Forgotten POW camp once home to Hitler’s successor discovered in Sheffield
A forgotten prisoner of war camp which once held 11,000 inmates and was home to the man who succeeded Hitler as Nazi Germany's leader has been discovered on the outskirts of Sheffield.
The camp at Lodge Moor on the edge of the Peak District was uncovered by a team of archaeologists from Sheffield University after it had lain hidden for more than half a century.
In the Second World War it was the largest prisoner of war camp in Britain, holding captives from Germany, Italy and Ukraine, including many of the Axis forces’ most fanatical soldiers.
But it was during the First World War that it housed its most notorious inmate.
Admiral Karl Doenitz, a German U-Boat commander who spent six weeks at the camp, was to be tried as a war criminal but escaped after feigning mental illness and was sent to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester where he stayed until the end of the war.
By the time of the Second World War, Doenitz had risen to the rank of commander-in-chief of the German Navy and served as the President of the Reich for just over a month after Hitler’s suicide in April 1945.
The students involved in unearthing the long-forgotten camp discovered a wealth of information about its history by trawling contemporary records and witness statements.
They found that, as the camp grew over the course of the Second World War, conditions deteriorated markedly as more prisoners were crammed into the barracks.
One of the students, Charlie Winterburn, said: “At the beginning we see the camp occupied by mostly Italian prisoners who were employed on the nearby farms as labour to make up a shortfall common during the war.
“Coincidentally we learned of a family that had positive relations with the Italian prisoners and gave them tea, sharing what little they had with the labouring Italians.
“This comes to an end as the war drags on and more soldiers are taken captive, the camp becomes much more prison-like and the quality of life goes down.
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“The number of prisoners per barrack is often listed at around 30 in official records, however we studied the writings of Heinz Georg Lutz, a former prisoner of the camp that we uncovered in the libraries of Sheffield and Lutz gives us an entirely different number than 30.
“He suggests that there were upwards of 70 prisoners per barrack and all of a sudden things look all the more terrible for the prisoners.”
Rob Johnson, another of the archaeology students, agreed.
“The prisoner of war camp was a very unpleasant place to stay. The prisoners were fed food out of galvanised dustbins, had to stand outside in the mud, rain and cold for several hours a day during roll call, and since it was so overpopulated, they were squashed into tents or the barracks with little personal space.”
With conditions as they were, it is perhaps unsurprising that some of the prisoners tried to escape, with several getting as far as Rotherham before being recaptured within 24 hours.
Others, however, clearly liked what they had seen of Sheffield and stayed after the war. The students found a newspaper interview with one former prisoner who became a nurse.
The archaeologists now hope their research will be a spur to further preserving and restoring the site and its surroundings, and will present their findings to the Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership and Sheffield Council later this year.
Student Georgina Goodison said: “I really enjoyed the idea of the project, to bring local history back to life and remind the people of Sheffield what actually happened here during the war.
“It was a big eye opener for me, too, as I didn't realise that Lodge Moor camp even existed. It was nice to go up and see the site how it is now, run down and hidden in the trees.
“It could almost not be there. The woodland hides it well – it hides the secret of all the thousands of men who were housed there merely decades ago.”