At the Age of 18 Josef Gangl had joined the Wehrmacht in 1928. Ever since then he'd been in uniform. Some how, even as an artillery officer, he'd won two Iron Crosses for his action in the war to date. Having served in all the major European theatres (although not Poland). Now at the end of the war he found himself with his troops in an Austrian town. All about him there were SS men who were terrorising the town, shooting anyone they disliked under the guise of calling them a Deserters, and machine gunning any house that dared to display an Austrian flag. At this point Major Josef Gangl refused an order to retreat, and joined the local Austrian resistance. As he was an experienced military officer he was immediately given command of the local area. Last weeks article explained how he came to Castle Itter.
At about 2300 on the 4th SS troops occupied a ridge line and began to take the castle under fire. As this wasn't much of threat Cpt Lee eventually went to sleep. At about dawn on the 5th the tempo of fire increased suddenly, and a anti-tank gun slammed a round into the castle. The shell hit Gen. Maurice Gamelin's room, which luckily he wasn't in at the time. Cpt Lee lept out of bed and rushed to the gatehouse holding a M3 SMG. Almost instantly a second anti-tank gun shell hit and destroyed the Sherman parked outside the gate.
There had been one man in the Sherman, who had been trying to raise American forces on the radio when the shell hit. The crewman jumped out of the tank, and ran for the gate. He'd just reached its cover when the tank exploded. The Waffen SS tried to rush the gatehouse but were stopped by a volley of fire.
The SS troops carried on assaulting, each time being forced back. Michel Clemenceau, aged 72 who was the son of Georges Clemenceau, remained at the barricade next the the gatehouse blazing away at the charging Germans with a captured MP40, quickly reloading before opening fire yet again.
As ammunition began to run low at about midday, ex-Vichy Minister for Sport, and former tennis star Jean Borotra approached Cpt Lee. Earlier in the day he'd volunteered to leap over the castle wall and make a dash through the surrounding SS forces to try and raise help, but Cpt Lee had refused. Jean Borotra again made his offer, with options rapidly running out Cpt Lee relented. Borotra picked his spot and jumped, when he hit the ground he dashed across the dry moat and 40 meters of open ground before reaching cover. Shortly afterwards Cpt Lee spotted a column of US tanks advancing off in the far distance. It was just coincidence, while Borotra had survived he'd not had time to reach anyone.
Cpt Lee worried about the tanks, did they know about the situation at the castle? Or were they treating it like every other German castle they'd found, as a potential German strong point that would need blasting. With this in mind, Cpt Lee, and General Maxime Weygand manned a .30 cal machine gun. They sent a long burst into the trees well in advance of the Sherman tanks.
It worked, just as Cpt Lee had feared the US tankers had regarded the Castle Itter as hostile, and had their guns registered on it. The long burst from what sounded like a .30 cal, that had clearly been deliberately aimed to miss was taken as a signal. The US forces then began to push towards the castle.
The ceaseless attacks by the SS, and the fact the defenders were almost out of ammunition (some guns were down to their last magazine) had forced the defenders back. The SS troops had unslung their Panzerfausts and were lining up to blow the doors of the castle gates in when a salvo of machine guns hit them from behind. The US column had reached the defenders literally in the nick of time.
Over 100 SS troops surrendered.
|French Prisoners leaving the Castle.|
The defenders despite several wounded had only suffered one man killed, Major Josef Gangl, aged 34, had been killed by a sniper.