World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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Lt. Col. Loren G. McCollom - WWII Fighter Group Commander Lt. Col. Loren G. McCollom   "Mac"
Ritzville, WA
353rd Fighter Group Commander

Shot down by German flak over France on Thanksgiving Day 1943.

Stalag Luft I Prisoner of War



E-mail his daughter at

Biography available on website created by his grandson at


The End of My European Combat Career
Why Did I Join the Air Corps


November 25, 1943 -----

We'd been flying through heavy flak for the past five minutes in the Cape Gris Nez area -- where S-2 said there was no flak.  Tommy Thunderbolt was about to drop his first bombs on German-occupied territory.  We were evading the stuff alright, slowed down and the first flight started its diving turn on to the target, St. Omer, at 15,000 feet.  I guess one of the little black puffs caught up with the old man at this point 'cause there was a roar, a shudder and an inferno all at the same time.  In fact, there was so much flame I remember the auxiliary gun sight just in front of the wind shield, threw back the canopy thinking how strange it was that I'd be so calm at a time like this and then proceeded to climb out without undoing my safety belt.  (Who's excited?  I'm not excited.)

Despite all of this, it was only a matter of seconds until I was out.  It couldn't have been long or I would literally have been a "cooked goose".

I remember how good that cool November air felt.  The fact that I "knew" my parachute had been burned off didn't detract a great deal from the sense of relief.  So I did a half gainer and a one and a half with a full twist thrown in and then pulled the rip cord just for laughs.  To my surprise it gave birth to a full sized and undamaged parachute.

I guess I was still up about 10,000 feet, so I had plenty of time to take stock of myself before I hit the ground.  Although it didn't hurt much at the time, I knew my face was pretty badly burned because I could see pieces of rolled up, charred skin out of the corner of my eyes.  My leather gloves had shrunk from the heat leaving my wrists exposed and pretty well cooked.  My leather jacket, also shrunken, felt like a straight jacket must feel.

I got just a glimpse of my plane going down and four planes pulling out over the target, but I didn't get to see any of the bombs hit.

The wind was pretty strong and as I got closer to the ground, I could see a lot of Jerries and Frenchmen racing to reach my landing spot.  The would run or pedal their bicycles like mad, get up ahead of me and then wait. I'd catch up and drift past and they would pedal and run like mad again.  It was sort of a little game that we had, but we all eventually ended up on the same spot and obliging Germans helped me out of my chute.

After daubing myself with anti-burn jelly, they took me to the local headquarters and later to Lille for an evenings stay in the local bastille.

Early on the morning of November 26 a German officer and a sergeant picked me up from the Lille prison and we headed by train for the interrogation center at Frankfurt am Main.  We traveled first class all the way and in one instance some civilians had to give up their compartment for us.  I guess at this time the Germans didn't have too many Lt. Colonels and above.

It was not until that morning (the 26th) that I really started to feel bad.  My face was swollen about two sizes; my eyes were puffed closed and except for a sliver of light through my left eye, I couldn't see at all.  My wrists in particular gave me considerable pain, eased only by keeping them as high as possible.

When we started the trip I was given a part of a loaf of bread (black) and a hunk of sausage and when we arrived in Frankfurt the next day, I still had it untouched.  I just couldn't eat.  Although I ate an apple that one of my guards mysteriously produced, I promptly threw it up again a the next stop.  I had better luck with a bottle of soda-pop produced in like fashion.

We arrived in Frankfurt about noon the 27th where I was turned over at the interrogation center and promptly chucked into a solitary confinement cell.  I kept asking for a doctor and finally when the "ask" had reached a scream, I was taken off a few miles to the interrogation hospital, Hohemark.  Here I was gain put into a solitary room, but I had a soft bed and clean sheets.  I stayed in this room for a week without seeing anyone but the doctor's orderly and a girl we called Madam X because it was so obvious what her job was.

Next, I was moved to another section of the hospital where I was allowed to mix with the other prisoners of war and where, to my good fortune, I was introduced to Dr. R. J. Roche', a South African captain in the Medical Corps.  He took charge of me from this point until four weeks later when I was released.  His care and kindness was of infinite value.

It was in this hospital that I ceased feeling sorry for myself as I saw boys who were in much worse shape than I.  Boys who had lost legs, or arms, or eyes.

Our food was pretty good and we were warm.  I was here, also, that I wrote my first letter home.

On New Years Eve 1943-44 I had packed my few belongings and was ready to start on my trip to a permanent prisoner of war camp.  Our trolley stopped near the interrogation center on its way to the station to pick up more POWs, and there a little man in a German uniform made his appearance, crooked his stubby finger and asked for Kernel me Kollom.  He hauled me off and again I was chucked back into solitary confinement --- four slices of bread and a bowl of watery soup(?) a day.  My only companions for that period were a host of the most energetic fleas I have ever encountered.  Finally, two week later, I was hauled out, asked a few more questions and started on my way to Stalag Luft #1 at Barth on the Baltic.

On January 16, 1944 I arrived at the most permanent post in my Army career up to that time.  My stay -- 16 months almost to the day.

Life in Stalag Luft #1 was made bearable only because of the Red Cross, the YMCA and their  contributions.  The Red Cross sent in food to supplement the meager German ration.  The YMCA furnished recreational equipment which kept us from going "round-the-bend".  Weather permitting, I played volley ball or soft ball or sun bathed.  Other days we went to band concerts or plays put on by POWs.  We played bridge, poker and chess a good deal and spent a lot of time reading books sent in by the YMCA or received in personal book parcels.

Our quarters were not exactly sumptuous.  Mine was the best of four compounds because the barracks had inside wash rooms and toilets and we had a central mess until it burned down in the early spring of 1945.  All of the barracks were wooden sheds similar to our own Army's temporary barracks.  They were equipped with outside shutters to the windows which were put in place each evening by German guards to keep light and Kriegies from getting out.   They also kept sufficient air from getting in in the summer, but a myriad of cracks in the walls and floors allowed icy blasts easy access in the winter.

Col. Jean Byerly, who was our camp's senior officer for the longest period of time (later Hub Zemke took over when he arrived as he out-ranked Byerly) organized the camp internally. That is, he called the camp a wing, each compound a group and each barracks a squadron.  Then he picked officers to staff each unit.  There was a surprising amount of work for the staff to do, but it came in handy after our liberation.

April 30, 1945 -- Zemke who was then in command of us and Oberst Warnstedt, the German Kommandant,  had a meeting in which Zemke was told that the camp was moving immediately.  Hub had other ideas; pointed how impractical it was to move and finally worked it out so that the Germans would move, but the Kriegies would remain.  Zemke called his staff together, told them what was going on. Plan "B" was about to be carried out.  At 2:00 A.M. May 1, 1945, the last German guard, badly overloaded shuffled out of camp.  Minutes later our own picked, military police had taken the Germans' places.  Their instructions: to keep the Kriegies in and together to facilitate an orderly evacuation.  Kriegies awoke to find their own buddies manning the guard towers.

A large crew, picked months before, marched out to the Barth airfield two miles away and started clearing it of bombs and mines (there were some of both) --making it ready for our airplanes to come and carry us home.  Other crews commandeered cars, motor cycles and trucks and a motor pool was set up in camp.  Transportation was at a premium.  Bread had to be hauled from the bakeries we had taken over.  Sewerage must be disposed of and there were a thousand and one chores in providing for 9,000 men.

May 2, 1945 -- The Russians arrived.  It wasn't an army (there was no fighting up here -- there were no German soldiers).  It was a mob, a horde of men and women and trucks and wagons and horses.  Things got out of control.  One Russian came out to camp and insisted that the fences be torn down.  Said he, "You are our allies.  We have overrun your camp, therefore you are liberated.  Tear down the fences."  The fences were torn down.  He had a gun.,  He was more than a little bit drunk.

Kriegies were all over Germany in short order.  Complete control was never regained -- but almost.  Russian occupation officers soon arrived and the entire area was quickly put under control.  They were good, those Russian officers, darned good.  We had a good many enjoyable parties with them too.

We had long since been organized for evacuation.  On May 12, 1945 a few B-17's landed at our "private" airfield, checked the set up and carried a few happy Kriegies to France.  The next day they moved 6,2430 American and British POWs out of our camp, a tribute to the Air Force and our own organization.  On May 14, the remaining prisoners and our staff took off for France.  The waiting, the monotony, the drudgery was over.  Time would pass more quickly.



Loren G. McCollom by C. Ross Greening  

Portrait of Lt. Col. McCollom by C. Ross Greening - done while a POW at Stalag Luft I


Stalag Luft I Photo ID of Lt. Col. McCollom

Stalag Luft I Identification card

Major General Loren G. McCollom bio sketch

Bio sketch of Major General Loren G. McCollom

Mac bails out by Ross Greening

"Mac bails out" - painted in his Wartime Log by Ross Greening. 

Roommates at Stalag Luft I by Ross Greening

Roommates by Ross Greening


Sketches of roommates by Ross Greening.

Ross Greening was one of his roommates in the POW camp.  Coincidentally Mrs. McCollom and Mrs. Greening were living together in the states at the same time their husbands were living together at Stalag Luft I ! 

Homemade Escape Map at Stalag Luft I

Lt. Col. McCollom headed the escape committee at Stalag Luft I.  Here is a homemade escape map that he never got to use.  Ross Greening describes seeing McCollom when he first arrived at the POW camp (they were old college chums) and passing on McColloms's invitation to join their escape plans that night.  The escape was foiled and McCollom narrowly missed being caught.. 

BOW-WOW comic at Stalag Luft I prisoner of war camp

Per Lt. Col. McCollom:

BOW-WOW is one of the comic reliefs of the camp.  It's editorials are wild impossible dreams on the part of the editor.  It prints all the dirt it can find on fellow Kriegies, picking on POW-WOW as 'being a rag'.

Max Schmaeling photo at Stalag Luft I

Autographed photo of Max Schmaeling

Round the Benders band at Stalag Luft I in World War II

The band led by Mike Spodar is known to all Kriegies as the 'Round the Benders'.  "Around the Bend" is a Kriegie term which means one is mentally off key - the inevitable result of chronic "barbed wire fever".  But off key does not describe Mike's band because they are strictly a first class outfit.  They give the prisoners many happy hours on their Y.M.C.A. instruments.

Members names and hometowns are noted on this drawing by Don H. Ross


"Never say die" by Don Ross depicts Lt. Col. McCollom.

Lt. Col. McCollom and his wife newpaper article after war  

McCollom newspaper article after return from POW camp Lt. Col. McCollom and his wife Katherine after his release from the POW camp.


Notes from a 6' X 8'

These are notes sent to Loren McCollom from  Russ Spicer  while he was in solitary confinement at Stalag Luft I, awaiting his court ordered execution.  I have enlarged them for easier reading - the original notes are on 3"X 5" paper.

Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII
Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII
Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII Col. Spicer's notes smuggled out of cooler during WWII



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