WW1 – Germany’s oldest wartime volunteer, Caspar René Gregory, 1846-1917

A while ago I wrote some lines on Twitter about germany’s youngest soldier to be killed in World War 1*. No one seemed to have heard about him. The same probably applies to Caspar René Gregory, its oldest volunteer. As he was a fascinating character I decided to write this short bio. I had to dive into some theological history to write it which was not easy at all (for me). Details on his military service (which is probably the part anyone will read, ignoring the rest) were far easier to find and evaluate. 

*Next post here will be about him

 “When England, mighty England, the country that had murdered Boer women and children, the country that bled India dry and left it starving, when this England declared war, I had no other choice than to take up arms against it

Gregory was born in Philadelphia. His ancestors had been Huguenots, his grandfather had come to the New World following General Lafayette and had fought in the American War of Independence. After finishing school (a private school owned by his father), he studied theology at two Presbyterian seminaries: in 1865-67 at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton Theological Seminary (1867–73). In 1873, he decided to continue his studies at the University of Leipzig under Constantin von Tischendorf, to whose work on textual criticism of the New Testament he had been referred by his teacher, Ezra Abbot. He administered the scientific legacy of Tischendorf, who died in 1874, and continued his work.
In 1876, he obtained his PhD. with a dissertation on Gregorè the priest and the revolutionist. The first examiner for it was the historian, Georg Voigt. To earn money he worked as auxiliary to the english protestant community in Leipzig.

As a text critic, his scholarly work was in analyzing the textual variations in the many early manuscripts and early translations of the New Testament in an effort to recreate the original text. Working in a time when hundreds of manuscripts were being discovered, published, and analyzed, he brought a sense of order and structure to all the differing systems of identification. His classification system of these manuscripts (Die griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments, 1908) is the system in use throughout the scholarly world today.

Close to his interest in analyzing the text was his interest in understanding the history of the “canon,” the list of the books regarded as Scripture. In the early years of the Christian church, different regions preferred different collections of apostolic writings for their guidance and edification. Gradually the need for an authoritative list emerged. For centuries that list was only known from a letter of Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, dating to 367. In 1740, however, Ludovico Antonio Muratori published a manuscript from the Ambrosian Library in Milan that included what has come to be called the Muratorian Canon. The list was thought to date from the second century, although that dating has been challenged. But the list is controversial. It includes the Gospels and many of the Epistles now in our Bible, but it does not mention Hebrews, James, or Peter and identifies two additional Epistles as being falsely attributed to Paul.

He completed his post-doctoral work in Leipzig in 1884, and became an associate professor in 1889 and a full honorary professor in 1891. He apparently had several doctorates: Karl Josef Friedrich even mentions five doctorates in his biography of Gregory. At least one doctorate in theology obtained in Leipzig in 1889 is attested.
Together with Rudolph Sohm and Friedrich Naumann he was one of the founders of the National-Social Association, a party based on the principle of Socialist Christianity. The party failed in the elections of 1898 and 1903 and was then dissolved into the Freeminded Union.
Gregory was also a member of the Sängerschaft Arion-Altpreußen (a german student corps) and a Mason (Apollo Lodge in Leipzig).
He loved travelling; in 1886 he travelled to Constantinopel for some theological studies. From there he journeyed back to the USA to marry Lucy Watson Thayer, the daughter of Joseph H. Thayer, during a brief stay of only five days.

One of the reasons he chose Leipzig as residence what its central position within Europe. From there he visited all european capitals and even travelled the Holy Land, which he crossed on a pilgrimage on foot! During these stays he always made brief trips back to germany to teach and to obtain further information for his research trips.

He loved the Germans (and the Saxons in particular) as they had welcomed him as one of their own and when in 1881 he became a german citizen he honored that by becoming more german than them. People loved him, as he was very courteous and full with american temperament and a winning personality. He was highly intelligent and tough, strengthening his body by regular, daily exercise.

His christian charity became legendary. Everyone in Leipzig knew him. He used to travel the city on foot greeting everyone. No matter if it was the poor beggar on the street corner or the rich merchant or industrialist. At one instance he helped a german farmer to catch dozens of escaped chicken all around Leipzig railway station. He kept offering advice and help to a student that mistook him for the library clerk without rectification and once paid the studying fees for a poor student whose family could not afford them anymore.

He was a humanist through and through. One of his goals what to unite the german labourers under a christian banner and to give them a sense of unity, nationality and importance. “It’s not 10.000 millionars that make germany strong and powerful, it’s the 60 Million hard-working german labourers.

GERMANY’S OLDEST WARTIME VOLUNTEER

rene

Professor Gregory, 1917

When War broke out in August 1914, the “American-German” Gregory was well-known and respected all over the world for his theological work, a prominent citizen of Leipzig and 67 years old.

It came as a surprise for many that he volunteered to go to war and joined the 1. Reserve-Batallion of Infanterie-Regiment “König Georg” No. 106 as a private on the 11th of August 1914! Asked for his reasons some years later he replied “I could not let them (the workers) go alone, could I? It was my social duty to join. I joined to help my neighbour who was now my comrade.”

He joined to defend germany, which in his view had been pushed into this war against its will, against the “English imperialism, Frenchmen and russian Zarism”. Even if he had a close personal relationship with Britain he wrote: “When England, mighty England, the country that had murdered Boer women and children, the country that bled India dry and left it starving, when this England declared war, I had no other choice than to take up arms against it

The charming and ever smiling professor took part in the actual fighting. Always cared for and protected by his Saxonian comrades he bravely fought at  Dinant, Somme-Py, Lille, Flanders, at the Champagne and Ypres.

 KILLED FOR THE GERMAN CAUSE

Soon Gregory, now a Lieutenant, became famous in germany and his 70th Birthday was celebrated in big style. The Empire awarded him with the Iron Cross 2nd Class while the Kingdom of Saxony gave him the Friedrich-August-Medal in Silver.
On the 13th of October 1916 he was given the post of Burial Officer (officer in charge of military burials and cemetarys) of the 47th Landwehr-Division. His office was now situated in Neufchatel-sur-Aisne.

At the end of March 1917 Gregory had a riding accident when is horse had bolted and thrown him out of the saddle. Confined to bed he was unable to get himself to safety when the village was hit by an allied artillery strike on the 8th of April 1917. Severly wounded Gregory died, in the country of his ancestors, one day later.

A highly honored and interesting character. His memorial can be found in the city of Leipzig up to today.

Gregory Memorial, Leipzig

  • Ernst Barnikol (1966) (in German). “Gregory, Caspar René “. In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). 7. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. pp. 27–29.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bautz (1990). “Caspar René Gregory”. In Bautz, Friedrich Wilhelm (in German). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). 2. Hamm: Bautz. col. 344. ISBN 3-88309-032-8.
  • Karl Josef Friedrich: Caspar Rene Gregory, in: Sächsische Lebensbilder, Vol. I, Dresden 1930, p. 125-131. (German)
  • Ernst Jünger (Publ.): Caspar René Gregory, in: Die Unvergessenen. München 1928, p. 111ff. (German)
  • Bruno Hartung: Caspar René Gregory, in: Das Jahr des Herrn: Kalender für die evangelischen Gemeinden Leipzigs 5. Jg. (1929), S. 36-38.
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Battle of Poznan – Reminiscences Part 1 – Feldwebel W. Schenk

The letter below was written in 1968 by a former Feldwebel of the Fahnenjunkerschule Posen. It’s writing style is unusual and I tried to keep it that way when translating it. Short sentences, dry writing style and written in the present tense it contains some sentences that are quite hair-raising. 

Photos have been taken from the files attached to the collection of letters. Maps have been produced by the Association of Poznan Fighters to accompany this letter. 

feldwebel

On the 18th of January 1945 I was a trainee in training course 18a of the Infantry officers school Poznan (Kurs 18a, Schule V für Fahnenjunker der Infanterie Posen). I had joined the army in autumn 1942 and had been promoted to Unteroffizier, serving in Grenadier-Regiment 401, in June r 1944.

It is on the 18th in the Barracks of Kuhndorf when there is a call for volunteers to form a so-called “counterstrike-reserve” (Gegenstoßreserve).

As I only hear “Reserve” I ignore it and do not react. Many of my comrades volunteer as they think the emphasis lies on the word “Counterstrike”. Now I volunteer aswell. We expect to be deployed in the East soon.
In the Hardenberg school the Battlegroup gets formed. I get transferred to Gegenstoßkompanie Lt. Werner (missing). Later the company was taken over by Leutnant Schierts (missing).

posenmap

The men we are supposed to lead make a good impression and are all around 30 years of age. Not one youngster among them. Stray soldiers, separated from their units, most with a good amount of combat experience. Arms and equipment get distributed and we march of to Fort Brüneck (Map No. 7). There was a factory inside Fort Brüneck. There was a large machine hall and another large hall for draftsmen which had one wall made of glass. It was there when we heard that Fort Witzleben had fallen.

Our first order is armed reconaissance against Lawica, a village near the airport, into which the enemy had penetrated (Number 2 on the map).
Trucks bring us to the airport where a Leutnant of the Luftwaffe with 20 men is waiting to reinforce our platoon. When we arrive we get told that the Luftwaffe Leutnant is take over command during the operation. Handgrenades get distributed and with surprise we hear that our Luftwaffe comrades do not know how to use them. We need to give them some basic instructions.

Our artillery is firing eight rounds in support. Two shells hit the pile of gravel we are covering behind and explode right in front of our noses. Some Luftwaffe soldiers get sick, a couple start to vomit. Concrete tubes and more piles of gravel line the road and using them as cover we manage to advance quickly and soon come up to an observation tower. Behind it is open field but I spot a foxhole in the ground about 70 meters away. Under the cover of a machine-gun i sprint towards it in the hope of spotting another place where to take cover. Suddenly a soviet machine gun is opening up on me. My machine-gunner comes running up to me and an intense firefight developes with the enemy who is covering in some houses and gardens about 100 meters away. Feldwebel Kemper comes up behind us, it is getting crowded in our foxhole. We come to the conclusion that there is no more cover ahead of us. Kemper sprints back to redirect our attack. The soviets now use an anti-tank gun and mortar shells begin to detonate around us. We have to get back and are lucky to reach the observation tower without getting hit. One man (forgot his name) gets severely wounded by a rifle round to the abdomen. Soviet reinforcements are arriving the Luftwaffe Leutnant gives the order to retreat. We know enough and return to Brüneck.
When we return we find some StuG assault guns waiting in front of the fort and get told that there will be a larger attack soon.

ATTACK ON LENZINGEN (Number 3 on the map)
We organise material to camouflage the helmets and uniforms of the men not wearing camo suits and uniforms. When the attack starts we make good progress. On our left there is a Waffen-SS unit. Assault guns are moving forward in support. Crossing a gloomy brickyard we reach the outskirts of the village. We pass a row of about 30 dead comrades. All show signs of mutilation. Most have their ring fingers cut off. They must have been killed when the village was first attacked by the enemy. A SANKA (ambulance vehicle) is standing close by, it is riddled with bullet holes. The road is covered with bandages and medical instruments.
Suddenly we receive fire from Fabianowo, a village on our right flank. Unteroffizier Ewald Schmidt and his men are sent there while we continue to advance into the village. Soon one of Schmidts men come running up behind us. Schmidt has been ambushed.
I at once report to the company commander requesting to be allowed to rescue Schmidt. Me and Schmidt have known each other for two years.

We reach the village and start searching the buildings on both sides of the road when we get attacked by russian ground attack aircraft. We have to retreat. I have never seen Schmidt again. We repel a counterattack. Feldwebel Tattenberger, another old comrade of mine destroys two T34s with Panzerfausts. We have to clear Lenzingen on the evening of the 24th of January and move into position south of Fort Brüneck (Number 4 on the map).

Tattenberger

Tattenberger

We can observe endless columns of soviet trucks, infantry, tanks and guns driving from Lenzingen to Dembsen without any encountering any resistance. We know that sooner or later this mass of material will be moving against us. Our artillery stays silent! Flak and Pak would have had countless targets but nothing happens! We have strict orders to conserve ammunition. In Lenzingen I got hold of a russian Schpagin Mpi with which I fire into their ranks. Even if the distance is not ideal some russians dive into cover. An excellent weapon!

With a reinforced group I secure the open pasture between Fort Brüneck and Dembsen against tanks. We secure the gardens and an old, free-standing house. In the night a dual 20mm flak gun (self-propelled) arrives to support us. That day Leutnant Werner fails to return from a combat patrol (missing since then).

On the evening of the following day we get attacked by five tanks coming at us in line abreast. We are ready for them. About 60 meters in front of us they turn right towards the road from Dembsen to Gurtschin which is barely visible under the snow. The ground there is undefended, the only thing visible there are four lonely abandoned artillery pieces of a german battery.

The road is passing the driveway toward to the Fort! I know that the Flak is positioned somewhere close but will the comrades notice the danger approaching them before it is to late? Passing command to one of my men, I and another comrade sprint across the open ground towards a board fence enclosing a property adjacent to the road. We carry five Panzerfausts with us and I hope to able to hit the tanks from there. As soon as the tanks reach the firm ground of the road they increase their speed and before we manage to reach the fence we hear the sound of tank guns followed by a mighty explosion. We are too late and find the burning remains of the Flak and the torn bodies of our comrades.

One of our AT guns manages to destroy two of the T34s. One of them spews a huge jet of flame, its turret rises into the air and hits the ground about 10 meters away. The remaining three turn around and try to escape. I start chasing them but get recalled by Hauptmann Lohse who tells me that we are ordered to regroup all available personnel for a counter attack. We move into our positions close to a railway embankment (Number 5 on the map). Close to the railway crossing lie dozens of bicycles, I remember thinking about how they might have got there.

We receive heavy artillery fire from the direction of Dembsen and take cover below some railway wagons. The gravel on the ground makes every detonation even more lethal. The ground shakes, a comrade in front of me starts screaming like a stuck pig. He is not wounded, he is afraid.

The night of the 27th is freezing cold. Frank, the comrade who carried the Panzerfausts for me asks if he can act as machine gunner in my group. normally he serves in 4. Gruppe (4th group) and is only with us as a reinforcement. Later he will prove himself to be an excellent gunner and soldier.

Tannenbergstrasse

We still have not received an order to attack. A company turns up and I notice that I know some of the faces. Its our company. He report to the commander, who speaks with Hauptmann Lohse who allows us to leave. We move into the Tannenbergstrasse (Number 6 on the map) and take quarters in some of the houses. I remember looking out of a window seeing fires blazing all around me.

On the 28th of January we march towards Hill 104 “Berlin heights” (number 7 on the map). Soon we are targeted by indirect machine-gun fire. Halfway up the slope there is a well-built position, in front an anti-tank ditch. The only defending unit is a 8.8cm Flak gun.

We pass our own defences and develop into formation to attack a large block of houses lining the road. Suddenly when we close with the buildings, a huge mass of russian infantry oozes out between them. At least one full batallion is charging towards us. Fighting this mass on open field and in close combat would be suicidal. We retreat to our position on the hill. When the russians get closer we open fire. The soldiers manning the Flak gun are opening fire aswell and I notice that most of them are boys not older than 16 or 17 years.

The Russians suffer heavy losses, start to retreat but get forced back by officers with raised pistols. Finally even this starts loosing effect and they retreat behind the buildings to regroup before carrying forward another attack. This time the Flak shreds the attackers before they even have a chance to develop. Again the enemy takes heavy losses. I notice that the boys manning the Flak are wearing their white nightshirts over their uniforms making for an effective snow camouflage.

We are able to hold and the russians start using mortars. In the late evening I notice two enemy tanks on our right flank. Leutnant Schiers, Passerath, Heinrich and myself are fetching some Panzerfausts and make our way towards them.
Our camo uniforms do not help us and as soon as we leave our position we are targeted by mortar fire. We manage to reach a depression in the ground and hope to be able to open fire from it, sadly our Panzerfausts are still out of range.

The next day (29th of January) our position is targeted by mortar fire and enemy snipers. I try to locate the enemy snipers with my binoculars when a mortar shell exploded only a couple of meters to my left. I get wounded by a bit of shrapnel in the upper arm.

The Flak receives a direct hit. Its carnage. Most of the boys are dead, one stumbles in my direction. His white nightshirt is had is stained with red and black. His ears bleed and he is crying.

We retreat. We have to. In bright daylight under constant mortar and sniper fire!
Reaching the Tannenbergstrasse I make my way to the First Aid Station inside Fort Grolman. (Number 8 on the map).

The catacombs below it are crowded with the wounded. The air is terrible and I remember the overpowering stench of Valerian. A medic tries to remove the shrapnel in my arm by using a pair of forceps. He fails. I get a tetanus injection, a dressing and a cup of Valerian Tea. I prepare to leave when the medic asks if he can accompany me. The fresh air above is a treat. The medic looks tired and I remember he had very light blue eyes. He smiles and wishes me luck when I leave.

Back at Tannenbergstrasse I have to take over the Platoon. Kemper had been wounded.
On the following day (30th of January) we are still in Tannenbergstrasse. Inside the city we hear the howl of Stalin’s-Organs.

We are ordered to Fort Grolman. There we get to eat hot pea soup, which tastes wonderful. At the evening we get guided into positions in front of the Forst (facing east – number 10 on the map). In line we move along a slightly curved road. Left of us is open field, some gardens can be seen 200 or 300 meters away. On our right there is there is a ditch, a fenced garden with two houses. We come up to a crossing where there is a dug-in 8.8-Flak.

When come closer the, Flak gets fired upon with mortars and receives a direct hit. The crew seems to be ok and tries to find cover in the ditch. An enemy machine-gun now opens up on us with explosive ammunition and the mortars start to switch their fire on us. Enemy riflemen open fire from the gardens. One comrade is hit by explosive rounds. The wounds look terrible. Mortar shells hit the roof of the house on my right. Feathers rain down on us. Someone must have stored bedding there.

I receive the order to occupy the houses and the garden. I yell to the company commander that we will try to crawl up to the fence below the machine-gun fire. He shakes his head, but allows me to try taking only 1st Group with me. It works and we manage to get into the left house without taken any losses. We enter the basement and set up an MG42 in one of the windows. Our gunner manages to silence the enemy fire.

The Russians bring in a “Ratsch-Bumm”* and at once score two direct hits. The shells hitting the walls on the left and right side of our window. The wooden crates on which we set up our machine gun collapse, our eyes and mouths are full of dust and grout. Our ears are ringing. Its hot and impossible to breathe. Before I can order it Frank grabs the MG42 and runs up the stairs setting the gun up in a window of the first floor. The russian gun has ceased firing its crew is not visible, the russians must think they got us. When comrades in the basement open fire with rifles and machine pistols the soviet gun crew comes running up from behind a concrete pillar standing next to the entrance of garden. This was the moment Frank had been waiting for. His salvo is precisely on target. The Russians don’t even manage to reach their gun.

A runner informs me that Passerath, Heinrich and another large part of the Platoon have been wounded. Kronberg and Schaffrath are now Groupleaders. On the evening of the 30 of January we get relieved by another platoon commanded by Leutnant Phillip.

Inside the Fort (Number 11 on the map) we get briefed by Major Reichardt who tells us that we lost radio contact to the citadel. As the sounds of combat coming from the direction have ceased aswell we expect that the citadel has fallen. He talks about an expected german counter attack coming from the north-west. We will break out into this direction to link up with the attacking german troops, there we are supposed rearm and resupply and then to follow the attack to liberate Poznan. As we are lacking the heavy weapons and ammunition to repel the expected Russian attack, the plan sounds reasonable. Reichardt had been our teacher at officers school and we trust him. The breakout is scheduled for the same night (30th to 31st of January 1945). Our Battlegroup is down to about a third of its original strength. We number no more than 100 men.

Soldiers of the Strotha bastion reinforce us. They bring their wounded with them which they transport on sleds. Reichardt orders the wounded to be brought to Fort Grolman where by now huge flags bearing the Red Cross have been installed. The Major expects us to reach the first german troops within two days and we equip ourselves with food accordingly. Soldiers of the Strotha bastion reinforce us. They bring their wounded with them which they transport on sleds. Reichardt orders the wounded to be brought to Fort Grolman where by now huge flags bearing the Red Cross have been installed. The Major expects us to reach the first german troops within two days and we equip ourselves with food accordingly.

stg44

When we reach the soviet lines we cross a line of enemy tanks. The Russians point their searchlights into our direction and he have to lie flat in the snow to avoid detection. We wait for the tanks to open fire. Will our Panzerfausts be sufficient to survive whats coming? Not a sound can be heard, the Russians do not shoot. Slowly we crawl into safety.

posen2map

The next day we hide in bales of straw. A “sewing machine”* circles above our position, it must have followed our tracks in the snow. After a while it disappears. We leave our hiding places and hurry on through deep snow.

Later on we hide in a polish farmhouse near Szczepy. We throw straw on the ground and fall into sleep within seconds.

“DER IVAN!” – The shout tears us out of our sleep. One of the polish farmers must have alerted the Russians.

Enemy fire rips through the walls of the barn. Using some handgrenades we manage to get us enough time to pull on our soaked boots and to gather our equipment. The door desintigrates under the salvo of a machine pistol. A comrade standing next to me collapses when the shots rip into his body. He is still alive and begs us to take him with us. I take his MP-44 assault rifle. It is hard to leave the comrade behind.

Firefights with attacking Russians in which I use my new assault-rifle. A great weapon. Exiting through the windows we manage to reach a nearby forest.

MP441We cross the frozen Warta near a village (Wronki). When searching the houses we run into a Russian officer who draws his pistol and kills Hauptmann Ulrich. We launch an attack on the office of a forest warden which is used by the Russians as a supply point. Close combat with Russian soldiers. I will spare you the details. Many Russians are drunk. They must have behaved like animals. We find a barn filled with dead women and children. Our patrols inform us that all possible crossing points are well guarded by the enemy. Major Reichert makes the decision to dissolve the Battlegroup and orders us to try to reach the german lines in small groups.  The sound of fighting carries over from the south-west, the Russians are assaulting Landsberg.

I move out with a group of three comrades. Near Gottschimm we spend the day resting in an abandoned house, resting and cleaning our weapons Suddenly the door opens and two Russians or Poles wearing heavy fur coats enter the house. Frank threatens them with a half of his P08 until we manage to assemble our guns. We didn’t place a guard as we had watched the house and the surrounding area for quite a while. A mistake. We allow our visitors to leave without doing them any harm, but hurry off soon after they have left. We are lucky and find a fisherman who takes us across the Netze in a small boat. On the other side we meet two comrades who join up with us. Near Zanzthal we have to wait many hours close to a busy road. We watch the endless russian columns until a large enough space makes it possible to cross undetected.

We are lucky and find a fisherman who takes us across the Netze in a small boat. On the other side we meet two comrades who join up with us. Near Zanzthal we have to wait many hours close to a busy road. We watch the endless russian columns until a large enough space makes it possible to cross undetected.

In a Mill near Tankow we meet a group of women and children hiding from the Russians. We hear the tales of Russian cruelties. One of the women, a young teacher, has her body covered with bruises and bite marks. She has been repeatedly raped. The women have flasks of Potato-Schnapps which they distribute among us.

In Farmhouse some kind people attend to my wound which is festering badly.  They tell us that two Waffen-SS soldiers are hiding in a barn nearby, one of them with a severe shot wound. We visit the two comrades who at once want to join us. Taking turns two of us support and carry the wounded comrade and we manage to make good progress, but some hours later the wounded comrade is in so much pain that we have to carry him back.

This cost valuable time which we need to make good. To be faster we march along a road leading through a beech forest. Suddenly a shot rings out.  There is a group soldiers on horseback behind us. The snow must have muffled the sound of the hooves. Using my assault-rifle I manage to empty a couple of saddles. We retreat, continuing to shoot, into dense forest. There we notice that the two comrades we had picked up after crossing the Netze have fled on their own.

Another rest in a farm. The inhabitants beg us not to open fire whatever will happen. The Russians would kill them and torch their farm. 

We are resting in a hayloft above the stables. There is only a small amount of hay left as the Russians have carried most away. A couple of hours later a group of about 30 loudly shouting Russians comes riding into the farmyard. They must be the ones we fought earlier on. They round-up all the women and start raping a girl of about 12 years. We can’t do anything to help. It is terrible.

Later on they leave, taking the women with them. The remaining farmers tell us that the women are taken to do various labour for the Russians and would be returned in the night.

Schaffrath and myself are now covering Frank who is going to search another house close a crossroads for food. While we are watching a car with some Russians pulls up next to the house. Frank, who comes charging out of the house, grabs the coat of the Russian closest to him, presses his pistol into his body and pulls the trigger. The Russian screams and falls down. We open fire aswell. Frank is in close combat with 4 or 5 Russians and takes down another one. The remaining Russians jump into the car and speed away.

When we finally reach the Plöne Lake we try to cross it by boat, but have to return as its partially frozen. In a Fishermans hut we find some pig lard a bag filled with sugar. Provisions urgently needed.

We reach the canal linking the Lake Plöne with Lake Madü. A Russian patrol crosses nearby forcing us to hide in the water until it has passed. By dawn we have reached another barn; we rest and take turns acting as guards. Later we get woken by Schaffrath, there are Russians digging trenches nearby. Our situation is getting critical. German artillery is starting to fire, Russian patrols walk past our barn!

There is a village nearby, north of the canal. There is a little bridge, but our hopes are shattered when we spot Russian pioneers mining it. North of the canal the ground is swampy and it is there that we are going to cross now. During the night we place some wooden planks across the canal and manage to crawl across.

We continue crawling through swamp and come across a Russian machine-gun position. It is facing west and fires towards a railway embankment . We crawl towards it and are shocked when suddenly signal flares rise into the sky and Russian machine guns open up on us firing from the railway embankment. That does not make sense. Each movement is answered by a long stream of machine gun fire. We retreat and spend the night in a stack of hay close by.

North of us there is a Russian artillery position and some AT-guns. They are facing west aswell, towards the railway embankment! One AT-gun fires upon a chimney between the canal and the railway line. They score a direct hit and send bricks flying. The german lines must run along the railway embankment, we are sure of it. We have no idea how to place the Russian machine-guns that fired on us during the night.

In the following night we try it again. Using a furrow in the ground we rob towards the embankment. Each of us carries a handgrenade in case we encounter opposition. Coming closer we stop and listen into the night hoping to hear voices. It is when we see the familiar shape of a german Stahlhelm that we rise and run towards it – nearly getting shot by the Waffen-SS soldier wearing it.

We reached the german lines. Faces of grinning Waffen-SS soldiers all around us. We get cigarettes and Schnapps…we made it.

* RATSCH-BUMM = “Whizz-Bang” , German slang for Russian 76mm  SiS-3 field gun
* SEWING-MACHINE / NÄHMASCHINE = Polikarpow Po-2

Battle of Poznan – 25th of January, 68th anniversary – I. Short history of the Battle and introduction

On my shelf there is a pile of machine-typed letters I “inherited” in 2009. They  were passed on to me by a member of the association of former “Poznan Fighters” (Verband der ehemaligen Posenkämpfer) and were written by former Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe soldiers between 1964 and 2004, soldiers that fought in the Battle of Poznan in 1945.

The association, which disbanded in 2008, was special, Its sole purpose was to keep the memory of the battle alive and by collecting and evaluating as many eye-witness reports as possible, to locate the graves and final resting places of the comrades that went missing in February 1945. At its peak it had about 500 active members most of which supplied reports of their experiences in the battle to the associations archivist. It is these letters, all neatly copied by typewriter which now lie in front of me. They give a fascinating insight about what happened in these two fateful days within the Fortress of Poznan.

This month and the next I will start to translate a selection of them to post them on my site. They have never been published before and I hope you will find them as fascinating as I do. The tales of the ordinary german soldier, tales of combat, death, survival, fear and comradeship. I will try to publish one or two letters each week, depending on how much spare time I have. 

There is very little photographs of the battle so please excuse the lack of them within the short history published here. I have been in a rush when writing this history and it is only a rough account on what happened, just to give all readers a basis when I publish the first letters. Further information can be found in these books;

  • Maciej Karalus und Michał Krzyżaniak: Poznań 1945. Bitwa o Poznań w fotografii i dokumentach. Der Kampf um Posen in Bild und Dokument. Battle for Poznan in the photograph and documents (= Festung Posen 1945). Verlag Vesper, Poznań 2010
  • Manfried Müller: Posen 1945., Arbeitsgemeinschaft Deutsche Feldpost 1939-1945 e.V.
  • Baumann, Günther. Posen ’45, Düsseldorf: Hilfsgemeinschaft ehemaliger Posenkämpfer, 1995.
  • Duffy, Christopher. Red Storm on the Reich, New York: Athenum Press, 1991
  • Szumowski, Zbigniew. Boje o Poznań 1945, Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1985

Poznan Town Hall after the battle.

“I have been quiet for more than 50 years, always waiting for someone to ask me for the truth. The few that came were grown up men asking me if Mattern got a Knights-Cross and what types of tanks we had in the city. Can you believe that?
For the last 50 years I have been thinking about the men I led against a soviet machine-gun position after breaking out from Fort Grolmann, their bodies lying stiff in the red snow around them. These images haunt me and up until now I have never spoken about it..” –  extract from a letter written by WILHELM BECKMANN, Leutnant a.D., Schule V für Fahnenjunker der Infanterie Posen, 1997

The Battle of Poznan was fought in World War 2 as part of the Vistula-Oder-Operation of the Red Army. It began on the 25th of January 1945 after the german forces had been encircled and locked into the city and ended after heavy and brutal fighting on the 23rd of February 1945. About 15000 people were killed in the fighting and about 80% of the city were destroyed.

Between the 12th and 15th of January 1945 with a huge offensive in an area spanning from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathians the Red Army started what became known here in Germany as the “Endkampf im Osten“, the final Battle in the East. Within a few days, far superior soviet forces surging forward from their bridgeheads at the Vistula and Narev had forced large operational breakthroughs. These not only resulted in the flight and evacuation of millions of german civilians, but also in the complete destruction of Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A) positioned in the fore-field of the Warthegau. By the end of January 1945 the first soviet units had reached Küstrin. From there only 60 kilometers separated them from Berlin.

On the 18th of January Arthur Greiser, Gauleiter of the Warthegau, who only a few weeks earlier had declared that in his Gau “not a single meter of ground” would be given to the soviets had grudgingly given his permission to evacuate women and children from the eastern part of the Warthegau and its capital Poznan. By then most of the ethnic germans living in the area had already fled west. By the 23rd of January 1945 about 70000 germans had been evacuated from the city, many of  them fleeing on their own, without support, defence and proper equipment. The majority of the polish population (an estimated 150.000 from a total 200.000) stayed inside the city.

flucht

Greiser himself had already evacuated himself and his staff on the 20th of January. Before that the city had been declared a “fortress” and its defenders had been informed that Poznan had to be held “at all costs”. Command of the “fortress” was given to Generalmajor Ernst Mattern, former commander of the Poznan garrison.

The precise number and names of the units defending Poznan have been hotly debated for years and many educated (and uneducated) guesses have been made. Looking at the Defenders a problem arises. Whereas as it’s quite clear what units were garrisoned in and around Poznan before the battle, the situation is very different once the it had started. There are no documents what units were actually used in the defence, which units were withdrawn from the fighting or which units evacuated/fled west. Add to this the fact that from January 1945 Poznan had been a beacon for scattered Waffen-SS and Army personnel and units fleeing west and that many of these were at once integrated into the defending forces.

In 1975 the polish historian Stanisław Okęcki estimated that there were around 32.500 defenders within the city whereas Zbigniew Szumowski speaks of more than 61.000 (basing his numbers on russian army sources dating from WW2). These numbers  belong to the realm of fantasy. Generalmajor Mattern himself estimated that he had around 12.000 men under his command. Looking at the numbers published by the Asscociation of former Posen fighters (Bund der ehemaligen Posenkämpfer), the defenders numbered between 12.000 up to 15.000 men and personally I am inclined to trust these sources.

The “elite” core of the defending units was made up by 1.500 pupils of the Schule V für Fahnenjunker der Infanterie Posen (School V for infantry officer candidates Posen). The “pupils” were Wehrmacht NCOs who had earned their rights to become officers by distinguished service, bravery and/or their experience. In it grizzled Veterans shared rooms and benches with Junkers half their age. A mixed bunch, but being experienced and motivated a fundamental core of the defenders. Just before the battle all pupils were promoted to the rank of Leutnant (Lieutenant). During the battle they were put in command of companies, platoons and squads. Others acted as tactical advisors and were a welcome addition to the cities military command structure. Due to its fighting capacity Kampfgruppe (Battlegroup) Lenzer was another pillar of Poznans defences. Named after its commander Obersturmbannführer Wilhelm Lenzer is was made up from various Waffen-SS units that were inside the city when it was declared a fortress. Heavy firepower was provided by eight Flak batteries that were stationed inside the city. The reminder was made up by scattered elements of regular army formations, Policemen, five batallions of Landesschützen, a Volkssturm Batallion, Railway workers, Firemen and other service branches.

Posen2

This colorful mix of units had access to up to (actual number is unkown) 30 StuG assault guns (StuG IIIs and StuG IVs destined to be delivered to Sturmgeschütz-Ersatz-und Ausbildungs-Abteilung 500),  two Panthers (Panzer V) and one Tiger (Panzer VI) and a unknown number of self propelled Flak guns (mostly dual or quad 20mm guns). Artillery support was provided by eight batteries of Fortress artillery.

As I said, the actual number of Sturmgeschütze is unknown the only thing I know for sure is that there was at least one battery of SP Guns (StuG) of Sturmgeschütz-Ersatz-und Ausbildungs-Abteilung 500 operating close to and within the city (One Batterie = 10 assault guns).

The list below compiled by the Association of former Posen fighters is probably the closest we can get to the truth.

  • Schule V für Fahnenjunker der Infanterie Posen
  • Sturmgeschütz-Ersatz-und Ausbildungs-Abteilung 500
  • SS-Kampfgruppe des Obersturmbannführers Lenzer
  • Landesschützenbataillon 312
  • Landesschützenbataillon 475
  • Landesschützenbataillon 647
  • Landesschützen-Ers.- und Ausb.-Bataillon 21
  • Standort-Bataillon z.B.V. Posen
  • Festungs-Infanterie-Bataillon 1446
  • Festungs-MG-Bataillon 82
  • Parts of MG-Bataillon 83 (Hptm. Krack)
  • Füsilier-Kp. Wehrkreis III
  • 1.-12. Versprengten-Kp. (12 coys of scattered soldiers)
  • Festungs-Artillerie Gruppe West
  • Festungs-Artillerie Gruppe Ost
  • Festungs-Pionier-Kompanie 66
  • Festungs-Pak-Abteilung 102
  • Pak-Aufstellungsstab Lippolt
  • Teile Festungs-Flak-Abteilung 829 (Heer)
  • Flak-Abteilung Stüwe (Luftwaffe)
  • Weitere Flak-Einheiten (various Flak units)
  • Dolmetscher-Ers.-und Ausb.-Abteilung XXI
  • Five Alarm Batallions:
  • Flieger-Ers.-u.Ausb.-Bataillon 1 Posen
  • Flieger-Bewährungs-Btl., Auffangstab Luftwaffe
  • Polizeiverbände Posen, incl. Feuerschutzpolizei
  • 1 Volkssturm-Bataillon (Götze), 2 Nachschub-Kompanien
  • Werkschutz Fokke-Wulf, Werkschutz DWM, Teile Stalag (Factory Industrial Security, Focke Wulf Works)
  • 1 techn. Kompanie, Sammel San-Park, Zentral-Ambulanz
  • Wehrmacht-Übernachtungsheim und weitere Splittereinheiten (Wehrmachts Hostel personnel)
  • Bewaffnete Eisenbahnerverbände (armed railway workers)
  • Flak-Untergruppe Kurth, Adj. Schulz
  • Schw.Fflak, Abt. 216/2 Hptm. Küster

The defenders made use of some of the surviving Festung Posen fortifications that had been built during Prussian rule in the 19th century. The Fort Winiary citadel stood on a hill to the north of the city centre. Around the perimeter of the city were 18 massively built forts, spaced at intervals of about 2 kilometres in a ring with a radius of about 5 kilometres. General Chuikov described the forts as

. . . underground structures each with several storeys, the whole projecting above the surrounding terrain. Only a mound was visible above ground — the layer of earth covering the rest. Each fort was ringed by a ditch ten metres wide and eight metres deep, with walls revetted with brickwork. Across the ditch was a bridge, leading to one of the upper storeys. Among the forts, to the rear, there were one-storey brick bunkers. These were clad in concrete almost a full metre thick, and were used as stores. The upper works of the forts were sufficiently strong to provide reliable protection against heavy artillery fire. . . . the enemy would be able to direct fire of all kinds against us both on the approaches to the forts and within them, on the rampart. The embrasures were such that flanking fire from rifles and machine-guns could be directed from them.

Even if that sounds quite impressive, By 1945 most of the defensive works in the city had become obsolete and gave only minimal defence to the firepower of the age. Only 30 years before they had already been classed as indefensible by Paul von Hindenburg.

Poznań lay on the main route between Warsaw and Berlin, and in German hands, was a serious obstacle to Soviet resupply efforts between Poznań and Berlin. Thus, the Red Army would have to clear the city of German troops before the final assaults designed to capture Berlin and end the war could begin.

On 21 January 1945 the Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army forced a crossing of the Warta River north of the city, but by 24 January these bridgeheads had been abandoned in favor of better bridgeheads south of Poznań. Meanwhile, Red Army tank units had swept north and south of the city, capturing hundreds of German aircraft in the process. Moving further west, the Soviet tank units left the capture of the city to other Red Army forces.

By 25 January, the Soviet 8th Guards Army had arrived and began a systematic reduction of the fortress. The following day, two of Poznań’s forts in the south fell to a hasty assault conducted by the 27th and 74th Guards Rifle Divisions. This initial success allowed Chuikov’s troops to penetrate the ring of forts and attack other forts from inside the city.

On 28 January, the German high command relieved Generalmajor Ernst Mattern as the fortress commander and replaced him with a dedicated Nazi, Generalmajor Ernst Gonell. Gonell imposed draconian discipline on the German garrison. In some instances, German troops attempting to surrender were shot by their own side.

Ultimately, the reduction of Festung Posen would consume the efforts of four divisions from Chuikov’s army and two divisions of Colonel-General V. Ia. Kolpakchi’s 69th Army. The 117th and 312th Rifle Divisions of the 91st Rifle Corps (69th Army) were deployed on the east side of the city. To the north, the 39th Guards Rifle Division of Chuikov’s 28th Guards Rifle Corps, and to the south, Chuikov’s 29th Guards Rifle Corps composed of the 27th, 74th, and 82nd Guards Rifle Divisions were arrayed against theFestung. By the southwestern suburb of Junikowo, the 11th Guards Tank Corps took up positions to block any German attempt at retreat.

Poznan was a major transportation hub lying close to the soviet route from Warsaw to Berlin. As long as the city was in german hands it was a major threat to the soviet lines of supply and because of that the soviets needed to take it. By the 25th of January the city was encircled, its defenders were trapped. On the same day Poznan was declared to be a Festung (Fortress) by Heinrich Himmler who also send a radio message promising the defenders, whose fate was already sealed, not to abandon them. The german army did not have the forces to relieve the besieged defenders and Himmler aswell has Hitler denied them any kind of help. On the 28th of January the soviet air force began a massive bombardment of the city while in the meantime soviet infantry began to move in, fighting its way forward from house to house. The ring around the defenders was tightening.

On the 30th of January Generalmajor Mattern was relieved of his command and exchanged with Generalmajor Ernst Gonell. Gonnel had been in command of the Fortress section “EAST” before that and had been in charge of the Officers cadet school V (Fahnenjunkerschule) before the Battle. Highly energetic and experienced he was everything that Mattern was not. According to period reports Gonell was sure that help was on the way and that the defenders would be relieved soon.
In the night from the 30th to the 31st of January 1945 around 1200 soldiers garrisoned inside Fort Grolmann (Fort VIII), now completely cut off and surrounded, received the order to break out. In small groups they tried reaching the german lines in the west. While that was going on the fighting inside the city continued. By then six soviet divisions (Four of 8th Guard Army and two of 69th Army) were fighting inside and around the city.
On the 5th of February they managed to take the provisional airfield “Zeppelinwiese” in the district of Weinern close to the citadel. A severe blow to the defenders as this airfield had been used by the planes of Luftflotte 6 to fly in supplies. Up until then 110 tons of ammunition and cables had been flown into the fortress and 277 wounded and an unknown number of women and children had been flown out of it.

By the time the airfield had been taken the soviets were already in control of a large part of Poznan. On the 11th of February Generalmajor Gonell (he only had been promoted two days before) sent a message to the Führers Headquarters that his troops were “weary and tired of battle and were slowly becoming apathetic as there was no hope of relief”
One day later most of the surviving defenders had fallen back to around and into the Citadel, the old prussian fortress, were the battle was reach its brutal crescendo. The german soldiers (around 2000 men) trapped and cut off east of the river Warta were more lucky. Having no chance to reach the Citadel they were allowed to try the breakout.

On the 18th of February the soviets began the assault on the citadel, the attackers crossing the citadels moat balancing on overturned ladders. When crossing they were taken under constant fire from the citadels redoubts.  After three days of heavy fighting with flamethrowers and explosives the redoubts were silenced.  On this day the defenders sent their last radio message telling the outside world that the citadel was about to fall. One day later, on the 23rd of February 1945 at 0300h Generalmajor Gonnel gave the order to cease-fire and to capitulate. Only a small number of german soldiers managed to slip through the soviet lines to escape. The reminder, the ones not killed at once, went into soviet captivity. Gonnel himself shot himself soon afterwards.

The Germans held out in Poznań for almost a month. Doubtlessly, their possession of the city complicated Soviet resupply efforts, but other influences had also convinced the Stavka to pause the Red Army advance at the Oder River instead of attempting to push on to Berlin in February 1945.

The battle left over half (90% in the city center) of Poznań severely damaged by artillery fire and the effects of infantry combat in the city blocks.
Over 5,000 German troopers who fell in the battle are buried at Milostowo cemetery. Many others were killed by soviet soldiers after being taken prisoner. Many of them buried where they fell, months after the battle.  An estimated 400-600 wounded soldiers were killed inside the cellars under the citadel by soviet flamethrower teams. Hundreds of the soldiers that managed to break out of the besieged city were never seen again, missing up this day. The Soviets are estimated to have lost over 12,000 men by the battle’s midpoint around 3 February 1945. The total number of soviet dead up the end of the battle is still unknown and realistic numbers were never made available.

Remembering – Wilhelm Heinrich Höfmann – Missing since February 1945 – Poznan Month

Wilhelm in 1941

A little early but today I remember another of my wifes great grandfathers. His story is a sad one and up to today he has no known grave and we do not have a lot of information on what happened to him in World War 2. This month and the next sees the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Poznan and I will use this article to publish a series of vivid eye witness reports or former Poznan fighters (Posenkämpfer).

Wilhelm Heinrich Höfmann was born on the 2nd of July 1897 in Mülheim in the Ruhr-Basin. His father and grandfather had been coal miners. In World War 1 (1915) Wilhelm joined Infanterie-Regiment No. 159 (8th Lothringian) fighting at Verdun, Ancre, the Somme and the Marne and was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class in August 1916 only a couple of weeks after his brother, serving in the same regiment, was killed in action

Wilhelm in 1928

When the War ended Wilhelm joined the endless ranks of the workless, futureless and dispirited ex-soldiers. No work, no money, inflation and political instability forced him to take on day-jobs on building and construction sites a situation that remained unchanged up until 1923. In this year, thanks to a former army comrade, Wilhelm joined Duisburgs Police Force. There is not a lot of data left to reconstruct Wilhelms career with the german police as most original files were destroyed during a bombing raid in World War 2 .

In 1940 he was transferred to a Police Batallion in occupied Holland. In Stiens, Leeuwarderadeel, he fell in love with a dutch girl which he married in the same year. The couple had three daughters. In early 1944 Wilhelm was transferred to Poznan in occupied Poland. It was a chance he gladly took as it not only brought him better payment, he could also take his wife (and children) with him which were getting constantly harassed by their dutch neighbours and their own family for having married a german.
What follows is chaos and up until now I was not able to find out what really happened. There is only a few facts.

In January 1945 something happened that brought Wilhelm into serious trouble.
According to his wife and daughter he signed and stamped a passport for a polish citizen which allowed the holder to leave the house during curfew. Doing this was strictly against the rules, but the Pole had been a friend of Höfmanns family and by signing the passport Wilhelm had signed his own death warrant. The Pole was controlled by a german patrol one night and the signature and stamp in the passport was enough to bring Wilhelm into Jail.
By now soviet forces were closing on Poznan and having no other choice Wilhelms wife and children fled west, leaving their father and husband in captivity, awaiting trial.

What happened after that is not known to us. There are various possibilities. I sighted tons of archive material here in germany and spoke to dozens of former “Poznan fighters” (there used to be an association of veterans which fought in Poznan in 1945). No source brought light into Wilhelms fate.

He is missing since February 1945, one of the thousands of german soldiers, policemen and civilians which fought and died in the city in this month. The Battle of Poznan ranks among the most horrific battles of the War. What went on inside the city can not be described by words (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pozna%C5%84_(1945))

There is a chance that Wilhelm was locked into the Poznan Citadel. If he was, then he might have met his end when the soviets took the citadel on the 23rd of February 1945. After taking the fortress soviet flame thrower teams entered the underground tunnels and cell blocks, burning and killing every prisoner found inside.He might have been released and taken part in the fighting within the city. A large proportion of the cities defenders was made up by police batallions and ad-hoc formed military units. Thousand of the defenders still lie in mass graves under the city.

Wilhelm is mentioned in the commemoration book of the Military cemetery of “Milostowo”.

Coming up on the weekend, unpublished reports by german soldiers that fought in the terrible Battle of Poznan

Poszukiwany:

Polizei-Meister Wilhelm Heinrich Höfmann

Ur. 02.07.1897 r. w Mülheim, zaginiony w lutym 1945 r. w Poznaniu.

Wilhelm Höfmann został przeniesiony przez Policję z Duisburg do Poznania w 1942 r. W Poznaniu służył on do 1945 r. Jego rodzina (żona i dzieci) przeniosły się razem z nim do Poznania. Zgodnie z informacjami posiadanymi przez rodzinę, został on aresztowany i uwięziony z powodu wystawienia polskiemu robotnikowi przepustki bez wymaganego do tego pozwolenia. Pod koniec stycznia i na początku lutego 1945 r. rosyjskie oddziały zaczęły się zbliżać do Poznania. Wówczas rodzina Wilhelma Höfmann uciekła na zachód. Wilhelm pozostał w areszcie w Poznaniu. Jego rodzina nie otrzymała od tamtej pory żadnej informacji na temat jego losów. Wilhelm Höfmann jest od lutego 1945 r. uznawany za zaginionego. Bardzo bym się cieszył, gdyby osoby czytające tę stronę internetową pomogły mi odpowiedzieć na następujące pytania dotyczące wyżej przedstawionego stanu faktycznego: Cyz ktoś wie, gdzie dokładnie w Poznaniu byli przetrzymywani niemieccy aresztanci? Co działo się z więźniami przed i w czasie zdobywania miasta przez Rosjan? Zgodnie z niektórymi wypowiedziami, Niemcy dokonali egzekucji na aresztantach przed ewakuacją miasta. Zgodnie z innymi wypowiedziami, więźniowie zginęli z rąk Rosjan w czasie walk o Poznań. Czy ktoś posiada informacje na ten temat? Nazwisko Wilhelma Höfmann zostało podobno wymienione na znajdującej się w Poznaniu tablicy pamiątkowej. Czy ktoś z Poznania lub okolic mógłby sfotografować tę tablicę i udostępnić mi jej zdjęcie? Będę wdzięczny za każdą pomoc. Każda, nawet mała wskazówka bądź informacja jest mile widziana. Bardzo dziękuję.

After the Battle – Death at Herenthage Park, 23rd of August 1917

herentank1

This fantastic photograph was taken by an officer of Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 145. The original caption reads:

“English Tank, destroyed on the 23rd of August 1917 by the assault company of 34th Infantry-Division. Herenthage Park”

On 23 August at 4:00 a.m. a German attack by the 34. Infanterie-Division, in the 14th Division (II corps) area, from Inverness Copse to Glencorse Wood with bombers (handgrenades) and flame-thrower units, pushed the British back to the line of 22 August between Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. Despite a German bombardment falling short on German troops in Inverness Copse, the infantry advanced, reached the western edge, then fell back still under fire from German artillery. Another attempt in the afternoon, under a hail of fire from both artilleries, pushed the British out of the Copse to the western fringe, from the Menin road to the junction of Jargon Drive and a sunken road.

It must have been during this fighting, shortly after the Battle of Langemarck, that this tank was taken out of action.

Sadly I have no details about tank losses in that area, I would love to know what happened to its crew.

Details are horrible and fascinating, its intriguing that the dead soldiers lying in the mud in front of the tank seem to be german. Lots of the equipment scattered around are german aswell, a Gewehr 98, lots of Stick grenades, a steel helmet. On the right there seems to be an Enfield rifle and someone placed a German bayonet and its scabbard at the rear of the tank. One can only guess what horrible scenes took place some hours before this image was taken.

herentank2

According to the “Landships Forum” the tank above should be either B3 “Bystander” or B5 “Bluebird”.

4 Company, B Battalion with 43rd Brigade, 14th Div,  II Corps, 5th Army, 23 August 1917The Tanks at 3rd Ypres. 23rd August 1917

4 Company, B Battalion with 43rd Brigade, 14th Div, II Corps, 5th Army

4 Company had 4 fighting tanks in action on 23rd August 1917 (W22):

1 Section – Capt Groves HBM

B3, 2520, “Blue Bird”, Lt Goodhall AH

B4, 2043, “Bulwark”, 2Lt Chambers PC

B5, 2511, “Bystander”, 2Lt Colley EV

B33, 2707, f, “Bushranger”, 2Lt Lane WI

Notes:

Tank names and commanders from the report on action of tanks (W2a)

B3 and B5 Crew numbers from the summary of battle history sheets. (W22)

2043 is missing from the summary of battle history sheets, presumably because it failed to start.

2707 is not given a crew number in the summary of battle history sheets, it has the crew number B33 in the list in the war diary (W2) , it was possibly with a different crew on this date.

Orders (158/839)

Starting point: J13d.6.8.

Tanks to advance ahead of infantry and deal with strong points in Fitzeclarence Farm and L Shaped Farm ((J.14.b.25.30).

B3 and B4 to start at 4:40am and proceed to L shaped farm, J14b.25.30, demolish it and then turn south and return via the north end of Inverness Copse, dealing with Fitzeclarence Farm if necessary. (158/839)(W1a)

B5 and B33 to start at 4:35am and proceed directly to Fitzeclarence Farm, demolish it then turn north towards L shaped Farm J14b.25.30 (158/839)(W1a)

Account of Operations

B4 broke down, (W1a) was repaired and went forward to the starting point but was then hit and burnt out (158/839).

B3 started at 4.30 am (158/839) and possibly proceeded towards Fitzeclarence Farm. It must have run into the German counter attack which started at 4.30 am (s35.p60). It engaged the enemy near Inverness Copse, inflicting severe casualties on them as they retired. It then suffered a direct hit (W22)(158/839).

B5 and B33 also set off at 4.30 (158/839) as the German counter attack started s35.p60). Both tanks helped drive the enemy back, with heavy loss, into Jap Trench. B5 suffered 3 Direct hits and was abandoned (W22). 2nd Lt Colley was probably wounded as he died of his wounds in August (W2). B33 rallied (W22).

Note: Chris McCarthy appears to date this action to the 24th August. (s35.p60)

The Official History incorrectly states 3 tanks ditched on the way forward and only one came into action and supported the infantry. (OH)

Summary

Intended: 4

At start: 4

Failed to Start: 1

Engaged enemy: 3

Ditched / Broke Down:

Hit and Knocked out: 3

Rallied: 1

Aftermath

2520 – no further record.

2043 – no further record, probably one of the tanks at the tank graveyard near Clapham Junction.

2511 – no further record

2707 – Fought with crew B13 at Cambrai. may have been renamed.

Note:

According to “Following the Tanks” 2511 was in action at Cambrai.

4 Companies OB in ‘Following the Tanks, Cambrai’ is based on the list in the War diary which is incorrectly dated to Cambrai. “Black Prince”, 2005 was hit and burnt out at Messines on 7th June 1917 the list must therefore have been written prior to this date.

5 Companies OB is accurate for the 20th November according to the notes. A “Bushranger II” is listed with crew B37; presumably “Bushranger” did not therefore survive 3rd Ypres in operable condition.

Sources

W2 – War Diary No2 / B Battalion Tank Corps / B Coy HBMGC 1916 – 1919 Transcript from Bovington Tank Museum

W2a – War Diary No2 / B Battalion Tank Corps / B Coy HBMGC 1916 – 1919 Appendices.

Report on action of tanks on the morning of 23rd August – PRO WO 95 – 113

W22 – War Diary 2nd Tank Brigade – Relevant Appendices and Battlegraphs

OH – Official History, 1917, Vol 2, Pg.204

158/839 – PRO WO158 /839

S35 – Chris McCarthy (1995) Passchendaele. The Day by Day Account

S37 – Jean-Luc Gibot and Phillippe Gorczynski (1999) Following the Tanks, Cambrai. OOB excerpt.