Visit to Colditz

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Marcel, Jun 17, 2014.

  1. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #1 Marcel, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
    Recently I have made a trip to Colditz. Colditz was a POW camp known as the "Bad Boys Camp". You had to "earn" your place there by escaping at least twice from other camps or being remarkably "Deutch Feindlich".
    I have always been fascinated with the story as I told in another thread, since I read the book of security officer Eggers as a child. The sheer ingenuity and courage of the escapees, the constant game of hide-and-seek and the boyish mischief in the stories work with my imagination. I always wanted to see what the place looked like and now I got the chance. I try to make this into an entertaining thread with many pictures. It'll take a while as I have many. I will try to explain what you see on the photo's as some are difficult to read.

    In the past, and especially in WW2, the castle had a grim appearance. Unfortunately, the government of Saxony, totally oblivious of the Colditz fame, decided to restore the into it's medieval glamour. Which means the old mean fortress now has the appearance of a joyful summer palace. It takes away the atmosphere. But fortunately they recently realised the castle's tourist potential (most people only came because of the POW camp) and now they finally started to preserve the tunnels and all that the prisoners dug during their 5 year stay. 1.jpg
     
  2. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #2 Marcel, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
    Member T Bolt asked me to take pictures of the town as some of his ancestors originate from it. So I did.

    Colditz town is a sleepy little town on the banks of the river Mulde. Economics seem to have been bad for the town as it looks pretty poor, many empty buildings and ruins. The railway line that brought the prisoners has been shut down. Also they don't realise the potential they have with the castle. There are not many parking spots for visiting tourists.
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    View of the Mulde and the castle. Taken from the bridge the prisoners had to cross when arriving.
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    Castle towering over everything.
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    Had to laugh about this one. The sign on the seats says "Muldental Stadium" or Mulde-Valley Stadium. I guess the Stadium is always filled :)
    I guess this is the place where prisoners played football against local teams and in the mean time making nice anti-propaganda against the germans.
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    View on the POW-part of the castle. You're looking on the guard's house and behind it the French quarters and the terraces famous for the Mike Sinclaire and Jack Best escape (far left). On the right side of the guard's house, you can see the wall of the passage from the German- to the prisoner's courtyard.
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    The small passage down from the Castle to the town-square. Pretty steep. There is a road next to it and I almost slipped down again in the drizzle we had at that time.
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  3. herman1rg

    herman1rg Well-Known Member

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    Good start looking forward to seeing more, there may be Bacon!
     
  4. Thorlifter

    Thorlifter Well-Known Member

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    Nice pictures and explanations Marcel. Looking forward to more.
     
  5. T Bolt

    T Bolt Well-Known Member

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    Very nice pictures Marcel. It's nice to see where my great-grandparents came from.
     
  6. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Excellent Marcel! Looking forward to more pics and 'commentary'.
    It's a shame the town can't realise its potential, and benefit from the potential tourist economy.
     
  7. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    Sweet! Jealous! First time I have ever seen a road with a handrail!
     
  8. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Thanks guys. Terry, I guess all will come. They are now working on the caste, trying to reveal more about the escape attempts. Quite often, new things are discovered, contrabande etc. They have to find the remains of about 30 tunnels, which is quite a feat. But they're now realising what the appeal is to the castle and trying to improve matters. Hopefully for the town it will be beneficial for them as well.

    Still sorting pictures. First I will try to give some overviews and exterior shots. After that I would like to give some more detailed stories and pictures about escaper attempts. Have patient with me, it will take some time.
    Below, still on the subject of the town, a couple of pictures from a window in the theatre in the castle (more on that place later in the thread). This is located on the top floor and it's quite a way down. Picture yourself jumping out of that window with only a couple of knotted bedsheets as a security rope....

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    Here in the middle you can see the Colditz bridge. It is the bridge where the prisoners had to cross the Mulde when arriving. This is where they first got a glance of the castle.
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  9. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #9 Marcel, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
    The castle is over 1000 years old. Has been destroyed and rebuild twice during it's long history. It has been anything from stronghold to huntingcastle to poorhouse and later mental hospital. The years since the end of WW2 it has been an hospital, the last patient left in the '90ies.

    View of the castle from the banks of the Mulde. You can clearly see 2 different parts. The left is medieval, largely untouched. This part encloses the prisoners' courtyard and also contained the prisoners' quarters. You can just see the tip of the famous clocktower, the start of the French tunnel. Somewhere in the middle, the centre of the photo, you see a building sticking out. That's where one of the isolationcells were. On the right of that building, the German kommandantur starts, enclosing the German courtyard. This part is clearly not medieval, but rebuild in early romantic style in the 18th century. It now contains a youth hostel.
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    I love my zoomlens. Here a closeup of the guardhouse. To there, lt. Neave and his Dutch friend lt. Luteyn went after escaping from the theatre. The theatre is in the taller building to the right of the guard house on the top floor (not on this picture). They escaped successfully to Switzerland. More on this escape later when I cover the theatre. On the left of this, you can just see a part of the terrace where the 60 seconds escape took place. lt. Sinclaire and lt. Best made it to the Dutch border before caught. More and that one later as well.
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    The gatetower and a view on the roofs of the castle. Many escapees tried to escape over the roofs. You should not be afraid of heights.
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    Pictures while standing in the dry moat in front of the castle. This is where you can park you r car now, although there is not much room. Many escapees had to find their way down these terraces. Most famous one among them was Pat Reid, author of the two famous books. He supposedly jumped down somewhere near the old stone round bastion on the corner (more on this escape as well in later posts).
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    Yup, it's Colditz allright :)
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    The bridge and main gate, where you entered. Here, Lt. A. Perodeau impersonated Willi the small engineer in an attempt. They looked remarkably similar, but alas, the attempt failed.
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  10. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #10 Marcel, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
    The German courtyard is the first square you enter after crossing the bridge and the gate in the last picture of the previous post. It was enclosed by buildings used by the German army. It contained the comandantur, that functioned for the whole region and also the unit that had to guard the prisoners. During WW2 it looked much different. The courtyard was full of little buildings and the German kitchen protruded into the square.

    We're looking towards the Germanin staircase and Commandantur. The gate I used to enter is on my right and on my left is the gate containing the isolation cell and the route to the prisoners courtyard. The wall on the right was lower in WW2 and there was a flowerbed. Up there is Pat Reid's cellar. Left, just out of site is the gate leading to the tiergarten, where the prisoners could practice sport and try out some of their escape plans..
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    When I turn my face 90 degrees to the left, I look upon the place where the German kitchen once stood (actually this picture was taken from the far south east corner, at the entrance of Reid's cellar). You can clearly see the wall being coloured grey where it used to be attached to the other buildings. Pat Reid and his group of 4 jumped out of one of those windows upon the roof of the kitchen. Then went to the groundfloor on the right of the kitchen. They waited for Douglas Bader's little band to stop playing which told them the coast was clear. They then ran to the flowerbed I mentioned above. On the far left you can see the gate containing an isolation cell and leading to the passage that eventually leads to the prisoners courtyard.
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    The ditch with the door in which Reid's party hid themselfes is now covered with a wooden structure.
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    Reid's initial plan was to open this door, about 15 metres from their hidingplace. Unfortunately he was not able to open it and had to think of something else. Funney story was that a few years ago, one surviving british prisoner vistited the castle again and told his German guide he could open this door. To the amazement of the German onlookers, he produced a piece of metal and opened the door in seconds. My guide still laughed when she remembered that.
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    When failing to open the door, Reid tried the door in their hidingplace, which was unlocked. They came into an old coal cellar. Here they managed to escape through a small opening in the wall. They had to take off all their clothes to be able to do so. It took one of the escapee 20 minutes to pass through the opening. After that he barely had any skin left on his back.
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    This is the opening outside of the castle. Where they came out.
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  11. fubar57

    fubar57 Well-Known Member

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    Great photos and commentary Marcel.

    Geo
     
  12. T Bolt

    T Bolt Well-Known Member

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    Great pictures Marcel. Can't believe they fit through that small opening.
     
  13. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Great stuff Marcel, keep it coming.
    There have certainly been some changes over the years - I remember a TV documentary, probably about 20 years ago now, which showed the courtyard and some other areas, which had hardly changed. At that time though, large parts of the castle were semi-derelict, and work had only just started on renovation, with tours, I think, by appointment only. Of course, this was not long after the re-unification of Germany, so at that time the place hadn't been touched much since the end of the war.
     
  14. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Yes Terry, I have that documentary as well. It's with Jack Best in the castle iirc. It's been recorded in 1992 I think. A year later they found the complete radioset that had been hiding for 50 years. All this time. the castle was in use as an hospital. Pretty amazing. My guide told me that Jack pointed to a certain part of the floor ans simply said. "I would take a look down there if I were you" and left. They later opened the floor and found all kinds of things. The place is still full of hidden places.

    I still have a lot to cover, the Tiergarten, the Dutch tunnel and of course the French tunnel. Also the prisoners courtyard and the cells of the prominente etc. Too much to tell.
     
  15. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    With all the above Marcel really nice pics and info, thank you
     
  16. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    I'm hoping you managed to get pics of the attic where the glider was built - that must have been a heck of a project !
     
  17. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Actually I didn't Terry, sorry. That part of the castle is closed because of the renovation. They will get the replica next year and hopefully will then be on display in the attic. Definately a reason for me to go there again. As it was now, I could only walk on ground level and below, not much above that, apart from the theatre.
     
  18. herman1rg

    herman1rg Well-Known Member

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    This thread is like a quality Tv documentary
     
  19. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #19 Marcel, Jun 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
    Thanks Herman!

    Let me first say that I love the BBC TV series. But it has a major flaw. I always feel like they downplay the roles of other nationalities, especially the Dutch and the Poles. This seems to be somewhat unfair, partly because I'm a little patriotic of course, but mainly because both, Pat Reid and Hauptman Eggers considered the Dutch contingent to be the most efficient escape machine with relatively the highest ratio of succesfull escapes.

    This brings me to the tiergarten, the place where a lot of escapes took place, mainly by Dutch and French prisoners. The tiergarten used to be the castle's hunting ground. It's a big forrest, stretching to the east. A smaller part, close to the castle has been separated by a stone wall, perfect for the Germans. According to the Geneva convention, the Colditz courtyard was too small, so the Germans were forced to let the prisoners loose in the tiergarden for a few hours a day so they could get some exercise. These journeys however were not popular with the prisoners, apart from a possibility to escape. The officers had to give their word not to escape, but the Dutch and the French did not feel bound to that. No British officers escaped from the tiergarten, apart from the tragic attempt by Mike Sinclaire.

    Here the gate leading from the German coutyard to the tiergarten:
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    After passing the gate you look straight into the tiergarten, down below. At first both sides of the little road you see were used for recreation. Unfortunately most escapes happened in the area to the right, so later the Germans closed that part and only used the open field. The Dutch well was in that area on the right.
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    The road down. A French officer managed to get into the cellar of the building you see and tried to escape. Don't remember if it worked or not. Have to read the books again, I guess :) In the first pic here on the left, you see a pile of rubish. That's the area were most attempts were made and were the Dutch well is located.
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    Six Dutch officers escaped in three shifts from the park by this well. They seemed to be very religious and did bible readings and prayer while standing round this area. In the mean time, they replaced the iron bolt on the cover of this well with a self made glass one and put 2 officers into the well. The Germans inspected the bolt and didn't see it was replaced. THe two, stiff after hours of standing in the small well, climbed out at night, breaking the glass bolt. They then thoroughly removed the glass and put the original bolt back on. 4 of the 6 made a homerun, best result up until then for any group. The method was discovered after they let the British join in the method. The Germans than put a metal lid on and bricked the lid shut.l It cannot be opened and the well hasn't been open since.
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    View on the castle from the tiergarten
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    About a meter in front of this wall, there was barbed wire. Here French officer Mairesse Lebrun did his famous escape by jumping over the wire in broad daylight. He kept on moving between the wire and the wall until the guard had fired and missed. Then he climbed over the wall while the guard was reloading. He made a homerun.
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    Looking to the other side, you can see the playground. Sinclair tried to escape in the far end and he was killed in that attempt. The only prisoner to be killed on escape during the war.
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  20. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    More great pics Marcel, and no problem re the attic. The castle looks so different from what we are used to seeing in the war time pics, now that the facades are all painted.
     
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