Campo 65 Gravina Report

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by bamboo43, Nov 18, 2013.

  1. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    I think the moderator has taken your email address off your post.

    In future, if you want to change something you have written, click on the word 'edit' and make these changes, then click on 'save changes'.

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  2. Campo Prigionieri di Guerra No. 65

    Based on the hand written memoir of my Grandfather, 197086, Corporal Rudolph Henry Sonnekus, 2nd Battalion South African Police. After the fall of the garrison of Tobruk on 21 June 1942 [Monday was the 79th Anniversary of the garrisons surrender] 10 721 South Africans suddenly found themselves ‘in the bag’ as they termed being a Prisoner of War (POW).

    Sonnekus was to spend the next six months being held in a POW Camp in the Libyan city of Derna before he was shipped over the Mediterranean Sea inside the holds of an Italian ship. Coming ashore in the Italian port city of Brindisi, Sonnekus like countless other Springboks before him, was transported the 118 kilometres up the Italian Adriatic coastline to the port city of Bari and the Campo Prigionieri di Guerra No. 75 [Prisoner of War Camp No. 75].

    The location of the camp can be found on Google Maps by searching for the Chiesetta Torre Tresca, [a church located on the old POW Camp grounds] inside Torre Tresca, Bari.

    Campo P.G. No. 75 was a transit camp and Sonnekus records that the camp was so full upon his groups arrival there that they were held in an almond orchard in the rain and mud, a consequence of arriving in the middle of Italy’s winter of December 1942. After two weeks, Sonnekus records in his memoir that he was transferred to his permanent camp, Campo Prigionieri di Guerra No. 65, located between the villages of Gravina and Altamura, 53 kilometres west of Bari.

    The camps location can be found on Google Maps by searching for Campo PG 65 Altamura / POW Camp 65 between Gravina and Altamura. Campo No. 65 consisted out of 36 barracks and was designed to hold almost 9 000 commonwealth’s soldiers captured in Tobruk and North Africa and was destined to become the biggest Italian POW camp during WW2.

    In the spring of 1943, Sonnekus was sent to work on a wheat farm in the Foggia district, approximately 140 kilometres north of the camp. This was allowed as the Geneva Convention allowed the forcibly employment all POWs below the rank of Sergeant into work of a non-military nature. Soldiers in the rank group Sergeant and above had to volunteer for such work details. With its everlasting boredom, no forcing was necessary, as most POWs fought for spots on these details just to get out of camp. Besides something to do, work details also received extra payment, Sonnekus mentions 1 Lire per day, and extra food, an important consideration. While working on the farm, Sonnekus, became dreadfully ill with malaria and was unconscious or in a state of delirium for almost ten days. He was transferred back to the hospital at Campo No. 65, where he doctors administered the anti-malaria drug Atabrine to him. Unfortunately, Atabrine should be diluted in water prior to being injected, but Sonnekus’ doctors gave it to him neat, which almost killed him.

    Sonnekus because he was still recovering from his bout of malaria remained in camp at Gravina when his fellow prisoners began to be railed to other camps further north, due to the Allied invasion of Sicily on 19 July 1943. He was thus able to witness first-hand the power of the Allied Airforce: “One morning we woke up to what became known as the thousand bomber raid on Foggia. Wave upon wave of Liberators flew over the city all that day – dropping deadly bombs. It was told that 10 000 people died that day”

    Sonnekus’ source of information was remarkably accurate, for the Allies on 19 August 1943 launched seven waves of Heavy Bombers consisting out of 233 Liberator B-24 and B17 Flying Fortresses against Foggia’s transport network and airfields causing 9 581 deaths amongst the city’s population.

    Soon after this bombing, Sonny was also transferred, his destination Campo No. 82 at Laterina, in the Italian region of Tuscany, located about 50 kilometres southeast of Florence and about 14 kilometres northwest of Arezzo. This was to be his last Italian camp, for upon the Italian armistice on 3 September 1943, Sonnekus was placed on a train and taken north to Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager IV-B, or simply Stalag IV-B, located 8 kilometres north-east of the town of Mühlberg in the Province of Saxony, just east of the Elbe river and about 48 kilometres north of Dresden.

    Attached Files:

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  3. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

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  4. ZJP1920

    ZJP1920 Junior Member

    Hi All

    My dad 224470 Pte ZJ Pretorius joined the UDF as a tiffy (TSC), but ended up being posted to the 7th AC Recce Bn on 24/10/41, serving with them until Tobruk fell.

    He eventually ended up at Stalag IVB from where he returned after the war, repatriated via Egypt on 8/2/45. I managed to receive a copy of his service records many years ago, but unfortunately there is a big part of his journey mission from when Tobruk fell, to when he arrived at Stalag IVB.

    I cannot find any record of which Campo in Italy he transferred via to Stalag IVB. His records show him as being at Stagag IVB, but info on where in Italy he was a POW is missing/blank. All he ever told us was that he and some other POW's managed to escape but was recaptured, and as punishment were sent to another Campo further north, near Milan I recall.

    Any help in trying to close this gap in his journey will be much appreciated.
    Fred Pretorius
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  5. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Hello ZJP,

    I have found your father in POW register WO 392/21 Italy but there is no camp net to his name.

    This means that his last known place of internment in Italy was a work camp. South African prosoners still held in camps in Southern and Central Italy in the summer of 1943 were move further north as an invasion of Italy looked increaingly likely.

    For example, men from PG 65 were sent, amongst other places, to PG 148 Bussolengo near Verona.
    From PG 82 Laterina they went to PG 120 Chiesanuova in the Veneto region.

    South African prisoners were also present in work camp PG 106 Vercelli, which is near Milan. This wasn't in itself a punishment camp but would have had a punishment block. Your father would have escaped with all the other prisoners following the Italian Armistice of 8 September 1943. At the time other South Africans were in a work camp at Montechiaro Denice in Piedmont associated with PG 52, Coreglia Ligure (Chiavari).

    Interestingly, your father does not appear in either of the registers of South African POWs held in Germany -- Register 392/5 (September 1944) or Register 392/15 (April 1945), both compiled by the International Red Cross and held in the National Archives, Kew, London.. This suggests to me that his was a very late recapture, possibly in the spring of 1945. In the meantime, if he had escaped from PG 106, he would probably have been hiding out in the mountainous areas of Piedmont.

    I think the only way forward is to contact the International Red Cross Committee at Geneva to see what they hold on him.
    Requests for information about people held during Spanish Civil War or Second World War: Quarterly limit reached
    You will see from the link that the next date for applications is 21 September and I cannot emphasis stronglhy enough that you need to get online as soon as they open, otherwise you will have a further 3 months' wait.

    Let us know what you find out,


    Edited to say: Punishment camp --- pehaps he was held in PG 5 at Gavi and not in a work camp - check that out on this website.
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2021
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  6. ZJP1920

    ZJP1920 Junior Member

    Hi Vitellino

    Many thanks for this info, it could be the case as you describe above. I'll try the link and hope for the best. It remains a mystery when dad actually arrived at IVB.

    He arrived back in South Africa with only his IVB prisoner tag; a medical card for ongoing treatment of a wound to his lip (that never healed); and his UDF dog tag. My mother told us dad was very sick at IVB and was taken to Dresden for treatment on his lip wound. He was taken back to IVB just before it was liberated.
    I've attached some if the IVB items I have as info.

    Thanks again

    Attached Files:

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  7. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    Hello Fred,

    I have translated (using Google as I don't understand much German) the information the card.

    The British prisoner PRETORIUS, Zacharias, no. 74456 / IVB was examined on 18/9/44 by a German medical officer and used for light work while sitting and standing until 11/11/44 (crossed out) 30/12/44.

    Hospital from 22.8.44 – 11.9. 44
    Carcinoma on bottom lip.

    We learn from it that your father was hospitalised between 22 August - September 1944 with a carcinoma on his bottom lip, and that he was seen on 18 September '44 by a German medical officer.

    Hence we know that he was recaptured in Italy and sent to Germany between the Italian Armistice on 8 September '43 and the 22 August '44 when he was admitted to the German hospital.(Lazarett).

    The International Red Cross should have the date of his admission to IVB.

    Given that he was repatriated before the end of the war he would have been part of a prisoner exchange. I don't have any information on this but other members of the forum do. Again, the IRC should be of help here.


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