June Ravenhall- Forgotten Hero

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I often ask myself the question “Would I risk mu own life to save another?” and the honest answer is “I don’t know” I think I would but when it comes to it I don’t know.

However there are so many in History who asked themselves that same question. One of these brave souls was June Ravenhall.

Ravenhall was born Elsie June Stickley in 1901. She was a native of Kenilworth who moved to The Hague with her husband, Leslie Ravenhall, whom she married in 1925.The couple left Coventry for the Netherlands due to Les Ravenhall’s business, and started a business importing Coventry Eagle motorbikes.

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Their house and business were expropriated when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As a British citizen, and since Britain was then in war with Germany, June’s husband was sent to a prison camp in Poland, and she relocated to Hilversum.

Mrs Ravenhall was approached by the Dutch Resistance and asked to hide a young Jewish journalist called Levi(Louis) Velleman. She agreed and he lived with the family for three years.

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When, in the summer of 1942, the first orders were issued for Jews of the Netherlands to report for “work in the East”, Levi Velleman, born in 1919 in Haarlem, was in a hospital in Hilversum (prov. North-Holland) with tuberculosis.
As not enough Jews did report, the Germans started to round up Jews. As Velleman was a well-known journalist and radio reporter in the Netherlands going by the less Jewish sounding name of Louis., he feared that he would be sought too. He thus turned to one of the physicians in the hospital who contacted the adjacent recuperation center asking if someone there could take him into hiding. June Ravenhall, who was living in the immediate vicinity of this center, came forward even though she had some initial hesitation to take in a person with a contagious disease. June had the lone responsibility for her three young teenage children after her husband Leslie had been arrested. Both originally from Britain, they had come to live in The Hague where Leslie had found a business opportunity importing motorbikes. Three days after the capitulation of the Netherlands in May 1940, Leslie was taken as a prisoner of war to a camp in Germany, where he remained until the liberation some five years later.

June gave Louis Velleman the room of her oldest daughter, where he stayed all the time. Since sunshine was considered favorable for healing, Louis sat in the garden when the weather was nice and June thought that there was no immediate danger. However, when the Germans learned that many Jews were in hiding in the town of Hilversum, many house searches were carried out, among them in the Ravenhall home. The Ravenhall children were well instructed to keep the Jew hunters delayed for awhile, so that Louis could get into his hiding area. Once he escaped by jumping out of a window at the back of the house. When the policeman found some men’s clothing and confronted June with it, she feared immediate arrest. It turned out that the policeman had only come to warn her of a pending house search.

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The winter of 1944-1945 was especially difficult in the western parts of the Netherlands, as food supplies from the rural eastern parts of the country were forcefully stopped by the occupier. Moreover, there was no electricity or gas. Many Dutch had to survive on flower bulbs and many more died of starvation. The Ravenhall family could not support an extra mouth, and thus Louis was taken to Wieger and Sijbrig Beks, living close-by, who were able to feed him. Once a week, Louis ate at the Beks: “I could eat in one day more than during the entire week with the Ravenhalls”.

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The Beks were heavily involved in a local resistance cell, among other things by delivering false identity papers to Jews in hiding in the area.
Louis Velleman survived the war thanks to June and the Beks. He stayed in touch with all until his passing in 2000.

 

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Leo Lichten-WWII Hero,Killed in Action.

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Leo was born on May 31, 1925, in Manhattan to Max and Mollie Lichten. He grew up in Brooklyn, and was described by his best buddy Paul as a “very noble, intelligent and courageous person.” He even saved Paul from drowning once when they were kids. A best buddy indeed.

 

Pfc Leo Lichten entered the service in New York.City, New York on 11 August 1943.

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Leo’s company, Company A, is ordered on Nov. 20, 1944, to attack pillboxes (small bunkers) just outside Prummern to eliminate the enemy resistance in the small German town.

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The weather was cold and rainy, and the ground was muddy, making the battle even more difficult than it might otherwise have been. Leo storms one of the pillboxes, but is killed by machine gun fire early in the fighting.

He was laid to rest in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, along with 8,300 fellow US soldiers and the names of 1,700 other who went missing in action.

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The Last Battle of John Hascall

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In the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten lie the graves of 8,301 Americans killed during World War II. In Plot H, Row 8, Grave 9 rests John Sherman Hascall. His story, like all the others, is far too short.

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John was a Husky, graduating from Michigan Tech in 1939 with degrees in mining engineering and geology. He was in ROTC, a member of Theta Tau, on the staff of The Lode, and a standout on the hockey team. It’s not surprising he chose Tech; his father Carleton Hascall graduated in 1911 with a degree in mining, and brother Carleton Jr. preceded him by two years, graduating in 1937 with a metallurgical degree.

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John moved west after graduation, working for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company before enlisting in the United States Army Air Forces on April 7, 1942—like so many of that time, putting the freedom of others before his own.

A 2nd lieutenant in the 77th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Group, John flew P-38s on bomber escort missions. After 18 months of service, he would take his final flight. Accompanying B-17 bombers from Kings Cliffe, UK, to Bremen, Germany, he was shot down by German pilot Lt. Leopold Munster, November 29, 1943.

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An eyewitness, J. J. Van der Luur from Steenwijk, a fighter with the Dutch resistance cycling through the area, saw John’s damaged plane appear through the clouds and fall near Schutsloterwijde, a small lake near Belt-Schutsloot in north-central Holland. Bailing successfully, John landed in the middle of the lake, strong winds blowing him across its surface. Struggling but ultimately unable to remove his tangled parachute, John drowned. Local residents rushed to save him, and a doctor spent three hours trying to resuscitate him.

In a letter to John’s family, Van der Luur described those final moments.

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“He lied there, just quietly and not wounded or damaged at all. His face was calm and nothing of fright or something like that was in its expression. It was just as if he slept after a tiresome job.”

 

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.

 

 

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.

Capt. Bobbie E. Brown

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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