SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ massacre French civilians at Ascq


2 April 1944: The SS ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division massacre French civilians at Ascq

That’s when I raised a violent protest at their actions – the population had nothing to do with what had happened and that they were innocent. I was extremely angry at this point. But the interpreter was hitting me on the shoulder and said that the officer had ordered: “You too, Mr. Mayor, you will be shot.” And then I received a tremendous kick in the kidneys and they pushed me into the group of civilians who were awaiting execution.

The 'Hitler Youth' Division was formed in 1943 from boys who had been indoctrinated in the Nazi youth organisation. Its officers and NCOs were more experienced men from both the SS and the Wehrmacht.
The ‘Hitler Youth’ Division was formed in 1943 from boys who had been indoctrinated in the Nazi youth organisation. Its officers and NCOs were more experienced men from both the SS and the Wehrmacht.
Members of the Division in a demonstration for younger boys in the Hitler Youth, Belgium, Spring of 1944.
Members of the Division in a demonstration for younger boys in the Hitler Youth, Belgium, Spring of 1944.

In Britain the Allies were actively debating the need to destroy railway lines in France, in advance of the invasion. Isolating the Normandy area would hinder the movement of German reinforcements. The move was initially opposed by Churchill – who feared the scale of French casualties that would inevitably result from such raids. Also included in the plans were orders for the French Resistance to conduct sabotage operations against railway lines.

Whether or not they received orders from Britain, some members of the French Resistance were active already. The main line between Lille and Brussels was an obvious target. On the night of the 1st April bombs destroyed the line near the small village of Ascq, close to the Belgian border. Unfortunately they did so just as the 12th SS Panzer ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division was on the route, causing them delays, although there were no casualties on the train.

There were no considerations of ‘innocent civilians’ amongst these troops. Anyone who got in their way or hindered them was a target. Reprisals against local residents, even if they had not been involved in the sabotage, were intended to deter the saboteurs from further acts.

The Mayor of Ascq, Mr. Delebart was caught up in the events:

I left the housee … I was headed for the crossing of rue Marceau. There was great excitement and a lot of soldiers, I tried to find out what was going on. One of the soldiers took me to an officer he called the commander: I wanted to know from the Germans if anything had happened in Ascq. Not knowing the language, I could not understand and asked if one of his soldiers was an interpreter.

A soldier stepped forward and translated for me the words of the officer. I was far from supposing that a tragedy was unfolding. I learned through the interpreter that an attack had been committed on the road and their train was derailed and the engine destroyed. ​

They held the local people responsible for this – as a common act of sabotage and – accordingly fifty people were to be shot, including a group of about thirty who were on the right hand side. They were guarded by German soldiers and were to be executed by firing squad immediately.

That’s when I raised a violent protest at their actions – the population had nothing to do with what had happened and that they were innocent. I was extremely angry at this point. But the interpreter was hitting me on the shoulder and said that the officer had ordered: “You too, Mr. Mayor, you will be shot.” And then I received a tremendous kick in the kidneys and they pushed me into the group of civilians who were awaiting execution.

The little procession set off surrounded by soldiers who spared nothing in the way of rifle butts or kicking: all along the way we came across corpses. After walking along the bottom side of the railway line for about two hundred metres, the command to halt was given to us. The soldiers made us face the train line, arms raised.

I had the impression that the final moment had come, and they would shoot us in the back, we stayed in this position four to five minutes, that’s when whistles sounded …

We we were then told to go home as soon as possible, then it was a race across the fields to return to our homes . […]

See ‘Crimes Hitlériens, Ascq, Le Vercors’, Louis Jacob, collection Libération, Editions Mellottée (Paris), 1946

In total 70 men were shot beside the railway tracks and a further 16 in the village itself. Later the Gestapo apprehended 6 men who were alleged to have carried out the railway sabotage and they were subsequently executed as well. The massacre saw the largest wartime protest by the French population, 60,000 people went on strike in Lille and 20,000 attended the funerals in Ascq.

After the war a number of men from the Hitlerjugend Division were convicted of the crime by a French Military Tribunal and sentenced to death. The sentences were commuted to life imprisonment and the men eventually released. Obersturmführer Walter Hauck, the man regarded as chiefly responsible, was released in 1957. He never faced charges of committing very similar crimes in the Czechoslovak town of Leskovice in 1945, because a German court refused to extradite him. He died in 2006 at the age of 88.

After the boys had been trained it was decided that they could form a Panzer division and they began training with tanks.
After the boys had been trained for the SS it was decided that they could form a SS Panzer division and they began training with tanks.
The HitlerJugend Division being inspected by Field Marshal von Rundstedt in Belgium in early 1944. In March and April they transferred to Normandy, where they were to play a leading role later in the year.
The HitlerJugend Division being inspected by Field Marshal von Rundstedt in Belgium in early 1944. In March and April they transferred to Normandy, where they were to play a leading role later in the year.

The last execution in the Tower of London

Most spies and traitors were hanged at Wandsworth Prison during the war. The decision to execute Jakobs by Firing Squad at the Tower appears to be because he was still suffering from his injuries – he could not stand up. He was blindfolded and placed in a chair for the execution – the officer in charge gave a silent signal to the Firing Squad and he was shot dead.

The Tower of London was built shortly after William the Conqueror landed in 1066. It was in almost continuous use for the imprisonment of traitors and other important prisoners up until the end of World War II. Routine torture and beheadings had ended in the Middle Ages but it was still used for executions in time of war.

The unfortunate Josef Jakobs had parachuted into Britain on the night of 31st January/1st February. He broke his ankle as he exited the plane and then broke his leg as he landed. He landed in the middle of fields and used his revolver to attract attention – whereupon he was discovered with his radio, maps, a large quantity of cash and a torn up code book and promptly arrested.

After a limited recovery he was put on trial at the beginning of August. The charge was quite simple:

“Committing treachery in that you at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire on the night of 31 January 1941/1 February 1941 descended by parachute with intent to help the enemy.”

Although Jakobs argued that he had always intended to give himself up the verdict could hardly have been in doubt. The historic final death warrant was passed to the Constable of the Tower:

LD/SR A(s) 1 MOST SECRET

To: The Constable of H.M. Tower of London. 13th August 1941.

Sir,

I have the honour to acquaint you that JOSEF JAKOBS, an enemy alien, has been found guilty of an offence against the Treachery Act 1940 and has been sentenced to suffer death by being shot.

The said enemy alien has been attached to the Holding Battalion, Scots Guards for the purpose of punishment and the execution has been fixed to take place at H.M. Tower of London on Friday the 15th August 1941 at 7.15am.

Sgd. Sir Bertram N. Sergison-Brooke,

Lieutenant-General Commanding London District.

Most spies and traitors were hanged at Wandsworth Prison during the war. Jakobs was executed by Firing Squad at the Tower was made because he was a member of the German military. He was blindfolded and placed in a chair for the execution – the conventional method of execution used at the Tower during the 1914-18 war. The officer in charge gave a silent signal to the Firing Squad and he was shot dead.

For more details see National Archives, Security Service file KV2/27 folio 29a

First British Airborne Raid

Plans for the men to be evacuated by submarine had to be abandoned when the rendezvous site was compromised, and the plan had made no provision for an alternative rendezvous point. In any event the the escaping men, who travelled in four groups, found it extremely difficult to travel covertly across country in a landscape packed with small farms. They were all soon captured.

Early British parachute training from a converted Whitley bomber.

The 11th Special Air Service Battalion made history on the 10th February with the first British parachute raid on enemy territory, Operation Colossus. Thirty five men were dropped in southern Italy and blew up the Tragino Aqueduct which supplied water to Naples and the surrounding area. The raiders successfully blew up the aqueduct but it was repaired within a matter of days.

Plans for the men to be evacuated by submarine had to be abandoned when the rendezvous site was compromised, and the plan had made no provision for an alternative rendezvous point. In any event the the escaping men, who travelled in four groups, found it extremely difficult to travel covertly across country in a landscape packed with small farms. They were all soon captured. The Italian interpreter, Fortunato Picchi, who accompanied the group posing as a member of Free French forces, was shot as a spy. One officer, Lieutenant Deane-Drummond, managed to make his escape the following year. His account and many more documents can be found at Paradata.

German Spies executed at Pentonville Prison

The first executions under the Treason Act took place on 10th December 1940. Jose Waldberg, 25, a German national, and Karl Heinrich Meier, 24, a Dutchman of German origin, were hung at Pentonville Prison following their conviction at the Old Bailey in November.

The authorities display the radios carried by Waldberg and Meier. The German Abwehr had supplied them with radios that could transmit but not receive.

The first executions under the Treachery Act 1940 took place on 10th December 1940. Jose Waldberg, 25, a German national, and Karl Heinrich Meier, 24, a Dutchman of German origin were hanged at Pentonville Prison, following their conviction at the Old Bailey in November.

Waldberg and Meier had landed at by rowing boat at Dungeness on the Kent coast on the 3rd September 1940. They had been escorted across the Channel and only had to row the last distance up to the shore.

It was intended that they would pose as refugees and move around the country reporting on British troop movements and military installations. They had a substantial amount of cash that was supposed to sustain them until the German invasion, which they were told was to be on the 15th September. They would then make themselves known to the Germans with a secret password.

They did not get far. Meier was apprehended when he tried to get into conversation with an ARP warden who promptly asked for his Identity Card. When Waldberg said “we have only just arrived” he not only aroused further suspicion but gave away the fact that he was not alone. The police were called. After a short interrogation he led them to Waldberg.

Two others German spies who arrived further along the coast the same day got no further. Kieboom and Pons were seen landing, and the police were called when they asked locals where they were. Kieboom was executed a week after the other two. Pons was able to successfully argue that he had been coerced into the role, having been threatened with a concentration camp by the Germans, and had always intended to give himself up.

N.B. Further investigation has found at least three different versions of how these spies came to be caught. The authorities gave the case as much publicity as they could but there were limited facts to go on, because the trial had been held in camera at the Old Bailey. The Press filled in the gaps with details of how the men gave themselves away or were discovered, and these different versions have found their way into different published post-war accounts.

The publicity given to the case was probably intended to divert German attention away from other spies who had been caught. These cases were handled secretly because it was hoped to maintain the pretence that they were still at large and use them to feed false information back to the Germans. As the war progressed the British were able to developed a very sophisticated method – ‘the double cross system – for doing just this. The credibility of these individuals was enhanced if the the Germans were led to believe that all captured spies would be put on trial and the information made public.

For absolutely everything you might want to know about military radios from the period, including a wide range of spy radios, see the Military Wireless Museum..

Surprise LRDG attack in the desert

To us now this seems an obvious role for Special Forces; however, at the time it was something of an epiphany. Bagnold’s patrols had covered 1,300 miles completely self-contained. They had impressed everyone, and even the most doubtful of their critics hud hegun to see what possibilities there were the exposed southern flank — which was thought to he quite impenetruhle — could he used with impunity hy the LRDG.

A9 Cruiser tanks in the Western Desert, 1 November 1940.
A9 Cruiser tanks in the Western Desert, 1 November 1940.
A British Army 15-cwt truck throws up a cloud of sand and dust while moving at speed along a desert track in North Africa, 1 November 1940.
A British Army 15-cwt truck throws up a cloud of sand and dust while moving at speed along a desert track in North Africa, 1 November 1940.

The legendary Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) had still not been formally christened. At the end of October 1940 it was only just coming out of its formative stage, known as the Long Range Patrol.

The were many in the traditional military who distrusted unconventional formations. Major Ralph Bagnold had proposed deep penetration reconnaissance behind the lines of the enemy, travelling by land across vast expanses of desert, in June 1940. He was met by scepticism when he personally put the scheme to General Archibald Wavell. But Bagnold had credibility as an experienced desert explorer. When he suggested that their role would also encompass “a bit of piracy” he won the General over.

The following extended extract comes from a newly published (October 2015) study. It explores the very earliest days of the LRDG, culminating in a successful attack on the 1st November 1940:

The desert was a unique and harsh environment. Yet many who rode out with LRP/LRDG patrols were intensely moved by its qualities, the harsh, primeval purity. Though now largely denuded of humanity, the raiders were constantly reminded that man had once lived here:

Ten thousand years ago the climate was kinder, there was more rain and men lived in what is now desert, hunting ostrich and antelope and keeping milk cattle. Often we found traces of them – paintings and engravings on the rocks and stone implements at their camping places. There must have heen many places which we passed through on LRDG journeys where no man had been for five thousand years.

On 5th September three LRP patrols set out from Cairo, just ahead of the major Italian offensive in the north which would kick-start the desert war. Marshal Graziani didn’t advance further that Sidi Barrani, more of a Sitzkrieg. There remained the fear he might try and be more adventurous in the south, as Bagnold had originally warned. LRP was tasked to check the lie of the land, ascertain enemy intentions, hopefully netting some prisoners and generally beat up any targets of opportunity that might cross their sights.

Teddy Mitford, with Bill Kennedy Shaw, was to check out a couple of landing strips on the Jalo—Kufra route. They dealt with fuel reserves there before bumping a small Italian convoy a couple of days later. Only two trucks, swiftly cowed by a burst from a Lewis gun, and LRP had its first haul of captives, including a goat! A modest if satisfying encounter, yet this single rattle of fire persuaded the Italians they had to escort their convoys in future, a significant diversion of resources.

LRP activity would never open gaping wounds in the enemy’s flanks but could create persistent ulcers, draining out precious reserves, taking away from offensive capacity further north.

Neither of the other patrols met any enemy but accomplished much useful intelligence gathering. By the end of the month all three were safely back in Cairo. General Wavell was still ready to be impressed.

An important benefit conferred by these early patrols was in myth-busting. Most of the staff in Cairo and most of Middle East Command shunned the deep desert to the same fearful extent as their Axis adversaries. Bagnold was demonstrating that the Allied forces could trump the enemy by learning to operate effectively in all conditions.

To us now this seems an obvious role for Special Forces; however, at the time it was something of an epiphany. Bagnold’s patrols had covered 1,300 miles completely self-contained. They had impressed everyone, and even the most doubtful of their critics hud hegun to see what possibilities there were the exposed southern flank — which was thought to he quite impenetruhle — could he used with impunity hy the LRDG.

Success brought expansion and the unit was increased in size to two full squadrons, each of three patrols, with a HQ section and a lieutenant- colonelcy for Bagnold. General Freyberg was making increasingly loud noises for the return of his Kiwis though Wavell was able to persuade him to grant an extension while new volunteers, primarily from Rhodesian and British units, were being trained up.

Having tested the crust of the Italian defences in the south and detected no appetite for offensive action, LRP could continue to make life uncomfortable for these nervous frontier outposts. The year 1940 had been a very bad one for the Allies but at least, as the autumn drew towards winter, the British were attacking somewhere, if on a very small scale.

The replacement scheme which had received War Office approval on 25th October had provided for six new patrols to be formed, one from each of the Guards, South Rhodesians, Highlanders, Yeomanry, Rifles and Home Counties Regiments. This was rather ambitious at the time as the whole theatre suffered from a chronic lack of both good officers and men. Regiments were understandably loath to part with their bravest and best for what many regarded as a maverick and madcap formation.

Bagnold, again in October, found he had competition from the brilliant if unorthodox Orde Wingate, later famous for the formation of the Chindits. Wingate wanted an all-arms, mechanized raiding force far larger than the LRP, virtually at divisional strength. This was plainly impractical, and Wingate had no real appreciation of the distances and ground involved. Bagnold, who understood both, countered with a watered-down proposal suggesting a gradual build up of all-arms capability.

The prevailing shortages of men and materiel and the dearth of desert-worthy vehicles doomed Wingate’s scheme. By the time these shortages had been, to a degree at least, overcome, LRP/LRDG had more than proved itself as the ideal solution.

During the last week of October the LRP launched another sortie. The objectives were:

To harass the enemy by mining the Uweinat-Kufra-Jedabia track.
To gain intelligence of enemy strength and movement in this area.
To recover and utilise the two lorries captured earlier (these had been left hidden).

T Patrol, led by Clayton, moved out from Cairo on 23rd October; mine laying its primary function. The raiders passed via Ain Dalla, over the surreal reaches of the Sand Sea to Big Cairn where Clayton levelled an ad hoc airstrip. No. 26 (Bomber Transport) Squadron was detailed to carry out re-supply. Next, they drove towards Jalo, 260 miles northwest, and by 30th October were planting mines along the roadway.

On 1st November, after only token resistance, Clayton easily subdued the fort at Aujila whose garrison fled at the first burst. In all, the patrol covered 2,140 miles in 15 days.

T and R patrols with HQ and N troops were equally active. Italian stores together with a Savoia-Machetti S.79 (a three-engine, medium bomber) were destroyed. Though enemy aircraft did make an appearance, no casualties or damage were sustained.

These raids were textbook examples of what the LRP had been raised for. Results were not overly dramatic, as these were pinpricks rather than body blows, but the cumulative effect was telling: enemy communications were disrupted and his transport damaged or destroyed, but the main value was psychological.

After so many bruising defeats, the Allies were taking the initiative and getting the better of the enemy. The Italians suffered a consequential slump in morale. Nowhere was too remote to escape the raiders’ intention. All movement was fraught. This was not a defeated army, a tottering empire. Britain still had teeth.

See John Sadler: Ghost Patrol: A History of the Long Range Desert Group, 1940 – 1945.

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A13 Cruiser Mk IVA tank being checked over shortly after arrival in Egypt, 1 November 1940. Note 'Caunter' camouflage.
A13 Cruiser Mk IVA tank being checked over shortly after arrival in Egypt, 1 November 1940. Note ‘Caunter’ camouflage.
A 4.5 inch Howitzer camouflaged in its emplacement at Palm Grove, Western Desert, 1 November 1940.
A 4.5 inch Howitzer camouflaged in its emplacement at Palm Grove, Western Desert, 1 November 1940.

Ian Fleming proposes 'Operation Ruthless'

1. Obtain from Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
2. Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, W/T operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force Uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
3. Crash Plane in the Channel after making SOS to rescue service.
4. Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.

A German 'M Boat', a minesweeper of the type that Ian Fleming suggested might be captured.

Ian Fleming, later to win fame and fortune as the the creator of James Bond, was working in Naval intelligence in 1940. The codebreakers at Bletchley Park, working on the highly secret German Enigma traffic, were having difficulty breaking into the German Naval signals. It was suggested that directly obtaining German Naval code tables would be the the fastest method of making progress. In effect this meant capturing a German Naval unit with the code material intact. Fleming proposed a scheme to do just this:

TOP SECRET.
For Your Eyes Only.
12 September 1940.
To: Director Naval Intelligence
From: Ian Fleming

Operation Ruthless

I suggest we obtain the loot by the following means:

1. Obtain from Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
2. Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, W/T operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force Uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
3. Crash Plane in the Channel after making SOS to rescue service.
4. Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.

In order to increase the chances of capturing an R or M [Räumboot – a small minesweeper; Minensuchboot – a large minesweeper] with its richer booty, the crash might be staged in mid-Channel. The Germans would presumably employ one of this type for the longer and more hazardous journey.

NB. Since attackers will be wearing enemy uniform, they will be liable to be shot as franc-tireurs if captured, and incident might be fruitful field for propaganda. Attackers’ story will therefore be that it was done for a lark by a group of young hot-heads who thought the war was too tame and wanted to have a go at the Germans. They had stolen the plane and equipment and had expected to get into trouble when they got back. This will prevent suspicions that party was after more valuable booty than a rescue boat.

TNA ADM 223/463

Although Operation Ruthless was approved it was never carried out, a Commando raid captured the required material in early 1941.

British Commando raiders are executed in Sachsenhausen

Rumour also had it that the coming night would be still worse. Last night many were awakened by shots in the camp. This was what happened: when a party of those who had been taken from the blocks under cover of darkness marched out of the gate and turned to the right, they realised where they were going, broke the ranks and ran into the little park there between the walls. The guards opened fire on them, and they were shot down there in the park. It was the rat—tat of the guards’ tommy-guns which broke the night silence, filling those who lay awake with horror and dread.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp had operated since 1936 as punishment facility rather than an extermination site. About 30,000 people are believed to had died there from overwork, ill-treatment and malnutrition, although a proportion were put to death by shooting, hanging and, in later years, a gas chamber.
Sachsenhausen concentration camp had operated since 1936 as punishment facility rather than an extermination site. About 30,000 people are believed to have died there from overwork, ill-treatment and malnutrition, although a proportion were put to death by shooting, hanging and, in later years, a gas chamber.

On the 1st of February there had been elation in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located 22 miles north of Berlin. The news reached the prisoners that the Red Army was just 60 miles east of Berlin. Rumours soon spread that they would soon be liberated, and that it might well happen in the next day or so.

The grim reality proved to be a deep disappointment the following day. Not only were the Nazis preparing to evacuate the whole camp but they were now starting to murder some of their more prominent prisoners. Odd Nansen, a Norwegian political prisoner, was keeping a secret diary in the camp, writing on the 3rd he recalled the events of the 2nd:

From the brightest and wildest optimism we’ve been plunged into gloomy pessimism.

When we got back from the job last night, we were met be the sinister announcement that the camp is to be evacuated. We’re all to start off on a trek. To the great majority the news was thunder from a clear sky, and many still refuse to believe it, such an utterly outrageous impossibility and insanity does it seem.

Forty thousand men on the tramp southward, southwest or west; miserably clad, with nothing to eat – for it can be only Norwegians who have any food to take with them – and in a worse than rickety condition. First we heard it as a rumour, and it penetrated slowly into our consciousness, which refused to accept it. Then it came as an official announcement in the block: “The camp will probably be evacuated”. Wahrscheinlich!

A hope still lingers in the interpretation of that lumpy German word, a little chance that the Russians may be too quick, the possibility of a change of mind with the ensuing counter-order, of which, indeed, we’ve known so many that they can almost be taken as the rule. But in that case there is another dark cloud in our sky, a cloud which has grown darker, blacker and more menacing in the last forty-eight hours. Liquidation! Vernichtung!

It is now being said that over two hundred men, including all the lackeys of the Sonderkommission, were shot last night. They were a frightful gang indeed, and no one laments them. They were the Gestapo’s henchmen among the prisoners. And so that was their reward.

When the truth about the events of the night gradually came out, when we learnt that our friends the Englishmen, John and Jack and Tommy and the rest, we knew them right back in Grini [a Nazi concentration camp in Norway], had in all probability been shot, and the Russian officers and many others, the atmosphere filled with gloom.

Rumour also had it that the coming night would be still worse. Last night many were awakened by shots in the camp. This was what happened: when a party of those who had been taken from the blocks under cover of darkness marched out of the gate and turned to the right, they realised where they were going, broke the ranks and ran into the little park there between the walls. The guards opened fire on them, and they were shot down there in the park. It was the rat—tat of the guards’ tommy-guns which broke the night silence, filling those who lay awake with horror and dread.

See Odd Nansen: Day After Day

The ‘English friends’ that Nansen was referring to were members of a British commando team that had been captured after a sabotage operation to Norway in 1943, Operation Checkmate. They had successfully sunk a German minesweeper and other ships with limpet mines but despite the fact that they had operated in uniform they fell victim to Hitler’s Commando Order when they were captured. They were not treated as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention.

In Sachsenhausen they had been forced to march 30 miles a day on cobbled roads, ‘testing’ German Army boots. It later emerged that, when they were led to execution, Temporary Lieutenant John Godwin, RNVR, who had led the team of Commandos and Royal Navy seamen, managed to snatch the pistol of the firing party commander and shoot him dead before being shot down himself.

Lieutenant JOHN GODWIN H.M.S. Quebec., Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve  who died age 25 on 02 February 1945
Lieutenant JOHN GODWIN H.M.S. Quebec., Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
who died age 25 on 02 February 1945

There were no witnesses to Godwin’s resistance surviving at the end of the war, a fact that meant he could not be eligible for a gallantry medal. Instead he was awarded a ‘Mention In Despatches’. The citation, in The London Gazette, 9 October 1945, read:

“For great gallantry and inspiring example whilst a prisoner of war in German hands in Norway and afterwards at Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg, Germany, 1942-1945”

The Commando Veterans Association has a gallery commemorating the other members of Operation Checkmate.

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.

V1 carrying Heinkel IIIs ambushed over North Sea

We started to close. It was still dark and there was a lot of cloud. You knew perfectly well that on our straight and level course behind him we would get a tremendous wash from his engines. I felt it. Then for some reason, he started to turn away slightly, as if he had an indication that we were behind him. It foxed us a bit.

A German Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111 H-22 with a  FZG 76 (V1) flying bomb.
A German Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111 H-22 with a FZG 76 (V1) flying bomb.
German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops, portrayed intense attacks by numerous V1 flying bombs. This was a huge exaggeration.
German propaganda leaflets, aimed at British troops, portrayed intense attacks by numerous V1 flying bombs. This was a huge exaggeration.

The German V1 attack on London had been defeated by intensive air defences and then the advance of the Allies in Europe. V1 rockets continued to be targeted on Antwerp and Holland in an attempt to disrupt the Allied supply lines – with little significant effect.

However there remained on alternative means of targeting the rockets at Britain. The forerunner of the air launched cruise missile was a Nazi adaptation to use Heinkel bombers to get the V1s within range of Britain and fire them whilst in mid air. They could only be crudely targeted and the ultimate destination was only determined by the engine cutting out, as before. 1,176 missiles were launched against Britain but a large proportion either failed to launch properly or failed to reach the land.

Once again the Allied superiority in cracking German codes was to give them a huge operational advantage. Although they could not completely neutralise the attacks they could be in precisely the right position to fight back.

Richard Leggett was a Mosquito pilot who participated in the counter-arrack on the Heinkels in the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1944:

The British ‘Y’ Service would get information that V1-carrying Heinkels would be taking off, and we’d be told that at such and such a time they would be in place. No other op was as tidy as this. We looked at our watches and thought, ‘My goodness, they’ll be here in another few minutes’; and sure enough, right on the button, it would all happen. It was a question of whether you’d be the lucky one because there were lots of us.

I looked at my clock and knew that at around 02.30 hours there would be several Heinkels in the usual place. The enemy obviously did not know we were going to meet him.

Being in a position to stab him in the back in the dark was a nice way to fight a war. One was mentally tuned to this. We felt sorry for our bomber chaps. We in the night fighter force didn’t have to drop bombs on women and children. We had to kill Germans who were trying to do things to our women and children with nasty weapons. It was a very clear and clean way to fight.

Sure enough, almost on the dot we saw the flash of a V1 being launched. At the same time ground control said they had contact.

Tally-ho!

There might be twelve, thirteen, fourteen of these Heinkels, all doing it at once. It was a timed op. Then they’d turn to port. I don’t know why but they always did this. Then they would go down very rapidly and head for home. Our job was to lose height quickly, go below 100 feet and pick up the Heinkel.

The Mk X was a good AI, but there were a lot of sea returns and it depended on the expertise of the navigator. I had a very good one. Sure enough, the Heinkel turned left and at two to three miles we got a contact.

It wasn’t a good night. There was rain and ‘stuff’ about. The Germans only came when the weather was bad.

We started to close. It was still dark and there was a lot of cloud. You knew perfectly well that on our straight and level course behind him we would get a tremendous wash from his engines. I felt it. Then for some reason, he started to turn away slightly, as if he had an indication that we were behind him. It foxed us a bit.

Eventually, it settled down again. I closed in on him. It was in cloud. Guns and sights were harmonized at about 200 yards but we could not get a visual, although we could feel his slipstream We dropped away and my navigator picked up contact again.

Some people might have lowered their undercarriage at this point, but l didn’t like to. I had as much flap as I dared and managed perfectly well. We waited and we waited.

Off Den Helder I was getting concerned. We’d followed him for fully fifty-five minutes. We waited as patiently as one can in this situation and eventually, as the dawn was coming up I closed in at 300 yards range. I fired my cannon in his slip- stream and had to put on a lot of throttle to prevent a stall.

I got a number of strikes on it and that was it. The Heinkel went in very quickly. When we broke away the cloud base was only at 200 feet. It was a beautiful morning.

This account appears in The Men Who Flew the Mosquito: Compelling Accounts of the ‘Wooden Wonders’ Triumphant WW2 Career

Heinkel 111H-22 of 7./KG 53 Legion Kondor crashed in Holland and one of the five man crew survived.

Not all the Heinekels were intercepted before they could launch their weapons. The aiming point was apparently Manchester – but they fell over a very wide area of northern England. BBC Shropshire has an account of a V1 from this raid that fell outside Newport. Aircrash Sites has analysis of where the V1s fell around Manchester.

31 of the 45 missiles launched on this night fell on England (although accounts vary), with the worst single incident being in Oldham where 27 people were killed. The times of the attack differ from that given by Leggett.

Another German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops.
Another German propaganda leaflets aimed at British troops.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.

Eisenhower closely guarded against Nazi infiltrators

Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.

An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II '204' from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II ‘204’ from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.

The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.

There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.

While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.

The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944

I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.

He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.

The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.

The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.

One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.

The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.

Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.

Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.

Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.

Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.

Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.

He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.

See My Three Years With Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945

There is an account of capturing some of the spies on the 19th December by Tom Bailey of the 82nd Airborne.

Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited  airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.