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A casualty’s way off the battlefield

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

How many lives were saved by the Medics and the Corpsmen?

The long way to recovery.

World War II was one of the most lethal conflicts in history. The belligerent sides had to scramble to develop a system that allowed as many wounded soldiers to be saved as possible. Based on British experiences in World War I, the U.S. Army developed a system of echelons: a casualty would move through larger and larger facilities, further and further away from the battlefield, ushered on as fast as possible, until he reached the level of care he needed.

A medic treating a wounded glider pilot near the wreckage of his plane during Operation Varsity in March, 1945

A freshly wounded soldier would, if lucky, have one of his unit’s medics crawl up to him within minutes. The medic would use the casualty’s own first aid kit: he would pour antibiotic sulfonamide powder on the wound, apply bandage, administer morphine for the pain and add a tag with a slip of paper detailing the treatment. After this, litter bearers would carry him to Echelon I: the battalion or regimental aid station, whichever was closer, some 300-500 yards behind the frontline. The aid station could be as little as a patch of ground with a red cross symbol, ready to pack up and move with the front.

A battalion aid station in Normandy

Once stabilized, the soldier would be picked up by a collecting company and taken by ambulance or litter, depending on terrain, to the collecting station some two miles behind the front and Echelon II. There he would receive emergency treatment and transported to a clearing station 4-10 miles from the lines. There, they would be sorted: those who could return to service in a few hours were held for that duration, while others were sent on Echelon III facilities.

Triage at a clearing station on Utah Beach, June 7, 1944

Echelon III consisted of 750-bed evacuation hospitals, which were essentially immobile, 400-bed semi-mobile evacuation hospitals that could be packed up in 8-10 hours once emptied of patients and deployed in 4-6 hours at a new site, and field hospitals. Field hospitals could be deployed either as a single 400-bed facility or three 100-bed installations, making it very versatile. These facilities had specialized surgeons, nursing care, X-rays, labs and pharmacies. Field hospitals were ideally within 30 miles of the front and received casualties within of hour of being wounded. Evacuation hospitals treated less urgent cases and could recondition soldiers to return to the front. Soldiers who made it to a field hospital had a 94% chance of survival.

One of several tented wards at a British mobile field hospital in Normandy

After a day or two at an Echelon III facility, a soldier could be transferred by rail, ship or plane to an Echelon IV institution: a hospital with 1,000-2,000 beds. Here, doctors would assess his status and try to determine if he could be returned to duty within a time limit dictated by policy and circumstances, typically 90 days, but this could be as little as 30 or as many as 120. If rehabilitation within that time seemed possible, the soldier would be treated, typically at a general hospital. These hospitals were often grouped into hospital centers and, despite the name, often specialized in one type of injury or illness: craniocerebral, eye, spine, chest, neuropsychiatric care, etc.

The 18th General Hospital on New Zealand in 1942, shortly before it was transferred to Fiji

Less serious cases could be treated at station hospitals instead, which had 25-900 beds and were usually attached to a specific post or garrison. The third type of Echelon IV institution was the convalescent center, designed for soldiers who would receive medical discharge when their recovery was as complete as possible. All Echelon IV hospitals had the same purpose: returning their patients to service without them having to leave the theater of operation.

Convalescent patients during rehabilitation at a station hospital

If a soldier was not likely to recover or was clearly incapable of it within the time limit, he would be sent home to the United States and placed in an Echelon V hospital. These were named general hospitals (Echelon IVs were only numbered), Veterans Administration facilities or civilian hospitals. If a soldier’s wound couldn’t be treated overseas, he would typically return to America two weeks after his injury.

Valley Forge General Hospital, an Echelon V hospital, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

The British and German systems were generally similar, both having been formed by the same experiences in World War I. The quality and specifics of German medical treatment, however, greatly depended on the situation. During the invasion of the Soviet Union, for example, aid stations often just couldn’t treat people at all, since they constantly had to be on the move. Battlefield conditions, of course, sometimes also affected the Allies. In North Africa, British troops sometimes outpaced their medical personnel so much that aid posts were left 50 miles behind the front. Americans suffered from similar problems in the Pacific, where the lack of roads and airstrips on islands made the use of ambulances and air transport impossible. Another difference was in triage: while American and British practice prioritized serious wounds over light ones to save as many lives as possible, German doctors treated light injuries first to return them to duty as quickly as possible, while seriously wounded soldiers had to wait more and, as consequence, sometimes didn’t survive even though they could have been saved.

Evacuation of German casualties in the Caucasus Mountains

You can learn more about the day-to-day experiences of soldiers on the battlefield on our historical tours to EuropeRussia and the Pacific!

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Other June 6th-s of WWII

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

Battles that took place on June 6,1940-1945.

You know about D-Day; did you know about these other battles?

In a few days we’ll be celebrating the 74th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious assault in history that took the beaches of Normandy by storm and established an Allied beachhead in Western Europe.

We talk about the Invasion of Normandy quite a lot in our newsletters, so this time we’ll commemorate the day slightly differently: by looking at events that happened on the otherJune 6s of the war, giving you narrow slices of the war that nevertheless add up to the greatest struggle of the century.

On June 6, 1940, German Panzer divisions bypassed the Weygand Line in France. In late May, with defenses collapsing under the onslaught, French Commander-in-Chief Maurice Gamelin was replaced by Maxime Weygand. Weygand’s strategy revolved around the so-called Weygand Line: several layers of strongholds that could support each other. Rather than stopping the German attack in its tracks, the idea was to let them bypass individual strongholds only meet the next layer, while the bypassed locations harassed their exposed flanks.

Maxime Weygand

It was an early version of the so-called hedgehog tactics, which the Soviets put to great use against Germany during Operation Barbarossa. Unfortunately for France, the plan came too little too late. The tactic still proved its worth, as the “hedgehogs” caused significant damage to German tanks with their obsolete 75 mm cannons.

On June 6, 1941, with German troops advancing through Russia, Hitler gave the Commissar Order, prescribing a summary execution for captured Soviet political commissars. In a way, the gesture was a recognition of how patriotism and political conviction gave the Soviets the willpower to resist even in the direst circumstances. Nevertheless, most German commanders ignored the order.

Soviet political commissar being interrogated by German soldiers

On the same day, three Allied ships were sunk in the Atlantic by three different submarine attacks – two German, one Italian. This came on the tail end of what German submarine crews called “Happy Time,” a period lasting from July 1940 to April 1941, when U-boats enjoyed significant success with nighttime surface attacks due to a lack of radar and radio direction finders on British ships.

The screw steamer Baron Lovat, one of the three ships torpedoed that day

On June 6, 1942, British forces were fighting the Axis in Africa. A year into the campaign and several months before America joined the fight, a secret squadron of tank buster Hurricane fighters flew their first mission. An old but stable plane that could no longer keep up with German fighters, the Hurricanes had all but two of their 8 to 12 machine guns removed, the two loaded with tracers to help aiming. A pair of heavy 40mm guns were added in pods, with little ammo but enough of a punch to damage tanks. The unit, No. 6 Squadron RAF, earned the nickname “The Flying Tin Openers” with their anti-armor exploits.

A pilot with his Hurricane “Tin Opener” in Egypt

The same day was also the penultimate day of the Battle of Midway, the decisive naval battle that turned the tables in the Pacific, with the Japanese Navy suffering losses it could never recover from and the U.S. Navy seizing the initiative for the rest of the war. You can learn about how a ruse by American code breakers helped win the battle in our earlier newsletter article.

The USS Yorktown burning during the Battle of Midway

June 6, 1943, was also hallmarked by the first flight of a new ground-attack aircraft. This time it was an American plane, the A-36 Apache (later named Invader, but frequently simply called Mustang). It was a version of the famous P-51 Mustang specifically designed for dive bombing and ground attack missions. Their first operational sortie saw the first Apaches take off from Morocco in North Africa and participate in the attack on Pantelleria, one of four small Mediterranean islands that had to be secured prior to the invasion of Sicily. Both there and in Italy the Invader proved itself very capable at supporting ground troops by taking out enemy strongholds and gun positions.

 

An A-36 Apache of the 27th Fighter Bomber Group

June 6, 1944, is so closely tied to the Normandy Invasion that other events on the same day are largely forgotten. Two days before, American forces took control of Rome, the capital of Italy. Continuing on, the Allies were fighting their way north towards the formidable Gothic Line, manned by German troops after Italy’s surrender.

American tanks rolling past the Colosseum on June 6, 1944

On June 6, 1945, the end of the war was already in sight, with the Axis side reduced to Japan. The Battle of Okinawa had been going on since early April and would come to an end on June 22. On this specific date, the carrier Yorktown launched a raid against the island, two days after the 6th Marine Division landed on the Kiyan Peninsula, the part of the island that would see the greatest slaughter in the later stage of the battle.

June 6, 1945 photo of the USS Hornet. The Hornet’s deck was collapsed by a typhoon, so its Hellcats launched backwards, over the stern, while the ship was steaming in reverse at 18.5 knots.

You can learn more about the battles of World War II, including ones often overshadowed by better-known events on our historical tours to EuropeRussia or the Pacific!

Did you know all this about Dunkirk?

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

A look at the evacuation of British Soldiers from Dunkirk,France.

Behind the famous evacuation.

78 years ago today, the Dunkirk evacuation was in its 6th day. You are probably familiar with the images of hundreds of thousands of men waiting on the beach and in the water for rescue. In this article we’ll look at some of the lesser known aspects of the “miracle of Dunkirk.”

The defenders put up a heavy fight.
Popular lore about Dunkirk focuses on the helpless men on the beach, ignoring the British and French units that were fighting and slowing down the German advance for more than a week. Of the roughly 400,000 Allied troops, only 338,226 were evacuated – most of the others were busy fighting the German invasion force of about 800,000. One particular combatant was Mad Jack Churchill, who famously killed a German patrol leader with an arrow during an ambush.

Troops on the beach of Dunkirk

Despite the original plans calling for the British to cover a French evacuation, it was largely the French who stayed behind and fought to the end to save the British. Some of the last men to fight were the French 150th Infantry Regiment, who were captured on the beach on June 4, the last day of the evacuation. Prior to capture they burned their regimental flag to prevent it from falling into German hands. A few days before that, the French defenders of the city of Lille so impressed German general Kurt Waeger with their tenacity, that he allowed them to march out and into captivity with full honors of war, with rifles shouldered and in parade formation while the German victors stood at attention. Waeger was later reprimanded for his gesture of chivalry.

The French defenders of Lille marching out with honors of war, the victorious Germans standing at attention

On one occasion, British soldiers deliberately killed their countrymen.
On the same day Lille fell, the Germans also almost broke through British lines at Nieuport, with the situation getting so desperate that two colonels had to man a Bren gun themselves. Hours later a battalion of the Coldstream Guards arrived on the scene just as some of the British troops were breaking into a rout. The Guards immediately shot some of their own fleeing comrades and forced the rest to turn back and fight at bayonet point. The reinforcements were ruthless but effective and the Germans were beaten back.

German soldiers watching over British POWs in Dunkirk

The beach was only Plan B.
The original evacuation plan counted on using the actual docks at Dunkirk. Luftwaffebombing raids, however, hit the installations and the raging fires couldn’t be extinguished since the water supply was also knocked out. It was only then that the troops were redirected to the beach, the longest sandy beach in Europe, and the two moles (long, stone and concrete breakwaters) at its ends. The East Mole, stretching a mile into the sea, was especially suitable for boarding ships but the waters along the beach were too shallow for most ships to approach, necessitating the service of the famous “Little Ships,” a collection of some 850 civilian vessels that assisted the evacuation.

Troops on the beach

Ships returning home had a tough choice to make.There were three planned routes home to Britain but each had its own perils. Route X led through a heavily mined stretch of the sea and went close to sand banks, so it couldn’t be used at night. Route Y made a detour to the east; it was the longest with a 4-hour duration and the most likely to be attacked by German ships, submarines and the Luftwaffe. Route Z was the shortest with a 2-hour duration but it hugged the French coast and was exposed to German artillery fire.

The three routes available to ships taking soldiers home

 

Hitler’s order to stop wasn’t actually his own idea.
There is much debate about why exactly Hitler gave the order for German tanks to stop short of Dunkirk but what’s sure is that the idea didn’t originate with him. It was originally suggested by Field Marshals Günther von Kluge and Gerd von Rundstedt, who were concerned that tanks might get bogged down in the marshy terrain around Dunkirk and outflanked by the defenders. Hitler, who had personal experience with similar terrain in World War I, agreed. Other considerations often argued by historians include Göring asking for a chance to prove the power of the Luftwaffe by destroying Allied forces from the air, a wish to preserve tanks for the attack on the rest of France and stretched supply lines. The idea that Hitler wanted to allow the British forces to escape as a gesture of goodwill is sometimes mentioned but largely dismissed.

British Cruiser tank abandoned and sinking into the sand on the Dunkirk beach

There were further evacuations afterwards.
The evacuation finished on June 4 but there were still over 100,000 British personnel in France. Operation Cycle followed on the heels of Dynamo (the Dunkirk evacuation), allowing more soldiers to escape from Le Havre on the shore of the Seine River. Operation Aerial (also called Ariel due to conflicting documents) evacuated even more from Atlantic ports along the west coast of France. These two operations were responsible for the evacuation of another 191,000 men.

British vehicles waiting for their turn to board a ship for evacuation in Cherbourg

Even after the evacuation was completed, the British were still sending men to France.
After the fall of Dunkirk, a so-called “2nd British Expeditionary Force” of about 60,000 men was set up and sent to the continent to continue the fight. More of a political gesture than a meaningful operation, the men assisted with the subsequent evacuations and were themselves eventually withdrawn.

Motorbikes abandoned by the British Army in France

The aftermath saw the worst British maritime disaster in history.
One particular ship that participated in Operation Aerial was the HMT (Hired Military Transport) Lancastria. An ocean liner requisitioned by the government, it was evacuating an unknown number of troops and civilian refugees when it was hit by Junkers Ju 88 bombers. The ship’s passenger capacity was 2,200, but the captain was ordered to “load as many men as possible without regard to the limits set down under international law.”Somewhere between 3,800 and 5,000 men died when the ship sank, making it the worst British maritime disaster ever. In comparison, the sinking of the Titanic (1,517) and the Lusitania (1,198) claimed fewer lives  combined.

 The upturned hull of the Lancastria, with hundreds of men still standing on it, waiting for rescue

The evacuated French troops only got a brief respite from the war.
More than 100,000 French troops were evacuated to Britain at Dunkirk but for most of them this was not the end of the war. About 3,000 of them joined de Gaulle’s Free French but most of the rest were sent back to continue fighting and many of them were killed or captured a few weeks later, still before the surrender of France.

D-Day trivia

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

In three weeks we will be observing D-Day plus 74 years here is some trivia about that day.

Some of the lesser known details of the invasion.

We will be celebrating the 74th anniversary of the D-Day landings in three weeks. The greatest amphibious assault in history cracked open the German defenses in Normandy, establishing a new front in Western Europe and leading to the inevitable fall of the Third Reich. In today’s article we’ll cover some of the more obscure details of the invasion.

One of Robert Capa’s famous photographs of the landing on Omaha Beach

D-Day was almost betrayed by the weather – twice.
The invasion was planned to occur in the morning of June 5 but bad weather prompted a 24-hour delay. This actually ended up beneficial, since the Germans had less information about meteorological conditions over the Atlantic than the Allies and they weren’t aware of the brief window of opportunity on June 6. As a result, General Rommel, who was in charge of the Normandy defenses, went back to Germany to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday.

Artillery equipment being loaded into LCTs in England before the invasion

D-Day, however, was already imperiled by the weather once, about a year earlier. An early version of the invasion plan was left in a room of Norfolk House in London, a building that housed the offices of numerous senior military officers. The summer breeze blew the papers out the window and they were found by a passerby. Fortunately, the man turned the papers in, mentioning his eyesight was too bad to read the text.

Artist Unknown, ‘Norfolk House’, circa 1937. Norfolk House, at 31 St James’s Square, London, was built in 1722 for the Duke of Norfolk. The house was demolished in 1938. From The Studio Volume 117. [The Offices of the Studio, London, New York, 1939.] (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

Almost a hundred photos of the invasion were lost to incompetence.
Famous Hungarian-born war photographer Robert Capa landed on Omaha Beach with the second wave, shooting 106 photographs while under enemy fire. Unfortunately, only 11 of those survived. The unprocessed rolls were sent to London, where a fifteen-year-old lab assistant, Dennis Banks, dried the negatives at too high a temperature, destroying the rest of the irreplaceable frames.

One of Capa’s eleven surviving photos of the landing

Allied leaders feared defeat.
Before the invasion, General Eisenhower wrote a letter labeled “In case the Nazis won.” It read: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” By accident, he signed it with the date of July 5, instead of June.

.Eisenhower talking to members of the 101st Airborne on June 5

Churchill also had his share of doubts. On the eve of the landings, he asked his wife “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”

The invasion went better than expected.
Despite such fears, the actual landing involved much fewer casualties than expected. Some preliminary estimates calculated with 10,000 dead and 30,000 wounded on the first day on the Allied side. Actual losses ended up being roughly 4,000 dead and over 6,000 wounded.

Casualties being evacuated

However, the going got rough afterwards.
In many ways, D-Day was the easy part as the subsequent breakout from Normandy became a much deadlier affair. The British expected to capture the city of Caen on the first day but only secured it after a month of fighting. The bocage terrain of Normandy, small fields separated by thick and tall lines of hedgerows, allowed the defenders to dig in and extract a high prize for every mile. Daily casualty rates became comparable to that of the trench warfare of World War I and slightly above the average for the Battle of the Somme.

U.S. troops along a hedgerow in the bocage

Churchill wanted to be close to the action.
The British Prime Minister announced that he will be present, watching the invasion from aboard the HMS Belfast. Many people were against exposing the PM to danger, including King George VI. It took the King to convince Churchill to change his mind and he only achieved it by announcing that if the Prime Minister goes, so will he.

One defender of the beaches was Korean.
Yang Kyoungjong was conscripted into the Japanese Army at the age of 18, in 1938. The next year he was captured by the Soviets at the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, sent to the gulag and pressed into military service against the Germans in 1942. He was captured again, this time by the Germans, the following year and was assigned to a battalion comprised of former POWs. He was taken captive a third time during the Battle of Normandy by the Airborne, who though he was a Japanese soldier in German uniform.

Yang Kyoungjong being processed as a POW

Both the Germans and some fishermen were confused by Allied subterfuge.
Part of the web of deception before the invasion involved not only coded instructions to the French Resistance broadcast over the Voice of America radio station but also messages intended to mislead the Germans. In the days leading up to the attack, several messages were sent, each following the formula “Fishermen, longitude X, latitude Y. Stop fishing and make for port.” The exact coordinates varied, designating the Danish, Norwegian, Belgian and French coasts. German intelligence predictably misinterpreted these as invasion orders. Later it turned out that the messages also confused the fishermen of the noted areas, who did make for port after hearing the broadcasts.

A German-language reader for Voice of America in 1942

The troops were tested by feminine wiles.
British Lieutenant Colonel Terence Otway was slated to command the vital British airborne assault on the Merville Battery. Before the invasion, he had 30 members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force go to local pubs and see if they could get his men to spill any information. They all failed, as the men remained tight-lipped about their top secret mission.

Some of Otway’s men during the attack on the battery

Some men in the invasion were also tested by women’s charms during the operation. On the morning after D-Day, police raided a wrecked landing craft on the beach, where local prostitutes had set up a makeshift brothel.

Some men fought in their pajamas.
Obviously, they also wore their battledress. Still, many men, such as British Lieutenant Herbert Jalland of the Durham Light Infantry, wore their PJs underneath to prevent chafing from the backpack.

Soldiers of the Durham Light Infantry, Jalland’s unit. Without pajamas, presumably.

You can learn more about the lesser-known tidbits of the Normandy landings on our tours covering Western Europe in World War II, particularly our D-Day 75th anniversary tours in 2019.

The highest-ranking African-American female of WWII

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

R.I.P. Lieutenant Colonel Charity Edna Adams December 5, 1918-January 13, 2002.

Charity Edna Adams fought Hitler and racism by commanding the first battalion of African-American women to serve overseas.

  Charity Edna Adams (1918-2002) grew up in South Carolina, raised by a Methodist minister father and a schoolteacher mother, who cared so much about her children’s education that she proofread and edited everything they wrote. Majoring in math and physics, Adams also started studying psychology but decided to put off her master’s degree due to the outbreak of World War II and joined the U.S. Army’s Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) the next year.           

Charity Edna Adams

The WAAC was originally founded as a whites-only organization but heavy lobbying by civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and the support of Eleanor Roosevelt convinced them to allow black women into their ranks. Adams and her African-American comrades had to face the reality of segregation and racism from the very beginning of their service. When they arrived to their first station in Des Moines, a second lieutenant greeted them with a “Will all the colored girls move over on this side,” separating them from the whites. He then read the names of all white girls from a list so they could be led to their quarters, without any explanation for why black women couldn’t get the same treatment.

Adams at her desk with some of her staff

Working hard, Adams became the first commissioned African-American female officer. She soon became a training supervisor at base HQ and was given the task of improving efficiency and job training. She also served as a surveying officer in charge of finding lost property and a summary court officer handling the minor offences of WAC members.

A member of the 6888th with African-American servicemen

In December 1942 she took a train home for the holidays but was barred from a dining room despite her uniform. She was only allowed in after the intervention of a white officer, who then proceeded to share his table with her. Her trip, however, still had an episode of racial prejudice in store for her. Adams’ father was involved in the black rights movement and the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan decided to send him a message at the very same time his daughter was visiting. She and the family spent a night up, waiting with guns at the ready while local KKK members kept the house surrounded until the morning as an act of threat.

Ladies of the 6888th enjoying the snow in Birmingham

By early 1944 Adams’ talent and dedication earned her the rank of major and a place at the head of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-black, all-female unit to be sent to Europe. The unit crossed the Atlantic in February and traveled to Birmingham, England to take over postal duties serving troops in Europe. A local newspaper commented on their arrival: “These WACs are very different from the colored women portrayed on the films, where they are usually either domestics or the outspoken old-retainer type or sloe-eyed sirens given to gaudiness of costume and eccentricity in dress. The WACs have dignity and proper reserve.”

Due to the chaos of the war, especially the recent Battle of the Bulge, the 6888th’s first job was to work through a massive backlog. The stacks of letters reached the ceiling in the converter hangars that served as the post office, some of them two years old. Following the unit motto of “No mail, no morale,” the women worked 24/7 in three shifts, managing to work through the backlog in three months, half the time that was originally allotted to the task, while also reading homebound letters to censor classified information.

Members of the 6888th sorting letters

In addition to the usual difficulties of finding people along a moving front, many letters only gave the first name or nickname of the addressee or were addressed to very common names. Due to their work schedule, inspections always had women missing, either at work or sleeping after their shift. On one such occasion, a general took this as a sign of poor organization and said “I’m going to send a white first lieutenant down here to show you how to run this unit.” “Over my dead body, Sir” – came Adams’ uncompromising reply. Outraged, the general threatened to court-martial her. Adams, in turn, prepared to file charges against him for violating an Allied directive prohibiting language that stresses racial segregation. Both sides agreed to drop the matter and the general later admitted that Adams earned his respect.

Adams inspecting the 6888th

Besides handling mail, Adams also had the task of raising morale among the women helping the war effort in Europe. To this end, she established a beauty parlor where women could relax and socialize. The parlor became so popular that many nurses and Red Cross workers had to be turned away due to a lack of supplies or space. Adams also encouraged the members of her battalion to socialize with white soldiers and locals when off duty to ease the tension of racial prejudice.

Members of the 6888th working together with French civilians

In mid-1945 the unit moved to Rouen, France and then to Paris to handle the delivery of mail to and from more than seven million soldiers. In Rouen the 6888th took part in a parade on the square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake over 500 years earlier. The ladies of the unit became immensely popular with male soldiers on leave, white and black alike. Members of the WAC military police, who weren’t equipped with weapons, had to learn the Japanese martial art of Ju-jitsu to keep unwanted visitors away from the 6888th’s office. After working through another massive backlog, this one containing three-year-old letters, the unit stayed in France after the war to help with civilian mail, returning to the United States in February, 1946. Unlike most soldiers, they received no fanfare or media attention.

Shortly after, Adams retired from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, the highest rank achieved by a black woman in World War II, and finally finished her psychology degree. She spent the rest of her life as a teacher and an active participant in community service.

 

 

Hitler’s mountain retreats

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

A look at Hitler’s mountain retreats The Eagle’s Nest and the Berghof.

 

The Eagle’s Nest and the Berghof

One of the best-recognized icons of Nazi grandeur is Hitler’s famous mountaintop retreat, the Eagle’s Nest, called so after its Allied bombing target code name. In German it is known as the Kehlsteinhaus (Kehlstein House), named after the peak it was built on. The Führer, however, also had another house a mere mile and half from there.

Eva Braun taking her dog for a walk with the Eagle’s Nest in the background

Hitler had been regularly vacationing in the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden, close to the Austrian border, since the 1920s. In 1922-23 he stayed at the Pension Moritz boarding house and he visited again in 1925, after his release from prison, finishing the manuscript of Mein Kampf in a small cabin on the premises. He was a regular guest for a while, but he didn’t like the new owner who took over the business in 1926. So he started looking for a place of his own in the picturesque area. In 1928 he rented Haus Wachenfeld, a small local chalet and bought it a few years later with the money he made with Mein Kampf. The building was refurbished and expanded into a sprawling compound to entertain important guests in and renamed the Berghof (Mountain Court) in 1935-36.

Entrance to Haus Wachenfeld in 1934, before the expansion

One unlikely source of praise for Hitler’s home was a 1938 issue of the British Homes and Gardens magazine. According to the author’s gushing description, the building’s many features included “a curious display of cactus plants in majolica pots” in the entrance hall, a light jade green color scheme, mountain canaries in gilded cages in most rooms, displays of old engravings and some of Hitler’s own small-sized watercolor sketches. The photographs accompanying the article were actually taken by Hitler’s photographer years before and sent to Homes and Gardens on request, as the Führer was very particular on who could photograph him. In one room a picture window could be lowered into the wall to provide a sweeping, open-air view of the Austrian Alps. One noteworthy display in the house was a Volkswagen-sized globe, often referred to as Hitler’s globe, which reflected on recent Italian imperialistic expansion by marking Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia, as “Italian East Africa.” The globe was parodied with a giant balloon globe in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and was looted by American troops at the end of the war.

 

Soviet officers posing with one of Hitler’s other globes in the Reich Chancellery

Chaplin in The Great Dictator

Hitler loved the Berghof and entertained many prominent guests here: artists, singers, musicians, politicians and heads of state. Among the guests were former British Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Neville Chamberlain, the Duke of Windsor, who had formerly ruled Britain as King Edward VIII for a little less than a year in 1936, and Benito Mussolini.

Hitler greeting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the front steps of the Berghof

Not all guests were friendly, however, and the Berghof became the site of several failed and canceled assassination attempts on the Führer. A Captain Eberhard von Breitenbuch wanted to shoot Hitler in the head with a concealed pistol but was never allowed in the same room with him. Claus von Stauffenberg, the later executor of Operation Valkyrie, was planning to detonate a bomb there but the idea wasn’t supported by his fellow conspirators. Even the British were planning to send an assassin to the Berghof, a sniper in German uniform with a German rifle, to shoot Hitler on his daily walk to a local tea house. The plan, however, was scratched after some dispute on whether a living Hitler was more harmful to the German war effort than a dead one.

The Great Hall of the Berghof featured on a postcard

On April 25, 1945, five days before Hitler’s suicide in Berlin, the RAF bombed the Obersalzberg, the resort area the Berghof was a part of also housing the retreats of several prominent Nazi leaders, causing heavy damage to the building. On May 4, a few hours before the arrival of the first U.S. troops in Berchtesgaden, the retreating SS forces set the remains of the house on fire to prevent its capture. The foundations of the Berghof can still be seen today, if you know where to look – we can show you on our tours.

Ruins of the Berghof in 1948

In some ways the Berghof and the famous Eagle’s Nest couldn’t have been more different: the former was a residence and loved by Hitler, the latter a representative building that Hitler had barely set foot in.

Hitler, Göring (center) and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach (right) on one of Hitler’s few visits to the Eagle’s Nest

Sitting on a mountain ridge 6,000ft above sea level, the Kehlsteinhaus was a gift to Hitler paid for by the Nazi Party. The construction was commissioned and supervised by Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, the second highest-ranking official in the Nazi party. Bormann wanted the building completed by the Führer’s 50th birthday on April 20, 1939, forcing the architects and constructors to work at a breakneck pace for 13 months, their task made all the harder by Bormann constantly changing his fundamental requirements.

The car park, the entrance of the tunnel leading to the elevator and the Eagle’s Nest atop the Kehlstein Peak

The house was not approachable by car, partially because the road leading all the way up would have marred the scenery. Instead, a car park was build some 430 ft below the house. The road leading there was blended into the scenery as much as possible by being hidden in tunnels and behind rock outcroppings. In spots where there were no suitable natural rock formations, boulders from elsewhere were placed and treated with acid to change their color to match the environment.

Present-day picture of the “Sidonase,” one of the distinctive rocks by the road leading up to the Eagle’s Nest

From the car park a 413ft tunnel led into the rock and to a luxurious 15-person elevator of polished brass, Venetian mirrors and leather-covered sofas. Directly underneath it was a simpler elevator intended for personnel and supplies. When the guest elevator stopped on the house floor at the top, personnel could also exit in the basement. A third, three-person emergency elevator was also built but never used.

The interior of the elevator

The rooms of the house were opulently finished in marble and expensive wooden panels. The largest room, an octagonal reception hall used for after-dinner entertainment, offered a 270° view of the mountains. It featured an oriental-style rug, a gift by Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and a red Carrara marble fireplace, which was a gift from Mussolini. A 450-piece porcelain dining set and 750 pieces of silverware were used for dinners, each piece of cutlery displaying the monogram AH, and eventually becoming a favorite with looting American soldiers. The house was equipped with a state of the art kitchen, which was never used, as food was always brought up.

The famous Easy Company of the 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne hanging out at the Eagle’s Nest

Though today it’s closely associated with him, Hitler didn’t actually like the Eagle’s Nest and only made fourteen recorded visits ever, thirteen of which occurred before the war. He had a fear of both heights and the rare mountain atmosphere and was also scared that lightning might strike the elevator winch mechanism located on the rooftop. A secret Bormann kept from Hitler was that two such strikes actually did occur during construction. Had the Führer known about this, he very well might never have set foot in the Kehlsteinhaus.

The Kehlsteinhaus under construction

Though the house was presented to Hitler as a birthday gift, it was by no means a surprise. He had visited it once before the official gifting ceremony and had even contributed his own paintings, showing the general style he wanted to see: a relaxed and informal appearance.

Hitler’s sketch for the style of the reception room

 

That sense of relaxation was shattered when the war came to Germany and flak units were deployed in the immediate vicinity of the house, along with smoke generators to hide it during Allied bombing raids. Though the town of Berchtesgaden was hit heavily in the final stages of the war, the Eagle’s Nest avoided destruction. Ironically, out of Hitler’s two houses in the scenic Alps, the one that remains for posterity to visit is the one he didn’t like.

You can learn more about the luxury and the grandiose plans of Nazi Germany’s elite on our Third Reich Tours.

The “Aryan Jews” of Iran

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

Sadly The “Iranian Schindler Abdol Hossein Sardari has largely ignored by history.

The “Iranian Schindler” saved Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris

The Imperial State of Persia, renamed the Imperial State of Iran in 1935, was ostensibly a neutral country at the outbreak of World War II. It in fact had maintained warm relations with Nazi Germany since Hitler’s rise to power in the early 1930s.  Nazi racial ideology accepted Persians as pure-blooded Aryans and Iranian were declared immune to the Nuremberg Laws despite not being Germanic. For their own part, Iranians considered themselves an Asian equivalent of Hitler’s Germany, a representative of Aryanism in their respective spheres of influence. In the decade leading up the war, the Third Reich sent a 7,500-volume “German Scientific Library” on racial theory and various Nazi lecturers to Iran and Iranian journals glorified Hitler as one of the greatest men alive.

It was in this increasingly pro-Nazi country that Abdol Hossein Sardari became a diplomat of the Persian consulate in Paris. Sardari was born in 1885 into the ruling Qajar royal family and lived in luxury as a young man. A regime change in 1925 forced him to find employment; he earned a law degree in 1936 and was posted to the Iran Diplomatic Mission in Paris in 1940.

Abdol Hossein Sardari (second from right, with glasses) in Switzerland at the start of his diplomatic career

At the time there was a small community of Iranian Jews living in and around Paris. Jews had a long-standing presence in the Persian Empire ever since the 6th century BC, when Cyrus the Great, leader of the Persian Empire, freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity also attested to in the Bible. Thus, Judaism became the second oldest religion in Persia after Zoroastrianism. Most of the Iranian Jews in France moved there before 1925. The new regime, however, introduced a new passport, making the old ones no longer valid, so the expatriates had no papers with which to leave France after the German invasion.

The Cyrus Cylinder, a Persian document buried under the walls of Babylon in the 6th century BC, often cited as evidence of the repatriation of Jews

After the fall of France in 1940, the Iranian ambassador moved to the new Vichy State to establish an office there, leaving Sardari in charge of the consulate in German-occupied Paris. The diplomat immediately began to address the dire situation of his fellow citizens. More than anything, he needed time to act, as the deportation of Jews from Paris had already started.

Abdol Hossein Sardari

Being a shrewd legal mind, Sardari turned the Nazis’ own racial ideology and laws against them. He wrote a letter to the Nazi authorities, arguing that Iranian Jews are Jewish only by religion and not by race, and, therefore, are exempt from racial laws. According to his theory, which historians think he himself never really believed in, these “Jews” were not Semitic people but the descendants of Aryan-blooded Persians who started following Moses’ teachings. In a letter dated October 29, 1940, written on letterhead for the Imperial Consulate of Iran, he wrote:

Gym class for Jewish students at a boys’ school in the Iranian city of Yazd, 1931

“According to an ethnographic and historical study regarding the Jewish religious communities of non-Jewish race in Russia received by this consulate and validated by the [German] Embassy in Paris on October 28, 1940…the indigenous Jews (Jugutis) of the territories of the former Khanates of Boukhara, Khiva, and Khokand (presently within the Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan) are considered to be of the same [ethnic] origin as those of Persia. According to the study, the Jugutis of Central Asia belong to the Jewish community only by virtue of their observance of the principal rites of Judaism. By virtue of their blood, their language, and their customs, they are assimilated into the indigenous race and are of the same biological stock as their neighbors, the Persians and the Sartes (Uzbeks).”

Iranian Jews in 1917

The argument sounded good enough to give the Nazis pause. A German team of racial purity experts was consulted on the matter and they were convinced, or at least confused, enough to ask for more time and funding to settle the question. Eventually, the theory landed on the desk of Adolf Eichmann, the senior Nazi official in charge of Jewish affairs, who quickly dismissed it with the remark “the usual Jewish tricks and attempts at camouflage.”

The theory was rejected but it gave Sardari time to act while the Nazi institutions were running circles around it. For a while, Jewish Iranian citizens were not forced to wear a yellow Star of David as identification. Sardari started issuing them new passports so they could flee the country, also giving papers to non-Iranian Jews, all without the knowledge or permission of his superiors. It’s not known how many people he saved exactly but some historians estimate he may have had not more than 500-1,000 blank passports, each of which could be used by an entire family.

Sardari as a junior diplomat in 1940

In September 1941 Britain and the Soviet Union jointly invaded Iran, ousting the Nazi-friendly shah and replacing him with his son. This made Iran a hostile nation to Germany and Sardari no longer enjoyed diplomatic protection. He nevertheless refused to return home and continued his work even after his salary was frozen, using his personal savings to fund his operation.

The pro-Nazi Rezah Shah

His son the new ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Sardari’s life took several unfortunate turns after the war. In 1948, he sought to marry his long-time love, a Chinese opera singer, but she disappeared in the turmoil of the country’s Cultural Revolution. In 1952 he was recalled to Tehran and charged with embezzlement and misconduct over his issuing of Iranian passports to Jews during the war, but was eventually cleared of the charges. In 1978, he lost his pension and property in the Iranian Revolution, throwing him into poverty. He died in obscurity in London in 1981, his actions forgotten by his contemporaries, only honored by posterity. He never clamored for recognition in life. When he was contacted by the Yad Vashem Institute three years before his death, he replied to their queries with the following: “As you may know, I had the pleasure of being the Iranian Consul in Paris during the German occupation of France, and as such it was my duty to save all Iranians, including Iranian Jews.”

You can learn more of the little-known heroes who helped save the victims of the Holocaust on our Central Europe Remembrance Tours and Third Reich Tours.

The diseases that saved not killed people

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

These doctors were very brave creating a fake contagion to save Jews from The Holocaust.

A fake contagion saved people from the Holocaust – not once, but twice.        

In the fall of 1943, Allied forces landed in Italy. The country capitulated shortly thereafter but German troops immediately took over much of the country, continuing the fight. At around the same time, a new contagion reared its head at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital that stood on a small island in the Tiber River in downtown Rome. Named “Syndrome K” or “K Syndrome” by the local doctors, it caused convulsions, bodily deformation, dementia, paralysis and an inevitable death by asphyxiation. It was extremely contagious. It was also completely fictional, invented by hospital workers as a ploy to save Jews from Nazi persecution.

Giovanni Borromeo, the director of the hospital

The idea of a fake disease was concocted by three doctors: Giovanni Borromeo, the director of the hospital; Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young physician, and Adriano Ossicini, a psychiatrist. The two younger doctors had good reason to fear the German occupation force themselves. Sacerdoti was a Jew whose uncle was Borromeo’s old mentor. He had been given refuge on the island and the chance to work under a false name after Italy’s anti-Semitic laws deprived him of his job. Ossicini was an anti-fascist and a member of the Catholic Resistance Movement who only managed to avoid imprisonment thanks to his Vatican connections. They enjoyed a measure of protection as the hospital was built in the Middle Ages and was still owned by the Order of St. John, also known as the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, making it an extraterritorial zone where Italian laws did not apply.

Vittorio Sacerdoti

The hospital overlooked Rome’s Jewish ghetto and the doctors could see the persecution of its inhabitants whenever they looked out the window. “K Syndrome” was invented to allow Jews to take refuge in the hospital under the guise of treatment. To the Germans, the name evoked Koch’s Disease, another name for tuberculosis, and the description was enough to keep them away from the K Syndrome wards during their raids of the hospital. The doctors themselves associated the name with Albert Kesselring, the German commander in charge of occupied Italy, and Herbert Kappler, head of German security and police services in Rome, who was later responsible for the Ardeatine massacre.

Adriano Ossicini

The exact number of Jews saved by Syndrome K is unknown but is probably between two dozen and a hundred. One of them was 10-year-old Luciana Sacerdoti, Vittorio’s own cousin. She remembered a German raid with these words: “The day the Nazis came to the hospital, someone came to our room and said: ‘You have to cough, you have to cough a lot because they are afraid of the coughing, they don’t want to catch an awful disease and they won’t enter.’”

The Fatebenefratelli Hospital today

This wasn’t the only time an epidemic was faked to protect the victims of the Nazism. Two Polish doctors, Eugene Lazowsky and Stanisław Matulewicz created a false typhus epidemic to protect the inhabitants in the area of their practice. Their ruse began when a Polish man visited Lazowsky, who himself previously escaped a German POW camp by climbing over the wall and riding away on a horse cart. The man explained that he had been rounded up to work in a Nazi labor camp but was given a two-week leave to visit his family. However, as his time was up, he found himself unable to return to forced labor. If he ran away, his family would have been sent to a concentration camp. Seeing no other way out, he was contemplating suicide.

Matulewicz (left) and Lazowsky (right)

Matulewicz had earlier discovered that people injected with a vaccine made of dead typhus bacteria showed up positive on tests without actually contracting the disease. The doctors gave the man such an injection, then took a blood sample and sent it to a German lab. There it was detected as a positive and the man given a permanent reprieve from forced labor.

Lazowsky loved animals

The doctors started using the ruse on a large scale, habitually giving “protein stimulation therapy” shots to local Poles whose minor illnesses exhibited symptoms similar to typhus, such as a fever, a cough, a rash or aches. The patients weren’t told of the true nature of their shots but they reliably showed up typhus-positive on German lab tests. Eventually the entire area, comprising around twelve villages, was declared an epidemic area by the authorities and the Nazis started avoiding the area as much as they could. This came too late to save the local Jews, who were already rounded up by then, but it brought a measure of safety for local Poles, as well as any Jews who had fled there from elsewhere

Polish boy looking through the door of a building quarantined for typhus

There was, however, one big problem with the “typhus epidemic:” nobody was dying of the deadly disease. This was noticed by the German authorities and a team of doctors was sent to investigate. Lazowsky gathered the weakest, sickest-looking locals, gave them vaccine shots and left them in a dirty room. While the senior German doctors were plied with a full table of Polish food and vodka, their younger, less experienced subordinates were sent to inspect the patients. Scared of the sickly group and the unhygienic circumstances, they quickly took blood samples, which were guaranteed to be false positives, and left without conducting a serious examination. Altogether some 8,000 people in the area were given a reprieve from Nazi excesses, thanks to deadly bacteria that weren’t even there.

Matulewicz with his wife

 

Close combat

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

Some of these weapons used in the trenches during World War I are wicked looking as well as deadly.

This is a long post but it has historical education value.

Hand-to-hand weapons of the world wars.   

We tend to associate hand-to-hand weapons with the Age of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Al though the time of the sword and the spear is past, close combat weapons have never fully lost their relevance. Even in the era of firearms, a soldier might find himself in close quarters with no chance to reload his gun: even a simple knife might be a lifesaver.

The First World War saw the ascendancy of rapid-fire weapons and fixed defenses. Yet even as traditional massed rifle formations and charges withered in the face of machine gun fire, close combat weapons found a niche to thrive in with trench raiders who crept up to enemy lines at night and executed rapid attacks before retreating. The bayonet was the designated tool of hand-to-hand combat but was soon found to be unsuited for the job. Before the war, rifle barrels and bayonets were made long to offer better reach. In the cramped quarters of a narrow, zig-zagging, partially collapsed trench, however, such long weapons were too unwieldy and combatants scrambled to jury-rig more appropriate weapons.

British infantryman with a WWI-style long bayonet during training in 1941

The simplest solution was the trench club. At its simplest a wooden club or the shaft of an entrenching tool, it was quiet, an advantage for nocturnal attacks, and could knock a man unconscious with a single blow. Most of the time, however, it was made even deadlier by driving long nails into it or wrapping it in barbed wire. An improvised metal head could be added, the British were fond of using the empty hand grenade shells, or metal bands with spikes or flanges, resulting in a mace that wouldn’t have been out of place on a medieval battlefield.

WWI trench clubs in an Italian museum, some with a downright medieval appearance

The French nail was made of a long metal spike normally used to deploy barbed wire. One end was sharpened to a point and the other bent around to form a handle. It was a simple but effective design and influenced a number of mass-produced weapons, perhaps most famously the American Mark I trench knife and its predecessors. The M1917 and M1918 still copied the French Nail by having a point but no edge, but the Mark I added a slashing edge and more elaborate knuckle guards.

Reproduction French Nails

A Mark I trench knife just after it was used to dig up a mine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Germans had the Nahkampfmesser, a general-purpose knife that proved such a solid design that it remained part of the German soldier’s gear in World War II, though they also used a variety of specialized trench knives.

British forces originally didn’t even have a knife as part of the standard equipment and many infantrymen bought one with their own money. Some went for a push dagger, whose handle was held in the palm with the 4 inch blade protruding between the index and middle fingers. British knives were often used in conjunction with other close combat weapons such as clubs and hatchets.

A WWI-period British Dudley punch knife, another name for a push dagge

One unit of the British Commonwealth who were especially noted for their use of the knife were the Nepalese Gurkhas. The traditional Gurkha knife, the kukri, has a long, inward-angled blade which gives it surprisingly long reach and allows it to be used in a chopping motion akin to an axe. Renowned for their ferocity and fearlessness, the Gurkhas went on to wield their knives with great effect in World War II.

Members of the 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles presenting their kukris for inspection in London, shortly after the end of WWII

The trench wasn’t the only place where hand-to-hand weapons saw some use. Still retaining a 19th century mindset about the use of the horse, several nations, most notably Germany, Austria and Russia, had cavalry units equipped with 10ft lances. The purpose of these units, similarly to their 17th-19th century predecessors, was to stay in reserve and exploit a breakthrough, running down and killing fleeing enemy infantry before they could get reorganized. Thanks to the system of multi-layered trenches, such a breakthrough never manifested but German lancers did see some use against the Russian Empire on the Eastern Front, which was more mobile.

German cavalry patrol with lances

One particular American weapon of the period that was probably never drawn in anger but still deserves a mention, is the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber. Though designated a saber, it actually has a straight edge, while sabers are typically curved. It was designed by future General George S. Patton, a highly accomplished fencer in his youth.

The cavalry saber designed by Patton

Another, downright bizarre, use of a close combat weapon occurred in the early days of military aviation. Before the birth of gun-armed fighter planes, the pilots of scout aircraft tried to bring each down with various methods, mostly by shooting handguns or throwing bricks or grenades. Alexander Kozakov of the Imperial Russian Air Service was even more inventive. He attached a grappling hook to a cable and towed it under his Morane-Saulnier G plane with the idea of snagging enemy scouts on it and yanking them apart. The unique weapon never scored a kill, since Kozakov never got close enough to a target to use it.

Artist’s depiction of how the grappling hook was meant to be used

With the end of trench warfare and the rise of the tank and mechanized armies, the niche use of hand-to-hand weapons disappeared but shorter bayonets remained a staple of the soldier’s equipment. Knives were generally relegated to a general purpose tool rather than a combat weapon but several types of specialized knives were also introduced, such as the dagger-like British Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife that inspired many later designs, and the USMC Mark 2 combat knife, better known today as the “Ka-Bar.”

Commando training with the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife

Surprisingly, polearms almost made a brief reappearance. On the first day of the war, September 1, 1939, Polish defenders performed a cavalry charge against German forces near the village of Krojanty. Popular culture holds that the horsemen attacked enemy Panzers with lances but this is a modern myth first spread by Nazi and Soviet propaganda. In actual fact, the cavalry was equipped with anti-tank rifles which were a genuine threat to the small Panzer Is and IIs on the field.

Polish uhlan cavalryman in 1938 with an anti-tank rifle. Definitely not a close combat weapon.

Actual polearms were produced but not used by the British. By late 1940, when a German invasion of Britain still seemed like a possibility, close to 740,000 members of the Home Guard were unarmed, prompting Churchill to write a missive stating that “every man must have a weapon of some sort, be it only a mace or a pike.” The War Office took him a bit too literally and ordered a quarter million of “Croft’s Pikes:” hollow metal tubes with a bayonet welded to the end. The uproar quickly proved that equipping civilian volunteers with spears was causing more damage to morale than it ever could to enemy troops and the pikes were not issued.

Home Guard members with some of Croft’s Pikes

The Japanese also planned to use spears to defend their island nation to the last man. The Volunteer Fighting Corps, actually comprised of conscripted men and women, was supposed to fight a guerilla war against Allied invaders. Due to the lack of shortages by the end of World War II, most of them were only equipped with swords and bamboo spears.

Members of the “Volunteer” Fighting Corps being instructed in the use of the bamboo spear

Swords, of course, were also used by the actual Japanese military, and, of course, Mad Jack Churchill. Japanese officers were all required to wear a sword but most of these were so-called shin guntō (new military swords). Some were handmade by traditional blacksmiths but the majority were mass-manufactured weapons of lower quality. After the war, the U.S occupying forces initially wanted to ban and destroy all swords but MacArthur was convinced to limit the measure to guntō and allow swords of artistic and historical merit to be preserved.

American soldiers with the shin guntō of Japanese officers

You can learn more about the weapons used in the world wars and see many of them up close at various museums in Europe and the Pacific on our historical tours scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

Curragh – the war’s most bizarre POW camp

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

 Germans and Brits shared captivity at K-Lines in Ireland.   

         During World War II, a Canadian bomber flying from a base in Scotland crashed in what the crew thought was the vicinity of their airfield. Spotting a pub, they entered to celebrate their survival with a quick drink but were stunned to see a group of soldiers wearing Nazi uniforms and singing in German. Even more confusingly, the Germans responded to their entry by shouting at them to “go to their own bar.” The crew was soon given an explanation: after getting lost they crashed in the Republic of Ireland… and now they were captured, just like the Jerries.

German prisoners in Ireland having a drink at a local pub

  Having negligible military power, Ireland was a neutral nation during the war; Prime Minister Éamon de Valera went to great lengths to maintain that neutrality. As part of this policy, he made a deal with both the British and German governments: combatants of either country could be detained if found in Ireland and interned there for the duration of the war. Technically, the men were not prisoners of war but “guests of the State,” with an obligation on the state to prevent them from returning to the war. A 19th century military camp named Curragh Camp or “K-Lines” was designated to hold “guests” of both nationalities – along with a much higher number of Irish citizens who were imprisoned because they were considered a threat to the country’s neutrality, such as IRA men and pro-Nazi activists.

At first, authorities looked the other way when British aircraft crashed or emergency landed in Ireland, allowing the crews to make their way home. The appearance of a German aircrew in 1940, however, forced them to start taking their job seriously. Lieutenant Kurt Mollenhauer’s Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor aircraft was taking meteorological readings off the Irish coast when they got lost in the mist and hit a mountain, with two crewmen suffering injuries.

Models crafted by a German airman during internment at Curragh

They were captured and taken to Curragh. They experienced some harsh treatment first but the Department of External Affairs quickly requested the army to improve their living conditions. With some Germans in actual custody, it was now also necessary to detain British pilots who landed in Ireland to maintain neutrality and the two sides had to be given the same treatment – preferably a lenient one to avoid angering Britain.

Exterior view of K-Lines. Being neutral, Ireland had no nighttime blackouts and spotlights made it much harder to escape at night.

 

Between 1940 and 1943, some 40 British and 200 German military personnel were taken to K-Lines, mainly air crews and men from shipwrecked U-boats. In appearance, the camp was a regular POW camp with guard towers, barbed wire and huts built on short stilts to prevent tunneling to freedom, though the fence separating the British and German sides was a mere four feet tall. Unlike in most camps, however, the guards had blank rounds in their rifles and the prisoners were allowed to run their own bars with duty-free alcohol.

The British bar was run on an honor system, with everyone pouring for themselves and recording their consumption in a book. Prisoners were also allowed to borrow bicycles and leave the camp, provided they signed a parole paper at the guardhouse, giving their word of honor not to escape and to return in time. Pub visits, with separate bars for groups of different nationalities, evening dances with the locals, fishing and golfing trips and fox hunts were the norm, with one English officer even having his horse transported there from home and others having their families join them in Ireland for the duration of the war. Some prisoners ended up marrying local girls and one German prisoner, Georg Fleischmann, stayed and became an important figure in Irish film industry.

Former German soldier Kurt Kyck with his Irish wife, Kyck spent most of his post-war life in Ireland.

 

While both sides enjoyed the chance to sit out the war in reasonable comfort and without dishonorable behavior such as desertion, the Germans were generally more uptight about their situation. Despite being given some money to buy themselves civilian clothes for trips to nearby towns, the preferred to stay in uniform inside the camp, planted gardens, made tennis courts, held exercise classes. On one occasion, they even set up a court to convict a comrade for treason, though the defendant couldn’t be executed, as the Irish refused to furnish the Germans with a rifle and a single bullet. Sometimes, German prisoners sang Nazi songs just to piss off of their British co-internees. The two nations held boxing and soccer matches, with a historical record noting a German victory of 8-2 at one.

Some of the camp’s German inhabitants

Escape attempts were rare. The Germans had no easy way of reaching continental Europe and the British had their own special problem, best demonstrated through the story of Roland “Bud” Wolfe. An American citizen, Wolfe signed up with the RAF before the U.S. entered the war, getting stripped of his American citizenship as a consequence. After flying cover for a ship convoy off Ireland, his Spitfire’s engine overheated and he had to land in the Republic of Ireland, where he was taken to the Curragh. Unwilling to sit out the war, he made his move two weeks after his capture, in December 1941. One day he walked out of the camp, deliberately “forgetting” his gloves. He quickly went back for them and left again without signing a new parole paper, so he now considered his escape to be a legitimate one. He had lunch at a nearby hotel, left without paying and made his way to nearby Dublin, where he boarded the first train to Belfast in Northern Ireland. To his surprise, his superiors were far from pleased when he reported at his base and he was quickly sent back across the border to the internment camp.

Roland “Bud” Wolfe

The reason was that Ireland’s neutrality was important not only to the Irish but to Great Britain as well. Though Churchill considered Ireland’s refusal to fight a betrayal, he understood that a pro-Nazi Ireland would have allowed the Kriegsmarine to use its Atlantic ports and wreak havoc on vital convoys from America. In order to guarantee Ireland’s neutrality, however, the British also had to play fair and prevent K-Line internees from jeopardizing the diplomatic status quo by escaping whenever they pleased. As a result, attempts were sparse: Wolfe tried to escape again only to be captured this time around as well, finally settling into the relaxed life of the camp. There was an aborted tunneling attempt and a successful mass rush on the gate, which the Irish decided was a “legal” escape and the men who made it back to British territory were not returned.

British prisoners at the camp

In 1943 it became clear that the Allies were slowly winning, British airmen were moved to a separate camp and secretly freed, while 20 Germans were allowed to rent residences in Dublin and attend the local colleges. All remaining German prisoners were repatriated after the war, ending the history of what might well have been history’s strangest, and possibly most comfortable, POW camp.

Inmates making use of the camp’s gym

The story of the British and German prisoners living together in Ireland, hushed up during and after the war, only came to light in the 1980s, when English novelist John Clive heard the story from a taxi driver who had served as a guard at Curragh, and decided to research the matter for a novel.

You can learn more about the obscure and surprising stories of World War II on our historical tours scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

 

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