SOE wireless operator Suzanne Mertzien (sometimes spelt Mertisen).

Suzanne_Mertzizen

On the night of 6 April 1944 Mertizen was dropped by parachute with two other female agents (Marie-Louise Cloarec and Pierrette Louin). After landing in a field in the Limoges region of France the three women made their way to Paris.

On the night of 25 April, the women were arrested after being denounced by a collaborator and interrogated by the SD (Gestapo). In August the women were transported to Ravensbrûck concentration camp where they were shot, and their bodies incinerated sometime in 1945. Mertizen was posthumously awarded the Military Cross, Medal of the Resistance and the Chevalier of the Legion d’honour. Her name will be found on the Tempsford Memorial in Bedfordshire near former RAF Tempsford (138 Special Duty Squadron) which was responsible for parachute operation in occupied Europe. (I’m still researching the other women).

Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent Odette Churchill (nee Sansom)

sansom2

SOE agent Odette Sansom (she married Peter Churchill after the war) was a single mother with three young children in England when she was arrested by the Abwehr and eventually handed to the Gestapo. During their attempt to force her talk Sansom was repeatedly burnt on the back with a red-hot poker and each time she fainted from the pain was revived with buckets of cold water being thrown over her so the torture could continue. When burning failed to break her all her toenails were pulled out but Sansom still refused to give the Gestapo information about her wireless operator who was in hiding and after the war Sansom reluctantly admitted to a journalist she was willing to die rather than answer their questions. Sansom then survived the ill-treatment and horrors of Ravensbrûck Concentration camp and after the war was awarded the GC which she always insisted was not awarded to her personally but represented all those alive and dead, known and unknown who fought for the liberation of France.

Odette

Nazi Euthanasia Programme

Much continues to be written about war crimes by the SS and Gestapo during the Second world War and this short piece is intended to bring attention to the mass murder of German civilians including children who through illness were regarded ‘worthless idiots’ and an unnecessary burden on German society.

In current parlance the term euthanasia refers to the practice of so-called ‘mercy killing’ commonly described as the painless ending of life of a person who is terminally ill and only at their request. Although the Nazis used the term euthanasia they described it as the “Destruction of worthless life”.

The following British translations of Nazi documents discovered by the allies are among the many I studied at university.

In the 1920s Professor Karl Binding a former president of the Reichsgericht, the highest criminal court, and Professor Alfred Hoch, Professor of Psychiatry at Freiburg University wrote a book called “Permission for the Destruction of Worthless Life, its Extent and Form.” 

Binding and Hoch believed “because of the war {WW1} and the alleged expansion in the numbers of ‘mental defectiveness’ as a result of exaggerated humanitarianism, Germany had become intolerably lumbered with living burden who were absorbing a disproportionate amount of resources which ought to be devoted to a national revival.”

They also said the state should be allowed to kill “the incurable lunatics, irrespective of whether they were born as such or whether they are paralytics in the final stage of their condition… Their life is completely worthless… they represent a terrible heavy burden for their relatives as well as society.

This Nazi eugenics poster from 1935 illustrates what they believed to be the dangers of allowing so-called genetic undesirables to live, reproduce, and account for a larger percentage of the gene pool than those with desired traits. (Federal German Archives)

Hoch also said:

I can find no reason, either from a legal or from a social or from a moral, or from a religious standpoint for not giving permission for the killing of these people.

Both also stressed the enormous financial cost involved in maintaining what they called “Idiots” and went on to say … “There was a time which we regarded as barbaric, in which the elimination of those who were born or became unviable was regarded natural. Then came the phase we are in now, in which finally the maintenance of any, even the most worthless existence is considered the highest moral duty: a new period will come which on the basis of a higher morality, will cease continually implementing the demands of an exaggerated concept of humanity and an exaggerated view of the value of human life”.    

After the Nazi Party took power in 1933, these views were officially endorsed in its most extreme form as national socialism established itself on the belief of biological materialism governed by social Darwinism and the belief that human life was a struggle for the survival of the fittest which meant ‘performance’ had to be essential for all citizens.

During the Nuremburg Party Rally on 5 August 1929 Hitler said:

“If Germany was to get a million children a year and was to remove 700 to 800,000 of the weakest people, then the final result might even be an increase in strength…The most dangerous thing is for us to cut off the natural process of selection and thereby gradually rob ourselves of the possibility of acquiring able people…”  

The Children’s Euthanasia Program

(Federal German Archives)

The following passage describes a ‘children’s asylum’ near Munich during a visit by members of the Nazi Party and SS officers on 16 February 1940, when a senior doctor was describing his facilities.

“We have children here aged from one to five. All these creatures represent… a burden for our nation… With these words he pulled a child out of its cot. While this fat, gross man displayed the whimpering skeletal little person like a hare which he had caught he coolly remarked: ‘Naturally we don’t stop their food straight away. That would cause too much fuss. We gradually reduce their portions. Nature then takes care of the rest… This one won’t last more than two or three days.”

On 15 October 1942 a doctor wrote to a colleague: “We have found a lot of nice idiots in the Hirt Asylum in Strasbourg, request for transfer will follow.”

(Federal German Archives)

The Adult (and young people) Euthanasia Programme

The exact date is unknown but is thought to have been in June or July 1939 when Hitler ordered the programme to be extended to adults. There are a large number of documents relating to this part of the project, but the following short overview is intended to provide an insight into the mindset of the doctors, nurses and others involved in the Nazi Euthanasia Programme.

Disabled people being transported to camps for extermination (German Federal Archives)

There are many documented accounts of ‘ambulances’ arriving at homes to take disabled children and adults to clinics for treatment and relatives being unaware the exhaust pipes were pumping a lethal cocktail of fumes into the rear of the vehicle where the ‘patients’ were sitting.

 The killing of those considered unworthy to live was later stopped after several doctors complained about ambulances driving round for several miles but not killing all the ‘idiots,’ and several others complained it was too time consuming to kill them in the required numbers and more efficient methods had to be developed.  Some historians believe the Euthanasia Program was regarded as a learning process for later mass murder on an industrial scale at dedicated concentration camps.  

SS Panzer Division Das Reich and Das Fûhrer: War Crimes in France after the Normandy Landings

As with most countries under German occupation during the Second World War there were many war crimes against civilians and in the case of France, two of the best documented are the massacre of civilians at Tulle (9 June 1944) and the village of Oradour-sur-Glane (10 June 1944) which are around 72 miles apart.

Tulle

Tulle 1944

The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich arrived at Tulle on 8 June, three days after the allies landed at Normandy, and started rounding up men between the ages of sixteen and sixty and some were accused of being members of the Maquis (French Resistance) because they had not shaven or polished their shoes. After the SS made their selection 99 men were hung to death from lamp posts and balconies and 149 were transported to Dachau concentration camp where 101 were executed before the camp was liberated.

The commander who ordered the war crimes at Tulle and Oradour-sur-Glane was SS Gruppenfûhrer Heinz Lammerding.

Heinz Lammerding

SS Gruppenfûhrer Heinz Lammerding

After the war Lammerding was condemned to death in his absence by a French court but West Germany refused his extradition and was free to live his life without fear of prosecution despite the overwhelming evidence against him and after his death in 1971 his funeral became a reunion for over 200 former members of the SS.

Oradour-sur-Glane 9 June 1944

Diekman

The senior officer present during the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane was SS Sturmbannfûhrer Otto Diekmann, whose name is sometimes misspelt on some documents as Otto Dickmann, who commanded the SS 1 Battalion, 4th Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Fûhrer.

Diekmann ordered his men to roundup the entire civilian population and take them to the market square where they were separated into age and gender. After being separated 197 men were taken away and locked in a barn and the remainder of the villagers consisting of 204 women and 205 children were forced into the village church. The barn was then set on fire and anyone attempting to escape the flames were killed with machine guns. After the men were burnt alive hand grenades were thrown into the church and anyone who survived was shot.

Oradour sur Glane

Oradour-sur-Glane 3

Among those masssacred at Oradour-sur-Glane

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After almost the entiire population of 642 civilans were killed, only six are thought to have siurvived, the SS looted their homes and began biurning the remainder of the village and one survivor described Diekmann, who was later killed in action in Normandy, as being blood thirsty.

Although there is a discrepancy in the following figures because six are said to have survived which would mean the village had a population of 648, according to some accounts, in the church 245 women and 207 childfren were killed and 190 men were burnt to death in the barn.

Roger Godfrin only surviving child of the Oradour sur Glane

Photograph of Roger Godfrin taken in 1945 who was the only child to survive the killings at Oradour-sur-Glane

Violette Szabo: Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France

During her second mission to France Violette Szabo was captured after a fire fight with troops from 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich after being stopped at a roadblock outside Salon-la-Tour during which she expended eight magazines from her Sten submachine gun. Due to confusion the story of her firefight has been revised several times. According to the citation for the GC she was surrounded in a house and fired from windows during which she killed and injured several German soldiers.

After her capture she was interrogated at Gestapo (SD) headquarters at Avenue Foch in Paris and later transported to Ravensbrûck concentration camp. On 5 February 1945, at the age of 23, Violette Szabo, who had been sentenced to death, was shot through the back of the neck.

In 1946 her daughter Tanya was taken to Buckingham Palace by her grandparents to receive her mother’s posthumous GC (George Cross) from the King.

Violette and Tanya Szabo

Medals

Citation for the GC

St. James Palace, SW1. 17 December 1946
The King has graciously pleased to award the George Cross to:-
Violette, Madame SZABO (deceased), Women’s Transport Service (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry)

Madame Szabo volunteered to undertake a particularly dangerous mission in France. She was parachuted into France in April 1944 and undertook the task with enthusiasm. In her execution of the delicate researches entailed she showed great presence of mind and astuteness. She was twice arrested by the German security authorities, but each time managed to get away.

Eventually, however, with other members of her group, she was surrounded by the Gestapo in a house in the south-west of France.

Resistance appeared hopeless but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten-gun and as much ammunition she could carry, barricaded herself in part of the house and, exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killed or wounded several of them. By constant movement, she avoided being cornered and fought until she dropped exhausted. She was arrested and had to undergo solitary confinement. She was then continuously and atrociously tortured but never by word or deed gave away any of her acquaintances or told the enemy anything of any value. She was ultimately executed. Madame Szabo gave a magnificent example of courage and steadfastness.

Phyllis ‘Pippa’ Doyle (nee Latour) SOE wireless operator in France.

Phyllis was born in South Africa on 8 April 1921, her father was a French doctor who died when she was three months old, and her mother was a British citizen.

Her mother later married a racing car driver who was killed after his car crashed into a barrier and according to some writers her mother also died in a car crash after which Phyllis was sent to live with her father’s cousin in the AEF (French Equatorial Africa) and she later returned to South Africa.

Pippa2

At the age of 20 Phyllis moved to England and join the WAAF and was trained as an airframe mechanic (others say she had a different trade) and due to her language skills, she was approached by SOE and given an opportunity to volunteer for hazardous missions in France. During one of her rare interviews Pippa was reported as saying, I volunteered for revenge, my godmother had committed suicide after being taken prisoner by the Nazis and my godmother’s father had been shot by the Germans.

After completing agent training, she attended the Wireless and Security School and successfully became a wireless trained agent to support resistance in France.

Pippa

On 1 May 1944 she was dropped by parachute into Orme Normandy, to work as the wireless operator for SCIENTIST circuit led by Claude de Baissac (code name David).

At the age of 23 Pippa appeared a lot younger and posed as a teenage girl whose family had moved to the countryside to escape the allied bombings and rode around the region on a bicycle selling soap and talking to German soldiers to collect intelligence.

Whilst SCIENTIST circuit was supporting D-day Pippa had six wireless sets hidden throughout the countryside including one in a baby’s pram, which also contained a baby, and Phyllis said she also had a wireless hidden under poo {shit} in an outside toilet which the Germans were reluctant to examine.

By the time France was liberated Pippa sent 135 messages to London which contained valuable intelligence and coordinated sabotage operations to support the allied strategy.

After the war she married an engineer with the surname Doyle and eventually emigrated to New Zealand. In 2021 she celebrated her 100th birthday and is thought to be the last living female agent of SOE’s French Section.

Pipa6

Pippa is noted for never discussing her war service with her family until her children saw an article about her on the internet in 2000.

Heinrich Mathy: Commander of German Zeppelin L31 during air raids on London and the Home Counties during WW1.

Heinrich Mathy was born on 4 April 1883 in Mannheim, Germany and became a household name in Britain during the Great War as the commander of Zeppelin L31.

Today, if you go to the Dolphin Tavern on Red Lion Street in London you will see a battered old clock on the wall. The clock does not work and for over 100 years the hands have been stuck at 10:40

L31

At 10:40 pm on 8 September 1915 German Zeppelin L31 commanded by Heinch Mathy was flying at 8,500 feet above London when Mathy gave the order to drop its load of high explosive bombs during which the Dolphin Tavern received a direct hit and three men were killed.

Dolphin

In the rubble was found the pub’s clock which had been battered beyond repair with its hands stuck at the exact time of the explosion (10:40). After the Dolphin Tavern was rebuilt after the war it was decided to put the clock back on the wall with its hands frozen in time.

The fate of Heinrich and the crew of L13.

On the night of 1 October 1916 Heinrich Mathy and the eighteen-men crew of L31 reached the outskirts of London where the Super Zeppelin was intercepted by British pilot Wulstan Tempest DSO, MC flying a B.E.SC.

L321 Zeppelin killer Wulstan Tempest

Wulstan Tempest

Tempest’s personal account of his engagement with L31

“At about 11:45pm I found myself over south-west London at the altitude of 14,000 feet. I was gazing towards the north-east of London where the fog was also heavy when I noticed all the searchlights in that quarter concentrated in an enormous pyramid.

Following them to the apex, I saw a small cigar-shaped object which I realised was a Zeppelin. It was about 15 miles away and heading straight for London.

I was having an unpleasant time, as to get to the Zeppelin I had to pass through a very heavy inferno of bursting shells from the AA {Anti-aircraft} guns below.

All at once it appeared the Zeppelin must have sighted me, for she dropped all her bombs in one volley, swung round, tilted up her nose and proceeded to race away, rapidly rising northwards.

I made after her at all speed at about 15,000 feet altitude. The AA fire was intense and I being about 5 miles behind the Zeppelin had an extremely uncomfortable time.

After firing three flares to alert the gunners below of my presence I closed in for the kill.

I dived straight at her, sending a burst straight into her as I came. I let her have another burst as I passed under her and then, banking my machine over, sat under her tail, and flying underneath her pumped lead into her for all I was worth. I could tracer bullets flying from her in all directions but I was too close under her for her to concentrate fire upon me.

As I was firing I noticed it began to go red inside like a Chinese lantern. The flame shot out of the front part of her and I realised she was on fire.

Then she shot up about 200 feet, paused, and came roaring straight down on me before I could get out of the way.

Tempest

I nose dived for all I was worth with the Zeppelin tearing after me and expected every minute to be engulfed in the flames.

I put my machine into a spin and just managed to corkscrew out of the way as she shot past me like a roaring furnace. I righten my machine and watched her hit the ground with a shower of sparks… I then started to feel very sick and giddy and exhausted, and had considerable difficulty in finding the way to the ground through the fog and landing. In doing so I crashed and cut my head after hitting my machine gun”

Later reports describe thousands of people cheering and jeering during the three minutes it took the blazing Zeppelin to hit the ground at Potters bar.

Aboard L31 Mathy and the 13 crew members had the choice of burning to death in the inferno or jumping to their deaths and it was said Heinrich Mathy wrapped a thick woollen scarf around his neck which was a present from his wife before he jumped.

He impression in the earth left by Heinrich Mathy s falling body

Indentation on the grass made by Heinrich Mathy’s body after hitting the ground at around 120 mph/200kms (terminal velocity)

Newspapers the following day reported, “The framework of the Zeppelin lay in the field in two enormous heaps, separated from each other by about a hundred yards. Most of the forepart hung suspended from a tree.”

Mthy

Crash site in Potters Bar.

A journalist named MacDonagh persuaded the police to allow him to view the bodies which had been taken to a barn and recalled, “The sergeant removed the covering from one of the bodies which lay apart from the others. The only disfigurement was a slight distortion of the face. It was that of a young man, clean shaven. He was heavily clad in a dark uniform and overcoat, with a thick muffler around his neck.

I knew who he was. At the office we knew who commanded Z31… It was the body was Heinrich Mathy”

Sergeant John Austin, wireless operator with Jedburgh team DUDLEY: Netherlands 1944

Whilst serving with the Royal Berkshire Regiment John Austin volunteered to join the Jedburgh Teams (Jed’s) which were formed to operate in various occupied countries to assist local resistance supporting the allied strategy for D-day and after completing training was promoted to sergeant.

On the night of 11 September 1944 John Austin with Major Brinkgreve of the Dutch Army and Major Olmsted of the US army, referred to as Team DUDLEY, parachuted from a Short Sterling bomber into a remote region of the Netherlands and after leaving the aircraft two containers of weapons were dropped by parachute which they buried not far from where they landed.

Apart from arming members of the Dutch Resistance operating in Overijessal, a province in the eastern part of the Netherlands, they were also ordered to encourage the Resistance to defend bridges which the allies needed during their advance into Germany.

The Jedburgh Dudley Team from left to right Henk Brink Greve John Austin and John Olmsted

Jedburgh Team Dudley. From left to right: Henk Bringreve (Netherlands), John Austin (British), John Olmsted (USA)

Jedburgh teams were not undercover agents and wore uniforms and though this was appropriate for Jed’s working in France and other occupied countries it was impractical in a small country like the Netherlands where they had to move around the country, so they quickly acquired civilian clothes and after meeting members of the Resistance the following message Austin sent to London was far from encouraging:

“The local self-appointed Resistance leader had a very imperfect group under his command. They had no knowledge about German troops in the area or any German supplies or depots in the area.”

During Operation Market Garden on 17 September 1944 when allied paratroopers attempted to seize bridges over the Rhine, intense fighting in the city of Arnhem and the surrounding area resulted in large numbers of German troops looking for members of the Resistance and people assisting allied paratroopers.

Whilst the three Jed’s and a members of the Resistance were travelling by car they came across a checkpoint manned by the Wafer SS, because they had no documents and were armed they decided to crash through the road block whilst firing at the soldiers with their Sten guns and during the brief but intensive engagement five members of the SS were killed or wounded. Later that day a car of the same make and model approached the same checkpoint and the SS immediately opened fire with machine guns and threw two grenades at the approaching vehicle, and whilst examining the wrecked car discovered they had killed an SS officer, a Gestapo (SD) officer and their driver.

Over the next few days Team Dudley with members of the Resistance were involved in several sabotage operations and ambushing German troops and by 1 October the team had organised all the resistance groups in the area which numbered around 3500 men and women. Austin also informed London they had a further 12 to 15,000 who could be mobilised to support the allied advance.

It is thought to have been late November when Austin, Brinkgreve, Olmsted along with around 116 other escapers including members of the British 1st Airborne Division which was trapped behind enemy lines attempted to cross the Rhine but only seven succeeded and the remainder were either killed or captured and one of those captured was John Austin.

John Austin was sent to Zwolle Prison in north-eastern Netherlands and on 4 April Austin and five Dutch prisoners were taken from their cells and shot in retaliation following an attack on a senior German officer. At the time of his death Austin was 21 and his name is on the Memorial at Hattem, Netherlands.

Austin 1945 Hattem