Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Goleta Prisoner of War Branch
(Edwards Ranch Prisoner of War
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
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
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:
Camps were to be established on existing
Primary locations of the camps were to
be in the South and California where minimum demand for building
materials or fuel would be made on the war effort.
Prisoners were to form their own governments
and elect a representative to deal with their U.S. captors.
The Rules of the Geneva Convention on
Prisoners of War were to be strictly followed.
Food and housing were to be equivalent
to that of the American soldiers.
Prisoners were to be instructed in the
principles of democracy and the free enterprise system so that
when they returned to their countries, they would become leaders
in reorganizing their governments. The POW Special Projects Division
(POWSPD) under the Provost Marshal General's Office was established
for this purpose.
Classroom instruction, exercises and entertainment
were to be offered for mental improvement and maintenance of
the physical well being of the prisoners.
Prisoners were not to be given legal currency.
Instead, they were to be given credits for their work, which
could be used to buy things they may need from the camp PX. Obviously,
without money, a prisoner could not go far if he should escape.
Prisoners could not be used to make any
articles for war.
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
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
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
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
"Side Camp No. 3, Goleta-259 prisoners. Opened July 1944.
49 miles Southeast of Camp Cooke. Quonset huts. Prisoners employed
at citrus fruits and agriculture."
Mr. Paul Schnyder for the International
Red Cross made the second report on June 9, 1945. His report
Goleta Side Camp, California.
Camp Commander: Captain W. K. Phillips.
Camp Spokesman: Viktor Thoss.
Goleta Side Camp is located near the Pacific Ocean, 18 miles
North of Santa Barbara and about 49 miles south of Camp Cooke.
It was visited June 16, 1945. This side camp was opened October
Prisoners live in Nisson huts in a small enclosure, which they
have made very attractive.
Capacity of Camp: 250.
Number of Prisoners of War: 212.
U.S. Army Detachment: Two officers and 30 enlisted men. Forty
more prisoners are expected to arrive within the next few days.
Three German army paymasters (civilians) are confined in this
camp. All three are more than 50 years old.
Two prisoners escaped about a month previously, but were recaptured.
There were three prisoners confined in a small guardhouse 6'x6',
the windows of which had been broken out by prisoners confined
there some weeks previously. The former camp commander had had
the opening boarded up as a result of this outbreak. The hair
of some prisoners had been clipped by the orders of the former
camp commander for "ease of identification.
Prisoners do agricultural work in the vicinity.
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
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
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
Reference: The Western
Front by Justin M. Ruhge, 1988. Goleta, Santa Barbara County.
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
Photographs Copied and Printed by Harvey Green, Goleta, Using
a 1943 8mm Film Provided by Mrs. E. C. Barnes. (Justin Ruhge)
Post, Camp, Station or Airfield
Historical Data Card; US Army Center of Military History
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