prisoners

Aug

22

1941

Reprisals against Russian POWs

Soviet commissars in the Russian army were invariably shot soon after capture - but all Russian prisoners of war faced a terrible existence.

It so happened that we had taken very many prisoners during those fatal days, and so the lives of 4,000 men fell forfeit. They scarcely looked up when our interpreter told them in a cold voice of their fate. They lined up eight at a time at the side ofa large anti-tank ditch. As the first volley crashed, eight men were hurled forward into the depths of the ditch, as if hit by a giant fist. Already the next row was lining up.

Aug

16

1941

First experiences of a German POW camp

Moosberg would later become a transit camp for United States POWs captured in Europe.

We were not left in peace for long and soon heard the now familiar shout of eraus: eraus: schnell: schnell: which mean get out and fast. We were given our gefangenen number and photographed; then we were deloused and all our hair removed. We knew what it felt and looked like to be convicts, but wondered what we had done to deserve the treatment, and how long it would have to last.

Jun

1

1941

Waiting to surrender on Crete

British prisoners of war on Crete, pictured after the surrender, later in June, 1941

The British Navy, and some of the British Army, left the island of Crete – but I didn’t. Nor did several thousand other dejected lads. Sunday, June the first, was a black day indeed for many assorted British huddled in valleys back from the beach at Sphakia, a small village on the south coast.

Jan

31

1941

Italian prisoners bombed by Germans

A Heinkel III bomber in flight, they began operating over North Afrika in early 1941.

Relays of men spent hours in the bitterly cold surf dragging the Italians to safety; others assisted them into slings and those on the escarpment hauled them to the crest. The wounded had to be brought ashore on Carley floats, so the last stages of their journey were extremely hazardous, but groups of volunteers brought them through the breakers and had everyone ashore by first light.

Jan

8

1941

Australians herd their Italian prisoners

A few guards escort the masses of Italian prisoners of war from Bardia into captivity.

These men from the dockside of Sydney and the sheep stations of the Riverina presented such a picture of downright toughness with their gaunt dirty faces, huge boots, revolvers stuffed in their pockets, gripping their rifles with huge shapeless hands, shouting and grinning — always grinning — that the mere sight of them must have disheartened the enemy troops.

Jan

5

1941

Bardia Captured

The cold light of day - a few of the 40,000 Italians that surrendered to the 6th Australian Division at Bardia

The ‘suicidal’ major repeated his gesture of honour several times until an Australian sentry approached with a bayonet levelled at the seat of his pants and said: ‘Get back, you mug, before I shoot you’. The terrorized Fascist major skipped back into line at the double.

May

29

1945

U.S. Ex-POW Kurt Vonnegut writes home

Vonnegut while in the army, early 1940s

We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time: — one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

May

16

1940

The German advance continues

German built pontoon bridges allowed their advance to continue even where bridges had been blown up - a Panzer crosses the Maas on the 16th May.

Slept for a few hours in grounds and then took up position and started digging. Very tiring recce, in afternoon, of new position, maps inaccurate, this was cancelled by order to withdraw same night. Went up with Coy Comdrs and C.O. to recce position along main road on race course. Got company in about 11 p.m.

May

2

1945

German forces begin to surrender in the west

The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time - a problem emerged only after it had been first published.

On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.

Apr

16

1945

The first POW camp liberated – Fallingbostel

POWs at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel in Germany welcome their liberators, 16 April 1945.

Then they put me in a lorry, and I was taken to a field full of marquees. Inside were long tables, and army cooks came out with dishes full to the brim with potatoes and beef. It was almost impossible to believe it. But then some doctors came in and ordered all the food to be taken away. They said too much food like that would damage us. It was heartbreaking. But they gave us a couple of spoonfuls of potato and gravy, and then we were put on planes.