Dachau - General Patton -IG Investigation
Conflict in the European Theater
The Inspector General Investigation and Report
A military research analyst mentioned that an Inspector General (IG) Investigation had been conducted at Dachau and suggested that documentary proof would be located in the military records held in the National Archives. A search of military records at the Washington National Research Center in 1992 was disappointing in the extreme.
A labeled file folder for the Dachau investigation was produced, but it was empty. Personnel at WNRC had no explanation. In May 1993, an authorized and declassified copy of the original 7th Army IG Investigation Report, running in excess of 120 typed pages, surfaced.[i]
The 7th Army IG Report confirms that an irregular action of some sort occurred at Dachau, that a thorough investigation was conducted, and that the report was passed forward to 7th Army Headquarters for resolution.[ii]
45th Infantry Division Inside Dachau
The situation at Dachau developed as follows.[iii] Many of the men of the 45th Infantry Division, prior to entering the inmate compound, passed by a train of 40 or more box cars laden with unarmed civilians who had been summarily shot and left to die. A brief firefight ensued inside the camp and a number of German guards were captured and relieved of their weapons.[iv]
Lieutenant William Walsh segregated those identified as SS troops from the remainder of the captured German guards. They were subsequently marched into another enclosure and lined up against a wall preparatory to moving them out of the compound, and Lieutenant Walsh ordered a machine gun set up to guard the SS prisoners. There was sudden unexpected movement on one flank of the prisoner line and firing commenced, with several GIs and NCOs participating.
The weapons used included a light machine gun, a BAR, carbines, and possibly a pistol or sub machine gun. Seventeen prisoners were killed and an undetermined number wounded. Testimony within the IG Report varies as to the nature of the incident. Some witnesses believe the SS prisoners were executed; others are convinced that the shooting was a combination of exhaustion, fear, and threatening movement among the SS.[v]
As the completed IG Report passed through command levels en route to 7th Army Headquarters a number of comments and addenda were attached. One pointed out ameliorating circumstances; another called for the trial by military court-martial on a charge of murder, for four of the soldiers involved at Dachau.[vi] T
Colonel Sparks and General Patton
The IG Report was passed from 7th to 3rd Army after the 45th Infantry Division was reassigned to 3rd Army Command. Colonel Felix Sparks who commanded a battalion of the 157th Regiment, 45th Infantry Division was required to appear before General George Patton to discuss a pending court-martial. General Patton considered the charges ridiculous and destroyed the files on Colonel Sparks and several of his men.
It appears that other copies of the documents were destroyed and no further action taken. And that many of the participants agreed to adhere to a non-disclosure policy for mutual protection.[vii]
The evidence for the changing attitudes of GIs can be found in the treatment of captured enemy soldiers. Sergeant Parker recounted the actions of his platoon at Dachau. "Our people were so infuriated by the whole thing...by what they saw...when my platoon got to these guys, they butted them with rifles and I stood by and watched."[viii]
German prisoners were also beaten with rubber truncheons, prodded with bayonet tips, and beaten with knotted ropes.[ix] Numerous witnesses report that captured enemy soldiers were often severely beaten by American servicemen.[x] Some of the abuse directed at German soldiers was more calculated and did not involve physical blows. John Manning and his men intentionally gave prisoners poor quality blankets and refused to utilize American stores of food to feed the prisoners.
Mauthausen and Woebbelin Camps
When a German doctor complained that food rations were too meager Manning instructed the cook to add forty gallons of water to thin down the soup. Similar situations existed at Mauthausen and Woebbelin camps, where American soldiers took a grim satisfaction in providing the most meager of rations to their captives. All these men considered their behavior just and reasonable in light of the terrible manner in which concentration camp inmates had been systematically and brutally starved.[xi]
Some soldiers vented their rage after the war ended by devoting all their energy to tracking down those Wehrmacht and SS troops that were in hiding and bringing them to justice. Their own words reveal the intensity of their commitment. "I wanted to catch as many of those bastards as I could." I helped ransack residences looking for guards, looking for that tattoo." I fought my own private war."[xii]
American soldiers considered it justice to allow, and at times to assist, camp inmates in beating and killing German guards and SS troops. Apparently it was not uncommon for U.S. servicemen to disregard disturbances and conflicts that involved camp survivors and unarmed German military personnel. Some GIs watched, others walked away making no attempt to interfere with the attacks.[xiii] As Combat Engineer Allen stated, "We thought the survivors were entitled."[xiv]
U.S. Army Soldiers Losing Control
Lieutenant Hallett observed U.S. soldiers, grief stricken and out of control because of what they had witnessed inside the camps, deliberately wounding German captives and then releasing them to the survivors for punishment.[xv]
There are also reports that GIs handed their weapons to camp inmates to enable them to kill their German captors. William Kamman remembers "giving weapons to all the refugees and saying `Here, you go find them,'" then continuing on.[xvi]
There are only two other situations that incensed American troops to the degree the concentration camps did. GIs were inclined to shoot surrendered enemy troops if they had just witnessed a close friend or buddy die.[xvii]
And many front line soldiers sense of balance and fair play disappeared after reports circulated about the massacre of American GIs at Malmedy. As with the concentration camps, the unofficial word was passed to take no more prisoners.[xviii]
Certainly not all American soldiers disregarded the regulations of the Geneva Convention, but many did. Liberating the concentration camps and viewing the masses of starving, diseased, and abused inmates was clearly more than some soldiers could handle with equanimity or restraint. The extreme emotionality and use of excessive, even deadly force were temporary reactions.
No body of evidence exists, and veterans themselves do not indicate, any long term difficulties with violence after returning to their families and the civilian life they had left behind. Their intense reactions in 1945 can serve to convey some measure of the nightmare quality of the camps to those of us who were not there.
The American Liberation of Concentration Camps
End Notes ~~ Citations
[i]. "Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau," made by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph M. Whitaker, IGD, Investigating Officer, to Headquarters Seventh Army, Office of the Inspector General, June 1945.
This document was declassified per Executive Order 12356, Sec. 3.3 at the Washington National Research Center, which was a branch of the National Archive and Records Administration in Washington, DC on 7 February 1945. As of that date these documents were located in Box 226, Record Group 338, 7th U.S. Army IG Reports.
Lieutenant Colonel Hugh F. Foster, a military research specialist, made the document available. I consulted him about concentration camp research while at the United States Army Military History Institute in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. It is my conviction that Colonel Foster did not remove the document from WNRC; he made the documents available and placed no restrictions whatsoever upon their use in subsequent publications.
[ii]. The IG Report sent to Headquarters contained a transcript of all forty-one (41) interrogations, a summary of events, and several cover letters from officers in the chain of command making recommendations and citing extenuating circumstances, etcetera.
[iii]. This simplified schematic of the events at Dachau is based primarily on the IG Report interrogations. The following official statement was read to each of the men interrogated. "I must admonish you that the 24th Article of War does not permit you to tell a lie. If you feel that an answer might tend to incriminate you, you are privileged to refuse to answer such a question, but you are bound under your oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and telling a falsehood constitutes perjury and is a serious court-martial offense."
[iv]. Private Fred Randolph (Co I, 157th Regiment) IG Report, p. 8; Official Summary, 7th Army IG Report; Lieutenant Colonel Hugh F. Foster, "Summary of the 7th Army IG Interrogation Documents," May 1992, p. 3, (hereafter cited as Foster, IG Summary); Lieutenant Colonel Walter Fellenz (Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, 42nd Infantry Division), "Impressions of the Dachau Concentration Camp," (The Journal of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, 1978), pp. 1-4.
[v]. Foster, IG Summary, pp. 3-5; Official Summary, 7th Army IG Report, p.1; all the following references are from the interrogations of the 7th Army IG Investigation Report:
Lieutenant Daniel Drain (Co M, 157th Regiment), pp. 2, 33,
Private William Curtin (Co M, 157th Regiment), pp. 41-42,
Lieutenant Jack Busheyhead (Co I, 157th Regiment), pp. 21-24,
T/3 Henry Wells (HQ, Military Intelligence, ETO), p. 2,
PFC Frank Eggert (HQ 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment), p. 46,
Lieutenant Harold Mayer (HQ 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment), p. 110,
Lieutenant Howard Beuchner (Surgeon, 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment), p. 44; Official Summary, 7th Army IG Report, p. 2.
[vi]. From Colonel William Craig, Acting Chief of Staff 7th Army, Memorandum to the Inspector General, 18 June 1945, copy forwarded to the Commanding General of the 3rd Army:
"..in the opinion of the undersigned, Lieutenant Walsh would have been guilty of neglect had he not segregated the SS troops and taken the added precaution of mounting a machine gun or taken some such other additional security measure to guard the SS troops."
"..our experience with SS troops would indicate that 3 riflemen are not capable of adequately guarding approximately 100 troops of this fanatical type. It is probable that the German prisoners in this instance misinterpreted the setting up of the machine gun and attempted to make a break, and, as a result were properly fired upon."
"This investigation indicates an apparent lack of comprehension on the part of the investigating officer of the normal disorganization of small unit combat action and of the unbalancing effect of the horrors and shock of Dachau on combat troops already fatigued with more than 30 days continuous combat action.."
"The investigation indicates further an apparent attempt to accentuate testimony unfavorable to the participants..it is recommended that circumstances surrounding the ..shooting of the German guards..be reinvestigated."
Judge Advocate, Headquarters, 7th Army, IG Report Recommendations, 9 June 1945, forwarded to the Commanding General of the 3rd Army:
"In my opinion the evidence as shown by the report of the Inspector General will sustain a charge of murder against Lieutenant Walsh, Lieutenant Busheyhead, T/3 Henry Wells, and Private Albert Pruitt..I recommend [they] be tried by general court-martial for murder."
[vii]. Foster, IG Summary, pp. 1-9; Felix L Sparks, "Dachau and its Liberation," Monograph No. 14, pp. 24-28.
[viii]. Tech Sergeant Leonard Parker, p. 5, JCRC; 1st Lieutenant Jesse Lafoon, p. 6, Emory.
[ix]. Lieutenant Leo Pine, p. 16, Emory; Robert Hollis and Han Hogerzeil, Straight On: Journey to Belsen and the Road Home, (London: Metheune & Co. Ltd., 1947), p. 51; George Wehmoff, p. 22, Emory.
[x]. Thomas R. Brush, letter to Kay, 5 May 1945, Army Letters, 1943-1946, 42nd Infantry Division, MHI; Lewis Greene, pp. 11-12, Staff Sergeant Howard Wiseburg, p. 16, Sergeant William Scott, Emory; Combat Correspondent Harry Abrams, Gratz; Lieutenant William Walsh in Strong, Liberation of KZ Dachau; Private Serges Narsay, HMFI; Thomas Rourke, DMC; Staff Sergeant Lemoin Vaughn (80th Infantry Division), p. 13, Corporal Paul Piccard (97th Infantry Division), p. 13, Survey, MHI.
[xi]. John Manning, DMC; Raymond Buch, USHMM; Dr. Samuel Glasshow, p. 11, Emory.
[xii]. David Campbell, p. 7, Emory; Henry Plitt, USHMM; H.D. Stoneking, DMC; Corporal Fred Bohm, p. 7, Emory.
[xiii]. Paul Gumz, p. 5, Jesse Lafoon, p. 7, Emory; Milton Pincus (Military Government), Gratz; Staff Sergeant Theodore Pohrte', DMC; John Lee in Strong, Liberation of KZ Dachau; Marcus J. Smith, The Harrowing of Hell, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972), p. 132.
[xiv]. Harry Allen, p. 4, Emory.
[xv]. 2nd Lieutenant Jack Hallett, p. 8, Emory.
[xvi]. Arnold Miller, Gratz; PFC George Ricketts, p. 4, Emory; William Kamman, p. 3, JCRC.
[xvii]. Staff Sergeant Ray Offerman (103rd Infantry Division), in Stannard, Infantry, p. 252; Staff Sergeant Rex Whitehead (99th Infantry Division), p. 13, Major Kenneth Lambert (89th Infantry Division), p. 13, Survey, MHI; PFC Olvis Day, p. 26, Q-Ast; Robert Gravlin, Third Armored, p. 25.
[xviii]. Robert Zimmer, USHMM; Gravlin, Third Armored, p. 25; Lieutenant Colonel Earl Smart (99th Infantry Division), p. 13, Private Carthell Atkins (89th Infantry Division), p. 13, Staff Sergeant Rex Whitehead (99th Infantry Division), p. 13, PFC Byron Reburn (99th Infantry Division), p. 11, Survey, MHI.
- American GIs at Dachau -- Abuse and the Inspector G...
World War II veterans said little about their experiences when they came home, but later in life they gave interviewed, responded to questionnaires, and contributed letter, photographs, diaries, and journals to historical archives. A number of them s
- Another Look at the Interaction of American GI's and...
Most World War II GI's were horrified and morally outraged by their experience in the concentration camps, however, moral outrage did not always lead to retaliation and abuse of German soldiers. Some GIs stressed the importance of the Geneva Conventi
- Controlling Disease and Saving Lives in Nazi Concent...
Based largely on films we assume that many people died in German Concentration Camps and that many people were liberated and rescued. The truth is much more complicated and involved Medical Care.
- Secondary Sources on American Veterans, the Holocaus...
Primary Historical resources are extremely useful, but they can be difficult to access. So most of us need to rely on Secondary Sources. The following is a detailed list of scholarly books which is relevant to American Soldiers during World War II, t
World War II Rockets and Bombs
More by this Author
This article recounts the experiences of American GI's who discovered concentration camps large and small spread through out Germany. They were so horrified and incensed by what they had seen, they rounded up German...
Pondering what the German people knew at the time about the Nazi goals and activities can lead to a number of questions which are relevant for us today.
Americans often assume that most German civilians knew next to nothing about Hitlers Final Solution and were unaware that the SS controlled and administered the concentration camp system. While the death camps were...