The Great Escape

Factual error: Why is Hilts not wearing a uniform? A serving officer captured behind enemy lines in civilian clothing risked being shot as a spy. If a prisoner's uniform was too worn or damaged to wear, it was routine for the German authorities to replace it - a P.O.W. in civilian clothes is an obvious escape risk. He is wearing a pair of tan chinos, a cut off sloppy Joe sweatshirt, both ridiculously anachronistic - Sixties hipster fashions - and nowhere even close to a World War 2 uniform. He is also wearing Army Type III Service boots - something that would never have been issued to a fighter pilot.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: The character of Hilts was based (in part) on the life of a British OSS agent who managed to pass as pilot by stealing a flight jacket (revealed in the DVD). We can only assume that since the Germans believed the camp was escape-proof, it didn't matter what Hilts was wearing, since he wouldn't be going anywhere.

Cobblers. Hilts is wearing casual clothing typical of the time the film was shot, not when it was set. No prisoner of war would be dressed the way he was. The posting is correct.

I've always assumed that the actor, Steve McQueen, insisted on the outfit so he would look hip per his image. He had a reputation for being a prima donna on set.

Factual error: A convoy of open trucks arrive at the camp bringing the latest batch of prisoners, many of whom are carrying rucksacks and tote bags of clothing and other possessions. Where did they come from? Combat servicemen in World War Two did not carry overnight bags with them - a change of clothes or a handy supply of toiletries was the least of their concerns. A prisoner of war arrived in the camp with the clothes he stood up in and nothing else.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: These prisoners were being transferred from other camps to this camp. As Big X said, "they are putting all their eggs in one basket." It's likely they are carrying possessions they've acquired during their time in captivity.

What "possessions"? Do you think they had Oxfam shops in POW camps during World War 2? They would be dressed in their combat fatigues and nothing else.

Prisoners of war would receive Red Cross parcels, and may have also scrounged, made or been issued a few other bits and pieces. In particular, they'd probably have a change or two of underwear, some toiletries and a few books or games at the very least.

They would have possessions as they would receive parcels from home and Red Cross parcels.

POWs acquired possessions by hand-making, scrounging, care packages, 'selling' watches and rings to guards or local civilians.

Agreed, there was always a bit of trading going on for little trinkets. As has happened in many wars.

Ssiscool Premium member

They were universally known for their trading and scrounging abilities. Remember these were the "worst of the worst" in offending.

stiiggy

Just to clarify. They weren't exactly the "worst of the worst" for bad or incorrigible behavior. They were the best at attempting to escape POW camps or otherwise subverting their German captors. The fed-up Germans decided to contain them all in one prison to stop the constant breakouts. They only succeeded in creating a POW "think tank" by pooling together the most talented escape artists who combined their skills and knowledge.

raywest Premium member

In international conflicts, in addition to prisoners regularly receiving Red Cross care packages, the Geneva Convention requires that captors treat all POWs humanely, and provide food, clothing, housing, medical treatment, and hygiene. As mentioned, these prisoners brought their belongings with them from other camps. International Red Cross inspectors monitor POW camps for compliance. Failure to comply with the rules constitutes war crimes. Germany was generally more compliant than Japan. POW camps were to detain captured soldiers and prevent them rejoining the war, not to punish them as criminals. Once the war was over, POWs were repatriated.

raywest Premium member

The Great Escape was from a POW camp specifically set up to hold trouble makers from other camps. Also, sometimes people expect to be captured and prepare to for it! Today, during funeral of John Lewis, speakers repeatedly mentioned that he was carrying a backpack with 2 books, an apple, an orange and a tooth brush. Which haven't been seen since his head was beat in. A least one German Fortress commander, sworn to defend his fort until he and all those under his command were dead, surrendered with multiple suit cases to make his incarceration more comfortable. Like the character Yossarian in Catch-22. [Spoiler alert: he makes elaborate preparations to the paddle in a life raft from Italy to Sweden.].

Factual error: Many of the prisoners are wearing watches, which is incorrect. Upon arrest a prisoner's watch was confiscated. This prevented them using them to bribe or barter with corrupt guards (and as this film acknowledges, there were plenty of those) as well as making coordination of meetings or escape plans difficult.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: It is true that most prisoners had their watches confiscated when they were captured. However, British POWs could write to Rolex in Geneva through the International Red Cross requesting a watch. Rolex would supply one with an invoice to be paid at the end of the war. The watches sent were steel because gold watches would have been confiscated by the guards. At least some of the prisoners involved in the Great Escape had these watches. Corporal Nutting, one of the masterminds, requested and received an Oyster 3525 Chronograph - a more upmarket model than the ones favoured by most POWs, which he used to measure the frequency of German patrols. After the war he paid £15 for it. In 2007 this watch and the associated correspondence was sold at auction for £66,000.

Peter Harrison

They are not wearing Rolex watches and the newly arrived prisoners are all wearing watches, which would normally have been confiscated.

No, they are not all wearing watches. Having watched the first half hour to check, the only definite watch I can see is being worn by Steve McQueen. I can't see enough of it to say definitively whether or not it matches the watches Rolex were sending. Many of the others are either definitely not wearing watches (Charles Bronson, for example) or, if they are, it is hidden by their clothes.

Peter Harrison

Character mistake: The scene in the outdoor Parisian cafe is incredibly daft. First, the cafe owners call James Coburn's bizarrely-accented Australian to the telephone to keep him out of the way as their accomplices assassinate three uniformed German officers seated in the cafe in a drive by shooting. They then toast the killings with cognac, and that is the mistake - not the shootings, not the luring away of Coburn - the mistake is that the cafe proprietors celebrate the assassination of the German officers in broad daylight, in the open, without even stopping to think that such an action would have them shot, because all of this is done in the direct view of passers-by in broad daylight. Do they think those three German officers were the only ones in Paris? How did they know Coburn wasn't an undercover Gestapo agent or a French collaborator? Don't they stop to consider that in an occupied city machine gun fire is going to draw some attention from the authorities, who might just wonder what a couple of bullet riddled corpses are doing lying about the place?

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: Regarding the French cafe proprietors making a toast, if questioned, they could simply claim they were celebrating surviving the incident and/or needed a calming drink. Considering any ensuring panic and confusion after the shooting, pedestrians would hardly notice the waiters. Attention would be on the dead Germans. French citizens most likely wouldn't care or cooperate with the authorities. Being indifferent to German officers getting killed is not proof of involvement. Most French hardly be remorseful over their enemies' deaths. Antagonism toward the Germans was normal. It would be more suspicious if the proprietors showed concern. As far as helping James Coburn, it was pretty obvious he was neither French or German, and they took a chance to protect an innocent bystander. Also, it was to inject some subtle levity into the scene.

raywest Premium member

Rubbish. During the occupation Paris was crawling with collaborators and undercover German agents. The cafe owners are drinking champagne - not much of a nerve stiffener! - and they clink glasses in celebration of the shooting of the German officers. Their actions are beyond obvious to anyone that can see them. They simply would not take the risk and would act as if they were horrified to see their customers shot dead in their cafe.

Nope. Even if collaborators were "crawling" around, no-one would expect any French citizen to care about Nazis being killed. If questioned they can claim it was for the other reasons already stated (and they are not drinking champagne). It does not prove their involvement. Little would come of them being interrogated. As mentioned, this is a movie, and the scene injects subtle humor and is intended to show the audience that they are involved in the coordinated plan.

raywest Premium member

Again, rubbish. The Nazis occupying Paris arrested anyone suspected of belonging to or assisting the Resistance on the slightest pretext, and the cafe owners who were celebrating the deaths of three German officers would be in a Gestapo prison cell before the bodies of the dead Germans were cold. What they do after the Germans are shot is blatant, irresponsible, dangerous and completely unnecessary. They could have saved their celebrations for later when it was safe.

Once again, NOPE. Clinking glasses is not proof of possibly belonging to or aiding the Resistance. They also were not wildly celebrating. It was a quick, low-key action, and they looked both nervous and relieved. Also, I re-watched the scene on YouTube. When the car pulls up to shoot the Nazis, the street around them is completely empty. No witnesses anywhere. People are only seen far in the background. The phone call just before the shooting is a signal and indicates this was well-coordinated and timed. Secondly, the story needs to move quickly, and insignificant characters would not be seen toasting later. This also showed James Coburn (and us) that the waiters were potential allies.

raywest Premium member

You think the Nazis needed proof of someone's involvement in the Resistance? They arrested, tortured and shot innocent people on the unsubstantiated word of pro-German informers! No witnesses anywhere? What about Coburn? They didn't know who he was or where he was from. For all they know he could have been a Gestapo agent himself. The scene is absurd. Nobody is so stupid as to do what they did at the risk of dying horribly if caught doing it.

It should also be noted that the cafe owners duck behind their counter before the car carrying the gunmen shows up, and they get Coburn to do the same. They just provided incontrovertible evidence that they knew about the assassinations ahead of time.

Yes, they absolutely were part of it, and the hit was timed and planned in advance for the opportune moment. This was not a random act, and the phone call appears to be the signal that sets the events in motion. When they made the toast, they knew the street was completely empty and obviously felt it was safe to do so. Also, if Coburn was a spy or collaborator, he would have warned the Nazis, not hidden behind the counter.

raywest Premium member

Character mistake: When Werner asks Hendley why, as an American, he fights alongside Britain, he mentions that the British burned down the U.S. capital in 1812. While it happened during the War of 1812, the burning of Washington actually occurred in 1814. (00:11:10)

Cubs Fan Premium member

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: The question was intended to demonstrate how far out-of-touch Werner was with United States history.

Charles Austin Miller

You misunderstand. Werner's question in and of itself is not the mistake; it's merely a point of contextual reference. The mistake is him giving the incorrect date of a historical event he claims to have read about; it's hard to believe that every book that he might have read on the topic are all wrong, so he must be remembering, and thus repeating it, incorrectly.

Cubs Fan Premium member

Factual error: When the SS and Gestapo are leaving Bartlett in Von Luger's office on his arrival in the camp, they all give the Nazi salute with bent arms. The correct form was a straight outstretched arm and hand: only Hitler himself was allowed to give the Hitler salute so sloppily.

tobyduckett

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: Absolute rubbish. And Von Luger was a Luftwaffe officer, not a die hard Nazi.

stiiggy

You need to explain why you believe this is incorrect. Do you mean they actually give proper salutes? Do you mean it isn't a mistake to show an officer give an improper salute? Do you mean the Nazi's weren't as strict on salute protocol as the mistake suggests?

BaconIsMyBFF

Von Luger's disgust of the Gestapo is shown when Big X is returned from custody. I have rendered a sloppy salute to a particular officer to make a point.

stiiggy

Plot hole: The officers arrived in separate vehicles where they could view the countryside and the road leading to the camp, yet they later claimed to Hilts they knew nothing about the area.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: Totally wrong. They were always in covered trucks for that very reason. One of the first scenes in the guards rolling up the tarps so that the prisoners could get out of the trucks.

stiiggy

Stupidity: When the Hilts discover they're 20' short of the trees, why wouldn't he "dirty up" his white/light tan pants so the tower lights wouldn't expose him so easily?

kaevanoff

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: Because he would look scruffy and dirty once he got out. He was the Cooler King and knew his way around after all.

stiiggy

I would suggest in the reality of the escape, light colored clothing would not have been worn so as to blend in to the night and the surrounding environment better. The light slacks were strictly for artistic reasons.

kaevanoff

Factual error: Many of the prisoners are wearing watches, which is incorrect. Upon arrest a prisoner's watch was confiscated. This prevented them using them to bribe or barter with corrupt guards (and as this film acknowledges, there were plenty of those) as well as making coordination of meetings or escape plans difficult.

Upvote valid corrections to help move entries into the corrections section.

Suggested correction: It is true that most prisoners had their watches confiscated when they were captured. However, British POWs could write to Rolex in Geneva through the International Red Cross requesting a watch. Rolex would supply one with an invoice to be paid at the end of the war. The watches sent were steel because gold watches would have been confiscated by the guards. At least some of the prisoners involved in the Great Escape had these watches. Corporal Nutting, one of the masterminds, requested and received an Oyster 3525 Chronograph - a more upmarket model than the ones favoured by most POWs, which he used to measure the frequency of German patrols. After the war he paid £15 for it. In 2007 this watch and the associated correspondence was sold at auction for £66,000.

Peter Harrison

They are not wearing Rolex watches and the newly arrived prisoners are all wearing watches, which would normally have been confiscated.

No, they are not all wearing watches. Having watched the first half hour to check, the only definite watch I can see is being worn by Steve McQueen. I can't see enough of it to say definitively whether or not it matches the watches Rolex were sending. Many of the others are either definitely not wearing watches (Charles Bronson, for example) or, if they are, it is hidden by their clothes.

Peter Harrison

More mistakes in The Great Escape

Group Capt. Ramsey: Colonel Von Luger, it is the sworn duty of all officers to try to escape. If they can't, it is their sworn duty to cause the enemy to use an inordinate number of troops to guard them and their sworn duty to harass the enemy to the best of their ability.
Col. Von Luger: Yes I know. The men under your authority have been most successful. This man, Ahsley-Pitt for example. Caught in the North Sea, escaped, recaptured, escaped, recaptured. Archibald "Archie" Ives: 11 escape attempts. He even tried to jump out of the truck coming here. Dickes, William: known to have paticipated in the digging of 11 escape tunnels. Flight Lieutenant Willinski: four escape attempts. MacDonald: nine, Hendley, the American: five, Haynes: four, Sedgewick: seven. The list is almost endless. One man here has made 17 attempted escapes. Group Captain, this is close to insanity.
Group Capt. Ramsey: Quite.
Col. Von Luger: And it must stop!

More quotes from The Great Escape
More trivia for The Great Escape

Question: In the scenes in which the POWs use the bags inside their trousers to distribute tunnel dirt over the compound, how do they put the pins back into the bags? It seems like a pain in the butt to have to take the bags out, just to put them back in, just to take them back out, etc.

Cubs Fan Premium member

Chosen answer: The movie is based on a true story and depicts actual events. After dispersing the dirt, the POWs simply removed the bags from their pants, reinserted the pins, and put the filled bags back inside their trousers again. Of course it was a pain, but what other options did they have? Little or none. Carrying out a secret operation in a POW camp with few resources, they worked with what they had, and made what they had work.

raywest Premium member

More questions & answers from The Great Escape

Join the mailing list

Separate from membership, this is to get updates about mistakes in recent releases. Addresses are not passed on to any third party, and are used solely for direct communication from this site. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Check out the mistake & trivia books, on Kindle and in paperback.