Paul Johnson

The Plot of Shame

The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is the last resting place of 6,012 American soldiers who died fighting in a small portion of Northern France during the First World War. The impressive cemetery is divided into four plots marked A to D.
However, few visitors are aware that across the road, behind the immaculate façade of the superintendent’s office, unmarked and completely surrounded by impassable shrubbery, is Plot E, a semi-secret fifth plot that contains the bodies of ninety-four American soldiers. These were men who were executed for crimes committed in the European Theater of Operations during and just after the Second World War.
Originally, the men whose death sentences were carried out were buried near the sites of their executions in locations as far afield as England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Algeria. A number of the men were executed in the grounds of Shepton Mallet prison in Somerset — the majority of whom were hanged in the execution block, with two being shot by a firing squad in the prison yard. The executioner at most of the hangings was Thomas William Pierrepoint, assisted mainly by his more-famous nephew Albert Pierrepoint.
Then, in 1949, under a veil of secrecy, the ‘plot of shame’, as it has become known, was established in France. The site does not exist on maps of the cemetery and it is not mentioned on the American Battle Monuments Commission’s website. Visits to Plot E are not encouraged. Indeed, public access is difficult because the area is concealed, surrounded by bushes, and is closed to visitors.
No US flag is permitted to fly over the plot and the graves themselves have no names, just small, simple stones the size of index cards that are differentiated only by reference numbers. Even underground the dishonored are set apart, with each body being positioned with its back to the main cemetery.
In Without Stars & Stripes, the historian Paul Johnson uncovers the history of Plot E and the terrible stories of wartime crime linked to it.
389 printed pages
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