Monday, June 20, 2016

Operation Juno: Kriegsmarine's Finest Hours

The Kriegsmarine's Finest Two Hours

Operation Juno Scharnhorst Gneisenau
Scharnhorst firing at extreme range against HMS Glorious - notice how elevated her guns are.
Operation Juno is one of the least-publicized naval encounters of World War II in relation to the damage inflicted. This most definitely is because the damage inflicted was almost entirely upon the Royal Navy. Compared to Operation Juno, the Bismarck battle a year later was almost a sideshow; but, anyone with the slightest interest in World War II knows every detail about the sinking of the Bismarck, while the Juno operation gets short shrift. The lack of attention to Operation Juno must be ascribed to the fact that the battle's winner was the war's loser. This is not at all unusual, and perfectly understandable given how "history" works; but the battle now stands for that point as much as anything else.

Operation Juno Scharnhorst Gneisenau
A destroyer leads Scharnhorst, followed by Gneisenau, during the February 1942 Operation Cerberus.
There is the added element that the Admiralty's papers on the incident remain locked up under the infamous "100-year rule," which could be waived - but, for so embarrassing, nay humiliating an incident, will not be. The papers will remain secret until 2040, by which time pretty much everyone but people like us will have long forgotten the incident.

Operation Juno General Dietl
The underlying reason behind Operation Juno was to save this man, General Eduard Dietl, and his troops from defeat at Narvik.
Operation Juno was one in a succession of German naval sorties which sailed up the Norwegian coast. With many of the other operations, the objective was to break out into the Atlantic by circling around Great Britain; however, the objective of Operation Juno was to aid General Dietl at Narvik. Adolf Hitler was obsessed with Dietl's predicament, and the idea was to pound the Allied base at Harstad to prevent further Allied reinforcements.

The Objective

Since battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz were not ready, the Kriegsmarine sent its most reliable pocket battleships (really heavy cruisers): Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. They were accompanied by heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper and the destroyers Z20 Karl Galster, Z10 Hans Lody, Z15 Erich Steinbrinck, and Z7 Hermann Schoemann. Any surface sortie was dangerous, but the Germans had gotten away with it previously and this was a rare chance to use the surface ships to achieve a strategic purpose, as opposed to mere commerce raiding as with the Admiral Graf Spee.

Operation Juno Admiral Marschall
Admiral Wilhelm Marschall.
Luftwaffe reconnaissance reported that the Allies were evacuating from Harstad, which robbed the mission of its strategic impact. Operational commander Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, however, was an aggressive commander who had sunk HMS Rawalpindi in 1939 and was not one to waste an opportunity. Aboard the Gneisenau, he pressed ahead despite orders to avoid combat. Kriegsmarine surface sorties were rare opportunities for aggressive commanders and not to be wasted. Rather than head directly for its port at Trondheim, instead, Marschall stayed at sea and turned the operation into a naval raid.

Hunting Down Stragglers

Marschall had plenty of opportunities. With the Allies pulling out of Narvik, the sea lanes between there and Scapa Flow were crowded with Royal Navy vessels. First, heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper came upon troop ship Orama, tanker Oil Pioneer and minesweeping trawler Juniper - and dispatched all three. The Orama was a modern (1924) Orient Line passenger liner which had been impressed into Royal Navy service. She went to the bottom about 300 miles west of Narvik, but thankfully she was not full of troops and only 19 men lost their lives. Admiral Hipper took aboard 280 prisoners. To the Kriegsmarine's credit, there was an accompanying hospital ship, the Atlantis, which obeyed the rules of war by not radioing its position - and the Admiral Hipper let her go. After this, Admiral Marschall detached the Admiral Hipper with a couple of destroyers to make port in Trondheim.

Operation Juno British troops Harstad
British soldiers evacuating from Norway on 8 June 1940. That may be the Orama in the distance.
The sinking of the Orama and the others, however, was just the appetizer. Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Glorious (Captain Guy D’Oyly-Hughes) left Harstad at 03:00 on 8 June 1940 bound for Scapa Flow, accompanied by destroyers HMS Arden and Acasta. Glorious had on board the Hawker Hurricanes from Bardufoss and a smaller-than-usual complement of its own planes in order to accommodate them. The Hurricanes were not equipped for naval landings and their pilots were not trained in operating from carriers, so the planes just got in the way. This made aircraft carrier Glorious vulnerable, and D'Oyly-Hughes requested, and received, permission, to return to Scapa Flow independently at full speed. Much is made of this decision in the critical commentaries on the incident, but in those times it was a well-regarded theory that the best protection for any ship was speed.

Operation Juno HMS Glorious
HMS Glorious was a converted Courageous-class cruiser, a veteran of World War I. She had been part of the RN operation to locate the Admiral Graf Spee in November/December 1939.
Accompanied by the destroyers, Glorious headed south. D'Oyly-Hughes made some critical mistakes: he failed to keep any aircraft in the air as a constant Combat Air Patrol, and he failed to post any lookouts in his crow's nest. The former error is somewhat understandable because he only had nine Sea Gladiators and five Swordfish on board (in addition to the land planes); failure to post lookouts, though, smacks of incompetence. The only explanation is that D'Oyly-Hughes simply discounted the possibility of any enemy surface ships, and figured that sheer speed and unpredictability would protect his ship. He was wrong; dead wrong.

The Kill

The Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau spotted HMS Glorious and her escorts about 180-200 miles west of Norway at around 16:30. Admiral Marschall opened fire at maximum range. On the third salvo, six minutes after targeting the aircraft fire, Scharnhorst incredibly made a hit on the aircraft carrier's flight deck with an 11-inch shell at 24 km. Hits at such a range ar devastating because the shells come down almost vertically and plunge through the decks. The hit was on the forward part of the hangar, and there were no planes on deck. This damage prevented the Glorious from launching any aircraft and essentially sealed her fate.

Operation Juno HMS Glorioius
HMS Glorious in April 1940.
The two Royal Navy destroyers, Ardent and Acasta, laid smoke and closed on the two pocket battleships. This was a desperate maneuver, and everyone in the Royal Navy had the memory of HMS Glowworm in the back of their mind. The suicide mission paid off in part when one of Acasta's torpedoes (it launched four) hits the Scharnhorst, causing serious damage and killing 50 German sailors. The destroyers' 120 mm guns, however, caused little damage on the larger German ships, though Acasta did make one hit on Scharnhorst with a 4.7-inch gun. Both Ardent (151 dead, 2 survivors) and Acasta (161 dead, 1 survivor) soon were on the bottom (the former at 17:50, the latter at 19:20).

Operation Juno Scharnhorst Gneisenau
This is a picture taken from the Scharnhorst of Gneisenau firing on HMS Glorious at extreme range. Again, note the elevation of the guns.
HMS Glorious herself was never a factor after the initial hits. Both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made hits, the Gneisenau striking the bridge and almost certainly killing D’Oyly-Hughes. Marschall ordered Scharnhorst to cease-fire against the sinking ship. Some survivors believed that about 900 men were in the water, but as the RMS Titanic sinking had shown in 1912, survival time in freezing northern waters was minimal. It went under at 19:10 taking approximately 1531 men, including 63 RAF pilots. Only 40 men total survived from the three Royal Navy ships.

Operation Juno HMS Glorious
Lieutenant D'Oyly-Hughes preparing for a secret - and successful - operation in France, August 1915.
It is typical to blame the entire catastrophe on Captain D'Oyly-Hughes, and indeed that is what almost all modern histories do. As noted above, he made several rookie mistakes, and the tendency forever after has been to paint him as a fool who did not understand naval operations. Among other things, D'Oyly-Hughes' submarine background is held against him. However, D'Oyly-Hughes was a D S O and Bar, D S C recipient, a Great War veteran who had shown great valor then as a Lieutenant in the submarine service and served with distinction during the inter-war period. Somewhat ironically on that score, his opponent, Admiral Marschall, himself was an old U-boat captain who even had won the highly coveted Pour le Mérite. D'Oyly-Hughes' errors off Narvik may have flowed from over-confidence, tiredness, or any number of other factors, and he shares in the blame, but simply being a noob and a boob was not one of them.

Operation Juno Gneisenau
The memorial in Morden, Dorset, to the parish's war dead, including the Captain of HMS Glorious, Captain Guy D'Oyly Hughes. Contributed by Vernon M.
However, the Royal Navy was over-stretched in early June 1940. The priority had been at Dunkirk, and the convoys also needed protection. If there had been more ships and RAF cover available for his own ship's protection, HMS Glorious would have been safe; but there weren't. The critical error did not lie with Captain D'Oyly-Hughes, but instead with a poorly conceived and executed British intervention in Northern Norway and an even more poorly planned evacuation. However, nobody ever wants to blame the Admiralty or Churchill for their strategic errors, and D'Oyly-Hughes did not survive, so he is the sump of all blame.

Operation Juno Scharnhorst Gneisenau

After the battle, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau headed for Trondheim themselves to rejoin Admiral Hipper. The Gneisenau was in bad shape, with flooding of 2,500 long tons and her aft turret out of action, but the Scharnhorst was untouched. In the long run, from a strategic sense, the damage to Gneisenau was annoying but not debilitating.

Operation Juno Gneisenau
This photo shows Gneisenau's major damage clearly on the starboard side. The torpedo pierced both sides of the bow. Temporary repairs are visible.
While the torpedo did a lot of damage, it did not pierce the central section of the ship which gave it buoyancy. Warships are designed to survive those kinds of hits to the stem or stern, though of course you never want damage of any kind. After temporary repairs in Norway, Gneisenau headed back to Germany for permanent repairs.

Operation Juno Gneisenau
Damage to Gneisenau on the port side from the torpedo hit.
Despite the victory, Admiral Raeder was displeased that Marschall had disobeyed orders to avoid combat. He demoted Marschall to Inspector of Naval Education, an obvious rebuke. This indirectly may have saved his life, because his replacement as Flottenchef, Admiral Günther Lütjens, went down with the Bismarck a year later. It is fair to notice that the kind of aggressive but cool-headed initiative displayed by Admiral Marschall is precisely the kind of spirit that the Kriegsmarine needed but too often lacked, but which the Royal Navy had it in abundance. It simply was not tolerated in the overly cautious Kriegsmarine.

Operation Juno HMS Glorious
HMS Glorious in her final moments.
Since every ship in the British flotilla went under, the Admiralty did not even know what had happened until German radio made a triumphant announcement on 9 June. Despite the reservations of some at the top, Operation Juno appeared to justify Admiral Raeder's confidence in the Kriegsmarine surface fleet. It had proven once and for all that, under the right circumstances, the Kriegsmarine surface fleet could be absolutely devastating.

Operation Juno HMS Glorious
This is the memorial at Trondenes Historical Centre in Harstad, Norway to HMS Glorious and her two escorts, sunk on June 8, 1940, and resulting in the loss of over 1500 lives. Photo by Peter Ashton.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hitlerism in America: Dale Maple

German POWs Find an Unlikely Ally in the United States

Camp Hale
This is an original color photograph of three unidentified Tenth Mountain Division soldiers at Camp Hale, Colorado, in 1943 or 1944. All have M1943 mountain rucksacks and are carrying Garand rifles.

I like to capture moments of World War II that aren't widely known. There has evolved a set of "common stories" about the war that define it to modern audiences. By that, I mean that it has devolved into certain headline events like Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Britain, Operation Barbarossa, and the concentration camps. These are what casual students of the war automatically jump to in their minds when the subject of WWII comes up. 

However, World War II is a vast story of unique, often rather odd individuals acting, as humans do, in unique and sometimes mysterious ways as much as battles and operations. Let's take a look at one such individual with a very odd story, a real guy who, if you were in the service then or just hanging around San Diego in the last half of the 20th Century, you might have known: Dale Maple.

Dale Maple

Dale Maple was born in San Diego in 1920 to a working-class family. His father worked with his hands - we would call him a "blue-collar worker" - for such employers as a railroad and a sheet metal foundry, while his mother was a nurse. He was very bright, became an accomplished pianist, and graduated first in his class of 585 students. That got him a scholarship to Harvard University in 1937, which was quite a feat in those days as well as now. Dale drifted amongst various subjects there before settling on comparative philology. He studied over a dozen languages but specialized in German.

Camp Hale

Maple's affection for Germany, which apparently grew out of his piano studies and pen-pal correspondence with a German girl (having a pen-pal was quite common in those days), grew exponentially at Harvard. Maple became fascinated with Hitler and fascism: he dressed up as Hitler at a costume party, he kept a bust of Hitler in his dorm room, and he took to singing German political offerings such as the Horst song Wessel (the NSDAP-German national anthem at the time) in public (that got him kicked out of the glee club, there were limits even in those pre-war days). 

Basically, this ordinary American kid became an admirer of the Third Reich in a sort of dilettante way. While it now sounds a bit odd and creepy, especially for a random American suburban kid, an obsession with Hitler was not quite as outlandish in the 1930s as it would become after the war when the fuhrer's crimes were fully exposed. Hitler was a new face on the international stage, he got a lot of press (including fawning stories in many U.S. mass market publications), and he represented "the future" in some ways. Of course, it was a rotten future, but that wasn't clear to a lot of people then.

In any event, loving Hitler from afar was odd but not a crime - yet. Maple, apparently the gregarious type, perhaps even benefited from his obsession with making friends with those of certain political or ethnic leanings. Regardless of his sympathies, Dale worked hard, became fluent in German, and graduated from Harvard with honors.

The 620th Engineer General Service Company

After Pearl Harbor, Maple enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 1942 like any other patriotic American boy. While the common wisdom now is that everyone enlisted, in fact, a lot of youth who had succeeded in life resisted the draft. So, Dale with his Harvard degree showed something by walking down to the enlistment office. 

The Army sent him to Fort Bragg. Trained as a radio operator, Maple requested combat duty. However, the Army maintained a file on Maple, knew his pre-war sympathies, and had a special place set aside for soldiers like him: South Dakota. Maple was assigned to the 620th Engineer General Service Company there. While the Army did not publicize the fact, the 620th was a unit for known fascist sympathizers. It was kept in isolated locations where the men could do something productive but also be watched. Many of the men in the unit were bright and capable, some even brilliant; they just had the wrong political sympathies and had made the mistake of openly expressing them.

Camp Hale
Camp Hale in Colorado, 1943, the year Dale arrived. It is now a national monument, though now it is basically just an open field.

The 620th was transferred to Camp Hale on 5 December 1943. Named after a Denver native, former Brigadier General Irving Hale, Camp Hale was a brand new camp set high in the Rocky Mountains. It was located north of Leadville, Colorado in the Pando Valley, which is remote even for that general area. It occupies a large plateau at about 9,200 feet, and there are 12,000-foot elevations nearby for people who like to climb. 

I've been there; nothing is left of the camp now beyond a few scattered stone foundations on a huge open, grassy plateau and some landscaping. However, when completed in November 1942 at a cost of $31 million, Camp Hale was a cutting-edge site for training mountain soldiers. Apparently, Warner Brothers even produced a film, "The Fighting Mountaineers," with scenes shot there (I've been unable to find out anything about the film). Camp Hale also was so remote that it was ideal for isolating U.S. Army soldiers who were known as fascist sympathizers. And, thus, Dale Maple found his new assignment.

Camp Hale
The 10th Mountain Division training at Camp Hale.

The 10th Mountain Division - Bob Dole's outfit, and also that of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman - was training at Camp Hale when Maple arrived. For some reason, there also was a small prisoner of war camp on the grounds, containing 200 soldiers of Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps (it probably was there due to a funding deal and the remoteness). 

Nobody guarded the POWs too closely - where would they run? The camp was in the middle of nowhere, the geography alone was prison enough. In fact, Colorado was so isolated in those days that it had 48 POW camps, with 45 of them on a par with what you would expect from a work-release program. Some of the instructors at Camp Hale also were Germans/Austrians, but they were émigrés who had fled their native lands for various reasons - such as being Jewish. 

The Army, in one of those weird army deals that makes perfect sense in a bureaucracy, housed the fascist sympathizer unit, the POWs, and the German/Austrian instructors all right next to each other. It was all very cozy - a bit too cozy, as it turned out.

Dale the Doer

Now, most fascist sympathizers in the 620th were just watchers and fans of the "cause." They were onlookers, just as many people today will follow a political party but don't actually go out and knock on doors for their candidate. And this is where the Dale Maple story, already strange, gets positively weird. 

It was not unusual for the fascist-sympathizer men of the 620th to become friendly with the POWs, and even on occasion to smuggle a POW from the base now and then for a tourist trip around Colorado. What the heck, why not, nobody was really watching. Dale, however, was so fascinated by the Afrika Corps troopers that he smuggled himself into their POW stockade (hiding under a truck) to spend some time chatting with the German soldiers. It's not unusual to want to practice your foreign language skills with visitors, but this was pushing the limits. Dale's college fascination with the culture grew even more intense, and he spent days with the POWs drinking schnapps and perfecting his German. It was all very Gemütlichkeit (cozy).

Camp Hale
Ski practice at Camp Hale. Skiing was a real novelty in the U.S. before the war, so most of the soldiers had to be trained from scratch.

While spending a couple of days actually living with the prisoners - who does this kind of thing? - Dale recruited some of the POWs for an escape to Mexico. Why he did this is more than a little unclear, as the Germans were usually just as happy to simply get out of the prison for a weekend here or there and then return. Even if the idea came up during a schnapps session, almost anyone would drop it once they sobered up. This is one of those crazy ideas you might joke about and then promptly forget when you woke up the next morning.

However, having made the connection and then returned to his normal duties outside the stockade, Maple followed through. He used a furlough to catch a bus south into Salida (a regional center, but not much of a town then) on 12 February 1944 (Leadville was off-limits to the men, and Buena Vista probably wasn't big enough in those days to matter, though it was on the rail line). 

In Salida, Dale used $250 borrowed from his parents to purchase a 1934 Reo sedan and a bunch of other prosaic items, such as fishing gear, camping equipment, and some .22-caliber bullets. He then drove back up north to the camp (on very rough roads in winter), stashed the car in nearby Red Cliff, and returned to camp.

The Escape

A few days later, on 15 February 1944, Dale made his move. He retrieved his car and met two of his POW friends, Sergeants Heinrich Kikillus and Erhard Schwichtenberg, at a prearranged spot near the camp. It was February in the Rocky Mountains, with snow everywhere at the higher elevations, and everybody knew that only a fool would try to escape on foot. Accordingly, the POWs weren't guarded while out on a work detail - where would they go, how could they possibly get a car? Dale had the answer to that: he just drove up in his sedan, the two POWs dropped their shovels and got in, and off they went. 

Just. Like. That.

Camp Hale
Another original color picture of a Tenth Mountain Division soldier at Camp Hale, Colorado during the war. The division practiced rock climbing in preparation for the invasion of Italy. Camp Hale was active for just three years; it was deactivated in November 1945 and the 10th Mountain Division moved to Texas.

The trio headed south along the highway (probably passing through Colorado Springs) and down through Albuquerque. They were just a bunch of guys - actually, one of the Germans disguised himself as a woman with a scarf, a disguise that appears to have worked. At Deming, New Mexico, 17 miles shy of the Mexican border, they got a flat tire. When checking the spare, they found that it, too, was flat. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no wheels, the three fugitives set off for the border on foot.

The Capture

The trio went across the border and several miles into Mexico, with a nebulous destination of Argentina, before anyone spotted them. A Mexican customs agent saw them on a restricted road on 18 February and asked what they were doing. When Maple couldn't explain why he was in a U.S. Army uniform with two men wearing matching prison attire, the agent took them into town and handed them over to immigration officials. A check of the records uncovered the fact that the guards at Camp Hale had noticed the escape and sent an alert to the border. The Mexicans handed them over to US authorities. 

In the United States, they went first to jail in Albuquerque. There, the two prisoners were taken and sent to another POW camp, this one in Worland, Wyoming. Maple, on the other hand, was charged with treason and shipped off to Leavenworth penitentiary in Kansas.

Camp Hale
Leavenworth Prison around the time of World War I (William Kantor Collected Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection).

At Leavenworth, the Army tried Maple on charges of desertion and under the 81st Article of War ("relieving, corresponding with or aiding the enemy"), which was considered the "closest equivalent to the charge of treason." The penalty was death. Maple was convicted, and that was the sentence. The death sentence would have been carried out (the U.S. Army took a very dim view of desertion etc. and actually executed a deserter, Private Slovik, later that year), but the whole thing smacked of a frat boy prank. 

The Army Judge Advocate General took pity on Dale and sent a personal appeal to President Roosevelt for leniency, writing:
“justice will better be served by sparing his life so that he may live to see the destruction of tyranny, the triumph of the ideals against which he sought to align himself, and the final victory of the freedom he so grossly abused.”
Roosevelt was a forgiving sort - unlike General Eisenhower in Europe, who let deserter Private Slovik face the firing squad around the same time - and commuted Maple's death sentence to life in prison. In 1946, the sentence was reduced further to ten years. Like many convicted of war crimes in Germany at the time (some also with the death sentence, such as the infamous SS leader Joachim Peiper), sentences were shortened and Maple was out by 1951.


There were only five cases of men charged with aiding the enemy in the U.S. Army during World War 2. Four of them resulted from the Dale Maple incident (the Army did a thorough investigation of the camp after his capture and threw the book at some people, including some nurses who were fraternizing a bit too much - yes, it was that kind of situation). 

Dale, who apparently could fit in anywhere, had a grand old time at Leavenworth. He even joined the church choir. Yes, while on death row. Mr. Maple obviously had a way about him.

After his release, Dale Maple returned to the San Diego area. He went into insurance (his knowledge of languages probably helped) and took on local jobs to pay the bills, settling near El Cajon east of San Diego. He joined the church choir and lived in obscurity for fifty more years. Dale Maple passed away peacefully and uneventfully in 2001, a pillar of the community, a man once charged with the most heinous crime the U.S. Army could impose but ultimately redeemed and embraced by his community.

Camp Hale


The 620th continued in existence long after the war, though it probably wasn't used then to house fascist sympathizers - most likely. However, appropriately, the unit did later get transferred to Karlsruhe, Germany. 

Camp Hale, meanwhile, was used sporadically in the post-war years until dismantled. There currently is a plan to use $30 million of Forest Service money to restore the entire area to a rough approximation of its natural habitat (aside, apparently, from the roads built through the area during the camp's construction that are still in use). That proposal is in public comment and review period scheduled to end during the summer of 2016, a couple of months from when I am writing this.

As an update, President Joe Biden in late 2022 signed a proclamation establishing the Camp Hale – Continental Divide National Monument. The proclamation did not mention Dale Maple.

Once again, as in so many other small ways, World War II really isn't as far away from us today as you might think from the mere passage of years.

Camp Hale
Camp Hale as it has looked in recent years.

The story of Dale Maple is but one tale of millions of others during the war, and I don't expect it to grab every reader and shake them by the lapels. Dale was just a schlub, a guy with a fancy education and screwy obsessions who turned into an action man at exactly the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. This is the small potatoes of history, and if you found it pointless to read about this, I understand. But this is just as much the history of World War II as D-Day and the atomic bombs. Those of us who lived with veterans of the war understand how lasting the impressions and consequences of it were. Things were not always as tidy as the history books may make out.

Dale Maple's strange tale opens a doorway into ordinary life during the war for so many that rote descriptions of battles or leaders would never reveal. POW camps, army training camps, the odd interactions between soldiers and the enemy during the war, military justice, the remnants of the war living amongst us that we never realized or understood - it all comes out in a story such as this. For true students of the era, hopefully, that adds a little to our understanding of the times.

For information on Colorado POW camps, see Allen W. Paschal, "The Enemy in Colorado: German Prisoners of War, 1943-46," The Colorado Magazine p. 119 (1979). For information on Camp Hale, see "Camp Hale," Colorado Encyclopedia.