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.

Source :
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.

Source :
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

Street Fighting at Poventsa

Not having learned from the failed attacks during the winter of 1941-42, the Soviets again attempted to strike at the Finnish lines during the summer of 1942. This image shows the street-to-street fighting and burning of houses in Poventsa on 2 July 1942. The Finnish soldier is armed with Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun. After the initial zeal of the attack phase in summer-autumn of 1941, the Finns were content to guard their defensive positions and to bide their time until the end of the global conflict. On most fronts the war stagnated into a period of trench warfare, not to be broken before the Normandy landings and the concurrent major Soviet offensive. In the interim, both sides considerably downsized their forces on the front. The Soviets did carry out several small-scale attempts at breaching the lines, but these efforts lacked the focus of the whole army. During the winter of 1942, the Finns themselves executed an audacious plan to capture Suursaari Island. Other notable actions during this period were those made by the long-range reconnaissance patrols, which executed reconnaissance and sabotage missions deep inside the USSR. Mostly, the men just waited, and grew accustomed to the daily routines of the trenches.

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

Finnish Light Mortar Team at Hanko

During the Summer War in 1941, the Finns were content to disturb the supply of and contain the Soviet garrison at Hanko. Here, light mortars are shown firing from their protective trenches on the Hanko front. At the start of the war, the Soviet naval base on the leased Hanko Peninsula had been surrounded by Group Hanko. This included the 17th Division and the 4th Coastal Brigade. The Finnish Navy tried to disrupt the Soviets from reinforcing their garrison and applied pressure from the cover of the nearby archipelago. At its height, the Soviet troops at Hanko numbered around 35,000 men, supported by heavy artillery and tanks. The main fear at the time was that this strong force would attack straight into western Finland. In general, the Finns were content to leave the Soviets alone and tried to soften the motti rather than risk losing men in capturing the base. With winter drawing near, the position of the Red Army and Navy at Hanko became more precarious. During the thaw and the season of open seas, the relatively weak Finnish Navy was unable to bring about a decisive victory. However, the ocean would soon freeze, allowing the army to bring in overwhelming numbers. Therefore, on 2 December 1941, the Soviets abandoned the area under the cover of darkness.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

Gretl Braun, Sister of Eva Braun

Youngest of the three daughters of Fritz and Franziska Braun, Margarete Berta "Gretl" Braun (31 August 1915 – 10 October 1987) was born three years after Eva, the famous mistress of Adolf Hitler. They lived in an apartment on the second floor of No. 93 Hohenzollernstrasse, in Münich, (the house still stands). An adventurous and carefree girl, Eva nicknamed her 'Mogerl' because she was often sulking. She spent considerable time with her sister at the Berghof, which Eva loved to call the Grand Hotel. She married Hans Georg Otto Hermann Fegelein (37) a lieutenant general in the Waffen SS, on June 3, 1944, in the Salzburg town hall. The reception was held at the Berghof and later at Hitler's mountain retreat on the Kehlstein (The Eagles Nest), the only real party ever held there! During the last days of the Third Reich, Fegelein, concerned for his own safety, tried to escape from Berlin but was discovered and arrested soon after he left his apartment at 10/11 Bleibtreu Strasse, Charlottenburg, with a large suitcase containing passports, jewellery and money. Next day, Hitler ordered him shot and he was taken out into the Chancellery garden and executed. An effort was made by Eva Braun to save him but to no avail. His body has never been found. Gretl Fegelein survived the war and gave birth to a daughter, Eva Barbara Fegelein, named after her aunt Eva Braun, on May 5, 1945. (Eva Barbara Fegelein committed suicide in 1975 after an unhappy love affair) Her mother, Gretl Fegelein, married her second husband, businessman Kurt Berlinghoff, on February 6, 1954, and lived at Agnes-Bernauer-Strasse 60, in Munich-Laim. The name Fegelein was never mentioned again in the Braun household. "Gretl" Berlinghoff died in 1987 at the age of 73. The picture was taken by Hugo Jaeger

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Adolf Hitler's Mistress Eva Braun

Eva Braun (6 February 1912 - 30 April 1945) first met Adolf Hitler in 1929 through a photographer and mutual friend, Heinrich Hoffmann. She adored him almost immediately. By 1929, Eva and Hitler were lovers and they lived together in his flat in Munich, despite her father’s opposition, who disliked Hitler as a person, as well as his political beliefs. Eva was not happy and, in 1932, she tried to kill herself. Hitler responded by buying her a villa and providing her with luxuries. In spite of this, she made another attempt in 1935. Hitler and Eva rarely appeared in public together; as a result most Germans were not aware that Hitler had a mistress. In 1936, Eva moved to Hitler’s country retreat at Berchtesgaden. She led a reclusive life most of the time, except when Hitler and his entourage came to stay. In 1945, with the Russians closing in on Berlin, Eva moved to the Berlin bunker to be with Hitler. On 29 April, Hitler and Eva were finally married, before both committing suicide. Hitler left orders for both bodies to be cremated in the Reich Chancellery garden. Rumours persisted after their deaths that Eva and Hitler had both survived and escaped, but this seems highly unlikely.

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German Actress Hannelore Schroth

German actress Hannelore Schroth posed in a chair in the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) during an artists reception for the 4th "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung" (Great German Art Exhibition), Berlin, 27 July 1940. Schroth (10 January 1922 – 7 July 1987), was a German film, stage and television actress whose career spanned over five decades. Born Hannelore Emilie Käte Grete Schroth in Berlin in 1922, she was the daughter of popular stage and film actors Heinrich Schroth and Käthe Haack. Her older half-brother was actor and film director Carl-Heinz Schroth (1902-1989), who was the product of Schroth's father's earlier marriage to Else Ruttersheim. Schroth began her career as a child actress, and made her film debut at the age of nine in 1931's Max Ophüls' comedy "Dann schon lieber Lebertran" opposite her mother. Until age sixteen she attended drama school in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her early film successes include Spiel im Sommerwind (1938), Weisser Flieder (1939) and Kitty und die Weltkonferenz (1939) - the latter of which was her first leading role. During World War II, Hannelore Schroth continued performing in films. Unlike her father, Heinrich Schroth, who was by then appearing in Nazi propaganda films such as the notorious 1940 anti-Semitic "Jud Süß", Hannelore avoided overtly political films, such as her appearance in 1945's romantic drama Unter den Brücken (English: Under the Bridges). After the war, she continued her work extensively in film and returned to the theatre, with engagements in Vienna, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Berlin and Munich. In addition to theatre and appearing in German films as an actress, in the 1950s Schroth began a career as a voice actress, dubbing many English language films into German. Some of which include Jane Wyman's character of Carolina Hill in "Just for You" (1952), Shirley MacLaine in "Irma La Douce" (1963), Elizabeth Taylor's role as Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) and Ingrid Bergman's role as Golda Meir in "A Woman Called Golda" (1982). In her later years, Schroth began appearing on West German television, as well as appearing on stage and in film. The picture was taken by Hugo Jaeger.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

German Actress Marieluise Claudius

German actress Marieluise Claudius leans back in a chair in the Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) during an artists reception for the 4th "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung" (Great German Art Exhibition), Berlin, 27 July 1940. A prolific film actress during the 1930s, Claudius (6 January 1912 – 2 August 1941) was the daughter of the court actor and writer Erich Claudius and the actress Lisbeth Reschke. During her childhood, she appeared several times on the stage of the Meininger Theater. Her first engagement was in 1932 in Düsseldorf. At the age of 29 years she died of heart failure and was buried in the New Cemetery Wannsee in Berlin. Her grave has since been lost. The picture was taken by Hugo Jaeger

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