Saxon Warrior – Today 97 years ago. KIA 27th of June 1916

My last blog entry in 2012! This fantastic photograph is in the collection of a friend of mine. He bought it with a lot of other WW1 photographs on a boot fair in Dresden a while ago. It was taken on the 31st of December 1915. Today – 97 years ago.

Karl Heinrich Berthold Schönert

Karl Heinrich Berthold Schönert

It shows a heavily armed soldier of Landwehr-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 133 on the Eastern Front clad in full winter gear. The soldiers name, which is noted on the backside is : Karl Heinrich Berthold Schönert

Karl is mentioned in the book:

Erinnerung an die Gefallenen und Vermissten des LIR 133: Zusammengestellt Anfang August 1914 in Leipzig, Döbeln und Wurzen.*** (before anyone else asks, compiled 1914 but each year a new chapter was added)

From that we know that he was born on the 22nd of January 1885 in Dresden where he had worked as a industrial machine operator before the war started.
Serving in 12th coy of LIR133, he was killed in the Battles at Styr-Stochod by a headshot on the 27th of June 1916, about half a year after this photo was taken. Stochod and Styr are two of the four major rivers of Ukraine, Russia.

He was married to Gertrud Pfefferkorn with whom he had three children. After recieving in military training in Posen he was was transfered to the front on the 15th of October 1915. From the 28th of October to 1st of May 1916 he took part in the fighting on the upper Schtschara-Serwetsch and from the 7th of June 1916 up to his death he fought in the area Styr-Stochod. On the day of his death he was hit by a rifle bullet that pierced his helmet and killed him instantly. He was buried (with other comrades) “below three oaktrees next to the road to Linievka”. His brother Karl Peter, was killed on the same day.

It is very rare to get so much detail about a private soldier. Today I remember, Karl Heinrich Berthold Schönert

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“Language problems” – German soldiers in Russia, WW1 1914/15

This image shows a group of fierce looking german soldiers of an unknown regiment in Russia. Image was probably taken in 1914 or 1915. I first thought they were posing with a border sign or some military sign. As I can not speak or read russian I found a kind person on Twitter (@outskywalker), who translated it for me.

The sign reads: “General primary school in Voynov, 1st class.”

Quite funny, the double headed eagle and the cyrillic writing certainly looks seriously enough to fit the scene and to impress the families at home. I am quite sure they had no idea what the writing said.

russiansign

Prayer before Battle – FATHER, I call Thee! – German prayer by Theodor Körner

prayer1

“Father I call on thee” – German Field-Postcard, 1915

FATHER, I call Thee!
Smoke clouds enwrap me and cannons are crashing,
Round me the terrible lightnings are flashing.
Wars great Dispenser, I call Thee!
Father, oh guide me!

Father, oh guide me!
Guide me to victory and to death lead me:
Lord, Thy commandments I know and I heed Thee;
Lord, as Thou willest, so guide me!
My God, I heed Thee!

My God, I heed Thee!
Once amid murmur of leaves I could hear Thee,
Now in the thunder of war I am near Thee.
Fountain of mercy, I heed Thee.
Father, oh bless me!

Father, oh bless me!
Into Thy hand my life I surrender:
Thou hast bestowed it, so take it, Defender!
Living or dying, oh bless me!
Father, I praise Thee!

Father, I praise Thee!
Not for the goods of this earth we are fighting:
To guard the holiest, our swords are smiting.
Falling in triumph, I praise Thee.
My God, I trust Thee!

My God, I trust Thee!
When all the thunders of death are roaring,
When from my veins the blood is pouring:
My life, God, I trust to Thee!
Father, I call Thee!

Vater

This prayer/poem was written by Theodor Körner during the Napoleonic Wars and stayed very popular in Germany for over 200 years, up to the Second World War. It could be found in soldiers prayer books and was taught in school (as were all of Körners poems). Every child in germany would grew up with these lines in etched into the memory. It was only natural that is was used in propaganda, posters and postcards like the one shown above. The translation above is by Margarete Münsterberg, and was published in A Harvest of German Verse.  in 1906. In my personal opinion this version is closest to the original german text. 

Karl Theodor Körner (23 September 1791 – 26 August 1813) was a German poet and soldier. After some time in Vienna, where he wrote some light comedies and other works for the Burgtheater, he became a soldier and joined the Lützow Free Corps in theGerman uprising against Napoleon. During these times, he displayed personal courage in many fights, and encouraged his comrades by fiery patriotic lyrics he composed, one of these being “Schwertlied” (Sword Song), composed during a lull in fighting only a few hours before his death and set to music by Franz Schubert. He was often called the “German Tyrtaeus.” 

Prayer2

Another version of this popular card, 1915

Vater, ich rufe dich!
Brüllend umwölkt mich der Dampf der Geschütze,
sprühend umzucken mich rasselnde Blitze.
Lenker der Schlachten, ich rufe dich!
Vater, du führe mich!

Vater, du führe mich!
Führ mich zum Siege, führ mich zum Tode.
Herr, ich erkenne deine Gebote.
Herr, wie du willst, so führe mich!
Gott, ich erkenne dich!

Gott, ich erkenne dich!
So im herbstlichen Rauschen der Blätter,
als im Schlachten-Donnerwetter,
Urquell der Gnade, erkenn ich dich.
Vater, du segne mich!

Vater, du segne mich!
In deine Hand befehl ich mein Leben,
du kannst es nehmen, du hast es gegeben;
zum Leben, zum Sterben segne mich.
Vater, ich preise dich!

Vater, ich preise dich!
‘s ist ja kein Kampf für die Güter der Erde;
das Heiligste schützen wir mit dem Schwerte,
drum fallend und siegend preis’ ich dich.
Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!

Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!
Wenn mich die Donner des Todes begrüßen,
wenn meine Adern geöffnet fließen:
dir, mein Gott, dir ergeb ich mich!
Vater, ich rufe dich.

Prussian Warhorse – Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Heinrich Ernst Graf von Wrangel 1784-1877

When one hears that Kaiser Wilhelm did not appear when the Goethe Memorial in Berlin was unveiled, but turned up when the Wrangel Memorial was first presented to the public it might seem shocking, but it’s logical looking from the perspective of the German military monarchy. Wrangel, the old Puss in Boots, who always carried sweets in his pockets which he distributed to the children of Berlin, a crowd of which always “marched” behind him when he was walking the streets of the city. In Wrangel, the “old sabre”, with his babarian grammar and thick Prussian accent, lives the spirit of the old Prussian monarchy. When his son came into debt by gambling and faked his fathers signature on a certificate of debt he came to him and asked for his help. Old Wrangel answered: “You acted without honor, you are not my son anymore”. When his son asked what he was to do now, Wrangels answer was short: ” You own a pair of pistols”. The son shot himself.
Looking at the Prussian Monarchy the spirit of old Wrangel did indeed more than Goethes to bond it together and to give it its peculiar atmosphere. – Georg Brandes

Frederick Count von Wrangel was born into an old baltic German, Swedish-Pommeranian officers family on the 13th of April 1784. In 1796, at the age of only 12 years, he joined the Prussian army as Fahnen-Junker (ensign) in Dragoner-Regiment “von Werther” Nr. 6 (Dragoons) getting promoted to the rank of Seconde-Lieutenant in 1798.

Graf von Wrangel in 1875

Graf von Wrangel in 1875 in full war regalia and carrying his heavy cavalry sword

During the campaign of 1806/1807 we find Wrangel and his regiment in the Battle of Eylau (7th & 8th of February 1807), subordinated to the Corps led by General l’Estocq. Leading the last operational unit in the Prussian army, L’Estocq was only able to bring eight battalions, twenty-eight squadrons, and two horse artillery batteries (estimated at 7,000-9,000 men) to the battle in which Wrangel distinguished himself as being a courageous and dashing Dragoon officer. Getting badly wounded by a sabre cut during the Battle of Heilsberg in June 1807, Wrangel was taken out of action for more than six months during which he was awarded the coveted Pour le Merite and the Russian Order of St. Vladimir 4th Class.

Battle of Eylau

Battle of Eylau

In 1813/1814 Wrangel, now a major, was serving in the East Prussian Cuirassier Regiment (Ostpreussisches Kürrasier-Regiment, formerly Dragonerregiment „von Zieten“). With this regiment he participated in the Blockade of Luxemburg, the Battles of Groß-Gröschen, Bautzen, Dresden, Kulm, Leipzig, Laon and Paris and a lot of smaller engagements i.e. Haynaut, Montmirail, Etoges, Champaubert, Gue a Trenne, La Ferte-Milon, Oulchy le Chateau, Sezanne and Claye. For his bravery in this impressive list of battles and skirmishes Wrangel was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class. On the 2nd of June 1814 he finally got his first regimental command, taking over the 2. Westpreussisches Dragoner Regiment (2nd West-Prussian Dragoons), and his rise through the ranks was continuing still.

In 1837 we find Wrangel, now a General-Major in command of 13th Cavalry Division, suppressing civil risings in Münster, something he, as a stout conservative and fanatic royalist, most probably enjoyed. In 1839 he was serving as commanding General of I. Armee-Korps in Königsberg (Prussia) and in 1842 of II. Armee-Korps in Stettin.

In 1848, the year of the German Revolution, Wrangel moved against revolutionary Berlin (10th of November). The Revolutionaries had threatened to hang Wrangels wife if he would lead his troops into the capital, but Wrangel was not the person to be unsettled by such threats. When passing the Brandenburg Gate (in those days marking the western boundaries of Berlin) at the head of his troops he is said to have remarked in thick Prussian dialect “I wonder if they have hanged her by now“.
What followed was a short and harsh dispute with the commander of the civil militia Major Otto Rimpler in which both sides agreed that there was no need to shed blood. The militia was demobilized and disarmed, the assembly of the civil representatives in the Schauspielhaus was dissolved. On the 14th Wrangel declared the city to be under Martial Law. The Revolution was over and Frau von Wrangel was left unhanged and unharmed.

In 1849, now a favourite of the Kaiser and a full General der Kavallerie, Wrangel was put in command of a Prussian corps fighting in the First Schleswig War. There he fought in the Battles of Schleswig, Oversee and Düppel (being awarded the Order of the Black Eagle for his services).

Having been promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall in 1856, during the Second Schleswig War in 1864 Wrangel was appointed Commander in Chief of the allied Prussian and Austrian Armies. The problem was that the now eighty year old Wrangel was old for his years and, though popular with the conservatives at court, at best a mediocre general. All his recent combat experiences had been acquired in against civilian insurgents in the revolutions of 1848 and the short war of 1849. He never visited a war academy and all his fighting experiences were gained in the saddle, carrying a sword against the soldiers of Napoleon. While Wrangel lurched from blunder to blunder in Denmark, the Austrian units acquitted themselves with courage and skill. On 2 February 1864, one Austrian brigade charged and took the Danish positions at Ober-Selk with such panache that old Wrangel rushed to embrace and kiss the Austrian commander on the cheeks, much to the embarrassment of his Prussian brother officers. In mid-February, Wrangel sent an advance detachment of Guards north of the Jutland border despite instructions to the contrary. But Bismarck persuaded the war minister to send a sharp reprimand to the elderly general, and Wrangel was relieved of his command at Bismarck’s insistence in mid-May. The enraged Wrangel sent a dispatch to Berlin complaining about “certain Diplomats playing soldiers, who should be hanged at the gallows“. A deed for which he apologised to Bismarck after the wars end in October 1864.

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 Wrangel joined his former regiment the Ostpreussisches Kürassier-Regiment Nr. 3 as an honorary officer and observer. He had become too old to join the actual fighting. The same happened in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 in which he was given an honorary staff and was allowed to follow the Prussian Army in an observing role. After both wars and the victory parades that followed Wrangel was allowed to ride at the head of the victorious Prussian Army and in front of officers like Bismarck, Roon and Moltke which is a potent example of the popularity Wrangel enjoyed in Prussia.

Wrangel and his honorary staff in France, 1870

Wrangel and his honorary staff in France, 1870

Wrangel died in Berlin in the year 1877, aged 93 years.

Baptism of Fire – Gora Kamienska, Poland 1939 – Experiences of 1. Infanterie-Division

ATTACKING THE GORA-KAMIENSKA: “STALLING THE BLITZ” – THE BATTLE OF MLAWA
2nd and 3rd of September 1939

Joachim von Kortzfleisch, “1a” of 1.Infanterie-Division

On the 1st of September 1939 at 0445h 1. Infanterie-Division crossed the border into Poland. The intelligence reports concerning the strength of Polish forces soon proved to be wrong. The only noticeable resistance was met at the bridges at Janowo (two platoons of Infantry), which was easily brushed aside. As I. AK had failed to break through the Polish defences at Mlawa on the 2nd of the September, the Division got the order to push forward on both sides of the road to Grudusk and then, using all available artillery as support, to take the strong fortified positions on and around Gora Kamienska on the north-eastern flank of Mlawa. As this action is considered to be a part of the “Battle of Mlawa”, let’s have a look at that first.

The Battle of Mława, otherwise known as the “Defence of the Mława position”, took place to the north of the town of Mława in northern Poland between September 1 and September 3, 1939. The whole battlefield, with the exception of the fortified positions around Gora-Kamiensk was (and still is) flat as a table. It was one of the opening battles of the Invasion of Poland and World War II in general and fought between the forces of the Polish Modlin Army under Gen. Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski and the German 3rd Army under Gen. Georg von Küchler. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the new German-Polish border was located only some 120 km north of Warsaw, the Polish capital city. In 1939 the Polish Modlin Army, led by Brigadier General Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, was thought of as the main defensive force guarding Polish borders from the north. It was dislocated along the border with East Prussia and was to stop the enemy forces advancing towards Warsaw, the Modlin Fortress. Shortly before the war, a decision was made to strengthen the Polish defences by construction of a line of field fortifications and concrete bunkers to the north of Mława, in the centre of the army’s positions.

Soldiers of the Waffen-SS during the Battle of Mlawa, 1939

The main line of defence of the army was located along the line of Narew and Vistula rivers. There were a number of 19th century fortifications in the area, but the plains to the north of it were almost defenseless. To ease the delaying actions in case of a war with Germany, the Polish General Staff decided that the Modlin Army should be transported to the border with East Prussia and should defend the line for as long as possible. Afterwards, the units under command of General Przedrzymirski-Krukowicz were to withdraw to the south and defend the line of Narew and Vistula rivers, together with the forces of Narew Independent Operational Group.

Aerial view of part of the Mlawa fortifications

After the Polish secret mobilization had started in March 1939, the 20th Infantry Division was assigned to the Modlin Army and transported to the area of Mława. In addition, the army commander was assigned a number of trainloads of concrete and other construction materials and several combat engineering battalions. It was decided that a line of fortifications should be constructed in the area held by that division. On June 19 of that year, the project was ready and was finally approved by Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły on July 3.

Iron railway tracks used as an effective defence against german armour.

The line of trenches and concrete bunkers, shielded by anti-tank trenches and obstacles, was to be constructed along a low glacial hill overlooking the valley of the Mławka river, to the north of the town. The river itself could be blocked by a dam to enhance the defensive valor of the area. In the center, a swampy terrain of the Niemyje Marshes was located, which was virtually impassable to enemy armored vehicles. This swamp divided the area into two separate flanks. The western section was to be reinforced with 68 concrete bunkers while the eastern, much shorter, with 25.

In peacetime the 20th Division was located in Baranowicze. In case of a war with the USSR, it was planned as the first-line unit to defend a line of German World War I fortifications built there in 1915. Because of that, most of its soldiers had experience in defending fortified positions.

Another shot of Waffen-SS soldiers (Standarte Deutschland?), during the Battle of Mlawa

The construction of bunkers in the western section of the front, near the town of Mława, was started on July 14. It was carried out mostly by the soldiers themselves, under the command of the head of the 20th engineering battalion, Maj. Juliusz Levittoux. The construction of the eastern flank bunkers near the village of Rzęgnowo started on August 12. Soon the soldiers were joined by a number of civilian volunteers, helping to dig the trenches. However, the positions were not finished until the outbreak of World War II and many of the bunkers were not completed.

Polish 37mm AT gun

At noon on September 1, 1939 the Polish line of defence manned by the 20th Infantry Division was attacked by the 1st Army Corps under General Walter Petzel. Although the attacking forces were equipped with tanks and supported by warplanes, the initial assault was repelled by Polish-made 37mm AT guns, the commander of German Third Army, ordered his units to attack the Polish forces several times in a row, but all attacks were broken and in the late evening the Germans were forced to withdraw to their initial positions.

The effect of an anti-tank ditch, near Mlawa, 1939

The following afternoon the German units started a heavy artillery bombardment of the Rzegnów position on the right flank of the Polish forces. After two hours of constant artillery fire, the assault was started and, in the result of close combat, the Polish defenders started to waver. The counterattack of the Polish 79th Infantry Regiment was unsuccessful and the commander of the Polish Modlin Army ordered the 20th Division to extend further eastwards and prepare the defence of its right flank between the villages of Dębsk and Nosarzewo. At the same time the 8th Infantry Division, until then held in reserve near Ciechanów, was ordered to prepare a counterattack.

Mlawa after the battle

The 8th Division arrived in the area in the early hours of September 3. As the Mazovian Cavalry Brigade operating further eastwards was also endangered by German armoured troops, the army commander ordered the division to split its forces and attack in two directions: towards Grudusk east of Mława and towards Przasnysz. However, conflicting orders and German diversants operating in the rear disrupted both attacks and led to chaos in the Polish ranks. In the evening the division was mostly destroyed and only the 21st Infantry Regiment of Colonel (later General) Stanisław Sosabowski managed to withdraw from the fights towards the Modlin Fortress. Despite this, the German attacks towards both flanks of the 20th Infantry Division were unsuccessful.

Panzer III of Division “Kempf” advancing on Mlawa

On September 3 the German engineers finally managed to cut through Polish antitank barriers. According to several Polish sources, German units used the local civilians as human shields, which allowed them to finally capture several bunkers on the left flank of the Polish forces, but were unable to push forwards. On the right flank, in the Rzegnów section of the front to the east of the swamps, the attacks were more successful and in the late evening elements of German Wodrig Corps finally broke through the lines of the 79th Infantry Regiment to the rear of the Poles. This widened the front gap in the area ofGrudusk. General Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, facing the risk of his forces being outflanked and surrounded, ordered the 20th division and the remnants of the 8th to withdraw towards Warsaw and Modlin, finally abandoning the fortified positions.

Polish prisoners of war after the Battle of Mlawa, 3rd of September 1939

But lets rewind the clock to the 2nd of September 1939, and have a look at the role of 1.ID in the Battle of Mlawa and more precisely at the north-eastern corner of the fortress of Mlawa, to the Gora-Kamienska (Kamienska hill) and the efforts of the Division to take it.

ATTACKING THE “BASTION” OF GORA-KAMIENSKA: “BAPTISM OF FIRE”
2nd of September 1939

It is a miracle that we managed to take the Kamienska position without long preparations and in a relatively short period of time!
(General von Kortzfleisch, commanding officer of 1.ID, 3
rd of September 1939)

The bastion of Gora-Kamienska lay half way between Krzynowloga-Mala and Grudusk towering over the surrounding terrain with a height difference of around 60 meters.
The bastion and the adjoining fortifications in the forest south of Szumsk had been developed to a strong cornerstone of the Mlawa defensive positions. It had been vested with trenches, double-apron entanglements, timber shelters and six concrete bunkers allowing for enfilading fire. Its forefront was further defended by advanced pickets and multiple minefields. The positions were defended by the the 79th Polish infantry regiment (commanded by ppłk. Konstanty Zaborowski) and supported by about seven batteries of artillery.

Remains of the bunker on the northern slope of the Gora Kamiensk.

The commandinig officer of the polish 79th Infantry Regiment, Płk. Konstanty Zaborowski

The Division attacked in a pincer movement. The reinforced Infanterie-Regiment 1 attacked from the north via Dzierzgowo-Szumsk. The remainder on both sides of the road Krzynowologa-Rzegnowo. During the attack IR1 fulfilled the role of tying up enemy forces in forest south of Szumsk.
At 1500h the main force began its advance, having to cross about 2 kilometers of open ground. The advance was covered by concentrated artillery fire on the Kamienska positions.
In order to make the artillery fire more efficient an observation balloon was launched , which was flying in the neighbourhood of Rzegnowo and directing artillery fire of 1 ID. In the church tower in Dzierzgowo 1ID located their second observation post but this was soon detected by Polish forces and destroyed by one troop of 20 pal (20 light artillery battalion).

Dziergowo church. 73 years ago used by 1IDs artillery observers.

III./IR43 attacked north of the road (Krzynowologa-Rzegnowo), followed by I./IR43 as a reserve. III./IR22 moved forward south of it, having II./IR22 as regimental and I./IR22 as divisional reserves. Heavy German artillery fire allowed for a fast advance. Having reached the villages of Ozumieck and R. Kosily the battalions came under frontal and flanking machine gun fire, effectively stalling the advance of III./IR43.

Rare color photo showing soldiers of IR43, Poland 1939

A report on his experiences of serving as a divisional reserve, can be found in a private letter about the Polish campaign, written by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie. He had been commanding 11./IR22 on the first day of the campaign, but when the officer commanding I./IR22 had been wounded, he was ordered to take over I. Batallion on the 2nd of September:

“At half past three in the morning I was woken by Leutnant Götz, once member of my company, now second adjudant to the CO of I. Batallion. “Herr Hauptmann, you are ordered back to the regiment to take over command of I. Batallion”. Even the classic Goethe quote* (see below) would not help me, so I got up and stumbled up to the regimental command post, joining I. Batallion shortly afterwards. We had been ordered to act as divisional reserve! I was swearing my head off, but to no avail. Notwithstanding that I also got hit by a fit of diarrhoea. Our Doctor called it a gastric flu, but I call it the worst kind of diarrhoea I have ever experienced! I also had a temperature. I guzzled down a dose of opium, quinine and tanalbin every 15 minutes, but dragged through the whole thing as well as I could. Not that we had much to do. Changing positions into a different wood every 2 or 3 hours, three kilometers away from the frontline. The boring fate of the reserves.
Now and then we hear the sounds of battle and we could observe steep a ridge, on which trenches and bunkers could be seen. The Kamienka ridge, which was defended by the Poles until the boys of II., but mainly III. Batallion cleared them out with handgrenades. My company had been in battle for the first time and put up a good show, losing four dead and five wounded (including 3 NCOs).”

* “Tell your captain that for His Imperial Majesty, I have, as always, due respect. But he, tell him that, he can lick me in the arse!” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Götz von Berlichingen”.

III./IR22 managed to break into the enemy trenches south of the road and to push forward to Zaboklik. Following that, IR22 (including all its reserves) received the order to swing into the attack on the Gora Kamienska.

II./IR22 (commanded by Major Knobelspieß) advanced in a fast pace, crossed the road between R. Kosily and Zaboklik and broke into the system of trenches north of the road. Forests, trenches and dugouts were cleared and two concrete bunkers on the north side of the hill were taken. Polish resistance was fierce, many of the Polish soldiers refusing to surrender. The Poles kept on firing on the German attackers until the last possible moment, but always retreating as so to escape close combat and being taken prisoner.

A description from the Polish point of view can be found in Ryszard Juszkiewiczs book “Bitwa pod Mławą” (Warsaw, 1987):

“When after violent fighting the pickets of the 79th Polish infantry regiment had been forced to retreat from their protruding positions towards the main defensive position around 12:00 AM, the artillery of Korps “Wodrig” once again began its bombardment – this time preparing for the main assault. This had already been preceded by strong artillery preparation (10 Abteilungen = 120 guns from 1. and 12. Inf.Div.) The artillery preparation against Kamienska Gora was coordinated and commanded by Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch himself (Commander of Art.Rgt.12). This heavy artillery fire on Kamienska Gora lasted for 8 hours (1200h-1800h). Under covering fire of their own artillery, German infantry already started to attack Polish positions around 1500h. Their 1. Inf.Div. was attacking from the direction of Szumsk towards Kitki and Kamienska Gora, while 12. Inf.Div. was attacking from the direction of Krzynowloga Mala towards “redoubt Zaboklik” and Kamienska Gora with “Czubak”.”

The officer commanding the AT gun company of the Polish 79th Inf.Reg. wrote in his diary:

Polish 37mm AT gun

“At 1500h the general German assault started. Units of the 1st and 12th German infantry divisions, supported by tremendous artillery fire and many tanks, launched an attack against the foremost edge of the defensive position of our regiment. Left wing of the regiment – I. battalion – holds its positions. Right wing of the regiment, the reinforced 9th company under Cpt. Hoppe on Kamienska Gora, and the platoon of cyclists from 11 puł. on the “Żaboklik” position are defending against massive enemy attacks. The regiment is fighting for its life. Waves of German infantry are advancing towards our positions, coming closer and closer. Our artillery (12 howitzers from 88 dac and 8 guns cal. 75mm from 59 dal) are defending by laying a curtain of fire in front of our positions. The first wave of Germans met with our minefield. Parts of human bodies, weapons and equipment get thrown up by their explosions. Our wonderful boys fought with all their strength, many of them making the final sacrifice – it was in vain…”

By 1800h II./IR22 had taken the peak of Kamienska hill. When darkness set in the whole hill was in possession of III./IR43 and II., III./IR22. The fall of the Gora Kamienska had sealed the fate of the fortress of Mlawa, which I.AK had failed to take the day before.
The most detailed description of the fighting for the Kamiensa ridge can be found in a report published in Germany by the end of 1939 for III./IR22. This batallion had borne the brunt of the fighting and the report evaluated strengths and weaknesses, tactical dispositions and summarised the lessons learned from it.

First page of the report

It opens with a description of the battlefield itself:
“The Gora Kamienska dominates the surrounding terrain. It commands an excellent view of the marching route Krzynowloga-Mala and on the assembly rooms in the forests north-east of it. To bring in heavy weapons an attacker can only use a single road. The slightly rising ground in front of it offers only minimal cover for an attack which is further limited by the flanking bunkers on the northern slope of the Gora Kamienska. With its well placed obstacles, well camouflaged observing posts and trench systems the Gora Kamienska is the massive cornerstone of the Mlawa defensive lines. Its not surprising that Polish officers that were taken prisoner there, reported that these defences were thought to be impregnable. Indeed it can be said that it would never have been taken if it had been defended by German soldiers.”

The reinforced III./IR22 began its attack on 0800h having its right flank close to the road Krzynowloga-Mala/Grudusk. When it reached the hamlets about 1000 meters southwest of Krzynowloga-Mala it recieved enemy fire from the area of Hill 195. This hill lies about 2000 meters southwest of Krzynowloga-Mala and was occupied by enemy pickets. The batallion kept on advancing in a fast pace and pushed the enemy out of his defensive positions. The Poles had retreated in a hurry, leaving large quantities of ammunition, clothing and equipment.

First stages; fighting the pickets

Gora Modern

Modern Sat view of the Gora Kamienska Battlefield

It was the first time III. Batallion had been in battle and the first time the new machine guns (MG34) and mortars (Granatwerfer 34) had been used in action. “The men were pleased about their own firepower, which was far superior to that of the enemy, even from an acoustic point of view. Any doubts we had on the MG34 were wiped out. The enemy retreated from the weight of our fire and the pressure of our attack. The will to fight and the effectiveness in combat showed that our hard training before the war had finally paid out”.

The batallion now pushed through the forest with the order to take defensive postions on its southwestern corner. This was done without encountering enemy resistance. When the edge of the forest had been reached, the men of III. Batallion could see Polish forces retreating across the the road to Grudusk. The order to follow the retreating enemy was cancelled by a regimental command. For now III. Batallion stayed in position.

“By now the massive Kamienska hill could be observed. To get information about enemy strength and dispositions small reconnaissance elements were detached. Leutnant Neumann with some men of 10th coy and Unteroffizier Sparing with a group from 11th coy went out to obtain that intelligence. In a daring and bold move, both men managed to push forward to the village of Kosily, not only under constant fire of the enemy but also that of our own artillery”

“The Gora-Kamienska had been surrounded by a triple barrier of wire entanglements interspersed with trip wires. Behind that a well developed trench system. The road Kosily-Zaboklik had been blocked with a row of obstacles (chevaux de frise). The northeastern slope, north of the road Krzynowloga-Mala-Grudusk was defended by a heavy machine gun position dominating the road northeast of Kosily. South of it was a well camouflaged bunker which enfiladed the southern side of Kosily and the first 300 meters of the road Kosily-Zaboklik. Also flanking this road, another well camouflaged bunker was observed on hill 173. These observations, coupled with the reconnaissance conducted before the start of the campaign, gave a clear picture of what lay ahead. A well constructed defensive system, defended by a determined enemy.”

Bunker on the Gora Kamienska

Assembling for the attack

The batallion was just digging in, to take cover from sporadic Polish artillery fire when it finally recieved the regimental order to attack the Gora-Kamiensk. The whole Division would take part in the attack, supported by all available artillery which was now concentrating its fire onto the enemy positions.

The first target for III./IR22 was the village of Zaboklik, the second target the road Rzognowo-Borkowo. 11th coy, supported by a parts of the mortar company, was to attack from its positions in the forest north of hill 169, in the direction of Kosily-Zaboklik.
10th coy, supported by two mortar squads and a platoon of heavy machine guns, was to support this attack. An assault platoon of 9th coy was to attack the bunker on hill 173, the remains of 9th coy were to support 10th coy under the command of Hauptmann Todtenhaupt. Another target for 11th coy was the village of Rzegnowo, while 10th coy was to attack the ground northeast of it. Two light infantry gun platoons were to cover the advance of the companies.

For the attack the soldiers of the batallion had to leave all unnecessary equipment behind. Handgrenades were stuck into belts and double the normal amount of ammunition was issued. The report tells us that:

“The Gora is now covered in smoke and flame and the air is filled with the roar and thunder of constant artillery fire. The commander has a look at his watch. Five minutes to go, four, three, two, now its only one minute. Then the shout “1oth company attack!”.

Like one man everyone rises and moves forward into the attack. 10th coy advances in a long skirmish line led by its commander Hauptmann Rogalski, 11th coy is moving forward aswell, followed by the reminder of 12th coy, whose heavy weapon sections had been distributed on the other companies. The assault squad of 9th coy is working its way the bunker on hill 173.”

“The enemy artillery fire is ineffective. There are a few losses inflicted by shrapnell, but so far the advance is going well. In the front of the advance, heavy machine gun platoons move forward, ammunition carriers carry boxes full of cartridges, the signal platoon the heavy cable drums. About 500 meters southeast of Kosily the Batallion wades into enemy machine gun fire. Still casualities are light. The thin lines moving from cover to cover, using every furrow. “



“Our own artillery fire began to grow weaker, with the result that enemy machine gun fire increased considerably. The batallion had to halt, every soldier going down into full cover. Luckily a wire connection to the regimental command post could be established and the artillery could be called in again. It’s only due to the couragous behaviour of Unteroffizier Schicktanz that our communications to the command post were never broken, even on the move ”

Under cover of the attached mortar sections and heavy machine guns,10th and 11th coy managed to push forward into the dead angle of Kosily village, now temporarily secure from flanking and frontal enemy fire. Still when entering the village casualities begin to rise, when some soldiers fall victim to Polish anti infantry mines. For the next step, the companies of III./IR22 had to continue the advance over a plain field, under constant frontal and flanking fire from the Polish bunkers which the artillery was not able to suppress. As the neighbouring divisions were not able to send units to support the attack, the commander of III. Batallion decided to push forward under cover of the weapons available to him. By committing two 37mm AT guns of 14th coy (Oberleutnant Tolsdorff) which targeted the enemy bunkers and positions with direct fire and the reminder of the heavy company (12th coy) under Feldwebel Marquardt and Unterfeldwebel Langer the assault on the Gora Kamienska began to gain momentum.

General Theodor Tolsdorff, shooting star of the Wehrmacht in 1945, 6 years before commander of IR22s AT company

Casualities began to rise. Hauptmann Marquardt (commanding 10th coy) got wounded, squadleader Feldwebel Kanapin, and Gefreiter Mornigkeit got killed. Another 11 men of 10th coy got wounded. 11th coy lost the Füsiliere Braun, Kuklen and Oschkenlat who were killed and another 7 soldiers wounded. Still the attack did not stall. Some motivation came from the fact that by the late evening, signal flares and the sounds of machine gun fire could be observed on the batallions right. Its neighbour, Infanterie-Regiment 43 had joined the attack on the Goras other side.

Remains of trenches on the Gora Kamienska

Modern Satellite view of the area

11th coy managed to clear the roadblocks on the southern slope of the Kamienska and captured a Polish anti-tank gun which they now used against its former owners.
An assault platoon commanded by Feldwebel Kleinschmantat worked its way towards the bunker on the right side of the road (2). 10th coy had crossed a wire entanglement and broke into the enemy trenches behind that. The assault squad of 9th coy had been pinned down by enemy flanking fire. When the commander of 9th coy, Hauptmann Todtenhaupt, noticed that he personally took the lead. Lying down and crawling, he led the squad through enemy fire until it had reached a potato field about 300 meters in front of Bunker 4. From here the soldiers had enough cover to move forward one by one.

Bunker 4 was attacked from the left side. Light mortars and machine guns provided enough suppression for the soldiers of 9th coy to get into range to use handgrenades. When it was finally taken no enemies could be found, the Poles had retreated in the last possible moment, leaving behind ammunition crates and equipment.

Bunker 4 – 73 years later

The “new” machine gun in action – MG34

One of these battlegroups led by Leutnant Neumann managed to push forward to the village of Rzegnowo. On the hills northwest of it the Poles seemed to have held some units in reserve. From this position they now started a strong counter attack supported by light tanks which forced Neumanns battlegroup back to western side of Zaboklik. In the meantime, at about 1830h, 10th and 11th coy, together with parts of 9th coy had also reached Zaboklik. Everywhere in the village machine guns and mortars were brought into position. Supplies were alarmingly low and single soldiers were sent back to collect ammunition from the dead and wounded.
Without artillery support and low on ammo the commander of III./IR22 decided to hold Zaboklik and to organise a defence. Parts of II./IR22 had in the meantime arrived in Zaboklik aswell, and with these, six defensive groups were formed.

View from the outskirts of Zaboklik towards Bunker 4

The counter attack was carried out by the 2nd batallion of the 79th polish infantry regiment, supported by elements of its 3rd batallion and a company of TK Tankettes commanded by Lieutenant Mieczyslaw Kosiewicz.
The situation for the German defenders was critical. In the previous combats the straw on the fields behind the batallion had started to burn. Smoke and fire was everywhere. This made is difficult to bring in ammunition and to bring out the wounded. The soldiers of the Polish 79th Regiment were fighting most couragously, coming extremly close to the German positions. The left flank of Zaboklik was unguarded and IR22 always in the danger of getting outflanked. The fighting lasted through most of the night. On midnight a company of IR43 arrived, finally guarding Zabokliks left flank. In the early morning, the Poles retreated.

Captured TK Tankettes

1. Infanterie-Division (IR43/IR22) had taken the Gora-Kamienska and repulsed a counter attack at Zaboklik. The brunt of the fighting had been taken by III./IR22 which, after the fighting, had 12 soldiers killed in action and 20 severely wounded. Not much, considering that it had assaulted a fortified position and defended against a counter-attack by two Polish batallions and one company of tankettes.
The north eastern flank of the fortess of Mlawa had been crushed. 1. Infanterie-Division had gone through its baptism of fire and was able to try out new weapons and tactics.
According to the combat report of III./IR22 the new MG34s had been a complete success, as had the new ammo type “SmK(H)”. These 7.92mm rounds had a tungsten alloy core instead of an iron one. This gave the round an excellent armor piercing capability (13 mm for 30° impact angle). Every riflemen was issued with 10 rounds of this expensive ammo. The report states that enemy tankettes turned and retreated after being fired at with SmK(H).

It also notes that the ammo consumption of the MG34 was far worse than expected. The machine gun companies running out of ammo after only two hours of battle, having exhausted half of the batallions reserves! It advises to fire in shorter bursts, as many Polish dead had 6 or more bullet wounds. It was noticed that it was impossible to suppress concrete bunkers sufficiently by the use of artillery only and that without the use of 14th coys AT guns (firing directly) the attack would have stalled.

The battle of Mlawa had cost the Wehrmacht 1800 soldiers killed and another 3000 wounded. Polish losses being about 1200 killed and another 1500 wounded. Although the Mlawa position was finally abandoned on the 4th of September, the German forces suffered substantial losses and it was not until September 13, when they finally managed to reach the Modlin Fortress, located less than 100 kilometres to the south.

For the 1. Infanterie-Division Gora-Kamiensk had been a baptism of fire. Six years of total war still lay in front of them.

Sources used to compile this article:

– Major W. Richter, Die 1. (ostpreussische Infanterie-Division), Munich 1975
-Rudolf v. Tycowicz, Das Infanterie-Regiment 1 – Ein Erinnerungsbuch, 1966
-War diaries of 1.Infanterie-Division (US National Archives)
– Combat report of III. Batallion, Infanterie-Regiment 22 “Bericht über den Kampf an der Gora Kamienska“, Bundesarchiv
– Hauptmann von la Chevallerie (commanding officer of 11th company, III. Batallion), Handwritten report on the campaign in Poland, Bundesarchiv
– “Ostpreussische Kameraden”, various magazines of the organisation of former members of 1.ID (1955-64)

Died 120 years ago, General Hellmuth von Gordon 1811-1892, a Scot in the Prussian Army

von Gordon

vongordonsigThis impressive old gentleman is General Hellmuth von Gordon, General of the Prussian and later Imperial German Army and it is because of his family name I chose him to feature in this post. Hellmuth von Gordon was a direct descendant of the Scot John Gordon (the Gordons of Coldwells) who went to Poland as a merchant in 1716 as proved in a birth brieve dated to the 27th of June 1718 (a copy of which is found in the Aberdeen City Archives). One of his sons Joseph Gordon (later von Gordon), served as an officer in the army of Frederick the Great, rising to the rank of Oberstleutnant before getting raised into the Prussian nobility in Stargard in Oktober 1760.

Hellmuth von Gordon was born in Kolberg on the 30th of July 1811 and joined the army after finishing his military education as a cadet in 1828. During the German Revolution in 1849 he fought in Breslau holding the rank of Lieutenant in the 6th Prussian Jäger Bataillon (Jäger Batallion Nr. 6). In 1866, in the Austro-Prussian War, we find him in command of the advance guard of the Prussian 7th Division fighting in the Battles of Blumenau, Münchengrätz and Königgrätz (in which he participated in a cavalry charge at the head of the Mecklenburg Cavalry Brigade) for which he received the Pour-le-Merite on the 30th of October 1866.

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, now a Lieutenant-General in command of 11th Division, he took part in the Bombardment of Pfalzburg and Thoul, the siege of    the Fortress of Ivry and Moulin-Saquet, finally entering Paris on the 3rd of March 1871. For his services in this war he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class and Star of the Order of the Red Eagle with Oakleaves and Swords aswell as getting promoted to the rank of General der Infanterie

Hellmuth von Gordon died on this day, 120 years ago, the 24th of December 1892.

Gordons feature prominently in the military history of Prussia and Germany – further information can be found in the pdf “The Scots in Prussia” which you will find below

Scotsprussia

World War One – Then and now, British POWs in Moorsele, Wevelgem – Belgium 1917

The pair of photographs you see below was taken in Moorsele, Belgium (today a part of Wevelgem) in 1917. I at once fell in love with these two shots as the  quality of the images and their setting is wonderful. The Prisoners look relaxed and on the second photograph many of them are smiling aswell. BritishPOWs2 British POWs1

The villa was used as Divisional HQ for the german 34th Infantry Division in August 1917. Thanks to some detective work of my dutch friend Alex Tijhuis, who was able to pinpoint the location of the house, I was able to play around a little and even if its not as professional as the works of some photographic artists out there I am quite proud of it:

Sint-Maartensplein 1917-today

Perspective of the WW1 photo is not 100% identical to the modern photo, still quite ok I think – Click to enlarge

If any of my readers live in the area I would be grateful for some more photographs of the house so I can do another version with a better resolution.

“The Battle of Flanders is the worst I can remember” – Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 162 in the Great War.

In front of me a small collection of photographs taken by a member of Infanterie-Regiment „Lübeck“ (3. Hanseatisches) Nr. 162 or better (and shorter) I.R.162. I.R.162 was a “Hanseatic” Regiment, the officers and men being citizens of the Hanseatic Free City of Lübeck.  There is not many photographs in it, but it has some rare images taken shortly after combat and these just need to be shared. 

Some photos were taken from the regimental history published in the late 1920s.

Epaulettes of I.R.162

I.R.162 was a so-called “Young Regiment” (A regiment without any merits / battle-honors). It was one of 33 “young” regiments raised in January 1896. During the Great War it fought on Western Front, where in 1914 it received its baptism of fire in the Battle of Noyon (15.09.-18.09.1914).

I.R.162 – Reservists 1902/1904

The states which made up the German Empire each had their own separate armies. Within the German Confederation, formed after the Napoleonic Wars, each state was responsible for maintaining certain units to be put at the disposal of the Confederation in case of conflict. When operating together, these units were known as the Federal Army (Bundesheer). The Federal Army system functioned during various conflicts of the 19th century, such as the First Schleswig War in 1848-50, but by the time of the Second Schleswig War of 1864, strains were showing, mainly between the major powers of the confederation, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The end of the German Confederation was sealed by the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

Regiment leaving Lübeck in 1914

After this war, a victorious and much enlarged Prussia formed a new confederation, the North German Confederation, which included the states of northern Germany. The treaty which formed the North German Federation provided for the maintenance of a Federal Army and a Federal Navy (Bundesmarine or Bundeskriegsmarine). Further laws on military duty also used these terms. Conventions (some later amended) were entered into between the North German Confederation and its member states (including Lübeck), effectively subordinating their armies to Prussia’s in time of war, and giving the Prussian Army control over training, doctrine and equipment. According to §9of this Convention every conscript citizen of the city of Lübeck could choose if he wanted to serve in the Lübeck Infantry or in the Prussian infantry. Men unfit for infantry service in the Lübeck infantry could still be drafted into other branches of the prussian military (baggage train, cavalry, artillery etc).

Officers of I.R.162 (1917)

I.R.162 – Ypres

Now to some dry facts. When war broke out in 1914 the “Lübeck” Regiment was attached to 17. Reserve-Division (XI. Reserve-Korps) and was part of 1. Armee.  By the end of September 1915 XI. Reserve-Korps was transfered to 6. Armee “Kronprinz Rupprecht”, belonging to Armeegruppe Gallwitz. After the Battle of the Somme, in October 1916, it was put under the command of 4. Armee (commanded by Herzog Albrecht von Württemberg). During the Battle of Arras it again fought as part 6. Armee. On the 14th of November 17. Reserve-Division was put under the command of Gruppe Wytschaete. It

I.R.162 – Somme

fought in the Battle of Ypres, this time under control of XVIII. Reserve-Korps (General Sieger). During the March Offensive the Division was part of I. Reserve-Korps (18. Armee under General von Hutier). In September 1918 it was part of the reserves for Gruppe Combres and Gruppe Mihiel. It was disbanded on the 25th of October 1918.

I.R.162 – Wytschaete

After the Battle of Noyons the regiment crossed the border into France reaching Hamel on the 19th of September. Up to October 1915 remained locked in the trench-war between Roye and Noyon. In Winter 1915/1916 the 162s fortified their positions on the heights of Givenchy before commencing their successful assault to take the Gießler-Heights near Angres. In Spring 1916 the regiment saw action on Vimy-Ridge, Lens St.-Pierre and Loos. On the 18th of June most soldiers of the regiment were witness of the fatal crash of the legendary Max Immelmann between Sallaumines and Avion.

Oberstleutnant Hauß. Last commander of I.R.162

From July to November the regiment went through the hell that was the Battle of the Somme only seeing a short break when it was sent to fight near the La Bassée Canal and at Liévin. Allied intelligence classed the regiment as “Regiment of the first rank”. Winter 1916/1917 was spent near Ypres in St. Julien. This position would later become the frontline during the Third Battle of Ypres. From the 16th of January to the 20th of February the regiment was sent of leave to Brügge, returning just in time to participate in the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) and the defence of the Siegfridstellung in November 1917.

From 8 to 10 a.m. there is cease-fire to see to the wounded in no-mans-land and to pick up the fallen to transport them away. The tommy (the english) is precisely on time. The railway embankment close to Miraumont looks the worst. Overturned ambulance carts, destroyed wagons, wounded men make their way back to our lines on foot; some of them drowning in shell-holes. In pairs we use the time to look for damaged telephone cables. Everything is in shambles. A single cable is destroyed in 8 places – Diary of a soldier of I.R.162
 

Photo of the actual event

Corpses on the Kemmel – Messines Ridge 1917

By the end 1917 the Division was moved to Flanders. Shortly before the start of the Battle of Cambrai the Division was pulled out and moved back to the Siegfriedline. I.R.162 stayed, this time under the command of Gruppe Wytschaete near Gheluvelt.

IR162 – Flanders

It is simply impossible to keep the line of communication operating both t the front and towards the rear. All of them are just shredded again and again. As soon as we repair a cut cable it gets broken, again and again. On several occasions, I work my way towards the regimental lines under raging shellfire. There should be some comrades detached to search for damaged cables. No sight of them. I am surprised to find them sleeping in their little bunker and to hear them admit that they wont carry out any patrols under such hail of gunfire, and that they won’t do any night patrols anyway. I am out working day and night. Our uniforms and boots are cut to shreds by the barbed wire which is everywhere, and our feet are constantly wet. Things are so bad that even our corporal has to come out with us one night to patrol for breaks. One night he fell into a shell-hole and ended up to his belly in water completely soaked through. The Division eventually has to accept that it’s not possible to keep all communication lines operational, we are ordered to make sure that just one line is kept operational, the so-called rear link to the I.R.31. That alone is quite a job! It leads to West-Roosebeke railway station, a really dangerous spot.
The Battle of Flanders is the worst I can remember. We have never before come under a continuous hail of such large-caliber artillery (38cm) as in Houthulst wood. I am simply amazed that I come out of this hell unharmed! Diary of a signals soldier of I.R.162:

Kemmel in 1918

In January 1918 the regiment was on R&R in Kortrijk before being moved to Houthem, centre of the Battle of Messines Ridge. On the 6th of April 1918 the regiment fought with distinction in the 4th Battle of Ypres (Battle of the Lys – Battles of the Kemmelberg) where it attacked and took the Meesen and later Wijtschaete.

Defence on the Kemmelberg

I.R.162 – March Offensive

Down in strength the regiment was refreshed by soldiers transferred from the former Eastern-Front (which had ceased to exist) near Knocke. During the Kaiserschlacht (Kaisers Battle) it took part in the March-Offensive where it took and held positions near Lataule, Ressons and Canny-sur-Matz. As Korps reserve it was posted to Ligny en Cambresis near Cambrai to Briey near Metz (close to the battlegrounds of St. Mihiel) and finally to Thielt in Flanders. From here it was sent to defend the Hermannstellung which was the final line of defence after the fall of the Siegfriedstellung. Close to Le Câteau the regiment prepared for the defence. This was to be its final battle before being moved back into germany, where it was disbanded.

85 officers and 1755 men of I.R.162 were killed in battle in World War 1. A much larger number was badly wounded and scarred for life (physically and mentally).

The fallen of the regiment are commemorated on the regimental memorial which can be found in the city of Lübeck:

Photos of an unknown soldier of I.R.162 – As far as available I have used the original captions.

Iron Crosses. Felix Schanz on the far right

No caption on this one – might be the owner of the album

Fallen in front of the English postions – Arras 1917

Englishmen killed by handgrenades – Arras 1917

1917

After the attack

Englishmen and Scots after the battle

Resting – Minutes after the battle

After Battle – 1917

English Tanks

Sources and further reading:

  1. Otto Dziobek: Geschichte des Infanterie-Regiments Lübeck (3. Hanseatisches) Nr. 162; erste Auflage 1922
    aus dem Vorwort:
    … Besonders dankbar sei des Herrn Oberleutnant Sander gedacht, der mit regstem Interesse die Arbeit gefördert hat. Mit […] hat er nicht nur […], sondern durch das mühsame Anfertigen der Karten und Skizzen sowie das Umzeichnen vieler Bilder sich hohe Verdienste um die Regimentsgeschichte erworben hat …
  2. Antjekathrin Graßmann: Lübeckische Geschichte, Verlag Schmidt-Römhild, 3. verbesserte und ergänzte Auflage 1997, ISBN 3-7950-3215-6
  3. Harboe Kardel: Das Reserve-Feldartillerie Regiment Nr. 17; Band 30 von Erinnerungsblätter deutscher Regimenter. Ehemals preuß. Truppenteile, mit 4 Karten, Verlag Gerhard Stalling, 1922 Oldenburg i. D., erste Auflage, 99 Seiten
  4. Kriegsbilder des Infanterie-Regiments Lübeck. 3. Hanseatisches Nr. 162; Lübeck, Offizier-Verein 1925
  5. Hugo Gropp: Hanseaten im Kampf; Klindworth & Neuenhaus, Hamburg 1932, 377 Seiten, Verein ehem. Angehöriger Reserve 76 e. V.
  6. Lübeckisches Adressbuch, Verlag Max Schmidt, div.
  7. Lyder Ramstad: Unter dem Banner der “Barbaren”; Verlag Ferdinand Hirt, übersetzt von Cecile Wedel (Gräfin), 1934, 167 Seiten

Men against tanks – Fighting russian armour on the eastern front – Official reports, 1943

After the artillery barrage had stopped an eerie silence set in. It was pitch dark and snowing heavily…then we saw the purple signal flares rise into the night sky and prepared ourselves to defend against enemy tanks.”
(Interview with Obergefreiter Lemmler, 8./Füsilier-Regiment 22 in “Ostpreussische Kameraden”, 1955)

For the period of January and February 1943 the divisional war diaries (NARA T315 R8/R9) of 1. Infanterie-Division hold a series of highly interesting documents which relate to the experiences of soldiers who destroyed an enemy tank single-handedly by use of a hand-held weapon.

The infantry divisions of “HG Nord” (Army group north) in 1942/43 had a chronic shortage of larger caliber AT and Flak guns with which to combat enemy tanks effectively. This resulted in gaps in the defences, which made an inviting target for enemy armour. As always when somebody had to take the rap, that somebody was the infantry.

Satchel charges, hand and rifle grenades, AT mines, flash and smoke grenades and more importantly, huge courage were the tools that were needed to combat a tank effectively. The short reports found inside the divisional KTB (war diary) give a detailed and sometimes frightening view on the brutal confrontation of men against tanks…

3 Kilo Hafthohlladung H3 (3 kilo hollow charge)

The first report is by an NCO who I “know” quite well. Feldwebel Hofmeister was my grandfathers “Zugführer” (platoon leader). He was killed holding the rank of Hauptmann (Captain) in 1944. On my website you can have a look at his military documents and his photo album.

Unteroffizier Hofmeister, 4./FR22, wearing the tank destruction badge on his right sleeve.

Feldwebel Hofmeister
4./Füsilier-Regiment 22
Date of action: 6th of June 1942

Tanktype: T34                                  Weapon used: 3 kilo charge

As a pair we used the ground and craters to approach the enemy tank undetected. About 10 meters behind it, we ducked into cover and armed the charge. While the other man used his submachine gun to keep the heads of the tank crew down, I ran up to it and placed the charge on a slightly opened hatch. I then jumped back into cover and only seconds afterwards there was a tremendous explosion with the tank spewing up a huge jet of flame. It continued to burn for about 2 hours, having no visible damage on the outside.

Hofmeisters Report

Gefreiter Liebert
6./Füsilier-Regiment 22
Date of action: 12th of January 1943 

Tank type: T34                    Weapon used: Concentrated charge (handgrenades)

Gefreiter L. placed the concentrated charge onto turret hatch and ignited it. The turret hatch was smashed, crew killed with handgrenades.

Gefreiter Lieberts report

German handgrenades. Geballte Ladung (concentrated charge) lying in front.

Wilhelm Schimanski (no rank given)
8./Grenadier-Regiment 1
Date of action: 12th of January 1943 

Tank type: T34                    Weapon used: H3 (3 Kilo hollow charge)

It was the 12th of January 1943 when I finished off this russian tank. It was demobilised by a mine about 10 to 15 meters in front of our trench, but continued to fire at our positions with his 7.62 cm gun and its machine guns. Jumping out of the trench I closed with it and attached an H3 to its rear. The H3 detonated with a vast explosion which tore a hole measuring about 3 to 5 centimeters into it. The tank burned out completly afterwards.

Schimanskis report

Männer gegen Panzer (Men Against Tanks) is a 1943 German film, produced by Lehrfilm, which was used as a training film by the Wehrmacht. Its purpose was to show the German soldiers the different types of infantry anti-tank warfare. The duration of the film is 28 minutes.

The film consists of three parts. The first part shows a staged combined Soviet tank and infantry attack against entrenched German infantry. The attack is preceded by artillery and air strikes. The tanks, several T-34 model 1941/1942/1943 and a KV-1, are dealt with and destroyed by different means of improvised and dedicated anti-tank weaponry. Right and wrong approaches to destroy a tank single-handedly are displayed. At the end of the attack,Wilhelm Niggemeyer, a holder of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and four tank destruction badges, is shown in action, destroying the KV-1 with a mine.

The second part shows how rear-service troops must be prepared for anti-tank warfare, as they too can encounter enemy tanks. The third part presents the Grosse Gewehrpanzergranate, Kampfpistole42LP, Püppchen, Panzerfaust, Panzerschreck, their use and their effect against tanks.

The Soviet equipment used in the film, including uniforms and weapons, are authentic captured Soviet stock. The Soviet officer’s uniforms were made before the 1943 reforms of the uniform. The only exception are the aircraft used, the AT-6, which were captured in the Battle of France.

Part 1 of “Männer gegen Panzer”

KW-1

Part two starts with a report written by a soldier of GR43. Its final sentence is hair raising.

Gefreiter Marius Pilz

II./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 21st of February 1943

Tanktype: KW-1                                

On the 21st of January 1942 a tank of the KW-1 type broke into our positions at the “Sicklemoor” near Pogostje. It drove into the direction of a bunker which held our batallions command post. When it was about 20 meters away it took two hits from a light infantry gun which was itself positioned about 6o meters away from the tank. The shots immobilised the tank and blew off its left track. One of our 5cm AT guns now opened fire on the tank, but 15 shots stayed without effect.
I crawled up to the KW1, climbed it and bent the tanks three machine guns by beating them with a shovel which I had found on the ground.  
Thereupon the tank commander climbed out and surrendered. The remaining crew now opened fire with submachine guns through small holes, especialy made for this purpose.
I fetched some petrol from a motorbike which was standing nearby, poured it over the tanks engine compartment and ignited it by using a handgrenade.  The tank burned out completely. Its crew did not surrender.

The original report

Gefreiter Wilhelm Blum

14./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 14th of January 1943

Tanktype: BT Christies fast tank                Weapon used: Hollow charge

I attached the charge to the tanks engine, above the road wheels. The resulting detonation immobilised it. The crew was shot by covering riflemen.

Blums report

Destroyed T-26 light tank. Its crew lies dead on the roadside.

Gemerzki (no first name and rank given)

3./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 13th of January 1943

Tanktype: Tank similar to the T-26 only heavier. Precise identification is impossible.          Weapon used: Rifle AT grenades / rifle grenade launcher

The passing tank took seven hits on the rear and the turret. The second shot (to the rear) made it come to a halt. The others annihilated its crew. All shots penetrated the armour. ”        

German soldier with rifle grenade launcher. This one is loaded with a HE rifle grenade

Grosse Gewehrpanzergranate. Large AT rifle grenades.

Männer gegen Panzer (Men against tanks) Part 2

Men against tanks, Part III.

“In the early morning hours I worked my way towards a tank that was standing inside a minefield in front of our positions. I climbed it from behind, so the crew could not hit me with machine guns. Suddenly a Coppola was opened and a head became visible.
I took the AT mine I carried and, as hard as I could, smashed it on the russians head.
I then armed the fuse, threw the mine into the tank and immediately jumped down into a nearby shell crater. In the same moment the mine exploded setting the tank ablaze.”

Gefreiter Stöcker
7./Grenadier-Regiment 1
2nd of February 1943
Tank destroyed: T 34 (26 tons)

The original report

Below you will find some german wartime manuals and pamphelts on anti-tank fighting and the usage of the panzerfaust. The most famous being “Der Panzerknacker” (The tank cracker), a humorous manual on the subject, issued to some troops in 1944/45.