Going where?

Sometime later in the war (1943 or later), an NCO looks out a train window. Is he going to or from the front? Is he on a two-week leave? There’s no way to tell.

Train travel was the most common mode of long-distance transport. Troops, supplies and materiel went thousands of kilometers all over Europe, and that made trains, bridges, railway hubs and marshalling yards prime targets for Allied bombers and fighter-bombers. Strafing attacks of trains destroyed many thousands of passenger and freight cars, as well as locomotives. The Allied pilots seldom had the opportunity to tell whether a train was transporting troops or civilians; if it didn’t display red cross markings, it was fair game. The attacks severely disrupted German troop movements and supply trains.

When I was a teenager, I worked together with a German, Günther, who was 15 years old when the war ended. He lived in the countryside north of Berlin, and one spring day in 1945, he was biking alongside a railway track some distance away. A train with freight cars with brabed wire across the small windows high up on the sides was chugging along, when a couple of Allied figther-bombers appeared. They began to shoot up the train. Günther threw himself in a ditch for cover, and saw hands stretched out of the openings, waving anything white. It seems like the train was carrying concentration camp prisoners. He didn’t stay around to check, and left as soon as the airplanes had run out of ammunition.

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.

Too heavy machinegun

The crew of an MG 08 training in the use of the weapon. The Maschinengewehr 08 was the German version of Sir Hiram Maxim’s water-cooled machinegun, originally patented in 1883. The scourge of the battlefields of World War 1, the gun was relegated to second-line units in time for WW2. At 69 kilos (cooling water included), it was very heavy, and thus not practical for aggressive battlefield tactics. It was better suited for static positions, for example trenches and bunkers. Lighter machineguns, like the MG 34 and later MG 42, became the standard weapons.

The soldiers in the photo belong to a Luftwaffe anti-aircraft unit. Closest to the camera is the commander, an NCO, observing the target through a pair of Zeiss 6×30 binoculars. The loader feeds a cloth belt holding 250 rounds. The gunner fires in bursts to prevent the weapon from overheating, averaging about 600 rounds per minute. Two riflemen support the gun crew, and also act as ammunition carriers.

The British referred to the MG 08 as the “Spandau”, after the arsenal in Berlin, a name that spilled over on other German machinguns.

“Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant Major”

Each Company had a sergeant major responsible for keeping order and the everyday running of the Company, relieving the company commander of such trivial worries. In the Wehrmacht, the position was held by a Hauptfeldwebel known as der Spieβ (“spear”). He was recognized by the two narrow bands on his uniform sleeves, and the black notebook tucked between a couple of the front buttons. Due to him taking care of his “children”, he was also known as die Mutter der Kompanie, “the Mother of the Company”. The photo above is of a wall painting in an army barracks somewhere in Germany, painted by some humorous soldier in 1940. The song linked to below is about the Spieβ‘ colleague in the British army, but I’m sure that some things are universal.