What was the supply situation like? Did your unit suffer from lack of fuel or ammunition?

I know of course that there were grievous supply problems during the Battle of the Bulge, especially so when the weather allowed the Allied air forces to operate. Yet personally I did not experience any shortages. I remember that our company was once ordered to relieve a unit of Panzer IVs, I think they were from the Hitlerjugend Division, in the area of Bastogne. When we arrived there we were short on fuel so a Hitlerjugend Hauptsturmführer came over to tell us that we could take 150 litres each from his Panzers. Another time I was under orders to lead my company into an attack on US positions…again I have forgotten where. Then we were so low on fuel that I knew that we would run out before being able to return to our own lines. I declined that order, which was accepted without problems. Ammunition was never short.


What types of enemy armour did you face in the Ardennes and how do you rate them?

In the Ardennes I encountered Shermans of all types, US tank hunters…Hellcats or Wildcats, US light tanks, armoured cars and halftracks. The backbone of the US tank units was the Sherman. That was a good and capable tank. Especially in Normandy and the Bulge where the terrain made engagements on long distances rare.


What was the average combat distance in these theatres of war?

About 500 to 600 meters. On that range the gun of the standard Sherman of that time could effectively engage our Panzer IVs and Sturmgeschütze.They were relatively fast and mobile and most important they had endless supply of them!  Our guns were better, in general more powerful and with better range. Our optical equipment was better too. With the 75/L48 gun of the StuG and the Panzer IV we could engage enemy armour on ranges of about 1000 meters without even having to calculate trajectory. You just had to point the gun on the target and fire. The shell would hit where you aimed it. Of course the long 75 of the Panther was even more lethal. They caught fire quickly when hit and one thing I have often observed on Shermans is cracked armour. Even a glancing hit with a powerful gun could crack the cast armor of a Sherman open. That did not happen on our tanks. The major weakness of American tanks though..and I am sorry I have to say that, but their major weakness was the crews.


Would you care to explain?

Well, I do not like to talk about it as todays people are easily offended. Just let me say that some of the things we pulled off in the West, we could never have done in Russia. There was a certain lack of…well…how to say that…

Let me give you an example. I have witnessed a lot of times that US tank crews bailed out after being hit. Just hit! A non-penetrating hit. That means the tank was still working and the crew healthy and alive. That would have been totally unthinkable in the East. Some units could fight ferociously, but most…well…
Near Cologne I once witnessed a US Sherman crew surrendering to a Landser who was pointing a Panzerfaust at them. He jumped out of a foxhole and pointed his weapon at the tank when suddenly the hatches flew open and the crew climbed out. Engine still running. Not a shot was fired. That was probably a drastic exception, but in general the Americans lacked the ferocity  and willpower we encountered regularly on the Eastern Front. That also applied to their infantry.

So combat in the east was different to that in the west?

It was. All the classic doctrines of armoured combat which we could effectively apply in the East did not work in the west. In the west allied air and artillery power ruled supreme. Our Luftwaffe was virtually non existent. Major movements during the day and on open ground where largely impossible, as was maneuvering in combat. Whenever the western Allies ran into resistance of any kind, or even only expected resistance they pulled back, waited for reinforcements to pull up and in the meantime they plastered us with artillery fire and air attacks. They were cautious, I would say overcautious. A mistake in my opinion as this strategy always left us the time to fall back and to establish new defensive lines. It all lasted a lot longer than it should have done.

How do you rate the German troops in the West in 1944, I am thinking about the newly raised Volksgrenadier Divisions here.

Of course many of these units were far being elite fighting forces, but believe me they were not commanded by idiots. They could all efficiently engage the enemy if needed. In general our doctrine of mission-type tactics (Auftragstaktik) gave us the edge in ground engagements. In the German Army we were told what to do and not how to do it. The ways to achieve success were left to junior commanders on the ground. In the Allied armies officers were told what to do and how to do it, making them inflexible in combat as they had to ask or wait for new orders when things did not go as planned. On our side this concept of operational freedom worked on all levels, from army to platoon commander. Success was rewarded, not following orders. This was practiced in all units of the German Army and even though effective use of Auftragstaktik very much depended on the experience and training of the officers and troops it continued to be one of our major assets. Morale was strong, especially in an experienced unit like ours.

Did you unit take prisoners and how did the process of “taking” prisoners work?

We were an armoured unit and usually had to keep moving. That meant if we took prisoners they were told to disarm and then to follow our route of advance backwards until they encountered the first German infantry. There they were to raise their hands as sign of surrender. It was a pretty straightforward process. If you ask this question because of Peiper and Malmedy, let me tell you that the whole story is fishy. In our regiment we did not shoot prisoners of war, I would personally have shot any men to open fire on defenceless prisoners. I met Jochen Peiper during the war and became friends with him after the war, when he worked for Porsche and I worked for BMW.


Did you speak about what happened at Malmedy?

Yes, often and in great lengths. Let me just say that I did not see anything go on on that crossroads. Neither did Peiper. There were a few Americans killed there during a short engagement. Prisoners were taken. After having been disarmed the tanks continued while the prisoners were sent backwards. When the next vehicles arrived at Malmedy some of prisoners had rearmed. Fire was opened. That’s in very rough terms what Peiper told me. I would have opened fire on an armed enemy. We all know what happened during the trials, today the facts are open and accessible if only one cares to look for them. Yet people still repeat the Malmedy story over and over. Jochen Peiper was probably the most impressive officer I have ever met. A highly experienced combat soldier of great charisma and strong character. Crimes were committed by individuals on both sides. Americans regularly executed German prisoners of war. Yet not a single one was punished for it. Being the only branch of the army wearing black uniforms with skulls on them we knew very well what could happen to us if we fell into enemy hands. Again these facts are easily available for everyone who wants to find them. That’s all I want to say at this point.

On a lighter note there is one story relating to a US prisoner of war that I will never forget..


Tell me about it!

I think it was in January, again in the area of Foy. With our assault gun we had to guard a crossroads shortly after a short engagement had been fought nearby. We were sitting in the assault gun, my hatch was opened and we were just in the process of smoking our last cigarettes and we heard the sound of someone knocking against the armour on the outside with the help of a rock or something similar. Expecting German soldiers outside I stood up and looked out only to see an American soldier, minus his helmet and weapons standing outside and addressing me in English. I did not understand a thing so i asked my radio operator, who had been working in a London hotel before the war and was fluent in English, to talk to him. He was very surprised to find out that he could hardly understand the American either! We were still communicating using hands and feet when suddenly we became of the target of an American mortar barrage. In a Hollywood version of events I would probably have shot the American at this point. Yet we pulled him into the cramped fighting compartment and buttoned up. There we slowly began to understand each other while the American kindly shared a package of his cigarettes with us. I remember he was a farmhand, I have forgotten where he was from. When the barrage ceased we told him into which direction to walk and for how long. He was to raise his hands when he encountered the first German infantry which would then take him prisoner. When he had disappeared in a wood behind us I tried to catch a bit of sleep inside the vehicle. After about one hour someone knocked on the outside of the tank. It was my American friend. He had walked into the direction we had shown him, but failed to meet any German infantry. We could not handle a prisoner ourselves, so without thinking further about it I told my radio operator to tell the American to walk into the opposite direction. There would be no need to raise his hands when he met American infantry and that he was free to return home. I have never seen such a smile again…
Again he trotted off, but this time he did not return. I have often wondered what became of him..

Did you take casualties from Allied air attacks?

My section didn’t, but there were losses inflicted by Allied fighter bombers. There was a period around Christmas 1944 when they were very active and again in mid January.
I was nearly done for by one myself around that time. I can’t remember the exact location, but again it was in the area of Noville/Foy. It was in the early morning hours and we were traveling down a paved road. I was standing in the commander’s hatch and I guess I wasn’t as alert as I should have been. Suddenly I heard an engine sound which clearly came from an aircraft. Looking up, the clouds had just begun clearing away and high above I could see the circling silhouette of a single aeroplane. Yet this was far away, or so I thought. We continued travelling down the road at high speed and just as we climbed a slope I could hear the engine sounds getting louder. As I have told you before we were all very, very tired and I guess I had somehow lost part of my senses that day. We went up the slope and down on the other side and just moments afterwards the engine sound became ear deafening. It all happened within seconds. An enemy fighter bomber came racing over the crest of the slope behind us and I swear it can’t have been more than 5 or 6 meters above ground. I remember screaming “Scheisse! Halt an Karl!” and my driver immediately reacted and the Sturmgeschütz halted. In the same moment one or two rockets smashed into the ground just a meter or so in front of our vehicle. The force of the explosion was enough to lift the front half of it 20 or 30 centimeters into the air. The fighter bomber, I think it was an English one, zoomed over our heads I thought it would rip off my head, then climbed and disappeared in the clouds.
I can tell you, we were all very much awake after that…







Ludwig Bauer talking to Dan Snow and Robin Schäfer, Hannover 2016

At the time of this interview Ludwigs health made a personal visit impossible. It was conducted and recorded via the telephone on 27 November 2016

Ludwig, for a start please tell us a bit about yourself and your military career 

I joined the Wehrmacht on 4 February 1941 as an officer aspirant and was posted to the 3rd company of Panzer-Ersatz-Abteilung 33 at St. Pölten-Spratzern in Austria. This was the Ersatz and Ausbildungs (replacement and training) unit of Panzer-Regiment 33. There I was trained on various Panzer models (II, III and IV) and later received special weapons training at gun layer.  After training I saw action on the Eastern Front after being posted there in August 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. For reasons unknown to me I was posted to Panzerjäger-Abteilung 521, a tank hunter unit operating Panzerjäger I self propelled anti-tank guns. Basically a Czech 4.7 cm AT gun mounted on a Panzer I chassis. It was attached to 3. Panzer-Division. With this unit I had my baptism of fire. I fought in the Battle of Kiev where we took over 650.000 Russian prisoners and captured over 3000 guns and 800 tanks. I saw a lot of action there. In October, during Operation Typhoon, the attack on Moscow, our unit received four Panzer IIs as replacements. As I had been trained on that model I was assigned to one of the crews as a gunner. So my first “real” tank. We were mainly used for flank protection during major offensive thrusts. I fought at Smolensk, Mzensk and Tula where I was wounded when my Panzer was destroyed. After recovering from my wounds I was posted back to the Eastern Front in April 1942, this time to 1./Panzer-Regiment 33. The company had just received the Panzer III with the long 5 cm gun and I served as a gun layer in one of them. I then participated in the Battle of Voronezh, most certainly one of the most exhausting and difficult periods of my life. Harder even than the fighting at the Battle of Rzhev later that year. I finished my officers training and was promoted to Leutnant on 1 October 1943. I took command of a platoon in 3./Panzer-Regiment Nr 33 and saw action east of Krivoy-Rog. A hard  time, inside the tank day and night facing one Soviet attack after the other. We stayed in that area for quite a while. In February 1944 we fought at the Bug near Arnautovka before, afer suffering heavy casualties we made our way south to Odessa and from there to Romania. We finally ended up in Nimes, France where the Division was to be refreshed. When the Allies landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944 our Division was just on a large scale field excercise in the area of Arles-Aix. There were some major clashed with the American 3rd Army near Avranches in August 1944, yet Allied aerial supriority made any effective defence impossible. In Normandy the Division lost most of its tanks and vehicles, most of them by Allied air attacks. By the end of October 1944, after seeing limited action around Venlo, the Division was being refreshed in the Eifel, that was shortly before the Battle of the Bulge, or Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein. I later fought in the Eifel, at the Rhine and in and around Cologne. The remains of our Regiment disbanded in in a forest near Iserlohn on 16 April 1945. I was taken prisoner by the Americans a few day later.

I was released from US captivity in 1946. I joined the new German Army as a Leutnant of the Reserve in 1962. My military career ended in 1975 when I was a Generaloberst of the Reserve.


Generalobert in the Bundeswehr (1975)

You said you were with 9. Panzer-Division in the Eifel in October 1944. Where was that?

The division was being refreshed in the area of Waldniel-Eiken. I remember it well, as there was a V1 launching site nearby. It was the first time in the war I saw these weapons in action. After loosing most of our armour in Normandy we received new vehicles on 30 October 1944; Panzer IVs for 2nd and 3rd company. My lot, 1st company, was supposed to be issued with assault guns, which arrived a few days later.

Assault guns? In a Panzer regiment? Was that unusual? Were you unhappy with the decision?

It was what was available, but of course we are not happy with the decision. Mainly because that meant loosing a member of our old crew. A tank was crewed by five man, an assault gun by four. That was a serious blow, as we were a close knit group.
There was a lot of debate, but there was no way around it. Later we found that the Sturmgeschütz III was actually more effective and safer than our Panzer IVs. Our companies losses were lower and we destroyed more enemy vehicles. Reason here was probably the lower silhouette of the vehicle which made it harder to spot. It was a great and very effective gun platform.

Did you need special training to operate the Sturmgeschütz?

We probably should have been given time to get used to our new mount, but time was something we did not have. We old tank crews did not have a lot of difficulties to adapt to the changes. It was actually very similar to a tank. Only the limited field of fire was something we had to get used to. The gun, which was the same as the that on the Panzer IV, could only be traversed about 15 degrees to the left and right. Anything more and one had to turn the vehicle. One thing that seemed very important to us old tankers was to zero in our guns. This would have required firing a few live 75mm rounds, but the commander denied our request. By then our armour was well hidden away – camouflaged in a forest. I guess it was feared that the sound of gunfire could alert the enemy to our presence and result in aerial bombardment. We all feared that.


Ludwig’s assault gun in December 1944

When did you learn about the upcoming offensive and by then, did you still think that this operation could be crowned with success?

Let me answer the last bit first! Yes! Not only did we believe it, we were entirely sure of it! I remember we were first learned about it on 17 December 1944 during an officers briefing. Oberstleutnant Weiß-Kafanke used some words there which I have not forgotten so far. “The Führer has asked us to do our very best and not to let him down.We only need to keep the enemy at bay for about three more months“. Three more months, then we would see the new mircale weapons and these would force the enemy to negotiate. I believed that. I was that kind of young officer: keen, energetic and looking at it today probably a little bit stupid. We all believed in it. There were hardly any senior officers in the companies, we were mainly young Leutnants and Oberleutnants. All the senior personnel was dead, wounded, gone. By then the average length of survival for a Panzer officer was about 28 days; that is before he was killed or wounded. In the Infantry it was even worse, with about 19 days. We youngsters believed in the Führer, in the Fatherland. We knew the enemy was far superior in number of troops, tanks, artillery. He had endless supplies, total aerial supriority. Yet, believe me when I say we still knew we could beat him anytime on the ground when chances were more or less equal and when he wasn’t able to bring his air force to bear. We were an experienced lot, with lots of combat experience in the worst of conditions. We felt we could do it.


When did ‘your’ Battle of the Bulge begin and is there anything you’d like to talk about?

One thing is important. It may sound weird to you, but I do not remember many details of my time in the Ardennes. From the last weeks of December 1944 to about mid February 1945 I hardly left the tank. We were in constant action and had very little to time to relax or sleep. We left the vehicle when there was a call of nature to follow and even that was sometimes done in a tin inside the fighting compartment. Sleep was measured in minutes not hours. Contant fighting, contant watch, constant movement. I remember long stretches of the time in the Ardennes as if in a dream. After a time it felt like if someone remote controlled me. We just functioned. It is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced something like that himself.

How did you cope with these conditions? Did you get anything to make it easier for you?

You talk about Pervitin? No, we got nothing at all. We were only issued Pervitin twice during the war and that was in late 1941 and at the Battle of Voronezh in 1942. After that I never saw any of these pills. We were soldiers, we just had to cope with it.

So where did you see action?

We fought in the area of Bastogne, Noville and Foy. Later at Houffalize where there was severe fighting in January. The American 101st Airborne Division was one of our enemies in the sector of Foy and Houffalize. The fighting there was hard…very hard.

Did you have many casualties?

Yes, though losses in our company were not as bad as in the others. On 13rh of January Leutnant Rumpf was killed when his Panzer IV received a direct hit. I took over command of the company from him…There were many dead, I do not like to talk about it.

I remember that on the night of the 13th January Leutnant Becker ordered me to lead an attack on Foy with 1st company. That was initially successful, but no lasting success as the infantry could not follow up. I think Feldwebel Klotz and his crew where wounded there when their tank was hit. After that attack we withdrew to a position between Foy and Noville. The following day the Americans launched a counter attack with tanks and halftracks. I dont remember how many there were, but we were drastically outnumbered. We engaged the enemy with 6 StuGs and a proper tank battle developed, something that was rare on the Western Front. We destroyed most of the US armour without taking casualties. About 15 Shermans and a number of  halftracks  were destroyed during that engagement. Many of them were burning and in between them, on the ground, there were the bodies of dead and wounded US soldiers. Shortly afterward an American waving a Red-Cross flag hoved into view. I opened the command hatch and stood up to have a look at what was happening. By now a number of American halftracks and trucks marked with the Red Cross made an appearance. They were trying to evacuate their wounded and by doing so the whole column had to drive past my assault gun in a distance of about 100 to 150 meters. It was a very unsual spectacle, both for us and for the Americans. They went back and forth until all the bodies had been recovered and I remember that at the final time they went past, there was an American officer standing on the footboard of one of the vehicles. When he passed by he tried to stand to attention and gave a me a military salute. An impressive gesture which I answered in kind. Yet after they had pulled out of sight I had aweird feeling in my guts, some instinct told me that something was fishy. I gave the order to start the engines and just as we had moved the first two hundred meters towards Noville a quite substantial enemy artillery strike hit the area which we had only just left. Of course I can’t prove anything, but I still feel slightly annoyed when I think about that.














Today I returned from a battlefield tour to Ypres and the fields of Flanders. Organized and conducted by Leger Holidays and guided by Mr. Paul Reed. As I do not live in the UK, I travelled to Ypres by car and joined the Leger group on Friday, shortly after their bus had arrived at the hotel. All in all I count the two days that followed among the best I’ve had for ages.



Certainly a most important part for a German military historian. Everything was planned and organised in a manner that would have forced an appreciative smile from even the most stiff necked Prussian staff officer. All my pre-trip questions where answered in a prompt and friendly manner by a Leger employee. All necessary travel documents were dispatched to Germany by mail and arrived quickly afterwards.


To my suprise I did not find myself in some far off hotel in the middle of nowhere, but in the “Flanders Fields” Novotel, right inside the picturesque center of Ypres. Only five minutes walk from the Flanders Fields museum, shops, bars and restaurants, I can not think of a more ideal headquarters for a Flanders battlefield tour and it was made even better by the generous size of my room, the attractive furnishing and superb breakfast including ham & eggs ‘Flemish Style’ and a wide array of breads, fruits and cereals. This alone is would be reason enough to book another Ypres tour with Leger soon.


I am not small and I certainly do not fit comfortably into most run-of-the-mill buses. The bus Leger supplied did not only have plenty of room and comfortable seating, it was also clean, excellently maintained and expertly driven and crewed by Len and Alan, who were always friendly, attentive and professional.

The Crew

The Crew


I have “known” the virtual Paul Reed for quite a while now, so the I was thrilled by the chance to finally meet him in person. He is the walking encyclopedia of the Great War I had expected him to be. An excellent tour guide, able to answer any question thrown at him.
Most importantly though, it is obvious that he loves what he is doing. Paul is a professional and thus is able to present history in an understandable, entertaining and eloquent manner.
I found it fascinating to see that he took the time to answer questions and give research advice even after the tours and that he always seemed to have a caring eye on the weaker and more fragile members of the group. A true gentleman.


All what I have written above seems to be mirrored in the fact that many of the people in the group regularly travel with Leger. Which is what I will be doing in the future. If you want to travel the battlefields of Europe, give them a try.

Two Ledger regulars

Two Leger regulars

Feldpost – A letter from the Eastern Front, June 1942

A couple of weeks ago I acquired a collection of letters dating from World War 2. There are billions of similar letters around, but these are special. We are looking at the correspondence of two brothers. One, Walther, is a young professional soldier who his trying hard to become an officer (finally getting his promotion in January 43). The other is Theo, a student in a German grammar school, who aches to finish school to be able to become a soldier aswell and to follow in the footsteps of his elder brother. The whole correspondence ends in September 1943. A check with the Volksbund database tells us why. Walther is missing since October 1943, his body has never been found.

The brothers speak openly about their fears, their wishes and their dreams and whereas the younger brother is working hard to become a soldier and an officer himself, his elder brother seems to lose confidence and motivation constantly. I have chosen a random letter to start with, an interesting one dated 26th of June 1942.

Walther is serving as an Unteroffizier (NCO) in Artillerie-Regiment 299 which is deployed on the Eastern Front.

I will continue to publish them in chronological order as soon as I find the time.


Dear Theo,

every time I receive a letter from you I am so happy that I just have to answer them immediately. My heartfelt thanks for the lines you sent on the 9th of June. You probably had not received the long letter I sent you? I hope you are holding it in your hands by now.
Dear Theo, I can tell you that there is a lot to see in war. Bad things and good things. Sadly you see the latter very rarely, but you have to be able to ignore that, because otherwise it would be hard to bear.

After a long and refreshing sleep I am now writing you this letter. This evening I returned safely from my first combat patrol. Our task was to destroy an important enemy position consisting of a number bunkers with observed fire. 
The patrol consisted of volunteers and was made up by a platoon of infantry and three artillerymen. I do not remember if I have told you that we lie in the foremost line and right in front of it is a large and thick forest which is held by the Soviets.
We had to advance about 4 kilometers into it and set up a radio station, with which we could guide the fire of our battery. The job of the infantry was to secure us against any kind of Russian counter action.

My dear Theo, I had no idea, what I had volunteered for! It’s not that I feel sorry about it, but it was a real suicide mission.
Three weeks ago another combat patrol was sent out into this primeval forest where it was ambushed and wiped out by the Soviets. After that the number of volunteers for such missions drastically decreased! The Russian is a beastly, malicious and devious enemy who is committing unspeakable deeds to the wounded and to the ones he takes prisoner. Theo, if you ever have to see a comrade that has been ravaged by them you will never forget it. The one we found had been in command of the previous combat patrol. There was a burning inside me, my blood was boiling and I didn’t know what to say. He had only just been awarded the Iron Cross 1st class. I will never be able to forget this sight. But you have to get rid of it. You have to forget it. If you don’t it will make you fail.
We slowly moved forward, stopping about every 20 meters, listening into the wilderness. That way it took us 5 hours to reach a part of the forest from which we could observe the enemy bunker line. The moral effect of our artillery rounds zooming over our heads and punching into the enemy position was wonderful. A tremendous feeling, which is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced something like that!

The Soviets had obviously not noticed that they were being hit by observed fire and their artillery started to open up aswell. Our guns managed to crack open two of their bunkers. After two hours of continuous firing we started to withdraw, but by then Ivan had finally realised that there had to be German artillery observers around. All of a sudden he opened up with everything he had and small arms fire was ripping into the forest around us. We had chosen a good spot though and did not suffer any losses. During our withdrawal we had to cover two dangerous spots ideal for an enemy ambush. One was a patch of grassland surrounded by dark forest, the other a swampy area covered with gravel. Both would have given the enemy a perfect opportunity to annihilate us, but nothing happened. We arrived at our position and were more than happy to have escaped from this hell with all our bones intact.

This forest is really a hell on earth which has cost us a lot of blood so far. It’s easy to enter, but terribly hard to get out again. The damned Ivan invites us in and then easily surrounds and ambushes us. An easy game in his position. Why don’t we just take the forest you ask? Our operations are to make sure that he does not (!) retreat without a fight. It is planned that in a few weeks from now a large-scale operation will be conducted with the goal of destroying the Soviets completely and you can only do so if the enemy faces you in combat. But what happens you allow him to withdraw and to continue his existence?

Dear Theo, with these lines I just wanted to give you an idea of our life here. At the moment I am back at the observation post.  I would not like to be anywhere else as there is no better place to prove and show what is expected of the future officer. In the future more patrols will be send out and I will make sure I will part of them.

Hope that you will be writing soon! Warm regards and kisses,

PS. It’s Mother’s birthday on the 3rd of July!


Military Book Review – Die Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg (IFZ)


Die Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg (The Wehrmacht in the War in the East), is certainly one of the best and most important books on the German army in WW2 I have read during the last 10 years. Sadly it does not yet seem to have been translated into the English language. The review below is not by me, but as its excellently written I take the liberty to publish it here (original text found on 

If you read German, this title is a must have!

“Hartmann’s findings are striking and shed a new light onto many areas of the debate concerning the Wehrmacht and its role in the war in the East. He shows that the degree to which units were involved in war crimes was dependent on the role they had to fulfil in the Wehrmacht and occupational structure and was also influenced by rather random factors such as the area of deployment and time. Hartmann does not negate the fact that the Wehrmacht as an organisation was guilty of war crimes in many areas, but he argues for a more balanced and differentiated approach with regard to single units and individual soldiers. With his book »Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg«, Christian Hartmann has presented an outstanding work of scholarship”

Review by Matthias Strohn

The history of the Second World War continues to occupy historians and the interested wider public alike. Historiography has provided us with insights into the war, societies and virtually all other areas that have a point of contact with this conflict. German historiography in particular has undergone a number of changes in the approach to and views on this greatest conflict of modern times. Roughly speaking, the first twenty years after the war were characterised by memoirs of former generals and the thesis that Hitler had abused the German people and the German armed forces. From the late 1960s onwards, a generation of younger historians questioned this approach. Not only had they not been directly involved in the Nazi regime, but the opening of archives and the return of captured documents to Germany enabled this generation to look into new aspects and to provide new insights into the period. In line with the 1960s social changes and the advent of Marxist views in western German historiography, it was now argued that German society was far more important and involved in the Nazi regime than claimed hitherto. The same development can be seen in the historiography of the German armed forces in that period. Today it is obvious that the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other: Initially, all responsibility for genocide, war crimes and the like were denied by the former generals and the wider public. It was deemed appropriate to blame Hitler himself, his clique of Nazi leaders and the Waffen SS for all the atrocities committed between 1933 and 1945. With the advent of the new generation and their different approach to history this changed: the Wehrmacht was now regarded as an instrument that spread terror, committed war crimes and was an active supporter of Nazi ideology.

A low point in this development was reached with the first Wehrmacht Exhibition that opened in 1995. The crude arguments and the simplistic views presented in this exhibition called for a more balanced and less biased view and also awoke a new and wide interest in the history of the Wehrmacht. As a consequence, the prestigious Institut für Zeitgeschichte launched a research project which looked at the Wehrmacht and the role of the armed forces during the war. The aim was not so much to provide narrowly defined studies on operational or traditional military history, but to explore the role of the organisation Wehrmacht for and in the Third Reich. Another aim was to explore the social history of the Wehrmacht. In total, the project produced five monographs by Johannes Hürter, Peter Lieb, Dieter Pohl, Andreas Toppe and Christian Hartmann. The emphasis of the publication was on the war against the Soviet Union. Moreover, the members of the working group produced over 50 articles, some of which were published in the work that is part of this review and which marked the end of the project.

Christian Hartmann’s monograph explores the realities of war in the first year of the German-Russo war, the division between front-line and hinterland and the involvement of the Wehrmacht in war crimes and atrocities. His aim is not to understand the Wehrmacht as an institution and its role per se, but to provide us with an understanding of the 10 million German soldiers who were deployed to the Eastern Front. He concentrates his work on three fields that he regards – correctly – as the core areas of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. Thus, his study is occupied with the biggest service of the Wehrmacht, the army, and its struggle on the decisive front of the war, the Eastern Front. Hartmann restricts his study to the first year of the war in the East, in which, as he puts it, »everything was decided, not only the war against the USSR«. Moreover, he claims that an evaluation of this period offers the best insight into the aims and ideas of the soldiers involved in this struggle, since the Wehrmacht was convinced of its strength and full of self-confidence, so that the actions of individuals and bigger social groups were not driven by outer influences, but from within. Within these three parameters, Hartmann examines the actions and histories of five German divisions. Divisions have not played a prominent role in modern military history, but Hartmann is right in arguing that the division was vital in the military organisation and that an examination of the divisional level offers many new insights: the structure of a division and its strength (the divisions examined were between 9,000 and 18,000 soldiers strong) put it in a place between two fields that have attracted most attention in military history; tactical studies and the fate of the individual, low-ranking soldier on the hand, and high-ranking generals and their operational and strategic decisions on the other hand. By choosing divisions as his study’s units, Hartmann closes this gap, because divisions operated at the interface between tactics and the operational level of war. He chooses five divisions that provide a representative view of the entire German army in the East in 1941/42: One tank division, two infantry divisions, and one Sicherungsdivision that was deployed in the hinterland away from the front-line and fulfilled a double-role as both fighting and occupation unit. Last, but not least, Hartmann examines the role of oneKommandant/Kommandantur des rückwärtigen Heeresgebietes or Korück(Commander of the hinterland), an example of the occupation forces that were deployed closer to the front-line. Even though not a division in the traditional sense of the word, Hartmann argues that a Korück’s size and structure made it comparable to such a unit.

This is the foundation on which Hartmann bases his evaluation. In five main chapters he then analyses the formations and their experiences in the first year of the war. The first chapter deals with the structure of the divisions and their composition, showing the differences in the individual units. In the second chapter Hartmann turns to the soldiers of these units. He analyses the social structure of the units; the soldiers’ backgrounds and their decorations and casualties as indicators for their bravery and combat effectiveness. Chapter three is devoted to the experiences of the individual units from June 1941 to June 1942. Hartmann clearly shows the different experiences of the units and their approaches to challenges such as regular and partisan warfare. These factors are picked up and developed in depth in the last two chapters in which Hartmann analyses the differences between front and hinterland and examines the contribution of the different units to war crimes and atrocities. Units of all five divisions were involved in war crimes in the first year of the war in the East, but Hartmann’s research enables us to differentiate: Maltreatment of prisoner and mass executions did not occur constantly, but were restricted to certain times and influenced by outer parameters. The worst behaviour in the sample group was shown by troops deployed in the hinterland, and, perhaps more surprisingly, by the elite 4th Panzer Division. Hartmann explains this with the social structure of the divisions: The 4th Panzer Division was commanded by a general who initially showed strong sympathies for Nazism and the region from which the division recruited was characterised by a strong general support for the Nazi regime. Moreover, the division between front and hinterland was of great importance. This is perhaps less surprising, but Hartmann shows this in a new clarity. The units at the front concentrated on their military core business – fighting, killing and getting killed. Occupational policy was the business of the troops of the hinterland. Even though this division of labour was sometimes broken down by deploying rear-echelon troops to the front and increased partisan activity in the hinterland, this division remained intact throughout the period examined. It was the regime’s aim to concentrate the army in the front area and to relieve it of as many tasks in the hinterland as possible. In 1943, 2.65 million German soldiers were deployed within seventy kilometres from the front-line while only approximately 200.000 were deployed further to the west as occupation forces. As a consequence, wide areas in the rear could no longer be controlled by the Wehrmacht.

Hartmann’s findings are striking and shed a new light onto many areas of the debate concerning the Wehrmacht and its role in the war in the East. He shows that the degree to which units were involved in war crimes was dependent on the role they had to fulfil in the Wehrmacht and occupational structure and was also influenced by rather random factors such as the area of deployment and time. Hartmann does not negate the fact that the Wehrmacht as an organisation was guilty of war crimes in many areas, but he argues for a more balanced and differentiated approach with regard to single units and individual soldiers. With his book »Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg«, Christian Hartmann has presented an outstanding work of scholarship. It is a prime example of German historical scholarship at its best. The structure of the book and the arguments are clear and compelling and they are supported by a vast amount of references. Also, the book is a »good read«, something that cannot be said of every academic book. Historians that have been educated in the English-speaking world might find the sheer amount of footnotes and the density of references a little daunting. It is up to the reader to decide if they want to see this as a weak point of the book. It should be clear that a scholarly work that can only be criticised for being academic is a great achievement. And Hartmann’s book is one of these works.

In contrast to Hartmann’s monograph, the last volume of the project published by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte contains a selection of articles by some of its members that also deal with the war on the Eastern front. In the introduction, the authors point out that an official view of the institute does not exist with regards to the war, German atrocities, etc. and this becomes obvious in the contributions of the authors, the approaches they have chosen and their conclusions. In total, the book contains ten articles by five authors. The first article by Christian Hartmann »Verbrecherischer Krieg. Verbrecherische Wehrmacht« picks up the themes discussed in his monograph reviewed above. Again, Hartmann points out the organisational structure of the German occupation of the Soviet Union which concentrated its forces near the front-line, and, as a consequence, resulted in the »dominance of military topics« for the Wehrmacht units, because they had to concentrate on their main task: fighting the Red Army. He then sums up the findings from his monograph with regards to prisoners of war, holocaust and partisans. The article provides a good – and much shorter – alternative to his monograph.

The second article by Dieter Pohl »Die deutsche Militärbesetzung und die Eskalation der Gewalt in der Sowjetunion« examines the role of the rear echelon troops and the occupation forces in the hinterland; that area that according to Hartmann was only insufficiently controlled by the Wehrmacht owing to both the weakness of the forces in that region and the fact that other organisations and party branches were often put in charge. Pohl concludes that the role of the Wehrmacht cannot always be analysed to the last degree, mainly because of problems with the availability of sources. Nevertheless, his findings put the Wehrmacht on the whole in a more negative light than Hartmann’s elaborations. Pohl argues that the military leadership accepted a »programme for murder«, which was implemented with the attack on the Soviet Union, but which saw a general radicalisation from September/October 1941 onwards, when it became clear that operation Barbarossa had failed. Another change is identified by Pohl for the months November/December 1941, when it was obvious that the war in the East would turn into a prolonged conflict, and that it would be important to utilise prisoners of war and the non-Russian population for the German war effort. However, the killings of Jews and other groups continued so that the spiral of escalation was not fully stopped. A further dimension of escalation was then introduced in 1942/43 with the increase in partisan activity and the German counter-measures that led to harsh reprisals and a massive loss of live. On the whole, Pohl argues that the increasing level of violence in the rear areas was not the sole responsibility of the Wehrmacht, but that a high level of anticommunism and racism in the armed forces contributed to this radicalisation.

In contrast to the two aforementioned articles which examine the Wehrmacht on the whole, Johannes Hürter chooses a case study. »Die Wehrmacht vor Leningrad« deals with the war-fighting and occupation policy of the German 18thArmy in the Leningrad region in the autumn and winter of 1941/42. Hürter shows that the decision to besiege Leningrad and to starve the population to death rather than to occupy the city came as a surprise to the troops who had prepared themselves for an attack on the city. Interestingly, this decision set in motion a radicalisation of the army’s occupation policy in its rear areas: if the death of a city had been decided by the higher leadership why should the soldiers worry about the fate of a few hundred thousand civilians in the hinterland? »Necessities of war« were now brought forward as the reason for a barbarisation of warfare, but Hürter shows that this term was used in a loose fashion and that the situation of the German troops in the Leningrad area was difficult, but not so desperate that the measures taken against the civilian population could be explained by military necessities. Hürter argues that, owing to the amorphous structure of the German state and also the German armed forces, the army level (between corps and army group) was the decisive level with regards to the barbarisation of warfare. At army level the directives from the higher leadership were turned into actions. In some areas, this worked in favour of the civilian population, because the armies tried to ease the fate of the population. Sadly, in the area of 18th Army under Generaloberst Küchler, it did not.

A second article by Dieter Pohl concentrates on the mass murder of one particular group, the Jews in the Ukraine between 1941 and 1943. His findings further differentiate our understanding of the »war of extermination« in the East. From July 1941 to July 1942, Pohl argues, different phases of an extermination policy in all stages of escalation occurred in this region. Pohl offers an interesting view on the German approach: In contrast to widespread belief, it was not the aim of the German occupation forces to exterminate the local population, but the killing of real or alleged enemies was seen as a tool for the destruction of the Soviet Union. It was this aim that was shared between the Nazi regime and wide parts of the Wehrmacht and which resulted in the comparatively small resistance from the Wehrmacht to this barbarisation. The prime target of this policy was the Jewish population that was widely seen as the main bearer of Bolshevism. Within the Wehrmacht Pohl makes out different opinions and views. The higher up the chain of command the issue of harsh measures was discussed, the more support could be found for it. He also sheds light on the co-operation between the military, the civilian authorities and the SS and police. While difficulties existed and the opinions of individuals sometimes differed from the official view, Pohl concludes that all organisations contributed willingly to the extermination of the Jews in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine.

While the first half of the book is devoted to the bigger picture, the second half deals predominately with individual impressions and experiences from the war in the East. The first article is Johannes Hürter’s »Es herrschen Sitten und Gebräuche genauso wie im 30-jährigen Krieg«. Hürter has worked in depth on biographies of German generals and this article follows the approach taken in his monograph »Hitler’s Heerführer«. The article offers a view on the first year of the war through documents of General Gotthard Heinrici, first a commander of an army corps and then commander of an army in the middle sector of the Eastern front. Hürter introduces the person Heinrici, his background and his life up to 1941. He then presents a wide range of personal documents, from diary entries to letters to his wife and his family. The changes in the occupation policy are reflected in Heinrici’s observations, for instance the shock of the invasion’s failure in 1941 and the realisation that the Soviet population had to be utilised for the German war effort, an approach that he encouraged in his area of responsibility particularly in the years 1942 to 1943. Nevertheless, for him Russia remained a »foreign, and backward culture like one from the middle ages…«. He experienced the deterioration of warfare and the increasing number of atrocities which appalled him. He tried to stop the policy of scorched earth during the German retreats, but finally he had to realise that »the trade of soldiering is no longer satisfying«.

Peter Lieb’s article »Täter aus Überzeugung« also concentrates on an individual officer and his experiences. He examines the role of Oberst Carl von Andrian, commanding officer of Infantry Regiment 747, one of the regiments of 707thInfantry Division. This division is of special interest, since it was used by the organisers of the Wehrmacht exhibition to show the ongoing brutalisation of the war in the East. The division, mainly used for operations behind the front-line, has a particularly bad reputation, because it was involved in mass executions to a high degree. Lieb provides an overview of the complex role of his article’s antagonist. On the one hand, Andrian supported the harsh measures taken by the authorities and excused them as necessary steps in order to pacify the country. On the other hand, Lieb shows that Andrian suffered from this situation and that he often complained about the brutal behaviour of German troops. The article makes clear once again that the question of brutalisation of warfare in the East was multi-facetted and that this development cannot be explained one-dimensionally.

Christian Hartmann’s article »Massensterben oder Massenvernichtung« sheds light on the fate of Soviet prisoners of war. Similar to the articles by Lieb and Hürter, he uses autobiographical sources (in this case a personal diary) to explore the realities Soviet soldiers were facing in German prisoner of war camps. The author of the diary was a re-activated national-conservative Major named Gutschmidt, from 1940 to 1944 commanding officer of several prisoner of war camps, from 1941 onwards on the Eastern front. Hartmann first gives a short account of Gutschmidt and his life, before exploring the German prisoner of war camp system on the Eastern front of which Gutschmidt was an integral part. The article shows the flexibility that Gutschmidt, who was »free of hatred« towards the enemy, had in organising his camp, but also the limitations of that freedom imposed on him by his superiors and reality, for instance the vast number of Soviet prisoners that were captured by the Germans and the resulting food shortage. Moreover, bad and cold weather took its toll of the weakened Soviet prisoners. The combination of these factors resulted in horrendous losses even in camps with sympathetic personnel like Gutschmidt.

The last article in this group of personal accounts comes again from Johannes Hürter who examines the reports from Werner Otto von Hentig, the representative of the German foreign office at the 11th Army headquarters. Hentig reported his experiences of the fighting on the Crimea in 1941/42 back to his superiors in Berlin. This article nicely complements the other contributions, since it concentrates on a civilian representative and his views on the war in the East. Accordingly, the emphasis of Hentig’s report was less on pure military matters, but rather on questions of policy, the treatment of the civilian population and prisoners of war. He heavily criticised the German approach which did not only result in horrendous civilian casualties, but also in an alienation of the indigenous population. The reports can therefore be seen as a rather drastic example of criticism of the German approach to the war in the East. At the same time, they are also a document of the powerlessness of traditional diplomacy in this gigantic struggle. Throughout the war, the foreign ministry was not able to influence German policy in the occupied territories. It was decided either by military necessities or – to a higher degree – by Nazi ideology. Obviously, there was no room here for traditional diplomacy.

The final article in the book is a rather short contribution (8 pages) dealing with an alleged order from Stalin dated from 17 November 1941 which stated that Soviet troops had to attack villages in the German hinterland. Not only would this weaken the Germans, but it would also alienate the population, because the alleged order stated that the Soviet troops should wear German uniforms. In their contribution Christian Hartmann and Jürgen Zarusky show that the version of the order stating that German uniforms had to be worn by Soviet troops was not part of the original order and that the order had been re-produced incorrectly for political reasons.

Overall, the final major work of the project of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte on the Wehrmacht in the Second World War offers a wide range of different views on the German-Soviet War. All articles, although differing in their general message, are well researched and presented in a convincing scholarly manner. It is highly recommended not only to historians, but also to the general reader, because it provides a good overview of the Wehrmacht and answers questions regarding the occupation policy on the Eastern Front – in particular for the years 1941 and 1942.

Kolomyja 1941, Bearing Witness

For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel

When I look through the photographs of old soldiers of the German Army, I sometimes stumble over images like the ones shown below.

You might overlook them, when not actually searching for them and surprisingly this is just what  happened here, as this album has been in my possession for ages. The small series of photographs was taken by a soldier of an unidentified Wehrmacht artillery unit shortly after entering the town of  Kolomyja (West Ukraine).

More info on Kolomyja and Kolomyja Ghetto can be found HERE.

I had a long think what to write here, but words fail me. The Shoah fills me with shame, and I pray for the victims and the survivors. 

I will let the images speak for themselves and I have refrained from marking these images with the usual “gottmituns” tag…


Outskirts of Kolomyja




Local population


Soldiers of the Wehrmacht searching Jews


Defiance in his eyes – a powerful photograph


Waffen-SS soldiers force Jewish men to cut off their Payot (Sidelocks)



Colorized! – Feldwebel Heinrich Gilgenbach, KIA 10th of March 1942

Heinrich Gilgenbach, my Grandmothers eldest brother (born in November 1913), was a professional soldier who had joined the army as a volunteer in 1936, after having learned the traditional family trade of a mason.  I am still working on details pertaining to his death in March 1942, so I will only publish some basic information here.

Heinrich Gilgenbach - another fantastic recolored photograph done by Mr. Nick Stone

Heinrich Gilgenbach – another fantastic recolored photograph done by Mr. Nick Stone

When war broke out in 1939, Heinrich was serving in the rank of an Unteroffizier in Reserve Pionier-Battalion 34, acting as instructor to future pioneers. He saw a very short-term of active service in 1940, having been transferred to a bridgelayer company of Pionier-Battalion 179, he took part in building provisional bridges near Moncel and Chatel (17th and 21st of June). When the unit became part of the occupational contingent in France Heinrich was transferred back to germany, where he once again returned to his old job of training pioneer recruits.
Heinrich was not well liked. Neither within the village where he was born in (he was said to be a womanizer), nor in the army unit he served in. He was a through professional, he was strict, tough and unforgiving to the recruits. From what my grandmother and some of the old people of his home village told me he seemed to have a big problem with the fact that he had only seen so little actual fighting. He wanted to be at the front, a wish that was constantly getting denied by his superiors.
In January 1942, Heinrichs dream became true when he received the order to join Pionier-Battalion 291, serving as part of the elite 291. Infanterie-Division (also known as “Elch-Division“, Elch=Moose) which was operating with Army Group North in the vicinity of Leningrad in the Battle of the Volkhov Pocket.  There he was to take command of a platoon, so shortly after arriving at the front he was promoted to the rank of Feldwebel.

On the 10th of March 1942, Heinrichs platoon, operating as common line infantry, was ordered to clear a part of the dense birch forests around Krasnaya-Gorka from one of many small pockets of soviet stragglers which were keeping up resistance, ambushing german patrols and supply trucks and raiding german dressing stations,  after their parent units had been destroyed.

It was during this operation that Heinrich was hit by the fatal bullet. According to the letter sent to his wife he stayed alive long enough to tell his comrades how much he loved to be a soldier and to mutter his farewell wishes to his wife and daughter (the usual text found inside these death messages). He was buried on the Divisional graveyard at Glubotschka.

After WW2 the graveyard was lost. In 2011 it was relocated and a team of German and Russian soldiers working for the German War Graves commission exhumed the bodies. Sadly the cemetery had already been plundered by Russian grave robbers. Only 7 ID tags were found. Heinrichs remains could not be identified.

Thanks again to Nick Stone (@typejunky) for the great work.

Below some photographs taken by Georg Gundlach (291. Divisions Chronicler, died in 2010) during the Volkhov Battles in 1942.

291Arse2VolchovPocket1942-041 291Arse2VolchovPocket1942-042 291ArseVolchovPocket1942-039 291CapturedSiberiansoldiersVolchovPocket1942-146 291deadVolchovPocket1942-159 291DressingIII506VolchovPocket1942-139 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-113 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-128 291ErikaVolchovPocket1942-152 291VolchovPocket1942-013 291VolchovPocket1942-020 291VolchovPocket1942-021 291VolchovPocket1942-022 291VolchovPocket1942-024 291VolchovPocket1942-049 291VolchovPocket1942-050 291VolchovPocket1942-051 291VolchovPocket1942-054 291VolchovPocket1942-055 291VolchovPocket1942-056 291VolchovPocket1942-077 291VolchovPocket1942-078 291VolchovPocket1942-079 291VolchovPocket1942-102 291VolchovPocket1942-105 291VolchovPocket1942-107 291VolchovPocket1942-109 291VolchovPocket1942-122 291VolchovPocket1942-142 291VolchovPocket1942-148 291VolchovPocket1942-269 291VolchovPocket1942-271 291VolchovPocket1942-286 291Volchow1942VolchovPocket1942-0129 291WeyelVolchovPocket1942-086

Iron Cross 2nd Class – Award citations 1941-1943, SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 4 „Der Führer“

ekblgWhen I visit boot fairs or have a look through Ebay I am always struck by the sheer number of Iron Crosses sold there. The Iron Cross 2nd Class was one of the most common bravery awards of both WW1 and WW2, with more than 8 Million awarded during both World Wars. They sell cheap, a good WW1 cross for around 40 Euros, its WW2 successor fetching a bit more. I know collectors who have piles of them carelessly stacked into boxes.  What did it take to get this basic level of the Iron Cross? Even with the original award document being present the history behind the award stays a mystery. Citations are hard to find, but by accident I stumbled over a series of original citations filed inside the War Diaries of SS Panzergrenadier-Regiment 4 “Der Führer”.

I know that Iron Crosses were not awarded for just “being there”, but even I was surprised to read what it took to get one of these basic awards. 

I have translated some of the citations which you will find below. 

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)


“SS-Rottenführer Kübacher, who already participated in the Campaign in the West has demonstrated his bravery on the 11th of November 1941 during an attack on fortified enemy positions in the forests north of Staraya. Being wounded himself he forced his way into an enemy position and killed its two men crew.


SS-Sturmmann Schäfer has distinguished himself on the 11th of November 1941, during an attack on enemy fortified positions in the forests north of Staraya, when he rescued and returned a severely wounded comrade ignoring heavy enemy machine-gun and sniper fire while doing so. Thus a timely treatment of the wounded soldier was possible.”


“The SS-Panzergrenadier Gerhard Conrads has distinguished himself during house to house fighting in Bereka by carrying ammunition forward during a most critical situation. He has also shown bravery and recklessness in close combat.


“On the 4th of February 1943, SS-Hauptscharführer Kohs led his reinforced platoon in a reconnaissance patrol towards the villages of Sacharowka-Iwanovka. With his spirit and cautiousness he has not only obtained vital reconnaissance results but also inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.  On the evening of the following day, during another recon patrol, some vehicles of his platoon bogged down. In spite of Russian attacks coming from three sides and lasting for hours Kohls not only managed to repel the attackers, but also managed to extract all of the Platoons vehicles.  When on the way back the main road was blocked by strong Russian forces, Kohs forced a breakthrough, killing an enemy AT gun crew by doing so.  With his spirited behaviour Kohs has not only saved valuable vehicles, he has also inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The company asks to decorate SS-Hauptscharführer Kohs with the Iron Cross 2nd Class.”


More citations when I find the time. 

Colorized! – Unteroffizier Alois Gilgenbach, KIA March 1945

A couple of weeks ago I met Nick Stone  on Twitter (@typejunky). He is a “Designerer & Photomatographer” from Norwich in the UK who was so kind as to offer me to digitally restore and colorize some WW2 family photographs. I have decided to send him three portrait photographs showing my granduncles during WW2. All three of them were killed on the Eastern Front. One of them was Alois Gilgenbach.

Brought by to life - Colorized portrait showing Alois in 1940.

Brought by to life – Colorized portrait showing Alois in 1940.

Alois was born on the 21st of March 1915, in a tiny village within the deep forests of the Volcanic Eifel. He had joined the Army in 1938 and was a Reservist when the war broke out in 1939. Still he was only called to take up arms in 1940, when he joined the ranks of Infanterie-Regiment 158 with which he took part in the Battle of France in 1940 (in which the Regiment fought as part of 82. Infanterie-Division). Returning to Germany in December 1940, the Division redeployed into the Netherlands the following month. In May 1941, the division was separated – elements of the 82nd were to remain as an occupational force in the Netherlands, while the rest were to invade the Soviet Union.

Alois stayed in the Netherlands and seemed to have lived a quiet life up until June 1942 when his Regiment (IR 158), and the occupational elements of the 82. Infanterie-Division were also shifted to the Eastern Front. During the ferocious battles near Kasternoye (Cauldron of Kasternoye)/Voronezh in late December 1942-January 1943 Alois was wounded and got transported to France.

Once his wound was mending, he was transferred to Reserve-Grenadier-Bataillon 88 which was part of 189. Reserve-Division.
In May 1943 North Africa had been taken by the Allies. As a direct reaction Germany raised to new Infantry-Divisions (355. and 356. Infanterie-Division) which were supposed to guard the coasts of southern France and the Mediterranean. The nucleus of the new Divisions was formed from personnel of 189. Reserve-Division and so Alois was transferred to the new Grenadier-Regiment 871 (356 ID) which was based in Toulon.

In November 1943 Alois was transferred back to his old Regiment at the Eastern Front, which by now had been redesignated Grenadier-Regiment 158 fighting as part of Army Group South in the area of Kiev (Plessezkoje-Kopatschi-Trostinka).

After ferocious defensive battles which lasted up to Summer 1944 Alois Regiment and most of 82. Infanterie-Division was wiped out during the Battle of the Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket, also known as Hube’s Pocket. 

Alois was one of the lucky survivors. His Regiment, now down to the strength of a weak Battalion, was redesignated Regimentsgruppe 158 which now fought as part of Divisionsgruppe 82 (the remains of 82. Infanterie-Division, which now had shrunken to the size of a Regiment). Now a part of 254. Infanterie-Division (1. Panzer-Armee).

With this Division Alois fought in the defensive and retreating battles that took part in the Carpatians, Galicia and finally Silesia. In July 1944 Divisiongruppe 82 had been renamed Grenadier-Regiment 474.

On the 19th March 1945, 254. Division was encircled by Soviet forces near Deutsch-Rasselwitz. Using their last strength and leaving their remaining heavy equipment behind the soldiers of the Division managed to force a breakout and to reach the german lines near the small village of Hotzenplotz (Osoblaha). Setting up defensive lines around the village, the Division fought off one Soviet attack after the other. It was then, in close vicinity of the village, that Alois was killed. At the time of death he held the rank of Unteroffizier and had been awarded with the Westwall Medal, Iron Cross 2nd Class, Infantry Assault Badge in silver  and the Close Combat Clasp in bronze

His mortal remains have never been found. His body still rests in the soil of Silesia. 

Alois 001twitt

Nick Stone is a graphic designer and photographer, with an obsession with the past in general and both world wars specifically, in particular the impact on landscapes and the effect on society and memory. He has recently completed a social history installation that collected 10,000 photos from the public in Norwich and assembled them into a mosaic.

Currently he is running several projects including the Blitz Ghosts which records Norwich during WW2, Ghosts of WW1, which records elements of the Western Front and some D-day ghosts all using rephotography techniques. He was one of the photographers at the forefront of the explosion in “ghosting” over the last few years and is also recording the Western Front as it is today, the history of the landscape and the effects of man and nature on it and how the past is readily available to anyone who takes the time to explore it.
You can follow Nick on Twitter (@typejunky) and have look at his fantastic Flickr Photostream: