Last Greater Offensive in the West.
Lieutenant Hans Joachim Neutmann.
Edited by Dieter Stenger, January 2008.
On 16 December 1944, the last great German offensive began in the west, also known as the Ardennes Offensive. The offensive began with great superiority in materiel and propaganda, which Hitler and the German High Command hoped would turn the fate and "luck of war" in their favor in the west. One individual who participated in the offensive was the former Army Lieutenant Hans Joachim Neutmann from Hamburg. He recollects:
"As an active career soldier and officer candidate, I was drafted in 1941 into the Army at the age of seventeen as a member of the birth year 1924. My infantry training was conducted in Delmenhorst. After graduation I was assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment, 22nd Infantry Division. The division formed part of the LIV Army Corps, Eleventh Army, Army Group South, which was deployed for combat in the Ukraine. I participated in the capture of the Crimea and the fighting in May to June 1942, during the seizure of the Kertsch Peninsula and the Bastion of Sevastopol.
At the end of 1942, the 22nd Infantry Division was deployed to the Island of Crete and named Festungsbrigade Kreta (Bastion Brigade Crete). The division was earmarked for North Africa to reinforce the German Africa Corps (DAK) around Alexandria, after successful gains by the DAK. However, this did not come to pass when the Allies brought the German-Italian advance on the Nil River to a stand still at El Alamein. Only a portion of the 22nd Infantry Division was shipped to Africa and saw action. I was redeployed to Europe where I participated in special training as a paratrooper. The specialized Army training lasted until the summer 1944.
In the meantime, the Allies launched on 6 June 1944 the long-awaited invasion and landed in Normandy. On 31 July, the Allies broke out of the beachhead at Avranches, which they succeeded to enlarge to the west. Around 10 September the Allies reached the border of Germany, which they penetrated at various points during the following weeks.
Two weeks after the beginning of the Allied invasion, the Russians launched their greater summer offensive on 22 June 1944 in the east, which nearly completely destroyed the German Army Group Center. However, the Russian offensive was brought standing shortly before Warsaw at the Weichsel River and the East Prussian border. The Battle for Germany had itself begun.
In September 1944 I was transferred to Apenrade, in southern Denmark. A new division was to be organized, the 18th Volks-Grenadier-Division (VGD). No one could foresee that this new division would enter combat several months later and participate in the Ardennes offensive.
The 293rd, 294th, and 295th Grenadier Regiments belonged to the 18th VGD. I was assigned as the battalion adjutant, II Battalion, 295th Grenadier Regiment. The battalion commander was Captain Lorenz. The division commander was Generalmajor (Brigadier General) Hoffman-Schönberg, born in 1905.
The majority of the officers were still very young and most lacked any type of experience at the front. It did not look much better in the rank and file. The majority came from Luftwaffenfelddivisionen (Luftwaffe Field Divisions), the Marine (Navy), members of rear echelons, or consisted of young recruits, Volksdeutschen (ethnic Germans), and Kommandantenangehörigen (members of local command groups). Three-fourths of the troops had no previous combat experience. The equipping of weapons, on the other hand, was generally good. However, their combat worth was less. As a member of a combat experienced division (regiment), I was inclined to make such an assessment.
We deployed to the Schnee-Eifel after the most important training had been completed. However, we did not know what lay ahead of us. In the Schnee-Eifel, also known as "Schneifel", we relieved a unit of the Waffen-SS. Later I learned that we relieved a unit of the 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich", which was pulled out of the line for refitting and rest. Subsequently this unit participated in the Ardennes offensive as well as part of the 6th SS Panzer Army. In an area near the Forest Cabin "Schneifel", the battalion combat post was established in a Westwall bunker. Our left neighbor was the II Battalion, 294th Grenadier-Regiment. Rumors that a German attack had been planned led to the eventual rumor of an offensive. However, no additional information could be determined.
In the night on 15 and 16 December, pioneers cleared paths through the minefields that lay before us. Only a few weeks ago (circa Dec 1999), I received a call from a then 18-year old pioneer, who cleared the mines before us, and with whom I had a conversation before the clearing began. It was comrade Johannes Juhl from Vellmar. Our comrade Klaus Groben, from Arzfeld, arranged this reunion.
We received official notice that we were about to embark on a great offensive; the objective of the offensive was Antwerp. We then heard the daily order of the Oberbefehlshaber (OB) West, General Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, whose headquarters were located in Vallendar. It read, "Advance to the Our, over the Our to Antwerp."
In the early morning hours on 16 December 1944, before the break of dawn, we entered our preparatory (rendezvous) positions. It was cold and deep snow covered the countryside. Our first objectives for the attack were Kobscheid and Roth, northwest of Prüm. Americans had already occupied these villages since September 1944. After we assembled for the attack, we waited for our designated artillery support. However, the artillery was employed too late. Located too far back, the artillery fire hit our own men from the regimental 6th and 7th Companies. Moreover, the Americans recognized the situation and subjected the regiment to heavy fire. At this point, the battalion commander, Captain Lorenz, was seriously wounded. I was able to pull him out of the killing zone behind a small wall. Later, along with other severally wounded men, I had him brought to a field medical aid station. Unfortunately, Captain Lorenz succumbed to his wounds. Command of the battalion was given to First Lieutenant Kaufmann, the commander of the regimental 5th Company. Around midday we captured Kobscheid and continued further towards the distant objective of St. Vith. According to the timetable of the offensive, the capture of St. Vith was estimated for 19 December. Due to sever vehicular congestion on the roads and, in some cases, heavy enemy counter attacks, this important logistical point could not be captured until 21 December, two days behind schedule. After all, attacking spearheads from the 18th VGD, units from the Führerbegleit Brigade (Hitler's Escort Brigade), and the 62nd VGD that attacked out from the area of Winterspelt, met along the Belgian Schönberg.
The new and green American 106th Infantry Division, also known as the Golden Lions, arrived in the quiet Schneifel Front. The bulk of the American unit entered captivity and only a few were able to escape the encirclement.
In the evening of the first day of fighting the 6th and 7th Companies, for all practical purpose, ceased to exit. Once St. Vith was captured, the remainder of the battalion attacked forward into the area of the Salm, Salmchateau, and Stavelot. It was here that the Americans literally overran us. The greater American superiority in both materiel and manpower weakened the division to such a degree that nothing was available to form an opposition. Our troop, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist. Small German groups organized themselves to conduct a fighting withdrawal and breakout. Nevertheless, we tried to stop the Americans by providing continuous resistance. This did not do much of anything; in the end I had only two men left.
Eventually, I was wounded myself when I was shot in the stomach. I was evacuated to the rear from the regimental combat post. First, I was brought to Mayen, and then I boarded a hospital train heading towards Schwäbisch Gemünd. In early 1945 I luckily returned home.
Copyright Stenger Historica 2008