Memories of Stalag 383
The Yanks are Coming
Graphic by Raine
No man at Hohenfels will ever forget that April, 1945, for April was the month of Liberation.
It was a fantastic hotch-potch of mixed excitements at the time and, looked back upon now, it has all the haziness of a dream. A dream too crowded to recall.
The main facts are simple enough; but the multiple details, the tense atmosphere, the mixed emotions that coloured them defy description. So I shall not describe them. Instead, I will put down briefly the outline of events - events that led to our freedom.
In early April 1945, Stalag 383 was convalescing. The winter just past had weakened us, and though, thanks to the WHITE ANGELS, we were now getting half a parcel each per week, the majority of men were still feeble. No longer bed-bound as before, but still pretty shaky on their pins.
But who cared, anyway? The weather was good and the news glorious. We could just sit back and wait for the greatest day of all. The day when the Stalag would be freed.
As for our weakness, it was a blessing in disguise. Had not the Kommandant assured us of this: that we should not be marched to other camps, even though the Allies reached the district? That was a comfort to us all, and especially to those late arrivals who had already been evacuated from Lamsdorf in Silesia to this haven in Bavaria. To 'stay put' till the end was the height of our desire.
One day in April the Allies crossed the Rhine, and from then on we lived on nerve and news. Patton's Third Army moved on Buremberg; our hidden radios told us of his progress; a secret transmitter in the camp went into action, and messages on the short wave were tapped to the advancing Yanks.
But evidently they just couldn't get our location, so, when they were some thirty or forty miles from the camp, another means was tried to make a contact. Eddie Ramage was detailed to escape from the Stalag, slip through the Hun lines, reach the Americans and given them some dope - the strength of the camp, the probable attitude of the Huns when the camp was reached, and so forth.
Eddie made a great effort which just failed. He got out of the camp okay and was through some new defence lines before the werewolves caught him crossing a canal. They knocked him about a bit, then brought him back to the Stalag, where he was straightway thrown in the bunker. He was lucky to retun alive.
So what next? There was a temporary blackout on news from Patton, and rumours flew thick and fast. Most of them were pretty bright in tone, but not all. We began to wonder about the Salzburg redoubt. To wonder about the Kommandant's assurances.
And then the bombshell came. The Huns were going to shift us and previous promises meant nothing. High Command orders had arrived, it seamed, and the camp must be evacuated immediately, no matter what the general condition of the prisoners.
Hospital patients could stay, since there was no transport to move them, and a limited number of men, genuinely unable to march, would be given chits as well. But the rest of the camp must march at once. There were strong S.S. formations in the district and the Kommandant of the camp was powerless to defy them. Ruthless action was certain were the order not obeyed.
So that was that. At first, it was a sad blow to the camp and there was bitter regret that defiance would be hopeless. But we soon cheered up. There was no sense in bemoaning our luck - and no time for it either. There were kits to pack, pals to see, plans to make at once. Perhaps, after all, it would be for the best. There might be chances for a break on the march. You never knew your luck in matters like this. At least we'd be out of the wire.
But others thought differently right from the start. Apart from the fifteen hundred or so who were admitted, even by the Germans, to be incapable of marching, there were plenty who planned to stop in the camp. Plenty who thought that any risk was better than a march to God knows where.
These Kriegies went to earth in hide-outs, choosing the weirdest places they could think of in the camp and just lying low with their rations and their hopes.
But their comrades wished them luck - and went on packing. For there was obviously a limit to the number who could hide. Unless the bulk of the camp went on the march, the Stalag would be cleared by force, and the sick and sound alike would be driven out by bayonets. Five Thousand men, at least, must make the march.
And so they did. There was a night of farewell parties, blazing fires and all-night brew-ups. There was a dawn of hectic packing, map consulting and deep conspiracies - and the first batch of marchers were off, the cheers and chivvyings of the rest accompanying them.
But, leaving the marchers on the road, we must follow the fortunes of the others - the men who stayed behind in the Stalag.
One of these men was that lively Aussie journalist, Keith 'Scoop' Hooper, an ever-cheerful, ever-eager hunter down of news. To 'Scoop,' then, I willingly hand over. In his own bright way he tells the story - the story of the last days of the camp.
Music : Patrol