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Oflag IV-C
Colditz, Saxony
Colditz Castle as Oflag IV-C, April 1945
Oflag IV-C is located in Germany
Oflag IV-C
Oflag IV-C
Coordinates51°07′51″N 12°48′27″E / 51.13078°N 12.80748°E / 51.13078; 12.80748
TypePrisoner-of-war camp
Site information
Controlled by Nazi Germany
Site history
In use1939–1945
Garrison information
OccupantsAllied officers

Oflag IV-C, often referred to by its location at Colditz Castle, overlooking Colditz, Saxony, 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".

Colditz Castle

This thousand-year-old fortress was in the heart of Hitler's Reich, four hundred miles (640 km) from any frontier not under Nazi control. Its outer walls were seven feet (two metres) thick and the cliff on which it was built had a sheer drop of two hundred and fifty feet (75 metres) to the River Mulde below.[1]


The first prisoners arrived in November 1939; they were 140 Polish officers from the September Campaign who were regarded as escape risks. Most of them were later transferred to other Oflags.[1]

In October 1940, Donald Middleton, Keith Milne, and Howard Wardle (a Canadian who joined the RAF just before the war) became the first British prisoners at Colditz.

RAF group photograph at Colditz. Back row, from left to right: F/Lt Best, F/Lt Forbes, F/Lt Zafouk, F/Lt Flinn, F/Lt van Rood, F/Lt Halifax, F/Lt Donaldson, F/Lt Thom, F/Lt Milne, F/Lt Middleton, F/Lt Goldfinch. Front row, from left to right: F/Lt Dickenson, S/Ldr Stephenson, F/Lt Parker, S/Ldr Bader, S/Ldr McColm, S/Ldr Lockett, F/Lt Bruce.[2]

On 7 November, six British officers, the "Laufen Six", named after the camp (Oflag VII-C) from which they made their first escape, arrived: Harry Elliott, Rupert Barry (later Sir Rupert Barry), Pat Reid, Dick Howe, Peter Allan,[3] and Kenneth Lockwood.[4] 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][5]

200 French officers arrived in February 1941. 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 1941, 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.[6]

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 1941 the first two Dutchmen escaped successfully from the castle, followed by many more of whom six officers made it to England. Afterwards a number of would-be escapees borrowed Dutch greatcoats as their disguise. When the Wehrmacht invaded the Netherlands they were short of 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 were nearly identical with very minor alterations.

Some of the French officers held at Colditz

In May 1943, the Wehrmacht High Command decided that Colditz should house only Americans and Commonwealth. In June the Dutch were moved out, followed shortly thereafter by the Poles and Belgians. The final French group left 12 July 1943. By the end of July there were a few Free French officers, and 228 Commonwealth officers including Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Irish, and one Indian.

On 23 August 1944 Colditz received its first Americans: 49-year-old Colonel Florimond Duke, 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.

On 19 January 1945 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 murdered by the Germans 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.

When the final battles of the war approached the area, the prisoners became concerned at the danger, both from the SS in the town who might kill them, or from the approaching Allied forces who might mistakenly attack the castle. To prevent this the prisoners persuaded the German guards to surrender to them in secret and prevent the SS from entering. This was successful and on 16 April 1945 Oflag IV C was captured by American soldiers from the 1st US Army.[7]

"Prominente" and notable inmates

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]

The inner courtyard of Colditz castle which was used as the prison yard when the castle was the POW camp Oflag IV-C during World War II. The door flanked by bushes was the entrance to the "Prominente" quarters. Note the cutout depiction of Lieutenant Bouley to the lower left-hand side of the photograph.

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 Clementine Churchill. 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 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 Lord Lascelles and John Elphinstone, nephews of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth; Captain The Lord Haig, son of World War I Field Marshal Douglas Haig; Lord Hopetoun, son of Lord Linlithgow, 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.[8] 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 military chaplain and Catholic priest Yves Congar, who 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.[9]

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, over the protestations of the other prisoners. The Allies were 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. But they reached the American lines alive a couple of weeks later, an action aided by the SS head of POW camp administration Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, which contributed to his lessened sentence after his war crimes verdict in 1949.

German staff and visitors

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 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


Life in the camp

In Colditz, the Wehrmacht followed the Geneva Convention.[13] 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 World War I 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 out to be a mistake as several of the bills they received were of varieties that were not considered valid.

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: Gaslight, 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 was 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 remained secreted until Guigues returned and removed it during a tour of the castle in 1965. The prisoners' "Radio Laboratory" was not permanently exposed until 1992 during repairs to the roof.[14]

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 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

Main article: Attempts to escape Oflag IV-C

In popular culture

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.[15]


Television and TV movies




Other media

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Story of Colditz"
  2. ^ Booker (2005), Location 1245.
  3. ^ Hutson, Graham; Siret, Mal. "Colditz Obituaries". The Times. London.
  4. ^ "Hut".
  5. ^ Oflag IVC (Colditz) on East Anglia Net, Bygones Archived 2005-05-07 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Larive; the man who came in from Colditz, Leo de hartog; officieren achter prikkeldraad 1940-1945
  7. ^ Reid Colditz: The Full Story p294
  8. ^ Romilly, Giles; Alexander, Michael (1973). Hostages at Colditz. Sphere Books. p. 138. ISBN 0-7221-7463-2.
  9. ^ Bernardi, Peter J. (4 April 2005). "A Passion for Unity". America Magazine. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  10. ^ P.R. Reid, MBE, MC, Colditz: The Colditz Story & The Latter Days of Colditz, Coronet, 1985, p. 74
  11. ^
  12. ^ Reid, Colditz: The Full Story p325
  13. ^ "Colditz: The Legend" Yesterday TV, 12:00 pm, 6 Dec 2010
  14. ^ Colditz Castle : Virtual Tour : Page 14: Attic Secrets
  15. ^ Reinhold Eggers (1961). Colditz: The German Story. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. ISBN 1-84415-536-6.
  16. ^ The Colditz Story (1955)
  17. ^ "Colditz drama planned for ITV". BBC News. 31 March 2003.
  18. ^ "Damian's marriage escape"
  19. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle | BoardGameGeek
  20. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle: the Inventor
  21. ^ Escape from Colditz Castle: boardgame images
  22. ^ Vintage 'ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ' board game by Parker: THE BOARD GAME COMPANY
  23. ^ 'ESCAPE FROM COLDITZ' vintage board game: The Board Game Company
  24. ^ Skedaddle! | BoardGameGeek


POW memoirs

Audio interviews

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