Booty, Looting etc.

Discussion in 'General' started by Ron Goldstein, Jul 14, 2010.

  1. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Sorry but I can't let this thread go.
    I have been told by ex-infantrymen from both World Wars that they looted dead German soldiers.
    These men were asked to do the dirty killing work up close with the the enemy.
    Any squeamishness about the dead was gone.
    They'd seen their mates killed & maimed and done a fair bit of killing & maiming themselves.

    I cannot condemn them in the way that has been done on this thread.

    Some of them were Guardsmen, you can't get more disciplined than that.

    You have expressed here and in your previous post (#21) the very same views I have heard from numerous Canadian veterans and I couldn't agree with you more. I'm surprised that more posters have not recognized the context that these infantrmen operated in and as you noted, they weren't choir boys.
    However, I don't think discipline had much to do with it. The "Code" that these men operated under made souvenirs fair game. Taking someone's wrist watch, seems like a very minor event after you have killed him.
    I am somewhat incredulous that the issue of taking personal items is even raised as an issue given the violence that these soldiers were trained for and meted out to their enemies.
    OK to beat his brains out with a trenching tool but don't dare touch his personal effects ?????
    Owen and von Poop like this.
  2. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Here is an excerpt ( from Rifleman Doug Hester, Queen's Own Rifles, that gives another perspective on souvenir hunting. This from June 6th 1944, Bernieres sur Mer:

    Later, when my wound had started to bother me, I sat with my back against the seawall. Next to me was a wounded German boy. Every time I made a move he cringed, cowering.
    We'd both been hit. When you're wounded, that's it. It's over. Finally I tried to tell him that. He seemed to get the idea and relaxed a bit. Stumpy Gordon came along collecting Bren gun magazines and spotted me. "Let's have that Luger," he said to me.
    "No, Stumpy, you'll have to get one the same way I did."
    [Note by Roy J. Whitsed: Hester had taken some items from the dead corporal to send one day to a next-of-kin. Among the soldier's possessions was a prayer book. Hester still has it. He was stunned to find it. "We were the ones who carried bibles and prayer books," he said, still troubled. "We were the good guys. Weren't we? They were the bad guys. What's he doing then with a prayer book? What goes on here?"]
    It was at the turn of the year, 1949 moving into 1950, when I finally got around to writing to that soldier's family. They wrote back to me on February 24, 1950, clearly older people and probably not too well off. They had a friend translate the German, maybe not too well, but here it is just the way it came in the mail:
    February 24, 1950
    Dear Mr. Hester:
    We were deeply moved when, yesterday, your letter box, papers and photos of our unforgettable son Ernst arrived here. Take many thousand thanks. How are we able to reward you, that you let us have our boy's last belongings. By our office of the Werhmacht we formerly learned that our boy was probably killed on June 6, 1944 near Bernières-sur-Mer. They could not exactly inform us. We, my husband and me, are nowadays old people. We lost five children, Ernst was our last, who takes care of our living. We always hoped, that he would saved us and that our Lord let him come home from that terrible war, but we have to leave this hope too. Today we are old and nobody takes care of our living, and the war took all that we possessed in particular my husband was terribly moved losing five children. In this letter you find a photo of my son.
    Formerly, when we were informed of his death we made celebrate a mass for him. Take this as a souvenir of a German comrade, whom you saw only dead, but whom was, in the deep of his heart, has never been your foe. I should be heartly grateful to you. When you reply write me in complete details. Was he hard wounded? Had he lost his arms or legs, or how has he been killed? You can write in English or French as I have found someone to translate the letters.
    You can hardly imagine what it means to us to know how our poor son died. He was our last consolation, our last hope, shortly all that remained of our five children.
    And now, my husband and me thank you heartly once more and beg you to answer us pretty soon and tell us all about our son.
    Take in advance many hearty thanks for your kindness.
    Frau Johanna (surname withheld)

    My answer was brief, friendly, and forgiving. I closed by saying, "You can be certain that your son was brave, killed instantly and suffered no body damage."
  3. canuck

    canuck Closed Account


    I forgot to include a key piece from that narrative:

    A pillbox made of logs and open on both ends housed an anti-tank gun that was shooting our landing craft out of the water. I threw a grenade in one end. Three of the German crew came out running toward the hotel. One of them was a corporal. He had a Luger in his hand shooting at me. But I had my Lee Enfield.
  4. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Just flicking through The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada 1928-1953 compiled by Officers of the Regiment , edited by Lt-Col Jackson MBE ED.
    Loot is mentioned in a couple of extracts.
    page 70


    page 147

    dbf likes this.
  5. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Merged two recent 'looting' threads, (and reminded myself I'm taking far too long with that Longden book :unsure:).

    From IWM Collections:
    Uncat Record


    A sign warning against looting on the outskirts of Ravenna, 7 December 1944.
  6. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

    Looting or taking from civilians is very different from taking from dead enemy or surrendered enemy soldiers - eg their equipment , military issue gear .
    Huge amounts of gear seems to have going back to the US in comparison to what came to the UK - would this be a fair statement to make and I don't infer that the Americans "stole everything " which was not nailed down , just that they were allowed to send gear back home whilst it would seem our troops had less opportunity to send home.

    Did our customs people "tax" war trophies , eg that which may have been judged to be luxury items , cameras , binoculars etc ?
  7. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    As we all know, and has already been touched upon in this thread, there were "degrees" of the offence of looting and "degrees" of the value of booty that some servicemen attempted to bring back home with them.

    On the BBC Peoples War Archives I told this tale about one ex 4th Hussar chap who got away with smuggling a most unusual "object" into the UK.

    Understandably, most units managed to keep the odd pet whilst in the line.

    In 'A' Squadron, 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, we had Queenie, a nondescript bitch who subsequently produced Curly and once hostilities had finished they both firmly established themselves at our barracks in Opicina.

    I would be hard pushed to say who the official owner was, my guess is that it was probably the cook, as it was at the cookhouse that both dogs could usually be found. Whoever owned them, they were both spoilt rotten and had complete run of the barracks.

    It was rare for a serviceman to be allowed to take a pet back to the UK and so inevitably dogs such as Queenie and Curly would eventually have been ‘passed on’ to successive regiments at wherever one was stationed.

    One exception to this unwritten rule was when I was finally posted back to England in 1947.

    As we arrived at the docks at Dover I noticed that one of our party was wearing his greatcoat most of the time despite the fact that it couldn’t have been too comfortable wearing it on the train and on the ferry.

    Another one of the lads, seeing me staring at my unusually clad comrade said ‘Have a look at his right hand’

    I looked again, saw nothing and said ‘What am I supposed be looking at?’

    He smiled and said ‘He’s bringing his parrot home!’

    Sure enough, being held down in his right hand pocket was a full sized parrot that was about to be smuggled into England despite all the laws to the contrary and the strict anti-psittacosis regulations that were then in force.

    I would guess that half the ship must have known by then what he was trying to achieve and to everyone’s amusement and relief when we finally cleared customs and boarded our London bound train he brandished his multi-coloured pet in triumph.

    Please, dear reader, make my day and post a response that says ‘That was my Dad (or Granddad) who smuggled that parrot home and they are both still around today!
  8. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I was told this by my father - they were going home ready for demob and a queue was formed up at the dock.

    MPs were in attendance and my father noticed that a pile of various articles was slowly growing at the quayside.

    A very large Scotsman in front of him had balanced, on one of his shoulders, a heavy-looking, long wooden cabinet.

    The MPs slowly worked their way down the line and individuals added things to the pile. Words were exchanged with the Scotsman, and he took one step forward saying loudly: "If I cannae have it, neither will you"

    With that he heaved the cabinet up over his head and with all his weight behind it slammed it down on the quay. It smashed into pieces and just for good measure he stamped on them as well. It had been a radio cabinet and apparently a lovely piece of furniture.

    Some others in the queue stepped out of line, retrieved some articles from their kit bags and without a word, dumped them into the water.
    James S likes this.
  9. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Supposed quote:

    ". . . if less than seven men are involved, they are thieves, if between seven and thirty-five, they are a gang, if above that figure, they are a military expedition."

    I'll check the source later :)
  10. Theobob

    Theobob Senior Member

    If you look at my avatar,my dad and his pal both with Lugers!
    I think they thought they were fair game.
    One of his mates told me he had a kitbag FULL of Lugers (sold to yanks for £25 a pop)
    also a dagger with swasitka and inscription ("blood and guts",in german)
    Dad had a pair of dueling pistols, blued steel and pearl handles, sadly a yank trailed him around Salisbury untill he ran out of beer money and sold them for a fiver (gulp)
    Dad told me that the Germans had to surrender weapons,cameras and binos to them when they "took" a town,or was that just a ruse that they employed?
    Never heard of them looting the dead!!
    Dont know about you lot but i would LOVE to have somthing my dad had liberated
  11. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Johann Waage in his The Narvik Campaign has the story of a French Foreign Legionnaire going into battle with a rolled-up feather mattress on his back, recently liberated when they came ashore.

    I can understand soldiers scavenging - ALWAYS there was something in short supply, something that didn't move forward to them as fast as it should - or that didn't get diverted to one side anyway ;) The NAAFI was good....but you didn't crawl out of a dugout, down a hill, buy razor blades then crawl BACK again if you were going to be in the front line for a couple of days! :rolleyes:

    But yes - that comes under the general title of "scavenging", not looting; look at the number of threads here discussing rations - and THEN you can understand why British soldiers would rifle the pockets of any dead landsers for those fresh or preserved meats, boiled sweets etc. that made up a greater part of their diet than in the British Army! ;)

    But it's fair to say there was looting too; Paul Lund and Harry Ludlam's The Trawlers Went To War about "Harry Tate's Navy" recounts the decks of Auxiliary trawlers of the RNPS coming back from Norway stacked with furniture - both for themselves and at the request of any Tommy or officer with a wandering eye and deep pockets...and even one trawler captain who managed to purloin and freight back an almost brand new Citroen car! :lol:
  12. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Supposed quote:

    I'll check the source later :)

    Visible here in Google Books, page 20, no one less than Carlo Cipolla, I'm pleased to say.

    As I more or less said above, one has to distinguish between more or less legitimate use of items needed for the comfort or survival of troops, when possible formalised by a proper requisition process, from the illegitimate pilfering of living or dead and I'm not going to split hairs here, I'll only refer to Allan's post no.80. I also see Adam's post no.85 and I'm completely satisfied. A Luger lying in the ground? No owner? So what, I'd pick it up myself.

    Looting was made by individuals and not all of them as our esteemed Vets made the case so forcefully, and was certainly not condoned by the authorities.

    How does that contrast with another Army that was practically licensed to do as they pleased, provided discipline wasn't affected? And I'm not speaking of an Ostfront disease, read this for an instance.
  13. ranville

    ranville Senior Member

    A few months back i met a WW2 Vet in a pub in yorkshire and we got talking about the war. I'd had a few so i don't recollect all the details[ can't even remember where he said he was fighting[ but what i do remember very cleary is when he told me the best weapon he had during the war was a pair if pliers .When asked why he said " for getting their gold teeth out"-----"set me up after the war".-I didn't pursue the matter but there was something about his attitude/demeanor which suggested it was'nt bullshit. He did look a nasty piece of work even in his mid 80's. Let's hope he was a just fantasist.
  14. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Don't bet on it!

    Was thinking more on this - as an army enters another country for whatever reason, there are TWO things that come conveniently to hand about the persons of ...well...dead persons!

    1/ local currency! Getting your Army pay is all well and good - but what currency do the local knocking shops take??? :p The army being beaten/displaced will have spent x-amount of time incountry, and be in possesion of the required currency...eventually they'd settle down and take Sterling, but while things were still "debateable"...

    2/ There's only ONE commodity that is 100% certain to hold its value during wartime - and in fact is almost guaranteed to increase in value...


  15. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I have a very nice pair of US Govt surplus 'Bernard' parallel-jaw pliers. I'm ever so glad that they were 'new old stock':unsure:

    This is making me rather dubious about my WD marked tools.
  16. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Nah, that's just rust.... ;)
  17. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    There has always been looting and booty taking in wars,either by victors as individuals or by the victorious state,the latter being authorised and the former, ad hoc but "regulated" by the individual's military structure.

    "Looters will be shot" strategy as a detererent appeared to be selective and initiated as the territory became defined as administered territory.Further,I have to say I have never seen accounts of POWs not being dispossessed of their effects after capture.If they were then they were lucky,some were relieved to be still in posession of the fake button which concealed their escape compass if they had one.Some were also able to conceal what they thought would be valuable to them in the future.

    It was not uncommon for POWs to be stripped of everything they owned and in some instances given given a receipt in turn to make the robbery seem official.Some were to try to claim back their possessions from the ememy, postwar via settlement schemes.

    As regards civilians,these were thrown out of their homes and their possessions taken and then left to fend for themselves in extreme weather conditions.You have only got to conduct a little research into what it meant for the civilian in the East and also to a lesser extent,those in Western Europe to be overrun by a victorious ideological force.

    State violations of what were the Geneva Convention were carried out by the German forces on both fronts. If you look at the policy of the Germans to feed the homeland,the German administrators of conquered territory demanded quotas relating to foodsuffs which had to be met.The Ukraine as in the Great War was seen as the German breadbasket.These practices all revolved round the Hitler foreign policy of making the victims pay for his campaigns and occupations,ignoring the plight of the civilians.

    A civilian was likely to have his possessions plundered and any content of value seized.Clothing, bedding,wireless sets,art,typewriters,bycycles,livestock and food were systematically searched for and seized.It was well known that French civilian personal effects were being posted back to Germany by the members of the German occupation forces.(After the slaughter of those at Oradour Sur Glane,the perpretators made off with their vehicles donned with chickens,a practice that they were used to, using their initiative to live of the land)

    For the administrators,their shopping list from industry included any item that would aid the German war economy such as,gold, raw materials,machinery and scrap.High on the list was art treasures,furniture and textiles.Paintings were much in demand and both Hitler and Goring,in particular, built up their collections from occupied countries.The SS got themselves involved in the many businesses they owned by seizing the possessions of those who were destined for the concentration camps.
    Forced labour can also be regarded as booty enacted by the victoriuos administrators.

    Regarding taking possessions from the dead,I would think this was commonplace.I have often wondered what the story is behind the numerous examples we find now of possessions being returned to the families of casualties nearly 70 years after the event.I can't help think that these effects had been taken on the battlefield and passed down.Airmen being lynched on capture are not likely to find their possessions untouiched by the perpretators.

    As regards the individuals some chose not to get involved in the act which may have been the result of their own personal morals.I can remember during the war and it must have been about 1943.I had a cousin who survived the war as a submariner and as far as I know most of his service was in the Mediterranean.He came home on leave from Algiers and had in his possession some perfume which had been taken from POWs.He offered some to my mother who refused to accept it and I remember him saying to my mother."Aunty they would do the same to us".

    No doubt the POW in the Great War ran the risk of being robbed on capture.However, I have in my possession,my Uncle's few possessions that were returned to my grandmother after he was captured at Ypres and died in Germany.I can only think that his small pocket watch and Roberts bible was returned to his mother via TIRC organisation.Somebody in the chain of events from capture to death must have been honest.
  18. singeager

    singeager Senior Member

    Im not ashamed to say that courtesy of my Grandfather we have half of a massive table cloth, looted from a large house in Germany that now gets used every Christmas ( i assume the prize was split with a mate at the time by cutting it in half).

    In addition there is a nice ivory figurine of a dancing girl that came from the same location.

    No doubt there was more but it has been lost in the family over the years.

    On balance, the three most interesting items bought back from overseas, are three coloured etchings that were made from box wood (packing crates). These were obtained from a concentration camp which my grandfather helped to liberate and reputedly given to him as a gift of thanks.

    After seeing the worst workings of the Nazi party in such locations, and the total non respect of persons and possessions. It is understandable that looting then became commonplace as Germany / Austria were entered.
  19. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I think that the 'helping oneself' to items from damaged and abandoned houses must have been commonplace and the rightful owners would often have swapped items for cigarettes and food anyway.

    Systematically rifling the bodies of the dead is a step further and to my mind would indicate someone who was a thief before the conflict and probably afterwards. How much of it went on would probably depend on how well the RSM was doing his job.
  20. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Hot air manufacturer

    Again, I do not agree with the taking of unearned posession, bar the caveats I propounded in my posts above. But look at this this way. The British, US, etc, armies were trying to officially wage a clean war, where this kind of actrivities were disapproved and where individual soldiers went on with irregularities. Meanwhile, what was some other people doing? I'll leave a short quote.

    In Wages of Destruction (which I'm still reading, never took so long to read a book!):

    The Wehrmacht for its part did its best to feed itself from the land. Within weeks of the invasion, the principal task of large parts of the German army was the requisitioning of food.63 The troops plundered huge quantities of grain, livestock and dairy produce. Nevertheless, the German armies were not able to sustain themselves at the levels they expected. Especially in Belorussia, where the bulk of German forces were concentrated, local sources proved inadequate in every respect. Large quantities of extra food had to be shipped eastwards from Germany.
    Wow! "Large quantities of extra food had to be shipped eastwards from Germany." Imagine that, plunder was insufficient, it had to be supplemented from home! [​IMG]

    What is a couple of cows or some bottles of wine compared to sanctioned and organised pillaging?

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