This has to be the ultimate POW escape story and the ultimate aviation restoration/replication story. It has been nicely written and well-illustrated. The big surprise, beyond the actual flight, is that there are now several replicas of the Colditz Cock glider. This has to appeal strongly to aviation enthusiasts, replica builders, historians, and WWII enthusiasts, but the readership is likely to be much wider because its a great story of triumph against the odds and the indefatigability of the human spirit, very highly recommended.
NAME: Flight from Colditz, would the Second World War’s Most Audacious Escape Plan Have Succeeded?
AUTHOR: Tony Hoskins
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, frontline
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWII, Second World War, World War Two, POW, escapees, Escape Committee, glider, Colditz Castle, Lower Attic,
DESCRIPTION: This has to be the ultimate POW escape story and the ultimate aviation restoration/replication story. It has been nicely written and well-illustrated. The big surprise, beyond the actual flight, is that there are now several replicas of the Colditz Cock glider. This has to appeal strongly to aviation enthusiasts, replica builders, historians, and WWII enthusiasts, but the readership is likely to be much wider because its a great story of triumph against the odds and the indefatigability of the human spirit, very highly recommended.
WWII has produced a wealth of escape stories and Allied POWs incarcerated by the Germans seem to have been incredibly determined and amazingly skilled. There were so many POW escapes that the Great Escape saw the Nazis murdering recaptured prisoners. The impact on German morale and resources is out of proportion to the number of POWs, the numbers who escaped, and the numbers who manage a ‘home run’ to successfully rejoin the fight. Men and equipment that were needed by German frontline fighting units were tied up in guarding the camps directly, and in policing the areas through which POWs were attempting to escape. It is true that only a relatively small number of escapees actually made it home, but they struck a blow at German morale and the pyramid below them covered virtually every POW. The exact figures for escapees is very difficult to identify. There were always individuals and small groups of POWs who attempted escapes on an opportunist basis. Many of these never even made it all the way off the camp. Of those that did, they were usually rounded up very quickly. Senior officers amongst the POWs rapidly understood that escape should not be a random process, but a carefully planned campaign that identified all of the very wide range of talents amongst the prisoners, vetted escape proposals to put maximum resources behind those judged to be viable, and then mobilizing the POWs behind those attempts. This approach soon started to achieve results with prisoners either evading capture for long periods, or actually making successful escapes.
The escape committees achieved a number of worthwhile benefits. The greatest was to support a fully successful escape, but every escape from a camp tied down thousands of Germans as they attempted to recapture escapees. However, one often undervalued benefit was that virtually the whole camp was mobilized and provided excitement and employment to lift morale amongst the POWs. Every escape preparation required an army of prisoners to stand watch while a fairly small number got on with the main work of digging tunnels, making fake uniforms and escape clothing, making maps, forging identity cards and travel passes, accumulating money and food, and sundry, but vital, other tasks. As the war progressed, prisoners became ever more inventive and escape plans more advanced and ambitious.
The Germans naturally became very concerned by the cost of keeping POWs secure in the camps. They were forced to make security more complex, increase the number of guards and draft in younger fitter personnel to serve as guards. They also began to identify the relatively small number of persistent escapees. They started moving these particularly difficult prisoners to the more secure camps and Colditz Castle was selected as an ‘impregnable’ POW camp for the most troublesome prisoners. The concept of doing this looked sound, but it appears to have escaped the Germans that putting the most determined and difficult prisoners together could be counter productive, creating super prisoners for a super POW camp, where the increased security was facing the focussed attention of the most determined and skilled potential escapees.
There have been several fascinating books that have covered the many facets of Colditz and the many triumphs of the prisoners over the guards. What has previously escaped serious coverage was the ultimate escape plan that led to the construction of a glider and launching system in the castle’s attics. This book covers in detail the research and construction of a replica that was positioned in the attic and then launched with a pilot to prove that the Colditz Cock could have successfully launched and flown across the valley below without killing the pilot.
The author has produced a fascinating account of this successful attempt to build and fly a very accurate replica of the Colditz Cock from Colditz Castle, as the prisoners had intended.. It can now be seen that the POWs would have achieved a major propaganda coup had the war not ended before the planned flight. It is an incredible story and that may explain why historians have previously skirted around it.
The team formed to carry out the experiment faced challenges that the POWs were free of. During WWII health & safety was not a high consideration amongst prisoners. They were prepared to take risks to achieve freedom that would give armies of bureaucrats and lawyers the vapours some seventy years on in a soft peacetime environment. The replica on which this book is based was built with incredible attention to detail and used every possible way of keeping to the plans and materials that the POWs employed. The result was a very accurate trial that succeeded, even though the glider and pilot were a little worse for wear on landing. It could only be described as a crash because the glider suffered serious damage on landing, but that was not the point. An escapee would have reached a location safely outside the guarded perimeter, probably unnoticed, and then been able to leave the landing site with his escape equipment. An outstanding plan. In perspective, WWII assault gliders were not expected to be reused and, when airborne troops made landings in Normandy and along the route to Germany, most gliders suffered damage and were not expected to be recovered and reused. When they did suffer lighter damage, their recovery presented more than a few challenges. In the case of the Colditz Cock, it could not be recovered by the prisoners after its one flight.
The author has also concluded with a description and photographs of other flying and static replicas of the Colditz Cock. Two of these can be seen by visitors, one in the Lower Attic of Colditz Castle and one at the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, at Flixton Suffolk.
This is an inspirational and enjoyable story – so buy a copy of the book and enjoy.