"Chose, Death or Glory?"
In June of 1944 Hans-Ulrich von Luck commanded the 125th
Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which was heavily engaged from the very first day of
the Normandy Campaign. By mid-June his
command had been reorganized as a kampfgruppe,
to include not only the remnants of his own regiment but elements of
several other seriously depleted units as well.
By June 14th the front to seemed to have stabilized, and at
the urging of several senior officers von Luck took a short leave to spend his
birthday in Paris
with his girl friend
When he returned to headquarters on the morning of June 18th,
von Luck found it in disarray. Some 2,500
Allied bombers had just subjected his command to a carpet bombing, after which
hundreds of Allied field pieces and naval guns had worked it over, and it was
under attack by strong British armored forces.
With his second-in-command and staff hopelessly paralyzed by the
experience, von Luck headed for the front to take personal charge.
Near the remnants of the village of Cagny,
von Luck learned that at least one of his battalions had been totally smashed, and
he could actually see British tanks penetrating the German lines, with scores
more coming up to support them.
He also spotted a Luftwaffe
88-mm anti-aircraft battery, with its guns pointing skyward, but otherwise
unengaged. Quickly ordering the airmen
to engage the approaching tanks, von Luck was startled when the battery
commander replied his orders were to engage enemy aircraft, and that fighting
tanks was the army's business.
Not hesitating a moment, von Luck drew his pistol, aimed it
right into the young captain's face, and said "Either you are a dead man
or you earn yourself a medal."
The battery was in action within minutes, and helped beat
off the British attack.
The "Spanish Lawrence" Escapes a Firing Squad
On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, in July of 1936, Alberto
Castro Girona, a lieutenant general and the second ranking officer in the
Spanish Army, was on extended leave awaiting retirement. He had entered the army at 17, in 1892, and
served in Cuba
during the insurrection of 1895-1898 and the Spanish-American War, after which
he had seen extensive service in Morocco. One of the ablest officers in the Spanish
Army in the early twentieth century, Castro Girona had emerged from the Rif War
(1920-1926) as something of a national hero.
He had a deep knowledge of Riffian culture, spoke six or seven variants
of Arabic and Berber, and was well versed in tribal politics, all of which led
to some notable exploits in the field. He
often passed for a Riffian, most notably in October of 1920, when he negotiated
the surrender of Xauen after infiltrating the city disguised as a charcoal
seller, and his daring during the disastrous Annual Campaign (July-August
1921), had earned him the nickname “The Spanish Lawrence." Castro Girona also had the reputation for
being a liberal, and even republican officer, and had been expelled from the
army and imprisoned on charges of conspiracy in 1929, shortly before the
collapse of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. Restored to active duty on the advent of the
Republic in 1931, Castro Girona had held various assignments until being placed
"at disposal" to await retirement.
At the time of the military coup that initiated the
Spanish Civil War (July 17, 1936), Castro Girona was living at the home of his
daughter, in Valencia. On July 30th he was arrested by a
group of "armed communists."
Charged with being the "Chief of the Fascist Movement in Valencia,"
the general was being taken to a "cheka" for examination, when, by
great good fortune, he came to the notice of a police official who had been one
of his sergeants during the Moroccan wars.
This official managed to get the general released. For the next few months the general continued
to live at his daughter's home. On
October 16th, he was again arrested.
On the 24th, in an interview at the War Ministry, Castro
Girona was, by his account, offered several possible commands in the Republican
Army, which he turned down citing various objections, including his age and
poor health. Released under
surveillance, he returned to his daughter's house and took to his bed. Two days later, on October 26th, Castro
Girona was officially expelled from the army.
Fearing for his safety, on November 2nd,
with the help of persons unnamed but certainly well-connected in Republican
circles, Castro Girona fled to the French consulate, seeking asylum. Since he was a Grand Officer of the Legion of
Honor, he was taken in, and a few days later transferred to the embassy in Madrid. Castro Girona remained there until mid-1937, by
which time the French Embassy had moved to Alicante, where he was placed aboard a ship
bound for France. From France, Castro Girona made his way to
Nationalist Spain, where he returned to active duty, being assigned a
succession of administrative posts and even, for a time commander of the
defense of the Pyrenees, an important post if France had
decided to intervene. After the civil
war Castro Girona served for a time as minister of war and later headed a trade
mission to Japan
and the pro-Japanese quisling Wang regime in China.
Although pro-Republican historians have usually
classified Castro Girona among the military conspirators of 1936, there is no
evidence to support that conclusion.
Indeed, when called upon in 1941 to prepare in a statement of his
experiences during the summer of 1936 as part of the official Nationalist
investigation of Republican "crimes," Castro Girona made no mention
at all of any association with the conspiracy, which strongly suggests he had
Although Castro Girona probably had a very close brush
with death, he was luckier than the two other two lieutenant generals on the
Army list, Pio Lopez Pozas and Jose Rodriguez Casademunt, who at the time of
the July coup were also on leave awaiting retirement. Both were expelled from the army for being
"hostile to the government" and shot.
Like Castro Girona, neither can be shown to have had any connection to
coup of July 17th, but are nevertheless usually classified as
numbering among the military conspirators.