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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Col. H. R. Spicer by C. Ross Greening

 Col. Henry Russell Spicer
Commander of the 357th Fighter Group
P-51 Mustang Pilot

Shot down and captured March 5, 1944


Stalag Luft I Prisoner of War - Commanding Officer of North 2 Compound.

Died Dec. 5, 1968

E-mail his son at


Henry Russell Spicer's Speech given in the North 2 Compound of Stalag Luft I on October 31, 1944 which earned him a death sentence by the Germans.

"Lads, as you can see, this isn't going to be any fireside chat.  Someone has taken the steel bar off the south latrine door.  The Germans want this bar back.  They have tried to find it, and I've tried to find it.  We have had no success.  The Germans have threatened to cut off our coal ration if this bar isn't found by 12 noon.  I don't know if this is a threat or not, but we must return this bar to the Germans.  Anyone having information, report to my room after this talk.  There will be no disciplinary action taken against anyone."

"Yesterday an officer (Major Bronson) was put in the cooler for two weeks.  He had two counts against him.  The first was failure to obey the order of a German officer. That is beside the point. The second was failure to salute a German officer of lower rank."

"The Articles of the Geneva Convention say to salute all officers of equal or higher rank. The Germans in this camp have put out an order that we must salute all German officers, whether lower or higher rank.  My order to you is salute all German officers of equal or higher rank."

"I have noticed that many of you are becoming too buddy-buddy with the Germans.  Remember that we are still at war with the Germans.   They are still our enemies and are doing everything they can to win the war.  Don't let him fool you around this camp because he is a dirty lying sneak and can't be trusted."

"As an example of the type of enemy you have to deal with, the British were forced to retreat in the Arnheim area. They had to leave the wounded in the hospital. The Germans took the hospital and machine gunned all those British in their beds."

"In Holland behind the German lines, a woman with a baby in her arms was walking along the road evacuating the battle zone.  Some British prisoners were passing her.  She gave them the V for victory sign.  A German soldier saw her and without hesitation swung his gun around and shot her on the spot."

"They are a bunch of murderous no-good liars and if we have to stay here for 15 years to see all the Germans killed, then it will be worth it."

At this point, there were loud cheers from all the men.  The colonel then turned to the German major and non-coms standing at the side.

"For your information, these are my own personal opinions, and I'm not attempting to incite riot or rebellion.  They are my opinions and not necessarily the opinions of my men."

Again there were more loud cheers.

Then the colonel faced the men and said, "That is all men, and remember what I have told you."

From Mozart Kaufman's book - Fighter Pilot, Aleutians to Normandy to Stalag Luft I.  In his book he states that he immediately realized that Col. Spicer had just given a momentous speech that should not be lost and as soon as he returned to his room he gathered his roommates together to help him write down the speech word for word.  Meanwhile the same day the steel bar showed up and they did not lose their coal ration.



A Speech Worth Dying For by C. B. Glines printed in the October 1995 issue of Air Force Magazine

The Germans condemned him to death for "inciting a riot" but Col. Henry Spicer's words gave his fellow POW's strength and fortitude.   Col Spicer was 1 day away from his execution date when the Russians liberated the camp.  Many POWs  I have met have told me about Col. Spicer and his speech.

A speech worth dying for       A speech worth dying for       A speech worth dying for

  Click here to read the article on line.

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.

Smuggled notes from condemned POW Smuggled notes from condemned POW Smuggled notes from condemned POW
Smuggled notes from condemned POW Smuggled notes from condemned POW Smuggled notes from condemned POW
From the Archives in Washington DC:  United States Government interview of Col. Spicer dated August 4, 1945 concerning his speech to the POWs.
Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII
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Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII
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Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII Interview of Col. Spicer regarding speech to POWs in WWII  
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From Luther Richmond's memoirs:

(After the Germans left...) My first act was to find the keys to the jail, remembering that “Russ” Spicer was in there under sentence of death for inciting a mutiny. Russ had no idea of what was happening, having been in solitary confinement and incommunicado for many months. He was still asleep when I unlocked his cell and shook him by the shoulder saying, “Wake up Russ, the Germans are gone and the Russians are coming.” He roused a little, looked at his watch, and replied, “Tell you what Richie, this is my 6-month anniversary in here. Just leave the door unlocked and I’ll see you in the morning.” He turned over and went back to sleep!


From his daughter Susie Spicer:  While in solitary confinement Col. Spicer was given a sticthery kit from the American Red Cross.  Below are photos of the finished product he made while confined.  His family donated the piece to the 8th Air Force Museum in 2008.  Click here to read the letter from the family to the museum.

"While there my father acquired a stitchery kit from the American Red Cross.This is an embroidered picture on linen of an English Garden using several basic stitches including backstitch, split and stem stitches, chain and satin stitches and French knots, hundreds of them! The piece itself is 10.5" x 8.25" and framed under non-glare glass it is 19" x 16" overall. Please note the backside of the framing where my father signed and dated it and also attached a “1st Place” award for Needle Craft, given by a judge(s) in a POW Art Show."

(I believe the POW art show was after they returned to the states.)

Close up of embroidery

Finished piece framed

Back of finished piece.


 Colonel H. R. Spicer

By George Lesko

(given at the September 2001 reunion of Stalag Luft I POWs in Barth, Germany)

     Col. Henry Russell Spicer was the Commander of the 357th Fighter Group based in England and he flew the P-51 Mustang on 14 missions.  He had destroyed 3 German aircraft before flak damage on March 3, 1944 forced him to parachute into the near freezing waters of the English Channel.  Rescue boats and aircraft failed to locate him.

     Spicer drifted for 2 days in a one-man boat before reaching Cherbourg, France and because of exposure and frostbite he was unable to walk.  This was a condition that would plague him all his life.  He was found by German soldiers and taken to Oberursel, Germany for medical treatment and interrogation.  Hans Scharff, a master Luftwaffe interrogator who spoke excellent English said Spicer was an expert at avoiding or circumventing his questions. After the war Scharff went to the United States and became a citizen.

     Upon arrival at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany sometime in the spring of 1944, Colonel Spicer became the senior officer of North Compound 2.  He was a hearty man with a long handlebar moustache.  On a very cold and bitter morning in late October or early November, during a roll call that usually took no more than 15 minutes, the prisoner count was determined to be incorrect.  After some two hours of re-counts, Colonel Spicer told all the POWs to go to their barracks.  The prisoners ignored the German guards who made loud and threatening protests as they returned to quarters.

     Later, Colonel Spicer summoned all the men of compound 2 to his barracks and he then stood on the top step and talked very loudly so the German guards could hear him say, “Remember, we are still at war with the Germans.  They are still our enemies and are doing everything they can to win this war.  Recently an officer was put in the cooler on two counts for failure to salute a German officer of lower rank which violates Geneva convention articles.” (Stalag Luft I had ordered the saluting of all officers by POWs.)

     Spicer continued by saying he observed many POWs becoming too friendly with the Germans and loudly said, “Don’t let them fool you around because they are dirty lying sneaks and can’t be trusted.”  He further stated that “as an example of the type of enemy we are dealing with, the British were forced to retreat in the Arnheim area (Aachen) and had to leave their wounded in a hospital.  The Germans machine-gunned all British wounded in their beds.”

    Col. Spicer also related that in Belgium, behind enemy lines, a woman with her baby in her arms was evacuating the battle zone when some captured British prisoners were passing by her.  She displayed a “V” for victory sign with her fingers and a German soldier saw her and shot her on the spot.  Spicer concluded by saying, “They are a bunch of murderous, no-good liars and if we have to stay here for 15 years to see all the Germans killed, then it will be worth it.”

     Much applause following Spicer’s remark and cheers arouse from all the POWs that hear him speak.  The German major in charge of the guards was furious.  According to a document of protest to the Swiss legation acting as protecting power dated November 4, 1944, Colonel Byerly the senior American Officer, wrote and sent word that approximately one hour after Spicer’s speech to the POWs he was taken before the German commandant and put in solitary confinement.  He was then taken to a small cell measuring six by eight fee pending a court-martial.

     The charges against Colonel Spicer included “Defaming of German character: and “inciting prisoners to riot”.  The German commandant, Oberst Scherer, stated that Colonel Spicer was held in custody for court-martial.  We in Stalag Luft I later learned that he had been convicted to serve six months in solitary confinement and then be executed by a firing squad.

     Colonel Spicer, prior to his conviction, interviewed new prisoners for current war news and documented German atrocities and then went to great lengths to harass the German guards.  This caused very hard feelings between the POWs and their captors, which resulted in frequent roll calls during which guards often, searched the barracks for “illegal possessions”.  There were reports of German guards drawing moustaches and more on paintings and sketches POWs had made of a family member or fellow POWs.

     Another incident in November of 1944 occurred when German Major Steinhower, who was the lager (camp) officer, demanded that all POWs assemble for an evening roll call in a heavy rain.  Colonel Spicer concluded that the order was quite ridiculous and directed that we POWs not comply.  Steinhower became irate and threatened force.  Spicer responded by saying he had “A couple of machine guns to eliminate the guards.”  In the end, the POWs submitted to the roll call.

     Captain Mozart Kaufman, who was a POW in North Compound 2 and present when Colonel Spicer made his speech, determined that the speech should be documented and he solicited assistance from other POWs to accurately write down what Spicer had said.  He then buried the notes in a coffee can under his barracks. Kaufman later wrote a book on his stay in Stalag Luft I and said, “Colonel Spicer was an excellent example of a good commander – one who kept morale high by challenging the Germans on every occasion.”

     While Colonel Spicer was serving the six-month solitary confinement order and awaiting the execution order to be carried out by a firing squad, occasionally some POWs were marched by guards near the cooler where Spicer was held.  The often shouted words of encouragement to Spicer and he would call back and say, “Don’t give in to them and keep fighting.”  When asked if he needed anything, he always said.  “Send me machine guns.”

     Ironically, in the end Spicer did evade the firing squad by a single day.  As the Soviet troops prepared to overtake Stalag Luft I in late April, all the German guards evacuated during the night leaving the camp unattended.  When Spicer was told of this, he would not leave his cell saying, “ I have one more night to make it an even six months, and I am staying here tonight.”  When he finally appeared, every POW greeted him enthusiastically.  Spicer said, “Seeing and hearing you (POWs) made solitary confinement, worth it.”

     It is worth mentioning at this time that the Geneva Convention observed the terms of the Hague Convention of 1907, which did not fully cover prisoners of war.  The 1941 change basically stated that no POW could be forced to disclose to captor anything other than his name, rank and serial number. In World War 2, Switzerland and Sweden acted as protecting posers and the International Red Cross at Geneva was the clearinghouse for all POW information.  It has been stated that American and British POWs received the best treatment from their German captors and the Polish prisoners, the worst.  The USSR however, was not a signor of the 1941 convention.

     In conclusion, Henry Russell Spicer retired from the United States Air Force on June 1, 1964 as a Major General with 30 years of service.  He died on December 5, 1968 at the relatively young age of 60.  In the October 1995 issue of “The Air Force Magazine” C.V. Glines, who was a flying cadet in 1941 with Lt. Spicer as his flight commander, wrote a story entitled, “A Speech Worth Dying For.”  General Spicer will always be remembered for his speech that not only brought him a death sentence, but also brought strength and fortitude to his fellow prisoners.

 Thank you.



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