We all love a great escape story. We like to root for the prisoner who has had to overcome incredible barriers for his freedom. Then there are the cunning villains that have defied authority and broken down more than just walls to reach their end goals.
While most of these figures wanted their freedom, their legacy has gone on to shape and spark the imaginations of millions. From the remarkable Great Escape to the notorious Dillinger Escape Plan, what is it about defying the odds that is so appealing?
Here we’ve rounded up 6 of the greatest escapes in history to whet your appetite:
The Great Escape
No greatest escape list would be complete without this moving tale. Under the supervision of British officer Roger Bushell, the plan was an attempt by Allied prisoners of war to escape the Nazi maximum security work camp Stalag Luft III during WWII.
For three months, Lietenant Michael Codner, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot dug the three code named tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry. Not only did the gruelling task take place hidden from the watchful eyes of the Nazi officers, but between them in shifts of one or two diggers at a time, they dug over 30m of passable tunnel.
Their tools? Bowls as shovels and metal rods to create air holes in the ground above.
Out of the 200 prisoners who attempted the escape on 24 March, 1944, only 76 made it out due to the proximity to an unforeseen guard tower. While chaos ensued, the Nazis did everything in their power to prevent anyone from making a run for it. Including a heavy air raid and 50 shot dead at the hands of the Gestapo.
Of the 76 to make it out of the tunnel, just three made it out alive.
11 June 1962, three men vanished from inside the walls of America’s ‘ultimate maximum security prison.’
Set on the formidable San Fransisco island, The Rock, Alcatraz was for all intensive purposes a modern day fortress. Once home to prisoners from the Civil War, the prison was re-fortified in the 1930s and became “the world’s most secure prison.” Public enemy number one, Al Capone and the odd but infamous “Birdman of Alcatraz” would later walk its walls.
Then there came the notorious three, John and Clarence Anglin and of course, Frank Morris. Not willing to serve time for the crimes they were put down for. Together they allegedly dug through the once impenetrable concrete walls using an improvised drill and a spoon.
While the three men have never been found, the mystery continues as the prison claims to this day that the men drowned at sea.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
It’s 1934 and the streets of Indiana are in uproar. Notorious gangster John Dillinger is wanted for the murder of a policeman, as well as his countless other felonies including breaking out of an Ohio jail and bank robbery.
Not unlike the unbreakable walls of Alcatraz, the authorities claimed up until this point that the prison “was as escape-proof as the Titanic was unsinkable.”
The oddest events that transpired from that fateful evening was how Dillinger held up the guards with none other than a wooden gun he had whittled according to the FBI.
While many of the public were rooting for Dillinger to go free, others were in fear of walking down the street until he finally met his end a year later. Dillinger breathed his last outside Chicago’s Biograph theatre after receiving a fateful gun wound.
Escape via the Underground Railroad
Back in 1849, slavery was the norm. But all tragic stories have a hero, and this one is the escaped slave Harriet Tubman. Not only did she risk capture and almost certain death at the hands of the authorities, but she trekked a remarkable 500 miles from Maryland to Canada to escape her pursuers.
But that’s not the end of Tubman’s story. Over the next decade she didn’t bide her time in hiding, instead, she went back again and again to the the slave states to help free more than 300 slaves via the Underground Railroad.
Dubbed the “Moses of Her People,” Tubman became an emblem and a trailblazer. What’s most remarkable is that during that incredibly dangerous ten years on the road, Tubman’s success was mostly down to her ingenious network of secret safe houses where she hid the escaped slaves.
The Maze Breakout
Perhaps the most Escape Room sounding escape ever, the Maze Breakout shook the streets of Belfast for years to follow.
In 1983, 38 IRA prisoners broke out from the apparent “escape-proof” maximum security prison HM Maze Prison. Headed up by the dynamic duo Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly. The pair used guns smuggled into the prison and took over H Block 7 alongside dozens of fellow inmates.
During the struggle, they killed one guard and wounded several others in the process. With pure adrenaline and momentum on their side, the band of escapees jumped into a food delivery van. Storey alongside 19 other inmnates were caught, while the other 19 made it to safe houses. Some even managed to make it to the States and beyond.
Harry Houdini’s Straightjacket Escape
Harry Houdini is without a doubt the most renowned escape artist the world has ever seen. But the act that caught the attention of the globe was his captivating and death defying stunt in Pittsbugh.
On 16 November 1916, over 20,000 people gathered outside the Sun building. To catch a glimpse of the man, the myth, the legend that was Houdini. As the audience waited with bated breath, two attendants from the infamous Mayview Hospital for the Insane strapped and cinched Houdini into a straightjacket.
Before being suspended 50 feet above the pavement, Houdini urged the attendants to pull the canvas and leather as tight as they would for their most dangerous patients.
Three minutes was more than enough time for Houdini to perform his greatest escape. What’s more, the world has never forgotten this remarkable showman, innovator and matchless performer.
Are you feeling inspired by some of the greatest escapes in history? Now it’s your turn to race against the clock, and see if you have what it takes!