From the Kriegsmarine to the Infantrie
When I received my official notice, I was not at all surprised to learn that effective immediately, I belonged to the infantry. All my dreams were dashed, to travel to foreign countries with the German Navy after quickly winning the war. The short trip, from Bremen-Hamburg to Heide, Holstein, during the wonderful summer weather was very pleasurable. On the train I met a Matrosen Obergefreiter (Acting Corporal or Seaman). His name was Gielisch, albeit I forgot his first name. He too had orders to Heide and was recalled from his furlough by way of a telegram. He was approximately 1,84 meters tall, about the same height as myself, and very quickly we understood each other as we had a lot in common.
Arriving in Heide we immediately went to a bar with "café ambience," which was across from the train station. The decor was of a café; someone played a piano that was against the wall. The atmosphere was lively and three beautiful women were serving and creating a roar. We seemed to have selected the best bar in town; they played every favorite hit (song) and everyone sang along. My new friend Gielisch sat at the piano and played the song, "I kissed her for the first time at night under an umbrella." Unfortunately, an army Streifendienst (roaming patrol) suddenly entered the room and severly dampened the atmosphere. They checked all identifications and pay books. We explained that we had just arrived, however, we were required immediately to leave the premises and make our way to the barracks. We were told the old artillery barracks were located three kilometers outside the city. As such, we walked down the country road in the direction of the barracks and carried our sea bags on our backs. The burning sun overhead made us sweat. We encountered a column marching in the other direction. Everyone carried full packs and their rifles were slung across their backs. They sang the song, "Roses do not grow on a Seaman's grave." The column looked very dusty and tired, and was led by a First Lieutenant on horseback. In passing, several soldiers yelled to us, "Hey buddy! Did they get you too?" Everyone wore field grey and so it was difficult to recognize anyone. However, I recognized many from the Jachmann Barracks in Wilhelmshaven. Our demeanor became more serious when the barracks came into view. The guard who wore a Mine-Searcher's badge smiled with malicious pleasure, and showed us the way to the Schreibstube (administrative office). Speaking for myself, the day did not end on a good note when we encountered in the middle of the admininistration office an acting corporal with cuff bands on his sleeves, signifying his official capacity as "UvD" or Unteroffizier vom Dienst (duty NCO). For weeks I myself was a UvD at Wilhelmshaven, but I did not hope for or earn and decorations. The UvD looked at me and said,
"Can't you render the proper greeting?"
"Look boy," I replied,
"don't get all excited! I have already done what you are doing a long time
ago! Or do you want one on your nose!?"
Then the office door opened and in entered the Spiess who stood before me. The UvD reported the matter to the Spiess who looked at me and shouted,
"Attention! I am punishing you with seven days house arrest!" 1
With that we handed them our
orders and received a marching orders to the uniform room, where we turned in
our Navy uniforms and received field grey uniforms. Gielisch and I were assigned
to a room with eight other "Lords." The others told us that for the last eight
days they were undergoing constant daily training in the surrounding area at
varying lengths of time.
In the morning we received instruction for the machine gun and rifle. I had forgotten almost everything I learned during recruit training. In the Navy we received training on different topics and weapons, but no one asked about that now. Next to the drilling area were water troughs, approximately 50 meters long and 20 meters wide, at a depth of about 1.20 meters. Along one side a slanted plane descended into the water. We were told that earlier the artillerymen on horseback and on wagons rode through the water; now the water troughs were used by us during the hot weather as swimming pools.
On Sunday a Vergleichskampf (competition or comparative battle) was scheduled between the 1st Company and the 2nd Company. The best swimmers were to report at the office to the Spiess, who prepared a list of competitors. By Saturday I was at the barracks already for two days. With Gielisch I went to the office in order to enter our names for the race. A clerk took our names for three disciplines; breaststroke, crawl, and backwards crawl. While he wrote down our names I hoped for an opportunity to arrange for my house arrest to be suspended. I stood at attention and spoke,
"Herr First Sergeant. If our company wins tomorrow, will my house arrest be rescinded?"
He looked at me and replied,
"Oh, you are the bird with the big mouth."
He appeared to have already half forgotten about me.
"Are you a good swimmer?"
"Yes," I replied, "and a good diver as well."
The First Sergeant said,
"I will have to think about that. Ask me tomorrow after the competition."
The afternoon was set aside for training for the participants. I noticed that Gielisch and were among the best, and I was sure we would win. I was motivated by the prospects of being able to return to the city with my comrades after the race, and return to our café with the three beautiful girls. Before the tournament, chairs were placed along the sides of the pools. In the middle sat the company commanders, then the First Sergeant, Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), and corporals. Our squad had two NCOs that were also good swimmers. They promised they would help us by talking to the Spiess.
Beautiful weather and a festive celebratory volks atmosphere filled the air around the pool. The various teams stood on opposite sides of each other and everyone cheered at the top of their lungs. I was in the third leg for each discipline and finished first in each race. Everyone around the pool was especially happy. After I finished and won the last race, I immediately ran over to the Spiess and asked,
"OK, now what about going out?"
The Spiess whispered something into the commander's ear and both laughed and said,
"Alright. A pass until 2200 hours!"
Life as a "Volksgrenadier," which we called ourselves, was not as bad as it were. Only a bombing attack against an oil refinery located between Heide and Itzehoe reminded us that we were at war. For a moment we forgot about the war. Any bad news heard over the radio was always formulated in such a way to give hope the war could be won, somehow; or at least brought to an end with the use of newly arriving V-weapons.
Our training concluded in the middle of August. We were destined for Denmark where our final training was to be concluded. Meanwhile, our personnel were continuously bolstered with the formerly wounded and newly conscripted older men, the latter of which was previously declared "unfit for duty." We referred to them only as "Dr. Goebbels Donations." Many of them had physical limitations, such as missing fingers, bad hearing, or poor eye-sight. Among them were also very young Austrians or Ostmärker (East Moravians), which they were called at that time. Myself and the other older Acting Corporals were now all NCOs, and now section leaders. However, there was no time for formal NCO school. Our shoulder straps bore a horizontal bar (tress). For meals, we were now priveledged to eat in the NCO mess hall. Despite the fact that we were a somewhat adhoc conglomeration of men, our comrardery and the general morale was not bad.
The transportation to Denmark was underatken during the night in passenger trains. In the morning we arrived in the city of Braminge, which lay between Esberg and Kolding. The camp was located several kilometers outside the city and consisted of good wooden barracks, the same type we had in the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD).
Now we received new rifles. These were new assault rifles with magazines. On our belts we carried additional magazines, three hanging on the left and right. One section (unit) consisted of nine men and one NCO. Each section had one machine gun and one man carried the carbine 98K, in order to shoot rifle grenades. That individual also had to carry the additional "shooting can" or grenade launcher. The firepower of a unit was very strong. The disadvantage was that large quantities of ammunition were required and carried along.
We migrated to battalion level
training that was supported by light artillery. The terrain was almost always
flat. With much green camouflage on our helmets and uniforms we assaulted one
cow pasture after another. That was still a lot of fun.
In the city it was as if we were living during peacetime. The street cafes with cream cakes and ice cream beckoned us at every opportunity. The food supply was intentionally very good. Our new company commander, a First Lieutenant from Husum, was a teacher in his civilian life and said to us daily,
"Fill your ribs so that you are strong."
He received a lung shot wound in Russia but released again for duty. He was a very good leader.
The platoon leader was a young Lieutenant. His name was Wigger and the son of a milk facility collector in Holstein. With him I also had a good relationship. I will never forget his voice.
The company lacked a Gas Defense NCO. The First Lieutenant asked me if I wanted to participate in a week-long training course in Fredericia. Naturally, I was willing to occupy myself with Gelb- and Blaukreuze 2 , considering that such training could only be of benefit to me. As such, I traveled to Fredericia, which was a beautiful harbor city. The training was provided at an old school from 0800 to 1200 hours, and 1400 to 1700 hours. My quarters were in the same building. I was particularly fond of the harbor area. There were also anchored several smaller ships of the Kriegsmarine. I was able to travel everywhere with the ferry.
I met new people, to include an older soldier from the Army propaganda company. For the first time I heard of political issues related to Hitler and the regime. It was dangerous to enter into defeatist conversations that criticized the armed forces. I had never heard such talk, which made me confused and speechless. "The war is lost. Why doesn't Hitler capitulate now? Who will stop the Americans and British as they advance through France?" We fell further back on a daily basis. Soon we would be in Germany. The skies were filled with Allied aircraft! My head was swimming from listening to so much defeatism! We stood at a buffet in a local restaurant and repeatedly called for rounds of beer and Schnapps.
At the conclusion of the training I rejoined my company. My friend Gielisch and I visited a locale every night after duty. The owner had a 17-year old daughter and remarked to me that he noticed that I was looking at her. He was watching me like a hunting dog. Nevertheless, he was not unfriendly to us, and every so often he even bought us a round of Schnapps. We were on our best behavior both in the city and the locales, the way we were taught in the Navy from the beginning. "Every German soldier, who crosses the border into a foreign country, is a representative of his country and must act accordingly." One evening at our favorite locale, after we had each eaten six fried eggs with ham, the owner's daughter was cleaning off the plates when she told me that her father wanted to see me under four eyes only. She led me behind the bar and into a room where her father sat. He listened very attentively to a radio. The news was broadcast by the BBC London and reported about the war against Germany. A map of Europe lay on the table. Then the man spoke to me,
"France is almost completely in Allied hands. The Allies are advancing in Italy; in the east against Russia they are always falling back, and every day thousands of Allied aircraft are flying over Germany and dropping bombs. Do you really think you can still win this war?"
On the map he showed me how the war was progressing. Every day, around the same time, he listened to the enemy BBC radio. He told me that I should think about the matter for a day, whether or not it would make sense to die at this end-stage of the war. Meanwhile, his daughter entered the room and set down two full glasses of beer. She looked at me with a questioning and worried face. She knew what her father intended to say to me.
"In a few days you will have to go to the western front, " she said. "Please listen to my father."
"OK, listen," her father said. "I will make you an offer. You are an upstanding young man and we all like you, to include my wife, who makes fried eggs for you guys every night before you go home. Please stay here in Denmark. We have a secure hiding place for you. In a few months the war will be over, and then you can do as you please."
It was as though someone hit me on the head. I did not know what to say. I sensed they were very serious but also sincere, and they wanted the best for me. Without further discussion we finished the glass and I said goodbye. The owner said,
"It is late. You can take Griet's bicycle and return it tomorrow."
The locale was left empty after all the soldiers departed. I accepted the girl's bicycle and pedaled home through the night.
The next day duty ended after a long 30 kilometer forced march and practice on the rifle range. The mandatory "feet formation" determined that most of the men needed treatment for blisters on their feet. I was happy that I could ride the bicycle into town. As I began to ride off, the Spiess saw me on the bicycle and waved, motioning to come to him, and then pointed at the bicycle. He asked, "Stolen?"
"No," I replied.
The Spiess replied, "Borrowed from a lady?"
"No," I explained, "from the father of a girl to whom I am returning it today."
The Spiess replied, "I would hope so." He continued, "Just one more thing. Go immediately to the NS-Officer. He wants to talk to you!"
I could not imagine what the NS-Officer wanted. I parked the bicycle and entered the administrative barracks. Every unit recently was assigned a National Socialist Officer, next to the company commander. I was not sure of their responsibilities, but often they hung directives on the black board. I went to the NS office and knocked on the door, hoping that he was not there.
"Enter!" The NS-Officer called out.
I entered the office and reported my presence. "NCO Poth reporting as ordered!"
He pointed to a chair and asked me to be seated. He opened the desk drawer and removed a letter. He looked at me and began to read it out loud. I recognized the letter immediately. It was the letter I wrote to my father two days before. The passage, "I think it is all for nothing, the war is not winnable," interested him.
He said, "You see, Poth, those types of statements do not strengthen the home front. That is defeatism. You see, not all the weapons of retaliation have been employed, but soon there will be a turn of events. Our new jet aircraft shall sweep the skies over Germany clean again, and other weapons are almost ready for use. Then we will go forward again and victory will be on the side of right, i.e. on our side."
I replied that I would be very happy if the wonder weapons created such an outcome.
The NS-Officer continued, "You see, you wrote the letter because you are concerned about our Fatherland. Here, take the letter back and write a more optimistic letter to your father. How old is your father?"
"Sixty-four," I replied.
The NS-Officer continued, "Did he not serve?"
"Yes," I replied, "1900 near Metz with the King's Artillery at Foot."
The NS-Officer countered, declaring, "He will also be concerned if he has to read such a later, will he not? I am depending on you. Do not speak to anyone about our conversation. Will you promise me? I will forget the matter as well. There, now you are dismissed for free-time."
I rode the bicycle to town. The owner and Griet acted as if a conversation never took place.
I only words I said were, "Thank you for the bike. I returned it to the courtyard in the back."
Besides eye contact, not a single word was spoken throughout the entire evening between Griet and myself. I was happy that her father did not expect me to give him an answer. Around 2200 hours I paid and went home. I did not eat any fried eggs that evening.
In the NCO mess hall there
was a pretty waitress. Her name was Anneliesse and everyone starred at her.
However, she was in love with a Fireman/Watch Master (Sergeant). Everyone knew
about the two, as they did not try to conceal their affection for one another.
Nevertheless, it was very dangerous for Danish girls to get involved with German
soldiers. On the street and in public, we were forbidden to speak to them. However,
after dark it was something completely different. Danish girls that were caught
had their hair completely cut off.
I did not go into town for several days, but asked that my friend Gielisch say hello and deliver a message [to Griet] that I had guard-duty for one week. To a degree that was correct.
I decided on Sunday to go back back and tell Griet and her parents my decision. I entered the house from the back directly into the living room, in order to get the ordeal behind me. The father happily opened the door for me and led me into the room.
"So, did you make a decision?" he inquired.
"Yes," I said, "and I am very grateful for what you are trying to do for me. Even the Americans, who are not defending their country they way I am, but rather fighting for capitalistic reasons after crossing the Atlantic for the second time. I could not look my father, siblings, and all those who know me, in the eye. Even you, one day, would reject me. I have to complete this journey. My dead comrades did not have a choice, whether to hide out or fight. Please do me the favor and do not speak of this again. Today we will celebrate, and if you will allow me, I will borrow the bicycle again until tomorrow."
On the way back, Glielisch sat on the back rack and pedaled while I held up my legs. We were drunk for the first time in Denmark.
Suddenly, horses were requisitioned from local farmers. While the farmers were paid, they were not given an option (Widerspruch). Our battalion artillery, which the horses pulled, included wagons. Fuel was no longer available. All army horses died a gruesome death. American fighter aircraft attacked our supply columns with aerial cannon and shot up both horse and wagons. Luckily, at the time, we did not know what lay ahead of us. Even Corporal Fischer, who yelled at me as the UvD, did not know that he would be one of the first to die.
The day of our departure finally came. The train on the tracks became ever longer until everything was ready. The horses were loaded last, and many curious people gathered and watched. A few young girls were there as well, many of them, to include Anneliese, cried unendingly. I bidded my farewells and returned the bicycle several days before.
The bicycle got me into trouble. This is how it happened; the bicycle stood during the day at the administration office. I asked several comrades to keep an eye on it. However, the bicycle disappeared that night, and not a single person knew anything about a red bicycle. An office clerk gave me a tip that a women's bicycle stood outside the house of the housing master, but it was grey. I went there to look at the bike, hoping that I could acquire it if I could not find mine. When I looked at the bike I thought, "Not bad." It smelled of fresh paint and was barely dry. The guy painted the bicycle with grey army paint. I returned the bicycle and told the father that I painted it with rust inhibitor, in hopes of preserving the bike, and the memory. The trip across Germany was a first class odyssey.
The trip took three days and three nights. It was now the middle of October 1944, and the train could only travel at night. However, the cities were bombed at night as well. Often, we barely escaped being hit by bombs.
The quality and amount of food in Denmark was very good. Indeed, we packed plenty of ham and smoked eel.
Finally, the train stood in the Eifel at Gerolstein-Gillenfeld. Once again we made it! Praise the railroad! I always admired the accomplishments of the railroad. Without the railroad, nothing would have been possible.
In Gerolstein, every grenadier received a new bike. Humorously, we called ourselves "Timoschenko's Fast Troops" as the trip headed towards Prüm. The weather was cold and drizzling, and the streets in the Eifel were "real slop." We belonged to the 18th Volks Grenadier Division, 294th Regiment. In a village shortly before Prüm, our first bicycle tour came to an end.
In groups we were quartered into farmhouses, which had almost completely been evacuated by the civilian population. Our house was located near a crossroads. The Eifel was a poor agricultural region with hard and rocky soil. Our house, and all the houses, stunk of cow manure. A basalt-stone cobbled courtyard was located between the house and the animal barns. Next to the door, at the entrance of the cow stalls, there was a water fountain, which was made from a simple pipe, from which water flowed into a large tub.
This home, however, remained inhabited, and was occupied by a farmer of about 55 years of age, a 19-year old Russian farmgirl (maiden), and approximately 20 cows, chickens, and pigs "held this position." The farmer was not happy about us. I told the farmer that we would try and make the least possible mess. We acquired hay from the barn and spread it on one side of the living room. We spread our blankets over the hay and tucked any visible hay under our blankets. It all looked very clean. The farmer lived by himself, after his wife died two years earlier. Therefore, he was provided a household helper from the Ukraine.
I reminded the men not to smoke in the house or barn and to maintain strict discipline. Our group consisted of five young men from the Steiermark (Austria) in eastern Moravia; the town was called Mürzuschlag. The most pleasant was Walter Ramusch, and then there was Hotz Engelbert, Adi Bauer, and one came from Thüringen with the last name Knapp. The name of MG gunner in our group was Liebetrau, who came from Hamburg. Also coming from Hamburg was Dwenger, the oldest of the group. He was a furniture upholsterer. Alfred Dwenger was very willing but also conscientious. Soon he became my confidant and link to the group.
After everything was in order, I pulled out a bar of soap and a washcloth from my pack. I removed fresh underwear and my shaving utensils and headed for the water trough located in the courtyard. In order for me to clean myself thoroughly, Dwenger prepared hot water by placing a water bucket on the stove. It would be the last time for the next few weeks. Suddenly, the young Russian maiden stood next to me. Without a word, she handed me a large towel. She departed shortly thereafter and entered the cow barn carrying a milking can. The "look" she gave me was both shy but also promiscuous. The entire episode lasted only a few seconds. I asked myself what could have brought a young girl thousands of kilometers away from her home so close to the front? I asked her if there was anything I could do for her. She responded in the negative and said that she was doing her job. She said it would be best if I left, since the farmer would return any minute. Cold rations were available in the house, to include bread, butter, sausage, and tea. A messenger arrived and told me I was to report to the company commander immediately.
In the Major's house there was held a meeting for all NCOs and platoon leaders. Maps for the sector we controlled lay on the table. The front lines were held only thinly by soldiers of the Luftwaffe; most often airfield personnel. Our company was to occupy the villages behind Prüm, to include Gondenbrett, Niedermehlen, and Wascheid. The plan was that several of us would proceed forward towards the front, as scouts, around 0500 hours. The company would then follow two days later. My platoon commander, Lieutenant Wigger, volunteered me for the assignment as the representative from our platoon.
A certain degree of confidence spread among us for what took place next; a correct defensive position was to be further developed. For the first time I received an approximate idea of the military situation that lay ahead of us. Our divisional commander, Hoffmann-Schönborn, was purported to be a virtuous and experienced man. After the meeting concluded, I returned to my quarters. I took Alfred Dwenger to the side and explained everything to him, and asked if he could take care of matters during my absence. In hindsight, I would have liked to have stayed back for the sake of the Russian girl.
The men lay on top of their blankets and slept while I gathered my clothes. I brought my belongings to the bicycles in the barn, where I planned to stay the night as not to awaken my comrades. I strapped my pony-skin tornister (pack) onto the back rack of my bicycle and searched for a suitable spot for the last few hours. I lay down fully clothed in a bed of straw, and clicked-off my flashlight. Looking through the slits between the boards of the barn, I could hear a distant rumbling and the sky flashed faintly. I tried to organize my thoughts, considering that things would become more serious. I did not know what the next few days would bring. Despite the fact that the Americans were in positions across from us, I had not seen any. I knew how they looked in their uniforms, but only from watching the Wochenschau 3 in the movie theater. I thought about my home, and everyone whom I knew; my comrades in Russia, thousands of kilometers away from our homeland. I wondered how they fared. I thought to myself that I was very lucky to be on the western front instead of in the east. I reassured myself that fighting against the Americans was not that bad.
The barn door opened quietly and a figure holding a steel lantern approached me. It was the Russian maiden, who told me she watched me through the window of her room. She wanted to know why I was there. I explained to her that I had to leave in several hours. At 0500 hours I had to rendezvous' in front of the house.
"I would like to know your name," I asked.
She answered, "My name is Irina," and asked, "And what is your name?"
I told her my name and asked that she tell me about herself. She explained that at the age of 16, she and other farmers left Kiev and came to Germany to find work. Her sister was in the Eifel as well, but at a different house. The time flew by. I told her about myself and from where I came. "If I survive the war, I will come and visit you," I said, half joking and half seriously. She was very sad around 0430 hours when I prepared myself to depart. Life could be so nice. Euphorically and very happy I pedaled the bicycle as if I were going on an excursion.
The village of Prüm lay in thick fog, completely abandoned. In order to get up the mountain, we had to push our heavily packed bicycles. Then it went down hill, and soon the town sign for Gondenbrett appeared.
The Sergeant Major of the Luftwaffe who accompanied us signaled to halt. The house on the left side of the village entrance was a grocery store. Here we were introduced to the other comrades. They were all Sergeants; air field personnel. All of them wore the Reichs Sports Badge (Reichssportsabzeichen), but no decorations. One of them had a bottle of Schnapps in his hand, and everyone received a "welcoming drink."
The village consisted basically of a single road and houses on either side. Heading to the right led to Wascheid; to the left led to Niedermehlen. A small cemetery was located next to the small church. The rectory was across the street. On the road there was a large directional sign with a white arrow: "TO THE AMERICANS 1000 METERS".
We had to walk the entire way within the sector of the front. The Luftwaffe personnel had barely dug any holes. Protective holes for the listening posts did not exist, not to mention trenches or strong points. If the Americans tried, they would have marched right through the position with little to no resistance. Apparently, they were afraid of the minefield or they wanted to sit-out the winter before they marched further.
The greatest danger was American artillery. A light observer aircraft hung in the air overhead for the entire day and called for fire on anything and everything that moved. Most of casualties resulted from artillery fire, which was fired randomly on a daily basis.
Two days later the other comrades finally arrived. I was very happy to see them all again. Dwenger approached me gleaming with joy and handed me a white linen sack filled with dried plums and a piece of dried meat. In his pocket he also had a letter for me. "From Irina", he said and smiled. Quickly, I stored the letter away. I wanted to read it later when I was alone. It was a foggy, drizzling day, the Allied pilots could not see us!
On the first day, everything was chaotic. Everyone was interested to learn what awaited him. Indeed, it took a long time before everyone was in their correct assigned places! I was assigned an additional group and functioned as the assault battalion reserve. Our code name was "Lion's Mouth 6". The field kitchen found a spot in the village of Wascheid.
Along with the second group, I occupied behind Wascheid a water bunker located in an open field. The bunker was on a height and camouflaged as a giant bail of hay. The entire structure was made of concrete, and small sprouts and small tree yearlings were growing from it. The ornament over the entrance door was a big triangle made out of red bricks. I posted a guard with a machine gun behind the triangle on the roof. I reminded the men not to goof off, and cover the bunker floor with straw in order to sleep on it.
With another man I returned to the village. I sent the man to the village to pick up food for the group, and instructed him to return within an hour, and then we would return to the group together. The first group, a radio and operator, I placed in the rectory at Gondenbrett. We intended on building a bunker for ourselves in the back. Together with the ration supplyman we returned to the water bunker. Once we were within sight of the bunker, to my astonishment, I saw smoke coming from the bail of hay. Despite poor visibility, I was sure the Americans had observation onto the height! I ran up the hill from behind the bunker and yelled out, "Put out that fire you idiots!" But it was too late. The Americans noticed smoke coming out of a bail of hay. The sound of artillery fire was designated for us. The first salvo hit very close. I called the guard and ordered him immediately to get into the bunker. The second salvo landed and caused the ground to shake to such a degree that the ceiling cracked and the brick ornament above the door fell down. After the Americans ceased fire, we tried to get out of the bunker. However, the triangle blocked the door and prevented our exit. All the men starred down at the ground, realizing their guilt. One of them had lit a hand full of hay on fire to warm his hands. This would serve as a lesson learned, albeit the guard posted outside paid for it with his life.
In the meantime, darkness set in. With great feaver we worked at the steel door to freedom. After several hours we succeeded in bending the top of the door just enough to climb out. Our first experience was relegated to complete chaos, which produced our first casualty. Our comrade was shredded into pieces, and his machine gun bent like a spiral. Our medic, a Saxon, placed the dead soldier over his shoulder and carried him by himself into the village. We abandoned the strong point, and everyone now understood that we could not play around with the Americans.
The daily work at the front then became routine. Every day we received assignments where to dig fighting holes and trenches. Fisher, the NCO that gave me lip in Heide, was on a reconnaissance mission on the second day when he was wounded in the hip and bled to death.
On my bicycle I took every opportunity to reconnoiter the area. I always divided up the men into pairs, and gave them each a job; one hacks and the other digs. I left two men behind in the bunker, which we built ourselves. This way someone always manned the radio and the others repaired the broken bicycles.
Constant hunger was a problem. I searched through all the houses for something to eat and often I was successful. Several German defectors that crossed over into American captivity and revealed the locations of our distribution points. These points were changed constantly.
The Americans set up large loud speakers and at first played fast and fun music. Then they spoke to us and made promises, such as how well we would be treated if we defected. Those soldiers that defected to the Americans were suddenly found gone and usually came from the regions of Alsatia or Luxemburg. In the evening, those that defected were heard over the microphone, "Hello comrades of Company XYZ. This is comrade XYZ speaking. I am doing very well and I am now going to America and after the war I will return home. Do the same as I, and you will survive the war!"
Meanwhile, all of us had stomach problems. The food was always cold when it arrived. Whenever we could, we would toast the Kommis bread.
Our quarters were located in defilade on a rearward slope. We acquired a small stove from the village, but we had to ensure that no hot embers were visible from the stovepipe. Several times the Americans covered us with mortar fire. However, we were very lucky on several occasions.
Lieutenant Wigger, who visited us almost daily, also brought mail. One day I received a letter from a girl I met last July on vacation. Several times we met at the swimming pool and walked home together. After I read the letter, I asked the Lieutenant to read it. He began laughing and then shouted,
"Everybody listen! Our acting NCO is a father!"
He read a sentence from the letter,
"...today I must tell you that our being together had its consequences and as of immediately consider myself your betrothed. I have already acquired a engagement ring..." He continued, "A hurray for our future father!"
He reached out his hand and congratulated me. Everyone was very happy and congratulated me, and I myself was perplexed and laughed along with everyone else. "Not bad," I thought to myself, "at least I have a child if I never return home."
Immediately, the name of our future mother was nailed over the entrance of the bunker. In big letters it read, "Bunker Elfriede." The next day, everyone in the company that knew me congratulated me with a big smile on my "fatherly luck". For the next several days, we all had something to laugh about. When I returned home I learned it was a false alarm.
The division established a close combat school in Schönecken behind Prüm. The director of the school was Captain von Blomberg, a nephew of the former Minister of War von Blomberg. It was here that the soldiers were to receive their final phase of training, for which there had not been enough time. One after the other, we were ordered to attend the school for several days. The training was rather stimulating. For example, within a specific time period we fired at paper silhouettes in bushes while running and threw hand grenades. Above all, we regularly received a warm meal and were able to wash. The comradery in the group was very good, albeit I had trouble with one individual. His name was Knapp who came from Thüringen. He was 18 years-old, relatively strong, but always there where he should not be. He constantly fired his weapon without purpose, and everyone kept an eye on him as not to start mischief. I usually made sure that he was near me, in order to stave off any problems.
The American observer for artillery was in the air constantly. As a result, movements on the ground during the day had to be invisible to him. Carelessness was punished immediately with well-aimed artillery fire.
Not a single German field
piece was in action on our side. On the other hand, the Americans fire randomly,
even without observation. However, a great danger to us was our own V-1. Everyday
it flew directly over our position in the direction of the enemy, but often
it fell short and crashed down on our side. The rockets made a great noise and
racket, whereby the Americans stopped firing their artillery and tried shooting
them down with anti-aircraft fire. However, this measure rarely succeeded. We
sang a song for the V-1 based on the melody:
"There is a black insurrection in Cuba, shots crackle through the night..." Our version of the song: "The V-1 flies through the air, England is the target, but half way there it hits the Eifel."
The weeks leading up to 6 December passed by in a similar fashion. Then suddenly we received orders to depart the next day.
The dead were brought to a garage next to the rectory across from the church in Gondenbrett. They remained there until a horse-drawn carriage headed back to the rear. In the morning on 6 December, we departed and noticed that seven men remained in the garage. Apparently, no one wanted to take them along. We loaded them onto our field kitchen wagon, which was pulled by horses. Our bicycles were also loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon.
During heavy snow showers we climbed a hill towards an unknown destination. We were no longer in the best condition. Almost everyone had watery diarrhea. It was difficult to rejoin [the formation], once it was necessary to leave [in order to relieve oneself]. Marching through deep snow drifts required concentrating only on the boots in front of you. Lieutenant Wigger marched in front of me and often briefly glanced back. He was a relatively small man and one could see that he too was struggling to make the march. Nevertheless, I was more amazed by our company commander. The First Lieutenant was shot in the lung in Russia and was released from the Army. Now he had to make it through this ordeal with a single lung. We continued on without thinking about the man in front of us. It was night before we finally arrived in Hallschlag and were able to lie down. The medic brought me two slices of toasted Kommis bread and something for my diarrhea. My entire body shivered like Espenlaub (tree leaves) and I had no more strength. In the middle of the night the medic brought me hot tea and an old blanket. Such a comrade was its worth in gold!
After two days I felt better. Lieutenant Wigger asked me to take six men and an artillery observer to the Losheimer Graben (Losheim Gap). We were instructed to take rations for two days and find a good hiding spot. The observer brought a radio operator and explained to me that he wanted to pre-register important terrain features, such as cross roads. I was genuinely impressed. At long last the Americans would receive fuzes from us as well. We departed when dusk set in. Prior to our departure we spoke with a town leader of farmers. He prepared for us a sketch of all the important points. He knew every house in the village and provided us with important information.
We had with us eight breads, a quarter jar of marmalade, margarine, and a stick of grey sausage. We were not to engage the Americans unless absolutely necessary and attempted to carry out our mission without detection. We were armed well. Everyone had six egg hand grenades, an assault rifle, a close-combat knife, and ammunition. We proceeded along the path the farm leader recommended. Individual farmhouses stood in no-man's land where tethered cows cried out and tugged at their chains. We agreed to free the livestock on the way back. We proceeded to the Losheim Gap behind a hedge along the left side of the road and came upon a shot-up house. Everywhere it smelled of rotting cows. The house was a former bakery. The baking room was located behind the house and lay approximately 1.5 meters below grade. We decided to remain here, considering a large intersection (crossroad) was located about 800 meters away, through which large trucks continuously passed. On the right in front of the intersection stood a two-story house facing our position. The house appeared to be undamaged. We placed carpets on the floor of the house in order to walk about quietly. A stairway led to the upper floor with access to the attic. I posted a watch who was to keep an eye on the road. Under no circumstances was anyone to speak. Anything that needed to be said would be whispered.
The wind cut through all the rooms, accept for the baking room, which was more or less insulated. No sooner had we situated ourselves when a guard reported that someone was in the two-story house; the door opened occasionally and a light was visible. Moreover, snippets of music were heard when the door opened. We concluded that we were very near to the Americans. More than likely they also had heat in the house while we froze. I assigned two men per watch and waited anxiously for the next day.
It began in the morning. The artillery observer stood under the roof and observed the terrain in front of us. We formed a chain and whispered the coordinates from the observer to the radio. Now the time had come when the battery fired a single shot. As if from a magician's hand, the projectile swooshed off and over our heads and impacted next to the crossroad. A small correction was made and the second shot landed directly in the middle of the intersection. We wanted very much to cheer out loud, but we were as quiet as mice. Out of the house at the crossroad several Americans came running out and looked with disbelief at the area where the projectile impacted. "Ha!" I thought to myself, "What do you think they were thinking now?!" In order to betray any American ideas that a German artillery observer was in the midst, we fired several more shots indiscriminately. We held the abilities of our observer in the very highest regard.
Once darkness began to set in, we prepared ourselves to withdraw. However, our forward post signaled to us that something was not correct. I approached him and looked down the street. Two fully equipped American soldiers were approaching our house. They were talking out loud and both were smoking cigarettes. All of us stood inside the house with our weapons at the ready. We all wondered what would happen next, considering that we had orders not to engage the enemy. The two Americans stopped in front of a hedge and continued their conversation. Their intensions became obviously clear when several other Americans arrived and joined the others. Soon thereafter, another single American soldier joined the group and said, "Ready? OK, let's go." They departed one following the other in the same direction we intended to go. The egg hand grenades, which they carried on their belts, clanked against each other quietly. I decided to delay our withdrawal until the next morning, and asked the radio operator to submit our status information, but also requested the parole of the day (call sign or challenge word of the day).
So that was an American reconnaissance troop that just departed. If I had chosen to do so, we could very easily have taken them prisoner. The group returned in the same manner several hours later and disbanded. This was a good example of American positional warfare.
We made our way back to Hallwangen and covered our tracks as best we could. As we neared our listening post, someone called out to us, "Parole!" We answered in accordance with the information we received over the radio, "Celebes!" Our mission was a complete success, and our battalion commander praised us.
The leader of the town farmers declared that on the following day he was prepared to lead us into no-man's land, in order to bring over as many cows as possible. This operation occurred.
Once again I was assigned to the divisional combat school. Sergeant Major (Oberfeldwebel) Rumpf was the proverbial "right hand" of the school director, von Blomberg. For the most part, they pulled together every lower ranking NCO of the battalion and formed a small task force (Kampfgruppe). In the afternoon on 15 December, they told us what they planned to do with us. Everything was to begin on the next day. Soldiers swarmed around the entire area. Everywhere I looked there were soldiers. Even a Cossack unit was located near us! They danced and celebrated without restrictions and bottles of Schnapps were past from one man to another. An atmosphere of anxiety prevailed, and then plenty of food suddenly appeared. Goulash with potatoes was available to one's heart's content. People from the party (NSDAP) were present as well during the last situational brief; they were full of optimism that we would be in Antwerp for Christmas.
The Germans occupied bunkers along the Westwall, which were stuffed with soldiers. We stood so close to one another that you could not fall over. The walls were wet from the humidity. I told my group that I would lay down in the snow with an American sleeping bag in front of the entrance to the bunker. I went out into the clear white night, laid down in the snow my Zeltbahn (shelter quarter), and placed the captured American sleeping bag on top. Under a full moon I climbed into the sleeping bag, which was very warm. I tried to get a little rest.
The events from the previous day ran through my mind. Where did all the soldiers suddenly come from, and the cannon, tanks, and radio trucks? All the roads in the woods were stuffed full. Would I really be witness to a change in the direction of the war? A miracle was to take place within the next days and weeks. My God! I had never before experienced such feelings! I thought about my mother and childhood, and I missed my home to such a degree that my entire body ached.
When the artillery began to fire, I thought to myself it would not be long before things would begin to happen. I got up and looked for my comrades. Suddenly I began to see everything conscientiously. Who would survive the first day? What were they thinking? Did they have my similar thoughts?
Sergeant Major Rumpf, who formed a task force, arrived and distributed white camouflage suits. However, there were not sufficient numbers for everyone, so everyone got one piece; either a pair of trousers or a jacket. I received a jacket, which meant taking off the belt and the assault pack.
Rumpf explained to us our special task. The group consisted of 35 men, which was organized from various platoons. Beside myself, the MG gunner Liebetrau and Soldat Dwenger were with the group. The others I knew only from casual sight. Our task was to capture a number of Westwall bunkers that were occupied by Americans. During the night, pioneers cleared away mines to form a small alley in front of the bunkers. The distance from the end of the alley to the bunkers was estimated at approximately 700 meters. Sergeant Major Rumpf predicted that we would accomplish our task easily, considering that the Americans would not expect an attack through a belt of mines.
A pioneer Staff Sergeant stood at the entrance to the alley, waving happily at us, and giggled. He then gave us a pat on the back as we went on our way. The snow was almost knee deep in the Upper Forest. Nothing besides trees in front of us could be seen. We proceeded forward at a breadth of about 30 meters.
On the left, the MG-gunner Liebetrau preceded ahead of me by about one meter, and on my right a Corporal was accompanied by an MG rifleman.4 We came upon a fat long tree trunk, with a crown of snow laying across our path. As we began to cross over the trunk, hell broke loose. The Americans fired at us and we sought cover behind the tree. The machine gun carried by Liebetrau lay sticking out of the snow. All I could see was the stock of the weapon. "Oh shit!", I said to Liebetrau, "Now we are in a trap!" I was amazed that he did not flee. I looked at his face, which was a waxy yellow color. He was dead. The Corporal on my right stood with his back against the tree as if he were nailed to the tree. Half of his face lay in pieces next to me in the snow. His teeth with pieces of meat lay also in the snow, and blood was splattered everywhere. As soon as the firing began, cries for the Sanitäter (medic) came from every direction. Silence took over, only to be broken by the crumping sound of mortar fire. I noticed a small depression in the ground where I lay by the tree. I crept into the shallow hole halfway under the tree. I thought this must be the end. Again it became relatively quiet. The Americans fired one or two more shots, and I realized we had not fired a single shot in return. The sequence of events happened very quickly. I assumed American snipers were waiting for us, because shots were fired from an angle above. For the time being I lay safe half under the tree and did nothing. Then I heard voices coming from the enemy lines, "Let's go!" They appeared to be encouraging one another. I thought they were coming to get me. I grasped all six egg hand grenades and laid them next to me. I rolled onto my back and threw one after the other over my head as far as I could in the direction of the enemy. After the last throw I got up, picked up the Liebetrau's machine gun, and fired until the entire belt was empty. Spray-firing in a half circle caused snow from the limb of a tree to fall on my head. For a moment I stood there like a dome covered in snow. I immediately slung the gun over my shoulder and sprang; running and zigzagging all the way back. I saw mostly dead comrades, and some were kneeling clutching their stomachs. As I approached the place where the friendly pioneer waved us goodbye, I realized I was still alive. Trails of blood were everywhere in the snow, which indicated that others had been wounded and managed to escape.
Sergeant Major Rumpf stood with a blank look on his face, with his mouth open, and his notebook in his hand.
"Gee Poth," he said, "Are there any more coming?"
I looked at him with contempt and replied,
"Where were you for that idiotic mission?!"
Furious I walked past him and back to the bunker. Yesterday there was no room for anyone to stand in the bunker and today it was empty. Even the field cots up against the walls were empty. Luckily, Soldat Dwenger was among the 13 soldiers that survived the fiasco. Dwenger was at the back when the mission began and returned with a wounded soldier shortly thereafter.
As I lay on my back, I starred at the ceiling of the bunker and shook my head. I would have loved to shoot that ass of a Sergeant Major. It was simply pointless to waist those men. My respect for him was now absolutely zero. I wondered where the others were from my parent unit, and pictured what had become of the East Moravian. I intended on returning to my unit after this action. Around evening, Sergeant Major Rumpf entered our room and asked gingerly if he could speak to me out side. He explained to me that the entire action was ordered by Captain von Blomberg, the director of the division combat school. Rumpf and I went to see Blomberg at his command post. Blomberg looked at me very seriously and remarked that the entire affair took an unlucky turn. He added that I was the only one who returned with a weapon; the machine gun of a fallen comrade, in addition to my own. But now he had a new assignment for me. He explained that German soldiers had proceeded several kilometers on the left and right past the bunkers. It was important to determine if the Americans were still there. I was to pick one soldier from the few that were left and depart immediately back to the front.
I returned to the sleeping
quarters and said to Dwenger,
"Come on! Get ready to make reconnaissance!"
At first he looked at me with disgust. However, I gave him a signal with my eye, which indicated that I had something planned. I stopped once we were half way. I said to Dwenger,
"OK, I know you are married with children. You will stay back here in this depression. I will go to the bunker alone and determine if the Americans withdrew. If I do not return, tell them we became separated. Just think of something. I will be back in one hour."
I proceeded forward along the same path. Meanwhile, the temperature had risen and the snow was melting. It was very difficult to move forward, and at each step it felt as though my boot was ready to come off in the deep snow. After reaching the minefield I could hear Americans swearing. The engines from their trucks whined loudly in the night. I could see streams of light through the forest. Clearly, the Americans were departing!
I noticed then that no dead were lying around. What happened? As quickly as possible I headed back with complete disregard for being quiet, in order for Dwenger to hear me coming. He was very happy when I told him that I would report to the Captain the departure of the Americans. The Captain was relieved I returned safely as I reported the Americans withdrew from the bunker. The Captain's entire staff was to occupy the bunker on the next day. The Americans laid all our dead comrades in a row in front of the bunker and covered them with a sheet. However, American dead were among ours. Apparently, the Americans used unauthorized ammunition, considering the plate-size exit wound on Leibetrau's back.5 The American bastion (bunker) was fully stocked with provisions. There was plenty of food, to include bacon, eggs, chocolate, etc. There was even available warm water, which we used to bathe ourselves. I put on clean American underwear.
Then I received news that the leader of our battalion staff messenger, Corporal Krieger, was wounded and I was needed to fill his position for the next several days. I concluded they wanted to spare my life, for the simple reason that I had nothing to do in my capacity as a messenger. An elderly and fatherly captain gave the orders in the bunker. The reports being submitted were not very good. The re-supply did not come through quickly and the roads were all clogged. My only thoughts revolved around my next opportunity to return to my company and how the others were doing.
Three days later, a nine men were organized into a group. The task was to track down American stragglers that fired on the German messengers. We patrolled and combed through the entire area and searched everything. Individual Americans were happy we found them. They were frightened at first; apparently they were brainwashed to believe that we were dangerous. Some Germans with light wounds went into hiding, many of them were suspected of inflicting wounds to themselves. Up until Schönfeld things progressed reasonably well; American resistance in many villages was weak.
There were also some interesting occurrences, for example in a rectory. As I was searching through the house I went into the kitchen first. Everything was very clean and tidey. On a work-plate by the window there stood a big flat pot with milk. I laid down my assault rifle and drank the creamy milk. I heard sounds coming from the second floor, upon which I immediately set down the pot. Very cautiously and ever so quietly I ascended up the swinging stairway. In a room with a view (bay window) I encountered an American soldier who sat in a pastor's armchair. He had one leg elevated on another chair. I recognized immediately that he wore on his chest a "wounded sign", bearing his name and other information. His leg was shot through and been treated already by a medic. I assumed his comrades wanted to pick him up later but were unable to do so. The American immediately held out a pack of cigarettes that lay in front of him and said,
"You want a smoke?"
Despite not a big cigarette smoker I took one and he gave me a light. Apparently he was an officer, as he was very well groomed and clean. Other than he, there were no others in the rectory. I told him that a German Sanka-Wagen (medical ambulance/truck) had just arrived in front of the house in order to pick up wounded Germans.
"I come back," I said, and I ran down the stairs to find the medics. I told them about the wounded American soldier, whom they carefully brought down to the truck. Sitting in the vehicle, the American smiled and winked with one eye, wishing me good luck.
We were quartered in a village for two days as a result of the slow progress in crossing the Our River. We searched all the homes and then made ourselves comfortable. In other words, we washed ourselves and cleaned our rifles. Next to us, at a curve along the main road, a large house was severally damaged on the first floor from artillery fire. The staircase was also destroyed; the stairs hung from the wall in pieces. It bothered me when I discovered rooms that I did not yet inspect. Therefore, I slung my rifle over my back and climbed with some difficulty to the top floor. These rooms were very small with slanted walls and a ceiling height of about six feet. They each had a wooden farm bed. In the last room I was startled when I came upon two Americans; one lay in each bed. Next to them on the left and right stood Negro medics wearing helmets with a red cross painted on them. The men were very big, and nodded their heads to me. Tehy all held their hands up in the air. The Negroes both had large beads of perspiration on their faces. Their eyes were wide open and bulging as I approached the beds with my rifle slung over my back. I said,
"Hallo, how do you do?"
I lifted the blanket at one bed and said,
I went to the other bed and lifted the blanket as well. Then I went back to the stairs and called down,
"Here are two more wounded Americans!"
Of course, no one could hear me, but I pretended as though other comrades were downstairs. I approached the two big Negroes and patted them down, then bringing their raised hands down.
"You make ready," I said, pointing at the two wounded soldiers. Then I made my way back down the stairs. None of my comrades believed me when I told them that four Americans were under the roof. We had to build a wooden structure in order to get them down. These men were immediately provided medical attention and brought to safety.
Most of the dead Americans lay on the other side of the pontoon bridge that spanned the Our. Their faces were smeared with yellow lime. Apparently, here our tanks broke American resistance. We proceeded onto Manderfeld, Schönberg, and in the direction of St. Vith. From village to village we pushed on slowly. For three days we were exposed in the open, until we managed finally to penetrate into the city. Rocket launchers, which stood behind us fired, over our heads and into the neighboring areas. It was hell; an indescribable feeling which I never before experienced. The tanks departed, and now we began the attack.
The Americans formed a defense belt with their tanks along the outskirts of the village. The tanks were positioned behind an earthen wall; exposing only the turrets that raked the wall. We circumvented the wall on the right side, which allowed us to attack them from the side and rear. Individual soldiers with Panzerfausts (rocket launchers or "Bazookas") were able to destroy as many as five tanks. Additional tanks that were destroyed stood in the road. Looking into the tanks from above down through the cupola revealed a horrific sight.
Finally, I met some people from my company in St. Vith. They told me the company commander, a First Lieutenant from Husum, was severally wounded and brought to the field hospital in the village. The field hospital was completely filled to capacity, considering the Americans delivered to the hospital their wounded as well. The city was full of American materiel, and we dispatched a "captured equipment commando" in order to salvage as much as possible. Many Americans entered here captivity and were demoralized. When a wounded American was encountered, we treated them exactly the same way we treated our own. Our medic did not make any exceptions.
The success of capturing the village brought with it a certain degree of confidence. Everything could still have turned out OK. However, on this day on Christmas, we were expected to be in Antwerp. It was a hazy day, very hazy indeed, when we heard the droning sound of approaching aircraft engines. Looking up, I recognized the dropping of "christ trees", which were markers for the bombers that followed. A whistling inferno then filled the air and I screamed as loud as I could,
"Save yourselves under the American tanks!"
Disconnect the belt and dive down in a split second; this feeling I shall never forget. This is what must happen when the world is coming to an end. The tanks shook back and forth as if they were small toy cars. Every time I had to run into an air-raid shelters back home, I thought the devil should take the bombers! On one occasion I was at the train station in Hamburg when bombers attacked the city. When we exited the air raid shelter, the city was on fire. Phosphor created additional devastation, especially for human beings; it was terrible. If a bomber pilot fell into the hands of the survivors, they would have torn him to bits. During such times I revoked my belief in God; how could he allow small children and innocent people to be murdered in such a gruesome manner? Now, as I lay scared to death under an American tank, I wanted to pray to God to help this one more time, just this one more time. I decided, at that moment, if I survived the war that I would never again complain about any type of work I received. Under the tank I pressed my hands against my ears. I thought to myself how small and hopeless a human being can be during situations such as these. Indeed, how quickly the same person becomes faithless as soon as the situation improves! I often thought of all the good examples I received, and tried to live up them.
Once the earth stopped shaking and I began to hear voices declaring the end of the bombing, we dug ourselves out from under the tanks into freedom. Quickly! Let's get out of town! Everywhere the village was on fire. Without any considerations for their own loses, the Americans bombed the equipment left behind. This measure prevented large quantities of materiel, supplies, and ammunition from falling into German hands. Fortunately, most of the wounded were evacuated from the village earlier. As we past the hospital, we saw flames jumping out of the windows. The poor wounded; both friend and foe were the victims.
The village we reached on the height was Roth. Whenever we reached a height and turned back around, in order to look down into the valley, all we saw was smoke and burning vehicles. American aircraft destroyed our supply. In the village of Rodt I saw, for the first and last time, Field Marshal Gerd v. Rundstedt, who was accompanied by several officers. Despite the fact that it was Christmas, he did not allow the packages from loved ones to be distributed. One of my comrades from the Kampfgruppe took some photographs of our group and of the occasion. In Rodt we watched the employment of German jet aircraft; one of the wonder weapons often spoken of by the officials.
The weather was clear with a blue sky when thousands of American bombers filled the sky. They flew in formation at approximately 10,000 feet. As we pondered over which village would be destroyed on this day, two German aircraft flew at very high speeds towards the bombers and fired rockets at the formation. The rockets exploded within the formation and soon several four-engine bombers were on the way down. It seemed as thought the German aircraft flew silently, but the sound came soon after. This was the first and last time I witnessed such an event.
In Roth we discovered many dead soldiers from the Waffen-SS. They were young boys, just like us. The bodies were plundered, and their ring fingers hacked off. We wondered who could do such a thing. One dead soldier's mouth was torn wide open; apparently they removed a gold tooth? It is no wonder the Spiess was elated when we all reported back from our special missio in one piecen.
I looked forward to being reunited with the comrades from the company. It was purported to be located in the same area. I wondered what could they have experienced over the last 11 days without me. It was bitter cold and the snow crunched under my boots as I crossed through the forest, marching up and down hills one kilometer after another.
American artillery fired often indicating that the front solidified once again. Sporadically a V-1 rocket thundered off over our heads in the direction of the Americans. When we finally reached the village of Wanne, consisting of a single road and several houses, there was no sign of life. Around midnight we stood approximately 50 meters in front of a farmhouse and we contemplated the direction we should continue. I said,
"I will go in the house and see if I can find out something."
As I turned around and took the first step forward, a projectile exploded at the spot where my comrades stood. The concussion from the blast catapulted me to the ground. I regained conscience laying on my back, and starred up at the bright moon-lit night. I turned my head to the side and slowly began to realize what happened. My comrades, with whom I had just spoken and laughed, all lay dead in the snow. I patted myself down to ensure I was not dreaming. I dragged myself a few meters back and then noticed that comrade Jonny Ernote was missing the back of his head. There was no mistaking the fact they were all dead. I was unable to stand, and for the time being, I did not know where I had been hit. I slid very slowly on my right side towards the house. Laying on the ground I managed to open the door and get inside the house. Additional projectiles that began to land behind me in the same area served to hasten the matter. The farmhouse lounge (parlor) was made only of ceramic tile, so I slid further until I reached the last door on the left, which led down into the basement. Immediately I could hear multiple people praying below. Head-first I slid down the wooden stairs and landed in a cellar with vaulted ceilings. Several women screamed, "Mon Dieu!" and cleared off children from an old wooden crate. They all starred at me but continued to mumble their prayer. Then I realized that three shards of steel shrapnel were logged in my right side. Strangely enough, I experienced no pain. A reoccurring thought in my head told me, "Playing war is now over. Your comrades, with whom in the morning I intended to rendezvous, were no longer there; gone and past.
Then suddenly we heard loud steps from upstairs, the cellar door flew open, and someone called down,
"Is someone there!"
"Yes!" I replied, "Here! I cannot walk!"
A medical NCO came down and leaned over me.
"We will get you out of here shortly," he said, and then disappeared.
After some time, he returned with two men and they brought me upstairs. The medic explained that he saw my dead comrades and followed my trail into the house in order to find me. When an ambulance convoy passed by the house, the medical NCO waved for a vehicle to stop, but the vehicle drivers yelled they had no room. Clearly, they intended to escape the artillery fire as quickly as possible. Then the medical NCO stepped out into the middle of the road with outstretched arms in order to stop a vehicle. Pointing at me, the medical NCO shouted at the driver,
"This man is going along!"
The driver and alternate driver shouted back,
"The vehicle is full!"
The medical NCO brought the vehicle to a halt and opened the back door. The driver's assistant moved to the rear inside the vehicle in order to show him that even the mid-bench area was occupied. However, the medical NCO discovered a body and said, "This man is dead! Get him out of here!" The litter kit with the body were removed from the vehicle and placed next to me. I could only see the dead man's face, which was covered with blood from severe hemorrhaging, usually as a result of a lung shot. For the time I was there, I looked at the spot where my comrades once were. They were all NCOs from the Navy, and after tomorrow they all intended on returning to their companies.
The ambulance traveled at varying speeds both slowly and then fast. I did not know what to think, but I was happy to get away from potential peril. Two small windows on either side of the vehicle allowed me to see numerous flashes of light from artillery projectiles that impacting nearby. Occasionally the vehicle stopped and the drivers cursed loudly at whatever clogged the road and prevented their advanced. Eventually we traveled over flat roads and the vehicle arrived at our destination. It was early morning when the doors opened and two other soldiers were found dead. The stretcher on which I lay was off loaded and placed in the woods in front of a forester's house. Many ambulances were off loaded here, which was a field medical aid station. The area I occupied in front of the house represented the waiting room. The medical staff arrived with blankets and treated individuals depending on their situation. Those that succumbed to their wounds were placed next to the building. It was very similar to a factory conveyer belt; one patient after the other was brought into the house.
Then it was my turn. I was carried into the house and into a room that measured approximately 12 x 20 feet, which led into another room with an operating table in the middle of the room. Immediately I was placed on the table and two medical personnel removed my jacket. Two friendly doctors began working on my left shoulder. They said I was lucky, considering the shrapnel cut through the clavicle but was not life threatening. A second piece of shrapnel passed through my elbow two centimeters under the joint. Again they commented how lucky I was, and that they would not have to amputate my lower arm. As they continued their work, I turned my head and saw against the wall baskets full of amputated arms and legs. At the table next to me, doctors were busy with a saw. I realized how lucky I really was. Finally, they removed my left shoe where a steel splinter passed from the inside outwards through my foot. As they worked on my foot I asked the doctors,
"Will I be able to dance again with that foot?"
They looked at each other with surprise and said,
"Are you a good dancer?"
I explained that I visited a dance school when I was 17 years old, but I was not given the opportunity to dance since then. They laughed and said everything would be all right, calling me a lucky mushroom.
I was relocatedto Schönecken with other wounded soldiers. I became familiar with the village earlier during the first segment of my training at the divisional combat school. Now we were in an open room in an old school house. The seriously wounded lay in beds and the others lay on the floor. The room was overcrowded. The medical personnel had a lot to do. Among the wounded were many young SS soldiers. There was a constant coming on going and men were continuously transported to other locations. Several days later we heard the drone of engines noises overhead. According to the medical personnel, Allied fighter aircraft attacked anything that moved. Then suddenly a loud crashing and snapping sound was heard overhead. Shortly thereafter the ceiling separated from the roof and fell into the room. Instinctively I rolled over to my right and under a wounded soldier's bed. Horrific screams and panic caused great chaos. We were told that Allied aircraft followed the ambulances to the aid station and attacked the aid station with splitter bombs, despite the fact that a red cross was painted on the roof of the house.
The next evening we were scheduled to relocate to Andernach. However, there were not enough ambulances to carry the wounded. Trucks were used as an alternative mode of transportation. The convoy departed in the dark and passed through the village of Mayen, where many houses were on fire. The Americans just completed bombing the village. The convent was perfectly suited to serve as an auxiliary or secondary hospital. There were four of us in a room. Two Germans and two Americans lay next to each other. The rations here were very good. My favorite meal was salted potatoes and meatloaf covered with a leek sauce. Stew was served frequently as well. We received on a daily basis a cheroot, a type of cigar with two square-cut ends, and an apple as dessert. However, I cut the cigar up into very fine pieces with a razor blade and mixed them with the rind from the apple, and turned my own cigarettes. The cut tobacco absorbed the moisture from the apple rinds in order to turn better cigarettes. Both Americans watched me with great interest. I offered each one of them a finished turned cigarette. One of the two, a young tank driver, was in a cast that reached from his neck to his Styrian. He could only move his eyes, so that I also gave him a light. He puffed a few times, and I removed the cigarette from his mouth, and this continued until the cigarette was gone. Our conversation remained very shallow due to the language barrier. The German doctors spoke English with the American, as well as other comrades that visited him during the day. I noticed there were many wounded Americans among the Germans, but that was never a concern to anyone. The nuns that cared for us day in and day out were real angels.
Our recovery made good progress and soon I was able to walk across the floor using crutches. Then suddenly the condition of the young American soldier worsened to a degree that both doctors and the chief doctor were coming to his aid. He was returned to intensive care where he died several days later. On the day the American was buried, the coffin was wrapped in an American flag and placed on a wagon. All the wounded escorted the coffin directly from behind the wagon, which was followed by several medical personnel and American.
Nearing the convent an American fighter aircraft swooped down and over our heads, which caused the procession to instinctively jump to the side of the road and seek full cover. The two men that pulled the wagon with a shaft immediately let go and took cover. The wagon continued on it's own until it ran off the road and the coffin tumbled onto the ground. This situation was very embarrassing for the wounded Americans who apologized profusely.
At this point in the war, news from the front was always disappointing and negative. The fact that my comrades continued to risk their lives while I slept in a warm bed, and ate warm meals, made me very uncomfortable. Those comrades that were wounded only lightly and released from the convent were pick up immediately in order to form new Kampfgruppen. Several comrades placed deliberately one or two Pfennig pieces into their wounds in order for the wound to become re-infected. In the mornings, medical personnel arrived and treated the outside edges of the wounds.
On 4 February, I woke up and found two nuns standing at the end of my bed looking at me with a friendly smile. One nun said to the other,
"Today it is his birthday and he is now of age. Today is 4 February 1945. Happy Birthday from all of us."
I was taken completely by surprised and had not at all thought about my birthday. I was allowed to make one wish, whereby I remarked that my mother always made for me on my birthday a pie with vanilla pudding and raspberry sauce. The comrades that shared the room with me congratulated me as well. The American soldier, whose first name was Thomas, gave me his lighter and a piece of soap. My own personal belongings were lost when I was wounded, which included a small pouch of money, my shaving kit, and my soap. My most prized possession was lost as well, a linen covered lexicon, which belonged to my brother Willi who was killed in France. I always carried the book with me and at every opportunity I played a question-answer game with my comrades. I read the questions and then received an answer. A big surprise came after the midday meal. The head nun brought me a pie filled vanilla pudding covered with raspberry sauce! The pie was divided among the comrades in the ward. After the evening meal the young nun assigned to me, since my arrival at the convent, placed a tankard on the night table and said,
"A little tea for the evening." She batted her eyes at me. When I drank the tea, I discovered it to be white wine, and thought to myself that it was acceptable for nuns to cheat a little as well. The front progressed closer to us every day. I wondered when I would be released, but my foot did not want to heal properly. Every time I stood on my foot the wound broke open. The doctor explained to me that the skin along the side of the foot is very thin and delicate. Moreover, he told me that I would be transferred to the hospital at Vallendar. Therefore I had to say good-bye to the beautiful Nun Maria Laach and the other fine nuns.
Vallendar was a convent as well, but converted over to a hospital. The convent was built on a cliff with thick castle-like walls and overlooked the Rhein River. Here too the nuns were also very friendly and warm-hearted. On several occasions the nuns asked that I make a confession. Then one morning, a long hospital train stood outside Vallendar. Loading the wounded onto the train took hours before the train departed towards an uncertain destiny. Despite the threat of attacks by Allied aircraft, we arrived in Heidelberg on the first day. The train sat at the railroad station and did nothing. No one was permitted to exit the train. It was said that there was no more room. At the speed of a snail we continued on in the direction of Heilbronn-Crailsheim where the train was attacked and fired on. The train remained stopped for hours. In Ansbach those soldiers that could continue under their own power got off the train. Our final destination was Nuremberg. The train station was total chaos. Fleeing civilians were running frantically in every direction. It is a miracle that order was maintained. In Heilbronn, two fighter aircraft attacked our train. Passengers jumped off the train that was halted at an embankment. The aircraft attacked repeatedly and fired at, among others, the fleeing women and children. Behind the embankment a water drainage opening offered people protection against the bomb blasts. All the soldiers helped out where they could, primarily reuniting women and children. Several individuals from the village arrived in trucks and collected the dead. At the request of the town major, myself, NCO Adolf Bauer, and another comrade remained in the town for several days.
Dead bodies that needed desperately to be buried lay in the cemetery morgue. However, graves could not be dug until nightfall due to prowling Allied fighter aircraft. The Allies attacked anything that moved. In several cases, older farmers decided during the nice weather to plow their fields. They paid for it with their lives. The town major gave us a certificate that documented the relief we provided to the village for three days.
In Nuremberg it was very busy. At the train station I saw a train full of young French SS volunteers, who were departing for the defense of Berlin. At the train station command post, we received two Panzerfausts in order to defend the city. However, we all retained our "wounded relocation pass", and my left foot remained infected. In the end, we were sent to the hospital for reserves in Neumarkt. We were quartered in a school along the main road. Our "hospital" was located in the basement and we received straw and wool blankets. The doctor was a specialist for medicine, Dr. Riemenschneider. The food at the convent was relatively good, considering that every person and every place was in dire straits for the most essential items. Indeed, it was a miracle that everything kept working efficiently. At this location we heard about the death of Roosevelt. The news gave me a certain satisfaction knowing that he would never see the defeat of Germany, despite his greater involvement in the war.
In mid April, during the evening, we were force-marched in the direction of Regensburg. A Technical Sergeant had for all of us "collection orders."6 My possessions consisted of a single rolled up blanket. Adolf, whom I always referred to as "Addy", still carried a pistol and a pair of binoculars. We followed at the tail end of the convoy; it was a very sad collection of half-invalids. The wound on my foot remained infected and moist. I cut a hole in the side of my left shoe to expose my foot to air. Older men of the so-called Volkssturm (People's Army) with Panzerfausts and rifles occupied the defenses in the villages. During the night on 14 April we fell back to the very end of the formation and pretended that we had to step out momentarily. At that point we allowed the column to continue on without us. We were now free, despite having encountered in the villages on several occasions individuals and soldiers that were hanged from a tree. A sign on their chest read, "I am a deserter." We were free, without marching orders, and free from leaders or officers. However, we knew what would happen to us if we fell into the hands of a patrol. Since we traveled only by night, we were able to hear very well and detected easily oncoming vehicles.
We visited the home of a village-farming leader, which was located at a higher elevation. We planned accordingly, in the event that something might go wrong. My friend with the pistol stood watch in front of the house and I knocked on the door. In a pleasant manner, the farmer asked me what I wanted. After I told him that we lost the rear guard of a formation of wounded soldiers, he first invited us into the house. I requested paper, ink, and a feather, in order to write for us "marching orders."7 I notated the order with the clause, "Without an official service stamp (marking) Dr. Riemenschneider, Staff Doctor, Reserve Hospital Neumarkt/O.Pfalz. The farmer read the clause and remarked,
"Better than nothing at all."
No one could prove otherwise. He added,
"It would be best if you remained here in the house for two or three days. Your clothes need to be cleaned for a change."
We were provided some food and assigned to a room under the attic. We were instructed to leave our underwear and uniforms outside the door, so that his daughters could collect our clothes. We remained comfortable at the house for two days before we entered captivity voluntarily. Before we departed, we left behind any belongings we did not need, to include a photograph, my decorations, an Iron Cross, a Navy Combat Clasp and a Wound Badge. The farmer would ship our belongings to us once everything was over. The next evening we departed and walked along a canal for some time. It was not difficult for us to avoid the patrol car. Addy said,
"Tomorrow is Hitler's birthday. Maybe he has ready another wonder weapon? If so, we will not go into captivity."
The Americans were only a short distance behind us. All we needed to do was pick up one of the thousands of leaflets they dropped, in order for them to take us in. The leaflet implored us to lay down our weapons. It gave specific instructions how to surrender. "Hold the leaflet in your right hand over your head." General Eisenhower guaranteed that we would be released for work back in our hometown.
On 22 April we entered captivity. We were walking slowly down a forest road when suddenly shots impacted on the right and left sides. We did not realize that we were in the midst of American soldiers! At first they demanded that we empty our pockets and lay down on the ground. My friend Addy did not fare very well. He neglected to remove the tank (destruction) stripes on his sleeve, which caused him to be knocked to floor several times. Afterwards, we were made to sit on a jeep and the driver took off like a hangman. Several times we landed in a ditch; it was a miracle we did not break any bones. We were lead to a house for interrogations where we were entertained for two additional days. Addy went first and I stood in front of the house with my hands up. Then, suddenly, I heard a shot fired. The door opened; an American wielding a Colt pistol appeared and motioned with the pistol that I was next. In the room sat an officer behind a table. He asked me with which division, regiment, and where I was employed. A stack of papers lay on the table. He notated my answers and flipped through the papers. Then he asked me the name of the division commander. I noticed that he knew very well that everything I said was correct. He spoke perfect German, and I was certain that he was born here and went to school here as well. At the end, he asked how many German tanks I observed over the course of the last several days. The officer said,
"Tell the truth or you will end up like the guy before you."
I replied, "I have not seen any German tanks or soldiers for days, or should I invent them?"
Immediately he shouted, "Get him out of here!"
He gave the soldier standing behind me a signal and I was led out behind the house where I found Addy standing with his hands up. I shouted with excitement,
"Mensch! Those sadists! I thought you were dead!"
If we treated their captured the way they treated us, the whole world would be disgusted. Around evening we were squished into a semi (truck) trailer and off we went speeding towards Roth near Nuremberg. We were locked in an air-raid cellar for the night at the Hans Schemm school. There was barely any extra room and we stood amidst other prisoners. We were not able to relieve ourselves until morning, when they let us out into the school playground. From Roth we were transported to Langenzenn.
The drivers of the truck and semi-trailer were having fun entering turns in the road very quickly, which thereby caused the prisoners to clutch one another to avoid being thrown from the vehicle and land in a roadside ditch. In Langenzenn we arrived at a large open field with a slight decline, which was envisaged as a prisoner camp. A still uncompleted fence surrounded the field and was fitted with machine gun posts every 40 meters. The prisoners were not permitted to cross a certain line. Those that did were punished with a burst of machine gun fire. In order to scare the prisoners, the bodies of dead German prisoners were left lying for longer periods in the fields. The prisoners were not categorized according to their rank. After one day I met someone from my hometown. He was my dentist, Dr. Becker.
On 26 April we departed by railroad. We traveled in open rail cars and stood very close to one another. As we boarded, everyone received some water and a small bag of "breakfast." At this point we were very hungry. Many of the prisoners neared insanity. The train was very long. On every second car their sat elevated a guard with a weapon. At the speed of a snail we passed through small and larger villages. We received a warm welcome from German captured prisoners of war, which included Russians, Poles, and others. They threw rocks and hit us with long clubs. The American guard simply watched and did nothing to stop the frenzy. However, when he was in danger, such as when passing under a bridge, he fired his weapon to avoid being hit by debris that was thrown at us from above.
By the end of Aril the train finally reached Bad Kreuznach. This was our final destination. As we disembarked at the train station American guards greeted us every two meters with weapons. We marched in groups of 10 men through the city and over a railroad bridge in the direction of Brezenheim. A giant field was to become our home for the next few months. Many of the German prisoners that arrived at this camp would not survive. What occurred in the camp over the next few weeks was hell on earth.
Confining thousands of people in an open field makes for deadly circumstances. Water was non-existent and therefore pumped locally into a tanker truck and then placed in large round canvas containers, each of five meters in diameter. Many contracted dysentery and diarrhea from the contaminated water. The sick were isolated by spools of barbed wire. It was only a matter of time before those that contracted the illness were dead. White signs with black crosses were painted on the caps of those individuals destined to a grave.
The ground transformed itself into to knee-deep mud. There was no sign of grass anywhere. The weather changed constantly and it often stormed. In order to quench my thirst I drank the water that collected in my cap. I wrung out my cap over my mouth. Initially, we received every day as rations two to three dirty raw potatoes. The prisoners were separated into groups of one thousand men. The most senior man controlled each group, who divided the groups into subgroups of one hundred men. The provisions were handed over to the group leaders, who in turn distributed the rations. At first, one hundred men received one loaf of bread. From that, an individual usually received a few crumbs on a "palm plate." We referred to these rations as "knife-tip rations", as they were as small as the tip of a knife. We did not have any knives. Those individuals that found a tin cup were lucky, and periodically could fill it with soup, or noodles, or a red beet soup. Our hunger was indescribable, and many of the elderly prisoners went insane. Their lack of strength prevented them from picking themselves up out of the mud.
In Brezenheim we were separated from the onset, which included all the rank and file, the NCOs, officer candidates, and officers. As an NCO I was assigned with Addy to Camp 6. After several days I met several people from my village. They were the officer candidate Herrmann K. and Sergeant Artur M. Herrmann K. was not doing well at all. He had just had an eye removed after being wounded and the socket remained infected. Nevertheless, we stayed together; we were good comrades. The wretchedness of the camp was indescribable. Everyday additional prisoners arrived, of which many were blind, amputees, and severally sick. They cried out hopelessly for help but to no avail. Death ended the suffering for many. I was convinced that the Americans wanted to drive us to insanity. To add to our misery, they flew their fighter aircraft at low altitudes over our heads over the course of the entire day. The loud sound of their engines was another form of torture. The latrines were a dangerous death trap. The dug out sumps that measured 4 x 10 meters, which were filled with lime, filled to the top with rainwater. No one could tell what was what, especially at night. Those they fell down were lost.
Without warning patrols went through the camp. Then we were reorganized and given weapons in order to fight against the Russian along side the Americans. Every day we heard new rumors. Several small groups of men that were convinced the Americans intended for us to die here planned to storm the American guards and capture the supply stocks and liberate other camps along the Rhein. General Eisenhower's promise, to get us back to work in our hometowns, was a lie. However, the black American soldiers treated us humanely. The white soldiers as a rule were very disgruntled with us. In front of us they tipped out the remains of their food onto the lime ground. When someone, out of pure hunger, bent over to get a morsel of food, the guards stepped on their hands. I still have two of them kept well in my memory. They were Jewish sons from the birth years 1936 that emigrated from Germany. They were both the exact same age as myself and they visited a school in Dresden.
Members of the SS were screened and plucked out after we were ordered to undress. The clothes remained on the ground and they herded us into the empty corner of the camp. Here they searched for tattoos under the arms. Anyone who stored away or hid a watch or anything of value lost it.
In June 1945 the weather was sunny. The ground dried out and we dug holes for ourselves into the lime ground with our tin cups. Many prisoners had died from starvation and sickness. When an undertaker was approached in order to acquire something, such as a pair of shoes from the dead, they were usually given to the individual who made the request. In this manner I was given a pair of riding boots size 45.
Preparations were made for the French to take custody of the camp. Then miners were needed for digging in the Ruhr. The paperwork for release was provided only after detailed questioning and then we marched 15 kilometers on foot to Bingen. Many were unable to complete the march. The American guards released all their sadism during the march. A large truck drove behind the column. Stragglers that were beaten with clubs were thrown on the truck, despite the fact they already had their papers for release. This occurred in front of all the local inhabitants that watched as the column passed by in July 1945. In Bingen we were told that we would be brought to Saarbrücken in a semi-trailer. That evening we slept outside in a school courtyard. We could not believe that we were still alive and that we would be free the next day. Thousands of thoughts went through my head. I was able to begin a new life.
The semi-trailer transported us as far as the town hall in Saarbrücken. We were escorted into the town hall where someone said a few words to us. However, I was not paying attention, and thought only of leaving as quickly as possible. I had with me the flour sack I acquired at the camp, which carried my clothes. Since we were infested with lice, the Americans treated us with DDT-powder. I had not seen my own face in a long time and I looked at myself in the window of a street trolley. When I got off the trolley at the market place in Friedrichstal, people gawked at me. Soon I came across the first familiar faces. A woman I knew asked,
"From where are you coming? Have you seen my husband?"
Before very long I stood in front of my home. Nothing on the street had changed, and there was no damage. My father was in the garden harvesting cherries from the trees. When he noticed me, and approached me, neither of us could say much. He was not in the war and did not serve during WWI. However, he did serve at the age of 20 in Metz. During WWI he was a mountaineer and therefore not recalled.
After I took looked at everything in the garden and inside the house I ate the ripe cherries. Both my comrades were released 14 days earlier from the camp. I told them that I would survive and then visit them. I went to my bedroom on the top floor and lay down in my bed. I thought I would never again leave from this place; I had reached the utopia of my inner desires. I thought about the type of people I encountered during the war. Some disappointed me, and I marveled at others. In captivity, many people became very weak (spirited) and I saw people trade their wedding rings for a cigarette. For a small piece of food they went at each other like animals. Others simply looked at you, and I knew I could rely on them.
If I learned anything from that period of my life, it was to understand humans better. I was now able to differentiate between flowers and leaders.
After several days passed I realized I had to help acquire food, just like everyone else. Out in the country one could trade property for food. Anything that wasn't absolutely necessary was placed in a suitcase and brought to the farmers. Often I was underway for days, and I returned home with flour, potatoes, and fruit. I noticed that I had developed a persistent cough and a slight temperature (fever). I visited the doctor who referred me on to the health department in Dudweiler. The physician Dr. Grabow took X-rays of my chest, which revealed I had tuberculosis in both my lungs. This prevented me from working in my career field as a baker. In addition to my regular menu of life-sustaining foods I was prescribed half a liter of milk. After some time, while I was constantly underway and trading items as far away as 100 kilometers, I was prescribed a "curing rest" in the Black Forest. I visited a lung sanitarium for three months in the village of Hallwangen, where I thought about what I wanted to do in the future. But that is a different story!
1. The "Spieß"
or Spiess was the proverbial mother of the company. He was responsible for the
everyday administration, order, and welfare of the unit. As a senior enlisted
man, the Spiess usually bore the rank of Army Hauptfeldwebel or SS-Hauptscharführer
(Master Sergeant). The Spiess was recognized easily by the thick notebook he
attached between the front tunic buttons, and the "piston rings" or "tress"
(silver bullion fabric) around the tunic sleeve-cuffs.
2. Yellow and blue crosses were used to differentiate between types of gasses used in warfare.
3. The Wochenschau was a weekly home-front propaganda show or newsreel filmed usually by war correspondents.
4. Each machine gun usually had riflemen that provided security.
5. This is a consistent but incorrect argument made by a number German veterans. German soldiers have claimed that the British and Americans used "exploding ammunition", which was prohibited by the Geneva Convention. American soldiers used only ball ammunition. Larger exit wounds were usually produced when a projectile ricocheted off a bone, causing the projectile to tumble. The Americans that ambushed Poth and his comrades used, more than likely, a .30-caliber M1916A4 Browning machine gun. However, the use of a .50-caliber M2 machine gun cannot be ruled out, which would definately cause a huge exit wound.
6. The term "collection orders" is a free translation of the German word or phrase "Sammel-Marsch-Befehl." Usually, fragmented units and stragglers reported to local command centers where soldiers were formed into new task forces. In many cases, Army personnel were absorbed into SS units or vise versa. Functioning cohesive units established collection points and "caught" stragglers in order to form new fighting units.
7. Soldiers that were caught without marching orders were considered deserters and shot on the spot.
Copyright Stenger Historica 2008