Click on this text to watch a 4 and a half minute video:Berlin 1945: French Division Charlemagne (Fenet , De la Mazière)...
One of the last Waffen-SS units to hold out defending Adolf Hitler’s
bunker in Berlin was comprised entirely of Frenchmen.
The 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS
Charlemagne (1st French) and Charlemagne Regiment are collective names used for units of French volunteers in the Wehrmacht
and later Waffen-SS during World War II.
From estimates of 7,400 to 11,000 at its peak in 1944, the strength of the division fell to
just sixty men in May 1945. They were one of the last German units to see action in a pitched battle during World War II,
where they held central Berlin and the Führerbunker against the onslaught of Soviet infantry and armor. Knowing that
they would not survive should Germany be defeated, they were among the last to surrender in the brutal house-to-house and
street-to-street fighting during the final days of the Battle in Berlin.
Its crest is a representation of the dual empire of Charlemagne,
which united the Franks in what would become France and Germany. The Imperial eagle on the dexter side represents East Francia
(Germany) and the fleurs-de-lys on the sinister side represents West Francia (France).
In September 1944, a new unit, the Waffen-Grenadier-Brigade der
SS “Charlemagne” (französische Nr.1), also known as the Französische Brigade der SS was formed out
of the remnants of the LVF and French Sturmbrigade, both of which were disbanded.
Joining them were French collaborators fleeing
the Allied advance in the west, as well as Frenchmen from the German Navy, the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK), the
Organisation Todt, a construction unit and the Vichy French Milice. Some sources claim that the unit also included volunteers
from some French colonies and Switzerland. SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg took actual command with Puaud (now an
SS-Oberführer), as nominal French commander.
Defence of Berlin
In early April 1945, Krukenberg now commanded
only about 700 men organized into a single infantry regiment with two battalions (Battalions 57 and 58) and one heavy support
battalion without equipment. He released about 400 men to serve in a construction battalion; the remainder, numbering about
350, had chosen to go to Berlin and conduct a delaying action against the approaching Soviet Army.
On 23 April the Reich Chancellery in Berlin ordered
Krukenberg to proceed to the capital with his men, who were reorganized as Sturmbataillon (“assault battalion”)
“Charlemagne”. Between 320 and 330 French troops arrived in Berlin on 24 April after a long detour to avoid
Soviet advance columns. (The French SS men had been attempting to cross the Falkenrehde canal bridge which was blown up under
them by men of the Volkssturm who thought they were a Soviet column). Sturmbataillon “Charlemagne” was attached
to the 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division “Nordland”.
The arrival of the French SS men bolstered the Nordland Division
whose “Norge” and “Danmark” Panzergrenadier regiments had been decimated in the fighting. Both equaled
roughly a battalion. SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg was appointed the commander of (Berlin) Defence Sector C on 25 April.
This command included the Nordland Division, following the dismissal of its previous commander, SS-Brigadeführer Joachim
Ziegler on the same day.
The soldiers noted that the first night in Berlin was unnaturally quiet. They heard people dancing and laughing,
but no sounds of fighting were audible except for the occasional distant sound of Soviet artillery.They walked from West
to East Berlin, to a brewery near the Hermannplatz. Here the fighting began, with Hitler Youth firing Panzerfausts at Soviet
tanks belonging to advance guards near the Tempelhof Aerodrome. Soon some members of the Sturmbataillon joined the Hitler
Youth in tank hunting sorties.
Supported by Tiger II tanks and the 11th SS Panzer-Battalion “Hermann von Salza”, the Sturmbataillon
took part in a counterattack on the morning of 26 April in Neukölln, a district in southeastern Berlin near the Sonnenallee.
The counterattack ran into an ambush by Soviet troops using a captured German Panther tank. The regiment lost half of the
available troops in Neukölln on the first day. It later defended Neukölln’s Town Hall.
Given that Neukölln was heavily penetrated
by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz. He moved his
headquarters into the opera house. As the Nordland Division withdrew towards Hermannplatz the French SS and one-hundred
Hitler Youth attached to their group destroyed 14 Soviet tanks with panzerfausts; one machine gun position by the Halensee
bridge managed to hold up any Soviet advance in that area for 48 hours.
The Soviet advance into Berlin followed a pattern of massive shelling
followed by assaults using battle groups of about 80 men in each, with tank escorts and close artillery support. On 27 April,
after a spirited but futile defence, the remnants of Nordland were pushed back into the central government district (Zitadelle
sector) in Defence sector Z.
There, Krukenberg’s Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station. Fighting was very
heavy and by 28 April, approximately 108 Soviet tanks had been destroyed in the southeast of Berlin within the S-Bahn. Sixty-two
of those were destroyed by the efforts of the Charlemagne Sturmbataillon alone, which was now under the command of SS-Hauptsturmführer
Henri Joseph Fenet. Fenet and his battalion were given the area of Neukölln, Belle Alliance Platz, Wilhelmstrasse and
the Friedrichstrasse to defend.
Fenet, who was now wounded in the foot, remained with his battalion as they withdrew to the
vicinity of the Reich Aviation Ministry in the central government district under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm
Mohnke. For the success of the battalion during the Battle in Berlin, Mohnke awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron
Cross to Fenet on 29 April 1945.
On 28 April, the Red Army started a full-scale offensive into the central sector. Fighting
was intense, the Sturmbataillon Charlemagne was in the center of the battle zone around the Reich Chancellery. SS-Unterscharführer
Eugene Vaulot, who had destroyed two tanks in Neukölln, used his Panzerfausts to claim six more near the Führerbunker.
He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Krukenberg during a candlelight ceremony on the Stadtmitte
U-Bahn station platform on 29 April. Vaulot did not survive the battle being killed three days later.
The French Charlemagne SS were the last defenders
of Hitler’s Führerbunker, remaining there until 2 May to prevent the Soviets from capturing it on May Day.
Reduced to approximately
thirty able men, most members of the Sturmbataillon had been captured or escaped Berlin on their own, or in small groups.
Most of those who made it to France were denounced and sent to Allied prisons and camps. For example, Fenet was sentenced
to 20 years of forced labour, but was released from prison in 1959. Others were shot upon capture by the French authorities.
General Philip Leclerc, the French divisional commander who had served under the Americans, was presented with a defiant
group of 11-12 captured Charlemagne Division men. The Free French General immediately asked them why they wore a German
uniform, to which one of them replied by asking the General why he wore an American one (the Free French wore modified US
army uniforms). The group of French Waffen-SS men was later executed by the "victorius allies" without any form
of military tribunal procedure.
The 33rd Waffen-Grenadier-Division of the SS Charlemagne (French No.1)
Henri Kreis. Former
head of the PAK section of the Sturmbrigade in Galicia and Kriegkommandant of Radomyśl village, where he was seriously
injured when fighting a T34 tank. Once recovered, he became an instructor at the SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Schule at Kienschlag.
In March 1945 he commanded a reinforcement battalion at Wildflecken, as the division itself had already left for Pomerania.
Attached to the 38th Nibelungen Division, he fought against the Americans in Bavaria with the rank of an Obersturmführer,
although in this photograph he is still only an Unterscharführer. (DR)
Prisoners of the
Charlemagne Division who were executed on 8 May 1945 at Karlstein by their fellow Frenchmen from the 2nd Armoured Division,
commanded by General Leclerc, in American uniform and under orders from Paris. In the foreground from left to right are
Waffen-Unterscharführer Jean Robert, then Waffen-Obersturmführer Serge Krotoff (of 2nd Bataillon, 57th Regiment),
Paul Briffaut in army uniform and Waffen-Untersturmführer Raymond Daffas. The divisional archives had previously been
piled onto trucks and destroyed in late April by the Bavarian peasant with whom they had been hidden, as a result of the
In the spring of 1944 a command was issued from the OKW to transfer all foreigners serving
in the German Army to the Waffen SS. The attack against Hitler on 20 July accelerated this movement, particularly concerning
the French. German high command decided to regroup the volunteers into a new SS French brigade, under the command of Colonel
Edgard Puaud. The SS-Hauptamt [the administrative office of the SS] decided to bring the 638 French infantry regiment back
from Russia. It was disbanded on 10 August 1944 and its members transferred to the Waffen SS. The LVF headquarters at Greifenberg
now became the new brigade’s headquarters as well as the Französische SS-Grenadier Ausbildungs und Ersatz-Bataillon
(French SS Grenadier training and reserve Battalion), commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinrich Hersche who had
arrived from Sennheim. The Sturmbrigade, whose 1st Battalion had proved itself so valiantly in Galicia, arrived on 5 September
and joined 2nd Battalion for training at the ‘West-Prussian’ SS-Trüppenbüngsplatz. Alongside them,
2,000-2,100 political soldiers were finishing their basic training there, under the command of SS-Oberstumbannführer
Paul Gamory-Dubourdeau. In addition there were also men from the SS-Französische Flakbaterrie, who had not joined the
Sturmbrigade in the fighting in Poland, 1,000-1,200 sailors from the Kriegsmarine and Kriegsmarinewerftpolizei who had landed
at Greifenberg in mid-September, and around 2,000 men who were involved in the Schutzcommando and Todt Organisation, the
NSKK, the Speer Legion and the Technische Nothilfe, which was part of the German Police. There were also other general German
paramilitary units, although some had remained at their original training grounds with the permission of their leaders.
Two regiments were
formed, with two battalions each comprised of four companies. The 57th Regiment was predominantly composed of former members
of the Sturmbrigade, on the orders of Paul Gamory-Dubourdeau. The 58th Regiment was headed by Commander Eugéne Bridoux
and contained the ex-Legionnaires. Either for religious reasons (the perceived paganism of the SS), years of combat fatigue,
or because they felt the war was definitively lost, a few dozen men categorically refused to be transferred. Taking advantage
of this opportunity to start on a clean slate, a purge took place removing 180 of these ‘undesirables’. In order
to learn the fighting methods of the SS, a number of LVF officers and soldiers were sent on training courses. During their
absence, the brigade left its quarters and headed for the SS-Truppenübungsplatz at Wildflecken. On 5 November, part
of the French state militia had to withdraw from Germany and found itself also being incorporated into the brigade. During
the winter of 1944-45, the Waffen-Grenadier (no longer the SS-Grenadier as those of the Sturmbrigade had been called) had
to endure particularly harsh training as a result of the snow, the freezing temperatures, lack of equipment and clothes
and poor diet. Desertions among the prestigious SS units, such as the Walloon or the Wiking divisions were very common,
because their members wanted to join the fighting as soon as possible.
Given the title of ‘Division’, despite its reduced capacity
(more than 7,300 men), the orders to depart for the East by train arrived on 16 February. Integrated with the 11th Army,
the first men arrived on 22 February at Hammerstein in Pomerania and gathered in a nearby camp. Sent to the frontlines without
any armoured support, heavy weaponry or radio equipment, and with all their assault rifles having been hijacked by another
unit, the division’s casualties began to pile up. Different companies broke off to fight in isolated groups, with no
communication with the rear lines as they were pushed backwards. The survivors retreated to Szczecinek and after this initial
engagement, the division had lost around one third of its troops, most of whom were either wounded or evacuated. Five hundred
were dead. After regrouping at Białogard, the units were merged together to form a frontline regiment with the freshest
and most experienced soldiers, and a reserve regiment with a reduced combat role, due to the fatigue amongst the men. They
were sent to protect the retreat of the German troops at the port of Kolberg. Once more the French faced fierce fighting
trying to defend the city, forcing them to consider pulling back towards Białogard, which was still held by the Germans.
Trapped on a plain south-west of the city, the 3,000 men of the reserve regiment were massacred by Soviet tanks. A few survivors
were captured, while others took refuge in the nearby woods. Surrounded for days, the exhausted soldiers now had to finish
their war as prisoners, having failed to cross the River Oder. Arriving in Międzyrzecz, in western Poland after a long
and painful march, the men of 1st Battalion, who were the only ones left unscathed, managed to succeed in breaking the encirclement
of Pomerania. The French regrouped on the outskirts of Anklam and waited for other survivors of the Division.
Stationed at Carpin,
the combat units were once more reorganised and resumed their training. On 24 April SS-Brigadeführer Krukenberg, who
was now in charge of the French, received a telegram from Hitler’s bunker announcing that he was to take up a new
position in Berlin and must get there with a French assault battalion as quickly as possible. Having lost three vehicles
en route, a French detachment arrived in Berlin, which by now was virtually surrounded by the Red Army. They were attached
to the SS Nordland Division, commanded by Waffen-Haupsturmführer Henri Fenet. This division had distinguished itself
in urban combat, repulsing many large-scale armoured vehicle attacks using the Panzerfaüst [German anti-tank weapon].
The very experienced French soldiers managed to officially take out sixty-two tanks as they gradually retreated to the ever-decreasing
German-held zones. On the morning of 2 May, Fenet and his men finally reached Hitler’s bunker. They were hoping to
find the last kernel of resistance, but instead realised that the battle was all but over. More fighting now commenced in
order to avoid being taken prisoner, but one by one the men were arrested by the victorious Soviets, before resistance finally
ceased at 3pm.
The remaining men who were still at the barracks at Greifenberg left and joined those at Wildflecken. Here they
were divided into various units and separately retreated westwards, where some were subordinated into the 38th SS-Grenadier-Division
Nibelungen. In the end, four members of the division were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
The Little-Known WWII Anti-Soviet 'Russian Liberation Army'
look at the "Russian Liberation Army," a little-known World War II military force made up of Russian soldiers
who had been taken prisoner by the Germans and then volunteered to fight the Soviet regime. This ten-minute Russian-language
video, with English subtitles, includes wartime footage of a swearing-in ceremony of RLA soldiers. The RLA was commanded
by former Soviet General Andrei Vlasov, who also headed the German-backed anti-Stalinist "Committee for the
Liberation of the Peoples of Russia," a provisional "government-in-exile."
Click on this text to see video describing how 800,000 Russians were fighting on the German side during WW2. (English)....
Russian government calls Ukrainians “fascists” referring to the Ukrainian
Insurgent Army, members of which fought for Ukraine’s independence against Soviet Bolsheviks during the Second World
War. In fact, “fascists in Ukraine” is the main argument of Putin’s propaganda, with which he brainwashes
the heads of Russian citizens, who now think that Ukrainians are evil and who gladly send their sons to die in Ukraine fighting
with so-called “fascists”.
It is interesting, though, that Russians somehow “forget” to
mention its own Russian Liberation Army, members of which fought against Bolsheviks on the side of the Nazi Germany. In
fact, Bolsheviks were very unpopular on the territories of the Soviet Union: Bolsheviks killed tens of millions of people
after they came to power. That was the reason why there were so many Soviet deserters during the first years after Germany
attacked Soviet Union – people did not want to die for Bolsheviks.
These people joined armies, such as
the Russian Liberation Army, which fought AGAINST Bolsheviks on the side of Germany. During 1943 the number of volunteers
in the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) was close to 800,000 (!). Russian Cossacks constituted the major part of ROA.
Interestingly, Cossacks were defending their territories from Bolsheviks just in the same way Ukrainians defended their
regions in western Ukraine. It’s ironic that Russian Cossacks are fighting now in Eastern Ukraine against whom they
call “fascists”, although they were fighting FOR fascists during the WW2.
The number of soldiers of
the Russian Liberation Army was almost an order of magnitude bigger than the number of people ever involved in the Ukrainian
Insurgent Army. Russians seem to forget their history.
Here is Wikipedia info about the Wehrmacht foreign volunteers:
Here you can find very detailed information about the Russian Liberation Army:
Mass Rally and Parade for the Ukrainian
SS Division 'Galicia'
film report on a mass rally in Lviv (Lemberg), Ukraine, July 18, 1943, for the newly formed SS Division "Galicia."
Ukrainian-language narration. Runtime: 2:45 mins. Ceremonies begin with an outdoor religious service. Ukrainians greet
the German Governor, Otto Wächter, who then addresses the large, joyful crowd. Taking part in the parade
are many young men who have volunteered for service in the new military formation, as well as young women in traditional
dress. Many carry the symbol of the "Galicia" Division, a yellow stylized lion on a blue background - the Ukrainian
The first recruits to the Corps came from a group of prisoners
of war (POWs) at a "holiday camp" set up by the Germans in Genshagen, a suburb of Berlin, in August 1943.
During World War II numerous Waffen SS volunteer units were formed from the
Nordic countries. This strategy was encouraged by the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler who stated, “We must
attract all the Nordic blood in the world to us, and so deprive our enemies of it so that never again will Nordic or Germanic
blood fight against us.” Over half the Waffen SS was made up of non-German nationality. Waffen SS volunteers
came from Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Croatia, Ukraine, Latvia, Hungary, Spain, and Sweden and from Russians and
Cossacks. One force was formed into Der Britisches Freikorps otherwise known as The British Free Corps (BFC).The BFC was
the brainchild of John Amery, eldest son of Secretary for India of the British Government, the Rt. Hon. Leopold Stennett
Amery, MP. His son, John Amery, had fought against Communism in the Spanish Civil War where he gained Spanish citizenship.
In 1939 Amery moved to France and subsequently to Germany in 1942. From Germany, he broadcast radio messages to Britain
calling for peace between Britain and Germany.
Amery founded The League of St. George. The unit was intended to be
a non-combat unit made up of British prisoners of war prepared to spread the National Socialist message to fellow prisoners
of war. The Wehrmacht High Command insisted on the Legion being a combat unit. On January 1, 1944, the BFC was officially
formed. Volunteers signed a pledge, which read:“I, (name of the volunteer) being a British subject, consider it my
duty to offer my services in the common European struggle against Communism, and hereby apply to enlist in the British Free
Interestingly, before the BFC came into being, a number of British volunteers had fought in
some Totenkopf units. In May 1940, a Waffen SS manpower report mentions British volunteers serving in the SS Totenkopf Division
and Standarten units.
Amery soon resigned from the Corps as he wanted the volunteers to wear British uniforms. However, the SS insisted
on the wearing of the SS uniforms with British insignia (Union Flag arm shields and the Three Lions collar patches). Amery
moved to Italy where he became an advisor to Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Roebke then took command
of the British Free Corps. The Hauptsturmfuhrer was replaced in November 1944 by Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Kuehlich. By 1945 Captain
Webster, a British Army Officer was also involved in the leadership of the British Free Corps.
By spring 1945 the British Free Corps was sent
to Steinhoefel where the III SS Panzer Corps (Germanic) Headquarters was situated under the leadership of Ogrusturmfuhrer
Felix Steiner. The British volunteers were assigned to the Nordland Division. It was within this Division that many of them
saw action in the defence of Berlin although many Britons otherwise saw service with the Leibstandarte SS.
Palace writers hostile to the BFC claim its members
never saw active service; this is not the case. Reproduced is a letter from Anthony Byers of Effingham, Surrey that was
printed in the Daily Express.
Antony Beevor (Inside Hitler’s Concrete Tomb, last week) mentions the foreign SS troops who helped to defend
Berlin. Among them were soldiers of the British Free Corps, who were released from a prisoner of war camps in return for
donning German SS uniforms, with the understanding that they would not be asked to fight their own countrymen. As a National
Serviceman stationed in Berlin, I met a Russian Red Army officer who was impressed by the fighting spirit of eight misguided
“They (British troops) held up an entire Russian regiment for almost two days until they ran out of ammunition.
Only two survived to surrender and were promptly shot by the understandably irritated Russians, who had lost almost 100
men and three tanks.”
“The Russian officer said that had SS Unterscharfuher Cornfield and a soldier identified as Pleed been fighting
the Germans; they would have deserved the Victoria Cross (VC). He told me: “I hope the British invented a good story
for their families, for a brave soldier is still a brave soldier even when a traitor to his country.”
Siegrunen 63 has
this to say of Reginald Leslie Cornfield. “Reginald Cornfield is thought to be the only British Free Corps member to
be killed in action. On 27 April 1945, during the battle for Berlin, Cornfield disabled a Soviet tank with a Panzerfaust.
The tank crew then tracked him down and shot him. Due to his unusual BFC uniform, his Soldbuch (Identity Book) was taken
and kept by the Russian officer. Nothing is recorded of Pleed.
John Amery’s book England and Europe were distributed to British
prisoners of war from April 21, 1943, in the hope that they would join the Legion of St. George. The book is vehemently
anti-Communist. The unique work details such things as what happens to the general population of countries when Communism
(Bolshevism) takes over; who instigated the war and who was likely to profit from such a war. England and Europe also warn
that Britain would lose her empire to the benefit of both Russia and the USA.
One of the first to volunteer was ‘Frank
Wood’ (many members used pseudonyms) who drafted a recruitment leaflet for the BFC, which was dropped by the Luftwaffe
to British front-line troops fighting in Italy.
Fellow Countrymen! We of the BRITISH FREE CORPS are fighting for you. We are
fighting with the best of Europe’s youth to preserve our European civilisation and our common cultural heritage from
the menace of Jewish Communism. MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! Europe includes England. Should Soviet Russia overcome Germany
and other European countries fighting with her, nothing on this earth would save the Continent from Communism, and our own
country sooner or later would eventually succumb. We are British. We love England and all it stands for. Most of us have
fought on the battlefields of France, of Libya, Greece, and Italy, and many of our best comrades-in-arms are lying there
~ sacrificed in this war of Jewish revenge. We felt then that we were being lied to and betrayed. Now we know it for certain.
This conflict between England and Germany is racial SUICIDE. We must UNITE and take up arms against the common enemy. We
ask you to join us in our struggle. We ask you to come into our ranks and fight shoulder to shoulder with us for Europe and
for England. ~ Published by the British Free Corp.
John Amery was arrested in Italy. Despite having taken Spanish citizenship
prior to World War Two the martyr for a free Europe was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on December 9, 1945.
A similar fate also befell Irish-American William
Joyce. He had implored British prisoners of war to enlist in the British Free Corps. Despite being born in New York in 1906
and being of Irish parentage Joyce was controversially found guilty of treason.
The problem British Free Corp volunteers was
that, unlike the other European volunteers, Britain was still at war with Germany. Other European countries had surrendered
to Germany or were allies of Germany. The legality of the British Free Corp was something that concerned the German High
That these volunteers were found guilty of treason despite never having taken up arms against their fellow countrymen
is surely a travesty of justice.
As early as 1941, after Japan entered the war, the Fuhrer told Walter Hewel, one of his staff
that we are destroying the positions of the White Race in East Asia with the help of Japan, while Britain has joined the
Bolshevik swine in the fight against Europe.”
Vault of the Blue Division (250. Infanterie-Division of Wehrmacht), in La Almudena Cemetery (Madrid, Nowadays)
The Blue Division (Spanish: División Azul, German: Blaue Division),
officially designated as División Española de Voluntarios by the Spanish Army and 250. Infanterie-Division
in the German Army was a unit of Spanish volunteers and conscripts who served in the German Army on the Eastern Front of
the Second World War.
Hitler's secret Indian army
In the closing stages
of World War II, as Allied and French resistance forces were driving Hitler's now demoralised forces from France, three
senior German officers defected.
The information they gave British intelligence was considered so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to
be released until the year 2021.
Now, 17 years early, the
BBC's Document programme has been given special access to this secret file.
reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British
king for others to Adolf Hitler - an astonishing tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule
in India, known as the Raj.
Legionnaires were recruited from German POW camps
The story the German officers told their interrogators began in Berlin on
3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived in the German
Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled
the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler's help in pushing the British out of India.
Six months later, with the help of the German foreign ministry,
he had set up what he called "The Free India Centre", from where he published leaflets, wrote speeches and organised
broadcasts in support of his cause.
By the end of 1941,
Hitler's regime officially recognised his provisional "Free India Government" in exile, and even agreed to help
Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause. It was to be called "The Free India Legion".
Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used
to invade British India.
He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits
to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel
in North Africa.
by August 1942, Bose's recruitment drive got fully into swing. Mass ceremonies were held in which dozens of Indian POWs joined
in mass oaths of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.
Chandra Bose did not live to see Indian independence
These are the words that were used by men that had formally
sworn an oath to the British king: "I swear by God this holy oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and
state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra
I managed to track down one of Bose's former recruits,
Lieutenant Barwant Singh, who can still remember the Indian revolutionary arriving at his prisoner of war camp.
"He was introduced to us as a leader from our country who wanted to talk to us," he said.
"He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised
their hands. Thousands of us volunteered."
In all 3,000 Indian prisoners of war signed up for the Free India Legion.
But instead of being delighted, Bose was worried. A left-wing admirer of Russia, he was devastated when Hitler's tanks rolled
across the Soviet border.
Matters were made even worse by the fact that after
Stalingrad it became clear that the now-retreating German army would be in no position to offer Bose help in driving the
British from faraway India.
When the Indian revolutionary met Hitler in May 1942
his suspicions were confirmed, and he came to believe that the Nazi leader was more interested in using his men to win propaganda
victories than military ones.
So, in February 1943, Bose turned his back on
his legionnaires and slipped secretly away aboard a submarine bound for Japan.
Rudolf Hartog remembers parting with his Indian friends
There, with Japanese help, he was to raise a
force of 60,000 men to march on India.
Back in Germany the
men he had recruited were left leaderless and demoralised. After much dissent and even a mutiny, the German High Command
despatched them first to Holland and then south-west France, where they were told to help fortify the coast for an expected
After D-Day, the Free India Legion, which had now been drafted
into Himmler's Waffen SS, were in headlong retreat through France, along with regular German units.
It was during this time that they gained a wild and loathsome reputation amongst the civilian population.
The former French Resistance fighter, Henri Gendreaux, remembers the Legion passing through his home town of Ruffec:
"I do remember several cases of rape. A lady and her two daughters were raped and in another case they even shot dead
a little two-year-old girl."
Finally, instead of driving the British from India,
the Free India Legion were themselves driven from France and then Germany.
German military translator at the time was Private Rudolf Hartog, who is now 80.
"The last day we were together an armoured tank appeared. I thought, my goodness, what can I do? I'm finished,"
"But he only wanted to collect the Indians. We embraced each other
and cried. You see that was the end."
A year later the Indian legionnaires were sent back to India, where all were released after short
But when the British put three of their senior officers on trial
near Delhi there were mutinies in the army and protests on the streets.
the British now aware that the Indian army could no longer be relied upon by the Raj to do its bidding, independence followed
Not that Subhas Chandra Bose was to see the day he had fought so
hard for. He died in 1945.
Since then little has been heard of Lieutenant Barwant
Singh and his fellow legionnaires.
At the end of the war the BBC was forbidden
from broadcasting their story and this remarkable saga was locked away in the archives, until now. Not that Lieutenant Singh
has ever forgotten those dramatic days.
of my eyes I can see how we all looked, how we would all sing and how we all talked about what eventually would happen to
us all," he said.