19

MAKING UP THE NUMBERS: FOREIGN VOLUNTEERS AND CRIMINALS IN THE WAFFEN-SS

One of the most striking aspects of the SS was the extent to which non-German nationals were welcomed, and indeed co-opted, into its ranks. Robert Gelwick claims that “nearly half or more than half of the 910,000 men believed to have served in the Waffen-SS were not Germans or German nationals.”1 Initially, the recruitment of non-Germans was handled carefully, to tie in with Himmler’s vision of the SS as the wellspring for all “good blood” within Europe. However, as the war continued, the supposedly crucial racial element was put to one side, and non-Germans—particularly those from Eastern Europe and Asia—were recruited en masse to enhance1 the combat power of the Waffen-SS.

The first non-German nationals to join the SS were Austrians, who were recruited even before Hitler came to power. The Austrian NSDAP was, in effect, a subsidiary of the German movement, but, predictably, it placed special emphasis on the Anschluss—the legal and political union of Germany and Austria. From January 1933 onwards, the Austrian National Socialists stepped up their challenge to the government of Austria through demonstrations and acts of terrorism and sabotage. The government, led by the authoritarian Engelbert Dollfuss, responded in June with a ban on the Austrian NSDAP and its subsidiary organisations (it had its own SA and SS). Consequently, many Austrian SA and SS members crossed the border into Germany as refugees, with around six thousand of them setting up an SA camp at Lechfeld, near Augsburg.2 As we have seen, Adolf Eichmann was among their number:

So then they sent me to Kloster Lechfeld…It was a big training station from First World War days, set up by the old army. There were barracks, lots of them, and nearby there was a monastery and a brewery. Those barracks weren’t new, and there had also been a big canteen there. Bavarian state police were in charge of our training. We were all known as the Austrian Legion [Österreichische Legion]… There was a complete Battalion of SS, three Stürme, but probably more than five hundred men. And probably quite a lot more SA men. Training was given. To all intents and purposes there were only two branches of service, infantry and engineers. The engineers were given shock troop training…I went to the shock troop because I was stronger then than I am now. We were trained mostly in street fighting.3

Subsequently, in December 1933, the SS battalion was moved from Lechfeld to Prittlbach, and from there to Schleissheim. Meanwhile, in response to diplomatic protests, the Austrian Legion itself was formally dissolved. In 1934 the Austrian battalion was absorbed into the nascent Special Purpose Troops as 2nd Battalion, SS-Regiment 1 (which would eventually become the Deutschland Regiment).

In addition to the Austrians, a number of other non-Germans joined the SS in the 1930s. Probably the most important of these was the Swiss physician Dr. Franz Riedweg. Born in Lucerne in 1907, Riedweg was politically well connected in both Switzerland and Germany, in the latter through his marriage to one of Field Marshal von Blomberg’s daughters.4 He joined the SS in July 1935 and served initially as a doctor with the Special Purpose Troops, but by mid-1943 he had risen to become chief of staff of theGermanische Leitstelle (Germanic Administration)—the branch of the SS-Main Office responsible for recruitment throughout occupied Europe and beyond. Riedweg was thus a key figure in the formulation of the SS’s unique policy towards foreign volunteers.

Howard Marggraff never rose anywhere near as high as Riedweg in the SS hierarchy, but his case is intriguing in another way—because Marggraff was an American, from Milwaukee. Born on 16 October 1916, he apparently came from a relatively well-off family. He visited Europe in the summer of 1936, during which time he watched some of the Berlin Olympics and spent three weeks in the Soviet Union. He evidently decided that he preferred fascism to communism, because he returned to Germany in February 1938 and joined the Reichs Arbeits Dienst (Reich Labour Service) for seven months.* In September, he began a course at Berlin University.

Marggraff later claimed that he was invited to join what he termed either the “Free Legion of Volunteers” or the “Freischar” in early 1939.5 He characterised this as a branch of the SS for foreign volunteers. However, aside from his account, there is no evidence that this organisation ever existed. It is possible that he invented it simply for exculpatory reasons, because by July 1939 at the latest, Marggraff was a full-time member of a Death’s Head unit—the Danzig Home Guard. By his own account, he served with the Home Guard during the German invasion of Poland in September, when the unit was subordinated to the 207th Infantry Division. Which means he would have been with it on 8 September, when it executed thirty-three Polish civilians in the Pomeranian village of Ksiazki (Hohenkirch).6 On 29 September, with the Polish campaign won, the Home Guard paraded through its “home” city before being transferred to Dachau, headquarters of the Death’s Head units.7 From there, Marggraff and the rest of his unit participated in the invasion of France in May and June 1940.

The following February, Marggraff was released by the Waffen-SS to work as an English-language propaganda broadcaster for the German Radio Service. However, two years later, he skied through the Alps to neutral Switzerland and presented himself to the US Embassy.* He received a distinctly uncordial reception,8 and never revealed what had prompted him to join the SS four years earlier.

It is easier to establish what motivated some other pre-war foreign volunteers. In July 1939, an Englishman wrote to Rudolf Hess, Deputy Leader of the NSDAP:

39 Tomson Avenue
Radford
Coventry
England

Dear Sir,

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you like this. But as you are deputy of the Fuhrer, I thought you would be the best one to write to. Could it be possible for me to become a member of the SA or SS? I hope you don’t think this funny of me but I am very much interested in it, and I think very much of Deutschland, and its people who I like very much. I would like very much to serve the Fuhrer, and his movement. I am coming over for a holiday in September for the National Socialist Congress as I have many friends in Deutschland. My very best friends. Could it be possible for me, as I would do anything to be able. I could become a German subject even. Please help me won’t you dear sir.

Heil Hitler

Your Friend

M. C. Murphy9

Himmler’s personal staff made enquiries about Murphy through the NSDAP’s Auslandsorganisation (Overseas Organisation), but these yielded no information about him. Then, with the outbreak of war, his application was not pursued.

One Englishman who did succeed in joining the SS was Thomas Cooper, a young Londoner. His father, Ashley Cooper, was a veteran of the Boer War who established a photography business in Berlin and married a young German woman, Anna Maria Simon. When the First World War broke out, Ashley was interned as an enemy alien in Berlin, while Anna remained free. Thomas was born exactly nine months after the armistice, back in England, where the couple had moved to try to rebuild their lives.

The Coopers eventually settled in Hammersmith, west London, and in due course sent Thomas to Latymer Upper School. He did well enough academically to be remembered by his headmaster as “a clever boy who was interested in foreign languages.” His “character appeared sound,”10 too, but in December 1936 he was unable to follow the majority of his classmates into higher education because of lack of money. Instead, he went to work as a clerk for an importer of essential oils in Hackney. Cooper was soon disenchanted with this job, so he made a series of applications to more prestigious organisations. However, he was turned down by the Foreign Office, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Metropolitan Police. (Both he and his parents blamed these repeated rejections on his mother’s nationality.) Finally, an embittered Cooper joined his local branch of the British Union of Fascists (BUF).

In July 1939, Cooper and his mother travelled to Chemnitz in Germany. They stayed with relatives and Cooper entered a student exchange scheme run by the Reich Labour Service. However, he soon left to find work teaching at a language school in the Taunus Mountains. He was still there when war was declared between Britain and Germany in September. This would normally have led to internment for the duration of the war because Cooper was an enemy alien of military age, but he had a trump card to present to the authorities: his mother had obtained a certificate that classified him as an ethnic German.11 This left Cooper in a kind of limbo: as a British national, he was treated with suspicion; but as an ethnic German, he was entitled to most of the privileges enjoyed by a German citizen. After taking a variety of odd jobs, he followed up a suggestion from the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VOMI—Ethnic German Central Administration) to join the “German Army.”12 However, on 1 February 1940, he reported for duty at 163 Finckensteinallee in Berlin-Lichterfelde, the training depot of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.

By that stage, he was far from being the only non-German in the armed branch of the SS. Three months later, the Waffen-SS conducted an audit of its manpower.13 Out of its 124,199 officers, NCOs and men, more than 40,000 had their origins outside the pre-1933 borders of Germany. The membership broke down as follows:

German citizens from:

• Germany (pre-1933 borders)

83,442

• Austria

14,694

• Sudetenland

7,693

• Bohemia and Moravia

799

• Memelland

143

• Baltic States

516

• South Tyrol

781

• Upper Silesia

2,803

• Warthe and Vistula

10,809

• Volhynia

359

• General Government

1,123

• Saarland

103

• Danzig

237

Ethnic Germans from:

• Romania

110

• Hungary

24

• Denmark

40

• New Guinea

1

• France

84

• Switzerland

21

• Slovakia

83

• Italy

15

• USA

8

• Holland

7

• Latvia

2

• Japan

2

• Sumatra

2

• Danzig

2

• Russia

81

• Belgium

7

• German South-West Africa

3

• German East Africa

2

• Saarland

5

• Yugoslavia

48

• China

3

• Brazil

4

• Luxembourg

4

• Spain

2

• Great Britain

10

• South America

2

• Ukraine

5

• Bosnia

1

• Bulgaria

1

• Palestine

2

• Australia

1

• Hultschiner Ländchen*

1

• Mexico

1

Foreign volunteers of “Germanic” blood from:

• Hungary

1

• Switzerland

44

• Dutch East Indies

1

• Denmark

1

• Great Britain

8

• Greece

3

• Poland

3

• Italy

3

• Holland

4

• Finland

1

• France

8

• Yugoslavia

1

• Belgium

4

• Romania

2

• German South-West Africa

2

• Sweden

3

• Ukraine

1

• German East Africa

4

• Palestine

1

• USA

5

• Russia

1

• General Government

10

Howard Marggraff was probably classified as a Germanic volunteer, making him one of the five in that category from the USA, all of whom served in the Death’s Head Division. Thomas Cooper was probably included among the ten British ethnic Germans, three of whom were in Death’s Head regiments. (By May 1940, Cooper was serving in a Death’s Head training unit in Radolfzell, near the Swiss border.) The seven others were in the Police Division.

At this point, foreigners were not specifically targeted by the Waffen-SS for recruitment, and if any did find their way into the organisation, they were not segregated from the German members. However, both of these policies were about to change.

With opportunities for recruiting young German nationals restricted by the Wehrmacht, Berger hit on the idea of bringing in ethnic Germans from the rest of Europe. He calculated that there were up to 1.5 million ethnic Germans of military age in Central and South-East Europe, none of whom would be included in the Wehrmacht draft. Crucially, though, they did still meet the racial criterion demanded by the SS. Berger’s own son-in-law, Andreas Schmidt, was a leader of the German community within Romania. In the spring of 1940, he had smuggled more than a thousand young ethnic Germans out of the country and into the waiting arms of the Waffen-SS. Delighted by this, in August 1940 Berger proposed launching a recruitment campaign among the ethnic Germans of Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia, “with or without the agreement of their Governments.”14 Himmler gave Berger the green light to proceed, which he duly did, but with only limited success.

Nevertheless, the recruitment of foreign nationals into the Waffen-SS was about to shift into a higher gear. This came about because of the conquest of Western Europe, which began with the invasion and occupation of Denmark and Norway. The two Scandinavian countries were attacked simultaneously on 9 April 1940. In addition to straightforward empire-building, this was a strategic move to pre-empt British disruption of the transport of iron ore from Sweden to Germany. Denmark, which possessed an army of just fourteen thousand men (eight thousand of whom had been serving for under two months), fell within a few hours. The campaign in Norway was more protracted, lasting two months and costing the lives of around twelve thousand men (German, British and Norwegian), but eventually it fell, too. The occupation of these two countries gave the SS direct access to potential recruits who, while not ethnically German, fell within the organisation’s definition of “Nordic” or “Germanic.” As such, they were eligible to join as part of the wider Germanic family. As early as 20 April, Hitler ordered that the SS-Nordland Regiment “was to be established from Danish and Norwegian volunteers’15 and would undertake “police duties.”16 In fact, the unit was an infantry regiment. Hitler probably represented it as a police formation in a bid to avoid antagonism between the SS and the Wehrmacht.

In the 1930s, neither Norway nor Denmark had a particularly large fascist movement. The Danish National Socialist Workers’ Party (DNSAP), founded in 1930, managed to attract just over 31,000 votes in the Danish parliamentary elections of 1939, winning three seats. In Norway, the Nasjonal Samling (NS—National Union Party), founded by Vidkun Quisling in 1933, was even less effective—it had not managed to gain even a single seat on a local council prior to the German occupation. Unsurprisingly, then, the SS’s hopes of persuading thousands of Scandinavian racial idealists to join the organisation soon proved unfounded. When recruiting started in the autumn of 1940, no more than a few hundred signed up in either country.

Back in the spring, as the western campaign progressed, the Westland Regiment—designed to accommodate Dutch and Belgian-Flemish volunteers—was founded on 25 May 1940.17 This was fast work: while the Netherlands had fallen within four days of the German invasion on 10 May, Belgium was still resisting (and would continue to do so until 28 May). The rush probably reflected Himmler’s expectation that the SS would be inundated with volunteers from both Holland and Flanders. In the Netherlands, Anton Adriaan Mussert’s Nationaale-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement) had imitated Germany’s NSDAP while also stressing its Dutch character. This tactic had helped it to secure 294,284 votes in the municipal elections of 1935, and 4 per cent of the vote in the 1937 national elections.* In Flanders, Flemish nationalists seeking independence from Belgium had traditionally accepted patronage from Germany, and in the 1930s they had been strongly influenced by fascism. Therefore, the Germans had genuine grounds for optimism as far as recruitment was concerned; and, indeed, the Dutch subsequently provided the largest single contingent of Western European volunteers in the German armed forces.

Some post-war apologists and revisionists have argued that these volunteers and the few to sign up in Scandinavia were motivated by anti-communism or perhaps even a sense of pan-Europeanism. But that seems highly unlikely in the spring and summer of 1940, when relations between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union were officially cordial. It is much more credible to suggest that the new recruits to the Nordland and Westland regiments were either pro–National Socialist cranks or simple opportunists.

In order to process their applications, recruiting offices were established in Oslo, the Hague, Antwerp and Copenhagen. Furthermore, a former French Army barracks at Sennheim, Alsace, was commandeered by the SS-Main Office to be used as a premilitary training depot for the assessment and indoctrination of volunteers before suitable applicants were formally inducted into the Waffen-SS. This new infrastructure was hardly overworked. In July 1940, the organisation inducted 908 recruits from Denmark and the Netherlands; then 310 in August; and 330 in September.18

Nevertheless, Himmler remained an enthusiastic supporter of the recruitment campaign. He wanted the SS to gather the best “Germanic” blood from all over the world, not just from Germany, and he viewed the work in Scandinavia and the Low Countries as the start of that project. More prosaically, it was now abundantly clear that the SS had to look outside of Germany for its manpower. In July 1940, Berger estimated that the Wehrmacht would permit the Waffen-SS to recruit no more than 2 per cent of all eligible German youths from each year group. At most, that would amount to twelve thousand men per year,19 which was simply not enough to maintain existing Waffen-SS units, let alone raise new ones.

THE MOOD IN Germany in the late summer of 1940 was understandably triumphant. By then, plans were well under way for the future conquest of the Soviet Union; and some thought was also being given to the post-war administration of Europe after what seemed the inevitable German victory. Hitler decreed that the future strength of the German Army should amount to some sixty-four divisions.* Meanwhile, the Waffen-SS should comprise the Leibstandarte (at brigade strength), the Special Purpose Division, the Death’s Head Division, the Police Division, and a future division that would be “recruited, for the most part, from foreign nationals.”20

The Nordland and Westland regiments would provide the basis of this “foreign” division, and preparations for its formation continued throughout the autumn. Finally, on 3 December 1940, the SS-Command Staff decreed that Nordland and Westland, together with the Germania Regiment from the Special Purpose Division, the newly formed SS-5th Artillery Regiment and other minor units would form the fully motorised Germania Division: the fourth combat division of the Waffen-SS. Eighteen days later, though, amid concerns that this name would cause confusion, it was changed to Wiking.

In reality, the claim that this division was formed “largely from foreign nationals” was a fraud that was designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the Wehrmacht. The Germania Regiment had been recruited primarily in north-west Germany; and while theNordland and Westland regiments contained several hundred foreign volunteers from Scandinavia and the Low Countries, the great majority of their personnel comprised either native German citizens or ethnic German recruits from Romania and Slovakia. Himmler and Berger were not remotely concerned about exceeding their recruitment quotas of eligible German manpower, as long as they could get away with it. All that really mattered to them was to build up the Waffen-SS to such a size that the organisation could demand a place alongside the Wehrmacht in the councils of war. Moreover, the command cadre of the “foreign” division at this stage was almost entirely German. The divisional commander was Felix Steiner, the former chief of the Deutschland Regiment, who now held the rank of SS-brigadier.

However, Steiner proved to be a powerful champion of the Germanic volunteers within the Wiking Division. Of course, this was an uphill struggle, given the profoundly racist philosophy of the SS. No matter how much Himmler preached that the Nordic and Germanic peoples were from the same racial family as the Germans themselves, the average Waffen-SS officer or NCO was almost certain to view them as second-class soldiers from conquered nations. Yet, ultimately, Steiner managed to persuade the German elements to accept the Germanic volunteers as full members of the SS order purely through the force of his stubborn, mulish personality. By the end of the war, they were fully integrated into the Wiking Division—and the Nordland Division, which was formed from it—and were treated in much the same way as their German national and ethnic German counterparts.

BERGER CONTINUED TO be on the lookout for recruits who were not eligible for the Wehrmacht draft, and he found some to form one of the most notorious units within the Waffen-SS: the Sonderkommando (Special Unit) Dirlewanger. This formation could be viewed as a link between the regular combat units of the Waffen-SS and the special task groups that began the extermination of the Jews. Initially, though, it was not even under the formal control of the SS-Command Main Office, although its commanders were members of the Waffen-SS or the police. In its early stages, most of its German personnel were convicted criminals (often poachers), assigned to the formation to redeem themselves through combat. Once there, they were subjected to a brutal disciplinary regime that involved beatings, formal floggings and, frequently, summary execution. They were treated like kicked dogs and reacted in much the same way—lashing out whenever they were let off the leash.

The idea of using convicted criminals in such units might have originated with Hitler himself. Certainly, SS-Major General Karl Wolff portrayed it in that way. On 23 March 1940, Himmler’s personal adjutant phoned the Ministry of Justice to say: “The Führer proposes to postpone punishment of the so-called ‘decent’ poachers and, provided they acquit themselves well at the front, to guarantee them amnesty.”21 He then went on to ask for details of any poachers currently being held within the criminal justice system. Later, at the post-war Nuremberg trials, Berger said that Hitler held all hunters in “scorn and ridicule”* and seized any opportunity to rile them.22 However, he also mentioned a petition sent to the Führer Chancellery by the wife of an “old fighter” who was serving a two-year jail term for poaching deer, which suggested that he might be able to redeem himself at the front.23 This letter could well have led Hitler to the idea of the poachers’ unit. Equally, though, the concept might have come from Berger. As we have seen, he was a keen hunter himself, so perhaps he saw the potential of utilising poachers’ expert field-craft on the front line.

A week after Wolff’s phone call, Himmler himself wrote to the Justice Ministry: “The Führer has directed that all poachers—particularly of Bavarian and Austrian origin—who have broken the law by hunting with guns rather than snares may, through service in the SS, particularly in sharpshooter companies, for the duration of the war, be freed of the consequences of their punishment, and through good service may be considered for amnesty.”24

In May and June 1940, eighty-eight convicted poachers were assembled in Block 36 of Sachsenhausen concentration camp; and on 1 July, fifty-five of them were deemed usable and transferred to the 5th Death’s Head Regiment in nearby Oranienburg to begin military training. It seems that Berger himself made the final selection,25 and he had a large role to play in choosing the unit’s leader, too. Appropriately, he picked a man with a criminal record to lead this band of convicts.

Oskar Dirlewanger was born into a middle-class family in Würzburg on 26 September 1895. He seems to have had a relatively conventional, if nationalistically inclined, upbringing.26 In October 1913, he joined the Machine-Gun Company of the 123rd Regiment of Grenadiers as a “one-year volunteer.”27 This should have allowed Dirlewanger to train as a reserve officer before he embarked on a business or professional career; but, of course, Europe descended into war before his year was up, and in August 1914 he found himself leading a platoon into Belgium and France. Thereafter, he had a distinguished First World War.* He received his commission as a Leutnant der Reserve on 14 April 1915 and continued to command his platoon. However, he was injured in action five months later and was excused further front-line service.* In November 1916, he was assigned to run machine-gun training courses, but the following year he volunteered to return to the front and was placed in command of the Assault Company of the 7th Infantry Division. Later, he was given command of his old Machine-Gun Company in the 123rd Grenadiers. His final—temporary—appointment was command of the 2nd Battalion of the 121st Regiment of Grenadiers in the German occupation force in the Ukraine. When hostilities ended in November 1918, he led his battalion home across Romania, Hungary and Austria in order to prevent their internment.

Unsurprisingly, Dirlewanger joined various Free Corps units after his demobilisation from the regular army. Between 1919 and 1921, he took part in actions in a number of towns and cities as a member of the Epp, Haas, Sprösser and Holz groups, and he commanded an armoured train that was instrumental in liberating the town of Sangerhausen from the control of socialist revolutionaries. He was also jailed on two occasions in 1920–21, apparently for firearms offences. However, it would be incorrect to infer that he was a full-time counter-revolutionary at this time. He enrolled at a business college in Mannheim in 1919 and graduated two years later. Then he entered the University of Frankfurt to read for a doctorate in political science.†

Alongside his studies and his paramilitary activities, Dirlewanger was active in right-wing politics. He joined the NSDAP in October 1922, receiving the membership number 12517, and it seems that he tried and failed to hijack some police armoured cars for use in the Munich Putsch. Thereafter, he let his party membership lapse, rejoined in 1926, then left again two years later, when he became an executive for the Jewish-owned Kornicker textiles company in Erfurt. Nevertheless, he continued to make financial contributions to the SA.28

Dirlewanger rejoined the NSDAP yet again in March 1932, and later that year he signed up with his local SA unit, where he was appointed a platoon commander. The following year, he secured a job as deputy director of the Employment Office in Heilbronn.29At this point, Dirlewanger should have been well set on the path to success: he enjoyed prestige as a distinguished “old fighter” and war hero, and he was in tune with the opinions of the new regime. However, he was soon branded a disruptive influence by the SA, his local NSDAP and the Employment Office. The root cause of this was his alcoholism, a condition that he never managed to overcome. In July 1934, in the wake of the Night of the Long Knives, he went for a drunken drive around Heilbronn in his official car. He caused two road accidents and left the scene of both. Even more disturbingly, during the course of this binge, he had sex with a thirteen-year-old member of the Jungmädel (Young Maidens),* and it was later alleged that he sexually abused girls from this organisation on a routine basis.

Dirlewanger lost his job, was expelled from the party and the SA, and received a two-year prison sentence. He admitted that he “did wrong,”30 but vehemently denied that he was a serial child abuser, claiming that he thought the girl in question was sixteen. A subsequent investigation by the SD suggested that the local NSDAP leadership might have put pressure on the court to find him guilty. Furthermore, when Dirlewanger tried to have his case reopened after his release from prison in 1936, the local party leaders almost immediately placed him in “protective custody” in a local concentration camp, presumably to shut him up.

Dirlewanger’s rehabilitation began in April 1937, when Gottlob Berger, who seems to have been a friend, helped to find him a post as a company commander in the Condor Legion—the quasi-official German military presence in Spain during the civil war. At one point he was summoned back to Germany to be investigated for “political unreliability,” but Viktor Brack of the Führer Chancellery intervened to ensure Dirlewanger’s release and return to the fighting. The next time he returned to Germany, in May 1939, he was awarded the Spanish Cross in Silver by the OKW (to go with two Spanish Nationalist decorations).

With a much larger war now in the offing, Dirlewanger wrote to Himmler in July 1939 to apply for one of the SS military units. However, he was initially turned down, pending the outcome of a fresh appeal he had made against his conviction five years earlier. Finally, in May 1940, following the presentation of a new testimony, Dirlewanger’s conviction on the underage sex charge was overturned and he was exonerated of guilt. Ultimately, he was also allowed back into the NSDAP.

It is impossible to know whether Dirlewanger’s friends in high places pulled some strings on his behalf, just as it is impossible to know whether his original conviction was secured by political enemies. Whatever the truth, Berger now felt free to champion Dirlewanger. He reminded Himmler of this potentially promising commander, and suggested that he should be placed in charge of training the new poachers’ unit. Himmler agreed, and on 17 June 1940 orders were issued to transfer Dirlewanger from the army reserve into the Waffen-SS with the rank of SS-reserve lieutenant.

However, just as Dirlewanger arrived at Oranienburg to take up his new post, the whole project hit a snag. One of the poachers wrote a letter home, and this found its way into the hands of an NSDAP leader in Hettstedt. The party man subsequently complained that there was “general indignation, both in party circles and in the SS,”31 at the very idea of convicted poachers serving in Himmler’s supposedly elite service. As convicts, these men were deemed to be Wehrunwürdig—unworthy to carry arms in the service of the state—and thus could not be drafted by the Wehrmacht, and yet here was the SS seeking to recruit them. A cunning way was found to dampen this criticism: it was decided that the unit would not be part of the Waffen-SS but a special formation under the control ofthe SS. Likewise, while the unit’s commanders were to be drawn from the Waffen-SS, the poachers, in effect, were to be employed by the SS but could not be members of it until they had redeemed themselves in combat.

With this established, Dirlewanger supervised the basic training of the eighty32 poachers at Oranienburg. Then, in the autumn of 1940, he was ordered to take the unit to Poland. Although it had been renamed SS-Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger (SS-Special Battalion Dirlewanger), it was organised at this stage as an infantry company. In Poland, its members undertook a variety of tasks: for instance, they were involved, probably as slave-labour guards, in the digging of anti-tank ditches on the defensive “Otto Line” that was prepared against possible Soviet attack; they supervised Jewish slave labourers from a concentration camp at Dszikow; and they swept up remnants of the Polish Army hiding in the forests near the demarcation line between the German and Soviet zones.33 There is no concrete evidence for how they behaved at this time; however, given their conduct later in the war, it is safe to assume that they were casually brutal towards both their enemies and their prisoners.

More is known about what life was like for the poachers themselves at this time. One of the original members of the unit recalled: “We learned from the beginning that Dirlewanger was ‘Lord of Life and Death’; he treated us as he wanted. He could pronounce sentence of death and carry it out. He didn’t need to carry out a trial. These powers were given to him by the National Leader of the SS.”34 This was certainly true, but it appears that Dirlewanger also had a certain degree of affection for his men, and he could treat them decently, provided that they observed absolute obedience to him and maintained an iron discipline.

•    •     •

AS WE HAVE seen, the Waffen-SS was hardly deluged with volunteers when it tried to recruit ethnic Germans and the “Nordic” races from occupied Europe. However, that recruitment campaign was a roaring success in comparison with its various attempts to persuade significant numbers of Allied nationals to join its ranks.

A British volunteer unit fighting in the Third Reich’s “crusade against Bolshevism” was first seriously mooted in the winter of 1942. Its proponent was John Amery, the elder son of a member of Churchill’s government, who had thrown in his lot with the Third Reich and moved to Berlin several months earlier. Eventually, despite considerable effort over the next two years, this would turn out to be the smallest independent foreign volunteer unit of the Waffen-SS.

Amery’s father, Leo, a contemporary of Churchill at Harrow, was elected to Parliament in 1911 and was soon being touted as a rising star of the political right. Over the next thirty years, he established a reputation as “One of the best informed and most intellectually sophisticated men in British public life.”35 Indeed, his speech to the House of Commons on 7 May 1940 helped precipitate the fall of Chamberlain’s government and Churchill’s assumption of power.

John Amery, who was born the same year his father entered Parliament, was an entirely different character. A strange and difficult boy from a very early age, he suffered from a personality disorder that seems to have left him more or less indifferent to the consequences of his actions. He ran away from school on several occasions, drank heavily, contracted syphilis at the age of fourteen, stole, lied, ran up huge debts, wrecked cars and married bigamously on two occasions (his three “wives” were all prostitutes). He was living in southern France in the spring of 1940—supported by an allowance from his family—and spurned a number of opportunities to return to Britain. By then, he had a fairly unique political philosophy, combining his father’s British Conservative imperialism with French-tinted fascism and virulent anti-Semitism—which was particularly peculiar, as his grandmother had been a Hungarian-Jewish refugee. These political views—and his connection to Churchill’s government—earned him considerable suspicion from the Vichy government, and he was incarcerated in a concentration camp at Vals les Bains in November 1941.

Released after a few weeks, Amery began to look for ways to improve his situation. Enthused by the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he approached the Finnish and Italian governments and asked to join their forces, but then he was contacted by the German Foreign Ministry in August 1942 and invited to visit Berlin under safe conduct. Fired up with vanity and self-importance, he accepted. The Germans, of course, merely wanted to see if this anti-Semitic fascist sympathiser with a direct link to the British establishment might be of use to them. Amery met with Dr. Fritz Hesse, chairman of the German inter-departmental “England Committee,” around Christmas 1942. Hitler was kept informed of these meetings and seemed to think that Amery might provide Germany with a major propaganda coup. It was agreed that Amery should make a series of “pro-peace” (anti-British) broadcasts on German radio, but Hitler was also interested in the Englishman’s suggestion that he should recruit sympathetic British prisoners of war to fight for the German cause on the Eastern Front. On 28 December, Ambassador Walter Hewel, the Foreign Ministry’s representative at Hitler’s headquarters, telegrammed Hesse: “The Führer is in agreement with the establishment of an English Legion…[recruited from] former members of the English Fascist Party or those with similar ideology—thus quality not quantity.” Immediately, the England Committee decided to exclude Amery entirely from the recruitment process.

The SS did not become formally involved in the formation of the “English Legion” until September 1943. By then, an effort had been made to identify fascists among the sixty thousand or so British POWs being held by the Germans, and to concentrate them at two special camps in the suburbs of Berlin: Zehlendorf for officers, and Genshagen for other ranks. A rumour was started that these two camps were “holiday centres” for long-term prisoners, where they would have access to better food, sports facilities, entertainment and even sight-seeing trips around Berlin. In reality, they were run by a member of the England Committee, Arnold Hillen-Ziegfeld. Under his direction, supposed British fascist sympathisers were installed as the permanent trusties of the camp and ordered to identify and recruit other potential volunteers.

It seems that the Zehlendorf camp was a complete failure, but the same cannot be said of the Genshagen camp. Among the “German” staff there were Oskar Lange, an army NCO who had lived in New York for many years, and Thomas Cooper, who was now an SS-corporal. Cooper had spent most of 1941 and 1942 officially as a member of the guard unit at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, but actually detached to the Heidelager training area at Debica, where he had supervised slave labourers working on construction projects. At the beginning of 1943 he and other NCOs from his unit had been drafted into the Waffen-SS Police Division and sent to the Eastern Front. Cooper received severe leg wounds during the fighting around Leningrad and was seconded to Genshagen to recuperate.

The British “camp leader” was Battery Quartermaster Sergeant J. H. O. Brown, a pre-war member of the BUF and a notorious figure among British POWs because of his black-marketeering and collaboration. However, Brown was playing a double game. He had been a genuine fascist before the war, but his loyalty to his country far outweighed any political allegiance. By late 1942, he was sending coded intelligence back to Britain via the POW mail system. His permanent staff at Genshagen included: Francis MacLardy, a sergeant pharmacist from the Royal Army Medical Corps who had been a district secretary of the BUF; two former commandos and ex-BUF members—Corporal Paul Maton and Lance Corporal William Charles Britten; Frederick Lewis, a merchant seaman and also an ex-BUF member; and Roy Courlander, a British-born New Zealander with no previous history of fascist sympathies. Brown did not realise that MacLardy, Maton and Courlander had already individually volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS, and the other fascist sympathisers in the camp had agreed to recruit others. Consequently, while Lange, Cooper and the other fascists busily canvassed the “holidaying” POWs, Brown and several confidants in the camp did all they could to undermine the project.

In August 1943, the senior British POW in Germany, Major General Victor Fortune, sent Brigadier Leonard Parrington to inspect Genshagen. Parrington took the camp at face value and gave permission for the prisoners to participate in recreational activities under parole.* This was misinterpreted by the fascists within the camp, who assumed that Parrington was endorsing their recruitment campaign.† Not long after, they left Genshagen to form the nucleus of the new unit.

In September 1943, Hesse wrote to Gottlob Berger to suggest that the SS-Main Office should assume control of the administration of the British unit. Berger was unconvinced, but as the British were regarded as “Germanic,” it made sense for the new formation to come under the auspices of the SS. Berger grudgingly appointed a young, English-speaking artillery officer, SS-Captain Hans Werner Roepke, to act as “liaison officer” and acting commander until a suitable British officer could be found to lead the unit. Roepke then convened several meetings with the volunteers (there were only six of them) to thrash out some administrative details. It was decided that the unit would be called the British Free Corps; that it would be active only on the Eastern Front against the Soviets; that its members would wear German uniforms with distinctive insignia; that it would be led by British officers, if any could be recruited; that members would not be subject to the full range of German military law;* and that they would receive normal German military rates of pay. Roepke also explained that the unit would have to be fully trained and number at least thirty personnel before it could be committed to the front.

Recruitment continued at Genshagen and was also launched at Stalag IIIa, Luckenwalde. Here, a different approach was taken. Luckenwalde was a large POW camp near Berlin, but it also served as a tactical interrogation centre, where a small team of renegade British and Canadian soldiers were used as “stool pigeons” to wheedle intelligence out of newly captured military POWs. In October and November 1943, this interrogation team succeeded in browbeating fifteen or twenty British, Canadian and South African soldiers into “volunteering” for the British Free Corps. However, when these men arrived at the fledgling unit’s accommodation block in Pankow, Berlin, they protested so strongly that most were allowed to return to Luckenwalde. Thereafter, the Luckenwalde operation was abandoned; instead, it was decided that existing members of the British Free Corps would concentrate their recruitment efforts on the general POW population.

On 1 January 1944, the British Free Corps was formally established as a unit of the Waffen-SS. The following month, the ten or so members moved to Hildesheim to begin their training. Meanwhile, desultory recruitment efforts continued until April 1944, primarily focusing on known fascist sympathisers. However, only a couple signed up. The recruiters also had no success with James Conen and William Celliers. They had been prisoners of war in Italy, had escaped after the armistice in 1943, but had been recaptured by a German unit to find themselves prisoners of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. Thereupon, they had been sworn in as auxiliary volunteers and taken to Russia, where they were employed as drivers. On the Leibstandarte’s return from the Eastern Front, Conen and Celliers were sent to the British Free Corps, but both declined the offer to join.

Towards the end of April 1944, the dozen members of the unit were issued with special insignia: three heraldic leopards on the right collar patch, a Union Flag shield on the left sleeve, and a cuff-title reading “British Free Corps” in English. On the 20th, they paraded in front of Roepke in their new uniforms and were issued with SS identity documents and sidearms. Roepke announced a series of promotions and then the members of the unit were dispatched on a full-scale recruitment drive. Over the next few months, usually working in pairs, they visited the majority of POW and civilian internment camps. They left fliers and wherever possible spoke to potential volunteers. Anyone who came forward was immediately transported to a house in Berlin, supervised by Cooper, while a cursory background check was conducted. If they passed, they then joined the unit in Hildesheim. By June, all of this effort had yielded about eleven new recruits.

On 13 June, a meeting was convened to discuss these recruitment difficulties. One of the attendees was SS-Major Vivian Stranders, an Englishman who had served in the British Army in the First World War before becoming a naturalised German in 1933.* He had done some propaganda broadcasting to England at the beginning of the war and was now the “England Desk Officer” at the Germanic Administration in the SS-Main Office. Astonishingly enough, this long-standing British member of the NSDAP and SS was also Jewish—a fact known to at least some of his colleagues36—and was widely suspected of being a British spy. At the meeting, he suggested that the “German” leaders of the British Free Corps—Roepke and Cooper—were incompetent, and proposed using carefully selected English-speaking Germans as recruiters. After all, they could do no worse than the British had over the spring.

Meanwhile, the unit itself was already rupturing. One of its first recruits had been a captured British commando called Thomas Freeman. He had volunteered from Stalag XVIIIa in Austria along with two friends: an Australian called Lionel Wood and a Belgian civilian named Theo Menz. However, these three had joined with the intention of either escaping or sabotaging the unit from within. Freeman especially worked hard to split the unit into those who had joined for ideological reasons and those who had more materialistic motives. The idealists, led by MacLardy, were characterised as the “Nazi Party,” while Freeman himself formed a faction that called itself the “Kohlenklau” (Coal Snaffler), after a German propaganda character. By June, Freeman had managed to persuade fifteen out of the twenty-three members of the unit to sign a petition requesting that they be allowed to return to their POW camps. He and Menz were identified as the ringleaders and dispatched to Stutthof concentration camp.* Roepke then decided that the only way to keep the unit intact was to get rid of the genuine fascists, too: MacLardy was transferred to a Waffen-SS medical supplies depot in Berlin, while Courlander and Maton went to the Kurt Eggers Regiment, the Waffen-SS’s war correspondent and psychological operations unit. Nevertheless, disciplinary problems continued in the British Free Corps throughout the summer, and only a handful of new members were recruited. No more than twenty-nine British and Commonwealth soldiers served in the unit at any one time, while the total number associated with it in any way—including those who “volunteered” from Luckenwalde—never reached sixty.

The tiny unit remained in Hildesheim until October 1944, when it was transferred to the Waffen-SS combat engineering school in Dresden. Shortly after this move, both Roepke and Cooper were removed from their posts. Roepke was replaced by SS-Lieutenant Kühlich, a former member of the Das Reich Division who was no longer fit for active service after being wounded on the Eastern Front. Unlike his predecessor, he did not command his new charges personally, opting instead to remain at the British Free Corps liaison office in Berlin. Roepke went on to serve in a Waffen-SS special forces unit, while Cooper was sent to the depot of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, where he remained until April 1945. Recruitment under the new commander was as poor as ever, but a few new volunteers turned up during the autumn and winter of 1944. Among their number were three South Africans and five New Zealand Maoris. The latter were rejected on the basis that it was a “whites only” unit.

In January 1945, six of its members attempted to escape. They headed east in the hope that they would be able to hide out and then surrender to the Russians. However, they were detained by military policemen in German-controlled Czechoslovakia and eventually returned, under armed escort, to Dresden. Three of them were immediately sent to an isolation camp that had been established for British Free Corps “rejects” at Drönnewitz, while the other three rejoined the unit. They were still there when Dresden was bombed by a massive Allied air strike on 12–13 February. Only one member of the unit was slightly injured during the raid, and thereafter took part in the rescue and clear-up operation alongside other soldiers from the barracks. However, a few days later, an ex-girlfriend of one of the members denounced the unit to the Gestapo for having signalled to the RAF bombers. These ludicrous accusations were taken seriously, and the whole corps was arrested and briefly detained. On 24 February, they left Dresden for Berlin and all attempts to recruit any new members ceased. Kühlich remarked to his British senior NCO: “The British Free Corps has had a damned good run, now they must prove they are sincere.”37

They hung around in Berlin for two weeks until a decision could be made about where they should go next. In the end, each member of the unit was given a choice: the isolation camp at Drönnewitz or the front line against the rapidly advancing Soviets. Amazingly, twelve of them—not one of whom was an ideological fascist or a National Socialist—opted to fight. Another member of the unit recalled: “They didn’t want the Jerries to think they were frightened, so they just went.”38 Over the next few days, they were fitted out with new combat equipment and sent on a hurried close-combat course. Then, on 15 March, they were transported to the Germanic Panzer Corps, in reserve at Stettin on the Baltic Coast. They waited there for a further week before being assigned to the 3rd Company of the Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion of the 11th SS-Panzer-Grenadier Nordland Division, in reserve on the western bank of the River Oder, awaiting the next Soviet offensive.39 This battalion was probably the most cosmopolitan in the German armed forces, including volunteers from all over Scandinavia, the Baltic States, the Low Countries, as well as native Germans and ethnic Germans from throughout Europe, but even they had not expected to see a British unit joining their number.

Their commanding general, Felix Steiner, was equally surprised by the British Free Corps’ appearance at the front:

In view of the general situation the appearance of these volunteers seemed to me to be more than superfluous and senseless, an opinion which I expressed…I drove to this unit in order to inspect it while training and to see the English volunteers. I found them at their bivouac in the wood. They were about 12 or 14 men, tall, well built, with decent open faces. I welcomed them, and told them to get used to things and to keep good comradeship…The whole company was then drawn up in a semi-circle and I spoke to them about the great seriousness of the situation, saying that we had to use our last strength to stop the Russians who were threatening not only Germany but the whole of Western culture. The men who had done extremely well in the past years, especially in west Latvia, and who knew me well, appreciated the full meaning of these words. As for the English volunteers, I had the impression that they were suffering from an inner conflict. Their conduct was faultless; they had no special personal wishes and seemed to get on well with the troops, but I nevertheless had the impression that they were depressed. At my arrival at Corps battle HQ I mentioned the matter to the Corps adjutant and the ADC. We all agreed that we could not take the responsibility of letting the English volunteers fight as they would be driven into a humanly unbearable inner conflict. I thought about the matter and on about 10 April I discussed it with Lieutenant Colonel Riedweg, who shared my opinion that it would be unfair on our part to throw these young men into this battle sector which would probably turn out to be their last. I therefore decided to withdraw the English volunteers from their unit and to employ them in some way as auxiliaries at a rear medical unit of the command. At the same time I issued instructions that in the case of British troops approaching from the West, they were to be given an opportunity somehow to get in touch with their compatriots. This solution I believed to be best in the circumstances…

One day between the 10th and the 14th I met some English volunteers during one of my journeys to the front. They were marching west along the Autobahn.40

It was while the British Free Corps were suffering their “inner conflict” at the front that the last British volunteer joined the Waffen-SS. Douglas Berneville Webster Claye was a bizarre character. Born in south London in 1917, his father was a regular soldier in the Royal Army Service Corps. Claye himself spent three years at the Army Apprentices’ College in Chepstow, but he left the army in 1935 and spent the next five years in a variety of jobs, including riding instructor and journalist. Soon after the outbreak of war, he volunteered for the RAF as an aircrew trainee, but he was discharged after going absent without leave to marry his pregnant girlfriend bigamously. At this point, his behaviour became more erratic. He joined a Home Guard unit in Leeds, and took to wearing an officer’s uniform adorned with RAF pilot’s wings (neither of which he was entitled to wear, of course). Before long, he was involved in a traffic accident while wearing his bogus uniform and was sent to an officers’ hospital to recover, whereupon he stole some money from a fellow patient. An investigation revealed his true identity and he was fined for impersonating an officer. At that point, he joined the army as a private soldier. Once in the ranks, he claimed he had been educated at Charterhouse and had attended both Oxford and Cambridge universities. He also subtly changed his name to the more aristocratic Douglas Webster St. Aubyn Berneville-Claye. This social-climbing ruse worked, and he was soon selected for officer training and commissioned as a second lieutenant. Sent to Egypt in 1942, and now calling himself “Lord Charlesworth,” he served in the Special Air Service commando unit. He was captured during an operation behind enemy lines in December 1942, and was eventually sent to Oflag 79 in Braunschweig.

By the end of 1944, Claye’s fellow prisoners suspected that he was acting as an informer. He was removed from the camp early the next year and then volunteered for the Waffen-SS. Given the rank of SS-captain, he was sent to the headquarters of the 3rd Germanic Panzer Corps, much to the bemusement of Steiner:

About 8 or 9 April the Corps adjutant came to see me and told me with an amused smile that an English officer, who wished to fight against Bolshevism, had now also arrived…His papers had been examined carefully and found in order. The…adjutant told me that he was a pleasant young officer with most agreeable manners…A few minutes later a smart man of about 27 years of age, fair haired and of medium build, was introduced to me. He spoke broken German and wore a grey German uniform with a Captain’s badges of rank and the colour of the armoured troops…He had a lively and determined look, was sure of himself, although unassuming, and had very good and pleasant manners. He answered my questions most freely. I told him I was naturally surprised to find an English officer who was apparently willing to fight against Bolshevism of his own free will and decision, at a time when Germany was in a most serious and even hopeless position, and asked him to tell me where he came from and what had prompted him to this decision. He…had heard about the deep penetration of the Russians into German territory, had asked for permission to volunteer for employment in the front line, and after receiving permission had been sent to the SS Depot Berlin where he…received permission and took possession of the necessary papers. He had heard that armoured units of the Waffen-SS were lying north-east of Berlin and on his request had now been sent here.

I thereupon asked him if he knew what the situation was, and briefly pointed out its seriousness. He answered that it was the very seriousness of the situation which had moved him to take this step, as he was an anti-Bolshevist and felt not only English but also European.41

The next day, Steiner sent Claye to visit the British Free Corps, who were still with the Nordland Division at this stage. They had been through a series of surprises. The first of these was the return of Thomas Cooper, who had been summoned by the SS-Main Office from his job with the Leibstandarte to take control of the BFC. Cooper had by then persuaded senior officers of the Germanic Panzer Corps that the BFC could only be a hindrance in battle and had organised a non-combatant role for them. The next shock was the appearance of Claye and they were even more surprised when he announced that he was the son of an earl and a captain in the Coldstream Guards and was going to lead them against the Russians. He also told them that they would be in no trouble with the British authorities, because Britain would be at war with Russia within a few days. None of this went down well with his audience: “You’ve come to drop them back in the shit after I just got them out of it!”42 Cooper shouted. Apparently taken aback, Claye commandeered a vehicle and made his way westwards, eventually meeting a British unit in the vicinity of Schwerin.

A few days later, the other British volunteers were withdrawn to the corps headquarters, where they were employed as drivers and on traffic control duty. As Germany collapsed around them, they were ordered further west. They surrendered to a US Army unit at the beginning of May.

After the war, John Amery pleaded guilty to high treason and was sentenced to death. He was executed in December 1945. Thomas Cooper was given the same sentence at his trial, but this was commuted to life imprisonment on account of his youth and his German ancestry. He eventually served just seven years. The majority of the British volunteers were given sentences ranging from life imprisonment to a few months. A few got away scot-free, including Claye, who flatly denied ever having served in the Waffen-SS.

Of the handful of Britons who served elsewhere in the Waffen-SS, only one, an RAF officer and former member of the British Union of Fascists, faced a court-martial. Railton Freeman had served for six months in the Kurt Eggers Regiment at the end of the war, having previously broadcast propaganda on German radio. During his interrogation in May 1945, he claimed to have seen a file containing more than eleven hundred applications from British POWs who wanted to fight the Russians but were not prepared to join the British Free Corps. He also suggested that the Waffen-SS hierarchy had seriously considered forming a British SS “regiment”—separate from the corps—possibly to be called the Oliver Cromwell Regiment.43 He was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison.

THE INDIAN LEGION was perhaps the most bizarre foreign contingent within the Waffen-SS. Its existence was due largely to the efforts of one man: Subhas Chandra Bose.

Bose was born in India in 1897, the son of an affluent lawyer and Indian nationalist. After education in India and at Cambridge University, he joined the Indian civil service but soon resigned to become a full-time activist in the independence movement. In contrast to the non-violence espoused by Mohandas Gandhi and his followers, Bose advocated a confrontational approach to the British rulers. As a result, he spent most of the inter-war years in prison or in exile. Nevertheless, he established himself as one of the leading radicals within the Indian National Congress, and he was a prominent politician in Calcutta.

However, the outbreak of war in 1939 caused deep divisions in the Indian independence movement. Most Indian politicians were hostile to the Axis and wished to help the Allied cause while still moving towards independence. A minority led by Gandhi opposed any Indian involvement in the war because of their adherence to non-violence, while an even smaller group, centred on Bose, argued that the Axis should be supported because the British were the real enemies of India. Bose was never a fascist, but he had travelled extensively in Europe in the 1930s, was married to an Austrian woman,* and admired the European dictatorships: for instance, he believed that an authoritarian political model would be required in the early stages of Indian independence.

Bose organised several anti-British demonstrations in Calcutta in October 1939, and as a result he was placed under house arrest. However, on 19 January 1941, he slipped away from his house, drove to Peshawar on the North-West Frontier, and was then spirited across the border into independent Afghanistan. From Kabul, he travelled to Moscow, then Rome and finally Berlin, where he arrived at the beginning of April. He was reunited with his wife and started work on his “Free India” movement, under the sponsorship of the German Foreign Office.

Just as Bose was doing this, General Erwin Rommel’s forces in North Africa managed to capture the 3rd (Indian) Motorised Brigade—which was attempting to defend Allied gains in Libya—almost intact. When news of this reached Berlin, Bose sensed an opportunity to canvass support for a Free India force within the German armed forces. A Luftwaffe intelligence officer was dispatched to speak to all of the English-speaking Indians in the brigade in mid-May, and twenty-seven were transported to Berlin a few days later. Meanwhile, plans were made to move the rest of the brigade, together with other Indian prisoners, to a special camp at Annaberg.

Bose and other members of the Free India Committee spent the next six months trying to persuade the prisoners to join their cause. Finally, in January 1942, the committee, the German Foreign Office and the OKW jointly announced the formation of the Indian National Army at a ceremony in Berlin. Some six thousand potential recruits were moved to a new camp, Arbeitskommando (Labour Unit) Frankenburg, where military training commenced under the cover that the soldiers were still a prisoner-of-war labour unit. Then, in July, approximately three hundred of these Indians were moved again, this time to Königsbrück, where they were issued with German Army uniforms. These had a flash on the right sleeve depicting the green, white and orange tricolour of India with a leaping tiger superimposed on it, as well as the motto “Freies Indien”—“Free India.” Several Hindi-speaking German NCOs were drafted in to act as interpreters, but primarily English was used as the working language of the formation.

Over the following months, recruitment continued—using a combination of persuasion and compulsion—and by the spring of 1943 the Indian National Army (which was now also known as the Free India Legion) consisted of some two thousand men organised into three battalions and formally designated as Infantry Regiment 950.

Bose’s original hope had been that this new force would spearhead a German invasion of India, but this fantasy had been dispelled as soon as Germany had launched its attack on the Soviet Union. Instead, the Indian soldiers’ first assignments, in May and August 1943, were to construct defences on the Dutch North Sea coast and the west coast of France. Thereafter, they cooled their heels until August 1944, when they joined the general evacuation of German forces from France, heading east until they reached the comparative safety of Hagenau, in Alsace. It was during this retreat that the legion saw its only action of the war—a series of skirmishes with resistance elements that left three Indian soldiers dead and a number of others wounded.

In September, control of the legion was handed over to the Waffen-SS, but this had minimal practical impact. SS-Senior Colonel Heinz Bertling was appointed commanding officer, but he took little interest in his new role and de facto command remained in the hands of the army’s Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Krappe, who had commanded the legion since its first deployment in the Netherlands. However, personnel records show that several Indians formally became officers of the Waffen-SS on 1 September,44 and new insignia—comprising an embroidered tiger’s head collar patch45—were worn by both Indian and German members of the legion. The unit travelled on to Heuberg and remained there until the very last stages of the war, when it retreated towards Lake Constance before disintegrating.

Bose himself had left Germany in March 1943, before the legion had even been deployed for the first time. He managed to reach Japan, from where he sponsored the vastly more credible Far East version of the Indian National Army and set up the provisional government of “Free India” in Singapore. It is believed he died in an airplane crash in the last days of the war, although his body was never found.

Hitler gave his opinion of the German version of the Indian National Army in March 1945, when the Red Army was poised to cross the Elbe:

The Indian Legion is a joke. There are Indians that can’t kill a louse and would prefer to allow themselves to be devoured. They certainly aren’t going to kill any Englishmen…I imagine that if one was to use the Indians to turn prayer wheels or something like that, they would be the most indefatigable soldiers in the world. But it would be ridiculous to commit them to a real blood struggle…the whole business is nonsense. If one has a surplus of weapons, one can permit oneself such amusements for propaganda purposes. But if one has no such surplus it is simply not justifiable.46

He was right. Once the German campaign had stalled in the Soviet Union, there was really no justification in maintaining the Indian National Army. With no prospect of it ever entering India, it was simply an insignificant work detail of dubious loyalty in possession of weapons and equipment that could have been better employed elsewhere. Furthermore, there was considerable internal strife between the true volunteers and those who had been press-ganged into the unit, and even more between Muslim, Sikh and Hindu recruits. At least one NCO—Corporal Mohammed Ibrahim, who had been an enthusiastic volunteer—was murdered by his own men.

ASIDE FROM HOWARD Marggraff, only a handful of US volunteers joined the Waffen-SS. Bizarrely, two of them were from Missouri.

Martin James Monti came from a prosperous, middle-class St. Louis family, descended from Swiss and Italian immigrants on his father’s side, and German immigrants on his mother’s. They were staunchly Catholic and isolationist, rather than pro-Axis or anti-American. Monti joined the US Air Force in January 1943 and was posted to Karachi in August 1944, aged just twenty-two. However, he became unpopular in his unit because of his views on the war in Europe, and on 2 October he went AWOL before hitching a lift on a military aircraft flying to Cairo.47 From there, he travelled to Naples and managed to steal a P-38 fighter, which he piloted behind German lines near Milan. He convinced his captors that he was a genuine defector, and at the end of November was transferred to Berlin. After more interrogation, this time by the Abwehr, he was released from captivity to work as a propaganda broadcaster. He recorded a few programmes—using his mother’s maiden name, Wiethaupt—but these were deemed unsuccessful by the authorities.

With his broadcasting career seemingly over as soon as it had begun, Monti fell in with another Missourian Waffen-SS officer. The self-styled “Comte Pierre Louis de la Ney du Vair” had been born Perry Regester De Laney in Holcomb in 1907. De Laney’s father died when he was just seven years old but his uncle paid for his education at a military high school in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. During this time, he came under the influence of an aunt, a Frenchwoman who emphasised his own French origins (the De Laney family had emigrated to North America in the early eighteenth century), taught him French and called him “Pierre.” After high school, while working on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, De Laney converted to Catholicism, having been raised a Lutheran, and was eventually offered a scholarship to study in Rome, which he duly accepted. He returned to St. Louis in 1932 and became Professor of Theology at Fontbonne College. However, while in Rome, he had applied for and been granted French citizenship via the French Embassy. Consequently, in 1935, he was called up for military service in the French Army. By now, he was going by the grandiose name of Pierre de la Ney du Vair and claiming lineal descent from the counts of Vair. He undertook his military service with great enthusiasm, gaining a reserve commission and serving with the 152nd Infantry Regiment at Colmar, Alsace. In May 1940, he and his family were living in Lausanne, Switzerland, where du Vair was supposedly operating as a French military intelligence agent. However, after the German invasion, they moved to occupied France.

Du Vair could best be described as a monarchist, French nationalist reactionary, but he was also a supporter of the anti-Semitic Charles Maurras, leader of Action Française, and was strongly Anglophobic. As such, his political views were quite in tune with those of the Vichy regime. He resigned his French Army commission in 1941, joined Pétain’s Légion Française des Combattants (a paramilitary ex-services organisation) and then transferred to the Légion des Volontaires Français—the French legion within the German Army—with whom he saw action in the Soviet Union. After returning from the Eastern Front, he served with the collaborationist Vichy militia, the Milice Française, before transferring to the Kurt Eggers Regiment and working as a radio propagandist.

In Berlin, it seems that the sophisticated, highly educated du Vair took the immature Monti under his wing. He arranged for Monti to visit the scenes of Soviet atrocities in Hungary and compile reports to broadcast to American audiences. Monti formally joined the Waffen-SS at the beginning of April 1945, just as the Kurt Eggers Regiment was starting to disintegrate in the face of the Soviet advance. Du Vair was killed in an American air raid a few days later,48 while Monti left the German capital at the end of the month. Accompanying him were the Kurt Eggers Regiment’s commander, Gunter D’Alquen, SS-Major Anton Kriegbaum, Railton Freeman and several others. Commandeering an aircraft in Potsdam, they flew south-west before going their separate ways: Freeman remained in Bavaria, where he was arrested by the British; the Germans headed towards the mythical “Alpine Redoubt”;* while Monti travelled through Austria and into Italy, where he surrendered to an American unit. Tried and convicted initially for “desertion and misappropriation of government property,”49 and later for treason, he was eventually sentenced to twenty-five years’ imprisonment. He was paroled in 1960.50

There is some evidence that a number of US prisoners of war had volunteered for German service in the final months of the war. In early March 1945, Berger reported to Himmler:

[T]wo complete [prisoner] work commandos have volunteered to work in the Wehrmacht rear logistic services…This concerns one work commando of 120 American POWs and a further one of 100. After previous experience, this breakthrough was to be expected with American prisoners first. Further incomplete messages, as yet unconfirmed by commanders, have been received from Military District VII.51

Himmler seems to have been distinctly underwhelmed by this “breakthrough.” His adjutant, Rudi Brandt, noted:

I spoke with SS-General Berger on 5.3.45 about his suggestion regarding the employment of the American prisoners of war and conveyed to him the opinion of [Himmler]:

1. The question of the employment of the American and British prisoners of war is very problematic.

2. It would have to be guaranteed that really only genuine volunteer enlistments are considered.

3. Who questioned the prisoners and what were the circumstances?

The final decision can be made only if these three questions are answered and if a list of the prisoners with each man’s signature is provided.52

What became of these volunteers was not recorded.

OVERALL, THEN, THE Waffen-SS’s attempts to recruit foreigners from the Allied nations proved almost entirely fruitless. Some Americans may have volunteered to fight the Bolsheviks; but even if they did, their offer came far too late in the war to help the Germans. The Indian Legion was large enough to function as a military unit, but it ended up as a work party on the French coast. Meanwhile, the British Free Corps was conceived as little more than a propaganda operation, but it was ineffective even in that limited role: there seem to have been only two public mentions of it during the war, both in Norwegian collaborationist newspapers. Such paltry returns were hardly commensurate with the effort that went into its recruitment.

In a way, the failure of these projects mirrored that of the Waffen-SS as a whole. The domestic threat to the National Socialist regime had been rendered negligible by the time the armed SS units came into being: opposition political parties and their associated paramilitary groups had already been banned, disarmed and suppressed. Realistically, only one force—the army—had the power to remove Hitler, and the armed SS would never be sufficiently strong to challenge that. Consequently, the Waffen-SS was never more than a modest adjunct to the German military machine. In fact—as a result of the complications which it caused in logistics, procurement, recruitment and so on—it probably diminished rather than enhanced the German state’s ability to wage war effectively.

* It is likely that he took one of the service’s academic courses—which were designed specifically for foreign volunteers—in addition to providing physical labour.

* He was accompanied on this journey by his two brothers, Eugene and Norman, who had joined him in Germany before the outbreak of war. However, it is unclear whether they had also enlisted in the SS.

* An ethnic German area of Czechoslovakia.

* This gave the party four seats in the hundred-member lower house and four in the fifty-member upper chamber.

* To put this into perspective, the modern British Army consists of just two operational divisions, only one of which can be deployed at any one time.

* Hitler’s indifference towards human suffering formed a bizarre contrast to his sentimental affection towards most animals.

* He was awarded the Iron Cross, second and first class, and the Gold Württemberg Bravery Medal.

* Dirlewanger was injured on three separate occasions during the war. In one of his very first actions in France in August 1914, he was shot in the foot, sabred in the chest and received shrapnel wounds to the head. Then, in September 1915, he received a gunshot wound to his hand and a bayonet wound to his leg. Finally, in April 1918, he was shot in the left shoulder. At the end of the war, he was classified as 40 per cent disabled.

† On 12 April 1921, he was injured yet again—another head wound—but this does not seem to have impeded either his studies or his soldiering.

* The Young Maidens was the junior branch of the NSDAP’s Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Maidens), the female equivalent of the Hitler Youth.

* They had to sign a statement agreeing not to attempt to escape if they were allowed outside the confines of the camp.

† Subsequently, they even proposed that Parrington should be the nominal commander of the British unit. However, this suggestion never reached him, and he never had anything to do with it.

* This was standard practice for foreign volunteers, who generally served on a contract basis in the German armed forces and did not have the same legal obligation as German citizens to undergo military service.

* He had been convicted by a French court of espionage on behalf of Germany in 1927 and sentenced to two years in prison, and he may have been working as a German agent even before the First World War.

* Menz was murdered there, while Freeman eventually managed to escape.

* Emilie Schenkl Bose (1910–96), who had been Bose’s secretary and whom he married in 1937.

* Supposedly where the last stand of the Third Reich would take place. It never materialised.

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