Category Archives: World War II

If the Dutch can confront their complex history, can we?

I think it a good practice to consider how other countries and cultures chose to display their history, and heritage, in public spaces.  For instance, from Goirle, Netherlands:

The helmet identifies the nationality and context of this figure very well – he is a German soldier.  A soldier serving in the German Army in World War II.  Why would the Dutch people chose to honor a soldier from an army which occupied their country – a brutal occupation I would add – with a statue? An article from War History Online offers some background for this statue memorializing Karl-Heinz Rosch:

October 6, 1944 – Three days after Rosch’s turned 18, the young German soldier, along with his platoon, was stationed in a farm in Goirle when Allied forces took fire on them. He was about to hide in the basement along with his comrades when he noticed that the two children of the farmer who owned the land seemed oblivious of the danger that was on them and continued to play in the courtyard. He quickly dashed to them, took each in his arms and brought them into the safety of the basement. He again ran outside to position himself on the other side of the courtyard when a grenade hit him right at the spot where the children were earlier.

The article goes on to say that Rosch was killed on the spot. Years pass and yet the villagers of Goirle remembered the incident.  It stood out large among many other, arguably more important, incidents during World War II.  Rosch’s story was a part of their shared history.  But it was not one that could be spoken of without reservation.  After all, Rosch was “...just a damn Kraut” in the eyes of some. Then after three-quarters of a century, the village decided something should be done.  Herman van Rouwendaal, a former city councilor of the area, determined in 2008 that it was time to bring Rosch’s story out into the light of day.  To explain and interpret this display, the statue has this plaque at the base:

I’m not going to fool you with my attempt to translate the whole.  It is the last line which stands out to me:

Dit beeld is een eerbetoon aan hem en allen die het goede doen in kwade tijden.

My Dutch is not even passing. But from about every other word I can translate, I get:

This is a tribute to him and all who do good in bad times.

The direct approach to the “good, bad, and ugly” of history. But this project was not necessarily a “feel good” story where everyone simply joined hands to agree. Those advocating for the memorial argued with others contending that no honors should be offered to soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany during World War II.  In the end, the memorial was placed on private space, without public funding.  But the display was allowed. The article provides another “gem” for us to consider.  Rouwendaal went on to say:

Some Dutch are caught in a black-and-white way of thinking. The Germans were all Nazis, the Dutch were all good. That there were also unsavory characters among us, who for example betrayed Jews and robbed them, one does not like to hear… We will not be honoring the Wehrmacht, but rather the humanity of a young German soldier.

At a time in our history where many loud calls are made towards extreme ends about memorials and unsavory aspects of our own history, we might paraphrase Rouwendaal’s to reflect that “some Americans” are caught up “in a black-and-white way of thinking.”  I don’t think that would be threading the eye of some needle.

O/T… HMAS Perth wreck stripped by salvagers (A warning about Civil War wrecks, sites?)

This is a bit off topic for “To the Sound of the Guns” and the sort of news item I prefer to send over to my pal XBradTC.  However, I think this is a story those interested in Civil War shipwrecks, and beyond that even Civil War battlefields, should take interest.

On Friday the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran this story:

HMAS Perth: World War II warship grave stripped by salvagers

Survivors, historians and Defence personnel have been horrified to discover that the wreck of HMAS Perth, which was sunk by the Japanese in 1942, is being destroyed by commercial salvagers in Indonesian waters.

Australian authorities have tried to keep the scandal a secret, fearing the issue might add fuel to the ongoing diplomatic tensions between Australia and Indonesia.

The warship, which sank in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java, is the last resting place of as many as 355 Australian sailors who went down with the vessel after it was struck by multiple torpedoes.

But it has never been protected as an official war grave.

Australia and Indonesia are yet to ratify the UNESCO Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage, a binding national treaty which would oblige both countries to protect such sites.

Since at least September, scuba divers have made official reports of large-scale damage to the wreck from a massive floating crane equipped with a salvage claw.

These reports have been made to the Australian embassy in Jakarta and to local officials in the Department of Environment and Heritage, and the Department of Defence.  (Read more.)

There’s a video segment and additional information with the news article.  As the citation above notes, there was no legal protection for this war grave.  So any action to block further salvage rests with the respective governments.

A bit of background, the HMAS Perth sank in the battle of Sunda Straits, fought during the opening phases of World War II.  The ship is well remembered by Australians.  A modern frigate carries the name and memory of the Perth.  So this is a touchy subject for many, to say the least.  Like many shipwrecks close enough to the surface, divers have visited the wreck… to include commercial sport divers from what I gather… but there has always been an effort to keep the activity respectful.

And we cannot say this is just an Australian-Indonesian issue.  The wreck of the USS Houston, another cruiser sank in the action, lays nearby.  I think, but have not confirmed, that the Houston is protected by the UNESCO treaty.

Furthermore, with the cost of scrap metal on the open markets, there is ever more a threat to other wreck sites around the world.  Although with respect to Civil War era wreck sites, it is more so the lure of “treasure” and “relics” as opposed to raw scrap metal.  Of course we have a set of laws and regulations which protect, preserve, and govern access to the wrecks in American waters.  Even when the wrecks are disturbed by officially sanctioned maintenance, reviews are made to ensure preservation and if necessary proper recovery.  (For example, the long running story of the preservation and recovery efforts of the CSS Georgia.)

Beyond that, what about on land?  Anyone who has picked up a National Park Service brochure knows metal detecting is illegal on the battlefields.  Same goes for most state and local sites (and lump in there most sites owned by preservation groups).  But with so much battlefield lands in public hands, “digging” does occur on Civil War battlefields.  And in most cases the work is done without any regard for the archeological context that lies beneath.  Or for that matter who’s grave is being disturbed.

I don’t wish to have readers interpret this as a “broad brush” condemnation.  I know many in the hobby who have done right, and in many cases helped efforts to preserve, protect, and interpret Civil War sites.   The hobby can and should police itself.  However, there’s little difference in my mind from the people hauling steel from the HMAS Perth for sale as scrap, and the fellow using the metal detector to find musket balls for resale at some trinket store.

OT… a little: Long buried Spitfires may fly someday

From the Telegraph (UK):

Squadron of ‘lost’ spitfires could be flying again in three years
A lost squadron of Spitfires buried in Burma after the Second World War could be flying again within three years, experts said today.

Archaeologists will begin digging for the historic hoard of at least 36 British fighter planes in January.

A proportion of the aircraft will then be carefully packaged and brought back to the UK next spring, where they will be restored.

David Cundall, a farmer and aviation enthusiast from Scunthorpe, Lincs, has spent 16 years researching the project after being told about the burial by a group of US veterans.
It was his tenacity and perseverance and his “obsession to find and restore an incredible piece of British history” that will finally see a team begin digging in the New Year.

The extraordinary treasure hunt was described as a “story of British determination against all odds”.

Surveys undertaken at one of three sites in Burma have shown that large areas of electrically conductive material are present underground at a depth of around 10 metres.

The location and depth is consistent with eight eye witness reports given to Mr Cundall that the rare Mark XIV Spitfires were buried there in August 1945.

“We put a camera down a boorhole and went into a box and through two inches of Canadian pine,” Mr Cundall disclosed.

“Yes, we did see what we thought was an aeroplane.”

Mr Cundall was first told about the fighters in 1996 and spent two years researching the claims. He found eight people who “told the same story” about the crates being buried and at what depth, all pointing to the same spot.

He has since been to Burma 16 times conducting surveys and negotiating with the authorities.

When sanctions forbidding the movement of military materials in and out of the country were lifted earlier this year, he knew his dream could be realised.

“Hopefully, they will be brought back to the UK and will be flying at air shows,” he said.

(Full story here)

This would be cool to the power of 10.

Not uncommon in any war for equipment to be buried or otherwise discarded in caches like this.  Who knows what Civil War equipment was just packed away in the corners of garrisons and forts.  There was some question about just such artifacts in regard to Fort Monroe.   And there was some question recently about buried cannons at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.   But, in my opinion, we should turn to the archeologists to explore these possibilities.  Often the “treasure” isn’t just the physical artifact but the story it can tell.