THE NEWPORT NEWS WWII POW CAMPS
Camp Patrick Henry, the German POW Camp, morphed into Patrick Henry Field, now Newport News Williamsburg International Airport.
Another German POW Camp was located at the continuation of the James River Bridge crossover from Virginia Avenue to Jefferson Avenue, below the bridge. More still were housed at Fort Eustis.
The Italian POW camp was on the Old Casino Grounds which was on the hill behind the Victory Arch.
Camp Hill, also used for the Italian POWs, was bounded to the south by the temporary wooden railroad overpass at 58th Street, the James River Bridge/Military Highway railroad overpass to the north, Jefferson Avenue to the east, and the railroad yards to the west.
of Bill Lee (WHS -
'54) of NC - 09/30/09
of Bill Lee (WHS -
'54) of NC - 09/30/09
... I don't think very many of
the newsletter subscribers will remember this but there was a German POW
camp in Newport News during WWII. Actually while trying to find some
information about it, I discovered that there were apparently two in the
Newport News area. The one I remember you could see out of the right side of
the car (driving from Newport News toward Hampton) as you went over a bridge
on 25th Street close to downtown Newport News.
It was surrounded by barbed wire and you could see right down into the camp
from your car. I was only about 5 or 6 at the time and I might be wrong
about the exact location, but I believe it is the one described at http://www.newport-news.org/groups-and-meetings/escort-notes.html that
was located at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in Newport News. There was
also one at Camp Patrick Henry close to Williamsburg that is described on
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Patrick_Henry. These two web sites
might be describing the same camp but I don't think so. I definitely remember
one close to downtown Newport News. I wonder if any body else might remember
(Joe Madagan - '57 - of
FL maybe?) or anyone
else about our age or a little older. Maybe Dave Spriggs ('64 - of VA) might know something
about it, although it was a little before his time.
- Sydney Dearing ('56) of TN
are indeed tricky. Somehow I always thought the camp was on the south-west
corner of Jefferson Avenue and Mercury Boulevard (Military Highway in those
days). Between the tracks and Jefferson. We need our experts to chime in now.
Lauterbach Krause ('60) of VA - 09/28/09
I used to pick
blackberries near the railroad tracks in the area of 58th and Jefferson Avenue.
There were concrete pads underneath all the vines at regular intervals, and I
remember my daddy telling me that's where the prisoner of war camp was. Later,
when I worked as a draftsman at Post Engineers at Fort Eustis, I vaguely
remember seeing a map of the same area showing the POW camp extending all the
way from about that area to what is now Mercury and Jefferson Avenue. (There's
a trailer park there now). There were also lots of bee-you-tee-ful drawings
that German pow's had done while incarcerated. I can only assume that those
drawings and maps are in the possession of the museum at Fort Eustis, because I
remember the Post had not decided what to do with them before I moved to Norfolk
and the Army Corps of Engineers. I never got a chance to go to the museum after
it opened to see if that's where they ended up. (There were also ANCIENT
drawings of Fort Eustis that were just moldering in those drawers-----a
Crime!!) I'm betting that David Spriggs ('64 - of VA) has been to that museum
and probably knows something about them? I hope so.
- Sheila Smith
Moler ('64) of FL - 09/28/09|
Sydney Dearing ('56) of TN submitted his thoughts on the Prisoner of War camps on the Virginia Lower Peninsula during World War II, and he has good recall. The German Army Prisoners of War were brought to the United States on ships like the USS West Point (AP-23), the converted SS America, on their return voyage from delivering troops to Europe. She had a special Marine Detachment equipped to guard the POWs, including the wounded and ill prisoners. Bill Lee (Warwick HS - '54) of NC has written extensively on this fine ship built in Newport News.
The German Prisoners of War were transported from the Port north on Roanoke Avenue past our house so I had a good reason to sit on the front porch and observe the troop movements along the avenue.
There was a hospital for the wounded and ill Prisoners of War at Camp Patrick Henry, and Italian and German soldiers were treated at that facility.
If my memory serves me, the Italian Army Prisoners of War were confined to the camp near the Port, which would have terminated near the 25th Street Bridge,
but I am sure Fred Field (June '45) of CA can verify my recollection or set me straight.
- Joe Madagan
('57) of FL - 09/28/09
I can remember
riding in a car with my parents by the POW camp off Jefferson Avenue and
Mercury Boulevard, we rode by the gate and saw quite a few men behind the
gates. There were high fences with strands of barbed wire around them. As
I understand, the men were mostly handsome and attractive people and were
allowed to work in the local grocery stores bagging and carrying groceries
out of the store. The camp seemed to be on the southeast side of Jefferson
- Norris Perry (WHS
- '59) of VA - 09/29/09
What I "heard" was that there were 40 or more railroad lines between Jefferson Avenue and the water during the war, that the circle where Jefferson Avenue and Military Highway (Mercury Boulevard) intersected was the POW camp for the Japanese. When it closed down it became a trailer park because the cement blocks and plumbing were already there. Remember What-A-Burger?
The cement blocks on the water side of Jefferson Avenue were for the 100s of trailers used to house families of the rail road as well as the military.
Remember - these roads were only one lane.
Patrick Henry was the POW base for the Germans. The Germans and the Italians would not be housed together. Italians did do some work for us here even though they were POWs.
Now, do you know why the James River Bridge was built so low?
- Linda May Bond
Crayton ('66) of VA - 09/29/09
Thanks, Linda May!
The German and Italian POW presence on the Virginia Peninsula was far more extensive than generally known at the time, or seen by any of us 'kids' of that era.
Much was written shortly after the end of WW II to document this activity, along with all that went on in the C&O port area, elsewhere in Newport News (and what was then Warwick County). Here's a very brief summation, borrowed from a variety of sources, along with a couple of illustrations:
PRISONERS OF WAR
Between 9/16/42 and 5/13/45, 134,292 POWs (88% German - the rest Italian) were disembarked at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (the Army's name for the C&O piers). Most of them were sent to inland POW camps in the Southwest. But a fairly large number stayed in Hampton Roads and were put to work doing such things as KP, laundry and other chores. The first POW work camp in this country to be located at a port of embarkation was in Newport News.
Unseen, at one time, there were as many as 6,000 German POWs at Fort Eustis. Another 2,300 Germans (and 185 Italians) were a permanent part of the service workforce at Camp Patrick Henry.
After Italy switched sides in the war, more than a thousand Italian POWs, housed in Camp Hill - not to be confused with much larger Camp A. P. Hill, near Fredericksburg (see map, above) were re-designated as 'Italian Service Unit Personnel' and employed in the port area. Hundreds more worked on farms in Warwick County, and in 46 businesses (not identified) on the Peninsula.
Camp Hill and associated military facilities were bounded to the south by the temporary wooden railroad overpass at 58th Street, the James River Bridge/Military Highway railroad overpass to the north, Jefferson Avenue to the east, and the railroad yards to the west. The most visible, to the public, of the prisoner enclosures was a barbed wire enclosed area on the north side. Although isolated from the rest of the military complex, anyone riding over the railroad overpass could literally look down into that encampment and 'see the enemy'.
Camp Hill also included barracks for Military Police, a training facility for stevedore trainees and had a number of service-related facilities there, including a laundry [Run by HRPE civilians that were under the supervision of the father of June Bailey, WHS, Class of 1954]. Some his 'employees' were Italian POWs. There was also a chapel, USO, theatre and gym at Camp Hill. Some of the Camp Hill structures remained in place and were put to local civilian use long after the war ended.
[During the Christmas holidays, before shipping out on the USS WEST POINT, comedian-turned-army private Red Skelton entertained at Camp Patrick Henry and Camp Hill. After embarking in the WEST POINT, he continued to entertain, non-stop all the way to Europe - see photo of him on the ship, below]
At the end of the war, there were still 4,100 Germans and 1,300 Italians on the Peninsula. Almost totally forgotten is the fact that a secret experiment took place at Fort Eustis in 1945/1946 to re-educate Nazi prisoners. The purpose of this was to create a core of cooperative and pro-American Germans to be repatriated and then help rebuild in the American zone of occupied Germany. In all, 20,000 POWs from all over the United States were processed through a six-day course at Fort Eustis before returning home!
- Bill Lee (WHS -
'54) of NC - 09/30/09
WOWZERONI! Thanks, Bill!
I remember my dad pointing out the POW camps in the same area that Joan (Lauterbach Krause - '60 - of VA) remembers, there were other locations also. I remember also that Military Personal that were in interracial marriages were put in a trailer camp near the entrance to Patrick Henry Airport or Camp Grounds. Interracial marriage was forbidden in Virginia, until 1965 ! This included Asians ! How unwelcome they must have felt ! How mature we have become about these things...the freedom to fall in love with one of another race should be a non-issue !
Dinwiddie Prichard ('58) of NC - 09/30/09
History takes on new meaning with the several personal recollections provided us of the POW camps (both permanent and temporary) in Newport News. My relative youth only allows me to remember the German POW camp as a trailer park on the south side of the Military Road (Mercury Boulevard) bridge. Seems to me a Howard Johnson’s restaurant fronted the trailer park.
Bill Lee (Warwick HS ’54) really nailed the info. The Newport News WWII history book adds this information:
A total of 134,293 German and Italian prisoners of war arrived via the Chesapeake and Ohio terminal.
“The Port became the first to establish German prisoners of war work camps.”
“On June 13, 1945 2,903 German prisoners and 1,419 members of the Italian Service Unit were engaged at the Port … Sept. 18, 1945, there were 4,077 German prisoners and 1,300 of the Italian Service Unit ….
“Prisoners were quartered at Camp Patrick Henry and in the area adjacent to the overpass leading to the James River Bridge. Italian Service Units were quartered at Camp Patrick Henry and in barracks adjacent to the Chesapeake and Ohio piers.”
It should be noted that Camp Patrick Henry
included 1,700 acres activated Dec. 2, 1942. Nearly 750,000 men and women
passed through the camp during 1943-1944.
I also attach two photos: 1) a highlighted view of the book’s undated photo of Ferguson Park. It shows the overpass to old Jefferson Avenue and general location of the camp. With Ferguson Park constructed by the U.S. Navy in 1940, the view may pre-date the camp.
Bill also sparked my scanning a photo of the USS West Point (nee, luxury liner SS America) arriving at New York harbor in 1945, loaded with soldiers returning from the European theater.
- Norm Covert ('61) of
MD - 10/01/09
I have read all the different stories about these and most of them are incorrect. The Italian POW camp was on the Old Casino Grounds which was on the hill behind the Old Victory Arch. There was a movie theater built for the army (which later became The Jewish Community Center), and beside it was a gymnasium for army personal as quite a lot of troops were assigned to the port area. AA guns mounted on the roof of the Warwick Hotel, guards with dogs patrolling all the piers and the rail road storage area which contained ammunition, vehicles, food, etc. for the war. The Italian Camp was an open camp; they were allowed to roam in the Casino Ground area and lived in tents. This area was called the Hill. I remember talking to the prisoners as they had books to try to translate with me.
The German POW Camp was located at the continuation of the James River Bridge crossover from Virginia Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. It was located below the bridge. It had barbed wire above the fence, and had barracks with towers at each corner, and spotlights with armed guards manning each one. You could see the prisoners walking around the fenced in area.
The 58th Street overpass from Virginia Avenue to 58th Street was built for two reasons - to give the army better access to the HRPE Laundry, and for the new homes at Betsy Lee Gardens and new homes that had been built on Briarfield Road and Copeland and Newsome Park.
was a distribution point for the HRPE holding troops until ships were available to load them and equipment.
I was still in NNHS and at 14 years old I got a job on the C&O Railroad. Of course, I altered my birth certificate a little, and my job was getting the numbers a way bill numbers off of the box cars and coal cars. There were 60 some tracks in that area (this was called Dawson City), but further up was 58th Street which was called the hump, and there were quite a few tracks there.
Red Skelton's name was brought up. A friend of mine, Bobby Reynolds, Buddy Adjlet, and I went to a movie at the James Theatre. The movie starred Esther Williams and While the movie was on, there was a person sitting in the middle of the theater laughing very loud at every thing in the movie. Seeing that this person was a red head, red faced, large, and a little chubby, was Red Skelton, we went over and talked to him, and we left the movie with him. He wanted to know if there were any clubs in the area. At that time there weren't any, but we said there was the Elks Club behind the Palace Theater across from the Y, so we took there, and of course there were a lot of men in there playing cards. I don't believe it was fish. He introduced himself and they enjoyed meeting him. We left there and took him to Buddy's parent's restaurant that was located between 34th and 35th Streets on Huntington Avenue across from Newport News Auto Exchange. He became friends with them, and spent a few days with them, and he was shipped out within a week.
While working on the rail road I saw many trains coming in with German
Prisoners. I was told they were being sent to
West Virginia to one beautiful hotel which was the
Greenbriar - which
- Dale Parsons (June
'48) of VA - 10/01/09
WOWZERONI! Thanks, Dale!
There are two text chapters discussing POWs and several photographs.
- Dave Spriggs ('64) of
VA - 10/02/09
Thank you, Dave, that will be lovely!
... I forgot to mention, I don't
know what the Italian compound on the old casino grounds was called (if
anything), but Camp Hill (or at least the major part of it) was not located
there. The title you included in the POW web page probably needs to be adjusted
- Bill Lee (WHS -
'54) of NC - 10/02/09
You requested that your subscribers give you feedback on the POW topic. Camp Patrick Henry was located on the land now known as Patrick Henry International Airport. While it was an assembly area for embarking troops, it also accommodated wounded and injured Prisoners of War. The hospital and dispensary remained in tact until the airport was expanded and runways lengthened to allow larger aircraft to use the airport.
- Joe Madagan
('57) of FL - 10/02/09
Thank you, Joe! BUT WAIT! I thought we had established that those two Patrick Henry-named sites were MILES apart and NOT to be confused with one another!
Oh, no, now I'm really confused.....!
Wikipedia says "The POWs kept at Camp Peary were not just an ordinary sort, but rather, many came from captured German submarine and ship crews which the Germans had thought lost-at-sea with crews presumed dead. It was important for Nazi authorities to be unaware of their capture, since that also meant secret code books thought lost-at-sea may also have been compromised. Thus, extra secrecy was necessary............Many of the German prisoners-of-war who were secretly kept at Camp Peary during WWII did local farm work, and some liked the area so much that they remained and applied to become U.S. citizens afterwards."
All this talk about foreign POWs in the U.S. during the war got me wondering about any possible escape attempts they might have made. I could find nothing about any actual successful attempts but I did learn that of over 400,000 German POWs incarcerated in the U.S. during the war that there were 2,222 individual attempts made and not a single one ever made it back to Germany. 56 of them were shot to death, most by authorities, but some at the hands of trigger happy civilians.
The most noteworthy escape attempt that I could
find information about was called the "Not So Great Escape." Like the Allied
Great Escape which Paul wrote about, the Germans forged documents and civilian
clothes, etc. They also scraped together U.S. currency not by forgery but by
selling forged Nazi paraphernalia to U.S. guards. On Christmas Eve, 1944, 25 men
(12 officers and 13 enlisted men) escaped through a 200 ft. tunnel from Camp Papago Park, AZ POW camp. Most were, recaptured but some just turned themselves
in. The last one walked into a farmhouse and turned himself in on 1/27/45. For a
complete and fascinating account of this escape check out the web site below.
- Sydney Dearing ('56) of TN
Thank you so much, Sydney!
Camp Patrick Henry morphed into Patrick Henry Field, now Newport News Williamsburg International Airport.
Camp Patrick Henry
Newport News Williamsburg International Airport
- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA
No, that pretty much says it all! Thank you, David!
This article says German and Italian POWs are buried there, but it only mentions Germans who perished when their ship sunk, so they did not make it to POW status. Perhaps they are talking about two different groups.
Hampton National Cemetery is located in Hampton, Va., near Hampton Roads, in the vicinity of where the historic Civil War naval battle between the Confederate Merrimac/Virginia and the Union Monitor iron-clad ships occurred in 1862. The cemetery’s first burials took place in 1862 and the cemetery is among numerous national cemeteries with origins that date to the Civil War.
Burials at Hampton National Cemetery included many soldiers who died at Fort Monroe and other military hospitals in the vicinity. There are 638 unknowns soldiers buried at Hampton National Cemetery--most of them Civil War soldiers who fell in combat and were originally hastily buried on the battlefield. There are also 272 Confederate soldiers buried in a separate section.
Hampton National Cemetery is one of 13 national cemeteries in which World War II prisoners of war are interred. There are 55 German and 5 Italian POWs buried in the Phoebus Addition section of Hampton National Cemetery, which is a discontiguous tract of the cemetery.
During World War II, on April 14, 1942, a German U-boat, U-85, was sunk by the U.S.S. Roper off Cape Hatteras. The entire crew was lost and the boat sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. On April 15, 1942, full military honors were provided for 28 German sailors from U-85 and they were interred at Hampton National Cemetery. The bodies and a few life jackets were all that surfaced after the submarine was sunk. On board the ship, when it sank, was an Enigma decoding machine. The machine was recovered from the ship during a dive in 2001 and is currently on loan from the German government to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum located in Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Hampton National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 26, 1996.
The Union Soldiers monument
is a 65’ tall granite obelisk that was erected through the efforts of
Dorothea Dix, the superintendent of women nurses in the U.S. Army during the
Civil War. In 1868 Dix transferred ownership of the monument to the United
States. The monument inscription reads: “In Memory of Union Soldiers Who
Died to Maintain the Laws.”
Gloria Woolard Price
(Hampton HS - '65) of FL - 10/04/09
Thank you, Gloria!
About Our Wartime Guests
I have been reading in recent issues the many recollections about Prisoner of War Camps on the Peninsula. I only remember the one near the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and Military Highway. My family were lunch guests at that camp one Sunday in late 1943.
During the war local residents were asked to rent rooms for local Army officers. As a result we had two officers living with us for about two years during the war. One officer was stationed at the Jefferson Avenue prison camp. We were pleased about the lunch invitation, although the destination was kept secret from my brother and me until we arrived at the camp.
Our lunch was with the Camp's several U.S. Army officers. We were served by Germans who spoke English surprisingly well. The food was wonderful and we were told that the prisoners did all the cooking.
After lunch we were taken on a brief tour. Although the camp facilities were very basic, many improvements had been designed and added by the prisoners. I was very impressed by the theater which had been extensively upgraded from a simple meeting hall. Our German guide for the theater identified himself as an electrician in civilian life. He proudly showed us the light dimmer arrangement he had made out of simple materials.
In my 1943 summer job as messenger for the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, I did see German prisoners disembarking from a ship and being assembled on the pier in preparation for loading on busses. They were all from the Afrika Korps and appeared tan and healthy. My classmate Charles Wicke (June 45) worked nearby in a pier office and was sometimes able to trade cigarettes for uniform decorations. I'll try to persuade him to elaborate on that adventure.
After Italy's capitulation, Italian prisoners were somewhat emancipated. They were given more freedom of movement and were assigned jobs around the Army bases. They soon earned recognition as wonderful cooks and there was much talk about the great improvement in Army food. I remember some soldiers at the message center saying that the Italians were doing all the mess hall work and the regular Army cooks were trying to look busy to avoid being declared surplus and shipped overseas.
The Italians were fitted out with nice looking green uniforms. The jackets had an Italy patch prominently sewn on both upper sleeves. On weekends a limited number of Italians were allowed to leave the base. I remember seeing them on Washington Avenue always walking in pairs and holding hands.
World War II was an exciting time in Newport News.
- Fred Field (June
'45) of CA - 10/04/09
WOWZERONI! Thanks, Fred!
I promised myself I wouldn't
comment further on POWs, but yesterday's mention of the German U-boat sailors
buried in Hampton prompts me to share a little more about that particular event.
From a history of U-85: "29 sailors from U-85 were buried Hampton National Cemetery, Hampton, Virginia, with military honors, the evening of April 15, 1942. Fifty-two prisoners from Fort Monroe, Virginia prepared and later filled in the graves. At 2000, the burial service was read by the Catholic Chaplain, followed by the Protestant Chaplain. The firing party of 24 seamen fired three volleys, and Taps was sounded."
Local people were attracted to the scene by those activities. One of them, who lived nearby, was the father of Janie Branch (nee Hudson), Class of 1954, Hampton High School. For years, he told and retold her that story, but she never quite believed him.
- Bill Lee (WHS -
'54) of NC - 10/06/09
WOWZERONI! Thanks, Bill! BUT WAIT! "Wouldn't comment further"?!? Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO!
You always have such amazing gems to share - such as these!
So, Bill, please just make yourself some other resolution - not THAT one!
(This page was created on 09/30/09.)
Barbed Wire Divider Line clip art courtesy of http://www.cowboyclipart.net/horizontalrules/fences.asp - 04/30/08
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