6 Amazing Facts About One of WWII’s Most Daring Missions

Schloss Itter. History of Sorts

The Battle for Schloss Itter was one of the very last offensives of World War II. It was May 5, 1945. Hitler had already committed suicide. There was no longer any hope for the Germans and it was clear that the war for Europe was over. But for Captain John C. “Jack” Lee Jr. and his tank battalion, there was one last mission. It was dangerous and the stakes were high, but 14 high-profile French prisoners were still being held at the medieval castle known as Schloss Itter. When Lee received news of the prisoners he did not hesitate to act. The battle for Schloss Itter would become one of the most unbelievable and remarkable battles of World War II.

Captain Jack Lee answered the plea of Josef Gangl. BBC

The Germans Fought Side By Side with the Americans

The Battle for Schloss Itter was the only time during the war that Americans and Germans fought side by side. The prisoners at the castle sent out messages for help, one reached the Austrian resistance and in turn Major Josef Gangl. Gangl was a highly-decorated member of the Wehrmacht, but when the order came to retreat from Austria, Gangl and some of his men stayed behind.

They no longer supported the Nazi cause and they stayed behind to join the Austrian resistance and protect the people of Worgl, Austria. The town’s residents were often under attack by roving SS members, and so Gangl and the 20 men that remained loyal to him stayed to protect the town.

When he got word of the prisoners and their predicament, he knew that his small group of 20 men would not be enough to free and protect the prisoners. He decided that he would do whatever it took to get help and free the prisoners. He had hoped to wait in town until American forces reached them and to surrender, but the predicament of the prisoners meant he could not wait. Raising a white flag, he made his way toward the closet American forces he could find.

Gangl found Lee, who was leading a reconnaissance unit of 4 Sherman Tanks that were part of the 12th Armored Division. Captain Lee was waiting to be relieved by the 36th infantry division when he was approached by Gangl. Upon learning of the prisoners, Lee immediately volunteered and got approval from headquarters to help with the rescue. The two commanders then set out with 14 soldiers, one tank, a truck and driver, and 10 German artillery men. It was a small force to liberate a medieval castle prison, but the two men were willing to try.

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  • Dan L. Kelly

    Interesting , but what’s the rest of the story?? Obviously they were rescued. y the Americans? How did that take place?

    • Stephanie Schoppert

      As mentioned in the article Borata reached the 142nd and was able to march with them back to the prison. They arrived at 16:00 on May 5th and defeated the SD taking 100 prisoners. The French were freed and taken back to France May 10th.

    • GumbaJ

      Did you read past the first page? There are 5 more pages with the picture of a former French Prime minister who was one of the prisoners in the castle on the last page.

      • Dan L. Kelly

        Saw all that and the fact that they were rescued by the Americans but “The devil is in the details.” The story is unresolved and I was hanging in mid-air!.

        • Steven M Johnson

          I see what you mean. The tennis pro jumped the wall for re-enforcements and came back with them….no actual battle described. It seems to me that it probably wasn’t much of a fight when the 142nd arrived.
          I’m not a vet. Viet Nam had ended and the draft along with it when I was of age. I did, however work for a WWII hero for 20 years before I heard a word of it. In fact this story reminded me of him. He past away about two years ago.
          One day a small box arrived at his house and sat on a piece of furniture in his living room for weeks until I sake if He needed help opening it. He was pushing 90 yrs. old. He said, “Oh, my medals”? He had to have a CT senator get them for him. There was a hand full of medals including a purple heart and a bronze star.
          His wife told me several years earlier that he had yelled at a bear eating their lunch in Yellowstone. I blew it off but his daughter told me the same story. This guy was all of 5’6″ 150lbs. He looked the same in the news clipping showing him being pinned.
          Fast forward, he and the men he was fighting with were pinned down by a machine gun nest and they had no working radio. He said he was “volunteered” by a superior, but I think different. He had to run through enemy lines to get help in the way of a tank to take out the machine gun. He could have stayed behind but he ran back through enemy lines to be with his troops. (being fired on both ways) I didn’t find out if the purple heart was from that heroic feat but it got him the bronze star.
          He never talked about the war before that day he opened the box.
          A few months later I drove him to Laguardia airport from Hamden, CT.
          On the way he told a couple of stories. One being that he was the first man in his platoon to wear LL Bean boots after he told his commander he didn’t think he could go on because of frozen feet. His commander said, ” you can go back to hospital or try out the boots. They did the trick.
          He was an ornery guy if you crossed him but humble while telling me about his experiences. I’ll end by saying he told me that he saw better men than him die in front of his eyes. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

          • Dan L. Kelly

            Interesting story, Steven M. Johnson. Every veteran worth his salt has at least one, most, many more.

          • Steven M Johnson

            You are spot on, sir.

  • GumbaJ

    War isn’t between countrymen. It’s between governments who essentially force their countrymen to fight. Gaining territory is the fundamental reason for war.