The true story behind Quentin Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds.
X Troop is about an incredible group of clandestine Jewish refugee fighters, working as a specially trained unit in the British army, to wreak havoc against the German forces.
Professor Leah Garrett
As I discuss in my new book, X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos Who Helped Defeat the Nazis, the men of X Troop were some of the greatest heroes of World War II. Yet, remarkably, their story has mostly gone untold until now. Using a combination of deep dives into the archives at Kew and the Imperial War Museum, interviews with surviving commandos and their families, and a range of War Diaries, I was able to unpack this extraordinary story.
In brief, the men of X Troop were a unique band of brothers who arrived in the UK as teenagers from Germany and Austria and were then interned as ‘enemy aliens’. After being recruited to form an elite commando unit—during which they were required to take on fake British personas to protect themselves in the event of capture (because almost all of them were Jewish)—they were deployed to Europe. They stormed the beaches of Normandy on D Day, and played a crucial role in the Allied successes in France, Germany, Italy, Holland and beyond.
Their fluency in German was crucial to their myriad successes on the battlefield and the unique roles that they played in the war.
The X Troopers operated on the front lines, using their commando tactics to kill and capture the enemy. Then they would interrogate the POWs immediately in German instead of sending them back to headquarters. This on-the-spot intelligence would be used to make decisions in the next few minutes and hours. The X Troop were unique, combining skill sets that usually don't go together: advanced combat techniques and counterintelligence training.
Corporal Maurice Latimer (born Moritz Levy), 101A Commando 3 Troop attached to No. 41 RM Cdo. rounds up German prisoners at Walcheren © Imperial War Museum
Here are a few examples of what they did. X Trooper Corporal Ian Harris used his German to charm the CO of a SS battalion in Osnabrück to surrender his entire position without a shot being fired. Sergeant Maurice Latimer managed to capture a crucial outpost on Walcheren by tricking the Nazi garrison. Lieutenant Peter Masters got two intelligence officers to give up the location of the German positions on the outskirts of Wesel, thus enabling the British to secure the Rhine crossing. Sergeant Colin Anson’s charisma and German background assisted in the bloodless surrender of a SS garrison on Corfu. Lieutenant Manfred Gans commandeered a Jeep and drove across Germany as the war was ending, negotiating American, Russian and German roadblocks, and then rescued his own parents from the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Ian Harris leading captured German prisoners, Osnabrück, April 1945 © Imperial War Museum
To uncover this incredible story meant facing some obstacles. Many of the X Troop missions and personnel files remained classified until I was able to get through a Freedom of Information request. Also, the X Troopers were so valuable that they were parsed out in small groups to existing commando units. This meant plowing through many different War Diaries in Kew. Yet this process was also quite interesting due to the range of voices from the anonymous War Diary authors.
It was also challenging because when I began the book only two commandos were still alive. Luckily I was able to interview both of them. The families of many other X Troopers were remarkably generous, not only sitting for interviews but also providing me with diaries, photos, and letters of their beloved fathers and grandfathers.
It has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life discovering and sharing this remarkable untold true story of World War Two heroism.
X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos Who Helped Defeat the Nazis, is out now.