In 1919 Günther Kegler returned to civilian life after serving in the Imperial German army during World War I. There were two reasons for that. Having sustained severe injuries and having lost one kidney in the battles on the Western Front in 1917, he was considered unfit for active duty. However, he could have easily performed any sort of interior office functions. But following the decrees of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army had to be reduced to 100,000 men.
So from 1919 to 1921 he took up an agricultural training program at the estate farm of Neuhütten at Bublitz, Pomerania (now Polish Bobolice). Since he was also knowledgeable in bookkeeping and accounting, he soon switched over to a more lucrative employment and worked as senior accountant at various large estates in the county of Sangerhausen about 50 km west of Halle. His income allowed him to save enough money to have a small house built in 1934, which sold next to nothing, when he left the German Democratic Republic in 1956.
In 1938 he was ordered by the army to join and was assigned to work in the recruiting center of the reserve in Erfurt. He started out as major and quickly climbed up the ranks serving at centers in Erfurt, Kassel and Eisenach. Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) he arrived in France on April 1, 1944 at St. Brieuc, Bretagne and Niort. He was primarily involved in the planning of effective defense strategies. Two months after D-Day he was responsible for the orderly withdrawal of Indian troops, Russian volunteers, railway workers, nurses etc. away from the battle fields.
Here I must digress and point out to a little known fact (perhaps suppressed out of embarrassment for the victors) that troops from India, Russia and volunteers from many Nazi occupied nations were fighting on the German side. See also the report of my brother Karl in Chapter 6 of the P. and G. Klopp Story, in which he wrote about young men from all over Europe willing to fight communism, which in their eyes was the greater evil. However, when I read about Indian troops as being part of the German army, I was in a state of disbelief and decided to check out the story on Wikipedia. And this is what I found and I quote,
The Indian Legion (Indische Legion), officially the Free India Legion (Legion Freies Indien) or Infantry Regiment 950 and later the Indian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen-SS (Indische Freiwilligen Legion der Waffen-SS), was a military unit raised during World War II in Nazi Germany. Intended to serve as a liberation force for British-ruled India, it was made up of Indian prisoners of war and expatriates in Europe. Because of its origins in the Indian independence movement, it was known also as the “Tiger Legion”, and the “Azad Hind Fauj”. Initially raised as part of the German army, it was part of the Waffen-SS from August 1944. Indian independence leader Subhas Chandra Bose initiated the legion’s formation, as part of his efforts to win India’s independence by waging war against Britain, when he came to Berlin in 1941 seeking German aid. The initial recruits in 1941 were volunteers from the Indian students resident in Germany at the time, and a handful of the Indian prisoners of war who had been captured during the North Africa Campaign. It would later draw a larger number of Indian prisoners of war as volunteers.
In the BBC news of September 23, 2004, we read the following:
In the closing stages of World War II, as Allied and French resistance forces were driving Hitler’s now demoralised forces from France, three senior German officers defected.
Legionnaires were recruited from German POW camps
The information they gave British intelligence was considered so sensitive that in 1945 it was locked away, not due to be released until the year 2021.
Now, 17 years early, the BBC’s Document programme has been given special access to this secret file.
It reveals how thousands of Indian soldiers who had joined Britain in the fight against fascism swapped their oaths to the British king for others to Adolf Hitler – an astonishing tale of loyalty, despair and betrayal that threatened to rock British rule in India, known as the Raj.
The story the German officers told their interrogators began in Berlin on 3 April 1941. This was the date that the left-wing Indian revolutionary leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, arrived in the German capital.
Bose, who had been arrested 11 times by the British in India, had fled the Raj with one mission in mind. That was to seek Hitler’s help in pushing the British out of India.
He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands. Thousands of us volunteered
Lieutenant Barwant Singh
Six months later, with the help of the German foreign ministry, he had set up what he called “The Free India Centre”, from where he published leaflets, wrote speeches and organised broadcasts in support of his cause.
By the end of 1941, Hitler’s regime officially recognised his provisional “Free India Government” in exile, and even agreed to help Chandra Bose raise an army to fight for his cause. It was to be called “The Free India Legion”.
Bose hoped to raise a force of about 100,000 men which, when armed and kitted out by the Germans, could be used to invade British India.
He decided to raise them by going on recruiting visits to Prisoner-of-War camps in Germany which, at that time, were home to tens of thousands of Indian soldiers captured by Rommel in North Africa.
Since all this was top-secret at the time my uncle just mentioned in passing the presence of Indian troops in his family chronicle in 1975, this would have been explosive news, if it had found its way into the international press.
To be continued