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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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    May 11, 1943

    After Mairesse-Lebrun's escape from the park, prisoners in solitary confinement took their exercise on the northwest terrace. During his walk on this day, Flight-Lieut. Don Thom of the Royal Canadian Air Force suddenly leapt over the terrace's balustrade and grabbed ahold of the crossbars in the windows of the guardroom. He dropped to the bars of a lower window, which he held for a moment before dropping to the ground. As the guards opened fire on him, he got over a barbed-wire curtain and ran into the woods before being stopped by coils of wire. Security officer Reinhold Eggers called it "the maddest attempt of all."

    Don Thom forewent the usual fake uniform and other elaborate preparations and simply leapt over the western wall.

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  2. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    September 2, 1943

    About midnight, the grandiosely moustachioed Sergeant-Major whom the prisoners had nicknamed Franz Josef appeared at the eastern gate with two sentries. Claiming the camp had had an air-raid distant warning, he relieved the two sentries on duty at the gate early, replacing them with his own. For reasons he could not explain later, the second relieved sentry asked for Franz Josef's pass. It seemed to be in order, but Franz Josef didn't know the password when asked. The sentry pressed his warning bell. A German corporal appeared and demanded Franz Josef's revolver. A scuffle apparently ensued, and the corporal shot Franz Josef. "Good God," cried one of the sentries. "You've shot our Sergeant-Major." But no: It was English Lieut. Michael Sinclair, who survived and went on to attempt two other escapes.

    "Franz Josef" (left) and his impersonator.

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  3. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    January 19, 1944

    It was about 5 p.m. Darkness had fallen, but the searchlights had yet to come on. Suddenly a bell rang in the guardroom below the west terrace. Thinking someone wanted to be let in from the upper terrace, the guard went out, only to catch a glimpse of a rope being quickly withdrawn into the prisoners' quarters in the cellar house. The bell had momentarily distracted the guards, allowing Lieut. Michael Sinclair and Flight-Lieut. Jack Best to escape off the lower terrace. The pair managed to get as far as the Dutch frontier before being caught and sent back.

    Jack Best in captivity

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  4. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    May 2, 1944

    On the road leading to the park was an old garbage heap full of cans, cardboard, sticks, rags, and the like. The Germans didn't give it a thought until one day a prisoner was reported missing and, during a search outside the castle, guards came upon a thin, fair-haired man trotting along a path in broad daylight. Tucked under his arm he carried a blanket covered with sewn-on cans, cardboard, sticks, rags, and the like. It was English Lieut. John Beaumont, the French horn player in the prison orchestra, who had hidden in the rubbish until he saw his chance to get over the wall.

    One of the early prison orchestras at Colditz. John Beaumont, who played French horn in a different prison orchestra, made his daring escape in broad daylight.

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  5. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    September 25, 1944

    Reinhold Eggers, Colditz head of security, deemed him "the greatest escaper." He was Michael Sinclair, and he had made seven previous escape attempts from Colditz and elsewhere. This warm fall day, without anyone knowing his plans, Sinclair suddenly leapt over the fence while on the exercise walk in the park. Perhaps he thought he could get through the main wall 150 yards downhill, where a stream flowed beneath it, but a grid covered the opening. Sentries shot him dead, and the Germans buried him in Colditz's military cemetery with full honors.

    Michael Sinclair's fake pass for his escape with Jack Best

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  6. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    April 1945

    The greatest escape that never happened was ready to take flight, literally when Allied troops occupied the castle a few weeks before the end of the war. Behind a dummy wall high in an attic above the chapel, British prisoners had spent months secretly cobbling together a glider. They built it in sections from wooden shutters, mattress covers, and mud fashioned out of attic dust. A German discovered the dummy wall at one point but was silenced with a bribe of 500 cigarettes. After the war, locals broke up the glider. As is chronicled in the NOVA program "Nazi Prison Escape," a replica of the glider recently built by ex-Colditz POWs flew successfully, proving that the inmates' most extraordinary escape vehicle ever may very well have worked, if only given the chance.

    The glider in the attic

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  7. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    The Jailor's Story

    The Jailor's Story by Reinhold Eggers

    Reinhold Eggers, who was promoted from duty officer to chief of security at Colditz Castle in 1944, served on the prison's staff for longer than anyone else, from November 1940 until the end of the war in April 1945. His tenure, along with his ability to speak English and French, "gave me as good a chance as anyone on the German staff of knowing what was going on," he wrote in the preface to his book Colditz: The German Side of the Story (Norton, 1961). "How little this sometimes was will become evident from this story."

    In his book, which we excerpt here with permission, Eggers chronicled dozens of escape attempts in an admiring, almost tongue-in-cheek manner. Far from the stereotype of the harsh, heel-clicking Nazi officer, Eggers comes across as an avuncular, highly likeable fellow, like a schoolteacher who is more amused than angered by his charges. (In fact, he was a schoolteacher before the war.) Here, read about how Eggers felt about his job, his inmates, and their courageous antics, including one rather famous escape attempt involving a piece of apparently levitating turf.
    Reinhold Eggers

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    Masters of escape
    My records show that more than 300 would-be escapers were caught in the act, often the same people trying again and again. On 130 occasions escapers actually got out of the castle or got away when in transit locally. The number who got clear away over the frontier and were never taken was 30, breaking down into six Dutch, 14 French, nine British, and one Polish, as near as I can remember. I was not in complete charge of security until 1944, but until then had, of course, to contribute what I knew or could find out or could work out, to our camp security office.

    Many prisoners got out of the castle, but only 30 managed to get away for good.

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    We held security conferences whenever an escape took place and at least every week as a matter of routine. Practically every routine occasion was an escape occasion, and one way and another every escape was an occasion in itself. In fact, I claim some honor for having been part of a team, a very amateur team I admit, of a German "holding" force whose clumsy efforts were nonetheless so successful that the experts had to lay on absolute masterpieces of escape to beat us.

    The stage for this battle between the two security teams, German and Allied, was in some way set to the advantage of the prisoners. The POWs were, first of all, experienced in the job. In addition, our hands were somewhat tied by our not very practical superiors at Army Command HQ in Dresden and, above them, in Berlin. We made things better for the prisoners by cramming Colditz with new escape materials week after week. Each new arrival brought with him knowledge of new methods of escape, acquaintance with fresh routes, knowledge of extra documents required, checks likely to be made at railway junctions and on trains, and so on. In this castle, the prisoners had the interior lines of communication and the initiative as well. Our effectives, real effectives, were hardly a dozen, while their team ran into hundreds.

    Guarding against success

    In Colditz it was true to say that there was never a dull moment. As time went on, we could see the pattern, and it was one that we had imposed upon us, whereas it was we who should have been the ones to call the tune rather than follow it. The prisoners and we were engaged in an unending game of leapfrog. First we were ahead with our security barriers, then they were, scheming successfully round them. Everything the POWs did or said or thought was planned to give them an advantage, an advantage either immediate or several jumps ahead.

    Each would-be escaper had dozens of potential accomplices at his disposal.

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    If, as a result of an escape or an attempt to escape, we altered our arrangements or introduced some new plan, they would catch on quicker than our own people who had, after all, other things to think about than their hours of duty up at the castle. Most of the prisoners were "on duty" the whole time; they had no other life.

    Another major security difficulty concerned our regular camp staff, particularly NCOs [noncomissioned officers]. The longer these stayed in the castle, the better they got to know the prisoners and their methods. But they became all the more subject to bribery with cigarettes, chocolate, or coffee, and to the softening effect of familiarity and simple politeness between themselves and the prisoners. Another weakness was the disadvantage that the German lower rank feels in dealing with officers, of whatever nationality. And if we replaced these NCOs, it took new arrivals months to learn the tricks of the trade, during which time the prisoners took full advantage of their ignorance.

    All our NCOs at Colditz had nicknames, knew it, and were rather amused by it. There was Cheese he was a little man, what we call "three cheeses high" (Dreikäsehoch); the Policeman; Hiawatha, who rather fancied himself until he discovered that his mate was known as Minnehaha; Big Bum; Auntie, the Quartermaster he was in Colditz right to the end; Fouine (the French word for ferret) known to the English as Dixon Hawke, very clever at smelling out tunnels; and Mussolini, our staff sergeant in charge of the orderlies, an old soldier from the first war who disliked all officers, even his own!

    These men, and, of course, the general mass of the guards, could not fail to be impressed by the active life of the castle, and more so by the tricks the prisoners got up to, but most of all by the escape success they managed to register. All this reflected on us, their own officers, who were shown up as that much incompetent and helpless.

    German guards pose with some of the contraband smuggled into Colditz.

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    The layout at Colditz

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  8. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Escape from the canteen

    The prisoners were indeed leading us on a merry dance. A sentry reported that he'd been offered 700 marks (about £50) to keep his eyes shut some night to be specified, while on duty at guard post No. 9 outside the canteen. There was another terrace at this point, which went out about 15 yards from the window, and the sentry's beat was below it. The ground was terraced against the walls, and left a belt of dead ground outside our sentries' range of view all around the sides of the prisoners' buildings. Sentry beats were everywhere at the foot of these first terrace projections. There was a small lawn on the terrace above post No. 9, lit at night by searchlights.

    Colditz inmates squirreled away large sums in smuggled German marks for use in bribing guards and buying train tickets to freedom once on the outside.

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    Seven hundred marks was a lot of money. How on Earth had the POWs got hold of it?

    We held a security meeting. The money was obviously being smuggled in. How, we found later. It came in parcels, and also on the persons of new arrivals. A British officer once boasted that the British "bank" held over 2,000 marks in real German money, hidden away. It took me nearly four years to find this treasure, but I got it in the end. This was 1941, however, when "hot" money was still "tight."

    We told this particular sentry to carry on with the game and keep us informed. In due course he got 100 marks as the first part of his bribe. Whitsun was coming. Staff were going on leave, and tension would be relaxed. The guard was due on duty again between 9 and 11 o'clock the Thursday evening before Whitsun, May 29th. It was then light till 8 o'clock. Two days before, the guard was told, "From now on keep your head down when on duty." He passed this on to us, and we made our preparations.

    The canteen. Somewhere near there they were going to break out, but where? From below? Impossible. The inside drain cover in the canteen floor was sealed. From above? Not in the searchlights. Would they fuse the lights and come down a rope in the dark? Would they get out of the canteen by one of the windows? The guard had been assured that there would be no traces after the escape, so he couldn't possibly be suspected. How "Zum Donnerwetter" were they going to get out? We thought and talked and felt very foolish. That we should have to wait on the prisoners for a line of action!

    The Germans thought they had successfully cemented shut the canteen drain cover. They hadn't.

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    All duty officers and a number of guards concentrated in a room in the Kommandantur building, where our northeast corner backed on the canteen corner of the prisoners' yard. The door onto the grass terrace outside the damned canteen was on our side of the join in the two yards. We unlocked it quietly. An NCO and ten men were held ready in the guardroom outside the prisoners' gate, at the end of the approach yard. A phone call on our internal exchange would rush them to any part of the castle that we specified. We decided that the break would definitely be attempted on the Thursday. That evening we must have been quite as keyed up as the prisoners. We took the evening parade under the strictest orders to give no hint that we knew or suspected anything. Everything seemed quite normal. Everyone was present. Were they perhaps more quiet than usual? The parade was dismissed. We left the yard and took up our positions at the danger spot. We checked back by phone to the guardroom. They knew their orders. The tension among us was terrific. It was at moments like these that the hotheads could make trouble.

    "No firing without orders from an officer." "Ja wohl, Herr Hauptmann."

    Twilight fell, and the lights came on. The stage was set; we waited in the wings for the actors. Sentry No. 9 was pacing up and down. We couldn't see him as he was in dead ground below the level of the terrace. He was an absolute mass of nerves and so the one most likely to start shooting. We were the ones most likely to catch it, too. We waited and watched. But what should we watch? Where to focus? We blinked at every sound. Our eyes watered with strain. We watched. Suddenly came a movement on the grass. Was it a moth over the searchlight that flicked a shadow over the lawn? Now we could focus. A line appeared, a break. A patch of grass started to move, upward. LO1 [stands for Lager Offizier, or Camp Officer, No. 1] made a sign, "Wait!" A square of turf rose straight up out of the ground, held in a wooden frame, with legs, which now showed themselves. The man's hands and arms followed, pushing up the turf and frame by the legs. Then the frame was stood aside, and up came the British Captain Pat Reid!

    With German eyes on him, Pat Reid appeared through this hole in the grass-covered terrace one night in May 1941.

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    "Heraus" and we were on him! One man to the phone told the guard to occupy the canteen at once. Anyone in there to remain there. "Los!" We caught ten British and two Polish officers in the canteen tunnel, including the British Senior Officer, Colonel Guy German. All were in civilian clothes, all had passes; 85 marks in real money was found on the party, and 150 lb. weight of provisions, all Red Cross food, mostly in tins, plus chocolate and biscuits. What a haul for us!

    The prisoners had loosened the drain cover in the canteen and picked their way along the drain through the side wall. For night working this involved picking the locks of two doors, from their own staircase into the yard, and from the yard into the canteen.

    Security counter-measures followed. We began to change the sentries at irregular times. We saw to it that the same men did not return each time at the same post. We aimed to break any rhythm in guard postings that might give the prisoners a fixed person or fixed timing of any kind on which they could work.

    And the guard? He kept his 100 marks. He got extra leave, promotion, and the War Service Cross. It was worth it.

    This was our first big success, and due solely to the loyalty of one of our men.

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  9. dominic perodeau

    dominic perodeau New Member

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    That's my great uncle - his cousin Edward D Perodeau is Canada's highest celebrated soldier of fortune - was with the Kings African Rifles and was
    the British Officer that was dispatched to negotiate with Gandhi - regards dominic perodeau
     

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