by Derek Summers and Mike Walsh
THE SS (Schutzstaffel or Protection Squad) was originally established as Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard after the failed 1923 putsch, although in 1933 it became the unit we think of today. The recruits swore unswerving loyalty not to the National Socialist Party but to Adolf Hitler personally as follows:
“I swear to thee Adolf Hitler, as Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich, Loyalty and Bravery. I vow to thee and to the superiors whom thou shalt appoint, Obedience unto Death, so help me God.”
As the Third Reich overran most of Europe during World War II numerous Waffen SS volunteer units were formed from the Nordic countries. This strategy was encouraged by the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler who stated, “We must attract all the Nordic blood in the world to us, and so deprive our enemies of it, so that never again will Nordic or Germanic blood fight against us.”
Men joined the ranks of the SS from most European countries, especially after the Reich’s June 22, 1941 pre-emptive strike on Bolshevik-occupied Russia and the Führer’s much publicised ‘Crusade against Bolshevism.’
Volunteers signed up for a two-year term with German citizenship granted at the end of their service. Over 1 million non-German nationals enlisted in the SS. Freiwilligan Legion Nederlande was for Dutch volunteers; Freiwilligan Legion Flandern catered for volunteers from the Flemish region of Belgium whilst the Walloons were led by the legendary Leon Degrelle in the 28th Freiwilligan Panzergrenadier Division Wallonien.
Volunteers also came from Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Croatia, Ukraine, Latvia, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and many other ethnic groups including Russians and Cossacks. One seldom mentioned band of volunteers were formed into Der Britisches Freikorps otherwise known as The British Free Corps (BFC).
The BFC was the brainchild of John Amery, eldest son of Secretary for India of the British Government, the Rt. Hon. Leopold Stennet Amery, MP. John Amery had fought against Communism in the Spanish Civil War where he gained Spanish citizenship. After the conflict he moved to France and subsequently to Germany in 1942 from where he broadcast radio messages to Britain calling for peace between Britain and Germany.
Amery founded firstly The League of St. George which was to be a non-combat unit made up of British prisoners of war to spread the National Socialist message to fellow prisoners of war. When the Wehrmacht High Command insisted on the Legion being a combat unit John Amery as an offshoot formed the British Anti-Bolshevik League. On January 1, 1944, the BFC was officially formed out of these two groups. Volunteers signed a pledge, which read:
“I, (name of the volunteer) being a British subject, consider it my duty to offer my services in the common European struggle against Communism, and hereby apply to enlist in the British Free Corps.”
Interestingly, before the BFC came into being, a number of British volunteers had fought in some ‘Totenkopf’ units. In May 1940, a Waffen SS manpower report mentions British volunteers serving in the SS Totenkopf Division and Standarten units.
The leadership of the BFC remains shrouded in mystery. Amery himself soon resigned from the Corps as he wanted the volunteers to wear British uniforms. However, the SS insisted on the wearing of the SS uniforms with British insignia (Union Flag arm shields and the Three Lions collar patches). Amery moved to Italy where he became an advisor to Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
SS Hauptsturmführer Hans Roebke then took command of the British Free Corps. The Hauptsturmführer was replaced in November 1944 by Obersturmführer Dr. Kuehlich. By 1945 a Captain Webster, a British Army Officer, was also involved in the leadership of the British Free Corps.
By spring 1945 the Corps was sent to Steinhoefel where the III SS Panzer Corps (Germanic) Headquarters was situated under the leadership of Obersturmführer Felix Steiner where the British volunteers were assigned to the Nordland Division.
It was within this Division that many of them saw action in the defence of Berlin although many Britons otherwise saw service with the Leibstandarte SS.
Many writers hostile to the BFC claim its members never saw active service; this is not the case. Reproduced in full below is a letter from Anthony Byers of Effingham, Surrey, that was printed in a national newspaper years ago. I think it was the Daily Express. I would like to add that I do not know Mr Byers. I know nothing of his political persuasions, if any, and only mention his letter as it is relevant to this article. The letter reads:
“Antony Beevor (Inside Hitler’s Concrete Tomb, last week) mentions the foreign SS troops who helped to defend Berlin. Among them were soldiers of the British Free Corps, who were released from prisoner of war camps in return for donning German SS uniforms, with the understanding that they would not be asked to fight their own countrymen. As a National Serviceman stationed in Berlin, I met a Russian Red Army officer who was impressed by the fighting spirit of eight misguided British soldiers.
“They held up an entire Russian regiment for almost two days until they ran out of ammunition. Only two survived to surrender and were promptly shot by the understandably irritated Russians, who had lost almost 100 men and three tanks.
“The Russian officer said that had SS Unterscharführer Cornfield and a soldier identified as Pleed been fighting the Germans; they would have deserved the Victoria Cross (VC). He told me: “I hope the British invented a good story for their families, for a brave soldier is still a brave soldier even when a traitor to his country.”
Siegrunen 63 has this to say of Reginald Leslie Cornfield. “Reginald Cornfield is thought to be the only British Free Corps member to be killed in action. On 27 April 1945, during the battle for Berlin, Cornfield disabled a Soviet tank with a Panzerfaust. The tank crew then tracked him down and shot him. Due to his unusual BFC uniform his Soldbuch (Identity Book) was taken and kept by the Russian officer. Nothing is recorded of ‘Pleed’.
John Amery’s book England and Europe was distributed to British prisoners of war from April 21, 1943 in the hope that they would join the Legion of St. George. The book is vehemently anti-Communist. The unique work details such things as what happens to the general population of countries when Communism (Bolshevism) takes over; who instigated the war and who was likely to profit from such a war. England and Europe also warns that Britain would lose her empire to the benefit of both Russia and the USA.
One of the first to volunteer was ‘Frank Wood’ (many members used pseudonyms) who drafted a recruitment leaflet for the BFC, which was dropped by the Luftwaffe to British front-line troops fighting in Italy. It is often stated incorrectly, that this leaflet was distributed to British prisoners of war. The leaflet reads as follows:
We of the BRITISH FREE CORPS are fighting for you. We are fighting with the best of Europe’s youth to preserve our European civilisation and our common cultural heritage from the menace of Jewish Communism.
MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! Europe includes England. Should Soviet Russia ever overcome Germany and other European countries fighting with her, nothing on this earth would save the Continent from Communism, and our own country sooner or later would eventually succumb.
We are British. We love England and all it stands for. Most of us have fought on the battlefields of France, of Libya, Greece and Italy, and many of our best comrades-in-arms are lying there — sacrificed in this war of Jewish revenge. We felt then that we were being lied to and betrayed. Now we know it for certain.
This conflict between England and Germany is racial SUICIDE. We must UNITE and take up arms against the common enemy. We ask you to join with us in our struggle. We ask you to come into our ranks and fight shoulder to shoulder with us for Europe and for England. — PUBLISHED BY THE BRITISH FREE CORPS.
A number of colourful characters were to enlist. Two worthy of mention are Thomas Mellor Cooper and Eric Pleasants. Thomas Mellor Cooper had an English father and a German mother. He joined the SS in 1938. Cooper was wounded in combat serving in the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler on the Russian Front and was decorated with the Wound Badge in black.
Following the war he was sentenced to death by a British military tribunal although he was reprieved in 1946 when the court took into account has German mother. He served a prison sentence until 1953 when he was released (unrepentant). It is thought he became a foreign language instructor in the Far East.
Pleasants was born in Norfolk in 1911. He was a member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and was a professional wrestler. When Britain declared war on Germany he became a pacifist and was posted to Jersey, one of Britain’s Channel Islands. Pleasants was interned by the Germans when they occupied jersey; it was then that he volunteered for the BFC.
Pleasants was later stationed in Dresden where he married a German woman. He also boxed for the BFC in tournaments with other SS units and claimed to be the Middleweight boxing champion of the SS.
During the defence of Berlin Pleasants was involved in hand-to-hand fighting against the Russians. At the end of the war he escaped to the American lines. Later, when the Russians took control of the American occupied zone he was sent to a slave labour camp in Vorkuta where he was to spend seven years of captivity. Pleasants eventually returned to his native Norfolk where he died in 1997.
The survivors of the BFC faced an uncertain future at the war’s end. Many donned British prisoner-of-war clothing in an attempt to pass themselves off as escaped prisoners of war. This worked for some and they returned to Britain. Others were handed over to the British Military Police. Many were sentenced to anything from a few months to fifteen years in prison for their involvement with the British Free Corps.
The founder, John Amery, was arrested in Italy. Despite having taken Spanish citizenship prior to World War Two he was hanged for treason at Wandsworth Prison on December 9, 1945. A similar fate also befell Irish-American William Joyce, who among other things, delivered speeches to British prisoners of war in the hope that they would enlist in the British Free Corps. Despite being born in New York in 1906 and of Irish parentage Joyce was by British justice chicanery found guilty of treason and hanged. The problem for the British volunteers of the British Free Corp was that unlike the other European volunteers in the SS Britain was still at war with Germany, whereas other European countries had surrendered to Germany or were fighting on the side of Germany. In fact, the legality of the British Free Corp was something that worried the German High Command right from the Corps inception.
That these volunteers were found guilty of treason, despite never having taken up arms against their fellow countrymen, is surely a travesty of justice, especially when one considers the treacherous actions now being rubber stamped by the current puppet incumbents at Westminster.
The British authorities at the time were quick to pass judgement on the members of the British Free Corps without considering their own treacherous actions in instigating a European brother’s civil war.
As early as 1941, after Japan entered the war, the Führer told Walter Hewel, one of his staff members, “Strange, that we are destroying the positions of the White Race in East Asia with the help of Japan, while Britain has joined the Bolshevik swine in the fight against Europe.”
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