Die hier gezeigten Abzeichen sind zu edukativen Zwecken dargestellt, aus diesem Grund sind sie nicht abgedeckt. Weiterhin möchte ich auf den folgenden Discliamer aufmerksam machen:
Disclaimer: Die hier gezeigten Abbildungen aus der Zeit des "Dritten Reiches", u.a. mit dem damals obligatorischen "Hakenkreuz", dienen der Berichterstattung über Vorgänge des Zeitgeschehens, der staatsbürgerlichen Aufklärung sowie Forschung und Lehre (§ 86a, 86 StGB)
13th April 1944 audio recording mentioning the BFC. Waffen-SS General Hans Jüttner is holding a presentation about the military situation and the build up of new Waffen-SS units. The original presentation went on for 57 minutes and here you will find the 20 seconds regarding the BFC. the information causes some of the audience to laugh, if that is due to the fact that a BFC has been formed or because General Jüttner made a joke by saying "Our enemies are helping us", will never be known. What is known however is the fact that Adolf Hitler was in the audience, did he laugh too? TRANSLATION: "Even our enemies are helping us, we are forming a British Free Corps to fight against the Bolsheviks. The first 50 to 55 men from former prisoners of war are already there".
When did my interest start about the British Free Corps?
I first discovered the BFC 25 years ago, in a Bellona Publication, "Manual of the Waffen-SS" printed in 1976 and long since out of print. It covered badges, uniforms and equipment. Although by todays standards of research it is inacurate to say the least! But what else did we have in those days? The book refered to the unit as the "Legion of St.George", and illustrated the Union Jack armshield, the collar patch with the three lions passant guardant, and a reference about a cuff-title wrongly called "Britisches Freikorps".
Bill Medland wearing a reproduction British Free Corps uniform (the same insignia as worn by SS-Sturmmann Alfred Minchin in June 1944).
In fact the cuff-title only produced in the English language form "British Free Corps". The name suggested by Himmler, the "British Legion" was dropped when it was pointed out that a servicemans organization in the UK used the same name. Be that as it may, the book was the first written evidence that indeed a British volunteer unit in the Waffen-SS existed! As a young hobby historian interested in the Third Reich it was an exciting discovery!
The British Free Corpshad its origins in 1943, but did not go into "action" until 1945. How did it come about that the Germans were able to form a British volunteer unit? What is really known about the BFC and what is myth or fact?
Legion of St. George
The "Legion of St. George" was the idea of John Amery, the son of an English Cabinet Minister in Churchills Government. Amery found himself in Paris after the fall of France. He was inspired by the formation of the Vichy Legion des Volontaires Francais, and often took part in pro-fascist public meetings, where he gave speeches in French. In 1943 he wrote "England and Europe", and went to the Germans with the idea of a brigade of 1500 fighting men. The Wehrmacht did not think these numbers realistic and had the intention to form a smaller unit for a propaganda role.
John Amery wrote a pamphlet called "Why die for Stalin, Why die for the Jews?" but the average English soldier in the POW camps were not political motivated and when he went on his recruiting drive it netted just one man! The German Army Department that dealt with foreign volunteers were not too happy about the unit name suggested by Amery. St. George did nothing to the German mind, and anyway sounded too religious, and the name was dropped, in fact Amery was dropped too, and the project remained still-born. It had produced one volunteer (who stayed with the unit until the end of the war), and a recruiting poster with fantasy insignia.
What remains of the "Legion of St. George" today?
A comment in "Manual of the Waffen-SS" by Bellona Publications (1976) is worth quoting; "In 1945 the British Army occupied Spiedelberg Kaserne at Lemgo. British personnel cleaning out the attic found several uniforms, one of them had a Union Jack arm shield on the left arm and standard Wehrmacht insignia". Was this tunic designed for the Wehrmacht and used in Amerys recruiting drive, and later forgotten?
On the poster is a triangle with the words "The Legion of Saint George" written around the edge of a Union Jack, above the shield is a gold or yellow badge of St. George killing the dragon. Could this have been on the tunic found at Lemgo? or was it the later Waffen-SS production? Interesting to note that the helmet in the poster carries a Union Jack shield, although this was never adopted when the unit went over to the Waffen-SS.
Tommy helmet with German decal. Was this helmet shown to Wehrmacht officials when Amery failed to get them interested in the British Renagade project? Or was it used by a Flakhelfer unit?
Close-up of the helmet insignia
British Free Corps- Unit strength
It seems likely that the BFC was only at platoon strength, that is to say about 30 men strong. Some BFC men only stayed a few months before moving to another unit or returning to POW camps as rejects. A trickle of new recruits kept the number however in the high twenties throughout the first year of the BFC. Actual numbers that passed through the unit as full members at one time or another numbered about 60 ( Waffen-SS sources say 70).
I talked to a sergeant Buschmann from Nordland Division, the unit that the BFC served with, and he said that he had never heard of the unit! I then met with a soldier from Handschar Division who said he firmly believed that the British Free Corps numbered over 300 men and was in an active fighting role! Which is clearly not true, but interesting to note what the Waffen-SS told their own soldiers at the time. The high number that Friedhelm quoted was more likely the figure that went through selection and was returned to the POW camps as rejects and never even made it to the unit. This figure is quoted between 150 and 300.
Although the unit was small, it was very much self contained, with its own tailor, pysical fitness instructor and medic, amongst others.
British Free Corps- Command and Control
It has been said that the British Free Corps were a out of control and that they were a bunch of cowards, drunkards and womanizers. Perhaps this is true for a few, but I do not think it was any worse than other foreign volunteer units in German service. Post-war propaganda has made them into misfits and morons, even though there were a few very dedicated members, who would have liked to have made the unit a viable fighting formation, if they had had the correct leadership.
The commander of the BFC was a German SS-Hauptsturmführer called Hans Werner Roepke who commanded the unit for the first year. Roepke had served on the eastern front in 5.Wiking Division and was made commander of the BFC because he was known to have "pro-British" feelings and had lived in the USA before the war and spoke English fluently. He sounded like the best man for the job, but as a commander for the BFC, I am not too sure. Roepke seemed to be happy with a quiet existence and made no real effort to get the BFC operational.
The men did no real training, parade drill remained British, why take the effort and teach them German drill? The men went on recruiting drives and Roepke seemed happy to fill a purely propaganda role. The soldiers morale sank due to the lack of a proper training programme and total inaction.
It came as no surprise that the soldiers took it easy and never pressed their commander about becoming a fighting on the frontline. This could not go on forever, and Roepke was replaced in November 1944 by SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Walter Kühlich, but it was too late, the damage had been done and a year had been lost.
One of the most important members of the BFC was without a doubt Thomas Cooper, an englishman with a German mother who had was a former London member of the British Union of Fascists and who had since 1938 served in the Waffen-SS, being wounded on the eastern front. Cooper tried hard to turn the BFC into fighting shape, and wanted to introduce German drill and salutes, but he met resistance from all sides, including his commanding officer. Rebecca West in her book "The meaning of treason" published in 1946, paints a very bad picture of Cooper and hints at his mother weaving a spell on him, making him what he was. Perhaps the post-war British establishment are unkind to him because he was a real danger, that he was the one man who could have turned the BFC into an operational unit? Did this fact make him into the REAL traitor?
My opinion is that Cooper was the most motivated and important members of the British Free Corps, who would have trained the unit, if he had been given a free hand, into a fighting unit, if he had been allowed the chance.
British Free Corps- uniforms and insignia
On arriving at the baracks and completing selection, new members of the BFC continued to wear British uniforms until the Field Gray German ones were issued. Even then the German uniforms had a British feel about them, gaiters with ankle boots,open necked tunics with grey shirt and black tie. Has anyone ever seen pictures of the BFC wearing camouflage uniforms, perhaps in Stettin 1945?
interesting to note that all Waffen-SS uniforms and some equipment were produced in Concentration Camps or one of the SS run factories. Camouflage material for example was made into SS smocks in KZ Dachau.
300 full sets of insignia were produced and issued to the BFC in April 1944, the insignia being shown off at a birthday parade for Hitler on the 20th April 1944. German post-war sources state that before this date the unit wore normal SS runes or a black blank patch. The new insignia consisted of the three lions collar patch, the Union Jack arm shield and the cuff-title "British Free Corps" in the English language only. ( A cuff-title with the text "Britisches Freikorps" is a post-war fantasy product).
There has been a lot of talk about the Britons arrogance about demanding that the arm shield be moved from the lower arm to a position above the SS eagle and that this had to do with British pride. But was it really for this reason at all? British formation patches and divisional shields were worn on the arm near the shoulder, and I think it was for this reason alone that the change was demanded.
The story goes that a member of the BFC made a joke saying that "look the eagle is shiting on the flag!" The joke got out of hand and caused a riot within the unit, which reached the attention of Heinrich Himmler himself! The story was told by Eric Pleasants, who probably started the joke himself.
Engraved "Britisches Freikorps", a post-war fake?
British Free Corps- going to the front 1945
The BFC had been moved to Dresden where they began Sturmpionier training, and learned about modern weapons including the MP44 and the Panzerfaust. During the RAF bombing raid in February 1945 two members of the BFC unit were killed. The remaining members of the BFC took part in clearing the bomb damage until anti-British feelings in the population forced them to move to Stettin.
SS-Obersturmführer Kühlich allowed members of the unit the chance to opt out of frontline service, the remaining eight men were given a Schwimmwagen and a 251/1 halftrack and sent to the 3rd Company of the Recon Batt. Nordland Division. The men spent ten days digging trenches on the banks of the river Elbe, they were in full view of the Russians and came several times under mortar fire. The BFC were taken out of the frontline trenches and given the task of evacuating German civilians, controlling traffic and driving jobs.
When the Soviet offensive broke through the frontline, the BFC under their new commander, a Waffen-SS officer named Dolezalek, retreated west with the remnants of the other German formations. There was a story about an Englishman called Reg Cornfield who fought in Berlin knocking out a tank with a panzerfaust, which German post-war sources quotes as being fact, turns out to be a post-war myth.
The only member of the BFC who fought in full BFC uniform in Berlin turns out to be "Bob" Rössler, a German who was an interpreter with the unit.
Slowly the soldiers of the BFC were captured, some had removed their insignia, they fell into Allied hands and photos reached Winston Churchill, who is reported to have flown into a rage upon hearing the news about the existence of the British Free Corps. Although British Police and MI knew about the unit as early as 1943, did they keep the information away from Churchill?
Kenneth Berry and Alfred Minchin in the uniform of the British Free Corps during a recruitment drive at Milag. Minchin could not remember the exact date, but thought in was April 1944.
(with kind permission of Katie Minchin).
LIST OF VOLUNTEERS WHO SERVED IN THE BFC
The list of British Volunteers that served in the BFC seems large when one considers that they never got above 30 members at any one time in the unit. It should be noted that not all the named persons served at the same time, and some of them stayed with the unit only a short time before joining another unit or returning to a POW camp because they were deemed unreliable.
It should be noted that some names appear in more than one list due to the fact that they served in several units.
Legion of St. George
Kenneth Edward Berry
British Free Corps
SS-Mann William Alexander
SS-Mann Frank Axon
SS-Mann Harry Batchelor
SS-Mann Ronald Barker (Australian)
SS-Mann Kenneth Edward Berry
SS-Rottenführer William Charles Britten
SS-Mann Robert Chipchase (Australian)
SS-Oberscharführer Thomas Haller Cooper
SS-Unterscharführer Roy Nicholas Courlander (New Zealander)
SS-Unterscharführer Hugh Wilson Cowie
SS-Mann Frederick Croft
SS-Mann George Croft
Arthur James Cryderman (Canadian)
SS Oberscharführer Thomas Freeman
SS-Mann Roy Ralph Futcher
SS-Mann Robert Reginald Heighes
SS-Mann William How
SS-Mann Edward Jackson
Thomas Blake Kipling
SS-Mann Pieter Labuschagne ( South African)
SS-Mann Robert Henry Lane
SS-Mann Dennis John Leister
SS-Mann Alexander MacKinnon
SS-Unterscharführer Douglas Mardon (South African)
SS-Rottenführer Edwin Barnard Martin (Canadian)
SS-Unterscharführer Francis Paul Maton
SS-Unterscharführer Francis George MacLardy
SS-Mann William John Miller
SS-Sturmmann Alfred Vivian Minchin
SS-Mann Charles Munns
SS-Mann Ernest Nicholls
SS-Mann Harry Nightingale
SS-Mann Thomas Perkins
SS-Mann Eric Reginald Pleasants
SS-Sturmmann Norman Rose
SS-Mann Herbert Rowlands
SS-Untersturmführer William Shearer
SS-Mann John Somerville
SS-Mann Albert Stokes (Australian)
SS-Sturmmann Henry Symonds
Van Heerden (South African)
SS-Mann Viljoen (South African)
SS-Oberscharführer John Eric Wilson
SS-Mann Lionel Wood (Australian)
German members of the BFC
SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Werner Roepke ( BFC CO. Nov.43-Nov.44)
SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Walther Kühlich (BFC CO. Nov.44-Apr.45)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Alexander Dolezalek (Last BFC CO? Apr.-May 1945. During a discussion on a well known history forum, it was decided that Dolezalek may well have been the last commander, he was known to have been involved with the unit).
Wilhelm August "Bob" Rössler (Interpreter)
Post-War British Free Corps Footnote
Those of you wishing to find out more about the British Free Corps should take a look at Ed Dyer´s BFC reenactment site, or for further reading obtain a copy Adrian Weale´s book "Renegades- Hitler´s Englishmen". There is also a TV documentary about the subject which is interesting in the fact that it interviews several members of the BFC. But I felt Thomas Cooper was painted too black and not given the credit where I felt it was due. The documentary was rushed into production, and because of this the BFC soldier interviewed in Australia was said to be the last member left alive, but is this true? No attempt was made to contact the possible living BFC soldiers in South Africa. Other than that the TV documentary covered the general story, and brought it to the attention of the British public, who otherwise would have not been informed about the subject.
It should be noted that Wilhelm "Bob" Rössler and his wife both talked freely about the time with the BFC, and Bob was in contact with Francis MacLardy when he returned to take up civilian work in Germany after the war in the Rhineland. Herr Rössler died April 2004.
Other British Empire subjects that served in non-BFC units.
There was a least a dozen Englishmen ( I have used the term to mean anyone from the British Empire) in various Waffen-SS formations, Waffen-SS sorces quote 7 in Totenkopf units, 1 in Das Reich, 2 in LSSAH, at least 2 in "Kurt Eggers" Standarte, 1 in a Waffen-SS Medical unit and 1 in Azad Hind (Indian Legion). It is difficult to identify British subjects who served outside of the BFC, but not impossible. I intend at a later date to go through back copies of veterans magazines to see what I can discover. (Some BFC members served in other units as well).
Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
Hiwi James Conen
Hiwi William Celliers (South African)
SS-PK Standarte "Kurt Eggers"
SS-Untersturmführer Railton Freeman
Roy Walter Purdy (interpreter)
SS Medical Department
Doctor Patrick O´Neill (Irish)
Azad Hind (Free Indian Legion)
Sonderführer Frank Becker (interpreter)
SS-Unterscharführer James Brady (Irish)
SS-Mann Frank Stringer (Irish)
Propaganda Department München
SS-Sturmbannführer Vivian Stranders
SS-Hauptsturmführer Douglas Berneville-Claye
Berneville-Claye visited the BFC in March 1945 in a Panzer uniform with the full BFC insignia, but only stayed a few hours. A former SAS officer, he only served in the Waffen-SS for two months.