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CONTENTS FLOSSENBÜRG CONCENTRATION CAMP READERS’ INVESTIGATION Just One Crew of Many PRESERVATION The Tunnels of Dover Castle UNITED KINGDOM The Freckleton Air Disaster REMEMBRANCE Arlington National Cemetery
Flossenbürg was a small village in the wooded Fichtel Mountains in the Upper Palatinate in north-eastern Bavaria, close to the Czech border. Its granite quarries were conveniently situated to supply the huge Nazi building projects in Nuremberg. In 1938, the Nazi regime set up three new concentration camps — Mauthausen, Flossenbürg and Neuengamme. Contrary to the camps established earlier — Dachau near Munich (opened in 1933), Sachsenhausen near Berlin (1936) and Buchenwald near Weimar (1937), which had been set up primarily to incarcerate political opponents of the regime — these camps of what could be called the second wave were primarily created for economic reasons. In April 1938 the SS had founded the firm of Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd — DEST), the main purpose of which was to set up brickworks and exploit granite quarries for the SS. The labour force for these enterprises was to be provided by concentration camp inmates. The use of slave labour for the production of stone and brick under SS management was closely connected with the National Socialists’ ambitious building programmes — directed by Albert Speer — designed to transform the Reich capital Berlin and other
cities such as Munich, Nuremberg, Weimar and Hamburg. The plan was jointly conceived by Speer and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. In the already existing camps, brickworks were set up at the nearest location where suitable clay could be found: at Sachsenhausen they were at Lehnitz, two kilometres to the north-east; at Buchenwald they were at Berlstedt, six kilometres to the north. Buchenwald already had a stone quarry adjacent to it, and this also became part of the DEST concern. The choice of the location of the new concentration camps was purely determined by the presence of suitable clay or workable granite. The site for Neuengamme, just south-east of Hamburg, was chosen because of the presence of blue clay on the site. The presence of stone quarries determined the location of Flossenbürg and Mauthausen, and also of two other camps established in 1940-41: Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia and Natzweiler-Struthof (see After the Battle No. 108) in Alsace in occupied France.
2 22 QUARRY
Front Cover: One of the watch-towers of Flossenbürg concentration camp. Between 1938 and 1945 thousands of prisoners (inset) were worked to death in the camp’s granite quarries. (Karel Margry/NIOD) Centre Pages: It is not the impregnable fortress of Dover Castle that is the only symbol of a nation’s strength but it is also the unseen labyrinth of tunnels beneath the white cliffs that served England during the Second World War and afterwards. (FotoFlite, Ashford, Kent, TN23 4FB www.fotoflite.com) Back Cover: The grandeur of a military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery. Acknowledgements: The Flossenbürg story is primarily based on Toni Siegert's study 'Das Konzentrationslager Flossenbürg. Ein Lager für sogenannte Asoziale und Kriminelle' published in M. Broszat & E. Fröhlich: Bayern in der NS-Zeit, Vol. II (1979); on the book by the same author: Toni Siegert: 30,000 Tote Mahnen! Die Geschichte des Konzentrationslagers Flossenbürg und seiner 100 Aussenlager von 1938 bis 1945 (1996); and on Peter Heigl: Konzentrationslager Flossenbürg in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1994). The Editor thanks Klaus Heidler and Ulrich Fritz of the Flossenbürg Memorial for their help. He also extends his appreciation to Sarah Eastell and Garry Newing for facilitating our visit to the Dover tunnels. The article on Arlington National Cemetery is adapted from James Peters’ book, Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America’s Heroes, published in the US by Woodbine House and available from Amazon.co.uk. Photo Credits: IWM — Imperial War Museum, London; NIOD — Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, Amsterdam; USNA — US National Archives.
The concentration camp and the quarries lay immediately north of the village.
Flossenbürg was one of the deadlier Nazi concentration camps. Between May 1938 and April 1945, over 100,000 persons passed through its gates, of which at least 30,000 perished through hard physical labour, illness and starvation, mistreatment and torture, wanton killing and deliberate executions. The first batches of prisoners sent to the camp consisted solely of so-called ‘criminals’ and ‘anti-socials’ but from September 1939 an increasing number of political prisoners arrived, from Germany itself and from the occupied countries, followed later by Russian prisoners of war and large contingents of Jews. Flossenbürg is a small village in the wooded Fichtel Mountains in the Upper Palatinate in northern Bavaria, close to the Czech border. In 1938 it had a population of some 1,200. High up in the hills, surrounded on all sides by deep woods, with few roads and only a small branch railway leading up to it, it is an isolated place. The nearest large town is Weiden, 13 kilometres to the southwest. Granite quarrying had taken place in this area for centuries, but never on a large scale. On March 24, 1938, a commission of experts visited the village to survey its possibilities for setting up a quarry with associated concentration camp. The delegation consisted of SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke, chief of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS Death’s Head Units), which was to provide the camp’s SS staff and guard detachment; SS-Gruppenführer Oswald Pohl, chief of the SS-Verwaltungsamt (SS Administrative Department), which supervised the DEST and other SS firms; Hubert Karl, a construction engineer from Pohl’s office; Freiherr von Holzschuher, the Regierungspresident (chief administrator) of the Regensburg district of which Flossenbürg formed part; Freiherr von Waldenfels of the local Forestry Office; and Otto Fürnrohr, representing the Neustadt canton. Their visit yielded a positive report and on July 1, the DEST concluded a 30-year lease contract with the land of Bavaria for the Wurmstein, an 820-metre-high granite massif just north of the village, where there already existed a small quarry. Construction of the concentration camp, planned to house 1,600 slave labourers, had by then already begun. Konzentrationslager Flossenbürg was officially founded in late March-early April. Its first commandant was SS-Sturmbannführer Jakob Weiseborn, a professional who had gained his experience at Buchenwald. The prisoners for the new camp began arriving in May. The first arrivals were transfers from other camps: between May 3 and July 1, 421 prisoners arrived from Dachau; then between August 8 and November 4 another 460 came from Buchenwald; finally
In all, prisoners from 30 different countries were registered in Flossenbürg. Decisive for the choice of location of the camp was the presence of granite stone, the SS-owned firm of Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke (German Earth and Stone Works) having selected and acquired the site in 1938 with the special purpose of starting a quarry and using the camp inmates as cheap slave labour. The prisoners put to work in the granite pits suffered indescribable misery and thousands of them perished. Here the quarry workforce lines up for the midday soup. (NIOD)
FLOSSENBÜRG on November 17 and 26, 578 came in from Sachsenhausen — giving a grand total of some 1,500 inmates by the end of 1938. All of these first arrivals belonged to categories of prisoners which the Nazis labelled ‘criminals’ and ‘anti-socials’. Most of them had been arrested — ‘taken into preventive custody’, as the Nazis called it — in nationwide round-ups carried out by the Gestapo in March 1937 and March-April and June 1938. The ‘criminals’ group included many real villains — professional thieves, burglars,
By Karel Margry swindlers, murderers — but especially the category of ‘anti-socials’ hid a wide variety of people whom the Nazis wanted to have removed from society simply because they did ‘not fit into the national community’: vagabonds, beggars, gypsies, pimps, alcoholics, persons considered ‘work-shy’, persons with convictions for creating disorders, doing bodily harm and causing brawls, etc.
The ruin of the Schlossberg castle towers above the village as before. Our comparison was taken on Bocksbühlweg, the road that leads from the camp to the quarries. 3
When the camp was established by the SS in May 1938, no facilities existed at all to house the prisoners or their SS guards, and the first arrivals — numbering 1,500 by the end of 1938 — had to both build the camp and start the quarrying. Construction was an on-going process, the first phase being completed in early 1940, but more huts and other facilities being continuously added in later years. This picture, taken sometime in late 1941 or early 1942, shows inmates at work just outside the camp. The buildings in the While the arrest and detention of people on such grounds violated basic rights, the Nazis simply changed the laws to suit their purposes. Even with the real criminals, their imprisonment was in many cases illegal, for not based on a sentence after a trial but carried out as a preventive measure. There was also a clear economic motive behind the mass arrests of these so-called criminals and anti-socials: in fact, the main purpose of the police actions of 1937-38 was not so much to protect the community against them but to provide forced labour for projects important to the Reich and for the SS-owned enterprises. This is evidenced by the fact that Himmler’s orders for the roundups specifically asked for able-bodied men and even specified the required number of them. To mark the various categories of concentration camp prisoners the Nazis had introduced a uniform system. Each inmate had a triangular piece of cloth sewn to his prisoner’s garment, with a different colour for each category: green for criminals, black for anti-socials, pink for homosexuals, purple for Jehovah Witnesses, red for political prisoners, and blue for emigrants. Jewish inmates in addition had an inverted yellow triangle sewn over their other triangle, which produced a six-pointed Star of David. Because the ‘criminals’ formed the majority of Flossenbürg’s initial population, the camp soon became popularly known as ‘the green camp’ — a label which it retained even after large contingents of prisoners from other categories had arrived and the ‘green triangles’ no longer formed the majority. The prisoners were immediately put to work, both on the construction of the camp and on the quarrying. The site selected for the camp was a shallow valley located just 100 metres from the northern end of the village and 300 metres from the quarry. It was built on a series of terraces on either slope, and consisted of two adjoining sections, the SS-Bereich (SS compound) and the Schutzhaft-Bereich (prisoners compound). In both sections the same 4
foreground are those of the SS part of the camp, the two light-coloured huts on the right being those of the Medical and Dental Post on the SS compound’s forecourt and the small square structure to their left the camp’s transformer station. The stone building under construction on the terrace furthest left, higher up on the slope, is the SS-Kasino (SS canteen). The stone watch-towers guarding the prisoners enclosure, which lies behind the SS area, were completed in 1941. (NIOD)
type of standard wooden huts were erected, 12 for the SS and 13 (increased to 20 in 194041) for the prisoners. Five (later seven) of the huts in the SS compound were accommodation blocks to house the SS enlisted personnel, the other huts were used as offices, storages and workshops. In the prisoners compound there would eventually be 14 accommodation huts, two storage huts, two workshop huts and two hospital huts. The terrace layout of the site caused eternal problems with irrigation and an often poor supply of water, which would lead to very bad hygienic conditions, especially in the upper huts. The camp’s stone edifices (most of them completed in 1940 and 1941) were all at the bottom of the valley floor. Those in the SS compound included a two-storied gate building (housing the Kommandantur), a mess and a metal-workshop. Those in the prisoners compound included a camp kitchen, a laundry/bathhouse, a prison block, the latter known as ‘the Bunker’, and a crematorium. The square between the kitchen and bathhouse formed the Appellplatz (roll-call square). A high-tension barbed-wire fence and six stone watch-towers surrounded the prisoners’ compound. To guard the camp at night, the towers were equipped with searchlights and other lamps were attached to the perimeter fence posts. Entry into the prisoners enclosure was only possible though the SS compound, the passage being through a small gate. One of its posts was adorned with a plaque with the words ‘Arbeit macht Frei’ (Labour makes free) — the same cynical slogan used at other concentration camps. Simultaneous with the construction of the camp, the prisoners also had to build a small settlement for the SS officers and NCOs and their families. Located on two terraces on the Plattenberg hill just south of the camp, it comprised a series of 13 blockhouse-type villas. They were ready in late 1938. Quarrying began in the summer of 1938. The prisoners worked long days, starting at 6 a.m. and not finishing until 6.30 p.m. with
only an hour’s break at midday. The labour was heavy, dangerous and exhaustive. The prisoners had to quarry by hand, using nothing heavier than primitive hammer drills and transporting the quarried stone with muscle power. Heavier equipment only became available later. Within a year, the DEST had opened three quarries in the Wurmstein massif with a total working area of 12 acres. With its cheap labour, the Flossenbürg quarry quickly proved a very lucrative enterprise. Of the five DEST firms in existence in 1939 — the brickworks at Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Oranienburg and the quarries at Flossenbürg and Mauthausen — it was the only one to make money, yielding a profit of RM 70,000 in its first year. Work continued through the harsh winter of 1938/39. With temperatures of 25 degrees below zero and without proper winter clothing, many inmates had fingers or feet frozen, but camp commander Weiseborn forced them to continue work nonetheless. The camp outer perimeter and the quarry work site were secured by armed SS guards belonging to the Totenkopf-Sturmbann Flossenbürg. They watched the prisoners from the guard towers and patrolled the quarry. The guards needed very little excuse to open fire. Prisoners who attempted to flee were ruthlessly shot, but many others reported ‘shot while trying to escape’ had done nothing of the sort. Camp commander Weiseborn instigated a severe camp regime characterised by strict discipline, long roll-calls, obligatory saluting, and cruel punishments for the lightest offence. The latter included beatings with whips or sticks in public and group punishments. Often, whole blocks had to stand or do exercises on the roll-call square for hours on end. Acts of wanton cruelty and violence were common. During the first winter, SS men sometimes enjoyed themselves by submerging a prisoner in a water basin and then letting him stand on the roll-call square until he was literally frozen stiff. If this treatment carried on long enough, the victim died within five to eight hours.
Another picture from around the same date, showing the view just to the right of the previous picture. The huts that are visible are again those of the SS compound, the ones against the slope being used as storage of prisoners’ belongings and The camp organisation in Flossenbürg followed the same system as in all Nazi concentration camps. The camp commander reigned supreme. His two chief subordinates were his Adjutant, who headed the Kommandantur staff, and the Schutzhaftlagerführer (preventive custody camp leader), the man in charge of the prisoners compound. Flossenbürg’s first Adjutant was SSHauptsturmführer Andreas Hansen, replaced in April 1940 by SS-Obersturmführer Lutz Baumgartner. He would hold this position till the end of the war and this long tenure alone, through a series of camp commanders, secured him a position of considerable power. The first Schutzhaftlagerführer was SSHauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier. He was relieved in late 1941 by SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritsch, who would stay for nearly two and a half years. When he left in March 1944, his task was taken over by Baumgartner, who now combined two of the most powerful positions in the camp. Baumgartner, Aumeier and Fritsch were all concentration camp professionals; all had been trained at Dachau camp and were ruthless, cruel characters, who maltreated inmates to death on many occasions. Operating separate from the Kommandantur was the Politische Abteilung (Political Section), the Gestapo detachment within the camp, whose task it was to keep prisoner records, interrogate people, decide on a prisoner’s release or continued detainment, assign penalties for political offences committed within the camp, etc. Consecutive chiefs of the Politische Abteilung were Kriminalkommissar Wilhelm Fassbender (from April 1938 to September 1943), Kriminalsekretär Fritz Multhaupt (until March 1944) and Kriminalobersekretär Konrad Blomberg (till April 1945). A fourth section within the SS staff was that of the camp doctor, the first one being Dr Fritz Baader. The total number of SS functionaries within the camp was small, a mere two dozen men. Most of the other duties within the camp were performed by inmates themselves. Prisoners appointed by the SS ran and manned the camp registrar, the kitchen, the bathhouse, the infirmary, the clothing depot, workshops, etc.
offices. The long hut in the centre (Werkstatt) houses the SS garages and motor pool and the small stone building above it is the camp’s metal-workshop. On the right are the villas built for the SS officers and NCOs. (NIOD)
New trees block most of our view today but the roofs of the SS villas still stand out above the modern houses of Flossenbürg.
All 13 villas of the SS settlement survive completely unchanged, albeit now privately owned. They are along two streets named the Unterer Plattenberg and the Oberer Plattenberg. 5
D B A C
View of the central part of the Häftlingslager (prisoners’ part of the camp) as seen from the SS compound. The small cabin in the foreground housed the office of the Rapportführer, the feared SS NCO responsible for taking roll-calls and general administrative duties. Behind it lies the Appellplatz (roll-call square), reached through the gate on the right. The two stone buildings on either side of this are the Lagerküche (camp kitchen), just visible on the left, and the Wäscherei (laundry/bath-house) on the right — both completed in 1940. The wooden huts on either side of the Rapportführer’s hut are Blocks 1 (left) and 19 (right) and the huts on the far side of the roll-call square comprise the Baulager (construction yard and tool shop). The picture dates from April 1945. (NIOD)
The kitchen and bath-house are today the only buildings surviving around the former roll-call square. For many years they were swallowed up by post-war factory workshops built around them and so were difficult to recognise. They emerged in their original state when the later buildings were removed in 2000.
Left: The bath-house had a large hall on the ground floor and a laundry and large shower-room (pictured right in 1945) in the basement. Here, on arrival, new prisoners had to hand over their clothes and all their personal belongings. Next, all their body hair was shaved, they were showered, and then issued 6
The SS instituted a kind of prisoners selfgovernment, appointing a Lagerälteste (Camp Elder), Blockältesten (Hut Elders) and so-called Kapos (prisoners overseeing prisoner work squads). The cynical system was designed to cause rifts between the prisoners and prevent solidarity among them. Prisoner functionaries and Kapos yielded powerful positions and enjoyed certain privileges, but the SS could take these away from them at will. Some men did everything to help and protect their fellow prisoners but others thought only of their own survival or became brutal and violent despots. Many a Kapo was hated as much as the SS.
with the blue and grey striped prisoner’s uniform and assigned a prisoner’s number. Once a month the prisoners had to hand in their clothes for delousing at the laundry. While this was being done they had to stand naked in the showerroom.
Because they were the first arrivals, the ‘green triangles’ — the prisoners with a criminal background — secured most of the privileged positions, and kept them long after this group ceased to be the majority within the camp. The first two Camp Elders — Willi Rettenmeier (who held the function from May 1938 to June 1941) and a man named Kliefoth (June 1941 to end of 1942) — were both ‘green triangles’. Many prisoner functionaries and Kapos developed a clientele, a clique of their own, quite a few of them based on homosexual relations. Corruption, denunciations and black-market activities were the order of the day in these circles.
On January 20, 1939, camp commander Weiseborn was found dead at his villa. He had committed suicide, apparently because he feared being prosecuted for embezzlement committed at Buchenwald. His successor was SS-Obersturmführer Karl Künstler, who would remain camp commander for three years. The prisoners’ initial impression of him was that he was an improvement but his arbitrariness and increasing bouts of drunkenness made him as hated as his predecessor. A major change occurred at Flossenbürg in September 1939. With the outbreak of war, the camp at Dachau was temporarily closed (it was needed for the mobilisation of
Left: Another view of the roll-call square, pictured after the liberation of the camp by American forces in April 1945. Every morning and evening the prisoners had to stand here, often for hours on end, while the SS counted them. It was the scene of many acts of cruelty. In March 1941, after a Polish prisoner had escaped, all Polish inmates had to stand here for 20 hours, while the SS picked out individuals for ill-treatment. About 40
the first Waffen-SS division) and its inmates were divided over three other camps, Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg. Hence, on September 27, a transport of some 1,000 prisoners arrived in Flossenbürg from Dachau. Most of these were ‘red triangles’ — political prisoners — incarcerated because of their opposition to the Nazi regime, and their arrival completely changed the composition of the camp population. Although they were housed in separate blocks, they were assigned ‘green triangles’ as Kapos. At Christmas 1939 dysentery broke out among the prisoners, which spread rapidly but completely surprised the SS staff. There
men did not survive this group punishment. The same happened in August 1941, and this time the Poles had to stand for 50 hours and over 100 of them succumbed. The SS used the electricity pole as gallows, the other inmates being forced to watch the execution. (USNA) Right: The gallows have gone but the camp kitchen survives. Note that its door has been moved two windows to the left. 7
The prisoners compound as it looked in its final form. The huts were of a standard type designed to accommodate 300 men but in 1944-45 almost 1,000 persons were crammed into each. Note the barbed-wire fence on the left, separating the area from the SS part of the camp. Six stone guard towers, interspersed at intervals with 12 smaller wooden guard platforms, ringed the enclosure. A seventh stone tower stood halfway between the camp and the quarry. was no prepared quarantine block, no suitable medicine and no medical expertise to fight the epidemic, so the SS just locked the inmates in their compound and let the contagion run its course. For a month all quarrying was stopped. As soon as the infection was over, work was resumed. On March 2, 1940, 921 prisoners of the Dachau group (in five months 56 had died) were sent back to that camp. To replace them, 823 men arrived from Sachsenhausen on April 8 and 10, most of them again political prisoners. By now the camp held some 2,500 inmates, about one-third of them ‘red triangles’. Although the latter were no longer held in separate huts, the ‘green triangle’ criminals still held all the privileged jobs. Until now prisoners had always arrived in the camp as groups but, starting in April 1940, police authorities also began to send individual detainees straight into the camp. Also, for the first time, prisoners of other nationalities began arriving. These were almost always political prisoners, people arrested for anti-Nazi activities, underground workers, resistance fighters. The first, reaching the camp on April 5, were 98 Czechs from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Many of the German ‘green triangle’ Kapos treated the non-German prisoners with even more violence than meted out against their fellow countrymen. Another new category of prisoners assigned to Flossenbürg for the first time during this period was Jews. The first of them, comprising German, Polish and Czech Jews, arrived in mid-1940 and they grew to a group of about 80. They became the favourite target of SS bullying and by mid1942 at least 72 of them had succumbed to maltreatment or been shot by guards. On October 19 of that year, on Himmler’s order to concentrate all Jews in special camps, the last 19 survivors were shipped off to Auschwitz and Lublin in Poland. In 1941 and 1942 Flossenbürg received a large influx of Polish prisoners, some 1,500 of them arriving in each year. First, in January 1941, was a group of 583 political prisoners — arrested resistance fighters and partisans — sent from the prison camp at Auschwitz. Between February 6 and September 8, on special Gestapo orders, at least 186 of them were executed by SS firing-squads. The group 8
killings took place on the SS shooting range, which lay in the shallow valley just outside and behind the prisoners compound, near the camp crematorium. The largest execution took place on July 2, when 40 of the Poles were shot. Camp commander Künstler and Schutzhaftlagerführer Aumeier both participated in the killings, the latter giving those not immediately dead the coup de grâce. Later Polish arrivals were mostly civilians who had been deported to Germany to work in agriculture or industry, then taken in police custody for refusal to work, absenteeism, relations with German girls or other offences — and sent to a concentration camp for it. Of those who arrived in 1941, 166 succumbed to maltreatment or perished in the first year. In all, of the 696 inmates who died in Flossenbürg in 1941, nearly half — 343 — were Poles. In September 1941, yet another category of prisoners began arriving: Soviet prisoners of war who had been singled out for execu-
tion either because they were Marxist political commissars, members of the intelligentsia, Jews or due to illness or invalidity. Men thus selected were transferred from POW camps to concentration camps to be eliminated. At Flossenbürg the first such group of 17 Russians was executed on September 4. By mid-1942, 330 had died this way. In all, between 1941 and 1944 an estimated 800-1,000 Russian POWs were murdered at the camp. Until April 1942 the killings were carried out as executions on the rifle range near the crematorium. However this method had to be abandoned because the repeated salvos could be heard outside the camp; because the local population complained about blood and even body parts polluting the local brook, and because the strain was too much for the SS gunmen. From then onwards, the Soviet POWs were killed by lethal injections, applied in the crematorium building by the camp’s SS doctor, Dr Richard Trommer. At least 200 Russians were disposed of in this way. Others were killed in the crematorium by means of a neck shot. The large number of bodies to be disposed of severely overtaxed the crematorium’s single oven. By early 1940, the first building phase of the camp was over. No sooner was the camp ready or preparations began for its expansion, the plan being to raise its capacity from 1,600 to 3,000. Prisoners were put to work removing part of the slope on which the camp lay to create new space for additional huts. Construction of the new blocks was coupled with the electrifying of the wire fence around the prisoners compound. The planned expansion of the camp was directly connected to SS plans to raise production of the quarry. The yield achieved in 1939 had been 4,700 cubic metres of stone, and 3,000 cubic metres in 1940, but for 1941 the DEST aimed to increase output to 12,000 cubic metres. For that purpose the company had leased further land to start a fourth quarry, and purchased modern cranes and equipment to supplement the manual labour provided by the camp inmates. At the same time, to keep the death rate among the slave workers down, instructions were issued to curb some of the excessive bullying and punishments by the SS guards and Kapo overseers. To improve the quality of production, Himmler ordered that selected inmates should be trained as stonemasons and be rewarded with extra canteen coupons for their improved work.
Today new houses, built in the late 1950s, occupy the northern terraces of the former camp.
The quarries were located just a few hundred yards west of the camp. This picture, taken shortly after the war, was taken from the quarry’s main crane looking back towards the village and shows the various workshops on site. The stone building at the top of the slope, below the castle ruin, is the DEST-Verwaltungsgebäude (administrative building) housing the Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke manager and his staff. The fourth quarry, started in 1941, grew to encompass an area of 25 acres. Like in its first year, Flossenbürg remained the most profitable of all the DEST works, producing 39.3 per cent of the concern’s revenues in 1940, 24.6 per cent in 1941, 20.5 per cent in 1942 and 27 per cent in 1943. In January 1941, the Reichssicherheitshaupthamt (Reich Main Security Department — RSHA) divided the concentration camps into four categories, criteria being the seriousness of the inmates’ offence and their usability for work. Category Ia was for prisoners ‘inapt for work or likely to improve’; Category I was for those ‘not too seriously charged and who could be employed in light work’; Category II was for ‘more seriously charged prisoners yet still likely to improve and to better’; and Category III for ‘heavily charged prisoners and for criminals and antisocials unlikely to be re-educated’. Flossenbürg was ranked a Category II camp, together with Buchenwald, Neuengamme and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). The two lighter categories included Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz I; the heaviest category was reserved for Mauthausen. Although this grouping was not meant to describe the harshness of the regime in the various camps, it is however an indicator that assignment to Flossenbürg meant hard labour. A better indication of the camp’s severity and deadliness is a document from 1943 listing deaths in 19 different camps for the month of August. It shows that of the 4,800 prisoners present in Flossenbürg on August 1, a total of 155 died that month — a death rate of 3.2 per cent. This made Flossenbürg the fourth-deadliest camp on the list, surpassed only by Maidanek (7.6 per cent), Auschwitz (4.4 per cent) and Stutthof (3.4 per cent) in Poland, but before Mauthausen (1.3 per cent), Buchenwald (0.6 per cent) or Dachau (0.2 per cent) — at least for that moment of the war. As part of the proposed increase of productivity, the Germans also planned to transfer Soviet prisoners of war to Flossenbürg, this time not to kill them off but to put them to work in the quarries. The idea to employ Russian POWs at Flossenbürg had been first broached in February 1941, a full four months before the actual invasion of the Soviet Union. And so, in October 1941, 2,000 Russian POWs arrived in Flossenbürg. They were housed in a special wired-off enclosure, known as the Sonderlager (Special Camp), which initially comprised Huts Nos. 11, 12 and 13. Already exhausted, underfed and infected with typhoid, the Russians suffered a terribly high death rate, over 300 of them succumbing within three months. In the summer of 1942, four horse-stable huts were completed to house the Russian POWs, by now much reduced in numbers. However, that September most of the POWs were transferred to other camps, 650 going to Mauthausen and another 600 to Neuengamme and Sachsenhausen. The four stable huts, which stood in a plot between the prisoners compound and the crematorium, were henceforth used as quarantine blocks for new arrivals. By the war’s end only 107 Russian POWs remained in the camp. From early 1942, a growing number of Soviet civilians — as opposed to Soviet prisoners of war — was incarcerated in Flossenbürg. Like the Polish civilians, they had been
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rounded up for forced labour in their motherland and deported to Germany, then taken in police custody for refusal to work or other offences and sentenced to a stay in Flossenbürg. By the end of 1942 their number had risen to about 2,000. As the war progressed, an increasing number of political prisoners from the occupied countries of Western Europe — France, Belgium, Holland — ended up in Flossenbürg. Most of them belonged to the special category of so-called ‘Nacht und Nebel’ (Night and Fog) prisoners. These were persons arrested for anti-German activities whom the Sicherheitspolizei wanted tried by special courts in Germany and disappear in concentration camps without their families getting any news of their fate.
By early 1943, composition of the camp population had changed to such an extent that the original group — the criminals and anti-socials — no longer formed the majority. Nor were the German nationals the largest group. A daily record taken on February 8 shows a total of 4,004 inmates (excluding the Soviet POWs in the Special Camp). Of these, 2,033 were listed as political detainees, the majority of which were non-Germans (Russians, Czechs, a few Frenchmen and Dutch); 782 as criminals; 66 as work-shy persons; 105 as homosexuals; 11 as Wehrmacht penal convicts; 7 as Jehovah Witnesses and 1 person convicted for ‘racial shame’ (sexual relationship with a non-Aryan). The latter six categories, totalling 1,971 persons, were almost exclusively made up of Germans.
The DEST building survives unchanged, although much in need of repair. The former Nazi quarries are today exploited by the Oberpfälzer Steinindustrie GmbH, taken over by Jakob AG in 1975. 9
Above: Max Wittmann, an Austrian prisoner at Flossenbürg from 1941 to 1943, recalled the hard labour in the quarry: ‘What a terrible coldness is embedded in the stones! Such a deadly enemy! The skip wagons are loaded full and brought to the various workshops where prisoners are working as stonemasons. In a large depression, which has filled up with mud and melted snow, about 20 prisoners are stumbling around with heavy stones on their back. They are from the penal company. The devil knows why these poor lads are being tortured like this. Suddenly a shouted command: “Lie down!” We all drop to the ground. Yet another one, unable to continue any longer, has walked into the wire. Gunshots ring out. One more prisoner “shot during flight”.’ In this picture, the DEST managerial building again appears on the horizon. (NIOD) Right: Today, only the stone buildings and parts of some huts survive in the original, much-overgrown quarry. This is the building marked [B] on the picture on page 9 (and on the plan on page 6-7) with [A] in the background.
Prisoners levelling the ground for the construction of a new stone building behind buildings [B] and [A]. (NIOD) 10
Our comparison was taken closer in, with our back against the wall of the quarry’s transformer station.
Above: Before 1940 the men had to quarry by hand with nothing more sophisticated than picks and jack-hammers. Later heavier equipment such as cranes became available. The granite was sold for use in the Reich’s prestigious building projects, the residue being used for autobahn construction. The building on the left is the quarry’s garage [D]. (NIOD) Top right: The garage can be seen among the trees on the left. Part of the shed on the extreme right also survives. By this phase of the war, the function of the concentration camps had changed from being primarily institutions to lock up and eliminate opponents of the regime to centres important to the Reich’s war economy. The priority had shifted from ‘elimination through work’ to getting the highest productivity out of the cheap slave labourers. The start of the new policy had been clearly marked in March 1942, when the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager (Inspection of Concentration Camps), the SS office administrating all the camps, was made a sub-department of the SS-Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt (SS Main Department for Economic Administration — WVHA). The new task of the camps also showed itself in the appointments of camp commanders but, in the case of Flossenbürg, this did not work out very well. On August 10, 1942, camp commander Künstler was relieved from his post. By now an SS-Obersturmbannführer, he had made himself impossible with his superiors by his continued drunkenness
Prisoners working on the granite blocks. (NIOD)
Right: Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler visited Flossenbürg only once — in April 1940. Here he is (second from right) inspecting the DEST quarry accompanied by the camp commandant, SSObersturmführer Karl Künstler (behind Himmler), the camp’s Adjutant, SS-Obersturmführer Lutz Baumgartner (behind Künstler) and the Schutzhaftlagerführer (commander of the prisoners’ camp), SSHauptsturmführer Hans Aumeier (on the left). Himmler’s visit was in connection with plans to expand the camp and increase production of the quarries. 11
Left: This is the new Kommandantur building which was completed in 1942. It housed the offices of the camp commandant and the Schutzhaftlagerführer and was also where the Gestapo interrogated and tortured prisoners. As in other concentration camps, the gateway was planned to be the central
entrance to the prisoners enclosure but because construction work on the camp was never finished, the prisoners’ enclosure actually started 50 metres behind the building. Right: The former SS-Kasino (canteen) is today occupied by the CaféRestaurant Plattenberg.
View of the SS compound as it looked after 1942. On the right are the accommodation blocks for the SS personnel. On the
left now stands the Kommandantur building with the SSKasino on the terrace behind it. (NIOD)
and unwillingness to co-operate with the DEST quarry manager Alois Schubert. SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritsch, the Schutzhaftlagerführer, acted as interim commandant until the appointment in mid-September of SS-Sturmbannführer Egon Zill, who had previously been commander of the Natzweiler camp. However, Zill did not stay long, soon showing himself overtaxed by the rapidly expanding size and economic activities of the camp. In late April 1943 he was relieved by SS-Sturmbannführer Max Koegel, a man with many years of concentration camp experience, having served at Dachau and Lichtenberg and then commanded Ravensbrück and Maidanek camps. However, he too was unable to cope with running a large enterprise, something which he tried to compensate by acting brutally against the inmates, yet he would remain until the end. Like all concentration camps, and as a corollary to its growing economic activity, Flossenbürg from early 1942 developed an 12
SS-Obersturmbannführer Max Koegel, the fifth and last camp commandant of Flossenbürg, who reigned from April 1943 to April 1945. Born on October 16, 1895 at Füssen, and having joined the NSDAP and SS in 1932, Koegel was one of the professional camp operatives trained at Theodor Eicke’s ‘concentration camp school’ at Dachau where he served from 1933 to 1937 (his latest positions there being Schutzhaftlagerführer, then Adjutant of the camp commander). He then served as director of the Lichtenberg women’s camp (1937) and as director (1938-39), then camp commander of Ravensbrück (January 1940-August 1942) and of Maidanek (August 1942-January 1943) before coming to Flossenbürg in April 1943. After the war he tried to hide under a false name, having appropriated the identity papers of one of his prisoners. Arrested by the American CIC on June 26, 1946 he died the following day, after having attempted to hang himself in his cell.
Right: In October 1941, some 2,000 Russian prisoners of war were incarcerated at Flossenbürg, in a separate POW enclosure run by the Wehrmacht. The Russians were initially put in Blocks 11, 12 and 13, but in March 1942 four large wooden huts were erected for them on a separate plot adjacent to the prisoners compound. Of the Type RL 260/9 model, they were essentially horse stables, far more primitive than the standard camp huts. By the time they were ready for use, most of the Russian POWs had already perished. Conveniently closed off from the rest of the camp by a barbedwire fence, the huts (numbered 21 to 23) then became the camp’s quarantine area, where new arrivals were kept for a few days to make sure they did not carry any dangerous diseases and where prisoners infected by contagious diseases, such as typhoid and tuberculosis, were isolated. This picture looks across the quarantine area, with Blocks 20 and 21 on the left and 22 just visible on the right. The small building in the left foreground is the area’s latrine hut. increasing number of satellite camps. Groups of prisoners, their numbers varying from a few dozen to several hundred people, were sent out to places far and near to be employed in building activities, factory work, war production, and many other tasks. Some sub-camps were only temporary, others developed into permanent establishments, often with an SS reign as bad or worse as in the main camp. The number of Flossenbürg’s satellite camps rose from just six in 1942 to 17 in 1943, to 75 in 1944 and to over 100 in 1945. Most of these sub-camps were located in the regions closest to it — Bavaria, Saxony, and Bohemia. Many had a workforce made up of female prisoners, transferred here from Ravensbrück or other camps, and then subordinated to Flossenbürg. Of the 92 sub-camps that existed at the war’s end, 35 were women camps. Flossenbürg’s two largest and most infamous sub-camps were at Happurg near Hersbruck (25 kilometres east of Nuremberg) and Leitmeritz (just across the Czech border), both set up in late 1944, at each of which some 6,000 inmates were put to work excavating tunnels for underground armaments production under the most excruciating conditions. In early 1943, Flossenbürg gained in economic importance by expanding into the armaments industry. The Messerschmitt aircraft factory in Regensburg, a main production centre for Bf 109 fighters, had approached the DEST Flossenbürg with the
proposal to employ camp inmates in the fabrication of aircraft parts. An agreement was reached and on February 5, production was started, 200 inmates manufacturing tin casings for aircraft parts. Production took place in two big factory halls erected in the quarry grounds. Messerschmitt provided machines, raw materials and qualified foremen. The camp’s aircraft works operated under the name ‘Kommando 2004’. The shift to aircraft fabrication brought definite improvements for the inmates. Work was indoors, protected from the elements; the Messerschmitt engineers, technicians and foremen generally behaved correctly towards the prisoners; and food rations were better. To reward prisoners and stimulate them to work harder, in the summer of 1943 a camp brothel was opened in a hut behind the prison block. Visits were almost the exclusive privilege of prisoner functionaries and Kapos. The price of a visit was two Reichsmark. The prostitutes detained here, 12 on average, were deportees themselves, selected and transferred here from the Ravensbrück women’s camp. After six month’s service the girls were shipped off to Auschwitz and replaced by a new crew. After most of the Regensburg factory was destroyed by Allied bombing on August 17, Messerschmitt transferred further production to Flossenbürg (and to Mauthausen). The number of inmates employed on aircraft production at Flossenbürg rose from 800 in
Left: In February 1943 Flossenbürg shifted to war production, the inmates being put to work fabricating parts for the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. In due course, two large Messerschmitt production halls were erected in the quarry grounds, the one seen here being located just opposite the camp entrance, and
August 1943 to 1,500 in December. By March 1944, 2,200 were engaged and producing all parts for the Bf 109 except the engine, guns and controls. Production was round the clock, initially in two shifts of 11½ hours, later in three shifts of eight hours. In October 1944 Messerschmitt production at the camp reached its zenith, 5,000 inmates turning out 180 frames and wings. Thereafter production figures decreased due to lack of raw materials. As the importance of Flossenbürg’s aircraft production grew, so that of granite production decreased, and by mid-1944 the number of men working in the DEST quarry had fallen to some 1,000 men. The reign of the Kapos continued as before, although slightly less brutal and corrupt compared to the early years. By 1944, the monopoly of the ‘green triangles’ on the privileged prisoner jobs had somewhat lessened. In late 1942, the SS had for the first time appointed a ‘red triangle’ political prisoner as Camp Elder — first Karl Mayer, then in early 1943 Karl Mathoi. Also, with the accelerated creation of the sub-camps from 1942 onwards, many of the old ‘green triangle’ Kapos had been transferred out of the main camp, opening up privileged jobs to the ‘red triangle’ political prisoners. By 1944, some of the camp functions even fell to the non-German inmates, mostly Poles and Czechs. However, the ‘green triangles’ maintained their grip on many of the crucial positions.
the other just south of the DEST managerial building (see the map on page 6-7). Right: The interior of one of the Messerschmitt halls, pictured in 1945. By October 1944, 5,000 inmates were employed in aircraft fabrication, turning out an average of seven aircraft every 24 hours. (USNA) 13
Right: Another shot of the Schutzhaftlager showing two other special buildings. The hut on the right is the Sonderbau (Special Building), a camouflage name for what was actually the camp brothel. Set up in the summer of 1943 and crewed with female prisoners selected from the women’s camp at Ravensbrück, its purpose was to provide an extra incentive to the inmates to work harder. The brothel housed on average 12 girls (note the number of chimneys, one for each cubicle). Some of them had been professional prostitutes, others had been lured by the SS’s false promises of release afterwards. However, after a sixmonth stint they were sent to Auschwitz and killed, to be replaced by new girls. The long building to the left of the Sonderbau is the Arrestbau (camp prison block). Built in 1940, it comprised a wallenclosed courtyard and a cell block containing 40 separate cells. (USNA) Despite the increase of political prisoners with a Socialist or Communist background, Flossenbürg never saw the organisation among the inmates of mutual solidarity groups or underground anti-Fascist committees organising resistance or sabotage, such as existed in most other camps. A few examples of such activities are known from some of the sub-camps, but hardly any from the main camp. The main instance of resistance was a revolt by the inmates, mostly Russians, of the sub-camp at Mülsen-St Micheln in Saxony on the night of May 1/2, 1944. The SS guards smothered the escape attempt in bullets. The instigators of the revolt were transferred back to the main camp and at least 40 of them were executed in the prison cell block between June and September 1944. These killings formed part of a whole series of deliberate executions, which began in April 1944 and lasted for over a year, until the very last days of the war. They all took place in the wall-enclosed yard of the penal block and were either by hanging or by a neck shot. In all, between April 1944 and April 1945, an estimated 1,500 persons were thus killed. The victims included several categories of people, both men and women: camp inmates who had attempted to escape or committed acts of sabotage; foreign labourers, Soviet POWs or German civilians who had been sentenced to death for various offences and whom the German police transferred to Flossenbürg to be executed there; Allied agents dropped behind German lines to organise sabotage and resistance; and Germans involved in the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. In need of ever more labourers to keep the Reich’s dispersing war factories going, from mid-1944 the SS began transferring large
Most of the Arrestbau was pulled down in 1964, but the foundations of the cells and the courtyard walls remain. On the left are the bath-house and the kitchen building. Note also the watch-tower on the hill above — one of the three surviving today. numbers of Jewish prisoners from ghettos and camps in Poland to the Reich. Many Jews had originally been sent to Poland to be gassed or worked to death, but now their value as cheap labour was more important. By 1944, the largest surviving group were the Hungarian Jews, whose deportation had only begun in the spring of that year. Between
Left: Incarcerated in the Arrestbau were inmates who had committed an offence against camp rules, persons who had been sentenced to death, and special VIP prisoners from Germany and abroad. Over 1,000 executions by neck-shot or hanging took place in the courtyard. For the latter the SS had affixed six 14
August 1944 and January 1945 at least 10,000 Jews were sent to Flossenbürg and its subcamps. The largest groups included one of 2,699 from Krakow on August 4; one of 2,238, mostly Polish Jews, from Warsaw on October 28; and a total of 3,189 Hungarian Jews arriving in marching groups straight from Hungary in November-December.
hooks on the courtyard wall on which a beam could be placed to be used as gallows. The hut overlooking the prison yard from the terrace above was part of the SS compound. (USNA) Right: The small part left standing of the prison block houses two preserved cells and a small exhibition.
On April 23, 1945, troops of the US 90th Infantry Division, part of the US Third Army, liberated Flossenbürg. The Americans found the camp almost completely empty, the SS having marched out over 14,000 inmates just three days earlier, driving them south in attempt to reach Dachau. The Americans found only the 1,526 sick inmates which the SS had left behind in the camp hospital. Here two GIs inspect a banner hung up by the remaining prisoners on the camp forecourt. Note that, despite the fact that it is the last week of April, snow has still not melted — evidence of the harsh climate at this high spot in the mountains. (USNA) Most of the new arrivals were sent to and put to work at one of Flossenbürg’s many satellite camps. By the end of 1944, Flossenbürg and its sub-camps held a total of some 40,000 prisoners, 11,000 of them women. The number of inmates held in the main camp had by now doubled to some 8,000. Rather than build additional huts outside the confined space of the valley, the SS cramped ever more people into the same number of huts. Day and night shifts could share the same bed, but problems arose when prisoners had a day off. Hygienic conditions in the overcrowded huts became a nightmare. Tuberculosis ran rampant, completely filling up Block 13, the TBC quarantine block. In late September 1944 a typhoid epidemic broke out, which exacted a heavy toll. So many prisoners were affected that two huts, Blocks 20 and 21 in the north-east corner of the camp, were separated from the rest of the camp with barbed wire and turned into a quarantine area. Known as ‘Chinatown’, these huts became true charnel-houses with some 50 patients succumbing each day for weeks on end. From the spring of 1944, prisoners who were too sick or invalid to work could be transferred to the camp at Bergen-Belsen, which the WVHA had stipulated as dumping ground for ‘unproductive’ prisoners (see After the Battle No. 89). The first 120 sick inmates left Flossenbürg for Bergen-Belsen on August 24. The next batch of 180 followed on October 3. The year 1944 saw the murderous activity of one of the camp medical doctors, Dr. Heinrich Schmitz. Suffering from manic depressions, Schmitz was a loose canon who alternated periods of acute gloominess with bouts of hyperactivity. He had once tried to commit suicide. Also, under the Nazis’ eugenics programme he had been forcibly sterilised in 1943 and, due to his mental instability, been exempted from Wehrmacht service. However, Schmitz had friends in the SS medical service and enlisted them to find him a job. Although his medical record was fully known, Himmler ordered that Schmidt be employed in one of the concentration camps. In May 1944 he was appointed to Flossenbürg as civilian practitioner attached to the SS camp doctor, Dr Alfred Schnabel, and made responsible for the prisoners compound. He became particularly infamous for his many strange and unnecessary surgical
operations on inmates. He would decide to operate for the lightest ailments. His operations included intestine surgery, amputations, and on one occasion even a skull operation. Disregarding all rules, he would usually sterilise his instruments only for a first operation and then carry on with others without properly sterilising them again. He habitually operated without gloves, face mask or head cover. In six months he carried out over 400 operations, 300 of them amputations, of which some 250 ended with the death of the patient. In the autumn of 1944, the SS medical service — in a resumption of the so-called 14f13 ‘Euthanasia’ Action of 1941-43 (‘14f13’ being the WVHA’s code-name for the operation) — ordered that sick and invalid inmates in concentration camps should be given ‘Special Treatment’, i.e. killed by lethal injections. Schmidt selected the candidates and killed them in a prepared room in Block 13, the tuberculosis block. In all he murdered an estimated 300 prisoners in this way. When it was really necessary to intervene, Schmidt failed to take proper action and
acted totally irresponsibly. When typhoid broke out in September, he refused to accept the diagnosis of the prisoner doctors and did nothing, causing 200 to die. When typhoid broke out again in January 1945, he allowed infected prisoners to be transferred to other camps, thus spreading the disease. Schmidt’s catastrophic activities lessened with the appointment in October 1944 of a new SS camp doctor, Dr Hermann Fischer, who gradually curbed Schmidt’s tasks and finally replaced him with two other doctors, Dr Hans-Joachim Geiger and Dr Otto Adam. Meanwhile, the deliberate executions in the prison block continued. Among those hanged in 1945 were three Polish women from the Warsaw underground movement on January 8; 193 Czech resistance fighters from Brno together with their families in February; 110 Russian soldiers and their families from the army of General Andrey Vlassov in March; and 13 captured Allied officers (one American, one Canadian, six British, and seven French and Belgians) on March 29. In the final months of the war, despite the high death rate, the number of inmates at Flossenbürg grew rapidly due to the arrival of large groups of prisoners evacuated from other camps in the East. This movement had begun in the summer of 1944 but reached its peak in early 1945. The largest influx occurred in February 1945 when Flossenbürg and its satellites received nearly 10,000 prisoners from the Gross-Rosen camp in Silesia. The trains bringing the new arrivals carried hundreds of dead and dying, and most of the others were starved, exhausted living skeletons. Camp commander Koegel ordered the seriously sick and ill to be concentrated in Block 18, which soon became an overcrowded patch of hell on earth. That month Flossenbürg main camp reached a strength of 11,000 inmates. At the same time, provision of supplies for the camp became increasingly problematic due to the breakdown of the Reich’s transport system. Especially the food situation was getting worse every day. The overcrowding, under-nourishment and bad hygienic and medical situation, coupled with the negligence and disregard of the SS, combined to produce an extremely high death rate. From January to April 1945, an estimated 4,200 persons died at Flossenbürg — a daily average of 42. The worst month was February, when 60 perished each day. With the crematorium unable to cope with the mass of dead bodies, the corpses were piled up in a heap outside the building, doused with petrol and set alight.
The camp forecourt was landscaped in 1997 but the Kommandantur building remains as a link with the gruesome past. 15
In the rear corner of the camp, next to one of the watch-towers, the Americans found a curious construction. In the autumn of 1944, with the number of inmates dying at the camp increasing rapidly, the SS had designed a method to efficiently move On March 1, the camp reached its highest prisoner strength ever: 14,824. In an attempt to lessen the overcrowding, some 7,000 prisoners were transferred to satellite camps or other camps that month. As part of this, on March 8, occurred the final transport of sick and invalid prisoners to Bergen-Belsen. That day, the 1,157 patients from Block 18 were marched to Flossenbürg station — a wretched column of half-dead creatures — and put on a train to Belsen. Much of the transfers-out was however negated by the arrival in the last days of March and first days of April of some 6,000 prisoners evacuated from Buchenwald. By the first week of April, it was clear to everyone that the war was coming to its close. On the 8th the SS staff started burning documents, removing incriminating objects such as the camp’s whipping bench and the hanging hooks on the lamp-post on the rollcall square, and cleaning up the bloodstained execution site in the Bunker.
Still, on April 9 and 12 on special orders from Berlin and as a last act of violent revenge, seven of the leading figures of the anti-Hitler plot were hanged in the Bunker’s courtyard: Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Generalmajor Hans Oster, Heeresrichter (Army Judge) Dr Karl Sack, Hauptmann Ludwig Gehre, pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hauptmann Dr Theodor Strünck and General Friedrich von Rabenau. Immediately afterwards the gallows hooks in the courtyard wall were removed as well. In these final days, camp commander Koegel tried to evacuate various special categories of prisoners. On April 4, 8, 15 and 19, the various VIP prisoners remaining in the prison block were transferred to Dachau by car. On April 16, the Jewish inmates, over 1,700 of them, were put on a train, also with destination Dachau. They never got there. Soon after departure, the train was shot up by Allied fighter-bombers on three occasions, which killed many and disabled the
. . . on which a small trolley car ran down narrow-gauge rails straight onto the roof of the crematorium. The trolley could be used to transport corpses and also carry fuel for firing the 16
corpses from the prisoners enclosure to the crematorium, which stood in a valley some ten metres below the level of the camp. A grate-covered entrance gave access to a short tunnel which led to a ramp . . . . train’s locomotive, after which the SS guards split up the prisoners in ten smaller parties and drove them eastwards on foot. In the following days most of the survivors were liberated by American troops. That same day, April 16, believing American troops were approaching, the entire SS detachment — staff and guards — fled from the camp and holed up in the woods near the Czech border, apparently planning to join the SS-Division ‘Nibelungen’, which was fighting nearby. They left the camp in charge of the current Camp Elder, ‘green triangle’ Anton Uhl. However, the prisoners’ freedom was short-lived for that same evening the SS returned, taking charge again and removing the white flags that the overjoyed prisoners had hung up. On April 19, Koegel despatched two evacuation trains, again with destination Dachau. One containing 300 inmates, mostly privileged prisoners from Blocks 1 and 2, got to Nabburg, 40 kilometres from the camp, from
crematorium oven. This picture was taken by Tech/5 Fred Poinsett of the 166th Signal Corps (Photographic) Company on May 4. (USNA)
The view from the crematorium roof up to the tunnel exit by Signal Corps photographer Pfc Howard E. James. (USNA) where the prisoners marched 15 kilometres to Klardorf, where they managed to shake off their guards. The other train, with 1,000 inmates, including many sick, 35 prisoner functionaries and 15 prostitutes, got to Schwandorf, 50 kilometres distant, where Allied aircraft shot it up, killing 41 and enabling 111 to escape. The other 807 marched south until liberated by US troops 13 days later. That same April 19, another group of 750, this one including prominent Hungarian prisoners, left Flossenbürg on foot. They never reached Dachau, being liberated by the Americans near Heiligenkreuz. Later that same day (April 19) Koegel received orders from Himmler to completely empty the camp and move all inmates to Dachau. By now some 16,000 inmates remained. That evening, in a final conference with his staff, Koegel issued orders for an evacuation in four march columns, three of 4,000 prisoners each and one of 2,500. Only the 1,500 or so sick inmates in the camp hospital would be left behind. The march groups departed the following day, April 20. The trek quickly developed into nightmarish death marches. The prisoners had been issued with very little or no food and many had only a blanket to cover
The rails have been removed and the slope grassed over, yet the outline of the ramp can still be clearly discerned.
The camp crematorium was built in 1940-41. Construction was approved in May 1940, its price set at 11,400 Reichsmarks. Before it was completed, corpses from the camp had to be taken to Selb in Oberfranken, some 90 kilometres to the north, to be burned in the municipal crematorium there.
Left: The crematorium consisted of four rooms: mortuary, autopsy room, incinerating room, and coal storage. The Americans found some 60 unburned corpses in the mortuary. (USNA)
Right: This is the autopsy room where gold teeth were extracted from the dead. Today memorial plaques adorn its tiled walls. 17
The crematorium had one oven of a standard type supplied by the firm of Kori in Berlin. Here a freed French prisoner shows the incinerator to 2nd Lieutenant John J. Reid of the 79th Division’s War Crime Investigation Team 203. From themselves. A large number of them suffered from typhoid and could hardly stand on their feet. Several thousand of them had only just come in from Buchenwald and were still worn out from that journey. However, with complete disregard for their misery, the SS guards and Kapos drove the prisoners on through rain and cold. Any prisoner too weak or unable to follow the column was shot or beaten to death and left by the wayside. To avoid attacks by Allied aircraft, most marching was done during the night.
Of the total of 25,000 to 30,000 prisoners evacuated from Flossenbürg and its subsidiary camps, only about one-third reached Dachau. Of the four main columns from the main camp, only one, led by SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Pachen and with 2,654 survivors, reached Dachau as an intact group on the night of April 28/29. The three other main columns wandered southwards through Bavaria, changing directions to avoid advancing Allied forces, until they had nowhere to go. Two columns and part of
Above: Shoes taken from dead prisoners were thrown down the buttress wall beside the crematorium ramp (the same pile of shoes can be seen in the picture of the ramp on page 17). (NIOD) Right: Today the spot is marked by a memorial stone commemorating the camp’s Jewish victims. 18
April 29 to May 8, Reid and his assistant, Tech/5 Benjamin B. Ferenc, inspected the whole camp and interrogated 25 former prisoners and several members of the DEST staff before compiling a full report. (NIOD) another, with a combined total of some 7,000 survivors, were liberated by US troops at Wetterfeld near Cham in the Bavarian Forest on April 23. Smaller groups, which had separated from the latter column, were liberated near Straubing and Ergoldsbach. Exact figures of the toll in human lives taken by the Flossenbürg death marches are unknown but the best estimate for the main camp is around 5,400. The total number for Flossenbürg and all its sub-camps is estimated at 7,000.
Right: The horrible scenes discovered by the Americans in the camp hospital. Of the 1,526 inmates liberated, 186 were found to be suffering from typhoid, 98 had tuberculosis, two diphtheria, two malaria and most of the others were seriously ill. The emaciated inmate being held by two others was a 23-year-old Czech. (USNA) On April 23, troops of the 395th Infantry Regiment of the US 90th Infantry Division reached Flossenbürg, liberating the 1,526 ailing inmates left behind in the camp hospital. In the crematorium the shocked GIs found some 60 unburned corpses. The Americans immediately organised medical care for the freed inmates, but for at least 350 of them help came too late. A week after the liberation, 10 to 15 persons were still dying every day. Halting the operation of the crematorium on May 1, the Americans opened a small cemetery in the centre of Flossenbürg village where 146 were buried. The final death toll of Flossenbürg is shattering. Of the over 111,000 persons assigned to the main camp or one of its subsidiaries between 1938 and 1945, an estimated 30,000 perished.
Many of the inmates freed on April 23 were so weak that despite immediate medical treatment by the Americans, over 350 still died. For a week after the liberation the crematorium was kept in operation to dispose of the bodies, but from May 1 onwards — following general instructions from Allied Supreme Headquarters regarding the burial of victims of Nazi atrocities — the Americans forced the local population of Flossenbürg to give the dead a proper burial. A special cemetery plot was opened in the centre of the village and coffins made for the dead. Signal Corps photographer Private E. Vetrone photographed a funeral procession leaving the camp on May 3. The cynical ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign still adorns the gate post. (USNA)
Immediately after the camp’s liberation, the War Crimes Section of the US Third Army began investigations into Flossenbürg, which led to the arrest of numerous members of the camp SS and Kapos. Between 1946 and 1948, 19 different Flossenbürg trials were held before the US Military Court at Dachau against a total of 90 persons. The judges passed 25 death sentences, of which 17 were carried out at Landsberg prison. The other eight death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Fifty-two other accused received prison sentences varying between four months and life, and 13 men were acquitted. Most of the prison sentences were later also reduced, and by the mid-1950s all of the convicted had been released. From 1949 West German courts conducted additional research into more than 200 other former SS personnel and Kapos of Flossenbürg and its sub-camps, which led to further trials against 18 persons between 1949 and 1969. Of Flossenbürg’s five camp commanders only one was ever brought to justice; of the others, three died before they could be held to account for their deeds and one was never captured. Jakob Weiseborn had committed suicide in 1939; Karl Künstler, shipped off to service in the SS-Division ‘Prinz Eugen’ in 1942, was killed in action near Nuremberg on April 20, 1945; Karl Fritsch disappeared after the war and was never seen again, while Egon Zill escaped punishment until 1955. That year he was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later commuted to 15 years. He died in 1974. Max Koegel went to live under a false name but was arrested by the Americans on June 26, 1946. He hanged himself in his cell in Schwabach prison, and died the following day, June 27. The post-war history of Flossenbürg is varied. From July 1945 to April 1946, the Americans used the camp as a POW enclosure to intern 4,000 German prisoners of war. Then, from April 1946 to late 1947, the camp was used by the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) to house 1,500 to 2,500 Displaced Persons, mostly Poles. After that, the huts and stone buildings of the camp were gradually taken over by German refugees — people ejected from Czechoslovakia or from German territories lost to Poland. By then the barbed-wire fence around the prisoners enclosure had been dismantled. Left: Block 19 has been replaced by the modern building used by the Camp Memorial, but the bath-house remains. 19
Tech/4 James F. Flaha of the 97th Division band blows ‘Taps’ over the graves in the newly-opened cemetery in the centre of Flossenbürg. Local residents, forced by the Americans to witness the burials, stand beyond the fence. (USNA)
Sixty years have passed . . .this is the same spot in the KZ-Ehrenfriedhof (Concentration Camp Cemetery of Honour) today.
Camp survivors lower a casket into the grave. In all, 146 victims were buried in the cemetery which Eisenhower’s directive stipulated should be maintained by the local community in perpetuity. Both wartime pictures by Private Vetrone. (USNA) 20
Because most of the original camp was being inhabited, the committee of former inmates set up in June 1946 to create a camp memorial had to do this on the fringe of the camp’s perimeter or even outside it. The crematorium was preserved, as were three of the guard towers. The other four guard towers were demolished and from their stones, in 1946-47 a memorial chapel was built next to one of the preserved towers. In later years, the gulch between the chapel and the crematorium — site of the SS shooting range where the executions by firingsquad had taken place in 1941-42 and known as the ‘Valley of Death’ — was landscaped into a memorial park. A mass grave was laid out containing the ashes of thousands of dead. A grass-covered pyramid-shaped monument was erected containing more ashes from the crematorium and thousands of shoes found in the camp. The execution site was marked by a large concrete red triangle. Other memorial plaques were added later. In 1957 the State of Bavaria began construction, in a plot just west of the memorial chapel, of a Cemetery of Honour for the victims of the 1945 death marches and some of the sub-camps. By August 1958 a total of 4,387 human remains had been disinterred from numerous grave sites in Bavaria and reinterred in this cemetery, (Later transfers raised the number of graves to 5,451.) By 1958 some 500 refugees, now accepted as permanent settlers in the village, still occupied the now very dilapidated huts of the former camp. In that year all huts were pulled down, and modern houses built on the same terraces. The camp’s stone buildings were left standing and eventually found other uses. The Kommandantur building became a municipal housing block. The former SS canteen became an inn, the Gasthof Plattenberg. The prisoners kitchen building and bath-house were incorporated in a small industrial park. In 1964 most of the prison block and the walls enclosing its yard were pulled down. Only the foundations and a small section containing two cells were preserved as a memorial. Inside, a small exhibition was set up. Other real estate connected with the camp had by then long reverted to civilian use. The small settlement of villas built for the SS officers on the Plattenberg near the camp had become private houses. The former DEST quarries had been taken over by the State of Bavaria. In 1949 they leased it to a private enterprise, the Oberpfälzer Steinindustrie, who resumed quarrying. The stonemason’s workshops and the buildings that had been used for Messerschmitt production became part of the quarry’s real estate.
The Cemetery of Honour along the village main street as it looks today. The memorial constructed from Flossenbürg granite was conceived by Polish Displaced Persons living in the former camp and inaugurated on October 27, 1946.
The ‘Jesus in the Dungeon’ Memorial Chapel, built from stones from demolished watchtowers and dedicated on May 25, 1947. Next to it stands one of the three that survive.
Small sections of the old electric fence still remain on the former camp perimeter.
Thus, by the mid-1960s, the outward look of the former camp had changed radically. Most of its site had been absorbed into the general landscape of the village. People could visit the prison block memorial, and walk through the memorial park with the chapel, cemetery and crematorium, but most visitors found it difficult to orientate themselves and only the well-informed, such as delegations of former prisoners, could recognise the precise site of the former camp. There was no signposting to the site of the quarries, which were on private territory and inaccessible. Compared to other camp memorials — such as Dachau and Belsen in West Germany, Buchenwald in East Germany, and Mauthausen in Austria — Flossenbürg received few visitors. Despite the fact that it had been the fourth-largest of the Nazi camps, the general public hardly knew about it. Many historians called it ‘the forgotten camp’. This situation lasted for nearly four decades. It was only in the mid-1980s that initiatives were taken to better preserve the memory of the camp and make its traces more visible, but it took until the late 1990s for any real change to be effected. The most important alteration has been the clearing away of the post-war factory buildings and workshops on the site of the former camp. The removal of these buildings has unmasked the original camp kitchen and bath-house and restored the open space of the Appellplatz. Another
showing historical footage of Flossenbürg camp. A large map and information plaques in the building’s archway explain the history of the camp and help visitors to orientate themselves. The Gedenkstätte is maintained by the State of Bavaria.
The Valley of Death, as seen from the crematorium. In the foreground is the Red Triangle Monument, with the Pyramid of Ashes behind. change has been the incorporation of the former Kommandantur gate building into the memorial grounds. The building no longer contains private dwellings, but now accommodates the staff of the KZ-Gedenkstätte (Camp Memorial) and has a cinema room
Left: The Square of Nations commemorating the victims of 18 nationalities. Above: Plaque for the American liberators. Right: Memorial to the seven men involved in the anti-Hitler coalition who were hanged in the prison yard in April 1945. The plaque, unveiled on April 10, 1970, states all seven murders took place on April 9, but it appears General von Rabenau was actually killed on the 12th. 21
JUST ONE CREW OF MANY This is a story that to all intents and purposes ended more than ten years before I was born. It is the account of seven men whose lives were cut short in the early hours of August 24, 1943 in a place that was many miles from their home towns. This is the tale of just one crew of RAF Bomber Command who were shot down and killed during the Second World War. For me, the story began when I was a small boy about the age of 12, living in Miranda, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. My mother had a photograph of a young man walking down a street and, when I asked her who the person was, she told me his name was Harley Harber. When I asked her who Harley was, she said that he was an Australian who had been engaged to her sister Peg, and that he had been killed during the last war. But when I pressed Mum about how he had died, she said she didn’t know. Time passed but the circumstances surrounding Harley’s death continued to interest me, and by the time I was in my late ‘teens I had to know more. How did he get killed? And when? As said, mum was not sure on either score and when I asked her why she had the photo, she told me it was because, after Harley was killed, Peg had asked her to get rid of all his letters and photographs. This she did, but she did not have the heart to burn the last picture. 22
I asked Mum how her sister had got to know Harley and she explained that they had met in Riverstone, a little town some 60 kilometres north-west of Sydney. As her brothers and my father were all in the army at the time, my grandmother and her three girls had to run the local news agency business. Harley worked as a livestock clerk at the Riverstone meat factory and, because he lived at Northbridge, which is north of Sydney and some 50 kilometres away, from Monday to Friday he lived in digs at Riverstone. Apparently he called in every day to buy his newspaper which was how he got to know the family and Peg in particular. In June 1982 I sent a letter to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra asking
By John Williams what they could tell me about Harley Harber. They wrote back the following month stating that the late Flight Sergeant H. C. Harber was killed in action on August 24, 1943 while serving with No. 158 Squadron, RAF. They also told me that he was buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery in Berlin-Charlottenburg in Plot 2, Row E, Grave 20. I didn’t know it at the time, but this one letter would have far-reaching consequences that would take me, on more than one occasion, to the other side of the world and back. It was the beginning of a journey of discovery that would last for well over 20 years.
An Australian, Harley Harber (pictured above left in George Street, Sydney), was just one of the 47,268 crewmen lost while serving with RAF Bomber Command (including 8,209 Canadians, 3,412 Australians, and 1,433 New Zealanders). A further 8,305 were killed in non-operational accidents plus 1,570 ground crews. As we reported in recent issues, memorials have now been inaugurated covering many aspects of the war: women, animals, D-Day, the Battle of Britain, etc, but so far Bomber Command has missed out. In the four months of the Battle of Britain, Fighter Command lost 541 pilots but Bomber Command sometimes lost more than that number in a single night! Harley survived just three operations — just a tenth of a normal tour of duty comprising 30 sorties which the Air Ministry deemed gave the individual a 50-50 chance of survival. Squadron Leader Gilbert Howarth has written that ‘Men went missing during the night but the replacements were on site by 0800 hours the following day. No gaps were ever visible in the ranks’. Right to the end, aircrews just boosted up their morale by the simple but-often effective saying: ‘It won’t happen to me’.
Stanton Harcourt, April 1943. The crew join each other, L-R: Sergeant Arthur Cox, the wireless operator; Flight Sergeant THE CREW The RAF had an odd way of assigning a crew. They put all the pilots, navigators, bomb-aimers, wireless operators and gunners together and then allowed them to choose themselves. Flight Sergeant William Arnold Burgum, 414463, a pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force, was posted to No. 10 Operational Training Unit at Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire, very close to the ancient and historical town of Oxford. The Whitleys at No. 10 OTU required a five-man crew so he needed a navigator, bomb-aimer, wireless operator and a gunner. The men he got together were: Navigator: Sergeant Peter Leighton Buck, 1391079, RAF. Bomb-aimer: Sergeant Donald Roy Hempstock, 1578243, RAF. Wireless op: Sergeant Arthur Cox 1175980, RAF. Rear gunner: Flight Sergeant Harley Cecil Harber, 421595, RAAF. Exactly how the crew came together will never be known but it is likely that Bill and Harley, recognising each other as Australians by the deeper blue of their uniforms, decided to team up as they came from the same part of the world. It was at OTU training that the crew bonded as a unit. They would go everywhere together; live together; go to the pub together, and become closer to one another than they would to their own families. They had to have confidence in their skipper and believe that his orders in the air decided whether they lived or died. He in turn had to have confidence in each man in his crew that they would carry out their individual responsibilities correctly as his life depended on their accurate judgment. They were a team,
Bill Burgum, pilot; Flight Sergeant Harley Harber, the tail gunner, and in front, the bomb-aimer Sergeant Don Hempstock.
and as a team would live, fight and, if luck went against them, die together. After spending about two months — from April 6 to June 15, 1943 — at Stanton Harcourt, the crew were sent to No. 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit based at Riccall in Yorkshire to be trained in the skills of flying a heavy four-engine bomber. As this required a seven-man crew, they were joined by a flight engineer, Sergeant Roland Hill, 1202448, and a second gunner, Flight Sergeant Gordon Harrison, R/76374, of the Royal Canadian Air Force. For the next eight weeks each man worked hard to fine-tune his skills. The two gunners had to work as a team. Harley, or ‘Happy’ as he was known to the crew, in the rear turret was regarded as the senior gunner with Gordon in the mid-upper. On August 4, 1943, the crew had a close call during one of their training flights. They took off in a Halifax II, with Bill Burgum at the controls and his instructor Flying Officer J. G. Jenkins beside him, the rest of the crew occupying their usual positions on the aircraft, to carry out circuits and landings. Shortly before 1750 hours, Bill touched down heavily on one wheel and the plane bounced back into the air. Bill opened up and went around again and, despite the distraction of the warning horn sounding, brought the aircraft in for a second attempt. However, on touching down, the undercarriage collapsed. All those on board were unharmed, but the Halifax, W1093, was a write-off. After nearly two months at No. 1658 HCU, the crew were posted to No. 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett on August 10, 1943. Seven days later they went on their first raid.
The fifth man on the Whitley was the navigator, Sergeant Peter Buck. 23
Left: A moment’s relaxation outside Brigstowe Cottage in the nearby village of Sutton. L-R: Don Hempstock, Arthur Cox and Harley Harber. Right: Our author John Williams travelled from Australia to seek out their old billet. He also traced the location
PEENEMÜNDE On the hot and sunny afternoon of August 17, Bill and his crew found themselves listed to fly on the bombing attack against the V-weapon research complex at Peenemünde (see After the Battle No. 74) scheduled for that night, August 17/18. Summoned to the briefing in the operations room, the older hands noticed the heightened security with this mission, which was code-named Operation ‘Hydra’. Peenemünde lay some 180 kilometres north of Berlin. It was an easily recognisable target as it was on the Baltic coast and the island of Rügen lay to the north-west. The aircraft would be attacking in bright moonlight, which was unusual as Bomber Command normally did not venture that far into Germany on moonlit nights. The aircraft were also to attack at 8,000 feet, a lower altitude than their normal bombing height of at least 18,000 feet The crews were not told the true reason for this attack, only that the Germans were working on a new form of radar that would be used against the bombers. They were also told that if they did not destroy the target in this attack, they would have to return the next night and the next night until they did. As part of the cover for the raid, a diversionary attack was planned for eight Mosquitoes of No. 139 Squadron to be sent ahead to bomb Berlin. It was hoped that this would draw the German night fighters away from the main bomber force attacking Peenemünde. A number of Mosquitoes and Beaufighters were also sent to the German night fighter airfields to attack the enemy aircraft as they were taking off. In all, 596 bombers — 324 Lancasters, 218 Halifaxes and 54 Stirlings — were detailed to attack Peenemünde and of the Halifaxes, 24 would come from No. 158 Squadron. 24
of the picture below which he found had also been taken in Sutton. Then it was called the Chequers but now it is the Freeyman Inn. The two men having their breakfast are Don, two unknowns, Harley and Bill.
For Bill and his crew the raid went without a hitch. As their Halifax HR738 approached the target, Don opened the bomb doors and looked down through his bomb-sight at the fast approaching target, their bombs being released at 0029 hours. The squadron Operations Record Book records the crew’s com-
ments: ‘Visibility was good, with light cloud and smoke over the target. Target identified by Green Target Indicators. Cluster of greens in bomb-sight on bombing. Bombing appeared to be well concentrated on markers. The MC [Master of Ceremonies directing the raid] could be heard through some distortion.’
Having been posted to Riccall in Yorkshire to undergo conversion to four-engined bombers with seven-man crews, they were joined by a second gunner, Sergeant Gordon Harrison (left), and Sergeant Roland Hill as flight engineer (right).
LEVERKUSEN Four days later the crew found themselves on the battle order for an attack on Leverkusen on the night of August 22/23, for which the squadron was to provide a 22strong force. For this mission, Bill and his crew were allocated Halifax JD298, ‘N’ for Nuts, and christened JAFBO standing for ‘Just About Feeling Browned Off’. This aircraft had been on the strength of the squadron since June 30, this being its 13th trip. It would be lost on the raid to Nuremberg the following week. The bomb-load for this trip to Leverkusen would be one 1,000lb bomb with a 37A timedelay pistol, one 1,000lb GP bomb, plus a mixture of 4lb and 30lb incendiary bombs. Bill and the crew were part of a force of 462 aircraft — 257 Lancasters, 192 Halifaxes and 13 Mosquitoes — assigned to the operation. The aiming point was the IG Farben chemical factory. The raid was not very successful, thick clouds covering the target area and bombs falling over a wide area. Having cleared Leverkusen, Bill’s Halifax was just crossing the border between Germany and Belgium when at 0032 hours they saw another Halifax off to starboard come under attack from a German night fighter. This is their report: ‘Halifax II, Series 1A, ‘N’ JD298 of No. 158 Squadron. Target — Leverkusen-Köln. Position 51.05N 06.25E. Time 0032 hours Height 18,000 feet. Speed 155 IAS. Heading 279M. Weather, clear and moon on [unreadable] beam, no searchlights or flak, IFF off. Enemy aircraft identified as twin-engine aircraft firing at Halifax aircraft on starboard beam 500-600 yards away. ‘Rear gunner sighted Halifax on starboard beam being attacked by enemy aircraft which was about 100 yards away and then saw Halifax shot down by e/a. As e/a was fir-
ing at Halifax, both rear gunner and midupper gunner opened fire, then e/a turned in to attack own a/c. Rear gunner gave combat manoeuvre to pilot, a diving turn to starboard, and enemy aircraft passed under own aircraft at 100 feet below, firing at own aircraft and was then lost to sight. No damage to own aircraft or casualties to crew. Damages claimed to e/a by both rear and midupper gunner. Number of rounds fired — 350.’ In all, Bomber Command lost three Lancasters and two Halifaxes on this raid. BERLIN No sooner had they returned to base than Bill and his crew were assigned to an attack on Berlin the following night, August 23/24. This was the start of Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris’ long-awaited attack on the German capital — ‘the Big City’ as it was known to the aircrews. As the curtain covering the map of Europe in the operations room was drawn back, the crews could see that they would be heading more or less on a straight line from where they crossed the Dutch coast to Germany, heading straight for a point to the south of Berlin. From here they would swing north to bomb the city, then head north and turn west over the Baltic to cross Denmark at its narrowest section before heading back to their respective bases. The reason for this long trip via Denmark was the hope that the bombers could outrun the night fighters and so make them land to refuel. In all 727 aircraft would take part in the attack — 335 Lancasters, 251 Halifaxes, 124 Stirlings and 17 Mosquitoes. Bill and his crew were allocated Halifax HR980, ‘E’ for Edward. It had arrived on the squadron on August 3 and this would be its inaugural trip. The bomb-load for this mis-
The crew came to grief from the guns of a night fighter on their third mission — the August 23/24 operation to Berlin. They crashed not far from Hermann Göring’s estate at Carinhall (see After the Battle No. 71). Only three bodies were
sion was one 1,000lb MC, plus 420 4lb, 30 4lb ‘X’-type and 40 30lb incendiaries. After completing a test-flight on the new bomber and the usual pre-take off checks, Bill swung HR980 on to the allocated runway and, allowing the engines to reach maximum revolutions, released the brakes, taking off at 2014 hours. The Operations Record Book shows only a stark entry next for their Halifax: ‘Aircraft took off at time stated and failed to return. Nothing was heard of aircraft or crew.’ It was a bland, cold statement, typical of service terminology, blunt and matter of fact. The simple phrase ‘failed to return’ had been entered so many times before and would be entered many times in the future — in fact, over 10,000 times for aircraft of Bomber Command alone, recording the loss of over 47,000 men. Crews speak highly of the punctual and efficient way the Pathfinder Force marked the route and the target on the Berlin raid. A very concentrated attack quickly developed round the markers, causing large fires and a series of very heavy explosions which lit up the sky and from which flames appeared to leap to a great height. Smoke from the fires billowed up over 15,000 feet. Some crews claim to have identified ground detail in the Tiergarten area in the light of the fires and bomb bursts, and it is evident from the pilots’ reports that the main weight of the attack fell to the west and south-west of the city. A photo-reconnaissance pilot who was over Berlin the following afternoon reported dense columns of smoke rising to 20,000 feet: ‘Preliminary examination of the film reveals that the smoke completely obliterates the whole of Berlin south-east of a diagonal line running from south-west to north-east of the city. The Charlottenburg district suffered greatly from fires. A chain of about 80 fires
recovered from the crash. They were initially buried in Reiersdorf (Kreis Templin) but in November 1947 were exhumed and re-interred in Berlin War Cemetery. Only Flight Sergeant Harber and Sergeant Cox could be identified. 25
was seen on the western fringe of the dense smoke. The fires appeared to be burning in the top storeys of residential buildings, starting from Bismarckstrasse in the north of the Charlottenburg district to Bahnhof Steglitz in the south. In all, about 100 fires were seen. There was little fresh damage in the central city area or the north of Berlin.’ In all, 56 aircraft were lost on the raid — Bomber Command’s greatest loss of aircraft in one night so far in the war. Nos. 78 and 158 Squadrons (Bill’s squadron) lost the most aircraft, each losing five. In the morning there would be many familiar faces missing from the messes or in the pubs and dance halls of the nearby towns. For many local people who had in a very short space of time become friends with the aircrews, there would be no news of the fate of those who failed to return. For the loved ones, the telegram would arrive with its dreaded message like this one received by George Burgum, Bill’s father: ‘Regret to inform you that your son Sergeant William Arnold Burgum is missing as result of air operations on the 23 Aug 1943 stop letter will follow.’
Having travelled over 10,000 miles to England, John then went on to Germany to investigate the crash site in the Forsterei Reiersdorf which had been shown to him by the son of the local mayor, Marko Unglaube.
Pieces from the Halifax are still lying on the surface. The final fate of Bill and his crew would not be settled until April 1948 when letters were received from the Air Ministry by the next of kin of Harley Harber and Arthur Cox stating that their remains had been interred in the Berlin War Cemetery. But the remaining five crewmen — Peter Buck, Don Hempstock, Roland Hill, Gordon Harrison and Bill Burgum — were still listed as missing, a fate that would haunt their loved ones and never leave them for the rest of their lives. LOOKING BACK Although I had known about Harley all my life, I only had a very small link to the past: the photo that my mother had kept. After I received the reply in 1982 from the Australian War Memorial telling me where he was buried, I began my search for the remainder of the crew. Over the next eight years I was able to track down a relative of all seven members. This was all done in the times before Internet and required a great deal of letter-writing. From this research I was able to find out more about the crew and the operations they took part in, enough in fact to write a book. I discovered that they had been shot down by a German night fighter some 50 kilometres north of Berlin after the Halifax had left the target area. The crash site was in a swamp in the Forsterei Reiersdorf, five kilometres south of the village of Gollin (on the B109 Berlin to Prenzlau road) in East Germany. I found that the Germans had searched the area a few days after the crash 26
but were only able to recover a small part of the aircraft and the bodies of Flight Sergeant Harber, Sergeant Cox and one that they could not identify. Despite the use of special salvage equipment they were unable to retrieve any more of the aircraft or crew.
In 1947 RAF investigators from the Missing Research and Enquiry Service arrived but, despite their best efforts, they were unable to recover anything further. Then in 1949 the Iron Curtain descended over that part of Germany preventing further efforts and by the time I came to research the incident the Wall dividing East and West had been in place for many years. But times change. In 2000, after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and reunification of Germany, I sent a letter to the local mayor requesting help in locating the crash site. The mayor’s son Marko Unglaube wrote back saying that he knew precisely where it was and that he would send some photos. To my surprise he said that pieces of the aircraft were still lying on the surface. Further enquiries revealed that the swamp is now more like a bog and that the remains of the Halifax are just below the surface. In April 2002 I flew to London and then on to Berlin to visit the crash site. To me it was the end of a 20-year search that began with an old faded photograph and ended in a bog on the other side of the world. These airmen died a long way from home. They had left to fight for a better world and died for it. It is hard now as I look at their happy faces knowing what I know now. I think that I mourn for their lost youth, their chance to lead a full and happy life. We owe them a debt we can never repay.
A team has now been put together to recover the remains of the other four crewmen. All that is awaited is a decision from the British and German governments as to which one is responsible for the operation.
THE TUNNELS OF DOVER CASTLE By Roy Humphreys
The medieval Dover Castle on the white cliffs facing the Channel hides a labyrinth of tunnels, underground passages and vaults For a thousand years, a fortification has stood on the white cliffs at Dover overlooking the English Channel as a first line of defence against the foreign invader. From early Roman days and subsequently over 900 years, every new phase of Britain in the making has left its mark upon the castle. It was during the Napoleonic Wars, between 1793 and 1815, that miners first began burrowing into the chalk cliff on which ‘The Key of England’ majestically sits. Simultaneously with the addition of barracks, gun batteries, moats and the paraphernalia of war that were being built to the west of Dover, seven tunnels (or casemates), were being driven inwards from the cliff face within the castle boundary. The chalk strata, a soft white limestone deposit, the origins of
beneath its rock-solid facade. In the left background three dummy oil tanks from World War II (Simmonds Aerofilms).
which date to about 100 million years, is easy to work and relatively safe to excavate, a fact not lost on military engineers, who began their onerous task of hand-digging these tunnels from the south-eastern cliff face in about 1797. It was from here in 1940 — in what became famously known as the Admiralty Casemate nearly 60 metres below ground level — that Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay, Flag Officer Dover, secretly masterminded the evacuation of over 300,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. Because of its close proximity to France, Dover has always been a likely target for any invading army seeking to establish a foothold on English soil and anxious to secure a sheltered harbour. The efforts to prevent this happening was never greater than during the
Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars when the government of the day poured money into fortifying both the town and port. Gun batteries were installed at sea level, just below the castle, and the defences of the castle itself were modernised. Military engineers tunnelled into the cliff face, midway between the lower gun batteries and those situated on the cliff top and within the castle grounds. Two groups of three parallel tunnels ran in from the cliff face, substantial in size and brick-lined, creating the first underground barracks of this kind in Britain. Guns were to be emplaced at the seaward end of the tunnels while vertical ventilation shafts were cut at the inland end to disperse gun smoke. Access to these tunnels, later known as casemates, was served by a smaller, unlined communication passage 27
HELLFIRE CORNER TUNNELS An elevation through the cliff Spiral Staircase
Lift Shaft 1958
Ventilation shafts 1797-98
Ventilation shafts 1797-98 Annexe Entrance
Annexe Level 1941-42
Casemate Entrance (Rear Communication Tunnel) Stairs
Casemate Level 1797-1810 (open to visitors)
Dumpy Level 1942
The castle had been built for King Henry II in the 12th century but it was the threat from Napoleon 600 years later which prompted the construction of extensive fortifications to defend Dover against a possible invasion by France. British military engineers already had experience of building tunnels in Gibraltar (see After the Battle No. 21) so a decision was which linked each of them at the rear. Near the southern or seaward end of the easternmost tunnel — later to become the Admiralty Casemate in WWII — a second communication passage was cut behind the cliff face linking the eastern group to an open area in front of the three western tunnels. Known as ‘The Terrace’, at its western end a brick-faced tunnel gradually sloped upwards to ground level to provide an access route for moving heavy guns and associated equipment into the casemates.
made to construct underground facilities beneath the castle for accommodation of the garrison, gun crews and stores. Tunnelling began in 1797 at what is termed Casemate level, seven tunnels being completed by 1810. Additional layers of tunnels were added during the Second World War: Bastion level (1941), Annexe level (1941-42) and Dumpy (1942).
However, by the time these tunnels were finished in about 1810, the threat of invasion had largely diminished, and it appears that the guns were never mounted during the remainder of the Napoleonic War. Instead the tunnels and passages were maintained after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo so that when the First World War broke out in 1914 they were available, albeit for less exciting storage purposes. The signal station for the Dover Patrol was situated above on the cliff face.
It was during the Second World War period, with enemy-occupied territory now only 21 miles away, that the underground Napoleonic complex came into its own. ViceAdmiral Ramsay and his naval staff moved in to occupy the eastern casemate in 1939 where he created the first operations room. A telegraph operator, Charles Seyd, who arrived just one week before war began, recalled receiving a signal from the Admiralty on September 3, 1939 ‘to fuse all warheads — prepare for war’. 11
When the Second World War began Vice-Admiral Bertram Ramsay was appointed Flag Officer Dover. As he had served in the Dover Patrol in the First World War he was very familiar with the defences of the port and, because of the new threat from aerial bombing, he established his headquarters in the easternmost section of the Napoleonic Casemate tunnel complex. 30
Based at the Royal Engineers supply depot at Canterbury, Sergeant Thomas Groves was responsible for supplying corrugated steel sheet and its upright supports to various tunnelling companies working in South Eastern Command. He was on permanent attachment to Dover Castle, arranging supplies directly to detachments of Nos. 171, 172 and 173 Tunnelling Companies, RE, who were busy cutting through chalk immediately above and behind the original Napoleonic casemates. This new section became known as ‘Annexe’ and was being built to house a dressing station, dormitories, kitchens and messing facilities. The dressing station was later extended to a 500-bed hospital with two operating theatres. One detachment from No. 172 Tunnelling Company had recently been working in Gibraltar (see After the Battle No. 21) where they had been engaged cutting through solid rock but they said tunnelling through chalk was a piece of cake. The defence of the castle in 1940 was both bizarre and medieval in concept. Private Pearce, serving with the 15th Battalion Queen’s Royal Regiment, recalled the chalk passages were stacked with obsolete 40lb RAF bombs. Elsewhere were stored a number of wooden frames approximately 12 feet long, supported on legs which were about 18 inches high. These frames consisted of two solid wooden planks about six inches wide, and they were fixed to the legs to form a Vshaped channel, rather like a narrow trough. In the event of an invasion they were be strategically placed along the cliff top for the purpose of directing the bombs onto the heads of the enemy at the foot of the cliff! After the Dunkirk evacuation, the nerve centre for the Channel coastal artillery (see After the Battle No. 29) moved in from Fort Burgoyne and by 1941 over 4,000 gunners were being controlled from this point. The operations staff occupied a small room known as the ‘Movements Room’ where the positions of enemy shipping were plotted, and also Allied vessels to avoid shelling them by mistake. Interceptions, battles and skirmishes, between a variety of German warships, Royal Navy MTBs and MGBs, coupled with enemy long-range artillery shelling shore installations and shipping in the Dover Strait, was monitored by staff working a three-shift system. Information was received, both day and night, from coastal observation posts, RAF reconnaissance pilots, warships and radar stations. As the war effort expanded, so the tunnels became crammed with communication equipment and the people using it so a decision was taken in early 1941 to extend the tunnels slightly above and to the rear of the eastern Admiralty Casemate. Additional
Typical rather crude office accommodation in the high-vaulted Casemate level tunnels. Although there is no question that these pictures are genuine Admiralty photos taken in Casemate level, the original caption is somewhat of an enigma as it states: ‘Staff Room, Dover Castle for film set reconstruction’. (IWM)
These two photographs are part of the same series so they may show the other end of the same room as the corridor — the vertical wood boarding on the right, is on the correct side.
As we can see daylight above the end partition in the picture on the left, most probably this is the office to the rear of the Vice-Admiral’s cabin (see overleaf). (IWM) 31
Vice-Admiral Ramsay’s cabin was at the extreme southern end of the easternmost tunnel of Casemate level where he could enjoy the view over Dover harbour. (IWM)
The office layout in March 1939. 32
Today Casemate Tunnel has been stripped bare of its wartime office partitioning, the air conditioning having been installed during the Cold War period to provide ventilation for Dumpy level which was converted into a bomb-proof Regional Seat of Government as a preparation for a possible nuclear war.
Right: Bertram Ramsay joined the Royal Navy in 1898 and commanded M.25 and HMS Broke in the Dover Patrol from 1915 to 1919. His inter-war commands included HMS Weymouth (1924-25), HMS Danae (1925-27), HMS Kent (192931) and HMS Royal Sovereign (1933-35). In 1935 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and, after having been appointed to a number of staff roles including Chief-ofStaff to the Commander of the Home Fleet, Sir Roger Backhouse, to ViceAdmiral in 1938. From 1939 to 1942 Ramsay was Flag Officer commanding Dover and as such was responsible for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk — Operation ‘Dynamo’ — in 1940. In 1942 he was appointed Deputy Naval Commander-inChief to work with General Eisenhower on Operation ‘Torch’ — the landings in North Africa — and the following year was Naval Commander for the invasion of Sicily — Operation ‘Husky’ (see After the Battle No. 77). This led to his becoming the Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief for the D-Day landings (Operation ‘Neptune’) when he was promoted to Admiral. On January 2, 1945, Admiral Ramsay was killed when the aircraft he was travelling in crashed on take-off in France (see After the Battle No. 87). (IWM)
Left: Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects maps at the plotting table in front of the window. In the second shot (right), taken during Churchill’s visit to Dover on August 28, 1940,
we can see the corridor entrance to the cabin on the left. Brigadier C. W. Raw, the commander of XII Corps which included the coastal batteries in the area, stands on the right. (IWM)
Unfortunately Admiral Ramsay’s office was used for the huge air intake making meaningful comparisons difficult. Nevertheless this is where the Admiral was pictured with Churchill in 1940. 33
tunnellers were brought in to excavate a new level which was intended to accommodate a combined headquarters complex called ‘Bastion’. It was an ambitious plan consisting of an upper floor, cut in a grid pattern, just behind and to the rear of the old Napoleonic casemates, and was intended not only to ease the pressure on space, but as a standby HQ should the operations centre at Portsmouth be put out of action. To minimise disturbance of the existing facilities, a working tunnel was driven from above. At the same time a separate tunnel was started at the rear of the casemate level running almost parallel with the rear communication tunnel at the base of the spiral stairway, intending to link the new complex to the casemates. Work progressed and more than 50 per cent had been completed when severe subsidence occurred. Although the method of working was the same as that used in the mining industry, where the only unsupported area is the work face, it is thought that the problem was caused by the proposed central plotting room which had a large, unsupported ceiling in excess of the usual six-toten-feet roof span supported by chalk pillars. After consultation, further work on the Bastion was abandoned. The only entrance had been through the construction tunnel through which all the chalk spoil was removed which exited through the cliff face. To prevent further subsidence, this entrance was cleared and the corrugated sheet lining removed. It was then back-filled and cemented over before a wall was built. An emergency flight of stairs at the back of the complex had already been cut through to within a few feet of the surface
We are told that the PM was most reluctant to don a steel helmet, his ‘John Bull’ hat being his trademark along with the cigar. Two more changes of headgear are shown below. (IWM) within the castle grounds when the work was suddenly stopped. During tunnelling operations, several million cubic yards of spoil had to be disposed off, most of which was being dumped in the sea just off of the Eastern Mole but it showed up clearly on RAF reconnaissance
photographs. This became the subject of a report signed by the Superintending Engineer on March 4, 1942, which stated that ‘considerable difficulties . . . due to spoil exposure . . . ensure prompt action following completion to study long term camouflage policy’.
Above: In June 1941, Churchill was pictured on the balcony outside accompanied by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir John Dill. Note the Lewis gun mounted on the parapet behind Vice-Admiral Ramsay. (IWM) Below: Same balcony in October 1942. Now the Prime Minister is showing the view to the South African premier, Field-Marshal Jan Smuts; Sir Kingsley Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and others during a tour of the defences in the area. (IWM)
When our Editor-in-Chief visited Dover he found that the parapet had been increased in height and an outer window installed. 34
Left: Here the Admiral is relaxing on the balcony outside the adjacent tunnel which housed the AA and Coastal Operations In late 1942 cutting was re-commenced at a lower level beneath the casemates forming an area of tunnels, passages and rooms, which by 1943 became known as ‘Dumpy’. The chalk strata in this location was easily cut into by Holman pneumatic picks connected by air-line to compressed air generator units situated outside in the moat area. The Dumpy complex of tunnels was in fact extended outwards from a former Napoleonic magazine reached through an old lift shaft. Occasional heavy rainfall would often penetrate the chalk and this remained a problem even after the corrugated sheet steel linings were erected. Seepage was directed into the extensive, and sometimes complicated, main drainage system. Between 200 and 300 skilled tradesmen of No. 693 AW Company of the Royal Engineers consisting of carpenters, bricklayers, masons, plumbers, electricians and painters, followed on the heels of the tunnellers. Chalk spoil from the workface, where four mining sappers were cutting, was shovelled by pioneers into metal trucks running on the small-gauge railway system which led through a service tunnel to the edge of the cliff. There the trucks were tipped up sending the contents 60 feet onto an area where a couple of houses had been demolished at East Cliff. From there the spoil was shovelled onto a conveyer belt system which carried it to the Eastern Mole where it was dumped into the sea. Lighting at the chalk face was initially provided by a wanderinglead system until the more permanent lighting fixtures were installed by the electricians. The Dumpy complex was eventually fitted out as a fully-equipped operational headquarters for the joint services. A Ruston & Hornsby power generator back-up system was installed along with an up-to-date air conditioning system installed by G. N. Haden of Trowbridge. Communication between the various offices was provided by the efficient, although dated, Lamson vacuum tube system, whereby messages were quickly transferred in cylindrical containers propelled by compressed air through threeinch diameter tubes. Correspondence between the various commands early in 1942 reveals that ‘there is a considerable amount of tunnelled accommodation in the castle other than that in the actual casemates’ and that ‘additional tunnelled accommodation at Dover is required so that staff may live underground under conditions of prolonged siege and constant bombing attacks to which this fortress may well be subjected. Even if the rest of Dover
Rooms (see  on the map on page 30). Right: The railings were later replaced by brickwork with a window above.
should be overrun by the enemy, the castle itself is a very strong defended locality which is intended to hold out independently and must therefore be self-contained.’ Churchill showed great interest in the lower level — the Dumpy Combined Services complex — nearing completion, which was to house the supplementary naval, army and RAF units. He was, however, amused to discover that the previous Flag Officer Dover had refused to vacate his office because, through his window in the casemate, he could observe the ‘goings on’ outside. Rosemary Keyes (Lord Keyes’s niece), served as a WRN cipher officer and remembers the rabbit warren of dark, dreary, damp and airless passages and rooms. ‘We worked all day in electric light and only saw daylight when we went to the “heads” to spend a penny. This was a small room which contained a noisome “thunderbox” and a beautiful view over Dover Harbour, seen through a small window cut into the cliff face, but only if you stood on the lavatory seat’. The multitude of telephone cables which
were eventually connected with Dumpy came from coastal gun sites, anti-aircraft sites, brigade headquarters, fortress plotting rooms, gun plotting rooms, airfields and airsea rescue, not to mention the naval operations. It was a source of wonder to the uninitiated how the telephone engineers knew which wire was which when repairs were needed. Even more disconcerting was that the whole gamut tended to confuse the most intelligent of staff when no one was quite sure who was who, who worked where, and what their particular job was. Security became a nightmare. Military police of all three services were not only at the entrance to the castle, but also at the entrance to the tunnels, and armed guards were on sentry duty around the castle perimeter. The incessant din created by the air compressors and picks, reverberating through the metal ventilation boxes, permeated every room, cubicle and passage throughout the casemates, as the tunnellers frantically cut through new chalk in an effort to finish their task on time.
The large terrace balcony ( on the map on page 30) is the one used for publicity shots like this one of Vera Lynn taken in May 1990 when she officially unveiled the opening of the tunnel complex to the public. She was pictured with several Dunkirk veterans, Roger Bellamy, Bernard Whiting and Les Tyler. 35
This isometric view — not to scale — shows the relationship of the three additional tunnel complexes dug during the Second World War. Bombardment of Dover from the German long-range heavy artillery in the Pas de Calais (see After the Battle No. 29), increased the need for sheltered accommodation at Dover, so what had been purely a naval station was enlarged to become a fully fledged tri-service headquarters. The first extension was the Annexe level, initially for medical facilities but later used for dormitaries, followed by Bastion intended for the new combined headquarters but which had to be abandoned when serious rock falls took place during its construction. In its place a new area was chosen beneath the Casemate level for Dumpy which, when completed in 1943, eventually did become the new combined headquarters. In October 1942 an additional request was made for two subsidiary tunnelled dugouts for wireless transmitter stations located about a mile from the castle. The completion date for installation of power supplies to these two transmitter stations, one at Langdon Hole and another at the Danes, was required by the same date as the main complex of tunnels under the castle. The commander of No. 172 Tunnelling Company estimated that each new tunnel would take from six to eight weeks to complete but that he could not spare any men from the main tunnel complex (Dumpy) if it was to be completed any earlier. He further suggested that if the whole project was put back a month he would need about 60 extra tunnellers from the beginning of November for two months. In December 1942, gas proofing of the Dover casemates was brought up for discussion but it was decided not to proceed with this proposal as it would mean cutting a new tunnel entrance and disturbing the Post Office equipment already installed which was in constant use.
ANNEXE UPPER LEVEL
CASEMATE MIDDLE LEVEL
DUMPY LOWER LEVEL
Left: Sappers removed only enough rock to enable each section of the steel shuttering to be put in place. The lightweight Holman pick was ideal for cutting into the chalk. Above: The spoil was dumped through the cliff face. (IWM) 36
Dumpy — the new Combined Headquarters — was required for Operation ‘Overlord’ in case the main operations centre behind Ken Flint, Royal Signals, arrived at Dumpy in 1943. He recalls: ‘We walked along rough-hewn greenygrey passageways cut out of solid chalk. Occasionally the steady drip, drip of water not only permeated the ceilings but also our forage caps. The tunnels rambled gently downwards until we were at the top of a very steep flight of concrete steps, fortunately well lit and provided with a handrail of sorts. At the bottom was a maze of passages with fluorescent lights, festooned with pipes, cables and nozzles blowing out tangy salt air. ‘It was in the small hours of one early
Portsmouth was put out of action, and to cater for the operational side of the three services. It was completed by 1943.
morning in late 1943, whilst sitting with headphones on in front of the receiver concentrating on accurately recording the umpteenth of a never ending stream of fiveletter cipher groups, that the door was suddenly flung open dramatically and three or four face-blackened and tommy-gun-armed commandos burst in. Their officer waved a pistol at us and ordered us to switch off and stop sending any more gen. ‘At that hour in the morning, with one’s brain addled with radio atmospherics and interference, we did as we were told and sat back in our chairs obediently. We later learned they rampaged through the whole
Left: The security of the new HQ was tested by commandos who easily gained access by climbing the spoil heap on the left
of the Combined HQ but seemed unaware the army cipher room was at the end of our radio bay. Had they known about it they could have boasted of its capture. Naturally there was never any mention of this mock attack, made by commandos who had climbed the cliff face and entered the tunnels through a ventilation shaft. Rumour had it that the top brass had never considered the Germans would have gained entry by this difficult route.’ The only casualty was a GPO technician working on wires in a small cubicle. A well aimed thunder-flash exploded close to him with deafening results.
and entering Dumpy via one of the ventilation shafts. (Paul Wells) Right: East Cliff virtually unchanged 60 years later 37
Annexe level which was excavated in 1941-42 was initially intended for use as a hospital but never used in that capacity.
During the heavy shelling of Dover in 1944 it was converted into male and female dormitories.
This plan of the abandoned Bastion complex shows where the workings were sealed up — denoted by the heavy black lines. 38
In 1958 the Navy quit their underground headquarters and handed the complex over to the Home Office which was in the process of establishing Regional Seats of Government (RSG) which would operate as secure accommodation for government in time of a nuclear attack. Huge sums of money were spent in modernising the facilities in the westernmost tunnels of Casemate level with air filtration and new generators and including stockpiles of food, fuel and water. At the same time Admiral Ramsay’s HQ in the three eastern tunnels was abandoned and all the equipment eventually removed. After the Second World War just about everything moveable was cleared from the Casemate complex, Annexe and Dumpy. An eerie silence descended on the tunnels, broken only by the occasional exclamation of wonder from an occasional visitor. The fascination with Dover’s tunnels is insatiable, perhaps centring on the gritty toil of the tunnellers or on the darkened abandoned vaults and chambers that were synonymous with the threat of war. In the second half of the 20th century, the ‘Cold War’ between the Soviet bloc and the West initiated a new round of construction of a network of subterranean facilities which could withstand a nuclear attack. Bunkers, especially designed to protect both military nerve-centres and central and regional government, were built at huge cost and in great secrecy. Dover’s tunnels became one of the locations chosen. Following the Berlin crisis of 1948, improvements in the UK’s air defence involved re-opening some of the WWII radar stations and even constructing new ones. It was primarily a quick solution to an otherwise thorny problem of providing an adequate radar system at a bearable cost. The inadequacies of wartime equipment called for a more up-to-date system which brought about the ‘Rotor Scheme’ developed jointly by the Air Staff and the Ministry of Supply during the 1950s. Even so, the first Rotor was seen as a poor substitute until more-powerful high-discrimination centimetric radar became available in late 1957. Swingate’s Chain Home site above Dover was overhauled and re-equipped, and to maintain the necessary high level of air coverage from Portland Bill to Flamborough Head, 28 Chain Home Extra Stations were restored, and 14 new Chain Early Warning (CEW) and Chain Home Extra Low (CHEL) stations, one of which was the St Margaret’s station, were introduced.
Within the scope of the various reporting stations were the Anti-Aircraft Operations Rooms (AAORs), one of which used the Dumpy complex beneath Dover Castle. This unit was in immediate contact with the nearest Ground Control Intercept (GCI) at Sandwich and which in turn was in contact with the Sector Operations Centre (SOC) at Kelveden Hatch, Essex. The visible evidence of a Rotor station being built was all too obvious to any casual observer as huge excavations were neces-
sary before any construction work was undertaken. The AAOR beneath Dover Castle, although built to a standard design, did not call for a massive rebuild other than the installation of blast-proof steel doors at the entrances and exits, with steel plates protecting the grills over the ventilation shafts. Inside, the usual two-storey operations room was overlooked by a balcony on three sides, fitted with curved perspex glazing that gave an unobstructive view of the plotting table below. Corridors around the outside of the operations room gave access to the offices and cubicles; below was housed the generator unit providing emergency electrical power, and next to it was the forced-air ventilation room. The Dumpy AAOR was abandoned after the demise of Anti-Aircraft Command in 1955. Later Dumpy was re-instated to form one of the Regional Seats of Government (RSGs) to be manned in the event of nuclear war. The whole complex was reactivated but on a much larger scale and with more modern equipment. Included was a complete BBC studio whose signals would use the underground cable systems still connected to the two original transmitters outside the castle. Although it was hidden behind a veil of anonymity, the Regional Seat of Government at Dover Castle was no more secret to the local populace than was their involvement with the Civil Defence Corps. Men and women, family and friends, not only knew of its existence but allowed the fact of their involvement to permeate conversation likely to induce a certain awe and wonderment. The only secret lay in the latest technology hidden inside the tunnels where the steel and concrete structure below ground was simply to protect it against blast and radiation. The new centre with its many planning rooms, remained in use until the late 1970s when, just before new work was about to start, it was decided to move the Regional Seat to Crowborough. Once again Dumpy was closed and stripped of its equipment, the government finally relinquishing possession in 1986. When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of the other RSGs were abandoned and by the end of the decade all had been sold off or left to decay. The Dover Castle tunnel system is now run by English Heritage although the Dumpy level is still closed to public view.
With the Cold War on the wane, the Home Office relinquished the RSG in 1984 and it was subsequently taken over by English Heritage which opened Casemate level to the public in 1990. Telephone equipment from the 1940s-era was re-installed and the complex christened ‘Hellfire Corner’ after the wartime sobriquet for Dover. 39
At 10.30 a.m. on the morning of August 23, 1944 occurred the worst aircraft crash disaster in the UK during the war when an American B-24 Liberator bomber smashed into the village school of Freckleton in rural Lancashire during a thunderstorm killing 61 people. The tragedy was made even more poignant
by the fact that 38 of the victims were small children, pupils of the nursery class. The Freckleton disaster represented the highest death toll caused by a single aircraft crash in the UK to date (since exceeded by the BEA crash in June 1972 which killed 118 and, of course, Lockerbie in December 1988).
THE FRECKLETON AIR DISASTER Soon after the outbreak of the Second World War it became clear to the British authorities that there would be a need for more airfields in the country and any sites previously thought of as unsuitable would have to be re-looked at. Before the war, a site near the small village of Freckleton in rural Lancashire (between Preston and Blackpool) had been looked at as a potential airfield site. It had been decided at the time that the ground was too marshy, but further towards Blackpool more-suitable ground was found near the village of Warton. In 1940 construction started on an airfield there to act as a satellite for the RAF aerodrome at Squire’s Gate on the outskirts of Blackpool where a number of units were already based. Construction continued and in late 1941 the US Government requested that suitable sites be loaned to them for possible use as air depots for the United States Army Air Force. Four airfields were suggested including Warton, which eventually became known as USAAF Station 582 and the location for US Base Air Depot No. 2. The main function of Base Air Depots in the UK was to receive, maintain, repair and overhaul aircraft for the USAAF in the European Theatre of Operations — with bomber aircraft arriving direct from the United States using the Atlantic air-bridge, and fighters being shipped by sea to either Liverpool or Glasgow, protected against the elements but without propeller, ailerons, wingtips and tails. Upon arrival the aircraft and unfitted items were transported by road to either Speke airport near Liverpool or Renfrew where the missing items were fitted before being flown to Base Air Depot No. 1 at Burtonwood or Base Air Depot No. 2 at Warton. Both depots were part of the US VIII Air Force Service Command, and servicing aircraft for the US Eighth, Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces. 40
Virtually every type of aeroplane used by the USAAF in the ETO passed through Warton, including rare sightings such as the P-61 Black Widow. Every aircraft that was either modified, maintained or repaired also underwent a test flight prior to delivery to a unit and in the months after D-Day the skies around Warton were a very busy place. To give an example, records show that on one single day in June 1944 one test pilot flew 22 test flights in 11 different types of aircraft. Then in August 1944 came a day that will forever stay in the memory of those who served at Base Air Depot No. 2 and the local community. Wednesday, August 23, started
By Niall Cherry as any other normal day with many aircraft movements and work continuing at a pace in the hangars. The weather had started a bright sunny one with some broken cloud. Then at 1030 in the morning the control tower at Warton received a message from USAAF Station 590 at Burtonwood (the site of Base Air Depot No. 1, about 40 miles to the south-east near Warrington) that a severe electrical storm was heading in their direction and to suggest that any airborne aircraft should land as soon as possible.
The aircraft that crashed on the village school, Liberator 42-50291, was up on a test flight from US Base Air Depot No. 2 at nearby Warton airbase. Together with Base Air Depot No. 1 at Burtonwood, 40 miles to the south-east, Base Air Depot No. 2 was responsible for receiving, maintaining, repairing and overhauling all types of aircraft for the US air forces operating in Britain. Here a B-24 is undergoing a maintenance check at one of Warton’s hangars. (USNA)
Above: The pilot of the Liberator, 1st Lieutenant John A. Bloemendal, pictured in the cockpit of a P-51 at Warton. Right: A warning of stormy weather approaching from the south-east, passed on from Burtonwood to Warton, led to all aircraft being recalled to base but Bloemendal never made it. Up on test flights that morning were two B-24 Liberator bombers, 42-50291 (an ex490th Bomb Group aircraft) piloted by 1st Lieutenant John A. Bloemendal, and 4251353 flown by 1st Lieutenant Peter Manaserro. Both aircraft had been refurbished at Base Air Depot No. 2. As Lieutenant Manaserro later reported: ‘At approximately 1030 hours, Lieutenant Bloemendal took off on a local test hop in B-24 #502901. Immediately following Bloemendal I took off in B-24 #51353. The weather conditions at this time were favourable, vision of several miles and a broken ceiling of over 1,500 feet. There appeared to be scattered showers in the area with occasional lightnings. After take-off we headed north and were flying at approximately 1,500 feet. Lieutenant Bloemendal and myself were both standing by on VHF. Bloemendal called to my attention the cloud formation towards the south-south-east. It was a very impressive sight and looked like a thunderhead. Shortly after, “Faram” [the Warton control tower] called Lieutenant Bloemendal and ordered him to return and land immediately.’ The radio messages exchanged between Warton and Bloemendal’s aircraft were recorded (and included in the later crash report): Control tower: ‘Hello Gorgeous John and Gorgeous Peter, this is Faram Control, are you receiving? Over.’ Bloemendal: ‘Hello Faram Control. This is Gorgeous John. Over.’ Control tower: ‘Hello Gorgeous John and Gorgeous Peter, this is Faram Control. You are to land immediately. Over.’ Bloemendal: ‘Hello Faram Control. This is Gorgeous John. Can you give the reason? Is it the weather? Over.’ Control tower: ‘Roger Gorgeous John, that is correct. Ceiling and visibility decreasing rapidly. You are clear and No. 1 to land on Runway 08.’ This last transmission was acknowledged but as the aircraft arrived over Warton the storm was at its height. The rain was so heavy that visibility could be measured in yards, thunder could be heard and sheets of flash lightning illuminated the sky. Winds of over 60mph were recorded at weather stations at the edge of the storm so at the centre they must have been even higher. Indeed trees were uprooted, roofs ripped off buildings and flash floods were reported in Blackpool.
The blazing ruin of the schoolhouse on the south side of Lytham Road after the crash. Nearly 3,000 gallons of 100-octane fuel cascaded over the demolished classroom on impact and flowed down the street, turning the village centre into sea of flames. A wheel from the aircraft’s undercarriage can be seen on the right.
Houses now occupy the site of the village school but Holy Trinity Church on the right remains to pinpoint the spot. 41
Rescuers searching amongst the smouldering debris at the rear of the school. Of the 41 children in the nursery class only three — Ruby Whittle, George Carey and David Madden — survived the catastrophe. Note the large number of US servicemen helping the British firemen, policemen and air raid wardens. As Lieutenant Manaserro later recounted in his statement: ‘I was flying at Lieutenant Bloemendal’s right wing about 100 yards out. As we drew near the field, I drew further out to be in position to land as No. 2. We let down to 500 feet and about four miles northwest of the field we encountered rain and it became heavier with less visibility as we neared the approach to Runway 08. On base leg position Lieutenant Bloemendal let down his gear and I did the same. Shortly after this I lost sight of Bloemendal’s aircraft. As I flew over Lytham, I started a left turn to start the approach. At this time I heard Bloemendal notify Faram that he was pulling up the wheels and going around. I was then over the wash and could not see the ground and had to fly on instruments. I then called Bloemendal and told him we had better head north and get out of the storm. He answered “OK”. I then told him I would take a heading of about 330 degrees. He said “Roger”. That was the last I heard from Lieutenant Bloemendal. I flew about four or five minutes on a heading of about 330 degrees before breaking out of the storm. I then called Bloemendal and asked if he was OK, and did not get a reply.’ Around this time the control tower at Warton sent out a general message ordering all aircraft to fly north of the airfield and await recall instructions when the storm had passed. Manaserro acknowledged this message but nothing was heard from Bloemendal. Just over a mile away local schoolchildren were in their classrooms at the Holy Trinity School in Lytham Road in the middle of Right: One of the fins of the Liberator resting on the smouldering ruin of the café — note the aircraft number 42-50291. The Liberator’s nose was found on the south side of the Lytham Road, while the tail section came to rest over on the north side. This would tend to indicate that the bomber was flying north to south when it crashed, and even today there are still some who are certain that this was the aircraft’s course. However, reliable testimony leaves no doubt that it was in fact flying in the opposite direction, consistent with the normal left-hand traffic pattern of Runway 08 at Warton. 42
Freckleton. Other villagers going out about their normal business had stopped to avoid the rain. As an eyewitness later said to the USAAF crash investigators: ‘I saw the Liberator and heard its roar right over the house. It was flying very low and I saw the right wing go down as the left came up. It seemed to be swaying in the air. I saw no flames. A moment afterwards I heard a crash.’ Without warning Liberator 42-50291 smashed into the village school, completely demolishing the building with great loss of life, and also hitting a car driving through the village containing some servicemen from the base. A snack bar across the road from the school called the Sad Sack was also destroyed with additional loss of life. The crew of the aircraft — Lieutenant Bloemendal, pilot; Corporal James M. Parr, co-pilot; and Sergeant Gordon W. Kinney, flight engineer — all perished in the accident. The evening edition of the Lancashire Daily Post gave a graphic description of the scene immediately after the crash:
‘Appalling tragedy came swiftly to the village of Freckleton, about eight miles from Preston, about 1030 this morning. A plane crashed on the village Church of England school in Lytham Road, completely demolishing the infants’ department, and seriously damaged and set fire to adjoining property. The bodies of 34 children and 16 adults have so far been recovered from the wreckage of the school, including the crew of the plane. There were 41 infants at the school at the time of the crash. ‘The school caretaker’s house was also wrecked and gutted by fire but he and his wife — Mr and Mrs George Porter — are reported safe. ‘Falling across Lytham Road almost at the centre of the village opposite the war memorial, the plane crashed into property on the other side of the road — several houses and a former garage, now used as a Services canteen. It is feared that other people have lost their lives in these premises. ‘The school reassembled only yesterday after the summer holidays. In addition to the 41 children in the infants’ department, there were 140 in the upper school. Fortunately none of these was hurt. ‘The headmaster, Mr F. A. Billington, his hands bandaged from injuries sustained in rescue efforts, and grimed about his face and clothes, said: “When the building was struck, there was just a great crack. The windows came in, and children all over the school were knocked over. Flames spread rapidly everywhere. I at first could not understand what had happened. I managed to drag one or two children out.” He added that he thought there would be very few survivors from the totally wrecked infants’ room. ‘Badly burned, but escaping death, were the two infants’ mistresses, Miss Jenny Hall, of Freckleton, a young teacher who started at the school only yesterday, and Miss Louisa Hulme, a teacher evacuated from Manchester in 1939, who was to leave the school at the end of next week. ‘Fourteen evacuated children are on the school roll, three of them in the infants’ department. ‘The National Fire Service and Civil Defence rescue workers had generous assistance from Service personnel, who brought their own chemical fire-extinguisher equipment and ambulances together with breakdown cranes. Lytham Road was cleared of the tangled wreckage of the plane but traffic was impossible for a time with the road strewn with wrecked masonry, twisted metal and planks, and running inches deep in water.
‘The vicar of Freckleton, the Reverend J. W. Broadbent, moved among the pathetic groups of mothers who waited anxiously for news of their children. Mrs Alfred Rigby, who lives next door to the completely wrecked Services canteen, said she was at the back of the house when the plane crashed. She was completely unhurt, but shocked. ‘Two of the first on the scene of the disaster were Mr W. Banks, the village postmaster, and Mr W. K. Durant, chemist, of Lytham Road, who is deputy head air raid warden of Freckleton. Mr Banks, looking out of his shop window when the crash occurred, saw the road and building around the school a great sheet of flame, apparently caused by petrol. “I saw the plane immediately it crashed”, he said. “It burst into flames at once. These enveloped that portion of the school where the infants were. I rushed out to see what I could do, but only got as far as the school-house because of the heat. I came back and telephoned the police.” ‘Mr Durant said the first thing he knew was the sound of a terrific explosion. He went into the street and could see nothing for flames and smoke. He went to the school and assisted in getting some children to safety from the yard and the playing field behind. He added that his two children aged eight and ten were at the school. One he found unhurt in the field behind the school and the other at a house some distance away. He put an alarm call through to the police before leaving his shop. He paid very high tribute to the work done by troops who, he said, were on the scene almost as soon as he was. ‘A mortuary was established at the Freckleton ARP post. Until late this afternoon there were pathetic groups of parents making their way to the improvised mortuary to carry out the sad task of identifying the dead children. Digging operations at the school have ceased but parties were still searching the ruins of the demolished premises on the other side of the road.’ The wounded that were rescued from the crash site, both servicemen and civilians, were taken to the Base Air Depot No. 2 station hospital. These included the two mistresses, 21-year-old Jennie Hall and 64-yearold Louisa Hulme, and ten children from the school; a woman from the village, Mrs Rigby, who had been in the street; plus four US soldiers and four RAF servicemen who had been pulled from the wreckage of the snack bar. Jenny Hall and five-year-old Alice Rayton died that same evening and eight others (the second teacher, Luisa Hulme; one of the Americans; three of the RAF men; and three of the children) suc-
Above: This is all that remained of the Sad Sack Café across the road from the school, where seven civilians and 11 British and American servicemen were killed. The heavy truck-mounted M2 crane, capable of lifting loads up to 20,000lbs, and the Caterpillar bulldozer (below) were sent from Warton airbase to help in the rescue work.
cumbed to their injuries over the following days, the last to die being six-year-old Maureen Clarke on September 4.
The final death toll of the calamity numbered 61: the three-man crew of the Liberator; 40 people in the school — the two female teachers and 38 of the infant pupils — and 18 people who had either died in the Sad Sack snack bar or in the car that had been hit. These included Alan and Rachel Whittle, the proprietors of the Sad Sack, and their 15year-old daughter Pearl; four local civilians; four RAF servicemen — Sergeants Douglas Batson, Robert Bell, Walter Cannell and Eric Newton, all from No. 22 Aircrew Handling Unit based a few miles away at RAF Kirkham — and seven USAAF servicemen from Base Air Depot No. 2. Ironically, in one of his last letters home, RAF Sergeant Cannell, a trained pilot, had written about the eating place where he would die: ‘There is a very nice little café near here which sells lovely breakfasts. I often stay in bed and miss breakfast then get up and scrounge off after parade and go there. Bacon and real eggs, toast and marmalade.’ Left: The trauma of that Wednesday morning in 1944 has faded and all is now tranquil on Lytham Road. New houses have since been built on the site of the café, but the tall building beyond forms the link with the past. The view is west, looking towards Warton. 43
One of the victims recovered from the Sad Sack Café being carried to the temporary morgue in the storage room of the nearby Coach & Horses pub.
The main funeral ceremony took place on Saturday, August 26, when 44 of the victims — 36 of the children and eight of the civilian adults — were buried in a communal grave in the Holy Trinity Churchyard in Freckleton. The arrangements for the funeral had been made by the village undertaker, Mr J. Threlfall, but all expenses were borne by the Americans at their request. The Americans had also expressed the wish to be allowed to act as pallbearers. Each of the coffins was decorated with a posy of flowers from the US Army Air Force and there were more than 500 wreaths. Holy Trinity Church was too small to encompass for all the coffins, so only two — those of teacher Miss Hall and one of the children, representing all the others — were carried into the church for the service. A crowd of between 2,000 and 3,000 watched the procession make its way from the school playground across the roofless floor where the infants’ classroom had stood to the adjoining churchyard. American soldiers had dug a grave in the form of a ‘T’. The children and Miss Hall were laid to rest in the upper arms and the eight other adults in the lower arm. The funeral of the other teacher, Mrs Hulme, and six-year-old Beryl Hogarth, both of whom had died in hospital the day before, would take place later, on August 29. The last funeral would be that of Maureen Clarke who succumbed nine days after the main ceremony. On Sunday, August 27, memorial services for the victims were held at several places. In the afternoon there was one in the theatre of Warton air base. The bereaved families were represented and the building was crowded to capacity with American soldiers and villagers. Seven US Army chaplains took part in the service at which Major the Reverend H. E. Knies delivered a moving address. In the evening there were other memorial services at Freckleton in the Methodist Churches on Kirkham Road and Preston Road where several of the dead infants had been on the rolls of the Sunday school primary departments.
FATAL CASUALTIES OF THE FRECKLETON AIR DISASTER, AUGUST 23, 1944 Holy Trinity School Jennie Hall, 21, died August 23 Louisa Hulme, 64, died August 25 Howard Allanson, 5 Martin Alston, 4 Edna Askew, 5 Sylvia Bickerstaffe, 5 Kenneth Boocock, 6 Jean Butcher, 6 David Carr, 6 Maureen Clarke, 6, died September 4 John Cox, 4 Sonia Dagger, 5 Peter Danson, 6 John Foster, 4
Judith Garner, 4 John Hardman, 4 Annie Herrington, 4 Beryl Hogarth, 6, died August 25 William Iddon, 4 Elizabeth Isles, 5 Vera Jones, 5 Georgina Lonsdale, 4 Thomas Mullen, 4 Gillian Parkinson, 5 June Parkinson, 5 George Preston, 5 Michael Probert, 4 Thomas Rawcliffe, 4
Alice Rayton, 5, died August 23 Malcolm Scott, 5 June Stewartson, 6 Dorothy Sudell, 5 John Sudell, 6 Joseph Threlfall, 5, died August 25 John Townsend, 6 Barrie Truscott, 4 Lillian Waite, 4 Alice Whybrow, 5 Alan Wilson, 5 Richard Wright, 5
James Silcock, 15 Allan Whittle, 50 Pearl Whittle, 15
Rachel Whittle, 50
No. 22 Aircrew Handling Unit
US Base Air Depot No. 2
Crew of B-24 42-50291
Sgt Douglas Batson, died August 24 Sgt Robert Bell, died August 24 Sgt Walter Cannell, died August 24 Sgt Eric Newton
Pvt George C. Brown, died August 30 Cpl Herbert G. Cross Pvt Minas P. Glitsis Pvt Samuel A. Mezzacappa Sgt Theodore E. Nelson Cpl Arthur J. Rogney Sgt Frank L. Zugel
1Lt John A. Bloemendal Cpl James M. Parr Sgt Gordon W. Kinney
On September 1, eight days after the disaster and only a few days after his arrival in Britain, American dancer-singer Bing Crosby and his troupe visited Base Air Depot No. 2 and put up a USO show in Hangar No. 6 (one of Crosby’s few concerts in the UK). When Crosby heard of the Freckleton tragedy he insisted on going to the station hospital and, notwithstanding an urgent schedule of departure, stayed long enough to see all of the injured children that were still there and croon two of his songs to them. He then left for France to entertain the troops there. So what had caused Liberator 42-50291 to crash? As early as August 24, the day after the tragedy, the American authorities released a statement that the most probable explanation for the crash was that the aircraft had been struck by lightning. This theory gained strength when, at an official inquest on the death of the British victims which the Deputy Coroner, Mr. A. L. Ashton, opened on the 25th in the Primitive Methodist Hall at Kirkham, several local eyewitnesses testified to having seen the aircraft struck by lightning or on fire before it crashed. Miss Charlotte Allsup, an air raid warden and member of the Women’s Volunteer Service, who lived at Clitheroe Lane in Freckleton, stated she was standing in the garden of her house when she observed an aircraft approaching from the direction of Fleetwood at a fair height. She said she saw the plane struck by lightning, burst into flames and crash to the ground. She did not see the actual crash on the buildings as the aircraft disappeared behind some trees, but she heard the explosion. Another witness, Mrs Doris Lillian Munn, said she heard the plane rushing over her house very low and on going to the window again saw what appeared to be ‘a large ball of fire spinning round with clouds of smoke about it’. A third witness, John Christopher, stated he saw an American Liberator flying very low. It seemed to him that it was going to ‘pull out’. He did not see the bomber struck by lightning but saw it as a ball of fire in the sky. He said the plane went on towards the school and left behind clouds of smoke. At the same inquest, an American Air Force officer from Warton gave evidence about the recall instructions radioed to the aircraft. Asked about it by the Coroner, he said that there had been instances where aircraft had been struck by lightning, but in those cases it did not seem to have much effect on the aircraft. In his view it was more likely that the bomber was circling to land but that conditions were too bad to enable it to rise again.
The mass funeral of 44 of the victims on Saturday, August 26. American servicemen carry the coffins from the Coach & Horses to the village cemetery. The destroyed village school is just off the picture to the right.
The same junction in the centre of Freckleton today. The pub on the left is The Plough Inn.
Left: Watched by a silent crowd of mourners, the pallbearers pass the site of the Sad Sack Café. Right: the same view today. 45
As is normal procedure with such calamities, the USAAF set up an Accident Investigation Committee to examine the crash. In its report to the USAAF Board of Inquiry, the committee did not confirm the lightning theory but concluded otherwise: ‘The cause of the accident is unknown. It is the opinion of the Accident Investigating Committee that the crash resulted from the pilot’s error in judgement of the violence of the storm. The extent of the thunderhead was not great and he could have flown in perfect safety to the north and east of the field. When the approach to land was made the pilot saw that conditions were too bad and he attempted to withdraw, but the violent winds and downdrafts must have forced the airplane into the ground before he could gain sufficient speed and altitude. ‘It is possible that, in the rough air, structural failure occurred, however, no conclusions could be drawn from an examination of the wreckage, as the airplane was so completely demolished.’ The Board of Inquiry made the following recommendations:
The mountain of wreaths and flowers at the T-shaped mass grave in Trinity Churchyard.
Above: One by one, the coffins are being lowered into the grave. Below: Young Claire Cherry remembers. ‘That all pilots who are gaining most of their flying experience in England (subsequent to flying school) be emphatically warned about entering thunderstorms or flying under thunderheads. The dangers of such practice are easily learned in southern United States where intense thunderstorms are frequent, but in the British Isles a pilot is led to believe that thunderstorms are mere showers, hence the rare, severe type is most apt to trap him.’ So the most likely cause of the disaster was the infamous ‘pilot error’ but this was no comfort to the many families affected by the crash, which at the time represented the biggest civilian loss of life due to an aircraft crash. Indeed it is recorded that many of the older children present in the school were deeply affected and found it difficult to settle down to a normal life. It should be remembered that this was at the same time that Paris was liberated. What a contrast in emotions between France and Lancashire there must have been that week. 46
Right: The monument at the mass grave names all the 47 civilian victims of the tragedy. ‘Sacred to the memory of the two teachers, 38 infant scholars and seven civilians who lost their lives when an American Liberator bomber crashed during a thunderstorm and destroyed a part of the adjoining school and other property on the 23rd of August 1944.’ A memorial fund was set up shortly after the disaster. Many American servicemen donated freely and the money raised was used to build a permanent monument commemorating that fateful day. A small piece of land close to the school was turned into a memorial garden and children’s playground. After the war, the USAAF presence at Warton was quickly scaled down, with the last personnel leaving before the end of 1945. In spite of this run-down, Warton remained an active airfield, first with English Electric and today as the flagship site for BAE Systems. It is the location where the Eurofighter Typhoon is being assembled and currently the base of No. 29 Squadron — the RAF’s first squadron to be issued with the aircraft and a regular sight in the skies around Warton. There is a memorial plaque to Base Air Depot No. 2 in the reception building of BAE Systems and people who worked there in the Second World War still visit to this day. The school in Freckleton was demolished and houses now occupy the site. However the memorial commemorating the 1944 disaster stands close by and every year on August 23 a small memorial service is held at the site of the mass grave in Holy Trinity Churchyard. I would like to thank Harry Holmes, the Base Air Depot No. 2 historian, for his help with this article. As a schoolboy he spent many hours looking over the airfield perimeter fence and his knowledge is unrivalled.
Above: The memorial plaque to Base Air Depot No. 2 in the reception of BAE Systems. Below: The only remaining piece of the original school building, now situated in a small memorial garden at the current primary school in Freckleton.
The memorial put up by the Americans in 1944. The plaque reads: ‘This playground was presented to the children of Freckleton by their American neighbors of Base Air Depot No. 2, USAAF, in recognition and remembrance of their common loss in the disaster of August 23rd 1944’ 47
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY On a hillside rising above the Potomac river, overlooking Washington, DC, stands Arlington House — the focal point of Arlington National Cemetery. For many of the millions of people who annually visit America’s most important national cemetery, it seems incongruous that this magnificent mansion should be located in the middle of a military burial ground. But in 1802, when construction of Arlington House began, it was not intended to be the centrepiece of a cemetery. Rather, it was designed to be a living memorial to George Washington, the father of the United States.
Here on an 1,100-acre estate, Washington’s adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, proudly housed the largest collection of Washington memorabilia in the world. Tragically, that collection and Arlington House itself became victims of America’s bloody Civil War (1861-65). Prior to the Civil War, George Custis occupied the home with his wife, their daughter and son-in-law, Robert E. Lee — then a little-known, but highly respected, lieutenant colonel. Arlington was Lee’s home for nearly 30 years before it was confiscated by the Union Army at the outbreak of
Top: It was during the American Civil War that the estate surrounding Arlington House, situated on a hilltop overlooking the Potomac river in Washington, was requisitioned by the Union Army for a military cemetery. 48
By James Edward Peters the Civil War. Today the restored mansion has been designated the Robert E. Lee Memorial, and continues to reflect its stature during the period before the war. George Washington was an up-and-coming, 27-year-old Virginia planter when he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow one year his senior, on January 6, 1759. She already had two children: John Parke Custis, aged six, and Martha Parke ‘Patsy’ Custis, four.
Above: Now containing over a quarter of a million graves, Arlington has become a shrine to the nation’s heroes and a beautifully landscaped memorial to those Americans who have served their country with honour.
George Washington Parke Custis (left) built Arlington House as a memorial to his foster father, George Washington. Mary Anna George and Martha’s union produced no children of their own but they worked hard to raise the young boy. In 1778, John, then 25 years old, invested money he had inherited from his natural father in an 1,100-acre tract of land about 15 miles north of Mount Vernon. It was on this land, later known as Arlington, that Custis intended to build his home after the Revolutionary War (177583). During the siege of Yorktown in 1781 — while serving as an aide to General Washington — John died. He was survived by his wife and four children and, to assist in their upbringing, George and Martha adopted the two youngest, George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis. George was just six months old when he was adopted by the future president and, just as when George senior had raised John 20 years earlier, the young child was awestruck by his famous father. Throughout his life he tried to emulate George Washington, not only in the way he managed his estate, but in his political views as well. He was only 18 years old when his adopted father (who had been the US President since 1789) died in 1799, but he promptly directed his energies to perpetuating the memory of the man whose name he bore. After Martha died in 1802, George attempted to buy Mount Vernon to establish the first national historic site as a memorial to his adopted father but unfortunately the President’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, inherited the property and was completely unwilling to sell. So he looked elsewhere for a memorial site and discovered that among the 15,000 acres of land he already owned was a parcel of 1,100 acres north of Mount Vernon that his natural father had purchased in 1778. Situated just across the Potomac river from the new federal capital, Washington City, George found the perfect site to build his home. He resolved that it would serve as a national memorial to President Washington, and that he would be its self-appointed curator. Initially he wanted to name the property ‘Mount Washington’ but he was persuaded by members of his family to settle on ‘Arlington House’ as Arlington had been the name of the original Custis family estate on Virginia’s Eastern Shore which had been acquired by a grant from the Earl of Arlington. The north wing was completed first and George made it his home in late 1802. It consisted of only six rooms, a significant portion of which was used to store his collection of Washington artefacts. The south wing was finished two years later providing two additional
Custis, his only child (centre), married Robert E. Lee (right) in 1831, and inherited Arlington House just prior to the Civil War.
When the state of Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861, federal troops crossed the Potomac and took over Arlington House from the Lee family for a headquarters. These Union soldiers were photographed relaxing outside in June 1864.
Today, because of the removal of soil behind President Kennedy’s tomb which lies on the hillside below the house, it was not possible to match the same angle for our comparison. 49
Left: Brigadier General Irvin McDowell (with hand on his sword), the commander of the forces in occupation of Arlington rooms although the area that would ultimately contain the large centre section with its now-famous portico was nothing more than an open yard. Nonetheless, these two completed, but detached, wings of Arlington House were home to George Washington Parke Custis when he married Mary Lee Fitzhugh in July 1804. During the 14 years it took to complete the entire house, the couple lived primarily in the north wing. The south wing served as an office and a repository for the Washington relics. Four children were born to George and Mary but only one, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, was to live to maturity. In 1818, the large central section of the house was completed. Now the mansion stretched 140 feet from north to south and at last George had completed his own ‘Washington monument’, more than 60 years before the now-familiar towering obelisk was completed across the Potomac. With the completion of the house, visitors began coming in droves to view the Washington collection and to hear George talk about his famous father. As his only surviving child, Mary was the beneficiary of her father’s undivided attention and he instilled in her that she always remember she was the foster granddaughter of the former President and she alone would be entrusted with the preservation of this living memorial.
From this first grave of Private William Christman, a member of Company G of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry buried on May 13, 1864 . . . grew the huge National Cemetery of today comprising 657 acres. 50
House, pictured with members of his staff. Right: Marty Black enjoyed standing in for the long-forgotten Unionists.
Many young men sought to win the heart and hand of Mary but it was a childhood friend and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee, who finally captured her affections. The wedding was the grandest event ever to occur at Arlington House. June 30, 1831 was chosen as the date, and the house was decorated to reflect the magnificence of the occasion. It was in this idyllic setting that Robert E. Lee realised that he had married not only Mary Anna but Arlington House as well. And although his military career would lead him away from Arlington, it was on this estate that his life would be rooted for the next 30 years. Robert E. Lee served in the Army Corps of Engineers, and to his family’s delight most of his military assignments were near Arlington. His first major assignment away from the area came in 1837 when he was ordered to supervise engineering work for the harbour at St Louis, Missouri. Between 1841 and 1857 Lee was away from Arlington for several extended periods. In 1846, he served in the Mexican War under General Winfield Scott. This war has often been called the ‘training field’ for the American Civil War because so many of the Civil War’s future officers received their battlefield schooling in the Mexican campaign. That was true for Lee. In 1852 Lee was appointed superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point
but no sooner had Mrs Lee and their children joined him than she was called back to Arlington to care for her ailing mother, Mary Fitzhugh Custis, who died there in 1852, being buried in the family plot. While in Texas in the autumn of 1857, Lee received word from Arlington that his father-in-law had died. George Custis had named Lee as his executor but, upon his return, he was dismayed to find the estate in a badly neglected condition. He was even more shocked by his wife’s rapidly deteriorating health. Arlington House figured centrally in the terms of George Custis’ will. His daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was given the right to inhabit and control Arlington House for the rest of her life but upon her death title would pass to her eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee. So, contrary to what many people still believe, Robert E. Lee never owned Arlington House. By 1859 Lee had returned a semblance of order to the estate and he was pondering the possibility of resuming his military career when in October that year he received an urgent message to attend the War Department. There Lee was offered immediate command of a detachment to capture John Brown who had just seized the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Without hesitation, Lee accepted the command and ultimately captured Brown. The incident
To deny the mansion to the Lee family should they return, the Union Army’s Quartermaster General, Montgomery Meigs, ordered that burials should be made close to the house to render it uninhabitable. Left: He chose Mrs Lee’s rose garden for a vault to contain the remains of 2,111 unidentified dead. Meigs also brought Lee considerable recognition and accelerated his return to duty. What greeted Lee upon his return to command in Texas disturbed him greatly. Throughout Texas and the entire South, there was serious talk of secession but to Lee secession was ‘nothing but revolution’. For more than a year he bitterly argued against the destruction of the Union, but in December 1860, South Carolina voted to secede. Then on February 1, 1861, Texas followed. On February 13, unsure of his fate or that of his country, Lee received orders to return to Washington. Lee arrived at Arlington on March 1 to find his ailing wife walking with a cane and his home state of Virginia threatening to secede. Then on March 28 word came that Lee had been promoted to full colonel with the approval of Abraham Lincoln, the newly inaugurated president. With this promotion came command of the First US Cavalry. As war became more probable, Lee agonised over what position he would take. Virginia still had not taken any action toward secession, and it was Lee’s home state that claimed his first allegiance. He knew, however, that regardless of Virginia’s decision, Arlington House would never be allowed to remain the home it had been for its location on a strategic ridge overlooking Washington would make its occupation vital for either side of the conflict. Events unfolded rapidly in April. On the
erected the Temple of Fame (in the background) as a monument to George Washington and 11 Union generals. Arlington House is on the left. Right: This is now the Tomb of the Unknown Dead from the Civil War but the Temple was dismantled some 100 years later as part of the restoration of the grounds.
12th soldiers of the new Confederacy fired the first shots at Union troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. In response on the 15th President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers and Virginia was called upon to furnish her share to suppress the rebel states. The following day an ordinance of secession was introduced into the Virginia convention as the sponsors argued that they would rather secede than take up arms against fellow Southerners. On Thursday, April 18, Lee left Arlington for Washington on what would be his last such journey and went directly to Francis P. Blair’s house near the White House. Blair, who was considered an insider in the Lincoln administration although he held no official post, explained that the President had authorised him to offer Lee command of the new army that was being raised. This was the very command that Lee had waited a lifetime for, but without hesitating, he replied: ‘Though opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states.’ A grey mood accompanied Robert E. Lee on his ride back to Arlington. The United States Army was his life. He had spent 32 years as an Army officer, protecting and defending the Union which his father had fought to establish. With all his heart, he wanted to preserve that Union, but he did not want to fight against his fellow Southerners. How could he stay in the Army, but not
By the turn of the 20th century many of the officers and other ranks of the Civil War had chosen Arlington as their final resting place. Since the United States established its Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), large gatherings have taken place in the cemetery; consequently an enlarged Memorial Amphitheatre
be forced to fight?, he wondered. And he wondered about Arlington House and its future. On April 19 Lee learned that Virginia had voted to secede although it had not yet decided to join the Confederacy. It was springtime as Lee walked the grounds of Arlington pondering his next move. That afternoon he went to his room on the second floor and remained there until well after midnight before deciding that he must resign his commission. Three days later, acting upon the request from Virginia’s Governor, Lee left Arlington House to catch a train for the state capital, Richmond. Late in the afternoon of April 22 Lee met with Governor John Letcher who informed him that an ordinance had been passed calling for the appointment of a commander of Virginia’s military forces and that Lee had been recommended to him for the position. Lee promptly accepted. Although he had been gone for only five days, Lee already was deeply concerned about those members of his family still at Arlington. He was well aware of the estate’s strategic importance to the Union Army but feared that his wife did not fully appreciate the danger. Consequently he wrote to his wife: ‘War is inevitable, and there is no telling when it will burst around you. You have to move and make arrangements to go to some point of safety.’ Mary left Arlington on May 15.
was built and dedicated in May 1920 with a seating capacity for 5,000. Left: This was the east entrance. Right: Following the interment of America’s First World War Unknown Soldier on the terrace on November 11, 1921 (see After the Battle No. 26), a wide flight of steps was added leading up to the tomb. 51
When we visited Arlington it was with the intention of featuring many of the personalities from the Second World War, and we assumed that the cemetery office would have records giving the location of each grave. But there we were disappointed as there is no overall index, burials being listed within the year of death and on microfilm. So, if that date is not known, one cannot locate the grave. We felt that for America’s most revered National Cemetery not to have a computerised Following the secession of Virginia on May 24, federal troops crossed the Potomac river, taking up positions around Arlington House as well as other points along the river. Mrs Lee, ever mindful of her obligation to protect her home and secure the Washington memorabilia, wrote to both the local commander, General Irvin McDowell, and to General-in-Chief Winfield Scott in Washington (who was an old family friend) reminding both men that Arlington was the home of George Washington’s adopted son, that it should be well protected, and that the slaves who were left there should be looked after. Although McDowell replied that she could rest assured that the mansion and its contents would come to no harm, he was unable to keep his promise. Arlington became a headquarters for the Union Army charged with the defence of Washington, and a great number of troops were stationed there. As a result great quantities of the Lee’s property disappeared including many irreplaceable heirlooms of the Washington family.
Following the occupation of Arlington by Union soldiers, military installations were erected at several locations around the 1,100acre estate, including Fort Whipple (on the site of present-day Fort Myer), Fort McPherson (now Section 11) and around the mansion, which resulted in the rapid depletion of its trees, crops and other natural and manmade resources. The appearance of the estate remained primarily that of a military camp until 1864. Prior to that time, actions taken by the government in Washington proved to have a direct impact on Arlington’s future. On June 7, 1862, Congress passed ‘An Act for the Collection of Direct Taxes in the Insurrectionary Districts of the United States’. Outwardly the bill appeared to be a means to raise revenue from those areas of the Confederate states that were under Union control. In reality the measure proved to be a method of confiscating private property for governmental use which was exactly its effect on Arlington. Under the Act, the regulations were that
After the Civil War, graves were simply marked by wooden headboards but as these needed constant replacement, General Meigs instructed that zinc-coated iron markers be used. These, in turn, were superseded in 1873 by marble headstones, each 13 inches wide, four inches thick, and standing 24 inches tall. Left: The grave of Anthony McAuliffe (No. 2536) of Bastogne fame 52
database was a very sad omission and we suggested to Bill Gates that his company should do something about it. But no reply was forthcoming. Fortunately our author’s excellent guide Arlington National Cemetery published by Woodbine House lists some of the graves we wanted to photograph. Left: We found Jacob Devers, who died in 1979, in Section 1, Grave 149. Right: Three years later Omar Bradley passed away, now buried in Grave 428 of Section 30. the legal titleholder of the property appear personally to pay the taxes. Since most property owners were Confederate sympathisers and could come forth only under threat of arrest, they were forced either to place themselves in personal jeopardy or fail to pay the taxes. In most cases the taxes went unpaid, and the properties of the Confederate sympathisers were sold at public auctions. The Arlington property had been assessed at a value of $26,810 against which a tax of $92.07 was levied. Mrs Lee, already wheelchair-bound and frail, could not physically make the journey, even if she chose to disregard the danger to her personal safety as the wife of the South’s commanding general. So in her stead, she authorised her cousin, Philip R. Fendall, to travel to Alexandria to pay the taxes but this payment was refused, and on January 11, 1864, the Arlington property was offered for public sale at an auction in which the tax commissioners were the only bidders. They ‘purchased’ the property for $26,810 ‘for Government use, for war, military, charitable, and educational purposes’.
was difficult to find as the numbering in Section 3 is not logical. Centre: William Donovan, Chief of the Office of Strategic Services, lies in Section 2 (Grave 4874) below Arlington House. Right: James Doolittle, who led the epic raid on Tokyo, is buried in Grave 110 of Section 7A. (Medal of Honor recipients have the engraving picked out in gold.)
Non-standard headstones are only permitted on graves situated in sections of the cemetery which existed prior to 1947. Thus although George Marshall (left) and Walter Bedell Smith (right) Now that Arlington was owned by the government it fell under the direct control of the quartermaster general who was charged with overseeing any government land used for military purposes. Early in the war much of the fighting centred around Washington where many wounded soldiers were treated, and where many of them died. Soon burial space became scarce, and the public reacted to the improper manner in which the burials were conducted. This public outcry resulted in the passage of the Cemetery Authorisation Bill which gave the President the power ‘whenever in his opinion it shall be expedient, to purchase cemetery grounds and cause them to be securely enclosed to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country’. During 1862 military cemeteries were established in Alexandria, Virginia, and in the District of Columbia but by 1864, with
died in 1959 and 1961 respectively, as their graves (8198 and 8197) lie in Section 7, they have privately-provided headstones. (Matthew Ridgway is also buried in this section in Grave 8196.)
the continuation of the war and its heavy Union casualties, burial space again became scarce. Therefore, to avoid another scandal, in June 1864 Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered his quartermaster general, Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs, to survey additional sites and to submit suggestions for his approval. However General Meigs made no surveys. To him it was obvious where the next military cemetery should be established; on the grounds of Arlington House where the first burial had taken place on May 13. Private William Christman, a farmer from Pennsylvania and a member of Company G of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, became the first soldier to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It appears clear that Meigs’ intention was to bury soldiers within the immediate proximity to Arlington House, rendering the mansion uninhabitable should the Lee family
attempt to return. At first, the soldiers quartered at the mansion objected to the placement of graves near the house but General Meigs would not be dissuaded. When he visited the cemetery in August that year he expected to find the house nearly unapproachable due to the number of new graves. Instead he found the mansion much as it had been when it was first occupied by federal troops in May 1861. Furious, Meigs demanded that 26 bodies be brought immediately from Washington and, in the heat of that mid-August day, he personally supervised the burial of these fallen soldiers around Mrs. Lee’s once-famous rose garden. Then, to assure the destruction of Arlington as a habitable dwelling, in April 1866 he requested the construction in the rose garden of a stone and masonry burial vault, 20 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep, for the interment of the remains of 2,111 unknown soldiers who
Two sailors in Section 2: Fleet Admiral William Halsey (Grave 1184) and Rear Admiral William Leahy (Grave 932). 53
Lucius Clay, the saviour of Berlin during the Cold War crisis with the Soviets, died in February 1994. His grave (No. 497) can be found in Section 30.
There are more than 40 foreigners buried in the cemetery, the most impressive ‘headstone’ being this beautiful equestrian statue in Section 32 marking the grave of Sir John Dill, Chief of the British Joint Mission to the US. When he died in Washington in 1944, he was accorded the extraordinary honour of being buried in Arlington.
were found in trenches or scattered over battlefields within a 25-mile radius of Washington. Nearly 1,800 remains were collected from the battlefield at Bull Run, and it can be assumed that this included Confederate soldiers as well, since in some instances only a few bones or a skull were recovered. Today this monument stands as Arlington’s Memorial to the Unknown Dead of the Civil War. From its establishment as an official military cemetery in June 1864, until nearly the end of the century, the large Arlington estate accommodated many purposes. Not only was it fast becoming one of the largest military cemeteries in the area, but it was the site of several permanent military installations (which today are part of Fort Myer), and the site of an encampment for freed slaves known as Freedman’s Village which resulted from President Lincoln’s emancipation of all slaves living in the District of Columbia on April 16, 1862. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surren-
dered his Confederate forces to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. He and Mrs Lee wanted desperately to return to their home at Arlington House, but were unaware of its current condition. They knew that the property had been confiscated by the federal government, and that there was a cemetery somewhere on the grounds. They knew that the house had been used as a military headquarters, but neither were yet aware of the nearly wholesale loss of their personal property, including the treasured Washington collection. Lee recognised the symbolic importance of his role in rallying Southern support for reconciliation, and he did not wish to present even the appearance of contention between himself and the federal government. So, his family’s right to recover the Arlington estate was considered secondary to the reunification of the country. He and his wife resigned themselves never again to live at Arlington.
From the end of the Civil War, Arlington House served as the administrative centre of the cemetery, as well as the residence of the superintendent. At that time the cemetery consisted of 200 acres and contained 17,260 burials, of which 11,911 were known and 5,349 were unknown, but by 1897 the size of the cemetery had more than doubled to 408 acres. The number of persons buried at Arlington has increased significantly after every war and by 1957, nearly 93,000 American military personnel and their dependents had been buried at Arlington. By 2000, that number had nearly tripled to 225,000. The desire of Armed Services personnel and their families to be laid to rest at Arlington has been heightened by the significant number of national figures who have chosen to be buried here. This has led to more of the men and women with whom they served following their example so that today burial at Arlington is restricted by official government regulation.
Audie Murphy’s grave (No. 366-11) lies in Section 46 close to the Memorial Amphitheatre, and we recounted his exploits in issues 3 and 110. However, because of the number of visitors wanting to see where America’s most decorated soldier is buried, a rather intrusive pathway has now been laid down to the graveside.
As he was serving in the military when he went missing, Glenn Miller was eligible for a memorial headstone and in 1992 one was erected in Section H.
Also contributing to the honoured status of Arlington Cemetery are the ceremonies that have become a tradition here in the shadow of the United States capital. As early as 1868, the first Memorial Day services were held on an open grassy area following a declaration by the former Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John A. Logan, that May 30 be set aside as a day to remember ‘comrades who died in the defence of their country’. This early commemoration of Memorial Day developed into an event that found thousands of people visiting the cemetery to decorate graves, a custom which continues to this day. Arlington also gained prominence as it became home to many celebrated memorials and monuments, and the need for a larger, permanent gathering site prompted the construction of the Memorial Amphitheatre, dedicated in 1920. However, the most memorable ceremonies at Arlington have been the interments of the Unknowns (see After the
The most visited grave of all is that of John F. Kennedy. Initially, the President was laid to rest in November 1963 in a plot chosen by Mrs Kennedy on the hillside below Arlington House surrounded by a white picket fence (left). However, as more than 3,000 people an hour were paying their respects, the family decided to have a more suitable site constructed a few yards away (above). Here Kennedy and his two children were reburied on the night of March 14/15, 1967. At the same time a steeper slope was created on the hill overlooking the grave to discourage access from above. Battle No. 26). On November 11, 1921, an unknown soldier of World War I was buried on the east plaza of the Memorial Amphitheatre, joined in 1958 by unknown servicemen from World War II and from the Korean Conflict. The unknown soldier of the Vietnam War, interred in 1984, was later identified and had to be exhumed (see After the Battle No. 109, page 24). In 1926 the daytime civilian guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns was replaced by military personnel, and in 1937 the guard was mounted round the clock. The 3rd United States Infantry, known as the Old Guard, undertook the full-time guardianship of the tomb in 1948.
On the terrace at the Tomb of the Unknowns, an honour guard has maintained a constant vigil, day and night, regardless of weather conditions, ever since 1937. From 1948 the duty has been performed by the 3rd US Infantry — ‘The Old Guard’ based at nearby Fort Myer. Each sentinel carrying an M-14 rifle
In 1925, Congress designated Arlington House as a permanent memorial to Robert E. Lee. The War Department, which still had jurisdiction over the mansion, was instructed to restore it to reflect the condition in the pre-Civil War period, and it was reopened to the public in 1929. Today Arlington is visited annually by more than four million people who are drawn to the cemetery out of respect for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who are buried there. Although it is not the monument that George Custis originally envisioned, Arlington nevertheless performs a unique role in its reverence of the military and civilian distinguished of the United States.
marches 21 paces; turns to face the tombs for 21 seconds before retracing his steps — all symbolic of the 21-gun salute accorded dignitaries in military or state ceremonies. The guard is changed every half-hour in summer; every hour during the winter months and two-hourly at night. 55