North to Stalag Luft I (from Stalag Luft IV)

(Posted: March 3, 2012)

My Father’s last camp of internment as a POW in WWII was Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. The following article taken from Joe O’Donnell’s “The Shoe Leather Espress” – Book 1 was contributed by Paul B. Brady, Sr., and he tells about his transport from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I. My Father was in a group who were transferred from Stalag Luft IV to Stalag Luft I. I don’t believe that my Father was suffering from injuries that would have kept him from being marched out of Camp as Joe and the thousands of other POWs were. This was not a pleasant journey for these men; it was miserable; but it was an easier route than the route that those in the Shoe Leather Express endured.

From pages 34-35 of Joe O’Donnell’s “The Shoe Leather Express” Book 1:

“Stalag Luft I was located on the Baltic Sea at Barth at 13 degrees Longitude and 54 degrees Latitude and approximately 175 miles from Gross Tychow by the 40 and 8 via Stettin. Apparently the Germans had problems with their arithmetic, as Paul B. Brady Sr. states 52 POWs were loaded into the boxcars for their evacuation from Gross Tychow to Barth.

Paul was with the 15th Air Corps, 465th Bomb Group, 781st Bomb Squadron. He was with the B-24 Outfit, Target, Vienna, Austria. Paul’s plane was shot down on July 16, 1944, by both flak and fighter planes. His left knee and shoulder was injured when he hit the ground, that ground was Yugoslavia. Paul spent ten days in a prison in Budapest. His next prisoner of war camp was Stalag Luft IV. In February, 1945, he was evacuated to Stalag Luft I and liberated May, 1945, by the Russians.

Paul was unable to walk too much due to his injury to his left knee, so as stated before he was put in a boxcar with 51 other prisoners of war in each car. Paul recalls, “It took us eight days to reach Stalag Luft I, we were seldom let out of the boxcars and only had two buckets for relief purposes, we had to bribe the guards with a few cigarettes when we stopped on the sidings to push some snow through the crack of the door so we could let it melt for drinking water. Of course this was the same opening all of us had been using to urinate through for days to try to conserve the two buckets for the POWs with dysentery that most of us had.”

Stalag Luft I, May, 1945. Paul states, “that the Russians took the area, an AmericanColonel Gabreski was running the camp and issued passes to go to town but only to the officers. the Russians told Colonel Gabreski that the enlisted were no longer prisoners of warand if he refused to let the enlisted POWs go to town they (the Russians) would use their tanks to destroy the barbed wire fences. That wasn’t necessary; the prisoners of war did what was necessary with the fences; a few of the prisoners of war camped out in the woods.”

Paul recalls that, “A lot of us went to surrounding towns and stayed with German families. They were happy to have us stay overnight because the Russian soldiers were hammering on doors all night and raping the women. One Russian soldier pounded on the door where I was staying but when he saw I was an American he left us alone. After a few days we went back to the camp. Colonel Gabreski was going to have us all court-martialed when we reached home for being A.W.O.L. (can you believe it?).”

“In town, I saw several POWs drinking vodka with the Russians, these Russians had horses and wagons. The POWs were drunk after only a few drinks, one POW gave his wrist watch to one of the Russian soldiers and the Russian soldier in return gave the POW a raw fish.”

“I saw several of the POWs sitting on the tailgate of one of the wagons riding out of town with the Russians. I still wonder to this day what became of those POWs.”

“The Russians looted the town completely.”

“Apparently the American Colonel Gabreski’s only concern was for the American officer POWs, with little regard for the enlisted men that were POWs in the same camp.”

Godfrey E. “Jeff” Boehm confirms the conduct of Colonel Gabreski. Jeff states that “It was reported that Colonel Gabreski, who was CO, handed out 800 court martial recommendations.”

Jeff first started flying missions from a wheat field outside of Maison Blanche-Casablanca in the summer of 1943; he was then moved to Tunis and later shifted to Sardina, still flying those same old beatup crates. The only way he could get airborne was to retract the wheels. We were finally given a new ship on January 24, 1944, and after we knocked out what was supposed to be the last road between Jerry’s front and Rome we were shot down, near Frosenone, Italy.

“We were moved up through the Brenner Pass into Germany and finally to Heydekrug, February 19, 1944. As the Red Army got closer we were moved on July 15, 1944, to Kiefheide (Gross Tychow). We were moved out of there to Barth, Stalag Luft I, that was on January 30, 1945. We were liberated by the Russian guerillas who overran the camp, that was May 1, 1945. Stalag Luft I was solely for officers and their orderlies before our arrival. When we crowded in they began to feel threatened and the chickenshit got very heavy.”

“After the Red Army came in we found a totally different kind of Army command. they (the American officers) became friendly and the only time we saw rank in evidence was when an order was given. The Russians had the airfield cleared in three days so we could be evacuated but it was thirteen days before the sky was crowded with B-17s for our mass move to Camp Lucky Strike near LeHavre, France. We had a couple of guys who spoke Russian so we spent quite a lot of time visiting with the Russians.”

“In Stalag Luft IV I spent a lot of time with the security groups which tried to keep track of what was going on in camp – - first, protecting POWs who had special reason to fear the Germans, i.e., Fred Meisel “the Chief” who passed as an Indian but was Jewish and had served in the German Army in WWI, so we could get word to the “man of confidence” if the Jerries suddenly took him out of the compound, and also trying to find German infiltrators among us posing as GIs and picking up useful intelligence information from us.”

Jeff was a radio gunner on a B-26, and lost just as many friends in training in Avon Park, Florida, as in combat. Jeff was shot down on his 23rd mission. Jeff now makes his home in San Jose, California, but was originally from Riverside, New Jersey.

Paul and Jeff’s statements would lead me to believe that the Russians had more respect for the American GI POW than the American POW officers. I never knew the American POW officers had American GI POWs as orderlies. I have a recorded statement that this dog-faced boot licking condition was forced upon American GI POWs at Stalag Luft III, Sagan.”

One Response to “North to Stalag Luft I (from Stalag Luft IV)”

  1. Malane says:

    My dad gave my brother and I some of the gtesreat memories and life lessons as we moved around during his 20-year Army career. We saw places other kids from my parents’ home towns just read about in history books. I always told him that he gave me the world. And this year, as we opened USO Fort Riley, my dad was there, helping with preparing the center while I was at a conference, working a 60+ hour week to make sure furniture was delivered and set up just right down to the decks of cards on the poker tables and video games in the XBox 360s. At our grand opening, he was there helping things run smoothly. And here early July, he is going to come run the center for a week so I can have a much needed vacation. I am so honored to have a dad who loves my USO as much as I do, and I know I can count on him to be here whenever I need him. I love him for not only giving me the world, but for giving me the passion for service members and their families that enables me to truly love and enjoy what I do each day. Thanks dad!

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