Prepared by MILITARY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE WAR
DEPARTMENT dated 1 November 1945
Stalag Luft 1 was situated at Barth, Germany
(54-22N - 120421 3091 E), a small town on the Baltic Sea 23 kilometers
northwest of Stralsund.
Stalag Luft I was opened in Oct. 1942 as a British
camp but when the Red Cross visited the camp in Feb. 1943, two American
noncom officers had already arrived. By Jan. 1944, 507 American
Air-Force officers were detained there. The strength of the camp grew
rapidly from this date, until April 1944 when the Red Cross reported
3,463 inmates. New compounds were opened and quickly filled. Nearly 6000
PWs were crowded into the camp in Sept. 1944, and at the time of the
liberation of the camp 7717 Americans and 1,427 Britons were returned to
Early in 1944 the camp consisted of 2 compounds
designated as South & West compounds , containing a total of 7 barracks,
in which American officers & British officers and enlisted men were
housed. A new compound was opened the last of Feb. 1944 and was assigned
to the American officers who were rapidly increasing in number. This
compound became North 1. and the opening of North 2 compound on 9 Sept.
1944 and North 3 compound on 9 Dec. 1944 completed the camp as it
remained until 15 May 1945. The South compound was always unsatisfactory
due to the complete lack of adequate cooking, washing, and toilet
facilities. The West compound, however provided inside latrines and
running water in the barracks. North I compound formerly housed
personnel of the Hitler Youth, and because of its communal messhall,
inside latrines and running water taps, it was considered by far the
best compound. North 2 and North 3 compounds were constructed on the
same design as the South compound, and were as unsatisfactory.
The completion of the last 2 compounds gave the
camp an L-shape appearance which followed the natural contours of the
bay on which the camp was situated. Guard towers were placed at
strategic intervals, and although the compounds were intercommunicating,
the gates were closed at all times after the spring of 1944. Prior to
that, gates were kept open during the day.
Each barracks contained triple-tiered wooden beds
equipped with mattresses filled with wood chips. A communal day room was
set aside in almost every barracks, but equipment was negligible.
Lighting was inadequate throughout the camp, and since the Detaining
Power required the shutters to remain closed from 2100 to 0600,
ventilation was entirely insufficient.
In addition to the buildings for housing, North 1 &
West compounds contained: 1 kitchen barrack, 1 theater room, 1 church
room, 1 library and 1 study room each. These were used by all compounds
because no other facilities were available. Maintenance of the buildings
was completely lacking, in spite of the fact that the officers
volunteered to take care of many of the repairs if furnished the
Stoves for heating and cooking varied in each
compound, except that facilities in all compounds were inadequate. Many
of the buildings were not weather proof, and the extremely cold climate
of northern Germany made living conditions more difficult for the PW.
Maj. Wilson P. Todd was the Senior American officer
until 19 Jan. 1944, when Col. William A. Hatcher arrived and replaced
him. Col. Jean R. Byerly acted as his Executive officer until the
opening of the North 1 compound, of which he became SAO. Toward the last
of Feb. however, Col. Hatcher protested so strongly to the Detaining
Power over the poor conditions in the camp, that he was suddenly
transferred to Stalag Luft 3;leaving Col. Byerly as the SAO. At that
time the compounds had been run as separate camps with little
coordination between the compounds. After meeting with the Senior
officers of all barracks, it was agreed that the British and Americans
would be administered separately but with very close liaison, and that
all Americans would be administered under a Provisional Wing
Headquarters (composed of 4 American groups). This organization was
established on 6 April 1944 and remained somewhat the same until the
liberation. Upon the arrival of Col. Hubert Zemke the Provisional Wing
was turned over to his command.
Several changes were made as the camp enlarged, but
for the most part, the camp administration was carried out on a military
basis similar to the operation of an air base. At the time Col. Byerly
turned over the command to Col. Zemke, his staff was as follows:
Capt. M. W. Zahn Adjutant
Col. C. R. Greening Co. Gp. 1
Col. E. A. Malmstrom Co. Gp. 2
Lt. Col. C. Wilson Co. Gp. 5
Lt. Col. F. S. Gabreski Co. Gp. 6
Groups 3 & 4 were British Groups.
Because the advance of the Russians indicated an
early liberation , Col. Zemke changed the organization to an
inter-Allied wing; nominating Group Capt. C. T. Weir as chief of staff
of the organization called Provisional Wing X. Group commanders were
retained and continued to be responsible for the administration,
security, discipline & welfare of their own groups, but more emphasis
was directed toward staff operations ( in the event of liberation). For
this work, the following staff was appointed and served until the entire
camp was evacuated:
|Capt. C. T. Weir Chief of Staff
Lt. Col. C. F. McKenna A-1
Lt. Col. J. V. G. Wilson A-3
Lt. Col. B. E. McKenzie Provost Marshall
2nd Lt. T. L. Simmons Finance Officer
|Capt. M. W. Zahn Adjutant
Lt. Col. L. C. McCollom A-2
Lt. Col. Luther Richmond A-4
Maj. J. J. Fischer Judge Advocate
lst Lt. J. S. Durakov Russian Interpreter
Each staff officer had several assistants to aid
him in the performance of his duties. There also existed a Security
The German personnel changed frequently during the
existence of the camp. The officers their positions, and the dates that
they served are listed below.
Oberst Sherer - Sept. 43 to Apr. 45
Oberst Warnstadt - Jan. 45 to Apr. 45
Hauptmann Tems - Sept. 43 to Mar. 44
Hauptmann Erslch - Mar. 44 to June 44
Major Buchard - June 44 to Apr. 45
Lager Officer West or South Compound :
Hauptmann Eilers - Sept. 43 to Feb. 44
Hauptmann Wolf - Feb. 44 to June 44
Hauptmann von Beck - Feb. 44 to Oct. 44
Hauptmann Luckt - Oct. 44 to Jan. 45
Major Opperman - Jan. 45 to Apr. 45
Lager Officer North 1 Compound:
Hauptmann Erbslch - Feb. 44 to June 44
Major Schroeder - June 44 to July 44
Haupt. von Stradiot - Jul. 44 to Oct. 44
Hauptmann Probst - Oct. 44 to Dec. 44
Major Steinhower - Dec.44 to Apr. 44
Lager Officer North 2 Compound:
Major Sprotte - Sept. 44 to Oct. 44
Major Steinhower - Oct. 44 to Dec. 44
Hauptmann Bloom - Dec. 44 to Apr. 45
Lager Officer North 3 Compound:
Hauptmann Probst - Dec. 44 to Apr. 45
Of the above listed German officers, Maj. Opperman
was the local Nazi leader and instructed the lager personnel and guards
on all Nazi policies. The other outstanding members of the Nazi part
were Oberst Sherer, Maj. Sprotte, Maj. von Miller, Maj. Schroeder,
Hauptmann Erbslch and Hauptmann Tems.
Following the Normandy invasion the ardent Nazis
tried to discuss the Nazi policy with the senior officers and to sway
them to the German viewpoint of the war against the Russians. The
Americans, nevertheless, did not enter into any discussions.
Prior to April 1944, treatment was considered
fairly good. Followng the April meeting of the Protecting Powers
however, the German attitude towards PWs became more severe. New orders
regarding air raids were issued by the Germans. These required all
personnel to be inside when the "immediate warning" siren was blown. As
a result, 3 cases of German patrol guards shooting at men inside the
camp occurred during May. At the same time the Commandant issued
regulations authorizing guards to use firearms, to avenge what they
termed "insults to German honor". The German interpretation of this
order was extremely liberal, and more shooting developed. Oberst Scherer
also became more severe in confining PWs to the arrest lock for minor
infractions of German disciplinary regulations. He further denied all
Red Cross foods and personal parcels, as well as tobacco, to PW
undergoing confinement in the arrest-lock. This restriction was
protested to the Protecting Powers, without results because the
Commandant refused to forward the correspondence to Switzerland. A
visit-by the Protecting Power in July, gave the SAO the opportunity of
bringing these facts to the representatives' attention. Even though the
commandant was spoken to severely about his most recent violations of
the Geneva Convention, it was not until the Protecting Power informed
the German Foreign Office, which in turn wrote to Oberst Scherer
directly, that Red Cross and personal parcels were allowed PWs in the
After Oberst Warnstadt became commandant
conditions, became even worse. Instructions to the guards on the use of
fire arms were liberalized, and on 18 March 1945, 2d Lt. Wyman was
killed and a British officer was wounded, during an air raid warning
that was not heard by 95% of the men in the same area. The defective
system and the "shoot to kill" order were responsible for this incident.
Both Oberst Warnstadt and Oberst Scherer were
inclined to inflict mass punishment , restricting an entire barrack for
one person's infraction of a rule, and several protests to the
Protecting Power had to be made about these occurrences. However, little
satisfaction was gained from these protests, and mass punishments
continued to be the general policy.
Food was handled through a central warehouse for
Red Cross parcels with all German food being prepared in separate
kitchens in each compound. The German food was prepared by personnel
hired by the German authorities or by Czechs who had been captured while
serving with the Allied forces. Red Cross parcels, when available, were
issued at the rate of one per person per week. The distribution of this
food was made by the barracks blocks, each barrack receiving one-third
of its total weekly parcels 3 days a week.
Food, with the exception of the German ration, was
prepared by individuals in their own rooms. Only North 1 Compound used
their communal kitchen to combine the German rations and the Red Cross
parcel items to supply complete meals.
The German food ration, up until 1 Oct. 1944,
consisted of 1200 to 1800 calories per man. The ration was gradually cut
until it contained only 800 calories. In Sept, Oct., and Nov. 1944, Red
Cross supplies became so low, that they too, had to be cut. During this
period, men were put on half-parcels each week. A shipment was received
in Nov. and PWs then drew the normal parcel each week during Dec. ( in
addition to a Christmas parcel). In Jan. the parcel supply again took a
drop, and the men received 1/2 parcel week. From 3 March 1945, until the
last of the month, no parcels were distributed, and German rations
deteriorated to an extent that toward the end of the month, 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. About 1 April
1945, a shipment was received from Lubeck via Swede. From that time
until the evacuation, the men obtained sufficient food.
Until this "starvation" period, the normal daily
menu would consist of about 6 potatoes, one-fifth of a loaf of bread,
margarine, marmalade, a small piece of meat (usually horsemeat), 2
vegetables (cabbage, parsnips, beets or turnips) tea & coffee, and an
amount of sugar. In addition, a thin barley soup was frequently served.
In Jan. 1944 a medical record on every man in camp
was established, and as new Pw's arrived, they were required to make out
a similar record. The form consisted of recording any injuries or
illnesses incurred since MIA, the nature of these, and the medical
teatment needed by those not fully recovered. The most serious detriment
to the health of PWs at this camp, was the very poor sanitation. One
bath-house containing 10 shower-heads represented the only facilities
for over 4,000 officers to bathe, and it was also used as a delousing
plant for new arrivals or for any outbreaks of body-crawling insects.
Early in 1945, an additional bathhouse was completed which contained 10
shower-heads. Insufficient quantities of wash basins and soap made
laundering difficult, and no arrangements were made to care for the
men's laundry outside of the camp. Bed linen was theoretically changed
once a month, but this period was greatly extended with the influx of
new PWs. No facilities existed for the disposal of garbage not cared for
by incinerators, and latrine and wash drains were so unsatisfactory that
the areas around the barracks were frequently flooded.
The climate in the region was extremely cold, and
both the number of stoves and the amount of fuel issued were
insufficient to maintain good health. Upper respiratory diseases were a
source of concern to the medical staff, and this became a great danger
when the Germans required the shutters to remain closed during the
night. Small ventilators were allowed open but offered insufficient air
under the crowded conditions.
The medical staff of 2 British doctors and 6
orderlies was too small and although additional doctors were requested,
it was not until 1 March 1945 that an American doctor, Capt. Wilbur E.
McKee arrived. The staff was considered very capable and cooperative at
all times, but was hampered by the lack of medical supplies and
facilities to handle such a large number of patients.
The Germans issued no clothing to the PW at this
camp, except 30 sets of German coveralls and 30 pairs of wooden shoes
for the kitchen help; these were obtained only after repeated protests.
The Red Cross supplied quantities of uniforms and blankets, but the camp
expanded so rapidly that supplies were always inadequate… until the
summer of 1944, when a very large shipment was received enabling each
man in camp to have 2 complete uniforms and 2 blankets. However, in Feb.
1945 many of the uniforms had become threadbare and a redistribution of
uniforms was made. The Germans also confiscated many articles of
clothing , under the claim that these items of American uniforms too
closely resembled civilian clothes, thus violating the security
regulations of the camp.
All PWs at the camp were either officers or
non-commissioned officers, and although many of the NCO's came to the
camp as volunteers for work in a "supervisory" capacity, they refused to
work upon arriving at the camp and learning that the work was actually
orderly duty. British & American privates were promised for these duties
but never arrived.
The rate of pay was RM 7.50 for the officers. Money
was turned over to the Finance Officer who in turn made available to
each officer sufficient amounts to take care of postage and toilet
articles. The unused portion was made a part of the communal fund for
the enlisted men.
All incoming mail at Stalag Luft 1 was censored at
Stalag Luft 3 until Jan. 1945. Some pieces of mail received at the camp
had been in transit 6 & 7 months, and normally men would be in the camp
7 months before receiving their first news from home. The average time
in transit from the United States was 19 weeks. Toward the end of the
war, the transit time was longer due to the transportation tie-up.
Great difficulty was experienced in getting letter
& card forms in sufficient quantities to have the normal ration issued
each month. On several occasions none was available even though the
commandant was informed that stocks were low and that additional
supplies should be requisitioned.
Officers were permitted to send 3 letters and 4
postcards per month, while the enlisted men were allowed to send 2
letters and 4 postcards per month.
The morale of men was particularly good after the
Allied invasion of the continent, and remained high until the starvation
period, during which time there was a definite decline. Normally
speaking, however, the morale was at all times good.
Representatives of the International Red Cross
visited the camp approximately every 4 months, sometimes at the same
time that the representatives of the Protecting Power made inspection
trips. Every attempt was made by these representatives to keep ample
supplies of food parcels and clothing issues flowing into the camp, and
the shortages of supplies were blamed on lack of cooperation of the
Commandant of the camp or the bogging down of transportation facilities.
The Protecting Power representatives did not seem to bring sufficient
pressure to bear on the German officials to improve the camp conditions
in the earlier stages, but after the Spring of 1944 improvements would
be noted after these visits. The Protecting Power delegates promptly
turned over to the IRCC & the YMCA all of the requisitions for supplies
and equipment. These agencies were equally prompt in filling the orders.
They YMCA representatives went to the camp every 3 to 4 months and
arranged for supplies of athletic equipment, books, musical instruments,
theatrical supplies as well as telegrams to the next of kin. His visits
were considered very valuable as morale builders.
Protestant services were held from the time the
camp was opened, but it was 8 months before a Catholic priest was
obtained for men of that faith. As the strength of the camp increased
the Germans obtained additional clergymen until there were 3 Catholic &
3 Protestant chaplains. Unfortunately only 2 of the compounds offered
satisfactory facilities for holding church services, and requests for
other compounds to use the communal mess hall in North 1 compound were
refused. Outdoor services were held when weather permitted.
Outdoor recreation was hampered through lack of
sufficient sports grounds. Only West & North 1 Compounds were there
full-sized football & baseball fields, and although teams from other
compounds were permitted to use this field for competitive sports,
spectators were excluded. Excellent sports equipment was available
throughout the camp, however, and the men in the other compounds managed
to improvise games suitable to the limited space.
The 2 bands formed at the camp offered extremely
good entertainment and provided music for theatrical productions which
were frequently given. A radio was received through the YMCA, but the
extra loudspeakers were not permitted in barracks by the Detaining
An educational program was started early in 1944.
When the camp became overcrowded, and communal rooms had to be
sacrificed for living quarters, group study was no longer possible.
Technical books of all kinds were available in the well stocked
'libraries for individual study.
Many of the men with artistic talent spent their
time in creative work, such as woodcarving, painting, drawing, and
constructing models. The Recreation Officer collected all of these items
for a post-war exhibit since an unusual amount of talent was apparent in
On 30 April 1945 the SAO had several conferences
with the Commandant, who had orders to move the camp to prevent it from
falling into the hands of the Russians. The SAO stated PWs would not
move unless force was used, and the Commandant finally agreed to avoid
bloodshed. At about 2200 that evening, the guards turned out the
perimeter & street lights. A few moments later these same guards were
observed marching out of the camp leaving the gate unlocked, As soon as
this news was conveyed to the SAO, he formally took over the camp, The
following morning the PW "military police" of the camp were put in
charge of all guard stations, to see that the men remained orderly and
stayed in the camp. Another organization was formed to serve as exterior
guards to prevent wandering parties of Germans from coming into camp. On
1 May 1945 contact parties were sent out to make contact with Russian
advance troops. After 2 or 3 days of having Russian commanders of
scouting parties visit the camp, the Russian commander of the area was
finally reached, and arrangements were made to provide food for the PWs.
Although the actual liberation was performed by the
Russians, no effort was made by them to evacuate the PW from the area.
On 6 May 1945 Colonel Byerly, the former SAO, left camp with 2 officers
of a British airborne division and flew to England the following day.
After reporting to 8th Air Force headquarters on the conditions at the
camp, arrangements were made to evacuate the liberated PWs by air. This
operation was completed on 15 May 1945.