The Escape Tunnel

The tunnel began under a bed in hut number 9, it went down through the floor under a bunk bed for about 4-5 feet and then curved towards the fence. The tunnel was approximately 3 foot square and went under a concrete path that ran outside the hut, the width of the path actually forming part of the roof. The tunnel then branched outwards for about 30 - 40 feet under the wire to a farmer's field that bordered the camp.

Tunnel Entrance (Red)
"Reclining ladies"
Distraction picture drawn on the wall, deliberately at eye line, above the tunnel.

To ventilate the tunnel during its excavation and on the night of the escape, the PoWs used condensed milk cans with either end removed to make a hollow tube. They they lots of these together to make a drain pipe effect and ran the pipe down in to the tunnel. It was then the job of a PoW sat on the bunk above to operate a propeller or a bellows type device to crudely vent cold and fresh air down the tunnel. The tunnel itself was lined with old clothes on the night of the escape, so that those that escaped, didn't emerge covered in mud.

The tunnel was excavated using pieces of timber taken from parts of the bunk beds and fashoned in to digging implements:

A section of wood from the bunk beds -
Notice how one end has been fashioned to create a handle and the other has been pointed to create a sharp digging feature

Rubber tubing with electrical flex attached used as a handle to pull a sled, containing the soil which had been excavated, along the length of the tunnel.

U-Boat boots - cut down to shoe size - found in the soil spoil


When the soil came out of the tunnel, the PoWs were unable to dispose of it in the usual way of flushing it down the toilets or drains because the soil below ground is very clay i.e. it wouldn't dissipitate (disolve). The soil below ground is also vibrant orange in colour and this meant the PoWs couldn't adopt , the usual ploy of pretending to have taken a keen interest in gardening so as to disperse the the soil in amongst the plants because of the colour. Also the time of the year was November - March which isn't gardening time. This meant the German PoWs had to come up with a more ingenious plan to hide the soil.

On the end of a wall inside Hut 9, the very hut the PoWs are escaping from, the POWs built a false extension to the main wall and blended it in to camouflage it.

Above picture showing the hiding place for the soil.
A false wall ran from the left to where the wooden pillar is and then back and a false vent was created in the top corner (red sqaure) to allow the soil to be inserted into the cavity.

The excavated soil was shaped in to round clay balls and then passed through a false air vent into the cavity behind making sure to keep the soil below the 'frosted glass window level'. When the POWs were captured they never divulged how they had got rid of the exacavated soil and the secret remained a mystery until the mid 1980s when vandals kicked the false wall down spilling the clay balls all over the floor!

Actual clay balls that were salvaged when the wall fell

As the work on the tunnel deepened there was an increasing risk that the tunnel might collapse. To prevent this, any wood that could be laid hands on was stolen. Oak benches were stolen from the canteen and when wood became scarce they had the ingenious idea of cutting the exact lengths from the bed legs so that all the beds were the same height.

Account given to by escapee A.531801 Lt. Gerhard FIEGEl:

The whole dig required meticulous secrecy and to this day is not known who actually organised the escape. It is highly likely that only a select few actually knew this information or the tunnel's location until just before the escape for fear of betrayal.

IMPORTANT NOTE FROM Brett Exton: The tunnel was initially opened in the Summer of 2003 and features in a documentary/drama programme called the "Welsh Great Escape" and found to be in near perfect condition ! (Click here to see photos). It was then excavated a second time in January 2013 for the programme CountryFile

I took this photo in 2013, notice the orange colour of the side walls of the tunnel and bed legs (acting as pit props) and the boards going across the roof to act as roof support


The escape tunnel exit with Hut 9 in the background