Hi folks. Something a bit different from me this time.
Some of you may know from following my ever expanding collection of WW2 aircraft that I'm very much more of a collector than a gamer. The likelihood of anything in my collection hitting a gaming table for any kind of battle is so low that I figure I'm in a perfect position to do something a little different. Something that doesn't really belong on a tabletop battlefield and so is rarely seen in our collections. But they were everywhere on the European front throughout the war and after. It's the Red Cross!
Like my aircraft they are all 6mm scale. I could see some of these being used in some very interesting objective based scenarios. Either as objectives of some kind themselves, escort the convoy or something or just as "try not to illegally destroy these by accident" pieces.
It'd be a fun exercise to try and work rules into any game in which these would be playable in some way. That said I don't actually have rules handy for a 6mm ground based ww2 game so... these are all the more useless for that. But that's just how I roll.
So first up lets briefly look at what was going on in the European theatre with the Red Cross.
Before the war the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had presented the Geneva Conventions governing the conduct and treatment of wounded soldiers and POWs during conflict which many nations had signed up to. (Significantly Laws concerning civilians had yet to be ratified) In a combat zone context, as during the First World War army medical ambulances and other Red Cross marked vehicles benefited from this legal mandate which demanded a strict duty of care and protection from belligerent forces.
Vehicles showing Red Cross markings could not be targeted and fired upon although accidents did happen. It was also strictly forbidden for them to carry weapons or do reconnaissance while so marked.
But the Red Cross did much, much more, far beyond the specific legal remit of their organisation. Some of those activities and some of the people who made them possible I am bringing to the tabletop in tiny 1:300 scale for your delight and enjoyment (I hope)
National Red Cross organisations (such as the British Red Cross, or the American Red Cross, etc) took on the task of supplying food and essentials from the governments of captured servicemen to the POW camps where they were held. They also oversaw the official registering of prisoners and ensured the observation of those legally protected rights afforded them. The Red Cross organised the production and distribution of tens of thousands of care parcels and letters to POW's from families all over the world.
It is strange to think that there was a more or less constant and direct line of communication across the front lines as Red Cross delegates, parcels and letters collected all over the world were sent, often by ship and by train across enemy lines into enemy territory to be received and distributed by the Red Cross there in all confidence.
Towards the end of the war however when the rail networks were badly damaged and parcels could not be sent by train the American Red Cross borrowed American army trucks to make the run themselves.
Trusting to a hasty application of white paint they drove these convoys of American vehicles right into German held territory and amazingly were allowed to drive right up alongside lines of marching prisoners being evacuated from the shrinking German front lines. So powerful was the adherence to the conventions that not a shot was fired at these American trucks who were permitted to hand out their parcels to prisoners at the roadside without interference.
Red Cross volunteer ambulance crews many of them women provided an essential service to the sick and the wounded, both on the home front and abroad. They transported the wounded servicemen returning to airfields. When planes bringing back the wounded landed, ambulances drew up next to them ready to treat and rush the wounded to nearby hospitals.
But Red Cross Volunteers did more than just drive ambulances. They stretchered people away from buildings that had been hit by bombs. They also ran first aid posts in air raid shelters and gave out essential items such as food, medical supplies, blankets and clothing.
The German Red Cross was rolled into the SA
Medical Corps in 1933 so it was no longer a non-military organisation. German Red Cross Volunteers found themselves under the command of military officers and fully integrated into the wider army medical operation.
The American Red Cross entered the war in 1939, two years before the US officially declared war on the Axis Powers. Operating with 6 million volunteers, the American Red Cross was on the front lines all over the world. They operated initiatives for the collection of aid bundles, the provision of American ambulances abroad and critically they operated a widespread blood donation service in the states.
35 blood donor centres were established across the states in major population centres each operating a number of mobile units with a range of about 75 mile radius of the main centres. These travelling units massively increased the range and access of the blood donation programme setting up in local schools and town halls reaching 60% of the total US population. Between 1941 and 1945 American blood donations reached in excess of 13 million units; a massive contribution to the work of saving lives.
One American Red Cross initiative over in the UK
was the operation of Service Clubs that soon went mobile running converted busses out to air fields and other armed forces facilities. The Clubmobiles were a big hit and when the allies went on the offensive over to France a new weapon of inestimable value was designed.
Built around a GMC 6x6 army truck the American Red Cross Clubmoblie accommodated a crew of 3 highly skilled volunteers (sometimes referred to as Doughnut Dollies!), a stove for boiling water for coffee, a doughnut frier and a portable loud speaker victrola with a full compliment of swing records. These dedicated services advanced along with the troops through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, until V-E Day, May 7, 1945. The morale boost among the troops when one of these party wagons rolled up was probably what won the war.
Another major role of the national Red Cross organisations was the manning, supply and maintenance of field hospitals in their territory whose mandate it was to treat all injured personnel of both sides without prejudice. These might be set up in any suitable building or as a field of tents and were often marked out with large Red Cross signs to be highly visible to aircraft who might otherwise mistake them for military camps.
In actual fact there was a far greater death-toll and unmitigated suffering among civilian populations than military casualties during the course of the war. The ICRC made efforts to address issues in some of the worst hit populations but without a signed legal mandate to act in cases of civilian crisis it was slow going. None the less every effort was made that could be and political and logistical solutions were found where possible. Some of which I am happy to be able to present.
In 1942 the situation in Greece was desperate. The continued Allied blockade of foodstuffs into occupied Axis territories was having a devastating effect on an already war-ravaged and starving population. Through the tireless efforts of key Swiss, Swedish and Turkish Diplomats and Red Cross delegates the political, logistical and financial means we're secured to provide aid to starving Greece. Thousands of tonnes of Canadian wheat was shipped over to Turkey from where it could be sent to Greek ports.
This massive effort was the beginning of the Red Cross shipping fleet which by the end of the war was a huge logistical operation and was instrumental in post war humanitarian aid efforts across the world.
As the tide of the war was turning the Swedish Red Cross saw an opportunity to negotiate with the German state to allow them to recover Scandinavians held in German prison camps.
After some tense negotiations the Swedish convoy (including many Danish Red Cross volunteers and vehicles under Sweedish flags) were allowed in under careful supervision of the gestapo.
As the allied armies approached and forward prison camps were being evacuated the Swedish delegation had to help ferry prisoners between camps where their people were held and the Danish contingent recovered them to Sweden. In all aprox 300 volunteers saved 15,345 prisoners from the concentration camps; of these 7,795 were Scandinavian and 7,550 were non-Scandinavian (Polish, French, etc.)
National Red Cross organisations often acted very much as an extension of their government. As such their focus and concerns tended to be in line with their national regime although they were forbidden by law to be part of the nation's military. The Deutsches Rotes Kreuz however was a fully Nazified organisation and was significantly politicised acting hand in glove with the Nazi government and armed forces.
The ICRC had a difficult time holding the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz to account especially with regard to civilian prison camps where inspections and reports were fabricated and deliberately misleading. The Nazi led DRK collaborated with some of the worst of war crimes in this regard. In April 1945 as the Allied advance was closing in tight the German government finally agreed to allow ICRC delegates into some of the most notorious camps including Turckheim, Dachau and Mauthausen (provided that the delegates remain there until the end of the war.) The ICRC delegate in Mauthausen, Louis Haefliger, learned from his roommate SS
Obersturmführer Reiner about the Nazi plan to blow-up the underground aviation factory at Gusen (which was part of the camp) together with the 40,000 or so detainees who worked in it. Haefliger decided he had to do more than hand out aid. (Which the SS
running the camp wouldn't let him do anyway) and he convinced Reiner to help him.
With a borrowed Opel painted up to look like a Red Cross vehicle they went out into the combat zone to find the advancing Americans. They met an advance unit of the 11th Army group who they convinced to accompany them back to the camp and accept the surrender of the guards before the planned blasting of the camp.
Despite undoubtably saving the lives of over 40,000 prisoners Louis Haefliger's actions were condemned by the ICRC at the time because they were deemed as acting unduly on his own authority and risking the ICRC's neutrality. Only in 1990 was his reputation finally rehabilitated by ICRC president Cornelio Sommaruga.
Both the Soviet Union and Imperial Japan refused to ratify the Geneva Conventions prior to the outbreak of war with tragic consequences. The horrific treatment of prisoners on the eastern front and in the Far East give some indication of what might have been occurring in the rest of Europe had not the Red Cross been an active force for humanitarian treatment and aid.
After the war, the ICRC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for it actions in the period between 1939-1945
Well that's it for now. Hope the historicals weren't too much. I aim to be back again here soon with a follow up looking at some of the other civilian volunteer organisations as well auxiliary corps and other supporting military corps, hopefully soon. So if you enjoyed this keep an eye out for the second part, or bounce over to my 6mm World War 2 Aircraft Gallery
to see more historical miniatures and their histories. There's lots to see and I have lots more still to research and paint up.