Oflag IV-C

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Oflag IV-C
Colditz, Saxony
Colditz Castle1.jpg
Colditz Castle
Oflag IV-C is located in Germany
Oflag IV-C
Oflag IV-C
Type Prisoner-of-war camp
Site information
Controlled by  Nazi Germany
Site history
In use 1939-1945
Garrison information
Occupants Allied officers

Oflag IV-C, often referred to as Colditz Castle because of its location, was one of the most noted German Army prisoner-of-war camps for captured enemy officers during World War II; Oflag is a shortening of Offizierslager, meaning "officers camp". It was located in Colditz Castle situated on a cliff overlooking the town of Colditz in Saxony.[1]

Colditz Castle as a POW camp[edit]

This thousand year old fortress was in the heart of Hitler's Reich, some four hundred miles (650 km) from any frontier not under Nazi control. Its outer walls were seven feet (two meters) thick and the cliff on which it was built had a sheer drop of some two hundred and fifty feet (75 meters) to the River Mulde below.[1]

Time line[edit]

  • 1939: The first prisoners arrived in November 1939; they were 140 Polish officers from the September Campaign who were regarded as escape risks. However, later most of them were transferred to other Oflags.[1]
  • 1940: In October, Donald Middleton, Keith Milne, and Howard Wardle (a Canadian who joined the RAF just before the war) became the first British prisoners at Colditz.
  • On 7 November, six British officers, the "Laufen Six", named after the camp (Oflag VII) from which they made their first escape, arrived: Harry Elliott, Rupert Barry (later Sir Rupert Barry), Pat Reid, Dick Howe, Anthony "Peter" Allan,[2] and Kenneth Lockwood.[3] They were soon joined by a handful of British Army officers and later by Belgian officers. By Christmas 1940 there were 60 Polish officers, 12 Belgians, 50 French, and 30 British, a total of no more than 200 with their orderlies.[1][4]
  • 1941: February, 200 French officers arrived. A number of the French demanded that French Jewish officers be segregated from them and the camp commander obliged; they were moved to the attics. By the end of July 1941, there were more than 500 officers: over 250 French, 150 Polish, 50 British and Commonwealth, 2 Yugoslavian. In April 1941, a French officer, Alain Le Ray, become the first prisoner ever to escape from the Colditz Castle.
  • On 24 July, 68 Dutch officers arrived, mostly members of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, who had refused to sign a declaration that they would take no part in the war against Germany. According to the German Security Officer, Captain Reinhold Eggers, the Dutch officers appeared to be model prisoners at first. Importantly for other internees in the camp, among the 68 Dutch was Hans Larive with his knowledge of the Singen route. This route into Switzerland was discovered by Larive in 1940 on his first escape attempt from an Oflag in Soest. Larive was caught at the Swiss border near Singen. The interrogating Gestapo officer was so confident the war would soon be won by Germany that he told Larive the safe way across the border near Singen. Larive did not forget and many prisoners later escaped using this route.[5]
  • 13 August: Within days after their arrival, the Dutch escape officer, Captain Machiel van den Heuvel, planned and executed his first of many escape plans. On 13 August the first two Dutchmen escaped successfully from the castle followed by many more of which six officers made it to England. Afterwards a number of would-be escapees would borrow Dutch greatcoats as their disguise. When the Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands they were short on material for uniforms, so they confiscated anything available. The coats in Dutch field grey in particular remained unchanged in colour, since it was similar to the tone already in use by the Germans, thus these greatcoats would be nearly identical with very minor alterations.
Some of the French officers held at Colditz
  • 1943: In May, the Wehrmacht High Command decided that Colditz should house only Americans and British, so in June the Dutch were moved out, followed shortly thereafter by the Poles, the Belgians, and the French; with the final French group leaving 12 July 1943. By the end of July there were a few Free French officers, and 228 British officers, with a contingent consisting of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Irish, and one Indian.
  • 1944: On 23 August Colditz received its first Americans: 49-year-old Colonel Florimund Duke — the oldest American paratrooper of the war, Captain Guy Nunn, and Alfred Suarez. They were all counter-intelligence operatives parachuted into Hungary to prevent it joining forces with Germany. Population was approximately 254 at the start of the early winter that year.
  • 1945: On 19 January six French Generals — Lieutenant-General Jean Adolphe Louis Robert Flavigny, Major-General Louis Léon Marie André Buisson, Major-General Arsène Marie Paul Vauthier, Brigadier-General Albert Joseph Daine, and Brigadier-General René Jacques Mortemart de Boisse — were brought from the camp at Königstein to Colditz Castle. Major-General Gustave Marie Maurice Mesny was killed on the way from Königstein to Colditz Castle.
  • On 5 February, Polish General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, deputy commander of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) and responsible for the Warsaw Uprising, arrived with his entourage.
  • In March, 1200 French prisoners were brought to Colditz Castle, with 600 more being imprisoned in the town below.
  • 16 April, Oflag IV C was captured by American soldiers from 1st US Army.[6]

The "Prominente" and notable inmates[edit]

Among the more notable inmates were British fighter ace Douglas Bader; Pat Reid, the man who brought Colditz to public attention with his post war books; Airey Neave, the first British officer to escape from Colditz and later a British Member of Parliament; New Zealand Army Captain Charles Upham, the only combat soldier ever to receive the Victoria Cross twice; and Sir David Stirling, founder of the wartime Special Air Service.[1]

There were also prisoners called Prominente (German for 'celebrities'), relatives of Allied VIPs. The first one was Giles Romilly, a civilian journalist who was captured in Narvik, Norway who was also a nephew of Winston Churchill's wife. Adolf Hitler himself specified that Romilly was to be treated with the utmost care and that:

  1. The Kommandant and Security Officer answer for Romilly's security with their heads.
  2. His security is to be assured by any and every exceptional measure you care to take.
Members of the Prominente, under a U.S. guard, outside the Hungerberg Hotel on May 5, 1945, shortly after their release. L to R: John Alexander Elphinstone, Max de Hamel, Michael Alexander, unknown, George Lascelles, and John Winant Jr.[1]

When the end of the war approached, the number of Prominente increased. Eventually there were Viscount George Lascelles and John Alexander Elphinstone, 17th Lord Elphinstone, nephews of British King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; Captain George Haig, son of WWI field marshal Douglas Haig; Charles Hope, son of Victor Hope, the Viceroy of India; Lieutenant John Winant Jr., son of John Gilbert Winant, US ambassador to Britain; Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski, commander of Armia Krajowa and the Warsaw Uprising; and five other Polish generals.[7] British Commando Michael Alexander claimed to be a nephew of field marshal Harold Alexander in order to escape execution, but was merely a distant cousin.[1]

Micky Burn, another well known inmate of Colditz, was a British commando captured at Saint-Nazaire. Burn had been a journalist like Romilly before the war, working for The Times. Burn had briefly been an admirer of the Nazi Party and in 1936 had met Adolf Hitler, who signed his copy of Mein Kampf. After war broke out Burn shifted politically to Marxism and gave lectures to prisoners at Colditz, but due to his pre-war interest in Nazi philosophy he was widely regarded with distrust and scorn.

John Arundell, 16th Baron Arundell of Wardour (1907–1944) was an aristocrat held at Colditz who, despite his pedigree, was not awarded Prominente status. Arundell made a habit of exercising in the winter snow; he contracted tuberculosis and died in Chester Military Hospital.

Another officer, not listed as among the Prominente but who became famous after the end of the war, was French theologian Yves Congar. Because of his numerous escape attempts, he was placed at Colditz for safe keeping.[8]

At 1:30 a.m. on 13 April 1945, while the final battles of the war approached the area, the Prominente were moved under guard and the cover of darkness. The Allies and prisoners became especially concerned that the Prominente might be used as hostages, bargaining chips and human shields, or that the SS might try to kill them out of spite; they prepared for resistance and, if possible, to take over the castle. The Germans moved all the Prominente out of the castle, over the protestations of the other prisoners. When U.S. troops reached the area, the prisoners persuaded the leader of their guards, Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, to surrender in secret in order to save him from the revenge of the SS. With his aid they reached American lines a couple of weeks later. He would later receive a lessened sentence after his hearing in 1949 because of his actions regarding the Prominente.

New Zealander Charles Upham VC and Bar was held captive at Olflag IVC from 14 October 1944 until Colditz was liberated in 1945. This colonial soldier was the only person to receive the bar to the Victoria Cross in active combat up to that time.

French military chaplain and Catholic priest Yves Congar was captured as a POW and later sent there after repeated attempts to escape. He became a noted theologian and was made cardinal in 1994, at age 90.

The German staff and visitors[edit]

A group of the French orderlies from Colditz Castle poses for a picture in the inner courtyard.

Keeping the castle running in a secure and efficient manner was a difficult task, and the Germans maintained a larger garrison at the castle than at many of their other prison camps. Between the years 1939 and 1945 more than 70 German officers and enlisted men worked in a wide variety of staff positions, as well as overseeing prisoners' labour.[1]

There was also a large contingent of civilians and local townspeople who worked on the castle grounds. Some were in maintenance, some in medical roles, some were there in a supervisory role (Nazi Party leaders, Swiss Red Cross observers, etc.). Some family members of the German military officers lived at the camp.[1]

Security Officers[edit]

  • Captain Paul Priem was the first Security Officer. Pat Reid said he "possessed a rare quality among Germans - a sense of humour".[9]
  • Captain Reinhold Eggers was Security Officer from November 1940 until April 1945, promoted to chief of security in 1944. He was also the only English-speaker among the Germans at Colditz, thus was involved in every interaction with the prisoners or between the Senior Officers and the Kommandant serving as translator.[10] Dutchman Lieutenant Damiaen J. van Doorninck said of him, "This man was our opponent, but nevertheless he earned our respect by his correct attitude, self-control and total lack of rancour despite all the harassment we gave him."

Kommandants[edit]

  • Oberst Schmidt 1939 – August 1941
  • Oberst Glaesche 1 August 1942 – 13 February 1943
  • Oberst Prawitt 14 February 1943 – 15 April 1945[11]

Life in the camp[edit]

In Colditz, the Wehrmacht followed the Geneva Convention.[12] Would-be escapees were punished with solitary confinement, instead of being summarily executed. In principle, the security officers recognized that it was the duty of the POWs to try to escape and that their own job was to stop them. Prisoners could even form gentlemen's agreements with the guards, such as not using borrowed tools for escape attempts.

Most of the guard company was composed of WWI veterans and young soldiers not fit for the front. Because Colditz was a high security camp, the Germans organized three and then later four Appells (roll calls) per day to count the prisoners. If they discovered someone had escaped, they alerted every police and train station within a 40 km (25 mi) radius, and many local members of the Hitler Youth would help to recapture any escapees.

Because of the number of Red Cross food parcels, prisoners sometimes ate better than their guards, who had to rely on Wehrmacht rations. Prisoners could use their relative luxuries for trade and, for example, exchange their cigarettes for German Reichsmarks that they hoped could later use in their escape attempts. Occasionally this turned to be a mistake as several of the bills they received were of the earlier Papiermark varieties that were no longer considered valid. There were also other currencies in circulation, including the Registermark, utilized for travelling and investments in Germany; the Reisemark, for tourists; the Kreditsperrmark, for sales of property belonging to foreigners; the Effektensperrmark, arising from the sale of securities in Germany; the Reichskreditkassenschein in occupied territories; and the Behelfszahlungsmittel (Auxiliary Payment Certificates) for the German Armed Forces. The Kreditsperrmark and Effektensperrmark were consolidated into the Handelsperrmark in 1939. Because of the massive variety of currency types and uses, in several escape attempts, escapees with one of these various currencies printed before 1939 were told their money was no good — leaving them moneyless and easier to recapture.

Prisoners had to make their own entertainment. In August 1941 the first camp Olympics were organized by the Polish prisoners. Events were held in football (soccer), volleyball, boxing, and chess, but the closing ceremony was interrupted by a German fire drill. "The British came in last place in every event cheerfully, to the dismay of the other participants who took the competition deadly seriously," according to the British inmate John Wilkens in a 1986 interview. Prisoners also formed a Polish choir, a Dutch Hawaiian guitar band, and a French orchestra.[1]

The British put on homemade revues, classical plays and farces including: Gas Light, Rope, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Pygmalion, and The Importance of Being Earnest. Several prisoners intentionally grew their hair long so as better to portray female roles. Prisoner Jock Hamilton-Baillie used to shave his legs, rub them in brown shoe polish, and draw a line down the back of his legs in pencil to simulate the appearance of silk stockings. This allowed him special "bath privileges" in the German guards washroom, since the prisoners' showers were unable to get the polish off his legs. Staging these plays even gained the prisoners access to "parole tools", tools which were used to build the sets and promised not to be used to escape. During the summer months, the theatre's peak periods, there were new productions every two weeks. The biggest success of the theatre however would be the Christmas themed Ballet Nonsense which premiered on November 16, 1941 and ran until the November 18, 1941 show which Hauptmann Priem (the first prison warden of Colditz) attended.[1]

Another pastime which occupied much of the prisoners' time was the production of moonshine alcohol. Initially started by the Polish contingent using a recipe of yeast, water, German jam and sugar from their Red Cross parcels, and then taken up by other prisoners, it did not take long for stills to be secreted all across Colditz (one of which remained undiscovered until a tourist trip in 1984). Prisoner Michael Farr, whose family ran Hawker's Gin (the sole purveyors of Sloe gin with a Royal Warrant), managed to make a sparkling wine dubbed "Château Colditz". Some prisoners would get black teeth or even temporary blindness from consuming this beverage — a condition known as "jam-happy" — as it contained many impurities. Although the German guards despised the drunken prisoners, they generally turned a blind eye to the distilling.

Officers also studied languages, learning from each other, and told stories. Most popular of these stories were the embellished retelling of BBC broadcasts by Jim Rogers. Since mail was regularly screened by censors, and the German newspapers received by prisoners contained much Nazi propaganda, the only reliable information prisoners could obtain on the progress of the war in Europe was through BBC broadcasts received via one of two radios which were secreted in the castle. These radios were smuggled in by French prisoner Frédérick Guigues and named "Arthur 1" and "Arthur 2". The first radio was quickly discovered because of a mole, but the second would remain secreted until Guigues returned and removed it during a tour of the castle in 1965. The prisoners' "Radio Laboratory" would not be permanently exposed until 1992 during repairs to the roof.[13]

Later the most popular way to pass the time was stoolball, a particularly rough version of rugby, where there were two stools at either end of the prisoners' courtyard and goals were scored by touching the opponent's stool with the ball. This game served as an outlet for pent-up aggression, and also provided noise to cover the sounds of tunnel-digging.[1]

In addition to escape attempts, prisoners also tried to make the life of their guards more miserable by resorting to "goon-baiting", making nuisances of themselves by harassing the guards. For example, they would drop water bombs on the guards. Douglas Bader encouraged his junior officers to do the same. British Flight Lieutenant Pete Tunstall especially tried to cause havoc by disturbing the roll call even if nobody was trying to escape, so that the guards would not become suspicious when somebody was. He went through a total of five courts-martial and suffered a total of 415 days in solitary confinement.

Escape attempts[edit]

Oflag IV-C in popular culture[edit]

Oflag IV-C provided the inspiration for both television and film because of the widely popular retellings by Pat Reid and Airey Neave. This started as early as 1955 with the release of The Colditz Story, followed by The Birdmen in 1971, continuing until 2005 with the Colditz mini-series. The escape stories of Colditz Castle have inspired several board and video games, such as Escape from Colditz and Commandos. In contrast, the existence of Colditz is virtually unknown in Germany today. Eggers wrote a book based on his experiences of the German side of events.[14]

Cinema[edit]

Television and TV movies[edit]

  • Escape of the Birdmen (1971) was a television movie loosely based on Pat Reid's book. This movie is of note in that it is the first movie based on Pat Reid's books to reference the Colditz glider, devised and built by Bill Goldfinch with Jack Best his partner in the construction.
  • Colditz (1972–1974) was a television drama series aired on BBC1 television. It ran for a total of 28 episodes across two seasons, progressing in time from the opening of the camp until its liberation in 1945. The first three episodes of the series acted as an introduction to the plot of the show and introduced the viewers to the three central characters by following the events that led up to their arrival at the camp. The series was a joint production between the BBC and Universal TV (an American company), but for reasons unknown, it never aired in the United States. Episodes 24 "A Very Important Person" and 25 "Chameleon" did however air in the US as a two hour TV movie entitled Escape From Colditz, in 1974. A review of the film was printed in the newspaper The News Of The World, which praised it saying: "It has all the realism, dignity and courage of the men it commemorates." Its more notable actors include Jack Hedley as Lieutenant Colonel John Preston from 1972–74, Edward Hardwicke as Captain Pat Grant from 1972–73, Robert Wagner as Major Phil Carrington from 1972–74, David McCallum as Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter from 1972–74, and Dan O'Herlihy as Lieutenant Colonel Max Dodd in 1974.
  • Escape from Colditz (2001) is a British television movie.
  • Colditz (2005) was a mini-series on ITV1, based on Henry Chancellor's book Colditz: The Definitive History, directed by Stuart Orme.[16] This tale is much more fictional than its predecessors, with fictional characters and situations that are merely based on real people and events.[17] It features Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210) as Rhett Barker, James Fox as Lt. Col. Jimmy Fordham, Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) as Lt. Nicholas McGrade, Tom Hardy (Black Hawk Down) as Lt. Jack Rose, Sophia Myles (Thunderbirds) as Lizzie Carter, Guy Henry as Capt. Sawyer and Timothy West as Warren.

Fiction[edit]

Games[edit]

Music[edit]

Other media[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "The Story of Colditz"
  2. ^ Hutson, Graham; Siret, Mal. The Times (London) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article812053.ece |url= missing title (help). 
  3. ^ http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/O4C/PicOf_4C_LaufenSix.htm
  4. ^ Oflag IVC (Colditz) on East Anglia Net, Bygones
  5. ^ Larive; the man who came in from Colditz, Leo de hartog; officieren achter prikkeldraad 1940-1945
  6. ^ Reid Colditz: The Full Story p294
  7. ^ Romilly, Giles; Alexander, Michael (1973). Hostages at Colditz. Sphere Books. p. 138. ISBN 0-7221-7463-2. 
  8. ^ Bernardi, Peter J. "A Passion for Unity". America Magazine. America Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  9. ^ P.R. Reid, MBE, MC, Colditz: The Colditz Story & The Latter Days of Colditz, Coronet, 1985, p. 74
  10. ^ http://www.herofiles.org/resources/books.shtml
  11. ^ Reid, Colditz: The Full Story p325
  12. ^ "Colditz: The Legend" Yesterday TV, 12:00 pm, 6 Dec 2010
  13. ^ Colditz Castle : Virtual Tour : Page 14: Attic Secrets
  14. ^ Colditz: The German Story|author=Reinhold Eggers|year=1961|publisher=Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books|Pen and Sword Military. ISBN 1-84415-536-6
  15. ^ The Colditz Story (1955)
  16. ^ "Colditz drama planned for ITV". BBC News. 31 March 2003. 
  17. ^ "Damian's marriage escape"
  18. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle | BoardGameGeek
  19. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle: the Inventor
  20. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle: boardgame images
  21. ^ Vintage 'ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ' board game by Parker: THE BOARD GAME COMPANY
  22. ^ 'ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ' vintage board game: The Board Game Company
  23. ^ Skedaddle! | BoardGameGeek

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

POW memoirs[edit]

Audio interviews[edit]

From the Imperial War Museum (IWM) oral history collection:

Tucki was a Polish officer served with 44th Infantry Regt in Poland, 1939; POW in Oflag VII A, Murnau, Germany, 1939-1941; escaped to Hungary, 1941 and returned to German captivity; POW in Oflag IV C, Colditz, Oflag 10 C Lubeck and Oflag 6 B, Dessel in Germany, 1942-1945
Lorne Welch was a British NCO flying instructor in GB, 1938-1942; officer with 25 Operation Training Unit, RAF in GB, 1942; POW at Stalag Luft III, Sagan and Oflag IV C, Colditz in Germany, 1943-1945
Dominic Bruce served as navigator with Bomber Command, 1939-1941; POW in Spangenburg Castle and Oflag IV C, Colditz in Germany, 1941-1945

From all IWM collections:

Prisoner obituaries[edit]