Colditz Castle was the
only high-security prison of its kind in Germany. It was where the
Germans placed the prisoners who had caused them the most problems –
serial escapers. In theory putting all the bad eggs in one basket
should have made it easier for the Germans to control, but in
practice all they had done was create an escape university.
The castle was built on
an outcrop of rock, with a sheer drop of 250 yards down to the River
Mulde, and was 400 miles from any frontier not under German control,
but this did not deter the prisoners. They began escape planning from
almost the day they arrived – and continued to do so throughout the
months and years that followed, becoming ever more daring and
The men had tried
everything they could think of to escape; from leaping over the fence
in the exercise ground, burrowing under the stage, to disguising
themselves as women, German officers and guards. It was whilst
Flight Lieutenant L.J.E. ‘Bill’ Goldfinch was looking out of a
window that the most bizarre idea of them all was conceived. It was
the winter of 1943-1944 and it was snowing. As he stared out of the
window he watched the snowflakes swirling upwards and over the roof
of the castle – and it made him think.
Of course the very idea
of building a glider in the highest-security prison in Germany was
preposterous. Yet nothing, it seemed, was beyond their capabilities.
Every single item for the
construction of the glider had to be stolen or made from whatever
objects were in the castle – and all this had to be done under the
noses of the highly-vigilant German guards. Altogether, 6,000 pieces
of wood, each of a specific length and width, were manufactured,
using hand-made tools or items ‘liberated’ from the canteen.
There was also a complex lookout system which had forty men watching
every movement made by the guards.
The glider was completed
but, with the end of the war, it never flew from the top of the
castle. Thus it was, that a TV company decided to recreate the
Colditz glider using the prisoners’ original drawing and then release it from the top of the castle.
Flight from Colditz tells the story
of how the original glider was built by the prisoners and of the
audacious attempt to fly the replica from Colditz. This is an absorbing book packed with photographs and loaded with tension.