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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

Stalag Luft IV, Lager D, Barracks 4, Room 12

In the mid-air collision of 28 September 1944 over Magdeburg, Germany of the B-17’s of the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron and the James Joseph Brodie crew of the 545th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group, four men survived to become prisoners of war.

One of the men of the Brodie crew, George Marshall Hawkins, Jr., was an officer. The other three, my father George Edwin Farrar, Harry Allen Liniger, and Wilfred Frank Miller, were enlisted men. Officers and enlisted men were housed in separate prison camps. Farrar, Liniger, and Miller were housed in Stalag Luft IV, although it seems as though none of them arrived at the same time.

Another airman of the Brodie crew, William Edson Taylor, who was not participating in the 28 September mission with his crew, became a prisoner of war on a later mission, about a week after his crewmates, and was also housed in Stalag Luft IV.

Until two weeks ago, I had never found any of their names on a roster of prisoners of the camp. But two weeks ago, when I was revisiting some POW websites that I had not visited for a long time, I found most of them.

Unfortunately, I did not find the name of Harry Liniger on any of the rosters I reviewed, but I am certain he was held in that camp.

I found three new rosters for prisoners held in D Lager – two rosters of American POW’s and one roster of British POW’s. It is possible that Liniger was held in D Lager, but also as likely that he was held in A, B, or C Lagers instead. I believe he would have arrived at Stalag Luft IV before Miller and Farrar, so my best guess is that he was a resident of C Lager.

George Farrar was a hospital patient until almost Thanksgiving 1944 and Wilfred Miller was originally held in Stalag Luft III until January 1945.

Gregory Hatton’s website, Kriegsgefangen Lagar Der Luft VI and VI, contains a list of Camp Rosters, and in particular, one named Lunsford D Lager Diary Evacuated to Stalag 11A.

In the pages of the Lunsford D Lager Diary, I found my father, George Edwin Farrar listed as G. E. Farrar, on page 21. His S/N was 14119873 and his POW number was 3885.

George Edwin Farrar on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

Wilfred Frank Miller, listed as W.F. Miller (the second W.F. Miller on the page), is on page 44. His S/N was 36834864 and his POW number was 3916.

Wilfred Frank Miller on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

William Edson Taylor, listed as W.E. Taylor, is on page 72. His S/N was 16115332 and his POW number was 4059.

William Edson Taylor on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

I also found airman Cecil Carlton McWhorter, listed as C.C. McWhorter, of the 351st Bomb Group, who was my one of my dad’s POW roommates and marching companions, on page 42. His S/N was 6285927 and his POW number was 3906.

Cecil Carlton McWhorter on Stalag Luft IV Lager D roster

But my finds didn’t end there. Another roster on the Stalag Luft IV website was a roster of British airmen, Flt. Sgt. David Joseph Luft 4 roster RAF POWs at Luft IV. There on page 5, I found the name of my father’s British POW roommate and marching companion, Lawrence Newbold. The British roster provided not only Lawrence Newbold’s RAF S/N of 1576728 and POW number of 3113, it also told his Barracks number (4) and Room number (12).

Lawrence Newbold on Stalag Luft IV Lager D RAF roster

I now had confirmation of exactly where in Stalag Luft IV my father was held – Lager D, Barracks 4, and Room 12. But to really be able to visualize his place in the POW camp, a map of the camp would really come in handy. I found such a map on the website of a former prisoner of the camp, Jack McCracken.

Stalag Luft IV map drawing courtesy of Jack McCracken

With Jack’s map drawing, I was able to see exactly where my father was held in the camp as a prisoner of war. To enlarge the map for a better look, click on the image. Each of the four Lagers – A, B, C, and D are noted with the letters circled. Looking in the “D” section, look just underneath the circled “D” to the circled “4.” That would be Barracks 4.

As for Room 12, I have read that each barracks contained only 10 bunk rooms and that the POW’s called common areas like hallways and kitchens by numbers, too. Room 12’s sleeping arrangements may have been tabletops and floors rather than bunks, but I don’t know for certain except to say “comfort” was probably not a word in the POW’s everyday vocabulary.

Another bit of information, which I’ll have to research in more depth, is that the men on the roster on which I found my dad’s name were supposedly evacuated to Stalag 11A from Stalag Luft IV. I hope to learn more information about this detail as I delve deeper into my POW research.

Notes of Thanks and Credits

SSgt John Huston (Jack) McCracken,
Engineer/Top Turret Gunner

Thank you to S/Sgt. John Huston (Jack) McCracken for sharing his map drawing of Stalag Luft IV on the internet. S/Sgt. McCracken was an Engineer/Top Turret Gunner on a B-17 in the 570th Bomb Squadron of the 390th Bomb Group. He was shot down 9 September 1944  on a mission to Düsseldorf, Germany and imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV and Stalag Luft I. He was housed in Barracks 3 of C Lager according to notes on his map.

I wish to give full credit to Jack McCracken for his map drawing of Stalag Luft IV and have attempted to ask permission through several e-mail addresses I found on his webpage, to use his map in this article but without success.

Unfortunately, I cannot make my request to Jack himself as we lost this hero in 2012. You can read more about Jack McCracken in his obituary on Find a Grave.

Thank you, Jack, for making this information available for generations to come.

Thank you, Gregory Hatton, for providing Stalag Luft IV rosters and other information.

With the exception of images in this post provided by John Huston (Jack) McCracken, Gregory Hatton, and others, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 3

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) takes requests for information regarding Prisoners of War (POW’s) currently four times a year (subject to change in the future). Please check the website of the ICRC for the next submission date. See this previous article for more details.


George Edwin Farrar’s POW ID Tag, #3885 from Stalag Luft IV

A recap:

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was an American Prisoner of War (POW) of Germany during World War II. The Nazis called the prisoners “Kriegsgefangenen.” The POWs called themselves “Kriegies.” That makes me, the daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW #3885, a “Kriegie Kid.”

As a Kriegie Kid, I am naturally interested in discovering information about my father’s Prisoner of War experience and have found various ways to search for details.


I have covered several resources for POW information in previous articles,

ICRC POW Records Request

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 1

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 2

and to complete this series of articles, I have a few additional ideas for places you can search for POW information.

Websites

Keith Ellefson, 384th Bomb Group Combat Data Specialist and fellow volunteer researcher for the group, shared these resources – the “American Prisoners of War In Germany” document and the “Foreign Records Seized” search engine – he found in the National Archives Catalog. Thank you, Keith!

“American Prisoners of War in Germany” prepared by the Military Intelligence Service War Department options to view and save:

  • View one page at a time by clicking each page and zoom to read
  • Save/download or print (or just view) the entire document. At the lower right of the screen, which shows Image 1 of 112, click the double right arrow (>>) “Last Image” icon. On the redrawn screen, which shows “Automatic Zoom” at top middle, click the Download button on the right. You will be able to save the entire “731111-Box2197-Folder1.pdf” file to your computer. To print, click the Print button.

Foreign Records Seized, obtained from the National Archives Catalog search advice:

This record group is rather difficult to navigate and may not produce any results for you, but it does contain some German Downed Allied Aircraft Kampfflugzeug Unterlagen (KU) Reports. I was able to find a KU report by searching on my father’s name in this record group and will use my search as an example.

  • Open the National Archives Catalog, Foreign Records Seized.
  • Scroll down the page and click the “Search within this record group” button.
  • At this point, you could just scroll through the records in the group as it contains a lot of interesting items, but to search for information about a POW relative, enter their first and last name in the search box in the top left and click the magnifying glass.
  • I searched using my father’s name, George Farrar. I was presented with two pages of results.
  • After scrolling through both pages of results, I could see that my father’s full name appeared only in the second result in the list: KU-3028. I clicked on that link to open the report.
  • As with the “American Prisoners of War in Germany” report, I could scroll through each image or click the “Last Image” double arrow to download or print the entire document.
  • Reviewing the items in the file, I see that some of the information pertains to my dad and his crew and some does not.
  • I repeated the search using the name Harry Liniger, the waist gunner of the B-17 that collided with my dad’s on September 28, 1944. I found KU-3089 with that search.
  • The results were certainly not as complete a picture as I had hoped for, but I did discover some previously undiscovered German records during the process.

Facebook Groups

  • Kriegie Kids Facebook group, a fairly new group with currently a small number of members. If you are a Kriegie Kid, I urge you to join to connect with other Kriegie Kids, learn more about the WWII POW experience, and ask questions.
  • Many of the WWII combat groups have Facebook group pages set up for NexGen members (and veterans) to connect, share information, and ask questions. Many of them include members who are researchers or historians of the group who will help you find information.

Books

Many books have been written by WWII veterans or their children about POW experiences. Try a general internet search or start with a few of these. Most of these are available on Amazon, but the Shoe Leather Express books are out of print, so besides looking on Amazon, check Abebooks and other used book sources like eBay.


I’m certain I haven’t covered every available resource for learning more about the WWII POW experience, especially that of the Pacific Theatre, but this post is the final post of this series.

However, you should expect a lot more coverage on the subject of WWII POW’s here in the future as I continue my research into my father’s POW camp experience and the path of his march to liberation and freedom.

Notes

The German word for prisoner of war (POW) was Kriegsgefangener (singular) and Kriegsgefangenen (plural). The POWs called themselves “Kriegies” for short.

Links from previous posts in this series

NARA search of Records of World War II Prisoner of War

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) Requests for Information About People Held POW

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 2

I hope those of you who wished to place a request for Prisoner of War (POW) records from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were successful in submitting your request on 24 January. Prepare to wait a while for the results, but when you do get them, please let me know what you learned either through a comment here on my blog or with an e-mail.

For those who still wish to place a request for POW records, check the website of the ICRC for the next submission date. For now, the ICRC is accepting requests once a quarter, but that could change in the future, so please check the site for the next available date. See this previous article for more details.


George Edwin Farrar’s POW ID Tag, #3885 from Stalag Luft IV

A recap:

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was an American Prisoner of War (POW) of Germany during World War II. The Nazis called the prisoners “Kriegsgefangenen.” The POWs called themselves “Kriegies.” That makes me, the daughter of POW #3885, a “Kriegie Kid.”

As a Kriegie Kid, I am naturally interested in discovering information about my father’s Prisoner of War experience and have found various ways to search for details.


A note, to start. My father was an airman in a B-17 Heavy Bomber Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in World War II. Therefore, the focus of my research has always been on units of the air war based in England.

The information I share may not be as applicable to units based in other theaters of the war or to Army soldiers of the ground forces or seamen of the Navy.

If you are searching for POW information for a military member from one of these other groups, I hope this information gives you some ideas on how to start your search as I’m sure I am not covering all of the options pertaining to your POW family member.

In Part 1 of this article, I covered finding POW information in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Access to Archival Databases (AAD). In this part, Part 2, I’ll cover a few alternate resources.

Other POW information resources:

  • Wartime Missing Air Crew Reports
  • Post-wartime documents, including Honorable Discharge, Separation Qualification Record, and POW Medal Application

Wartime Missing Air Crew Reports

If you can locate the wartime Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) for an air crews’ loss and subsequent capture, you may learn many details depending on how complete the report is. Some of the WWII Army Air Force Groups have websites or Facebook pages and may have a historian or researcher that will help you find this information.

An alternate source is to perform a name search for the WWII time period on fold3, a separate Ancestry.com website of online military records. You may register for a free account to search, but may need to join or start a free trial to review any Missing Air Crew Reports the search reveals.

You may also find B-17 crew/aircraft losses and the MACR number in Dave Osborne’s Fortlog (B-17 Fortress Master Log) by searching on the name of your POW. For example, when I search on my dad’s last name, I find the B-17’s serial number and name, Bomb Group and Squadron numbers, MIA place and date, names of the members of the crew on board, where they were lost, and the MACR number:

43-37822 Del Cheyenne 25/5/44; Kearney 8/6/44; Grenier 28/6/44; Ass 544BS/384BG [SU-N] Grafton Underwood 29/6/44; MIA Magdeburg 28/9/44 w/John Buslee, Dave Albrecht, Bill Henson, Bob Stearns, Len Bryant, Seb Peluso, George McMann, Gerald Anderson (8KIA); George Farrar (POW); flak, cr Ingersleben, Ger; MACR 9753. LEAD BANANA.

Post-wartime Documents

I was able to find POW information on my father’s Honorable Discharge and Separation Qualification Record paperwork. After communicating with other children of former POW’s, though, I learned that the information was not always presented in the same area of those documents, so if you have these, carefully look over the entire documents, front and back.

For example, on my father’s Honorable Discharge, I find this information listed on the back page:

  • Box 34, Wounds Received in Action: Germany 28 Sept 44 (indicates the date of the mid-air collision in which he became a POW)
  • Box 36, Date of Departure (indicates the date he left the ETO – European Theater of Operations – two months after his liberation date and return to US military control)
  • Box 55, Remarks: POW Germany – 28 Sept 44 – 2 May 45 (Not all discharge papers list the POW’s exact dates of internment, but my father’s did)

On the back page of my father’s Separation Qualification Record, under Additional Information, Box 23, Remarks, is noted: POW in Germany 28 Sept 44 – 2 May 45.

On the front page of Wilfred Frank Miller’s Separation Qualification Record, under Summary of Military Occupations, Box 13, Title – Description – Related Civilian Occupation, this information is noted: Was shot down and Bailed out over Germany. Was taken prisoner of war and interned for 7 months. Was returned to U.S. control 13 May 1945.

Obviously, there was no standard way to report this information, so review these documents thoroughly for POW details.

Also, the dates noted are not completely clear as to what the end date signifies. Liberation date and date returned to military control are not necessarily the same date, as was the case for my father. However, my father was liberated by the British and it likely took time from his liberation date for him to be transferred from British forces to American forces and returned to U.S. control.

For Miller, perhaps his date signifies that he was liberated by the Americans and immediately returned to U.S. control. These clues can help pinpoint where the POW was when he was liberated if we can find the historical evidence of the dates of separate liberations of various groups of prisoners.

From the different end dates between Miller and my dad, I must assume they did not march in the same column of marchers from Stalag Luft IV and took different paths to freedom.

Prisoner of War (POW) Medal Application: If you still have your father’s post-wartime documents, you may find a copy of his POW medal application, if he applied for this post-war medal. Or you may find it in his file at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis.

In Section I – Prisoner of War Identification Data, Box 13, Additional Information, the former POW was asked to describe his Place of imprisonment, disposition after release, or escape, recapture and release. There are also other spaces for information such as Branch of Service, Date Confined as POW, Unit of Assignment/Attachment when Captured, and Date Released as POW.

More Options

In Part 3, I’ll cover a few more options and suggestions for finding POW information.

Notes

The German word for prisoner of war (POW) was Kriegsgefangener (singular) and Kriegsgefangenen (plural). The POWs called themselves “Kriegies” for short.

Links

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 1

fold3 military records website

Dave Osborne’s Fortlog (B-17 Fortress Master Log)

National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)

NARA search of Records of World War II Prisoner of War

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) Requests for Information About People Held POW

Kriegie Kids Facebook group

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

Kriegie Kids and the Search for POW Records, Part 1

Reminder! The next window to place a request for Prisoner of War (POW) records from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) opens on 24 January 2022 at 8:00 (GMT +1). Please see this previous article for details.


George Edwin Farrar’s POW ID Tag, #3885 from Stalag Luft IV

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was an American Prisoner of War (POW) of Germany during World War II. The Nazis called the prisoners “Kriegsgefangenen.” The POWs called themselves “Kriegies.” That makes me, the daughter of POW #3885, a “Kriegie Kid.”

As a Kriegie Kid, I am naturally interested in discovering information about my father’s Prisoner of War experience and have found various ways to search for details.

One option to find at least summary information with a few details is NARA’s (National Archives and Record Administration’s) Access to Archival Databases (AAD). Let’s start with a name search in the Archival Databases.

NARA – AAD

Open the NARA – AAD webpage.

Enter the POW’s name in the “Search AAD” text box and click the Search button.

Review the list of the results and find Records of World War II Prisoners of War, created, 1942 – 1947, documenting the period 12/7/1941 – 11/19/1946 in the list.

Click on View Records.

When you find the correct record in the records list, click on the document icon in the View Record column.

As an example, I am including my father’s POW record from NARA – AAD. The information provided includes:

  • Date of capture, here listed as Report Date – September 28, 1944 for my dad.
  • Bomb Group, here listed as Parent Unit Number – 384th Bomb Group for my dad.
  • Place of capture, here listed as Area – European Theatre, Germany for my dad.
  • Last Report Date – July 13, 1945 for my dad. I am not certain of how this date was assigned. It was not the date of his liberation (May 2, 1945) or the date he was returned to US military control (May 8, 1945), and between July 2 and July 17, 1945, he was reportedly on a ship returning to the states.
  • Detaining Power – Germany for my dad.
  • POW Camp, here listed as Camp – Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow (formerly Heydekrug) Pomerania, Prussia (moved to Wobbelin Bei Ludwigslust) (To Usedom Bei Savenmunde) 54-16 for my dad.

File unit: World War II Prisoners of War Data File, 12/7/1941 – 11/19/1946

Field Title Value Meaning
SERIAL NUMBER 14119873 14119873
NAME FARRAR GEORGE E FARRAR GEORGE E
GRADE, ALPHA S SG Staff Sergeant
GRADE CODE 4 Major or Asst. superintendent of nurses or Director of nurses or Director of dietitians or Director of physical therapy aides or Staff Sergeant or Technician 3d Grade or Lt. Commander or Petty Officer, 2nd Class
SERVICE CODE 1 ARMY
ARM OR SERVICE AC Air Corps
ARM OR SERVICE CODE 20 AC: AIR CORPS
DATE REPORT: DAY (DD) 28 28
DATE REPORT: MONTH (MM) 09 09
DATE REPORT: YEAR (Y) 4 1944
RACIAL GROUP CODE 1 WHITE
STATE OF RESIDENCE 43 Georgia
TYPE OF ORGANIZATION S53 Heavy Bomber
PARENT UNIT NUMBER 0384 0384
PARENT UNIT TYPE 06 Group/Regiment/Commands/System
AREA 72 European Theatre: Germany
LATEST REPORT DATE: DAY (DD) 13 13
LATEST REPORT DATE: MONTH (MM) 07 07
LATEST REPORT DATE: YEAR (Y) 5 1945
SOURCE OF REPORT 1 Individual has been reported through sources considered official.
STATUS 8 Returned to Military Control, Liberated or Repatriated
DETAINING POWER 1 GERMANY
CAMP 091 Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow (formerly Heydekrug) Pomerania, Prussia (moved to Wobbelin Bei Ludwigslust) (To Usedom Bei Savenmunde) 54-16
REP
POW TRANSPORT SHIPS

Note that you may not immediately find the search name in the records. It is possible that the record is missing from the database, but it may just be that the name has not been recorded correctly or in the expected format.

I have had difficulties with some names, for instance one that begins with Mc, like McDougall. The database seems to record a name beginning with Mc with a space between the “Mc” and the rest of the last name. Try entering a last name beginning with Mc with the space, like “Mc Dougall” instead of “McDougall.”

In the case that your search does not return the correct record, if you do have the POW’s US military Serial Number, enter that number in the search box rather than the name and the search engine may find the correct record in the database.

Learning a few facts about your POW relative’s internment is a good place to start, but it’s just the beginning. And the information you find in a NARA – AAD search may help you fill in some of the information needed to request POW records from the ICRC, too.

Notes

  • The German word for prisoner of war (POW) was Kriegsgefangener (singular) and Kriegsgefangenen (plural). The POWs called themselves “Kriegies” for short.
  • On the NARA – AAD Search Results page, you may also find the POW’s enlistment record in the World War II Army Enlistment Records, created, 6/1/2002 – 9/30/2002, documenting the period ca. 1938 – 1946 results.

Links

Kriegie Kids Facebook group

NARA search (NARA – AAD webpage) of Records of World War II Prisoner of War

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) Requests for Information About People Held POW

To be continued with more options for finding POW information for Kriegie Kids…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

ICRC POW Records Request

The next window to place a request for Prisoner of War (POW) records from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) opens up on 24 January 2022 at 8:00 (GMT +1).

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was an American Prisoner of War (POW) of Germany during World War II and because of that, my research into his WWII history includes an extra aspect of his military service. On top of learning about his stateside training and combat history, I want to know about his time of imprisonment by the enemy.

The information to be learned, once I’m past the initial information of dates and places, will not be very pleasant, but it’s important for me to know. And the best place to start is to find out how long he was a POW and where he was held prisoner.

There are a couple of places to find information, but today I want to write about the request for information from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) because a short window opens up to request this information only a few times a year and the next window is opening very soon.

This website of the International Committee of the Red Cross is the place to request information about someone held as a prisoner of war or civilian internee during the Spanish Civil War or the Second World War.

If you open the website at any time other than when the short window is open, you will see the page heading, “Requests for information about people held during Spanish Civil War or Second World War: Quarterly limit reached.”

If you open the website during the window of opportunity to request information, you will be able to access an online form which you can fill out for your request.

The website did not supply me in advance with a list of the information the form would require me to fill in, so I had to scramble at the time I was completing the form to make sure I had the correct information and to enter it before the quarterly limit was reached. For that reason, I’m going to list the items I had to provide so you can prepare in advance and be able to fill out the online form quickly and as accurately as possible.

The fields I had to complete were:

Person about whom the information is sought: 

  • Surname
  • First name
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Date of death
  • Nationality
  • Place of residence at the time of the conflict
  • Father’s surname and first name
  • Mother’s maiden name and first name
  • Wife/husband’s name
  • Conflict (2nd World War)
  • Status (Military)
  • Rank
  • Unit
  • Army
  • Service number
  • Date of capture
  • Place of capture
  • Prisoner of war number
  • Place(s) of detention
  • Date of release (and repatriation)
  • Additional information (large text box)

Person requiring the research:

  • Title
  • Surname
  • First name
  • Institution
  • Street
  • Street No.
  • Postal code
  • City
  • Country
  • Email
  • Family tie (the person about whom I am seeking information is my…)
  • Reason for enquiry
  • Reason for enquiry (additional information) – large text box

It’s possible you may not have some of the requested information, but the more you can provide, the better the chance the Red Cross can find the records of your POW.

The next window to place a request opens up on 24 January 2022 at 8:00 (GMT +1) (note this is the time zone of Geneva, Switzerland). It only opens four times a year and they only take a limited number of applications, so determine what time it correlates to in your own time zone (use Google or a world clock app) and then get online immediately at the time the window opens to request the info.

I also want to point out that each applicant is allowed to request information for only one POW. If you are considering requesting information for more than one POW, it’s best to realize in advance you only get one request, so make it the one for which you most want to seek information.

I requested information about my father last year. In my case, I determined that Geneva is six hours ahead of my time zone, so I got online at 2 a.m. on 20 September 2021 to submit my application. By 2:10 a.m. my form was complete and submitted.

I did wait several weeks and was rewarded with an e-mail from the ICRC on 5 November 2021 with a digital document of results attached. The information arrived exactly thirty-nine years to the day of my father’s death.

Unfortunately, I learned nothing new from the report I received. But information I already knew was confirmed. My father was held in Stalag Luft IV and the date of his liberation by Allied forces was confirmed as 2 May 1945.

The report did not indicate the date of his capture, but I already knew that date, too, and there are other resources to find that information, like a NARA search of records of WWII POW’s, which I’ll address in a couple of weeks.

I still think it was worth the time and effort to get up in the middle of the night to submit the request. There was no charge or fee to request the information or to receive the results, and you just never know what you might find out unless you ask. If you miss the window coming up on 24 January, you should have three more chances in 2022 and the dates will be announced on the ICRC website.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll remind you about this opportunity again and write more in detail about searching the NARA records and a place on Facebook to connect with other relatives of POW’s, Kriegie Kids.

Links

I’ve only covered the ICRC requests today, but am including a couple more links to information I’ll be covering in a future post in case you want to do a little exploring on your own…

ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) Requests for Information About Someone Held POW

NARA search of Records of World War II Prisoner of War

Kriegie Kids Facebook group

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022

A Liberation Day Souvenir

I have previously written about my dad’s time as a POW during WWII, both during his confinement in Stalag Luft IV and during his 86-day march across Poland and Germany to his liberation. The 500-plus mile march started on February 6, 1945, and for my dad, George Edwin Farrar, ended on May 2, 1945.

On the morning of May 2, 1945, Day 86 of the march, the prisoners’ morning started as usual, awakening early, with some prisoners searching the farm for food, eggs that could be eaten raw, or potatoes that could be carried to the next stop. On this day, the Germans distributed canned sardines and commanded the prisoners to pack up and walk to the end of the farm lane to the main road where they would be liberated by the British 8th Army, the Royal Dragoons, shortly before noon.

The 76th anniversary of Dad’s liberation day will be this coming Sunday and this year I have a piece of history to hold in my hand as I reflect on this day and what his liberation and freedom meant to my father those many years ago.

WWII German Air Force (Luftwaffe) Officer’s Peak Cap

Dad kept this WWII German Air Force (Luftwaffe) officer’s peak cap as a souvenir of his experience as a POW during the war. I don’t recall him ever showing it to me or telling me about it.

It wasn’t until my sister and I were cleaning out my mother’s attic after her death in 2004 (Dad had died in 1982) that we found it in a footlocker with a few other items from his military service. My sister kept those things when we divided up the family heirlooms and I forgot about them over the years.

My sister recently reminded me she had these things of dad’s from the war and offered them to me to add to my collection of his WWII memorabilia. I am sure I know how my dad came to be in possession of this Nazi military cap. Once the prisoners were liberated and realized they would soon be going home, they all collected some souvenirs to bring home with them.

In the Shoe Leather Express, author and former POW Joseph O’Donnell wrote, that his first souvenirs were a “military map of Germany and a German canteen and kit.” He noted that “other G.I.’s were gathering souvenirs such as swords, bayonets, and guns.”

A Luftwaffe officer’s cap must have seemed a fitting symbol, a victory prize, for an enlisted serviceman of the American Army Air Forces in the Allies’ defeat over Nazi Germany on the day of his liberation. But it was never something he showed off with pride or even shared the existence of when he told his stories of the mid-air collision, of being a POW, or enduring the forced march. Like many of his memories of that tragic time in his life and our country’s history, it remained buried and not spoken of until long after his death.

Notes

Previous Post: Liberation Gudow

All previous posts about Stalag Luft IV

All previous posts about The Black March

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2021

The Boxcars

Seventy-five years ago in the month of March 1945, the POW’s of Stalag Luft IV continued their forced march across Germany which they had begun the previous month on February 6. Traveling on foot with very little food was so very difficult that when they saw an opportunity to travel by rail, it was seen to be a welcome relief. Instead, it turned out to be likely one of the most horrific parts of their journey.

For these men who completed the march and eventually gained their liberation and freedom, nightmares of this time in their lives would likely include these few days of the eighty-six day total when they were loaded into 40 x 8 boxcars for a short journey deep into hell.

Joseph P. O’Donnell, the Stalag Luft IV POW who recorded his experience and that of fellow POW’s in the Shoe Leather Express books, included many individual stories of the boxcars in both the first book in the series, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, and the second book, The Shoe Leather Express – Book II -Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany.

* * * * *

Joe O’Donnell wrote of his personal experience that on Day 51, March 28, 1945, his group arrived at the town of Ebstorf, a small town west of the Elbe River. At 3 PM, he was loaded onto a 40 x 8 boxcar with sixty-four other POW’s. A 40 x 8 boxcar is a train or rail car that is designed to carry forty men or 8 head of cattle.

They, and other groups of sixty or more POW’s, were jammed into the cars and the doors locked shut. Although the sick were allowed to lie down, and there were many sick, the remainder of the men had to take turns standing and sitting as there was not room for all to sit at the same time.

At first, the men were relieved that they would be able to ride rather than walk to their next destination, but relief soon turned to horror when they realized that the boxcars were more dangerous than the road. The boxcars did not move for more than ten hours except for occasional movements of 100 to 200 yards back and forth from their original position.

The boxcars had no markings on them, nothing that allied aircraft could see from the air, to indicate they were filled with allied POW’s. Aerial activity in the area was considerable and train movements were prime targets of allied aircraft. O’Donnell considered their confinement in the boxcars to be an intentional plan of the Germans to have the POW’s killed by the strafings and bombings from their own aircraft.

Aside from the fear of the POW’s inside the boxcars, the conditions inside were unbearable as the men had nowhere to urinate or defecate other than the boxcar floor, although some were able to break through holes in the floor for the purpose. On top of this, many were stricken with chronic dysentery.

After forty hours of confinement in the boxcars, the trains moved out toward Fallingbostel on March 30, 1945, for a thirty-mile journey. The men were not allowed out of the boxcars or provided with drinking water for the entire trip.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 22

* * * * *

Bob Richards, Jr. (8th AF, 392nd BG, 577th Bomb Squadron) from Hanover, Pennsylvania, and John Hargrove (445th BG, 702nd Bomb Squadron) from Delran, New Jersey, noted in their personal journals that they were loaded into the 40 x 8 boxcars also on March 28, but in Hohenbunftorf, and traveled to Uelsen. However, they reported that only fifty men were confined in each car in which they spent two days and nights.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 35

* * * * *

Walter V. Lawrence (8th AF, 44th BG, 506th Bomb Squadron) was on the March 28 train ride to Fallingbostel in the 40 x 8 boxcars.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, pages 39/40

* * * * *

Lawrence “Larry” S. Moses (8th AF, 452nd BG, 728th Bomb Squadron) reported in his log that he left Uelzen by 40 x 8 boxcars on March 28, 1945 and arrived at Altengrabow, Stalag IIA, on March 30. (Although his date chart indicates he left Hohenbonstorf on the 28th, arrived Uelzen the same day, left Uelzen on the 29th, and arrived Altengrabow on the 30th).

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, pages 43/44

* * * * *

Louis Wayne Dirickson (9th AF, 409th BG (Light), 643rd Bomb Squadron):

3/28/45 – Walked 7 kilometers to Ebstorf and 1 1/2 kilometers to the train station. Loaded into boxcars (60/car) at 1:30 P.M. we were given 3/8 loaf of bread and 1/5 of a 3/4 lb. of margarine for three days.

3/29/45 – Sat all night in the boxcars, all of today and part of the evening, without moving an inch. Jerries gave us 2 buckets of water for 60 men and nothing to eat. Started moving at 11 P.M.

3/30/45 – Arrived at Station at 12 o’clock – walked 2 kilometers to Stalag XIB located at Fallingbostel – got inside the camp at 3 P.M. (100 men to a tent). Got a carrot and barley soup at 6 P.M. Darn good.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 49

* * * * *

Dr. Leslie Caplan provided testimony to Lt. Col. William C. Hoffman of the War Crimes Office on December 31, 1947, stating:

At 1500 hours on 28 March 1945 a large number of our men were loaded on freight cars at Ebbsdorf, Germany. We were forced in at the rate of 60 men or more to a car. This was so crowded that there was not enough room for all men to sit at the same time. We remained in these jammed boxcars until 0030 hours March 30, 1945 when our train left Ebbsdorf. During this 33 hour period few men were allowed out of the cars for the cars were sealed shut most of the time. The suffering this caused was unnecessary for there was a pump with a good supply of water in the railroad yards a short distance from the train. At one time I was allowed to fetch some water for a few of our men who were suffering from dysentery. Many men had dysentery at the time and the hardship of being confined to the freight cars was aggravated by the filth and stench resulting from men who had to urinate and defecate inside the cars. We did not get off these freight cars until we reached Fallingbostel around noon of 30 March 1945 and then we marched to Stalag IIB. The freight cars we were transported in had no marking on them to indicate that they were occupied by helpless prisoners of war. There was considerable aerial activity in the area at the time and there was a good chance of being strafed.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 70

* * * * *

Joseph P. O’Donnell, in a section named “Kriegie Land,” related an undated summarized log entry which followed his March 30, 1945 entry. I am not certain if this was O’Donnell’s personal log or that of another prisoner.

We boarded boxcars at Ebstorf. We got on at 3 o’clock P.M. 60 men to a car. We stayed in the car all that night, next day, that night, another day and night. I arrived here [Stalag XIB, Fallingbustel] the next day at 12 NOON.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book I, page 86

* * * * *

Tom Farrow (8th AF, 384th BG, 547th Bomb Squadron), walking with fellow 384th-er Ray Jablonski, wrote,

On Tuesday, the 27th of March, our group, numbering about 400, was crowded into boxcars, about 100 to a car designed to hold 40. We were given a quarter loaf of bread and the doors were shut and locked. The train started immediately but only for that day. We were stopped all night, the next day and night. The car had very small windows at each end for ventilation but was not enough to overcome the stench of diarrhea and vomit that soon covered the floor. There was not enough room for everyone to sit down, so we sat with our knees drawn up with another P.O.W. leaning on our knees.

On Thursday evening we began moving slowly through the night, stopping on Good Friday morning. The doors were opened and everyone struggled out, gulping fresh air. I never knew completely about the casualties of the trip. Everyone in our car made it, but a least two in the next car had died. We were marched to a very large camp to a compound of Russian workers. Large tents had been erected but there were no beds or straw.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book II, page 32

* * * * *

James W. McCloskey of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, wrote in his log that he was loaded in a boxcar (48 in each) on March 17, 1945, rode all day on March 18 and 19, was in Hamburg Station on March 20 and received 1/2 bread, 1/3 margerine, and wurst, then arrived at Fallingbostel, Stalag 357, on March 21.

~The Shoe Leather Express – Book II, page 86

* * * * *

Harry Liniger (8th AF, 384th Bomb Group, 545th Bomb Squadron) boarded a train to Fallingbostel on March 28, 1945. I wrote about Harry’s experience almost five years ago and you can read it in its entirety here. Harry used a cigarette paper to record this piece of his POW history,

51 day on the road.  Boarded train at 2PM March 28.  Recd [received] 3/8 of a loaf of bread per man.  60 men on a car.

* * * * *

I don’t know if all of the POW’s on the march from Stalag Luft IV had this same experience, but many of them were forced to endure a train ride through hell on the road to their liberation and freedom.

Upon capture, the Germans would tell their prisoners, “For you, the war is over.” I don’t think that statement was the least bit accurate. These men were living the war every single day, even in captivity. For these men, the war wasn’t over until their liberation and return to civilian life, and for some of them, the war would never end until the end of life itself.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

The Black March Begins

The March of the POWs, of which my father George Edwin Farrar was one, from Stalag Luft IV began 75 years ago on February 6, 1945. It continued for 86 days and covered 500 miles across Pomerania and Germany.

Joseph P. O’Donnell, one of the Stalag Luft IV POW’s and the author of the Shoe Leather Express books wrote in his first volume, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany, about the evacuation of the prison camp and the 86-day 500-mile march of which my father, George Edwin Farrar, was a part.

When I was a child, Daddy told me that he had been in a POW camp and had to march across Germany, but the details were too horrific for a father to tell his young daughter. I did not learn the horrors of what he had endured until many years after he died. Those I learned from the books of Joseph O’Donnell, Candy Kyler Brown, Laura Edge, and David Dorfmeier, and from the memories, written and oral, of some of the participants.

Joseph O’Donnell wrote in the opening pages of his first volume that,

By February 3, 1945, the front line was 45 miles south of Luft IV and extended to the Oder River, 40 miles east of Berlin…

With the Russian Red Army moving so close to the POW camp, it was a time of uncertainty for the prisoners. Would they be liberated by the Russians? Would they all be executed before the Red Army’s arrival? Would they evacuate the camp ahead of the Russians? Most expected an evacuation, but it was not a certainty.

O’Donnell continued,

We knew our evacuation was imminent as the Russians were advancing from the east. We could look through the cracks in the shutters over the windows and see the flashes from the artillery; and if the wind was right, we could hear the artillery at the front. My estimation was that we were less than 30 miles from the front lines.

Early on the morning of February 5, 1945, seventy-five years ago today, an announcement was made that the POWs would not evacuate the camp. But at 10 a.m., another announcement was made that they would be moving out the next morning.

The prisoners were told that they would be walking for three days. They were each given 1/3 loaf of bread and were allowed to take as many Red Cross parcels as they wanted. With each parcel weighing eleven pounds, the prisoners were forced to discard what they couldn’t comfortably carry.

Joseph O’Donnell wrote that the first day’s march was uneventful, and that they walked eighteen kilometers, a little over eleven miles.

But for men who were already malnourished, injured, and otherwise in poor physical shape from their confinement, this was no easy task.

Knowing that my father was one of the men packing up and marching out of the camp exactly seventy-five years ago sends a chill down my spine. To this point, he had already survived a mid-air collision (the sole survivor of his crew), an attack by German civilians after he parachuted to the ground, injuries requiring a two-month hospital stay, and months in the prison camp with very little food.

At twenty-three years old, survival was his main goal in life. Marching through the gates of the prison camp must have seemed overwhelming, with a mix of a sense of freedom with the uncertainty of what lay ahead. A yearning to see his family again kept him placing one foot in front of the other for the next eighty-six days.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020

Stalag Luft IV, January 1945

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.

Sources:

Wikipedia:  Führerbunker

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

C-Lager:  Stalag Luft IV & the 86-Day Hunger March by David Dorfmeier

Notes:

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