Battle of ‘Schlos Itter’ – defended by the Americans and the Wehrmacht from the SS

Schloss Itter, defended by the Americans and the Wehrmacht from the SS [Via]

The last days of the Second World War witnessed the most unlikely and bizarre encounter of the War. The battle that took place in Austrian Alps brought American and German soldiers on one side against a common enemy.

In early May 1945, American troops and anti-Nazi German soldiers teamed up against Waffen-SS to free prominent French prisoners.

During the Second World War, Nazis had converted the ‘Schlos Itter’ castle into a prison, and was actually listed as a sub-unit of the infamous Dachan concentration camp. The Nazis in Germany and other occupied territories replicated this practice throughout the war.

The prisoners of the ‘Itter’ were prominent French figures that Nazis intended to use as bargaining chips in case the odds went against them. Among the prisoners held were two former French prime ministers, Paul Reynaud and Edouard Daladier along with Marie-Agnes Cailliau, who was the sister of General Charles De Gaulle.

In the last days of the war, when Nazi troops were facing an imminent defeat and surrendering in huge numbers to the Allies, guards of the castle saw an opportunity and abandoned their posts. This presented an opportunity to the prisoners to escape, but it was not an easy task. The woods around the castle were full of scattered units of Waffen-SS and Gestapo, who could shoot them at sight.

Prisoners came up with a plan to send two people on bicycles to get some help. These prisoners started their journey on bicycles hiding and dodging Waffen-SS a couple of times, only to land in the hands of a German Army Officer Major Josef Gangl.

Maj Sepp Gangl of the Wehrmacht switched sides to help US forces [Via]

Fortunately for the prisoners, Major Gangl was an anti-Nazi German officer, who decided to help the French out of the prison, but he lacked adequate resources. Josef had only 20 or so loyal soldiers with him. With his small group of soldiers Josef could not successfully conduct a rescue mission.

Major Gangl’s next step made the whole affair even more interesting, when he approached 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armored Division, with a white flag. Capt. Jack Lee was leading the US Battalion, who agreed to assist Gangl in his mission to free the French, the BBC News reports.

When the group arrived at the entrance of the castle, Waffen-SS attacked them. Starting from the dawn of 5th May, the fierce battle continued through the whole day. Major Gangl was shot in the head by an SS sniper, and died instantly. Waffen-SS was eventually defeated by the end of the day, and hundreds of SS soldiers were taken as prisoners, and French prisoners were successfully recovered unscathed.

Historians suggest that the post-WWII France would have been very different if it was not for the rescue mission by Major Gangl and Capt. Lee. The freed French prisoners played a vital role in building France after the Second World War ended.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE