Thursday, April 28, 2016

U-Boat Ace Victor Oehrn During Prisoners Exchange

This picture was made by Hugo Jaeger and showing U-boat ace Victor Oehrn in 19 October 1943 during prisoners exchange. The Geneva Convention makes provision for the repatriation of all Prisoners of War, even during hostilities. During 1939-1945 it was only possible for the British and Germans to reach agreement over the seriously ill and disabled. For the majority of the 40,000 British servicemen who were taken prisoner in 1939 and 1940, the war was to be a very long and dispiriting experience. Negotiations, conducted through the Red Cross, over the repatriation of seriously wounded men, had begun in late 1940. They did not progress very far because there were far fewer German men in this category than British. It was only after substantial numbers of Germans were taken prisoner in the Desert campaign of 1942 that the talks resumed. The actual exchange of prisoners did not take place until October 1943.

Victor Otto Oehrn (21 October 1907 - 26 December 1997, last rank Fregattenkapitän) is a U-boat commander during World War II. He commanded the U-boats U-14 and U-37, sinking twenty-four ships on four patrols (81 days at sea), for a total of 104,785 tons of Allied shipping, to stand 28th on the list of highest scoring U-Boat aces of World War II.

Oehrn joined the Reichsmarine in 1927. He spent his first years mostly on the light cruisers Königsberg and Karlsruhe, but then was one of the first officers to transfer to the newly commissioned U-boat force in July 1935. After a short program of U-boat training, he became commander of U-14 in January 1936, taking the boat into Spanish waters during the Civil War in July/September 1936. After a year in officer training units he finished as one of the few U-boat officers in the German Marine-Akademie in summer 1939. In August 1939 he became an Asto (Admiralstabsoffizier, Admiral staff officer) on the staff of Dönitz (BdU org).

Following the torpedo malfunctions crisis during and after the invasion of Norway, Kptlt. Oehrn was sent on patrol with U-37 to restore the U-boat men's trust in their torpedoes. This patrol became a great success when he sank ten ships with a total of 41,207 tons and torpedoed and damaged another of 9,494 tons. His second patrol (seven ships with a total of 28,439 tons) and third patrol (six ships with a total of 28,210 tons) were also successful, and he was awarded the Knights Cross in October 1940 during the third patrol.

For the next year Victor Oehrn served as 1st Asto on the staff of Dönitz (BdU org). In November 1941 he took over command of the Mediterranean U-boats, and in February 1942 became 1st Asto on the Mediterranean U-boat staff.

During a mission in North Africa in July 1942, Victor Oehrn was captured after being severely wounded, and ended up in the British General Hospital 19 at Alexandria, Egypt. Later he was sent to POW Camp 306 near the Bitter Lakes on the Suez Canal. He was released in an exchange of prisoners in October 1943 and returned to Germany via Port Said, Barcelona and Marseilles in November 1943.

For the remainder of the war he served in staff positions.

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Großadmiral Karl Dönitz with His Baton

Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) Karl Dönitz, Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine, with Admiralstab (Admiral baton). There were two Admiralstab produced for Dönitz. The first one was rejected and a second version (bearing the U-Boat motif requested by Dönitz) was commissioned. Dönitz, appointed Führer by Hitler before his suicide, was arrested with his privisional government and his staff at Flensburg on 23 May 1945 after the British Army's 159th Brigade occupied the northern German town. They were taken into custody by men of the 4th (Territorial) Battalion, The King's Shropshire Light Infantry. At some point before Dönitz was transferred from Flensbug, his guards searched the Grand Admiral's baggage and stole numerous items, including his U-Boat Badge with Diamonds and his ceremonial baton, which passed into the possession of one Captain Hugh Williams of 2nd Army HQ. The baton then ended up in April 1946 in the possession of Brigadier Jack Churcher, commanding 159th Brigade, whose Order of Battle included 4th KSLI. Major-General Churcher donated the baton to the museum of The King's Shropshire Light Infantry in 1964, where it resides to this day, despite German attempts to recover it in line with the late Grand Admiral's bequest, before his death in 1980, of his baton and other effects, presuming their return from Britain, to the Deutsche Marinebund for public display at the Kriegsmarine War Memorial in Laboe. The ceremonial batons to Wehrmacht commanders were a personal gift from Adolf Hitler and were therefore the recipients' private property so it would seem that there is a case for the baton's return to Germany and the veterans' association to which Dönitz wished it to go. As the Kriegsmarine historian and author Gordon Williamson has noted, having examined the baton, it was made by H J Wilm, who requested the special release of one of their artisans from front line service for the commission. Helmut Scheuermann's doubtlessly astonished superiors duly received a telegram from the Führerhauptquartier. The baton weighs 900 grams and comprises a hollow silver shaft, covered in marine blue velvet with fouled anchors and national emblems made of solid gold. The ends are also made of gold, with the silver embellishments, including the U-Boat motif, made of platinum, which was regarded as a semi-precious metal at the time. Unusually, the lower end of the baton awarded to Dönitz had a swastika instead of the customary Iron Cross motif. There is a cased Kriegsmarine Admiralstab in the International Maritime Museum in Hamburg, which houses the Peter Tamm Collection. This baton, in a H J Wilm case, is displayed with a baton said to be that of Großadmiral Erich Raeder, although some sources state that the Raeder baton was broken up shortly after the end of the Second World War. The museum, also known as the Peter Tamm Museum, states that this is one of two batons that belonged to Karl Dönitz and some sources further state that the baton in Hamburg is the award piece, the baton in the KSLI regimental museum being the first baton, which was turned down by Dönitz, who wanted the U-Boat motif on the upper finial end. The Tamm Collection baton has an U-Boat motif on the upper end, So, of course, does the baton in the KSLI regimental museum. However, they are not the same.

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Großadmiral Karl Dönitz


Großadmiral Karl Dönitz had served in U-boats during World War I and remained in the German Navy after his release from a British POW camp. When Germany began to rebuild their U-boat fleet, Dönitz was chosen to organize the new U-boat service, and became Chief of U-boat Forces.

When war broke out, in 1939, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, but had far fewer U-boats than were required by the war plans (which did not expect a war to start before 1942!). In spite of this, U-boats were highly successful, scoring one coup after another. These early successes brought Dönitz an increasing share of German Navy resources and faster expansion of U-boat forces. Unfortunately, Hermann Göring refused to allocate resources from the German Luftwaffe to assist Dönitz in the hunting of convoys. Such assistance would have greatly increased the success of the U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic.

During 1941 and 1942 Dönitz's U-boats nearly won the war for Germany, sinking a large percentage of the allied ships carrying essential supplies to Britain and the Soviet Union. This success was partly due to faulty anti-U-boat strategy that the Allies were slow to abandon. However, it was mostly the result of Dönitz’s imaginative coordination of reconnaissance aircraft, supply vessels (milch cows) and multiple-U-boat wolf-packs, all of which allowed his U-boats to strike where they were most effective and least expected.

Dönitz was appointed to Commander in Chief of the Navy in January 1943. However, this personal triumph nearly coincided with the beginning of the end for his U-boats, in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Allies had built large numbers of destroyer escorts, corvettes and anti-U-boat patrol bombers needed to guard their convoys. They had found the correct tactics to counter the wolf packs and had become proficient through many months of practical experience. New Allied weapons, like RADAR or the escort carrier, more than matched new German innovations like the Schnorkel. But most important, they were building new cargo ships faster than the U-boats could sink them, and if that was true, there was no way the U-boats could win, because their objective in the Battle of the Atlantic wasn't to sink ships, it was to starve Britain! At one point during 1941, Briton was only weeks away from what some termed "total starvation" due to the lack of supplies reaching their country. Winston Churchill was quoted to have said "The only thing that ever frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril".

In April 1945 Dönitz became Head of State and proceeded to formalize the surrender of Germany. After the surrender, Dönitz was tried for War Crimes at Nuremberg and was sentenced to ten years for "Planning Aggressive War", "Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War" and "Crimes Against Peace", among other false allegations. It should be noted that Admiral Chester Nimitz of the United States Navy testified on Dönitz’s behalf during the Nuremberg Trials! Most sensible people agree that the German U-boats fought hard but fair considering the situation (No one tries to deny the war crimes committed by the Germans before and during the war though). Thus many say that Dönitz was simply punished for being too efficient at his job and his U-boats having been to much of a threat to allied shipping and the outcome of the war. Dönitz served 11 years and 6 months in prison, the last ten years at Berlin-Spandau.

After his release on 1 October 1956 he lived in the small village Aumühle near Hamburg. There he wrote two books, and worked on an honest written account of the U-boat weapon history. Dönitz passed away on Christmas eve 1980 and to his funeral on 6 Januari 1981 came thousands of old camerades, including some hundred Knights Cross holders and not only from the Navy. The officers from the Bundesmarine (Post-war German Navy) were forbidden to visit in uniform, because the German government at that time felt that Dönitz was too deeply involved in the politics during the Third Reich.

Karl Dönitz lost both his sons to enemy action during the war. The younger, Peter Dönitz, was killed while serving as watch officer on the U-954 when the boat was sunk with all hands in the North Atlantic on 19 May, 1943. After that loss the older brother, Klaus, was permitted to withdraw from combat duties and started his education as a naval doctor. Klaus however kept in touch with his former comrades and on his 24th birthday on 13 May, 1944 he convinced his friends to take him along on the fast boat S-141 for an attack on the Selsey on the English coast. The S-141 was destroyed and although 6 of its crew were rescued Klaus Dönitz was not among them...

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Barracks at Eagle Creek, Camp Hale (Colorado)

View of a wooden bridge over Eagle Creek, Camp Hale (Colorado), 1943 or 1944. The barracks are on the left, beside a wide dirt road, poles for electricity or telephone wires follow both the road and the creek. In the distance on the right side of the creek are various storage buildings. Snow covers the tops of the surrounding hills. Camp Hale filled the valley—an instant city, built over one short summer at a cost of $30 million, specifically for the ski troops. (It was named for Brig. Gen. Irving Hale, a Colorado hero of the Spanish-American War.) White-painted barracks marched in precise rows beside the headwaters of the Eagle River, dredged ruler straight by the Army Corps of Engineers. Hale had bunks for fifteen thousand
soldiers. Natural water sources from the Eagle River and Homestake Creek were deemed sufficient for camp use, and regional supplies of coal existed in sufficient quantities to meet fuel demands.

Source :
Book "Climb to Conquer: The Untold Story of World War II's 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops" by Peter Shelton

US 10th Mountain Division Soldier with His Sleeping Bag

View of a sunburned U.S. Tenth Mountain Division soldier posing for a photograph in a snow trench with his sleeping bag in front of him. It is placed on top of pine boughs. Taken near Camp Hale, Colorado, 1943 or 1944.

Military sleeping bags are a relatively recent development. The comfort of the ordinary soldier in the field was not a priority for armies until the 20th century. Even in World War II, blankets or a simple mummy bag was the usual sleeping gear, even in very cold weather. Specialized mountain troops had the first sleeping bags designed in modern terms.

Prior to World War II American soldiers were issued blanket rolls. This consisted of several wool blankets and a ground sheet to roll it up in. The Blanket, Wool, OD, M-1934 was the basic "Army Blanket" and each soldier had at least one issued. In cold climates as many as five blankets were issued to each man. These were combined with the Roll, Bedding, M-1935 or a Shelter Half which could also be used as a ground cloth or, with another soldier, make a tent. The blankets and items such as socks and underwear all were folded into the roll, following a carefully defined procedure drilled into the soldiers in Basic Training. For sleeping, it was unrolled and made into the best arrangement for the conditions.

By the outset of World War II, sleeping bags of varied design had been in use for many years by mountaineers and sportsmen generally. The strengths and weakneses of the designs were well known. It was assumed by the Quartermaster engineers that a sleeping bag would replace blankets for mountain troops. The mountain soldier would ordinarily have to carry their sleeping bag and it was therefore essential to make it as light as possible and small enough in bulk to fit into the Mountain Rucksack. It must, at the same time, be durable enough to stand rather rough treatment and warm enough for sleeping in fairly severe cold. It must be so designed that the soldier could get out of it quickly in an emergency. As in the case of the sleeping bags for Arctic use, the design problem was complicated by the fact that there was a shortage of down, the material most favored as a filler.

The "mummy" type of sleeping bag, shaped to fit the body, had been gaining favor among mountaineers for several years, as against the more usual rectangular bag. The mummy bag was considered more efficient, used less material and was less bulky. A sleeping bag of the mummy type, consisting of inner and outer shells and an attached head canopy, was designed for the ski troops in 1941. This rather complicated design was thoroughly revised and then further refined in the next year, partly with a view to simplifying the whole sleeping bag program by providing units that could be used by all troops operating in cold climates.

The mountain sleeping bag developed in 1942 was designed to be issued to mountain troops as an item complete within itself. Combined with an additional outer case, it became a new Arctic sleeping bag.

The mountain bag consisted of a single case filled with a down and feather mixture, with a pear-shaped face opening and a full mummy shape. A slide fastener with a quick release device permitted the bag to be opened almost instantly down the front to about half its length. The casing was made of water repellent balloon cloth. There were new and unusual features in the design. The stitching which bound the casing to the filler did not go all the way through, like quilt stitching. Instead, it fastened the casing, by alternating inner and outer lines of stitches, to a diaphram of cheesecloth which separated outer and inner layers of the filler. This technique avoided lines of cold penetration through the stitiching, which had been criticized in earlier models. The closing seam was reinforced against cold by the addition of a tubular secion of filler placed tight against it.

A waterproof carrying case was issued with the sleeping bag. The sleeping bag was placed in the case when not in use. The case could also be used as an added foot covering in extreme cold. There was an insulated, inflatable sleeping pad (air mattress), for additional warmth and to protect the sleeping bag from wetness when camping on ice or snow. Finally, there was an outer water repellent case for additional warmth when a tent was not used. [ Source: QMC Historical Studies No. 5, Feb. 1944 ]

The mountain sleeping bag (and Arctic version) had tie straps attached to the foot of the bag. These straps could be pulled through matching holes in the foot of the cover to get the bag and cover aligned. The two parts could be rolled up together and the ties used to secure the roll. "US" was stenciled on the outside of the cover so that it would show when rolled.

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View of the Rifle Range and Chicago Ridge at Camp Hale

View of the Rifle Range and Chicago Ridge at Camp Hale in the Pando Valley. Camp Hale was the mountain training headquarters of the Tenth Mountain Division from 1943-1944. For traditional training, Camp Hale had three bayonet courses, three grenade courts, one rifle range, a machine gun range, a combat range and a gas chamber. In addition to the outdoor ranges, Camp Hale's dirt-floored, concrete-walled training halls each included a fifty-foot indoor .22-caliber rifle range for markmanship training during the winter months when conditions did not warrant sitting on the outdoor range. Finally, Camp Hale boasted a Mountain Obstacle Course of around ten thousand feet in elevation. This course combined the features of a regular obstacle course with added elements of advanced mountaineering. The geography of Camp Hale Military Reservation made all of this training possible. Ralph C. Meager, Camp Hale Reservation forester, commented in May 1943 that Camp Hale was "the only camp, post or station in the nation that embraces such a vast area of primitive wilderness and forest land." These differences set it apart from other military cantonments. No other cantonment constructed before or during World War II compared with the sophistication, planning and complexity of Camp Hale, making it one of the most respectable military engineering feats during World War II!

Source :
Book "World War II at Camp Hale: Blazing a New Trail in the Rockies" by David R. Witte

US 10th Mountain Division Soldiers Pose in Whites

Six U.S. Tenth Mountain Division soldiers in "whites" pose for a group photo in the snow during training on Cooper Hill in Camp Hale (Eagle County), Colorado, 1943 or 1944. They wear white anoraks, khaki pants and red armbands to mark their team during war games. Francis "Bobby" Lathrop stands second from the right in the top row, while Gerald Lundby wears snowshoes. Staff Sergeant Francis O. Lathrop was born in 25 July 1921 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Enlisted in the service in 21 August 1942, active duty in 11 February 1943. Military locations include Camp Hale (Colorado) and Camp Swift (Texas). Served in Italy, northern Apennines, Po Valley and Rome-Arno. He was discharged in 15 December 1945. Lathrop was awarded three Battle Stars, Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medal. Staff Sergeant Gerald L. Lundby was born in 2 March 1924 at Sherwood, North Dakota. Inducted into the service in 1 April 1943. Served in "L" then "M" Company, 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment / 10th Mountain Division. Stationed at Camp Hale, Camp Swift and in the Italian Theatre of Operations. He was discharged from active military service in 1 December 1945.

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Book "10th Mountain Division" by Randy W. Baumgardner

Heinkel He 59 of Seenotstaffel 3

The crews of German air-sea rescue aircraft (Seenotflugstaffeln) operating over the English Channel in 1940 soon learned that the rescuer could often become a victim himself! After the occupation of France, Luftflotte 3 quickly established three Seenotzentralen (air-sea rescue centers) in Boulogne, Cherbourg and Brest. This was the Luftwaffe's reaction to the increasing number of clashes between German and British aircraft over the Channel. In the summer of 1940 the air-sea rescue units flew unarmed Heinkel He 59 floatplanes painted white overall with red crosses on the fuselage and wings. Convinced that the German air-sea rescue aircraft were taking advantage of their protected status to conduct reconnaissance over the Channel, the RAF (Royal Air Force) declared them legitimate targets and a number of He 59s were shot down. Reacting quickly, the Luftwaffe camouflaged the He 59s and fitted them with defensive armament. As well, the air-sea rescue aircraft were provided fighter cover whenever possible. The photographs show a Heinkel He 59 B air-sea rescue aircraft (Werknummer 1824, code ??+?G) of Seenotstaffel 3 (formerly Seenotflugstaffel 3, renamed in December 1940). Visible on the camouflaged aircraft are its two defensive positions and the Staffel emblem, an albatross with a life ring on a blue shield. Also note the large DF loop, which could be raised. On 14 October 1941 the aircraft's camouflage and defensive armament failed to save it. While on a rescue mission, the Heinkel was intercepted by eight British fighters just one kilometer off the Belgian coast near Raverside, west of Ostende, and was shot down in flames into the sea. Two members of the crew, Beobachter (observer) Oberfeldwebel Siegfried Wessel and Flugzeugführer (pilot) Unteroffizier Josef Raab, were wounded.

Source :
Magazine "Luftwaffe im Focus Spezial" No.1 2003

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Grave of Hauptmann Erwin Aichele

It was a standard practice for markers to be placed at a crash site when a successful or experienced pilot was killed. These markers often consisted of a propeller blade and spinner. This photograph shows the grave of Hauptmann Erwin Aichele of Stab I.Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 51 (JG 51) who was killed on 29 July 1940 during operations over the English Channel. Aichele's Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4 was damaged in combat and he was forced to make an emergency landing on the coast in Calais area. The aircraft overturned and he was killed. At 39 years of age, Aichele was one of the oldest German fighter pilots.

Source :
Magazine "Luftwaffe im Focus Spezial" No.1 2003

Burnt-Out Wreck of an Tupolev SB-2bis in Russia

Burnt-out wreck of an Tupolev SB-2bis in Russia. The SB-2bis differed from the preceding variant mainly in its more powerful M-103 engines, which each produced 130 h.p. more than the M-100 engines of the SB-2. The SB-2bis also had increased fuel tankage and consequently was the Soviet Air Force's standard medium bomber during the first half of the war against Germany. The aircraft seen in the photo was most probably shot down. The bent propeller blades suggest a forced landing with the engines running. Note the unusual curved demarcation line between the two camouflage colors on the rear fuselage.

Source :
Magazine "Luftwaffe im Focus Spezial" No.1 2003

A Wrecked I-153 in the Operation Barbarossa

By the time Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika (Russian Чайка, "Seagull") was no longer a serious opponent for German fighters, although it remained a significant aircraft based on numbers alone. On 22 September 1941 there were 1,549 I-153s stationed in the Western Military Districts. More than 50% of these were destroyed on the ground or rendered unusable in the first few days of the conflict! The photograph shows two "Chaikas" found by advancing German forces. The fabric-covered areas of the aircraft were painted silver, while the metal panels were pale gray. Note the early-war version of the Soviet star with a narrow black outline and black circle in the center of the star. The fuselage star has been removed by a souvenir hunter

Source :
Magazine "Luftwaffe im Focus Spezial" No.1 2003

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Captured Lorraine in Service with Feldgendarmerie

A captured Lorraine painted in dark gray and working in southern Russia with a Feldgendarmerie (German Military Police). The Lorraine 37L or Tracteur de ravitaillement pour chars 1937 L, ("Tank Supply Tractor 1937 L") was a light tracked armoured vehicle developed by the Lorraine company during the Interwar period or Interbellum, before the Second World War, to an April 1936 French Army requirement for a fully armoured munition and fuel supply carrier to be used by tank units for front line resupply. A prototype was built in 1937 and production started in 1939. In this period also two armoured personnel carriers and a tank destroyer project were based on its chassis. Mainly equipping the larger mechanised units of the French Infantry arm, the type was extensively employed during the Battle of France in 1940. After the defeat of France, clandestine manufacture was continued in Vichy France culminating in a small AFV production after the liberation and bringing the total production to about 630 in 1945. Germany used captured vehicles in their original rôle of carrier and later, finding the suspension system to be particularly reliable, rebuilt many into tank destroyers (Panzerjaeger) of the Marder I type or into self-propelled artillery.

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The Aftermath of the Bombing of Warsaw

The aftermath of the bombing of Warsaw, October 1939. In the previous month, the Luftwaffe opened the German attack on Poland with operation Wasserkante, an air attack on Warsaw on 1 September. This attack by four bomber groups was of limited effectiveness due to low-lying cloud cover and stout Polish resistance by the PZL P.11 fighters of the Pursuit Brigade, which shot down 16 German aircraft for the loss of 10 of their own. However, heavy losses in Polish fighter aircraft meant that by 6 September the air defense of Warsaw was in the hands of the 40 mm and 75 mm anti-aircraft guns of the Warsaw Defense Command. As the German Army approached Warsaw on 8 September 1939, 140 Junkers Ju-87 Stukas attacked the portions of the city on the east bank of the Vistula River and other bombers bombed the Polish Army positions in the western suburbs. On 13 September Luftwaffe level and dive bombers caused widespread fires. Further resistance was followed by propaganda leaflet drops. Finally, starting at 08:00 on 25 September, Luftwaffe bombers under the command of Major Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen conducted the first major city attack of World War II, dropping 500 tons of high explosive bombs and 72 tons of incendiary bombs, in coordination with heavy artillery shelling by Army units. The center of Warsaw was badly damaged. Approximately 1,150 sorties were flown by a wide variety of aircraft, including even obsolescent Junkers Ju-52/3m bombers, which dropped 13 percent of the incendiary bombs dropped on the day! Although commonly portrayed as being absolutely decisive, the Black Monday air attack was a mixed success. Smoke from fires and large amounts of dust obscured targets and greatly reduced accuracy. As a result, Luftwaffe bombers dropped a significant amount of their bomb loads on German infantry positions in the northwest suburbs of the city, leading to acrimonious discussions between Luftwaffe and Army commanders. The tonnage dropped combined with only approximate delivery on target and the short duration does not begin to approximate the intensity of attacks major European cities were subsequently to suffer. However, on 26 September three key forts in the city defenses were captured, and the Polish garrison offered its surrender - on 27 September German troops entered the city. Overall, Warsaw suffered approximately 25,800 civilian deaths, with 40 percent of the buildings in the city were damaged and 10 percent of the buildings destroyed. However, to attribute this destruction completely to aerial bombardment would be an error; damage included that resulting from intense street fighting between German infantry and armor units and Polish infantry and artillery, as well as from constant bombardment by German artillery.

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Polish POWs in September 1939

“Vas du das krieg est uber" (for you the war is over). A large proportion of the Polish army was captured after the fall of Poland in September 1939: around 400,000 men by the German forces and over 200,000 by Soviet troops. Some were held for the duration of the war, but the majority of the POWs were released a few months after the end of the campaign (Some even join the Wehrmacht after changing their citizenship status from "Pole" to Volksdeutsche"). Until February 1940, the German authorities gave the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) lists of the Polish prisoners of war they held, but after that date they stopped. In 1943, they again began to send these lists, but now only officers were mentioned. What had happened was that most of the Polish soldiers who became prisoners of war were turned i nto " civilian workers " by the German authorities. They were thus -- in defiance of the 1929 Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war -- deprived of their prisoner-of-war status and of the protection this should have afforded them. Prisoners of war who refused to become " civilian workers " were mostly sent to concentration camps. In this way, the ICRC lost track of a large number of them.

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Refugees during the German Invasion of Poland

Polish refugees near Warsaw during the German invasion of Poland. When the Wehrmacht entered the Polish territory in September 1939, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees fled the advancing German army into eastern Poland, hoping that the Polish army would halt the German advance in the west. Many of the refugees fled without a specific destination in mind. They traveled on foot or by any available transport—cars, bicycles, carts, or trucks—clogging roads to the east. Most took only what they could carry. Because they had fled so suddenly, few refugees made contingency plans or took the time to prepare adequately for a long journey.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Finnish Victory Parade at Viipuri

Finnish victory parade in front of the Round Tower of Viipuri (Vyborg) after the recapture of the town from the Red Army, 31 August 1941. Shortly after this, all the Finnish radio stations began playing a hectic 'Säkkijärven'- polka non-stop for nearly two weeks. The people at the rear learned afterwards that the withdrawing Soviet troops had placed explosive charges all over the town, which could be detonated by radio signal. The fast-paced music playing on all frequencies was enough to disrupt these signals as the Finnish pioneers raced to defuse each bomb! Previously, Viipuri (including all of the Karelian Isthmus) had been ceded to the Soviet Union on March 13, 1940, in the Moscow Peace Treaty, which marked the end of the Winter War. Later, in the summer of 1944, the Soviet Union reconquered the southern part of the isthmus from the Finns in the Vyborg-Petrozavodsk Offensive.

Source :
Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45 by Vesa Nenye

Finnish Infantry Crossing a River

Finnish infantry crossing a river at Olonets Karelia using an "Iivar’s Bridge", named after its inventor Captain Iivari Akseli Kauranen, during the retreat in Continuation War in 1944. The pioneers could quickly make these pontoon bridges by lashing together branches and planks of wood. Kauranen himself was a Jäger officer who retired as a Colonel from duty of Inspector of Engineer Corps. He also co-designed another quick-build floating bridge: Pikasilta M/32, nicknamed after the designer: Iivarin Pikasilta.

Source :
 Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45 by Vesa Nenye

Soviet POW Captured by the Finns

Russian soldier captured by Finnish troops in the Continuation War. Despite the propaganda spread by the Commissariat, the Soviets who surrendered were usually treated very well. Unfortunately, many terrified soldiers fought to the death, believing that this was the lesser of two evils. The soldier in this picture wearing Budenovka, a distinctive type of hat and an essential part of the Communist uniform of the Russian Civil War and later conflicts. Its official name was the "broadcloth helmet" (шлем суконный). Named after Semyon Budyonny, it was also known as the "frunzenka" after Mikhail Frunze. It is a soft, woolen hat that covers the ears and neck. The cap has a peak and folded earflaps that can be buttoned under the chin.

Source :
Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45 by Vesa Nenye

A Finnish NCO Inspecting Ammo

A Finnish junior sergeant (Alikersantti) inspecting ammunition. The shells seem to be for 152 H/37 heavy howitzer (Soviet 152 mm Gaubitsa-Pushka obr. 1937 g. aka ML-20). The artillery shell under this NCO's hand is captured Soviet OF-540, better known by Finnish Army as "152 p tkr 36/40-RG" (152-mm long TNT-filled high explosive shell with 36/40 fuse slot type -RG). At least one of the shells in the pile seems to have Finnish markings painted into it, so the shells are not recently captured. During the Interim Peace the artillery had been significantly improved. When the war restarted in 1941, it now numbered 1,829 pieces with nearly 1,500 shells in place for each gun. Additionally, antitank weapons were finally plentiful. This was a completely different situation to that of the Winter War (1939-40), where most weapons were obsolete and lacked enough ammunition to complete even a week’s fire missions!

Source :
Book "Finland at War: The Continuation and Lapland Wars 1941-45 by Vesa Nenye

Oberfeldwebel Otto Brakat

Oberfeldwebel Otto Brakat (15 January 1916 - 31 January 1978) was a highly decorated soldier of the German Wehrmacht, veteran of Annexation of Austria (1938), Invasion of Poland (1939), Battle of France (1940), Operation Barbarossa (1941), Battle of Białystok–Minsk (1941), Battle of Kiev (1941), Battle of Smolensk (1941), Battle of Voronezh (1942), Battle of Stalingrad (1942-43), and Battle of Berlin (1945). As a Spähtruppführer (Patrol Leader), he always placed himself in front of his soldier and proved his exceptional bravery in the fighting around Bobruisk, south of Mogilev, when he attacked an important Soviet observatory post and, in the process, destroyed three well dug in anti-tank guns and captured large amount of ammunition, grenades, and machine guns. For this achievement he prevent the danger to his advanced division behind, and he received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 27 July 1941 as Unteroffizier and Gruppenführer in 2.Schwadron / Radfahr-Abteilung 1 / 1.Kavallerie-Division. He was thus the second member of his division to receive the coveted Ritterkreuz, and the first in the Russian campaign (he would became the only Ritterkreuzträger of non-commissioned officer rank from 1. Kavallerie-Division). After the third wounds he suffered in the Battle of Stalingrad, Brakat returned home and taken the instructor post in Wach-Bataillon "Großdeutschland". Even in the last days of the war he showed his indelible bravery when he destroyed an enemy tank in the Battle of Berlin. Apart from Ritterkreuz, Brakat was also decorated with Medaille zur Erinnerung an die Heimkehr des Memellandes (6 February 1940); Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse (25 September 1939) und I.Klasse (5 July 1940); Verwundetenabzeichen in Schwarz (12 July 1941) und in Silber (1 August 1942); Allgemeines-Sturmabzeichen in Silber (1 November 1941); Medaille Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42 (Ostmedaille); Nahkampfspange in Silber (1 May 1945); and Panzervernichctungsabzeichen in Silber (1 May 1945)

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Oberleutnant Hans Romott

Oberleutnant Hans Romott (28 February 1913 - 19 June 1944) received Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 18 April 1943 as Oberfeldwebel and  Zugführer (Platoon leader) in 4.(Maschinengewehr)Kompanie / Grenadier-Regiment 4 / 32.Infanterie-Division, after the fierce battle against the much larger Russian forces in Demjansk. He was also decorated with Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse und I.Klasse (Iron Crosses 2nd and 1st Class); Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen (Infantry Assault Badge); Verwundetenabzeichen (Wound's Badge); and Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (German Cross in Gold, which he received in 21 December 1942).

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Oberleutnant Ernst Neufeld

Oberleutnant Ernst Neufeld (29 March 1915 in Birkenfeld/East Prussia- 5 October 2010 in Bad Gandersheim/Lower Saxony) received Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) for his bravery in the Battle of Stalingrad in 3 January 1943 as an Oberfeldwebel and Zugführer in 2.Kompanie / Kradschützen-Bataillon 40 / 24.Panzer-Division. His division was encircled in Stalingrad and destroyed. It was reformed in March 1943 and served in Normandy, Italy and then went back to the Eastern Front where it suffered heavy casualties around Kiev and the Dniepr Bend. Apart from his Ritterkreuz, Neufeld also decorated with Eisernes Kreuz II.Klasse und I.Klasse; Allgemeines-Sturmabzeichen; and Deutsches Kreuz in Gold (18 October 1941 as Oberwachtmeister in 3.Kompanie / Radfahr-Abteilung 1 / 1.Kavallerie-Division).

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Oberfeldwebel der Reserve Georg Bonk

Oberfeldwebel der Reserve Georg Bonk (12 March 1917 – 10 October 1982) was a highly decorated NCO and platoon leader of the German Wehrmacht in World War II. He was first admitted to Infanterie-Ersatz-Bataillon Teschen in late 1940. After his basic training, he was posted to Infanterie-Regiment 365 stationed in France. Bonk received the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes #1988 (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 17 August 1943 as an Obergefreiter der Reserve and MG-Schütze (gunner) in 6.Kompanie / II.Bataillon / Grenadier-Regiment 365 / 211.Infanterie-Division for his amazing feat in defending a strategic position (with other seven comrades) against Russian onslaught for four days, north-west of Orel, though he had been cut off from the rest of his regiment. In 1944 he was promoted as a Zugführer (Platoon leader), and in this position he had succeeded to prevent a Russian counter-attack on the flank of his besieged unit in Kovel. For this achievement he received the Eichenlaub #492 zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Oak-Leaves to his Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) in 9 June 1944. In the last battle He had suffered such a heavy head injury that he, now promoted to Oberfeldwebel der Reserve, did not return to the front until the end of the war.

Source :,_Georg

Sunday, April 17, 2016

US Mountain Soldiers Set Up Small Tents

A large group of Tenth Mountain Division soldiers set up small tents in the middle of a grassy field in the mountains in Colorado during training, 1943 or 1944. These two-man mountain tent with integral floor sheet was provided with two three-section tent poles, but it was quicker to erect it by stringing a ridge cord between two trees. The tent had to be roomier than the standard “pup tent” made up from shelter halves, owing to the troopers’ bulky sleeping bags and other extra gear. It was reversible from olive drab to white, and had a floor. The tubular entrances and vents at each end helped prevent blowing snow from entering. Two types of snowshoes were issued to the mountain troopers: The “bivouac” or “bearpaw” type, for moving around between the tents in snowbound overnight camps, measured 28in long and 13in wide, while the “trail snowshoe” was 58in long by 10in wide. Fitted with leather bindings, both types could be attached to any kind of boot or shoepac (waterproof winter boots).

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

10th Mountain Division Soldiers on a Winter Training March

A group of approximately nine Tenth Mountain Division soldiers on a winter training march at Camp Hale, Colorado, 1943 or 1944. All are carrying rifles and wearing caps and parkas. Snow is on the ground. During training, small patrols from Camp Carson and Camp Hale went out into the mountain wilderness to practice movement and bivouacking in severe conditions. Since they had to carry with them everything needed for several days, supplementing their rations with game was desirable. They wear fur-trimmed reversible ski parkas - olive drab side out - and carry M1 carbines. They also learned rock climbing, endurance through long distance marches and cross country ski trips, down hill skiing, winter/mountain survival techniques, and combat throughout the winter of 1943-1944.

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

US Skitroopers Crossing the Engineer Wooden Bridge

View of skitroopers testing an experimental wooden bridge built by the Engineering Battalion of US Tenth Mountain Division at Camp Hale Colorado, 1943 or 1944. A line of men are crossing the bridge and more troops wait below. Snow covers the ground. In September 1942, the 126th Engineer Mountain Battalion, with Lieutenant-Colonel John Parker in command, is activated at Camp Carson and becomes part of MTC (Mountain Training Center). Initially, two companies are authorized. Company A is to do experimental work on the construction of aerial tramways. Company B is to experiment with the construction of suspension bridges in mountainous terrain. One consultant to both groups is Major Frederick Roebling, a member of the famous family of engineers. The 126th received a fourth company, which infantry division engineers lacked, giving it one motorized (Co D) and three pack companies. Between November 1944 to November 1945, thay had at least 31 officers, 2 warrant officers, and 749 enlisted personnel.

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Book "Chronology of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II; 6 January 1940-30 November 1945" by John & Barbara Imbrie

10th Mountain Division Soldiers March in Formation

U.S. Tenth Mountain Division soldiers march in formation down a street at Camp Hale, Colorado, 1943 or 1944. They are carrying black regimental flags. Three barracks are in the background. Recruitment of the 10th was unique in Army history, in that a civilian organization selected and validated volunteer recruits, who came from ski clubs and schools, college skiing teams, and local search-and-rescue ski patrols. The National Ski Patrol vetted potential volunteers closely, and the National Ski Association aided in selection and screening. This was an era when such diversions as skiing and mountaineering were largely limited to the affluent, and an impressive number of the applicants held winter sports event and climbing records. Many volunteers were athletically inclined college students or graduates, resulting in the recruiting slogan “college boys to cowboys.” It was reasoned that it would be easier to turn experienced skiers into soldiers rather than train soldiers to ski. This gave the division a higher than normal number of college graduates, often from “Ivy League” universities, making them the most highly educated ground units in the service! This provoked complaints about creaming off potential officers and NCOs for other units, at a time when junior leaders were much needed. (By the time the division went to war the educational level had been watered down to some degree, but it was still higher than average.)

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

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Reception Ceremony of British PM Chamberlain in Münich

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (front row, second right) walks with past an Nazi honor guard from SS-Standarte Deutschland at his reception upon arriving at Oberwiesenfeld airport (Münich) on the way to a meeting with Adolf Hitler over the latter's threats to invade Czechoslovakia, September 28, 1938. Pictured are, from left to right: Gauleiter Adolf Wagner (NSDAP-Gauleiter von München, bayerischer Minister und SA-Obergruppenführer), SA-Obergruppenführer Franz Ritter von Epp (Reichsstatthalter von Bayern), SS-Obersturmbannführer Matthias Kleinheisterkamp (Kommandeur III.Sturmbann / SS-Standarte Deutschland), Reichsminister Joachim von Ribbentrop (Reichsminister des Auswärtigen), SS-Brigadeführer Christian Weber (Inspekteur der SS-Reitschulen), Chamberlain, SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Polizei Kurt Daluege (Chef der Deutschen Ordnungspolizei), SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Leiter der Politischen Abteilung der Polizeidirektion München), and Sir Neville Henderson (British Ambassador to Germany). The picture was taken by Hugo Jaeger. In the late 1930's Hugo Jaeger was an early adopter of color photos. When his work was introduced to the Führer, he liked what he saw. Between 1936 and 1945 he had unprecedented access to Hitler from public events to small private gatherings. Many colored photos were taken, including this one.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Soldier of SS Division Nord Wearing Winter Camo

Soldier of 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord" wearing winter camouflage. The division was formed as SS-Kampfgruppe "Nord" in February 1941 in Norway but it was turned into a division in September 1941. It was composed of SS men used for garrison duties in Norway. Then it was transferred to Finnish Lapland prior to Operation Barbarossa as part of the German XXXVI. Gebirgs-Armeekorps under Armee-Oberkommando Norwegen. In July 1941 the division took part in Operation Silberfuchs with the German 169. Infanterie-Division and the Finnish 6th Division. Due to lack of training the soldiers were routed in the first attack against the Soviet forces at Salla. The division was later attached to the Finnish III Corps operating in the Kiestinki area. In September 1942 the division was renamed as the SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord" (SS Mountain Division "North") and in October 1943 finally as the 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord". In 1944 the division took part in the Lapland War against Finland. After pulling out of Finland the division was transferred to Denmark and later to Germany. "Nord" fought against US forces during Operation Nordwind in winter 1944-45. The division surrendered in May 1945 to US forces in Bavaria.

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Kleinheisterkamp with SS Nord Officers

Officers of SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord" with Finnish officers in Finland. From left to right: SS-Standartenführer Dr.-Med. Wilhelm Fehrensen (Divisionsarzt SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord") and SS-Gruppenführer und Generalleutnant der Waffen-SS Matthias Kleinheisterkamp (Kommandeur SS-Gebirgs-Division "Nord"). The picture was taken in the summer of 1943, probably after the award ceremony of the Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty 1st Class with Swords (Vapaudenristin Ritarikunta) for Divisionskommandeur Kleinheisterkamp in 13 May 1943. In this picture we can see the neck medal is hanging below the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes weared by Kleinheisterkamp.

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