The Germans kept their Russian prisoners of war in the most primitive conditions, although in 1942 they began to supply them with food, as they began to be seen as a useful source of labour.

Henry Metelmann was fighting with the Wehrmacht in Russia when he was wounded in the spring of 1942. He spent some time in a field hospital being well cared for by Russian doctors.

He was released in the early summer before the main offensive of the year got under way. Not yet fit enough to rejoin his unit, he was sent for a period of time to guard Soviet prisoners of war:

I was sent to join a unit which was guarding a prison camp somewhere between the Donetz and the Dniepr. In flat country the large camp had been set up in the open. Kitchen, stores etc. were under canvas, while the uncounted thousands of prisoners were left with nothing to cover themselves with but what they could lay their hands on. Their rations were very meagre, and so, though not quite as bad, were ours.

However, the summer weather was fine and the Russians, used to living rough were able to withstand the conditions. The whole camp was bounded by a large circular trench, which the prisoners were not allowed to approach.

Within the camp, at one side, was a Kolchose consisting of a number of buildings. The entire Kolchose was ringed by rolls of barbed wire and had only one entrance which was guarded. Together with about a dozen other semi-fit invalids, I was assigned to guard this inner compound.

Guard duty generally was considered by most active soldiers as a mind-killing exercise and a punishment. Above all it was boring, and the goings on in the Kolchose compound were a decidedly strange affair. The clue, I suppose, was to be found in Hitler’s infamous ‘Kommissar Befehl’ according to which all political prisoners, Politruks (Political Anny officers) and other members of the Communist Party were to be shot.

For the Communists, the ‘Kommissar Befehl’ was what the ‘Final Solution’ was to the Jews. I suppose that at that time most of us accepted that Communism was a crime, that Communists were criminals, and that there was no legal necessity to prove any further individual guilt. It dawned on me that I was now guarding a camp which had been set up to erase the evil of Communism.

Of all the prisoners who walked into the Kolchose compound, none walked out again. Whether they knew this would be their fate, I am not sure. Quite a number of them had been given away by their fellow prisoners in the large outer camp, and even in doubtful cases, when they claimed that they had never belonged to the Party or were not Communists at all, or even that they were anti-Communist – they did not walk out again.


Having soaked up a full Nazi ‘education` at school and in the Hitler Youth, this first experience of direct contact with Communists in the flesh was very baffling. The prisoners who were daily brought into our compound, either alone or in small groups, were very different types of person from what I had expected. Indeed, they were different from the masses of the prisoners outside who on the whole looked and behaved like typical East European peasants.

What struck me most about these Politruks and Party members was their intelligence and pride. I never, or hardly ever, noticed any of them whining or complaining, and they never asked for anything for themselves. When their time for execution came, and I saw many go, they did so with their heads held high.

Henry Metelmann was to radically revise his views after settling in Britain after the war. See Henry Metelmann: Through Hell for Hitler

Henry Metelmann died in 2011, read his obituary in the Guardian.




June 1942

A proposal to sterilize 2-3 million Jews

Castration by means of X-rays, however, is not only relatively cheap, but can be carried out on many thousands in a very short time. I believe that it has become unimportant at the present time whether those affected will then in the course of a few weeks or months realize by the effects that they are castrated.



June 1942

Luftwaffe upgrades Reich air defence system

In front of this map there is another raised platform, equipped with a complicated arrangement of microphones and switches. From here every single fighter formation can be directed by ground-control officers individually by ultra-short-wave radio telephone. A glance at the map is all that is required to obtain a complete picture of the changing situation at any given moment.



June 1942

‘Stunned amazement’ and confusion in the desert

The NAAFI storemen are machine-gunning stocks of beer worth £20 000. I feel an enormous apathy as I watch others rushing about with cases of canned fruit, liquor, jam. There is a mad abundance. I see men hacking tins open with bayonets, drinking the syrup and chucking the cans aside.



June 1942

The fall of Tobruk

Shells were coming more often now, the tanks with their big guns, had now got sight of the harbour. Boats of all kinds were trying to get away. Some were burning from end to end, passing just by our port, some of the men were jumping off and swimming to shore, some jumped off with kit on their backs and sunk. Later the rocket guns on the Harbour side were blown up, we began to think then.




Rommel prepares the assault on Tobruk

An excellent piece of organisational work was now done in building up supplies for the assault. During our advance we had found some of the artillery depots and ammunition dumps, which we had been forced to abandon during the Cunningham offensive in 1941. They were still where we had left them, and were now put to good use.



June 1942

The British retreat in the Desert continues

Old King Cole was hollow cheeked and was beginning to look drudged with weariness. His moustache was droopy and his eyes were red. He had two septic places on his face and, every now and then his right eye twitched uncontrollably. He was unshaven and gaunt. From his dusty boots to his battered hat he was taking on the colour of the desert.



June 1942

The strain of constant battle readiness on Malta

What really worries me is the way my body’s in open revolt. For weeks past I’ve fought the increasing Dog pain, and, in the last few days, its utter lifelessness; but this morning I’ve been vomiting without success in the ruins of a stone house behind my Spitfire, vomiting into my oxygen mask while flying over the harbour, and repeatedly leaving this tent after coming down on the ground again.




The ‘Gazala Gallop’ gets under way

16th June 1942: The ‘Gazala Gallop’ gets under way

A troop of heavy artillery pieces were attacked by German tanks which closed in under the range of the guns. The men stood to attention by their pieces after the guns were spiked and awaited capture. They were shot to a man. The only men who escaped were the ammunition files some distance behind the guns. Whether this deed was committed out of sheer savagery or because of the inability to take prisoners no one knows.




HMS Bedouin charges the Italian fleet

15th June 1942: HMS Bedouin charges the Italian fleet

I was in a fortunate position in many ways. I knew what we had to do and that the cost was not to be counted – the Italians must be driven off. It was no time for fancy manoeuvres – it was to my mind merely a question of going bald-headed for the enemy and trying to do him as much harm as possible by gun and torpedo. Otherwise it was within his power to destroy us and then the convoy at his pleasure.

I knew, too, that the other destroyers would follow me and know what I was about, whether they had signals from me or no. Finally, I knew that the ship was as ready for the test as we had been able to make her, and the result of our labours was now to be shown. I could do no more about it, except give Manners a target and do my best to avoid punishment for as long as possible.

The cruisers opened fire almost at once and the first salvos fell astern of the Bedouin. Their spread was good – too good perhaps at that range – and the shooting seemed to be unpleasantly accurate. Perhaps this is always the impression when one is the target!

My attention was taken up by the time-honoured dodge of steering for the last splash. I had often heard of it being done and found it exhilarating. It worked, too, for some time. A little before 0630, Manners reckoned we were within range, so I told him to engage the leading destroyer, and we opened fire at 17,400 yards. Ten minutes later the enemy altered another twenty degrees away and we shifted our fire to the leading cruiser at 12,400 yards.

Read the whole story at World War II Today