In 1940, members of the British military were slaughtered – after they had surrendered to German forces. Two survived, but no one believed their story. However, before the war ended, some Germans wanted those responsible punished.
It started on May 26, 1940. British and Allied forces in France were retreating from the German onslaught, withdrawing to Dunkirk for evacuation back to Britain. The Germans followed, all expecting the worst.
To everyone’s surprise, however, the Germans did not press their advantage. They stopped for three days – long enough to let the evacuation happen. By the time it ended on June 4, about 330,000 Allied troops had made it out of France.
Not all did, though. Less well-remembered were those who fought to buy those evacuees the time they needed.
SS-Obergruppenführer (senior group leader) Theodor Eicke was fanatically loyal to Nazi ideology. He was in charge of the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf – a paramilitary group that shared his views. As a result of their reckless behavior, Totenkopf suffered more casualties than other German forces at the start of WWII.
On May 24, the Totenkopf had been crossing the La Bassée River on the way to the town of Béthune when they came under fire from the British. To their surprise, they were ordered back across the river as their tanks were needed at Dunkirk.
Planes were sent in to attack Allied positions in the town. Two days later, they again crossed the river and drove the British out.
The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment and the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers were ordered to hold the Allied line at the French villages of Riez du Vinage, Le Cornet Malo, and Le Paradis for as long as they could. For them, there would be neither rescue nor evacuation, and they knew it.
At dawn on May 27, the Totenkopf attacked the British at Le Cornet Malo at the cost of four dead German officers. By the time the British surrendered, some 150 men from both sides lay dead and about 500 were wounded. Le Paradis was next.
The 2nd Royal Norfolk’s headquarters were about a mile north of Le Paradis, at a farmhouse called Cornet Farm just beside the Paradis Road. Across were the headquarters of the 1st Royal Scots, who also buckled down.
At 11:30 AM, both were told to do the best they could – the very last orders they received. So they dug trenches around their camps and did just that.
Facing them was the 14th Company, 1st Battalion of the 2nd SS Infantry Regiment under SS-Standartenführer (Colonel) Hans Friedemann Götze. The British held their ground until they were forced out of the ruined farmhouse and took shelter in the nearby cowshed. Götze was killed, and the British kept fighting until they ran out of ammo at around 5:15 PM.
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