Dog of war

Something for you dog lovers this time. This Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (corporal) seems to love his (or his unit’s) dachshund. It isn’t possible to determine the branch he serves in, but at least he isn’t aircrew, as his collar patch would be lighter. The dachshund was bred to flush out badgers (German: Dachs), but this one is probably kept as a mascot and for company.

“Acht-acht”, part 2

This very nice photo of an “88” is in an album I own, once put together by a member of an as of yet unidentified Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit. The gun crew is showing their piece to a gaggle of officers and functionaries. The man on the right, wearing a swastika armband and an NSDAP badge, is probably a member of some Nazi Party organization. At first, I thought he was in the Reichsluftschutzbund (National Air Raid Protection League), but the uniform doesn’t look right for that. One of the little mysteries of the uniform-obsessed Reich

Other photos in the album show the unit advancing through the Soviet Union as part of Army Group South, possibly in the 1. Panzerarmee. A postcard shows that the unit reached Kislovodsk, deep in the Caucasus, in late 1942. I guess the anonymous Luftwaffe soldier made it out alive when the Red Army launched a counteroffensive in 1943, but his final fate remains unknown.

“Acht-acht”

One of the most well-known guns of WW2 was the 8.8 cm Flak 36 anti-aircraft gun, often referred to as the “Eighty-eight” or German “Acht-acht“. It had its origins in World War 1, but the versions that saw action during WW2 were developed in the 1920’s and 30’s. During the Spanish Civil War, it was discovered that the gun was very effective against vehicles, tanks and other ground targets.

It was mobile, but required an Sd.Kfz.7 half-track tractor to pull it. It could fire a 9.4 kilo grenade to an altitude of 9900 meters, posing a serious threat to Allied bombers. Used as an anti-tank gun, it could knock out most tanks at a range of up to 2 kilometers. The 8.8 cm gun was also the basis for the main gun of the Tiger tank, one of the most feared tanks of WW2.

In the photo, eight of the 11-man crew are visible. Flak batteries were operated by the Luftwaffe, and the stationary batteries defending German cities were often crewed by boys aged 15-16 years old. One of many ironies of the war was that many of the crews serving these powerful guns weren’t old enough to buy a beer.

Your tax money at work

Curious German civilians crowd around a Messerschmitt Bf 109, probably an E-1, patiently waiting in line to get a chance to take a look in the cockpit. It’s apparently a publicity stunt, showing the people that Germany possessed some of the finest fighter aircraft in the world. The all-metal construction, powerful engine, and, starting with the E-3, improved armament made it a respected adversary on all fronts.

The Bf 109 was the mainstay of the Luftwaffe, serving in different versions during the entire war. 33,984 were built between 1936 and 1945, making it the most numerous fighter aircraft in history. It was the mount of aces like Adolf Galland, Hans-Joachim Marseille, Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall, and the ace of all aces: Erich Hartmann, who with his 352 aerial victories will probably never be bested.

Today, just a few original Bf 109’s are in flying condition. The roar of their Daimler-Benz engines can still be heard at some airshows, and I hope to see one in the air sometime before I die.

 

Junked Junkers

A crash-landed Junkers Ju 88, probably an A-4. The Ju 88 was a twin-engined multirole combat aircraft, which turned out to be one of the most versatile and successful airplane designs of WW2. This one didn’t enjoy much success, though, but at least the crew had a decent chance of walking away from the wreck.

The Ju 88 saw service in many different version, like a bomber, dive bomber, radar-equipped night fighter, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter, and even flying bomb. In 1943, 105 Ju 88 A-4s were used in the attack on the port of Bari, one of the most succesful Luftwaffe attacks of the war, resulting in the sinking of 28 Allied ships. The Germans lost just one aircraft in the raid. One covered up effect of the attack was the release of mustard gas, which was carried on one of the sunk US ships, injuring hundreds of sailors, medical personnel and civilians, killing at least 83. One of the reasons the presence of chemical weapons was hushed down was that the Allies didn’t want the Germans to consider using gas on the battlefield. Hitler, who had been a victim of a gas attack during WW1, opposed its use (one of the few moral things he did), and if it had become known that the Allies had a ship full of artillery gas grenades, he might have reconsidered that decision.

Only two complete Ju 88s have survived the war. I’ve seen one of them, which is kept at the RAF Museum in Hendon, just north of London. The museum is a must to visit if one has an interest in combat aircraft of the 20th century.

General unpleasantness

An unnamed British Lieutenant General inspects a Luftwaffe honor guard, sometime in 1935 or 1936. The German Generalleutnant right behind him is Walther von Reichenau. He was born in 1884, joined the army in 1902, and served in the First World War. After the war, he continued his military career. When he was introduced to Hitler by an uncle in 1932, he became a loyal follower and joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party), despite the army regulations that were there to keep the army and politics separate. Apart from furthering his career, he opposed the radical SA (Sturmabteilung) leader Ernst Röhm, who had pressed for SA to become the major military force in the new Reich. Conspiring with Himmler and Göring, he was one of the instigators of “the Night of the Long Knives” in 1934, where Röhm and other leaders of the SA were purged and executed.

In 1938 Adolf Hitler wanted to appoint him as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Leading figures in the German Army complained and Gerd von Rundstedt, Franz Halder and Ludwig Beck all refused to serve under him. The job went to Friedrich von Brauchitsch instead. von Reichenau led armies in both the invasion of Poland and of France, and was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall in 1940. One would think that such an ardent Nazi and career officer would favor the plans for an attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, but von Reichenau actually opposed them. This didn’t stop him from being appointed to lead the 6th Army.

Once committed to the war in the East, he led the 6th Army in capturing Kiev, Belgorod, Kharkov and Kursk. An anti-semite, Reichenau encouraged his soldiers to commit atrocities against the Jews in the territory under his control (the “Reichenau Order”). On one occasion he told his men: “In this eastern theatre, the soldier is not only a man fighting in accordance with the rules of the art of war… For this reason the soldier must learn fully to appreciate the necessity for the severe but just retribution that must be meted out to the subhuman species of Jewry…” All Jews were henceforth to be treated as de facto partisans, and commanders were directed that they be either summarily shot or handed over to the Einsatzgruppen execution squads.

In other matters, he displayed some sound thinking, like recognizing the Soviet superiority in armor and the risks attached to it, the need for recruiting Ukrainians and Byelorussians to fight the Red Army alongside the Wehrmacht, and the risk of increasing partisan warfare. Reichenau used to go on a daily cross-country run in order to keep fit. On 12 January, 1942, he ran several kilometers in temperatures well below -20 degrees Celcius. When he returned, he had a severe heart attack (some sources say that it was a stroke). After being unconscious for five days, it was decided to fly him back to Germany. Walter von Reichenau died on 17 January 1942, when the plane carrying him to Leipzig crash-landed and he reportedly suffered a fatal heart attack. His funeral was performed with the usual pomp of the Third Reich. Hitler did not attend his funeral.

He was succeeded by General Friedrich Paulus, who took command of the 6th Army. Paulus was a staff officer who had never led a unit larger than a battalion. A year later, he surrendered to the Soviets in the ruins of Stalingrad, his army in tatters. What would have happened if von Reichenau, a much more competent and decisive officer, hadn’t died? One thing is pretty sure, though: if he had survived to the end of the war, he would’ve been one of the generals on trial in Nürnberg, and would probably have ended up in the gallows as a war criminal.

A boy and his cat (and soldier father)

It’s Caturday again, and the son of that Luftwaffe soldier is so proud of his cat, that he wants it in the family photo. The soldier himself appears to belong to a ground unit, possibly an antiaircraft unit. He also seems a bit older, probably in his 30’s. Family photos are common among soldiers’ photos, and while they aren’t that interesting from a military aspect, they meant a lot to the people in the photographs. Sometimes a collector stumbles on a photo that has something extra, making it a keeper. This is one of those.