World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I



 

World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I



 

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SECRETS OF THE GERMAN PRISONER-OF-WAR CAMPS  -  Part 3  
by Roy Kilminster

Slit-trenches

Digging Foxholes in preparation for Russian advanceThis was the first occasion before the end of the war that I risked bringing the camera out into the open. Towards the end of April 1945, with Russian troops close and advancing rapidly, POWs dug slit trenches in case there was going to be any 'rough stuff'. By now, the German administration of the camp was sufficiently demoralised to give tacit agreement to the operation shown in this photograph. The slit trenches were dug using any available implement, mainly fire buckets. In the event, our precautions turned out to be unnecessary. During the night of April 30th, the German guards and administrative staff left the camp without making any attempt to resist the approaching Russians. After a day or so, British and American officers made contact with the advancing Russian troops. At long last we were free!                                                    
Stalag Luft I was lucky, the Germans evacuated many other POW camps as Allied armies drew near, with the prisoners forced to make extremely hazardous marches to other areas, Hitlerís intention being to use the prisoners as hostages. The marches were sometimes of hundreds of miles in winter weather with little food or shelter. There were many deaths from exposure, malnutrition and acts of war.

Ruskky ComePOW Newspaper

On a more cheerful note, for the POWs at Stalag Luft I at least, this is a commemorative newspaper produced by the POWs after their liberation. To explain the headline, 'Russky Come', over the preceding months, as the Russians had steadily gained ground on the Eastern Front, POWs often greeted camp guards with that mild, but no-doubt rather dispiriting taunt.

 

FW190 FW 190 at Barth Aerodrome

With the liberation of Stalag Luft I, we were able to roam about much as we pleased and, with a few days wait while an airlift was being organised to fly the POWs back to England, the opportunity was taken to explore an adjacent flak school and the local aerodrome. So, a few shots now of abandoned German aircraft on the aerodrome. Here we have one of their main fighter aircraft, a Focke-Wulf 190.

 

 Junkers 88 at Barth aerodrome
A
Junkers 88, a fighter bomber, and a very nice looking aircraft.

German Junkers 88 with bombs on ground

A
nother Junkers 88 and myself. The bombs left lying near to this plane might be an indication of the haste with which the Germans finally departed.



Cockpit of JU88
Inside the cockpit of one of the Junkers 88s.

JU 88 Cockpit

Burnt out aircraft. Hardly an airworthy aircraft, this one.

RUSSKY

Russian Dance troupe entertaing the POWs at Stalag Luft I  Russian Show

You may find this photograph a little surprising, talk about a holiday camp. The Russians put on a show for us, their equivalent, I suppose, of our wartime ENSA concerts.

 

Russians Dancers entertaining the POWs


As you may imagine, after being monastically cooped up for so long, we
appreciated the dancing girls.

Russian dancers with prisoners of war at Stalag Luft IAmerican boys and Russian girls get together after the show. The camaraderie at Stalag Luft I between the Russians and the Allies was in contrast to that experienced by Allied prisoners at some other camps relieved by Russian troops. There were instances where the Russians held on to some British pows until the Western Allies agreed to return some Russian nationals who had been fighting on the German side and who, with good reason, were reluctant to be repatriated to their own country.

 

South Compound w/ Flak school in backgroundFlak School

A final view of Stalag Luft I. The extensive building in the background of this photograph is the flak school mentioned a little earlier. It was there that German anti-aircraft gunners were trained in the radio location of aircraft. The flak school was never bombed by Allied aircraft, perhaps because, contrary to the Geneva convention, it was situated so near to the prisoner-of-war camp.

B-17 at Barth for evacuationB17s

After three and a half years in my case, and over five years for some, this was the day we had all been dreaming of. The photograph shows American B17s, the Flying Fortress, queuing-up at the local airfield to airlift the pows back to England.

Bombed out HamburgHamburg

On the way home we flew over part of Hamburg. I think that the picture speaks for itself.

 

THE FINAL TALLY

The majority of this narrative has been on a fairly relaxed note, but the grimmer side of the air war should not be altogether forgotten, and to put this tale into some sort of perspective, a few statistics are perhaps appropriate at this stage.

 

RAF Badge
RAF Badge

By the end of the war, there were about 10,000 RAF prisoners-of-war in Germany, and at least a similar number of American aircrew prisoners. For every RAF aircrew survivor as a prisoner-of-war, about five other RAF bomber aircrew had lost their lives: more than 55,000 in all.

Altogether, there must have been several hundreds of RAF prisoners who attempted to escape from POW camps in Germany.  In spite of the courage and initiative of the individual escapers, and in spite of all the efforts of the various supporting teams, for most of those who did manage to get outside the wire, the odds were finally too great and they were recaptured.

Highlighting the immense, but inevitably largely unsuccessful efforts that went into escape work, the hundred or so tunnels undertaken at Stalag Luft I were instrumental in assisting only one escaper to get back to England.

Whilst in my own area of work, perhaps as few as one in three of my forgeries were eventually used for an escape attempt.

One other escaper from Stalag Luft I also succeeded in reaching England. Both of the completely successful escapes from Stalag Luft I occurred during the first occupation of the camp. During the period covered by this narrative, about a dozen people were successful in getting outside the camp by various means, although all of those escapers were recaptured.

There were several successful escapes from other camps, however, and in total, nearly thirty RAF escapers eventually reached England or neutral territory. The escapes that did occur meant that at times many thousands of German troops were occupied in hunting for the escapers. On a smaller scale, the undercover activities in the POW camps also tied up many abwehr staff.

Although I have not seen figures for the number of RAF prisoners who lost their lives in escape attempts, many individuals were recorded as being shot during their attempts at escape, so that the total number has to be well in excess of the fifty who were murdered by the Gestapo, following the 'Great Escape' from Stalag Luft III. The final tally therefore, still means that, for every prisoner-of-war who achieved a successful escape, at least two others had lost their lives in trying to escape from Germany.

 

EPILOGUE

It was mentioned in the early part of the video that I was one of the luckier ones during the war and, illustrating that aspect rather more poignantly, there are a final few photographs that I feel should be included to complete both the personal and the historical aspects of this record.

 

Graves at Rozendaal


Kilminster crew graves

The graves at Rozendaal in Holland of three members of my own crew who, for reasons that we will never know, failed to get out of the burning Halifax on that fateful night in 1941.

 

Pilot Officer G. Whitaker grave    Grave of Pilot

The centre grave, that of Pilot Officer Whitaker, the captain of our Halifax bomber, and just twenty years old. It must have been due to the courage and skill of P/O Whitaker that, perhaps at the expense of his own life, four of the crew were able to escape from the aircraft unharmed.

It was not until 1990 that I visited these graves for the first time, and there was an unexpected sequel to that visit.

Rozendaal monument to fifteen allied aircrew members     In 1993, I was invited to join with the mayor of Rozendaal in unveiling a monument to fifteen wartime Allied aircrew, including the three from my own aircraft, who had lost their lives in the locality of Rozendaal. The photograph shows the monument, representing part of a Lancaster bomber, after the unveiling ceremony.

 

Kilminster crash site   Crash Site

This final photograph shows the setting for another memorable experience during that visit to Rozendaal, I was taken to the spot where my aircraft had hit the ground all those years before. Perhaps the most surprising aspect, was finding that there were still some small fragments of the aircraft lying around. To end this story then, the last illustration shows a few fragments of my Halifax that, after 52 years, I was able to recover from the crash site.

Parts from Kilminste's plane    Fragments of Halifax 

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