Le Paradis – Where the SS Killed 97 British Prisoners on May 27th 1940

Scene of the fighting and subsequent massacre Photo Credit
Scene of the fighting and subsequent massacre
Photo Credit

By then, there were only 99 men left under Major Lisle Ryder. Unable to fight back, Ryder ordered his men to surrender, so they stepped out of the shed with a white flag. The Royal Scots did the same.

In the confusion, they surrendered to different German units. Mass graves discovered in 2007 showed that about 20 Scots had surrendered to the wrong group and paid for it.

Private Robert “Bob” Brown, a signaler with the Royal Norfolk Regiment, was very lucky. Brown gave himself up to a Wehrmacht (regular German military) unit who mercifully took him away before he saw what happened next.

SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Fritz Knöchlein was deputy commander of Totenkopf 3 Company, Group A, 2nd Regiment. He ordered the prisoners stripped of their weapons and marched toward another barn. Beside it were two machine guns manned by the No. 4 Machinegun Company.

Lining the 99 British troops against the wall, he had them shot. Then he ordered his men to bayonet any survivors.

The next day, Gunter d’Alquen, a journalist, reported what he saw but he believed the men had had a trial before their deaths. News spread and General Erich Hoepner, who commanded the German troops in France, tried to have Eicke dismissed. He failed. Other German officers allegedly challenged Knöchlein to a duel, but nothing came of it.

General Erich Hoepner Photo Credit
General Erich Hoepner. Photo Credit

However, not all the British were dead. William O’Callaghan was hit in the arm, the impact throwing him to the ground. Seconds later, another body fell on him, so he played dead. Once the Germans left, he found that Albert Pooley had also survived, albeit with a shattered leg.

O’Callaghan pulled his comrade out then half-dragged and half-carried him to a ditch. It turned out to be a pig sty. The men survived for three days on raw potatoes and muddy water they drank from puddles until they were found by Madame Duquenne-Creton and her son, Victor.

They owned the farm, and despite the risk to themselves, sheltered the men. That ended when the Wehrmacht’s 251 Infantry Division came along and took the men as POWs. Fortunately, the Duquenne-Cretons were spared.

William O'Callaghan (left) and Albert Pooley arriving at the War Crimes Court in Hamburg Photo Credit
William O’Callaghan (left) and Albert Pooley arriving at the War Crimes Court in Hamburg

Pooley had his leg amputated in a Paris hospital while O’Callaghan spent the rest of the war in a Polish POW camp. In 1943, Pooley was sent back to Britain as he was no longer a threat to Germany.

He told his story to authorities at the Richmond Convalescent Camp, but no one believed him. When the war ended, he visited Le Paradis in September 1946 and was interviewed by the Nord Éclair – a local newspaper. They interviewed locals, who confirmed the story, which angered British authorities.

Why had Pooley not told anyone his story before?! He had but to incompetent and disbelieving bureaucrats. The War Crimes Investigation Unit found Knöchlein, who had returned to civilian life. He was brought to Britain and kept at the London District POW Cage in Kensington Gardens.

Expanded .458 hunting round (a type of dum-dum bullet) pulled out of an African buffalo Photo Credit
Expanded .458 hunting round (a type of dum-dum bullet) pulled out of an African buffalo.
Photo Credit

Knöchlein denied being at Le Paradis. Then, when residents identified him; he said the executions were justified because the British used dum-dum bullets banned by the Hague Convention.

He also claimed the British had lured his men to the farmhouse with a white flag before gunning them down. Finally, he accused his jailers of subjecting him to physical and mental torture.

The court did not believe any of it, and Knöchlein was hanged on January 28, 1949, for his role in the massacre – the only one punished.