These were the 76 men who subverted and defied authority to inspire one of Britain’s most beloved films.

Roger Bushell was the RAF Squadron leader and prisoners escaped Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany in March 1944 through a tunnel they had secretly built.

The 1963 film the Great Escape, which stars Steve McQueen, tells how all but three of the men were re-captured soon after fleeing – and 50 of them were subsequently executed.

A new Channel 5 documentary series sheds light on the disgruntled guards who provided crucial information to prisoners escaping the Nazi regime with vital details about the German war effort. This was sent back to Britain in encrypted letters. 

Information was also obtained about Germany’s V2 rocket program, responsible for thousands of deaths.  

The documentary Tuesday reveals the identity of one of these letters. It was written by Roy Langlois, an escapee who used punctuation to communicate information. 

The Great Escape’s first episode airs at 9pm tonight. Historians say the Stalag Luft men were second to the Bletchley Park codebreakers for information about what was going on in Germany. 

It also discusses how The remarkable 1944 escape was possible due to close cooperation with German guards. They provided tools and identification documents, after having been bribed with chocolate and cigarettes. 

They were the 76 men whose acts of subversion and defiance inspired one of Britain's most famous films. In March 1944, prisoners led by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell escaped from Nazi Germany's Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp, near Sagan in Nazi-occupied Poland, through tunnels they had ingeniously dug in secret

It was these 76 men who inspired the most famous British film, “Subversion and Defiance”. Roger Bushell was the RAF Squadron leader and prisoners escaped Stalag Luft III in Nazi Germany in March 1944 through secret tunnels.

In spring 1943, Squadron Leader Bushell devised the plan for escaping Stalag Luft. This was just one of many failed escape plans made by prisoner.

The men involved in the Great Escape dug not one but three tunnels – which were named Tom, Dick and Harry – so that, if one or two were discovered, they would have a back-up.

In September 1943, Tom – which the men had been focusing on as their main route – was discovered.

Amazingly, two additional tunnels were discovered despite intense searches and increased suspicions of an imminent escape attempt.

Channel 5’s new documentary series sheds light upon how disgruntled guards of the Nazi regime provided prisoners during the escape with vital information about the German war effort. This was sent back to the UK via coded letters.

One of the letters - which was written by escapee Roy Langlois and used punctuation placed after certain letters to convey information - is revealed for the first time by his daughter in Tuesday's documentary

In Tuesday’s documentary, his daughter reveals for the first-time one of these letters. It was written by Roy Langlois (escapee) and included punctuation after specific letters in order to transmit information.

This meant that the RAF personnel could continue to work on two other escape routes at the start of 1944.

Some of them were working on crucial information while they constructed the tunnels.

Tonight’s program features Simon Pearson, a historian who explains how many guards were anti-Nazi and provided intelligence to Bushell.

According to him, Eberhard Hess was the most famous.

The coded letter revealed in the programme was written by inmate Roy Langlois

Roy Langlois, a prisoner, wrote the coded letters in the program.

“Hess did this for ideological reasons. He was against the Nazis. He wanted an alliance victory.

The information obtained from Hess was sent to the soldiers’ families, before it was relayed to Mi9 (the top-secret division of the War Office).

It was responsible for freeing Allied prisoners and obtaining information from Germany about the situation inside.

Helen Fry, historian said that while we all have heard about Mi5 and Mi6, Mi9 is what was actually created in December 1939 for the benefit of Allied prisoners-of-war.

Through coded letters, ‘Mi9 was able to communicate with Italian and German prisoners of war at camps in Germany.

Roy Langlois, an inmate of the prison, wrote the coded letters in this programme.

In order to relay secret information to Mi9 the Airman used punctuation, special commas, and underlining his signature.

Pippa, his daughter, said: “I have here a coded letter from my father Roy Langlois to my sister in England.

“It is very odd to have certain words, such as Rothmans Players, Players, 500, Guernsey inverted commas. It is very unusual.”

His daughter Pippa says: 'I have here a letter that is undoubtedly written in code by my father, Roy Langlois to his sister in England. 'I can tell it is a very strange letter by its tone but also by its punctuation because he has put certain words like Rothmans, Players, 500, Guernsey, in inverted commas, which is a very, very strange thing to do'

Pippa’s daughter said: “I have here a correspondence that was undoubtedly written in Code by my father Roy Langlois to our sister in England. It is very odd. I can see it by the tone and punctuation. He has inverted certain words such as Rothmans Players, Players, 500, Guernsey. This is very unusual.

Pearson claimed that Pearson had provided information about the German secret weapons program at Peenemunde. This was where V1s, V2s were developed.

“Because Hess’s brother was an eminent scientist with connections to Peenemunde.”

The activities of Peenemunde were discovered and the northern facility was heavily bombarded by Allied fighter pilots.

About 9,000 civilians were killed in the explosion of the supersonic long-range V2 rocket.

There were many British civilians who died in the bombing raids by Hitler.

It also describes how prisoners were able to get the assistance they required from guards, largely due to their ability to bribe them using goods that they had received in Red Cross parcels.

Guy Walters (Historian) says, “The prisoner are in many ways richer than their guards.” The guards consumed about one cigarette per day. Prisoners had approximately 10 cigarettes.

The 76 men who fled Stalag Luft made it out of the camp via the tunnel named 'Harry' (pictured)

Stalag Luft Luft’s 76 men fled via the Tunnel named Harry. (pictured)

“If cigarettes were the currency then prisoners would be five times more rich than guards.”

Contrarily, German rations were actually quite poor.

Walters claimed that parcels contained chocolate and other ‘goodies,’ which were then given to guards as a reward for their help in escaping.

They also created convincing-looking civilian clothes and forgery documents in order to help them escape.

A stamp bearing the eagle insignia of the German government – which was used on the documents to make them pass for the real thing – was made using the heel of a shoe.

Historians in the The Great Escape, the first episode of which airs tonight at 9pm, say that the men at Stalag Luft were regarded as second only to the Bletchley Park codebreakers when it came to obtaining information on what was happening inside Germany.  Above: Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, who masterminded the 1944 escape plot

The Great Escape’s first episode airs at 9pm tonight. Historians say the Stalag Luft men were second to Bletchley Park codebreakers for information about what is happening in Germany.  Above: Roger Bushell (Squadron Leader), who was responsible for the 1944 escape plan.

After the tunnel “Dick” was ruled out of escape, its exit point in the expansion had become the main camp building, the construction on the 335ft tall “Harry” was completed in late March 1944.

With the assistance of an air supply created from food cans, the tunnel’s entrance was found under Stalag Luft hut104.

Men disposed the dirt they dug from the ground with small bags that they concealed in their trousers. Then they left it to be deposited outside.

The greatcoats they wore to conceal the bulges created by the sand made them referred to simply as “penguins”. They used bed boards to create the walls.

Bushell had intended to free more than 200 campers, but it was not possible. It was soon discovered, however, that the tunnel wasn’t long enough for the safe passage to the forest.

The incredible tale of the daring escape from Stalag Luft was told in 1963 film classic The Great Escape

The 1963 classic film, The Great Escape tells the incredible story of Stalag Luft’s daring escape.

The tree line was just short and it came close to the guard tower. The original plan was to have escapes of around one per minute, but it turned out that there were only 10 in an hour.

Overall, the tunnel was accessed by 76 men. The forest was discovered just after 5am on March 25, the time the 77th man arrived. 

However, Hut 104 – the home of the entrance to the escape tunnel – was one of the last to be searched in the resultant sweep of the camp that followed the discovery.

The other co-workers had enough time to fire their fake documents. After Hut 104 had been searched for, the tunnel entrance was found only after a German guard attempted to return through the escape path from the outside.

The plan to escape from Stalag Luft was conceived by Squadron Leader Bushell in the spring of 1943. It followed dozens of other failed escape attempts made by prisoners

In the spring 1943, Squadron Leader Bushell devised the plan for Stalag Luft escape. This was just one of many failed escapes made by prisoner prisoners.

The tunnel, the entrance to which was hidden under a stove in Stalag Luft's hut 104, had been constructed with the help of a makeshift air supply built out of discarded food cans. This was then fed with oxygen by this homemade pump, which is seen being examined by a German soldier

This tunnel was built with the aid of an air supply that had been made out of food cans. A homemade pump supplied the oxygen needed to fuel this tunnel. This is how a German soldier inspects it.

Overall, 76 men made it out of the tunnel and into the forest before the 77th was discovered at just before 5am on March 25. Above: A German soldier examining Harry

Overall, the tunnel was accessed by 76 men. They reached the forest just before the 77th discovered. This occurred at about 5am on March 25, 1995. Above: A German soldier examining Harry

The prisoners allowed him to leave after he called out for help.

Seventeen of the 76 prisoners were captured very quickly. While 17 of the 76 were sent back to Stalag Luft Luft, fifty were executed including Bushell.

Langlois was captured by guards after he was spotted. Langlois was not executed because he was considered a lucky man. 

He was instead kept in isolation at Stalag Luft for more than three weeks and then remained there as a prisoner until the end of World War II.  

British were not among the men who made it to freedom. These were the Norwegians Per Bergsland, Jens E. Müller and Bram van der Stok, a Dutch flight lieutenant.

The horrific death toll of escapees… and how WWII’s most famous PoW story was remade in Hollywood

In the spring of 1943, RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell conceived a plan for a major escape from the German Stalag Luft III Camp near Sagan, now Żagań in Poland.

Three tunnels measuring 30 ft were built by PoWs to facilitate the escape plan for March 24, 1944. They were named Tom, Dick, or Harry so that, if any of the three tunnels was found by German guards they wouldn’t suspect the work being underway on the other two.

Bushell wanted to see more than 200 men pass the tunnels in civilian clothes, with all of their escape and legal equipment.

In the spring of 1943, RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell conceived a plan for a major escape from the German Stalag Luft III Camp near Sagan, now Żagań in Poland 

In the spring of 1943, RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell conceived a plan for a major escape from the German Stalag Luft III Camp near Sagan, now Żagań in Poland 

Prisoners used pouches made of sand to conceal the dirt dug through the tunnels. This allowed them to walk around without it scattering.

They wore large coats over their bulges from the sand to hide them. The prisoners were called ‘penguins’ due to their resemblance with the animal.

The first attempt failed to succeed. Instead of reaching for a forest nearby, Harry emerged right at the edge of the treeline, near a guard tower. 

The plans for one man leaving every minute were reduced from 10 to 10.

The Great Escape starred Steve McQueen (pictured above) as Captain Virgil Hilts

The Great Escape starred Steve McQueen, pictured above as Captain Virgil Hilts

To their initial freedom, total of 76 men climbed through the tunnel, with one guard spotting the 77th. One guard Charlie Pilz, who was on the lookout for the entrance, crawled through it but became trapped at one end and called for assistance. 

They revealed the location to the prisoners by opening the door.

The escapees managed to reach safety three times, with 73 being captured and fifty of them executed.

The Hollywood movie and the…

The 1963 movie The Great Escape, based upon real events, was inspired by real characters and many of them were either fictitious or amalgamations of multiple people.

This film starred Steve McQueen playing Captain Virgil Hilts. James Garner played Flight Lieutenant Robert Hendley while Richard Attenborough played Squadron leader Roger Bartlett. It was based upon a Paul Brickhill novel.

Contrary to what the movie portrays, there was no American PoW involved in the escape plan. Also, there weren’t any escapes via motorcycles or airplanes.

McQueen added Hilts’ motorbike ride for the border to McQueen’s request. McQueen did all the riding except the final jump.