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Wally Floody and the Great Escape

The Story

On March 24, 1944, 76 Allied prisoners of war snuck under the wire of German PoW camp Stalag Luft III in a daring escapade that became known as the "Great Escape." This mass escape was made possible through an extensive tunnel project engineered by Canadian pilot Wally Floody. It was the single biggest escape of the war, and it caused chaos behind German lines. In this 1980 interview, Wally Floody discusses the duty of escaping and recounts the story of the Great Escape. 

Medium: Television
Program: Summer Festival
Broadcast Date: Aug. 18, 1980
Guest(s): Wally Floody
Host: Riki Turofsky
Duration: 6:34

Did You know?

• Wally Floody had plenty of experience for his job as chief tunnel engineer behind the Great Escape. At the age of 18, Floody worked at a mine in Timmins, Ont. • Wally Floody was shot down over France in October 1941. He was caught by the Germans and taken to PoW camp Stalag Luft III at ¯agañ (now in Poland).


• Despite all his work on the escape tunnels in Stalag Luft III, Floody could not participate in "the Great Escape." Camp security guards became highly suspicious that a tunnel was under construction and moved Floody, along with 19 others, to another camp just 10 days before the escape.


• The escapees undertook a massive tunnelling project, building three different tunnels -- code-named Tom, Dick and Harry -- simultaneously. Tom was discovered by "ferrets" -- German guards specializing in tunnel detection -- and was destroyed. The prisoners then decided to concentrate on Harry and use Dick for hiding dirt, falsified documents and other escape supplies.


• Harry was completed in March 1944 and the escapers waited for a moonless night, which came on the 24th. The goal had been for Harry to run under the camp's wire and exit into woods nearby, which would conceal the exit. When the first prisoner exited the tunnel, he found it fell well short of the woods, leaving the exit exposed to sentries, lights and gunfire.


• The escape committee had originally planned to get as many as 250 men out of the camp, but the tunnelling error slowed down the escape. Only 76 escaped and the 77th man was caught exiting the hole.


• The Great Escape was ultimately not very successful, as Floody explains. Of the 76 escapees, only three reached Allied territory. Of the 73 who were recaptured, 50 were executed by the Nazis.


• Nine Canadians made it out of the camp during the escape. Six of them were among the 50 killed by the Nazis, and another three were captured, but survived the war.


• The tunnels were a complex operation. They were wired with electric lights, had large air circulation system and a railway.


• The prisoners "scrounged" massive amounts of material for tunnel construction. These included 4,000 bed boards; 1,370 battens; 1,699 blankets; 161 pillow cases; 635 mattresses; 34 chairs; 52 20-man tables; 90 double-tier bunks; 1,219 knives; 478 spoons; 30 shovels; 1,000 feet of electric wire; 600 feet of rope; 192 bed covers; 3,424 towels; 1,212 bed bolsters; 10 single tables; 76 benches; 246 water cans; 582 forks and 69 lamps.


• Wally Floody is not portrayed in the 1963 movie The Great Escape, although one character is clearly inspired by him. Charles Bronson's character, Flight Lt. Danny Velinski, is also known as "The Tunnel King," a nickname for Floody's position as chief tunnel engineer in Stalag Luft III. The Tunnel King is also the title of a 2004 book about Floody.


• Wally Floody died in Toronto on Sept. 25, 1989.




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