Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

How to handle 1,000s of liberated PoWs

I was reading a history of Lt. Gen. William Simpson’s Ninth Army and was struck by this account of how it handled 10,000 newly liberated British and American prisoners of war in Hildesheim, Germany, in April 1945: As each truckload arrived, each man was given a hot shower, dusted with DDT powder, and examined by ...

U.S. National Archives
U.S. National Archives
U.S. National Archives

I was reading a history of Lt. Gen. William Simpson's Ninth Army and was struck by this account of how it handled 10,000 newly liberated British and American prisoners of war in Hildesheim, Germany, in April 1945:

As each truckload arrived, each man was given a hot shower, dusted with DDT powder, and examined by a medical officer. Red Cross ditty bags given to each man contained soap, towel, comb, toothbrush, razor and blades, shaving soap, cigarettes, candy and gum. The men were grouped in airplane load units of 22 and quartered in barracks where cots and clean blankets were provided. For personnel being processed during meal times, K and C rations, hot soup, and coffee, were served. Nothing was left undone to provide ease and comfort to the men who had suffered so much. Chaplains of each faith were in constant attendance. Writing materials, books, the daily Stars and Stripes, Yank and other magazines, ping-pong tables, and small games were provided. An Army Ground Forces Band gave a concert each morning and afternoon. In the evenings, a Special Service company band played dance music and the ex-prisoners danced with Red Cross girls. Two motion picture theaters and a "live talent" Special Service show were open daily. British and American planes began arriving en masse. Sometimes seventy C-47s were on the field at one time. The planes would fly in with gasoline, food, or medical supplies and leave with happy American and British soldiers. Often men who arrived at the camp at 9:00 A.M. were boarding a plane by 2:00 P.M."

Tom again: This is all the more remarkable because the Ninth Army also was dealing with nearly 1 million displaced persons in the area -- as well as a ton of German prisoners, including some who had gone well out of their way to surrender to the Western allies instead of the Red Army.

I was reading a history of Lt. Gen. William Simpson’s Ninth Army and was struck by this account of how it handled 10,000 newly liberated British and American prisoners of war in Hildesheim, Germany, in April 1945:

As each truckload arrived, each man was given a hot shower, dusted with DDT powder, and examined by a medical officer. Red Cross ditty bags given to each man contained soap, towel, comb, toothbrush, razor and blades, shaving soap, cigarettes, candy and gum. The men were grouped in airplane load units of 22 and quartered in barracks where cots and clean blankets were provided. For personnel being processed during meal times, K and C rations, hot soup, and coffee, were served. Nothing was left undone to provide ease and comfort to the men who had suffered so much. Chaplains of each faith were in constant attendance. Writing materials, books, the daily Stars and Stripes, Yank and other magazines, ping-pong tables, and small games were provided. An Army Ground Forces Band gave a concert each morning and afternoon. In the evenings, a Special Service company band played dance music and the ex-prisoners danced with Red Cross girls. Two motion picture theaters and a "live talent" Special Service show were open daily. British and American planes began arriving en masse. Sometimes seventy C-47s were on the field at one time. The planes would fly in with gasoline, food, or medical supplies and leave with happy American and British soldiers. Often men who arrived at the camp at 9:00 A.M. were boarding a plane by 2:00 P.M."

Tom again: This is all the more remarkable because the Ninth Army also was dealing with nearly 1 million displaced persons in the area — as well as a ton of German prisoners, including some who had gone well out of their way to surrender to the Western allies instead of the Red Army.

I think Simpson emerged from World War II as the Army’s ideal general: competent, cooperative, worked well with allies, low-key, and almost forgotten. I’ve just read a dissertation and a book about him and there is not a single memorable anecdote or quote in either. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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