The war is nearly over when in April 1945, an unusual and dangerous order is issued to the 2nd Battalion – 114th Regiment, U.S. 44th Infantry Division. Break through the German lines and drive north over 60 kilometers through enemy held territory to Bad Orb and liberate the POWs interned at the infamous prison camp Stalag IX-B. In short order a mechanized task force is organized, reinforced with light tanks and armored cars from the 106th Calvary Group and Company 'C’ with the lethal “Slugger” tank destroyers from the respected 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The daring mission is launched on April 2, 1945.
Stalag IX-B is usually regarded as the worst of the German camps that held American POWs. Incredible over crowding, deplorable facilities and starvation diets were responsible for broad scale death through starvation, disease and overexposure. Guards brutalized captives, mostly privates from the American Army.
These POWs were more than captives to the desperate Nazi regime. They served as potential human shields from Allied attacks and hopefully as bargaining chips. This is likely why a German order came for 1,500 men of IX-B to march east, anticipating their American liberation. Stalag IX-B POW Eddie Pfannenstiel, a U.S. 28th Division POW captured in the Battle of the Bulge probably saved the lives of many. He protested the march east order to the responsible German medical officer. His rouse, insist the diseased prisoners in transit must not take place because they will infect others. He succeeded to buy time and the delay was sufficient until rescued.
A Chaplain who had been a prisoner of the Germans for three years leads the procession out of the camp. Allied prisoners stand at attention in tribute to the one who died from the mistreatment of the Germans.
For some, liberation did not come soon enough. They were wrapped in a blanket and moved to the cemetery which was in a woods a few hundred yards outside the wire enclosed camp.
Speed of advance was critical. Task force orders were avoid contact if possible, fight through opposition if necessary and if cut off, they were on their own. The attack started well and the relief task force advanced quickly through the rolling German countryside on a clear and bright early spring day. The 10th Cavalry recon element advanced ahead of the main task force to Bad Orb. Meeting only sporadic resistance, usually inaccurate small arms fire, the main task force rolled to Bad Orb, rejoined the Cavalry and then liberated the death camp.
What they found there were appalling conditions even for these hardened veterans. Over 4,700 American POWs were far more than the camp could handle. The food was terrible and rationed in insufficient quantities. Many of the captives were too weak to greet their liberators. Many corpses remained exposed and unburied. For each 160-person barrack, only one cold water tap, and one hole in the ground for a toilet. The barracks were so overcrowded that the prisoners had to take turns sleeping, in bunks and on the floor in lice-infested straw.
American prisoners of war were freed during the rapid advance through Bad Orb. Many of them were so weak from lack of food they had to be fed in their bunks.
A day of celebration.