The Wooden Horse

The first successful escape occurred in October 1943 in the East Compound. Conjuring up a modern Trojan Horse, the kriegies constructed a gymnastic vaulting horse largely from plywood from Red Cross parcels. The horse was designed to conceal men, tools, and containers of dirt.

Each day, the horse was carried out to the same spot near the perimeter fence and, while prisoners conducted gymnastic exercises above, from under the horse a tunnel was dug. At the end of each working day, a wooden board was placed back over the tunnel entrance and re-covered with surface dirt. The gymnastics not only disguised the real purpose of the vaulting horse, but the activity kept the sound of the digging from being detected by the microphones.

For three months three prisoners – Lieutenant Michael Codner, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams, and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot – in shifts of one or two diggers at a time, dug over 100 feet of tunnel using bowls as shovels and metal rods to poke through the surface of the ground to create air holes. No shoring was used except near the entrance.

One evening in October 1943, Codner, Williams, and Philpot made their escape. Williams and Codner were able to reach the port of Stettin where they stowed away on a Danish ship and eventually returned to Britain. Philpot, posing as a Norwegian margarine manufacturer, was able to board a train to Danzig (now Gdansk), and from there stowed away on a Swedish ship headed for Stockholm, and from there repatriated to Britain.

Accounts of this escape, long overshadowed by The Great Escape, were recorded in the book Goon in the Block (later retitled The Wooden Horse) by Williams, the book Stolen Journey by Philpot, and the 1950 film The Wooden Horse.

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