Last Wednesday we looked at the real roles many talented Allied officers played in the "scrounging" up off supplies and the "manufacturing" of various devices all used in their secretive efforts to escape the camp and get back into their planes and the war effort. In that blog I mentioned that a handful of the men were involved in the creative building of compasses and mentioned about 25 so built. It turns out that the more accurate figure was about 250 compasses that were made from scratch. So too was the number of maps they produced. I mentioned that over 1,000 were secretly printed from home made mimeograph machines... if you will. Actually they were bowls of Jelly almost! Re-read the last blog for fascinating details if you missed this. But again the numbers were low, with the more accuate figure being almost 4,000 printed for escape purposes. All made underground to boot!
And speaking of boots, did you know they could be used to forge documents?
What you are looking at here at the left and right are two boot heels carved up to make German stamps that can be used in the making of forged documents. One of these may well be the boot stamp recently recovered during the temporary excavation of tunnel DICK, before the dangerous conditions caused it to be filled back in again.
Among the many sectors of the Organization X were about two dozen officers that were known as the "forgers." Like so many of the talented prisoners, these men also had a creative talent, a steady hand and good eye. When the scroungers buddied up with the guards, they would then coerce the guards through various means to "loan" their documents to the men. These would be copied, and the originals returned with a token gift of chocolates etc. Off the POW's would then go to their underground little print shop at the base of the entry shaft to the tunnel known as DICK. There they would then use the new document to forge fake escape documents.
Others would read newspapers that came in Red Cross packages or left from the guards and would search every page for information of "intelligence." This could be the name of an employer, or his or her business, the address and phone number, a logo etc. All of these tidbits were useful and could be used by an escaping prisoner who could pretend he was an employee of that company. He could show a fake ID card with his picture, thanks to the scrounger's obtaining a camera and supplies, and forging the company logo, company name etc. onto the document. Other most valuable details would include the names and addresses of local officials, police etc. Having these names and sample signatures would be a gold mine because they too could be copied and used to create fake passports, travel documents, gates passes etc.
One of the POW's actually pickpocketed a guard's wallet, got everything copied and later that day when the guard returned looking for it, it was returned which much THANKS from the guard. Yet another guard was befriended and then extorted into getting his girlfriend... who worked in the Camp Commander's office, to lift papers for intelligence gathering, with the same being being returned ASAP.
This is an actual gate pass into another Camp, known as Luft l and about 300 miles north west of Luft lll, but many of the troublesome POW's from there were later moved to Luft lll. With them of course they brought their talents... among these may well have been that of forgery. (Tunnel digging was certainly one of their talents, and thus causing the move.) The image at above right is a forged gate pass.
Here are a couple of fake passes. Note in each the use of a boot stamp. The one of the left is a fake ID of an electrical worker who has a temporary job coming into camp to do some work. (Maybe it was the work wiring the theatre that was built not that long before the escape)
The left image is yet another forged document for an electrical worker and those to the right are 3 more travel documents that were forged.
Here are a couple of fake ID cards and three German ID disks (dog-tags) issued to POW's.
While quite a handful of officers were working on forging documents, others kept themselves busy actually taking higher education courses in the camp. Some studied languages and some would concentrate on teaching others European languages, especially useful phrases in German so that they could answer basic questions if challenged during the escape.
Still others used their talent to help out in the tailor shop on site. Created for the use of helping the officer with the odd torn shirt or jacket and pants...it very soon turned into a major tailor and costume shop operation. All of the day to day needs were looked after in the making of shorts and mending pants, but a complete wardrobe of outfits was needed for the shows put on in the theatre as well.
As you can see from these images of just two of the plays the men put on, the costumes certainly called for some talented tailors. Every one of the actors was a male... despite what you might think by looking at the pictures. And every one of those dresses the men made... and wore.
And of course in the back rooms, the men would be making something very different. Escape clothes. They would make a dozen German uniforms so accurate that one man walked out of camp wearing one, (but was soon caught.) One of the uniforms was put on by an escaping soldier that was about to enter the tunnel when another escapee walked into the hut, saw him and almost panicked because he thought the escape plan was discovered.
The men would make coveralls, and tourism type clothing and business suits... over 50 suits in all. They would raid Red Cross boxes for shorts, shirts, jacekets, blankets, sheets and from anything sent to POW's from back home they would try to pull out any materials that could be used to tailor up yet another outfit for an escapee.
These four men are Allied officers. The picture was taken by the Germans after the men were caught. Each carries a briefcase, and it is known that in the camp the "manufacturing" crews had been making some of these out of the KLIM tins and others just out of cardboard and probably painted with shoe polish.
Men like Sergeant Noble, Lt. Officer Ogilvie, Pilot Officers Brown, Davidson and Muller, Flight Lt's Buckingham, Bergsland and Pengally, and Flight Officers Colwell and Kidder with dozen more all played active, if not leadership roles in teaching various languages, tailoring, and forgery during the planning stages of the escape.
From what you have hopefully read in the last several columns you can readily see that there was so much more than simply digging a hole and running for cover in this story. It was because of all this other support work that was needed... and missing in earlier attempts, that so many ended with failure.
On Friday we will finally get to the digging!