Could Hans Tragarsky Be The Unknown German Soldier In This Famous Image?

Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

The above photo is undoubtedly one of the best-known German images of World War II, showing a soldier carrying ammunition around his shoulders. It’s understandable that such a famous photo would spark curiosity as to who, exactly, this individual is. While it’s difficult to know with certainty, the general consensus is that he’s 23-year-old Hans Tragarsky of SSKampfgruppe Hansen.

Supposedly, the image was captured by a member of the Propagandakompanie (PK), who came across Tragarsky and his unit during the Battle of the Bulge. This was the last major offensive the Germans undertook on the Western Front.

Following D-Day, they’d hoped to prevent further Allied movement throughout Europe, with their goal being to inhibit the use of the Port of Antwerp in Belgium, as it allowed access to supplies that would aid in the continued clearing out of Germans from the areas they occupied.

This photo of Tragarsky was taken in the early days of this engagement, and it’s believed it was actually a still taken from a film by SSUnterscharführer Schäfer, at the behest of SSKriegsberichter Max Büschel. Kampfgruppe Hansen had just ambushed an American convoy. After taking them out, they raided the wreckage to take weapons, cigarettes and food.

Tragarsky can be seen wearing an American raincoat, which was likely also taken during the ambush. This particular image was popularized after the PK dispatch rider was captured by the American forces only a day later with the film reel that Schäfer shot. A portion of the video can be seen above, with the German soldiers celebrating their American loot.

There’s little other concrete information known about Tragarsky, except that he survived the war and died on January 7, 2011.

Although he’s believed to be the soldier in the photo, there was once a time when individuals believed the image was of Walter Ambrusch. Members of his own unit largely discredited this theory, despite Ambrusch himself saying that it was him. While a machine gunner during the Ardennes Offensive, he wasn’t this machine gunner.

More from us: Judy Garland Did Her Part For the War Effort By Performing At War Bond Drives

Although there’s plenty of speculation about this mysterious German and his identity, we ultimately might never know the truth. The information on the topic is scant at best. It could very well be Hans Tragarsky, or it could be someone whose wartime story will never be uncovered.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.