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. Hub Zemke's prisoner of war ID photo 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


Col. Hubert Zemke & news of liberation

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 Russian Army.

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.



United States Air Force Academy honors Colonel Zemke as class of 2009 exemplar
National Aviation Hall of Fame  - Enshrined 2002  


Zemke's Stalag by Hubert Zemke   

Zemke's Stalag - The Final Days of World War II

By Hubert Zemke as told to Roger A. Freeman. Published 1991 by the Smithsonian Institute

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 fired.


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.



Part 2 of 3


Part 3 of 3








Autographed copy of Zemke's Stalag
Zemke's autograph to fellow POW at Stalag Luft I


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