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 Flag Schutzstaffel.svg 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 POWs 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.

Members[edit]

Leading members of the Corps included Thomas Haller Cooper (although he was actually 'an Unterscharführer in the Waffen-SS proper'[11]), Roy Courlander, Edwin Barnard Martin, Frank McLardy, Alfred Minchin and John Wilson – these men "later became known among the renegades as the ‘Big Six’, although this was a notional elite whose membership shifted periodically as members fell into, and out of, favour."[12]

Preparation for active service[edit]

In March of 1945, a BFC detachment was deployed with the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland under Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler, which was composed largely of Scandinavian volunteers and attached to the III (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps under Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner. They were first sent from Stettin to the division's headquarters at Angermünde. "From there they were sent to join the divisional armoured reconnaissance battalion (11. SS-Panzer-Aufklärunsabteilung) located in Grüssow [on the island of Usedom]. The battalion commander was Sturmbannführer Rudolf Saalbach ... [The BFC were allocated] to the 3rd Company, under the command of the Swedish Obersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrson."[13] The BFC contingent was commanded by SS-Scharführer (squad leader) Douglas Mardon, who used the alias "Hodge." Richard W. Landwehr Jr. states "The Britons were sent to a company in the detachment that was situated in the small village of Schoenburg near the west bank of the Oder River" [14] On March 22, as the company was entrenching, it was partially overrun by an advance element of the Red Army which had blundered into its position by accident. Although taken by surprise, the SS troopers, including the BFC volunteers, quickly regained their wits and launched a vigorous counterattack, driving off the Soviets.[third-party source needed] On 16 April 1945 the Corps was moved to Templin, where they were to join the transport company of Steiner’s HQ staff (Kraftfahrstaffel StabSteiner).[15] When the Nordland Division left for Berlin, 'the transport company followed Steiner’s Headquarters to Neustrelitz and the BFC went with it.'[16] On 29 April Steiner decided 'to break contact with the Russians and order his forces to head west into Anglo-American captivity.'[17] On 2 May Thomas Haller Cooper and Fred Croft, the last two members of the Corps, surrendered to the 121st Infantry Regiment (United States) in Schwerin, and were placed in the loose custody of the GHQ Liaison Regiment (known as Phantom).[18]

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,[19] 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.[20] He was found guilty of two charges of aiding the enemy while a prisoner of war.[21]

Another New Zealand soldier, Roy Courlander, claimed at his court-martial that he joined the corps for similar reasons, to gather intelligence on the Germans, to foster a revolution behind the German lines, or to sabotage the unit if the revolution failed.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

Film[edit]

  • The film Joy Division (2006) 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.

Literature[edit]

Several novels on the subject have been published.

Television[edit]

  • The British Free Corps was a subject for the "The Hide", the final episode of series 6 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 surviving the fire bombing of Dresden.[23]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ "Soldier Refused Civil Court Trial". Edmonton Journal. Aug 30, 1945. p. 2. 
  2. ^ BRITISH FREE CORPS IN SS-WAFFEN – MYTH AND HISTORIC REALITY
  3. ^ "Britisches Frei-Korps / British Free Corps". Feldgrau.com. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  4. ^ Kinmond, William (Sep 8, 1945). "Nazi' 'British Free Corps' One Of Their Bigger Flops". The Toronto Daily Star. p. 18. 
  5. ^ "Renegade Amery To Die: Trial Lasted 8 Minutes". The Toronto Daily Star. Nov 28, 1945. p. 1. 
  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, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Location 1961). Random House. Kindle Edition
  11. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Location 2297). Random House. Kindle Edition
  12. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Locations 2209-2211). Random House. Kindle Edition
  13. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Locations 3028-3032). Random House. Kindle Edition)
  14. ^ Britisches Freikorps: British Volunteers of the Waffen-SS 1943–1945, ISBN 978-1475059243), (p. 83).
  15. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Locations 3077-3078). Random House. Kindle Edition
  16. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Location 3132). Random House. Kindle Edition
  17. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Locations 3140-3141). Random House. Kindle Edition
  18. ^ Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades (Kindle Location 3162-70). Random House. Kindle Edition.
  19. ^ "Says he Gave Nazi Salute but Tried to Break Corps". Toronto Daily Star (Toronto). Sep 5, 1945. p. 4. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Martin Denies Aid to Germans". Montreal Gazette (Montreal). Sep 5, 1945. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Sees Guilty Verdict in Martin Case". The Windsor Daily Star. Sep 6, 1945. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Wrote Broadcast Talks for Germans". The Glasgow Herald (Glasgow). October 6, 1945. p. 6. Retrieved January 9, 2013. 
  23. ^ Anthony Horowitz (9 Apr 2010). "The Return of Foyle's War". The Telegraph. 

External links[edit]