Habsburg irregulars: the Pandours


Bannalist and Pandour, Freikorps Trenck. By Morier, 1743.

As well as the Hungarians there came another group of volunteers: the Pandours. These brigands, often the natives of the ‘wrong side’ of the Military Frontier, followed their leader, the gifted Baron Trenck. This Trenck is not to be confused with his kinsman who was initially in the Prussian service and whose memoirs were widely read in the eighteenth century. The Austrian Trenck pledged a unit of irregulars, a Freikorps (Free Corps) numbering about 1,000 to Maria Theresa’s aid.

These irregulars were welcomed into the Imperial service even though they possessed no conventional officer corps but a system whereby each unit of fifty men obeyed a ‘Harumbascha’. All the Pandours, Harumbaschas included, were paid 6 kreutzer a day out of Trenck’s own estates, a pitiful sum. This was certainly not enough for any semblance of a uniform and their appearance was highly exotic. When they appeared in Vienna at the end of May 1741, the ‘Wienerische Diarium’ could write:

Two Battalions of regular infantry lined up to parade as the Pandours entered the city. The Irregulars greeted the regulars with long drum rolls on long Turkish drums. They bore no colours but were attired in picturesque oriental garments from which protruded pistols, knives and other weapons. The Empress ordered twelve of the tallest to be invited with their officer to her Ante-Room where they were paraded in front of the dowager Empress Christina.

Neipperg found the Pandours rather raw meat. He was unused to the ways of the Military Frontier. On several occasions while campaigning he had to remind them that they were ‘here to kill the enemy not to plunder the civilian population’. The Pandour excesses soon provoked Neipperg into attempting to replace Trenck. The man chosen for this daunting task was a Major Mentzel who had seen service in Russia and was therefore deemed to be familiar with the ‘barbaric’ ways of the Pandours. Unfortunately, some Pandours fell upon Mentzel as soon as news of his appointment was announced and the hapless Major only escaped with his life after the intervention of several senior Harumbaschas and Austrian officers.

Mentzel, notwithstanding this indignity, was formally proclaimed commander of the Pandours, whereupon a mutiny took place which only Khevenhueller, a man of the Austrian south and therefore familiar with Slavic methods, could stem by reinstating Trenck under his personal command. At both Steyr and Linz, the Pandours in their colourful dress decorated with heart-shaped badges and Turkic headdresses would distinguish themselvesagainst the Bavarians. Indeed, by the middle of 1742 the mention of their name alone was enough to clear the terrain of faint-hearted opponents. Within five years they would be incorporated into the regular army though with an order of precedence on Maria Theresa’s specific instruction ‘naturally after that of my Regular infantry regiments’. At Budweis (Budejovice) they captured ten Prussian standards and four guns.

The crisis was far from over. While Khevenhueller prepared a force to defend Vienna, the Bavarians gave the Austrian capital some respite by turning north from Upper Austria and invading Bohemia. By November, joined by French and Saxon troops, this force surprised the Prague garrison of some 3,000 men under General Ogilvy and stormed into the city largely unopposed on the night of 25 November. To deal with these new threats, Maria Theresa using Neipperg as her plenipotentiary had signed an armistice with Frederick at Klein Schnellendorf. She realised that her armies were in no condition to fight Bavarians, Saxons, French and Prussians simultaneously.

Maria Theresa received the news of Prague’s surrender with redoubled determination. In a letter to Kinsky, her Bohemian Chancellor she insisted: ‘I must have Grund and Boden and to this end I shall have all my armies, all my Hungarians killed off before I cede so much as an inch of ground.’

Charles Albert the Elector of Bavaria rubbed salt into the wounds by crowning himself King of Bohemia and thus eligible to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. The dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire was entering a new and deadly phase. Maria Theresa was now only Archduchess of Austria and ‘King’ of Hungary.

The election of a non-Habsburg ‘Emperor’ immediately provided a practical challenge for the Habsburg forces on the battlefield. Their opponents were swift to put the famous twin-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire on their standards. To avoid confusion Maria Theresa ordered its ‘temporary’ removal from her own army’s standards. The Imperial eagle with its two heads vanished from the standards of Maria Theresa’s infantry to be replaced on both sides of the flag with a bold image of the Madonna, an inspired choice, uniting as it did the Mother of Austria with the Mother of Christ and so investing the ‘Mater Castrorum’ with all the divine prestige and purity of motive of the Virgin Mary.

Another development followed: because Maria Theresa’s forces could no longer be designated ‘Imperial’ there emerged the concept of a royal Bohemian and Hungarian army which became increasingly referred to for simplicity’s sake as ‘Austrian’. The name would stick. When less than five years later Maria Theresa’s husband was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Europe had become accustomed to referring to the Habsburg armies as the Austrians.

A glimmer of hope appeared as Khevenhueller cleared Upper Austria of the Bavarians and French. He blockaded Linz, which was held by 10,000 French troops under Ségur. And by seizing Scharding on the Inn he deprived the unfortunate French garrison of all chance of relief from Bavaria. The Tyroleans showed their skill at mountain warfare and ambushed one Bavarian force after another, inflicting fearful casualties. On the day that Charles Albert of Bavaria was elected Holy Roman Emperor, Khevenhueller sent the Bavarian upstart an unequivocal message: he occupied his home city of Munich and torched his palace.


Pearl Harbor—American’s React


Five of the U. S. Army pilots who got into the air and engaged the Japanese aircraft are pictured in front of a P-36A Hawk fighter shortly after the attack. From left to right are 2nd Lieutenant Harry W. Brown, 2nd Lieutenant Philip M. Rasmussen, 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth M. Taylor, 2nd Lieutenant George S. Welch, and 1st Lieutenant Lewis M. Sanders. (National Archives)


Once the shock of seeing Japanese planes over the harbor wore off, sailors, Marines, and airmen began fighting back. Through the bomb and torpedo explosions ready ammunition lockers were open, sometimes forcefully, and gunners began to fire back at the attackers. At first it was small arms: 45-caliber pistols and various rifles. Then crews began firing back with 50-caliber heavy machine guns, then larger-caliber anti-aircraft cannon. Minesweeper Avocet (AVP-4) was one of the first to open fire. She was moored at the Naval Air Station dock, Berth F-1A, and her 3-inch gun crew shot down a Kate that had just put a torpedo into the side of the battleship California. This airplane crashed near the base hospital, one of its wings coming to rest near a building. Avocet’s gunners accounted for a couple of additional aircraft shot down during the attack.

Crews on board destroyer Bagley (DD-386) immediately went into action, breaking open the ready ammunition locker for 50-caliber machine gun belts. The gunners were able to fire on the first three Japanese torpedo bombers during the first wave, and took aim at the attacking Vals in the second. Bagley was one of the first American ships to sortie from the harbor in pursuit of the enemy.

Cruisers Honolulu (CL-48) and St. Louis (CL-49) began opening up with 30-caliber and 50-caliber machine guns and 5-inch/25-caliber guns. Soon nearly every ship in the harbor was taking aim at the Japanese. Typical of the ammunition expended were the numbers from Honolulu: 2,800 rounds of 30-caliber, 4,500 rounds of 50-caliber, and 250 rounds of 5-inch/25-caliber were fired during the attack.

Shortly after the second attack wave arrived over the harbor, seaplane tender Curtiss (AV-4) took a bomb hit from a Val that exploded on the main deck, killing twenty-one sailors and wounding fifty-eight men. Curtiss’s gunners opened fire on the dive-bombing Vals and scored a direct hit as it pulled up from an attack. The Val’s pilot was killed and his plane careened into Curtiss, hitting the forward, starboard-side crane. The plane’s fuel tank exploded and its wreckage dropped to the boat deck where it burned causing severe damage to the ship’s pipes, steam lines, and wiring.

Prior to the December 7 attack, a number of planes and pilots from Wheeler Field were flying gunnery practice missions from Haleiwa Field, twenty miles away on Oahu’s north shore. The planes and ground crews remained at the field while the pilots had gone back to Wheeler Field for the weekend. On Saturday night, many of the flyers had made the rounds of the Officers’ Clubs at Hickam and Wheeler and had enjoyed themselves late into the morning.

To protect against sabotage, the majority of the aircraft at Wheeler Field were parked on the ramp, wingtip to wingtip, each row only twenty feet from the next. This enabled a small number of armed guards to patrol the perimeter of the parked aircraft to prevent sabotage. On the morning of December 7, almost eighty Curtiss P-36s and P-40s were on the ramp, vulnerable to attack from the air.

At 8:02 a.m., Wheeler Field and the adjacent Schofield Barracks were attacked by twenty-five Val dive-bombers. The Vals dropped bombs on the hangars and returned to strafe aircraft on the ramp as well as the Schofield Barracks area. As the Japanese dive-bombers were working over the airfield, 2nd Lt. George S. Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth M. Taylor phoned Haleiwa Field and had their planes armed and engines warmed-up, ready for take off. The two hopped into a car and raced north to Haleiwa Field. Taking off around 8:30 a.m., the pair were instructed to head south toward Ewa Field and the Pearl Harbor area, where they spotted the enemy. Both fliers engaged about a dozen Japanese planes in the skies over Barbers Point with Welch downing two confirmed and one probable and Taylor two.

Out of fuel and ammunition, the pair returned to Wheeler during a lull in the fighting to rearm. Welch was the first back into the air, and as Taylor lifted off, he immediately pursued a Japanese plane passing directly in front of him. While Taylor was firing on the plane ahead of him, a Japanese Zero latched onto his tail and Welch joined the fray, firing at Taylor’s pursuer. By the end of the morning, Taylor was credited with two confirmed aerial victories and Welch with four. Taylor and Welch were recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions that morning.

Between attack waves, two Curtiss P-36s from the 47th Pursuit Squadron and one each from the 45th and 46th Pursuit Squadrons launched from Wheeler Field. Led by 1st Lt. Lewis M. Sanders, the other pilots were 2nd Lt. Othneil Norris, 2nd Lt. John M. Thacker, and 2nd Lt. Philip M. Rasmussen. When Norris got out of his plane and went into the hangar to swap parachutes, 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr. jumped into Norris’s P-36. Sterling taxied out and joined the other three P-36s in the flight and joined up on Thacker. Because of Sterling’s lack of combat procedures and gunnery training, Sterling was instructed to fly as Sanders’s wingman and Thacker and Rasmussen formed the second element. The four P-36s were airborne by 8:50 a.m.

Climbing for altitude, the four P-36s broke out of the clouds near NAS Kaneohe Bay. They immediately spotted six Zeros and dove to attack. Sanders scored the first kill, then saw Sterling pursuing a Zero with another Japanese fighter on his tail. Joining the trio, Sanders started firing at the trailing Zero and this melee was being observed by Rasmussen who reported seeing Sterling’s Zero crash into the bay, followed by Sterling. The Zero under fire from Sanders escaped, and it later turned out that the fighter that Sterling was shooting at escaped as well. During this tail chase, Rasmussen had charged his guns, which began to fire uncontrollably. As he was attempting to stop the guns from running away, a Zero flew into the path of his bullets and exploded, earning him an aerial victory credit. Rasmussen then had a pair of Zeros on his tail and he dove for cover in some clouds below him, losing the Japanese fighters in the process.

At Bellows Field, three pilots from the 44th Pursuit Squadron tried to take off during the attack, two of whom lost their lives attempting to repel the attackers. Second Lt. Hans C. Christensen was hit by strafing Japanese planes as he was boarding his P-40 and 2nd Lt. George A. Whiteman took off in a P-40B and was shot down as his plane lifted off the runway. First, Lt. Samuel W. Bishop followed Whiteman into the air, but while climbing for altitude he was hit by machine-gun and 20mm cannon fire from a Zero. Wounded and barely able to control his aircraft, Bishop crashed into the sea off Bellows Field. He was able to swim to shore and eventually returned to duty. All three men received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

Crossing over the harbor entrance channel en route to strafe Hickam Field, the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter flown by Naval Air Pilot first class Takeshi Hirano was heavily damaged by a combination of ground fire and anti-aircraft fire from the destroyer Helm and the minesweeper Bobolink. To those on the ground, it appeared that Hirano intended on belly landing his Zero on a street inside Fort Kamehameha, which borders the channel entrance to Pearl Harbor. As his crippled fighter sputtered its way over the fort, Hirano’s left wing clipped a palm tree, spinning it down to the ground.

The Zero struck at the base of the Ordnance Machine Shop, Building 52, where soldiers had taken cover. The impact of the Japanese fighter killed Hirano instantly. Four soldiers were killed, and five wounded as a result of flying debris from the plane.

As the attack raged overhead, the army and its men bent on souvenir hunting scoured the aircraft for anything valuable. Inside Hirano’s pocket was a small map showing the rendezvous point where the retiring attackers would meet as they headed back to the carriers. This gave American search planes a general direction of where the carriers were, but not a precise location of where to expect the Japanese fleet. B-17s went in search of the Japanese, but were unable to locate them.

After the battle, the wreckage was taken to a Hickam Field hangar and studied for its intelligence value. And although nothing new was discovered as far as aerodynamics or weaponry was concerned, investigators deemed that most of it looked like copies of U.S.–made components, giving rise to the belief that the Zero was a copy of an American aircraft.

On the eastern side of Oahu, the morning air over Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay was pierced by the rumble of low-flying aircraft around 7:50 a.m. Soon thereafter the attackers were strafing aircraft moored in the bay and those on the seaplane ramp. Sailors and Marines began to fire back with rifles and machine guns. The attack lasted between ten and fifteen minutes before the aircraft retired to the north.

The second attack wave did more damage to the base, this time dropping small bombs in addition to strafing the navy Catalinas. A direct hit on Hangar No. 1 did tremendous damage to the building and completely destroyed four PBYs inside. The majority of Kaneohe Bay’s casualties occurred in the moored aircraft or as crews were trying to launch or move the big flying boats.

Anti-aircraft gunners at Kaneohe Bay were able to score a number of hits as three or four aircraft were seen leaving the area streaming fuel. They were able to confirm one Japanese aircraft as shot down, that belonging to Lt. Fusata Iida, leader of Soryu fighter unit’s attack on the naval air station. Iida, realizing he would not be able to make it back to the carrier had committed himself to crashing his aircraft into a high-value target should something go wrong. Having rejoined his flight, he signaled his intentions, then rolled his aircraft and dove toward the air station firing his guns on the way down. Iida crashed into a hill one mile north of the hangar line. He was buried the next day with full military honors in the same plot as the fifteen men from the air station who perished in the attack.

Another Zero pilot unable to make the return trip to his carrier was Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi from Hiryu. Having been struck by anti-aircraft fire during the raid, Nishikaichi headed for the rendezvous with the Japanese aircraft carriers. He was accompanied by another Hiryu fighter, but ran out of fuel over Niihau and crash-landed. The second aircraft continued to the west and was never seen by the islanders again.

Six days after the Pearl Harbor attack, on Saturday, December 13, six men rowed from Niihau to Waimea, Kauai, to report the crash landing and subsequent capture of Airman Shigenori Nishikaichi. At the time, there was no communication with Niihau and no radio to inform the islanders that America was now at war with Japan. On Kauai, the authorities were notified and twelve soldiers from Company M, 299th Infantry, were sent back to Niihau on board the lighthouse tender Kukui. In addition to the men from Company M, the Kukui carried an additional dozen armed men and two heavy machine guns. The Kukui departed Waimea at 6 p.m. local time and arrived at the southern tip of Niihau at 7:30 a.m. The men dis-embarked, had breakfast, then began the ten-mile march to the Nonopapa village where the Japanese pilot was being held.

The troops arrived at 1:50 p.m. to learn that the Zero fighter had been burned by its pilot, who was dead, and to hear a bizarre story about the past six days since the Japanese fighter crashed on the island, which resulted in the pilot attempting to send a radio message from the Zero’s cockpit, him burning the plane, a native Hawaiian being shot, the pilot being picked up and being bodily thrown into a stone wall resulting in a crushed skull, and a native Japanese worker who had aided the pilot committing suicide. The week’s events became known as “The Niihau Incident.”

In all, twenty-nine Japanese planes and their crews did not return to the carriers. Nine of the aircraft were Zeros, fifteen Val dive-bombers, and five were Kate torpedo-bombers.

Voodoo Shadow


With the conflict in South East Asia in full swing by 1965 there was probably no such thing as a ‘routine sortie’; although there were factors common to most, each mission had its own demands and attendant risks and was flown in very different circumstances. Those over South Vietnam and Laos were relatively simple, albeit never risk-free, but penetrating North Vietnam, particularly into well-defended areas, was quite another thing. Pilots assigned to these missions were seen to be ‘taking their turn in the barrel’ and they were faced with varying and very personal degrees of trepidation.

Take one trip flown by Major Marv Reed of the 45th TRS with Captain Chuck Lustig, attached from the 15th TRS, as his wingman. A pair of RF-101s was tasked on 28 July 1965 to seek out a suspected SA-2 site some 15 miles south-west of Hanoi, a similar site near the capital having been responsible for damaging four F-4s on the 25 July in one of the first major SAM actions of the war. On that day Marv had been airborne nearby with his number two, Major Ralph Kral, orbiting in cloud waiting to carry out BDA on a target nearby, so they heard the whole saga reported on the radio as it developed.

It was because the F-4s were at medium level, in a height band ideal for the SAMs, that the Voodoos were now ordered to go in low to avoid that threat and obtain close-up photos of the new missiles. However, in doing so they would be exposed to rings of AAA expected to be defending the site; the same guns which had downed three F-105s in the area on 27 July. As usual the Voodoo pilots were placed in a dilemma.

At Tan Son Nhut, the temporary home of the 45th TRS on Able Mable duty, Marv, Chuck and Ralph Kral (who would man the spare aircraft) began some rapid planning to meet a noon TOT. They would air refuel from a KC-135 on the Thailand/Laos border and proceed over the mountains of Laos, into the PDJ and up to the border with North Vietnam, then turn north-east to descend and cross the Red River near Yen Bai at low level. The pair was then to reverse south to recross the Red River and climb to 500 ft to take the photographs required in the target area of Son Tay. Egress would be south over the mountains again in the climb to refuel from the waiting tanker. The weather in the target area was forecast to be unusually good, with scattered cloud and a little haze.

The three pilots walked to their aircraft in good time but during the lengthy start-up Marv found that he could neither transmit nor receive on his ARC-34 radio, and Ralph Kral had to take the lead in the spare aircraft. Some pilots would have left it at that, happy to live to fly another day, but not Marv Reed. He demanded another aircraft and with all speed started up, secured a priority clearance through heavy traffic and took off in front of a long line of civilian and military aircraft, speeding north to catch up the pair ahead. This he did while the planned refuelling was taking place, after which he took the lead and invited Kral to return to base. As every leader knows, this is hardly the best way to start a difficult mission, and who could know what lay in store ahead?

The descent to low level also went according to plan, after which they jettisoned their external tanks and increased speed to 540 kts to cross the Red River at tree-top height with Chuck flying in tactical formation off Marv’s starboard wing. That was when they were greeted by a veritable fury of flak. They could hear the booms and feel the blast from the 37-mm and 57-mm AAA, together with the infamous Russian-built ZSU-23/4, and see the gunners’ faces as they fired at them from point blank range. This was no place to hang around but high time to select afterburner to get all the speed possible from the now ‘clean’ Voodoos. This mission was going to be no picnic. In hindsight, Marv believes that they only survived by flying below the guns’ lowest depression.

The higher than planned speed rendered the pre-planned time marks redundant and for a few moments Marv experienced every low level pilot’s nightmare, he became uncertain of his position (a recce pilot is never ‘lost’). They seemed to be heading directly for downtown Hanoi, where the notorious ‘Hanoi Hilton’ welcomed American pilots. When Marv admitted to Chuck that he was uneasy, his wingman came immediately to the rescue in an excellent example of just one of the virtues of flying pairs of aircraft; he knew where they were and took the lead.

The two Voodoos were now approaching the target with cameras operating to record the surrounding defences, Marv’s nose-facing oblique camera later revealing concrete bunkers (legacies of the French occupation) and gun defences which were clearly firing at them. No doubt the gunners were also warning those ahead to be ready for them. With this early warning system in place the Voodoos might remain hidden from the radars at ultra low level, but they could not hope to achieve much needed surprise and from then on they were given a very warm welcome.

Having found their position on the map as they approached their IP on the Red River, Marv Reed resumed the lead and they climbed to the more vulnerable height of 500 ft necessary for the photo task. They were now running a continuous gauntlet of automatic weapons which lined several kilometres of the southern bank; in Marv’s own words “all the guns were shrouded in smoke as they fired at us, a most pernicious display of xenophobia towards a couple of unarmed Yankee pilots”. How they were able to fly through this intense barrage from IP to target, unscathed, seems something of a miracle. Indeed, Marv said afterwards that: “this was probably the most fortuitously successful event we could experience in a lifetime”.

As they approached the target, ‘with bent throttles’, Marv passed over a 100-mm gunsite, clearly shown in photos from his pan camera which were published in the February 1966 edition of ‘Newsweek’. From his position, offset by a quarter of a mile in line abreast, Chuck spotted another 100-mm site, unusual in its layout, but then both pilots saw ‘something white’ off to the left and there, fleetingly, were the missiles they sought. As the Voodoos continued south and began their climb over the mountains to rendezvous with the KC-135, Marv remembers:

“a euphoric adrenaline rush of exhilaration, coupled with an awesome feeling of relief and accomplishment. There is no greater feeling in this world than having been unsuccessfully shot at.”

They had the courage and determination to get it right, but perhaps they were also a little lucky.

Back at Tan Son Nhut, after a mission lasting 4 hours 10 minutes, the photo lab men lost no time getting the films to the light tables ready for analysis by the PIs and no lesser man than General Rockly Triantafellu, Director of Intelligence, 2nd Air Division. The results were excellent; the two pilots having covered the target area and captured the ‘missiles’ on their pan cameras. There were six SA-2s, set in a typical circular cluster with radar control at the centre, but they were fakes to decoy aircraft into an area bristling with guns of every description, a veritable flak trap from which Marv and Chuck had escaped.

Collaboration of British POWs


Two early recruits to the BFC:SS-Mann Kenneth Berry and SS-Sturmmann Alfred Minchin, with German officers, April 1944.

Collaboration has always been a topic that arouses fierce emotions, and those POWs who went over to the other side or in some way supported the Axis cause have received much coverage. But their numbers were minuscule, and their overall effect minimal. The only real damage came from those who willingly gave information to their captors under interrogation, or acted as stool pigeons to discover intelligence from other unsuspecting prisoners. Although the Germans did use stool pigeons, the prisoners’ fear of them was possibly exaggerated. Bob Prouse certainly believed that he and his comrades were victims of one such informer, who worked his way into their confidence while they were digging an escape tunnel from the work camp at Niederorschel. When the man suddenly disappeared, the tunnel was discovered. A similar occurrence was experienced at Spangenberg, when an unknown officer departed as suddenly as he had arrived, to be followed by an intensive search by the Germans that revealed the presence of a tunnel and much otherwise well-hidden escape material.

One informer with an unusual story was RAF Sergeant Michael Joyce, initially held at the Dulag Luft transit and interrogation camp. The fact that he was a cousin of the infamous collaborator William Joyce – ‘Lord Haw Haw’ – may not have helped his cause, but he aroused suspicions among other prisoners and did nothing to allay their doubts by his friendliness towards the German camp staff. Joyce eventually asked to be transferred from the camp, and in May 1942 he was taken to Rome and then to North Africa via Crete. There he posed either as a representative of the Red Cross, issuing bogus Red Cross forms, or as a fellow POW shot down in North Africa. He was not particularly successful in gaining information from genuine British and American airmen, and following a bout of dysentery he was returned to Germany.

Joyce’s tale then took a bizarre turn when he was ordered to infiltrate one of the civilian escape networks whose lines began on the Luxembourg–Belgium border. Kitted out as a newly downed airman, Joyce managed to contact an escape line, but instead of slipping away to inform his German superiors of the network’s existence he simply carried on down the line to Bordeaux, before arriving in Britain in November 1942.

Joyce kept quiet about his activities as an informer, and was commended for his bravery and initiative, being awarded the Military Medal and promoted to flight lieutenant. It was only after the war that the truth came out. Joyce escaped prosecution, but lost both his MM and his commission.

Another informer became too well known for his own good. Sub Lieutenant E. W. Purdy, a member of the British Union of Fascists before the war, was recruited by the Germans in the Marlag naval camp. He was taken to Berlin, where he joined a number of other British renegades broadcasting anti-British propaganda. While in Berlin he fell out with his German minders and in March 1944 he was sent to Colditz, where he offered his services to the camp officer, Reinhold Eggers. The prisoners in Colditz were always wary of new arrivals unable to vouch for themselves, but Purdy’s misfortune was to be identified as a German sympathizer by Julius Green, then in Colditz but formerly the dental officer at a number of other camps, including Marlag. After interrogation by the security committee and the SBO, Purdy broke down and admitted his past. The SBO, Colonel Willie Todd, then told the commandant that unless Purdy was removed from the camp he would be unable to guarantee his safety. It would seem that this was no idle threat, as, according to one account, some of the Colditz officers had decided that Purdy should be hanged as a traitor there and then. Their intentions were frustrated when Purdy was whisked away after spending just three days in the castle.

The idea of raising a military unit from British POWs to fight on the German side was first raised by the renegade John Amery, a committed fascist who broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda to Britain from Berlin. Although sceptical of the idea, the Germans gave Amery permission to begin recruiting for his grandly titled League of St George in April 1943. He managed to recruit just one member, a 17-year-old ship’s boy from the Saint-Denis internment camp outside Paris. Interest from Hitler saved the project, which was then taken over by the SS. In January 1944 the renamed British Free Corps (BFC) came into being, with the initial intention of raising a platoon of thirty men who could be trained and sent into combat.

Two ‘holiday camps’ had been set up by the Germans, attached to Stalag IIID outside Berlin. Special Detachment 999 was for officers and was establised in a suburban villa at Zehlendorf, but later moved to a country house in Bavaria. Although suspicious of the whole set-up, British officers accepted the offer of short breaks of up to six weeks in pleasant surroundings. To their surprise, no attempt was made to suborn them to the Nazi cause, and it would seem that the ‘holiday’ was just that. (The Anglophile German Foreign Office official and 1944 July Plot conspirator against Hitler Adam von Trott zu Solz implied that he was the inspiration behind the holiday camp, thereby suggesting a benign motivation.)

The camp for other ranks – Special Detachment 517 at Genshagen – was rather more sinister. The camp staff included a few of the men who were to become the nucleus of the BFC, their role being to persuade incoming POWs to join them in the ‘Crusade against Bolshevism’. But little attempt, if any, was made to screen appropriate recruits before arrival, and the vast majority of POWs simply ignored the staff and enjoyed the superior conditions of Genshagen before returning to their parent camps.

Another factor militating against success for the Germans was the presence of camp leader BQMS John Brown, one of the more intriguing and seemingly contradictory figures in the POW system. An Oxford graduate, committed Christian and pre-war member of the British Union of Fascists, Brown was captured in 1940 and sent to the Blechhammer work camp. He used his position as a senior NCO to become a highly successful racketeer, whose blatantly pro-German sympathies were bitterly resented by many of his fellow prisoners. But he was in fact acting as a double agent, having at some point been given access to one of the MI9 letter codes. He was able to get himself sent to Genshagen to run its administration – something beyond the riff-raff who made up the BFC. According to his own account, he managed to sabotage the recruitment efforts of the BFC while sending back reports of the activities of British pro-Nazi sympathizers, including John Amery, to MI9.

During 1944, BFC recruiting leaflets were distributed to POW camps, but were treated with contempt. As Bob Prouse noted, ‘They insulted the intelligence of POWs by expecting us to believe this nonsense. The only result in our lager was one of ridicule and laughter.’ In a few cases BFC members managed to talk to prisoners directly, but once again with very limited success. Despite the recruitment drive the BFC was never able to reach its very modest target of thirty men (it peaked at twenty-seven in January 1945), and, although it began infantry training, it never saw any front-line action. Its members – an assortment of pre-war fascists, malcontents, opportunists and the mentally confused – drank, womanized and quarrelled among themselves until the end of the war. From a German point of view they were a waste of time and resources.

In 1939 the IRA ‘chief of staff’, Sean Russell, suggested to the Germans that they raise an anti-British force from Irishmen in the British Army. The Germans were initially doubtful, but in September 1940 they made some tentative moves towards organizing an Irish Brigade with recruits drawn from German POW camps. Although the initiative received some response, none of the volunteers seem to have had any interest in the German cause. Some went along to monitor what was happening and to report back to the British authorities; others were tempted by the idea of greater freedom and improved conditions. Of nine officers who were sent to a camp for possible recruitment, three were code-writers in contact with MI9. The officers were soon returned to their camps, with the exception of one man who was not even Irish but a journalist looking for a story. Realizing that the Irish were a lost cause, the Germans effectively abandoned the project in 1943.

From a German perspective, a more promising source of recruits was provided by POWs from the Indian Army. The genesis of the Free Indian Legion resulted from the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in Germany in January 1941. Bose, an Indian nationalist leader under virtual house arrest in Calcutta, had slipped out of India and, after travelling through Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, had reached Germany in the hope of lobbying Hitler for military support against the British in India. While Hitler and the German Foreign Office debated the issue, the sudden capture of over 1,000 Indian troops in North Africa in May 1941 transformed Bose’s plan to that of raising a German-equipped Free Indian Legion. The number of Indian POWs steadily increased to around 15,000 by the end of 1942, providing a well-stocked pool of potential recruits.

Batches of Indian POWs were sent from Italy and North Africa to the German camp at Annaberg, where they were subjected to an intensive recruitment campaign by civilians from the German-sponsored Free India Centre. Those POWs thought suitable were sent to another camp at Frankenberg for further attempts at persuasion and, if successful, military training. There was certainly an anti-British undercurrent within the Indian POW population that the Free India propagandists were able to exploit with some success: roughly a quarter of those captured went over to the German side – approximately 4,000 men. The figures would have been higher if Bose had not insisted that all recruits start on the bottom rung, thereby alienating NCOs and Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs – ranks roughly between a senior NCO and an officer), who, in addition, had dependants back in India relying on their British pay and subsequent pensions.

Bose’s modernizing zeal extended to abolishing the traditional distinctions of religion, region and caste. Although in many ways commendable, these changes tended to unsettle many of the Indian Legion soldiers. Another unsatisfactory reform was Bose’s choice of Hindustani as the language of command, replacing the Urdu of the British Indian Army. As a consequence, German, English, Urdu and Hindustani were all spoken at various times.

Despite these problems, recruitment and training continued, the intention being to raise a force comparable to a German infantry regiment of three 1,000-strong battalions. A small German staff of senior NCOs and officers would provide overall leadership. By February 1943 the Indian element of the Legion stood at 2,270, and by the summer of 1944 it had reached a maximum strength of 3,115 Indian troops, which with the German staff made a total figure of around 3,500 men. The deployment of the Legion remained a problem. Initial hopes that victory on the Eastern Front would enable it to be used as a spearhead to invade British-occupied India were irrevocably dashed by the spring of 1943. Designated Infanterie Regiment 950, the Legion was initially deployed in the Netherlands in May 1943, performing construction duties, before being transferred to France as part of the German occupation force.

Morale steadily declined. There were outbreaks of violence between different religious groups, and at least one mutiny. The men of the Legion began to feel increasingly isolated from all that was familiar to them. Discipline began to waver, and there were accusations of drunkenness, looting and rape while in France. The historian Milan Hauner wrote of the Legion in France, ‘Without spiritual guidance many Indians saw “Europeanization” as a process of throwing away their own religion and habits. The imitation of Europe sometimes took rather grotesque forms when some of the Indians preferred to speak broken German among themselves rather than Urdu, for instance.’ After the Allied breakout from Normandy the Legion was withdrawn from France – a transfer that included skirmishes with the French Resistance, the Legion’s only form of military action. Stationed first in Alsace and then near the Swiss border in Germany, it took no part in the final battles of 1945 and tamely surrendered to the Americans in April 1945. While the ringleaders of the Legion were court-martialled in India after the war, it was felt by the British that too many men had been either tricked or coerced into joining the Legion to merit any further disciplinary action.

For the Germans, the Free Indian Legion had seemed to show genuine promise, but as it ultimately failed in both the military and propaganda spheres it turned into the largest of their collaborationist white elephants. Perhaps anticipating failure, the Germans seemed half-hearted in their attempts to bring over Allied POWs to their cause. They had some undoubted successes with camp informers, but even there results were limited. The history of Allied POWs in Germany and Italy is one not of collaboration but of sustained and spirited resistance.

Native Americans in the Civil War


1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles

Contrary to what many people believe, the war was not fought just in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. In fact, a sprawling and very bloody war was fought west of the Mississippi River (in what was called the Trans-Mississippi Theater), in Indian Territory (in what is today largely the state of Oklahoma), and the New Mexico Territory. Even Minnesota witnessed a frenzy of killing in 1862. Prominent in much of this fighting were Native Americans. What is even less well known is that another civil war was fought across much of the West between various Indian tribes.

The Union and Confederacy recruited and used Native Americans in different ways and for different reasons. Most served in and near Indian Territory and were used to combat Confederate efforts in that region. About 3,500 ultimately served in the Union Army between 1861 and 1865. Units included the 1st through 4th Regiment Indian Home Guard (although organization got underway for the 4th, the unit was never fully completed). Most of these men served on a variety of expeditions and to reinforce forts and far flung outposts. Each was mustered out in May 1865.

The most prominent Union Indian was a member of the Seneca tribe named Ely Parker. An aide to General Ulysses S. Grant, Parker was promoted to general (one of two Indians who held that rank, the other being a Cherokee named Stand Watie who fought for the Confederacy) and was an eyewitness to Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Parker never held a combat command.

It is more difficult to calculate numbers for Confederate service because records are incomplete and record-keeping in this region was not carefully maintained. The South made alliances with tribes in Indian Territory to raise regiments for service, and to act as a buffer zone for other white troops serving in other states. Chief Stand Watie organized the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles and led his regiment in several battles, including Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) in Arkansas in early March 1862. There, his men captured several Union artillery pieces, but the atrocities committed against white soldiers, including scalping, were used by the press to demonize Native American participation in the war. Watie led his men in dozens of small actions over a sprawling region. When he finally surrendered in June of 1865, it is believed he was the last general to officially do so. He died in 1871 and is buried in the Old Ridge Cemetery in Delaware County, Oklahoma.

Literally scores of skirmishes and larger actions were fought on the land running from west of the Mississippi all the way to the New Mexico Territory. While the federal government was fighting to control the Apache in the New Mexico Territory, significant fighting broke out between major tribes over land rights, hunting issues, cultural matters, and traditional rivalries. The fact that some tribes aligned themselves with the Federal government while others threw their lot in with the Confederacy only served to fan the flames of hatred. As Indian fought Indian, other more famous actions broke out across the country.

The Dakota War, in the summer of 1862 in Minnesota, was a short but brutal affair that began in August between eastern Sioux or Dakota and white settlers and Union troops. The fighting was put down within a short time, and the affair ended with the mass hanging of thirty-eight Dakota that December in Mankato, Minnesota. Because many of the white soldiers were shipped elsewhere to fight in the main civil war, Indians in Colorado used the occasion to launch hit-and-run raids against farmers and ranchers outside Denver. In an effort to end the threat, Colonel John Chivington led nearly 1,000 volunteers in a punitive expedition that attacked a village with hundreds of Arapaho and Cheyenne, including women and children. Chivington refused to take prisoners, which explains why the fighting is commonly called the Sand Creek Massacre.

Because Indian Territory was so far from the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia, Southern authorities dedicated fewer resources and capable officers to supply and oversee it. It was also hard to transfer men and supplies across the Mississippi River, especially after the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson in the summer of 1863. The result was that pro-Confederate Indians found it increasingly difficult to battle Federal expeditions and raids.

Native Americans who sided with the South suffered the most for their allegiance. All existing Federal treaties with Indian tribes who sided with the South were voided. Despite its efforts to enlist Indians, the Confederacy garnered few military benefits from its relationship with them.

Baltic Auxiliary Units


Schuma graduates from Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia attend a trip/conference in Germany.


Lithuanian schuma, police and TLR members.

The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were independent nations on the eve of World War II. These former provinces of Russia had been independent only since 1920. Unfortunately, the Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939 left them to the mercy of the USSR, as it designated them to be in the Soviet sphere of influence. In June 1940, following the collapse of France, Stalin ordered his army into the Baltic states under the pretence that they had, in official Soviet language, “grossly violated their mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union”. In fact, the move was part of Stalin’s aim to advance the Soviet frontier westwards to create a buffer zone to absorb any future German attack.

The subsequent behaviour of the Soviets in the Baltic states – 34,250 Latvians, 60,000 Estonians and 75,000 Lithuanians either killed or deported – should have turned their populations into willing allies of the Germans. Indeed, during the early stages of Barbarossa, the Germans were welcomed as liberators. However, as with the other Eastern peoples, the Baltic states were subject to Nazi ideology, which meant “germanizing” the “racially suitable”, German colonization, and deportation or extermination of “undesirables” (usually the latter). The head of Hitler’s secretariat, Martin Bormann, put it succinctly: “There are no independent nations in the East, but only the Sovietized mass of Slavs, who must and will be mastered.”

The Germans were able to recruit sizeable numbers of volunteer units, though many of the recruits believed they were fighting to liberate their homelands from the Soviets and restore national sovereignty. In reality, they were just tools to further Nazi aims. Examining each Baltic state in turn, this chapter will show how Nazi ideology, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union, resulted in wasted opportunities that ultimately contributed towards the German defeat in the East.

On 15 June 1940, the Soviets assumed control of Lithuania, including the capital Vilna, which had been part of Poland until October 1939. Seven weeks later, the country was officially annexed by the USSR. In response, underground groups were formed, including the extremist nationalist and German-sponsored Lietuviu Aktyvistu Frontas (Lithuanian Activist Front).

On 14 June 1941, tens of thousands of Lithuanians were exiled to Siberia by the Soviets for being “politically or socially unreliable”. Eight days later, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and had occupied Lithuania by the middle of August.

The Soviets had exacted a bloody toll from the Baltic states, and the Lithuanians suffered as much as their northern neighbours, Latvia and Estonia. In the face of such brutal treatment, and with the German invasion providing an impetus for revolt, it is estimated that at least 125,000 Lithuanians rose up to fight the retreating Soviets during the time between the initial German crossing of the eastern frontier and the final evacuation of all Russian troops. At least 4000 Red Army troops are estimated to have been killed during this period and another 10,000 wounded. Numerous Lithuanian cities were also liberated even before the Germans arrived, a sign of the determination with which the Lithuanians were willing to fight for their homeland. On 23 June, the Lithuanian Activist Front led a revolt against the Soviet occupiers. Partisans took over the largest cities, Kaunas and Vilnius, set up a provisional government and declared the restoration of Lithuanian independence.

Most of the Lithuanian population welcomed the Germans, and many subsequently collaborated with them in the hope of restoring Lithuanian independence, a hope that was to be quickly quashed. The provisional government was abolished and Lithuania became part of the Reich Commissariat Ostland and its name was changed to Generalbezirk Litauen (General District of Lithuania). The Lithuanian national army was not reconstituted, though some of its former officers and soldiers were incorporated into the Lithuanian police battalions formed by the Germans.

Shortly after the German occupation, a reorganization was carried out of all local Lithuanian units comprising policemen, ex-soldiers, ex-officers and nationalist elements. These disparate elements, which also included schoolboys and university students, had been attacking the retreating Soviet forces and had been harassing and murdering Lithuanian Jews (there existed a rich vein of Baltic and Russian anti-Semitism before the Germans arrived). That July, many of the units in Kovno and elsewhere were incorporated into a paramilitary organization, the Tauto Darbo Apsauga (National Labour Guard). In Vilna and other places, the corresponding military organization was named the Lietuvia Savisaugos Dalys (Lithuanian Self-Defence).

Anti-Jewish Measures in Lithuania

At the end of 1941, these formations were reorganized into battalions by the Germans, and were renamed Policiniai Batalionai (Police Battalions). By August 1942, 20 such battalions were in existence with a total strength of 8388 men, of whom 341 were officers and 1772 noncommissioned officers (NCOs). They were commanded by former officers and NCOs who had served in the army of independent Lithuania. But the occupiers had them firmly under control, with German liaison officers assigned to each battalion and all the units being directed by the district SS and police leader headquarters in Lithuania.

Just as the NKVD had rounded up “enemies of the state”, so the SS began to clear Lithuania of Jews and political opponents. The police battalions were involved in these actions, and also assisted the German Einsatzgruppen (SS Special Action Groups). The 1st and 2nd Battalions, for example, took a leading part in the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania, as well as in the adjacent territories of Poland and Belorussia.

The first formal Wehrmacht unit composed of Lithuanians to be formed was known as the Lituanische Hunterschaften, which was later used as a foundation for a series of self-defence units known as Selbschutz Bataillonen (Self-Defence Battalions). These battalions were later brought under the control of the German organization of uniformed frontline police, the Ordnungspolizie, and thus the SS, and renamed as Schutzmannschaft Bataillonen (Security Battalions) or Schumas. The Schuma units were universally renamed and reformed into police battalions in May 1943. Nearly all battalion-sized units consisted of 500–600 men. They were primarily assigned to rear-area security duties, but as the Red Army neared Lithuania they also saw frontline service. These Lithuanian units numbered a total of 35 battalions during World War II, consisting of units numbered 1–15, 251–257, 263–265 and 301–310. These units were also posted to Poland, Belorussia, the other Baltic states and even to the southern Ukraine. The battalions numbered 263–265 and 301–310 were never fully trained and were disbanded before they could be employed in combat.

As the Red Army approached Lithuania, the Germans grouped 3–4 Lithuanian police battalions into regimental-sized units known as Lituanische Freiwilligen Infanterie Regimenter (Lithuanian Volunteer Infantry Regiments). Three such units were formed as the Soviets reached the border, and they were sent directly to the front in an attempt to hold back the Red Army advance in late 1944 and early 1945.

Invariably lightly armed and poorly trained for frontline duties, the battalions fared badly against the Soviets. As they served as auxiliaries to the Ordnungspolizei, they often supported the Einsatzgruppen’s mass murder operations. The Lithuanian units were often put under the control of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA – Reich Security Department) and the Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF) in Ostland. This resulted in them taking part in punishment operations against local civilians for partisan attacks, which usually meant murdering all humans and their livestock in a designated area.

The Schuma Battalions

In August 1941, the Latvian urban and country police were formed into units to police the rear areas of the German frontline and also to combat partisan attacks. Called Schuma Battalions, Himmler originally wanted to form them into a Waffen-SS division in late 1941. However, the heavy losses suffered by the German Army meant they were immediately committed as frontline troops. Untrained for such a role and lightly armed, they inevitably sustained heavy losses.

Himmler eventually took control of the Schumas and used them to form the basis of a Latvian SS unit. Despite the initial problems with recruiting a Latvian legion, Himmler was determined to raise a Latvian unit. The job of recruiting was given to Rudolf Bangerskis, who was promoted to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS and inspector of the Latvian Legion. This proved difficult as he could not draw on the manpower in the police and Schuma units so had to resort to conscription. Males who had been born between 1919 and 1925 were eligible for call-up, but by April 1943 only 2478 of the intended 15,025 men had been enlisted. In September, the Latvian Legion became the 15th SS Waffen Grenadier Division comprising the 32nd, 33rd and 34th SS Freiwilligen Grenadier Regiments, the 15th SS Freiwilligen Artillery Regiment and support units. Recruitment was still incomplete when the division was posted to the Nevel area as part of the Sixteenth Army, Army Group Centre, in late 1943. On 18 November, the Latvians were engaged against the Soviets in the Pstoshka, Majevo and Novosokolniki areas.

In early February 1944, the division left behind two infantry regiments in Novosokolniki and moved northeast to Belebelka, 30km (19 miles) north of Staraya-Russa where it joined X Corps of the Sixteenth Army. It was engaged in defensive fighting until 15 February 1944 when it was forced to withdraw. The division fought a number of rearguard actions until it reached the “Panther Line” position on the Velikaya River, 40km (25 miles) from Ostrov, on 28 February (the line was a defensive belt constructed from Narva to Ostrov). Once there, it linked up with its sister division, the 19th SS Latvian Division. This had been formed on 7 January 1944 and consisted of the 42nd, 43rd and 44th Waffen Grenadier Regiments, 19th SS Artillery Regiment and support units. It was here that they dug in and prepared for the relentless Soviet advance. Both divisions fought bitterly in the following weeks, but by 19 July 1944, they had been pushed back to Latvia itself. Lack of supplies and the imminent occupation of Latvia by the Soviets prompted some desertions within both divisions, which weakened their strength considerably. Despite this, men still came forward to join the divisions as a result of the lowering of the conscription age to 18.

Both divisions were reformed at Konitz in west Prussia, but during their reorganization Riga fell to the Red Army in October 1944. The 19th SS Latvian Division was cut off in the Courland Pocket, where it fought until the end of the war. As the Germans fell back towards Konitz, the 15th SS Latvian Division was prematurely committed to battle. By early February 1945, what was left of it was engaged in combat at Jastrow and then at Flederborn. Between 14 and 24 February, it conducted a fighting withdrawal from Peterswalde back to Wusterbarth, though by this time it had been broken up into battle groups.

The division had ceased to exist in an organizational sense, though the battle groups continued to fight. The majority of the division surrendered to the Red Army at Neuruppin in early May 1945.

In all, an estimated 250,000 Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians served in military units under German command in World War II. Around half of them were killed in action or executed by the Soviets after the war (those captured were executed as traitors, the reasoning being that the Baltic states had been annexed by the USSR and thus their citizens had become Soviet citizens). As in Russia, the police and paramilitary units ably assisted the Einsatzgruppen carry out their grisly work: nearly all the 250,000 Jews in the Baltic states were exterminated during the war. To this figure must be added the tens of thousands of civilians who were murdered by Germany’s Baltic legions.

Women in the Israeli Defense Forces



In the independence struggle in Palestine, which culminated in November 1947 with the founding of the State of Israel, a number of Jewish organizations played important military roles, although they did not always act in concert. The largest of these was the thirty-thousand-strong Haganah, conceived not as a guerrilla force but as a broadly based self-protection umbrella for Jews in Palestine, which followed a policy of self-restraint and nonviolence. It acted as the parent body for the Palmach (from Plugot Mahatz or “shock troops”), which had been formed in May 1941, with the knowledge of the British who administered the Palestine mandate.

The Palmach fielded approximately four thousand members, of whom 15 to 20 percent were women. The Haganah ensured that the women in the Palmach received weapons and combat training alongside the men. Female members of the Palmach played a relatively minor role in the organization’s so-called actions against the British in Palestine—the sabotaging of communications and attacks on British army bases—and in 1946 the organization renounced terrorism and turned its attention to nonviolent activities, for example, encouraging and aiding the arrival in Palestine of illegal Jewish immigrants.

There were two more militant armed Jewish organizations: Etzel, with a membership of some seven thousand; and a smaller, splinter faction, Lehi, a self-proclaimed terror group dedicated to the violent ending of the British mandate in Palestine. Lehi fielded about eight hundred fighters and often clashed bitterly with the Haganah. Along with Etzel, it used women as medics and messengers and, in common with World War II Resistance networks, employed women to smuggle ammunition and explosives. A celebrated member of Lehi was Geula Cohen, an announcer on its underground radio station, the Voice of Fighting Zion, who was famous for her lugubrious tones as she issued chilling threats to the British forces occupying Palestine. Cohen was later to pursue a political career and in the early 1990s became a junior minister in the government headed by Yitzhak Shamir, who had been a driving force behind Lehi in the 1940s.

On the day the United Nations voted in favor of the establishment of a Jewish state, November 29, 1947, a mixed-gender Haganah patrol in the Negev was ambushed by Bedouins and wiped out. Their dead bodies were then mutilated, which prompted an order from Haganah headquarters withdrawing women from combat units. However, in the Israeli War of Independence, which broke out in early 1948 as the British relinquished their mandate in Palestine, women played an active part in the fighting that flared as the fledgling state was assailed by its Arab neighbors. Some women served as escorts to convoys making their way to a besieged Jerusalem. The women were also responsible for concealed arms and ammunition, confident that British troops would not search them. A number of women also took part in Operation Nachshon, Israel’s brigade-sized operations in the hill country to the west of Jerusalem. Among them was twenty-year-old Netiva Ben-Yehuda, who had joined the Palmach in 1946 and served in an engineer unit. More than thirty years later, she recounted her experiences in the War of Independence in three autobiographical novels.

In June 1948 the United Nations brokered a truce between Israel and its Arab enemies. This enabled the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to rest and regroup while they were reorganized and underwent intensive training as war matériel arrived from Europe. The IDF then decided to remove women from the front line. Some 10,600 women continued to serve throughout the war, which ended in July 1949, but they were tasked with medical and administrative duties in a Women’s Corps whose members served in female battalions attached to but independent of male formations. In 1949 the Women’s Corps was restructured and women soldiers were dispersed among male units. Thereafter one of its roles was to act as a support system for the women in the IDF’s ranks.

The Women’s Corps was known as Chel Nashim, which was contracted into the acronym CHEN (grace). It was closely modeled on the British Auxiliary Territorial Service, or ATS, of World War II, an organization in which CHEN’s first head, Stella Levy, had served. The emergence of CHEN coincided with the passing, in 1949, of Israel’s Defense Service Law, the first piece of legislation to introduce conscription of women in peacetime. At first the bare terms on which Israeli women were conscripted were the same as those applying to men—they were drafted to serve for two years when they reached the age of eighteen. However, when the men’s period of service was extended to three years, the women did not follow suit. (In August 2001 the Women’s Corps lost its independence when it was incorporated into the Israeli General Staff and its commander, Brigadier General Suzy Yogev, was appointed to serve as adviser on women’s issues.)

The Defense Service Law had required all citizens and permanent residents of Israel to perform military service. All women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six who were physically fit, unmarried, and had not borne children, and had not objected on grounds of religion or conscience, were obliged to fulfill their military obligation. But in 2003, during the hearing that imprisoned five young men for refusing to serve on the “political” grounds of opposing the Israeli occupation of territory annexed after the Six Day War of 1967, the court reinterpreted the exemption law for women. Thereafter women were obliged to go through the same channels as men to gain exemption, which remains at the discretion of the minister of defense.

In 2005 this change of procedure led to the imprisonment of a young Israeli woman, Idan Halili, after an initial refusal by a conscience committee to hear her argument for an exemption on the grounds of her feminist rejection of militarism. When her case was heard, the conscience committee handled the hot potato thrust into their hands by Halili with some circumspection. She gained exemption on the grounds that her feminism made her “unfit to serve.”

Until recent years, conscript women in the IDF were largely confined to administrative duties. If they possessed the right qualifications and had the endorsement of their commander, they could attend officer school. However, after graduation they could only command other women. Those who chose to remain in the IDF faced a limited range of promotion prospects and could not command men.

Israel is a small country that since its formation has often been obliged simultaneously to confront a range of more populous enemies on its borders. In time of war it relies on the rapid mobilization of its reserve to meet any major threat. In 1973, for example, just before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the active IDF numbered some 75,000, of whom one-third were regulars in the army, navy, and air force, with the balance supplied by on-duty reservists and conscripts undergoing training. On mobilization in October, Israel’s armed forces grew to 350,000. Women, however, rarely serve in the IDF reserve.

Nevertheless, since the 1990s women in the IDF have been making some, albeit limited, progress. This is a phenomenon that some military historians who are skeptical about the role of women in modern armies have linked to several interrelated factors. One of the most significant of these is the growing reluctance, since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, of a small but statistically significant number of Israeli men to undertake military service. Some of the gaps this has opened up have been filled by the introduction of women into a number of military occupational specialties (MOS) that had previously been the preserve of men.

Following a 1995 ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court, which upheld an appeal by Alice Miller, a Jewish immigrant from South Africa, women became eligible for training as aircrew in the Israeli air force. Miller did not make it through pilot training, but in 2001 Lieutenant Roni Zuckerman became the fourth Israeli woman to complete the air force’s flight course and the first to reach the status of F-16 fighter pilot, ranking sixth in a class of seventy. Previously, several women had qualified as navigators. From 1997, women in the IDF have joined antiaircraft units, and in 1998 the navy removed its barriers to the recruitment of female shipboard personnel, although women do not serve in submarines. By 2005, women were able to serve in 83 percent of the MOS in the IDF. Combat, however, remains voluntary. Those women who volunteer for combat duty are among the small number of female personnel required to undertake active reserve duty, and this for only a period of two years after their active service. Currently some five hundred women serve in combat units of Israel’s security forces, principally the border police. These volunteers may be required to serve for three years because they must undergo lengthy training.

However, women still have a long way to go in the IDF. In 2002 some 33 percent of the IDF’s junior officers were female, a percentage that fell to 21 percent in the case of middle-ranking officers (majors and captains) and plummeted to only 3 percent in the senior ranks. Significantly, as women have become integrated more fully into the structures and operations of the IDF the number of exemptions from service for women—principally for religious reasons—has risen. It remains to be seen if the aftermath of Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon in July 2006 effects long-term changes in IDF morale and composition.