Hogging it

Somewhere  on the Eastern Front, mid-february 1943. German soldiers are apparently “procuring” a pig, which runs the risk of ending up at pork chops, roasts, and sausages. A couple of months earlier, those same troops were probably looking for a goose – or in a pinch a duck – for their Christmas dinner. It wasn’t without risk, though. Those Germans who ended up as prisoners of war, and who were found out to have engaged in theft of property of the Soviet state (like the pig above), could get several years added to their involuntary stay in the USSR.

Fresh meat was an appreciated addition to the diet on the frontline. Unless it was an army horse finally giving in to the hardships, or a wild animal, it meant that some Soviet farmer (or kolhoz) lost a cow, or sheep, or brace of chickens. As the Soviet civilians fared badly under the occupation, losing the one cow that could give milk was a serious matter. Later, when the Red Army harried the collapsing Reich, German farmers got to experience what the people under German occupation had endured for years.


Winter market

Civilians try to sell their meagre surplus at a market in Nikolayev, Ukraine. An old man has laid out iron scrap and tools on a cloth, while his neighbor offers some old shoes and a suitcase. A couple of German soldiers look on, perhaps shopping for souvenirs to send back home. The Ukrainians are old; all the men fit for army service are either dead, captive, or in the Red Army, fighting to stop the invaders.

Nikolayev is a city on the river Bug. Today, it’s known under its Ukrainian name, Mykolaiv. Less than two months after Operation Barbarossa was launched, Mykolaiv was occupied on 16 August 1941. In September, German forces massacred over 35,000 non-combatants, many of them Jews, in the city and the surrounding area. The massacre was carried out by Einsatzgruppe D under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Otto Ohlendorf, who was later convicted at the Einsatzgruppen trial of the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death by hanging. The killings were committed by many of the same troops who carried out the massacre at Babi Yar, and the victims were counted and described in an Einsatzgruppen document dated October 2, 1941 as “Jews and Communists”.

The Einsatzgruppen were units tasked with the extermination of those deemed inferior or threats, like Jews, Communists, intellectuals, and other “undesirables”. The Wehrmacht was at least partially involved in the actions of the death squads, and most soldiers knew about the killings, at least through rumors. The propaganda tried to portray the murders as “anti-partisan actions”, and while some partisans were caught and killed, the absolute majority of the victims were innocent civilians.

During the occupation, an underground partisan sabotage group, the “Mykolaiv Center” conducted guerilla activities. The city was liberated on 28 March 1944.

Red Cross, Black Swastika

A busy winter scene at a railway station somewhere in the sprawling Third Reich. Troops from a cavalry unit stand around while women from the Deutches Rotes Kreuz (DRK; German Red Cross) are preparing to serve something hot, perhaps coffee or soup. In the background, railway employees walk with snow shovels over their shoulders. The soldiers are probably on their way to the Eastern Front, a journey that usually took several days, sometimes waiting on railway sidings for other trains to pass, and then the dangerous travel through partisan-infested areas. The DRK, as one of the auxiliary organizations helping the Wehrmacht, was there to offer relief.

Instituted in 1864 , the DRK was a voluntary civil assistance organization that was officially acknowledged by the Geneva Convention in 1929. One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles prevented the DRK from having any involvement in military matters, but with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the DRK, like most other organizations in the Third Reich, was nazified (those that weren’t were prohibited). Leftist and Jewish members and staff were kicked out, and those who remained were expected to conform to Nazi ideology. After the defeat of Germany, the DRK was outlawed like all other Nazi organizations, and had to start afresh. The German Red Cross of today has nothing to do with the doings of the DRK of 1933-45.

“Verdammt! Was nun?”

A narrow dirt road, a soft road shoulder, a 10,5-cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18 weighing some two tons ends up in the ditch. No way the 17 soldiers will get the howitzer back on its wheels and hitched to the limber again. They’ll have to wait for a half-tracked tractor to pull it right. The body language of the artillerymen tells that they realise that there isn’t much they can do. Or is it? We will never know how they got the gun back on the road. One or two of the men in the photo might still be alive. They’ve seen things ordinary people wouldn’t believe. Tanks on fire in the fields near Kursk. They’ve watched tracers glitter in the dark in the Korsun Pocket. All those moments will be lost in time, like snow in the spring. Too few are still alive.

Howitzer on ice

A serene scene, a column of 9.7 ton Sd.Kfz. 7 artillery tractors towing 15-cm schwere Feldhaubitze sFH 18 howitzers through a fir forest, the boughs laden with snow. One can almost hear the idling engines, muffled by the trees. But there’s a hidden danger… The sign warns of Glatteis – black ice – which the tracked vehicles don’t have any greater problem negotiating, but which the towed guns might have. Without snow chains, the hard rubber tires might skid if there’s a sharp turn, and 5.3 tons of hardware could end up in a ditch… What would that look like? See tomorrow’s post.

Just a flesh wound

Two soldiers and a an NCO posing next to a sign saying “Leichtkranken-Lazarett“, Eastern Front, winter of 1941-42. A Leichtkranken-[Kriegs]lazarett was a hospital behind the frontlines, where lightly wounded or those with a light illness were treated. They were expected to return to their units as soon as possible. For more serious cases, there were the Kriegslazarett, and also the hospitals back home. There was a total of 68 field hospital batallions, each fielding two field hospitals for severe cases and two field hospitals for lightly wounded, with a capacity of 1,000 patients for each Kriegslazarett.

In the case of a field hospital for lightly wounded, the staff consisted of 34 men: a chief physician, 2 ward doctors, 2 assistant doctors, a pharmacist with one assistant, a Sergeant major, 4 station supervisors (1 also serving as disinfector and bath overseer), a maintenance technician, 2 clerks, 2 medical corporals for the X-ray machines, 3 paramedic NCOs (1 for surgeon service, 1 for X-ray service, 1 barber), 2 more clerks, a cobbler, a carpenter, a bricklayer, a blacksmith, an MC driver, 4 truck drivers, and 2 cooks.

The field hospitals had much to do, but every time there was a major offensive or battle, their capacity was strained to the limit. Many hundreds of thousands of patients passed through them during the war, and countless soldiers had them to thank for their survival.

And now a reminder of…

The Grand World War 2 in Photos Contest!

This is my 200th post, and it’s time to celebrate with something special! Why not a little contest? As you might have noticed, I like to make puns and references to movies, books, and songs, and a number of the headlines in my posts are just that. So the challenge is the following: find as many of those puns and references you can. The three best contestants will win genuine German photos from WW2.

The rules:

  1. The contest ends on 31 December 2017, 24:00 CET.
  2. To enter, the contestant has to register as a follower of this blog. A contestant cannot enter more than once. Failing to register as a follower or trying to enter more than once are grounds for disqualification.
  3. The contestant who can identify the greatest number of sources for my puns and references will win. Two more contestants will win the 2nd and 3rd prizes.
  4. Points are scored by properly identifying the source or inspiration for a blog post headline. This could be a book, movie, TV series, song, or game. There are about 40 such headlines, counting from the beginning to 2 December, 2017. Any post made during the time for the contest (3 – 31 December, 2017) aren’t part of it and doesn’t count towards that total. Each correct answer scores one point.
  5. A post headline were the source is identified in the post doesn’t count. (Example: “Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major”, as the song is clearly mentioned in that post.)
  6. Write down the headline of the post and what you believe is the inspiration or source for the pun or reference. (Example: If there’s a blog post about field bakeries in WW2 named “The Baked and the Bread”, the answer should include that headline and the source, which is the novel “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer.)
  7. Make a single list of your answers and send it to bjorn.hellqvist[at]comhem.se before the contest ends. Once the answers have been submitted, you can’t make additions to the list.

The 1st prize is 30 photos, the 2nd prize is 20 photos, and the 3rd prize is 10 photos, worth about 5 USD/Euro per 10 photos (sorry, no photos of tanks or other cool stuff). If two or more contestants get the same score, they’ll receive an equal number of photos. Two 1st prize winners get 25 photos each, the 3rd winner gets 10, or in the case of two 2nd prize winners, the 1st prize is 30 photos and the two 2nd prizes 15 photos each. If all three get the same score, they’ll win 20 photos each. In case there are more than three contestants with the same scores, those who sent in their answers first will win.

Good luck!

Between the battles

A Mercedes-Benz Typ L1500 A Mannschaftwagen (L301) outside a burned-out apartment building, probably in the Rzhev area during the winter of 1942-43. The all-terrain vehicle is very easy to confuse with the mittlere geländegängige Personenkraftwagen (medium cross country passenger car), type Kfz. 12, which was built by Steyr, Wanderer and Opel. It had a similar function, though, and 4,900 cars were made between 1941 and 1943.

The cross on the side of the vehicle (and faintly seen on the back) is most likely a divisional sign, and not the Balkencreuz painted on German vehicles in almost every war movie. Contrary to popular belief, soft-skinned vehicles (trucks, cars) rarely carried the cross seen on armored vehicles. Anyway, a yellow cross was used by the 72. Infanterie-Division, and I think that it’s the likeliest candidate for the unit having its car park outside those ruins.

The 72. Infanterie-Division was raised in 1939 in Trier, and took part in the campaigns in France 1940, the Balkans in 1941, and then the Soviet Union a couple months later. It saw heavy action on the Eastern Front, and suffered severe losses when breaking out of the Korsun Pocket in February 1944. The division was rebuilt and sent back into the fray. In January 1945, the division was mauled at the Baranow bridgehead on the Vistula, and after a retreat the division surrendered to the Red Army in May 1945 in the Erzgebirge region of Czechoslovakia.

When reading about this or that division taking heavy losses, it’s easy to forget that a division is more than 10,000 men suffering hardships, many of them never returning home. While the strategic and operational narratives are important in order to understand the flow of the war, it is the reading of personal accounts that puts a human aspect on the events. The rest of my posts for this month will (with a couple of exceptions) be more about the people fighting and enduring the war, and the times they could enjoy a temporary escape from the hardships.