[page last updated 10 January 2012]
Findings of the Court of Inquiry :
1. That eight British soldiers met their death at the Château de Grangues (near Dives-Sur-Mer), Calvados France on 6 June 1944.
2.(a) That the eight British soldiers referred to in Paragraph 1 above are believed to be the following, to wit:-3. That the said Corporal Kelly and seven comrades referred to in paragraph 2 above were murdered by German Armed Forces, in violation of the well-recognized laws and usages of war and the terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929.
No. 1944972 Corporal Kelly WA
No. 1878189 Lance Corporal Branston KW
No. 14283438 Thomson
No. 1876309 Guard
No. 15090818 Wright DF
No. 14422902 Wolfe F
No. 14537569 Wheeler
No. 882124 Lance Corporal Fraser
(b) That Wolfe wore British battledress with no blouse and a paratrooper's jacket; and all of the remainder were in battledress, bearing the insignia of Airborne troops, Corps of Royal Engineers.
4. That the said Corporal Kelly and seven comrades referred to in Paragraph 2 above were prisoners of war at the time of their deaths; that this status was known to their captors; and that as prisoners of war they were entitled to treatment as such.
5. That the said Corporal Kelly and seven comrades referred to in paragraph 2 above had done nothing to deprive themselves, at the time of their being killed, of the rights and immunities to which they were entitled as prisoners of war.
6.(a) That the German troops immediately responsible for this killing were Stabsfeldwebel Hermann Vieseler and/or others of his detachment of regimental headquarters troops of the 744th Grenadier Regiment of the 711th Infantry Division.
(b) That the field post number of the said regimental troops was 42171.
(c) That there is an unsubstantiated possibility that responsibility as accessories to the murder may lie with Stabsfeldwebel Herman Vieseller's superior officers on the 744 Grenadier Regiment and 711th Infantry Division.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE- FACTS:
7. Early in the year of 1944 a German detachment of regimental headquarters troops of the 744th Grenadier Regiment bivouaced in the grounds of the Château de Grangues and remained in this position until the latter part of June 1944. This detachment used parts of a large multiple occupancy building, variously referred to as 'The Stables', 'The Pavillion', 'The Marie', MRB's House, which stands about 125 yards North of the Château, as a kitchen and for the stabling of certain horses for which they cared. The personnel lived in bivouacs dug into the hillside a hundred and fifty yards more or less to the east of the stables. This detachment was in full possession and control of this area on the night of 5-6 June 1944.
8. The field post number of these German troops was at this time 42171, from which identification of this detachment was made by the British War Office as a unit of the 744th Grenadier Regiment. This is supported by the G-2 Section of SHAEF, in that the 744th Grenadier Regiment was part of the 711th Infantry Division which at the relevant period occupied the Deauville_Dives-Sur-Mer sector. It is noted that in his testimony CRN described this same formation as the "Standartenkommandantur".
9. On the night of 5-6 June 1944, the Allied Expeditionary Force invaded France, this operation incuding landings by airborne troops in the vicinity of Dives-Sur-Mer.
10. At about 0200 hours on the morning of 6th June 1944 the witness MRB saw eight British soldiers lying near the edge of the road immediately opposite "The Stables". These soldiers were in uniform, unarmed, unresisting, and under the control of an armed German guard, at least one other armed German being in the immediate vicinity at the time.
11. at about 0235 hours on the morning of the 6 June 1944, the witness CRN was told by Stabsfeldwebel Hermann Vieseler, commanding the German detachment at the Château de Grangues, that his detachment had taken eight prisoners. Later in the morning in conversation with this witness, Vieseler again referred to his 'prisoners'.
12. At about 0800 hours on the morning of 6 June 1944 the witness MRB was told by Viseler that he had shot the prisoners; that the place of shooting was on the road about 100 yards north of the stables, opposite a shallow excavation which the Germans had previously prepared for some intended construction purpose, which place was pointed out to him by Vieseler; that the reason for shooting them was that the prisoners having said that they had disarmed themselves, he, Vieseler, searched them and found that they still had grenades and a "Tommygun".
13. At about 1200 hours on the morning of 6 June 1944 the witness CRN was told by Vieseler that he had shot the prisoners; that his reason for shooting them was that the prisoners having decared that they had thrown their arms away, he, Vieseler, searched them and found they were armed;that one prisoner then ran away, Vieseler going after him, and that in the chase the prisoner fired at Vieseler and missed and the Vieseler shot the prisoner.
14. At about 1500 hours on the afternoon of 6 June 1944, the witness MET was told by Vieseler that he had shot the prisoners at 0600 that morning and that the place of shooting was on the road opposite the shallow excavation, in which he also stated the bodies were buried. The witness was also told by Vieseler at this time when he first captured the prisoners he had locked them in the stable, the prisoners having declared that they had disarmed themselves, and that about one half hour later he found them armed with sub-machine guns and "Tommyguns"; that because of this he marched them to the place of the excavation and while he was counting them, the leader of the prisoners tried to escape; that he then shot the seven remaining prisoners and pursued the leader and shot him through the head, the leader having previously fired at him and missed.
15. Subsequently, at a time believed by the Court to be the afternoon of 6 June 1944, a helmet, certain belongings probably including an identity card and a pool of blood were found by the witnesses MET and MRB in some laurel bushes in the vicinity known as the 'terrace', in the proximity of the place described by the witnesses CRN and MET as that where told by Vieseler, he had shot the escaping prisoner.
16. On the 8th and 9th of March 1945, the witness Captain Rankin exhumed, examined and identified seventeen of eighteen bodies from the grave described by witnesses CRN, MET and MRB as that in which Vieseler indicated he had buried his prisoners when shot. Of these eighteen bodies the cause of death in eight instances had been single gun shot wounds and each of the eight was clothed in British battledress, seven bearing Airborne insignia. Of the ten remaining bodies, none bore evidence of gun shot wounds, and all ten had been buried by the above named witnesses, on 7 June 1944 and following days, from among other British airborne troops fatally injured in aircraft and glider accidents on or about 6 June 1944. The eighteen bodies were then re-buried at the same spot in positions as indicated in Exhibit E herein, but the Court has reason to believe that they may have been re-intered in a permanent British Military cemetery.
L/Cpl Fraser (C6)
Cpl Kelly (C8)
[NB: It would appear that the 'unidentified' body No.4 at the time of the enquiry, was subsequently identified as it does have a CWGC grave stone in the name of Telegraphist Arthur Frederick Martin of Royal Navy HMS Mastodon]
REASONS FOR FINDINGS:-
17. The court is satisfied that on the night of 5-6 June 1944, the tactical situation was such that British airborne troops made landings in the vicinity of Dives-Sur-Mer, and that in the early stages of such operations many could have been expected to be taken prisoner, either singly or in small groups. It is, therefore, entirely logical that Corporal Kelly and his comrades should have been on the grounds of the Château de Grangues in combat status and equipment at the time in instance. It is equally logical, indeed open to no doubt, that they would have been in the custody and control of Vieseler, since he was in command of the only German detachment stationed in the said grounds, and that he would have been well aware that their status was that of prisoners of war.
18. The testimony of MRB, a competent and intelligent witness, that he clearly saw eight British soldiers wearing red berets, unarmed, prone on the ground, and in the custody of German armed guards, at about 0200 hours, in the vicinity of the stables, is convincing in itself and is unhestitatingly accepted in toto. It is further supported by the subsequent statements made by Vieseler to the various witnesses in reference to his having taken prisoners. There is no evidence to controvert the conclusion that these prisoners were the eight British airborne soldiers whose bodies were exhumed with others from a common grave, by the witness Rankin and whose death is pressumed to have been the result of execution, for specific reasons set forth in paragraph 21 below. On the contrary, it is considered that the evidence available is sufficient to found not only a presumption that the eight bodies in the grave were those of the said prisoners, but also a presumption that those prisoners had been murdered and that Vieseler was the party responsible.
19. It is pointed out, however, that the factors adduced in the two preceding paragraphs summarise the effect of the only direct and first hand testimony available, and that the presumptions aforesaid can be otherwise supported only by the evidence of the witnesses CRN, MRB and MET, as to what was said to them by Vieseler. it is further appreciated by the Court that such evidence of what was said is open to attack, not only for being second-hand, but also for the fact that the conversations recorded took place some months earlier in a language which was not mutually familiar to the speakers. Nevertheless, after the most careful scrutiny and consideration of the evidence, the Court is satisfied that:-
(a) The evidence of the said three witnesses as to the conversations held with Vieseler should be legally admissible in this case, as well as being of obvious probative vaue to a reasonable man.
(b) The said three witnesses are substantially credible, reliable and honest.
(c) Any possibility of CRN, MRB and MET having invented or imagined or substantially misunderstood the statements said to have been made by Vieseler cannot be be accepted, particularly as their respective accounts of the conversations reveal no incompatibility and each reasonably and circumstantially dovetails with the known facts.
20. The Court is satisfied, therefore, that Corporal Kelly and his comrades were shot, either by Vieseler personally or upon his direct instructions, while prisoners of war, for the following reasons:-(a) Statements that he had shot his prisoners were made by Vieseler to witness MRB at 0800; to CRN at 1200; and to MET at 1500, and there is nothing to the contrary even to be inferred from the testimony, direct or at second-hand. Furthermore there was ample opportunity for him to have concealed his act from the French civillians had he cared too do so.21. It is noteworthy that the pathologist, Captain Rankin, in his testimony, gives it as his opinion that the fatal shots were fired at a range approaching the maximum of the weapon used.
(b) at about 0235 hours Vieseler stated to CRN that he had taken eight prisoners, a figure agreeing with the number counted by witness MRB at 0200 hours, and in a subsequent conversation with CRN at approximately 0700, responded to a direct question that 'he had taken no more prisoners'. at about noon-time having just admitted that he had shot his prisoners, Vieseler took the witness CRN to point out the spot in which they were buried and to request that if any further burials were necessary they should be in the same place. (The object of this request may well have been to cover up, by confusing, the evidence against him, in the shape of the eight bodies already buried or, more probaby, to add eight further casualties to the credit of his unit as the alleged result of engagements with the enemy.) Again , later in the afternoon, Vieseler took the witness MRB too the same place to point out the grave. When this grave was opened by Captain Rankin, it contained exactly eight bodies bearing evidence of gun shot wounds.
(c) In his testimony, the pathologist, Captain Rankin states that:(i) each of the eight bodies bore one single gun shot wound only, which was in each case the cause of death (though there is a remote possibility that in one case there had been another single wound which could have been fatal.)The only other known fatalities that occured in the vicinity at the material time, according to witnesses CRN and MRB, were taken dead from crashed gliders or aircraft and buried in adjacent graves to the one under consideration, leading to a reasonable conclusion that the local situation produced only eight fatal gun-shot wounds. furthermore, as these eight fatal gun shot wounds were the only gun shot wounds of any kind evident in an examination of the total fatalities, the inference may be drawn that small arms fire in general in this local engagement, had been neither very accurate nor effective, which presumption would be probable considering the further fact that it took place at night and in a country that was largely wooded. If this were not so, there should be evidence of a fair proportion of non-fatal to fatal gun shot wounds and a hypothesis that these particular eight instances were incurred in normal combat is reduced to a minimum. In the same ratio a complementary hypothesis is thus established in that these wounds were produced by deliberate shots at fairly close range, which would indicate an execution and thereby bear out the statements of Vieseler that he had shot his prisoners. This is further supported by the fact that in five of the eight instances the point of entry of the bullet was from the rear. The total consensus of the pathological testimony, in fact, points strongly to execution rather than casualty in battle.
(ii) each such wound was above the waist and in a vital spot.
(iii) in five instances the point of entry of the bullet was from the rear
(iv) the bullet wound in each case had been caused by the same weapon
(v) no one of the eight bodies bore signs of battle injury caused before death of any kind whatsoever
(vi) none of the other ten bodies in the grave bore any evidence of gun shot wounds.
(d) A further consideration leading to the conclusion of an execution, as described by Vieseler in his various statements to the witnesses CRN, MET and MRB is the exceptionaly convenient situation relationship between the spot at which he said he fired the fatal shots on the grave in which the bodies were found. As the actual interment of these eight bosies was completed before any of the witnesses saw the spot and as non of the local French civilians are known to have participated in it, it must be presumed that the German detachment buried the dead prisoners themselves. What, therefore would have been more economical in time and labour than to march the prisoners a few yards by road to an adequate excavation, already prepared, shoot them, and dispose of their bodies there? And what more in accord with known German methods of execution?
(e) The only possible alternative to the conclusion that the eight prisoners seen were deliberately executed is either that they were shot in attempting to escape of that they were properly evacuated through normal channels and the bosies in the grave were others who were ordinary battle casualties.
The former alternative is dealt with at paragraph 25 below and is rejected as invalid.
The latter is rejected for the reasons given in (c) above and also because(i) It is improbable that the fact that eight prisoners were seen by MRB and only eight bodies were among eighteen put in a grave only 70 yards from the spot where he saw them led, died from bullet wounds in a mere coincidence, as already pointed out at (b) above.
(ii) It is inherently impossible, as well as being contrary to known German battle procedure, that casualties in battle should have been brought in and buried by dawn on the morning during which they fell, particularly in the light of the fact that only 25 men are known to have been available to the Germans in the detachment at Château de Grangues, the majority of whom must have been fully occupied during the night in question, during which patrols continued to be necessary.
(iii) If the eight bodies buried in a grave in which Vieseler asked CRN to put other casualties should such be brought in, were in fact battle casualties, surely Vieseler would have said so at the time, instead of saying they were the prisoners who had been shot.
The Court's findings that those fatal shots were fired by, or at the order of Vieseler, are neither affected nor invalidated by this opinion, but the possibility is envisaged that it might be used to support a contention that the victims were in fact battle casualties and a denial by Vieseler of his alleged statements to CRN, MRB and MET.
In the light of such a possibility, therefore, the court has considered the pathologist's opinion and arrived at the following conclusions
First, the possibility that the victims could have been battle casualties has already been dealt with at paragraphs 20(c) and 20(e) above and is rejected for the reasons therein given.
22. Second, however, the Court concludes that the fact that the fatal shots were fired at a considerable range would not properly found the supposition that they were fired in battle, since:-
The weapon used is stated by the pathologist to have been of approximately .38 calibre, which would suggest either a sub-machine guin or an automatic pistol of Lugar or Walther type. Despite witness MET's statement that Vieseler said both had been used, it is submitted that the strong possibility is that it was a pistol, since each man died of a single bullet wound. a pistol, at a conservative estimate, would give a maximum effective range of at most 50 yards, and a sub-machine gun (if that be allowed) of no more than 80 yards. Neither of these ranges, it is considered, points any more strongly to battle casualty than to execution. Rather perhqaps, to the latter, since very careful and deliberate aim would be needed to kill eight times at such a range with a single bullet each, and further the witness CRN states that the detachment was not a fighting company, but consisted of headquarters troops.
23. Third, the Court is even disinclined to accept the pathologist's opinion that the range was in fact "approaching the maximum", since:-(a) The opinion was qualified by the witness' statement that it was difficult to be definite, in the circumstances.The Court is, however, prepared to accept a modification of the pathologist's opinion, namely that the shots were not in fact fired at point-blank range, but notes that this would, in any event, have been likely in all the circumstances of the case, in that one man carrying out the execution of eight would be unlikely to attempt it, or successfully accomplish it, at point blank range, unless the victims were rendered incapable of movement or were well guarded by others of the executioner's party. There is no evidence of the former in this case, and the latter is unlikely in view of Vieseler's statements and the fact that only 25 men were available to him, all of whom may be assumed to have been fully occupied on patrol during the night of this shooting, as stated by Vieseler in conversation with CRN.
(b) The opinion was founded solely and specifically on the absence of exit wounds in the bodies. But many cases exist, several investigated by this Court, where exit wounds were not found, even after shooting at virtually point bank range owing to (i) decomposition or (ii) low penetrative capacity of the bullet from the weapon used. It is worthy of note, in this connection that, as to (i) decomposition was sufficiently advanced in this case to found a statement by the pathologist that, in the case of one victim, there might have been a wound which had dis-appeared through decomposition and, as to (ii) several of the fatal wounds in this case were in the thickest part of the torso.
24. As the witnesses CRN, MET and MRB all testify to statements by Vieseler that he shot his prisoners because he found that after capture they still retained arms, comment by the Court is incumbent on the point raised. whether this statement was true or false, the Court finds it immaterial to the issue of this case, since even if true, there is no usage of warfare to justify his executing them, even if he did find them armed. In any event, the court considers that the statement was false, for the following reasons:-
(a) It is a customary principle that the captor takes the full responsibility for disarming the captured. From the testimony of the witness MRB of seeing the prisoners under guard at about 0200, it is obvious that Vieseler had ample opportunity to search them and assure himself that they were completely disarmed. From the testimony of the witness CRN it is evident that Vieseler was an experienced soldier with recent service on the Russian Front who undoubtedly knew of such a rudimentary practice in securing prisoners as to make certain at the earliest practical moment that they were rendered defenceless, and it is difficult to believe that he would have accepted their word that they were disarmed, without taking steps to satisfy himself that they were not lying.25. The witness CRN testifies that in his conversation with Vieseler at 1200 hours the latter stated in his account of his shooting of his prisoners that one of themm tried to escape. A similar statement is included in the testimony of the witness MET as being made by Vieseler in their conversation at 1500 hours. It is not entirely clear from the evidence whether Vieseler intended this to be a secondary excuse for the shooting. Whether he did or not, and whether his statement was true or false, the Court cannot subscribe to the principle that he would be justified in shooting seven because one tried to escape, even under the most extenuating circumstances, no evidence of which in any case seem to be present; since, even though the Germands had made no preparation for the reception of prisoners, the stables provided an adequate place for the temporary incarceration of such a small group and also there appears to be no reason for them to have been abroad, several hours after capture, without adequate guard, unless it was, as implied in the later testimony of MET, that they were being taken to their execution. The Court, however, records that it is inclined to discredit the suggestion of attempted escape by one prisoner for the following reasons:-
(b) Vieseler distinctly evaded mention of the shooting of the prisoners in his conversation with CRN at 0730, by which time the execution had been accomplished and failed to mention it at the second conversation at 0830, which would seem to indicate some degree of misgiving on his part for his act, and a reluctance to have to try to explain it to an official of the Red Cross, before having thought out what he believed to be an excuse or justification.(a) When Vieseler told the wirness MRB at 0800 that he had shot his prisoners, he made no reference to one of them trying to escape, even though he went to some lengths to describe how he had eventually found them armed after capture.
(b) Having thus at 0800 given one story of the shooting to Berthier, at 1200 he told the witness CRN of the shooting of the prisioners and went on to speak of searching them and that then one ran away and fired on him, Vieseler, in the ensuing chase, before he Veiseler, shot this escaping prisoner.
At 1500, also having told the witness MET of the shooting and how he had locked the prisoners in the stabe when first captured and then about one half hour later he had gone back and searched them and found them armed, Vieseler included in his statement that he had marched the prisoners up the road and having stopped to count them, preparatory to his next action, one of the prisoners tried to escape.
The statement, as to escape therefore, coming when it did, would appear of itself to have been an after thought in a secondary mitigation of the shooting, and when the descrepency between the respective stories to CRN and MET at to time and place of attempted escape is considered, it cannot be given much credence. furthermore, it makes less plausible the earlier allegation as to finding prisoners armed subsequent to capture.
(c) The finding of the steel helmet, certain belongings and the pool of blood by the laurel bushes on the terace is of little significance in that they could not be described nor were they available as exhibits, and it is noted tht the witness MRB describes the prisoners as wearing red berets when he saw them at 0200. In the rather general skirmishing that occured during the night in the Château grounds, such things could have reasonably gotten there by some other agency than the pursuit and shooting of an escaping prisoner.
26. Vieseler by virtue of rank and by the testimony of the witnesses CRN, MET and MRB was in direct command of the detachment at the Château de Grangues at the time at issue and must be held responsible for the shooting, whether it was by his actual hand or not.
27. The Court has in its possession in connection with the "12th SS" Case a copy of an order, issued by Führer Adolph Hitler, under the date 18 October 1942, directing the extermination of and denial of quarter to all parachutists, even if groups of soldiers in uniform met outside the immediate combat zone. The authenticity of this order was admitted in evidence given to the Court, in the case referred to, by Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer, late of the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler-Jugend) and now a prisoner of war. According to the witnesses CRN, MET and MRB, in the case at issue, Vieseler believed his prisoners to be 'Parachutists' and referred to them as such.
28. That stabsfeldwebel Hermann Vieseler be tried for the murder of Corporal Kelly and his comrades as
indicated in the case at issue. A description of Hermann Vieseler is attached hereto and marked Exhibit 9(i)
29. That all steps be taken to inquire into existing orders, at the relevant date, in 744 Grenadier Regiment and
711 Infantry Division, with a view to the possibility of ascribing further responsibility for these murders to the
immediate superior officers of Hermann Vieseler, to the Commander of the aforesaid Regiment or Division or to
such others as may be found to share such responsibility, in the particular light of paragraph 27 above.
30. That Unterfeldwebel Wilhelm Nieburg or other ranks of Regimental Headquarters 744th Grenadier Regiment
should they fall in to Allied hands, be questioned to determine them as being accessories before or after the fact or material witnesses to the murder of Corporal Kelly and his comrades. Descriptions of Wihelm Nieburg and of two Corporals, all of headquarters detachment 744th Grenadier Regiment are attached and marked Exhibit 9(ii).
31. That in the aid of complete and thorough justice George Koureck the Polish cook of headquarters detachment, 744 Grenadier Regiment referred to by the witness MET, be questioned if he should fall into Allied hands, for any evidence he may be able to contribute to the issue under consideration.
There is some ground for believing that this man surrendered to Allied Forces at Forge-Moisy on 21 Aug 1944.
His description is attached hereto and marked Exhibit 9(iii). [this is under 5 km away from the Château]
The report was signed 30th April 1945 [coincidentally the day Hitler took his own life!]
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