A WWII Picture Mystery – SOLVED!

By Mike Glaeser

At least here in the United States, the internet and its usage to spread misinformation and conspiracy theories has become a topic of heated debate. Every now and then, however, the internet can also bring people together and provide some positive magic. Last month I wrote a blog post about several photographs from WWII in my family’s collection. The goal was to try and identify a Royal Navy captain and thus find a burial of British servicemen. Thanks to some kind suggestions and the assistance of an internet forum community and researchers at a former POW camp, the identity of the captain was confirmed within 24 hours and the entire story pieced together within 48! It was a tremendous group effort and the individuals involved will be thanked at the end of this post.

***

The burial of RAF airmen at Bevern Cemetery, Germany in 1941- accompanied by POWs from Stalag XB Sandbostel and a Luftwaffe Guard of Honor led by Leutnant Ernst Bauer.

The following narrative is an account of the events and personnel depicted in the attached photographs.

On the night of 22 June, 1941, Hampden bombers from 83 Squadron took off from their airfield at Scampton, Lincolnshire. They were to form part of a raiding force of 45 Wellington and 25 Hampden bombers targeting German infrastructure at Bremen. Hampden AD969, code DL-X, was flown by Pilot Officer Richard John Heavens and Sergeant Walter George Price, and also include Flight Sergeant Neil Erskine Byres and Flight Sergeant Eric William Sponder. The aircraft was coned by searchlights while flying low and was shot down near the village of Bevern in the district of Bremervörde, Germany. Official documentation of the flight in the National Archives lists the crash as having occurred on 23 June. All four airmen were killed.

On the day of the burial, POWs from the nearby Stalag XB Sandbostel were brought in to take part in the ceremony. The highest-ranking officer of the internment camp was Royal Navy Captain Graham Francis Winstanley Wilson (saluting, holding wreath). He was captured after his armed boarding vessel, HMS Vandyck, was sunk by dive bombers off the coast of Andenes, Norway on the last day of the allied campaign in Norway- 10 June, 1940. In the photograph of him saluting the fallen airmen, he is accompanied by Major White of the Green Howards. He was captured while serving with his unit in France, 1940 and became the camp padre (chaplain). The German priest on the left of the image is a civilian and most likely from the congregation in nearby Bremervörde.

The airmen were accorded full military honors. Leutnant Ernst Richard Bauer led a Luftwaffe guard of honor at the burial. He was serving as a Gruppenleiter at the Munitions Depot in neighboring Hesedorf.

The burial itself took place in the village cemetery of Bevern despite there being two camp cemeteries further south (Lagerfriedhof Parnewinkel and Sandbostel). Given the crash date, the funeral must have taken place near the end of June or early July. After the war, the airmen were reburied at Becklingen on 3 October, 1946. Their graves are marked in Plot 13, Row F, Graves 1-4.

***

I am currently working to identify the servicemen’s next of kin so they can be given the full story and copies of the additional images from my personal collection. Thankfully, all four of the servicemen were transferred to the Becklingen War Cemetery in 1946 and their exact resting places are known. While the story unfortunately revolves around the deaths of four men, we can rest assured knowing that honor was satisfied and this little sub-plot of WWII has the happiest of endings, given the circumstances.

My utmost thanks to the following:

  • Herr Schneider in Grosenbrode
  • Herr Sperling in Sandbostel
  • Mr Singleton of Helion & Co
  • Mr King for his National Archives recommendation
  • Mr Russell, author of Theirs the Strife, for his recommendation of the WW2Talk forum
  • And a very special thanks to the following users of the WW2Talk forum (www.ww2talk.com):
  • CL1, Tony56, Alex1975uk, timuk, Itdan, Tricky Dicky, travers1940, JimHerriot, Tullybrone, JDKR, DaveB, Harry Ree, Wobbler, Lindele.

Well done all.

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801

By Charles White

Chuck White talks about the writing of his recent book, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801, for our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series.

If you are a student of German military prowess, then you need to read my book. Although much ink has been spilled on the subject of German military history over the past three centuries, with campaign and battle studies, memoirs, biographies, uniform plates and guides, orders of battle, wargames, and much more, far too much time and energy has been sadly devoted to the 12 years of the Nazi period. No other period of German history has been dissected more. For many, it would seem, Germany has only twelve years of history, from 1933 to 1945. Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is an attempt to rectify this sorry state of affairs. 

The origins of my book began during my junior year at West Point (1972-73). During the spring semester I took my first elective (we were given only six), which was a history course entitled, ‘War and Society’, taught by the academy’s first visiting professor – Jay Luvaas, a leading American scholar of military history. The research paper topic I drew literally from a hat was ‘The Impact of the Napoleonic Wars on Prussia’. All of the topics were overly broad for a 25-page paper, which gave us cadets some latitude in narrowing our focus on a subject to our liking, with the parameters of our topic. After conducting my preliminary research (and encouraged by Professor Luvaas), I settled on Gerhard von Scharnhorst (1755-1813), the great reformer of the Prussian military establishment following her catastrophic defeat at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.

The title of my paper, ‘Scharnhorst: Father of the Modern Army’, reflected my belief that the modernization program Scharnhorst implemented, though vastly unfinished by his own admission, over time became the model of large professional organizations – first in Prussia, then in Germany, and later (in varying degrees) in every major army in the world. Realizing the severe constraints under which he labored, Scharnhorst wrote to his favorite student and close personal associate, Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), on 27 November 1807, advising him:

Who would not risk everything to plant the seed of a new tree, who would not gladly die if he could hope that the fruit would ripen with new strength and vitality! But only one thing can make that possible. We must kindle a sense of independence in the nation; we must enable the nation to understand itself and take up its own affairs; only then will the nation acquire self-respect and compel the respect of others. To work toward that goal is all we can do. To destroy the old forms, remove the ties of prejudice, guide and nurture our revival without inhibiting its free growth – our work cannot go further than that.

Scharnhorst and his associates clearly understood how to proceed in a potentially hostile environment. They planted a new tree, which over time produced the fruits of victory some 50 years later during the Wars of German Unification (1864-71).

After graduating from West Point, I continued my research and study into German military prowess, wondering why the German army continued to captivate so many American soldiers, despite the fact that it was the American army that had defeated the German army in two world wars. Interestingly, whenever I had opportunity to speak with German senior officers (I was stationed in Germany in the 1970s) about their military prowess, they would politely smile and refer me to Scharnhorst and the German notion of Bildung. Interestingly, Scharnhorst regarded the process of Bildung as central to the professional growth of the military leader. A fruit of Germany’s classical age, Bildung was the perfectibility of the individual’s character and intellect through the process of education and training. For Scharnhorst, Bildung was the mental fitness that empowered the military leader. It enabled him to assimilate knowledge from a variety of sources and then to synthesize and fashion that data into an appropriate response to the challenge at hand. It was a recurrent process rather than mere training to accomplish a certain skill.

Chuck White with General der Panzertruppe Hasso von Manteuffel in June 1977 at his home in Bavaria. Chuck spent the day with him, discussing his experiences as a tank leader. At that time Chuck was a First Lieutenant with the 2d Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Bad Kissingen, Germany.

Scharnhorst and Bildung became the central theme of my studies at Duke University, from 1980-86. My Masters’ Thesis focused on Scharnhorst’s efforts to establish a professional military educational program in Prussia. I then spent two wonderful years in Berlin on a Fulbright Fellowship, during which time I researched the holdings of the Prussian Archives, which housed Scharnhorst’s Papers (Nachlaβ Scharnhorst) and other primary and secondary sources. Returning to Duke, I wrote my dissertation on Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-05. Both studies covered Scharnhorst’s endeavors to inculcate Bildung into the Prussian army. Three years later I published my first book, The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militärische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 (1989). That study focused primarily on Scharnhorst’s pivotal role as the intellectual father and educator of the Prussian army, whose amazing recovery following its catastrophic defeat in 1806 remains one of the most remarkable feats in military history.

Following the publication of The Enlightened Soldier, I embarked on the research and writing of this book. So much is known about Scharnhorst and his activities in Prussian service. So little is known or has been written about his formative years in Hanover, where he carefully crafted and endeavored to implement the modernization program he later realized in part in Prussia. This point is significant. When Scharnhorst arrived in Berlin in 1801, he already had his master plan in mind and continually looked for ways to bring the Prussian army and its leadership in step with the transformation of war shaped by the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon.

This study of Scharnhorst presents unpublished discoveries about his youth, his education, and his extensive time in Hanoverian service. Scholarship in the field of German history during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries has increased dramatically over the past 30 years; the most significant for this study was the publication of Scharnhorst’s Papers [Nachlaβ Scharnhorst] in eight massive volumes, with over 3,000 documents. These papers formed the foundation upon which I built my story of this enlightened soldier. I used primarily the first two volumes that deal with his long career in Hanover. Selected documents from other volumes are also included.

With the Internet came access to so many key sources that I might not otherwise have been able to obtain and research. Nearly all the rare books and journals I had studied in Germany in the early 1980s are now available on the worldwide web, especially the irreplaceable journals of the University of Bielefeld digital collection. Through the Internet I was also able to connect with other scholars who led me to addition resources and websites.

Returning to my introductory remarks, Scharnhorst: The Formative Years, 1755-1801, is the starting point for those seeking to understand German military prowess. In was in Hanover that Scharnhorst developed the ideals and institutions that made the Prussian and later German armies the model upon which nearly every other major and minor power in the world fashioned its military establishment.

Scharnhorst: The Formative Years 1755-1801 can be ordered from the Helion website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/scharnhorst-the-formative-years-1755-1801.php

The Armed Forces of North Korea

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

When the Cold War ended, and the Iron Curtain was lifted, an era commenced of which the unprecedented spread of information is perhaps its most defining characteristic. The proliferation of media (primarily through the advent of the global internet), increased transparency of nations across the world, and what amounts to the commercialisation of the arms trade have all caused a wealth of knowledge to become accessible even to those with limited resources. This has caused the area of open-source intelligence (OSINT) to bloom like never before, with a vast variety of high quality works on pretty much every imaginable topic suddenly becoming available.

Of course, exceptions remained. Some regions were left stuck in a vacuum from which information seeped only slowly due to tight security, poor connectivity or mere neglectfulness. Nevertheless – or perhaps precisely because of this reason – it is often these regions that play a pivotal role in today’s conflict areas. Perhaps the most fragrant such case is the one we have chosen to address in On the Path of Songun. As quite unambiguously the most militarised nation in existence today, the topic of North Korea’s armed forces for a long time resembled an ocean of inaccessible knowledge, surrounded by the impenetrable dyke* that is the DPRK’s (mostly) self-imposed isolation and pathological secrecy.

But then, this dyke sprung a leak. In fact, a major rent has since appeared, aiding the aspiring OSINT analyst and allowing him to begin navigating the unknown waters that make up the obscure area of North Korean military matters. The two most important developments that contributed to this change include the increasing availability of commercial satellite imagery, and the fact that North Koreans have eagerly taken advantage of the internet themselves to spread propaganda videos glorifying the leadership and their armed forces. Combining these two sources of information and cross-checking them with more conventional written publications and, of course, copious amounts of our own research, has provided an effective way of essentially rewriting the book on the DPRK’s armed forces and its equipment.

Roughly five years ago, we were not entirely aware of the fact that this was what we were about to set out to do. We were even less aware of the fact that it would take until now to definitively put this thing together. As it happened, two factors would ultimately conspire to keep us one step away from the finish line at all times:
Factor 1: The North Koreans are surprisingly busy bees when it comes to military innovation.
Factor 2: The authors of this book are surprisingly bad at deciding when it is time to stop including new material.

The first factor was exacerbated by Kim Jong Un’s renewed dedication to the creation of a credible strategic deterrent for his nation, in the form of his oft-promoted Byungjin Line. The confrontational attitudes between the DPRK, ROK and the USA during the period of writing ever seemed to further egg on the North’s military machine, at times leaving the intelligence community scrambling to keep up with the latest developments. In the end, the (now failed) period of diplomatic rapprochement in 2018/2019 and the implicit cessation of military posturing finally allowed us to catch up, in spite of factor 2, and put a conclusion to what has become an unintentionally complete accounting of all matters related to North Korea’s armed forces, from the Korean War until now.

The Armed Forces of North Korea: On the Path of Songun can be ordered here.

* Forgive the awkward analogy – both of us are after all Dutch by birth.  

The Army of George II

Peter Brown talks about the writing of his recent book for our From Reason to Revolution 1721-1815 series.

If you’re a fan of the British Army of the eighteenth century then you may feel that you don’t need to read this book. After all, much ink has been spilled on the subject over the years, with uniform guides and accounts of the battles and campaigns easily available. Believe me, I was acutely aware of how much was already in print when I sat down to write it.

However, almost all of the work currently available on the army of George II provides the reader with a snapshot of army life. There are many books on the French Indian War, for example, the Jacobite ’45, or the campaign in Germany during the Seven Years War. What appeared to me to be lacking was a view of the army ‘in the round’, so to speak; looking at every aspect of it from the accession of George II in 1727 to around the time of his death in 1760. How did it develop? How was it recruited, trained and disciplined? What were the officers like and how did they learn their trade? What about the medical services, the system of command and control and the changes to all of this that had to be made on campaign? We all know that the army marched to battle, but how exactly was this achieved and who was responsible if it all went wrong?

Fusilier, 23rd Foot (Royal Welch Fusiliers), War of the Austrian Succession (Reconstruction by Richard Marren Craft Workshop – photograph © Alan ‘Kael’ Ball)

Filling all of these gaps in our knowledge became the aim of the book and it often took me down some very unglamorous roads. I had to begin with the accounts, looking at how the army was funded and who exactly held the purse strings. Readers with a love of military history often do not share a love of eighteenth-century accounting, but none the less, the detail of how the army was funded is necessary if one is to understand why it was always short staffed, under equipped and often much too small to carry out the tasks allocated to it. I also had to explore the often-overlooked topic of logistics, which any military man will tell you can make or break a campaign. The housing, supply and movement of the army from A to B was no easy task and this book explores the intricacies of the system alongside its obvious failings.

The organisation and uniforms of the infantry, cavalry and artillery are dealt with in depth, with a chapter on each arm that tracks the development of their uniform and structure as the century wore on. Details are also provided of their colours, officer distinctions, and the role of the various officers in battle.  The medical facilities available to the army, both on campaign and at home, is not a topic well covered outside academic circles and I wanted to cover this, especially in regard to the aftermath of battle and the treatment wounded soldiers could expect. I was certainly surprised by the key role the soldier’s wives played in this, alongside the general support that they provided not only to the men, but to the regiment they were attached to.  Indeed, they were, in many ways, an invisible and often unrecognised logistical arm. The final chapter looks at how the men and their families mustered out, sometimes with a pension but more often simply laid off when the war ended and left to fend for themselves.

15th Light Dragoons, 1760 (Original artwork by Patrice Courcelle, © Helion & Company)

Writing this book was not all hard slog. From the chapter on recruitment, through the court martial system and on to the officers and their ‘duels of honour’, I found much to smile about. The British squaddie, it would appear, has not changed over the centuries and if there was trouble to get into he was sure to find it. There are some great little stories that I was keen to retain as they show off the indomitable spirit of the British soldier whilst showing the reader that army life was not all floggings and drill.

Going back to my opening paragraph, my aim throughout this project was to fill that hole in your knowledge that previous books on the subject had failed to do. Hopefully by the end of it you should have a complete understanding of the eighteenth-century British Army. It was a joy to research and write and I do hope you enjoy it.

You can order The Army of George II from our website: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-army-of-george-ii-1727-1760-the-soldiers-who-forged-an-empire.php

A WWII Picture Mystery

By Mike Glaeser

I will start with a caveat by saying that I am not a WWII historian. My specialties lie in the early Tudor period and the Swedish involvement in the Great Northern War. Thanks to my wargaming hobby and family history, I do have familiarity with the conflict, the armies, and the battles but I am more than happy to be contradicted on any suggestions I make below.

As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I decided that I would put some serious work into finding the final resting place of my great uncle who died of wounds in Stalino, modern day Donetsk, in 1943. This got me involved with the Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge, the organization that cares for German war graves. As I rifled through family paperwork and old photos, I remembered four particular photographs once in my grandfather’s possession that captured the burial of British servicemen. Unfortunately, the four images are accompanied by one very short handwritten note that does not provide any further clues. The mind wonders- Where were these men buried? What was their cause of death? Does the Commonwealth War Graves Commission know?

In an effort to solve this picture mystery, I put my findings to the internet. Perhaps those who read the Helion blog are able to lend their own expertise or might know someone or some entity that can take the next steps in research. Please share this post as you see fit and by all means notify me if any observations, ideas, or leads come of it. I can be reached at michaeltglaeser@aol.com.

Let us look at what we have:

My grandfather served during WWII as an officer in the German Luftwaffe (flak artillery). He survived the war having earned the Iron Cross (first class), Luftwaffe Ground Assault badge, Anti-Aircraft Flak Battle badge and Wound badge (black). His service record is mostly intact and gives me a solid timeline of his locations and promotions during the war years.

Next, we have the images which I have numbered:

  1. My grandfather leading an honor guard of Luftwaffe troops. This is also the only image with a note on the back that simply reads: “On the march to the burial of the ‘Tommies’ ”.
Image 1
  • The honor guard at what appears to be a cemetery. The Royal Navy officer that I hope to identify is standing to the right facing away from the camera. While I can make out “Marie” on the black gravestone on the left of the image, the last name is frustratingly blurred.
Image 2
  • A view of the chaplains/ clergy, German soldiers, and Royal Navy officers. The large mound of overturned earth leads me to suspect that this was a larger burial.
Image 3
  • The key image, in my opinion. From what I can tell, the officer saluting in the middle is from the Royal Navy with the rank of captain.
Image 4

With the pictures now presented, let us look at some context clues:

  1. Based on my grandfather’s uniform in images 1 and 2, the rank on his collar indicates he is a Leutnant (2nd Lt). When consulting his service record, he was promoted to Leutnant on April 1, 1940 and received his next promotion in October 1941. That must place the event depicted in the early years of the war.
  2. The point above is reinforced by the national insignia on the helmet. The Luftwaffe was ordered to remove the national emblem from helmets in July 1940 and a rough texture was to replace the smooth metal surface on new helmets coming from the factories. All decals were ordered to be done away with in 1943 (with exceptions). In images 1 and 3, we can see smooth helmets with decals on both sides. While it is tempting to deduce that points a and b narrow the burial to a timeframe between April and July 1940, the helmets worn by the honor guard could have been ceremonial and thus not need to immediately comply with the order.
  3. If point a is 100% correct (i.e. my eyes not deceiving me looking at his rank) and my grandfather was a Leutnant at the time, he would have served in four locations: Großenbrode, Swinemünde, Nienburg, and Hesedorf. The first two are coastal locations which would make sense with a Royal Navy presence/ burial. That does not necessarily mean that the burials took place there. Perhaps nearby? His time at these two coastal locations ranged from February 1, 1940 to May 25, 1940.
  4. In terms of the terrain, there is not much I can make out. It looks like there is a lot of tall pine and in image 4, it looks like oak leaves are in the foreground. I cannot determine if image 4 has a body of water in in the top left corner (to the right of the clergyman’s head) or if that is a rooftop.
  5. The final observation that I can make is regarding the British officer in image 4. Based on the uniform and sleeve insignia, I believe he is a Captain in the Royal Navy. I am aware of databases that list all the officers in the Royal Navy by name but this image is all I have to go off of. Obviously putting a name to the face can help identify who he was, who the men were he led, and what fate befell them.

I have already submitted an inquiry to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but it may be some time before I hear back. Discovering any additional information in the meantime, especially a name or location, can help tremendously in determining if the British dead are in marked graves or otherwise suitably honored and remembered.

The work of recovering war dead and maintaining their graves is never ending. It is also costly and relies heavily on volunteer engagement. COVID and other world events make the work even more challenging. Please consider visiting the websites of the organizations doing this great work and learn more. Support or donate if you can. To borrow the slogan of the Volksbund: “Together, for Peace”.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission www.cwcg.org

Volksbund www.volksbund.de