Battlefield Recovery - Nazi War Diggers
For anyone not familiar with the group RRPG and it's dictator, sorry Chairman (I must get that right) please have a catch up below. My first contact with Steve Taylor was after receiving my first metal detector I found some .303's in a local wood. I got home and started Googling different things and I came across a group that had a small contingent of relic hunters. Steve being one of them and he told me about his videos and I asked him about how I go about finding other things and the legalities of it all. I smiled a few hours ago as I re-read all those emails from almost almost a decade ago! In which he advises me just to get out there and start looking for items, also tells me who I should avoid, like game keepers and the such like. We would regularity exchange emails and I started to get out more and more with my detector and I would become a regular contributor to the website I found Steve on (no I'm not going to give it a mention for reasons you'll read about later), if you are reading these in order you will have read about how I met Jay. Along with Jay there were a few other regular contributors that need to be included in this page, John White and Adrian who almost come as a pair. The 5 of us started talking about all relic hunting together, so I organised a dig at my local site, Steve, John, Adrian, Jay and myself all met up and Jay suggested that we should start our own group, we all agreed it was a good idea. Fast forward a couple of days and Steve tells us to join his group that he made 'for us' (RRPG) and that he is the chairman. Conveniently forgetting that a chairman is elected, hence the dictator comment at the top... oh how I should have seen how power would go to his little head.
RRPG was started with the promises of newsletters, regular digs and a selected membership. I don't think even to date there has ever been one newsletter, nothing was ever regular when I was a member and you can be a member only if Steve invites you in. I know myself and Jay both recommended inviting some relic hunters in, of course that didn't happen. I noticed that what our leader was saying in view of others was very different to what he would say in person, his saintly imagine was to be preserved even at the cost of throwing others under the bus. My clash with RRPG, Steve and a couple of his moronic groupies came to a head when I posted a photograph from one of our more productive sites. This site produced vast amounts of training inert ordnance and so the photograph was very ordnance heavy, albeit inter and safe. Well, Steve and his sheep hit the roof, calling me dangerous, telling me I would kill not only myself, but my family and the whole of Oxfordshire and the pictures were deleted. Amazing, this coming from the same guy who was telling me not long before that he was throwing 2 inch mortars at things 'to break the fins off" and yet when people can view his comments he tells them he would never even touch ordnance! Unless it will get him on TV of course, then its safe enough to touch and talk about.
As you can see from the Facebook chat I don't exactly confirm to safety either, but neither do I pretend to be saintly perfect and all knowing. How does it go again? I can identify any bit of rust, from any nation from any war.... or something load of bollocks like that. Sure I have emptied things I probably shouldn't have and I know hundreds of relic hunters who do too. Even Steve used to tell people that he would drill out small calibre live rounds, even recalling an amusing even of a round flying off the end of the drill and landing in his next doors garden and him having to go and ask for it back! While I see nothing wrong with that at all, besides the worrying lack of control with a drill! I'm sure he would deny everything now. So with Steve's sheep and him giving me a whole tonne of verbal abuse over this time something which they were all wrong about I said 'a fuck you all I'm off'. Although then I realised that you can't actually quit the group, you have you get them to kick you. I said either you kick me or you'll wish you had. That did the trick!
So ERH was born and an instant success, while I'm not going to go into an our group is better than your group rant. Simply as RRPG isn't a group of individuals, its all about the exploits of 1 man under the pretence of a group. Even his website makes me chuckle. Count how many times Steve references himself and what he did. Not his group... just him. I dug, I found. I went. I am... etc etc even the web address has to have his name in it.
It's began to get funny how many people bring his name up in conversation and then am I surprised that I knew him. I won't go into details, but very few say many positive comments about him, someone said can't Sugg's just do the show on his own, as they like the show, just not the smug guy.
Despite being the evilest and most dangerous relic hunter in the world... and what was it he called me not so long ago a 'fucking psychopath' (yup he actually does swear if you keep on pressing his buttons for long enough) he still isn't too shy to come and ask for my help or advice! Unreal right... during the filming of "Plundering Nazi War graves II" he sent me messages asking me to translate the text on several German ID tags and even asked for a free copy of my book. As if!
RRPG's biggest notoriety came from being connected to the planned showed with an unforgettable name, you guessed it NAZI WAR DIGGERS! Wow, great choice National Geographic, who at the time were being investigated for slipping Egypt some cash to do some dodgy dealings. Steve Taylor [the expert], Craig Gottleib, some other guy with a beard and someone who I won't mention as I actually quite like him go to Latvia with the Legenda guys and start filming. They did make a trailer and the second it was posted up online the world went mental... and probably rightly so. Although at the time even I felt bad for Steve and suggested we put our crap behind us and I would help him if I could (I regret making that gesture now).
A TV documentary series about unearthing Nazi war graves has been pulled after complaints about the "absolutely shocking" excavating process.
Nazi War Diggers was due to be aired in the UK on 13 May on the National Geographic Channel.
However, the programme received complaints from historians and archaeologists after a preview clip of the programme showed the presenter's removing body parts from a grave in Latvia in what was described as a "shameful" way.
"I have never seen such a casual and improper attitude towards the treatment of human remains," Tony Pollard, Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow told the Daily Mail.
Nazi War Diggers features two British metal detecting specialists, a Polish relic hunter and a US antiques dealer searching for graves of German and Red Army soldiers on the Eastern Front.
Pollard added: "I'm appalled that a major broadcaster has sunk to the levels of exploitation television. I've been at the forefront of battlefield archaeology for fifteen years, and I have spent much time getting the subject taken seriously.
"This just looks like they've gone around digging up bodies, because TV likes a dead body.
"This shows no evidence of even the most basic archaeological principles."
Dr Sam Hardy of London's University College, added: "To me, it looks untrained and unsupervised. If I tried to excavate a skeleton like that on a dig I would have been stopped and thrown off the site. It's slapdash and it destroys evidence."
The channel originally defended the programme, saying the clip had been taken out of context and the process was supervised at all times. National Geographic has now has pulled the TV show "indefinitely".
Now, remember that part about the show being pulled 'indefinitely'....
Clearstory Statement on "Nazi War Diggers"
This is an undated statement by the production company of "Nazi War Diggers" now apparently re-titled "Battlefield Recovery"
Battlefield Recovery is a 4 x 1hr history series that throws light on less well-known and well-documented battlefields of World War Two’s bloody Eastern Front. Unfortunately, following the marketing launch of the series by the commissioning network, misinformed speculation was spread about the series on the web. The production team, cast and the local organisations they worked with made these films for a positive purpose – to recover battlefield artefacts, hand over excavated items to authorities for safe keeping and bury the dead with honour. The series contains a strong editorial line AGAINST unlicensed battlefield looting and gives the fallen of World War Two proper and due respect. The series was signed off by the original network’s Standards and Practices and the network has stated that it is not aware of any shortcomings in the production’s performance or compliance. The network has apologised to the production team and cast for what happened. We hope you enjoy the series when it is eventually broadcast.
There was no "uniformed speculation", the comments that were made were on the basis of fragments of the filmed material that were released as trailers, and the content of the promotional website - both of which were withdrawn within days of the comments made referring to them. They depicted the diggers as doing quite the opposite of 'showing proper and due respect' to the remains hoiked from their burial site. In addition material on collectors forums submitted by members of the 'cast' suggested that artefacts were brought home, like a ground dug helmet from Latvia. One of the cast members falsely accuses me of making death threats to him ('"Nazi war Digger": Statement').
I have been watching the broadcast of episodes of this series which have been dubbed into Polish and put out here under the title "Searchers for Treasures (sic) of the War" and will be sharing my views on what I see just as soon as they get to the episode filmed in Poland. Basically what I see changes nothing at all in my assessment of the programme, indeed, it is worse than I expected. It also has attracted some derision of these 'Angols' on their forums from Polish artefact hunters. There are added subtitles claiming that what the films show is not what in fact happened, which rather begs the question why it was filmed in a way which (negatively) distorts reality - and suggests that the 'purpose' of the programme is not to depict the responsible recovery of battlefield evidence and locate any remains so they could be 'buried with honour' but to make television and nothing else. It is a shame it was made in that format, and a great pity that it was broadcast with only a few cosmetic changes (the sequence with waving the bone around which we saw in the first trailer was edited slightly - but not enough).
Below is an article written by someone who hates ERH... but tossing up who I think I dislike more, I will include this, although all evidence of his name his been cut out! What is said in the bulk of that I think is just archaeological bullshit. For example, 'preserving leather K98 ammo pouch'... what the fuck for? Keeping all items in situation until you understand them... its a KIA soldier that will be moved to a new grave-site and given a proper burial insted of being left for ever, its not like these 'god like archaeologists' would ever get around to looking for KIA, let alone digging them up and getting them moved. However, it still highlights the errors in what the relic hunting saint is doing is not all that perfect.
Battlefield Recovery, which made its debut on Channel 5 in the UK last night in spite of the best efforts of the international archaeological community to get it withdrawn, has something of the air of a puppy which sits and looks at you with melting eyes, pleading forgiveness while a huge pile of poo steams quietly next to it on the carpet. Like a litter of boisterous puppies, the programme’s litter of on screen presenters, UK metal detectorists Steven Taylor, Kris Rodgers along with US dealer in Nazi relics, Craig Gottlieb, run around a lot, play with their toys, bicker, play fight and high five their way through the farms and forests of the Baltic state of Latvia. They do this with the wide eyed enthusiasm of puppies setting out to explore the world, have a good time and find the next tasty and smelly object to pick up, toss around and chew to bits. Unfortunately, what gets chewed to bits in “Battlefield Recovery” is the conflict archaeology of one of the most bitterly fought and least known fronts of World War Two, Latvia. Chewed up usually by the archaeologically inappropriately narrow, toothed bucket of the team’s backhoe ripping into the ground....
and so on. It is worth noting two things. Firstly, although the subtitles say that the makers are aware that what is shown may not reflect archaeological ideas of best practice, there are no such disclaimers about what is showing being anything from the norms which may be expected of amateur metal detector-using artefact hunters. If you look at the forums, both in 2014 discussion and now, up to the time of writing, on most of them there has been no extensive discussion (still less any criticism) of what metal detectorists saw in these films. what there was can be seen to have been back-slapping about the luck to find so much "cool stuff" and appear on international television. It seems there are very few ("responsible") metal detectorists out there who see anything amiss or abnormal about what we see here. And that is disturbing.
The second thing I would draw attention to is that the programme basically provides an overview of the typical justificatory mantras of the artefact hunters of the UK which British archaeologists - stubbornly persisting in puppy-head-patting-mode as they mostly are - have so far failed utterly to address. The basic argument of Clearstory which attempts to dodge criticism from the archaeological community by saying “We weren’t doing archaeology, so you have no right to complain that we weren’t doing good archaeology” is in fact the very same argument used more than ten years ago on the PAS public forum. The efforts to get metal detectorists and the rest of the public to understand what 'best practice' in artefact hunting were failing, and a decade or more along, can still be seen to have totally failed. Part of the reason for this has indeed been that in the past certain British archaeologists have been perfectly willing to chat with them while shutting their eyes to the way they go about what they do on the grounds, "well, they are not archaeologists so we should not expect from these poor fellows that they do things the way we do" (Yes, David, I am looking at you in particular). The behaviour we see in this film is the scandalous fruits of such a laissez faire (not to say negligent) approach to outreach by the entire British archaeological community - with the PAS at their head.
Examining the stated premise of the programme which is "to save history before it is lost". This too is a typical UK tekkie mantra. And shame to say, but again British archaeologists support them in this. Sites are being damaged - the anecdote goes - by plough and "artificial fertilisers" or if these guys do not hoik stuff and record some "the Nighthawks" will come and get it. Archaeologists go along with it, never challenge it, rarely stick their head above the parapet to suggest there is another solution except amateurish hoiking. So again, the narrative goes unchallenged and here we see it in technicolour glory - and "saving stuff" is by "no method other than digging large holes and pulling out the stuff found therein". First of all, there is a problem is that the fields and forests around this battlefield are littered with "stuff", Second World War relics. The museum has lots of "stuff", some of which had been picked up fresh decades ago. There really is no museological need to fill their stores with more "stuff" of this nature. But what about the threat of "Black Diggers" finding something and selling it? Well, I find it incredibly ironic that one member of this team actually makes his living selling Nazi War relics and he even comes on screen criticising the sale of said items!
But, they have to find evidence of "the threat". In episode two (I think) on another of their playgrounds they find a heap of artefacts left by other artefact hunters. These are immediately labelled traces of the activities of "Black Diggers" - on what grounds is unclear. At home a pile of jagged metal pieces removed from the field to a hedgerow is called "responsible metal detecting". But to return to episode one, they spot "Black Diggers" waiting for them to go, thus justifying hoiking everything out at great haste and failing light (so they could not use the laser plotting equipment, draw a plan and elevations of the exposed timber construction, or photograph each find in situ). Yes, hoik it out before any of it gets into the hands of a dealer. "See tha' car ova' their? You know wht' they are don' ya?" says Estuary English to the dealer with strange-shaped head. With a smug smile of Discovery he announces they are "Latvian black diggers" who are lurking, just waiting for the team to go so they can "rob the excavation". That's what we are told.
What we see is some kind of clean SUV parked by the side of the road. a public road just by the dig site. Well first of all let us recall the scenes in the first half of the episode of the jeep foundering on a waterlogged forest road and the aerial views showing a swamp which the team "have to cross on foot" (another Health and Safety issue here if you look at the aerial shots), yet the next day it turns out the site they were to reach is accessible by road. Here's their jeep parked by the hoik site:
Estuary English Tekkie says that a car parked by the side of the same road as their jeep is "Black Diggers" and "they" are waiting for dusk. Hmm. But in fact there is nobody in the car. It is an empty car. Parked. Why do the English consider that Latvians parking a car by the side of a road in Latvia must be up to no good? Perhaps a Latvian doctor doing his rounds seeing a yellow mechanical digger digging a hole in a field and disturbing the local wildlife might have stopped to see what was going on. Just as you or I might do, but of course we are not Latvians. Latvians, Estuary English Tekkie apparently thinks "wait" until dusk" by leaving an empty car by the side of the road for hours, with the lights turned on. I think from looking at this footage that this vehicle is probably connected in reality with the film makers . Four 'presenters' came in the jeep. The cameraman and sound engineer and anybody else came in a second car. Is not the car pointed out as belonging to black diggers not in fact the production company's own second vehicle and it was filmed while parked there temporarily?
Anyhow we have here the "Lenborough Lie", that the deeply stratified assemblage of objects had to be hurriedly hoiked out with poor recording in failing light because if not nighthawks would get it and there was "nop other way" to protect the site. Except of course when we see the actual setting of the hoik site when the camera is pointing in the other direction than the one we are supposed to see.
From these shots, though the film's own schematic maps hide this, the hastily JCB-dug deeply-stratified bunker seems to be sited right next to some buildings. Like Lenborough.
Another object-centred tekkie mantra is that material is transferred from the archaeological record where it has lain unthreatened for centuries and millennia to "a museum where people can see it". But that simplistic argument omits one issue, the costs of cleaning, preserving, studying and publishing such objects.
Perhaps most importantly now they had been uncovered and exposed to the air, how were the objects discovered by the team going to be conserved, especially the items which had been first ripped apart for the camera like the ammunition pouches?
Certainly many of the more delicate items such as the uniform parts should have been (after recording in situ) have been removed more carefully - like by a trained conservator (not to mention a trained textile conservator) and not just yanked from the suction of the mud by a metal detectorists. That is not "recovery" of anything it hoiking and grabbing and nothing else.
While on the subject of context, this is downplayed by artefacto-centric (antiquitist) approach of nearly all collectors (following the lead of the Black Hat Dealers). Yet there are limitations to what the objects alone can "tell" us.
almost completely absent from “Battlefield Recovery” was any sense of period and archaeological context, or even curiosity about period or archaeological context.[...] What did the objects found in the anaerobic conditions in the bunker tell us about their identity and the daily life of the soldiers who occupied it, their food, the way they passed the time, where the latrines were. What insects and lice did they live with? [...] By fossicking around in the mud and not recording the position of anything there was no way of looking at the relationship between objects and asking questions such as was this the kit of one person or several? Was it even material dumped in the bunkers and trenches to tidy up the place as happened on the Western Front at the end of World War One? While going rooting around our mud spattered metal detecting terriers made considerable use of words like “personal” and the suggestion, expressed in pieces to camera, that the work was somehow bringing the team closer to the experience of the soldiers at the time. The irony of course is that for the audience it was doing precisely the opposite. A Wehrmacht soap dish is a Wehrmacht soap dish, made by the millions. What makes gives such a find significance is the the place it is found and things which are found with it and the team was shown actively destroying that potential significance. In other words, this “not archaeology” called “Battlefield Recovery” aka digging up stuff, was only one step on from the destruction wrought by the illegal digging the programme used as its justification for being in Latvia in the first place.
So what actually was the point of this programme? Actually one can do a show-and-tell with precisely the same object types from the pages of eBay and other places where this material is sold and bought by people "passionate about history" (or the storerooms of Legenda which appear in a future episode). Is it the mud which gives this hunt more appeal?
The colonialist attitudes of the people involved in this programme:
Not only that, it was outsiders destroying a piece of the history of someone else’s country in the way the Russians and the Germans had both tried three quarters of a century ago [...] it is hard to see the point of two Britons, an Anglo Pole and an American who collectively expressed no historical knowledge or sensitivity to place or period, descending on the Latvian countryside and giving the locals a walk on part in their own story to suggest where their visitors might find more stuff.
We then considers what the film shows "about the content of “Battlefield Recovery” and that concerns safety, or rather the apparent lack of it". He has earlier discussed the issues about the handling of explosives in episode two. Here he focuses on the excavation of the bunker which formed the narrative core of tonight’s the first episode and the "appallingly unsafe excavation practices which were clearly shown in tonight’s programme".
Several times the presenters are shown working within range of the backhoe, but no-one wears hard hat and hi-viz. They bicker about the instructions given to the backhoe driver which could cause confusion, especially when language could be an issue and worst of all, they excavate a bunker in what is clearly stated to be waterlogged ground, stand on top of a void of unknown depth and content, and work in the excavated bunker, at least three meters down, with no stepping or shoring, directly below the backhoe which appears parked close to the edge of an excavation which could have destabilised the structure of the bunker leading to the potential for collapse. Individually these are actions which could have you thrown off any archaeological site in the UK, collectively they could be seen as a lack of competence and a duty of care on the part of ClearStory in placing their workforce into that situation.
All in all, this programme illustrate a whole lot of things that are a problem in artefact hunting in general, and that in other contexts British archaeologists have been shrugging their shoulders at for the two decades the PAS has been asking them to pat tekkies on the head and applaud. Perhaps now we've seen archaeologists criticise this one example, they could take a look at the context within which the attitudes displayed have developed and at their own house. Perhaps we need to take this up with the PAS and get them to take a far more active role in their "liaison" in the area of debating and demonstrating 'best practice' going a little further than 'show us what you've found M8'. The trouble is, now the PAS has entered meltdown, it's probably too little, too late. So what else can we do about this sort of thing?
Have I watched Nazi Relic Hunters, sorry Battlefield Grave Robbing Recovery... or what ever its called... well yes, I watched the first two episodes of series 1. Steve even asked me what I thought and I told him I thought "It was good... except that it was mostly filler material, where are all the finds, where is all the actually battlefield recovery? I don't really don't give two shits about a hospital in Liverpool... this is supposed to be a show about relics and relic hunting. Where were the actually finds? After those two episodes I didn't both again. I would rather spend my time bathing my cat.
Lets not forget why I was kicked of RRPG again, it was for showing live ordnance (that wasn't live) and acting in a dangerous manner....
EOD EXPERT CONFIRMS “BATTLEFIELD RECOVERY” SHOWED “POTENTIALLY LETHAL” PRACTICES
During one episode Stephen Taylor, states that certain objects are “still dangerous seventy years on.” There is then a cut to a shot where the four presenters, metal detectorists Steven Taylor, Chris Rodgers, and Adrian Kostromski and American dealer in Nazi period relics Craig Gottleib, are shown working in a waterlogged trench where they have apparently been exhuming human remains. A sub title in Polish states [in translation] “All misfires were disarmed by specialists”
However, in a sequence where the shots appear to have been carefully edited and are possibly at least partially out of sequence the following dialogue and events occur.
Presenter Kris Rodgers identifies an object in the trench and asks what is it?
Mr Taylor replies “you’ve got the bottom of a stick grenade”
He then adds “we need to go real, real slow” implying they are going to continue to excavate in the presence of a potentially viable grenade.
After further dialogue including the words from Mr Taylor “Yeah, you’ve got the rest of the grenade” implying the diggers have identified and begun excavating and exposing a potentially viable explosive device, we see Mr Taylor holding the base and detonator of the grenade.
Finally Mr Taylor is shown holding the fragmentation head of the grenade which had held the main charge, but which now appears to be hollow.
He then proceeds to reunite the two components for the camera.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operator confirmed the identification of the grenade as being a German type used during World War Two and commented that, even if the grenade were ultimately shown to be inert the team could not have known that when they began to uncover it.
He also commented that, in his opinion, none of the Nazi War Diggers team were competent or qualified to make informed judgements about whether or not a device or item of ammunition was safe or dangerous, particularly when it was still in the ground and they were thus certainly not qualified to excavate such material before it had been certified as safe by a competent and qualified EOD Operator from the Latvian Army or Police, neither of whom are shown as present and crucially in charge of the operation, during the sequence.
Finally he noted that safe practice, used on many previous television documentaries, including “Trench Detectives” also shown on Channel 5, would have been to withdraw the team and crew and call in a professional EOD operator to assess the situation and clearly explain the procedure and decisions made on camera so that the audience was aware of the danger, any legal issues related to procedures for handling weapons and firearms, and how the danger was mitigated.
There is no sign that this best practice procedure was adopted during the recording of “Battlefield Recovery” although it is known that “ClearStory Productions” were explicitly warned about these issues a number of times and had been given the contact etails of appropriate experts to advise them, prior to shooting in Latvia and Poland.
Why do the producers, ClearStory Productions, believe it is sensitive and compliant with all local laws and the Ofcom Code, to allow four amateurs with no obvious safety cover, to be shown to appear to excavate, or worse to actually excavate, a potentially lethal seventy year old munition on camera, surrounded by the production crew?
According to period military manuals the effective blast radius of the High Explosive version of the German grenade shown is around 16m. Our expert confirmed that had it exploded the entire cast and crew of the programme involved in the sequence could have been injured or even killed. A conclusion which suggests that the actions of the company during the recording of the excavation of explosives and ammunition may well not have been compliant with ClearStory’s duty of care to its presenters and crew under UK health and safety legislation either.