Eyewitness from Hill 314
I am the Lieutenant Robert L. Weiss referred to in the Hallowed Ground article [“Hill 314, Mortain, France,” by David T. Zabecki, March]. I was particularly pleased to see the article about Hill 314 so entitled, because the 277 infantrymen and one artilleryman who were casualties made Hill 314 hallowed ground.
The hill bore the brunt of the Nazi attempt to break through to Avranches and split the American forces in two. Lest it be forgotten, the Battle of Mortain was the largest German counterattack in France in World War II. Zabecki put it right when he wrote that the defense of Hill 314 halted the left wing of the German attack and completely disrupted the German scheme of maneuver. See Lt. Col. Mark Reardon’s similar conclusion in his work Victory at Mortain.
As for the attempt to supply the troops on Hill 314 by firing empty shells: (1) The idea was conceived by Major Richard E. Evans Jr., the executive officer of the 230th Field Artillery Battalion, not Lt. Col. Lewis D. Vieman, as stated in the article; and (2) the effort was a total flop because of the high-velocity start and the sudden impact. I should know. I was the officer who adjusted the fire of those shells onto Hill 314, and I inspected the contents when they were retrieved and opened.
For a firsthand account see my book Fire Mission!
Thanks for the excellent article [“How Resistant?” by Stephan Wilkinson, March] on the Maquis. This issue has troubled the French conscience ever since the end of World War II. However, there is one error in your piece. France most assuredly was not the only occupied country in Europe with Nazi collaborators.
Norway’s Quisling regime of the German occupation period collaborated with the Nazis nearly as much as France’s Vichy government.
The Dutch underground was shot through with Nazi agents/collaborators. They were the proximate cause of the success of the Nazi counterintelligence Operation North Pole that saw many British agents uncovered and turned or killed—one of the causes of the failure of the British portion of the airborne Operation Market Garden.
Ukrainians provided concentration camp guards to the Nazis as well as troops to fight with the Nazis against the Soviets.
The German Waffen SS had divisional units composed of volunteer nationals from Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France. The Germans also had some turncoat Yugoslav, Russian, Albanian, Arab and even Indian troops (as did the Japanese in the China-Burma-India Theater).
On the positive side, all the occupied countries also had resistance groups loyal to the Allies (or in the case of the Poles, French, Greeks, Italians and Yugosolavs, loyal to either the Soviets or the Western Allies and opposed to each other as much as they were against the Nazis).
The point is that the resistance/collaborationist situation in occupied Europe was very complicated—and not just in the French case.
“How Resistant?” Perhaps Wilkinson should examine the Polish Resistance, or Home Army, founded in October 1939 to resist German and Soviet occupation. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Poles and Russians became “allies.” As it turned out, the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers by the Russians in 1940 and the arrest of Home Army officers proved otherwise.
The Polish Home Army was the largest resistance movement of World War II. It integrated the whole of Polish society in its struggle with the Germans, incorporating the courts, schools, sabotage, military intelligence, radio stations, couriers, mail service and a legislative body. It was a virtual underground state.
With the advance of the Red Army into Poland in 1944, the Home Army initiated Operation Tempest, a general uprising to liberate the country and establish “facts on the ground” when confronting the Russians. It culminated in the Battle of Warsaw, aka the War-saw Uprising, on Aug. 1, 1944. Some 40,000 insurgents engaged the German army in vicious house-to-house fighting for 63 days while the Russians looked on from the other side of the Vistula. Joseph Stalin’s aim of subjugating Poland and Eastern Europe was realized with the help of the Germans.
The letters in your March issue on your Japanese atrocities article [“A Culture of Cruelty,” by Mark Felton, January] seem to rationalize, even justify, these savage crimes. To characterize the malignant murder of 22 Australian army nurses and the following four years of starvation, torture and execution of many thousands of Allied prisoners variously as “mistreatment,” “physical abuse,” “wartime cruelty,” etc., is an insult to the article [and] a distortion of the truth.
The first letter quotes an unsupported 36-year-old magazine article by an English academic that in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 “European observers at the front were agreed that [the Japanese]…behaved with admirable humanity and restraint towards their European prisoners.” This is in sharp contrast with the accounts of actual war correspondents, including Jack London. No mention is made of Japan’s barbarous treatment of Korean prisoners and civilians during and after its war with Russia.
The second letter offers the reprimand that Military History should not have offered its “readers still serving” the “dangerous” truth about the Japanese in World War II, as if our current military should not know and be prepared for a similar enemy in a future war. Reference to the article as a “propaganda narrative,” when it has been fully documented and supported by photographs of murdered victims, is an ignorant falsehood.
The third letter explains that the Japanese male mysticism of treating other races as beasts apparently required them to become beasts themselves. This is much like blaming the victims of the crime.
The final letter cites the unusually generous act of the Japanese of not murdering or starving, or turning over to the Germans, some 5,000 Jewish refugees in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of China. This rare humanitarian treatment is well documented. Tens of thousands of other civilians in Shanghai were not as fortunate. They were only a small part of the estimated 20 million prisoners and civilians murdered by the Japanese throughout China and other occupied territories. The actual number may never be known or documented.
Hilton Head, S.C.
Send letters to Editor, Military History, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Dr., Leesburg, VA 20176 or via e-mail. Please include name, address and telephone number.