(5 November 1892 – 22 December 1942) 



History of German POWs in Canada


German War Graves in Canada

Woodland_-_German_War_Graves_-_Wilhelm_Bach_-_Original_Headstone.JPGHannelore_und_Dietmar_schmuckt_das_Grab_von_meinen_Major_in_Gravenhurst.jpgR3-12.JPG

Many years later, when Bach was exhumed and his remains moved to Woodland, the original wood marker was moved too; however, it no longer marks the location of his grave. Instead, the original marker was placed in a prominent position within the quiet alcove located at the south-east corner of the German War Graves section.


The monument has suffered over the years: Some of its original length has been cut off, presumably because of wood rot, but far worse, it was intentionally defaced in April 1978 because of a reactionary Canadian Legion member. A swastika, which was an integral part the Knight’s Cross that was awarded to Bach and had been carved into the top of the monument, was chiseled off the monument by a cemetery worker at the behest of one person who was incapable of differentiating between politics, war crimes, and the bravery of common men whose only offense was answering their country's call during a time of need.

 

Wilhelm_Bach_portrait.jpgWilhelm_Bach_as_a_POW.jpgWilhelm_Bach_as_a_POW_2.jpg

Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Georg Adam Bach

-A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF BACH'S MILITARY CAREER-


05-Nov-1892

Born Wilhelm Georg Adam Bach in Oberöwisheim, Bavaria, Germany.


08-Aug-1914

Less than two weeks after the outbreak of the First World War, Bach enters the recruiting office of the 1. Badischen Leib Grenadier, Regiment No. 109, and volunteers for service.


16-Dec-1914

As part of the Reserve Infantry Regiment 109, Bach survives his first action during the First Battle of Artois, which takes place west of Bapaume, France.


27-Mar-1915 - 08-May-1915 

Bach attends an officer candidate course in Bapaume, France.


01-Jun-1915 - 08-Jul-1915

Bach completes and graduates from the officer candidate course in Sennelager, Germany.


08-Dec-1915

After fighting in the the Second Battle of Champagne, Bach is promoted to Leutnant der Reserve.


21-Oct-1916

Two weeks before his 24th birthday, Bach is Wounded and captured by the British and then sent to England as a prisoner of war.


07-Nov-1919

A year after the end of World War I, and three years of being a POW, Bach is finally released and returns home to Germany.


Post-war

Bach becomes a church minister (pastor).


04-Jun-1936 - 02-Jul-1936

As a retired Leutnant der Reserve, Bach participates in field maneuvers with the 2. Kompanie des Infanterie Regiment 14 near Konstanz.


30-Jan-1937

Promoted to Oberleutnant der Reserve.


01-Apr-1937 - 28-Apr-1937

07-Mar-1938 - 12-Mar-1938

09-Jul-1938 - 20-Aug-1938

28-Sep-1938 - 08-Oct-1938

19-Jun-1939 - 15-Jul-1939

Participates in field maneuvers.


26-Aug-1939

On the eve of the start of the Second World War, Bach is mobilized and transferred to the 6. Kompanie des Infanterie Regiment 110.


16-Sep-1939

Two weeks into the war, he is promoted to Hauptmann der Reserve.


31-Jan-1940

After participating in the fighting between the Moselle and the Rhine, Bach is held in reserve until this date.


01-Feb-1940

Bach is transferred to the II. Bataillon des Infanterie Regiment 104 and assumes command of the 6. Kompanie. He would later command the 7. Kompanie of the new Schützen Regiment 104, and later yet the 10. Kompanie during the fighting in France.


09-Jul-1941

After having been given temporary command of the I. Bataillon des Schützen Regiment 104 and redeployed to the North African theater as part of the Afrika Korps, Bach is awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his personal decision to hold the Halfaya Pass despite of being out of communication with his command for three days.


07-Oct-1941

Promoted to Major der Reserve, Bach is given permanent command of the I. Bataillon des Schützen Regiment 104.


17-Jan-1942

Bach is captured and becomes a prisoner of war, along with the other survivors of his regiment, after finally capitulating his defense of the Halfaya Pass to the British. He is then transferred to South Africa, and eventually to a Canadian POW camp in Ontario.


22-Dec-1942

Dies after cancer surgery in the Chorley Park Military Hospital in Toronto, Canada. He is posthumously promoted to Oberstleutnant der Reserve.




Wilhelm BACH: 

“The Pastor of Hellfire Pass”


-INTRO-


Remembered as a man of conviction, Wilhelm Bach is perhaps the most illustrious man buried at the Woodland Cemetery. The Wehrmacht Major – his posthumous promotion to Oberstleutnant is not acknowledged on his grave marker – was an Afrika Korps veteran who was made famous by his heroic defense of the Halfaya Pass against overwhelming odds.


-A BRIEF HISTORY- 


A veteran of the First World War, Bach served on the Western Front after having volunteered at the onset of the war. It was during the interim war years that his life, for a military man, took an interesting turn; although still a commissioned officer of a reserve regiment, Bach became an Evangelical pastor and took up a pulpit position in a Mannheim church.


When the Second World War broke out Bach returned to active duty and was promoted to the rank of Captain. Once again he returned to France, and after seeing action on the new Western Front, his unit was reassigned to the newly-formed Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK). Among the first DAK troops to arrive in Africa, Bach did not immediately impress his new commanding officer, Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel.


Only measuring 170 cm (5’6”) tall, Bach was a short man, one who was also once described as gangly in stature and seemed to be perpetually wearing dark sunglasses and carrying around a half-smoked cigar. Rommel was also uneasy at the idea of an ordained minister serving in the rank and file as a fighting officer. However, not only would Rommel’s opinion of Bach drastically change, it wasn't long before he became one of the revered General's favorite officers.


Bach soon won the respect of his men too, in part because of his reputation of never issuing a command that he himself would not follow. His fatherly persona and confident leadership also inspired a high moral in his men, even when their situation became desperate.


Late in April 1941, the DAK captured Halfaya Pass for the first time. The narrow opening through an escarpment at Salem, Egypt was close to the Libyan border and held high strategic value as it was one of only two such openings in the escarpment which ran in a perpendicular direction from the Mediterranean coast.


Rommel_with_Wilhelm_Bach_in_North_Afrika.jpg

Bach and his 1st Battalion of the 104th Schützen Regiment were tasked with the defense of the critical point, and it wasn’t long before his command was put to the test. Using five eighty-eight millimeter flak guns that had been dug into the hillside, he successfully defended Halfaya Pass in June 1941 by destroying eleven of the twelve Matilda tanks that formed the vanguard of the British attack.


Smaller-scale British raids followed, each proved unsuccessful in their attempt to root out Bach and his men from the pass, which by then had unceremoniously been renamed Hellfire Pass by those attacking it. Bach's staunch and unwavering defense of Halfaya Pass not only earned him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, but more importantly the admiration and respect of his men, his superiors, and even those who were fighting against him.

Wearing his signature sunglasses, Bach converses with Erwin Rommel.

In mid-November the British launched another major assault. The goal of Operation Crusader was to smash through the German lines and end the siege of Tobruk, and it was not long after the beginning of this campaign that Bach and his men were completely cut off from the DAK without any hope of resupply. 


Under the assumption that a full-out assault of their position would soon follow, Bach prepared for the worst; however, in hindsight of their previous losses at Hellfire Pass, the British decided instead to starve out the isolated German and Italian troops. For good measure the Brutish also bombed the pass on a daily basis, which forced its defenders to live in the caves that lined the escarpment during the day.


By the end of December provisions had reached a critical low and out of desperation the Luftwaffe made an attempt to supply Bach by air, but failed due to British air superiority in the area.


With his men dying of hunger and thirst, on January 17, 1942, Bach finally reached the difficult decision to surrender. A bitter moment for any commanding officer, in Bach’s case the surrender must have been further tainted with a profound sense of déjà-vu as it was the second time in his military career that he had become a prisoner of war. Bach was both wounded and captured at the same time during World War One by the British, who interred him in England until he was finally released a full year after the end of the war.

Erwin_Rommel_and_Wilhelm_Bach.jpg

Bach being escorted by a British soldier after surrendering "Hellfire Pass". 

One final order was carried out before Bach's Battalion marched itself into captivity; their coveted flak guns that had ruled the pass were destroyed in order to prevent their use by the enemy. It was one of the ironies of the war that Rommel would recapture Halfaya Pass a few months later in June 1942.


Having surrendered to a South African contingent, Bach was first sent to a POW camp in South Africa before being relocated to Canada. However, his internment this time would be short-lived. On December 22, after having been hospitalized with cancer, Bach succumbed to the disease at the Charley Park Military Hospital in Toronto.


As a final sign of respect to a fallen comrade, fellow POWS took great care in hand carving a solid wood headstone for Bach's grave, which was originally located in Gravenhurst, Ontario. 

 

Left: The original headstone for Bach's grave as it stood in Gravenhurst, Ontario. The photo was taken by one of Bach's men who also survived Halfaya Pass, but had been interred in a different camp than Bach in Alberta. An explanation written on the back of the photo, which shows his children at Bach's grave, simply states "Hannelore brightens up the grave of my Major." The reverence held for Bach by the men he commanded is exemplified in this touching photo.


Right: The original headstone as it looks today (2013). Shorter, and defaced as a result of ignorance, it no longer marks the location of Bach's grave.

A partial List of Military Awards earned by Wilhelm Bach:


World War I

Iron Cross (1914) 2nd Class

Iron Cross (1914) 1st Class

Wound Badge (1914) in Black

Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918


World War II

Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class

Iron Cross (1939) 1st Class

Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Bach salutes Rommel in North Africa. In the background Italian staff officers can be seen. Italian troops were also positioned at Halfaya Pass.