THE LONG MARCH
Scroll down to the bottom of the text to read individual accounts of the March.
The Last Escape - The Untold Story Of Allied POWs 1944-45
by John Nichol and Tony Rennell
The most informative and authoritative account of the Long March (the 'Death March') in existence.
An amazing read.
To buy this book, click on the picture of the book, above.
In January 1945, as the Soviet armies resumed their offensive and advanced into Germany, many of the prisoners were marched westward in groups of 200 to 300 in the so-called Long March or Death March. Many of them died from the bitter cold and exhaustion. The lucky ones got far enough to the west to be liberated by the American army. The unlucky ones got "liberated" by the Soviets, who instead of turning them over quickly to the western allies, held them as virtual hostages for several more months. Many of them were finally repatriated towards the end of 1945 though the port of Odessa on the Black Sea.
The Death March was during the final months of the Second World War in Europe. About 30,000 Allied PoWs were force-marched westward across Poland and Germany in appalling winter conditions, lasting about four months from January to April 1945. It has been called various names: "The Great March West", "The Long March", "The Long Walk", "The Long Trek", "The Black March", "The Bread March", but most survivors just called it "The March". It has also been called "The Lamsdorf Death March".
As the Soviet army was advancing on Poland, the Nazis made the decision to evacuate the PoW camps to prevent the liberation of the prisoners by the Russians. During this period, also hundreds of thousands of German civilians, most of them women and children, as well as civilians of other nationalities, were making their way westward in the snow and freezing weather and many died.
January and February 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the twentieth century, with blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C (–13 °F), even until the middle of March temperatures were well below 0 °F (–18 °C). 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 kilometres 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. 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.
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 lay their hands on. Already underweight from years of prison rations, some were at half their prewar body weight by the end. Because of the unsanitary conditions and a near starvation diet, hundreds of PoWs died along the way from exhaustion as well as pneumonia, diphtheria, pellagra, and other diseases. Typhus was spread by body lice. Sleeping outside on frozen ground resulted in frostbite that in many cases required the amputation of extremities. In addition to these conditions were the dangers from air attack by Allied forces mistaking the POWs for retreating columns of German troops. At a village called Gresse, 60 Allied POWs died in a "friendly-fire" situation 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. As the columns reached the western side of Germany they ran into the advancing British and American 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 five hundred miles by the time they were liberated, and some had walked nearly a thousand miles.
On 4 May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air in aircraft. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war.
Issues connected with the March
Ill-treatment of POWs on the march from Lamsdorf
If you have an account of the March that you would like to be included here, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org
There might be more information about the POWs listed below, on the 'Names' page of this website.
*These POWs might have travelled together for all or part of their journeys.
Here's a couple of POWs who didn't go on the March - how did they get away with it?
My mate and I were detailed to go on the march but as we stood in the queue at the camp gates it started to snow so we turned around and went back to our hut!
R. J. Burbridge
R. J. Burbridge - route
Robbie N. Clark*
Gordon Leslie Hines*
Gordon Leslie Hines - route map
(his account of the march begins in chapter 8)
Herbert Louis Mills
Winston Churchill Parker