The Liberation of Stalag Luft 1 Barth
By the spring of 1945 Stalag Luft 1 contained over 9000 POW’s, the majority of which were US airmen. At the end of April 1945, Hitler was already dead and the Red Army was approaching the Baltic coast, The German Kommandant, Oberst Warnstadt ordered the prisoners to prepare to march, but the senior Allied officers headed by US Colonel Hub Zemke, knowing the weak and under equipped state of the remaining German guards flatly refused to budge, the Germans had neither the ammunition, manpower or stomach for a massacre so they departed without them. The Allied prisoners to their credit maintained iron discipline and stayed put, the following day forward units of the Red army consisting of a regiment of Cossacks arrived and were met and greeted by a recce party of senior officers. The Russians were very respectful of the prisoners and treated them well, but they remained effectively in captivity. It was reported to the prisoners that the Cossacks were not so lenient with the local town of Barth which was sacked.
Reports suggest that what the prisoners were now unaware of was that over the next two weeks they would become the bargaining chip of the Russians. Adjacent to the prison camp was an airstrip, which was quickly identified by the Allied command as a way of repatriating the prisoners, but this was now effectively Russian airspace and the Russians would not allow an airlift to begin until they had something they wanted badly.
General Andrei Vlasov had been captured by the Germans earlier in the war, he was a bitter opponent of Stalin and the Germans used him to form a 5000 strong “Russian Liberation Army” consisting of Russian POW’s fight against Stalin. Research shows that in a top level, top secret deal between the US and the Russians, Vlasov was handed over to the Red Army at 14-30hrs on 12/5/45 as the B17’s started to circle the airfield at Barth, that had incidentally, only recently been checked and cleared of mines by the prisoners themselves and at 15-30hrs that same day, to the cheers of the prisoners the first B17 landed and so began “Operation Revival” the three day airlift by the US 8TH Air force. The US personnel were taken to “Camp Lucky Strike” the repatriation receiving centre at Le Havre, whilst the RAF men, including, we think, F/O Bruce David were flown to bases in the UK, most likely to Bassingbourn, to be debriefed and posted or demobbed.
Russian General Andrei Vlasov allegedly traded for the prisoners, was seen as a traitor to the Stalinist regime so his fate needs little in the way of imagination, he was tried and hung. Bruce David was home safe, but he would soon find out that his brother was sadly not so lucky.