Itter Castle

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Coordinates: 47°28′14″N 12°8′23″E / 47.47056°N 12.13972°E / 47.47056; 12.13972

Itter Castle seen from the southeast
Itter Castle seen from the north west

Itter Castle (German: Schloss Itter) is a small castle standing on a low knoll in Itter, a town in North Tyrol (Austria), 20 km west of Kitzbühel and 5 km south of Worgl. During World War II it was turned into a Nazi prison for French VIP's, and was the site of an extraordinary instance of the U.S. Army, German Wehrmacht, Austrian Resistance, and the prisoners themselves fighting side-by-side against the Waffen SS in the Battle for Castle Itter.


Itter Castle is located atop a 666 meter[1] hill at the entrance to the Brixental Valley. It is first mentioned in 1240.[2] It belonged to Salzburg from 1312 until 1816, when it became part of Tyrol. The castle was purchased as a residence in 1884 by Sophie Menter, pianist, composer and student of Franz Liszt. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky orchestrated one of his compositions during a visit in 1892. The castle was extensively remodeled by later owners.

World War II[edit]

After the Anschluss (the German annexation of Austria), the German government officially leased the castle in late 1940 from its owner, Franz Grüner.[3]

The castle was seized from Grüner by SS Lieutenant General Oswald Pohl under the orders of Heinrich Himmler on February 7, 1943, and transformed into a prison by April 25, 1943. Established to incarcerate prominent French prisoners valuable to the Reich,[4][5] the facility was placed under the administration of the Dachau concentration camp.[3]

Notable prisoners included: former Prime Ministers Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud;[6] Generals Maurice Gamelin[7] and former commander-in-chief Maxime Weygand, who had been prominent during the Phoney War;[8] former tennis champion Jean Borotra, later General Commissioner of Sports in the Vichy regime;[9] right-wing leader François de La Rocque, leader of the right-wing Croix de Feu movement;[10] trade union leader Léon Jouhaux;[11] André François-Poncet, a politician and diplomat; and Michel Clemenceau, politician and son of Georges Clemenceau. The former republic president Albert Lebrun was held at Itter for three months in 1943, before being sent back to France for health reasons; Marie-Agnès de Gaulle, Resistance member and sister of General Charles de Gaulle, was interned in the castle at the very end of the war, in April 1945.;[12]

Besides the French VIP prisoners, the Castle held a number of Eastern European prisoners detached from Dachau, who were used for maintenance and other menial work.[13]

Battle for Castle Itter[edit]

On the afternoon of May 4th the prison's commander fled. Shortly after the SS-Totenkopfverbände guards followed, the prisoners arming themselves and awaiting rescue from anticipated attack from Waffen SS troops still aggressively resisting surrender. Two Sherman tanks of the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee, Jr., and anti-Nazi elements of the Wehrmacht under the command of Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, arrived.[14] Together the three groups repelled probes by SS reconnaissance elements throughout the night. The battle continued through the morning of 5 May, with a strong force of 100-150 SS pressing the attack until reinforcements from the American 142nd Infantry Regiment arrived around 4 PM that day.[15][16]


  1. ^ Itter Castle Elevation and Position
  2. ^ Harding, Stephen (11 September 2008). "The Battle for Itter Castle". Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  3. ^ a b Harding 2013, pp. 11–13.
  4. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 21–22.
  5. ^ Piekałkiewicz, Janusz (1974). Secret Agents, Spies, and Saboteurs: Famous Undercover Missions of World War II. William Morrow. 
  6. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 43–44.
  7. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 27–28.
  8. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 53–55.
  9. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 45–46.
  10. ^ Harding 2013, p. 57.
  11. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 36–37.
  12. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 59–62.
  13. ^ Harding 2013, pp. 72 and 181.
  14. ^ Andrew Roberts (12 May 2013). "World War II’s Strangest Battle: When Americans and Germans Fought Together". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  15. ^ "French Leaders Freed". Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  16. ^ "Recollections of a World War II Combat Medic". JSTOR 27792041. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Itter Castle at Wikimedia Commons