Thursday, 29 October 2015

Colditz - The Park Part Five


After the Lebrun escape at Colditz (see previous posts) the Germans brought in additional security measures at the park. They:

1) Put a door in the boundary wall so that guards could get through to the other side quickly.

2) Raised the fence of the inner enclosure (known as the ‘sheep pen’) with two additional feet of barbed wire
3) Made POWs who were under stubenarrest, take their exercise in the morning and afternoon on a terrace at the rear of the guardroom. This was along the west face of the castle where a sentry was positioned at each end of the terrace.

In the summer of 1941 the escape season was now in full swing. It is noteworthy, that considering Colditz was a Sonderlager (high security camp); little had been obtained in the way of specialist equipment. There were no sunken microphones to detect tunnelling, or any electrical warning systems to detect POW incursion into restricted areas, especially where staff and administration buildings backed on to the prisoners. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) would have been unlikely to refuse any request for additional equipment, but as at July 1941 all that had been provided was four police dogs with handlers and an aged Kriminalkommissionar who the British nicknamed ‘Tiger’. On reflection, he was best described as amiable and of no worry to the prisoners.
It was a fact that POWs had been able to gain access to some locked rooms in the castle via lock picking and forged keys. Large scale searches were carried out on random floors of their quarters, but often the prisoners spotted signs of preparation or were tipped off by informants. The prison staff received a publication weekly called Das Abwehrblatt (Security News) from the OKW detailing escape methods in the different camps. Unfortunately, the Colditz escape attempts appeared in it regularly. There was a feeling amongst some ranks that whatever strategies were implemented, they were often playing catch up. The Germans were also no nearer to working out how Frenchmen Alain Le Ray, Renee Collin or Pierre Lebrun (on his failed first attempt) had escaped from the park (see earlier posts).

The British contingent had left escapes via the park to the French. With heightened security following the Lebrun escape, another attempt so soon time would have a poor chance of success. Despite this, on 26 July 1941 Captain Harry A V Elliott and Polish Captain Janek Lados decided to try their luck on the march back from the park. It is not clear whether they knew how Le Ray had managed his escape, but it is highly likely that they made for the same place.
Captain Harry Elliott extreme left -
Once through the gate on the left hand side of the road, the path to the park fell sharply. A turn in the path occurred by a house which was built up to the side of the cliff. It had its ground floor at the road level above and the cellar with an external door was level with the path. It was possible by distracting the guards or weaving/delaying, to create a blind spot and hide (see earlier post to read Le Ray’s own account of how he did this). The move could be made on the downward walk or return journey from the park. On the return was the most practical because of a head count when the POWs first arrived at the park. Elliott and Lados got in to the cellar through an open door on their way back by the same method as Le Ray.   
Present Day View of the Pathway (cellar door on the right) -
(recommended visit)
When the column of POWs arrived back at the castle, the headcount revealed a discrepancy of two and the alarm was raised. Searches began immediately and the well rehearsed appell drill to identify who had gone missing swung into action. Guards began to search the castle grounds with dogs, and a general alert went out to the local police, Hitler Youth and Home Guard were called into action in addition to railway stations being alerted and crossroads  watched. The pathway down to the park was checked again. Hauptmann Roland Eggers recorded that it was only on their way back that they remembered an air raid shelter in the cellar of the house overlooking the path. They entered through the unlocked door and Elliott and Lados were found.

Polish POWs at Colditz - Thememoryproject

The Germans took appropriate action as they were now sure they had discovered how all the Frenchman had got away. It was only Le Ray’s hiding place which they had found. Lebrun’s first attempt and Collin’s home run were made by concealing themselves hiding in the rafters of the open pavilion.

Two days later, the French would try again with something completely different.  

The Colditz Story - Major P R Reid MBE MC
Colditz The Full Story - Major P R Reid MBE MC
Colditz the German Viewpoint - Reinhold Eggers

Author's Notes

©Keith Morley

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