Historical Background – The Prisoner of War Camp
After D-Day and the Allied advance through France, many German soldiers were captured as prisoners of war. Some of these prisoners, over 1,500 of them, found their way to Island Farm and Prisoner of War Camp 198, as it was then renamed. This plan shows the facilities at the camp, which included a concert hall, a coffee shop and a football pitch. You will also notice two escape tunnels indicated on the plan. More of them later.
As the months rolled on, the German prisoners of war at Island Farm planned their escape. They shared their knowledge and gathered intelligence to draw this fairly accurate map, on soldier Karl Ludwig’s handkerchief.
The German prisoners of war dug two tunnels at Island Farm. The first tunnel was discovered, but the second tunnel, dug from Hut Nine, pictured, offered the prospect of freedom.
While the German prisoners of war dug their tunnel from Island Farm Hut Nine, they sought to distract their guards. These drawings, of ‘Erika’ and ‘Cora’ worked because by March 1945 the tunnel was ready and the escape could commence.
On the 10th March 1945, seventy German prisoners of war escaped from Island Farm through a thirty foot long tunnel dug from Hut Nine. Some sources place the number of escapees at sixty-seven or eighty-four. If the latter figure is correct, then the number of escapees from Island Farm eclipsed the seventy-six Allied prisoners of war who broke out of Stalag Luft III, the inspiration for the film The Great Escape.
Equipped with maps and provisions, the escapees drifted into the darkness. Overnight, some made their way east to Birmingham while others travelled south to Southampton. However, many were captured immediately. Troops, police and civilians, including Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, joined in the manhunt. Eventually, all the prisoners were recaptured, although there is a suspicion that three got away. For propaganda purposes this was never admitted. To counter that claim it must be said that, after the war, no one stepped forward to claim that they successfully escaped.
Hitler treated the escaped prisoners of Stalag Luft III in barbarous fashion. However, the escapees from Island Farm were treated with dignity and were not officially punished.
Below, an illustration from a local newspaper depicting a road block during the manhunt.
After the war, Island Farm became Special Camp Eleven and received many notable prisoners, including Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, while they awaited trial at Nuremberg. Pictured, two groups of unidentified German officers from Special Camp Eleven.
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, below, one of the highest ranked prisoners at Special Camp Eleven. Aged seventy-three, he left the camp in 1948 due to I’ll health.
Below, Field Marshal von Runstedt, General Blumentritt, General Heinrici and Field Marshal von Kleist arrive at Bridgend railway station after attending the Nuremberg war-crimes trial.
Time heals, so they say. And that certainly seemed to be the case for these four escapees from Island Farm, Prisoner of War Camp 198. In 1976, Hermann Schallenberg, Hans Hartzheim, Werner Zielasko and Helmhart Perl arrived at Bridgend railway station to revisit the camp.