Theodore Herman Bachenheimer
|Nickname(s)||The G.I. General|
|Born||April 23, 1923|
|Died||October 22, 1944 (aged 21)|
't Harde, The Netherlands
|Service/||United States Army|
|Years of service||1942–1944|
|Rank||Private first class|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards|| Silver Star|
Ethel Lou Murfield (m. 1943)
|Relations||Theodore Bachenheimer (uncle)|
Klaus Gautmann Bachenheimer (brother)
Theodore Herman Bachenheimer a.k.a. Theodor Storm, (23 April 1923 – 22 October 1944), was an American soldier. In just three years, he achieved legendary status as one of the war's most daring reconnaissance scouts, he was better known as The Legendary Paratrooper or The G.I. General and was befriended by Martha Gellhorn.[note 1]
Held in high esteem by his fellow combatants, remembered by high ranking U.S Army officers, Lieut. General James M. Gavin once said of him,'His bravery was, beyond question, of an exceptional high order. Bachenheimer stood out more from the venturesome his bravery took than because of the bravery itself'.
He chose to finish the task he started whatever the sacrifice. Bachenheimer, one of the most remarkable characters of his division, died at the age of twenty-one.
Bachenheimer was born in Braunschweig, Germany, the eldest of two, his younger brother Klaus Gutmann (1926-1996) went to become one of the top executives at Southwest Gas Corporation. His father Wilhelm, born in Frankenberg, Hesse, Germany (1892-1942), a former student at the Music Academy of Frankfurt and of German baritone nl:Eugen Hildach (1849-1924), was a musician, a singer and a lecturer of Jewish descent who served in the German Army during World War I (1914–16) and was once Musical Director of opera singer Maria Jeritza and voice teacher and coach of American actress Joan Blondell. His mother Katherina Boetticher (1899-1985) was an actress, his uncle and namesake (1888-1948), was a producer of light opera based in Hollywood, The Merry Widow and The Waltz King are among the works he either directed or produced.
Following Hitler's rise to power, the Bachenheimers moved, firstly to Prague and afterwards to Vienna, sometime in September 1934 they boarded the Majestic in Cherbourg, France, and sailed for America, arriving in New York City on 19 September and finally settled in California. Because of his family background, Bachenheimer registered aged 18 years old as an arts student at the Los Angeles City College with the intention of becoming an opera singer. Prior to his U.S army years, Bachenheimer briefly worked as a press agent for an ill-fated theatrical production.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bachenheimer volunteered for military service (13 December 1941), and in May 1942 he was allocated to the 504th Infantry Regiment after successfully obtaining his parachuting certificate. In August 1942, he was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina together with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment which was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. While the 504th was training at Fort Bragg, Bachenheimer, fluent in German, taught an intelligence class, where he would read out of a German infantry training manual. Bachenheimer was granted U.S. citizenship on 23 October 1942 by the United States district court of Atlanta, Georgia, his petition for naturalization described him as a 5 ft 10, 160 lbs white male with brown hair and brown eyes, ruddy complexion, exhibiting a small scar on the tip of the chin. On 23 March 1943, in Fayetteville, Cumberland County, North Carolina, he married Ethel Lou Murfield, whom he called Penny, from Fullerton, California who at the time was working for the Douglas Aircraft Company as a timekeeper.
Bachenheimer took part in Operation Husky, fought in the battles for Salerno and Anzio, where his bravery behind enemy lines made him a legend in the 82nd Airborne Division, earning him the nickname of The Legendary Paratrooper. From 1942 to 1944, Bachenheimer was the subject of articles in newspapers such as Star and Stripes, Collier's Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, and some of his exploits were broadcast in radio dispatches.
In action during Operation Market Garden, he landed near Grave, the Netherlands, on 17 September 1944. After successfully avoiding being captured by a band of German soldiers, he reorganized the Dutch underground organizations and went on to become the leader[note 2] (with the underground rank of Major) of the Dutch resistance group in Nijmegen called K.P. (Knokploegen, or Fist-Fighters, part of the newly formed Netherlands Forces of the Interior, Prince Bernhard led as chief commander), where he gained the name of The G.I. General, his army was known as The Free Netherlands Army, a Battalion consisted of more than three hundred fighters. His partisans dubbed him Kommandant, Bachenheimers's HQ was set up in a steel factory situated in Groenestraat, south-west part of Nijmegen, by the end of September, Bachenheimer had moved his HQ to an infant school situated further south of the steel factory. Bachenheimer's second-in-command, two other 504th paratroopers, were known as Bill One (Willard M. Strunk of Abilene, Kansas) and Bill Two (Bill Zeller of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killed in action, Apr 7, 1945). Bachenheimer's resistance group successfully gathered intelligence about the occupation forces and the information was then transmitted forward to the 82nd Airborne Division.
For his heroic actions in Nijmegen, Bachenheimer was recommended for a battlefield commission and was directed to report to division for an interview by a board of officers, on his way to his interview he picked up an helmet with a first lieutenant's bar on it instead of his own helmet, he was sent back for reconsideration. Finally Bachenheimer agreed to a battlefield commission as a second Lieutenant.
On the night of 11–12 October, he volunteered to accompany British intelligence officer Captain Peter Baker across the Waal river at Tiel to contact the Ebbens family[note 3], the IS 9's mission, the last under the command of James Langley, was to deploy Operation codenamed the Windmill Line[note 4] on site (The Ebbens's family farm, near the village of Drumpt), bringing back British paratroopers hidden by Dutch resistance in the Arnhem area (Ede, Netherlands) safely to the Allied lines using guides. Bachenheimer was also determined to establish telephone contact between areas of Germany and the Netherlands opposite his divisional front. But both men disobeyed a written order[note 5] from Major Airey Neave (codenamed Saturday) to remain in military uniform and not leave the safe house in daylight. They went for a walk in plain clothes and were spotted[note 6] by German troops passing nearby. Operation Windmill might have been used by the British Secret Intelligence Service as a justification for a Covert operation. In addition to Bachenheimer and Baker, the other boarders at Ebbens's house were a group of young Dutchmen, a Jewish family, a wounded British paratrooper, Staff-Sergeant Alan Kettley of the Glider Pilot Regiment and Canadian military officer, Lieutenant Leo Jack Heaps (1922-1995). Heaps would be involved with Operation Pegasus, he would be later raised to the rank of Captain and awarded the Military Cross, his son is Canadian politician, Adrian Heaps.
On the night of 16 October, three days after glider pilot Kettley left, the Ebbens's farm was raided by the Wehrmacht, two German soldiers were killed and during their search, the Germans found a stock of arms and some papers. On the same night, Ebbens had a meeting with the resistance leader for the Betuwe region. Bachenheimer and Baker were brought to a local school in Tiel where they were interrogated for some hours, but they remained unmolested. They managed to establish a false identity and said they were cut off from their units and had lost their way in a no man's land between the Waal and the Rhine. The two men were taken to a POW transit camp at Culemborg, from where they and other captives had to march 30 miles to another POW camp situated at Amersfoort. Afterwards, Bachenheimer and Baker were put on a transport train to Stalag XI-B, Fallingbostel, Baker would reach the camp in the night on 26 October, (when news that both men had been arrested, the "Windmill line" was abandoned, the other escape route via Renkum codenamed Operation Pegasus went ahead as scheduled.). During the transport, the two men were put into different boxcars, and Bachenheimer and Baker, gave each other messages for friends hoping one day to meet again in Los Angeles:
Maybe we can do business together, we could start a Californian branch of your firm and call it 'The Musketeers' said Bachenheimer to Baker.
and as for the Ebbens, they were moved on 14 November to Renswoude where they shot by firing squad in retaliation for terrorist activity, Ebbens was incriminated for having ordered to blow up a railway and his farm was burned to the ground.
The intrepid Bachenheimer managed to escape at night (20–21 October) from his boxcar with three other British soldiers, shortly after they split up but on 22 October, Bachenheimer was recaptured for the last time by the Germans near the village of 't Harde while laying a telephone wire possibly trying to reestablish contact with his resistance force. About 9:00 PM, a Wehrmacht truck stopped on Eperweg in 't Harde, in front of the house of the De Lange family when two gunshots were heard but the occupants of the house were too frightened to look out to see what was happening. The next day, German soldiers found Bachenheimer lying on the side of the road, his dead body exhibited marks of two gunshot wounds. Among the few items retrieved from Bachenheimer's body, his Dog tags and a silver ring engraved with the following inscription, Ik hou van Holland (I love Holland). The same day, Dutch officials performed a post-mortem examination and established that one bullet went through the neck and the other one through the back of his head. A memorial monument marks the spot where he was shot dead.
Bachenheimer was due to be given the rank of lieutenant within a month.
In April 1946, Bachenheimer's remains were recovered from Oldebroek General Cemetery and reburied at the U.S Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Gondroz in Belgium. In April 1949, at the request of his family, Bachenheimer's body was repatriated to the U.S and reburied in the Beth Olam Jewish Cemetery located at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
Canadian military officer Leo Heaps set the date of his arrival at Ebbens's farm (in company of Kettley) on 3 October, Bachenheimer and Baker were already there. Heaps dated his departure on 5 October, putting Kettley in charge of securing the property. Heaps's The Grey Goose of Arnhem, published in 1976, contradicts Neave's version of the story, published in 1969 as well as that of Baker published in 1946, casting some serious doubts on the entire chronology of events.
Dutch resistance leader, Christiaan Lindemans questioning at Camp 020, may give indirect evidences to support Heaps's claims. During his interrogation by MI-5 agents, Lindemans make mention of a trip he made to Eindhoven, returning the same evening, ordered by Prince Bernhard (dated, 21 October 1944), to talk with Peter, leader of a resistance group in Eindhoven. Alike this Peter, Baker was the chief of a resistance group in the Netherlands and connected with Eindhoven. Lindemans acknowledged that he had given to a FrontAufklärungsTruppe (FAT) on 15 September 1944 at the Abwehr station in Driebergen, the name of Captain Baker. There is a strong possibility that Bachenheimer and Baker's captures were the result of a German intelligence operation based on details supplied by Lindemans.
On 14 June 1944, Bachenheimer was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action demonstrated during the fighting for Anzio, and on 7 January 1952 (by Royal Decree n°24, signed by her HRH Queen Juliana of the Netherlands), was awarded posthumously the Bronze Cross[note 7] for distinguished and brave conduct against the enemy at Nijmegen.
|"||It seems to me that these young boys who paid with their lives are forgotten very soon. But i have not forgotten and i never will.||"|
|– Katherina Bachenheimer, Letter to the Quartermaster General of the Memorial Division, 12 March 1947|
Remembering Private Bachenheimer
Bachenheimer is eligible for the award of the Medal of Honor for his outstanding leadership, gallantry and exceptional devotion to duty during World War II but also for a posthumous promotion and for reburial in Arlington National Cemetery.
In popular culture
Bachenheimer was featured in the Real Life comics issue n°25, published 1 September 1945, as the character of the G.I. General.
- Gellhorn met Bachenheimer through Baker.
- Bacheimer's predecessors were either killed by the Gestapo or sent to a Concentration camp.
- Ebbens's address had been given by Dignus Kragt (1917-2008) also known as Frans Hals, Kragt was a member of the SAS Belgian Regt of Operation Fabian (16 Sept 1944-14 March 1945) and an MI-9 agent. Operation Fabian was to collect intelligence concerning enemy concentrations in the northwest Netherlands and to locate V-2 rocket launch sites. Belgian born Gilbert Sadi-Kirschen (codenamed Captain Fabian King) was head of Operation Fabian, Sadi-Kirschen and his team were dropped in the Netherlands 48 hours before Operation Market-Garden would begin, King's unit became part of Operation Pegasus. On 23 July 1948, Captain Dignus Kragt of the Intelligence Corps (345755) was awarded the Medal of Freedom with gold palm and on 15 February 1952 the Bronze Lion. Kragt assisted fellow officer, Brigadier John Hackett in his escape.
- The Windmill incident was the subject of a post-war enquiry.
- On 6 October, Neave asked IS9's Langley (codenamed P15) the permission to send Baker across enemy lines, Langley agreed on condition that Baker remained in uniform at all times.
- Baker gives a slightly different version of the story and wrote that the Ebbens were already under suspicion, presumably, he and Bachenheimer were denounced by one of the four young Dutchmen who were living with the Ebbens avoiding German conscription. Heaps's book untitled The Grey Goose of Arnhem (The Evaders) stated that an informer told the Gestapo that Jewish people were hiding in Ebbens's house.
- Dutch counterpart of the British Distinguished Service Order.
- Baker (1946), p. 152.
- Baker (1955).
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- Routledge (2002), p. 153.
- Routledge (2002), p. 152.
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- Neave, Airey (1969). The Escape Room. Doubleday. p. 305.
- Neave (2010).
- Baker (1946), p. 164.
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- Baker (1955), p. 136.
- Neave (1969), p. 308.
- Baker (1955), p. 150.
- Baker (1955), pp. 151–152.
- The Jewish Veteran, volume 16, 1946.
- Bowman (2013).
- Baker (1946), p. 156.
- "German Intelligence Agents and Suspected Agents, Christian Lindemans, alias Christian Brant, German codename King Kong", 1944 Nov 10-1944 Nov 19, Reference KV 2/233, National Archives
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- Baker, Peter (1955). My Testament. London: John Calder.
- Baldino, Fred (2001). "Odyssey of the PFC General". The Airborne Quarterly.
- Van Lunteren, Frank; Margry, Karel (2002). "The Odyssey of Private Bachenheimer". After the Battle.
- Carter, Ross S. (1996). Those Devils in Baggy Pants. Buccaneer Books.
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- Heaps, Leo (1976). The Evaders. New York: Morrow.
- Gavin, James M. (1978). On to Berlin. New York: Viking Press.
- Foot, M.R.D.; Langley, J.M (1979). MI 9 – the British Secret Service That Fostered Escape and Evasion, 1939-1945 and its American Counterpart. London.
- Davies, Barry (1998). The Complete Encyclopedia of the SAS. Virgin Publishing.
- Nordyke, Phil (2008). More Than Courage: Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe: Combat History of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II. Zenith Press.
- Routledge, Paul (2002). Public Servant, Secret Agent: The Elusive Life and Violent Death of Airey Neave. Fourth Estate.
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- Bowman, Martin W. (2013). The Shrinking Perimeter. Pen & Sword Aviation.
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Media related to Theodore Bachenheimer at Wikimedia Commons