Streamed live on April 11, 2024

World War II POW and Eighth Air Force expert Marilyn Walton leads an expert conversation about the experiences of prisoners in Germany.

The experts also discuss fact and fiction in the depiction of POW camps in the Apple TV mini-series “Masters of the Air.”

In addition to Marilyn and the VBC’s own Glenn Flickinger, commenters include:

Carolyn Clark Miller – Daughter of Lt. Gen. Albert P. Clark, Jr. depicted in MOTA. Carolyn’s father flew with the British in order to get into the war early. He had 3 children at the time. He was already a Lt. Col. West Point graduate, considered an “old man” in the camp. He flew Spitfires with the RAF, but he was not in the Eagle Squadrons with them. He was shot down on his first mission in 1942, and lived with the British in North Compound as one of the “early birds.” He was Senior American Officer before a full colonel eventually came in and outranked him. He later became Superintendent of the Air Force Academy.

Lt. Col. Clark worked on Tunnel Harry at Stalag Luft II in security with 600 men under him, including Lt. Sconiers. Clark’s father was a doctor who told him how to tell the Germans at SL3  how to change the latrines outside to make them sanitary. He was one of the last ones to leave Stalag VIIA in Moosburg after liberation as he wanted to make sure all “his boys” were safely gone. He told me once that he remembered seeing the Russians come in and roll up all the barbed wire to take back to Russia.

At SL3, Clark made a secret ledger, now called Behind the Wire, that listed the names and information on all the men in South Compound. Injuries mentioned by downed airmen were listed as well. Clark appointed another POW to interview all the men coming into South Compound. Notation of injuries in that ledger was acceptable evidence to receive Purpose Hearts after the war. Alex Jefferson got his Purple Heart this way after 47 years.  Many others did as well. The men told their stories in their own word in short entries.  This document in now in the Library of Congress.

Pam Whitlock niece of Lt. Sconiers, a SL3 POW and was buried in 1944, the only POW never brought home as no one could find him. This is subject of the documentary Finding Sconiers. There are 78,000 American MIAs from WWII in Europe and about 35,000 are still considered to be recoverable. We finally brought Sconiers home to be buried next to his mother in DeFuniak Springs, FL. Germans attended and permitted that burial in 1944. Pam worked a lot with DPAA which still searches for our MIAs.

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During World War II, United States Army Air Forces personnel faced the harrowing experience of becoming prisoners of war (POWs) after being captured by German forces. These airmen were detained in various camps known as Stalag Lufts, where they endured challenging conditions and organized themselves for survival amidst enemy captivity.

The German system segregated officers from enlisted men upon capture and sent them to different camps, each administered by the German Luftwaffe and Abwehr. Once inside the confines of these camps, the captured airmen, affectionately referred to as “Kriegies,” found themselves among their comrades. Leadership roles varied among the camps, with senior American officers or elected representatives assuming authority in different compounds.

Life within the POW camps was marked by the segmentation of living quarters into compounds, each containing barracks that housed dozens of men in cramped conditions. As the number of captives increased, overcrowding became a significant issue, forcing many to sleep on floors. The harsh realities of captivity were exacerbated when, in early February 1944, camps faced evacuation due to the advancing Russian forces, leaving tens of thousands of prisoners “On the Road” for extended periods, enduring immense hardships until liberation.

One crucial aspect of the POW experience was the interrogation process at facilities like Dulag Luft. Located in Oberursel, this complex consisted of interrogation centers, hospitals, and transit camps, where captured airmen underwent questioning and evaluation before being transferred to permanent POW camps. Despite being designed to accommodate a limited number of prisoners, overcrowding was common during peak periods, with solitary confinement often enforced.

Stalag Luft I, situated near Barth, Germany, housed Allied prisoners, including American and British officers and enlisted men. The camp, located on the Baltic Sea, saw its first prisoners in July 1940 and was evacuated by 8th Air Force B-17s in May 1945. Similarly, Stalag Luft III, located southeast of Berlin, housed American airmen and became the largest American officers’ camp in Germany by January 1945.

Stalag Luft IV, located in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, witnessed a significant influx of prisoners, swelling its ranks from 1,500 to nearly 10,000 airmen by January 1945. Stalag Luft VI, situated outside Hedekrug, Lithuania, initially held prisoners from Belgium and France before receiving British, Canadian, and American airmen, reflecting the diverse nationalities of POWs held by the Germans.

As Germany’s collapse neared, camps like Stalag VIIA in Moosburg became final gathering points for thousands of Air Corps officers and enlisted men from other camps. The overcrowded conditions and constant influx of prisoners posed challenges for camp administrators, with protests against overcrowding falling on deaf ears.

Despite the adversity, the resilience and resourcefulness of Allied airmen in German POW camps underscored one of the most overlooked chapters in American history.