Battle of Poznan – Reminiscences Part 1 – Feldwebel W. Schenk

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

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

feldwebel

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

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

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

posenmap

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

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

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

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

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

Tattenberger

Tattenberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tannenbergstrasse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stg44

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

posen2map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilhelm in 1941

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

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

Wilhelm in 1928

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poszukiwany:

Polizei-Meister Wilhelm Heinrich Höfmann

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

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

Generals of the North – Generaloberst Georg Lindemann

In “Generals of the North“, I will introduce the Generals of Army Group North (Heeresgruppe Nord). Not a lot has been written about them and outside germany most people will not even have heard of them. Everybody has heard of Rommel, Guderian and Manstein, but names like Küchler, Lindemann, von Bock, Frießner, Schörner and von Leeb have largely been forgotten.

I will begin this series with a short biography of Georg Lindemann (1884-1963)

Georg Lindemann – The Knights cross was added to the older photograph in 1940

Georg Lindemann was born on the 8th of March 1884 in Osterburg. On the 26th of February 1903, after finishing grammar school he joined the “Magdeburgische Dragoner-Regiment Nr. 6” (Dragoons) as an ensign. After being promoted to the rank of Leutnant he joined “Jäger Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 13” in Saarlouis on the 1st of October 1913. His stay there was a short one as on the 1st of April 1914 he was transfered again, this time joining the the “Grosser Generalstab” (generals staff) in Berlin. This was unusual as Lindemann never visited the war academy. During his staff service he made the acquaintance of his future superior Georg von Küchler. In the years prior to the Great War he had married Annemarie von der Osten the mother of his three children (Ernst, Rosemarie and Erika). The outbreak of the war in 1914 brought an end to his staff training. When his regiment mobilized he returned to it and got the promotion to the rank of Rittmeister shortly afterwards (November 1914). During World War One he served in the generals staffs of “Korps Posen” (6th of December), “Garde-Reserve-Korps” (February 1915), “Armeeoberkommando 12” on the Eastern Front (June 1915), “Armeeoberkommando 11” on the Balkans (October 1915), “VII. Reserve-Korps” (March 1916) and “Armeeoberkommando 1” on the western front (Juli 1916).

Postcard showing the “Grosser Generalstab” in 1914

On the 12th of January he was made chief of staff of “220. Infanterie-Division” a position he continued to hold for more than a year before being posted to “Heeresgruppe Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern” as a liaison officer (Offizier von der Armee).
During World War One he was awarded with the Iron Cross 2nd Class (September 1914), the Iron Cross 1st Class (July 1915) and the Knights Cross of the House of Hohenzollern with Swords (May 1917).

The year 1919 brought drastic changes for Lindemann. He wrote:

“The fall of irrevocable things like national pride and honor, duty and law, tradition and decency destroyed our conception of the world.”

Believing that “Saving the Reich, any kind of Reich, from the fall” should be his first and foremost goal, he joined the Freikorps and took part in suppressing communist risings in Munich, Halle, the area of the Ruhr and Hamburg.

Freikorps soldiers in Munich, 1919

The “Sülze-Unruhen” in Hamburg 1919. Reason for the risings was rotten meat used and sold by Hamburg butchers.

Recruiting poster of the Freikorps Lettow-Vorbeck

On the 10th of March 1919 he joined “Grenadier-Regiment zu Pferde Nr. 3”. Only 13 days later he was transfered to the staff of “Garde-Kavallerie-Schützen-Division” which was part of the “Freiwilligen Division von Lettow-Vorbeck”. With this unit he took part in the suppression of the Munich Räterepublik (council republic) and the so-called “Sülze Unruhen” (“Aspic” risings) in Hamburg (1st of July 1919). Soon afterwards Lindemann left the Freikorps. In August 1919 he got transferred to the Garrison of Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek as a staff officer before being posted to the Infantry-School Munich as an instructor in November 1919.

When Lindemann was taken over into the Reichswehr in 1921 he stayed in his old position as infantry instructor. On the 15th of September 1922 he took command of the 2nd squadron of “Reiter-Regiment 7” in Breslau. Three years later, in 1925 he was transferred to the staff of 2. Kavallerie-Division and was promoted to the rank of Major, Lindemanns first promotion after 12 years of continuous service!

Reichswehr Cavalry, 1923

After being promoted to the rank of Oberstleutnant on 1st of February 1931 he took command of Reiter-Regiment 13. In 1933 he was promoted again and in the rank of “Oberst” was posted to command the war academy in Hannover. On the 20th of April 1936 Lindemann was promoted to Generalmajor and got command of the new 36. Infanterie-Division in Kaiserslautern. On 1st of April 1938 he was promoted to the rank of Generalleutnant.

Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau – Military Science Magazine

In these years Lindemann engaged in literary pursuits and in 1936 his first article was published in the “Militärwissenschaftliche Runschau” (Journal of military science). It was titled: “The state-conserving power of german military tradition“. In it he argued that only steadfastness and ethos of its officers could save a country from certain disintegration in times of crisis, drawing examples for his thesis from the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and the prussian defeat of 1806/1807. He wrote that the german officer class had tried to do the same in the years from 1918 to 1923, but that their sacrifices had been in vain and went without appreciation.
He quoted from Hitlers “Mein Kampf” and looking back at the “November Revolution” he wrote about the “menacing ghost of Bolshevism and its immeasurable consequences for our culture“.

Heinz Guderian

In another article he advocated the concept of mobile warfare. He argued that on the modern field of battle, motorized units would be met by the motorized units of the enemy and because of that would bring no innovation to operative warfare. With the advancement of armour-piercing weapons, tanks would not be able to operate independently. He pleaded in favour of using tanks in the support of the infantry and to use them on a tactical level only as he could not envisage them working in large formations on an operative basis.  This attitude was met with emphatic refusal by Generalmajor Heinz Guderian, commander of 2. Panzerdivision and “Father of the german tank force” and the same year Guderian wrote an answer to Lindemanns article (“Der Panzerangriff in Bewegung und Feuer”), which was published in the “Zeitschrift des Reichsverbandes Deutscher Offiziere” in 1937.

Insignia of 36. Infanterie-Division

With the outbreak of World War Two 36. Infanterie-Division was mobilized, put under command of 1. Armee under Generaloberst Erwin von Witzleben and moved to the western border (near Mörsbach). It was the period of the “Sitzkrieg” (play on the word “Blitzkrieg“) known in England as the “Phoney War“.
When the Campaign in the West started in the 10th of May 1940, Lindemanns Division was subordinated to VII. Armeekorps (General Eugen von Schobert), which in turn was subordinated to Armeeoberkommando 16 (Generaloberst Ernst Busch). Schobert and Busch had the same seniority and were both slightly younger than Lindemann. The historian Johannes Hürter wrote that “Georg Lindemann was still only commanding a division and still junior to his younger comrades Busch and Reichenau“.

Lindemann after being awarded the Knights Cross

On the 14th of June 1940 Lindemanns Division took part in the break through the Maginot-Line. For his leadership Lindemann was awarded the Knights-Cross on the 5th of August 1940. On the 1st of October 1940 Lindemann was made General of the newly formed L. Armeekorps and a month later was promoted to the rank of General der Kavallerie (General of Cavalry). L. Armeekorps was transfered to Bulgaria in Spring 1941 and took part in the Campaign on the Balkans from the 6th to 23rd of April. Lindemanns Korps was kept as Army reserve and did not see any action. Following the campaign Lindemanns command was shifted to Eastern Prussia into the controll of Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North) under Generalfeldmarschall Ritter von Leeb, to take part in the attack on Soviet Russia. Lindemann had not been involved into the immediate preperations for the attack and only learned about it a couple of days before the 22nd of June 1941.
L. Armeekorps was again put under command of 16. Armee, pressing forward on the Army Groups southern flank into the direction Welikije Luki. On the 28th of July 1941 Lindemanns Korps was subordinated to 9. Armee of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) for a short period of time. On the 2nd of August, during heavy fighting south-west of Welikije Luki and after running out of ammunition, 251. Infanterie-Division (of L. Armeekorps) suffered massive losses and had to be taken back behind the river Lowat.
Lindemann blamed Generalleutnant Hans Kratzert, the Divisions commanding officer, who was at once relieved of his command. A later investigation acquitted Kratzert and he was reinstated as artillery commander of 18. Armee. The chief of staff of 251. Infanterie-Division and later director of the Military History Research Institute of the Federal Republic of Germany Major Hans Meier-Welcker wrote mentioning Lindemanns style of command. “We are subordinated to a command structure of unfavourable composition. This is spoiling a lot

Georg von Küchler

Under command of Panzergruppen-Kommando 4 Lindemanns Armeekorps took part in the push on Leningrad in September 1941. When Panzergruppe 4 was pulled out to take part in the planned offensive against Moscow in the second half of September, Lindemanns Korps was left behind to uphold the blockade of Leningrad in the area south of Pushkino.
It was subordinated to 18. Armee under Generaloberst Georg von Küchler who knew Lindemann since 1914.
In the Winter 1941/42, during the defensive battles at the Volkhov and south of the Ilmen Lake (Pocket of Demjansk) Heeresgruppe Nord experienced a crisis of leadership. On the 17th of January 1942 Generalfeldmarschall Ritter von Leeb applied for a discharge. On his behalf Generaloberst Küchler took command of the Army Group. As commander for 18. Armee Küchler chose Lindemann.

General Lindemann visiting the frontline, February 1942

Panzer IV of an unknown unit of Army Group North, 1943

Under Lindemanns command 18. Armee managed to encircle the 2nd Soviet Assault Army on the Volkhov and to destroy it by the end of June 1942. For this feat Lindemann was promoted to Generaloberst on the 5th of July 1942. In the following weeks parts of 11. Armee under Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein were moved into the area controlled by Lindemanns troops. When the Soviets started their first offensive to liberate the city of Leningrad at the end of August 1942, Hitler ordered Manstein to organise and command the defences in the area of 18. Armee.

Lindemann studying an aerial photo during the 3rd Battle of Lake Ladoga, 1943

Manstein was embarrassed by the affront to Lindemann who he called “an old acquaintance from the Great War”. In Autumn 1942 AOK11 was pulled out again reinstating Lindemanns command in the blockade of Leningrad.
In January 1943 Lindemann could not hold against the next soviet offensive to relieve Leningrad. The soviet Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts managed to break the ring around the city on the 18th of January 1943. When they tried to enlarge the small corridor they had gained in the fighting they were repelled by Lindemanns troops in Summer 1943 (Third Battle of Lake Ladoga). For this success he was awarded the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross on the 21st of August 1943.

Lindemann wearing his Knights Cross with Oakleaves

In the following months Generalfeldmarschall von Küchler asked for permission to fall back into new defensive positions further west. When Hitler asked for Lindemanns opinion he was certain that he would be able to repel yet another soviet offensive of the Red Army. Maybe he was motivated by the award he just had received, but as a result of Lindemanns statement the Army Group was commanded to hold its old positions.

In January 1944 18. Armee had no means to counter the next soviet offensive (Operation Leningrad-Novgorod). After his Army had been flanked it received the permission to fall back to the river Luga. When Generaloberst Walter Model took command of Heeresgruppe Nord on the 28th of January 1944 he managed to talk Hitler into another fighting retreat. This time the Army Group fell back into the so-called “Panther Stellung” (Panther Defences).
On the 1st of March 1944 the soldiers of Heeresgruppe Nord “made front” there. The destruction of the Heeresgruppe had only just been avoided.

Lindemann awarding the Knights Cross to Major Rebane, commander of a Estonian volunteer batallion, Summer 1944

When Model was put in command of Heeresgruppe Nordukraine, Lindemann took command of Heeresgruppe Nord.
The situation was alarming. Lindemanns command was down to 30 Infantry-Divisions consisting of only 110.248 men, 30 tanks and 206 assault-guns. The superiority of the enemy was overwhelming (8:1). When the expected soviet summer offensive began the connection of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) was broken. A corridor 40 kilometers wide was now separating both formations. Through it soviet units now pushed towards the Baltic Sea.

Lindemann talking to a soldier at the frontline, Summer 1944

Only the so-called “Fester Platz” (Fortress) of Polozk was still held. Lindemann pleaded to be allowed to leave the town to the enemy and to fall back on the River Düna. By giving the Baltic to the enemy the frontline would have been shortened freeing reserves for a counter offensive.
Hitler turned him down. But not only that, he ordered Lindemann to hold Polozk at all costs and to organise an offensive. Lindemann now asked to be discharged, which was rejected aswell. For his “offensive” Lindeman had two Divisions with only eight (!) full batallions and 44 assault-guns. With this force he was supposed to break through two full strength soviet armies up to a depth of 60 kilometers.
When the offensive started on

Lindemann during a staff meeting with estonian SS volunteers, May 1944

the 2nd of July it met with no success and at the same time the soviet 4th Army managed to achieve a breakthrough south of Polozk. Lindemann was about to be encircled and now ordered a general retreat on his own authority, which was granted by Hitler soon afterwards. Shortly afterwards Lindemann was relieved of his command. His action had saved the Army Group from certain destruction. On the 4th of July 1944 General Johaness Friessner took command of Heeresgruppe Nord.

Lindemann was now part of the leadership reserves. On the 27th of January 1945 he was put in command of the Wehrmacht forces in Denmark (“Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber Dänemark“), where he was tasked to mobilise resources needed for the “Endkampf” (Final Battle). The largest part of german troops in Denmark had already been transferred to the Eastern Front so that in a case of emergency not even a city like Copenhagen could have been defended with success.

Dr. Best, civilian administrator of Denmark

Because of this Lindemann concentrated on erecting blocking-positions on the Great and Little Belt. When the end of the war loomed on the horizon, Lindemann telegraphed a message to Hitlers successor Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, in which he highlighted the hopelessness of a defence of Denmark.
On the 4th of May 1945 german forces in Denmark capitulated. The civilian administrator of Denmark, Werner Best, had put himself under the protection of the Danish Liberty movement. Lindemann himself though wanted to continue the fight. He reported to Dönitz that he had 230.000 men at his disposal and that he would have Best executed as a traitor.
Dönitz ordered Lindemann to take Best prisoner and to cooperate with the British forces.

Field Marshall Montgomery demanded the retreat of all german troops in Denmark. Only fugitives, the wounded and sick and foreign volunteers were allowed to stay.
All german formations were grouped into the so-called “Armeegruppe Lindemann” and put under command of the “Oberbefehlshaber Nordwest” Generaloberst Ernst Busch. The return of the german troops was organized and coordinated by Lindemann and the british General Richard Dewing.

Liberation of Denmark

After the repatriation of his units Lindemann stayed free until being arrested by US Troops on the 4th of June 1945. He was released from captivity in 1947. During this time he acted as witness during the Nuremberg trials. On the 26th of September he was again arrested and extradited to Denmark to be put on trial there. The trial never came and he was released on the 15th of May 1948. He moved to Freudenstadt where he lived a quiet life up until his death in 1963.
According to his own testimony he refrained from passing on the so-called “Kommisarbefehl” (Commissary Order) to the troops under his command. In Nuremberg he claimed that “An order is an order, but we older commanders took the liberty to choose which order was to be obeyed and which was to be ignored”.
He had a similar attitude to the “Kriegsgerichtsbarkeitserlass” of the 13th of May 1941. This order removed Wehrmacht soldiers from the prosecution of the law when they committed a crime against the civilian population. As commander of 18. Armee he confirmed death penalities against german soldiers. In one case an army clerk had killed a russian girl. In another case a german soldier had killed a russian man because he tried to keep the soldier from dating his sister.
The historian Charles Whiting describes Lindemann as a “fervent Nazi”. Personally I think he his wrong. In Summer 1942 Lindemann had a personal conflict with the “Reichssicherheitshauptamt” of the SS, because he complained against the shootings of prisoners by the 2. SS-Infanterie-Brigade.
In 1948 Lindemann claimed that he quite often told leading members of the NSDAP to keep out of his business. “I don’t mess with the political concerns of the party, so keep out of my military business. Otherwise I will turn hostile.
His statements are strengthened by a report of the former General of the Luftwaffe Herbert Riekhoff who wrote in 1945 that “when during the war you were guest at Lindemanns table, you could have classed every word said as high treason.”

Further reading and sources

  • Richard Brett-Smith: Hitler’s Generals. Osprey Publishing, London 1976, ISBN 0-850-45073-X.
  • Various war diaries (Heeresgruppe Nord, 18. Armee, 1. Infanterie-Division)
  • Karl-Heinz Frieser (Hrsg.): Die Ostfront 1943/44 – Der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, München 2007, ISBN 978-3-421-06235-2, S. 278–339 (= Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Bd. 8).
  • Johannes Hürter: Hitlers Heerführer – Die deutschen Oberbefehlshaber im Krieg gegen die Sowjetunion 1941/42. 2. Auflage. R. Oldenbourg Verlag, München 2006, ISBN 978-3-486-58341-0 (=Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte. Bd. 66).
  • Georg Lindemann: Die staatserhaltende Kraft des deutschen Soldatentums. In: Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau. Nr. 1, 1936, S. 291–308.
  • Georg Lindemann: Feuer und Bewegung im Landkrieg der Gegenwart. In: Militärwissenschaftliche Rundschau. Nr. 2, 1937, S. 362–377.
  • Samuel W. Mitcham, Gene Mueller: Hitler’s Commanders. Scarborough House, London 1992, ISBN 0-812-84014-3.
  • John Zimmermann: Die deutsche militärische Kriegführung im Westen 1944/45. In: Rolf-Dieter Müller (Hrsg.): Der Zusammenbruch des Deutschen Reiches 1945 und die Folgen des Zweiten Weltkrieges. München 2008, ISBN 3-421-06237-4, S. 277-489 (= Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Bd. 10/1).