There were many of soldiers who fought on both the sides of the Allies and the Axis Powers during the Second World War. For most this was the result of changing alliances between countries towards the end of the conflict, as in the case of Bulgaria, Romania and Italy.
Sometimes, however, unrelated yet unavoidable circumstances forced individuals into unusual and often difficult situations. Due to a complex series of events they suddenly found themselves fighting against their former comrades in arms.
Here are just a few fascinating examples.
Yang Kyoungjong fought in three foreign armies
A native of Korea, Yang Kyoungjong fought for Japan, the Soviet Union and finally Germany.
In 1938, when Korea was under Japanese occupation, Yang was first conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army while living in Manchuria. He was then captured by the Soviet Red Army during a border battle between Japan-occupied Manchuria, and Mongolian and Soviet forces. He was sent to a labour camp and then in 1942, made to fight for the Allies on the European Eastern Front against the Germans.
In 1943 Yang was captured by the Germans in Ukraine during the Third Battle of Kharkov. Finally, he was forced to fight for the German Wehrmacht in France as part of a division for Soviet POWs.
After D-Day Yang was captured by Allied forces and sent to a British POW camp and then later to a camp in the US, the country he would call home until his death in 1992.
When German and American troops joined forces and fought an SS division
After Hitler’s death, but before Germany’s surrender, fighting continued between the Wehrmacht and the Allies as the latter pushed into Germany, Austria and Italy. In Austria on 5 May 1945, US soldiers liberated a prison holding high-ranking French politicians and military personnel, including 2 former prime ministers and 2 ex commanders-in-chief.
When a Waffen-SS Panzer division arrived to recapture the prestigious Schloss Itter Prison, the Americans were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers in defending the castle and protecting the prisoners, which they succeeded in doing.
This amazing story is told in the book ‘The Last Battle’ by Stephen Harding.
Chiang Wei-kuo: German tank commander and Chinese revolutionary
The adopted son of Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Wei-kuo was sent to Germany to receive a military education in 1930. He became an elite soldier in the Wehrmacht and learned a great deal about German military tactics, theory and organisation. Chiang was promoted to Officer Candidate and even led a Panzer battalion during the 1938 Anschluss of Austria.
While he was waiting to be sent to Poland, Chiang was called back to China. He promptly paid a visit to the United States where he was a guest of the military, briefing them on what he had learned of the workings of the Wehrmacht.
Chiang Wei-kuo went on to take part in the National Revolutionary Army of China during World War Two and later led a tank battalion in the Chinese Civil War. He eventually rose to the rank of Major General in the Republic of China Armed Forces and became involved in Taiwanese politics on the side of the nationalists.