British confront looting and fraternisation in Germany

Comet tanks of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, crossing the Weser at Petershagen, Germany, 7 April 1945.

Comet tanks of the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, 11th Armoured Division, crossing the Weser at Petershagen, Germany, 7 April 1945.

Stuart VI  light tanks pass half-tracks and other vehicles of 15th (Scottish) Division during the advance to the River Elbe, Germany, 13 April 1945.

Stuart VI light tanks pass half-tracks and other vehicles of 15th (Scottish) Division during the advance to the River Elbe, Germany, 13 April 1945.

Churchill tanks of the Scots Guards, 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying men of the 10th Highland Light Infantry, 15th (Scottish) Division, negotiate a crater during the advance to the River Elbe, 13 April 1945.

Churchill tanks of the Scots Guards, 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying men of the 10th Highland Light Infantry, 15th (Scottish) Division, negotiate a crater during the advance to the River Elbe, 13 April 1945.

As several units were paused to rest in Germany following the Rhine crossing, there was uncertainty as to whether they would be called upon for further assaults or not. In places the Germans were surrendering, elsewhere the fight was as fanatical as ever. There was time for reflection, no man now wanted to be killed or maimed in a war that would surely end very soon.

Colonel Martin Lindsay, commanding 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, had been recalled to front line duty in his forties in July 1944, due to the casualties suffered in Normandy. He now calculated that, up until the Rhine crossing, 102 different officers had served under him since Normandy, filling the 30 officer positions in the Battalion. 55 officers had served in the 12 rifle platoons, with an average service of just 38 days – 53% had been wounded, 24% killed, 15% invalided and 5% survived.

On the 10th April the Battalion was resting in Emsburen, where, looking at the memorial in the local church, he realised that the losses in the Wehrmacht, especially on the Eastern front had been very much heavier than the British Army had suffered:

It was an odd situation, for we did not know whether we had fought our last battle and only a little gentle mopping-up remained, or whether there was still a lot of stiff fighting ahead of us.

This might well have been so, since we were routed on Bremen and the Hun was reported to have two para divisions there (even though without their parachutes) and to have brought up a marine division from Hamburg.

I felt that we should take the last pockets slowly, and not lose a man more than we could help. By this I meant send over every bomber we possessed until there was nothing left, and then turn to the next place.

But I was not sure that this was what the public wanted. They wanted the war to be finished as quickly as possible. Unfortunately they had already been told by the Press that it was virtually over.

It was said that there were 130,000 dozen bottles of bubbly in Bremen, but it was suggested that this was a rumour in order to encourage us to capture the place more quickly.

At this time there was a good deal of chat at all levels about the Army’s two most serious problems, fraternisation and looting. Very strict instructions had been given about fraternisation, which was defined for us as:

(a) Talking (except on duty), laughing and eating with Germans. (b) Playing games with them. (c) Giving them food or chocolate, even to children. (d) Shaking hands with them. (e) Allowing children to climb on a car. (f) Sharing a house with them. All this was quite right and one only hoped it could be enforced as it was completely contrary to the nature of the British soldier.

Looting presented a greater problem since it was so hard to define. Difficulties arose over such articles as cars, food, luxuries like eggs and fruit, prohibited articles such as cameras and shot-guns, and wine. We had more or less come to agreement amongst ourselves that we were going to take only:

(a) What was necessary to make ourselves more comfortable, such as bedding or furniture.

(b) Luxuries that the Huns could well get on without, e.g. eggs and fruit, but not food such as meat or poultry.

(c) Forbidden articles we wanted for our own personal use, such as shot-guns, cartridges, cameras, field-glasses.

(d) Wine (which was mostly looted from France already).

There was an anti-looting strafe at Brigade H.Q., and the Commander ordered that nothing which was not an article of Army rations was to be served in their mess.

The Brigade Major told me that while the Commander was pinned down as it were, on the throne that morning, a Jock of his passed his field of vision with a side of bacon, followed shortly after by another with a wireless set, followed a few minutes later by a third with a goose under his arm. Whereupon he rose in his wrath, sent for his Brigade Major and issued several fresh edicts, the effect of which was that there would probably be no looting at Brigade, for at least a week.

See Martin Lindsay: So Few Got Through

Sherman tanks of the 1st Coldstream Guards, Guards Armoured Division, shooting at enemy positions in a wood during the advance in Germany, 13 April 1945.

Sherman tanks of the 1st Coldstream Guards, Guards Armoured Division, shooting at enemy positions in a wood during the advance in Germany, 13 April 1945.

Men of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders during the advance in Germany, 29 April 1945. Pte Fred Greener pushes a bicycle loaded with mortar bombs.

Men of the 2nd Gordon Highlanders during the advance in Germany, 29 April 1945. Pte Fred Greener pushes a bicycle loaded with mortar bombs.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave April 15, 2015 at 1:51 pm

“53% had been wounded, 24% killed, 15% invalided and 5% survived” – is there any info on what happened to the remaining 3%?

Dave April 15, 2015 at 1:50 pm

“53% had been wounded, 24% killed, 15% invalided and 5% survived” – Is there any info on what happened to the remaining 3%?

Andrew Shakespeare April 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Talk of looting always reminds me of the scene in “Kelly’s Heroes”, in which the American unit is billeted in a farmhouse. The commanding officer informs the senior NCO that he has to go away for a few days, and issues strict orders that there is to be no looting. Then he jumps into a Jeep and drives away, towing a trailer with an enormous yacht on the back!

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