The German view of “Market Garden” – Daily reports of “Army Group B”

Today we see the 69th anniversary of Operation Market Garden.  

MarketGarden1

On 17 September 1944 thousands of paratroopers descended from the sky by parachute or glider up to 150 km behind enemy lines. Their goal: to secure to bridges across the rivers in Holland so that the Allied army could advance rapidly northwards and turn right into the lowlands of Germany, hereby skirting around the Siegfried line, the German defence line. If all carried out as planned it should have ended the war by Christmas 1944.

Unfortunately this daring plan, named Operation Market Garden, didn’t have the expected outcome. The bridge at Arnhem proved to be ‘a bridge too far’. After 10 days of bitter fighting the operation ended with the evacuation of the remainder of the 1st British Airborne Division from the Arnhem area.

Arnheim, britische Gefangene

From today onwards, I will be posting translations of the official German situational reports sent from OB West (High Command West) to OKH (High Command of the Army), to show the German view of Market Garden “as it happened”.  Be sure to check back tomorrow. 

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17th of September 1944:

Army Group B – Summary

The 17th of September was characterized by major allied airborne landings in the area between Eindhoven and Arnhem. The enemy, in strength of two to three divisions, is trying to secure and hold all crucial crossing points on rivers and canals to keep them open for the 2nd English Army moving towards the north. Everywhere training and supply units of all branches of the Wehrmacht are assembling to counter the enemy threat. So far, according to the news we have, the enemy was only partially successful, but it’s highly probable that he will continue to land more troops during the night. The lack of strong and quick reaction forces makes this fight, which seems to be of vital importance for the enemy, difficult.
The English had initial successes against 1st Fallschirm-Army. Taking the landings north of Eindhoven into account, the situation there is exceedingly difficult.
On the right flank of 7th Army LXXI. Korps was pushed back towards the north. Own counterattacks east of Aachen seem to be having an effect.
The general situation of Army Group B is very critical. Reinforcements, especially of heavy self-propelled anti-tank units are urgently requested. Lack of fuel is preventing an effective defense as is the total lack of counter measures from the air and from the ground.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Rearguards facing strong enemy tank forces falling back to the line of the canal south of Saint-Jean-in-Eremo and Gravenjansdijk. Attack on own rear guards near Rieme and Drieschouwen. Own counterattack to destroy an encircled enemy force (one battalion) near Kijkuit. One tank destroyed.

LXXXIX.A.K.: Strong enemy forces spotted 4 kilometers south-east of Eeckeren.
331st Infantry-Division: 4 enemy gliders landed in the area Schouwen and Mordijk. Crews taken prisoner or destroyed. One company of enemy paratroopers destroyed north of Steenbergen by Combat Command Bergen Op Zoom. 12 prisoners.

Fs.A.O.K.1: At 1400h enemy airborne troops (101st US Airborne Division) landed north of Eindhoven with the task of taking the crossing points at Son, Best and St. Odenrode.
Crossing point at Son held by one battalion of regiment “Hermann Göring”.
Fragments also landed in the area of Tilburg – Hertogenbosch. Ad-hoc and police units are sent against this enemy.

LXXXVIII.A.K.: Division Walter: On the late evening superior enemy forces managed to break through the encirclement of the bridgehead at Neerpelt, over running our anti-tank defences and pushing forward to Valkenswaard.
176. Infanterie-Division:
After heavy artillery preparation and rolling aerial attacks strong enemy infantry and tank units attacked from the direction north of Maastricht and achieved a breakthrough. Moved into own blocking positions to both sides and south of Leuth and east of the Maas near Beek in the direction of Geleen-Heerlen. 25 enemy tanks destroyed in chaotic fighting.
Lively enemy fighter-bomber activity with overlapping carpet bombing.

W.B.Ndl. & II. SS Pz Korps.
More airborne landings in the area of Nijmwegen and west of Arnhem. At Nijmwegen the enemy landed in the river bend hard north-east of the town and at Kranenburg, Groesbeek and Grave. Defenders are in combat with this enemy. In the area of Arnhem the enemy landings focused on the areas 1o kilometers west and north-west of the town. Battlegroup Tettau (5 Batallions) has been dispatched from Leersun to counter this enemy who is moving towards Arnhem. Elements of II. SS-Panzer-Korps are attacking from the north and north-east. Enemy forces inside Arnhem thrown back towards the west.
Elements of 9th SS Panzer Division reached and secured the bridge at Arnhem. Reconnaissance elements of 10th SS Panzer withdrawn towards Arnhem after having contact with the enemy about 6 kilometers SSE of Nijmegen.

Enemy aerial activity:
Strong allied fighter-bomber activity in Holland and north-western Germany in preparation for the allied airborne operations in southern Holland. During midmorning severe attacks by 4 engined bombers and fighter-bombers against our positions and command posts. Luftwaffe used all available forces to counter allied airborne landings in the area Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. - High resolution

Original German army map showing the situation around Arnhem on the evening of the 17th of September 1944. – High resolution

Arnheim, Soldaten von Heer und Luftwaffe und SS-Führer

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Military Book Review – Die Wehrmacht im Ostkrieg (IFZ)

Ostkrieg

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

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

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

Review by Matthias Strohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kolomyja 1941, Bearing Witness

For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
― Elie Wiesel

When I look through the photographs of old soldiers of the German Army, I sometimes stumble over images like the ones shown below.

You might overlook them, when not actually searching for them and surprisingly this is just what  happened here, as this album has been in my possession for ages. The small series of photographs was taken by a soldier of an unidentified Wehrmacht artillery unit shortly after entering the town of  Kolomyja (West Ukraine).

More info on Kolomyja and Kolomyja Ghetto can be found HERE.

I had a long think what to write here, but words fail me. The Shoah fills me with shame, and I pray for the victims and the survivors. 

I will let the images speak for themselves and I have refrained from marking these images with the usual “gottmituns” tag…

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Outskirts of Kolomyja

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Kolomyja

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Local population

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Soldiers of the Wehrmacht searching Jews

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Defiance in his eyes – a powerful photograph

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Waffen-SS soldiers force Jewish men to cut off their Payot (Sidelocks)

kolo7

 

Military Book review – Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944 by Joachim Ludewig

Joachim Ludewig, Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944.

“Rückzug is an important book. It is the first serious study to focus on the six-week period from the Operation Dragoon landings on the Mediterranean coast in mid-August and the partial Allied victory at the Falaise pocket…. A professional and well-researched assessment of this surprisingly under-examined phase of World War II.” — Anthony Beevor, Wall Street Journal

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Click will lead you to the Amazon product page

The Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, marked a critical turning point in the European theatre of World War II. The massive landing on France’s coast had been meticulously planned for three years, and the Allies anticipated a quick and decisive defeat of the German forces. Many of the planners were surprised, however, by the length of time it ultimately took to defeat the Germans.
While much has been written about D-day, very little has been written about the crucial period from August to September, immediately after the invasion. In Rückzug, Joachim Ludewig draws on military records from both sides to show that a quick defeat of the Germans was hindered by excessive caution and a lack of strategic boldness on the part of the Allies, as well as by the Germans’ tactical skill and energy. This intriguing study, translated from German, not only examines a significant and often overlooked phase of the war, but also offers a valuable account of the conflict from the perspective of the German forces.

Between June 6 and the first week of September 1944, the western Allies bludgeoned the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS units tasked by Adolf Hitler to defend northwestern Europe.

The consequences of this battering were grievous for the fighting men of both sides. Yet because the Allies possessed not only brave, well trained, and aggressive soldiers, but also absolute control of the airspace above the battlefields and a very substantial preponderance of weapons and motorized vehicles, the German units engaged in the fighting suffered far greater losses, both literally and proportionally, than their Allied counterparts.

And when the Allied forces neutralized the German coastal defenses and emerged into the French countryside in early August, the Germans could muster but little in the way of a cohesive defensive front.

As the Germans drew nearer to their homeland, however, they managed to patch together a more formidable defensive line to temporarily blunt the Allied assault. The result was eight more months of warfare in western Europe, and the loss of many more thousands of human lives.

How did this turn of events come to pass?

That is the question asked and answered in Joachim Ludewig’s Rückzug: The German Retreat from France, 1944. The University Press of Kentucky has done a great service to those with a serious interest in the Second World War by publishing Ludewig’s work in English. The book is scrupulously researched, not only in the pertinent German military records, but also in the manifold sources that tell the official side of the Allied story. The result is an excellent historical study of a course of events in need of explication.

Author Ludewig identifies a dozen factors that enhanced the ability of the German armed forces to cobble together an effective defense in the autumn of 1944.

The original German edition was first published by the MGFA (Military History Research Institute of the German Armed Forces) in 1994 and it was about time that this valuable work was translated into English. As all publication of the MGFA I can heartily recommend it. Be warned that is not a “popular” history book and no “easy reading”. Everyone not scared off by this, will find the most detailed and comprehensive account of the Wehrmacht’s retreat from France published so far. 

Highly recommended. 

The author, Joachim Ludewig is an officer in the German Army Reserve. He currently serves as a civil servant in the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. He lives in Bonn, Germany.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

SS-Panzergrenadiers in Russia, 1941 (Bundesarchiv)

Kühbacher

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

schaefer

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

conrads

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

Kohs

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

sspanzergrenadier3

More citations when I find the time. 

Colorized! – Unteroffizier Alois Gilgenbach, KIA March 1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alois 001twitt

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

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

Soviet Propaganda – 1941, Unternehmen Barbarossa

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

Destroyed Divisions! Probably resulted in a big laugh in 1941

Destroyed Divisions! Probably resulted in a big laugh in 1941

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

Hitlers Crusade!

Hitlers Crusade!

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

N3619a

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

0859

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

0860

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

0861

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

0890

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

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

Brauchitsch and Keitel have fled from the Front. 

List has been removed from his office. 

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

Göring has been imprisoned!

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

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

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

Bird of Prey – Torpedoboot Seeadler 1939-42 – Kriegsmarine

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

geilsee

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

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

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER

TB LUCHS, WOLF, TIGER AND SEEADLER (SE)

Commanders of TB Seeadler:

1. Mai 1927: unknown

November 1938: Kapitänleutnant Hartenstein

Oktober 1939: unknown

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

März 1942: Kapitänleutnant Strecker

SE1

Seeadler on the left

TB Seeadler

TB Seeadler

SE03

seead1

OPERATIONAL HISTORY

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

French ship used for target practice

French ship used for target practice

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

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

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

pzkeu

SE05

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

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

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

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

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

min6 min5 min3 min4 min2 min

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

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

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

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

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

live

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

geschsee

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

SE06 SE07

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

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

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

mine1 mine2 mine3 mine4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mtb

MTB 219, sunk by Seeadler

85 members of Seeadlers crew were killed.

.crew

Christmas 1940

crew2

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

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