'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 22 Nov 2014 17:21

Thank you 'Patrick Charron' and 'Jochen S' for your posts and your positive comments on the information so far posted. It's great to see additional posters and new insights, I hope this prompts others to follow suit with any points they may wish to add.

'P.C' its good to see your assertion that George Bernage is a credible source as I lacked that information. I also agree with you that the shoulder boards are a vital clue in this case, I was hoping someone else would agree with me on that. The POWs were not specifically asked about decorations that the 'Angry Officer' wore and an 'RK' may have been covered by a scarf etc , but I do think that 'RK's' were usually very prominently displayed and if one was worn by this 'Angry Officer, it should have been mentioned in the testimony. That said, I do believe that what WAS mentioned by the POWs is better evidence than what they may have missed.

'Jochen S', thank you for the insight into Mohnke's character, I had wondered what the men under his command had thought of him, I had the perception that he was not very well liked by many comrades, but I don't know how true this was. I had read somewhere that KM had personally persuaded Mohnke to join the 12th HJ as he had been reluctant to do so. I can't remember if this information was cited or just gossip. Does anyone have a source for that assertion ?

I too hope that we all can continue to join out heads together positively and cordially to find the answer to this case.

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 25 Nov 2014 23:03

The following was included in a document entitled 'Fontenay Le Pesnil'. This document concerned another avenue that needed to be investigated, this being the intel received from a German POW in relation to the killings at the Chateau D'Audrieu. During his interrogation he discussed how a comrade had related in July 44 that he had taken part in the killing of 45 prisoners of war. As this story did not match any that was known to have taken place at the Chateau D'Audrieu, the investigation team felt that it may be relevant to the Fontenay case. Therefore they sought to find this POW. There was an admittance at the start of the document that no culprit for the actual shooting had yet been uncovered or apprehended, therefore finding this man was vital. He was subsequently found and I will post his testimony presently, unfortunately it does not uncover the identity of the unknown Officer but I will post the details for those that have an overall interest in this case.

In the meantime this document also made the following observation which is of interest to the 'Angry Officer'. This document was dated - 16th of August 1948 (three years after the case was first investigated) - it was signed by R.A. Nightingale, Lieut -Colonel, Officer in Charge, Field Investigation Section.
WO_309_317_0022-crop2.JPG
What is interesting here is that Mohnke was thought to have been the Officer in question not only on the basis of Seibken and Schnabel's testimony but also 'from the description of eye witnesses' - this conclusion was not observed in any other documents I have seen in relation to this case. It leaves me wondering which came first, was in only in retrospect when Mohnke's anger at the sending of POWs to the rear was known from Seibken and Schnabel did the pieces fall into place or was it suspected from the initial descriptions the escaped POW's gave that he was the 'Angry Officer' ?
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by rossmcpharter » 26 Nov 2014 08:59

I would presume it was in retrospect, due to 'Although there is no confirmation of this it appears not unlikely' etc.

I'm thinking it also took Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting in the late 80's to draw the connection between this and Wormhoudt.

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by DargesFlyKiller » 26 Nov 2014 18:38

Great and informative topic as always Seaburn :wink: , Some interesting info regarding the character of Mohnke on here. Although not pertinent to the thread but to the character of Mohnke Ralf Tiemann in his book 'Chronicle of the 7. Panzer Kompanie', Had this to say about Mohnke on page 15: "Sturmbannführer Mohnke had been sent to the psychiatric ward of the military hospital of Würzburg as a result of his wounds, Which had caused him to lose control of himself." And also " Sturmbannführer Mohnke was, as so many times in the past, Driven to Berlin, to "Raise hell" , as he put it." His anger seems to be prevalent in many discussion's of the man, And Tiemann had no axe to grind against him and wanted him to stay in command rather than Schönberger.

As for men who disliked Mohnke Westemeier has this to say in his book on Peiper page 107: " The morphine addicted Mohnke, Personally disliked by Peiper" and gives his reference for this as a letter from Albert Frey dated 02/18/1994. Was he really disliked amongst the Leibstandarte?

Maybe Mohnke's worth a topic of his own.

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by rossmcpharter » 26 Nov 2014 20:38

I agree that Mohnke's worth a topic of his own.

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 26 Nov 2014 21:26

Tks for that insight 'DFK', It doesn't point to this being definitively Mohnke of course but it doesn't rule him out either. The POW's had encountered many Officers back at Siebken's HQ earlier that evening, but none had made an impression on them like this one did. The anger in his case was directed at the guard who had approached him, with Mc Lean stating that he thought he was going to physically strike the offending man. It's understandable why a circumstantial motive was constructed by the investigation team to name Mohnke as the suspect when they learnt of his anger that POW's were still being sent back despite his earlier objection to Siebken on this very issue.

I'm intrigued enough with the talk of Wormhoudt and the Ardennes which has come up on the thread and behind the scenes to see what Mohnke was doing at those times and seeing what evidence was uncovered by Sayer and Botting. Perhaps someone else will take up that challenge ! :wink:

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 01 Dec 2014 19:42

The following testimonies seem to be the nearest the investigation team got to finding someone who was in the escort party. A member of the Recon Btln of the 12th HJ (Paul Schaffranietz) on being questioned about the crimes committed in his unit gave the following account. This attracted the interest of the Fontenay investigators and efforts were made to locate Karl Isenberg. (WO309/17-p25)
WO_309_317_0025-crop1.JPG

It was not until the following year that Isenberg was located and the following testimony was extracted. He denied having anything to do with the shooting of the POWs but his account does tally with many of the known details. (WO309/17-p26/27)
WO_309_317_0026-isen1.JPG
WO_309_317_0026-Isen2.JPG
WO_309_317_0028-Isen3.JPG
WO_309_317_0029-isen4.JPG
The map reference from point four is the exact spot of the executions. Its not clear if the 'Officer' he records seeing was our suspect as both Mc Lean and Clark stated that they went for a further quarter of a mile from where they met him to the field, therefore the shooting would not have started at that point. This sighting of an Officer could be from when the shooting party arrived at the field as per Margolian's account in post one. (more to follow including Rautschka's testimony)
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by Ste » 03 Dec 2014 18:30

The senior private Hill is probably Sturmmann Andreas Hill.
He was member of 5./SS-PAA-12 and died on 30.6.1944.

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 05 Dec 2014 16:11

This is the testimony of Rautschka who was named by Isenberg as being in his company on the night in question:
WO_309_1172_0193-Rautschke1.JPG
WO_309_1172_0194-Rautschke2.JPG
This differs from Isenberg's testimony in two areas, firstly Rautschka claims to have met Olboetter the morning after the shooting, Isenberg claimed he had met him alone before the shooting - this is understandable as some years has passed since the incident and undoubtedly neither of these witnesses were aware at the how significant their recollections would be. The second difference is more intereting, Rautschka states that they met the Officer standing in the half track and then they crawled away and only heard the shooting later when in the hut by the side of the road. Isenberg had said that the shooting had started when the POWs were still with the Officer. This does not tally with McLeans testimony when he stated:
WO_309_1172_0020-McLean.JPG
Nor Clarks:
WO_309_1172_0061-clark.JPG
In summation: Isenberg told a comrade from Bremer's recon btln that he and three others had escorted 45 prisoners to the rear, but on route he had stopped a motor cycle and obtained a machine gun and had killed the POWs. On being questioned, Isenberg denied he had done this but stated he had made his way from Crisot to Le Mesnil Patry on the evening in question. From his testimony it would seem that he arrived at Seibken's HQ where he saw prisoners and was told he would receive orders. Later he heard an Officer order that the prisoner's be escorted to the rear. Isenberg then states that he left. Subsequently he meets up with some other comrades and on the way back to their own unit they encounter an Officer and some prisoners on the track. He believes that he heard shots and they all crawled away towards the Caen-Fontenay road where they stayed in a hut overnight.

Rautschka claims to have met Isenberg - most likely after he had left Seibken's HQ and that he also encountered an Officer and prisoners on the road. However, he claims to have heard the shots after they had arrived in the roadside hut. Neither of these men claim to have identified the Officer with the prisoners.

Its unknown what questions were put to Isenberg about this night. Personally I would have wanted to know what orders he expected to receive at Seibken's HQ - was he supposed to be part of the escort for the POWs? Why did he just leave when he heard the POW's were to be escorted to the rear? Also did he believe that the prisoners he encountered later were the same ones who had left the HQ under escort? I suspect there is truth in what Rautschka alluded to when he said that he was afraid of being accused of desertion. The fighting that day had been intense, their loitering about and not getting back to their unit would not have been viewed lightly had they been discovered. If they did indeed encounter the POWs and the Officer on the track, I do think they would not have waited about but would have veered off in another direction. It does seem that Rautschka's account does back up Isenberg's assertion that he was not part of the escort detail, their testimonies were given at different times with no indication they would have had opportunity to collude with a lie. Isenberg's initial boast about killing POWs were possibly a show of bravado in front of comrades, one that he must have lived to regret. If 'Ste's' post is correct, it would seem Hill was no longer alive to verify their testimonies.

From an insertion in the file it it apparent that even before Rautschka's testimony, the investigation team did not feel that Isenberg was a suspect, this was not explained further.
WO_309_1172_0176-isenguilt.JPG
However, this view may have changed at a later stage.
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 27 Dec 2014 20:47

After encountering the ‘Angry Officer’ the group continued in a southerly direction along the track. Just before they reached the main Fontenay to Caen road they were directed into a field on their right. The details of what happened next match the account in post 1 (Howard Margolian’s “Conduct Unbecoming” pp. 90-94) except for the assertion that the German troops came towards them in a straight line. The POWs drew sketches, one of which is in a previous post which showed they were approached in a semi-circle formation. Also the claim that one of the Germans said ‘Now you die’ was not reported by Clark, Ferris or McLean. This must have been in Desjarlais or Mc Dougall’s testimony, although Margolian states that Desjarlais was in the centre of the group, so it was very unlikely to have been him.

McLean, Clark and Ferris were questioned numerous times to ascertain if any of the group had made a break for it before the shooting started. All stuck to the same version of events and all were adamant, there was no break made by the Canadians. Lt Ferguson who spoke some German had counselled the men to remain seated and had indicated that he would try to talk to the advancing group. However, before he had a chance, the shooting started.


Here is McLean’s account of what transpired (WO309/1172)

A.53: Lined up in columns of 5 and made to sit down. A vehicle approached from the direction they had come from. Soldiers got out and lined up in front of them with the guards who had escorted them.

A.93: Marched to the field ¼ of a mile away. Sat down for 3-4 minutes before the truck arrived. Troops arrived in an open vehicle in which they were standing in, looked like a ‘blitz buggy’ 8 or 9 soldiers in the vehicle.

A.103: Order was issued to the men in the truck by one man – no description, they looked the same as the guards but he could not confirm if they were wearing camo.

A.107: Troops arrived just as it was getting dark.

A.108 Troops lined up in a semi-circle, they did not fire immediately until ordered. POWs were sitting down at this stage. POWs did not stand up. Lt Ferguson issued the order and the (Artillery) officer said ‘whoever is left when they fire the first round, go to the left’. He said this because their own line was to the left. He had believed this was going to happen since the meeting with the Officer, he mentioned it several times on the journey to the field. Some agreed with him, some were doubtful. He was reluctant to make a break for it on the journey to the field as he knew he would be shot but he was making plans for this eventuality. No one made an effort to escape before the shooting started.

A.118: Only rifles used at first, single shot rifles. Some of the extra soldiers had automatic weapons, the sergeant had a schmeizer. When the shooting started, those that had survived the first volley made a break for it. He got away with Ferris just as it was getting dark. He heard more shots and assumed the other POWs were ‘being finished off’. He heard lots of groans. He was hit in the leg, a flesh wound.

A.187: They were guarded by one soldier while the rest talked. There were 8 or 9 of them. They had rifles, not automatic ones. He can’t be sure who took charge at this stage as they were 25 yards away. They had no helmets on although some of the guards who came with them had helmets. All the guards that had escorted them were lined up. All the POWs seemed stunned at the turn of events and did not cry out before the shooting started.


What happened after?

Mc Lean:

McLean made a break for it towards the direction of his ’line’ with Ferris. A German mortar was set up nearby and shot off rounds, the Allies fired back, so they were trapped. They decided to stay and wait for their troops to advance as they felt this would be soon but nothing happened for two days. Then a tank spotted them and opened up, he was hit in the back and side and both were recaptured. A German NCO came up with a schmeizer and said ‘Kaput’ but then a German Tank Officer who spoke English came and asked where they had come from, they were taken back 10 miles to the rear to a school house where he met some of his comrades who had been captured before he was. He went from there to Mortain and then to Rennes.

Clarke:

Clarke crawled away and took shelter in the shade of a tree as ‘it was getting dark’ and observed ‘2 or 3 German’s walking in the field emptying magazine after magazine into the POWs bodies’. He then crawled to a potato patch where he started digging up potatoes in order to extract some liquid to drink. When he was doing this he was spotted by one of the shooters who called out, Clark tried to answer in broken French but the German fired in his direction. He was not hit and was able to take cover for the night, the following morning he went into the grain field to again get some liquid off the wheat as it had rained overnight when he was spotted through binoculars and picked up by men he believed to be ‘panzer men’ who wore dark blue uniforms with ‘Pz’ on their tanks. He was taken back to a school house in Caen where he met up with Ferris and McLean who told him the next morning that they too were at the shooting.



Picture of the field of execution taken in 1945.
FontenayFIELD.jpg

Sketch drawn by Clark indicating the points of interest. (note: this drawing is an East-West orientation, not North-South also note the different times quoted, this was due to 'French summer time being different to UK time', all times however have been estimated by the POWs)
Fontenayclark.jpg

(Both taken from ‘Trois jours en enfer' George Bernage and Frederick Jeanne.(page 102)
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 28 Dec 2014 20:21

This is an interesting insight into Mohnke's reputed Morphine addiction as discussed previously on this thread. This conversation was recorded in 1944 while Kurt Meyer was in captivity in the UK. (WO208-4364/p488).
WO_208_4364_0488-crop.JPG
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 29 Jan 2015 23:19

On the 3rd of May 1945, Roger Cloutier - CIC attached to '2 Cdn Graves Concentration Unit' – went to a field beside the Caen to Fontenay road to retrieve the remains of 3 fallen Canadian soldiers whose graves were each marked with a cross. The cross's had been inscribed with the names of Brown, Ryckman and Parisian - but although Brown was found in the correct plot, the other two bodies turned out to be those of Grant and Lewis, these men were identified by their discs.

While leaving the field he walked on some loose soil and asked a German prisoner to investigate it by digging a hole – not too far from the surface, one body was discovered, he asked for the hole to be enlarged and eventually 31 bodies were uncovered. Cloutier was later called to testify in June '45 about this discovery, he stated that he believed the bodies had been hastily buried, possibly by a bulldozer as they were all jumbled in the hole which he also maintained was not a crater but a specifically dug hole.

He drew the following map and indicated the location of the three separate graves and the mass grave. Note the trail leading to le-Mesnil-Patry, this of course was the route the POWs were brought down in a southerly direction before the execution.
Cloutiermap.jpg
The location of these three separate graves confirms the account given by the survivors - these three men had made a break for it but had been shot down before they could reach safety as recorded in 'Conduct unbecoming' :

Only those prisoners who had been sitting in the back row had any chance of survival..... 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 grain field, 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”.
(‘Conduct unbecoming’ Howard Margolian pages 90-94)


Clark, Ferris, McLean, McDougall and Desjarlais all escaped. Scott's body must have been put in the mass grave with the others as he was not found separately, the remaining 30 men including Ryckman and Parisian had evidently died where they sat. All the remains were immediately taken to be re-interred in the Canadian war cemetery at Beny-sur-mer. When the survivors account became known, all the remains were disinterred and re-examined by a team of pathologists to determine how they died.
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by talbright » 30 Jan 2015 19:22

very interesting..the fact that elements within the HJ division went through the trouble to dig a mass grave, with a bulldozer no less, to hide the crime..this is different than Malmedy and perhaps more nefarious..the plot thickens..

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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 02 Feb 2015 22:52

On Tuesday, June 26th 1945, Pathologist Robert Arthur Haliburton Mc Keen, RCAMC, OIC of I Cdn Base Laboratories – was summoned to give evidence before the Canadian War Crimes Investigation Unit in London. He had conducted an autopsy on the bodies that had been interred in the Canadian war grave cemetery in Beny-sur-mer. These were the remains that had been found in a mass grave in the field close to the Fontenay road. He made an individual report on each one of the following victims:
WO_309_1172_0244victimsA.JPG
WO_309_1172_0245victimsB.jpg

He was then asked to summerise in layman's terms his opinion on how each of them had died.
WO_309_1172_0169-causeofdeath.JPG

Finally he was questioned about the possibility that these men had been wounded in battle and had died from those injuries, this was his final summation:
WO_309_1172_0170causeof death.JPG
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Re: 'Fontenay le Pesnel' 8.6.44/Canadian 'Malmedy'

Post by seaburn » 04 Feb 2015 21:47

I started this search to investigate the evidence that two Canadians, ‘D. A. James and Rifleman W.R. LeBarr' had witnessed the murder of 35 Canadian prisoners at Fontenay le Pesnel. It turned out that LeBarr’s testimony sat at odds with the known facts of the case and that he could not have been a witness, his motivations for saying that he was will never be known. D. A. James had only ever been a ‘hearsay’ witness, he had been told what happened by one of the escaping men, McLean, the two men had met in a hospital after the murders. Once McLean had been found by the war crimes investigators, James’s testimony was no longer relevant. With those two puzzles quickly put to bed, it became obvious that there was a bigger mystery to try and solve.

What exactly had happened on the track from the Battalion headquarters of Siebken to the field of execution and why was this case never prosecuted?

Over the proceeding pages we have looked at the testimony of the survivors and accounts of the post war trial of II/.26 Btln Commander, Bernhard Siebken and his orderly Officer, Dietrich Schnabel. The general consensus is that the fate of the prisoners was sealed after they encountered a senior German Officer who wore the shoulder boards of an ‘Obersturmbannführer’, a man whom survivors noted was extremely angry when approached by one of the guards. The identity of this Officer was never positively uncovered as no one was ever found by the prosecution team who could identify him. However, Post war, Huber Meyer confided to author Georges Bernage that this ‘Angry Officer’ "was more than likely Wilhelm Mohnke". (Source: “Trois Jours En Enfer”).

This appears to be also the view held by the War Crimes investigation team who stated:
WO_309_317_0022-crop2.JPG
It does seem that from as early as 1945, a case was being built against Mohnke for this atrocity and others in which he was personally identified as being the Officer in command when POWs were shot.
WO_309_1172_0220mohnke.jpg
But of course Mohnke never stood trial as he was at that time imprisoned in Russia. Sayer and Botting authors of ‘Hitler’s last General’ noted “Interestingly this crime (Fontenay le Pesnel) constitutes one of the charges laid against Mohnke’s name by the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Neither the charge nor the name have ever been struck off the UN charge sheet, and at no time has Wilhelm Mohnke ever been called to account for it” (page 233) The authors go on to note that Mohnke’s life was ironically spared due to his capture by Soviet forces in 1945. Not so fortunate were Siebken and Schnabel – this document lays out the intention of the British and Canadians to incorporate the Fontenay case into the charges laid against them. There was no evidence ever uncovered that they were personally complicit in this particular case, but this document answers the puzzle as to why this ‘Fontenay’ case was never pursued:
WO_309_1172_0175-Siebken.JPG
In the absence of Mohnke, it would seem that Siebken was to be held responsible for all the murders of Canadian POWs in the 26th Sector. Ultimately he and Schnabel were found guilty for the murder of three Canadian POWs who were shot at the Btln HQ at Mesnil le Patry the day after the Fontenay killing. That case is not covered here but interestingly, Sayer and Botting contend ‘After his (Siebken’s) conviction his defence lawyer had protested that there had been a misdirection of court. We would go further and say that there was a miscarriage of justice’. Even in the ranks of the SS post war it appears that the anger of what happened to Siebken and Schnabel ran deep. Hubert Meyer was quoted as saying that Mohnke was “no longer a part ‘of the community of comrades’”. (Source: Trois Jours En Enfer by Georges Bernage.)

It would seem that the deaths of these two Officers can also be added to the long list of victims of Wilhelm Mohnke.
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