Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

POW exchange procedure


Recommended Posts

Does anyone have any information on the various stages of the process by which severely wounded POWs were repatriated via Holland and Switzerland? I know that exchangees heading for Switzerland were held for up to 8 weeks at an "Austauschstation" (exchange centre) in Konstanz before crossing the border, but I'm sure I've come across a reference somewhere to POWs from various camps undergoing some sort of preliminary assessment at Mannheim. Having got as far as Konstanz, it appears that a considerable number were eventually returned to their original camps. Of those lucky enough to finally make it to a neutral country, relatively few seem to have got back to England before the Armistice, so presumably there was a further medical examination to undergo before repatriation was sanctioned. Any insights into this seemingly complex procedure would be greatly appreciated.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quick response: Treaties between belligerents dealing with just this issue were signed between Germany and Great Britain, Russia and Germany and others as early as the summer of 1915 and as late as fairly late in the war the late summer of 1918.

For shipping designated ships using designated ports as specified were used rather than usually the commoner ports. Thus

Boston, Lincolnshire was designated a port of entry for such repatriated British and Empire POWS. There were designated staging and embarkation points in the Netherlands I just cannot remember them. Medical proceedures were stringent to ensure that no capable of fighting again soldier or officer could rejoin their own forces. Thus multiple amputees, blinded and to some extent mental cases were high priorities of return. Countries also recognized with ever increasing medical demands being placed on servicing their own forces that sending back enemy POW casulaties made economic sense as well ( not to mention the scarcity of food and related logistical support for the ever growing POW camps ).

Hope this helps.

P.S. Sassnitz then in Germany and now I believe in Poland along with Trelleborg, Sweden were transhipping points for Russian and German POWS during the war from 1915 onwards. A neutral, namely the Swedish Red Cross was instrumental in this transfer.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Medical proceedures were stringent to ensure that no capable of fighting again soldier or officer could rejoin their own forces. Thus multiple amputees, blinded and to some extent mental cases were high priorities of return.

The these men were a liability on the German economic system, and were therefore a problem for Germany. Sick and wounded prisoners still had to be fed, even if in receipt of Red Cross parcels; they had to receive medical attention, they had to be accommodated etc. All of these cost the German government valuable resources which were desperately needed elsewhere. On top of this, these prisoners were unable to be put to work and earn their keep. Non-wounded officer prisoners too were not put to work, but forfeited their pay to the German government as upkeep (as terms under the Hague Conventions, all prisoners were paid a wage equal to that of their rank in the German Army). There was simply no use for the extremely sick and wounded prisoners in Germany; they were a drain on the already strained system.

It was also better for the Germans to disregard the possibility of prisoner exchanges on a 1-for-1 basis. British prisoners could basically fend for themselves if they were regularly getting Red Cross parcels. As John said, they were 'out of the fight' for the duration of the war and not in the allied trenches, so that too worked in Germany's favor. But the hundreds of thousands, if millions, of German prisoners captured on all fronts were repatriated in exchange for allied prisoners, they simply would have exacerbated the food shortage problem.

Although the fundamental aspect of taking a prisoner is to deny your enemy of manpower, and (I think) there were more German prisoners taken on the Western Front than French and British prisoners anyway, but imagine how different the war would have been had there not been a crisis in Germany, and exchanged prisoners were put back into the field!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...