Penzing and Miesbach

What is the name of the airfield ? 

To film the sequences the camera airplane started probably from Penzing Airport near Landsberg, south of Augsburg.

The aircraft with camera is a Klemm 107C

NATO refused to co-operate with the production and allow John Sturges to film on their airbase near Munich, a Luftwaffe airbase was used instead....

Looking at the film, the HAB's (hardened aircraft bunkers) may hold the key here.  Look at the film and see two size HAB's, narrow and wide.  See also they are not perfectly aligned.  See also surrounding terrain; flatter than a pancake.  Looking at the satellite map of the base, only one fits with two size HAB's not in a straight line and that is Penzing.  Garner and Pleasence enter a HAB with tower in close view behind. Note that when Pleasence starts to spin the prop a truck speeds by in the background.  It has to have a decent highway nearby which fits Penzing (West of Munich). 

James Garner, 'The Scrounger' Hendley and Donald Pleasence 'The Forger' Blythe,   steal a German warplane and head towards the Alps.

Tower must match in design (a bit of main building to right, a lot to left), window count and location, etc.

There has to be a bunker (HAB) close by where one could see the tower from inside it (Garner and Pleasance arrive in the HAB at beginning of sequence) 

There has to be another HAB near that one and positioned not in a line to the first, but turned. 

The design of the HAB must be house shaped, not a semi-circular look like a big Nissen hut that some airbases have. 

There must be a road or street just off the base behind these HAB's as we see a vehicle passing over Pleasance's shoulder when he starts to spin the prop.

All of these had to fit to have an honest match.
Location of tower and 2 HAB's nearby, both properly positioned. (Tower is far left by the map scale adjuster). Road behind (Kaufeninger Strasse) Tower design matches the two photos seen above. 
The airfield is Fliegerhorst Landsberg at Penzing, just south of Augsburg.

Penzing is west of Munich and is on the A96 E54 road towards Landsberg am Lech

A scene shows the warplane passing the 'white' Neuschwanstein castle on the hillside in Fussen. Before they're able to reach the mountain range and freedom, the warplane runs out of fuel and crash lands against the German hillside. Acting as the stunt pilot, the assistant producer, Robert Relyea* flew the vintage Bucker Bu 181 single engine, two-seater warplane, which was bought from a man in the German town of Emden, crashing it skilfully between two trees.

 * Further details in Relyea's book: "Not so Quiet on the set:My Life in Movies During Hollywood's Maco Era" (page 191)


What is the name of the town where the plane crashed ? 

Glenn Lovell's book, Escape Artist it states that, 'Relyea piloted the plane over Salzburg toward the Austrian Alps, and then, after it appeared to sputter and lose altitude, steered it into a stand of trees. (p.235)

The church is located south-east of Munich with Rosenheim to the east and Fussen to the west in the village of Frauenried.

Church Mariae Geburt, Frauenried near Miesbach - Upper Bavaria, Germany.

The entrance to the village via Miesbacher municipality. The town has retained its original form of settlement. In the center stands the beautiful church which was built in 1450 by Count Georg von Waldeck because of a vow. Already in 1486 the brothers Freudenreich a chaplain with a woman priest in Ried. Today's curacy in the parish is united association with Miesbach Parsberg.

On every second Sunday in September is celebrated the patron saint festival (Nativity). A special feature is that this festival will be held with a procession with local clubs, music and choral singing. Typically, there are usually only with us at the Corpus Christi processions and blessings of woods and fields.


This 'secret' location still remains the same as it was 50 years ago.

Trees and bushes have grown up around the 'iconic' church and the pathway leading diagonally away from the main pathway towards the church, no longer exists as it did in The Great Escape film....


"In the meantime, Sturges had the prop guys construct a replica of the crashed Bucker on a hillside - with its wings torn off and landing gear in pieces - and he shot the final scenes with Garner and Pleasence after the crash. I reminded John that he was breaking one of his cardinal rules: never do a scene after a big stunt until that stunt is completed. You don't know where the horse, or the car, or the plane is going to end up, so your scenes aren't likely to match." (Not So Quiet On The Set, p.192)

"After Sturges completed the final scene with his actors, the first unit was sent home. I cleaned up the last of the work with the second unit until there was only a single shot left to complete - the plane crash. We waited through four days of cloudy weather until finally, on the fifth day, the sun came out. I climbed back into the Bucker." (p.192)

The German vehicle is seen in The Great Escape film to stop on this track and a group of German soldiers get out with machine guns in hand....

The plane crashed into the trees to the right of this track, up on a slight incline....



Following the track round, it appears to change into a 'ditch' area where in the film the plane over shot the 'ditch' and landed up on a mound.

In the next scene, the plane had been pulled back and the left wing had been stuck back on !!

This is where James Garner & Donald Pleasence jumped out of the burning aircraft....

The tree in the film is thinner but has the same bent in the tree as it has today. Today the tree is thicker....

"To match the post-crash scenes already shot by Sturges, I needed to crash land the plane between two trees. We set two flag sticks on a hillside about ten feet apart to approximate the distance between the actual trees so I could make a few practice runs. For this shot, I really didn't need to get the plane off the ground, just run her fast enough to make the crash look dynamic. On the first rehearsal I ran the Bucker straight down the middle, right between the two flag sticks. That made me feel pretty good about my chances of surviving this stunt.....on the second try I ran the plane directly into the flag stick representing the tree on the left." (pp192-193)

"After we got the Bucker crank started, the prop guys tied the plane down so it could get rolling with a head of steam once it was cut loose. I waited in the cockpit with the goofy James Garner wig on my head, and the noise from the engine seemed deafening. Off to the side I could see several firemen preparing the water, ice and chemicals they'd use to put out my flaming body should the cockpit catch fire. I felt sick in my stomach. The cameras were ready to roll. I looked down at the stick, which had been sawed to a nub to decrease the chances of it ending up in my kidney......I signalled for the prop guys to cut the plane loose and away I went." (p.193)

"I was racing toward the trees. A thought occurred to me: what if I involuntarily cut the power too early and I don't go into the trees fast enough? I've got only one shot at this and it needs to look real!  So I increased my speed to the point where I felt the Bucker start to lift off the ground. Another thought occurred to me: increased speed means the plane will respond to smaller steering instructions. So I aimed for the tree on the right, and at the last possible moment I barely tapped the left rudder, cut the engines and instantly everything went black." (p.193)

"My illusionary bliss had taken place in the blink of an eye as I crashed through the trees, tearing the wings off, and continued hurtling forward with the nose up. The Bucker leapt over a small road and the nose finally dipped as the plane slammed hard into an embankment and stopped.....In the next instant, the crew was crawling all over the plane. They pulled me out of the cockpit and placed me in an ambulance." (p.194)

"....the crash didn't look that good on film, and it didn't come close to matching the post crash footage Sturges shot." (p.194)

The original wooden hut remains and is seen in the film to the right as the aeroplane hits the two trees. Alongside it today, is a modern hut with a bright orange roof....


James Garner Interview discusses Steve McQueen's behaviour on the film set of The Great Escape  

(See the section from 30:23 to 34:47 of the video.)



These photographs were the last taken on this tour. The car was parked in the church car park ready to return The Great Escape Location tourists back to Munich Airport and to their love ones.....