The first recruits to the Corps came from a group of prisoners of war (POWs) at a "holiday camp" set up by the Germans in Genshagen, a suburb of Berlin, in August 1943.
During World War II numerous Waffen SS volunteer units were formed from the Nordic countries. This strategy was encouraged by the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler who stated, “We must attract all the Nordic blood in the world to us, and so deprive our enemies of it so that never again will Nordic or Germanic blood fight against us.” Over half the Waffen SS was made up of non-German nationality. Waffen SS volunteers came from Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Croatia, Ukraine, Latvia, Hungary, Spain, and Sweden and from Russians and Cossacks. One force was formed into Der Britisches Freikorps otherwise known as The British Free Corps (BFC).
The BFC was the brainchild of John Amery, eldest son of Secretary for India of the British Government, the Rt. Hon. Leopold Stennett Amery, MP. His son, John Amery, had fought against Communism in the Spanish Civil War where he gained Spanish citizenship. In 1939 Amery moved to France and subsequently to Germany in 1942. From Germany, he broadcast radio messages to Britain calling for peace between Britain and Germany.
Amery founded The League of St. George. The unit was intended to be a non-combat unit made up of British prisoners of war prepared to spread the National Socialist message to fellow prisoners of war. The Wehrmacht High Command insisted on the Legion being a combat unit. On January 1, 1944, the BFC was officially formed. Volunteers signed a pledge, which read:
“I, (name of the volunteer) being a British subject, consider it my duty to offer my services in the common European struggle against Communism, and hereby apply to enlist in the British Free Corps.”
Interestingly, before the BFC came into being, a number of British volunteers had fought in some Totenkopf units. In May 1940, a Waffen SS manpower report mentions British volunteers serving in the SS Totenkopf Division and Standarten units.
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Amery soon resigned from the Corps as he wanted the volunteers to wear British uniforms. However, the SS insisted on the wearing of the SS uniforms with British insignia (Union Flag arm shields and the Three Lions collar patches). Amery moved to Italy where he became an advisor to Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Roebke then took command of the British Free Corps. The Hauptsturmfuhrer was replaced in November 1944 by Obersturmfuhrer Dr. Kuehlich. By 1945 Captain Webster, a British Army Officer was also involved in the leadership of the British Free Corps.
By spring 1945 the British Free Corps was sent to Steinhoefel where the III SS Panzer Corps (Germanic) Headquarters was situated under the leadership of Ogrusturmfuhrer Felix Steiner. The British volunteers were assigned to the Nordland Division. It was within this Division that many of them saw action in the defence of Berlin although many Britons otherwise saw service with the Leibstandarte SS.
Palace writers hostile to the BFC claim its members never saw active service; this is not the case. Reproduced is a letter from Anthony Byers of Effingham, Surrey that was printed in the Daily Express.
Antony Beevor (Inside Hitler’s Concrete Tomb, last week) mentions the foreign SS troops who helped to defend Berlin. Among them were soldiers of the British Free Corps, who were released from a prisoner of war camps in return for donning German SS uniforms, with the understanding that they would not be asked to fight their own countrymen. As a National Serviceman stationed in Berlin, I met a Russian Red Army officer who was impressed by the fighting spirit of eight misguided British soldiers.
“They (British troops) held up an entire Russian regiment for almost two days until they ran out of ammunition. Only two survived to surrender and were promptly shot by the understandably irritated Russians, who had lost almost 100 men and three tanks.”
“The Russian officer said that had SS Unterscharfuher Cornfield and a soldier identified as Pleed been fighting the Germans; they would have deserved the Victoria Cross (VC). He told me: “I hope the British invented a good story for their families, for a brave soldier is still a brave soldier even when a traitor to his country.”
Siegrunen 63 has this to say of Reginald Leslie Cornfield. “Reginald Cornfield is thought to be the only British Free Corps member to be killed in action. On 27 April 1945, during the battle for Berlin, Cornfield disabled a Soviet tank with a Panzerfaust. The tank crew then tracked him down and shot him. Due to his unusual BFC uniform, his Soldbuch (Identity Book) was taken and kept by the Russian officer. Nothing is recorded of Pleed.
John Amery’s book England and Europe were distributed to British prisoners of war from April 21, 1943, in the hope that they would join the Legion of St. George. The book is vehemently anti-Communist. The unique work details such things as what happens to the general population of countries when Communism (Bolshevism) takes over; who instigated the war and who was likely to profit from such a war. England and Europe also warn that Britain would lose her empire to the benefit of both Russia and the USA.
One of the first to volunteer was ‘Frank Wood’ (many members used pseudonyms) who drafted a recruitment leaflet for the BFC, which was dropped by the Luftwaffe to British front-line troops fighting in Italy.
Fellow Countrymen! We of the BRITISH FREE CORPS are fighting for you. We are fighting with the best of Europe’s youth to preserve our European civilisation and our common cultural heritage from the menace of Jewish Communism. MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! Europe includes England. Should Soviet Russia overcome Germany and other European countries fighting with her, nothing on this earth would save the Continent from Communism, and our own country sooner or later would eventually succumb. We are British. We love England and all it stands for. Most of us have fought on the battlefields of France, of Libya, Greece, and Italy, and many of our best comrades-in-arms are lying there ~ sacrificed in this war of Jewish revenge. We felt then that we were being lied to and betrayed. Now we know it for certain. This conflict between England and Germany is racial SUICIDE. We must UNITE and take up arms against the common enemy. We ask you to join us in our struggle. We ask you to come into our ranks and fight shoulder to shoulder with us for Europe and for England. ~ Published by the British Free Corp.
John Amery was arrested in Italy. Despite having taken Spanish citizenship prior to World War Two the martyr for a free Europe was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on December 9, 1945.
A similar fate also befell Irish-American William Joyce. He had implored British prisoners of war to enlist in the British Free Corps. Despite being born in New York in 1906 and being of Irish parentage Joyce was controversially found guilty of treason.
The problem British Free Corp volunteers was that, unlike the other European volunteers, Britain was still at war with Germany. Other European countries had surrendered to Germany or were allies of Germany. The legality of the British Free Corp was something that concerned the German High Command right.
That these volunteers were found guilty of treason despite never having taken up arms against their fellow countrymen is surely a travesty of justice.
As early as 1941, after Japan entered the war, the Fuhrer told Walter Hewel, one of his staff members,
“Strange, that we are destroying the positions of the White Race in East Asia with the help of Japan, while Britain has joined the Bolshevik swine in the fight against Europe.”