THE FRONT IS WHERE THE TANKS ARE (PART TWO) – KNIGHT’S CROSS HOLDER LUDWIG BAUER REMEMBERS THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE

THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE – AN INTERVIEW WITH GERMAN PANZERTRUPPE VETERAN LUDWIG BAUER

PART TWO

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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..

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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…

END OF PART TWO

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THE FRONT IS WHERE THE TANKS ARE – KNIGHT’S CROSS HOLDER LUDWIG BAUER REMEMBERS THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE

PANZER COMMANDER IN THE ARDENNES – AN INTERVIEW WITH GERMAN PANZERTRUPPE VETERAN LUDWIG BAUER

PART ONE

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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 Germany..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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

END OF PART ONE

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GOTTMITUNS ON A BATTLEFIELD TOUR WITH LEGER HOLIDAYS

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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.

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PLANNING & ORGANISATION 
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.

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BILLETING 
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.

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TRAVELLING IN FLANDERS
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

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THE GUIDE
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.

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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

The German view of “Market Garden” – Daily reports of “Army Group B”

Today we see the 69th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.  

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On 17 September 1944 thousands of paratroopers descended from the sky by parachute or glider up to 150 km behind enemy lines. Their goal: to secure to bridges across the rivers in Holland so that the Allied army could advance rapidly northwards and turn right into the lowlands of Germany, hereby skirting around the Siegfried line, the German defence line. If all carried out as planned it should have ended the war by Christmas 1944.

Unfortunately this daring plan, named Operation Market Garden, didn’t have the expected outcome. The bridge at Arnhem proved to be ‘a bridge too far’. After 10 days of bitter fighting the operation ended with the evacuation of the remainder of the 1st British Airborne Division from the Arnhem area.

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From today onwards, I will be posting translations of the official German situational reports sent from OB West (High Command West) to OKH (High Command of the Army), to show the German view of Market Garden “as it happened”.  Be sure to check back tomorrow. 

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17th of September 1944:

Army Group B – Summary

The 17th of September was characterized by major allied airborne landings in the area between Eindhoven and Arnhem. The enemy, in strength of two to three divisions, is trying to secure and hold all crucial crossing points on rivers and canals to keep them open for the 2nd English Army moving towards the north. Everywhere training and supply units of all branches of the Wehrmacht are assembling to counter the enemy threat. So far, according to the news we have, the enemy was only partially successful, but it’s highly probable that he will continue to land more troops during the night. The lack of strong and quick reaction forces makes this fight, which seems to be of vital importance for the enemy, difficult.
The English had initial successes against 1st Fallschirm-Army. Taking the landings north of Eindhoven into account, the situation there is exceedingly difficult.
On the right flank of 7th Army LXXI. Korps was pushed back towards the north. Own counterattacks east of Aachen seem to be having an effect.
The general situation of Army Group B is very critical. Reinforcements, especially of heavy self-propelled anti-tank units are urgently requested. Lack of fuel is preventing an effective defense as is the total lack of counter measures from the air and from the ground.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Rearguards facing strong enemy tank forces falling back to the line of the canal south of Saint-Jean-in-Eremo and Gravenjansdijk. Attack on own rear guards near Rieme and Drieschouwen. Own counterattack to destroy an encircled enemy force (one battalion) near Kijkuit. One tank destroyed.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Strong enemy forces spotted 4 kilometers south-east of Eeckeren.
331st Infantry-Division: 4 enemy gliders landed in the area Schouwen and Mordijk. Crews taken prisoner or destroyed. One company of enemy paratroopers destroyed north of Steenbergen by Combat Command Bergen Op Zoom. 12 prisoners.

Fs.A.O.K.1: At 1400h enemy airborne troops (101st US Airborne Division) landed north of Eindhoven with the task of taking the crossing points at Son, Best and St. Odenrode.
Crossing point at Son held by one battalion of regiment “Hermann Göring”.
Fragments also landed in the area of Tilburg – Hertogenbosch. Ad-hoc and police units are sent against this enemy.

LXXXVIII.A.K.: Division Walter: On the late evening superior enemy forces managed to break through the encirclement of the bridgehead at Neerpelt, over running our anti-tank defences and pushing forward to Valkenswaard.
176. Infanterie-Division:
After heavy artillery preparation and rolling aerial attacks strong enemy infantry and tank units attacked from the direction north of Maastricht and achieved a breakthrough. Moved into own blocking positions to both sides and south of Leuth and east of the Maas near Beek in the direction of Geleen-Heerlen. 25 enemy tanks destroyed in chaotic fighting.
Lively enemy fighter-bomber activity with overlapping carpet bombing.

W.B.Ndl. & II. SS Pz Korps.
More airborne landings in the area of Nijmwegen and west of Arnhem. At Nijmwegen the enemy landed in the river bend hard north-east of the town and at Kranenburg, Groesbeek and Grave. Defenders are in combat with this enemy. In the area of Arnhem the enemy landings focused on the areas 1o kilometers west and north-west of the town. Battlegroup Tettau (5 Batallions) has been dispatched from Leersun to counter this enemy who is moving towards Arnhem. Elements of II. SS-Panzer-Korps are attacking from the north and north-east. Enemy forces inside Arnhem thrown back towards the west.
Elements of 9th SS Panzer Division reached and secured the bridge at Arnhem. Reconnaissance elements of 10th SS Panzer withdrawn towards Arnhem after having contact with the enemy about 6 kilometers SSE of Nijmegen.

Enemy aerial activity:
Strong allied fighter-bomber activity in Holland and north-western Germany in preparation for the allied airborne operations in southern Holland. During midmorning severe attacks by 4 engined bombers and fighter-bombers against our positions and command posts. Luftwaffe used all available forces to counter allied airborne landings in the area Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. - High resolution

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. – High resolution

Arnheim, Soldaten von Heer und Luftwaffe und SS-Führer

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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.

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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,
Walther

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

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Firm in Loyalty – A hero from Bavaria

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IN TREUE FEST (Firm in Loyalty) – Motto of the Bavarian Army

Now and then I get hold of a “death card” which is worth further investigation and I am always surprised what stories these little pieces of paper can tell.  The Gentlemen shown above is Herr Martin Huber, Offiziersstellvertreter (Warrant officer) in the Bavarian Infantry-Regiment No. 1 and a holder of the rare and coveted Bavarian medal of bravery.  Huber was born in August 1887 and had already served in the army as one year volunteer from 1907 to 1908. When war broke out he joined the ranks of the elite 1st Bavarian Infantry Regiment “König” (King), in which he served up to his death in March 1918.

The special thing about Huber was that he was a holder of Bavarias highest award for bravery in combat, the Bayerische Tapferkeitsmedaille (Bavarian medal of bravery) in silver. Even though he had already been decorated the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd and 1st class and the Bavarian Cross of Military Merit 2nd class, the medal of bravery was the highest award an enlisted men could get. It was available in two grades, gold and silver, which were held in equal esteem. Ranking amongst the highest German orders of bravery the recipient was eligible for a monthly pension and up the days of the Bundeswehr (from 1957) the army sent an honor guard to stand vigil over grave of a deceased holder of the award. If a recipient of the order walked past barracks or similar military buildings the guard was turned out and stood to attention. Passing military personnel, regardless of rank, had to salute him.

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Another interesting fact about this medal is that all holders of the award and the deeds they performed to get it were published in a book called “„Bayerns Goldenes Ehrenbuch” (Bavarias golden book of honor) which was published in 1928. I took the liberty to look up the citation of Hubers award and this reads:

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“on the 11th of October 1915, near Givenchy, Sergeant Huber of the 1st coy of Infantry-Regiment No. 1, managed to keep command his half-platoon. Even though he was buried alive three times he always managed to extract himself. When he saw our soldiers inside an advanced sap retreating he led his men in a counter charge and secured it. An outstanding deed and proof of Sergeant Hubers boldness and spirit”

Huber was killed in action (by shellfire) on the 21st of March 1918, near Cambrai, at the first day of the German spring offensive (Operation Michael / Kaiserschlacht). His body was discovered and buried on the 4th of April 1918.

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Hubers regimental files in the Bavarian state archive

Königlich Bayerisches 1. Infanterie-Regiment “König” / 1. Infanterie-Division

1st World War

The regiment spent the whole of the war fighting as part of the 1st Bavarian Infantry Division in France. The 1st Royal Bavarian Division was a unit of the Royal Bavarian Army that served alongside the Prussian Army as part of the Imperial German Army. The division was formed on November 27, 1815 as the Infantry Division of the Munich General Command (Infanterie-Division des Generalkommandos München.). It was called the 1st Army Division between 1822 and 1848, again between 1851 and 1859, and again from 1869 to 1872. It was called the 1st Infantry Division from 1848 to 1851 (as well as during wartime) and was named the Munich General Command from 1859 to 1869. From April 1, 1872 until mobilization for World War I, it was the 1st Division. Within Bavaria, it was not generally referred to as a “Royal Bavarian” division, but outside Bavaria, this designation was used for it, and other Bavarian units, to distinguish them from similarly numbered Prussian units. The division was headquartered in Munich from 1815 to 1919. The division was part of the 1st Royal Bavarian Army Corps.

The division fought against Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the division fought alongside the Prussians. It saw action in battles of Wörth, Beaumont, and Sedan, the 1st and 2nd battles of Orleans, the battle of Loigny-Poupry, and the siege of Paris.

During World War I, the division served on the Western Front. It fought in the Battle of the Frontiers against French forces in the early stages, and then participated in the Race to the Sea. Thereafter, it remained on the northern part of the front facing the British Army through 1915 and early 1916. The Infantry Life Regiment was transferred from the division in 1915 to become part of a provisional German mountain division, the Alpenkorps, sent to the Italian Front. In 1916, the division went into the Battle of Verdun. After Verdun, it went to theSomme in that battle’s later stages. 1917 was spent mainly occupying the trench lines. In 1918, the division participated in the Spring Offensive. The division was generally rated one of the better German divisions by Allied intelligence.

JOSEF “SEPP” DIETRICH – SERVICE IN WORLD WAR ONE

This blog  entry has been inspired by a tweet by Roger Moorhouse (@Roger_Moorhouse). Today is the birthday of the infamous Josef Dietrich.

“Dietrich was no army commander and should never have been made one” – Hermann Göring to Leon Goldensohn, May 24, 1946

“Ordinarily he would make a fair sergeant-major, a better sergeant and a first-class corporal” – Paul Hausser

A lot has been written on the infamous SS-General, so I will not bother to write something about him here. For everyone interested in the person of Dietrich I recommend reading “HITLER’S GLADIATOR” by Charles Messenger and “SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Joseph (Sepp) Dietrich.” by William T. Allbritton und Samuel W. Mitcham Jr in Hitlers militärische Elite. Vom Kriegsbeginn bis zum Weltkriegsende. Band 2, Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 1998.

Sepp in WW2 - displaying a good view on his WW1 tank assault badge

Sepp in WW2 – displaying a good view of his WW1 tank assault badge

WW1 Panzer Assault Badge. WW1 Panzer Assault Badge.

Down below you will find high-resolution images showing Sepp Dietrichs WW1 military files as stored by the state archive in Munich. The files are quite interesting as they show that Dietrich never served in the 1st Regiment of Uhlans (which we would often claim after WW1) and they hold nothing on  the Iron Cross 1st Class which he wore after WW1. That does not mean he did not get the award, he might have received it as late as the 1920s, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. Messenger claims that Dietrich was wounded at the Somme (by shrapnel), but there are no details in the files concerning that wound. He spent three months in Hospital in 1915 and another two in 1915. These spells of hospitalization probably relate to the shrapnel wounds Dietrich received at the front (right upper leg and face). There is no mention to the wound to the face, of which Dietrich claimed that it was inflicted by the lance of a british Lancer, so I suppose he made this story up when he told people about the wound in his face.  The only other hospitalization I can find is for “inflammation of the middle ear” in 1914. In his book “Hitlers Gladiator” Messenger also states that he could find no proof that Dietrich had fought on the Italian front and to have been awarded the Austrian Medal of Bravery. His service records clearly note that Dietrich served in Italy from the end of November 1917 to February 1918, although they indeed make no mention of the Austrian medal of bravery.

Captured

1911 October-November: conscripted into the Bavarian 4th Field Artillery Regiment. Invalided out after only 1 month of service (after a fall from a horse)

1911-14: worked as bakers errand boy

1914: enlisted in Bavarian 7th Field Artillery Regiment.Transfered to 6th Bavarian Reserve Artillery Regiment,Bavarian 6th Reserve Division (same Division as Hitler) in October. Fought at 1st Ypres.

1915:attended Bavarian artillery School at Sonthofen,NCO training.Returned to Bavarian 7th Artillery Regiment,Bavarian 1st Division fighting at the Somme.

November 1916: transferred to Infantrie-Geschütz-Batterie 10 ,2.Sturmbataillion.Part of 3rd Army.Served in Champagne 1917. Awarded EKII November 1917 while in Italy.

February 1918: joined 13. Bayerische Sturmpanzer-Kampfwagen-Abteilung as a gunner (using captured British Mk IV tanks). Training near Berlin from April 1918 (the gunners arrived in Berlin in April, the rest of the crews in January).

May 1918: his tank detachment deployed to 7th Army,Chemin des Dames sector.

June 1918: saw action in tank attack near Rheims. July 1918:offensive near Soissons: Oct 1918:in tank battle near Cambrai.

In November 1918 he seems to be back with the 7th Bavarian Artillery regiment again.

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The World War One Quiz – Part 1 – For charity

The years I spent in the United Kingdom were among the best in my life. People made me feel like being at home and everyone was kind, friendly and supportive. I made a lot of good friends and learned a lot of things which assisted me in my later life. Because of that I still feel very much attached to the UK and its people. When I read about the terrible things that happened in Woolwich yesterday I was shocked. I made a small donation to “Help for Heroes” (http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/) and thought about what else I could do.

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Starting now and ending at the end of the year I will run a series of small military quizzes on this site. To participate you need to answer all questions correctly and you have to make a donation to Help for Heroes (http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/) or Combat Stress (http://www.combatstress.org.uk/). If you have the answers send them to me by email and include a some kind of receipt/proof that you donated something (I do not care how much) to one (or both) charities. I will draw a winner from the pool of donors that gave the correct answers.

This quiz will be closed on  the 9th of June 2013.

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The prize

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reverse side

First item to go, is this wonderful autograph card signed in ink by a famous Kapitänleutnant of the Imperial German Navy. I will not tell you who he is (you can read his signature), because this is one of the things I want you to tell me. Autograph is signed on both sides (see images). It can be yours for a tiny donation and for correctly answering the following questions:

Question 1: Whats the full name of the officer we see here
Question 2: What awards is he wearing? Name at least three of them
Question 3: On which legendary German warship did he serve in 1914.
Question 4: On the 10th of September 1914 the above warship sank the first of many British steamers. What was its name?
Question 5: Who was in command of the German High Seas Fleet from August 1914 to February 1915?

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In case you have made a small donation to one the charities named above AND have the answers to my questions chances are good that this fantastic, original autograph card will soon be yours.

Send your answers to: germanarmyresearch@yahoo.com

Second quiz starting on the 14th of June 2013

True love – Battle of Jena (1806)

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This gravestone can be found on the battlefield of Jena. Below it rest the remains of the Saxon Premier-Lieutenant Freiherr August von Bissing, who was killed during the battle. When he was buried his body had already been plundered, leaving only a pair of monogrammed socks. Bissings wife Marianne never learned what happened to her husband and spent years trying to shed light on his fate. When she travelled the area years after the battle (1858) local farmers showed her the socks they had kept after they had buried Bissing. The monograms, which Marianne had stitched herself, finally revealed the final resting place of her husband. 

Marianne commissioned a memorial for him, but died shortly afterwards and was buried on the battlefield, right beside her husband.

A nice little story which I thought worth sharing..

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