The defense then tried to put forth two more arguments. First, the commission had been set up by an American general, when in fact the theater was commanded by a British commanding general during hostilities. Second, no order had been given by the president of the United States appointing or authorizing the appointment of such a commission. In both cases, the commission overruled the pleas of the defense.
The prosecution then presented its case to the commission. It was very straightforward. The series of events, starting with the night of March 22 and ending with the execution on March 26, was examined. The prosecution stated that the 15 members of the U.S. Army were on a bona fide military mission to demolish the railroad tunnel on the main line between La Spezia and Genoa. All of the available witnesses were put on the stand and testified. The prosecution proved the OSS men were neither tried nor given a hearing of any kind.
The defense presented its case, claiming that for any person to be accorded the rights of a prisoner, he must have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance on his uniform. Since the mission was for the purpose of sabotage to be accomplished by stealth, the Ginny men were not entitled to the privileges of lawful belligerents. The defense admitted they were entitled to a lawful trial even if treated as spies.
The main point that the defense relied on was obedience to superior orders. These orders were laid down in Hitler’s decree of October 18, 1942. Dostler also stated that he had orders from both General von Zangen and Field Marshal Kesselring’s headquarters to proceed with the executions. General von Zangen testified on the stand that he had not personally issued the order.
The prosecution countered that even if the Führerbefehl was binding on Dostler he should have acted in accordance with paragraph 4 and handed the prisoners to the security service or Gestapo. The Commission found General Dostler guilty, and he was sentenced to death by firing squad.
The First German General to be Executed For a War Crime
After the guilty verdict, Dostler was transferred to the Peninsular Base Section Garrison Stockade No. 1 near Aversa. This military prison was run by the 803rd Military Police Battalion and had a firing range suitable for executions. Saturday, December 1, 1945, was a foggy, misty morning. Dostler was escorted to the firing range by a three-man squad. As he was roped to the post, two Catholic chaplains, one of the U.S. Army and one a German POW, gave comfort in his last minutes. Just before the black hood was put over his head, Dostler said, “Es lebe Deutschland (Long live Germany).” He concluded, “I give my life to my country and my soul to God.”
With a taut face and tight-set lips, Dostler heard the order for his execution containing the names of the 15 Americans. The black hood was dropped over his head, and Dostler stood alone facing the firing squad of the 803rd MPs. Shortly before 8 am, 12 rifles cracked and Anton Dostler became the first German general to be executed for a war crime.
Dostler lies buried at the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Pomezia south of Rome. This cemetery contains the graves of 27,000 German dead of World War II. The verdict and execution were somewhat controversial, since many felt that Kesselring and von Zangen should have shared the blame with Dostler. A British court in Venice tried ex-Field Marshal Kesselring for the massacre of 335 Italians in the Ardeatine Caves and other war crimes. He was sentenced to death on May 7, 1947, however the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment two months later.
Seven of the OSS Ginny soldiers are interred at the U.S. military cemetery near Florence. The bodies of the other eight were repatriated to the United States to be buried in family plots.
The Office of Strategic Services staged many successful operations during World War II, but Operation Ginny was the ultimate tragedy for these 15 soldiers.
This article by Don Smart originally appeared on Warfare History Network.
Image: U.S. Navy