SHORT HISTORY OF THE FALLINGBOSTEL POW CAMPS: 1934,1945.
APRIL THE 16th 2005 MARKED THE 60thANIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION OF THE PRISONER OF WAR CAMPS THAT WERE HERE IN FALLINGBOSTEL ;OERBKE: THE NEWLY BUILT POW MEMORIAL GATES
WILL ALSO BE OFFICIALLY DEDICATED TO THIS END AND TO TELL THE STORY OF THE CAMPS I'VE PUT TOGETHER THIS SHORT HISTORY:
In 1934 with the introduction of conscription in to the German army, the Germans found themselves in need of land to train on. The wide open area of the Luneburger heide seemed the ideal place. Work began on producing a training area-capable of supporting two full divisions of troops at one time.
1935 saw the building of two barrack areas, MUNSTERLAGER/BERGEN to the east and FALLINGBOSTEL to the west of the training area. 11 villages in the area and many farms had to be evacuated-apparently with little argument. (many of these can still be found today-evidence of fruit trees –orchards, stone walls est. can be seen all over the range area) .The training area opened in 1938 and by the summer of 1939-12 ranges were in use. (one division requiring 6,weeks to complete its training programme.)
The workers used to build these huge complex barracks were housed in a temporary wooden barracks built just outside Fallingbostel in the small village of Oerbke.
September 1939 saw the Polish armed forces receiving a pretty comprehensive lesson in Armoured warfare ”BLITZKREIG”from the Germans. Large numbers of prisoners taken by the advancing Germans started to become a problem.
By October 1939 fences were built around the workers hutted camp and some of the Poles were sent there-STALAG XIB, was born.
Although the camp was soon full conditions at the start were good. The Polish soldiers being put into, Arbeitskommandos. Working parties. and put to work in local factories ,farms and as forestry workers on the land.
In may 1940,Germany moved west, Holland, Belgium, France and British POWS prisoners of war were added to the camps in Germany---40,000 arrived in Stalag XIB.
Conditions began to deteriate, hygiene was a major problem as the camps, village waterworks was overstretched. The outcome was an outbreak of typhus-causing widespread and unrecorded deaths amongst the pows. The situation was no better in 1941-Germany moved further east---Russia was invaded on June 22nd and shortly after the first Russian pows began to arrive.----12,000.
No room or accommodation was available all that welcomed the Soviets was a large, flat open fenced area,1,000 meters northeast of Stalag XIB in the area called “Marquartsfeld”. The Soviets being described by the Germans as subhuman, and were to be treated as such. They were put into the compound and left to fend for themselves.
Most dug holes in the ground or made leanto,s from anything that could be found—this new camp was at first called STALAG 321,and then changed to STALAG XID.
STALAG XIC was built at another small village ,30 kms away on the other side of the training area at a place called -----BERGEN-BELSEN……
Conditions in the new Stalag XID were so bad that in less than 12 months over 6,000 had died.
The camps were guarded by home defence battalions ”Landschutzen”-normally old not 100% fit for service men. An example of this I found in a soldiers papers a 55 year old sgt suffering from flat feet ,scurvy and dysentery, not a good example of the master race.
Training continued at Fallingbostel/ Bergen ranges with all sorts of units passing through for its training package from the panzer ”LEHR”regiment instructors in tank warfare. In 1941- the Quisling, Norweigen legion of the waffen ss were formed and housed in Wessex barracks. The now Scots DGs officers mess being the hospital, medical centre. The “DAS REICH” ss panzer division was here April to June 42. The “ADOLF HITLER”LAH; ss heavy panzer battalion of Michael Wittmann fame trained here before moving to the Russian front. In the spring of 1943 the Luftwaffe field division
Were here as were the Spanish blue division, and not to mention most if not all of the panzer divisions, panzer jager battalions-infantry units all had a spell on the ranges and training area, much the same as the units of NATO training today.
With the fall of Italy to the Germans in 1943,There one time allies also arrived as pows. One unit here in training was dis armed and locked up. The huge influx of Italians meant that once more the situation deteriated. With the exception of the Soviet pows the Italians suffered the most deaths in the camps. The Italian camp was situated on the area that is now heide school- two hut foundations can still be seen in the horse field behind the rmp station.
By mid 1944 there were some 96,000pows in the camps and sub camps in Fallingbostel.
The tide of war and the Russian advance into Poland threatened to overrun the pow camps situated there. STALAG 357 was moved from Thorn in Poland to Oerbke, Italian pows helped to construct a newer compound on the site of the old XID;
The beginning of October 1944 saw some 400 British paratroopers, pows captured at Arnheim arrive at Stalag XIB. Included amongst them was the incomparable. RSM, John Lord, ex Grenadier guards attached to the paras, RSM Lord took the conditions in Stalag XIB on as a personal challenge and starting with the men of the parachute regiment set out to change the state of the camp. He insisted that his men should wash and shave daily as if they were in barracks-also they should salute German officers. He also demanded the men take some form of exercise daily.
In February 1945 both camps XIB and XID/357 were in a deplorable state-a lack of food-medical supplies and the influx of ”BATTLE OF THE BULGE” American pows Captured in the German push into the Ardennes was becoming a massive problem. Tents were erected for accommodation of the newer pows.InXID;357 conditions were made worse by the removal of mattresses and bed boards as a reprisal for alleged poor treatment of German pows in Egypt by the allies. In all of the camps-pows were still arriving in their thousands even as the allies advanced on all fronts.
Stalag 357 was a well run camp-although some tension existed between the British army pows and the RAF pows, as to the nature of activities within the camp. The RAF had an escape and intelligence committee that helped pows attempt to escape. It also supplied information to the allies on certain German activities. The army however was much more concerned with causing as little trouble as possible so arguments did ensure. Eventually a vote was held to decide on an overall policy and an overall head of operations, spokesman. The vote was carried overwhelmingly in favour of a RAF ;WARRANT OFFICER ;WO “JAMES “ DIXIE” DEANS who was to become 357s answer to RSM LORD.
winter 44 US troops living in tents!
March 1945 saw the allies crossing the Rhine and the British and American armies advance closer to the river Wesser. In early April, the Germans decided to relocate 357 again-In the final weeks WO DEANS ”DIXIE” was called in front of the commandant-
The pows were to move on foot to the northeast –destination unknown-ready to move,, AT ONCE”. 12,000 men from camp 357 marched out north east with all they could carry in columns of 2,000 strong---WO DEANS, borrowed a bike and rode from column to column giving support….the weather was grim,,, typical Fally –snow, rain,,, The men cold hungry, tired ill- scavenged what they could find on route.
The patience of WO DEANS; snapped he confronted the commandant COL OSTMANN and demanded to be allowed leave to travel to the British lines to get help. This may seem like an outrageous request but as Deans pointed out –the Germans were soon going to be overrun either by the Russians or the British? The Colonel duly granted Deans a pass to carry him through enemy lines and assigned him a guard. Tragedy struck the columns in the form of 9 typhoons of the RAF who mistaking the pows for enemy attacked the columns killing 60 and wounding more……… DIXIE DEANS made it to the town of Lauenburg where he and his guard were found by advancing British troops. The two of them returned to the pow columns and marched them back through to the British lines where his erstwhile captors surrendered.
On 16th April 1945 the 8th HUSSARS RECCE troop reached Fallingbostel. The autobahn marked on their maps was to their surprise no more than a sandy track. Two of the Honey—recce tanks turned along the autobahn and followed it to a wide open space from which they could see the first camp. Approaching the throng of newly freed people it became apparent that they were not British. This first camp was the Italians pow camp on Queens ave/Adolf Hitler strasse as it was then , the heide school site. The tanks moved on along the northern edge of the camp parallel to the road/queens ave, crossing the railway tracks and sidings and reaching Fallingbosteler stases, stopping some 50 mtrs from the autobahn bridge. Unsure of the location of STALAG XIB as it was concealed by trees. However one of the tank commanders noticed a figure amongst the trees with a maroon beret and from then on the job of locating the gate was easy. The tanks were met at the gates by a guard of ”VERY SMART PARATROOPERS” Under RSM JOHN LORD. The Hussars noted that the pows in XIB were wearing ,smarter cleaner uniforms than themselves. The pows finding that the Hussars had to “push on” filed smartly back into the camp to clear the road.
The situation at STALAG XID 357 was very different, none of the discipline evident earlier was seen, with dirty, ill fed and almost hysterically happy soldiers being the norm.
It should of course be remembered that most of the able-bodied –fit pows had marched northeast to the Elbe before the liberation on the 16thAPRIL
STALAG XIB was the first British pow camp to be liberated by advancing troops.
A few days latter the newly freed Soviet pows were causing chaos in and around Fallingbostel---they had looted most if not all of the town and started raping the locals
The large officers mess building which stood opposite the wild boar on queens ave was looted and burnt to the ground…..
The British ---put them back in the camps for safe keeping until repatriation to Russia.
SO THIS APRIL 16TH ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION, SPARE A PRAYER FOR THE BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN WHO SURVIVED AND THOSE WHO DIDN’T GET TO SEE HOME AGAIN...........THE POWS OF ALL NATIONS.
The only building still left standing of XIB is the delousing building. Today it used to store building material.
Today the town of Oerbke sits on the site of XIB but one can still find remains of the huts in a small patch of wood between Oerbke and Fallingbostel camp about 300 meters away.
Stairs to one of the huts
FURTHER INFORMATION CAN BE OBTAINED FROM:
BOOKS: HISTORY 7 ARMD DIV ::G FORTY:
KREIG IN DER HEIMART: U. SAFT
THE LAST ESCAPE J NICHOL: T RENNELL
HERR HEINRICH BAUMANN
MR KEVIN GREENHALGH GERMANY GUARD SERVICE
WALKING TOURS CAN BE ARRANGED ;VIA K GREENHALGH