British Free Corps

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British Volunteer Corps

British Volunteer Corps sleeve badge.svg

Volunteer Corps sleeve badge
active 1943 to 1945
Country German Reich NSGerman Reich (Nazi era) German Empire
Armed forces Flag of the Schutzstaffel.svg Armed SS
Branch of service Foreign volunteers of the Waffen SS
Strength 27 (largest formation)

54 (total thickness)

The two members of the British Freikorps, Kenneth Berry and Alfred Minchin, in conversation with German officers (1944).

The British Free Corps ( British Free Corps ) was a unit of the Waffen SS that was formed from British prisoners of war during World War II . The unit served primarily for propaganda purposes , because altogether only 59 British soldiers decided to serve on the side of the German Reich . At the same time, there were just 27 men in the unit, fewer than in a platoon of the Wehrmacht .

First plans

The ideal father of the British Volunteer Corps was the British John Amery . As the son of Conservative Minister Leo Amery, he was a member of the United Kingdom's upper class. Amery himself was known as a radical anti-communist . Faced with financial problems, he left his homeland in 1936 to fight on the side of the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War . During the war he served as an intelligence officer in an Italian volunteer unit. In Spain he made the acquaintance of the French fascist leader Jacques Doriot . After the civil war, they both traveled to Austria , Czechoslovakia , Germany and Italy together until they settled in Vichy France . Amery himself was tired of the French collaboration regime because he considered it too little fascist. He tried to leave the country but was prevented from doing so by the government. In 1942, however, he was brought to Berlin by a German captain , where he was supposed to speak to a German-English committee. During this trip he was suggested by the Germans to form a British legion to fight the communists . Hitler himself was impressed by Amery and brought him up as a guest in Germany. Amery himself supported the regime during this time through a series of appearances on propaganda radio broadcasts.

The idea of ​​a British formation within the German armed forces was dormant until Amery met two French soldiers from the Charlemagne SS division in January 1943. The two collaborators complained that almost exclusively German troops fought against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front . Amery now resumed his idea of ​​a British volunteer unit. First he set himself the goal of recruiting between fifty and one hundred soldiers for propaganda purposes. Although the Waffen-SS had tried to recruit British nationals with very little success, Amery assumed that he himself could recruit more Britons for the goals of the National Socialists .

Amery himself began promoting a unit called the British Legion of Saint George in 1943 . On the whole, however, he was only able to recruit four recruits for his "Freikorps". One of them was sent to England as a spy, where he was exposed and executed in March 1944. Due to its failure, Amery was withdrawn from the project in October 1943. The Waffen-SS took over the planning of the British volunteer unit again.

Further recruiting measures

After the failure of the project under the direction of Amery, the German authorities tried to recruit British prisoners of war with refined measures. Conditions in the prison camps in Germany and the occupied territories were harsh for the interned soldiers. The attempt was made to exploit this by creating special camps with special discounts for soldiers who could potentially be recruited. Two such so-called “holiday camps” were set up, both under the administrative sovereignty of the Stalag IIId near Berlin. The camps were guarded by English-speaking soldiers, and the camp regime was directed by German intelligence officers. The guards were supposed to serve as information collectors among the potential recruits. Former NCO of the British Army John Henry Owen Brown was recruited as an integrating figure for the Freikorps .

Brown himself was a member of the British Union of Fascists before the war and was therefore close to the National Socialist ideology despite his Christian faith. He was captured at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. During his imprisonment, he gained the trust of the German authorities as a foreman of a work company within the camp. In 1943 he was appointed camp manager of one of the two “holiday camps”.

However, Brown himself showed no intention of serving the German plan. He set up a prosperous system of black market trading in his camp , with which he ensured himself, the imprisoned prisoners of war and the German camp guards a relatively comfortable livelihood. Furthermore, he, who was able to move freely in Berlin, communicated target information for bombers to the British intelligence service MI6 through coded letters .

However, the Germans also managed to win over more reliable British people for their recruitment campaign. Thomas Haller Cooper , a former member of the British Union of Fascists who was detained in Germany when the war broke out in 1939, was assigned to the project in 1943. As a soldier in the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and the SS Totenkopf Division, he had already proven his closeness to National Socialism. Cooper managed to gather a small group of British around him in the camp. However, the overall yield remained marginal again. Out of a total of 200 prisoners of war in the “holiday camps”, exactly three decided to join the British Volunteer Corps. The British Freikorps thus only reached a strength of seven men. Before a second wave of prisoners were brought into the special camps, air strikes brought their operations to a halt. Due to a lack of success, the recruiting order for the special camps was discontinued in December 1943. Meanwhile, camp manager Brown had already received a British award for his espionage services.

In the meantime, the German offices decided on a new recruiting method. Instead of trying to change long-term prisoners through discounts, the commander of the Freikorp project Oskar Lange came up with a different idea. Recently captured soldiers who had not yet got used to the new situation were to be forced to collaborate and betray the fatherland through blackmail and intimidation. 14 British soldiers could actually be recruited through inhospitable detention conditions with interrogation, solitary confinement and deprivation of food. Joining the British Volunteer Corps was presented to them as the only way out of their extremely harsh conditions of detention. However, when these men were brought together with the previous seven volunteers in the formation, the project failed again. Cooper, who adhered to fascism for ideational reasons, promised all involuntary recruits that they would be returned to regular prison camps; thus the strength of the so-called Freikorps was again reduced to eight men.

Despite these failures and the small number of crews, the SS did not lose interest in setting up a British volunteer unit. In November 1943 Hauptsturmführer Hans Roepke was assigned to the formation as an officer who was to initiate the formation of the unit.


Roepke's first measure was the change of the unit name, which was called "Legion of St. George" after Amery. Religious under-importance was undesirable under the National Socialists. Analogous to the existing foreign units of the SS , it was decided to use the name "British Freikorps". Furthermore, Roepke made a number of exceptions, so the Freikorps should not be used against British armed forces, and the soldiers did not receive the blood group tattoo , as was common practice with the SS. The British Freikorps was officially launched on January 1, 1944. Just a month later, the small unit was relocated from Berlin to the Michaelis Monastery in Hildesheim . Here, the soldiers also saw a nearby forced labor camp, which caused three of the members to leave the unit and return to their POW camps.

Replica of the uniform of an officer in the British Freikorps.

In April the soldiers received their uniforms, including the sleeve badge of the Freikorps wearing the Union Jack and a collar tab with the three lions . During the summer the unit reached a strength of 23 men. The German plan provided for them to be integrated into the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” and sent to the Eastern Front from a strength of 30 men . However, this prospect was not very attractive for the former prisoners of war. Thomas Freeman, a member of the Freikorps, motivated fourteen of his comrades to sign a letter of complaint about their treatment. Thereupon he and another soldier were sent to a prison camp for prisoners of war. Freeman himself was recognized for his deliberately damaging influence on the unit after escaping from the same camp and being repatriated to Great Britain.

In August 1944, another four recruits were assigned to the Freikorps. Three of them had apparently been blackmailed into joining. The punishment for having a sexual relationship with German women was presented to two of them as a threat. In the fourth recruit, an English lieutenant named William Shearer, Roepke had great hopes. As an officer, he was supposed to lead the small troops and raise morale. Shearer proved to be severely schizophrenic and his insanity made him unusable for the service. He did not want to put on the German uniform and even refused to leave the room assigned to him. After a few weeks he was taken back to the mental hospital from which he had been taken. Before the end of the war he was brought back to Great Britain for medical reasons. The successful course of the Allied landing in Normandy lowered morale even more within the small unit.

After the Allied victory in Normandy , there were several cases of desertion within the small force. Nevertheless, more recruits were recruited. However, this again only happened with moderate success. The greatest success was the registration of six Maoris in the volunteer corps , but these soldiers were rejected by the British themselves for racist reasons.


On March 8, 1945, SS-Obersturmführer Walther Kuhlich , who had commanded the unit since October 1944, gave the soldiers of the Freikorps an ultimatum. They had the choice of either being sent to a concentration camp or fighting. The troops were then assigned to the SS Division Nordland on the Eastern Front, which was already on German territory. The last attempt to turn the Freikorps into a combat-ready force was made through the assignment of Douglas Berneville-Claye. This former British Special Air Service soldier already had a criminal record in his home country for fraud and imposture. He introduced himself to the British as an officer and the son of a nobleman. His efforts, however, remained in a bellicose speech. De facto, the Freikorps was not used in the battle. On April 29, 1945, Felix Steiner , the commander of the III. (Germanic) SS Panzer Corps , to which the Nordland division belonged, his troops to break away from the Red Army and advance to the west. There they should surrender to American units. With the SS division, the remains of the British Freikorps surrendered near Schwerin .


British intelligence had been aware of the formation of the small force and its members since Brown's first reports in 1943. Nevertheless, it took several weeks after the end of the war for all former members to be arrested. Amery, the real inventor of the Corps, was sentenced to death and executed in the UK. The only caught member of the Volunteer Corps who received no sentence was Brown himself.


  • Ronald Seth: Jackals of the Reich. The Story of the British Free Corps. 1972.
  • Robert Best: The British Free Corps. The Story of the British Volunteers of the Waffen SS. Steven Books, London 2010, ISBN 1-904911-90-0 .
  • Eric Meyer: SS Englander. The Amazing True Story of Hitler's British Nazis. SwordWorks, London 2010, ISBN.
  • Marko Jelusić: The “British Free Corps” in the SS school “Haus Germanien” in Hildesheim. In: H. Kemmerer (Ed.): St. Michaelis zu Hildesheim. History and stories from 1000 years. (= Publications of the Hildesheim Adult Education Center on the city history of Hildesheim 15). Hildesheim 2010, ISBN 978-3-8067-8736-8 , pp. 197-206 ( online in

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adrian Weale: British Free Corps in SS-Waffen - Myth and Historic Reality . 1994. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  2. Weale, Adrian (2014-11-12). Renegades - Appendix 5 British Members of the British Free Corps and their Aliases (Kindle Locations 3757-3758). Random House. Kindle Edition.