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World War Two: Churchill's German Army

Updated on February 2, 2014

Around 10,000 Germans and Austrians fought for the Allies during the second world war. They volunteered to fight against their homeland and countrymen in critical operations across Europe. They endured the mistrust of their adopted country, but were still willing to die for it, knowing they could be tortured and executed as traitors if they were captured. Together they would become Churchill's German Army.

Boycotting of Jewish shops in Berlin 1933
Boycotting of Jewish shops in Berlin 1933
Klaus Adam
Klaus Adam

Klaus Hugo Adam

Klaus Hugo Adam is considered Hollywood's greatest living production designer, bringing to life the fantasy world of 007, James Bond. During the war however, he faced the very real threat of death as a daring fighter pilot.

He became the only known German-born fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, but life had begun very differently for Klaus. His father had owned a fashionable sports and fashion store in central Berlin.

He had had a happy childhood with his generous and adoring mother and father, but with the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent boycotting of Jewish businesses, their idyllic life was quickly destroyed.

Foretelling what the future of Germany held, Klaus's family fled Germany and settled in London. His father overnight, went from a rich department store owner who socialised with Berlin's elite, to a penniless refugee selling gloves from a suitcase and he would never recover from the shock. he died in 1936 at the age of just 56.

Willy Hirschfeld
Willy Hirschfeld
The entrance to Dachau concentration camp.
The entrance to Dachau concentration camp.

Willy Hirschfeld

In the Autumn of 1944, Willy Hirschfeld was part of C Squadron 8th Hussars advancing through Holland towards Germany. He was a German fighting for Britain and his British tank crew had treated him like a brother.

Six years earlier, Willy's carefree life in Bonn in Germany was shattered when Hitler's henchmen carried out a hellish and shamefully orchestrated attack on Germany's Jewish population, 30.000 men were seized and sent to concentration camps.

The next morning Willy found himself at a life defining crossroads, should he go to work or go back home, he decided to go on to work.

His manager tried to hide him as soon as he got there, but not two minutes later, two Gestapo men arrived and rounded up all Jewish workers at his factory.

They were taken away to Dachau concentration camp, there they were stripped naked, hosed down with ice cold water and registered, Willy's number at the camp was 28,411.

Helmuth Rosettenstein
Helmuth Rosettenstein
Horst Adolf Pischewer
Horst Adolf Pischewer

Helmuth Rosettenstein & Horst Pinschewer

In Berlin, Helmuth Rosettenstein 18 receives his call up papers by the German Army, before a life saving stroke of luck brought him to Britain.

He was number 198 of 200 selected craftsmen chosen to go to England to help build Kitchener Camp in Sandwich, Kent. It would be home to 5,000 German and Austrian refugees who escaped to Britain.

Horst Pischewer was one of the lucky refugees who found sanctuary at Kitchener Camp.

Willy Hirschfeld was still imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp, but his old boss at his factory in Bonn, now living in London, paid for a work permit for Willy to immigrate to England. At Bonn train station he said goodbye to his entire family forever.

On the 3rd September 1939, the inevitable happened and Britain declared war on Germany. For the lucky few who had managed to escape Hitler's Germany, the moment they had been waiting for had come. The might of the British Empire was about to hold Hitler to account and they were determined to play their part in the coming battle.

The Pioneer Corps cap badge
The Pioneer Corps cap badge
William Joyce
William Joyce

Prepared to fight for Britain

The German refugees were more than aware of the irony, the country which had provided them with a safe haven, was now at war with the country where they had been born and raised. They were now immediately classified as "Enemy Aliens".

An estimated 70,000 refugees had fled Germany and Austria for Britain, they had the ultimate motivation to help defeat the Nazis. Horst Pinschewer headed straight to the Air Ministry to sign up for the Royal Air Force, only to be told when he got there "Sorry, I don't think we take non-British".

A total of 10,000 German and Austrian men and women volunteered to fight for Britain and each swore allegiance to the King. but for now the non-bombatant Pioneer Corps was the only option open to them. The pick and shovel emblem on their cap badges showed their key contribution would merely be hard labour and not active service.

In stark contrast, one infamous British passport holder was now working for the Nazis. William Joyce, ex-Head of Propaganda for the British Union of Fascists had fled England on the eve of war.

He was now being used by Hitler to broadcast crude anti-allied propaganda to an already jittery British public. As the Nazi invasion of Britain looked evermore likely, many feared Hitler's spies would infiltrate the German refugees.Those in the Pioneer Corps were safe, but thousands of others were arrested and interned.

The troopship Dunera
The troopship Dunera

The green light to fight!

A year after escaping Dachau, Willy Hirschfeld now found himself locked up again, this time bound for Australia on the infamous troopship Dunera. It was a 9 week voyage in horrific circumstances as the passengers were manhandled brutally by the ship's guards, their possessions stolen.

In 1942, the British Government realised the value of recruiting German speaking soldiers to fight behind enemy lines. MI-5 agents were sent in to Pioneer Corps regiments to select elite refugees desperate to fight the Nazis.

Those willing faced certain death if captured by the Nazis, but these men and women trained rigorously to be elite commandos. When the threat of a Nazi invasion began to subside, the British Government began to accept more "Enemy Aliens" into the armed forces.

From 1943, they transferred in large numbers from the Pioneer Corps to armed regiments, their moment had come and they could now become Churchill's German Army. After years of oppression, it was now their time to fight and they would do it on land, sea and in the air.

Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943
Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943

New Identities

In 1944, Horst Hitzberg received his call-up to the Royal Navy and was eventually posted to HMS Bologna where he was trained to eavesdrop on enemy radio traffic in the English Channel.

His commanding officer however wasn't convinced of his immediate loyalty. The Germans fighting for Churchill would face torture and execution if their German past was revealed. Before they were sent into action they had to change their names, klaus Adam became Ken Adam, Horst Pinschewer became Geoffrey Perry, Helmuth Rossettenstein became Harry Rossney, Horst Adolf Herzberg became William Howard, Willy Hirschfeld was now Willy Field and Claus Ascher became Colin Anson.

They were all now in fighting units and ready for battle, but they had to face the reality that they may have to kill their former countrymen. The personal risks were high, attached to the Royal Marines, Colin Anson (Claus Ascher) was now part of the biggest ever landing operation to date, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

As his ship came under attack from Stuka divebombers, Colin suffered a serious head injury and waited all night for the rescue boats to arrive. Some of his skull had been shot away when a piece of shrapnel pierced his helmet and lodged in the back of his skull, where it reamins to this day.

Setbacks like these were seized upon by William Joyce, in london William Howard's (Horst Herzberg) father was devastated by one such broadcast which reported that his son's ship had been sunk by a German U-boat, this as it turned out was a lie and the ship was still intact.

Omaha Approach, D-Day artwork by Dave Harris
Omaha Approach, D-Day artwork by Dave Harris

Facing the Germans on D-Day

The Germans fighting for Britain were now deployed in battling across the entire European theatre of war with the Royal Armoured Corps, the Infantry, the Royal Marine Commandos and the Royal Navy.

They would now spearhead the most ambitious ever land invasion in history, in a single day the Allies landed more than 150,000 troops on five different beaches in Normandy. William Howard's HMS Bologna was just one of almost 7,000 vessels that made up Operation Neptune.

If everything went to plan this would be payback time on a huge scale. Willy Field (Willy Hirschfeld) had returned from internment in Australia and was now assigned to the Royal Armoured Corps as a tank driver with C Squadron 8th Hussars.

After a successful Normandy landing near Arromanches, his Cromwell tank advanced towards Germany, at last he found he had an active role and new friends with a common goal despite their very different backgrounds.

The success of D-Day breathed new life into the Allied campaign and the Nazi war machine began to wobble. Ken Adam's (Klaus Adam) rocket firing typhoon fighters of the RAF's 609 Squadron were devastating enemy targets across Northern France, though the success came at a very high personal price with the loss of many close friends who were shot down and lost their lives.

The destruction of the Faliase gap
The destruction of the Faliase gap

Driving the Germas back

Ken's squadron was now targeting German troops and tanks trapped in the Falaise area of France. Pilots rarely witnessed at closr quarters the impact of their attacks, but on a day off Ken's commanding officer invited him to examine the devastation on the ground, and it was carnage.

As the British forces advanced through northern France, Harry Rosney (Helmuth Rossettenstein) was asked to stay on in Normandy. He was a signwriter by trade and his skills were needed to mark the graves of thousands of fallen soldiers.

In September 1944 as the Germany Army retreats, Willy Field's 8th Hussars pushed on through France, Belgium and into Holland. Having forged a close bond with his allies, Willy was now heading back to Germany with a real chance of avenging his murdered family and confronting the people who had destroyed his life....but his optimism was short lived.

Suddenly Willy's tank took a direct hit from a German anti-tank gun, Willy lost every single man in his crew in one day. As well as losing his comrades, Willy seemed also to have lost the opportunity to avenge the atrocities he had suffered.

A mass grave at Belsen Concentration camp
A mass grave at Belsen Concentration camp

Witnessing Nazi evil

By now Hitler's Germany was facing the real prospect of a humiliating defeat, though William Joyce's (now known as Lord Haw haw) broadcasts were becoming more fanatical than ever.

In the fields of Northern France, Harry Rosney was surrounded by death, in an extraordinary coincidence he stumbled upon the grave of an old school friend who he last saw more than 700 miles away in Berlin.

Years after the refugees had fled, they were about to return Germany, now wearing British uniforms. Wily, still reeling from the death of his entire tank crew, was back with C Squadron and partnered with a high-ranking officer of the 8th Hussars.

His determination to defeat Hitler's Germany was absolute, his unit had liberated France and Holland, but when they entered Germany they had beaten the enemy and won the war. But the exhillaration of victory was soon shaken by the graphic evidence of what the Nazis had done to German Jews in concentration camps

Geoffrey Perry (Horst Pischewer) had witnessed the carnage he had carried out at the Falaise Gap in northern France, but now as he entered the Belsen Camp he would witness an unprecidented degree of evil.

Amid the chaos and mountains of bodies, he was approached by a survivor desperate to find his son and the skeletal man handed him a letter. Knowing the chances of the dying man finding his lost son were almost nil, Geoffrey gave the letter to the Red Cross, but months later he received another letter, this time from the man's lost son.

The father and son were reunited and the old man survived.

Pilot Ken Adam was now put in charge of thousands of Luftwaffe prisoners of war. He insisted that high ranking German officers should witness themselves the horrors of Belsen. The Germans were marched into the camp and they could not bare it, some even tried to commit suicide themselves.

William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw
William Joyce aka Lord Haw Haw
The capture of William Joyce
The capture of William Joyce

Capturing Lord Haw Haw

Lieutenant Geoffrey Perry was with Target Force, whose mission was to gain control of Nazi newspapers and radio stations and his primary objective was to take over Radio Hamburg, the suspected location of William "Lord Haw Haw" Joyce.

He had been broadcasting his propaganda from here right up until the end of the war. Now on the run, he was "Britain's Most Wanted" and geoffrey was hot on his tail.

On arrival at Radio Hamburg he discovered that Joyce had left behind a final garbled recording in his panic to escape the Allies. It read as follows: This is Germay calling, calling for the last time from Station Hamburg, if only we had to agree the German people had gone back to the Rheich, we might have had peace".

Within hours of seizing Radio Hamburg, geoffrey took the microphone last used by Joyce just two days earlier and broadcast an historic announcement to Britain and Germany.. After 12 years, this was the moment democracy returned to German media, and it was delivered by a British soldier born in Berlin.

"This is Radio Hamburg, a station of the Allied military government", less than four weeks later Geoffrey would come face to face with the most infamous traitor of the second world war.

In Northern italy, commando Colin Anson was frantically trying to deal with a huge number of dering German troops. As a boy, Colin had seen his father denounced and thrown into a concentration camp where he was murdered, but now hw was in charge.

From Hamburg, Geoffrey Perry moved to the Danish border, his new brief was to take control of a newspaper in Flensburg. He took a truck into a nearby forest to collect firewood with a colleague.

Less than a month earlier he had broadcast from William Joyce's microphone, now more than 100 miles away, he was about to come face to face with the Allies "Tormentor in Chief".

He confronted Joyce in the woods and demanded his name, joyce gave a false name and thrust his hand into his pocket, Geoffrey reacted instinctively and shot the man he nelived to be William Joyce, and it was.

Britain's most notorious traitor had been captured by a German born refugee in a british army uniform, he would later be tried as a traitor and hanged.

As the huge task of dismantling Nazi Germany got underway, Britain's German recruits were now heading for Berlin. Many were desperate to find out what had happened to loved ones who had not managed to escape.

Commando Colin Anson had lost contact with his mother more than five years before and he requested to be posted to the Frankfurt area, so that he could search for his mother. Now a British soldier, Colin was back in the country where he was born, though it was no longer his home.

Against all the odds, his mother, who was born a protestant, survived. After finding her alive, Colin now turned his attention to the betrayal of his father. He even managed to locate the man who had denounced his father, but although it would have been easy for him to to seek revenge and kill the man, it went against any of his instincts to pursue any private revenge.

Allied victory parade in Berlin 1945
Allied victory parade in Berlin 1945

In July 1945, less than 7 years after expeiencing the horrors of Dachau, Willy Field entered Berlin. It was the ultimate confirmation that Hitler and the Nazis had finally been defeated. The devastation was colossal with Berlin virtually 90% destroyed.

Finally Willy could celebrate victory and savour his own personal role in the defeat of the Nazis. And as a crowning reward, Willy's 8th Hussars were asked to take part in avictory parade on the streets of Berlin.

Churchill's German Army had returned to their place of birth, but now realised that life would never be the same again, there would be no going back and there was nothing to return to.

In February 2009, Harry Rosney (Helmuth Rosettenstein) published a book of poems reflecting on his time as a British soldier, he became a British citizen in 1947.

Ken Adam (Klaus Adam) is today considered one of Hollywood's greatest living production designers, kinighted in 2003, he is now Sir Ken Adam OBE.

After demobilisation in 1946, Willy Field (Willy Hirschfeld) met his future wife Judy and they married in 1949, he has held a season ticket at Arsenal Football Club since 1948.

Colin Anson (Claus Ascher) met fellow refugee Alice Gross in a London coffee shop in July 1949, they have three children and seven grandchildren.

Geoffrey Perry (Horst Pinschewer) left the British Army in 1946 with the honorary rank of Major, he went on to become a highly successful international publisher.

At the end of the war William Howard (Horst Herzberg) was recommended for officer commission, but was refused because of his place of birth.

These men had all played a vital role in the defeat of Nazi Germany and some stayed on for a while and helped to rebuild the country that was once their home.

Miltary Artwork by Dave Harris
Miltary Artwork by Dave Harris


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Stirring stuff, a forgotten band of hero's.

      Mente et Manu

    • JPSO138 profile image


      4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I am a fan of history most especially the war. This is such a very interesting story as this is the first time that I know of this. Great hub and up for this one!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Fascinating story. It's certainly not well known that thousands of Germans and Austrians fought for the Allies. Maybe that's because after the war being known as someone who fought against your homeland could have been dangerous, so those fighters themselves had reason not to publicize the story. Thanks for sharing it.

    • profile image

      Oliver French formerly Otto Freund 

      5 years ago

      I served with Lance corporal Pinschewer in section 2, Company 248 Pioneer Corps. Is he still around? I am now 92, and would like to get in touch with him and any other survivor of that unit.

    • aethelthryth profile image


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      I am always amazed at how many of the scientists who built the atomic bomb were refugees from the Axis. Okay, it didn't get used on Germany, but that was the original purpose, and the refugee scientists were the ones who got the project started.

      I didn't know about all these other stories, and this was so interesting I just shared it.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      6 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Hi ruffridyer, yes incredible isn't it. Very brave men they were and must have been so emotional for them to be fighting against fellow Germans.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      I knew many japanese american's fought in the war but they were sent to the european theatre. They weren't fighting their own people.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou scarytaff, much appreciated!

      Thankyou William, glad you enjoyed it, those guys certainly had fascinating stories worth telling.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Well done, Dave Harris. The stories of these native born Germans helping to the British wipe out the scourge of Hitler is something I haven't seen before. Amazing.

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      7 years ago from South Wales

      Excellent,dave. Voted up.

    • Dave Harris profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Harris 

      7 years ago from Cardiff, UK

      Thankyou rafken

    • rafken profile image


      7 years ago from The worlds my oyster

      Up anmd useful, thanks


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