1944: An unknown Allied airman

On this date in 1944, in the midst of a worldwide conflagration that would claim 70 million lives, one unknown crew member of an Allied bomber was shot by Nazi SS/SD troops in the woods around Enschede, Netherlands.

From late 1942, the Allies’ massive industrial capacity had sapped the vaunted Luftwaffe, bleeding down the German air force in desperate airborne combat in the Mediterranean and the Eastern front. Crippling losses in July and August 1943 lay Germany’s industrial heart open to devastating bombing and would within a year spell the end of the Luftwaffe as an effective fighting force.

The contest’s stakes were high. This hour-long compilation of contemporaneous U.S. propaganda footage celebrates the decisive effect of air supremacy in western Europe:

With hostile planes darkening Europe’s skies, the Germans called upon ruthlessness to stand in for materiel. Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler issued, according to Robin O’Neil, an August 1943 order to show no quarter to captured enemy pilots.

The young man shot this day suffered its effects:

The airman (estimated age 26 years), who was apparently unhurt, was taken by the SS to the cellar of the villa [serving as SS headquarters], where he was kept under guard while arrangements were made for his disposal. These arrangements consisted of the removal of his flying kit, and the substitution of a civilian light-coloured shirt, a pair of dark trousers, and a pair of socks.

In this dress he was put into a security vehicle, his hands handcuffed behind his back, and taken some distance in the grounds of the SS HQ to a spot within the compound where a grave had already been prepared. The airman was marched from the car by an escort of two SS men, one of whom dropped back and shot the airman in the back of the neck. He was buried and the grave was carefully camouflaged.

To this day, the airman’s identity has not been established. It was assumed that he was British or American, most probably American, as the trousers he was wearing were of a dark shade of khaki, and the fact that when he was informed in the car, in English, that he was to be executed, he made an indistinct reply in which the word “America” was uttered.

Countless such executions undoubtedly took place and were lost, forgotten or concealed in the charnel house of war. Thanks to the witness of Dutch prisoners who survived the war, this single act of routine brutality endured not only historically but juridically: little more than a year later, its author, Dr. Karl Eberhard Schongarth — an SS officer who participated in the Wannsee Conference and slaughtered thousands in occupied Poland and Holland — faced a war crimes prosecution for the execution of the anonymous airman.

His actions this date may have been small by the gauge of a bloodthirsty career, but since pre-war treaties explicitly regulated treatment of war prisoners, they also constituted a conveniently plain transgression of the far-from-bright line demarcating “war crimes.” For this one killing, Schongarth was himself hanged as a war criminal in Hamelin, Germany on May 16, 1946.

On this day..

13 thoughts on “1944: An unknown Allied airman

  1. Hitler declared aurtocky in 1933, renounced all debts. Fine. For a while. By 1937, with no credit, Hitlers economy, mal invested in weapons was crashing. Farm laborers had moved to factories, domestic agriculture was crashing, food shortages. Mil production was crashing because there was no hard currency to buy, and no one would offer credit. So Hitler had to move up the war plans from 47 to 39. He would take what he could not pay for, and continued to starve Europe, for German consumption til the end.
    The war was total war.
    If you think Germans got it bad, read up on the non atomic options for Japan. Also there was a Massada like mentality that it would be better for all Japanese to die, rather than humiliation. Think Okinawa.
    Hitler and the General Staff, and their Deep State killed the Germans.

  2. Actually Bestoink, the English engaged in fire bombing of German cities. The Americans attempted “Pin-point” bombings of German industry, not really successfully, as I understand it.

    Now if you want to argue what was done to Japanese cities by American bombers, that is an entirely different matter.

    • I am so done with this. You’re seriously trying to whitewash the USAAF? A thousand bomber raid with bomb aim accuracy of 400 yards can ‘pinpoint’ a factory? No. It can’t and they didn’t. Both the RAF and the USAAF set-out to obliterate German towns and cities. Hildesheim was one, a place where there was no big factory worth the name – it was simply there. Then it wasn’t. Memphis Belle was a film, not a documentary. There is a difference.

      • ok, you apparently don’t understand the basic concept of “total war”, destroying your enemy’s ability to actually wage war (industry), and the morale of its citizens (non-industrial cities). Sherman understood it, and was probably the first to put it to the test, very successfully, during the US Civil War. Hitler (fatally) took that same approach, against both England and Russia (England initially by accident). So exactly why would the Allies not take that same approach towards Germany, in an effort to get them to quit? I shan’t wait for your answer, because there really isn’t a good one.

  3. Re the airman. See JewishGen www. The Rabka Four. His name was

    2nd Lieutenant Americo S. Galle (USAF) Awarded: Air Medal
    With 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart
    Murdered by SS Security Forces at Enschede, Holland, 21st November 1944 .

    R. O’Neil Salisbury UK

  4. Why does this article only mention the industrial damage the Allied bomber fleets were doing? The Allies were INTENTIONALLY targeting innocent German civilians(children &babies included), annihilating them by the hundreds of thousands in their cities with ghastly firebombs. The bomber crews were completely oblivious and carefree as to the war crimes they were committing. Whoopie, Bettie Grable! The action of the SS was understandable.

    • “The Allies were INTENTIONALLY targeting innocent German civilians(children &babies included), annihilating them by the hundreds of thousands in their cities with ghastly firebombs.”

      yes they were, and most definitely intentionally. this was partly in retaliation for German bombing on non-industrial areas of England, and partly to (hopefully) hit the morale of the German people. it probably worked as well as did the German bombing.

      with respect to Japan, again, industry was the primary target, when it could be located. however, this was also a populace that was sworn to fight to the death, the bombing was also to give them a taste of what that would actually entail, and hope to god they’d get the message, and not require a bloodbath to end the war finally. dropping the atom bombs was a last resort, to get them to surrender, without a horrific invasion, and that almost didn’t work. and trust me, if the bombs had been available, before Germany surrendered, they’d have dropped one on Berlin first.

      • Nonsense. The Allies started the bombing of civilian targets, not the Germans. The British even developed this strategy pre-WW II. Lubeck was bombed before Coventry. The article fails to mention that most pilots were taken prisoner. Only those who were found guilty of bombing civilian targets were executed.

        • The krauts started the bombing of civilian targets during the Spanish Civil War. and continued on with it in England during the early stages of the of WWII. As Bomber Harris said…”Germany has sown the wind, now she will reap the whirlwind.” And reap it she did. Get it right you ignorant fool.

  5. Very good article, Jason but so tragic!! This is even happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan, where captured soldiers are being tortured and killed. SO WRONG!!! Seems like the Geneva Convention is worth but the paper it is written on….

    • I don’t think Daesh is actually a signatory to the Geneva Conventions which, as non-state actors, they really can’t be. as such, they aren’t really in violation of agreed upon rules of war. Of course, they are in violation of long standing, common rules of war, which go back thousands of years. these include rules regarding the treatment of non combatant civilians, and the treatment of honorably captured enemy soldiers, so there is that.

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