Category Archives: War Crimes Investigations

A Warning to German Officers and Men

The following letter from General H. R. Alexander to commanders and men of the German army is from the British National Archives.

Unfortunately, it is undated. However, as the last of the atrocities listed in it allegedly occurred on October 2, 1944, it is apparent the letter was written sometime after that date and before the end of the war in Europe.

My access to the document is courtesy of British researcher Brian Sims.

Here is the full text of the letter:

WARNING to German officers and men

By General Sir H. R. Alexander, Commander-in-Chief, Allied Armies in Italy.

1. Reports of atrocities – killings of hostages, mass reprisals against innocent civilians, torturings and the like – committed by German troops in Northern Italy are becoming daily more frequent.

2. I therefore call the attention to all German officers and men in Northern Italy, who otherwise might give or carry out orders to commit such atrocities, to the following:

3. The fact that in, for example, a certain village Italian patriots – whether or not wearing uniforms, arm-bands or other recognizable insignia – may have attacked German soldiers is not, according to the Jus Gentium or any other Legal or moral code, a justification for collective reprisals upon the population of the village, nor for the killing or persons without due legal trial and conviction.

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The Brandenburgers—War Crimes Investigations

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 Brandenburg 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.

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War Crimes—the Killing of William Edwards

In May 1944, British Gunner Leslie Victor Wilkins and five other POWs who had escaped from a camp near Spoleto spent time in hiding among the foothills near Rossilia, Italy (a location which I have been unable to locate on maps).

In time the fugitives were discovered and the hut where they were hiding was raided in the night by a fascist-led group of German soldiers. One of the POWs, William Edwards, was killed—apparently in his sleep—by gunfire. Two others were wounded. Leslie Wilkins did not know what became of the wounded soldiers, but he and the two uninjured men were transferred to Germany.

On June 3, 1946, Leslie was interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Birmingham City Police, apparently in cooperation with a Judge Advocate General’s war crimes investigation into the case.

An Italian, Giovanni Agliani, was accused in the killings. Giovanni’s wife wrote to a British woman, Betty di San Marzano, who had lived in Italy and knew the family, asking her for a statement in support of her husband’s character.

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