9 Jul 45
The Office of the High Commissioner for Canada,
Attention: Mr. S. Morley Scott
Recovery of British Commonwealth PW by Soviet Forces
The attached report is by Wing Commander R.C.M. Collard D.S.O., D.F.C., formerly S.B.O. Stalag IIIA, and it contains the first full account of the evacuation of the camp.
2. For your information, please.
(J.W.D. Foxcroft) Capt
Canadian Military Headquarters
Report by Wing Commander R.C.M. COLLARD, D.S.O., D.F.C.
on Stalag 3,A Luckenwalde, Germany
11/4/45 to 20/5/45
I became senior British officer of the Oflag section of Stalag 3.A on 11.4.1945. The Germans had ordered us to be prepared to move by train to Moosburg near Munich, on the following day. G/Capt Willetts, my predecessor, had protested against this move, and had been taken away at short notice, together with G/Capt Kellet, and sent on by passenger train to Moosburg.
In fact, the Germans failed to move us further than the railway station, where we spent 48 hours in a siding. The advance of the Russian and American armies cut the railway lines between Berlin and the south, and on 14.5.45 we returned to the Stalag. My relations with the German authorities had now become very satisfactory from our point of view, and I obtained from the commandant, Oberst Lutter, what was virtually an undertaking that he would make no further attempt to move us in any direction or by any means; this arrangement he kept to, though I have reason to believe that he had orders from Berlin to get us on the march if the train move failed.
On 21.4.45 at a little after mid-day, all the Germans left the camp. A defence scheme which had been worked out with the American and Norwegian officers and had been agreed in principle with the other nationalities in the camp, was put into force, and by the evening the camp was running satisfactorily with British and American officers in all the key posts. General Rüge, former C.in C. of the Norwegian armed forces, took over the command of the camp. I assumed command of all British in the Stalag, in addition to those in the Oflag (for strengths see Appendix A).
Early on 22.4.45, the first Russian forces arrived. There was a good deal of difficulty for the first few hours arising out of the difference in attitude between ourselves and the Russians as to the proper function of liberated prisoners of war; it was necessary to withstand demands from excited tank commanders that we should all take up arms and join in the battle. The Russian prisoners, of whom there were some six hundred, were of course given arms, and all those who were fit to walk very soon left the camp; those who were sick, of whom there were a large number, were taken away the same day by the Russians. These Russian prisoners, as was everywhere the case, were suffering seriously from malnutrition, and we took steps to give them special issues of food before they left. Of course the Germans had always prevented our giving them food before, although we could occasionally get some to them "on the quiet".
The first Russian armoured car to come to the camp brought a request from the local military commander that General Rüge should report to him immediately. The general accordingly went off in the armoured car; he did not return and we later heard that he had been taken off to Marshal Koniev's headquarters near Sagan. The Russians required that either the senior American or the senior British officer should take over command of the camp, and after discussion with the senior American officer, it was decided that I should take over. The strengths of the various nationalities in the camp at this time is shown at Appendix A.
Standing Orders for all personnel in the camp were issued, a provost service with representatives from all nationalities had been set up and local patrols in the district were organised. At the Russians' request everybody was confined to camp unless they were out on duty, such as foraging. The administration and supply of the camp was carried out for the first few days by local operational units. These took very little interest in the internal affairs of the camp, but were extremely friendly and did all they could to give us what help we required. Supply of food was erratic but adequate.
On 28.4.45, a small Russian staff, under the command of a captain (replaced later by a major) arrived to take up residence. This staff proved to be quite inadequate to take over effective control of the camp, which continued to be run by myself, using for the most part British and American personnel to carry out the work. An important feature of our administration was a "Works and Buildings" Section, staffed exclusively by British officers. This section carried out all the essential works services of the camp (e.g. sanitation, power, water supply, refuse disposal etc.) and their functions extended to such things as the ceremonial burying of seven Russians who were found dead of disease and hunger in their barracks. The Supply organisation included the running of four large kitchens, as well as foraging and issues of food; it had on occasion to deal with such problems as the obtaining of milk for the newly born babies of civilian refugees. We had an Interrogation Centre to guard against the entry into the camp of Germans and other undesirables.
One of the most difficult problems was the food supply; it was necessary to send out our own foraging parties into the neighbourhood, armed with Russian permits, to bring back supplies of meat, potatoes etc., but their task was rendered difficult by a general shortage of food in the area. There were endless difficulties of procedure; for instance it often happened that one Russian authority would not accept a permit signed by another. A further difficulty lay in the acute shortage of petrol; this meant that cars, of which we had a few, were immobilized, and all foraging had to be done either by two diesel tractors or by horse transport; this latter being unsatisfactory owing to lack of oats for the horses. Much of the meat came in "on the hoof", necessitating the setting up of a primitive but effective butchery.
The scale of food laid down by the Russians is shown at Appendix B. During the period while we were under Russian control bread was consistently short for the first fortnight, butter was not available at all, jam only very occasionally, no tea, no fish, and coffee on perhaps six days in all.
All personnel of course continued to live in the quarters they had occupied under the Germans; these were extremely overcrowded and extremely dirty. The sanitation, as in all German camps, was deplorable, and now became worse owing to lack of petrol for working the sewage disposal wagons.
On 29.4.45 Major General Famin, of Marshal Koniev's staff, visited us. He issued an order for the organisation of the camp, which is given at Appendix C. He also ordered that British, Americans and Yugo-Slavs should move shortly to a former German camp nearby, where he would have improved living conditions.
From 30.4.45 to 2.5.45, there was an outbreak of fighting in the neighbourhood of the camp caused by a large pocket of German troops trying to break through towards the west. These conditions seriously affected the local administration of the area, and foraging became even more difficult. One result of these conditions was that all civilian refugees were turned off the roads; some seven thousand of them were put into the other camp intended for us, which they looted and rendered uninhabitable. The intention to move us was, therefore, eventually abandoned. Meanwhile, some two thousand Italian civilian refugees were drafted into Stalag 3A.
On 4.4.45 I forwarded to S.H.A.E.F., via an American war correspondent, a full report on the conditions in the camp. This report, I learned later, was brought to the notice of General Barker U.S. Army, and Brigadier Venables, British Army.
On 5.5.45 an ambulance convoy under the command of an American military doctor arrived and, with the agreement of the Russians, took away all the American sick and six seriously sick British. On 6.5.45, Capt. Sinkavitch, an American P.O.W. Contact Officer from S.H.A.E.F. arrived with a convoy of lorries and stated that he had orders to evacuate Americans, British, Norwegians and French in that order. A meeting was held with the local Russian authorities, who pointed out that they had no orders on the subject and therefore could not permit the evacuation to proceed. Sinkavitch decided that he would attempt to carry out the evacuation without further reference to the Russians, and this was accordingly begun, the Americans going first. After some time the Russians intervened and started firing over the heads of American troops who were leaving the camp. The evacuation was therefore abandoned and the convoy left, partly empty.
The effect on the morale of the British and Americans of this incident was naturally deplorable. The Russians appeared to be deliberately and forcibly preventing our repatriation, and it was impossible to explain - nor was it altogether certain - that their behaviour was due merely to "red tape" difficulties. On 7.5.45, I sent a written protest to the Russian authorities, which is given at Appendix D.
On 7.5.45, Capt. Grant, another American P.O.W. Contact Officer, arrived with another convoy. I persuaded him to go to Marshal Koniev's headquarters, see General Famin, and try to get agreement with him to evacuate us; I thought it unwise to attempt another "unofficial" evacuation at this stage. Meanwhile his convoy was parked outside the camp. On his way to Russian headquarters he met some Russian staff officers coming from General Famin who said that they were coming to Luckenwalde with full instructions about our repatriation. Capt. Grant therefore returned. Early on 8.5.45, it became clear that the Russian officers had not in fact brought any instructions about repatriation. It was accordingly decided to fill Capt. Grant's lorries with British and Americans and then have a conference with the Russians with a view to getting their approval for the lorries to depart. The conference was then held, the senior Russian officer being Lieut./Col. Mashkov; it turned out to be impossible to get their agreement for Capt. Grant's lorries to be used for evacuating the British and Americans, while on the other hand they could give no indication whatever, other than sundry vague assurances, as to what their own arrangements for repatriating us were. In the middle of the conference, the Russians received a report that the lorries were driving off filled with our men. This was either due to some misunderstanding in the orders issued by Capt. Grant or to ill-discipline on the part of the negro truck drivers. In any case, a somewhat awkward situation was created, and the Russians demanded that the affair should be stopped at once. By this time most of the lorries had gone, but the senior American officer and myself arranged for the remainder to be unloaded and the personnel brought back to the camp. It was clear that had we not done this the Russians would not have hesitated to use arms to prevent further evacuation. The Russians then ordered Capt. Grant to leave with the remainder of the lorries empty.
It was now clear that any further attempt at evacuation without Russian agreement might have serious consequences, and I decided to re-establish a firm control over the British, and to wait until the Russian arrangements for our repatriation were complete. I informed Col. Mashkov that I would do this and said that I would go on helping the Russians to run the camp; I pointed out however that it was time that they started to establish effective control over the camp themselves, and that they should not continue to look upon me any longer as commander of the camp, but merely as senior British officer. Finally, I said that I would continue to press for our early repatriation, in view of the thoroughly unsatisfactory conditions in which we were living.
By this time there were only some 180 Americans left in the camp; as far as the British were concerned there were slightly over 2,000, some 1,700 having left during the past three days. The majority of these went on the American lorries, but a certain number, disturbed by what they felt to be a hostile Russian attitude, had left independently; this was contrary to my orders, which forbade independent action of this nature, but I did not take a very serious view of it at this period, in view of the extraordinary situation then obtaining. From then on, however, I took steps to enforce the order that all were confined to camp, and there was no further unauthorised departure by any British.
On 10.5.45, General Famin came to the camp. He sent for me shortly after midnight, and issued me with a formal and somewhat insulting reproof on the subject of the "unofficial" evacuation; this was done in front of his own and the camp Russian staff, who were standing round at attention and behaving with somewhat exaggerated deference. He insisted that I write then and there and explanation of what had occurred; I demurred at this, but when he insisted, I sent for my papers and sat down and wrote a report on the matter, which I think I can say put forward our case in a reasonable light. I had no means of making a copy, as General Famin was leaving at once; I therefore asked him to let me have a copy both in English and in Russian, which he promised but failed to do. My impression of the incident was that it was largely "eye-wash", designed to impress his own officers at my expense. He warned me that if there were any further "unofficial" evacuation, I should be interned, but I did not attach much importance to this. He issued a similar reproof to the senior American officer, Lt. Col. R. Herte.
Meanwhile, the French were being moved from the camp, but in their place were being drafted in several hundred Dutch and Belgian refugees of all ages and both sexes. These, together with the Italian civilians already with us, constituted something of a menace to the health and certainly to the discipline of the camp, since the living conditions made it impossible for anyone in the Stalag to be segregated in any way. Accordingly, on 11.5.45, I addressed a letter to the Russians, given at Appendix E. I got their agreement to the moving of British personnel as asked for in the letter, and by 13.5.45, all the British had moved into the quarters originally occupied by the German troops, where the accommodation was somewhat improved and where it was possible to keep them separate from the rest of the inhabitants of the Stalag. The Americans, in view of their small numbers, decided to stay where they were.
The period from then on was fairly uneventful and on 19.5.45 Colonel Korofsky, of the Red Army repatriation staff, arrived to announce that we were being taken to the Elbe on the following day, where we would be handed over to the Americans. Next day a convoy of Russian lorries did, in fact, arrive and transported the British and the residue of the Americans to Coswick, near Wittenberg, where we were handed over to the Americans, who transported us thence to Halle.
A word should be said about the Norwegian officers at Luckenwalde. Their relations with the Russians, in the absence of General Rüge, were not entirely happy, and they more than once asked for my advice and assistance. This I gave to the best of my ability, and I give at Appendix F a copy of a letter sent by me to Brigadier Venables, of S.H.A.E.F., which gives briefly the history of the Norwegians at Luckenwalde during this period.
The Russian attitude to the Poles was inevitably somewhat harsh. On one occasion while I was acting as Senior Allied Officer, and fighting with the Germans was going on in the neighbourhood, I was ordered by the Russian camp commandant to equip the Poles with weapons (it was not stated where these were to come from), and despatch them to assist in the fighting. This, of course, I refused to do, but the incident is an example of the somewhat difficult situations which arose from time to time. When we left, the Poles were under orders to march Eastwards.
My relations with the other nationalities in Luckenwalde, all of whom, were for some time under my command, were excellent. Naturally, my closest dealings were with the Americans, Norwegians and French, but all were co-operative, particularly the Yugo-Slavs. Of the civilian refugees, the Italians were dirty and troublesome, but the Dutch and Belgians were fine people, and were most grateful for what little we could do for them.
My own relations with the Russian authorities were consistently friendly, with the exception of my second interview with General Famin. I found their regard for the British and Americans was considerable, and since most of them said the same things, I took it that their remarks were based on their most recent propaganda, which certainly seemed to be very friendly towards us. As for doing business with them, however, I found them extremely difficult; no subordinate would take any action without reference to higher authority, and most of the officers I met were so security-minded that it was often impossible even to discover what job they were doing or whom they represented. They had no interpreters, and if I had not by chance had two competent Russian speakers, I suppose that we would not have been able to establish communication in any manner except by signs! Very often I found it easier to do business with them under camouflage of a social occasion; for instance, during our final and official evacuation, we found that, in order to prevent the Russian commandant interfering too much in the arrangements, which would only have led to chaos, it was more satisfactory to get him mildly intoxicated, as a farewell gesture, which he did; he then became exceedingly friendly and made no more difficulties.
However, the general impression created by the Russians among the British at Stalag 3A can only be described as unfortunate. This was due partly to their apparent failure to do much for us, but mainly to their extraordinary attitude about our repatriation. Generally speaking, those British officers and men who actually came in touch with the Russians took a friendly though somewhat exasperated view of them; those, on the other hand, who did not come in touch with them probably gained the impression that they were aggressive, incompetent, and uncultured.
So far as possible, I kept the British informed of my dealings with the Russians, whom I tried to display in as favourable a light as possible. In this way, I hoped to ameliorate the bad impression which the Russians themselves were creating; but it was impossible altogether to eradicate the mistrust sown by their behaviour at the time when the American convoys came to attempt our evacuation, and were forcibly prevented from completing their task.
[Signed R.C.M. Collard] W/Cdr. R.A.F.
NCOs and Other Ranks
Russian Daily Scale of Rations for Liberated P.O.Ws
Vegetables including potatoes
Jam or Sugar
Coffee or Tea
By the Representative of the Plenipotentiary for Repatriation of the Soviet of Peoples Commissars of the U.S.S.R.
29th April, 1945 No. 01/c On active service
For the organisation and enforcement of the Military Discipline in the Allied Prisoner of War Camp Stalag III A in the region of the town of Luckenwalde, the following Army Units will be formed:-
1. A regiment of the Officers and men of the Royal Air Force of the British Empire. The Officer Commanding to be Wing Commander COLLARD, RICHARD.
2. A regiment of the Officers and men of the Army of the United States of American. The Officer Commanding to be Colonel HERTE, ROGER.
3. A regiment of the Officers and men of the Army of France. The Officer Commanding to be Captain LEYMAIRE, HENRI.
4. A regiment of the officers and men of the Norwegian Armed Forces. The Officer Commanding to be Brigadier General HAMMERSTAD, OSCAR.
5. A regiment of the Officers and men of the Italian army. The Officer Commanding to be Lieutenant General DE BLASIO.
6. A battalion of the officers of the Polish Army. The Officer Commanding to be Captain NETELSKY.
7. A battalion of the officers and men of the Yugo-Slav Army. The Officer Commanding will be the Senior Sergeant of the Academy, BENKO, DUBAR.
8. The senior Officer of the Internal Administration of the Camp to be Wing Commander COLLARD, RICHARD.
9. The above mentioned Commanders are to organize their units and appoint their platoon, company, battalion and staff officers by their own orders.
10. To establish a strict military discipline in these units and to forbid leaving the Camp without a pass signed by the Commandant, Captain MEDVIEDEV.
The Commanders of the units will severely punish anyone breaking any order or leaving the Camp without a pass according to the statutes of their respective Armies.
This order is to be made known to the entire personnel of the Camp.
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE PLENIPOTENTIARY FOR REPATRIATION OF THE SOVIET OF PEOPLES COMMISSARS OF THE U.S.S.R.
Major General Famin
FROM: Senior British Officer, Stalag III A
TO: Russian Commandant for Repatriation, Stalag IIIA
May 7, 1945
In order to avoid misunderstanding, I am putting into writing the principle statements which I made at our conference last night.
The situation of the British at this camp is now as follows: From 22nd April, I, at the request of the Russian Authorities have been responsible for the administration and security of this entire camp of 16,000 mixed nationalities. The work of the camp during this time has been carried out mainly by British and American officers and men. It should, however, be appreciated that, owing to the Russian orders re confinement to camp etc, have had to continue to all intents and purposes as prisoners. That these orders were a military necessity is of course clear, but nevertheless the result has been a lowering of the spirit of all ranks. It is important to understand and make allowances for the mental attitude of prisoners of war who have been liberated but are still denied their freedom.
The food situation, up to yesterday, was precarious, and the daily ration, even though assisted by American supplies, is still grossly inadequate. It is realized that the Russian authorities overcame great difficulties in providing food at all under harassing circumstances; but it will also be agreed that the supply organization of this camp performed most of the work. Furthermore, the camp has become even more overcrowded owing to the influx of Italian refugees. The problems of sanitation are considerable, and the general health is threatened.
In spite of this, the Russian orders were obeyed and control was maintained up to the 5th of May. On that day an American officer, representing Supreme Allied Headquarters, arrived with instructions to evacuate the Americans and British in that order. His credentials were not accepted by the Russian authorities here, who stated that they could not allow such an evacuation to proceed since they had no orders on the subject. An ambulance convoy, which also arrived on this day, was permitted to evacuate all American and a few British sick.
Yesterday the American representative from Supreme Allied Headquarters, returned with a convoy to carry out his orders. Capt Tchokanov, acting as deputy for Capt Medvedev, who was sick, refused to allow him to proceed with his duties. Later, when an attempt was made to proceed with the evacuation, armed force was used against American troops to prevent their leaving the camp.
No doubt the whole affair is due to a misunderstanding, but the situation created is extremely serious. In spite of continual assurances that we were to be repatriated with the least possible delay, we now see the Russians actively preventing such repatriation.
It is impossible for me to explain or justify such action in the eyes of my officers and men. I warned Capt Medvedev on 4th May that such a situation was likely to arise, and that, if it did, I could not be responsible for the consequences.
Last night I was informed, for the first time, that the chief obstacle to our repatriation was that the registration was not complete. I have repeatedly offered to undertake the whole task of registration; I could have completed it by now if my offer had been accepted. In any case, I cannot believe that the Russians intend that vital interests should be threatened for the sake of a mere formality.
As the Senior British Officer here I am responsible, above all else, for the welfare of my officers and men. This welfare is seriously endangered by the present situation. I therefore demand that the position may be clarified without delay, and that our repatriation may be proceeded with immediately. Failing this, I must ask to be enabled to communicate with my Government.
Finally I must point out that the present situation renders my position as Senior Allied Officer untenable. I therefore resign that position and from now must be regarded as responsible only for the British.
(signed) R.C.M. Collard,
From: Senior British Officer Stalag IIIA.
To: Russian Commandant Stalag IIIA.
I send out in writing the statements I made to you verbally this morning.
Civilian refugees, men, women and children continue to pour into this camp, and I understand that many more are expected. In fact, this is no longer a military camp, but a civilian internment centre. My officers and men are living alongside people of all nationalities, many of whom may be German and some of whom certainly possess arms. Under these circumstances the welfare of my men is threatened and it is extremely difficult to maintain discipline.
There is no sort of medical inspection of refugees coming into the camp, and no medical service to deal with them while they are here. The danger of their introducing an epidemic is considerable.
The sanitation of this camp, as I have repeatedly told you, is deplorable and is getting worse owing to the filthy habits of the refugees. The British continue to run the main sanitation services, since nobody else seems capable of doing so; but our difficulties are almost insurmountable, since none of our requirements are met. At last, yesterday, after continuous requests, we were provided with an abort pump: but there is no petrol to run it, and you are unable to supply any. Therefore, the abort pumps, most of them filled to overflowing can still not be emptied.
The water pressure is poor, and insufficient to supply the Shower House. This problem we could overcome partially with an auxiliary pump but again petrol is required to work it.
In these circumstances, with hot weather upon us, I must give you solemn warning that the health and welfare of my men is endangered. I ask for the following measures to be taken as a temporary and partial protection against this urgent peril:-
1. The handing over of the Vorlager (apart from Russian accommodation) and the Truppenlager to the British and Americans. This of course can only take place when the French leave, and then the buildings will require cleaning and re-equipping.
2. Provision of ample supplies of petrol for the abort pump and auxiliary water pumps.
3. A strict medical surveillance to be exercise by the Russian Authorities over the refugees being drafted into this camp.
(signed) R.C.M. COLLARD
Royal Air Force.
Senior British Officer
Copy of letter to Brigadier Venables, S.H.A.E.F.
HALLE, 22nd May, 1945
I had intended last night to give you details regarding the situation of the Norwegian ex-POW's at Luckenwalde. As I did not see you again after you were called away, I thought I would sent you a note in case the information is of use to you.
At the time of the liberation there were 1081 Norwegian Officers and 30 men in the camp. A large proportion of them were elderly retired officers arrested by the Germans since 1942. Of course you know about General Ruge's being taken away to Marshal Koniev's HQ on the day we were liberated (22/4/45). In his absence the Senior Norwegian Officer was Brigadier Hammerstad.
On 5/5/45 they received an order from the Russians to prepare to travel to Norway by rail via Murmansk. On 6/5/45 a small number of them left for the West on the American convoy brought by Captain Sinkavitch; they included Brigadier Hannsen, who had been General Ruge's Chief of Staff, and Lt. Col. Runthe. So far as I know the Russians never knew about this.
On 7/5/45 Brigadier Hammerstad had orders from the Russians that they were all to march at a few hours' notice to Shwiebus, where they would be entrained for Murmansk. He asked for my advice at this juncture; I advised him to "stall", feeling sure that the order was a sort of "try-on" by the Russians, which it turned out to be. Meanwhile I made a protest to the local Russian Commandant on the enormity of marching elderly officers some two hundred kilometers without any transport for their baggage and apparently without any precise arrangement for food. Late that night General Ruge was down for a short visit. Early on 9/5/45 a number of lorries arrived and General Ruge told me that he had orders to embark his officers in them for a move eastwards; he said he was protesting in favour of a more direct route. In the afternoon a Lt. Col. Mashkov, representing General Famin, arrived with written orders for the move, and General Ruge had no option but to comply, still entering a formal protest. 806 Norwegian officers accordingly left in the lorries that night, leaving 239 sick and old who were permitted to remain on their doctor's recommendation. I heard later that those who went were eventually disembarked at Liegnitz, where, so far as I know, they are still. Brigadier Hatledal went in charge of this party, Brigadier Hammerstad remaining at Luckenwalde. General Ruge returned to Halbau the next day.
On 19/5/45, when Colonel Korofaky gave me the instructions for our own evacuation, he mentioned that the remaining Norwegians would not be going out westwards. As there looked like being a surplus of lorries I asked that they should come with us. Colonel Korofsky agreed but the expected surplus failed to materialize and the residue of 239 are there still at Luckenwalde.
This has proved rather length but I thought I would tell you the whole story in case it may be of use to you. We much enjoyed our dinner with you last night and the film was great fun. Thank you very much for all your kind help.
(signed) R.C.M. COLLARD.