German prisoners of war in northwest Europe

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Some of the German soldiers who were captured during the Battle of Aachen in October 1944

More than 2.8 million German soldiers surrendered on the Western Front between D-Day and the end of April 1945; 1.3 million between D-Day and March 31, 1945;[1] and 1.5 million of them in the month of April.[2] From early March, these surrenders seriously weakened the Wehrmacht in the West, and made further surrenders more likely, thus having a snowballing effect. On March 27, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared at a press conference that the enemy were a whipped army.[3] In March, the daily rate of POWs taken on the Western Front was 10,000;[4] in the first 14 days of April it rose to 39,000,[5] and in the last 16 days the average peaked at 59,000 soldiers captured each day.[6] The number of prisoners taken in the West in March and April was over 1,800,000,[7] more than double the 800,000 German soldiers who surrendered to the Russians in the last three or four months of the war.[8]

The Western Allies also took 134,000 German soldiers prisoner in North Africa,[9] and at least 220,000 by the end of April 1945 in the Italian campaign.[9] The total haul of German POWs held by the Western Allies by April 30, 1945 in all theatres of war was over 3,150,000, rising in northwest Europe to 7,614,790 after the end of the war.[10]

It is worth noting that the allied armies which captured the 2.8 million German soldiers up to April 30, 1945, while Adolf Hitler was still alive and resisting as hard as he could, comprised at their peak 88 divisions,[11] which amounted to roughly 1.2 to 1.4 million men. The casualties suffered by the Western Allies in making this contribution to the defeat of the Wehrmacht were relatively light, 164,590 killed and 78,680 taken prisoner,[12] a total loss of 243,270 to inflict a loss of 2.8 million on the German army.

Time-line of German surrenders in the West[edit]

After the D-Day landings German surrenders initially came quite slowly. By June 9 only 4,000 prisoners had been taken,[13] increasing to 15,000 by June 18.[14] The total for June was 47,000,[15] dropping to 36,000 in July;[15] 135,000 were taken in the month subsequent to July 25.[16] August’s total was 150,000.[15] The total number of prisoners attributed to the Normandy campaign was 200,000.[17]

With the successful invasion of the south of France on August 15 and the link-up of the US 7th Army from the south and the US 3rd Army from the north on September 11,[18] all the German troops remaining in central and west France were cut off. As a result, and also including the German troops who surrendered in the hot pursuit to the northern border from Normandy, 344,000 German soldiers surrendered to the Western Allies in September.[15] This was one of the largest German losses in a single month of the war so far. To put it in perspective, 41,000 British troops surrendered after Dunkirk,[19] 138,000 British and Indian soldiers surrendered at Singapore,[20] 173,000 UK military became POWs in the entire course of the war,[21] in Europe and the Far East, while the corresponding figure for the US was 130,000 POWs.[22]

Up to October 17, 1944, 610,541 German soldiers surrendered on the Western front.[23] Between October 17 and February 5, 1945, this total of German POWs taken in north-west Europe increased to 860,000.[24] 250,000 POWs were captured between October 17 and February 5 at a rate of 65,000 a month. By February 22, a further 40,000[25] German soldiers had surrendered and the total number from D-Day until the end of February was over 940,000.[15]

In March 1945, the numbers of German soldiers surrendering accelerated. Eisenhower said they were surrendering at a rate of ten thousand a day[26] but actually approaching 350,000 surrendered in the whole month,[7] bringing the total between D-Day and the end of March 1945 up to 1,300,000.[1] The reason why so many surrendered in March was because Hitler did not allow a fluid response and orderly retreat before the Western Allies’ advance towards the Rhine, so that many German soldiers were trapped in indefensible positions to the west of the Rhine, where they were forced to surrender. Eisenhower referred to the Wehrmacht as a ‘whipped army’ on March 27.[3] In his book Crusade in Europe, Eisenhower wrote ‘We owed much to Hitler’,[27] because he prevented his generals from pulling back the defending forces to the east of the Rhine, probably no later than early January, thus handing the Western Allies 300,000 prisoners on a plate.[27]

The loss of these battle-hardened soldiers irretrievably weakened the German armies left to defend the great natural barrier of the Rhine, and the disintegration of the German armies in the West is shown in their more and more rapid rate of surrender as April progressed.

In the first five days of April, 146,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner[28] [at a rate of 29,000 a day]. In the next nine days, 402,000[29] prisoners were taken [44,000 a day]. Between April 15 and 21, over 450,000 Germans surrendered[30] [over 60,000 a day]; in the last ten days of the month over 500,000[31] waved the white flag [over 50,000 a day]. For the month as a whole the average rate of Germans surrendering was 50,000 a day.[2]

From D-Day onwards the numbers of German soldiers who surrendered in north-west Europe were as follows: 200,000 in Normandy; 610,000 up to October 17, 1944; 1.3 million up to the end of March 1945 and 2.8 million up to the end of April 1945, when Hitler died.

German estimates[edit]

German POWs Held in Captivity [32]

Average during Quarter Held by Western Allies
4th Quarter 1941 6,600
4th Quarter 1942 22,300
4th Quarter 1943 200,000
4th Quarter 1944 730,000
1st Quarter 1945 920,000
2nd Quarter 1945 5,440,000
3rd Quarter 1945 6,672,000

Western Allies' figures[edit]

Date German POWs taken in northwest Europe by month Date German POWs in northwest Europe (total)
June 1944 47,000[15] Normandy campaign 200,000[33]
July 36,000[15] D-Day to October 17 610,541[23]
August 150,000[15] D-Day to February 9 1945 over 900,000[34]
September 344,000[15] D-Day to March 9 1,007,000[15]
October 66,000[15] D-Day to March 31 1,300,000[1]
November 109,000[15] April 1-14 547,173[29]
December 60,000[15] April 16 97,118[35]
January 1945 50,000[15] April 1-16 775,573[36]
February 81,000[15] the Ruhr pocket 316,930[37]
March 340,000[7] April 1-21 more than 1,000,000[30]
April Over 1,500,000[2] D-Day to April 16 2,055,575[38]

In total, the number of German soldiers who surrendered to the Western Allies in northwest Europe between D-Day and April 30 1945 was over 2,800,000 (1,300,000 surrendered up to March 31 1945, and over 1,500,000 surrendered in the month of April).

Stalin and the German surrenders in the West[edit]

On March 29, 1945, Joseph Stalin said to Marshal Georgy Zhukov with alarm, "The German front on the West has entirely collapsed."[39] While Stalin did not want the Western Allies to fail, he did not want them to succeed in defeating the German armies facing them before he had defeated the German armies in the East. On March 27 the Reuters correspondent wrote that the British and American armies heading for the heart of Germany were encountering no resistance.[40] On the same day Eisenhower referred to the Wehrmacht in the West as a "whipped army".[3]The Times, March 27,[41] reported that 31,000 Germans surrendered on March 24 and 40,000 on March 25. The Daily Telegraph wrote on March 22[42] that 100,000 German prisoners had been taken since the Moselle was crossed the day before, and on March 30[43] that 60,000 POWs had been taken in the last two days. Thus between March 21 and 30, 231,000 German soldiers surrendered to the Western armies. On March 31, at a meeting with the American ambassador W. Averell Harriman,[44] Stalin appeared much impressed by the vast number of prisoners the Allies were rounding up in the West, and said, "Certainly this will help finish the war very soon."

Stalin’s concern over the apparent ease with which the Western Allies were capturing so many German soldiers persuaded him, towards the end of March,[45] to start making his plans for the attack on Berlin on April 16,[46] which led to Hitler’s suicide on April 30 and the end of the war in Europe.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c 2,055,575 German soldiers surrendered between D-Day and April 16, 1945, The Times, April 19 p 4; 755,573 German soldiers surrendered between April 1 and 16, The Times, April 18 p 4, which means that 1,300,002 German soldiers surrendered to the Western Allies between D-Day and the end of March 1945.
  2. ^ a b c The Daily Telegraph Story of the War, Vol. 5 p153, ‘The Allied armies in the West captured more than 1,500,000 prisoners during April.’
  3. ^ a b c The Times, March 28 page 4, headline ‘A WHIPPED ARMY, REVIEW BY SUPREME COMMANDER.’ … ‘Quarter of a million German soldiers have been captured since March 1,’ press release dated March 27.
  4. ^ Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, William Heinemann 1948, p 421
  5. ^ The Daily Telegraph Story of the War, Vol. 5 p 127. ‘In the first fourteen days of April 548,173 German prisoners were taken
  6. ^ In the last sixteen days of April, (over) 951,827 Germans were captured to make a total of (over) 1,500,000 for the whole of April, see The Daily Telegraph Story of the War, Vol. 5 p153
  7. ^ a b c The number of prisoners taken in March was approaching 350,000, SHAEF Weekly Summary No. 54 w.e.April 1st. PART I LAND Section A, ENEMY OPERATIONS. Thus the total for March and April was well over 1,800,000. (over 300,000 plus 1,500,000.)
  8. ^ The Times, May 1st 1945 p 4
  9. ^ a b The Times, Feb 23rd 1945 p 4
  10. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p256.
  11. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, p185.
  12. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, p256.
  13. ^ SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary, No.51, w.e. March 11
  14. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Story of The War, Vol. 4, p104
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary, No.51, w.e. March 11 PART I LAND Section H, Miscellaneous 3 Allied Achievements in the West.
  16. ^ Eisenhower Crusade in Europe, p331.
  17. ^ Antony Beevor, D-Day the Battle for Normandy, Penguin 2012, p522.
  18. ^ Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p324.
  19. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p255.
  20. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p255.
  21. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p254.
  22. ^ The World War II Databook, by John Ellis, 1993 p254.
  23. ^ a b The Daily Telegraph, Story of the War, Vol. 4, p183.
  24. ^ The Times, Feb 6th 1945, p4, under headline ‘GEN BRADLEY’S COMMAND’.
  25. ^ The Times, Feb 23rd 1945, p4 under headline ‘MORE THAN 1,000,000 GERMAN PRISONERS’
  26. ^ Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p41.
  27. ^ a b Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p431.
  28. ^ SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary No 55, w.e. April 8th 1945. PART 1 LAND, Section D ENEMY CAPABILITIES.
  29. ^ a b The Daily Telegraph , Story of the War, Vol. 5, p127. 'In the first fourteen days of April 548,173 German prisoners were taken.' This means that between April 6 and 14 402,173 prisoners were taken.
  30. ^ a b Between 1st and 21st April 1945 over 1,000,000 German soldiers surrendered in the West, Eisenhower Crusade in Europe, p452, which means that more than 450,000 surrendered between 15th and 21st April.
  31. ^ Between 1st and 20th April less than 1,000,000 German soldiers surrendered, SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary No 57, w.e. April 22nd, which means between 21st and 30th April over 500,000 surrendered at a rate of over 50,000 a day.
  32. ^ Source: R. Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht, Ullstein 2002. p272– 273.
  33. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Story of The War, Vol.4,p148
  34. ^ The Times, February 23 1945, p4. 'There are now well over 1,000,000 German prisoners in allied hands. ... Since D-Day over 900.000 have been taken in France,'
  35. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Story of theWar, Vol. 5, p130, 'This is the final debacle of the Wehrmacht. On Monday the American First Army created a new record by taking 97,118 prisoners in a day.'
  36. ^ The Times, April 18 1945, p4. Headline '755,573 PRISONERS IN 16DAYS.'
  37. ^ The Times, April 20 1945, General Bradley at a Press conference, 'Since we crossed the Rhine we have taken altogether 842,864 prisoners .... 316,930 prisoners were taken in the Ruhr pocket.'
  38. ^ The Times, April 19 1945, p4. Headline '2.055,575 PRISONERS SINCE D DAY.'
  39. ^ Antony Beevor, Berlin, The Downfall, Penguin 2007 p145.
  40. ^ Berlin, The Downfall, p144.
  41. ^ The Times, Mar 27th 1945 p4.
  42. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Story of the War 1945, Vol. 5, p98.
  43. ^ The Daily Telegraph, Story of the War 1945, Vol. 5, p110
  44. ^ Berlin, The Downfall, p145-6.
  45. ^ Berlin, The Downfall p144.
  46. ^ Berlin, The Downfall, p147.