As World War II, was winding down, the Nazis, is typical form were holding high-profile French prisoners of war at Itter Castle in Austria. The Nazis were notorious for their terribly abusive treatment of prisoners. When it became obvious that all was lost, in May 1945, the prison’s guards fled and left Itter Castle waiting for a unit of Waffen-SS police, who were sent in to wipe out the French prisoners and carry out reprisals against the local population for any hints of surrender. It was the Nazi way. When the proof of your war crimes is obvious, remove all evidence, including people, so that no one can tell the gruesome story.
There were, however, some good people in the German Army. One was an officer named Josef “Sepp” Gangl, who opposed the Nazis. Gangl had a small group of men who were loyal to him. Together they intervened to protect the prisoners and locals. Heavily outnumbered, Gangl sent word to the American forces in the area seeking aid. Gangl called for help, and he was answered by Captain John C “Jack” Lee Jr, who arrived with a band of volunteers and a single Sherman tank. It was such a strange group of enemies, who found themselves working together for something that was more important than the war they were in…human lives. Working together were French prisoners, American troops, and Wehrmacht soldiers in an effort to bravely defended the castle against the SS. The French prisoners included former prime ministers, generals, tennis star Jean Borotra, and even Charles de Gaulle’s sister. This, Operation Cowboy, was one of two known times during the war in which Americans and Germans fought side by side. That is such a shocking turn of events, in fact many called it the strangest battle of World War II. Nevertheless, while the tank was blown up, it that made no difference, and in the end, the SS weren’t able to breach the castle. By late afternoon, an American relief force arrived at Itter Castle and captured the SS unit. In the battle, there was only one casualty on the defending side. Sadly, Gangl was slain by a sniper while trying to spot the position of the anti-tank gun from an observation post. He had given his life so that others might live. It was a brave and heroic act.