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.
For World War I camp history and photos, see WWI history below.
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.
(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.
Prisoners of many nationalities were held in Lager Hammelburg during World War I. Below are some postcards and photos of the camp from 1917-1919.
Two postcards and a photo of the Nordlager, or North Camp:
During World War II, the Nordlager was used to house officer POW's and was called Oflag 13B.
The enlisted men were held in Stalag 13C, in the Südlager, or South Camp.
And a view of the Südlager, the future Stalag 13:
The guard tower (below) appears at the rear of the Nordlager images and on the right in the Südlager image, above.
Post card, closer view of the POW housing:
Administration buildings at the camp:
The three buildings above: the Provianamt (Provision Office), the Garnisonverwaltung (Garrison Office), and the Postamt (Post Office)
A great nephew of one of the English POW's in Lager Hammelburg during World War I has generously shared the photos and camp postcards received by his family during the war.
His great uncle, Walter Thompson, was a private in the Northumberland Fusiliers, and was captured on April 28, 1917. He was a prisoner in Lager Hammelburg, survived the war, and died in 1938.
Walter's sister wrote to him in the camp after receiving news he was there:
June 15th 1917
We nearly went mad with joy, when we received your card & saw that it was your writing. We do hope that your leg is better, take care of yourself & get well. We sent Mrs Bowman your photo & she is sending us one of her husband to keep for you. Jack Atkin nearly cried when he saw your card, he said “if anyone had given him £100 it would not have been as good as your writing. It was worth more than more than that to us. Tell us if there is anything you want Walter & if you receive our cards & letters alright. So cheer up & get well. We are all longing for the time when we shall see you again.
Your loving sister
The reverse of the postcard-letter shows the Lager Hammelburg postal stamp:
Many (or all) of these photos were done by local photographers in Hammelburg and made into postcards for the prisoners to mail home.
Some of the photos were taken in August of 1918.
Other POW's who have been identified are Alfred Roberts, middle of front row, and A. Stroud, second in back row (above).
Alfred Roberts is in the back row, second from the end, and A. Stroud is the first one in the front row (above).
Here is how the camp looked in 1938 when an artillery regiment was stationed there:
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. (See German Army video.)
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 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.
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.
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.
The first 300 American officers arrived in the camp on January 11, 1945, soon joined by another 153 officers, all captured on the Western Front during the Battle of the Bulge between December 15th and 22nd, 1944.
In March of 1945, a group of about 490 Americans arrived from Oflag 64 in 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.
By March 25, 1945, there were 1291 officers and 127 enlisted men in Oflag 13B.
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.
Patton later claimed it had nothing to do with his son-in-law being there! He also said it was his only mistake of the war.
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.
After the failed rescue attempt, the Germans moved all of the Western Allied prisoners to other camps, except the ones in the camp hospital.
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.
To read the detailed Red Cross report, see conditons at Oflag 13B.
The POW camp had a hospital, or Lazarett (military hospital, in German), to take care of sick or injured POW's.
At one point during the war, the camp was run by an Italian medical officer who had been captured by the Germans in 1943. Major Mario Anagni was the director of the camp hospital for some period beginning in July, 1944.
This information was provided by the major's niece, who discovered this from seeing the documents of an Italian soldier, Cinque Antonio di Nola, who had been in the hospital when Major Anagni was in charge there and had requested a certificate of his illness during that period.
The buildings in the above photo still stand. Go to current map to see 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.
On April 6, 1945, the 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; the man on the right facing the camera, shaking hands, looks very much like Sgt. Sherry.
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.
The Americans continued to occupy the camp until 1956. They renamed it Camp Denny Clark, after a medic who was killed in action.
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.
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.
(Kogo, GNU FD license.)
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. To read more about his story, see Robert Hogan.
Stalag XIII B was a POW camp near the town of Weiden, in the Nuremberg area.
The daughter of one of the former prisoners there provides a very interesting account of her father's experience as a Polish POW. More on Stalag 13B.
In 1944 the U.S. Military Intelligence Service published a report on how American POWs were being treated in Germany. To read the report, see POW camp conditions.
A castle high on a hill in eastern Germany was used to house POWs who had escaped from other POW camps. They were primarily British and British Commonwealth prisoners, and their exploits have become legendary, inspiring numerous films, books and TV shows. See Colditz Castle for more info.