the Stooge of Stalag 17

Generally, I like this movie. it’s simple, moves quickly, and is well acted. A good WWII movie.

One thing I’ve never really understood is the role of the narrator, Cookie. Every POW in this camp was a SGT, so unless you were named “barracks chief” or “security officer”, rank mattered little. However Cookie, was your basic, standard Toady. He did the bidding for Sefton all day, every day for a small fee, whether it be cigarettes, or whatever. I always thought the role was a pathetic one, since he had no friends in the barracks and is looked down upon by most if not all members of the barracks. I think he’s a good choice for narrator, since he bridges the two conflicting worlds of the barracks: Sefton, and those that suspect him of being the spy.

But as a realistic character, it doesn’t work for me on any angle. He’s supposed to be the same rank as Sefton, yet the relationship is more like private to Sgt. It just doesn’t seem possible to me that one SGT POW would be so submissive to another SGT POW. It seemed to reflect more a relationship of protection, where Sefton would keep guys away from Cookie if rape was an issue. This would make sense in a prison setting perhaps, but not in a military POW camp. To become a SGT one would have to be a leader. Granted, there are different levels of Sgt’s based on stripes, and rank follows within the Sgt rank (whoever is higher during the war is higher within the confines of the POW camp.) But Cookie was a Sgt. before being captured, and would have never behaved this way before caught.

So, is this role believable to any of you? I am especially interested in comments from military and ex-military that have seen the movie.

It didn’t seem unbelievable to me, as i’ve seen toadying at every level of leadership i’ve been in in my life. a restauraunt manager has a shift manager, an area manager has a bootlicking store manager, a regional manager has a worshipful area manager. All of these are “leadership” positions.

Sure, I guess. But it’s not the same type of leadership, is it? A sgt has to be respected. He’s in charge of a variable number of soldiers, airmen, or marines that have to respond to him in a way that may cost lives.

I know what you are saying regarding toadying at all levels of management. But 1) there is a different motivation (money and promotion), and 2) the toady wasn’t the same level as the person who’s ass they are kissing.

Have you seen the movie? because there is only one relationship like this in the barracks. There are friendships, but none of them are of the user/usee variety.

Being a sergeant in the USAAF didn’t necessarily require leadership. In the American system, all of the “important” positions on board a bomber were filled by officers: Pilot, Co-pilot, Bombardier, Navigator. The rest of the aircrew was made up of gunners and the radio operator (who had a gun of his own). They were charged with defending their plane against enemy fighters.

In Europe, at least, all of the latter were made sergeants of one grade or another because they received preferential treatment when captured by the Germans. Aviators were normally sent to POW camps run by the Luftwaffe, which was headed by Hermann Goering, who still held some rather romantic notions left over from the First World War.

It was if you fell into the hands of the Gestapo (like Lt. Dunbar in the movie) that you really had something to worry about. Or, you might be lynched by incensed civilians if they caught up with you first. It did happen.

The highest ranking sergeant/gunner on board a bomber also served as the Flight Engineer, responsible for dealing with any mechanical problems that arose. On a B-17 or B-24, he would operate the dorsal power turret right behind the cockpit.

A little guy like Cookie would probably have been the ventral ball turret gunner. They had to be 5’ tall or less, just to fit in the turret!

We’ve only seen Cookie as one Sergeant among many, trying to survive. We haven’t seen him in charge of a platoon of lower ranks.

Besides, there are levels of Sergeants too.

The movie Stalag 17 was based omn a play of the same name by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, who had been inmates at Stalag 17B i n Austria*. It was based on their real-life experiences there, and I suspect the social interactions they depict were part of that everyday life. I’ve seen such behavior myself between individuals who were technically “of the same rank”. It happens all the time in the world, and it wouldn’t be surprising in a prison camp situation. Certainly it is depicted in another fictional POW camp, James Clavell’s King Rat (which also turned into a film, Clavell, too, was an ex-POW).

*Not unlike Paul Brickhill, the former POW who wrote The Great Escape or Pat Reid, who wrote books about POW camp Kolditz Strafelager, or Eric Williams who wrote The Iron Horse. The chief difference is that Stalag 17 was acknowleged fiction, even if based on real-life experience, whereas the others I cite were recollections of actual experiences.

My point exactly: He wouldn’t have commanded other men! He was responsible for manning his station on a bomber, period.

Aviators were locked up with other aviators. All non-commissioned aviators in Europe were sergeants.

There may have been senior sergeants among them, in terms of pay grade and date of promotion. But in a camp like that, everyone was more or less equal. (Commissioned officers were quartered separately.)

The inmates of Stalag 17 weren’t aviators, AFAIK. The inmates of Stalag Luft III (in The Great Escape and The Wooden Horse were, as you’d expect from the name.
And there were senior officers at Stalg Luft III.

Watch the movie. Look at the uniforms.

See all those sheepskin jackets? See Dunbar’s sheepskin pants? See all those shearling caps with the earflaps? Those were issued to aviators. They’re all aircrew sergeants.

Aviators were lagered with other aviators. Some of the prisoners (like Animal) are wearing other uniform items probably because that was all they could get through the Red Cross. POWs who had been locked up for a long time were often forced to dress in rags after their uniforms wore out. (Brickhall mentions this in The Great Escape—the book, not the movie.)

The situation at Stalag Luft III was somewhat different: The Germans had put all their bad apples into one basket so they could keep a special eye on them. Yes, there were both commisioned and non-commissioned officers there, but the commissioned officers were still quartered separately.

The British aircrew system, BTW, was different from the Americans’. From what I’ve read, the aircraft commander was not necessarily the pilot, and the pilot was not necessarily a commissioned officer.

At Luft III, the Americans were also eventually segregated from the British, to keep them from collaborating in escape attempts. I’m sure they followed US military etiquette once they were in their own compound.

This isn’t true. They say it in the movie, but the movie was written by people who weren’t there. It’s not in Brickhill’s book or in any other works about Stalg Luft III.
Kolditz Strafelager was, the Germans admitted, where they put “All the bad apples”. Stalag Luft III was for Luftwaffe prisoners.

Stalag 17B contained a great many prisoners, not all or even mosdt of them airmen, although there seem to have been a lot of American airmen among them, , possibly all noncommissioned officers:
I have no idea how they figured out which camp you would be sent to. My impression had been that the Luftwaffe camps got all the airmen, and Stalg 17B was other services. Apparently I was wrong about that.

Just to note: The various German services kept POWs of the Allied respective services in their own camps. So the Luftwaffe maintained their own Stalag Lufts for Allied aircrew. Stalag 17 was set in a Stalag Luft, but the title was kept short so it confuses some people.

Rank don’t mean squat in a prison camp as harsh as the German ones were. People did all sorts of things to survive. People stole from each other, etc.

My uncle survived Stalag Luft IV and the subsequent death march. It was every man for himself.

I’d like to believe this, but nothing I’ve seen says that Stalg 17B (the real-life camp Stalg 17 was based on) was called “Stalag Luft” as the one in The Great Escape and The Wooden Horse was.

Getting back to the behaviour of Cookie, I’d think that once you have a group of prisoners who have have roughly the same rank, rank basically disappears. So these guys end up relating to each other in terms of their basic personalities.

Cookie didn’t have the type of personality that would be in an upper clique - he’d be the sort who might be bullied or put down in the outside world. So he attached himself to someone who was stronger and smarter than he was, someone who would provide protection and the little “extras” that he’d have no other way of getting. Being Sefton’s toady made his life easier in many ways.


It may not be entirely for “protection”, per se, but out of admiration.

Sefton comes off as a man who is worldly, street smart, and cool. Cookie may hang around with Sefton, because Sefton seemed to be the kind of guy Cookie wishes he could be.

I haven’t seen Stalag 17 in years, but I remember the Cookie character very well. IIRC, I seemed to attribute his obsequiousness as, perhaps, stemming from some display of cowardice on his last flight. Having been seen by his crew mates as being ‘yellow’, he would forever be a second class citizen.

It works for me.

I’m watching it now.

I don’t care what Wikipedia says, it sounds like “Septon” to me.

So there.