27 May 1911|
|Died||28 January 1949
|Years of service||1934–45|
|Commands held||3rd SS Division Totenkopf
16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
German Cross in Gold
Fritz Knöchlein joined the SS in 1934. Upon the formation of the 3rd SS Division ("Totenkopf") (then organized as a motorized infantry division) at the SS training area near Dachau he was promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmführer (Captain) and appointed to the command of No. 3 Kompanie, I. Abteilung (of which he was also the deputy commander), 2. Regiment ("Brandenberg") of the Totenkopf Division and fought as part of the division [clarification needed] during the Battle of France in May–June 1940.
It was in his capacity as a company commander that he gained notoriety, being responsible for the 27 May 1940 massacre of British prisoners-of-war at Le Paradis in the Pas-de-Calais. Ninety-nine members of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who had surrendered to his unit in a cattle shed were stood in front of the barn wall, and Knöchlein ordered two machine-guns turned on them, followed by bayoneting and shooting any apparent survivors. Two of the prisoners, privates Albert Pooley and William O'Callaghan, managed to escape the massacre, but the remaining 97 were hastily buried along the barn wall.
In 1942, the bodies were exhumed by the French authorities and reburied in a local cemetery which eventually became the Le Paradis War Cemetery. During this time, Albert Pooley made it a personal mission to hunt down Knöchlein and bring him up on charges of war crimes after the war.
After the French campaign Knöchlein was appointed commander of 5. Kompanie, and to command of an antiaircraft Artillery battery in the Totenkopf Division flak battalion. He served in this capacity on the Russian Front until the summer of 1942, when he was promoted to Sturmbannführer (Major), and appointed commander of the I. Abteilung of the 3. Regiment, Totenkopf Division. In October 1943 he became commander of I. Abteilung, No. 36 Regiment, of the newly formed 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division ("Reichsführer-SS"). He was promoted to Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) and appointed commander of a Norwegian SS volunteer unit, the No. 23 Panzergrenadier Regiment ("Norge") of the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division ("Nordland") from March 14, 1944 to January 1, 1945. Knöchlein received the following decorations during the war: the Iron Cross First and Second Class; the German Cross in Gold (15 November 1942), and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (November 1944).
Trial and execution
In August 1948, he was formally arraigned on charges of war crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty.
- The accused Fritz Knöchlein, a German national, in the charge of the Hamburg Garrison Unit, pursuant to Regulation 4 of the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals, is charged with committing a war crime in that he in the vicinity of Paradis, Pas-de-Calais, France, on or about 27 May 1940, in violation of the laws and usages of war, was concerned in the killing of about ninety prisoners-of-war, members of The Royal Norfolk Regiment and other British Units.
His trial began in No. 5 Court of the Curiohaus, Rotherbaum, on Monday 11 October 1948, and both Albert Pooley and William O'Callaghan were called to testify against him. Knöchlein's defence attorney, Dr. Uhde, claimed that Knöchlein had not been present on the day of the battle, and challenged that the British forces had used illegal dumdum bullets during the battle.
At his war crimes trial Knöchlein claimed that he was tortured during his detention in the "London Cage", which the head of the "London Cage" Alexander Scotland dismisses in London Cage as a "lame allegation". According to Knöchlein, he was stripped, deprived of sleep, kicked by guards and starved. He said that he was compelled to walk in a tight circle for four hours. After complaining to Alexander Scotland, Knöchlein alleges that he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten. He claimed he was forced to stand beside a hot gas stove before being showered with cold water. He claimed that he and another prisoner were forced to run in circles while carrying heavy logs. "Since these tortures were the consequences of my personal complaint, any further complaint would have been senseless," Knöchlein wrote. "One of the guards who had a somewhat humane feeling advised me not to make any more complaints, otherwise things would turn worse for me." Other prisoners, he alleged, were beaten until they begged to be killed, while some were told that they could be made to disappear.
Scotland said in his memoirs that Knöchlein was not interrogated at all at the London Cage because there was sufficient evidence to convict him, and he wanted "no confusing documents with the aid of which he might try to wriggle from the net." During his last nights at the cage, Scotland states, Knöchlein "began shrieking in a half-crazed fashion, so that the guards at the London Cage were at a loss to know how to control him. At one stage the local police called in to enquire why such a din was emanating from sedate Kensington Palace Gardens."
Upon being found guilty, Knöchlein applied for clemency, arguing that he had a wife and four children that depended on him, but was sentenced to be hanged, a verdict that was carried out on January 28, 1949.
Summary of his military career
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (February 2009)|
Dates of rank
- SS-Obersturmführer - 1940
- SS-Hauptsturmführer - ?
- SS-Sturmbannführer - 1942
- SS-Obersturmbannführer - March 14, 1944
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross - November 16, 1944
- German Cross in Gold - November 15, 1942
- Iron Cross of First Class
- Iron Cross of Second Class
- Mitcham, Samuel W., Jr. Hitler's Legions: The German Army Order of Battle, World War II.
- "Ritterkreuzträger Fritz Knöchlein," http://www.ritterkreuztraeger-1939-45.de/Waffen-SS/K/Knoechlein-Fritz.htm
- Like a Cliff in the Ocean, Karl Ullrich, page 31, 2002, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing. ISBN 0-921991-69-X
- Williamson Murray, Allan Reed Millett A War To Be Won: fighting the Second World War - 2009 - Page 90 "The company commander, Obersturmführer Fritz Knochlein, lined the prisoners up against a barn wall and machinegunned the lot. Any survivors were bayoneted and shot. German military authorities brought no charges against Knochlein"
- "SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 23 'Norge'," http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/PanzergrenadierregimenterSS/PGRSS23.htm
- London Cage, p. 81.
- Cobain, Ian (2005-11-12). "The secrets of the London Cage". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-17.
- Christopher J. Moran, Christopher R. Moran, Christopher John Murphy Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US: Historiography Since 1945 - Page 252 2013 "While influential in Britain's war crimes convictions, operations at the Cage were blemished by persistent allegations of maltreatment and torture made by several former prisoners.8 One of these, Fritz Knochlein - an ... alleged sleep deprivation and physical abuse"
- The Times, 26 October 1948; Nazi Captain To Be Hanged
- Michael Parrish The Lesser Terror: Soviet State Security, 1939-1953 1996- Page 128 "It is interesting to compare their fate with what happened to SS Obersturmbannführer Fritz Knöchlein, Commander of 3 Company 1 Battalion 2 Regiment of Totenkopf, whose troops on May 27, 1940, near Le Paradis, France, had gunned down ...Knöchlein was hanged in January 1949 after being sentenced by a British military court in a trial that was no less perfunctory than that faced by his camrades in Poltava."
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.