‘Let’kill those Nazi dogs:’ How 70 years ago, enraged by the horrors they found at Dachau, liberating US troops took revenge by executing dozens of German guards
- The US troops opened fire on 50 members of the SS and the Wehrmacht with a machine gun after lining them up and saying: ‘Take no prisoners!’
One commander shot dead four other Germans and became so hysterical that his own colonel had to hit him with the butt of his gun to stop him battering a fifth.
According to a new book, the Americans took revenge because they were so outraged at what they saw when they liberated Dachau, which was home to 32,000 prisoners kept in horrific conditions.
But what they did themselves on April 29, 1945 became one of the most controversial episodes in the US involvement in WWII.
Revenge: Wearing the striped uniform of the concentration camp, happy prisoners at Dachau cheer troops of the 45th Div, 7th US Army who liberated them on April 30, 1945. But American soldiers were so incensed by the horrific conditions they machine gunned 50 Nazis
Historians have since concluded that it was probably a war crime, though at the time the charges were dismissed by General George Patton who told the accused they could go home – with their honor intact.
Over the weekend dignitaries from around the world including German chancellor Angela Merkel assembled in Dachau to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation
But little was made of the episode which features heavily in ‘Hitler’s Last Day’ by Jonathan Mayo and Emma Craigie, which strings together the events that marked the end of WWII.
The book explains that on April 29 1945, a Sunday afternoon, the the 45th Infantry Division liberated the camp whilst on its way to the city of Munich, which was 12 miles to the south.
But before they even got into the main barracks, ‘Hitler’s Last Day’ reveals that they were left shocked and profoundly disturbed by what they saw.
The book says that in a railway siding outside Dachau they come across a long line of 39 railway wagons, all of them full of dead bodies – some with their eyes open, as if staring at the Americans.’
The Nazis had used the carts to transport 4,800 prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp to Dachau three weeks previously.
But by the time the train arrived just 800 people had survived – the rest were left to die in the wagons.
The book says that at the sight of such an atrocity the men got angry and shouted: ‘Let’s get those Nazi dogs! Take no prisoners! Don’t take any SS alive!’
The book says: ‘By the railway tracks (commander) Bill Walsh and his men have discovered four SS men with their hands on their heads. Walsh pushes them into a wagon and shoots them with his pistol’.
As they entered the camp the sights and stories that met them were beyond comprehension.
Most of the prisoners in the dozens of sub camps were Jews who had survived Auschwitz and were brought there in early 1945 when the Nazis abandoned the camp.
According to the book, all this was too much for Walsh.
It describes how Colonel Felix Sparks of the 45th Infantry was walking through the residential part of the camp when he saw Walsh chasing a German soldier shouting: ‘You sons of b******! You sons of b******’
The book says: ‘Walsh catches the German and starts beating him over the head with the barrel of his rfile,. yelling: ‘B*******! B*******! B*******!’
‘Sparks shouts at him to stop, but Walsh keeps hitting and hitting.
‘Sparks draws his .45 and cracks Walsh over the head with its butt;. Walsh falls to the floor ground and lies there weeping’.
It took seven men to haul Walsh away and Sparks took command.
The formal handover of the camp was done by SS officer Lt Heinrich Skodzensky who walked up to the Americans and offers his surrender with a salute and: ‘Heil Hitler’.
An American officer calls him a ‘schweinhund’ and put him in a jeep. He was driven away and moments later a gunshot was heard going off.
The most controversial episode of all happened next.
A group of 50 SS prisoners were lined up in front of a wall on the coal yard and Sparks ordered that a machine gun be trained on them, but not to fire.
A soldier called Sparks’ attention away and suddenly the machine gun opened fire.
The book says: ‘Another GI opens fire. Sparks turns and runs back into the coal yard. He pulls out his .45 and, firing shots into the air, orders his men to stop.
‘Sparks then run towards the machine gunner who is still firing, kicks him in the back, grabs him by the collar and drags him away from the gun’.
Sparks asks the man what the hell is was doing and the soldier replies: ‘Colonel, they were trying to get away’ – a blatant lie.
Sparks can see about 17 Germans have been killed and orders the others who have been injured to be taken to hospital.
According to the book, the episode would ‘haunt Felix Sparks for many years to come’.
Worse still, an Army photographer and cameraman had recorded what happened, and their recordings and photos were sent to General Arthur White, the head of the Seventh Army.
He carried out an investigation and concluded that Walsh had become ‘hysterical’ and told the machine gunner to ‘let them have it’.
Sparks was ordered back to America but before he got home he was sent to see General Patton, the commander of Bavaria, who dismissed all the charges against him.
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