Castle Itter

The Battle for Castle Itter is one of those overlooked, strange tales of World War II. The Austrian castle had been used by the Germans to hold prisoners of noble descent, fame or high rank. There was a guard force of Wehrmacht soldiers. The place was situated in the hills above the town of Itter (National Interest).

Two days before the German unconditional surrender, 100+ of Himmler‘s Waffen SS troops assaulted the castle. They had been ordered to execute the prisoners. The Wehrmacht soldiers and a US armored reconnaissance unit led by Captain John Lee fought alongside each other to defend the prisoners from the SS troops. They succeeded in holding them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive. They had received word of the defender’s plight from tennis star Josef Gangl who escaped through the Waffen SS positions to deliver a plea for assistance.

Gangl was killed after he returned to the castle. He was assisting French prime minister Paul Reynaud and shot through the neck by a sniper. The US reinforcements arrived and quickly defeated the SS troops. Capt Lee was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry.

Why did the SS troops try to execute the nobles, politicians and high ranking prisoners in the castle. Why did it even matter?