The March

The March refers to a series of forced marced during the final stages of the war in Europe.

From a total of 257,000 western allied POW, over 80.000 POW's were fored to march westwards across Poland,Czechoslovakia, and Germany in extreme winterconditions, over about four months between January and April 1945.

 

It is known that a number of men taken Prisoner at Arnhem-Oosterbeek also took part in it, and as a result died and are missing since.


POW Camp evacuations

13 July 1944 –evacuation of Stalag Luft VI at Heydekrug in Lithuania begins, to Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow involving a force march and 60hr journey by ship to Swinemunde, or by force march and cattle train to Stalag XX-A at Thorn in Poland.

24 December 1944 – POW work camps near Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) are evacuated.

27 December 1944 to April 1945 – POWs at Stalag VIII-B (formerly Stalag VIII-D) at Teschen began their forced march through Czechoslovakia, towards Dresden, then towards Stalag XIII-D at Nuremberg and finally on to Stalag VII-A at Moosburg in Bavaria.

12 January 1945 – Red Army launched offensive in Poland and East Prussia.

19 January 1945 – evacuation from Stalag Luft 7 at Bankau, near Kreuzberg, Poland, begins in blizzard conditions – 1,500 prisoners were force marched then loaded onto cattle trucks and taken to Stalag III-A atLuckenwalde, south of Berlin.

20 January 1945 – Stalag XX-A at Thorn, Poland started evacuation.

22 January 1945 – Stalag 344 at Lamsdorf, Silesia was evacuated.

23 January 1945 – Evacuation began at Stalag XX-B at Marienburg, Danzig.

27 January 1945 to February 1945 – evacuation began at Stalag Luft III, Sagan, to either Stalag III-A at Luckenwalde, 30 km south of Berlin, or to Marlag und Milag Nord, near Bremen, or to Stalag XIII-D, nearNuremberg, then onto Stalag VII-A near Moosburg, Bavaria.

29 January 1945 - Stalag IID Stargard (now Stargard Szczeciński, Poland) was evacuated. Almost a thousand men struggled into formation. There were about five-hundred Russians, two-hundred Frenchmen, one-hundred Americans and twenty-five Canadians in the march. The POWs were put on a forced march along a northern route in blizzard conditions via Settin (Szczecin) to arrive at Stalag 2A, Neubrandenberg on February 7, 1945.

6 February 1945 to March 1945 – Evacuation from Stalag Luft IV at Gross Tychow, Pomerania began an eighty-six-day forced march to Stalag XI-B and Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel. Many prisoners were then marched from here at the end of the war towards Lübeck.

8 February 1945 – Stalag VIII-C at Sagan was evacuated. The POWs marched across Germany to Stalag IX-B near Bad Orb, and arrive there 16 March.

10 February 1945 – Stalag VIII-A at Görlitz was evacuated.

3 April 1945 – Stalag XIII-D at Nuremberg was evacuated.

6 April 1945 – Stalag XI-B and Stalag 357 at Fallingbostel were evacuated.

16 April 1945 – Oflag IV-C, (Colditz Castle), was liberated.

POWs left behind at Fallingbostel were liberated by the British Second Army.

19 April 1945 – POW column was attacked by allied aircraft at Gresse resulting in 60 fatalities.

22 April 1945 – Stalag III-A at Luckenwalde was liberated by Soviet forces.

29 April 1945 – Stalag VII-A at Moosburg was liberated by Patton's Third United States Army.

30 April 1945 – Berlin falls to the Red Army and Hitler commits suicide.

4 May 1945 – German forces surrendered on Lüneburg Heath.

8 May 1945 – The last POWs evacuated from Stalag XI-B at Fallingbostel are liberated on VE day.

12 May 1945 – The Red Army releases Commonwealth and US POWs at Stalag III-A, Luckenwalde.

 

January and February 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the 20th century in Europe, with blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C (–13 °F), and even until the middle of March, temperatures were well below 0 °C (32 °F).

 

Most of the POWs were ill-prepared for the evacuation, having suffered years of poor rations and wearing clothing ill-suited to the appalling winter conditions.

 

In most camps, the POWs were broken up in groups of 250 to 300 men and because of the inadequate roads and the flow of battle, not all the prisoners followed the same route. The groups would march 20 to 40 kilometers a day - resting in factories, churches, barns and even in the open. Soon long columns of POWs were wandering over the northern part of Germany with little or nothing in the way of food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

 

Prisoners from different camps had different experiences: sometimes the Germans provided farm wagons for those unable to walk. There seldom were horses available, so teams of POWs pulled the wagons through the snow. Sometimes the guards and prisoners became dependent on each other, other times the guards became increasingly hostile. Passing through some villages, the residents would throw bricks and stones, and in others, the residents would share their last food. Some groups of prisoners were joined by German civilians who were also fleeing from the Russians. Some who tried to escape or could not go on were shot by guards.

 

Those with intact boots had the dilemma of whether to remove them at night - if they left them on, trench foot could result; if they removed them, they may not get their swollen feet back into their boots in the morning or, worse, the boots may freeze or be stolen.

 

With so little food they were reduced to scavenging to survive. Some were reduced to eating dogs and cats — and even rats and grass—anything they could obtain. Already underweight from years of prison rations, some were at half their pre-war body weight by the end.

 

Because of the unsanitary conditions and a near starvation diet, hundreds of POWs died of disease along the way and many more were ill. Dysentery was common; sufferers had the indignity of soiling themselves whilst having to continue to march, and being further weakened by the debilitating effects of illness. This disease was easily spread from one group to another when they followed the same route and rested in the same places. Many POWs suffered from frostbite which could lead to gangrene. Typhus, spread by body lice, was a risk for all POWs, but was now increased by using overnight shelter previously occupied by infected groups. Some men simply froze to death in their sleep.

 

In addition to these conditions were the dangers from air attack by Allied forces mistaking the POWs for retreating columns of German troops. On April 19, 1945, at a village called Gresse, 30 Allied POWs died and 30 were seriously injured (possibly fatally) when strafed by a flight of RAF Typhoons.

 

As winter drew to a close, suffering from the cold abated and some of the German guards became less harsh in their treatment of POWs. But the thaw rendered useless the sledges made by many POWs to carry spare clothing, carefully preserved food supplies and other items. So, the route became littered with items that could not be carried. Some even discarded their greatcoats, hoping that the weather did not turn cold again. As the columns reached the western side of Germany they ran into the advancing western Allied armies. For some, this brought liberation. Others were not so lucky. They were marched towards the Baltic Sea, where Nazis were said to be using POWs as human shields and hostages. It was later estimated that a large number of POWs had marched over 800 km (500 mi) by the time they were liberated, and some had walked nearly a 1,500 km (930 mi).

 

On 4 May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war.