The Evening Standard
In 1986 the London auction house Philips offered for sale the stolen field marshal's baton of Luftwaffe field marshal Erhard Mîlch. In a letter to the newspapers David Irving provided the unedifying background of this relic. (The letter was not published).
August 20th, 1986
SINCE Field Marshal Erhard Milch is dead may I as his authorized biographer (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971) comment on your story (Aug.20) that upon seeing the "corpses of concentration camp prisoners massacred by the retreating Germans," Milch remarked: "After all they are only Poles and Jews."
Milch was the founder of Lufthansa, and Hermann Goering's deputy. In 1944 he was invalided by a car crash. Having surrendered to Scots troops he was turned over to a British Commando unit near Neustadt. His diary of May 4, 1945 describes: "Robbed. Cowardly maltreatment by British brigadier-general of Commandos. . ."
While an army camera filmed the scene and commandos trained tommy-guns on the invalid this vengeful general had strutted in, seized the field marshal's silver knobbed "interim baton" and whipped him until his skull fractured and the baton broke in two. (Peter Ustinov describes in his memoirs seeing the secret newsreel film.) The brigadier then resumed the onslaught with an empty champagne bottle, and stole the baton.
Milch's diary the next day states:
"Driven back to Sierhagen. . . Among other things plundered are golden marshal's baton, gold cigarette case, gold Glashütte watch, gold wristwatch, two silver wristwatches, clothes, etc. Women were robbed with pistol held at their breast. Driven back to Lüneburg."
I identified the general as Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts, DSO. His staff confirmed it to me but, ashamed at the whipping episode, tried to link Milch with the corpses of "concentration camp prisoners" found littering the shore. In fact these prisoners had been evacuated to three liners anchored in the bay, including the Cap Arcona; a single British aircraft had sunk them the day before despite their Red Cross flags, drowning 7,000 passengers; their mass grave is still marked by a memorial on the beach at Neustadt.
Writing the Milch biography, in 1967 I put the whipping episode to Mills-Roberts. Although he had once admitted it to a mutual publisher friend [William Kimber] he now denied it and threatened to sue. Weidenfeld's refrained from identifying him on lawyers' advice.
Evidently the late brigadier was both a liar and a thief, since he not only did beat his captive unconscious but stole the proof of it -- the broken silver knobbed baton -- in breach of the Hague Rules and the Geneva Convention, and concealed it at home.
That his daughter is now offering this looted relic for cash, instead of returning it with apologies to the field marshal's family as happened with the marshal's gold baton shortly before his death can only bring further shame on the British army.
Field Marshal Erhard Milch's full diary entry of May 4, 1945 continues:
AFTER A FEW wisecracks delivered with sparkling eyes to his men [the British brigadier] turned to me and said: "All German generals are criminals, murderers, guilty of the atrocities of the concentration camps etc."
I replied that I belonged to the air force, and that I had never had the least to do with concentration camps in my life. At this moment, he had meanwhile walked somewhat round to my side, he snatched my Interim Baton away from me and beat me many times around the head with it until I began bleeding profusely from behind my left ear and the mid-rear of my skull, and until the shaft snapped into pieces.
I shouted: "General, I am an officer, a field marshal! Are you not ashamed, general. General, you are a fine hero. The hell you are!"
During this time all the soldiers had their tommyguns cocked and pointed at me so that the slightest attempt to defend myself would have been suicide.
The general then tore my cap off my head and threw it onto the ground and ordered, "Go fetch your cap." When I did that he ran after me, snatched a Champagne bottle off the table and tried to crash it down over my head.
I raised myself, held up my left arm to ward off this blow and when the general struck, with hatred in his face, I pushed my left arm against his right, or the bottle, so that his arm was pushed back. Later, at Lüneburg Camp, when a British doctor examined me, severe contusions were found on my left forearm which remained black for many months afterwards.
This brigadier-general wore a green cap and the "Commando" shoulder flash. Unfortunately I was not able to establish his name.