The History of the British Free Corps
For those who have visited this site before and have read the unit history, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. I first became aware of the British Free Corps in Osprey's "Men-At-Arms #34: The Waffen-SS". In this book, they had a color plate of a BFC man and passed off the unit as being "near morons...[and] contemptible traitors...and never saw combat." This seemed to be quite harsh and when I searched online for more information, I found for sale at a bookstore Richard Landwehr's booklet "Britisches Freikorps" and purchased it. In this telling of the unit, Landwehr went into much more depth on the unit and showed it to be a fairly workable unit, not without trouble, of course, but also that it saw battle against the Russians. Recently, however, it has come to light that Landwehr's work is unreliable and filled with untruths and embellishments. To this end, I obtained a copy of Adrian Weale's "Renegades:Hitler's Englishmen" and finally, an objective and very detailed account of the BFC was to be had. And it was rather eye-opening. Weale's book gets into fascist movements in England and the main leaders of them prior to World War Two, setting the stage for how some of them became involved with Germany and what led to the BFC. I will only touch on the BFC as a unit and I recommend tracking down Weale's book to get the full depth of information.
The German Waffen-SS "British Free Corps" ( hereafter shortened to BFC ), was the brainchild of John Amery. Amery, whose father was a Conservative MP in the English Parliament, found himself living within the shadow of his successful political parent and as such, he strove to excess to prove himself capable of making it on his own. With failures in these endeavors, it only drove him to more and he joined Franco's Nationalists in Spain in 1936, being awarded a medal of honor while serving as a combat officer with Italian "volunteer" forces. Amery was a staunch anti-Communist and with all of his failings and money problems, he accepted the fascist doctrines of Germany. Following his tour in Spain, he resided in France, under Vichy rule. He ran afoul of the Vichy government ( Amery was displeased with their mind set anyhow ) and made several attempts to leave the area but was rebuffed. It was German armistice commissioner Graf Ceschi who offered Amery the chance to leave France and come to Germany to work in the political arena. Ceschi wasn't able to get Amery out of France but later, in September of 1942, Hauptmann Werner Plack got Amery what he wanted and in October, Plack and Amery went to Berlin to speak to the German English Committee. It was at this time that Amery made the suggestion that the Germans consider forming a British anti-Bolshevik legion. So much so was Amery's suggestions ( in addition to the unit ) taken that Adolf Hitler himself made the motions for Amery to remain in Germany as a guest of the Reich and that Hitler thought highly of the idea of a British force to fight the Communists. The idea languished until Amery met up with two Frenchmen, friends of his, who were part of the LVF ( Legion des Volontaires Francais ) in January of 1943. The two LVF men lamented about the poor situation on the Eastern Front but that they saw that only Germany was battling the Russians and thus, despite all, they should still lend support with their LVF service. Amery rekindled his British unit concept, wanting to form a 50 to 100 man unit for propaganda uses and also to seek out a core base of men with which to gain additional members from British POW camps. He also suggested that such a unit would also provide more recruits for the other military units made up of other nationals. It seemed that the Germans were already ahead of Amery and had already undertaken some consideration, a military order saying "The Fuhrer is in agreement with the establishment of an English legion...The only personnel who should come into the framework should be former members of the English fascist party or those with similar ideology - also quality, not quantity." As it is to be seen, this last bit would prove to be very difficult to obtain.
With the go-ahead, Amery set down write two works which covered his German radio talks ( which were allowed to be broadcast but with a disclaimer which stated his comments were not those of the German government ) and that he suggested the unit be called "The British Legion of St. George". Amery's first recruiting drive took him to the St. Denis POW camp outside Paris. 40 to 50 inmates from various British Commonwealth countries were assembled. Amery addressed them, handing out recruiting material. The end result was failure. Still, efforts continued at St. Denis and finally bore some fruit. Professor Logio ( an old academic man ), Maurice Tanner , Oswald Job, and Kenneth Berry ( a 17 year old deck boy on the SS Cymbeline which was sunk at sea ) came forward. Logio was released while Job was recruited away by the German intelligence, trained as a spy, and ended up being caught while trying to get into England and hung in March of 1944. Thus, Amery ended up with two men, of which only Berry would actually join what was later called the BFC. Amery's link to what would become the BFC ended in October of 1943 when the Waffen-SS decided Amery's services were no longer needed and it was officially renamed the British Free Corps.
With Amery's initial recruiting methods being seen as a failure, another idea was to be tried in an attempt to woo POWs to join the BFC. Given the harsh conditions of POW camps in Germany and the occupied areas, it was decided to form a "holiday camp" for likely recruits from POW camps. Two holiday camps were set up, Special Detachment 999 and Special Detachment 517, both under the umbrella of Stalag IIId in the Berlin locale. These camps were overseen by Arnold Hillen-Ziegfeld of the English Committee. English speaking guards were used, overseen by a German intelligence officer, who would use the guards as information gatherers. But a Englishman was needed as possible conduit for volunteers and in this, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant John Henry Owen Brown of the Royal Artillery was selected. Brown was a interesting character. He was a member of the British Union of Fascists ( BUF ) but also a devout Christian. His ability to play both sides would serve him well. Captured on the beaches of Dunkirk in May of 1940, Brown eventually ended up in a camp at Blechhammer. Given his rank, he was made a foreman of a work detail and he also began to work into the confidence of the Germans. What Brown was doing, in reality, was setting up a black market scheme, smuggling in contraband and using it to give to his men and also to buy off the guards. Later, Brown was taught POW message codes created by MI9 of the British intelligence service and he began to operate as a "self-made spy" as he called himself. With his status, he was called to be the camp leader of Special Detachment 517. At this time, another Englishmen, Thomas Cooper ( who used the German version of Cooper, Bottcher, as his last name ), arrived at the camp. Cooper, unable to obtain public service employ in England due to his mother being German, joined the British Union ( the shortened name of the BUF ) and eventually left England on the promise that he could get work in German with the Reichs Arbeits Dienst ( RAD ). As it turned out, this was not to be in the end and finally, he joined the Waffen-SS ( who, unlike the Army, would take British nationalities ). He was posted to the famous SS "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" ( LAH ), underwent basic training, then was placed into artillery training. This did not last for long and he was transferred to the infamous SS "Totenkopf" infantry training battalion. Trained all over again in infantry tactics, he was moved to the position of machinegun trainer with the 5th. Totenkopf Regiment and made an NCO, staying there until February of 1941 until moved to the Wachbattaillon Oranienburg unit outside Krakow, Poland. During this time, Cooper was reported ( by post-war BFC men ) to have participated in atrocities against Russian and Polish POWs and civilians, including the Jewish. In January of 1943, Cooper was transferred to the SS-Polizei-Division as a transport driver. The unit was posted to the Leningrad front and once in a Russian town called Schablinov, they were told they'd be put into the line to replace the mangled forces of the Spanish Blue Division. By February 13, 1943, the Russians went on the attack again and broke through the SS-Polizei lines. Cooper was wounded in the legs by shell splinters, evacuated out, and was awarded the Wound Badge in Silver, the only Englishman to obtain a combat decoration. During his recovery, Cooper came into contact with the camp and upon learning about the purpose, was given orders to join the project.
Brown, being a crafty and streetwise person, saw the real deal behind the camp and he correctly came to the conclusion that he was in a very unique position to both hinder the formation of the unit as well as obtain intelligence ( and he also would make sure the men who came to the camp actually got a holiday ). Brown set about winning the confidence of his German handlers and surround himself with trustworthy POWs and when the first batch of 200 POWs rolled into the camp, things did not turn out for the better. Brown and his men were doing their best to entertain the prisoners while Cooper and other pro-Nazi men worked the crowd, seeking ex-BUF members or other ex-Fascist group members as well as finding out attitudes about the Communists. However, this resulted in displeasure and many of the POWs wanted to be sent back to their camps. To try and qualm this, it was asked of the most senior British POW, one Major-General Fortune, to send a representative to the camp to inspect it and assure the men it was on the up-and-up. Brigadier Leonard Parrington was selected and was sent to the camp. He gave a speech, had a look at the facilities, and said it was indeed a holiday camp and not to worry. He did not know the real truth and took it for what it looked like. Brown did not feel safe in informing Parrington of the purpose of the camp. This visit was successful in calming the situation but when the POWs were sent back to their respective camps, only one confirmed recruit was gained, Alfred Vivian Minchin, a merchant seamen whose ship, the SS Empire Ranger, was sunk off Norway by German bombers. Others kept the BFC in mind as they were sent off. Brown, following the first batch, learned of the full scope of the project from Carl Britten. Britten said he'd been forced into the BFC by Cooper and Leonard Courlander. Brown was unable to persuade Britten to quit the BFC, but MI9 got a very revealing transmission from Brown.
A bombing raid against Berlin damaged a good portion of the camp prior to a second batch of POWs being brought in. It was decided to move the campmen to a requisitioned cafe in the Pankow district of Berlin, overseen by Wilhelm "Bob" Rossler, a Germany Army interpreter. Prior to the move, the BFC gained two members, Francis George MacLardy of the Royal Army Medical Corps ( he was captured in Belgium ) and Edwin Barnard Martin of the Canadian Essex Scottish Regiment ( Martin was captured at Dieppe in 1942 ). At this time, the BFC numbered seven. POWs continued to roll into the camp once repaired until December of 1944, when it was called to a halt. The reasoning was that the handling of the camp, as stated by Brown, was counter-productive to getting recruits for the BFC since the way the camp was run, fostered distrust. The reality was they had Brown as their front man, who was out for himself but also loyal to the Crown to continue his dangerous game of intelligence gathering and also deterring recruits from joining, which gained him, post-war, the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Oskar Lange, who was overseeing the camps, hit upon another idea to gain recruits, and, it was hoped give him more stature. The earlier holiday camps only entertained long term POWs. Lange's idea, however, was to take newly captured prisoners, who were still in a state of confusion, and work on them while they were vulnerable. This new camp was in Luckenwalde. The camp was headed up by Hauptmann Hellmerich of the German intelligence and his chief interrogator was Feldwebel Scharper. Scharper was not above using blackmail to get what he wanted and his tactics included fear, intimidation, and threats to coerce prisoners into joining.
The first group of POWs to be taken to Luckenwalde were mainly from the Italian theater. One such case of Trooper John Eric Wilson of No.3 Commando illustrated the techniques used by the camp. Upon arrival, he was stripped, made to watch his uniform get ripped to bits, then was given a blanket to cover up with. Placed in a cell with only the blanket and fed 250 grams of bread and a pint of cabbage soup, he was only allowed out to empty the waste bucket. After two days like this, he was taken before a "American", who was in fact Scharper. Wilson was asked his rank, name, number, and date of birth ( to which Wilson lied about his rank, saying he was a staff sergeant ) then returned to his cell. Left alone, a "British POW" would come in from time to time, offer smokes and conduct idle chit-chat. The end result was that the isolation and the mistreatment led to him holding on to the "POW" who showed kindness to him and when dragged before Scharper some days later and offered the choice of joining the BFC or staying in solitary, it can be understood that Wilson chose the BFC. With this initial success, it was deemed this method would be the gateway to expanding the BFC and in turn, 14 men were made to join, including men from such esteemed units as the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Long Range Desert Group.
However, things fell apart when these men, told they would be joining a unit of thousands, ended up in the billets of the cafe and the unit amounted to a handful of men who were more out for the opportunity of freedom or Fascist in leaning. At this time, Edwin Martin attempted to take advantage of the discord ( perhaps to atone for his role in the camp ) to disrupt the BFC but it did not have the desired effect. Two of the men broke away from the cafe and get into the holiday camp 517 to report to Brown who then complained to Cooper. Cooper then addressed the men at the cafe billet and in turn, those who did not want to remain could leave ( though, to prevent the truth about the BFC reaching the general POW population, these men were isolated in a special camp ) and by December of 1943, the BFC had only 8 men.
In spite of the tiny size of the unit, the Waffen-SS continued to work on the BFC. The first step was to appoint an officer. Because of the nature of the BFC, the candidate had to be trustworthy, have a good understanding of english, and also be a skilled leader and have excellent administrative. This job fell to SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Werner Roepke. A very educated man, Roepke's grasp of english came from his time as an exchange student prior to the war. His military service included being a private in the Reichswehr, then as a law man with the Allgemeine-SS, before being called up to duty as a flak officer with the SS-Wiking division. He was made the commander of the BFC in November of 1943. Roepke's first order of business was to determine just what goal of the BFC was and its principles. The first order of business was the name. "The Legion of St. George" was tossed out as being too religious and the "British Legion" was rejected as well since it was in use by a UK World War 1 veterans group. It was Alfred Minchin who suggested "British Free Corps" after reading about the "Freikorps Danmark" in the english version of Signal magazine. Thus, it was accepted ( though, in correspondence, the unit was sometimes called the "Britisches Freikorps" ) officially as the "British Free Corps". That settled, Roepke moved on the purpose of the unit. All the current members told Roepke they wanted to fight the Russians ( as you will see, this was more of telling the Germans what they wanted to hear ) and so, with that settled, it was ordered that the BFC must swell to create at least a single infantry platoon, or 30 men. It was also decreed that no BFC member could be part of any action against British and British Commonwealth forces nor could any BFC member be used to intelligence-gathering. The BFC would be, until a suitable British officer joined the unit, under German command. Other things worked out included the fact that the BFC members would not have to get the German blood tattoo, they did not have to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, nor were they subject to German military law. They would receive the pay equal of the German soldiers for their rank. Finally, it was decided to equip the unit with standard SS uniforms with appropriate insignia.
Roepke put in the order for the BFC to be moved to the St. Michaeli Kloster in Hildesheim and also he put in the order for 800 sets of the special BFC insignia to the SS clothing department. Officially, the BFC came into existence on January 1, 1944. By February of 1944, the BFC made the move to Hildesheim and the Kloster, which was a converted monastery, now the SS Nordic Study Center and also the barracks for foreign workers laboring for the SS. Prior to the move, things for the BFC men were pretty idle but after the move, recruiting was to be stepped up. Of the group who left the BFC in December, the rumor that they would be sent to a SS run stalag, caused some of them to rethink their decision and three of them returned. Two new recruits were gained, including Private Thomas Freeman of the 7 Commando of Layforce. Freeman was to be the only BFC man who did not receive any punishment post-war for his membership, as MI5 stated his only purpose for joining the BFC was to escape and also to sabotage the unit. At this time, Roepke ordered all of the BFC men to assume a false names for official documents but some did not do so. The BFC were also issued their first SS field uniforms, but without any insignia. Tasks were now assigned to the BFC members as well, which lead to some factionalism. Despite having duties, the majority of the time was spent being idle once simple chores such as cleaning the billets and such were done.
This idleness was to Freeman a chance to ruin the BFC by going after those who weren't Fascist or strong anti-Communist. By gaining them to his side, especially since the main pro-Nazi BFC men were often away from the barracks, Freeman sought to form a rift in the unit. He was able to go on one of the recruiting drives ( which were still being carried out ) and even get ahead of the line to being made the senior NCO of the BFC. Freeman's purpose for going on the recruiting drive was to gain men for his own ends. It netted three men, though one left soon after, being returned to his camp.
In April of 1944, the BFC was issued its distinctive insignia, the three lion passant collar tab, the Union Jack arm shield, and the cuff title bearing "British Free Corps" in Gothic-script. Britten, who had been tasked as the unit tailor, spent most of a day sewing all the items onto the BFC members tunics. On the morning of April 20, 1944 ( which was Hitler's birthday ), the BFC was paraded in full uniform and addressed by Roepke who said that now that the BFC was full-fledged ( by being issued uniforms, weapons, and pay books ), recruiting can begin in earnest. Promotions were also handed out at this time, with Freeman getting his NCO slot. Following the parade, the BFC members went off to various camps throughout Germany and Austria. The idea was to send the men to camps which they had been formally interned in. The idea, however, was very flawed and did not help recruiting in the slightest. All told, this recruiting drive netted six new members. During one such drive, Berry confided in a camp leader about his predicament, the leader saying he should seek out the Swiss embassy in Berlin, which Berry did not follow up on. Two of these recruits, John Leister and Eric Pleasants, both not wanting to get involved with the war, got caught up in it when the Germans took over the Channel Islands and put them both the camps since they were of military age. While not initially taking up the BFC offer, they talked it out and if the BFC should return, they'd join up. Why? Because the both of them were tired of slim food rations, did not like being away from the company of women, disliked the camp life, and also because the both of them hated being deprived of their freedom for a war they wanted no part in. In fact, Pleasants even admitted to Minchin and Berry that he "was in it to have a good time."
All of the drives found the BFC numbering 23 men. This worried Freeman because if the unit reached 30, then the BFC would be incorporated into the SS-"Wiking" division and sent into action. To prevent this, Freeman took it upon himself to stop it. He drafted a letter, signed by him and 14 other BFC men ( mostly the newcomers ), requesting they be returned to their camps. This threw the BFC into chaos and it took pressure from Cooper and Roepke to just have Freeman and one other instigator tossed out and into a penal stalag, both being charged with mutiny on June 20, 1944. Freeman escaped the stalag in November of 1944, making it to Russian lines where he was repatriated in March of 1945. Still, the BFC was rattled and tensions between members were evident, made worse by Cooper seeking to instill SS-style discipline and methods, which was alien to the Englishmen whose experience with the British army was more lenient. With Freeman gone, Wilson was made senior NCO, which was a mistake given Wilson had lied upon his capture about his rank, and thus had little experience leading men and had a large appetite for women, which only being with the BFC could provide him with the freedom to partake of the female virtues.
In August of 1944, four more recruits joined on with the BFC. However, three of the four had done so not because they wanted to, but because they were blackmailed into doing it. Two of them were made to join as they had relationships with local area women. One of them was pregnant by one of the men and this was an offense punishable by death while the other man's liaison with a woman was discovered by the Gestapo. The results of men forced to join the BFC did nothing for morale, in fact, it made it worse. This touched off lack-luster recruiting drives and a flap over the wearing of the Union Jack arm shield flared up. The flap concerned the wearing of the shield below the German eagle. By this time, many other units wore their national flag on the right sleeve and some of the BFC men thought the original position of the shield took a shot at England. It took a direct order from Heinrich Himmler to quell it by allowing the shield to be worn on the right sleeve if desired. Another downturn was Lieutenant William Shearer, who joined the BFC, and was their first, and only British officer to accept a position in the unit. Hoping that, at the least, Shearer would provide a token officer presence, but Shearer was a schizophrenic and wouldn't put on his BFC uniform or even leave his room to which end he was removed and sent to the mental asylum from whence he came, to be sent back to England on medical grounds. Another sour on the BFC camp was the successful invasion of France by the allies.
With the success of the D-Day landings, some of the BFC men saw the writing on the wall and began to look for ways out. A flash in the pan involving the arrest of BFC man Tom Perkins for theft of a pistol caused a full blown fire within the BFC which culminated in eight men, including Pleasants, refusing to work to set up a football field and all of them were dismissed and sent to SS punishment camps. This incident led to an investigation as to why the BFC was floundering and the upshot was that recruiting had to be stepped up, assemble as many volunteers as possible, and get them trained for combat and sent off to the front lines, whether as a unit or just as replacements for other units. It was here that Vivian Stranders, a SS-Sturmbannfuhrer, sought to make his bid for power by making a move against Cooper and Roepke, so as to position himself for possible monopolization of the British recruiting and perhaps assuming command of the BFC. Stranders, originally a English citizen, joined the Nazi party in 1932 and became naturalized and later, after the war began, was posted in the Waffen-SS as an expert in British affairs. Stranders, however, may not have had a unit to go to as two new problems rocked the boat.
MacLardy abandoned the BFC, volunteering to join a Waffen-SS medical service unit. Two other men, one of them Courlander, could read the tea leaves and sought out of the BFC. They, however, took another tact and volunteered for service with the war correspondent unit "Kurt Eggers", which was operating on the Western Front. The ultimate goal for these men was to run for the lines when the first chance arose. Britten removed all of the BFC insignia from their uniforms, replacing them with the standard SS patches and rank then the the two men hopped a train for Brussels in the company of a Flemish Waffen-SS unit. Once there, they ultimately turned themselves over to the British, being the first two BFC men to return to England. Still, problems reigned. Two more recruits were gained, again by being forced into it as they had sexual contact with German women and the new quartermaster found a ready source of things to sell to those barracked at the monastery. With all these problems, the barrack commander went to Roepke to request the BFC be sent elsewhere. As it turned out, the BFC were indeed going to be moved.
On October 11, 1944, the BFC arrived at Dresden, to begin training as assault pioneers at the Waffen-SS Pioneer school at the Wildermann Kaserne. Here, they would receive instruction in clearing obstacles, removing minefields, usage of heavy weapons, demolition, and other tasks required of such combat engineers. SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Hugo Eichhorn reviewed the now 13 man BFC unit ( not counting the support staff of four ) and despite what, to him, might have been a pretty unfearsome lot, greeted them and introduced their two training officers. The BFC was now working up into shape. They were issued with rifles, steel helmets, camouflage uniforms, and gas masks then set about getting back into physical shape and taking courses in the use of machineguns, flamethrowers, and explosives. Picket and guard duty were assigned to the BFC as well. All this came crashing down when news of Roepke's dismissal came through.
Stranders had been successful in outing Roepke, replacing him with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Walther Kuhlich, who was wounded so bad during his stint with SS-"Das Reich", that he was unfit for active frontline duty. This only added another nail to the BFC coffin. Freeman, following the war, said he had seen a list of over 1,100 British who applied to fight against the Soviets. Why did the BFC remain rife with problems and could never get any recruits? Freeman summed it up that the core base of the BFC were "poor types" and that this contributed to lack of any respect for the BFC from the get-go. And by this time, POWs were hip to the propaganda, especially the BFC.
Cooper, seeing that he needed to bow out of the BFC, asked Wilson, who said he was of a similar frame of mind, to meet in Berlin to request a return to the stalags. The gig was up when Wilson, whose sole reason for going to Berlin was to go womanizing, left Cooper high and dry and under arrest, the charge being sabotage of the BFC. Brought before Stranders and Kuhlich, Cooper was shown signed statements by several BFC men accusing him of anti-Nazi acts. A day later, he was formally charged by a SS prosecutor and sent to the LAH, working as a military policeman. Wilson, now in charge of recruiting, had no real intention of working hard to get new blood. Instead, he set about getting ex-BFC men who'd been kicked out, back into the fold, notably Pleasants. In this, Wilson was successful. In the winter of 1944 and 1945, several new BFC recruits arrived, and the BFC returned to its training, all the while trying to put up a front to the other soldiers who felt the BFC led a soft life. Pleasants even managed to woo the secretary who worked for Kuhlich, marrying her in February of 1945.
Plans were afoot, however, to use the BFC in a last-ditch propaganda ploy. An attempt was made to form a rift between Iosef Stalin and the allied leadership, namely Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. The main effort, called "Operation Koniggratz", attempted to sway British POWs being evacuated from the Polish stalags as the Soviets advanced. The plan was an abject failure and it was pondered how the BFC might be used to play a role in the effort, especially as they were training for combat on the Eastern Front. Again, this came to naught and the whole idea, which even included faking Communist acts within Germany, crumbled.
The BFC, meanwhile, found its morale taking a nose dive once more, thanks in part to Wilson's lack of leadership and with Kuhlich almost always in Berlin. Still, recruits for the BFC arrived, near the close of 1944, including two South Africans. Of these five, three turned out to be genuinely anti-Communist, one of them being swayed by BFC literature, the other two having wanted to initially join the SS-"Totenkopf" division until they were talked into joining the BFC by Kuhlich. By January of 1945, the BFC was up to 27 men, three shy of the magic 30. But by this time, it was seen the whole BFC idea was a total and complete failure and many began to concoct ways to get out. Hugh Cowie, a Gordon Highlander from Scotland, was in the middle of several scandals, including the refusal to accept six Maoris into the BFC on the grounds it was a "white only" unit and having to deal with drunkards and AWOL BFC men, notably one man who kept sneaking away to be with his girl. With Wilson away, Cowie hatched a plan to use his temporary position to get access to travel documentation for him and five others, hop a train to the Eastern Front, and lay low somewhere and let the Soviets overtake them, using the pretext of going on a recruiting drive. Once on the train, all the men ( save one who didn't show ) removed their BFC insignia and it went downhill from there, the end result being all of them were picked up by the Gestapo. After harsh tongue lashings by their armed escort and Kuhlich, half of the escapees were sent off to isolation camps while the other three agreed to remain with the BFC. The major hammer fell when the allies bombed Dresden on February 12, 1945, killing some 40,000 people and some took advantage of it all to make an escape but one man, who thought he could confide in his Norwegian nurse girlfriend, found out otherwise and she informed the Gestapo of his plans and the entire BFC was arrested but not before two BFC men managed to sift into the POWs being sent west and were never to return to the BFC.
This was the straw which broke the camel's back. After the BFC men were sprung from jail, it was time to make some use out of the unit. The BFC was taken to Berlin and barracked in a school on the Schonhauser Allee, to wait there until the required steps were taken to put them into the line. It was here that the last "volunteer" came forward, Frank Axon who was captured in Greece in 1941. Accused of hitting a cow which caused it to give birth to its calf too early, he could either join the BFC or be severely punished and so, he chose the BFC. With the prospects of combat looming for a lost cause, the BFC men sought ways out once more. Three men were provided British army uniforms by a sympathetic officer who sent them off to escape. Another man, who had a girlfriend with connections to the "Kurt Eggers" Regiment, managed to get transferred there while Pleasants went to the "Peace Camp", doing exhibition boxing bouts with Max Schmeling for the delight of German officers. On March 8, 1945, the remaining BFC men were brought before Kuhlich who gave each of them a choice: fight on the front or be sent to an isolation camp. All of them chose to fight. Wilson, in no hurry to go to battle, managed to get himself a slot as liaison between the BFC and the Berlin office of Kuhlich. This put Douglas Mardon in charge of the unit and in shaping up what he had, he was left with eight men in all ( two men he refused to take and Minchin had scabies ). Mardon had to move the unit to a training camp in Niemeck, to get a crash course in anti-tank, close-combat tactics. Here, the BFC men were given training in the use of the Panzerfaust and other tank killing methods. They were also issued the StG44 ( MP44 ) assault rifle and given training in its use. The unit strength was cut down to seven when one member smoked aspirin until he became ill, being able to get transferred out. With the hurried training done, the BFC was given two days leave before moving out to the front lines.
On March 15, 1945, a truck was loaded up with the tiny BFC and it moved out to meet up with the headquarters of III. ( Germanisches ) SS-Panzer-Korps. During the ride, most members removed their BFC insignia. Upon arrival, the HQ staff was rather shocked at getting a British unit and so they put the BFC up in billets on the western edge of Stettin pending orders on what to do with them. While waiting, the BFC came under some brief Soviet mortar and artillery fire but no injuries were reported. However, the manpower was again reduced by one when one man came down with a severe case of gonorrhea and was sent away to a military hospital.
On March 22, 1945, orders came in from the HQ that the BFC should move to the headquarters portion of the SS-"Nordland" division, located at Angermunde. From there, they would be placed with the divisional armored reconnaissance battalion ( 11.SS-Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung ) which was stationed in Grussow. The commander there was Sturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Saalbach and when the BFC arrived, he gave them a quick welcome and assigned them to the 3rd. Company, commanded by the Swede Obersturmfuhrer Hano-Goesta Perrson. Perrson issued the BFC with a single Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and a "Schwimmwagen", giving them orders to prepare trench lines within the company's perimeter. The "Nordland" division was currently being held in reserve but the BFC, from their positions, could clearly see the Soviets. The BFC remained in the line for a month but the notion that they could be attacked by the Russians, failed to unify them and discord was rampant, so much so that Mardon was pressured into seeing if the BFC could be pulled out. During this time, Cooper was to return to the fold. After being told he was being transferred to the Germanic Panzer Corps, Cooper burned his SS papers and packed a suitcase with civilian clothing and went to the Corps HQ located in Steinhoffl on the Oder. He learned, to his surprise, that "ten [ Englishmen were ] somewhere near the front." He was then informed his presence was requested by Obergruppenfuhrer Felix Steiner and during this time, Steiner ordered Cooper to accompany him to the front to inspect the BFC troops. Cooper, on the ride there, informed Steiner about the BFC and that it was unwise to have them at the front, to which Steiner agreed, but more because Steiner was concerned about post-war legalities of his usage of such men on the front. After inspecting the BFC, Steiner gave a short speech and ordered that the BFC be used as medical orderlies. Cooper, after catching up on the news, spoke with Mardon and then the two of them approached Brigadefuhrer Ziegler at his Nordland headquarters. They gave Ziegler a rundown on the unit, pointing out that many were forced into joining the BFC and thus, were of dubious combat value, to which Ziegler agreed. Ziegler set in motion the process by sending Cooper and Mardon to Steiner and upon meeting with him, discussed the points they made to Ziegler. The upshot was that Steiner issued the orders to pull the BFC out of the line and utilize them as truck drivers in the rear lines.
The next day, the BFC left the front lines and reported to the Corps headquarters and from there, they were issued with travel orders, rations, and were to go to Templin, to join the transport company of Steiner's headquarter staff. They arrived there on April 16, 1945. In the meantime, Wilson, who was supposed to be sending the BFC men their Red Cross parcels ( for all intensive purposes, the BFC were still classified as POWs and thus still got the parcels ), chose to horde them and ultimately, he deserted into Berlin on April 9, 1945. To calm the rumblings, Cooper and four BFC men rode into Berlin to try and locate the parcels on the 17th. and upon returning on the 19th., they found a Hauptsturmfuhrer, in full SS panzer uniform, sporting BFC insignia, waiting to take them back to the front.
The tanker was Douglas Berneville-Claye who had a pension for embellishment, fraud and theft, and the ability to pass himself off as something he wasn't. Having been booted out of the RAF, he ended up as a commander with the SAS in the Middle East where he was branded as "useless" and "dangerous" by his comrades, to the point they'd refuse to conduct operations with him. He was captured in 1942 by DAK units and taken to an Italian POW camp, to which he claimed to have broken out of four times. He was then sent to Oflag 79 in Brunswick until removed from there for his own safety since the POWs saw him as, and correctly so, as a German informer. From the time of his removal to his appearance in Templin in March of 1945, no record is known. As he stood with the BFC, he launched into a speech saying he was a earl's son, a captain in the Coldstream Guards, and would collect two armored cars to take the BFC into battle with, even making the claim that the BFC would have no problems with the British authorities and that England was going to declare war on Russian in a few days. Cooper called Berneville-Claye's bluff and Berneville-Claye turned away, taking one of the BFC men with him as a driver, and drove away ( Berneville-Claye eventually changed into a full SAS uniform while the driver took up farmers clothing and they turned themselves in ). "Bob" Rossler remained with the Nordland division when it went into battle in Berlin, fighting alongside the Volkssturm, Hitlerjugend, and all the other mixed bag units which remained to fight it out.
The BFC, however, remained true to their orders, following Steiner's headquarter unit to Neustrelitz. They drove trucks, directed traffic, and assisted the evacuations of civilians from the Neustrelitz and Reinershagen area until, on April 29, 1945, Steiner ordered his forces to break contact with the Russians and make for the western combat lines to surrender to the US and British. From this point on, the BFC men sought ways to get to the western lines and avoid capture by the Soviets. Those who fell into or were turned over to the British, among other British traitors, stood trial. Amery was hung, Cooper went to jail ( being released in 1953 ), Britten got ten years ( reduced to two months when he was released for medical reasons ), Wilson got ten years, Freeman got ten years, and other members got from 15 years to even no punishment at all.
And so ended the British Free Corps service to Germany.