‘Stunned amazement’ and confusion in the desert

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




The fall of Tobruk

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




Taken prisoner out in the Desert

9th June 1942: Taken prisoner out in the Desert

We had not gone far before a carrier, closely followed by a fifteen hundredweight, came towards us. ’That’s all right’ I said to the D.C.L.I. [Devon and Cornwall Light Infantry] captain, ‘a patrol to check who we are’. They approached us at about fifteen miles per hour, the carrier with the familiar rocking motion fore and aft. When they were about a hundred yards away I shouted ’Halt, friend’ They did not halt but put on pace.

The carrier swung to my right, the fifteen hundredweight to my left, and then halted forty yards away. The ‘carrier’ was a German half-track with a machine gun in it pointing at us: the fifteen hundredweight was a British vehicle but with a machine gum mounted in front with two visored caps manning it; and previously concealed close behind the fifteen hundredweight was one of those German semi-armoured tracked vehicles with the silhouette of a tank, and mounting a forty-seven millimetre gun which seemed to be pointing straight at my stomach.

As I realised this in a split second, a German non-commissioned officer with a tommy gun jumped out of the half-track shouting ‘Hands up’. ‘B-, they’re Bosch’ I said, and – there was not much time to think – ’it’s no good, pack in’.

It was a neat bit of work just as dark was falling, and, in the state most of us were in I honestly do not think that an attempt at fighting would have been any use. My first reaction was one of intense anger, my next – immediately afterwards – to turn round, tear off my rank badges and medal ribbons, and drop them with my field glasses and revolver in a hole I scuffled in the sand with my foot.

Read the whole story at World War II Today




On the cattle wagon to Sobibor

11th May 1942: On the cattle wagon to Sobibor

We had to stand and the sea of filth grew bigger at our feet, and we went on and on like this for the whole day, locked inside the wagons, as if we were real beasts, in a stifling nauseating place, filled with dead bodies and putrid air. To add the finishing touch to the gruesome picture once in a while we would hear shots fired by the German soldiers who were on the outside of the convoy.




The surrender of Corregidor

6th May 1942: The surrender of Corregidor – last US forces on Philippines

An enemy machine gunner was discovered on a ridge, and a squad of men calmly discussed the manner of his liquidation. A puff of dust in front of the machine gun would result in that rifleman being joshed for the poor use of his rifle. When the machine gun was finally knocked out the riflemen paused for a cigarette. After the scream of bombs and shells, ordinary bullets flying around them caused little comment.




End of the Bataan death march

The camp was large, dotted by hundreds of grass and bamboo shacks, which were merely poles of bamboo with a grass roof. The ground flowed and undulated through the camp in tiny hills. Beside each of the shacks were stacks of bodies pullled there by the living , for they had nowhere else to put them. In the hot tropical sun the bodies swelled and bloated until they were no longer recognizable as the bodies of men.




Russian POWs marched through Poland

This afternoon another” group of Soviet POWs was moved through town. Because today is Sunday, many watched. Bread, apples, and other goods were placed on the sidewalks on both sides of the street. Even though the soldiers from the convoy started shooting at them while they fought for food, the prisoners did not pay any attention to the Germans.




Russian POWs arrive in camps in Austria

They were reduced to eating grass and weeds at the side of the line. At the stops the guards had just thrown the bodies of those who had died out on to the side of the railway. When they arrived at Wolfsberg station scores of dead bodies were still in the wagons and these were left there, when the survivors were marched off to the Stalag.




German treatment of Soviet POWs

But these were not animals, they were men. We made haste out of the way of the foul cloud which surrounded them, then what we saw transfixed us where we stood, and we forgot our nausea. Were these really human beings, these grey-brown figures, these shadows lirching towards us, stumbling and staggering, moving shapes at their last gasp, creatures which only some last flicker of the will to live enabled to obey the order to march ?




Reprisals against Russian POWs

It so happened that we had taken very many prisoners during those fatal days, and so the lives of 4,000 men fell forfeit. They scarcely looked up when our interpreter told them in a cold voice of their fate. They lined up eight at a time at the side ofa large anti-tank ditch. As the first volley crashed, eight men were hurled forward into the depths of the ditch, as if hit by a giant fist. Already the next row was lining up.