Archive for Germany
Despite the fact that it was technically formed in July 1940, the SOE (Special Operations Executive) had been created in 1938 with the merger of 3 existing, key sections just after Germany annexed Austria. Churchill’s Secret Army was told to “Set Europe Ablaze”.
SOE agents were directed to many different Nazi occupied countries to both cause havoc behind German lines and at the same time make an effort to come across local resistance groups they would quite possibly work with as the occasion for invasion was here. Theatres of Operation included France, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Hungary, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, Romania, Abyssinia and the Far East.
As agents had to operate deep in Nazi held nations and they were chosen from a range of social class and background. The primary criteria was that the probable operative had exhaustive understanding of the region they would operate in and would pass as a native of that country. That is why, operatives in possession of dual nationality were highly sought-after.
The renowned airplane utilised by the Special Operations Executives in France was the Westland Lysander. It was a small airplane which meant it was so much more tough to see and was strong enough to land on makeshift landing strips. It was used to transport operatives to and from the United Kingdom together with lifting individuals who had to be debriefed in London. Airmen who had been shot down were also at times brought back to the Britain by Lysander.
Amid the Special Operations Executive group were a number of female agents and around 30% of the female agents routed into France from Section F, did not come back. The types of missions in each region were wide ranging. For example, in Poland, there was little need to encourage the local population as there was already general hate of the Germans. This was in contrast to areas such as Vichy France which worked with with the occupying forces and the possibility of SOE agents being betrayed was greatly increased.
For the duration of World War II, the SOE had utilised around 13,000 people who directly backed or provided somewhere in the region of 1 million agents.
Colditz Castle is certainly best known as a top security prison utilised by the Nazis throughout World War II to detain Allied prisoners of war who were thought of as “incorrigible”. All the same, the castle is more than 800 years old which means there is much more to its history than the six years when it was also known as Oflag IV-C.
Building work commenced in the mid 1100s on the imposing castle located on a hill overlooking Colditz in Saxony, Germany. Within just a few years, habitations sprung up in the vicinity of the castle and after roughly 250 years, it was sold by the Lords of Coldtiz.
A significant blaze in the early 16th century meant that substantial areas of the castle were required to be reconstructed together with the city hall, church and substantial parts of the city. Over the ages, redevelopment and reconstructing building work saw the shape of the castle change and in the 1800s it was reconstructed once again and put to use as a workhouse and later on a mental facility right up until 1924.
In 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany and converted the castle to a POWcamp for political pows. Following the start of World War II in 1939, prisoners were detained here. It was used to hold high risk POWs who were deemed to be dangerous and more likely to try to get away. Although it was a maximum security prison, the nature of the inmates at Oflag IV-C (it’s prisoner of war camp camp name), ensured there were many innovative escape endeavours. There was even one scheme where prisoners of war intended to employ a glider even though it was never used as the Allies retook the castle before the escape effort could be staged.
Colditz was a prison for officers and there were also several well-known inmates including the British fighter ace, Douglas Bader, Patrick Reid who wrote a number of publications on Colditz after the war, Airey Neave who was the first officer to escape from the prisoner of war camp and was also eventually elected to the British Parliament, Sir David Stirling who set up the Special Air Service and Charles Upham from New Zealand who was awarded the Victoria Cross and bar. One of the most notable of all was Giles Romilly who was the nephew of Winston Churchill’s wife.
In recent years, Colditz Castle has been refurbished and is open to visitors to see this historic building for themselves.