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

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

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

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

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

Sinyavino in October 1942

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

Timeline of the german advance on Leningrad

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German field defences near Lake Ladoga

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (1)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (2)

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

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

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


Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (3)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (4)

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

Situational Map – Battle of Lake Ladoga (5)

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

Units involved

German                                                                  Soviet

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

Strength

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

Casualties and losses

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


Most of the footage is staged, still interesting material.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First page of the original report

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

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

Soviet infantry attacking

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


13th of January

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tanks destroyed in front of the regimental positions

The enemy lost 31 tanks in front of our regiment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper of Fusilier-Regiment 22 “Tapfer und Treu”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hauptmann Walther Hofmeister

hofmeister00400011

Start of military service: March 1940

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

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

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

Hofmeisters uniform, medals, dagger and photo album

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

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

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

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

Hofmeisters Photoalbum

Hofmeisters Military Documents

Hofmeisters Military Documents

Documents used:

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

Grandfathers comrades – Wochenschau recordings of Fusilier-Regiment 22, January 1943

This bit of info used to be on my “old” blog (1infanteriedivision.wordpress.com), just pulling it over. It was once part of my series on the 2nd Battle of Lake Ladoga, which I will republish with added information later this year. 

Original Divisional Map, South of Lake Ladoga January 1943. My grandfathers position at "1./22"

Original Divisional Map, South of Lake Ladoga January 1943. My grandfathers position at “1./22”

Inside the original war diaries of “1. Infanterie-Division” there is a torn out magazine page taken from a 1943 edition of “Der Völkische Beobachter“. It shows two photos taken during the Second Battle of Lake Ladoga. Normaly propaganda/news magazines do not give any details on where exactly photos were taken.

“On the 14th of January 1943 men of a Propaganda-Kompanie visit our trenches to collect material for the press and the Wochenschau. We are proud that they chose to visit the east-prussian Fusiliers.”
(“Tapfer und Treu” – Regimental newspaper of FR22, April 1943)

The page kept in the divisions diaries has handwriting on it noting that the photos taken, show soldiers of 1. Infanterie-Division and more precisely “1st Batallion, Füsilier-Regiment 22″. They were taken by members of “Propaganda-Kompanie 621” in January 1943. The war diaries also note that PK-Kompanie 621 recorded a film of which parts were used in the “Deutsche Wochenschau. I spent weeks looking through the relevant editions of the Wochenschau to find that strip of film showing the men of Füsilier-Regiment 22. I was just about to give up the search when I saw this frame appear on my screen.

It’s the same tank, as is the object in the foreground. We are looking at the trenches of Füsilier-Regiment 22 during the Battle of Lake Ladoga! Whats even better is that due to this I can now present a short strip of film shot during the battle.

Meet the men my grandfather would have known, his comrades, the soldiers of Füsilier-Regiment 22. It is a shame that he never had the chance to see these recordings.

37mm AT guns are those of Panzerjäger-Abteilung 1, 8.8cm Flak gun is probably from Heeresflak (Army) Abteilung 280.

Taking the camera to Stalingrad – German documentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

feldwebel

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

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

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

posenmap

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

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

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

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

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

Tattenberger

Tattenberger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tannenbergstrasse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stg44

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

posen2map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poznan Town Hall after the battle.

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

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

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

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

flucht

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

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

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

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

Posen2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilhelm in 1941

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

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

Wilhelm in 1928

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poszukiwany:

Polizei-Meister Wilhelm Heinrich Höfmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aerial view of part of the Mlawa fortifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polish 37mm AT gun

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

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

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

Mlawa after the battle

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

Panzer III of Division “Kempf” advancing on Mlawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare color photo showing soldiers of IR43, Poland 1939

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polish 37mm AT gun

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

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

First page of the report

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

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

First stages; fighting the pickets

Gora Modern

Modern Sat view of the Gora Kamienska Battlefield

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

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

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

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

Bunker on the Gora Kamienska

Assembling for the attack

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Remains of trenches on the Gora Kamienska

Modern Satellite view of the area

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

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

Bunker 4 – 73 years later

The “new” machine gun in action – MG34

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

View from the outskirts of Zaboklik towards Bunker 4

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

Captured TK Tankettes

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

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

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

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

Sources used to compile this article:

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

Men against tanks – Fighting russian armour on the eastern front – Official reports, 1943

After the artillery barrage had stopped an eerie silence set in. It was pitch dark and snowing heavily…then we saw the purple signal flares rise into the night sky and prepared ourselves to defend against enemy tanks.”
(Interview with Obergefreiter Lemmler, 8./Füsilier-Regiment 22 in “Ostpreussische Kameraden”, 1955)

For the period of January and February 1943 the divisional war diaries (NARA T315 R8/R9) of 1. Infanterie-Division hold a series of highly interesting documents which relate to the experiences of soldiers who destroyed an enemy tank single-handedly by use of a hand-held weapon.

The infantry divisions of “HG Nord” (Army group north) in 1942/43 had a chronic shortage of larger caliber AT and Flak guns with which to combat enemy tanks effectively. This resulted in gaps in the defences, which made an inviting target for enemy armour. As always when somebody had to take the rap, that somebody was the infantry.

Satchel charges, hand and rifle grenades, AT mines, flash and smoke grenades and more importantly, huge courage were the tools that were needed to combat a tank effectively. The short reports found inside the divisional KTB (war diary) give a detailed and sometimes frightening view on the brutal confrontation of men against tanks…

3 Kilo Hafthohlladung H3 (3 kilo hollow charge)

The first report is by an NCO who I “know” quite well. Feldwebel Hofmeister was my grandfathers “Zugführer” (platoon leader). He was killed holding the rank of Hauptmann (Captain) in 1944. On my website you can have a look at his military documents and his photo album.

Unteroffizier Hofmeister, 4./FR22, wearing the tank destruction badge on his right sleeve.

Feldwebel Hofmeister
4./Füsilier-Regiment 22
Date of action: 6th of June 1942

Tanktype: T34                                  Weapon used: 3 kilo charge

As a pair we used the ground and craters to approach the enemy tank undetected. About 10 meters behind it, we ducked into cover and armed the charge. While the other man used his submachine gun to keep the heads of the tank crew down, I ran up to it and placed the charge on a slightly opened hatch. I then jumped back into cover and only seconds afterwards there was a tremendous explosion with the tank spewing up a huge jet of flame. It continued to burn for about 2 hours, having no visible damage on the outside.

Hofmeisters Report

Gefreiter Liebert
6./Füsilier-Regiment 22
Date of action: 12th of January 1943 

Tank type: T34                    Weapon used: Concentrated charge (handgrenades)

Gefreiter L. placed the concentrated charge onto turret hatch and ignited it. The turret hatch was smashed, crew killed with handgrenades.

Gefreiter Lieberts report

German handgrenades. Geballte Ladung (concentrated charge) lying in front.

Wilhelm Schimanski (no rank given)
8./Grenadier-Regiment 1
Date of action: 12th of January 1943 

Tank type: T34                    Weapon used: H3 (3 Kilo hollow charge)

It was the 12th of January 1943 when I finished off this russian tank. It was demobilised by a mine about 10 to 15 meters in front of our trench, but continued to fire at our positions with his 7.62 cm gun and its machine guns. Jumping out of the trench I closed with it and attached an H3 to its rear. The H3 detonated with a vast explosion which tore a hole measuring about 3 to 5 centimeters into it. The tank burned out completly afterwards.

Schimanskis report

Männer gegen Panzer (Men Against Tanks) is a 1943 German film, produced by Lehrfilm, which was used as a training film by the Wehrmacht. Its purpose was to show the German soldiers the different types of infantry anti-tank warfare. The duration of the film is 28 minutes.

The film consists of three parts. The first part shows a staged combined Soviet tank and infantry attack against entrenched German infantry. The attack is preceded by artillery and air strikes. The tanks, several T-34 model 1941/1942/1943 and a KV-1, are dealt with and destroyed by different means of improvised and dedicated anti-tank weaponry. Right and wrong approaches to destroy a tank single-handedly are displayed. At the end of the attack,Wilhelm Niggemeyer, a holder of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and four tank destruction badges, is shown in action, destroying the KV-1 with a mine.

The second part shows how rear-service troops must be prepared for anti-tank warfare, as they too can encounter enemy tanks. The third part presents the Grosse Gewehrpanzergranate, Kampfpistole42LP, Püppchen, Panzerfaust, Panzerschreck, their use and their effect against tanks.

The Soviet equipment used in the film, including uniforms and weapons, are authentic captured Soviet stock. The Soviet officer’s uniforms were made before the 1943 reforms of the uniform. The only exception are the aircraft used, the AT-6, which were captured in the Battle of France.

Part 1 of “Männer gegen Panzer”

KW-1

Part two starts with a report written by a soldier of GR43. Its final sentence is hair raising.

Gefreiter Marius Pilz

II./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 21st of February 1943

Tanktype: KW-1                                

On the 21st of January 1942 a tank of the KW-1 type broke into our positions at the “Sicklemoor” near Pogostje. It drove into the direction of a bunker which held our batallions command post. When it was about 20 meters away it took two hits from a light infantry gun which was itself positioned about 6o meters away from the tank. The shots immobilised the tank and blew off its left track. One of our 5cm AT guns now opened fire on the tank, but 15 shots stayed without effect.
I crawled up to the KW1, climbed it and bent the tanks three machine guns by beating them with a shovel which I had found on the ground.  
Thereupon the tank commander climbed out and surrendered. The remaining crew now opened fire with submachine guns through small holes, especialy made for this purpose.
I fetched some petrol from a motorbike which was standing nearby, poured it over the tanks engine compartment and ignited it by using a handgrenade.  The tank burned out completely. Its crew did not surrender.

The original report

Gefreiter Wilhelm Blum

14./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 14th of January 1943

Tanktype: BT Christies fast tank                Weapon used: Hollow charge

I attached the charge to the tanks engine, above the road wheels. The resulting detonation immobilised it. The crew was shot by covering riflemen.

Blums report

Destroyed T-26 light tank. Its crew lies dead on the roadside.

Gemerzki (no first name and rank given)

3./Grenadier-Regiments 443
Date of action: 13th of January 1943

Tanktype: Tank similar to the T-26 only heavier. Precise identification is impossible.          Weapon used: Rifle AT grenades / rifle grenade launcher

The passing tank took seven hits on the rear and the turret. The second shot (to the rear) made it come to a halt. The others annihilated its crew. All shots penetrated the armour. ”        

German soldier with rifle grenade launcher. This one is loaded with a HE rifle grenade

Grosse Gewehrpanzergranate. Large AT rifle grenades.

Männer gegen Panzer (Men against tanks) Part 2

Men against tanks, Part III.

“In the early morning hours I worked my way towards a tank that was standing inside a minefield in front of our positions. I climbed it from behind, so the crew could not hit me with machine guns. Suddenly a Coppola was opened and a head became visible.
I took the AT mine I carried and, as hard as I could, smashed it on the russians head.
I then armed the fuse, threw the mine into the tank and immediately jumped down into a nearby shell crater. In the same moment the mine exploded setting the tank ablaze.”

Gefreiter Stöcker
7./Grenadier-Regiment 1
2nd of February 1943
Tank destroyed: T 34 (26 tons)

The original report

Below you will find some german wartime manuals and pamphelts on anti-tank fighting and the usage of the panzerfaust. The most famous being “Der Panzerknacker” (The tank cracker), a humorous manual on the subject, issued to some troops in 1944/45.