A prisoner of war (POW, PoW, PW', P/W, WP, PsW) or enemy prisoner of war (EPW) is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase is dated 1660.
Austro-Hungarian POWs in Russia, 1915
For most of human history, depending on the culture of the victors, combatants on the losing side in a battle could expect to be either slaughtered or enslaved. The first Roman gladiators were prisoners of war and were named according to their ethnic roots such as Samnite, Thracian and the Gaul (Gallus). Typically, little distinction was made between combatants and civilians, although women and children were more likely to be spared. Sometimes the purpose of a battle, if not a war, was to capture women, a practice known as raptio; the Rape of the Sabines was a large mass abduction by the founders of Rome. Typically women had no rights, and were held legally as chattel.
In the fourth century AD, the Bishop Acacius of Amida, touched by the plight of Persian prisoners captured in a recent war with the Roman Empire—who were held in his town under appalling conditions and destined for a life of slavery, took the initiative of ransoming them, by selling his church's precious gold and silver vessels, and letting them return to their country. For this he was eventually canonized—which testifies to his act being exceptional.
Likewise the distinction between POW and slave is not always clear. Some Native Americans captured Europeans and used them as both labourers and bargaining chips; see for example John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest Coast from 1802–1805.
 Middle Ages and Renaissance
See also: Prisoners of war in Islam
During Childeric's siege and blockade of Paris in 464, the nun Geneviève (later canonised as the city's Patron Saint) pleaded with the Frankish King for the welfare of prisoners of war and met with a favourable response. Later, Clovis I liberated captives after Genevieve urged him to do so.
In the later Middle Ages, a number of religious wars aimed to not only defeat but eliminate their enemies. In Christian Europe, the extermination of the heretics or "non-believers" was considered desirable. Examples include the 13th century Albigensian Crusade and the Northern Crusades. When asked by a Crusader how to distinguish between the Catholics and Cathars once they'd taken the city of Béziers, the Papal Legate Arnaud Amalric famously replied, "Kill them all, God will know His own". Likewise the inhabitants of conquered cities were frequently massacred during the Crusades against the Muslims in the 11th and 12th centuries. Noblemen could hope to be ransomed; their families would have to send to their captors large sums of wealth commensurate with the social status of the captive. Many French prisoners of war were killed during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In feudal Japan there was no custom of ransoming prisoners of war, who were for the most part summarily executed.
Aztec sacrifices, Codex Mendoza.
Every city or town that refused surrender and resisted the Mongols was subject to destruction. In Termez, on the Oxus: "all the people, both men and women, were driven out onto the plain, and divided in accordance with their usual custom, then they were all slain". The Aztecs were constantly at war with neighbouring tribes and groups. The goal of this constant warfare was to collect live prisoners for sacrifice. For the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed about 80,400 people over the course of four days. According to Ross Hassing, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the ceremony. In Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica more than a thousand years ago, prisoners of war were paraded before the king and his royal cohort and subjected to ritual humiliation and torture.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, upon capture, those captives not executed were made to beg for their subsistence. During the early reforms under Islam, Muhammad changed this custom and made it the responsibility of the Islamic government to provide food and clothing, on a reasonable basis, to captives, regardless of their religion. If the prisoners were in the custody of a person, then the responsibility was on the individual. He established the rule that prisoners of war must be guarded and not ill-treated, and that after the fighting was over, the prisoners were expected to be either released or ransomed.
The freeing of prisoners in particular was highly recommended as a charitable act. Mecca was the first city to have the benevolent code applied. It is misunderstood that the leader of the Muslim force capturing non-Muslim prisoners could choose whether to kill prisoners, to ransom them, to enslave them, or to cut off their hands and feet on alternate sides because this law is applied not to the of wars but instead to people (either Muslims or non-Muslims) who do mischief in the land, gangsters, killers of the people for robbery or raping of women or children. However, Christians who were captured in the Crusades, combatants and noncombatants alike, were sold into slavery if they could not pay a ransom.
 Modern times
Russian and Japanese prisoners being interrogated by Chinese officials during the Boxer Rebellion
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War, established the rule that prisoners of war should be released without ransom at the end of hostilities and that they should be allowed to return to their homelands.
Union Army soldier on his release from Andersonville prison in May, 1865.
There also evolved the right of parole, French for "discourse", in which a captured officer surrendered his sword and gave his word as a gentleman in exchange for privileges. If he swore not to escape, he could gain better accommodations and the freedom of the prison. If he swore to cease hostilities against the nation who held him captive, he could be repatriated or exchanged but could not serve against his former captors in a military capacity.
About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the American Civil War—almost 10% of all Civil War fatalities. During the 14 months the Camp Sumter, located near Andersonville, Georgia, existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 (28%) died. At Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, 10% of its Confederate prisoners died during one cold winter month; and Elmira Prison in New York state, with a death rate of 25%, very nearly equalled that of Andersonville.
During the 19th century, there were increased efforts to improve the treatment and processing of prisoners. The extensive period of conflict during the American Revolutionary War (or American War of Independence) and Napoleonic Wars (1793–1815), followed by the Anglo-American War of 1812, led to the emergence of a cartel system for the exchange of prisoners, even while the belligerents were at war. A cartel was usually arranged by the respective armed service for the exchange of like-ranked personnel. The aim was to achieve a reduction in the number of prisoners held, while at the same time alleviating shortages of skilled personnel in the home country.
Later, as a result of these emerging conventions a number of international conferences were held, starting with the Brussels Conference of 1874, with nations agreeing that it was necessary to prevent inhumane treatment of prisoners and the use of weapons causing unnecessary harm. Although no agreements were immediately ratified by the participating nations, work was continued that resulted in new conventions being adopted and becoming recognized as international law that specified that prisoners of war be treated humanely and diplomatically.
 Hague and Geneva Conventions
Specifically, Chapter II of the Annex to the 1907 Hague Convention covered the treatment of prisoners of war in detail. These were further expanded in the Third Geneva Convention of 1929, and its revision of 1949.
Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention protects captured military personnel, some guerrilla fighters and certain civilians. It applies from the moment a prisoner is captured until he or she is released or repatriated. One of the main provisions of the convention makes it illegal to torture prisoners and states that a prisoner can only be required to give their name, date of birth, rank and service number (if applicable).
However, nations vary in their dedication to following these laws, and historically the treatment of POWs has varied greatly. During the 20th century, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were notorious for atrocities against prisoners during World War II. The German military used the Soviet Union's refusal to sign the Geneva Convention as a reason for not providing the necessities of life to Russian POWs; and the Soviets similarly killed Axis prisoners or used them as slave labor. North Korean and North and South Vietnamese forces routinely killed or mistreated prisoners taken during those conflicts.
To be entitled to prisoner-of-war status, captured service members must be lawful combatants entitled to combatant's privilege—which gives them immunity from punishment for crimes constituting lawful acts of war such as killing enemy troops. To qualify under the Third Geneva Convention, a combatant must have conducted military operations according to the laws and customs of war, be part of a chain of command, wear a "fixed distinctive marking, visible from a distance" and bear arms openly. Thus, uniforms and/or badges are important in determining prisoner-of-war status; and francs-tireurs, terrorists, saboteurs, mercenaries and spies do not qualify. In practice, these criteria are rarely interpreted strictly. Guerrillas, for example, usually do not wear a uniform or carry arms openly, but captured guerrillas are often granted POW status.
The criteria are applied primarily to international armed conflicts; in civil wars, insurgents are often treated as traitors or criminals by government forces, and are sometimes executed. However, in the American Civil War, both sides treated captured troops as POWs, presumably out of reciprocity, although the Union regarded Confederate personnel as separatist rebels. However, guerrillas and other irregular combatants generally cannot expect to simultaneously receive benefits from both civilian and military status simultaneously.
 The United States Military Code of Conduct
WAITING INTERROGATION, 199th LT INF BG by James Pollock, U. S. Army Vietnam Combat Artists Program Team IV, (CAT IV 1967). Watercolor by Pollock depicts enemy suspects waiting interrogation during the Vietnam War. Courtesy National Museum of the U. S. Army.
The United States Military Code of Conduct was promulgated in 1955 via Executive Order 10631 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as a moral code for United States service members who have been taken prisoner. It was created primarily in response to the breakdown of leadership and organization, specifically when US forces were POWs during the Korean War.
When a military member is taken prisoner, the Code of Conduct reminds them that the chain of command is still in effect (the highest ranking service member eligible for command, regardless of service branch, is in command), and requires them to support their leadership. The Code of Conduct also requires service members to resist giving information beyond identifying themselves, receive special favors or parole, or otherwise provide their enemy captors aid and comfort.
Since the Vietnam War, the official US military term for enemy POWs is EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War). This name change was introduced in order to distinguish between enemy and US captives.
 World War I
American prisoners of war in Germany in 1917
German soldiers captured by the British in Flanders
During World War I, about 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps until the war ended. All nations pledged to follow the Hague rules on fair treatment of prisoners of war, and in general the POWs had a much higher survival rate than their peers who were not captured. Individual surrenders were uncommon; usually a large unit surrendered all its men. At Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered during the battle. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in 1915, 20,000 Russians became prisoners. Over half the Russian losses were prisoners as a proportion of those captured, wounded or killed. About 3.3 million men became prisoners.
The German Empire held 2.5 million prisoners; Russia held 2.9 million, and Britain and France held about 720,000, mostly gained in the period just before the Armistice in 1918. The US held 48,000. The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes shot down. Once prisoners reached a POW camp conditions were better (and often much better than in World War II), thanks in part to the efforts of the International Red Cross and inspections by neutral nations. There was however much harsh treatment of POWs in Germany, as recorded by the American ambassador to Germany (prior to America's entry into the war), James W. Gerard, who published his findings in "My Four Years in Germany". Even worse conditions are reported in the book "Escape of a Princess Pat" by the Canadian George Pearson. It was particularly bad in Russia, where starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; roughly 25% of its 2 to 2.4 million POWs died in captivity. Nearly 375,000 of the 500,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war taken by Russians perished in Siberia from smallpox and typhus. In Germany food was short but only 5% died.
The Ottoman Empire often treated prisoners of war poorly. Some 11,800 British soldiers, most of them Indians, became prisoners after the five-month Siege of Kut, in Mesopotamia, in April 1916. Many were weak and starved when they surrendered and 4,250 died in captivity. During the Sinai and Palestine campaign 217 Australian and unknown numbers of British, New Zealand and Indian soldiers were captured by Ottoman Empire forces. About 50% of the Australian prisoners were light horsemen including 48 missing believed captured on 1 May 1918 in the Jordan Valley. Australian Flying Corps pilots and observers were captured in the Sinai Peninsula, Palestine and the Levant. One third of all Australian prisoners were captured on Gallipoli including the crew of the submarine AE2 which made a passage through the Dardanelles in 1915. Forced marches and crowded railway journeys preceded years in camps where disease, poor diet and inadequate medical facilities prevailed. About 25 % of other ranks died, many from malnutrition, while only one officer died.
The most curious case came in Russia where the Czechoslovak Legion of Czechoslovak prisoners (from the Austro-Hungarian army): they were released in 1917, armed themselves, briefly culminating into a military and diplomatic force during the Russian Civil War.
A Christmas greeting card sent home by a German POW in the UK in 1918
 Release of prisoners
A memorial with text dedicating it to the 153,281 German Prisoners of War who died in Allied captivity 1914–1920
Celebration for returning POWs, 1920
At the end of the war in 1918 there were believed to be 140,000 British prisoners of war in Germany, including 3,000 internees held in neutral Switzerland. The first British prisoners were released and reached Calais on 15 November. Plans were made for them to be sent via Dunkirk to Dover and a large reception camp was established at Dover capable of housing 40,000 men, which could later be used for demobilisation.
On 13 December 1918 the armistice was extended and the Allies reported that by 9 December 264,000 prisoners had been repatriated. A very large number of these had been released en masse and sent across Allied lines without any food or shelter. This created difficulties for the receiving Allies and many released prisoners died from exhaustion. The released POWs were met by cavalry troops and sent back through the lines in lorries to reception centres where they were refitted with boots and clothing and dispatched to the ports in trains. Upon arrival at the receiving camp the POWs were registered and "boarded" before being dispatched to their own homes. All commissioned officers had to write a report on the circumstances of their capture and to ensure that they had done all they could to avoid capture. Each returning officer and man was given a message from King George V, written in his own hand and reproduced on a lithograph. It read as follows:
"The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries & hardships, which you have endured with so much patience and courage.
During these many months of trial, the early rescue of our gallant Officers & Men from the cruelties of their captivity has been uppermost in our thoughts.
We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived, & that back in the old Country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home & to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return.
While the Allied prisoners were sent home at the end of the war, the same treatment was not granted to Central Powers prisoners of the Allies and Russia, many of which had to serve as forced labour, e.g. in France, until 1920. They were released after many approaches by the ICRC to the Allied Supreme Council.
 World War II
Soviet POW, August 1941. At least 50,000 Jewish soldiers were shot after selection.
Niall Ferguson tabulated the total death rate for POWs in World War II as follows:
POWs that Died
Russian POWs held by Germans 57.5%
German POWs held by Russians 35.8%
American POWs held by Japanese 33.0%
German POWs held by Eastern Europeans 32.9%
British POWs held by Japanese 24.8%
British POWs held by Germans 3.5%
German POWs held by French 2.58%
German POWs held by Americans 0.15%
German POWs held by British 0.03%
 Treatment of POWs by the Axis
See also: Nazi crimes against Soviet POWs and Japanese war crimes
 Empire of Japan
Australian and Dutch POWs at Tarsau, Thailand in 1943
Portrait of POW "Dusty" Rhodes painted by Ashley George Old in Thailand in 1944
The Empire of Japan, which had never signed the Second Geneva Convention of 1929, also did not treat prisoners of war in accordance with international agreements, including provisions of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), either during the Second Sino-Japanese War or during the Pacific War. Moreover, according to a directive ratified on 5 August 1937 by Hirohito, the constraints of the Hague Conventions were explicitly removed on Chinese prisoners.
Many US and Filipino prisoners died as a result of the Bataan Death March, in May 1942
Prisoners of war from China, the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Philippines held by the Japanese armed forces were subject to murder, beatings, summary punishment, brutal treatment, forced labour, medical experimentation, starvation rations and poor medical treatment. The most notorious use of forced labour was in the construction of the Burma–Thailand Death Railway.
Australian POW captured at New Guinea, Sgt. Leonard Siffleet, moments before his execution with a Japanese shin gunto sword.
According to the findings of the Tokyo Tribunal, the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1%, seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians. The death rate of Chinese was much larger. Thus, while 37,583 prisoners from the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and Dominions, 28,500 from Netherlands and 14,473 from the United States were released after the surrender of Japan, the number for the Chinese was only 56. After the war, it became clear that there existed a high command order – issued from the War Ministry in Tokyo – to kill all remaining POWs.
No direct access to the POWs was provided to the International Red Cross. Escapes among Caucasian prisoners were almost impossible because of the difficulty of men of Caucasian descent hiding in Asiatic societies.
Allied POW camps and ship-transports were sometimes accidental targets of Allied attacks. The number of deaths which occurred when Japanese "hell ships"—unmarked transport ships in which POWs were transported in harsh conditions—were attacked by US Navy submarines was particularly high. Gavan Daws has calculated that "of all POWs who died in the Pacific War, one in three was killed on the water by friendly fire". Daves states that 10,800 of the 50,000 POWs shipped by the Japanese were killed at sea while Donald L. Miller states that "approximately 21,000 Allied POWs died at sea, about 19,000 of them killed by friendly fire."
Life in the POW camps was recorded at great risk to themselves by artists such as Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky, Ashley George Old and Ronald Searle. Human hair was often used for brushes, plant juices and blood for paint, and toilet paper as the "canvas". Some of their works were used as evidence in the trials of Japanese war criminals.
 Western Allied POWs
Germany and Italy generally treated prisoners from the British Commonwealth, France, the USA and other western Allies in accordance with the Geneva Convention (1929), which had been signed by these countries. Consequently, western Allied officers were not usually made to work and personnel of lower rank were usually compensated, or not required to work either. The main complaints of western Allied prisoners of war in German Army POW camps—especially during the last two years of the war—concerned shortages of food, although this fate was shared by German personnel and civilians, due to blockade conditions.
Only a small proportion of western Allied POWs who were Jews—or whom the Nazis believed to be Jewish—were killed as part of the Holocaust or were subjected to other antisemitic policies. For example, Major Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, a Palestinian Jew who had enlisted in the British Army, and who was captured by the Germans in Greece in 1941, experienced four years of captivity under entirely normal conditions for POWs.
Telegram notifying parents of an American POW of his capture by Germany
However, a small number of Allied personnel were sent to concentration camps, for a variety of reasons including being Jewish. As the US historian Joseph Robert White put it: "An important exception ... is the sub-camp for U.S. POWs at Berga an der Elster, officially called Arbeitskommando 625 [also known as Stalag IX-B]. Berga was the deadliest work detachment for American captives in Germany. 73 men who participated, or 21 percent of the detachment, perished in two months. 80 of the 350 POWs were Jews." Another well-known example was a group of 168 Australian, British, Canadian, New Zealand and US aviators who were held for two months at Buchenwald concentration camp; two of the POWS died at Buchenwald. Two possible reasons have been suggested for this incident: German authorities wanted to make an example of Terrorflieger (“terrorist aviators”) and/or these aircrews were classified as spies, because they had been disguised as civilians when they were apprehended.
As Soviet ground forces approached some POW camps in early 1945, German guards forced western Allied POWs to walk long distances towards central Germany, often in extreme winter weather conditions. It is estimated that, out of 257,000 POWs, about 80,000 were subject to such marches and up to 3,500 of them died as a result.
 Eastern European POWs
An improvised camp for Soviet POWs. Between June 1941 and January 1942, the Nazis killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet prisoners of war, whom they viewed as "subhuman".
Germany did not apply the same standard of treatment to non-western prisoners, especially many Polish and Soviet POWs who suffered harsh conditions and died in large numbers while in captivity.
Between 1941 and 1945, the Axis powers took about 5.7 million Soviet prisoners. About one million of them were released during the war, in that their status changed but they remained under German authority. A little over 500,000 either escaped or were liberated by the Red Army. Some 930,000 more were found alive in camps after the war. The remaining 3.3 million prisoners (57.5% of the total captured) died during their captivity. Between the launching of Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941 and the following spring, 2.8 million of the 3.2 million Soviet prisoners taken died while in German hands. According to Russian military historian General Grigoriy Krivosheyev, 4.6 million Soviet prisoners were taken by the Axis powers, of which 1.8 million were found alive in camps after the war and 318,770 were released by the Axis during the war and were then drafted into the Soviet armed forces again. By comparison, 8,348 Western Allied prisoners died in German camps during 1939–45 (3.5% of the 232,000 total).
Naked Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp.
An official justification used by the Germans for this policy was that the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention. This was not legally justifiable, however, as under article 82 of the Geneva Convention (1929), signatory countries had to give POWs of all signatory and non-signatory countries the rights assigned by the convention. Beevor indicates that about one month after the German invasion in 1941 an offer was made by the USSR for a reciprocal adherence to the Hague conventions. This 'note' was left unanswered by Third Reich officials. In contrast, Tolstoy discusses that the German Government as well as the International Red Cross made several efforts to regulate reciprocal treatment of prisoners until early 1942, but received no answers from the Soviet side. Further, the Soviets took a harsh position towards captured Soviet soldiers as they expected each soldier to fight to the death and automatically excluded any prisoner from the "Russian community". Many Soviet POWs and forced labourers transported to Nazi Germany were, on their return to the USSR, treated as traitors and sent to gulag prison camps. The remainder were barred from all but the most menial jobs.
 Treatment of POWs by the Soviet Union
German POW at Stalingrad
Main articles: POW labor in the Soviet Union, Japanese prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, Italian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, Romanian POW in the Soviet Union, Polish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union (after 1939), Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union, Katyn massacre, and Gulag
 Germans, Romanians, Italians, Hungarians, Finns
According to some sources, the Soviets captured 3.5 million Axis servicemen (excluding Japanese) of which more than a million died. One specific example of the tragic fate of the German POWs was after the Battle of Stalingrad, during which the Soviets captured 91,000 German troops, many already starved and ill, of whom only 5,000 survived the war.
German soldiers were for many years after the war kept as forced labour. The last German POWs (those who were sentenced for war crimes, sometimes without sufficient reasons) were released by the Soviets in 1955, only after Joseph Stalin had died. At least 54,000 Italian POWs died in Russia, with a mortality rate of 84.5%.
 The Poles
Katyn 1943 exhumation. Photo by International Red Cross delegation.
As a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers became prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. Thousands of them were executed; over 20,000 Polish military personnel and civilians perished in the Katyn massacre. Out of Anders' 80,000 evacuees from Soviet Union gathered in the United Kingdom only 310 volunteered to return to Poland in 1947.
Out of the 230,000 Polish prisoners of war taken by the Soviet army, only 82,000 survived.
With the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945 Japanese soldiers became prisoners in the Soviet Union, where they, just as other Axis POWs, had to remain as labour for several years.
 The Americans
As the Soviet Union entered into German territory during the later stages of the war, Soviet troops in some cases overran German camps containing US POWs. Allegations have been made that some of these POWs were never repatriated, instead they were allegedly sent to the USSR to be used as bargaining chips.
 Treatment of POWs by the Allies
See also: List of World War II POW camps and Allied war crimes during World War II
Main articles: Operation Keelhaul, Forced labor of Germans after World War II, Japanese prisoners of war in World War II, and German Prisoners of War in the United States
Remagen POW camp
US Army: Card of capture for German POWs - front
The reverse of above card
During the war the armies of Allied nations such as the US, UK, Canada and Australia were ordered to treat Axis prisoners strictly in accordance with the Geneva Convention (1929). Some breaches of the Convention took place, however. According to Stephen E. Ambrose, of the roughly 1,000 US combat veterans that he had interviewed, roughly one-third told him they had seen US troops kill German prisoners.
Towards the end of the war in Europe, as large numbers of Axis soldiers surrendered, the US created the designation of Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF) so as not to treat prisoners as POWs. A lot of these soldiers were kept in open fields in various Rheinwiesenlagers. Controversy has arisen about how Eisenhower managed these prisoners (see Other Losses).
After the surrender of Germany in May 1945, the POW status of the German prisoners was in many cases maintained, and they were for several years used as forced labour in countries such as the UK and France. Many died when forced to clear minefields in Norway, France etc.; "by September 1945 it was estimated by the French authorities that two thousand prisoners were being maimed and killed each month in accidents"
In 1946 the UK had more than 400,000 German prisoners, many had been transferred from POW camps in the US and Canada. Many of these were for over three years after the German surrender used as forced labour, as a form of "reparations". "The POWs referred to themselves as 'slave labour', with some justice." Their emotional state was worsened "from the anxiety and hope of the first half of 1946 to the depression and nihilism of 1948." A public debate ensued in the UK, where words such as "forced labour", "slaves", "slave labour" were increasingly used in the media and in the House of Commons. In 1947 the Ministry of agriculture argued against rapid repatriation of working German prisoners, since by then they made up 25 percent of the land workforce, and they wanted to use them also in 1948.
The "London Cage", an MI19 prisoner of war facility in the UK used for interrogating prisoners before they were sent to prison camps during and immediately after World War II, was subject to allegations of torture.
After the German surrender, the International Red Cross was prohibited from providing aid such as food or visiting prisoner camps in Germany. However, after making approaches to the Allies in the autumn of 1945 it was allowed to investigate the camps in the British and French occupation zones of Germany, as well as to provide relief to the prisoners held there. On February 4, 1946, the Red Cross was permitted to visit and assist prisoners also in the US occupation zone of Germany, although only with very small quantities of food. "During their visits, the delegates observed that German prisoners of war were often detained in appalling conditions. They drew the attention of the authorities to this fact, and gradually succeeded in getting some improvements made".
The Allies also shipped POWs between them, with for example 6,000 German officers transferred from Western Allied camps to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp that now was under Soviet Union administration. The US also shipped 740,000 German POWs as forced labourers to France from where newspaper reports told of very bad treatment. Judge Robert H. Jackson, Chief US prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, in October 1945 told US President Harry S. Truman that the Allies themselves:
"have done or are doing some of the very things we are prosecuting the Germans for. The French are so violating the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners of war that our command is taking back prisoners sent to them. We are prosecuting plunder and our Allies are practicing it."
Hungarians became POWs of the Western Allies, some of these were just as the Germans used as forced labour in France after the cessation of hostilities.
A group of Japanese captured during the Battle of Okinawa
Although thousands of Japanese were taken prisoner, most fought until they were killed or committed suicide. Of the 22,000 Japanese soldiers present at the beginning of the Battle of Iwo Jima, over 20,000 were killed and only 1,083 taken prisoner. Of the 30,000 Japanese troops that defended Saipan, less than 1,000 remained alive at battle's end. Japanese prisoners sent to camps fared well; however, some Japanese were killed when trying to surrender or were massacred just after they had surrendered (see Allied war crimes during World War II in the Pacific). Some Japanese prisoners in POW camps died at their own hands, either directly or by attacking guards with the intention of forcing the guards to kill them. In some instances, Japanese prisoners were tortured by a variety of methods. A method of torture used by the Chinese National Revolutionary Army (NRA) included suspending the prisoner by the neck in a wooden cage until they died. In very rare cases, some were beheaded by sword, and a severed head was once used as a soccer ball by Chinese National Revolutionary Army (NRA) soldiers.
After the war many Japanese were kept on as Japanese Surrendered Personnel until mid-1947 and used as forced labour doing menial tasks, while 35,000 were kept on in arms within their wartime military organisation and under their own officers and used in combat alongside British troops seeking to suppress the independence movements in the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina.
In 1943 Italy overthrew the Dictator Mussolini, and became a co-belligerent with the Allies. This did not mean any change in status for Italian POWs however, since due to the labour shortages in the UK and the USA they were retained as POWs there.
On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and the United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR. The interpretation of this Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Russians (Operation Keelhaul) regardless of their wishes. The forced repatriation operations took place in 1945-1947.
 Transfers between the Allies
The United States handed over 740,000 German prisoners to France, a signatory of the Geneva Convention. The Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention. According to Edward Peterson the U.S. chose to hand over several hundred thousand German prisoners to the Soviet Union in May 1945 as a "gesture of friendship". U.S. forces also refused to accept the surrender of German troops attempting to surrender to them in Saxony and Bohemia, and handed them over to the Soviet Union instead. It is also known that 6000 German officers were sent from camps in the West to the Soviets, who put them in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp which at the time was one of the NKVD special camp and from which it is known that there were transfers further east to Siberia.
 Post World War II
An executed US Army POW of the US 21st Infantry Regiment killed July 9, 1950. Picture taken July 10, 1950
American POW being questioned by his North Vietnamese captors.
The North Koreans have a reputation for severely mistreating prisoners of war (see Crimes against POWs).
Of about 16,500 French soldiers who fought at Dien Bien Phu, more than 3,000 were killed in battle, while almost all of the 11,721 men taken prisoner died in the hands of the Viet Minh on death marches to distant POW camps, and in those camps in the last three months of the war.
The Vietcong and North Vietnamese captured many United States service members as prisoners of war during the Vietnam War, who suffered from mistreatment and torture during the war. Some American prisoners were held in the prison called the Hanoi Hilton. Communist Vietnamese held in custody by South Vietnamese and American forces claimed they were treated badly.
Regardless of regulations determining treatment to prisoners, violations of their rights continue to be reported. Many cases of POW massacres have been reported in recent times, including October 13 massacre in Lebanon by Syrian forces and June 1990 massacre in Sri Lanka.
During the Gulf War in 1991, American, British, Italian and Kuwaiti POWs (mostly crew members of downed aircraft and special forces) were tortured by the Iraqi secret police. An American military doctor, Major Rhonda Cornum, a 37-year-old flight surgeon captured when her Blackhawk UH-60 was shot down, was also subjected to sexual abuse.
During the 1990s Yugoslav Wars, Serb paramilitary forces supported by JNA forces killed POWs at Vukovar and Škarbrnja while Bosnian Serb forces killed POWs at Srebrenica.
A Pakistan stamp depicting POWs in Indian camps after the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. The stamp was issued with the political aim of raising global awareness to help secure their release. The POWs were released after the Simla Agreement
In 2001, there were reports that India had actually taken two prisoners during the Sino-Indian War, Yang Chen and Shih Liang. The two were imprisoned as spies for three years before being interned in a mental asylum in Ranchi, where they spent the next 38 years under a special prisoner status. The last prisoners of Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988) were exchanged in 2003.
 Numbers of POWs
This is a list of nations with the highest number of POWs since the start of World War II, listed in descending order. These are also the highest numbers in any war since the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War entered into force on 19 June 1931. The USSR had not signed the Geneva convention.
Armies Number of POW held in captivity by the enemy Name of conflict
Soviet Union 4–5.7 million taken by Germany (2.7–3.3 million died in German POW camps) World War II (Total)
* 3,127,380 taken by USSR (474,967 died in captivity) (according to an other source 1.094.250 died in captivity (35,8 %))
* 3,630,000 taken by the United Kingdom
* 3,100,000 taken by the United States
* 937,000 taken by France
* unknown number in Yugoslavia, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark (the death rate for German prisoners of war was highest in Yugoslavia with over 50%)
* 1.3 million unknown
World War II
France 1,800,000 taken by Germany World War II
Poland 675,000 (420,000 taken by Germany; 240,000 taken by the Soviets in 1939; 15,000 taken by Germany in Warsaw in 1944) Invasion of Poland, and Warsaw Uprising
United Kingdom ~200,000 (135,000 taken in Europe, does not include Pacific or Commonwealth figures) World War II
United States ~130,000 (95,532 taken by Germany) World War II
Pakistan 90,368 taken by India. Later released by India in accordance with the Simla Agreement. Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Iraq ~175,000 taken by Coalition of the Gulf