Diversion & Annoyance Tactics

Diversion 1.

One of the POW's main concerns was the presence of guard dogs between the inner and outer rings of barbed wire. The Germans knew that something had to be done about the dogs and the answer came when somebody suggested putting curry powder on the ground to deaden the dog's sense of smell. Initially this idea was received with scepticism, but since they had nothing to lose, they decided to experiment. On the morning of the 10th March 1945, D-Day for the escapees, they scrounged some curry powder from their cooks and sprinkled it by the wire. The test would come when the dogs passed by with their handler, doing the rounds of the perimeter fence. They meant to creep up to the fence to see if the dogs still caught their scent in spite of the curry powder. If a dog began barking then it would mean that they had been detected. However, the dogs passed without barking so the POWs knew that they had not been detected.

Diversion 2.

The second diversion was the performance of a play in the camp theatre where the prisoners put on their own entertainments. This was to act as a distraction to another part of the camp away from the escape hut and as a means to deaden any noise. As it turned out, this diversion was doubly necessary because on the eve of the escape the prisoners realised, to their dismay, that their quantity of rations were too low. The plan was to be able to survive a week or more on the run, but the reality fell far short of this, so the POWs decided upon a burglary of the British food store. The only trouble was that it would entail a lot of noise. A word was given to the theatrical party and at a pre-arranged time they launched into a particularly rowdy scene, which called for loud applause from the German POW audience.

Hans Harzheim (Anti-tank officer) and Werner Zielasko (unknown), in their escape plan, had high hopes of reaching German occupied territory within a day or two. Their plan was to steal an aircraft and fly it back towards Germany, dipping its wings over their homeland to convey the message that they were non-combatants. The plan had been worked out in detail and involved the forging of papers, for they were posing as Norwegian engineers making their way towards Castle Bromwich. They realised that the papers would not stand close scrutiny, but at a glance they were convincing. They were obtained, ironically, from one of the British officers' uniforms which were issued to those German officers who arrived at Bridgend with no great coat at all - and at this stage in the war, with the swift Allied advance through Europe, there were many without greatcoats. These uniforms had a round patch sewn on the back to show that the men wearing them were prisoners of war, but the original buttons were left on them. Harzheim and Zielasko with a Luftwaffe pilot (Steffi Ehlert) and U-boat commander (Oswald Prior), used one of the buttons as a stamp to give their forged papers a superficial look of authenticity. Harzheim spoke English reasonably well but with a strong accent which they hoped would pass for that of a Norwegian. Harzheim was in a sense their front man, and he had already reconnoitred the immediate area by changing places with one of the other ranks in the working parties. These parties marched daily from the camp under armed escort to load coal at the railway sidings in the middle of Bridgend, and with the collusion of the German sergeant Harzheim donned the uniform and assumed the identity of one of the soldiers on several occasions. These unofficial excursions enabled him to obtain a good idea of the geography of the town, and he particularly noticed a car regularly parked overnight outside one of the large Victorian houses in Merthyr Mawr Road, a residential area occupied by professional people. This car came to play a vital part in their plan, for they planned to steal it with the aid of a bunch of ignition keys ingeniously made out of nails. Harzheim also noticed vans / lorries parked at a nearby farm from which they could siphon petrol to augment the supply already in the tank of the car.

Annoyance tactics

A lot of the POWs were not escape minded but were keen to join in the fun of keeping the guards on their toes. The POWs would return to their rooms at the end of the day with their pockets full of small stones. When the camp was quiet, in the night, they would throw the stones against the wire. The noise would fool the guards in to thinking the wire was being cut and the quiet would be disturbed by wild firing ! Another method was to make paper aeroplanes which would be launched out of the windows. The guards then had to spend hours hunting for them in case they contained notes to agents, or friends on the outside.