Newsletter No. 537
MEETING OF THE KZN BRANCH HELD AT ST CYPRIANS CHURCH HALL, UMBILO AT 14H00 ON 11th JUNE 2022.
The Chairman Professor Phil Everitt was absent and fellow committee member Dr Graeme Fuller chaired the May meeting. Members and visitors were welcomed to the meeting by Graeme who announced that a special service is to be held at the St Cyprians Church on 5 June 2022 to commemorate the Queens 70th Jubilee.
The DDH visual presentation was the second in the series on British Regimental Quirks and Traditions. The original speaker scheduled was Joyce Peet with her talk on Argentian submarines, but due to health issues, this had been cancelled.
During the ten-minute interval, the Raffle was held and the Father`s Alms" open for refreshments.
The Main Talk titled "Normandy Massacres" was given by fellow committee member Charles Whiteing which coincided with the 78th anniversary of the D Day landings in June 1944. The talk was supported with a graphic power point presentation to illustrate the advance of the Allied troops after the 6 June landings and the initial encounters with Wehrmacht and SS troops. It was in fact the latter that were responsible for a series of atrocities against both Allied troops and French citizens alike. The ferocity and ruthlessness of the SS had been honed during the Russian campaign supported by Nazi indoctrination of the youthful troops of the 12th SS Hitler Jugend (Youth) Regiment. There had been earlier atrocities against French civilians, but as early as the 7th of June; thirty Canadian soldiers were murdered near the village of Authie. The French Resistance constantly impeded the advance of the SS Das Reich regiment in its advance towards Normandy who predictably took reprisals marked by corpses and deportations to Germany. However, atrocities weren't the exclusive domain of the Germans as was illustrated on 8 June when a detachment of the British Inns of Court armoured reconnaissance captured the officer commanding of the Panzer Lehr Regiment together with other German troops. The British ordered the Germans to climb on the front of their armoured cars as there was no other room for them. The Germans refused, with Colonel Luxemberger, a one-armed veteran of the First World War indicating they were to be used as human shields. A couple of British officers proceeded to beat him up and strapped him to the front of one of the armoured cars. As they drove off, the rest of the German troops were machine gunned. The unit was later ambushed by a German anti-tank position resulting on the death of the German colonel and the British crews. The reprisal was the shooting of three Canadian prisoners on 9 June by the SS.
The profile and awareness of the level atrocities was elevated with the execution of 18 members of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles who had been captured and interrogated at the Abby Ardenne, the command post of Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) Kurt Meyer, who at the age of 33, was the youngest divisional commander in the German army. But worse was to follow.
On Sunday 10 June 1944, the citizens of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane were rounded up in the town square by SS troops of the Der Fuhrer regiment. The women and children were led into the church, with the men into three barns. Later that afternoon the SS opened fire on the men in the barns and later the women and children in the church. On establishing there were no survivors, all building were set alight. But there were two unharmed survivors; an eight-year [old] little boy Roger Godfrin who had run away during the initial roundup, and Mme Rouffanche who had managed to escape from the carnage in the church by escaping through a small window behind the altar. The shocking tragedy was that the SS had targeted the wrong village instead of Oradour-sur-Vayres, some fifteen kilometres' away where the Resistance had killed the local SS commander. To this day the village or Oradour-sur-Glane is in situ, as a memorial to the atrocity.
The incidents of atrocities continued with the indiscriminate killing of French citizens, Allied, German Wehrmacht and SS troops. The closing stages of the Normandy campaign was concluded with what became known as the Battle of the Falaise Pocket and resulted in the death of 40% of enemy troops during the Normandy campaign with 200,000 troops missing. The German troops had retreated into this "pocket" in the Argentan-Falaise area; and with Allied air superiority; a RAF Bombing Analysis Unit calculated the loss of over 600 tanks, 450 armoured vehicles, 7000 lorries, cars and motorcycles. Included was a medical convoy all displaying the internationally recognisable sign of the Red Cross. The Allied pilots blatantly disregarded the insignia and proceeded to include these vehicles in their aerial onslaught. The scene was later described by a captured SS trooper as the most gruesome scene he had ever witnessed throughout the war.
In conclusion, few of the German SS troops were held accountable for their actions. Kurt Meyer following his capture, was sentenced to death on 28 December 1945 for the Abby Ardenne massacre. This was later commuted to a life sentence, but he was released on 7 September 1954, later dying of a heart attack on 23 December 1961 while celebrating his 51st birthday.
There would be other military atrocities in future wars and battles including Vietnam and currently today with Russia`s attack on the Ukraine. There is a proposal to set up a "Nuremberg" type court those accountable for actions perpetrated in such like theatres of war.
Graeme Fuller asked if there were any questions for the speaker & announced the details of the next meeting to be held in the same venue at 14h00 for 14h30 on Saturday 9 July 2022.
Details of the DDH & Main Talk will be advised in due course
South African Military History Society / firstname.lastname@example.org