World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I

The Evacuation


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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B-17 evacuating prisoner of war from Stalag Luft I

The tensions were building between Russia and the Allies and the fate of the POWs was uncertain until the 8th Air Force flew into Barth and rescued the POWs in a massive airlift called "Operation Revival".   The Russians had liberated the camp on May 1 and on May 12,13 & 14, 1945 approximately 9,000 prisoners of war at Stalag Luft I were flown out of Barth, Germany and back into Allied control.  Royal Air Force POWs were flown back to England and the American POWs were flown to Camp Lucky Strike in Le Harve, France, where they were processed and waited for a liberty ship to return to the states.



"The Russians wanted the prisoners transported by land to Odessa, a port on the Black Sea, then by ship to the United Kingdom and then on to the United States, but the idea was rejected and further negotiations followed. Much to the disappointment of almost 9,000 liberated POWs, it took almost two weeks to repatriate the prisoners by air.

On May 11th, the Allies secured permission to use an airport adjacent to the camp for the evacuation on the 12th and 13th, within a specific time block of hours. A corridor for travel over Russian occupied territory was set up and by then all the POWs had their meager belongings together. The evacuation plan was to first take the hospital cases and the sick, next the British Troops who for the most part had been in captivity longer than any other prisoners, dating back to 1940. The prisoners were marched in barracks groups to the airport to avoid clogging the highway and loading area.

The first plane to arrive on the 12th was a B-17 with Gen. William Gross on board, who was the Commander of the 1st. Air Division of the Eight Force. A C-46 followed with Officers of Gen. Eisenhower’s Staff. Two more B-17s arrived with communication equipment and personnel to establish links with the Eighth Force. Later in the afternoon 30 - 40 more B-17s arrived. The floors of B-17s were equipped with wood decking material to provide a level floor, thereby able to accommodate 25 -30 POWs with a few packed into the radio compartment.

Early on the morning of the 13th the sick and wounded were evacuated in six C-46s. Dozens of additional C-46s and C-47s joined the B-17s in the evacuation process. The aircraft crept slowly as the men jumped in and piled up in most cases. They were anxious to be on their way home. They had no idea how many groups participated in the evacuation. On the morning of the third day, the 14th, the remaining men were all flown out aboard B-17s. The last prisoner aboard was Col. Zemke and according to Col. Zemke’s records 8487 prisoners had been evacuated."

Charles Reed Holden
South Compound - Stalag Luft I

8th Air Force Army Air Corps men that participated in the airlift of the POWs from Stalag Luft I in May 1945 share their memories and photos of that mission with us.


 Rescuing The POWs From Stalag Luft I

By Raymond W. Darling

Thank you to the 91st Bomb Group e-mail Ring for permission to publish this story and photos.

I was twenty three years old, had flown thirty-one missions and had just been promoted to first lieutenant when the war ended in early May 7, of 1945. When Mike Banta completed his thirty-five missions, I had taken over his crew just as the last missions of the war were being flown. We were all waiting with great anticipation for our orders to return to the States when over the intercom came this message, "All pilots and navigators report to your respective squadron orderly rooms immediately."

"Oh, boy," I thought, " the day has finally come."

When we assembled in the Orderly Room we were told by the briefing officer that we had one more mission to fulfill. Our mission would be to fly into Northeastern Germany to rescue our POW airmen from Stalag Luft I. The Russians had liberated the camp but seemed to be hesitant about releasing the American POW airmen. They were not being at all cooperative with their Western Allies. The briefing officer told us that we were flying into an airstrip at Barth airdrome, a few miles from Stalag Luft I and just south of the Baltic Sea. Here we would load the POW's aboard our B-17's and fly them to the Bordeaux area of France where they would be put on ships and sent back to the good old U. S. A.

"The name of this operation is 'Revival,'" he said. "The Russians don't seem to want to cooperate in releasing our American airmen POW's so we're going in and getting them. If the Russian's don't like what we're doing," the briefing officer went on, "Then it's just - Tough Shit."

That was the first time I ever heard applause at a briefing! We were told to be cautious on this mission, to stick to the flight plan and land only at the designated air field where we would receive further orders. We would be flying singly, leaving at one or two minute intervals and would fly at an altitude under ten thousand feet so no oxygen would be required. We were told to conserve on gasoline because this would be a long trip and our twenty-eight hundred and ten gallons of gasoline had to last all the way home. Our crew would consist of five crewmen: pilot, copilot, navigator, radio man and flight engineer.

"Just so that you won't be taken by surprise," the briefing officer continued, "You will be landing at Barth Airdrome on a narrow steel mesh runway rather than the cement runways you have been used to. But don't worry." he went on, "They have been B-17 tested."

The B-17's had been readied with all guns and armament removed.  If you can imagine a transport without any seats except for the pilot and copilot, that's what we were flying to rescue these POW airmen.  I felt very comfortable as we went to full military power for take off early that May 13, 1945, morning because the crew consisted of my old crew members George Hobbs as flight engineer and Smokey Montgomery as radio man plus a good friend and navigator from Ted Santo's crew, Waldo Bowen. I'm sorry but fifty some years has erased the name of my copilot from my memory.

Our flight started perfectly, with clear weather and a beautiful sunrise. It felt wonderful to not have to worry about assembling a group of thirty-six bombers. We took off only worrying about one B-17 and getting to Barth. It was so different and nice, no formation, no oxygen checks, no flak and no fighters. After getting to cruising altitude and trimming up the ship, the navigator gave me a heading. I set the auto pilot and leaned back like an air line pilot and left the flying to it. No more six to eight hours of close formation.

Then came the message I wanted to hear from Waldo, the navigator, "Barth straight ahead. Start your let down." Smoky, the radioman, announced he had the control tower on the radio. The control tower gave me landing instructions and reminded me of the steel mesh runway. Several B-17's had already arrived and after a smooth landing I taxied over to get into the line they had formed. The tower advised me to look for a ground signal man with a red flashlight. "He will signal you when to stop and go," I was advised. "Don't shut down your engines and don't let any one off the airplane," the tower continued. There were burned out hulks of German aircraft all around the field. But the only German aircraft I had seen in combat were 109's, 190s and 262's and there were none of those among the hulks.

Waldo, the navigator, asked, "When we stop to load, is it OK if I jump off and get some pictures with my camera?" Knowing Waldo for a long time and trusting him I said, "Go ahead but hurry. I've got to go when they give me the signal." As he was leaving the American POW airmen began to load the ship from the rear door. I sat in the pilot's seat with engines idling and brakes locked and watched through the bomb bay as the men were coming aboard. George directed six to eight of them down into the nose compartment. Most had old shabby uniforms. They were all haggard, skinny and looked and acted like they were in a trance. Their eyes appeared glazed and no one smiled. They acted as if they didn't know what was happening to them and appeared so meek and humble. They were just following orders. I tried to comfort a few of them by assuring them "we're going to get you the hell out of here and on your way home."

George made his way to my side and told me, "We're all in and the waist door is secure." I told George to tell all the airmen to sit down as best they could till we were airborne. Then the "Usher" with the red flashlight motioned for me to "go, go, go." As I taxied out onto the runway, the B-17 in front of me was just getting airborne. Then it was our turn to start our takeoff roll. We started our long trip across Germany and France to an air field near Bordeaux of which I didn't know the name nor did I know where it was located. But my navigator knew and that's all that counted.

After climbing to altitude and trimming up the ship, I pressed the intercom button and said, "Pilot to navigator, I'm ready for my heading, over......" A few seconds later I called, "Pilot to navigator, My heading please....." Then in aggravation, I shouted. "PILOT TO NAVIGATOR! PILOT TO NAVIGATOR!"

Then a shaky, weak voice came over the intercom saying, "Sir -uh -sir, I'm one of the POW's that just came aboard. I'm sitting in the navigators compartment and heard your calls. There's no one up here except us guys that just came aboard.."

I said, "Thank you, over and out.

Immediately, I frantically searched the sky ahead of us, and there it was, just a speck in the sky. I could recognize that B-17 tail miles ahead. I didn't even consider going back to Barth. Waldo could catch the next plane out. I just increased my air speed to catch that dot in the sky. I told George and the copilot to keep their eyes on that B-17 ahead. I was going to follow him wherever he was going. I said a silent prayer, "God get me out of this mess I've got myself into and I'll never do it again." In no time we gained on the other B-17 until we were flying loose formation with it and we still had plenty of gasoline to make it home.

About this time, a skinny, bedraggled, frail figure came up from the nose compartment and asked, "Sir, did you find your navigator."

"No," I said, "but it's no problem. We're following the B-17 ahead of us and we're going to the same place."

We struck up a conversation and he commented that he had been a captain and flew B-17F's. He said he noticed that quite a few changes had been made to the B-17G. He told me what it had been like to be in Stalag I and IV. Then a thought struck me as I empathized with what he had been through. I got out of my seat and said, "Captain, get in my seat and fly the G for a while. You'll like it." He got into the left hand seat and for that brief time he looked young and vibrant again as he once again flew that magnificent machine, the B-17. He just beamed. Then after a few minutes of flying he got up and went back to the nose compartment.

In a few moments he returned with a handful of German souvenirs he had picked up while in captivity: a box of German Matches, a swastika arm band and some patches from German pilot uniforms. I still have and cherish those few small gifts he gave me.

The rest of the flight was routine. We followed the leader to our destination, landed and watched as they loaded the rescued American POW air men into trucks. We then parked the B-17 next to the one we had followed and had a nice tasty K ration for lunch. While eating lunch I heard a voice call out, "Ray, there you are." It was Waldo. He had caught the next plane out of Barth.

After lunch, we flew back to Bassingbourn no one ever mentioning what had happened. Waldo again flew with me as my navigator when I ferried a no name B-17 back to the States.

The 91st sent forty-one B-17G's to Barth on the 13 of May, 1945. If each B-17 carried thirty POW's as we did, twelve hundred and thirty American POW airmen were freed and sent on their way home that day. And Operation Revival lasted three days.

Written and contributed by Ray Darling. All Rights Reserved.

The Evacuation of Stalag Luft I POWs

by Allan K. Chapman

Bassingbourn, England, May 1945

The end of the war with Germany marked a change in operations of the 91st Bombardment Group. We were suddenly assigned an urgent mission: Rescue as many as possible American and British POWs from a prison camp deep in the Russian-occupied territory north of Berlin.  There was serious concern that these men were to be marched off to Russia, which was correct!

Quickly, several B-17Gs were stripped of armament; wooden flooring was installed in the bomb bay; and crews selected: Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer and radio operator.

The orders were strict. Due to weight/balance factors only 32 - NO MORE - people were to be allowed to board. They were to be crowded as far forward as possible, with the majority seated on the bomb bay and radio room floors, none farther back than that. There were no seats or safety belts except for crew members.

As the radio operator, it was my job to go to the waist door at the rear, and on command, open it, admit ONLY 32, close the door and give the “go” for the pilot to taxi out for takeoff, all very “rush-rush.” Under no circumstances would there be any more than 32 boarded.

On my first trip there was a thirty-third at the door! It was a pretty, young German girl dressed as a man and carrying a basket with all her worldly goods. She was terrified of being found by the Russians, wanted desperately to get away with us, and was willing to do anything to be allowed aboard. Other crews had already turned her away and she was begging.

Hard decision? Very! But I refused, slammed the door, and we rolled out for France. Because this was to be a 14-hour work day with no opportunity for food, we had scrounged what we could from the crew mess: One loaf of bread and one can of condensed milk. Our passengers were the really hungry ones so I gave them the bread and milk which they shared, equally divided I’m sure. On the next trip we had several loaves of bread, some apples and candy.

Arriving at Leon, the ex-POWs were loaded on buses for Camp Lucky Strike. Aircrew and plane were deloused and dispatched back to England where the mission was flown again, next day I think. On the second trip I got a chance to ask a ground crewman about the German girl from the previous day. He thought she had caught a ride to the American lines with an Army supply truck, dressed as a GI............... I’m glad I heard that.

Allan K. Chapman


398th Bomb Group Helps Fly the POWs out of Barth

This is a nice story by one of the pilot's of Dad's Bomb Group that came in and flew the other POWs out to freedom.  My Dad didn't wait to be flown out. He and several other POWs in a hurry to get back home, found a row boat after the Germans left and decided to go look for the Allied Front. As it turned out the 8th Air Force came in and flew everybody out shortly after he left and he was one of the last ones to make it back to the states. He would always just shake his head when he told that story!!


Pilot Hoezel's Diary Notes Recall Trip to Barth   

Sunday May 13, 1945
Plane -  507J  2,000'
Load - 32 POWs and crew
Location - Barth, Germany,  Stalag Luft I (near Rostock)
Position - #3
CO at Barth - Col. Zemke.  P-47 Fighter Ace

Nice day and  T.O. at 0750 and assembly from T.O. was fun.  200 MPH and chop throttles and slide in.  Flew over at 160 I.A.S and 2,000' altitude.

Saw sunken ship in channel and flooded areas in Holland.  Lots of houses and fields floode.  (Got home from Cambridge at 0230 and up for breakfast & briefing at 0530.  These nocturnal missions to Cambridge are wearing me out.)

Flew wide formation and took it easy.  Ball turrets removed and planks in bomb bays.  Got to Barth - 15 miles NE of Rostock - at 1040 and peeled off on first pass.  Landed OK but plane sure was light minus the ball turret.

Taxied around grass to perimeter track, got loading list as guys climbed in.  Cut #3 & #4 to 700 RPM.  Taxied out again and took off (5 minutes between landing and T.O.)  Short field, T.O. 1/3 flaps.  Headed for A-70 outside of Laon, France

All our passengers were U.S. aircrews and the best bunch of guys I've ever met.  They all had plenty of questions about the war in ETO and CBI and even movies back home.  Guy in charge - Warnowski - flew in Africa and bombed Rome from 50' on his first mission.  He has 40 missions when he got hit by flak and fighters.  Was a POW for 19 months.  He got a charge out of flying my plane again.

He said some crews saw buddies hanging from trees and shot full of holes. They all said it would have been rough if it hadn't been for the Red Cross packages.  Guards were rough when the Allies were losing and nice when they were winning.  Russians had taken the town 3 weeks earlier.  Hard to tell what they were thinking and what they'd do next.

Russian CO made German civilians tear down barbed wire fences and gave out chickens, eggs, cows and wine.  POWs and Russians really ate well.  The POWs went to towns and took a few souvenirs.  If the Germans objected they would threaten to get a Russian and you could have whatever you wanted.

We cruised at 180 I.A.S. and passed over the Ruhr again.  Munster was pretty well leveled down so we buzzed it at 300' so the POWs could really see it good.  They were glad to see the job they started was finished in such fine shape.

Got to A-70 at 1420 and had to circle for 40 minutes to let ships take off.  Had 30 MPH cross wind on runway and landed one wheel at a time.  A-70 was an A-25 field.  Red Cross had coffee, lemonade and donuts handy.  Got loading list signed and T.O. at 1745.  POWs were going to Paris for two days and then home.  It sure felt good to see all these guys faces light up when they heard the news. Co-pilot told them the AAF takes care of its own and we all agreed.



  Ryan   MacMurray       Eisele   McLean  
Smith       Vallish   Hoelzel       Woodmansee
    Alwood           Brown
  Kennan   Lollar       Godfrey   Cochran  
Mattson       Williams   Agnew       Trischelt



Photo's Compliments of 91st Bomb Group

POW pick at Barth, Germany from overhead

POW Pick up at Barth from overhead

Loading another 91st B-17 at Barth POW pickup

Loading another 91st B-17 at Barth

JU-88 on the ground at Barth , Germany airport at war end

JU-88 on ground in Barth, Germany 

German command car at Barth, Germany during evacuation of prisoners of war

German command car at Barth 


Close up loading of POWs at Barth, Germany - May 1945

Close up loading of POWs at Barth 

91st Bomb Group pick up of POWs at Barth, Germany - Stalag Luft I

91st Bomb Group pick up of POWs at Barth

91st Bomb Group B-17's in line loading POWs at Stalag Luft I

91st Bomb Group B-17's in line loading POWs at Stalag Luft I in Barth

More photos of the Evacuation - These are by Evan Zillmer - 91st BG

Zillmer photo of POW pickup from Barth in May 1945

Zillmer photo of B-17's lined up with POWs lining up to board

From Randy Anderson


Packed and ready to evacuate Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany

All packed and ready to take to the air again courtesy of the 8th Air Force. Don't these fellows look happy?
  Ready to be split up into groups of 20 to 25 preparatory to the flight to France. Most of us had to march to the air field

Some got to ride - Liberation Day at Stalag Luft I

Wounded and sick prisoners of war were transported to the airport in these carts (real fancy accommodations) just prior to boarding the B-17's for the trip to Camp Lucky Strike in France.

Oh Happy Day!

B-17 at Barth for evacuation of POWs

We "hate" to leave you, Luft #1, but it is time to go. Get your boarding passes ready for the First Class section - well, maybe you'll have to sit on planks in the bomb bay or straddled cross-legged where ever but "Your on Your Way Home"!

Don't these B-17's look great!


Evacuation photos from Dana Harding - daughter of William J. Harding

POWs awaiting to be evacuated

POWs lining up

POWs being processed to leave


Stalag Luft I Prisoners Ride US Bombers
B-17 plane with POWs loading to be evacuated from Stalag Luft I 
Col. Hubert Zemke - May 1945

Col. Hubert Zemke
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.




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




Messages left in our guestbook by those who participated in the evacuation of the POWs from Stalag Luft I:

M.L. Boultinghouse
Hometown: Evansville, Ind.
Sent: 7.27 PM - 8/2 2001
I will be visiting Barth in Sept. this year. Your web page is the best.  I flew with the 91st Bomb group 12 May 1945. We took 35 English POW's to England.

Name: Jack Gaffney
Hometown: Moreno Valley, California
Sent: 4.23 PM - 7/18 2001
I flew as engineer on 2 flights, May 12 & 13 returning P.O.W's from Barth. This is one of my fondest memories, as I was a ground crew chief 401st. Sqdn. 91st. Bomb Group.( Destiny's Child, Sunkist Sue, Hot Shot Charlie, L. A. City Limits) will never forget those moments especially the de-lousing, which was minor to what those brave passengers had undergone. On one of the flights back to base at Bassingbourn we were nearly rammed head on by a P-61 night fighter over London. A tip of the cap to all of you great guys.

Hometown: Rochester, NY/Waukesha, WI/Kerrville, TX
Sent: 3.34 PM - 6/7 2001
I was a B-17 pilot in the 398th BG, 603 SQ and took part in the pick-up of liberated pow's from Stalag Luft 1 in May 1945. It was a happy experience. The liberated prisoners I saw were in very good spirits, and very happy to get back to friendly surroundings. For a group of men who had not flown since they were shot down or crash landed -- perhaps many months before -- there seemed to be little fear about going flying again! It was certainly a very memorable experience for me.

Name: Lt Col Charlie Hudson
Homepage: 418 1/2 Fillmore St
Hometown: Taft,Ca 93268
Sent: 9.05 AM - 5/3 2001
I was a member of the evacuation crew at Stalag 1, and have several photos at the scene. Jim Shepard, has them as he copied them from my scrap book. I was the Group Bombardier, but went on the mission as a navigator. It was a great experience,  and got to see all my old roommates who were shot down.

Name: Ken Rowley
Hometown: merritt island fl us
Sent: 2.26 AM - 2/24 2001
My father John Rowley was a copilot an he told me about picking up pows at Barth. I have one photo of some German aircraft and hangers taken from his plane when it was on the ground.  He also told me of one pow he picked up an when they took off they almost hit a flak tower and the man told my father it was a hell of a thing to survive the pow camp and then you guys are going to kill me. if you want a copy of the photo let me know I have a cd with all his photo and I will send one to you. great site
Ken Rowley
father : John T Rowley 91st bg 401st bs

Name: Richard A. Bettencourt
Homepage: 187 Butterfiels Road
Hometown: San Anselmo CA 94960-1253
Sent: 1.19 AM - 2/19 2001
I was not a POW, but on May 13, 1945 I was a navigator on one of 40 B-17s sent from our base (Ridgewell of the 381st Bomb Group) to Stalag 1 at Barth. Each plane brought 30 liberated POWs to Lucky Strike near Laon, France.

Name: John R. Waldron
Hometown: Plymouth Meeting, PA
Sent: 1:43 PM - 10/28 2000
I went to Barth on the rescue mission as radio operator of our crew. I was in the 323rd Sqd. Our flight brought back English POW's. As I remember we brought them back to Bassingbourne.  I felt honored to able able to bring these airmen.  This is a great site. I hadn't seen the whole package before.

Also received the following in an email from John Waldron dated May 29, 2000:

I was on the missions to return POW's to England in May of 1945.  While on the ground we met Russian soldiers who were occupying the area at the time.  Our plane returned English POW's.  They crowded into the body of the B17. There were no seats for them, they just found space where they could.  Unfortunately we had no food or refreshments to offer them until they got back to our base in Bassingbourne. They were all very low key.  I think they were just dazed with the thought of finally returning to their homeland after such a terrible experience.  Thanks again for your sharing your experience.     John R. Waldron -

From:   Thomas Creekmore
Hometown:  Severna Park, MD
Sent:  3:50PM   -  4/21 2000
I was a radio operator on one of the B-17s that flew to Barth to pick up the POWs.  I flew with the 305th BG and we flew 21 planes and landed at Barth at Noon, Sunday, May 13th.  200 B-17s from the 1st Air Division went on this "Revival" that Sunday. I called this my 20th mission and was more important to me that the previous 19.  I will never forget that day.

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