Siegfried Westphal : Nazi Germany

Siegfried Westphal : Nazi Germany

Siegfried Westphal, the son of a soldier, was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1902. He joined the German Army and during the Desert War served as operations officers under General Erwin Rommel.

In 1943 Westphal became one of Germany's youngest generals when he was was appointed to serve as chief of staff under General Albrecht Kesselring in Italy. The following year he succeeded General Heinrich von Brauchitsch as chief of staff to General Gerd von Rundstedt.

After the war Westphal wrote The German Army in the West (1952).

The situation around Rome calmed down completely when the Commander of the Italian forces accepted in its entirety the German capitulation suggestion. This eliminated the danger to the supply of the 10th Army. At the same time the German Command in Italy was freed from the nightmare of having to use weapons against their former allies. The capitulation ensured for the Italian soldiers an immediate return to their homes. This concession had a repercussion because it infringed Hitler's order, according to which all Italian soldiers were to be made prisoners of war. But there can be no doubt that adherence to this order would have held out no inducement to the Italians to accept the German proposals.

After the landing at Salerno, the next amphibious operation should not have taken place at Anzio but as far north of Rome as possible-say, at Livorno (Leghorn). There were first-rate landing facilities everywhere in that area. By the end of 1943 the Allied High Command must surely have known how small was the size of the German forces in North Italy, and that the bulk of the forces were tied down on the front south of Rome. Taking account of the situation of the German forces in Italy, and the overall situation of the German forces, it should have been clear that neither from Rome, nor from the north of Italy, nor from anywhere else, could a German counter-stroke in any strength be brought up before the Allies had consolidated such a landing - at Livorno, for instance.

In the spring of 1944 - before the big Allied drive in May - the conditions for such an operation were still more favourable. At that time, apart from two divisions stationed in the Livorno area, the entire available forces were tied down with the 10th and 14th Armies, in the Cassino and Anzio sectors. The Allies' policy on those fronts should have been to keep merely enough forces to contain ours, while employing the bulk for a strategic outflanking manoeuvre - and thus to have cut off the mass of the German forces in Italy.

I can only imagine that operations of this kind, widely separated, were not undertaken on account of the risk of suffering losses from interference by the German Air Force. It must surely have been known, however, that the German Air Force had more or less disappeared from the battlefield - after its severe losses in the African campaign, coupled with the lack of trained flying reinforcements and the inferiority of the German Messerschmidt 109 fighter, as well as the absence of effective bombers.


Catalogue

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Catalogue Persistent Identifier
APA Citation

Westphal, Siegfried. (1951). The German army in the west. London : Cassell

MLA Citation

Westphal, Siegfried. The German army in the west / by General Siegfried Westphal Cassell London 1951

Australian/Harvard Citation

Westphal, Siegfried. 1951, The German army in the west / by General Siegfried Westphal Cassell London

Wikipedia Citation
The German army in the west / by General Siegfried Westphal

"Published in Germany under the title Heer in Fesseln" --T.p. verso.

Reviews: Royal Armoured Corps Journal, Apr. 1952 p.111 Times Literary Supplement, Aug. 1952 p.484.

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240 0 |aHeer in Fesseln. |lEnglish.
245 1 4 |aThe German army in the west / |cby General Siegfried Westphal.
260 |aLondon : |bCassell, |c1951.
300 |a221 p : |billus. |c22 cm.
500 |a"Published in Germany under the title Heer in Fesseln" --T.p. verso.
500 |aIncludes index.
500 |aReviews: Royal Armoured Corps Journal, Apr. 1952 p.111 Times Literary Supplement, Aug. 1952 p.484.
600 1 0 |aWestphal, Siegfried.
610 1 0 |aGermany. |bHeer.
650 0 |aWorld War, 1939-1945 |xPersonal narratives, German.
650 0 |aWorld War, 1939-1945 |zGermany.
650 0 |aWorld War, 1939-1945 |xCampaigns.
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Operation Saar A Lost Opportunity – September 󈨧 World War II Feature

In September 1939, while the Germans concentrated on the fighting in Poland, the French army invaded Germany from the west.

World War II in Europe was a week old when the French army edged across the frontier into Germany. On September 7, 1939, the German generals’ great fear of a two-front war seemed to have been realized. It was inconceivable that the Germans could effectively counter the mighty French army with the Wehrmacht wholly engaged in Poland.

While German Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers peeled off into steep dives over Polish targets, French General Maurice Gamelin directed his Third, Fourth and Fifth armies to begin Operation Saar. The French armies marched into the Cadenbronn and Wendt Forest salients, where the German frontier jabbed uncomfortably into France. Light reconnaissance units crossed the border on September 7, followed two days later by heavy infantry and mechanized forces.

Surprisingly, there was absolutely no German response, and French foot soldiers passed vacant enemy positions. The much-touted Siegfried Line seemed abandoned. Despite its aggressive beginning, however, the French probe into the Saar evolved into such a leisurely stroll that German soldiers and officials were able to collect their belongings and depart well in advance of Gamelin’s legions. In other areas on either side of the French border incursion, German and French customs officials chatted over their striped wooden highway barricades as if nothing was happening. Despite the declaration of war, border towns in France continued receiving an uninterrupted supply of electricity from German power stations. The new European war, it seemed, was a far cry from the horrible slaughter of World War I, 25 years earlier.

Throughout German villages, poilus found curious placards bearing printed messages such as: “French soldiers, we have no quarrel with you. We shall not fire unless you do.” Instead of hurling artillery projectiles, the Germans parked loudspeaker vans blasting propaganda messages toward the French lines or erected billboards bearing messages of peace and goodwill.

French soldiers also received more lethal greetings, however. During their unhurried withdrawal, the Germans saturated the frontier with explosives. Fields were mined, doors were booby-trapped and some of the National Socialist (Nazi) signs on the walls harbored hidden explosives. The mere hint of an explosive obstacle was enough to halt the snail-like French advance for days. In one case General Gamelin personally ordered soldiers to clear a path through a suspected minefield by driving a herd of pigs through it. The rapid succession of detonations and resulting carnage did nothing to inspire the soldiers to advance deeper into the Reich.

By September 9, two motorized divisions, five tank battalions and artillery had crowded into a sliver of occupied German territory. In spite of overwhelming firepower, most of Gamelin’s forces remained within sight of French territory. Their tanks, when employed at all, were committed in small, company-size raids on German frontier strongpoints or unoccupied pillboxes while VIPs from France watched at a safe distance.

In 1939 the French army possessed some of the best tanks in the world. Mechanically sound and powerfully armed, the tanks had armor thicker than that of any German tanks, and crews that were well-trained. If there was any shortcoming in the French tank doctrine, it was related to how the armor would be employed. With no training in large-scale tank maneuvers, the French tended to employ their armor in small, piecemeal attacks without coordinating infantry, artillery and air force operations.

In the rare instances when French tanks lumbered across the frontier within range of enemy guns, German 37mm anti-tank shells bounced harmlessly off the armor of the 33-ton Char B 1 bis tanks. The French tanks in turn fired back with high-velocity 47mm turret-mounted and 75mm hull cannons. The isolated exchanges, however, usually ended in a draw. The Germans would melt away and reposition their small-caliber cannons while the French tankers pulled back behind a protective line of infantry. These brief exchanges brought to light a serious design flaw in the French armor. The Char B 1 bis had its radiator vents on the side, at a point where a hit from small-caliber anti-tank shot could put the tank out of action.

Had French Military Intelligence known there were absolutely no panzers facing them, the situation might have been different. Not only was there no German tracked armor west of the Rhine, the Wehrmacht possessed no anti-tank weapons capable of defeating invading armor. Germany’s strongest defense proved to be blitzkrieg newsreels that intimidated and duped French Intelligence.

Contrary to Nazi propaganda that alleged unlimited military potential, the German army lacked fighting equipment. Its units were drastically short of machine guns, machine pistols, artillery and tanks. The vaunted panzer force numbered a mere 200 Mark IV medium tanks–the most modern armor in the German inventory–which were armed with low-velocity 75mm guns. The remainder of the force consisted of hastily produced Mark II light tanks with 20mm cannons and turret-mounted machine guns and even more of the lightly armored Mark I, mounting only two machine guns. At best these light tanks, originally relegated to training exercises until heavier tanks became available, were suitable for mechanized reconnaissance. By the time armored units could be shuttled quickly to the Western Front, the French might already have occupied the Rhineland.

Germany’s scarcity of motor transport resulted in the Wehrmacht’s last-minute procurement of vehicles of all shapes and descriptions. The German army’s hasty acquisition of an additional 16,000 civilian vehicles added to its maintenance burden. Many of these vehicles came from recently acquired Austria and Czechoslovakia. The problem of getting spare parts for trucks exceeded nightmare proportions, as there were 100 different types of trucks in army service, 52 kinds of cars and 150 different sorts of motorcycles. As a result, many of the Wehrmacht’s reconnaissance troops rode in motorcycle sidecars painted in brilliant civilian paint schemes.

Taking a calculated risk, Hitler stripped the Western defenses in an attempt to guarantee overwhelming victory in the east. What remained west of the Rhine would have hardly sufficed to hold off a determined enemy attack. While battles raged in Poland, 43 diluted German divisions stretched the length of the western German border from Denmark to Switzerland. In the Saar, German First Army commander General Erwin von Witzleben counted 13 hollow divisions under his command.

The threat of an aggressive French offensive plagued the First Army commander daily. Witzleben, who had actually retired from the service some years earlier, was hardly suited to a field command. The general consistently found himself in uninspired assignments, and the Saar posting was no exception. Witzleben’s defense was hampered by a lack of anti-tank guns and artillery and the fact that his infantry divisions were of low quality and equipped with machine guns of World War I vintage. Opposing Witzleben were 10 fully equipped French divisions anchored in the formidable defenses of the Maginot Line.

Named for André Maginot, a war veteran and the French minister of war until his death in 1932, the Maginot Line was the most elaborate and expensive string of fortifications ever built. The French had studied the feasibility of a permanent defensive barrier facing Germany after the end of World War I, using Verdun fortresses as models. The first payment on the $500 million project was approved by parliament in 1929, and work began in 1930.

Construction of the fortified line was not just a result of the post­World War I uneasiness the French felt for their eastern neighbors. In 1928, Germany and its impotent 100,000-man peacetime army, the Reichswehr, posed little threat to France nor could the Germans force French, British and American armies from the occupied Rhineland. French domestic issues also prompted the region’s militarization. In 1928, France’s Alsace-Lorraine provinces–which had been lost to Germany in the peace treaty that ended the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and had been regained by France through the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I–now petitioned to become autonomous regions. The thought of these resource-rich provinces–so recently gained at an incredible cost–leaving France again was intolerable. Maginot directed the construction of the line as a permanent concrete reminder of the area’s allegiance. Indeed, most of the proposed line lay in a region of France inhabited by nearly a million German-speaking Alsatians.

The Maginot Line supplemented existing fortifications opposite Germany and was particularly strong in the Saarbrücken-Metz corridor, the most direct route to Paris. In Alsace-Lorraine the Maginot Line took 10 years to build at a cost of $323 million. The main fortifications were completed in 1935, and 300,000 soldiers garrisoned them.

As with most defensive contingencies, the Maginot mentality focused on the concrete barrier as a security blanket. Much of the line’s firepower, however, was negated because operations in Germany placed targets outside the effective range of the heavy artillery. To be of any use at all, the Maginot guns would have to be moved forward. With World War I experiences like the bloody defense at Verdun fresh in their minds, the French were reluctant to vacate the fortifications in favor of headlong attacks against Germany’s Siegfried Line.

Construction of the Westwall, or Siegfried Line as it was popularly named by the Allies, began in 1936 following Germany’s uncontested military occupation of the Rhineland. Forts and pillboxes extended from the Swiss frontier to the Netherlands. The heaviest fortifications were constructed around Saarbrücken, where some French Maginot outposts sat only 100 meters from the German border. As the hub of the defense, industrial Saarbrücken was militarily significant because it was the gate to the Kaiserslautern Gap, a traditional invasion route.

The Kaiserslautern Gap led directly to the city of Worms, on the Rhine River. Realizing the importance of this route through the Saar, the Germans arrayed their Westwall defenses three belts deep. The first line was scattered on both sides of the Saar River and consisted of anti-tank obstacles and scattered bunkers, pillboxes and irregular patterns of minefields. Wherever possible, fortifications were built into existing factories and smelting facilities. The heaviest concentration of mines and booby traps was found in this line.

The second belt of defenses dotted the Hunsrück, a series of highlands extending eastward almost to the Rhine, forming a natural barrier to the heart of Germany. In this rugged terrain, the second belt required fewer anti-tank obstacles. The greatest concentration of individual defenses was clustered around roads, railroads and trails leading into the hills. The Hünsruck belt contained more positions for heavy artillery and held more command bunkers.

The third Westwall defensive band was 20 kilometers farther east and consisted of scattered bunkers and concrete emplacements around existing military installations at Landstuhl and Ramstein. This band constituted the last defense before Kaiserslautern.

Unlike its expensive French neighbor, the Siegfried Line was not a continuous line of forts. Although it was designed to provide mutually supporting fire, there were far too many gaps in the defensive positions. By 1939, only 30 percent of the planned defenses were complete. Further complicating completion was the transfer of responsibility for the Siegfried Line from the army to the highway ministry. Much of the Siegfried Line was built in such haste that many bunkers and pillboxes were placed improperly. National Socialist Labor Corps units constructed bunkers and tank traps with abandon. Most consideration was given to areas closer to main roads, where they were afforded easy access. In a 1938 tour of the frontier forts, Hitler was impressed by the number of pillboxes visibly dotting the hills. The truth, however, was that dozens of other natural corridors were overlooked in favor of those that could be viewed by high-ranking Nazi officials.

Prior to the invasion of Poland, the German army had little difficulty providing soldiers for the Siegfried Line since the defense of the German western frontier was a priority during Hitler’s acquisition of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Operations in Poland, however, required a substantial effort, and Westwall fortress units were absorbed into regular army units. The hollow Westwall left the Kaiserslautern Gap virtually defenseless.

The French army certainly had the strength to move on Kaiserslautern. Along the entire German border, 85 French divisions stood against 34 Nazi divisions. Of those German divisions, all but 11 were reserve units. The French, however, were unaware of the favorable balance of forces. Furthermore, the French generally were unsupportive of another European war, and the morale of the army was at an all-time low.

French civilians were not pleased with the prospect of another war so close to France. World War I had nearly destroyed an entire generation and irreparably disrupted French society. There was also the matter of the devastation that would be wrought on French towns near the combat zone. French territory near the Saar had been virtually untouched at the end of World War I because the area was then part of Germany and distant from the Verdun, Somme and Argonne killing grounds. As a result, few of the homes, factories, mines, roads and bridges in the Saar region suffered any damage. Now that France’s frontier had moved eastward, it seemed likely that this area was in a position to become devastated by war.

The day the French army marched into Germany, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) landed in France. Although the British military was not quite ready to take on the Wehrmacht, British leaders were eager for some sort of action. Winston Churchill, then head of the British Admiralty, proposed floating mines down the Rhine River. The French, however, protested that the Germans would retaliate and blast the Seine River bridges. In the British House of Commons there was equal hesitancy to aggressively conduct the war. When it was suggested that the Black Forest be bombed to create uncontrollable fires in Germany, British Secretary of State for Air Sir Kingsley Wood protested on the grounds that such attacks would be perpetrated against private property. Additionally, French Premier Eduard Daladier requested that the British Royal Air Force (RAF) refrain from bombing Germany. It was fast becoming a gentlemen’s war, with the Germans operating as such out of operational necessity and the French out of timidity.

Unlike the mass-produced machines of the Luftwaffe, French aircraft were virtually hand assembled and in short supply, though they were still formidable in the hands of experienced pilots. The French air force was prohibited from flying missions into Germany despite its capabilities. Had French military leaders realized that the Luftwaffe was wholly involved in the east, the Anglo-French air effort might have been more aggressive. In the west, the Luftwaffe was limited to a few antiquated fighters, many of which were biplanes. The bulk of Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters available were based in the north, protecting the industrial Ruhr and naval facilities. The greatest amount of aerial activity during the period, which came to be known as the “Phony War,” was conducted by Germans flying reconnaissance missions.

Throughout what most of the German high command viewed as a crisis in the Saar, Hitler surprisingly maintained a “wait and see” attitude. Generally appearing unconcerned with the activity in the west, Hitler was actually curious as to French conduct. He wanted to test whether the Siegfried Line could withstand an all-out attack. Additionally, in the event of a French move toward the Ruhr through Luxembourg or Belgium, he had some concern whether a German counterattack by forces returning from Poland could eject the French from German soil. Somewhat gleefully, Hitler saw the Saar incursion as provocation for operations in the west.

Hitler’s curious attitude toward events was evidenced on September 7, when he appointed General Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein commander of Army Detachment A, an ad hoc force for the defense of the Siegfried Line. In selecting Hammerstein, who was overdue for retirement and given no real authority over his forces, Hitler ensured that there would be no German initiative in the threatened sectors. Hitler believed that the French had attacked where the Westwall was the strongest, and he realized the French had failed to capture one major German town or do battle with German units despite their territorial gains. So meekly threatened was Saarbrücken, the industrial hinge of the Saar, that the mills and factories continued to operate. The only shots taken at Saarbrücken were made by telephoto camera lenses in Maginot outposts on hills dominating the city.

Gamelin grew increasingly suspicious of the continuing German inactivity. Misinterpreting the lack of response, the French general directed his commanders to maintain their distance from the Siegfried Line and plan for a quick withdrawal to the dominating Spicheren Heights in France. Politically it was also the safest course. Further advance into Germany meant abandoning the expensive Maginot Line.

By September 12 the sluggish French offensive reached its peak–a 5-mile penetration into Germany. It was increasingly apparent that the closer lead French elements got to the Westwall, the more cautiously they advanced. In one village, a single German machine gun held up the French advance for more than a day. With such delays the Saar foray dwindled into a confused demonstration.

Events in the east prompted the eventual French withdrawal. On September 17 the Soviet army invaded Poland. Clearly, this European war was fast becoming a world war. The Saar was no longer a focal point, and the French hatched new schemes to defeat the Germans and Russians on battlefields far from France. The German and Soviet governments launched separate peace campaigns. Outright rejection of these peace initiatives and an escalation of hostilities by the French would seemingly invite world war. There was also the danger that the Italians would join the conflict.

Gamelin commented that the whole Saar operation was no more than a “little test.” With 35 Polish divisions shattered just one week after the German invasion, the French military concluded that it was only a matter of time before resources would be diverted to the west. Gamelin issued secret Personal Instruction No. 4, ordering his forces to discontinue their advance.

On September 21 Gamelin renounced any prospect of continuing the offensive and ordered that the French army should withdraw to the Maginot Line in the event of a German counterattack. Not all of the French commanders agreed with this assessment. General Henri Giraud, commander of the Seventh Army, saw an almost unbelievable opportunity for French forces in the Saar. He believed a corps could have seized the area between Saarbrücken and Trier. Such a move not only would prove an embarrassment to Germany but also would secure the Metz Corridor into France and open avenues to further operations toward the Rhine in the direction of Koblenz or Mannheim. In either case, it seemed possible that French forces would be able to reach the Rhine.

The German high command sheepishly conceded Hitler’s assessment of French reluctance. When Poland’s fate was sealed, German troops were able to shuttle to the west. General von Hammerstein was relieved of his impotent command without ceremony, and the Westwall garrisons relaxed.

German General Siegfried Westphal agreed that the situation in the west was perilous and estimated that the French could have reached the Rhine in two weeks if they had tried. The French command feared otherwise. German artillery now had the range of forward elements of the Maginot Line, and Luftwaffe fighter planes were returning to the western skies. French commanders, with their backs to the Maginot Line, obligingly withdrew.

On September 30 the French army was secretly ordered to retreat to its homeland, the movement to be conducted at night. The withdrawal was as sluggish as the advance had been. It was not until October 17 that the last French screening forces departed German territory.

Witzleben’s German First Army, reinforced by an infantry division, launched a general attack on October 16 that did little more than roll up a few French rear-guard units. The counteroffensive lasted until October 24. The First Army crossed into France and thus became the first German military force do to so since August 1914. The Germans continued their uncontested advance and occupied a sliver of French territory a full five months before the May 10, 1940, blitzkrieg that hammered the country. A French communiqué announced a German attack in strength, with later reports that the enemy had suffered severe losses. The Germans, in fact, listed a total of only 198 killed in that action.

France’s 14-day opportunity to thwart the Third Reich concluded the only French offensive of the war and signaled the beginning of the Phony War. Worse, the inexplicable French lethargy in the Saar doomed France to defeat seven months later and guaranteed four years of Nazi occupation.


This Former Nazi Neighborhood on Long Island with Adolf Hitler Street Still Exists

The United States of the 1930s, as World War II loomed ahead, was a prolific era for radical movements. The third Madison Square Garden was packed to the gills for an anti-Nazi rally in 1937 and a pro-Nazi rally in 1939. But the latter was really the pinnacle of a more entrenched pro-Hitler community in the United States. One planned community in Yaphank, Long Island replete with an indoctrination camp amidst streets named after Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels, serves as a prime example of how the German-American Bund and German Settlement League managed to put forth a message in which American democracy and fascism could co-exist, something that Ryan Schaffer of the Department of History at Stony Brook University explores in an article for the Long Island History Journal. A special Long Island Railroad train, the “Camp Siegfried Special” even ran at 8am from Penn Station to Yaphank to bring guests to the site.

Close up of German Gardens Street Plan with Adolf Hitler Street, Goebbels Street and Goering Street

As Shaffer writes, “support for Nazi Germany in the United States was a unique blend of German and American ideology rather than just a foreign import.” That being said, American patriotism was limited. To be a member of the German-American Bund, one had to be “Aryan,” with a mission of uniting “similar” people. Indeed, brochures for Camp Seigfried promised: “You will meet people who think like you.”

There was a special focus on local development of the German-American Bund, seen as a key strategy in not only the evolution of the German community in the United States, but also of the country as a whole. According to Shaffer, the 1937 issue of the Bund’s Fighting Germanness opened with an excerpt from Colin Ross’ Our America “which claims that those with German blood will lead the United States into a new era.”

In 1995, the Suffolk County legislators attempted to pass a resolution to erase such pro-Nazi history, specifically “for the removal of pro-Nazi references on subdivision records.” The state declined to pass the resolution, which is why today we have access to the original, signed and approved street plans for the community of “German Gardens” in Yaphank. We recently took a trip out to the community, part of which became incorporated into the town of Yaphank after the war, and a part that remains part of the German American Settlement League.

Zoomed details of the 1936 German Gardens community street map

Many of the most offensive street names (Hitler, Goering and Goebbels) were renamed to innocuous ones. Adolf Hitler Street became Park Street, Goering became Oak Street and Goebbels turned into Northside Avenue. But many other things have stayed the same. The neighborhood is still called German Gardens, even though it is no longer a private community. One of the main thoroughfares is still called German Boulevard. Many German street names were not changed, like Bohle Road (in a neighboring community) which is the last name of a convicted Nazi leader. Whether it was originally named after that particular Bohle or not, we have not been able to confirm yet.

Former intersection of Adolf Hitler Street and Goering Street

Former intersection of Goebbels Street and German Boulevard

Intersection of Bohle Street and Landsberger Street

At the same time, Berliner, Hindenburg, Hamberger and Westfalen Streets have also been replaced. Berliner is now Center Garden, Westfalen became Martin Street, and Hindenburg became Broad Street. And while Lindemann was the captain of the Nazi battleship Bismarck, it appears that Lindeman Court (incorrect as Linderman Court on Google Maps) is actually named after Mary Lindeman who owned land there. All in all, today there’s just something bizarre about describing to someone, “So here we are at what would have been the intersection of Hitler and Goebbels.”

Google Maps aerial view of German Gardens today, with renamed streets. The northern end of the Camp Siegfried parade ground is shown at the bottom of the image.

A current resident who rents a home there tells Untapped Cities, “Years ago, these houses were not offered for sale to anyone who wasn’t German. I happened to play volleyball for a German sports club, and so, a door opened for me. German Gardens houses have individual deeds, and are a simple subdivision. The German American Settlement League is…a co-op– it simply means that there is only one deed for all of the houses…I am told that at one time, both Camp Siegfried and German Gardens were commercial flower plantations.”

Next door Camp Siegfried borders a lake and access to the great outdoors was a key part of the activities, including rifle training as an affiliate of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Shaffer writes, “the camp was used for Bundist youth to learn about camping, hunting, shooting, and even eugenics. For the adults and locals, it was a place where politics and local events were discussed at the camp’s bar. Perhaps, most importantly the camp served for the celebration and dissemination of ideology.” The youth were even taken on trips to Germany, including a visit to the 1936 Olympics where German-American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn met Hitler.

The social aspect, compounded by the Bund selling alcohol in its camps, were observed by locals in Yaphank, where observed that the members of the community “appear[ed] to consume great quantities of beer and do a lot of marching in uniforms.” There were also comments about the propriety, noting that the men and women were wearing shorts (which seems funny today) and “abbreviated bathing suits on highways, trespassing on private property, stealing flowers and growing produce.” As war neared in Europe, the FBI started taking notice of the organization, noting in a letter that the camp in Yaphank contained 150 to 300 children who “used to wear a uniform like that of the Hitler Youth in Germany.” It should be noted that the German-American Bund also had numerous previous names, including “Friends of the Hitler Movement” and “Friends of the New Germany.”

The German-American Bund lost control of the Camp Siegfried property to the German-American Settlement league, which still runs it today. Though the parade ground is now a park, it remains devoid of any landscaping or typical park furniture. It’s easy to imagine that military demonstrations once took place there.

Former parade ground with clubhouse in background

A clubhouse still exists but it looks architecturally different from the historic images. An American flag and a German flag hang from a flagpole, in contrast to the Swastika flag that used to adorn the front façade of the former clubhouse. A small bus stop sits curiously at the one end of the park. The street names in Camp Siegfried are Schiller Court, probably for the German philosopher, and Bach Court after the composer.

Current clubhouse with American and German flags on flagpole

Today, Camp Seigfried remains a private community with a sign reading “German American Settlement League” clearly denoting the entrance. Most of the homes in both the current settlement and the area incorporated into the town of Yaphank have a 1930s and 1940s beach bungalow feel. The race restriction at the German American Settlement League remained in place until January 2016, when Federal Judge Joan Azrack, settling a lawsuit, approved an agreement that included the reformation of the German American Settlement League’s bylaws to make the residential community open to the public in compliance with federal, state and local fair housing laws.

Camp Seigfried has recently returned back to the spotlight with the release of period photographs recently digitized and released by the New York City Department of Records. The town plans, though written about briefly by Ryan Schaffer in 2010, have not been corroborated with the present-street layout, which we attempted to do here.

The historical town center of Yaphank also has an amazing mid-century Shell gas station, kept as a relic of a former era.


Bill Downs, War Correspondent

We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?
We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
'Cause the washing day is here.

Whether the weather may be wet or fine,
We'll just rub along without a care!
We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line
If that Siegfried Line's still there!

Mother dear I'm writing you from somewhere in France,
Hoping to find you well.
Sergeant says I'm doing fine, a soldier and a half,
Here's a song that we all sing, this'll make you laugh.

We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?
We're gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
'Cause the washing day is here.

Whether the weather may be wet or fine,
We'll just rub along without a care!
We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
If that Siegfried Line's still there!

Whether the weather may be wet or fine,
We'll just rub along without a care!
We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
If that Siegfried Line's still there!

Ja, mein Junge, das hast du dir gar zu leicht gedacht
mit dem großen Wäschetag am deutschen Rhein,
hast du dir auch deine Hosen tüchtig vollgemacht,
brauchst du gar nicht traurig sein!

Bald seifen wir dich gründlich ein
von oben und von unten her
wenn der deutsche Waschtag wird gewesen sein,
Mensch, dann brauchst du keine Wäsche mehr!

Sing dies Liedchen mit, wer es nur immer singen mag
mit der zweiten Kriegsberichter-Kompanie,
Bis zum Wäschetag, ja bis zum Wäschetag
In aller Herrgottsfrüh.

Soon we will soap you up thoroughly
From top to bottom.
And when the German washing day is over,
You won't need any more washing.

Sing this song with me, whoever wants to sing
With the Second War Reporter Company.
Until washing day, yes until washing day
At the crack of dawn.

Un petit Tommy chantait cet air plein d'entrain
En arrivant au camp
Tout les p'tits poilus joyeux apprirent le refrain
Et bientôt tout le régiment
Entonnait gaiement

On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
Pour laver le linge, voici le moment
On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
A nous le beau linge blanc.

Les vieux mouchoirs et les ch'mis's à Papa
En famille on lavera tout ça
On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
Si on la trouve encore là.
On ira là

Tout le monde à son boulot en met un bon coup
Avec un cœur joyeux
On dit que le Colonel est très content de nous
Et tant pis pour les envieux
Tout va pour le mieux.

On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
Pour laver le linge, voici le moment
On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
A nous le beau linge blanc.

Les napp's à fleurs et les ch'mis's à Papa
En famille on lavera tout ça
On ira pendr' notre linge sur la ligne Siegfried
Si on la trouve encore là.
On ira là


Last Ride at Anzio: The German Counterattacks, February 1944

How a forceful German counterattack in February 1944 could not push back the Allied Anzio landing.

The old Prussian Army used to have a saying. "Don't ask how many enemies. Just ask where." The slogan made sense for an army that usually fought larger, richer foes and that had no choice but to emphasize willpower over weapons, heart over high technology. Prussian officers weren't supposed to count the odds, but to fight outnumbered and win.

Their German descendants had the same mission in the later years of World War II. Take the Italian campaign. The Allies held all the high cards: endless waves of men, tanks, guns, and aircraft, and absolute control of the sea. Nevertheless, the men and officers of the Wehrmacht endured grimly, clinging to every mountain, river, and ridge, and contesting every inch of ground. Perhaps if they held on long enough, they would find a way to return to the attack like the Prussians of old. Perhaps the Allies would get sloppy, make a false move, and provide them with an opening.

And then, one day in late January 1944, the Allies did just that. They landed a small amphibious force--too small, as it turned out--on the western shores of the Italian peninsula, between the small towns of Anzio and Nettuno. Operation Shingle was everything a military operation shouldn't be: badly planned, indifferently led, and uncertain of its own purpose. Even worse, the landing handed the Wehrmacht an opportunity to do what it did best: launch a full-scale offensive. In the subsequent fighting, German mechanized formations came perilously close to crumpling the Allied beachhead, closer than they would ever come again to a battlefield triumph in this war. Anzio was the Last Ride of the Prussians.

Shingle was an attempt to outflank the Gustav Line by landing at Anzio in the German rear, 30 miles south of Rome. It was ill-fated from the start, and historians have had a field day picking it apart. Problems started at the top. Winston Churchill, the king of the cigar-butt strategists, conceived it. General Mark Clark, the problem child of the Allied command, planned it and General John Lucas of the VI Corps was the less-than-inspiring commander tabbed to lead it in the field. But the problems ran deeper than personality. A lack of landing craft kept the force small, just two divisions: British 1st Division (General W.R. C. Penney) and U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (General Lucian K. Truscott). The Normandy landing loomed just months away, and the Allies couldn't tie up too much precious equipment or too many troops on a sideshow. Prelanding exercises were a fiasco, with the men strewn about hither and yon and several landing craft sunk. Even Truscott, a tough guy who once summed up his battle philosophy in the pithy phrase, "No sonofabitch, no commander," wondered out loud if they were all embarking on a suicide mission.

Despite these problems, the landings on January 22nd went smoothly. German fire was practically absent, and 36,000 men came ashore by nightfall. And no wonder--the landing had taken the Germans completely by surprise. From the theater commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, on down, no one had seen this coming. Just days earlier, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of German military intelligence (Abwehr), had visited Kesselring's headquarters in Frascati and reported that he didn't see "the slightest sign of an imminent landing in the near future." Ship traffic in Naples harbor was normal. "You can sleep easy tonight," Canaris told the boss.

Now the Allies had landed, and the sector between Anzio and Rome was practically undefended. Lucas had a clear path forward, but refused to budge, more focused on the security of his beachhead than a drive to glory. His inactivity is easy to criticize, but wasn't the cause of Shingle's failure. Rather, the difference was the boldness and rapidity of the Wehrmacht's reaction. Over the centuries, Prussian-German commanders had prided themselves on their reaction time: recognizing the inherent uncertainty of war, accepting sudden changes of fortune, and crafting improvised solutions on the spur of the moment.

For Kesselring and his staff, it was scramble time. The Allies landed at two in the morning. Within the hour, Kesselring's operations chief, Colonel Dietrich Beelitz, had awakened the Chief of Staff, Colonel Siegfried Westphal, with the news. Contingency plans were already on the books in case of "a large-scale landing near Rome" and Westphal now gave the simple code word, "Richard." By the time Westphal awakened Kesselring and briefed him at 5:00 am, the machinery was already humming. Kesselring kick-started things locally by ordering General Maximilian Ritter von Pohl, in command of Rome's antiaircraft defenses, to scrounge up every 88-mm. gun he could find to set up an antitank screen south of Rome. Pohl got it done by noon.

Divisions from the four corners of Italy and beyond were already streaming towards Anzio. They included the 71st Division, just settling in on the Cassino front most of the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division field artillery battalions, heavy artillery, a reconnaissance battalion from 26th Panzer Division elements of 1st Fallschirmjäger Division, and more. They all reached Anzio in the course of January 23rd, along with regiments of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division and 15th Panzergrenadier Division.

By January 25th, when General Eberhard von Mackensen arrived from northern Italy to take command of the new 14th Army, he already had a solid three-division picket in a crescent around the beachhead: 65th Infantry Division on his right, defending the line of the Moletta River in the west, 3rd Panzergrenadier Division in the center, defending Albano, and the Herman Göring Panzer Division on the left, masking Cisterna, Valmontone, and points east. As more reinforcements came down, Mackensen was able to establish a two-corps battle array: I Fallschirmjäger on his right under General Alfred Schlemm and LXXVI Panzer Corps on his left under General Traugott Herr, a Panzer commander and one of the Wehrmacht's legendary fighting figures. Herr had taken a chunk of shrapnel to the head in front of Nalchik during the Caucasus campaign in November 1942, but it had barely slowed him down. Behind these two corps stood a pair of first-rate divisions, the 29th Panzergrenadier and 26th Panzer. Just that quickly, the Germans had built an iron wall around Anzio.

With the Allies ashore and the Germans present in force, static warfare clamped down on both sides. The Germans sat everywhere on the high ground around a shallow Allied beachhead, seven miles deep by fifteen wide, they could observe every square inch of the Allied position, and were able to bring down murderous artillery fire at any point they chose. Besides the regular batteries, the Germans had rocket launchers, heavy guns of the 14th Ar-my reserve, even a pair of 280-mm. Krupp heavy railway guns, firing a 560-lb projectile with a range of forty miles. The typical G.I. or Tommy in the "bitchhead" learned to live with the constant feeling of being watched, and to accept the seemingly random nature of death by German artillery fire. He no longer walked upright, but in an irregular half-crouch, half-crawl, with the helmet jammed down as low as possible: the famous "Anzio amble."

For the next four months, neither side was able to move the front very far one way or the other. That is not to say they didn't try. On January 30th, day nine at Anzio, U.S. VI Corps launched a general offensive by the British on the left and the Americans on the right, aiming to seize the Alban Hills, and to "continue the advance on Rome." The attack hit tough resistance from the start, and faltered early. The British managed to open up a pencil-thin salient along the main north-south artery, the Via Anziate, or Anzio Road, with Campoleone at the tip. The American attack opened disastrously and resulted in the destruction of two battalions of U.S. Army Rangers in an attack on Cisterna.

The Germans experienced much the same in reverse during their attack on February 4th. The original plan was a classic German assault by concentric columns: Kampfgruppe Pfeiffer (elements of 65th Infantry and 4th Fallschirmjäger Divisions) driving in from the west Kampfgruppe Gräser (portions of 3rd Panzergrenadier and 715th Infantry Divisions) attacking straight down the Anzio Road from the north and Kampfgruppe Conrath (elements of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division) launching a thrust from Cisterna in the northeast. Unfortunately, the Allied attack had taken ground that was essential as a staging zone for the German offensive, and so Mackensen's first attack was a partial blow (Teilangriff), not a full-blown attempt to smash the beachhead.

The son of one of Germany's most notable World War I field marshals, Eberhard von Mackensen had been born to command. He had his father's knightly and monarchist traditions, a touch of National Socialist ruthlessness, and a great deal of operational acumen. Thus far in the war, he had been chief of staff to the 14th Army in Poland, then to the 12th Army in France, and commander of III Panzer Corps (part of 1st Panzer Army) during Barbarossa. During the 1942 campaign, Mackensen first sealed off an immense Soviet encirclement at Kharkov in May, then served as the point of 1st Panzer Army’s drive into the Don River bend and the Caucasus. He was as aggressive a Panzer commander as the Wehrmacht had in 1944, a man tailor-made for the task that he faced.
Mackensen's first order of business was the reduction of the "Campoleone salient," a tactically absurd position that the British probably should have abandoned in the first place. A second stage attack could then thrust down to Aprilia at the base of the salient, a strong-hold of stone buildings controlling the roads in the area called "the Factory" by the Allies. The attack should have been a signal German triumph. Two converging drives, each less than a mile, would cut off the base of the salient and trap Penney's 1st Division inside, cutting it off from outside supply and rendering it helpless for the kill. And then on to the Factory.

It should have been easy, but it was anything but. The 3rd Panzergrenadiers led things off, hitting the tip of the salient, but the British fought them to a standstill. German attempts later in the day to pinch off the salient at the base succeeded temporarily, with 65th and 715th Divisions linking up and cutting off British 3rd Brigade. But a series of counterattacks, both from inside the salient and from the outside by 168th Brigade (part of the newly arrived British 56th Division), pried open the path to 3rd Brigade, and the Germans never did re-close it. All day long, Gräser's assault forces were under a furious artillery barrage. With the Germans driving along a single road, Allied artillery and naval gunfire had its pick of lucrative targets. The day ended with the British still holding fast, although 3rd Brigade evacuated its exposed position that night and retreated to Aprilia. The two armies had traded heavy losses, some 1,500 men apiece, on a very small piece of ground.

The next day, Mackensen launched a second Teilangriff, with Hermann Göring and 26th Panzer Divisions coming down from Cisterna towards Monte Rotto. Two days later, he ordered a thrust against Buonriposo Ridge to the left of the Anzio Road by elements of 65th Infantry Division. Both were reruns of Campoleone: initial gains, close positional fighting, then a full stop under a hail of Allied shells. The final stage of this first attack, a drive on Aprilia on February 9th, was more of the same. The initial push forced the British back a mile or so and the Germans took the Factory, but they could get no farther in the face of Allied fire.

The Germans faced a decision. What to do? Kesselring was the optimist, pushing for an immediate renewal of the offensive. Mackensen was just as aggressive, but he didn't want to get good men killed for no reason, and felt he needed more time to prepare the attack. Frankly, he had also forgotten more about land warfare than Kesselring (a Luftwaffe airman) ever knew, and their relations grew increasingly testy. The debate ended, as always, with a decision by Hitler. The Führer and his operations chief, General Alfred Jodl, felt the time was right for a new blow at Anzio. Shattering the Anzio beachhead, they argued, would stand as a warning to the Allies about the prospects for their upcoming invasion of Western Europe. Of course, neither he, Jodl, nor anyone else from the inner circle bothered to visit the beachhead or to inspect conditions there, and like so many orders emanating from the "gentlemen in Rastenburg," this one bore little relationship to battlefield reality.

The OKW plan was Operation Fischfang ("Fish Haul"), yet another southward thrust down the Anzio Road to split the bridgehead and "tear it apart from the inside." The first, or breakthrough, echelon consisted of 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, the 715th Division, and the 114th Jäger Division, along with the newly arrived Infantry Lehr Regiment, a demonstration and test-bed for new equipment and tactics. Lehr would be on point, attacking on a narrow front just three and a half miles wide and quickly overwhelming the defenders. The second, or exploitation, echelon included 26th Panzer Division under General Smilo von Lüttwitz and the experienced 29th Panzergrenadier Division under General Walter Fries, along with a battalion each of Mark V Panther and Mark VI Tiger tanks in support.

Fischfang kicked off at 6:30 am on February 16th with a general barrage by virtually every German gun at Anzio. As always, the assault troops moved out smartly, with the first wave--Infantry Lehr Regiment, 3rd Panzergrenadier and 715th Divisions--throwing back the outposts of the British 56th and U.S. 45th Infantry Divisions. Allied artillery soon responded in kind. The Germans estimated a 20-1 Allied superiority in guns, although it might have seemed like a 1000-1 to the poor Landser at the front. German Panzers struggled to get for-ward over the muddy ground, and even in areas where the ground was hard enough for tank operations, a tangled network of gullies blocked the advance. Losses were heavy on both sides, reflecting big firepower on a small front, and by day's end, the Germans had ground forward less than a mile south out of Aprilia. The Allied line had held. Indeed, the VI Corps still had not inserted its reserve, the Sherman tanks of the U.S. 1st Armored Division.

Despite that gloomy first day, the Germans, too, held uncommitted reserves: the 29th Panzergrenadier and 26th Panzer Divisions. The German command spent the night of February 16th-17th debating how best to employ them. Kesselring was for inserting them into battle immediately, Mackensen and LXXVI Panzer Corps commander Herr wanted to wait and see perhaps another day of wearing down the Allies would create more favorable conditions for a breakthrough and then a quick shot down to Anzio. In the end they compromised. The first wave was to continue the attack during the night, giving the enemy no respite, probing and infiltrating the Allied line where possible, with the Panzers in support. Come daybreak, they would see where they were and make plans accordingly.

By dawn on February 17th, they all looked like geniuses. The night attacks pried open a gap between the U.S. 179th and 157th Infantry regiments just before midnight, then exploited the gap with infantry and 60 tanks. Morning saw the Germans again on the march, ripping a two-mile gash in 45th Division's front and advancing over a mile. One mile is hardly the stuff of operational legend, but Anzio was only eight miles away. Turning an Allied operational problem into a near catastrophe, the 179th tried to withdraw in the afternoon in broad daylight, an inept move that brought down a storm of German fire and led to heavy losses.

The crisis was upon the Allies, and they spent February 17th doing what they had done when facing a failing beachhead at Salerno, blasting away with every gun they could muster: field artillery, naval guns, re-purposed 90-mm. antiaircraft guns, main gun fire from the tanks of 1st Armored Division. But this crisis called for more, and the Allies got it: 730 sorties by the XII Tactical Air Command, perhaps the greatest day of ground support in military history up to that point. Topping it off was the carpet-bombing: 288 B-24 and B-17 bombers dropping over 1,100 tons of ordnance on this tiny battlefield. Beaten at the game of fire, German momentum slowed, then stopped, and the second day ended with the Wehrmacht again short of a breakthrough.

Now the Germans faced a crisis. Their losses were staggering. The first-wave divisions were ghosts, and their infantry battalions, the backbone of divisional fighting strength, had just 120-150 men apiece. But Mackensen still had two untouched mechanized divisions in reserve: 29th Panzergrenadier and 26th Panzer. Both were full strength, led by aggressive Prussian commanders of the old school, Fries for the 29th, Lüttwitz for the 26th. As the war had shown again and again, German forces rarely admitted defeat before they had inserted their final reserve. While German commanders rarely defended to the last man, they almost always fought forward to the last. One staff officer spoke for them all when he declared, "we could not possibly break off a half-won battle at five minutes to midnight."

When the big attack came on day three of Fischfang, it very nearly cracked the Allied line. Mackensen had the mechanized divisions abreast, a huge force by Anzio standards, and spent the day riding them hard, probing for weak spots, and shifting his Schwerpunkt as he glimpsed opportunities. German artillery played a key role from its hidden positions in the mountain, and for once the Germans had enough tanks at the point of impact. Once again, the Germans tore a gash in the Allied front, overrunning the hard-luck U.S. 179th Infantry Regiment and heading south towards the objective that now seemed within their grasp.

By afternoon they had hustled the Americans back to the "Corps Beachhead Line"--a fortified position anchored on the hill mass just north of Anzio. All day long, fighting raged along Route 82, the lateral east-west road that stretched along the CBL. The two focal points for the slaughter were a crossroads position called the "Flyover," actually an overpass where Route 82 crossed over the Anzio Road, and a tangled mass of sandstone rock to the right of the Flyover called "the Caves."

The CBL was the last ditch for the Allies, and the ultimate objective for the Germans. Every step the Allies took backward was a step closer to disaster. From where they stood on Route 82, there were not even seven miles from the ocean. But just one mile behind them lay the command post of the 45th Infantry Division, and if the tanks of 29th Panzergrenadier overran it, the battle was as good as over. For the Germans, every bound forward brought them closer to victory, but also seemed to increase Allied fire exponentially. Allied guns in the Padiglione Wood just south of Route 82 were less than a mile away, and the British and American gunners might as well have been delivering their shells by hand. The Germans had penetrated in the center, but not on the flanks, and were driving themselves into a cul-de-sac of Allied artillery. The German high water mark came late in the afternoon, when a few Panzers actually passed under the Flyover before being drilled by U.S. antitank fire. By now casualties in the assault divisions--26th Panzer and 29th Panzergrenadier--had topped 40%. The forward drive tapered off, then stopped. The Wehrmacht had failed to crush the beachhead at Anzio. In a single bloody month, each side had taken 20,000 casualties on a battlefield the size of a closet. While neither had been able to force a decision, it was clear that the Allied beachhead wasn't going anywhere.

Anzio was more than a single, failed attack. It was frustrating moment for every German officer present, indeed, for the German way of war itself. From the moment the Al-lies invaded Italy, the Werhmacht had met their every move forward with an immediate and vicious counterattack. During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the U.S. Army wound up with a Panzer division in its face within hours of landing. In September 1943, the landing force at Salerno got six of them within a few days and came very close to being driven back into the sea. The same thing happened at Anzio: a powerful Panzer attack on the bridgehead that again came within a hair of success. From Frederick the Great, with his preference for "short and lively wars" and his insistence that "the Prussian Army always attacks," down to General Paul Conrath of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division, who once summed up his art of war as "an immediate, reckless rush at the enemy," Prussian-German armies lived by the offensive and by coordinated attacks along concentric lines.

But those keeping score will note that none of it had worked. The Allies always seemed to endure. Enemy numbers, fire superiority, and battlefield experience all conspired to rob the once irresistible Panzer thrust of its force. Kampfkraft, the "combat power" that formed the essence of the Wehrmacht at war, was no longer enough. To Colonel Westphal, the abortive attack at Anzio and the blizzard of Allied fire that smothered it was the key moment of the entire conflict, a turning point "similar to August 8th, 1918." It was time to face facts. "The blanket has gotten too thin," he noted bitterly, using an old peasant expression for lean times. “After almost five years of war, the troops were no longer capable of the attack. Most of the commanders we'd trained in peacetime were pushing up daisies. Their successors couldn't consistently coordinate the fire of the various arms for maximum concentration in combat.”

"No longer capable of the attack": ominous words indeed for a way of war that lived and died by the offensive.On that muddy field of Anzio, an old way of war bowed to a new one, based on industry, mass production, and mountains of high explosive. The Allied way of war wasn't particularly pretty, but it blew up enough things and killed enough people to get the job done. At Anzio, an ordinary bunch of guys in olive drab named Joe were all that stood between the Panzers and their prey. Never again would the Wehrmacht come this close. With 29th Panzergrenadier Division, Tiger tanks, and three hundred years of military tradition bearing down on him, Joe met the Last Charge of the Prussians and blunted it.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of MHQ magazine.


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It’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at the ironic proximity, a mere stone’s throw away, between the veterans club, draped in American flags, and a neighborhood named after the country that caused the largest number of casualties in the history of the U.S. Army. When I asked three of the soldiers what they know about the enclave across the street, they looked at each in confusion and had nothing to say.

But after two had left, the third, Mike, approached me and said quietly, “I’ve heard that Adolf Hitler himself came to visit there in the mid-1930s. You can find it on the internet. Some people swore they saw him meet with local residents.”

One can say with a fair degree of certainty that Hitler never set foot on the paths of this isolated neighborhood. But this rumor, which Mike repeated several times, didn’t merely make him grimace in revulsion it also says something about the mystery that to this day surrounds the community, whose land is owned by an organization called German American Settlement League. It’s a black hole located 100 kilometers and an hour’s drive from the heart of Manhattan, in Suffolk County.

“It’s like a state within a state, no one knows what really happens there,” Mike added, taking a long drag on his cigarette.

Even this vet, someone who seems as if he stopped having any accounts to settle with anyone a long time ago, wasn’t willing to be photographed for this article, or even to give me his full name. “The last thing I need is to get in trouble with them,” he said, by way of explanation.

“We do not know anything about them,” added Mike. “Sometimes we see vehicles coming in and out of the neighborhood, but that’s about it. They do not want anything to do with us, and the truth is that we don’t want anything to do with them either.

“In any case, even if I wanted I’m not allowed in their neighborhood. They don’t want me there, only Germans are welcome. Last week a local news crew got there and they forcibly kicked them out. Not to mention if you are black The only things we know about them is from what we read in the newspapers.”

The entrance to German Gardens today. This street was formerly called Adolf Hitler Strasse. Natan Dvir

When Mike says he’s not welcome in Yaphank, he’s basing his view mainly on the large sign that hung for decades at the entrance to the neighborhood, which stated unambiguously: "German American Settlement League. Private community. Members and guests only."

Last week, surprisingly, the GASL sign was removed. But the neighborhood is still private property, and it’s quite clear that outside guests still aren’t welcome. For instance, when the Haaretz Magazine photographer who accompanied me on my visit pulled out his camera near one of the houses, the elderly owner came out and gave us an angry look that was hard to misinterpret. His wife came out after him and urged him to stay calm.

Another resident, a man in his seventies, was working his garden farther down the street. “I am a proud American. All my whole life I have worked in the public sector,” the man said, evidently thinking it was important to tell me this straight off. He was wearing a black shirt with “Germany” embroidered on it in yellow letters and said he had moved to the neighborhood nine years ago.

“Everything they are writing about us is nonsense, an invention of the media,” he added. “It’s true that once, many years ago, this place was connected to the Nazi Party, but that’s not the case today. It’s irrelevant.”

He was not willing to say any more than that, and refused to give us his name or let us take a photo of him. “We are not allowed to talk to the media without their permission,” he said. “If they know I’ve talked to you, I can get into troubles.”

Renamed streets

Who are “they”? The settlement league, which owns the land and drafted the rigid bylaws that dictate quite a few aspects of life to the neighborhood’s 45 families.

A brief walk around the sleepy neighborhood raises no suspicions of anything unusual about its character or history. There’s no sign of the swastikas that were once hung proudly in almost every window, and the streets named after Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels have long since been renamed. What remain are the winding paths, the numerous trees, the low houses and the members’ club at the entrance to the enclave, which looks from the outside like a typical moshav (cooperative agricultural community) in northern Israel.

The army veterans club across from German Gardens. “It’s like a state within a state, no one knows what really happens there,” says one vet. Natan Dvir

The order and cleanliness are also immediately apparent. The houses are old, but amazingly well cared for. Each is surrounded by a carpet of grass and sits on a generous plot of land crowded with fruit trees.

But despite the large plots, the houses themselves are of modest size. Their restrained character and traditional design stand in sharp contrast to the modern style of the large private houses, with garages and swimming pools, that one finds in many nearby towns.

The tiny staircases at the entrance to each house are lined with flowering plants, and wind chimes hang from the doors, tinkling in the breeze. Some of the lawns have small stone statues other yards have hammocks stretched between two trees. There is also the members’ club and a large lake a few dozen meters from the houses.

Some people would find the isolation and the pastoral atmosphere here attractive. But one thing is indisputable: the existence of a historic stain on this place, which for years was an active Nazi enclave in the heart of the most Jewish state in America.

Local radicalization

Until the 1920s, Yaphank was just another sleepy blue-collar locale in the middle of Long Island, like hundreds of others throughout New York State. It had many farms, a large grocery store, a train station, a few modest restaurants and one barber shop.

In this May 22, 1938 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives, a large swastika is surrounded by a white picket fence at Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, N.Y. AP

What happened thereafter must be seen from a broad perspective that has a direct connection to the emergence of radical ideologies in Europe after World War I. The ugly wave that swept over the Continent at that time, from Mussolini in Italy to Hitler in Germany, didn’t skip over the United States, which, in the shadow of the Great Depression, underwent a dangerous societal radicalization.

One expression of this radicalization occurred in 1924, when a German immigrant named Fritz Gissibl decided to establish a branch of the Nazi Party in Chicago. The ideas he espoused – a combination of Nazi ideology and American patriotism laced with anti-Semitism and xenophobia – appealed to many Americans. After all, there was no lack of anti-Semites, people who hated communism also abounded, and Ku Klux Klan supporters found an ideological ally and partner in the new movement that Gissibl started, which changed its names five times in the coming decades and was originally called the Free Society of Teutonia.

At that time, 15 years before the outbreak of World War II, American patriotism and German Nazism could grow in the same ideological hothouse without confronting Americans with a moral dilemma. Later, in 1937, the bylaws of the movement – by that time called the German American Federation, or Bund – were reapproved at a large event in New York, where it was declared that the members' goal was “uphold and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States” and “remain worthy of our Germanic blood, our German motherland, our German brothers and sisters.”

Another example of the way the burgeoning pro-Nazi movement sought to hitch a ride on American patriotism in order to recruit activists was a large event held in Yaphank in 1940 to mark the birthday of America’s founding father, George Washington. In their invitation to the event, which opened with participants singing the American anthem and saluting the flag, the organizers wrote that its goal was “to do honor to and defend the Constitution, flag, and institutions of the United States” and to “oppose by all lawful means all international or internal subversive phenomena, tending to undermine or overthrow the National Republic of these United States or the Christian civilization upon which it is built.”

What about Germany? In that same invitation, the leaders promised to “combat all anti-Germanism as reflected in the libelous slanderous attacks in the political, religious, cultural, economic, and civic fields.”

“With mainstream strands of anti-Semitism, popularity of the Ku Klux Klan and worsening economic conditions in the Great Depression, German-American ultra-nationalism provided a voice for thousands in America,” wrote Prof. Ryan Shaffer, a historian at Stony Brook University in New York, in a 2010 article in the Long Island History Journal entitled "Long Island Nazis: A Local Synthesis of Transnational Politics." “This was another side to the ‘melting pot’ theory by demonstrating how two different traditions converged in the United States with immigrant families offering new ideas to their local communities.”

In this May 22, 1938 photo provided by the New York City Municipal Archives the front gate of Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, N.Y. AP

Gissibl's movement was an immediate success. Within a short time, it had spread far beyond Chicago, with branches in cities throughout the United States, including Detroit, Newark and New York. American government agencies kept an eye on it, but they weren’t yet worried enough to do anything about it. Citing federal documents, Shaffer wrote that “at least half of the members in 1926 were affiliated and associated with [what was then called] the Adolf Hitler Party."

Indeed Gissibl didn’t try to hide his admiration for the Fuehrer. In 1932, he changed the name of his organization to the Friends of the Hitler Movement. Four years later, he returned to Germany and was given a senior post in the Nazi Party’s propaganda organization. Only after he left did the movement change its name again, to the German American Federation Bund.

Aryan blood

Yaphank became one of the American Nazi movement’s main centers of activity during those years. In 1935, the German American Settlement League bought a large tract of land in the town, which soon became a Nazi enclave meant solely for those with pure Aryan blood in their veins. “You will meet people who think like you” read the fliers that were disseminated, inviting people of German origin to move there. And the main street, which ran the entire length of the town, was unsurprisingly called Adolf Hitler Strasse.

The crown jewel of Yaphank’s activity, however, wasn’t the modest living conditions, but the summer camp it hosted for youth. Camp Siegfried, which was created in 1935 and occupied 220 dunams (about 50 acres) of what is today the German Gardens neighborhood, was meant to train future generations of the Nazi movement.

“The choice of Yaphank was not a coincidence,” said Jill Santiago, an educator at the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity, and Human Understanding. “You have to understand that at the time, during the 1920s and 1930s, one out of every seven residents living in the area was a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. So you can say that by choosing Yaphank they figured they are not going to face too much of a resistance from the local community.”

German magazines at the local grocery store. Some of the most problematic axioms of 70 years ago continue to simmer under the surface. Natan Dvir

The camp, which was for teenagers, was so popular that by the second half of the 1930s, the Long Island Railroad had decided to run a special train every morning from Manhattan to isolated Yaphank, which nobody had even heard of a few years earlier. Every day, local activists waited at the local train station to welcome visitors with the Nazis’ raised-arm salute and cries of death to the Jews and communists. The young people commonly sang songs like "When the Blood of Jews Drips from Knives."

This activity reached its peak in 1938. According to an article published at the time in The New York Times, no fewer than 40,000 people came from all over the area to the German Day festivities at the camp. Today, incidentally, Yaphank’s total population numbers less than 6,000 people.

Sex and rapes

“The camp was used for Bundist youth to learn about camping, hunting, shooting, and even eugenics,” Prof. Shaffer wrote in his article. But these programs weren’t just theoretical: Sexual relations among the teens were not merely common, but encouraged, and took place with the full knowledge of the counselors, who sought to put the Nazis’ theories about improving the Aryan race into practice. According to some testimonies, many violent rapes were also committed in the name of that ideology.

The camp’s permissive atmosphere was undoubtedly fueled by the large quantities of alcohol that were brought there and imbibed by the campers almost around the clock. Salutes and military parades, sometimes in the middle of the night, were also an inseparable part of the camp’s regular activities. ll this, too, ultimately came to an end. After World War II erupted and Germany became an official enemy of the West, the FBI opened an investigation into the leaders of the German American Federation. Fritz Kuhn, who headed the organization, was convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 1939 and sentenced to four years in prison. After his release, he was arrested again – this time on charges of aiding the enemy during wartime – and deported from the United States.

In 1945, the FBI officially shut down Camp Siegfried and even expropriated the land from the GASL, which immediately launched a legal battle. That battle ended with a settlement that is still in force today, under which the league regained control of the land, but forfeited ownership of the houses sitting on that land.

Germanic magazines

More than 70 years have passed since then. The camp is long gone, the local train station stands empty, the swastikas have disappeared and the street names have been changed – although in the local grocery store, one can still find dozens of up-to-date copies of the German magazine “German Times.” But it turns out that some of the most problematic axioms of that time continued to simmer under the surface until quite recently in this locale: first and foremost, the desire to maintain social separation and the purity of the white race, with an emphasis on people with German blood in their veins.

This discriminatory and illegal policy was exposed by Philip Kneer and his wife, Patricia Flynn-Kneer – Americans of German origin, the flesh-and-blood of the closed German Gardens community, who had lived there since 1999. Their problems began six years later, when the couple decided to sell their house. To their surprise, they ran into a wall of restrictions and rigid conditions, which were laid out in the GASL's bylaws and effectively took the entire sale process out of their hands. The goal, the couple said, was clear to everyone: to ensure that the community’s white, Germanic character was maintained.

The Kneers contacted Long Island officials, who filed suit on their behalf against the league. Its bylaws, the couple's lawyer argued, contradict the Fair Housing Act, an American law that forbids any sort of discrimination or preference in buying and selling real estate.

A house in the neighborhood in Yaphank owned by the German-American Settlement League, May 24, 2017. Natan Dvir

For its part, the GASL argued in response that the provisions at issue were nothing but a technical error, unimportant remnants of the 1930s that nobody had remembered to update. But in 1998, the organization itself approved an updated version of the bylaws, which stated explicitly that property owners must be members of the league, which is "primarily open to all persons over 21 years of age or older, of German extraction and of good character and reputation." In the end, after years of denial, the league agreed to an arrangement under which it promised to change its problematic bylaws and to compensate the Kneers to the tune of $175,000.

However, it has recently emerged that despite this agreement, the GASL has continued to implement the same discriminatory policy aimed at ensuring its full control over the character of the German Gardens' residents. This was revealed in May, following a lengthy investigation, by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who announced the immediate annulment of the league's problematic stipulations, this time under the close supervision of state officials.

When approached by Haaretz, league representatives refused to comment on this latest development, aside from reiterating their claim that the neighborhood’s gates have been open to all comers for years.

Even if this indeed presages the end of these racist bylaws, it’s too early to celebrate, says Santiago, the educator from the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity, and Human Understanding.

“There is a lot of anti-Semitism in this area,” she said in a written response to Haaretz’s questions, noting that there is barely any Jewish life in the area, despite the fact that it is located just 100 kilometers from the most Jewish city in America. Just recently, she wrote, one of the few synagogues in the area that had still active was forced to shut its doors.

“The Jewish community is crumbling,” Santiago explained. “Let me tell you how widespread anti-Semitism is in this area. Only in the last two weeks four students were caught spray-painting swastikas on public walls. As part of their punishment they were sent to the center [in Sulfolk], and when I asked them why they did it they could not even explain the significance of the sign they painted. They did it without even realizing the historical significance of the swastika, and yet they still did it.”


Siegfried Westphal : Nazi Germany - History

The Saar Offensive is the name given to a French assault on western Germany during World War II from September 7–16, 1939. In September, 1939, German forces were largely concentrating on fighting and defeating Poland, which at that stage was still an active adversary. While they were so engaged, French soldiers made a somewhat hesitant advance on to German soil. The attack was not a success, and by the end of the month, the French forces had been withdrawn.

The Offensive Begins

On September 7, 1939, while the war was still in its first week, the General Staff of France decided to launch what they referred to as Operation Saar. Under the ultimate direction of Commander-in-Chief Louis Faury, the French Third, Fourth, and Fifth Armies crossed on to German soil. Maurice Gamelin was the general in direct command of the offensive, which saw a large number of mechanized infantry divisions cross the German border by September 9.

At first, French progress was relatively swift and smooth, with only very limited resistance being encountered. In a few sectors, minefields delayed the French troops’ advance – albeit for only a couple of days. One village is reported as having blocked the advance by use of a single machine gun, but this does seem to have been the exception rather than the rule. By September 12, the front line had pushed about five miles into Third Reich territory – but this proved to be the limit of the forward movement achieved by Gamelin’s men.

Once Germany had regrouped and reorganized its troops, they swiftly became too strong for the French armies to hold, and on September 21, General Gamelin was forced to order his soldiers to retreat. Despite some differences of opinion between Gamelin and his superior, Giraud, the French forces withdrew toward the Maginot Line, and by October 17, there were no such troops still stationed on German soil. The Saar Offensive had proved to be a nearly complete failure.

The German Reaction

By the beginning of October, 1939, Poland was effectively defeated, with most of its troops having already surrendered to the German army. This allowed Germany to transfer large numbers of men from the Eastern to the Western Front, in order to repulse the French invaders. Before long, German guns were able to pound forward positions near the Maginot Line itself, and planes of the Luftwaffe were able to operate with near-impunity, making France’s position almost impossible.

On October 16, Erwin von Witzleben, in command of the German first army, led a major action against the French forces. Although only a few square miles of territory were actively contested, it was a bitter and bloody battle, with almost 200 German soldiers losing their lives. This made it the most significant engagement on the Franco-German border during the early part of World War Two, not to be surpassed until Germany began its invasion of France in 1940.

Assessment

The failure of the Saar Offensive resulted in a lengthy period of stand-off, usually known as the Phoney War, in which there was little large-scale fighting in the region. Some authorities, including General Siegfried Westphal of Germany, have suggested that a more substantial push by the French invaders could have resulted in considerably more territorial gains – perhaps even extending as far as the heavily industrialized Ruhr valley region. The Offensive’s failure paved the way for France’s demoralization and eventual defeat over the following nine months.


7. The Premature and Overly Ambitious Operation Market Garden

Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. September 1944.

In June 1944 Allied forces landed at Normandy. In the months that followed, France was liberated, but they needed to invade Germany itself. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wanted to open a route to Germany through the Netherlands.

He wished to avoid the Siegfried Line, a string of forts along the border of France. He also wished to strike at Germany’s important industrial center in the Ruhr, depriving Germany of vital resources and shortening the war.

The plan involved his British, American, Polish and Dutch troops securing important bridges along the Meuse, Waal and Lower Rhine Rivers. He used airborne troops for this purpose. The campaign began well, on September 17, with the capture of bridges at Arnhem and Grave.

However, the advance of ground troops faltered when the enemy blew up a bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son. The supply line for the Allied troops rapidly became overstretched and weak, and the important bridge on the Waal at Nijmegen was not captured until September 20.

Nijmegen Bridge XXXCorps Cromwell tanks head for Arnhem.

At Arnhem, there was a further setback. The British 1st Airborne Division miscalculated the strength of the defenders, and they were overwhelmed at the Arnhem Bridge on September 21.

What remained of the division was bottled up at Oosterbeek and was eventually evacuated across the Rhine River on September 25.

The Allies had seriously underestimated German strength in the Netherlands. They had hoped to end the war by Christmas 1944, but it was until March the following year that the Rhine was finally crossed.


Siegfried Westphal

Siegfried Carl Theodor Westphal (18 March 1902 – 2 July 1982) was a German general in the Wehrmacht during World War II. He served as operations officer under Rommel and chief of staff under Kesselring and Rundstedt. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany.

Westphal surrendered to the American troops in May 1945 and acted as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials. He was released in 1947. He wrote a book The German Army in the West which was published in 1952. He appears in a number of interview segments of The World at War.


Watch the video: Siegfried: Act III Scene 2: Mein Voglein schwebte mir fort! Siegfried, Wanderer