'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

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'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 05 Oct 2014 23:56

David Thompson wrote:From a post by John McGillivray in the MLU (Maple Leaf Up) Forum back in 2005 at:

http://www.mapleleafup.org/forums/showt ... 428&page=3

citing to Howard Margolian’s book “Conduct Unbecoming” (pp. 90-94):

.....Halted at a road junction less than a mile northeast of the village of Fontenay-le-Pesnel, the prisoners were diverted in a westerly direction into a grassy area adjacent to a grainfield. After going another fifty yards or so, they were ordered to sit down, facing east. Ominously, the prisoners were bunched together in several rows, with the stretcher cases placed in the middle. While the Canadians sat and waited in anxious silence, the Germans deployed menacingly around them.

The prisoners' stay in the field must have seemed like an eternity. In fact, only three or four minutes had passed before the last half-track in the convoy peeled off the highway and headed for the spot where the prisoners were sitting. Dressed in khaki camouflage uniforms and armed with machine pistols, several SS troopers jumped out of the vehicle and approached the sergeant in charge. A brief conversation ensued, after which the NCO ordered all but two of his men over to the vehicle. There one of the new arrivals exchanged the escorts' rifles for machine pistols, while another man pulled clips from a haversack and passed them around. Armed to the teeth, the men from the half-track and the original escorts advanced together towards the prisoners. The impromptu execution squad was joined by the two remaining escorts, who had retained their rifles.

As the SS men closed in on them, even the most optimistic of the Canadians now realized what was about to happen. Any lingering hopes were dashed when Lieutenant Barker, who was in the front row and who would surely face the first salvo, calmly advised, 'Whoever is left after they fire the first round, go to the left [i.e., north].' At a distance of about thirty yards, the Germans stopped. One of them taunted his intended victims, saying in heavily accented English, 'Now you die.' At that moment, the executioners opened fire. Hit by the initial burst, the men in front were mowed down where they sat. Many were killed instantly. Others were only wounded and lay writhing in agony on the ground. In the middle rows, pandemonium erupted. As bullets thudded into flesh and soil around them, those who had not yet been hit scrambled in desperation. Shouts, curses, and heart-rending screams filled the night air.

Only those prisoners who had been sitting in the back row had any chance of survival. By advancing in a straight line and neglecting to cordon the area, the Germans had left an escape route open. Acting on instinct, several men made a break for it. Gunners Weldon Clark and Thomas Grant of the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment ran off together. Clark made his getaway into the adjacent grainfield, but Grant was cut down after having run only a few yards. Corporal McLean and Private Ferris of the Winnipegs also ran in tandem. McLean was hit, but both men reached the adjacent field, where they took cover amid the standing crops. Corporals George Brown and Robert Scott and Privates Gordon Lewis and John MacDougall, also of the Winnipegs, followed McLean's and Ferris's example, but all were struck down by the Germans' second salvo. Of these men, only Private MacDougall, who was wounded in the leg, was able to make good his getaway.

The most hair-raising escape of all was that contrived by Private Arthur Desjarlais of the Winnipegs' 15 Platoon. Sitting in the back row, Desjarlais actually froze when the Germans fired their first burst. Failure to hit the dirt when bullets are flying around is usually a prescription for disaster. Yet somehow the upright rifleman was not touched. Suddenly realizing the extent of his predicament, Desjarlais got onto his belly and slowly crawled towards the grainfield. Their attention diverted by the chaotic scene in front of them, the SS thugs never noticed him, and Desjarlais was able to slip away.

Of the forty prisoners who found themselves in the Germans' gun sights on the fateful night of 8 June, only five - Corporal McLean and Privates Ferris, MacDougall, and Desjarlais of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, along with Gunner Clark of the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment - lived to tell about it. ........ Hampered by false leads, Canadian war crimes investigators never were able to establish with certainty even the units involved, much less the individuals. ....... Indeed, the machine gunning of the thirty-five prisoners near the village of Fontenay-le-Pesnel on the night of 8 June ranks as the single worst battlefield atrocity perpetrated against Canadians in the country's military history. So dastardly was this crime that some have since labelled it the 'Canadian Malmedy,' after the strikingly similar and much more famous (or infamous) massacre of American troops during the Nazis' last-ditch Ardennes offensive.”
I was reading a shortened version of this account in 'Hitler's last General' page 164. The five survivors were named as above with the additional information that this atrocity was also witnessed by 'Lt D A James and Rifleman W.R.LeBarr'. The testimony of these two were included in TS26/856 pp164-185. This was the prosecution file collected with evidence against the 12th HJ for war crimes in Normandy. The are a number of discrepancies between their evidence and the account above. Firstly stating that Lt D A James was a witness was erroneous, he had only heard the story from one of the survivors (Mc Lean) while they were POWs together, he was not there himself at the time. He has details that don't match the story above but as he is only a hear-say witness, there is no point in looking into his evidence further IMO.

The other named man (LeBarr) was not part of this group but had already earlier escaped from capture, he was hiding nearby and gave a lengthy statement of what he saw. He maintained that there were only 17-20 Canadian POWs and not 40 and he made no mention of a truck arriving into the field. He also maintains that the shooting only started as Mc Lean and his comrade fled, but from the account above it would seem that the Canadians were expecting to be shot and its more probable that the shooting was not in response to the break away but was going to happen anyway.

There was no other statements about this shooting in the file - only a document stating that the bodies of these men had not been found by the time the report was made. I presume that the testimonies of some of the other 5 survivors were subsequently collected as there is so much additional information in the above account. Can someone cite the evidence/documents from 'Conduct unbecoming' for this atrocity. There may be information contained in that evidence that has since come to light which may help to pinpoint the perpetrators.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by rossmcpharter » 06 Oct 2014 09:22

Statement given by Hector Clement McLean 16 june 1945, NA, RG 24, vol. 12837, file 67/Atrocity Statements/1 (391/32). This is a note to pages 91-93 of Margolian's book.

According to Margolian, he differs from Botting and Sayer as he has found more new evidence. He also states in note 21 p228 that Lieutenant D.A. James and Private W.R. Lebar both of the RWR appear to have witnessed the massacre from a distance.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 06 Oct 2014 19:25

Tks RMP - Mc Lean was obviously only located after TS26/856 was put together in approx April 45. There is a sense with this file as I've mentioned before was a 'work in progress'. Did Margolian research who was culpable for this atrocity ? Certainly LeBarr was sure it was SS troops as he drew their insignia on his statement/interview. He maintained these flashes were on a vehicle they used, the soldiers were wearing camouflage uniforms. The feeling from these three authors is one of bewilderment that no-one was ever brought to justice as this was considered to be the Canadians 'Malmedy'.

Interesting that the account was solely from McLean it seems, as stated already Lt. James did not witness it, he was purely interviewed to corroborate LeBarr's statement and only from a hearsay point of view. The additional Information in McLeans account would be hard to verify by someone who was not actually present in the group and who was some distance away. LeBarr would not have perceived the heightened atmosphere and expectation that something was going down etc. but he was sure that there were a smaller number of men present, that they were all walking wounded and there was no mention of a lorry unloading soldiers or the process of arming up for an execution. He only saw the men make a break for it and the shooting starting simultaneously. It would be interesting to see Mc Lean's statement - if anyone has it, I'd be grateful to read it.

RMP can you post any other info that Margolian found with regards to the perpetrators etc. tks


* description of uniform edited/SS insignia on the vechicle and not the uniform noted by LeBarr (also spelt LeBar in second document) - CB
Last edited by seaburn on 06 Oct 2014 22:38, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by rossmcpharter » 06 Oct 2014 20:15

Margolian points the finger firmly at Mohnke due to further pieces of circumstantial evidence pointing to him and his 'modus operandi' 'being eerily similar to his interception of a column of British POW's at Wormhoudt almost exactly four years earlier.'

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 06 Oct 2014 20:26

Tks RMP but I'd have to say,there's too much of an authors 'leap of faith' and too little actual evidence in this allegation for my liking. - in Normandy there were more Officers than Mohnke viewed with heavy suspicion , ie Bremer and Milius. I'll look again at the locations and dates and see if that throws anything up. If anyone else has anything to add, please post.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by rossmcpharter » 06 Oct 2014 20:53

According to Margolian,as well as it being in the 26 panzergrenadier regiment's area, whose command post was located at Le Haut du Bosq at the time (8 june), the instigator of the crime could only be Siebken or Mohnke. We have the radio op backing Siebken up, saying Siebken was reprimanded for sending a large group of 100 or so pow's earlier by Mohnke.

McLean id 'd the officer as old and angry, Mohnke was an 'old' 33 years appearing to look 40 with his receding hairline etc. His own troops testified he looked old. (Although McLean did say the officer was about 5ft 8in)

If he was the instigator, why would Siebken march the pow's 3 miles further back towards Mohnke's command post? He would have killed them near his own command post.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 06 Oct 2014 20:57

Hmmm, The plot thickens. If Siebken/Mohnke were suspected, I wonder if this particular atrocity was mentioned at Siebken's trial? Tks for all the additions RMP.....food for thought indeed.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 07 Oct 2014 17:17

I've been looking at 'who was where' on the date in question and I was struck by the location that LeBar mentioned. This location as shown in the map was also were Bremer's Recon Btln were heavily suspected of carrying out executions on that date. Firstly the evidence of LeBar/Le Barr. This was his initial statement. He added detail to it in a second interview:

Statement of Cpl LeBar. Wesley R., - R. Winnipeg R. - (TS26/856-pp 186-189)

2. On the 7 June my platoon was holding a bridge along the railway approx. 3 miles west of Bretteville. It was somewhere between Loucelle and Broua......we remained there until 0100 hrs on the 8 June.....

He then recounts that they were engaged with German forces who wore camouflage but had SS insignia on their vehicles. They were captured and marched away but were treated ‘decently’ until he was searched and the clip of a Lugar pistol he had earlier discarded was found on him, this prompted the guard to prod him with him with a bayonet. Le Bar moved swiftly and was only injured in the arm.

8. By the time there were approx. 40 PW gathered around. They picked four of us out, possibly for interrogation and marched us about 400 yards in the direction Bretteville along the railroad track. We had to stop on account of our own shell fire and rested near a grain field in the corner of a hedge, under an apple tree.....two guards were with us.

9. We rested about 5 minutes when I saw some prisoners doubled out into the grain field about 300 to 400 yards away from me. With them there were four guards with rifles, two with Schmeizer’s and two others with an MG43.

10. One of the guards with a rifle was waving his hands as if he would be talking to the prisoners. I was unable to hear what he said. The whole group was standing in a corner of a hedge surrounding the field. After the guards stopped talking, two of the boys started to make a break for it, possibly because they all had been threatened they would be shot. The guards at once opened fire with the MG 43 on the prisoners. One of the other guards with the Schmeizer opened up on the man who tried to get away from the hedge. One was hit, he fell down but got up again and disappeared into the hedge.

12. My guards moved us away at once when this happened and I could not see what was done to the wounded prisoners....

13. The four of us and the guards moved to a little farmyard about 300 yards away towards Bretteville. The time was about 1530 – 1630 hrs. There we stopped for about 5 minutes and then we marched through a small woods onto the roadway where we joined another column of prisoners. Our guards left us there and our new guards were not SS troops but members of the Feld Gendarmerie......

He was taken with other prisoners to Rennes.

16. On 17 June I met Rfn Ferres of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coy. I was talking to him in one of the compounds. I told him that I saw the shooting and he said that he was one of those who escaped, together with Cpl McLean who was from the same Coy as Ferres. McLean was wounded three times by Schmeizer bullets. Both were recaptured three days later after they had escaped. He too told me that Rfn Richman, a mortarman of my own platoon, was one of those who had been killed in the shooting. ..

(He escaped from a train heading to Germany in July, joined the Maquis and won the ‘Medal Militaire’ with them. He made contact with US troops in Tours and returned to the UK in September 44.)

The map below shows the approximate location of the killing from his statement - note he mentions the railway line. This location does not match the description given by McLean's account. That was given as 1 mile North East of Fontenay-le-Pesnel,but from LeBarr's statement, it would be more that 3 miles north East. I'm not sure yet if this changes the evidence that supports the location as near Mohnke's HQ as I can't find where 'Le Haut du Bosq' is.
8JUNE.jpg
The interesting location per LeBarr puts them right in the middle of Bremer's Recon Btln's known position on the 8th. In fact from the following paragraph its clear that the Recon were initially at least suspected of carrying out this atrocity and it specifically mentions that the Recon Btln overran the Winnipeg R. position. This was LeBarr's outfit and apparently from his evidence, his moterman was among the dead.

On the 8 June the Reconnaissance Btln which had been attached to the Panzer Lehr Division on the left established a Battle Headquarters at Chateau d’Audrieu, near Pavie. On that day near Putot-en-Bassin, they overran companies of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles and captured prisoners. It has been established that 19 of these prisoners were taken to the Battle Headquarters at the Chateau in three separate parties, and there, on the order apparently of an Officer, murdered in cold blood by an Officer. It is believed on another occasion that day, 7 more suffered the same fate. While an eyewitness and two escaped prisoners are reported to have seen 18-20 of their fellow prisoners likewise killed in one group....(TS26/856 page 5)

I also note that Le Barr states the men were standing and not sitting when the shooting started,although I think the differences between him and McLean's account are probably normal human errors in such a terrifying situation. It has been noted in the excerpt above from 'Conduct Unbecoming' that the confusion as to who carried out this shooting was a reason why it was never perused. Can I ask you 'RMP' if Bremer was ruled out as the culprit by Margolian?
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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 17 Oct 2014 14:56

I have received file ref: WO309/1172 which appears to be the main investigation file into this incident which has been called the 'Canadian Malmedy'. I can conclusively state that Rifleman LeBarr did not witness this atrocity. His location was nowhere near it. He puts himself near the railway line between Putot en Bessin and Bretteville - Although this is where the men who were executed were picked up - It is nowhere near the shooting location which was south of Le Mesnil Patry. LeBarr met some of the men who escaped the shooting later at a hospital and got details of their account, he told them that he had witnessed it. Whether he fabricated the scene he describes above or he saw another execution squad at work is unknown, but his testimony was no included in this file which has documents going up to 1948 in it. This rules him and Lt James out as 'eye witnesses' to this shooting.

There are three eyewitness accounts in WO309/1172 - those of McLean, Ferris and Clarke, these three men escaped death that day. All three testimonies tally on the core story but there are some dependencies between each of the accounts. The important details are that they were captured near Putot en Bessin on the 8th of June in the early afternoon, they were marched into the village to a farmhouse where they stayed a short time and then they were marched over the fields to a bigger HQ and kept there for another few hours, this location has been identified as Siebken's HQ.

They had stretcher cases with them, so they moved slowly. Once south of Mesnil le Patry they encountered an Officer in a car along the road who berated the guards, subsequently some of them were under the impression that they were to be shot as one of the party had understood what the Officer had said. They were brought to a field and the guards were joined by more soldiers and then the shooting started.

There are two lingering questions on this case that still have to be answered. Who was the 'Angry Officer' who gave the order and why was this 'Canadian Malmedy' never prosecuted? I will compile the three descriptions of the 'Angry Officer' and post them as these details may be significant to forum members familiar with this time period in respect of vehicles, uniform etc. I will also examine the file for clues as to why this case was never pursued.

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'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by phillip burke » 22 Oct 2014 17:12

hello all, seaburn what can i say but your a gem, keep up the brilliant work,i ve been pondering who this officer was and a few years ago i came to a conclusion. in Conduct Unbecoming and a few other witness statements a similar description is given at the Abbaye d Ardenne of the officer with the long coat and knights cross, also, and i cant remember where, something about good english. many people think this is Meyer or Mohnke but photos at the time show them dressed otherwise. looking at the colour photos taken at the abbey i noticed someone who fit the description, Hubert Meyer, the photos show in long leather coat, knights cross, and i believe he spoke good english. many people suspected that Kurt Meyer was covering for someone. Maybe this was who he covered. i do believe Mohnke should be looked at as he was a heroin addict and to be sure that makes people totally behave irrationally , also he lost his foot to allied aircraft early in the war so might have had grudge. But he did serve nearly the equivilant of a life sentence in prison in russia after the war and this is the reason i believe he was not prosecuted by the west german courts and shielded to a certain degree from british and canadian investigations, well thats all and hope some of this helps.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 22 Oct 2014 18:02

Hi 'PB' thank you for the positive feedback - I'm compiling the list of 'clues' but I only have the testimony of three of the escapees. The other two's interviews must be in another file. But there is a handwritten comparison regarding the major points of all 5 in the file I have which I can just about read....It was strange seeing this listing when I was in the middle of doing exactly the same - some methods never change it seems ! The main problem is that these men's recollections cannot be relied on I fear, when they met the 'Angry officer' they were tired, dehydrated, some were injured or looking after injured colleagues, some were at the back of a column of 35 men, one was at the front,plus they were only asked these questions one year on. When you add to this mix the trauma of being shot at, escaping and even more terrifying, being captured again, its quite natural that they give different descriptions. There was a description of an Officer with a 'lanyard' from the HQ that was pinpointed as being Siebken's - this I presume was an adjutant, but this particular adjutant did not feature in any allegation.

The officer was wearing a coat, so we can't tell what was underneath, the one thing that all the men were sure of was that the guards jumped to attention when he turned up. But as the guards were considered to be of lowly rank, they would jump to attention for numerous levels of higher command presumably. I did have a conversation with someone else who thought KM might have been the culprit, but from what I remember of his testimony, I think he was tied up with his own Regiment for much of that day, but It would be worth looking through his movements again as he was prone to checking things out on the front on other occasions .

The other suspect could possibly be Siegfried Mueller whose Pioneer Btln was just to the right of Le Mesil Patry, he was implicated in crimes against the Canadians at this time too - Bremer was to the left - But chances are that Mohnke was patrolling 'his' sector that evening. I don't think KM would have given anyone's name up - for him there were no war crimes committed, only when the evidence presented was irrefutable did he concede with reluctance. I haven't seen any allegation against Hubert Meyer, but if anyone else on the forum has a similar suspicion , please post. None of the witnesses say this angry officer spoke English or that he had the RK, there was another incident were a Panzer Officer was described as such I think, and the suspicion was that it was von Ribbentrop, but as he was photographed with his arm in a sling at Rots and this officer did not have an injury, von Ribbentrop was ruled out . I know that Karl Heinz Prinz was suspected but as he was KIA, it was never pursued. There were so many incidents in those first days, its easy to get confused with the different details. But all should become cleared on this case when the list is up, I'd be interested to see what you come up with when you see that. :)

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 22 Oct 2014 18:10

This picture was posted by 'Eindhoven' on another thread - its interesting to see K Meyer in this coat as the perception may be that he was mainly in Camo in Normandy. Its certainly food for thought ...
Angriff verwundete Wünsche sprach mit Meyer and Krause 12th-SS-HJ.jpg
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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by Harro » 22 Oct 2014 18:46

Seems to me he's simply wearing a leather overcoat over his camo uniform.

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by seaburn » 22 Oct 2014 19:33

Agreed, my point being that even though he was photographed many times in Normandy in Camo, to assume he only wore camo would be misleading. There is no accusation being made at this time that he was the 'angry officer' or that this is 'the coat', the description given by the witnesses was that it was 'a grey coat'. . But thank you for clarifying, its most insightful...

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Re: Atrocities of 12. SS-Panzer-Division "Hitlerjugend"

Post by dshaday » 23 Oct 2014 01:42

Hi Seaburn

The overcoat in the photo being worn by Wunch looks like a motorcyclist coat. Meyer may be wearing the same - hard to tell.
The coat is a standard issue item for all ranks, Army and SS. Especially for wet weather, cold days or long drives on an exposed motorcycle..

The coat is made from a waterproof, rubberised fabric. The collar on the early ones are dark green wool covered (which is what Wunch seems to be wearing). Later ones have a grey-green wool collar (field grey) which is what Meyer may be wearing.

This link is from a re-enactor supplier, who has copies of the coat (they just happen to be handy on the net). There are multiple view examples of the coat (note the button cuffs).

http://www.spearheadmilitaria.com/ww2-g ... -6949.html

All the best

Dennis

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