Badly Wounded Often Exchanged in World War Two

Excerpts from account of wounding and repatriation by Bill Williams of 50th Royal Tank Regiment from the BBC. The entire piece is here.

www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/86/a2889886.shtml

“At the end of the action (during which his tank was destroyed in an attack in Sicily July, 1943), I was collected by the German troops with one other survivor. They called, ‘Come, Tommy’… I could not raise my left arm and shouted ‘Wounded!’, which fortunately is similar to the German word and we were taken in to their lines.The soldiers were quite friendly… and took me to the dressing station where my wounds were treated….

Account of Bill Williams of 50th Royal Tank Regiment from

www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/86/a2889886.shtml

(Fast forward 18 months to January of 1945)

I was sent to an assembly area for repatriation, where I found quite a lot of Americans and Commonwealth troops.. After a few days we were loaded on to a train which took us through Germany to the Swiss border…. When we reached the border, a train the other direction with German wounded crossed the border at the same time.

Our guards were taken off and replaced by Swiss nurses who looked after us until we reached Marseilles where a hospital ship was waiting to take us to England. We landed at Liverpool and trained to a hospital at Loch Neigh which was rather a gloomy old place but it was home!” 

 

Below is an account from a British Merchant Marine officer about his wartime voyage through German waters to Sweden.

 

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SS Arundel Castle which sailed from time to time during World War Two from Liverpool with her British merchant crew through the Baltic to Sweden to embark badly wounded British soldiers.

It seems odd that in the middle of total war between the Allies and Nazi Germany, that such formalities as exchanging badly wounded prisoners-of-war were not only negotiated but carried out. British Merchant Marine officer Peter Guy, cited in Convoy: Merchant Sailors At War 1939-1945 by P. Kaplan and J. Currie , describes an exchange which occurred in the late December of 1944.

He was aboard the British merchant ship Arundel Castle and their destination was Goteborg, in neutral Sweden where the exchange would take place.

“We were granted safe passage, and it was a treat to have portholes open and lights showing. On Christmas Eve 1944, we lay off Gibraltar after embarking the Germans at Marseilles, and everyone who was able gathered on the deck to sing a grand selection of carols….Later we passed through a narrow channel in the Skaggerak into the Baltic, and we could see the faces of the German gunners looking down on us from their gun positions. They weren’t impressed when some of our crew gave the V-sign. Arriving at Goteborg, we were surprised to get a welcome from a German brass band playing on the quayside…The saddest part was when close on a hundred of our lads who had lost their sight were led up the gangway. The exchange was all over in about three hours and we sailed home to Liverpool.”

It is important to note that both Norway and Denmark were occupied by the Germans at this time so the German gunners he refers to are stationed in those countries.

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[Images courtesy of Wikimedia and Wayne Ray & the Windfield Photographic Collection and Archives) 

 

The Widow Maker of World War Two: the German 88

 

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The famous German 88, the best and most versatile artillery piece of World War Two. While originally developed in World War One and made in many versions, 88’s were devastating as regular artillery pieces, as anti-aircraft guns and as tank killers. On the Eastern Front against the Soviets, one German 88 artillery piece could hold off an attack by dozens of Russian tanks because the 88 far out ranged the Soviet tanks.

Hence the 88 could take them under fire long before the tanks could fire at the 88. It remains a mystery why the Allies didn’t make copies of this artillery piece and use it for themselves.

One disadvantageous feature the 88s was this: the guns were originally designed to be emplaced on the ground. According to US Army records from WW Two, while it only took a well trained crew 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes to emplace an 88, this assumes the 88 was being towed by a heavy truck or prime mover.

 

German-88mm-Artillery

A German 88mm artillery piece is towed by a SdKfz 6 half-track in North Africa, April, 1941. The 88mm was typically towed by a half-track that carried the gun crew and ammunition. (Bundesarchive photo via defensemedianetwork.com)

 

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88 being deployed in the Soviet Union circa 1943/44.

However, if one studies photographs of an 88 being removed from its wheeled transport carriage, as in the photograph above,  it appears that it would have taken longer than than a few minutes to emplace this heavy artillery piece.

The men had to removed the wheeled transport carriage before firing although in an emergency it could be fired from its wheeled carriage but without the outriggers emplaced into the ground, stability was negatively affected which made accurate fire difficult.

If the 88 had to unloaded from a flatbed rail-car, which was often the case, then it took much longer. Except in a dire emergency, they could not be fired from rail cars because the base of the 88 required four long stability outriggers to be deployed and secured to the ground.

If German units were being overrun by Soviet or Allied troops, they often had to leave their 88s to be captured although they destroyed the breech blocks and dropped grenades down the barrels before retreating.

While the Germans did begin to manufacture self propelled, mobile 88s, their industrial base was too small to turn out adequate numbers of the self propelled guns.

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 Nordfrankreich, Panzer VI (Tiger I).2

(photo courtesy of the Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-299-1805-16)

A variation of the 88 was mounted on the famous Tiger tank (which took 300,000 man hours to manufacture just one of these tanks) and the even bigger Royal Tiger, made these tanks formidable opponents. No Allied tank could stand alone against a Tiger.

The Royal Tiger was at a certain disadvantage because the gun would not traverse and instead the crew had to move the tank so the barrel pointed in the direction they wanted to fire.

The 88 was a fearsome artillery piece especially as against tanks but also as a general artillery piece and as flak artillery. When using the correct ammunition, the 88 could fire as high as 22,000 feet which was about the altitude of Allied bombers.