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

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

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

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

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

Kühbacher

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

schaefer

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

conrads

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

Kohs

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

sspanzergrenadier3

More citations when I find the time. 

Colorized! – Unteroffizier Alois Gilgenbach, KIA March 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alois 001twitt

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

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

Bird of Prey – Torpedoboot Seeadler 1939-42 – Kriegsmarine

Just a quick post this Sunday. Below you will find a series of photographs taken by a crewmember of Torpedoboot Seeadler (Sea Eagle) from 1939 to 1942. TB Seeadler was a Boat of the Raubvogel Class.

geilsee

The six Raubvogel (Bird of prey) class torpedo boats were developed from earlier designs shortly after World War I and came into service in 1926 and 1927. They were the first to use electrical welding for hull construction to reduce displacement and they also introduced geared turbines. During the Second World War these ships were referred to as the Möwe class by the Royal Navy.

Despite the innovations, and unlike contemporary German destroyers, the Raubvogels were successful sea-boats, although limited to coastal waters, and most remained in service until 1944, by which time all had been lost.

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER (SE)

Commanders of TB Seeadler:

1. Mai 1927: unknown

November 1938: Kapitänleutnant Hartenstein

Oktober 1939: unknown

Januar 1942: Oberleutnant zur See Holzapfel (i.V.)

März 1942: Kapitänleutnant Strecker

SE1

Seeadler on the left

TB Seeadler

TB Seeadler

SE03

seead1

OPERATIONAL HISTORY

13.11.1939:  Together with the light cruisers Nürnberg and Köln and the torpedo boats Iltis , Leopard and Wolf, the Seeadler escorts the returning destroyers Karl Galster , Herman Künne , Hans Lüdemann and Wilhelm Heidkamp after a mine laying operation against the Themse estuary.

French ship used for target practice

French ship used for target practice

18.11.1939: Together with the light cruisers Nürnberg and Leipzig and the torpedo boats Leopard and Iltis , the Seeadler escorts the returning destroyers Bernd von Arnim , Herman Künne and Wilhelm Heidkamp after a mine laying operation against the Themse estuary.

19.11.1939: Together with the light cruiser Nürnberg and the torpedo boats Iltis, Wolf and Leopard, the Seeadler escorts the returning destroyers Erich Steinbrinck , Hans Lody and Friedrich Eckold after a mine laying operation against the Humber estuary.

21-22.11.1939:
Merchant warfare near Jutland together with Panzerschiff Lützow , the cruisers Köln and Leipzig and the torpedo boats Leopard and Iltis .

pzkeu

SE05

24-25.11.1939:
Merchant warfare near Jutland together with Panzerschiff Lützow , the cruisers Köln and Leipzig and the torpedo boats Leopard, Wolf and Iltis .

14-16.12.1939: Jaguar and Seeadler capture six merchant ships near Jutland.

06.04.1940: Together with the torpedo boat Luchs , the Seeadle r escorts the auxiliary cruiser Orion through the North Sea.

07.04.1940: Operation Weserübung: Seeadler joins the torpedo boats Luchs and Greif in the Kristiansand Attack Group.

17-18.08.1940: Together with the torpedo boats Möwe and Greif , the Seeadler escorts the mine layer Hansestadt Danzig and Kaiser laying the “Paternoster” mine field in the Kattegatt. Over 500 mines are thrown.

min6 min5 min3 min4 min2 min

12-14.09.1940:
Seeadler , Iltis , T1 , T2 and T3 escort the mine layers Brummer , Skagerak and Stralsund to Le Havre.

30.09-01.10.1940: Mine laying operation at Dover together with the torpedo boats Greif , Falke , and Kondor .

08-09.10.1940: Operation of the 5. Torpedo boat flotilla against the Isle of Wright.

11-12.10.1940: Operation of the 5. Torpedo boat flotilla against the Isle of Wright. The French submarine hunters Ch6 and Ch7 and the British armed trawlers Listrac and Warwick Deeping are sunk.

17-18.10.1940: Operation against the Bristol Channel together with the destroyers Friedrich Ihn , Erick Steinbrinck , Hans Lody , Karl Galster and the torpedo boats Falke , Greif , Jaguar , Kondor and Wolf . Short engangement with British cruisers and destroyers.

live

03-04.12.1940: Mine laying operation of Greif, Falke, Kondor and Seeadler near Dover.

geschsee

21-22.12.1940:
The torpedo boats Falke , Greif and Seeadler cover the mine laying operation for the mine field “SW a WAGNER” in the North Sea.. The mine layers Corba , Roland , Kaiser and Skagerak carry a total of 982 mines, the torpedo boats Iltis and Jaguar 400 explosive buoys.

SE06 SE07

28-29.12.1940: The torpedo boats Falke , Greif , Seeadler , T1 , T7 , T9 , T10 and T12 escort the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during their attempt to break into the North Atlantic. The operation is aborted.

16-19.01.1941: Greif and Seeadler escort the blockade runner Alstertor from Cuxhaven to Brest.

23-24.01.1941: Mine laying operation of the destroyer Richard Beitzen , the torpedo boats Iltis and Seeadler and the mine layers Corba , Kaiser and Roland at the British South East Coast.

mine1 mine2 mine3 mine4

28-30.01.1941: Transfer of the destroyer Richard Beitzen and the torpedo boats Iltis , Kondor and Seeadler to Brest.

01-02.02.1941: The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper is escorted by the destroyer Richrd Beitzen and the torpedo boats Kondor and Seeadler while leaving Brest.

13-14.02.1941: The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper is escorted by the destroyer Richrd Beitzen and the torpedo boats Kondor and Seeadler while returning to Brest.

16.06.1941: The torpedo boats Greif , Falke , Jaguar and Seeadler are sent to Denmark.

07.07.1941: Greif , Falke , Jaguar and Seeadler escort the light cruiser Nürnberg to Horten. On their way back, they escort the light cruisers Emden and Leipzig to Frederikshavn.

14-17.08.1941: Escorted by the torpedo boats Iltis and Seeadler , the Richard Beitzen is sent back to Germany.

12-13.02.1942: Operation “Cerberus”: On board of Z29 , the “Füher der Zerstöer” and the destroyers Richard Beitzen , Paul Jakobi , Hermann Schoemann , Friedrich Ihn, Z25 and the torpedo boats T2 , T4 , T4 , T11 , T12 , T13 , T15 , T16 , T17 Seeadler , Kondor , Jaguar , Falke and iescort the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen through the Channel from Brest ot Germany.

13-17.03.1942: Falke , Iltis , Jaguar , Kondor , Seeadler and several mine hunters escort the voyage of the auxiliary cruiser Michel thourh the Channel to La Pallice. The ships are attacked by the British destroyers Windsor and Walpole , the escort vessel Ferne and several MTB/MGB.

28.03.1942: Operation of the torpedo boats Falke , Iltis , Jaguar , Kondor and Seeadler against British small attack boats. Two of them (MGB 314 and MTB 74 ) are sunk or captured.

08-12.05.1942: The 5th T-flotilla consisting of Falke , Iltis , Kondor and Seeadler sail from Brest to the Hoek van Holland to escort the auxiliary cruiser Stier .

12-13.05.1942: On its way through the channel, the auxiliay cruiser Stier , covered by Falke , Iltis , Kondor and Seeadler , the ships are attacked by British forces. Near Cape Griz Niez, Seeadler sinks the British MTB 200. On the 13., Seeadler is sunk by other British MTB (MTB 219) (Position 50°48’N,001°32’E)

mtb

MTB 219, sunk by Seeadler

85 members of Seeadlers crew were killed.

.crew

Christmas 1940

crew2

The "Smutje" - Boats cook, asleep (obviously someone had fun placing various things in his trousers)

The “Smutje” – Boats cook, asleep (obviously someone had fun placing various things in his trousers)

Fredo – A World War 2 Talisman

Lagefredo
JosefReiserYesterday, Herr Josef Reiser, one of the last Veterans of the Wehrmachts 1st Infantry Division, joined the ranks of the Great Army. A kind man, full of humor whom I contacted and met in 2006, after finding his address in one of 1st IDs veterans magazines (“Ostpreussische Kameraden”).

He joined the Wehrmacht as a volunteer in 1941, being transferred to join the ranks of Infanterie-Regiment 22 (later to become Fusilier-Regiment 22) which fought as part of 1. Infanterie-Division in the Northern Sector of the Eastern Front. After receiving his last wound in 1944, he got transferred to Grenadier-Regiment 1 which was also part of same Division.

JosefReiser2In June,1941, the 1.Infanterie-Divison invaded Russia as part of Heeresgruppe Nord, and was heavily engaged during the drive on Leningrad. While suffering very heavy losses in the first campaigns of 1941, it would remain as part of 1.Armeekorps, a staple of the Leningrad fighting, taking part in the battles of Lake Peipus and Lake Ladoga, until October 1943 when it was seconded to Heeresgruppe Süd as part of XXXXVIII.Panzer-Korps. Here the Division saw heavy action in the battle of Krivoi Rog in the Dnieper campaign, and was later encircled with 1.Panzer-Armee between the Bug and the Dnestr rivers in March 1944. The Division managed to breakout as rear-guard of XLVI.Panzer Corps, suffering heavy casualties.

Rested and refitted, the Division was next sent to the Central sector of Heeresgruppe Mitte. Escaping piecemeal from the overwhelming Soviet Summer 1944 offensive, but still relatively intact, it remained with what was left of Heeresgruppe Mitte, later ending the war in early 1945 fighting in its native East Prussia.

He managed to survive the war and three wounds, one of them inflicted by a Soviet Sniper’s bullet. By 1945 he had been promoted to the rank of Unteroffizier, held both the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and the Infantry-Assault Badge in silver . In May 1945 he was taken prisoner by the Soviets and was released from captivity in 1953.
When I first visited him in his house and while his daughter prepared cake and coffee for us he led me up to the attic where he showed me some of his remaining medals and photographs which he held in a little wooden box. Surprisingly this box also held a small, ragged and quite ugly Teddy Bear.

Fredo

Fredo

When I asked him about it, Josef smiled, and told me that this Bear, whose name was “Fredo”, had been his Talisman and lucky charm during the War. He had played with it as a child and took it with him on campaign in 1941. He told me that most of his comrades had some kind of Talisman with them. Some had old coins, some a cross or a rosary, most had photographs of their wives, sweethearts or children and Josef carried a small Teddy bear. He said that it spent most of the time wrapped up inside a sock in his backpack. When not carrying a backpack he had the sock containing Fredo in one of his uniform pockets. When under fire or in dangerous situations he used to squeeze the sock and even in 2006 he was sure that Fredo had been responsible for his survival. When he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class in Summer 1944 he was sent home on leave. It was then when he fell in love with Hannelore, a female Luftwaffe auxiliary from Cologne who was later to become his wife.
When he returned to the front he left Fredo behind and took a photograph of her with him.

Today I visited Josefs family to offer my condolences and a while later his granddaughter, in a most moving gesture, asked me if I wanted to take care of Fredo as her Grandfather would certainly would have liked me to have it.


Fredo has seen 4 years of total war and that certainly shows. He has lost all of his hair, he is squashed and ugly, his seams have opened and his straw filling in sticking out in places, but he is by far the best and most valuable and unusual war memento I have ever owned and he will always make me think of Josef.


If anyone can tell me anything on the Bear itself I would be most grateful (age etc.).
Tonight I will raise a few glasses to Josef. May he rest in peace.

Operation Spark – The second Battle of Lake Ladoga, January 1943. Experiences of a German Division.

On the 12th of January 1943 my grandfather (4./Füsilier-Regiment 22) was buried alive when a soviet artillery shell exploded close to his dugout. The explosion made his eardrums burst, he had a severe concussion of the brain and spent the next 15 hours buried under meters of earth in total darkness. When night set in his comrades managed to dig him out. This frightening experience changed him forever. It was the first day of what became known as the “Second Battle of Lake Ladoga”. Even if its bloody long already, this article is not completed yet. More details and reports will be added when I find the time.

In the next series of posts I am going to offer a closer look on the Second Battle of Lake Ladoga and 1st Infantry-Divisions role in itTo do thistranslated official battle reports and eye-witness accounts found inside tthe war diaries of the german 1st Infantry Division and other german sources. But first, as usual, let’s have a look at the general history of the battle.

Russian map of the operations conducted from the 11th to 30th of January 1943

The second Battle of Lake Ladoga; Operation Iskra (Russian: операция «Искра», operatsiya Iskra; English: Operation Spark) was a Soviet military operation during World War II, designed to break the German Wehrmacht’s Siege of Leningrad. Planning for the operation began shortly after the failure of the Sinyavino Offensive. The German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 had weakened the German front. By January 1943, Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire German-Soviet front, especially in southern Russia, Iskra being the northern part of the wider Soviet 1942–1943 winter counter offensive.

Sinyavino in October 1942

The operation was conducted by the Red Army’s Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts, and the Baltic Fleet during January 12–30, 1943 with the aim of creating a land connection to Leningrad. The Soviet forces linked up on January 18, and by January 22, the front line was stabilised. The operation successfully opened a land corridor 8 kilometres (5.0 mi)–10 kilometres (6.2 mi) wide to the city. A rail road was swiftly built through the corridor which allowed more supplies to reach the city than the Road of Life across the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga, significantly reducing the possibility of the capture of the city and a German-Finnish linkup. The success led to a much more ambitious offensive operation named Polyarnaya Zvezda (Polar Star) less than two weeks later. That operation had the aim of decisively defeating Army Group North, lifting the siege altogether, but it achieved only minimal progress. Soviet forces made several other attempts in 1943 to renew their offensive and completely lift the siege, but made only modest gains in each one. The corridor remained in range of German artillery and the siege was only over on January 27, 1944.

Timeline of the german advance on Leningrad

The siege of Leningrad started in early autumn 1941. By September 8, 1941 German and Finnish forces had surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes to Leningrad and its suburbs. However the original drive on the city failed and the city was subjected to a siege. During 1942 several attempts were made to breach the blockade but all failed. The last such attempt was the Sinyavino Offensive. After the defeat of the Sinyavino Offensive, the front line returned to what it was before the offensive and again 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) separated Leonid Govorov’s Leningrad Front in the city and Kirill Meretskov’s Volkhov Front. Despite the failures of earlier operations, lifting the siege of Leningrad was a very high priority, so new offensive preparations began in November 1942. In December, the operation plan was approved by the Stavka and received the codename “Iskra” (Spark). The operation was due to begin in January 1943.
By January 1943, the situation looked very good for the Soviet side. The German defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad had weakened the German front. The Soviet forces were planning or conducting offensive operations across the entire front, especially in southern Russia. Amidst these conditions, Operation Iskra was to become the first of several offensive operations aimed at inflicting a decisive defeat on the German Army Group North.

The area south of Lake Ladoga is heavily forested area with many wetlands (notably peat deposits) closer to the lake. In addition the forest shielded both sides from visual observation. Both of these factors greatly hindered the mobility of artillery and vehicles in the area, providing a considerable advantage to the defending forces. One of the key locations were the Sinyavino heights which were some 150 metres higher than the surrounding flat terrain, which were one of the few dry and clear areas, and in addition provided good observation. Since the front line had changed very little since the blockade was established, the German forces had built a dense defensive network of strong points, interconnected by trenches and protected by extensive obstacles and interlocking artillery and mortar fire. The Neva river and marshes were partially frozen in winter which allowed infantry to cross it, but not heavy vehicles.


Die Deutsche Wochenschau 1943-03-17 – Contains footage showing fighting south of Lake Ladoga (Starting at 12:45).

The Germans were well aware that breaking the blockade was very important for the Soviet side. However due to the reverse at Stalingrad and the Soviet offensive at Velikiye Luki to the south of Leningrad, Army Group North was ordered to go on the defensive and was stripped of many troops. The 11th Army, which was to lead the assault on Leningrad in September 1942, and which had thwarted the last Soviet offensive, was transferred to Army Group Center in October. Nine other divisions were also reassigned to other sectors

At the start of the Soviet offensive, the German 18th Army, led by Georg Lindemann consisted of 26 divisions spread across a 450 kilometres wide front. The army was stretched very thin and as a result had no division-level reserves. Instead, each division had a tactical reserve of one or two battalions, and the army reserves consisted of portions of the 96th Infantry Division and the 5th Mountain Division. The 1st Air Fleet provided the air support for the army.

Five divisions and part of another one were guarding the narrow corridor which separated the Soviet Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts. The corridor was only 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) wide and was called the “bottleneck”. The German divisions were well fortified in this area, where the front line had been virtually unchanged since September 1941, and hoping to repel the Soviet offensive.

The plan for Operation Iskra was approved in December. The orders from the Stavka were:

“With the combined efforts of the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts, defeat the enemy in the area of Lipka, Gaitolovo, Dubrovka, Shlisselburg, and thus penetrate the Leningrad blockade. Finish the operation by the end of January 1943.”

This meant recapturing the “bottleneck” and opening a 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) corridor to Leningrad. After that, the two fronts were to rest for 10 days and resume the offensive southward in further operations.
The biggest difference from the earlier Sinyavino Offensive was the location of the main attack. In September 1942 the Soviet forces were attacking south of the town of Siniavino, which allowed them to potentially encircle several German divisions, but also left the army open to flanking attacks from the north, and it was this which ultimately caused the offensive to fail. In January 1943 the offensive was conducted north of Siniavino, closer to the Ladoga Lake shore, which removed the threat of flanking attacks and increased the probability of success, but forced the Soviets to abandon the idea of encircling most of the German forces in the “bottleneck”.
The offensive was to be conducted by Leningrad Front’s 67th Army and Volkhov Front’s 2nd Shock Army commanded by Major General M.P. Dukhanov and Lieutenant General V.Z. Romanovsky respectively. The 8th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General F.N. Starikov, was to conduct a limited offensive on the 2nd Shock Army’s flank and defend elsewhere. 13th and 14th Air Armies provided air support.

The two fronts spent December training and preparing for the offensive, and received significant reinforcements. These included not just replenishment and additional rifle divisions and brigades, but also significant additional artillery and engineer units, which were vital for breaching the heavy German defenses. Specialized winter units included three ski brigades and four aerosleigh battalions. To ensure the Soviet forces had air superiority, which they had lacked in the previous offensive, the air strength in the area was increased to a total of over 800 planes, predominantly fighters. Large tank forces could not operate well in the swampy terrain, so the tank forces were used primarily as battalions reinforcing divisions or slightly larger brigades, which were to operate independently.
Originally the operation was due to begin on January 1, but poor ice conditions on the Neva caused the offensive to be delayed until January 10–12. A number of measures were taken to prevent the details of the operation being revealed to the Germans. Only a limited number of senior officers were involved in the planning, all redeployments took place in bad weather or at night and simulated attack preparations were made elsewhere to confuse the German side.

On January 10, the Stavka sent Georgy Zhukov as its representative to coordinate the battle. The rifle divisions occupied their jumping-off positions on January 11, and first echelon tanks moved into their advanced positions early on January 12.
The night before the start of the operations, the Soviet night bombers attacked the German divisional headquarters and artillery positions to disrupt the German command and control. The bombers also attacked German airfields and communication centres to disrupt the flow of reinforcements. Operation Iskra began at 9:30 on January 12, when the two Soviet fronts began their artillery preparation, which lasted for 2 hours 20 minutes on the western side and 1 hour 45 minutes on the eastern side of the bottleneck. The Soviet attack started five minutes before the artillery preparation finished with a Katyusha barrage, to fully exploit its effects.

German field defences near Lake Ladoga

The Leningrad Front forces achieved their greatest success between Shlisselburg and Gorodok 1. Here, the Soviet 136th and 268th Rifle Divisions with supporting tanks and artillery captured a bridgehead approximately 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) wide and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) deep. At 18:00 the sappers constructed bridges near Mar’ino to allow second echelon troops to advance. However attacks further south, near Gorodok only resulted in the capture of the first line of German trenches. The attack further north at Shlisselburg failed. By evening, the Front command decided to exploit the formed bridgehead and troops attacking Shlisselburg across the Neva were redeployed there and started attacking it from the south.

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (1)

The Volkhov Front attack saw less success as the forces of the 2nd Shock Army managed to envelop but not destroy the German strong points at Lipka and Workers Settlement No. 8. The latter was an impressive defensive position with a garrison of 700 men and 16 bunkers. Heavy flanking fire from these strong points prevented any further advance, but the 2nd Shock Army penetrated the German defenses 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) between these points. Further south, between Workers Settlement No. 8 and Kruglaya Grove the advance was 1–2 kilometres (0.62–1.2 mi) deep, while even further south, the flanking attacks by the 8th Army only managed to capture the first line of German trenches.
The German side reacted by deploying their reserves to the region throughout the night. One improvised battle group consisting of five battalions from the 96th Infantry Division, supported by artillery and four Tiger tanks moved to Gorodok No. 2 to reinforce the 170th Infantry Division to the west. Another similar battle group using battalions from the 96th Infantry Division was sent to Workers Settlement No. 1 to support the 227th Infantry Division.

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (2)

The next five days saw very heavy fighting as the Soviets slowly advanced through heavy German defences and repelled German counterattacks. On January 13, bad weather prevented the Soviet side from employing their air force. That day they gained almost no ground and incurred heavy losses. The German side, after their counterattacks had failed to throw back the Soviet troops, started further reinforcing the area by assembling battle groups using portions of divisions from the quiet parts of the front. These included battle groups from the 1st Infantry Division, the 61st Infantry Division, the 5th Mountain Division and the SS Police Division. On January 14 the weather improved enough to allow air support again and the Soviet advance resumed, albeit at a slow pace. To speed up the encirclement of the strong point at Lipka, the Soviet side used the 12th Ski Brigade which crossed the ice of the Ladoga Lake and attacked the German rear lines. By the end of the day the German forces in the Lipka and Shlisselburg areas were almost completely cut off from the rest of the German forces.

Throughout January 15–17 the Soviet fronts fought towards each other, capturing the strong points at Workers Settlements Nos. 3, 4, 7, 8, and most of Shlisselburg. By the end of January 17 they were only 1.5–2 kilometres (0.93–1.2 mi) apart between Workers Settlements Nos. 1 and 5.

On January 15, Govorov was promoted to colonel general.
On January 18, at 9:30 the lead elements from the 67th Army’s 123rd Rifle Division and 2nd Shock Army’s 372nd Rifle Division linked up near Workers Settlement No. 1, thus technically breaking the blockade and marking an important date in the Siege of Leningrad. German forces north of the settlement were cut off. Group Huhner, made up of two battle groups under the Lieutenant General Huhner, commander of the 61st Infantry Division, was supposed to hold the corridor between Workers Settlements Nos. 1 and 5 but was no longer able to do it. Later that day the Soviet forces captured Workers Settlement No. 5 after repelling a strong German counterattack. The lead elements from the 67th Army’s 136th Rifle Division and 2nd Shock Army’s 18th Rifle Division linked up to the north of the settlement at 11:45. Group Huhner became cut off too and was ordered to break out through the forested area toward Siniavino before the main Soviet forces arrived and made a breakout impossible. Group Huhner abandoned its artillery and heavy equipment and ran “the gauntlet of fire” before reaching Siniavino on January 19–20. The breakout was costly for both sides. By early afternoon, the Soviet forces cleared Shlisselburg and Lipka from German forces and started liquidating the forces remaining in the forests south of Lake Ladoga.
During January 19–21 the Soviet forces eliminated the encircled German forces and tried to expand their offensive southward towards Siniavino. However the 18th Army significantly reinforced its positions there with the SS Police, 21st Infantry, and soon after the 11th Infantry and 28th Mountain Divisions. The Soviet forces captured Workers Settlement No. 6 but were unable to advance any further.


Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (3)

There were no changes in the front line after January 21 as a result of Operation Iskra. The Soviet forces were unable to advance any further, and instead started fortifying the area to thwart any German attempt at re-establishing the blockade. On January 22, work started on the rail line linking Leningrad to the rest of the country through the captured corridor. The plan from the GKO written on January 18, ordered the construction to be finished in 20 days. The work was completed ahead of schedule and trains began delivering supplies on February 6, 1943. The operation officially ended on January 30.

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (4)

Operation Iskra was a strategic victory for the Soviet forces. From a military perspective, the operation eliminated the possibility of the capture of the city and a German-Finnish link up, as the Leningrad Front was now very well supplied, reinforced and able to co-operate more closely with the Volkhov Front. For the civilian population, the operation meant that more food was able to reach the city, as well as improved conditions and the possibility of evacuating more civilians from the city. Breaking the blockade also had a significant strategic effect, although it was overshadowed by the surrender of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad only a few days later. Notably, the first Tiger tank captured by the Soviets was taken during this battle. It was undamaged and evacuated by the Soviet forces for evaluation.

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (5)

Also the victory led to promotions for Govorov, who was promoted to colonel-general on January 15, and Zhukov, who was promoted to marshal of the Soviet Union on January 18. In addition Govorov and Meretskov were awarded the Order of Suvorov 1st Class on January 28. The 136th and 327th Rifle divisions were awarded the designation of 63rd and 64th Guards Rifle Divisions, while the 61st Tank Brigade was designated the 30th Guards Tank Brigade. For the German side, the battle left the 18th Army very stretched and exhausted. Lacking sufficient reinforcements, the command of Army Group North made the decision to shorten the front line by evacuating the Demyansk salient. The salient had been held throughout 1942, despite being encircled for a few months, as it was an important strategic bridgehead. Together with the Rzhev salient (which was also evacuated in spring 1943), it could potentially be used to encircle a large number of Soviet forces. However, in the situation that had developed, retaining it was no longer possible.
Nevertheless despite these conditions, the Stavka knew that “Operation Iskra” was incomplete, as the corridor it had opened was narrow and was still in range of the German artillery, and the important heights and strong point at Siniavino were still under German control. This led Zhukov to plan a much more ambitious offensive operation named Polyarnaya Zvezda (Polar Star). The operation had the aim of decisively defeating Army Group North, but faltered early on. The Soviet forces carried several other offensives in the area in 1943, slowly expanding the corridor, making other small gains before finally capturing Siniavino in September. However, the city was still subjected to at least a partial siege as well as air and artillery bombardment until January 1944, when the Leningrad-Novgorod Offensive broke through the German lines, lifting the siege completely.

Units involved

German                                                                  Soviet

18th Army:
6 divisions initially
2nd Shock Army
8th Army
67th Army
Total:20 divisions,
15 brigades

Strength

700 artillery pieces
50 tanks
4600 artillery pieces
650 tanks
900 aircraft

Casualties and losses

12,000 killed, about 30,000 wounded 33,940 dead and missing,
81,142 wounded


Most of the footage is staged, still interesting material.

To the soldiers of 1st Infantry Division, the soviet offensive came as no surprise. Since the beginning of January 1943 unusual enemy troop movements had been noticed, which became even more obvious on the 9th and 11th of January. Something nasty was looming ahead. On the 12th of January 1943, at 0730 in the morning, there began the second Battle of Lake Ladoga. The Divisions positions were pounded by a massive two-hour barrage from 60-70 enemy artillery batteries and rocket launchers. When the curtain of fire was lifted, four soviet divisions, one naval brigade and four enemy tank battalions, supported by ground attack aircraft and fighter planes went into the attack. Three more divisions were kept in reserve. What followed were three weeks of grim fighting with machine guns, rifles and handgrenades.

“They came in waves, yelling their war cries just as in medieval times. Thousands of them, again and again. In their brown uniforms they made perfect targets on the white snow. I remember seeing soviet officers using their rifle butts to club their own men forward. We just mowed them down. It was slaughter.”
(Grenadier Schuhmann, Grenadier-Regiment 1 in “Ostpreussische Kameraden, April 1959) 

A report about the fighting on the first three days of the battle was written by the commanding  officer of Grenadier-Regiment 1, Oberst von Keussler, on the 27th of January.

“Rod Forest” (Stangenwald), “Stalin Height” (Stalin-Höhe), Bohemian Forest (Böhmer Wald), “Strongpost Ortmann” (Stützpunkt Ortmann) and the “Pear” (Birne) are Divisional designations for certain sectors of the battlefield. When you take a look at the above map the “pear” can be found where 1st company of Grenadier-Regiment 1 is located (marked as “1./1.” on the map).
Oberst Friedrich von Keußler

“The observations made on the days before the battle had left us in no doubt that the enemy intended to attack soon.  In front of our trenches enemy troop movements can be discerned. Around the area of the “Lake”, inside the “Rod Forest” and on the southern slope of the “Stalin height” the enemy moves groups of up to 150 men without any intention to hide or camouflage these movements.  Inside the enemy trenches large assemblies of men can be spotted. On the 11th of January 30 enemy soldiers were counted in a trench section forty meters long. Every day in the previous week we had been hearing the sounds of tank and lorry engines from  the direction of a supply road running close to the “Rod Forest”.

These assemblies were targeted by our artillery and infantry guns with good effect.  On the 10th and 11th of January enemy artillery begins a continuous shelling of our positions. The way the fire was directed leaves us in no doubt that the enemy is adjusting his guns. Soviet ground and aerial reconnaissance begins to increase. On the 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th enemy probing attacks are repelled by the regiment.

First page of the original report

In the early morning hours of the 12th enemy deserters report that an attack is imminent and the regiment is put on the alert. Earlier on, the battalions had already reported that the enemy had been using black flags to mark 8-10 meter wide paths through his own minefields. At 0730h a most vigorous artillery barrage of all calibers is brought down on the  regiments positions. Never before have we experienced such a violent and tremendous fire.  One continuous explosion, the sounds of discharge and impact seemingly melting into one. The enemy targets our main line of resistance, communication trenches, supply roads and barracks in the rear. It is obvious that his reconnaissance had done a good job. All ground-return telephone circuits are destroyed. Due to the heavy fire it is nearly impossible to eliminate interferences and to repair the circuits. This in turn forces us to rely on radio communication during the battle. In the meantime brisk movement can be observed in the enemy trenches. In front of “Strongpoint Ortmann” two enemy tanks are spotted, behind “Stalin Height” another three.  All the time our own artillery and infantry guns are laying down barrage and destructive fire onto discerned enemy movements and assembly areas with good results.

At 0930h the enemy, supported by 20 tanks, opens the assault on our regiments positions. 12 tanks rush forward towards the “Pear”. The remaining 8 start to attack the seam between I. and II. Batallion. These attacks are carried forward without any infantry support. Shortly before reaching our trenches the enemy tanks turn north, driving parallel to them while keeping up a continuous, suppressive fire. It is obvious that they had been ordered to keep our heads down to allow their infantry to close in. At 0940h waves of soviet infantry start to attack. Only the first wave is wearing white winter camouflage. Gaitolowo and the regiments left wing are attacked by another six tanks, this time mounted by infantry. The strength of the soviet infantry in the first waves is an estimated 600-700 men. All in all about 1500 men participate in the first attack. During the assault the enemy stops shelling our frontal positions, but continues to pound our rearward areas.  As soon as the enemy infantry attacks our men start a brisk defensive fire with all available weapons which, coupled with our own artillery fire, tears huge gaps into the waves of soviet infantry.  On the right wing, where some of our machine gun positions and foxholes have been destroyed by artillery fire, the enemy manages to force a small breakthrough.  The point of breakthrough is at once sealed and the soviet infantry annihilated by a reserve group of 1st Coy. By 1015h this section of the line is firmly back in our hands.

Soviet infantry attacking

In front of I. Batallion 80 dead russians can be counted. 4 enemy tanks have become stuck in front of it and another is forced east by our AT fire. The reminder turns north towards II. Batallion. In front of II. Batallion the enemy assault has been stopped aswell. The 12 tanks attacking II. Batallion have been forced to retreat. 9 of them  drive north, joining another 6 tanks attacking our left wing. We manage to separate the tanks from their accompanying infantry which is destroyed soon afterwards.
Two of the tanks are destroyed by an AT gun of our right neighbour. Two others in close combat. Others are taken out by artillery fire and mines. All in all 12 enemy tanks lie immobilized in front of our left wing. The crews bailing out of their vehicles are annihilated. 
Enemy armour in the area of the “pear” now turns to attack our left wing aswell. The remains of the soviet infantry pluck up the courage to follow and get destroyed in the process. The tanks now open a concentric fire on the pickets in front of the left wing, which at once fall back towards the main line of defence. The enemy keeps on feeding reinforcements into his attacks on the regiment. All are repelled. At 1300h  artillery fire begins to increase again. The enemy seems to concentrate most of it on the area of the “pear” which is the best target for a flanking attack. New enemy assembly areas close to the “Rod Forest” are targeted by our own artillery. I. Batallion gets reinforced by the regimental pioneer platoon. 3./Pioneer-Batallion 1 is put under our command and we also get reinforced by four assault guns of Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 226.  At 1330h the regiment gets attacked by enemy ground attack aircraft with cannon and bombs, without taking serious losses. By 1500h enemy infantry, supported by two tanks start to assault the “Pear” again. Shortly after passing the “Stalin Height” both tanks get immobilized by our artillery while the enemy infantry gets torn to pieces in the defensive fire of our machine-guns.  By sunset the enemy artillery barrage gets weaker and soon afterwards turns into lighter harassing fire.  At 1900h the enemy starts to send out small groups of up to 15 soldiers to probe our defences. All are spotted and destroyed. By 2200h it has become quiet again. Now and then the enemy artillery continues to harass our positions. Small groups of enemy infantry inside the “Bohemian Forest” get thrown out by our men. Three enemy tanks hiding with them retreat towards the russian positions but get immobilized by mines. After clearing the forest our pickets return to their old positions.  Twenty destroyed and immobilized tanks are standing in front of the regiments trenches. Four of them are still manned and keep on firing sporadically. During the night they get completely destroyed by the assault guns of Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 226.


13th of January

During the night the enemy continues to harass our positions with sporadic artillery fire. At 0245h
an enemy probing attack in strength of about 30 men is repelled. At 0800h enemy artillery fire increases to a tremendous level which reaches its peak at about 1000h. At 0930 the company on the far right gets attacked by five waves of enemy infantry. The attack breaks down in our defensive fire before even reaching the wire-entanglements. At 1000h 500 soviet infantry, supported by two tanks attack the regiments left-wing and centre. The tanks get immobilized by artillery fire.
The enemy infantry gets stopped about 200 meters in front of our trenches.
 Enemy tanks attacking from the direction of “Stalin Height” turn north when II./A.R.1 starts shelling them with smoke rounds.  Apparently the enemy is shifting his forces to attack our left hand neighbour (Grenadier-Regiment 43).  At 1300h enemy artillery activity gets weaker. Small groups of our soldiers are sent out to rebuilt defences and to  evacuate the wounded. 
“Strongpoint Ortmann” gets attacked by 30 enemy infantry which get annihilated in front of our wire entanglements. Soon after sunset an assault gun of Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 226 destroys three immobilized tanks, two of which burn out completely.
Enemy attempts to recover damaged tanks from the battlefield get thwarted by our artillery. The whole day the enemy kept attacking us with ground attack aircraft. The enemy again suffered terrible losses, including two tanks.

Rare photograph taken by a member of 1./Grenadier-Regiment 1 inside the “Pear” during the battle. The black dots in the distance are destroyed soviet tanks.

After a quiet night the soviets continue their attacks on the 14th of January. At 0630h 100 enemy soldiers work their way towards the defences on our right. A few man even manage to reach our wire-entanglements. After loosing about 25 men killed the soviets retreat back towards their lines. At 0930h, after a short but massive artillery strike, the regimental lines get attacked by about 1000 soviet soldiers supported by 12 tanks. After a bitter fight the enemy attack is stalled in front of our wire-entanglements. The enemy suffers brutal losses. The tanks retreat back towards the soviet lines. One hits a mine and starts burning. 

Only minutes afterwards our right-wing gets attacked by another 250 men. Again we repel everything the russian throws against us.  The left-wing gets attacked by strong soviet forces, efficiently supported by tanks. Two more tanks coming down “Stalin Height” get destroyed by artillery fire. Our left-wing pickets retreat towards our main line of defence. One anti-tank gun of 14th Coy. manages to destroy five enemy tanks. The enemy infantry attack disintegrates soon afterwards. 
At 1200h small groups of soviet infantry pinned down in front of our positions try to retreat towards “Stalin-Height”, but get annihilated by well-aimed rifle fire.
Another attack by 250 soviet soldiers collapses in our own artillery fire before having the time to develop. The soviets take severe losses. Without using cover they cross the flat ground in front of our positions, walking straight into our defensive fire. 
Attacks by smaller formations of about 100 men follow at 1300h, 1325h and 1500h. Again they meet with no success. Retreating russian soldiers get taken down by well-aimed fire.

By the end of the third day of fighting the all positions are firmly in our hand. 

31 destroyed tanks and about 1500 dead soviets lie in front of the regiments lines. Considering the fact that the regiment was subjected to continuous shelling and repeated attacks by armour and infantry our own losses are low.

Due to the courage of each of the regiments officers, NCOs and men the regiment fulfilled its duty to defend with great success. It shares this success with the comrades of II/A.R.1 (2nd Batallion, Artillerie-Regiment 1), who always had a special bond with us. The moral of the men during the  battle was excellent.

Tanks destroyed in front of the regimental positions

The enemy lost 31 tanks in front of our regiment.

17 Tanks were immobilized by defensive fire and mines.
14 Tanks were completely destroyed.
( 5 by 14./Grenadier-Regiment 1, 4 by Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 226, 2 by 14./Grenadier-Regiment 43, 1 by Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1, 1 by Unteroffizier Schimanski of 8./Grenadier-Regiment 1 in close combat and another one by a tank-destruction squad of Grenadier-Regiment 43)

Losses of Grenadier-Regiment 1, 12th-14th of January 1943

Losses of Grenadier-Regiment 1 (12th to 14th of January 1943)
Killed: 8 NCOs, 35 men
Wounded (brought to field hospital): 1 Officer, 13 NCOs, 131 men
Wounded (staying with the regiment): 1 Officer, 14 NCOs, 56 men

Ammunition expenditure 12th-14th of January 1943 (s.S = schweres Spitzgeschoss (8×57), L= Leuchtspur/Tracer, S.m.K.=Spitzgeschoss mit Kern (8×57, steel core), Pz.Spr. =AT-HE, Pz-H1=AT-Hollow Charge, Gew.Gr= Rifle grenade)
Grenadier-Regiment 1, Weapons lost during the fighting (12th-14th of January 1943) – le.Mg = light machine gun, s.M.G. = heavy machine gun, le.Gr.W.=light mortar, s.Gr.W.=heavy mortar, Pak=AT gun, le.I.G.=light infantry gun

Footage taken from a french newsreel, showing soldiers of 28. Jäger-Division in combat south of Lake Ladoga in January 1943

The following passage has been taken from a report and tactical evaluation of the battle, written by Oberst Ulrich Iffland, commanding officer of Füsilier-Regiment 22

“The attack started on the 12th of January 1943 at 0730 with an intense artillery barrage which soon spread out from north to south. After three hours waves of enemy infantry, supported by tanks began to advance. Defensive fire of our heavy guns and infantry weapons broke the attacking infantry, but the tanks continued to advance reluctantly. All were destroyed or immobilized by medium and heavy AT guns and in close combat in front of, in and behind our main line of defence.
During the following days the attacks continued to be carried forward in the same style. The momentum of the enemy infantry assaults slackening with each attack.
Enemy armour fought without cohesion. not knowing where to go, changing direction often. Obviously they missed their supporting infantry. Soviet tank crews taken prisoner reported that all tanks had been operating without radio which explains why 15 enemy tanks attacked a single company. It was impossible for them to deliver a coherent attack. After entering combat individual tanks fought courageously, effectively targeting our advanced saps, pickets, weapon emplacements and trenches with well-aimed, effective fire and inflicting serious losses. Even the crews of immobilized tanks continued to defend themselves from inside and outside their vehicles. 
During the defensive battle the regiment repelled all attacks directed at it by the soviet 73rd Naval Brigade and a reinforced tank batallion. The enemy lost over 500 dead. 18 soviet tanks were destroyed and another 8 immobilized. 
Soviet prisoners reported that the soviet tank batallion had been nearly wiped out. The 73rd Naval Brigade lost close to 75% of their men killed and wounded.”

Newspaper of Fusilier-Regiment 22 “Tapfer und Treu”

Fusilier-Regiment 22 (and 1. ID in general) was considered to be an elite formation of the Wehrmacht. During the war the regiment published its own newspaper (1942-44). It was published every 4-5 months giving information on what the regiment had experienced and it also kept track of the whereabouts of former officers and NCOs of the regiment.  It was given to active and former soldiers of the regiment and the families of soldiers killed in action.
The newspapers title was “Tapfer und Treu – Was wir erlebten” (Brave and loyal – what we experienced). “Brave and loyal” being the regimental motto. In one of the 1943 editions Oberst Iffland wrote another account of the battle:

“We have been stationed in this area for some time now and the war had, as usual, quite a lot of surprises ready for us. Some days were quiet and uneventful, others saw grim fighting and hard work in snow, ice and meltwater. Courage, the willingness to make sacrifices, obedience, endurance, comradeship and faith are the weapons we rely on.  Warfare on this front has its own face, the open landscape stretches for miles as far as the eye can see. It’s the terrain of the soviet sniper, who targets all our movements and disturbs all work done in the trenches and on the main line of defence. Our own snipers repay in kind. Our armourers cut armor plates from destroyed enemy tanks and rip out the armoured glass from shot down aircraft to strengthen our machine gun positions, the trench mirror is our best friend. The war here reminds us of the last great war in the trenches of the western front. 

On the 3rd of January we can observe unusual movements on the soviet side. Columns of lorries and tanks. Up to the 9th of January enemy intentions stay unclear. On the 10th and 11th enemy artillery activity increases. The Soviet is adjusting his guns.
On the 11th the enemy leads a probing attack against the centre of our lines and enemy artillery fire increases further. In the night we hear the sound of engines, drunk yelling and singing on the enemy side and suddenly at midnight it gets quiet. Not a sound can be heard.

We know enough and the regiment is set on alert. Everywhere we check and clean our weapons, ammunition and handgrenades are brought forward and the AT units get briefed and shifted. It is going to start soon.  At 0630h we recieve a radio message from Grenadier-Regiment 1. Enemy deserters have reported that the enemy is about to attack us in force. At 0730h we get hit by the most intense artillery fire we had experienced so far. Artillery, mortars, tanks, infantry guns and rocket launchers begin to pound our main line of defence, our rearward lines of communication and supply roads. Only minutes afterwards all communication circuits are destroyed. We have to rely on radio communication. At 1000h waves of soviet infantry begin to attack our trenches. Our own artillery stops them dead in their tracks, but some russians have already underrun their field of fire. We start to annihilate them with rifles, machine guns and handgrenades. While Hauptmann Penkwitt, who is commanding I. Batallion during the absence of Tolsdorff, continues to shred the soviets to pieces, the enemy (with two batallions supported by eleven tanks) leads another attack against the positions of 6th company.   AT guns positioned on the main line of defence and in the depth behind it soon destroy nine of the tanks, two more are destroyed by Fusiliers in close combat. The men of II. Batallion, led by Major Reich, are fighting like lions, undeterred by the tanks they destroy the enemy infantry. Two Fusiliers manning a machine gun get overrun by an enemy tank. They let it pass over their foxhole and continue to fire at the advancing infantry, ignoring the tank completely. All the time enemy artillery and ground attack planes punish our lines. But the fight has already been decided. At 1200h the attack has been repelled. The soviets leaving hundreds of their men and 11 tanks on the field….”

“Our men and weapons did their work properly. Only small groups of the attacking naval infantry manage to retreat to their dirty trenches. Our Fusiliers never lost their iron courage and superiority, sending the soviet soldiers and their assault formations straight into hell. We lost many a loyal brother in arms, but their sacrifice was not in vain…

The attacks continue to the 20th of January when the enemy shifts his attention to our neighbouring divisions in the north. May the enemy continue to assault us and our sister regiments as he likes, the east-prussian fusiliers and grenadiers will stand their ground…Here we stand and here we hold!  (“Hier stehen wir, hier halten wir” – Motto of the east prussian Infantry).”

My grandfathers Feldwebel – Hauptmann Walther Hofmeister (1910-1944)

I am still trying to transfer all the posts of my old blog over to this one. I did this one in March 2012 during a long stretch of boredom. The post is dedicated to Hauptmann Walther Hofmeister, my grandfathers Feldwebel.
Attached to this post you will find a link to his photoalbum.

Hofmeister has been mentioned on my blog before (Men against tanks). but he has a prominent place in the division and in my records aswell (my grandfather served in Hofmeisters Squad/Platoon from August 1942 to January 1943).

Hauptmann Walther Hofmeister

hofmeister00400011

Start of military service: March 1940

Promotions: Schütze (1940), Gefreiter (March 1940), Unteroffizier (June 1942), Feldwebel (officer candidate – December 1942), Leutnant (January 1943), Oberleutnant (November 1943), Hauptmann (posthumously, May 1944)

04.06..1942-31.12.1942: Platoonleader (Truppführer) in 4./Infanterie-Regiment 22
01.01.1943-04.04.1943: Squadleader (Zugführer) in 4./Infanterie-Regiment 22
23.04.1943-18.05.1943: Assistant Batallion Adjutant in I./Infanterie-Regiment 22
19.05.1943-17.09.1943:  Batallion Adjutant in I./Infanterie-Regiment 22
18.09.1943-30.09.1943: Company Commander, 3./Infanterie-Regiment 22
01.10.1943-28.01.1944: Batallion Adjutant in I./Infanterie-Regiment 22

Awards: Black wound badge (1st of October 1941), Iron Cross 2nd Class (13th of November 1941), Infantry Assault Badge (28th of December 1941), Tank Destruction Badge (4th of July 1942), Iron Cross 1st Class (14th of July 1942), Eastern Front Medal (1st of August 1942), Silver wound badge (29th of January 1943), Close Combat Clasp in Bronze (30th of July 1943).

Hofmeisters uniform, medals, dagger and photo album

While acting as batallion adjutant Hofmeister became a close friend of the legendary Theodor Tolsdorff. This coupled with his bravery in combat ensured fast promotion and would have made Hofmeister a likely candidate for the German Cross in Gold or even the Knights Cross. acting as batallion adjutant Hofmeister became a close friend of . This coupled with his bravery in combat ensured fast promotion and would have made Hofmeister a likely candidate for the German Cross in Gold or even the Knights Cross.
He was killed by a headshot while repelling a soviet attack on the village of Skitka (Ukraine).

After Hofmeisters death, Theodor Tolsdorff wrote a letter to Hofmeisters wife:

“As your husbands commanding officer, I have the sad duty to inform you that he has died a hero’s death. He was killed by a headshot on the 28th of January 1944 in the village of Skittka, about 15 kilometers south-west of Lipovec. He died instantly. We have buried him, together with other comrades, in the village of Romanoff-Mutor. This village lies about 2 kilometers south of Skittka. On the map you will find it south-west of Pogrebishche, a village that has been mentioned in the Wehrmachtsbericht. With this letter, the regiments officers and me would like to express our deepest condolences.
As I knew your husband so well, I know what this loss must mean to you.  He was my best friend when he was serving as my adjutant. He set an example with his bravery and recklessness and was highly respected by his comrades and his superiors. He knew how to win the hearts of those around him and because of this he was highly valued and loved by everyone.
I know that words can not take the pain from you, but please remember that he gave his life for your and your child’s future.
I greet you with the deepest sympathy. You servant, Theodor Tolsdorff, Major.”

Hofmeister and his friend Walther Knecht (middle +1943)
“Gute Kameraden”, soldiers of Hofmeisters Squad – My grandfather (4th from left). Volkhov, August 1942
Hofmeisters Photoalbum

Hofmeisters Photoalbum

Hofmeisters Military Documents

Hofmeisters Military Documents

Documents used:

Private and military documents of Hauptmann Walther Hofmeister.
Divisional war diaries : NARA T315 R3/R4/R11

Taking the camera to Stalingrad – German documentary

Just a quick post. This documentary was produced in 2009 using film material found in the cellar of a house in germany in 2008. It was filmed by a soldier of the 29. Infanterie-Division from 1941 to 1942 (up to the early stages of the Battle of Stalingrad).  The scenes shown are very different to the ones filmed by the Propaganda companies.

The interesting thing about it is that the comments are spoken by nine former soldiers of the 29. Infanterie-Division. The veterans were actually shown these films for the first time and were allowed to comment as they wished. 70 years after the event they still begin to cry when talking about the comrades they lost and the horrors they witnessed. Just have look at and listen to the last 5 minutes…the veteran seems to have a complete breakdown when shown images of the grain silo in Stalingrad.

To me it is one of the best WW2 documentaries there is.

If you understand german you should love this documentary, if not you should at least enjoy the film material.

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

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

*Next post here will be about him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GERMANY’S OLDEST WARTIME VOLUNTEER

rene

Professor Gregory, 1917

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

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

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

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

 KILLED FOR THE GERMAN CAUSE

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

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

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

Gregory Memorial, Leipzig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poznan Town Hall after the battle.

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

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

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

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

flucht

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

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

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

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

Posen2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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