British special ops engaged in a massive manhunt to track down members of the SS responsible for the killings of SAS commandos during Operation Loyton.
Operation Loyton saw 31 of the elite unit executed by Hitler’s secret police the SS after a botched airdrop into the Vosges region of France in World War 2.
The men had been murdered in cold blood at the hands of the Nazis, machine gunned together after being taken prison.
War reporter turned author Damien Lewis charts the SAS’s mission to get revenge in his book The Nazi Hunters.
And Daily Star Online is looking at his story ahead of Armed Forces Day next week.
It is a celebration of all aspects of the British military, from the heroes of WW2 to the current forces keeping Britain safe.
“Like an animal, because you are not fit to stand and talk to human beings on your legs”
Major Eric ‘Bill’ Barkworth
SAS legend Colonel Brian Franks ordered a part of the unit to track down the SS criminals who had killed his men.
It is belived by 1948 the unit managed to track down more than 100 Nazi war criminals, thought many dodged justice.
The team unearthed that the Nazis had issued the Kommandobefehl – a secret order paramount to a war crime which told all Nazi officers to execute any captured commandos.
Hitler had been defeated, but by July 1945 the SAS – led by Major Eric “Bill” Barkworth – were on the hunt for the SS.
Bodies of SAS men were unearthed and identified by their dental records in mass graves in France.
Witnesses revealed the commandos had been brutally tortured by the Nazis – being beaten so badly “their bones showed through their skin”.
Barkworth and a 12-man team had a growing list of war criminals they needed to hunt down.
And not only for the murderer of their SAS comrades from Operation Loyton, but also for the torture of countless POWs.
SS colonel Erich Isselhorst was responsible for the campaign to exterminate the SAS.
Nazi lieutenant Heinrich Neuschwanger would stamp on captives as they lay on the ground before shooting them.
And SS officer Peter Straub would interrogate prisoners by hanging them off a short drop until they died.
The SAS managed to track down Straub quickly, with Barkworth forcing him to his knees because he was “not fit to stand and talk to a human”.
Even the dissolution of the SAS after the ousting of Winston Churchill couldn’t stop them.
Barkworth and his men became a highly secretive unit under the control of the War Office – operating on a shoestring and completely undercover.
His men would continue to wear the SAS badge and beret – keeping the regiment alive in secret.
They would continue to find the bodies of their comrades, and hear the horrible stories of how they were killed by the Nazis.
Barkworth told Franks that 14 separate war crimes cases could be drawn up, with 30 suspects on his books.
And the problem was many of the war criminals responsible were being held by the Americans.
Barkworth discovered Isselhorst was being held by the US, who refused to hand him over so they could probe him for information on the Soviet Union.
The SAS men, however, managed to snatch him off the street to bring him to justice.
Neuschwanger was also seized and forced to look into the pit in which he had buried the bodies of his victims.
Both of them were condemned to death when dragged before the courts for war crimes.
The SAS commander watched as Neuschwanger was hanged.
One of their prey however, SS officer Hans Ernst, escaped however as he was hiding out in the Soviet Union.
And as their hunt continued, by 1947 the SAS had been revived under the command of Franks.
Researcher and author Lewis however believes that the men they hunted down were allowed to walk free.
He uncovered Ernst and Isselhorst may have been ended up being protected by the Allies’ intelligence services for use against the Soviets.
With a Cold War looming – the West took the initiative to use Nazi war criminals to take on the Kremlin.
“That they were let off the hook was an insult to the SAS men they callously killed – and to the SAS hunters who gave their all to reel them in,” Lewis wrote.