How One Man Escaped Nazi Prison By Hiding Inside A Wooden Horse

There were a few World War II prisoners of war who successfully escaped a Nazi prison in Poland in a story made for the movies. One of them was Royal Air Force pilot Oliver Philpot, whose plane was shot down. He was able to survive, but was eventually captured by Germans and brought to a prison camp in Poland, per The Infographics Show.

At the prison camp, there was already a group plotting to escape, and Oliver was recruited to help. The idea was to use an exercise apparatus called the wooden horse in order to dig their way out of the camp. It was built using wooden planks from Red Cross crates and had space underneath where the men could hide. Each day, the men would place the wooden horse on the prison yard in the area where they started to dig a tunnel. While someone was digging down below, others would use the wooden horse to do their usual daily exercise, to avoid suspicion.

Each of the men had their own roles in the escape plot. Oliver was responsible for hauling and hiding the sand and dirt from the tunnel. Mac Colquhoun, another POW who was in on the escape plan as well, had the same responsibility as Philpot. "We made sure everybody in the camp was out walking when we had this sand to spread," Mac said (via Times Colonist).

A successful escape

Slowly, the men continued to dig the tunnel for three hours daily. After 114 days of digging a tunnel out of the camp, only three of the POW prisoners were able to escape, Oliver Philpot being one of them. According to Mac Colquhoun, per Times Colonist, the three were chosen for a specific reason. "The people who were selected spoke German, knew the country and had a decent chance of getting home," he said.

On the day of the escape, the three men were transported to the tunnel using the wooden horse, where they waited for night to come (via The Infographics Show). However, when the men came to the end of the tunnel, they found that they were 12 inches from where they wanted to be on the outside. They were lucky, though, as the guard who was supposed to patrol the area was late that night. The three men then separated, with two heading to Stettin and Oliver to Danzig. Oliver already had a different identity and backstory ready if ever he was questioned. He eventually made his way to Sweden and then to England. The story of the three prisoners' escape was the inspiration for the 1950 movie "The Wooden Horse." Philpot also wrote a book about his story called "Stolen Journey".