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The Liberation of Stalag IIB
Camp. Stalag II-B, Hammerstein, Prussia (1)
Location. In west Prussia, east of Neustettin; 53(41'N- 16(58'E.
Camp population: At its peak, in January 1945, this camp was responsible for about 7,200 American ground forces enlisted men. In actuality over 5,000 of these POWs were out in nine work kommandos, not physically housed in the main camp.
Population gains or losses: On 29 January 1945, the Germans began evacuating POWs from the main camp and the kommandos; this became one of the more disorganized and protracted of the evacuation marches.
Circumstances of liberation: A contemporary American observer of the Allied POW situation in Poland stated that few (he estimated 100) of the US POWs at Hammerstein fell into Soviet hands when the Red Army occupied Stalag II-B and the surrounding area on 26 February. The occupying troops were from the 2nd Belorussian Front, probably the 19th Army.
As the several evacuation columns from Stalag II-B marched west, the Germans dropped groups of POWs at other camps and at other work kommandos. The largest of these groups ending up at Marlag X-C, Westertimke, which was liberated by the British Army on 28 April Russian forces were also in this area along the Baltic coast. But the Russians ignored many of the Allied POWs, which led the prisoners to liberate themselves.
One former POW from Hammerstein, who spent the last month of the war at a large farm near Rostock, remembered: 'The Russians swept through the area on 1 May. We received absolutely no help from them, so we made our way to the British outpost at Wismar on V-E Day. The next day the British moved us to Lubeck where US B-17s picked us up and flew us out of Germany.'
Accounting of US POWs & other remaining questions. The Veterans Administration list prepared from the Prisoner of War Information Bureau IBM cards contains 5,782 names of US prisoners of war who were returned to military control from Stalag II-B (code 003).
1992-1996 Findings Of The WWII Working Group
INTRODUCTION: THE WORLD WAR II WORKING GROUP
The Co-chairmen of the Joint US-Russia Commission on POW/MIAs, Ambassador Malcolm Toon and General Dmitrii Volkogonov, established the World War II Working Group in December 1994 under the Co-chairmanship of Dr. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, Acting Archivist of the United States, for the US side, and Colonel Sergei Osipov, Assistant to General Volkogonov and the Executive Secretary of the Russian side. Ambassador Toon and General Volkogonov recognized the need to discuss further World War II issues prior to the 50th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day in May 1995 and created the World War II Working Group to examine four areas of interest to the American side and one issue of great concern to the Russian side:
Determine why and how US prisoners of war came into Soviet military custody at the end of World War II;
Describe what happened to these POWs while in the hands of the Soviets;
Describe the process by which the POWs returned to US military control;
Determine whether thousands (as alleged in some accounts) or even any live American prisoners of war were not returned by the Soviets;
Reach a final Soviet casualty accounting for World War II, including the numbers of Soviet military personnel and displaced persons who did not return to Soviet territory following the war.
THE EXPERIENCE OF AMERICAN POWS
LIBERATED BY THE SOVIETS 1944 - 45
The principal effort of the American side of the World War II Working Group has been to research, using Russian and US archival sources, and analyze the wartime experience of those American prisoners of war liberated by the Red Army. The remainder of this report is an account of our findings to date.
This report will describe the process that brought thousands of United States military personnel who were prisoners of war held by the Germans (and one group held by the Japanese) into the hands of Soviet forces in the concluding weeks of World War II. Because those Americans liberated from German POW camps in Poland and central Germany constitute the largest number, the report will concentrate on that experience, although it also will examine the ordeal of POWs and internees who elsewhere had contacts with Soviet authorities. The report will describe in some detail the experience at specific German POW camps, some evacuated in the face of the Soviet advance, and some overrun by the Red Army. It will discuss what happened to those American prisoners whom the Germans tried to keep out of Soviet hands by marching them west, as well as what happened to those POWs the Soviets liberated. The narrative will address such issues as how the liberated prisoners were treated by the Soviets and how they were returned to US military control. The report will review those measures undertaken by both the Soviets and Americans in 1944 and 1945 to plan for, document, and account for the liberated prisoners and, importantly, will point out those organizational and practical problems that served to frustrate, complicate, and confuse an accurate accounting. It will analyze the contemporary evidence on the numbers of US POWs freed from German camps in the Soviet zone in the context of the overall postwar American casualty clearance and accounting process. This report will focus on what the documentary and other evidence indicates actually happened to American prisoners of war. It will not address Soviet motivation, hidden agendas, or possible political machinations.
On 11 June 1944, the US Military Mission to Moscow first informed Soviet authorities of the possibility that the Red Army advance into eastern and central Europe would uncover German prisoner of war camps and result in the liberation of US POWs who would require repatriation; that prospect seemed, particularly in light of subsequent events, not to have occurred to the Soviets. The military mission requested that the Red Army promptly inform American authorities when US POWs were liberated. Over the next several months the Americans made additional entreaties to the Russians on the subject but received little response. The Americans wanted to establish regular channels of communication for exchange of information on impending and actual liberation's, to stockpile POW relief supplies in reasonable proximity to those areas containing camps likely to be liberated, to insure Soviet agreement that American contact teams would be admitted promptly to the areas where liberated POWs were located, and to guarantee the quick evacuation and repatriation of the prisoners.
On 4 September 1944, General Deane, head of the military mission, appointed a board of officers led by Colonel James C. Crockett to prepare a comprehensive evacuation and repatriation plan. The plan they formulated incorporated in considerable detail the basic information exchange, supply, contact team, and evacuation concerns previously indicated. Even though on 8 September Deane had invited the Soviets to participate in a joint planning effort, there was virtually no Russian interest in the subject for several months. General Deane, Ambassador W. Averell Harriman, and American Chargeâ dâ Affaires George F. Kennan (who headed the American diplomatic mission in Moscow whenever Harriman was absent) frequently reiterated the American position on POW repatriation to their Soviet colleagues. Finally, on 30 November, the Soviet Foreign Commissar, V.M. Molotov, informed Kennan that his government agreed in principle to the American proposals. Still nothing further happened for another seven weeks.
On 21 January 1945, following liberation of the first US POW camp by the Red Army, General Deane met with Lieutenant General K.D. Golubev, deputy chief of the Soviet Repatriation Commission, to negotiate a POW agreement. They discussed terms of reciprocal treatment of liberated POWs. Their discussions formed the basis for a final agreement reached and signed on 11 February 1945, at the Yalta Conference between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. The principal provisions were:
Liberating forces would maintain freed POWs in camps or at concentration points until turned over to their own governmental authorities.
Liberating forces would immediately notify the home governments that the prisoners had been freed.
Representatives of the governments of the liberated prisoners would have immediate access to the camps or points of concentration where they were held pending repatriation.
The liberating country would be responsible for outside protection of the camps, while the internal administration would be under control of officials from the country of those liberated.
The liberating country would provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention, until the prisoners returned to the authorities of their own country.
Each country could use its own means of transport to repatriate its POWs held by the liberating power.
The USSR and United Kingdom also signed a similar POW agreement at Yalta. From the time the agreement was signed in early February until the end of March 1945, by which date the bulk of American POWs liberated by the Red Army in Poland had been evacuated from Odessa, diplomatic and military officials at the US embassy in Moscow worked to get Soviet compliance. In particular, the Americans wanted admission of contact teams to the Soviet zone of operations and rapid air evacuation of liberated prisoners. The effort, which included at least one letter from President Roosevelt to Premier Stalin on the subject, had little effect: "The actual implementation of the agreement broke down in nearly all respects because of Soviet failure to live up to any terms of the agreement." Thus, although "...all of the American prisoners known to have been liberated by the Red Army were eventually evacuated...", this was accomplished "under the most difficult conditions imaginable."
The Yalta POW accord specified that liberated prisoners would be transported promptly to agreed upon transfer points. Until late April 1945, Odessa was the only such transfer point. As Soviet forces moved westward, Odessa became further and further removed from the area where additional Allied prisoners likely would be found. US and British authorities did not want their liberated POWs moved eastward over a thousand miles to be repatriated through Odessa, when the front-lines of the Soviet Army and those of SHAEF forces were separated by only a hundred miles or less and were rapidly converging. The Russians agreed that overland exchanges of prisoners, not continued evacuation to Odessa, were the most practical solution as the war in Europe drew to a close. As the converging armies met in late April and early May, arrangements worked out between local commanders governed POW exchanges between the Soviets and the US and British.
German Evacuation of Allied Prisoners from POW Camps
During 1945, the Soviet Army overran, in two sequences, German camps that held US POWs. The experiences of the prisoners released by the Soviets was considerably different depending on whether they were liberated during late-January to early-February in Poland and East Prussia, or during April and May in central and northern Germany.
Most of the US prisoners in the early sequence came from Oflag 64 at Schubin, Poland, Stalag III-C near Kustrin, Poland, with a few from Stalag II-B, Hammerstein, Germany.
The Soviets evacuated these men to the east and most of them eventually came out through Odessa. They comprise a relatively small portion, about ten percent, of all American prisoners that were in Soviet hands; contemporary accounts have 2,858 evacuated by way of Odessa. But because of the smaller numbers, the more direct involvement of the US Military Mission to Moscow, and the somewhat more routine evacuation procedures, the Odessa evacuation is better documented and more frequently written about than the liberation of POWs which took place later in central Germany.
As the Russians moved into western Poland and East Prussia during January and February 1945, the Germans began evacuating the POW camps in that area and moved the prisoner populations into camps further west. These movements had a significant, negative impact on the POWs and on the orderly recovery of liberated prisoners by the western Allies. Some of the POWs who were marched west came out of the Soviet zone without ever really having been in Red Army custody, that is being controlled administratively and physically by the Soviets. By far most of the US POWs liberated by the Soviets came from about a half dozen camps in central and northern Germany, which by late-April and early-May 1945 were overcrowded with large numbers of men previously evacuated from the camps further east. This group of US POWs, totaling about 25,000, returned to military control across the front-lines from the Soviet to the SHAEF sectors.
The Allied POWs whom the Germans marched west suffered from extreme weather conditions, including subfreezing cold and blizzards, shortages of food and shelter, and from the sheer exertion required in the movement, most of which was by foot. The movements of US and British prisoners from Stalag Luft III (Sagan), Stalag Luft VIII (Bankau), and Stalag III-B (Furstenburg) to Stalag III-A (Luckenwalde) during late-January and early-February 1945 created special hardships. Because of concern for the prisoners being evacuated, SHAEF authorities attempted to keep track of the movements, as well as tried to adjust estimates on the changing prisoner populations in individual German camps. Reports from the International Red Cross and the protecting powers (the neutral Swedes and Swiss) were important sources for this information. But even as the moves concluded in April 1945, SHAEF admitted that it had inadequate, incomplete information as to the numbers and purpose of the evacuations: "It is impossible to assess what is the purpose of this attempt to retain POW to the last." Speculation included use as hostages in the Alpenstellung (the suspected, but not real Alpine redoubt), or even that the Germans planned to massacre them in the end. Allied authorities foresaw another consequence of the evacuations: "In view of conditions of evacuation, large numbers of stragglers must be anticipated." The number of actual stragglers, of course, affected the accuracy of contemporary estimates on the numbers of POWs evacuated who actually reached another camp.
The consequences of the German movements included not only hardships during the marches, but significant overcrowding at the camps to which the POWs were moved. At Luckenwalde, Albert Kadler, a Swiss observer, noted: "There is excessive overcrowding in all compounds.... The floor space... is supposed to accommodate 200 men, while at present 400 men are living in each room." The overcrowding negatively affected nearly all aspects of camp life, causing in particular health and safety problems. In order to alleviate the suffering caused by the evacuation marches, in mid-February 1945 Major General Ray Barker, the SHAEF Assistant Chief of Staff for Personnel and the officer responsible for recovery of Allied POWs, recommended that the US and British governments approach the German government, through the Swiss or Swedish governments, to urge ending the evacuations; as German forces withdrew, POWs would simply 'stay put' in the camps to be liberated by the advancing armies, whether Soviet in the east or the other allies in the west. Eventually the Germans adopted this 'stay put' policy. But because it did not take effect until 21 April 1945, the migration of the POW population continued for some time. During those intervening weeks, the Germans moved more than a 100,000 POWs of various nationalities westward away from the Red Army. At least a few thousand perished in the process. Others suffered serious health problems as a consequence. SHAEF never determined the exact numbers variously affected and had only estimated the actual numbers moved. But the evacuations did put many western Allied prisoners in camps more likely to be liberated by American and British forces than had they 'stayed put' in Poland and East Prussia.
German POW Camps, the Red Army Advance, and American Prisoners
By 1945 most of the American POWs in German custody were concentrated in a dozen camps with prisoner populations of several thousand each. A somewhat smaller number were scattered in dozens of small camps, transit camps, work kommandos, and hospitals. In order to make successful escape as difficult as possible, the Germans tried to locate the large camps holding western Allied military personnel as far east as possible. This placed these POWs in the zone most likely to be liberated by the Soviet Army advancing from the east.
Although Allied authorities, at SHAEF, the War Office in London, the War Department in Washington, and the military missions in Moscow actively gathered information about these camps, the Soviet Army apparently had little prior knowledge about the locations, numbers, and conditions of the Allied POWs they would overrun. An American officer who served as liaison with the Soviets in Poland declared frankly: "... the Russian front lines had no knowledge of the camps prior to their capture." This lack of knowledge must explain in part the seeming unpreparedness of the Russians to provide for those Allied prisoners they did liberate. German actions, namely evacuation of many POWs to the west, further served to confuse and complicate the problem.
In the event, the Red Army liberated about five camps that included considerable numbers of American POWs. It liberated about a dozen more camps that still contained a few US prisoners, mostly stragglers too sick to be moved west. But most of the American prisoners initially in camps in the area overrun by the Red Army had been evacuated west by the Germans from January through April 1945, and were liberated by British or American forces.
For More information on 20,000 POWs
Never Returned to America
1. Source:http://www.aiipowmia.com/wwii/wwiiwkgrp.html Archive ©AII POW-MIA Use