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​Legion Magazine - Mopping Up

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MOPPING UP
by Dave McIntosh
Legion Magazine – May 1987
 
In the dying days of the war in Europe the Royal Canadian Air Force cobbled together a planeless unit called 8402 Disarmament Wing. It comprised 363 officers and men, 57 trucks and cars, five motorcycles, that reached-by sea and land convoy-its operating base at Oldenburg, Germany, May 20, 1945. The area of operations was 6,600 square miles in the northwest corner of Germany occupied by the Canadian and Polish armies. The purpose was to seek out all the Luftwaffe equipment it could find and destroy what was not useful for its advanced technology or in the war against Japan.
 
A report of the wing's activities, dated April 15, 1946, five days after it closed down-and still marked "secret" -was discovered recently in the Public Archives of Canada among the memorabilia of a junior RCAF ground officer. Because the wing's members had few points in the repatriation scale, they considered themselves, the report says, "a lost legion of low pointers."
 
The medical section of the report adds that the "appallingly high" venereal disease rate fell dramatically the moment word came through that the unit was going home-nearly a year after VE-Day. Morale had been so bad that wing officers had attended the trial in Aurich of Maj.-Gen. Kurt Meyer, condemned to death for the butchery of Canadian prisoners in Normandy, for something to do. Meyer was later reprieved and became a  beer salesman to Canada's NATO brigade group in Germany.
 
It will be no surprise to survivors of 6 Bomber Group or other Canadian combat fliers over Europe that the German air defence system was found to be highly sophisticated. The wing established that German flak claims were " most accurate" by comparing them  with RAF records, though reality bore little resemblance to broadcasts by Dr. Goebbels,  the minister of propaganda.
 
On the Frisian Islands of Borkum, Norderney and Juist, off the northwest coast of Germany, the wing found most Luftwaffe installations practically intact and the German air force staffs still on the sites. The officer in charge, Hauptmann Sobich, fell all over himself, the report says, explaining the anti-aircraft defences -until arrested for the murder of American airmen who had bailed out over the islands. The report adds: "This was a good initial lesson to staff on the character of the Hun-either at your throat or at your feet."
 
A complete radar site, code-named Jaguar, was found on Juist. It was used for early warning, interception and night fighter control. A complete infra-red aircraft detection installation was found intact on Borkum. On the mainland coast a huge installation was discovered containing a completely new type of radar called "see Elefant" and used for long-range early warning. Ten barges were required to remove the equipment from Norderney alone to Hamburg for trans-shipment to England.
 
One of the wing's most useful, but distressing, activities was locating Allied aircraft reported to have crashed in the area through interrogation of burgomeisters, clergymen,  police and civilians, and by checking burial records. Details of more than 100 burials were obtained. The unit discovered the documents of the local Luftwaffe air-sea rescue squadron with particulars of many Allied fliers rescued from the North Sea.
 
The wing's main targets were airfields, factories, air parks, depots, radar and experimental stations, and communications networks. Smaller targets included warehouses, barns, taverns, pigsties, and private homes. A house search at Elmenhorst on Dec. 4, 1945, turned up only Nazi literature. But on the same date at Wittmundhafen, the wing found several V2 rocket warheads and shipped them to England. A barge on the Osnabruck-Bramache canal was found containing four dismantled Heinkel aircraft. A section of Bremen's air defence system was uncovered: three fighter control stations,  four jamming stations, a Fluke! (observer corps) plotting station, a listening and direction-finding stations.
 
The wing searched vainly for weeks in a forest near Hesel for a reputed underground factory said to have been manned by 5,000 slave laborers. The wing had its own slave laborers of a sort: several units of 50 to 300 German prisoners of war, all from the Luftwaffe, who did the lifting and toting of captured war material. ''Discipline on the whole was very good,'' says the report of these "labor units." Each unit had a small police staff and the wing could mete out punishment of up to 10 days on bread and water. More serious cases were handed over to the military government.
 
Periodic raids were made on the laborers' quarters by the RAF to search for firearms and other weapons. Deserters were mainly men with next-of-kin in the Russian occupation zone. Rations for the laborers were set at 2,440 calories a day, later cut to 1,914 for workers on light duties, and there was only one complaint: a scarcity of potatoes.
 
The wing shipped to England-no mention is made of Canada-826 aircraft engines, including jet engines, 12 radar sets and 258 tons of other equipment, including searchlights, recording devices, multiple rocket projectors, infrared telescopes, anti- aircraft sights, and optical equipment.
 
It turned over three JU-52 planes to the Dutch. It destroyed 56 aircraft, 252 aero engines, and thousands of tons of explosives and air force equipment. The bomb disposal teams " kept banging away," the report notes laconically at one point.   Runways were torn up, hangars and other buildings burned. Fifty of the 60 sites found  with armament on them contained explosives, including V1 and V2 warheads. The explosives were detonated, though some bombs were dumped in the sea or in lakes. Some guns were reduced to scrap in forges. Incendiary bombs were used to destroy aero engines and other material. The Royal Navy blew up the flak sites.
 
Several airfield buildings had been booby-trapped by the Germans. No wing personnel were killed or injured, but two German farmers were killed at Quackenbruck airfield when their wagon ran over a buried mine. Two Dutchmen were killed at Achmer when they stepped on a mine. Most of the casualties were among displaced persons, who broke into Luftwaffe stations and bomb dumps. The report says: "In their ignorance and  child-like failure to appreciate danger, they engaged in the most appallingly dangerous practices. Even the considerable casualties had very little deterrent effect." Demolition often had to be stopped by DPs who refused to leave an area while they searched for any salvageable item. The report says that the first of 30,000 German refugees began to arrive in the wing area in October, 1945: "Their countrymen were not at all happy to receive them and their lot was indeed an unhappy one."
 
Did the wing nab any war criminals? We are told only that arrests of "wanted persons" were made. Even the financial activities of the Luftwaffe in the wing area were thoroughly investigated. RCAF accounts officers found 3,826,093 Reichmarks of  German air force money squirrelled away in 73 banks and transferred them to the "pool of Allied booty" in Hanover. All military funds in Germany had been frozen by the Allies on May 7, 1945. Payments out of Luftwaffe funds after that date resulted in the arrests and convictions- the number isn't given-of bank officials for embezzlement. Accounting records were found intact at three airfields and they revealed that in the war's last days all Luftwaffe personnel, including civilians, had been paid in advance for the months of May, June and July.
 
There is no recorded case, at least in the operational area of 8402 RCAF Disarmament Wing, of any German giving back any part of his pay for non-performance of duties after May 7, 1945.