The Battle for Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of WW2

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In the waning days of the Second World War, five days after Hitler shot himself in his bunker in Berlin, one of the most bizarre battle took place at a 19th century castle in the Austrian Alps. Castle Schloss Itter, located on a hill close to the village Itter, had some very prominent French personalities held prisoners by the SS. After the prison's guards fled, the hardy prisoners took arms and fought side-by-side along with American and German troops against the Nazis. The Battle of Castle Itter was the only battle of Word War 2 where Allied forces battled alongside the German troops.

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Photo credit: Johann Hartl/Panoramio

After the German annexation of Austria in the late 1940s, Castle Itter was seized from the owner, and under the orders of Heinrich Himmler, turned into a prison camp where several high profile prisoners and VIPs were retained, including former French President Albert Lebrun, former Prime Ministers Paul Reynaud and Edouard Daladier, military generals Maxime Weygand and Maurice Gamelin, and a renowned tennis star Jean Borotra.

The story of the battle begins on May 4, 1945, when three Sherman tanks under the grip of Capt. Jack Lee Jr., rolled into the castle with the intention of rescuing its prisoners. Meanwhile, Major Josef Gangl, commander of a unit of Wehrmacht soldiers, and a defector, was making similar plans. Gangl planned to surrender to the American forces and decided that helping free the French prisoners would go well on his report card. So waving a big white flag, Gangl approached Capt Jack Lee and the two decided to launch a rescue mission.

The castle was originally guarded, but with American forces approaching and the threat of underground resistance looming large, the guards panicked and fled. When the prison was deprived of any guards, the French prisoners equipped themselves with the weapons the guards left behind and greeted those three Sherman tanks.

At dawn on May 5, when the Nazis returned to seize the castle Lee’s troop merged, along with the anti-Nazi German soldiers and the wives and supporters of the French VIPs to fight back the SS. Over the course of the day, Lee’s troops managed to survive the SS attack until Allied reinforcements arrived. It was the only battle in the history where Americans, French, and Germans fought together.

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Photo credit: giborn_134/Flickr

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Photo credit: Dutch Simba/Flickr

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