Feldpost – A letter from the Eastern Front, June 1942

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

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

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

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

feldpost

Dear Theo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

art

Advertisements

Military Book Review – Die Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg (IFZ)

Ostkrieg

Die Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg (The Wehrmacht in the War in the East), is certainly one of the best and most important books on the German army in WW2 I have read during the last 10 years. Sadly it does not yet seem to have been translated into the English language. The review below is not by me, but as its excellently written I take the liberty to publish it here (original text found on http://www.perspectivia.net/content/publikationen/francia/francia-recensio/2011-2/ZG/hartmann_strohn) 

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

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

Review by Matthias Strohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

Kühbacher

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

schaefer

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

conrads

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

Kohs

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

sspanzergrenadier3

More citations when I find the time. 

Soviet Propaganda – 1941, Unternehmen Barbarossa

The propaganda leaflets shown below were collected by men of 4th Panzer-Division during the first months of the Russian Campaign in 1941 to mid 1942 and are, as far as I am informed, so far unpublished. Many of them appear naive and inefficient, the Soviet propaganda machine obviously still had a lot to learn.

Destroyed Divisions! Probably resulted in a big laugh in 1941

Destroyed Divisions! Probably resulted in a big laugh in 1941

The above leaflet shows the German Divisions and even a full Panzerkorps destroyed by the Red Army in 1941/1942. Interestingly and probably well-known to the german soldier at the front, not one of the units above was wiped out this year. Many didn’t even exist! The Soviets seem to have been very much obsessed with the “Grossdeutschland” Regiment, as they call it a “SS-Regiment” which it never was. An error found on many similar documents of the time.
The footnote tells the reader that this list is far from being complete. Divisions annihilated at the Northern Front and Bessarabia have not even been taken into account. The german fallen, even the ones serving in the SS, were buried in unmarked graves.

Hitlers Crusade!

Hitlers Crusade!

“Crosses I want to see, I do not mind if they are of our own people..” Hitler inspecting the ranks of the dead.  Again the right sign reads “SS-Regiment “Grossdeutschland”

N3619a

Soldiers! Hitlers sanguinary fascism has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers. DOWN WITH HITLERS DICTATORSHIP!

0859

The “Front Illustrated”, dropped above the lines of 4th Panzer-Division in 1941.
“Hitler and his bloodthirst are responsible for the misfortune of the German people.”
“Within the first month of the war against Soviet Russia Germany has lost more than 1.500.000 men! 3000 aircraft and 5000 tanks!”

0860

“The only way to survive is to be taken prisoner by the Soviet Army. Thousands of German soldiers already have allowed themselves to be taken prisoner. They will be treated well and will return to their families. Hitler, the executioner of the German people will be overthrown! Come to us! After the War has ended you will return home.”

0861

“If you continue fighting, you will lose your life. Just as hundreds of thousands of German soldiers have lost theirs. Down with the Cannibal Hitler and his bloodthirsty minions. Defect to the Red Army!”

0890

The leaflet above is so full of spelling errors, wrong names and fake numbers that it is hard to believe it was actually dropped over the lines of 4th Panzer-Division in late 1941. I suppose the draft was written in Russian and only then translated into the German language. At least a dozen major spelling mistakes and a pile of grammatical errors were the result.

“Do you know who this is? It is German Göring! He is in Prison! Frightened and shocked by the power of Russia, England and America the fascist leaders fight each other like dogs, laying the blame of their failings on each other. 

Brauchitsch and Keitel have fled from the Front. 

List has been removed from his office. 

General HANS Udet has shot himself! (They knew the true cause of his death, so it is fascinating they got his name wrong!)

Göring has been imprisoned!

The German army has suffered terrible losses. Around 2 Million soldiers have already been killed! How will it look when the main force of the Red Army will join battle?

You are moving towards certain death! Set an end to this war! Turn your weapons on the ones that have forced you to join it. Kill your officers! Defect to the Red Army! You will be well treated. You will get peace, freedom, bread and will soon return to your families at home! “

If there is any interest, there are dozens of these leaflets which I could add at a later date. 

Bird of Prey – Torpedoboot Seeadler 1939-42 – Kriegsmarine

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

geilsee

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

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

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER (SE)

Commanders of TB Seeadler:

1. Mai 1927: unknown

November 1938: Kapitänleutnant Hartenstein

Oktober 1939: unknown

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

März 1942: Kapitänleutnant Strecker

SE1

Seeadler on the left

TB Seeadler

TB Seeadler

SE03

seead1

OPERATIONAL HISTORY

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

French ship used for target practice

French ship used for target practice

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

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

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

pzkeu

SE05

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

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

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

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

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

min6 min5 min3 min4 min2 min

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

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

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

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

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

live

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

geschsee

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

SE06 SE07

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

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

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

mine1 mine2 mine3 mine4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mtb

MTB 219, sunk by Seeadler

85 members of Seeadlers crew were killed.

.crew

Christmas 1940

crew2

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

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

Fredo – A World War 2 Talisman

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

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

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

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

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

Fredo

Fredo

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinyavino in October 1942

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

Timeline of the german advance on Leningrad

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German field defences near Lake Ladoga

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (1)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (2)

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

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

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


Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (3)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (4)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (5)

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

Units involved

German                                                                  Soviet

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

Strength

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

Casualties and losses

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


Most of the footage is staged, still interesting material.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First page of the original report

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

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

Soviet infantry attacking

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


13th of January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanks destroyed in front of the regimental positions

The enemy lost 31 tanks in front of our regiment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper of Fusilier-Regiment 22 “Tapfer und Treu”

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

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

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

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

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

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