What happened to German POWs?

Discussion in '1940' started by Gooseman, Feb 25, 2012.

  1. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    I was wondering about the fate of the prisoners of war taken by the BEF forces. I know for a fact that the Dutch, who got around 1,350 Germans over to the UK, delivered the first true batch of POWs. I believe that there had been no anticipation on getting vast numbers of POWs in the UK.

    For a long time the 'Dutch batch' remained the largest chunk of POW numbers in the UK. Apparently the BEF never used for example void spaces on returning ships to stow POWs. I was wondering whether the collection of POWs had gotten any attention during the phoney war period. For example amongst the French and British commands. After all, German POWs on French soil would basically be French responsibility, whether in BEF hands or not.

    Still, German numbers on MIA were quite significant after the operations in France. One wonders where these men were. Perhaps Vichy France had obtained quite some POWs and released those, like they forfeited basically all their rights to the Germans in order to maintain 'free'.

    Is there any reputed literature on this topic in the UK? The recent "Churchill's Unexpected Guests" is pretty poor and doesn't say anything on the early years.

  2. Mathsmal

    Mathsmal Senior Member

    I am not aware of any books that cover this era in detail. There are a couple of titles which are considerably better than 'Churchill's Unexpected Guests' which I would recommend, but I am afraid the information on the early war period will be limited:

    Prisoners of England
    Thresholds of Peace: Defiance and Change Among German Prisoners-of-war in Britain Between 1944 and 1948

    I am aware that a number of Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine POWs were held in 1939/40 and these were predominantly sent to Canada early in the war.
    There are however a number of Army men buried at Cannock Chase who died during this period, which would indicate the presence of Army POWs in the UK at that time.
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  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps | CBC Archives

    I can't view this on the mac unfortunately, so no idea how useful it is.
    In 1940 Great Britain is troubled by the rising number of German and Italian prisoners of war (PoWs) that it is holding in camps across England. The British government decides to call on Canada for help.
    Soon thousands of PoWs are transported to Canada aboard ships and then sent by trains to their new homes across the country. But as this CBC Television documentary clip shows, these new Canadian PoW camps were more country club than prison camp.
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  4. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    When the US entered the war,German POWs were transported to the US where they worked on farming and other forms of manual labour.After the Normandy invasion, the number of Germans taken prisoner increased rapidly,resulting in the US taking more prisoners to the US and Great Britain sending more Germans to Canada. This was the ensure that Axis prisoners held in the British Isles were not in a position to rise and cause problems for their jailers.

    Italian and German POWs were kept in Great Britain and there were a number of POW camps which in the case of the Germans ensured that the Nazi element were kept in safe custody.Even so there were cases when the diehard Nazis imposed themselves on fellow prisioners who they thought had lost the Nazi doctrine,leading to murder of inmates.Some of the perpretators paid the supreme penalty for their justice on others.

    It was the norm for Italians to be put out to work on farms and I remember these prisoners who wore brown overalls with bright yellow diamonds on the leg and back.Other well behaved German POWs were allowed to live on farm premises and carried out the duties of a farm labourer.My memories of the Italians was that they seemed to pass their time of day,while working in the fields whistling after anything in a skirt.The authorities must have not had any considerations for security as these POWs were working in fields between the two major Bomber Command stations of RAF Snaith (Pollington village) and Burn,one just off the A19 and the other,on the A19.

    I had an old colleague whose parents ran a farm in North Notts and who employed a "live in" German POW on the farm.When the wall came down and the two Germanies were reunited,the POW, who apparently had returned to East Germany after the war,turned up at the farm asking to see my colleague's parents,Alas both parents had passed away.

    As regards German POWs,the British goverment conducted their own type of "denazification" system as a means of preparing POWs for a future post war Germany.A course of lectures on democracy,to prepare POWs for the change of their former experience of living within a totalitarian regime to a future role of life within free democratic society was enacted.No doubt there were many who benefited from beingtheir treatment as a prisoner in a free democratic country.Others obviously did not and continued to live in the past of N.S.
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  5. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Thnx to all for their reflections.

    The thing is that I am particularly interested in the few German POWs taken to the UK during the May/June 1940 period. I know from a few Dutch sources that the British were quite taken by suprise that the Dutch were able to send over their German prisoners. High value prisoners, for many were well trained airbornes or Luftwaffe crew. Particularly in the transport range, many flight instructors had been assigned (what were supposed to be) easy flights into the Netherlands, but fallen victim to poor Luftwaffe planning and beyond expectation effective Dutch air-defences. It were these (permanent) losses combined with those during the Battle of Britain that had much of the experience of the early Luftwaffe drain away. In other words, the losses really mattered, albeit in perspective, obviously.

    I recently got hold of the diary of a German airborne corporal caught in the Hague on the 10th of May (1940) and brought to the UK on the 14th. He mentioned that he stayed in the UK for the duration of the war. He was not part of the bulk that was shipped to Canada when the German invasion gloomed on the horizon.

    As far as I am concerned the civilized 'containment' in the US and Canada is as it should have been everywhere, soldiers being just mere attributes of battling states rather than war-makers themselves. Obviously exception to those that could be identified as genuine nazi's.

    Anyone who can find more on the POW affairs in the spring and summer of 1940, please send me a PM or reflect here. I appreciate any lead or bit of information.
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Apart from a few mentions in Divisional Intel appendices (moral, unit, clothing and equipment etc) and the odd mention in a war diary of some German PoWs being evacuated at Dunkirk I can't say I ever come across anything of note to do with German PoWs. I even have 3 of the 5 PoW Camp war diaries that were in France and there isn't anything in them IIRC.
  7. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  8. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Have you browsed the Island Farm site, Gooseman?

    Some cross-referencing of the camps on that list might turn up more info on their establishment dates. I'm sure they used to have some reference to where the main PoW 'Cages' & reception areas were too.

    Thanks, but the information on specifics of British camps on the internet is quite modest. It doesn't get much further then listings. I am, for example, interested in what kind of POWs a certain camp contained. There should have been some kind of system.

    I know from a British journalist friend of mine that also the archives don't easily disclose information on these POWs. A search by him revealed nothing on these first batches of POWs notwitstanding these foreign military must have been news in the areas where they were sheltered. Stuff like that is all well documented on the continent. It must be, one should say, in the UK too. After all, even before the Blitz on the UK started, it was one of the first genuine tokens of the raging war.
  9. LondonNik

    LondonNik Senior Member

    Last edited: Sep 16, 2017
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  10. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Hi Gooseman, this is my area of interest too. It has been very difficult to find any information that is useful. At the National Archives in Kew there are boxes of interview notes with captured Luftwaffe crews from 1939/40 but I have not seen any interviews from Heer / Kreigsmarine or other German forces from early 1940 yet - it may be a very long job and my guess is that the information is spread over a wide area and may not all have been released yet.

    The International Red Cross should be the place to get information, however their access rules are limited to relatives only, and they don't seem to want to share their information. Perhap if I asked nicely?

    Best regards,


    Appreciate that Nick.

    Mind you that most POWs were Luftwaffe. The Fallschirmjäger and Luftwaffe crews formed a major chunk of the about 1,300 POWs that were shipped into the UK. A few hundred were so called 'airlanding troops' but basically regular infantry of the 22nd Infantry Division. The latter had been 'formed' for airlifting, which wasn't too much of a skill though.

    Indeed I have never been able to trace any document on the matter in the British archives, although they should be there. A couple of English friends have done some research but found nothing. Amazing, although I realize that it is just a minor detail on the scale of the war.

    I appreciate any input on the matter.
  11. Stig O'Tracy

    Stig O'Tracy Senior Member

    I've watched quite a number of Deutsche Wochenschau that I've found on line and in at least two that I recall from 1944 there are segments where, with my extremely limited command of German, where they show what I believe are German POWs returning to Germany, presumably as part of an exchange. Many of the men unloading from the ship would appear to be wearing DAK uniforms.

    The majority of the men look fit and happy to be returning to Nazi Germany, which might lead one to conclude that the sent the dim ones back.

    Other than seeing these video segments, I don't believe that I've heard of these exchanges before.
  12. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

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  13. At Home Dad (Returning)

    At Home Dad (Returning) Well-Known Member

    also July 3rd 1940 the Arandora Star was sunk off Ireland
    by a Uboat transporting POWs to Canada

    St. Joseph Gazette - Google News Archive Search

    the loss of Arandora Star led the cancelling of the
    idea to send English children abroad for safety

    September 22nd 1939 appears to be the earliest date
    for the reporting of POW arrivals in UK from France
    The Sydney Morning Herald - Google News Archive Search
    The Sydney Morning Herald - Google News Archive Search
    Reading Eagle - Google News Archive Search

    search criteria used:
    german prisoners - Google Search
  14. skimmod

    skimmod Senior Member

    Here's a thought... and perhaps one that Andy can find out if it exists in the NA?? :)

    Is there a list of German POW's (like there is for the allies)?

    If so, does it show date of capture? or more importantly the unit they were serving with?
  15. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Here's a thought... and perhaps one that Andy can find out if it exists in the NA?? :)

    Is there a list of German POW's (like there is for the allies)?

    If so, does it show date of capture? or more importantly the unit they were serving with?

    I've found some excellent files (1,000's of pages) of German PoW's interviews etc. The trouble is these are all post 1940 capture.

    Here is an example of the detail:

    MK (MEERESKÄMPFER) 700, (Swimming Saboteurs), KdK

    I would love to find some 1940 ones from France and Belgium.
  16. skimmod

    skimmod Senior Member

    I thought you'd have already had a look!!

    Fingers crossed for the 1940's ones :)
  17. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Hello Gooseman,

    These may be of assistance, especially 2)....

    1) A brief background: http://www.historyonthenet.com/WW2/german_pow_britain.htm

    2) And now the detail: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/pow-displaced-persons.htm Section 7 refers to where you can find the British POW records for Axis forces;

    3) Information on POW Camps in the UK: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/prisoner-of-war-camps/prisoner-of-war-camps.pdf

    Regarding 3). My maternal grandfather, my mother and I were born in a particular location in Northumberland and this had a POW camp. My grandfather was a farmer and I remember him and my mother talking about both Italian and German POWs working on the farm during WWII. The Italians were liked, interacted and very much allowed a bit of 'free reign' by the authorities. The Germans were cold, didn't interact and were watched carefully by the authorities.

    I spent most of my youth in a nearby location in Northumberland where there was also a POW camp during WWII.

    These were both very much country locations in those days, albeit the former can no longer said to be so.

    I understand that SS POWs that were not sent to Canada or later, the USA, were held in Scotland.

    Hope this helps.


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  18. Peccavi

    Peccavi Senior Member

    If you are interested Valerie Campbell's book about the Scottish Camp at Watten (not Flanders!) deals with the nastier POWs, few airforce and mostly army heavyweights - "Camp 165 Watten"
  19. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    From TNA description of WO 307 series:

    "In the early 1960s, the individual records of enemy PoWs that had previously been held by the British Prisoners of War Information Bureau were all returned to the appropriate national authorities under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, in order that those countries could deal with administrative questions raised by their citizens. The records of the First World War bureau do not survive."

    There are a total of 3 files in the POW Information Bureau archive!

    WO 307/1, Correspondence with Colonial Office 1939-1943
    WO 307/2, Correspondence between War Office and East Africa Command 1942-1946
    WO 307/3, Notification of German dead in Middle East and Malta 1943-1944

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  20. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

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