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

A Tiger Tank’s Movie Debut…

A very rare German tank that I first saw many years ago down in rural Dorset as little more than a rusty hull at the beginning of what was to be a long & painstaking restoration has recently emerged from the shadows of the dusty REME (Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers) workshops into the sunlight as it was transformed from an ugly duckling into the beautiful swan of folklore legend.

Thought to be the very last working example of its type anywhere in the world, Bovington Tank Museum’s very own Tiger Tank is not only up and running but is now being hired out to the producers of the new Brad Pitt film, ‘Fury’ currently being shot in and around the village of Shirburn  in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside here in the United Kingdom.

Along with an American Sherman M4 also on hire from this ground-breaking Museum, this superb & almost breathtaking Tiger will add a sense of realism with its sheer power & stage presence on set.. indeed Bovington’s Director of Operations, Richard Smith, said the Tiger was’ “one of the most feared weapons unleashed by the Nazis and was possessed of a formidable reputation as it could destroy an enemy tank from over 2km away..!”

When I first set eyes on it in the workshop it was a somewhat sad shadow of its former glory, completely shorn of its fearsome & powerful turret and talking back then with Curator David Willy, my understanding was that the tank was originally captured in the Western Desert in 1942 after a particularly ferocious clash between General Montgomery’s 8th Army. (the famous’ Deserts Rats’ of legend) and Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel at the head of his equally famous Afrikakorps.

This huge prize (in all senses of the word) was eventually brought back to the UK to undergo evaluation at the hands of the British Army and the Ministry of War’s tank boffins to see exactly what made this mighty German tank, (apart from its obvious & highly feared 88mm cannon), such a deadly & frightening opponent, then once its dark secrets were revealed to the British Army, the hulk was destined to become a target for the development of armour piercing shells.

But miraculously and thankfully for all of us who now either make a professional living from military history or those of us who also appreciate (or more likely ‘revel in’), the sheer power of the armoured fighting vehicles that the industrial might of Hitler’s Third Reich could produce, it survived a potentially ‘sticky end’ to later become the restoration project of today, so bringing it back to life for modern generations to once again marvel at and stand in total awe of..!.

In fact I was lucky enough to see it in all is restored glory when I drove down to Bovington last year to meet up with long-time pal Karl Friedrich Koenig from Hamburg, who was a Wehrmacht Panzer crew-member also serving in the Western Desert during the Second World War. Known to his UK Veteran pals as ‘Charlie’, Karl also features in both word & photo in my book The Military Music and Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945.

Karl and I have been communicating for some 15 years or so and at the time of penning my book he kindly sent me a photo of himself as that young tank crewman, (far left), along with some shots of him with some of his former foes in The Sherwood Forresters, with whom he used to meet up regularly when he came over to the UK each year to resume old friendships forged from the heat of war. (In fact it never ceases to amaze me by just how many firm friendships were made, post-war, between former soldiers of the Third Reich and their Allied adversaries. Enduring friendships created through total respect for each other as honourable enemies, but all with shared experiences as fellow infantrymen, tankers, artillery gunners, fighter pilots, sailors et al.)

During our meet up Karl & I had a chance to take in this most impressive looking tank and I think the next time I see it, it will be in full moving action in the Brad Pitt movie and as David Willy said: “The Tiger was restored so that the public could fully appreciate what a truly fearsome machine it would have been during battle and now for the first time countless numbers of people will have the opportunity to see a genuine Tiger in a contemporary war film.”

Also describing it as “a unique piece of military heritage”, for those worried at how it might be used and abused by the movie crew, he said he was happy to reassure us all that its time on the set would be carefully managed and overseen by a group of museum workshop staff..which is a great comfort, having seen at first-hand how easy it is to wreck things on a movie or television production..!

(I’m told that on the movie set of the 1990 Michael Caton-Jones re-make of William Wyler’s famous 1943 war-time original of Memphis Belle, what started out as a number of rare sets of very valuable Irvine flying jackets and fur-lined trousers… and their US equivalents… all ended up as balls of torn rags after the Extras decided they could still play football in them in between takes… makes you weep doesn’t it! )

But back to today and ‘Fury’ (due for release next October), starring Brad Pitt as a US army sergeant leading an Allied mission behind enemy lines, dropped something of a clanger in that its cameras continued to roll on Remembrance Sunday.. to an obvious outcry!!

Pre-dawn stunt explosions and the use of extras dressed in Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS uniforms on Britain’s national day of Remembrance when the rest of us were spending a few quiet moments remembering those lost in action from World War 1 to the modern day was not the best way the film company could ‘win friends and influence people’! Indeed one movie extra who was filming on that Sunday told a UK national newspaper: ‘this was grotesquely disrespectful… but this is what I do and I cannot just walk off set.”

This unfortunate issue forced movie-director David Ayer (who directed the motion-picture U-571 showing Americans as liberating the Nazi code-breaking Enigma machine which, despite the gratuitous re-writing of history, I rather enjoyed), later apologised and expressed his heartfelt apologies for any disrespect caused adding  ”I am a veteran myself!”

But that said, knowing the Film & TV business as I do I am sure it would not have been beyond the wit & wisdom for somebody at the movie company Sony to wonder out loud if having a team of actors & extras rushing around the Oxfordshire countryside in a full array of WW-II German military uniforms on this solemn of all military days here in Britain was not such a bright idea?

However, we all make mistakes and I am sure by the time ‘Fury’ comes out all this will be forgotten amidst seeing Bovington’s wonderfully restored Tiger Tank in all its awesome beauty… stand aside Brad, let’s see the real star of the show..! 

Copyright@Brian Matthews 2013

The End for the Reich’s Musicians…

First-career military bandsmen were not usually employed on the front-line, (except in the case of those transferred back to their secondary duties as infantrymen, combat medics or despatch riders), and so were not normally in danger of being captured during the early years of the war.

However, with the North African campaign in the Western Desert in 1942 and 1943 and the routing of the Afrikakorps at the hands of Montgomery and the Desert Rats of the 8th Army, complete German divisions began to fall into the hands of the British & Commonwealth forces, bandsmen included…

Former allied veterans of the desert campaign have since stated that the continued mood of defiance and arrogance of many of these young soldiers and musicians going into the bag, still convinced of ultimate German victory, was very noticeable, with many of these DAK prisoners lustily singing out of sheer defiance at every opportunity!

In addition Afrikakorps bandsmen captured, along with their instruments, were allowed by Allied camp commanders to continue to practice and perform and so give occasional concerts, before being transferred to the permanent Prisoner of War camps in the UK, Australia and Canada.

However after the end of the campaign in the Western Desert, full-time German military bandsmen prisoners were something of a rarity until after D-Day on June 6th 1944, when the Second World War began to turn slowly but surely against the Third Reich.

With the Allied forces massing on the Western borders of Germany and the Russians closing in on Berlin from the East, manpower throughout the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS was very much at a premium and those military bands that had survived the 1939 ‘cull’ now found themselves being dramatically cut back as unit commanders demanded all musicians to be pressed into service as supply troops, signal operators, medical orderlies, stretcher-bearers and cooks!

In the Kriegsmarine, the naval ratings, including ships’ company musicians attached to the big battleships & battle-cruisers that had been bottled up in the northern German ports of Kiel and Wilhelmshaven by Allied naval & air activity for most of the war, now found themselves transferred to shore-based roles and often into the Waffen-SS as combat infantrymen.

Many career military bandsmen dusted down only on annual two-week refresher courses, swapped their musical instruments for rifles and Panzerfäuste, and were thrown directly into the front-line as combat infantrymen, a role which many were not really prepared for and tragically many were subsequently killed as a result in the ensuing final battles raging across the Reich.

As far as Music Schools were concerned, in 1944, after a devastating air-raid on Brunswick which damaged both buildings and musical instruments, the SS-Musikschule Braunschweig was moved to Bad Saarow in Brandenburg. When the school was finally closed in January 1945, all of the young students were sent home to their parents. Meanwhile across the Reich, other Wehrmacht music-schools quietly shut their doors with all staff and military personnel being effectively demobilised or returned to their units for combat service.

But with so many German military bandsmen having been transferred to other duties, other musicians found themselves at the surrender on May 8th able to slip away quietly and return home to their families. Many other less fortunate found themselves rounded up and taken prisoner, minus their instruments, which in some cases they had manage to hide in various places (often in the barns of local farmers), in the hope of coming back at some point in the future to reclaim them!

Sadly however, many highly talented German career & part-time military musicians were killed at their home garrisons as Allied air-raids took hold from 1943 onwards, whilst a very high number of superb Waffen-SS musicians who transferred back to their units as infantrymen & combat medics (along with many Wehrmacht musicians dramatically transferred to front or second line units) were to be tragically killed in action. As a result many musical careers were to be cut short in a swift & brutal fashion!

Across north-west Europe, in the last months of the war before the final surrender of German arms in May 1945, vast POW camps began filling up with Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS prisoners. Though totally exhausted and dejected at the final annihilation, many were quietly grateful to have survived such a destructive war, and for them, ‘Ich hatt einen Kameraden’ was a constant reminder of comrades who weren’t so lucky!

At the capitulation of all German Forces on May 8th 1945, just over seven million soldiers of the Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS laid down their arms and found themselves prisoners of the Allies. However, unlike their comrades taken in combat during the earlier years of the war, this enormous mass of military man-power was classified as disarmed personnel’ so as to distinguish them from their comrades, many by now already languishing in POW camps in Canada and Australia.

Those soldiers who surrendered in the West were processed through the numerous POW clearing stations set up by UK & US forces, before being transported to the French coastal ports for the short trip by tank-landing craft to the main South coast ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. From here the enormous convoy of field-grey was moved by train under Military Police guard to the large handling camps across the UK, such as the huge ‘cage’ set up on Kempton Park racecourse. At these massive pens, all prisoners were de-loused and cleaned before their despatch to the various camps right across Britain.

Not surprisingly, the defiant singing of the Marschlieder, as witnessed by Afrikakorps prisoners ‘going into the bag’ in 1942 and 1943, was not in evidence now, as the men were sent to converted hotels, former stately homes, colleges and old army barracks, in addition to the newly constructed camps specifically built to house this huge influx of men, locations such Kingsfold Camp in Sussex, Henllan Bridge Camp in Cardiganshire and Eden Camp in Yorkshire.

Camp leaders known as Lagerführer were appointed at each camp, and German military discipline was very much enforced. With much of Britain’s manpower still in uniform, some 158,000 of the good-conduct German POW’s were put to work on the land, taking care of hedging & ditching and harvesting under the watchful eye of the Military Police and local army units, or handed over to the responsibility of the individual farmers concerned. Nearly 100,000 other POW’s were seconded by the War Office for coastal defence clearance, dismantling of prisoner-of-war camps no longer needed, and generally being put to use helping to re-build the infrastructure of our Britain’s shattered nation and its economy.

However, whilst a number of prisoners continued to be transferred to Canada and America, some 394,000 in the UK soon found themselves eligible for the first wave of repatriations back to Germany, which began in September 1946 and as true non-combatants, many career military musicians were actually amongst the first wave to be released.

Those not eligible for this early repatriation settled down to a regular routine and a weekly food ration probably better than those which they had been receiving whilst still in the German Armed Forces towards the end of the war: 14oz of meat, 3oz of bacon, 4oz of margarine together with 8lbs of bread and 9lbs of potatoes. ‘

The prisoners also received token wages in return for their labours off-camp (around 3 shillings for a 48-hour week), which could only be spent in the camp canteens on personal effects and toiletries such as cigarettes and razor-blades.

Entertainment was limited though individual Allied Camp Commanders often decided that performances by German bandsmen would aide the morale of their fellow POWs and so allowed the musicians to perform with scrounged or borrowed musical instruments.

Christmas 1946 saw a sea-change of opinion towards these young German prisoners, now a regular sight in the local communities, and a series of reconciliation church services took place across the county at which many thousands of POWs were invited to take part and by the New Year of 1947 saw the majority of restrictions on German prisoners lifted; British guards no longer oversaw working parties, barbed wire around the camps came down, and many young Germans were actively welcomed into British homes.

With a number of these ex-soldiers falling for local girls and feeling that Soviet-occupied Germany was nothing to go home to, many opted to stay in the UK, keep their farming & labouring jobs, marry and eventually take out British citizenship, several military bandsmen included. For many, however, being allocated to a Release Group and so obtain a Form D-2, the prisoner-discharge certificate, was all they could think of, and by Christmas 1948, all of the so-called parole-prisoners had been given a new German passport, some measure of back-pay and a ticket home to their families and loved ones after so many long years apart.

In Russia, sadly the picture was much grimmer. Having lost over 16 million of its citizens during the course of the Second World War, Russian treatment of its German POWs was so appalling that of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers taken prisoner on the Eastern Front, many were to die in captivity. Just over 45,000 survived for eventual release and a return home to Germany in the early 1950s.

Such was the vengeance wreaked by the Russian authorities for the many millions of its citizens that Motherland lost during the Second World War, that some former Waffen-SS soldiers, including medics & musicians, were made to suffer the deprivations of the terrible Soviet P.O.W camps right up until the early 1960s. 

More photos and an extended chapter looking at how the war ended for so many fine German military musicians can be found in my book:The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45…

Copyright Brian Matthews @2013

 

Hitler’s Combat Newsreels on DVD…

From as far back as I can recall, I always seemed to have an abiding interest in military history…my first awareness in my youth being that of the British side of the story in both the First and Second World Wars, (my paternal grandfather having been a pre-war professional soldier who served with the Essex Regiment in the trenches of the Western Front between the years 1914-18).

However thanks to my coming across the eye-popping Third Reich collection of a great mate Phil, in my later teens, (who happened to live just around the corner from my parent’s house), my fascination for military history very much became focussed on the story of the Nazi era, yet it was to be another 10 years before I had a chance to actually turn my private studies into, effectively, a life-time of work in this fascinating historical and archival field of period film & music…

In fact I had been working for some while with small Winchester-based Film & TV company Lacewing Productions, (at that time primarily cutting my teeth as Production Manager on the famous and evergreen series: ’The Old Country with Jack Hargreaves’), when I mooted to the two directors that I thought, with this new-fangled thing called ‘video’ just coming into vogue, (I joined the telly world when 16mm film was still the shooting & programme transmission medium via tele-cine), there was now an opportunity to start re-releasing many of the WW-II documentaries being sold to the collector on super 8mm home-reels onto video… and perhaps even set up a dedicated mail-order company to market such military material straight to the enthusiast?

I was allowed to spend any down-time I had at the studio researching into the viability of my ideas but sadly, by the time that I had realised that I was indeed onto a winner, Lacewing had gone under, so I put all of my notes away safely and went off to work as a freelancer. However several years later, through a circuitous route, Tomahawk Films was created, with me at the helm, and so I went back into the old files and dusted off my notes…

By now several other companies had also realised that WW-II documentaries on video were the ‘latest thing’ and there was now a market for such titles…so Tomahawk very soon became an archival distribution & mail-order company seeking out & sourcing some fantastic WW-II documentary footage and releasing it to an avid video market that could not get enough!

Eventually our World War Two video catalogue, entitled Images of War, offered some 400 exciting documentary titles and we had mail-order customers all over the world…but slowly alongside the original, in-house work that I was putting into producing my documentary Channel Islands Occupied, I was also putting out the word out I was looking for anybody that might be sitting on any captured German film footage. Sounds silly saying it now, but I thought back then that there might just be a chance that amongst the veteran soldiers who brought all sorts of souvenirs back like helmets, flags & badges etc, somebody might have had the chance to ‘acquire’ some film cans…so I put an advert in the old Exchange and Mart, as was back then….and I actually got a reply!!!

A former British intelligence officer telephoned to say that he had pile of rusty German film cans ‘under his spare bed’ if I was interested in coming and having a look…? So not wanting to miss a possible opportunity I jumped in my car and headed north to Yorkshire to meet this lovely old chap..and sure enough there, under that spare bed, was indeed a pile of 16mm mute film.

Pulling out an old British army projector, he started spooling up the first can, and over the next few hours I sat transfixed as I saw some of the most exciting German Propaganda Kompanie combat film footage I had ever seen…(for even by the late 1980s as this was, I was already starting to see the same old film footage being put out in a range of documentaries and was aching to see something new!). By the end of the impromptu film show my head was reeling but I knew that I wanted very much to buy this film footage..so after a fabulous dinner in the nearby town, and probably having imbibed one too many glasses of excellent wine, I offered him £2,000, (a fortune then and not an insignificant amount now), for all 16 cans, to which he very readily and happily agreed..!

During dinner he was able to fill me in a little more and explained that, in 1945 he and his driver had arrived in Hanover only to stumble across Ukrainian troops ransacking the city’s main Gestapo Headquarters and looking for treasures whilst also throwing cine-projectors from an upstairs window!!  Brandishing his pistol he burst into the building and charged upstairs through the Ukrainian troops coming downstairs, loaded with their booty, and on seeing piles of film cans stacked in a blazing room, grabbed 16 of them and retreated back to his jeep to be driven back to his Allied base camp for security analysis… and there they stayed until after the war when, amazingly, he was handed them back, considered to be his own personal ‘booty’ which should be returned!

The cans were put into his spare room and remained, untouched, until my E & M advert in the mid 80s stirred his memory, when I was called and subsequently arrived to see all the cans resurface completely intact! Once I had the them safely in Tomahawk’s care we arranged to have the film taken up to the heart of the film industry in London’s Soho, where all of the reels were expertly cleaned & re-oiled to get rid of the years of dirt and so bring them sparkling back to life.

Once lovingly restored we brought in a 16mm film editor to cut & splice the stunning sequences together to effectively produce four exciting video titles from the restoration of these superbly detailed German combat newsreels, which were then transferred to 1” tape thence latterly to Beta SP as new master formats came on-line…

As I alluded to earlier, most of this Nazi Propagandakompanie footage had never been in public before and though it had many sub-titles throughout, there were no soundtracks found with it and we assumed that, as Die Wochenschau (Weekly Newsreels), such footage was destined to be shown in local German cinemas in its silent form with perhaps just piano or other musical accompaniment maybe.

However rather than leave it silent Tomahawk acquired a stirring German soundtrack, (now released as a separate audio CD) and armed with a newly acquired collection of WW-II sound effects (also available as an SFX archive on our CD Sounds of War), we went into the studio, with Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, who was back then a freelancer before the days of his current studio, studio Dubmaster, who really brought this incredibly film to life. In fact it was this German music soundtrack that would eventually set Tomahawk films off into its direction of Third Reich Military & Civilian Music on CD…a direction that we had no inkling of at the time!!

Which also helps explain to our later Third Reich Musik collectors, unaware of our early genesis, why we are actually called Tomahawk Films:   simply because of that fact that we started out as a war-time documentary film company but as, slowly & steadily, our name became synonymous with German Military music we did think about a possible name change to reflect that fact…

However we soon realised that, from a marketing point of view, once you are well known for something in particular, you certainly don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and change your name… so even though 75% of our historical media work is now in the German archival music field, rather than the in ‘pure documentary production film’ arena, the name ‘Tomahawk Films’ stayed and our Third Reich music continues to be happily marketed on CD around the world under our well-known moniker..!

So after Woody, (the first time that Tomahawk Films had actually worked with him, the second being as sound recordist on our 50′ television documentary ‘Channel Islands Occupied’) had produced his sound-on-film dubbing magic, Tomahawk proudly released the outcome as a 4-part video series, each with its own separate title:

Russian Front Volume I: The all-out action begins as Wehrmacht cameramen cover the combat assault teams across the Dneiper River, taking Minsk, Stalingrad and Rostov whilst close-quarter action intercuts with spectacular footage in the cockpits of Me-110′s and He-111′s battling high above the Russian steppes…

Russian Front Volume II : The intense and bloody combat photography continues in the heat of battle as the German infantry storm Kharkov and Kersch with flame throwers & heavy M.G’ whilst a fascinating record of the siege of Sevastapol offers an incredible sequence on German heavy artillery, including the Wehrmacht’s truly awesome railway guns…

Air Land and Sea: A Kriegsmarine Honour Guard introduces the Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau’s ‘Channel Dash’ under R.A.F. attack whilst rare Dieppe newsreel and the Waffen-SS in Finland leads into ‘Murmansk to Africa’, a lightning overview of the war and ends with some really exciting Luftwaffe in-cockpit action in ‘Air War in the East’.

Finally the 4 title: Afrika Korps: which offers desert combat footage from the war in North Africa, including Ju-88′s in action, Italian assault troops, German troops under canvas with Rommel and the Fall of Tobruk; also Luftwaffe footage of the air attack on Malta and finally a great sequence offering ground crews ‘bombing-up’ and close ups of Kesselring and fighter ace Marseille…

At a later date we took the decision to then re-edit all four titles together to make an exciting and more cost-effective 90 minute video for our customers entitled: The Combat Newsreels of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich,which in turn became a world-play DVD of the same name, still with its incredible 16mm footage and stirring German music and combat effects soundtrack…

Over the years I have often thought about writing a  script and narrating it for the DVD, but do you know what?.. the film footage is so exciting and so gripping that any random voice-over, (however well or pertinently I had written a script), would have added little to the viewer’s enjoyment and possibly merely insulted their intelligence.

So in the end I opted to leave these incredible Combat Newsreels with just their rip-roaring music & combat sound effects sound-track where pertinent…and happily I made the right decision judging from the enthusiastic customer feed-back we get..and the fact it still keeps selling in its many thousands..!.

Even today, I have still seen very little of this footage used in the myriad TV documentaries that keep appearing on television, so I still bless the day that my old appeal for German footage via the pages of the Exchange & Mart came up trumps..!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2013

Lale Andersen & ‘Lili Marleen’…

From the early days of Tomahawk Films when I stated to delve deeper into the field of Third Reich music and began to uncover the history and myriad stories that lay behind both the wonderful military & civilian songs, like many such enthusiasts, it was the distinctive war-time voice of Lale Andersen, the German equivalent of our British ‘Forces Favourite’ that soon caught my attention and I have been captivated by her voice and an assiduous collector of her images ever since…

Born Liese-Lotte, Helene, Berta, Bunnenberg in Bremerhaven on March 23rd 1905, the daughter of a dock-worker, she was first married, at the age of 17, to a local painter Paul Wilke, but following their later divorce (and after their third child), she moved to Berlin in 1929. Just two years later she found herself debuting on stage at the famous Kabarett der Komiker and became a regular feature of the city’s famous night-club scene in the immediate pre-war years of the late 1930’s. This was before Radio Belgrade was to catapult her to stardom, thanks to one abiding song that will forever live in the hearts of almost every soldier that served in World War Two.

Norbert Schultze’s Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ (better known as ‘Lili Marleen’) became not only an favourite with soldiers of all nations, but was subsequently recorded by many artistes around the world; however such was the power & emotion that Lale Andersen put into each performance of the song, that every German soldier instantly fell in love with her; and not just German soldiers. In the wake of the 8th Army’s success in North Africa, many members of the Afrikakorps found themselves prisoners of the Allies and, as many British veterans will testify, the young German prisoners, now safe from the fighting, well fed & provided with cigarettes, were happy to sing to keep themselves entertained and their spirits lifted.

It was also this world-wide fame with soldiers of all nations that was to save Lale Andersen’s life, for whilst an undoubted favourite with the combat troops at the front, Lale was to fall foul of the Nazi authorities and come close to finding herself sent to one of the German Reich’s many concentration camps.

Just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War Lale, who was living in Zurich with her lover Rolf Liebermann, (a Swiss-Jewish composer in whose pre-war plays she had acted), was asked to perform at a private birthday party for a high-ranking Nazi official at Lübeck as part of a troupe of famous German celebrities. However she was so upset by the anti-Jewish comments made by those present that she left early, totally disillusioned with life under Nazi rule!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, who liked to claim responsibility for all burgeoning show-business careers, ( and was by now well aware that Lale Andersen was becoming successful without his help), was becoming increasingly jealous of her growing fame and now ordered her to be kept under surveillance by the state secret police.

In 1938 the screws then tightened for Lale as she returned to Berlin for another concert, after which Goebbels refused to let her leave, and she was forced to remain in Germany and base her career there.

After recording ‘Lied eines Jungen Wachtposten’ in early 1939 and its subsequent popularity, Lale was  increasingly worried that Rolf Liebermann, left behind in neutral Switzerland, would think she had given up all hope and had thrown her lot in with the Nazis. So she took the risk of writing to him in Zurich, pleading for his help in making an escape from Germany back to Switzerland and both continued an exchange of letters until Rolf came up with a plan: in 1942, whilst entertaining German troops in a military hospital in Northern Italy, Lale would link up with Rolf’s friends who would smuggle her across the Italian-Swiss border.

However, as Lale was about to make good her escape, she was arrested by the Gestapo on Milan’s railway station and escorted back to Berlin; told she would no longer be allowed to sing to the troops and almost certainly be sent to the concentration camps, was allowed home to put her affairs in order where, unnoticed, she managed to take an over-dose of sleeping tablets in an attempt to commit suicide; however her attempt on her own life was spotted and prevented just in time.

But the Gestapo had blundered, for whilst Lale Andersen was a German citizen liable to Hitler’s law, the fictional character Lili Marleen was now an international cult figure, and in most eyes Lale and Lili had actually become one and the same person!

Propagandaminister Goebbels, more than aware of her immense popularity with the combat soldiers, fighting on the various fronts, and realising what a propaganda disaster it would prove if news of her attempted suicide were to leak out, personally intervened realising that she was more use to him alive than dead, though the price she had to pay for Goebbels intervention was a continued surveillance by the Gestapo, to whom she had to report on a weekly basis. But by 1944, she was allowed her to quietly slip away from Berlin for the last time to live with her grandparents on the German Friesian island of  in the North Sea, where she saw out the remaining year of the war.

Not long after the surrender, wrongly thinking that all interest in Lili Marleen had died with the Third Reich, Lale Andersen was invited by British Forces Radio in 1945 to sing for them, and her career was thus resurrected. Lale then made a complete return to the stage and toured the holiday resorts of Southern Germany as a singer with the Lutz Templin, (of ‘Charlie & his Orchestra’fame) jazz band, still very much in demand from the war-time generation and especially with the veterans of the Afrikakorps and the British 8th Army, both famous units having adopted her as their own!

Sell-out tours of Europe, America and Britain were followed in 1952 with a feature film on the story of Lili Marleen, (in which Lale starred), before then embarking on her final farewell tour of Germany in that same year. At the end of what was a truly magnificent musical career, both in war-time and then in peace-time, Lale eventually retired back to the North Sea island of Langeoog to become a rather jolly and much-loved guest-house landlady, before tragically suffering a heart attack on August 29th 1972 and passing away at the premature age of just 67.

Despite her tragic passing, long before her time, her wonderful legend very much lives on and Tomahawk Films and myself are most proud of the beautiful CD collection of her most famous, (and certainly most loved), songs that we have managed to lovingly restore, renovate and release from original war-time schellack 78rpm records we sourced in Germany, under the title:

‘Wie einst Lili Marleen’.. The Songs of Lale Andersen, war-time Germany’s ‘Forces Favourite’ 1939-1943’..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013