Memoirs of a Panzergrenadier Veteran
The following was translated and compiled by Björn Jervas, whoseGrandfather, 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 beincorrectly spelled, and various minor corrections and additions have been added byJason Pipes, as indicated by information in parentheses. The following isan interesting mix of biography, memoir and diary entries based on Willy’sexperiences during World War II. It serves as a powerful testament to theentire range of experiences and emotions of a German Soldat, from themonumental 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 wasturned over to the Wehrmacht, we never volunteered. In October 1935 we weredesignated III Bataillon/Infanterie-Regiment 69, and our first battalioncommander was Oberstleutnant Spengler. After this, we had years ofpractice.
In October 1938, my unit marched into the Sudetenland, and we also invadedCzechoslovakia later. In August 1939, my unit was in Sudetenland, practicing as(a) motorized unit. There were rumors of a war against Poland, but we didnot believe it. On 20.8.39 we were moved eastwards,Küstrin-Landsberg. We arrived (at) Hasseln on 26.8.39, andcamouflaged our vehicles. Nothing more happened. On 31.8.39 we were movedto 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 Polishtown of Konitz. Konitz was ready for surrender by 0800. We drove into thefields of Tuscla.The first Polish resistance we had, was when we arrived Grajebo. We hadactually moved “back” into Germany, before crossing the Polish border oncemore (Willy’s unit was a part of the 20.Infanterie.Division.(mot.), which began thecampaign against Poland on the western side of the Polish Corridor andafter crossing through it, actually entered into East Prussia, thusentering “back” into Germany. – JP). On the 10.9.39 we crossed riverNarew, and got in position at Zambro.Nearby was “Festung Lomska”, with 2 polish infantry and one artilleryregiments. We were supposed to participate in a siege of this unit. There wasso much fog that day, that the Polish managed to withdraw without ourknowledge, but soon we engaged them. Polish and German MG’s at Zambro shotwildly at anything moving, and it was a disaster! Our Batallion lost 120men, my Kompanie, the 9th had 32 KIA’s. We took more than 400 POW’s, andtwo field cannons.
Shortly after, we were sent towards Brest-Litowsk. We were supposed toattack this “Festung”, supported by railway-artillery, but the Polishsurrendered after their officers had escaped. We were met by a terriblesight: 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 inthe 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 theSoviets. Our regiment was now a reserve unit for the forthcoming offensiveagainst Warsaw, but no action took place.
On 6.10.39 we were moved, through Schneidemühl and Berlin to our barracksin Hamburg-Wentdorf. After some time, on 25.11.39, we moved westwards andstayed 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 arrivedLafontaine, in France, we were met by escaping French and Moroccanforces.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 fromDunkirk, we attacked Oscapell – the British HQ. It was fierce fighting! AtLesegn-Chemaign the British tried an armored counter-attack but werebeaten. On 31.5.40 we attacked Dunkirk and St. Omar.
(On) 4.6.41 we drove through Arras, Vieraux to Vedun. Just spread enemyactivity (??). At Longrais, the French attacked, and our Bataillon had 20casualties. We thought the war was over by now, but we were ordered tomove on. The enemy resistance got harder, and the 9th Kompanie had 7KIA’s, the French about 60. Even if France had capitulated, the forcescontinued 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! Withoutresistance, 100 men w/ 80 horses and one PAK surrendered. They told usthat more French were to come, so we laid down in ambush. Just after 30minutes, we heard horses – and it became silent! We sneaked in thedirection where we had heard the noise, just like Indians! We startedfiring, and really much so the French would believe we were much more thanwe really were. It worked!! We caught 1 colonel, 9 officers, 500 men and400 horses! This unit had planned to attack our Bataillon the nextmorning!
From 21.6.40 we were not in combat anymore. We moved to St.Revienne atNivea, to En Vrien close to Paris, as occupation forces.
Christmas 1940 was celebrated in Ahrendsee in Germany before we went backto France. During Easter 41 we moved to Kosten, later Grossborn inPommern, where we practiced for 7 weeks. On 12.6.41 we (were) in EastPrussia close to the Soviet border. Could it really come to war again? Ihad a bad feeling.
(At some point after the French Campaign, he seems to have switchedunits 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 littleresistance, we shot down 6 enemy aircraft, Ratas and Polkaripovs. (On)25.6.41 we attacked Wilna, while Jagdgeschwader Mölders cleared theskies (of) enemy aircraft. On 28.6.41 we were in Minsk, with the missionof 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. Forthe first time, we used the Nebelwerfer, with good effect. At Starojezelowe had great losses…
(On) 9.7.41 we moved towards Witebsk, very hard Russian resistance! We hadto get out of our vehicles because of enemy artillery. Our Bataillon wasstopped completely, and we had to jump around like rabbits to save ourvehicles. Had to march from now on. On 10.7.41 we see that the Sovietsare putting Vitebsk (on) fire. The city was not totally conquered before13.7.41, after the use of Nebelwerfers.
Soon after, my division, the 20.Panzer-Division moved towards Smolensk. Wereached north of the city on the 23.7.41. We were told we were the Germanunit who had reached most far into (the) Soviet (Union)!
On 28.7.41 we were the reserve for (the) 12.Panzer-Division. We rested until7.8.41, and were assigned to “Panzergruppe Hoth”, who apart from us,consisted of 20. and 18.Panzer-Grenadier-Division (actually, both werestill motorized infantry divisions at this point, they both becamePanzer-Grenadier units in 1943 – JP) and 12.Panzer-Division. On19.8.41 wemoved northwards, Smolensk – Vitebsk – Opotska – Nikolajewo – Nowgorod towardsLeningrad 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 11casualties. We sit in wet trenches and are constantly under heavy firefrom artillery, tanks, and mortars. Later this day, my Kompanie loses 26men. 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) verybad 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’tthe Soviets surrender, we have been told they were almost finished! Laterthis day, 9 Russian aircraft attack, and my Kompanie (has) 3 dead. Are weall to die here on foreign soil?
22.9.41. 8.Panzer-Division is ready to attack, and my Bataillon shall jointhem. The enemy fires from everywhere, who is really under siege? TheRussians counterattack at Neva.
24.9.41. Positions unchanged. Counterattack! As reinforcement, we get oneStukageschwader and one Schlachtfliegergeschwader – they are attacking theSoviets now!
The Russians get supplies over the frozen Lake Lagoda, and this cannot bestopped before the 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.) is moved further north,or if the Finns arrive. Where are the Finns? This night I think aboutNapoleon 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 musthave 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! Wehear on (the) radio that Adolf Hitler promises the war will be over beforethe 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. Ourforces 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 ishardly fun anymore, more than half of my Kompaine are dead by now. Thefirst snow is falling!
25.10.41. Today’s surprise! I am ordered to go to Riga, to pick up foodand equipment. It could be dangerous, because of partisans, but I’d doanything to get out of here!
7.11.41. I’m back. My Bataillon is in the Volchow-Tichwin area, to securethe right flank towards Budogotch. We are to support tank units that shallmeet the Finns in Tichwin. Our forces reach Tichwin, but the Russians stopthe Finns from arriving. A difficult situation now!
17.11.41. My Bataillon, the first (I), has huge losses! 71 dead and thesewere badly stumbled (I think he means badly treated – JP) by theRussians, they took all the uniforms and left them naked in the snow. NewRussian air attacks, the temperature is below 31C.
19.12.41 We are ordered to retreat from Tichwin. During the night we reachVolchowa by Nowgorod. Temperature is below 52C!
We celebrate Christmas in Luga. The Russians are getting stronger, andhave better clothes and equipment, but we only getting weaker. What aChristmas…
29.12.41. We are deployed to Volchow together with a newly arrived I.Dfrom France. The Russians have managed to form a bridgehead at Chodowo.Temperature is below 45C, and in my company, we have 50-60 soldiers withsevere wounds because of the temperature. Again back to the foxholes andbunkers.
In March 1942 we are moved to a position west of Nowgorod, we areparticipating in the siege of 7 Russian divisions. This lasted for sometime, and the Russians often tried to break out, in vain!
In May comes the spring. It is mud, mud, and mud only. We have difficultiesin getting supplies. The Russians despair! Our Nachtjäger areshooting down most of the aircraft that are dropping food and equipment totheir forces. We are guarding the so-called “Erika-path”.
It’s getting warmer, and now we have millions and millions of mosquitosthat pester us. Many get the “Volchow-fever”, a kind of malaria, and so doI. 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 wereended, we took more than 36,000 PoW’s. How many dead? We certainly hadheavy 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, laternortheast of Volchow. By now we knew we had to endure another winter inRussia.
In our new positions, it was quite calm. We did good fortifications! In thebeginning of November 42 (something) happened that changed my destiny: Anorder from Heeres-Personalamt, Berlin, said that all former policemen wereto join a Feldgendarmerie-Ersatz-Abteilung. I was finally to get anofficer education, being a Hauptfeldwebel by now. I was happy to get awayfrom the frontline, the school was in Lodz, Poland. I stayed in Lodz fortwo months, and got orders to lead a transport of 65 Feld-Gendarmen toKaukasus. The train was set up in Warsaw.
We spent 5 weeks on the train, sometimes we had to wait hours and days formore important trains to pass. Horrible trip!
In Changhoy, at the Crimea, we stopped. Now we heard of the 6th Divisionin Stalingrad… (I believe he means 6.Armee, which was finally lost inthe Stalingrad Pocket in early February 1943 – JP)
(In) the place we were to go (to), in (the) Kaukasus, the situation hadchanged. The Germans were retreating, so we couldn’t go off course. I gotorders to go to Simropol, Crimea, and meet the commanding general,Mackenklot. My unit got divided, and (we) were sent to different places. Icould 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 ofTartar HIPO’s, (These were the Crimean Tartars, local ethnic men in theCrimea region who came forward to volunteer for service in the GermanWehrmacht specificallyto help fight the Soviets, with whom the Crimean Tartars had beenstruggling for freedom for many years. Approximately 10 Bataillonen and 14Kompanien of Crimean Tartars were formed in the Crimea region during WWII.Their service in the HIPO, or Hilfspolizie, was as auxiliary police unitsin which they helped hunt down partisans – JP) and were told to guardthemas well. One of our tasks was to give a daily meal to the civilians. Ifthe 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 andto join the Feldgendarmerie Unit I originally was designed too. They hadarrived from (the) Kaukasus. This meant an end to my good life… I gotpromoted to Lieutenant in Sept 1943 and joined my new unit in Poltava. Nowthere was a rapidly moving retreat to Polomi. Hell breaks loose again!
From 2100 O’clock the Soviets attacked with bomber airplanes, and heavyartillery, against the railway station at Polomi. 18 freight trains weredestroyed, and we had numerous killed. I sat in an earth hole, like somany times before, but had lost contact with my unit. Not so strange, theywere in Mariopol, and I teamed up with them again.
I received a reinforced platoon (zug), and were ordered to stop theRussians. Fierce fighting, we fought for our lives, and NOT to end up asPoW’s in Siberia.(On) 11.9.43. we arrived in Bertjansk and started to evacuate thecivilian population. Of course, we burned everything that the Russian forcescould use. My unit was divided into several groups, so we didn’t see eachother too much. Suddenly the town was attacked by Russian T 34 tanks, andwe had to get away. We managed so!
In Nogjajsk the situation was desperate! We had to move, but it was alljust mud. We literally had to carry our PzKv! We gathered in Povrovka. Atthe end of September, we were officially deployed to HeeresgruppeSüd, and moved to Vititsa. Got an unexpected order that I had toparticipate for 6 weeks more in front-line service, as Kompaniecommander!! They must have forgotten that I had fought in the first lineswith 20.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment before I joined the Feldgendarmerie!(Here I believe he is actually referring to the division he originallyfought within Poland, the 20.Infanterie-Division (mot.) which was laterupgraded to a Panzer-Grenadier-Division in 1943. It would seem obviousthat to the Soldat in the frontlines, the semantic difference between amotorized infantry division and an armored infantry division wasbasically pointless. – JP)
On 5.10.43 we were deployed to an Infanterie-Regiment, but this wasdestroyed 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 haddug in near a tank trench. We were to attack at 1300. Our mission: Clear avillage close by, and attack the main force. Our artillery gave us cover.As we arrived in the village, the Russians opened fire from everywhere. Wecould not stay and managed to get out. I got wounded by a shrapnel andhad to give up my command.
At last, my company managed to eliminate the Russians, with good help froma unit (of) “Do-werfers” (some sort of rocket launcher – JP). Butjust for1 hour, the Russians counterattacked and forced my Kompanie out again.When we tried to recapture the positions, our Do-werfers laid their fireon our unit, and the whole Kompanie was destroyed!! What a luck I had tosurvive! (Imagine being caught in a mistaken barrage of friendlyNebelwerfer rockets… the thought of it simply horrible! – JP)
On 6.11.43 I was in a bunker, totally bandaged. The Russians got strongerday by day. Got a new Kompanie yesterday, and we move in our trenchesagain. The Russians are only 60m from us! It is horrible, we can only moveat night time.
24.11.43. Soon we will get some rest. The last enemy artillery attacklasted for 80 minutes. How is it possible that someone can survive suchdetonations?This night a Pionier-Kompanie is to clear out a Russian trench so thatthey 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 againstman. Only by the help of hand grenades were we able to throw them out! Weheld our positions!
A new unit took over, and we got out. Just two hours after that, theRussians overran the trenches finally.
We are constantly moving! At 0500: Alarm! We are ordered to attack aRussian bridge-head. We are transported 12km and go into positionto wait for the promised reinforcement units. (which never arrive). RussianJABO’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”. MyKompanie loses 8 men, and there are only 34 men left! We are told to keepa frontline of 800m! We all believe the Russians will attack soon, we haveno 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 twoself-propelled FLAK’s as a reserve. We have good positions.
26.11.43 at night time we are expecting the Russians, but it isunnaturally quiet. Get 16 men as reinforcement. Have to check all sentriesconstantly, that they are awake!At 0530 comes an enemy artillery attack, but quit again. Suddenly we allsee the Russians, who don’t come at us but at the 1.Kompanie. We arepositioned in a square, and my right flank has contact with 1.Kompanie’sleft flank. Here we had the PAK, but it was destroyed almost immediatelyduring the Russian artillery fire.
At 0630 I see Russian infantry moving slowly. I estimate 8-900 men. Ourtwo Kompanie have 120 men now, and since we have no radio, I order one manto get to the HQ behind and to get the two FLAK’s brought up. I couldn’tbelieve my own ears when he returned and said that the HQ with FLAK’s hadleft the area!!!
The Russians advanced, and 1.Kompanie opened fire. The Russians answeredwith a rifle and MG fire, and 1.Kompanie could not hold them up. TheKompanie commander was killed, and the rest came to us. The Russiansmoved, surprisingly, to where the HQ had been, and we had a short break. Iordered my Kompanie to move rapidly, and we came to a small hill. Now wewere seen by Ivan, and they opened a murderous fire. One by one mysoldiers were killed. After 3 hours we had no ammo left. What now? I hadonly 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 harderblow, 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 shotas 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, andsuddenly 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 hadattacked. The three artillerymen and their horses were dead, only theunknown Gefreiter and me survived.
After a long and extremely painful journey at night, me exhausted frompain and the loss of blood, we met German forces again. I got severaloperations and was finally to be sent to Odessa. Later Lemberg, finallyGermany. I spent more than 2 years in the hospital to recover.
The Bataillon commander, who betrayed us, got the German Cross in Gold forhard resistance against the enemy, I got EK 1, but survived the war. Hedidn’t, and I shall not mention his name.
Was it true heroism or insanity that made me do such things? I thoughtabout 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 theWehrmacht, almost 5 years at the front line. Most of my friends andcomrades now rest on foreign soil!