In the spring and early summer of 1944, Harry Allen Liniger, with his newly awarded WWII silver gunner’s wings, participated in his final phase of training as an aerial gunner on an aerial combat team of a heavy bombardment unit at the 222nd Combat Crew Training Station, Ardmore Army Airfield, Ardmore, Oklahoma.
While Harry was in this final phase of his training before being shipped overseas for combat duty, his future wife, Carrie Belle Carter, was contributing to the war effort at home. During that time, Carrie lived with her brother, Benjamin Franklin Carter, and his wife in Newport News, Virginia.
In his later years, Benjamin Carter told Harry’s son, Harry Liniger, Jr., about his mother Carrie’s role during World War II, checking in German POW’s in Newport News. In an effort to learn more about Carrie’s work, an internet search of POW camps in the U.S., as well as those in Virginia, and Newport News specifically, turned up some interesting information.
My focus has always been on the Nazi’s POW camp, Stalag Luft IV, in which my father and Harry Jr.’s father were held, as well as other camps for allied prisoners of war of the Axis powers. I had not considered where the Allies held their prisoners of war, thinking that they would all have been housed in camps overseas.
However, I find there were a large number of camps here in the states. Author and researcher Kathy Kirkpatrick presents a comprehensive list of POW Camps in the USA and also a map of the camps on Gentracer.org.
Kathy’s color-coded map distinguishes between Base Camps, Branch Camps, Cemeteries, and Hospitals.
Kathy’s alphabetical list of Prisoner of War Camps, Italian Service Unit Camps, and Prisoner of War Hospitals is “based on weekly reports located on NARA microfilm #66-538 (population lists June 1942-June 1946). Additional locations based on newspapers, interviews, and other NARA records (at College Park and Regional Archives).”
According to Kathy Kirkpatrick’s information regarding POW camps in Virginia shared on Gentracer.org, there were eighteen base camps, twenty-two branch camps, and 3 internment locations in Virginia alone, including two POW camps in Norfolk (Allen Naval Operating Base and Norfolk Army Base), four in Newport News (Eustis – Fort Abraham, Eustis – Fort Eustis, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, and Camp Patrick Henry), and two in Virginia Beach (Camp Pendleton and Fort Story).
Not certain of where exactly Carrie Belle Carter performed her duties of checking in German POW’s in Newport News, I reviewed some internet resources for information. I found details about the prisoners and the camps and think I can get a clearer idea of Carrie’s responsibilities.
For starters, the Newport News High School Class of 1965 website has a page with a lengthy discussion about the Newport News WWII POW Camps. The page header notes,
- Camp Patrick Henry, the German POW Camp, morphed into Patrick Henry Field, now Newport News Williamsburg International Airport.
- Another German POW Camp was located at the continuation of the James River Bridge crossover from Virginia Avenue to Jefferson Avenue, below the bridge.
- More still were housed at Fort Eustis.
- The Italian POW camp was on the Old Casino Grounds which was on the hill behind the Victory Arch.
- Camp Hill, also used for the Italian POWs, was bounded to the south by the temporary wooden railroad overpass at 58th Street, the James River Bridge/Military Highway railroad overpass to the north, Jefferson Avenue to the east, and the railroad yards to the west.
Many former and long time Newport News residents recorded their memories, including seeing the barbed wire of the camps, and where the camps were located in the discussion.
Contributor Joe Madagan noted,
The German Army Prisoners of War were brought to the United States on ships like the USS West Point (AP-23), the converted SS America, on their return voyage from delivering troops to Europe. She had a special Marine Detachment equipped to guard the POWs, including the wounded and ill prisoners.
The German Prisoners of War were transported from the Port north on Roanoke Avenue past our house so I had a good reason to sit on the front porch and observe the troop movements along the avenue.
There was a hospital for the wounded and ill Prisoners of War at Camp Patrick Henry, and Italian and German soldiers were treated at that facility.
If my memory serves me, the Italian Army Prisoners of War were confined to the camp near the Port, which would have terminated near the 25th Street Bridge…
Contributor Bill Lee shared,
Between 9/16/42 and 5/13/45, 134,292 POWs (88% German – the rest Italian) were disembarked at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (the Army’s name for the C&O piers). Most of them were sent to inland POW camps in the Southwest. But a fairly large number stayed in Hampton Roads and were put to work doing such things as KP, laundry and other chores. The first POW work camp in this country to be located at a port of embarkation was in Newport News.
Unseen, at one time, there were as many as 6,000 German POWs at Fort Eustis. Another 2,300 Germans (and 185 Italians) were a permanent part of the service workforce at Camp Patrick Henry.
After Italy switched sides in the war, more than a thousand Italian POWs, housed in Camp Hill – not to be confused with much larger Camp A. P. Hill, near Fredericksburg … were re-designated as ‘Italian Service Unit Personnel’ and employed in the port area. Hundreds more worked on farms in Warwick County, and in 46 businesses (not identified) on the Peninsula.
Camp Hill and associated military facilities were bounded to the south by the temporary wooden railroad overpass at 58th Street, the James River Bridge/Military Highway railroad overpass to the north, Jefferson Avenue to the east, and the railroad yards to the west. The most visible, to the public, of the prisoner enclosures was a barbed wire enclosed area on the north side. Although isolated from the rest of the military complex, anyone riding over the railroad overpass could literally look down into that encampment and ‘see the enemy’.
Camp Hill also included barracks for Military Police, a training facility for stevedore trainees and had a number of service-related facilities there, including a laundry … Some [of] his ’employees’ were Italian POWs. There was also a chapel, USO, theatre and gym at Camp Hill. Some of the Camp Hill structures remained in place and were put to local civilian use long after the war ended.
At the end of the war, there were still 4,100 Germans and 1,300 Italians on the Peninsula. Almost totally forgotten is the fact that a secret experiment took place at Fort Eustis in 1945/1946 to re-educate Nazi prisoners. The purpose of this was to create a core of cooperative and pro-American Germans to be repatriated and then help rebuild in the American zone of occupied Germany. In all, 20,000 POWs from all over the United States were processed through a six-day course at Fort Eustis before returning home!
Norm Covert added this information from the “Newport News WWII history book,”
A total of 134,293 German and Italian prisoners of war arrived via the Chesapeake and Ohio terminal.
The Port became the first to establish German prisoners of war work camps.
On June 13, 1945, 2,903 German prisoners and 1,419 members of the Italian Service Unit were engaged at the Port … Sept. 18, 1945, there were 4,077 German prisoners and 1,300 of the Italian Service Unit ….
Prisoners were quartered at Camp Patrick Henry and in the area adjacent to the overpass leading to the James River Bridge. Italian Service Units were quartered at Camp Patrick Henry and in barracks adjacent to the Chesapeake and Ohio piers.
It should be noted that Camp Patrick Henry included 1,700 acres activated Dec. 2, 1942. Nearly 750,000 men and women passed through the camp during 1943-1944.
As of Jan. 31, 1946, a total of 1,412,107 persons passed in and out of the camp.
Dale Parsons noted,
The Italian POW camp was on the Old Casino Grounds which was on the hill behind the Old Victory Arch. There was a movie theater built for the army (which later became The Jewish Community Center), and beside it was a gymnasium for army personal as quite a lot of troops were assigned to the port area. AA guns mounted on the roof of the Warwick Hotel, guards with dogs patrolling all the piers and the rail road storage area which contained ammunition, vehicles, food, etc. for the war. The Italian Camp was an open camp; they were allowed to roam in the Casino Ground area and lived in tents. This area was called the Hill. I remember talking to the prisoners as they had books to try to translate with me.
The German POW Camp was located at the continuation of the James River Bridge crossover from Virginia Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. It was located below the bridge. It had barbed wire above the fence, and had barracks with towers at each corner, and spotlights with armed guards manning each one. You could see the prisoners walking around the fenced in area.
The 58th Street overpass from Virginia Avenue to 58th Street was built for two reasons – to give the army better access to the HRPE Laundry, and for the new homes at Betsy Lee Gardens and new homes that had been built on Briarfield Road and Copeland and Newsome Park.
Camp Patrick Henry was a distribution point for the HRPE holding troops until ships were available to load them and equipment.
Fred Field added information “About Our Wartime Guests,”
I have been reading in recent issues the many recollections about Prisoner of War Camps on the Peninsula. I only remember the one near the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Military Highway. My family were lunch guests at that camp one Sunday in late 1943.
During the war local residents were asked to rent rooms for local Army officers. As a result we had two officers living with us for about two years during the war. One officer was stationed at the Jefferson Avenue prison camp. We were pleased about the lunch invitation, although the destination was kept secret from my brother and me until we arrived at the camp.
Our lunch was with the Camp’s several U.S. Army officers. We were served by Germans who spoke English surprisingly well. The food was wonderful and we were told that the prisoners did all the cooking.
After lunch we were taken on a brief tour. Although the camp facilities were very basic, many improvements had been designed and added by the prisoners. I was very impressed by the theater which had been extensively upgraded from a simple meeting hall. Our German guide for the theater identified himself as an electrician in civilian life. He proudly showed us the light dimmer arrangement he had made out of simple materials.
In my 1943 summer job as messenger for the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, I did see German prisoners disembarking from a ship and being assembled on the pier in preparation for loading on busses. They were all from the Afrika Korps and appeared tan and healthy.
After Italy’s capitulation, Italian prisoners were somewhat emancipated. They were given more freedom of movement and were assigned jobs around the Army bases. They soon earned recognition as wonderful cooks and there was much talk about the great improvement in Army food. I remember some soldiers at the message center saying that the Italians were doing all the mess hall work and the regular Army cooks were trying to look busy to avoid being declared surplus and shipped overseas.
Fred Field was not the only American to notice the appearance of the German prisoners. Carrie Belle Carter, who, according to her son, did not talk much about the German POW’s, described them as “tall, lean, blonde, and pleasant to look at.”
In addition to the Newport News POW Camps discussion page, an online article, “HAMPTON ROADS HISTORY – World War II POWs poured through Hampton Roads,” shed some light on this aspect of our World War II history.
The article explains why so many German and Italian prisoners of war were sent here to the States and explains the procedures followed for processing the prisoners once they arrived on our shores.
In August 1942, some 273,000 captured German and Italian soldiers overwhelmed Great Britain’s North Africa holding pens. The United States was urged to take as many as 150,000 prisoners on one to three months notice.
First the U.S. government sent many of the POW’s to compounds in Canada, and then to camps in isolated areas of the Southwestern United States. But within a month of the Allies’ agreement, Hampton Roads, as the U.S. Army’s Port of Embarkation for North Africa and the Mediterranean, processed its first group of German POW’s.
In the article, author Mark St. John Erickson noted that “Wehrmacht soldiers” … “guarded by MPs wielding submachine guns, … filled out paperwork aboard the transport ships with the aid of port interpreters, then filed down the gangways to be searched and questioned at stations set up inside the warehouses on the piers.”
I believe this is how Carrie Belle Carter contributed to the war effort in Newport News, by being a part of the continual processing of arriving German prisoners. I think it is likely that her work involved checking in the German POW’s at one of these stations in the warehouses set up on the piers.
How do you think Carrie and other Americans felt about, as discussion page contributor Bill Lee noted, seeing “the enemy” among them on a daily basis? And would it be more difficult for Carrie to continue her work after her future husband, Harry Allen Liniger, went missing on a heavy bomber mission over Germany, and she eventually learned he was a prisoner of war?
Thank you to Harry Liniger, Jr., son of Harry Allen Liniger and Carrie Belle Carter Liniger, for sharing his family stories from WWII
POW Camps in the USA courtesy of Kathy Kirkpatrick and GenTracer
POW Camps Map courtesy of Kathy Kirkpatrick and GenTracer
POW Camps in Virginia courtesy of Kathy Kirkpatrick and GenTracer
The Newport News WWII POW Camps courtesy of the Newport News High School Class of 1965
Article “HAMPTON ROADS HISTORY – World War II POWs poured through Hampton Roads” by author Mark St. John Erickson
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022