The golden gun of notorious Nazi Hermann Göring is up for auction.
Rock Island Auction Company in Illinois is putting the gold-plated semiautomatic pistol of Göringup for bid in September. The gun, a Walther PPK, has an estimated price of $250,000 to $400,000.
Rock Island Auction said the gun once owned by Hitler’s right hand man, whose name is sometimes Anglicized as Goering, is “possibly the most historic Walther factory engraved pistol that we ever offered for sale.” It’s one of nearly 3,000 items, mostly antique guns, up for auction from September 9 through 11.
The engraving on the gun, which was made in 1939, is a traditional Germanic oak leaf and acorn pattern, according to Rock Island Auction, with Göring’s initials in gold letters as well as his family crest of a fist holding a ring.
Göring was an ace fighter pilot for Germany during World War I who became one of the most powerful Nazi leaders in World War II and a close friend of Hitler. He was in charge of the Luftwaffe, the German air force, which pummeled London during the Blitz and other European cities throughout the war.
The man with the golden gun liked to surround himself with the trappings of wealth and luxury and was infamous for looting the treasures of Jews during the Holocaust.
Göring was convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg but committed suicide before his scheduled execution.
Berlin was a stout place for a fight. It was large, modern and well-planned, which had allowed it to remain less damaged than other German cities, even though it had been heavily bombed. Still, by 1945, approximately 25 percent of Berlin had been destroyed by air raids, but its essential services had never been overwhelmed. Because of its sturdy construction, a great effort would be required to capture the capital city.
The same factors that made Berlin so bomb-resistant also helped it resist ground attack. Throughout the city, large apartment buildings stood on strong, deep cellars. Wide boulevards and avenues at regular intervals served as firebreaks and would also serve as killing zones against Soviet tanks and infantry. Natural obstacles within the city made it even more defensible. The Spree River cut from the northwest part of the city through its center to the southeast. Berlin’s southern approaches were guarded by the Teltow Canal. The center of the city, the heart of the capital, lay in a ‘V’ surrounded by the Spree River and the Landwehr Canal.
Many of the city’s defenders were fighting for survival in the hope that they could delay the Soviets long enough for the Western armies to occupy more of Germany and, hopefully, Berlin. That was a hope that would never be realized, however. Berlin was defended by the LVI Panzer Corps under General Karl Weidling. At the start of the Soviet offensive, the LVI Panzer Corps was still not fully manned and consisted of only two divisions, the recently formed Muncheberg Division and the 20th SS Panzer Division, whose strength had been severely depleted during futile counterattacks at Kustrin. Eventually, the corps would consist of five divisions. When it fell back into Berlin, it lost contact with one division, so the last battle was fought with four divisions, as well as those forces already in the city–a total of 60,000 men and 50 to 60 tanks.
The Soviet armies were well-trained and well-equipped. Their plan was to surround and capture the city on the sixth day of the offensive. By the 11th day, the Red Army was at the Elbe River. Contrary to the Soviet plan, Berlin did not surrender until May 2, a full 17 days after the offensive began. The American and Soviet troops first met on April 25 at the Elbe River, 10 days after the offensive began.
While it is difficult to say exactly how many Soviet soldiers actually participated in the assault on Berlin, the Berlin Medal was awarded to nearly 1,082,000 troops. That means the Soviet forces had more than 10 times the men the Germans had during the fight for the city itself. Even so, it took the Red Army from April 21, when it first reached the city, until May 2 to capture Berlin–a total of 12 days.
The length of time required to capture the city can be explained by the desperate German resistance, the difficulties involved in street combat and the Soviet soldiers’ knowledge that the war was all but over. Soldiers have no desire to die, and it is difficult to motivate them to take extra chances if they feel that their deaths would be meaningless. The Soviet soldier had nothing to gain or prove by dying for the motherland so late in the war. Even so, losses among the three Red Army fronts involved in the operation from April 16 to May 8 totaled more than 300,000 men–over 10 percent of their total strength.
One German soldier who fought during the battle for Berlin was Siegfried Knappe. At the time of the battle, he was a major and the operations officer of the LVI Panzer Corps. Knappe, along with Ted Brusaw, has recently written Soldat, a book on his experiences in the German army from 1936 to 1949.
WWII: How were the defenses of Berlin laid out?
Knappe: The defenses of the city consisted of three rings with nine sectors. The outer ring was about 60 miles in circumference and ran around the outskirts of the city. It mainly consisted of partially dug trenches and hastily emplaced roadblocks. The middle ring was about 25 miles in circumference and made use of already existing obstacles such as the S-Bahn [surface railway] and solidly built houses. The inner ring was the center of the city and consisted of massive government buildings. In addition, there were six bombproof flak towers. Eight of the sectors, labeled A through H, radiated in a pie shape through all three defensive rings. The ninth, Z, was located in the center of the city. Sector Z had its own defensive force consisting of Hitler’s SS guard units. Beyond the flak units there were no regular army units to speak of in Berlin until we arrived.
WWII: How many experienced soldiers did you have in the LVI Corps?
Knappe: I have a report here that gives a good answer to that question. It says that the fighting power when we had all five divisions was the equivalent of two divisions.
WWII: How many men would that be?
Knappe: About 40,000 men if both divisions had their full peacetime complement. The report also says that other units in Berlin were the equivalent of two to three divisions and that the Waffen SS was the equivalent of half a division. All together it says about four to five divisions consisting of 60,000 men with 50 to 60 tanks.
WWII: How good were the other units?
Knappe: Their fighting ability was limited. Some were Volkssturm [Home Guard] and Hitler Youth, and their equipment was very limited. Others, such as the anti-aircraft units, were limited in their mobility. They all tried but were not trained or equipped for infantry fighting. The Russians say in their literature [that we had] 180,000 men.
WWII: That would make it seem like a bigger victory.
Knappe: Yes. They may have come up with that number by taking the number of divisions and using their peacetime complement. But we were not even close to that.
WWII: Did you ever think that you had a chance to win the battle?
Knappe: No. It was clear from the beginning that we had no chance. We were only delaying until the Western powers could get to Berlin.
WWII: Did you ever talk among yourselves and say, ‘We can hold the Russians for a week,’ or some other time period?
Knappe: No, we didn’t put anything in time limits like that. We knew that we could hold out long enough for the Western powers to get to Berlin.
WWII: How did you, as a major, become a corps operations officer? In addition, you mention that the 20th Division was commanded by a colonel, but that is normally a major general’s position. Was that fairly normal during that time of the war–to have a much lower ranking officer in those positions?
Knappe: Yes, during that time of the war crazy things were happening. As I mention in my book, I almost became the commander of a division as a major!
WWII: In Berlin, how did you communicate with and control the troops?
Knappe: We started out with the Berlin civilian telephone system. As quickly as we could, we got our own net, but we did not have all of the communications equipment that we needed. So, we were glad to have the civilian telephone system available.
WWII: How much control did you really have over the troops?
Knappe: We had good control over the troops in Berlin. We lost control over the 20th during the fierce fighting outside of the city, just like the Ninth Army lost control over us. We just didn’t have all of the wireless that we should have had. All of our communications was with makeshift stuff, but we still could manage.
WWII: During World War II, the German army had a lot of ad hoc units. The Muncheberg Division was one of those, and they seemed to have done a very good job from the Seelow Heights, when they first entered combat, until the very end in Berlin. How was the German army able to do that?
Knappe: It was our training. There were still enough well-trained officers and noncommissioned officers that it could work, even at the end of the war. All of them had gone through the same training.
WWII: How could they develop unit cohesion when they were thrown together and then almost immediately sent into combat?
Knappe: That was a function of the officers and noncommissioned officers. Until Stalingrad we didn’t have to do that, but after it became a regular occurrence with all of the losses and retreats. Everyone knew that if they kept together and fought together they could evade captivity or being killed.
WWII: How was the Muncheberg Division formed? Did they take individual soldiers or did they try to keep them in groups?
Knappe: Everyone knew that there would be a big fight for Berlin, and the home units got orders to send everybody to the city of Muncheberg, which is where the name came from. The general staff decided what would be needed to start a new division there. The materiel, artillery, communication equipment and anything else that would be needed was identified and arranged to be sent to Muncheberg. A division staff had already been appointed, and they were there to receive the equipment. So, when the men arrived, the equipment was organized and waiting for them. I did this in France when the Sixth Army was lost at Stalingrad. I went to France, and the people that I needed of all ranks came for a battalion of artillery plus 250 horses and the guns.
WWII: You mention in your book that the Soviets lost an opportunity to seize Berlin sooner than they actually did. Could you expand on that?
Knappe: The time that I was talking about, when they could have had Berlin much earlier than they did, was after the initial breakthroughs in our outer defenses. There was a period of time where our defenses looked like a dumbbell. One end was circling the [Adolf Hitler’s] bunker and one end was circling the Olympic Stadium, which included the Pichelsdorf Bridge, where we were going to break out from, with a very long, narrow strip between the two on either side of Heerstrasse. They could have very easily attacked the bunker area by driving east, straight down Heerstrasse. In fact, they had individual tanks crossing Heerstrasse all the time. We were able to keep in contact with the units around the Olympic Stadium by the subway tunnel that ran under Heerstrasse. Every time I updated the situation map I always wondered why they didn’t realize what they could do. We just didn’t have enough troops to defend everywhere. The Russians just kept attacking where we were the strongest. They kept trying to get to the center of the city by the shortest way when the longer way would have been a lot easier.
WWII: You went into Hitler’s bunker a number of times during the battle. Initially, the guards took away your pistol, but toward the end they stopped searching you and you were able to take your pistol in. You say in your book that you had the opportunity to shoot Hitler, and while you thought about it you decided not to. Could you elaborate on that?
Knappe: If I had shot him it would not have changed anything because the fighting was all but over.
WWII: After all of those years of Hitler being Fuhrer, what caused you to change your mind about him? Did the change occur in a day or two, or was it something that you had been thinking about for some time?
Knappe: It was not a sudden change. It was something that had started right after Stalingrad. It was not just me but a general feeling among the front-line officers. We could see what was really happening.
WWII: What made you think about killing Hitler when the opportunity was presented?
Knappe: Probably his statement to General Weidling when Weidling was asking him for permission to break out and for him to go with us. General Weidling told me that Hitler had said that he did not want to die in the street like a ‘Landstreicher.’ Landstreicher does not have an exact translation into English, that is why my book uses the word ‘dog,’ but a Landstreicher is someone like a hobo or panhandler. Both of us had seen hundreds of German soldiers die in the streets during the war, and now Hitler was saying that he did not want to die like they died. My brother died from his wounds that he received in Russia. So, both of us were very upset by Hitler’s use of this word. It was just such an unbelievable comment, especially to make that type of comment to a soldier. It wasn’t until this time that I finally began to realize what sort of man we had been fighting for.
WWII: So, it was that one statement?
Knappe: Yes. I just had this impulse to shoot him. I wasn’t worried about being executed afterwards, for I thought that I was a dead man anyway. We had recaptured some places from the Russians during the war and whenever we did, we almost always found that the German officers had been executed. So, I thought that the Russians would execute me after I was captured. Unconsciously, I realized that I couldn’t afford to make Hitler into a martyr. This would have created another Dolchstosslegende or’stabbed-in-the-back legend.’ [Joseph] Goebbels [Hitler’s propaganda chief] would have made the most out of it. I’m sure that he probably would have said that if the Fhrer had not been killed by a general staff officer he would have found some way to save the German people.
WWII: You mention in your book that you ate in the bunker when everyone was eating their last meal, before they were going to try to break out, and that you sat at the same table as Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary. There have been stories for years that Bormann survived the war and has been seen. What do you think happened to him?
Knappe: He is dead. He was fat and untrained. If you are in a battle situation you have to be trained. You need to know what to do when someone is shooting at you. He would not have known what to do when the shooting started. I am sure that he was shot somewhere in the city. There have been several reports from people in that group that he was shot after crossing a bridge. But of course no one in the group checked on him. Everyone was just interested in themselves, and besides, no one had any love for him anyway.
WWII: You were the one who typed the order from General Weidling directing any German soldiers who were still fighting to stop after the surrender?
Knappe: That’s correct. A Russian writer, Ilya Ehrenburg, incorrectly reported that a blond female secretary typed the order. I was blond at the time, but that was the only similarity. [Ilya Ehrenburg was one of the Soviet Union’s top propagandists during the war.]
WWII: After the surrender, you went into a prison camp in Berlin and were transferred to a prison camp in Russia for five years?
Into the White, was a 2012 Norwegian film quite loosely based on real events from World War II’s Norwegian Campaign, when the Allies tried to keep the German’s from engulfing Norway in their quickly spreading military conquests.
The film is a fun and captivating dramatization of how the crews of a German Heinkel He 111 bomber and a British Blackburn Skua (which had shot down the German bomber and crash-landed soon after) survived in the remote Norwegian wilderness in late April 1940.
There are, needless to say, many discrepancies between the movie and the actual events, but both the true story and the fictionalized one are fascinating tales during a tumultuous time.
After Germany had invaded Poland and the British and French were officially at war with the Third Reich, very little conflict ensued between these countries. All had begun to shore up their defenses against each other and naval combat was beginning to break out in the Baltic and North Seas. This is mostly due to the German’s attempts to keep their supply of desperately needed Swedish iron ore flowing into their war machine.
Much of this iron came via Norway. The northern port of Narvik was of special importance because of the iron that could be shipped from there when the Baltic Sea was frozen and treacherous during the winter.
As Europe descended into war, Norway began mobilizing its army, navy, and air force to guard against any parties violating its neutrality. The British and Germans grew more and more bold in doing just that to take hits at each other with navy and aircraft. By early 1940, Hitler was resolved to invade Norway to secure its strategic importance for their war effort against the Allies.
The entire Norwegian Campaign lasted from April 9th til June 10th 1940 until the German invasion of France shifted the bulk of the Allied forces South and Norway was captured, their government went into exile in London.
Despite all the horrors of war, some cooperation between enemies happened way out in the wilderness, if only for survival.
The Heinkel bomber flown by Lieutenant Horst Schopis was shot down by Captain R.T. Partridge and his radio operator R.S. Bostock in their Skua. Schopis’ tail gunner Hans Hauck was dead on impact, but Schopis, along with Unteroffizier Josef Auchtor and Feldwebel Karl-Heinz Strunk, the remaining survivors of his crew, now faced the vast, cold unknown.
They weren’t alone, however. Partridge and Bostock had crash-landed on a frozen lake not too far away after engine failure.
The two crews were nearest to Grotli, Norway, but surrounded by mountains and lakes, and miles from any road.
While trying to bring his sputtering plane into a safe landing, Partridge spotted an old reindeer hunter’s cabin not too far away. They hiked there through the snow, only to soon be set upon by the German crew with pistols and knives at the ready.Thinking quickly and trying to break down the language barrier in a mix of German and English, Partridge convinced the Germans that he and Bostock were survivors of a downed Vickers Wellington Bomber (and not the aces that had brought their plane down).The film adaptation of these events goes quite off course from this point. It portrays both crews staying in the cabin together, the British indignantly sitting as POWs while starting to warm up to their roommates and all cooperating more together over a series of many stormy nights while the food quickly runs out.
In truth, according to Schopis’ memoirs, Partridge had suggested on the first day they met, that the German’s stay in the cabin and the Brits look elsewhere for shelter. That night, the British stumbled upon the Grotli Hotel, closed for the winter, but offering shelter from the harsh weather.The Germans arrived the next morning, and all shared breakfast together.
Partridge and Strunk left that day to search for people and, hopefully, save both crews from dying before they would be eventually found dead after the seasons had finally changed.
They quickly found a Norwegian ski patrol, close enough to the hotel that Bostock could hear the shot being fired which he assumed was FeldwebelStrunk killing his captain. But it was Strunk who lay dead, reportedly shot by the ski patrol as he reached for his pistol
Schopis and Auchtor were taken into custody by the Norwegians, turned over to the British, and eventually sent to a POW camp in Canada where they spent the remainder of the war.
Partridge and Bostock, quite under suspicion for their cooperation with Germans, managed to convince the Norwegians they were, at least, English by showing them their uniforms’ tailor labels and a half crown coin. And through a huge stroke of luck, the commander of the ski patrol happened to have some mutual acquaintances with Partridge.
The two British flyers were set free and hiked to Alesund, a town on the Norwegian coast, many miles away and under heavy German attack. The ship that was supposed to evacuate them and other British soldiers never arrived, so they boosted a car and drove to Andelsnes, to the Northeast, where they managed to secure passage back to England.
In June 1940, while assaulting the German battleship Scharnhorst, Partridge was shot down and captured by the Germans, spending the rest of the war as a POW. Bostock, flying again in a Blackburn Skua, was killed in the same battle.
Many years later, in 1977, Schopis received a phone call from Partridge, and the two met as friends in their hometowns of Munich and London.
Partridge’s Skua was recovered and sits on display at the Fleet Air Museum in Yeovilton, Somerset England. Schopis’s wrecked Heinkel still waits, lonely atop the mountains near Grotli, Norway.
The battlefields of Eastern Europe hide some quite amazing discoveries. In September 2000, the Estonian battlefield exploration group Otsing recovered a complete T-34 tank from the bottom of a lake in the woods near the provincial capital of Jöhvi (Estonia). After a little cleanup, it runs!
From February to September 1944, heavy battles were fought in the narrow, 50 km-wide, Narva front in the north-eastern part of Estonia. Over 100,000 men were killed and 300,000 men were wounded there. On 19 September 1944, German troops began an organized retreat along the Narva front.
The T-34 Beutepanzer had been captured by the German and that’s why there are German markings army in the course of the battle at Sinimaed (Blue Hills) about six weeks, in the summer of 1944, before it was sunk in the lake. Germans drove this tank in lake when fuel was terminated at deviation in 1944. It is suspected that the tank was then purposefully driven into the lake, abandoning it when its captors left the area. Germans disposed of it in a lake to stop the Russians from reusing it.
The discovery was possible thanks to a local boy thought he saw something near a remote lake in Russia 50 years ago. He told the story to the leader of the local war history club ‘Otsing’. Together with other club members, Mr. Igor Shedunov initiated diving expeditions to the bottom of the lake. The town came together to help him find out what it was.
It laid on depth of 12 meters. Above it there were 6 meters of peat and silt. During two weeks divers of club washed away silt above the tank. Any traces of solar oil or oil on water was not. Has found the tank Igor Sedunov on memoirs of local residents. A technical condition of the tank ideal. Fuel in tanks was not, and oil did not leave the engine.Altogether, 116 shells were found on board. Remarkably, the tank was in good condition, with no rust, and all systems (except the engine) in working condition.
When the people of the town of Hastings awoke one morning to see one of the Kaiser’s U-boats on their beach, it caused some shock. Thousands of visitors flocked to see the beached submarine. The Admiralty allowed the town clerk to charge a fee for people to climb on the deck. Two members of the coastguard were tasked with showing important visitors around inside the submarine. The visits were curtailed when both men became severely ill, they both died shortly after. It was a mystery what killed the men at the time and so all trips into the sub were stopped, it was later discovered that chlorine gas which had been escaping from SM U-118′s batteries had caused severe abscesses on the lungs and brains of the unfortunate men.
SM U-118 was commissioned on 8 May 1918, following construction at the AG Vulcan Stettin shipyard in Hamburg. It was commanded by Herbert Stohwasser and joined the I Flotilla operating in the eastern Atlantic. After about four months without any ships sunk, on 16 September 1918, SM U-118 scored its first hit on another naval vessel.
With the ending of hostilities on 11 November 1918 came the subsequent surrender of the Imperial German Navy, including SM U-118 to France on 23 February 1919. Following the surrender, U-118 was to be transferred to France where it would be broken up for scrap. However, in the early hours of 15 April 1919, while it was being towed through the English Channel towards Scapa Flow, its dragging hawser broke off in a storm. The ship ran aground on the beach at Hastings in Sussex at approximately 12:45am, directly in front of the Queens Hotel.
Initially there were attempts to displace the stricken vessel; three tractors tried to refloat the submarine and a French destroyer attempted to break the ship apart using its cannons. These attempts however were unsuccessful and the proximity of the submarine to the public beach and Queens Hotel dissuaded further use of explosive forces. Eventually, between October and December 1919, U-118 was broken up and the pieces removed and sold for scrap.
A century-old wartime vessel has been identified off the coast of England.
Wind farm developers were scanning the seabed off the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk when their sonar detected an unusually large object 55 miles from shore.
From the outlines on the sonar scans, the object appeared to be a submarine, Paul Ferguson, a spokesperson for the energy company ScottishPowers Renewables, told CNN.
Developers were surveying a part of the Southern North Sea that spanned more than 3,700 square miles, four-times the size of Greater London, their scans revealed 60 wrecks and indicated a wide variety of vessels. But this wreck was different, Teri Nicklin of ScottishPowers Renewables said.
“It was a really special day. We were looking for wrecks, but what we found was a huge wreck that didn’t appear in any of the charts,” Nicklin said.
The submarine was an uncharted mystery.
Developers discovered the vessel in September of 2012. The energy company notified the authorities and reached out to the Royal Netherlands Navy, which was searching for a Dutch military submarine that went missing in action in June 1940, after the crew was patrolling the waters between Denmark and Norway.
It’s taken about four years to identify the submarine’s origin because murky water conditions in the East Anglia region made it impossible to see the vessel. In recent months, Dutch Navy divers were able to uncover the submarine’s identity. It is named U-31, a German U-boat from World World I.
The U-boat was 189 feet long, 13 feet wide and 15 feet high. The vessel appeared to have damage on the bow and stern, and it may be possible the vessel was originally longer, according to a press release by ScottishPower Renewables. Otherwise, the submarine looked relatively intact, Nicklin said.
It is believed that U-31 was destroyed by a mine off England’s coast and sank with its entire crew of four officers, 31 men, Mark Dunkley, marine archaeologist at Historic England said.
The English waters will be the U-boat’s final resting place, but authorities will try to contact German families who may have had relatives on the vessel, Nicklin said.
One hundred years ago, there were people in Germany whose family and friends were lost on the submarine, Nicklin said. “It’s just lovely to think that something we’re doing now for future generations has been able to end the story for a lot of people in Germany.”
Developers plan to start construction of the wind farm in 2017, but will stay clear of wartime relics that are resting on the ocean’s floor.
On March 22, 1944, fifteen soldiers of the U.S. Army, including two officers, landed on the Italian coast about 15 kilometres north of La Spezia, 400 km (250 miles) behind the then established front, as part of Operation Ginny II. They were all properly dressed in the field uniform of the U.S. Army and carried no civilian clothes. Their objective was to demolish a tunnel at Framura on the important railroad line between La Spezia and Genoa. Two days later, the group was captured by a party of Italian Fascist soldiers and members of the German Heer. They were taken to La Spezia, where they were confined near the headquarters of the 135th Fortress Brigade, which was under the command of German Colonel Almers. The immediate, superior command was that of the 75th Army Corps, commanded by Dostler.
The captured U.S. soldiers were interrogated and one of the U.S. officers revealed the story of the mission. The information, including that it was a commando raid, was then sent to Dostler at the 75th Army Corps. The following day (March 25), Dostler informed his superior, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, commanding general of all German forces in Italy, about the captured U.S. commandos and asked what to do with them. According to Dostler’s adjutant officer, Kesselring responded by ordering the execution. Later that day, Dostler sent a telegram to the 135th Fortress Brigade ordering that the captured soldiers be executed. This order was an implementation of Hitler’s secret Commando Order of 1942 which required the immediate execution without trial of commandos and saboteurs. German officers at the 135th Fortress Brigade contacted Dostler in an attempt to achieve a delay of their execution. Dostler then sent another telegram ordering Almers to carry out the execution. Two last attempts were made by the officers at the 135th to stop the execution, including some by telephone, because they knew that executing uniformed prisoners of war was a direct violation of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War. These efforts were unsuccessful and the fifteen Americans were executed on the morning of March 26, 1944, at Punta Bianca south of La Spezia, in the municipality of Ameglia. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave that was then camouflaged. Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten, a member of Dostler’s staff who was unaware of the secret Commando Order and who had refused to sign the execution order, was dismissed from the Wehrmacht for insubordination.
Trial, Execution, and Notoriety
Dostler became a prisoner of the Americans on 8 May 1945 and was put before a military tribunal at the seat of the Supreme Allied Commander, the Royal Palace in Caserta, on 8 October 1945. In the first Allied war trial, he was accused of carrying out an illegal order. In his defense, he maintained that he had not issued the order, but had only passed along an order to Colonel Almers from supreme command, and that the execution of the OSS men was a lawful reprisal. Dostler’s plea of Superior Orders failed because ordering the execution, he had acted on his own outside the Führer’s order. The military commission also rejected his plea, declaring that Dostler’s execution of U.S. soldiers was in violation of Article 2 of the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War, which prohibited acts of reprisals against prisoners of war. The commission stated that “No soldier, and still less a Commanding General, can be heard to say that he considered the summary shooting of prisoners of war legitimate even as a reprisal.”
Under the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, it was legal to execute spies and saboteurs disguised in civilian clothes or enemy uniforms but excluded those who were captured in proper uniforms.Since fifteen U.S. soldiers were properly dressed in U.S. uniforms behind enemy lines and not disguised in civilian clothes or enemy uniforms, they were not to be treated as spies but prisoners of war, which Dostler violated.
The trial found General Dostler guilty of war crimes, rejecting the defense of superior orders. He was sentenced to death and executed by a 12 man firing squad at 0800 hours on December 1, 1945 in Aversa. The execution was photographed on black and white still and movie cameras. Immediately after the execution Dostler’s body was lifted onto a stretcher, shrouded inside a white cotton mattress cover and driven away in an army truck. His remains were subsequently buried in Grave 93/95 of Section H at Pomezia German War Cemetery.
Many people taking part in firing squads intentionally miss their target, as they do not want to be the one responsible for the individuals death. Often times, they would even aim for non-vital areas of the body for the same reasons, knowing that the person was going to die regardless, and didn’t want the kill-shot on their conscious. Another reason is that a lot of soldiers feel that it is immoral to execute a defenseless or captured prisoner, despite any crimes the person has committed. This is why there are so many people used in a firing squad. To ensure a quick death. The fewer participants, the more likely it is to cause mental trauma to the gunmen. There is something relieving about knowing that others are there to share the burden of having just taken a life. It’s related to diffusion of responsibility.
One method used to alleviate such burden is to have some of the weapons loaded with blank rounds, so that none of the participants are absolutely sure they are responsible for the kill. Although loading a weapon with a blank round does not alleviate the shooters from a sense of responsibility. The person who has the blank knows who fired the blank, due to the night-and-day difference in felt recoil. Blanks do not create recoil as there is no mass in front of the propellant charge. The purpose of loading a blank is so that none of the other soldiers in the squad know which one of them had the blank in their rifle. This creates a communal sense of knowing that at least one of the shooters had no hand in the execution, but no one knows who except for the man with the blank loaded in his rifle, thereby allowing any of them to psychologically alleviate themselves of any guilt they may have, since as far as their comrades know; they did not fire a lethal shot.
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