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The Evacuation of Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I (Barth)

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the only survivor of the Buslee ship. George Hawkins (navigator), Harry Liniger (waist gunner), and Wilfred Miller (tail gunner) were the only survivors of the Brodie ship. As an officer, Hawkins would have been sent to an officers’ POW camp in Germany, but he was seriously injured and was held in a hospital setting for prisoners instead.

Farrar, Liniger, and Miller – all enlisted men of the USAAF – were sent to a POW camp for enlisted men only, Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now Tychowo, Poland). With the Russian Army advancing toward the camp in January 1945, the Germans made the decision to evacuate the camp. The majority of the prisoners in the camp were marched out the gates of the camp on February 6, 1945 and were herded at gunpoint across Pomerania and Germany for the next 86 days, covering over 500 miles on foot and by boxcar.

However, not all of the POW’s of Stalag Luft IV made this march. Many were too sick or injured to undertake the trek and other prisoners who were able-bodied enough to do so were selected to be moved, mostly by train, to another POW camp, Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany.

George Farrar and Harry Liniger were both part of the group of POW marchers. Wilfred Miller was part of the POW group sent to Barth. I have written previously about the march and will write more about it in the future, but today I want to share recent information I have learned about the evacuation to Barth by train.

The POW camp of origin of Farrar, Liniger, and Miller was Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania (now known as Tychowo, Poland). It was about 25 miles or 40 km south of the Baltic Sea coastline.

Stalag Luft I was located two miles northwest of the village of Barth, Germany, on the Baltic Sea. The direct distance, “as the crow flies”, between Luft I and Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow is approximately 144 miles or 232 km, with Luft I being northwest of Luft IV.

Map of 28 September 1944 Buslee-Brodie mid-air collision and crash sites, Stalag Luft IV POW camp, and Stalag Luft I (Barth) POW camp
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Train Ride to Barth

However, the prisoners were not marched to Barth. Rather they were moved by rail in boxcars. According to former Stalag Luft IV prisoner Joseph P. O’Donnell’s book, The Shoe Leather Express – The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany on pages 34,

Stalag Luft I was located on the Baltic Sea at Barth at 13° Longitude and 54° Latitude and approximately 175 miles from Grosstychow by the 40 and 8 via Stettin.

The prisoners were moved from Luft IV to Luft I by train, and more specifically in “40 and 8” boxcars. A Forty-and-Eight boxcar is of a size that should hold 40 men or 8 horses. Stettin refers to today’s Szczecin, Poland.

Today the trip from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I would be about four hours by automobile or about fifteen to seventeen hours by train (from Tychowo, Poland to Barth, Germany).

On January 29 or 30, 1945 (or perhaps over multiple days in multiple groups considering the large number of POW’s being transferred), the prisoners selected to be moved to Barth were moved out of Stalag Luft IV. Wilfred Frank Miller of the Brodie crew was one of them.

In Chapter 31, “Train Ride to Barth,”  of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown describes the transfer of POW’s, including her father, John Kyler, from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I. Candy writes,

On page 279:

…between two to three thousand inmates of Stalag Luft IV, approximately one-third of the camp population…were marched out in polar weather for the two-mile trek to the Kiefheide train station on January 29, 1945 [to evacuate] the camp. Many among the selected group were ill or injured, but prisoners who were fairly healthy were included in the draw.

On page 281:

On February 8, 1945, [the] train arrived in Barth, Germany, where [the Stalag IV P.O.W.’s] would next take up residence in Stalag Luft I, a POW camp for Allied officers, located on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

In Chapter 32, “The Walk to Stalag Luft I,” on pages 283 and 284 of her book, Candy describes the walk of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners from the Barth railroad station at the end of the “eleven grueling days of boxcar travel,” to the new POW camp at Barth. The POW’s were marched through “a quaint storybook village in a seaside setting,” on “a cobblestone road past open fields and farmland,” and past “an anti-aircraft artillery (flak) school.”

In Joe O’Donnell’s first Shoe Leather Express book, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, pages 34 – 35, POW Paul B. Brady, Sr. of the 15th Air Corp, 465th Bomb Group, 781st Bomb Squadron, recalled he was moved to Barth, Stalag Luft I, on January 30, 1945. Brady stated that fifty-two POW’s were loaded into his boxcar for the evacuation from Grosstychow to Barth.

Brady also said,

It took us eight days to reach Stalag Luft I, we were seldom let out of the boxcars and only had two buckets for relief purposes, we had to bribe the guards with a few cigarettes when we stopped on the sidings to push some snow through the crack of the door so we could let it melt for drinking water. Of course this was the same opening all of us had been using to urinate through for days to try to conserve the two buckets for the P.O.W.’s with dysentery that most of us had.

Another Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm, added that before the arrival of the POW’s from Stalag Luft IV, Stalag Luft I was only for Air Force officers (multi-national, mostly American, British, and French) and their orderlies. Yes, it seems in Stalag Luft I, American POW officers had American G.I. (soldiers, ground forces rather than airmen) POW’s as orderlies.

Life at Stalag Luft I, Barth

I am providing a summary of information about the prison camp at Barth, Stalag Luft I, in this article. For an in-depth look at life in Stalag Luft I at Barth, Germany, please check out the extensive information on B24.net and Merkki.com.

The following information was prepared by the Military Intelligence Service War Department on 1 November 1945 and was compiled and presented by Greg Hatton on the 392 Bomb Group’s B24.net website. Follow the link for Greg’s full report.

Reproduced from the introduction (general) of camps:

Source material for this report consisted of interrogations of former prisoners of war made by CPM Branch, Military Intelligence Service and Reports of the Protecting Power and International Red Cross received by the State Department (Special War Problems Division).

The first prisoners of Stalag Luft I, which was for Air Force officers, were French and British POW’s who arrived at the camp on 10 July 1940, before the entry of the Americans into World War II.

Housing

By early 1944 the camp consisted of 2 compounds, the South & West compounds, with a total of 7 barracks, housing American officers, and British officers and enlisted men. A new compound (North 1) opened the last of February 1944 to which an increasing number of American officers were housed. North 2 opened on 9 September 1944 and North 3 opened on 9 December 1944. The North compounds completed the camp and this is how the camp remained until liberation of the prisoners in May 1945.

As far as “amenities” in the separate compounds went,

  • The South compound lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.
  • The West compound had latrines and running water in the barracks.
  • The North 1 compound was considered the best compound with a communal mess hall, inside latrines, and running water.
  • The North 2 and 3 compounds were constructed the same as the South compound and also lacked adequate cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.

The completion of North 2 and 3 gave the camp an L-shape appearance. Guard towers were placed at strategic intervals.

As for housing, the barracks in each compound had,

  • Triple-tiered wooden (bunk) beds with wood chip-filled mattresses
  • (Or at least almost every barracks had) a communal day room but without much equipment
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Insufficient ventilation due to the requirement that the barracks’ shutters remain closed from 2100 (9pm) to 0600 (6am)
  • Inadequate stoves for heating and cooking
  • Poor weather-proofing for the bitterly cold northern Germany climate so close to the Baltic Sea

In addition to barracks for housing, the West and North 1 compounds each had the following facilities which were used by all compounds,

  • One kitchen barrack
  • One theater room
  • One church room
  • One library
  • One study room

Food

Before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV prisoners, the POW’s of Stalag Luft I were fed with Red Cross parcels plus German food prepared in separate kitchens in each compound.

Up until 1 October 1944, the German food ration provided 1200 to 1800 calories per day per man. However, by September through November 1944, the German food ration had been cut to 800 calories and Red Cross supplies became so low, they were also cut, except for the month of December 1944 when the supply returned to the normal amount. In January 1945, the Red Cross supplies were cut again.

In March 1945, no Red Cross parcels were distributed, and German rations were also severely cut. Per the information provided by Greg Hatton, during this “starvation period”, “…Men became so weak that many would fall down while attempting to get from their beds. American ‘MPs’ were placed around garbage cans to prevent the starving PW from eating out of the cans and becoming sick.”

From around the beginning of April 1945, a sufficient supply of Red Cross parcels was received and the POW’s were better fed until the time of the evacuation of the camp.

Health

The medical staff of the camp consisted of two British doctors and six orderlies until 1 March 1945 when an American doctor, Capt. Wilbur E. McKee, arrived. Keeping the POW’s healthy was difficult because of a lack of medical supplies and facilities to handle a large number of patients.

Even before the arrival of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s, the biggest challenge was the poor sanitation in the camp. The camp had only one bathhouse with ten shower heads. Early in 1945, though, another bathhouse with ten shower heads was added.

Still insufficient for the number of POW’s in the camp, there was also an insufficient quantity of wash basins and soap, which not only challenged personal cleanliness, but also the ability to launder clothing and bed linens. Disposal of garbage was also a challenge and the poorly working latrine and wash drains often caused flooding around the barracks.

The number of stoves and amount of fuel was not sufficient to battle the extreme cold of the climate in the area, resulting in upper respiratory illnesses. The requirement that barracks shutters remain closed at night also did not allow for sufficient ventilation in overcrowded conditions inside the barracks.

Liberation

Stalag Luft IV transferee, Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm said that on May 1, 1945, Russian guerrillas overran the camp. Paul Brady, Jeff Boehme, John Kyler, Wilfred Miller, and the other POW’s at Stalag Luft I were liberated by the Russians.

The German Commandant of the camp had been ordered to move the camp to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Russians, but the POW’s were determined not to move unless they were forced to do so. On the night of April 30, to avoid bloodshed, the Commandant and guards of the camp turned out the lights and left the camp, leaving the gate unlocked.

The POW’s took over the camp, taking over the guard stations to keep the POW’s orderly and from leaving the camp and to keep other Germans from coming into the camp. On May 1, contact was made with Russian advance troops and Russian scouting parties visited the camp. After two or three days, the Russian commander made arrangements to feed the Stalag Luft I prisoners.

Evacuation

Jeff Boehm reported,

The Russians had the airfield cleared in three days so we could be evacuated but it was thirteen days before the sky was crowded with B-17’s for our mass move to Camp Lucky Strike in LeHarve, France. We had a couple of guys who spoke Russian so we spent quite a lot of time visiting with the Russians.

Although the actual liberation was performed by the Russians, they did not attempt to evacuate the POW’s from the camp other than clearing the airfield. On 6 May 1945, American POW Colonel Jean R. Byerly left camp with two British officers and flew to England the following day. They reported to 8th Air Force headquarters regarding the conditions at the camp, and arrangements were made to evacuate the liberated POWs.

In Chapter 24, “Liberation,” of her book, “What I Never Told You – A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father,” Candy Kyler Brown notes that at the time of liberation of the camp, the sick and injured left Barth on May 12 and everyone else starting on May 13, 1945. Candy’s dad flew out from the POW camp at Barth on May 13. This is the same date Wilfred Miller notes on his POW application as the date he was released as a POW. He must have been in the same group to be liberated as John Kyler.

In “Operation Revival,” the 8th Air Force evacuated nearly 8,500 Allied POW’s between May 13 and 15, 1945 using mainly stripped-down B-17’s, with some C-46’s and C-47’s. This article on the website of the National WWII Museum provides a great deal of detail about the operation to evacuate the prisoners of Stalag Luft I at Barth. For more information about the liberation, the National WWII Museum provides this article.

Notes

Kriegsgefangenen Lagers: Home of the “Kriegie” Airmen, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

STALAG LUFT I – Barth Germany (Air Force Officers), courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft 1 Images, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft 1 Stories, courtesy of the 392nd Bomb Group

Stalag Luft I Online – World War II – Prisoners of War – Stalag Luft I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces the Wartime Imprisonment of Her Father” by Candy Kyler Brown

A selection from The Shoe Leather Express Book 1, courtesy of Gregory Hatton’s Stalag Luft IV website

Operation Revival: Rescue from Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum

The Liberation of Stalag Luft I, courtesy of the National WWII Museum

Previous post, Wilfred Frank Miller, Update

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022


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