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The Colditz Castle

Discussion in 'History of Germany during World War II' started by Jim, May 23, 2007.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    "Colditz was situated in the middle of the triangle formed by the three great cities of Leipzig, Dresden, and Chemnitz, in the heart of the German Reich and four hundred miles from any frontier not directly under the Nazi heel."

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    "The Castle was built by Augustus the Strong, an ancient King of Saxony and Poland, who was reputed to have had three hundred and sixty-five wives, one for every day of the year. It had seen many battles and sieges in a long history, and the present name, Schloss Colditz, testified, not to it's origin, but to a time when it was under Polish domination. The 'itz' is a Slavonic not a Tuetonic or Saxon ending. The original spelling was Koldyeze."

    "It was built on the top of a high cliff promontory that jutted out over the River Mulde at a confluence with a tributary stream. The outside walls were on an average seven feet thick, and the inner courtyard of the castle was about two hundred and fifty feet above the river level." "The River Mulde, we later learned, was a tributary of the Elbe, into which it flowed forty miles to the north."

    "In such a castle, through the centuries, everything had happened and anything might happen again. To friendly peasants and trades people in the houses nestling beneath its shadows it may have signified protection and home, but to enemies from a distant country such a castle struck the note of doom and was a sight to make the bravest quail. Indeed, it was built with this end in view. Being about one thousand years old, although partly ruined, built over and altered many times, its inherent strength had preserved it from destruction through the centuries."

    'The Colditz Story' by P.R.Reid, M.B.E, M.C.
     
  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Escaping Colditz

    Colditz Castle, a forbidding medieval edifice near Leipzig, Germany, was supposed to be the Nazis' most escape-proof prison. Incorrigible Allied officers who had repeatedly escaped from other camps were sent to Colditz, the only German POW camp with more guards than prisoners. Yet English, French, Polish, Dutch, and other inmates managed to sneak out in surprising numbers.

    Escaping from the castle was only the beginning, however, and while at least 130 got out during the course of the war, only 30 got clean away. When captured, those attempting to escape were given up to three weeks in solitary confinement. Yet for the most part their German captors led by the good-natured head of security Reinhold Eggers took a light-hearted approach to dealing with their capers, even taking photographs of the prisoners' disguises and other escape paraphernalia for the castle's escape museum.

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  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    June 5th 1941

    Prisoners on their supervised daily walk to the park near the castle paused by a gate leading out to let a German woman through. The German guards said nothing, but as the woman walked away from the castle, one of the prisoners noticed she had dropped her watch. "Hey, Fräulein, your watch!" he said. She didn't respond, so a guard went after her and found "her" to be Lieut. Chasseur Alpin Bouley, a Frenchman. Untimely chivalry cost Bouley his freedom.


    Lieut. Bouley in disguise​


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  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    First Escapee

    April 12, 1941

    After the daily walk to the park, the Germans did a head count and found one prisoner missing. They checked all inmates against their photo identity cards and discovered that a French Lieutenant named Alain Le Ray had earned the distinction of being the first prisoner to get clean away from Colditz. After hiding in a cellar of a house that stood along the park path, Le Ray had climbed over the park fence and disappeared. He eventually made it safely to Switzerland.

    Alain Le Ray in 1940 ​


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  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    May 8, 1941

    At the Germans' request, prisoners brought unused straw mattresses down from an attic, loaded them onto a cart, and dumped them in Colditz Town. Stepping onto a mattress lying on the ground, a German officer felt something hard. Inside was English Lieut. John Hyde-Thomson, in civilian clothes. Lieut. Peter Allan, in another mattress, managed to get away, but was later caught in Vienna and returned to Colditz.


    Peter Allan got as far as Vienna before he was captured.​


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  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Mid-May 1941

    Polish Lieuts. Niki Surmanowicz and Mietek Schmiel, doing time in solitary confinement, somehow managed to get out of their locked cells and into the prison yard. Friends in the Polish quarters in floors above lowered a rope, which the pair used to get into the adjacent guardroom's attic. Putting the same rope out the attic window on the castle's western side, they began sliding down, but the nails in Schmiel's boots scraped on the wall, giving them away.

    The rope of bedsheets used by Surmanowicz and Schmiel.​


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    January 6, 1942

    On this night, four officers, operating in pairs, slipped through a specially cut hole in the British theater floor, dropped into a unoccupied room, and walked out into a corridor that led over the main gate of the prisoners' yard and into an attic over the German guardroom. Dressed as German officers, first one pair and then the other descended into and walked out of the temporarily unoccupied guardroom, strolled under the archway into the German courtyard, and exited the main gate. Fearful of being stopped at the final gate beyond the moat, they turned east out of the main gate and, under cover of darkness, clambered over the unguarded wall along the park road. Though the Germans captured one pair, they did not get the other: Dutch Lieut. Tony Luteyn reached Switzerland with his partner, English Lieut. Airey Neave, the first Brit to flee successfully.

    Hole and bedsheet rope beneath the theater's stage.​


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  7. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    May 1941

    British prisoners bribed a German guard to turn a blind eye at the eastern gate on an upcoming but unspecified night. The guard told his superiors, and the Germans were there when a patch of turf suddenly rose up off the grass terrace outside the British canteen, and Captain Pat Reid appeared. He and his accomplices had slipped out of the canteen through a drain cover, which the Germans had earlier cemented but the British had loosened before the cement had dried. (For the German view of this attempt.

    The canteen's "sealed" drain cover.​


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  8. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    June 1941

    Not long after Bouley's "womanly" escape attempt (Here), two prisoners went missing after the daily stroll in the park. The Colditz security apparatus swung into action: Local police headquarters, railway stations, and foresters were notified, and guards searched the surrounding landscape on bicycle and foot. But while examining the park walk with a fine-toothed comb, one German suddenly remembered an air-raid shelter situated in an old house along the park path. The Germans found the door unlocked -- and inside were Captain Harry Elliot and Captain Janek Lados (Here) The Germans determined (rightly) that this must have been the way Le Ray (Here) and at least one other French officer had escaped.

    The path to the park offered many opportunities for escape.​


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  9. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    One night while in detention for his air-raid-shelter attempt (Here) Captain Janek Lados, who had somehow gotten hold of a hacksaw, cut through the bars of a window in his cell on the castle's western ramparts. He shimmied down the length of his bedsheet and dropped the final 20 feet to the ground, breaking a bone in his ankle. Astonishingly, he made it as far as the Swiss frontier before being captured and hauled back.

    Colditz from the west today.​


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  10. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    July 2, 1941

    On a walk in the park, one French officer helped another wearing only a T-shirt and shorts get over the wall and away amidst shots fired by startled guards. The escaper had left a note in his room: "Should I succeed, I should be obliged by the dispatch of my effects to me at the following address, Lieut. Pierre Mairesse-Lebrun, Orange (Vaucluse). May God help me!" He did succeed, and the Germans obliged.

    One of the many French POWs in Colditz helped Mairesse-Lebrun get over the
    park wall.​



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  11. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    July 28, 1941

    Dressed as German civilians, two French officers slid 40 feet down a rope lowered into an airshaft that led from the prisoner's theater four stories up to the German kitchen on the ground floor. They walked out into the German yard and on to the park gate, where the guard let them through. But the prison laundryman, who had idly watched them go, thought it odd he didn't recognize them. Mulling it over for an hour, he finally informed the security officer, who went after them with dogs and guards on bicycles. Lieuts. A. Thibaud and R. Perrin were caught about six miles away.

    The hidden air shaft lies roughly in the middle of this photograph taken from the German yard.​


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  12. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    July 31, 1941

    One night, a German guard went to the lavatory in the northeast end of the Kommandantur, or German headquarters building. While in the bathroom, which backed onto one of the British prisoners' rooms, the guard heard a scratching noise. Informed, Colditz security personnel lay in wait. This night, two British officers dressed as civilians suddenly broke through the wall behind the john and walked out of the bathroom. "This way, please, gentlemen!" their welcoming committee announced. In all, ten prisoners came through the hole before the Germans decided to end the sport.

    Ten POWs came through this hole before the Germans revealed themselves.

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  13. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Late summer 1941

    On three occasions in summer 1941, two Dutch officers managed to escape. Two were caught, but four reached the Swiss border safely. The Germans were stumped, until they noticed two Dutch officers slip into a manhole in the park. The Germans had bolted the manhole cover shut, but the Dutch had managed to get it off and replace it with a glass bolt, which those hidden within could break by pushing from inside. When the moment was right, those hidden climbed out and slipped over the wall.

    How the Dutch fooled the guards during their manhole escapes. Look Center ...

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  14. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    December 1941

    For their manhole escapes the Dutch had tricked the guards into thinking they were all present at the prisoner count conducted in the park before the return to the castle. Two weeks before Christmas, the Germans discovered how. Suspicious that something was up during the count, the officer in charge asked all prisoners standing to the right of him to step to the right, and all those to the left of him to step to the left. One man remained in the middle. Turns out it was a dummy, all dressed up and standing in along with another equally gussied-up mannequin for two Dutch officers, who were soon found hiding under a pile of leaves.

    A Dutchman and a dummy.

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  15. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    December 1941

    One day two German officers appeared at the gate leading out of the prisoners' yard. The guard saluted them and let them through, then recalled that he was supposed to ask for passes from all military personnel. As the pair walked toward the arch leading into the German yard, the guard ran after them and asked for their passes. "That's all right, we're coming straight back," one said. Though his German was good, the guard grew suspicious and called security. The German officers? Belgian Lieut. Baron D.W. van Lynden and a Captain Steenhover in homemade uniforms.

    The gate leading into the prisoners' yard.

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  16. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    March 1942

    In January, the Germans had discovered a tunnel that French officers were digging beneath the chapel, storing the removed earth in an attic. The Germans set the prisoners to carrying the dirt out of the attic and placing it in a cart for removal to the town dump. One day, as one of these carts rumbled down the main street of Colditz Town, a French officer suddenly came up spitting and choking from beneath the heap of dirt: Lieut. H. Desjobert.

    The French hid soil from their chapel tunnel in an attic.

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  17. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    September 7, 1942

    Deciding that the prisoners, particularly the British, had too many personal belongings, they ordered them to box the possessions up in three-cubic-foot Red Cross wooden crates, then carry them up to a third-floor storeroom at the castle's south end. The next day, a guard noticed a rope of bedsheets tied together hanging out the storeroom window. In the room, guards found one of the crates opened, with a note scribbled on top: "I don't like the air in Colditz. Auf wiedersehen. Ex-PW Flying Officer Bruce." The diminutive Englishman Dominic Bruce was caught a week later.

    Bruce's box

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  18. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    September 9, 1942

    On this morning, the Germans discovered six officers missing. It seems that some prisoners had snuck at night into the office of the German Sergeant-Major nicknamed Mussolini and, right behind his desk, had cut a hole through the back wall to a storeroom beyond. When the time was right, the six chosen escapers slipped through Mussolini's office and exited the storeroom disguised as two German officers and four Polish inmates. A real German officer opened the gate for them, and they were gone. Four were recaptured within a day, but two British Flight-Lieut. William Fowler and Dutch Captain D.J. van Doorninck reached Switzerland.

    A German reenactment of the escape from Mussolini's office.

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  19. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    October 15, 1942

    Four British officers were gone. Dogs failed to follow the trail away from the castle, but they did follow what remained of it back to the castle wall on the south end near an air shaft. How could prisoners have gotten across the German yard, where a sentry patrols day and night, and through the German Kommandantur building? In what proved one of the most audacious escapes at Colditz, the four escaped through the back of the prisoner's kitchen, onto the roof of the German kitchen, and across the German yard in the full glare of the searchlights. They slipped into the cellar of the Kommandantur and stumbled upon the air shaft. All four reached Switzerland.

    Pat Reid stands third from left in this November 1940 photo taken within Colditz.

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  20. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    December 1942

    Late one afternoon around Christmas, Willi, the castle's German electrician, entered the French quarters to replace a blown fuse. About 5:30 p.m., Willi strolled through the gate out of the prisoners' yard, turned left through the archway into the German yard, and made his way to the park gate. Here, even though he was well-known to everyone, Willi was asked for his pass. He had the wrong one. In fact, "Willi" was Lieut. A. Perodeau. Though his disguise was near-perfect, Perodeau's scarf may have tipped off the guard: It wasn't the same color as that worn by the real Willi.

    The real Willi (right) and his double.

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