Moment of truth for ex-PoWs and Colditz wonder glider

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The Independent Online

An extraordinary plan by British prisoners of war to escape from Colditz Castle in a glider built from floorboards and prison sleeping bags was being recreated at an RAF airbase today.

An extraordinary plan by British prisoners of war to escape from Colditz Castle in a glider built from floorboards and prison sleeping bags was being recreated at an RAF airbase today.

The legendary story of the Colditz Cock has been brought to life as part of a Channel Four documentary about escape attempts from the German castle.

Today, some of the men who came up with the unbelievable plan to fly to freedom in the glider, built in a secret makeshift workshop, were hoping to see the first flight of their amazing brainchild.

Glider pilot John Lee will attempt to fly the two-man wooden aircraft at RAF Odiham, while survivors of the original quartet who conceived it look on.

Flight Lieutenant Jack Best, who helped build the glider, and Bill Goldfinch, who drafted the plans, were both due to attend the flight as part of the Escape from Colditz TV series, which begins on Monday.

Flt Lt Best, now 87 and living in Herefordshire, said: "To see it being constructed was absolutely fascinating, but to see it actually fly will be unbelievable.

"I was perfectly certain that it would fly, and the meticulous job they have done in reconstructing it from the original plans is very impressive.

"Obviously they had tools that we could only dream about at the time, and the standard of materials are far higher because we had to use what was available."

Neil Fripp, of Southdown Aero Services, who rebuilt the glider using original 1945 plans, said the project had been a wonderful experience.

"It has been a fantastic project to work on, and we can now say that the only people to have built this glider are us and the men that designed it 50 years ago.

"To see the expression on those men's faces will be a huge buzz to us."

Working from just one A4 drawing the glider company has re-created the 32ft wingspan aircraft after being given just six weeks to do the job.

But this was luxury compared with the conditions endured by Colditz prisoners as they secretly laboured on the original in the last days of the war.

They built a false wall in the attic of one of the castle buildings behind which a workshop was constructed. Bed slats and every other piece of wood which the PoWs could obtain were used to build the flying machine.

Wing spars were constructed from floorboards and control wires fabricated from electrical wire stolen from unused portions of the castle.

Cotton prison sleeping bags were used for the skin of the glider, while tools were fashioned from the handles of beech bed-board, the frames of iron window bars and blades from gramophone spring.

A concrete-filled bathtub plunging five storeys before crashing into the floor was to have provided a catapult launch for the hybrid plane, until the British escape officer decided lift-off should be delayed in case the SS ordered the massacre of the prisoners.

After the Allies' victory in 1945 the camp was peacefully turned over by its Kommandant to the Senior British Officer and the glider's existence was revealed.

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