Part 11: Dash to the Oder River
Episode 11: Dash to the Oder River: Youtube, Polsy
Tin Tim posted:
Since we're now knee-deep in the eastern front, I think it's as good a time as any to tell a story. It's kinda , so read at your own discretion.
My grandfather was a German soldier and fought in Russia. I know very little about his life during these times, as he was very tight lipped about the whole thing. This was mainly due to his wounds in body and mind, but I assume he just didn't want to remember any of it. I think I should also say that I don't think that he was a follower of the ideology, since I never saw him talk or act in a way that would suggest that. I wish this could also be said for his second wife, but that's another story altogether. What I do know about his time in the war, is made from a few bits and pieces he mentioned along the line, and the things he told me when I spent the better part of a summer with him. I'm trying to make this as coherent as possible.
He served as a Panzergrenadier, which is basically a term for the infantry units that accompany tank divisions. I learned of that when he opened to me, but I'm going to describe that event a bit later. Anyway, since I didn't really have a concept of what a Panzergrenadier is, I assumed he would have fought against tanks. But he briefly explained it to me, and also told me that one of his "jobs" was to dig a hole, hide in it with a mine, and wait for a Russian tank to drive over his hole so that he could slap the mine on their bottom. This was a very brief exchange and I was pretty young, but I understood what a fucked up thing that must have been, so I didn't press him about it. He also was visibly shaken after mentioning this little part.
I said that he was wounded in his mind for a good reason. When I was a lad, I visited him for a few weeks of my summer. The second edition of WH:40k just recently came over to Germany, so I had the rule books with me for reading. As kids tend to do, I left my shit all over the house. So one day, when I was at the beach, he cleaned up after me and found the books. Reading them disturbed him greatly. The detailed descriptions of shooting, close combat and especially morale effects, appeared to him as a handbook to prepare the next generation for another war. He even went so far as to take the books to his friends, who did community work in his area, and told them about it. They told him that this was not what he was thinking, but he had a hard time to let go of his suspicions. When he confronted me about it, I explained to him that these were just rule books for a game. A war game. I'll never forget how he looked at me when I said that. The concept that people would see war as a game was very disturbing for him. A reaction like this, isn't replicable for someone who hasn't experienced the horrors he probably did. Since I was young, I also didn't really had a concept of it. But the whole thing shook him deeply, and I also didn't press him about it. Like, he had to lie down later and we never really spoke about such things ever again.
But this little episode also made him tell me a few bits and pieces. Like how his unit marched into Russia, wearing shirts and shorts since it was summer. But when the winter came, the army wouldn't send them proper clothing, for whatever fucked up reason, and that they had to wear the clothes of the dead. German and Russian. And how hellish constant temperatures of −20°C (-4°F) are, when you have no real clothes or fucking gloves. We had dinner one time, and I didn't really like what we ate. He got a bit mad at me, and gave me a lecture along the lines of "be thankful for what you have", and finished it by telling me his happiest memory of his time in Russia. It was when his unit found some flour in a burned mill, and made a loaf of bread. I swear, I'm not making this up. To understand that, you have to know about the Russian doctrine during that time, "Scorched Earth". They would torch and destroy all their villages and small towns, so that the German army couldn't use them for shelter or to scavenge supplies. This had great effects, as the German supply situation was already fucked up to begin with. Since I was young, being happy about a loaf of bread was a really alien thought to me. But I understood that part when I got older.
I also said that he was wounded in body, so let me close on that one. My grandfather had a damaged knee, couldn't really walk much without pain, and often used a cane. He also had shivers in his arms and legs, which came and went as they pleased. In total, he was a pretty feeble old man. I asked my family why his knee was damaged, but they always said that I'd have to ask him. As a boy, I kinda didn't dared to. Don't really know why, but I guess I feared that he would be mad about it or something. Anyway, he had a lot of little toy and model planes in his home. It was the Junkers Ju 52. When I asked him why, he told me that it saved his live. Naturally I wanted to know why and so he told me how he survived the war.
His unit was defending an airstrip somewhere in Russia. They were badly outnumbered and short on supplies, and it was pretty much a forlorn battle. An artillery shell hit close to where my grandfather was, and a piece of shrapnel cut into his knee. He also suffered some light wounds and a concussion. So he just crawled towards the airstrip, not knowing why, just to get away I think. A Junkers Ju had just landed a few moments earlier, but since the defense of the airport fell right about that time, they were dumping all the supplies to get away quickly. One of the crew saw my grandfather crawling towards the strip, told the pilot to wait and dragged him into the plane. I have no idea what happened to any other comrades of my grandfather, and also didn't ask about it. He told me that those moments were like a blur, without any coherent thought, but that he saw the plane and made the decision to crawl towards it. This is one of the luckiest stories I've ever heard, and I swear that I'm not making it up. I vividly remember how he looked when he told me that. Very humble, but also small and sad. Anyway, the exact details of what came after that are sketchy, but from my father I learned that he ended up as a POW in England. There he worked in an engineering bureau, and was also allowed to study engineering. Sometime after the war ended, he was sent home with other POWs.
So yeah, that's the story of my grandfather. While writing this, I realize how bizarre it is that we enjoy so many war games today. I'm not absolving myself here. I really like shooter games, and have a great interest in weapons and military things. But I do know how blessed I am to not have experienced any of it personally.
I'm going to use this discussion to point all the Germans who want to find out more about family members who served in the Wehrmacht to the "WAst" (Deutsche Dienststelle für die Benachrichtigung der nächsten Angehörigen von Gefallenen der ehemaligen deutschen Wehrmacht) in Berlin.
You put in a request with all the information you have. They then look through files and send you copies of what can be found on your relative. It costs some money, but that is merely an administrative fee. Note though, that it is likely to take a long time for them to get back to you with the results and that it is possible that they do not have any files on your relatives. You might also have to do a good amount of research yourself and put the information they give you into context (i.e. they might tell you a unit, but you would have to find out where that unit was operating, etc.). Also note that this is an official agency.
Edit: Damn it, forgot the link. http://www.dd-wast.de/
There was also a discussion on the various powers underestimating eachother, even in the later stages of the war, which eventually prompted this extremely insightful post:
The important factor with this is simply awareness, American propaganda did use the image of women working in the factories to the extent that Rosie the Riveter became an icon. German propaganda obviously could not do this, as it would conflict with the ideology and believes that women should first and foremost be mothers. The racial factor had a huge influence there. Look up "Mutterkreuz" if you're interested, it's a good example.
Coolguye posted:There are also a few social factors at work [in the population gaps]. American factories very happily hired women when an entire generation of men went off to war - I'm sure everyone remembers Rosie the Riveter because she's still a feminist icon today. There was still a lot of more conservative sentiment in Germany at the time that said a woman's place was in the home, so they ended up having to do some social gymnastics with assigning people who weren't QUITE fit for infantry duty to factory work instead.
I don't have a great insight on the fine details to this. I'm positive there were plenty of female factory/industrial workers in various parts of Germany simply due to the realities of time and space. But the government certainly did not actively promote the idea of women doing their part for the war effort by welding tanks together.
In the later stages of the war the youth groups (BDM and HJ respectively) were also widely employed as a work force in the factories, while the service as workers on farms was already integral part of their activities before the war, known as "Landdienst" (Country Service, but country in its rural sense).
The realities of time and space were also much more extreme than most people imagine, especially considering who was later seen as fit for infantry service, i.e. every man able to walk (note: this was common practice during the later years):
Also look up "Volkssturm" if you're interested.
[The technological advantage] was, at least in my opinion, actually on the German side. The big problem was that Germany was never able to compete with the huge industrial capacity of the US. Considering the situation it is remarkable that they went on as long as they did. To give a striking example: from 1941 (or 1942, I'm not sure about the exact year) about 50%, and gradually more as the war went on, of German fuel was synthesized!
The argument of manpower is quite interesting. During the course of the war around 17 million men served in the German military, which is 21,5% of the overall population of 1939. If the US had fielded the same percentage, that number be around 27 million men (based on the 1940 population of the US). The amount they actually fielded was 16 million (if that's wrong please correct me, I only did a very quick search on this). Granted, these are very shallow and quick calculations that don't really say much in light of all the factors at work here, but it still makes you think.