The Colditz Story

HU 63855
Colditz Castle. Imperial War Museum HU63855.

Colditz was a Sonderlager (a special camp) in which difficult prisoners and inveterate escapers were imprisoned. Prisoners included men from Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia and the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. The first British POWs, Pat Reid, Kenneth Lockwood, Peter Allan, Rupert Barry, Dick Howe and Harry Elliott arrived there in November 1940.

The camp was situated on a rocky outcrop above the Mulde river in Germany, which the Germans believed to be an ideal site for a high security prison. The larger outer courtyard, known as the 'Kommandantur,' had only two exits and housed a 200 strong German garrison. The prisoners lived in an adjacent second courtyard in a building which towered up 90 feet to a ring of pitched roofs. Outside, the flat terraces which surrounded the prisoners' accommodation were constantly watched by armed sentries and hemmed in by barbed wire barricades.

Despite tight security, for five years, frequent, clever and daring escape attempts were made. 316 men tried to get away through tunnels, in disguise or by literally jumping out of windows and over the wire. Thirty-two of them successfully made 'home runs', more than from any other prison camp.

The Colditz Glider

Replica of the Colditz glider.
Replica of the Colditz glider. Imperial War Museum.

In one of the most ambitious escape attempts from Colditz, the idea of building a glider was dreamt up by two pilot officers, Jack Best and Bill Goldfinch, who had been sent to Colditz after escaping from another POW camp. They were encouraged by two army officers, Tony Rolt and David Walker, who had recently arrived in the camp.

The plan was to construct a two-man glider to be launched from the castle roof across the river Mulde flowing 200 feet below the take-off point. The runway was to be constructed from tables and the glider would be launched using a pulley system based on a bath full of concrete falling vertically down the wall of the castle giving an acceleration to 30 mph.

Construction began on 1 January 1944 and was finished by October that year, but the glider was never put to the test. By then the end of the war was in sight and there was concern about the increasingly hostile attitude of the Germans towards escaping prisoners of war. Subsequent experiments carried out with a replica glider in 1999 showed that it would have worked.

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The Mythology of Escape
The Ingenuity and Practice of Escape
Stalag Luft III: The Wooden Horse
Stalag Luft III: The Great Escape
The Colditz Story

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