The Colditz story is one of the more familiar to have emerged from the Second World War, so one might ask if there is room for another book on the subject. Osprey rather neatly side-step that issue by covering the entire Colditz story, from the original 11th century timber castle to the modern restoration efforts, making this a wider history of the building, rather than just another account of the famous escape attempts.
Colditz Castle has a long and rather varied history. Starting as a Imperial possession in the early Holy Roman Empire, it was sacked by the Hussites, became a major residence for the Elector of Saxony, was gutted by fire, then rebuilt as a hunting lodge, before periods as a poorhouse and an asylum. After the Second World War it became a hospital and then a nursing home, and is now being restored by a charity.
This examination of the castle's overall history doesn't mean that the escape attempts are not covered. Just over half of the text is devoted to an examination of the many and varied escape attempts that were made. Unlike some English-language accounts this section includes some interesting details of French and Polish escape attempts as well as the British attempts. Some of the escape attempts are well illustrated, with pictures showing some of the tunnels (some modern and some taken by the German camp guards at the time) as well as some useful illustrations showing the more complex escapes.
The tone of the book changes towards the end - Himmler's order to kill all escaped prisoners if recaptured, combined with a vengeful mood in Germany triggered by Allied bombing, made escape more dangerous than remaining in Colditz. The situation became more politically charged when a number of prominent prisoners were moved to the castle, and even the eventual liberation was potentially dangerous!
This is a wider ranging look at the history of Colditz than many others, and as such an interesting read.
Design and Development
The Living Site
The Site in War
Author: Michael McNally