Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

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Ro/Lt
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Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Ro/Lt » 04 Feb 2021 09:46

What was the status of for instance a norwegian combatant who continued to fight on the allied side when captured AFTER the formal surrender of Norway? Many men of different nationalities continued the fight after their respective countries surrendered. Or were they formally brittish soliders? Or in the case of Norway did Norway not even capitulate/surrender and their soliders could continue the fight? Could such a POW be punished if caught? Were there reprisals for families who had members that continued the fight?

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Feb 2021 11:26

Hi Ro/Lt,

Was there a formal surrender of, as opposed to in, Norway? The King had a Government-in-Exile in London throughout the war. Trafalgar Square in the centre of London still gets a fir tree to act is its Christmas Tree as a gift from Norway every year in commemoration of this period (and very appreciative we are too!).

The rules governing the treatment of prisoners depended on what international agreements both sides had signed up to. The Germans and western Europeans generally were still part of the Hague Conventions and treated each others' prisoners, presumably including Norwegians, largely according to them.

However, as the Soviet Union had withdrawn from all international agreements signed by the Czars, it was not technically subject to the Hague Conventions. On this technicality, the Nazis seemed to have a clear conscience about letting several million Red Army POWs die over 1941/42.

You raise an interesting point. did Germany continue to hold Norwegian POWs taken in 1940 throughout the war, or did it send them home in an attempt to boost the legitimacy of the Quisling regime?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Ro/Lt » 04 Feb 2021 21:20

So there weren’t any ”hard feelings” if a Pole, Norwegian or French soldier was captured as a POW later in the war after their countries surrendered?

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Feb 2021 21:56

Hi Ro/Lt,

Poland and Norway didn't surrender. The legal status of the Free French is more questionable, as Vichy was the constitutional successor to the defeated Third Republic and had signed an Armistice with Germany. That said, I am not aware of Free French servicemen being treated differently from other Western Allies.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by DrG » 05 Feb 2021 01:06

First of all, we should distinguish between the surrender of a specific military force and an armistice signed on behalf of a government and therefore regarding all the armed forces of a certain country.

For the first case, we can recall, for example, gen. Tsolakoglu's surrender of the Greek forces on the Greek mainland, which did not involve any other Greek unit outside his direct command like, for example, all Greek forces in the islands.

For the second case, we can recall the French armistices with Germany and Italy in June 1940, which were signed by French plenipotentiaries representing the government of their nation.

Usually, the surrenders of the first case are rather short and simple documents, signed by military commanders and stating just the minimum about the time of the cease-fire and, if possible, the fate of the PoWs (like the honour of war, or the right for officers to keep their handgun, or the liberation of PoWs after a certain time, etc.).
Armistices are treaty which usually contain also political and economic clauses, often extremely detailed and binding for the defeated country.

Military surrenders, sometimes signed without the consent of the government (both because there are no means of exchanging messages or because the commander acts in constrast with it, think about Paulus in Stalingrad for example or von Vietinghoff in Italy in May 1945), sometimes have generic clauses stating that the winner can take any measure, also punitive, to force the defeated enemy units to lay down weapons. Two important, but also a bit unrepresentative of the typical case due to their scale and quasi-political meaning, were art. 5 of the Allied-German armistices of Rheims and Berlin of 8 and 9 May 1945.

Armistices may include clauses which give openly the right of treating any soldiers who goes on fighting as a frac-tireur (an illegal combatant subject also to death penalty). Two examples are the Franco-German armistice of 22 June 1940 (art. 10) and the Franco-Italian armistice of 24 June 1940 (art. 14), which gave to the winning power the right to treat French soldiers fighting against them as illegal combatants.

There are two problems, though: 1) if the surrender/armistice does not touch this matter; 2) if the defeated country is debellated.

With regards to the first problem, I am inclined to say that the armed force which goes on fighting cannot be punished, except by its own chain of command. For example, the Allies treated as regular PoWs the Italian captured soldiers which had gone on fighting along with the Germans after the Armistice of 8 Sept. 1943 (signed on 3 Sept.), given that this treaty ignored this matter.

With regards to the second problem, it is apparently more complex. A debellated country simply is not a country anymore, as happened to Poland, Yugoslavia and Germany after their occupation by the enemy. A government in exile, in this case, is nothing more than a gentlemen's club with respects to international law and, therefore, any surviving military unit cannot claim to be under its flag. But, in this case, the solution for units which are in the territory of an ally is straightforward: they are placed under the command of the allied armed forces and, formally, they operate under the allied flag. It is, for example, what happened with Polish in exile in UK. In order to avoid legal problems with the enemy, it is a ruse employed also when the enemy does not recognize the independence of a certain country (for example, Croatian soldiers in Soviet Union did not fight in units under the flag of the Independent State of Croatia, but in German or Italian armed forces).

Something similar happened with the Free French in North Africa: the Axis had the legal right to treat them a illegal combatants, but it was decided to avoid the literal application of the armistices of June 1940, accepting the convention that they were fighiting as members of the British armed forces, instead.

With regards to the Norwegian case, AFAIK this country never signed an armistice, therefore the Norwegians abroad were fully legitimated to fight under their own flag and the responsibility of their government in exile.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Loïc » 05 Feb 2021 05:40

The soldiers of Free France were not members of the British Army and there is no longer Free France and "Free French" in 1943 other than an element merged in a larger CFLN and the French Army, there were reciprocity of threats coming from de Gaulle to germans POW's taken in North Africa :
On June 12, the Germans announced that the day before they had "stormed" Bir-Hakeim. Then Berlin Radio issued a statement declaring:
"The white and colored French, taken prisoner at Bir-Hakeim, not belonging to a regular army, will be subjected to the laws of war and will be executed. An hour later, I had the following note launched in all languages ​​on the the B.B.C. :
"If the German army dishonored itself to the point of killing French soldiers taken prisoner while fighting for their country, General de Gaulle makes known that to his deep regret, he would be obliged to inflict the same fate on German prisoners fallen into the hands of his troops.
The day was not over when Berlin radio proclaimed: "Regarding the French soldiers who have just been caught during the fighting at Bir-Hakeim, no misunderstanding is possible. General de Gaulle's soldiers will be treated like soldiers.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by DrG » 05 Feb 2021 17:41

Loïc, thank you, but as I have written the Axis forces regarded the French as members of the British forces as a convention. From the Axis point of view, they were fighting under British command and thus treated in the same way of the British. Of course this decision was taken to avoid a murderous escalation in the treatment of PoWs, but it should be stressed that if De Gaulle's had turned into reality his menace of executing Axis PoWs he would have been the first one to commit a war crime, because, instead, the Axis was legally justified to treat the De Gaullist French as illegal combatants. In other words, with the Armistices of June 1940, the French government had openly delegated to Germany and Italy its own right to execute its citizens not following its order to cease fire.
In theory, it Germany and Italy had wished, anyway, could have turned their French PoWs to Vichy France, which, in turn, could have trialed and even executed them for their actions. This is precisely what happened with the Soviet citizens who served along with the German armed forces (HiWis, Russian Liberation Army, etc.) and were captured by the Western Allies in 1944-45. The Western Allies treated them as PoWs, but then handed them over to the Soviet government, which applied its laws and punishments, including execution.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Loïc » 06 Feb 2021 00:48

Such question arose more earlier for the German military than Goebbel s' propaganda in Radio Berlin for Bir Hakeim in june 1942
and after november 1942 the French Army fighting in Tunisia and sent in Italy in 1942-1944 is the French regular army who didn't belong to de Gaulle and Free France except few units


On September 2, 1940, the OKW took up a question of principle. In his war diary, we read: "All Frenchmen fighting alongside the English should, under the Armistice Agreement, be treated as francs-tireurs. The question is not yet decided, however. "We refer to Article 10 of this convention which states:" The French government will prohibit French nationals from fighting against Germany in the service of states with which Germany is still at war. French nationals who do not comply with this requirement will be treated by the German troops as francs-tireurs.
Of course, the units of Free France are not at the service of Great Britain, but serve France, contrary to Vichy declarations and to the formulas hammered out by Goebbels' propaganda. The same question is addressed again by Halder on September 25. In his diary, we read: "Should we treat General de Gaulle's supporters like francs-tireurs?" The questioning means that the issue is still unresolved, it also means, most likely, Halder's hesitation. The latter was relaunched on this subject by General Müller on October 7. But no decision appears in his war diary.

On the occasion of the war diary publication, the publisher references in a footnote Halder's postwar statement that he had decided that the troops of Free France were to be considered regular troops. It is not necessary to attribute great human virtues to Halder to trust this statement. This intelligent and thoughtful soldier indeed knows that if Free France fighters were executed, the same fate would likely be reserved for German soldiers taken prisoner by the Free French Forces (FFL). The decision to treat French prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention is therefore the only possible one for a responsible military leader, who guarantees the morale of his own soldiers. However, during the Battle of Bir Hakeim, Hitler ordered the execution of a special category of soldiers belonging to the Free French Forces (FFL). This order will not be executed.
(...)
as we have seen, General Halder, head of the OKH, had very probably decided in the fall of 1940 that the Free French Forces (FFL) soldiers taken prisoner by the Wehrmacht should be treated as soldiers of the regular troops and not as francs-tireurs. But there's no telling whether OKW chief Keitel was of the same opinion. On June 9, 1942, as the Battle of Bir Hakeim raged, Hitler told Goebbels that among the soldiers surrounded were German and Italian Communists. In his diary, the Minister of Propaganda notes the Führer's decision that German Communists who are taken prisoner should be executed without exception, after solid interrogation. On the same day, the OKW sent an unsigned message to the Panzer Armee Afrika, that is to say to Rommel, stipulating that the Führer ordered that the German political refugees, members of the Free French Forces, should be " unceremoniously eliminated in combat ”. Those who had not yet been eliminated should be shot immediately, as an interrogation for intelligence was not underway. It is specified that this order must be transmitted orally

The peculiarities of this message (lack of signature or signature attachment, reference to a personal order from the Führer) show that apparently no OKW officer wanted to take joint responsibility for a dishonorable order. But on June 12, Radio Berlin, controlled by Goebbels, goes much further than the quoted message. It is announced that all prisoners belonging to the Free French Forces (FFL) will be treated as francs-tireurs. As we know, General de Gaulle's reaction is immediate. He announced to the BBC that if this threat is carried out, the German prisoners in the hands of the FFL would suffer the same fate. Radio Berlin immediately backtracked. Of course, Radio Berlin's mere announcement is of no value to the Panzer Armee Afrika. But the criminal order of June 9 - which was in principle enforceable - not having been obeyed by Rommel's troops, no counter-order was necessary. FFL soldiers taken prisoner at Bir Hakeim are treated, without exception, like British soldiers. They were placed in the custody of the Italians charged with a subordinate task that the Germans concerned about mobility in the desert did not want to bother.


FFL means Forces Françaises Libres and not French Foreign Legion
De Gaulle, les FFL et la Résistance vus par les responsables de la Wehrmacht
Jean-Nicolas Pasquay

https://journals.openedition.org/rha/6809

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 06 Feb 2021 09:51

Hi loic,

You might be the right person to give us a short history here of francs-tireurs in 1870 and German fears of them in 1914.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by DrG » 06 Feb 2021 15:15

Loïc wrote:
06 Feb 2021 00:48
FFL soldiers taken prisoner at Bir Hakeim are treated, without exception, like British soldiers. They were placed in the custody of the Italians charged with a subordinate task that the Germans concerned about mobility in the desert did not want to bother.
The underlined part is precisely what I wrote. Of course, the author cannot refrain from smearing Italians, in his ignorance of the fact that PoWs were under the Italian custody because the supreme command in Nord Africa was Italian and not German and not for the reasons which he invents.

Anyway, the matter of franc-tireurs in 1870 and 1914 should be explained in a new and specific thread, while here it would be off topic, in my opinion.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 06 Feb 2021 15:41

Hi DrG,

Did the Germans take any prisoners from North Africa back to Germany? Or were they all retained by the Italians? (I here exclude the Indian Legion as a special case).

Do you know how many Commonwealth prisoners were being held by Italy in July/September 1943? I have seen vague references to about 60,000, but can find nothing specific.

Cheers,

Sid.

P.S. No sooner had I asked that than I found the following:https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/bl ... to%20Italy.

It appears that "over 75,000" Commonwealth POWs were held in Italy.

P.P.S The following, which reckons about 80,000 Commonwealth POWs were held in Italy, details what happened to them: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/ ... itish-pows

Apparently MI9, the British agency in charge of escape and evasion, discouraged such insupportable numbers from leaving the camps when Italy surrendered, hoping a quick liberation would rescue most of them. As a a result, the Germans were quickly able to move 50,000 of them to their own camps in Germany and Poland. The rest escaped into the Italian population. Of these, some 11,500 made it to Switzerland or Allied lines. Presumably about 20,000 remained in hiding in Italy. Certainly the British Embassy in the Vatican, which secretly paid for their upkeep, had details of over 4,000 of them in June 1944.

MI9 may well have been right. Quite apart from the dangers of reprisals, the Italian population, severely affected by food rationing, had enough problems feeding those who did hide with them. It is questionable whether they could have supported three times as many.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by DrG » 06 Feb 2021 20:45

Hi Sid,

I see you have solved alone your question.

As far as the number of POWs held in Italy is concerned, I have the following figures for camps of the Regio Esercito in the territory of pre-WW2 Italy (excluding, therefore, the occupied territories, Albania, Ljubljana and Dalmatia). I don't know if there were also camps kept by the Regia Aeronautica or the Regia Marina, but I don't think so. As you can see, the figures for 1943 are somewhat different from yours, but this could be due to the aforementioned exclusions, or due to the fact that these data are incomplete and don't count Commonwealth troops (I am quite sure they don't include the Indians who volunteered to join the Italian Army), or due to new POWs arriving in camps between 30 April and 8 Sept. 1943.
POWs.jpg
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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by wm » 06 Feb 2021 21:02

According to both the Hague Conventions (1907) and the Geneva Convention (1926) only states could have waged wars - so the Poles were covered but not the Free French.
The Free French were legitimate combatants only if they belonged "to the armed forces of belligerent parties," in this case the British forces.
In such a case a simple declaration was sufficient (that the British accepted the Free French as part of their army). If the Germans had a problem with that it was their own problem.
And it actually was tried when the British declared the Warsaw Uprising insurgents to be lawful combatants and the Germans accepted that petulantly.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by DrG » 06 Feb 2021 23:56

wm, this detail about the Warasw uprising is very interesting. Just a couple of weeks ago I have read this sentence in a book about the Italian Army (quite out of topic in that context, to be honest), which hit me and I thought it was very strange: "Even the Germans, when the war was turning for the worse, reached an agreement with the Polish resistance in January 1945, after which they considered the partisans as regular soldiers."
I guess it's linked to the information that you have provided.

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Re: Status of combatants of surrendered nations when captured?

Post by Sid Guttridge » 07 Feb 2021 12:11

Hi DrG,

Many thanks for those break downs.

Apparently, by 4 June 1944, the British Embassy to the Vatican City State had details of 3,925 men in hiding, of whom 1,695 were British, 896 South African, 429 Russian, 425 Greek, 185 American and the rest of twenty other nationalities. The "other nationalities" were presumably largely other British Commonwealth prisoners. For instance the son of the New Zealand commander, General Freyburg, was a POW with the Italians.

The Russians are the most notable absentees from your lists. Do you have any details on them? I would imagine that they probably ran into the low tens of thousands.

One other thing I noticed when looking at the Battle of Menton. Apparently the Franco-Italian Armistice conditions didn't mention prisoners. Is this so? Reportedly as a result, the handful of French prisoners were not immediately returned to Vichy. Do you know what happened to them? I imagine some sort of accommodation was reached with Vichy at some stage.

Cheers,

Sid.

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