Tag Archives: hitler

The Germans who fought Hitler

I’ve just been reading a very interesting article on the BBC’s online Magazine about German citizens who fought for Britain against Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

Its not the first time I have come across this story. In my research into the Battle of Arnhem, it transpires that a number of exiled German and Austrian Jews took part in the battle. Having fled Germany and settled in Britain, on the outbreak of war they were interned as enemy aliens – even Jews.

Gradually though, the assumption that all enemy nationals were hostile was re-evaluated. Many of those of Military service age were allowed to join the Pioneer Corps – the part of the Army that performs hard physical labour – easily the least glamorous Corps in the entire British Army.

Remarkably, many of the German and Austrian Pioneers were champing at the bit to get back at Hitler, and they soon realised that digging trenches and building roads was not enough. Some of them not only volunteered for the Parachute Regiment, but for the 21st Independent Company – the elite unit that landed first and marked out the Drop Zones for the rest of the Division.

According to Mark Hickman’s Pegasus Archive, around 25 Germans and Austrians joined the Company. They were thought to be particularly useful due to their bilingual abilities and tenacious fighting skills. All of them fought under assumed names, to try and avoid the dire consequences if their true identities were discovered by the Germans.

Two of them died at Arnhem. Corporal Hans Rosenfeld, 29, was killed on 23 September. Rosenfeld fought under the assumed name of John Rodley, and is buried in Oosterbeek War Cemetery. Private Timothy Bleichroeder, 22, was killed on 25 September, the last day. He fought under the name of Bleach. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Groesbeek Memorial.

These men were incredibly brave. Whilst it is often said that the average soldier is fighting for himself and his comrades, the German and Austrian anti-Nazis had an added motivation for wanting to see the end of the Nazi regime – most of them had suffered under their persecution. And for each of them, the consquences of being captured were acute. Not only would they have been shot out of hand as traitors, given their nationality, their status as Jews would have led them on a one-way journey to the concentration camps.

They more than anyone must have known why the Allies were fighting.

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Filed under Arnhem, Uncategorized, World War Two

Hitler’s Gulf War: The Fight for Iraq 1941

Hitler's Gulf War

Hitler's Gulf War

Contrary to popular opinion, Iraq did not suddenly appear in 1991. Nor during the Iran-Iraq War. The country played a not insignificant part in the Second World War, as this new book by Barrie G James argues.

Britain had received a League of Nations mandate to administer Iraq after the First World War. Severely cash-strapped after 4 years of war, the new RAF proposed to control and police the new territory by air. This left the legacy of an RAF Base at Habbaniya, and Army bases in the south in Basra.

In 1941 an alliance between pan-Arab leader the Mufti of Jerusalem and Iraqi nationalist Army officers, with tacit promises of support from Germany and Italy, launched an uprising to push the British out of Iraq. The British in the country were heavily outnumbered, and reinforcements were a long way off – the British were hard pressed in the North African desert, where the Germans had just pushed them out of Greece and were about to assault Crete.

But somehow, a tiny force of RAF pilots in obsolete aircraft, supported by a few companies of infantry and some local volunteers, held off the Iraqi Army at Habbaniya. The British Embassy in Baghdad was beseiged. A scratch force of reinforcements was sent from Palestine, and an Indian Army Division landed in Basra.

Against all the odds, the RAF and the Army managed to put down the coup and secure Iraq. The loss of Iraq might have been catastrophic. It would have exposed the rear of the British Forces in Egypt, and lost vital oilfields. It might also have led to threats to India.

Why the coup did not succeed is a mystery. Or, rather, why the Axis powers did not give the coup more support. The Germand and Italians had offered support, but in the event only a handful of aircraft arrived, as well as several advisors who seem to have spent more time fighting each other than advising. The Germans were certainly pre-occupied with launching their assault on Crete, which although dominating a part of the Mediterranean, had nowhere near the strategic importance of Iraq. If even a fraction of the airborne forces that were employed in Crete had been used instead in Iraq, the course of the war may have been different. In the event, Germany had to secure the Balkans after Mussolini’s disastrous invasion of Greece. This in turn delayed the attack on Russia. All evidence, if any is needed, that the Axis powers’ strategy seriously let them down at this point in the war.

I have something of a personal interest in this story, as my great-uncle, Thomas Daly, was onboard HMS Enterprise when she was giving Naval gunfire support off Basra during the attempt to put down the coup. Later in 1942 my Grandad, Henry Miller, landed in Basra with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and spent some months in Kirkuk guarding against the threat of a German thrust down the Caucasus.

This is a very important book, as is any that fills a gap and flags up an overlooked subject. Some maps might be useful, as plenty of places are referred to, and it would be easier to picture the lie of the land and the situation on the ground. Some illustrations might also add to the overall feel of the book too. But in its favour, Barrie James has used a readable, Cornelius Ryan style of writing, which might lack references but is more approachable to the non-academic.

Hitlers Gulf War: The Fight for Iraq 1941 is published by Pen & Sword Aviation

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, middle east, Royal Air Force, World War Two