The Le Paradis massacre

LeParadisFarmhouse

The Le Paradis massacre was a war crime committed by members of the 14th Company, SS Division Totenkopf, under the command of Hauptsturmführer Fritz Knöchlein.

939b4cf37061fbbe7198ff368daf9b43

It took place on 27 May 1940, during the Battle of France, at a time when the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was attempting to retreat through the Pas-de-Calais region during the Battle of Dunkirk.

Dunkirksoldier1

Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, had become isolated from their regiment. They occupied and defended a farmhouse against an attack by Waffen-SS forces in the village of Le Paradis. After running out of ammunition, the defenders surrendered to the German troops. The Germans led them across the road to a wall, and machine-gunned them. Ninety-seven British troops died. Two survived, with injuries, and hid until they were captured by German forces several days later.

After the war, Fritz Knöchlein was located, tried and convicted by a war crimes court, with the two survivors acting as witnesses against him. For his part in the massacre, Knöchlein was executed in 1949.

The British captives, a majority of whom were wounded, were disarmed and marched down a road off the Rue du Paradis. While they were waiting, two machine-guns from No.4 Machine-gun Company were prepared and set up by a barn in a paddock of the farm. The British prisoners were marched to the barn, lined up alongside it and fired upon by the two German machinegunners, who continued firing until all the British had fallen. Knöchlein then armed his men with bayonets to kill any remaining survivors. Satisfied that they had killed them all, the German soldiers left to rejoin the rest of their regiment.

An account by Private Albert Pooley, one of only two survivors:

… we turned off the dusty French road, through a gateway and into a meadow beside the buildings of a farm. I saw with one of the nastiest feelings I have ever had in my life two heavy machine guns inside the meadow … pointing at the head of our column. The guns began to spit fire … for a few seconds the cries and shrieks of our stricken men drowned the crackling of the guns. Men fell like grass before a scythe … I felt a searing pain and pitched forward … my scream of pain mingled with the cries of my mates, but even before I fell into the heap of dying men, the thought stabbed my brain ‘If I ever get out of here, the swine that did this will pay for it.’

Ninety-seven British prisoners were killed and the Germans forced French civilians to bury the bodies in a shallow mass grave the next day. Despite the German efforts, Private William O’Callaghan had survived and pulled Private Albert Pooley alive from among the bodies in the field. The pair then hid in a pig-sty for three days and nights, surviving on raw potatoes and water from puddles before being discovered by the farm’s owner, Madame Duquenne-Creton, and her son Victor. The French civilians risked their lives caring for the two men, who were later captured by the Wehrmacht’s 251st Infantry Division and transferred to a military hospital

On the day after the massacre, 28 May, Gunter d’Alquen, a journalist in the Waffen-SS, arrived at the scene with Dr Thum, the SS-Totenkopf deputy legal advisor. d’Alquen made a report of what he saw:

Gunter d'Alquen

It was possible to look into the back yard from the road…the corpses in British uniform were lying in the yard near the buildings. They were lying in such a position that one can assume they were killed by machine-gun bursts. It struck me at once that the dead soldiers were not wearing helmets, nor did they have any equipment on them…I took pictures of the dead bodies, and the whole farm. At Thum’s request these were to be placed at the disposal of the division…I believe I was already sitting there in the vehicle when Thum…told me that in the field which he had returned the equipment the shot British soldiers were lying in a heap, from which he had come to the conclusion that a summary trial had taken place”

After the war, O’Callaghan’s evidence and the discovery of the SS-run extermination camps prompted the British authorities to look into the reports.

2204730492

The massacre was investigated by the War Crimes Investigation Unit and after Knöchlein’s company was identified as the perpetrators in 1947, he was traced and arrested in Germany. Knöchlein was arraigned on charges of war crimes in August 1948, to which he pleaded not guilty:

Knöchlein denied being at Le Paradis. Then, when residents identified him; he said the executions were justified because the British used dum-dum bullets banned by the Hague Convention.

HP

Vredesconferentie_Den_Haag,_Tweede_1907_-_Second_Peace_Conference_The_Hague_1907

 

He also claimed the British had lured his men to the farmhouse with a white flag before gunning them down. Finally, he accused his jailers of subjecting him to physical and mental torture.

The court did not believe any of it, and Knöchlein was hanged on January 28, 1949, for his role in the massacre – the only one punished.

 

Advertisements

Charles Herbert Lightoller:Titanic survivor,WWI Hero and rescuer in Dunkirk.

titanic-lightoller-featured

Some people really have lived a life. Charles Herbet Lightoller survived three major dramatice events and lived to tell the tale.

Charles Herbert Lightoller (30 March 1874 – 8 December 1952) was the second mate (second officer) on board the RMS Titanic and the most senior officer to survive the Titanic disaster.

As an officer in charge of loading passengers into lifeboats, Lightoller not only enforced with utmost strictness the “women and children first” protocol; he also effectively extended it to mean “women and children only”. In pursuance of this principle, Lightoller lowered lifeboats with empty seats if there were no women or children waiting to board.Indeed, Lightoller is known to have permitted exactly one adult male passenger to board a lifeboat, namely Arthur Godfrey Peuchen, who was permitted to board a lifeboat (no.6) that was otherwise full of women, because he had sailing experience and could help navigate the boat. Lightoller stayed until the last, was sucked against a grate and held until he was under water, but then was blown from the grate from a rush of warm air as a boiler exploded. He clung to a capsized collapsible boat with 30 others until their rescue.

boatbbymb

Lightoller served as an officer of the Royal Navy during the First World War. Despite his involvement in the alleged massacre of shipwrecked German sailors, he was decorated for gallantry.

On August 4th 1914, the Great War began and the R.M.S. Oceanic became H.M.S.Oceanic, armed merchant cruiser, while First Officer Lightoller of White Star Lines became Lieutenant Lightoller of the Royal Navy. Oceanic had two captains, a Royal Navy skipper, Captain William Slayter, and Captain Henry Smith, who had been the commander of the Oceanic for the last two years.

rms_oceanic_by_gades1980-d4jpkxw

Just before Christmas 1915 Lightoller got his own command, the torpedo boat HMTB 117. During his tour with this boat, on 31 July 1916, Lightoller attacked the Zeppelin L31 with the ships Hotchkiss guns. For his actions Lightoller was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and he was also promoted to commander of the torpedo-boat-destroyer Falcon.

On 1 April 1918, Lightoller was again off watch, laying in his bunk, when the Falcon collided with the trawler John Fitzgerald. She stayed afloat for a few hours, eventually sinking just about same time, six years to the day as the Titanic sinking.

Lightoller was now given a new command, the destroyer Garry. On 19 July 1918, they rammed and sank the German submarine UB-110.

ub

The ramming damaged the bows of the Garry so badly that she had to steam 100 miles in reverse to relieve the strain on the forward bulkheads as she returned to port for repairs. For this action Lightoller was awarded a bar to his DSC and promoted to Lieutenant-Commander.

In his 1933 memoirs, Kapitän leutnant Fürbringer ,the Captain of the UB-110 accused Lightoller of hoving to and ordering his crew to open fire on the unarmed survivors of UB-110 with revolvers and machine guns. During the ensuing massacre, Fürbringer watched the skull of an 18-year old member of his crew being split open by a lump of coal hurled by a Royal Navy sailor. When Fürbringer attempted to help a wounded officer to swim, he was told, “Let me die in peace. The swine are going to murder us anyhow.” The shooting only ceased when the convoy the Garry had been escorting, which contained many neutral-flagged ships, arrived on the scene. Fürbringer later recalled, “As if by magic the British now let down some life boats into the water.”

In 1929, Lightoller had purchased a discarded Admiralty steam launch, built in 1912 by G. Cooper at Conyer. She was 52 feet long by 12,2 feet wide, powered by a petrol-paraffin Parsons 60 hp. Commander Lightoller had her refitted and lengthened to 58 feet, converting her into a 62 hp Glennifer diesel motor yacht that was christened Sundowner by Sylvia,Lightoller’s wife. Throughout the thirties she was used by the Lightoller family mainly for trips around England and Europe. In July 1939, Lightoller was approached by the Royal Navy and asked to perform a survey of the German coastline. This they did under the guise of an elderly couple on vacation in their yacht. When World War II started in September 1939, the Lightollers were raising chickens in Hertfordshire. The Sundowner was kept in a yacht basin at Chiswick.

sunday_4_april_ramsgate_dunkirk_little_ship_sundowner

Then in the closing days of May 1940, after eight months of quiet known as the “phony war”, Britain found itself on the edge of military disaster. The German armies blitzkrieged through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Northern France in just over two weeks. Allied resistance had disintegrated and almost the entire British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was penned into a tiny pocket on the French Belgian border.

On 24 May 1940, some 400,000 Allied troops lay pinned against the coast of Flanders near the French port of Dunkirk. German tanks were only ten miles away. Yet the trapped army was saved. In the next 11 days over 338,000 men were evacuated safely to England in Operation Dynamo, one of the greatest rescues of all time.

At 5pm on 31 May 1940, Lightoller got a phone call from the Admiralty asking him to take theSundowner to Ramsgate, where a Navy crew would take over and sail her to Dunkirk. Lightoller informed them that nobody would take the Sundowner to Dunkirk but him.

On the 1 June 1940, the 66 year old Lightoller, accompanied by his eldest son Roger and an 18 year old Sea-Scout named Gerald, took the Sundowner and sailed for Dunkirk and the trapped BEF. Although the Sundowner had never carried more than 21 persons before, they succeeded in carrying a total of 130 men from the beaches of Dunkirk. In addition to the three crew members, there were two crew members who had been rescued from another small boat, the motor cruiser Westerly. There were another three Naval Ratings also rescued from waters off Dunkirk, plus 122 troops taken from the destroyer Worchester. Despite numerous bombing and strafing runs by Luftwaffe aircraft, they all arrived safely back to Ramsgate just about 12 hours after they had departed. It is said that when one of the soldiers heard that the captain had been on the Titanic, he was tempted to jump overboard. However his mate was quick to reply that if Lightoller could survive the Titanic, he could survive anything and that was all the more reason to stay.

charles-herbert-lightoller

Following Dunkirk, Commander Lightoller joined the Home Guard, but the Royal Navy engaged him to work with the Small Vessel Pool until the end of World War II. The Lightollers youngest son, Brian, was in the RAF as a pilot. On the first night of World War II, he was killed in a bombing raid on Wilhelmshaven. Their eldest son, Roger, went on to join the Royal Navy where he commanded Motor Gun Boats. During the final months of the war, he was killed during a German Commando raid on Granville on the North French Coast

Later, in retirement, he further distinguished himself in the Second World War by providing and sailing as a volunteer on one of the “little ships”, his personal yacht that had been requisitioned by the Admiralty for wartime service, during the perilous Dunkirk evacuation.

Lightoller died of chronic heart disease on 8 December 1952, aged 78. A long-time pipe smoker, he was living in London during that city’s Great Smog of 1952 when he died.

nelsons_column_during_the_great_smog_of_1952

His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Mortlake Crematorium in Richmond, Surrey.