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.

Baptism of Fire – Gora Kamienska, Poland 1939 – Experiences of 1. Infanterie-Division

ATTACKING THE GORA-KAMIENSKA: “STALLING THE BLITZ” – THE BATTLE OF MLAWA
2nd and 3rd of September 1939

Joachim von Kortzfleisch, “1a” of 1.Infanterie-Division

On the 1st of September 1939 at 0445h 1. Infanterie-Division crossed the border into Poland. The intelligence reports concerning the strength of Polish forces soon proved to be wrong. The only noticeable resistance was met at the bridges at Janowo (two platoons of Infantry), which was easily brushed aside. As I. AK had failed to break through the Polish defences at Mlawa on the 2nd of the September, the Division got the order to push forward on both sides of the road to Grudusk and then, using all available artillery as support, to take the strong fortified positions on and around Gora Kamienska on the north-eastern flank of Mlawa. As this action is considered to be a part of the “Battle of Mlawa”, let’s have a look at that first.

The Battle of Mława, otherwise known as the “Defence of the Mława position”, took place to the north of the town of Mława in northern Poland between September 1 and September 3, 1939. The whole battlefield, with the exception of the fortified positions around Gora-Kamiensk was (and still is) flat as a table. It was one of the opening battles of the Invasion of Poland and World War II in general and fought between the forces of the Polish Modlin Army under Gen. Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski and the German 3rd Army under Gen. Georg von Küchler. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the new German-Polish border was located only some 120 km north of Warsaw, the Polish capital city. In 1939 the Polish Modlin Army, led by Brigadier General Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, was thought of as the main defensive force guarding Polish borders from the north. It was dislocated along the border with East Prussia and was to stop the enemy forces advancing towards Warsaw, the Modlin Fortress. Shortly before the war, a decision was made to strengthen the Polish defences by construction of a line of field fortifications and concrete bunkers to the north of Mława, in the centre of the army’s positions.

Soldiers of the Waffen-SS during the Battle of Mlawa, 1939

The main line of defence of the army was located along the line of Narew and Vistula rivers. There were a number of 19th century fortifications in the area, but the plains to the north of it were almost defenseless. To ease the delaying actions in case of a war with Germany, the Polish General Staff decided that the Modlin Army should be transported to the border with East Prussia and should defend the line for as long as possible. Afterwards, the units under command of General Przedrzymirski-Krukowicz were to withdraw to the south and defend the line of Narew and Vistula rivers, together with the forces of Narew Independent Operational Group.

Aerial view of part of the Mlawa fortifications

After the Polish secret mobilization had started in March 1939, the 20th Infantry Division was assigned to the Modlin Army and transported to the area of Mława. In addition, the army commander was assigned a number of trainloads of concrete and other construction materials and several combat engineering battalions. It was decided that a line of fortifications should be constructed in the area held by that division. On June 19 of that year, the project was ready and was finally approved by Marshal of Poland Edward Rydz-Śmigły on July 3.

Iron railway tracks used as an effective defence against german armour.

The line of trenches and concrete bunkers, shielded by anti-tank trenches and obstacles, was to be constructed along a low glacial hill overlooking the valley of the Mławka river, to the north of the town. The river itself could be blocked by a dam to enhance the defensive valor of the area. In the center, a swampy terrain of the Niemyje Marshes was located, which was virtually impassable to enemy armored vehicles. This swamp divided the area into two separate flanks. The western section was to be reinforced with 68 concrete bunkers while the eastern, much shorter, with 25.

In peacetime the 20th Division was located in Baranowicze. In case of a war with the USSR, it was planned as the first-line unit to defend a line of German World War I fortifications built there in 1915. Because of that, most of its soldiers had experience in defending fortified positions.

Another shot of Waffen-SS soldiers (Standarte Deutschland?), during the Battle of Mlawa

The construction of bunkers in the western section of the front, near the town of Mława, was started on July 14. It was carried out mostly by the soldiers themselves, under the command of the head of the 20th engineering battalion, Maj. Juliusz Levittoux. The construction of the eastern flank bunkers near the village of Rzęgnowo started on August 12. Soon the soldiers were joined by a number of civilian volunteers, helping to dig the trenches. However, the positions were not finished until the outbreak of World War II and many of the bunkers were not completed.

Polish 37mm AT gun

At noon on September 1, 1939 the Polish line of defence manned by the 20th Infantry Division was attacked by the 1st Army Corps under General Walter Petzel. Although the attacking forces were equipped with tanks and supported by warplanes, the initial assault was repelled by Polish-made 37mm AT guns, the commander of German Third Army, ordered his units to attack the Polish forces several times in a row, but all attacks were broken and in the late evening the Germans were forced to withdraw to their initial positions.

The effect of an anti-tank ditch, near Mlawa, 1939

The following afternoon the German units started a heavy artillery bombardment of the Rzegnów position on the right flank of the Polish forces. After two hours of constant artillery fire, the assault was started and, in the result of close combat, the Polish defenders started to waver. The counterattack of the Polish 79th Infantry Regiment was unsuccessful and the commander of the Polish Modlin Army ordered the 20th Division to extend further eastwards and prepare the defence of its right flank between the villages of Dębsk and Nosarzewo. At the same time the 8th Infantry Division, until then held in reserve near Ciechanów, was ordered to prepare a counterattack.

Mlawa after the battle

The 8th Division arrived in the area in the early hours of September 3. As the Mazovian Cavalry Brigade operating further eastwards was also endangered by German armoured troops, the army commander ordered the division to split its forces and attack in two directions: towards Grudusk east of Mława and towards Przasnysz. However, conflicting orders and German diversants operating in the rear disrupted both attacks and led to chaos in the Polish ranks. In the evening the division was mostly destroyed and only the 21st Infantry Regiment of Colonel (later General) Stanisław Sosabowski managed to withdraw from the fights towards the Modlin Fortress. Despite this, the German attacks towards both flanks of the 20th Infantry Division were unsuccessful.

Panzer III of Division “Kempf” advancing on Mlawa

On September 3 the German engineers finally managed to cut through Polish antitank barriers. According to several Polish sources, German units used the local civilians as human shields, which allowed them to finally capture several bunkers on the left flank of the Polish forces, but were unable to push forwards. On the right flank, in the Rzegnów section of the front to the east of the swamps, the attacks were more successful and in the late evening elements of German Wodrig Corps finally broke through the lines of the 79th Infantry Regiment to the rear of the Poles. This widened the front gap in the area ofGrudusk. General Emil Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, facing the risk of his forces being outflanked and surrounded, ordered the 20th division and the remnants of the 8th to withdraw towards Warsaw and Modlin, finally abandoning the fortified positions.

Polish prisoners of war after the Battle of Mlawa, 3rd of September 1939

But lets rewind the clock to the 2nd of September 1939, and have a look at the role of 1.ID in the Battle of Mlawa and more precisely at the north-eastern corner of the fortress of Mlawa, to the Gora-Kamienska (Kamienska hill) and the efforts of the Division to take it.

ATTACKING THE “BASTION” OF GORA-KAMIENSKA: “BAPTISM OF FIRE”
2nd of September 1939

It is a miracle that we managed to take the Kamienska position without long preparations and in a relatively short period of time!
(General von Kortzfleisch, commanding officer of 1.ID, 3
rd of September 1939)

The bastion of Gora-Kamienska lay half way between Krzynowloga-Mala and Grudusk towering over the surrounding terrain with a height difference of around 60 meters.
The bastion and the adjoining fortifications in the forest south of Szumsk had been developed to a strong cornerstone of the Mlawa defensive positions. It had been vested with trenches, double-apron entanglements, timber shelters and six concrete bunkers allowing for enfilading fire. Its forefront was further defended by advanced pickets and multiple minefields. The positions were defended by the the 79th Polish infantry regiment (commanded by ppłk. Konstanty Zaborowski) and supported by about seven batteries of artillery.

Remains of the bunker on the northern slope of the Gora Kamiensk.

The commandinig officer of the polish 79th Infantry Regiment, Płk. Konstanty Zaborowski

The Division attacked in a pincer movement. The reinforced Infanterie-Regiment 1 attacked from the north via Dzierzgowo-Szumsk. The remainder on both sides of the road Krzynowologa-Rzegnowo. During the attack IR1 fulfilled the role of tying up enemy forces in forest south of Szumsk.
At 1500h the main force began its advance, having to cross about 2 kilometers of open ground. The advance was covered by concentrated artillery fire on the Kamienska positions.
In order to make the artillery fire more efficient an observation balloon was launched , which was flying in the neighbourhood of Rzegnowo and directing artillery fire of 1 ID. In the church tower in Dzierzgowo 1ID located their second observation post but this was soon detected by Polish forces and destroyed by one troop of 20 pal (20 light artillery battalion).

Dziergowo church. 73 years ago used by 1IDs artillery observers.

III./IR43 attacked north of the road (Krzynowologa-Rzegnowo), followed by I./IR43 as a reserve. III./IR22 moved forward south of it, having II./IR22 as regimental and I./IR22 as divisional reserves. Heavy German artillery fire allowed for a fast advance. Having reached the villages of Ozumieck and R. Kosily the battalions came under frontal and flanking machine gun fire, effectively stalling the advance of III./IR43.

Rare color photo showing soldiers of IR43, Poland 1939

A report on his experiences of serving as a divisional reserve, can be found in a private letter about the Polish campaign, written by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie. He had been commanding 11./IR22 on the first day of the campaign, but when the officer commanding I./IR22 had been wounded, he was ordered to take over I. Batallion on the 2nd of September:

“At half past three in the morning I was woken by Leutnant Götz, once member of my company, now second adjudant to the CO of I. Batallion. “Herr Hauptmann, you are ordered back to the regiment to take over command of I. Batallion”. Even the classic Goethe quote* (see below) would not help me, so I got up and stumbled up to the regimental command post, joining I. Batallion shortly afterwards. We had been ordered to act as divisional reserve! I was swearing my head off, but to no avail. Notwithstanding that I also got hit by a fit of diarrhoea. Our Doctor called it a gastric flu, but I call it the worst kind of diarrhoea I have ever experienced! I also had a temperature. I guzzled down a dose of opium, quinine and tanalbin every 15 minutes, but dragged through the whole thing as well as I could. Not that we had much to do. Changing positions into a different wood every 2 or 3 hours, three kilometers away from the frontline. The boring fate of the reserves.
Now and then we hear the sounds of battle and we could observe steep a ridge, on which trenches and bunkers could be seen. The Kamienka ridge, which was defended by the Poles until the boys of II., but mainly III. Batallion cleared them out with handgrenades. My company had been in battle for the first time and put up a good show, losing four dead and five wounded (including 3 NCOs).”

* “Tell your captain that for His Imperial Majesty, I have, as always, due respect. But he, tell him that, he can lick me in the arse!” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Götz von Berlichingen”.

III./IR22 managed to break into the enemy trenches south of the road and to push forward to Zaboklik. Following that, IR22 (including all its reserves) received the order to swing into the attack on the Gora Kamienska.

II./IR22 (commanded by Major Knobelspieß) advanced in a fast pace, crossed the road between R. Kosily and Zaboklik and broke into the system of trenches north of the road. Forests, trenches and dugouts were cleared and two concrete bunkers on the north side of the hill were taken. Polish resistance was fierce, many of the Polish soldiers refusing to surrender. The Poles kept on firing on the German attackers until the last possible moment, but always retreating as so to escape close combat and being taken prisoner.

A description from the Polish point of view can be found in Ryszard Juszkiewiczs book “Bitwa pod Mławą” (Warsaw, 1987):

“When after violent fighting the pickets of the 79th Polish infantry regiment had been forced to retreat from their protruding positions towards the main defensive position around 12:00 AM, the artillery of Korps “Wodrig” once again began its bombardment – this time preparing for the main assault. This had already been preceded by strong artillery preparation (10 Abteilungen = 120 guns from 1. and 12. Inf.Div.) The artillery preparation against Kamienska Gora was coordinated and commanded by Generaloberst Werner von Fritsch himself (Commander of Art.Rgt.12). This heavy artillery fire on Kamienska Gora lasted for 8 hours (1200h-1800h). Under covering fire of their own artillery, German infantry already started to attack Polish positions around 1500h. Their 1. Inf.Div. was attacking from the direction of Szumsk towards Kitki and Kamienska Gora, while 12. Inf.Div. was attacking from the direction of Krzynowloga Mala towards “redoubt Zaboklik” and Kamienska Gora with “Czubak”.”

The officer commanding the AT gun company of the Polish 79th Inf.Reg. wrote in his diary:

Polish 37mm AT gun

“At 1500h the general German assault started. Units of the 1st and 12th German infantry divisions, supported by tremendous artillery fire and many tanks, launched an attack against the foremost edge of the defensive position of our regiment. Left wing of the regiment – I. battalion – holds its positions. Right wing of the regiment, the reinforced 9th company under Cpt. Hoppe on Kamienska Gora, and the platoon of cyclists from 11 puł. on the “Żaboklik” position are defending against massive enemy attacks. The regiment is fighting for its life. Waves of German infantry are advancing towards our positions, coming closer and closer. Our artillery (12 howitzers from 88 dac and 8 guns cal. 75mm from 59 dal) are defending by laying a curtain of fire in front of our positions. The first wave of Germans met with our minefield. Parts of human bodies, weapons and equipment get thrown up by their explosions. Our wonderful boys fought with all their strength, many of them making the final sacrifice – it was in vain…”

By 1800h II./IR22 had taken the peak of Kamienska hill. When darkness set in the whole hill was in possession of III./IR43 and II., III./IR22. The fall of the Gora Kamienska had sealed the fate of the fortress of Mlawa, which I.AK had failed to take the day before.
The most detailed description of the fighting for the Kamiensa ridge can be found in a report published in Germany by the end of 1939 for III./IR22. This batallion had borne the brunt of the fighting and the report evaluated strengths and weaknesses, tactical dispositions and summarised the lessons learned from it.

First page of the report

It opens with a description of the battlefield itself:
“The Gora Kamienska dominates the surrounding terrain. It commands an excellent view of the marching route Krzynowloga-Mala and on the assembly rooms in the forests north-east of it. To bring in heavy weapons an attacker can only use a single road. The slightly rising ground in front of it offers only minimal cover for an attack which is further limited by the flanking bunkers on the northern slope of the Gora Kamienska. With its well placed obstacles, well camouflaged observing posts and trench systems the Gora Kamienska is the massive cornerstone of the Mlawa defensive lines. Its not surprising that Polish officers that were taken prisoner there, reported that these defences were thought to be impregnable. Indeed it can be said that it would never have been taken if it had been defended by German soldiers.”

The reinforced III./IR22 began its attack on 0800h having its right flank close to the road Krzynowloga-Mala/Grudusk. When it reached the hamlets about 1000 meters southwest of Krzynowloga-Mala it recieved enemy fire from the area of Hill 195. This hill lies about 2000 meters southwest of Krzynowloga-Mala and was occupied by enemy pickets. The batallion kept on advancing in a fast pace and pushed the enemy out of his defensive positions. The Poles had retreated in a hurry, leaving large quantities of ammunition, clothing and equipment.

First stages; fighting the pickets

Gora Modern

Modern Sat view of the Gora Kamienska Battlefield

It was the first time III. Batallion had been in battle and the first time the new machine guns (MG34) and mortars (Granatwerfer 34) had been used in action. “The men were pleased about their own firepower, which was far superior to that of the enemy, even from an acoustic point of view. Any doubts we had on the MG34 were wiped out. The enemy retreated from the weight of our fire and the pressure of our attack. The will to fight and the effectiveness in combat showed that our hard training before the war had finally paid out”.

The batallion now pushed through the forest with the order to take defensive postions on its southwestern corner. This was done without encountering enemy resistance. When the edge of the forest had been reached, the men of III. Batallion could see Polish forces retreating across the the road to Grudusk. The order to follow the retreating enemy was cancelled by a regimental command. For now III. Batallion stayed in position.

“By now the massive Kamienska hill could be observed. To get information about enemy strength and dispositions small reconnaissance elements were detached. Leutnant Neumann with some men of 10th coy and Unteroffizier Sparing with a group from 11th coy went out to obtain that intelligence. In a daring and bold move, both men managed to push forward to the village of Kosily, not only under constant fire of the enemy but also that of our own artillery”

“The Gora-Kamienska had been surrounded by a triple barrier of wire entanglements interspersed with trip wires. Behind that a well developed trench system. The road Kosily-Zaboklik had been blocked with a row of obstacles (chevaux de frise). The northeastern slope, north of the road Krzynowloga-Mala-Grudusk was defended by a heavy machine gun position dominating the road northeast of Kosily. South of it was a well camouflaged bunker which enfiladed the southern side of Kosily and the first 300 meters of the road Kosily-Zaboklik. Also flanking this road, another well camouflaged bunker was observed on hill 173. These observations, coupled with the reconnaissance conducted before the start of the campaign, gave a clear picture of what lay ahead. A well constructed defensive system, defended by a determined enemy.”

Bunker on the Gora Kamienska

Assembling for the attack

The batallion was just digging in, to take cover from sporadic Polish artillery fire when it finally recieved the regimental order to attack the Gora-Kamiensk. The whole Division would take part in the attack, supported by all available artillery which was now concentrating its fire onto the enemy positions.

The first target for III./IR22 was the village of Zaboklik, the second target the road Rzognowo-Borkowo. 11th coy, supported by a parts of the mortar company, was to attack from its positions in the forest north of hill 169, in the direction of Kosily-Zaboklik.
10th coy, supported by two mortar squads and a platoon of heavy machine guns, was to support this attack. An assault platoon of 9th coy was to attack the bunker on hill 173, the remains of 9th coy were to support 10th coy under the command of Hauptmann Todtenhaupt. Another target for 11th coy was the village of Rzegnowo, while 10th coy was to attack the ground northeast of it. Two light infantry gun platoons were to cover the advance of the companies.

For the attack the soldiers of the batallion had to leave all unnecessary equipment behind. Handgrenades were stuck into belts and double the normal amount of ammunition was issued. The report tells us that:

“The Gora is now covered in smoke and flame and the air is filled with the roar and thunder of constant artillery fire. The commander has a look at his watch. Five minutes to go, four, three, two, now its only one minute. Then the shout “1oth company attack!”.

Like one man everyone rises and moves forward into the attack. 10th coy advances in a long skirmish line led by its commander Hauptmann Rogalski, 11th coy is moving forward aswell, followed by the reminder of 12th coy, whose heavy weapon sections had been distributed on the other companies. The assault squad of 9th coy is working its way the bunker on hill 173.”

“The enemy artillery fire is ineffective. There are a few losses inflicted by shrapnell, but so far the advance is going well. In the front of the advance, heavy machine gun platoons move forward, ammunition carriers carry boxes full of cartridges, the signal platoon the heavy cable drums. About 500 meters southeast of Kosily the Batallion wades into enemy machine gun fire. Still casualities are light. The thin lines moving from cover to cover, using every furrow. “



“Our own artillery fire began to grow weaker, with the result that enemy machine gun fire increased considerably. The batallion had to halt, every soldier going down into full cover. Luckily a wire connection to the regimental command post could be established and the artillery could be called in again. It’s only due to the couragous behaviour of Unteroffizier Schicktanz that our communications to the command post were never broken, even on the move ”

Under cover of the attached mortar sections and heavy machine guns,10th and 11th coy managed to push forward into the dead angle of Kosily village, now temporarily secure from flanking and frontal enemy fire. Still when entering the village casualities begin to rise, when some soldiers fall victim to Polish anti infantry mines. For the next step, the companies of III./IR22 had to continue the advance over a plain field, under constant frontal and flanking fire from the Polish bunkers which the artillery was not able to suppress. As the neighbouring divisions were not able to send units to support the attack, the commander of III. Batallion decided to push forward under cover of the weapons available to him. By committing two 37mm AT guns of 14th coy (Oberleutnant Tolsdorff) which targeted the enemy bunkers and positions with direct fire and the reminder of the heavy company (12th coy) under Feldwebel Marquardt and Unterfeldwebel Langer the assault on the Gora Kamienska began to gain momentum.

General Theodor Tolsdorff, shooting star of the Wehrmacht in 1945, 6 years before commander of IR22s AT company

Casualities began to rise. Hauptmann Marquardt (commanding 10th coy) got wounded, squadleader Feldwebel Kanapin, and Gefreiter Mornigkeit got killed. Another 11 men of 10th coy got wounded. 11th coy lost the Füsiliere Braun, Kuklen and Oschkenlat who were killed and another 7 soldiers wounded. Still the attack did not stall. Some motivation came from the fact that by the late evening, signal flares and the sounds of machine gun fire could be observed on the batallions right. Its neighbour, Infanterie-Regiment 43 had joined the attack on the Goras other side.

Remains of trenches on the Gora Kamienska

Modern Satellite view of the area

11th coy managed to clear the roadblocks on the southern slope of the Kamienska and captured a Polish anti-tank gun which they now used against its former owners.
An assault platoon commanded by Feldwebel Kleinschmantat worked its way towards the bunker on the right side of the road (2). 10th coy had crossed a wire entanglement and broke into the enemy trenches behind that. The assault squad of 9th coy had been pinned down by enemy flanking fire. When the commander of 9th coy, Hauptmann Todtenhaupt, noticed that he personally took the lead. Lying down and crawling, he led the squad through enemy fire until it had reached a potato field about 300 meters in front of Bunker 4. From here the soldiers had enough cover to move forward one by one.

Bunker 4 was attacked from the left side. Light mortars and machine guns provided enough suppression for the soldiers of 9th coy to get into range to use handgrenades. When it was finally taken no enemies could be found, the Poles had retreated in the last possible moment, leaving behind ammunition crates and equipment.

Bunker 4 – 73 years later

The “new” machine gun in action – MG34

One of these battlegroups led by Leutnant Neumann managed to push forward to the village of Rzegnowo. On the hills northwest of it the Poles seemed to have held some units in reserve. From this position they now started a strong counter attack supported by light tanks which forced Neumanns battlegroup back to western side of Zaboklik. In the meantime, at about 1830h, 10th and 11th coy, together with parts of 9th coy had also reached Zaboklik. Everywhere in the village machine guns and mortars were brought into position. Supplies were alarmingly low and single soldiers were sent back to collect ammunition from the dead and wounded.
Without artillery support and low on ammo the commander of III./IR22 decided to hold Zaboklik and to organise a defence. Parts of II./IR22 had in the meantime arrived in Zaboklik aswell, and with these, six defensive groups were formed.

View from the outskirts of Zaboklik towards Bunker 4

The counter attack was carried out by the 2nd batallion of the 79th polish infantry regiment, supported by elements of its 3rd batallion and a company of TK Tankettes commanded by Lieutenant Mieczyslaw Kosiewicz.
The situation for the German defenders was critical. In the previous combats the straw on the fields behind the batallion had started to burn. Smoke and fire was everywhere. This made is difficult to bring in ammunition and to bring out the wounded. The soldiers of the Polish 79th Regiment were fighting most couragously, coming extremly close to the German positions. The left flank of Zaboklik was unguarded and IR22 always in the danger of getting outflanked. The fighting lasted through most of the night. On midnight a company of IR43 arrived, finally guarding Zabokliks left flank. In the early morning, the Poles retreated.

Captured TK Tankettes

1. Infanterie-Division (IR43/IR22) had taken the Gora-Kamienska and repulsed a counter attack at Zaboklik. The brunt of the fighting had been taken by III./IR22 which, after the fighting, had 12 soldiers killed in action and 20 severely wounded. Not much, considering that it had assaulted a fortified position and defended against a counter-attack by two Polish batallions and one company of tankettes.
The north eastern flank of the fortess of Mlawa had been crushed. 1. Infanterie-Division had gone through its baptism of fire and was able to try out new weapons and tactics.
According to the combat report of III./IR22 the new MG34s had been a complete success, as had the new ammo type “SmK(H)”. These 7.92mm rounds had a tungsten alloy core instead of an iron one. This gave the round an excellent armor piercing capability (13 mm for 30° impact angle). Every riflemen was issued with 10 rounds of this expensive ammo. The report states that enemy tankettes turned and retreated after being fired at with SmK(H).

It also notes that the ammo consumption of the MG34 was far worse than expected. The machine gun companies running out of ammo after only two hours of battle, having exhausted half of the batallions reserves! It advises to fire in shorter bursts, as many Polish dead had 6 or more bullet wounds. It was noticed that it was impossible to suppress concrete bunkers sufficiently by the use of artillery only and that without the use of 14th coys AT guns (firing directly) the attack would have stalled.

The battle of Mlawa had cost the Wehrmacht 1800 soldiers killed and another 3000 wounded. Polish losses being about 1200 killed and another 1500 wounded. Although the Mlawa position was finally abandoned on the 4th of September, the German forces suffered substantial losses and it was not until September 13, when they finally managed to reach the Modlin Fortress, located less than 100 kilometres to the south.

For the 1. Infanterie-Division Gora-Kamiensk had been a baptism of fire. Six years of total war still lay in front of them.

Sources used to compile this article:

– Major W. Richter, Die 1. (ostpreussische Infanterie-Division), Munich 1975
-Rudolf v. Tycowicz, Das Infanterie-Regiment 1 – Ein Erinnerungsbuch, 1966
-War diaries of 1.Infanterie-Division (US National Archives)
– Combat report of III. Batallion, Infanterie-Regiment 22 “Bericht über den Kampf an der Gora Kamienska“, Bundesarchiv
– Hauptmann von la Chevallerie (commanding officer of 11th company, III. Batallion), Handwritten report on the campaign in Poland, Bundesarchiv
– “Ostpreussische Kameraden”, various magazines of the organisation of former members of 1.ID (1955-64)

Knights Cross holders report on the invasion of Poland 1939 – Oberst de la Chevallerie – 1. Infanterie-Division

Oberst (then Hauptmann) de la Chevallerie left us a unique report on the first 8 days of the invasion of Poland (he was wounded on the 9th of September). The original report is stored in the Bundesarchiv (Militärarchiv) in Freiburg (Germany). Nobody knows exactly why he wrote it. It might have been written for a friend, it might also have been a draft for his memoires. Anyway, his writing style is quite unusual for a “prussian” officer (its not often that you find them telling you of their diarrhoea on campaign).  I have already taken some its passages for two earlier blog posts and thought it might now be time to publish it in full. But first you should know something about the man:

He seemed haughty and eccentric and I always had the impression that he was bored by everything that happened around him, but he took great care of his men and was an exceptional soldier.
(Obergefreiter Adam Rehberg, IR22 – Letter to the author) 

Oberst Botho Hermann Ludwig von La Chevallerie was born on the 1st of August 1898 in Hannover. During World War 1 he fought with Ulanen-Regiment 20, earning the Iron Cross First and Second Class. Not much else is known about his military career in the Great War. On the 6th of September 1918 he was taken prisoner by the british. He was released on the 1st of November 1919 and was discharged about three weeks later. He lived a civilian life up to October 1934 when he rejoined the army, taking over a company of Infanterie-Regiment 22 (1. Infanterie-Division) of the Gumbinnen Garrison.  On the 1st of January 1939 he was commanding the 11th company of the regiment. During the Polish Campaign, on the 9th of September 1939, he was badly wounded (shot into the neck with the round entering the lungs) and was transported to Ortelsburg/Germany for medical treatment. De la Chevallerie took part in the Campaign in the West (commanding 3rd battalion, Infanterie-Regiment 43, 1. Infanterie-Division). When the battalion was transferred to 121. Infanterie-Division and redesignated III./Infanterie-Regiment 408he stayed in command and participated in the campaign against Russia. On the 28th of June he was wounded again (one shot to the head, two into the arm), near Kowno.
Only a day before he had earned himself the Knights Cross, when his battalion attacked russian positions in the forests near Rukla. The enemy there was strong, so originally the attack was supposed to be carried out by the whole division. Having been cut of from artillery support and all other units, de la Chevallerie attacked with a single battalion instead. By the end of the day, III. battalion had taken the soviet positions. Huge amounts of supplies, arms and ammunition were captured.  He was awarded the Knights Cross on the 23. of July 1941.
After recovering from his wounds he took command of Infanterie-Ersatz-Bataillon 22 (regimental reserves) in Gumbinnen. In November 1943 (now a Major) we find him commanding Grenadier-Regiment 585 (320. Infanterie-Division) on the Eastern Front. Being wounded again on the 14th of November 1943, he succumbed to his wounds on the following day. He was promoted to the rank of Oberst posthumously.

Officers of III./Infanterie-Regiment 22 in horseback, Gumbinnen, 1938.

On the 21st of August we left the garrison, prepared as if going to war. I was lucky that only 20 of my men were reservists. Most of my NCOs were active soldiers and most of my reservists had served their two years in my company.
As squadleaders I had Leutnant Neumann, Oberfähnrich Koch (who had just left war academy) and my good, reliable Feldwebel Kudszus, who had just managed to rejoin the company before it marched out. He had been acting as drill sergeant in the reserve batallion and had spent the day before running around like a child waiting for christmas.
It was all very strange. We all had been issued live ammunition and handgrenades, but we still had our paybooks (Soldbücher) stored in a big box and everyone carried a red helmet band for “Autumn excercises”. Blanks had been left in storage, to be send to the “excercise grounds” if needed!
When we had reached the train station we deployed air defences (as if on maneuver), and loaded us and our equipment onto the trains. After we had finished, peace broke out again. Civilians, women and children flooded the platforms and everything looked just like a normal day as we had experienced it lots of times before.
Seven hours later we disembarked at Ortenburg and marched off into the direction of Willenberg. We had our first experiences with bad roads on campaign when our carriages, loaded with every wargear imaginable got stuck in knee deep sand. The wagons weighed up to five tons and with their low profile and rubber tires it was no wonder that only two horses had problems with them. After we had marched for about 30 kilometers we set up camp inside a forsest close to a small lake.

Officers and men of Infanterie-Regiment 43 in Poland (1939)

Tents were camouflaged and soon afterwards everyone was asleep. On the next day we were supposed to march into the regimental assembly areas to begin our excercises. Instead we recieved the information that these had been cancelled. That was good news and we spent the time swimming in the lake, cleaning weapons and caring for the horses. The company had eight vehicles. Three for arms and ammunition, three for luggage and other supplies, one kitchen wagon and one for air defence, mounting two MG34 machineguns. Three of them were drawn by requisitioned horses which were not bad, but a little bit on the weak side and being driven by naive reservists, whose only knowledge about horses consisted of sitting on the wagon, wildly shaking the reins and shouting “Hooah”.

First page of de la Chevalleries report

We spent three days in our bivouac, using the time to train the horses and give driving lessons to the men. We excercised swimming, made endurance runs through the forest.
The lads of the machine gun company had used the money of their “Manure-Fond” (selling of horse manure to farmers) to buy a radioset and every day the batallion assembled around it. From this we heard that we were stationed in a state of readiness, two kilometers away from the border! The truth was that we were about 10 Kilometers away from it, lazy and in our underpants.

On the last day we heard that Scheidies (Batallion commander) was transfered to divisional staff. You have to know Scheidies to understand how hard this was for him. It would have been easier if this had happened before we marched out, but now, when everyone was eagerly expecting action the whole thing was unbearable. The only “good” thing about this buisnenss that I was to take command of the batallion, so at least the men didn’t have to cope with an outsider.

The following night we continued our march. Near Kannwiesen we again set up camp when I was called to the regiment. There I recieved orders to take the batallion to a forest about about two kilometers from the polish border. The border there was lined by the river Orschütz, 5-6 meters wide and about 2 meters deep. There were no bridges, only a couple of fords (where the water had a depth of about half a meter). 
I returned to the battalion, the men equipped themselves with live ammunition and moved out to the target area. I was more than glad when we had reached it at about 0230h in the morning. Deep Masurian Pine forest, sand, sand and more sand, tiny roads and crossings every five minutes, which all looked exactly the same and half of them not being on any map, stuck vehicles and finally a disoriented artillery unit blocking our way with their wagons and guns. At 0300 in the morning I finally got in touch with an adjutant of the reconnaissance, who told as that X-Time was supposed to be at 0430h. That gave us about 90 minutes to lay down on the forest floor to catch some sleep. At 0330h I was woken an armed guard telling me that “Herr Oberstleutnant is coming”. And really, our Scheidies was back, carrying with him the message that all orders had been cancelled. Batallion was to move back and to await further orders. We had been told that the Poles were about to attack Gdansk and we were supposed to counter that by attacking him in return. Alas, the Poles did not do us that favor and, at least for the day, war was cancelled. We moved out again, made camp and spent the following days in a forest near Roggen, frying eggs on our entrenching tools, cleaning guns and waiting for what was to come.

On the 31st of August I was called back to the regiment. It was the same old song all over again. Scheidies (commander of 1st Btn.) was on leave and I had to take over. During the night we got the order to move into our attacking positions. The whole thing reminded me of the fable “The boy who cried wolf”, but an order is an order and we obeyed.

On the 1st of September (at three in the morning) we arrived, quite unenthusiastically, at the same spot where we had spent the nights of the 26th and 27th of August. The only difference being that now it rained cats and dogs. Shortly afterwards we received the order “X-Time 0445h”. As usual, nobody really believed that, but to everyone’s surprise, at precisely 0445h, our artillery fired a few salvos;  loudly announcing the start of the war! I have to mention that this was no proper artillery fire, the first salvos were only fired to find the correct range. Still there was one interlude that needs to mentioned.

Major Domizlaff, commander of I./IR22. also known as “Borante”, who was massively disliked by old and young,  had overzealous as usual,  already crawled over the border and had only just been missed by one of our shells. He took a splinter into his arse! Harmless but painful. This story spread like wildfire throughout the division which was soon roaring with laughter.

We crossed the Orschütz at a ford, leaving some our supply vehicles behind as the ground was much to swampy for them to cross (they rejoined our column some days later, after getting two more horses per wagon). Not one shot was fired from the polish side. We had not expected that, after all we had been told about strong enemy forces in the area.
All we saw were quite a number of small, dirty villages and some old people, who took of their hats when we passed, looking even more afraid than we did. It started with sand and more sand. Also thick dust, sometimes red, sometimes grey.  We could only see an actual road when inside a forest. Where there were no trees, there was the road. This changed when marching on open ground. You could only guess where to go. If we were lucky we could see the marks left by some farmers manure wagon, that was about it. What was marked a proper road on our maps wouldn’t have passed as a beaten track at home. No stones, no trees, no ditches, just dismally drab surroundings. It was terrible and most exhausting for the men. 

Later in the evening we had reached a prominent ridge. The enemy must be there! But again, disappointment. An excellent defensive position and nobody was using it!
18 kilometers futher on, the sounds of battle! Our cavalry scouts had clashed with enemy pickets. The regiment went into the attack. I. Batallion at the front, II. Batallion on the left, III. Batallion on the right flank. The first moves went smooth as if on the exercise ground. Then III. Batallion was ordered to halt and I got called to the regiment again.
I rode over as fast as I could and was told that I. Batallion had met the enemy at the village of Skorupki. It was now being flanked by enemy forces on Hill 188, effectivly pinning the batallion to ground. We were ordered to attack Hill 188 from the north, supported by a section of light infantry guns of 13th coy. An artillery observer was going to contact me soon. 

A nice and clear order. Going north we now saw the first dead poles lying on the roadsides.  The artilleryman had contacted me as promised, I had told him of my plan and he had promised fire support. In the meantime we had spotted three enemy machine guns on the hill. After a march of about 20 minutes we were in the position to assault the hill, just in time to see its defenders fleeing as if in panic. Again no sign of resistance. The enemy just left his most formidable position without even trying to defend. 

Still we were quite happy when we had reached the peak of the hill. Although we were not feeling quite as victorious as we would have liked. From up there we could see I. Batallion leaving Skorupki and in front of it, prominent on his white charger, our Scheidies. Because of Borantes wounded arse, he had been sent back to take charge of III. Batallion. I was delighted, as this meant I could go back to lead the lads of 11th company.

“Without rest we continued our march. Taking a southwesterly direction we crossed valleys and ridges, keeping up a fast pace and always in open order. We must not give the poles a minute of rest. As we had no vehicles we had to carry our heavy weapons aswell. A most exhausting business, even for the best trained men.
The sun set and we dug in. Guards and pickets were set up. It was cold, our coats were still on our baggage train. We were hungry aswell and our field kitchen was nowhere close. At this moment food and coats were about 18 hours behind us. There was no hay to cover ourselves with, so we laid down on open field in shallow pits and ditches. I was lucky to be lying on a flax field as I could use the plants to make myself a small pillow and a partial blanket. The other part of my blanket was provided by the Zeltbahn (tent square) of one of my NCOs (Unteroffizier Zibulski), which we shared like brothers even it was a little small for two grown men. I still slept like a log, up until at half past three in the morning I was woken by Leutnant Götz, once member of my company, now second adjutant to the CO of I. Batallion. “Herr Hauptmann, you are ordered back to the regiment to take over command of I. Batallion”. 

Even the classic Goethe quote* (see below) would not help me, so I got up and stumbled up to the regimental command post, joining I. Batallion shortly afterwards. We had been ordered to act as divisional reserve! I was swearing my head off, but to no avail. Notwithstanding that I also got hit by a fit of diarrhoea. Our Doctor called it a gastric flu, but I call it the worst kind of diarrhoea I have ever experienced! I also had a temperature. I guzzled down a dose of opium, quinine and tanalbin every 15 minutes, but dragged through the whole thing as well as I could. Not that we had much to do. Changing positions into a different wood every 2 or 3 hours, three kilometers away from the frontline. The boring fate of the reserves.
Now and then we could hear the sounds of battle and later we could see a steep ridge, on which trenches and bunkers could be spotted. The Kamienka ridge, which was defended by the Poles until the boys of II., but mainly III. Batallion cleared them out with hand-grenades. My company had been in battle for the first time and put up a good show, loosing four dead and five wounded (including 3 NCOs).

The next day was a good day, as I was finally given the chance to fight. The regiment was attacking, but its left flank was open and unguarded. To cover it I got command of small detachment consisting of 1st coy., one squad of 4th (MG) coy., two light infantry guns of 13th coy. and two AT guns of 14th coy. With this respectable force I defended the regiments flank against an attack that sadly never happened. When shortly afterwards IR43 took over, I took over commanding the reserves again, following the regiment south-east, which at least gave me chance to have a closer look on the fortifications of the Gora-Kamiensk. We only had short rest of about an hour, before continuing our march through the night. This was disturbed by some sporadic and unaimed polish artillery fire, which was quite disturbing for some of the younger soldiers. I had seen far worse on the battlefields of the last war and knew we were not in any danger. I did not even dismount, as it was a lot easier to control the horse from the saddle. When we passed a few burning villages the artillery fire stopped as suddenly as it started. 
The next morning we could see huge columns of enemy soldiers streaming south from the area of Mlawa. They were out of reach of our guns and obviously we had failed to pocket them in. We later heard that this was done on purpose, as the fleeing masses were enlarging the confusion in and around Warsaw.

There was only one thing for us to do. Marching until the feet were bleeding and the lungs burst. Fast pace and open order. 15 kilometers, shouldering heavy machine guns and mortars and carrying twice the normal supply of cartridges and hand grenades. 
In the meantime our kitchen had caught up with us and I made a promise to myself not to let it go again. Then suddenly a road, at least it used to be one 100 years ago, and open ground in front of us. A one hour break to eat and rest. Another stretch of marching till midnight. Another rest, this time in a small hamlet. The men resting in a tiny barn, stacked like herrings in a tin.  We had been marching for four days now. Only short breaks, no one had the time to wash. The stench in the barn was quite unpleasant, but at least it was warm.

8./IR43 on the march, 1939.

At 0200 suddenly alarm! Only two hours of sleep. Everyone was cursing, but to no avail. Off we went again.  The usual crappy roads and never-ending 25 kilometer stretch of marching. It was hot and we were sweating like the pigs. There was no water. The few wells we found were constructed for one goat and a couple of Poles. Not even enough for washing, although the Poles did not seem to take body hygiene to serious anyway. 

For some reason the bandit managing our kitchen always had hot tea and coffee ready for us and we still got food supplies from the divisional baggage train. As I did not want to send our heavy kitchen wagon to fetch supplies we “organized” a small cart drawn by two nimble panje horses. Every day we had another use for that. We lived on the move and off the land. One day it was loaded with an old fusilier plucking dozens of chicken. The next time we were slaughtering a couple of piglets and a lamb on it. One day it was loaded with three Polish civilians peeling potatoes. Every day we took a different collection of Poles to do these jobs. We had run out of bread days ago, but with the supplies found on the way I was able to supply the men with two warm meals a day. 

Later we came up to a proper farm estate. A good place to rest. This was the first proper Polish farm we had seen so far. Clean and large stables. They seemed to have bred pigs there. Lots of sows and piglets around. Not a soul to be seen. All light bulbs had been removed, the water supply had been cut. Again no chance to wash and shave. Most of us looked like a poor version of St. Peter and smelt like the other inhabitants of the farm. The pigs were well fed and even if the horses had been removed there must have been people around. Whoever they were, they managed to stay out of sight.

At dusk another break inside the usual tiny hamlets. Two hours of rest. The next morning after only three kilometers we reach a small jewish village called Makow. We get a surprising rest as there is a big traffic jam. Large parts of our division, including the reconnaissance unit needed to cross our old relation, the river Orschütz, again. This time by using a small makeshift bridge, everything was in chaos.
The city full of jews. The houses were so dirty that I would not have entered them even under threat of death. Most of the shops had been devastated by polish soldiers. Sweets and chocolates had been trampled on the ground. A german soldier would never do things like that. A german soldier would eat as much as he could and take the rest to eat it later.

Again no chance to wash. It was the 6th of September and the day ended like it had started. A small march of 20 kilometers, then a long rest in a forest. The roads had become even worse and again there was no lake or a drop of water to wash with, but at least we finally got a long rest. No enemy in sight and still heading south-east….

* “Tell your captain that for His Imperial Majesty, I have, as always, due respect. But he, tell him that, he can lick me in the arse!” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Götz von Berlichingen”.

“The night was pitch black. Sandy ground everywhere, making marching a pain. A chausee was supposed to be somewhere in front of us. We passed a stuck supply column loaded with ammunition. One of our horses died of pure exhaustion this night. It was the most terrible march of the whole campaign.

Finally we reached the chaussee. Well, it probably had been a chaussee once, in the time of William the Conqueror. But at least we were marching on a road again.
A while later a car came up, which took me, Scheidies and the officer in charge of the machine gun company up to the regiment. We were closing on the river Narew, about 2 kilometers south of the old russian fortress of Rozan and were to look for favourable spots to cross. Pioneers had brought in lots of rubber dingies and when the sun began to rise the battalion crossed the river. The bridges near Rozan had been blown, so we couldn’t take our vehicles with us. Again our payload began to rise. More ammunition, more hand-grenades and heavy weapons. On the other side discarded rifles, ammunition and helmets, but again no sign of enemy resistance, no sign that we were actually fighting a war.

We marched through a forest, companies spread out in open order but with reduced spacing as it was easy to loose one another in the dense trees. Through the forest, up a hill and down again. Loaded like mules with ammunition and equipment, steel helmets on and all under the burning sun. Always heading south-east and no end in sight.
In the evening we made camp and dug into a what we call a “hedgehog” position.
We had taken some dumb polish soldiers prisoner, who had put on civilian clothing, but had forgotten to remove their dog tags. They had been told that it would take three or four days until the first german soldiers showed up. Quite a surprise for them.

We did not win the war in Poland by feats of arms. We won because of the iron will and stubbornness of our infantry and their intensive peacetime training, which had enabled them to continue marching night and day with only minimal rest.

I was very pleased with my men, and I told them that I was. In these early days of September 1939, everything we had trained for since April 1935 had paid out.

It was not the 15 minutes of combat during the attack on the Gora Kamiensk that was hardest for the officers and men. For an officer it is most rewarding that he managed to motivate his worn out and footsore soldiers again and again. Minimal rest, one march after the other, through night and sun, through dust and dirt, each march at least 8 hours long, without loosing a single man. The NCOs did a wonderful job, keeping their lads in a pristine condition, motivating them by setting an example themselves. The best soldiers in the World.

The night was terribly cold, again I shared a Zeltbahn with Zibulski. In the morning the kitchen caught up with us. The Hauptfeldwebel supplied us with cigarettes, cigars, tobacco and sweets that he had “conquered” somewhere. With a big grin he covered me with a warm blanket, supplied me with a steaming pot of coffee, stuck a cigar between my teeth and said “get another 2 hours of sleep, we are to march out at 0500h“. Each single one of these gallant deeds was fantastic and couldn’t be weighed up in gold. For the first time in days I managed to get some proper rest. I smoked half the cigar and finished the rest later on horseback.

On the 8th of September we were told that our division and one cavalry brigade was to be part of the easternmost half of pincer movement designed to encircle Warsaw. The day continued like the others. Endless marches through sand and dirt.
Near a small stream we managed to wash and to shave. Fusilier Rohde, who had been a barber in Essen in his civilian life, professionally removed my beard. A pity, somehow I had become attached to it. When I reported “Company washed and shaved, ready to march out” to Scheidies, he couldn’t keep himself from grinning.

After this rest we continued marching, this time heading south. It seemed that the pincer was now being closed. In the evening we got the message that the first german soldiers had entered Warsaw. I could not believe it, as this would have meant that we had missed all the fun. I was quite happy when it turned out to be a false report. On the next morning myself, the regiments commander, the battalion commander and his adjutant, set out in a car to reconnoiter. Actually a foolish thing to do. We carried our pistols and the driver had a carbine, but that was not a lot of firepower to defend ourselves with.



We soon came to a village called Bojani, which we entered on foot. Civilians only. “Nje soldiers here, Nje soldiers”. The enemy had only just left the night before. Just behind Bojani the river Bug. Now we had to find a good place to cross, which we found later that day in the form of a ford. About a meter deep and sixty meters wide. Our cavalry brigade was supposed to be on the other side already and in contact with the enemy. Not a shot could be heard though. When we were in the process of crossing a brilliantly aimed polish artillery shell fell directly between three fully manned dinghies. By a small miracle no one got hurt. Having reached the other side, we set up a small bridgehead, distributed heavy weapons and marched on. Soon we came up to village inhibited by ethnic germans. Even if they looked poor as church mouses they cheered us and brought up bread, butter and water for the men”

When the largest part of our regiment had crossed the river we finally went into combat. If enemy numbers were small, I was to attack and destroy the opposition. If enemy resistance was strong we were ordered to retreat to defend our bridgehead.
I did not see a single polish soldier. For me that meant that enemy forces were probably not strong. That meant we were going to attack. In front of us a stretch of forest with swampy ground, crossed by ditches and a wide canal. Right in the middle a good road leading south to a small bridge crossing the canal. So far, so good. We moved up the road at fast pace, each squad crossing the bride after the other. When we had crossed that we folded out again. One squad to the right, one squad to the left of the road, third squad at the rear. Heavy machine guns and mortars are shooting suppressive fire and move up slowly behind us. By then we had been targeted by polish artillery.


Open collars, remove neckties! Go! Go! Go!”. Be aggressive, just don’t slacken the pace. The men moved forward by squads, the others providing cover. How often had we trained just that on the exercise ground near the Pissa-Bridge. Only now I was not sitting comfortably on the parapet, criticising the men. I was trotting with them, passing out orders to move with my whistle. I was first over the bridge. German soldiers on the other side. Members of the bicycle company which was part of the cavalry brigade. “How good to see you guys, good have some infantry support over here!” To hear such words from a cavalryman was praise indeed. The cyclists had been pinned down by enemy fire. They also lacked heavy weapons.

As I had what they were lacking, we agreed to attack together. My men leading the assault, the bicycle lads covering our flanks. The ground covered with elder trees and more ditches. The Poles put up a skilful defence, using the ground to their advantage. We could not bring the firepower of the heavy machine guns to bear. It had to be a classic infantry attack, the soldiers using their speed and dexterity, their rifles, bayonets and hand grenades. Now and then one of our light machine guns had a clear field of fire. We get carried forward by the elation of having a fighting enemy in front of us for the first time in eight days! Soon the forest had been cleared. We continued our fighting advance. In front of me Zibulski jumped a ditch and got shot by polish soldier hiding in an underpass which crossed the road diagonally some way further up. The soldier was in an excellent position and was defending like a lion, alone as all of his comrades had run away.



Had there been three men and a machine gun, Neumanns squad would have ceased to exist. With rifle or pistol we could not get him, someone would have had to enter the ditch and the soldier was keeping that under constant, precise fire. We had to attack from the other side of the road with hand-grenades. When I crossed the road I got shot into the neck by a machine gun that was covering from the direction of Sadowne.

It was only luck, that in the heat of battle, I had opened my collar and removed my necktie. Otherwise the bullet would have carried half a pound of dirty linen into the wound. I fell to the ground, could not walk, my lungs began to hurt and I could only whisper. I was just able to see some lads finishing off the polish soldier in the underpass. My friend Zibulski, who had shared his blanket with me every night, had been shot in the thigh. The bullet had injured the main artery. He died on the same day after he had been carried to the main dressing station.

A field medic took care of us and got wounded himself, going down right beside me. We stayed under constant fire until the company finally managed to enter Sadowne. 11th coy had five men wounded, one dead.
Polish fire was badly aimed and frantic. The Polish soldiers were very different. Some fought like lions, with skill and full of courage. Others ran like sheep when the first shot was fired. With german officers they would have made excellent troops.

 



The first german casualty of World War 2 – The case of Oberstleutnant Domizlaff

Last year I got into contact with a militaria collector in the UK who had just bought a collection of military documents that had once belonged to Oberstleutnant Ottomar Domizlaff.

In 1939 Domizlaff was serving in Infanterie-Regiment 22, commanding its first battalion during the Polish campaign. By then he had served as soldier for nearly 21 active years! He was a thorough professional, serving as as Leutnant in World War 1, where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. Only three years after the end of the Great War, he rejoined the German army as a Leutnant, signing up for 12 years of service in 1921. He served in Schützen-Regiment 2 and Infanterie-Regiment 5 during which he was promoted to the rank of Hauptmann. In 1939, now a Major, he took command of I./IR22.

Leutnant Domizlaff in 1921

In his documents, there is a highly interesting award certificate for the wound badge (Verwundetenabzeichen) in silver. It was awarded in 1940 for a wound received on 1st of September 1939. The date of the Invasion of Poland.

Domizlaff had already been wounded in World War 1, earning the black wound badge in 1917, so it is not unusual that he received the silver grade for a single wound in World War 2.

Unusual was the date the wound was received. There were quite a lot of soldiers who got wounded on the 1st of September 1939, but the number is extremely low compared to all the soldiers who got wounded in the days, months and years after that. Looking from a collectors point of view, finding an award document with this date is very rare. I was intrigued by that and started to dive into the divisional documents available to me to find out more.

The award certificate for the “Verwundetenabzeichen in Silber”.

The war diaries for the Polish campaign had been destroyed during a bombing raid on Berlin in 1942, so finding something in there was impossible. The only remaining material from that period it a war diary of Pionier-Batallion 1, but looking there would be fruitless aswell. It was then, that a friend of mine remembered the letter written by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie on the campaign in Poland.

The report by Hauptmann de la Chevallerie (which is in itself fantastic, as it’s full of sarcastic remarks and written with a grim sense of humour) shed light on what happened to Ottomar Domizlaff, who might indeed be the first german casualty of the Polish campaign and possibly even World War 2!

The regiment, stationed close to the Polish border, had been exercising false alarms for a couple of weeks now. Every night the soldiers were called out in full gear and with orders to move out for an imminent attack.

De la Chevallerie writes that:

“On the 31st of August I was called back to the regiment. It was the same old song all over again. Scheidies (commander of 1st Btn.) was on leave and I had to take over. During the night we got the order to move into our attacking positions. The whole thing reminded me of the fable “The boy who cried wolf”, but an order is an order and we obeyed.

On the 1st of September (at three in the morning) we arrived, quite unenthusiastically, at the same spot where we had spent the nights of the 26th and 27th of August. The only difference being that now it rained cats and dogs.
Shortly afterwards we received the order “X-Time 0445h”. As usual, nobody really believed that, but to everyone’s surprise, at precisely 0445h, our artillery fired a few salvos; loudly announcing the start of the war! I have to mention that this was no proper artillery fire, the first salvos were only fired to find the correct range. Still there was one interlude that needs to mentioned.

Major Domizlaff, commander of I./IR22. also known as “Borante”, who was massively disliked by old and young, had overzealous as usual, already crawled over the border and had only just been missed by one of our shells. He took a splinter into his arse! Harmless but painful. This story spread like wildfire throughout the division which was soon roaring with laughter.”

Two pages of de la Chevalleries report (calligraphy was not one of his strengths)

Even I had to laugh about that. The professional, overzealous and massively unpopular commander Major Domizlaff got wounded only minutes after 0445h. And I think I am on the safe side if I say that he might very well have been the first German casualty of the Polish campaign and maybe even World War 2. Even if he was wounded by friendly fire (he still got the wound badge for it), the wound took him out of action for a couple of weeks.

Far more exiting (and funny) than the usual World War 2 discoveries you see in the media (Hitler had only one testicle, the germans built ufos etc), dont you think? Anyone wants to contact the press? 😉

Oberstleutnant Domizlaff died on the 8th of January 1941.

UPDATE:

According to the statement of Mr. Rehberg a veteran of IR22 (+2012) Major Domizlaff comitted suicide in January 1941, the fact that he did so being a well know fact inside the regiment and the division. As I had nothing to prove this statement I left that part out of this post. This all changed when I recieved this letter written by Vanessa Domizlaff of Bloomington, Indiana. It sheds light on the person of Ottomar Domizlaff, his family and his dark and horrible fate:

“I was doing a random search, when I came across the claim that Oberstleutnant Ottomar Domizlaff may literally have been the first German casualty of the invasion of Poland. Aside from being completely blindsided by this assertion, I was also admittedly amused by the account of his undignified war injury at first– perhaps it was my inherent reservations in humanizing a man of his position or maybe it was simply the sheer incredulousness of this story.

The person Ottomar was known to me. I understood his position in the constellation of my family – he was the younger cousin of my grandfather and died during the war in a vehicular accident in Gumbinnen while on duty – but I knew close to nothing of his doings. I was initially confused to read the name and description of “Borante” that accompanied the original article. This name is, in fact, the proper name of Ottomar’s youngest brother, Borante Georg Standford Domizlaff, who left his own blemish on history as Major SS-Sturmbannführer when was called to trial along with Herbert Kappler for his involvement in the Ardeatine massacre in Rome. He was later acquitted of all charges and to my amazement went on to star in Dino Risi’s Italian comedy Una vita difficile, playing a role that came natural to him – that of a Nazi officer. After more consideration, I suggest that the name Borante must have been a moniker for Ottomar, one that was either given by his family or one he adopted himself. This idea does not seem too far-fetched considering the meaning that this name carries in our family. As was the fashion among the rising middle class, my family sought to establish a lineage to further elevate their status. They claimed Tepitz and Borante, the two infant sons of Lord Domizlav zu Alten-Stettin, who are documented to be the first Christianized Slavs in Stettin in Poland under Bishop Otto von Bamberg, as our ancestors and perhaps in an attempt to add credibility to this allegation, they re-introduced the name “Borante”. If we accept “Borante” to be a moniker, we honor all of the evidence and testaments collected in the original article, which I believe to be very credible.

Before we share our findings with you, allow me to tell you more of Ottomar Domizlaff:

Karl Ottomar Domizlaff (1897-1941) was the fourth of seven children born to Karl Heinrich Franz (1859-1915) and his wife Margarete Ernestine Momsen, whose brother Hart Momsen lived in the United States and was father to Admiral Charles Bowers “Swede” Momsen, inventor of the “Momsen lung”. Karl was the second son of Julius Dumzlaff (1828-1902) from his second marriage to Franziska Lynker. Julius’s only child from his first marriage to Emilie Lorsbach was my great-grandfather Georg (1857-1937), who served as “Präsident der Oberpostdirektion in Leipzig” as well as the “Feld-Oberpostmeister” during World War I.

While in service, Ottomar’s father Karl was promoted to Reserve-Lieutenant of the Infanterieregiment Nr. 74 in 1883 and later advanced to Hauptmann of the Landwehr-Infanterie. Despite of his advanced age, Karl voluntarily reported to the Front at the outbreak of World War I and led the Reserveinfanterieregiment Nr. 74 as Kompanieführer into combat. He fell on February 18th 1915 during an assault nearby Perthes, Champagne, and succumbed to shots suffered to the head and chest. He was posthumously awarded an Iron Cross of the 2nd class in 1919.

Ottomar’s eldest brother Hart Helmuth served as Reserve-Lieutnant in the same Reserveinfanterieregiment as their father and died on September 7th 1917 in a military hospital in Dun, France, from injuries suffered to his lung while in combat in Verdun. He was awarded the Iron Cross of the 2nd class posthumously. Prior to his death, Hart penned a novel titled, Morituri. His cousin Hans, my grandfather, and Ottomar’s eldest sister Natalie saw to its independent publication in 1917.

The family’s extensive involvement in the military is apparent. Yet we know from Ottomar’s American relatives, that Ottomar and his brother Julius were adament in discouraging their youngest brother Borante from entering service under Hitler and pressured him to take over the family insurance business instead. This insight possibly attests to the sincere attitude of Ottomar towards the realities of war and yet we find him committed to a long-term career without ever having taken a wife or entering any other profession. According to the same source, Ottomar died in France on January 8th 1941. The cause remained unexplained and the location of his death contradicts official records.

Within my branch of the family, we have only one official testament pertaining to Ottomar’s fate, which I have translated for you from Mühlrad, Schulbank und Carrière. Geschichte und Familien-überlieferungen der Domizlaff aus Pommern und Preußen, page 451:

“Karl Ottomar, born on July 22nd, 1897, died 1941, entered German military service and was injured in the first days of World War II in Poland, was then at the Western Front and in East Prussia, and died as Oberstleutnant in a car crash while on duty in Gumbinnen, East Prussia,”.

What intrigued both the author and myself, were the circumstances surrounding Ottomar’s death. Any obvious evidence was in direct conflict with the report made by the veteran of IR22, who was a member of Ottomar’s battalion and whose claim that it was rumored that Ottomar took his own life in January of 1941 ought to be entirely believable based on his insight. The longer we considered the evidence, it didn’t seem unlikely that the ordinary accident was merely a cover-up for a suicide, which would surely be marked as dishonorable within the Wehrmacht as well as his family.

Curious to find out what really happened, my father explored all avenues of gaining insight to Ottomar’s death. Rather quickly, through the assistance of family acquaintances, we were able to determine that it was commonly rumored within our family, and expressively confided by an immediate relative, that Ottomar had not perished in a car crash. In reality, he is said to have been a homosexual, who, in light of his high military rank, was summoned to take his own life, in order to keep face and avoid sentencing and certain execution. In regard to the family’s reputation, and most definitely the Wehrmacht, his death was officially documented as an accident.

Although this is certainly only part of his story, the rumors that Ottomar was a homosexual speaks volumes. It may explain why Ottomar was severely unpopular among the soldiers of his battalion or why he opted for a long-term career in the military without taking a wife. We do not know if he was found out, outed, or commonly known to be a homosexual, but certainly, it must have been a dangerous time. In light of this information, we must come to see and understand Ottomar differently.

I will withhold my personal thoughts from this brief account, but I hope in light of these details, we can inject some humanity into the discussion and begin to understand Ottomar as a complex individual. We can not begin to know what circumstances or motivations drive a person, unless we try to understand them like we would a friend, or in my case, a relative.

I am sincerely grateful to the author of 1infanteriedivision for bringing this story to light, calling Ottomar into question, and allowing me the opportunity to elaborate.

In gratitude,

Vanessa Domizlaff (Bloomington, Indiana).”

Sources:

  • Mühlrad, Schulbank und Carrière Geschichte und Familien-überlieferungen der Domizlaff aus Pommern und Preußen. (http://www.hans-domizlaff-archiv.net/index.php?familie)
  • The Ancestors and Descendants of Hart Momsen and Susie Bowers Momsen compiled by Ruth Momsen Quast, 2003.

Ottomar Domizlaff in 1938

Thanks to this information, which matches the rumors inside IR22 and 1.ID this rather funny story took a turn to the dark side. And as Vanessa correctly points out its most probably the explanation why Ottomar Domizlaff was massively unpopular, and if I may take it a step further, it might also be the reason for his overzealousness. A homosexual officer in a highly traditional division and regiment of the German Wehrmacht had no other choice.

I feel ashamed and bow my head to Karl “Borante” Ottomar Domizlaff. May he rest in peace.

Danke Vanessa….

Ottomar as a baby

Karl Otto