A Highly Decorated Prisoner

A Highly Decorated Prisoner
In 1943 with Hitler’s approval General-major Carl Richard Heinrich Wahle was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Kriegverdienstkreuzes mit Scuwertern or Knights Cross of the war service cross with Swords. Throughout WWII, he was one of only approximately two hundred military personnel to receive this prestigious medal in recognition of their loyal and brave service.

Wahle was a solid career soldier, joining the army in 1912 straight from school.

During WWI although wounded, Wahle gained promotions to Oberleutnant. A similar progression occurred in the inter-war years. WWII saw Wahle Commander of Infantry Regiment 267 under Army Group South in Operation Barbarossa; the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (some of his experiences in Russia were secretly recorded at Trent Park). In the summer of 1943 he was transferred to be the Commandant of the city of Hamburg which was crucial to U‑boat production.

Hamburg’s significance meant it was a prime target for the RAF, a four night area bombing campaign was planned for late July 1943, code named Operation Gomorrah.

Naturally, wanting to avoid heavy losses, the British controversially decided to use the radar jamming Window for the first time. These small aluminium and black strips, all 90 million of them, were dropped over the city before the raids. German defence radar both in the air and on the ground was ​‘blinded’.

On the second night the RAF unwittingly created a ​‘firestorm’; where a change of scale produces a disproportionate effect, resulting in temperatures of 1800 degrees Fahrenheit (982ºC) and 150 mph winds. The culmination of the bombing resulted in devastating 60% of the residential areas and over 40,000 deaths and thousands more as an aftermath of their injuries. For Wahle as Commandant he attempted a meaningful response to the conflagration, difficult when 70% of the fire service were either dead or seriously injured. For his circumspection and drive throughout the raids, Wahle was awarded his Knights Cross.

Later, in 1944 after commanding an infantry division in France and against overwhelming odds, Wahle surrendered to the Allies and was transferred to Trent Park on 12 September 1944. His Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) Assessment after observation at Trent Park concluded that Wahle was an anti-Nazi with surprisingly ​‘sane views on the general political set-up’ and ​‘a rather shrewd man of the world’. After discharge in 1947 Wahle returned to West Germany and died in February 1975.

As a postscript to the story of those cataclysmic nights 80 years ago, on his first visit to Germany as King in March 2023, HM King Charles III laid a wreath in the St Nikolai church to commemorate those that had suffered in Hamburg; not only to honour the victims of Operation Gomorrah but also to remember all victims of a war that Germany started and arguably everyone employed at Trent Park was determined to finish with an Allied victory.

Further reading:

Jones, R.V. 2009. Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939 – 1945. Penguin Books.

Middlebrook, M. 2000. The Battle of Hamburg: The Firestorm Raid.

Cassell Military Paperbacks.

Neitzel, S. 2013. Tapping Hitler’s Generals: Transcripts of Secret Conversations 1942 – 45. Frontline Books.

Overy, R. 1996. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Penguin Books.


Special Camp 11

Traces of War