French resistance leader Jean Moulin captured


21st June 1943: French resistance leader Jean Moulin captured

Jean Moulin restated the aims of Free France: “to prosecute the war; to restore freedom of expression to the French people; to re-establish republican freedoms in a state which incorporates social justice and which possesses a sense of greatness; to work with the Allies on establishing real international collaboration, both economic and social, in a world in which France has regained her prestige.”

The Germans were attempting to understand the structure of the French Resistance. A German document from May 1943.
The Germans were attempting to understand the structure of the French Resistance. A German document from May 1943.
National Hero and Leader of the French Resistance, Jean Moulin.
National Hero and Leader of the French Resistance, Jean Moulin.

The world of undercover life in France during the Nazi occupation was full of threats. Both members of the French Resistance and the agents of the Special Operations Executive who sought to support them faced the most fearsome torture if they fell into the hands of the Gestapo. The Germans were hunting them down and there was treachery within the ranks from some members who had been compromised by the Nazis.

The French Resistance had been formed from many different groups with many different political allegiances and objectives. One man who played a critical role in uniting them into a disciplined force was Jean Moulin. After imprisonment by the Nazis he had fled to Britain where he had met de Gaulle. He then parachuted back into France and spent 1942 meeting the different affiliations and bringing them together. After another visit to Britain he was back in France in the spring of 1943 to redouble his efforts:

The Resistance was gaining in strength; fugitives from the forced labour draft would soon be taking to the maquis. The Gestapo was growing stronger too, and the Milice were everywhere. It was a time when, out in the countryside, we listened tensely to the barking of dogs in the depths of the night; a time when multi-coloured parachutes, laden with weapons and cigarettes, fell from the sky by the light of flares burning in forest clearings or on windswept plateaus; a time of cellars, and the desperate cries of the torture victims, their voices like those of children… The great battle in the darkness had begun.

On 27 May 1943, the first meeting of the National Council of the Resistance was held in Paris, in the rue du Four.

Jean Moulin restated the aims of Free France: “to prosecute the war; to restore freedom of expression to the French people; to re-establish republican freedoms in a state which incorporates social justice and which possesses a sense of greatness; to work with the Allies on establishing real international collaboration, both economic and social, in a world in which France has regained her prestige.”

Then he read out a message from General de Gaulle, assigning the first Council of the Resistance its primary goal: to maintain the unity of the Resistance it represented.

Each of its members went in daily peril of his life. On 9 June, General Delestraint, commander of the secret army, unified at last, was taken prisoner in Paris.

There was no obvious successor, as so often happens in the secret world. Before the arrival of Serreules, Jean Moulin said on many occasions, “Had I been captured, I would not even have had time to brief a deputy…”. He wanted the appointment of a successor to be made with the agreement of the Resistance movements, particularly those in the south. He was to meet their representatives on 21 June, in Caluire.

They were waiting for him.

So, too, was the Gestapo.

Treason played its part – as did destiny, which made the normally punctual Jean Moulin three quarters of an hour late, only to be matched by the tardiness of the German police. Soon enough, they learned that they had captured the head of the Resistance.

Little good it did them. In the Montluc fort in Lyons, on the day that the Gestapo agent handed him writing materials because torture had left him unable to speak, Jean Moulin sketched a caricature of his torturer. As for what followed, let us turn to the stark words of his sister: “His part was played, and his ordeal began. Jeered at, savagely beaten, his head bleeding, his internal organs ruptured, he attained the limits of human suffering without betraying a single secret, he who knew everything.”

Let us be quite clear that, for the days in which he was still able to speak or write, the fate of the whole Resistance hung on the courage of this one man. As Mademoiselle Moulin put it, he knew everything.

From the memorial speech by André Malraux on the occasion of the Transfer of Jean Moulin’s ashes to the Panthéon

French Resistance has a detailed account of the events of 21 June 1943 and the subsequent interrogations. There remains considerable controversy about who betrayed Moulin and the group.

A record of those arrested on 21 June 1943. Moulin was entered under the name that he gave Jacque Martel, at the bottom of the page.
A record of those arrested on 21 June 1943. Moulin was entered under the name that he gave Jacque Martel, at the bottom of the page.

ALSO IN JUNE 1943 – AN SOE AGENT IN PARIS

This excerpt describes the experience of SOE Agent John Goldsmith, who was living undercover in Paris in mid 1943:

As the list of arrests and ‘blown’ circuits grew, I redoubled my precautions.

Sometimes danger threatened from the quarter where it was least expected. One night in the early summer I was travelling by train near Clermont-Ferrand when an air-raid or some trouble on the line forced it to stop. It halted in open country for more than an hour and, as it had been made quite plain that it would be some time before it got moving again, I got out to stretch my legs. All sorts of people, German and French, were climbing down and doing the same.

Unbelievably I bumped into someone in the gloom and recognized Brian Rafferty, a dare-devil young Irishman whom I had met in England. He was working a sabotage group in the area and operated under the code-name Dominique. Without thinking he laughed and said in English, ‘Fancy meeting you here … ’, and he continued to talk in English. In heated French I told him to shut up and stop playing the bloody fool, walked away and made sure that I was nowhere near him when we set off again.

Not long afterwards Rafferty was picked up in Clermont-Ferrand because, it was reported, he had been too casual about a conversation (this time in French) in a café. One report said he had been heard to say he was looking forward to a moonlight operation. Whatever the reason was, Rafferty paid with his life. He spent two years in concentration camps before being shot a couple of months before the war ended.

Being a secret agent could be terribly boring at times. You might spend six weeks hanging about, trying to be inconspicuous, just for the sake of an hour’s work which, if it went according to plan, was not very exciting in any case. You had to be on the right spot at the right time, available and in contact with your superiors up to the moment of action.

In between times there was the simple question to be faced of making yourself scarce. You had to eat somewhere, sleep somewhere and occasionally you felt a desperate need to talk to someone, even though you were aware that to do so could be dangerous, if not fatal. Boredom was, in fact, a menace that no one was taught to contend with at the training school. Boredom was something individuals had to deal with themselves, and it cost quite a few men and women their lives when they came up with the wrong solution.

The most insidious thing about it was that it induced a sense of security at just the moment when one should have been alert for surprise moves by the enemy. I learned this to my cost during a gloriously sunny spell in Paris in June 1943.

Having contacted Lejeune I was obliged to wait for a courier to pass on a message to Lyons that I would be somewhat later in returning than I had anticipated — there were some minor snags I had to iron out – and that meant kicking my heels for a while.

It was strange and irritating being an outcast in the place of my birth, a Paris that was far from what I was used to, a city almost deserted. For a start there was hardly any traffic. If you saw a petrol-driven car it contained either Germans, or collaborators, or some essential user like a doctor.

The ordinary Frenchmen chugged about the boulevards from time to time in weird contraptions with small furnaces at the rear which supplied wood gas to a balloon-like container on the roof. The top-speed of these gazogénes was claimed to be about 30 m.p.h. going downhill with the wind behind them, but even that was an exaggeration.

Anyway, the appearance of even these monstrosities was rare and it was possible to cross the road to the Arc de Triomphe in complete safety. If you were going to be knocked down by anything it was more likely to be a cyclist or a taxi velo. The latter was a primitive substitute for the ordinary cab and consisted of a hefty two-wheel bicycle towing a wickerwork seat for two people. There was no shortage of fares for them, as long as it wasn’t raining, and it was quite customary for couples to make their way even to night-clubs in the velos.

The velo drivers developed leg-muscles as hard as billiard balls. A man has to be pretty fit to cycle all the way up the Champs Elysees towing, perhaps, twenty stone behind him.

Gone with the peace-time traffic jams were the crowds. The café tables which would have been packed on a normal summer’s day had a forlorn look about them. If they boasted more than a handful of people it was wise to avoid them; almost certainly they were patronized by Germans or their sympathizers.

But rationing was the main cause for the empty tables. The French who could afford to spend their money on black market food took it home to cook. They could see no point in allowing a restaurateur to add his charges to the already exorbitant price of food and vegetables.

I confined myself to eating only once or twice a week in a black-market restaurant even though I had no problem with money. It was just a question of not drawing attention to yourself. Big restaurants were places to be avoided. So were hotels.

The Gestapo, and indeed the French police, had a nasty habit of inspecting registers in the early hours of the morning. To a knock on the door an Englishman dreaming of home might easily reply in his own language ‘Yes?’ or ‘Who is it?’ That was not all. If they didn’t like your writing, or if you had an unusual name, you heard a knock on your bedroom door at 6 a.m. and had to answer a lot of questions about what you were doing in Paris and who your friends were. A visit to the local police station followed if you were unable to answer the questions satisfactorily.

Much safer places to spend an undisturbed night were the maisons de passe. One thing the Germans had not closed down were the brothels and they put the maisons de passe more or less on the same level. These were generally crumbling, rather scruffy hotels where a man could take girl for a couple of hours at any time of the day or night with no questions asked.

It was an old French custom and to have instituted systematic searches would have been very impractical, as there were literally hundreds of these establishments. Furthermore, there was no question of the owners of the maisons de passe asking his visitors to sign in. And so you were safe, or as safe as anything could be for an agent. You could book a room, say you were expecting mademoiselle, and as there was a constant flow of females no one had any reason to disbelieve you, and put up your feet for a few hours.

John Goldsmith’s wartime exploits are all the more remarkable considering that at first his services were consistently refused due to his being over 30. Not easily deterred he eventually became a tank driving instructor in the ranks. In 1942 accidental circumstances saw his recruitment into Buckmaster’s F Section of the Special Operations Executive. His faultless French and upbringing in Paris were to prove invaluable.

Commissioned overnight and after intensive training he was parachuted into France for the first of his three missions. His adventures included crossing the Pyrenees, sabotage, forming his own circuits, being captured by the Gestapo, a daring escape and black-marketeering. In 1944, now a Major, he was advisor to the Maquis in the Mont Ventoux area where they fought the Germans in pitched battles and won.

Although this refreshingly modest account does not admit to it, Goldsmith’s extraordinary war is best summed up by his DSO, MC, three Croix de Guerre and Legion d’honneur. Accidental Agent is as thrilling an account of war behind enemy lines as has ever been written.The author’s descriptions of his experiences and the many colourful characters he came across are a joy to read.

Germans step up persecution of Polish civilians

5th December 1942: Germans step up persecution of Polish civilians

People here are in a panic. They move from place to place, sleep completely clothed, and wait for the gendannes to come. In Szczebrzeszyn the only topic of discussion is future evacuation. A new announcement was posted in town regarding the sabotage of railroads, The railroad lines were divided into sectors. Each sector was given to a nearby village for security. If any sabotage takes place, the villages in charge of guarding that sector will be punished. In other words, several hostages will be executed.

‘Let’s do agricultural work in Germany. Report immediately to your Vogt’. A German propaganda poster aimed at the Polish population – very few went voluntarily to Germany.

Quite apart from the Nazi organised mass murder of the Jews in Poland, the ordinary Polish citizen was subjected to widespread casual persecution which often proved fatal. Poland was erased from the map, the western part absorbed in ‘Greater Germany’, the easternmost part forming part of the ‘Eastern territories’. What remained was simply known as the ‘General Government area’. As many as 3 million Poles would die at the hands of the Nazis.

In eastern Poland Zygmunt Klukowski, a doctor at the local hospital, was keeping a diary recording the various measures taken against the local population. He had already seen the Jews hunted down and either shot locally or deported on trains.

Now increasingly restrictive measure were being taken against the local population. The shortage of manpower in Germany meant that thousands of Poles were being rounded up to be sent to work in armaments and construction. To make way for ‘German settlers’ – ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union – whole villages were being ‘evacuated’ so that they could have new homes closer to Germany.

Bands of people were wandering around the countryside trying to avoid the Germans. More and more Poles were moving to the forests to join the Partisans. There was little room for women and children who sooner or later were rounded up and sent off to Germany. Klukowski knew that families who moved into the forests lived in desperate conditions and that many children would not survive the harsh winter.

The more active the partisans became the more brutal the the retaliatory action from the German occupying powers.

December 5

For the last two days the Germans were attempting to catch young people here. Firemen are being used for this dirty work. The firemen go from house to house checking everyone’s ID, looking for people with labor bureau cards. So far about 50 people have been detained, but the quota is 250, so they still have far to go to fulfill it.

Today there was a raid against Pawlowski and Dawid in Brody. At the same time the German teacher was attacked. Increased Gestapo action is a direct result of these incidents.

Today soldiers began evacuating the villages of Ploski and Zawada, and they finished Wielacz.

People here are in a panic. They move from place to place, sleep completely clothed, and wait for the gendarmes to come. In Szczebrzeszyn the only topic of discussion is future evacuation.

A new announcement was posted in town regarding the sabotage of railroads. The railroad lines were divided into sectors. Each sector was given to a nearby village for security. If any sabotage takes place, the villages in charge of guarding that sector will be punished. In other words, several hostages will be executed.

Anyone who comes to our region must report to the police station no longer than twelve hours after arriving.

See Klukowski: Diary from the Years of Occupation

Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of occupied Poland. Poles were seen as a source of labour for the Germans, not needing any more than an elementary education. In 1940 he had claimed: “In Prague, big red posters were put up on which one could read that seven Czechs had been shot today. I said to myself, ‘If I had to put up a poster for every seven Poles shot, the forests of Poland would not be sufficient to manufacture the paper'”

Berliners learn to accommodate the Red Army

One national trait puzzled us. This was the habit of nearly every Russian who came to visit us of relieving nature in various, and to us strange and unusual places. We discovered these faecal visiting cards in every corner, on tables, beds, carpets and one, strangest and most ambitious of all, on the top of a particularly high stove. My own theory that this was the remains of an old superstition which implied than an object be possessed if the owner had stooled on it, did not obtain any general currency. But I still think it a possibility in the absence if any more valid theory.

View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
View of ruined buildings in Wilhelmstrasse, Berlin, taken from the second floor of the Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium).
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin.

The reality of the Soviet occupation of Germany now became all too apparent. In days and weeks of lawlessness following their victory the Red Army was to indulge in an epic of rape and pillage, much of it officially sanctioned. The Soviet authorities moved swiftly to dismantle and remove whole factories to the East.

Any man who had served in the military, and many who were merely suspected of having done so, were marched off to Russia where they would spend many years labouring to rebuild what had been destroyed. Many would not survive the hardships.

Werner Harz had narrowly avoided being marched off to the east on more than one occasion when his Volkssturm unit disbanded. He escaped and made his way back to his home in Berlin. For him and many others the ordeal of the Soviet occupation was only just beginning:

The atmosphere during the next few days was incredibly complicated and perplexing. We could scarcely realise our joy that the war was over because we had perpetually to be on the watch.The Russians were celebrating everywhere: in our house, in the streets, in the gardens, their victory celebrations lasting night and day for weeks. Unluckily a huge store of wine and spirits had been found just down the road, and an unending stream of keen-eyed soldiers flowed up the street, while on the other side a rolling flood of paralytic conquerors staggered back.

They were mostly from Eastern Russia, with Mongolian faces, Chinese-looking beards and earrings.There were little undersized men from Turkestan and sturdy- looking Siberians.

But one thing they all had in common — an absorbing and childish fascination in domestic gadgets and machinery. My electric radiogram really intrigued them. But having no electric current I found it rather difiicult to explain and as the machine obviously wouldn’t work they showed me their displeasure in no uncertain terms – by smashing it.

They were also fascinated by the water-closet which again, in spite of my rather undignified pantomime, they completely failed to understand. They searched steadily through my library looking for pictures.They sought continually after watches although we had already paid off our share of the reparations with every watch and clock in the place.They played with two cameras and broke them immediately. With deathly calm they took a lovely antique grandfather clock to pieces, and no one has since been able to reassemble it.

The street in front of our house looked like a fairground. Dirt, rubbish, pieces of cars and tanks were strewn everywhere and amidst everything dozens of Russians were riding bicycles — obviously trying this new type of transport for the first time in their lives. They fell to left and right but clambered back again like armless little apes. Some, just able to stay on, began immediately to try acrobatics; others stared proudly at their rows of watches, usually extending up both forearms.Then, when they were tired of it, they let the machines lie where they fell and walked away.

We had to watch like lynxes to prevent our inquiring visitors taking too much away that interested them. And my room was full ofinterest. I found it a matter of some delicacy to persuade a chummy Uzbeker not to demonstrate his prowess with the pistol by shooting the Iphigenia of Tauris illustration out of my Goethe first edition.

One national trait puzzled us. This was the habit of nearly every Russian who came to visit us of relieving nature in various, and to us strange and unusual places. We discovered these faecal visiting cards in every corner, on tables, beds, carpets and one, strangest and most ambitious of all, on the top of a particularly high stove. My own theory that this was the remains of an old superstition which implied than an object be possessed if the owner had stooled on it, did not obtain any general currency. But I still think it a possibility in the absence if any more valid theory.

It was all incredibly tiring. One had to be on one’s toes the minute a soldier came near, and dozens of them came near all the time. Each one had to be conducted through the whole house and couldn’t be trusted alone for a moment. As long as one watched them, kept talking, and treated them as guests, they could be dissuaded from taking away what they wanted, and breaking up what they didn’t. But they were always inspired with awe when they saw my row of books and the pictures on the walls.

The demand for women continued unabated and the unfortunate girls had to stay hidden under the roof for a whole week.We had nothing but admiration for the physical endurance which made the Russians capable of this exercise at all hours of the day or night. Fortunately I had a pornographic book in my library with which I managed to divert them from their more practical excursions in this sphere.

Since the exercise of hospitality took up the major part of our day it was a continual worry to find things to eat and drink. During the early days it was quite simple. Dozens of dead horses were lying in the streets and all one needed was a bucket and a sharp knife. Or it was merely a question of following the looters and joining in the free-for—all fights that were always in progress in the many grocer’s shops and food depots.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler's bunker is immediately behind them.
British and Russian troops in the garden of the former Reichs Chancellery. The entrance to Hitler’s bunker is immediately behind them.

Allies come to terms with Germans and Germany

And so Germany lies a beautiful, apparently innocent, whore; outside, appealing and disarming; inside, disease-ridden, deceitful, and vicious. In the success of our armies and the prospect of a termination of hostilities in the near future, we have perhaps lost sight of our enemy. But here he is still, – sly, beguiling, arrogant, ambitious, and inhumanly cruel. Let some think that this war is over. It is just beginning!

In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945.
In the crematorium courtyard, U.S. soldiers confront the citizens of Weimar with the corpses found there. This was the first photo of Buchenwald to be published; it appeared in the London Times on April 18, 1945.
German civilians loot a train carrying food supplies.
German civilians loot a train carrying food supplies.

As the Allies moved deep into Germany and began to encounter ordinary Germans many men were wondering about the contrast between ‘ordinary’ Germans and the war crimes that they were uncovering. The German population would soon become subject to a programme of de-nazification as the Allies took control of the administration of the country. In the interim period there was great uneasiness about how they should deal with Germans, how many of them were still dedicated Nazis?

Henry Swann a US Army doctor describes the situation in a letter home to his wife:

Apr. 19th

Germany

Darling,

Yesterday we were on the road all day. The country-side was clothed in a filmy haze which softened the bright sun-light. This part of Germany looks like a fairy-land. Little farms, with the apple and pear blossoms framing the red-tiled roofs, set in neat patterns over the gently-rolling green hills, broken here and there by a grove of delicate birch trees, or green pine. What a setting for the tide of human misery which thronged the road-side!

Liberated workers and freed prisoners of war, mostly men, but also many women streamed past us as we rode, like a movie reel. Russians, Poles, Italians, French, Dutch, and Belgians, dressed in scraps of uniforms, patched work-clothes, rags and tatters; carrying little or big bundles, or pushing little wheel-carts; tired and hungry; apathetic, sprawled out under the tress in little groups; trying to get back and away from the front. Many of them seemed dazed, almost uncomprehending. Others, who, no doubt, have not been imprisoned and beaten long enough to have their spirit broken, laughed and waved us on. Here was freedom at last; now remained only the long and perhaps devious way home. But most of them were thin, and old, and weary. They were as people in pain and yet asleep. What a parade of thwarted lives, of physical and spiritual agony, of human bitterness! A trickling column, two hundred miles long.

And past them in big lorries rolled the convoys of German prisoners, going back to their cages to loaf away the remainder of the war, safe and well fed. The prisoners ride, the liberated allies walk. There are good reasons, of course, but war is strange, isn’t it?

In the little farming towns where the war swept by and left them unscathed, the German people go about their business; fat, rosy-cheeked kids play and wave at us, though we wave not at them; women wash and shop, and chat, and watch the kind-hearted, soft Americans go by with scant concern; and saucy girls smile and wiggle just a little at the G.I.’s — girls who last night warmed the bed of an S.S. trooper. (Non-fraternization is more than a policy: – it is a military safeguard. Not a few G.I.’s have followed these Lorelei into their houses, and have met death and oblivion in the dark.) These apparently happy and unconcerned people view the straggling refugees with little interest and no compassion. It is, perhaps, of no importance, for are they not just slaves?

And from these little towns came the men who are paratroopers and gestapo boys. And these people who smile and wave and fly their white flags by day, by night are smuggling arms, concealing escaping prisoners and sniping at any unwary soldier.

The name of the town where now I am located I cannot tell you, of course. [He is referring to Gardelegen – where he was a witness to the aftermath of the massacre] But it will soon burn in the hearts of men along with Lidice and Lublin. The Germans perpetrated here a human massacre so brutal as to defy belief; the evidence is complete and irrefutable; and it chills the heart to see it. There is no human crime of which they are not capable! Some day, you will read the story in the papers; I hope they publish it far and wide, though I admit that although I have seen terrible things in this last year, I myself could scarce have the heart to tell you of it.

And so Germany lies a beautiful, apparently innocent, whore; outside, appealing and disarming; inside, disease-ridden, deceitful, and vicious. In the success of our armies and the prospect of a termination of hostilities in the near future, we have perhaps lost sight of our enemy. But here he is still, – sly, beguiling, arrogant, ambitious, and inhumanly cruel. Let some think that this war is over. It is just beginning! And if we are weak and sentimental now, armies will march again as sure as fate. We must not be fooled by their smiles, their folk-dances, their pretty country-side. We cannot afford another era of phony peace.

We are now with an Evac. which took over a big Nazi hospital. Very comfortable and quite civilian. For the first time in over a year, I have bathroom facilities with hot and cold running water. You probably never think what a luxury it is to be able to turn a handle and have hot water run into a nice clean white basin. One takes it so for granted, until you don’t have it. In Paris and Brussels there was no coal to heat water. Most English homes never had central water heating because of fuel shortage. And in Belgium and Germany, not many pipes carried water of any kind. So we turn it on and off, and wash our hands twice, just to enjoy the luxury of it!

H

The complete collection of Henry Swann’s letters 1944- 1945 can be read at the National Library of Medicine.

A hangar full of wrecked German aircraft at Schmarbeck airfield, Germany, 20 April 1945. In the foreground are Heinkel He 111 and He 177 bombers.
A hangar full of wrecked German aircraft at Schmarbeck airfield, Germany, 20 April 1945. In the foreground are Heinkel He 111 and He 177 bombers.
A Cromwell tank of 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) on the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn, 20 April 1945.
A Cromwell tank of 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) on the Bremen-Hamburg autobahn, 20 April 1945.

Two very different Germans consider the future

We go outside to the courtyard entrance and see the advance guard drive by: tanks, armored cars, trucks, and jeeps. For the first time we behold Americans. The soldiers are outstandingly equipped. Their appearance is remarkably good, well-fed. There is no comparison between the Germans’ material and the Americans’. Anyhow, the American army makes an impression of excellent, disciplined troops. I want to hope that this good impression will continue to remain in the future.

Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.
Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

In Laubach in western Germany one man had maintained a small act of resistance against the Nazis throughout the war. A mid level civil servant, Friedrich Kellner deliberately set out to record every detail and nuance of Nazism as it affected ordinary Germans.

I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.

In doing so he took an extremely perilous course. So many other like minded Germans had ended up in concentration camps, which few survived. His diary reveals what many Germans knew about the war, including a widespread understanding of various aspects the Holocaust, based on first hand accounts from troops returning from the east.

On 27th March he had written about the imminent collapse of the front near him:

The German army is fleeing!

Since yesterday evening, March 26, 1945, cars heading toward the direction of the east have been racing past our building. We could not sleep the whole night because of the noise. The “best army of the world” (as it was so often called) is fleeing back.

To Where? To the Weser? God, you fools, you were not able to defend the Atlantic and Siegfried Line, as well as the Rhine. What do you think you can do inside Germany? Despite what those who would prolong the war might still invent, the dissolution is complete–and it is but a short time before the war machine itself comes to a stop.

Then an uncommonly serious and extremely heavy time of the reconstruction begins after this worst of all wars. And there are very few people who are in the clear; the war affected everyone’s thinking and actions completely until the war was at its end. The hangover will last longer than the greatest pessimist can imagine.

Then on the 29th March the Allies finally arrived:

Shortly after 3 p.m. there are noises on the street. In the cellar of our building are gathered those wounded in the name of Goebbel’s propaganda, and some neighbors, all overawed. Among them, naturally, are the Party members, who do not have a clear conscience. These believe the approaching Allied soldiers will behave like the German soldiers did in Poland, etc. This sheepish fear gives me pleasure. I do not pass up the chance to make scornful remarks.

We go outside to the courtyard entrance and see the advance guard drive by: tanks, armored cars, trucks, and jeeps. For the first time we behold Americans. The soldiers are outstandingly equipped. Their appearance is remarkably good, well-fed. There is no comparison between the Germans’ material and the Americans’. Anyhow, the American army makes an impression of excellent, disciplined troops. I want to hope that this good impression will continue to remain in the future.

Read more of his diary entries in English at Friedrich Kellner: Selected Diary Entries

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.
German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

Meanwhile in Berlin the senior Nazis continued to delude themselves that the situation was in some way salvageable. Propaganda Minister Jozef Goebbels was also an assiduous diary keeper throughout the war. His diaries give no hint of impending doom, let alone any sense of panic. He continued to write long detailed, daily analyses of the international scene and the war situation right up until the 9th of April.

On the 29th March he surveyed the eastern front, and considered a confidential report on the war in western Germany. He was still making plans for resistance to occupying Allies:

The report starts by saying that large-scale demoralisation has set in in the West, that a vast army of stragglers is on the move eastwards, that east-bound trains are crammed with armed men, that there is no longer any question of firm cohesion anywhere, and that in places detachments of Volkssturm can be seen marching westwards while the regular troops set off towards the east.

This is, of course, extraordinarily menacing and gives rise to the greatest anxiety. I am convinced that we shall succeed in re-establishing some sort of order in this wildly milling mob. But, the war having moved so far onto German territory, we can no longer afford to abandon large areas as is usually associated with such proceedings.

The Americans are already saying that they are only 150 miles from Berlin. This is not true but I believe that they are trying to divert our attention in a false direction …

Hannover was raided yesterday in addition to Berlin. The two raids were described as medium to heavy. Reich territory was clear of enemy aircraft during the night. For the first time for 35 days Berlin was not given the compliment of its Mosquito raid. Among the inhabitants of the Reich capital this produced a sort of definite disappointment. When the Mosquitos did not arrive in the evening, everyone naturally expected that they would come during the night. They probably stayed away for reasons of weather.

I am now very busy with the so-called Werwolf organisation. Werwolf is intended to activate partisan activity in enemy-occupied districts. This partisan activity has by no means got off to a good start.

Here and there certain noticeable actions have been reported such as, for example, the shooting of the Burgomaster installed by the Americans in Aachen; for the moment, however, no systematic activity is visible.

I would like to take over direction of this partisan activity myself and I shall possibly ask the Fuhrer to give me the necessary powers. I shall set up a newspaper for Werwolf and also make available a radio transmitter with powerful beam facilities; both will carry the same name. Announcements both in the news- paper and over the radio will be in definitely revolutionary terms without any external or internal political restraints.

In the present war situation Werwolf should be what the Angriff [ Nazi newspaper – ‘The Attack’] was during our struggle period [before the Nazis came to power] when we were fighting not only for Berlin but for the Reich; in fact it should be a rallying point for all activists who are not prepared to adopt the course of compromise.

See Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.
Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.
Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.
Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

First impressions of Allied occupied Germany

Sometimes our car got stuck in the mud. At a word the Germans ran to push it out. Once a German came up to my driver and said: ‘The Russian prisoners of war are looting my shop. Will the English soldiers please come and see they do it in an orderly manner?’ It never occurred to him to contest the right of the Russians to loot. He was simply anxious to avoid the needless smashing of his windows as well.We lived in farmhouses and small hotels, most of them filled with refugees from the bombed-out towns. We said: ‘We will require this room and that room in an hour’s time.’ At once the German families rose and left—to live in the cellar probably. They cleaned the rooms, washed our clothes, did our cooking.

Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and General William Simpson of the 9th American Army at the Siegfried Line, just outside Aachen, Germany, on 6 March 1945.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and General William Simpson of the 9th American Army at the Siegfried Line, just outside Aachen, Germany, on 6 March 1945.
A Sherman tank crew of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, shaking hands with US troops in Issum, Germany, 6 March 1945.
A Sherman tank crew of the Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers), 8th Armoured Brigade, shaking hands with US troops in Issum, Germany, 6 March 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill chalks the message "A Present for Hitler" onto a shell which he then fired from a 9.2mm gun at the eastern edge of Goch, Germany, on 5 March 1945
Prime Minister Winston Churchill chalks the message “A Present for Hitler” onto a shell which he then fired from a 9.2mm gun at the eastern edge of Goch, Germany, on 5 March 1945 (original War Office caption see comments below)

Many Russian troops had been angered by the apparent wealth of Germany as they began to occupy the eastern territories. Why had a country with such fine houses and productive farms caused such misery by invading Russia? Most of the Soviet troops originated from peasant backgrounds with very basic living standards – they wanted to know what had the Germans sought to gain?

As journalist Alan Moorehead entered western Germany he too was struck by the relative prosperity of the country. In the country areas at least the population had been protected from many of the privations of war. They seemed to have done better than many in England and France where the rationing and shortages had been commonplace throughout the war years:

We had entered Germany in the north-west, the rich Rhineland province, where the border populations were mixed, more subject to outside influences and presumably less overborne by the Nazis.

The first thing that struck you in the lush green countryside was the cattle, so numerous, so well fed. Chickens and pigs and horses were running everywhere. The farms were rich, wonderfully well equipped and managed. The farming people and their foreign workers were well dressed, and they looked strong and healthy. One could turn into any house at random and find a cellar lined with glass jars of preserved vegetables and fruits. It was nothing unusual to come on many sides of bacon, and larders of fresh meat and dairy butter. In the better homes there was wine and often French liqueurs.

The villages and smaller towns too had a solid bourgeois comfort which had been unknown in England and France for years. Silk stockings were a commonplace. There was not much leather in the shops, but every house seemed to have a good linen cupboard, and there was always an extraordinary variety of electrical gadgets, like radio sets and cookers and vacuum cleaners.

On the walls no sign of Nazi flags or pictures of Hitler; these had been snatched down at the last minute before the Allied troops arrived. Whenever you entered a gasthaus or a shop you would always be certain of seeing a discoloured patch on the wallpaper where a photograph of one of the Nazi leaders had hung until the previous day.

Whenever you approached a farm in a jeep, the German family would remain indoors and send out one of their foreign workers, preferably a Dutchman, in order (they hoped) to make a good impression. Most of their valuables they hid in the cellar or dug into the ground under the chickens’ runs. As for the eggs and chickens and the other things they could not hide, these they offered almost eagerly, expecting no payment. They expected to lose everything in the way of cattle and horses, and the motor-cars which had been stored away years since under the straw in the barns.

That was the first thing we learned inside a week of living with the Germans; they expected to be ill-treated. They had an immense sense, not of guilt, but of defeat. If a man’s shop was entered and looted by Allied soldiers he never dreamed of protesting. He expected it.

And the reason for this was that he was afraid. Mortally and utterly afraid. And so the German made the ordinary normal reaction of a man overcome by fear; he ran to obey. He was obsequious. And the women turned away their heads. They walked past with wooden despairing expressions on their faces, as though they were being pursued by someone. One saw few tears.

For the Germans the catastrophe had gone far beyond that point. Tears were a useless protest in front of the enormity of the shelling and the bombing. And so one was always surrounded by these set wooden faces.

Sometimes our car got stuck in the mud. At a word the Germans ran to push it out. Once a German came up to my driver and said: ‘The Russian prisoners of war are looting my shop. Will the English soldiers please come and see they do it in an orderly manner?’ It never occurred to him to contest the right of the Russians to loot. He was simply anxious to avoid the needless smashing of his windows as well.

We lived in farmhouses and small hotels, most of them filled with refugees from the bombed-out towns. We said: ‘We will require this room and that room in an hour’s time.’ At once the German families rose and left—to live in the cellar probably. They cleaned the rooms, washed our clothes, did our cooking.

After the first week in Germany it never occurred to us to mount sentries at night. Often four or five of us would sleep entirely alone in a village filled with hundreds of Germans, most of whom had husbands and brothers who had been killed or captured by the British, and whose houses had been wrecked by the British. Never anywhere did any German civilian attempt to shoot at me or menace me or steal any possession of mine.

See Alan Moorehead: Eclipse

Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.
Men of the 1st Royal Norfolks, 3rd Division, clearing enemy resistance in Kervenheim, Germany, 3 March 1945.
A Sherman tank of 8th Armoured Brigade in Kevelaer, Germany, 4 March 1945.
A Sherman tank of 8th Armoured Brigade in Kevelaer, Germany, 4 March 1945.
It would seem that someone at the WarOffice had problems with Metric units. A 9.2-inch howitzer and gun crew of the 5th Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, at the School of Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire, November 1939.
It would seem that someone at the War Office had problems with Metric units. A 9.2-inch howitzer and gun crew of the 5th Heavy Battery, Royal Artillery, at the School of Artillery at Larkhill, Wiltshire, November 1939.

Norwegian Resistance sinks troopship with timed mines

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers. Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
Norway had been under German occupation since 1940.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.
British deception plans had forced Hitler to keep many troops in Norway, waiting for an invasion that never came.

Way back in 1940 Churchill had sought to ‘set Europe ablaze’ withe the establishment of the Special Operations Executive which supported resistance groups throughout Europe. A series of very significant sabotage operations against the German nuclear programme had been mounted in Norway. Even though Norway now appeared to be something of a backwater, which the Germans surely would wish to evacuate at some point, there were some very determined members of the Resistance who wanted to carry on the fight. Attacks on German troops meant fewer men who might be transferred back to Germany to carry on the main battle.

One man who had already been involved in a number of successful sabotage operations, as well as escaping from Gestapo custody when he was arrested in 1941, was Max Manus. On the 16th January he would successfully carry out an audacious attack on German shipping, carrying his explosives into Oslo harbour right under the noses of the Wehrmacht. He did so at a time when the Germans were on high alert for sabotage attempts, with soldiers positioned around the docks with orders to fire at anything floating in the water in case it might be a frogman.

The following report reads like it might be fiction, perhaps from an episode of Mission Impossible, but comes from the Special Operations Executive’s file recommending Max Manus for the Distinguished Service Order:

Manus planned and carried out the operation which saw the sinking of the ship ‘Donau’ approx 9,000 tons and the damaging of the ‘Rolandseck’ of approx 2000 tons.

It was not a straight forward operation as the limpet mines, the rubber boat and other equipment had to be concealed first on a wharf in Oslo harbour that was used for the embarkation of German troops. This in itself was a hazardous operation, but the shear audacity of Manus’ methods saw him through.

Brazen use was made of a well of a lift which led from the deck of the wharf to the lower platform whereby the equipment could be stowed. To get through the guard entrance at the dock a decoy vehicle was used with the occupant creating a nuisance of himself with the guards.

The second vehicle, with Manus and packed with all the equipment was then waved through … the ruse had worked. But to Manus’ chagrin the wharf was full of Germans. However, fortune favours the brave and with great daring, and in full view of the Germans, the equipment was unloaded close to the lift. The car was then driven out of the dock.

Later, when the wharf was clear of Germans, the equipment was stowed away in the lift and taken down to the lower section. Manus was aided by two loyal Norwegian workers.

The plan was to attack a large, heavy transport ship, but Manus had to wait some days until a suitable target presented itself. On the 15th January the ‘Donau’ arrived from Aarhus and Manus made the decision to attack her (NB. The ‘Donau’ had previously been used to transport Jews from Norway to Germany whereby many of them were taken to Auschwitz where their lives were sadly and cruelly taken).

Early next morning, Manus, with a helper met with his dock contact, but the man was not at all optimistic. The water surrounding the wharf was full of floating ice, a German soldier had recently fallen in and a search was in progress and finally a number of horses had been tied off to the door entrance which led to the lift. Manus decided to carry on.

Manus and his companion, Roy Nielsen dressed in full British battle-dress with over 100 metres of cordtex tied around their waists, but all concealed under boiler suits, approached the dock guard and proceeded to take part in a comic sketch to aid them through the gate…

Nielsen ‘slipped’ on the icy ground, much to the amusement of the guard … it worked, though, and they were through, despite a cursory inspection of their papers.

Once again the sheer audacity and bravery of the Norwegians had come to the fore. However, the atmosphere was still tense as the guards that were posted on the wharf to protect the ‘Donau’ regularly aimed their rifles and shot in to the water at anything that was suspicious.

Fortunately, the horses had been embarked and the door was clear to enter. The lift was positioned so that the two men could slip underneath it. Looking through a small chink they could see Germans approaching, but all the Germans wanted to do was to get out off the wind. There was at least 8 degrees of frost and it was exceptionally cold in the biting wind. After a while the Germans moved on and Manus’ contact on the docks carefully locked the door.

A rope ladder was let down amongst the wharf timbers but soon the rungs were full of ice: the rubber dingy was also lowered and blown up to the covering tune of a German sergeant drilling an unfortunate squad.

Eleven limpet mines were care fully loaded in to the dingy along with two Sten guns, ammunition and grenades in case they had to fight their way out of any trouble. The two men removed their boiler suits and stepped into the dingy in preparation to pushing off. However, a German patrol boat pulled up alongside the wharf and began a searching amongst the timbers.

Manus and Nielsen laid low in their boat daring not to breathe, but the Germans were not the most observant and soon left. After a suitable period waiting for the all clear the intrepid duo pushed off.

The going was tough as they inched their way forward through the ice using oars and an axe. Navigating carefully alongside the ‘Donau’ they placed their limpets aft of the engine room. With all the limpet mines in place they made their way back to the wharf, but then noticed the ‘Rolandseck’ arriving on the other side of the wharf.

Manus knew this was too good an opportunity to miss. Despite both men being soaked through and very cold, they fetched the one remaining limpet from their improvised store. The German patrol boat returned once again, but as before it failed to spot the armed Norwegians and once it had moved off the duo paddled their way alongside the ‘Rolandseck’ and planted their limpet on its side.

During this operation the ‘Donau’ left its mooring moving into open water with two tugs attending alongside. This meant that light now streamed under the wharf making it even more hazardous for the men as they returned, but to their relief nothing untoward happened and they made it safely back to their timbered shelter.

The dingy was disposed off by knifing and the men once more donned their boiler suits. Suddenly, the sound heavy steps approached the door way and then men stood ready with their Sten guns cocked for action, but to their immense relief it was their contact who had come to open the door. The men stepped out on to the wharf and made their way past the guard at the dock entrance who again laughed at Nielsen’s unfortunate earlier ‘accident’. Manus and Nielsen stepped aboard a tram and made their way home.

At 22:00hrs the ‘Donau’ was in the sound just off Drøbak having just dropped off her pilot. The Captain had just increased speed when the explosion occurred. The Captain attempted to beach the ship and ran her ashore at full speed with crew jumping off in all directions. Despite the beaching the ship settled at the stern and sunk in 25 metre of water’.

It is not known how many casualties there were aboard the Donau, although a large amount of equipment was lost, as well as many unfortunate horses. Roy Nielsen was to die in a Gestapo round up of resistance fighters on 4th April but Max Manus managed to evade the same series of raids. He went on to be awarded Norway’s highest military honour the War Cross, for the second time, for his part in this raid. Read more about his career at Nuav.net.

Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
Max Manus, a leading member of the Norwegian Independent Company, a group within the British SOE.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans  as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway's small Jewish population to Germany - almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.
The SS Donau which was being used by the Germans as a troopship. Earlier in the war she had been used to transport Norway’s small Jewish population to Germany – almost every one of them was subsequently murdered in Auschwitz.

British troops begin to intervene in Greece

One didn’t know at all what to do, we really had no rules of engagement or anything like that. I determined the only way to deal with it was by a show of strength. So I fell in my platoon, very conspicuously in the street, went into open order and ordered them to fix bayonets. Then we marched briskly down the street to where this mob was and of course everybody just melted into the side lines. Then there were people there weeping and wailing over a man who’d been shot through the head — it was obviously an assassination of some sort.

The ELAS communist group of Greek resistance fighters had been the best organised during the occupation - but were now being asked to disarm.
The ELAS communist group of Greek resistance fighters had been the best organised during the occupation – but were now being asked to disarm.

Greece had suffered terribly during the years of German occupation, before the Nazis withdrew in October 1944. An alliance of resistance groups from across the political spectrum had fought a vigorous campaign against the occupiers – but the civilian population had borne the brunt of inevitable reprisals.

Throughout Greece massacres of civilians had been commonplace, even if only the Kondomari, Crete massacre is particularly well remembered because there is a photographic record.

The best organised resistance group had been the communist group ELAS and the left wing EAM – and the British Special Operations Executive had done much to support their operations. Now the British government were wary of the communists and wanted to see them disarmed. Tensions mounted inside Athens as it became apparent that Britain supported the right wing elements of the coalition Greek national government. Regular British troops were now sent to Greece to help maintain order.

At first the British troops found themselves generally welcomed. As individuals many of the troops themselves were sympathetic to the socialist cause:

In my childhood I had always been reading the Classics and the thought of going to Athens was something quite remarkable to me. Something that I thought I should never have been able to take advantage of.

One of the companies that night was placed on the Acropolis itself. Nothing much happened and next morning I said to Signaller Tony Sacco, “How was it, Tony,” and he said, “Nothing else but bloody stones up there and it’s freezing cold” I thought, “Well, that’s the practical view of what the Acropolis was like!

All of the army by that time was pretty well socialist. Everyone was of the view that the Conservatives were to blame for all sorts of ills that we had in the war, the general level of the economy and the way that people felt about the future. So that, by and large, they were all pretty well Labour.

Even though people admired Churchill for his ability to lead the country, his politics were completely suspect – he was a Conservative and was blackened with the rest of the Conservatives.

We felt that what the Government was trying to do in Greece was to restore the monarchy, which we all surmised was really not what the people wanted, but was going to be imposed upon them.

Therefore in the beginning there was a fair amount of favourable feeling towards this insurgency.

Signaller Ronald Elliott, Signal Section, HQ Coy, 16th DLI

‘Maintaining order’ in a civilian population was never going to be an easy task for regular troops who had straight from the battlefields of Italy:

During this early phase the troops were not usually fired on. There had been some sort of shooting incident in the street and there was an angry mob around.

One didn’t know at all what to do, we really had no rules of engagement or anything like that. I determined the only way to deal with it was by a show of strength. So I fell in my platoon, very conspicuously in the street, went into open order and ordered them to fix bayonets. Then we marched briskly down the street to where this mob was and of course everybody just melted into the side lines.

Then there were people there weeping and wailing over a man who’d been shot through the head — it was obviously an assassination of some sort.

Then we were thanked by the people who offered us wine to drink, which turned out to be Retsina which we’d never had before. Retsina’s got a very, very bitter taste of resin – I thought we were being poisoned and I declined to drink it, which was very embarrassing really.

Lieutenant Russell Collins, Carrier Platoon, Support Coy, 16th DLI

See Peter Hart: The Heat of Battle: The 16th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 1943-45

A recent Observer article analyses the British involvement in Greece at some length.

Men of 'L' Squadron SBS (Special Boat Squadron) investigate the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, 13-14 October 1944
Men of ‘L’ Squadron SBS (Special Boat Squadron) investigate the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, 13-14 October 1944