Prisoners bound as a result of the Dieppe Raid

The Dieppe raid led to uncomfortable consequences for the POWs in Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf.

On 19th August 1942, during the raid on Dieppe, Canadian Brigadier William Wallace Southam took a copy of the operational order ashore against explicit orders. The order was subsequently discovered on the beach by the Germans and found its way to Hitler. Among the dozens of pages of orders was an instruction to ‘bind prisoners’. The orders were for the Canadian forces participating in the raid, and not the Commandos. The Germans claimed that bodies of shot German prisoners with their hands tied were found by German forces after the battle.
On the night of 3rd-4th October 1942, ten men of the British Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 12 Commando made an offensive raid on the Channel Island of Sark, called Operation Basalt, to reconnoitre, and take some prisoners. The Channel Islands were the only British territory to be occupied by the Germans.
During the raid, five prisoners were taken. To minimize the task of the guard left with the captives, the commandos tied the prisoners’ hands. According to the British personnel, one prisoner allegedly started shouting to alert those in a hotel, and was shot dead. The remaining four prisoners were silenced by stuffing their mouths with grass. On the way to the beach, three prisoners made a break. Whether or not some had freed their hands during the firefight has never been established, nor is it known whether all three broke at the same time. Two are believed to have been shot and one stabbed. The fourth was conveyed safely back to England. Officially-sanctioned German military accounts of the time assert unequivocally that the dead German soldiers were found with their hands bound, and later German military publications make many references to captured Commando instructions ordering the tying of captives’ hands behind them, and the use of a particularly painful method of knotting around the thumbs to enable efficient, coercive, single-handed control of the captive.
A few days after the Sark raid, the Germans issued a propaganda communiqué implying that at least one prisoner had escaped and two were shot while resisting having their hands tied. They also claimed this ‘hand-tying’ practice was used at Dieppe. Subsequently, on 8th October, Berlin announced that 1,376 Allied prisoners (mainly Canadians from Dieppe) would henceforth be shackled. (The actual number varies in different accounts, and it is said that initially 1,500 POWs at Lamsdorf alone, without counting those at other camps, were shacked at this time). The Canadians responded with a like shackling of German prisoners in Canada.
[This tit-for-tat shackling continued until the Swiss achieved agreement with the Canadians to desist on December 12, and with the Germans much later after they received further assurances from the British. At any rate, by this time many German camps had abandoned the pointless practice or reduced it to merely leaving a pile of shackles in a prison billet as a token.]
At the roll-call on 8 October 1942 at Oflag IIIC Hoenfels (Parsberg), Oflag VIIB Eichstaett, Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf and at Stalag IXC Bad Sulza, many prisoner of war who had been taken prisoner at Dieppe, and others too, were fallen out and their hands were tied with cord and remained so for twelve hours daily. In Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf, it is said that some 1,500 British and Canadians had their hands tied with pieces of Red Cross string 18 inches in length—apparently a misinterpretation of an order specifying 18 inches of play between the hands. This was bad enough for those concerned, but it seemed as if the German camp authorities seized the opportunity to work off old scores. The issue of Red Cross food parcels, cigarettes, and regular mail was discontinued, and shortly afterwards all sports, concerts, and educational classes were forbidden until further notice. With only the poor German rations to exist on, an acute shortage of blankets and no allowance of fuel to combat the increasing cold, conditions in the stalag became as hard as they had ever been. At some camps German camp staff were now disclaiming any obligations under the Geneva or any other convention, and openly talking of the continuance of collective punishments, no matter what appeals were made. There was some kicking and bayonet prodding of bound men by one or two sadistic guards, and those found with loosened bonds or smoking inside the barracks were subjected to rather brutal punishments (Several hours with wrists shackled and held up tightly behind the back, nose and toes touching a wall.)
Three days after the first announcement came a second that, as German prisoners in England (or Canada) were now being bound, the reprisal would now apply to three times the present numbers and at Lamsdorf another 800 POWs were bound. These were by no means just Canadians, nor just POWs captured at Dieppe, nor even just army POWs.
As time went on conditions were considerably relaxed for the shackled prisoners. After six weeks the original tight handcuffs were replaced by police fetters with a fairly comfortable length of chain between them; and representations through neutral agencies had most of the collective restrictions removed. Prisoners found that the handcuffs could be opened with a nail, or the key taken from the corned beef tins in Red Cross parcels, and a good many began taking them off while not under observation by guards. The guards themselves had begun the practice of simply leaving the right number of manacles in each room, instead of seeing that they were put on.

The New Zealand Electronic Text Collection gives a very full account of this episode. This starts with an account of what happened at Oflag VIIB, but continues to give the complete picture at all affected camps: To read it click HERE

  • Jim Holliday, a member of the Royal Australian Air Force who was a POW at Lamsdorf, did extensive research on this subject and his account was published in the book he edited with Dave Radke, ‘The RAAF POWs of Lamsdorf’. To see the relevant pages click HERE
  • This is a dissertation by Kiera Bridley: ‘Allied Unshackling: British, Canadian, and American Prisoner of War Diplomacy during the Shackling Reprisals, 1942-43’ (Minnesota State University – Mankato 2014). To read it click HERE
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