It was the final days of World War Two in Europe. Hitler had committed suicide, and the German generals in Berlin had surrendered to the Soviets.

Victory was in sight, but May of 1945 was a chaotic time, and nowhere was this more evident than at Itter Castle in Austria. Used as a prison for VIPs, the castle was left unguarded when its sentries fled ahead of the Allied advance. This set the stage for the oddest battle of WW2 where French POWs, Americans, and German troops fought to defend the castle from attacking SS troops.

Did you know?

  1. While used for VIPs, Itter Castle was a sub-unit of the infamous Dachau concentration camp.
  2. Prisoners in the castle included the former President of France, the former Prime Minister of Italy, tennis star Jean Borotra and a host of other generals and politicians.
  3. After their guards fled, the prisoners armed themselves to defend the castle from roving SS and Gestapo units.
  4. The castle chef volunteered to ride out for help, finding Major Josef Gangl, a former Wehrmacht officer who, along with his unit, had defected to support the Austrian resistance.
  5. Knowing he didn’t have enough troops to defend the castle alone, Gangl flew a white flag and approached the closest Allied unit – the 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armoured Division.
  6. Captain Jack Lee was the commander of the battalion, and he offered to lead a rescue mission to the castle. His troops teamed up with Gangl’s and the POWs to form the defence.
  7. Outnumbered and low on ammo, the combined force defended against the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division for two days; until they were relieved by other advancing forces.
  8. Joseph Gangl was killed by a sniper in the battle, making him the only defending casualty.
  9. The rescued VIPs were critical to the French political climate post-war, making this strange battle a surprisingly important one.

Special thanks to Sheldon Vanderkooy for telling us about this story.