5 Odd Truces in the History of War
War. Huh. What is it good for? A question that has plagued civilization for centuries, if not millennia. It’s often touted as a strategy of absolute last resort, something that the people involved had to be dragged kicking and screaming into. Even if, a couple decades later, people might look back on it and think, “Hmmm, it feels like this was mostly about oil.”
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Sometimes, though, even in the midst of a whole lot of shooting and stabbing and yelling “charge,” etc., something pops up that demands even more attention than the squabble at hand. Something that demands everybody stop furiously poking each other with bayonets in order to take a quick breather, if they don’t have so many holes in them that breathing is no longer possible. It could be a more pressing, immediate threat, a moment of clarity or just not being rude houseguests that bleed all over the dinner table.
Here are five of the oddest truces in the history of war…
A Truce Via Wolf Attack
War is a nasty business, but there’s still some rules here and there. Animals, on the other hand, especially predators, are particularly unable to read or comprehend the Geneva Convention, and don’t particularly care how or why you stop moving as long as your meat’s still there.
So when, during World War I, Russian and German troops that were just trying to have a good old-fashioned kill fest suddenly found themselves being attacked by hundreds of massive wolves, it wasn’t quite what either side had signed up for. It being notoriously difficult to aim a gun accurately while a huge wolf is tearing your arm out of your socket like a drumstick, the two sides realized that they were suddenly in a much more important, much smaller war — a war of Human versus Wolf. As such, they signed a temporary truce and worked together to kill the wolves. And that they did — hundreds of them.
Lost in the Woods
British and German troops were engaging in a bit of aerial dogfighting in the skies above Norway when one plane from each side was downed, both happening to crash very close to each other in the middle of an expansive Norwegian forest. With most of the men aboard each plane surviving the crash, they quickly spotted their now grounded enemy. Rather than draw pistols and finish what they’d started in the sky, though, they realized that if either side wanted to get out of the forest alive, it would be a lot more useful to engage in a little jolly cooperation. Or at the very least, to not be lost and full of bullets.
In the end, it would be the two-man search team of Captain R.T. Partridge and Feldwebel Karl-Heinz Strunk who would finally make contact with a Norwegian ski patrol that would rescue the men. Unfortunately, the ski patrol, not privy to their temporary truce and seeing Strunk reach for his pistol, shot him dead. But hey, eggs, omelettes and so on. The Germans were eventually sent to a POW camp, which isn’t a massive improvement, but at least they didn’t end up as food for some type of strange Norwegian worm.
A Home-Cooked Christmas Meal
Deep in the Hurtgen forest, the Vinckens were a mother and son, living in a remote cabin. On Christmas Eve 1944, they were preparing a lovely Christmas dinner despite the general unpleasantness surrounding them. Given that their cabin wasn’t anywhere near really anything outside of trees, they were surprised when a guest knocked on the door. When the mother opened it, she saw three American soldiers, one of whom was severely wounded. Harboring the enemy was a crime, but she took pity and allowed them in.
Both the American soldiers and the Vinckens were even more surprised when a second knock at the door came, and revealed a second group of soldiers looking for shelter, ones wearing the uniform of the other side. Elisabeth Vincken, the aforementioned mother, told them they could come in, but their guns couldn’t, saying, “It is the Holy Night, and there will be no shooting here.” After what I have to assume is one of the more awkward discussions of table settings of all time, the Germans and Americans shared a Christmas meal with Elisabeth and her son, and one of the Germans even helped to treat the wounded American. In the morning, they all shook hands and went their separate ways.
A Musical Performance
Christmas music is a delightful part of the holiday season, unless you work in retail, in which case it’s a constant, low-grade form of psychological torture carried out by Mariah Carey. Still, people have a deep love for those old songs, and in a story from the Franco-Prussian war, one even saved some lives. Or at the very least, made them end 24 hours later.
According to the tale, on Christmas in 1870, the Germans and French were in their respective trenches, facing off, when one arguably very stupid, musically inclined Frenchman left the safety of the foxhole. Exposed to German sight lines, he sang the song “O Holy Night,” and to everyone’s shock, he wasn’t completely airholed before the end of the first line. Instead, a German responded with a German carol, and a 24-hour truce for the length of the holiday was agreed upon.
Germans Versus Crazier Germans
The last entry here might be a little confusing, since it’s referred to as the Battle for Castle Itter, and a battle is the opposite of an article about truces. Weirdly enough, though, the battle did involve an unlikely truce, the only one of its kind on record: American and German forces fighting side-by-side in World War II. The unlikely team-up occurred on May 5, 1945. History nerds may note that May 5, 1945 was less than a week before the official end of World War II. Given that information, you can understand that things weren’t looking particularly sunny for the Germans at the time, and at Castle Itter, where Germans were holding high-value prisoners, the people in charge felt the same way and abandoned their posts.
The prisoners inside were now in charge, but still, well, imprisoned, and completely vulnerable. They ended up sending out the handyman and the cook of the Castle to try to make contact with someone who could come help or free them, and the cook ran into two military officers. Unfortunately, they weren’t both on the same side. The German officer, Major Sepp Gangl, though, was, at this point, not very keen on Naziism in general, and instead agreed to work with Jack Lee, an American tank commander. Together, their German and American forces occupied the castle, and ended up, in one of the strangest battles of the war, fighting against and defeating another group of German troops, ones who were still all-in on Hitler’s whole deal.