Captivity- Stalag VIIIB and E72, 1940-45

Captivity 1940-45

The majority of enlisted men from the 140 Field Regiment captured during the breakout from Cassel, and prior actions in France and Belgium, were eventually transferred to Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf in Silesia.  A lesser number were transferred to Stalag XXA Thorn (now Torun, Poland).

According to the Geneva Convention, men below the rank of Sergeant deemed fit were required to work for ‘non-war work’ and were scattered into various working parties throughout South Eastern Germany, occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Lance Bombardier West, 140 Field Regiment

My father, Lance Bombardier Eric West, was first transferred, probably by forced marching, to Stalag VIB, which was in the German town of Versen in the marshy flatlands of the Emsland area on the Dutch/German border. He was assigned his German POW number 12965.

Stalag VIB Versen

The POW Camp at Versen was built in 1938 as one of nine concentration camps in Emsland, originally filled with internal dissidents of the Nazi regime.

In September 1939, the camp had been taken over by the Wehrmacht and renamed Stalag VIB. At first it was used as a transit camp for thousands of prisoners of war from Poland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Eric West was interned here for approximately 2 weeks.

Stalag VIB later became used for political prisoners and Italian internees. In May 1942, it was merged with seven other nearby camps and re-named Stalag VIC Bathorn.

The prison at Versen taken post war 

A correctional facility ‘Justizvollzugsanstalt Meppen’ is now located on the former camp site, and the old camp barracks have been replaced by new buildings.

About 300 metres opposite to the facility is the cemetery of the Versen camp where 297 deceased of the nearby Neuengamme concentration camp are buried.

Stalag VIB was situated in Versen, between Meppen in Northern Germany and Emmen in Holland. The Dutch border is shown as green shading.

Site of one of the Emsland POW camps, a museum and memorial has been created  here

Surviving barrack hut in Stalag VIB, Versen taken in 2004 (Wikipedia)

Official Notification of Eric West as a POW (‘previously shown on Casualty list as Missing’)

Gunner Eric Johnson, 140 Field Regiment 

Gunner Eric Johnson was captured at Watou on 30th May 1940, like my father he was initially taken to the transit camp Stalag VIB.  Gunner Johnson also spent the rest of the war based at Stalag VIIIB, and also some years at the E72 Arbeitskommando work camp, alongside my father.

Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf

Along with many British soldiers captured at Dunkirk, my father was transported  from Stalag VIB, Versen to his eventual destination of Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf.  The transfer date on his military record is given as 19th June 1940.

The accounts of this journey suggest it was a combination of long forced marches with little food or water, followed by interminable train journeys across Germany, the whole process taking several weeks.

Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf was a large complex of POW camps that dated back to the Napoleonic and Great Wars, situated near to the Polish town of Lambinowice in the South-east corner of Silesia about 70 miles east of Krakow.

My Father’s Liberation Questionnaire that was completed on 30th April 1945, suggests he was only held in Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf for a few weeks. After a medical examination that would have declared him fit to work, and registration, he was transferred to the town of Beuthen (now Bytom, Poland) to a work camp known as Arbeitskommando E72, where he was to spend the remainder of the war until the camp was evacuated in January 1945.

E72 Arbeitskommando, Beuthen, Silesia

The prefix ‘E’ simply stands for Englisch. The German border town of Beuthen was in the heavily industrialised area of Upper Silesia, in the triad of coal-mining towns Geilwitz, Hindenburg and Beuthen.  The coal and heavy industry of this ‘tri-city’ area was vital for the Nazi war machine and received heavy inward investment, partly to demonstrate superiority to the Polish industrial area centred on Katowice.

Eric West’s ‘Personnelkarte’ documenting his ‘parent’ Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf & workcamp E72 Beuthen. Her arrived there on 9-10-40. ‘Lazarrete Scharley’ was the Field Hospital used by POWs at this workcamp. 

A new autobahn linking the towns to Breslau and Berlin had been completed in 1939. There were many POW work camps associated with Stalag VIIIB in the area, most were coal mining camps but others included quarrying, railway and road construction, woodwork and farming.

1944 US Army map from 1944. The triad of Upper Silesian towns Gleiwitz, Hindenburg & Beuthen were just inside the German-Polish border (hatched black lines) of 1939. The Polish town of Oswiecim became Auschwitz during the German occupation of Poland and is about 30 miles to the south east.

The iconic disused Hohenzollern winding tower in Bytom, Poland marks the site of the E72 Workcamp.

The Hohenzollern coal mine (grube) received a high level Nazi delegation in 1938

Group photograph at E72 coal mine. Taken in the winter of 1941. My father Eric West is standing first on the right

Another E72 group photograph taken in June 1942. Eric West is seated 2nd from left.

Pre-war map of German Silesia showing construction route of the new Reichs-autobahn linking the Silesian mining towns to Berlin. 

Hohenzollern Grube’ (the site of E72) is marked on this pre-war map of Beuthen. The coal mine was situated at the rail head between the village of Schomberg and Beuthen.

View from winding tower look north, approx. 1985, showing Bytom [Beuthen] in distance, disused railway sidings to the right and characteristic timbered buildings where some of the POW photographs were taken 

1927 map of the Hohenzollern coal mine complex, showing the railway sidings serving the complex. The Briquette factory (which employed Polish and Russian female slave labourers) has a separate railway siding. The village of Schomberg is at the bottom left of the map. Beuthen is to the north above the railway lines.

The rail head and iconic winding tower E72 Arbeitskommando, with thanks to Roger Hawkins

Aerial view, looking north, of the mine complex before the winding tower construction, circa 1925

Hohenzollern Coalmine 

E72, the Hohenzollern Coalmine, was just to the south of Beuthen [Bytom].  Two other POW working parties were associated with this mine, E411, which was a sawmill providing pit props, and E593, which was a Palestinian group based nearby in Schomberg (now Szombierki).

The E72 POW barracks were initially off-site at Schomberg at a disused beer garden until 1942 when new huts were constructed on the campus of the mine itself.

The Hohenzollern mine was at the time one of the most modern and efficient coalmines in Europe.  The mine was established in 1870 by merging the mining fields of Hohenzollern, Kleine, Comtesse and Elinor. It belonged to Joanna Schaffgotsch, and then to the company Graflich Schaffgotsche Werke.  In the first year of operation, the mine produced 4,627 tons of coal.

The first shafts were officially commissioned on 8 July 1873 in the presence of Count von Schaffgotsch and a large group of significant Silesian personalities. At the end of the 19th century 1,200 people were employed, and daily extraction was 1,400 tons of coal.

In the years 1917 – 1920, the “Krystyna” shaft was deepened to a new level of 340 meters, and at this level the drilling of access ditches was started. In 1928, the old tower of the “Kaiser Wilhelm” shaft was replaced with the iconic modernist tower tower 57 metres high.  It was made of brick and given the approximate shape of a mining hammer -a ‘pyrlik’.

A wider, concrete slab was placed on the narrower shaft, on which the upper part of the tower was erected. The windows form vertical lines.  Inside, the first electric hoisting machines in Silesia, located on the head, operated.  They had the power of 2,700 and 2,400 HP and came from the Zabrze Huta Donnersmarck (their engines were BBC Brown Boveri). Machines drove wheels with a diameter of up to 7 meters.

It is alleged that Adolf Hitler climbed to the vantage point at the top of the shaft tower just before the outbreak of World War II to observe Polish territory, shortly to be invaded, across the border.

The E72 mining complex and a scale diagram of the winding tower mechanism (57m height) and shaft (510m depth)

In 1945 the mine was renamed “Szombierki“, and the shaft was renamed “Krystyna“.  The plant was closed in 1997, and most of its infrastructure was dismantled in 2001. The winding tower remains standing to this day as a historic national monument.

E72 work camp , Stalag 8B, Silesia 1941

E72 work camp , Stalag VIIIB, Silesia 1941. ‘Cockneys Roll on London’. My father, Eric West, is standing in the back row, 4th from the left.  Photo courtesy of Christine Parry.

1940 Postcard. ‘Greetings from Beuthen’, The main Kaiser Wilhelm-platz has been renamed Adolf Hitler-Platz 

British Soldiers become Coal Miners 

The men worked a 13-day shift, with one Sunday in two off, cleaning their clothes in the shower on the last day.  Private George Hawkins described the work:

‘..The coal face was 3m x 3m and 1m was blasted off by explosives inserted into the face by drilling approx. 1 m holes. On our way to the face we collected clay from stone bins for plugging the explosive holes. Morning and afternoon shifts moved 2m of coal and the night shift extended the rutsche (shaker) by two metres ready for the next day shift. Coal was shovelled onto the shaker and was then fed onto a conveyor belt that ran to fill the empty wagons which overhead cables hauled to the shaft’.

George Hawkins at the site of the E72 mine where he spent his captivity 1940-45. The Hawkins family revisited the Stalag VIIIB and the site of E72 in 2000. With thanks to Chris Parry.

‘There were rats down the mine but no gas. It had electricity throughout and bright lights.  Seams were 18m deep, dug out in three layers, and then filled with sand. They were told never to try and hide in the pit, pumps were working all the time or it would flood within 24hrs.  Miners would always warn ‘vorsichtig’ –take care, and would listen for sounds of collapse. No one died in the mine, or at the camp, only in the hospital.

During the winter the POWs were often pleased to go down the mine out of the cold. They could only play football or swim in nearby gravel pits if off-duty guards would guard them..’

Arthur Engleskirche and Gerhard Spaniol

The E72 camp commandant, UnterFeldwebel Arthur Engleskirche, shot at least two prisoners and was wanted for war crimes after the war, but was never found.  After the war the Mine Foreman Gerhard Spaniol, a civilian, was successfully tried for war crimes and convicted to seven years imprisonment in September 1947. His sentence was revoked in December 1951.

WO309/80 War Crimes BEUTHEN case. Ref. Telecon TURNER/ LAWRIE.  Following defense witness required by SPANIOL to state that he did not mistreat POWS but looked after their welfare. WEST of 72 WICKHAM Ave, CHEAM, SURREY.  Request you locate and dispatch if willing to attend’. W.P LAWRIE.

According to records WO309/820 at the National Archives in Kew, my father was asked to testify at his trial and appeared to state that in his view Herr Spaniol had not mistreated POWs (see Telegram above). We don’t know whether he attended to give this evidence.

Dolmetscher (Interpreter)

Norman Gibbs became the E72 official interpreter and remained in this role from 1940-44.  During those four years, my father became a fluent German speaker (although apart from a year-long spell as an interpreter with the RAOC between 1945-46, he virtually never used this skill post-war).

Norman Gibbs was abruptly removed from E72 in June 1944, and my father Eric West replaced Gibbs as the camp Dolmetscher (interpreter) from 1944 onward, and his work in the role is mentioned in his Liberation Questionnaire.

John the Bastard, War Crimes

David Blythin

The E72 camp commandant, Unter-Feldwebel Johann Arthur Engelkircher was known to the inmates as ‘John the Bastard‘.  Engelkircher was a committed Nazi and apparently a notorious sadist.  My father completed a war crime affidavit, in his distinctive handwriting, for MI6 after his liberation describing the death, at Engelkircher’s hands, of 2nd Battalion Guardsman David Blythin on 23rd March 1943.

Blythin had refused to work with one of the civilian mine managers, Paul Ridel who was regarded by the men as unsafe.

Herr Paul Ridel, civilian mine manager 

A funeral at E72. It is alleged in the National Archives, by one of the post war witnesses, that the German holding the wreath is John the Bastard (Arthur Engelkircher) although that is thought unlikely as he failed to attend the funerals.

David Blythin’s grave (centre) at Schomberg Cemetry, 1943  

Blythin is now buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Krakow

War Crime Affidavit recording the death of Guardsman David Blythin on 11th March 1943, and CWG certificate, courtesy of Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Palestinian POWs- War Crime

Englekircher was also responsible for the cold-blooded murder of two Palestinian POWs who had escaped. Private Dov-Berl Eisenberg,  (דב-ברל אייזנברג) and Private Eliahu Krauze (אליהו קראוזה) were friends in the Pioneer Corps. They both originated from Lodz, Poland and after capture in Greece had worked in the E593 Palestinian camp for three years.

Private Eliahu Krauze (from

On 17th May 1944 they managed to escape together, but were immediately captured and returned to the camp.  Englekircher ordered them to accompany him on the pretext of searching for a third captive who had disappeared and, in the field, shot them both from behind.  Eisenberg was seriously injured and died later in Lamsdorf. Krauze was killed on the spot.  They are now both buried at the Krakow Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

Private Eisenberg and Krauze’s graves, Krakow CWGC

Both men were posthumously honoured as follows:

War Office, May 24th 1945. The KING has been graciously pleased to approve posthumous awards of Mentions-in-Despatches to the following in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in the field: Pioneer Corps. Pal.11797 Pte.B. EISENBERG. Pal.11786 Pte.E. KRAUZE

The six known POW casualties from E72 are now buried together in Row A at Krakow Commonwealth War Cemetery: – Krauze, Blythin, Wallace, Jarvis, Eisenberg and Honeywell.

Sergeant William Mears, 140 Field Regiment, E72 Man of Confidence  

William Leonard Mears was born in 1916 and originated from Plumstead, South-east London.  Mears was a Sergeant in ‘D’ Troop of 367 Battery at Cassel and so I suspect my father, Eric West, served under his command as Lance Bombardier.

Sergeant Mears completed a Liberation Questionnaire on 10th May 1945 which documents his capture during the Cassel breakout on 30th May 1940 and transfer to Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf, where he arrived in July 1940.

His questionnaire documents a brief escape from captivity a few miles North of Cambrai and had ‘set off in a southerly direction with Bombardier Grey’.  They were recaptured in mid-June 1940 by German infantry.  Mears describes feeling ‘fit‘ but ‘very hungry‘.

Sergeant Mears’ Liberation Questionnaire, completed on 10th May 1945.

Sergeant Mears was assigned to a working camp loading stones for canal maintenance in Gleiwitz, Poland from 8th July 1940 until 27th March 1941, and was then transferred to Arbeitskommando E72 at Bytom, where he served as ‘Camp Trustee‘ (Man of Confidence) until 16th March 1944.

After this he was transferred to Stalag XXA Thorn [now Torun, Poland].

As the E72 Camp Trustee, Sergeant Mears bravely refused to allow prisoners to do some aspects of the work.  He was charged with sabotage against the German state. Fortunately for Mears, the charge was dismissed and the prisoners ‘did not do the work ordered’.

Other 140 Regiment Men in Captivity 

Gunner Peter Pearce, 140th Field Regiment

Gunner Peter George Pearce was captured on 30th May 1940 during the breakout from Cassel.  He was listed as serving in D Troop, 367 Battery which meant he would have served alongside my father Lance Bombardier Eric West.

In 1945 he was mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry in making repeated escape attempts.  I presume he was initially sent to Stalag XXA, Thorn [now Torun in Poland].

Gunner Pearce’s recommendation for an award for gallantry, 1945

In January 1943, Gunner Pearce managed to escape from a working party at Waldow [now Waldowko, about 60 miles north-east of Torun] and boarded a train westward into Germany but was re-captured the following day.

Later in 1943, Pearce escaped from a work camp in Rosenburg, Austria and smuggled himself on to a goods train but, similar to his first attempt, was re-captured the following day.

His third escape was from a punishment camp in Reisenberg [now Osek, Czech Republic] in March 1944 but this was once again short-lived.  He tried again- for a 4th time, from the same camp-using a stolen bicycle with a companion in June 1944. The bicycle suffered a puncture and the two men were caught while attempting a repair.

Pearce’s 4th and final – successful – escape was a breakout from the Long March on 18th January 1945. On this occasion he was able to reach Allied lines, which would have represented a journey of hundreds of miles across frozen terrain to the East.

The Hogan Brothers, 140 Field Regiment 

Lance Bombardier George Hogan and his brother Gunner John Hogan served in 367 Battery and were both captured during the breakout from Cassel on 30th May 1940.

George and John Hogan’s Mention in Dispatches, 1945 

The Hogan brothers were both mentioned in dispatches in 1945 for their multiple escape attempts from various work camps and farms in Germany and occupied Poland during 1943-45.

In March 1943, while working in a farm near Marienwerder, Germany, the brothers escaped form the loft of their billet and walked Eastwards for about 35 km. They were challenged by a German civilian girl and sent back to the farm.

On 30th April 1943, they forced the bars of a window and escaped from the same farm. After walking 30 km they boarded a goods train but were reported by a railway official the same day.

On 3rd March 1944, the Hogan brothers escaped from a farm near Danzig [now Gdanzk, Poland] during a snowstorm. They were recaptured near Konisberg, Germany while hiding in a goods train.

On 24th January 1945 the brothers broke away from their Long March towards Germany and for seven days made progress towards Hammerstein [on the Rhine] in Germany, they were arrested by the Germans and sent to Stalag IID (Stargard)  where they were then forced to join other POW’s marching Westwards. Over the next two-and-a-half months, they broke away from this March on several occasions.

Gunner John, and Lance Bombardier George, Hogan finally managed to break away from the Long March in 1945, although John Hogan was briefly re-captured even at this late stage.  They were met, and finally liberated, after at least five escape attempts, by advancing Allied troops at Celle, Lower Saxony on 17th April 1945.

The E72 Long March, 23rd January 1945

As the Red Army advanced Westwards, the men were marched out of the E72 mine in Bethuen on 23rd January 1945.  They were given two days notice to prepare and no-one went to work.  They were told to leave their blankets and collect three Red Cross parcels.  They left in the evening and marched all night and throughout the next day.

We have no real knowledge of my father’s route home although some of the family anecdotes suggest he was on the Long March.  His Liberation Questionnaire mentions an escape attempt on the first day of the march in January 1945 at Gleiwitz [now Gliwice], but that he was re-arrested by German Feldwebel, and presumably remained on the Long March thereafter.

An estimate of Eric West’s Long March route, Jan-April 1945 (purple ink) based on other’s accounts

Although Norman Gibbs started his Long March from a different work camp, on occasions he describes meeting up with old comrades from E72 on his route and his diary also contains a wealth of new information about captivity in E72 between 1940-44 and the conditions encountered during the cold winter of 1945 (see following pages).

George Hawkins, who was part of the E72 evacuation and long march, was liberated after he met with the advancing American army on 24th April 1945 in Roding, Bavaria.