I recently wrote about my dad and his Stalag Luft IV roomate, George Farrar, Lawrence Newbold, and Christmas 1944. By early January 1945, after a dismal 1944 holiday season, the POWs believed they were in for a long stay in Stalag Luft IV.
Stalag Luft IV was located at Gross Tychow, Pomerania, (now Tychowo, Poland), 20 kilometers (about 12 1/2 miles) southeast of Belgard.
On January 12, 1945, the Soviets launched the first phase of their long-planned Winter Offensive, with the Russian Red Army invading eastern Germany. German forces were greatly outnumbered as German troops and equipment had earlier been transferred from the eastern front to support the operation in the Ardennes to the west. The Germans retreated ahead of the Red Army’s advance through Poland.
On January 16, Adolf Hitler moved his residence and base of operations to the underground air raid shelter/subterranean bunker complex at Berlin’s Reich Chancellery known as the Führerbunker. It would be the last of the various headquarters he used in WWII, until the last week of the war. (On April 29, Adolf Hitler would marry Eva Braun there, less than two days before they committed suicide).
On January 17, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Polish capital of Warsaw, less than 300 miles southeast of Stalag Luft IV.
The POW’s of Stalag Luft IV were aware of the Russian advance and some believed liberation by the Red Army and freedom might be possible. Others feared the results of the Soviets overrunning their camp.
Soon rumors of the evacuation of the camp of 10,000 Allied airmen began circulating. Beginning January 26, approximately 3,000 of Stalag Luft IV’s most disabled POW’s were evacuated by train to Stalag Luft I at Barth and Stalag VIIA at Moosburg. One of these men was the 384th Bomb Group’s Patrick Dennis Benker.
Following the evacuation of the most disabled prisoners, POW’s from Stalag XXA at Tourn and IIB at Hammerstein arrived at Stalag Luft IV as the Soviet Red Army moved into Pomerania.
Now expecting an imminent evacuation of Stalag Luft IV, the POW’s began preparing to leave the camp.
By January 30, the Red Army had advanced within 100 miles of Berlin and Adolf Hitler delivered his final radio address. By the next day, the last day of January, 1945, the Soviets had reached the Oder River.
Chapter 13 of David Dorfmeier’s book, C-Lager, covers the month leading up to the evacuation of Stalag Luft IV in great detail. C-Lager offers excellent descriptions of camp life and the march. David’s father, Donald Dorfmeier, served as a waist gunner of the 398th Bomb Group, based at Nuthampstead, England, and was a POW at Stalag Luft IV. David’s book can be found on Amazon using the link above in the Sources section.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020