An interesting report from the British National Archives documents investigations carried out in January 1948 by Captain C. Hillman and a second investigator referred to only as Mr. Suesserott.
The report contains recommendations for further action, including interviews that might lead to crucial new evidence and war crimes prosecutions.
Much of the Hillman/Suesserott report concerns the execution of four British and two American escaped prisoners of war in Comunanza, likely by members of the “Hettinger Group” of the Brandenberg Regiment.
The rest of the report lists seven instances of killings possibly attributable to the “Bansen Group” of the same regiment. These incidents include the killings of Sidney Seymour Smith, and Robert Alvey Newton and Martin Majeski.
My access to this investigations document is courtesy of researcher Brian Sims. I asked Brian about the “SEE” listing of these war crimes. He answered, “As with most series of UK files each department had their own particular set of references. These were later rationalised when gathered together in the WO series.”
Here is the full report:
The Investigations Report
Report on investigations carried out by Captain C. HILLMAN and Mr. SUESSEROTT covering the period from 8 Jan 48 till 29 Jan 48.
On 8 Jan 48 we proceeded from this H.Q. to investigate the deaths of Allied PoWs who were shot in Italy in May 1944. (SEE/88 and SEE/72). On 10 Jan 48 I contacted the British I.O. [Intelligence Officer] at MUNICH in an effort to get a certain REISCHEL, a former police officer in CARINTHIA who is wanted by the Austrian Authorities for various crimes committed by himself and his men against Austrian Partisans, arrested and extradited. This was met with some difficulty which was finally overcome by Mr. SUESSEROTT and the arrest of REISCHEL was effected approx. 14 days later by German Police acting on U.S. Mil. Govt. [Military Government] instructions. By way of MANNHEIM, FRANKFURT and HANNOVER I reached HAMBURG where I immediately started to make inquiries regarding the whereabouts of the former members of the BRANDENBURG Regt., such WEHLAN, LIEBHARD (or LIPPHART) and UNRAU. I was able to obtain particulars, of several persons whom I later interviewed. With the exception of WEHLAN and Hans ULRICH all persons were not identical with our traces and were set free after a short interrogation.
On 14 Jan 48 I proceeded to LUEBECK, whilst Mr. SUESSEROTT left HAMBURG for MUNICH with Capt. German. At LUEBECK I interviewed the divorced wife of a certain Hans UNRAU regarding her husband’s military history. She stated that her former husband had never served in the Wehrmacht, owing to physical trouble. I also inquired about LIEBHARD (or LIPPHART), former Feldwebel [Feldwebel, equivalent of a staff sergeant] of UNRAU’s Coy [Company], who was reported to be living at LUEBECK. No person with that name could, however, be found and I returned to HAMBURG on the 16 Jan where I interviewed UNRAU Hans, whom I found neither identical nor related with our trace. I also interviewed another man called LIEBHARDt but could not find him identical with the wanted person. Following up another trace I proceeded to BURG where I interviewed another man by the name of UNRAU Willi, but also in this case, UNRAU proved to be not identical with our trace. On 18 Jan I interviewed WEHLAN and obtained a statement from him. WEHLAN, who is employed by a British Intelligence Agency at HAMBURG offered his help and assistance in the investigation of this case. On 19 Jan 48 I interviewed Heinz ROEVEKAMP at BREMEN but he did not appear to know anything about the case. On the 21 Jan I reached MUNICH where I contacted SUESSEROTT who had in the meantime started routine enquiries as to the possible whereabouts of UNRAU Lieutenant FISCHER (SEE/72) and ROMMEL. I subsequently interviewed a girl named Editha UNRAU, who claims to be a near relative of Horst UNRAU. The latter she claimed to be still held as a PoW by Russia. Another interrogation of STIEGLER remained without results.
On the 25 Jan I proceeded from STUTTGART to the area at Schwaebisch-Gmuend, where I interviewed SAUTER who, like all the other persons concerned, claimed to have no knowledge of the matter. On 26 Jan I reinterrogated FISCHER Theo and obtained a second statement of him.
On 27 Jan I interviewed HETTINGER’s wife and questioned her re [regarding] the identity of personalities mentioned by her husband in one of his letters. As a result of this I interviewed a certain Werner Stockmaier at STUTTGART. I confiscated his diary as an entry in it referred to a visit Stockmaier had paid HETTINGER on the 2nd of May 44. (The day of the incident). I have reason to believe that the diary was faked by Stockmaier at the request of Frau HETTINGER. The diary has since been forwarded to the laboratory of the VIENNA C.I.D. to be examined by them.
On 28 Jan I proceeded via MUNICH and MARKT OBERDORF, where I picked up REISCHEL, to SALZBERG from where I left on 29 Jan on my return to base.
[Signed by C. Hillman]
War Crimes Investigator.
The position regarding the Brandenburgers has now been considerably verified. It transpires that the crimes under investigation formerly attributed to one and the same unit, were in fact committed by two distinct units of the Brandenburg Regiment quite independant of each other, who operated at different times in the same area.
This consisted of the 16 Coy. [company] Brandenburg Regiment, with later the addition of the 9 Sept. Bn. [battalion] of the Fascist Militia.
The company moved from SARDINIA to the area of PISA at the end of 1943. It was then transferred to Germany, but returned to the MACERATA area early in March 1944, and was billeted in the old P.O.W. camp at SPORZA COSTA.
On 8 April the company started its move South to the ASCOLI PICENO area. The move was completed by about 15 April, and the company deployed in the area. HQ was at ASCOLI PICENO (Villa Marina). The company now had the 9 Sept Italian Fascist Bn. placed under its command, and became Kamptgruppe HETTINGER. The actual location of the Company HQs or the Kamptgruppe are not known, except for that of Leut. UNRAU which was at COMUNANZA with a detachment under Fw. [Feldwebel] STIEGLER at AMANDOLA.
Only one of the many Brandenburg crimes in this area can now be attributed to Kamptgruppe HETTINGER but of this one there is no doubt.
The killing of GORDON, DIDCOCK and two unknown British and two unknown American Ps.W. [prisoners of war] at COMUNANZA on the morning of 2 May 1944.
There is evidence that
(i) These men were arrested in the COMUNANZA AMANDOLA area on about 30 April.
STIEGLER the detachment commander at AMANDOLA admits to capturing two Englishmen at about this time.
(ii) All were taken to UNRAU’s HQ at COMUNANZA where they were seen by several people.
(iii) On the following day all were taken in a truck to the Villa Marina at ASCOLI PICENO. This was HETTINGER’s HQ. There is no direct evidence that HETTINGER was actually in the building at this time.
(iv) On leaving the Villa Marina the men had already been sentenced to death. This evidence is given by the German driver of the truck, PFALLER.
(v) They returned to COMUNANZA arriving about 17.00 hours. They were again seen by a number of people.
(vi) At about 05.00 hours the following morning they were shot at the cemetery of COMUNANZA by members of the Fascist Bn. probably commanded by a German N.C.O. [noncommissioned officer].
(vii) On the same day a proclamation was posted in COMUNANZA announcing the execution, and signed by UNRAU. This proclamation is in our possession.
(viii) There is no evidence to show that the Ps.W. were armed when captured and in fact definite evidence in the case of two of them, that they were unarmed. Also in his proclamation UNRAU never mentions the Ps.W. as having been armed. On the evidence this was an illegal execution and therefore a war crime.
[text missing] ____BILITY.
[text missing] ____ 1. Hptmn. [hauptmann, equivalent of a captain] HETTINGER
There is little doubt that he gave the order for the execution. The Ps.W. were never sent to any higher H.Q. than his. He might have telephoned a higher H.Q. and received the order from them but this doesn’t seem likely. No direct evidence that he was in his HQ on this particular day. This could probably be established by interrogating some of his subordinates.
2. Leut. UNRAU.
Commander of the men who actually carried out the execution. Signed his name on the proclamation announcing it.
He appears to have referred the matter to higher authority i.e. HETTINGER, but must have known this was an illegal shooting.
The German N.C.O. i/c [noncommissioned officer in charge] and Italian members of the firing squad can hardly be held responsible.
There are many Italian witnesses to the fact that the crime, as committed. Also the following Germans may give evidence.
Leut. Theo FISCHER – whereabouts unknown.
Located in hospital. Has not been questioned on the Crime.
FISCHER was adjutant to HETTINGER and also a sort of part time Company Commander. May well have been at the HQ when the Ps.W. were brought there. Even if not there at the time, may give indirect evidence that the execution order came from HETTINGER.
Fw. later Leut. STIEGLER. – whereabouts unknown.
Commanded the detachment of UNRAU’s company stationed at AMANDOLA. Admits capturing two Ps.W. about this time and says he sent them to UNRAU’s HQ.
From evidence of Italians, STIEGLER appears to have been a decent man, and on the occasions when he captured Ps.W. to have treated them well.
There is no evidence at all that STIEGLER had any part in the crime. Throughout his interrogation he appears to be telling the truth BUT he denies knowledge that the shooting occurred. It is hard to believe that, although stationed some ten miles form COMUNANZA, the news of what had happened did not at some time reach him. On the other hand it is possible.
Gefr. [Gefreiter, equivalent of a lance corporal] PFALLER – whereabouts known.
Driver of the truck in which the P.W. were taken to ASCOLI and back. Heard that they had been sentenced to death on leaving the Villa Marina.
Uffz. [Unteroffizier, equivalent of a corporal] KOFFLER – whereabouts known.
Escorted the Ps.W. and told PFALLER of death sentences.
There may be many others who can give evidence if traced, but the above named are the most likely ones. In about the middle of May, the Kamptgruppe moved further South into the GRAN SASSO area, but it is not clear whether the Group HQ left ASCOLI.
From then until they repatriated North in the middle of June no crime occurred attributable to them.
In July at CESENA they combined with the other BRANDENBURG Group (to be mentioned later), and this is the only time that the groups had a common Commander.
Previously it had seemed that all the BRANDENBURG crimes committed in the ASCOLI MACERATA area were the work of the HETTINGER Group, but now it appears reasonably certain that only the COMUNANZA case can be laid at their door.
Hptmn. Rolf HETTINGER
Aged about 32, 1.85m tall, slim build, Brown hair, Brown eyes, 1st and 2nd Class Iron Cross, married, Native of STUTTGART. Had probably been a clerk: in some commercial firm.
Leut. Fritz STIEGLER – in custody.
Gefr. Anton PFALLER – could be obtained as a witness.
Leut. Horst UNRAU,
Aged about 32, 1.70m tall, slim build, Fair hair, married. Probably comes from E. PRUSSIA.
Leut. Theodor FISCHER
In hospital near BADEN.
Leut. Hermann BALDEMANN
Another of HETTINGER’s officers. Might give useful evidence. Whereabouts unknown.
Fw. Josef KOFFLER
An Austrian, aged about 38, 5’6″ tall, slim build, Pale complexion.
The above mentioned appear to be the most likely people to concentrate on.
This unit of the BRANDENBURG Division is more often referred to as the 2nd Bn. 3rd regiment. Mention of this unit frequently occurs in the investigation reports on the crimes committed in the ASCOLI area. It was formerly supposed that the commander was Hptmn. HETTINGER. It has now been established beyond doubt that HETTINGER’s was a separate unit which operated in the area at a later date. It appears that the BRANDENBURG Crimes, with the exception of the COMUNANZA case were the work of BANSEN’s Group.
Less is know regarding the movements composition and activities of this unit, for to date, no members of it has been located.
The 2nd Bn. 3rd Regiment, was in Southern Italy from the early days of the campaign. In Dec 1943 the Bn. was stationed in the AVEZZANO area. They would appear to have moved to the ASCOLI area in February or early March
1944 and to have had their HQ at the Villa Marina, later to be occupied by HETTINGER. They left here at the beginning of April, it must have been about a week before HETTINGER’s arrival, and went, most probably to PERUGIA.
In July 1944, at CESENA, they were joined by HETTINGER’s Group, and the whole unit was commanded by a Hptmn. PINKER who had replaced BANSEN. Pinker was killed shortly after.
It is however with the period Dec 1943 – March 1944 that we are concerned.
Exactly when PINKER relieved BANSEN is not known, but it is fairly certain that during the period in question, BANSEN was still in command.
The following are the crimes, either certainly or probably committed by the 2nd Bn. 3rd Regiment.
The killing of MANILALA GURUNG, an Indian N.C.O. at S. IONA, near AVEZZANO on 30 Dec 1943.
There is no direct evidence here, for the killing was done by three unknown men in civilian clothes. However, BANSEN had his HQ in the area and his unit was engaged in hunting for escaped Ps.W. Only interrogation of members of the unit would futher this case.
The killing of Capt. LAWRENCE at S. GEORGIO on 14 Jan 1944.
Here again there is no direct evidence. The killing was done by unknown Germans in the area occupied by BANSEN’s battalion.
The killing of BROWN, WHITE, HOLLINGSWORTH, and MOOTIS near MONTALTO on 10 March 1944.
This is a good case and can definitely be brought home to Leut. FISCHER commander of the company of 2nd Bn. Stationed at MONTALTO. This FISCHER should not be confused with the Leut. Theo FISCHER of HETTINGER’s Group. Of the four victims, three were British Ps.W. and one an Allied parachutist agent in civilian clothes. Presumably the Germans would have some justification for shooting him, but none for shooting the Ps.W.
There is evidence to show that
The three Ps.W. were unarmed.
That they were captured early in the morning of 10 March in a different house to that in which MOOTIS, the agent was living.
That all four, together with an Italian boy, were taken to FISCHER’s HQ at MONTALTO.
That they were interrogated by FISCHER and his 2 i/c Leut. ROMMEL.
That they were sentenced to death at this HQ, for one of them on leaving FISCHER’s room announced that they were to die.
That all with the exception of the Italian boy who was released, were shot on the same night on a bridge, near MONTALTO, and their bodies thrown into the river bed.
There is no evidence to show who actually carried out the execution, although the ammunition used was German.
It would appear therefore that FISCHER gave the order for the shooting and that there is a case against him. Also to a lesser extent against Leut. ROMMEL.
SEE/ [This “SEE/” is penciled onto the typed document, but no number is given.]
The killing of NEWTON and MAJESKI, two American ex Ps.W. near S. VITTORIA on 10 March 1944.
These men were captured during a round-up in the area close to MONTALTO, and shot almost immediately.
There is evidence to show that
They were unarmed.
That the troops concerned almost certainly came from the Villa Marina at ASCOLI PICENO.
The description of the officer commanding them fits that of Leut. Hossfeld, an officer of Bansen’s battalion stationed at ASCOLI.
That this officer was aware of the shooting for the men who did it reported to him immediately after.
There is no eye witness to the shooting so the defence may be that they were trying to escape, although this is not borne out by the circumstances.
There is a fair amount of evidence that Leut. HOSSFELD is responsible, but this cannot be established without interrogating some of his unit.
Although MONTALTO is near at hand, there is no evidence to show that FISCHER or ROMMEL were involved. They were at their HQ on 10 March (SEE/72).
The killing of W.O. BARKER and others at PITO near NORCIA on 11 March 1944.
Early on the morning of 11 March, the village in which W.O. BARKER and two other British Ps.W. believed to be named GROVES and EVANS were living together with some SLAVs, was raided by German troops.
BARKER attempted to escape through a window and was shot dead. The remainder were captured, and later shot on the outskirts of the village. The Germans would be justified in shooting BARKER, but not the others.
There is evidence that
(i) The troops concerned came from the Villa Marina at ASCOLI PICENO.
(ii) There is nothing to show that the victims were armed, but on the other hand no evidence that they weren’t.
(iii) The description of the officer commanding the Germans again fits that of HOSSFELD.
(iv) There was no independent eye witness to the killing.
It seems more than likely that this is again the work of Leut. HOSSFELD who must have carried out this round-up immediately on his return from the round-up in which NEWTON and MAJESKI were killed.
The killing of Sgmn. [Signalman] SMITH near MONTELPARO on 21 March 1944. SMITH was captured in a farm house by two Germans in civilian clothes. There was a struggle and he hit one of them over the head with a jug before being overpowered.
A little later SMITH and his escort met other Germans in uniform. The story of the jug was recounted whereupon one of the Germans struck Smith to the ground and shot him dead.
There is evidence that
(i) The Germans probably came from MONTALTO or PETRITOLI.
FISCHER’s company was at MONTALTO and may have had a detachment at PETRITOLI.
On the other hand MONTELPARO is in MACERATA province where at that time HETTINGER’s Group operated. HETTINGER’s were not however in PETRITOLI at this time and it seems more likely that the killers were men of FISCHER’s company operating a little North of their area.
(ii) SMITH was not armed.
(iii) There are a number of Italian eye witnesses to the fact that this was a wanton murder.
(iv) FISCHER or ROMMEL would not appear to have been present on this occasion, but the action of their men (if they were theirs) seems to reflect their method of dealing with Ps.W.
Nothing can be done until some member of the unit is interrogated.
Killing of Drv. [driver] COOPER at MONTOTTONE on 8 March 1944. COOPER was captured by two Germans in civilian clothes. He attempted to escape, was fired at and wounded and then shot dead as he lay on the ground.
There is no direct evidence that the shooting was done by BRANDENBURGER’s. However the area in which the crime was committed was FISCHER’s and the method also smacks of FISCHER.
Hptmn. BANSEN – not in custody.
Aged about 35, short and robust.
Black hair, Dark eyes, Dark complexion.
May be a prisoner of the Russians.
Leut. FISCHER – not in custody.
Aged about 35, 1.60 tall, Broad build, thin face, Chestnut hair.
Leut. ROMMEL – not in custody.
Aged about 26, 1.85 tall, slim build.
Leut. HOSSFELD – not in custody.
Aged about 28, 6’ tall, slim build, fair hair, wears glasses.
There is some direct evidence against all the above named with the exception of BANSEN.
The following are in custody and awaiting interrogation:
Leut. Theo FISCHER
Uffz. Peter WEBER.