Mikhail Devyatayev-Heroic escapee from a Nazi Concentration camp-branded a Criminal.

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Born in 1917 at Torbeyevo, Mikhail was the thirteenth child born to the family of a Mordovian peasant. In 1938 he graduated from a School of River Navigation (Речной Техникум) and worked as the captain of a small ship on the Volga. That same year he was conscripted into the Red Army and began education at a Chkalov Flying School, graduating in 1940.

Devyataev was an early entrant of World War II, destroying his first Ju-87 on 24 June 1941 just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

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Soon he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. On 23 September he was seriously wounded (he was hit into his left leg). After a long stay in the hospital he was assigned to slow-speed aviation (Night bomber Po-2) and then to medical aviation. He resumed his duties as a fighter pilot after his meeting with the famous Soviet ace Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin in May 1944. Commander of an echelon with the 104th Guardian Fighter Pilot Regiment (9th Guardian Fighter Pilot Division, 2nd Airforce Army, 1st Ukrainian Front), Senior Lieutenant Devyatayev destroyed 9 enemy planes.

On 13 July 1944 Devyataev was downed near Lwów over German-held territory and became a prisoner of war, held in the Łódź concentration camp. He made an attempt to escape on 13 August but was caught and transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He soon realised his situation was perilous-as a Soviet pilot, he could expect extreme brutality; therefore, he managed to exchange identities with a dead Soviet infantryman.

With his new identity,  Devyataev was later transferred to a camp in Usedom to be a part of a forced labor crew working for the German missile program on the island of Peenemünde.

 

Under hellish conditions, the prisoners were forced to repair runways and clear un-exploded bombs by hand. Security was rigidly enforced with vicious guards and dogs, and there was little chance of escape. Even so, by February 1945, Devyataev concluded that, however remote, the chance of escape was preferable to certain death as a prisoner.

Devyataev managed to convince three other prisoners (Sokolov, Krivonogov and Nemchenko) that he could fly them to freedom. They decided to run away at dinnertime, when most of the guards were in the dining room. Sokolov and Nemchenko were able to create a work gang from Soviet citizens only.

At noon on 8 February 1945, as the ten Soviet POWs, including Devyataev, were at work on the runway, one of the work gang, Ivan Krivonogov, picked up a crowbar and killed their guard. Another prisoner, Peter Kutergin, quickly stripped off the guard’s uniform and slipped it on. The work gang, led by the “guard”, managed to unobtrusively take over the camp commandant’s He 111 H22 bomber and fly from the island. Devyataev piloted the aircraft.

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The Germans tried to intercept the bomber unsuccessfully. The aircraft was damaged by Soviet air defences but managed to land in Soviet-held territory. The escapees provided important information about the German missile program, especially about the V-1 and V-2.

The NKVD did not believe Devyataev’s story, arguing it was impossible for the prisoners to take over an airplane without cooperation from the Germans. Thus, Devyataev was suspected of being a German spy and sent to a penal military unit along with the other nine men. Of the escapees, five died in action over the following months. Devyataev himself spent the remainder of the war in prison.

Devyataev was discharged from the army in November 1945. However, his classification remained that of a “criminal” and was unable to secure long term employment.. Eventually, though, Devyataev found work as a manual laborer in Kazan. Soviet authorities cleared Devyataev only in 1957, after the head of the Soviet space program Sergey Korolyov personally presented his case, arguing that the information provided by Devyataev and the other escapees had been critical for the Soviet space program. On 15 August 1957, Devyataev became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and a subject of multiple books and newspaper articles. He continued to live in Kazan, working as a captain of first hydrofoil passenger ships on the Volga.

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In 1972, he published his memoirs.Devyataev was awarded the Order of Lenin, the Order of Red Banner twice, Order of the Patriotic War (first and second class), and many other awards.

He became an honoured citizen of Mordovia Republic, the cities of Kazan, Wolgast and Zinnowitz (Germany).

He died at Kazan in 2002, aged 85, and is buried in an old Arsk Field cemetery in Kazan near a World War II Memorial. There is a museum of Devyataev in his native Torbeyevo (opened 8 May 1975) and monuments in Usedom and Kazan.

 

 

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The bizarre case of Glyndwr Michael- The WWII Hero, who never was.

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It’s amazing to think that the allies possibly won the war by a dead homeless man.

Glyndwr Michael (4 January 1909 – 24 January 1943) was a semi-literate homeless man whose body was used in Operation Mincemeat, the successful World War II deception plan that lured German forces to Greece prior to the Allied invasion of Sicily. The invasion was a success, with Allied losses numbering several thousand fewer than would have been expected had the deception failed.

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Michael was born in Aberbargoed in Wales and previously held part-time jobs as a gardener and labourer. His father Thomas, a coal miner, committed suicide when Michael was fifteen years old; his mother later died when he was thirty-one. Michael, homeless, friendless, depressed and with no money, drifted to London where he lived on the streets. He was found in an abandoned warehouse close to King’s Cross, seriously ill from ingesting rat poison that contained phosphorus. Two days later, he died at age 34 in St. Pancras Hospital.

His death may have been suicide, although an alternative theory suggested he may have simply been desperately looking for something to eat, as the particular poison he ingested was a paste smeared on bread crusts to attract rats.

After being ingested, phosphide reacts with hydrochloric acid in the stomach, generating phosphine, a highly toxic gas. Bentley Purchase, coroner of St. Pancras District, explained, “This dose was not sufficient to kill him outright, and its only effect was so to impair the functioning of the liver that he died a little time afterwards”. When Purchase obtained Glyndwr’s body, it was identified as being in suitable condition for a man who would appear to have floated ashore several days after having died at sea by hypothermia and drowning.

Before Michael, finding a usable cadaver had been difficult, as indiscreet inquiries would cause talk, and it was impossible to tell a dead man’s next of kin what the body was wanted for. The dead man’s parents had died and no known relatives were found.The body was released on the condition that the man’s real identity would never be revealed. Ewen Montagu later claimed the man died from pneumonia, and that the family had been contacted and permission obtained, but none of this was true.On 28 January 1943 Purchase contacted Montagu with the news he had located a suitable body,  that of Glyndwr Michael, a tramp who died from eating rat poison that contained phosphorus.

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On 30 April, Lt. Norman Jewell, captain of the submarine Seraph, read the 39th Psalm and Michael’s body was gently pushed into the sea where the tide would bring it ashore off Huelva on the Spanish Atlantic coast.

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Attached to Michael’s body was a briefcase containing secret documents that had been fabricated by the British intelligence service. The purpose was to make German intelligence (which was known to have operatives in Huelva) think Michael had been a courier delivering documents to a British general. The documents were crafted to deceive the Germans into thinking that the British were preparing to invade Greece and Sardinia, rather than Sicily, and they succeeded in doing so.

The body of ‘Major Martin’ was found at around 9:30 am by a local fisherman; it was taken to Huelva by Spanish soldiers, where it was handed over to a naval judge. Haselden, as Vice-Consul, was officially informed by the Spaniards; he reported back to the Admiralty that the body and briefcase had been found. A series of pre-scripted diplomatic cables were sent between Haselden and his superiors, which continued for several days. The British knew that these were being intercepted and, although they were encrypted, the Germans had broken the code; the messages played out the story that it was imperative that Haselden retrieve the briefcase because it was importan

Michael’s body  was buried as Major William Martin with full military honours. His grave lies in Huelva’s cemetery of Nuestra Señora, in the San Marco section. The headstone, reads

William Martin, born 29 March 1907, died 24 April 1943, beloved son of John Glyndwyr Martin and the late Antonia Martin of Cardiff, Wales, Dulce et Decorum est pro Patria Mori, R.I.P.

The Latin phrase translates as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” In 1998, however, the British Government revealed the body’s true identity. To the gravestone was added,

Glyndwr Michael; Served as Major William Martin, RM;

A plaque commemorating Glyndwr Michael is now also on the war memorial in Aberbargoed. It is headed “Y Dyn Na Fu Erioed” (translation – “The Man Who Never Was”)

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The disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.

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I have read a lot about this remarkable man and hero and I was reluctant to write an article about him, because I just didn’t think I would do him justice. However since it is the 72nd anniversary of his disappearance I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at some elements of his life, including his disappearance.

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Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Nazi era. His work with the War Refugee Board and the World Jewish Congress saved thousands of Hungarian Jews.

On 17 January 1945, during the Siege of Budapest by the Red Army, Wallenberg was detained by SMERSH on suspicion of espionage and subsequently disappeared.

Raoul Wallenberg was born on August 4, 1912, in Stockholm, Sweden.

After studying in the United States in the 1930s and establishing himself in a business career in Sweden, Wallenberg was recruited by the US War Refugee Board (WRB) in June 1944 to travel to Hungary. Given status as a diplomat by the Swedish legation, Wallenberg’s task was to do what he could to assist and save Hungarian Jews.

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Beginning in 1938, the Kingdom of Hungary, under the regency of Miklós Horthy, passed a series of anti-Jewish measures modeled on the so-called Nuremberg Race Laws enacted in Germany by the Nazis in 1935.

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Like their German counterparts, the Hungarian laws focused heavily on restricting Jews from certain professions, reducing the number of Jews in government and public service jobs, and prohibiting intermarriage.

Before Wallenberg’s arrival, the Swedish embassy in Budapest was already issuing travel documents to Hungarian Jews – these special certificates functioned as a Swedish passport.

The papers had no real authority in law but the Swedes managed to persuade the Hungarian authorities that people holding them were under their protection.

When Wallenberg arrived, he decided that the certificates needed to look more official so he redesigned them. He introduced the colours of the Swedish flag, blue and yellow, marked the documents with government stamps and added Swedish crowns. It was known as a Schutz-Pass or protective pass.

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After the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross movement seized power with the help of the Germans on October 15, 1944, the Arrow Cross government resumed the deportation of Hungarian Jews, which Horthy had halted in July before the Budapest Jews could be deported. As Soviet troops had already cut off rail transport routes to Auschwitz, Hungarian authorities forced tens of thousands of Budapest Jews to march west to the Hungarian border with Austria. During the autumn of 1944, Wallenberg repeatedly—and often personally—intervened to secure the release of those with certificates of protection or forged papers, saving as many people as he could from the marching columns.

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On 29 October 1944, elements of the 2nd Ukrainian Front under Marshal Rodion Malinovsky launched an offensive against Budapest and by late December the city had been encircled by Soviet forces. Despite this the German commander of Budapest, SS Lieutenant General Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, refused all offers to surrender, setting in motion a protracted and bloody siege of Budapest.

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At the height of the fighting, on 17 January 1945, Wallenberg was called to General Malinovsky’s headquarters in Debrecen to answer allegations that he was engaged in espionage.

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Wallenberg’s last recorded words were, “I’m going to Malinovsky’s … whether as a guest or prisoner I do not know yet.”Documents recovered in 1993 from previously secret Soviet military archives and published in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet show that an order for Wallenberg’s arrest was issued by Deputy Commissar for Defence (and future Soviet Premier) Nikolai Bulganin and transmitted to Malinovsky’s headquarters on the day of Wallenberg’s disappearance. In 2003, a review of Soviet wartime correspondences indicated that Vilmos Böhm, a Hungarian politician who was also a Soviet intelligence agent, may have provided Wallenberg’s name to the SMERSH as a person to detain for possible involvement in espionage.

On 6 February 1957, the Soviet government released a document dated 17 July 1947, which stated “I report that the prisoner Wallenberg who is well-known to you, died suddenly in his cell this night, probably as a result of a heart attack or heart failure”

However newly published diaries of the first KGB chief,Ivan Serov, state that the Swedish diplomat was liquidated on Stalin’s orders in a Soviet prison in 1947.
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Behind the diaries’ publication is Vera Serova, the KGB chairman’s only grandchild. Four years ago, Serova, a retired ballet dancer, wanted to renovate her grandfather’s Moscow dacha, which she inherited. The workmen found the journals in suitcases hidden inside the garage wall; they were disappointed that the treasure turned out not to be money or jewels but only papers.
“I have no doubts that Wallenberg was liquidated in 1947,” the ex-head of the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency writes in his diaries. Wallenberg was killed in a Soviet prison and Serov quotes his predecessor, Viktor Abakumov, as saying the order to kill Wallenberg came from the top: Joseph Stalin and then-foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov.

It is still not clear why he was killed.In May 1996 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released thousands of previously classified documents regarding Raoul Wallenberg, in response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

A communique sent on 7 November 1944 by the OSS, (the predecessor of the CIA) branch in Bari, Italy which apparently acknowledged that Wallenberg was acting as an unofficial liaison between the OSS and the Hungarian Independence Movement (MFM), an underground anti-Nazi resistance organization.This particular disclosure has given rise to speculation as to whether, in addition to his efforts to rescue the Hungarian Jews, Wallenberg may have also been pursuing a parallel clandestine mission aimed at politically destabilizing Hungary’s pro-Nazi government on behalf of the OSS. This would also seem to add some credence to the potential explanation that it was his association with US intelligence that led to Wallenberg being targeted by Soviet authorities in January 1945.

Several other humanitarians who had helped refugees during World War II disappeared behind the Iron Curtain in the period 1949/50.

On 29 March 2016, an announcement was made by the Swedish Tax Agency that a petition to have Wallenberg declared dead in absentia had been submitted. It stated that if he does not report to the Tax Agency before 14 October 2016, he will be declared dead legally.

Wallenberg was declared dead in October 2016. Consistently with the approach used in cases where the circumstances of death were not known, the Swedish tax agency recorded the date of his death as July 31, 1952, five years after he went missing.

His name has been honoured in several countries across the globe.

 

James M. Hansen-an American Liberator.

 

2017-01-03-3Returning from a bombing raid of Germany’s Ruhr Valley in 1944, American pilot James M. Hansen’s fighter plane ran into trouble and crashed. James was killed instantly. The Allies, who buried him in the temporary American military cemetery in the village of Molenhoek near the Dutch city of Nijmegen, placed this wooden cross on his grave.

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Then in 1947 a cemetery in the Dutch village of Margraten was designated as the permanent burial ground for fallen American soldiers.

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The rest of the temporary American cemeteries were shut down. And just like thousands of other American soldiers, James M. Hansen’s body was reburied in the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.

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Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 7 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart

The wooden cross stayed behind in Molenhoek, only to be discovered by chance in 1990. The ground of the Margraten cemetery was donated in perpetuity to the United States by the Dutch government, as an expression of reverence and gratitude.

Thank you Sir for sacrificing your life so I could live mine in freedom. RIP.

Forgotten Hero-Albert Battel

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Albert Battel (January 21, 1891 – 1952) was a German Wehrmacht army lieutenant and lawyer recognized for his resistance during World War II to the Nazi plans for the 1942 liquidation of the Przemyśl Jewish ghetto. He was posthumously recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1981.

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Battel was born in Klein-Pramsen , Prussian Silesia. After serving in World War I, he studied economics and jurisprudence in Munich and Breslau (Wrocław)

As a 51-year-old lawyer, Albert Battel fulfilled his German army-reserve duty in Przemyśl, Poland, serving as the adjutant to the local military commander, Major Max Liedtke.

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When on the 26th of July 1942 the SS attempted to carry out the first liquidation of Przemyśl’s Jews, Battel and Liedtke ordered the army to block the bridge over the River San, the one entry-point to the Przemyśl ghetto. As the SS troops continued to advance along the bridge, Battel’s guards commanded them to stop and threatened to open fire on them. At the same time, Battel arranged for army trucks to collect some 100 Jews from the ghetto and to bring them to the barracks of a local military base where the Wehrmacht could protect them. The Jews in the ghetto who were not able to make it to the military base were deported by the SS to the Belzec death camp.

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After this incident, the SS authorities began a secret investigation into the conduct of the army officer who had dared defy them under such embarrassing circumstances. It turned out that Battel, though himself a member of the Nazi Party since May 1933, had already attracted notice in the past by his friendly behaviour toward the Jews. Before the war, he had been indicted before a party tribunal for having extended a loan to a Jewish colleague. Later, in the course of his service in Przemyśl, he was officially reprimanded for cordially shaking the hand of the chairman of the Jewish Council, Duldig. The entire affair reached the attention of the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, took an interest in the results of the investigation and sent a copy of the incriminating documentation to Martin Bormann, chief of the Party Chancellery and Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man.

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In the accompanying letter, Himmler vowed to have the lawyer expelled from the Nazi party and arrested immediately after the war.

Battel was released from the army in 1944 due to a medical condition. Upon returning to his hometown of Breslau, he was drafted into the Volkssturm (a German national militia founded during the last few months of the war).

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He was  subsequently captured by the Russians. At the end of the war, he was released and settled in West Germany.  Due to his prior affiliation with the Nazi party, he was not able to practice law. Albert Battel died in 1952.
Battel’s stand against the SS came to be recognised only a long time after his death; most notably, through the tenacious efforts of the Israeli researcher and lawyer Dr. Zeev Goshen.

On January 22, 1981, almost 30 years after his death, Yad Vashem recognised Albert Battel as Righteous among the Nations.

Albert Battel’s commander ,Major Max Liedtke, was also  honoured as Righteous Among the Nations in 1994.

 

 

 

Doris Miller-Cook,Soldier and Hero.

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Today marks the Birthday of Doris Miller.

Doris “Dorie” Miller (October 12, 1919 – November 24, 1943) was a Ship’s cook Third Class that the United States Navy noted for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He was the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, the third highest honor awarded by the U.S. Navy at the time, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. The Navy Cross now precedes the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.Miller’s acts were heavily publicized in the black press, making him the iconic emblem of the war for blacks and was their “Number One Hero” and so energized black support for the war effort against a colored Japanese enemy.[3]Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, he was killed in action when USS Liscome Bay was sunk by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Makin.

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After a boyhood of farming and football in Waco, Texas, Doris “Dorie” Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1939. He was 19 and wanted to see the world and earn some money to send home.

Miller joined the Navy as a mess attendant, third class, but was soon promoted to second class, then first class, and finally to ship’s cook, third class

On December 7, 1941, Miller awoke at 0600. After serving breakfast mess, he was collecting laundry when at 0757 Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata from the Japanese carrier Akagi launched the first of nine torpedoes that would hit the West Virginia.

When the “Battle Stations” alarm went off, Miller headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine amidship, only to discover that a torpedo had destroyed it.

He went then to Times Square, a central spot where the fore to aft and port to starboard passageways crossed, and reported himself available for other duty. Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship’s communications officer, spotted Miller and saw the potential of his powerful build, and ordered him to accompany him to the bridge to assist with moving the ship’s captain, Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen, where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel. Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper and, unable to remove him from the bridge, carried him from his exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot behind the conning tower. The captain refused to leave his post, questioned his officers about the condition of the ship, and gave orders.

Lieutenant Frederic H. White ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned #1 and #2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. Miller was not familiar with the machine gun, but White and Delano told him what to do. Miller had served both men as a room steward and knew them well. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted, and when he looked again, Miller was firing one of the guns. White had loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun.

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Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition, when he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts, along with Lieutenant White and Chief Signalman A.A. Siewart, to help carry the captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship.

Bennion was only partially conscious at this point, and died soon afterward. Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18 in (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost

The ship was heavily damaged by bombs, torpedoes and resulting explosions and fires, but the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments. Instead, the West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom as her surviving crew, including Miller, abandoned ship.

“It wasn’t hard,” said Miller shortly after the battle. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about 15 minutes. I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”

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Just days after the attack, Miller was transferred to the U.S.S. Indianapolis, on the 15th of December.

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In May 1942 he became the first African American to receive the Navy Cross, presented for courage under fire.

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Miller continued to serve in the Pacific and was reassigned in 1943 to a new escort carrier, the U.S.S.Liscome Bay. Early on November 24, 1943, off Butaritari island, in the South Pacific, a Japanese submarine’s torpedo ripped into the Liscome. The torpedo detonated a bomb magazine, sinking the ship within minutes and eventually killing 646 of its 918 sailors, including Dorie Miller.

Miller’s sacrifices afforded him a reputation far above his rank. In honor of those sacrifices, the U.S. Navy in 1973 commissioned a new frigate–the U.S.S.Miller.

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Doris Miller was played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., in the 2001 ,Michael Bay movie,Pearl Harbor.

 

 

Battle of Crucifix Hill & Captain Bobbie E.Brown

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Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Crucifix Hill.The Battle of Crucifix Hill was a World War II battle that took place on 8 October 1944, on Crucifix Hill (Haarberg, Hill 239), next to the village of Haaren in Germany and was a part of the U.S. 1st Division’s campaign to seize Aachen, Germany. The Battle of Aachen was part of the drive to the Siegfried Line. The hill was named after a large crucifix mounted on the top of the hill. The objective of the battle was to gain control of the hill, which was laced with a maze of pillboxes and bunkers, so that the main objective of encircling Aachen could be completed. The hill was held by units of the German 246. Volksgrenadierdivision.

246-_inf_divThe 18th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Infantry Division, commanded by Col. George A. Smith Jr., directed its 1st Battalion (commanded by Lt. Col. Henry G. Leonard, Jr.) to take the hill employing special pillbox assault teams equipped with flamethrowers, Bangalore torpedoes, and demolition charges.

 

A battery of tank destroyers and self-propelled guns were to provide supporting direct fire at the pillboxes. As the leading rifle platoon of C Company assaulted the first pillbox, flanking fire from a nearby pillbox gun emplacement took the platoon in crossfire. The pinned-down soldiers also experienced an intense artillery barrage on their exposed positions.

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When World War II began he was the First Sergeant in the Headquarters Company of Patton’s 2nd Armored Division. After fighting across North Africa, he received battlefield promotion to Second Lieutenant and transferred to the 1st Infantry Division. He led a platoon of Company C up Omaha Beach on D-Day.

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While fighting across France he assumed command of his unit when his Company Commander was killed.

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A few days later the promotion became official. At 04:00, October 8, 1944, he received orders for an attack on Crucifix Hill. Of 43 known pillboxes and bunkers, his company was responsible for numbers 17, 18, 19, 20, 26, 29, and 30. After a formation of P-47 Thunderbolts finished an air strike at 13:15, he led his company out of positions in a graveyard at the foot of the hill.

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They made it about 150 yards (140 m) to an antitank ditch in front of pillbox 18 before heavy German fire forced them to seek cover. He turned to his platoon Sergeant, “Get me a couple of flamethrowers, some pole and satchel charges.” Once armed with those, he had his riflemen lay down a base of fire, then started crawling alone toward the pillbox. A bomb had earlier blown a hole near the pillbox, which he jumped into and dropped a satchel charge through an aperture by a door. The pillbox erupted, clouds of smoke billowing from its rifle ports.

He wriggled his way back to his men to pick up more charges and went back uphill 35 yards (32 m) past the still smoking bunker and toward pillbox 19 while under heavy machine-gun fire. Several mortar rounds fell nearby, slamming his body to the ground. Once in range, he dropped a pole charge through a 12-inch (300 mm) opening, blowing a hole in the pillbox, followed with a satchel charge. On his way back downhill for more charges, he noticed blood covering one knee. Then his Sergeant told him, “Sir, there’s bullet holes in your canteen.” He had no idea when he’d been hit.

Pillbox 20 was perhaps the largest and most heavily armed fortification on the hill. A turret, mounting a cut-down 88 mm cannon, revolved 360 degrees on the top, while the concrete walls were 6 feet (1.8 m) thick. The structure was manned by 45 soldiers with no less than 6 machine-guns. Following a communications trench 20 yards (18 m) from number 19 to 20, he threw 2 satchel charges through a steel door that an ammunition-laden soldier was entering through. With the destruction of pillbox 20, enemy resistance on Crucifix Hill soon crumbled, allowing allied forces to mop up, and securing the 1st Division’s flank.

He was wounded during street fighting in Aachen when an artillery shell landed practically beside him. Numb, blood streaming from his nose, ears, and mouth, he headed for an aid station. He spent several months in a hospital in Belgium, then went home on a 30-day leave. He rejoined Company C in Germany and fought with it into Czechoslovakia. After the war ended, he flew home to receive his Medal of Honor on August 23, 1945.

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Medal of Honor citation:

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“He commanded Company C, 18th Infantry Regiment, on October 8, 1944, when it, with the Ranger Platoon of the 1st Battalion, attacked Crucifix Hill, a key point in the enemy’s defense of Aachen, Germany. As the leading rifle platoon assaulted the first of many pillboxes studding the rising ground, heavy fire from a flanking emplacement raked it. An intense artillery barrage fell on the American troops which had been pinned down in an exposed position. Seeing that the pillboxes must be neutralized to prevent the slaughter of his men, Capt. Brown obtained a pole charge and started forward alone toward the first pillbox, about 100 yards away. Hugging the ground while enemy bullets whipped around him, he crawled and then ran toward the aperture of the fortification, rammed his explosive inside and jumped back as the pillbox and its occupants were blown up. He rejoined the assault platoon, secured another pole charge, and led the way toward the next pillbox under continuous artillery mortar, automatic, and small-arms fire. He again ran forward and placed his charge in the enemy fortification, knocking it out. He then found that fire from a third pillbox was pinning down his company; so he returned to his men, secured another charge, and began to creep and crawl toward the hostile emplacement. With heroic bravery he disregarded opposing fire and worked ahead in the face of bullets streaming from the pillbox. Finally reaching his objective, he stood up and inserted his explosive, silencing the enemy. He was wounded by a mortar shell but refused medical attention and, despite heavy hostile fire, moved swiftly among his troops exhorting and instructing them in subduing powerful opposition. Later, realizing the need for information of enemy activity beyond the hill, Capt. Brown went out alone to reconnoiter. He observed possible routes of enemy approach and several times deliberately drew enemy fire to locate gun emplacements. Twice more, on this self-imposed mission, he was wounded; but he succeeded in securing information which led to the destruction of several enemy guns and enabled his company to throw back 2 powerful counterattacks with heavy losses. Only when Company C’s position was completely secure did he permit treatment of his 3 wounds. By his indomitable courage, fearless leadership, and outstanding skill as a soldier, Capt. Brown contributed in great measure to the taking of Crucifix Hill, a vital link in the American line encircling Aachen”

After the war ended, Brown spent the next two years in and out of hospitals, as army doctors tried to repair the physical damage inflicted by 13 war wounds. He completed his 30 years of service to his country in 1952.

Like so many men who had experienced intense combat, Brown was tormented by traumatic memories of his experiences during the war. Unable to find a good civilian job, he became a janitor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Haunted by unhappy memories of combat and in constant pain from war-related injuries, he committed suicide, by a self-inflicted gunshot to his chest, on November 8, 1971. He was subsequently buried in section 46, site 1021-17 of Arlington National Cemetery.

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Truus Wijsmuller Meijer: Auntie Truus-Unsung Hero.

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WWII saw so much evil but also so much bravery. People with disregard of their own lives would defy the Nazi authorities to save lives of others, often complete strangers whom they’d never met before prior to saving them. These people are not always recognized enough for what they have done.Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer aka Auntie Truus(Tante Truus) was one of these people.

Geertruida (Truus) Wijsmuller-Meijer (Alkmaar, 21 April 1896 – Amsterdam, 30 August 1978) was a Dutch war hero, resistance fighter, and probably afterRaoul Wallenberg and Aristides de Sousa Mendes the greatest savior of Jews. She was recognized as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem. In all likelihood, she, together with others involved with Kindertransport, saved more than 10,000 Jewish children

In December 1938, a 42-year-old Dutchwoman met with Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann to negotiate the transport of Jewish children out of Vienna. Her name was Truus Wijsmuller Meijer, but to thousands of children she would be known as “Tante Truus” – Auntie Truus.

Truus Meijer was born into a wealthy banking family and was working in the bank when she met her husband, Joop Wijsmuller. She and Joop loved children and were saddened when they couldn’t have their own. Truus left the bank and started doing social work in Amsterdam. This brought her in touch with the Committee for Special Jewish Interests, who alerted her to the desperate situation of German and Austrian Jews.

By 1938, following the attacks of Kristallnacht in Austria and Germany, the Jewish population feared for their lives.

Many tried to get asylum abroad, but few countries were willing to take large numbers of refugees. An exception was Britain, which allowed for the temporary entry of unaccompanied children. So began a rescue effort called the Kindertransport, in which Truus was a pivotal figure.

She was a friend of resistance fighter Mies Boissevain-van Lennep, whom she knew from the Association for Women’s Interests and Equal Citizenship (VVGS).

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From the thirties onwards “Auntie Truus” (as they soon called her) arranged, with Mies Boissevain and others, children’s transports for the Committee for Special Jewish Interests. These transports saved 10,000 Jewish children from Germany and Austria, on a route via the Netherlands to the UK.

In Germany she worked with Recha Freier, the wife of a Berlin rabbi. She was not intimidated easily, made a fuss if necessary, bribed railroad men with gifts and German officers with charm. She negotiated with the man who would later organize the transports of Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Adolf Eichmann, who was working in Vienna at the time. Eichmann joked with her: no negotiation, she could take 600 Viennese Jewish children immediately

-In case you are wondering, you did read it right. She did meet Eichmann as in Adolf Eichmann , one of the most evil men of the Nazi regime.-

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He thought she would never be able to accomplish this undertaking. He didn’t know Auntie Truus! She gathered the children, organized the paperwork and the trains, and had a welcoming committee meet them with apples and chocolate when they reached the Netherlands. 500 children sailed immediately for England, with the remaining 100 leaving on later boats.

The later transports were smaller and more orderly. Truus travelled to Germany several times a week and helped to arrange 49 transports. She used charm, stubbornness, and occasional bribery to get the children through.

Transport from central Europe became more restricted with the outbreak of war in September 1939. Many Jewish children remained in the Netherlands, which was still neutral. The orphanage in Amsterdam had become a refugee camp, and Auntie Truus was a popular figure there. She and Joop visited regularly, entertained the children at home, and brought them to the zoo on Sundays.

 

In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Truus was in Paris, but she crossed troop lines to return to Amsterdam. There she collected Jewish children from the orphanage and foster homes, and arranged for coaches to get them on the last boat for England. The children hoped that Auntie Truus would come with them, but she didn’t want to leave Joop and so she waved them goodbye from the dock.

In all, 10,000 children entered Britain on the Kindertransport. Some would eventually be reunited with their parents, but sadly many were the only survivors from their families.

During the occupation of the Netherlands, Truus continued to smuggle Jewish people into Spain and Switzerland. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, but released through lack of evidence. She sent thousands of food packages to Westerbork transit camp, where Jews and other prisoners were held before being sent to other concentration camps.

In 1944, she found out that a group of young children were to be sent from Westerbork to Auschwitz, where they would be killed immediately. Truus persuaded the guards that these were not Jewish children, but the Aryan offspring of German soldiers and Dutch women! The children were sent to a different camp, Theresienstadt, and almost all of them survived the war.

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As the war progressed, she devoted herself to obtaining and distributing food. She sent thousands of packages to camps like Westerbork and Theresienstadt, and delivered duck eggs to elderly houses in Amsterdam every week. During the Dutch famine of 1944 (the Hongerwinter or “Hunger winter”) she took care of malnourished children in the Randstad.(Amsterdam,Rotterdam,The Hague and Utrecht) She took many across the IJsselmeer to more rural areas like Groningen, Friesland, Overijssel and Drenthe to recuperate.

After the war, Truus Wijsmuller Meijer was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Her obituary in 1978 read: “Mother of 1001 children, who made rescuing Jewish children her life’s work.” An asteroid was named “Tantetruus” (Auntie Truus) in her honour.

A sculpture of her, made by Herman Diederik Janzen , was unveiled in 1965 in Beatrixoord in Oosterpark in Amsterdam. When Beatrixoord was redeveloped “Auntie Truus” took the statue home. After her death in 1978 it was reinstated on the Bachplein in Amsterdam.

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This courageous woman embodied the best spirit of aunthood, loving and risking her life for children who were not her own. She deserves to be more widely known.

Johan Westerweel: Forgotten Hero

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Joop Westerweel (January 25, 1899, Zutphen – August 11, 1944, Vught) was a schoolteacher[2] and a Christian anarchist who became a Dutch World War II resistance leader, the head of the Westerweel Group.

Westerweel along with Joachim Simon and other Jewish and colleagues, helped save in the region of 200 to 300 Jewish lives by organizing an escape route, smuggling Jews through Belgium, France and on into neutral Switzerland and Spain. He was arrested on March 10, 1944, after leading a group of Jewish children to safety in Spain, whilst on his way back to the Netherlands at the Dutch/Belgian border. He was executed at Herzogenbusch concentration camp(Kamp Vught) in August 1944.

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Johan (Joop) Westerweel began his teaching career in the Dutch East Indies, but was expelled for refusing to be drafted into the army because of his pacifist convictions. His strict Christian background – his parents belonged to the Derbists, a non-consensual sect of Protestantism – instilled in him a sense of justice for all and a belief in the basic goodness of mankind. Upon his return to the Netherlands Westerweel began teaching in a school at the Werkplaats in Bilthoven, where the progressive and innovative educational methods of its founder, Kees Boeke, were applied. In Bilthoven, the Westerweels came into contact with Jewish refugee children who had arrived in Holland during the 1930s, mostly from Germany. In 1940, Joop and his wife Wilhelmina (Wil), moved to Rotterdam, where Joop was offered a position as principal of one of the Montessori schools.

By 1942, the couple had four children.

Nevertheless they dedicated their lives to helping others, and had been taking Jewish refugees into their home. Joop’s colleague and friend from the Werkplaats, Mirjam Waterman (later Pinkhof), introduced him to a group of young halutzim (Zionist pioneers) in Loosdrecht, near Amsterdam. Joop recognized a sense of idealism and strong principles in this group and felt a great affinity with them. When the Loosdrecht group received a tip-off from the Jewish Council on August 15, 1943 that they were about to be deported, Joop and his friends, who became known as the Westerweel group, were on hand to provide hiding places for each of the 50 members. 33 out of this group survived the war; the others were deported after betrayal.

Realizing that hiding was not sufficient to save the Jews, the Westerweel group began devising ways to help them escape from Dutch territory. In December 1943, Joop led a group of halutzim to France. At the foot of the Pyrenees, in a dramatic address to the young halutzim he was about to leave, Joop urged them to remember the suffering in the world at large. He implored them to accord freedom and dignity to all inhabitants of a future Jewish State. “No more war,” were his final words as they parted company.

Later that month, Wil was arrested during an attempt to free Lettie Rudelsheim (later Ben Heled), one of the most active halutz members, from the Scheveningen prison. Following his wife’s arrest, Joop placed his four children with friends of the family, quit his post at the Montessori school, and went underground. On March 11, 1944, Joop and his co-worker Bouke Koning were caught at the Belgian border with two Jewish women whom they were escorting. Joop was imprisoned in the Vught camp and tortured. He soon became a spiritual leader for many of the prisoners – his unfailing high spirits in the face of the brutality of camp life gave those around him hope and strength. His last communication with the outside world was a poem, entitled “Avond in de Cel” (Evening in the Cell), written in July 1944. The poem was full of optimism, speaking of the beauty of nature and a life of fulfillment and inner conviction. On August 11, 1944, Joop Westerweel was executed in the Vught concentration camp. His wife, who was in the same camp, had to witness her husband’s execution. She survived the camps and returned to her family after the war.

One of the Westerweel children, Marta, settled in Israel, where she met many of her father’s survivors.  “I was three-and-a-half years old when my father was arrested and five years old when he was executed. I never really knew him. In the Netherlands I was a fatherless child; here in Israel I became my father’s daughter”, she says. It was from the survivors that she heard stories about her father. “I know the survivors endured terrible tragedies”, she says, “but in a way I envy them, because they knew my father.

On June 16, 1964, Yad Vashem recognized Johan Gerard Westerweel and his wife, Wilhelmina Dora Westerweel-Bosdriesz, as Righteous Among the Nations.

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The hard to believe but yet true story of John Capes.

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.John Capes was a leading stoker aboard the HMS Perseus, it sailed from Malta for Alexandria on 26 November 1941 with instructions to patrol waters to the east of Greece during her passage. She apparently torpedoed a ship on 3 December but at 10 pm on 6 December struck an Italian mine off Cephalonia, 7 miles (11 km) north of Zakynthos in the Ionian Sea.

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So far the story is still believable. One man out of the 61 onboard survived, this man was  the 31-year-old  John Capes, one of two non-crew members hitching a lift to Alexandria. He and three others escaped from the submarine using the Twill Trunk escape hatch in the engine room and wearing Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus.

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This equipment had only been tested to a depth of 100ft (30m). The depth gauge showed just over 270ft, and as far as Capes knew, no-one had ever made an escape from such a depth.In fact the gauge was broken, over-estimating the depth by 100ft, but time was running out. It was difficult to breathe now.

However, only John Capes survived the journey to the surface and the five mile (8 km)

But having made the deepest escape yet recorded, his ordeal was not over.His fellow injured stokers had not made it to the surface with him so he found himself alone in the middle of a cold December sea.

In the darkness he spotted a band of white cliffs and realised he had no choice but to strike out for those ,to the island of Cephalonia, where he was hidden by islanders for 18 months .For the following 18 months he was passed from house to house, to evade the Italian occupiers. He lost 70lb (32kg) in weight and dyed his hair black in an effort to blend in.

He recalled later: “Always, at the moment of despair, some utterly poor but friendly and patriotic islander would risk the lives of all his family for my sake.

“They even gave me one of their prize possessions, a donkey called Mareeka. There was one condition attached to her – I had to take a solemn vow not to eat her.He was finally taken off the island on a fishing boat in May 1943, in a clandestine operation organised by the Royal Navy.

A dangerous, roundabout journey of 640km took him to Turkey and from there back to the submarine service in Alexandria.

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Despite being awarded a British Empire medal for his escape, Capes’s story was so extraordinary that many people, both within and outside the Navy, doubted it.

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Was he really on the boat at all? After all, he was not on the crew list. And submarine commanders had been ordered to bolt escape hatches shut from the outside to prevent them lifting during depth charge attacks.

There were no witnesses, he had a reputation as a great storyteller, and his own written accounts after the war varied in their details.

And the depth gauge reading 270ft made his story all the harder to believe.

John Capes died in 1985 but it was not until 1997 that his story was finally verified.

In a series of dives to the wreck of Perseus, Kostas Thoctarides discovered Capes’s empty torpedo tube bunk, the hatch and compartment exactly as he had described it, and finally, his blitz bottle from which he had taken that last fortifying swig of rum.

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