VC winner branded 'war criminal' - wore a German paratrooper's smock to dupe snipers

Discussion in 'Historiography' started by Jim Clay, Apr 10, 2006.

  1. Heimbrent

    Heimbrent Well-Known Member

    In my own opinion if he felt it was a justifiable ruse, and assuming his CO agreed, then his interpretation of the "laws" of the battlefield were correct. Arguing about them later won't change the opinions of that time and place, and we can't presume to judge.

    The point about laws, whether it be war or not, is that they apply no matter what an individual makes of them.
    German officers got the order to shoot political commissars, they passed the order on to their soldiers and everybody was assured by their superiors that it is justified and correct - and many certainly thought it really was.
    But just because they were told and thought it was correct doesn't make it so, does it? Would you not argue about the commissar order just because back then they were convinced it was right?
  2. Vitesse

    Vitesse Senior Member

    Interesting that this should come up. Matt's comments about direct quotes are pertinent - I have it on good authority, from people who knew him personally through motor sporting connections (see Owen's link above), that Clive Hulme was actually a very modest, gentle and private man. I don't believe he ever spoke on the record about his wartime experiences. His son Denny was probably one of the bravest men ever to step into a racing car: look particularly at his 1970 season. He was affectionately known as "The Bear", due to his courage. But like his dad, he didn't say much.

    When this non-story broke the motor sport connection meant it was discussed in that milieu too. Here's what a highly respected US military historian (who also writes on motor sport) wrote at the time. I shan't name him, since he's still a serving officer in the US Army, currently stationed in what he terms "The Sandpit". He is also old enough to have fought in Viet Nam - he served in the Air Cavalry, I believe.

    I have to assume that the scholars in question are actually serious and that their view of Sgt Hulme's actions are influenced by an anachronistic view of certain events which occur during wartime. I will spare you a learned discourse on the subject that War is a Crime, lucky you, and cut right to the chase....

    Unless I am greatly mistaken, the German snipers that Sgt. Hulme killed were armed. Given an opportunity to place Sgt. Hulme in their sights, squeeze the trigger, feel the recoil, and terminate the life processes of the aforementioned Sgt. Hulme, there should be little doubt that any of those in the sniper team would have done so. This a minor consideration often ignored when viewing these things in the abstract.

    As to what Sgt. Hulme did in this exact instance, one must take a moment and realize that his focus was first on the mission and then on his men -- both being quite intertwined in the reality that is combat. That he used subterfuge to place himself in the midst of the enemy and then used very clevers ploys to eliminate them as opponents on the field of battle reflects an enormous level of courage and initiative. Bravery is situational, but courage is something much more subtle, something that is not turned on and off like a switch. Sgt. Hulme demonstrated in this instance -- as well as in the other acts for which he was justifiably awarded the VC -- great courage, not "just" bravery. It takes an enormous amount of courage to willingly place yourself into the midst of your foes and then stand your ground.

    Had I been one of the snipers and discovered that Sgt. Hulme was in the midst of my comrades, especially after having killed one or more of them, would I have gunned him down?

    You bet.

    Nor would I have blinked an eye.

    We often forget that all of this works both ways. Men fight just as bravely and just as hard for "bad" causes as they do for "good" causes. And on the battlefield the only true "good" cause is being true to your comrades, not letting them down.

    I am honest enough to doubt that I could have been as cool and as courageous as Sgt. Hulme was under those circumstances. That is why we recognize those who are cool and courageous under fire since the coward in all of us lurks just beneath our skin screaming to rip itself from us and escape when the firing begins, carrying us with him. We can all be brave under the right circumstances, but very, very few of us are both brave and courageous when it counts.

    We historians are always coming up with things to say that often probably didn't need to be said. I would suggest that this poorly considered jotting from New Zealand falls into that category.
    dbf likes this.
  3. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Germans found in American uniforms were executed in the battle of the Bulge. Then that begs the question, He would be open to being shot by his own mates while in A German uniform.

    It is similar the tale of the Schmeiser German gun. It was expressly forbidden to use it. The sound was so distinctive, that the nearest Allied Soldier would send a burst in the direction of the gun being fired ....
  4. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Senior Member

    IIRC German soldiers captured wearing pieces US uniforms during the Bulge were shot. This was not limited to Skorzeni's Greif commandos but to a number of men who used captured clothing to just improve their protection fron the cold. So the US at least considered using enemy uniforms a war crime worthy of capital punishment.

    But attemping to give judgements after all these years makes no sense at al, there is a grey area between "ruse" (legal) and "deception" (illegal) that cannot be detrmined after all this time.
    L J likes this.
  5. L J

    L J Senior Member

    the whole thing is only an abject attampt of those :mad111::angry2: journalists to disgrace a brave soldier
  6. martin14

    martin14 Senior Member

    The Hague Convention (1907) states:

    Art. 23. In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden -
    f. To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;

    This has been quite an interesting thread, I'm glad someone dug it up.

    imo, wearing an enemy uniform is against the GC.

    If he had been captured, I think the Germans would have been justified
    in executing him more or less on the spot without facing any war crimes
    charges themselves.

    After all, Germans wearing US uniforms during the BoB were also
    executed, no problems.

    But the action of using an enemy uniform is hardly a war crime.

    I hope the NZ gov't will stand up and refuse any idea of an apology.
  7. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    The way I read this is that the sniper is wearing British uniform and purely using a German camouflage smock, which was probably better than his own issue.

    I agree his actions, if correctly reported, show that he tried to pass himself off as a German sniper.

    But this appears a world away from German commandos dressed head to toe in American uniforms and equipment as seen in the Battle of the Bulge campaign.

  8. Total war is what it means - TOTAL WAR.

    dont claim a total war for you as long as you adjudge the enemys total war.

    Let's not forget a few things. If he had been caught he would have been shot on the spot. In the some parts of the war the Germans used whole units of english speaking soldiers dressed as american MPs to decieve and confuse

    my answere:

    Often they used captured equipment or disguised themselves as soldiers from the opposite side, sometimes including false identification papers, but unlike their allied counterparts, the Brandenburgers were very particular about donning another nation's uniform. This chivalric code, while perhaps rather anachronistic, required that men always wore their German uniform beneath the enemy's, and before combat, the men would hold fire until they made their own uniforms visible.[citation needed] While this led credence to the claim that Brandenburgers were soldiers, not spies, it also led to the capture of several units who refused to break these orders and open fire before revealing their 'true colours'.

    from : Brandenburgers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    just an example of german soldiers policy. I mean: do you justify the soldiers actions by relating it to similar german actions ?? these actions were simply as questionable as the ones of their counterparts and I refuse disgustfully. also I dont think there is any need for an apology as it is just another absurd attempt by the media of attracting attention by playing with peoples emotions.
    Heimbrent likes this.
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  10. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    I knew we needed a German point of view in the forum :)

    Where's Kruska, by the way?
  11. Fireman

    Fireman Discharged

    I find it quite incredible that ' a ruse' of any sort can't be used in war. It's not a game of cricket and the object is to kill the enemy by any means possible, at least that is what I have always believed. Of course if you kill wounded soldiers, wear their unifom or sink hospital ships then the least that can be expected is that you may suffer the thing. War isn't for gentlemen with a sense of fairness, nice thought but ridiculous.
  12. by the way...did he still use a No.4 or also switched the weapon? ah, nevermind....splendid individual performance anyhow
  13. I find it quite incredible that ' a ruse' of any sort can't be used in war. It's not a game of cricket and the object is to kill the enemy by any means possible, at least that is what I have always believed. Of course if you kill wounded soldiers, wear their unifom or sink hospital ships then the least can be expected is that you may suffer the thing. War isn't for gentlemen with a sense of fairness, nice thought but ridiculous.

    noone said "a ruse cant be used in war".

    its about to "follow" and to "claim" the paragraphs of the Geneva Convention.
  14. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    I see that it was Owen who said this much earlier in Post 36:
    From a legal website about geneva convention.
    Perfidy is definded thus;-
    It is prohibited to pretend to surrender, without an actual intention to do so. (Protocol I, Art. 37 <>, Sec. 1)
    Pretending to seek a cease-fire with the intent to betray the confidence in order to kill, injure or capture an adversary is perfidy <> and is prohibited. (Protocol I, Art. 37 <>, Sec. 1a)

    I am reminded of my own experience here:

    Friday 13th. April 1945
    Moved over Santerno. Some M.G. nuisance and one H.E. about twenty yards away. Bags of prisoners, Kiss from Signora. "Liberatoris !". Chasing after tedeschis with 30 browning blazing!

    The Browning machine gun referred to was rarely fired in anger, the exception being on this one occasion when I nearly killed Hewie our Stuart Tank driver.

    We had been on the move all day and the Germans were surrendering left, right and centre. To our left, about two hundred yards away, German infantry were climbing out of slit trenches with their hands high and we were gesturing to them to get behind us and to make their way to the rear.

    Suddenly someone to our right opened light rifle fire at us and Busty (SSM ‘Busty’ Thomas) lost patience and yelled at me "Let the bastards have it!" Hewie swung the tank to the right so we could face the new threat and I started firing non-stop, without giving Hewie a chance to drop his adjustable seat down below the level of fire belching from the Browning. A horrified Busty yelled: "Get down you stupid bastard!" and to my immediate relief Hewie disappeared from view before I could hit him.

    Back in May 1945, nobody was there to tell me about "perfidy" and the rules of warfare.

    All I knew was that one minute the Jerries were surrendering to us, the next minute someone was shooting at us and so we in turn were trying to kill them.

    It was actually quite simple at the time.


    canuck likes this.
  15. Ramiles

    Ramiles Researching 9th Lancers, 24th L and SRY

    This is an old thread so I'm trying to think back to what I would have thought then: (I've used "now" merely in the sense of responded back to the original #1 post) - rather than now as in now. (I still think this - I just don't want anyone saying no-one's "flagging up this issue now" :rolleyes: )

    One way for the Geneva Convention to work could have been if the enemy didn’t use it then neither should you. But sadly when your enemy is scum that's indifferent to the “rules of war” that kind of forces you down to their level and into a tit-for-tat over who is scummiest and I'd rather not go there ;)

    Besides I think the enemies we faced were prepared to and could always think of something far worse. So it should always be assumed first that our military did the best it could until proven otherwise. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

    Lawyers should go after the worst perpetrators first (not just the easiest i.e. ours to “get”) and deal with them thereafter sequentially down the list, concentrating on the most heinous public enemies first.

    When you actually get down to the level of what “we did wrong” and have to mitigate that against what we actually did right, they probably would be in their late 90’s or long dead which is perhaps why someone is thinking they can start flagging up this issue now. Are there really no more “deserving” contraveners to get? If so we’ve had quite a few more wars and atrocities globally since WW2 and plenty of worse criminals to track down than “our boys” have arisen since.

    As I said though, let the lawyers work sequentially on the basis of actually dealing with the “worst” first. That way is fairest and I’m sure we’ll get around to what we did wrong eventually and have to atone to somebody some where.

    Interesting when you look at justice, she is a blindfolded lady with a pair of scales, it might be nice to assume you put your bad deeds on one side and your good on the other. But she is actually meant to be weighing up the evidence there:

    I suspect that that would be where could come in the plea for self-defence.

    It did occur to me though that why would they (the snipers etc.) need a legal reason to have shot him (had they captured him)? They could have just shot him had they captured him and dumped him in a ditch? Did they care about the legal niceties there? Beside which during combat what would have prevented them shooting him? Some guy in one of your smocs is shooting at you - is he a German soldier? "Nein". (I think the shooting at you pretty much gives that away!) :Hydrogen:

    All the best,

  16. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    No mention has been made of the late US Camouflage uniform issued to some units during the Normandy campaign.
    After a lot of friendly fire casualties the uniform was withdrawn because it was considered too much like the German uniform.
    Regardless of which Camouflage uniform worn, if caught,he would have been executed, which as a sniper he would have been well aware of.
    In my eyes this makes him worthy of any award made.
    canuck likes this.
  17. Sussex by the Sea

    Sussex by the Sea Senior Member

  18. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    I couldn't agree more Tom.
    Someone had an agenda with that accusation.
    This is an abstract and ultimately pointless discussion which armchair lawyers can indulge in, 75 years after the fact. As Ron described, it was much simpler than that for the men in the cross hairs. How many variations on the the theme of deception must have played out during the course of the war? To my way of thinking, asking combat infantryman to rigidly adhere to the rules of warfare, given the highly charged circumstances they fought under, is simply an absurd proposition.
    As with previous threads on the systemic violation of the rules, high up the chain of command, by formations like the SS, it is an entirely different discussion than the spontaneous conduct of individuals in the heat of battle.
    Smudger Jnr likes this.
  19. Over Here

    Over Here Junior Member

    Only Anglophones would bother to work themselves in a lather about this, in particular twerps born long after WWII intent on demonstrating that though they haven't really done anything and probably couldn't, they are indeed morally superior to their forefathers that did.

    So he put on a smock and picked up a German rifle? Clever chap. Germans loved such little games in both world wars, so sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

    Tempest in a teacup again?
    canuck likes this.
  20. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    What, the 'Trojan Horse' was a war crime! :(

    Don't think so .. clever 'ruse de guerre'. ;)

    No battle goes according to the rules ... :biggrin:

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