By 1943 escaping had become a way of life for British POWs. Highly motivated men were cooped up interminably and as the tide of war began to turn against the Axis powers. The prisoners were desperate to play their part in diverting German resources and to damage the enemy's morale while boosting their own comrades.
- Tony Hoskins
Tunnels had been tried in a number of camps , old ruses like hiding in rubbish carts or disguising oneself as a civilian workman had all been tried. One POW had even impersonated the sergeant of the guard ! Reinhold Eggers , the camp security officer had been in post for most of the war and had installed microphones , lighting sentry catwalks and a system of passes for all personnel.
A new and audacious plan was needed and a plan was developed to build a glider. Unlike mass escape plans this would have been a 2 man effort , however ,if successful,the potential for maximum embarrassment to the Germans was huge, Colditz was run by the Wehrmacht and inter service rivalry with the Luftwaffe would have led to bitter recriminations. No doubt some German army career paths would have been dramatically altered as well.
The glider plan was to build the airframe in advance and assemble it in the attic area and on a launch rail immediately prior to launch. Some work such as doping had to be done within a day or so of launch. The work of opening the roof level launch opening meant that a go decision would compromise the project if not launched the same night.
Colditz castle sits on high ground above the town and if the glider failed death or serious injury to the crew were a certainty , the guards were fully armed and would be under no illusion on their situation if they failed to stop an escape attempt.
This was no will of the wisp fancy , the escape committee had limited resources to back an escape plan and demanded all projects be presented to them for approval. The first part of the book examines the building of a hidden workshop , the glider (Colditz Cock) and launch preparation. Ultimately the project was put on hold in 1944 when Hitler announced that recaptured prisoners of war would be executed ,having ordered the summary execution of 50 recaptured officers. The glider was kept ready in case of a need to liaise with advancing allied troops when liberation approached.
The first half of the book deals with the war time years. The second half tells the extraordinary story of the building of a replica glider and it's launch from the castle. No longer would the Wehrmacht be opposing the project , but the myriad regulations of the Luftfahrt Bundesamt would need to be fulfilled , along with a different approach to health and safety since 1943.Tony Hoskins is a glider pilot and Aeronautical engineer and brings an eye for detail to his book.
The book is produced by Pen & Sword under the Frontline imprint to their normal high standard. The book is in hard back running o 166 pages plus a good set of references and with good glossy photo pages. There is a nice foreword by the castle curator.
The book is available on priced at £19.99 (Kindle £14.39) but can be found on Amazon currently from £9.25 +pp, so a good one to order early for Christmas presents.