Articles


Battle of Bowmanville

by Rodney J. Martin

For many years the root cause of the Battle of Bowmanville was attributed to the Allied raid on the French port of Dieppe, which took place on 19 August 1942. However, some historians link it directly to the 4 October 1943 Allied Forces raid on the British Channel Island of Sark. The order to shackle German POWs was given after the Sark Island raid, which raised Hitler’s ire.


Raid on the Port of Dieppe

Stalin was pressing Churchill for a second Allied front in the spring of 1942. The Allied Operation in Africa was not going well with the British Eighth Army being pushed back into Egypt. On the Eastern Front the Germans had penetrated deep into Russia and Stalin needed the pressure to be taken off. The Allies were in no position to launch a channel invasion. The invasion of France would not come for another two years. German generals had decided that a cross channel invasion of England would be disastrous, canceling plans at the last minute because England controlled the air space over the channel. The channel war was at a standstill.

In what would be a disastrous raid, the Allies decided to invade the well-defended port of Dieppe. Allied command claimed that the raid would be a proving ground for equipment and strategy during an amphibious assault. They had the opportunity to invade less fortified coastal areas, but did not avail themselves of the opportunity. Although many lives were lost during the Dieppe raid, the objective of diverting troops and material from the Eastern Front was achieved.

Training for Operation Rutter was commenced when the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division arrived on the Isle of Wight on 20 May 1942 for intensive training. The invasion was to take place in July, but the weather was not optimal for an invasion and had to be cancelled. The action was rescheduled under the new code name Jubilee. The five-point surprise attack was to take place over a sixteen-kilometer front with the Port of Dieppe being the main objective in the early hours of 19 August 1942. The surprise was lost when the assault force encountered a small German convoy and a small sea battle ensued. Flashes and noise from the distant guns alerted the shore defenses. Some of the assault force was scattered and others met with heavy fire as they approached the beach. Some units had success suppressing fire from gun batteries by accurate sniping. Other units managed to land intact while those that landed on the beach at Dieppe were minced to pieces by machine gun fire from the cliff tops. A tremendous air battle place took place. The Royal Air Force lost 106 aircraft and the RCAF lost 13 aircraft, the most for a single action up to that time. As the battle continued, many of the allied soldiers ran out of ammunition and had to surrender. Others were killed as they evacuated the island under intense fire. The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry landed and made it inland to be met with stiff resistance. The Royal Marine "A" Commando unit was the last to land and suffered heavy losses. The battle was over by early afternoon. There were 1,421 casualties and 1,946 prisoners of war; 907 Canadians lost their lives. Less than half of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked for the operation returned to England, and many of these were wounded.

After the raid there were reports of German POWs’ bodies washing ashore with their hands tied and of captured documents stating that German prisoners were to have their hands tied behind their back.


Raid on the Channel Island of Sark

German forces occupied the British Channel Island of Sark, located off the coast of France, during WWII. Shortly after midnight, 4 October 1942, a commando squad led by Major Geoffrey Appleyard landed and made its way inland. Appleyard knew the Channel Islands quite well, having vacationed there as a schoolboy. The purpose of the raid was to obtain harbor defense documents and capture German soldiers, who were to be taken back to England for interrogation. Although it was against international law to physically restrain POWs with shackles or ropes, some method of restraint would be required, given the scope of the task.

Appleyard was an extraordinary man with strong convictions and dedication to winning the war. He said to a friend “It is not enough to do our duty. We must do more than our duty - every thing we can, to the absolute limit.” He was a veteran commando raider, having completed several raids in Africa and the Channel Islands. He participated in the raid on a tiny Channel Island of The Casquets where the Germans were using the lighthouse as a navigation signal station. They landed and climbed the eighty-foot cliff and surprised the Germans who were totally unprepared for the raid. They confiscated codebooks and took a number of prisoners back to England. Sliding down the cliff Appleyard fractured his leg. Five nights later the commandos landed on the island of Buhrou. Unable to walk Appleyard acted as navigator. The island was deserted. Then on 12 September 1942 a party of eleven led by Major March-Phillips executed another raid, this time near Cherbourg. Again Apppleyard participated as a navigator. The mission did not go well as they encountered a German patrol, which was quickly reinforced. All the members of the commando party were killed except for Graham Hayes who made his way through France to neutral Spain. However, Franco’s officials turned him over to the Germans who immediately executed him. Hitler had given an order that all captured commandos be executed as he considered them non-military operatives. Appleyard was spared having not gone ashore.

On Sark, the commandoes spotted what they thought to be stationary figures and an antenna mast near a hut. After a careful investigation they determined that the figures were only rifle range targets and a flagpole. Moving inland, they broke into a house occupied by a Mrs. Pittard. The elderly widow dressed in her nightgown gave them a map and directions to the nearest German outpost, which was located at the Dixcart Hotel Annexe. The commandos quickly located the annex. Anders Lassen, the legendary Dane, silently dispatched a guard with his knife. They entered the annex and found stacked rifles in the corner of the brightly lighted room. There was no guard posted inside and all of the German soldiers were asleep in another room. The surprised soldiers were awakened and securely bound with cord. However, they did not cooperate. They made a lot of noise and fought against the commandos. One managed to escape but was quickly recaptured. Shortly four more broke away but were shot and killed. The Germans at other posts were alerted by the noise. As the commando party moved on, Appleyard dismissed a proposal to go back and untie their former prisoners. The single prisoner not willing or unable to move along quickly was picked up and carried to the waiting boat.

Appleyard was initially very disappointed in only having one prisoner to take back to England. However, the lone prisoner turned out to be a thick-glassed engineer who was working on Sark’s harbor defenses. Appleyard had luckily found a squad of engineers. Although Appleyard reported killing five German soldiers, a German radio broadcast stated that “the N.C.O. and one man were killed by bullets and bayonets, and another soldier was wounded.”


War Politics

Germany immediately protested the shackling and killing of the German prisoners, stating that they would start shackling British prisoners in retribution. The British War Cabinet met 8 October 1942 to discuss the German threat to shackle prisoners in retaliation for the incident on Sark. The Germans had decided that the shooting of the bound German prisoners was no accident. They claim to have recovered Allied documents after the raid on Dieppe that gave orders to shackle the hands of German prisoners. Without consulting Ottawa or any other Commonwealth government the Cabinet issued a statement stating that if Germany persisted in its intentions to shackle allied prisoners similar measures would be taken against German prisoners of war. Although the Canadian government in Ottawa was disturbed by the decision, there was nothing they could do except protest privately.

The Cabinet’s minutes revealed that they had no intention of consulting with the Canadians prior to issuing the order. There were more Canadian prisoners than there were Germans and to make up for the shortfall they considered shackling Italian prisoners. The following day it was learned that the Germans had already retaliated by placing 1,376 men in chains. The Cabinet decided to go ahead and have an equal number of prisoners manacled and sent Ottawa a cable instructing them to have German prisoners shackled. Ottawa replied on 12 October saying that it was reluctantly prepared to support the action taken by Britain but it was doubtful about the wisdom of further reprisals being taken.

The next day Ottawa reported to the British that the German prisoners were rebelling against their being placed in manacles and that only 400 prisoners had been successfully manacled with scores of prisoners and guards being injured in the process. Ottawa requested that the British have the Swiss ask the Germans whether the Canadian prisoners of war had resisted being chained and if the Germans had used force. The Cabinet rejected the idea because they felt that Germany would make the same inquiry about their prisoners in Britain and Canada.

Battle of Bowmanville 10-12 October 1942

Lieutenant Colonel James Mason Taylor, Commandant of Camp 30 Bowmanville requested that Generalmajor Georg Friemel, the spokesman for the German POWs, have a group of prisoners volunteer to be shackled at about 12:30 PM on 10 October 1943. Friemel’s response was that none of the prisoners would volunteer. The senior German Army officer Generalleutnant Hans von Ravenstein, senior Luftwaffe officer Oberstleutnant Hans Hefele and senior naval officer Korvettenkapitän z.S. Otto Kretschmer were also requested to supply volunteers to be shackled – they declined.

Later that day the German prisoners did not show for roll call. Taylor called for reinforcements from Barriefield and Kingston, which are about 170 kilometers from Bowmanville. The guards at Bowmanville were reactivated WWI veterans called the Veterans Guard of Canada who were too old to fight in battle. They were men who were in their fifties and sixties and not physically capable of taking on the young men who outnumbered them. Although the guards had come to know the prisoners personally and were at ease with them, the prisoners now observed that there was an uneasiness about the guards as they no longer carried their weapons casually.

Lieutenant Colonel Taylor called in his officers and told them that 100 German officers were to be shackled – to use force if necessary. In a brick building that housed a large kitchen Kretschmer set up his resistance headquarters. About 150 officers and petty officers armed with sticks, iron bars, table legs, ketchup bottles, china and stones barricaded themselves inside the brick building. They were prepared for a long siege. In the other buildings similar preparations were being made. Kapitänleutnant Horst Elfe, commander U-93, recalls, “We were determined, but a little frightened too. We thought the Canadians would come in with machine guns and tear gas and grenades, because that is what would have happened in Europe. So we were shattered when we looked from our windows and saw the Canadians marching in with no guns, no gas just baseball bats over their shoulders.” On Saturday 10 October a contingent of guards armed with rifles with fixed bayonets rushed the kitchen. Prior to the charge the Canadian officers had made a careful inspection to insure that the guards did not have any live ammunition. A pitched battle ensued at the doors and windows with the Canadian guards withdrawing, unable to penetrate the fortifications. The Germans had barricaded the doors and windows with mattresses and cardboard. The guards rushed one of the other buildings and were again beaten off. A third attack against the wooden barracks met with equal resistance. The battle went on for more than an hour. The guards brought axes attempting to chop their way through the fortified doors. In a counter attack the POW’s exited the buildings and attacked the flanks of the guards with sticks and steel bars. Both sides suffered injuries consisting of broken bones, cracked heads and bloody noses. After a short rest the guards regrouped, attacking with high-pressure fire hoses. Water shot through the windows thoroughly dousing the prisoners. The guards gained a foothold, as the POW’s had no defense against the high-pressure water stream. The prisoners fought back until 6:00 PM. Exhausted, they finally surrendered.

The Germans who were barricaded in the basement of House 5 were forced to leave when the basement was flooded with the water from the fire hoses. As they exited Lieutenant G.E. Brent struck each POW on the head or face with his cane. The prisoners took no action as they were forced to run through a gauntlet of Canadian guards. However, they avowed to address the insult at another time.

Again Generalmajor Friemel was requested to hand over prisoners for shackling. He refused again. The hostilities ceased and by mutual agreement the prisoners returned to their barracks. The prisoners were assembled and Lieutenant Colonel Taylor informed them that he had sent for reinforcements, regular troops from a nearby army camp.

At approximately 7:45 PM, three officers and 50 enlisted men arrived. Taylor addressed the Veterans Guard and the 53 regular army reinforcements. Then the combined force of about 150 men entered the confines of the camp at 9:20 PM. A second convoy under the command of Captain Stevens from the Ordinance Training School arrived at 10:10 PM. Taylor assumed command of the new group and they entered the camp with fixed bayonets. Nothing happened as the POWs remained in their barracks. Taylor reported that everything was calm at 1:00 AM Sunday 11 October.

The large contingent of regular army troops was not expected to arrive until the morning of Monday 12 October. At about 5:20 AM, during a transfer of POWs to the Dutch farm, it was determined that two officers were missing and an “escape plan” was put into effect at 6:40 AM. At about the same time a shot was heard. A guard had taken a shot at the two escaping prisoners who were quickly captured at 7:15 AM.

During the early morning roll call Kretschmer advised the guards that it would be unwise for Lieutenant Brent to enter the compound until the ill feelings of the POWs had subsided. The POWs refused to turn out for the 7:30 AM roll call. Even though he had been warned, Brent entered the compound sometime before 9:00 AM and began walking around with an elderly guard who was well liked by the POW’s. The word spread quickly that Brent was in the camp. Brent and the guard walked around the corner of the House 4 to be confronted by Kretschmer who had been talking with Luftwaffe pilots Oberleutnant Erwin Moll and Major A. von Casimir. As Brent turned around Kretschmer immediately punched him in the face. At this moment the guard pushed Moll aside and said, “You can’t do that!” trying to help Brent. Moll slugged the guard on the neck to take him out of the action and was immediately concerned that he had severely hurt the elderly guard who was now unconscious. Kretschmer knocked Brent to the ground and beat him soundly in retribution for the previous day’s indignity. They then dragged Brent into House 4. Oberfähnrich z.S. Volkmar König, who was the deck gun officer aboard U-99 with Kretschmer when it was sunk, observed Kretschmer rubbing his bruised knuckles as he entered and was ordered to tie up Brent. König tied Brent’s hands behind his back with strips of cloth. Brent was bleeding from the mouth and nose. In the mean time the elderly guard recovered from the punch on the neck and gave the alarm. Kretschmer decided to mockingly march Brent to the gate. In doing so a tower-guard opened fire on the group and wounded König. When the rifle firing started Brent hit the dirt. The Germans jumped back inside the barracks leaving Brent behind as the rifle fire kicked up the dust and blew out fragments of masonry from the brick building. Once inside the barracks it was determined that König had received several wounds. They looked out the window just in time to see Brent making a dash for the gate. The remainder of the day was uneventful and König was sent to the hospital to have the masonry and bullet fragments removed and the bullet wound just above his left knee attended to.

On Monday morning, 12 October the regular army troops from Barriefield and Kingston arrived at 5:20 AM under the command of Major D.F. Adams. The young troops who had been undergoing commando training were eager for a little action. In battle dress that included WWI style broad rimmed-helmets, rifles with fixed-bayonets, clubs and fire hoses they stormed the barracks. Armed with fire axes, stones and hockey sticks Kretschmer and his crew, with pillows lashed to their heads, waited for the coming battle. The battle raged with the Germans’ first line of defense purposely giving way, retreating to the barracks. The Canadians surged forward only to find themselves being attacked by prisoners hurling bricks from the roof of the barracks, forcing the Canadians to withdraw. With 400 troops the Canadians charged the barracks again caving in the doors and windows. The battle continued all afternoon with an ebb and flow. The battle took on the proportions of a medieval siege with the Canadian troops climbing ladders to reach the roofs of the barracks and the Germans repelling the invaders. Fortunately the Canadians had removed their bayonets and decided to physically subdue the Germans. The battle was over by early evening. It was a procession of sorry looking Canadian infantrymen and German officers that lined up for medical treatment at the first aid stations. Luftwaffe officer Oberleutnant von Troha lost an eye and another officer was severely bayoneted. That night, 100 German officers were marched to the farmhouse in handcuffs. During the action, some of the Canadian soldiers helped themselves to some souvenirs, which included personal belongings and German military medals.

Sergeant Don Kemp, camp guard, who generally resented the German POWs claimed, “It was my best time in the Army.” It provided him with an opportunity to vent his frustrations on the prisoners without consequences. The tower guard, Corporal J.E. Morrison, after being charged with the shooting of König, was given a hearing. In a thinly veiled charade of disciplinary action, he was given 14 days detention that was served during a 14-day leave. On 9 November Major A. von Casimir was mistakenly charged with the assault of Lieutenant G.E. Brent. It seems that Brent never saw who hit him.

Generalmajor Georg Friemel was very upset with the way the battle ended. In a letter to the Swiss Consul General’s, he filed a protest about the treatment of his men by the guards after their surrender. “I must confirm that only after the resistance ended not less than 107 Prisoners of War (Officers and men), while a great part put up their hands, were beaten with sticks and rifles or were injured with bayonets.” On 20 October Lieutenant-Colonel James Mason Taylor made a reply to Friemel’s protests in what could be best described as a non-answer-reply, which never addressed the issue. He made the vague statement, “ There was considerable confusion and excitement.”

A Time Magazine article of 26 October 1942 reported, “The guards let go a couple of tentative machine-gun blasts and the prisoners ducked back.” And, “After 35 minutes of high-pressure water and tear gas, the Nazis marched out smartly in military fashion.” The Toronto Daily Star on 24 October followed with, “ ‘Misleading and damaging inaccuracies’ in a report published by Time magazine.” Time followed up with a statement, “Time’s brief story on the battle of Bowmanville was based on a long report from a Canadian correspondent whose reporting for us has never before been questioned.” The Canadian government sent an official protest to the United States government, when the 26 October 1942 Time magazine article was published, objecting to the statement that machine guns and tear gas were used against the German prisoners. The Canadians feared reprisals from the Germans.

After the battle the usual good relations between the Germans and their keepers returned. The Canadians agreed to supply the building materials to repair the barracks and the Germans supplied the free labor. The Canadian government’s bill for the damage exactly equaled the value of the property stolen from the Germans. Although much of the POWs’ property was recovered, Kretschmer’s Ritterkreuz (Knights Cross) was never returned. The shackling continued. Karl-Heinz Bottger was one of the German Army personnel selected for the shackling at the Dutch Farm. Each day he would be shackled and each day the Canadian Captain in charge accidentally dropped his keys as he left. Others picked the locks of the shackles after the guards left and put them back on before the guards returned. During the daily confinement most read, wrote, played cards and probably reminisced about the “Battle of Bowmanville.” The shackling of the German prisoners was suspended 11 December 1942.

Kapitänleutnant Horst Elfe returned to Canada for a reunion and said, “It was just like the end of a football match. Two groups of young-men grinning like fools because they had enjoyed a good tussle…. When I went back to Germany, they wouldn’t believe it could happen like that.”

References:

Carter, David J.; Behind Canadian Barbed Wire

Hoffman, Daniel; Camp 30 “Ehrenwort” A German Prisoner of War Camp in Bowmanville 1941-1945

König, Volkmar; “Battle of Bowmanville”; Personal Account

Melady, John; “Escape From Canada!”

Public Record Office, England; HS 6/304

Robertson, Terrance; Night Raider of the Atlantic

Ryder, Rowland; “Ravenstein Portrait of a German General”

The Camp 30 War Diary; Reference RG 24 Volume 1593 Public Archives of Canada.

Wood, Mary and Alan; “Islands in Danger”

http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=history/secondWar/dieppe/dieppe2/raid

Copyright 2002


This article was published on 14 Aug 2002.



Silent Runner

Martin, Rodney J.


Buy this title at


amazon.com

Books dealing with this subject include

The Bowmanville Break. Shelley, Sidney, 1968.
Opération Kiebitz. Dugas, Jean-Guy, 1992.
POW: Behind Canadian Barbed Wire. Carter, David J., 1998.
Silent Runner. Martin, Rodney J., 2003.

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