British prisoners in chains



British prisoners in chains


Three articles about reprisals against British prisoners of war if German prisoners are fettered. Claims that Germans captured at Dieppe were chained. First: More British prisoners to be chained, fiercer German threats, Italians join the plot, Italian allegations were that British fighters had machine-gunned Italian first aid units and other allegations. Second article: reasons for axis reprisals, megalomania and spite, German honour, getting shackles ready in Canada. The last was in reprisal for German threats. Third article: prisoners in chains, no reply from Germany after British statement that they should unfetter German prisoners if they would unfetter British prisoners.



Temporal Coverage




Three newspaper cuttings mounted on a scrapbook page


The Times
IBCC Digital Archive


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The German High Command have gone on to make fiercer threats of “reprisals” against British prisoners, declaring that if the British authorities fetter German prisoners they will fetter three times the number of British prisoners. The Italians announce that they have begun, or will shortly begin, harsh measures against British prisoners.

The German announcement, issued yesterday afternoon, stated:-

Following the declaration of October 7, 1942, that reprisals will be instituted against the chaining of German prisoners taken by the British on the beaches of Dieppe and on the Island of Sark, the British reply contained only subterfuges and referred to statements by prisoners who had not been tied up. The reply states further that the British authorities do not and will not approve the chaining. The German High Command declared itself not satisfied with this hypocritical statement, and as a consequence on October 8, at noon, 107 British officers and 1,269 n.c.o.s and men were manacled after they had been told the reason.

Army padres, hospital personnel, wounded and sick prisoners have not been manacled.

On October 8 the British announced that as from October 10, at 12 o’clock, the same number of German prisoners in British hands will be manacled. If this measure comes into force the German High Command will issue orders that on October 10, as from 12 o’clock, three times as many British prisoners in German hands will be manacled.


The Italian broadcast announcement alleged that four British fighters had machine-gunned some first-aid units of the Folgare Division on October 7; that on September 30 an Italian officer and six airmen went out into the desert in a lorry to recover lost material and were shot in the act of surrendering to a larger force of Australians, who were accompanied by a British officer and a Frenchman; and that the following discovery was made at Tobruk:-

A document which fell into our hands, issued on the occasion of the attack on Tobruk, said that the 10th platoon would detach a section to attack dug-out No. 1,082, and that those who were found there should be completely liquidated without discrimination.

This behaviour, with which one must link previous attacks on hospital ships and ambulance seaplanes, contracts sharply with the action of Italians when they learn of the presence of an ambulance column in the desert engaged in picking up enemy wounded abandoned by their own detachments, or when they order their troops to save numerous enemy crews, as has happened in the Bay of Tobruk.

Our more than justified reprisals will thus be rendered inevitable.




From the first it was clear that the German High Command had ulterior motives in chaining British prisoners on the flimsiest of pretexts. The Italian announcement strongly suggests that the measures were prepared well in advance, and were concerted between the senior and junior partners of the Axis. It is true that Mussolini usually hastens to copy Hitler in all things, believing that his prestige demands it; but there appears to be more than simple copying in this case.

To manufacture a pretext, the Italians go back to a document allegedly discovered during the British raid made on Tobruk nearly a month ago, on the night of September 13-14. If the imagined incident were so bad, why have the Italians not described it before now? As it is, the enemy which has so often boasted of “wiping out hostile units,” now declares that he will ill-treat prisoners because – on his word, and his alone – the British were ordered to wipe out an Italian unit. To this charge he adds allegations of a later date, which again lack substance.


The enemy’s attitude in the whole barbarous affair defies normal standards of analysis. It arises, first and foremost, from the megalomania of the German High Command. According to them, the German army’s honour is sustained when German soldiers hang and shoot civilians; these excesses are declared to be necessary acts of war. But that same “honour” is insulted as soon as a German soldier makes allegations about what happened among soldiers struggling together; and the insult has to be avenged on 1,376 officers and men captive in their hands. Prisoners of war become hostages.

The German High Command are acting in the knowledge that they hold more British prisoners than we hold German – 90,000 British to 23,000 German. With the Italians the balance is heavily on the other side; we hold 262,000 Italians and Italy holds 25,000 British. But the Germans care nothing for what happens to Italians. They only reckon that they themselves have the whip hand against the British.

The outstanding question is why, out of their abiding megalomania, they should decide that this is the moment to try the whip. Having no public opinion in Germany likely to speak in protest, they think purely in military-political terms. In Germany itself, the leaders are inflaming hatred against Britain, and are at the same time declaring their power against Britain: the allegations of British cruelty and the savage “reprisals” fit in to this propaganda.

Beyond this is the anger of the German High Command at the frequent and, to us, highly valuable raids on the Continent. They are therefore suggesting that when British soldiers “behave like bandits,” the prisoners of war in their hands will be made to suffer. Seldom has the ruthless and evil force against which we fight more clearly shown its face.



OTTAWA, Oct. 9

Preparations are being made for shackling early to-morrow afternoon of 107 German officers and 1,269 men in Canadian prison camps unless the Germans, by noon to-morrow, remove the fetters from Canadian and British prisoners captured in the Dieppe raid.

[inserted] October 19th 1942 [/inserted]

Imperial and Foreign



From Our Diplomatic Correspondent

The German Government have not yet replied to the British statement that we should unfetter the German prisoners of war if they would unfetter the British prisoners. The statement was communicated to the Swiss Government, the Protecting Power, early last week, and was passed on by Switzerland to Berlin last Thursday.

All that has come from Germany is a “comprehensive survey of British brutalities” issued by the German High Command; a document of 15 closely type-written pages which produces more allegations about the treatment of prisoners and then goes on to still wilder and wider charges against British methods of warfare by land, sea, and air. The British Government are disregarding this outburst, although it reveals more clearly than before the ulterior motives which led the Germans to undermine the privileged position of prisoners of war.


The document has two main purposes – to fan hatred against Britain, and to use the allegations for a wider threat against prisoners of war of all allied countries. It announces that all these prisoners will have reprisals brought upon them.

“Inhuman treatment of German prisoners, or treatment violating international law, on any front, which includes Soviet Russia, will from now on have to be paid for by the whole body of prisoners taken by Germany without distinction of nationality.”

The allegations against Britain are presented in terms of the most virulent hatred. The British Government are accused of making statements “as stupid as they are incredible,” “deliberate falsifications of facts,” “lies,” “untruthful and carefully invented,” and so on. Long statements by German soldiers are inserted. For example: “Corporal Albert Doerr said concerning the Dieppe raid, ‘On the field to which we were led lay several men of the Todt organization, all fettered. The people I saw all had their hands tied behind their backs. Before me was a man of the Todt organization with his thumbs tied together behind his back and the cord was around his neck so that when his hands were tired the cord dragged down his back, making it difficult for him to breathe.’”

After more allegations of that kind, the German High Command declares that these men can be questioned afresh by the Protecting Power.

Then come violent denunciations against Britain for arming civilians in Crete and for shelling a ship after German soldiers had been ordered below. When the German soldiers jumped overboard, “they were machine-gunned until all were hit.” The document comes back to Crete for the complaint that British troops, from the United Kingdom as well as from Australia and New Zealand, “behaved not like soldiers but like convicts.” “The details, proved by sworn statements, were so ghastly that they could not be published before now.” The fighting in Libya provides a further field for similar outcries.

The document is instructive in only one sense. It is designed as the background, and the excuse, for any further German measures against prisoners of war.


“British prisoners in chains,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 22, 2023,

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