General George S. Patton confronts an SS General

ou can tell this man that naturally in my position I can­not demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering. If he wants to say anything he can, and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk.

Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944
Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944

The heavily fortified border city of Metz had been seized from the French in 1870, returned to the French in 1918 and again seized by the Germans in 1940. The US Third Army’s struggle to liberate it had taken nearly three months and heavy casualties.

Sergeant Leonard O’Reilly discovered SS Major General Anton Dunckern hiding in a brewery on the 20th Novemebr, during a thorough search of Metz following its occupation on the 19th. At first Dunckern demanded to be allowed to surrender to a senior officer but, with a cocked pistol prodding him in the stomach, soon changed his mind. He was later brought before General Patton.

Although Patton spoke German fluently he chose have the interview translated because he would not demean himself to speak to him directly:

Patton
You can tell this man that naturally in my position I can­not demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering. If he wants to say anything he can, and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk.

Dunckern
. . . I received orders to go in the Metz sector and defend a certain sector there, and the reason I did not perish was that I could not reach my weapons and fight back.

Patton
. . . He is a liar!

Dunkern
There was no possibility to continue fighting. The door was opened, and they put a gun on me.

Patton
If he wanted to be a good Nazi, he could have died then and there. It would have been a pleasanter death than what he will get now.

Dunkern
. . . It was useless to do anything about it under the circumstances. (He asked permission to ask a question; it was granted.) I was fighting against American troops and captured by them, and therefore am to be considered a prisoner of war of the American forces.

Patton
He will be a prisoner of war of the French forces soon. They have a lot they want to ask him.

Dunkern
I consider myself a prisoner of war of the American forces, and I have not been captured by the French forces.

Patton
When I am dealing with vipers, I do not have to be bothered by any foolish ideas any more than he has been.

Dunkern
I consider myself a prisoner of war since I fought as a soldier and should be treated as a soldier.

Patton
You also acted as a policeman – a low type of police.

Dunkern
I acted as an officer of the police in an honorable and practical manner, and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Patton
This is a matter of opinion – no one who is a Nazi policeman could act in an honorable manner.

Dunkern
I can only say that during every day of my life I have been honest, rightful, respectful, and humanitarian.

Patton
If this is the case, do you have anything you want to say by way of giving me information or by talking about the German people that will change my opinion?

Dunkern
No one will be able to stand up against me to testify that I did anything against the rules of humanity or human treatment.

Patton
I understand German very well, but I will not demean myself by speaking such a language. I think before I turn the General over to the French, I will send him to the Army Group who may question him or have some special investigators question him, and they can do things I can’t do.

Dunkern
I am not worried about having myself investigated. Of course, there may be some mistakes I have made, which is only human, but I am not worried about inhuman acts charged against me.

Patton
. . . I have great respect for the German soldiers; they are gallant men, but not for Nazis. Have the guards take him outside and have his picture taken and then we’ll see what we will do with him. Also tell him that those bayonets on the guards’ guns are very sharp.”

See The Patton Papers: 1940-1945

An early picture of Nazi party member Anton Dunckern later SS Major General
An early picture of Nazi party member Anton Dunckern later SS Major General

Anton Dunckern was subsequently sentenced to 20 years hard labour for his role as SS Police chief in charge of the Strasbourg region, but released in 1954. He died in 1985.
Contemporary Newsreel featuring Metz amongst several stories from this time, including Peleliu:

Troops of 5th Infantry Division conducting a house-to-house search in Metz on 19 November 1944
Troops of 5th Infantry Division conducting a house-to-house search in Metz on 19 November 1944

US POWs from 101st deal with a German mole

It was quite possible that Websky had worked at the chateau where Joe had had his head bashed in, but he was not allowed to ask because Coleman designated a prosecutorial team to handle Websky’s case and they provided him Fifth Amendment protection. However, he made the mistake of acting as his own counsel. His defense was that he couldn’t turn down the mole job, he didn’t have a choice, and if he didn’t produce results, it was back to the Eastern Front, this time as an infantryman.

A German image of Beyrle after he was recaptured following an escape attempt. He was an uncooperative POW.
A German image of Beyrle after he was recaptured following an escape attempt. He was an uncooperative POW.

Joseph Beyrle was a demolition expert with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne’s “Screaming Eagles” division. He had been captured a few days after dropping into Normandy on D-Day. He had eventually been sent to Stalag III-C at Alt-Drewitz, [now Drzewice in western Poland].

Some men resigned themselves to their fate and adjusted to life as a POW. Others were determined to continue the war by any means possible and to seek to escape. After five years of war the Germans had become accustomed to the escape attempts of British officers in their POW camps and were actively looking for signs of any potential escape:

American krieges in III-C, especially Airborne, constantly pushed the limits of camp regulations. Whereas earlier the Germans hadn’t been much good at uncovering transgressions, in October 1944 it seemed that no one could get away with anything.

Now far too many clandestine meetings were being busted, even those arranged by BTOs, whose security measures were the best. Guards had to be bribed and they could squeal, but the law of averages wasn’t working. Men were being thrown into solitary on bread and water. With everyone ’s health so borderline this was more than punishment — it was life threatening.

The secondary duty of the escape committee was to pre- vent penetration by the Germans. Ferrets were open penetrators, pretty easy to neutralize, but it became clear that Schultz was also running something covert and effective against the Americans.

The escape/security committee had a long talk about what could be going on. Krieges who looked like they might be collaborating were the first suspects. Coleman put out the word to rough them up. If they continued to be palsy with the krauts, beat them up. This was done, but the busts and punishments continued as before.

The committee then had to consider that there might be moles in the compound. A Ranger at IV-B had warned that the krauts’ best opportunity for mole planting occurred during transfers between stalags. After Joe persuaded the committee that this had happened between IV-B and III-C, they pondered countermeasures.

The one approved was to create kriege groups from all regions in the United States, create them openly for an ostensibly benign purpose. With the commandant’s acquiescence, Coleman armounced that there would be regional meetings to disseminate local news from home. Bring any mail you got, and read it to your buddies.

By then hut commanders knew the home state of all their men. If someone didn’t go to his regional meeting, he became a suspect. There were only a few like that, checked out thoroughly and found to be just lone wolves, men who chose to go through the kriege experience by themselves. They did so very well, and none tumed out to be a security risk.

The regional group that uncovered the mole was from Ohio. It took days of innocuous but very specific questions put casually: “Hey, anyone from Senator Taft’s hometown?” Like the needle on a gyrating compass, suspicion began to home on a man who said he was from Cleveland but didn’t recognize the name Bob Feller. How about the mayor in 1942? No response. What high school did you go to? He had an answer for that, however, he didn’t know any of the ice-cream parlors in the neighborhood. What do you hear from home? Nothing. No mail? No. Why not? No parents? No girl-friend? They didn’t write him. He had a Polish name, something like Websky, but couldn’t say anything about the part of Poland his ancestors came from. This seemed like a pretty tough requirement to Joe, who couldn’t have said much about Bavaria either.

After increasingly less friendly questioning, this Websky owned up. He ’d lived in Cleveland for four years with an uncle from Lithuania before returning to East Prussia, where he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. He clerked on the Eastem Front for two years, then felt lucky, because of his American English fluency, to be pulled out in 1944 to serve as an intelligence staffer in France.

It was quite possible that Websky had worked at the chateau where Joe had had his head bashed in, but he was not allowed to ask because Coleman designated a prosecutorial team to handle Websky’s case and they provided him Fifth Amendment protection. However, he made the mistake of acting as his own counsel. His defense was that he couldn’t turn down the mole job, he didn’t have a choice, and if he didn’t produce results, it was back to the Eastern Front, this time as an infantryman.

That was too bad, but the committee didn’t have much choice either. His hut commander was briefed and provided astand-in for Websky at roll calls after Coleman ordered a secret court-martial. Joe asked, how can we court-martial a guy who’s in the enemy army? Coleman’s answer was, you know what I mean — have a trial and make it fast. It was fast indeed, as a six-by-six hole was dug under a hut.

What took inordinate time was the question of whether the hole would be Websky’s execution site, grave, or both. He was given the choice of a shiv in the heart, a club on the head, or being strangled. “He didn’t choose, he just started praying out loud, going from English to German, whatever came to his head. One trooper volunteered to club him, two to strangle. We chose the strangler, who was less eager for the job. I didn’t watch the execution because I volunteered to be on security when it happened. I didn’t say so, but I would have liked to have clubbed him, the way I was clubbed in the chateau. Getting rid of a cockroach like Websky also made me feel better about a chance to escape.”

There was a lively debate within the committee about how to dispose of the dead man. Joe was angry because the ques- tion should have been answered before Websky was executed. What’s the problem? said Coleman’s staff. Just leave him in the hole. The committee objected: dammit, when Schultz misses Websky, any fresh dirt in the compound will be dug up. We can’t tamp down the earth enough to fool the krauts — they’d had a lot of experience in uncovering British tunnels.

Coleman sided with the committee, one of his most important decisions. Websky was dismembered and fed into latrines like Heinz [a German guard dog that they had earlier lured into their hut and killed]. When the latrines were routinely emptied for use by farmers, the committee had a quiet party catered by extra rations from Coleman.

“Before long we knew that Schultz [ the German in charge of security in the camp] knew what had happened, but there was no reprisal. He had lost a dog and a mole, probably caught hell from the commandant, but he still showed respect for what we were doing.”

See Behind Hitler’s Lines: The True Story of the Only Soldier to Fight for both America and the Soviet Union in World War II

One of the watch towers at Stalag Luft III, Sagan.
One of the watch towers at Stalag Luft III, Sagan.

Wounded and on the run in occupied Holland

I was already getting into the habit of having nothing upon or near me which could excite the suspicion of Germans or even their curiosity. Even living quite close to them was something now quite normal. This had already begun to induce a frame of mind, a feeling of confidence and diminished vulnerability, which was to be of great value to me later on.

Infantry of 4th Welch Regiment, 53rd Division, advance along a railway embankment during the capture of Hertogenbosch 25 October 1944.
Infantry of 4th Welch Regiment, 53rd Division, advance along a railway embankment during the capture of Hertogenbosch 25 October 1944.
Men of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry march back from the front line for a four day rest , Sint-Jozefparochien of Duerne, Holland, 26 October 1944.
Men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry march back from the front line for a four day rest , Sint-Jozefparochien of Duerne, Holland, 26 October 1944.

After being wounded quite severely in the stomach during the fighting at Arnhem, Brigadier John Hackett had been fortunate to receive the attention of a gifted Dutch surgeon while in German custody. He had only narrowly avoided euthanasia by a German doctor who thought him a hopeless case. Despite the very significant injury and the need for a long recovery the Dutch underground had managed to smuggle him out of the hospital and into hiding.

Hackett was now completely reliant on his Dutch saviours. His memoir describes how they went to enormous risks to nurse him back to health and help him:

Later, as night fell, supper would be brought to me — bread and butter, jam, cheese and milk. Sometimes there would be a cup of soup, even another egg. How they could continue to find such rare and precious things was baffling. Menno had a good deal to do with it, as I knew, but Keven that bold and resourceful young man must have had his work cut out to find the food they gave.me.

It was growing dark sooner in the day now, as we moved through October, and in that little room under the roof, facing north, the light failed early. ‘We must be very careful with candles and oil,’ said Miss Ann, but early darkness did not worry me.

Electric current could only be used in Ede with German permission and its unauthorised use was a punishable offence. Any building not being occupied by Gerrnans, or in use in their interests, had in fact been disconnected from the supply.

Nonetheless, in the mysterious and almost casual way in which so many truly remarkable things seemed to happen in occupied Holland, soon after my arrival the house in Torenstraat was reconnected and the electric light came on again.

One of his friends, John told me, worked for the municipality as an electrical engineer and he had quite simply, without asking any questions, done what John requested of him. He had connected us up. Behind the carefully arranged blackout curtains I could now read again at night, if I wanted to. I was still, however, not much inclined to read. Every day I read a little in my English Bible and prepared a small piece of Dutch for my daily lesson. That, for the time being, was all.

A search of the house was always possible and we needed a cover plan to explain my presence. It was decided (on a proposal from Miss Cor, I think) that I should become a patient from the hospital for consumptives which had recently been evacuated near Renkum. The family told me that I had a ‘tubercular throat’, whatever that might be, and John brought me a paper purporting to have been issued by the local authority, showing that Mijnheer J. van Dalen had lost his identity documents and was excused work on grounds of ill-health.

We had a scarf ready to tie around his neck and a bottle of strong-smelling disinfectant to soak it in, relying on a well-established fear of tuberculosis among German soldiers and the probability that those actually carrying out a search would not be very well informed – or even very intelligent. My role (I was glad that I never had to play it in earnest) was just to look ill and not speak.

In addition, everything I possessed which might arouse the least suspicion — army clothing and equipment, my own genuine papers, the silver pencil and cigarette case with their inscriptions in English, even my marching boots which did not, they told me, look Dutch enough — were put carefully away in the hiding place under the floor of the landing outside my room.

My boots! They had been made to measure for me in Jerusalem, when the brigade was training in Palestine. We were jumping into Cyprus then, in preparation for the airborne invasion of Sicily from Tunisia.

How long ago and far away all that was, I thought, as I watched the boots being packed up to stow away until I should need them again.

I was already getting into the habit of having nothing upon or near me which could excite the suspicion of Germans or even their curiosity. Even living quite close to them was something now quite normal. This had already begun to induce a frame of mind, a feeling of confidence and diminished vulnerability, which was to be of great value to me later on.

At first Dr Kraayenbrink came nearly every evening, between supper and curfew, but Mary could do the dressings, for which the doctor left medicaments, and Miss Cor was still able to provide gauze and bandages (though not, alas, any new elastoplast) from her stocks in the chemist’s shop.

When Dr Kraayenbrink was satisfied that the discharge was only caused by decomposing linen sutures and that all else was well (however much I might mourn the loss of Kessel’s elegant hairline scar) he came less often, for he had very much to do.

Like every other doctor who saw the evidence of Kessel’s surgery, and heard something of the details, he remained full of admiration for what I have often heard described as a surgical miracle. He did not fail to let me know, more than once, that by rights I should be dead. Now and then, as the frontal wound healed, the end of a thread would show and the doctor would pull it out. I used to dread this: it was an exquisitely painful affair which put me in mind of evisceration by medieval torturers.

See Sir John Hackett: I Was A Stranger

A Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXE of No. 412 Squadron RCAF, armed with a 250-lb GP bomb under each wing, taxies out for a sortie at B80/Volkel, Holland. A member of the ground crew is seated on the starboard wing to help the pilot to negotiate potholes, flooding and other obstructions on the airfield. Label A Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXE of No. 412 Squadron RCAF, armed with a 250-lb GP bomb under each wing, taxies out for a sortie at Volkel, Holland, 27 October 1944.
A Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXE of No. 412 Squadron RCAF, armed with a 250-lb GP bomb under each wing, taxies out for a sortie at B80/Volkel, Holland. A member of the ground crew is seated on the starboard wing to help the pilot to negotiate potholes, flooding and other obstructions on the airfield, 27 October 1944.
Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade and troops of the 10th Highland Light Infantry, 15th (Scottish) Division, during the assault on Tilburg, 28 October 1944.
Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade and troops of the 10th Highland Light Infantry, 15th (Scottish) Division, during the assault on Tilburg, 28 October 1944.

Arrested by the Nazis for “undermining morale”

So much for the window. On the walls, the inevitable obscenities and calculations of time still to be served — in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, even. Then, a veritable flood of Soviet stars, which gave the idea that the entire Red Army had been imprisoned here. And lastly, scratched into the concrete with a key, perhaps, the words, so very applicable to me: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I read this, and darkness envelops me.

A Nazi meeting to publicise the establishment of the Volkssturm.
A Nazi meeting to publicise the establishment of the Volkssturm.
Reichsführer SS Himmler addresses a meeting of the newly formed Volkssturm in October 1944.
Reichsführer SS Himmler addresses a meeting of the newly formed Volkssturm in October 1944.

Conditions inside Nazi Germany were changing. The repercussions of the 20 July bomb plot against Hitler were still playing themselves out. Public trials of men suspected of being associated with the plot demonstrated how the regime would crack down. In an increasingly paranoid atmosphere there was now even less chance that any anti-Nazi remarks might be ignored, people had to be very circumspect about what they said.

The threat to Germany’s borders now seemed very real. In response the Nazis were establishing a “People’s Militia” – the Volkssturm. Conscription papers for all between 13 and 60 had already been sent out, an inaugural meeting would be held by Reichsführer SS Himmler on the 18th October – the new force would be under control of the Nazis rather than the Wehrmacht.

For Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, a Bavarian aristocrat, former soldier and noted author, there was no longer any leeway for his outspoken comments about the Nazis. It had probably been only a matter of time before he was apprehended. However, when arrest came he suddenly realised how seriously his case was being treated :

And on the thirteenth, a beautiful, burning-hot day in October, I was myself arrested.

At six in the morning — that hour so beloved of all secret police officials — I heard the bell ringing rather loudly, and saw below our Seebruck gendarme, a good soul, who explained apologetically that he had come in performance of what was for him the unpleasant assignment of conveying me to the Army jail at Traunstein.

I confess that I was not greatly concerned. Four days before, I had ignored a so-called ‘call to arms’ for service with the Volkssturm, citing an attack of angina pectoris. Immediately thereafter, however, I had gone like any good citizen to regional headquarters to explain, and the opinion there had been that a man who had only just received word that his son was missing in Russia might well be believed regarding illness.

I made a mistake. Deception, the burning-hot autumn day with its gay colours; deception, the tact, bordering almost on shame, of the gendarme. We crossed the river on our way to the train, and the melancholy with which my womenfolk waved to me from the house made me thoughtful. A couple of hours later I knew that this was, indeed, more than a little warning.

The gate of the Army post closed heavily behind me. Between me and the bright autumn day there was a fence and a highly martial guard. I was standing in a guard post filled with the smell of leather, sweat, and lard, the chief personage of which was a young Swabian sergeant — a man with that peculiarly Germanic combination of choler, activity, and exactitude which never rings quite true, and which has caused so much evil in the world.

I telephoned the major who was officer-in-charge. A voice so frigidly vindictive that the quality of it emerged quite clearly out of the receiver told me that I was not there to ask questions, but to wait.

Then I happened to see a young officer I knew bicycling across the compound. I called to him, but when he came refrained from taking his hand because, as I explained, I had been arrested and so, in the jargon of the old Kaiser’s Army on the Eastern Front, I was ‘lousy’. He laughed, gave me his hand, and himself telephoned. As the crackle sounded from the receiver, he grew pale. He hung up, and then informed me, several degrees more formally now, that I was charged with ‘undermining the morale of the Armed Forces’. He bowed and left.

The penalty for ‘undermining the morale of the Armed Forces’ is the guillotine – the guillotine, on which the condemned man, as I heard recently, is granted the single act of grace of being blinded by a thousand-candlepower light just before the blade whistles downward, with the aftermath being one of the Lysol bottles of an anatomy class.

In the meantime, however, evening had come on. The guard post was now a dark box. I was locked up.

The cell is two paces wide and six feet long, a concrete coffin equipped with a wooden pallet, a dirty, evil-smelling spittoon, and a barred window high up on the wall. By climbing onto the pallet I can see a minuscule piece of the sky, the barracks compound, a section of the officer quarters, and behind, a pine forest: a pine forest of our lovely Bavarian plateau, which has nothing in common with this frenzy of Prussian militarism, this pestilence which has devastated Bavaria.

So much for the window. On the walls, the inevitable obscenities and calculations of time still to be served — in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, even. Then, a veritable flood of Soviet stars, which gave the idea that the entire Red Army had been imprisoned here. And lastly, scratched into the concrete with a key, perhaps, the words, so very applicable to me: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I read this, and darkness envelops me. This was written by a man as close to death as I am.

It is true that not one word has been said to confirm this idea. And yet, I cannot help registering the fact of this venomous animosity, which is intent on finding something against me, and would make of an ignored draft notice a matter for the hangman.

Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen: Diary of a Man in Despair: A Non-Fiction Masterpiece about the Comprehension of Evil.

Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen had a lucky escape this time. Friends in high places secured his release. It was only a temporary reprieve however. He was arrested again in December 1944 and sent to Dachau concentration camp. He was shot in the back of the neck on February 16, 1945.

 The Volkssturm were composed of men who had previously been classified as too old or infirm to join the Wehrmacht.
The Volkssturm were composed of men who had previously been classified as too old or infirm to join the Wehrmacht.
Members of the Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the "Grofldeutschland" Division.
Members of the Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the “Grofldeutschland” Division.

US 82nd Airborne seizes prisoners for intelligence

I didn’t think my German was that bad, so other more persuasive means had to be used to make him talk. This was not a time for German arrogance. In the heat of battle I was locked in mortal combat and in a struggle for my life. I would just as soon have slit his throat except for the fact that I needed information, and division wanted him for the same purpose. I knocked him to the ground and, lying next to him, began choking him. Then I repeated my question. I got the same response.

The 82nd had arrived in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Men and supplies drop from transport 'planes above Nijmegen.
The 82nd had arrived in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Men and supplies drop from transport ‘planes above Nijmegen.

The US 82nd Airborne Division were still in Holland, holding on to the salient that Market Garden had opened up. They were now in defensive positions close to the German border.

Anticipating a German counter-attack in strength the Division was anxious for intelligence. Lieutenant James ‘Maggie’ Magellas was personally selected to lead a patrol on the night of 30th September/1st October to seize some prisoners. He later wrote a graphic account of the events that followed:

I led the patrol on a course parallel to Wyler Meer for some distance before checking the depth and the bottom to determine if it was fordable. After checking several times, I decided that the best avenue of approach to the German MLR would be to cross Wyler Meer at the footbridge. I realized that the Germans would also know this avenue of approach and might be prepared to deny its use as a crossing. We moved cautiously, expecting an outburst of enemy fire as we neared the bridge.

When we were about forty to fifty yards from it, we halted and hit the ground. I approached the bridge alone, and when I was within fifteen feet I hit the dirt and started crawling on my stomach. Using the index and second finger of my right hand in a scissorlike action, I probed for trip wires that might lead to mines. I was surprised to find that the bridge approach was not mined. The Germans had strung barbed accordion wire across the bridge.

I decided to cross over and reconnoiter the other side, but I became tangled in the wire and ripped my trousers. I was so disgusted that I used profane language, causing a couple of Germans to pop their heads out of their foxhole, making it evident that the enemy was entrenched on the other side of the bridge. I freed myself quickly and hit the ground.

I was alone confronting a German outpost line guarding the footbridge. It was dark and I was separated from my platoon by fifty yards. I crawled to the foxhole where I saw the first German helmet pop up and in my broken German called for the German to come out: “Kommen sie hier mit der hands hoch. ”

When I didn’t get a response, I pulled the pin on a hand grenade and tossed it into the foxhole. The sound created by the concussion caused two more Germans to rise up from their hole to see what was going on. They were manning a light machine gun.

I crawled next to their hole and repeated my previous command in German. When they didn’t come out, I rolled another grenade in on them and their machine gun. I spotted another head popping out of a hole a short distance away. I crawled to that hole and repeated my German command. This man also chose to remain in his hole, so I raised up on one knee and fired a quick burst from my gun into the hole.

To this day I do not know why the Germans did not fire on me when I was hung up on the barbed wire, or why they remained in their fox- holes while I was rolling grenades in on them. Apparently they were waiting to be relieved by another squad and I caught them by surprise. It was one of those incidents that happen in combat where you can never rationalize the behavior of the enemy. This was also true sometimes of our own forces.

On my solitary quest I killed four Germans and knocked out a machine gun, but I was still without a prisoner. The burst from my tommy gun must have gotten some attention, because it brought one German out of his foxhole with his hands held high.

All this while I had been on my stomach crawling from one hole to the next without exposing myself. But when the German came out, I jumped up behind him and put my left arm around his neck and my tommy gun in his back, using him as a shield. My adrenaline was flowing at a record pace in that hectic moment. I wasn’t certain that one of the Germans wouldn’t rise up and shoot us both.

Although the prisoner I now held was the fifth German I had accounted for, I had no way of knowing how many more there were in that outpost. So I tightened my hold around his neck, dug my tommy gun deeper into his back, and in my broken German asked: “Wieviel Deutsch soldat hier?” (How many German soldiers here?) The response was, “Ich verstehe nicht. ” (I don’t understand.)

I didn’t think my German was that bad, so other more persuasive means had to be used to make him talk. This was not a time for German arrogance. In the heat of battle I was locked in mortal combat and in a struggle for my life. I would just as soon have slit his throat except for the fact that I needed information, and division wanted him for the same purpose. I knocked him to the ground and, lying next to him, began choking him. Then I repeated my question. I got the same response.

I’d about had it with him. If he wouldn’t cooperate, there was no way he’d make it back to a prison camp. I got so exasperated that I whacked him across the mouth with the butt of my tommy gun. I hit him so hard that I broke some teeth and probably his jaw. I then asked again, “Wieviel Deutsch soldat hier?” This time I get a positive response. Spitting out blood and teeth, he said in English, “There are ten German soldiers here.”

I stood him up and, with my tommy gun still dug in his back, said, “Call your comrades to come out and surrender.” With that he began calling his buddies by their first names. One more surrendered, raising the count to four dead and two prisoners.

At that point I called out for the platoon sergeant to bring up the patrol, which had been waiting for my order to move out. They covered the entire length of what appeared to be the outpost position. Four more Germans were accounted for, two prisoners and two KIA. The prisoner was correct; there were ten German soldiers in that outpost. Now all were accounted for. The score on our first encounter was “bad guys,” six dead, four prisoners; “good guys,” no casualties.

It was for this action that Magellas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, contributing to his position as the 82nd Airborne’s most decorated officer by the end of the war. See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Robert Capa's image of the 82nd fighting in Normandy.
Robert Capa’s image of the 82nd fighting in Normandy.

Evacuation of the surviving troops from Arnhem


25 September 1944: Evacuation of the surviving troops from Arnhem

As I looked around I saw tired faces everywhere, grimy, proud, undefeated faces and I wanted to cry. I didn’t recognise anybody and I had no idea how many others had made it. We had all been through so much together. Everywhere I looked I saw the eyes of men who had seen too much, given too much. Everywhere I looked I saw a hero. But for every man that had escaped many more had died, been wounded or captured and they had no one to tell their story.

British paratroops being marched away by their German captors. Some 6,400 of the 10,000 British paratroops who landed at Arnhem were taken prisoner, a further 1,100 had been killed. (German photograph).
British paratroops being marched away by their German captors. Some 6,400 of the 10,000 British paratroops who landed at Arnhem were taken prisoner, a further 1,100 had been killed. (German photograph).
A group of survivors from the Arnhem Operation arriving at Nijmegen after the evacuation and having their first drink. One of them, Captain Jan Linzel (second from left) is a member of the Dutch Royal Navy attached to No 10 Commando.
A group of survivors from the Arnhem Operation arriving at Nijmegen after the evacuation and having their first drink. One of them, Captain Jan Linzel (second from left) is a member of the Dutch Royal Navy attached to No 10 Commando.

After over a week of intense fighting it was finally decided to withdraw the remaining men of the 1st Airborne Division from their isolated position on the outskirts of Arnhem. They were pulled out in small groups from the defence line in Oosterbeek so that the Germans would not guess what was happening. Of the 10,000 who had arrived by parachute and glider, about 2,500 got away across the Rhine during the night of the 25th/26th. Many of those left behind could not be extricated because they were wounded.

Glider Pilot Louis Hagen had narrowly avoided becoming a casualty and describes the final stages of their escape:

All along the path there were mortar pits and the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers. We reached the banks of the Rhine and joined a long queue of men waiting to be ferried across. Someone came up to us and told us to spread out as the mortaring might be resumed any minute.

There were at least 100 men in front of us and no sign of a boat.There were other parties like ours all along the river, waiting. The splash of oars could be heard now and then. I suppose this was how they felt at Dunkirk. A small canvas boat was approaching at last. It took ten men across. Then we realised our desperate position.Any moment the mortaring might start again.There was no cover at all and we crouched in the deep squelchy mud. We were frozen with cold and soaked from the rain.

The mortaring started up again, not directly where we were, but near enough to be frightening. After trenches and street fighting, and even the cover of the woods, we felt helplessly exposed.The thought of those ghastly bodies and the groans of the wounded, lying in the meadows, was in everyone’s mind, but no one said anything. We just crouched there shivering.

I began surveying our position in my mind. Of course this had nothing in common with Dunkirk, and those who ordered us to wait in line patiently until we were taken off by those ridiculous little canvas assault boats did not know what they were doing.The Rhine was only 250 yards wide and quite narrow at certain spots near us.

Why was not the order given for those of us who could swim to dump their arms and make for the other side? Surely it would have been possible to organise a rope and stretch it across for those who were not strong swimmers? But instead we were being heroic, playing at Dunkirk, and a great many men who could have escaped to safety would be casualties or else be taken prisoner at dawn.

I had to get out of this. I told Captain Z that I couldn’t stand this any longer and that I was going to try and swim for it. Now we had got this far I didn’t intend to take any more risks than were necessary. The boat system was obviously hopelessly inadequate and, apart from relieving some of-this awful congestion on the bank and leaving the boats, such as they were to the non—swimmers, I honestly thought it was the best way out. He agreed with me and shouted to the rest of our glider pilot section that we were going on to a promontory where the river narrowed a bit.

A large crowd followed us, but I doubt if any of them realised where we were going or what we intended to do.They just came after us because at least we seemed to have some kind of plan. Had they been told that the river was only 250 yards wide, though it looked rather more in the dark, many would have followed us, orders or no orders.

We had to climb some large boulders on our way to the promontory. At the end, it went steeply down into the water and would have made a far better landing stage for the rescue boats than the mud flats, as at least the bank gave a little cover.

From here the opposite bank didn’t look too far and the prospect of doing something after the misery of queuing up on all fours in the mud made Captain Z, and me feel quite cheerful. ‘Well do it again, you and me!’ he said.

We proceeded to take our boots off and hung them round our necks. Captain Z gave his rifle to Lieutenant X, who unfortunately couldn’t swim, and remarked that he must keep his haversack with him as the Company ‘Office’ etc., was in it. I kept all my arms and ammo as we couldn’t be sure what would greet us on the other side.

Hagen was to discover that he couldn’t quite manage the swim with his gun and ammunition – and had to dump them half way across – but he got to the other bank safely. See Louis Hagen: Arnhem Lift: A German Jew in the Glider Pilot Regiment

Also amongst those who escaped across the river was Stanley Moss:

I have nothing but admiration for those Canadian Engineers as they ferried soldiers across the river all night. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t swim and I felt a little guilty at having jumped the queue, but what the hell…

For the first time in eight days I felt relatively safe. If any of the Canadian Engineers who were in that boat that carried me across the river remember the incident and happen to see this, I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

As I looked around I saw tired faces everywhere, grimy, proud, undefeated faces and I wanted to cry. I didn’t recognise anybody and I had no idea how many others had made it. We had all been through so much together. Everywhere I looked I saw the eyes of men who had seen too much, given too much. Everywhere I looked I saw a hero.

But for every man that had escaped many more had died, been wounded or captured and they had no one to tell their story. My experiences in those eight days would remain with me for the rest of my life.

Read the whole of Eight Days In Arnhem at BBC Peoples War

 Four British paratroops clamber ashore from a small rowing boat at Nijmegen. They were captured at the Van Limburg Stirum School alongside Arnhem Bridge and taken to a transit camp at Emmerich in Germany, but escaped and found a rowing boat, in which they made their way down the Rhine and into the Waal to Nijmegen and freedom. Left to right: Cpl John Humphreys, Cpl Charles Weir, Lt Dennis Simpson, and Captain Eric Mackay, all of the 1st Para Squadron, Royal Engineers; they are shown here recreating the moment of their arrival at Nijmegen for the camera.
Four British paratroops clamber ashore from a small rowing boat at Nijmegen. They were captured at the Van Limburg Stirum School alongside Arnhem Bridge and taken to a transit camp at Emmerich in Germany, but escaped and found a rowing boat, in which they made their way down the Rhine and into the Waal to Nijmegen and freedom. Left to right: Cpl John Humphreys, Cpl Charles Weir, Lt Dennis Simpson, and Captain Eric Mackay, all of the 1st Para Squadron, Royal Engineers; they are shown here recreating the moment of their arrival at Nijmegen for the camera.
Airborne troops taken prisoner at Arnhem.
Airborne troops taken prisoner at Arnhem.
A German picture of men captured at Arnhem.
A German picture of men captured at Arnhem.

Red Army reaches the Russian border


17 July 1944: Red Army reaches the Soviet border

For just a few minutes, people became completely different – unfettered, they straightened their backs and stood taller; pride appeared on their faces, and their eyes sparkled. If only for a short while, the terrible memories of the days of retreat and death slipped away, the years we endured together, the tears over those who passed away — all vanished in this moment of common triumph and joy! How splendid that we had lived to see this hour! That we were among the first of the first to cross this fixed geographical boundary, which was so precious to us all, and toward which we had all been striving so long! It seemed to all of us that the end of the war was now just a stone’s throw away.

Some of the 57,000 German  POWs marched through the streets of Moscow to demonstrate the success of the Red Army.
Some of the 57,000 German PoWs marched through the streets of Moscow on 17th July to demonstrate the success of the Red Army.
Amongst those captured were 19 German Generals.
Amongst those captured were 19 German Generals.

After just over three years of bitter struggle the Soviet Red Army was now making dramatic advances. Operation Bagration had been launched on the third anniversary of the war. In less than a month they had burst through the German lines, smashing apart German Army Group Centre. Around 300,000 Germans lay dead, another 150,000 had been taken prisoner – large numbers were now paraded through Moscow before being led off to labour camps. Only a minority would survive to return to Germany many years later.

Whilst Hitler had tried to characterise his war as a crusade against Bolshevism, Stalin had appealed to national pride to motivate the Red Army – it had become ‘The Great Patriotic War’. So the point when the Germans were pushed off Soviet soil was a highly symbolic moment for those involved.

Boris Gorbachevsky was one of the first of the Soviet troops to reach the border, on the 17th July:

Reconnaissance troops scouting ahead of our main force were the first to reach the national border. Out of breath, one of them ran back to meet the marching column of our division, shouting: “The border! The border! Ura-a!”

The column sped ahead, and then we all came to an abrupt halt.That strip of land that is called “the border” lay before our common gaze. At first all of us, soldiers and officers, quietly took in that which had always seemed so menacing and unattainable, and which people always sensed to be strongly and permanently defended.

Literally like crazy men, we looked all around, asking the same questions: where were those traditional attributes that in our imagina- tion we always associated with the Soviet border? Where was the barbed wire? Where were the long, deep ditches that separate two countries? Where, finally, were the border markers and guard towers? What of the barriers? There was none of this. It had all disappeared somewhere.

Later we learned that the residents of the nearest village had wanted to carry off the dismantled border markers for firewood, but the local authority had refused them permission, possibly foreseeing that they might be needed again one day. We even saw them, these symbols of the border: they were lying near to a patch of woods, arranged in neat stacks, in anticipation of their renewed life.

The border! How many times had artists painted it! How many songs and verses had poets and composers created about it! As school kids, we had tried to forget the song that had been drilled into our heads at lessons:

The borders of the Soviet Union He has closed to the black ravens, He has garbed them in concrete and stone And forged them in cast-iron. So let us sing the song, comrades, About the greatest sentry, Who sees and hears all— Let us sing the song about Stalin.

We wanted to forget these lyrics as quickly as possible.

But now each of us sensed with our entire being the greatness of that which we were experiencing! We knew it was a special moment in our lives. Then. without any command, men began firing into the air to celebrate and salute our accomplishment.They fired from submachine guns and rifles, carbines and pistols.

Then the unbelievable started! Everybody rushed to embrace each other. Some fell to their knees, raising their arms toward the sky. Others rushed to the solitary border marker that had been raised and emplaced for this ceremonial occasion, and were hugging and kissing it, and tearing off chips as keepsakes.

A few men were gathering soil and wrapping it in handkerchiefs. And everybody was dancing! And how! What dance didn’t they do—Russian, the lezginka, and the Ukrainian hopalel. They were doing the chechetlea [a tap dance] so adroitly and creatively that everyone was delighted, applauded, stamped their feet, and started dancing themselves. Accordionists and guitarists were by now playing and men started singing ditties.

Everybody strained to catch the clever words and clapped along. Men would step into the ring of clapping men from their place in the circle and perform a newly improvised ditty.

Soon the war will end,
Soon Hitler will be kaput, we vow.
Soon our temporary wives
Will be bellowing like a cow.
Oh you, pigeon-toed Hitler,
You’ll surely pay for your sin.

For just a few minutes, people became completely different – unfettered, they straightened their backs and stood taller; pride appeared on their faces, and their eyes sparkled. If only for a short while, the terrible memories of the days of retreat and death slipped away, the years we endured together, the tears over those who passed away — all vanished in this moment of common triumph and joy!

How splendid that we had lived to see this hour! That we were among the first of the first to cross this fixed geographical boundary, which was so precious to us all, and toward which we had all been striving so long! It seemed to all of us that the end of the war was now just a stone’s throw away.

It was a truly unforgettable day. It was as if orchestras were playing and drums were banging in our souls! Our hearts, intoxicated with victory, were bursting with pride at the duty we had fulfilled.

See Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier’s War on the Eastern Front, 1942-1945 (Modern War Studies)

The PoWs were marched in columns of 600, each 20 men wide.
The PoWs were marched in columns of 600, each 20 men wide.
The spectacle was watched by Moscow residents and film of it was shown throughout the Soviet Union.
The spectacle was watched by Moscow residents and film of it was shown throughout the Soviet Union.
Afterwards the streets were symbolically cleaned.
Afterwards the streets were symbolically cleaned.

Why the other nations fought for Hitler


27 June 1944: Why the other nations fought for Hitler

That was the outward scene in the prisoners’ cage, and it made no sense at all. A dozen different nationalities. All of them reacting in different ways, pulling in different directions, speaking different languages. And yet an hour or two since they had all been fighting with a suicidal ferocity. Pillboxes were being held long after their eventual destruction was a certainty. The Russians had been firing right up to the last few yards before they threw up their hands.

US Army troops marched German prisoners of war through Cherbourg, 28 Jun 1944
US Army troops marched German prisoners of war through Cherbourg, 28 Jun 1944
German PoWs being in one of the forts in Cherbourg.
German PoWs being held in one of the forts in Cherbourg.

In Normandy the Allies were beginning to take substantial numbers of prisoners. They were to discover wide variations in the quality of the troops they confronted. Alongside the SS there were also determined Wehrmacht units who were determined to fight. Yet there were also substantial numbers of foreign conscripts, both soldiers and civilian workers (for the Todt organisation which had been building the defences), who were more than a little ambivalent about their loyalties.

In Cherbourg, which had yet to completely fall, journalist Alan Moorehead observed how the different nationalities reacted to becoming prisoners, how the German officers pretended indifference and contempt, and the German soldiers remained disciplined, while the Russians and the Poles became sullen and resigned, and the Italians remained excitable, pleading that they wanted to fight the Germans now. he sought to discover more about their motivations:

Outside the cage the French had been shaving the heads of two village girls who had slept with the Germans. And now in the dusk they had come up to the gates to jeer and spit at the Germans inside. They began thinking up new lines of invective and the noise was considerable.

The American private on the gate was a good head and shoulders above the crowd. ‘Aw. Git the hell out of it,’ he said at last, waving his gun.

That was the outward scene in the prisoners’ cage, and it made no sense at all. A dozen different nationalities. All of them reacting in different ways, pulling in different directions, speaking different languages. And yet an hour or two since they had all been fighting with a suicidal ferocity. Pillboxes were being held long after their eventual destruction was a certainty. The Russians had been firing right up to the last few yards before they threw up their hands.

And now here in the prisoners’ cage there was complete disintegration, an evident hatred of the Germans. As one group had marched in, a German officer had stooped to pick up a fallen cigarette. Before his hand could reach it a Pole ran forward and ground the butt into the mud. Then he turned and laughed in the German’s face.

I found an American soldier who spoke Polish, and we began to talk to the prisoners, especially one man who was more intelligent than the others. ‘Why did I fight for the Germans? Like to see my back? It’s got scars across it from the neck down to the arse. They hit me there with a sword. Either you obeyed orders or you got no food. Certainly I went on firing from the trench. There was a German NCO standing behind me with a revolver. It wasn’t enough just to shoot. You had to shoot straight. If you didn’t you got a bullet in the back. Don’t believe me. Ask the others. Like the Germans? I’d like to tear their guts out.’

Little by little the story came out. The Turkestan carpenter, the clerk from Lvov. The mechanic from Barcelona and the farmer’s boy who was born in Gorizia. These were the children of occupied Europe, and it suddenly became apparent that to ascribe to them the name of ‘enemy,’ or indeed the name of anything, was a ridiculous over-simplification.

The word ‘conscript’ came nearest to their condition. But conscription in what circumstances. Nothing had been seen like it in Europe since the Napoleonic wars. Even that parallel was not complete enough. One began to have a vision of the dark ages in Europe, of a period infinitely less moral than the time of the Roman Empire.

This was less than a mercenary army. It was an impressed army. The soldier fought not out of the voluntary desire for money, but out of fear of what the Germans would do to him if he did not fight. He avoided the certainty of immediate punishment from the Germans by accepting the chance of being hit by the Allies on the battlefield. One began to follow the stages of Nazi conscription.

They, the Germans, the master race, the men with all the modern engines of war, had over-run the villages of Europe. France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Denmark, the Baltic States, Poland, White Russia, the Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Rumania and the rest.

They came into the villages in uni- form, riding in armoured cars. They were the overlords, the new feudal masters. They made a great show in front of the unpolitical village boy. They said: ‘This is the new epoch. This is the era of the new god Adolf Hitler. A new uniform and a gun for everyone who wants to follow.’

It was easy enough to dazzle the villager. Instead of milking the cows every night he could swing along behind a military band. He got a new rifle all to himself. There were sports and competitions. Adolf Hitler wanted to build young healthy bodies. Up at dawn. Exercises. Plenty of good fresh food. Solemn and stirring parades.

The boy was one of a team now, an heroic team, a crusader against Bolshevism. And off he went to the front.

See Alan Moorehead: Eclipse

German prisoners being searched by British troops near St Gabriel, 7 June 1944. Both men claimed to be Polish, and had Polish army badges stuck in the fronts of their field caps.
German prisoners being searched by British troops near St Gabriel, 7 June 1944. Both men claimed to be Polish, and had Polish army badges stuck in the fronts of their field caps.
Some of a party of three hundred German prisoners of war from Normandy leaving an LST at Southampton Docks.
Some of a party of three hundred German prisoners of war from Normandy leaving an LST at Southampton Docks.

Avoiding Japanese ‘doctors’ in Shinagawa Camp, Tokyo


12 April 1944: Avoiding Japanese ‘doctors’ in Shinagawa Camp, Tokyo

If they got worse, they were operated on at night while he was out of camp. This was done in the face of his direct orders forbidding any surgery being done other than by Dr. Tokuda. Black with anger the next morning, he cussed and howled when he found out that a victim – had escaped his tender ministration. We told him blandly that it was an emergency and we were unable to reach him.

Shinagawa POW camp. An aerial shot taken towards the end of the war.
Shinagawa POW camp. An aerial shot taken towards the end of the war.

Prisoners of War of the Japanese were to endure some terrible conditions throughout the war. The attitude of the Japanese seemed to be the same, whether it was female civilian detainees or men who had been captured in combat. All were subject to harsh and degrading treatment, suffered from lack of food and medical facilities, even when it was available, and could be subject to brutal beatings at the whim of their guards. Significant numbers died.

At the forefront of attempts to improve the conditions of prisoners were a number of doctors who had been captured alongside the others. They were to improvise medical treatments and even operate in the most primitive of conditions in an effort to save lives. The struggle went on in the jungle encampments on the Death Railway as well as the prison camps in Japan itself.

Alfred A Weinstein M.D. had been captured on the Philippines and spent time moving between prison camps. At the beginning of April 1944 he arrived at Shinagawa Camp, an infirmary serving the POW camps around Tokyo. There was no reason they needed to suffer the primitive conditions suffered in the Jungle. As Weinstein was to discover the main threat was actually the Japanese doctors themselves:

To Dr. Tokuda and Dr. Fugi we were prisoners, first and always. We had to obey their orders concerning the treatment of patients or be punished. As physicians, we were of interest to them only in so far as we could impart our knowledge and technique. In the very process of doing so, their hatred for us increased. Dr. Tokuda was a young man of twenty-eight, son of wealthy parents in the moving-picture industry, a recent graduate of a Tokyo university and medical school.

He had not yet submitted a medical thesis and was not licensed to practice medicine other than in the Army. He was short, slight, with shaven head, sloping forehead, and receding chin. His shifty eyes never focused on your face. He waddled about in glittering riding boots and baggy britches, the crotch of which almost reached the back of his knees. We called him “Dung in Britches.” His bowlegged gait and beetle head also earned him the pseudonym of the “Spider.”

Prisoner-patients were experimental animals to be used in furthering his knowledge of medicine and surgery. He had a monkeylike curiosity about medicine. He had an overpowering desire to become a great physician and surgeon in eight easy lessons.

He was torn by psychological conflict. He wanted to learn from us. At the same time he wanted to impress us with his superior knowledge. He wanted to learn from us. Yet he hated us for teaching him. Association with us increased his knowledge and inferiority complex simultaneously.

He was proud of the improvement we made in the hospital in so far as it reflected on his professional standing in the eyes of his confreres in Nip headquarters in Omori, Tokyo. We had to play on this broad streak of vanity to procure equipment, medicine, and food for emaciated diseased prisoners. “Dr. Tokuda,” we said, “all Allied governments will be interested in your magnificent administration of this fine hospital when the war comes to an end. They will be grateful to you for your efforts in curing their countrymen. You will be a great person in their eyes.” He beamed. We got some of the things we needed.

Although our surgical setup improved, our problems concerning the treatment of patients who needed surgery became more complicated. Dr. Tokuda was not interested in the proper treatment of disease by surgery. He was interested only in per- fecting himself in the technique of surgery.

To keep helpless patients from falling into the hands of this butcher, we had to rely upon guile and cunning. All our efforts were directed toward the end of preventing any surgery from be- ing done at Shinagawa other than that of the most urgent nature.

We received patients sent in from work camps with the diagnoses of appendicitis, gall-bladder disease, kidney stone, and hernia. We changed their diagnoses. We hid the patients in medical wards under false ones. If their symptoms subsided, we rested them up and sent them back to their work camps. It was safer for them to take their chances on a recurrence of their illness than to risk death at the hands of the great Spider.

If they got worse, they were operated on at night while he was out of camp. This was done in the face of his direct orders forbidding any surgery being done other than by Dr. Tokuda. Black with anger the next morning, he cussed and howled when he found out that a victim – had escaped his tender ministration. We told him blandly that it was an emergency and we were unable to reach him. These operations were done on the wards, kneeling on the straw-covered floor.

When Dr. Tokuda left for a three or four-day tour of inspection, we had a field day operating on patients we had hidden in the medical wards; appendices, incarcerated hernias, and bleeding hemorrhoids.

We advised patients with gallstones and peptic ulcer of the stomach to refuse operation if he discovered their ailments. Major surgery of this type performed by him would have been a death sentence. He beat these patients for refusing operation. He sent them back to their work camps to labor.

Certain patients had to be operated on to live. Dr. Tokuda began the operation, and mucked about until we finally took the instruments from him to finish the job. It infuriated him.

After Commander Hugh Cleave of the British Navy, captured in Hong Kong, came to Shinagawa, we pulled a brother and sister act on the Spider. Between the two of us, Cleave and I kept him so confused, elbowing him out of the way or holding retractors, that we were able to finish operations before he was able to do any damage. We repaired a double hernia on Italian Commander Bernanti in this manner. The Spider was furious. He couldn’t get a lick in.

See Alfred A Weinstein: Barbed Wire Surgeon

After Shinagawa Weinstein was sent to Omori POW camp where he was to suffer, along with many others, at the hands of the notorious sadist 'the Bird',  Mutsuhiro Watanabe.
After Shinagawa Weinstein was sent to Omori POW camp where he was to suffer, along with many others at the hands of the notorious sadist ‘the Bird’, Mutsuhiro Watanabe.

OSS troops executed at dawn on Dostler’s orders


26 March 1944: OSS troops executed at dawn on Dostler’s orders

During the night from Saturday 25th to Sunday, 26th March, two attempts were made by officers of the 135th Fortress Brigade and by the Naval Officers to bring about a change in the decision by telephoning to the accused Dostler. All these attempts having been unsuccessful, the 15 Americans were executed on the 26th March, early in the morning. They were neither tried, nor given any hearing.

German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal. Aversa, Italy.,  US Army photograph colourized by Mads Madsen.
German General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad in the Aversa stockade. The General was convicted and sentenced to death by an American military tribunal after ordering the execution of 15 US soldiers on 26th March 1944.
US Army photograph colourized by Mads Madsen.

The British had the Commandos as well the Special Operations Executive. The United States had the Office of Strategic Services, forerunners of the CIA, which fulfilled the overlapping functions of behind the lines raiding troops and outright spying missions.

In Italy an OSS mission to blow up railway lines on the supply line to Anzio fell very much into the category of special forces, rather than spying. ‘Ginny II’ saw uniformed troops dropped onto an Italian beach 250 miles behind the front line – the mission went wrong when they were dropped in the wrong place and forced to hide out in the Italian countryside. The subsequent court case lays out the facts:

On the night of 22nd March, 1944, two officers and 13 men of a special reconnaissance battalion disembarked from some United States Navy boats and landed on the Italian coast about 100 kilometres north of La Spezia. The front at the time was at Cassino with a further front at the Anzio beach head. The place of disembarkation was therefore 250 miles behind the then established front.

The 15 members of the United States Army were on a bona fide military mission, which was to demolish the railroad tunnel on the mainline between La Spezia and Genoa. On the morning of 24th March, 1944, the entire group was captured by a party consisting of Italian Fascist soldiers and a group of members of the German army. They were brought to La Spezia where they were confined near the headquarters of the 135th Fortress Brigade.

Colonel Almers then gave orders for the conduct of the execution, for the digging of a grave, etc. During the night from Saturday 25th to Sunday, 26th March, two attempts were made by officers of the 135th Fortress Brigade and by the Naval Officers to bring about a change in the decision by telephoning to the accused Dostler. All these attempts having been unsuccessful, the 15 Americans were executed on the 26th March, early in the morning. They were neither tried, nor given any hearing.

As men in uniform the fact that they were behind the lines should have been of no consequence. Unfortunately they fell within Hitlers’s notorious ‘Commando Order’. General Anton Dostler had ordered the executions. He argued at his trial, like many other Nazis after the war, that he was “only following orders”. He was to argue that the ‘Commando Order’ had been added to since it had first been issued:

During his examination, the accused, on being handed a copy of the text of the Fuhrerbefehl of October, 1942, said that a document which he had received in 1944 through Army Group channels contained substantially everything that was in the 1942 text, but with certain additions. He stated further that:

” this copy is not the complete Fuhrerbefehl as it was valid in March, 1944. In the order that laid on my desk in March, 1944, it was much more in detail . . . the Fuhrerbefeh1 which was laying in front of me listed the various categories of operations which may come under the Fuhrerbefehl. In addition there was something said in that Fuhrerbefehl about the interrogation of men belonging to sabotage troops and the shooting of these men after their interrogation. . . . I am not quite clear about the point, whether a new Fuhrerbefehl covering the whole matter came out or whether only a supplement came out and the former Fuhrerbefehl was still in existence….

The Fuhrerbefehl has as its subject commando operations and there was a list of what is to be construed as commando operations. I know exactly that a mission to explode something, to blow up something, cameunder the concept of commando troops.”

See the TRIAL OF GENERAL ANTON DOSTLER, Commander of the 75th German Army Corps, United States Military Commission, Rome, 8th-12th October, 1945

None of the Military Tribunals after the war were to accept the ‘only following orders’ argument to exculpate men accused of war crimes. In Nazi Germany all orders ultimately flowed back to Hitler, and it was convenient to argue that individual accused had no personal responsibility in this context. For Anton Dostler, and many others, it was not good enough to avoid execution themselves.

A Path to Lunch, has more background material on the OSS mission and pictures of the memorial to the men in Ameglia today.

US Military film record of Dostler’s execution in 1945:

German General Anton Dostler's body slumps toward the ground after being executed by a firing squad at Aversa, Italy. The hands still grip a rosary. The general was convicted and sentenced to death by an American Military Tribunal. 1 December 1945
German General Anton Dostler’s body slumps toward the ground after being executed by a firing squad at Aversa, Italy. The hands still grip a rosary. The general was convicted and sentenced to death by an American Military Tribunal. 1 December 1945