Nazi Bomb Plot’s 70th Anniversary…

The German Government has honoured a group of Third Reich-era Wehrmacht officers who tried to kill Adolf Hitler on this day, 70 years ago… In a sombre ceremony in Berlin, German president Joachim Gluck called the bombing of Hitler’s ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Eastern Prussia on July 20th 1944 a: “significant day in German history for showing the world that there were Germans who opposed the Nazi regime, as it was from this legacy that the newly founded Federal Republic, (once it belatedly recognized the significance of the military resistance), was able to draw legitimacy…”

The ‘July Bomb Plot’ as recently depicted in the Hollywood movie ‘Valkyrie’ (with Tom Cruise in the leading role), was actually not the first attempt to kill Hitler, but it was the one that came the closest to success: after the German disaster at the hands of Russian Forces at Stalingrad in 1942, many senior military figures believed that a greater German defeat was only a matter of time and by the summer of 1944 this feeling had grown to such an extent that these self-same senior Wehrmacht officers felt that only by opening secret peace negotiations with the Allies could Germany be saved from total & utter disaster… but they realised that the Allies would only take them seriously, once Adolf Hitler had been successfully assassinated..!

Following the previous assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague in 1942, then a failed attempted on Goebbels life, Hitler had often warned his immediate inner circle that all of them were open to such attacks and he himself took great personal steps to avoid being liquidated by his enemies. So it was that he frequently changed his itineraries and kept all but his closet aides in the dark when it came to his movements around Germany and increasingly spent a great deal of time either secure within in the Reichschancellery in Berlin or up at his favourite mountain-top retreat, the ‘Eagles Lair’ at Berchtesgarten in Bavaria in Southern Germany.

However from 1944, he took further steps with his security by increasingly basing himself within the heavily fortified bunkers of the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ at Rastenburg in East Prussia from where he ran the war with his military high command, safe behind the thickest of concrete walls and with an elite SS guard permanently on duty…as such, any assassin would have found it the most difficult of tasks getting anywhere close to the Führer to launch an assassination attempt.

However plans were indeed being laid down with a view to effecting exactly this, led by the Wehrmacht career-officer Claus von Stauffenberg, a veteran of the 1940 campaigns in Poland & France, before suffering serious wounds in the North African campaign as the result of a low-level Allied fighter attack, resulting in the loss of his right arm, three fingers on his left hand and his right eye. Upon his eventual recovery he was promoted Chief of Staff on the Army Reserve in Berlin whereupon, as a noted patriot, he was approached by a growing band of senior Wehrmacht plotters against Hitler and he agreed to join with them to plan the assassination of the Fuhrer and then open up negotiations with the Allies.

Previous attempts onAdolf Hitler’s life had failed, but in June of 1944 the conspiracy took a major step forward when Stauffenberg was promoted to full colonel and made the Chief-of-Staff to General Fromm, whereupon it was now necessary for him to actually attend meetings that were headed by Hitler, whom he first met on June 7th, 1944, just one day after the Allied Invasion of Europe on the Normandy coast-line on ‘D-Day’.

Now  the German Army was facing defeat on both the Eastern & Western Fronts, speed was of the essence if the conspirators were to put their deadly plan into effect and open peace negotiations with the Allies while Germany was still putting up a fierce & stiff rear-guard action.

However in early July the Gestapo got wind of things and starting rounding up those they believed were involved with a potential assassination plot, allied to which a number of senior army officers involved in the plot were being posted away from the capital to both Fronts in France & Russia, whilst former Afrikakorps Commander Erwin Rommel, a senior figure in the plot, was badly injured when his staff car was bounced by a low flying Allied fighter… so with matters going badly astray, Stauffenberg decided to act..!

Knowing that a major military staff conference was being organised at the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Rastenburg, as a severely disabled war hero above suspicion, Stauffenberg would be the perfect officer to carry a bomb… So carrying an attaché case in which a timed capsule full of acid would eat through a wire detonator when broken, thus activating a firing pin on a bomb, Stauffenberg went into a map room with Field Marshall Keitel and placed the bag against a leg of the table top upon which Hitler was looking at various campaign maps; after which Stauffenberg made an excuse that he had to take a telephone report from Berlin and left the map-room.

Instead he went straight to his staff car and as he reached it the bomb went off but Stauffenberg was able to bluff his way through the Lair’s main gates, past the SS guards who thought an air-raid was in progress, and a short while later reached the nearby air-strip and was on a Luftwaffe transport Ju-52 flying back to Berlin.

Unknown to Stauffenberg, just before the bomb exploded, another officer attending the briefing had moved the briefcase to the other side of the table leg he had chosen and the blast was directed away from Hitler who survived with his just clothes burned, a cut hand and damaged ear drums.

The planned coup d’état in Berlin that was due to follow the assassination was now thrown into complete disarray with nobody sure whether Hitler had been killed or not, with the only senior Nazi in Berlin at the time being Joseph Goebbels. A Major in the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Wachbataillon, Otto Remer, was sent to arrest Goebbels by the conspirators directing the doomed uprising in the capital, but Remer, a dedicated Nazi was put him in direct telephone contact with Hitler by Goebbels to prove that the Führer was still alive.

Promoted on the spot by Hitler to a full Colonel, Remer was ordered to round up the conspirators and, following a radio broadcast that there had been a failed attempt on Hitler’s life and the Fuhrer was still alive, all of the conspirators, including Stauffenberg, were identified and arrested.

The assassination attempt had failed in a clumsy & spectacular fashion and after a number of speedy courts-martial, the leaders of the coup were immediately executed on the spot by firing squad… but these men got off lightly in comparison as Adolf Hitler’s revenge was then most terrible to behold!

A nation-wide hunt across the Reich then ensued for anybody even faintly conected to the July 20th Bomb Plot and many individuals faced arrest and an immediate sentence of death, but not before enduring a most degrading public show-trial in front of the notorious Nazi Judge, Roland Freisler.

In the most terrifying & unjudicial of court-like like proceedings, this publicity-seeking judge and fervent Nazi publicly harangued & crucified many honourable & long serving senior Wehrmacht officers before also finding them guilty and pronouncing the death sentence on them.

Whilst a firing squad bullet was the ultimate fate for many of the convicted officers, a number of them were summarily hanged by piano-wire hastily thrown over beam in a nearby shed in brutal retaliation for this attempt on the Fuhrer’s life! (Though fate ultimately caught up with Freisler and he was killed in an Allied bombing raid on Berlin not long after!)

Today’s official recognition of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, (alongside 200 other plotters either executed or who committed suicide), as a symbol of the war-time resistance, some 70 years after the July 20th Bomb Plot, finally honours all the brave German patriots who stood up to the tyrannies of the Third Reich and gave their lives in an attempt to prevent Germany’s destruction in the ashes of the Second World War…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Images Courtesy of Tomahawk Films & Reuters

Goering: A Career…

I don’t mean this to sound ‘full of it’ (or as my former Aussie colleagues would say ‘up myself’) but when you’ve spent the bulk of your professional career working in and around World War Two & Third Reich military history and watching TV documentaries on the same, almost daily, (allied to an ever-present hobby in the same vein), you eventually reach a point when you think that you may, possibly, have viewed much of the original period archive-footage available or have heard most of the historical angles expressed by the experts from this important period in time.. that in fact there is not much more to come to the surface that you haven’t already watched, heard or read about at some point in the previous 40-odd years of study!

It is also the case, (and one of the reasons that Tomahawk Films ceased being a distributor of WW-II documentaries to spend more time promoting my own TV documentary, ‘Channel Islands Occupied’), that rarely does anybody come up with something totally new in terms of documentary content or unseen 16mm newsreel footage to warrant yet another ‘look’ at a well-worn subject. In fact it always amazes me our Third Reich newsreels footage on Tomahawk Film’s Hitler’s Combat Newsreels is still, apart from the odd few seconds shown here & there, pretty unique in terms of what turns up on our screens these days and so it always manages to retain its ‘first seen buzz’.

One of the reasons I see so much archival material recycled across myriad documentaries is because we have a TV on in the corner of our production office tuned into the main satellite channels to keep an eye on WW-II documentaries to help us up to date with who is using our German music or Sounds of War combat SFX under contract, or to pick up on the names of new documentary companies who might be interested in using our German archive for future projects…

As I have said many times before, with so many WW-II documentaries airing on the dedicated satellite television platforms, (many being merely repeats from previous years) it is always a happy surprise when something fresh pops up on the TV screen and really grabs your attention. I am pleased to say this has happened to me in recent weeks.. firstly yesterday in the shape of a superb doc called Nazi Hunters, following the immediate post-war efforts of US Forces to bring Jochen Peiper and members of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ (part of the overall 6th Panzerarmee) to justice for their involvement in the massacre of American GIs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in the winter of 1944/45… and then on Sunday night (and the previous Sunday to that), in the shape of a real cracker of a superb new 3-part documentary series on the H2 Military History Channel entitle Goering: A Career.

In co-production with Germany’s ZDF Channel and with the ever-superb journalist Guido Knopp listed in the credits, (though this time strangely under ‘lighting’ rather than writer/producer, so perhaps this was an early outing to his subsequent career), this series is offering both some stunning original colour footage and a great script providing further thoughts on Goering, the man, thus making it a really engrossing and very well researched & delivered documentary on Hitler’s Number Two and Head of the Third Reich’s air arm..and still the final episode to go..!

Born in 1893, Herman Goering was a former WW1 Ace in the Kaisers’ fledgling air arm and went onto become the much derided, overweight and somewhat lazy Supreme Commander of Hitler’s new air force, the Luftwaffe. His later addiction to morphine has been well documented down the years and this might explain his often strange military decisions, (or indeed lack of them), at times, resulting in his Luftwaffe High Command often being driven to utter distraction by its leader’s increasingly bizarre behaviour later on in the war…

Indeed had Goering been ‘clued-in’ to the modern concept of aerial warfare, (rather than wedded to WW1 fighter tactics), one wonders if the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been a much closer thing; nevertheless it appears that from the very outset Goering actually knew that his Luftwaffe was under strength in both aircraft & manpower!

Indeed a regular contributor to yesterday’s episode Part 2 was a former Luftwaffe Test Pilot who admitted that all of the early aircraft promised to Hitler, (and often shown in some strength displaying in the skies above early Nazi Party Rallies), were nothing more than un-tested prototypes so, apart from the legendary ME Bf109, when war broke out in 1939, the Luftwaffe was indeed not the force it was wildly publicised as being or that the Allies believed it to be!

Another tantalising fact emerging from this superb profile is that as Goering indeed knew in advance that he had not the firepower at his command to deliver for Adolf Hitler, (despite always assuring his Führer that he had), behind the scenes he was doing everything he could to avoid another World War, including secret pre-war negotiations with Britain to find a way of averting conflict and his air arm being ‘found out’ in actual combat!

From some of what I heard last night it appears, to my mind at least, that Goering was perhaps more of a sensible individual than we have all given him credit for, despite being undoubtedly lazy and often finding any excuse to  bunk off to his superb castle-like country estate at Carinhall to indulge his love of hunting and spend time with his later accumulated wealth. Which was a complete reversal of his fortunes given that, pre-war, he had escaped from his growing role within the fledgling Nazi Party and fled to Sweden where, as a penniless former fighter pilot, he effectively lived off his wife’s parents. He eventually he returned to Germany to take up his position at Hitler’s side, but ever fearful of the Führer’s moods and stubborn single-mindedness plus his increasing desire for war, he never actively opposed Hitler’s visions for European domination, (even though he knew that half of his ideas were barking!).

Also detailed was Goring’s later wealth, stemming from his ‘success’ as an art dealer, though his dealings, (interpreted as ‘shopping’ in the countries Germany had recently occupied) were straightforward theft. Indeed at vital moments when he should have been taking full command of Luftwaffe air operations in the Battle of Britain and thence the 1941/42 Eastern Front campaign in Russia, he was more concerned with having his staff locate great works of art across Europe, to then be transported back to Carinhall in his own personal train… much to the ill-concealed anger of his elite fighter pilots who felt they were trying to conduct air campaigns on two major fronts with their hands tied behind their backs.

One superb interview thus far was with the Luftwaffe fighter ace and Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves holder Günter Rall, who, (with 275 combat victories in World War Two) later went on to serve with distinction in the post-war German Luftwaffe. A remarkably modest and hugely likeable former pilot with his ever-fluent and superb English, his interviews are always worth watching and listening to and in this terrific second episode he again delivers some very interesting facts & figures, plus a ‘no-holds barred’ appraisal of Goering as an air-force leader..!

Another incredible fact of which I was totally aware was that Herman Goring had a younger brother called Albert…very much a man in the background and who actually spirited a number of leading Jewish businessmen and film-makers out of Germany to America in the pre-war period. Indeed when it came to the ‘Jewish Question’ itself, it seems that Goering himself was somewhat more pragmatic about this whole issue than was hitherto known…and incredibly it appears that he also allowed several leading Jews to escape the Third Reich, (despite being Hitler’s  deputy and replacement Führer should Hitler die), excusing himself with the line: ‘A Jew is only when I say he is a Jew’..another most interesting fact to emerge from this documentary.

I won’t give too much more away in case you have not yet seen this 3-parter as no doubt it will be repeated, (a great many times… and rightly so in this case), in the coming weeks and months amidst the tidal wave of great-to-merely-mediocre Third Reich documentaries now airing across the gamut of satellite TV channels, however this one is most definitely worth a watch..the final episode coming on H2 this Sunday evening!

Just as a final thought when talking about the current crop of WW-II documentaries now appearing on a television set near you: I don’t know if you have noticed, but why has there been allowed to emerge an extremely annoying habit of the experts, when wheeled-in to voice their historical expertise on camera, of constantly talking in the present tense?  A whole raft of rather earnest historians, university lecturers and the ‘great & the good’ are paraded before us to eagerly tell us that ‘Goering is this’, ‘Hitler is that, or Rommel is faced with a tough situation, or such & such squadron is flying against so & so or that a unit of this force is fighting through great odds… and so on and so forth!

I don’t know which producer started this appalling interviewing habit, but everybody’s now seemingly at it. However these are now global events from over 70 years ago, so memo to whomsoever: please use was not is… thank you, I feel so much better now..!

                         Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Third Reich Spielleute…

As one thought or action invariably leads onto another so, as the bugler and drummer/fifer are forever linked historically down the ages, did I find myself moving from former naval cadet bugler to rock-drummer with ‘Adam West and the Gotham City Rockers’, amongst other bands, early on in my pre-television professional life.

However, like many other tub-thumpers I have also endured much stick as a result, for we un-sung souls, (beavering away at the back of the stage to ensure the ‘rock gods’ in the spotlight at the front kept time & looked good), are always the much-mocked ones and never taken seriously by our fellow musicians… though have you ever tried playing a full 5-piece rock kit and seen just how difficult it is? So perhaps having mastered this complex instrument myself I wasn’t quite the knuckle-dragger as depicted by the ‘real’ musos!

However on the basis of ‘once a drummer, always a drummer’ my continued long–time interests in the infantry bugle also helped keep alive, (once I’d given up active rock drumming), my interest in the snare-drum in its military role with the company bugler and drummer & fifers… an integral part of any military column throughout history.

Markedly different from the ‘standard’ German military musician and forever at the head of the company on the march, the Spielleute…literally playing people… have, with their fife & drums, (together with my beloved signalhorn), seemingly forever been a part of military lore. In fact the fife is very much an historical instrument in its own right having been given to the world by the ancient Greeks, and then picked up by Swiss mercenaries who used them in conjunction with drums as far back as The Middle Ages.

Adopted by the British army in the 18th century, the Third Reich’s Hitlerjugend was to take to fife & drumming with a great enthusiasm and ready zeal in the 1930s and today fifes, (along with bugles), are always associated with drums, with the German military term Trommelflöte in fact meaning ‘drum flute’. Made of black ebony and normally tuned in C of normal tuning the fife (or Pfeife in German) measured approximately 15 inches in length and when not being played was kept in a brown or black leather fife case suspended from the bugler or drummer’s leather belt to the rear of his bayonet and frog.

However, the oldest of all the military instruments is the snare or side-drum dating right back to The Crusades and, used in conjunction with the fife, was an effective way of keeping an army in step and on the move; like bugles they were also used to signal & transmit orders. In the 17th century, German armies went into quarters during the winter until a spring offensive could be launched, with soldiers being billeted in a town or village and with only the locals inns and hostelries for entertainment.

To encourage the soldiers to return to their billets at the end of the evening, the inn-keepers would turn their ale-taps off promptly at 10pm. This ‘witching hour’ would then be communicated to inn-keepers and soldiers alike by the garrison drummers who, in the company of an officer and sergeant, would set off around the town beating out a rhythm, whilst checking and ensuring all soldiers were on the move. From this action the word Tattoo’ which we are all now very familiar with in today’s military phraseology is thought to have been coined, derived directly from the Dutch phrase: Doe-Den-Tap-Toe or ‘Turn The Taps Off’!

Wehrmacht snare drum barrels were made of a brass and their batter heads made from calf-skin whilst snares were made from four catgut cords which were strung tightly across the lower drum skin and were held in place by a brass knob on one side and a hook and cord-screw on the corresponding side opposite. The skins were held in place by a wooden inner ring and an outer ring, the latter having a thin covering of copper, and the complete drum was held together by 5 stretching screws  evenly spaced around the body. Additionally a piece of strong curved wire, either covered in field-grey cloth or bound in leather, was riveted to the drum’s bottom rings as protection for the drummer’s trousers or breeches…

By a German army order of August 1933, all military snare and side drums were to be painted white on the inside and on top of the wooden drum rings, whilst the outsides should have 39 red lacquered isosceles triangles along the outer edge, with 39 black triangles along the bottom edge, both pointing inwards, with the resulting squares pattern formed between the triangles in white.

Whilst Luftwaffe and Heer & Waffen-SS snare drums had a standard brass barrel, it was custom and practice for the Kriegsmarine to over-paint the brass in a dark or medium blue. Hitler Youth & Sturm Abteilung snare drums, produced in 3 differing sizes, were painted in red and white alternating triangles, whilst those of the Allgemeine-SS & Waffen-SS sported alternating black and white triangles… and if you actually get to see or handle one ‘in the flesh’ very attractive items they are too…

Incidentally, talking of the Spielleute and their musical armoury of fife, drum & signalhorn, (another subject I write about in some length in the Tomahawk Films-produced book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45), the bugle itself was originally developed, way back in the dim & distant past by the French as a hunting accessory. In fact ‘bugle’ is actually the French word for ‘young bull’ and it was to be the German & French armies that adopted the instrument for military use, and its primary role was in the passing of signals on the battlefield and in camp, including ‘To Arms’ or ‘Last Post’.

As such it soon became an instrument of major significance within the German military, with all units parading its own signalling bugler.

However, finally as a sign-off for this particular Blog, whilst having dwelt primarily on the subject of the snare drum, though not an instrument of the Spielleute but very much harking back to those aforementioned Swiss and indeed German mercenaries of the Middle Ages, is the Landsknecht drum that was peculiar to the Hitler Youth and Deutsche Jungvolk. Certainly a most formidable-looking and very attractive military instrument, its skins were made from calf-hide, and its wooden drum rings were secured top and bottom by rope cords tautened by leather thongs.

Often used en-masse as part of the formidable Nazi propaganda machinery, these impressive drums were worn suspended on a black leather strap over the right shoulder and hanging down at an angle on the drummer’s left and in place of the standard drum-sticks, it was played by two cane-stick beaters with thick white felt pads on the end…

The usual or standard colour-scheme for these beautiful drums was a most dramatic, almost vivid red & white burning flame design for drums paraded by the Hitler Youth, and a similar black & white flame design for the Landsknecht drums of the  Deutsche Jungvolk. The DJ drums also appeared as a very dramatic design of black with a white runic device to the front. In terms of drum size, as with military snare drums, smaller sizes for the shorter boys were produced and issued.

In addition, though a musical instrument forever linked with the propaganda film newsreels of Hitler’s Germany, they were also used later on in great numbers in post-war East Germany, where they were repainted in blue & yellow of the FDJ and re-issued for use by the myriad Communist Youth bands, so as the saying goes: ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Soldier Songs in the Third Reich…

As I soon came to discover when producing Tomahawk’s comprehensive & very varied catalogue of original WW-II Two German military & civilian music,  including the Military Music of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45, nothing in life is ever really new, for many of the so-called classic Nazi party songs & tunes adopted by the Sturmabteilung, Hitler Youth, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Heer, Afrika Korps and so on, were in many cases, simply old Imperial German marching songs or classic German folk songs adopted and adapted with much military pride or fanatical fervour by the Third Reich.

Many traditional soldier songs, from Als die Goldene Abendsonne & Ein Heller und ein Batzen, to pre-WW-1 One songs like Lippe Detmold, & Strassburg O’ Strassburg date as far as the 1700s rule of Friedrich the Great. In fact Wenn alle untreu werden, the official anthem of the SS, dates right back to 1568.

However, under the aegis of the Third Reich, many of these traditional Prusso-German military songs & tunes were now adopted by individual military units and regiments as their own official corps songs; as such, they were sometimes known either by their original historical name or, more commonly, as the song of the particular unit that had adopted it.

For example, ‘Ritter der Nordsee’ was adopted by the Kriegsmarine and became known officially as the Lied der E-Boots (or Song of the E-Boats), whilst the traditional ‘Argonnerwald’ became the Song of the Pionierkorps. Elsewhere, the Luftwaffe’s flak crews adopted ‘Leb Wohl, Irene’ as their own, ‘Es War ein Edelweiss’ became known as the Lied der Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troops), and ‘Rot Scheint die Sonne’ became the favourite and stunningly evocative tune of Hermann Goering’s paratroopers and henceforth known as the Lied der Fallschirmjäger.

The creation of new and stirring songs to accompany the battle campaigns were also encouraged by the Reich; as such the great German marching song composers of the time, Prof. Herms Niel, Norbert Schultze and Hermann Löns were to flourish through the writing of such stirring songs as Wir fahren gegen Engelland (for the planned assault of mainland Britain), Das Frankreichlied (to accompany the German assault on France), and Vorwärts nach Osten (to eulogise Hitler’s eastern campaign against Stalin’s Russia).

In some cases, new politically inspired words were simply set to old & well-known German melodies, such as the new Hitler Youth march, ‘Durch deutsches Land marschieren wir’, penned by Herbert Hammer, which was dropped onto the tune of the old World War One favourite, ‘Argonnerlied’! 

However, despite Germany’s awesome strength as a military nation and the undoubted prowess of its individual fighting men, the actual subject matter and contents of quite a large number of the newer marching & folk songs penned, with the full encouragement of the Third Reich leadership, were surprisingly gentle and non-militaristic.

Many more tunes now spoke longingly of dearly loved and much missed mothers & girl friends (the names of Gerda, Ursula, Rosemarie, Monika & Annemarie being extremely popular with songwriters and soldiers alike!), and of the varied  regions of the soldiers’ beautiful German homeland, with many fond references to the nation’s abundance of mountains & heathlands, flowers & trees, rivers & oceans, towns and hamlets!

The re-vitalised German film industry, now flourishing under the patronage of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, was to also introduce a number of well-known Third Reich military songs, including ‘Soldaten sind immer Soldaten’ from the film ‘Der Westwall’ and the very popular naval tune, ‘Wenn das Schifferklavier an Bord ertönt’, which was written especially for the film ‘Das Wunschkonzert’ (the movie story of the German Armed Forces radio request show Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht), before being enthusiastically taken up by the German military and civilian audiences alike.

Strangely, many of the new marching songs, although written by many differing lyricists, appeared to share many common words, sentiments and even choruses, so making it not uncommon to come across songs bearing exactly the same main title, with often only the sub-titles distinguishing them upon first glance..!

In addition, this sudden re-emergence of German songwriters & composers in the 1930s and early 40s, from both the ranks of the professional civilian musician and the trained soldier from the armed forces, also gave rise to more than one version of a song actually staking its claim to be the official Korpslieder for a particular unit, which caused confusion!

This resulted in differing lyrics & arrangements appearing across a range of official military song-books under the same title, as in the case of both the U-Boot Lied and the Lied der Afrika Korps, where at least 2 different songs claim to be the ‘official’ D.A.K. anthem, whilst there were 8 separate songs devoted to the U-Boot arm in the Kriegsmarine song-book Blaujacken-Lieder’..! 

         Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

Songs of the Waffen-SS Veterans…

During my career as a producer with Tomahawk Films I have been blessed to receive much help & generous support for my on-going work with the German Soldier Song, not least of which was from the Waffen-SS Old Comrades association in Germany, a very proud organisation unashamed of both its musical inheritance and tradition of being widely regarded as the finest fighting soldiers the world has ever seen.

Sadly it is no longer as once was and despite there being no specific German military musical veterans associations in place today there were, when I last specifically checked, just 33 surviving musicians from the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler‘which was quite some number, given their ages…

Obviously a number have passed away since I began my work and studies including, at the end of last year, their spiritual leader Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer, but of the remainder who are still with us, some are still able to meet up each year to relive the old days when they served as bandsmen in the Hitler’s elite SS-Bodyguard Division. In fact a number of former SS-LAH bandsmen went on to have post-war musical careers in West German theatres and orchestras, though none of them play today, for as late SS-Musikmeister Gustav Weissenborn remarked to me during our time together in Germany, “their teeth are now like the stars, they come out at night…!”

HIAG, the official German umbrella organisation of the Waffen-SS Veterans Association, though no longer active, very much strove to keep the musical aspect of their short military history alive and back in 1975 their SS Veteran’s Soldatenchor in Minden, comprising former soldiers with the elite Waffen-SS units ‘Das Reich’, ‘Germania’, ‘Wiking’ ‘Der Führer’, ‘Totenkopf’, ‘Deutschland’,Hitlerjugend’ and the SS-Leibstandarte’ Adolf Hitler’, all under the driving leadership of Willy Casselmann, set about recording on tape some of their most favourite Waffen-SS Marschlieder in their true, unaccompanied fashion.

During the research for my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45, Willy kindly shared their story with me:

‘At the age of 76 I have been chairman of the Minden HIAG Association for some 45 years, and as much as my age permits, I manage to hold & keep all the comrades drawn from former Waffen-SS units (and many now in their eighties) together. In addition, and along with the late editor of the German Munin publishing house, I was the main driving force behind the making of our record  ‘Lieder die wir einst sangen’ (Songs we used to sing).

Over the years, and with the help of amateur choir-masters, we rediscovered our love for military songs and at the end of almost every monthly meeting of our Waffen-SS Old Comrades Association there would be an informal sing-song, and again whenever we met up in the beer hall. However, it took us a while to gather up all of our courage before we were able perform our songs for the entertainment of other old soldiers’ associations!

It took many hours of practice, discipline and hard work before we were able to raise our singing to a recordable quality, but we did and then found ourselves gathered in a small room above a beer-hall in Minden to record some of our favourite old songs. Mind you, the function room above the beer hall had a creaking floor, so no-one was allowed to move their feet during the recording; we were also very nervous and our amateur choir-master present had some difficulty in getting the fifty veterans present under control!

However, we were very fortunate that we had with us on that day, along with our Munin editor, a musical expert in the shape of SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Bunge, who was not only the former Chor-und Musikmeister with the elite Waffen-SS regiment ‘Deutschland’, but had written the Munin-published book ‘Musik in der Waffen-SS’. He took charge of the session; all went smoothly and everybody was very happy with the end recording, which we released on a limited record run under the title ‘Lieder  die wir einst sangen…”

Sadly Fritz Bunge died shortly after that famous recording session in the room above the beer-cellar, but several choir members, despite their great age, are still singing just as lustily today!

That original recording was to lay untouched for many years until 1998 when, by chance I unearthed an old copy and, re-naming it ‘Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen!, was able to have it digitally re-mastered by the legendary Simon ‘Woody’ Wood up at Dubmaster Studios and released, by kind permission of Willy Casselmann and the SS-Veteran’s Soldatenchor Minden, first as a 14 track cassette and thence onto to CD through an exclusive arrangement with the Tomahawk Films World War Two German Archive.

This then led to a second Veteran’s recording that Tomahawk Films were additionally granted exclusive rights to. Released under the title: Soldatenlieder und Hornsignale der Waffen-SS it featured more superb acapella choir recordings interspersed with original Waffen-SS bugle calls performed by former SS-Hornist Arthur Schulte.

In addition, following the SS-Veteran Soldatenchor’s local success with their recording venture,  Willy Casselmann and his Minden comrades placed an advert in the Waffen-SS Association’s in-house magazine ‘Der Freiwillige’ (The Volunteer), appealing for readers and fellow old comrades to send in any German Marschlieder lyric & music scores they might still have in their possession.

Their plea was well received, and from the numerous replies received, the HIAG Association was able, through their publishing company, Munin Verlag of Osnabrück, to compile, print and publish their own individual and very personal song-book (also entitled ‘Lieder, die wir einst Sangen’, after their record title), a copy of which I was given during my book research and which, Tomahawk Films were given kind permission to re-print in 2000.

Interestingly the preface written by Karl Cerff  read: ” The collected songs of a nation are an expression of its attitude to life. The Germans are amongst the most song-loving of peoples and their treasure of songs is varied, widely known and sung wherever German people live.

The soldier’s song plays an important role within these songs as it represents a part of the soldier’s life. It recalls memories of comradeship, of home and family, of a soldier’s love and a soldier’s death. Those who have been in the armed forces themselves will particularly know the strength of a soldier’s song. Such a song had the power to raise a whole company after a great action and enable them to renew their efforts. Ex-servicemen will also remember many a day in the barracks, in the quarters, in the field or on exercise, that was brightened by both sad and cheerful songs.

Of equal importance as the soldier’s song is the folk song. It reflects the soul of our people, it is part of traditional lore & the beauty of the German mother tongue resonates from its verses & melodies: natural cheerfulness or pensive earnestness, joy of life or deep sorrow. They all find expression in folk songs as the feelings of a people from the same way of life.

Even if the hardship of the past decades has dampened the joy of singing, we are encouraged by a re-awakened longing, which in print one only dares to refer to as nostalgia, to publish this small collection of songs that we once sang.The collection is incomplete and worth completing.

We would like to thank all our comrades and friends for their co-operation and we hope that the Songbook will give some pleasure and that it will become indispensable at old comrades’ meetings, at celebrations, on hikes, even at gatherings of friends or families. Let song become a bridge between generations..!”

Looking through it, all the old classics were there: ‘Im Feldquartier’, ‘Deutschlandlied’, ‘Lebe wohl du kleine Monika,’ ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’, ‘Ich hatt’ einem Kameraden’, ‘Wenn alle untreu werden’, ‘Im Grünen Wald’, ‘Es ist so schön, Soldat zu’ sein’, ‘Drei Lillien’, ‘Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss’ and ‘Jawoll das stimmt’ (which appears under a different name as ‘Nordsee’).

Certainly the former members of the Waffen-SSand indeed those  of Germany’s equally famous Afrikakorps need no encouragement before bursting unselfconsciously into song at any given opportunity. But the question often arises in my mind: what happens when the last of the World War Two German veterans are no longer with us to carry on this fine military musical tradition..?

                    Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013