WWII MEMORIES

Information for Veterans and their families


Rodney Philip Arthur Adair

Research on my Dad’s POW internments in Italy and Poland 1942-45
(Mike Adair - Conducted Sept 2007 and July 2009; small edits 2014 mikeadair10@gmail.com)

My father Rodney Philip Arthur Adair (Trooper No. 420100) was in the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment in WW2 and was among those captured in desert action 35km SW of Tobruk in Libya on May 28, 1942. Thereafter Dad was taken to Italy first, arriving about July/Aug 1942 (his letter dated July 1, 1943 mentions he has been writing for a year)[1] . His letters show the address PM 3200 PG 73 Italy. This was Campo PG 73 that was located at Fossoli (Carpi, Modena)[2] between Venice and Genoa (approx: 44°49'24.91"N, 10°53'21.05"E)[3]. PM 3200 was the postal sorting station.



Campo 73 at Fossoli in N Italy
(Surely they must have built some huts? Or was this an overflow/ receiving ares?)
(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Campo_attendato_per_prigionieri_inglesi_1942_-_PG73.jpg)

“Sometime between July and September 1943 in the last months of the failing Fascist regime (the invasion of Italy led to the armistice in September 1943) they were moved out of Italy by the Nazis, first to Stalag VIIA (Moosburg, Bavaria) and later to Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf, Poland). Presumably the Nazis wanted to maintain their access to the labour POWs supplied.

Stalag VII A was located just north of the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria, Germany. (48°28'52.92"N, 11°56'33.02"E.) and 400 km due north of Fossoli The camp covered an area of 35 ha. (85 acres). It served also as a transit camp through which prisoners, including officers, were processed on their way to another camp. At some time during the war prisoners from every nation fighting against Nazi Germany passed through it. At the time of its liberation on 29 April 1945, there were 130,000 prisoners from at least 26 nations on the camp roster. It was the largest prisoner of war camp in Germany. However at any time up to 60,000 were located in Arbeitskommando working in factories, repairing railroads or on farms. In the Stammlager (main camp) itself over 40,000 were crowded into a space designed for 10,000.

 

More British Commonwealth and Polish prisoners came from the North African campaign and the offensive against the Italian held islands in the Mediterranean. They were brought here from Italian PoW camps after the Armistice with Italy in September 1943. Italian soldiers were also imprisoned. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_VII-A)

A must see is this site: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/indeng.html (“Our website consists of more than 450 pages and over 2000 images.”). The last days of Stalag VIIA are touchingly and dramatically told here by an American inmate, Cameron Garrett: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/garretteng.html. The tale of the liberators is at: http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/14theng.html

Dad had left long before then. In late October 1943 he was moved to Poland.

In Poland. The two letters we have are from Lager-Bezeichnung (camp-designation - Stammelager VIII B). Stammelager was a stalag, or POW camp for non-officers. VIII B was in Lamsdorf in Poland[4] .” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_VIII-B). It was 470 km NE of Stalag VIIA (approx. 50°32'8.48"N, 17°33'40.62"E.)

Wiki says: Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf was a notorious German Army prisoner of war camp, renumbered Stalag-344 at the end of 1943 (this was just after Dad arrived there, his only two letters being dated 19 and 25 -11-43). Located near the small town of Lamsdorf (now called Lambinowice) in Silesia (50°32'8.48"N, 17°33'40.62"E.) The camp initially occupied barracks built to house British and French prisoners in World War I. At this same location there had been a prisoner camp during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

At the end of 1943 within Stalag VIII-B Teschen there were about 50,000 Soviet prisoners, and another 10,000 from other countries, including Great Britain, the British Commonwealth and Italy, In general, the conditions in the main Teschen camp and in all the sub-camps were deplorable.

The BBC site (see footnote 3) adds: Stalag VIIIB was originally at Lamsdorf, the German name for Lambinowice, near Oppeln on the River Oder in Silesia. Most of Silesia had been German for centuries, either as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or latterly of Prussia and it became part of unified Germany in 1871. The population in the heavily industrialised region of upper Silesia in the far South East was, however, predominantly Polish and Roman Catholic but after 1939 many Silesian Poles were deported and replaced by Germans settlers.

Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf was the largest Stalag in the Third Reich with many tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Russian but with a smaller camp of some 16,000 POW from Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa in its midst. Confusingly, at the end of 1943 Lamsdorf was designated Stalag 344 and a sub-camp at Teschen, some 125 km to the south east, became the new Stalag VIIIB. The Imperial War Museum in London has a large number of books by former POW at Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf in its library.

Check this web site http://www.freewebs.com/lamsdorf/links.htm

Unlike Lamsdorf, there were only a few hundred prisoners at Teschen, which was mainly an administrative centre for the Arbeitskommando, “work detachments”, away from the main camp.

According to the Wiki and Lamsdorf sites [5] with some other web search findings: Among the sub-camps with coal mines were:
• E27 coal mine
• E209 Bobrek. coal mine
• E411 Hohenzollerngrube Beuthen coal mine
• E51x coal mine
• E535 Sosnowitz West coal mine (East of Milowitz, mainly New Zealanders apparently)
• E562 Coal mine "Janina", near Libiaz (SE of E706)
• E565 Sierza Wodna coal mine (situated close to the river on the outskirts of Trzebinia in Upper Silesia, Poland (E and S of E562). About 100 prisoners were housed in huts, they worked in a coal mine.)
• E702 Klimontow coal mine (N of Milowitz). [see http://klimontow.na12.pl/content/view/97/47/]
• E706 Coal mine near Jaworzno (further to the SE from E535), mostly Australians and New Zealanders
• E902 coal mine
• E902 Delbruckschachte-Hindenburg coal mine


Photo of British POWS in Lambsdorf museum - undated
http://www.freewebs.com/lamsdorf/photographs.htm

Some idea of the conditions can be had from the story of Eric “Blondie” Marchant :

“We arrived in Lamsdorf at the end of June 1940. Lamsdorf was a big prisoner of war camp, with around 10, 000— 15, 000 inmates housed in many concrete huts. It was the central prison camp for a large area and men were sent out from here to work on the various labour camps in that region. The first thing the new prisoners had to do when they arrived was take a shower to get rid of their lice. There was warm water but no soap. Then all the prisoners were finger printed and photographed with a Stalag label around their neck. My label read: STALAG VIIIB N14049, and prisoners had to wear their ID all the time.

“There were more than 200 prisoners in a hut with bunks arranged three tiers high. Each bunk had straw sacking for a mattress and one blanket. The huts also had a big concrete basin like a trough. You could turn the water on for a while each morning and then everyone washed in the same water. There was a large toilet block for every 7 or 8 huts. In the toilet block there were 4 rows of seats in the open over a very deep pit. There were rats running around everywhere. Local Poles would come in to empty the cess pit, and they would pump out the sewage into a barrel on their horse-drawn cart. Food was limited but the routine was always the same. The men would line up and get one loaf of bread between 10 prisoners each morning. Then someone would cut the loaf into the 10 pieces needed. My friends and I had a system for making sure no one could always get the biggest piece — we would draw cards and picked our pieces of bread in order, the man with the highest value card choosing first. Lunch was a bowl of soup— really just cabbage water, with some boiled potatoes in their skins. There was no dinner. However, Lamsdorf was just a holding camp and from here we were sent out in working parties to wherever we could be put to work. It was only the ordinary soldiers, without rank, that had to work in the labour camps. Sergeants were sent with the privates, but the sergeants only had to make sure everything was in order and keep the billet clean and tidy — all the heavy labouring was done by the private soldiers.

“… my first Red Cross Parcel … came with a prisoners’ newsletter and inside the newsletter was a sheet of poetry. The poem I found I learnt off by heart, and it kept me going through the many years as a prisoner:
It’s easy to be nice boys when everything is OK
It’s easy to be cheerful when you're having things your way
But can you hold your head up and take it on the chin
When your heart is nearly broken and you feel like giving in
It was easy back in England amongst your friends and folk
But now you miss the friendly hand, the joys, the songs, the jokes
The road ahead is stony and unless you're strong in mind
You will find it isn’t long before you're lagging far behind
You have got to climb the hill boys it’s no use turning back
There is only one way home and that’s off the beaten track
You know there is a saying that sunshine follows rain
And sure enough you’ll realise that joy must follow pain
Let patience be your password, make fortitude your guide
Then instead of grousing remember those who died
They died to earn your freedom it was not too great a price
If only you are worthy of such a sacrifice
They bore their cross in silence they sort not wealth or fame
And you must try to emulate and glorify their name.

“The men were also issued with a sheet of paper once a month, and we were allowed to write home. I still have the postcard I sent home from Stalag VIIIB.

“In June 1943 I and 12 others were sent to camp number E702 at the coal mines in Sosnowiec in southern Poland. The mines here were deep, going down four levels, and it was frightening as the cage plummeted down to the shafts. The prisoners of war worked as the labourers for the Polish men working in the mines. The prisoners did the hardest tasks, and conditions were not pleasant — the mines were damp and wet, and there was water everywhere. Each man was issued with an ID tag and a carbide lamp every time he went down into the mine. The lamp had a flint on it so that it could be lit, and it made a gas that burnt when water from the mine dripped onto the lamp. There were three shifts each day, each shift being about 8 hours long: 6am ‘till 2pm, 2pm ‘till 10pm and then the night shift which was 10pm until 6am the next morning. The morning and afternoon shifts dug out the coal, and the evening shift moved equipment and supports into position for the next day’s work. I worked at night moving equipment and putting in new support structures, it was unpleasant and dangerous work. Prisoners thought about trying to sabotage the mine, but there were always men working on the lowest levels so any attempt would inevitably endanger many prisoners. On occasion the lift was damaged and men in lower levels had to escape by a complex system of ladders, but nothing more extensive was done because the resultant loss of life would have been great. The men lived in huts beside the mine. There were 10 to 12 men in each hut. Men on different shifts were billeted together, this made it very difficult to get any real sleep. The food was the same as at the other camps— bread and coffee for breakfast and one meal a day of soup. Thankfully the men were still able to receive their Red Cross Parcels. I am sure that without them we would not have survived.”

Dad was also put to work in a coal mine but I have yet to find out which one. It was horrible work and some prisoners would even self inflict injuries to avoid it. I recall Dad saying one man pulled his own fingernail off for that purpose.

One day Dad was working at an underground location where coal was channeled into small cars or hoppers that served to take the coal out. They were powered through an overhead electrical cable. He was standing in water and his job was to hold a metal sheet over head to avoid spillage as the next empty car moved to the coal chute. When lifting the sheet he touched the electric cable overhead and sustained a major electric shock that certainly nearly killed him. He awoke in hospital some time later and could not speak for several days. A friend working nearby said he saw Dad go somersaulting through the air as a result of the contact.

He told a story of how the POWs had a great craving for fat or oil since there was very little in their diet. In a food package he received once, there was a one pound tin of butter (seems more likely it was shortening or margarine on refection but this is what he said) which Dad ate with a spoon at a single sitting.

His last letter I have from his brother is dated November 25, 1943.

Dad escaped some time later, when the Germans were moving a large number of POWs to another location. During the march, Dad and a friend (what was his name I really wonder!), dropped into a ditch and lay quietly until the file had passed. He spoke of the cold lying in the ditch for a very long time. They headed east and over a long period of time (??) made their way overland to and through Russia (the Ukraine it must have been), to Odessa on the Black Sea. On reaching the port they were able to get passage back to England, arriving as the war ended.

Dad's service card reports March 30, 1945 “escaped, now in Allied hands.” (YLIST/70/45).

I do not know when Dad escaped. If the overland journey took 3 months to Odessa then it might have been January 1945. Others mention that there were many escapes through Odessa. Many also escaped during “The March” (variously named and from Stalag VIII-B, named "The Lamsdorf Death March”) in the last days of January 1945.

Evacuation of VIII B and Repatriation

21 January, 1945, many of the prisoners, particularly British and Commonwealth, were marched through Nazi-occupied Czech lands to Stalag XIII-C in Bavaria or Stalag XIII-D Nürnberg in the face of the increasing threat of advancing Russian forces. The march in the temperatures of -15°C to -20°C caused great distress and many prisoners died. The Czech people in the villages and towns, through which they passed, passed food and clothing to them. Many prisoners managed to escape and were sheltered in private homes.

There is a sad and terrible story of survival at http://www.buckdenpike.co.uk/lamsdorfmarch.html from RAF Warrant Officer Joseph Fusniak, BEM who was part of the forced evacuation by the Germans from VIIIB towards the northwest and into Germany. The Americans finally met with and liberated this group in Ditfurt (170 km SW of Berlin) after a forced march of perhaps 600 km in circumstances that were appallingly normal for many at that time.


My Dad survived and raised a family in Canada and died in 1979 at 58 – 9 years junior to my current age. I miss him and owe a debt to his and Mum’s love and generosity.

Still looking for other information especially about his trip home!!

Other pages
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Africa_campaign
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Desert_Campaign


[1] http://www.wartimememories.co.uk/pow/stalag7a.html has mention of a Brit captured in Libya in 1942 who spent time in a camp in Italy at L'Aquila. The one pic we have of Dad in POW times seems to be in a very warm place. Could it have been in the S of Italy?
[2] http://ww2chat.com/forums/allied-pows/182-british-pow-experiences-italian-german-camps.html
[3] All these can be viewed in GoogleEarth as of July 2009.
[4]
There is some confusion over this since here were administrative changes and expansions. More detail of the coal mine aspects that were also part of Dad’s experience at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/07/a7261607.shtml
[5] http://www.freewebs.com/lamsdorf/history.htm
[6] http://www.wartimememories.co.uk/pow/e196.html#marchant

If you recognise Rodney, were a PoW with him or have further information on the camp, please contact Mike

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