“Chips, a German shepherd, collie, husky mix, was the most famous and decorated sentry dog in World War II, one of 10,425 dogs that saw service in the Quartermaster Corps’ new “K-9 Corps.” Prior to the K-9 Corps, dogs such as Admiral Wags on the carrier Lexington and World War I canine hero Sgt. Stubby were mascots and had no official function in America’s military.” H/T Defense Media Network
By the last year of the “Great War”, French, British and Belgian armed forces employed some 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, the Germans, 30,000. General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces recommended the use of dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals in the spring of 1918. However, with the exception of a few sled dogs in Alaska, the US was the only country to take part in World War I with virtually no service dogs in its military.
US Armed Forces had an extensive K-9 program during World War II, when private citizens were asked to donate their dogs to the war effort. One such dog was “Chips”, a German Shepherd/Collie/Husky mix who ended up being the most decorated K-9 of WWII.
Chips belonged to Edward Wren of Pleasantville, NY, who “enlisted” his dog in 1942. Chips was trained at the War Dog Training Center, Front Royal Virginia, and served in the 3rd Infantry Division with his handler, Private John Rowell. Chips and his handler took part in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. He served as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill conference in 1943, and the team was part of the Sicily landings later that year.
The Allied invasion of Sicily was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, beginning this day in 1943 and lasting through the 17th of August. Six weeks of land combat followed in an operation code named “Operation Husky”.
During the landing phase, private Rowell and Chips were pinned down by an Italian machine. The dog broke free from his handler, running across the beach and jumping into the pillbox. Chips attacked the four Italians manning the machine gun, single-handedly forcing their surrender to American troops. The dog sustained a scalp wound and powder burns in the process, demonstrating that they had tried to shoot him during the brawl. In the end, the score was Chips 4, Italians Zero.
Platoon commander Captain Edward Parr recommended Chips for the Distinguished Service Cross for “courageous action in single-handedly eliminating a dangerous machine gun nest and causing surrender of its crew.”
He helped to capture ten more later that same day.
Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, and Purple Heart but his awards, were later revoked. At that time the army didn’t permit commendations to be given to animals. His unit awarded him a Theater Ribbon with an Arrowhead for the assault landing anyway, along with eight Battle stars. One for each of his campaigns.
Chips was discharged in December, 1945, and returned home to live out his days with the Wren family in Pleasantville. In 1990, Disney made a TV movie based on his life. It’s called “Chips, the War Dog”.
Crowded into the north end of the island, lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito assembled everything he had, over 4,000 hardened troops, into the largest banzai charge of World War 2.
The largest amphibious assault in history began on June 6, 1944, on the northern coast of France. By end of day, some 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed the beaches of Normandy. Within a week that number had risen to a third of a million troops, over 50,000 vehicles and more than 100,000 tons of equipment.
Half a world away the “D-Day of the Pacific” launched the day before and landed nearly two weeks later, to take the first of three islands in the Mariana group. Saipan.
The “leapfrog” strategy bringing US Marines onto the beaches of Saipan were nothing new. The earlier campaigns to recapture New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, clearing the way for the “island hopping” tactics of admiral Chester Nimitz, to move on the Japanese archipelago.
The Solomon Islands of Tulagi, and Guadalcanal. The heavily fortified atolls of Tarawa and Makin, in the Gilbert islands. The Marshall islands group: Majuro, Kwajalein and Eniwetok. These and more were pried from the grasp of the Japanese occupier, retaken only by an effusion of blood and treasure unheard of, in previous conflicts.
Saipan was different. Captured in 1914, the League of Nations awarded Saipan to the Empire of Japan five years later, part of the South Seas Mandate of 1919. Saipan was Japanese territory, the first not retaken since the Japanese offensives of 1941 -’42. Not only that. Allied control of Saipan put the Japanese archipelago well within range of B29 long range bombers. Control of the Marianas and Saipan in particular spelled the beginning of the end of the war in the Pacific, and both sides knew it.
Prime Minister Hideki Tōjō publicly swore the place would never be taken. This was to be the most pivotal battle, of the war in the Pacific.
We’ve all seen that hideous footage from the closing days. The cataracts of human beings hurling themselves from the cliffs of Saipan to certain and violent death, on the rocks below. Destroying themselves to avoid who-knows-what kind of atrocities the propaganda ministers of their own government, had taught them to expect at the hands of the Americans.
And those were the civilians. The ferocity of Japanese military resistance can scarcely be imagined, by the modern mind. US Marines took 2,000 casualties on the first day alone, June 16, on the beaches of Saipan.
US Army joined in the following day and, for almost four weeks, battled dug-in and fanatical Japanese soldiers for control of Saipan. Fighting was especially intense around Mount Tapotchau, the highest peak on Saipan. Names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge” etched themselves in blood, onto the histories of the 2nd and 4th divisions of the United States Marine Corps and the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division.
By July 6 what remained of the defenders had their backs to the sea. Crowded into the north end of the island, lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito assembled everything he had, over 4,000 hardened troops, into the largest banzai charge of World War 2.
Banzai as the allies called it after the battle cry “Tennōheika Banzai” (“Long live His Majesty the Emperor”) was a massed assault, one method of gyokusei (shattered jewel) whose purpose is honorable suicide, not unlike the hideous ritual of self-disembowelment known as seppuku.
Imagine if you will, an irresistible tide of shrieking warriors, thousands of them pouring down on you bent on destroying you and everyone around you, each seeking that honorable suicide only to be had, from death in battle.
The evening of July 6 was spent immersed in beer and sake At 4:45am local time July 7, the largest banzai charge of World War 2 came screaming out of the dawn to envelop US forces. First came the officers, some 200 of them, waving their swords and screaming, at the top of their lungs. Then came the soldiers. Thousands of them, howling in the morning’s first light. Major Edward McCarthy said it was like stampeding cattle, only these, kept coming.
The tide was irresistible at first, sweeping all before it. The American perimeter was shattered leaving nothing but isolated pockets, fighting for their lives. Fighting was savage and hand to hand with everything from point-blank howitzers and anti-tank weapons to rifle butts, fists, and rocks.
The human tide advanced some 1,000 yards into the American interior before it was slowed, and then stopped. By six that evening, American armed forces had regained original positions in what was now a charnel house, of gore.
406 Americans were killed that July 7 and an another 512, maimed. 4,311 Japanese troops, lay dead. Three stories come down to us, from that day. Three stories among thousands who have earned the right, to be remembered.
Lt. Col. William O’Brien fired two pistols into the faces of his attackers until he was out, of bullets. Receiving a severe shoulder wound in the process O’Brien leaped onto a jeep and blazed away with its .50 caliber mounted machine gun, all while shouting encouragement to his retreating comrades.
At last even that was out of ammunition. Lt. Col O’Brien was overwhelmed by his attackers his body riddled with bullets, and bayonet wounds. On retaking the position that evening American observers credited 30 dead Japanese, to O’Brien’s .50-cal.
Private Tom Baker exhausted his rifle’s ammunition before turning it, as a club. His rifle butt shattered Baker began to pull back, before he was hit. A fellow soldier began to carry him when he himself, was shot down. Baker refused further aid asking instead to be propped up against a tree facing the enemy with a cigarette, and a pistol.
He was found that afternoon, dead, the eight bullets from that pistol, spent. He was still sitting up against that tree. At his feet, were eight dead Japanese.
Captain Benjamin Salomon was a rear-echelon guy, a dentist assigned to a medical unit. Captain Salomon was treating the wounded in an aid station, when the first attacker, crawled under the tent wall. Salomon hit the man with a medical tray before killing him with a wounded soldier’s carbine.
Ordering the aid station to be evacuated of all wounded, Dr. Salomon covered their retreat with a .30-caliber water-cooled machine gun. He too was found later his body riddled with bullets, and bayonet wounds.
Seven men were awarded Medals of Honor for their actions on Saipan, all of them, posthumous. Among those were Lieutenant Colonel O’Brien, and Private Baker. Dr. Salomon did not receive the medal of honor as his final actions, involved a machine gun. The Geneva Conventions prevent medical personnel from defending themselves with anything more, than a pistol.
French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum in 1999, the “Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour“. The village stands today as those Nazi soldiers left it, seventy-seven years ago today.
It was D+4 following the invasion of Normandy, when the 2nd Panzer Division of the Waffen SS passed through the Limousin region, in west-central France. “Das Reich” carried orders to help stop the Allied advance, when SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann received word that SS officer Helmut Kämpfe was being held by French Resistance fighters in the village of Oradour-sur-Vayres.
Diekmann’s battalion sealed off nearby Oradour-sur-Glane, seemingly oblivious to their own confusion between two different villages.
Everyone in the town was ordered to assemble in the village square, for examination of identity papers. The entire population was there plus another half-dozen unfortunates, caught riding bicycles in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
The women and children of Oradour-sur-Glane were locked in a church while German soldiers looted the town. The men were taken to a half-dozen barns and sheds where machine guns were already set up.
SS soldiers aimed for the legs when they opened fire, intending to inflict as much pain as possible. Five escaped in the confusion before Nazis lit the barn on fire. 190 men were burned alive.
Soldiers then lit an incendiary device in the church and gunned down 247 women and 205 children, as they fled for their lives.
47-year-old Marguerite Rouffanche escaped out a back window, followed by a young woman and child. All three were shot. Rouffanche alone escaped alive, crawling to some bushes where she managed to hide, until the next morning.
642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane, aged one week to 90 years, were shot to death, burned alive or some combination of the two, in just a few hours. The village was then razed to the ground.
Raymond J. Murphy, a 20-year-old American B-17 navigator shot down over France and hidden by the French Resistance, reported seeing a baby. The child had been crucified.
After the war, a new village was built on a nearby site. French President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the old village remain as it stood, a monument for all time to criminally insane governing ideologies, and the malign influence of collectivist thinking.
Generals Erwin Rommel and Walter Gleiniger, German commander in Limoges, protested the senseless act of brutality. Even the SS Regimental commander agreed and began an investigation, but it didn’t matter. Diekmann and most of the men who had carried out the massacre were themselves dead within the next few days, killed in combat.
The ghost village at the old Oradour-sur-Glane stands mute witness to this day, to the savagery committed by black-clad Schutzstaffel units in countless places like the French towns of Tulle, Ascq, Maillé, Robert-Espagne, and Clermont-en-Argonne; the Polish villages of Michniów, Wanaty and Krasowo-Częstki and the city of Warsaw; the Soviet village of Kortelisy; the Lithuanian village of Pirčiupiai; the Czechoslovakian villages of Ležáky and Lidice; the Greek towns of Kalavryta and Distomo; the Dutch town of Putten; the Yugoslavian towns of Kragujevac and Kraljevo and the village of Dražgoše, in what is now Slovenia; the Norwegian village of Telavåg; the Italian villages of Sant’Anna di Stazzema and Marzabotto.
And on. And on. And on.
The story was featured on the 1974 British television series “The World at War” narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, who intones these words for the first and final episodes of the program:
“Down this road, on a summer day in 1944. . . The soldiers came. Nobody lives here now. They stayed only a few hours. When they had gone, the community which had lived for a thousand years. . . was dead. This is Oradour-sur-Glane, in France. The day the soldiers came, the people were gathered together. The men were taken to garages and barns, the women and children were led down this road . . . and they were driven. . . into this church. Here, they heard the firing as their men were shot. Then. . . they were killed too. A few weeks later, many of those who had done the killing were themselves dead, in battle. They never rebuilt Oradour. Its ruins are a memorial. Its martyrdom stands for thousands upon thousands of other martyrdoms in Poland, in Russia, in Burma, in China, in a World at War”.
Sir Laurence Olivier
French President Jacques Chirac dedicated a memorial museum in 1999, the “Centre de la mémoire d’Oradour“. The village stands today as those Nazi soldiers left it, seventy-seven years ago today.
Munitions workers began to complain of headaches and nausea and skin conditions, like hives. Constant exposure to toxic chemicals turned the hair and skin of these women a brilliant shade of yellow, or orange. Expectant “Canary Girls’ gave birth to bright yellow “Canary Babies”.
Since the age of antiquity, heavy weapons have tilted the scales of battlefield strategy. The first catapult was developed in Syracuse, in 339 BC. The Roman catapult of the 1st century BC hurled 14-pound stone balls against fixed fortifications. The age of gunpowder brought new and ghastly capabilities to artillery. In 1453, the terrifying siege guns Mehmed II faced the walls of Constantinople, hurling 150-pound missiles from barrels, wide enough to swallow a grown man.
Such weapons were slow to reload and sometimes, unreliable. Mehmed’s monsters took a full three hours to fire. Seven years later, King James II of Scotland was killed when his own gun, exploded.
By the Napoleonic wars, artillery caused more battlefield casualties than any other weapon system.
At that time such weapons were virtually always, loaded at the muzzle. The first breech loaders came about in the 14th century but it would take another 500 years, before precision manufacturing made such weapons reliable, and plentiful.
Breech loading vastly increased rate-of-fire capabilities. By the end of the 19th century, technological advances brought new and hideous capabilities to what Josef Stalin would come to call, the “God of War’.
Heretofore, the massive recoil of such weapons required a period of time to re-set, re-aim and reload. In the 1890s, French soldier Joseph Albert DePort solved that problem with a damping system enabling the barrel to recoil, leaving the gun in place. Recoilless weapons could now be equipped with shields keeping gun crews as close as possible while smokeless powder meant that gunners could clearly see what they were shooting at.
By World War 1, trained crews serving a French 75 could fire once every two seconds. Massed artillery fired with such horrifying rapidity as to resemble the sound, of drums.
This clip is five minutes long. Imagine finding yourself under “drumfire”, for days on end.
While guns of this type were aimed by lines of sight, howitzers fired missiles in high parabolic trajectories to fall on the heads, of the unlucky.
The great Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke (the elder) once said, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy”. So it was in the tiny Belgian city of Ypres where the German war of movement met with weapons of the industrial revolution.
A million men were brought to this place, to kill each other. The first Battle for Ypres, there would be others, brought together more firepower than entire wars of an earlier age. The losses are hard to get your head around. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) alone suffered 56,000 casualties including 8,000 killed, 30,000 maimed and another 18,000 missing, of whom roughly one-third, were dead.
The breakdown is harder to get at for the other combatants but, all in, Germany suffered 135,000 casualties, France 85,000 and Belgium, 22,000. The three week struggle for Ypres cost the lives of 75,000 men, enough to fill the Athens Olympic Stadium, in Greece. Soldiers on all sides dug frantically into the ground, to shelter from what Private Ernst Jünger called, the “Storm of Steel”.
The French alone expended 2,155,862 shells during the Anglo-French offensive called the second battle of Artois, fought May 9 through June 18, 1915, a fruitless effort to capitalize on German defenses, weakened by the diversion of troops to the eastern front. The objective, to flatten the German “Bulge” in the Artois-Arras sector.
Immediately to the French left, the British 6th army under Sir John French was to advance on May 9 in support of the French offensive, taking the villages of Aubers, Fromelles and Le Maisnil and the elevation known as Aubers Ridge.
The battle of Aubers was an unmitigated disaster. The man-killing shrapnel rounds so valued by pre-war strategists were as nothing, against fortified German earthworks. No ground was taken, no tactical advantage gained despite British losses, ten times that on the German side.
War correspondent Colonel Charles à Court Repington sent a telegram to The Times, complaining of the lack of high-explosive shells. On May 14 The Times headline read: “Need for shells: British attacks checked: Limited supply the cause: A Lesson From France”. The article placed blame squarely on the government of Herbert Asquith who had stated as recently as April 20, that the army had sufficient ammunition.
“We had not sufficient high explosives to lower the enemy’s parapets to the ground … The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success”.
The Times, May 14, 1915
For British politics at home, the information fell as a bombshell, precipitating a scandal known as the Shell Crisis of 1915.
Governments were slow at first to understand the prodigious appetites, of this war. Fixed trench lines led to new rail construction capable of providing cataracts of munitions, to front lines. The problem came from a munitions industry, unable to supply such demands.
Men shipped off to the war by the millions leaving jobs vacant and families at home, without income. Women represented a vast pool of untapped labor. Despite social taboos against women working outside the home, wives, sisters and mothers came flooding into the workplace.
By the end of the war some three million women joined the workforce a third of whom, worked in munitions factories.
Ever conscious of husbands, sons and sweethearts at the front, women worked grueling hours under dangerous conditions. “Munitionettes” manufactured cordite propellants and trinitrotoluene (TNT) explosives, hand filling projectiles from individual bullets to giant shells.
At the front, the war was an all-devouring monster consuming men and munitions at rates unimagined, in earlier conflicts. During the first two weeks of the 3rd Battle for Ypres, better known as Passchendaele, British, Australian and Canadian artillery fired 4,283,550 shells at their German adversary.
Munitions workers began to complain of headaches and nausea and skin conditions, like hives. Constant exposure to toxic chemicals turned the hair and skin of these women a brilliant shade of yellow, or orange. Expectant “Canary Girls” gave birth to bright yellow “Canary Babies”.
Nothing could be done and the yellow tended to fade over time but not a very different yellow, caused by toxic jaundice.
The work was well paid but exhausting, often seven days a week. Grueling 14-hour shifts led to girls as young as 14 coming into the workforce, but it wasn’t enough. “History of Yesterday” writes that two women on average died every week from toxic chemicals, and workplace accidents. One 1918 explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory №6 near Chilwell caused the death of 130 women.
The modern reader can scarcely imagine the crushing burdens of these women caring for families at home and ever conscious of sons, brothers and sweethearts, struggling to survive in this all consuming war.
The canary colored hair and skin would fade in time, but not the long term health effects of daily exposure to toxic substances. It didn’t matter. Twenty years later another generation would do it, all over again.
On this day in 1945, a motley group of civilians joined forces with American GIs and a handful of Wehrmacht soldiers to fight the fanatics, of the Nazi SS.
According to the CDC, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States second only, to heart disease. The #3 leading cancer afflicts the lungs, and bronchi.
In 1878 a scant 1 percent of all malignant tumors occurred in the lungs. Mass production and mass marketing of cigarettes, changed all that. By 1918, that number had increased to one in ten.
The American Cancer Society first published studies confirming the link between lung cancer and smoking nearly a decade after World War 2. British epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll was knighted in 1971 for similar research but the earliest such work, occurred in Nazi Germany.
German physician Fritz Lickint first wrote in 1929 of the connection between smoking, and lung cancer. Ten years later German scientist Franz Müller presented the first epidemiological study linking tobacco use, and cancer.
When Nazis came to power, the new government would tolerate no threat to the health of the Aryan “master race”. Hitler himself quit a two pack a day habit back in 1919. Benito Mussolini quit smoking and drinking, in his 20s. For the fascist states anti-smoking, became a crusade. By the start of WWII der Führer had a standing offer of a gold watch to anyone among his inner circle, who quit the habit.
“Brother national socialist, do you know that your Fuhrer is against smoking and thinks that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and omissions, and does not have the right to damage his body with drugs?”
In 1942, Itter Castle became headquarters for the “German Association for Combating the Dangers of Tobacco”.
Itter Castle appeared in the land records of the Austrian Tyrol as early as 1240. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Schloss Itter was first leased and later requisitioned outright by the German government for unspecified “Official use”.
By April 1943, Itter became a prison for individuals of value to the Reich. Among these were the tennis player Jean Borotra and former French Prime Ministers Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud. Former commanders-in-chief Maxime Weygand and Maurice Gamelin were interned in Schloss Itter as was Marie-Agnès Cailliau, the elder sister of Charles de Gaulle.
A number of Eastern Europeans were likewise imprisoned at Itter, mostly employed in maintenance and other menial work around the castle.
In the early weeks of 1945, the 23rd Tank Battalion of the American 12th Armored Division fought its way across France, through Germany and into the Austrian Tyrol. 27 year-old 1st Lieutenant John “Jack” Lee Jr. was leading the three tank “Company B’, spearheading the drive into Kufstein and on to Munich. The unit had just fought a pitched battle at a German roadblock before clearing the town. With lead elements of the 36th Infantry moving in to take possession on May 4, Lee’s unit could finally take a rest.
Back at Itter, the last commander of the Dachau concentration camp, Eduard Weiter, had fled his command and made his way to the safety of Itter Castle. Weiter was murderedon may 2 by an unnamed SS officer, for insufficient devotion to the cause. Fearing for his own life, Itter commanding officer Sebastian Wimmer fled the Castle on May 4, followed by his guards. The now-former prisoners of Schloss Itter were alone for now but the presence of SS units in the area made it imperative. They had to do…something.
By this time, Wehrmacht Major Josef Gangl and a few of his soldiers had changed sides, joining the Austrian resistance in Wörgl against roving bands of SS fanatics, then in possession of the town.
While his fellow prisoners broke into the weapons room and armed themselves with pistols, rifles, and submachine guns, Zoonimir Cuckovic, AKA “André”, purloined a bicycle and went looking for help.
André’s mad bicycle ride resulted in the one of the strangest rescues in military history. Lieutenant Lee tapped eight volunteers and two tanks, his own “Besotten Jenny” and Lt. Wallace Holbrook’s “Boche Buster.” Riding atop the two Shermans were six members of the all–black Company D, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, a couple crews from the 142nd Infantry Regiment and the Wehrmacht’s own Josef Gangl with a Kübelwagen full of German soldiers, bringing up the rear.
It was late afternoon as the convoy left for Castle Itter. Leaving Boche Buster and a few Infantry to guard the largest bridge into town, what remained of the convoy fought its way through its last SS roadblock in the early evening, roaring across the last bridge and lurching to a stop in front of Itter’s gate as night began to fall.
Inside of Itter prisoners looked on, in dismay. They had expected a column of American tanks and a heavily armed infantry force. What they had here, was a single tank with seven Americans, and a truckload of armed Germans.
The castle’s defenders came under attack almost at once, by harrying forces sent to assess their strength and to probe the fortress for weakness. Lee ordered French prisoners to hide inside but they refused, remaining outside and fighting alongside American and German soldiers. Frantic calls for reinforcements resulted in two more German soldiers and a teenage Austrian resistance member arriving overnight, but that would be all.
The Totenkopf, or “Death’s head” units was the SS organization responsible for concentration camp administration for the Third Reich and some of the most fanatical soldiers of WWII. Even at this late date SS units were putting up fierce resistance across northern Austria. On the morning of May 5 100 to150 of them, attacked Schloss Itter. Fighting was furious around the castle, the one Sherman providing machine-gun fire support until being destroyed by a German 88mm gun. By early afternoon Lee was able to get a desperate plea for reinforcements through to the 142nd Infantry, before being cut off.
Aware that he’d been unable to give complete information on the enemy’s troop strength and disposition, Lee accepted a gallant offer of assistance from the resident tennis pro, Jean Borotra.
Literally vaulting over the castle wall, the tennis star ran through a gauntlet of SS strongpoints and ambushes to deliver his message, before donning an American uniform to help fight through to the castle’s defenders. The relief force arrived around 4pm, even as defenders were firing their last ammunition.
100 SS were captured. Lee later received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. Josef Gangl was killed by a sniper while attempting to move Prime Minister Reynaud, out of harm’s way.
So ended the first and only battle in which Americans and Germans fought, side by side. Representatives of Nazi Germany signed the unconditional surrender, two days later. Today, there’s a street in Wörgl, which bears the name of Josef Gangl.
Paul Reynaud didn’t like Jack Lee, remembering the American Lieutenant as “crude in both looks and manners”. “If Lee is a reflection of America’s policies”, he sniffed, “Europe is in for a hard time”. How very…French…of him. All that and he never did get to learn the lyrics, of the Horst Wessel song.
There is a war memorial in the small South Wales town of Aberbargoed, in memory of Glyndwr Michael. In poetic prose so Tolkienish it could only be welsh, a plaque is inscribed with this phrase “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed“. It means “The Man Who Never Was”.
The idea was a head fake, disinformation planted into the hands of Nazi Germany, to make the enemy believe the allies planned to invade Sardinia and Greece in 1943, rather than the real targets of North Africa and Sicily. British Military Intelligence codenamed the ruse “Operation Mincemeat”.
The London coroner obtained the body of a 34-year-old homeless man by the name of Glyndwr Michael, on condition that his real identity never be revealed. The Welshman had died of rat poison though it’s uncertain whether the death was accidental, or suicide. This particular poison came in a paste, and was spread on bread crusts to attract rats. Michael may have died, merely because he was hungry.
Be that as it may, the cause of death was difficult to detect, the condition of the corpse close to that of someone who had died at sea, of hypothermia and drowning. The dead man’s parents were both deceased, there were no known relatives and the man died friendless. So it was that Glyndwr Michael became the Man who Never Was.
The next step was to create a “past” for the dead man. Michael became “(Acting) Major William “Bill” Martin, Royal Marines”, born 1907, in Cardiff, Wales, assigned to Headquarters, Combined Operations. As a Royal Marine, “Martin” could wear battle dress rather than a naval uniform. This was important, because Naval uniforms at the time were tailor-made by Gieves & Hawkes of Saville Row. Authorities could hardly ask Gieves’ tailors to measure a corpse, without raising eyebrows.
The rank of acting major made Martin senior enough to be entrusted with sensitive documents, but not so prominent that anyone would expect to know him. The name “Martin” was chosen because there were several Martins of about that rank, already serving in the Royal Marines.
A “fiancé” was furnished for Major Martin in the form of an MI5 clerk named “Pam”. “Major Martin” carried her snapshot, along with two love letters and a jeweler’s bill, for a diamond engagement ring.
In keeping with his rank, Martin was given good quality underwear to increase his authenticity. Extremely difficult to obtain due to rationing, the underwear was purloined from the Master of the New College Oxford, who’d been run over and killed, by a truck.
Made to look like the victim of a plane crash, the plan was to drop the body at sea at a place where the tide would bring it ashore and into German Hands.
On April 30, 1943 Lieutenant Norman Jewell, commander of the submarine Seraph, read the 39th Psalm. The body of the man who never was, complete with briefcase padlocked to his wrist containing “secret” documents, slid into the ocean off the Spanish coast.
The hoax worked, nicely. A Spanish fisherman recovered the body and a Nazi agent intercepted the papers, as intended. Mussolini insisted correctly that the allied attack would come through Sicily, but Hitler wasn’t buying it. Der Führer swallowed the Mincemeat ruse whole insisting that the Sicilian attack was nothing but a diversion, from the real objective.
When the Allies invaded Sicily on the 9th of July, the Germans were so convinced it was a feint that they kept forces out of action for two full weeks. After that, it was too late to affect the outcome.
The non-existent Major William Martin was buried with military honors in the Huelva cemetery of Nuestra Señora under a headstone which reads:
“William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori, R.I.P.” The Latin phrase means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
In 1998, the British Government revealed Martin’s true identity, and “Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM”, was added to the gravestone.
There is a war memorial in the small South Wales town of Aberbargoed, in memory of Glyndwr Michael. In poetic prose so Tolkienish it could only be welsh, a plaque is inscribed with this phrase “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed“. It means “The Man Who Never Was”.
On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge. Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Croton oil as a “poisonous viscous liquid obtained from the seeds of a small Asiatic tree…” Highly toxic and a violent irritant, the substance was once used as a drastic purgative and counter-irritant in human and veterinary medicine, but is now considered too dangerous for medicinal use. Applied externally, Croton oil is capable of peeling your skin off. Taken internally, the stuff may be described as the atomic bomb, of laxatives.
The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or subject to Nazi occupation. France fell to the Nazi war machine in six weeks, in 1940. The armed forces of the island nation of Great Britain were left shattered and defenseless, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.
On the Scandinavian Peninsula, longstanding policies of disarmament in the wake of WW1 left the Nordic states of Denmark and Norway severely under-strength, able to offer little resistance to the Nazi invaders.
On this day in 1940, German warships entered Norwegian harbors from Narvik to Oslo, as German troops occupied Copenhagen and other Danish cities. King Christian X of Denmark surrendered almost immediately. To the northwest, Norwegian commanders loyal to former foreign minister Vidkun Quisling ordered coastal defenders to stand down, permitting the German landing to take place, unopposed. Norwegian forces refused surrender demands from the German Minister in Oslo, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Nazi Germany responded with an airborne invasion by parachute. Within weeks, Adolf Hitler could add a second and third scalp to his belt, following the invasion of Poland, six months earlier. The Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, were out of the war.
Norway was out of the war, but not out of the fight. One Nazi officer passed an elderly woman on the street, who complained at the officer’s rudeness and knocked his hat off, with her cane. The officer apologized, and scurried away. The gray-haired old matron snickered, to herself: “Well, we’ll each have to fight this war as best we can. That’s the fourth hat I’ve knocked into the mud this morning.”
Norwegian Resistance was quick to form, as patriotic locals united against the Nazi occupier and the collaborationist policies of the Quisling government.
The Norwegian secret army known as Milorg and led by General Otto Ruge, was at first loath to engage in outright sabotage, for fear of German reprisals against innocent civilians. Later in the war, Milorg commandos attacked the heavy water factory at Rjukan and sank a ferry carrying 1,300 lbs of heavy water, inflicting severe damage to the Nazi nuclear research program.
In the beginning, Resistance activities centered more around covert sabotage and the gathering of intelligence. One of the great but little-known dramas of WW2 unfolded across the snow covered mountains of the Scandinavian peninsula, as the civilian-turned-spy Sven Somme fled 200 miles on foot to neutral Sweden, pursued by 900 Wehrmacht soldiers and a pack of bloodhounds.
Operations of all kinds were undertaken, to stymie the Nazi war effort. Some actions seem like frat-boy pranks, such as coating condoms destined for German units, with itching powder. Hundreds of Wehrmacht soldiers (and presumably Norwegian women) showed up at Trondheim hospitals, believing they had contracted Lord-knows-what kind of plague.
Other operations demonstrate a kind of evil genius. This is where Croton oil comes in.
As dedicated as they were, Norwegian resistance fighters still had to feed themselves and their families. Many of them were subsistence fishermen, and that meant sardines. For centuries, the small fish had been a staple food item across the Norwegian countryside. It was a near-catastrophic blow to civilian and Resistance fighters alike, when the Quisling government requisitioned the entire sardine crop.
The Battle of the Atlantic was in full-swing by this time, as wolf packs of German submarines roamed the north Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping. Thousands of tons of sardines would be sent to the French port of Saint-Nazaire, to feed U-Boat crews on their long voyages at sea.
Norwegian vengeance began with a request to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Great Britain, for the largest shipment of Croton oil, possible. The “atomic laxative” was smuggled into canneries across Norway, and used to replace vegetable oil in sardine tins. The plan worked nicely and no one suspected a thing, the pungent taste of the fish covering the strange flavor of the oil.
From midget submarines such as the Biber, Hai, Molch, and Seehund models to the behemoth 1,800-ton “Type X“, the Kriegsmarine employed no fewer than fifteen distinct submarine types in WW2, including the workhorse “Type VII”, of which some 700 saw service in the German war effort.
On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge. Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.
Revenge, it is said, is a dish, best served cold. Excepting the participants in this tale, no one knows what it looks like when ten thousand submariners simultaneously lose control of their bowels. It could not have been a pretty sight.
Rodman was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed his life, forever.
Military forces of Imperial Japan appeared unstoppable during the years leading to World War 2, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. The US military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines all fell, in quick succession.
On January 7, 1942 Japanese forces attacked the Bataan peninsula in the central Luzon region, of the Philippines. The prize was nothing short of the finest natural harbor in the Asian Pacific, Manila Bay, the Bataan Peninsula forming the lee shore and the heavily fortified island of Corregidor, the “Gibraltar of the East”, standing at the mouth. Before the Japanese invasion was to succeed, Bataan and Corregidor must be destroyed.
In early December, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) outside Luzon possessed more aircraft than the Hawaiian Department, defending Pearl Harbor. In the event of hostilities with Japan, “War Plan Orange” (WPO-3) called for superior air power, covering the strategic retreat across Manila Bay to the Bataan peninsula, buying time for US Naval assets to sail for the Philippines.
In reality, the flower of American naval power in the pacific, lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Eight hours after the attack on Oahu, a devastating raid on Clark Field outside of Luzon left 102 aircraft damaged, or destroyed. Army chief of staff general George C. Marshall later remarked to a reporter: “I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground.”
General Douglas MacArthur abandoned Corregidor on March 12, departing the “Alamo of the Pacific” with trademark dramatic flair: “I shall return”. Some 90,000 American and Filipino troops were on their own, left without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the onslaught of the Japanese 14th Army.
Starving, battered by wounds and decimated by all manner of tropical disease and parasite, the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” fought on until they could do no more.
War correspondent Frank Hewlett was the last reporter to leave Corregidor, before it all collapsed. It was he who coined the phrase “Angels of Bataan“, to describe the women who stayed behind to be taken into captivity, to care for the sick and wounded. Hewlett wrote this tribute to the doomed defenders of that place:
Battling Bastards of Bataan
We’re the battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces And nobody gives a damn Nobody gives a damn.
by Frank Hewlett 1942
Allied war planners turned their attention to defeating Adolf Hitler.
In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the river gunboat USS Mindanao earned the distinction of taking prisoner the sole survivor of the midget submarine attacks carried out that day, Kazuo Sakamaki. Now short on fuel, Mindanao was reduced to harassing shore artillery and covering small boats evacuating soldiers, from the beaches. On April 8, 1942, Mindanao Executive Officer David Nash confided to his diary: “This has been a hectic day. It looks like the beginning of the end. The planes get nearer each day and this evening the word was received to get up steam and standby to get underway. Meanwhile Ft. Mills started shooting across our heads toward the Bataan lines. All night long our forces were obviously destroying equipment. It looks like evacuation from the Peninsula”.
Bataan fell the following day, some 75,000 American and Filipino fighters beginning a 65-mile, five-day trek into captivity known as the Bataan Death March. Lieutenant Nash was taken prisoner, surviving a captivity many did not to pass the remainder of the war at Bilibid, Davao, Dapecol and the infamous Cabanatuan prison camps.
With a commanding position over Pacific shipping routes, holding the Philippine archipelago was critical for Japanese war strategy. Capturing the islands was important to the US by the same logic with the added reason, this was a personal point of pride for General Douglas MacArthur. Two years almost to the day from that ignominious departure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered MacArthur to come up with a plan to take the place back. Luzon would come first with the invasion of Leyte in the north, slated for early 1945.
That summer, US 3rd fleet operations revealed Japanese defenses were weaker than expected. The invasion was moved forward to October. Before it was over, the Battle of Leyte would trigger the greatest naval battle, of World War 2.
With deep-water approaches and sandy beaches, Leyte Island is tailor-made for amphibious assault. Preliminary operations for the invasion began on October 17. MacArthur made his grand entrance on the 20th announcing to the 900,000 residents of the island: “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”
The fighting for Leyte was long and bloody involving 323,000 American troops and Filipino guerrillas. Day and night through mountains, swamps and jungles, by the time it was over some 50,000 Japanese combat troops were destroyed. Organized resistance ended on Christmas day. By the New Year there was little left, but isolated stragglers.
Not many can find humor in such a place as that. Private Melvin Levy was one who could. A member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, that November, Levy and his comrades were fighting as infantry. He was part of the 511th‘s demolition platoon, nicknamed the “Death Squad” for its high casualty rate.
The C-47 came in low that day, but this wasn’t your normal bombing run. The plane was armed with “biscuit bombs”, crates of food and provisions intended to resupply the 511th regiment. With a comedian’s sense of timing, Levy was holding court before an enthralled group of soldiers, resting under a palm tree. Laughter filled the air as Private Levy delivered the punchline and asked his best friend Rodman, for a cigarette. Rodman took the one out of his mouth and handed it over before turning, for the pack. The biscuit bomb came in at 200 miles per hour, tearing Levy’s head from his shoulders, where he stood.
As the only other Jewish guy in the unit, Rodman presided over Levy’s funeral, the following day. He spoke a few words and placed a star of David, on Levy’s grave.
Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. Rodman himself was wounded twice and finished the war, in occupied Japan. He was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed him, forever. The human wreckage wrought by the atomic bomb, the fire bombing, the results of the aerial mining of Japanese harbors literally code-named, “Operation Starvation”.
Rodman Edward Serling had opened a door, never to be closed. A door unlocked, with the key of imagination. Beyond that door is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into, the Twilight Zone.
“Sometime [the train] stop[ped], you know, fifteen to twenty minutes to take fresh air-suppertime and in the desert, in middle of state. Already before we get out of train, army machine guns lined up towards us-not toward other side to protect us, but like enemy, pointed machine guns toward us”. – -Henry Sugimoto, artist
In January 1848, carpenter and sawmill operator James W. Marshall discovered gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in California. Prospectors flocked to the Golden State from across the United States, and abroad. The California Gold Rush had begun.
While not exactly welcoming, prospectors tolerated Chinese immigrants in the early period. Surface gold was plentiful in those days. Some even found the chopsticks and the broad conical hats of the Chinese mining camps, amusing. As competition increased, resentment began to build. Meanwhile in southern China, crop failures and rumors of the Golden Mountain, the Gam Saan, brought with it a tide of Chinese immigration. San Francisco saw a tenfold increase in 1852, alone. Now anything but amused, California lawmakers imposed a $3 per month tax on foreigners, explicitly aimed at Chinese miners.
Large labor projects like the trans-continental railroad and Canadian Pacific Railway fed the influx of Chinese “coolie” labor, eager to work for wages too small to be of interest to American laborers.
By 1870, a full 25% of the California state budget came from that single tax on Chinese miners. In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the further immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the first and remains to this day the only law specifically targeted at one ethnic group.
Meanwhile, the “gunboat diplomacy” of President Millard Fillmore determined to open Japanese ports to trade, with the west. By force, if necessary. By 1868, internal Japanese issues and the growing pressure of western encroachment had brought about the end of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and restoration of the Meiji Emperor.
The social changes wrought by the “Meiji Restoration” combined with abrupt opening to world trade plunged the Japanese economy, into recession. Japanese emigrants had left the home islands since the 15th century, in pursuit of new opportunities. That was nothing compared with the new “Japanese diaspora” begun in 1868. 3.8 million “Nikkei” emigrated between 1868 and 1912, bound for destinations from Brazil to mainland China, the United States, Australia, Peru, Germany and others. Even Finland.
These were the Issei, first generation immigrants, ineligible for citizenship under US law. The immigrant generation kept to the ways of the land they had left behind forming kenjin-kai, social and aid organizations built around the prefecture, from which they had come. Not so, the second generation. These were the Nisei, American-born US citizens, thoroughly assimilated to the culture to which their parents had arrived.
As with the earlier wave of Chinese immigrants, west coast European Americans became alarmed at the tide of Japanese immigration. Laws were passed and treaties signed, attempting to slow their number.
In 1908, an informal “Gentleman’s agreement” between the US and Japan prohibited further immigration of unskilled migrants. A loophole allowed wives to join their husbands already in the United States leading to an influx of “picture brides” – marriages arranged by friends and families and executed by proxy – many happy couples meeting for the first time, upon the arrival of the blushing bride. The immigration act of 1924 followed the example of the Chinese exclusion act of 1882, outright banning further immigration from “undesirable” Asian countries.
By this time 200,000 ethnic Japanese lived in Hawaii, mostly laborers looking for work on the island’s sugar plantations. A nearly equal number settled on the west coast building farms, and small businesses.
From 1937, the rapid conquests of the Asian Pacific raised fears that the Imperial Japanese military, was unstoppable. As relations soured between Japan and America, the Roosevelt administration took to surveillance of Japanese Americans, compiling lists.
Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, public sentiment came down largely on the side of Japanese Americans. The Los Angeles Times characterized them as “good Americans, born and educated as such,” but that would soon change. A member of the second attack wave on December 7, “Zero” pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi downed his crippled fighter on Ni’ihau, the westernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago. Ignorant at first of what had taken place, Ni’hauans showed the downed pilot, hospitality. By the time it was over the whole thing turned violent, pitting the pilot and a small number of Issei and Nissei, in a deadly struggle against native Hawaiians.
The “Ni’hau incident” combined with fears of 5th column activity to turn the tide, of public opinion.
General John Dewitt, a vocal proponent of what was about to happen, opined: “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less . . . ominous, in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage that there is a control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis”.
On January 2, a Joint Immigration Committee of the California legislature attacked “ethnic Japanese” citizen and non-citizen alike, as “totally unassimilable”. The presidentially appointed Roberts Committee assigned to investigate the attack on Pearl Harbor accused persons of Japanese ancestry of espionage, leading up to the attack. By February, California Attorney General and future Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren was doing everything he could to persuade the federal government, to remove all people of Japanese ancestry from the west coast.
On January 14, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Proclamation 2537 requiring “enemy aliens” to procure identification and carry it with them, “at all times”. The War Department, and Department of Justice were sharply divided but, no matter. Executive order 9066 signed February 19 directed the establishment of exclusion zones.
Secret Presidential commissions were appointed in early 1941 and again in 1942, to determine the liklihood of an armed uprising among Japanese Americans. Both reported no evidence of such a thing, one reporting: “the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.”
That didn’t matter, either. The Senate discussed Roosevelt’s directive for an hour and the House, for thirty minutes. The President signed Public Law 77-503 on March 21 providing for enforcement, of his earlier directive.
Roosevelt’s measure made no specific reference to ethnicity. Some 11,000 ethnic Germans and 3,000 ethnic Italians were sent away to internment camps but the vast preponderance, were of Japanese descent. Throughout the west coast some 112,000 ethnic Japanese were rounded up and held in relocation camps and other confinement areas, throughout the country. Surprisingly, only a “few thousand” were detained in Hawaii itself despite a population of nearly 40% ethnic Japanese.
Below: “A moving van being loaded with the possessions of a Japanese family on Bush Street in San Francisco’s Japantown, April 7, 1942. At right are the offices of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the United States. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) took over the JACL building and repurposed it as a Civil Control Station for the collection and processing of “people of Japanese descent” prior to their transport to detention camps”.
H/T Encyclopedia Britannica
Following the events at Peal harbor, Oakland California-born Fred Korematsu attempted to enlist, in the Navy. Ostensibly rejected due to stomach ulcers, Korematsu believed the real reason was his Japanese ancestry. Korematsu refused deportation orders and went into hiding. The ACLU’s northern California director Ernest Besig brought Korematsu’s case before the courts despite opposition from Roosevelt allies in the national ACLU. Korematsu lost in federal court and the US court of appeals, becoming a pariah even among fellow detainees who felt he was nothing but a troublemaker. The US Supreme Court agreed to take the case and, on December 18, 1944, upheld the lower court verdict. A 6-3 opinion penned by Justice Hugo Black opined that, though suspect, internment was justified due to national circumstances of “emergency and peril”.
“Fourteen Days to Flatten the Curve, “right?
A second decision released that same day in the case, Ex Parte Endo, unanimously declared it illegal to detain Americans, regardless of ethnicity. In effect the two rulings established that, while eviction was legal in the name of military necessity internment was not, thus paving the way to their release.
“There is but one way in which to regard the Presidential order empowering the Army to establish “military areas” from which citizens or aliens may be excluded. That is to accept the order as a necessary accompaniment of total defense”.
Washington Post, February 22, 1942
The Japs in these centers in the United States have been afforded the very best of treatment, together with food and living quarters far better than many of them ever knew before, and a minimum amount of restraint. They have been as well fed as the Army and as well as or better housed. . . . The American people can go without milk and butter, but the Japs will be supplied.
Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1942
Among internment camps many were eager to prove themselves, loyal Americans. Some were recruited for service in the armed forces. Many, volunteered. In April 1943 some 2,686 Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and 1,500 incarcerated in mainland camps, reported for duty at camp Shelby, in Mississippi. While many still had families in internment facilities, graduates were assigned to the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat team and sent off to fight the war, in Europe.
With something to prove every one of these guys, fought like tigers. From Naples to Rome to the south of France, to central Europe and the Po Valley, the all-Nisei 442nd infantry lived up to its own motto’ “Go for Broke”. 14,000 men served in the 442nd earning over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Medals and 21 Medals of Honor.
With 275 Texas National Guardsmen hopelessly cut off by German forces in the Vosges Mountains of France, ‘The Lost Battalion”, the 442nd infantry was sent in to get them out. In five days of savage combat, 211 of the Texas men were rescued. The Nisei of the 442nd suffered 800 casualties. Of 185 men who entered the fray from I Company only 8 emerged, unhurt. Company K sent 186 men against the Germans 169 of whom were either killed, or wounded.
For its size and length of service the 442nd became the most highly decorated unit, in US military history.
Fun fact: Ralph Lazo was so angry at the forcible relocation of his friends he voluntarily joined them, on the train. Deported to the Manzanar concentration camp in the foot of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he stayed there, for two years. The only non-spouse, non-Japanese-American, so detained. Nobody ever asked the man about his ethnicity (half Mexican, half Irish). Lazo was inducted into the US Army in 1944 and served as a Staff Sergeant in the South Pacific where he earned a Bronze Star for valor, in combat.
By this time, many younger Nisei had left to pursue new lives, east of the Rockies. Seven others were shot and killed, by sentries. Older internees had little to return to with former homes and business, gone. Many were repatriated to Japan, at least some, against their will. By the end of 1945, nine of the top ten War Relocation Authority ( WRA) camps were shut down. Congress passed the Japanese-American claims Act in 1948 but, with the IRS having destroyed most of the detainees 1939-’42 tax records, only a fraction of claims were ever paid out.
By the late 1980s, powerful Japanese-American members of the United States Congress such as Bob Matsui, Norm Mineta and Spark Matsunaga spearheaded a measure, for reparations. $20,000 paid to every surviving internee. President Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law on August 10, 1988. Over 81,800 qualified, receiving a total of $1.6 Billion.
White Rose survivor Jürgen Wittenstein described what it was like for ordinary Germans to live in Nazi Germany:
The government—or rather, the party—controlled everything: the news media, arms, police, the armed forces, the judiciary system, communications, travel, all levels of education from kindergarten to universities, all cultural and religious institutions. Political indoctrination started at a very early age, and continued by means of the Hitler Youth with the ultimate goal of complete mind control. Children were exhorted in school to denounce even their own parents for derogatory remarks about Hitler or Nazi ideology.
— George J. Wittenstein, M.D., “Memories of the White Rose”, 1979
With Hitler’s appointment as chancellor on January 30, 1933, the National Socialist Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP) lost no time in consolidating power. Two days later, the 876-member democratically elected deliberative body, the “Reichstag”, was dissolved.
The National Socialists never did call themselves “Nazis”. That was a derogatory term coined by opponents, long before the party came to power. Throughout the 1930s, it became increasingly dangerous to speak ill of the Nazi party. One such was the Württemberg politician Robert Scholl who criticised the ruling party before, during and after World War 2. Scholl was one of the lucky ones, he lived to tell the story, but not without spending some of that time, behind bars.
Robert and Magdalena (Müller) Scholl had six children together, four girls and two boys. The older of the two brothers, Hans Fritz joined the Hitler youth, against the express will of his father.
He even held a leadership position in the Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitler Jugend (“German Youngsters in the Hitler Youth”), a section of the Hitler Youth aimed at indoctrinating boys, 10-14.
In 1935, Hans was selected to carry the flag at the 1935 Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, one of three standard-bearers, from Ulm.
He joined the Reich Labor Service for two years before beginning medical school, in Munich. During a semester break, Scholl was drafted as a medic in the French campaign. Back at school, Scholl began to meet teachers and students, critical of the regime. Theirs was a Christian-ethical world view. One of them was Alexander Schmorrell.
Hugo Schmorell was a German-born doctor, living and working in Russia. He married Natalia Vedenskaya, the daughter of a Russian Orthodox priest. Alexander Schmorell was born to the couple in Orenberg Russia and baptised, in the Russian Orthodox church.
Hugo remarried after Natalia died of typhus, this time to a German woman who, like himself, grew up in Russia. Alexander grew up bilingual, able to speak German and Russian, as a native.
The family moved to Weimar Germany following the Russian Revolution. In later interrogations by the Gestapo, Alexander described himself as a German-Russian Tsarist who hated Bolsheviks.
In the Nazi mindset, slavs are part of the great horde of Untermenschen, people considered racially or socially, inferior. Alexander believed no such thing about himself. He was proud of both his German and his Russian sides.
In religion class, Schmorell displayed a stubborn refusal to bend to the will of others, crossing himself right-to-left in the manner of the Russian church, and not left to right. Alexander joined the Scharnhorst youth as a boy, mostly for the love of horseback riding. Once the organization was absorbed into the Hitler Youth movement he gradually stopped attending. Like Scholl, Schmorell joined the Wehrmacht, participating in the Anschluss and eventual invasion, of Czechoslovakia.
In 1941, Scholl and Schmorrell were drafted as medical auxiliaries, for service in the east. There the two witnessed the dark underbelly of the regime in whose service, they risked their lives. The Warsaw ghetto. The savage treatment of Russian prisoners. The deportations and dark rumors of extermination centers.
With the naivety of youth, Scholl and Schmorrell wanted better. Back in school the pair discussed this with Kurt Huber, professor of music and a vocal anti-Nazi. By June 1942, the pair started to write pamphlets, calling themselves, the “White Rose”.
“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?”— 1st leaflet of the White Rose
During later gestapo interrogations, Scholl gave differing stories as to the origin of the name. A poem of the same name by the German poet, Clemens Brentano. A work by the Cuban poet, José Martí. Perhaps it was nothing more than the purity of the white rose, in the face of evil. Or maybe Scholl meant to throw his tormenters off the scent of Josef Söhngen, the anti-Nazi bookseller who had helped them, in so many ways.
“Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way … The German people slumber on in dull, stupid sleep and encourage the fascist criminals. Each wants to be exonerated of guilt, each one continues on his way with the most placid, calm conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose.
The group added members and supporters. Willi Graf who, unlike the founding members hated the Hitler Youth movement, from the beginning. Christoph Probst whose step-mother was Jewish and considered the Nuremberg laws an affront to human dignity. Hans’ sister Sophie who joined, despite her older brother’s protests. Like her brother, Sophie detested what the Nazis stood for.
“Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eliminate this system?”— 3rd leaflet of the White Rose
Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen was critical of the Nazi movement from the beginning, denouncing Hitler’s “Worship of Race” as early as 1934.
Galen excoriated the Nazi euthanization program from the Catholic pulpits of Münster and across the German empire, condemning “the innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped and mentally ill, the incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent”.
Bishop Galen’s sermons were seminal in the formation of the White Rose. One of his sermons formed the basis for the first pamphlet.
Hand copied leaflets were inserted into phone books or mailed directly, to teachers and students.
The grotesque sham trials conducted by Hitler’s “Blood Judge” Roland Feisler made short work of any who would oppose “Der Fuhrer”. Today, the “People’s Court” of Nazi Germany is best remembered in the wake of the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In reality, this perversion of justice had been around for ten years, handing out death sentences, in the hundreds. This video gives a pretty good idea of “justice” meted out, in Roland Feisler’s court.
There were Germans throughout the war who objected to the murder of millions, but theirs was a forlorn hope. Clergymen Dietrich Bonhoeffer would state “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” For his opposition to the Reich, Bonhoeffer would pay with his life.
Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, great grand-nephew of the famous Helmut von Moltke would lead 28 dissidents of the “Kreisau Circle”, against this “outrage of the Christian conscience.” These too would pay with their lives.
The most successful German opposition party came from the universities of Munich, with connections in Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Vienna, including the White Rose. These were a surprise to Nazi leaders as Universities had long been stalwart supporters of Nazi ideology.
On February 18, Hans and Sophie Scholl arrived on campus with a suitcase full of pamphlets. This was their 6th. Hurriedly moving through the campus the Scholls left stacks of leaflets, outside full lecture halls:
“…Fellow Fighters in the Resistance!Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Fuhrer, we thank you!…” – Excerpt from pamphlet 6
Their task complete, the pair realized they still had a few. From the upper floor of the atrium, Sophie tossed them into the air and watched them flutter to the ground. It was reckless and stupid, an action witnessed by custodian Jakob Schmid who promptly called the police.
The Scholl siblings were quickly arrested. Hans had on his person the draft, of another pamphlet: #7, written by Christoph Probst. He tried to eat it but the Gestapo was too fast. Probst was arrested within hours, eighty more over the following days. On February 22, 1943, all three were tried before judge Feisler’s People’s Court. All three were sentenced to death and executed by guillotine, the same day.
Es lebe die Freiheit! (Let Freedom live!)— Hans Scholl’s last words before his execution
Graf, Schmorrell, Huber and 11 others were tried on April 13. All three received the same sentence: death by decapitation. All but one of the others received prison sentences, between 6 months and 10 years.
The last member to be executed was Hans Conrad Leipelt on January 29, 1945.
Despite the execution of the group’s leaders, the White Rose had the last word. That last pamphlet was smuggled out of Germany and copied, by the allies. Millions of copies rained down from the sky, dropped, by allied bombers.
Today, the “People’s Court” of the schweinhund Feisler is a district court, in Munich. That’s it, at the top of this page.
Lieselotte ″Lilo″ Fürst-Ramdohr was a war widow at 29 when she joined the White Rose, hiding pamphlets in an apartment closet and helping to make stencils, for graffiti. In 2013 she gave an interview for BBC Worldwide, three months before she died. She was 99.
Lieselotte was arrested and interrogated for a month by the Gestapo, and released. She thinks they’d hoped she would lead them, to fellow conspirators.
In 2012, Lilo’s friend Alexander Schmorell was awarded sainthood by the Russian Orthodox church.
She thinks it’s all too amusing. “He would have laughed out loud” she said, “if he had known. He wasn’t a saint. He was just a normal person.”