Published: Commando War Stories in Pictures #1493
Artist: (updated to add) Gordon Livingstone
Writer: (updated to add) Cyril Walker
Here’s another of our dips into something different. I have some Commandos in my collection, and “Entry Forbidden!” is one of my particular favourites.
In 1944, two sons on both sides of World War II say goodbye to their parents and go to war: Arnold “Scruffy” Scroggs of England says goodbye to his mother as he goes off to join the Downshires and Max Rudel of Germany says goodbye to his father Erich as he goes off to join the S.S. The two sets of parents and sons are polar opposites of each other.
Max Rudel and his Nazi scientist father Erich Rudel are both evil and fanatical Nazis. Personality-wise, Max has everything it takes to go far in the S.S., which he is soon doing although his version of iron discipline does not make him popular with his men. Max’s only real shortcoming, which earns him the nickname “Old Sniffy”, is a perpetual running cold that never goes away.
Max’s cold is the legacy of germ warfare that Erich Rudel is having one Gustav Dietrich develop against the Allies. Gustav, being a more principled man than the Rudels, is troubled by the ethical and destructive implications of the virus he is being pressured to develop against the Allies. Gustav’s conscience grows worse when a series of leaks occur and the virus gets loose. Among those who fall foul to the virus is Max Rudel. Max survives, but his immune system is compromised so badly that he is left with that permanent cold he can never shrug off. When another leak occurs, which kills people, it is the last straw for Gustav. He disappears from the lab and goes into hiding in shabby flats in the back streets of Berlin. Erich Rudel is furious at this because the project is stalled without Gustav.
Another reason for aggravation between the Rudels and the Dietrichs is that Max and Gustav’s son Oskar have been enemies since they were children because Oskar stood up to Max when he bullied smaller boys in the playground (figures). Oskar now serves in the Wehrmacht. He is an honourable soldier and disapproves of the way the S.S. is infecting the Wehrmacht with their S.S. ways. When Oskar is put in charge of his own unit later in the story he does his best to counter that influence as much as possible and ensure his men behave honourably. Unlike Max Rudel, Oskar is popular with his squad.
Back to Arthur Scroggs now. Personality-wise, Arthur Scroggs is everything Max Rudel is not: kind, helpful, good-humoured and considerate. He is also a bit clownish and has an amiability that helps him cope with the grind of basic training and heckling discipline. The influence of Arnold’s mother on him is so profound it will resonate throughout the story. For example, Scroggs gets on the nerves of everyone in the barracks with the pearls of wisdom his mother gives him in her letters, and they are just about strangling him.
When it comes to basic training, Scroggs is a regular Gomer Pyle. The heart and enthusiasm are there, but wearing a uniform unsettles Scroggs and he cannot seem to get the hang of basic training, which he constantly makes a mess of. This drives Sergeant “Corky” Carew to constant distraction. All the same, Corky is determined to make a soldier out of the ungainly Scroggs “even if it kills him” – “or me” he adds inwardly. Yep, Corky is definitely the Sergeant Carter of the piece.
Somehow, Scroggs makes it through basic training. Under Corky’s command, Scroggs and his regiment start fighting on the Continent in the wake of D-Day. He still has problems with his awkwardness, such as keeping his helmet straight. The story has said that Arnold Scroggs will be more than a match for Max Rudel, but there seems to be no sign of that yet.
Then Corky finally succeeds in making a soldier out of Scroggs, though not quite in the way he imagined. Corky’s nerves and mental capabilities begin to deteriorate from war-weariness as they fight pockets of German resistance. Corky finally goes to pieces during one such attack at a critical moment when his regiment need him to get them out of the tight spot they are in. Seeing this, the gawky Scroggs suddenly becomes a courageous soldier with a calculating mind. Scroggs assumes command himself while pretending to the others it is Corky’s plan. He decides grenades are the answer, but there are not enough. So he throws potatoes, which the Germans mistake for grenades. As planned, this scares them out into the open for the Downshires to mop up.
Fortunately Corky returns to his old self. He is impressed with Scroggs’s cleverness and is relieved to see Scroggs is not telling tales on him. From then on he respects Scroggs – though of course he does not show it, and Scroggs is still a bit of a klutz in any case. Corky remains the same old barking sergeant towards Scroggs, which Scroggs is glad to see again.
Meanwhile, Oskar Dietrich comes home with a war wound. He knows through coded messages what his father has done and where he is hiding. But Max Rudel spots Oskar and puts a tail on him. Despite Oskar’s best efforts to shake off the tail, the tail succeeds in following him all the way to Gustav’s hideout. After Oskar leaves, Max arrests Gustav. The germ warfare research has been relocated to an old house miles from Berlin because of Allied bombing. Gustav flatly refuses to resume work on the virus, so he is kept in a cell there.
Oskar recovers and resumes fighting, now as a sergeant in charge of his very own squad in a strikeback at the Allied advance. (As will be seen, Oskar’s new command means he is having even more clashes with the S.S. and their evil influence over the Wehrmacht.) They are going up against the Downshires, and the strikeback is proving too strong for the Downshires. Corky and Scroggs become separated from their unit and run out of ammunition. This leaves them no choice but to surrender – to none other than Oskar Dietrich.
Then S.S. Major Helmut Meyer (whose unit is nicknamed “The Vultures” by Oskar’s squad) arrives on the scene. He and Oskar have clashed before, and they do so again over the POWs. Oskar wants them dealt with according the rules of war and it’s his battle zone after all. But Meyer has orders from the S.S. to have them shot, and furious at Oskar’s stance, draws on him. A struggle ensues, which ends with Meyer’s gun going off and he is shot dead. Oskar is in big trouble over this, for Meyer was a big man in the S.S.
Scroggs and Corky take advantage of the Germans being distracted by Meyer’s death to break free and make a run for it. The Germans put up little pursuit; the two units are on the verge of fighting each other. Wishing to avoid a bloodbath, Oskar orders his men to stand down, and goes into custody of the S.S. Ostensibly, this is to clear the matter up, but in reality Oskar and his squad know there is little hope for him.
Oskar soon finds that things have gone from bad to worse for him once Max Rudel learns what happened from the dispatches. He orders Oskar to be brought to the new laboratory and use him as a hostage to blackmail Gustav into resuming the research. Gustav agrees to give in for Oskar’s sake, but secretly he decides to find a way to destroy his work if he does make the breakthrough. For this, Gustav is about to find he has help.
Meanwhile, a burst tyre gives Oskar the opportunity to make a run for it. The S.S. men are soon hot in pursuit and are on the verge of recapturing Oskar by putting a bullet in his leg. However, Corky and Scroggs, who have been trying unsuccessfully to find their lines, chance upon the spot. Realising what is going on, they knock the S.S. men out and save Oskar.
Oskar can speak English. He explains to Corky and Scroggs about his father and the virus development and asks for their help. Of course they agree to it. They set out for the house, which Oskar’s guards had informed him about.
At the house, Gustav finds a friend in Johann the butler. Johann informs Gustav about Oskar’s escape, which he overheard from the guards. Johann hates the S.S. (his nephew got shot by Max Rudel) and the way the S.S. have commandeered the house. He shows Gustav a secret passage down to a cellar, which is full of crates containing dynamite that he secretly transferred from an old quarry after the hated S.S. took over the house. The idea is, of course, to blow them and the entire house sky high.
Oskar and the Allied soldiers arrive and work their way in by taking out the guards one by one. Max Rudel, who has also arrived, recognises Oskar’s voice and conceals himself in a cupboard to cut them down, which he almost does with Oskar. Fortunately for Oskar, violent sneezing from that persistent cold alerts Scroggs to Max’s hiding place. He now fulfils the story’s promise that he will be more than a match for Max Rudel by riddling the cupboard with gunfire. Max Rudel dies before he even hits the floor.
When Oskar and the Allied soldiers find Gustav, he explains about the dynamite and Johann has rigged it to go off in a few minutes. He declines to go with them, saying he has a score to settle with Erich Rudel, who is due any moment. Oskar realises his father has chosen to die with his work and he says his last goodbye.
Then Oskar and the Allied soldiers find a squad of newly arrived S.S. soldiers have cut off their escape. Scroggs scares them off with his ‘potato bluff’. He throws a bottle at them that he has led them to believe contains the deadly virus (in fact, it is a bottle of his mother’s cough remedy). Once the house is clear of the S.S. soldiers, Oskar and the Allied soldiers are free to escape the house and take refuge in the woods, and the soldiers are too preoccupied to pursue them.
Erich Rudel arrives, knowing nothing about what is going on or his son’s death. He is concerned by the house looking deserted and no guards seem to be around. This puts him in a particularly nasty mood when he finds Gustav appears to be about to desert as well. So he pulls a gun on Gustav and threatens to shoot him. Gustav tells Erich he is too late – they and the project are all about to come to an end. Misunderstanding this, Erich shoots Gustav, saying he will continue the work himself. With his dying breath, Gustav tells Erich: “I think not. You haven’t the time now.” Again misunderstanding Gustav, Erich laughs crazily, and he gloats over Gustav’s dead body that he is going to go on with the project until he brings victory and glory to the Reich…
But then the dynamite goes off. It blows up the house, Erich, Gustav’s work, and also Johann, who chose to die with the house as well. From the woods, Oskar and the Allied soldiers watch the devastation. Oskar throws in his lot with the Allied cause because of his trouble with the S.S., and heads off with Corky and Scroggs to find the Allied lines.
Commando was very strong on pointing out that not all Germans who fought in World War II were evil, cruel and brutal Nazis, nor did they all support Hitler. Many soldiers who fought in the German armies, navy and airforce fought for their country rather than for Hitler. The Wehrmacht and the S.S. were at constant odds because the former did not approve of the brutality of the latter, and Commando often used this to create sympathetic soldiers who fought on the side of the Germans. But of course it never showed any sympathetic officers in the Gestapo and S.S. Commando made that distinction very clear, and arguably none more so than the characters of Sergeant Oskar Dietrich and S.S. Max Rudel, who are the epitomes of it in human form.
The story makes a further point that not all German civilians supported Hitler or Nazism either. There were good Germans who did not approve of Nazism and its cruelties, and many of them went against it, such as the resistance group “The White Rose”. We see this portrayed in the characters of Gustav Dietrich and Johann the butler, whose courage is so immense they are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the germ warfare. Like the Allied soldier Arnold Scroggs, the good Germans are the opposites of the Rudel men and the other S.S. Nazis.
Cruel and rabid Nazis are all the villains are shown to be; it is the heroes of the story who are given the character development, and for this we are shown their progress on both sides of the war. Arnold Scroggs starts off as a humorous, good-natured character, which gives us light relief from the grimness of Gustav’s situation and the rise and cruelties of Max Rudel in the S.S. But the story tells us that Scroggs is destined for far more than a Gomer Pyle/Seargeant Carter career in the army. He is going to be the ultimate match for Max Rudel, so we all read on eagerly to see how that happens.
Scroggs’s leap from gawkiness to a courageous and clever soldier is convincingly done, and it has a dash of humour (bluffing German soldiers with potatoes), which blends in with Scroggs’ genial character. We are shown that Scroggs has not changed completely and is still a bit clumsy, but he is finding his feet now in the army (when he doesn’t get them tangled on the march).
The story does not shy away from showing the horrors and PTSD effects of war either, as we see when war-weariness causes the heckling Sergeant Corky to have a breakdown and lose his grip in battle. It gives a more human dimension to Corky, and makes us all the more grateful to have the old Corky back. Afterwards, Corky is still given the odd touches to show he is a human being, such as a reference to his mother.
The artwork has a loose, angular style, which really brings out the gawkiness of Arnold Scroggs. Even in the more serious panels there are dashes of humour. One example is a panel (above) of the S.S. soldiers who corner our heroes at the house. The panel showing their reactions to Scroggs’ threat to throw the virus at them does raise a chuckle. The frightened expressions on the guards’ faces have a kind of goofy look, and the S.S. officer almost looks like he’s got buck teeth. It would be really great to know who the artist is (updated to add: we have been informed it is Gordon Livingstone). Commando would print credits in the latter part of its run, but this issue is not part of it.