Execution of German General Anton Dostler
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Well, were it not for this incident, it is quite likely that few people would have ever heard of General Anton Dostler. His military career was not particularly noteworthy and until June 1943, he never commanded anything larger than an infantry division. On December 1, 1944, Dostler was given command of LXXIII Army-Corps, which was part of General Gustav von Zangen’s “Army Group Zangen”, that was in turn subordinated to Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s “Army Group South”. By all accounts, Dostler did not take his assignment very seriously and spent most of his time absent from headquarters in order to be with his mistress. Despite his rather lax approach to his duties, the one characteristic Dostler did display was a deep admiration for Hitler and unwavering support of the Nazi cause. Dostler was extremely intolerant of officers or men that expressed even a hint of disloyalty to Hitler, and he did not hesitate to remove those from his command that were foolish enough to speak ill of the Fuhrer. It was this blind faith in Hitler which helped create the situation that earned him the label of “war criminal” and ultimately cost him his life.
To understand things a bit better though, one needs to look back to October 18, 1942, which was the day Hitler issued his infamous “Commando Order”. The order seems to have been in reaction to a British commando raid in the Channel Islands during which five German soldiers were captured then summarily executed. Hitler viewed this as clear evidence that the British had chosen (at least in regard to commando operations) to function outside the norms of international law, and thus decided to act in kind. The legal basis cited by Reich military lawyers for issuance of the Commando Order was the Hague Conventions. Though not specifically mentioned within the conventions, international law that resulted from it regarding the conduct of war did recognize the right to take “reprisals” for acts committed which were deemed to fall under the category of “illegitimate warfare”. From Hitler’s perspective, commando operations constituted “illegitimate warfare”. The decision to draft and implement the Commando Order was not greeted warmly by many members of the German High Command, in particular General Jodl. When Hitler’s army adjutant, Major Rudolf Schmundt, approached Jodl and informed him of what the Fuhrer wanted, Jodl’s response was “Please give him my best regards, but I will not issue an order like that”. Despite Jodl’s objections, Hitler drafted the order himself and instructed it be distributed selectively and secretly. From that point forward, any Allied commando that was captured, either in or out of uniform, faced the prospect of an immediate death sentence.
The fifteen Americans that were captured on March 24, 1944 were part of an OSS operation codenamed “Ginny” that was an offshoot of an Allied strategic bombing campaign called “Operation Strangle”. The intent of “Strangle” was to disrupt and cut communication and supply lines between German forces in northern Italy and those in the central part of the country. The target of “Ginny” was a railway tunnel located approximately fifteen miles northwest of La Spezia near a small rail stop named “Stazione di Framura”. Aerial bombardment of the tunnel had proved ineffective, so the decision was made to send in an OSS team to demolish it with explosives. The men selected were Americans of Italian descent who spoke the language with varying degrees of fluency. This created quite a bit of confusion when they were first taken prisoner because they did not identify themselves immediately as Americans, but instead spoke to their captors in Italian. The clothing they wore was stated to have been U.S. Army field uniforms, but they bore no markings or insignia indicating they were in fact American soldiers. When under interrogation they admitted to being American, the Germans thought they might be members of a scouting party seeking possible landing sites for an invasion force. One of the interrogators, a German naval intelligence officer, managed to trick one of the Americans into revealing the true mission; that being sabotage. Unfortunately for the Americans, when General Dostler was informed of this, his mind immediately went to the Commando Order. A debate began among Dostler’s staff as to whether the Commando Order should be implemented or not, largely because the order stated that if any commando was not killed in action but instead captured, they were to be turned over to the SD. In any event, an order was issued to execute the Americans and this took place on March 26th.
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