This Sunday, March 23, marks the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest escapes in World War II history. In fact, it's most often referred to as "The Great Escape," and was immortalized in a 1963 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen.
On the cold, moonless night of March 24, 1944, the first of 76 Allied airmen escaped through a tunnel from Stalag Luft III, their prisoner of war camp, deep in occupied Poland. It was an operation that had begun nearly a year earlier in the spring of 1943, when the prisoners started digging three 300-foot-long tunnels they called "Tom," "Dick" and "Harry."
Overnight, the men escaped, one by one, through "Harry." A German guard discovered what was happening around 5 a.m. and the Nazis began a massive manhunt.
Within a couple of weeks, 73 of the 76 escapees were recaptured. Adolf Hitler was so furious he personally ordered the execution of 50 of the escapees as a warning to other prisoners. Posters went up around POW camps that read, “Escaping from prison camps has ceased to be a sport." They warned that escapees would be shot on sight.
The war in Europe would be over in a little more than a year. In 1947, a military tribunal found 18 Nazi soldiers guilty of war crimes for shooting the recaptured prisoners of war, and 13 of them were executed.