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US and German troops fought side by side

Article about: World War II Never heard of this action before. Cheers, Ade.

  1. #1

    Default US and German troops fought side by side

    World War II

    Never heard of this action before.

    Cheers, Ade.

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  2. #2


    I have copied the text just in case the link dies:

    World War II’s Strangest Battle: When Americans and Germans Fought Together.

    Days after Hitler’s suicide a group of American soldiers, French prisoners, and, yes, German soldiers defended an Austrian castle against an SS division—the only time Germans and Allies fought together in World War II. Andrew Roberts on a story so wild that it has to be made into a movie.
    The most extraordinary things about Stephen Harding's The Last Battle, a truly incredible tale of World War II, are that it hasn’t been told before in English, and that it hasn’t already been made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Here are the basic facts: on 5 May 1945—five days after Hitler’s suicide—three Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Jr., liberated an Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol, a special prison that housed various French VIPs, including the ex-prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former commanders-in-chief Generals Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, amongst several others. Yet when the units of the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division arrived to recapture the castle and execute the prisoners, Lee’s beleaguered and outnumbered men were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as well as some of the extremely feisty wives and girlfriends of the (needless-to-say hitherto bickering) French VIPs, and together they fought off some of the best crack troops of the Third Reich. Steven Spielberg, how did you miss this story?

    The battle for the fairytale, 13th century Castle Itter was the only time in WWII that American and German troops joined forces in combat, and it was also the only time in American history that U.S. troops defended a medieval castle against sustained attack by enemy forces. To make it even more film worthy, two of the women imprisoned at Schloss Itter—Augusta Bruchlen, who was the mistress of the labour leader Leon Jouhaux, and Madame Weygand, the wife General Maxime Weygand—were there because they chose to stand by their men. They, along with Paul Reynaud’s mistress Christiane Mabire, were incredibly strong, capable, and determined women made for portrayal on the silver screen.

    ‘The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe’ By Stephen Harding. 256 pages. Da Capo. $25.99. ()
    There are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.

    Harding, is a respected military affairs expert who has written seven books and long specialized in World War II, and his writing style carries immediacy as well as authority. “Just after 4am Jack Lee was jolted awake by the sudden banging of M1 Garands,” he writes of the SS’s initial assault on the castle, “the sharper crack of Kar-98s, and the mechanical chatter of a .30-caliber spitting out rounds in short, controlled bursts. Knowing instinctively that the rising crescendo of outgoing fire was coming from the gatehouse, Lee rolled off the bed, grabbed his helmet and M3, and ran from the room. As he reached the arched schlosshof gate leading from the terrace to the first courtyard, an MG-42 machine gun opened up from somewhere along the parallel ridgeway east of the castle, the weapon’s characteristic ripping sound clearly audible above the outgoing fire and its tracers looking like an unbroken red stream as they arced across the ravine and ricocheted off the castle’s lower walls.” Everything that Harding reports in this exciting but also historically accurate narrative is backed up with meticulous scholarship. This book proves that history can be new and nail-bitingly exciting all at once.

    The French VIPs finally put aside their political differences and picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS troops.
    Despite their personal enmities and long-held political grudges, when it came to a fight the French VIPs finally put aside their political differences and picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS troops. We get to know Reynaud, Daladier, and the rest as real people, not merely the political legends that they’ve morphed into over the intervening decades. Furthermore, Jean Borotra (a former tennis pro) and Francois de La Rocque, who were both members of Marshal Philippe Petain’s Vichy government and long regarded by many historians as simply pro-fascist German puppets, are presented in the book as they really were: complex men who supported the Allied cause in their own ways. In de La Rocque’s case, by running an effective pro-Allied resistance movement at the same time that he worked for Vichy. If they were merely pro-Fascist puppets, after all, they would not have wound up as Ehrenhäflinge—honor prisoners—of the Fuhrer.

    While the book concentrates on the fight for Castle Itter, it also sets that battle in the wider strategic contexts of the Allied push into Germany and Austria in the final months of the war, and the Third Reich’s increasingly desperate preparations to respond to that advance. This book is thus a fascinating microcosm of a nation and society in collapse, with some Germans making their peace with the future, while others—such as the Waffen-SS unit attacking the castle—fighting to the bitter end. (Some of the fighting actually took place after the Doenitz government’s formal surrender.)

    The book also takes pain to honor the lives of the “number prisoners” who worked at Castle Itter—faceless inmates from Dachau and other concentration camps whose stories have never before been told in this much detail. Whatever their political leanings or personal animosities toward each other, the French VIPs did what they could to help the so-called “number prisoners”—i.e. the ones stripped of their names—in any way they could.

    One of the honored prisoners was Michel Clemenceau, the son of the Great War statesman Georges Clemenceau, who had become an outspoken critic of Marshal Petain and who was arrested by the Gestapo in May 1943. At Castle Itter he showed “unshakeable confidence” in rescue, and had clearly inherited the courage of his father, who’d been nicknamed “The Tiger.” During the attack, with ammunition running dangerously low—they got down to the last magazines of their MP-40s—their tanks destroyed, and the enemy advancing from the north, west and east, this septuagenarian kept blasting away. His father would have been proud of him.

    The story has an ending that Hollywood would love too: just as the SS had settled into position to fire a panzerfaust at the front gate, “the sound of automatic weapons and tank guns behind them in the village signaled a radical change in the tactical situation.” Advancing American units and Austrian resistance fighters had arrived to relieve the castle. In keeping with the immense cool that he had shown throughout the siege, Lee feigned irritation as he went up to one of the rescuing tank commanders, looked him in the eye and said simply: “What kept you?” Part Where Eagles Dare, part Guns of Navarone, this story is as exciting as it is far-fetched, but unlike in those iconic war movies, every word of The Last Battle is true.
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  3. #3


    Thanxs Adrian a most interesting read I have actually heard reference to this some time ago but the details were quite scant looks like it might be an excellent book .

    Regards Mark
    Always on the look out for WW II Canadian Helmets and Cam nets to add to my collection.

    Found a Canadian Mk II Medics Helmet and yes I know they are about as rare as hens teeth !!!!!

  4. #4


    I remember reading a thread about this before, either here or on the WAF perhaps.


    Whatever its just an opinion.

  5. #5


    Reminds me of an old 1950s Western I saw on TV many years ago in which the Indians rode to the rescue of the besieged US cavalry (surrounded by other hostile Indians).

  6. #6


    This book will be immediately purchased. Thanks Ade. I do hope it is made into a film.

  7. #7


    Good post Ade, thanks. I read about this earlier too - obviously due to the sub-camp located at the castle being under the administration of KZ-Dachau. Although it didn't occur to me at the time to create a thread addressing this event, I am glad that you have done so now. It is indeed a very interesting story. Also, I've been past the location several times (have a photograph or two somewhere), mostly when I frequented Kitzbühel during the winter mountain hiking season.

    More on the castle's role as a sub-camp of KL-Dachau:

    KZ-Außenlager SS-Sonderkommando Schloß-Itter

    Located in the Tirol region of Austria, it was one of sixteen satellites of the main camp to be founded on Austrian soil.

    The SS guard staff, comprising of around 15 men and one Aufseherin from f.KL-Ravensbrück, were led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Sebastian Wimmer, who had also served at Auschwitz, Lublin and Dachau. Numbers were increased at the end of 1944. SS staff were told to salute the prominent French prisoners held at the site, who among other things to keep them occupied, had a large collection of foreign books and newpapers to read. Censored post, as with other KL locales, was also permitted. A radio - tuned into German stations, was allowed (this was later illegally altered by one of the inmates). From summer 1943, a small group of German, Czech and Austrian women from Ravensbrück were held at Itter. Their duties included looking after the important prisoners held at the castle - officially known from February 1943 as SS-Sonderkommando Schloß-Itter following the arrival of 26 inmates from Dachau and Floßenbürg to begin work on converting the site into a prison facility. In May 1943, the first prominent prisoners arrived. Compared to the concentration camp inmates at Itter, the prominents had it much easier - some even had their wives living with them. Visits to church and the doctors were also not uncommon. Despite almost every incarcerated KL inmate being forced to perform hard labour - particulary toward the end of the war, this was not the case at Itter, where some took to writing in order to pass the time. At the turn of April/May 1945, Eduard Weiter, the last Kommandant of Dachau, arrived at Itter along with several SS officers. One day later, he shot himself in the castle.

    Another similar castle, based across the border in occupied Czechoslovakia, was also used to hold prominent French inmates - and in turn, became another concentration camp sub-camp (this time under the administration of KZ-Floßenbürg). The site, where I conducted a study visit last year, was known as Außenlager-Eisenberg - now the castle Jezeří.


    Currently working on several KZ related projects, including items for the USHMM, Groß-Rosen Museum and various private concerns and studies. Available as a guide to KZ sites, contact for details.

    "maka akaŋl oyate maŋi pi ki le, tuweŋi wíyópeya oki hi sni"

  8. #8


    What a powerful story that would/could/should be made into a film, especially as all the participants of the battle could be portrayed as factual, very strange that the author has not either been approached or has put forward the synopsis for a screenplay, theres an oscar winner there for the right director

  9. #9


    Wow. What a great story. I loved reading it.

  10. #10


    Nice to see the original WAG'S pulling their weight for once....
    'I do not think we can hope for any better thing now.
    We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.
    It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R. SCOTT.
    Last Entry - For God's sake look after our people.'

    In memory of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. South Pole Expedition, 30th March 1912.

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