Stalag 357 (357)
Oerbke, Fallingbostel, Germany
Oerbke, Fallingbostel is approximately 60km north of Hannover and is currently the location of the British 7th Armoured Brigade and a large training area. Frustratingly, the Webmaster lived here for seven years but, at the time, knew nothing of the 49Sqn connection.
Stalag 357 was part of a large complex of camps based around the German barracks on the outskirts of Fallingbostel. The word "Standort" indicates the location of today's memorial
Although the 49Sqn connection with Stalag 357 began later in the war, a history of the camps might be useful.
With the expansion of the German Army in the mid 1930s, twenty five villages between Fallingbostel and Bergen were cleared of their reluctant inhabitants to create a large troop training area (Truppenübungsplatz). The huts for the workers constructing the barrack complexs were used as the basis of Stalag XI B and Stalag 357.
The "Dorfstraße" of the former village of Ettenbostel which was abandoned to create the troop training area
Again, the first PoWs were Polish from the 1939 invasion of that country. However, as the German army moved west, a staggering 40,000 PoWs were registered in one or other of the Fallingbostel camps
(many in outlaying Arbeitskommando). In 1941, as the Germans advanced into Russia, large numbers of Russian PoWs (over 12,000) arrived in Fallingbostel. There were no facilities and they were left to fend for themselves. Conditions were so bad that after only 12 months over half of the PoWs had died. As Germany's conquests increased the numbers in the camp continued to climb and, by mid 1944, there were 96,000 registered PoWs from over a dozen countries.
The main entrance of Stalag XIB
October 1944 saw over 400 British paratroopers captured at Arnhem arrive at Stalag XIB. Included amongst them was the incomparable RSM John Lord who took the conditions in Stalag XIB as a personal
challenge and set out to change the state of the camp. He insisted that his men should wash and shave daily as if they were in barracks and that they should salute German officers. He also demanded his men take some form of daily exercise.
RSM John Lord at Stalag XIB
In July 1944 RAF NCOs (including F/Sgt Dixie Deans) were moved from Stalag Luft 6 to Stalag 357 in Thorn in Poland. The following month, Stalag 357 moved from Thorn to new camp in Fallingbostel which had been constructed by Italian PoWs.
In March 1945 a further 3000 RAF PoWs evacuated from Stalag Luft 4 arrived in Fallingbostel. They were divided between Stalags 357 & XIB.
In April 1945 the Germans decided to relocate Stalag 357 yet again. The PoWs were to move on foot heading north-east to an unknown destination. In groups of 2000 the PoWs from Stalag 357 (over 12,000) marched out. F/Sgt Deans, borrowed a bike and rode from column to column giving support ….the weather was typically grim with snow and rain. The cold, hungry and tired men scavenged what they could find enroute. The patience of Dixie Deans snapped and he made the German Colonel in charge of the evacuation "an offer he couldn't refuse".
The PoWs either returned to Fallingbostel or met up with advancing Allied forces.
F/Sgt James "Dixie" Dean at Stalag 357
The camps are liberated
The memorial gates at the position of the main entrance to the camps
The following 49Sqn aircrew were PoWs here at some point during WW2
The following websites give more information
(each website opens in a new window)