Across the Dnieper

The summer of 1941, the Soviet Union. An SdKfz 10 towing a PaK 36 anti-tank gun crosses the wide Dnieper river on a pontoon bridge built by an engineer unit. The registration plate on the halftrack marks the vehicle as belonging to the Waffen-SS, which, because of the location, would make it belong to either SS-Division (mot) “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” (LAH) or SS-Division “Wiking”. The former was Hitler’s “life guard” unit, first among equals, while the latter was made up from “Germanic” volunteers from the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany.

Six Waffen-SS divisions participated in Operation Barbarossa: LAH, Das Reich, Totenkopf, Polizei, Wiking, and Nord. As the war progressed, a further 32 divisions were established, but many were understrength and/or of questionable quality. Several were used for anti-partisan warfare, where they committed war crimes. Even the “elite” formations were involved in war crimes, with the possible exception for Nord. Some of the “ethnic” double-digit divisions acquitted themselves well, but in general they were far from the elite formations some think was the norm for the entire Waffen-SS. They were part of the Nazi idea of a pan-European army fighting against Communism, but the vision of an Aryan elite clashed with reality. Some of the units, most notably Dirlewanger and the Kaminski Brigade, were little more than armed rabble and criminals.

Still, when the best divisions were in the frontline, there were few other formations that could rival them. The fighting spirit displayed made them feared and respected adversaries, but the taint of their war crimes and involvement in crimes against humanity tarnishes their memory.

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Please recycle

An Unteroffizier watching a train shipping airplane wreckage to the smelters as his train passes by. The star on the wing next to his head has a star, indicating that the scrap metal is the remains of destroyed Soviet airplanes. Germany was in constant need of metal for its arms production, and the many thousands of Red Army Air Force planes that had been wrecked on the ground or shot down were a valuable source of steel, aluminium and other metals. Perhaps the metal from SB 2M wreck in the previous post was recycled and used for German airplanes.

The battlefields across the globe were littered with wrecked tanks, trucks, airplanes and other war materiel, the cleanup after the war taking many years. Most were recovered as scrap metal and melted, but now, over 70 years later, wrecks of tanks and planes are recovered from bogs, lakes, seas and rivers, and carefully restored back to their original state, to be displayed in museums or even put back in running or flying condition. Right after the war, few thought of preserving those war machines, and in some cases there’s only a single plane or tank preserved of a production run in the thousands.

The Jagdpanther in the clip below was restored from two shot-up wrecks recovered from firing grounds, additional parts sourced from over a dozen collectors around the world. It is one of three Jagdpanthers in running condition, with a further seven kept in museums, out of a total production run of 415 tanks.

 

Gone to ground

A German cavalry unit has come across the wreck of a Soviet Tupolev SB 2M light bomber, its landing gear and engines ripped off in the crash landing. The location is somewhere in the Soviet Union, most likely during the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa. The Red Army Air Force suffered heavy losses, and it took the Soviets a couple of years before they had wrested air superiority from the Germans.

The Tupolev ANT-40, also known by its service name Tupolev SB (Russian: Skorostnoi Bombardirovschik – high speed bomber), was a twin-engined three-seat light bomber, first flown in 1934. More than 6,600 were built in different versions between 1936 and 1941. The rapid development of fighter planes made the design, which was considered successful in the mid-30s, in need of replacement by the early 1940’s. Still, 94 % of the Soviet bomber force was made up from SB 2Ms by the time of the German invasion in June, 1941, some 1,500-2,000 deployed near the border, where they fell victim to German attacks on airfields. Those that survived the initial onslaught were poorly used, and within a few days, losses forced most of the remaining SBs to switch to night attacks.

SBs continued to be used, in the defense of Leningrad and Moscow, mainly at night by attacking German artillery. By December 1941 almost all of the SBs had either been replaced by more modern bombers like Pe-2s or lost, although it remained in large-scale use until March 1942 in the North against Finland. The Finns used captured SBs against their previous owners. SBs continued in use for non-combat roles such as supply dropping, glider towing and training, and continued in use in the Far East until 1945.

One of 209,410

Private Hans Ringhardt was born in Rogzow, Pomerania, on 15 December, 1919. He was killed near Sorokino in Ukraine on 10 July, 1941, aged 21 years. Nothing more is known about him.

Of the 569,851 men born in Germany in 1919, 209,410 died in the war. That was 36.75 % of all men born that year. They turned 14 years old the year Hitler came to power, and had thus no say in the politics that ultimately led to their deaths. They were subjected to intense indoctrination for most of their teenage years. In war movies they are referred to as “Nazis”, as well as in games and cheap historical literature. Those young men didn’t have much say when it came to politics, as there had been no elections after 1933, and just a minority were members of the NSDAP. They suffered the consequences of decisions taken by others.

Last Train to Transsiberia

(Now there’s an obscure reference which will make one or two of my friends happy.) A Soviet VS-60 armored train stands wrecked and abandoned on a railway track, most likely knocked out by German forces during the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa. The VS-60 trains were among the lightest of the different types fielded by the Red Army. The car behind the locomotive was armed with two turrets with a 76,2 mm 1902 gun and a Maxim machinegun in each, and four more Maxim MGs. The type was introduced in 1931, and could also have a car with heavier armament.

The use of armored trains began in the later half of the 19th century, and was used by several major armies during WW1. Following the Russian Revolution, the Civil War saw extensive use of armored trains, which were an effective way of projecting firepower in a country with a poor road net. When WW2 rolled around, both Soviets and Germans used armored trains armed with machineguns, antiaircraft guns, cannons and howitzers, but the Soviets lost many of their trains in 1941.

There have been some armored trains in use in recent years, but those have tended to be local modifications in equally local conflicts.

Rolling forward

Vehicles of the leichte Flak-Abteilung 74 (mot) (74th light motorised anti-aircraft battalion) roll forward in the central sector of the Eastern Front in the dust and heat of the summer of 1941. The unit is equipped with Flak 30 2 cm caliber automatic AA guns. The unit symbol, an oakleaf and two acorns within a rectangle, can be seen on the right fender of the nearest gun.

The leichte Flak-Abteilung 74 (mot) was raised on 15 November 1938 in Essen-Kupferdreh from the II/Flak-Regiment 44. During the campaign in France, the battalion was suborned to the staff of Flak-Regiment 202. When the campaign in France was over, the battalion was deployed in the Dunkirk area. It was assigned to Panzer-Gruppe 1 in April 1941 and deployed in the Balkans. From June 1941, it fought in the USSR as part of Panzer-Gruppe 4, attached to the 20. Panzer-Division, and saw heavy action during the series of advances on Minsk and Smolensk, and took part in Operation Typhoon, the failed attack on Moscow. In 1942/43 the battalion was assigned to the staff of the 18. Flak-Division and from February 1944 to the staff of the Flak-Regiment 134. In November 1944, the battalion was deployed was in the Eifel mountains on the western border of Germany. There’s no information on the final fate of the unit, but it probably surrendered to Allied forces in the spring of 1945. 

Fieldworks, part 3

A machinegun position, the barrel of an MG 34 poking out. The men from a machinegun company in the 217. Infanterie-Division have taken up positions, possibly outside Leningrad, summer of 1941. Part of a trench system, the MG position is situated in a spot where it will be able to provide an interlocking field of fire together with other machineguns. As MG positions are prime targets for enemy fire, the success of any attack resting on the knocking out of enemy machineguns, it was imperative to have cover and camouflage.

The 217. Infanterie-Division was formed in August 1939 in Allenstein in East Prussia (now Olsztyn in Poland). The division took part in the invasion of Poland, where it was mainly used as a reserve unit. It participated in the fighting in Belgium and France, before going back to East Prussia in July, 1940, where it spent almost a year securing the border. In June 1941 it was part of Army Group North, invading the USSR and capturing Tallinn in Estonia. It saw action on the Leningrad front, but was rushed to Ukraine in October 1943 in order to stem the Red Army advance. The Infanterie-Regiment 311 was disbanded together with the rest of the division in November 1943 after suffering heavy losses.

 

This is what I could tell about trenches. The next posts on fieldworks will be about bunkers.