Escape from Colditz

Photo of Colditz Castle via SKOMP46866 on Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Colditz Castle
via SKOMP46866 on Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1046, Colditz Castle was used as a lookout post, a home for royalty, a zoo, and in World War II… a POW camp. During its use as a prison, the castle (known then as Oflag IV-C) saw thousands of prisoners, but beyond that it saw dozens of escape attempts. Around 30 of these attempts were successful, and many of them were very creative. Within, I detail a few of my favorite ones.

An escape tunnel under Colditz Castle Photo by Glen Bowman
An escape tunnel under Colditz Castle
Photo by Glen Bowman

A classic attempt at a tunnel was started by the British in 1940. Though they had dug for 9 months, they did so in the wrong direction and ended up inside the Kommandant’s personal wine cellar. It was later confirmed that the men had drank 137 bottles before leaving. They wouldn’t just leave though… first, they filled the bottles with their own urine, sealed them, and replaced them on the shelves. While the tunnel was not successful, Lt. Neave (the group’s leader) eventually got ahold of a German uniform and walked out.

That was not the only escape attempt with stolen clothing either. While walking the ground, some British officers found a lady passing by. She was in such a hurry that when she dropped her watch, she didn’t stop to pick it up. The British officers called after her while she ignored them, but the commotion brought the attention of German guards. The guards came to learn that woman was actually a French man, Lieutenant Chasseurs Alpins Bouley!

Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce (aka the "medium-sized man")
Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce (aka the “medium-sized man”)

On September 8th of 1942, all prisoners were ordered to pack excess belongings for storage. Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce happened to be small enough that he could fit himself into a Red Cross packing case. He seized on the opportunity and hid away along with a fie and 40 feet of bed-sheet rope. When night fell, he escaped through a 3rd floor window leaving a note behind: Die Luft in Colditz gefällt mir nicht mehr. Auf Wiedersehen! (translated: The air in Colditz no longer agrees with me. See you later!) Though he had his freedom for a week, he was eventually caught trying to stow away on a Swedish ship.

The bedding-rope can be seen hanging out of a window on the left
The bedding-rope can be seen hanging out of a window on the left

However, the best plan by far is the tale of the Colditz Cock. Lieutenant Tony Rolt noticed that not only was the chapel roofline out of sight of the Germans, but it had a direct line of sight to the River Mulde. A team of 14 began reading about aircraft design in the castle library, and built a glider in a hidden room of the chapel. The plan was to launch off a runway of tables, accelerated by a concrete-filled bathtub powered pulley system. Although construction was successfully hidden, the glider was never tested. Just as they neared completion, on 16 April 1945 the American Army liberated the camp. To the very end, the escape attempts were innovative and creative.

The Colditz Cock, skinned with prison sleeping bags, in a photo taken by an American journalist
The Colditz Cock, skinned with prison sleeping bags, in a photo taken by an American journalist

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