Category Archives: Europe

The Indian Corps Saves the Day, 1914

From Army of Empire: The Untold Story of the Indian Army in World War I, by George Morton-Jack (Basic Books, 2018), Kindle pp. 139-141:

In the last week of October, the BEF’s commanders of its British corps from the Home Army admitted the tight spot they were in. Douglas Haig wrote that his I Corps, holding part of the left of the BEF line before Ypres, was ‘exhausted… 2 Brigadiers assure me that if the Enemy makes a push at any point, they doubt our men being able to hold on’. Also on the BEF left, Haig’s neighbouring British IV Corps commander Henry Rawlinson confessed, ‘We are hanging on only by our eyelids; we want men, and always more men.’ On the BEF right, the II Corps commander Horace Smith-Dorrien wrote ‘My poor troops are simply worn out.’ The BEF’s fundamental dilemma was one of averting fatal over-stretch–how to hold its 35-mile line into November with so few men who were so tired when the German attacks kept coming until mid-month.

The BEF was able to cling on because the Indian Corps arrived with around 22,000 Indian and British troops to hold a total of 12 miles, or about a third, of its line, principally on the right in France. In early November on the BEF’s left by Ypres, where the German onslaught fell heaviest, its original British corps avoided defeat on the narrowest of margins with French assistance and a few British Territorial home defence troops who had volunteered for France. For the BEF’s Home Army corps to have also held the right of its line without the Indian Corps’ assistance would have been too much for them: their British troops would have been spread too thinly to keep the Germans from breaking through. After First Ypres, Haig talked in private of how the Indian Corps had ‘saved the situation by filling a gap’, while his intelligence staff officer John Charteris acknowledged it had been ‘invaluable… when we had no other troops to put in’. And if the Indian Corps saved the BEF’s line from collapsing, it also saved the whole Allied line at First Ypres–of which the BEF held half–and therefore probably the Allied cause in the west in 1914.

Why, then, has Indian Expeditionary Force A’s part in the Allied story of survival in 1914 not loomed larger in the history of the First World War? One reason is that it was not general public knowledge at the time. By First Ypres the British press had moved on from celebrating the lifting of the colour bar [prohibiting nonwhites from fighting whites]–which was already yesterday’s news, there was only so far it could be celebrated when British African troops remained prohibited from fighting in Europe under their own colour bar. Rather, the press was eager for Indian battle stories, but British government censorship prevented much battle information on the Indians getting out. The story-starved British press generally turned to fantasy, inventing reports from First Ypres of Sikhs as superhuman slayers of 20,000 German troops in an afternoon, Gurkhas throwing khukuris through the air with deadly accuracy, and Indians shooting down aeroplanes with their rifles. Grains of truth were few and far between, some appearing in The Times, which described the BEF’s Indian troops at First Ypres as ‘long-service professional soldiers… fighting as steadily as the rest of the Army’. So little reliable news of Indian Expeditionary Force A reached India in November that the Viceroy, Charles Hardinge, said ‘people in India are wondering what has happened to the troops and where they have gone’. He was compelled to write to James Willcocks asking for private updates.

In British national memory, First Ypres came to be seen as the British Army’s ultimate moment of sacrifice of 1914, scarcely mentioning Indian Expeditionary Force A as the BEF’s lifeline. But the Indian factor should be included to recognise that the Indian Army was ready before the war to deploy fast to France, and to fight when it got there. The achievements of Force A at First Ypres become all the clearer in light of its sister Indian Expeditionary Forces’ experiences against the Germans in 1914–Forces B and C to East Africa. These cooperated in an ambitious attempt to capture German East Africa largely by themselves, yet unlike the Indian part in First Ypres, it was an utter fiasco.

 

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British Indian Expeditionary Forces, WWI

From Army of Empire: The Untold Story of the Indian Army in World War I, by George Morton-Jack (Basic Books, 2018), Kindle pp. 10-14:

All the men of Indian Expeditionary Force A to France went to liberate German-occupied territory in the name of democracy. Some 85,000 Indian soldiers and 50,000 non-combatants served with Force A on the western front. In the wider world the Indian Army served extensively to shut down the German colonial empire, partly as a natural adjunct of the British cause against Prussian militarism in Europe, and partly to secure British colonies. On 6 August 1914 the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street was already cooking up, wrote Asquith, ‘with some gusto… schemes for taking German ports & wireless stations in E & W Africa & the China Seas… I had to remark we looked more like a gang of Elizabethan buccaneers than a meek collection of black-coated Liberal Ministers.’ These extra-European anti-German schemes unfurled until the war’s end, with some 40,000 Indian soldiers and 12,000 Indian non-combatants taking part, primarily with Indian Expeditionary Forces B and C in tropical Africa.

The greatest Indian numbers overseas, however, were involved in the war against the Ottoman Empire covering most of the Middle East. Approximately 430,000 Indian soldiers and 330,000 non-combatants invaded the region, making the Indian Army by 1918 the single largest Allied force on Ottoman soil. Turkey had been neutral until the end of October 1914, when it picked sides by sending warships over the Black Sea under a German admiral to bombard Tsarist Ukraine. ‘The Turkish Empire has committed suicide, and dug with its own hands its grave,’ Asquith proclaimed within days, as Russia, Serbia, Britain and France responded with declarations of war. ‘It is the Ottoman Government that has drawn the sword, and which, I venture to predict, will perish by the sword. It is they and not we who have rung the death-knell of Ottoman dominion, not only in Europe, but in Asia.’

As Asquith heard that death-knell in early November 1914, he was distracted by the need for British notes of religious caution towards the Ottoman Empire as an Islamic state. At the time the global Muslim population stood at 270 million. Around 100 million Muslims were British subjects, 70 million of them living in the Indian Empire, which made Britain the greatest Muslim power of the day, as the French Empire in North Africa and the Russian in Central Asia had 20 million Muslims each, and the Ottomans 15 million. While most Indian Muslims’ head of state was the King-Emperor, they generally revered his Ottoman counterpart, the Sultan of Turkey, as their highest religious leader. The overwhelming majority were Sunnis for whom the Sultan was Caliph, or the Prophet Muhammad’s direct successor, in whose stewardship lay Islam’s Holy Places including Mecca and Jerusalem. The British were anxious that Indian Muslims could see the war on Turkey as a war on Islam, stirring them into anti-British protest in sympathy with Ottoman co-religionists, and that Arabs under Ottoman rule could be equally alienated when they might otherwise turn on the Turks as Allied rebels. So Asquith was quick to reassure the King-Emperor and the Sultan’s Muslim subjects alike. ‘Nothing is further from our thoughts or intentions than to initiate or encourage a crusade against their belief,’ he announced on 9 November. ‘Their holy places we are prepared, if any such need should arise, to defend against all invaders and to maintain inviolate… We have no quarrel with Mussulman subjects of the Sultan.’

In the earliest days of the war on Turkey, therefore, British sensitivity to Muslim opinion ruled out any large gathering of British Empire forces for an immediate strike on the Ottoman state. Instead the British government ordered only pinpricks on the Ottoman Empire’s southern limits, reckoned to be the unavoidable minimum of military action at low risk of offending Muslims worldwide. They were all tasks in November 1914 for the Army in India. Thus Indian Expeditionary Force D of just one Indian brigade headed up the Persian Gulf. Its most obvious job was to guard from Turkish attack the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s refinery at Abadan, vital to the British government as Anglo-Persian’s majority shareholder which depended on it to fuel the Royal Navy’s warships, and lying on the coast of neutral Iran by the border of Ottoman Iraq (known to the British as Mesopotamia). But Force D’s primary purpose was to put Indian and British boots on the ground in Iraq close to Abadan, just enough to give the local Arabs confidence of British support if they rebelled against the Turks.

Meanwhile Indian Expeditionary Forces E and F sailed to secure Egypt, a de facto part of the British Empire. Egypt’s northeastern border was the longest British imperial land frontier with the Ottoman Empire, and its main asset was another British government shareholding: the Suez Canal, the precious sea link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean for Allied troopships and war materials.

From the second week of November 1914, however, the initial caution of the British war on Turkey receded as three pressures turned it into a tornado that over the next four years tore about the Middle East and European Turkey, carrying the Indian Army with it in all directions.

Firstly, the Sultan of Turkey made a dramatic intervention to wield his spiritual authority as Caliph as a force of Allied destruction. At Istanbul on 14 November 1914 he declared a holy war, or jihad, against the Allies, developing the world war into a collision between Christianity and Islam. In a joint effort with the Germans, the Turkish government orchestrated the Sultan’s jihad to multiply anti-Allied fighters. It called on all Ottoman Muslims as obedient servants of Allah to defend their Islamic state against the Christian Allied invaders coming from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, and on all Muslims of the wider world, especially in the British, French and Russian empires and Iran, to join the jihad to punish the Allies for conspiring to annihilate Islam. ‘The rank of those who depart to the next world is martyrdom,’ the Sultan’s chief religious scholar, the Sheikh al-Islam, said of the holy warriors summoned by the official jihad proclamations that spread across Muslim Asia and Africa; ‘those who sacrifice their lives to give life to the truth will have honour in this world, and their latter end in paradise.’ For the sin of refusing to join the jihad, the Sheikh warned, the inevitable penalties were ‘the wrath of God’ and ‘the fire of hell’. Within days, in the name of the jihad the Turkish Army was plotting attacks with German officers and desert-dwelling jihadists on British Empire troops, oil pipelines and other installations from Egypt to Aden, Iraq and Abadan–all places where Indian troops were targets.

Secondly, following a Russian request in New Year 1915 for new Allied operations to divert the Turkish Army from the Caucasus, the Allies kick-started coalition warfare out of the eastern Mediterranean towards Istanbul. This began in February 1915 with Anglo-French naval attacks launched from island bases in the Aegean Sea, before falling hardest with military landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula dangling from the Ottoman Empire’s European fringe–where Indian Expeditionary Force G served.

Thirdly, the British kept bounding forward through the Middle East by following their imperialist noses to the war’s end. They seized military opportunities on horizon after horizon from the edges of Egypt, Ottoman Iraq and the Indian Empire, all in British imperial security interests and eventually making Britain the dominant force in the Middle East with control over the Islamic Holy Places. There was no masterplan here; rather it happened almost by accident as the sum of grand strategic decisions taken in bursts to secure and expand the British Empire–broadly speaking, if the war on Germany was for democracy, the war on Turkey was for imperialism.

By November 1918, the British had a stranglehold over the Ottoman Empire resembling the grip of an enchanted giant squid, its master the Prime Minister in London, its main body the Indian Empire, and its two longest tentacles Indian Expeditionary Forces: one being Force D extending from British India 2000 miles up the Persian Gulf into Ottoman Iraq, the other Force E 2500 miles up the Red Sea to Syria.

I resisted ordering this new book because the list price of the Kindle edition is over my normal threshold for Kindle books, but after downloading a sample, I decided to go ahead and buy it at what I presume to be a temporary promotional discount. It fits too well with the major themes of this blog.

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Missionaries in China after 1860

From Yangtze: Nature, History, and the River, by Lyman P. Van Slyke (Stanford Alumni Assn., 1988), pp. 153-154:

In the second treaty settlement [after the 1856–1860 Opium War], prohibitions to inland travel were removed, and Chinese authorities were made responsible for the safety of such travelers. Ten additional treaty ports were opened to trade, including Nanking, Hankow, and two other Yangtze River ports. It was further stipulated that since foreigners might reside in such treaty ports, the powers would have right of gunboat as well as commercial navigation on inland waters. Moreover, the country was opened to missionaries, who were now permitted to travel at will throughout the empire, and to be at all times protected by the Chinese government—a provision often impossible to enforce against popular anti-Christian sentiment. Missionary cases, usually called “outrages” by the foreign community, were enormously troublesome throughout the nineteenth century. The French, presenting themselves in the 1860s as the protectors of Catholicism in China (despite anti-Catholic measures at home) and insisting that the Chinese government not establish direct relations with the Vatican, also demanded that the Chinese government permit the Catholic church to own property and to guarantee the return of all property that had ever belonged to it, referring specifically to those missions that had been established by Matteo Ricci and his successors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Until the second treaty settlement, the Catholic church in China had maintained a tenuous but stubborn toehold as an illegal, underground religion. It had been proscribed in 1724 by the Yung-cheng Emperor, except for a few authorized clerics in imperial service at Peking. At this time there were roughly 300,000 converts in China, declining by the end of the century by perhaps half or two-thirds, served by forty or so foreign clerics and twice that number of Chinese priests. Despite the risks, religious orders continued to smuggle priests into China and to smuggle a few Chinese out for training and ordination. Foreign priests had to be secreted at all times, usually in the homes of believers, going out only at night or in covered sedan chairs or boats. This was a harsh and dangerous business. If discovered, foreign priests might be attacked by hostile mobs or bandits. Official punishment might range from deportation to imprisonment to execution. Chinese Catholics often came in for even severer treatment.

The most active mission arena was the southwest, comprised of Szechwan, Yunnan, and Kweichow provinces, where vicariates apostolic had long existed in Chungking and Chengtu, both under the French Société des Missions Ètrangères. Rough estimates—the only ones available—suggest that in the early nineteenth century, there were perhaps 70,000 Chinese Catholics in these three provinces. This region was far enough removed from Peking so that the prohibitions rested a bit more lightly there than in the eastern provinces; but by the same token, the protections of the second treaty settlement were less well-known and enforced. Although some Chinese Catholics had renounced their faith, as directed by imperial edict, many others remained loyal despite repeated persecution.

Against this background, a few Westerners embarked upon explorations of the Yangtze River, and their books began to appear before a curious public. These explorers were not, of course, the first nineteenth-century Europeans to travel on the Yangtze River. In 1841–1842, and Anglo-French naval force had penetrated far enough to blockade the Grand Canal, thus demonstrating the capacity to strangle the capital by preventing vital grain shipment, and to take Nanking under its guns. There the first of the Unequal Treaties, the Treaty of Nanking, was concluded in 1842. A decade later, during the T’ai-p’ing Rebellion, several Europeans visited the dissident capital at Nanking, and left behind fascinating accounts of their experiences. But these men had little interest in the Yangtze River itself, except as a means of access to the interior. Even more reticent were the Catholic missionaries who began to take advantage of the concessions wrung from the second treaty settlement but tried to remain invisible, like their illegal predecessors, by wearing native dress and going concealed in sedan chairs or boats.

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African vs. Indian Experience in Mauritius and Seychelles

From “Slavery and Indenture in Mauritius and Seychelles” by Burton Benedict, in Asian and African Systems of Slavery, ed. by James L. Watson (U. Calif. Press, 1980), pp. 154-168. Both colonies depended very heavily on imported labor for their sugar plantations. Watson attempts to explain why Indian cultural traits survived better in the two island groups than did African cultural traits. The following summaries are closely paraphrased.

1. ORIGINS: African slaves came from all over the continent and lacked common cultures or political systems. Indentured Indians came from diverse cultures that had nevertheless all coexisted within a more or less unified political and economic system ruled by the Mughals and then the British.

2. RECRUITMENT: African slaves were nearly all unwilling recruits who had usually passed through many hands in many markets. Indentured Indians were volunteers recruited by men from their own culture and often from the same village, caste, or tribe, even though they usually had no idea about their destination or working conditions, and their voyaging conditions were hardly better than that of the African slaves.

3. FAMILIES: Most Africans arrived as isolated individuals, with no guarantee that any surviving relatives would be sold to the same plantation. Indentured Indians left their wives behind during the early years, but were later assigned as family units, whose marriages were recognized by the local courts. They were better able to preserve family life.

4. YOUTH: Many African slaves were kidnapped as children, and children were favored over adults by plantation managers. They received little education and adapted to local French culture. Most Indians came as young adults, some with children, who learned Indian customs and values at home and at vernacular schools.

5. LANGUAGE: African slaves spoke many different languages, and had to communicate among themselves in Swahili, Arabic, or the languages of European traders. On the plantations, they learned the local French Creole. Most of the Indians came from three major language groups (Bhojpuri) Hindi, Tamil, and Telegu. Employers relied on bilingual overseers and the Indians preserved their home languages, in which they transmitted their home cultures. Many man but far fewer women learned Creole, even into the 1960s.

6. NAMING: African slaves were given European names, usually French or English for given names. Over time, African surnames were replaced by French or English ones. Indians retained their Indian names and gave their children Indian names, although some Christian converts took European names.

7. RELIGION: The dominant religion in Mauritius and the Seychelles was Roman Catholic, from when they were French colonies, and African slaves were heavily evangelized. Catholic and Protestant churches were controlled by Europeans. The Indians were generally Hindu or Muslim, and Europeans made little effort to convert them to Christianity. Moreover, temples, mosques, and religious ritual and education were controlled by Indians, not Europeans.

8. MUSIC AND DANCE: Africans lost not just their traditional religious rites of passage, but also music and dance connected with them. The latter became entirely secular, adapted to European and Creole cultures. Indians retained Hindu and Muslim ceremonies for rites of passage, along with their musical and dance components.

9. OVERSEAS CONNECTIONS: African slaves were completely cut off from Africa. Those who went overseas for training went to France or Britain, not Africa. Indians were also cut off from home, but many of those indentured returned to India, the Indian government took frequent interest in their welfare, and Hindu and Muslim missionaries came to preach to them. Many went to Europe for training but others went to India.

10. ECONOMIC BASE: Africans lost their kinship organizations, which had been their principal units of production and consumption. The sugar plantations produced cash crops, not subsistence crops, and individual workers purchased what they consumed. Indians came from highly stratified societies with complex, caste-based divisions of labor that produced goods and services. They were used to sharecropping and wage work (which was why indentured themselves), but the family remained the basic unit of consumption.

11. ENDOGAMY: Marriage in both European and Indian societies was very much about property; brides came with dowries. Both groups also tended to marry within their race, class, or caste. In African societies, marriage was more about building alliances; brides required bridewealth. African social stratification was much more fluid; chiefs could marry commoners.

Watson concludes “that there was a concatenation of factors which militated against the retention of African cultural traits (or conversely which fostered the adaptation of European cultural traits) and that these factors did not operate in the same fashion for Indians” (p. 167).

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Founders of the Nagasaki Naval Academy

From Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai, by Romulus Hillsborough (Tuttle, 2014), Kindle pp. 68-69:

“Defend the country” would soon become a byword among samurai throughout Japan—for it was around this time that Perry arrived. While the Bakufu ranks were filled with men of mediocre ability who had inherited their positions—a fundamental flaw of Tokugawa feudalism which Katsu Kaishū openly resented—such was not the case for the entire Edo elite. And fortunately for Kaishū, and indeed the future of the country, the extraordinary talents of the still relatively obscure scholar of Dutch studies caught the attention of Ōkubo Tadahiro (better known by his later name, Ōkubo Ichiō), one of the most progressive Bakufu officials in those most critical of times.

Ōkubo was born in Bunka 14 (1817), six years before Kaishū. While both men were vassals of the shōgun, their social standings, and the opportunities presented them in early life, were worlds apart. Kaishū came into this world with “no expectations in life”; Ōkubo was the eldest son of an old illustrious samurai family whose service to the House of Tokugawa was older than the Bakufu itself. From childhood he “applied himself diligently to literature and martial arts,” Kaishū later wrote of Ōkubo. At age fourteen he served at Edo Castle as a page to Shōgun Iénari, the same year that he was conferred with the honorary title Shima-no-Kami. A staunch advocate of Open the Country, he was brought into the higher echelons of the Bakufu hierarchy in Ansei 1 (1854), soon after Perry’s second visit. In the Fifth Month of that year Senior Councilor Abé Masahiro appointed him to the post of metsuké in charge of coastal defense. During the final years of Tokugawa rule, Ōkubo would serve in a number of other high posts, including chief of the Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books, Nagasaki magistrate, Kyōto magistrate, ōmetsuké, commissioner of foreign affairs, attendant (and advisor) to Shōgun Iémochi, chief of the Kōbusho military academy, and commissioner of finance.

Ōkubo was a connoisseur of fine tea, tobacco, swords, horses, calligraphy, and Japanese literature. He was a Japanese classicist and poet, whose collection of waka (31-syllable odes) and other writings would be published posthumously by Katsu Kaishū. Ōkubo clashed with the “numerous insignificants [around him],” Kaishū wrote. A physically small man, he possessed some of the most venerated qualities among samurai. Kaishū praised him for his frugality and high moral character, though he was sometimes “too stern for his own good.” When asked in the 1890s to name the most insightful scholar during the final years of the Bakufu, Kaishū designated Ōkubo with that distinction. Even if Ōkubo tended to be “too honest,” he was “sincere and a deep thinker.” That the highborn Ōkubo was quick to acknowledge the extraordinary abilities of the son of Katsu Kokichi is testimony that Kaishū’s evaluation of his patron was as sound as their lifelong friendship, which would prove indispensable in maintaining order in Edo when the Bakufu collapsed thirteen years later.

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The Idea Factory for POW Reeducation

From Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland, by Melissa Amateis Marsh (History Press, 2014), Kindle pp. 41-44:

Located at Fort Kearny, Rhode Island, the Idea Factory consisted of German POWs who were carefully screened for their anti-Nazi tendencies and then selected after they filled out questionnaires. These prisoners were then separated from the rest of their comrades at their camp to await transport to Fort Kearny. Although this selection was not foolproof, the Americans did have an advantage. Hitler’s impending defeat had soured many Germans against Nazism. Others had never been ardent admirers of Nazism. Still, at the time the reeducation program appeared, many of the German POWs had been prisoners for two or three years, offering them ample opportunity to think about Germany’s status in the world. These prisoners were involved in the experimental phase of the reeducation program. Although pro-Nazism was still a problem in the camps, this group was determined to do something about it.

The Special Projects staff then assembled a division of “specially-qualified” German prisoners—writers, professors and linguists who were dedicated anti-Nazis. All were volunteers, all were officers and all renounced their Wehrmacht ranks. Due to this special assignment, these prisoners enjoyed far more freedom at Fort Kearny than they had had at their respective camps. No guards or towers policed their movements, and they even took the ferry to Jamestown in army trucks to pick up their supplies.

However, this rather elite group of individuals was perhaps not the most prudent choice. Although the group was happy to be among other intellectuals, Ron Robin believed the group did not understand the tastes of the average prisoner. According to Robin, this would come to negatively affect the program. The Idea Factory was separated into subdivisions, which included review sections for film and government agency material, translation sections for the school curriculum and a camp newspaper section. This last section monitored around seventy POW camp newspapers as well as produced its own nationwide camp newspaper called Der Ruf (The Call). The goals of the newspaper were to “reflect the experience of being a German PW in America, but also stimulate democratic thinking.” The first issue appeared in the spring of 1945.

When Germany fell and victory was proclaimed in Europe in May 1945, many of the ordinary classes POWs had been taking were eliminated. Instead, the essentials—English, history, geography and others that stressed democracy—were emphasized. Now the men at the Idea Factory in New York concentrated on reviewing and preparing materials for the new reeducation program. They focused on two areas: censorship and translations. Books that were to be considered for class use, libraries and for sale in the POW canteen all had to be read, analyzed and evaluated before they would be declared “suitable” for the POWs.

With so many diversions already in place before the reeducation program went into effect, it remained imperative that the Special War Projects Division find U.S. officers capable of implementing the program. The requirements were stiff. The men were expected to be experts on German and American journalism, film and literature; be fluent in German; and have previous experience in a POW camp and education. These assistant executive officers were trained at conferences in Fort Slocum, New York, in late 1944 and early 1945.

The importance of intelligence officers to the program’s success could not be overstated. Yet more often than not, they met with more opposition from their own officers and American servicemen than from the prisoners themselves. Alfred Thompson suggests that the program did not receive the support and cooperation it should have at the camp level because of the intense secrecy surrounding it. Because it was a top secret program, they could not even tell their fellow officers just what they were doing. “One went so far as to tell his commanding officers that he was under secret orders and could not reveal his mission even to him. Some of the AEO’s had enough brains to recognize the difficulties which would be involved in such complete secrecy and lack of confidence in co-workers, but the majority was not so intelligent.” In fact, Thompson and other officers found themselves ostracized by their own co-workers. “We were called ‘Junior Dick Tracys’ or ‘Super Sleuths’ to the point where it hurt.”

This attitude originated from the very top. The supervising officer of the assistant executive officers, Major Paul A. Neuland, felt that the lack of contact between the officers in the field and the Special Projects Division chain of command was having a detrimental effect on the program itself. Even though he tried to pass along the critical comments of the officers to division headquarters, he succeeded only in alienating himself further from his fellow officers. Neuland was upset by the continual rejection of the officers’ comments “by a man in the New York Office…doesn’t make sense.” But unfortunately, to his fellow Special War Projects Division officers, Neuland’s criticism only pointed to a lack of loyalty.

These intelligence officers’ responsibility carried further than merely implementing the reeducation program. They were also required to keep morale and special service activities “maintained and improved” for the American military personnel at the camps. They were ordered to distribute the War Department pamphlets 19-1 “What about the German Prisoners?” and 19-2 “Facts vs. Fantasy” to help in this endeavor. Yet with the majority of the responsibility of the program falling on their shoulders, it is difficult to understand why the commanders in the Special Projects Division office did not listen more to their thoughts on the matter.

Yet the very nature of those in charge, who were mostly from academia, might offer a clue. As Ron Robin states in The Barbed-Wire College, “They represented an alienated intelligentsia, who never bothered to hide their contempt for the rank and file within the camps.”

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From Penal Division to POW Camp

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 838-865:

At the height of the 1943 Nazi- and anti-Nazi crisis, Camp Huntsville proved to be a particularly important spot within the national POW system. At Huntsville, the general population of Afrika Korps non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and enlisted men were mixed with political prisoners, criminals, and anti-Nazis. Some of these prisoners likely came from the 999th Light Afrika Division, which contained the majority of anti-Nazis captured early in the war. Originally created as a penal brigade in 1942 in France, the unit expanded into a Division and began deployment into North Africa in early 1943. The defeat of German forces in North Africa interrupted the deployment, however, and many of the unit’s members quickly surrendered without a fight to the first Americans they encountered. Such actions did not endear them to their fellow POWs who viewed them as deserters and traitors. Despite the obvious divisions between these German prisoners, the POW camps in North Africa did not attempt to organize the prisoners, but rather mixed them all together in large compounds. This led to a number of problems with identification and organization. It also meant that the prisoners from the 999th were scattered throughout the early POW population and camp system.

The enlisted members of the unit were primarily communists, traditional socialists, anti-Nazis, and criminals, while their non-commissioned officers and officers were trusted party men. Just as the non-commissioned officers of the Afrika Korps tended to be the most ardent Nazis, the enlisted men of the 999th tended to be the most radical anti-Nazis. Much of the 999th’s more senior non-commissioned officers and leadership were confirmed Nazis and included Gestapo men, who were put in place to “keep watch” over their radical troops. Thus, the stage was set for violence whenever these two forces found themselves occupying the same camp in significant numbers.

In his account of his time at Camp Huntsville, former POW Rudolf Thill identifies twelve of the anti-Nazis who arrived with him as part of the first batch of prisoners who had been released from concentration camps to serve in the penal battalions of units like the 999th. These men had a particular problem in that their arms bore the telltale number tattoos of concentration camp prisoners. This made it nearly impossible for them to blend in with the prisoner population, even if they wanted to, which by all appearances they did not. Eventually, following an attack on two prisoners, the twelve anti-Nazis along with Thill, who had taken a job working with the Americans, were transferred to another camp after being segregated from the other prisoners and placed in the stockade for their own protection. More transfers and violence would follow.

In fact, disagreements among the “German” soldiers proved to be the greatest disruptive force at Camp Huntsville. This was, in large part, because the German military was not nearly as homogeneous as it has often been portrayed. In addition to a large number of Austrians pressed into service, it included Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Lithuanians, and any number of Balkan partisans who found themselves serving in the Wehrmacht or in specially organized foreign units. The U.S. generally treated all of these men as “German” on the basis that they were captured in German uniform, at least until later in the war.

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