High Flyers in Colditz

There are many tales from WW2 of ‘triumph over adversity’ that perfectly illustrate the power and ingenuity of the human spirit. This is one of them. Colditz is a small town in the district of Leipzig, in Saxony, Germany and its castle had been converted into a high-security prisoner-of-war camp housing incorrigible officers who were serious escape risks. The castle is situated on a rocky outcrop above the River Mulde and was believed it to be escape proof. But you can’t possibly keep hundreds of energetic and highly capable men in captivity without them descending into boredom. Impossible.

On a cold day in 1943 looking out over the town of Colditz, POW Bill Goldfinch noticed snowflakes outside his window drifting upward. Perhaps it would be possible, he thought, to escape in a glider. The updraft would help in getting the glider airborne and the ideal launch site – the castle’s chapel roof – wasn’t visible to the guards.

Goldfinch and Jack Best, both engineers, worked out the specifications. It would carry a pilot and one passenger and the wings would have enough lift to carry it over the town – more than 300 feet below – and across the river. Building began in their rooms but they created a secret workshop in one of the castle’s attics, constructing a false wall at one end.

Materials and tools were scavenged. For the glider’s control wires, they took electrical wires from unused areas of the castle. For the wings’ spars and ribs, they used floorboards and bed slats. The wooden frame was covered in bed sheets, which they doped with hot millet (part of their rations) to stiffen the fabric. The wings alone were made from 6,000 hand-fashioned pieces. Take-off was finally scheduled for the spring of 1945, but the launch never took place as the war was nearing its end. Bill Goldfinch, however, took home the drawings and the story went public.

In 1999, the building of a full-sized replica of the Colditz glider was commissioned by Channel 4. It flew successfully on its first attempt at RAF Odiham with Best and Goldfinch proudly looking on. The replica is now housed at the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, Suffolk.

There is further evidence that this incredible escape plan could have worked. In 2012, Channel 4 once again commissioned a team of engineers and carpenters to build another full-sized replica of the glider at Colditz Castle. It was launched (unmanned) from the same roof as had been planned for the original flight. The radio-controlled replica made it safely across the river landing in a meadow below.

Based in Guernsey, very much by choice and not under sufferance, PEA shares the same reputation for innovation and ingenuity that befits the high-flying thinkers and doers of those wartime dramas. As a jurisdiction, Guernsey is known for its advanced standards of regulation as well as it’s outside the box products and services – none more so than in the Fund sector. PEA fits comfortably in this arena, adopting the latest fintech to pave the way for greater efficiencies and self-improvement, unafraid to change and grow business opportunities in teams across three jurisdictions.

We salute great thinking. We salute innovation. We salute those extraordinary men who, but for the cessation of war, would have achieved something absolutely remarkable against all the odds. Long may it be remembered.


  Peter Toyberg is Group Managing Director of PEA and holds an MSc in Economics from Copenhagen Business School and has extensive experience in the management of private equity funds. Peter specialises in technical fund structuring, tax reviews, AIFMD, turn-key back office services solutions, and depositary solutions.

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