Friday Reader: The Real Stalag 13

A US Army M4 Sherman tank of the 47th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division, crashes through the fence of Oflag XIII-B, April 6, 1945.

A US Army M4 Sherman tank of the 47th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division, crashes through the fence of Oflag XIII-B, April 6, 1945.

Stalag 13 didn’t just exist in the celluloid world of Hogan’s Heroes. There really was a POW camp called Stalag 13 (or Stalag XIII C) on the outskirts of Hammelburg, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Frankfurt.

Oflag XIII-B was a German Army World War II prisoner-of-war camp camp for officers (Offizierlager), originally in the Langwasser district of Nuremberg. In 1943 it was moved to a site 3 km (1.9 mi) south of the town of Hammelburg in Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany.

In 1893, the Kaiser created a training camp for German soldiers in a large forested area about 2.5 miles (4 km) south of Hammelburg. This training area was called Lager Hammelburg (or Camp Hammelburg) and it still goes by that name.

Lager Hammelburg and the Town of Hammelburg, 1920's (Truppen-Übungsplatz is the camp)

Lager Hammelburg and the Town of Hammelburg, 1920’s
(Truppen-Übungsplatz is the camp)

During World War I, the camp was used to house Allied prisoners of war and in 1920, a Children’s Home was established on the premises.

The Home for poor children was run by the Benedictine nuns and expanded over the years to take over many of the buildings. When it closed in 1930, over 60,000 children had been cared for there.

Lager Hammelburg in 1916

Lager Hammelburg in 1916

How the camp looked in 1938 when an artillery regiment was stationed there:

Future Stalag 13C (or rather Oflag 13B), 1938

Future Stalag 13C (or rather Oflag 13B), 1938

Lager Hammelburg, 1938

Lager Hammelburg, 1938

An expansion of the camp in 1938 swallowed two nearby villages. The ghost town of Bonnland is still there and is now used for urban warfare training.

The Birth of Stalag 13

In the summer of 1940, the southern end of the camp was prepared for prisoners of war from the enlisted ranks. The camp was called Stammlager XIII C, or Stalag XIII C for short, and wooden barracks were built to house POWs of a variety of nationalities.

The first to arrive were the Dutch, Belgian and French soldiers captured during the Blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940.

In 1941, Serbian, Polish and Russian soldiers joined them after battles on the eastern front; the Serbians arrived in the spring, and the Russians in the summer.

Some of the British, Australian and other Commonwealth soldiers captured in the fighting in Crete in 1941 also ended up in the camp.

Australian POW's at Stalag 13

Australian POW’s at Stalag 13

The third man from the right, bottom row, is Arthur Hunt, father-in-law of the contributor of the photo. Below is the reverse side of the photo, with the official Stalag XIII C stamp.

Other side of the photo.

Other side of the photo.

Here’s an interesting article about an Australian POW and undercover work at Stalag 13.

After the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, several hundred captured American officers were sent to Oflag 13B. More Americans started arriving from camps in the east as the Russian army advanced.

The Lager held over 30,000 POW’s, with the Russians as the largest group. As required by the Geneva Convention, different nationalities were housed separately.

Junior enlisted prisoners, corporal and below, were required to work. These POW’s were assigned to work units in neighboring factories, farms and forests. They lived outside the camp and were guarded by a battalion of Home Guards (Landschützen).

The real Kommandants of Stalag 13 between 1940 and 1945 were Lieutenant Colonel von Crailsheim, Colonel Franck and Colonel Westmann.

Officer’s Camp

The officers were housed in stone buildings at the northern end of the camp (the Nordlager), separately from the enlisted prisoners, except for a handful of privates and NCO’s who assisted the officers. This camp was called Offizierlager XIII B, or Oflag 13 B.

The officers’ camp was divided into two sections: Serbian and American.

In the spring of 1941, 6,000 Serbian officers arrived, and they witnessed the arrival of the Russian prisoners a few months later.

Judging from the large number of Russians buried at the camp (over 3000), the appalling treatment of Russian POW’s in general, and a report from a Serbian officer at Oflag 13B, it appears the Russian prisoners were treated very poorly and had a very high mortality rate, unlike most of the other nationalities.

Among the Russian officers arriving in Hammelburg in 1941 was the eldest son of Joseph Stalin, Yakov. He only spent a few weeks in Oflag 13 before the SS came and moved him to another camp.

The Germans offered to exchange him for Field Marshall Paulus. Stalin replied, “You have millions of my sons. Free all of them or Yakov will share their fate.” Later, Yakov allegedly committed suicide in Sachsenhausen concentration camp by running into the electrified fence.

In March of 1945, a group of about 400 Americans arrived from Poland after marching hundreds of miles in snow and extreme cold. One of the men was Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, the son-in-law of General George Patton.

The 11th Hour Raid

By early April of 1945, the Americans had crossed the Rhine and were within 80 miles of Hammelburg. General Patton ordered a special armored task force to go deep behind the German lines and free the prisoners in Oflag/Stalag 13.

Lieutenant Colonel John Waters, here, seen as a general. He was General Patton's son-in-law.

Lieutenant Colonel John Waters, here, seen as a general. He was General Patton’s son-in-law.

The men of Task Force Baum, as it was called, ran into heavy resistance coming in but they reached the camp on March 24, 1945. The tanks knocked down the fences, but they also started firing at the Serbian officers, mistaking them for Germans. Lieutenant Colonel Waters came out with a white flag, accompanied by a German officer, to contact the Americans and stop the shooting. Waters was shot in the stomach by a German guard and was taken to the camp hospital.

The tanks left, accompanied by many of the able-bodied prisoners, but without Waters. On the way back, the Task Force was ambushed and forced to surrender. Out of the 314 men in the unit, 26 were killed and most of the rest were captured. Most of the POW’s returned to the camp as well. Lt.Col. Waters survived and eventually retired as a four-star general.

For more information, see Task Force Baum , a very interesting website about this event.

After the failed rescue attempt, the Germans moved all of the Western Allied prisoners to other camps, except the ones in the camp hospital.

Stalag 13 Camp Conditions

Life in Oflag and Stalag 13 became grim as the war neared its end. The Germans were running out of food and fuel and having difficulty getting supplies for the prisoners.

A Red Cross report following an inspection of Oflag 13B by the Swiss in March, 1945, revealed dreadful conditions. Daily calories provided by the Germans were 1050 per day, down from 1700 calories earlier. The average temperature in the barracks was 20 degrees F (or -7 degrees C) due to lack of fuel.

Many men were sick and malnourished, and morale and discipline were low. No Red Cross packages had reached the Americans since they started arriving in January. They only reason they didn’t starve was the generosity of the Serbian officers, who shared their packages.

You can read the full report at International Red Cross Report on the Task Force Baum website.

Liberation of Stalag 13

The prisoners are freed.

The prisoners are freed.

The buildings in the above photo still stand. The map below shows where they are now, on the grounds of Lager Hammelburg. They’re inside the restricted area, but can be easily seen from the fence near the main gate. The locations of the first building and the tank from the title photo of this piece are marked, as well the main gate of the camp and a good spot for viewing the remaining buildings. (Thanks to Geoff Walden of thirdreichruins.com in identifying it.)

On April 6, 1945, the US Army’s 47th Tank Battalion liberated Lager Hammelburg without a fight. Lt. Col. Waters was still there, recuperating in the hospital with some other sick or wounded men. Otherwise, the only prisoners left were the Serbian officers and the Polish and Yugoslavian enlisted men.

One of the American prisoners in Stalag XIIIC at the end of the war was Sergeant Bradford Sherry. His son in the past has posted photos and documents related to his father’s captivity.

Several days later, the tank battalion left to rejoin the fighting, leaving a supply unit at the camp. For the next month, no one was in charge of the POW’s and there was widespread looting of the surrounding villages, including Hammelburg.

When peace came with the German surrender on May 8, 1945, the Americans returned to occupy Lager Hammelburg and restored order in the town. The remaining prisoners were sent home.

Stalag 13 After World War II

The Americans continued to occupy the camp until 1956. They renamed it Camp Denny Clark, after a medic who was killed in action.

Barracks housing POWs, photographed in 1948 by ex-POW Lt. Donald Prell when he visited the camp in 1948.

Barracks housing POWs, photographed in 1948 by ex-POW Lt. Donald Prell when he visited the camp in 1948.

The northern part of the Stalag 13 was used to intern former Nazi Party members. The camp also housed large numbers of German refugees who had fled the advancing Russian army in eastern Germany as well as ethnic Germans who had been expelled from areas of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

POW Background Information

P47 Thunderbolt (Kogo, GNU FD license.)

P47 Thunderbolt
(Kogo, GNU FD license.)

One of the American POW’s at Oflag 13 in Hammelburg was Walter Frederick Morrison, the inventor of the frisbee. He was a fighter pilot and was shot down flying a P-47 Thunderbolt. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 90.

There was a real life counterpart to the fictional Colonel Robert Hogan of Hogan’s Heroes of Stalag 13. Lieutenant Robert Hogan was an American bomber pilot shot down and imprisoned in Oflag 13D near Nuremberg.

Although the studio maintains that Colonel Robert Hogan of Hogan’s Heroes was a completely fictional character, there really was a POW in a Stalag 13 named Robert Hogan whose story bears striking similarities to the Hollywood version.

The real Robert Hogan was a pilot flying B24 bombers out of Italy, who was shot down in January of 1945 over Yugoslavia and sent eventually to the Stalag 13 camp outside of Nuremberg (actually the Oflag 13 camp, since he was an officer. Stalags were only for enlisted men.) This camp was adjacent to Stalag 13 D, not the Stalag 13 C camp outside of Hammelburg, but close enough for the producers of the TV show to be interested when Dr. Robert Hogan contacted them. The real Robert Hogan got to meet Bob Crane of Hogan’s Heroes in 1966.

Robert Hogan’s son stated his father didn’t talk much about his POW experiences, but he did mention the following:

The POW’s were reasonably well-treated by the German guards, though they were gradually starving to death. Of course, the German guards were not much better off than the prisoners – food was scarce. A young girl from the nearby village would occasionally throw pieces of fruit over the fences for the prisoners. He said that food was the thing they thought and talked about the most…and also dreamed about.

The prisoners’ rations consisted of only one meal a day: a bowl of “cabbage soup”, which was nothing more than a bowl of warm water with a few cabbage leaves thrown in. Each barracks also shared one loaf of “bread”, baked with a significant amount of sawdust mixed in to stretch it further.

Though there was little similarity between his real-life experience and the Hogan’s Heroes series, there were three significant things that were similar: 1) the commandant wore a monocle like Colonel Klink, 2) there was a big, fat, goofy sergeant like Sergeant Schulz, and 3) the prisoners had a “secret” radio.

As for item #3, that radio was not very “secret”. In fact, the commandant of the Stalag allowed the POW’s to continue to operate their “clandestine” radio because the commandant got more reliable information from that source than he did from the official Nazi propaganda.

For more information about Lt. Robert Hogan (later Dr. Robert Hogan), his life and wartime experiences, see this article from the Jefferson County Historical Association in Alabama.

On the Web:

List of Kriegsgefangenenlager Moosburg Online (in German)

A Brief History of Oflag 64

Oflag XIII-B, Report of the International Red Cross

Task Force Baum and the Hammelburg Raid

Oflag 64 Association

First hand account of Oflag XIII-B by Donald Prell

Patton’s Ill-Fated Raid

Crash

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4 thoughts on “Friday Reader: The Real Stalag 13

    • You’re very welcome Greg and glad you enjoyed the piece! I’m a fan of HH too and happy it lives on in TV reruns and on YouTube. Programs like Hogan’s Heroes & MASH (both very related to each other) were so very rare in a lifetime.

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