On December 8, 1941, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the American people and the United States Congress following the Japanese surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor Hawaii, on Sunday morning December 7, 1941. Since 1936, President Roosevelt was slowly preparing the United States to enter WWII, while maintaining American neutrality. The surprise attack by Japan against the United States, was the spark needed for the United States to join the Allied forces and formally enter into World War II (WWII), against the Axis forces of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.
The first major test for the American military was the Battle of North Africa in 1943. The battle for Africa began in June 1940 and lasted until May 1943, with the defeat of the German and Italian forces in North Africa. The Battle of North Africa was originally fought between Great Britain and Italy for control of the Suez Canal, oil from the Middle East, and access to raw materials from Asia. Following early victories by the British against Italy, Nazi Germany sent the German Afrika Corps, under the command of Erwin Rommel, to relieve and support the Italian forces serving in Africa. After the United State’s entrance into WWII, the American military sent forces to Africa to support the Allied war effort. Following the successful Allied invasion of North Africa in 1943, thousands of Italian and German POWs were transferred to the United States due to overcrowding conditions in Allied Prisoner of War Camps (POW Camps) in Europe. These prisoners were known as PWs during WWII, and more commonly referred to as POWs today. In September 1942, the United States created the American Internment Program with the intention of accommodating over 50,000 Italian and German POWs. During WWII, there were 155 large and 511 smaller branch Prisoner of War Camps across the United States. These camps housed over 436,000 Italian, German, Japanese, and other Axis country POWs during WWII. POW Camps were created at former Civilian Conservation Corps Camps (CCC Camps), on unused portions of military bases, fairgrounds, race tracks, armories, auditoriums, and in tent cities across the country. POW Camps were located in remote and isolated parts of the country. The camps could not be located within 170 miles of the East or West Coast, or 150 miles from the Canadian or Mexico borders. POW Camps also could not be located near any wartime industries from fear of possible sabotage. Due to the remoteness requirement, Wyoming became an ideal location for several POW Camps.
From 1942 to 1946, Wyoming established nineteen large and smaller branch POW Camps. The two major camps were located in Douglas (Camp Douglas) and in Cheyenne (on Fort Francis E. Warren). Seventeen other smaller branch camps were located in Basin, Deaver, Lovell, Powell, Clearmont, Worland, Riverton, Wheatland, Lingle, Torrington, Veteran, Huntley, Dubois, Esterbrook, Ryan Park, Centennial, and Pine Bluffs. This guide focuses on the significant impact the Italian and German POW camps had on Wyoming history, and the history of WWII. The guide highlights primary source documents consisting of German POW Camp newspapers from Camp Douglas and Fort Francis E. Warren; pictures and murals depicting the American West, created by POWs during their internment in Wyoming; Oral History interviews from residents living near Camp Douglas; photographs of the Camp Douglas and Fort F.E. Warren POW Camps. Secondary sources including books, articles, and videos. These primary and secondary sources discuss the history of the Italian and German POW camps in Wyoming. This history highlights a significant part of Wyoming, and WWII history that has been understudied in larger historical works. The story of Wyoming’s Italian and German POW Camps are windows into a community and show how even during wartime enemies can become friends and cross political and cultural boundaries.
Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. Wyoming Military Historic Context, 1920-1989. Ohio: Toltest Inc, 2009.