Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

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Marcus
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Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by Marcus » 29 Jul 2009 20:30

I've seen a murder of a large number of civilians at the village of Kastelli on Crete by 95. Gebirgs-Pionier-Bataillon mentioned in passing a few times but never any details. Does anyone have any details or sources on this?

Thanks.

/Marcus

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by David Thompson » 30 Jul 2009 01:21

Marcus -- I have not been able to find any details so far, but it may have been an "atonement" action:

http://books.google.com/books?id=d2pcDD ... &resnum=29

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by michael mills » 30 Jul 2009 02:55

Some interesting details from the linked book, which appears a bit of a pot-boiler.

It seems there was a battle at Kastelli between a unit of 72 German paratroopers and men of the "ill-trained" First Greek Regiment, at the end of which the 17 German survivors of the battle had to be protected by a New Zealand officer from the "wrath" of the Greek soldiers.

What exactly that "wrath" was is not made clear, but the fact that the German survivors needed protection suggests that the Greek soldiers were engaging in illegal acts, such as shooting prisoners.

The book also states that "thousands" of Cretan civilians engaged in the fighting against the invading German forces, and that it was a "slaughter".

Presumably the civilians who attacked members of the German forces were acting contrary to the laws of war in force at the time, and could be legally punished with measures permitted under the laws of that time.

If civilians were executed at Kastelli, it may be that they were "illegal combatants" who had committed criminal acts against German personnel, and were being legally punished. if that was the case, then that might explain why this "atrocity" has not been made much of.

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by Peter H » 30 Jul 2009 03:23

Kastelli was a vital port link and according to this account( http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Cret-c7-2.html ):

(1)the initial FJ force in the area was very roughly handled with the killing and mutilating of prisoners.Only the intervention of a New Zealand officer,Captain Bedding,stopped the killing of a further 25 FJs captured(including 13 wounded).

(2)95. Gebirgs-Pionier-Bataillon was detached to take this objective--"Fighting continued just beyond the town, according to German sources, for at least two more days, denying the enemy the use of the jetty, and fierce and fiercely resented guerrilla warfare was maintained in the neighbourhood until even later. The Germans concentrated on getting the port clear for shipping but it was not until 27 May that they were able to land some light tanks. The importance of this delay for the defence of Crete is obvious".

More on Bedding here:

http://www.geocities.com/greekmedals/WarCross.htm
Captain Thomas Geoffery BEDDING
19 Battalion, attached as liaison officer to 1 Greek Regiment Crete May 1941. Taken prisoner of war in Crete 24 May 1941. Listed in London Gazette 7 April 1942. Later Major Bedding ED Mid, stood trial before a German Army war crimes tribunal charged as being in command of Greeks who had mutilated German wounded at Kastelli in western Crete. He was saved from execution by the report of German soldiers who identified Bedding as the officer who had saved them from being lynched by local Cretans.

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by michael mills » 30 Jul 2009 03:46

Seems my initial surmise was correct.

The title of this thread, "Atrocity at Kastelli", accords with historical fact. But it was an atrocity committed against German personnel, not by them.

It also appears that there was a judicial investigation by the German authorities for war crimes committed against their men by Greek soldiers (maybe also civilians), and a proper court martial, at which the new Zeland officer was acquitted on the basis of evidence in his favour by German personnel.

So it appears that if there were any executions of Greeks, whether soldiers or civilians, at Kastelli, it would have been as a result of that court martial.

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by David Thompson » 30 Jul 2009 04:33

Michael -- You wrote:
Presumably the civilians who attacked members of the German forces were acting contrary to the laws of war in force at the time, and could be legally punished with measures permitted under the laws of that time.
That's interesting, but since we don't have any details of the subsequent German actions, we don't know if the civilians who were punished were guilty of anything. Without further information, there's not much point in jumping to conclusions just yet.

You also wrote:
So it appears that if there were any executions of Greeks, whether soldiers or civilians, at Kastelli, it would have been as a result of that court martial.
So far, we don't know whether the claimed reprisal happened before or after the tribunal convened, nor is there any proof that the court-martial of Capt. Bedding ordered any reprisals at all.

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by Peter H » 30 Jul 2009 05:02

Brian Taaffe mentions in his book The Gatekeepers of Galatas that Bedding was given a summarily court martial in the field but no mention of this courtesy being extended to any Cretans.I think roughly 100 Cretans were shot,killed at Kastelli.

Also Major Reinhardt,Student's Intelligence officer,in a pre invasion summary:
The Cretans are considered intelligent,hot-blooded,valorous,excitable as well as obstinate and difficult to govern.The agricultural population is accustomed to using arms,even in everyday life.Vendetta and abduction is still customary and criminality is high.In case of invasion account must be taken of obstinate resistance by the civilian population.

Those killed in the Kondomari Massacre neither had court martials: http://www.fallschirmjager.net/Bundesar ... omari.html

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bf109 emil
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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by bf109 emil » 30 Jul 2009 16:34

Peter H wrote'
Also Major Reinhardt,Student's Intelligence officer,in a pre invasion summary:

The Cretans are considered intelligent,hot-blooded,valorous,excitable as well as obstinate and difficult to govern.The agricultural population is accustomed to using arms,even in everyday life.Vendetta and abduction is still customary and criminality is high.In case of invasion account must be taken of obstinate resistance by the civilian population.
Peter unsure of where you got your quote from as Beever writes almost the opposite as Reinhardt intelligent officer, although this memo you quoted came out on March 31, Beever states that Reinhardt failed to see it.

"Most astonishing of all, Reinhardt's summary predicted an enthusiastic welcome from the civilian population, even that a pro-German fifth column would emerge uttering the password "Major Bock" He and his staff had either dismissed out of hand or failed to read the general briefing document completed on the 31 of March for the invasion of Greece. There are relevant passages "The Creatans are considered intelligent, hot-blooded, valorous, excitable as well...

It seems Students troops which might have had the impression they would be welcomed, and when fought viciously or challenged as Reinhardt's failing to prepare them, only increased the level of atrocities scene in the eyes of Students men.
Those killed in the Kondomari Massacre neither had court martials: http://www.fallschirmjager.net/Bundesar ... omari.html.
Peter I think if you read this link it refers to Reinhardt lack of preparation to Students troops as to the civilian population attitude and how the fighting by civilians had never before been encountered like this before.
Although Student was convicted of this, his decision was overturned, although it never says as to the ruling for overturning the decision. As for the pics of Weixler which might have helped the British ruling of Students guilt, his testimony as Nuremberg might have help remove the onus of guilt from Student to Göring whom he testified ordered the reprisals in which he not only testified but also kept the original order showing Students actions where the result of an order by Göring
One of the reasons for my indictment was the fact that
I had told friends the truth about the parachute enterprise in Crete in May 1941 •
and also th&t I had taken pictures there. 1 am attaching an "order" of the German
Army, which I apprOpriR.tA" and kept. isRUed by the divisional staff of the Parachute
Division, commanded by General STUDENT.
which states
and an crder had been received from Göring according to which 'the sharpest
measures, i.e. the shooting of the male popUlation between 18 and 50 years of age,
was to take place
source Information supplied by Franz Peter WEIXLER:TRANSLAT ros BYRerIna Plummer: at Krailling. near Munich
11 November 1945

albeit David might want to split this into a new topic as the ordered killing of civilains at Kondomari Massacre is or maybe isolated from the Atrocity of Kastelli

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jul 2009 17:23

From MacDonald...
"While Ringel was preparing for the final push around Prison Valley, a group of mountair pioneers under Major Schaette, along with a motorcycle unit and some parcghute troops, was securing the reat of the German position, west and south of maleme. The aim was to open the port of kastelli and prevent any further suprisem attack by british troops landing at the village of Paleochora and advancing northwards across the mountains. As they rpobed towards Kastelli, Schaette's men found the bloated corpses of Murbe's, detachment, left lying among the olive groves and vine-orchards where they had fallen on 20th may. This discovery enraged the troops, who were already feeling bitter towards the population as a result of repeated sniping by armed civilians, including women and children. According to a report by 5th Mountain Division, the bodies showed all the signs of mutilation and torture. They had been stabbed repeatedly and many had their eyes gouged out or their testicles cut off. In response to reports from Schaette's batle group, Ringel ordered brutal reprisals against partisans. In a rpoclamation dated 23rd May, which was scattered by German aircraft, he announced that the Cretan population had been taking part in the fighting, firing at German troops and murdering, mutilating and robbing the wounded. From now on any civilian caught with a weapon would be shot immediately. Hostages would be taken in every district, chosen from males aged between eighteen and fifty-five. The population was warned that, for every hostile act against the German army, ten of these hostages woul be shot and the neighbouring villages burnt to the ground".
I don't see anything there in Ringel's proclamation of intent that breaches the HRLW...quite the reverse, it keeps VERY closely to it - given if you remember that Student had already said PRIOR to the invasion that it wouldn't apply! 8O

Unfortunately - the Cretans didn't listen...
"The first to suffer under this harsh policy of reprisal (in numbers terms, not overly harsh; this has been discussed before, and see The Hostages Trial - my note), which prefigured the barbarous methods employed by the nazis in occupied Russia, were the defenders of Kastelli. On the morning of 24th May Stukas launched a concentrated attack on the town, designed to demoralize the defenders, before Schaette's men, supported by anti-tank guns, advanced through the rubble-strewn streets. The Greek garrison, assisted by armed civilians, fought a desperate delaying action, launching a series of bayonet charges in which they suffered over 200 casualties, and it was midday before the first German troops reached the main square."
So the conditional had been set by the proclamation - and been ignored by the locals. But...
"Meanwhile another battle had been going on in the centre of Kastelli. A bomb had hit the jail that morning, blowing out a wall and killing some of the guards. In the confusion, the German prisoners escaped and broke into the nearby headquarters building, seizing the senior NZ officer, major Bedding, and one of his officers. A Greek counter-attack, organized by two other NZ advisers, Lieutenants Campbell and Yorke, was pinned down by a captured bren gun and campbell was killed. Bedding was trying to persuade his former captives to surrender when the mountain troops broke through and raised the seige. The Germans were in an ugly mood. Schaette selected 200 male hostages from among his prisoners and had them shot in groups of ten as a reprisal for the alleged massacre of Murbe's detachment and as a lesson to others. One of the victims was 14. This action was taken despite protests by Bedding and the surviving paratroops, who insisted they had been properly treated as POWs. Although he now held most of Kastelli, it took Schaette three more days of heavy fighting to capture the harbour and open it for the landing of tanks, which finally arrived too late to influence the outcome of the battle for the island."
So there were a series of step-by step actions that led to the event. And as far as I can see, there were no breaches of the Hague Conventions except by the defenders. Schaette may have carried out the reprisal policy "with prejudice" - but it was an established and permitted action. Interestingly - shooting in groups of ten as reprisals for each of Murbe's men lost...he wasn't stepping beyond Ringel's proclamation 8O

However - we SHOULD also look at the FIRST actions at Kastelli to set the context...
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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jul 2009 17:41

"Murbe's detachment shared the fate of the 3rd Battalion. As the parachutes blossomed in the sky outside kastelli, the 1st Greek Regiment went into action. It was assisted by villagers who flocked to the area, carrying whatever weapons they could find. Styliano Kounodouros, a local doctor, recalled that, when the attack began, his father rushed into the garden and dug up an ancient Turkish rifle, hidden during the Metaxas arms requistion. (the Metaxas Government in Athens ordered the island disarmed after a revolt in 1938. A later major gripe against the Royalists, that they had thus left the island "defenceless" - my note) After an argument, he was persuaded to hand it over to his son, who set off towards the sound of firing with his medical kit in one hand and the gun in the other. Many of the Germans were knifed or clubbed to death in a series of running battles among the olive groves in which no quarter was given by either side."
It's not SPECIFICALLY clear from that if it was the 1st Greek Regiment that fought in the olive groves - or the locals as well. But certainly MacDonald's comments would lead me to think both, and given comments in Beevor and later in MacDonald about various Cretan capitans leading groups of guerillas EAST from there armed with captured weapons in attempts to join the main fighting - it would indeed look as if it was the civilians...

Immediately after this, a second action developed...
"The Greeks quickly gained the upper hand, arming themselves with captured weapons. The surviving Germans barricaded themselves in a farmhouse, hoping to hold out behind the thick stone walls until help arrived. Major Bedding, the senior NZ adviser to the 1st Greeks, recommended a seige, arguing that hunger and thirst would eventually force the enemy to surrender. It was impossible, however, to hold the Cretans in check. Despite heavy machine-gun fire they broke from cover and rushed the building, overwhelming the defenders by sheer force of numbers The killing threatened to become indiscriminate. By the time Bedding brough the situation under control, only seventeen of Murbe's reinforced parachute company remained alive. Their wounds were treated and they were taken in the school bus to the police station at kastelli, where they were locked up for their own safety."
***Now - there's something to note from that. Only 17 of Murbe's "reinforced company" survived; which means if Schaette later killed 200 men at a rate of ten per casualty of Murbe's - he actually killed less than Ringel's proclamation against franc-tireurs would have "allowed" him! 8O ***

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jul 2009 17:55

As for the weapons taken from Murbe's detachment...
"The 10th Company of Stenzler's 2nd battalion, which was sent towards Kolimbari (sent west - my note) to contact Murbe's group and provide rear cover for the landings at Maleme, ran into strong resistance from local villagers and Greek officer cadets. It took them a day to cover five miles. The 16th Company of the 4th battalion, ordered to guard the road over the mountains from Paleochora, was also haraassed by armed civilians. Under constant attack, it finally dug in around some bends, eight miles from Tavronitis. In the hills beyond, the villagers from Florida, kandanos, and Paleochora, led by a local priest, father Sytlianos Frantzenskakis, prepared to resist any further advance. it was the first time in the war that the Germans had encountered civilian resistance on this scale and they were badly shaken."
Just as a note - IIRC, the "1st Greek Regiment" was the first local unit raised by the BRITISH, after some considerable argument with the King of Greece. At the start of the Italian invasion of Greece the 5th "Cretan" Division had been transferred to the mainland, leaving no major Greek military unit on the island, and the main reason why the Commonwealth had taken charge of the island's defences in November 1940...however, their training had NOT progressed very far at all, nor their equiping. I don't think they had been issued with automatic weapons yet.

BUT - one of the features of the Metaxas government's policy towards Seperatism had been the winnowing out of veteran Cretan "Venezelist" officers from the Greek Army, and sending them home to Crete. Which meant there were a LOT of respected Cretan ax-army offciers embedded in the Cretan civilian population by the time of the invasion...and it was these along with local notables who were the first organizing "capitans" of the civilian reistance beginning on the 20th of May. Given the automatic weapons looted from the German dead - and the weapons hidden from government forces before the war - the civilians probably rapidly became better-armed than Beddings' "1st Greek Regiment"

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by Peter H » 30 Jul 2009 22:49

A search of unlawful belligerants here brings up numerous discussions.

David sums up the position here: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=143733
It's always been my understanding that in WWII, while reprisals against captured soldiers was absolutely forbidden by the 1929 Geneva Convention on POWs, reprisals directed against the civilian population for the acts of unlawful belligerents were permissible, if done correctly (proportional to the injury, with the hostages taken being from the same locality of the original crime, and a public announcement by the regional commander-in-chief). That didn't change until the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilian populations during wartime.

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jul 2009 23:14

See also The Hostages Trial - that established in law that it WAS indeed permissible to take and shoot hostages....just NOT out of proportion! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostages_trial the trial DID however have ONE vital conclusions in respect of the Hague Conventions...
"We are obliged to hold that such guerrillas were francs tireurs who, upon capture, could be subjected to the death penalty. Consequently, no criminal responsibility attaches to the defendant List because of the execution of captured partisans..."
And remember - this was reached at a war crimes trial in 1947 referring to events during the war - so was a judgement retrospectively on the workings of the Hague Conventions during the war on francs-tireurs. Their position was totally obscure in the Hague Conventions - in that they weren't mentioned. So they had absolutely NO protection at all, nor any status as POWs if captured - and major combatants regarded they were FREE to shoot them....and as we know some of course DID. There was an ATTEMPT to give people not mentioned in the Conventions at least SOME protection, via the "Maartens Clause" -
Until a more complete code of the laws of war has been issued, the High Contracting Parties deem it expedient to declare that, in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, the inhabitants and the belligerents remain under the protection and the rule of the principles of the law of nations, as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples, from the laws of humanity, and the dictates of the public conscience.
....giving citizens SOME protection - at least in legal areas where there is NOTHING in the HRLW by saying at least local or accepted international laws will apply to them. But this didn't work well for franc-tireurs - for of course captured franc-tireurs could simply get a rapid drumhead court martial and STILL be shot under the conqueror's/defenders' legitimate military law codes...which of course fitted FULLY with the "the principles of the law of nations, as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples" part of Maartens! 8O

And of course the NEXT problem was there was not acepted international interpretation of the Clause! :lol:
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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by phylo_roadking » 30 Jul 2009 23:19

As a P.S. -
if done correctly (proportional to the injury, with the hostages taken being from the same locality of the original crime, and a public announcement by the regional commander-in-chief)
As we've seen - EXACTLY these steps were carried out in Crete! Ringel made and broadcast - literally cast! - his proclamation, the "hostages" were taken from the same locality....and shot "in the proportion" stated by Ringel. Perhaps actually fewer than the full casualties to Murbe's unit allowed Schaette to do...

We may regard it as an atrocity...but we can't regard it as a "war crime".

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Re: Atrocity at Kastelli 1941

Post by bf109 emil » 30 Jul 2009 23:23

Phylo and Peter for this excellent summary as to how this atrocity might have been scene as one but by legal issues it was deemed to be none criminal or not a war crime

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