CONTENTS THE GLEIWITZ INCIDENT FROM THE EDITOR IT HAPPENED HERE US Marines at Camp Balcombe READERS’ INVESTIGATION Faking Monte Cassino PRESERVATION Poteau Revisited
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Front Cover: The Gleiwitz radio station – site of one of the fake frontier incidents created by the German Sicherheitsdienst on the night of August 31/September 1, 1939 to provide Nazi Germany with an excuse to invade Poland. Today Gleiwitz is Gliwice in Poland and the former radio station is the Gliwice Museum of Radio History and Media Art. (Karel Margry) Centre Pages: Wrecks of American Sherman tanks and M-10 tank destroyers spotted at a dump outside Grandhan near Durbuy in the Belgian Ardennes. Taken over by the Belgian Army after the war, they were used as practice targets on the Elsenborn firing range until 2007. Given up for scrap, they will soon end up in the melting pot. (Dirk van Ooteghem) Back Cover: A perfect recreation by members of the Fallschirmpioniere re-enactment group of one of the photos taken by an SS war photographer at Poteau during the Battle of the Bulge on December 18, 1944. During the Nazi occupation of Belgium, the Reich re-annexed its German-speaking eastern province, making Poteau a frontier village like it had been in the 19th century. (USNA/Frank Hübner) Acknowledgements: For their help with the Gleiwitz story, the Editor would like to thank Andrzej Jarczewski, director of the Gleiwitz Museum of Radio History and Media Art; Marek Panek and, in particular, Okko Luursema, without whose knowledge of Polish we would not have been able to find some of the locations connected with this story. Photo Credits: ATL – Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington; AWM – Australian War Memorial, Canberra; BA – Bundesarchiv; IWM – Imperial War Museum, London; USMC – US Marine Corps; USNA – US National Archives.
‘FALL WEISS’ Since coming to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler had set his course upon two political objectives: recovery of lands lost by the 1919 Versailles Treaty and conquest in the name of Lebensraum. Professing peace at every occasion, behind the scenes Hitler was building the Nazi war machine. Meanwhile, world leaders were adeptly kept off balance with his chicanery. The 1936 seizure of the Rhineland was carried out against little resistance as the French stood by powerless and her allies silent. Two years later, German troops marched into Austria for a bloodless takeover. Plans were next conceived for the invasion of Czechoslovakia — known as ‘Fall Grün’ (Case Green), Hitler’s pretext for the protection of the Sudeten Germans against their Czech-Slovak usurpers, and German troops marched into the Sudetenland on October 1, 1938 with the tacit approval of the infamous Munich Agreement (see After the Battle No. 62). That same month, Hitler began to press for the return of the Free City of Danzig. The League of Nations held oversight of the port
city while economic control was awarded to Poland as part of the Versailles Treaty, giving the country access to the sea. Danzig stood as a gross injustice to the German people, as well as the majority German-speaking population. In March 1939, as Czechoslovakia disintegrated and German troops marched into Prague, Hitler ordered the military high command to draw up the plans to take care of the ‘Poland problem’ militarily. On May 1, ‘Fall Weiss’ (Case White) was presented as part of ‘Instructions for Operations in the East’ designed for the invasion of Poland. Rebuffed in his demand for the immediate return of Danzig, Hitler rescinded Germany’s 1934 Non-Aggression Treaty with Poland on April 28, 1939. German troops massed along the border. Poland mobilised 1.5 million, then 2.5 million into military service. Atrocity stories heated up tensions on both sides. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, embarrassed by the result of the Munich pact, publicly committed his nation to the protection of Poland against Nazi aggression.
On the night of August 31/September 1, 1939, the German Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) staged a series of fake border incidents along the German-Polish frontier in Upper Silesia designed to give Nazi Germany an excuse for invading Poland. The most prominent of these provocations was the seizure of the German radio station in the town of Gleiwitz (above), five kilometres from the border, by a band of seven ‘Polish rebels’ who proceeded to broadcast a message of Polish insurrection.
Far less known are two other incidents staged that same night: an attack by ‘Polish soldiers and rebels’ on the German custom-house at Hochlinden, 20 kilometres south of Gleiwitz, and the other by ‘Polish terrorists’ on the forestry station near Pitschen, some 100 kilometres to the north-west. The following morning, with the German press headlining these three ‘acts of Polish aggression’. Hitler declared war on Poland, thus unleashing the Second World War.
THE GLEIWITZ INCIDENT On August 11, Hitler met with Professor Carl Burckhardt, the League of Nations high commissioner in Danzig. He did not mince his words: ‘If there’s the slightest provocation, I shall shatter Poland without warning into so many pieces that there will be nothing left to pick up.’ He added that where his generals may have been hesitant in the past, he was now having difficulty holding them back. German preparations for aggression were stepped up. The Nazi party ‘Rally of Peace’, scheduled to begin in Nuremberg on August 15, was cancelled. The Wehrmacht mobilised an additional 250,000 troops and its headquarters were moved to Zossen. The aging battleship Schleswig-Holstein sailed into the port of Danzig to a cheering crowd on a ‘goodwill visit’ (see After the Battle No. 65). On August 22 Hitler gathered his armed forces commanders on the Obersalzberg to announce his plans for the invasion of Poland: ‘I will give propagandistic cause for the release of the war, indifferently whether convincing. The winner is not asked later whether he said the truth or not.’ Assured of Russian neutrality and confident of Western
weakness, Hitler decided that ‘Fall Weiss’ would proceed on August 26. Hope for peace between Germany and Poland faded as the world’s attention turned to the ratification of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23/24. Within 12 hours of signing, Germany was only thinly veiling
By Dennis Whitehead its plans for a partition of Poland between herself and the Soviet Union. A mobilisation order was issued across England. The world would be at war.
Right: Today, Gleiwitz is Gliwice in Poland — the result of the westward shift of that country as a consequence of the Potsdam Agreement of 1945 — but the town’s radio station has remained exactly the same . . . except for the swastika eagle on the forecourt pole which has been replaced by a Polish eagle. 3
The mastermind behind the staged border incidents: SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst. Two months after the fake provocations, Heydrich’s two security organisations, one a state organisation, the other a Nazi party body, would be combined into the all-powerful Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, Reich Main Security Department), of which Heydrich would remain the head until his assassination by Czech secret agents in Prague in June 1942 (see After the Battle No. 24). OPERATION ‘TANNENBERG’ Determined to wage war on Poland, Hitler needed a pretext that would allow him to start it. If Germany could provide proof of Polish aggression against Germany, this would leave England and France without grounds for a declaration of war against her. Hitler decided to fabricate these acts by staging a series of fake incidents along the German-Polish border on the night directly preceding his invasion of Poland. While he had briefed his military chiefs on the operation, Hitler turned to ReichsführerSS Heinrich Himmler for action. In early August, he had ordered Himmler to begin preparations for war with Poland. Himmler, in turn, assigned SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the 35-year-old head of the both the Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo, State Security Police) and of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, the Nazi party’s intelligence service), the task of implementing the plans. Heydrich was pleased with the job. In fact, the idea to stage counterfeit border incidents had come from himself. He and Himmler had been prompting it to Hitler and the Führer — the only one who could approve of such provocations — had latched on to the idea. Equally important for the ambitious Heydrich, Hitler’s order gave his rapacious security apparatus total command over the operation and relegated the Wehrmacht and its intelligence branch, the Abwehr headed by Heydrich’s rival, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, to minor supporting roles. Heydrich lost no time in getting plans into motion. Together with his principal subordinate, SS-Oberführer Heinrich Müller, the chief of the Gestapo (Secret State Police), he selected a group of SS officers that would be involved in the covert operation. They were: SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Hellwig, 4
Heydrich’s main associate in planning and executing the ‘Tannenberg’ provocations was SS-Oberführer Heinrich Müller, the chief of the Gestapo. Müller was also the driving force behind the scheme to plant dead bodies — referred to as ‘Konserven’ (‘canned goods’) — which were to be dressed up as Polish soldiers or Polish insurgents and left behind at the scene of the provocations as additional evidence of Polish aggression. (This picture shows him in his later rank of SS-Gruppenführer.)
the commander of the SicherheitspolizeiSchule (Security Police School) at BerlinCharlottenburg; SS-Standartenführer Hans Trummler, commander of the Grenzpolizei-Schule (Border Police School) at Pretsch an der Elbe; SS-Oberführer Otto Rasch, chief of the Sicherheitspolizei and SD in Upper Austria based at Linz; and. SS-Oberführer Herbert Mehlhorn, formerly with the SD-Hauptamt, but now assigned to assorted SS missions abroad and currently based at Pressburg (Bratislava) in occupied Slovakia. The selection of Mehlhorn was remarkable for Heydrich did not at all get on with him. Totally different in character, the two men had fought out many conflicts in the past, so much so that Heydrich himself had been behind Mehlhorn’s transfer out of the SD. However, Mehlhorn was an excellent organiser, and so Heydrich wanted him in on the team. On August 8, Heydrich and Müller called Hellwig, Trummler, Rasch and Mehlhorn to a first meeting in Heydrich’s office at No. 102 Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin. Heydrich’s chief adjutant SS-Hauptsturmführer Kurt Pomme and some other SD functionaries were also present. Welcoming his subordinates with the words ‘Gentlemen, you will by now have become aware yourselves that a war with Poland is inevitable’, Heydrich proceeded to disclose his plans for the subterfuge. Stressing the need for absolute secrecy, he announced that the fake border incidents would run under the code-name Operation ‘Tannenberg’. The proposed scheme elicited little protest from the SS officers, with one exception: SS-
Oberführer Mehlhorn. His objections were not quite unexpected for his nickname within the SD was ‘Bedenkenrat’ (Councillor of Worries, i.e. one who always raises concerns about everything). At this first meeting, Mehlhorn lived up to his reputation by immediately voicing doubts about the operation. He stated that it would create a responsibility for Germany that would be hard to bear in the face of history; and, on a more practical level, that such operations were the responsibility of the Wehrmacht, not of the SS. Mehlhorn’s trepidation caused Heydrich to ponder eliminating him from the planning team but in the end he kept him on board. Discussing the force needed to stage the provocations, it was decided to set up a company-size force of about 250 men, all SS members, of middle age, militarily trained and capable of speaking Polish. The task of getting together this force was given to Hellwig. Orders immediately went out to the SS districts along the Silesian border seeking recruits for special duty requiring knowledge of Polish language and customs. So far, Heydrich had not yet decided on the exact locations where the border incidents would take place, but he knew someone would be able to give him good advice: SS-Sturmbannführer Dr Emanuel Schaefer, chief of the Gestapo in the Upper Silesian town of Oppeln. Schaefer, an old friend of Heydrich, knew the border region like the back of his hand. He had grown up in the area and had taken part in the German-Polish frontier battles in the 1920s. On August 8, Schaefer received a phone call from Heydrich’s adjutant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Neumann, requesting him to come to the airstrip at Neustadt the following day — alone and in civilian clothes. He was asked not to inform anyone as it concerned a top secret matter.
On August 9, Heydrich, Hellwig and Neumann flew to Neustadt in a Junkers Ju 52 aircraft and met up with Schaefer. As he alighted from the plane, Heydrich told an astonished Schaefer: ‘The Führer needs a reason for war’. Schaefer took Heydrich and the others to the Haus Oberschlesien, a grand hotel in the centre of Gleiwitz, where Heydrich explained the plan for the upcoming operation. Schaefer, who was also in charge of the district’s frontier police, was instructed to see to it that this force would be withdrawn for the duration of the provocations. The following day, August 10, Schaefer took his guests on a reconnaissance along the frontier. After a long search, they had found two sites that suited Heydrich’s plans: the German customs office outside the village of Hochlinden, some 20 kilometres south of Gleiwitz (on the main road from Gleiwitz to Ratibor), and the lone forestry station near the town of Pitschen, some 100 kilometres to the north-west of Gleiwitz. Both sites had a topography that was ideal for the intended fake border incidents. The frontier at Hochlinden ran partly over open fields, partly along the Ruda creek. A narrow strip of German territory extended into Poland in such a way that the German custom-house could be fired at over Polish land without having to leave Germany. The custom-house itself lay in a fold of the land, with the result that the inhabitants of Hochlinden would be unable to see what was happening there. The Polish custom-house lay a few hundred yards distant from the German one and the nearest Polish village, Chwalecice (Chwallentzitz), a little further up the road, lay too far away for its inhabitants to interfere with the provocation. The other target, the forestry office at Pitschen, stood on the edge of a forest, the Schlüsselwald, some three kilometres to the north of the town. A solitary stone building, at one time it had been the main house of an old farming estate known locally as Kluczow. The German-Polish frontier ran along the Prosna river, just to the north of it, so a force approaching through the wood could easily pose as Polish. Heydrich’s excursion to Upper Silesia had caused him to think up yet a third provocation: a raid by ‘Polish rebels’ on the German radio station at Gleiwitz to broadcast a message of Polish insurrection. Heydrich was sure such a provocation would have a wide impact. A Polish-language radio broadcast from a German radio transmitter violently overrun by Polish terrorists would give the world clear evidence of Polish aggression The radio station in question stood along Tarnowitzer Landstrasse, on a hill in the town’s north-eastern outskirts, five kilometres from the German-Polish border, its 118metre-high wooden aerial tower being the most prominent landmark in Gleiwitz. A regional transmitter, it broadcast music and German-language programming for the people of the Gleiwitz area. The special task of staging the raid on the Reichssender Gleiwitz was given to SSSturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks, an old fighter and party faithful, and sabotage specialist on the staff of the SD-Hauptamt. On August 10, Naujocks was summoned into Heydrich’s office. Heydrich informed him of his special mission, which he said would be of the highest profile. He instructed Naujocks to put together a team of five or six men and travel to Gleiwitz, there to await the coded signal to launch the attack. He was not to get in touch with or inform any official authority in the town and his men should not carry anything that could identify them as belonging to the SS, SD, police or show their German nationality. The code signal for the attack was ‘Grossmutter gestorben’ (Grandmother died) and would be telephoned from Berlin by Heydrich himself.
Oberschlesien (Upper Silesia), the region of the German Reich where the border incidents were planned, had a rather erratic frontier with Poland which allowed easy transgressions by fake insurgents. This map is from 1920 but the frontier in the south-eastern tip of Silesia, between Beuthen and Ratibor, was re-aligned in 1922 following the 1921 plebiscite and subsequent insurgent battles. We have drawn the border as it ran in 1939. Within the next 48 hours, Naujocks put together a team of six men. He personally selected four from his own SD unit and Heydrich assigned the other two. One was a ‘radio expert’ from Radio Berlin, the other an announcer who spoke Polish. (This latter man, a Polish bank clerk and Gestapo informer from Oppeln, actually did not join the team until later, arriving only one hour before the actual raid.) Naujocks trusted neither. On August 12, Naujocks and his band of five motored to Gleiwitz in two cars and took up residence in the Haus Oberschlesien and one other hotel. They registered under false identifications under the pretence of engineers and geologists surveying the local landscape, particularly that around the looming radio tower. Naujocks made one reconnaissance of the station site, presenting himself at the gate as a street-hawker. Then he and his men settled in in their hotel rooms, awaiting the coded call from Berlin. Meanwhile, on August 11, Heydrich had convened another planning conference with the four ‘Tannenberg’ commanders, Mehlhorn, Hellwig, Trummler and Rasch. At this
meeting Mehlhorn again raised questions, which he apparently presented to Heydrich in writing, but Heydrich was quick to extinguish all doubts by declaring the operation a Führerbefehl (Hitler order) and that he would not listen to any more objections. He wanted to get down to business. By now plans had become more crystallised. There would be three staged border incidents: an assault by ‘Polish Army soldiers and insurgents’ on the German customhouse at Hochlinden; an attack by ‘Polish insurgents’ upon the Pitschen forestry station; and a raid by ‘Polish rebels’ on the German radio station at Gleiwitz to broadcast a message of Polish insurrection. The mock attack at Hochlinden was designed to draw the attention of the Polish frontier troops and, so it was hoped, even lure Polish soldiers across the border into Germany, allowing the Germans to take real Polish prisoners. The ‘German defenders’ would consist of SS men in Grenzpolizei (Border Police) uniforms and real Grenzpolizei cadets supplied by Trummler’s regular command, the Grenzpolizei-Schule in Pretsch an der Elbe. 5
SS-Oberführer Herbert Mehlhorn was appointed overall co-ordinator of the ‘Tannenberg’ operations. Born in Chemnitz on March 24, 1903, Mehlhorn was a trained lawyer. He had been a leading executive at Sicherheitsdienst headquarters until 1937 but had fallen out with Heydrich who had him transferred out of the SD to SS postings abroad, and by August 1938 he was stationed in Pressburg (Bratislava) in occupied Slovakia. Valuing him for his organisational talent, Heydrich recalled him to Berlin for ‘Tannenberg’, but their renewed association lasted only three weeks, Heydrich acrimoniously relieving Mehlhorn of his command after the chaotic false start of the operation on the night of August 25/26. Soon after, Mehlhorn became chief of civil administration in the Reichsgau Wartheland, the Poznan district of occupied Poland annexed by Germany, a function which he combined with that of vicepresident of the district administration of Minden in north-west Germany. As Gau bureaucrat, he was co-responsible for the elimination of the Jewish ghetto of Lodz in early 1944. In November 1944, he was on the staff of the SS-Oberabschnitt Südost (SS District South West) in Breslau. Never called to justice for his acts during the war, he died in Tübingen on October 30, 1968.
SS-Standartenführer Hans Trummler led the ‘German defenders’ at Hochlinden. Born in Friedrichsroda on October 24, 1900, a lawyer by training, Trummler joined the Nazi party and the SA in 1928. In 1934 he became director of the SA school in Leipzig and, switching to the border police, by 1939 was commander of the Grenzpolizei-Schule at Pretsch an der Elbe. Immediately after ‘Tannenberg’, he served as a unit commander in Einsatzgruppe zbV, one of the SD mobile killing units employed in the Polish campaign. Promoted to SS-Oberführer in November 1941, he was appointed to command the new Sicherheitspolizei-Schule in Fürstenberg in Mecklenburg in January 1942. In June 1944 he became chief of the Sicherheitspolizei and SD in the Wiesbaden district (combining this with the same position for the Westmark (Lorraine) district from September-December 1944). In early April 1945 he took command of a Kampfgruppe made up of SD personnel which fought in Bavaria and was responsible for the massacre of five civilians at Altötting on April 28. Convicted for war crimes by a US Military Court (for ordering the killing of two captured American airmen) in March 1947, he was hanged at Landsberg Prison on October 22, 1948.
SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Hellwig was assigned to lead the ‘Polish attackers’ at Hochlinden, but was ignominiously relieved by Heydrich after he badly botched up during the aborted first attempt on the night of August 25/26. Born in Nordhausen on February 24, 1898, Hellwig had served in WWI and fought with the Freikorps Rossbach in 1919. Having become a policeman during the Weimar era, he joined the NSDAP in 1933 and the SS in 1935, being appointed chief of the Gestapo in Breslau. In 1937, Heydrich selected him to command the new Sicherheitspolizei-Schule at Berlin-Charlottenburg. Like Trummler, he served as a unit commander in Einsatzgruppe zbV in the Polish campaign, September-November 1939. In March 1941 he was appointed commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and SD in the Stettin district. In October 1941, he became SS- und Polizei-Führer (SS and Police Leader), first in Shitomir in the Ukraine, then from May 1943 to July 1944 in Bialystok in Poland. By now an SS-Gruppenführer, in January 1945 he became Höherer SS- und Polizei-Führer Nordost (Higher SS and Police Leader North-East) in Königsberg, East Prussia, which he remained until the end of the war. He died in Hannover on August 20, 1962.
Heydrich lost no time in appointing commanders for the various parts of the operation. Overall co-ordination would be in the hands of Mehlhorn, who would install his command post in Schaefer’s Gestapo headquarters at Oppeln. Hellwig would lead the ‘Polish attackers’ at the Hochlinden customhouse, while Trummler would head the ‘defence’ there. Rasch was placed in charge of the ‘Polish attack’ on the Pitschen forestry station. The Hochlinden and Pitschen units were assigned identical code-words for action: ‘Kleiner Auerhahn’ (small wood grouse) was the alarm to prepare; ‘Grosser Auerhahn’ (large wood grouse) would order the men to move into position; and, finally, ‘Agathe’ would signal the start of the attack. Two operational headquarters would be set up, one in Schaefer’s Gestapo office in Oppeln and one in the Polizei-Präsidium (Main Police Headquarters) in Gleiwitz. Direct telephone and telegraph connections were established between Heydrich’s Berlin
office and these two command posts. From Gleiwitz there would be further telephone lines to forward stations closer to the assault areas. For Hochlinden this was the police station at Gross Rauden (Schaefer would take up station in the customs commissioner’s office there during the time of the attack) and for Pitschen the customs office at Sandhäuser. Radios would not be used. All coded commands would be issued by telephone by Heydrich personally. However, as the Hochlinden and Pitschen assault teams would by then have moved to forward bases, it was decided that motor despatch riders would be employed to take the coded orders to them. Despatch riders would also be used if further contact was needed after the task forces had departed for attack. As the raid on the Hochlinden customhouse was planned to look like it was carried out by Polish military troops, Heydrich needed Polish Army uniforms and equipment. This is where he needed help from Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr, which had a store
of Polish equipment taken from Polish deserters. Unwilling to appeal directly to his rival Canaris, Heydrich asked his superior Himmler to have an order issued to the Abwehr by Hitler himself. On August 17, Himmler, Heydrich and Canaris met with Hitler at the Obersalzberg, where the latter instructed Canaris to provide 150 Polish uniforms for ‘an enterprise of SS-Reichsführer Himmler’. Canaris tried to get out of the order by complaining to his superior, Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, Armed Forces High Command), but Keitel said there was nothing to be done about it as it was a Führer’s order. Thus rebuffed, Canaris complied and the uniforms, along with accessories, were supplied to the SD-Amt III (Ausland) — Heydrich’s own foreign intelligence service, led by SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Jost — who passed them on to the ‘Tannenberg’ commanders. It would remain the Abwehr’s only involvement in the operation.
Left: SS-Sturmbannführer Dr Emanuel Schaefer, chief of the Gestapo in Oppeln, was the one who put Heydrich on the track of the locations suitable for the planned border provocations. Born in Hultschin on April 20, 1905, Schaefer grew up in Rybnik (two kilometres from Hochlinden) and as a student fought to put down the Polish rebellions of 191923, so he knew the area well. A policeman since 1926, he had joined the SA and the Nazi party’s Sicherheitsdienst in 1933, the SS in 1936 and the NSDAP in 1937. Immediately after Gleiwitz, he commanded SD-Einsatzgruppe II in the Polish campaign and then became chief of the Sipo and SD in Kattowice. In January 1942 he was appointed commander of the Sipo and SD in Serbia, which he remained until December 1944, when he was temporarily transferred to serve as the SD chief in Belgium during the Ardennes offensive. He ended the war as Sipo and SD commander in Triest. After the war, he lived under a false name until he was discovered in 1951 whereupon he was brought to trial by a German court which sentenced him to 21 months imprisonment. A new trial in 1953 handed down six and a half years imprisonment for war crimes in Serbia of which he only served three. He died in Cologne on December 4, 1974.
Above: SS-Oberführer Otto Rasch led the attack by ‘Polish rebels’ on the Pitschen forestry house. Born in Friedrichsruh on December 7, 1891, Rasch served in the Imperial Navy in the First World War. Having completed a double university doctorate, he joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and the SS in 1933. He was burgomaster of Radeberg and from 1936 mayor of Wittenberg. In 1937, he switched to the Sicherheitspolizei, becoming chief of the Gestapo, first in Frankfurt-am-Main, then in Linz in Austria. In 1939 he served stints as head of the Sipo and SD, first in Kassel (February-May), then Prague (May-June), then Linz (June-October), then Königsberg, where he remained until November 1941. From June to October 1941, he commanded Einsatzgruppe C, the SD mobile killing unit in the Ukraine, responsible for the murder of 80,000, among them the 33,771 Jews killed at the Babi Yar massacre near Kiev in September 1941. After serving as commander of Sipo and SD in the Kiev district, in April 1942 he returned to civilian life, becoming director of the Kontinentaler Öl AG oil company. Arrested in 1945 and prosecuted for war crimes, he was released from trial in February 1948 due to Parkinson’s disease and he died in Wehrstedt on November 1, 1948. Above: Schaefer’s Gestapo headquarters in Oppeln was used as operational command post for the ‘Tannenberg’ actions, overall co-ordinator Mehlhorn and — after the latter’s relief from command on August 26 — Gestapo Müller taking over Schaefer’s office for the purpose. Oppeln is today Opole in Poland and the building at No. 43 Von-Moltke-Strasse (today Ulitsa Tadeusza Koscinski) is now a police school. Left: A second operational command post was set up in the PolizeiPräsidium (Main Police Headquarters) in the Teuchertstrasse in Gleiwitz. This is where Mehlhorn was stationed on the night of the first failed attempt on August 25/26 and where Franz Honiok, the ‘canned goods’ for the radio station, was held imprisoned during the hours before the attack. The huge complex on what is today the corner of Ulitsa Zygmunta Starego and Ulitsa Tadeusza Koscinski in Polish Gliwice is now in use as No. 106 Military Hospital. 7
Assembly and training of the ‘Tannenberg’ force took place at the Sicherheitsdienst-Schule Bernau, an SD training school hidden in the woods 25 kilometres north-east of Berlin (see the map on page 2). Often referred to as the SS-Führer-Fechtschule (SS Officer Fencing School), it featured seminar rooms, an auditorium and a sports hall (opposite, centre), an outdoor Meanwhile, the recruitment of the ‘Tannenberg’ personnel was underway. Suitable candidates received a call-up telegram from the Gestapo, Police or Sicherheitsdienst, ordering them to report for duty at the SDHauptamt in Berlin. No further explanation was given. Assembly and training of the force would take place at the SS-Führer-Fechtschule (SS Officer Fencing School) Bernau, a Sicherheitsdienst training school tucked away in the woods at Bernau, 25 kilometres northeast of Berlin. Its director, SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Hoffmann, was Heydrich’s former fencing teacher, and Heydrich had personally selected it as a training ground for the operation. In mid-August, Trummler and Hellwig paid an unannounced visit to the school, inspecting the building and its grounds. The following day, Heydrich’s chief adjutant phoned Hoffmann to inform him that his school would be used as training facility for a top-secret SS operation involving a force of between 120 and 250 men and that he was to take care of their billeting. The first recruits arrived at Bernau on August 16, driven there in closed trucks. Their number quickly grew to some 364 men. They had to sever all connections with the Reich. They were required to sign secrecy pacts under threat of death and detention of family members. None were allowed to carry any personal effects. All mail was censored and only a cover address, Potter & Mühl, Berlin, could be used. The men were divided into three platoons and for the rest of their stay practiced military drill. Due to the closeness of the autobahn and a country road, training was initially done in the school’s gymnasium, but after the arrival of grey-green uniforms of the German border police, the drill was carried out outdoors. On August 19, two trucks loaded with the 150 Polish uniforms and equipment from Canaris arrived at the school. About 40 of the men received a kitbag containing a uni8
swimming pool and accommodation rooms for students (opposite, top right) . This was the first Sicherheitsdienst academy to be set up but it was followed by other SD schools later created at Berlin-Charlottenburg, Fürstenberg, Schloss Grünberg near Nepomuk, Zella-Mehlis, Pretsch-an-der-Elbe and Prague.
form and accoutrements and were issued with Polish Army carbines from the First World War. On orders from Trummler, they received a Polish Army-style crew cut and several of the officers and NCOs grew beards and whiskers which were commonplace in the Polish Army. Several of the recruits had actually served in the Polish Army and these were employed to instruct the others in Polish Army drill and regulations. The remaining men, who were to act the part of ‘Polish insurgents’, received what the SD called ‘Räuberzivil’ (‘rogue clothing’) — black boot trousers and typical Polish civilian jackets and caps — together with Polish cigarettes, matches, letters and bills for stuffing into their pockets to prove their Polish origins. The whole group would spend evenings rehearsing and singing Polish songs. None of the men knew of their mission but they were made aware that it was of the highest order. They thought of themselves as a ‘Himmelfahrtskommando’ (Suicide Squad).
During one of the beer evenings in the school’s canteen Hellwig asked school director Hoffmann whether he would not like to participate in the upcoming operation. Hoffmann agreed, and Hellwig soon secured the necessary authorisation from Heydrich for Hoffmann to join the force. On August 20, Heydrich and Hellwig flew to Upper Silesia and carried out a final reconnaissance of the Hochlinden terrain. Later that same day, Reichsführer-SS Himmler himself arrived at Gleiwitz airfield together with his Chief-of-Staff, SS-Gruppenführer Karl Wolff, to make a personal inspection visit to Hochlinden, the site where the most-dramatic action would take place. Heydrich and Oppeln Gestapo chief Schaefer accompanied them. Schaefer later recalled seeing Himmler nodding knowingly in conversation with Heydrich, the need for secrecy so high that he was instructed to refer to Himmler as ‘doctor’ rather than by his rank.
Reproduced from ADAC Umgebungskarte Berlin 1:100,000
ATB BA RS
Meanwhile, Heydrich and Gestapo chief Müller were making plans for another refinement of their wicked scheme. They had con-
SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Hoffmann, the director of the Bernau school, was temporarily attached to the ‘Tannenberg’ force. He participated in the first failed attempt at Hochlinden on the night of August 25/26 and, after Hellwig had been removed of command as a result of it, was appointed to take his place as leader of the ‘Polish’ attackers. Born on July 31, 1902, Hoffmann later became commander of one of the other SD schools, the SD-Funkschule (Radio School) at Grünberg Castle near Nepomuk and, after this was closed in April 1943, switched to military service, ending the war as commander of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 39 of the 18. SS-Freiwilligen-Panzergrenadier-Division ‘Horst Wessel’.
jured up the idea of leaving dead bodies of concentration camp inmates, dressed to look like Poles, behind at the various mock battle scenes as further evidence of the Polish aggression. The idea was first broached by Müller at the planning conference of August 8, where it had been demurred as ‘unpractical’ by most of the other SS men present, but Müller had carried on nonetheless. The concentration camps fell partly under Gestapo jurisdiction so he would have no trouble procuring suitable candidates from there. The selected persons would be first drugged into near-unconsciousness for the drive to the scene and then shot dead at each site. Müller had thought up a sardonic code-name for the death candidates: they would be referred to as ‘Konserven’ (canned goods). It appears Heydrich and Müller arranged this part of ‘Tannenberg’ separately from the rest of the operation. They mentioned it to the other sub-commanders but, knowing they disagreed or disapproved, did not involve them in the preparations for it. About August 20, two Gestapo officers arrived at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, 30 kilometres north-west of Berlin, and, together with officers of the camp’s Politische Abteilung (Political Department, the Gestapo branch of the camp’s SS administration) selected 10 to 12 inmates, both political prisoners and career criminals, from the records. Told to report at the camp gate, these men were put in isolation cells in the camp prison block. A few days later, they were collected from the camp, hand-cuffed, and driven off in black saloon cars, the later note on their camp registry card just reading ‘Aktion Konservendose’ (Action Tin Can). Some went direct to the Gestapo prison in Breslau, where they were locked up in isolation cells, there to await their final fate. Others were first taken to the Gestapo main headquarters at No. 8 Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse in Berlin, where they spent a short time in the basement cells before being transferred to the Breslau prison too.
Before it became a Nazi training centre, the Bernau facility had been the national cadre school of the Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, the German trade unions federation. Built in 1928-30 on designs by architects Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer, it is a prime example of Bauhaus architecture — a modernistic style abhorred by the Nazi ideology — so it is rather ironic that it would later serve as a Nazi academy. Seized by the SA on May 2, 1933, it initially served as a cadre school for the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) before becoming a Sicherheitspolizei school in 1936. After the war, the Red Army used it as a hospital and from 1947 to 1991 it served as a training academy for the East-German Freie Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (Free German Trade Unions Federation). With the demise of the GDR, it fell to the Land Brandenburg, which used it to train public servants but from 1989 it stood empty and disused. Taken over by the Berlin Handwerkskammer (Chamber of Handicraft) in 2002 and completely restored and refurbished to its original design, it now serves as a conference centre. TROUBLE NOTED Meanwhile, international tension was mounting by the day. On August 24, the New York Times described ‘warlike preparations’ as Hitler took the first step toward incorporating Danzig into the Reich when the Danzig Senate passed a law declaring: ‘The Gauleiter (Albert Forster) is the supreme head of the State of the Free City of Danzig.’ The August 25 edition carried a photograph showing thousands of Danzigers lining the docks, hands raised in Nazi salute, greeting the arrival of the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein. Associated Press had already reported a German patrol crossing the Polish-East Prussian border near Ilawa in north-eastern Poland and AP correspondent Alvin J. Steinkopf noted increased activity in Berlin and along the Polish frontier in his August 26 dispatch: ‘Germany shut herself off from the world for seven hours last night and early today as she made apparently last-minute preparations “to deal with Poland”, ready for any action on the part of the Poles or anyone else.’ Increased troop movements were reported in the vicinity of Gleiwitz and that an entire floor of Gleiwitz’s largest hotel was taken over by staff officers. Steinkopf’s dispatch was broken off midway. Sensational reports of abuse of Germans at the hands of Poles were fodder for the Nazi press. The Polish government was kept busy denying atrocity stories such as the alleged slaughter of 23 Germans in the neighbourhood of Lodz and eight others in the vicinity of Bielsko, which were described as ‘pure invention and falsehood’. A story datelined from Vienna on August 26 stated that the atrocity stories of Silesia bore a resemblance to the same stories coming from the Czechoslovakian crisis of the year before. The report pointed to a photograph published in the Neueste Nachrichten showing the ‘horrors of the Polish terror’ but which presented a wintertime scene — presumably in August. 9
On August 24, the forces that were to carry out the provocations at Hochlinden and Pitschen were driven from Bernau to forward bases in Upper Silesia. The task force for the assault on the Hochlinden custom-house was billeted in the town of Ehrenforst, 30 kilometres north of their target area. The men were
in the attics of the buildings in the yard, their leaders in the guest rooms. The whole compound was sealed off. No guest was allowed to enter the restaurant and its window shutters were closed day and night so that passers-by could not see in. None of the SS men was allowed to leave either the restaurant or the yard. The following morning, the object of their mission — to stage a fake Polish raid on a nearby forestry house — was finally disclosed to the men. Some of the officers left the inn to survey the area of attack. The 20 trucks containing Hellwig’s group of some 220 drove 45 kilometres south-east to Ehrenforst, a small village about 30 kilometres from their operational target Hochlinden, where they made station for the night. The men were billeted in a hall of a local tavern, the Gasthof Bielitzer, while the officers stayed in Schloss Ehrenforst, the castle belonging to Prince Hohenlohe-Öhringen, which was located in a park across the road from the inn. Like at Pitschen, the men were completely sealed in, guards being posted at every exit of the inn. Shortly after, Trummler arrived with the force of Grenzpolizei cadets from his school that were to provide the ‘German defenders’. They too were billeted in the village. A major worry of the ‘Tannenberg’ commanders was that their actions would accidentally set off a real fire-fight with regular Wehrmacht troops, thousands of which stood poised along the border ready for the invasion of Poland. However, measures had
already been taken to prevent such a collision. On the 24th, Mehlhorn was visited in his Oppeln hotel by a Wehrmacht general who had come to delineate the sectors that would be made free of troops during the ‘Tannenberg’ action. He gave his assurances that his troops would stand down and by the afternoon of the 25th they had been withdrawn. At Pitschen, the stand-down was easily arranged for the attacking unit here was the SS’s own Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’. Likewise, customs officials and border guards in the area had also been ordered to cease operations for the duration. The personnel of the custom-house at Hochlinden received orders to vacate the building (their families who lived in the nearby housing block were ordered to evacuate to the rear) and a platoon from the local border guard company of Grenzwacht-Regiment 68, which had just taken up position at Hochlinden, was ordered to withdraw. At Pitschen, which was not close to any frontier post, the local border patrol was scheduled in such a way that it would not be near the forestry house during the hours of the raid. As for the forester, it is very likely that he was informed of the upcoming raid on his house (he was a member of the SS, so Rasch probably reckoned he could be trusted with a secret). He took care to have his wife stay with friends in town during the night of the raid. In the afternoon of August 25, the ‘Tan-
FALSE START AT HOCHLINDEN (Night of August 25/26) On the afternoon of August 23, Hitler issued orders for ‘Fall Weiss’ to commence at 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 26th. Immediately, Heydrich sent an order to Naujocks at Gleiwitz and to Hellwig, Trummler, Rasch and Hoffmann at Bernau to make final preparations for their missions. That night, the men stationed at the Bernau SD school celebrated their forthcoming operations with beer and song. Speaking to the assembled officers, Hellwig said: ‘A piece of world history is made, comrades, at this table’. At 5 a.m. next morning, August 24, the 350 men of the Suicide Squad piled into 30 closed SS trucks, which in addition carried an army kitchen crew and supplies. The men of Hellwig’s company were dressed in Grenzpolizei uniforms; their Polish uniforms and kit had been packed and were carried in the trucks, while Rasch’s commandos were already wearing the ‘rogue costumes’ they would use in the Pitschen attack. The men were forbidden to look outside the enclosed vehicles or to speak with anyone outside of their group. The column drove 450 kilometres through Breslau to Oppeln, where it split up. The group under Rasch, destined for the forestry house attack and comprising some 130 men in ten trucks, continued 60 kilometres northeast to Pitschen, where they settled in the Gasthof Wyrwich, a family inn on the edge of town with a large brewery yard enclosed by a wall. The rank-and-file and the NCOs slept
quartered in one of the village taverns, the Gasthof Bielitzer on Hauptstrasse. Ehrenforst is today Slawiecice in Poland, a name derived from the village’s older German name Slaventsitz. Unfortunately, the old Bielitzer tavern of 1939 no longer exists, its place having been taken by a modern replacement.
Left: Task force commanders Hellwig and Trummler and the unit’s other officers took more luxurious quarters in the Schloss Ehrenforst, the 18th-century castle in the park across the road from the Bielitzer tavern. It belonged to the noble family of 10
Hohenlohe-Öhringen, well-known captains of mining and industry in Upper Silesia. The castle suffered serious damage during the battles of 1945, and its ruins were completely destroyed by fire in 1948. Right: Today only the side portal remains.
SS DRESSED AS BORDER POLICE
German customs personnel housing block
JUMP-OFF POSITION OF ‘POLISH ATTACKERS’
Polish farm house
FR ON TI ER
The attack on the Hochlinden custom-house. The map shows both the aborted action on the night of August 25/26, when Hellwig’s ‘Polish attackers’ force went in too soon and was only just recalled in time, and the second attack on the night of August 31/September 1, carried out by a smaller force which did not enter Polish territory.
nenberg’ unit commanders received the first indication of an imminent attack when motorcycle messengers delivered a sealed envelope with a letter giving the first codeword: ‘Kleiner Auerhahn’ — the signal to prepare for action. The letter added: ‘“Grosser Auerhahn” probably to be expected from 2 p.m.’ Mehlhorn, the overall co-ordinator, who was at his operational command post at Oppeln, received an order from Heydrich telling him to move to the other command post, the Police Headquarters in Gleiwitz, there to await the further operational orders. The second code-word, ‘Grosser Auerhahn’ — the signal for the units to move into position — arrived that evening. Rasch’s team at Pitschen and Naujocks’ team at Gleiwitz were billeted only a few kilometres from their respective objectives and did not have to travel far. However, it was different for Trummler’s and Hellwig’s teams at Ehrenforst, for their target area, Hochlinden, was still 30 kilometres away. At 10 p.m. Hellwig and his NCOs were convened in the Schloss Ehrenforst where Trummler announced that the men had to be ready to depart in 30 minutes. Aktion Hochlinden and ‘Fall Weiss’ were underway. Around 4 a.m., the men boarded their transport. Trummler’s ‘German defenders’ were already wearing their border police uniforms. In Hellwig’s group, the ‘Polish insurgents’ were already dressed in their ‘rogue costume’ but the 40 ‘Polish soldiers’ carried their Polish gear in kitbags aboard the vehicles. Unable to see outside, the men literally travelled in the dark as they were driven down to the frontier at Hochlinden. Reaching the target area, a sentry directed the trucks off the road and into a wooded area. Trummler was already there, and he ordered Hellwig’s men to change into their Polish uniforms. As the trucks had pulled off the road, the men inside had got a glimpse of about eight to ten black Mercedes, curtains tightly drawn, standing parked one behind the other at the roadside in the direction of Hochlinden. Spotting the line of official cars, the men wondered who or what they carried. Had some top Nazi, perhaps even the Führer himself, come to observe their action? Would they be filmed? However, the cars did not carry Hitler or any other VIP Nazi but the ‘canned goods’, the concentration camp prisoners whose corpses would be left behind at the mock battle scene dressed in Polish uniforms. In preparation for their easy transfer to the scene, the prisoners had been drugged into near-unconsciousness by one of Heydrich’s personal physicians, Dr Strassburger (who would later receive an Iron Cross for his actions on the Polish frontier). Gestapo chief Müller had personally come along to deliver the goods. The ‘Polish’ attackers moved off, led by Hellwig who was dressed in the attire of a Polish captain. Hoffmann, the director of the Bernau school, went with this group. Marching silently through the wood and across the Ruda valley in pitch darkness, they hid in a clump of bushes about 500 metres from the Polish customs office. At the same time, Trummler’s German defenders took up their positions north of the German customhouse. As both Hochlinden groups steeled for action, none were aware that Hitler had rescinded his attack plan. At 8.30 p.m. that evening (August 25), the Führer had called off the war. Two significant events occurred at the last minute to give Hitler pause: Great Britain signed a mutual protection agreement with Poland and Mussolini had notified Hitler that he could not support a wider war; his adventures in Ethiopia and Spain had drained his resources. The Wehrmacht divisions and most other
The terrain of the Hochlinden border incident as seen form the Polish side. The Polish custom-house has gone but it stood where the house on the extreme right is now. The village of Chwalecice (Chwallentzitz in German) lies behind the photographer. Today the area between the two former custom-houses is covered by the northern end of a large reservoir, the old road now running on a causeway bordered on two sides by water. 11
The target of the Hochlinden provocation: the German customhouse. Completed in the summer of 1939, it was a brand-new
told his force to make ready for battle against Polish troops. (He had obviously not realised how nonsensical it was to have troops in Polish uniforms engage Polish forces.) Mehlhorn in Gleiwitz was appalled when the despatch rider returned with a communication from Hellwig — written a slip from an SS message pad — that he had deployed for battle against the Poles and just ordered to his troops to open fire on approaching Polish trucks. Exasperated, Mehlhorn immediately sent the messenger back with an unequivocal order to Hellwig to instantly evacuate his positions, break of any fire-fight and return to his billets. Hellwig withdrew to the debussing area in
the wood, where he met Trummler and his force. Trummler bitterly reproached his fellow officer for his disregard of orders, saying ‘You have made a real mess of it’. The trucks quickly returned the men to Ehrenforst while ‘Gestapo Müller’ and his mysterious black saloons withdrew in another direction. Things had gone horribly astray at Hochlinden, but elsewhere Heydrich’s cancelling order reached the SD teams in time. Naujocks and his men at Gleiwitz had not even left their hotel, and Rasch and his crew at Pitschen returned to their billets at the Wyrwich inn within half an hour of their departure.
units that stood poised along the Polish frontier learned of Hitler’s change of plans in time, but some did not. At Mosty, in German-occupied Slovakia, a Wehrmacht commando unit dispatched by Keitel and Canaris went in as planned and briefly held a Polish rail station, only to be repulsed by Polish troops when they attempted to seize the strategically important railway tunnels in the nearby Jablunka Pass. Their radio failed to receive the message calling off the attack. They retreated with two wounded (see After the Battle No. 79). Another group that went in too early was Hellwig’s ‘Polish’ attack group at Hochlinden. Heydrich in Berlin was about to send a message to Mehlhorn in Gleiwitz to call off the ‘Tannenberg’ actions when, to his shock and surprise, he received a message from Hellwig saying that the attack had begun. Heydrich was horrified. How could this be, when the code signal for the start of the attack — ‘Agathe’ — had not even been given out? Enraged, Heydrich immediately sent an urgent message to the operational command post in Gleiwitz to stop the attack: ‘Ihr seid wohl verrückt geworden!’ (You must have gone crazy!), he telegraphed. When Mehlhorn saw Heydrich’s message, he at once dispatched a motorcycle messenger from Gross Rauden to Hochlinden to break off the operation. On reaching the frontier, the despatch rider — in German uniform — raced right out in the open to catch up with the ‘Polish’ attackers to deliver the message to Hellwig. By then part of Hellwig’s men had already advanced 200 meters into Polish territory. They immediately and silently withdrew to the German border. Hellwig had made a fatal mistake: he had confused the code-word ‘Grosser Auerhahn’ — the warning to get in place, with ‘Agathe’ — the final order to attack. However, Hellwig had still not understood. On regaining German territory, he
building at the time of the ‘Tannenberg’ incident. Although no longer a customs office, it remains virtually unchanged.
The building that housed the families of the Hochlinden customs personnel survives as well, a few hundred metres closer to Hochlinden. In preparation of the fake attack, the Sicherheitsdienst had ordered the customs officers to go off duty and their families were instructed to evacuate to the rear. Our picture is looking south from the village towards the Polish border. The German custom-house is beyond the rise, in a fold of the terrain, on the left side of the road. Hochlinden is today Polish and named Stodoly — a suburb of the municipality of Rybnik.
SS-Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks led the team that staged the attack on the Gleiwitz radio station. Born in Kiel on September 20, 1911, Naujocks was trained as a metal-worker. He joined the NSDAP in 1931, the SS in 1933 and the SD in 1934, where he began work in SD-Amt VI (Foreign Intelligence), specialising in forged documents and political assassinations. In March 1938, in the run-up to the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, he secretly supplied arms to the Slovak Hlinka Guard rebels. Two months after Gleiwitz, on November 8, 1939, he masterminded the kidnapping of British secret agents Richard Stevens and Sigmund Payne Best at the Dutch border in the so-called Venlo Incident (see After the Battle No. 11). In 1940, by now in the RSHA Amt VI-B (Foreign Intelligence, Western Europe), Technical Section, he was involved in the initial efforts at counterfeiting of the British currency, later known as Operation ‘Bernhard.’ In January 1941, by now an SS-Obersturmbannführer, he fell out of favour with Heydrich who had him arrested, demoted and sent to the Eastern Front, where he served in the 1. SS-Panzergrenadier-Division ‘LSSAH’. Released from military duty due to a nervous breakdown in September 1942, he was assigned to the economic department of the German military government in occupied Belgium, where he participated in hunting down resistance fighters. Promoted to SS-Obersturmführer, in December 1943 he was sent to Denmark to command the so-called Petergruppe, an SD terror group responsible for the murder of some 50 Danish partisans and numerous bomb attacks. Returning to Belgium in the autumn of 1944, he deserted and surrendered to a pair of American GIs in the Ardennes on October 19. His affidavits given to his American interrogators were used in the Nuremberg Trial. In 1946, due to be tried for his own actions, he escaped from his POW camp and went to live in Hamburg as a businessman, first under a false name but from 1962 under his own. He was convicted in Denmark but never served a sentence. He died in Hamburg on April 4, 1966. COMMAND CHANGES AND REVISION OF PLANS Heydrich immediately called for an investigation into the botched job and the miscommunication. The commanders involved — Mehlhorn, Hellwig, Rasch and Schaefer — were called to Heydrich’s Berlin office immediately on the 26th. Heydrich launched a vicious attack upon Mehlhorn and Hellwig, relieving both of them on the spot. Mehlhorn had been a thorn in Heydrich’s side from the very beginning with endless questions and doubts about the operation and Heydrich was glad to get rid of him. His task of overall co-ordination was handed to Gestapo chief Müller. Hellwig was taken off the Hochlinden operation and replaced by Trummler. The transfer of command was embarrassingly carried out in a formal ceremony in front of the entire Hochlinden force in the courtyard of the Ehrenforst castle. Hellwig’s task of leading the ‘Polish’ group was assigned to SS-Sturmbannführer Hoffmann of the Bernau school (who had participated at Hochlinden as a member of Hellwig’s force). Hoffmann received his assignment personally on the Gleiwitz airstrip where Müller arrived to appoint him and then immediately fly away. Heydrich was equally furious with Abwehr chief Canaris for the inquiry into the botchup had produced another, quite unsuspected piece of news: border guards at Hochlinden had reported that on the night of August 24/25 — one night before the failed action — a group of ethnic Germans had crossed the border and destroyed the Polish customs office at Chwalecice with hand-grenades. This made one part of Heydrich’s plan — to have part of the ‘Polish’ force capture the Polish custom-house and use its telephone to alert the Polish frontier troops — impossible. Interrogated by the police, one of the participants stated that they had acted ‘on orders of the Abwehr’, leading Heydrich to suspect that Canaris, resentful of his reduced role, had tried to sabotage the SD’s frontier action. (The involvement of the Abwehr in the destruction of the Polish border station could never be proven and its seems certain that it had nothing to do with it. In all probability, the foray was an impromptu action by local Nazi activists.)
As a result of the inglorious false start, Heydrich and Müller revised their plans for Hochlinden. The assault there would now take place with fewer men — about 60 — and they would not enter Polish territory. With the curtailment of the Hochlinden strike, the assault on the Gleiwitz radio station and the broadcast calling for an uprising had become the centrepiece of Operation ‘Tannenberg’. A few days later, Müller called Naujocks to his operational command post at Oppeln to discuss the upcoming action. He explained that he was not happy with the fact that there would be no Polish dead left behind at the scene of the raid, like had been planned for the other actions, and he proposed to Naujocks to leave behind a corpse in Polish uniform. Naujocks explained that this would be illogical as his raid was supposed to be by Polish civilian rebels. Müller reacted: ‘OK, you’ll get him in civvies’. He explained that, on receipt of the agreed code signal, the raid was to start at 8 p.m. and he would deliver the ‘canned goods’ between 8 p.m. and 8.10 p.m. Mülller realised that he could not simply use one of the concentration camp prisoners as ‘canned goods’ at Gleiwitz. He needed to find a person that could be actually identified as a Polish insurgent or, at least, as a pro-Polish activist. A search through Gestapo files soon turned up a suitable candidate. Franz Honiok was a 41-year-old ethnic German sympathetic to the Polish cause. He had fought alongside Polish nationalists in the Upper Silesian rebellion of 1921, and had even lived in Poland from 1923 to 1925. Now
a salesman of agricultural machines, he lived in the village of Hohenlieben near Peiskretscham, north of Gleiwitz. He seemed ideal for the part. On August 30, two Gestapo officials in civilian dress arrived at Hohenlieben and unobtrusively arrested Honiok. He was first taken to the police barracks at Beuthen and then to the Gestapo station at Oppeln, where he was held anonymously in the file room. The following morning, August 31, he was transferred to the Gleiwitz police headquarters and incarcerated in the cells. That afternoon, Hitler decided to go ahead with the invasion of Poland. Shortly before 1 p.m. the OKW passed the orders to all military commands re-launch ‘Fall Weiss’. The start of the attack was set for 5.45 a.m. the following morning, September 1.
Right: Franz Honiok — ‘the first man to be killed in the Second World War’. Born on March 21, 1898, Honiok was an ethnic German sympathetic to the Polish cause — the ideal victim for Gestapo Müller’s plan to plant the dead body of a ‘Polish rebel’ at the Gleiwitz radio station as further proof of Polish aggression. Honiok was picked up by the Gestapo in his home town of Hohenlieben (today Lubie in Poland) on August 30 and kept incarcerated until he was needed. Drugged into near-unconsciousness, he was then driven to the radio station, laid down on the ground and shot. 13
ASSAULT ON THE GLEIWITZ RADIO STATION (Night of August 31/September 1) By August 31, Naujocks and his small team had been waiting for action in the Haus Oberschlesien hotel for over two weeks. Finally, at 4 p.m. that afternoon, the telephone in Naujocks’ room rang. It was Heydrich, recognisable by his high-pitched voice: ‘Please call back’. Naujocks immediately returned the call to hear only the code signal for attack: ‘Grossmutter gestorben’. Naujocks at once called his men together and, for the first time, disclosed their mission, telling them they were to stage a mock Polish raid on the Gleiwitz radio station. He also informed them that a dead body would be left behind at the scene. Shortly after, the last member of the intruder squad, the announcer who was to deliver the broadcast in Polish, arrived at the hotel and joined the team. That afternoon, as a final preparation for the attack, Heydrich took measures to insure that the police guard at the radio station would not interfere with the foray. Since August 20, the German postal authorities had had a detail of 13 men guarding the station. On August 28, this had been replaced by a seven-man detail from the Gleiwitz Schutzpolizei. Now, the Schutzpolizei commander was instructed to withdraw his men from the site. They were to be replaced by a detail from the Sicherheitspolizei. No expla-
Right: The Haus Oberschlesien hotel in the centre of Gleiwitz, where Naujocks and his men stayed for over two weeks (August 12-31) waiting for the coded message that signalled the start of their action to seize the radio station. The Haus Oberschlesien on Wilhelmstrasse was also the venue of Heydrich’s meeting with Schaeffer on August 9, when he visited Upper Silesia to discuss and reconnoitre suitable sites for the frontier provocations.
Totally reconstructed after the war, the former hotel is today the Gliwice Municipal Building, housing the offices of the Mayor and Town Council, its current address being No. 21 Ulitsa Zwyciestwa.
Town map of Gleiwitz showing the main locations in this story:  Gleiwitz radio station;  the old original radio station; 14
THE MOVIE. The film shows Naujocks (played by Hannjo Hasse) reconnoitring the broadcasting station in the guise of a radio technician sent to check up on some technical problem. Here he seen leaving the transmitter building. In actual fact, Naujocks scouted out the station disguised as a street-hawker and did not enter the building’s interior but only took note of the outside and of the way the site was guarded.
nation for this sudden and unusual relief was given other than that it was ‘on orders from Reichsführer-SS Himmler’. The ordinary policemen were ordered off duty at 1 p.m. and the Sicherheitspolizei detail, one officer and three men, arrived at 4 p.m. They walked turns between the station compound main gate and the radio tower, but kept mostly to the guardroom that had been set up in the administration and housing block by the main gate.
It was a pleasant late summer’s evening, an hour after sunset and an hour before the rise of the waning moon. Two black saloon cars quietly pulled up to the front of the radio station which was lit up. The property was surrounded by a two-metre-high wire mesh fence topped with barbed wire, with three gates opening on to the street, which were normally locked for the evening. The righthand gate, furthest away from the guardroom, was unlocked this night.
THE MOVIE. In 1961, the East-German state film production company DEFA produced a feature film on the Gleiwitz affair. It was no coincidence that it was made in the same year the Berlin Wall went up, the East German propaganda authorities having chosen the historical precedent of 1939 to show the world how border provocations could easily lead to war. Directed by award-winning director Gerhard Klein and titled Der Fall Gleiwitz (The Gleiwitz Case), it was released in 1962. Although its storyline is not correct in every detail, it provided a minute reconstruction of the planning and execution of the raid. More importantly, the attack itself was filmed in the actual Gleiwitz radio station, the East German film-makers having received the free use of the facility in neighbouring Poland. Thus, in the absence of historical photos, stills from the movie allow us to illustrate the attack.
Eight o’clock was a time when most households were listening to their radios. News broadcasts were filled with the atrocity stories telling of the persecution of ethnic Germans at the hands of the Poles. As Hitler said in one of his broadcast speeches, Germans were treated ‘with a bloody terror and driven from their homes’. Often the programs would begin and end with the martial tune The March of the Germans in Poland. But, on this night, there was only music.
The radio station on Tarnowitzer Landstrasse was built by the German Ministry of Post in 1934-35 to replace an earlier radio station that had been put up in 1925 but had become obsolete within ten years. The new station featured an 8kW transmitter which broadcast on a medium wavelength of 243.7 metres (1231 kHz). The 111metre wooden tower, built by the Lorenz Company, had an internal vertical aerial with a seven-metre-tall extension mounted at the top to obtain the ideal condition for broadcasting. The coverage (radius) was only around 100 kilometres during the day, but at night the signal could be heard as far away as London, Paris and even New York. This was possible because medium waves can
reflect from the ionosphere, just like a mirror. The new station broadcast the programme of Radio Breslau, which was received through a communication cable via the old radio station. This old station on Raudener Strasse (today Ulitsa Radiowa) in the west part of the city was kept in use as a studio to produce local Gleiwitz programmes that supplemented the Breslau programme. The entire compound of Reichssender Gleiwitz, which included the transmitter building, two housing and administrative blocks and the radio mast, was surrounded by a two-metre-high fence. The side fronting the street had three gates. Tarnowitzer Landstrasse is today named Ulitsa Tarnagórska. 15
In actual fact, the gate was left unlocked by the Sicherheitspolizei detail that arrived to take over guard duty at the site a few hours before the raid.
THE MOVIE. Naujocks and his team of six arrive at the station (left) . . . and one member is seen jumping the gate (the one furthest to the right) and opening it for the others (right).
THE MOVIE. The intruders run past one of the housing blocks . . . to the side entrance of the transmitter building. Three employees were on duty inside the building that evening — Nawroth, the chief telegraphist; Kotz, the machinist; and Foitzik, the night watchman. Also present was one of the members of the Sicherheitspolizei guard detail. As the men burst in, Foitzik, dressed in his blue uniform, stood startled atop the short staircase leading to the broadcasting studio. He could barely speak before he was overwhelmed. ‘Hände hoch!’ (Hands up!), one of the intruders shouted. The policeman quickly
raised his hands. Foitzik was grabbed and his head smashed into the wall, nearly killing him. Their hands were bound behind their backs and they were taken to the cellar, the unconscious Foitzik being dragged down. One intruder was left to guard the side entrance and two others rushed into the broadcasting room. The remaining men looked for others in the building, and found Nawroth and Kotz. They, too, were beaten, bound and dragged into the cellar. One intruder was assigned to guard them.
Seven intruders, dressed in typical Polish civilian clothing and armed with machinepistols and revolvers, emerged from the cars. Naujocks assigned two men to stay at the gate to receive the ‘canned goods’. The others rushed through the unlocked gate and toward the side door of the transmitter building. This gave access to the station’s engine room. Rushing in, the men swung left, through another door and up a short flight of steps, which they knew led to the broadcasting room.
Karel Margry spent a fascinating day in June 2008 visiting the station and taking the comparison photographs. 16
. . . up the short flight of stairs, where they met and overwhelmed Foitzik . . .
Entering the station’s generator room, the men swung left, through a door . . .
Once the raiders had the station personnel secured in the cellar, they had little time to accomplish their mission. The broadcast had to be hastily made and then, just as quickly, they had to leave. However, they were faced with two unexpected problems — they couldn’t get the line working and they could not find a microphone. As the engineer from Radio Berlin struggled with the switchboard equipment, Naujocks and the other man frantically searched for a microphone. Naujocks decided to question the station personnel. One by one, they were brought up from the cellar and subjected to pistol whips, but little was got out of them. Foitzik and Kotz did not know how to operate the broadcasting equipment, only Nawroth had the knowledge. He said spoken broadcasts could only be done via a line with the telephone exchange. Naujocks team did not know it but they had come up against a major flaw in the planning of the raid. Gleiwitz was not a station broadcasting its own programme, it was only a relay transmitter passing on the programme of Radio Breslau on the same frequency. Moreover, the land line connecting Gleiwitz with Radio Breslau was not in this station, but located about four kilometres away in Gleiwitz’s telephone exchange. It was impossible to establish an independent connection with Breslau from the facility on Tarnowitzer Landstrasse.
THE MOVIE. Naujocks (with rifle) and his men as they burst into the control room.
. . . and into the broadcasting control room. They came in through the door in the glass wall on the right.
Left: Overpowering the three surprised staff members and the single Sicherheitspolizei sentry, the intruders bundled them down the vestibule stairs . . . to the basement corridor (centre).
THE MOVIE. The four captives in the cellar where they were made to face the wall, guarded by one of the intruders. 17
Manager’s office BROADCASTING ROOM
Engine room switchboard
Rectifier No. 2
Rectifier No. 1
Plan showing the intruders’ route in and out of the transmitter building. [XXXX] shows the route of the four captives down into the cellar. [X] is the spot where the ‘canned goods’ — the dead body of Franz Honiok — was left behind. wrong. One of the insurgents answered the call, curtly said ‘technical trouble’, then put down the receiver. However, with the controls at hand, Naujocks’ engineer could do no better than a broadcast to the local Gleiwitz area. Naujocks’ speaker took the microphone and began his prepared speech: ‘Uwaga! Tu Gliwice. Rozglosnia znajduje sie w rekach polskich . . .’ — ‘Attention! Here is Gleiwitz, the radio station is in Polish hands . . .’ As the speaker delivered his political dia-
Whether Nawroth co-operated or not is unknown but the intruders finally found a microphone, the one used only for storm warnings to the local Gleiwitz area. (If a storm came up, regular programming transmitted from Breslau would be interrupted for the gale warning and then the station would cease operation and ground the antennae.) Likewise, they managed to generate the signal used for the storm warnings. The switching-off of the modulator line from Breslau caused an engineer from that station to telephone Gleiwitz to inquire what was
tribe, gunshots were fired into the ceiling and shouts and other noises made, all designed to create the impression of a frenzied raid going on. Hardly anyone heard the message but the noise caught the attention of the wife of station manager Klose, who was listening to the radio. The Kloses lived on the station premises, in one of the two housing blocks alongside the forecourt. Frau Klose alerted her husband that something was wrong. Klose walked across to the station to have a look, entering by the front door. As he came in, one of the men inside pointed a pistol at him. Reacting swiftly, Klose withdrew, slammed the door behind him and ran away to alert the police and inform the chief of the telephone exchange. Throughout all this, the remaining three members of the Sicherheitspolizei guard detail did not react but kept to their guardroom. Despite the interruption (which in fact only enhanced the authenticity of the raid), the speaker continued his broadcast. Meanwhile, Müller’s ‘canned goods’ men had arrived to deliver the near-dead body of Franz Honiok that was to be left behind as evidence of the attack. Earlier that evening, at the Gleiwitz police prison, an SS-Sturmführer (wearing a white smock over his uniform to look like a doctor) had injected Honiok with a drug that made him semi-conscious. Still able to walk, he was put in the front seat of a black Opel and driven to the radio station. Another vehicle carrying a police Inspector and two Gestapo men in civilian clothes went ahead. The two cars parked on the dirt road that ran beside the station compound. The Inspector and his two companions walked across to the station gate, where they exchanged the password ‘Konserve’ with the two men left by Naujocks, then the Inspector returned to fetch the prisoner. By then, Honiok could no longer move, so the Inspector carried him from behind and under his arms to the transmitter area. He was not yet dead for he could still occasionally raise his head up. Honiok’s lifeless body was laid down just inside the side entrance of the radio building. Meanwhile, Naujocks’ speaker had finished his broadcast. In all, it had lasted about four minutes. With nothing more to do, the intruders left as quickly as they had entered. The entire attack had taken only 17 minutes. As he was getting away, Naujocks saw the body of the ‘canned goods’ lying by the side entrance. As he later told his interrogators: ‘His head was bloody and his whole face was smeared with blood. Whether he was still alive, I cannot say. I had little time to examine him more precisely.’ He presumed that the blood came from a gunshot wound to the back of the head but the man appeared to be still breathing.
THE MOVIE. Naujocks finds the microphone in a control room cupboard . . . and his Polish speaker begins his insurgent broadcast. 18
THE MOVIE. The semi-comatose victim is laid down against the rear outer wall of the transmitter building.
On completion of their action, Naujocks and his men returned to the Haus Oberschlesien. Naujocks telephoned Heydrich to report on the successful achievement but, to his surprise, found his superior fuming and in rage. Heydrich had tuned in to the frequency and been listening expecting to hear the interruption of the programme but, so he raged at Naujocks, he had heard nothing irregular. Meanwhile, back at the radio station, events were still in progress. As they were standing with their face to the cellar wall, the four captives in the basement heard a single pistol shot ringing out from the generator room. Shortly after, they noted that their guard had gone. Machinist Kotz, his hands still bound, ran over to manager Klose’s house to say that the intrudes had left. He and Klose ran back to the transmitter building and, as they entered, found an SD officer (almost certainly one of the ‘canned goods’ men) who reacted by pointing his pistol at them. Klose and Kotz identified themselves and were then allowed to free the other three captives in the cellar. Ten minutes later, two policemen arrived at the station. They had come cycling up from Polizei-Revier Nr. 4, the police station on nearby Lindenstrasse, less than two kilometres from the radio station, and been sent off by Oberleutnant Böhm, the station commander, who had heard the inflammatory speech on the radio. They were followed shortly by Böhm himself and several others from his station and by the raid squad from the main police headquarters, one officer and five men, which had been alerted by manager Klose’s phone call. They all found the Gestapo already in presence. The latter prevented the ordinary policemen from entering the transmitter building. Nonetheless, several of them saw a glimpse of the dead man (Honiok) lying by the side door just inside the generator room, one knee drawn up, a small gush of blood having run from his chest. Directly after the raid, an order came in at the Gleiwitz police headquarters that the investigation at the radio station was a matter of the Gestapo. The Kriminalpolizei, who would normally do such an inquiry, were only required to send a photographer to record the scene of crime. The photographer, Kriminalsekretär Arkadius Solms, exposed about a dozen pictures of Honiok’s corpse and also searched for and lifted several fingerprints. He was still developing the glass negatives when, at about 1 a.m., an order came to hand in both finished and unfinished negatives to the Gestapo. The material was rushed to the Gleiwitz airfield, where Gestapo chief Müller stood waiting impatiently for them, the engines of his aircraft
their car never entered the compound itself but stayed parked outside, while one of the operatives carried Honiok in.
THE MOVIE. Meanwhile, the Gestapo’s ‘canned goods’ team have arrived to deliver the semi-unconscious body. In actual fact,
In actual fact, Honiok was dumped just inside the building, beside the entrance to the engine room (see the plan on page 18). 19
THE MOVIE. The film shows Alfred Naujocks shooting the ‘canned goods’ with his rifle — which is also the ending of the film. In actual fact Honiok was not shot by Naujocks but by one of the members of the Gestapo team that came to deliver Honiok to the radio station. However, this was not known when Der Fall Gleiwitz was made in 1961. In fact, it was the very release of the movie that caused West German authorities already running. Müller flew back to Berlin with the photos and the first reports from Gleiwitz and Pitschen (the action at Hochlinden was still underway), landing just in time before the outbreak of war curtailed all civilian flying. It appears that Heydrich and Müller were not satisfied with Klose’s photos, for the following day, September 2, another police photographer, Kriminalbeamte Bernhard Meyer, was sent to the radio station to take a new set of pictures of the crime scene. Müller’s ‘canned goods’ men must have stayed at the station a little longer, for the scene found by this second photographer was quite different from what it had been the previous day. Firstly, Honiok’s body had been moved from its place by the side entrance to a new location in the control room, bloody smears across the floor leading to it. Secondly, there was now a second dead body in the building, about three to four metres away from the other one. Both men were lying on their belly with arms stretched apart and face to the ground. (The identity of this second corpse is still a mystery. An early theory assumed that he was the member of Naujocks’ team who had been guarding the captives in the basement, who supposedly had been late in getting away and been shot by the SD man as he was making his way out. Another theory is that it was the Polish speaker, unscrupulously shot by Müller’s henchmen after he had outlived his use. Yet another speculation is that he was one of the ‘canned goods’ concentration camp inmates, brought to the site the day after. Whatever his identity, his presence in the control room on the day after is confirmed by witnesses.) Meyer took two photos, each one showing both corpses, and they were immediately whisked away for delivery to Berlin. The Gestapo also took Meyer’s camera which they never returned. This inquiry, carried out by SS-Standartenführer Arthur Nebe, chief of the Kriminalpolizei (a body of Heydrich’s Sicherheitspolizei) and finished within three days of the incident, naturally confirmed that the intruders had been Polish insurgents. This scale model of the transmitter building was another one produced for Nebe’s farce inquest. The arrow (drawn in after the war) shows the route in of the intruders and the circle (a later addition too) indicates where the body of Franz Honiok was left. 20
to begin a judicial inquiry into the case and to investigate whether Naujocks and his team members could be prosecuted for murder. Naujocks died in 1966 before he could be brought to trial, but the concerted effort to track down surviving participants and witnesses has subsequently led to the conclusion that he was not responsible for killing Honiok. Nevertheless, the inquest was unable to identify who the gunman was.
The scale model of the Gleiwitz radio station produced to illustrate the Nazis’ own official police investigation into the ‘Polish act of aggression against German state prop-
The fake assault on the Pitschen forestry house went in at the same time as the one at Gleiwitz. The SS task force had been billeted in the Wyrwich tavern in the town since August 24, waiting for the signal for the attack to begin. The officers were PITSCHEN The ‘Agathe’ code signal for the Hochlinden and Pitschen assaults to commence was given out at 8 p.m., the time that Naujocks began his foray at Gleiwitz. At 7 p.m. that evening, Rasch had checked in at the Wyrwich tavern in the town, where his men had been billeted for the past week. He arrived in civilian clothes, but now changed into his SS uniform and instructed his men to prepare to march. Not all 130 men were to participate, only about half of them. Before leaving, he ordered 40 litres of tea with rum to be ready for 10 p.m., their expected time of return. Their target, the forestry station, lay on the edge of a wood just three kilometres north of the town. Dressed in their ‘rogue clothes’, they drove to an assembly position in the wood and then, about 8 p.m., began making their way on foot to the forestry house speaking loudly in Polish and singing Polish songs. As they arrived at the house, they fired shots into the air and, breaking in, proceeded to destroy the kitchen furniture, smearing a half-bucket of ox blood to give the illusion of a bloody fight. The forester, who was in on the game, telephoned the burgomaster that his station was being attacked, probably by Poles, and then the line was cut. The burgomaster alerted the frontier guard at Sandhäuser but by the time they reached the site later that evening, the intruders had gone. No ‘canned goods’ were left at the forestry house since the location was so remote but Rasch’s men dug a fake grave to give the impression of a fallen fighter. (Later, only rubbish was found in the hole.) Punctually at 10 p.m., the group returned to the tavern where they celebrated their victory with tea and rum, while also mourning the loss of a comrade, no doubt to convince the innkeeper of the bodiless grave they left behind. Right: Pitschen is now Polish and named Byczyna, but the old inn where Rasch’s men were billeted still stands. It is located at the western end of the old town, on the corner of Basztowa and the N11, the busy highway connecting Poznan with Kluczbork.
assigned the guestrooms while the men slept in the buildings in the tavern’s yard, which was also where their trucks were parked. The whole place was sealed off, with no one being allowed in or out.
Reproduced from PIW-OSTOJA map BYCZYNA 1:50,000, 2008
From Pitschen it was only a short drive for Rasch’s men to their objective, the town’s forestry station on the edge of the Schlüsselwald wood. This is the view of the Schlüsselwald from the minor road leading north out of Pitschen. The counterfeit insurgents would have approached the station from the left.
of Hoffmann’s men, SS-Unterscharführer Josef Grzimek, later testified: ‘Upon leaving the German customs office, we were stumbling in the darkness. I bent down and saw several motionless men on the ground wearing Polish uniforms and — what particularly surprised me — bearing shaved heads. I was frightened and knelt down since I believed these were my comrades. When I tried to lift one up, he was already perfectly rigid. This was the same with the others. While we first believed them to be comrades, we noticed that none of us were missing. This made us wonder but we knew nothing officially of this affair.’ Flash photos were taken of the corpses and immediately despatched to Berlin. Shortly after, Trummler’s border police cadets, who had remained behind at Hochlinden, loaded the corpses onto a closed truck, which carried them off to Ehrenforst. Their condition worsened as they were kept in the truck overnight. The following afternoon, a squad of 20 Bernau men was detailed to return to Hochlinden and bury the six dead in a part of the forest. (The bodies were later exhumed in response to a complaint lodged by the local mayor to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and reburied in unmarked graves, the location of which was not recorded and has now been lost.)
HOCHLINDEN The attack at Hochlinden had been set to start at 4 a.m. (September 1) so, when the ‘Agathe’ signal came in at 8 p.m., there was still plenty of time. In the wake of the August 26 mis-cue, the ‘Polish’ force had been reduced to a third — about 60 men: 40 ‘soldiers’ and 20 ‘insurgents’. Different from the first attempt, the ‘Polish soldiers’ had already changed into their uniforms at the Ehrenforst base. At 11 p.m., the men boarded their trucks to be driven down to their target area, where they arrived about midnight. Again, they saw the mysterious black cars waiting by the side of the road. Trummler read out a special order from Heydrich specifying once more how the attack was to be carried out, then the two groups deployed for action. The ‘German defenders’ and the Grenzpolizei cadets under Trummler took up their positions some distance north of the German customs office and the ‘Polish’ group, now led by Hoffmann, circled round to advance on the building from the other side, creeping to within 100 meters of it. At precisely 4 p.m. Hoffmann fired several pistol shots, signalling the start of the assault. His men charged forward, firing shots into the air and roaring cheers, curses and commands, all in the Polish language. Trummler’s border police force fired a few return shots, aimed well high. Reaching the building, the mock attackers struck windows, broke in the door, and fired shots through the façade and roof, which sent roof panes flying through the air. Inside, taking cover on the floor, were an SS NCO in civilian clothes and a police Hauptmann, who cried, ‘Stop shooting!’ Hoffmann ordered his men to cease fire and told them to demolish everything inside the building with their rifle butts. Seeing his men hesitant to destroy German state property, Hoffmann and his NCOs started the job themselves, whereupon his men joined in and thoroughly wrecked the interior. Then Trummler’s border police advanced and took the ‘Polish attackers’ prisoner, thus putting an end to the mock action. The ‘prisoners’ were marched to Hochlinden village and loaded onto trucks, which returned them to their quarters in Ehrenforst. Meanwhile, unnoticed by Hoffmann’s men, Müller and crew had planted the corpses of six concentration camp prisoners at the scene. Drugged into unconsciousness, the victims had been driven down to Hochlinden and been killed there with shots through the head, chest or back. They were dressed in Polish uniforms and put down in positions consistent with their wounds. One
WAR As early as 10.30 p.m. on August 31, German radio broadcast the first reports of border incidents along the German-Polish frontier, among them an armed Polish take-over of the Gleiwitz radio station. Soon after, further reports mentioned provocations in the area of Kreuzburg (which referred to Pitschen) and at Hochlinden. At the same time, the German quasi-official news agency, the Deutsche NachrichtenBüro, began spreading stories of the Polish attacks to all Berlin news bureaus, which were soon repeated in the foreign press. Late on August 31, the BBC broadcast: ‘There have been reports of an attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz, which is just across the Polish border in Silesia. The German News Agency reports that the attack came at about 8 p.m. this evening when the Poles forced their way into the studio and began broadcasting a statement in Polish. Within a quarter of an hour, says reports, the Poles were overpowered by German police, who opened fire on them. Several of the Poles were reported killed, but the numbers are not yet known.’ The New York Times, under the heading ‘Border Clashes Increase’ reported on September 1: ‘The most serious is reported from Gleiwitz. At 8 p.m., according to the semiofficial news agency, a group of Polish insurrectionists forced an entrance into the Gleiwitz radio station, overpowering the watchmen and beating and generally mishandling the attendants. [They] broadcast a prepared proclamation announcing themselves as “the Polish Volunteer Corps of Upper Silesia speaking from the Polish station in Gleiwitz”. The city, they alleged, was in Polish hands. The Gleiwitz incident is alleged here (Berlin) to have been the signal for a general attack by Polish franc-tireurs on German territory. ‘Two other points — Pitschen, near Kreuzburg, and Hochlinden, north-east of Ratibor, both in the same vicinity as Gleiwitz — were the scenes of violations. Fighting at both places [is] still underway. Polish insurrectionists and soldiers are alleged to have stormed the Hochlinden customhouse, which was recaptured by Germans after a battle lasting for an hour and a half. In the Pitschen incident a band of 100 Poles, including soldiers, were surprised two kilometres on the German side of the frontier.’ At 10 a.m. that morning (September 1), Hitler announced the start of the war in an address to the Reichstag:
The Pitschen forestry station had formerly been the main house of a large estate known as Gut Kluczow, which included all 250 hectares of the Schlüsselwald. Only lightly damaged in the fake attack of 1939, the building was completely destroyed by fire after the war. The place where it stood is today just an empty plot on the edge of the forest, and all that is left to mark the site are the trees that surrounded the house.
‘This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our territory. Since 5.45 a.m. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met by bombs. Whoever fights with poison gas will be fought with poison gas. Whoever departs from the rules of humane warfare can only expect that we shall do the same. I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured.’ The shooting war had in fact begun earlier than 5.45 a.m. In the pre-dawn hour of 4:47 a.m., the battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on Danzig’s Westerplatte fortress (see After the Battle No. 65). At the same time, the Luftwaffe launched the opening attack upon the Polish town of Wielun, destroying about 75 per cent of buildings in the town centre and killing 1,200 civilians. At 8 a.m. the Wehrmacht launched its offensive near Mokra where the Polish Army on horseback held off the Germans. Hitler did not specifically mention Gleiwitz or the other ‘Tannenberg’ operations in his Reichstag speech but he did cite frontier incidents: ‘Recently in one night there were as many as 21 frontier incidents. Last night there were 14, of which three were quite serious.’ AFTERMATH Criminally conceived, but amateurishly planned and chaotically executed, Heydrich’s fake border incidents could hardly be called a resounding success. The Hochlinden attack had failed to lure regular Polish troops across the border into Germany, as had been hoped; few of the local villagers had heard the fire-fight and none had seen the ‘Polish prisoners’ that had been taken there; the attack on the Pitschen forestry station had scarcely been noticed at all; and hardly anyone in Germany or abroad had heard the insurgent broadcast from Gleiwitz. Although they were shrewd enough to keep silent about it, Heydrich and Müller knew well that their grand actions had in fact been ineffective failures. Calling Trummler and Hoffmann to Berlin to report on the Hochlinden action the day after, Müller told his two subordinates that he was dissatisfied with them because it had ‘not made enough noise nor caused much of a stir’. When Naujocks reported to Heydrich in his Berlin office that same day, the latter was
building naturally concentrating heavily on the events of 1939. The 111-metre tower — currently the tallest free-standing wooden construction in the world — today carries some 50 different aerials for the Gliwice Rescue Emergency centre, mobile phone networks and other communication systems. Made of impregnated larch wood that is particularly resistant to vermin and weather conditions, conscientiously maintained, protected and checked every year, it will be in service for many years ahead.
still in a furious state and accused Naujocks of lying about the radio transmission. He and others in Berlin, he said, had tuned in to the Breslau frequency but heard nothing. Heydrich had still not understood that Gleiwitz was only a local station that could not be received in Berlin; had still not grasped that the failure was due to his own pedantic planning. The scene of crime pictures of the ‘Polish dead’ taken at Gleiwitz and Hochlinden were never published or used propagandistically. They disappeared and have never been seen again. The ‘Konserven’ not used by Müller — three men — were returned to Sachsenhausen camp about ten days later. They were kept in strict isolation until May 11, 1940 — the day after Germany’s invasion of the West. No trace was ever found of Franz Honiok, the first man to be killed in the Second World War. After rumours arose that he had participated in the Gleiwitz raid, a member of the mounted police in the Hohenlieben area discreetly asked the Honiok family for his whereabouts. Obviously afraid, the family never even posted him as missing. The Hochlinden and Pitschen teams were brought back to Bernau and there dismissed after another pledge of secrecy. Nonetheless, there was discussion in Berlin over how to dispose of the men. Some wanted them sent to concentration camps and killed so that their secret would go to the grave with them, but this was prevented by Hoffmann who threatened to appeal to Heydrich. Many of the Bernau men were immediately assigned to the Einsatzgruppen, the special mobile SD units that were sent into Poland in the wake of the Wehrmacht troops to round up and kill Jews, Communists and other anti-Nazi opponents. Almost all held to their original promise of secrecy. SS-Standartenführer Arthur Nebe, chief of the Reich criminal police, was assigned the task of investigating the evidence of Polish aggression. Nebe wrapped up his enquiry on September 3 — the day Britain declared war on Germany — finding in favour of the Reich’s military reaction to the ‘Polish aggression’ of August 31. His findings would form the basis of a White Book published by the German Foreign Ministry in December
1939. Heydrich would later entertain foreign guests with a scale model of the Gleiwitz radio station built for Nebe’s investigation, complete with electricity and sound effects, proudly standing alongside telling them: ‘Yes, this is how the war began’.
The former Reichssender Gleiwitz is today no longer an active radio transmitter. The property of the Polish State Post since 1945, it broadcast the programme of Radio Kattowice until 1955 and from 1956 to 1989 was used to jam Radio Free Europe. During this time, the facility was also used as a production and test site of telecommunications equipment. Purchased by the municipality of Gliwice in 2002, it now houses the Museum of Radio History and Media Art, which opened in 2005, its exhibition in the transmitter
Plaque at the station entrance. The true nature of the border incidents around Gleiwitz only became known after the war, and they have remained a cause célèbre ever since. The very first details came to light at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, notably during the session on December 20, 1945, when the prosecutor submitted an affidavit given by Alfred Naujocks a month earlier. Herbert Mehlhorn disclosed more details in an interview with the German magazine Stern in 1952. Naujocks covered his tracks with the assistance of author Günter Peis in his boldly-titled The Man who Started the War, published (in English only) in 1960. The first in-depth research into the affair was done by German historian Jürgen Runzheimer of the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte who published his findings in a groundbreaking article in the Vierteljahresheft für Zeitgeschichte in 1962. Then in 1963, the Prosecution Counsel of Hamburg and, from 1966 Düsseldorf, in an attempt to bring to trial the Gestapo men responsible for the murder of the ‘canned goods’, traced and took statements of as many surviving participants and witnesses as could be found. Although the culprits for the murders could not be identified, the official inquiry added much new information, which Alfred Spiess, the Chief Prosecutor at Düsseldorf, together with author Heiner Lichtenstein published in book form under the title Unternehmen Tannenberg in 1979. 23
ROBERT MOORE ROBERT CAPA
Left: A name is finally put to the soldier seen instantly killed by a sniper in Robert Capa’s famous photo sequence taken in Leipzig in April 1945: Pfc Raymond J. Bowman of Company D, 23rd Infantry, from Rochester, NY. Above: Bowman’s gravestone in one of the veterans plots of Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
From the Editor . . . We would like to begin this new instalment of reader’s letters and follow-up stories with a nice scoop offered to us by one of our Dutch readers. Following our story on the battle of Leipzig (issue 130), Peter Hendrikx from Bladel in the Netherlands wrote in to say that he had identified the ‘last soldier to be killed in the war’ — the young American machine gunner seen fatally hit in Robert Capa’s famous sequence of pictures taken in the corner house overlooking Leipzig’s Zeppelin Bridge on April 18, 1945. Peter, who specialises in researching biographies of soldiers buried in the American Military Cemetery at Margraten (see his website www.heroesatmargraten.com), wondered if the man in question would perhaps be buried there. All that was known of the soldier was that he had been a machine gunner in the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division, who had been killed on April 18, 1945. (In his autobiography Slightly out of Focus, Capa gave him the rank of corporal, but the original caption submitted to Life says he was a sergeant, so rank was discarded as an unreliable indication to go on.) On the basis of this, Peter laboriously sifted through the 2nd Division’s roll of honour (published in the divisional history) and found eight men of
the 23rd who had been killed on that date — none of them a corporal. Checking with the Margraten burial records he then found that four of them were still buried in that cemetery today, while the other four had been repatriated to the States. One of the latter was a Private 1st Class Raymond J. Bowman. Searching on the Internet, Peter then came up trumps when he found a message by Bowman’s niece Sharon, which confirmed that he was the man in Capa’s photos and provided the following information: ‘He was from Rochester, NY. My uncle turned 21 on April 2, and was killed on April 18, 1945. He was a member of the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division. The other members of my uncle’s unit managed to round up all the German soldiers that were in the town and killed them because my uncle was well loved.’ Thus put on the correct track, Peter then ordered a copy of Bowman’s IDPF (Individual Deceased Personal File) from the US Army Human Resources Command, which provided additional details. PFC Raymond J. Bowman, ASN 3284651, was born on April 2, 1924. He joined up on June 21, 1943 and was assigned to Company D of the 23rd Infantry. Landing with the 2nd Division in Normandy on June 7, 1944, he was wounded
The Acme press agency caption to Capa’s photo, erroneously stating that the soldier was ‘shot between the eyes’. 24
in action west of Saint-Lô, being admitted to hospital on July 28. Fatally hit at Leipzig on April 18, 1945, his burial report states that he died from a bullet-wound in the right shoulder (not by a bullet between the eyes as Capa described it in Slightly out of Focus). He was initially buried in a temporary cemetery at Breuna near Kassel on April 21 but his remains were soon transferred to the military cemetery at Margraten, Netherlands, where he was re-interred on July 27 (alongside Pfc Leroy S. Law, another member of the 23rd Infantry who had also been killed at Leipzig on the 18th). His personal belongings, including a Red Cross vest which he had obtained during his hospitalisation, a bag, three souvenir coins and 43 dollars were sent to his mother. He had also possessed 430 German marks, which probably represented the $121,43 later received by his mother. At her request, his remains were repatriated to the United States to be buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester. Reference to the Holy Sepulchre records then showed that Bowman was buried there on December 2, 1948. He lies in Section 13, North Division, Veterans’ Plot, Grave 482. We wrote to the cemetery office and Robert Moore of the cemetery staff was kind enough to take a picture of the grave for us. Thus, thanks to Peter Hendrikx’s efforts, the soldier immortalised by Capa’s iconic photos has come — to paraphrase the title of Capa’s autobiography — better into focus.
A caption to another photo in the same sequence shows him mistakenly being referred to as a sergeant.
Believed vanished for seven decades but now resurfaced: one of the valises containing Robert Capa’s original negatives of his Spanish Civil War photos. Speaking of Robert Capa, in January 2008 the International Center of Photography in New York — an institution founded by Capa’s brother Cornell — announced that Capa’s original negatives from the Spanish Civil War — believed lost for over seven decades — had been re-found and acquired by the Center. Capa had kept the negatives, some 3,500 in total, stored in three flimsy cardboard suitcases, each containing 50 rolls of film in small compartments. He left them behind in his Paris flat when he left Europe in 1939 and himself always believed that they had been lost during the Second World War. They had in fact been rescued by his Hungarian assistant, Imre ‘Cziki’ Weisz, who took them from Paris to Marseille, then via Algiers to Mexico, where they somehow ended up in the possession of a Mexican general, Francisco Aguilar Gonzalez, who had been a diplomat in Marseille in the 1930s. The general died in 1967 and the valises passed to his children. In 1995 one of his descendants, a Mexico City film-maker, saw an exhibition of Spanish Civil War photographs sponsored by Queens College, City University of New York, and realised the historical importance of the negatives in his family’s possession. He wrote to professor Jerald R. Green of the college who in turn informed the International Center of Photography. Rumours about ‘the Mexican suitcase’ said to contain the Capa cache started circulating from then on but it took the ICP years of quiet and often interrupted negotiations with the Mexican family to agree over what should be their proper home. Now, the valises have been handed over to the ICP and the legal title to the negatives has been transferred to the Capa estate. Beside the Capa negatives, the boxes were also found to contain Spanish Civil War images by two of Capa’s photographer colleagues, Gerda Taro, who was Capa’s girlfriend at the time (she was killed in Spain in a tank accident in 1937), and David Seymour, who later with Capa would become one of the founders of the Magnum photo agency. The thousands of nitrate negatives are currently being conserved and catalogued. The ICP curators naturally hope to find the original of Capa’s most-famous Civil War photo — the loyalist militiaman at the moment of death, better known as ‘the falling soldier’ — anticipating the role of film of which it forms part will shed more light on the long-ongoing debate whether it was a staged fake shot or a real action photo.
The archives of the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen in Germany comprise 26 kilometres of shelf space. Shown is a part of the files containing original documents of prisoners.
In November 2007, the International Tracing Service in the German town of Bad Arolsen — the central agency for tracing civilian persons who went missing under the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945 — opened its archives to the general public for historical research, an extraordinary move because since its creation over 60 years ago access to the institute’s files had been limited to staff officials doing research on behalf of survivors and next-of-kin. The ITS grew out of the Tracing Bureau set up by the British Red Cross in 1943 and the Central Tracing Bureau created by SHAEF in February 1944. Moving along with the front, the agency ended up in Frankfurt-am-Main at the end of the war. In January 1946 it moved to Bad Arolsen near Kassel, where it has remained ever since. At first, it was housed in a former SS barracks, but in 1952 a special building was erected for it. Renamed the International Tracing Service in 1948, it has been managed by the International Red Cross since 1955. The ITS archive collections are unique in scope and significance. They hold the surviving administration records of all Nazi prisons and concentration camps, not just those in Germany itself but in occupied countries too, plus documentation on victims of Nazi persecution gathered after the war. The documents include Gestapo detention lists, transportation lists, prisoner index cards, administration of forced labourers kept by the Organisation Todt, medical records, listings of persons who died, listings of survivors and other displaced persons made up after liberation by Allied authorities, UNRRA and other organisations, and hundreds of other types of record. In all, the archive comprises 26,000 metres of shelf space. Organised by sought person groups, it is divided into five sections: central name index, prisoners, forced labourers, displaced persons, and children. The alphabetically and phonetically arranged central name index contains over 50 million reference cards for over 17.5 million people and is the key to the documents and correspondence files. Much of the archive — including the name index and all of the concentration camp documents — has already been digitised, allowing the collections to be searched electronically. The process of creating electronic copies of files is progressing at a rapid pace. Over 60 years after the end of the Second World War, the ITS is still receiving hundreds of tracing requests every day. The collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 caused a
huge increase with many citizens from Eastern Europe being able to make these enquiries for the first time. Even after all this time, families are reunited, contact is set up between former employers and forced labourers and individual fates are clarified. In 2007, the agency received over 61,000 requests from 70 countries and answered over 132,000 enquiries. Now, its unique archives are available to historians, students and others with a serious interest. In stark contrast to the above, archives in the UK are increasingly being closed by the present government under the excuse of the Data Protection Act. This is catastrophic for historical research and we experienced the first effect of this in the closing stages of the production of our The Battle of France Then and Now. The book took Peter Cornwell five years to research and over the period hundreds of queries were put to the Air Historical Branch of the RAF at the Ministry of Defence. We received excellent co-operation . . . right up to our last letter of September 2007. Then we received this reply: ‘Thank you for your letter of 18 September requesting information on the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three RAF personnel in May and June 1940. I am afraid that we are limited as to what information we can release. The information you have requested is deemed to be personal although I can tell you that LAC Laurie was lost during the evacuation from France, that Pilot Officer Sanders’ death was attributed to enemy action an that Sergeant Perry died in England. ‘I should explain why we are unable to provide details concerning these deaths. Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act says that information is exempt from disclosure if the Data Protection Principles (set out in Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA 98)) or section 10 of DPA 98 (right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress) would be contravened. Although DPA 98 applies only to living individuals, MOD has a duty under common law, and as a former employer, to also protect personal information about the deceased. In circumstances — as here — where the serviceman is known to be deceased, the concern is to ensure that we do not breach the duty of confidence which we owe to the next of kin. The information collected by the department about an individual member of the Armed Forces over the course of his or her career can be extensive and may often include sensitive personal data as well as information about relatives of the main 25
Left: Harry Sanders, the man in charge of procuring provisions for the Officers’ Mess at the Milag prisoner of war camp at Westertimke. Above: Sanders (standing, second from left, in dark uniform) posing with seven of his fellow prisoners outside Hut No. 12, the officers’ galley. ‘Be held to breach a duty of confidence under which the information was provided, and thus be exempt from release under section 41 of the FOI Act.’ Unfortunately we experienced a similar unhelpful attitude over the supply of photographs for The Falklands War Then and Now (see centre leaflet). Even though this conflict took place over 25 years ago, the MOD now will not release for reproduction any photographs which show prisoners of war or ‘clearly identifiable’ individuals. These new rulings will severely restrict the ability to carry out responsible research for ongoing projects. Andrew Mollo, our German uniform and Nazi regalia expert, wrote to correct us on an inaccuracy spotted in our story on the Flensburg government (issue 128). Referring to the photo on page 27 of the two pennants taken from Admiral Karl Dönitz’s car by the 1st Herefords (and now in their regimental museum), Andrew writes: ‘The correct description of the two flags is as follows: on the left is the command flag of the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (C-in-C Navy) and on the right is the car pennant for Flag Officers (i.e. Admirals). There was no such thing as a Reichsführer’s flag!’
Our story on the Milag-Marlag prisoner of war camps at Westertimke (issue 137) prompted Wayne Gillett from Newport to send us pictures of his late grandfather Harry Sanders at the camp. He writes: ‘Harry Sanders, POW No. 18731, had been First Chef on the ship RMS Orama (mentioned in your article) and served as Chief Petty Officer in charge of the Officers Galley at Milag. He too would go into the village under escort and so is as important as “Jet” Watson who did the same for the Ratings. On November 11, 1945 Harry was awarded the British Empire Medal for the excellent work he did in the camp, and he enjoyed meeting the King, George VI. I hope you will correct the omission of not mentioning him in your article because for too, too long my grandfather has not had the mention he should for what he did for his fellow Merchant Navy comrades. He was born in Colchester on February 4, 1910 and died at Woomera, Australia, on June 16, 1970. Woomera was the famous joint Australia-United Kingdom rocket range and grandfather was Catering Manager with the public service providing support to the military. He always lived in camps after the war, a hangover from his POW days in Germany.’
MIROIR DES AMES
MIROIR DES AMES
subject or about other Service personnel. The handling of such data is constrained both by statute and by MOD’s common law duty as a former employer, to protect personal information [and] not to disclose it other than in exceptional circumstances. ‘The Ministry of Defence’s interpretation of the legislation and common law duty of confidence is that only the subject of the personal file is entitled under DPA 98 to access its contents, and even then any third-party personal data must be redacted. The legal position changes on death when DPA 98 ceases to apply to the data subject. However, at that point, as I have already mentioned, MOD has a duty to the next of kin to ensure that personal information about their former family member continues to be handled with due care and respect. Depending on the circumstances of the data subject’s Service career, and of his or her family life (of which the Department might not be aware) we have to bear in mind that release of the personal file or information from it might: ‘Cause distress to relatives, and thus be exempt from release under section 38 of the FOI Act (the exemption for Health and Safety); ‘Infringe Article 8 — Right to Respect to Private or Family Life — of the European Convention on Human Rights (as embodied in the Human Rights Act 1998), and thus be exempt from release under section 44 of the FOI Act;
Just west of Tournai-sur-Dives in Normandy, on the D717 to Villedieu-lès-Bailleul, stands the Miroir des Âmes (Mirror of Souls) Memorial. Inaugurated in August 2004, it commemorates all victims of the battle of Normandy — soldiers of every Allied nation, French Resistance fighters and civilians, and German soldiers too — notably those who fell in the Corridor of Death and the German counter-attack against the beleaguered Polish at Mont-Ormel between August 19-22, 1944 (issue 8). On August 28, 2007, the memorial committee added a new infor26
mation panel next to its monument, dedicating it to peace and international reconciliation. Left: The panel, with explanatory text in three languages (French, English and German), was unveiled by the widow of French General Jacques Massu, in 1944-45 a unit commander with the 2ème Division Blindée and after the war commander-in-chief of French troops in Germany. On the left is Admiral Marzan, the German military attaché in France. Right: Admiral Marzan contemplating at the main memorial.
Standing in for the Führer at the Wolfsschanze (issue 19). In June 2008, Bradley Cameron from Bristol travelled to Ketrzyn in Poland and visited the site of the former Führerhauptquartier in the woods of former East Prussia, scene of the failed bomb attack on Hitler’s life of July 20, 1944. ‘I tried to match the well-known photo to the picture on the front cover of issue 19. My father, Hector Cameron (left) stood in for Claus von Stauffenberg, whilst my friend Craig Herbert is a Hitler lookalike!’ The picture was taken between the Lagebaracke (Conference Hut) and the Guest Bunker, visible in the background through the foliage, in the so-called Führersperrkreis, the innermost security zone of the FHQ (see also The Third Reich Then and Now, page 398).
Standing in for the Führer in Nuremberg’s Luitpoldhain (issue 2). Kenneth Parkes, who works in Kyoto, Japan, as an English language teacher, spent August and September 2007 making a 23-day tour of Germany with his son. ‘We managed to visit 42 towns, villages and cities. Your The Third Reich Then and Now was invaluable to enable us to find new locations, especially in Bayreuth. However, the highlight was the photograph of the Luitpoldhain, which I was able to take of my son Ray standing in that famous spot. When we arrived, I was most disappointed to see the memorial all covered in plastic sheeting — some kind of renovations. Unusually though, considering it was in the middle of the week, no one was working on it. So up we went — up the scaffolding!’
Austria’s own peculiar way of coming to terms with its Nazi past. In July 2008, the city of Linz removed a bronze statue of Aphrodite (left) from a small colonnaded pavilion (centre) in a city park, after learning that it was a present from Hitler. The city authorities checked the origin of the statue after someone had packed it in a wooden crate and left an unsigned note on it stating that the sculpture was a gift from the Führer. Research in the city archives determined that the claim was correct — Hitler had donated it on April 18, 1942 — and the statue was immediately removed from the Bauernbergpark (right) and subsequently put into storage at the city’s Stadtmuseum Nordico.
A work by the sculptor Wilhelm Wandschneider (1866-1942), it was actually a copy casting of an original statue which stood in the Berlin Reich Chancellery. It later transpired that the anonymous note had come from students at the Linz art university who had discovered the work’s provenance during a research project. Linz always held a special place for Hitler: he had lived there as a teenager (1902-05), attended secondary school there and discovered himself as a lover of art and music; after the Anschluss in 1938, he designated the city ‘Jugendstadt des Führers’ (City of the Führer’s Youth) and made grandiose plans for a Führer’s Art Gallery there. 27
The Roudeix collection for sale. Left: Assorted bikes and motorcycles. Right: HK101 Kettenkrad, sold for 50,000 euros. In our previous From the Editor (issue 138) we reported the death of Alain Roudeix, the indomitable collector of vintage war material from the Normandy battlefield in July 2007. The planned auction of his incredible collection of vehicles and equipment (both military and civil), already announced then, took place in his home town of Vimoutiers four months later and spanned three days, November 10-12, 2007. An assortment of well-known professional militaria dealers, both from France and abroad, and a large crowd of amateur collectors had gathered to make bids for over 860 lots which had been put on sale. Many of these consisted of more than one item — a heap of rusted junk to the uninformed but often representing rare and valuable spare parts to the more knowledgeable — and the whole array occupied the entire 2,500 square metres of the disused factory building used for the public sale. Despite the sometimes decrepit condition of many of the pieces, bids ran high and readers will be interested to know some of the prices paid for individual items. Lot 214, one of several comprising two German helmets, went for 140 euros; Lot 261, a British parachute container, for 900 euros and Lot 692, the muzzle of a Panther tank, for 3,500. Lot 809, an Italian Guzzi Alce 500cc motorcycle with sidecar, was started at 4,000 euros but went for 13,000. Lot 807, a German Zündapp KS750 combination with BW43 sidecar, offered at 12,000, reached 21,000. Lot 840, a German Stoewer-produced NSU HK101 Kettenkrad, began at 35,000 but was sold for 50,000. Pride of place was taken by Lot 844, a VW 166 Schwimmwagen, which went for 68,000. In all, auction master Thierry Demade and his team collected a total of 670.000 euros, producing earnings about 50 per cent higher than expected. Ludovic Meyer, a staunch supporter of After the Battle since No. 1, wrote from France to thank us for our obituary of Alain Roudeix: ‘In France we are always searching for an article about Alain’s life, but nothing has been published to this day. He was a personality you can’t forget. Always passionate about history but not concerned by money, I think he would have been very angry if he could have seen the dispersion of all his incredible collection. In June 1985, Alain organised a three-day tour of the Falaise Pocket battlefield for a few friends and he asked me to be the translator between us and a group of British enthusiasts, led by George Alexander, from Bournemouth — all of us riding in German and American WW2 military vehicles. Many of us, of course, had brought ATB issue No. 8, and we followed Alain to St Lambert, the Tiger tank, Rommel’s accident location, Corridor of Death and so on . . . This event remained a very good one, maybe the best in an enthusiast’s life.’ 30
It is always a sad duty to have to report the deaths of those who have helped us in our research. Roy Humphreys, whose feature on the Dover Tunnels appeared in issue 131, died suddenly on March 27, 2008 after a long illness, at the age of 79. We first met Roy in 1979 when he prepared the chapter on Hawkinge aerodrome for The Battle of Britain Then and Now. Since then, he went on to write a number of books on aviation and local history but sadly did not live to see his latest book published on Dover Castle. From 1946 to 1953 Roy served in the Grenadier Guards, after which he entered the Prison Service until retirement. He was a founder member — and latterly chairman — of the Kent Aviation Historical and Research Society. Roy fought hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to have Hawkinge preserved and was instrumental in erecting in April 1978 the memorial which still stands beside the remains of the technical site on Aerodrome Road.
items he was retrieving for scrap, made a conscious decision to preserve them and open a museum in which the wrecks could be displayed. His collection grew to include an incredible array of American tanks brought up from the Omaha Beach sector. These range from Sherman DD tanks (from the US 741st Tank Battalion) swamped as they came in through rough seas on D-Day, to M7 Priests and Sherman bulldozers which were knocked out and sunk in LSTs. Many other items from ships and landing craft of all types are on display, along with personal items of soldiers found in some of the vehicles. Jacques died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. His wife and daughter have decided to maintain the museum where, as Jacques used to say, he still had ‘another 100 years of work to do’!
Jacques Lemonchois († 2007).
Roy Humphreys (1928-2008). It is only now that news reached us that Jacques Lemonchois, the owner of the Musée des Épaves Sous-Marines du Débarquement (Museum of Underwater Wrecks of the Invasion) in Port-en-Bessin (issue 34), died on July 12, 2007 — as fate would have it just over a week before his fellow collectionneur Alain Roudeix! Lemonchois’s museum is unique among those dedicated to the Normandy invasion. Following the D-Day landings, a great many tanks, vehicles and vessels lay out on the seabed off the Normandy coast. By the late 1960s many of these were proving hazardous to fishing boats and others ships operating in the area, and the French government brought in scrap dealers and recovery teams to remove them. One such team was led by Lemonchois who, realising the historical importance of many of the
Almost as an homage to Lemonchois’s work, August 2008 brought spectacular news about other armoured vehicles from the Normandy invasion resting on the Channel seabed. In the waters of Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex, 13 kilometres off shore and at a depth of 20 metres, lie the rusted hulks of two tanks, two bulldozers and a field gun. The presence of this wartime wreckage has been known for many years and the site has been regularly dived but it was always a mystery how the equipment ended up so far off the south coast as there is no associated wreck nearby. A long-held theory was that the equipment was lost from a section of one of the artificial Mulberry harbours towed across the English Channel to support the D-Day landings. Liasing with the Bovington Tank Museum, a team of 12 scuba divers from the Southsea Sub-Aqua Club, led by Alison Mayor, spent five days surveying the site to try to solve the mystery. Starting on July 26, measurements,
SOUTHSEA AQUA CLUB
In our story on the battle for Saint-Lô (issue 138) we included a photo of American troops advancing past a dead soldier and a knocked-out half-track. Two American readers — Dave DeBace from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, and Chief Master Sergeant Jan T. Beck from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois — wrote in to question our identification of the dead man as a German soldier. As Sergeant Beck put it: ‘First, I would like to congratulate you on another fine issue covering the battle of Saint-Lô. The issue was top-notch as all your publications are. I’ve been reading the magazine since the early 1970s and know of no publication that is of such high quality covering World War II.
‘I noticed on page 11 the unfortunate casualty behind the half-track was identified as a German. Upon close review of his uniform and a clearer photograph found in Peter Yates’ The Battle for St-Lo (page 182) I feel there is sufficient evidence that this in fact may be a US soldier. First, I find it unlikely that the US censors would redact the face of a German casualty. Second, his web gear (canteen and cartridge belt) appear to be of
DIRK VAN OOTEGHEM
photographs and video of the site were used to record the location, orientation and condition of the military vehicles. With the guidance of David Fletcher at the Tank Museum, they carried out over 80 dives in search of specific signs to identify the exact model of the vehicles. Information gathered on an initial dive had already shown that the tanks were likely to be Centaur CS IVs. Using the new photographs, Fletcher was able to confirm that the tanks were indeed of this type — an amazing discovery as this not only enabled to unravel the mystery but also considerably increased the wrecks’ historical significance. The Centaur CS IV was not a run-of-themill tank but a relatively rare vehicle. Similar to the Cromwell but fitted with a 95mm gunhowitzer and with an obsolete 12-cylinder Morris Liberty Engine, it was exclusively used to equip the Royal Marine Armoured Support Group, a special unit set up to provide the Royal Marine commandos with powerful support fire during the landings. Only 80 were produced and only a small number made it to Normandy. Reference to the war diary of the 2nd Regiment, RM Armoured Support Group, which landed on Juno Beach in support of Canadian forces, confirmed that one LCT (Landing Craft Tank) was forced to turn back halfway across the Channel and reported two Centaurs as being lost at sea. The weather was very bad during the crossing and a further Naval war diary entry confirmed that the same LCT capsized whilst under tow. All crew and Royal Marines personnel were rescued but the tanks, along with the bulldozers and the field gun, plunged to the bottom. The bulldozers resting on the seabed are also believed to be very unusual, in that they were specially armoured Caterpillar bulldozers used by the British 79th Armoured Division and Royal Engineers to clear obstacles from the beaches. There are no known surviving bulldozers of this type. The survey revealed a number of other surprising discoveries, among them a large ‘Kedge’ anchor, tucked just beneath a tank, two ammunition sleds, two propellers and ammunition. Until now, only two Centaurs were believed to have survived, both placed as war memorials in Normandy. One of them was left on the battlefield near Hermanville-laBrèche, where it had been knocked out on D-Day, until 1975 when it was recovered to be placed as a memorial at Pegasus Bridge (see issue 18). The other is at the village where this first Centaur came from, Hermanville-la-Brèche, and was actually a Centaur Dozer (with a bulldozer blade) that was restored at Duxford by the Imperial War Museum with a Cavalier turret which was recovered from a firing range in the UK.
Identified at last: Centaur IV tank on the seabed in Bracklesham Bay.
US issue. Lastly, although his jacket appears to be mottled camouflage, which may have been worn by a German paratrooper, I believe the mottled appearance is in fact due to the soldier’s injury (blood stains) and in fact the soldier is wearing a 1941 US type field jacket.’ The arguments are convincing and I cannot but agree with Sergeant Beck’s conclusion. Although the corpse was identified as ‘a dead German’ in at least one other book on the battle, the picture’s original US Army Signal Corps caption speaks only of ‘dead’, and the fact that the soldier’s face has been blotted out by the censor in the negative kept at the National Archives (from which we got our print) should have woken me up as this was never done with German dead. Our feature on the RAF Mapping Centre at Hughenden Manor (issue 141) mentions that we had been unable to identify the city shown in the target map illustrated on page 37. Three readers — Adrian Harvey, Derek Jerman and David Thackray — wrote in independently from each other to say that they had found out which city it was: Magdeburg in Germany. Mr Harvey from Inverness, Scotland, wrote: ‘I checked my copy of the wartime GSGS publication German Town Plans and matched the contours of the river. A quick check with Google maps confirmed it.’ Mr Jerman adds: ‘The arrowed “A” is actually Magdeburg-Ost airfield.’ In the same story we included a picture of the Mapping Centre’s vehicle park, our caption identifying the truck on the right as a GMC. Several readers reacted to correct us on this blunder, informing us that the vehicle was not a GMC but a Studebaker US6 x 4U7. Dave Wiggins from Saint-Mars-duDésert in France rubbed in the error by referring to page 352 of ‘Bart’s Bible’ — our own Historic Military Vehicles Directory. When Bart Vanderveen was still among us, he would always be there to keep us from making such horrible clangers. How much he is missed!
Dirk van Ooteghem from Vilvoorde, Belgium, sent us pictures of an extraordinary set of tank wrecks which he happened to spot near Durbuy in the Belgian Ardennes in August 2008. Dirk writes: ‘I came across these wrecks totally unexpectedly in the Rue de Givet (N833) between Grandhan and Petit-Han. They must have been there for quite some time, completely overgrown and out of sight, for I only saw them last week when I drove past for the umpteenth time. They had been completely uncovered, so I think they are going to be removed. Right opposite from where they are is a scrap dealer, whom I think must be the owner. My French is not good enough, otherwise I would have certainly rang at his door.’ The tanks, five Shermans and one M10, are in various state of destruction. They are without tracks, turrets and guns, and their hulls show big holes from various shell hits. Close by in the same dump are a Sherman turret and several lengths of tank track. We inquired with the scrap dealer, M. Thierry Destiné, and he told us that the vehicles had seen service during the war, had then been taken over by the Belgian Army and, after demobilisation, had been used as practice targets at the Army firing range at Camp Elsenborn until 2007. He had recently removed them from there to be sold for scrap (see also centre pages). 31
On January 5, 1943, the US 7th Marine Regiment, part of the US 1st Marine Division, arrived in Australia after having spent nearly four months fighting on Guadalcanal. Weakened by
casualties, malaria and fatigue, the men needed a respite and they were sent there for rest and recuperation. Here men of the regiment are seen disembarking at Melbourne.
US MARINES AT CAMP BALCOMBE
RELIEVING THE LEATHERNECKS The history of the 1st Marine Division, formerly the 1st Marine Brigade, dates back to its activation on February 1, 1941 aboard the battleship USS Texas. Two months later the division’s strength had swelled to 306 officers and 7,288 enlisted men, comprising Divisional Troops, the 1st, 5th and 7th Regiments and the 11th Marines (artillery). After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the division was expanded and by July 1942 had increased its strength to 577 officers and 11,753 enlisted men. For a period, the 7th Marines were withdrawn from the division as the basis of a new brigade that would defend Samoa against an anticipated Japanese attack. Accordingly the division became a two-regiment division plus supporting units. In mid-April 1942, in accordance with the so-called ‘Lone Wolf’ Plan, the division was transferred to New Zealand 32
before sailing to Guadalcanal to open America’s offensive against Japan. (It reverted to being a three-regiment division with the return of the 7th Marines, who arrived on Guadalcanal as a 4,300-strong reinforced regiment on September 18, 1942.) ‘Day by day’, Major General Vandegrift wrote, ‘I watched my Marines deteriorate in the flesh. Although lean Marines are better than fat Marines, these troops were becoming too lean’. Following four months of continuous combat, the 1st Marine Division was exhausted and weakened by the effects of tropical diseases, especially malaria. The first cases of this mosquito-borne parasitic infection had emerged by the third week of August and an order was belatedly promulgated on September 10 for the use of
By David Mitchelhill-Green atabrine twice a day, two days a week as a prophylactic measure. Compounding the problem, however, was a belief among the men that the drug permanently yellowed their skin and caused impotence. When large quantities of discarded pills were noticed, medics were posted to ensure that the men would swallow their medication before receiving food. The extent of disease can be seen in the sky-rocketing number of hospital admissions on Guadalcanal: 900 in August, 1,724 in September, 2,630 in October and 2,413 in November; remembering also that many men with malaria never received hospital treatment.
America’s first ground offensive, the Guadalcanal Campaign, was a major turning point in the Pacific War, a defeat from which Imperial Japan never recovered (see After the Battle No. 108). By the end of November 1942, after four months of intense fighting, air raids, naval shelling — a period in battle far longer than originally planned — it was obvious that the US 1st Marine Division needed to be relieved. It also needed to be shipped to a far healthier location. For in addition to the 681 men of the division who had been killed in action, or died of wounds or other causes, tropical diseases had decimated the division. Although the possibility of relieving the Marines had been raised in September, and again in October, not until November 29, 1942 did the 1st Marine Division commander, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, receive notification from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff that his unit ‘is to be relieved without delay . . . and will proceed to Australia for rehabilitation and employment’.
The same spot 65 years later: Station Pier in the suburb of Port Melbourne, pictured by David Mitchelhill-Green in January 2008
JOHN OXLEY LIBRARY
On December 9, Vandegrift handed over his command to Major General Alexander M. Patch, commander of the Army’s Americal Division. As the former flew out to Australia, the weary men of the 5th Marines boarded their waiting transports, the leading elements of the division’s withdrawal. Characteristically, the 5th Marines’ tough commander, Colonel Merritt A. Edson, ever mindful of his men’s overall responsibility, wrote to them: ‘The primary objective before us is to refit, reorganise, and train for further offensive operations in the Pacific area . . . It is my intention that this regiment become the best disciplined, the best appearing and the best trained regiment in the Marine Corps. Only by doing so will you become the best and toughest fighting regiment in the Corps.’ But it would take many months of rest before his men would again be ready for battle. While flying ahead of his division to the Australian city of Brisbane, Vandegrift noted his division operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Merrill B. Twining, sketching a new diamond-shaped divisional shoulder patch. It bore the stars of the Southern Cross and the number ‘1’ containing the word ‘Guadalcanal’ written vertically. Vandegrift approved the design immediately, the first US unit patch authorised for wear during the war. Twining later honed his design with the aid of a child’s watercolour paint set while confined to bed in Brisbane with a bout of malaria. Upon their arrival into Australia, the 1st Marine Division came under General Douglas MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area theatre command. With the US Army short of troops and fighting a gruelling campaign in New Guinea, the Leathernecks were assigned the role of defending Australia. A divisional officer present at the Brisbane dock drew the attention of waiting US Army representatives to the new ‘defenders of Australia’; men ‘ragged, still dirty, thin, anaemic, sallow [and] listless’. It was a pitiful sight. ‘Just about one out of every ten of them fell down, tumbling limply down the steep ladder on their backs, landing pitifully on the dock.’ While the more senior staff enjoyed the more pleasant amenities of downtown Brisbane, the newly disembarked Marines were transferred to the more-remote Camp Cable, near Logan Village about 30 miles south of the city. Intended as a temporary billet until permanent defence positions along Australia’s northern coast became available, the primitive, marshy, mosquito-ridden camp was hardly suitable for the division’s rehabilitation. Among the few men strong enough for liberty, a number fell on Brisbane streets
The other regiments of the division — equally exhausted by Guadalcanal — had already arrived in Australia earlier, the 5th Marines disembarking at Brisbane on December 13, the 11th Marines on the 20th and the 1st Marines on the 26th. They had been billeted at Camp Cable, 30 miles south of Brisbane, near the village of Logan. This picture was taken during the camp’s construction in 1942. The primitive conditions at the camp and the subtropical climate of Queensland did little to improve the men’s condition, so in early January 1943, having spent a few weeks at Camp Cable, the division was transferred to camps in southern Australia where the climate was milder. through the lingering effects of malaria and fatigue. Vandegrift complained on December 26 how, ‘After two weeks of camp — particularly with the rains coming down and the weather getting hotter — the mosquitoes came in droves. They are really so bad it is almost unbearable in the camp area. In addition to the pesty mosquitoes, a large number of them are the malaria-bearing kind. This was a surprise to us and I really believe a surprise to the Army . . . Fortunately for us, the Director of Public Health Service for the state of Queensland had written a letter to the Base Commander drawing attention to the fact that there were a tremendous number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes present, and to have large numbers of men from malaria countries would be a menace to the civilian population . . . Our hospitalisation for malaria increased 249 in 24 hours. We now have 500 in the hospital here with malaria.’ Protests to MacArthur’s liaison officers about the camp — more like a ‘penal colony’ than a rest area — proved futile and, acting in the best interests of his men, Vandegrift proposed moving the whole division south to
Before the Marines’ arrival, Camp Cable had housed the US 32nd Infantry Division (July to November 1942), who also returned to it after the Marines had left (staying from April to October 1943) to recover from their own stint in combat in
a more-temperate location free from the scourge of mosquitoes; the time needed for rehabilitation from malaria believed to be from three to six months. As the enfeebled Marines celebrated Christmas in their less than salubrious surroundings, Twining and Colonel Harrison Heiberg, US Army Corps of Engineers, journeyed first to Sydney, which they discovered was already home to a vast US presence and an inflated military bureaucracy. Their next stop was Melbourne, which after MacArthur’s transfer to Brisbane, now contained only a small US presence, including, fortuitously, the newly built Royal Melbourne Hospital, home to the US Army 4th General Hospital — the first US military hospital to be established in the Pacific theatre. Meanwhile, news of the division’s predicament had reached Vice Admiral William ’Bull’ Halsey (chief of South Pacific command) at his headquarters in Noumea, who immediately arranged for transports to ferry the men south including the USS West Point, better known in peacetime as the magnificent SS America. As a Marine officer later commented: ‘If we’d stayed in Brisbane . . . we just wouldn’t have been a division anymore’.
Papua New Guinea. Left: Today nothing remains of the military camp, but the site of the original main entrance is marked by several roadside memorials, among them this one for the American troops that were based here (right). 33
In Australia two decorations were created with a link to the recent Guadalcanal campaign. One was the 1st Marine Division shoulder patch, designed by Lieutenant Colonel Merill Twining, Division G-3. Featuring a ‘1’ with ‘Guadalcanal’ written down its length and the southern cross, it became the first US unit insignia officially authorised during the war.
The other one was the ‘George’ medal’, an unofficial commemorative memento designed by Captain Donald L. Dickson, adjutant of the 5th Marines. The obverse side, showing a hand dropping a Guadalcanal-shaped hot potato into the arms of a grateful Marine and a cactus (‘Cactus’ being the code-name for the island), bore the words ‘Let George Do It’. The reverse, featuring a cow and an electric fan, was inscribed: ‘In fond remembrance of the happy days spent from Aug. 7th 1942 to Jan. 5th 1943. USMC’. Those wanting a medal paid one Australian pound for it and received a certificate as well. Only about 50 were cast before the mould gave out, making the medal one of the rarest of the war.
After scouring the local Melbourne area, Twining and Heiberg generated a billeting plan: the 1st Marines Regiment would take up residence in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (see After the Battle No. 69), an enviable location due to its proximity to the city and women; the 11th Marines would go to the town of Ballarat, 90 miles north of Melbourne, while the 5th and 7th Marines, together with 1st Marine Engineer and 1st Marine Pioneer Battalions, were assigned to the Australian Army’s Balcombe Camp at Mount Martha, some 40 miles south-east of Melbourne. By early January the first divisional units began their journey to the cooler, and far more welcoming, city of Melbourne. Last to leave Camp Cable was the unit that had arrived there first, the 5th Marines. Shortly after their departure, a US Army unit arrived at the camp only to discover an unpleasant mess of discarded food, unsanitary conditions and abandoned equipment and weapons. The new tenants complained bitterly and it was only through Colonel Edson’s direct intervention and his ‘reasons’ for the mess that no official inquiry was held. Staying behind to oversee the clean-up operation, Edson was furious; the ‘wanton destruction’ a sickening ‘indication of the state of discipline in the outfit’. Meanwhile in Melbourne, Twining was on hand to meet the 7th Marines, the last regiment to leave Guadalcanal. Having sailed directly from the Solomon Islands, the transports USS President Jackson, President Adams and President Hayes dropped anchor in Port Philip Bay (see After the Battle No. 90) on January 5, 1943. After a month of good living, Twining was shocked by the Leathernecks’ physical condition as they struggled down ladders under the weight of their packs and equipment. Their herringbone-twill uniforms were little more than rags, their shoes were worn down through wear, water and mould, only their helmets had survived the rigors of tropical combat. Once ashore, US Army dress shoes were issued to the men together with regulation khaki shirts and trousers plus Australian Army woollen jackets. One of Twining’s first tasks was to have the division’s new shoulder
patch manufactured. It was around this time that the infamous ‘George’ medal was struck, an unofficial award designed by Captain Donald Dickson (5th Marines adjutant) to commemorate the Guadalcanal campaign. Based on the idea that the 1st Marine Division would pick up jobs no-one else wanted to do — the ‘Let George Do It Division’ — the front of the medal depicted a hand dropping a hot potato in the shape of Guadalcanal to a marine; the back featuring the rear end of a cow beside an electric fan! The suspension ribbon was, fittingly, a swatch of the pale green herringbone twill from former uniforms, preferably from those washed in Guadalcanal’s Lunga river.
Further to the continuing effects of malaria and the geographic dispersion of the division, there was also a lack of senior direction. Shortly after arriving in Melbourne, Vandegrift and several senior officers were temporarily recalled to Washington primarily as war heroes to be paraded for public relation building. Vandegrift received the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military award for combat valour, from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in person in a ceremony at the White House on February 5, 1943. The 1st Division’s new acting commander was Brigadier General William H. Rupertus while Edson was elevated to the position of acting assistant divisional commander.
The Leatherneck units were distributed over three camps. The 1st Marines went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Camp Murphy); the 11th Marine Regiment (Artillery) to Ballarat, while the 5th and 7th Marine Regiments and the newly formed 17th Marine Engineer Regiment went to Camp Balcombe at Mount Martha.
Balcombe Army Camp was located on the Mornington Peninsula, some 60 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It was named after Lord Balcombe. The first huts were erected in 1939 for the Australian 32nd Infantry Battalion (The Footscray Regiment), one of the two Citizens Military Force (CMF) units based on the peninsula. The militia machine gunners lived in the houses while the other militiamen lived in tents. In due course more Army buildings were erected but most of the troops kept being quartered in the ten-man tents. The 32nd Battalion remained on the Mornington Peninsula until August 1942, when it was transferred to Western Australia, thus freeing the facility for the Marines. AWARD CEREMONIES AT CAMP BALCOMBE Edson’s heroic exploits on Guadalcanal were honoured on February 3, 1943. During an impressive sunset ceremony at Balcombe, General Rupertus awarded Edson the Medal of Honor — one of 13 such awards for bravery on Guadalcanal. The citation read: ‘For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of a Marine Raider Battalion, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on the night of September 13/14, 1942. After the airfield on Guadalcanal had been seized from the enemy on August 8, Colonel Edson, with a force of 800 men, was assigned to the occupation and defense of a ridge dominating the jungle on either side of the airport. Facing a formidable Japanese
attack which, augmented by infiltration, had crashed through our front lines, he, by skilful handling of his troops, successfully withdrew his forward units to a reserve line with minimum casualties. When the enemy, in a subsequent series of violent assaults, engaged our force in desperate hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, rifles, pistols, grenades and knives, Colonel Edson, although continuously exposed to hostile fire throughout the night, personally directed defense of the reserve position against a fanatical foe of greatly superior numbers. By his astute leadership and gallant devotion to duty, he enabled his men, despite severe losses, to cling tenaciously to their position on the vital ridge, thereby retaining command, not only of the Guadalcanal airfield, but also of the 1st Marine Division’s entire offensive installations in the surrounding area.’
Based at Camp Balcombe, Edson was both regimental commander and officer in charge of the billet, which, in stark contrast to Camp Cable, was found to be an ‘ideal campsite’. In January, he called for a return to training although malaria and a lack of replacements prevented any serious activity until March, and it was not until April that extended field manoeuvres could be carried out. In contrast to the planners back in America, Edson argued for fresh replacements to fill his depleted ranks instead of them being directed to new formations. In this way, the division would be maintained at full strength. Those men recovering from sickness would be the future replacements; a shortage of onhand reserves having left some units too weak to fight on Guadalcanal. The ‘Canal had also taught the division that ‘construction equipment and personnel are not a luxury but an absolute necessity’, moreover a ‘power shovel or a bulldozer is just as important in its own phase of modern warfare as is an artillery piece’. Accordingly, on January 12 the division was reorganised and a new regiment formed, the 17th Marines, comprising the 1st Battalion (Engineers), 2nd Battalion (Pioneers) and 3rd Battalion (Seabees).
While the Marines were recuperating in Australia, their division commander, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic leadership on Guadalcanal. He received the medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in person during a ceremony at the White House on February 5. Looking on are Mrs Vandegrift, and the general’s son, Major Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr.
During the Marines’ stay at Balcombe, there occurred two separate award ceremonies at the camp at which Marines were presented with the Medal of Honor for courage shown during the Guadalcanal campaign. The first was on February 3, 1943, when Colonel Merritt Edson, commander of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, received the award from Major General William Rupertus, Assistant Commander of the 1st Marine Division. 35
The second Medal of Honor ceremony took place three months later, on May 21, when two men of the 7th Marines, 2nd Lieutenant Mitchell Paige and Platoon Sergeant John ‘Manilla’ Basilone, received the award. Six other Marines received
critic, selected the 5th Marines to stage a demonstration amphibious landing for the Australian Army. In his words: ‘I selected them as more or less a tacit tribute to how far back on the road he [Edson] had brought that regiment’.
Model 1903 Springfield rifles were replaced by the M1 Garand, the first US semi-automatic service rifle issued in quantity. Combat training placed an emphasis on amphibious warfare with practice assaults undertaken in Port Philip Bay. Twining, always a harsh
Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. Puller, Executive Officer of the 7th Marines (himself holder of three Navy Crosses), leads the eight medal recipients and the Colour Guard to the reviewing stand.
Then, on March 22, the entire 1st Marine Division and supporting units were cited by US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on behalf of the president for ‘outstanding gallantry and determination’ in capturing and holding the south-eastern Solomon Islands. The Presidential Unit Citation read: ‘The officers and enlisted men of the 1st Marine Division, Reinforced, on August 7 to 9, 1942 demonstrated outstanding gallantry and determination in successfully executing forced landing assaults against a number of strongly defended Japanese positions on Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Florida and Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands, completely routing all the enemy forces and seizing a most valuable base and airfield within the enemy zone of operations in the South Pacific Ocean. From the above period until December 9, 1942, this Reinforced Division not only held their important strategic positions despite determined and repeated Japanese naval, air and land attacks, but by a series of offensive operations against strong enemy resistance drove the Japanese from the proximity of the airfield and inflicted great losses on them by land and air attacks. The courage and determination displayed in these operations were an inspiring order.’ Training and parades aside, one of the first priorities for the Marines in Balcombe was some well-deserved liberty. Melbourne was similar to many American cities; an inviting draw card that was long afterwards fondly recalled as one of the best wartime ‘liberty towns’. For many, Melbourne’s Flinders Street station was the ‘jumping-off’ point for those Marines travelling in from the outlying camps. But a problem lay in the fact that the nearest train station to Mount Martha was Frankston, some 15 miles away. The last trains leaving Melbourne at night were generally ‘loaded to and beyond the gunwales with Marines’ and there were never sufficient buses available at the Frankston terminus to ferry all the Marines back to camp. As one Leatherneck, tongue-in-cheek, recalled in 1947: ‘Banzai charges had nothing on the final rush for the buses which 1st Marine Division Marines made nightly during the Melbourne “rest period”.’ However enjoyable leave in the city was, under ‘Red Mike’ Edson, Balcombe was far from a holiday camp. Vandegrift had noted that ‘inadequate physical training and hardening prior to combat’ was one of the biggest problems initially faced by his command on Guadalcanal. Although Edson ensured the men’s liberty and a steady diet of organised dances to bolster morale, his strict training program emphasised night operations, physical fitness and marksmanship. Shortly after their arrival, the Marines’ old bolt-action
decorations for valour on Guadalcanal during the same ceremony. Here the companies of the 7th Marines, Company H in the foreground, stand with their banners lowered to render honour to General Vandegrift at the commencement of the parade.
The eight recipients line up for the presentation: (L-R) Lieutenant Paige and Sergeant Basilone (Medal of Honor), Pfc Billie Crumpton (awarded the Naval Cross), 1st Lieutenant George Plantier, Pfc Wayne Talbert and Corporal Joe Catale (Silver Star) and Corporal Ronald Durrett and Pfc Phillip Kenney (Mentioned in Despatches).
General Vandegrift, having just tied the Medal of Honor around Paige’s neck, congratulates the lieutenant with the award. Paige was born on August 31, 1918 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. He had been a platoon sergeant during the action on October 6, 1942 for which he received the MOH but had been commissioned in the field on December 19, before the regiment left Guadalcanal.
mortar fire, one of Sergeant Basilone’s sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only two men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived. A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sergeant Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.’ The 7th Marines won their second Medal of Honor the following day, October 26, when Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige helped stave off a second attack that prevented Japanese troops from breaking through the Marine lines near the coast. Paige’s citation read: ‘For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the
Solomon Islands area on October 26, 1942. When the enemy broke through the line directly in front of his position, Platoon Sergeant Paige, commanding a machine-gun section with fearless determination, continued to direct the fire of his gunners until all his men were either killed or wounded. Alone, against the deadly hail of Japanese shells, he manned his gun, and when it was destroyed, took over another, moving from gun to gun, never ceasing his withering fire against the advancing hordes until reinforcements finally arrived. Then, forming a new line, he dauntlessly and aggressively led a bayonet charge, driving the enemy back and preventing a break-through in our lines. His great personal valor and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.’ The valour of other 7th Marines was recognised in the same ceremony with the award of the Silver Star to 1st Lieutenant George S. Plantier and Private First Class Wayne K. Talbert and the Navy Cross to Private First Class Billie Joe Crumpton. From the newly formed 17th Marines, Corporal Joseph J. Catale was awarded the Silver Star and Corporal Ronald K. Durrett and Private First Class Phillip B. Kenney both mentioned in dispatches.
Strains of the Marine Corps’ hymn were again heard at Camp Balcombe on May 21, 1943 as units of the 1st Marine Division passed in review during a ceremony to recognise individual acts of bravery on Guadalcanal. Back from Washington, Vandegrift decorated two men from the 7th Marines with the Medal of Honor: Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone and 2nd Lieutenant Mitchell Paige. John ‘Manilla’ Basilone was the first enlisted Marine of the war to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage in helping to defeat a strong Japanese night-time attack against Henderson Field on October 25, 1942. Dubbed a ‘one-man army’ by General MacArthur, his medal citation read: ‘For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on October 24 and 25, 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marine’s defensive positions, Sergeant Basilone, in charge of two sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack, with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and
Sergeant Basilone salutes his Commanding Officer after receiving his decoration. Born on November 4, 1916 in Buffalo, New York, he was the first enlisted Marine of the war to be awarded the Medal of Honor, and the only one to receive the MOH, Navy Cross and Purple Heart. All pictures of the award ceremony were taken by Australian official photographer Geoffrey McInnes.
The field where the ceremony took place is today a sports ground and home of the South Mornington Junior Football Club.
The clubhouse in the right background is a nice stand-in for the building that is visible in the picture of Basilone’s presentation. 37
Line-up of the division’s four Medal of Honor winners: (L-R) General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, Lieutenant Paige and Sergeant Basilone. Although neither Vandegrift nor Edson are wearing the medal, photographs such as this one have led many later authors to wrongly assume that all four men received their decoration during this ceremony on May 21. Note the newly introduced divisional patch on Vandegrift’s and Edson’s uniform.
LEAVING MELBOURNE Finally, the division having spent eight welcome months in Australia resting, refitting and training, MacArthur now had a trained amphibious unit with which to help in his projected capture of Rabaul (see After the Battle No. 133). Although the division was theoretically subordinate to General Sir Thomas Blamey, Australia’s top soldier and the Australian officer in command of the Allied Land Forces, and his nominal subordinate, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, commander of the US Sixth Army, MacArthur bypassed Blamey and communicated directly with Krueger. Concerned about the need for aerial supremacy, MacArthur intended to use the Marines to capture the enemy airfields on Cape Gloucester, New Britain. Although the decision was eventually made to bypass Rabaul, the Marines were still assigned the task of seizing the airfields. In early September 1943, the 1st Marine Division left Australia in preparation for the forthcoming landings. First to sail was the 7th Marines, which departed Melbourne on September 19 in two convoys bound for Cape Sudest, on New Guinea’s north-west coast; the first echelon arriving on October 2. The 5th Marines was transferred to Milne Bay, in eastern New Guinea, while the 1st Marines, divisional headquarters and the engineer regiment were sent to Goodenough Island. Transportation of the division was substandard aboard an assortment of Army transports, Liberty ships hastily converted to troop carriers from cargo vessels; the 1st Marines’ war diary noting, ‘construction of galleys and heads on deck marked the conversion’. At the same time Rupertus assumed command of the 1st Marine Division while Vandegrift was sent to Noumea to relieve Major General Clayton Vogel as commander of the I Marine Amphibious Corps (comprising the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions plus supporting units) for operations against the Japanese in the Shortland Islands. At the same time Edson flew to New Zealand to become Chief-of-Staff of the 2nd Marine Division, which was preparing to assault Tarawa (see After the Battle No. 15).
reaffirmed the close ties between America and Australia and recalled the ‘happy days spent here on this continent by men of the 1st Marine Division’. In a later ceremony, General Shepherd, on behalf of the Marine Corps, placed a wreath on Victoria’s Shrine of Remembrance, what to Melbourne is what the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington is to the United States (see After the Battle No. 127). Of the Medal of Honor recipients once based at Balcombe, John Basilone was killed by a Japanese shell after a successful solo charge at an enemy position on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945 (see After the Battle No. 82). Tragically, after a much-decorated career, ‘Red Mike’ Edson committed suicide in Washington on August 14, 1955. Thirtyeight years after the fighting on Guadalcanal, on September 12, 1980, US President Jimmy Carter awarded the Medal of Honor to Corporal Anthony Casamento, formerly of the 5th Marines, for heroism on Guadalcanal. Serving as a machine-gun squad leader near the Mantanikau river, on November 1, 1942, with his men either killed or wounded and despite his own wounds, Casamento managed to hold the enemy at bay. Casamento died on July 27, 1987. Mitchell Paige was the last surviving Medal of Honor winner from the Guadalcanal campaign. After a distinguished military career, he passed away on November 15, 2003, aged 85.
Merritt Edson died by his own hand on August 14, 1955, aged 58. He too lies buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 2, Grave 4960-2. His wife Ethel (1896-1985) rests in the same grave.
Mitchell Paige died on November 15, 2003, the last MOH recipient from the Guadalcanal campaign to pass away. He rests in Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California, in Section 20a, Grave 533.
John ‘Manilla’ Basilone did not survive the war, being killed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Today he lies buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Section 12, Grave 384. 38
POSTSCRIPT After the war, Balcombe Camp reverted back to an Australian Army camp and home to the Australian Signals and Survey Corps. Memories of the Marines’ time in the area, however, remained strong and after an interval of 11 years, troops were again marching to the Marine Corps’ hymn. On November 24, 1954, a set of wrought-iron gates with commemorative plaques was dedicated to the Marines in honour of their wartime stay at Mount Martha. Constructed by Australian Army apprentices, the gateway was the brainchild of Lieutenant-General Sir Sydney Rowell, Chief-of-Staff of Australian Military Forces, in recognition of the special relationship between the people of Melbourne and the men of the 1st Marine Division. In his dedication speech, Rowell explained: ‘At the end of 1942, the 1st Division came to this camp at Balcombe to rest, refit and rehabilitate after its magnificent fight at Guadalcanal. And on the little hill to the west of the camp, where we are now laying down a sports ground, this famous division received the Presidential Citation, the highest award which the United States has to offer to formations or units for distinguished service’. One of the American representatives, General Lemuel C. Shepherd, commandant of the US Marine Corps and former assistant divisional commander of the 1st Marine Division during the landings on New Britain,
Nine years after the war, the Australian Army erected a set of Memorial Gates at the entrance of Camp Balcombe to acknowledge the contribution made by the US 1st Marine
Division in the defence of Australia during World War II. The gates, on the old Nepean Highway side of the parade ground, were dedicated on November 24, 1954.
incorrectly states that Colonel Edson also received the Medal of Honor at the same ceremony, whereas in actual fact he had received his over three and a half months earlier. The plaque correctly adds that General Vandegrift, who presented the medals to Basilone and Paige, had himself been presented with the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt in Washington on February 5, 1943. The memorial stands beside an oval where junior football and cricket teams play.
As a correspondent of the Marine Corps Gazette earlier observed in 1955, ‘to appear in the streets of Melbourne in the Marine uniform is to insure that one will be stopped frequently by well-wishers extending a hand’. Today, however, few remember how and why Melbourne once played host to the 1st Marine Division — the memorial gates at Balcombe Camp and the Medal of Honor plaque two important reminders of the role Mount Martha played during the Pacific War.
Balcombe Camp later housed the Australian Army School of Signals (from December 1945 to June 1970) and from 1948 the Army Apprentices school, until it was relocated to New South Wales in 1982; the prime bay-side land sold off for residential development. On May 21, 1993, on the 50th anniversary of Basilone’s and Paige’s Medal of Honor ceremony, a new memorial was dedicated near the site where they were decorated, now known as Citation Reserve. Unfortunately, the plaque on the memorial
Left and right: Balcombe existed as an army camp for a total of 44 years. After its closure in 1983, all Army buildings and facilities were removed, the last house being transported out of the site on a semi-trailer in two halves in August 1999. With the camp closed, concern was raised that the plaques on the memorial gates might be stolen. Accordingly, in April 1988, the plaques were removed for safekeeping and relocated to Mount Martha House — having already hosted senior Marine officers during the war — in a special re-dedication ceremony. After much discussion, the original gates were maintained in their traditional location, though now sporting duplicate plaques.
In 1993 the field where the Presidential Unit Citation and Medal of Honor ceremonies had taken place in 1943 was renamed Citation Oval and adorned with a memorial commemorating
the two Marine events. Note that the plaque (right) incorrectly includes Colonel Edson in the May 21 ceremony but has the correct date and place for General Vandegrift’s award. 39
The battle of Cassino raged from January to May 1944 and during this time Allied military and press photographers and cameramen took numerous photos and exposed lengths of cine footage of the fighting. However, not all of the images that have become standard illustrations of the Cassino struggle were taken during actual combat or even near Cassino. Some of the better known photographs of ‘Cassino’ were actually taken many miles away to the southeast, in the valley below Monte Camino, in the battered ruins of the town of Mignano and on the slopes above the village of Presenzano. The troops featured in these images belonged to the New Zealand Division and the pictures originated during several sessions in MarchApril 1944 when units of the division were resting and training in the rear area. Right: On March 4, Sergeant Bill McConville of No. 2 Section, Army Film and Photo Unit (the AFPU section covering the Italian campaign), arrived to picture men of one of the machine gun platoons of the 22nd New Zealand Battalion during training. The official caption to this photo — NA12552 — reads: ‘Vickers machine gun crew in action during attacks on German positions at Monte Cassino’. Below: Our author, Perry Rowe, discovered that the photograph was not taken at Cassino but at the foot of ‘Spandau Post’ or ‘Pillbox Ridge’ which runs up to Monte Camino. The buildings on the left are the outskirts of Mieli village, with the large villa now run down and abandoned. The ridge in the right rear is ‘Bare Arse Ridge’.
FAKING MONTE CASSINO
The division entered a rest area spread from Piedemonte d’Alife to Presenzano. The valley was headed by the Monte Camino/ Monte la Difensa massif and the ‘Mignano Gap’, a low pass through the mountain range that carried Route 6 and the railway line. In early December 1943, Monte Camino had been captured by the British 56th Division and La Difensa by the US-Canadian 1st Special Service Force, after nearly a week of vicious fighting. The nickname for this hill
By Perry Rowe
feature — ‘Million Dollar Hill’ — referred to an estimate of the money spent by the Americans to capture the heights. A smaller plug in the Mignano Gap was Monte Lungo which had been the objective of the 1st Italian Motorised Group. In their first attack as members of the United Nations these troops had been repulsed with heavy losses.
Many of the memorable images of the Second World War such as Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the US flag being raised by Marines on Iwo Jima (see After the Battle No. 82) and Carl Mydan’s shot of MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines (see issue No. 23) were not quite what they seemed. Rosenthal’s was filmed after a first, smaller flag had been raised, and Mydan’s was a recreation three months after the real event. While not reaching the fame of these, certain photographs and films of troops fighting through the rubble of Cassino have reached neariconic status, but how many people know that many of these shots were really taken 18 kilometres — in some cases even 30 kilometres — from the embattled town? By November 1943 the Allies had butted up against the Bernhardt and Gustav Lines in Italy. Running across the width of the country, the Bernhardt Line made maximum advantage of the ridges and rivers of the Apennine mountain range, from the Adriatic Sea on Italy’s east coast to the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west. The New Zealand Division had been fighting with the British Eighth Army in the Adriatic sector since November 1943 but, when attacks there ran out of steam, the Allied High Command decided its mobility would be more useful in a pursuit role in the Liri Valley as part of the US Fifth Army. In January 1944 the division stripped all identifying features from vehicles and uniforms and crossed the Apennines under the pseudonym of ‘Spadger Force’. (These efforts at anonymity were remembered as a bit of a farce for while the division may have been incognito, the New Zealand Army Film Unit was not, which, according to one veteran, was all too clearly labelled as it filmed the columns during the move.)
By the time the New Zealanders arrived the battle had moved on and the now relatively peaceful valley (it was still subject to some long-range, counter-battery fire) became a place to rest, refit and train. It was here, too, that elements of the division became involved in a series of exercises filmed by No. 2 Section of the British Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) and New Zealand’s own Army Film Unit. Some of these exercises were part of training, and others were deliberate recreations of events too dangerous to film in Cassino itself. Photographs from these series (the original negatives of which are today held in the photographic departments of the Imperial War Museum in London and the Alexander Turnbull Library, the National Library of New Zealand, in Wellington, with a few stray prints being found at the Archives New Zealand, also in Wellington) have been used in many books covering the Cassino battle. Nearly all on the subject use at least one of the photographs and yet very few of these are correctly or consistently identified as being recreations, and the photographers’ original captions do not always make this clear either. Likewise, film footage (now held by the IWM film department) appears in many (if not most) documentaries covering Cassino, with nothing to suggest the clips are not ‘live’. Ian Grant, in his book Cameramen at War (1980), emphasises the point that the AFPU used recreated footage as little as possible. For the most part this meant pictures were taken after the action when events had moved on, but hopefully before the smoke and debris had been cleared away. However, while the cameramen could get close to the action, generally front-line combat was just too dangerous and the photographers had only one way to give viewers at home an idea of the type of fighting that occurred — and that was to fake it. The close-in, house-to-house fighting of Cassino was one such situation and the AFPU and New Zealand’s own official photographer had a series of sessions with men from the Kiwi battalions intended to give a feel for what the front-line troops were going through. There were a few genuine series, such as the many still photos and cine shots taken on March 15 on the northern outskirts of Cassino, and a series of photos and film shot by Lieutenant Richard Gade and Sergeant Jessiman who spent 24 hours in the centre of Cassino on March 25-26 with No. 13 Platoon, C Company, 25th Battalion. Though this was after the troops had gone over to the defensive it was still a perilous exercise, with German mortar fire clearly falling close to their positions. Ironically, for whatever reason none of these authentic images seem ever to have been used in books or documentaries on Cassino, leading to the paradoxical situation that the real shots would not be recognisable to those interested in the battle, while the fakes would be instantly so. 22nd BATTALION EXERCISES The New Zealand Division was kept busy training and the troops knew it would not be too long before they were put back in the line. Sure enough, the first units moved up on February 4 as part of a newly formed New Zealand Corps under Lieutenant General Mark Clark’s US Fifth Army. By February 18 the New Zealanders were once again in the thick of it with the 28th (Maori) Battalion unsuccessfully attacking Cassino railway station. On March 15, the division’s second attack began, this time from the north (see After the Battle No. 13). As most of the division moved up to Cassino, the 22nd Battalion moved from near Piedemonte d’Alife to the foot of Monte Camino, close to what was left of the town of Mignano and the infamous ‘Mignano Gap’.
MIGNANO CASPOLI MIELI
Monte Camino, Mieli, Caspoli and Mignano lay some 18 kilometres south-east of Cassino, while Presenzano was even further away. The 22nd Battalion, as a motorised unit, was held in reserve ready to exploit any breakthrough, and even as this action became less likely, training continued. Some of these exercises were used by the AFPU to record various Allied weapons being used, and the combat techniques which were soon to decide life or death for troops of the division. The troops were filmed using infantry weapons such as Lee-Enfield rifles, Thompson sub-machine guns and Bren light machine guns. A Vickers heavy machine gun and a 6-pdr anti-tank gun were also filmed ‘in action’ as an example of the support weapons available. The first of these series was filmed and photographed on March 4 by Sergeants Acland (his film roll is archived at the Imperial War Museum under registration number AYY672-1-2) and William (Bill) McConville (who exposed six frames, NA12548 to NA12553) respectively. Describing his photo series in his dope sheet, McConville wrote: ‘Much has been said of the strong machinegun defence of the enemy on Monastery Hill, near Casino [sic]. The Germans are reported to have at least 400 of these guns dug in the hillside. The positions have, in many cases, been hewn out of solid rock, and in spite of heavy aerial and ground bombardment, they are still a constant menace to our forward troops. Many of the guns overlook the main
road of communication (Route 6), and it is obvious policy to whittle down the number of guns in this position, to ease the movement of supplies up to the front line. In this series, a machine gun platoon of 22nd Motorised Infantry Battalion, New Zealand Division, is seen on a “hit and run” raid in this sector.’ Reading this description one would be forgiven for believing the raid is genuine. However, the targets are the barren rocks of ‘Bare Arse Ridge’ (as the British who had slogged their way up it had christened it), in the vicinity of the small hamlet of Mieli, at the base of Monte Camino, a good 18 kilometres distant from the real Monte Cassino. The machine guns are pictured firing from the base of what was variously called ‘Spandau Post’ or ‘Pillbox Ridge’, as can be seen more clearly in Sergeant Acland’s cine footage. The second exercise involving the 22nd Battalion was photographed on March 8, this time in the ruins of the castello in Caspoli, another small village located at the foot of Monte Camino. The photographer was New Zealand’s own official photographer, Sergeant George Kaye, who exposed a total of six frames (today archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library as DA5372 to DA5373, DA5455 and DA5462). Kaye was not too precise in specifying the location, his cap41
Right: Four days later, on March 8, Sergeant George Kaye, New Zealand’s official war photographer in Italy, arrived to take more photos of the 22nd Battalion in their rest area. This one — DA5455 — shows Company Sergeant-Major E. M. Scott and Lieutenant John McNeil of No. 3 Company but the official caption ambiguously claims that it was taken ‘during a break in the fighting around Monte Cassino’. McNeil would be killed in action during the attack on La Romola, near Florence, on July 31, 1944 (see After the Battle No. 129).
ATL DA 5455
tions of his first four images just giving ‘Monte Cassino area’, but the caption for DA5455 explicitly mentioned that it was taken ‘during a break in the fighting’ and that of DA5462 specified that it was taken ‘during an exercise in a ruined village’. Donald Lamont of the Anti-Tank Platoon, Support Company, 22nd Battalion had ‘formed the opinion that the ruined village . . . had been abandoned before the war, possibly as part of Mussolini’s rural reform programme’ but it seems more likely the village was destroyed as the tides of war washed up against the foot of the mountain in December 1943. (It was further ruined by earthquakes after the war, so much of the area used in the exercise was not rebuilt.) Lamont kept a diary in which the entry for this day reads: ‘A troop photograph taken, then photographers took action movies of guns in action with explosive, smoke and live rounds — a big fraud — “The Fall of Cassino”. Remarks of onlookers humorous.’
The ridgelines in Perry’s comparison prove that Kaye’s series was shot far away from Cassino, near the village of Caspoli at the western end of Monte Camino. Very few of the original buildings survive from the pre-war village, and those that remain are now abandoned. Between Perry’s visit in August 2007 and revisit in June 2008 much of the building visible in the rear of the wartime photo collapsed. An adjacent church remains partly intact, and the overgrowth is cleaned up once a year so that a procession can be made to it.
Left: A week later, on March 15, it was Sergeant McConville’s turn to come to Caspoli for some additional photography. Again, his captioning was dubious, like the one for this shot — NA12810 — which reads: ‘A New Zealand anti-tank gun crew in action against German machine-gun position on Monastery Hill, near Cassino’. Also, he did not record that the men were actually firing a German 7.5cm PaK 40 gun, which the 22nd 42
Battalion had found abandoned on the Sangro river and taken in tow a few weeks earlier. Right: Perry’s dedication in pinpointing these locations is remarkable. Again the ridgelines provide the best reference for this shot. The German gun was actually firing from the farm grounds in the foreground, but Perry could not find the owner to ask permission to enter, so his comparison was taken from the driveway.
On March 15 the Anti-Tank Platoon was followed by photographer Sergeant McConville (who took 11 photos, NA12810 to NA12820) and cinematographer Sergeant Jordan (film roll AYY679-1-3). The location was the edge of a gully carrying the Peccia stream along the western side of Monte Camino, looking across toward Caspoli. The film description in Jordan’s original dope sheet notes reads: ‘Soon after the bombing of Cassino our infantry attacked the strong points around the town, weapons of all kinds were used to drive the Hun from his well dug in positions’. McConville, in his dope sheet, gave his photos the ambiguous title: ‘British ground forces join in the attack on Cassino’ and noted down the location as ‘Cassino area’. Curiously one of the weapons featured (it appears both in Jordan’s cine material and in the first three of McConville’s pictures, NA12810-812) is in fact a German 75mm PaK 40 anti-tank gun that was adopted by the 22nd Battalion. Lamont explained how they came to have it: ‘We picked it up in position on a roadside corner high above the Sangro river, north bank, it presumably having been bypassed by the 5th Brigade during the previous night’s attack. Its crew must have withdrawn in some haste for it was intact, with several boxes of ammo. We were very impressed with the engineering of it, the 6-pdr looked pretty basic beside it. Our platoon commander hung it behind his Jeep and we towed it around as an extra gun for some weeks.’ Lamont goes on to recall that the gun-layer, Des Barry, had ‘sustained a bad cut over the eye from the telescopic sight when the gun recoiled unexpectedly severely with the first round’. In NA12812 the New Zealanders are shown ‘going forward through a smoke screen’ past this same PaK and the photograph has been captioned in at least one book as ‘New Zealanders capture a German anti-tank gun’. At least they got it partially correct. Lamont and his fellow cast got to see their handiwork at the movies three months later, and found it all quite amusing.
books as a true combat photo of Cassino showing ‘New Zealanders capturing a German anti-tank gun’. Right: The gun was turned 90 degrees for this shot, so Perry’s comparison is looking southwards.
Left: The captured enemy gun came in very handy in one of his next shots — NA12812 — which begot the caption: ‘New Zealanders going forward through a smoke screen’. The vague wartime description has led this photo to be presented in
NA12815. A hundred metres or so to the right (north) of the PaK, McConville pictured ‘a 6-pdr anti-tank gun being used by the New Zealanders against enemy positions’.
Right: He had the type of gun right, but it was not firing at German-held positions, but at Monte la Difensa, already captured by the US-Canadian 1st Special Service Force on December 3, 1943 — over three months previously! In Sergeant Jordan’s cine footage, taken at the same time, vehicles and tents can be seen on the road opposite so it was a good thing the gunners were experienced! 43
Right: Perry has been unable to find the exact location where this series was taken, but it was definitely not in Cassino, let alone at the gates of the Monte Cassino abbey (which was not captured until May 18, and then by the Polish 3rd Carpathian Division). There is ample proof for that, not the least being that NA13274, taken by McConville’s colleague Sergeant Menzies, also on March 24, shows what is clearly the same scene. The official caption to Menzies’ photo leaves no doubt that it was a posed action shot: ‘Reconstruction of infantry clearing buildings in Cassino’. 44
Two weeks later, on March 24, McConville returned to the 22nd Battalion for another photo shoot. McConville headlined his series ‘Men of the 6th New Zealand Brigade taking part in the grim fighting in Cassino’, which certainly suggested that it was taken in that town, and gave this particular photo — NA13287 — the caption: ‘Every house that is not completely demolished may contain enemy snipers, and these infantrymen search one partly-demolished building’. This is the picture which, according to AFPU photographer Ian Grant, was an award-winning war photograph showing ‘infantry with fixed bayonets forcing their final entry’ into the Cassino monastery. wounded, and cine cameraman Sergeant Robert Day killed, all in the Cassino sector. What is more, McConville’s picture, which is dated March 24, appears to have been exposed only a few seconds apart from NA13274 which the Imperial War Museum records as having been taken by Sergeant Menzies on the same day. Since no claims have been made that Menzies was at the
Abbey or even in Cassino this makes it very unlikely that McConville was. It is clearly the 22nd Battalion and the man with the bandaged hand has been identified as Maurice Currin. Furthermore, the author has found no record of the Buenos Aires Press Photographers’ Association or their award. So was McConville pulling Ian Grant’s leg, or was Grant pulling ours?
The next 22nd Battalion production was photographed on March 24 by Sergeants Menzies (eight photos, NA13269 to 13276) and McConville (seven photos, NA13283 to 13289). It was succinctly, but falsely, described by McConville on his dope sheet: ‘This series depicts men of the 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, taking part in the grim fighting in Cassino’. Sergeant Menzies described it more fully, but also falsely: ‘Cassino is under constant fire from wellconcealed German gun and mortar positions, as well as from Spandau nests on Monte Cassino. In order to cover the New Zealand troops, who are doggedly pressing on through the ruins of the town, smoke screens are laid to cloak the activities of the Allied troops as far as possible.’ Sadly, despite extensive searches in this area of Italy, the author was unable to positively locate the true location of the exercise, and veterans have been unable to shed any light on the question. However, it is clear that the series was not shot in Cassino. Firstly, the 22nd Battalion were not in Cassino until after this date, a company relieving 24th Battalion’s D Company on the night of March 25/26, and the ‘actors’ have been positively identified as being from the former unit. Secondly, the photographers, and indeed the infantrymen, are in too exposed positions for it to be in the front lines. Thirdly, the buildings pictured cannot be seen in any of the hundreds of photos of Cassino examined by the author, and lastly the ridge-line is not that of the hills around Cassino. Furthermore, of the 15 pictures in these two series, some are clearly taken elsewhere: one (Menzies’ first exposure, NA13269) is on the outskirts of Cassino and taken on March 15 or 16. Another (McConville’s last frame, NA13289) was taken in Mieli (probably during the series of March 4 mentioned above). Two more (Menzies’ last two shots, NA13275 and NA13276) look out of place in the series. Ian Grant’s book on the AFPU presents a mystery related to one of the photographs from McConville’s series (NA13287). On page 173, Grant writes: ‘The storming of Monte Cassino had many a frightening story to tell, not the least was that of Sergeant Bill McConville. In the rubble that lay about after the terrible bombardment of the Monastery, Bill was on the final approach to the very gates, and his shutter closed on the picture that was to become an award-winner. It shows the infantry with fixed bayonets forcing their final entry. Minutes later, he stepped on a mine, which blew his foot off. It was Blighty for Bill, but he later had the satisfaction of receiving a unique award, the Gold Medal of Buenos Aires Press Photographers’ Association, for the best war action photograph of 1944.’ (This assertion is repeated in the caption of the photo which appears on page 174.) Of course, the Kiwis never came close to ‘forcing their final entry’ into the Monastery. Furthermore the 2nd AFPU war diary mentions McConville as being in Italy as late as July 17, 1944 — a long time for a man with a foot blown off. Diary entries for March only list Sergeants Wootton and Jordan as being
Left: On April 5, New Zealand photographer George Kaye returned to Caspoli and the 22nd Battalion. This time his captions made unequivocally clear that his photos were staged ‘during manoeuvres’ although he still added the ambiguous location ‘on the Cassino battlefront’. This is frame DA5502. The final photo session involving the 22nd Battalion occurred on April 5, when New Zealand photographer George Kaye returned to Caspoli for some more posed action shots of No. 4 Company troops (five photos, DA5499, 5502, 5505, 5513 and 5514). This time his caption notes made perfectly clear that the photos were not of real combat, those of the first five all reading ‘during manoeuvres on the Cassino battlefront’ and that of DA5514 even specifying ‘This is a reconstructed battle scene’. The caption of DA5499 as recorded today by the Alexander Turnbull Library even adds: ‘probably taken during a mock attack staged behind the line’ — so there is no excuse for the misuse of these photos in post-war publications. Of these varied exercises Jim H. Henderson’s history of the 22nd Battalion (part of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War series) says only this: ‘And then the day some of us did a lot of tearing around over there near the foot of Million Dollar Hill for the movie cameras – maybe we would get our pictures on the newsreel showing us attacking Cassino — this “attack” we did quite a few times before the real one.’
Right: Though not a match, Perry’s shot shows the location of Caspoli with respect to Monte la Difensa as well as the amount of re-growth since the war. An old castle once occupied this spur, and traces of its walls can still be found today in the undergrowth, like here on the right.
24th BATTALION RE-ENACTMENTS While the 22nd Battalion exercises were filmed during training for battles that were yet to come, the 24th Battalion was filmed re-enacting battles just past. Filmed on April 8, after most of the Kiwis had left the line, the recreations were of B Company’s first attack in Cassino that had taken place nearly three weeks previously, on March 17, and of the rescue by Sergeant Bob Thompson, Captain Alek Borrie, and others of wounded from the hills behind Cassino, which had occurred on March 25. (Borrie, MC, was the 24th Battalion Medical Officer, and organiser of donkey races and aquatic derbies. He was also the author’s grandfather’s CO during the war and doctor after it.) The recreation of B Company’s attack was performed in the ruined town of Mignano, close to where the 22nd Battalion had been camped earlier. The cinematographer was Sergeant Elvin (film roll AYY702-2-1) and the photographers AFPU Sergeant C. H. Hewitt (who exposed 23 frames, NA13790 to NA13812) and New Zealand photographer Sergeant Kaye (unnumbered prints of his photos are in WAII — DA60/15/8, a file held in the Archives New Zealand).
March 4, 1944
MG Platoon, 22nd Bn fire Vickers HMGs, filmed at Mieli March 8, 1944 No. 4 Coy, 22nd Bn demonstrate city fighting techniques, filmed in Caspoli. March 15, 1944 A-Tk Platoon, Supt Coy, 22nd Bn using various weapons, filmed opposite Caspoli March 24, 1944 22nd Bn demonstrate urban fighting techniques, filmed in unknown location March 26, 1944 13 Platoon, C Coy, 25th Bn actually filmed in Cassino April 5, 1944 April 8, 1944 April 8, 1944
No. 4 Coy, 22nd Bn demonstrate city fighting techniques, filmed in Caspoli. Reconstruction of 11 Platoon, B Coy, 24th Bn, battle for Cassino, filmed in Mignano Reconstruction of recovery of C Coy, 24th Bn wounded, by Supt Coy, 24th Bn, behind Cassino, filmed in Presenzano
Fighting in October-November 1943 had left Mignano in ruins that were a small echo of those in Cassino itself. In addition to damage from bombs and shells, the town had been deliberately mined by the Germans in an effort to block the main road, so the New Zealanders felt no guilt in adding to the destruction. The remains were to be a convincing backdrop to the men of No. 11 Platoon, B Company, 24th Battalion, and a Sherman tank of Regimental Headquarters Squadron, 19th Armoured Regiment, as they acted out their March 17 attack on German strong points in Cassino. The lead role of company commander, both in the original attack and in the recreation, was played by 2nd Lieutenant John McCorquindale, and the men of No. 11 Platoon also acted out their own parts. This lent some authenticity to the action, as Douglas Froggatt (though of the 22nd Battalion) confirms: ‘It at least had the merit of being filmed within a few days of our coming out of Cassino so that the “players” would have had battle experience foremost in their minds and could have been expected to add more realism to their movements and actions than would otherwise have been the case.’
Note: Dates are those given on the notes for the series or film in the IWM, or on the catalogue cards at the ATL.
leaving his sergeant [Roger Smith], who has since been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant for bravery in the field, in charge. The brilliant leadership of the sergeant, and the grim determination of the men, resulted in their holding the positions for ten days, until ordered to withdraw.’
The recreation was filmed on the main street of Mignano, with Corso Umberto I standing in for Route 6. In the recreation the supporting Sherman moved north-west between the bombed-out and mined shells of buildings while the infantry is shown moving from house to ruined house in support. In many of the photographs a crenelated wall can be seen and there is a very distinctive tower visible in several. Both these features belong to the Castello Fieramosca, a castle of ancient lineage which had been owned by Lord Guinness of brewery fame prior to the war.
Sergeant Hewitt, describing his photo series in his dope sheet, set the scene thus: ‘On the second day of the battle for Cassino, 2nd Lieutenant J. McCorquindale with B Company, 24th Battalion, 6th NZ Brigade, attacked the outer defences of the town. Information regarding enemy positions was scanty, but two sections of the company, under 2nd Lieutenant McCorquindale, pressed forward under heavy mortar and Spandau fire and established a bridgehead in the town. The lieutenant at once set up Company HQ, and gave orders for the day to his platoon commanders. On the evening of the second day, seeing that further advances would be impossible without armoured support, 2nd Lieutenant McCorquindale contacted the tanks of HQ Squadron, 19th Armoured Regiment (NZ), who were waiting near the church on Highway 6. On the third day he attacked again, with tank support, and was able to consolidate his bridgehead and clear most of the Spandau positions. On the fourth day the Germans started demolishing the few remaining buildings which could give cover to the New Zealanders, with the aid of rocket guns. In such a manner the Germans hit the Municipal Building which collapsed on 2nd Lieutenant McCorquindale and his men. When the dust cleared, it was found that the lieutenant was injured, and he was sent back to the ADS,
While the photo and film sessions with the 22nd Battalion entailed staged action shots done during training exercises, those with the 24th Battalion on April 8 were deliberate re-enactments of actual actions that the battalion had fought during the Third Battle of Cassino three weeks earlier. Filmed at the shell-torn town of Mignano, 18 kilometres southeast of Cassino, the first ‘story’ concerned B Company’s attack into Cassino along Route 6 on March 17. NA13793, taken by Sergeant Hewitt, received the caption: ‘Infantry dash forward to a new position during a lull in the fighting’.
Private Harry Hopping of No. 11 Platoon, B Company, acting out his part with his Tommy-gun in Hewitt’s NA13808.
The recreation was staged on Mignano’s main street, today Corso Umberto I. Ironically the area central to the mock battle is now the location of the local war memorial. One of the buildings pictured in the original shots has been torn down, while the other has been extended closer to the road which made identification just a little tricky, but the crenelated wall confirms the match. 46
Only one member of No. 11 Platoon who was involved has been traced at the time of writing. Harry Hopping can remember few details after 63 years, but did recall that it was a fun day out from the real war. Harry appears brandishing his Tommy-gun in NA13808, taken by Sergeant Hewitt, and in two of the unnumbered photos taken by Sergeant Kaye. He has been mis-identified as Private Brown in Hewitt’s notes (and hence also in the Imperial War Museum captions).
IWM NA13805 PERRY ROWE
Above: On his dope sheet for NA13805, Sergeant Hewitt wrote: ‘75mm gun on a Sherman tank fires to silence sniper posts’. The official War Office caption, as recorded in the IWM caption books, accurately expanded this to: ‘Sherman tank of the 19th Armoured Regiment, 4th New Zealand Armoured Brigade, supports infantry of 24th battalion, 6th NZ Brigade, during a reconstruction of recent action in Cassino’. However, this did not prevent post-war photo editors from using Hewitt’s pictures as real action shots. For example, in Fred Majdalany’s book The Battle of Cassino (1957) a picture from this series was included with the caption: ‘New Zealand Infantry and tanks attack Turreted House area. By holding on to this key position between Castle Hill and town outskirts, the Germans were able to prevent final clearance of the town and also to keep Castle Hill under constant fire.’ Right: The crenelated building in the picture was the Castello Fieramosca, Mignano’s ancient castle which had been owned by the Guinness family before the war. Rebuilt after the war, it has since fallen into disrepair again and entry was not possible when Perry visited Mignano in 2007. The municipality is hoping to buy it back off its current owners — the Catholic Church — and turn it into a museum. 47
CONCLUSION It can be seen that several of these series were at the time ambiguously captioned at best, so post-war authors, editors and directors could perhaps be forgiven for incorrectly publishing them as illustrating fighting in Cassino. What though is the excuse for those shots that are clearly captioned in the archives as being recreations? It is ironic that few books have used the film and photographs genuinely taken by Lieutenant Gade and Sergeant Jessiman in Cassino itself, presumably because they were not ‘real’ enough. Over time some of these pictures have gathered a ‘truth’ of their own,
reflecting Lenin’s quote ‘A lie told often enough becomes the truth’, and a few at least could be said to be iconic of Cassino. Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to Jeff Plowman for his encouragement and suggestions. Veterans Donald Lamont, Doug Froggatt, Percy Bourke and Harry Hopping provided invaluable personal knowledge. The Imperial War Museum, Alexander Turnbull Library and New Zealand Archives staff were ever patient and helpful, and thanks must also go to the many citizens of Mignano, Caspoli, Presenzano and San Clemente who helped me despite the language barrier.
The second recreation staged on April 8 was of the recovery of C Company wounded from Point 202 on the hill behind Cassino. This was filmed by Sergeant Weber (film roll AYY702-1-2) and photographed by Sergeants Hewitt (five frames, NA13782 to NA13786) and Kaye (unnumbered prints in the DA60/15/8 file), who both must have had a busy day. The film and photographs show the men of the Support Company who had formed the original party replaying these events. Both Weber and Hewitt made it clear in their dope sheets that what they filmed and photographed was a restaging of an actual event. Hewitt titled his series ‘Fifth Army Battle for Monastery Hill (Reconstruction)’, gave the location as ‘Presenzano’ and included a note that reads: ‘These pictures were shot under the direction of the major and captain concerned in the story’. His story description reads: ‘During the battle for Monastery Hill, Major Reynolds of C Company, 24th Battalion, 6th New Zealand Brigade, having attacked towards Hangman’s Hill, was cut off by the enemy and surrounded. Two attempts to relieve his company, one by the Maoris and the other by the Gurkhas, met with no success. As the company had only one day’s supply of rations and no greatcoats or blankets, the position looked bad. Unknown to Major Reynolds, plans were put into operation to drop food and ammunition by parachute to the stranded men, from Kittyhawk planes. These supplies did not reach the men until the seventh day, by which time they were suffering from exposure, lack of food, and were affected by the smoke, but with the supplies dropped, the major was able to rally his men and fight his way through the German positions and down the hill to safety. ‘During this time, the stretcher-bearers of the company were carrying on working hard during the truce called by both sides to bury their dead. The stretcher-bearers, led by Captain A. Borrie, the Company MO, started to return through the German lines with two wounded men, when they were told to halt by a German Red Cross soldier, who explained in broken English that the truce had finished. This rather damped the spirits of the stretcher party, who, in Captain Borrie’s own words, “had visions of a trip to Rome”. After much argument on both sides, the German soldier took two of the party back (each carrying a Red Cross flag) to his commander, whilst the MO and his men sat down to wait their fate. After a few moments they were surprised to see the men return, carrying a note from the German commander. The note stated that owing to the British sniping of the German stretcher-bearers, the truce had been called off (the MO knew of no foundation to this allegation), but that the party would be allowed to carry on unmolested. The last thing the MO could remember as they moved off as fast as possible was the German soldier asking for a cigarette.’ Staged below the castle at Presenzano, about 15 kilometres south-east of Mignano, the rocky hillside made quite a convincing Monte Cassino. The castle is very convincing as Rocca Ianula, and there is a convenient outcrop to simulate Hangman’s Hill. Although a shorter series, at least one of these photos, NA13782, has been mislabelled in several well-known texts.
Right: The second event re-enacted for the photo and film cameras concerned the rescue of C Company’s wounded from Point 202 on Monastery Hill, which had taken place on March 25. Here Captain Alek Borrie, Medical Officer of the 24th Battalion, and stretcher-bearers of C Company act out their encounter with a German Red Cross soldier. This is Hewitt’s frame NA13785.
The re-enactment was carried out at the village of Presenzano, about 15 kilometres south-east of Mignano and over 30 kilometres from Cassino. The town’s castle made a very convincing Rocca Ianula, and it also provided Perry with a good reference point for his comparison 64 years later.
In December 1944, a German Kriegsberichter (war photographer) took a series of staged ‘action’ photos near the hamlet of Poteau, Belgium, that were to become emblematic of the fighting during the Ardennes offensive.
POTEAU REVISITED When the G-2 files of the US 1st Infantry Division came to light in the mid-1990s, they explained how and when the photographs and films came into American hands. Some time after elements of the 16th Infantry Regiment of that division had reached Waimes on December 18, two Germans unknowingly drove into the village in a Jeep. They were quickly captured and it was revealed that they were returning to Germany with undeveloped film taken during the first days of the offensive. They had departed from Ligneuville, where the headquarters of the 1.
By Jean Paul Pallud SS-Panzer-Division had been installed on December 18, and were on their way to Cologne. Whether they deliberately chose to take the most-direct route via Waimes, thinking that the sector was under German control, or simply lost their way, is not known. They had with them four rolls of photos and one roll of cine film. With these were caption notes written on December 18 at
One or more shots from a well-known piece of cine film taken by a German combat photographer in the Ardennes in December 1944 have been included in virtually every book dealing with the last months of the Second World War. Authors and publishers use them to depict any and every German unit and some even place them in the context of the Eastern Front. In August 1979, I finally tracked down the location at Poteau in southern Belgium and I established that they had been taken about noon on December 18, 1944. The sequence depicts a party from the 1. SS-Panzer-Division which had just ambushed Task Force Mayes of the US 14th Cavalry Group. We first published comparison photos in 1982 in After the Battle No. 37 and my detailed sketch plan of this stretch of road was included in my book Battle of the Bulge Then and Now published in 1984.
Thirty-three years later, in December 1979, Jean Paul Pallud found the location and took this comparison. The silver birch has since been cut down, making Jean Paul’s picture a historic image in itself (see Battle of the Bulge Then and Now, page 216).
We now know that the photographs at Poteau were taken by SS-Unterscharführer Max Büschel and that the cameraman shooting cine film at the same location was his colleague, SS-Unterscharführer Schaefer. Left: Büschel took this picture
of Schaefer at work at Poteau. Right: In turn, he himself appeared with his Leica on the last frames of one of Schaefer’s cine sequences (see Battle of the Bulge Then and Now, pages 212 and 213). 49
Right: SS-Rottenführer ‘Z’ (a description coined by Jean Paul merely for ease of identification in his book) led a staged ‘attack’ where the burning wreckage of Task Force Mayes provided a backdrop (see page 214). This particular soldier has now been named as SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Gilbert. In December 1944 he was the commander of the I. Zug of 2. Kompanie of SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1. He survived the war, spending about a year in an American POW camp in Austria before being released, and died in 1984. There is however a problem with his identification as the collar rank patch visible in the 1944 photos clearly shows the soldier to be an SS-Rottenführer, not an SSUnterscharführer. Far right: A remarkable set of comparisons of the Poteau series was masterminded by Frank Hübner and his friends from a German military reenactment group. Michael Falge stood in for SS-Rottenführer ‘Z’.
The three soldiers taking shelter under an abandoned M8 armoured car (see pages 209 and 219) have now been identified as (L-R) Wilhelm Gilbert (Jean Paul’s SS-Rottenführer ‘Z’), SS-Untersturmführer Siegfried Stiewe, and Josef Priess (SS-Rottenführer ‘Y’). During the Ardennes battle, Stiewe was the adjutant of SS-Sturmbannführer Gustav Knittel, the commander of SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1. He would be killed on March 27, 1945, near Komarom, Hungary.
Ligneuville by someone named Schaefer, who was most likely one of the photographers. He wrote that the attack had begun on December 17 — when it was actually December 16 — but this could be just a mistake or simply mean that he had been involved only from the 17th believing that this was the first day of the attack. The notes read: ‘Unit: 1. SS-Panzer-Division. No. 85-88. Subject: we attack. Light: dark, rain. Develop and cut. Signed: Schaefer. ‘Contents and captions: 1. SS ‘LAH’. Ligneuville, Belgium, on December 18, 1944. Sector of the fighting: the Belgian border. ‘Route: Munstereifel, Hallschlag, the Belgian border, Büllingen, six kilometres south of Eupen-Malmédy. ‘The attack begins through the Westwall on December 17 at 5.30 a.m. The weather is very bad. A strong artillery barrage throws the surprised enemy out of its positions. We press on our attack day and night. Hundreds of prisoners are brought in during the early hours. Numerous guns and vehicles are captured. Many Americans gunners were surprised and killed at their posts.’ From this it can be deduced that the captured material had been taken by a pair of Propaganda-Kompanie war reporters, a photographer and a cameraman, travelling from Hallschlag in Germany to VauxRichard, via Honsfeld, Poteau, Kaiserbaracke and Ligneuville. (Both men appear
Left: SS-Rottenführer ‘Y’ (Josef Priess) appeared in another staged attack up the road, this time in the opposite direction (see page 215). A member of the Stabskompanie of SS-PanzerAufklärungs-Abteilung 1, he would be killed just east of Bastogne on January 4, 1945, a fortnight after these photos were taken. He now lies in the German War Cemetery at Recogne, Belgium, in Block 16, Grave 201. Above: Patrick Ott, an acknowledged SS and airborne collector from Germany, plays SS-Rottenführer ‘Y’. 50
CAPTION DOPE SHEET CAPTURED WITH THE GERMAN PHOTOS Film No. 230 1-4 The first prisoners, surprised, taken in the early hours. 6-8 The bridges destroyed by the Americans are quickly repaired by engineers and we are only stopped for a few hours. 9-11 This 75mm anti-tank gun fired only a few shots; after these, our tanks took care of it. 13-19 More prisoners are taken to the rear. 20-24 Photos of an American tent camp abandoned in the Eifel. 25-30 More weapons and vehicles are captured and many dead are left behind by the surprised enemy. Film No. 231 1-3 Photos of the advance. A smiling driver. Booty cigars are distributed. 4-8 Scenes of our march in the mud of the Eifel. 9-16 Photos of the advance of the infantry. From our half-track, we photograph many tanks, reconnaissance vehicles and lorries. The 1. SS-Division attacks on the Belgian border. Film No. 232 1-30 Attack. Seized vehicles, burned US tanks and vehicles. Film No. 233 1-17 On the road to Malmédy. 18-20 The commander of the reconnaissance group, SS-Sturmbannführer Knittel, in conversation with one of his officers. the photographer as SS-Unterscharführer Max Büschel, and the note captured by the Americans gives another name, Schaefer, who must therefore logically be the movie cameraman. The photos taken at Stoumont were published in Germany during the last days of 1944 and the cine footage was included in the Deutsche Wochenschau weekly newsreels. At the same time on the Allied side, the censor released some of the material seized at Waimes on December 23 followed by more on the 25th. The film footage showing
in the Poteau film, the movie cameraman in one of the still photos and the photographer with his Leica in the last frames of one movie sequence.) It seems that, having delivered their first batch of film to Ligneuville, this same team continued to follow Kampfgruppe Knittel up to La Gleize. They then took photos and film on December 19 at Stoumont, the furthest point of the German advance, and this successfully made it back to Germany. The original wartime caption on one of the photos taken at Stoumont gives the name of
An indisputable identification is this one of SS-Hauptsturmführer Emil Wawrzinek walking back with his orderly (see page 213). At that time attached to the 1. SS-PanzerDivision’s staff, he would take command of SS-Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung 1 in March 1945, only to be killed near Steinabrückl in Austria the following month. He lies at Blumau German War Cemetery, Austria, in Block 3, Grave 393.
Kaiserbaracke and Poteau was widely publicised at the time but surprisingly the last of the photos were only released in June 1950. In recent years, these pictures have become the focus of an endless debate on Internet forums where various correspondents have attempted to identify the unit depicted and, in particular, to try to name individuals. Most still refer to the men in the Poteau sequence with the code-names that I had chosen to use merely for convenience, like SS-Schütze ‘V’ or SS-Sturmmann ‘X’. Logically, the individuals seen in the photos taken on December 18 at Poteau should belong to Kampfgruppe Hansen of SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 1. However, thanks to the recollection of a veteran, Helmut Merscher, posted on the Internet, a Dutchman, Timo Worst, was able to identify the soldiers as members of the Stabskompanie and 2. Kompanie of SS-Panzer-AufklärungsAbteilung 1. He explained that this force under SS-Obersturmführer Manfred Coblenz, the commander of the 2. Kompanie, had advanced towards Saint-Vith on a reconnaissance, and was by the 18th driving westwards behind Kampfgruppe Hansen to link up with Kampfgruppe Knittel via Kaiserbaracke and Stavelot. Among those he identified are SS-Hauptsturmführer Emil Wawrzinek, SS-Untersturmführer Siegfried Stiewe, SS-Unterscharführer Wilhelm Gilbert (my SS-Rottenführer ‘Z’) and SS-Unterscharführer Josef Priess (SS-Rottenführer ‘Y’). However, because the collar rank patches of the last two men clearly show them to be SS-Rottenführers, their identifications are somewhat debatable, although one explanation might be that they had been recently promoted and had not had time to change their rank badges. However, in spite of all this interest, none of the correspondence helps identifying the soldier portrayed on the cover of my book — a photo which in my view sums up the emotions of this last-ditch offensive. I named this man SS-Schütze ‘V’. The name of Walter Armbrust was put forward on one web forum, but it soon became evident that this was a mix-up between a real veteran and the wrong photo. I know from experience how difficult it is to identify men so long after the event. When finalising the Battle of the Bulge Then and Now in the early 1980s, I was myself led astray and published a wrong name — based however on information passed on to me by no less than Rudolf Lehmann, former commander of the I. SS-Panzerkorps and author of a series of books on the 1. SS-Panzer-Division, who had himself been led astray by overconfident veterans. I also had the difficult task of trying to convince another veteran, who claimed that he was the SS-Rottenführer ‘Z’ in the photos, that it could not possibly be him! As to the Luftwaffe personnel who appear in these shots, the Internet debates failed to convincingly solve the question of identification. The nearest Luftwaffe units were Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 9 of the 3. Fallschirmjäger-Division and Flak-SturmAbteilung 84, both of which had elements attached to Kampfgruppe Peiper. The paratroopers that can be seen riding Tiger ‘222’ at Kaiserbaracke and near Ligneuville were quite probably from Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 9 attached to Kampfgruppe Peiper. On the other hand, no troops from Kampfgruppe Peiper could reasonably be at Poteau on December 18, but it remains possible that the paratroops seen in the pictures taken there were from other elements of the 3. Fallschirmjäger-Division. Another explanation put forward by Timo Worst is that they were simply replacement troops rushed in in late October to fill the shortages in the 1. SSPanzer-Division. Time was short and air force ground crews were pressed into service still wearing Luftwaffe uniforms. 51
These iconic photos of SS-Schütze ‘V’ would later appear in almost every photo book on the Second World War and certainly in every book about the Battle of the Bulge, but so far
As to what happened to Task Force Mayes of the 14th Cavalry Group as it set out from Poteau towards Recht at about 7.30 a.m. on December 18, we now know a little more thanks to the account given by American veteran Bill Barton when he returned to the village in 2003. Task Force Mayes, under Major James L. Mayes, comprised elements of the 18th and 32nd Cavalry Squadrons (from the 14th Cavalry Group), plus one platoon of towed 76mm anti-tank guns from the 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion. In 1944 Bill Barton was a Corporal 1st Class with the 18th Cavalry Squadron.
‘In total darkness, we moved through Poteau, which at the time consisted of a substantial row of houses on the right-hand side of the road and a hay barn and scrub tree growth on the left-hand side. Lieutenant Max L. Crawford [commander of 1st Platoon, C Troop of the 18th Cavalry] had two Jeeps in front of us with FM radio voice contact to our M8 armoured car. I was supposed to be in contact on AM radio with Group or HQ but the jamming was so complete that I could not make contact. However the FM communication with the two Jeeps in front of us was clear, thus the 18th Cavalry HQ knew
Another possibility is that these men belonged to Otto Skorzeny’s special force, Gruppe Solar, as nearly half of the men sent to make up this group had paratroop origins. Some 800 came from the Luftwaffe and 380 from SS-Fallschirmjäger-Abteilung 600. The commander of the I. SS-Panzerkorps, SSGruppenführer Hermann Priess, later recalled: ‘During the first days of the offensive I encountered elements of Gruppe Solar on the roads. They were dressed in Luftwaffe uniforms and described themselves, if I remember correctly, as Luftwaffe field replacement battalions.’
no one has been able to identify the soldier. However, his 9mm Browning High-Power pistol might well be the one exposed today in the Poteau ‘44 Museum, see page 55!
Frank Hübner’s re-enactment group is dedicated to portray Fallschirm-Pionier-Bataillon 5 (one can see their website at www.IG-Fallschirmpioniere.de). Daniel Peterson, an American collector living in Germany, allowed the group to use his col52
lection for their ‘then and now’ photography at Poteau and the uniforms and equipment seen in these comparisons are 90 per cent original. Hübner himself played SS-Schütze ‘V’ (left) and Michael Falge donned the outfits of the Fallschirmjäger (right).
FRANK HÜBNER USNA
Left: Another still from Schaefer’s cine film (see page 223). Above: Michael Falge stands in for the German paratrooper. The wooden hut in the background remains to this day. One plank from it, engraved with the key-and-runes insignia of the 1. SS-Panzer-Division, is displayed in the Poteau museum. still remained. Thankfully Lieutenant Crawford appeared. He said he was sorry not to have given the order to dismount and I told him how glad I was to see him and he was glad to see me. He was the only officer around, or perhaps I should say, in action. He suggested that I should get a rifle and join other troopers in the hayloft to ward off any Germans that might come through the woods and attack the crossroads.’ The account of Private Edward L. Christianson of the 331st Medical Battalion, 106th Infantry Division, adds a little more to the Poteau story, detailing the evacuation of the wounded Ray Bacon. That morning, Christianson had driven an ambulance carrying four seriously wounded litter patients from Saint-Vith to Vielsalm. After drawing blankets, litters and other supplies, he started back for Saint-Vith via the same route. ‘About halfway back we suddenly, and inadvertently, found ourselves in the middle of the shooting war. We had come upon a small-arms fire-fight at the crossroads in the small village of Poteau between an advance German patrol and the men of the 14th Cavalry unit. They must have been as surprised as we were when they saw this big Red Cross-marked ambulance drive into their midst. We stopped without incident. Someone called from a nearby building to come tend to a wounded man. Fortunately, I was able to back the ambulance to the side of this small farm building. It was now between me and the Germans and gave us some protec-
what was going on and must have heard the message from the point Jeep reporting: “There is something going on in front of us!” ‘Lieutenant Crawford left his M8 and went forward and shortly afterwards Captain John Walker [C Troop commander] sent his M8 forward, which stopped beside the M8 I was in. By some good fortune, we were concealed in the early light by bushes, but the other M8 was not. The first shot by the Germans killed Charley Yost, the radio operator, and the driver of the M8, and severely wounded Ray Bacon in the turret. Out of my view, Sergeant Ford Keys and Captain Edmund Storms lifted Bacon out of the turret and a Jeep took him to the rear. The M8 I was in could not be moved without being hit. There were woods on the left, vehicles to our immediate rear, and a steep bank on our right. To move would have been fatal as the Germans were shelling vehicles in the column. The Germans had some tanks to support them. ‘I saw an American howitzer tank [an M8 75mm HMC] just behind us as it was hit causing the turret to be lifted off the chassis with the gunner in it. Captain Walker came up and asked me to help move the vehicles and rushed off to the column only to be wounded. Lieutenant Crawford rejoined the column about the same time, having fired a bazooka at one of the German tanks. The shelling on the vehicles to our rear stopped as I began to crawl back to the protection of the buildings, where many of our vehicles
Left: Another simulated piece of action as seen from beneath the M8 armoured car stranded on the bank of the road (see page 222). Right: Gordon Heller, airborne collector from Germany, plays the part of the Fallschirmjäger Unteroffizier in another remarkable comparison.
tion. We treated the cavalry sergeant for a serious leg wound, got him onto a litter and into the ambulance . . . The front left tire was flat and the radiator was steaming. In the excitement I killed the engine twice in the middle of the crossroads before making our retreat. To this day I am certain that the Germans respected the Red Cross, and what it meant, and that they withheld their fire and let us out.’ Bill Barton goes on to explain that while one party dug in on a hill overlooking the hamlet to the north and made a fight for it, the cavalrymen held the crossroads until about noon. By then, the situation was critical, the village raked by enemy fire and the outfit no longer in communication with any other American unit. Lieutenant Colonel Augustine D. Dugan, the 32nd Cavalry’s executive officer and the senior officer remaining, finally gave the order to retire down the road to Vielsalm. Three M8 armoured cars, two Jeeps and one M5 light tank were able to disengage and the rest of the force made its way to Vielsalm on foot. Bill Barton finally signalled a passing tank for a ride and he reached Vielsalm as it began to get dark. The Germans who had been their opponents at Poteau were ordered to move on westwards to follow Kampfgruppe Peiper, making no attempt to drive on to Vielsalm. Combat Command A of the 7th Armored Division managed to recapture the vital crossroads on the evening of the 18th. As CCA brought more forces into and around Poteau, lead elements of the 9. SS-PanzerDivision were deploying in the nearby woods. The battle for the crossroads continued until December 23 when the Americans finally withdrew, first behind the Salm river at Vielsalm, then further back the next day. The 14th Cavalry Group was later to make a useful scapegoat for all the American failures in the sector during the hectic and confusing situation in December 1944. When Brigadier General Robert W. Hasbrouck, the 7th Armored Division commander during the battle, later recommended units for Presidential Unit Citations for actions in the Saint-Vith sector, he purposefully excluded the 14th Cavalry Group because of ‘its undisciplined, pellmell withdrawal without orders, which contributed in a great measure to blocking the road Recht-Poteau-Vielsalm’. Hasbrouck reproached the 14th Cavalry Group because they abandoned considerable quantities of material, including heavy artillery. As far as the heavy weapons were concerned (eight 8-inch M1 Howitzers of the 740th Field Artillery Battalion abandoned near Poteau), in fairness it should be pointed out the 7th Armored Division should also be held accountable for not having extricated them. 53
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
One of the full-size dioramas in the museum has a special ‘then and now’ flavour: representing a German border guard (Zollgrenzschutz) office, it is set up in the very same place as the genuine customs office that was located here from 1940 to 1944 when the German-Belgian border ran through Poteau.
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM Since 1998, a war museum has welcomed visitors to Poteau. Located right near the site of the famous ambush, the displays include life-size dioramas with dummies in uniforms, vehicles, weapons, equipment and showcases containing battlefield relics. Descriptions are given in English, German, French and Dutch. Naturally the well-known series of German photos is on display and the film shot in December 1944 is shown in the museum’s cinema. Tanks and vehicles stand outside, several in running condition, and some guns. Two M5 half-tracks are used daily to drive visitors the short distance from the museum to the site of the ambush, which is today marked with a monument. The museum was the brainchild of a Dutch couple, Rob and Jacqueline de Ruyter. Having been brought up in Arnhem, ever since childhood they had the experience with their parents of meeting veterans of the British 1st Airborne Division, some of whom often stayed with them for a few days. Rob and Jacqueline married in 1980 and in turn hosted veterans and collectors as guests in their house in Oosterbeek. By the mid-1990s they already possessed a sizeable collection of military vehicles including a Jeep and Sherman tank, HarleyDavidson, BSA and BMW motorcycles, mannequins in uniforms and varied equipment, so they started to think seriously about setting up a museum. They had a particular interest in the Ardennes battlefield and loved to spend weekends camping there, searching for relics. In June 1996, passing through Poteau, they spotted a ‘for sale’ sign on the building at the crossroads. This is in fact the old German customs house that had been built in the 19th century as, prior to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the German-Belgian frontier ran through Poteau (see back cover). This old frontier was restored from 1914 to 1918 and again in 1940. Although finally realigned in 1944, in these eastern counties of Belgium the official language is still German. ‘We are the last building in the jurisdiction of Saint-Vith and our community speaks German’, explains Rob de Ruyter, ‘and across the road is Vielsalm and the neighbour next door speaks French’. ‘We phoned the number on the sign’, explains Rob, ‘and the next morning we had bought it. We also became the proud owners of the field alongside where Task Force Mayes had been ambushed by the 1. SSPanzer-Division. It looked like it had not been touched since 1944 and we instantly fell in love with the place.’
The building was badly damaged during the battle and the entrance to the museum is now on the far side. The stairway where Herr Herzhoff had posed in 1941 was located to the left of the word ‘MUSEUM’. The window on the left in the wartime photo can still be seen bricked up in the wall. We had unknowingly published a comparison of this photo in 1984 — see Battle of the Bulge Then and Now, page 225.
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
This picture taken in 1941 was given to the Poteau ‘44 Museum by Annie Herzhoff, a German lady who visited the museum in 2002. She explained that she had lived at Poteau during the war, her father being the chief of the German custom-house there. The family fled in haste on September 4, 1944, just before the leading American troops arrived, and neither her father nor she ever returned to Poteau.
This Sturmgewehr 44, displayed in another of the life-size scenes, is one of several genuine pieces discovered in a barn at Poteau in 1945.
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
Visitors to the Poteau museum can enjoy a ride to the Task Force Mayes ambush site, halts being made at the locations where the famous German photo and cine shots were made. Vehicles used on the 30-minute tour are usually American M5 half-tracks but this Czech OT-810 (a copy of the German SdKfz 251) is also employed.
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
The building was in a poor condition with no water or electricity services, no windows, no doors and almost no roof. Restoration work took two years and the museum opened in June 1998, the first visitors being a party of veterans from the 7th Armored Division. They were just passing by and stopped to ask how long the museum had been open. ‘Five minutes’, Rob replied. ‘So we knew we were on the right spot!’ Visitor numbers increased to such an extent that in 2000 Jacqueline and Rob built an extension of 300 square meters and then in 2005 added another 700 square metres. Local people donated dozens of relics recovered from their fields after the battle. Being genuine artefacts of the 1944 period, picked up at the time, most of the helmets, weapons, equipment and vehicle parts still had their original colour. One of the first items acquired was a Sturmgewehr 44 that had been found in a barn at Poteau in 1945, and another was a German Mauser G-43 semiautomatic rifle picked up in the road by a farmer. It was in quite good condition with the user manual still in the butt! Another genuine piece on display is a plank of wood removed from the little hut that can be seen on the German movie which shows the key and SS-runes formation sign of the 1. SSPanzer-Division. One of early visitors was Ludwig Richter, then living in former East Germany. When Rob showed him a pair of German shoes that he had just found, the German veteran declared: ‘Those are my shoes’ showing him his wooden leg. He explained he had served with the 9. SS-Panzer-Division and that he had been at Poteau in December 1944. During the battle he had sheltered under a Panther but the tank suddenly moved off, crushing his feet. One foot was saved, though badly damaged, but the other had to be amputated. Rob and Jacqueline decided to name their OT-810 half-track after Ludwig. In 2004 Herr Richter returned to Poteau together with a coach-load of veterans and he could not wait to show his comrades ‘his’ shoes on display in the museum and his name painted on the half-track. When construction of the museum extension began in October 2004, Rob was carefully inspecting the soil being excavated with a metal detector, and the most-extraordinary piece that came to light was a 9mm Browning High-Power pistol. In the German photos taken around the ambush site, which lies about 600 meters from the museum, SSSchütze ‘V’ appears armed with this same type of weapon! As this party of Germans ‘fought for a couple of hours around the customs building’, Rob cannot resist speculating that ‘just maybe it was his pistol that we found!’
still in progress in 2003 when Bill Barton, a veteran of the 14th Cavalry Group, donated a civilian ‘14th Cav’ number plate to Jacqueline de Ruyter. Right: A year later, and having incorporated many of the genuine parts recovered by Edmond Hugo, the museum had the Stuart back in running condition.
POTEAU ‘44 MUSEUM
In 1945 five disabled American Stuart M5 tanks were lying around Poteau, three of them near the damaged custom-house. Edmond Hugo, a local inhabitant, recovered various pieces from the vehicles before they were scrapped in 1946. Left: In 2002, the museum bought a Stuart M5A1 and restoration work was
In October 2004, during excavation works for a new museum building, Rob de Ruyter made an extraordinary discovery when his metal detector located this 9mm Browning High-Power pistol. Might this be the one seen in the hand of SS-Schütze ‘V’? 55