This young Panzerschütze had his photo taken in October, 1940. He had served in either the 1. or the 2. Panzer-Division in the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and then probably in Poland, France, and the USSR. The black-red-black medal ribbon of the Sudetenland Medal can be seen at the bottom of the photo; the medal was awarded to troops which had participated in the occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938, and/or the occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Both divisions saw extensive action all through the war, and it’s pretty likely that the young man above, whose name was Robert, didn’t live through to the end of it.
If he served in the 2. Panzer-Division and made it as far as to December, 1944, he might have fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where the Germans made a final desperate bid to beat the Allies on the Western Front. The battle was the theme for the 1965 movie “Battle of the Bulge”, which was inaccurate enough to compel former Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower to come out of retirement to denounce the movie. Possibly the sole redeeming feature of the movie is a stirring rendition of “Panzerlied” – the Tank Song. The final verse reads like this in translation:
And if we are abandoned by treacherous luck,
And if we don’t return home again,
If death’s bullet finds us, and fate calls us away, yes, us away.
Then our tank shall become an iron grave!
The older sergeant is played by German actor Hans Christian Blech, himself a WW2 veteran.