World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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  F/Lt. Desmond L. Plunkett


Stalag Luft III and Stalag Luft I POW


A genuine Great Escaper dies, 57 years on

Evening Standard (London),  Feb 20, 2002  by RICHARD HOLLIDAY

ONE of the few Allied airmen to take part in the real "Great Escape" and live to tell the tale has died aged 86.

Former Wimbledon schoolboy Desmond Plunkett was one of 76 men who escaped on 23 March 1944 through a tunnel they had dug beneath Stalag Luft III.

Three got away but of the 73 recaptured, 50 were executed by the Gestapo. In 1963, the escapees' story was told in the epic film, The Great Escape, starring Richard Attenborough and Steve McQueen.

Mr. Plunkett avoided the executions, managing to remain on the run until the Germans had shot their quota of officers. Instead he was held in solitary confinement for seven months at Gestapo headquarters in the Czech capital, Prague, where he was beaten regularly and fed - twice a week - on a diet of boiled blood.

Desmond Lancelot Plunkett was born in 1915 in India, where his father was a civil engineer. After the family returned to England, he was educated at King's College, Wimbledon, then joined the Hawker aircraft company at Kingston, Surrey. He learned to fly at Redhill flying club and graduated as a flying instructor with the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

Days before his wedding in 1941, he qualified as a bomber pilot and was posted to 218 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

On only his eighth operational day, the Stirling heavy bomber Flt Lt Plunkett was co-piloting was shot down over occupied Holland while on a mission to attack Cologne and Essen. He was arrested and taken to Stalag Luft III 80 miles south-east of Berlin, where his fellow RAF prisoners included Douglas Bader. The camp's escape committee leader, Roger Bushell - played by Attenborough in the film - picked Plunkett as the team's mapmaker, charged with charting escape routes to Switzerland, France and Sweden.

Plunkett and his team also produced passes, permits and other "official" documents devised by Tim Walenn, the escapees' master forger.

Both Walenn and Blunkett provided role models for Donald Pleasence's character in the film.

By the time the Germans discovered the 360ft-long tunnel, the airmen had reached forests beyond the camp. Mr Plunkett and his escape partner, Czech airman Bedrich Dvorak, boarded a train at the local station for Breslau. They made it to Czechoslovakia, but were eventually arrested at the Austrian border.

While Mr Dvorak was sent to Colditz, Mr Plunkett endured the Gestapo's hospitality. He was eventually released into the custody of Hradin Prison in Prague and was sent in January 1945 to Stalag Luft I on the Baltic Sea. From there he was repatriated after VE Day.

After the war Mr Plunkett remained in the RAF for two more years, then left to become sales manager of a Calcutta aircraft company.

In 1949 he went on to work as a survey pilot and in 1965 he and his family settled in Rhodesia.

He retired from flying in 1975 and took up bee-keeping, returning to Britain in the late Nineties to live at the Royal Air Forces Association home at Storrington, West Sussex, from where he co-wrote a book about his experiences, The Man Who Would Not Die.

He is survived by his widow, Patricia, and their son and two daughters



"Desmond Plunkett; Helped Lead WWII Escape"
By Beth Gardiner, Associated Press
Thursday, February 21, 2002; Page B07

LONDON -- Desmond Plunkett, 86, a Royal Air Force flier who helped plot the daring World War II prison camp breakout that inspired the Steve McQueen film "The Great Escape," has died.

Mr. Plunkett died Feb. 14, according to the RAF Association, a veterans' group. It did not give the cause of death or say where he died.

Prisoners at the Stalag Luft III Nazi prison camp put Mr. Plunkett -- who had been shot down over occupied Holland on June 20, 1942 -- in charge of making 1,500 maps that the men would need to get to safety after tunneling to freedom.

Using ink from melted crayons and gelatin taken from Red Cross food packages, Mr. Plunkett and his team assembled a crude mimeographing system that let him print about 20 copies from every original map they drew, said Jonathan Vance, a history professor at the University of Western Ontario.

Although 76 men broke out the night of March 23, 1944, the plotters had planned to help about 200 escape, and each would have needed many maps to reach safety from the camp in Sagan, southeastern Germany.

Mr. Plunkett's team based its work on maps stolen from supply trucks or obtained from guards by bribe or blackmail, said Vance, who interviewed Mr. Plunkett for a book about the escape, "A Gallant Company."

"He was one of the key organizers. He was really in the inner circle of escape planners," Vance said. "It required quite an organization to find out where everybody was trying to get to and then get them the maps to get there."

After nearly a year of planning and digging, 76 men, all Allied soldiers, crawled out of the camp through a 300-foot tunnel. Seventy-three were recaptured, and 50 were executed immediately on orders from Adolf Hitler.

Mr. Plunkett, who traveled with Bedrich "Freddy" Dvorak of Czechoslovakia, evaded capture for two weeks -- the two were the last of the group to be caught when they were picked up at the Czech-German border April 8.

He spent more than two months in a Gestapo prison in Prague before being moved to a camp in northeastern Germany, where he remained until the war ended.

Convinced he'd said something under interrogation that caused the Germans to execute the others, Mr. Plunkett attempted suicide, Vance said. Fellow POWs reminded him that the men were put to death before he was captured.

Vance said it was hard to say whether Mr. Plunkett was depicted in the 1963 film because many characters were composites.

Mr. Plunkett lived briefly in Pakistan and India after the war and then moved to Rhodesia, where he started what became a successful flying company.

He returned to Britain in the late 1990s and lived at the Royal Air Force Association's home in Storrington, southeastern England.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia, a son and two daughters.

2002 The Washington Post Company"

Drawing by Desmond Plunkett while at Stalag Luft I

Drawing by D. L. Plunkett  on April 18, 1945 while at Stalag Luft I,  presented to W/Cdr. W.D. Gordon-Watkins the Senior British Officer of Barracks 10, South Compound



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