The German mutiny planned for just before the Liberation

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This article by Robert Le Sueur was first published in the 2014 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

As early as June, 1944, after the Allied landings in Normandy and accelerating during the final siege spring of the German Occupation of 1945, cyclostyled leaflets in German began to appear.

These were highly inflammatory and designed to weaken morale with up-to-date news of the Allied advances in Germany on both the Western and Eastern fronts and of the disintegration of those Italian units still loyal to Mussolini. It was assumed by some that they must have been dropped by the RAF which had been dropping leaflets in English. Those, however, were well printed, whereas the German versions were amateurish and crude.

If many civilians had seen these leaflets, often picked up in the street, the German authorities must have known of them also, and have been even more curious than the rest of us to know where they had come from.

Paul Mulbach

Spanish translation

Sometime later, I was asked if I could translate some of these into Spanish for clandestine distribution among the many hundreds of Spanish republicans who, initially refugees in France after the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939, had forcibly been brought to Jersey in 1942-43 as workers for the Organisation Todt. This I did, and after having had my own version edited into more authentic Spanish by a native speaker, I duly typed it out on Gestetner skin.

A week or so after that stories began going the rounds that people had seen the Spanish versions. My initial delight and perhaps feeling of self-importance was somewhat dampened when a Mr Roberts who serviced the typewriters of my employers, the General Accident Assurance Corporation, asked if he could speak to me privately, and then told me that he had seen one of these pamphlets and hoped he would not be questioned to see if he could recognise the type.

He serviced most of the commercially-owned typewriters in the island and assured me that no two were absolutely alike. He stressed the point while looking at me with some intensity. Quite clearly he knew that I was the typist, and I was greatly relieved not to be asked to do any more.

But not for long. I was then approached to see if I could have a Russian version done. These for the volunteers in the Russian Army of Liberation of the renegade General Vlasov, who were in German uniform with the letters 'POA'as a shoulder flash, the cyrilic P being the Latin R. They were responsible for defending the north-east coast from Achirondel to Sorel Point, and were also distributed thinly in other strongpoints where they only carried out fatigue duties.

By the final winter there was known dissension in their ranks as they began to realise that they had backed the wrong side. At that time they were our enemies and the Soviet Union was our ally. A few years later, during the Cold War, these fiercely anti-communist Soviet citizens would have been regarded in a totally different light. Such is the irony of international politics.

Producing a Russian version presented all manner of problems, mainly finding a Russian to do the translation. My contact obviously knew or suspected that I was in touch with some escapers who were being sheltered in private houses. Whatever was produced would have to be done by hand and reproduced on one of those huge letterpresses which could still be seen in some lawyers' offices until about 40 years ago.The photocopier was still decades in the future.The reproduction would be the problem of other people; my job was to get the translation.

The escaper with whom I was then in closest contact was Feodor Polycarpovitch Burriy, always known as 'Bill'. I knew that if I asked, he would drop everything and do it immediately, but the risk would not be his alone but also that of the two young conscientious objectors. These two highly idealistic young men would not have lifted a gun to save anyone's life, even less their own, but were prepared to risk their lives to save one. Their approval had to be obtained before 'Bill' was approached.

In principle they were in agreement, but more recent German leaflets which they had seen were inciting acts of sabotage and indiscipline. The whole thing was clearly highly dangerous. They first wanted to know whether those behind all this were serious and responsible or was it the work of disorganised hotheads? They were prepared to take the risk of involving 'Bill' and therefore inevitably themselves if he were caught, but only if I could satisfy them that it was an enterprise which seemed to merit support. I went back to the person who had approached me.

I cannot be sure now but I think it was the late Paul Casimir who worked at Burger's bookshop in The Parade, and he told me I should hear from someone else shortly. I was not told who; in that kind of activity names were not dropped unnecessarily.

Norman Le Brocq

It was about that time that I had been approached by Norman Le Brocq with an urgent request for civilian clothes for an escaped Russian who was described as 'rather hot property'. Anyone who knew Norman Le Brocq would have known that he really implied 'particularly'.

Most Russian escapers could not be described that way but I did not question it. A request for clothing at that stage of the war was almost preposterous; most of us, particularly the younger men, were in trousers in advanced stages of disintegration with, in my case certainly, patches sown on top of other patches.

After considerable hesitation I approached a Mrs Hamon, whose only son, Victor, had been one of my closest friends at school, had joined the RAF and had been shot down over Holland. Mrs Hamon told me that she had given away all of Victor's clothes except his best suit, which she had kept out of sentiment. She then went upstairs to fetch it saying: 'I'm sure Victor would have been happy to think it was being used to save another man's life'.

Separately, at about this time, I had been asked to try and obtain blond hair dye, this also for an escaper in hiding, and this I was give by Mrs Osborne of the hairdressers Leo's in Colomberie. These disconnected requests for clothing and hair dye were never assumed by me to have any connection whatever with the Russian version of the leaflets.

However, my contact about these turned out some days later to be the same Norman Le Brocq who had asked for the clothes.We met one March evening in 1945 outside the building opposite Grasset Park, which now houses Le Riche's Wine Warehouse. And we moved off mysteriously in the dark on our hosepipe-tyred bicycles up Rue des Pres, then a very quiet country lane.

As we approached the junction with the Longueville Road we paused outside the door to a garden behind a wall, to which Norman had the key. This was the back garden of a house facing Longueville Manor, one of a row, some of which still exist. We went upstairs to a room where there was a light from an oil lamp, electricity having by that time ceased. Sitting at a table was a man in his early thirties in front of a portable typewriter, with rather obviously dyed blond hair and a navy-blue suit in such splendid condition that had anyone walked down the street wearing it, people would have turned around to have a look, wondering just who he could be.

German deserter

He was introduced as Paul Mulbach, a German, a deserter, a long-time active opponent of Nazism and whose father who had been a Social Democrat activist and trade union official in Coblenz until the Nazi takeover in 1933, and had been an early inmate of Dachau, the first concentration camp, where he died. Paul had fought in the International Brigade in Spain but had been captured and repatriated to Germany. There he had been given the stark choice of Dachau or the army. He chose the latter, but determined to continue to undermine the Nazi effort in whatever way possible.

He wore a special boot as a result of a war injury obtained either in Spain or the Eastern Front, I believe the latter. I remember thinking at this first meeting that the disguise of the blond hair was somewhat pointless as the surgical boot would make him easily identifiable and would also give poor mobility in an emergency.

He was a little guarded with me initially and understandably so, but for my part I soon became convinced of both his Paul Mulbach credentials and his high intelligence and ability. He implied that he knew of several army officers who felt that they could rely on their entire units joining in a mutiny being planned symbolically on 1 May; he also had senior contacts in the Air Force units but not, I sensed because he did not mention them, in the Navy.

In a general sense, Hitler trusted the Navy more than the Army or Air Force, particularly as it was army officers who had been responsible for the July 1944 bomb plot. Hitler's brief successor as Fuhrer was a navy man, Admiral Doenitz. In those closing weeks of the Occupation, perceptive people may have noted that very few Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe personnel were to be seen in the streets of St Helier, which seemed to be entirely under the control of the Kriegsmarine, from its HQ in the Pomme d'Or Hotel.

Mulbach had certainly been responsible for a relatively minor explosion at German stores where Grasset Park now is. I had also understood, but this is now open to some doubt, that he had started a fire at the Palace Hotel on 7 March 1945, in a room used as a cordite store. The fire spread and the Adjutant, Hauptmann Kegelmann, was hastily given permission to lay demolition charges on all three floors of the centre of the building to cause a fire break and so give time to evacuate the remainder of the huge building and its contents.

The detonation was probably more successful than Hauptmann Kegelmann had expected. Nine men were killed and the entire hotel was destroyed, together with most of the material for the planning of the naval raid on Granville. If this was indeed the result of a fire started by Miilbach, he would have had reason to believe that it had been a good morning's work.

Mutiny planned

Now a deserter in hiding, Mulbach was working on a much bigger project — a successful mutiny in Jersey, leading to an immediate surrender to the Allies. I was given to understand that, through officers in Jersey sympathetic to his plan, he was in contact with similar people in Guernsey.

The time was ripe for it.The war was obviously approaching its end, and the troops here were cold and hungry like the rest of us, but we, at least, were buoyed up by what had become the certainty of Allied victory, although no one knew how soon, nor if, the Germans in the islands would surrender, even after an armistice on the Continent.

The troops were receiving little news from home, but they knew that the bombing of German cities was relentless and many of them now had families in occupied territory. The stomach for further resistance had collapsed; a man did not have to be a fervent anti-Nazi like Paul Mulbach to be ready to mutiny, particularly when the overall commandant of the Channel Islands was no longer the respected and gentlemanly career-General, the Prussian aristocrat Graf von Schmettow, but the uncompromisingly rabid Nazi, Admiral Huffmeier.

The concept of a replacement of Huffmeier by someone who would surrender was not a mad dream, but quite plausible. One has only to read the diary of Baron von Aufsess to realise the mood, even among officers of his seniority.

In the meantime, a few members of the Jersey Democratic Movement, led by the Marxist Leslie Huelin, were working on their own political agenda, to which I was only partly privy. I had been a founder member of this illegal group at Norman Le Brocq's lodgings in Stopford Road. I must put the record straight here on one popular misconception.The JDM was not composed exclusively of a bunch of Communists; its membership had become quite wide and encompassed people in varying walks of life.

We were a small discussion group of mostly young men and women with idealistic ideas of a reformed and more democratic post-war island government. Dr Caspar, one of the senior German officers at the Feld Commandantur, told a researcher at his home in Bonn long after the war that he 'knew of Norman Le Brocq and his little group and was keeping an eye on them' but decided they were doing nothing inimical to German interests. He had therefore decided not to file a report on the group because that might have brought in people from the Waffen SS and their own Gestapo which was the last thing the German command in the island wanted.

By now it was April. No one was to know that VE Day was only a month away; the German army at home might be able to regroup forces and make a last stand to defend a heartland, perhaps a mountain redoubt in Bavaria; final collapse might still be some months off, whereas 1 May was only three weeks away. The situation then might still be one in which a mutiny in Jersey would be relevant and to the island's advantage.

If a mutiny occurred there was likely to be resistance, particularly by the Navy, in which there appeared to be little support. There would be heavy fighting, especially in the town area, with the likelihood of some civilian casualties and much material damage. These seemed to be prices worth paying to avoid the probable alternative of even higher loss of life, and even worse material damage, should liberation have to come via Allied invasion.

What was to be done?

That was one thing, but the thought that senior members of the Jersey administration would be dealt with summarily by mutinous soldiers at the behest of a few unrepresentative individuals intoxicated with the heady prospect of power was totally unacceptable. What was to be done?

It all seems beyond belief now, over 60 years later, but I learned by chance that the inner group of the JDM was actually proposing in the chaos of the mutiny and with the help of rogue elements of the German army, to liquidate several members of the Jersey administration, including the three Crown Officers, and set up a kind of 'People's Democracy' on the pattern of those which were established in Eastern Europe.

Had we been liberated by the USSR instead of the British, I am quite sure that this is what would have happened.When I learned of this because of an indiscreet remark by someone in the group I was horrified. Apart from anything else, they would never have got away with it. The Germans would have surrendered to the British who would have set aside this self-appointed group and imposed their own provisional administration.

The situation seemed more desperate than ever. As late as 20 April, on Hitler's birthday, the rabid Nazi new Commandant called a meeting in the Gaumont British Cinema in Guernsey, in which island he had re-established the Feldkommandatur, the cinema renamed the Realkino. In his speech about 'final victory' which would come with new 'wonder weapons' ( Did he know of the race to obtain the nuclear bomb?) he also conceded that regardless of what might happen on the Continent of Europe, they on the islands would not surrender.

There were about 70,000 British civilians on the islands and they would be held as hostages indefinitely to gain better terms for the Fatherland in a peace treaty. The same speech was delivered by his counterpart at a simultaneous meeting at the Forum Cinema in Jersey.

News of this speech was around the towns on the bush telegraph within the hour. Any help by the Commandant's admission that a new situation might develop on the Continent because of defeat, was counterbalanced by a grim awareness of what fate might await the islanders. It was about this time that Admiral Huffmeier told our Bailiff that he would never consider surrender 'until both you and I have been reduced to eating grass'.

As we now know, the military situation in Germany then began to alter drastically. On 26 April it was reported that the Fuhrer had moved his military HQ to Berlin. (In fact, of course, he had done so months earlier). By the end of April it was clear that the final collapse could not be far off, almost certainly weeks rather than months, perhaps even days away.

Fall of Berlin

Even though morale in the German forces was at rock bottom, the instinct for personal survival must have been a ruling factor in decisions to call off the mutiny. Berlin fell on 30 April, something we all knew from our crystal sets, as would those organising the mutiny and probably many of the German soldiers. If you were about to become a PoW anyway, why risk your life beforehand, killing people on your own side?

The fall of Berlin was reported officially by the Germans locally in the censored Evening Post on 3 May as follows:

”Adolph Hitler falls at his post fighting to the last breath. He has met a hero's death in the capital of the German Reich.

The report continued with the instruction of his successor, Admiral Doenitz:

”My first task is to save German men from annihilation by the advancing Bolshevist enemy. Only to this end will military fighting continue. As long as this objective is hindered by the British and Americans, we shall all defend ourselves against them and must go on fighting. This communique would certainly explain the instruction sent to Admiral Huffmeier on 5 May to which I shall refer later.

However, for us on the civilian side on that 1 May morning, there remained an element of uncertainty. The signal had been due at ten o'clock, a gun fired from Elizabeth Castle, and there were enough local people in the know for there to be someone outside every school in the island.

I was at the Tower Road entrance to First Tower School. Had the castle gun, or general shooting been heard, we were to go in, try to convince probably sceptical head teachers that mayhem was about to break loose, and to instruct children who lived within five minutes' walk to run for home immediately. All the others were to be kept on the premises.

Signal halted

One listened, nerves slightly taut, ears strained, but there was no gun, no sound of shooting. It was bitterly cold as we waited outside, and snowflakes were falling.The shade temperature was 2°C. What we now know is that Oberst Linder, in command at Elizabeth Castle, a Roman Catholic Rhinelander, had heard some rumour of the local political moves and had decided to halt the firing of the signal gun.

As I cycled back into St Helier, I stopped briefly at the house in Peirson Road with a tower (now the Town Park Hotel), where Leslie Huelin lived in a basement flat. He and his immediate entourage were standing there, looking crestfallen, denied the chance to go out and take over the reins of government. It was a tragic-comic situation. I can remember a feeling of immense personal relief, a mixture of elation and nervous exhaustion.

Was Mulbach part of the scheme to take over island government? I have no idea. I would not have thought he would have had much interest in it, but he was certainly privy to the plan. He had needed the support of local civilians for all manner of innocent-looking running around, the leaving of messages, and so on. He had that local nucleus of local Marxists to help him; he may have felt that he owed them something in return. He himself scarcely dared to move out of his Longueville hideout.

I often wondered if he was a small cog in a huge communist machine to liberate the toiling masses of the Capital West? Given his history, his membership of the International Brigade, and his move to East Germany in 1950, it seems not unlikely. But perhaps not, because in the archives of Channel Islands Occupation Society is a copy of a letter he wrote on 18 June 1946 from Germany to Captain Robert Blacker in the United States, saying that he wished he could travel there.

The United States at that time was not attractive to dedicated Marxists. Captain Blacker had been a PoW in Jersey, the pilot of a US Airforce Dakota shot down over Bouley Bay in October 1944.

Coded message

In the event, nine days later, Liberation came; Admiral Huffmeier surrendered and the handover was remarkably orderly, with not one casualty.Was Huffmeier induced to surrender because he had become aware that he could no longer rely on all his men? Is it possible that Mulbach's planned mutiny, even though it aborted, was the catalyst which brought about Huffmeier's decision to accept the inevitable? It may well have been a contributory factor but, more importantly, we now know that in the early hours of 5 May, the Admiral had received a coded message from the new Fuhrer Admiral Doenitz:

"To all Fortress and Naval Commanders
"Most immediate
"Naval War Staff has ordered. Cease all action against the British and Americans forthwith. This applies only to offensive operations at or by sea against these powers such as U-boat warfare or the operations planned against Granville and St Malo. The order does not apply to the land or sea fronts.”

As an aside, one might question the apparent contradiction of 'sea fronts' at the end, and one might also note that the order excluded any offensive sea operations against the forces of the Soviet Union. Also, as a matter of interest, Huffmeier had been planning a second raid on Granville for 7 May only two days after the message was sent.

Admiral Doenitz's instruction was known immediately to British Intelligence, all such coded radio messages to the Channel Islands being intercepted at Niton on the Isle ofWight and sent to Bletchley for decoding.

Events in Germany were now moving rapidly, and armistice talks began on Luneberg Heath the following day, on the 6th, concluding in the signing at 02.41 hrs on the morning of the 7th to take effect from two minutes after midnight on the 8th. This was announced to the world by Churchill in a broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of the 8th.

What of Mulbach? I saw him in St Helier on Liberation Day, free at last to leave openly his self-imposed house arrest. He was still wearing the smart blue suit. On that same day he found time to write to Colonel Reybold who was the senior officer of the American PoW camp on South Hill, and a copy of that letter remains in the CIOS. archives.

From the phrasing of this letter it seems that he already knew the Colonel, although I do not know how, and he declared that he was intending to report to the British when they arrived. This he did, and I recollect seeing him again a few days later in Hill Street, when we had a long conversation through my office window. He had already been in touch with the British and was doing interpreting work for them.

Move to London

He was moved to London, where he became a rather privileged PoW — Chief Clerk of a section being set up to deal with the repatriation of German PoWs, and we corresponded intermittently for a few months. As German PoWs began to be sent back home they first had to attend a course of lectures on the virtues of democracy. This may all seem a little naïve now but that is how things were. Although still a PoW, Mulbach had become a kind of inspector of establishments, where this education in civics was being carried out, and he was recommended to go to one in Colchester where it was being done exceptionally well.

There he recognised the tutor immediately. This paragon of re-education of German youth was none other than a particularly odious creature called Heinrich Wolff who had been second-in-command at the Geheimefeltpolitzei at Silvertide, Havre des Pas.

When people went to Silvertide around Liberation Day to drag out Wolff and his colleagues, the place was empty. He and the others had all gone to the prison in Gloucester Street a day or two earlier for their own safety, and the authorities had taken them in to avoid lynching in the streets. Wolff had been a lumberjack in Canada, spoke excellent English with a North American accent, and could switch on a bogus charm as part of his interrogating technique.

How could such a man have been given such a position of responsibility in so short a time? Who knows? British Intelligence officers had first dealt with him in Jersey, where he had been detained at the prison far longer than his colleagues. They were examining the possibility of bringing charges of war crimes, but it seems that for all Wolff's bullying bluster and threats to those under interrogation, there was no evidence that he himself had treated anyone with physical cruelty - and that was the evidence that would have mattered.

Somewhere along the line he had been able to charm his way out of a tight spot, and persuaded somebody that he could tackle his new job very efficiently. At least Mulbach was able to ensure that he did not keep it.

Paul Mulbach was able to return to Coblenz, his home town, where his elderly mother and sister were still living, early in 1946. This was in the French zone of Germany. He became the chief interpreter for their people in that city. I am told that he later moved to the East in 1950, before the building of the Berlin Wall — probably an unwise move for a man of his independent outlook and background, even if he was a Marxist (and this is open to doubt). No more was ever heard of him.

This paper should perhaps be restricted to known historical fact, but one might conjecture, given Mulbach's character and his British and American contacts, that he might have been recruited by MI6 and that that was the reason for his move to East Germany. He could have become yet another victim of the denunciations by Philby, Maclean, Burgess and others and the Stasi would have been working for him.

He was a graduate of Hanover University, in industrial chemistry, and fluent in several languages; a brave brilliant man, someone one does not forget.

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