EXCLUSIVE: In their own words – German veterans of WWII – Part 2, A major bollocking by Rob Schäfer

For the second part of this series I have chosen a report written by a soldier serving in the Stabs-Abteilung (Regimental staff) of Pz.Reg 35. It was once supposed to be published in the regiments veterans magazine. The draft was quick and easy to translate and as the story is unusual it deserves to be published in english. 

Panzer Regiment 35 was formed on the 1st of November 1938 in Bamberg using personnel from Panzer-Regiment 1 in Erfurt, 2 in Eisenach, 7 in Vahingen, 25 in Erlangen and Panzerjäger (tank hunter) Abteilung 5 in Villingen, 9 in Celnhausen and 25 in Kornwestheim. It was then attached to 4. Panzer-Division. The 4th PzD was formed in 1938 in Bavaria and was an outstanding division, even my german standards and was the most heavily decorated of all german Panzer Divisions. It was in southern Poland in 1939, Belgium and France in 1940. It moved to the eastern front in 1941 and stayed there until the end. Panzer-Regiment 35 was an integral part of the division. In the early months of the war, it forced the Bug, Berezina and Dniepr Rivers and later saw action at the Desna, Drut and Vistula Rivers. Cities included Roslavl, Kiev, Orel, Mzensk, Tula, Stalingrad, Kursk, Gomel, Warsaw, Kovel. East Prussia, East Pomerania and the Kurland Front must also be included. The end for the remnants the 4. Panzer-Division came on May 9th when it surrendered to the Russians near the mouth of the Vistula River. The end for Panzer-Regiment 35 occurred on April 16th with the sinking of the Goya on which nearly the whole regiment was evacuated from the “Frische Nehrung” in West Prussia in 1945. Nearly 6000 people died that day and only seven from the regiments soldiers survived.

Hans Schäufler, Panzer-Regiment 35 +1991

A MAJOR BOLLOCKING – KURLAND, DECEMBER 1944

“It was during the soviet christmas offensive in Kurland in December 1944. Ivan had been attacking our thinly manned lines for more than 4 days. Were were bled dry, not a lot left to hold the enemy with. After a particularly severe artillery barrage a number of enemy tanks slipped past our defences and disappeared, no one knew where they went to. I will always remember that day. It was quiet, very quiet. Here and there you could hear the sounds of fighting. The bellowing sound of a machine gun in the distance, a couple of rifle shots but nothing more. It was quiet at the front. Our command Panther “RO1” (tactical marking for a command vehicle of the regimental Stabs-Abteilung) was parked under a cluster of trees. Our commander, Oberst Christern*, had taken the “Kübel” (Volkswagen Typ 82) to drive over to the divisional command post in Ozolini.”

Befehls (command) – Panther of Pz.Reg.35, Kurland 1944 – gun is a dummy made of aluminium.
Befehls (command) – Panther of Pz.Reg.35, Kurland 1944 – gun is a dummy made of aluminium.

“We did not have a lot of things to do, so we spent the time dozing and resting. We had been in action for four days and three nights having had virtually no sleep and food.
I remember receiving a radio message, but there due to atmospheric disturbances I could not understand everything that was said. “Move out to the hamlet of ….. for briefing”. I looked through my binoculars and had a look at our misty surroundings. The sun had nearly set and it was getting dark but in the distance to our left I could see a column of armour driving towards a group of small houses. Bleary-eyed like I was I did not think long and ordered “Engine! – Direction: The hamlet to our left!”

Not being in a hurry we sauntered into the direction of the hamlet crossing trees felled by shellfire, craters and trenches until finally reaching their hamlet. A group of armour was already parked there so we pulled up next to them and switched off the engine and the radio set and authorized ourselves to have a dose of sleep. Someone would surely wake us when the remainder of the unit arrived. When I started up later it was pitch dark outside. I checked my watch and noticed that 2 1/2 hours had passed. No one had woken us, where were the others? As it was time to get up anyway so I squeezed myself out of the turret and knocked against the tank parking right next to us. Nobody moved or answered. From inside the tank I can hear the humming of a rotary converter. Why the hell were they using their radio when nobody was on the receiving end? I then tried to climb the tank but failed to find any brackets to pull myself up with. We knew our tanks inside out, but somehow my hands failed to connect with anything familiar. The space between the wheels and the track guard was huge. I thought to myself, what kind of a tank is this? When I had managed to climb the turret I noticed an opened hatch and shouted “What company are you guys from?” and only seconds after that a dim light was switched on inside the fighting compartment and a face framed by a soviet tankers helmet stared up towards me. Time began to freeze then. I felt the rough welding marks on the massive turret and when I looked further I noted a huge gun barrel projecting from it. I was standing on top of a soviet “Josef Stalin” tank!”

Panthers on the prowl – Rare image of the regiments tanks taken in Kurland in December 1944
Panthers on the prowl – Rare image of the regiments tanks taken in Kurland in December 1944

“I can tell you that I was fully awake by then. I flung myself off the turret and began shouting “ENGINE! ENGINE!”. I had not even reached our Panther when I heard the sound of our Maybach coughing to life. When Feldwebel Eichhorn had pulled me inside, RO1 thundered away into the darkness. Only 400 meters further on there was a sudden crash, a jolt and the engine went out. We had crashed right into an abandoned trench. We switched the radio back on and began to listen. Behind us we could hear the sound of the soviet turret traversing gears. They were after us, the few doubts we had about this were soon wiped out when they started firing illumination flares. Up until today I think there was someone protecting us that night. First we had slept for more than two hours parking within an enemy tank column just armed with a decoy gun made of aluminium and the tank filled with top-secret documents and now the earth had swallowed our trusty “RO1” effectually hiding us from soviet view.”

“Illuminated by the pale light of the flares we counted about 20 Josef Stalin and T34 tanks when our radio croaked to life. “Alpine rose, alpine rose, are you receiving”. We at once sent our approximate to the regiment. Inside my mind I could visualize old Christern*, pulling the microphone set over his head. “Are you mad? What the hell are you doing there. What happened, Alpine Rose”.We gave the regiment a rough description of what had happened to us and were relieved when we heard Christerns booming voice “Stay where you are, we are coming to get you”. From a distance we could hear the distinctive roaring sound of Panther engines getting started. They were not far away and we were able to guide them in. When they seemed to be close enough we started to fire our machine gun into the hamlet using tracer cartridges and soon two haystacks were burning brightly. Now the soviets were the target,well illuminated and caught by surprise. Our chaps made short work of 10 soviet tanks, the others managed to flee into the night.
A Panther of 1st Coy pulled us out of the trench and together we returned to regimental HQ to receive a major bollocking.”

*Hans Christern (24 January 1900 – 17 June 1966) was a highly decorated Oberst in the Wehrmacht during World War II and commanded Panzer-Regiment 35 at that time. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. Hans Christern was captured by British troops in May 1945 and was held until January 1946.

Further reading:

R.  Byrd – Once I had a Comrade: Karl Roth and the Combat History of the 36th Panzer Regiment 1939-45

Kameradschaft der ehem. angehörigen – Geschichte der Artillerieregiments 103- Panzerartillerieregiments 103

Andrzej Kinski, Tomasz Nowakowski, Robert Sawicki & Mariusz Skotnicki – 4 Dywizja Pancerna Kursk 1943

Andrzej Kinski, Tomasz Nowakowski, Robert Sawicki & Mariusz Skotnicki – 4 Panzer Division 1943-1944

J. Neumann – Die 4. Panzer-Division (2 vol)

Dietrich von Saucken – 4. Panzer Division

Robert Sawicki – 4. Panzer Division (5 vol)

Oskar Schaub – 12. Panzergrenadierregiment

Hans Schäufler – Knight’s Cross Panzers: The German 35th Tank Regiment in World War II (German title: So lebten und starben sie)

Mariusz Skotnicki & Robert Sawicki – 4 Panzer Division 1941-1945

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