Out Now – CASTLE OF THE EAGLES

‘An extraordinary, and largely forgotten, wartime story — brought back to life in this Boys’ Own account’ – Daily Mail

My thrilling new escape adventure CASTLE OF THE EAGLES is available in all good bookshops!

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A dozen eccentric middle-aged British generals pulling off some of the most daring and amazing escapes of the war – a story so fresh and fascinating that Hollywood came for the movie rights before I even finished writing the book!

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Vincigliata Castle, a menacing medieval fortress set in the beautiful Tuscan hills above Florence, has been turned into a very special prisoner of war camp on Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s personal order. Perched high on a hill, the forbidding building holds 13 of the most senior British and Commonwealth officers captured during the campaigns in North Africa and Crete.

Bookshop Corner in The Telegraphhttp://books.telegraph.co.uk/Product/Mark-Felton/Castle-of-the-Eagles–Escape-from-Mussolinis-Colditz/19634300

The 13 consist of an air marshal, twelve generals and brigadiers along with 11 aides and batmen. They are guarded by almost 200 Italian soldiers under the command of a hardened fascist answerable directly to Mussolini. It is imperative that some of these famous generals manage to get back into the war as soon as possible. The prisoners include the British commander in Egypt, the deputy commander of the RAF in the Middle East, the commander in Libya, and the general commanding the 2nd Armoured Division.

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Campo 12, as the Italians call Vincigliata Castle, is considered escape proof, an Italian Colditz. But the Italians have not counted on the bravery, ingenuity and barefaced pluck of their illustrious prisoners. After several false starts, an extraordinary assemblage of middle-aged POWs hatches a complex escape plan. Short of food and facing almost insuperable challenges in finding escape materials, the prisoners, regardless of rank or age, all work together to drive a complex tunnel beneath the castle through its foundations and solid bedrock. It is a task that takes them six arduous and dangerous months to complete.

For news on the movie: Castle of the Eagles Goes to Hollywood

By March 1943 the tunnel is ready. The potential escapers have also spent months making civilian clothes, forging identity papers, gathering rations and even constructing elaborate human dummies to place in their beds to fool the guards during their nighttime inspections after they have escaped. It is decided that six men will attempt the impossible, forming three 2-man teams. One escaper is an air marshal, three are brigadiers, and two are lieutenant-generals, probably the unlikeliest collection of would-be prison breakers in history. Three of them are knights of the realm and two have won the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. One is handicapped by a missing hand and eye, another by a gammy hip. The youngest is 48, the oldest 63.

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During a dark and rain swept night, the three teams burst out of the earth below the castle and slip away, all intent on reaching neutral Switzerland. What follows are extraordinary adventures as the escapers go on the run inside Italy. Will any of them make to freedom?

Castle of the Eagles, written from official documents and personal memoirs, tells the thrilling full story of the extraordinary escape of the generals from Mussolini’s Colditz for the first time, a forgotten but almost unbelievable tale of courage and daring by the unlikeliest group of escapers in World War II.

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Order now at amazon: Castle of the Eagles

Hitler’s Forgotten Tea House

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Many people mistakenly believe that the famed Eagle’s Nest high up on Kehlstein Mountain overlooking Hitler’s mountain top hideaway on the Obersalzberg was his favourite tea house. The building survives perfectly intact today, and attracts over 200,000 tourists annually. But there is a reason for its survival.
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Hitler hated it! Martin Bormann poured huge sums of money and time into its construction but ultimately Hitler was afraid of the altitude, the snaking road up and the elaborate lift that took visitors the final 400 feet through solid mountain to the summit. He only visited the place around ten times. For this reason, the building is perhaps less tainted by association with Hitler than the structures on the Obersalzberg, and was spared postwar demolition.

Hitler did have a favourite tea house, again another present from Bormann, but this time constructed at a lower altitude just a short walk from his palatial Berghof home and military headquarters. History has not been kind to this building, Hitler’s constant daily patronage ensuring that the US Army demolished it in the early 1950s and the Bavarian Government made further attempts to eradicate its footprint in the 2000s. However, much survives for those prepared to hike to the spot and root around a bit using one’s imagination and old photographs.

Hitler would visit the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus almost every afternoon during his stays at the Berghof. It was a home from home for Hitler and his entourage and pandered to Hitler’s rather indolent home life with Eva Braun and his cronies.

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Each afternoon around 3pm Hitler, members of his close circle and a small number of his RSD bodyguards would cross the road in front of the Berghof and enter a path than ran past the Unterwurflehen (Obersalzberg Administration Building) then stroll downhill through the Obersalzberg Valley and onto a path through the woods.

Mooslahnerkopf Walk

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The ruins of the Unterwurflehen Building

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The woodland path towards the Mooslahnerkopf

As his party entered the woods they would pass by SS guard bunkers for the sentries that monitored a discreet chain link fence below the path before arriving at the Mooslahnerkopf Hill and its tea house. Hitler hated being overtly guarded, so the sentries would most likely have not been seen.

IMG_1962 A Moll Bunker or Splinter Protection Cell. These one-man bunkers were spaced out all over the Obersalzberg area. This one I photographed close to the tea house. It was designed to provide a sentry with cover in the event of an air raid, not to fight from.

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The walk was less than a kilometre. The circular teahouse had been designed by architect Roderich Fick, who had remodelled the Haus Wachenfeld into the grand Berghof, on the orders of Martin Bormann as yet another gift for Hitler, as the ‘brown eminence’ sought to curry favour with his leader.

Bormann

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Designed in 1936, the building was completed the following year, and Bormann was rewarded by Hitler’s near constant patronage of the establishment whenever he was in residence on the Obersalzberg until early 1944.

The main part of the tea house was cylindrical in design, measuring 9 metres in diameter, with three large picture windows looking out over the valley beyond. The building was built onto the side of Mooslahnerkopf Hill and was accessed by a flight of steps up to a large door giving access to the main room.

Manadatory Credit: Photo by Roger-Viollet / Rex Features (521443a) Adolf Hitler VARIOUS
Manadatory Credit: Photo by Roger-Viollet / Rex Features (521443a)
Adolf Hitler
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The main room was dominated a large round table around which were arranged comfortable armchairs.

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Hitler and Eva Braun. Unlike Hitler, Braun also regularly used the Eagle’s Nest for taking tea or holding parties

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Hitler and Maria Reiter, rumoured to have been an old girlfriend, inside the circular room. This film still allows us a glimpse of the colours used to decorate the tea house

Other seating areas were located around the walls. A kitchen and staff area occupied the rest of the building. As with the Berghof and Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest), Hitler’s monogrammed silver service and cutlery was used by the SS waiters.

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In front of the tea house was a scenic overlook of the Salzburg Basin, enclosed by a wooden railing and with a bench where the Führer often sat and discussed matters of state with his intimates. From the railing Hitler could look at Austria, his homeland, Salzburg Castle poking up through a break in the line of mountains in the far distance.

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Mark at the Mooslahnerkopf Overlook. The railing was replaced by a German film company in 2004 and is higher than the original.

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Hitler and his Alsation Blondi at the Overlook

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The scenic overlook survives virtually intact while the tea house behind has been largely erased

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The original bench that Hitler used is long gone. A modern replacement has been installed in the exact spot. 

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In this photo you can gain some idea of the luxurious interior and the height on the main circular room.

Hitler often fell asleep at the Mooslahnerkopf and was always driven back to the Berghof in an ordinary Volkswagen rather than one of his enormous armoured Mercedes, while the rest of his intimates strolled back on foot in the late afternoon.

The building survived the British bombing attack of 25 April 1945 that obliterated or severely damaged many of the Nazi structures on the Obersalzberg. In 1951-52 the US Army ordered its destruction, and it was partially demolished, leaving just the service areas and basement intact.

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Mooslahnerkopf Tea House remains. (Copyright Hans J.S.C. Jongstra)

Then in August 2006 the basement level was torn out and removed, leaving only the building’s foundation and some stairs remaining today

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Steps (above and below) in front of the vanished building that led down to the overlook area

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The hillside where the tea house once stood. Note the same stand of trees on the left in both photos.

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