collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I
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Col. Hubert Zemke
Senior Allied Officer - Stalag Luft I
56th Fighter Group - Commander
Author of Zemke's Stalag
A superb tactician, top-ranking ace, and inspirational commander of 9,000
POWs, he was among our great combat leaders.
Col. Hub Zemke was one of the pre-eminent World War II fighter commanders in the
European theater. His 56th Fighter Group, the "Wolfpack," was credited with 665
air-to-air victories, leading all fighter groups in the European Theater of
Operations. Zemke alone had 17.75 confirmed victories in 154 combat missions,
putting him in the top 25 of all Army Air Forces World War II fighter pilots.
Hubert Zemke - A Man to Remember
by Oscar G. Richard III
At dusk on the
afternoon of April 28, 1945, I was walking along the fence separating our
compound from the adjacent North Compound of Stalag Luft I, the German
prisoner of war camp near the town of Barth on the Baltic Sea coast. A
"kriegie" on the other side of the double barbed wire fence yelled at me.
"Lieutenant, get this message to Colonel Wilson right away." Lt. Col.
Cy Wilson was the American officer in charge of North Compound I.
The kriegie who had hailed me was Col. Hubert Zemke, the ranking allied
officer in the camp in which some 9,000 captured American and British RAF
flyers were incarcerated -- some for as long as four years. I, a B-17
bombardier, had been shot down nearly a year and a half earlier.
Zemke glanced at a nearby guard tower to be sure
he wasn't being watched and then quickly threw a small Nescafe coffee can
over the fence to me. As he directed, I got the message to Colonel
Wilson right away. Since the war in Europe was apparently nearing
conclusion, I surmised that Zemke was making plans to cope with whatever was
in store for us.
The next morning we were ordered to dig slit
trenches and foxholes for protection from any bombs or strafing that might
come our way, The Russian army was reportedly less than 25 miles away.
We learned later that the camp kommandant, who
had just returned from a conference with Heinrich Himmler in a nearby town,
informed Zemke that orders had been given him to evacuate the camp within 24
hours notice and move it to an undesignated location near Hamburg.
Because of the ravaged transportation situation in Germany, such a move
would entail a forced march for most, if not all, of the 150 mile journey.
Zemke persuaded the German Officer that it would
be in his best interest and that of his staff, to remove themselves from the
path of the oncoming Russians and to leave the camp in Zemke's control.
The next morning we awoke to find that the Germans had left during the
night. Zemke's "MP's" were manning the guard towers and the Stars and
Stripes had replaced the Nazi swastika on the compound flag pole.
Boisterous Russian patrols stormed into the camp
later during the day (May Day, the communist "day of days") and tore down
the barbed wire fences. Zemke was told by the Russian commander that
plans were being made to move us out of camp to Odessa, the Russian port
city on the Black Sea. Zemke was outraged. We were less than 150
miles from allied territory. He wanted to have the 8th Air Force fly
us out to France. Why transport 9,000 debilitated humans 1,500 miles
to the East? Apparently the Russians were under the impression that
according to terms reached by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill at the Yalta
Conference a few weeks earlier, Americans would not be allowed to fly over
territory occupied by the Russians.
At the time I don't believe any of us fully
appreciated what Hubert Zemke did for the kriegies of Stalag Luft I.
The son of German immigrants, "Hub" spoke and understood the language of our
captors. He was also fluent in Russian, having spent some time in
Moscow, where he worked in the U.S. Embassy. He was one of two
officers who went to Russia in 1941 to oversee the delivery of 200 P-40
fighter planes to the Soviets. (His - 47 Thunderbolt carried the name
"Moy Tovarich" -- Russian for "My Comrade".) His linguistic fluency
and leadership skills were first of all responsible for persuading the
German kommandant to ignore the Nazi high command order to evacuate the camp
and persuaded him to have the Germans flee and leave it in his hands, which
is what happened. (Stalag Luft I was one of the few German POW
installations which was not moved.)
What he accomplished in getting us out of
Germany and out of the hands of troublesome allies was also the result of
his negotiation ability. We found out later that Zemke had sent RAF
Group Captain C.T. Weir to contact British Field Marshal Bernard L.
Montgomery to see what he could do to convince the Russians that it would be
impossible for the inmates of our camp to make the long journey to Odessa.
Reportedly, Montgomery met with Marshal Rokossovsky, the commander of the
White Russian Army Group (which had overrun Berlin and all of the area
around the Baltic). As a result, Captain Weir and his party returned
and reported that plans had been worked out to have the 8th Air Force
evacuate Stalag Luft I. This was accomplished a week later when some
300 B-17's came into a nearby airfield and flew us to freedom.
Hubert Zemke was the U.S. 8th Air Force's famous
fighter group commander. "Zemke's Wolfpack" broke all records for
German planes destroyed. Zemke shot down 20 himself. Here is
what General Ira Eaker, commander of the 8th Air Force, had to say about
this remarkable 30-year old: "I was at Wright Field then. Mr.
Henry Ford had decided that his production methods could turn out a lot of
airplanes and he wanted to get one of our fighters down so his people could
have a look at it. I arranged to send him a P-40. A second
lieutenant reported in my office to make the delivery. He was a group
engineering officer at Langley. He walked in. Typical fighter
pilot, chip on shoulder..... looks you right in the eye....not
insolent... just confident. It was Zemke."
Hubert Zemke died August 30, 1994. I will
always remember him as a class act,
EX-POW Bulletin, February 1995
Stalag Luft I Prisoners Ride US Bombers
- - In three days U.S. EIGHTH AIR FORCE heavy bombers have brought out over
9,000 Allied prisoners from Stalag Luft No. I at Barth, Germany located on
the Baltic Sea north of Berlin. Approximately 1,500 were British
prisoners and 7,700 American -- many of the latter from U.S. EIGHTH and
FIFTEENTH AIR FORCES. Over the weekend more than 200 heavy bombers
under the command of Brig. Gen. William M. Gross of Riverside, Calif. were
assigned to the shuttle service. The prisoners were liberated on April
30 by advancing Russian forces. Since then the camp was administered
by R.A.F. Group Captain C. Weir of Charmouth, Dorest and Col. Hubert Zemke ,
U.S. EIGHTH AIR FORCE fighter ace, who distributed food contributed by the
When the Nazi's fled before the Russian onslaught, Col
Hubert Zemke of Missoula, Montana, U.S. EIGHTH AIR FORCE ace (with 31 enemy
aircraft to his credit - 19 in the air and 11 on the ground) and a former
fighter group commander, administered the huge prisoner of war camp at Barth
in joint command with R.A.F. Group Captain C. Weir of Charmouth, Dorest .
Col. Zemke is shown as he paused for a moment while directing the mass
removal of the ex-prisoners.
By Hubert Zemke as told to Roger A. Freeman. Published 1991 by the
Col. Zemke was the Senior Allied
Officer at the camp in charge of 9,000 POWs. Faced with a slowly
starving camp, brutal weather conditions on the Baltic coast, and an
arrogant and oppressive Luftwaffe administration, Zemke's first and
foremost priority became the survival of every POW in his command. He
helped organize the POWs to outdo and outwit their German captors at
every move. Zemke and his men used subterfuge to penetrate the camp's
inner headquarters, eventually persuading their captors to hand over
control of the camp before the Soviets arrived and without a shot being
Part 1 of 3 - Videos ( no sound) of the evacuation of the Stalag Luft I prisoners of war from
Barth, Germany on May 12 -13, 1945. Click on arrows to watch.