British Free Corps

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British Free Corps
M36 British Free Corps Tunic.jpg
A reproduction British Free Corps tunic; rank of Untersturmführer
Active 1943–1945
Country Nazi Germany
Branch Waffen SS
Type Infantry
Size 27 (greatest size)
Disbanded 1945

The British Free Corps (German: Britisches Freikorps) was a unit of the Waffen SS during World War II consisting of British and Dominion prisoners of war who had been recruited by the Nazis. The unit was originally known as the Legion of St. George.[1] Research by a British journalist, Adrian Weale,[2] has identified about 59 men who belonged to this unit at one time or another, some for only a few days. At no time did it reach more than 27 men in strength – smaller than a contemporary German platoon.[3]

Recruiting[edit]

Two early recruits to the BFC:SS-Mann Kenneth Berry and SS-Sturmmann Alfred Minchin, with German officers, April 1944

Recruiting for the Free Corps was done in German POW camps. In 1944, leaflets were distributed to the POWs, and the unit was mentioned in Camp, the official POW newspaper published in Berlin. The unit was promoted "as a thoroughly volunteer unit, conceived and created by British subjects from all parts of the empire who have taken up arms and pledged their lives in the common European struggle against Soviet Russia". The attempted recruitment of POWs was done amid German fear of the Soviets; the Germans were "victims of their own propaganda" and thought that their enemies were as worried about the Soviets as they were. In one Dutch camp, the POW's were lavished with cigarettes, fruit, and other items while listening to Nazi propaganda officers who described the good that the Germans were doing in Europe. At that time the officers asked the men to join in fighting the real enemy, the Soviets.[4]

One such individual who attempted to recruit soldiers was John Amery, son of the serving British Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery. He was sentenced to death and hanged after he pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to high-treason.[5]

Commanders[edit]

The BFC did not have a 'commander' per se as it was the intention of the SS to appoint a British commander when a suitable British officer came forward. However three German Waffen-SS officers acted as the verbindungsoffizier ("liaison officer") between the SS-Hauptamt Amtsgruppe D/3 which was responsible for the unit and the British volunteers, and in practice they acted as the unit commander for disciplinary purposes at least. These were:

  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Werner Roepke: September 1943 – November 1944[6]
  • SS-Obersturmführer Dr Walter Kühlich: November 1944 – April 45[7]
  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr Alexander Dolezalek: April 1945[8]

A number of sources mention the involvement of Brigadier Leonard Parrington, a British Army officer captured by the Germans in Greece in 1941.[9] This was based on a misunderstanding by some of the British volunteers after Parrington in the summer of 1943 had visited the POW 'holiday camp' at Genshagen, in the southern suburbs of Berlin, as representative of the Senior British POW, Major General Victor Fortune. Parrington had told the assembled prisoners that he 'knew the purpose of the camp'[10] and the BFC volunteers who were there took this to mean that he approved of the unit. In reality, Parrington had accepted Genshagen at face value as a rest centre for POWs.

Courts martial of those involved[edit]

Newspapers of the period give details of the court-martial of several Commonwealth soldiers involved in the corps. One Canadian captive, Private Edwin Barnard Martin, said he joined the corps "to wreck it". He designed the flag and banner used by the corps,[11] and admitted to being one of the original six or seven members of the Corps during his trial. He was given a travel warrant and a railway pass which allowed him to move around Germany without a guard.[12] He was found guilty of two charges of aiding the enemy while a prisoner of war.[13]

Another New Zealand soldier claimed at his court-martial that he joined the corps for similar reasons, to gather intelligence on the Germans to foster rebellion among POWs, or to sabotage the unit if the revolution failed.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

Many readers' first acquaintance with the British Free Corps (BFC) came in Jack Higgins' World War II novel The Eagle Has Landed. In the novel, a BFC officer named Harvey Preston, who is patterned on Douglas Berneville-Claye, is attached to the fallschirmjäger unit which attempts to kidnap Winston Churchill. A convinced Nazi and petty criminal, Preston is viewed with disgust by all members of the German unit.

The 2006 film Joy Division portrays a member of the BFC, Sergeant Harry Stone, among the German troops and refugees fleeing the Red Army advance into Germany. In the film it is the aggressive Stone who appears to be the only convinced Nazi remaining among the Hitler Youth with whom he is grouped. He is seen attempting to recruit British POWs before the column is attacked by Soviet aircraft.

The British Free Corps was a subject for the final episode of series 7 of the British TV series Foyle's War, in which a British POW who had joined the BFC was tried for treason in Great Britain once he returned home after he survived the fire bombing of Dresden.[15]

Several books on the subject have been published. The yeomen of Valhalla (Behind the Siegfried line) (Mannheim : Marquis de Slade [distributed privately], 1970) details the formation and activities of the British Free Corps and its membership, though the author chose to apply pseudonyms to those mentioned the book. This book was effectively re-written by the British spy writer Ronald Seth as The Jackals of the Reich (New English Library, 1974). He also chose to use the same pseudonyms. Neither of these books included references or a bibliography and, as a result, some subsequent writers have taken the pseudonyms to be real names.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Adrian Weale. Renegades: Hitler's Englishmen. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1994. ISBN 0-7126-6764-4
  • Adrian Weale. Patriot Traitors: Roger Casement, John Amery and the Real Meaning of Treason. London: Viking, 2001. ISBN 0-6708-8498-7
  • Sean Murphy. Letting the Side Down: British Traitors of the Second World War. London: The History Press Ltd, 2005. ISBN 0-7509-4176-6
  • Richard Landwehr. Britisches Freikorps. Lulu, 2008. ISBN 0-5570-3362-4
  • David Faber. Speaking for England. London: Pocket Books, 2007. ISBN 1-4165-2596-3
  • Robert Best. The British Free Corps: The Story of the British Volunteers of the Waffen SS. London: Steven Books, 2010. ISBN 1-9049-1190-0
  • Eric Meyer. SS Englander: The Amazing True Story of Hitler's British Nazis. London: SwordWorks, 2010. ISBN 1-9065-1244-2
  • Ronald Seth. Jackals of the Reich. The Story of the British Free Corps. 1972.
  • Colin D. Evans. The Auslander Brigade. London: The Book Guild, 1985. ISBN 978-0-86332-060-6
  • Robert A. Best: The British Free Corps: The Story of the British Volunteers of the Waffen SS. Steven Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1904911906
  • Marko Jelusić: "Das „British Free Corps“ in der SS-Schule „Haus Germanien“ in Hildesheim." In: H. Kemmerer (Hrsg.), St. Michaelis zu Hildesheim. Geschichte und Geschichten aus 1000 Jahren, Veröffentlichungen der Hildesheimer Volkshochschule zur Stadtgeschichte Hildesheims 15 (Hildesheim 2010) 197-206. ISBN 978-3-8067-8736-8 (Online in academia.edu)

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=1uVkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KoENAAAAIBAJ&pg=1570,4805813&dq=british+free+corps&hl=en
  2. ^ http://www.argo.net.au/andre/renegades_ENFIN.htm
  3. ^ "Britisches Frei-Korps / British Free Corps". Feldgrau.com. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  4. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jPE6AAAAIBAJ&sjid=fyoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2971,11553908&dq=british+free+corps&hl=en
  5. ^ http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=IZY6AAAAIBAJ&sjid=RCoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3058,10264400&dq=british+free+corps&hl=en
  6. ^ Weale, Renegades, p. 114
  7. ^ Weale, Renegades, p. 149
  8. ^ Weale, Renegades, p. 160
  9. ^ See, for example, Waffen-SS: Hitler's Elite Guard at War by George H Stein, Cornell University Press, 1966, p. 190
  10. ^ Weale, Renegades, p. 99
  11. ^ "Says he Gave Nazi Salute but Tried to Break Corps". Toronto Daily Star (Toronto). Sep 5, 1945. p. 4. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Martin Denies Aid to Germans". Montreal Gazette (Montreal). Sep 5, 1945. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Sees Guilty Verdict in Martin Case". The Windsor Daily Star. Sep 6, 1945. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Wrote Broadcast Talks for Germans". The Glasgow Herald (Glasgow). October 6, 1945. p. 6. Retrieved January 09, 2013". 
  15. ^ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/7572134/The-return-of-Foyles-War.html

External links[edit]