The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

November 7, 2013

Ashtabula County man who arranged the surrender of 20,000 Germans dies

An Ashtabula County man who made headlines when he helped negotiate the surrender of a huge German force during World War II died late last month, according to reports.

Samuel W. Magill Sr., Lt. Col. (Army retired) died Oct. 30 in Munich, Germany. He was 94.

Born in Monroe Township, a 24-year-old Magill gained fame while serving with the 83rd Infantry Division, known as “The Thunderbolts.” As a member of the 329th Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, Magill would play a pivotal role in one of the strangest chapters of the war.

The story begins in September 1944, near the border of France and Spain. A force of 20,000 soldiers, under the command of Major Gen. Erich Elster, was entrenched in the vicinity of Loire River. When the Allies’ Major Gen. Robert C. Macon, commanding the 83rd Infantry, wanted to know more about the enemy, he turned to Magill and his I&R platoon.

Over time, Magill was able to slip himself and members of his unit over the  river  to  size  up  the

German situation. In early September, Magill was approached by members of a French guerilla unit who had learned a German general was willing to talk surrender terms, according to an account of the events on indianamilitary.org. Magill made contact and began talks with Gen. Elster, the American bargaining on humanitarian grounds: surrender would prevent needless death of Elster’s troops.

But the bargaining hit an early snag when the German commander — anxious to preserve his honor — insisted he would surrender to an American force equivalent to two battalions. Magill reported Elster’s terms to his commanders, who said they couldn’t muster a force of that size just to satisfy a German officer’s ego. Elster was eventually told he would either have to give up entirely or continue to deal with French resistance and American warplanes, both of which were taking a toll on his troops.

A meeting between Elster and the American high command was eventually held and acceptable terms were struck. Elster agreed to the surrender of 20,000 soldiers and officers, along with weapons and equipment. The surrender took several days to formalize, and secret plans were made amid fears one shot fired by a soldier unaware of the delicate process would undo the entire arrangement, according to the website.

Despite the anxiety, the surrender was formally completed on Sept. 17, 1944, when Elster — during a ceremony played out before the media— handed over his pistol to Macon. The Germans were marched in massive columns to a nearby prisoner-of-way compound. It was the largest mass surrender of the war, according to information at indianamilitary.org.

After the surrender, Magill and his men continued their advance across Europe, liberating several prisoner and concentration camps. In August 1945, Magill was awarded the Legion of Merit for his role in arranging the historic surrender.

Magill and the members of the 329th Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon were hailed as heroes and became celebrities. They were the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and books were written about their exploits. In 1955, Magill and his crew appeared on the popular television show “This Is Your Life,” starring Ralph Edwards, according to his obituary.

After the war Magill settled in Ashtabula with his family, but remained in military intelligence until his retirement in Germany in 1969. He also served as a military technical advisor on several war-themed films, some starring acting royalty like Richard Burton and Sophia Loren.

A memorial service for Magill will be held in the Ashtabula area next spring, according to his obituary.

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