Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Goleta Prisoner of War Branch Camp
(Edwards Ranch Prisoner of War Branch Camp)
The Edwards Ranch/Goleta Branch Camp was located beside Highway 101 on the Edwards Ranch at Gatos Canyon, about nine miles west of Goleta. Activated 20 October 1944 as an agricultual branch of the Camp Cooke Prisoner of War Camp. It was designed to hold 250 German prisoners. It was inactivated on 4 December 1945.
US Army Corps of Engineers History
A branch of the larger Prisoner of War (PW) camp located at the former Camp Cooke, now Vandenberg Air Force Base (currently part of Vandenberg Air Force Base). The Goleta Camp was located on the Edwards Ranch, approximately 18 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California. No lease agreement was prepared for the use of the land by the Army for housing the PWs. However, contracts were drawn between Army officials and local farmer associations for the use of PW labor. These contracts were written for the duration of a particular crop harvest and were renewed if follow-up work was available. The camp was activated in October 1944 and received its first prisoners in November 1944. Based on a description of the facilities on-site, the camp is estimated to have occupied less than 5 acres. The exact acreage occupied by the camp is unknown.

The Goleta camp housed up to 302 PWs. Prisoners at the Goleta camp engaged in contract labor, including picking lemons and packing walnuts in the Goleta area. The camp facilities consisted of six guard towers, a water tower, 14 Nissen/Quanset huts, a shower room, a combination kitchen/mess hall, a canteen, an administration barrack, an infirmary, and three tents for recreation.

The Goleta camp was deactivated in December 1945 and abandoned by the Army. The camp huts were used by laborers and then by itinerants in the 1960s. In 1970, the remnants of the camp were burned. The only structure remaining from the former camp is the water tower platform. The Edwards Ranch was sold to the Doheny family in the mid-1960s. As of 1993, the property where the former camp was located was part of Las Varas Ranch.
Source: US Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District
History of the Goleta Prisoner of War Branch Camp
by Justin Ruhge
As the Allied armies rolled across Africa and Europe, hundreds of thousands of German and Italian Prisoners of War were taken and placed in local internment camps behind the battle lines. Realizing that they could not all be housed and fed in the area of the battle zones, the U.S. Government decided to move its prisoners to a camp system developed in the United States. The rationale was that the Liberty Ships bringing supplies to Europe were returning to the U.S. empty, so why not take back prisoners in them They could be housed and fed in the U.S. where there was plenty of food and shelter rather than have to move these resources to them overseas in already badly overloaded ships.

At the beginning of World War II the Provost Marshal General's Office was assigned the responsibility of making plans for the care for these prisoners. The highlights of these plans were:
Eventually 136 camps from Maine to California were established to house over 300,000 prisoners.

In California there were five major camps. These were located at Camp Cooke in Lompoc, Camp Angel Island, Camp Beale, Camp Stockton and Fort Ord. It is from the Camp Cooke POW camp that the Goleta Branch Camp was formed.

The primary use for the prisoners, besides just holding them out of the war, was as farm laborers to replace the farmers that had been drafted into the military and were at war away from their farms. To support the war effort, crops still needed to be planted and harvested. Since large prisoner-of-war camps could only place prisoners near a relatively small number of farms, the Branch Camp system was developed so that the labor could be located where it was needed. Due to the great importance of the branch camps to the state economy, and the large number and wide distribution of these camps, they are the center of this story.

There were 16 branch camps associated with the Camp Cooke POW camp, some 200 miles distant. In general the branch camps opened in October of 1944 and most were closed by mid-1946.

Exposing the prisoners to the American way of life to counteract the intensive Nazi brainwashing was the goal of the American POWSPD. The branch camps helped accomplish this plan by the exposure it gave the prisoners to the American countryside, economy, farmers and local citizens. In small camps American soldiers also got to know the prisoners better, not as easily done in a large central camp.

In particular, the Goleta Branch Camp was chosen for this history because it was one of the earliest established from the Camp Cooke main POW camp and a typical example. The Goleta Branch camp was established on October 20, 1944. It was located beside Highway 101 on the Edwards Ranch at Gatos Canyon with a great view of the ocean, the Southern Pacific Railroad, and located about nine miles west of Goleta.

Each branch camp was established as a stand-alone organization with a camp commander who was usually a captain in rank. Each camp had a German spokesman for the prisoners. All services were local but supported by supply trucks from Camp Cooke. Major illnesses were treated at Camp Cooke. The Goleta and Saticoy Branch Camps had small dispensaries and a Medical Officer from Camp Cooke visited these camps regularly.

The first shipment of 584 Prisoners of War arrived in Camp Cooke June 16, 1944. From that time the POW population grew to 8,700 by January 15, 1946. A detailed population table of all camps was obtained from the National Archives. From this source it was learned that Goleta received its first prisoners in November 1944. There were 250 assigned to the Goleta Branch camp at the Edwards Ranch. The population there fluctuated from a high of 302 in April 1945 to a low of 212 in June 1945. When the Branch Camp was closed in December of 1945, there were 226 prisoners. The Saticoy Camp in Ventura was one of the largest and, it appears, the last to be closed.
When the Goleta Branch Camp was opened in October 1944 it was commanded by a 1st Lieutenant Charles W. Small and a 2nd Lieutenant Wilford O. Potter. The Camp had 30 guards
and six guard towers. In July of 1945 Lieutenant Small was replaced by Captain W. H. Phillips of the Saticoy Branch Camp.

Most of the prisoners were doctors, dentists, teachers and paymasters. Three were noted as being civilians over 50 years old.

The prisoners at the Goleta Branch Camp engaged in contract labor, picking lemons in and around Goleta and packing walnuts at the Goleta Walnut Exchange on Kellogg Avenue. Some did road maintenance work. They were delivered to the work sites by the guards and left to work unguarded or sometimes with one guard with a rifle. They were paid by the growers less than going market wages but more than it cost to maintain them, so the Army actually made money on the prisoner camp program.

In the Goleta area, the Coast Farm Labor Association coordinated the needs of the farmers. Mr. D. Barnes, who was appointed by Senator William Hollister, headed this organization. Mr. Norman Rowe managed the Walnut House on Kellogg in Goleta. He stated that 50-60 prisoners were used to pick, process and store walnuts.

What is first known of the Goleta Branch Camp was obtained from the University of California, Santa Barbara Photo and Maps Department, which provided a 1943 aerial photograph of the Branch camp under construction. However, we must thank the International Red Cross for detailed information on this out-of-the-way camp.

As a stipulation in the Geneva Convention, each POW camp had to be inspected by a person from the Swiss Government or the Swiss International Red Cross. The result of each inspection was a detailed report on the camp and the conditions found there at the time of the inspection. A copy of these reports for the Camp Cooke branch camps was located by the author in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. No other publications have been located which describe these branch camps.

The first report on the Goleta Branch Camp was submitted by a Mr. Verner Tobler of the Swiss Legation on April 19, 1945. He states:
Mr. Paul Schnyder for the International Red Cross made the second report on June 9, 1945. His report states:
A serious problem with the early prisoners resulted from the extent to which most had been indoctrinated with Nazism. Many of the early camps had strong Nazi organizations within them that terrorized the prisoners and brought pressure on them not to work too willingly for their captors. A task team was set up by the camp commanders and attempts made to enforce it, but it was resisted by the Nazi organizations in the camps. The Goleta Branch camp had work strikes for this reason.

As can be surmised from the report, an escape occurred and prisoners were confined to a 6'x6' guardhouse without windows and some prisoners' hair was clipped. To counteract the terror tactics of the Nazis in some prisons, the POWSPD (mentioned earlier) was established to denazify the prisoners as fast as possible.

At the same time that these events were noted by Mr. Paul Schnyder of the International Red Cross, the Army had changed the command of the Goleta Branch Camp to a Captain W. H. Phillips.

Mr. Tobler from the Swiss Legation and Mr. Schnyder were accompanied on their visits to the Goleta Branch Camp by representatives from the U.S. State Department Special War Problems Division.

The above-mentioned sequence of events point out the short times that the camps were in operation and the number of foreign nationals that were able to come to the U.S. during wartime to inspect them.

The German prisoners could not have had a better location for a vacation during those war years than where they were in Goleta, even though they did have to pick lemons and walnuts. Those Germans that were taken prisoner and sent to Goleta to wait out the war's end were lucky that lemons were all that had to be picked. The soldiers of the Wehrmacht were not as well treated by the other Allies. Many German prisoners were sent to England and France after their release from the U.S. Army, where they were kept until those countries' soldiers could be returned from Europe, where they had remained to occupy Germany and Italy. Many German prisoners did not reach their homeland until the 1950s; in the meantime they were put to work on farms and in factories in Europe.

At the end of World War II, the camps were closed and abandoned by the Army. The camp huts at the Edwards Ranch were used by laborers and then by the nomadic Hippies in the late 1960s. In 1970 the few remnants of the Goleta Branch Camp were finally eradicated.

Today only the platform on which the camp water tank stood remains to mark the location. The new Highway 101 right-of-way was built to the south of the old road so that this tank platform is more visible that it was during the war.

Some of the German prisoners returned to the U.S. after the war. One of these was Mr. Ortwin Holdt. He was a 19-year old German Radar operator in the South of France when he was captured there during the American invasion of Toulon. In the weeks after he found himself and many other Germans on their way to the U.S. on an American Liberty ship. After weeks of crossing the U.S. by rail he landed in Camp Cooke where he was sent to the Saticoy Branch camp to pick lemons. In 1946 he was sent by ship to Belgium where he was turned over to the British Army. He was then sent to work on farms in England as a prisoner until 1948 when he was finally repatriated to a devastated homeland. He returned to the U.S. by way of Canada in the 1960s where he married and raised his family on the South Coast. He is now in business in Carpinteria.
Reference: The Western Front by Justin M. Ruhge, 1988. Goleta, Santa Barbara County.
Additional History
Goleta Historical Society
Images of the Goleta Prisoner of War Branch Camp

An Aerial Photograph of the Location of the Goleta Branch Camp
Taken On September 22, 1943 as the Camp Was Being Constructed.
Photograph From the Photograph and Maps Department
University of California, Santa Barbara, Goleta. (Justin Ruhge)

Photographs of the Goleta Branch Camp Showing the Nissen Huts, Tents and One of the Guard Towers.
Photographs Copied and Printed by Harvey Green Using a 1943 8-mm Film Provided by Mrs. E. C. Barnes. (Justin Ruhge)

Photographs Showing the Goleta Branch Camp Headquarters and the Water Tower Next to it. This is the Only Part of the Camp Remaining in 2005.
Photographs Copied and Printed by Harvey Green, Goleta, Using a 1943 8mm Film Provided by Mrs. E. C. Barnes. (Justin Ruhge)

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Updated 8 February 2016