Le Paradis Massacre
May 27, 1940 - It was on this day that 97 British troops were gunned down in cold blood after they surrendered to German forces.
The incident occured during the Battle of France as the English regiment retreated through the village of Le Paradis. After taking refuge in a farmhouse, the British were surrounded by Waffen-SS forces. A bloody firefight ensued as the Germans pounded the farmhouse with mortars, tanks and machine guns.
The British took heavy casualties. Many men were killed and almost all were wounded. When they ran out of ammunition the decision was made to surrender under a white flag. The Germans marched their prisoners down the road to a barn and lined the bleaguered British against a wall. Two mounted machine guns opened fire on the unarmed men until nobody was left standing. After the shooting stopped, the Germans moved among the fallen British and bayoneted anyone who was still breathing.
Miraculously, two British soldiers managed to survive the massacre. Private William O'Callaghan and Private Albert Pooley hid in a pig sty for four days until a French family discovered them and provided aid.
Both men were eventually re-captured by the Germans. Pooley was sent to a German hospital and O'Callaghan landed in a prisoner of war camp.
After the war, the testimony of Pooley helped convict the SS commander, Fritz Knoechlein, of war crimes for his part in the Le Paradis massacre:
...we turned off the dusty French road, through a gateway and into a meadow beside the buildings of a farm. I saw with one of the nastiest feelings I have ever had in my life two heavy machine guns inside the meadow ... pointing at the head of our column. The guns began to spit fire ... for a few seconds the cries and shrieks of our stricken men drowned the crackling of the guns. Men fell like grass before a scythe ... I felt a searing pain and pitched forward ... my scream of pain mingled with the cries of my mates, but even before I fell into the heap of dying men, the thought stabbed my brain, "If I ever get out of here, the swine that did this will pay for it."
Knoechlein was executed by hanging on January 21, 1949.