German Armed Forces Research 1918-1945
Memoirs of a Panzergrenadier Veteran
The following was translated and compiled by Björn Jervas, whose Grandfather, Willy Tiedemann, served in the Wehrmacht Heer during WWII. The following memoir was written from a series of audio tapes that were recorded by Willy before his death a number of years ago. Some place names may be incorrectly spelled, and various minor corrections and additions have been added by Jason Pipes, as indicated by information in parentheses. The following is an interesting mix of biography, memoir and diary entries based on Willy's experiences during World War II. It serves as a powerful testament to the entire range of experiences and emotions of a German Soldat, from the monumental to the mundane, and from the joyous to the terribly upsetting.
I started my career as a policeman, my unit was 1. Landespolizei-Hundertschaft, Harburg. In September 1935, the whole unit was turned over to the Wehrmacht, we never volunteered. In October 1935 we were designated III Bataillon/Infanterie-Regiment 69, and our first battalion commander was Oberstleutnant Spengler. After this, we had years of practice.
In October 1938, my unit marched into the Sudetenland, and we also invaded Czechoslovakia later. In August 1939, my unit was in Sudetenland, practicing as (a) motorized unit. There were rumors of a war against Poland, but we did not believe it. On 20.8.39 we were moved eastwards, Küstrin-Landsberg. We arrived (at) Hasseln on 26.8.39, and camouflaged our vehicles. Nothing more happened. On 31.8.39 we were moved to Sclochau, were we met other units. Something was going on!
The Polish Campaign
(On) 1.9.39, at 0445 O'clock, our artillery started barraging the Polish town of Konitz. Konitz was ready for surrender by 0800. We drove into the fields of Tuscla. The first Polish resistance we had, was when we arrived Grajebo. We had actually moved "back" into Germany, before crossing the Polish border once more (Willy's unit was a part of the 20.Infanterie.Division.(mot.), which began the campaign against Poland on the western side of the Polish Corridor and after crossing through it, actually entered into East Prussia, thus entering "back" into Germany. - JP). On the 10.9.39 we crossed river Narew, and got in position at Zambro. Nearby was "Festung Lomska", with 2 polish infantry and one artillery regiments. We were supposed to participate in a siege of this unit. There was so much fog that day, that the Polish managed to withdraw without our knowledge, but soon we engaged them. Polish and German MG's at Zambro shot wildly at anything moving, and it was a disaster! Our Batallion lost 120 men, my Kompanie, the 9th had 32 KIA's. We took more than 400 POW's, and two field cannons.
Shortly after, we were sent towards Brest-Litowsk. We were supposed to attack this "Festung", supported by railway-artillery, but the Polish surrendered after their officers had escaped. We were met by a terrible sight: more than 300 Volksdeutsche had been held as captives in the "Festung", and they had been very badly treated! We occupied the town of Brest-Litowsk, the civilians wandered around in the streets, mostly very drunk...
We met the Russian forces in Brest-Litowsk. The commander of 10.Panzer-Division, Guderian, participated in the parade together with the Soviets. Our regiment was now a reserve unit for the forthcoming offensive against Warsaw, but no action took place.
On 6.10.39 we were moved, through Schneidemühl and Berlin to our barracks in Hamburg-Wentdorf. After some time, on 25.11.39, we moved westwards and stayed in Paderborn. More exercises!
The Western Campaign
(On) 10.5.40 we were in a position close to the Dutch border by Maastricht. We crossed the border, close to Lignic. No enemy contact. When we arrived Lafontaine, in France, we were met by escaping French and Moroccan forces. On 21.5.40 our Bataillon took 4300 PoWs, and we were turned towards Arras. Lots of prisoners were held at Bulogne. In the Calais-area, not far from Dunkirk, we attacked Oscapell - the British HQ. It was fierce fighting! At Lesegn-Chemaign the British tried an armored counter-attack but were beaten. On 31.5.40 we attacked Dunkirk and St. Omar.
(On) 4.6.41 we drove through Arras, Vieraux to Vedun. Just spread enemy activity (??). At Longrais, the French attacked, and our Bataillon had 20 casualties. We thought the war was over by now, but we were ordered to move on. The enemy resistance got harder, and the 9th Kompanie had 7 KIA's, the French about 60. Even if France had capitulated, the forces continued to fight! These were mostly soldiers from the Maginot Line.
One night, I was ordered to lead a patrol of a reinforced platoon. Suddenly we heard horses in front of us, and we opened fire! Without resistance, 100 men w/ 80 horses and one PAK surrendered. They told us that more French were to come, so we laid down in ambush. Just after 30 minutes, we heard horses - and it became silent! We sneaked in the direction where we had heard the noise, just like Indians! We started firing, and really much so the French would believe we were much more than we really were. It worked!! We caught 1 colonel, 9 officers, 500 men and 400 horses! This unit had planned to attack our Bataillon the next morning!
From 21.6.40 we were not in combat anymore. We moved to St.Revienne at Nivea, to En Vrien close to Paris, as occupation forces.
Christmas 1940 was celebrated in Ahrendsee in Germany before we went back to France. During Easter 41 we moved to Kosten, later Grossborn in Pommern, where we practiced for 7 weeks. On 12.6.41 we (were) in East Prussia close to the Soviet border. Could it really come to war again? I had a bad feeling.
(At some point after the French Campaign, he seems to have switched units because he now makes mention of his unit as the 20.Panzer-Division, which was not an extension of his earlier unit, the 20.Infanterie-Division (mot.) - JP)
The Eastern Campaign
On 22.6.41 my Bataillon crossed the Soviet border by Punsk. Very little resistance, we shot down 6 enemy aircraft, Ratas and Polkaripovs. (On) 25.6.41 we attacked Wilna, while Jagdgeschwader Mölders cleared the skies (of) enemy aircraft. On 28.6.41 we were in Minsk, with the mission of protecting bridges in the area. Very hot temperature, dust, and swamps. We crossed Berezina and were assigned to 4.Panzer-Armee led by Kluge.
On 7.7.41 we met really hard resistance at the Stalin line by Duna. For the first time, we used the Nebelwerfer, with good effect. At Starojezelo we had great losses…
(On) 9.7.41 we moved towards Witebsk, very hard Russian resistance! We had to get out of our vehicles because of enemy artillery. Our Bataillon was stopped completely, and we had to jump around like rabbits to save our vehicles. Had to march from now on. On 10.7.41 we see that the Soviets are putting Vitebsk (on) fire. The city was not totally conquered before 13.7.41, after the use of Nebelwerfers.
Soon after, my division, the 20.Panzer-Division moved towards Smolensk. We reached north of the city on the 23.7.41. We were told we were the German unit who had reached most far into (the) Soviet (Union)!
On 28.7.41 we were the reserve for (the) 12.Panzer-Division. We rested until 7.8.41, and were assigned to "Panzergruppe Hoth", who apart from us, consisted of 20. and 18.Panzer-Grenadier-Division (actually, both were still motorized infantry divisions at this point, they both became Panzer-Grenadier units in 1943 - JP) and 12.Panzer-Division. On 19.8.41 we moved northwards, Smolensk - Vitebsk - Opotska - Nikolajewo - Nowgorod towards Leningrad and we stopped about 20km from Leningrad, in the Neva area, with the task to form a bridgehead. Hard fighting, 6.Kompanie had 6 dead, and 7 wounded. The enemy attacks with tanks and aircraft.
On 1.9.41 we meet the hardest resistance so far. My Kompanie has 11 casualties. We sit in wet trenches and are constantly under heavy fire from artillery, tanks, and mortars. Later this day, my Kompanie loses 26 men. A Stuka attack on Russian artillery positions gives us a short break.
On the 9.9.41 we were moved to Sclüsselburg, and went into position. Had to build bunkers during night-time.
16.9.41. We are in our fox-holes, great losses. Our troops are in (a) very bad mood, and we feel like we are waiting to be executed.
18.9.41. Suddenly we see the 8.Panzer-Division moving through our area. Attack?
21.9.41. Today it is Sunday, but what a Sunday! No difference. Why can't the Soviets surrender, we have been told they were almost finished! Later this day, 9 Russian aircraft attack, and my Kompanie (has) 3 dead. Are we all to die here on foreign soil?
22.9.41. 8.Panzer-Division is ready to attack, and my Bataillon shall join them. The enemy fires from everywhere, who is really under siege? The Russians counterattack at Neva.
24.9.41. Positions unchanged. Counterattack! As reinforcement, we get one Stukageschwader and one Schlachtfliegergeschwader - they are attacking the Soviets now!
The Russians get supplies over the frozen Lake Lagoda, and this cannot be stopped before the 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.) is moved further north, or if the Finns arrive. Where are the Finns? This night I think about Napoleon in 1812. What if the Winter comes?
25.9.41. Heavy Soviet artillery, tank attacks.
26.9.41. Soviet air attacks. German planes drive them away.
27.9.41. At 18:00, 12 Soviet bombers attack. Several casualties!
28.9.41. More and more air attacks, and heavy artillery. The Russians must have very good observers! We have now been here for 5 weeks!
29.9.41. Rumors of Fallschirmjäger and Infantry units taking over!
3.10.41. Indeed! Our Bataillon is relieved by Fallschirmjäger! We hear on (the) radio that Adolf Hitler promises the war will be over before the Winter!
5.10.41. No more rest. The whole Korp is about to attack soon!
8.10.41. Big Soviet armor attack, but we manage to stop them once again. Very cold, and constant rain.
9.10.41. In the night we wake up from some very loud detonations. Our forces use, for the first time, a projectile of 50 kg TNT, which we call "Peterchens Mondfahrt".
13.10.41. We are told to move to Djuba tomorrow. Where after that? This is hardly fun anymore, more than half of my Kompaine are dead by now. The first snow is falling!
25.10.41. Today's surprise! I am ordered to go to Riga, to pick up food and equipment. It could be dangerous, because of partisans, but I'd do anything to get out of here!
7.11.41. I'm back. My Bataillon is in the Volchow-Tichwin area, to secure the right flank towards Budogotch. We are to support tank units that shall meet the Finns in Tichwin. Our forces reach Tichwin, but the Russians stop the Finns from arriving. A difficult situation now!
17.11.41. My Bataillon, the first (I), has huge losses! 71 dead and these were badly stumbled (I think he means badly treated - JP) by the Russians, they took all the uniforms and left them naked in the snow. New Russian air attacks, the temperature is below 31C.
19.12.41 We are ordered to retreat from Tichwin. During the night we reach Volchowa by Nowgorod. Temperature is below 52C!
We celebrate Christmas in Luga. The Russians are getting stronger, and have better clothes and equipment, but we only getting weaker. What a Christmas...
29.12.41. We are deployed to Volchow together with a newly arrived I.D from France. The Russians have managed to form a bridgehead at Chodowo. Temperature is below 45C, and in my company, we have 50-60 soldiers with severe wounds because of the temperature. Again back to the foxholes and bunkers.
In March 1942 we are moved to a position west of Nowgorod, we are participating in the siege of 7 Russian divisions. This lasted for some time, and the Russians often tried to break out, in vain!
In May comes the spring. It is mud, mud, and mud only. We have difficulties in getting supplies. The Russians despair! Our Nachtjäger are shooting down most of the aircraft that are dropping food and equipment to their forces. We are guarding the so-called "Erika-path".
It's getting warmer, and now we have millions and millions of mosquitos that pester us. Many get the "Volchow-fever", a kind of malaria, and so do I. When I recover, I get an unexpected leave and can go to Germany.
I'm back on the 21st of July 42. By then the battles at Volchow were ended, we took more than 36,000 PoW's. How many dead? We certainly had heavy losses during the 4-month siege! We are now moved to Voltoskido, southeast of Lake Ilmen.
On 21.8.42 we get new orders, first to move to Staraja Russa, later northeast of Volchow. By now we knew we had to endure another winter in Russia.
In our new positions, it was quite calm. We did good fortifications! In the beginning of November 42 (something) happened that changed my destiny: An order from Heeres-Personalamt, Berlin, said that all former policemen were to join a Feldgendarmerie-Ersatz-Abteilung. I was finally to get an officer education, being a Hauptfeldwebel by now. I was happy to get away from the frontline, the school was in Lodz, Poland. I stayed in Lodz for two months, and got orders to lead a transport of 65 Feld-Gendarmen to Kaukasus. The train was set up in Warsaw.
We spent 5 weeks on the train, sometimes we had to wait hours and days for more important trains to pass. Horrible trip!
In Changhoy, at the Crimea, we stopped. Now we heard of the 6th Division in Stalingrad... (I believe he means 6.Armee, which was finally lost in the Stalingrad Pocket in early February 1943 - JP)
(In) the place we were to go (to), in (the) Kaukasus, the situation had changed. The Germans were retreating, so we couldn't go off course. I got orders to go to Simropol, Crimea, and meet the commanding general, Mackenklot. My unit got divided, and (we) were sent to different places. I could choose, and (I) chose Jalta. What a beauty! It was like dreaming, sun, palms, and flowers! The beauty really thrilled me!
I worked at Ortskommandantur Simais, south in Crimea. I led a unit of Tartar HIPO's, (These were the Crimean Tartars, local ethnic men in the Crimea region who came forward to volunteer for service in the German Wehrmacht specifically to help fight the Soviets, with whom the Crimean Tartars had been struggling for freedom for many years. Approximately 10 Bataillonen and 14 Kompanien of Crimean Tartars were formed in the Crimea region during WWII. Their service in the HIPO, or Hilfspolizie, was as auxiliary police units in which they helped hunt down partisans - JP) and were told to guard them as well. One of our tasks was to give a daily meal to the civilians. If the war was like this, I surely could endure for some time!
In the beginning of March 1943, I had to meet in Schabroze with my men and to join the Feldgendarmerie Unit I originally was designed too. They had arrived from (the) Kaukasus. This meant an end to my good life... I got promoted to Lieutenant in Sept 1943 and joined my new unit in Poltava. Now there was a rapidly moving retreat to Polomi. Hell breaks loose again!
From 2100 O'clock the Soviets attacked with bomber airplanes, and heavy artillery, against the railway station at Polomi. 18 freight trains were destroyed, and we had numerous killed. I sat in an earth hole, like so many times before, but had lost contact with my unit. Not so strange, they were in Mariopol, and I teamed up with them again.
I received a reinforced platoon (zug), and were ordered to stop the Russians. Fierce fighting, we fought for our lives, and NOT to end up as PoW's in Siberia. (On) 11.9.43. we arrived in Bertjansk and started to evacuate the civilian population. Of course, we burned everything that the Russian forces could use. My unit was divided into several groups, so we didn't see each other too much. Suddenly the town was attacked by Russian T 34 tanks, and we had to get away. We managed so!
In Nogjajsk the situation was desperate! We had to move, but it was all just mud. We literally had to carry our PzKv! We gathered in Povrovka. At the end of September, we were officially deployed to Heeresgruppe Süd, and moved to Vititsa. Got an unexpected order that I had to participate for 6 weeks more in front-line service, as Kompanie commander!! They must have forgotten that I had fought in the first lines with 20.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment before I joined the Feldgendarmerie! (Here I believe he is actually referring to the division he originally fought within Poland, the 20.Infanterie-Division (mot.) which was later upgraded to a Panzer-Grenadier-Division in 1943. It would seem obvious that to the Soldat in the frontlines, the semantic difference between a motorized infantry division and an armored infantry division was basically pointless. - JP)
On 5.10.43 we were deployed to an Infanterie-Regiment, but this was destroyed before we could join. Ended up in 231.Infanterie-Division, (the) commanding general was Block. At first, we were the reserve unit.
Suddenly we got orders to throw out 800 Russian commando soldiers who had dug in near a tank trench. We were to attack at 1300. Our mission: Clear a village close by, and attack the main force. Our artillery gave us cover. As we arrived in the village, the Russians opened fire from everywhere. We could not stay and managed to get out. I got wounded by a shrapnel and had to give up my command.
At last, my company managed to eliminate the Russians, with good help from a unit (of) "Do-werfers" (some sort of rocket launcher - JP). But just for 1 hour, the Russians counterattacked and forced my Kompanie out again. When we tried to recapture the positions, our Do-werfers laid their fire on our unit, and the whole Kompanie was destroyed!! What a luck I had to survive! (Imagine being caught in a mistaken barrage of friendly Nebelwerfer rockets... the thought of it simply horrible! - JP)
On 6.11.43 I was in a bunker, totally bandaged. The Russians got stronger day by day. Got a new Kompanie yesterday, and we move in our trenches again. The Russians are only 60m from us! It is horrible, we can only move at night time.
24.11.43. Soon we will get some rest. The last enemy artillery attack lasted for 80 minutes. How is it possible that someone can survive such detonations? This night a Pionier-Kompanie is to clear out a Russian trench so that they can destroy a Russian HQ bunker.
25.11.43. Just after midnight, hell breaks loose! The Russians attack! Twice were they down in our positions, and we had to fight man against man. Only by the help of hand grenades were we able to throw them out! We held our positions!
A new unit took over, and we got out. Just two hours after that, the Russians overran the trenches finally.
We are constantly moving! At 0500: Alarm! We are ordered to attack a Russian bridge-head. We are transported 12km and go into position to wait for the promised reinforcement units. (which never arrive). Russian JABO's constantly harass us!
26.11.43. We can not attack but are ordered to hold an important area. The Russians use rockets against us all the time, the "Stalin organ". My Kompanie loses 8 men, and there are only 34 men left! We are told to keep a frontline of 800m! We all believe the Russians will attack soon, we have no flank security.
The Russians have 3000 men total, my battalion 150. We have only one MG42, and one PAK placed between 1. and 2.Kompanie. Behind us are two self-propelled FLAK's as a reserve. We have good positions.
26.11.43 at night time we are expecting the Russians, but it is unnaturally quiet. Get 16 men as reinforcement. Have to check all sentries constantly, that they are awake! At 0530 comes an enemy artillery attack, but quit again. Suddenly we all see the Russians, who don't come at us but at the 1.Kompanie. We are positioned in a square, and my right flank has contact with 1.Kompanie's left flank. Here we had the PAK, but it was destroyed almost immediately during the Russian artillery fire.
At 0630 I see Russian infantry moving slowly. I estimate 8-900 men. Our two Kompanie have 120 men now, and since we have no radio, I order one man to get to the HQ behind and to get the two FLAK's brought up. I couldn't believe my own ears when he returned and said that the HQ with FLAK's had left the area!!!
The Russians advanced, and 1.Kompanie opened fire. The Russians answered with a rifle and MG fire, and 1.Kompanie could not hold them up. The Kompanie commander was killed, and the rest came to us. The Russians moved, surprisingly, to where the HQ had been, and we had a short break. I ordered my Kompanie to move rapidly, and we came to a small hill. Now we were seen by Ivan, and they opened a murderous fire. One by one my soldiers were killed. After 3 hours we had no ammo left. What now? I had only half of my force intact now.
Suddenly I felt a hard blow on my left arm, and my tunic got red. No pain. I can't remember what I thought!
8-10 men and I moved slowly backward, and I felt a new, and harder blow, and was thrown to the ground. A Gefreiter who had a knee injury, thought I was dead, and crawled towards me to get my ID tag or Soldbuch. He believed he was the only one who had survived and didn't want to get shot as a deserter. As he saw I was alive, he dragged me 50-60m into a cornfield, although I begged him not to.
The Russians came, and gun-butted our wounded comrades to death!
What now? We crawled, after some hours, across the cornfield, and suddenly we saw a German soldier! Actually, it was three Artillerie-men, who had lost their unit! And they had two horses and a wagon! God be praised.
We rode on the wagon, but after about 1km I suddenly heard loud motors and an explosion. I fainted. As I woke up, I realized a Russian JABO had attacked. The three artillerymen and their horses were dead, only the unknown Gefreiter and me survived.
After a long and extremely painful journey at night, me exhausted from pain and the loss of blood, we met German forces again. I got several operations and was finally to be sent to Odessa. Later Lemberg, finally Germany. I spent more than 2 years in the hospital to recover.
The Bataillon commander, who betrayed us, got the German Cross in Gold for hard resistance against the enemy, I got EK 1, but survived the war. He didn't, and I shall not mention his name.
Was it true heroism or insanity that made me do such things? I thought about it during the rest of the war. It was surely not heroism.
War is so cruel, that nobody can understand. I spent 10 years in the Wehrmacht, almost 5 years at the front line. Most of my friends and comrades now rest on foreign soil!
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