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Festung Duenkirchen - 1944 - 1945

Discussions on WW2 in Western Europe & the Atlantic.

Festung Duenkirchen - 1944 - 1945

Postby Gerst on 19 Jun 2005 04:43

There were three evacuations of French "civilians" from Dunkirk and the immediate vicinity - September 10, and October 10, 1944 and one in April, 1945. Can anyone tell me how many French "civilians" were evacuated in each?

Also, did the Allies vilate all three of the cease-fires or just the first two?

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Postby Andreas on 24 Jun 2005 11:36

Can you please post some more information on the cease-fires?

All the best

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Dunkirk: Cease-fires

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 15:26

Three cease-fires were negotiated, the 1st with the help of the Red Cross was initiated by tbe Germans (von Kluge) who used the retext of a German navy man's death at the hands of the "resistence" to force all males over 15 to get out." The announcement was made through the mayor of Rosendael but was extended to other towns. One source (German document) puts the number of evauees at 62,500. The date of this was
September 10, 1944. Sixty seriously wounded Germans were also evaciuated.

The next cease-fire and exchange of prisoners took place on October 3 and lasted for three days. This one mainly involved the city of Dunkirk, not the surrounding towns which were no largely deserted and some areas were under water once the German flooded the areas south of the city. About 800 French remained. They worked for the Germans and some worked local farms. The were eventually placed in areas which were fenced off so that the Germans could better control the civilains.

A third cease-fire came later on. As my father put it, "On March 20, a representative of
the Red Cross arrived and asked us whether we would agree to arrange a short truce during which he could visit or Allied POW’s and talk to the French internees. Packages were to be distributed to the Allied prisoners.We agreed to the truce which took place between 0930 and 1630 hours on March 26. The Allies first treated us to a two-hour artillery barrage on the 24th and gave us a “thumbs down” when we asked them whether they would accept some of our badly wounded soldiers as a gesture of cooperation. The Red Cross visit went off without a hitch and we went back to the business of the war."

There was a prisoner exchange on Aril 18, 1945.

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Postby Andreas on 24 Jun 2005 15:53

That is very interesting, thank you.

How were the cease-fires broken, or how did they end?
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Dunkirk cease-fires

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 16:36

I have found no examples of the Germans beaking the cease-fires but the Allies did. They usually did this the way a politician breaks the law - they abided by the letter (as they interpreted it) but violated the principle. For example, during the 1st cease-fire which began on September 10 and was to last for 48 hours (with ten hours worth of extensions added on to that), the Canadians attacked and captured the village of Spyker in the south. They were also in the habit of having fighter-bombers in the air which would arrive the minute a cease-fire ended and blast the German positions.

Also, during later cease-fire negotiations, the Allies often refused to cooperate unless they had something to gain. On one occasion, the Germans asked for a cease fire in order to recover the bodies of their dead. The Allies turned them down.

The Germans had a lot of problems with morale during the siege and men "went over" all the time. They were well-rid of these losers. The Allies wanted to keep the pressure on, especially once they controlled the skies, and only an occasional mini-sub arrived with letters and a few supplies - "butter torpedoes," the Germans called them. The Allies sometimes refused to allow the Germans to evacuate their seriously wounded, only their own. They wanted German morale to suffer.

The Germans prevailed until the end. They were not defeated. They were able not only to hold their own, but "kicked a lot of Allied butt? and took many prisoners. Once the Allies realized that it would take either a massive air attack (which would destroy the city and kill many civilians) or a costly ground assault (which would cost thousands of Allied casualties so close to the end which would have been politically bad), the high command decided to let the Germans rot. A few local commanders) like the Czech who thought he could pull off a big victory on their independence day) or the Canadian who gave an ultimatum -- "surrender or die" -- attemped attacks on the defenses but these all failed. The Germans had many guns and lots of ammo. The flooding limited Allied armor to only a few roads. They could have held out for months more. The had schools which their troops attended, and the city was almost self-sufficient. Even local farmers stayed in the area and brought their produce in even though they could have left. On family even "broke in." Explain that!

I got a lot of information from a French book which included articles about Dunkirk and the diary of Admiral Frisius, who was in charge. It has the German version and the French translation. I had hoped that my dad's name would be in there (Frisus often dined with his officers) but no luck!

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Postby Andreas on 24 Jun 2005 16:59

Gerst - watch your language a bit, this is a research forum. Expressions like 'losers' and 'kick butt' are not appropriate.

Readers maybe interested in this text from the Allied perspective

I would also point out that a cease-fire is not a right, therefore whether the Allied forces entered into one or not is up to them, and not entering into a cease-fire is not the same as breaking one. The same goes for attacking the minute a cease-fire ends, and the evacuation of seriously wounded personnel.

All the best

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Re: Dunkirk: Cease-fires

Postby Jon G. on 24 Jun 2005 17:06

Gerst wrote:Three cease-fires were negotiated, the 1st with the help of the Red Cross was initiated by tbe Germans (von Kluge) who used the retext of a German navy man's death at the hands of the "resistence" to force all males over 15 to get out." The announcement was made through the mayor of Rosendael but was extended to other towns. One source (German document) puts the number of evauees at 62,500. The date of this was
September 10, 1944. Sixty seriously wounded Germans were also evaciuated...


By September 10th 1944 von Kluge had been dead for 22 days.

Locally negotiated ceasefires to evacuate dead, wounded and/or civilians are not an uncommon phenomenon in war.
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von Kluge

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 17:10

You have the wrong von Kluge, my friend. This is his brother, the commander of the German 226th Infantry Division. He left Dunkirk by S-Boot and was re-assigned.

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Cease-Fires

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 17:17

A cease-fire, though not a right, is still subject to honor. When two sides come to a mutual agreement, they are honor-bound to live up to the terms. My father was quite clear about the matter of cease-fires. The problem with some of the participants in these cease fires is that they lacked personal honor. Leaving the bodies of one's adversaries to rot in the sun is not honorable, not matter which side you are on.

As for the figher-bombers strafing the Germans while they were still in the open, that is not honorable in my book and I doubt that many historians would disagree. The fact that it happened is not subject to debate, only to discussion

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Dunkirk

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 17:33

Andreas,

I am told that there was a program on French television recently about the Dunkirk siege. Do you know anything about this? I am very interested in this period. I would like to contact the TV station to see if I could buy a CD of the program. My father did not talk about this period very much, so I have to rely on other sources. A program like this would be very helpful because it would give the Allied perspective. I was born (Berlin) while dad was at Dunkirk, so my perspective is probably a bit one-sided, even though I have been in the US since 1956 and am a retired US Army officer.

From what I have read, the locals look at the period like a "forgotten front." While most of the rest of France was liberated, Dunkirk remained in German hands until the end and the area was devastated. It must have been quite a shock when the people returned.

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Postby JPK on 24 Jun 2005 17:37

Février 1945.
A well know photo of Dunkerque under Frisius rule.
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Photo

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 17:40

The deserter in this photo was tried by a military tribunal and sentenced to death. Admiral Frisus did not "rule" Dunkirk, he was only the German commander of the German forces there.

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Re: von Kluge

Postby Jon G. on 24 Jun 2005 18:02

Gerst wrote:You have the wrong von Kluge, my friend. This is his brother, the commander of the German 226th Infantry Division. He left Dunkirk by S-Boot and was re-assigned.

Gerst


OK but you should have specified that. There were numerous German strongholds and occupied towns under siege towards the end of the war. Breslau is probably the most well-known. IIRC Lorient also held out long after the rest of France had fallen.

Breaking a ceasefire is of course dishonourable, but then you should also consider if the ceasefire agreed upon was mutually beneficial. Ridding Dunkirk of civilians would clearly benefit the German defenders and give the local commander fewer food headaches, whereas the release of French civilians and Allied POWs would only benefit the Allied side very marginally.

I would not consider handing over badly wounded German soldiers to the Allies a gesture of any good spirits; rather it would have helped the Germans hold out for longer by transferring the burden of tending to the wounded away from the besieged city. That disqualifies the proposal as mutually beneficial.

In fact, if the well-being of his own troops and the trapped French civilians was the main concern of the German commander, outright surrender seems to me to have been the most honourable course of action by far in March 1945.
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Dunkirk

Postby Gerst on 24 Jun 2005 18:14

Yes, the Germans did have something to gain by getting rid of civilans - less mouths to feed, less "partisans" behind their backs, a free hand to defend the area. There was the other side too - intelligence about German defenses would be given to the Allies and once free of civilians, the Allies could blast the city without having to worry about French casualties.

In his diary, the Admiral states many times that the burden of command was heavy and wondered whther he was doing the right thing. He was ordered to defend the city and that is what he did. Also, how was he to know what was really going on? There were less than 1,000 Frenchmen in the city. The Germans were not starving. The defense was still holding. Mini-subs came in as late as a few days before the end with mail and supplies. Why should he have surrendered?

I can tell you this, my father and his fellow officers fared better at Dunkirk as soldiers than they did at the hands of the French as POWs! If the Germans had known what was in store for the, they'd still be holding out!

My father did not get home until I was almost four and I was born in December, 1944. He looked like a skeleton when I 1st met him. At least in Dunkirk they had fish and a few rabbits. At St. Martin-de-Re and Mulsanne, they ate grass!

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Postby Andreas on 24 Jun 2005 20:35

JPK wrote:Février 1945.
A well know photo of Dunkerque under Frisius rule.


JPK - can you please make sure to provide the source of pictures posted.

Merci beaucoup.

Shrek

Regarding whether Dunkirk should have been surrendered earlier - AIUI there were very stringent reprisal measures threatened against commanders who surrendered, including reprisals against their families. This alone makes it difficult to judge the morality of holding out until the surrender for these last remnants on the French coast. I would therefore like to know a bit more about Frisius before making a judgment. I personally would not like to be faced with these kind of choices.

Regarding the question of cease-fires, it appears from Gerst's post that at least one was broken. That is of course not on. The other instances (refusal to exchange/take on wounded, letting planes stand-by, firing a volley just before the cease-fire) are par for the course. Not exactly sportsmanlike, but then again, it was a war on, and the Germans were not in a position to complain too loudly about lack of sportsmanship on the part of their opponents, in my view.

All the best

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