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BEHIND THE LINES WITH THE OSS IN GREECE No. 186 9
NUMBER 186 © Copyright After the Battle 2019 Editor: Karel Margry Editor-in-Chief: Winston G. Ramsey Published by Battle of Britain International Ltd., The Mews, Hobbs Cross House, Hobbs Cross, Old Harlow, Essex CM17 0NN, England Telephone: 01279 41 8833 Fax: 01279 41 9386 E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.afterthebattle.com Printed in Great Britain by Warners Group Publications PLC, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 9PH. After the Battle is published on the 15th of February, May, August and November. LONDON STOCKIST for the After the Battle range: Foyles Limited, 107 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT. Telephone: 020 7437 5660. Fax: 020 7434 1574. E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.foyles.co.uk United Kingdom Newsagent Distribution: Warners Group Publications PLC, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 9PH Australian Subscriptions and Back Issues: Renniks Publications Pty Limited Unit 3, 37-39 Green Street, Banksmeadow NSW 2019 Telephone: 61 2 9695 7055. Fax: 61 2 9695 7355 E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.renniks.com New Zealand Distribution: Battle Books NZ Limited, P.O. Box 5549 Lambton, Wellington 6145, New Zealand Telephone: 021 434 303. Fax: 04 298 9958 E-mail: [email protected] - Web: battlebooks.co.nz United States/Canada Distribution and Subscriptions: RZM Imports Inc, 184 North Ave., Stamford, CT 06901 Telephone: 1-203-324-5100. Fax: 1-203-324-5106 E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.rzm.com Italian Distribution: Milistoria s.r.l. Via Sofia, 12-Interporto, 1-43010 Fontevivo (PR), Italy Telephone: ++390521 651910. Fax: ++390521 619204 E-mail: [email protected] — Web: http://milistoria.it/ Dutch Language Edition: SI Publicaties/Quo Vadis, Postbus 188, 6860 AD Oosterbeek Telephone: 026-4462834. E-mail: [email protected]
OSS BEHIND THE LINES IN GREECE 2 UNITED KINGDOM Donington Military Vehicle Depot 26 FROM THE EDITOR 38 IT HAPPENED HERE Executions at Hameln Prison 42 Front Cover: Bronze statue of an American soldier honouring the GreekAmerican Operational Groups. The work of California sculptor Andrew G. Saffas, it stands in the Hellenic Armed Forces Park in the grounds of the Greek Ministry of Defence at Goudi, Athens, where it was unveiled by the Greek Minister of Defence on May 26, 2005. A plaque on the base lists the names of all 224 members of the Operational Groups who served in Greece. (Robert E. Perdue, Jr.) Back Cover: A memorial plaque on the banks of the Weser river beside the Stadt Hameln Hotel at Hameln in Germany reminds passers-by that this was once a prison and commemorates its victims during the Nazi era. Local historian Bernhard Gelderblom, seen here reading the inscription, was the driving force behind the memorial, which was unveiled in 2006. (Gisela Gelderblom.) Acknowledgements: For their help with the OSS Behind the Lines in Greece story the Editor would like to thank Georgia Evans, Donald J. Evans, Lori Waters and Douglas M. Rule of the Fort Carson Public Affairs Office, George Saffas and Kostas Alexopoulos. Photo Credit Abbreviations: USNA — US National Archives. Unless specified otherwise, all illustrations are from the After the Battle archive or The Society for the Studies of the ETO.
The origin of the Greek Operational Groups lay in the 122th Infantry Battalion (Separate) — the ‘Greek Battalion’ — formed at the request of the Greek Government-inExile in January 1943. It was raised and trained at Camp Carson, an army facility near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here the unit marches in review behind flags of the United States and Greece in August 1943. This event is reputed to be the only time an American unit marched under a foreign flag on US soil. THE GREEK BATTALION In January 1943, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order forming the 122nd Infantry Battalion (Separate). Also known as the ‘Greek Battalion’, it was made up primarily of Greek-speaking Americans and recent Greek immigrants. Its creation came about as a result of a request by the Greek Government-in-Exile submitted to the US State Department in February 1942. The reason for this request is not evident but the Greek Government probably hoped this unit would participate in an invasion of Greece. Discussing the matter at his office on February 18, US Assistant Secretary of State Adolph Berle said he did not believe such a unit would serve any valuable military purpose but it might have political value, and so the State Department complied with the request and advised to organise a Greek battalion as an act of goodwill toward the Greek Government. The 122nd Infantry Battalion was raised and trained at Camp Carson, Colorado, located just outside Colorado Springs. It was commanded by Major Peter D. Clainos, the first Greek-born West Point graduate. Practically all of the 30 officers were GreekAmericans, and the eight non-Greek ones
had in common that they had all studied classical Greek. The rank and file were all of Greek descent, divided evenly over GreekAmericans, new Greek immigrants and Greek sailors shipwrecked by German U-Boats. Many of the recruits were recent arrivals in the United States and could not speak English, so Major Clainos arranged to have teachers come to the camp two days a week to instruct them. The rugged mountains outside Camp Carson were an ideal site for training soldiers destined to serve in the mountains of Greece. The troops hiked up 9,565-foot Cheyenne Mountain, up one side and down the other, a 35-mile round trip. While physical fitness was emphasised, the troops received the regular infantry weapon training. In May 1943, President Roosevelt, accompanied by Army Chief-of-Staff General George C. Marshall, visited Camp Carson and the Greek Battalion passed in review, led by two flag-bearers, one with the Stars and Stripes, the second with the Greek flag. By August, the battalion had completed its training and was ready for deployment. However, two months later, the unit was disbanded. The reason for this lay in the creation of a new, very special Greek-language unit.
In the summer of 1944, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) sent eight so-called Operational Groups into Axis-occupied Greece. Operational Groups (OGs) were teams of uniformed American soldiers sent behind enemy lines to carry out sabotage actions in co-operation with the armed resistance of the country in which they were deployed. The eight operational groups sent to Greece were made up of Greek-speaking Americans. One of them was Operational Group II (OG II). Comprising 23 men under 1st Lieutenant John Giannaris, they were secretly landed in Greece in mid-June 1944 tasked with carrying out
ambush attacks on German troop trains and road convoys in the Roumeli region of central Greece. From their base in the mountain village of Papas they carried out a total of 14 operations, successfully destroying three locomotives, 31 boxcars, 7,400 yards of rail, a large culvert, 40 telegraph poles and six trucks, and killing or wounding an estimated 675 Germans against a loss of one enlisted man killed and one officer wounded. This group photo of OG II was taken in Papas in late September. There are only 18 men in the shot as five members of the group were by this time in sick bay suffering from malaria.
OSS BEHIND THE LINES IN GREECE FORMATION OF OSS OPERATIONAL GROUPS In July 1941, President Roosevelt had appointed Colonel William J. Donovan as the Coordinator of Information (COI), charged with setting up an intelligence service based on the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The task of the new agency was to organise and carry out espionage and sabotage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the armed services, conduct counter-espionage and organise ‘black’ propaganda. Out of this grew the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), officially established by Presidential decree on June 13, 1942. Working in close co-operation with its British counterparts, from late 1942 the OSS sent out spies and saboteurs into Axisheld territories in North Africa and Western Europe or to Japanese-controlled areas in the Pacific.
By the late Robert E. Perdue, Jr. On December 23, 1942, the US Joint Chiefs-of Staff authorised the OSS to set up so-called Operational Groups (OGs). These were teams of highly-trained, foreign-language soldiers, skilled in methods of sabotage and small arms, to be used in enemyoccupied territory, both as saboteurs and as organisers/arms instructors for partisans. The teams were to operate in US Army uniform (as opposed to OSS spies and saboteur agents who operated behind the lines in civilian disguise) and be trained to infiltrate behind enemy lines both by parachute and by sea. The basic unit was a platoon-size group composed of one or two officers and 20 to 30 enlisted men but in practice units could vary from a small liaison team of a few men to units slightly larger than the standard group.
The OG Branch of the OSS was officially established on May 13, 1943 and a recruiting programme was immediately undertaken, recruiting parties touring Army camps for volunteers. The men selected for the Operational Groups were assembled under a newly-created OSS unit, the 2677th Headquarters Company (Provisional) — with those for Italian operations being grouped in its First Contingent, those for France in Second Contingent and those for the Balkans in Third Contingent, with the latter sub-divided into a Unit A for Yugoslavia and Unit B for Greece. In August 1943, an OSS recruiting board came to Camp Carson to solicit members of the Greek Battalion for the new unit. They forewarned the potential volunteers that, based on commando experience, half of the 3
‘Greeks of the 122nd Battalion vow to avenge the invasion of their native land’, reads the wartime caption of this photo released by the Office of War Information.
OSS TRAINING AT AREA F AND AREA B After a 30-day leave, the new OSS recruits were ordered to report to Building Q in Washington, DC, from which on October 8 they were trucked to Area F, the OSS special training school for Operational Groups. Area F was the Congressional Country Club in suburban Maryland, near Washington. Leased to the Government in March 1943, the property included a luxurious clubhouse, swimming pool and 18-hole golf course. The clubhouse was used as quarters, the ballroom became a large classroom, the main dining room served as mess hall, and the golf course’s sand traps made excellent areas for demolition training. More than 100 Quonset huts were erected in the grounds. There was an obstacle course where machine guns fired live ammunition over the heads of crawling students, and across the road were submachine gun and pistol ranges. Courses at Area F were designed to make all OGs proficient in demolitions, small arms (both American and foreign), scouting, patrolling and reconnaissance, first aid, unit security measures, living off the land, knife and hand-to-hand fighting, camouflage, map reading and compass, and methods of operation in airborne and seaborne raids. Many nights were spent on field manoeuvres in dense woods near the Club. Among the instructors were several that were on loan
volunteers would be killed. Nonetheless, so many men volunteered that the battalion commander, Major Clainos, decided to offer the entire unit. In the end, a total of 17 officers and 205 men were chosen and Army Ground Forces thereupon re-designated the 122nd Battalion as Unit B, Third Contingent, Operational Group. Excess personnel were transferred to other units and the newly designated unit was transferred to the OSS. Appointed commander of Unit B was Captain Robert F. Houlihan, who had been one of the eight nonGreek officers with the 122nd. The 122nd Battalion was formally disbanded in October. The Greek Governmentin-Exile had no objection so long as its successor retained the original idea of a Greek unit.
Right: In all, the US Army during the war created five infantry battalions (separate) made up of US citizens from specific ethnic groups: the 1st Filipino Battalion, the 99th Battalion (Norwegian), the 100th Battalion (Japanese) and the 101st Battalion (Austrian) in 1942 and the 122nd Battalion (Greek) in 1943. The 122nd Battalion was so designated in recognition of Greece’s 122 years of independence from the Ottoman Empire, 1943 marking that many years since the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. from the SOE, among them LieutenantColonel Dan Fairbairn and his assistant Hans Tofte, both experts in lethal selfdefence, knife-fighting and ‘silent killing’. It was at Area F that the men were formed into the teams, the Operational Groups, with which they would train and go into action. In all, the Greek officers and men formed eight OGs, numbered I to VIII. One of them was Operational Group II. Comprising one officer and 22 men, its composition was a perfect reflection of the kind of background the men came from. Some were American citizens,
DOUGLAS M. RULE
Left: Camp Carson is still an American Army establishment today but most of the wartime buildings have been pulled down. The only original structures still standing are in the old hospital area at the northern end of the complex, now in use as offices. This comparison was arranged for us by Lori Waters and taken by Douglas M. Rule, both of the Fort Carson Public Affairs Office. 4
born of Greek immigrants. Most did not have US citizenship; some were illegal immigrants, who would earn citizenship by their serving with the OSS. Except for one, of Irish descent, all were fluent in Greek. Many could barely speak, much less write English. At least two had earlier served in the Greek army. Only one was a regular soldier in the US. The group’s leader, 1st Lieutenant John Giannaris, born 1922, originated from Chicago. A product of the pre-war Depression, he had joined the Army in November 1942 and graduated from Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in July 1943, being assigned to the 122nd Battalion. A natural athlete and hard worker, fluent in English and Greek, he had already been interviewed twice by OSS representatives before he was commissioned. Although the OG’s commander, at age 21, he was the youngest man in his group. Of the group’s seven sergeants, James Apostolopoulos was an American-born citizen, 32 years old, son of a naturalised father and a Greek mother. He had grade-school education and experience as a truck driver and maintenance man before he was drafted. Michael Kountouris was born on the Greek island of Patmos in 1914, had emigrated to the US in 1930, and was already a US citizen when he entered the Army from Jackson, Mississippi. Stephanos Philippides, born 1915, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was unique in that he had attended not only three years of college in the US, but also the University of Peru and was fluent in Spanish. Peter Moshopoulos, born in 1919, originated from the island of Cephalonia. A seaman aboard a merchant vessel, he had jumped ship when in a US port and found work as a waiter in a New York restaurant. He had volunteered for military service in the hope of gaining US citizenship and, although he could not speak English, had been accepted by the Army. John Tsouderos was the son of Emmanuel Tsouderos, Prime Minister of Greece-inExile, then resident in Cairo. When Greece was invaded in 1941, young Tsouderos had
Right: All the OSS Operational Groups, not just the Greek ones, were trained at Area F, which was one of the eight special OSS training schools. Area F was in fact the Congressional Country Club near Bethesda, Maryland, a few miles outside Washington, DC. The first to be based there were the Italian OGs, followed by the French, with the Greeks coming after that.
Here, the Greek OG men celebrate a party in what had been the club’s dining room.
ANDREW S. MOUSALIMAS
been studying sociology and economics at a US university. When he was drafted in 1943, he joined the Greek Battalion, assuming the alias of John Giannakopoulos as protection in case of capture. Bernard Brady from Paterson, New Jersey, was the only non-Greek in the group, being of Irish descent. Having been assigned to the Greek Battalion as training cadre, he stayed with them when they volunteered for the OGs. The other enlisted men had an equally varied background. Michalis Tsirmulas, a 29-year-old Greek citizen, had worked as a waiter and dishwasher since he arrived in the Left: When the Greek Battalion became the nucleus of the Greek-language Operational Groups, Captain Robert F. Houlihan, who had been one of the non-Greek officers in the battalion, was made commander of Greek OGs. These initially formed Unit B of the Third Contingent, Operational Group, later renamed Third Contingent of the 2677th HQ Company, then Contingent C of the 2677th Regiment OSS, and finally Company C of the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate. Throughout all these name changes, Captain (later Major) Houlihan remained in command of the Greek sub-unit.
US. George Tiniakos, born 1914 into a poor family on Andros Island, had joined the Greek merchant marine at age 15, and travelled the world until he was called up for service in the Greek Army from October 1938 to January 1940. Returning to the merchant marine, he had left ship in Boston, when a US Army recruiter encouraged volunteers with the promise of US citizenship. He finally entered US military service in January 1943. Another who had earlier served in the Greek Army was Hercules Sembrakis. Theodore Markidis was the only regular soldier, all the others were draftees. Of the group’s two medics, Spiros Taflambas, born 1920, had left the Greek island of Ithaca in 1936 aboard a merchant vessel and jumped ship in Baltimore, joining two uncles in the East Bronx. He had worked first as a grocery delivery boy and later as a waiter until he was drafted in 1942, joining the Greek Battalion. The other medic, Angelo Kaleyias, was unique in that he was born in Albania. Born in 1919, he had entered the US at New York in 1933 on an Albanian passport with his father. He too had worked as a busboy or waiter until he was drafted. Having qualified as a medic in July 1942, he had served with the Field Artillery before he came to the OSS. 5
Sergeant James Apostolopoulos, whom Giannaris described as ‘my right hand’. At 32, he was the oldest man in OG II.
Sergeant John Tsouderos was the son of Emmanuel Tsouderos, the Greek Prime Minister-in-Exile.
As many of the men were still ‘illegal’ immigrants, a significant number were put on a train to Canada, removed after the first station beyond the border, and returned on the next train south so there would be a record of their legal entry. Their training at Area F complete, the Greek OGs were trucked to another OSS training school, Area B, located at Camp Greentop, in mountainous wooded terrain just east of Hagerstown in Maryland, about 60 miles north of Washington, for additional training. This site specialised in para-military training: hand-to-hand combat, infiltration training, marksmanship and setting charges. There was also a ‘spook house’ where trainees, armed with a pistol, would enter while Nazi cardboard cut-outs would suddenly pop up, requiring them to react fast.
ON TO EGYPT AND ITALY On November 17, 1943, the Greek OGs — now numbering 18 officers and 172 enlisted men — departed Area B, travelling to Charleston, South Carolina, in preparation for embarkation to the Mediterranean. Transferring to Newport News, Virginia, they boarded the liberty ship Pierre L’Enfant, and on December 25 sailed for North Africa, joining a convoy of more than 60 vessels. The OGs were the only troops on the ship, the rest was freight with tanks and trucks anchored on deck. They cruised across the Atlantic to Gibraltar and thence through the Mediterranean to Egypt. Disembarking at Suez on January 22, 1944, they were trucked to Camp Russell B. Huckstep at Heliopolis, near Cairo, where training continued for several weeks.
From Camp Huckstep, some of the men, including Tech/5s Steve Marthiakes and Demetrius Frangas from OG II, went to Haifa, Palestine, for jump training at the British Parachute School and were later flown to southern Italy. The others travelled to Italy by ship, sailing from Port Said aboard the British steam liner Dilwara on February 1 and arriving in Taranto, on the heel of southern Italy, on February 8. From there, the OGs were transported across to Bari on the Adriatic, which would become the headquarters for OG operations in Yugoslavia and Greece. Troops were quartered in the nearby Torre a Mare tent camp (later named Camp Kallitsis in honour of Corporal George Kallitsis, an OSS trooper killed in Yugoslavia). Rigorous training continued, including mountain climbing, night exercises
Tech/4 James Zonas. Like most OG II men, he was inducted in the II Corps Area (New York, New Jersey and Delaware).
Corporal Hercules Sembrakis had served in the Greek Army before emigrating to the US.
First Lieutenant John Giannaris, who commanded OG II until wounded in combat on September 8, 1944.
Corporal Costas Theodorou. Like all of the members of OG II, he was a qualified paratrooper.
Tech/5 Angelo Kaleyias came from Albania and was one of OG II’s two medics. This is his OSS identification card.
Tech/5 Steve Marthiakes. Originally from Galaxidi, near Delphi, he had arrived in the US by jumping ship in a US port.
and jump training at the British parachute school at Brindisi. Around this time, the OG parent unit, the 2677th Headquarters Company (Provisional), which had considerably expanded since its creation nine months earlier, was renamed the 2677th Regiment OSS (Provisional), and the various OG contingents within the regiment had their numbers changed to letter designations: Contingent A for the Italian OGs (see After the Battle No. 94), Contingent B for the French (see issue 174), and Contingent C for the Balkans, the latter still subdivided into a Unit A for the Yugoslav OGs and Unit B for the Greek ones. Appointed commander of the 2677th was Colonel Russell B. Livermore. Major Philip G. Lovell assumed command of Contingent C. Major Houlihan remained in command of Unit B.
Between April and September, all eight Greek Operational Groups would be infiltrated into German-occupied Greece, a total of 17 officers and 182 enlisted men. The first to leave was OG I on April 23; the last to arrive was OG IV on September 7. On June 21, 1944 — while the Greek OGs were operating in Greece — the OSS Operational Groups were again re-organised, this time into an autonomous unit, the 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional), with an authorised allotment of 107 officers and 731 enlisted men. With this final change, the various national groups were re-designated companies: Company A for Italian OGs, B for French OGs and C for Greek OGs. Major Lovell, promoted to lieutenant colonel, was made battalion commander; Major Houlihan took over Company C.
Tec/5 Spiros Taflambas, the other medic in OG II. Born on the island of Ithaca, he had entered the US as a 16-year-old in 1936.
Tech/5 George Tiniakos. An expert marksman, he too had served in the Greek Army before the war.
OPERATION ‘NOAH’S ARK’ By 1942, Greek resistance by armed partisan fighters (Andartes) had developed into several rival organisations. The most important of these were the Communist-dominated EAM (Ethnikon Apeleftherotikon Metopon — National Liberation Front) with its military wing, the ELAS (Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos — National Popular Liberation Army), and the liberal, republican and anti-Royalist EDES (Ethnikos Dimokratikos Ellinikos Syndesmos — National Democratic Greek League). Both ELAS and EDES were armed and trained by the Allies. In early October 1942, SOE had sent its first sabotage team into Greece, which on the night of November 25/26 in a joint operation with ELAS and EDES guerrillas successfully blew up the important Gorgopotamos railway viaduct — a vital link in the German supply line to North Africa. The success of this operation prompted Britain to form a British Military Mission with the Greek guerrillas and to start sending in British Liaison Officers and dropping weapons and explosives to both ELAS and EDES, in order that they could fight the Germans. However, soon and increasingly so in 1943, the two guerrilla organisations turned to fighting each other. After the fall of the Italians in September 1943, this developed into a near civil war when strong ELAS forces struck against EDES units in the mountains of Thessaly, pushing the latter back into Epirus in the extreme north-west of the country. The Allied Military Mission (its name had changed when the OSS had sent in the first American Liaison Officers in September), fearing a total victory of ELAS, increased its support to EDES, which enabled it to regain much of its territory. At the insistence of the Allied Military Mission, representatives of ELAS and EDES then met at the Plaka Bridge over the Arakhtos river in Epirus to discuss a truce. The resulting Plaka Bridge Agreement, signed on February 29, 1944, provided for the establishment of welldefined zones of operation for each group, a vow by each group to refrain from infringing on the other’s territory, and a promise that all future efforts would be directed against the Germans rather than against each other.
Corporal Louis Lenares (seated) with Tech/5 Alekos Orkoulas (left) and Tech/5 Christ Skiriotis (right).
BRITISH OFFICIAL HISTORY
On the night of June 17/18, Operational Group II was landed by LCI on the western coast of Greece, coming ashore at Parga Cove in Epirus. From there, they hiked across country for 14 days to reach the small village of Papas in the Hitler had long believed the Allied invasion of Europe would focus on the Balkans. His fear was reinforced by Operation ‘Animals’ in Greece in June-July 1943 when the partisans, with SOE guidance, greatly increased their activity. This all resulted in Germany placing additional divisions in Greece; by late 1943 there were seven. However, with the Western Allies moving steadily north in Italy and the Russian Red Army moving west, it was evident the Germans would sooner or later have to abandon Greece lest they be cut off. And it was critical for the Allies that the German divisions moving out of Greece would not be readily available to oppose the planned Allied invasion of Normandy and the German homeland. Right: Area 3 was commanded by Major John Mulgan, one of the British Liaison Officers sent into Greece by the Special Operations Executive. Mulgan, a New Zealander, organised and supervised all of OG II’s operations. He provided them with intelligence on German troop train movements, assigned subordinate Liaison Officers to lead missions, and coordinated the Group’s actions with those of the mortar and machine-gun sections of the British Raiding Support Regiment and with supporting Andarte (Greek guerrilla) forces. 8
Roumeli region of central Greece, which would be their base for the next four months. For operational purposes, Greece had been divided into areas and their particular region was Area 3. Thus was born Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ (subsequently renamed ‘Smash’em’), planned and controlled by British SOE Middle East Headquarters in Cairo, also known as Force 133. Its objective was to so harass the withdrawal of German troops from Greece that these could not be used on other fronts and to destroy as many men and as much equipment as possible. By this time, there was a substantial number of SOE and OSS agents in Greece tasked with many responsibilities, from supplying weapons and ammunition and training Andartes to operating hospitals and building secret airstrips. The country was divided into sectors with a senior British Liaison Officer, usually a major, in charge of SOE and OSS activities in each sector. However, to assure success of ‘Noah’s Ark’, more-heavily armed special forces would be brought into Greece: the American Operational Groups and elements of the British Raiding Support Regiment (RSR). The latter unit had been formed in mid-1943 to support guerrillas in the Balkans. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Devitt, it comprised five batteries, each with a different type of weapon: Vickers and captured Spandau machine guns, 3-inch heavy mortars, Browning light anti-aircraft guns, Italian anti-tank guns and 75mm pack mountain howitzers.
DONALD J. EVANS
On arrival at Papas, the Group took over the village school building.
The Americans used one of the classrooms as their mess hall.
INTO GREECE OG II left Monopoli on the heel of Italy by LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) at 8.30 p.m. on June 16, 1944. Also aboard were an RSR group and 90 tons of supplies. The ship crossed the Adriatic Sea and reached the west coast of Greece at a sheltered cove near Parga, east of the island of Paxi, just after midnight, June 17/18. The cove was an ideal spot for clandestine landings for it had a narrow entrance not more than 150 feet across, opening up to a small, sheltered, horseshoeshaped bay, with a sandy beach and high overhanging cliffs. However, the approach was between Corfu and another small German-occupied island so, in order to get in and out unobserved, ships could not come in earlier than 2300 hours and had to be completely off-loaded and re-loaded by 0200 hours. Also, as on this night, landings were carried out during the dead-moon period. When OG II arrived, there were already three other Groups (I, V and VII) in Greece. OG I, under Lieutenant George Verghis, had arrived at Parga Cove by LCI on April 23 and was based in the mountains at Romanon, about 18 miles inland from it. This group, with the assistance of Andartes, had the task of providing security for landing craft. When a ship was scheduled in, they set up road-blocks at Glyki at the north end of the Fanari Plain, their task being to block any threat from German troops based in the towns of Paramethia and Menina.
The mission for the OGs and the RSR, in co-operation with the Andartes, was to delay the German retreat from Greece by blowing up railway lines and shooting up troop trains, mining roads and ambushing road convoys, and generally harassing the enemy. Plans for ‘Noah’s Ark’ were ready by March 1944 and the first infiltration of the additional Allied forces began in April. However, the actual launching of the operation depended on the start of a wholesale German withdrawal, which, as it finally turned out, did not begin until the first week of September.
Members of OG II posing with Greek Andartes and others in front of the school. Giannaris is the one with the beard sitting in the middle of the second row, flanked by two Andarte officers. Immediately in front and holding Lucky, the group’s mascot dog, is Sergeant James Apostolopoulos. To his right, with one hand on Lucky, is Reno, an Italian POW. Note the little boy standing second row left. The photo was taken by a Greek photographer who was traveling through the Pindus Mountains in the summer of 1944.
DONALD J. EVANS
Right: The building is no longer in use as a school. With the ongoing depopulation of Greek mountain villages, Papas is today virtually deserted, most of the inhabitants having left to find work in the cities, and the school building is locked up. (Our comparisons in Papas were taken by Donald J. Evans, who travelled there especially with his wife Georgia, the widow of our author Robert E. Perdue, to match up the shots). 9
DONALD J. EVANS
Men of OG II peer out windows of the schoolhouse to observe the village blacksmith (left, with Thompson sub-machine gun) OG II was met at the cove by three Allied officers: British Lieutenant-Colonel Watt Torrance of the Allied Military Mission; American Captain Frank T. Blanas, who had parachuted into Epirus during the night of June 9/10 to take field command of all the OGs in Greece; and Captain Jack Gage, a South African, and the commander of an RSR detachment that was yet to enter Greece. He had parachuted into the country in early May to scout out the general vicinity of Lamia for potential targets but on June 5 had received a message from Cairo ordering him to report to the west coast, a trek of about 150 miles, with 40 mules to meet OG II and guide them and their equipment to the village of Papas, their proposed base in the mountains north-west of Lamia. When the LCI arrived, a British naval officer in a row boat met it at the entrance to the cove and guided it in. Bonfires were lit and the LCI switched on her searchlights lighting up the scene. There were 200 mules on the beach along with 400 villagers to assist in unloading, 100 Russians who were to be evacuated and 600 parachutes to be loaded. The LCI’s two gang-planks were lowered and the OGs and British RSR filed down one as the villagers moved up the other to unload the supplies.
with a group of Andartes who were passing through the village. All are armed, including the young woman kneeling in the centre.
The ship was unloaded in just an hour. The night was pitch black and so as not to become lost or leave the trail, each man held the tail of the mule ahead of him. The OG and RSR crossed the north-south coastal road and at dawn reached the foot of the mountains, six miles inland from the beach, and then a pre-selected camping area at midday. Here they remained all day on the 19th waiting for their supplies to reach them. The mules were unloaded and supplies re-sorted. They now began a 14-day trek from the west coast to their proposed base in central Greece. Although the distance was no more than 90 miles as the crow flies, because of the mountains it added up to about 300 miles. On average, the men and the mule train did 25-35 miles per day, leaving at 4 a.m. and hiking about six hours before stopping at a village for the night. After two days, they reached Romanon Monastery, the base of Lieutenant Verghis’ OG I. It was here that one of the OG II’s members, Sergeant John Tsouderos, the Greek Prime Minister’s son, received an unpleasant surprise when a British officer, acting on a message from Bari Headquarters, ordered him out of Greece. Much to his chagrin, Tsouderos was forced to return to Parga Cove and board the next LCI back to Italy.
MEMBERS OF OPERATIONAL GROUP II (Unit B, Contingent C) Company C, 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional), OSS 1st Lt John G. Giannaris Cpl Costas A. Theodorou (WIA September 8, 1944) T/5 James K. Alexatos 1st Lt Nicholas Pappas T/5 Demetrius Frangas (from September 25, 1944) T/5 Angelo H. Kaleyias T/Sgt James M. Apostolopoulos T/5 Theodore N. Markidis T/Sgt Bernard F. Brady T/5 Steve P. Marthiakes S/Sgt Michael G. Kountouris T/5 Alekos X. Orkoulas S/Sgt George C. Kypriotes T/5 Gus L. Palans S/Sgt Stephanos J. Philippides T/5 Christ Skiriotis Sgt Peter M. Moshopoulos T/5 Spiros T. Taflambas Sgt John E. Tsouderos T/5 George S. Tiniakos T/4 James M. Zonas T/5 Michalis Tsirmulas Cpl Louis G. Lenares (KIA September 8, 1944) Cpl Hercules J. Sembrakis
(Badgering his superiors for permission to return, he finally succeeded and returned to Romanon in early August, being assigned to OG I as a demolition man). On the first few days of the trip, the food was inadequate and the OG men had to break into their dehydrated rations. Giannaris argued with Captain Gage, who always left about an hour ahead of the column with his guide, to have villagers at the next stop prepare hot meals for the men in the evening. About five days out, there was a first good hot meal, Gage having paid four sovereigns per meal, or 96 sovereigns ($24,00) for the 24 men. By June 24 the group had reached Paradatis where they remained all day awaiting darkness to cross the hazardous Preveza–Ionnina main road. On the 25th, after a swim and bath in the Arathos river, they reached Zigos. The following day they entered Brianza, after crossing the Achellos river, and Viniani on the 27th. On the 29th they reached the village of Domiani, site of the clandestine Allied Military Mission hospital (code-named ‘Fatalist’) run by American doctor Robert E. Moyers, where they spent the night. (Moyers, a 23-year-old qualified dentist and veterinary surgeon, and an OSS lieutenant, had parachuted into Greece in December 1943 to set up the behind-the-line hospital). On July 1, OG II arrived at the village of Papas, which would be their base of operations for the duration of their time in Greece. A tiny village, built on the steeply shelving side of a hill, it consisted of about 30 stone houses. There was a church and a schoolhouse, separated by a little square, but no shop or coffee house. It was very poor; the people were hungry. There were no vegetable gardens and only a few animals — sheep, goats, mules — in or near the village. The group occupied the school, using an empty classroom as mess and storeroom. They dug slit trenches and a garbage pit. The men slept outside in huts made from tree branches and protected by their mosquito nets. Malaria was their most serious health problem but the group had so much atabrine they shared it with the villagers. The nets offered protection from mosquitoes but not from the vermin — fleas and bedbugs — that inhabited many abodes.
DERELI STATION 10
Map showing the main towns and villages that feature in this account and the locations of the 14 operations carried out by OG II. (Operation No. 9 is not marked as it was aborted halfway.) Greek villages often have two or even three names: the old classic Greek name, the Turkish one and the modern name. Papas, the Relations with the villagers were generally good. They helped and supported the Americans as much as they could. On arrival, Giannaris established rules and regulations, telling his men he expected good behaviour, especially with the young ladies. There were no problems. K rations were the staple food. To achieve some variety, the men did a lot of hunting and stole chickens or whatever they could find. Later they were provided with British sovereigns with which they could purchase food locally. The food problem left Giannaris no choice but to deal with black marketers. Pasta
base of OG II, has since been named Mesochori (middle village) and as such appears on modern maps. Kaitsa is today Makrirachi, Dereli is Perivoli and Kournovon is now Trilofo. This part of Greece is very mountainous, with winding roads and steep gorges, the only flat terrain being the southern Thessaly Plain around Dereli.
and other items, donated by the American Red Cross and intended for the populace of the cities, made their way into the mountains. Giannaris bought wheat, sent it to a local mill to be processed into flour which, in turn, was given to a village woman to make bread. As time went on, the OG received regular parachute drops of food and equipment, mail and cigarettes. The parachute containers sometimes landed at points so distant that the Germans or local residents reached them first. Even though they were hungry, the villagers usually brought them over to the Americans.
In preparation for ‘Noah’s Ark’, Greece had been divided into sectors and OG II’s operations would play out in what was known as Area 3. This vital sector was commanded by SOE Major John Mulgan, a New Zealander, whose headquarters (codenamed ‘Kirkstone’) was at Palia Yiannitsou a few miles down slope from Papas. Mulgan was one of the best Allied Liaison Officers in Greece. A bold and firm leader, he got on well with the regional ELAS commander, and Area 3 was in fact the only sector where there was complete co-operation between Greek guerrillas, British and Americans. 11
Left: The main target of attack for OG II was the Athens to Salonika (Thessaloniki) railway line, the only north-south rail line in the whole of Greece (see also the map on page 8). A vital point along the line was the Dereli Station, in the southern Thessaly Plain north of Lamia, which was of critical importance to the Germans because of a spur line that branched off from there to a Nazi-controlled chrome mine further east. The Germans therefore placed a strong garrison at the station,
entrenched in a defensive perimeter with pillboxes at either end, minefields, 20mm anti-aircraft guns, and an armoured train parked in the sidings, which daily patrolled up and down the line. No less than five of OG II’s 14 operations were in the neighbourhood of this station. This is the view looking south towards the Othris Mountains. Right: Dereli Station (sometimes referred to as Kaitsa Station or Kaliva Station in the wartime reports) is today known as Aggeon Station.
Right: On June 16, 1944 — a fortnight before OG II arrived in the area — Major Mulgan had attacked Dereli Station with a force of about 90 guerrillas (80 Andartes and ten Poles). This sketch of the action was drawn by American Lieutenant Robert Moyers, whose OSS medical detachment accompanied the attacking force. ‘Self’ above the lower arrow refers to Moyers, and ‘Wingate’ is British Major Pat Wingate, RE, one of the British Liaison Officers in Area 3. ‘Al’ above the next arrow refers to Sergeant Alfred Borgman, one of Moyers’ assistants. The Germans warded off the attack but the event undoubtedly made them further strengthen this critical point. 12
PREPARING FOR ACTION After their arrival in Papas, OG II rested for a few days. Beginning on the 7th and continuing through the 21st, they reconnoitred the surrounding area to identify possible targets and determine the best routes of approach and withdrawal. They also noted possible routes of enemy attack on Papas and positions suitable for defence. The railway, their primary target, was observed during daylight and after dark to determine patterns of train movement. There were just two feasible routes for the German retreat north: the main highway and the Athens–Thessaloniki railway line to the west of it. The single-track railway — the only north-south rail in Greece and a critical supply route for the Germans throughout the war — was especially vulnerable to attack. It traversed the mountains south of Lamia, crossed the Sperchios valley west of the city, wove along the lower southern slopes of the Othris Mountains, then extended almost due north, nearly straight as an arrow, for almost 20 miles across the southern section of the Thessaly Plain, past the villages of Kaitsa and Dereli, before passing between two mountains, the 2,470-foot Koumaros and the 2,150-foot Xerobouni, to reach the Thessaly Plain below Domokos. The pass between the two mountains came to be known as the ‘five-mile area’, a strip of track that was ideally suited for sabotage actions. An especially important target on the railway was the Dereli Station for it was the junction of the main line with a branch line that extended eastwards to a Germancontrolled chrome mine near Domokos. The station was equipped with a crane used to transfer ore from cars from the mine to
Right: The Operational Group made extensive use of Greek mules. A string of 40 animals carried their equipment across Greece from the landing point at Parga Cove on the west coast to Papas. On operations, the mules carried explosives, rations and other supplies. The men walked.
OPERATIONS Between July 22 and October 19, OG II participated in 14 operations, often in conjunction with the RSR and Andartes. Most were against the main railway between Lamia and Domokos. A train derailment resulted not just in loss of cargo or death or injury of passengers; there was also destruction of the rails, telephone lines and other installations and then the pressure on the Germans for replacement and or repairs. The attacks also forced the Germans to increase forces guarding important installations. It was standard procedure to reconnoitre proposed targets before each operation. A route of approach and bivouac sites were selected for multi-day operations. Near the site of an attack an assembly area was designated from where they would move out and to which all would return (and where Lieutenant Giannaris and his men would celebrate their success with a potent shot of tsipouro, the locally distilled spirit). A typical plan called for the bazooka team to hit and disable the locomotive and then for the other men to open up on the passenger or freight cars, all of which were wooden and would be left in flames. Almost all attacks were made at night. The Americans relied to a great extent on the British for target selection. Major Mulgan advised Giannaris as to expected train arrivals in his operational area. The British had good communications, both wireless and telephone, between their stations, which could directly observe train movements or obtain reports from Greek civilians and report them to Cairo to be relayed to Area 3 headquarters. For example, on August 30, ‘Buckram’ Station reported: ‘Train movt 15 Aug to Athens six trains 148 wagons incl 106 material, 6 troops, 3 hay, 9 lorries, 10 petrol, 14 empty tks. To Salonika 2 trains 78 waggons incl 75 empty, 3 tps, 1 Hun leave train, 1 Greek passenger train.’
freight trains carrying the material north for processing. Dereli station and village were both occupied by a large German garrison, which included an armoured train equipped with 81mm mortars, heavy machine guns and 20mm anti-aircraft guns, and soldiers to be used for attacks along lines. Always in readiness along a siding of the railway station, the Panzerzug regularly patrolled the railway through the mountains. The whole station area was surrounded by barbed wire and minefields and there were two bunkers. The nearby village of Dereli had been burned by the Italians in 1943 and the residents were subsisting in thatched kalivas (straw huts) nearby. On June 16, 1944, two weeks before OG II’s arrival, Mulgan had ordered an attack on Dereli Station with about 80 Andartes, ten Poles and a fellow British officer, with Moyers and his assistants providing medical assistance. However, the Germans were not caught by surprise and had repulsed the attack. This event undoubtedly encouraged the Germans to further strengthen this critical point. When a train was hit, German soldiers would often jump off shouting ‘Kamerad, Kamerad’. Giannaris’ men wanted to take prisoners but he knew he had too few men to guard and take care of them, so he told his men to shoot to wound, not to kill, as this would more burden the enemy structure, with wounded to be hospitalised and cared for. The SOE and OSS men were acutely aware of the consequences their ambush actions could have for the local population. As a rule, the Germans reacted with brutal reprisal actions, executing civilians and burning down villages closest to the attack site. Many times, the OG men saw peasant women who, knowing the Americans were working there, were loading the family donkeys with what they thought might be saved from the wrath to come. To hopefully discourage reprisals, the OG would always leave behind one or more empty packages of American cigarettes at the site to let the Germans know the action had been by Americans and not Greeks.
Operation No. 1 OG II’s first operation was an action against the railway near Stirfaka, approximately 40 miles south-east of Papas. Major Mulgan had asked Giannaris for a bazooka team and a security detail to assist British Major Grenville Dickinson of the SOE on this operation. At 0900 hours on July 22, Giannaris and seven of his men (a bazooka team, Tommygunners and riflemen) with demolitions, accompanied by nine Greek guerrillas, left Papas and proceeded south-east to Dereli Kalivas arriving at 1300. Here they waited until 1800 and then marched east towards a point north of Dereli Station. The crossing was heavily guarded, with a pillbox 400 yards to the left and a force of about 150 Germans 500 yards to the right, both positions on the alert with flares and patrols. The group crossed the tracks under cover of darkness at 2300 and marched continuously through the night and next morning, arriving at a forward assembly area in the mountains north of Stirfaka at 1100 on the 23rd.
Right: All of the group’s sabotage operations were at night so there are no action photos to illustrate these. Judging by the light load carried by the mules (note the bazooka on the one nearest to the camera), this picture was probably taken when the group was returning from an operation. 13
DONALD J. EVANS
Left: Posing in front of the school with two of the pack mules are (L-R) Tech/5 George Tiniakos, Corporal Costas Theodorou, Tech/5 Michalis Tsirmulas and Corporal Hercules Sembrakis. Tsirmulas, astride the mule, would be killed during Operation No. 10 on September 8, the only member of OG II killed in
Giannaris was not at all pleased with this first action. Because of what he considered bad preparation, he had refused to accompany Dickinson with his group down to the railway. Although the latter claimed there had been an explosion, the Americans had heard none; and by 0730 the next morning trains were moving freely. The OG marched back to Papas, a threeday hike during which they encountered several enemy patrols searching for them, and they finally returned to base at 1000 on July 26. Operation No. 2 OG II’s second operation began five days later. The target was a German supply train and the place of attack a spot 3,000 yards north of the Gorgopotamos viaduct, which was strongly garrisoned by the Germans, and 700 yards south of a pillbox and guardhouse. On July 31, Giannaris left Papas with 12 of his men (two bazooka teams, a BAR team, Tommy-gunners and riflemen) and eight Andartes. They moved down across the
Here, Major Dickinson told Giannaris that the target was only a half hour away but an Andarte officer said it was still at least three hours and that it was impossible to move further forward during daylight. Surprised, Giannaris queried the major and it turned out he had not personally reconnoitred the target. So the group had no choice but to wait for nightfall. While the main party rested, a reconnaissance party departed for a better view of the target. At 1600 the main party marched to the rendezvous area to form security in all directions. The railway line was heavily guarded with a manned pillbox on the left and Stirfaka, with its German garrison, on the right. Worse, because of an attack the previous night, the Germans were on the alert. Nonetheless, Dickinson went down to place demolitions and a train was derailed. Enemy flares immediately went up and the group became the target of German mortar, machine-gun, 20mm and small-arms fire from all directions, forcing them to retreat without opening fire on the train.
Andartes loading a mule in preparation for a mission. 14
action. Buried by the Germans, his grave was never found and he is today commemorated on a Tablet of the Missing in the Florence American Cemetery in Italy. Right: The road to Palia [Old] Giannitsou, the nearest village down slope, is off to the left. Sperchios valley to beyond Ipati where they bivouacked for the night. The following morning, August 1, they moved to a forward position and then after dark into positions near the tracks, with the bazookas positioned 15 yards from them. When the train arrived, the locomotive was hit with five bazooka rockets and armour-piercing ammunition. Other cars were hit by the bazookas too and the train was fired upon by all the attackers until all aboard were killed, including the guards in the forward and rear cars, and the wooden cars were in flames. The group returned to Papas on August 3. Two days later, on August 5, Jack Gage’s RSR detachment arrived in Area 3 to reinforce the attacks. It consisted of two sections of Spandau machine guns and a mortar section. Initially, the mortar section and one machine-gun section remained near Mulgan’s headquarters at Palia Yiannitsou and with OG II concentrated on the railway, and the other machine-gun section moved east of the highway on the mountains north of Lamia to focus on Germans moving north by road. Subsequently, both machine-gun sections were used against highway traffic. Operation No. 3 OG II’s next operation was not a sabotage action but a defensive stand. On Saturday, August 5, the Germans began Operation ‘Kreuzotter’ (Viper), designed to crush ELAS and EDES partisan activity in the area. Kampfgruppe Schlätel of the 4. SS-PolizeiPanzergrenadier-Division began moving west up the Sperchios valley from Lamia; other task forces drove north-east from Agrinion, all intending to meet at Karpenision and entrap a large force of guerrillas. The size of the enemy force was estimated at 15,000 troops and, while the main force was moving along the road on the valley floor, it appeared their flank security units might overrun the OG II base. The Americans were alerted and on August 7 were summoned to help prevent the Germans from overrunning Papas and nearby villages. OG II moved to Palia Yiannitsou, site of Mulgan’s headquarters, which had already packed and was ready to move. As they took up positions in clear view of a German unit that was attempting to gain the heights, they could see several villages that had already been overrun and set aflame by the Germans.
Right: On August 5, the Germans launched Operation ‘Kreuzotter’, one of the large counter-guerrilla offensives that were so typical of the war in the Balkans. A joint effort by the XXII. Gebirgs-Korps and the LXVIII. Armee-Korps, it fielded units from three divisions in a simultaneous drive from east and west with the intent of converging at Karpenision, the object being to trap and destroy the partisan formations caught in between. As part of ‘Kreuzotter’, Kampfgruppe Schlätel of the 4. SS-Polizei-PanzergrenadierDivision advanced westwards from Lamia up the Sperchios valley. With the ELAS units evaporating in front of them, they found little else but deserted farmsteads and villages, dozens of which were set to the torch. The men of OG II helped to defend Papas and Palia Giannitsou against the German drive, while also making a night attack on the enemy troops on the valley road.
Operation No. 4 During the night of August 12/13 — while the German offensive was still in full swing — Giannaris and 11 of his men set out to infiltrate the enemy lines and attack their supply line. The party left its defence position at Palia Yiannitsou and travelled south along the heights, then east, and descended to the enemy positions, where mortar and machinegun emplacements covered all approaches. The Germans were equipped with spotlights and the sky was illuminated with flares. After more than four hours of creeping and crawling the Americans approached the road between Makri and Kastri, passing close enough to one German emplacement to hear voices of enemy soldiers at their guns. As they neared the road, Giannaris, in the lead, heard a strange rustling noise behind him and tapped his rifle butt one time to signal all to freeze in position. He inched his way to the rear to find Tech/5 Theodore Markidis. on his knees, plucking grapes from a vine. It was pitch dark and Giannaris did not know just how distant they were from the road. As he began to move forward again, two Germans just 15 yards ahead struck a match to light cigarettes. The delay caused by Markidis and his grapes saved the OG from stumbling into a group of Germans who soon jumped in a truck and drove off. Now they knew exactly where the road was. Two of the men began digging holes for placement of mines while the others crowded around to muffle the sound and screen from view any sparks that might appear. After laying the mines they moved away 200-300 yards to await and attack a truck convoy; but a full moon rose and enemy activity was observed uncomfortably close, Right: To escape the German onslaught, thousands of people fled into the mountains and several hundred reached Papas where they were fed and sheltered by the men of OG II. These two boys were among the refugees. Operation “Kreuzotter’ ran for two weeks but the results were marginal. Large quantities of weapons, ammunition and demolitions were captured or destroyed and 298 guerrillas were killed and 260 captured. German losses totalled 20 dead and 112 wounded.
GUERRILLA AND COUNTER-GUERRILLA IN GREECE 1941-45
so Giannaris withdrew his men to the heights. When the first vehicle of a convoy was demolished by a mine, the entire area was lit up like daylight. The Americans were discovered and their position was strafed by machine guns and mortared, but by then they were well up in the hills and suffered no losses. Andarte artillery on a mountain top opened fire and destroyed more trucks and caused more German casualties. The OG returned to Palia Yiannitsou early next morning and re-assumed its defence positions, moving to a more-forward location at Nea Yiannitsou. The ‘Kreuzotter’ offensive was still underway and the Germans again attempted to ascend toward the two villages. Artillery salvos, fired all day and during the night, forced the Americans and their Andarte allies to withdraw to higher positions. The following day, the Germans reached Nea Yiannitsou and started burning the houses, but Andarte artillery answered from a mountain three miles away and the exposed Germans suffered many casualties. The Andarte guns also fired on a large German convoy, destroying several trucks and causing more losses. The Germans retreated toward Lamia and made no further attempt to molest this particular area.
Operation ‘Kreuzotter’ raged for 13 days, until August 18, when the last of the German forces completed their withdrawal back into the cities. The destruction in the areas overrun by them was enormous. Many civilians were murdered — tortured, burned, shot, bayoneted — and more than 40 villages were left in ruins. Thousands of civilians fled to the hills. Several hundred came to Papas where the Americans fed and sheltered them for five days. Food supplies were meagre but scant provisions were obtained from other areas. Dr Robert Moyers, the chief of the AMM hospital, was assigned by Major Mulgan to coordinate relief for the entire area devastated by the German drive. This meant clothing, feeding and housing some 100,000 people and trying to control the inevitable epidemics that would follow. The challenge he faced involved medical problems, water supply, waste disposal, constructing latrines and a thousand other problems.
When the Germans realised they were heavily opposed and that a further advance would be costly, they retreated to better positions. However, when attacking parties of Andartes, the RSR and the OG continued to harass their supply and communication lines, they made another attempt to gain the heights. This was also frustrated and the Germans fell back again. However, their patrols continued to roam the valley day and night, continuously lighting the sky with flares after sunset.
Operation No. 5 Soon after ‘Kreuzotter’, Giannaris received a message from Mulgan asking him to come to the latter’s headquarters at Palia Yiannitsou. Upon arrival he was told: ‘I have news from your people. They are questioning reports about all these successful missions with no casualties. An American colonel will be visiting you.’ Giannaris was stunned that they would question him, and angry. The visitor was Colonel Paul E. West, until a short time before Operations Officer at OSS Middle East Headquarters in Cairo, and recently appointed Chief American Liaison Officer in Greece. He came accompanied by Captain Blanas, the commander of all OGs in Greece. West read Giannaris off: ‘Your men look sloppy, unshaven, beards, long hair. All these missions. No one wounded, no one killed. How do we know you performed as reported?’ Giannaris, incensed inside, invited West to go on a mission to see for himself. Giannaris consulted Mulgan and learned a train was expected. Accompanied by Sergeants Bernard Brady and Stephanos Philippides, he headed out on a reconnaissance east of Papas. The proposed target was the railway line two miles north of Dereli Station in the ‘five-mile area’. Upon his return he briefed his men and West and Blanas. At noon on August 20, accompanied by West and Blanas, the group moved out and arrived at Kaitsa Kalivas at 3.30 p.m. An advance party moved out to check on German 15
Star and Blanas a Silver Star. The recommendation for West’s medal claimed he did ‘personally lead the four or five men of his party in an attack on the train and the enemy defending it. Colonel West was intent upon wiping out every part of the enemy resistance and with this thought in mind he and his men charged the train. Unfortunately none of our other attacking parties were able to move ahead at the same time so he and his men were forced to do the job alone.’ Strangely enough, West’s recommendation, dated November 10, 1944 (almost three months after the event), was signed by Robert Moyers, the AMM hospital commander, who had not been present at the action but nonetheless claimed he had witnessed it in person. It was endorsed by Colonel Harry Aldrich, Chief of OSS/Cairo, with a recommendation that West be awarded the Silver Star. The draft citation stated that West ‘gave orders to a bazooka team to disable the locomotive when it reached an exposed point’ and that ‘none of the other American troops were in a position to accompany Colonel West’s party when they went forward’. However, none of these actions convinced superior officers that West merited the Silver Star and he was awarded the Bronze Star instead. Giannaris thought the matter both laughable and infuriating. After his evacuation from Greece, while hospitalised at Bari, a visiting officer asked him to clarify the confusion about the mission with West because
Also going on this operation was Captain Frank T. Blanas, the officer in command of all the Operational Groups inside Greece. He had already met with OG II when they first landed at Parga Cove on the night of June 17/18. they had three conflicting reports about the leadership of the operation. In one, he (Giannaris) had led the operation; in another West, and in a third Blanas. According to Giannaris, the matter was clear: after his reconnaissance, he had briefed his men and West and asked the latter: ‘Are you going to accompany us as a fighting man, an observer or as the commander?’ ‘A fighting man’, answered West. Giannaris told him: ‘You will take orders from me, and I will give you your assignment on this mission.’ Captain Blanas was awarded the Silver Star on January 15, 1946, the citation stating that he ‘and another officer advanced and killed the locomotive crew with small-arms fire’ and had been ‘the last to withdraw from this operation’. However, his award rankled less with the members of OG II because it was not just for the action of August 20 but also for Blanas’ overall leadership of the eight Operational Groups in Greece. He was behind enemy lines a total of 137 days, made many extremely arduous trips on foot through the rugged mountains, and in addition to the action with OG II participated in another operation with OG VI.
ROBERT E. PERDUE
movements that might interfere with the operation and was later joined at the final assembly area by the main group. The OG moved into attack position, 15 yards from the railway tracks, one hour before midnight. A demolition party placed charges and then moved back to join the bazooka and BAR teams. Shortly after, a train approached from the south loaded with supplies and soldiers. As the engine detonated the charges, the bazooka men fired their rockets into the boiler of the locomotive and tremendous explosions rocked the earth. This was the signal for the entire party, including West and Blanas, to open fire. German soldiers returned fire from cars just behind the engine but were silenced by the bazookas, BAR and other weapons. The train had been brought to a halt; five boxcars were destroyed and at least six others derailed and overturned over an embankment. After about 15 minutes of intense firing, the OG departed with the train in flames. At the rendezvous point, as he did after every action, Giannaris pulled out a bottle of the local ‘white lightening’ and each man had a drink. When it came his turn, West offered a toast to a mission well planned and well executed. The action of August 20 had an aftermath that later raised quite a few eyebrows among the members of OG II: both Colonel West and Captain Blanas received medals for their participation in this action, West a Bronze
In mid-August, OG II received an inspection visit by Colonel Paul E. West, the Chief American Liaison Officer in Greece, pictured here (right) with his Andarte guide. West was puzzled by the fact that Giannaris’ group had accomplished four operations without suffering any casualties, and wanted to see for himself, so he accompanied the group on its next mission. West had previously been head of Special Operations at OSS Middle East Headquarters in Cairo, had only recently parachuted into Greece and had little real experience in guerrilla warfare, so Giannaris made sure that he himself stayed in command of the operation. (The Chief American Liaison Officer was also the deputy head of the Allied Military Mission, and West was the third American holding this position after Captain Winston Ehrgott (SeptemberDecember 1943) and Major Gerald K. Wines (December 1943-June 1944). The head of the AMM was always a British officer.)
To guard and protect the vital railway line, the Germans built numerous bunkers and pillboxes along its entire stretch. This one still stands in the area south of the Gorgopotamos Viaduct, the area where OG II carried out two of its operations, Nos. 2 and 14. 16
This one, based on an old Turkish fortification, survives near Loutra Kaitsas, at the northern end of the so-called ‘fivemile area’, where the line turns from almost due north to almost due east. This is the area where Operation No. 11 took place.
Left: Most of the pictures of OG II were taken on or near the Papas village square. During a leisure moment, three of the OG II Tommy-gunners pose with Papas children (L-R): Corporal Hercules Sembrakis, Tech/5 George Tiniakos and Tech/5 Alekos Orkoulas. Right: The same photographer then snapshot Staff
Pat Wingate, RE, one of the British Liaison Officers in Area 3 (he had parachuted into Greece in May 1943). On August 27, Wingate set out with five Americans under Staff Sergeant Michael Kountouris, an RSR mortar crew and a supporting group of Andartes. They moved into position and dug in on the heights overlooking the target 600 to 800 yards away. Just before dusk a German troop train came into view and the party held fire until it was within range. Then, all the OG, the RSR unit
and the Andartes opened fire with all weapons, including more than 140 rounds of 3-inch mortar shells, along the length of the train. The Germans were caught completely off guard and abandoned the train for cover before they returned fire. As the attackers withdrew, the Germans opened up with all weapons at their disposal, including the howitzer, and sent a large patrol up the heights in an attempt to drive the attacking party from their positions. The latter got away without casualties.
DONALD J. EVANS
Operation No. 6 The next mission was planned for a site along the railway near Kournovon, about 20 miles south-east of Papas and due south of Dereli. A four-man reconnaissance party checked out the area on August 25 and returned to Papas the following day. The target was a German-garrisoned strongpoint protected by a 105mm howitzer, several mortars and heavy machine guns. The surrounding area was heavily patrolled. The mission was set up and commanded by British Major
Sergeant George Kypriotes and Sergeant Peter Moshopoulos taking up an action pose with their Thompsons. All OG personnel wore US paratrooper’s combat uniforms — the 1942-pattern khaki jacket with the typical sloping breast pockets and trousers with expandable thigh pockets — and jump boots.
Left: Here Giannaris sits on one of the mules surrounded by his men. Note that he is wearing the British parachute wing above his right-hand breast pocket, evidence that he has been to a British parachute school, either the one at Haifa in
Palestine or Brindisi in Italy. Right: The house with the balcony veranda stood on the slope just to the right of the village school. Today a more-modern replacement stands on the site. 17
Right: Nine members of OG II posing for a group shot on the village square at Papas. Standing (L-R): a Greek Andarte, George Tiniakos, Gus Palans, Theodore Markidis, Peter Moshopoulos and Hercules Sembrakis. Front row: James Apostolopoulos, Michael Kountouris, Bernard Brady, Christ Skiriotis and Alex Orkoulas. Skiriotis would be awarded the Bronze Star for his action during Operation No. 13 on the night of October 6/7, when he moved forward and silenced the automatic weapons of an enemy patrol with a long burst from his Thompson sub-machine gun.
Technical Sergeant Brady, an Irish-American and the only non-Greek speaker in OG II, demonstrates the use of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), of which the group had two, with Tech/5s Markidis and Palans brandishing their Thompsons in a protective role. Note the sleeping bag on the terrace wall behind.
ROBERT E. PERDUE
Operation No. 8 During the night of September 2/3, OG II with 12 RSR men again hit the railway north of Dereli Station in the ‘five-mile area’. This raid too had been organised by Major Wingate. With left and right flank security teams in place, demolition teams placed 400 pounds of explosives along a 2,000-yard stretch of track. The tracks were completely destroyed along with several telegraph poles. This large demolition necessitated the movement of workmen from other areas, removing rails from other lines to repair the tracks, and also large concentrations of troops to protect the repair party, who worked continuously. The attack closed the line for several days because attacks from ‘Borealis’, another SOE circuit further north, held up the repair train. RSR mortars stood by to shoot up the repair party when it finally showed up.
Operation No. 7 On August 30-31, the target was the railway about two miles north of Dereli Station. The assaulting party included all of OG II and the RSR mortar crew. But this time, the goal was not to just destroy a stretch of track but to fire from dug-in positions on the slopes above on the repair crew that would show up the following day. During this attack explosives placed at intervals along the railway destroyed 2,000 yards of track. The repair train arrived the next morning at 9 a.m. and 25 mortar shells were lobbed on the workers as they began mending the damage. The assaulting team drew fire from a German pillbox 1,000 yards from their dug-in positions, which they returned with 40 mortar rounds. Next on the scene was the German armoured train from Dereli Station which opened fire with an 88mm gun, a mortar and a heavy machine gun, and dispatched patrols to clear the heights. The OG and RSR withdrew and returned to base. The line was shut down for 62 hours.
After the war, the low stone balustrade lining the village square with its small coffeehouse terrace at its eastern end was redeveloped and modernised. However, the large tree remains. 18
Operation No. 9 In early September OG II was joined by Captain Robert Ford, a Cavalry officer with OSS Special Operations. He had arrived in Greece in September 1943, assigned to work with the Andarte cavalry, then equipped with about 30 small Greek ponies. After a failed effort to sabotage the Larissa airfield, he had been sent with Major Mulgan to Mount Othris to organise another band of cavalry. After three months, Ford was convinced these Andartes were not inclined to do any fighting, and after several other adventures, he came to Area 3 and joined OG II. Being superior in rank to Giannaris, he would command OG II and the RSR section during its next two operations. Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ began officially on September 4 (other sources say September 8) with OG II and the RSR mortar section concentrating on the railway and the two RSR machine-gun sections concentrating on the Lamia–Domokos highway. Prior to this time, there had been little if any action by the Allies against the Germans between Athens and Lamia and they had been relatively free to move along the railway and highway. However, with the Germans having begun a wholesale withdrawal, there was
Operation No. 10 Early morning, September 8, Captain Ford and Tech/5 Angelo Kaleyias (one of the medics) left Papas to reconnoitre the target for the day, a heavily guarded part of the rail line two miles south of Dereli. Giannaris, accompanied by his men, followed at 11 a.m. Their objective was to blow the rails and distract the Germans from another attack north of this point by Andartes who would
Sergeant Brady on a mule with a belt of ammunition draped like a necklace.
DONALD J. EVANS
now a large concentration of their troops and vehicles in and near Lamia and their first serious challenge would be their retreat through the Sperchios valley and over the mountains immediately north of the city. This was a challenge for OG II for, with this concentration of force near Lamia, the Germans now also had more troops to man posts and conduct patrols through the mountains and respond aggressively when attacked. At mid-day on September 6, four members of OG II under Staff Sergeant George Kypriotis moved out to the railway intent on placing explosives under the rails at two points. After dark the men arrived at the designated areas and began placing demolitions but were discovered by a German patrol and had no choice but to abandon the operation. While the mission was not accomplished, it succeeded in focusing German attention on this area for the remainder of the night, enabling Allied sabotage efforts elsewhere along the railway to proceed without interference. By this time, OG II had completed nine operations without casualties. One day after lunch in the Papas schoolhouse and in the presence of all members of the Group, Sergeant Brady asked, ‘Permission to speak to the Commanding Officer?’ Giannaris responded, ‘Permission granted Sergeant.’ Brady stood up: ‘I have been selected by the men to tell you that when we were in training you were elected the officer to be shot in the back in combat. But, now that we are here and have gone on all these missions — no one wounded, no one killed — we want to thank you for the way you conducted operations.’ Giannaris later commented: ‘That compliment was the best medal for me.’ One morning, much to Giannaris’ surprise, a stranger appeared in Papas and asked for his son. He was the father of Tech/5 Marthiakes, then on his back in the schoolhouse suffering from malaria. Marthiakes originated from Galaxidi, near Delphi, and his father had walked three days to reach him. Marthiakes Jr. must have somehow got word to his father of his whereabouts in Greece and most likely had provided a document or password that enabled him to pass the many Andarte checkpoints along the way.
through the mountains in the far distance. Right: Tech/5 Tiniakos posing with his Tommy gun. Note the American flag on his left shoulder.
Left: From the village square the men of OG II could look down into the Sperchios river valley. The Athens to Thessaloniki railway, the target of most of their attacks, runs
The distinctive shape of the mountain plateau on the left forms the link between then and now. 19
Moyers and DeWeese gave him plasma and cleaned up the wounds under morphia and local anaesthetic but they doubted whether he would survive either an operation or transport to the Mission’s airstrip for evacuation. They sent urgent messages to Cairo explaining the situation and asking for a special aircraft if the lieutenant lived for a day or two. Meanwhile, they took both the day and night in shifts beside the patient. A clandestine airfield existed at Neraida, a summer resort about 25 miles north-west of Palia Yiannitsou. Situated about 4,100 feet above sea level, it overlooked a vast plateau half a mile wide and a mile and a half long. The plateau had already served as a parachute dropping area for supplies and personnel, but in July 1943, at the request of Cairo HQ, it was turned into an airstrip. Work began on July 8, Captain Denys Hamson, one of the senior British Liaison Officers, enlisting a force of 700 locals to fill in streams and ditches and remove trees and shrubs and other obstructions, and the strip, camouflaged against observation from the air by clumps of young fir trees set into the earth,
was ready on August 4. Code-named ‘Featherbed’, it received its first aircraft, an RAF Dakota, a week later. On September 12, Moyers received word that a special aircraft would fly in to Neraida on the 15th. That afternoon, all of the OG came to Palia Yiannitsou to see their wounded lieutenant. Moyers found them completely demoralised at the loss of their commanding officer and the death of a comrade and, quite disgusted with their attitude, felt forced to read them the riot act to restore order and discipline. Giannaris himself, unaware of his critical situation, remained in good spirits. The following morning, September 13, practically the entire male population of Papas turned up to help the OG transport Giannaris in a four-hour trek to a road junction outside Leondari, at the edge of the Thessaly Plain, the patient being carried on a litter under the medical care of DeWeese and Taflambas. From there, a truck made available by Andarte HQ brought him and the two sergeant medics to the Neraida airstrip, where they arrived on the 15th. Giannaris was put on his stretcher in a round tent of parachute to await his evacuation by air. However, rain began to fall which continued all through the next day, preventing any aircraft from coming in. Moyers, DeWeese and Taflambas took turns caring for the patient in their heavily leaking shelter, seriously worried over his steadily worsening condition. By early morning, September 17, Giannaris was getting delirious, alternating fervent prayers in Greek with equally fervent oaths against the Germans. A few hours later, he developed a severe haemorrhage in his rectum, which Moyers, in desperation, could only stop by running a sponge completely up the rectum and holding it there. Giannaris lost consciousness, but a heart stimulant revived him. For lack of transfusion apparatus, they restored his blood volume by feeding him cups of tea every ten minutes. Moyers sent a message saying the patient could only last 12 hours and an aircraft must come at once.
also blow a substantial length of rail line. The point of attack was near the Dereli Station, with its heavily defended perimeter. There was a pillbox 250 yards to the left and a German barracks 250 yards to the right. After Ford and Kaleyias had scouted out the target, they joined the main group at a pre-arranged assembly site from which they would move in on the tracks after dark. As the full OG began moving downhill toward the target, an enemy machine gun opened fire and hit Tech/5 Michalis Tsirmulas with a full burst. Up went flares and other German machine guns opened up. Giannaris ordered withdrawal and then crept forward to check on Tsirmulas. He was dead. As Giannaris moved a few feet, he set off a land mine that gravely wounded him in his legs, buttocks and left arm. The rest of the group was pinned down by a machine gun to their immediate front. Corporal Louis Lenares stood up and, fully exposed, opened fire and silenced the gun, permitting the team to withdraw to safer positions and then to Papas. They all thought Giannaris had been killed or captured, so did not send anyone out to look for him. However, the lieutenant was still alive. Bleeding profusely, Giannaris dragged himself behind a large boulder to take cover from the hail of bullets. From his handkerchief and undershirt he made tourniquets for both his legs and left arm. When it was quiet, he crawled slowly all night to the crest of the hill where after daylight (September 9) he observed a German patrol, which fortunately turned away when about 50 yards distant. He continued struggling down the other side of the hill until he found a small grass kaliva and crawled in. Weak and exhausted from the hot sun, he was afraid of falling asleep, so he removed the infantry symbol attached to his collar and began pricking his skin to keep awake. Late that day he was discovered, nearly unconscious, by two young shepherd girls who formed a makeshift stretcher and carried him to the hamlet of Pteri where he was briefly attended to by a Greek doctor. A message to Papas brought two of his men, Corporal Hercules Sembrakis and Tech/5 George Tiniakos, who carried him to Palia Yiannitsou, where he arrived in the evening of the 10th. Tech/5 Spiros Taflambas, one of the OG II medics, cleaned Giannaris’ wounds with green soap and sprinkled them with sulfa powder. News of the lieutenant’s discovery had preceded his arrival and early on the 9th, Doctor Moyers, then at his AMM hospital at Domiani, was advised by telephone of Giannaris’ injuries and told he was needed immediately at Palia Yiannitsou. Mounting their horses, Moyers and his assistant, Technical Sergeant Robert C. DeWeese, immediately set out and after an eight-hour ride, arrived there at 2200 hours. When Giannaris was finally brought in, they found he had severe multiple splinter wounds in both legs and the gluteal regions plus a single tunnel wound of the left forearm. The most severe situation was a large wound which had completely obliterated his anus. All of the wounds were grossly contaminated.
Right: It was on the night of September 8/9, during Operation No. 10, that OG II suffered it first and only casualties, when Tech/5 Michalis Tsirmulas was killed by a burst from a German machine gun and Lieutenant Giannaris was severely wounded by a land mine as he crawled to Tsirmulas’ aid. Corporal Louis Lenares (here pictured at Papas) silenced the machine gun that had killed Tsirmulas with his Thompson, enabling the group to escape. However, Giannaris was left behind and was only recovered 36 hours later, seriously weakened from loss of blood and a near-fatal wound in his buttocks.
It was Dr Robert Moyers, chief of the Allied Military Mission hospital at Domiani, who saved Giannaris’ life, keeping him alive for ten days until he could be evacuated out of Greece.
Some OG II members accompanied Giannaris part of the way to Neraida and they were pictured at Karditsa, 20 miles northwest of Papas, probably on the return trip. Top row (L-R) Corporal Sembrakis and Tech/5 Skiriotis standing between two Andarte fighters. Front row: Staff Sergeant Kypriotes and Sergeant Moshopoulos. The inscription on the wall under the KKE (Greek Communist Party) symbol reads: ‘A woman should have equal rights next to her man. Support the People’s Democracy’.
Operation No. 11 With Giannaris gone, and Captain Ford departed elsewhere, Sergeant Brady assumed temporary command of OG II. Though he did not speak Greek, he was very highly thought of by the men. For the next two operations, the reconnaissance was carried out by Major Mulgan and Sergeants Brady and Philippides. On September 10, the group moved to Dranista, eight miles north of Papas, where they were met by the RSR mortar section. Late in the day the combined force moved to a point on the heights overlooking the railway where they bedded down for the night. At 4 a.m. on the 11th they moved to forward positions and dug in directly above a railway station where all trains stopped. German troops were barracked there and there was a large pillbox. The day was quiet, but patience was rewarded when at 6 p.m. a German supply and troop train arrived and stopped. More than 100 mortar shells were lobbed over the length of the train until all the cars were in flames. At least 100 Germans were killed or wounded. The OG and RSR unit began their retreat under intense enemy fire from machine guns, mortars, and 20mm guns, and soon more than 400 Germans were swarming the heights firing at the retreating force. Despite their several attacks since the start of Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ (now ‘Smash’em’), the Allies were unable to keep the railway line completely closed. It was open for a few hours on September 10 until late afternoon the following day, with two German troop trains passing north on each day. The attack of the 11th again blocked the line until late on the 15th. Three German trains were able to move north before the line was blown again at three places during the night of September 16/17 (by groups other than OG II) and there was no traffic on the 17th. By now, the Allies had switched to a policy of damaging the line only to the extent it would be effective in slowing the German withdrawal but with no major demolitions that might hinder the Allies’ future use of the railway. As for the main road, Mulgan estimated 150 enemy trucks had been damaged with mines and machine-gun fire during the first week of Operation ‘Smash’em’ in addition to damage from air raids. There were no convoys on the road on the 14th or 15th. Operation No. 12 On September 18, a combined force of OG II, RSR men and Andartes set out to destroy a length of railway track near Kaitsa in broad daylight. They divided into three groups, one for security on each flank, and a demolition party that set more than 400 pounds of explosives along a mile of track. The security parties remained in place until all demoli-
tions exploded. Major Mulgan, assisted by Tech/5 Gus Palans, also destroyed a large culvert passing underneath the tracks. The Allies returned to Papas the following morning. (Palans was awarded the Silver Star for this action). After Giannaris was wounded, Colonel West ordered Lieutenant Nicholas Pappas to take over command of OG II. He had been second-in-command of OG III at Deskati (code-named ‘Lapworth’), about 35 miles north-west of Larissa and came to Papas on foot where he arrived on September 25. By this time, the entire group was totally exhausted, men were sick and rundown, and had to be withdrawn for ten days. By October 1, arrangements had been made to evacuate five sick men by air.
They waited throughout the night and following morning. Finally, at 1530 hours on the 18th, a Lysander flown by British Flight Officer Norman Attenborrow (who had volunteered for the mission) descended through a small opening in the rainstorm clouds and circled in for a perfect landing. Giannaris was loaded aboard, with DeWeese squeezing beneath him to support him with one hand while controlling the haemorrhage with the other, and the aircraft took off again, returning to Italy escorted by three Spitfires. It was ten days since Giannaris had been wounded and it was a miracle that Moyers and his medics had managed to keep him alive all that time. Upon landing at Brindisi, the Lysander was met by an ambulance and medical crew. Giannaris was taken first to a British field ambulance in town and three days later to the US 26th Army General Hospital in Bari from where he was subsequently evacuated to the United States. (For his role in saving Giannaris’ life, Sergeant DeWeese was awarded the Bronze Star).
Right: Brought to the secret airfield at Neraida, 25 miles north-west of Papas, Giannaris was finally flown out of Greece by Flight Officer Norman Attenborrow of the Special Duties Squadron from Brindisi in Italy. Most flights into Neraida were at night, but Attenborrow, who had volunteered for the mission, flew in during daylight in order to rescue Giannaris who was judged to have no more than 12 hours to live without better medical attention. The Neraida airstrip was code-named ‘Featherbed’ and flights to it were known as ‘Feather’ missions, Attenborrow’s flight being ‘Feather 30’. This picture of a Fairchild Argus at Neraida was taken during another mission.
With Giannaris gone, 1st Lieutenant Nick Pappas was ordered to take over command of OG II. Pappas was at that moment serving as second-in-command of OG III at Deskati, some 70 miles to the north-west, and it took him 16 days to reach Papas. Arriving on September 25, he would command the group’s final two operations. (Note that Papas has British parachute wings above his right pocket and the American jump wings with ribbons above his left pocket.) 21
Left: More snapshots taken on the village square. The heavy beards grown by the men make identification difficult. These are George Kypriotes, Steve Marthiakes, unidentified, and Gus Palans. More in general, the German wholesale retreat, with movements in large formations, made it increasingly difficult for liaison officers, OGs and RSR to perform any substantial sabotage, and withdrawal of the OGs was under discussion with the British. Colonel Livermore, commander of the 2677th Regiment OSS, was also pressing AFHQ to force a speedy withdrawal of the OGs from Greece after the German evacuation. Shortly after Lieutenant Pappas assumed command, two surprise visitors came to Papas from Macedonia: the father and 17year-old sister of one of the members of OG II. The girl was introduced to all the men and it seems the father was looking for a husband for his daughter. He even made a pitch to Pappas.
The target area was on the Thessaly Plain about 1,000 yards north of Neo Monastirion — flat and open countryside without any cover or concealment. German pillboxes were to the left and right, 500 yards on one flank and 1,000 yards on the other. The Andartes were divided into two groups, each with 200 pounds of explosives, to be laid along the track at 2,000-yard intervals. OG II was to approach the track at a different position and set additional charges. When the explosives under the train were blown, all weapons would be fired and the other demolition groups would blow the rails. The OG assault party moved out in oxendrawn farmer’s carts at 1 p.m. on October 6 from Leondari, about ten miles from Neo Monastirion, where it had bivouacked. Each cart carried several men (one including Colonel West) covered with straw and guided by a Greek peasant. The carts separated at 6.30 p.m. as they neared the forward assembly area at Neo Monastirion, moving into positions selected by the reconnaissance party 200 yards from the tracks after dark. A BAR team was positioned on each flank. A five-man demolition party moved forward with two Tommy-gunners as protection. As the party reached the track, an enemy patrol opened fire from 20 yards away
and flares lit up the sky. The BARs returned fire and, in turn, drew fire from the German pillboxes all along the OG front. The demolition party was pinned down and was able to withdraw only when Tech/5 Christ Skiriotis crept to within ten yards of the enemy patrol and silenced them with a long burst from his Thompson. The fight lasted 30 minutes, but Skiriotis’ action permitted the remainder of his party to withdraw safely (he was awarded the Bronze Star). The entire OG withdrew safely, walked all night, and reached the rear assembly area at dawn on the 7th. Although the operation did not succeed as planned, the effort distracted the Germans from the actions of the Andarte demolition parties elsewhere, which were successful. Operation No. 14 On October 10, OG II left Papas for an area south of the Sperchios valley where the Germans were in the final stage of evacuation. They were to help Andarte units harass the German rearguard, hasten their departure, and prevent their destruction of bridges, railway tracks and other communications. During a two-day march, the OG passed within 300 yards of enemy defence positions. They arrived at Iposti after an all-
DONALD J. EVANS
Operation No. 13 In early October, accompanied by Colonel West as observer, a British SOE major and a team of Andarte demolition experts, OG II set out to attack the German armoured train that dropped patrols along the railway line at dusk. (According to Pappas, because of West’s lack of experience, it was agreed he would be just one of the troops and Pappas would be in command.)
Right: Kountouris, Brady and Markidis. The narrow faces and slender stature of Kountouris and Brady are tell-tale signs of the group’s exhausting missions with less than an ideal ration supply.
Left: The men used a pool created by a mountain spring near the village to wash and bathe. Right: The well is still there. 22
LORNA TUCK COLBERT JAMES CHIMBIDIS
day trek to find the Germans had shelled the town. Although near exhaustion, they continued on for 90 minutes to a secure spot in the mountains — a fortunate move as German troops occupied the town early the following morning. The group marched all through another day and reached Paviliani where they overnighted. They then moved to Kournaritsi, less than 3,000 yards from the railway line, a town the Germans were expected to
Time to say farewell to fellow warriors. Lenares (standing at left) and Sembrakis and Theodorou (seated on the curb) with Greek Andartes under the KKE emblem, probably in Lamia.
in the shot. Rear row (L-R): Spiros Taflambas, Costas Theodorou, James Zonas, Lieutenant Nick Pappas, a British war correspondent, Bernard Brady, Gus Palans, and George Tiniakos. Front row (kneeling, L-R): Peter Moshopoulos, George Kypriotes, unidentified, Theodore Markidis, Stephanos Philippides, Louis Lenares, Hercules Sembrakis, Michael Kontouris and Christ Skiriotis.
shell and occupy at any time. They observed enemy movements and consulted the local Andartes who agreed to concentrate on Germans moving on the road, while the OG attacked the railway. The following day Lieutenant Pappas with a recon party located a suitable position to set up for an attack, while the Andartes and other members of the OG occupied defensive positions from where they could observe German artillery protecting the road and railway. The OG saw Allied aircraft bombing and strafing in the vicinity and then two B-24s bombed two bridges just 4,000 yards from their position. There was little more the OG could accomplish as the Germans were now destroying all railway facilities between Athens and Lamia. They personally witnessed three of the largest railway bridges in Greece — the Gorgopotamos, Asopos and Papadia viaducts — being blown up before their eyes. OG II returned to Papas on October 20. They had come to the end of their stay in Greece. British troops had already landed in the Peloponnese during the night of October 3/4 and by October 18, Lieutenant-General Ronald Scobie, the British commander, had set up his headquarters in Athens (see After the Battle No. 155). On October 21, the day after they returned from their last mission, the men of OG II took leave of Papas and moved with their supplies, first to Platistomo and then to Lamia on the 22nd. Along the road, through blackened villages, people came out to offer them drinks and sweet cakes and hang flowers on their mule saddles. People were happy and Greece was free. On the 26th, after four days of rest and preparing for evacuation, they moved south to Levadhia by motor transport. The following evening they arrived at the Excelsior Hotel in Athens, and then on the 28th moved to a transit camp on the outskirts. They spent the 29th sight-seeing the
city, visiting the Acropolis and taking in the night clubs. However, bullets were already flying between the British and the EAM/ELAS communists and the British wanted the Americans out in a hurry. At 12.30 p.m. on October 30, Operational Group II departed from Kalamaka Airport for Bari in Italy. On arrival, they were transported to nearby Camp Kallitsas where they were joined by members of the other OGs evacuated from Greece.
With the last of the German troops having fled from Greece and British forces having landed in the south, Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ came to an end. Their mission accomplished, OG II came out of the mountains and made their way to the city of Lamia where this last group shot was taken on October 24. By then, six of the 22 remaining men had been incapacitated by malaria and evacuated, hence there are only 16
From Lamia, the group made their way south to Athens, where they arrived on October 28. Here, Tech/5 Palans (left) and Staff Sergeant Philippides walk the streets of the Greek capital. 23
ROBERT E. PERDUE
Left: Sergeants Philippides, Brady and Kontouris pose in front of the National Library on Panapimistiou Street. OG II was the only group to reach Athens from which they were promptly During their 134 days in Greece and 14 operations, the group had done remarkably well. They were credited with attacking five trains and destroying three locomotives, 31 boxcars, 7,400 yards of rail, a 20-foot culvert, 40 telegraph poles and six trucks, and the killing or wounding of 675 Germans against a loss of one enlisted man killed and one officer wounded. In addition to this devastation, their actions had created bottlenecks behind which German troops and equipment backed up, making ideal targets for tactical aircraft which took a heavy toll. In part, their effectiveness was due to their location in a ‘hot spot’, the first point where German troops attempting to evacuate Greece met any serious resistance. They owed much of their success to Major John Mulgan whose leadership of Area 3 was outstanding. During most of their operations they had been assisted by Andartes as fighters, guides or muleteers. During seven operations they had had the assistance of an RSR section.
flown out to Italy. Right: The men are gone but the statue of Panagis Vallianos, the ‘father of modern Greek shipping’ (18141902) stands unaltered.
should be ‘returned to the Army’ and assigned to other units. All were qualified paratroopers and most were assigned to airborne divisions. They were first moved to the 24th Replacement Depot at De Sopra, between Rome and Florence, where they arrived on Christmas Eve, and stayed for several weeks. From Italy they were moved by ship to Marseille in southern France and then by truck to Auxerre, where many joined
the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 13th Airborne Division. Some men went to other airborne units. Nicholas Pappas joined the 507th Parachute Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division, and jumped as a company commander in Operation ‘Varsity’, the airborne operation across the Rhine near Wesel in March 1945. Peter Moshopoulos, John Tsouderos and George Tiniakos joined the 82nd Airborne Division.
Right: After Greece, ten members of the OGs, including five from OG II, volunteered for a mission to Norway with a Special Operational Group of NorwegianAmericans in Scotland under Lieutenant Roger Hall. Here the so-called ‘Norgreeks’ take a break during training in the highlands of Scotland. The tall soldier is 1st Sergeant Theophanes Strimenos who had been with OG VI. 24
AFTER GREECE Immediately after they arrived in Bari, all the Greek OGs were disbanded. While still there, the men were evaluated to determine if they were still needed by the OSS or
FREDA PALANS-ANDREW ROBERT E. PERDUE
While the men were at Auxerre, an OSS Jedburgh officer, Major John Olmsted, visited the camp, seeking volunteers for a mission in Norway. Among the ten who volunteered were five former OG II members: Bernard Brady, Demetrius Frangas, Michael Kountouris, Steve Marthiakes and Gus Palans. After parachute training jumps at Ringway airfield near Manchester, they were transported to Dalnaglar Castle outside the village of Blairgowrie, near Perth in the Scottish highlands, where they teamed up with a Norwegian OG, originally ski troops from Colorado, under Lieutenant Roger W. Hall. Unofficially christened the Norgreek Group, the force trained hard but the war in Europe ended before they could be deployed. However, not all former OGs went to the airborne divisions. Captains Frank Blanas, formerly CO of all OGs in Greece, and George Verghis, who had commanded OG I, joined Company D of the 2677th Regiment OSS, operating with the US Fifth Army in Italy. With them went the two OG II medics, Spiros Taflambas and Angelo Kaleyias. One man, Stephanos Philippides, who spoke good English, was selected for service with the OSS in China, being assigned to Kunming where he served from March to December
night of September 18/19, 1944. The ceremony was held in Washington, DC, on August 24, 1945. Right: Palans after the award ceremony.
Left: General William J. Donovan, head of the OSS, awards the Silver Star to Corporal Gus Palans for his role in the destruction of a railway culvert during Operation No. 12 on the
It took place in the yard of the OSS Headquarters complex at No. 2430 East Street on Navy Hill. This was also the headquarters of the OSS successor organisation, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), until that moved to a new headquarters at Langley, Virginia, in the early 1960s. The facade seen in the background is that of the South Building. Currently the complex is described as being in use by the State Department. 1945. John Giannaris never returned to active duty. After a lengthy hospitalisation,
he retired as a Captain with full disability on January 20, 1947.
In March 1998, feeling that the bravery of the Greek OGs had not been adequately acknowledged, John Giannaris — who had himself been awarded the Silver Star in 1945 — recommended to the US Army’s Military Awards Branch (MAB) that each of his men receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. They had been told they would be on a near-suicide mission with at least 50 per cent casualties; that there would be no communication with units outside Greece, no supplies, no tactical support, no medical aid other than that provided by the medics, and no possibility of withdrawal, so Giannaris judged they well merited this decoration. The MAB showed itself willing to award a medal to five of OG II’s men and asked Giannaris that he select them, but he replied he could not single out five and leave the others behind. Then in October 1998, the Army agreed to award each member of OG II the Bronze Star medal with ‘V’ Device (for special valour), sending the medals and associated certificates to Giannaris for distribution. He and Robert Perdue, the author of this article, made a lengthy effort to trace as many of the recipients, or their descendants, as could be found, and on May 18, 2008, at a ceremony in the hall of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York at Astoria, Queens, New York, Giannaris, by then 86-year-old, presented Bronze Stars to the families of Alex Orkoulas, Peter Moshopoulos, Gus Palans, Spiros Taflambas, James Alexatos, Steve Marthiakes and George Tiniakos. Families who could not attend the ceremony received their medals through US Mail. The great and frustrating challenge had been Bernard Brady, the elusive Irishman and only non-Greek in OG II. John Giannaris (pictured left in 2009) passed away in Chicago on February 6, 2015 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. 25
DONINGTON MILITARY VEHICLE DEPOT Donington Hall, located close to the city of Derby, lies on a 1,100-acre estate at Castle Donington in north-west Leicestershire. When Lord Donington died in 1895, the property was purchased in 1903 by Hugh Gretton with John Gillies Shields being retained as the Land Agent. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the hall was requisitioned by the British government and turned into a prisoner of war camp. At its peak it housed over 380 high-ranking German officer prisoners with a guard contingent of 173. While interned at Donington Hall in 1915, the German naval pilot Gunther Plüschow made the only successful escape from Britain in either world war.
In spite of much pleading by Shields, it took several years for the Army to vacate the Hall after the war was over. Eventually, in 1928 the estate was inherited by Colonel John Gretton but, at the same time, a property speculator became interested in purchasing it with the object of then hiving it off piecemeal. Shields, who had then managed the estate for nigh-on 40 years, could not bear the idea, so he stepped in and purchased Donington Hall himself in 1929. To produce income to maintain the estate he turned the Hall itself into a hotel complete with a nine-hole golf course and tennis courts. Thereafter Donington became an elegant venue for dinners, dances, concerts, wedding receptions and other social events during the 1920s and 1930s.
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Donington Park: The Pioneers is a beautiful new book by John Bailie that tells the fascinating story behind the creation and development of the Derbyshire racing track which hosted four Grand Prix races before the war, and was attended by the legendary ‘Silver Arrows’ from Germany in 1937 and 1938. In 1940 it was then requisitioned by the government and for the next 16 years became an Army storage depot for military vehicles. But its history as a military establishment dated further back to the First World War when Donington Hall was taken over for a prisoner of war camp, its most significant event occurring on July 4, 1915 when Gunther Plüschow (right) and Oskar Trefftz broke out by climbing over two nine-foot barbed-wire fences and walking 15 miles to Derby where they caught a train to London. By the next morning the men’s escape was featured in the Daily Sketch with descriptions of the smartly-dressed pair. They then went their separate ways but Trefftz was recaptured at Millwall Docks. Plüschow altered his appearance and after several adventures successfully made his way back to Germany. Although Franz von Werra escaped from Canada in 1941 (see After the Battle No. 2), Plüschow was the only prisoner to escape from Britain in either war. (Note on the map that East Midlands Airport was Castle Donington aerodrome in WW2.) 26
The track came into being through the enthusiasm of Fred Craner (left), the secretary of the Derby & District Motor Club. In the 1920s, motorcycle racing was developing rapidly and Fred competed seven times in the Isle of Man TT races. Fred Craner, an engineer working at Rolls-Royce at Derby, had been a keen member of the Derby & District Motor Club since 1920 at a time when the interest in motor car and cycle racing was developing rapidly. Monza, Monaco, Nurburgring and Indianapolis were already well-known names so early in 1931 Craner asked Shields for permission to use the extensive roads on the estate for motor racing, thus creating in Donington Park Britain’s first road racing circuit. Craner explained his idea of developing a racetrack but Shields was not impressed and
It was due to an unscheduled meeting with the owner of Donington Park, John Gillies Shields (right), that a formidable partnership was forged between the two men which led to the first race being held in May 1931.
made it very clear that he held an intense dislike of motorcycles, and that he was not at all keen on the idea of them racing through the park. However, seizing this unplanned opportunity to talk to Shields, Craner remained persistent. He saw a glimmer of interest when he said that he could guarantee to bring 10,000 spectators to a meeting there in just a few weeks’ time on Whit Monday, May 25. The following morning, Craner’s phone rang and Shields requested a further meeting. Craner asked club officials to accompany him, and
he took with him a sketch of his proposed circuit. The original roads that were to form the basis of the track had been created for horse-drawn carriages and they connected Donington Hall with the park’s two main lodge entrances — Wilson Lodge to the south-west and Coppice Lodge to the southeast. The new link road that needed to be constructed to connect these points ran across mainly open countryside but was dissected by the southernmost end of Gallows Flesh Wood, necessitating the felling of some trees.
GEOFFREY GODDARD COLLECTION
The initial course contained a number of hazards like stone archways, a farmyard and gates. This view was taken from the BBC commentary box during the 1937 RAC Tourist Trophy as the victorious Talbot-Darracq (10) of Italian Franco Comotti leads Arthur Dobson’s Riley (17) around Coppice Corner. challenges that Craner relished. To save time he based the regulations on those used for other meetings including those governing the TT. The circuit began with races for motorcycles and during the winter of 1932 the track was made suitable for cars even though drivers had to negotiate a stone bridge and
archway, a farmyard and narrow gateways. International races began in 1934, with the first ladies’ race in May 1935. The 1937 Grand Prix was won by Bernd Rosemeyer from Germany, and in October 1938, the famed Tazio Nuvolari from Italy — the ‘Flying Mantovan’ of Auto Union — won the Grand Prix at a speed of 80.49 mph.
Craner explained that racing at Donington could generate much-needed income whilst at the same time raising awareness of the park’s other attractions. Shields was now quickly convinced that his aversion to motorcycles could be overcome but there were now barely two months before the first scheduled race meeting in May. It was a desperately short timescale within which to create the circuit, publish regulations, generate entries, advertise the meeting, obtain marshals, alert the Press and obtain the necessary permits, but these were all
As the track has undergone considerable change, in some cases John Bailie has used superimposition to link past with present. 28
In 1938, with increasing international tension and uncertainty in Europe, Fred Craner made every effort to ensure that the Grand Prix scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 1 would run smoothly. Entries had already been received from two German teams, Tazio Nuvolari of Auto Union arriving early on September 23. However, with the negotiations continuing between Hitler and Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia, the Mercedes-Benz team of 27 mechanics did not want to run the risk of being trapped in what might become enemy territory, and on September 27 their five cars were drained of their fuel, loaded on lorries, the convoy departing by road to Harwich to return to Germany. The Auto Union team followed on but then the head of German motor sport, Adolf Hühnlein, changed his mind as he considered the threat was easing and within 12 hours the cars had been returned to Donington. But then the charade continued as instructions were given for the teams to turn about and return home.
MERCEDES-BENZ CLASSIC ARCHIVES
Not to be outdone, with the signing of the Munich Agreement on September 30, Fred Craner re-scheduled the Grand Prix for Saturday, October 22 in the hope that the German teams would be permitted to return as the mouth-watering driver line-up would then include for Auto Union: Tazio Nuvolari; Rudolf Hasse, a member of the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) who died on the Eastern Front in 1942; Hermann Müller, and Christian Kautz, a Swiss who became a test pilot in the States during the war but was killed in the Swiss Grand Prix in 1948. The Mercedes-Benz line-up of drivers comprised Rudolf Caracciola, also a member of the NSKK; Manfred von Brauchitsch, nephew of Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, and Hermann Lang. British driver Richard Seaman had recently joined MercedesBenz, much against his mother’s wishes as she did not want him to race with a ‘Nazi’ team. He lost his life in the Belgian Grand Prix on June 25, 1939 when his car crashed and caught fire.
Another of John Bailie’s comparisons. Left: Rudolf Caracciola passes Coppice farmhouse in the Grand Prix on October 22, 1938.
Right: Caracciola’s car superimposed on the current scene, while the Donington circuit owner looks on with interest! 29
The 1938 Grand Prix was won by Nuvolari and a date had already been fixed for the 1939 race with the Germans confirming their attendance as late as August 30. Meanwhile, 600 miles to the east, a German warship, the SchleswigHolstein, was sitting quietly in the port of Danzig about to let loose the first shots of World War II. Hitler was determined to redress the imposition of the Polish Corridor, created by the Versailles Treaty, which gave Poland access to the Baltic, but at the same time separated Germany from East Prussia. When at 4.47 a.m. on September 1, the ship opened fire, the Second World War had begun. Donington’s last event, a Grand Prix Motor Cycle Race, had taken place a week earlier but now a new era was about to begin. At the end of October, the Derby & District Motor Club advised members that club activities were henceforth being suspended for the duration of the war.
Centre: In contrast with the high-profile event still displayed on the scoreboard, this was a Cambridge University Motor Club race in June 1939. Right: A threewheel Scammell gives the game away as the Army has now taken over and for a period that was to last much longer than ‘the duration’. This view looks down the start/finish straight towards the Melbourne Brow. 30
The last pre-war race, for motorcycles, was held at Donington on August Bank Holiday, 1939, and on October 28 Craner wrote to the loyal members of the Derby & District Motor Club explaining that all club activities were to be suspended as the circuit was being requisitioned by the government, the War Office converting it into a military vehicle depot and storage area. Many storage sheds, Nissen huts and barbed-wire fences were erected, the scoreboards, grandstands, marshals’ posts and other racing paraphernalia remaining.
This is the exit from the park looking towards the road to Castle Donington. Just beyond the barrier the sign warns
‘There was still much to be done, however, and with the racetrack providing the main circuit, an additional ten miles of roads were laid down in 1941. Temporary servicing facilities were erected in support but it was not until 1942 that the depot was favoured with two good buildings, one of which has been used as a Kit Store and in size and layout was probably the best to be found in any Vehicle Depot. The other building was used as a workshop and was later occupied by a detachment of No. 38 Base Workshop, REME, which, although a separate unit within the perimeter, always provided the greatest support.
‘There was no piped water supply in the early days and the Royal Engineers were soon busy installing a ring main. Underground petrol storage tanks soon followed. The depot rapidly expanded to a maximum holding of 15,000 vehicles and a daily receipt rate of 200, which was indeed an achievement, as the greater part of the space available for parking was soft ground, creating numerous problems of maintenance and movement particularly during wartime black-out. The working conditions always left much to be desired but they did not deter the 500 civilian staff from producing and sustaining a very high standard comparable with that of depots possessing better facilities.
A casualty of the Army’s occupation was part of the Coppice Lodge buildings at what had been one of the circuit’s main entrances. It was baronial in style with a stone archway connecting to the turreted lodge itself. Tall solid gates, in studded wood, filled the archway. The gates were removed and the archway was demolished to allow easier access for the military vehicles. John Gillies Shields was now 82 years of age and he had spent every day of almost 60 years of his life dedicated to the Donington Park estate and its magnificent Hall, so it must have been devastating for him to find that the place was to be desecrated in such a manner. Major Leslie Rosher, the last Commanding Officer, explains how Donington Park came to be taken over by the Army. ‘By the summer of 1940 it had become apparent that the only practicable way of storing and handling the ever-increasing stocks of vehicles was in the open. The late Major Harry Johnson who commanded Old Dalby, which was then a Vehicle Depot, was charged with the task of finding suitable open storage. Donington Park Motor Racing Track was selected as suitable and it became the first wartime Vehicle Depot, being taken over by Major Johnson in December 1940. Its well-wooded parks intersected by extensive roads provided good camouflaged standings for vehicles, and easy access to main arteries. ‘Before Donington Park could function as a Vehicle Depot a considerable amount of work had to be done in clearing away antiinvasion devices, such as trees felled across roads and pedes of considerable size which had been driven like piles into the open fields to prevent glider landings. The first vehicles for storage consisted of 12 scout cars and these were received in December 1940 into what was then known as VRS (Vehicle Reserve Storage) Sub-Depot.
‘BE A CREDIT TO YOUR CORPS AT ALL TIMES’, possibly because the Nag’s Head pub lies just down the road!
This is all that now remains of the original gateway. 31
Richard Seaman’s Mercedes-Benz drifting through the gateway at Holly Wood, since re-named Craner Curves in Fred’s honour.
existed. It has been VRS Sub-Depot, 29 VRD (Vehicle Reserve Depot), and in 1949 became 71 BVD (Base Vehicle Depot) under 7 Vehicle Group, the HQ of which was also situated there. The holdings until 1949 were “fit” stocks, after which its role changed to that of an “unfit” depot. ‘A Driving and Maintenance School, under Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald Atwill, RASC, was also housed here during the war from which many RAOC officers, rank and file and ATS graduated as proficient drivers. ‘With the end of the war there was little respite, and rumours of closure in 1950 were soon dispelled due to the outbreak of the Korean War. The depot was kept working to its steadily falling capacity right to the end. The run-down took place over a period of 12 months thanks to the civilian staff, who with sad hearts ensured that this final phase concluded smoothly. On July 31, 1956, the last WD vehicle moved out of 71 “B” Vehicle Depot, Castle Donington, 16 years after it had been taken over by the War Department.
‘During the first few months the depot was staffed by key civilians detached from Chilwell Depot and supplemented by locally recruited labour. Camps were rapidly constructed in the vicinity of Donington Hall, housing 400 Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) rank and file and a number of ATS personnel. Throughout the war the depot was predominantly military, but by 1947, following the run-down of the Army, it was completely civilianised, with the exception of military officers. The civilian staff covered a wide bracket of ages from 17 to 70 and included 80 Poles, recruited after the termination of the war. ‘Castle Donington changed its name several times during the 16 years that it
Right: The comparison shows an armybuilt road leading off to the right. The skull and crossbones sign advises a ten mile per hour speed limit, and another reads: ‘BLIND CORNER SOUND YOUR HORN’.
The view looking from the gateway with a Ford WOT6 3-tonner approaching. On the right stands a row of Austin 32
K6 6×4 gantry trucks. The sign in the distance warns drivers: ‘DANGER BEWARE VEHICLES LEAVING WASH’.
A Mercedes-Benz on the fast downhill stretch, where the ‘Silver Arrows’ touched 170mph, from Coppice to the 30mph Melbourne Hairpin. on and very enjoyable. The basis of my daily life there was very busy and fairly routine as I was involved in the recording and categorising of every vehicle, and keeping track of their progress until they were ready for despatch elsewhere. It was a treat to see them properly cared for. Morale was high, and I remember we all got on very well with Mr Shields and his wife and other members of the family. The civilian Social Club was permitted to use the ballroom at Donington Hall for dancing, etc; great morale-boosting occasions. It was a worthwhile job and an exciting experience; I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Donington Park is a place of
sheer natural beauty, enhanced by beautiful trees, woodlands and of course the herd of red deer . . . in season game shooting was excellent. ‘We had a bit of fun too. I remember at weekends we’d drive around the race circuit in whatever we fancied, maybe a Jeep, and on occasion, when no-one was looking, we took out a massive Thornycroft Mighty Antar articulated transporter in which I remember doing an awesome double declutch approaching Melbourne Hairpin, holding my breath round the bend, then up the hill, a nifty change up to second, and huge relief on turning left at Red Gate.’
‘There was still much evidence of the Army’s occupation in the form of empty buildings and offices, vehicle tracks across grassland, makeshift hard-standings and patches of concrete looking as though they had been splashed here and there by a giant mixer on its way to a more important job. Donington Park wore an air of majestic solitude. The herd of deer roamed undisturbed at will over the 800 acres. The Hall itself with its 100 rooms had a hollow emptiness probably for the first time in its 200 years of life, having been used as a camp for German officer POWs during the First World War, and as an Officers’ Mess, Sergeants’ Mess, recreation rooms and offices during the last war.’ Whilst the Army retained their presence, it was a predominantly civilian team who were involved with the decommissioning of vehicles and the eventual gradual run-down of activities at Donington, headed by several officers. One of these was Bob Ellis. Initially a 15-year-old cadet glider pilot who went on to pilot Short Sunderland flying boats on the Atlantic patrols, Bob was by now a Captain in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He was transferred to Donington Park in 1954 to take up the role of Parks Officer. He was provided with living quarters in the Officers’ Mess within Donington Hall and was one of five officers who were responsible for the care and maintenance of many thousands of military vehicles that were held in the Park grounds. Bob and his colleagues, supported by the 800 loyal and hard-working civilian staff, continued to receive a variety of Jeeps and trucks from military bases around the UK and worldwide as Donington remained a designated Returned Vehicles Depot (RVD) long after the war ended. ‘I loved the place’, said Bob. ‘It was a very important business and we were very proud of what we were doing. It was full time, full
The REME constructed these workshops that later became the Donington Exhibition Centre when the circuit re-opened in 1977. As Starkey’s Straight would have effectively swept in
front of the building and through the service compound, John has superimposed the car on the same piece of the original track tarmac that still survives. 33
Today this is called the Old Hairpin, re-profiled with an earlier entry point. stalwart and Fred Craner lost his partner pioneer. Donington Hall and Park were passed on in trust to his grandson, Major John Gillies Shields. However, the war still had several years to run, he was serving his country in foreign parts with the 5th Battalion of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment and the Hall had no obvious source of income. The odds were stacked against the Major. With no capital, a mortgage of £50,000 and
no relevant business experience, it was a massive challenge for him to allocate the appropriate commitment to the Hall and Park, both physically and financially, whilst he remained thousands of miles away. Nonetheless, his passion for Donington mirrored that of his grandfather and he remained committed to the return of racing and to making the place prosperous and profitable once again.
‘A constant stream of vehicles arrived on a daily basis and were decommissioned by removing items such as spare wheels and tool kits, and all fuel was drained. If they were to be stored long term they were parked up on axle stands on selected hard standing surfaces or on the parkland. Scheduled maintenance, de-rusting and the application of red lead paint was carried out, either on-site or in custom-built sheds. As well as the custodianship of the military vehicles the team also looked after Donington’s 300-strong herd of red deer, which were often rescued from entanglements with barbed wire that still remained from the war years. ‘Donington had its own transport fleet for the specific purpose of delivering vehicles to various UK commercial firms for repair, or to Ruddington, near Nottingham, for sale by auction. Selected specialist and technical vehicles were routed to on-site workshops near the pre-war pit lane, which were staffed by qualified civilians and commanded by a Major of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). Group Commander of Operations (which included the aerodrome at Silverstone) was LieutenantColonel Geoff Marks. His office was near the Coppice Lodge entrance, whilst he occupied living quarters with his family at the rear of Donington Hall, another officer and family residing at Red Gate Lodge.’ With John Gillies Shields’ death in May 1943 Donington lost a fundamental driving force, the local community lost a committed
line-up consists primarily of more Austin K6 6×4 gantry trucks, some with the gantry extended over the cab.
Looking down from the early 1930s start line towards Hairpin Bend. The grandstand can be seen on the right. The vehicle
Left: The Austin 18 is parked on the outside of Hairpin Bend. From 1931 to 1935 the paddock was situated between the 34
two oak trees at the far end of the row of lorries on the right. Right: The sweeping curves of the re-aligned Craners today.
This is the Melbourne Hairpin with, on the left, a group of AEC Matador Medium Artillery Tractors. Also possibly a Leyland Retriever or Hippo Mk1. The first group of trucks on the right of
such a facility, the cost of relocating being prohibitive. Even though the Army remained entrenched at Donington and with no immediate sign of them leaving, many efforts were made to reinstate racing. Fred Craner held discussions with the War Office but his attempts were continually being thwarted. Earl Howe too was a foremost campaigner in his capacity as chairman of the RAC Competitions Committee, president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club and member of the House of Lords. He conducted discussions with a number of Government departments, continually promoting Donington’s potential as a valuable asset to the country’s motoring and motor sporting prestige. Several options were considered and together with Lord Nathan, the Under-Secretary to the War Office, Howe was to visit Donington Park to consider the idea that perhaps it could become a shared facility, both for motor sport and as a military vehicle park. Captain Charles Frederick Shields played a central role in these discussions. He held
the interests of his family very much at heart, particularly whilst his nephew Major Gillies Shields was serving his country abroad. He recognised and encouraged the enthusiasm of Fred Craner but was keen to exercise caution, making it clear that he did not wish the family to become directly involved in the management of a racetrack, should racing indeed ever return. Craner had no obvious financial backing and the Army provided the trustees with significant rental income. Release of the estate from the Army was needed but Shields wanted to avoid the family being exposed with no obvious purchaser being immediately apparent. On November 29, 1945, Earl Howe led a deputation to the War Office, Fred Craner stating, rather rashly, that if they left by Christmas it would be possible to resume racing at Easter the following year. Following these discussions, Howe submitted a compromise proposal that would have allowed the Army to retain a presence whilst the circuit would be used for testing.
He did not return to the UK until 1947 and then went back to serve in East Africa, finally returning in 1954. His war service had seen him escape from Norway on a Swedish ship via Finland and the Shetland Isles. He served in Abyssinia and Rhodesia, was invalided out of Burma having suffered from double malaria and was then recruited by Unilever for the Ground Nut Scheme in Tanganyika for the development of vegetable oil as Britain was still under rationing and short of cooking fats. The Major was chosen because he was fluent in two African languages, Swahil and Chinianga. It would be reasonable to assume that the cessation of hostilities in 1945 would beckon a period of optimism when Donington Park’s rapid pre-war development would resume and progress could be made to ever greater achievements but, in an echo of the situation at the end of the First World War, the Army was reluctant to move out. Donington Park had become well established as a massive military vehicle base and the Army now considered it to be the best site in the UK for
the track appear to be Thornycroft 3-tonners with an Austin K2/Y ambulance in the distance. The car driving on the road looks like an Austin Tilly.
The original pre-war Melbourne Hairpin remains to this day, although it is no longer a part of the active modern-day circuit. 35
The Melbourne Loop, as it is called, crammed with surplus stock. The first group of vehicles on the left with the large brush guards appear to be GMC AFWX-354 2½-ton trucks with a couple of Studebaker US6 2½-tonners between them. Further down the road are a mixture of Diamond T 6×6 trucks, probably the 980 and 981 prime mover. Over on the right-hand
Geoffrey Cooper, Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough and a keen motor racing enthusiast, entered the fray. He had already made representations to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of War, Captain Frederick Bellinger, with the backing of Middlesbrough and District Motor Club, one of the longest established motor clubs in the UK. Wishing to make further progress he approached Craner stating that he could lobby the support of a number of his MP colleagues with a view to presenting a convincing case to the Government. This would be the most-serious approach to date. The deputation would comprise representatives from the RAC, ACU, the Derby & District Motor Club, the Middlesbrough club, the British Motorcycle Manufacturers and Traders Association, the executors of the Donington Park estate, members of the Shields family, Major Arthur Hazlerigg of estate agents John German and Son, Fred Craner and Wing Commander Cooper himself. Sadly, all these approaches came to nothing. Captain Shields remained convinced that the War Office would not relinquish the Park in the foreseeable future and he could see that an attractive rental income was received from them. He could also see that the continual efforts of the motor sport lobby were making it obvious that Donington carried asset value to the country as a motor sporting venue. What was required was a balance between these conflicting elements.
Shields’ fears were reinforced when in November 1947 Earl Howe once more asked the War Minister for a date of de-requisition but was bluntly told that Donington was ‘the Army’s best and main Vehicle Reserve Depot in the United Kingdom’. The pro-racing lobby continued undeterred although some proposals perhaps reflected their increasing desperation, one idea being to transfer the army equipment and personnel to the three miles of runways at the airport and share the circuit between racing and the grazing of cattle. Then, in April 1948, Raymond Mays made a lone approach, stating: ‘Everybody interested in motor racing should do everything within their power to recover Donington Park as a racetrack’. Craner remained determined, making it clear that he would not be governed by ‘military dictators’. He even approached the Common, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society because, as part of the War Office plans to make Donington a permanent base, they wished to close the footpath from Donington to Melbourne village. The Society objected to that and so Fred sided with them. It was May 1948 when Craner wrote one of his final letters. He stressed Donington’s value as a venue for motor sport activities and for high-speed and endurance testing by the motor industry and the fact that it ‘maintained an international reputation, upholding
KEVIN WHEATCROFT ARCHIVE
He argued that at this time the country did not possess a venue where manufacturers could test cars and motorcycles in order to compete with increased competition from abroad. Further talks were then held with the Board of Trade and the Motor Industry Research Association, whom the Army allowed to survey the estate, but an agreement could not be reached. At the peak of Army occupation during the war years around 15,000 vehicles were in store at Donington at any one time, lined up alongside and within the circuit boundaries and on many acres of the surrounding agricultural land; hardly a blade of grass could be seen for the serried ranks of military metal. In total it is possible that well over 60,000 vehicles passed through Donington’s facilities. In 1946 it was reported that 8,718 vehicles remained laid up there. In September 1946 a proposal to develop a circuit at the nearby Castle Donington aerodrome (now East Midlands Airport) was considered. The local parish and district councils were generally supportive although some concern was expressed at the loss of employment if the Army closed down its operations. There were also worries about noise and traffic congestion and the aspect of post-war petrol rationing also hampered negotiations. A further approach then materialised from an unlikely source when Wing Commander
side of the road, some Bedford QL 3-ton 4×4 lorries. Much of what we see here would have been auctioned at the Ordnance Storage and Disposal Depot at Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, that was closed in June 1983. In the early days, five big lorries would go for £100 and two Ford 15-cwts could be bought for £25. (For more see Wheels & Tracks issue No. 5.)
After more than 16 years in occupation, the army finally left Donington Park in 1956. Another of John Bailie’s nostalgic comparisons, showing a 1938 Grand Prix Mercedes passing the 36
former army workshops, and the now demolished Redgate Lodge. At this point, the pre-war circuit crossed the current race paddock.
The Coppice Lodge entrance to the track as it looked before the war with the stone archway intact. the national prestige in every country in the world’. Donington was ‘the finest-organised race circuit in the country, which had an international reputation for being one of the finest on the international calendar’. His final point was that it would be sensible for the Army to relocate to the nearby Donington-Diseworth aerodrome with its miles of flat and vacant runways. Fred’s observation was that the buildings erected by the War Office were of a temporary nature and could easily be removed, each pillar being attached to a 6ft 6in square steel plate. Mr Craner could never be accused of being short on stubborn determination and persistence! In July 1948 a final rebuttal was issued by the War Office in the form of an official communication on the instructions of Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, which stated that there were other locations in the UK suitable for motor sport and that, with £350,000
already expended at Donington on buildings, hard standing and internal access roads, together with petrol, water and fire installations, transfer to another location would involve further expense to be borne by the taxpayer. Indeed, the Army had plans to erect even more buildings. Nevertheless efforts to save Donington continued unabated and in April 1949, Reg Parnell led a ‘Give us Donington’ campaign but in spite of the calibre of the team, this attempt also failed. It was only during these latter years that the number of vehicles in storage was significantly reduced, the War Office finally relinquishing its occupation of the Hall and Park in July 1956. That same year, Ian Preston, a student at Nottingham School of Architecture, chose as the subject for his thesis ‘A National Motor Racing Circuit at Doning-
ton Park’. Inspecting the estate, he found that Major Shields’ main source of income was raising the huge swathes of Sommerfeld Tracking left behind by the Army and selling it for scrap. Ian wrote that ‘the circuit has been very badly worn by heavy traffic, especially the downward slope to Melbourne Corner, which was used by the Army for brake testing. Also, while the circuit itself has not been built on, some WD permanent buildings have been erected alongside the track but will have to be removed.’ Yet it was not until one afternoon in 1971 that a successful builder, Tom Wheatcroft, was on a Sunday drive to show his teenage son Kevin the derelict circuit. Kevin remembers they drove through the Coppice entrance with its turreted tower. ‘We met two ladies on horseback and they told us that we shouldn’t be there unless we were interested in buying the place. That was the instant that my father’s fertile imagination stepped up several gears. “Well, is it for sale?”, he asked. When we got home, Dad couldn’t stop talking about what we had seen. “I’ll have that”, he said . . . and he did!’ By May 1977 planning issues had been resolved and permissions granted, the first race meeting of modern times taking place on Saturday, May 28. The meeting was sponsored by the local Else Motor Group whose chairman wrote in the programme: ‘Tom Wheatcroft looks on Donington as “The People’s Circuit” and I am sure his enthusiasm will ensure it remains.’ This article is abridged from John Bailie’s definitive history, Donington Park: The Pioneers, published by Silver Fox Creative Ltd. (www.silverfox-creative.com). Beautifully illustrated, with 348 large-format pages and 450 images including unique ‘then and now’ comparisons, the book is also available from: www.charters.co.uk, www.hortonsbooks.co.uk and www.shop.motorsportmagazine.com. The author would also welcome direct enquiries: email: [email protected]
This picture was taken on the day the army finally left Donington Park in 1956.
From the Editor . . .
relevance had been lost until Jean Paul Pallud began researching the details of Hitler’s tour of the Western Front for After the Battle No. 117. After following up several false leads, he finally found the correct bunker in 2001. Then, it was still filled with earth, but now that has been removed and piled outside, with grills fitted over the openings to prevent entry.
In May 2019, Winston revisited Fromelles (see issue 150) to walk over the battlefield of July 1916 with his son Gordon and grandson Christopher. However, Winston was dismayed to find that an information board,
which has now been erected alongside the German bunker visited by Hitler in June 1940, makes no mention of its historical significance. Hitler’s personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann was present to record the precise moment when Hitler and his wartime comrades found the bunker still standing. From the photos it was obvious that they were very familiar with it, but its
Although the local authorities publicise the site as ‘Le bunker de L’Abbiette’ they have chosen to eliminate any reference to
Hitler even though he served for 18 months at Fromelles as a member of the List Regiment.
Lars Gyllenhaal was only a schoolboy when he picked up a copy of issue 44 in a Stockholm bookshop. The cover photograph of an abandoned vehicle from the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) fired Lars’ abiding interest in the Sccond World War, even though Sweden was nominally neutral. (Some 1,500 Swedish volunteers served in US uniform and several hundred in the British armed forces.) Years later, having served as a tanker, journalist and author, Lars contributed an article to After the Battle on Relics of War along the Barents Road (see issue 136). Now, in conjunction with Karl-Gunnar Norén, his latest book, The Long Range Desert Group History & Legacy, features a detailed history of the exploits of the LRDG with a special chapter describing an attempt by him and other enthusiasts to replicate a journey of over 3,500 kilometres across the desert in two authentic World War II Jeeps, following in the tracks of the LRDG’s Ghost Patrol. Illustrated with numerous photographs, the book is available from Helion & Company (www.helion.co.uk). 38
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Essex lies the mouldering remains of Prisoner of War Camp 116 at High Hall. Located off Mill Lane at Hatfield Heath to house Italian and German prisoners, it has remained virtually intact since it was built in 1941 but in 2018 it became the subject of a controversial proposal to demolish it to build an estate of luxury homes. Developer Pelham Structures Limited sought permission from Uttlesford District Council to demolish all but seven of the structures on the site and build 25 homes. Bill Bampton, director of the company, said that ‘the former POW camp was constructed as temporary buildings in 1941-42, part wooden huts and part prefabricated concrete-framed huts. The camp was decommissioned in 1955. The timber frames have mostly rotted away and the concrete frames are structurally unsound due to corrosion of the reinforcing bars, they are beyond saving. I have invited the local historical group to record the current condition and agreed to erect a permanent display to inform future generations of the site’s history.’
Former POW Camp 116 is situated on private land at the end of Mill Lane.
The proposals were met with objections from residents, including members of the village history society. Local campaigner Jim Bradley declared that ‘the camp should not be demolished under any circumstances. It has been a part of the village history since being built in 1941 and it is of great local historical importance and part of Britain’s heritage.’ Following a planning committee meeting in February 2019, the decision as to whether permission should be granted was deferred. The camp was claimed to be the only one of its kind in Essex, with 43 surviving structures including shower cubicles and huts which would have served as dormitories and canteens for prisoners.
The motion to defer was passed with councillors asking the developer to return with more information about the access to the site and what would happen to the restored buildings. According to planning documents, Pelham Structures said that they hoped to restore seven of the buildings and use them as offices and a gym, as well as providing a ‘flexible space that can be used as a museum on specified days’. It was understood that the largest hut, which contains graffiti believed to be the work of prisoners, would be used for the museum display. A spokesman for the Hatfield Regis Local History Society told the committee: ‘It is our belief that, far from being demolished in the near future and housing built, it should be
retained as a museum.’ The demolition of the bulk of the camp would be ‘wholly regrettable’ and, according to a conservation officer who surveyed the site he called the camp a ‘tangible reminder of the Second World War, and how this affected people at a local level’. However, the officer added: ‘On balance, the scheme represents a unique opportunity to integrate part of our heritage with the current need for housing in a manner which facilitate the preservation of part of this important site.’ A council spokesman said, ‘At the recent cabinet meeting the decision was taken to reject the nomination to list POW Camp 116 as an asset of community value as it did not meet the appropriate criteria.’
The loss of iconic buildings that were historically connected with Normandy and D-Day is always regrettable, even more so when it occurs just before a significant anniversary. Such was the case when Gary Skinner visited Bénouville and Ranville for the 75th anniversary only to find that a house that had played a vital role in the defence of Pegasus Bridge was no longer there. On returning home he dug deeper and found that historian Neil Barber had captured the demolition on camera. Neil wrote on his website that ‘anyone visiting Pegasus Bridge will no doubt be aware of the corner house at the point of the crossroads (formerly the T-Junction) of the old Caen—Ouistreham road. This distinctive building, known as the “Morin House”, had been derelict for many years, and sadly, was demolished in May. ‘The house played a vital role in the defence of Pegasus Bridge on D-Day. A four-man Forward Observation Bombardment Team, comprising Captain Francis Vere Hodge, Wilf Fortune, Ted Eley and Alex Boomer actually took up position upstairs, as it provided the best view of the countryside to the west. They had the ability to call in support fire from warships offshore. ‘Wilf Fortune recalled: “Alec was trying to get a ship attached by radio and Vere was scanning the area when he saw some Germans coming into view over this sloping cornfield to the south-west. He called
me to have a look. ‘They’re riding little motorbikes’, I said to him. He agreed, it looked like that, but soon you could see they were running. Captain Hodge then
Then in Britain it was announced that the Finchatton property group had demolished General Eisenhower’s London office that 40
sent Ted and me back to the platoon to which these Germans were heading, to warn them. He was also afraid of the OP being overrun.”’
lay on the first floor (US second floor) of No. 20 Grosvenor Square and replaced it behind the façade with a luxury apartment.
Due to the American influence, Grosvenor Square became known as ‘Little America’, even being dubbed ‘Eisenhower Platz’, but the sale of No. 20 on the northern side of the square, coupled with the relocation of the United States Embassy on the western side, terminated this association when it was In December 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the C-in-C of Allied Forces in the Mediterranean, was advised by President Roosevelt that he was to be appointed chief of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), with orders to enter the Continent and liberate Europe from German occupation. The following month Eisenhower arrived in Britain, his appointment being announced on Sunday, January 16. He based himself in his old office on the second floor in No. 20 Grosvenor Square which he had occupied during the planning for Operation ‘Torch’, the
relocated to a new site at Nine Elms, south of the river. The building was sold for conversion into the Rosewood Hotel, while the pre-war US Embassy building in the south-eastern corner (later the Canadian Embassy) was also being redeveloped. We visited the square in August 2019.
invasion of North Africa. He was introduced to the Press there on the following Tuesday. After the war, the United States Navy continued to use the building as its headquarters for United States Naval Forces Europe, a Blue Plaque recording its tenure by Eisenhower whose statue by Robert Lee Dean was added outside the US Embassy on the opposite corner, facing his old office, in January 1989. In 1994, we obtained permission to track down the location of Eisenhower’s office within the building, which we found was then very appropriately being used to plan
arrangements for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The US Navy quit No. 20 in 2009 and three years later it was bought by Andrew Dunn and Alex Michelin of the Finchatton group for £15 million. Planning permission was obtained to demolish the building behind the façade and construct luxury apartments covering an area of 250,000 sq ft. Just prior to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Four Seasons hotel group announced that prices of the apartments ranged from £17 million to £38 million with Apartment 101, occupying Eisenhower’s office, being available for £36.5 million.
The prison in the German town of Hameln served as a normal jail for most of its existence. However, during the Nazi era, like most other jails in Germany, it saw its customary population of inmates — criminals and crooks — increasingly replaced by altogether different categories of captives: political opponents to the regime, persecuted Jews and homosexuals and, from 1939 onwards, foreign resistance fighters. As the war progressed, the prison regime became more brutal and sanitary conditions inside worsened,
leading to the death of nearly 350 inmates. After the war, the prison gained an exceptional position when it became the only site in the British Zone of Occupation where German war criminals sentenced to death by British tribunals were hanged, a total of 202 persons being executed there between December 1945 and December 1949. Located on the banks of the Weser river, the prison complex lay just outside the Old City and immediately south of the road bridge, which is just off the picture to the left.
EXECUTIONS AT HAMELN PRISON Hameln (Hamelin in English) is a small town on the Weser river located 40 kilometres south-west of Hannover in the state of Lower Saxony in north-west Germany. Known the world over for the tale of the Pied Piper, during the Nazi era it was perhaps primarily known for its proximity to the Bückeberg, the site of the Reichserntedankfest (Reich Harvest Thanksgiving Festival) held annually between 1933 and 1937 (see After the Battle No. 160). However, Hameln is also a town with a prison that has an exceptional place in the history of the Second World War and its aftermath. The origins of Hameln Prison go back a long way. The first detention compound, the so-called Stockhof, was founded in 1698. For sanitary reasons it was constructed directly on the banks of the Weser river. Under military administration, its prisoners performed heavy labour ten hours a day, being put to work in the construction of Hameln’s elaborate fortifications. The detainees, who wore leg chains weighing four pounds, were ‘kept’ under the simplest conditions to create a deterrent effect. In 1827, construction started of a new prison complex, which was gradually expanded and ultimately had a capacity for 350 prisoners. The main building (Hauptgebäude) was a three-storey block, almost 50 metres wide, with two mighty entrance doors, containing large workrooms and dormitories for a total of 250 convicts. The idea was to educate the inmates through regular work. In 1830 two smaller wings were added, 42
housing the Verwaltung (prison administration) and Lazarett (prison hospital) respectively. In 1834, a gate and guardhouse (TorGebäude) was erected. With its pillars in the driveway, it formed an imposing entrance to the prison compound. In 183841, the government added two three-storey wings to the south, which became known as the Westflügel (West Wing) and Ostflügel (East Wing). They contained mainly dormitories, but also tiny sleeping cells, used for enhanced punishment. In 1841, a prison church was added behind the two wings and parallel to the main building, thus forming an inner courtyard. An unpretentious construction, it also served as a school. In 186466 yet another cell block (Zellenflügel) was added, this one a sober functional building modelled on Anglo-American prison architecture. It consisted of 92 single cells, which were arranged on the side of corridors, exposed to daylight from above that passed through all floors, as well as workrooms and workshops. The cells were equipped with running water, heating and toilets, and the detainees were kept in solitary confinement day and night. In 1866, Prussia took possession of the Kingdom of Hannover, and Hameln Prison came under Prussian rule. Re-designated a Königlich-Preussisches Bezirks-Gefängnis (Royal Prussian District Prison), it was turned into a closed institution with an organisational model based on the army. A strictlyregulated daily routine and meticulous rules
By Bernhard Gelderblom of conduct were introduced, designed to transform the prisoners into ‘docile bodies’. Inmates had to stand to attention whenever they were approached by officials. Wardens, most of whom had previously served as soldiers, were dressed in military-style uniforms. Prerequisites for employment as warden were elementary education, an impeccable certificate of good conduct and a strong physique. The Prussian era also brought progress in hygiene and nutrition and the progressive prohibition of corporal punishment. With the end of the German empire after the First World War, the jail system in Germany was reformed. In the Weimar Republic, the principle of ‘re-socialisation’ or rehabilitation was incorporated into the prison programme. Prisoners were to be treated humanely and be so fortified by the detention that they would not relapse again. Flogging and particularly cruel disciplinary punishments, such as ‘dark’ arrest (incarceration with no light), were abol ished. Prisoners were given the right to complain and, if under 30 years of age, receive training and education. However, in the everyday life of the institution, little changed. Instead, there was a high degree of continuity with the Imperial era because a large proportion of the officials rejected the implementation of the reforms.
The original prison, known as the Stockhof and dating from the late 17th century, also stood on the banks of the Weser but a little more downstream, to the north of the road bridge. Starting in 1827, an entirely new prison complex was built further south, making the old facility redundant. This picture of the main Stockhof building was taken in the 1880s, just before it was pulled down.
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Prison staff did not carry out scientific criminal-biological investigations but even without them, they made statements about
The newly-built detention complex became a Royal Prussian District Prison in 1866. This is how it looked during the Nazi era. Visible (L-R) are the Main Building, West Wing, East Wing, Prison Church and Cell Block.
HAMELN PRISON IN THE NAZI PERIOD In the Nazi era, the prison reforms introduced during the Weimar Republic were abolished. Imprisonment should again have the character of a punishment and be experienced as a tangible evil. Instead of aiming to ‘educate and improve’, a jail sentence should emphasise discipline, expiation and deterrence. In practice however, conditions for the inmates worsened primarily by overcrowding, cuts in the budgets for care and food, and an increase in labour. New criminal laws and stricter interpretation of the law meant that the length of the penalties imposed increased sharply after 1933. This brought with it a greater need for Zuchthäuser. (The difference between a Gefängnis (prison) and a Zuchthaus (penitentiary) in Germany was that a Zuchthaus was reserved for people with sentences of more than two years.) For the penitentiaries, a new element was introduced. As Hans Frank, President of the Academy of German Law, formulated it in 1937: ‘The execution of sentences in the National Socialist state will be strict and just, but in accordance with the conscience of the people. It divides itself into three big areas: annihilation of the common criminal, punishment of the offender, and education of the one capable of improvement.’ The penal system should contribute to the ‘protection of the Volksgemeinschaft (national community)’ and be made ‘an effective weapon of the state in the fight against criminal Volksschädlinge (public pests)’. ‘Destruction of the common criminal’ moved the penitentiaries close to the concentration camps. The racial-hygienic ideas of the National Socialists found their way into the prison system. The penitentiaries, being facilities where prisoners stayed for at least two years, provided ample opportunity to test a criminal’s dangerousness. Because criminality was seen as hereditary, the idea of ‘selection’ was crucial. The identification and documentation of ‘Dauerschädlinge’ (chronic dangerous persons) became a task of the prison authorities. Prison staff were to carry out a ‘selection’ of ‘hereditary long-term pests’ and so contribute to the preservation of the ‘good breed’; to the ‘uplifting’ of the German ‘Volkskörper’ (people’s body) as well as to the ‘eradication’ of crime and anti-social behaviour. A criminal considered dangerous for the public good was to be excised from the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’.
the supposed ‘value’ of prisoners by including such qualifications in their dismissal reports, advocating transfers to concentration camps, and in some cases also ordering sterilisations and even castrations. With the large-scale Nazi persecution of communists and social democrats from 1933 onwards, a whole new prisoner category was opened up and more penitentiaries were needed. In Hameln this led to the facility being re-designated from prison to penitentiary, and to a complete exchange of its inmates on November 1, 1935. Between that date and 1939, 70 per cent of the prison population consisted of political prisoners, the rest being made up of petty criminals and small groups of Jews and homosexuals. With the outbreak of war in September 1939, a new category of convicts began arriving, so-called Kriegstäter (offenders against war regulations), sentenced for such crimes as listening to foreign broadcasts (‘Rundfunk-Verbrecher’ — radio criminals) or slaughtering for private or black market use. Starting in 1942, numerous foreign resistance fighters from the occupied countries in the West were also incarcerated at Hameln — in all, between 1942 and 1945, there were 500 from France, 442 from Belgium, 316 from Holland and 69 from Luxembourg. In August 1938, the long-time prison director, Dr Karl Engelhardt, who was not a Nazi, was succeeded by Regierungsrat Siegfried Stöhr, who was a member of the SS. The 80strong prison staff, who essentially came from the Kaiser era, were politically conservative,
Today, only the Main Building on the left remains, all of the other structures having been pulled down in 1986. 43
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Plan of the prison as it was during the Third Reich. The main buildings are: Tor-Gebäude (Gate Building); Lazarett (Hospital); Verwaltungsgebäude (Administrative Building); Hauptgebäude (Main Building); Westflügel (West Wing); German-nationalist and in general positively inclined towards Nazi ideology. Imprisonment was based on military discipline, and therefore arbitrariness and ill-treatment of detainees was initially not on the agenda. Hameln Prison was regarded as a rather mild institution for the prisoners, partly because Hameln retained the old staff. However, with the beginning of the war the composition of the prison personnel changed. The warden staff was augmented with Hilfs-Aufseher (auxiliary overseers) which included not only SA men but also soldiers no longer suited for front-line service, many of them fanatical Nazis, often brutal and unscrupulous. Such brutalisation had long been part of everyday life in the socalled Emsland-Lager, the correctional camps set up in the harsh and swampy Emsland district on Germany’s western border, but through the exchange of security guards and in the course of the war, the violence also spread to Hameln. With an average of 500-600 inmates, Hameln was one of the medium-sized jails in Germany. There were various kinds of cells: the normal single cell (measuring four by two-and-a-half metres) in the cell block; the tiny sleeping cells in the West and East Wings, and the shared cells with multiple bunk-beds for up to 40 people in the old building. Until 1944 hygiene was generally in order, but later on the inmates suffered increasingly from bugs and fleas, scabies and tuberculosis. Political prisoners were especially targeted for solitary confinement, some of them having to endure this great psychological burden for as long as three to four years. The ‘politi44
Ostflügel (East Wing); Küche (Kitchen); Wirtschaftsgebäude (Equipment Building); Kirche (Church); Zellenflügel (Cell Block); Bäckerei (Bakery); Betrieb (Workshop); Lager (Storage); Schlosserei (Metal Workshop).
cals’ found relief in the solidarity they cultivated among each other. The old antagonism between social democrats and communists, parties that had fought each other furiously before 1933, played no role in prison. They helped each other to obtain positions as functionaries, which the prison authorities welcomed because they were considered incorruptible. In the pre-war period, the majority of the prisoners was put to work on monotonous jobs, such as the gluing of bags. Increasingly, Arbeits-Kommandos (work details) comprising 15 to 20 men were sent to labour tasks outside the prison, to do harvest work, but also to work in quarries or build railway tracks. They earned three marks per man per day for the penitentiary. With the start of the war, the working day was extended to 12 hours, and refusal to work punished severely. If at all possible, prisoners had to do work that was ‘Kriegswichtig’ (important to the war effort), for example weaving shell-baskets. Increasingly labour details went to the Hameln armaments factories, which included the Concordia iron-foundry; the Kaminski waggon factory; the Mertens carpet-weaving factory, which manufactured aircraft parts, and Hameln’s largest armaments works, the Domag metalworks, which produced undercarriages for Messerschmitt fighters, aircraft engine components and artillery shells. The prison authorities were under pressure to counter the criticism that, while ‘German men’ died at the front, they were preserving and feeding the criminals. High workloads and poor diets resulted in the prisoners being consumed by work.
In January 1944, the Reich Ministry of Justice announced the ‘total war effort of the prisoners of justice’. Thereupon, the director of Hameln Prison, Siegfried Stöhr, declared his facility an armament works. For the inmates it meant a ban on visiting and writing letters. All through the Nazi period, the judiciary handed over prisoners to the police and the Gestapo and thus to the concentration camps. Already in 1933, the Ministries of Justice of the German Länder (provinces) instructed detention centres to inform the police about the imminent discharge of political, homosexual and Jewish prisoners. The decision whether a prisoner, after serving his sentence, was to be released or transferred to a concentration camp was up to the Gestapo. However, in its decision, the Gestapo relied mainly on the dismissal reports from the prison, the writing of which at Hameln was the responsibility of the facility’s Oberlehrer (Chief Teacher), Karl Ostermeyer. In order to get a positive assessment, it was important that a prisoner made a confession of guilt. Political prisoners were to renounce their anti-state activities. ‘Repentance and insight’ were vital. Conversely, officials reacted sensitively when a prisoner considered his deeds minor. Multiple convictions were an indication that a detainee was unable to improve. In the case of political or homosexual prisoners, the Hameln jail staff sometimes provided quite differentiated assessments, for example in this form: Prisoner X ‘has embraced the Nazi view of life, is impressed by the deterrent effect of his punishment and has behaved well’. In most cases, however,
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Prison Director Dr Karl Engelhardt (front row, centre) posing with the staff and personnel of the facility in front of the Main Building. Most of the wardens held either the rank of Wachtmeister (sergeant) or Oberwachtmeister (sergeant-major).
the institution’s recommendation for political prisoners and homosexuals was to not release them but to hand them over to the Gestapo. This usually meant transfer to a concentration camp. Although Jews were always only a small minority in prisons (in Hameln between 1936 and 1945 there were only 88), their treatment employed the administration very strongly. In July 1937, the physical separation of Jewish prisoners from other inmates was ordered and wearing the Star of David became mandatory. Like the population as a whole, many of the prison staff were latently or openly anti-Semitic and wardens are known to have harassed, insulted and beaten prisoners. The assessments of Jewish prisoners also showed a profound anti-Semitic attitude, always turning out negative. Even impeccable behaviour could be interpreted as typical of the ‘racial peculiarity’ of the Jews. As one assessment put it: ‘His behaviour is immaculate, he willingly complies with the house rules. There is no trace of regret and desire to be bettered, he is still denying having made a punishable offense. A true Jew who does everything with subterfuge.’ Another report said: ‘Prisoner is a degenerate, dirty Eastern Jew of the worst character.’ Yet another: ‘He is a typically Jewish criminal sort.’ Between 1939 and 1942, Hameln prison handed over 38 Jewish prisoners to the police. Of these, 22 are certain to have perished, and
The heavy doors of former times have been replaced by friendlier versions but the architrave with the year of the building’s construction — 1827 — remains. the rest almost certainly died as well. From November 1942 onwards, another 30 were transferred from Hameln to the police via the penitentiary at Celle, even though they had not yet served their sentence, for ‘extermination through labour’ in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Of these 28 are certain to have died. In 1944, about 200 so-called ‘Nacht und Nebel’ (‘night and fog’) prisoners from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France were taken to Hameln in several stages. The ‘Night and Fog’ decree, first issued by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW, Armed Forces High Command) on December 1, 1941, stipulated that arrested resistance fighters from occupied countries in Left: With the outbreak of war, the inmates were increasingly put to work for war production, one of the industries being the weaving of shell-baskets, i.e. cane containers for artillery shells. The shell-basket workshop employed a total of 45 men, all of them categorised unsuited for outdoor work, and had a monthly production of 1,200 pieces. 45
one of several camps set up in the Eschershausen area in connection with the relocation of Germany’s armaments production to underground factories, the code-name of this particular project being ‘Hecht’ (Pike). The total number of forced labourers, among them inmates from Buchenwald concentration camp, employed here was some 5,000. The prison camp (known as Hecht I) consisted of five large barracks with a capacity of about 400-600 inmates. The site was fenced off and secured with high-voltage wire. There were only ten guards, all of them judicial officials. The prisoners were mainly from Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France. The psychological pressure under which they stood was enormous. The convicts had to extend the tunnels of a disused mine, clear walls of brittle stone, lay rails and push out the loaded trucks. The
subterraneous work was murderous. Again and again, when the loose rock was knocked off the ceiling, accidents occurred, resulting in prisoners being seriously injured or even killed. The heavy toil, in a cold atmosphere (six to nine degrees Centigrade) with insufficient clothing, coupled with the low food intake did the rest. The huts were overcrowded and sanitary conditions were catastrophic. Prisoners clothing could only be handed in for laundering about every four weeks. Maltreatment and draconian punishments, such as the agonising ‘stake standing’ and public executions on a purpose-built gallows, determined everyday life. Joseph Pierre, a Luxembourgian, described the Holzen camp as a TodesKommando (death squad). Both physically and mentally, conditions in Holzen resembled that of a concentration camp.
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Scandinavia and Western Europe were to be secretly deported to Germany, detained there in a secret location and finally tried and convicted out of sight of the public. Their names were erased from the record and replaced by numbers, their families lost all contact with them. They were ‘to disappear in night and fog’. ‘Nacht und Nebel’ prisoners were often sentenced to death and executed. The prison conditions of these isolated prisoners were wretched. They were not allowed to write or receive mail; did not receive any bedding, and the prison barber had to shave them every fortnight with a hair clipper, allegedly because of soap shortage. In August 1944, Hameln Prison set up a satellite prison camp at Holzen, a small village near Eschershausen, some 40 kilometres south-east of Hameln. Known as the Zuchthaus-Lager (penitentiary camp) Holzen, it was
RUDI GOGUEL ESTATE
From 1933 onwards, political prisoners, detained because of their opposition towards the Nazi regime, progressively filled the institution. One of them was Rudi Goguel, a functionary of the German Communist Party (pictured here by the Düsseldorf Gestapo in September 1934). Born in Strasburg in the Alsace region, Goguel worked in the advertising department of a Düsseldorf engineering-works but was fired because of his political affiliation in 1932. First arrested in 1933 and sent to the Börgermoor camp, he was the composer of the Moorsoldatenlied, one of the best-known songs of German anti-Nazi resistance. Again arrested in 1934 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, he was incarcerated at Hameln from July 1937 to September 1944, after which he was sent on to Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme concentration camps. From 1934 to 1941 he kept a diary made up of sketch drawings and this one (right) shows Hameln for JulyDecember 1937. The upper text reads: ‘800 days of 12 hours each: gluing bags in solitary confinement’. The lower: ‘Incarceration in the ward for inmates suspected of being liable to escape’.
Another prisoner, Bernhard Huys, made these rough sketches in the Grosser Osthof (Large Eastern Yard), with (left) the Zellenflügel (cell block) and (right) prisoners being aired in the yard. The two spires of the Münster Sankt-Bonifacius Church 46
rise beyond the prison walls. Huys was a landscape painter from Worpswede near Bremen who had been arrested in 1943 for listening to the BBC radio. Sentenced to two years penitentiary, he was at Hameln from January 1944 to May 1945.
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In the final weeks of the war, the food situation in the prison worsened, epidemics broke out and the Lazarett (Hospital), seen here on the left, filled up to capacity with weakened and sick prisoners. The structure on the right is the Main Building and the portal in between leads to the Kleiner Osthof (Small Eastern Yard).
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With the autumn of 1944, the situation in Hameln Prison became dramatic. As other prisons closer to the front in the West were being evacuated, Hameln became ‘a kind of transhipment port’. By March 1945, the prison was totally overcrowded with 1,350 inmates. Three to four inmates occupied a single-person cell and the basement and corridors were also filled with prisoners. Sanitary and medical care collapsed completely. Between November 1944 and May 1945, and continuing into June, over 250 inmates died of malnutrition, hypothermia and lack of medical care. In the extreme situation of the final months of the war, the prison administration was completely overwhelmed and helpless. In all, between 1933 and 1945, 349 inmates died at Hameln Prison, and a further 36 in its satellite camps. Like with other camps and prisons in Nazi Germany, the final weeks of the war saw the weakened inmates of Hameln Prison and its satellite camp evacuated in so-called Todesmärsche (death marches). On April 3, 1945, the inmates of the Holzen satellite camp — about 450 men — were evacuated by goods train. After 11 days of wandering hundreds of kilometres criss-cross through central Germany — one 50-kilometre stretch of it, from Coswig to Elsnig south along the Elbe river, on foot — only 228 survivors reached the prison at Dreibergen, near Bützow, south of Rostock in central northern Germany, on April 13. Here they were liberated by the Soviet Red Army on May 3. Of the over 200 prisoners that had died, the majority remained nameless. On April 5, shortly before American troops reached Hameln, about 500 men, mostly foreigners, were marched out of the prison. Their destination was the Holzen camp, 40 kilometres away. Some died of exhaustion, others were shot, their corpses being left by the wayside. Sources document the death of at least ten prisoners, three of them Dutchmen, but the exact total of victims cannot be determined. At Holzen, after a day filled with anguish that the SS might shoot them, April 7 brought final deliverance when the 329th Infantry Regiment of the US 83rd Division liberated the camp.
Right: In August 1944, Hameln Prison set up a satellite camp at the village of Holzen, some 40 kilometres to the southeast. Comprising five wooden huts, its 400-600 inmates were put to work building an underground armaments factory in the tunnels of a disused mine. The work was exhausting and dangerous and many of the unfortunates sent to Holzen perished or languished away. Today, nothing remains of the camp except for some vestiges of the hut foundations.
Left: One of the prison sick bays, captured in another sketch by Bernhard Huys. Sapped by the heavy forced labour in an outside work detail, Huys spent three months in the hospital,
first as a patient and later as an attendant. Right: Today trees have been planted in the forecourt, giving a friendlier atmosphere. 47
In the last days of the war, with the Allied armies coming closer, the surviving inmates of both the prison and the Holzen camp were hastily evacuated deeper inside Germany. Departing in several columns — travelling partly on foot, partly by rail
— these ‘death marches’ generally aimed for the prison at Dreibergen near the Baltic coast but only two of them actually reached this destination, most of the others being liberated by the American or Soviet armies before reaching there.
Around this same time, two more groups of prisoners left Hameln by goods train to the north-east. One went to Celle Prison, 90 kilometres away, from where it continued in a larger group, first northwards in the direction of Hamburg and then eastwards, finally also ending up at Dreibergen Prison on April 13. The other group first went to Krümme, a satellite camp of Celle Prison, 100 kilometres from Hameln, and from there were marched off, together with other prisoners, to the north-east on April 4. Their destination was Dreibergen as well but they only got as far as Salzwedel, 20 kilometres away, where they were liberated by the US 84th Infantry Division on the 11th.
Right: On April 7, troops of the 117th Infantry Regiment of the US 30th Division captured Hameln. Here Private Clifton Baker escorts a column of POWs through the centre of town. Entering the prison, the Americans found it still contained some 400 to 500 prisoners. On April 5, the town of Hameln came under American artillery fire. Because the prison received several hits, the guards abandoned duty and fled. Wehrmacht troops took over the watch. The remaining prisoners, some 400 to 500, were left in the buildings without any protection from the shelling. Many were too weak to leave the facility anyway. At 10 a.m. on April 7, troops of the 117th Infantry Regiment of the US 30th Division entered Hameln. Arriving at the prison, they first took care of the inmates in the completely overcrowded hospital. They then released the foreign inmates and all of the political prisoners. For all others (including those convicted of homosexuality) the imprisonment continued. With the town now under Allied Military Government, the prison staff had to undergo a political review. ATB (D)
Left: The damage from American shelling has been repaired. This is Bäckerstrasse, looking north to Am Markt. 48
EXECUTIONS OF WAR CRIMINALS In the post-war occupation of Germany, Hameln fell within the British zone. Immediately after the end of the war, the British occupation authorities discussed for several months the manner of carrying out the death penalty for German war criminals. Should they be shot or hanged? In the UK, all executions, either of civilians or military personnel, were carried out by hanging in civilian prisons, a procedure maintained for the three men of the Ceylon Defence Force executed in India in August 1942 (see After the Battle No. 91). While the military authorities in Germany decided that women sentenced to death should be hung, there was still the option of the firing-squad for male prisoners, and on
Right: In 1945, the prison was selected to be the main site for executions of German war criminals sentenced to death by hanging in the British Occupation Zone. Appointed to carry out the executions was Albert Pierrepoint, then Britain’s leading official hangman. Born in Clayton in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1905, Pierrepoint grew up in poor circumstances, his father Henry being a heavy drinker and finding only intermittent employment. Both his father (from 1901 to 1910) and his uncle Tom (from 1906 to 1946) were official Home Office hangmen, and Albert knew from an early age that he wanted to follow in their footsteps. In September 1932, aged 27, he was taken on as an assistant executioner and his first execution was in December that year, alongside his uncle. In October 1941 he undertook his first hanging as lead executioner and by the time he first came to Hameln in December 1945, he had already carried out 88 executions, including 15 of German spies (see After the Battle No. 11). November 28, 1945, a directive from headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) to the Corps Districts mentioned both possibilities for men. The confirmation of the death sentences in the first Belsen trial, issued by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the BAOR, on December 7 then stipulated ‘judicial hanging’ for all those convicted. As a result, the British used both options side by side, with hanging being the predominant method. It was probably the courts that decided on the matter. If the case involved individual perpetrators, they usually ordered death by firing-squad. Conversely, as in the case of the Belsen trials, if larger groups of people were sentenced, the rule was usually death by hanging.
Between January 1946 and June 1947, a total of 35 prisoners from Werl Prison were excecuted by a British firing-squad. Seven of them were German war criminals, the others, mostly Poles, convicts of other crimes. The executions were carried out at the local Luftwaffe firing-range. (See After the Battle No. 118.) Execution by hanging demanded not only the construction of a central execution suite after the British model and the presence of a British executioner; it also required the timely and safe transfer of the sentenced convicts to the place of execution, and therefore involved considerable logistical effort. In Germany during the Nazi era, thousands of people had been hanged, the official method being to place them upright on a stool to put the noose on. After this had been pushed away, they were strangled, suffocating painfully. The British procedure differed considerably. The Home Office trained hangmen and subjected them to strict discipline. The aim of hanging was instant death by cervical dislocation. To bring this about, the executioner put the handcuffed convict on a trapdoor with the noose around his neck. When the trap opened, the rope stopped the fall, resulting in a fatal injury to the cervical spine. The British military authorities charged Colonel Edmund Paton-Walsh, former Deputy Director of Wandsworth Prison in London, one of Britain’s main execution sites, with the organisation of the executions in the British zone. Paton-Walsh began with the preparations in October 1945 in the context of the first Belsen trial under strict secrecy and with great urgency. It was he who in a very early stage chose Hameln Prison as the central execution site in the British zone. In parallel with the Americans, who chose Landsberg Prison in Bavaria as their main site for executions, he may have looked for an easily-guarded prison in a small town.
An execution suite, especially for the hangings, was constructed in the prison’s West Wing. At the far end of the corridor on the first floor, the walls separating the three cells on the right-hand side had been broken through (note the red crosses), creating a large room [A] measuring about four by six metres. Working to Home Office plans, the Royal Engineers converted this space into an execution chamber with a trapdoor wide enough for double executions. The cell on the ground floor below served as the pit into which the prisoner dropped. The cell adjacent to this was used to carry out post mortems. The cell above the execution chamber contained a
double beam from which two 2-inch-thick link chains were suspended for attachment of the ropes, which hung down through floor hatches. The chain-adjusting mechanism here allowed the drop to be set to an accuracy of half an inch. The condemned awaited their execution in the tiny cells (just 1.27 metres wide by 3.99 metres long) along the corridor to the execution chamber. Pierrepoint has recorded that as he walked down this dark corridor for the first time to inspect the gallows, the 13 condemned prisoners — 11 from the Belsen trial plus two others — were all peering silently at him through the bars of their cell doors. 49
BERNHARD GELDERBLOM COLLECTION
This unique picture, taken in the 1950s and obtained by our author Bernhard Gelderblom from a retired prison warden, reputedly shows the opening in the floor where the trapdoor had been. The view has been taken looking up from the ground floor into what had been the gallows on the first floor. The window, only partly visible, and its distance to the left-hand wall, would seem to indicate that we are looking at the southern end wall of the West Wing. The entire West Wing of the main prison building was made available for the hangings. The gallows corresponded in detail to the requirements of a British judicial hanging, its design based on the one at Pentonville Prison in London. Plan and portable accessories came from the UK. The execution chamber, where the witnesses gathered, was on the first floor. A Royal Engineers detail had broken through the floor to install trapdoors, which were wide enough to permit double (side by side) hangings. Its two leaves swung down after being released by the hangman pushing a lever. The beam to which the rope was attached was installed on the floor above the execution chamber. Below, on the ground floor, was the pit. After opening the trapdoor, the convict fell into the pit and died from a broken neck. Double executions lasted only seconds longer than single ones. Paton-Walsh insisted that a British hangman carry out the executions. Following his proposal, the choice fell on Albert Pierrepoint, an official executioner of many years’ experience (he had been an official hangman since 1932 and a leading executioner since 1941). Paton-Walsh said about him: ‘With Pierrepoint I never had even a moment’s hesitation, while with others I was always happy when the matter went off without a hitch.’ Pierrepoint (the army had directed that he was to be treated as the equivalent rank of Lieutenant-Colonel) travelled to Hameln on 25 different occasions, each time being flown over to Germany and collected by Jeep to be driven to the prison. During these visits, he carried out a total of 201 hangings. At each one, he was helped by one, sometimes two assistants, which he had trained himself. He used four different ones: Company Sergeant Major (later Regimental Sergeant Major) Richard O’Neill, Sergeant James Hunter from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Edwin Roper and Alexander Hurry. Pierrepoint valued the highest discretion and even in his private life kept quiet about his side work as a hangman (his normal job was in the grocery business). He disliked any publicity connected to his role and was unhappy that his name had been announced to the Press by Field-Marshal Montgomery. When he flew to Germany, he was followed across the airfield by journalists and reporters, which he described as being ‘as unwelcome as a lynch mob’. 50
Pierrepoint tried to make the time in front of the gallows for the prisoner as short as possible. He aimed to have a maximum of 20 seconds between the condemned entering the execution chamber and his fall through the trapdoor. Through careful preparation and with help from his assistants, he kept this standard for all his executions in Hameln. As he wrote in his 1974 memoirs: ‘I myself kept that pattern out of integrity to myself and humanity to the condemned.’ For each of the 25 days on which hangings took place there is a document signed by Paton-Walsh: ‘The executions were carried out by Mr. Pierrepoint in his usual most efficient manner and to my entire satisfaction. The conduct and behaviour were discreet.’ When, before the start of the executions, it became apparent that on each scheduled date a large number of hangings would have to be carried out, Paton-Walsh made arrangements to speed up the proceedings. In Britain it was required to allow one hour between the hanging and the removal of the body from the rope before a doctor would officially declare death, and it was this interval that was attempted to be shortened at Hameln. The Assistant Director of Pathology at the BAOR, Major Dr Francis Buckland, decided to carry out an experiment. He proposed that the medical officer present would inject a lethal dose (10cc) of chloroform into the prisoner 30 seconds after the drop had been given. Although this method had never been tried, it was used at the very first execution — that of the eight men and three women sentenced to death at the first Belsen trial and two condemned from another trial — on December 13, 1945. It was found that, if the chloroform was injected directly into the heart, it immediately stopped beating and, if injected intravenously into the arm, the heart would stop in seconds. The corpse was then removed from the gallows after 20 minutes. However, at the next execution — that of eight men on March 8, 1946 — it was decided not to inject chloroform but instead to check the heartbeat with a stethoscope in the normal way. This showed that it took between 10 and 15 minutes for audible heartbeats to cease. Then at the next appointment — on May 15, when ten were executed — the condemned were wired up
to an electrocardiograph, which recorded the electrical activity of the heart. It showed that impulses were produced for a further ten minutes, taking the total time to 25 minutes. During this series of executions, two men started breathing and had to be injected with chloroform. In one case, this took place seven and half minutes after hanging. Despite these findings, Buckland’s final conclusion was that, with future hangings, one could safely take the executed from the rope after 15-20 minutes. Of course, this meant running the risk of declaring someone deceased who was not yet dead. (The files about these questionable experiments were only released in 2000.) Assuming that it would take about ten minutes to prepare for the next execution, Buckland’s findings made it ‘possible to effect dual executions at half hourly intervals’, and one could thus carry out 16 executions in one day. This number was actually reached on October 8, 1946 and again on November 14, 1947. Pierrepoint was greatly assailed by the hanging of such large numbers of people on one and sometimes even two consecutive days. He tried, nevertheless, to take care to behave correctly to the death candidates. As he wrote in his memoirs, ‘The multiple executions were exhausting mentally and physically’. Before the first executions in December 1945, Paton-Walsh detailed all procedural steps, and he later supplemented and specified these in time for subsequent occasions. His instructions provided for the presence of various British officers, including the Governor of Hameln Prison, the mandatory witnesses, a medical officer and a clergyman — altogether more than a dozen people. Nobody else was allowed into the execution wing. Journalists were not admitted. A British female prison governor or deputy governor had to be present at executions of women. A condemned person was to be informed about his or her imminent execution only the evening before: ‘It would not be an ethical act to inform the prisoner that he was to pay the supreme penalty, and then wait weeks before carrying out such a sentence, in fact, it would be most inhuman and contrary to all British principles.’ The result of the executions was to be reported to the BAOR Legal Division complete with signatures of all witnesses and the exact time. The general public in Hameln was subsequently informed through public notices. In all, between 1945 and 1949, a total of 201 persons (191 men and ten women) were executed by hanging in Hameln, and one man shot by firing-squad. Of these 201, 155 were German men and women convicted of war crimes; 44 were civilians — a few of them German but mostly foreign ‘displaced persons’ (DPs) from Eastern Europe — sentenced to death for violations under British occupation law or applicable German law, and two were British soldiers convicted of murder. Male hangings were typically carried out in pairs at approximately halfhour intervals. All ten women were executed singly as were a small number of men, including the two British soldiers. The first 13 executions took place on December 13, 1945 and concerned eight men and three women sentenced in the first Bergen-Belsen trial (see After the Battle No. 89), as well as two men who had participated in the killing of a British prisoner of war and a Dutch civilian in Almelo in the Netherlands. The deputy governor of Strangeways Prison in Manchester, Miss Wilson, was present for the three female convicts. Of the 155 Germans executed, the majority — 76 persons — were convicted for crimes committed in concentration camps — in addition to Belsen, these were Neuengamme (including several of its satellite camps), Natzweiler and Ravensbrück; for the production of Zyklon B poison gas; for crimes committed in children’s homes; in
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Throughout his career, Pierrepoint kept an ‘Execution Ledger’ of his hangings and this is the page of December 13, 1945, his first day of work at Hameln prison, when he executed the ‘Belsen criminals’. The condemned are shown in the order in which they were hanged, the three women being noted in red. Note the columns giving the prisoner’s height and weight, data from which Pierrepoint had calculated the necessary length of drop. (This page lists only the first ten of the 13 persons executed that day). Having retired in February 1956, and having written his biography Executioner Pierrepoint in 1973, Pierrepoint sold the
The three female prisoners were hanged first, in three single executions, because their cells were immediately adjacent to the execution chamber, and Pierrepoint wanted to spare the women from hearing the repeated drops. Elisabeth Volkenrath, born September 5, 1919, had volunteered for service in the concentration camps in October 1941 and worked as an Aufseherin (wardress) at Ravensbrück and Auschwitz-Birkenau before she came to Belsen in February 1945. At Auschwitz she had been Lagerführerin (Camp Leader) of the women’s camp and had participated in the selection of prisoners for the gas chambers, being promoted to Oberaufseherin (supervising wardress) in November 1944. It was at Auschwitz that she met SS-Unterscharführer Heinz Volkenrath, who worked at the Kommandantur, and they married in 1943. Although she told Pierrepoint her age was 23, she was actually 26 when she was hanged.
bulk of his memorabilia, including his Execution Ledger, to a former neighbour, Michael Forman, who put the items up for auction at Christie’s three months before Pierrepoint passed away in a nursing home in July 1992. A further auction of the leatherbound ledger, accompanied by photos and a ‘death mask’ of Pierrepoint produced before he died, took place at Boldon Auction Galleries Ltd in East Boldon, Tyne and Wear, in June 2019. The auctioneer, Giles Hodges, described the lot as an ‘unusual sale of quite extraordinary items, part of a “niche market” but that’s what history is all about.’ Sale price: £20,000.
Irma Grese, born October 7, 1923, left school at age 15 and worked for two years as an assistant nurse in the SSSanatorium at Hohenlychen. She wanted to become a qualified nurse but, unable to find a training position, she applied for service in the concentration camps, becoming a wardress at Ravensbrück in the late summer of 1942. In March 1943 she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she supervised road-building and horticultural work crews, and later oversaw two blocks of male prisoners in Auschwitz I. In January 1945, she accompanied an evacuation transport to Ravensbrück, and from there she came to Belsen in March. Notorious for her brutality and sadism, Auschwitz inmates nicknamed her the ‘Hyena of Auschwitz’ but the Allied Press dubbed her ‘the Beautiful Beast’. Aged 22, Grese was the youngest woman to be hanged under British law in the 20th century.
Juana (Johanna) Bormann, born September 10, 1893, joined the SS warden service out of financial reasons in 1938, becoming an Aufseherin in the Lichtenberg concentration camp for women in Saxony. When this camp was dissolved in May 1939 she was transferred to the newly-created women’s camp at Ravensbrück, where she oversaw kitchen and outside labour details. In May 1942 she was one of a handful of women selected for guard duty at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she supervised female prisoners in several agricultural and horticultural Aussenkommandos. Standing just over five feet tall, inmates feared her as ‘the woman with the dogs’. In January 1945 she accompanied an evacuation transport from Auschwitz to Gross-Rosen, and from there another evacuation to Belsen, where she arrived in mid-February and oversaw the pigsty Kommando. She was 43 years old when Pierrepoint executed her. 51
PERSONS EXECUTED AT HAMELN 1945-49 (with the trial case details and date of sentence in italic) December 13, 1945 Elisabeth Volkenrath Irma Grese Johanna (Juana) Bormann Josef Kramer Dr Fritz Klein Karl Francioh Peter Weingärtner Ansgar Pichen Franz Hössler Franz Stärfl (aka Franz Stofel) Wilhelm Dörr Bergen-Belsen Case I (17/11/1945) Otto Sandrock Ludwig Schweinsberger Almelo Case: murder of P/O Gerald Hood, RAF, and a Dutch civilian (26/11/1945) March 3, 1946 August Bühning Friedrich König Bohmte Case: murder of two Allied airmen (19/12/1945) Hans Renoth Elten Case: murder of P/O William Maloney, RAAF (10/01/1946) Otto Franke Alfred Büttner Hesepe Aerodrome Case: murder of Fl/Sgt Paul L. Berger, USAAF (23/12/1945) Willy Mackensen Thorn (Evacuation March) Case: ill-treatment of Allied POWs (23/12/1945) Johannes Braschoss Erich Heyer Essen-West Case I: murder of three British airmen (23/12/45) May 15, 1946 Erich Hoffmann Stavanger Case: execution of four British airborne POWs (13/12/45) Friedrich Uhrig Langlingen Case: murder of Fl/Lt Arthur Crow, RAF (20/02/1946) Ludwig Lang Hermann Lommes Wilhelm Scharschmidt Emil Günther Otto Bopf Bruno Böttcher Dreierwalde Airfield Case I: murder of three British airmen (26/2/46) Karl Amberger Dreierwalde Airfield Case II: murder of four British airmen (14/3/46) Franz Kircher Essen-West Case II: murder of three British airmen (03/04/46) May 16, 1946 Dr Eberhard Schöngarth Erwin Knop Herbert Gernoth Wilhelm Hadler Friedrich Beeck Enschede Case: murder of Allied airman (11/02/1946) Bruno Tesch Karl Weinbacher Zyklon B Case: manufacture and use in gas chambers (08/03/1946) August 15, 1946 Teofil Walasek [NB: shot by firing-squad, not hanged] Polish Displaced Person — murder of Allied soldier and policeman (21/05/1946)
October 8, 1946 Walter Grimm Karl Mumm Poppenbüttel Case I: murder of Polish national (01/04/1946) Dr Alfred Trzebinski Dr Bruno Kitt Max Pauly Anton Thumann Willi Dreimann Heinrich Ruge Wilhelm Warncke Johann Reese Adolf Speck Andreas Brems Wilhelm Bahr Neuengamme Case I (03/05/1946) Ludwig Knorr Hannover-Ahlem Case II: murder of Allied nationals (19/06/1946) Heinrich Gerike Georg Hessling Velpke Children’s Home Case: murder of Polish children (03/04/1946) October 11, 1946 Karl Reddehase AEL Waldeslust Case: murder of Allied nationals (29/05/1946) Walter Quakernack Hanomag (Labour Camps) Case: murder of Allied nationals (16/05/1946) Heinz Lüder Heidemann Bergen-Belsen Case II (24/05/1946) Kasimierz Cegielski Bergen-Belsen Case III (18/06/1946) Dr Werner Rohde Natzweiler Case I: murder of four female British SOE agents by lethal injection (01/06/1946) Peter Straub Franz Berg Natzweiler Case II (05/06/1946) Adolf Wolfert Georg Hartleb Dirmstein Case: murder of parachuted airman Sgt Cyril Sibley, RAF (12/05/1946) Friedrich Fischer Bochum Case: murder of Allied airman (probably Fl/Sgt John Davis, RAF) (29/06/1946) Johann Frahm Ewald Jauch Neuengamme Case III (31/07/1946) January 22, 1947 Driver Francis John Upson British soldier — murder of a German woman (Aug 1946) January 23, 1947 Max Köchlin Wilhelm Niklaus Hans-Christian Knab Pforzheim-Huchenfeld Case I: murder of five RAF airmen (03/09/1946) Albert Ernst Neuengamme Case (29/08/1946) Friedrich Hollborn Hagen Gestapo Case: murder of P/O Thomas Scott, RCAF (02/09/1946) Wilhelm Schneider Vosges Case: murders of SAS men (11/07/1946) Max Markwart Neuengamme Case (21/08/1946) Sebastian Schipper Wilhelmshaven (Gelb Kreuz Prison) Case: murder of Allied nationals (08/10/1946)
Emil Hoffmann Neuengamme Case (26/07/1946) Johannes Esser Neuss Case: murder of Fl/Sgt James Williams, RAFVR (28/09/1946) Anton Brunken Beendorf (Neuengamme Satellite Camp) Case (13/08/1946) March 7, 1947 Dr Hans Körbel Wolfsburg (Rühen Children’s Home) Case: deaths of Polish children (24/06/1946) May 2, 1947 Dorothea Binz Elisabeth Marschall Greta Bösel Ravensbrück Case I (03/02/1947) Friedrich Ebsen Arthur Grosse Johann Heitz Karl Truschel Schandelah (Neuengamme Satellite Camp) Case: murder of inmates (03/03/1947) Heinz Stumpp Bemerode Case: murder of two unidentified British POWs (20/01/1947) May 3, 1947 Johann Schwarzhuber Dr Gerhard Schiedlausky Dr Rolf Rosenthal Gustav Binder Ludwig Ramdohr Ravensbrück Case I (03/02/1947) June 26, 1947 Vera Salvequart Ravensbrück Case I (03/02/1947) Longin Nowakowski Waclaw Winiarski Kazimierz Bachor Polish DPs — murder/robbery of another Pole, Skrzypowski (08/04/1947) Josef Klingler Neuengamme Case IV (21/03/1947) Albert Lütkemeyer Wilhelm Keus Neuengamme Case VIII (07/03/1947) Gustav Jepsen Wilhelmshaven-Banterweg (Neuengamme Satellite Camp) Case (06/03/1947) Karl Haug Hans Kieffer Richard Schnur Noailles/Oise Case: killing of five British SAS paratroops (12/03/1947) Alfred Peek Kurt Rasche Hannover Gestapo Case: murder of Allied POWs (14/04/1947) September 5, 1947 Sergeant Charles Edward Patrick British soldier — murder of his girlfriend, Pte Georgina Kelty (29/03/1947) Tadeusz Kun Polish DP — armed robbery, illegal use of firearms and murder (14/05/1947) Franciczek Smok Polish DP — armed robbery, illegal use of firearms and murder (02/05/1947) Edward Kubik Polish DP — illegal possession and use of firearms (16/06/1947) Karl Paul Schwanz Karl Cremer
Albert Rösener Michael Rotschopf Tilburg Case: murder of Fl/Lt Ronald Walker, RAF, F/O Jack Nott, RAAF, and F/O Roy Carter, RCAF (26/06/1947) Stephan Streit Wilhelm Dammann Hannover-Ahlem Case: concentration camp staff (06/05/1947) Josef Knoth Ihmert-Ihmerterbach Case: killing of three Russian nationals (16/05/1947) Johann Lütfring Haltern-Helenenhöhe Case: murder of F/O George Costello, RCAF (02/06/1947) Friedrich Hochstätter Heinz Stellpflug Rheine Airfield Case: murder of Lt Charles W. Kelley, USAAF, and Sgt Gilbert Harris, RAF (01/05/1947) November 14, 1947 Fritz Schulze Solingen Case: murder of F/O Roy Woodrow and Sgt William Watson, RAFVR (08/07/1947) Jan Waskiewicz Polish DP — use of firearms in attack on farm, killing farmer (28/08/1947) Wasyl Kiwiak Hubert Sternicki Polish DPs — shot policeman and shot and killed civilian for cigarettes (02/09/1947) Josef Bussem Hermann Dinge Georg Gawliczek Völkenrode Aerodrome Case: murder of British airman (04/09/1947) Kazimiercz Bogdanowicz Marian Bisset Josef Stanczyk Polish DPs — use of firearms in attack on farm at Mastholde, killing farmer (28/07/1947) Tadeusz Bielski Jan Borkowski Stanislaw Dziekan Franz Soltys Polish DPs — use of firearms, plundering house in Bornhausen, killing owner (06/08/1947) Wladislaw Gawronski Polish DP — murder of unarmed German policeman during theft (01/08/1947) Cornelius Kayser Rengsdorf Case II: murder of F/L James Keith Livingstone, DFC, RAFVR (30/06/1947) January 29, 1948 Otto Fricke Altenau Case: murder of two Canadian and one British airmen (25/09/1947) Wilhelm Friedrich Hennings Carl Otto Schütte Willy Bernhard Karl Tessmann Fuhlsbüttel Police Prison Case II: ill-treatment of Allied nationals (24/09/1947) Udo Kettenbeil Neuengamme Case IX (23/10/1947) January 30, 1948 Marian Osuch (Czeslaw Browicz) Polish DP — robbery and murder by shooting (03/02/1947) Peter Bartsch (aka Slawto Ogolubowaz) Croatian DP — robbing jeweler’s shop and shooting policeman to death (01/12/1947)
Ansis Zunde Latvian DP — Eutin Case: shooting murder of girlfriend’s husband (20/10/1947) Andrzej Paruszkiewicz Polish DP — Feren Case: shooting murder of farmer during robbery (23/09/1947) Manojlo Nikolic Miloslaw Pavkovic Mihaylo Kordic Pasaka Mehmedovic Yugoslavian DPs — Niederollendorf Case: robbery and murder (15/10/1947) Stojadin Mitrasinovic Yugoslavian DP — murder of fiancée in quarrel (15/11/1947) Franc Safranauskas Lithuanian DP — murder of his wife Anela (08/12/1947) 26/02/1948 Friedrich Hauser Pforzheim-Huchenfeld Case II: murder of four RAF airmen (08/12/1947) Friedrich Opitz Ravensbrück Case II (24//1/1947) Alfred Schimmel Walter Herberg Johannes Post Otto Preiss Hans Kähler Oskar Schmidt Walter Jacobs Erich Zacharias Emil Schulz Emil Weil Eduard Geith Johann Schneider Josef Gmeiner, Sagan (Stalag-Luft 3) Case: murder of escaped Allied POWs (03/09/1947) March 24, 1948 Johannes Lehmann AEL Lahde/Weser (Evacuation March) Case: killing of Allied nationals (16/12/1947) Wasyl Skiba Russian DP — robbery and shooting to death of man during break-in (05/11/1947) Nicolay Streblinski (aka Nicolay Naumow) Wasili Iwanowitsch (aka Zenon Lichotta) Russian DPs — robbery and beating to death of widow during break-in (27/11/1947) June 9, 1948 Otto Baumann Kiel-Hasse (AEL Nordmark) Case: ill-treatment and killing of Allied nationals (08/12/1947) Josef Czerwick Polish DP — shooting murder of ex-girlfriend and her father (19/02/1948) Jurko Dobosz Russian DP — home invasion and shooting a resident to death (10/01/1948) Karl Finkenrath Hérouvillette Case: murder of two British Airborne POWs (03/04/1948) Georg Griesel Peter Klos Altenberg Case: murder of Fl/Lt Brian Hynes, RNZAF (06/04/1948) Heinrich Heeren Wilhelmshaven (Gelb Kreuz Prison) Case: murder of Allied inmates (09/03/1948) Otto Mohr Darmstadt Case: murder of POW, Indian Rifleman Dil Bahadur Limbu (13/02/1948)
This table list all 201 persons hanged by Pierrepoint, plus the one case of execution by firing-squad that was carried out at Hameln (Polish DP Teofil Walasek, shot on August 15, 1946).
July 29, 1948 Ruth Closius, née Hartmann Ravensbrück Case III (26/04/1948) Luis Schmidt Kranenburg Case: murder of two US Airborne POWs (23/04/1948) Jerczy Trawinski Polish DP — home invasion and shooting a resident to death (18/05/1948) September 17, 1948 Dr med. Benno Orendi Dr Walter Sonntag Ravensbrück Case IV (04/06/1948) Artur Conrad Ravensbrück Case V (29/06/1948) September 20, 1948 Ida Schreiter Emma Zimmer, née Menzel Ravensbrück Case VI (21/07/1948) September 29, 1948 Gottlieb Dikty Rheinhausen Case: murder of Russian national (09/08/1948) December 9, 1948 Dr Günther Kuhl AEL Hallendorf (Lager XXI) Case: murders of Allied nationals (08/09/1948) Adolf Wodenko Possibly Polish DP — murder (16/08/1948) Stanislaus Fialkowski Romuald Zylinsky Polish DPs — illegal use of firearm and armed robbery (07/09/1948) January 20, 1949 Dietrich Schnabel Bernhard Siebken Le Mesnil-Patry Case: murder of wounded Canadian soldiers (09/11/1948) Czeslaw Swiderski Russian DP — illegal use of firearm and theft (28/10/1948) January 21, 1949 Fritz Knöchlein Le Paradis (Pas de Calais) Case: murder of 99 British soldiers (05/10/1948) February16, 1949 Theodor Jaremczuk Probably Czech DP — illegal use of firearm (24/08/1948) May 18, 1949 Josef Cieplak Polish DP — illegal use of firearm, robbery and murder (02/02/1949) July 26, 1949 Caspar Schmidt German — illegal use of firearms (01/04/1949) Friedrich Theilengerdes Oldenburg Gestapo Case: crimes against humanity (04/05/1949) August 31, 1949 Mieczyslaw Antonowicz Probably Ukrainian DP — illegal use of firearm (08/06/1949) Roman Klinski (aka Zygmund Zarzycki) Polish DP — illegal use of firearm (08/06/1949) December 6, 1949 Jerzy Andziak Probably Polish DP — illegal use of firearm and murder of policeman (23/06/1949)
The ten female condemned are marked in blue. The abbreviation AEL in some of the trial case details stands for ArbeitsErziehungs-Lager (Labour Re-education Camp). 53
FRIEDHOF VERWALTUNG HAMELN
BERNHARD GELDERBLOM COLLECTION
PLOT C III
Left: The executed war criminals were initially buried in the Kleiner Westhof (Small Western Yard), the narrow yard between the West Wing and the prison’s outer wall, seen here from a first-floor window of the Administrative Building (see plan on page 44). Designated Plot G, between December 1945 and June 1947, a total of 92 persons were buried here in graves stacked in three layers. Right: From June 1947, hanged persons
from Stalag Luft 3 in Silesia in March 1944 (see After the Battle Nos. 87 and 170); Erich Hoffman, convicted for the murder of a British airborne soldier captured after the failed glider attack on the Vermork heavy water plant in Norway in November 1943 (see issue 45) and hanged on May 15, 1946; Kurt Rasche and Alfred Peek, sentenced for the murder of some 155 Gestapo prisoners at the Seelhorst Cemetery in Hannover in April 1945 (see issue 175) and executed on June 26,
1947; and Karl Finkenrath, condemned to death for shooting several captured British airborne soldiers at Herouvillette in Normandy on D-Day (see issue 145) and hanged on June 9, 1948. The last German to be executed at Hameln was Fritz Knöchlein on January 21, 1949. A company commander in the SS-Totenkopf-Division during the 1940 Blitzkrieg in France, he had given orders for the shooting of 99 British prisoners of war at Le Paradis (see issue 15).
HILDESHEIMER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG
labour camps, and in police jails. Fifty-nine convicts were executed for crimes against prisoners of war, often including the lynching of downed Allied airmen. Another 20 persons were hanged for crimes committed in occupied Norway, Holland and France, often for killing or abusing POWs or civilians. Notable cases were the 12 members of the Gestapo and one member of the border police sentenced to death for the executions of 50 of the Allied airmen who had escaped
— both war criminals and displaced persons sentenced to death by British Control Commission courts for other crimes — were buried at the local Am Wehl communal cemetery, a special plot C III being set apart for them. In 1954 those originally buried in the prison grounds were transferred here too (with the exception of three that were repatriated) so that in the end the plot contained 196 persons, 155 of them German war criminals.
Starting in the 1950s and continuing on into the 1980s the cemetery became a rallying ground for neo-Nazi manifestations. In December 1985, right-wing extremists even decorated the unmarked grave crosses with wreaths. 54
Embarrassed by the neo-Nazi demonstrations, which gained increasing media publicity, the Hameln city authorities in 1986 decided to remove the crosses and level Plot C III, turning it into an anonymous field. Today it is largely overgrown.
BURIALS Detailed regulations were formulated for the burial of executed war criminals. In order to prevent the graves from becoming Nazi shrines, the interments were to be carried out in anonymous graves and within the prison grounds, inaccessible to the public, the same as was required by law in the UK. For the graves a rectangular area alongside the West Wing (between it and the perimeter wall) was provided. Known within the prison as the Kleiner Westhof (Small Western Yard), it was now designated ‘Plot G’. The plan of the burial ground was to be kept secret, and no Germans were allowed to be involved in the plotting and recording of the graves. Grave excavation and burials were to be carried out by prison personnel under British supervision. The coffins carried a number, not a name. In view of the limited space, Paton-Walsh ordered that three coffins should always be stacked on top of each other, a layer of charcoal to be added between them so that the remains could be distinguished from each other in the event of later exhumations.
Waffen-SS (HIAG, Association for Mutual Aid of Former Members of the Waffen-SS) using it to demonstrate against the alleged arbitrariness of ‘victors’ justice’ of the Allies. Then, in 1976, the town of Hameln made the unfortunate decision to hand over the care of the graves to a ‘citizens’ initiative’ in which members of the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD, National Democratic Party of Germany) set the tone. They decorated the field with grave crosses and held commemorations there. Ten years later, in 1986, after mass rallies by the NPD and the Freiheitliche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (FAP, Free German Workers’ Party), another neo-Nazi party founded in 1979, had led to Hameln coming under attention from national and international media, the municipality had the burial field ploughed up and seeded. THE YEARS AFTER Hameln Prison remained under British administration until 1950. Apart from the West Wing, which was closed off for the executions, the penitentiary carried on as normal in the rest of the complex. In 1955, the state of
EXECUTIONS OF ‘DISPLACED PERSONS’ In June 1947, the British military authorities decided that death sentences issued by Control Commission courts against Allied citizens, i.e. displaced persons (DPs), were no longer to be carried out by firing-squad. A faultless execution could only be guaranteed if the firingsquad consisted of experienced soldiers but not if young recruits were among them. Thereupon a lively debate arose as to which method to apply in the future: the time-consuming and costly hanging by the British hangman or the cheaper and faster decapitation by a German executioner. As Paton-Walsh put to paper, he was convinced that ‘the British-style of hanging by a real expert is a very humane method — it is quick and safe, and the loss of consciousness is instantaneous’. The legal division of the BAOR ultimately found it undesirable ‘to apply a method deemed unfit for British nationals [i.e. decapitation by guillotine] to persons sentenced to death by military courts in a British-administered zone’. They preferred a procedure the ‘humanity’ and effectiveness of which they were convinced of.
In 1958 Hameln Prison became a youth detention centre which it remained until 1980. In 1986, the three main cell blocks were pulled down, and the remaining structures — the old Gate Building, Main Building, Administrative Building and Prison Hospital — were converted into the 84-room Stadt Hameln Hotel, which opened in 1993. In this picture, taken from the tower of the Between June 1947 and December 1949, 44 people were hanged in Hameln for violations of the occupation law and applicable German law within the British zone. With the exception of two persons of German nationality, these were all displaced persons from Eastern Europe, the majority of them Poles, followed by Russians, Czechs and Yugoslavs. Most were guilty of unauthorised use of firearms, often in tandem with murder. The first such hanging — of three Poles convicted of killing another Pole — took place on June 26, 1947; the last — of Polish citizen Jerzy Andziak for the murder of a policeman — on December 6, 1949. The often very young DPs aroused Pierrepoint’s compassion: ‘All I could extend was my own final mercy of a quick death, and that involved the incongruous strain of measurements and calculations and adjustments, ending with a crude list nailed to a brick wall and the tired order: “Bring in so-and-so”.’ EXECUTIONS OF BRITISH SERVICEMEN The two British soldiers executed in Hameln were RASC Driver Francis Upson, hanged on January 22, 1947, for the murder of a German woman, and Sergeant Charles Patrick, executed on September 5, 1947, for the murder of his girlfriend, Private Georgina Kelty. The two were buried in the Hannover British War Cemetery.
Münster Sankt-Bonifacius Church, the hotel complex is in the right foreground. Where the Zellenflügel (cell block) and workshops used to be now stands the Rattenfänger-Halle, a communal venue for festive, cultural and sport events. A memorial plaque beside the hotel (see back cover) today reminds passers-by that this was once a prison.
The prison grounds proved to be unsuitable for burials. The soil consisted — as the Hameln Friedhofverwaltung (municipal cemetery administration) put it in a report on July 31, 1946 — of pebbles and flints, so was not very suitable for decomposition. To excavate the three-metre-deep pits it was necessary to use a jackhammer. Because a perfect sealing of the graves could not be achieved and infiltration into the ground was hardly possible, the Germans had justified concerns over the hygienic conditions. When after 92 burials all available space in the prison yard had been used up, interments were moved to the Am Wehl municipal cemetery, on the outlying Field C III, the first of these occurring on June 26, 1947. The last of 107 burials there took place on December 6, 1949. In March 1954, those buried in the prison grounds were moved to Field C III as well. Three persons were repatriated to their home towns, so in the end there were 196 remains. The British made sure that the burials at Am Wehl were anonymous as well. They allowed the plot to be maintained, but grave mounds and grave decorations were forbidden. Starting in the 1950s, the Am Wehl burial field became a meeting place for right-wing extremists, the Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der ehemaligen Angehörigen der
Lower Saxony decided to close the facility, and in 1958 the complex became a juvenile prison. In 1975, construction began of a new youth detention centre in the Tündern district on the south side of town, which opened in 1980. In 1986, the cell block and the West and East Wings of the old prison complex were demolished, and the remaining constructions — main building, gate building, administrative building and hospital building — listed. There followed long discussions about their use, either as a Kreishaus (municipal centre), cultural centre or hotel. In 1992, the city of Hameln, which had taken over the land from the state of Lower Saxony, sold the property for the price of one German Mark and, contrary to requirements of historic preservation, to a private individual. Conversion of the remaining buildings to a hotel complex then began and the Stadt Hameln Hotel opened in 1993. Today, nothing in the complex reminds of its dark past. On the remainder of the site, a large hall — the Rattenfänger-Halle (Pied Piper Hall) — and a school and park were constructed. On May 8, 2006, at the suggestion of the author, the municipality unveiled a commemorative plaque on the banks of the Weser, on municipal grounds outside the hotel, recalling the ordeals that so many prisoners suffered here. 55