Rescue of War Prisoners - 120,000 sent home by air

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by dbf, Dec 9, 2009.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times, May 25, 1945:


    120,000 SENT HOME BY AIR



    The great air repatriation of our prisoners from Germany is nearing completion. It began on Easter Tuesday with the landing at Oakley, near Oxford, of some 400 officers and N.C.O.s. The great majority of these were from Hadamar (Oflag XII B.), in the Rhine country. They flew in Dakotas from Kassel. You cannot see very much if you are one of 25 passengers in a Dakota, and the men had to step down the ladder and look at the clustering R.A.F. uniforms all around them before they realized that the dream had indeed come true.

    The rescue of the prisoners of Hadamar had been particularly dramatic - interception by the Americans as they lay laagered and guarded alongside a railway which had been put out of action by our bombing, but which had been scheduled to moved them to Brunswick. Many of these men had been too long out of action to be attuned to the pace of a war in which you were in a prison camp in Germany one day and on an English airfield three days later. They kept repeating so genuinely amid the handshakes that they "could not believe it." There were other camps very shortly to be overrun and rescued in their entirety: but the pathos and drama of this opening episode never seemed quite to be equalled again.

    By Easter the implications were clear. We should be able with luck to pounce on our prison camps before the Germans had time or transport to move them, and before the final surrender in the field. Plans had to be rapidly recast. Bomber Command, long before they had dropped their last bomb on Germany, were shaping in substantial part for their new transport role. Landing airfields and reception camps were staffed and equipped. To the eternal credit of the authorities, the scale of operations had nothing cheese-paring or niggardly about it, and the glorious weather helped.


    Something like 120,000 British prisoners of war alone have been landed since that Easter Tuesday. Day after day the Lancasters circling the airfields of Westcott and Wing have ousted the training Wellington from much of a claim on the sky. Perhaps the climax came, as was fitting, on VE Day itself, a day of exceptionally heavy movement. Prisoners whose return actually synchronized with the end of a hateful but victorious war could no but impart additional sunlight to a sunlit scene. On that evening the Lancasters returning to their bases flashed VE as they left the airfield. Every one on these airfields had the particular feeling of pride and fellowship and thankfulness for which they had waited so long - and there was no need to be in Trafalgar Square. As the tired men were driven through cheering crowds in beflagged villages and towns on their way to their reception camps there can have been few who did not feel that this was the greatest moment of their lives.

    They landed in motley habiliments. Officers as a rule had their proper uniform. For the rest, whether they wore G.I. kit or khaki battledress determined the sector from which they had been rescued. They were many German caps and rucksacks and swords to be seen among the humped kit in the hangar. But the most interesting "extras" were the assorted musical instuments - banjos, ukeleles, violas, trombones, and accordions - which one knew had for so long to so many been a bulwark against boredom and despair. In a day or so these men would be kitted up in a smart new uniform and go on leave, one soldier, sailor, airman amongst a host of others. We "on the set" in the hangar had really seen them.

    One used, on a busy day, to watch an endless string of lorries, each with 25 ex-prisoners of war inside, decanting their contents at the entrance to the hangar. They had to be recorded in, deinfested, fed, and recorded out to their awaiting onward transport within an average period of one hour. There was detailed and volunteer help (much of it female) to assist. The men parked their kit and filled and refilled their first English cups of tea. Nursing sisters, women of the neighbourhood, A.T.S. and W.A.A.F.s all were there, unflagging, to take the first edge off any feeling of red tape in the quite inevitable processing. At Westcott on VE Day the loud-speaker announced: "We have now completed the landing of our 30,000th ex-prisoner of war at this station. Well done, boys and girls! Let 'em all come."

    Every variety of British and Dominion service men and merchant navy men passed through in those days: and not a few of the allied forces as well. We saw our first sample in England in this war of the South African and Anzacs and Indian Army. Each nationality had its own liaison officer, to greet and help or interpret, many of these themselves earlier "landings" from Germany.

    On most there was the superficial tan of the sunlight and open-air conditions under which they had been living in recent days. But beneath the tan was the pinched shrinkage of long under-nourishment. The shrunken chests showing through the open neck of the battle blouse confirmed the tale. Big men of the 12-stone type were down to nine. Stocky lads looked more like jockeys. Many of the elder merchant navy men were in poor physical trim.

    One has got to fill in the picture, to know the "form". The hunger march from the Silesian camps in January of this year, when the Germans sprung a wholesale and entirely unprovided-for evacuation at a moment's notice. An R.A.F. officer from Sagan (Stalag Luft II, of shameful memory to the Germans) told me that they had marched 35 kilometres on the first day. "They calculated," he said, "to wear us out by that so that we should not be in any shape to escape." Other marches, less cruel perhaps but pointless, were the move of the Naval Camp (Marlag) from Bremen to Lubeck, and the R.A.F. party with it, and the move of Oflag VII B from Eichstatt to Mossburg, the huge transit camp in Bavaria of unsanitary memory. Then there were the hazards on the roads from "friendly" bombing and stafing: and sometimes the hazards in the camps from the same cause.

    There were other stories to be traced back - many an ugly one of Italy. There were 50,000 British and Dominion prisoners of war who, with better luck (in some cases better management) need never have gone over the Brenner into Austria. That was the "all-time-low" for our prisoners in Italy.

    The tale is almost told. The last lorry load will soon be full. These Oxfordshire airfields will return to their normal routine. The Wellingtons will again claim the air. The runways so badly damaged are under repair. In a tiny corner of England an event of Empire-wide significance has occurred, defying oblivion.
  2. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    From The Times, April 30, 1945:BRITISH PRISONERS OF WAR LIBERATED

    A report has been received from Supreme Headquarters that the following camps in Germany have been overrun, and a number of British Commonwealth prisoners of war liberated:-
    Stalag 5B at Villingen - 69 recovered
    Stalage 7B at Memmingen - 772 recovered
    Stalag 383 at Hohenfels - 1,970 recovered.

    Work detachments of Stalag 4D have been liberated at Erderborn, Orberroblinger, Etzborf, and Teutschental. At these four places there have been recovered respectively 16, 32, 315, and 182 British prisoners of war.

    No names have been received of those liberated prisoners of war, but as soon as names are available next-of-kin will be informed.
  3. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    A great logistical feat considering the planes were getting worn out.

  4. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    A great logistical feat considering the planes were getting worn out.


    Tom, I don't yet know the details or circumstances, but there is one IG who was a liberated PoW, and who died in a plane crash on the way home ...
  5. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    I also believe that there was a great deal of discussions over the planes being required for the Far East instead of transport for ex POW's.

  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Cheers Diane....I do like these snipets from The Times.

    Slightly off topic one chap who was liberated from a Camp grabbed a weapon and went off and fought with the unit that liberated him....He was later awarded a VC.
  7. Shredie

    Shredie Member

    Not all were home by the 25th - see Harry Whatton's diary:-

    Attached Files:

    dbf likes this.

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