Lost in the mists of time

A 21-cm-Mörser 18 fires a 113 kilogram grenade during the Battle of France, 1940. The back of the photo has a note saying “In Frankreich 1940 1./736“. This give a clue as to the identity of the artillery unit, which appears to be the first battery of the schwere Artillerie-Abteilung 736 (mot). The motorized heavy artillery battalion was an independent unit, as were the other 140 heavy artillery battalions in the German army. While “Mörser” translates as “mortar”, the gun is actually a howitzer; Mörser was the designation used by the Germans for howitzers of 20 cm caliber and greater.

The 736th is an obscure unit. It was raised on 10 December 1939, and originally equipped with captured Czech howitzers, but just a couple of days later it got the 21-cm-Mörser 18 instead. As evident, it took part in the Battle of France in 1940, then in 1941 it fought in the USSR as part of Army Group Center. It probably surrendered to the Red Army in 1945. That there’s little known about many units isn’t unusual. Records, war diaries and other documents were lost during or after the war. Some were destroyed before a unit surrendered, while those that fell in enemy hands could end up in some archive, were they became promptly forgotten. This poses a challenge to historians, to say the least.

In my search for information, I came across just one individual associated with the unit. A Hauptmann (Captain) Walter Wreth was awarded the German Cross in Gold, a medal ranking between the Iron Cross 1st class and the Knight’s Cross, on 14 July 1944. It’s possible that he’s identical to a Walter Wreth born in 1915, and who passed away in 1982 in Bremen. While three other soldiers with that name died during the war or in captivity just after the war, none of them were of the correct rank.

So, this is probably the only photo online featuring the schwere Artillerie-Abteilung 736. That says something about how frail the historical record can be.

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Big badaboom

It looks harmless enough on the ground, but the SC 1000 (Sprengbombe Cylindrisch 1000 – cylindrical high explosive bomb) was the heaviest of the common bombs in use with the Luftwaffe (there were heavier bombs). Weighing in at just a little over 1000 kilos, the bomb was filled with a mixture of 530-620 kilos of amatol and TNT, depending on sub-type. Another version, used against merchant shipping, contained a different mix of explosives intended to cause fires on top of the blast damage. There was a variety of fuses, from impact fuses to delay fuses and time fuses.

The SC 1000 was delivered by Heinkel He 111s, Dornier Do 217s, and Heinkel He 177s. Undetonated bombs are occasionally found more than 70 years after they were dropped, requiring defusing and controlled destruction.

Defusing bombs is a delicate task, and takes skill and nerves as demonstrated in the clip below.