In a Nutshell
A battle in the final days of World War II saw American troops, surrendered German Wehrmacht forces, and French political prisoners working together to defend a castle from Waffen-SS attackers.
The Whole Bushel
Five days after the death of Adolf Hitler, the 23rd Sherman Tank battalion of the 12th Armored led by Captain John C. Lee advanced on Schloss Itter (German for “Castle Itter”), which contained French political prisoners, military detainees, and resistance leaders. The original guards of the castle were under the command of Sebastien Wimmer who decided to flee the castle rather than fight. Without guards in the prison, the French armed themselves with what weapons remained and welcomed the incoming 23rd Sherman Tank Battalion. Major Josef Gangl, intending to surrender to American forces, met up with the 23rd en route to the castle and entered with them after their surrender.
Gangl understood the situation at hand and knew that the SS guards of the castle would be coming back with more troops. This coalition of anti-Nazi Wehrmacht forces, American troops, and assorted prisoners (made up of everyone from pro-Nazi Vichy government members, former politicians, resistance leaders, and even professional tennis player Jean Borotra) dug in for a counterattack by the SS. Remember: these prisoners had only just been released from their jail cells and were now fighting alongside the men who had jailed them.
Around 4:00 AM, The Waffen-SS 17th Panzer Grenadier Division surrounded the castle and began its attack. The inhabitants of Schloss Itter gathered their weapons and attempted to fight back against the assailants in the first and only time during WWII that saw American, German, and French forces fighting together. Major Gangl was killed by the bullet of a sniper during the fight. Eventually, reinforcements arrived from the 142nd Infantry. The extra numbers helped defeat the SS forces.
Major Josef Gangl is celebrated as a hero in Tyrol, Austria, near where the battle took place.