Two Heroes, Two Divergent Tales but Inextricably Linked

Al Capone

Against of backdrop of sleaze and malfeasance of the 1920s mobster era, two heroes would arise, their tales so extraordinary that one almost judges them as “fake news.” It is not just because of these two men’s undeniable bravery that these tales need to be read. Moreover, it is how these disparate events could be so inextricably linked that is the clincher.

Main picture: Al “Scarface” Capone

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Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Town at War during World War II

Cape Recife WWII Forward Observation Post

Maybe the battlefields were thousands of kilometres distance, yet far-off Port Elizabeth was affected in numerous ways from the mundane to the deadly. Apart from the direct effect on the town, numerous of its citizens, such as my father and many of my uncles, volunteered for active service.   

The focus of this blog is on Port Elizabeth itself, both as regards military establishments, training and enemy actions. 

Main picture: The Fortress Observation Post at Seahill, Cape Recife

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WW2’s Unusual, Amazing and Sometimes Ironic Statistics

Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war

In all respects, WW2 was a war of superlatives. From the number of people killed to the quantum of destruction of civilian property, it easily outranks all previous wars combined. Of all other wars, it was truly waged on an industrial scale.

This blog presents those statistics that will amaze, astonish and often make one reflect on why in the mid 20th century, man’s primal instinct was still to murder, annihilate and plunder.

Main picture: Only 20% of the males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 survived the war

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Lost Photographs of Berlin between 1939 & 1940

third-reich-1939-194001

These photographs were taken between 1939 and 1940 in  Berlin and were lost for over 50 years  because the American photographer  disappeared at the beginning of the war, along with his Roliflex camera.

Shown here are the originals (Used at that time in the production of  magazines). The majority are 6″ X 9″. They were found by a nurse in a Berlin  hospital, who kept them stored away during  all these years.

After her death her  daughter returned them to the current editors, who retain the copyrights to Life Magazine, which has not been published since the early ’70s

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WW2 Military Record: Harry Clifford McCleland

Harry Clifford McCleland during WW2

Never once did my father ever discuss his involvement in WW2 let alone regale us with stories of the war. Today I bemoan the fact that he was not more open & forthright about his participation; any vignette, however mundane, would have provided an insight into what he had to endure, what was risible and what was hilarious. 

Despite the fact that he had contracted polio as a youngster, and hence was technically not eligible for military service, yet he duly and dutifully volunteered. 

Military duties comprise two categories: active service and non-active service. The latter encompasses experiences such as how they survived on a litre of water per day, the scorching heat or the cloying  oppressively, hot southerly khamsin winds. In my father’s case, being an artificer and a driver precluded him from direct contact with the enemy. Nevertheless, all of his other experiences could have provided a valuable peep into a lost world.

This blog is solely based upon his Military Record which Steve Groeneveld, a running friend, has been able to obtain from the military in Pretoria. 

Main picture: Harry Clifford McCleland in military attire

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Even the Nazis could not prevent a Rugby “International” from being Played

Stalag IV-B Springbok Team

White South Africans are addicted to rugby. Whether it is as a player or a spectator, through trying experiences I have learnt that this relationship may not be tampered with, as these rugby addicts cannot resist the lure of the game. Soccer might be endowed with the sobriquet “The Beautiful Game” but rugby is definitely the macho man’s game. This fact is attested to when the South African POWs during WW2 arranged an “International” Rugby game in a German POW Camp. It is a matter of record that in spite of most of the items required to hold an authentic rugby match were not readily available, ingenuity and improvisation were the mothers of invention. 

As if to confound their critics, this game was held in Stalag IV-B conforming to the dress code and rules of the games. It was that spirit that embodies the game.

Main picture: Springbok Rugby Team at Stalag IV-B in 1944. Back row, left to right: Oehley, Van Huyssteen, Kaplan, Timm, Coetzee, N. Hinds, Boet Wessels, Heydenrych, Youngleson, Foster, Chapman, Rahl. Middle row: Fabricius, Moore, Ackermann, Major Ochse (medical officer), Fiks van der Merwe (captain), Katzeff, Van der Westhuizen, Ritchie, Hultzer, Zietsman. Front row: Marais, R. Hinds, Sephton.

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The Sins of our Fathers

Horst Von Wachter, Philippe Sands and Niklas Frank behind the scenes of My Nazi Legacy

What does one feel about one’s parent if one’s father is culpable of some heinous crime? Is it denial or loathing? It can never be both or even some adulterated commingled version. Whenever the latter occurs, ones protestations in support of one’s parent become self-serving, irrational and tenuous whilst never addressing the real issue at hand. Such is the case with Horst von Wächter, son of Baron Otto Gustav von Wächter, Governor of Galicia during WW2. 

How does Horst today at 77 years of age, reconcile his vision of a loving father with that of a monster who was responsible for the deaths of at least 100,000 Jews? 

This is the tale of convoluted denial against all the evidence to the contrary. 

Main picture: Horst Von Wachter, Philippe Sands and Niklas Frank behind the scenes of My Nazi Legacy  Continue reading

Demyansk: The Template for Hitler’s Disaster at Stalingrad

Unlike Napoleon before them, German forces experience a freezing Russian winter

In many ways, the Demyansk Pocket [German: Festung Demjansk or Kessel von Demjansk] was the forerunner of what was to occur later in 1942 except that in the latter instance, the outcome was tragic. Hitler, the Commander of the German Wehrmacht, had drawn the wrong conclusions from this action. The consequences of Stalingrad were immense: the elimination of Germany’s strategic initiative in the war forever.

Main picture: Like Napoeon’s forces before them, the Germans during the winter of 1941/1942 literally freeze to death in inappropriate clothing.

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Rating the Generals of WW2

Nordafrika, Erwin Rommel mit Offizieren

My brother Blaine posed me a question the other day. “How do you rate the Generals of WWII and why?  I’ve listed my candidates and was wondering what your opinion of them is?To do this topic justice, I would have to do some extensive research. Due to time constraints, my opinion would not be based upon an ex libris search. Instead I would do the equivalent of an ad-lib speech and improvise.

Main picture: Erwin Rommel in North Africa during June 1942. Many, if not most pundits, would rate Rommel as the best General of WW2. His ability to smash the Allies line at its most vulnerable point on numerous occasions begrudgingly made him a hero in many Allies eyes.

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