prisoners

Feb

12

1945

The horrific ordeal of the Sandakan death marches

The ruins of huts in the prisoner of war camp, Sandakan, North Borneo, October 1945. Courtesy Australian War Memorial: 120457

The PoWs carried all the food including that for the guards. The route of the Death March, climbing up to 1,000 metres in some places, was along jungle tracks some of which the prisoners had to hack through thick jungle. The route crossed and re-crossed rivers which, as it was the monsoon season, were full in full flow. Humidity was extreme. There were no medical kits for the PoWs and drinking water was direct from the streams, rivers, swamps or puddles. It was a case of march or die, which developed into march to die. Any prisoner that stopped was shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death; there were also occasional strangulations.

Feb

2

1945

British Commando raiders are executed in Sachsenhausen

Sachsenhausen concentration camp had operated since 1936 as punishment facility rather than an extermination site. About 30,000 people are believed to had died there from overwork, ill-treatment and malnutrition, although a proportion were put to death by shooting, hanging and, in later years, a gas chamber.

Rumour also had it that the coming night would be still worse. Last night many were awakened by shots in the camp. This was what happened: when a party of those who had been taken from the blocks under cover of darkness marched out of the gate and turned to the right, they realised where they were going, broke the ranks and ran into the little park there between the walls. The guards opened fire on them, and they were shot down there in the park. It was the rat—tat of the guards’ tommy-guns which broke the night silence, filling those who lay awake with horror and dread.

Jan

29

1945

Bitter struggle as Red Army encircles Breslau

Soldiers of the 'Volkssturm' the German 'People's army' in their trenches in East Prussia in January 1945.

We carefully removed our boots and shoes, What was left of our socks and foot-cloths had gone hard from dried blood and pus. My soles were just pus-filled flesh, but the worst pain came from inside. As I’d been running for three weeks on soles which were bumed and warped, my metatarsal was horribly inflamed. When I stood up, the pain coming from it was unbearable. In addition, my ankles had swollen badly where the top edge of my boots rubbed with every step. Our feet were a pathetic sight. In normal times, no one would have believed it possible that we could run even one more step.

Jan

25

1945

POWs prepare to evacuate Stalag Luft III

General view of the huts and compound at Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp, scene of the 'Great Escape' in 1944.

The enemy quickly launched an attack with 2 full companies of infantrymen, blasting the patrol with murderous concentrations of automatic and rifle fire and beginning an encircling movement which forced the patrol leader to order a withdrawal. Despite the terrible odds, Pfc. Valdez immediately volunteered to cover the maneuver, and as the patrol 1 by 1 plunged through a hail of bullets toward the American lines, he fired burst after burst into the swarming enemy.

Jan

23

1945

Fear and reality of the ‘Asiatic Hordes’ of the Red Army

A column of German prisoners of war in Warsaw, January 1945.

Over the next several hours, they trucked in people from nearby districts, and brought in film crews and journalists to record on film and print the city ruins, and the fear and grief of the sham residents. Even the park and its beautiful swans were destroyed: almost all the trees were burned, the swans were shot, and it was announced that the “Asiatic hordes” had killed them and eaten them.

Jan

15

1945

The beginning of the POWs 1000 mile march west

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

We marched nearly all of the first night, eventually stopping at a barn, where we lit fires and melted snow in our dixies, adding milk (klim) to provide a hot drink (no rations were provided by the Germans). The next day we marched on again, with the sound of Russian artillery in the background. As the packs on our backs were too heavy, most of us used makeshift sledges to pull our possessions along. As the days went by we got weaker; the built-up stock of food reserves had gone, we were plagued with lice and dysentery, and frostbitten limbs turned gangrenous. We were sometimes bundled into barns at night, but on at least one occasion we spent the night in an open field with no food at all.

Dec

20

1944

US POWs on a boxcar through Germany

German picture of Americans taken prisoner during their Ardenne offensive.

We relieve ourselves, then line up to fill our canteens from a faucet. No one asks if the water is clean or contaminated. No one cares. War is humbling. We have no dignity, look filthy, feel filthy, and we are at the bottom of the pit. If the Germans are trying to break our morale, it won’t work. We have no morale. The snow—covered mountains around us remain cold and hostile. It has been four days now, and we have been fed nothing.

Dec

17

1944

SS Kampfgruppe Peiper massacre US troops at Malmedy

The 84 bodies of the POWs, covered by snow, were found on 14 January 1945.

Every truck and halftrack that passed fired into the group, and why I didn’t get hit too bad . . . I was in the front, right in the front, the first or second or third right in the front. Each track that came around the corner would fire right into the group in the middle so that they wouldn’t miss anything, that’s why I didn’t get too badly hit.

Dec

15

1944

Nightmare of the hellship Oryoku Maru continues

On the morning of December 15, 1944, aircraft from the USS Hornet again attacked the Oryoku Maru as it was moving across Subic Bay toward Olongapo Point.  This time one bomb made a direct hit on the hatch of the aft cargo hold killing about 250 POWs. Later that morning the surviving POWs were allowed to jump off and swim to shore.

A Jap guard came over to where I lay and started to prod me on with his bayonet. I didn’t move fast enough to suit him so he jabbed a little harder. The bayonet entered my bad leg in two places. I didn’t feel it though, but as soon as I was on my feet and laboriously making my way to follow the line of men in front of me, my leg started bleeding profusely, running down my leg and leaving a small pool of blood with each step I took.

Dec

14

1944

POWs under attack on the hellship Oryoku Maru

A pre war post card of the Japanese liner the Oryoku Maru. The prisoners were packed into the holds of the ship, below decks.

This was not the only death that occurred at the hands of our men. Another young lad went out of his head and began calling to the Japanese sentry and attempting to get up the ladder to get at him. The gist of his shouts was that he had suffered all that he intended to and that he would kill the dirty bastard or die in the attempt. In order to protect the majority of those of us in the hold from threatened hand grenades, it was necessary to quiet this man; such effort being too great for the blow killed him.