Flight Lieutenant Griffith acts as "the tailor", creating civilian outfits from scavenged cloth. Forgery is handled by Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe.
The prisoners work on three tunnels simultaneously, calling them "Tom", "Dick", and "Harry". The work noise is covered by the prisoner choir led by Flt. Dennis Cavendish, who also serves as surveyor. Hilts and Ives conceive an escape, but are caught and returned to the cooler.
Upon release, Bartlett requests that Hilts use his next escape as an opportunity for a reconnaissance of the area immediately surrounding the camp; Hilts refuses but does assist the prisoners as a scrounger. Meanwhile, Hendley forms a friendship with German guard Werner, which he exploits on several occasions to smuggle documents and other items of importance to the prisoners. Soon, Bartlett orders "Dick" and "Harry" to be sealed off, as "Tom" is closest to completion.
While the prisoners enjoy a 4th of July celebration arranged by Hilts, Hendley and 2nd Lt. Goff, the guards discover "Tom". Ives frantically climbs the barbed wire surrounding the camp and is shot dead. The prisoners switch their efforts to "Harry", and Hilts agrees to reconnoiter outside the camp and allow himself to be recaptured. The information he brings back is used to create maps to guide the escapees. Blythe discovers that he is slowly going blind due to progressive myopia caused by intricate work by candlelight; Hendley takes it upon himself to be Blythe's guide in the escape.
The last part of the tunnel is completed on the scheduled night, but it proves to be twenty feet short of the woods. Knowing there are no other options, Bartlett orders the escape to go ahead. The claustrophobic Danny nearly refuses to go, but is helped along by Willie. Seventy-six prisoners get away, aided by an air-raid blackout, before the escape is discovered, when Griffith impatiently exits the tunnel in view of an investigating guard. Danny and Willie steal a rowboat and proceed downstream to a major port, where they board a Swedish merchant ship to safety.
Sedgwick steals a bicycle, then rides hidden on a train to France where the French Resistance get him to Spain to safety. Cavendish hitches a ride in a truck, but is delivered to the authorities, discovering many other fellow prisoners recaptured. Hendley and Blythe steal a plane to fly over the Swiss border, but the engine fails, and they crash-land. Blythe is shot by German soldiers. As he dies, he thanks Hendley for getting him out. Hendley is recaptured. Hilts steals a motorcycle at a checkpoint, jumping a series of barbed-wire fences at the German-Swiss border to escape from German soldiers; he lands in the wire of the second fence and is recaptured.
While waiting to pass through a Gestapo investigation checkpoint at a railway station, Bartlett is recognized by Kuhn, a Gestapo agent who had transferred him to the camp, but Ashley-Pitt sacrifices himself by killing Kuhn and letting himself be chased and killed by soldiers. The resulting confusion allows Bartlett and MacDonald to slip away, but while boarding a bus, MacDonald blunders by accidentally replying in English to a suspicious Gestapo officer. In mid-transport, many prisoners, including Bartlett, MacDonald, Cavendish and others, are invited to stretch their legs in a field, whereupon they are all shot dead on the orders of Adolf Hitler under the pretense that they were trying to escape.
Hilts, Hendley and the others are returned to the camp. In all, 50 men were killed, 23 were caught and only 3 successfully escaped. Luger is relieved of command of the camp for having failed to prevent the breakout. Hilts is taken back to the cooler where he optimistically bounces his baseball against his cell wall, as he has done so before.
In , the Mirisch brothers worked with United Artists to adapt the book to produce the film adaptation. The story was adapted by James Clavell , W.
In the book, Brickhill noted he had been a very minor member of the X Organisation, one of the "stooges" who monitored German movements in the POW compound. Jones , John Dortch Lewis,  and William Ash ,    has been credited with the most significant performance. This film established McQueen's box-office clout and secured his status as a superstar.
Critic Leonard Maltin wrote that "the large, international cast is superb, but the standout is McQueen; it's easy to see why this cemented his status as a superstar. He volunteered to fly with the Film Unit and after further training, where he sustained permanent ear damage, qualified as a sergeant, flying on several missions over Europe filming from the rear gunner's position to record the outcome of Bomber Command sorties.
Richard Harris was originally announced for the role. He is played by James Donald. Massey walked with a limp, and so did Ramsey in the movie who walked with a cane. Massey had suffered severe wounds to the same leg in both wars. There would be no escape for him but as Senior British Officer, he had to know what was going on.
Group Captain Massey had been a veteran escaper himself and had been in trouble with the Gestapo. His experience allowed him to offer sound advice to the X-Organisation. He was shot down and spent a year in German prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I. Like his character, Danny Valinski, he suffered from claustrophobia because of his childhood work in a mine. James Garner had been a soldier in the Korean War and was twice wounded.
He was a scrounger during that time, as is his character Flt Lt Hendley.
The film is accurate in showing that only three escapees made home runs, although the people who made them differed from those in the film. Kiwe had been a German paratrooper officer who was captured and held prisoner at a POW camp in Colorado. He made several escape attempts, dyeing his uniform and carrying forged papers. He was captured in the St. Louis train station during one escape attempt. He won the Knight's Cross before his capture and was the cast member who had actually done many of the exploits shown in the film.
The film was made at the Bavaria Film Studio in the Munich suburb of Geiselgasteig in rural Bavaria , where sets for the barrack interiors and tunnels were constructed. The camp was built in a clearing of the Perlacher forest near the studio. The nearby district of Pfronten  with its distinctive St. Nikolaus Church and scenic background also features often in the film. That was Bud Ekins. The restored machine is currently on display at Triumph 's factory at Hinckley , UK. The film was largely fictional, with changes made to increase its drama and appeal to an American audience, and to serve as vehicle for its box-office stars.
Many details of the actual escape attempt were changed for the film, including the roles of American personnel in both the planning and the escape. While the characters are fictitious, they were based on real men, and in most cases are composites of several people. The screenwriters significantly increased the involvement of American POWs; the real escape was by largely British and other Allied personnel, with the exception of Johnnie Dodge , naturalized British but retaining US citizenship he married an American.
A few other American officers in the camp initially helped dig the tunnels, and worked on the early plans; however, they were moved away seven months before the escape, ending their involvement. The film omits to mention the crucial role Canadians played in building the tunnels and in the escape itself. Of the 1, or so POWs, were involved in preparations out of which were Canadian. Wally Floody , an RCAF pilot and mining engineer who was the real-life "tunnel king," was engaged as a technical advisor for the film. The film depicts the tunnel codenamed Tom as having its entrance under a stove and Harry's as in a drain sump in a washroom.
In reality, Dick's entrance was the drain sump, Harry's was under the stove, and Tom's was in a darkened corner next to a stove chimney. Ex-POWs asked film-makers to exclude details about the help they received from their home countries, such as maps, papers, and tools hidden in gift packages, lest it jeopardise future POW escapes.
The film-makers complied. The film omits to mention that many Germans willingly helped in the escape itself. The film suggests that the forgers were able to make near-exact replicas of just about any pass that was used in Nazi Germany. In reality, the forgers received a great deal of assistance from Germans who lived many hundreds of miles away on the other side of the country.
Several German guards, who were openly anti-Nazi, also willingly gave the prisoners items, and assistance in any way to aid their escape. The need for such accuracy produced much eyestrain, but unlike in the film, there were no cases of blindness. Some, such as Frank Knight, gave up forging because of the strain, but he certainly did not suffer the same ocular fate as the character of Colin Blythe in the film.
The film depicts the escape taking place in exceptionally fine weather, whereas at the time it was freezing and thick snow lay around.
In reality there were no escapes by aircraft or motorcycle: the motorcycle sequence was asked for by McQueen, a keen motorcyclist, who did the stunt riding himself except for the final jump, done by Bud Ekins. According to the veterans, many details of the first half depicting life in the camp were authentic, e. The film has resulted in the story and the memory of the fifty executed airmen remaining widely known, if in a distorted form.
In the years since its release, its audience has broadened, cementing its status as a cinema classic. It's a strictly mechanical adventure with make-believe men. With accurate casting, a swift screenplay, and authentic German settings, Producer-Director John Sturges has created classic cinema of action. There is no sermonizing, no soul probing, no sex. The Great Escape is simply great escapism". In a poll in the United Kingdom, regarding the family film that television viewers would most want to see on Christmas Day, The Great Escape came in third, and was first among the choices of male viewers.
Despite episodes of danger and human tragedy, the film, along with the British film The Colditz Story , delight in a continual boyish game of escape and ingenuity, celebrating the courage and the defiant spirit of the prisoners of war, and treating war as fun. On 24 March , the 70th anniversary of the escape, the RAF staged a commemoration of the escape attempt, with 50 serving personnel carrying a photograph of one of the men shot.
On 24 March , the RAF held another event for the 75th anniversary of the escape. The film was simulcast over UK cinemas nationwide.