape

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