Joseph Beyrle – Soldier and Hero who fought for the USA and USSR
“I went out and introduced myself to the Russian commander as an ‘American comrade’ in English and broken Polish. I said that I am an escaped American soldier and I would like to join to go to Berlin and kill the Nazis. ” This is how Joseph Beyrle, the future war hero and the only soldier of the World War II, who fought simultaneously in the American and Soviet armies, recalled his meeting with Soviet soldiers. This article contains his entire war story.
Joseph Beyrle was born on August 25, 1923 in Muskegon, Michigan, where he graduated from high school in 1942 (six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). He could have got a university scholarship at the University of Notre Dame, but instead volunteered for the army with his friends to fight in World War II. Before joining the army, he worked as a butcher (source – German prisoner of war card).
His war story began after Beyrle was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Screaming Eagles Airborne Division, which specialized in radio communications and demolition work. At that time, the division was located near the English city of Ramsbury on the eve of the opening of the Second Front (Landing in Normandy or “D-Day”). After nine months of military training, having become a technician sergeant fourth class, in April 1944 Joseph Beyrle participated in two military operations to deliver gold to the French Resistance.
The future hero of the WW2 on “D-Day”
The night before the Allied landings, on June 5, 1944, 13,400 American and 7,000 British paratroopers landed in Normandy, among them our hero Joseph Beyrle. Having jumped out of the plane just a few seconds earlier than the others, Joseph realized that he was separated from the rest of the paratroopers by several kilometers.
As he learns many years later, his comrades completed the assigned task – they captured two bridges, after which they held them for more than two days. Meanwhile, Joseph spent almost 20 hours trying to reunite with his colleagues. The first time he stumbled upon the Germans, he threw grenades at them:
“He managed to knock out a small power plant with grenades. He tried to connect with other American units, but he was unlucky,” says his son.
And the second time, having jumped over a hedge, Joseph Beyrle saw six Wehrmacht soldiers in front of him with MP40 assault rifles in their hands and a MG42 machine gun … It was a German firing position from which his Thompson machine gun could not save him. So he was captured by the soldiers of the Wehrmacht for the first time in his war story.
German captivity and the first escape from it
John Byerle’s son : “I once asked my dad what he was thinking when he was photographed. He answered – will I have time to kill the photographer while he is taking a picture of me … “
Joseph Beyrle did not lose heart and tried to escape from captivity on the same day he got into it. Even being after the shelling, despite the wound received during it. The escape was successful, but after a while Joseph fell into the hands of SS soldiers again.
“American shells hit this path. Several Germans, several American prisoners of war were killed, my father was wounded a little, but he managed to escape in that turmoil, but after half a day father was captured”
This is how Beyrle’s camp wanderings begin – he was a prisoner of seven German camps. But for the American command, Joseph disappeared without a trace – and he was presumed dead on June 10, 1944. On September 8, his parents received a letter that he died during the landing in Normandy on “D-Day”. However, on October 23, it was possible to find out that the sergeant was in German captivity. Beyrle recalled:
“The German soldiers treated the Americans in a completely different way from the Russian prisoners — they treated them simply inhumanly. And we were fed, not forced to work, allowed to play football, receive parcels through the Red Cross. We even had a radio. We helped the Russians as best we could – we secretly handed over food and cigarettes. “
Second escape and train to Berlin
Beyrle did not give up the hope of escape from captivity. He made a second attempt six months later – in December 1944. At that time he was in the Stalag III-C POW camp in what is now Poland, next to the Oder River.
“It was right before Christmas. He was very good at dice and did not smoke. And while he was playing dice in the camp, and there was no money, they played for cigarettes. And he won about 40 packs of cigarettes. He was a ‘cigarette’ millionaire. And he used this to bribe the German guard. He turned away while his father and two other guys cut the wire, “says John Byerle.
However, they did not flee immediately. The agreement with the guard was such that the guard would not “notice” only that the fugitives would cut the wire, the escape itself was not supposed to take place on his shift. In the end, the attempt was successful. The three of us ran. A few hours later, the soldiers came out to the railway along which a train was slowly moving, which, as they thought, was going to Warsaw. But that train went to Berlin instead. Beyrle hid with two Americans in Berlin one day, trying to break out into the German underground. But the person they approached to contact the underground took them to the SS instead.
For several days, Joseph Beyrle and his comrades were beaten and tortured. According to Beyrle, they were saved from death only by the fact that information about their detention reached the Wehrmacht. Its representatives took the three back to the POW camp, claiming that the POWs were their responsibility.
“My father said,“ Everything you heard about the SS is true. ”They were completely different from the rank and file officers in the POW camps. They were from the Wehrmacht. And they followed the rules of the Geneva Convention. At least with the Americans. Not with the Russians. That’s a different story. And the SS were cruel sadists, “says Beyrle.
The third escape from captivity and Soviet tank crews
When Beyrle Sr. was released from solitary confinement, he began preparing a third escape, which he started in January 1945.
“It was a difficult plan. One pretended to be sick, another soldier imitated a fight, and he and two other guys hid in empty barrels, in which they brought potatoes to the camp. They were taken out of the camp in these barrels,” says his son.
However, something happened along the way and the barrels overturned. Seeing the fugitives, the Germans opened fire. Joseph Beyrle and his comrades rushed towards the forest, but only he managed to escape.
Joseph Beyrle doesn’t know what really happened to them. All he knows is that he managed to escape without getting shot. And he just went east, he had a compass. Joseph knew from the sound of the explosions that the Russian troops were about thirty kilometers away. He walked, moving mostly at night. The Russians were also moving towards him, so two days later he came across the Soviet tank battalion from the First Belorussian Front.
Coming out to meet the Russians with raised hands, he repeated with an accent:
“I am an American comrade! I am an American comrade! “
Beyrle persuaded a woman, the commander of a tank battalion (possibly Samusenko), to allow him to stay and fight alongside the Soviet soldiers. The command was finally persuaded after he repaired the American radio station in the Sherman tank. Thus began his service in the Soviet tank battalion, which lasted a month. His skills as a demolition and machine gunner came in handy – the battalion had an American Sherman tank. So the American parachutist became a Soviet tanker. And then he became a hero – a legend of the Second World War.
The battalion in which Joseph Beyrle fought, at the end of January, liberated the same prisoner of war camp from which he fled.
Injury and return home
In early February 1945 Joseph Beyrle was seriously wounded (hit by the bombing of the German Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers). He was first sent to a Soviet hospital, and later with the help of Marshal of the Soviet Union – Georgy Zhukov was returned to the USA, to his hometown.
Victory Day Joseph Beyrle celebrated already in Michigan, where he was officially recognized as missing from June 10, 1944. The church in his hometown of Muskegon had long held a memorial service, and an obituary was published in the local newspaper. Most surprisingly, when Joseph Beyrle married Joanne Halovel a year later, the same priest who had served Beyrle’s memorial service two years earlier would perform the wedding ceremony in the same local church.
Joseph Beyrle Death
WW2 hero Joseph Beyrle died of a heart failure on December 12, 2004 in Toccoa (Georgia, USA). In April 2005, he was buried with honors at the Arlington War Cemetery.