By Rob Morgan
This isn’t an original thought about the Second World War, but merely a comment and a few suggestions drawn from reading a single-page article (it’s page 6) in the July 2015 issue of History Today. Written by Larry Hannant, an historian teaching in British Columbia, it outlines one of the most remarkable end-game battles of World War II, but there are undoubtedly many, many others bearing similarity to this.
Texel, the Dutch large island in the North Sea, was garrisoned in the last months of the war by 1,200 Wehrmacht soldiers, 800 of them Georgian volunteers of the 822nd Ost Battalion, captured on the Eastern Front and now in the service of the Reich. The garrison, German and Georgian alik,e had been lucky, and may have seen the war out quietly — but!
The Georgians realised what fate awaited them with the fall of the Reich, if returned to Stalin (like the Cossacks), and they changed sides. On 6 April 1945, they attacked the Germans of the garrison and killed many in their barracks, hoping for Allied intervention — which didn’t come. The German commandant escaped to the mainland and mobilised a force of more than 2,000 Marines and SS to recapture the island, probably the last German amphibious operation of the war.
The battle raged, in house to house conflict, with the Dutch resistance and civilians aiding the Georgians, for weeks, well beyond the Nazi surrender in Holland on May 5, and the capitulation of May 8. On Texel, the war continued, almost unnoticed by the Allies, until as late as 20 May, units of the Canadian First Army landed on the island. They found a battle raging, with only 228 Georgians surviving. 475 had died or been murdered by the Nazis, who rapidly downed weapons. German casualties according to Hannant were 812 dead, many more wounded, so the Georgians put up a stiff and effective fight; they would probably have won if an Allied force had arrived to support them, a warship or a company or two of commandos or paratroops. The Germans would probably have surrendered fairly quickly to an outside force, or fled the island altogether.
Unfortunately, the survivors were “repatriated” under the Yalta Agreement, and none lived to tell the tale. The article draws no military conclusion, not even surprise that similar rebellions did not take place more widely in Western Europe, but it does provide an interesting starting point for the wargamer.
Two forces, far from equal of course, but with no recourse to air power, and at that late stage of the war, few armoured vehicles beyond an APC or two, or a scout car, and no artillery other than A/A and coastal emplaced weapons. Most of the Germans killed at the outset were gunners and second-echelon troops. It does give an interesting option for a late war encounter, since both sides were wearing the same uniform, and using the same weapons. An infantry encounter, and one in which many of the static defences will have been of little use as they were intended to counter attack from the open sea. The distinguishing feature of the Georgians — and some 30,000+ fought for the Reich — was their arm shield; you’ll find a colour plate in Jurado’s Osprey MAA 147 Foreign Volunteers of the Wehrmacht, but it seems likely that some sort of distinguishing emblem, an armband possibly, will have been worn to identify them to their comrades.
Very little work to do for the war gamer to produce this kind of small scale combat. Figures are available in every scale imaginable and the Georgian paint job a red, white and black shield is hardy a major paint job. The intensity of the fighting, and the high casualty rates on both sides, would seem to negate the idea that most of the Ost battalions were little more than labour units.