BRITISH FREE CORPS IN SS-WAFFEN – MYTH AND HISTORIC REALITY
Time and again contradictory information about numbers and “battle” feats of the British detachment in SS-Waffen, which included several Australians, keep turning out in various books and Internet publications. For example
till recently one could have come across allegations or speculations that
this group of people took part in the defence of
This detachment commenced formation in the second half of 1943 when
the strategic-military situation of
Officially the British Free Corps (BFC) was founded on the
Cooper, a son of an Englishman and a German
woman, applied to join
MacLardy, former pharmacist and BUF member from
Roy Courlander, a son of a Lithuanian Jew and an English woman was
born in London, served in New Zealand Army and was captured in Greece in
1941. He posed as a “White Russian émigré” and was
typical of extremely anti-Russian views. Before he joined BFC he had participated
in the Nazi broadcast for
Little is known about the past of Canadian Edward Martin who was
captured after failure of the Diepp landing. Alfred Minchin – a merchant seaman
from SS Empire Range – was captured after his ship had been sunk en route to
In February 1944 the Corps already numbered 8 “free Britons” although
it is noteworthy that the composition of BFC had been constantly changing:
people had been coming and going. Former boy seaman of the Royal Navy Kenneth
Berry who was captured in 1940 wheb he was only 14 also joined the Corps.
But already in March Martin quit and returned to POW camp. Soon a few more people joined the Corps: Robert Heighes,
In spring 1944 the “free Britons” were involved in recruitment of
new members in POW camps. During this period of time BFC was joined by William
How, former lance-corporal of Military Police, and Ernest Nichols who used
to be a petrol storekeeper in the army. In May-June they were joined by former
merchant seamen Herbert Rowlands and Roland Barker (Australian). Ironically
enough Rowlands fought in
In June John Leister and Eric Pleasants joined. Pleasants was a
former member of BUF and in the past refused to serve in the army on the ground
of his pacifist views. Leister was born in
Amongst the novices of the spring-summer draft were also Harry Dean Bachelor, former sapper, Hugh Cowie (previously made several attempts to escape and joined BFC to avoid court-martial for possession of banned radio-set); Roy Futcher (joined of fear to be court-martialled for relations with German women); Frank Maton, before the war – a BUF member, later corporal in commando units and participant of Nazi broadcasting for England; and Tom Perkins, former lance-corporal of Military Police. Out of these people only Maton was distinguished of his pro-Nazi convictions. In June BFC reached numbers of 27 people.
At this moment Freeman and Ellsmore wrote a letter with a request
to return the volunteers to POW camps. It was signed by 14 people and after
that the German authorities were accused of mutiny and sent to isolation camp
in Stutthof. Freeman escaped from this camp in November 1944 and finally reached
the Russian lines. He was repatriated to
Hot debates and even punch-ups between the “Big Six” and other Britons were quite typical. Drinking was a considerable problem in the Corps as well.
Three of four Britons who joined the Corpse in August were blackmailed into it. Frederic Croft, former artillery soldier, agreed to join after 5 (!) unsuccessful escapes and a long solitary confinement out of which he had little chance to get out. Edward Jackson also faced a choice between – court-martial for an affair with a German woman or BFC. Scotsman Charlie Munns was in the same situation but since his lover got pregnant he had a chance to face a firing squad. The fourth man – Lieutenant William Shearer hit BFC straight out mental hospital. This poor schizophrenic returned to hospital only several weeks spent in BFC.
The Allied landing in
By September 1944 the members of “Big Six” had got tired of struggling with their
obdurate ‘free Britons”. The most ardent Nazi MacLardy left the Crops and
joined a medical detachment of SS. And Courlander and Maton merely escaped
to the frontline in a train moving the Flemish SS-Battallion to
However, in the end of September two new members joined the Corps:
William Alexander and Harry Nightingale – and again due to the same reason
– unwillingness to bear responsibility for sexual liaisons with German women.
Soon BFC was transferred to
In November Cooper who had been trying hard to leave the Corps was dismissed from his commanding position. He was accused of anti-Nazi activities but eventually he commenced services as a Military Policeman. He was to meet his BFC mates in the last days of war…
In November most of “the mutineers” returned headed by Pleasants
(he shortly after that married a German woman). They were missing Perkins
who stayed in the camp, and Rowlands who had escaped and hid himself in one
Thus in January 1945 BFC reached its highest numbers over its whole
history – 27 men. A bit later six Maoris from
Nevertheless, the Corps
was still shaky. The war was nearing its end and a group of “free Britons”
decided to escape in order to reach the Soviet lines and give themselves up.
The escape failed, Cowie, Futcher and Alexander were captured and sent to
isolation camp, the rest were returned to BFC. A new “volunteer” arrived –
Alexander MacKinnon who had been enforced to do it under threat of court-martial
for “sabotage”, but Charlie Munns left to unite with his fiancé in
On the 12 February
But the history of BFC did not end at this point. The arrested men
were released from prison and transferred to
The “free Britons” did not favour too much the prospect of fighting against the advancing Red Army. Symonds, Rose and Nightingale convinced the authorities to return them to POW camps. Pleasants and Leister were transferred to different detachments of the Propaganda Ministry of the collapsing Third Reich.
For four days the BFC was drilled to handle Panzerfaust and new assault-rifle MP44. Finally, on the 15 of March BFC having fitted into one truck, headed to the front into its “crusade against Bolshevism”. After arrival the Corps was billeted along with the III (Germanisches) SS-Panzer Korps manned by Germans, Danes, Dutch and Norwegians. Over this period of time the Corps lost one more fighter as George Croft departed to cure his exacerbated gonorrheae.
On the 22nd of March the Corps was sent to reinforce a reconnaissance Battalion which was in reserve of the SS-Division “Nordland” – the most multinational detachment of the SS-Waffen. Four more weeks were spent in anticipation of fighting and the Corps lost the rest of its battle enthusiasm.
And at that moment Cooper entered the scene again. Having been ordered to go to the front on the 6th of April, he took a civil suit with him and departed to the location of the III Panzer Corps. Here he was stunned by the order to visit BFC. Conversing with his mates he talked them out of the idea of escape knowing far too well that there would be no mercy to deserters in the hands of Military Police. He managed to convince Brigadefurer SS Ziegler – Commander of the Panzers – that BFC had little fighting efficiency, was morally unstable and that it would be better to withdraw tem from front. Ziegler agreed and the “free Britons” were withdrawn to Templin.
On the 19th of April the last action hero of this drama
entered the scene. A man, named Douglas Berneville-Clay and dressed into
the SS-Hauptsturmfurer uniform arrived to BFC. He
was former Second Lieutenant of British Commandos captured in
On the 2nd of
May Cooper and the remnants of BFC gave themselves up to the Americans near
The post-war fates of the
“free Britons” went different ways. Cooper and MacLardy received life sentence,
but the former certainly had said nothing about his war-time participation
in punitive actions in
The “battle path” of BFC
seems to have been no more than a curious historic incident. In reality, this
small group of people was a drop in a bucket. Nearly all POWs from
John Amery's Proclamation of the Legion of St George*
BRITISH NATIONAL REPRESENTATION
PROCLAMATION TO ALL BRITISH SUBJECTS INTERNED
150,000 of our fellow countrymen are in prison in the home country, because they have declared themselves against this fratricidal war. In violation of the Habeas Corpus Act and the fundamental laws of our constitution these men have never been brought to trial or even allowed to see a lawyer.
American troops bave not only occupied
Naval bases and Colonies have been handed over to Mr Roosevelt's administration.
BEYOND ALL THIS
This war has ceased to be a war of nations but has become a war of CONCEPTION
For this reason I have approached the German Government with the proposal to form A BRITISH LEGION AGAINST BOLCHEVISM, to be known as the LEGION of ST GEORGE.
I appeal to all Britishers to answer this call to arms for the defence of all the principles that we Englishmen have been the first to proclaim in the world.
THE DEFENCE OF OUR HOMES, OF OUR CHILDREN AND OF ALL CIVILISATION AGAINST THE DRAGON OF ASIATIC AND JEWISH BESTIALITY.
The St George Legion will fight only against the Communists and on NO OTHER FRONT!
All men will commence in their present rank and promotion will be open to all men alike, without any distinctions or qualification, political or otherwise. Within the limits of the military possibilities the Legion of St George will fight at the junction of the German-Finnish front, beside the troops of the undaunted liberty loving Finnish people.
The British Representation in Berlin formally guarantee to all ranks: A PERMANENT WELL PLACED JOB IN THE BRITISH ADMINISTRATION OR A PRIORITY IN ANY OTHER EMPLOYMENT THEY SHOULD DESIRE ONCE PEACE IS SIGNED, OR THE POSSIBILITY TO FORM THE ELITE IN THE NEW BRITISH ARMY.
Hundreds of soldiers
have volunteered to join this Legion. Men who have escaped to
It is up to you civilians to give a hand to show that we intend to take our responsibilities to maintain THE INTEGRITY OF OUR EMPIRE, by giving the world proof that we have not all sold out to the JEW OR PLUTOCRAT.
I ASK YOU TO OPT NATIONAL
The British Representation which is a 100% British organisation will take no steps whatever of intimidation against the persons who do not opt, BUT fellow countrymen the world is watching us, EUROPE EXPECTS THAT EVERY CIVILISED MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY, National England desires that you will show yourselves worthy of Nelson's immortal signal:
Your place is
with us Nationalists .... Your duty is to opt NATIONAL under the glorious banner of St George
we are going to write a new page in the History of the
We shall show the world that free Englishmen:
NEVER, NEVER WILL BE THE SLAVES OF A JEWISH PLUTOCRATIC TYRANNY, THAT WE ARE WORTHY DESCENDANTS OF THE YEOMEN THAT DICTATED MAGNA CHARTA.
Pay no attention to waverings or opposition: the first to opt will be the examples of bravery and courage to those that now waver or are against us but who will have to join us one day when they realise all the truth. In these fatal days when we are before the bar of civilisation: I beg, I demand, that you put aside all hesitations, all the prejudice, all the lies that have led you where you are ... that you take this IMMENSE OPPORTUNITY THAT I HAVE OBTAINED AND WITH ME, WITH ALL THOSE THAT HAVE ALREADY JOINED.
YOU WILL OPT NATIONAL…FOR
*St George Legion –initial name of the Britis Free Corps
**John Amery –one of the most prominent
British renegades, an ardent Nazist and Nazi-propagandist during WWII. Sentenced
to death by the