Austin Peay professor set to publish two new books
Something was wrong. Several men huddled around an ambulance, pouring water into the radiator. It was 2 a.m., and from across the road a guard posted at the gate of Camp Campbell watched the men groping in the dark. He had grown more wary of strangers — especially strangers traveling at night — since the start of World War II. The guard watched these men, and maybe he thought he heard someone whispering in German as they tried to fix this overheated ambulance. Instead of crossing the road, the guard took his radio.
“So he looks at it and thinks it’s a little suspicious, so he calls it,” said Austin Peay State University history professor Dr. Antonio Thompson. “He called him, and no ambulance was sent, so he turned himself in and there’s four escaped prisoners, and he said to them, ‘Bring this thing back and I’ll follow you. Things like that happened.
What were German POWs doing in Tennessee? According to Thompson, when they weren’t trying to escape, they were helping the American war effort by keeping the economy going. These enemy soldiers lived in prisoner-of-war camps scattered across Tennessee and Kentucky, and for the most part went quietly to local farms, where they cultivated and formed lasting bonds with the southern families they were meeting.
Thompson, a World War II POW expert, explores this forgotten piece of local and national history in his new book, “Axis Prisoners of War in Tennessee: Coerced Labor and the Captive Enemy on the Home Front, 1941 -1946”, which will be published in January by McFarland Press. And next spring, his book on the prisoners of war in Kentucky will be published by the same press.
“They (the books) are both about POWs,” he said. “They are very state specific. When I wrote these books, I meant the prisoners of war, their history was not made in a vacuum. Yes, they have their history, but they work, they interact, they influence… POWs helped the local economy, the local economy helped the state economy, the economy of the State helped the national economy.
During World War II, approximately 425,000 Axis POWs—German, Italian, and Japanese soldiers—were sent to the United States to work on farms. Many of these farms were in Tennessee and Kentucky, so places like the new Camp Campbell – now Fort Campbell – included new POW camps.
“Once here, during the war, we have a serious shortage of manpower, especially in agriculture because able-bodied people serve in the army in some capacity, or in the military industry in some capacity. certain title, and that pulls people off our farms,” Thompson said. “So we’re going to put the prisoners to work. Long story short, they’re going to pay for their upkeep.
These POWs found their way across the state, and after years of exhaustive research, Thompson now offers readers a hands-on view of what Tennessee’s home front looked like during World War II, including the political dynamics between Nazi soldiers and anti-Nazi German soldiers.
According to McFarland, “This is the first book-length examination of Tennessee’s role in the POW program and how the influx of prisoners has affected communities. Cities like Tullahoma have turned into military metropolises. Memphis received millions in defense spending. Paris had a secret barrage balloon base. The wooded camp at Crossville housed German and Italian officers. Prisoners worked tobacco, lumber, and cotton throughout the state. Some threatened to run away or worse. By the end of the program, more than 25,000 POWs were living and working in Tennessee. »
Thompson’s research has taken him across North America and Europe, including research trips to Germany, Austria, Denmark, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and National Archives II, Military Branch modern in College Park, Maryland. He is a recipient of the American Foreign Policy Center Fellowship at Louisiana Tech, the National Park Service Prisoner of War Research Fellowship in Andersonville, Georgia, and was a West Point Summer Seminar Fellow. . Thompson also taught military history at West Point during a one-year fellowship.
Thompson talks more about the POWS at Camp Campbell in episode two – “The War at Home: German POWs in Tennessee”, from the Experience Austin Peay podcast. This episode is part of the first season of the podcast, “Forgotten Tennessee,” and it’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and other popular podcast sites.
For more information on Thompson, visit https://www.apsu.edu/history-and-philosophy/faculty/thompson.php.