On February 29, 1940 the U-47 departed Kiel under Günther Prien and arrived at Wilhelmshaven on March 5, 1940 after problems with the boat’s compass repeaters. After a few days, the U-47 departed Wilhelmshaven on March 11, 1940 – again for operations around the Orkneys and Norway. At 5:40 a.m. on March 25, 1940, the U-47 sank the Danish 1,146-ton Britta, in ballast bound from Kalunborg, Denmark to Liverpool, with two torpedoes; thirteen of her crew went missing in action. The U-47 returned to Wilhelmshaven on March 29, 1940. (Dönitz’s Crews: Germany’s U-Boat Sailors in World War II)
Welcome to an Adventure !
Do you enjoy solving mysteries ? Do you like to travel in time when you read ? Are you looking to discover history books that tell what really happened ? Then come on in.
I had a great life spending over thirty years in the Army; I was able to help defend the country in two wars with a bunch of tremendous soldiers and any success I may have had was due to each and every one of them; as I frequently tell my friends — I am no hero, but I served with heroes and that you can’t do any better than that. I was also able to see the world, help develop complex technology and understand that I lived in a pretty special country. The only downside to all that Army time was that after I retired, doing regular day-to-day living was pretty boring.
So I started to write. It didn’t and doesn’t bring you much money, but it sure has been interesting traveling around the country and the world to chase after historical mysteries. I came across a page or two in some World War II history books, for example, on some special Waffen-SS unit in World War II that was composed of criminals let out of jail — but there were not that many details about it — and by luck I ran into detailed records of the unit buried in our National Archives. That led to The Cruel Hunters: SS-Sonderkommando Dirlewanger Hitler’s Most Notorious Anti-Partisan Unit.
Several more books on Germany in World War II followed: the dark side with works on concentration camps, Einsatzkommandos, and the Destruction of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto, and more-traditional writings on Luftwaffe Knights Cross winners and U-Boat sailors. That was fun, because I was able to interview many of them.
On a trip out to the Little Bighorn, I began to wonder what life was like for the basic enlisted cavalryman. All the existing books talked about officers — George Custer, Marcus Reno and Frederick Benteen — but what about the hundreds of privates and sergeants? That search led to Custer’s Best: The Story of Company M, 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn, which was able to win the John M. Carroll Award.
Then, in 2001, I discovered U.S. Army records that were languishing outside Washington, D.C. that contained the story of 96 American soldiers who were court-martialed in Europe and North Africa in World War II and subsequently executed by the Army — not the German Army, but our own Army. And they were buried in a secret cemetery northwest of Paris that is not shown on any map! It took me a decade to run down all the loose ends, but we finally got the story, which led to The Field Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II, which subsequently received the Lieutenant General Richard G. Trefry Award. In fact, if you only read one of the books, read this one!
More recently, I stumbled across a little known battlefield in southeast Montana on a bed & breakfast ranch, and just turned in into Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Gold and Guns: The 1874 Yellowstone Wagon Road and Prospecting Expedition and the Battle of Lodge Grass Creek. It is the saga of a Montana wagon train in Montana in 1874 that was searching for gold. The 150 gold miners, buffalo hunters and Civil War veterans did not find any gold, but they did run into Sitting Bull and 1,400 of his closest friends.
I just helped a great friend finish his own mystery on the murder of Tsar Nicholas II (it didn’t happen the way the Bolsheviks claimed it did,) as well as analyzing the Little Bighorn Cook-Benteen Note (it might have been “doctored” after the battle.) His book just came out, titled Romanovs’ Murder Case: The Myth of the Basement Room Massacre.
Finished a massive book on the German offensive at Verdun in 1916, but so far have been unable to contract with a publisher, so if you know of one that might be interested let me know!
More successful is a book, which will come out in October 2019, a biography of Master Sergeant John C. Woods, the U.S. Army hangman in Europe at the end of World War II, who stayed on to hang numerous Nazi war criminals at Landsberg and Nürnberg in 1945-46. American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army’s Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg
Now I am working on a book on the Tiger tank crews of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. This will be the first work concentrating on the crews, rather than the tank; so far we have discovered 166 crewmen that road on these super tanks. I’ll turn that in to the publisher in September 2019.
Another observation I made while in the Army was that the world is a dangerous place and unfortunately a lot of that danger is coming to our own country. September 11, 2001 should have been a wake-up call, but too many lessons have already been forgotten and acts of terror now occur in large cities and small towns across the country. So I have also started several projects to help people organize their thoughts on personal protection (such as the new Walther PPQ M2 .45 ACP pistol,) and how we might want to analyze some of these enemies to our nation (click on S,W&T, which stands for Strategy, Weapons and Tactics).
So come on inside and go on Your Own Adventure!
(September 23, 2019) American Hangman: MSgt. John C. Woods: The United States Army’s Notorious Executioner in World War II and Nürnberg is published and you can start ordering now. The book is fabulous; the price of $29.99 is an excellent buy considering that it has 108 black and white photos from the period, several of which are from the family with their kind permission, and where he resided that I guarantee you that you have never seen before. The work is 256 pages, with endnotes and sources that dispel all the myths surrounding this fascinating character. Most importantly, this is what I call a “one off” book. Once you read this, you will know everything you would want to know about the “American Hangman.” There are no other books about him. There are a few magazine articles, first published in 1946 and continuing occasionally to today, but most of the information in them is extremely inaccurate which you’ll see.
But don’t worry; his actual life is more interesting than the myths about him were.
You will be able to read, from primary official documents, the details of every man for which John Woods was the assistant or primary hangman. He did not, as magazines claimed, hang 347 men, nor did he hang, as he once claimed, 200 men. Some were American soldiers; others had been German or Austrian war criminals. Then there were the last ten men Woods would ever hang, the top Nazi war criminals that had been condemned to death at the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg. Only Hermann Göring cheated Woods as he took poison just hours before his schedule execution. You’ll read about that too and also about how Woods hanged Julius Streicher, one of the ten men, after Streicher had “disrespected” Woods on the scaffold!
But the story goes much deeper and reveals his young days, his short stint in the United States Navy about 1930, almost missing his wedding ceremony just after Prohibition was lifted, his brush with the law bouncing checks, driving a truck for a hearse company, joining the United States Army in 1943 and fighting at the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 as men died in bunches around him.
Did you know that John Woods could smoke a cigarette and blow smoke out of his ears? Well, his nieces remembered that and a great deal of additional information about a man who adored his wife, loved dogs, liked to make officers uncomfortable, had an affinity for Wild Crow bourbon whiskey, had a storehouse of entertaining stories to tell his friends and who botched more than a few hangings, the reports of which made it back to the War Department in Washington, DC.
After reading this book, you will feel that not only do you know about John C. Woods but that you would have enjoyed having a beer with him. In fact, one of the characters in this book used to do just that in various pubs at Le Mans, France almost every day for six months in 1945. He’ll fill you in on details that the US Army never knew about the “American Hangman.”
But beware, it might not stop with a beer; as John might tell you: “I never saw three quarts of whiskey disappear so fast in my life.” (Said to True: The Man’s Magazine at Fort Dix, New Jersey in November 1946, concerning his team having a few drinks after the Nürnberg hangings.)
An easy read, in deference to my Army Buddies, American Hangman sheds crucial light on the death penalty in the US Army in Europe in World War II, the execution of Nazi war criminals, and the effects of participating in an execution on the part of those ordered to carry it out. And his mysterious death? Well you’ll just have to hold off reading that last chapter till you get through the rest of the book!
For much of World War II, history books have described the influence that commissioned officers have had on shaping significant events. Now it’s time for you to meet the man that went from private to master sergeant in one day and who had officers, from lieutenant to brigadier general, dancing to his tune.
American Hangman, Hermann Göring, International Military Tribunal Nürnberg, John C. Woods, Julius Streicher, Omaha Beach