The British Free Corps, originally called the British Legion of St George, was created by the Nazis in 1943. The British Free Corps had no military value in World War Two but its founder, John Amery, was hanged for treason in 1945.
At the beginning of World War Two, John Amery, the son of Leo Amery, Winston Churchill’s Minister for India, drifted around Europe with seemingly little direction in his life. He called himself a socialist. However, Amery also believed that the world faced a Jewish/Soviet plot to overthrow western civilisation. His views became known in Berlin. Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, realised the importance Amery could play in the propaganda battle with Britain – a government minister’s son supporting the cause of Nazi Germany. Amery received an invite to visit Berlin.
He arrived in October 1942 and made a number of broadcasts on the ‘New British Broadcasting Station’. Clearly a propaganda coup, similar to Lord Haw Haw, the Nazis planned to expand their use of Amery. He was sent to Paris to make contact with pro-Nazi Frenchmen there. A few Frenchmen had joined the so-called ‘Foreign Legions’ – non-Germans who fought with the SS. Amery got the idea for a British version that would be used in the fight against the Russians – a British anti-Bolshevik force. He wanted the new force to be called the British Legion of St George. The Nazis were both intrigued by the idea and supportive. Such a unit would have been a massive propaganda coup if it had ever come into being.
In April 1943, they gave Amery permission to raise a brigade of 1500 men who would all be POW’s or internees. Amery started his recruiting campaign at once in Paris addressing internees there. He promised anyone who joined the Legion that they would be immediately released from their prison. The campaign was an embarrassing disaster. Invariably he was shouted down and verbally abused. In his first recruiting campaign, Amery got one volunteer – an elderly academic from Paris. Amery’s efforts were so embarrassing that the Germans quietly eased him back to Berlin.
By May 1943, with the Nazis taking more of a part in the recruiting campaign, the number in the Legion had risen to twelve. Those involved in Nazi propaganda believed that the idea was worth pursuing and with Amery side-lined, managed to increase the number to thirty by June 1943. They were paid one mark a day.
In late 1943, the Nazis decided to re-name the unit the British Free Corps. Those in it were given a uniform – it was of German field grey colour, with the Union Jack on one sleeve, a collar patch of three lions or three leopards and a cuff with ‘Britische Freikorps’ on it.
When the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, the British Free Corps was thrown into confusion. Those in it had been convinced that they would be fighting the Russians in a stand against the spread of Bolshevism. They had been promised that they would never be required to fight the British. Would they now have to fight men in the British Army?
Men in the BFC refused to even contemplate fighting the British. Their German masters moved them out to the Russian front where they did very little.
In March 1945, ten of the men in Russia were sent to fight with the SS 11th Volunteer Infantry Division Nordland. They were held in reserve and never fired a shot in anger.
When the war ended, men known to have been in the British Free Corps were arrested. However, they were seen as little more than a joke who had fallen prey to the Nazi propaganda machine. A few were given light jail sentences – others were simply released after they had been questioned.
However, many believed that John Amery was no better than William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – and that he had known what he was doing when he aided the enemy in trying to recruit men to fight for Nazi Germany. Effectively dumped by the Nazis, he had drifted around Nazi-occupied Europe. Towards the end of the war, he was arrested by Italian partisans outside of Milan.
Charged with treason, Amery’s trial was well publicised. He was found guilty and on December 19th, 1945, he was hanged at Wandsworth Prison in London. Some argued that he was paying the price for his treachery. Others argued that he was hanged because of the embarrassment he caused to Churchill’s government being the son of one of his minister. Anyone else, it was argued, would have received a prison sentence.