|Colditz at Night - Tim Giddings|
Five days after French Lieutenants Perrin and Thibaud were recaptured (see previous post); the British led another escape attempt on 31 July 1941. Events were to prove significant in the long battle and psychological war between prisoner and captor. Morale amongst the British would have been typically resilient, and the successful home runs by the French would have raised spirits, but all other escape attempts had failed. POWs who were focused on breaking out of prison camps remained realistic about the odds of success and accepted risks of being caught inside or outside the camp. They had nothing but days, weeks and months on their hands to think about the length of time in captivity, hard conditions and the large amounts of work and ingenuity put into failed escape attempts.
The latest plan to exit Colditz involved breaking through an interior wall at night between the POW and German side of the castle. Once the men had achieved this, a party of twelve would leave in pairs at five minute intervals and find their own way through the building and out of the castle into the grounds. Once through the wall, the second part of the scheme seemed a thin idea, even though POWs would have some knowledge of the castle layout and guard routines on the German side.
In contrast, significant work had been put into preparing escape clothes and equipment; the latter becoming more organised. Although not every officer had false identity papers, each had a home made compass, a set of hand drawn maps traced from originals and a small amount of German money.
|Examples of 'civilian' clothes adapted by escapers. These are from Stalag Luft 111. |
Some of the Colditz POWs on the lavatory escape went for rucksack, jacket and cap with an adapted uniform - pbs.org
A certain amount of imagination was required to store the escape items and prevent discovery. Frequent searches were made and it was a battle to stay one step ahead of their captors. Common hiding places were too risky; it was liken to a game of chess with each side trying to anticipate thoughts and moves. Clothing was hidden behind false-backed cupboards, in trapdoor hides, under floorboards, sewn into the mattresses or coat linings. None of these were guaranteed to remain undiscovered. Small items were easier to conceal, but also vulnerable if the searcher was thinking along similar lines. POWs would constantly shift articles around to try and avoid detection. Smaller objects could be concealed in stores of food, cigarette tins and even weighted and dropped into lavatory cisterns.
RAF FO Donald Middleton Back row 4th left and Lieutenant Herbert Allenby Cheetham ('Allan') Back row 6th left were caught in the corridor after they had exited via the lavatory room in the Kommandantur building - IWM
|Lieutenant John Hyde Thompson DLI was another apprehended|
The following day a check was kept on noises and workings. A breakout had to be imminent; the calculation was for a weekend attempt around mealtime when the officers would be in their mess, the guard was on duty and the Kommandantur building almost empty. The Germans had no idea where the POWs would go once they had broken in to the German side of the building. They viewed prospects of getting away as slim, so it was decided to bore a hole through the door of the guard’s sleeping quarters to keep a watch on the door coming out of the lavatories. This door was kept closed and surveillance took place for two days. On the Sunday a tiny spy hole appeared in the plaster of the lavatory back wall on the German side. Seven men waited hidden with the Duty Officer as the first pair of POWs came out of the lavatories and crept down the corridor. Hauptmann Roland Eggers described what happened next:
‘We whipped our door open – “This way please gentlemen!” Astounded they followed us in, so astounded that they did not even shout and warn the others behind them.’
|Hauptmann Roland Eggers - war44|
|Lavatory and Prisoner 'Excavations' - war44|
A check was made on the inside of the lavatory and the tell tale hole in the wall. Guards rushed across the yard and up into the British Long Room. The men were dressed in their uniforms, but one of the stoves was crammed full of civilian clothes. The quick change had not been quick enough, and the collection of escape aids found on the POWs caught in the corridor was impressive. The blow to morale must have been significant; months of effort had been lost. With a sizeable haul of escape aids and adapted clothing now in enemy hands it was game and set to the Germans – until the next time.
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