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) 

 

Prinz Eugen “Lucky Ship” of the Kriegsmarine

 

 

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German heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen in an undated photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

She was named for Prince Eugene of Savoy, one of the great captains in European military history.  The Prince had an extraordinary military career in 18th century Europe serving the Habsburg Monarchy.

 

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 Portrait of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).

Oil on canvas painted in 1718 by Jacob van Schuppen (1670–1751). The painting was purchased in 1806 by the State Art Museum of Amsterdam where it has been ever since.

 

 

 

KMS Prinz Eugen under attack 1942

 

Hugging the Norwegian shore, the German battlecruiser PRINZ EUGEN makes her way southwards while under attack from Coastal Command aircraft on the evening of 17 May 1942. The heavy anti-aircraft barrage she put up shot down three of her attackers, and a follow-up wave was intercepted by enemy fighters and suffered heavy losses. No hits were scored by the RAF, and the ship made Kiel safely the following day. (Photo by RAF official photographer, HQ Coastal Command, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

 

Since she had survived so much combat in World War Two, the  Prinz Eugen was known as the “lucky ship” of the Kriegsmarine. She spent the winter months of 1945 providing fire support to German armies fighting in the Ost Krieg. Subsequent to that duty, she finished the war transporting refugees from East Prussia to Northern Germany. Due to fuel and ammunition shortages, as well as worn out rifling in the barrels of her main armament, she docked in Copenhagen in late April. (Denmark was still under German occupation)

The Prinz Eugen was surrendered to the Royal Navy on 7 May 1945. In the months to come, all of Germany’s naval assets were divided amongst the Great Powers. During those negotiations, she became a prize of war of the United States.

 

 

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Prinz Eugen transiting the Panama Canal in 1946.

(Official USN Photograph from the US National Archives)

 

In December 1945, she was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as the USS Prinz Eugen--the only foreign warship in the modern era commissioned into the US Navy. In order to sail the ship to the United States, the US Navy required many of the German crew to help operate the ship. They all volunteered since most had no job prospects and were paid in American dollars.

Half-way across the Atlantic, the ship broke down and had to be towed the rest of the way. The demands of the war kept the Prinz Eugen from receiving nothing but the most minimal maintenance.  Much of her equipment was worn out especially her engines.

After being studied by US Navy experts who examined her technology and design, some of it superior to the US versions, she was sent to Bimini Atoll in the Marshall Islands as one of the ships anchored there for atomic testing.  Atomic bombs were exploded in 1946 so the navy could understand the effect of an atomic blast wave on naval vessels.

 

 

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Prinz Eugen anchored at the Bikinia Atoll before the atomic tests in 1946. Official US Navy photograph,

 

The proprietors of the following company have taken extensive photographs and video of both the wrecked Japanese ships in  Kwajalein area with many of the Prinz Eugen. You can contact them here for more information:

http://www.underwaterkwaj.com/wreck/Ships.htm

 

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According to Underwaterkwaj “After surviving the tests, she was towed to Kwajalein, where she developed a leak and sank next to Ennubuj Island. Her bow is about 35 meters depth while the screws and rudder, obviously, protrude from the water. One prop (the sawed-off shaft) was removed and taken to a museum in Germany. The ship is an interesting dive, but due to the deterioration of the metal and upside down position, can be disorienting and potentially dangerous. Kwajalein Island can be seen in the background.”

photo and caption courtesy of: http://www.underwaterkwaj.com/kwaj/eugen.htm

 

 

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Alas, even in the far-off Marshalls, you cannot get away from vandals and graffiti. Those are some common Marshallese surnames painted on the prop blades and hub. The prop is also a rest stop for a noddy tern (on the prop blade) and a whimbrel (on the prop hub, with a long bill).

(Adds Charles McCain: graffiti is annoying and unsightly. Believe it or not, inside various structures in Egypt and other places where Roman soldiers went, they left graffiti which is still readable after centuries.  And its the usual kind of moronic lines people always write in a generic way relative to their time:  Maximus was here in the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.)

http://www.underwaterkwaj.com/kwaj/eugen.htm