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British error killed WW2 camp inmates

IN one of the worst "friendly fire" disasters of World War II, British planes bombed and shot up to 10,000 concentration camp inmates in the last hours of the war, according to a new documentary film.

Some of the British pilots who took part in the attack on four Nazi floating prisons in the Baltic on May 3, 1945, three days after Adolf Hitler's suicide, learned only recently that most of the dead were allies and not diehard Nazi SS troops as they believed.

"The Typhoon's Last Storm," by Paris-based US film maker Lawrence Bond, includes shocking testimony by rare survivors recounting how Royal Air Force planes returned time and again to strafe swimmers who survived the initial attacks.

Former RAF pilots who flew in the mission are shown telling Bond they were told the ships carried Nazi leaders and troops trying to flee crumbling Germany to make a last stand in Norway, then still in German hands.

"We used our cannon fire at the chaps in the water...we shot them up with 20 mm cannons in the water. Horrible thing, but we were told to do it and we did it. That's war," said Allan Wyse, formerly of 193 Fighter Squadron.

David Ince, who led one of the aircraft formations, said the RAF pilots had just learned of conditions in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, newly liberated by British troops, and had no qualms about killing people they thought were Nazis.

Other pilots said they flew out with reports ringing in their ears of Allied pilots executed after bailing out over Germany.

Survivor's testimony

"I saw people killed. When they got hit, their bodies would jerk and sink into the water," said Maurice Choquet, then a teenager, captured by the Nazis during a sweep against "maquis" guerrilla bands during their occupation of France.

"I could do nothing so I just held onto my plank. Then the planes came back again, right down on the water firing their machine guns," he said.

Some of the prisoners, Resistance fighters and Jews from 24 European countries, managed to stumble ashore only to be shot dead on beaches near Lubeck, north Germany, by members of the Hitler Youth movement or by SS troops, the survivors said.

"Although there was an investigation after the war, references to the operation in official histories mention the sinking of the ships but do not say who the people were that they were carrying," Bond said.

Military specialists and people in northern Germany are aware of the incident but it is not widely known. "It was one last horror forgotten in the joys of victory celebrations," Bond said.

"Some of the pilots only learned about what happened when I interviewed them for the film. For some of them, the mission just stood out because it was their last operation of the war."

The film, which had its premiere in the United States this month, is expected to be shown on European television channels later this spring, Bond said.


The prisoners were from one of the largest concentration camps on German soil at Neuengamme, near Hamburg, which was ordered to be evacuated as Allied forces advanced deeper into Germany.

An order by SS commander Heinrich Himmler, dated April 15, said no concentration camp inmate should fall alive into Allied hands, presumably so their ordeal should not be known, and tens of thousands died on death marches across Poland and Germany.

A post-war British investigation blamed the SS for the disaster but criticized RAF intelligence for failing to pass on to operational planners data indicating the ocean liners Cap Arcona and Deutschland and the smaller vessels Thielbek and Athen might be loaded with prisoners.

"The RAF had seen SS troops on the decks, not the prisoners packed in the holds and a reconnaissance aircraft which flew over the ships before the attack was fired at with anti-aircraft guns.

"I asked for more information but the RAF declined to give it to me on the grounds the investigation is still open - 55 years later," Bond said.

The film's sound track includes a poignant musical score played by a survivor, violinist Francis Akos, then a Hungarian deportee and now a member of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra.

"There were those who had spent three, four, five years in camps and were killed on those ships bombed by the Allies on the last day of the war. That was terrible," he said.

Bond says that when he wrote to the pilots who took part in the attack, one reply was from a rabbi in northern England.

"I didn't know the pilot was Jewish." The rabbi said the man's family had asked him to answer in the ex-pilot's place because they feared that if he was ever forced to talk about the incident, his sanity would not remain unscathed.

(Agencies via Xinhua)

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