Tuesday, December 13, 2016

UAK Acceptance Trials of U-595

Even though the photos shown here are not of extraordinary quality, they are still extremely rare color images of the German submarine arm. The photos were taken in November 1941 or January/February 1942 aboard the U-595 in the Baltic Sea. Built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg, the Type VII C U-boat was commissioned by Oberleutnant zur See Jürgen Quat-Faslem on 6 November 1941. From Hamburg, the boat sailed down the Elbe and the Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal into the Baltic Sea. The route down the Elbe and through the Kaiser-Wilhelm Canal was not without danger, and the boat several times took aboard pilots to assist with navigation. Waiting for U-595 in Kiel was approximately 14 days of UAK acceptance trials. There were test crash dives and compensation of the gyro compass. Another important stage was monitoring of the boat's sound profile by the UAG-Schall in Sonderburg, Denmark. Underwater microphones captured the sounds made by the U-boat at various speeds. The object was to minimize them in order to make the boat less easy to detect when it entered service.

This photo was probably shot during crash dive tests in the Baltic Sea. Taken from U-595, it shows a second U-boat bearing the white UAK emblem on the conning tower, sailing into Kiel Fiord. The white UAK emblem was only applied, on both sides of the conning tower, during the testing phase. Following UAK acceptance on 11 December 1941, U-595 went to the Agru-Front (Hela) in the deep waters of Danzig Bay for further training. This lasted from 12 to 22 December. Then, on 23 December, the boat joined the 8. Unterseebootsflottille (8th Submarine Flotilla) in Königsberg. With this flotilla, which in February 1942 moved to Danzig, U-595 underwent deep-diving tests, measured mile runs to determine maximum speed, depth charge exercises, damage repair, day and night torpedo firing, and anti-aircraft and deck gun training. The training, which continued until 31 July 1942, also included a number of tactical training exercises. In the end there was a final noise monitoring session at Rönne off Bornholm,

This photo was taken in January/February 1942 in one of the training bases in Danzig Bay and shows Obersteuermann Georg Schwarz in front of U-595's conning tower. On it may be seen the boat's large "Frosch" (Frog) emblem which was designed and painted by 1. Wachtoffizier (First Watch Officer) Leutnant zur See Friedrich Kaiser while it was with the Agru-Front. On 14 November 1942, U-595 was bombed off Oran in the Mediterranean and was subsequently run aground and blown up by its crew. Two members of the crew were killed in the bombing attack, the rest were taken prisoner.

Source :
"U-Boot Im Focus" magazine, edition nr.4 - 2008

Monday, December 5, 2016

Four Luftwaffe Aces after Award ceremony

Four top fighter aces from Luftwaffe posing together after the small awards ceremony with Adolf Hitler at Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze (Wolf's lair) in Rastenburg/East Prussia, 22 September 1943. From left to right: Hauptmann Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (receiving Eichenlaub #290 zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes as Gruppenkommandeur I.Gruppe / Nachtjagdgeschwader 100, after 54 night victories. Award date: 31 August 1943), Major Hartmann Grasser (receiving Eichenlaub #288 zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes as Gruppenkommandeur II.Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 51 "Mölders", after 103 day victories. Award date: 31 August 1943), Hauptmann Walter Nowotny (receiving both the Eichenlaub #293 and Schwerter #37 zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes as Gruppenkommandeur I.Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 54 "Grünherz", after 189 and 218 day victories. Award date: 4 September 1943 and 22 September 1943, all respectively), and Hauptmann Günther Rall (receiving Schwerter #34 zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub as Gruppenkommandeur III.Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 52, after 200 day victories. Award date: 12 September 1943). The picture was taken by Walter Frentz

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Monday, November 21, 2016

German Panzers One Day Before Barbarossa

German Panzer IVs Ausf.F1 on the way to the Eastern Front, 21 June 1941. They're wearing Dunkelgrau Nr.46 camo paint. The Germans had begun massing troops near the Soviet border even before the campaign in the Balkans had finished. By the third week of February 1941, 680,000 German soldiers were gathered in assembly areas on the Romanian-Soviet border. In preparation for the attack, Hitler moved more than 3.2 million German and about 500,000 Axis soldiers to the Soviet border, launched many aerial surveillance missions over Soviet territory, and stockpiled war materiel in the East. Although the Soviet High Command was alarmed by this, Stalin's belief that the Third Reich was unlikely to attack only two years after signing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact resulted in a slow Soviet preparation. This fact aside, the Soviets did not entirely overlook the threat of their German neighbor as well before the German invasion, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko referred to the Germans as the Soviet Union's "most important and strongest enemy" and as early as July 1940, Red Army Army Chief of Staff, Boris Shaposhnikov, produced a preliminary three-pronged plan of attack for what German invasion might look like, remarkably similar to the actual attack. Since April 1941, the Germans had begun setting up Operation Haifisch and Operation Harpune to substantiate their claims that Britain was the real target. The Germans deployed one independent regiment, one separate motorized training brigade and 153 divisions for Barbarossa, which included 104 infantry, 19 panzer and 15 motorized infantry divisions in three army groups, nine security divisions to operate in conquered territories, four divisions in Finland and two divisions as reserve under the direct control of OKH. These were equipped with about 3,350 tanks, 7,200 artillery pieces, 2,770 aircraft (that amounted to 65 percent of the Luftwaffe), about 600,000 motor vehicles and 625,000–700,000 horses. Finland slated 14 divisions for the invasion, and Romania offered 13 divisions and eight brigades over the course of Barbarossa. The entire Axis forces, 3.8 million personnel, deployed across a front extending from the Arctic Ocean southward to the Black Sea. The picture was taken by Kriegsberichter Horst Grund

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 136 in Norway 1942

A group of German Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troop) from III.Bataillon / Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 136 / 2.Gebirgs-Division pose for a photograph in Norway, summer of 1942. The picture was taken by Hugo Krause, one of the member of the battalion. GJR136 was raised on 1 August 1938 from the Tyrol Jäger-Regiment of the Austrian Army in Innsbruck. The III. Bataillon was raised in Landeck, the II. Bataillon didn't exist. The Regiment was put under the 2. Gebirgs-Division. The II.Bataillon / Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 140 was then put under GJR136 as its II. Bataillon and renamed it to II.Bataillon / Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 136 on 1 April 1940. The training unit was the I. Bataillon of the Gebirgsjäger-Ersatz-Regiment 136, the later then renamed as Reserve-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 136. The 2. Gebirgs-Division itself saw action in Poland in September 1939, followed by Norway from early 1940 until December 1941. Only elements of GJR136 were involved in the Norwegian campaign, noticeably about two company's worth were parachute trained and jumped (one company each), on the airfield of Bardufoss and the town of Tromsø, just after the Norwegian capitulation in June 1940. These still classified as operational jumps and those involved received the parachute badge. From the summer of 1940 until June 1941 the regiment, along with the rest of Gebirgskorps Norwegen, were on garrison duties in Northern Norway. The entire Corps crossed the Finnish\Norwegian border on the 22 june 1941 and a week later crossed into the Soviet union with the aim of reaching Murmansk. That never happened, and by the autumn of 1941 both sides settled down to three years of static warfare about 30-40km short of Murmansk. On the 7 October 1944 the Soviets launched a massive assault against what was now called the XIX. Gebirgskorps made up of the 2. and 6. Gebirgs-Division plus some smaller units. This offensive pushed the Germans into Norway over a period of three weeks until both sides broke contact 100 miles or so inside Norway. The 2. Gebirgs-Division was then withdrawn to the continent where it fought out the remainder of the war. The Gebirgsjäger-Regiment 136 was a part of 2. Gebirgs-Division throughout the war. The Regiment had one Ritterkreuzträger (Knight's Cross holder): Hauptmann Otto Stampfer, who won the award on 23 July 1942, while serving in the III. Bataillon of the GJR136. In addition to Stampfer's Ritterkreuz, the regiment had eight Deutsches Kreuz in Gold holders and one Ehrenblattspange holder.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Resettlement of Bessarabian Germans

After the Red Army occupied the Bessarabia region, an agreement was reached between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union (then friends), on the resettlement of the local Germans into the Reich. Serbia, at that time also still friends with Germany, helped out and formed a temporary shelter for the refugees. In the photo, the chairman of the Swabian-German Cultural Union, Dr. Sepp Janko, delivers a speech to his fellow nationals in a refugee camp near Zemun, Yugoslavia, autumn 1940. Behind him are the typical Nazi pagan symbols: the Wolfsangel (freedom) and the Man rune (life), and a shovel (labour) between them. Standing in front are the local ethnic Germans, and their boys in uniforms and with instruments in style of the Hitler Youth. Upon their arrival in the Reich, the refugees will be subjected to the political control, employed mainly as hard labourers, and the able-bodied men will be recruited and sent to war. Two years later, Janko and his men too will put on the uniforms of the German Army, and set off to war – against their former Yugoslav hosts.

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German Camo Nets in Africa

German Afrikakorps soldiers under camouflage net in African Campaign, Northern Africa, 1942. Like other militaries, the Wehrmacht understood that concealing war machines or HQ in either defensive or offensive manoeuvres would increase the likelihood to survived in the encounter. In addition to camouflage painted on to the machines itself, they would also use foliage (branches from bushes and trees, grass or hay from fields, river-side reeds, even stacks of wood) to cover the machines, usually from the front to make it even harder to spot and differintiate from its surroundings. They would also, on occassion, use camouflage tarps and canvases, as well as camouflage netting to further conceal the machines from being spotted. As the war became more defensive for the Germans, the frequency of war machines being camouflaged in this way, waiting in ambush for the enemy, also increasingly common. Retreating units would often cut out foliage and leave it along the roads to help other retreating units conceal their vehicles as they fell back and to make setting up the next ambush that much faster. There were also ocassions where crews would apply a thin layer of mud or snow to the vehicle to help camouflage it with its surroundings. The picture was taken by Reinhard Schultz

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Afrikakorps MG 34 Crew in the Desert Nest

Afrikakorps Panzergrenadiere from Schützen-Regiment 115 / 15.Panzer-Division with an MG34 in the desert nest during Operation Scorpion. They were part of Kampfgruppe von Herff, commanded by Oberst Maximilian von Herff. Operation Scorpion or Unternehmen Skorpion, from 26–27 May 1941, was a military operation during the North African Campaign of World War II, fought between Axis forces under Oberst Herff and British forces under Lieutenant-General William "Strafer" Gott. A counter-attack was made on British positions at Halfaya Pass in north-western Egypt, which had been captured during Operation Brevity (15–16 May 1941). Skorpion was the second offensive operation commanded by Rommel in Africa (apart from the Siege of Tobruk) and pushed the British out of Halfaya Pass, back to the area from Buq Buq to Sofafi. The Germans and Italians fortified the pass and built other strong points back towards Sidi Azeiz as tank killing zones, ready to meet another British attack. The British continued preparations for Operation Battleaxe (15–17 June 1941). Battleaxe was another costly British failure that led to the sacking of General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief Middle East and other senior officers.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Maintenance on U-Boat Deck Gun

Maintenance work on the 37mm quick-firing deck gun above the U-boat in the rough sea, with the man wearing both lifejacket and safety harness.  The German U-boats of types I, VII, IX and X had a very powerful secondary weapon which was the deck gun. Each boat had one in front of the conning tower and with a good crew they could fire 15-18 rounds a minute. Often used to finish off damaged vessels or sink smaller ships the gun normally had a crew of 3 to 5 and was usually commanded by the second watch officer (IIWO). In order to use the weapon, the U-boat had to be on the surface naturally and it was normally not used when aircraft were suspected to be around. It required a line of men (3 which on the deck) to transport the ammunition from the main locker below the control room to the gun. The used rounds were taken back into the boat. The U-boats had a small water-proof ammunition locker for the gun on the deck in order to be able to start firing almost immediately when the order was given. The smaller Type II coastal U-boats had no deck gun. In 1937 plans were drawn up for type XI U-boat cruisers. Those huge boats would have had 4 pieces of 12,7cm guns in two separate towers. They were not built.

Source :
Book "Wolfpacks At War: The U-Boat Experience In WWII" by Jak Mallmann Showell

River Crossing in Russia Using a Ferry Made of Brückengerät B

Operation Barbarossa, summer 1941. A coloured picture of a ferry made out of 8-tonne Brückengerät B (Bridge Equipment B). The vehicle is a turretless Beute Russian BA 10 armored car used as gun tractor. Bruckengerat B was one of the most commonly used German pontoon. A motorized Bridge Column B was equipped with trucks and halftrack prime-movers for towing trailers with pontoons, decking, ramps, wooden planks, and motorboats. 16 steel half-pontoons used either paired or singly allowed the assembly of a bridge either of 8 tons capacity and 83m (274ft) long, or bearing 16 tons and 54m (178ft) long. The deck sections had steel stringers, and curb guards with 26 wooden planks. There were eight trestle sections consisting of roadway decking supported by adjustable steel posts, each with three bracing legs. These allowed ramps to connect to the floating bridge when the bank was higher than the bridge’s roadway, or when the water near the banks was too shallow to float pontoons; they also allowed ramp-angle adjustment as the river rose and fell. Several types of ferries could also be constructed, and a trailer was provided with cable reels which could pull these back and forth. A halfpontoon was 12ft long and 5ft wide, and a ferry capable of carrying 4 tons required two half-pontoons and one bridge deck section. An 8-ton double ferry used four half-pontoons and two deck sections, and 16-ton ferries used two full pontoons and two deck sections. The full-pontoon bridge and the 16-ton ferry could in fact support any vehicle and equipment found in the infantry or early-war armored infantry division, to include a Panzer IV tank or a 15cm howitzer and its halftrack prime-mover. This picture was first published in the book "Das Heer im Grossdeutschen Freiheitskampf" (The Army in the Greater German Battle for Liberty) as issued for the German youth by the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) in Berlin, printed by Förster und Borries in Zwickau, Germany in about 1942.

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Book "World War II River Assault Tactics" by Gordon L. Rottman

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sd.Kfz.7 Towing Artillery Crossing the K-Gerät Bridge

The halftrack prime mover shown in this picture (towing a 15cm sFH18 heavy howitzer battery) is the Sd.Kfz.7 mittlerer Zugkraftwagen (8-ton). It was the most widely used prime mover type of which 10,257 units were built. The K-Gerät  (Kastenträger-Gerät) moveable bridge and simple broad leaf camouflage is interesting too. K-Gerät is a light self-supporting 16-ton bridge on three part pontoons or blocks with length 78,8m. Its design was copied from the British Small Box Girder bridge in the mid-1930s. The K-Gerät used the same panel length as the SBG, but slightly amended the bracing details. A 1943 article in the German military magazine describes the bridge being used on the Russian Front in conjunction with pontoons and goes on to say that 'the bridge has given good service and is similar to bridges used in enemy armies'

Source :
Book "One More River To Cross" by J.H. Joiner

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Julius Schaub

SS-Obergruppenführer Julius Schaub was born in Munich, Germany, on 20th August, 1898. He then joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in the early 1920s. In April 1923 NSDAP headquarters received a letter accusing his wife of prostitution and procuring. The marriage was dissolved two years later.

According to Traudl Junge: "Both Schaub's feet had been injured in the First World War, leaving him crippled. Later he had joined the NSDAP; and Hitler noticed him as an ardent admirer who always attended Party meetings, hobbling in on his crutches wherever Hitler appeared. When Hitler discovered that Schaub had lost his job because of his Party membership he took him on as a valet."

In November, 1923, Schaub took part in the Münich Putsch. He was arrested and served time in Landsberg Castle. During this time he became close to Adolf Hitler. On his release he worked for Hitler as his personal assistant. He joined the inner-circle that included Heinrich Hoffmann, Max Amann, Emil Maurice, Wilhelm Brückner and Hermann Kriebel. Schaub described himself as "Hitler's shadow, his daily companion, his constant retainer... perhaps the only person who could, outspokenly but with impunity, tell him anything that came into his head... In addition to the qualities required of a personal aide - notably, discretion, reliability and circumspection."

It has been argued by Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001): "Julius Schaub... organized Hitler's private life from early 1925... He accompanied him on his travels, handled his finances and ran his household. He welcomed guests, got rid of unwelcome visitors and thus controlled access to Hitler. Of all the men in his immediate circle, it was Schaub who had the most detailed information about all of Hitler's intimate and personal affairs."

In 1931 Schaub married for a second time. Hitler was a witness and made his home available for the wedding reception. One of his weaknesses was drink. At parties he always "behaved atrociously", but when this was reported to Hitler, the Nazi leader merely made 'a despairing gesture' and sighed: "yes, I know, it's sad, but what can I do? He's the only aide I've got." Despite this, Schaub and Hitler always remained close.

Ian Kershaw has pointed out in the book 'Hitler 1889-1936' (1998) that after Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, his inner-circle became even more important: "Hitler had taken his long-standing Bavarian entourage into the Reich Chancellery with him. His adjutants and chauffeurs, Bruckner, Schaub, Schreck (successor to Emil Maurice, sacked in 1931 as chauffeur after his flirtation with Geli Raubal), and his court photographer Heinrich Hoffmann were omnipresent, often hindering contact, frequently interfering in a conversation with some form of distraction, invariably listening, later backing Hitler's own impressions and prejudices."

Christa Schroeder was Hitler's personal secretary and had a lot of contact with Schaub. She wrote in her autobiography, 'He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler's Secretary' (1985): "He (Julius Schaub) had rather staring eyes, and because some of his toes had been frozen in the First World War, he sometimes walked with a hobbling gait. It may have been this disability that made him so cantankerous. Always suspicious, and full of curiosity into the bargain, and inclined to give a wide berth to everything that wasn't congenial to him, his popularity in Hitler's circle was limited."

Another secretary, Traudl Junge, commented: "His devotion, reliability and loyalty made him indispensable. He slowly worked his way up to adjutant and finally to chief adjutant, because he was the only one of the old guard who had been through the early years of the struggle himself, and he shared many experiences in common with Hitler. He knew so many of the Führer's personal secrets that Hitler just couldn't make up his mind to do without him."

Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001), has pointed out that Schaub stayed with Hitler until he committed suicide: "The finest proof that he really could count on their loyalty was supplied at the end of April 1945, once again by Julius Schaub, who left the flaming ruins of Berlin at the last possible moment and set off for Bavaria, where he emptied the safes in Hitler's Munich apartment and on the Obersalzberg and burned their contents. What these documents were, Schaub doggedly refused to divulge until the day he died. All he once volunteered, in a mysterious tone of voice, was that their disclosure would have had 'disastrous repercussions.' Probably on himself, but most of all, beyond doubt, on Hitler."

Schaub, possessing false ID papers with the name "Josef Huber", was arrested on 8th May, 1945 in Kitzbuehl by American troops. The authorities could not find any evidence that he had participated in war crimes and he was released on 17th February, 1949.

Julius Schaub died in Münich on 27th December, 1967.

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Julius Schaub Wearing SS Tuxedo

SS-Gruppenführer Julius Schaub, Hitler's personal aide with the formal title of "Persönlicher Adjutant des Führers", wearing an 'SS Grosser Gesellschaftanzug' in a Nazi Party reception held at the Führerbau, 25 February 1939. The tuxedo (or formal evening dress for SS leaders) consisting of short black jacket with black silk lapels and six matt buttons with special SS 'runic' design in front. All insignia including special Breast Badge and big decoration clasp, Swastika armband, NSDAP Badge in Gold, aluminium twisted cord collar piping, silver SS Leader's aiguillette, white linen waistcoat with lapels and either three or four matt silver buttons, white evening-dress shirt with winged collar and bow tie (for less formal occasions, a black waistcoat and bow were worn), and long black trousers piped in white with aluminium black shoes. A long black cape with white metal clasps and chain and a 17.5 mm wide embroidered SS Eagle on the left side was worn with this dress. The picture was taken by Hugo Jaeger, Hitler's personal photographer.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SS-Brigadeführer Leopold Gutterer

SS-Brigadeführer Leopold Gutterer (25 April 1902 - 27 December 1996) was a State Secretary in Joseph Goebbel's Ministry of Propaganda, or "Staatssekretär im Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda". After the war he worked anonymously for two years for a Bavarian farmer, before he was discovered and arrested. He was then sentenced as an "activist", the second of four categories of offenders under American denazification codes, to two years of labor and lifelong suspension of his pension. Since the war Gutterer had never returned to Berlin. He also lived as of the early 1990s, surviving even his son, who died in 1990 and had remained completely loyal to his father, settling in the same West German city. This picture was first published in the book "Film und Farbe" (1942). Since this book was produced as a dissertation on color movie and still photo film and presented at a congress in Dresden by the Color Committee of the German Movie Technical Society of the German Association for Photographic Research, the SS had their hand in it. The overseer of the study, the lecture, and the publication of this book was SS General and Staatssekretär Gutterer, and that is why his full-page, full-color portrait in uniform appears at the front of a very scientifically oriented book.

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Book "Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany" by Nathan Stoltzfus

The State Funeral of Hugo Bruckmann

The state funeral of Hugo Bruckmann (13 October 1863 - 3 September 1941) which was held in Münich, 6 September 1941. Bruckmann and his wife Elsa Bruckmann were among the early and highly influential promoters of Adolf Hitler, and they helped him with gaining access to, and acceptance within, upper-class circles in Münich. Just behind the woman in black veil (sitting third from right) is SS-Brigadeführer Leopold Gutterer (Staatssekretär im Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda), while the back row behind Gutterer were, from left to right: SS-Brigadeführer Anton Vogler, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich "Karl" Freiherr von Eberstein, two unknown Heer generals, SS-Brigadeführer Hans Dauser, SA-Obergruppenführer Ludwig Siebert, SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Fiehler (his head is shown under an outstreched hand behind Gutterer), Reichsstatthalter Franz Xaver Ritter von Epp (wearing brown party uniform), and SA-Obergruppenführer Hans-Georg Hofmann

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Oberstleutnant Wilhelm Walther

The Brandenburg German special forces saw extensive action in Fall Gelb (German invasion of France and the Lower Countries), clearing the way for the Fallschirmjäger before the Battle of Fort Eben-Emael. On 8 May 1940, two nights before the opening of the offensive, the Brandenburgers went into action. Donning the enemies’ uniforms over their own German ones (so they could quickly change in case of capture and be treated as POWs rather than spies and facing execution), small groups began to cross the border into the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. One of the few actions that was successful in the opening days of the campaign was the seizure of the Meuse bridge in the Dutch town of Gennep. An eight-man team, led by Oberleutnant Wilhelm Walther, was given the task of capturing the bridge intact. At 02:00 am on 10 May 1940, Walther’s team, now disguised as Dutch military police escorting German prisoners, made their assault. Two guard posts were destroyed, but three Brandenburgers were wounded and the team was pinned down. Dressed in a Dutch uniform, Walther advanced across the bridge. The confused defenders hesitated, allowing the rest of the team to take them out, seizing the bridge and disabling the detonators. Many more operations like this took place over the course of the campaign. However very few were successful and on another bridge, Brandenburgers were arrested by Dutch troops and shot as spies. For his action at Gennep, Walther received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 4 Juni 1940 as an Oberleutnant and Stoßtruppführer 4.Kompanie / Bau-Lehr-Bataillon z.b.V. 800 "Brandenburg" / Heeresgruppe B. He was the first Brandenburgers to receive the coveted medal!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Oberstleutnant Georg Briel of the Afrikakorps

Oberstleutnant Georg Briel (21 August 1907 - 16 May 1980) was born in Ellers, in the Fulda District, and joined the police in 1927 as Polizei-Anwärter (Police Aspirant). He trained at the Polizeischule in Münden and transferred to the Schutzpolizei Kassel in 1929.  By 1934, he was a Polizei-Leutnant (Second Lieutenant of the Police).  He was inducted into the army as an Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) in 1935 and became adjutant of the Maschinengewehr-Bataillon 2 (motorisiert).  Subsequently he was a company commander in the Heeres-Flak-Bataillon 606.  Promoted to Hauptmann (Captain) in 1938, he assumed command of Battalion in 1941, and became a Major in 1942. In the North African theater, Heeres-Flak-Bataillon 606 became a part of 90.leichte-Afrika-Division, which Rommel liked to use as an antitank unit with the the forward troops. Briel was awarded the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 23 July 1942 for shooting up a French breakout attempt at Bir Hacheim. He later commanded the Panzergrenadier-Regiment 200 (formerly Schützen-Regiment 200) in Tunisia, but fell seriously ill and returned to Europe, a short time before the Axis surrendered in North Africa. As an Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) in 1945, he commanded Grenadier-Regiment 57 of 79. Volks-Grenadier-Division on the Western Front until he was wounded again in the last weeks of the war.  Briel was in a hospital in Erlangen when Germany surrendered. Apart from the Ritterkreuz, he received the following medals for his military service in World War II: Dienstauszeichnung IV. Klasse (2 October 1936); Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse (22 September 1939) und I.Klasse (30 August 1940); Deutsches Schutzwall-Ehrenzeichen (20 March 1940); Allgemeines-Sturmabzeichen (15 January 1942); Italian Medaglia commemorativa della campagna italo-tedesca in Africa (19 January 1942); Verwundetenabzeichen in Schwarz (3 February 1942); Italian Medaglia d'Argento al Valore Militare (18 February 1942); Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (20 February 1942); Ärmelband "Afrika" (12 April 1943); and Heeres-Flak-Abzeichen (27 April 1943).

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Luftwaffe Soldiers Near the Burning Wreck of American P-38 Lightning

German Luftwaffe soldiers near the burning wreck of an American Lockheed P-38 Lightning "ES-J" fighter aircraft that shot down in Tunisia, early 1943. The plane belong to the USAAF's 48th Fighter-Squadron / 14th Fighter Group. This picture was first published in the SIGNAL magazine, May 1943 edition. Operation Torch (the invasion of North West Africa) was the first major Anglo-American operation of the Second World War. It was also the first time the P-38 saw significant action against the Luftwaffe. The only indication of how the P-38 would cope against German fighter aircraft came from a test flight against a captured Fw 190. Two P-38 equipped Fighter Groups – the 1st and 14th – were allocated to Operation Torch, with a third (the 78th) kept in reserve in Britain. They did not play a part in the initial landings on 8 November 1942 – the 14th FG did not go operational in North Africa until 11th November. At first they were based in western Algeria, as part of the Central Task Force that had occupied by Oran, but in the days that followed the Germans built up an impressive presence in Tunisia, and the P-38 groups were moved east, initially to Algiers. The 14th FG was first, moving to the recently captured airbase at Youks-les-Bains, with the first squadron moving on 21 November. This base was close to the Tunisian border, and the P-38s soon found themselves coming up against the increasingly strong Luftwaffe presence in North Africa. Over the next two months the 14th FG carried out a mix of ground attack, bomber escort and air superiority missions. At first they had been involved in supporting the first, unsuccessful, attempt to capture Tunis, which had occupied most of late November 1942. The front line was 150 miles east of Youks, not a problem for the P-38, but there were never enough aircraft. P-38 formations on fighter sweeps over Tunisia were often outnumbered by formations of Bf 109s and Fw 190s. The 14th FG suffered very heavy losses during this period. Between November 1942 and 28 January 1943 the group lost 32 pilots (out of an original complement of 54) and had been reduced to only seven operational aircraft. During its first period of service in North Africa, the 14th FG claimed 62 victories. Even though North Africa had been given the highest possible priority for new P-38s, there simply weren’t enough aircraft being produced in late 1942 to sustain such heavy losses. On 28 January the 14th FG was withdrawn, and replaced by the 82nd Fighter Group, also equipped with the P-38.

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German Cart Crossing a Stream in the Eastern Front

This picture was taken by Kriegsberichter Koltzenburg and showing a horse wagon belong to a German Grenadier company crossing the stream in Russia, summer 1942. It's a nice picture to illustrate the myth about the "invincible" german mechanized forces: no other Army during World War II relied so much on horses than the German one. A regular infantry division had 3,635 horses (!) and 895 wooden field wagons. Approximately 3 MILLION horses and mules served with the German army from 1939 to 1945. This caused ridiculous unsurmountable logistical problems in Russia, and in France in 1944. On the other side, you should remember that only 10% roads in russia was 'normal', so horses were the best to help with stucked vehicles.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Erwin Rommel at the Sollum Front

This picture was taken by Fritz Sturm and it shows Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel (Kommandierender General Deutsches Afrikakorps) with his staff in the inspection to the gun positions of I.Abteilung / Artillerie-Regiment 33 (motorisiert) / 15.Panzer-Division near Point 206, about 5 km south of Fort Capuzzo at Solum front, May/June 1941. Behind him facing the camera and holding a pair of binoculars is Major Lucius Günther Schrivenbach (12 September 1911 - 2007), a staff officer of the "Desert Fox" in his campaign in Africa (1941-1943) and in Normandy (1944), followed by the same position for Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt to the end of war. Rommel was loved by the enlisted men under his command and quite detested by his officers as they considered him interfering and that he didn’t trust them to do their actual jobs. As a general though he acted as a captain. Rommel is quite often praised for his tactical abilities. Tactics though (the small scale stuff, what soldiers do in battle) wasn’t supposed to be what a general worried about. Rommel was quite an interfering general. German military officers were trained to think for themselves. Today this is known as Mission Type Tactics. The commander was supposed to give an order which stated the resources available to be used (troops, tanks, etc.) and the objective. It was up to the lower ranked officers to use their own initiative in how to obtain the objective. Erwin Rommel gave orders with specific instructions and expected them to be followed to the letter. He would also drive around the front and give orders to soldiers thus cutting their actual officers off (there’s accounts of him issuing individual targets to anti-tank guns rather than let their own officers decide and almost being killed by the return fire!).

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Hitler and Himmler Walking in the Snow

Adolf Hitler (Führer und oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht) walking in the snow alongside Heinrich Himmler (Reichsführer-SS und Chef der Deutschen Polizei) with aid of a walking stick at Berghof Berchtesgaden (Münich), 3 April 1944. Behind them were, from left to right: SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Darges (persönlicher SS Adjutant bei Adolf Hitler), SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef "Sepp" Kiermaier (persönlicher leibwächter bei Heinrich Himmler), unidentified, and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Hermann Fegelein (Verbindungsoffizier der Waffen-SS zum Führerhauptquartier). This picture was taken during the daily walk to the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus (teahouse), a small building right across Hitler's Berghof mansion (this teahouse should not be mistaken with the official teahouse on top of the Kehlstein mountain), then the car took him back to the Berghof. The Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus was built in 1937 on the northern boundary of the area, just below the Mooslahnerkopf hill, overlooking the Berchtesgaden valley below. Most of Hitler's stays at the Berghof included a daily afternoon walk to the Teehaus. This pleasant walk often became the scene for important political decisions, but Hitler preferred to relax, and even nap, in the Teehaus itself, surrounded by his closest friends and associates. The so-called Eagles Nest is often called "Hitler's Tea House," but this is technically incorrect. Hitler did not treat the Kehlsteinhaus as a tea house, and the location he visited daily for afternoon tea was actually the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus. The picture was taken by Walter Frentz and it maybe the only set of photos with Hitler wearing sunglasses! In the last few years, an enormous number of official color photographs of Germany during the war years has been released. Virtually all such photographs emanate from Russia. Such signifies that the Russians seized one or more German photographic archives in the final days of the war, transferred the archives to Moscow, sat on the archives for decades—and, in recent years, have finally begun to release such photographs... on a piecemeal basis.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

10th Mountain Division Soldier Climb a Rocky Cliff

A U.S. 10th Mountain Division Solder uses a rope to climb a rocky cliff, 1943 or 1944. He is wearing a helmet and field jacket. An orderly camp is visible in the valley below. Although the notion of operating and moving in a mountainous environment seems very simple at first glance, the soldiers realized that many of the instructors were instilling a sense of sagacious perfection in all tasks. "When you have Soldiers' lives hooked into a rope system that you built, there is no such thing as 'this should hold'," said First Lieutenant  Torrey Crossman. It also reinforced the notion that Soldiers should train as they fight. Soldiers who proved adept at tying knots in the barracks would struggle once they had to do so on the mountain with a full load of equipment and clothing affecting their performance.

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First Lieutenant Elvin Johnson of 10th Mountain Division

Portrait of First Lieutenant Elvin Johnson of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division at the top of a mountain. He poses smiling at the camera, holding up his mountain pick while sitting on a large block of white stone or snow. He is wearing a cap, a khaki uniform, and pitons hanging from his belt. The picture was taken in 1943 or 1944 by photographer David B. Allen. Elvin Robert "Bob" Johnson (26 March 1921 - 3 December 2000) was a graduate of Washington State College in forestry. He became an officer in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II, fought through Italy and received a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman badge. At WSC after the war, he was captain of the ski team, winning all the collegiate cross-country races he entered. After graduating, he began to work as a park ranger at Mt. Rainier, during which time he was named to the U.S. Ski Team in cross- country, and participated in the World (F.I.S.) championship at Lake Placid, NY, in 1950. After returning to college teaching and coaching, he continued summers at several National Parks as ranger naturalist and in mountain rescue. He became involved in organizing collegiate skiing, and was a charter member and chairman of the N.C.A.A. Ski Rules Committee. He was also an Assistant Chief of Course at the winter Olympics at Squaw Valley in 1960 and was a technical advisor to the Olympic Committee. During his time he coached several championship ski teams as well as competed himself, where he was second in the national championships, among other honors. He was considered a "pioneer" in the Olympic Mountains for his numerous first ascents, including that of Mt. Johnson in the Needle Range which was named for him. He also climbed Mt. Rainier 22 times! Since retiring on Camano Island, he has been involved with the Ancient Skiers, helping with the collection of materials for a planned N.W. Ski Museum. He was named to the Pacific Northwest Ski Hall of Fame in 1990.

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10th Mountain Division Skitroopers in Colorado Mountains

Group portrait of sixteen U.S. 10th Mountain Division skitroopers posed in a line on skis in the Colorado mountains, 1943 or 1944. None identified. At first, the division was not granted any special insignia, nor could troops wear ski clothing off-post. Some men who displayed on their service dress crossed-ski pins that they had bought at jewelry stores were given a week of work details for the infraction. The division’s morale fell further with news of the fighting in Italy; they questioned why they were not there, and whether they would ever be deployed. For three weeks in March and April 1944 the division undertook a grueling sub-zero exercise in the mountains of the 12,000ft California Coast Range. The D-Series Maneuvers pushed them to the limits of their endurance, exposing deficiencies in personnel, equipment, and organization. Training and cold-weather injuries were modest owing to the troops’ excellent condition, but it was still a brutal experience for the participants.

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Book "US 10th Mountain Division in World War II" by Gordon L. Rottman and Peter Dennis 

US Mountaineers Walk Down a Trail

Four U.S. 10th Mountain Division soldiers, also known as "Mountaineers" walk down a trail lined with golden aspen trees, 1943 or 1944; they wear knapsacks and khaki uniforms. There was a great deal of improvisation in unit tactical training for the first (and only) American mountain division. It was one thing to teach individuals skiing, snowshoeing, technical climbing, and cold-climate survival, but it was another to develop and teach tactics and weapons employment incorporating these skills in extreme terrain and weather conditions.

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Book "US 10th Mountain Division in World War II" by Gordon L. Rottman and Peter Dennis

Monday, June 6, 2016

Panzer Ace Michael Wittmann


Michael Wittmann is born on 22 April, 1914 in Vogelthal, Oberplatz. On 1 February, 1934, Wittmann steps into the Reichsarbeitdienst where he works for six months. On 30 October of the same year he volunteers for the German army, at 10.Kompanie / III.Bataillon / Infanterie-Regiment 19. On 30 September 1936 he leaves the service as Unteroffizier. On 5 April, 1937 Wittmann assigns to the 1.Sturm / 92.Standarte / Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). Later in the year he starts training on a light four wheel armoured car, the Sd.Kfz.222, before he goes for the six wheeled Sd.Kfz.232. Wittmann gets an assignment with the Panzer reconnaissance unit in the LSSAH. In September 1939 war starts for SS-Unterscharführer Wittmann when he is commander of the reconnaissance unit that is invading Poland. It is for a short while, however, because in October Wittmann starts training at the SS-Sturm-Batterie of the LSSAH with the Sturmgeschutz Ausf A. In the fall of 1940 the Panzer career of Wittmann starts in Yugoslavia and Greece. Here he gets his own command over a platoon of Sturmgeschutz III Ausf A.

On 11 June 1941 the LSSAH and Wittmann leaves for the east, to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, which would start on 22 June. In July Wittmann receives the Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse when he destroyed six Russian tanks. When he is wounded he refuses to leave his unit. On 8 September of the same year he receives the Eisernes Kreuz I.Klasse when he destroyed another six Russian tanks during one fight near Rostov. He is promoted to SS-Oberscharführer. Because of his great achievements, Wittmann is granted a officers education in June 1942. On 5 September of the same year he leaves the school as a Panzer instructor (SS-Panzerausbildungs und Ersatz-Abteilung). In the fall of 1942, the status of LSSAH is graded up to a Panzergrenadier Division. With the addition of 13. Kompanie, which is equipped with the PzKpfw VI Tiger. On 21 December Wittmann is promoted to SS-Untersturmführer and becomes a platoon commander with 13. Kompanie where he gets a platoon Panzer III Ausf L/M which operates beside the Tiger company. After training, the LSSAH leaves in January, 1943 for the East front. In the spring Wttmann finally gets his own Tiger I in 13. Kompanie.

On 5 July, 1943 Wittmann destroyed during Operation Zitadelle 13 T-34 tanks and 2 anti-tank guns. A couple of days later, on 7 and 8 July, he destroyed another 7 Russian tanks (2 T-34, 2 SU-122 and 3 T-60/70 tanks). On 12 July he destroys 8 Russian tanks plus 3 anti-tank guns and a fieldbattery. When the operation comes to a closure on 17 July, Wittmann's score is 30 Russian tanks and 28 guns. On 29 July, 1943 the 13 Kompanie is reformed to become the Schwere SS Panzer Abteilung 101 which is connected to the LSSAH. In August the LSSAH is deployed to Italy. In October the SS-Panzergrenadier-Division LSSAH becomes the 1. SS-Panzer-Division LSSAH. In the same month, the division leaves again for Russia. On 13 October, Wittmann scores 20 T-34 tanks and 23 other cannons.

On 13 January, 1944 Michael Wittmann receives the Ritterkreuz (Knights Cross) for his devotion. According to the propaganda machine, that announces it over the radio, Wittmann's score was then; 88 tanks and selfpropelled guns destroyed. A couple of days later, his gunner, SS-Rottenfuhrer Balthasar (Bobby) Woll, receives the Eisernes Kreuz I.Klasse for his great marksmanship, even when the tanks is in motion! On 20 January 1944 Wittmann is promoted to SS-Obersturmfuhrer. Two weeks later, on 30 January, Wittmann receives a telegram from Hitler with the announcement, that he had become the 380th German soldier, who gets the Eichenlaub to the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes. On 20 February he receives the additions, in the Wolfsschanze, from Hitler himself.

From 29 February till 2 March 1944, the largest portion of the company is moved to Mons, Belgium. Around this period, Wittmann gets the command over 2.Kompanie / sSSPzAbt 101 / LSSAH. On 2 March Michael Wittmann marries Hildegard Burmester, witness is Bobby Woll. Meanwhile Wittmann becomes a hero to the German people through an extensive propaganda. In April he visits the Henschel und Sohn factory in Kassel where the Tiger I is produced. Here he is shown the latest version of it, the Ausf. E. In May, Wittmann returns with to his sSSPzAbt 101, LSSAH. These are then stationed near Lisieux in Normandy. Around this time, Bobby Woll, his faithful gunner, is given his own command over a Tiger I (de ‘335’). He would fight in Normandy and get wounded near Bayeux after an attack of fighterbombers. Woll would see action again during the Battle of the Bulge, end of 1944, in a Tiger II (Woll passed away in 1996).

During the invasion on 6 June 1944, the Schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 101 were a reserve unit connected to the Panzer Lehr Division (which had also the command over the 12. SS Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend’). sSSPzAbt 101 was at that moment under command of Heinz von Westernhagen (Tiger ‘007’). Commander of 1. Kompanie was SS-Haubtsturmführer Rolf Möbius, of 2. Kompanie SS-Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann and of 3. Kompanie, SS-Obersturmführer Hanno Raasch was the commander. On 6 June (D-Day) Wittmann received a new Tiger, the ‘205’ in which he moved of towards the front. During the deployment he lost six of his original twelve Tiger tanks that were under his command in 2. Kompanie. This was due to Allied fighter bombers and technical failure of the tanks. On 12 June, they went into a bivouac for the night, north-east of Villers-Bocage. The next day, Wittmann went definitely into the history books.

On 13th June 1944, a week after D-day, following a drive from Beauvais under repeated air attack, 2. Kompanie of sSSPzAbt 101 led by Michael Wittmann had 6 Tigers located in the area of Hill (Point) 213 ahove Villers Bocage. His orders were to stop the advance of the 22nd Armored Brigade of the British 7th Armored Division (the famous ‘Desert Rats’) from advancing through the township, outflanking the German line and gaining the road to Caen. Wittmann’s company hidden behind a hedgerow spotted the enemy column, which passed him at a distance of 200 meters.

At about 8:00am, Wittmann attacked the British column on the main road, while the rest of his company (4 Tigers as one brokedown) attacked the British forces around Hill 213. Soon after, Wittmann destroyed Sherman Firefly and Cromwell IV and headed south to attack the rest of the enemy transport column. After knocking out 8 half-tracks, 4 Bren Carriers and 2 6 pdr anti-tank guns, Wittmann reached the crossroad with the road to Tilly-sur-Seulles.

At the crossroad, he destroyed 3 Stuart tanks from recon unit and reached the outskirts of the town of Villers-Bocage. While in town, Wittmann destroyed 4 Cromwell IV tanks and single half-track and turns into Rue Pasteur. Following up the street, he knocked out Cromwell IV and Sherman OP tank, reaching the main street of Villers-Bocage. At the end of Rue Pasteur, Wittmann’s Tiger was hit by Sherman Firefly from B Squadron and he decided to turn back as being too far forward without any infantry support and in a build-up area.

He turned in the direction of Caen to join the rest of his company. On his way back, Wittmann’s Tiger was attacked by another Cromwell IV, which he destroyed as well. Back at the Tilly crossroad, British soldiers from 1st Rifle Brigade opened fire at Wittmann with their 6 pdr anti-tank gun, immobilizing his Tiger. Wittmann and his crew managed to escape on foot towards the Panzer Lehr positions 7km away near Orbois. The rest of his company at the Hill 213, destroyed the rest of the A Squadron of 4th County of London Yeomanry Regiment ("Sharpshooters") including 5 Cromwell IV and Sherman Firefly, while capturing 30 men. During this short engagement, Wittmann’s company destroyed 4 Sherman Firefly, 20 Cromwell, 3 Stuart, 3 M4 Sherman OP, 14 half-tracks, 16 Bren Carriers and 2 6 pdr anti-tank guns. Wittmann’s attack was followed by another one by Tigers of Hauptsturmfuehrer Rolf Moebius’ 1st Kompanie of sSSPzAbt 101 and Panzerkampfwagen IV tanks from Panzer Lehr but was repulsed by anti-tank guns from 22nd Armored Brigade. Following day, British withdrew from the town leaving it to the Germans, who occupied it for next two months. The British drive on Villers Bocage and Caen was stopped cold by Wittmann’s attack and following actions!

On 22 June, 1944, after the success in Villers-Bocage, Wittmann received the Swords to his Knights Cross with Oakleaves (after recommendation of the commander of Panzer Lehr, Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein), from the hands of SS-Obergruppenfuhrer und Panzergeneral der Waffen SS Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, commander of the LSSAH. On 25 June the ceremony was repeated, when Wittmann received the same Swords from Hitler. With these, Wittmann became the most decorated tanker of the Second World War! He also was promoted to SS-Haupsturmfuhrer.

Wittmann was given the post of instructor, but he choose the front instead of a school, and went back to Normandy. During the month of July, 1944 he fought in the Battle for Caen. Early August, Wittmann received as Abteilungskommandant, again a new Tiger I, the ‘007’ in which he operates on 8 August in the area of Cintheaux. At 12.55 hours, the Tiger from Wittmann is hit in a field next to the road of Caen- Cintheaux, near Gaumesnil. The explosion blows the turret clean of the hull and all of the crew is killed. After the fighting, the bodies are buried in a pit next to the remnants of Tiger ‘007’. In March 1983, while working on the new N 158, human remains are found. After research it is concluded that these belonged to Wittmann and his crew.

For years it was uncertain where the body of Wittmann was buried. Also was unclear what the cause for the destruction was of ‘007’. One of the options was that the Tiger was destroyed by a rocket from a fighterbomber. After investigation by Serge Varin, who had found ‘007’, he concluded that it was struck by a HE rocket from a RAF Typhoon. He did not find penetration holes of grenades, but there was just one big hole in the thin (25mm) engine top cover. On 8 August Typhoons where responsible for the destruction of 135 German tanks. But there were also different tank units which claimed the destruction of ‘007’, such as the 1st Polish Armoured Division and the 4th Canadian Armoured Division.

Today, most accepted opinion is that Wittmann and his crew were killed from a shot of a Sherman Vc Firefly, from 3 Troop, A Squadron, Northamptonshire Yeomanry. This Firefly, the ‘Velikye Luki’, under command of Sergeant Gordon was operating with other Fireflies when they encountered three Tigers. They fired on these Tigers which were all three destroyed in a couple of minutes. The first Tiger was destroyed at 12.40 hours and the second, which returned fire, exploded at 12.47 hours. The third Tiger, probably the ‘007’, was put out of action with two shells, fired by gunner Trooper Joe Ekins from the Firefly of Sergeant Gordon. This was written down in the official daily journal of A Squadron.

After the remains were found of Wittmann and his crew, they were reburied at the German war cemetery at La Cambe, where it is attracting many visitors. Unfortunately there are people who think it is necessary to bring extreme right wing and fascistic items to their grave. Wittmann was an SS (he was known as a fanatic ‘heel clicker’) and fought for a rotten regime. But his heroism may in that context not be forgotten. He was very popular among his comrades and showed sometimes, during the dirty fighting at the Eastern front, his human side. One day, crewmembers who jumped burning from their destroyed T-34 had their flames put out by blankets from Wittmann and his crew and were handed over to the medical service. But Wittmann was a cold blooded tanker who seemed unstoppable and which was ultimate leading to his death. The German cemetery at La Cambe can be found on the N 13 (global central between Bayeux and Carentan). Wittmann and his crew are buried in lot 47, row 3 and grave 120.

The total score of victories for Wittmann till 8 August, 1944 was 141 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns. Most of these victories were made on the Eastern front.

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SS-Brigadeführer Hugo Kraas

Hugo Kraas was born on January 25, 1911 as the eldest of seven sons. He studied to become a teacher but his father's death killed that dream – he had to stop studying and get a job. On May 1, 1934 he joined the NSDAP, and for a short period of time, more specifically until April 19, 1935, he was a member of the SA. Then he was transferred to the Wehrmacht, to infantry. He was not a member of the Wehrmacht long because when he got the chance to join the newly formed SS-forces, he used the opportunity and joined on October 15, 1935. He served as the SS-Rottenführer in SS/VT Germania Standarte. Kraas was part of the third cadet class of the SS Junkerschule in Braunschweig in April 1937 and after graduating on March 12, 1938, he received the SS-Untersturmführer rank. He was the second excellent student in his course to graduate.

SS-Untersturmführer Kraas was appointed to the 14. Panzerjägerkompanie (tank destruction company) of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and served directly under Kurt "Panzermeyer" Meyer. Kraas fought with his unit very successfully throughout the Poland's Campaign and for that he received the Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse on 16 October 1939. In November, Kurt Meyer was appointed to be in charge of the 15. Kradschützenkompanie (motorcyclists) and he was allowed to take one other officer with him. He chose Kraas. Now, being the SS-Obersturmführer, he participated in the Holland Campaign, during which he became the first officer in the LSSAH who received the Eisernes Kreuz I.Klasse. He earned it thanks to moving 50 miles to the enemies' lines, along the River Ijssel and, in the process, capturing 7 officers and 120 soldiers!

After successful campaigns in Holland and France, the LSSAH was increased from a regiment to a strengthened brigade. Meyer's 15th Kradschützenkompanie became the LSSAH's Aufklärungsabeilung (surveillance unit with special assignments). Kraas' unit became its 2nd company and Kraas became the leader of this company. Alongside with Meyer, Kraas fought on Balkan and in Russia, where after Meyer was injured on October 1941, Kraas became the leader of the Aufklärungsabeilung. On the first Christmas holiday in 1941, Kraas was awarded for his bravery and successful leading of the SS-Aufklärungsabeilung 1 in the Rostov battles with a Deutsches Kreuz in Gold.

In June 1942 LSSAH became the Panzergrenadier Division and Kraas became the commander of the 1st Battalion of SS-Panzergrenadier Regiment 2. He led his battalion during the retreating from Kharkov and in occupying it back. For his bravery during the occupation of Kharkov, Kraas received the Ritterkreuz on 28 March 1943. In the summer of 1943 Sepp Dietrich left the position of the LSSAH Commander and became the leader of the 1st SS-Panzerkorps. The new leader of the LSSAH was Theodor Wisch. Kraas became the leader of the regiment that used to be led by Wisch. Soon after he was promoted as the SS-Obersturmbannführer. Operation Zitadelle was soon beginning.

On 5 June 1943 Kraas' regiment received an order to pass the strongly protected bunkers south of Bykov, cross the town and move towards the main target – to conquer the upland 234, north of Bykov. They began the attack exactly 4 a.m. in the morning. They managed to cross the minefields and passed the bunkers' area. Moving onwards was difficult and slow. They fought over every meter and the losses were big, especially among the pioneers. The attack was stopped to reorganize it, but the enemy used it to secure its bunkers' line.

To avoid failing because of a possible attack, SS-Obersturmbannführer Kraas continued to attack with all of his remaining men. They were divided into three attack groups, one of them was led personally by Kraas. They attacked the upland 220, which was protected by Russian tanks and they realized that in order to overmaster the Russians they needed to have a close combat. SS-Obersturmbannführer Kraas and his unit moved fast towards Bykov. They were always leading the attack and participating in the most heated battles. After a 12-hour difficult fight, at 4 p.m. the mission was completed and the upland 234 was conquered. SS-Brigadeführer Wisch felt that if SS-Obersturmführer Kraas would have failed, the divisions' attack in south would have stopped. Despite this win, the operation Zitadelle was already a failure before it began because the forces were uneven. When the allies landed in Sicily, the operation ended.

After operation Zitadelle failed, Russians took initiative on the front and German forces were in the role of the defenders. On December 26, SS-Obersturmbannführer Kraas' regiment started to defend the division's (LSSAH) left wing. At 1 p.m. in the afternoon they were attacked by a Russian regiment with thirteen T-34 type tanks. The attack was stopped, three Russian tanks were destroyed. The Russians did not give in and in the night of the 28th, at 2.30 a.m., they attacked with new forces. Fifteen T-34 type tanks, on which the enemies' infantry soldiers were sitting, moved with loud noise towards SS-Obersturmbannführer Kraas and his men. With the help of the division's tank group, the enemies' attack was stopped once more. But this was not the end. The Russians attacked again, an hour after the previous attack failed, and this time they had thirty-five T-34 type tanks.

During the most difficult moment of the attack, the Russians managed to break in on the regiment's left wing and moved onwards until they reached the regiment's headquarters. SS-Obersturmbannführer Kraas, who personally led the headquarters' members, took the men to a counterattack from the Russians right wing – once again the Russians' attack was stopped! Nineteen T-34 tanks were left smoking next to the Russians infantry. But the Russian army did not calm down and attacked on the noon of the next day with four infantry regiments from north and east, and they had sixty T-34 tanks supporting them. Kraas managed to stop the enemies' attack again and he established a new frontline, thus preventing his regiments from falling into a trap. Despite this kind of success, the Russians had taken over the area outside the division's defended area and the LSSAH received an order to retreat. Kraas received an order to retreat from the village towards south, to the area of Guiva. The bridge that was built across the river, had been blown up. Kraas led his regiment and the Panther tank's company parallel to the enemies' front towards west, being under constant fire. They found a bridge in the west and crossed it. Kraas was the last man to cross the bridge. This way the regiment successfully reached its new frontline in the village of Voroschino. Again they managed to prevent the regiment being surrounded.

By the evening of December 29, the Russians managed to create a bridgehead that gave them a good opportunity to attack the village. And that's what they decided to do. The regiment's first battalion was under fierce attack but they managed to fight back the dominating enemies. Not until the battalion leader and some men, who were sent shortly before the battles began to help, had been killed, was the battalion called back from its positions. The Russians moved quickly towards the village to cut Kraas and his regiment off from the front and destroy them. Kraas, having analyzed the seriousness of the situation, gathered all remaining forces and armed himself with an automatic gun, began to lead the counterattack, which target was to clean the village from Russians. They succeeded and the front became more stable, future Russians' attacks were beaten back. This four-day defence manoeuvre exhausted the enemy and allowed the whole division to retreat from the front peacefully and according to the plan. Kraas' units destroyed 91 enemy's tanks, 63 cannons, captured 900 Red Army soldiers and destroyed more than 3,000 enemies during these four days!

Kraas was wounded on January 5, 1944 and he was removed from the front. On January 25, as he was recovering, he had the honor of being one out of 375 soldiers who received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub. This was for his bravery in Kursk and in the area of Zhytomyr. Six days later he was promoted to SS-Standartenführer. He passed the Division leaders' course and afterward he was taken to the 12th SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend where on November 15, 1944 he took over the division from Fitz Kraemer. He became the fifth and the final leader of this division. After the Ardennes' operation, he was promoted as SS-Oberführer and on April 20 as SS-Brigadeführer. He led the 12th SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend through the final fierce battles of the war, surrendering on May 8, 1945 in Austria, near Linz, to US units.

He was kept in prison until 1948. Hugo Kraas died of an heart attack in his home in Selk, Schleswig-Holstein, on February 20, 1980.

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Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Wuppermann

Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Wuppermann was born on 15 December 1916 in Berlin. He joined the Kriegsmarine in 1936 and was promoted to Leutnant zur See in 1938 and as adjutant was transferred to the U-boat-Schulflottille. Wuppermann joined the Schnellboot service in March 1939 and took command of a Schnellboot in the 1. Schnellbootflottille. During the Invasion of Poland he participated on patrols in the North Sea, Baltic Sea and in the English Channel. In early November 1940 he took charge of a Gruppe in the 3. Schnellbootflottille and takes command of Schnellboot "S 60" on 21 December 1940. Siegfried saw action with this boat near Boulogne. In February 1941 he became acting commander of the 3. Schnellbootflottille because Friedrich Kemnade was on vacation. Wuppermann led a patrol on 7 March 1941 against Allied convoys which leads to the destruction of two destroyers and three merchant vessels. On "S 60" he participates in Operation Barbarossa. On 21 June 1941, one day before the invasion of the Soviet Union, he operated against the harbor of Windau laying 30 mines. Siegfried Wuppermann received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes on 3 August 1941 during these battles. After the 3. Schnellbootflottille was transferred to the Mediterranean to guard the Axis convoys to North Africa. Wuppermann receives the coveted Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz on 14 April 1943. Kapitänleutnant Wuppermann helps establish the 21. and 22. Schnellbootflottillen in Eckernförde in May 1943 and is then transferred to the Stab of the Führer der Schnellboote. In March 1945 he takes command of the 1. Schnellboot Division and fights with this unit in the Adriatic Sea. After the war he joins the Bundesmarine with the last rank as Kapitän zur See der Reserve. Siegfried Wuppermann died on 15 April 2005 in Osnabrück.

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Korvettenkapitän Werner Dobberstein

Korvettenkapitän Werner Dobberstein (4 April 1911 – 25 February 1993) entered the Reichsmarine in 1930. He received his basic seamanship training on the training ship 'Niobe', the light cruiser 'Emden' and the survey vessel 'Meteor'. In 1933 followed cadet-training in the ship Artillery School in Kiel and in the Torpedo School Flensburg. In October 1934 Dobberstein promoted to Leutnant zur See and is simultaneously as a 1st Watch Officer on the minesweeper "M-133". In 1939 he was in command of the fleet support vessel "F-8". As a Kapitänleutnant, he became company commander in the 8. Schiffsstammabteilung in June 1939. After the outbreak of the war, Werner Dobberstein served as a Flottillenchef in the 5. Räumbootsflottille from June 1940. His operating area  was in the North Norwegian waters. For his brilliant leadership, Dobberstein received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes in 4 September 1941. After World War II Werner he went on to serve in German Federal Navy (Bundesmarine) from 11 January 1956 to 30 June 1957.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Curtiss Hawk Squad of Finnish Air Force

A Curtiss squad from the 1st Finnish Flight Regiment, over the Aunus Isthmus in an image taken on 18 October 1943. After the fall of France, Germany agreed to sell captured Curtiss Hawk fighters to Finland in October 1940. In total, 44 captured aircraft of five subtypes were sold to Finland with three deliveries from 23 June 1941 – 5 January 1944. Not all were from the French stocks, 13 were initially sold to Norway and captured when the Germans conquered that country. The aircraft were given serial codes CU-501 to CU-507 (A-4 submodel with Cyclone) and CU-551 to CU-587 (all other submodels with Twin Wasp). In Finnish service, the Hawk was well liked, affectionately called Sussu ("Sweetheart"). The Finnish Air Force enjoyed success with the type, credited with 190⅓ kills by 58 pilots, between 16 July 1941 and 27 July 1944, for the loss of 15 of their own. Finnish ace Kyösti Karhila scored 12¼ of his 32¼ victories in the Hawk, while the top Hawk ace K. Tervo scored 14¼ victories. The Finnish Hawks were initially armed with either four or six 7.5mm machine guns. While sufficient during the early phase of the Continuation War, the increasing speeds and armor of Soviet aircraft soon showed this armament was not powerful enough. From 1942, the State Aircraft Factory replaced the fuselage machine guns with either one or two .50 in (12.7 mm) Colt machine guns and installed two or four .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns in each wing. The 12.7mm Berezin UB or LKk/42 heavy machine guns were also used. The installation of heavier armament did not change the very good flying characteristics of the fighter, but the armament was much more effective against Soviet aircraft. The Finnish Hawks were also equipped with Revi 3D or C/12D gunsight. Surviving Finnish aircraft remained in service with the FAF aviation units HLeLv 13, HLeLv 11 and LeSK until 30 August 1948, when the last operational Finnsh Hawks were put into storage. In 1953, the stored aircraft were scrapped.

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Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45" by Vesa Nenye, Peter Munter, Toni Wirtanen and Chris Birks 

Air-Observation Lotta Eillen Kiuru at Lahdenpohja Observation Tower

Air-observation Lotta Eillen Kiuru posed for a propaganda picture in front of Finnish and German war correspondents at Lahdenpohja observation tower on 11 July 1942. The women of Finland fulfilled numerous important roles, even near the front line. 'Lotta Svärd' was a Finnish voluntary auxiliary paramilitary organisation for women. Formed originally in 1918, it had a large membership undertaking volunteer social work in the 1920s and 1930s. During the Winter War some 100,000 men whose jobs were taken over by "Lottas" were freed for military service. The Lottas worked in hospitals, at air-raid warning posts and other auxiliary tasks in conjunction with the armed forces. The Lottas, however, were officially unarmed. The only exception was a voluntary anti-aircraft battery in Helsinki in the summer of 1944, composed of Lotta Svärd members. The battery operated the AA search-lights. The unit was issued rifles for self-protection, thus being the only armed female military unit of the Finnish Defence Forces history! The dire need for labor led to fast recruitment and there was often no time to properly train the new Lottas according to the principles of the organization. In addition, most new recruits were young and inexperienced. This caused some friction between the veterans and the new recruits. Lotta Svärd suffered relatively light losses, considering the number of women posted to a war zone and the length of the war. During the wars, 291 Lottas died, most of which (140) from diseases caught on duty. 66 were killed near the front, 47 in air raids and 34 in accidents. The fallen Lottas were buried in war heroes' graves in their home parishes. Finnish author Aila Virtanen argues that, their "accountability to the nation took a masculine and military form in public, but had a private, feminine side to it including features like caring, helping and loving." The organisation was suppressed by the government after the war.

Source :
Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45" by Vesa Nenye, Peter Munter, Toni Wirtanen and Chris Birks