(First Note, we tried to accompony his story with photo material from soldiers in these so called Volksgrenadier divisions when operating in the ardennes offensive, but as we soon found out it is very difficult to find such photo material. It was for the soldiers strictly forbidden to take photos or do filming, to keep everything top secret. Photos and filming was only allowed for men working for the propaganda units (Propagandakompanien ). These men mostly filmed the fast and fully equiped SS spearhead units. The real face, that of a decaying army was not shown..
Beneath: The best known photos from German (SS) soldiers in action in the ardennes 1944; the ones taken on a road (Poteau) on the 18th of december near burned out US army verhicles and armour, these are actually staged by an SS propaganda unit, taken after the fighting (the photo below shows).
HANS POTH, FROM KRIEGSMARINE TO THE INFANTRY
(18. Volksgrenadier Division, 294th regiment)
(For us only the memoires within the 18.VGD are interesting, so we kept things out. For the whole story you can contact us.)
When I received my official notice, I was not at all surprised to learn that effective immediately, I belonged to the infantry. All my dreams were dashed, to travel to foreign countries with the German Navy after quickly winning the war. The short trip, from Bremen-Hamburg to Heide, Holstein, during the wonderful summer weather was very pleasurable.
(at Heide they received a few weeks of training..)
In the morning we received instruction for the machine gun and rifle. I had forgotten almost everything I learned during recruit training. In the Navy we received training on different topics and weapons, but no one asked about that now. Life as a "Volksgrenadier," which we called ourselves, was not as bad as it were. Only a bombing attack against an oil refinery located between Heide and Itzehoe reminded us that we were at war. For a moment we forgot about the war. Any bad news heard over the radio was always formulated in such a way to give hope the war could be won, somehow; or at least brought to an end with the use of newly arriving V-weapons.
Zeitung) Even in early december 1944 there were still newly raised
units incorporated into the Volksgrenadier Divisions.
This unit of former Luftwaffe personal was send to the ardennes in early december. Wearing their old bluegrey uniforms and with no camo at all.
Our training concluded in the middle of August. We were destined for Denmark where our final training was to be concluded. Meanwhile, our personnel were continuously bolstered with the formerly wounded and newly conscripted older men, the latter of which was previously declared "unfit for duty." We referred to them only as "Dr. Goebbels Donations." Many of them had physical limitations, such as missing fingers, bad hearing, or poor eye-sight. Among them were also very young Austrians or Ostmärker (East Moravians), which they were called at that time. Myself and the other older Acting Corporals were now all NCOs, and now section leaders. However, there was no time for formal NCO school. Our shoulder straps bore a horizontal bar (tress). For meals, we were now priveledged to eat in the NCO mess hall. Despite the fact that we were a somewhat adhoc conglomeration of men, our comrardery and the general morale was not bad. The transportation to Denmark was undertaken during the night in passenger trains. In the morning we arrived in the city of Braminge, which lay between Esberg and Kolding. The camp was located several kilometers outside the city and consisted of good wooden barracks.
(At one morning his commanding officer had a chat with him)
"Go immediately to the NS-Officer. He wants to talk to you!" I could not imagine what the NS-Officer wanted. Every unit recently was assigned a National Socialist officer, next to the company commander. I was not sure of their responsibilities, but often they hung directives on the black board. I went to the NS office and knocked on the door, hoping that he was not there.
"Enter!" The NS-Officer called out. I entered the office and reported my presence. "NCO Poth reporting as ordered!"
He pointed to a chair and asked me to be seated. He opened the desk drawer and removed a letter. He looked at me and began to read it out loud. I recognized the letter immediately. It was the letter I wrote to my father two days before. The passage, "I think it is all for nothing, the war is not winnable," interested him. He said, "You see, Poth, those types of statements do not strengthen the home front. That is defeatism. You see, not all the weapons of retaliation have been employed, but soon there will be a turn of events. Our new jet aircraft shall sweep the skies over Germany clean again, and other weapons are almost ready for use. Then we will go forward again and victory will be on the side of right, i.e. on our side."
I replied that I would
be very happy if the wonder weapons created such an outcome. The
NS-Officer continued, "You see, you wrote the letter because you are
concerned about our Fatherland. Here, take the letter back and write a
more optimistic letter to your father. How old is your father?"
"Sixty-four," I replied. The NS-Officer continued, "Did he not serve?"
"Yes," I replied, "1900 near Metz with the King's Artillery at Foot."
The NS-Officer countered, declaring, "He will also be concerned if he has to read such a later, will he not? I am depending on you. Do not speak to anyone about our conversation. Will you promise me? I will forget the matter as well. There, now you are dismissed for free-time."
Suddenly at one day, horses were requisitioned from local farmers in the area. While the farmers were paid, they were not given an option (Widerspruch). Our battalion artillery, which the horses pulled, included wagons. Fuel was no longer available. The day of our departure finally came. The train on the tracks became ever longer until everything was ready. The horses were loaded last, and many curious people gathered and watched.
For the most German soldiers participating in the ardennes offensive this was the real way of transportation; horses, bicycles and on foot..
Men of a Volksgrenadier Division strugling with their horses, ardennes november 1944, very rare photo material
The trip across Germany was a first class odyssey. The trip took three days and three nights. It was now the middle of
October 1944, and the train could only travel at night. However, the
cities were bombed at night as well. Often, we barely escaped being hit
by bombs. The train stood in the Eifel at Gerolstein-Gillenfeld. Once
again we made it! Praise the railroad! I always admired the
accomplishments of the railroad. Without the railroad, nothing would
have been possible. In Gerolstein, every grenadier received a new
bike. Humorously, we called ourselves "Timoschenko's Fast Troops" as the
trip headed towards Prüm. The weather was cold and drizzling, and the
streets in the Eifel were "real slop." We belonged to the 18th Volks
Grenadier Division, 294th Regiment. In a village shortly before Prüm,
our first bicycle tour came to an end.
In groups we were quartered into farmhouses, which had almost completely been evacuated by the civilian population. Our house was located near a crossroads. The Eifel was a poor agricultural region with hard and rocky soil. Our house, and all the houses, stunk of cow manure. A basalt-stone cobbled courtyard was located between the house and the animal barns. Next to the door, at the entrance of the cow stalls, there was a water fountain, which was made from a simple pipe, from which water flowed into a large tub. This home, however, remained inhabited, and was occupied by a farmer of about 55 years of age, a 19-year old Russian farmgirl (maiden), and approximately 20 cows, chickens, and pigs "held this position."
Vgd men in their old uniforms and with no camo at all, carrying 5cm mortar grenade cases
ardennes dec 1944
I reminded the men not to smoke in the house or barn and to maintain strict discipline. Our group consisted of five young men from the Steiermark (Austria) in eastern Moravia; the town was called Mürzuschlag. The most pleasant was Walter Ramusch, and then there was Hotz Engelbert, Adi Bauer, and one came from Thüringen with the last name Knapp. The name of MG gunner in our group was Liebetrau, who came from Hamburg. Also coming from Hamburg was Dwenger, the oldest of the group. He was a furniture upholsterer. Alfred Dwenger was very willing but also conscientious. Soon he became my confidant and link to the group. After everything was in order, I pulled out a bar of soap and a washcloth from my pack. I removed fresh underwear and my shaving utensils and headed for the water trough located in the courtyard. In order for me to clean myself thoroughly, Dwenger prepared hot water by placing a water bucket on the stove. It would be the last time for the next few weeks.
A messenger arrived and told me I was to report to the company commander immediately. In the Major's house there was held a meeting for all NCOs and platoon leaders. Maps for the sector we controlled lay on the table. The front lines were held only thinly by soldiers of the Luftwaffe; most often airfield personnel. Our company was to occupy the villages behind Prüm, to include Gondenbrett, Niedermehlen, and Wascheid. The plan was that several of us would proceed forward towards the front, as scouts, around 0500 hours. The company would then follow two days later. My platoon commander, Lieutenant Wigger, volunteered me for the assignment as the representative from our platoon.
A few Volksgrenadier soldiers reading maps in a thick snowy forrest (ardennes dec 1944)
The village of Prüm lay in thick fog, completely abandoned. In order to get up the mountain, we had to push our heavily packed bicycles. Then it went down hill, and soon the town sign for Gondenbrett appeared. The Sergeant Major of the Luftwaffe who accompanied us signaled to halt. The house on the left side of the village entrance was a grocery store. Here we were introduced to the other comrades. They were all Sergeants; air field personnel. All of them wore the Reichs Sports Badge (Reichssportsabzeichen), but no decorations. One of them had a bottle of Schnapps in his hand, and everyone received a "welcoming drink." The village consisted basically of a single road and houses on either side. Heading to the right led to Wascheid; to the left led to Niedermehlen. A small cemetery was located next to the small church. The rectory was across the street. On the road there was a large directional sign with a white arrow: "TO THE AMERICANS 1000 METERS".
We had to walk the entire way within the sector of the front. The Luftwaffe personnel had barely dug any holes. Protective holes for the listening posts did not exist, not to mention trenches or strong points. If the Americans tried, they would have marched right through the position with little to no resistance. Apparently, they were afraid of the minefield or they wanted to sit-out the winter before they marched further.
The greatest danger was American artillery. A light observer aircraft hung in the air overhead for the entire day and called for fire on anything and everything that moved. Most of casualties resulted from artillery fire, which was fired randomly on a daily basis.
Two days later the other comrades finally arrived. I was very happy to see them all again. Dwenger approached me gleaming with joy and handed me a white linen sack filled with dried plums and a piece of dried meat. In his pocket he also had a letter for me. "From Irina", he said and smiled. Quickly, I stored the letter away. I wanted to read it later when I was alone. It was a foggy, drizzling day, the Allied pilots could not see us!
On the first day, everything was chaotic.
Everyone was interested to learn what awaited him. Indeed, it took a
long time before everyone was in their correct assigned places! I was
assigned an additional group and functioned as the assault battalion
reserve. Our code name was "Lion's Mouth 6". The field kitchen found a
spot in the village of Wascheid.
Along with the second group, I occupied behind Wascheid a water bunker located in an open field. The bunker was on a height and camouflaged as a giant bail of hay. The entire structure was made of concrete, and small sprouts and small tree yearlings were growing from it. The ornament over the entrance door was a big triangle made out of red bricks. I posted a guard with a machine gun behind the triangle on the roof. I reminded the men not to goof off, and cover the bunker floor with straw in order to sleep on it.
Beautiful and rare photo from a horseman bringing his animals for a drink to a small pound.
On the road at the back a soldier in a lightly camouflaged carriage is looking, ardennes dec-jan 1944-45
With another man I returned to the village. I sent the man to the village to pick up food for the group, and instructed him to return within an hour, and then we would return to the group together. The first group, a radio and operator, I placed in the rectory at Gondenbrett. We intended on building a bunker for ourselves in the back. Together with the ration supplyman we returned to the water bunker. Once we were within sight of the bunker, to my astonishment, I saw smoke coming from the bail of hay. Despite poor visibility, I was sure the Americans had observation onto the height! I ran up the hill from behind the bunker and yelled out, "Put out that fire you idiots!" But it was too late. The Americans noticed smoke coming out of a bail of hay. The sound of artillery fire was designated for us. The first salvo hit very close. I called the guard and ordered him immediately to get into the bunker. The second salvo landed and caused the ground to shake to such a degree that the ceiling cracked and the brick ornament above the door fell down. After the Americans ceased fire, we tried to get out of the bunker. However, the triangle blocked the door and prevented our exit. All the men starred down at the ground, realizing their guilt. One of them had lit a hand full of hay on fire to warm his hands. This would serve as a lesson learned, albeit the guard posted outside paid for it with his life.
In the meantime, darkness set in. With great feaver we worked at the steel door to freedom. After several hours we succeeded in bending the top of the door just enough to climb out. Our first experience was relegated to complete chaos, which produced our first casualty. Our comrade was shredded into pieces, and his machine gun bent like a spiral. Our medic, a Saxon, placed the dead soldier over his shoulder and carried him by himself into the village. We abandoned the strong point, and everyone now understood that we could not play around with the Americans.
The daily work at the front then
became routine. Every day we received assignments where to dig fighting
holes and trenches. Fisher, the NCO that gave me lip in Heide, was on a
reconnaissance mission on the second day when he was wounded in the hip
and bled to death.
On my bicycle I took every opportunity to reconnoiter the area. I always divided up the men into pairs, and gave them each a job; one hacks and the other digs. I left two men behind in the bunker, which we built ourselves. This way someone always manned the radio and the others repaired the broken bicycles.
Constant hunger was a problem. I searched through all the houses for something to eat and often I was successful. Several German defectors that crossed over into American captivity and revealed the locations of our distribution points. These points were changed constantly.
The Americans set up large loud speakers and at first played fast and fun music. Then they spoke to us and made promises, such as how well we would be treated if we defected. Those soldiers that defected to the Americans were suddenly found gone and usually came from the regions of Alsatia or Luxemburg. In the evening, those that defected were heard over the microphone, "Hello comrades of Company XYZ. This is comrade XYZ speaking. I am doing very well and I am now going to America and after the war I will return home. Do the same as I, and you will survive the war!"
Meanwhile, all of us had stomach problems. The food was always cold when
it arrived. Whenever we could, we would toast the Kommis bread. Our
quarters were located in defilade on a rearward slope. We acquired a
small stove from the village, but we had to ensure that no hot embers
were visible from the stovepipe. Several times the Americans covered us
with mortar fire. However, we were very lucky on several occasions.
Lieutenant Wigger, who visited us almost daily, also brought mail. One day I received a letter from a girl I met last July on vacation. Several times we met at the swimming pool and walked home together. After I read the letter, I asked the Lieutenant to read it. He began laughing and then shouted,
"Everybody listen! Our acting NCO is a father!"
He read a sentence from the letter,
"...today I must tell you that our being together had its consequences and as of immediately consider myself your betrothed. I have already acquired a engagement ring..." He continued, "A hurray for our future father!"
He reached out his hand and congratulated me. Everyone was very happy and congratulated me, and I myself was perplexed and laughed along with everyone else. "Not bad," I thought to myself, "at least I have a child if I never return home."
A German medic surrounded by US soldiers, ardennes dec 1944
Immediately, the name of our future mother was nailed over the entrance of the bunker. In big letters it read, "Bunker Elfriede." The next day, everyone in the company that knew me congratulated me with a big smile on my "fatherly luck". For the next several days, we all had something to laugh about. When I returned home I learned it was a false alarm.
division established a close combat school in Schönecken behind Prüm.
The director of the school was Captain von Blomberg, a nephew of the
former Minister of War von Blomberg. It was here that the soldiers were
to receive their final phase of training, for which there had not been
enough time. One after the other, we were ordered to attend the school
for several days. The training was rather stimulating. For example,
within a specific time period we fired at paper silhouettes in bushes
while running and threw hand grenades. Above all, we regularly received a
warm meal and were able to wash. The comradery in the group was very
good, albeit I had trouble with one individual. His name was Knapp who
came from Thüringen. He was 18 years-old, relatively strong, but always
there where he should not be. He constantly fired his weapon without
purpose, and everyone kept an eye on him as not to start mischief. I
usually made sure that he was near me, in order to stave off any
The American observer for artillery was in the air
constantly. As a result, movements on the ground during the day had to
be invisible to him. Carelessness was punished immediately with
well-aimed artillery fire.
Not a single German field piece was in action on our side. On the other hand, the Americans fire randomly, even without observation. However, a great danger to us was our own V-1. Everyday it flew directly over our position in the direction of the enemy, but often it fell short and crashed down on our side. The rockets made a great noise and racket, whereby the Americans stopped firing their artillery and tried shooting them down with anti-aircraft fire. However, this measure rarely succeeded. We sang a song for the V-1 based on the melody:
"There is a black insurrection in Cuba, shots crackle through the night..." Our version of the song: "The V-1 flies through the air, England is the target, but half way there it hits the Eifel."
Men of a Vgd unit walking by a burning farmhouse, look at the ragged doll of uniforms,
some of them wearing stg43 and mp40s, one of them in the back only a pistol, ardennes dec 1944
The weeks leading up to 6 December passed by in a similar fashion. Then suddenly we received orders to depart the next day.
The dead were brought to a garage next to the rectory across from the
church in Gondenbrett. They remained there until a horse-drawn carriage
headed back to the rear. In the morning on 6 December, we departed and
noticed that seven men remained in the garage. Apparently, no one wanted
to take them along. We loaded them onto our field kitchen wagon, which
was pulled by horses. Our bicycles were also loaded onto a horse-drawn
wagon. During heavy snow showers we climbed a hill towards an
unknown destination. We were no longer in the best condition. Almost
everyone had watery diarrhea. It was difficult to rejoin [the
formation], once it was necessary to leave [in order to relieve
oneself]. Marching through deep snow drifts required concentrating only
on the boots in front of you. Lieutenant Wigger marched in front of me
and often briefly glanced back. He was a relatively small man and one
could see that he too was struggling to make the march. Nevertheless, I
was more amazed by our company commander. The First Lieutenant was shot
in the lung in Russia and was released from the Army. Now he had to make
it through this ordeal with a single lung. We continued on without
thinking about the man in front of us. It was night before we finally
arrived in Hallschlag and were able to lie down. The medic brought me
two slices of toasted Kommis bread and something for my diarrhea. My
entire body shivered like Espenlaub (tree leaves) and I had no more
strength. In the middle of the night the medic brought me hot tea and an
old blanket. Such a comrade was its worth in gold!
days I felt better. Lieutenant Wigger asked me to take six men and an
artillery observer to the Losheimer Graben (Losheim Gap). We were
instructed to take rations for two days and find a good hiding spot. The
observer brought a radio operator and explained to me that he wanted to
pre-register important terrain features, such as cross roads. I was
genuinely impressed. At long last the Americans would receive fuzes from
us as well. We departed when dusk set in. Prior to our departure we
spoke with a town leader of farmers. He prepared for us a sketch of all
the important points. He knew every house in the village and provided us
with important information.
We had with us eight breads, a quarter jar of marmalade, margarine, and a stick of grey sausage. We were not to engage the Americans unless absolutely necessary and attempted to carry out our mission without detection. We were armed well. Everyone had six egg hand grenades, an assault rifle, a close-combat knife, and ammunition. We proceeded along the path the farm leader recommended.
Individual farmhouses stood in no-man's land where tethered cows cried
out and tugged at their chains. We agreed to free the livestock on the
way back. We proceeded to the Losheim Gap behind a hedge along the left
side of the road and came upon a shot-up house. Everywhere it smelled of
rotting cows. The house was a former bakery. The baking room was
located behind the house and lay approximately 1.5 meters below grade.
We decided to remain here, considering a large intersection (crossroad)
was located about 800 meters away, through which large trucks
continuously passed. On the right in front of the intersection stood a
two-story house facing our position. The house appeared to be undamaged.
We placed carpets on the floor of the house in order to walk about
quietly. A stairway led to the upper floor with access to the attic. I
posted a watch who was to keep an eye on the road. Under no
circumstances was anyone to speak. Anything that needed to be said would be whispered. The wind cut through all the rooms, accept for the baking room, which
was more or less insulated. No sooner had we situated ourselves when a
guard reported that someone was in the two-story house; the door opened
occasionally and a light was visible. Moreover, snippets of music were
heard when the door opened. We concluded that we were very near to the
Americans. More than likely they also had heat in the house while we
froze. I assigned two men per watch and waited anxiously for the next
Men of a Volksgrenadier unit fighting in their trenches, only having a white cover for their helmets,
rare photo material ardennes dec 1944
It began in the morning. The artillery observer stood under the roof and observed the terrain in front of us. We formed a chain and whispered the coordinates from the observer to the radio. Now the time had come when the battery fired a single shot. As if from a magician's hand, the projectile swooshed off and over our heads and impacted next to the crossroad. A small correction was made and the second shot landed directly in the middle of the intersection. We wanted very much to cheer out loud, but we were as quiet as mice. Out of the house at the crossroad several Americans came running out and looked with disbelief at the area where the projectile impacted. "Ha!" I thought to myself, "What do you think they were thinking now?!" In order to betray any American ideas that a German artillery observer was in the midst, we fired several more shots indiscriminately. We held the abilities of our observer in the very highest regard.
darkness began to set in, we prepared ourselves to withdraw. However,
our forward post signaled to us that something was not correct. I
approached him and looked down the street. Two fully equipped American
soldiers were approaching our house. They were talking out loud and both
were smoking cigarettes. All of us stood inside the house with our
weapons at the ready. We all wondered what would happen next,
considering that we had orders not to engage the enemy. The two
Americans stopped in front of a hedge and continued their conversation.
Their intensions became obviously clear when several other Americans
arrived and joined the others. Soon thereafter, another single American
soldier joined the group and said, "Ready? OK, let's go." They departed
one following the other in the same direction we intended to go. The egg
hand grenades, which they carried on their belts, clanked against each
other quietly. I decided to delay our withdrawal until the next morning,
and asked the radio operator to submit our status information, but also
requested the parole of the day (call sign or challenge word of the
day). So that was an American reconnaissance troop that just
departed. If I had chosen to do so, we could very easily have taken them
prisoner. The group returned in the same manner several hours later and
disbanded. This was a good example of American positional warfare.
We made our way back to Hallwangen and covered our tracks as best we could. As we neared our listening post, someone called out to us, "Parole!" We answered in accordance with the information we received over the radio, "Celebes!" Our mission was a complete success, and our battalion commander praised us. The leader of the town farmers declared that on the following day he was prepared to lead us into no-man's land, in order to bring over as many cows as possible. This operation occurred.
Once again I was assigned to the divisional combat school. Sergeant Major (Oberfeldwebel) Rumpf was the proverbial "right hand" of the school director, von Blomberg. For the most part, they pulled together every lower ranking NCO of the battalion and formed a small task force (Kampfgruppe).
In the afternoon on 15
December, they told us what they planned to do with us. Everything was
to begin on the next day. Soldiers swarmed around the entire area.
Everywhere I looked there were soldiers. Even a Cossack unit was located
near us! They danced and celebrated without restrictions and bottles of
Schnapps were past from one man to another. An atmosphere of anxiety
prevailed, and then plenty of food suddenly appeared. Goulash with
potatoes was available to one's heart's content. People from the party
(NSDAP) were present as well during the last situational brief; they
were full of optimism that we would be in Antwerp for Christmas. The Germans occupied bunkers along the Westwall, which were stuffed with
soldiers. We stood so close to one another that you could not fall
over. The walls were wet from the humidity. I told my group that I would
lay down in the snow with an American sleeping bag in front of the
entrance to the bunker. I went out into the clear white night, laid down
in the snow my Zeltbahn (shelter quarter), and placed the captured
American sleeping bag on top. Under a full moon I climbed into the
sleeping bag, which was very warm. I tried to get a little rest.
The events from the previous day ran through my mind. Where did all the soldiers suddenly come from, and the cannon, tanks, and radio trucks? All the roads in the woods were stuffed full. Would I really be witness to a change in the direction of the war? A miracle was to take place within the next days and weeks. My God! I had never before experienced such feelings! I thought about my mother and childhood, and I missed my home to such a degree that my entire body ached.
artillery began to fire, I thought to myself it would not be long before
things would begin to happen. I got up and looked for my comrades.
Suddenly I began to see everything conscientiously. Who would survive
the first day? What were they thinking? Did they have my similar
Sergeant Major Rumpf, who formed a task force, arrived and distributed white camouflage suits. However, there were not sufficient numbers for everyone, so everyone got one piece; either a pair of trousers or a jacket. I received a jacket, which meant taking off the belt and the assault pack.
Rumpf explained to us our special task. The group consisted of 35 men, which was organized from various platoons. Beside myself, the MG gunner Liebetrau and Soldat Dwenger were with the group. The others I knew only from casual sight. Our task was to capture a number of Westwall bunkers that were occupied by Americans. During the night, pioneers cleared away mines to form a small alley in front of the bunkers. The distance from the end of the alley to the bunkers was estimated at approximately 700 meters. Sergeant Major Rumpf predicted that we would accomplish our task easily, considering that the Americans would not expect an attack through a belt of mines.
German soldiers taken prison in the first days of the battle of the Bulge (Wacht am Rhein), middle aged and older
ardennes dec 1944
A pioneer Staff Sergeant stood at the entrance to the
alley, waving happily at us, and giggled. He then gave us a pat on the
back as we went on our way. The snow was almost knee deep in the Upper
Forest. Nothing besides trees in front of us could be seen. We proceeded
forward at a breadth of about 30 meters.
On the left, the MG-gunner Liebetrau preceded ahead of me by about one meter, and on my right a Corporal was accompanied by an MG rifleman.4 We came upon a fat long tree trunk, with a crown of snow laying across our path. As we began to cross over the trunk, hell broke loose. The Americans fired at us and we sought cover behind the tree. The machine gun carried by Liebetrau lay sticking out of the snow. All I could see was the stock of the weapon. "Oh shit!", I said to Liebetrau, "Now we are in a trap!" I was amazed that he did not flee. I looked at his face, which was a waxy yellow color. He was dead. The Corporal on my right stood with his back against the tree as if he were nailed to the tree. Half of his face lay in pieces next to me in the snow. His teeth with pieces of meat lay also in the snow, and blood was splattered everywhere.
As soon as the firing began, cries for the Sanitäter (medic) came from every direction. Silence took over, only to be broken by the crumping sound of mortar fire. I noticed a small depression in the ground where I lay by the tree. I crept into the shallow hole halfway under the tree. I thought this must be the end. Again it became relatively quiet. The Americans fired one or two more shots, and I realized we had not fired a single shot in return. The sequence of events happened very quickly. I assumed American snipers were waiting for us, because shots were fired from an angle above. For the time being I lay safe half under the tree and did nothing. Then I heard voices coming from the enemy lines, "Let's go!" They appeared to be encouraging one another. I thought they were coming to get me. I grasped all six egg hand grenades and laid them next to me. I rolled onto my back and threw one after the other over my head as far as I could in the direction of the enemy. After the last throw I got up, picked up the Liebetrau's machine gun, and fired until the entire belt was empty. Spray-firing in a half circle caused snow from the limb of a tree to fall on my head. For a moment I stood there like a dome covered in snow. I immediately slung the gun over my shoulder and sprang; running and zigzagging all the way back. I saw mostly dead comrades, and some were kneeling clutching their stomachs. As I approached the place where the friendly pioneer waved us goodbye, I realized I was still alive. Trails of blood were everywhere in the snow, which indicated that others had been wounded and managed to escape.
US shelling of one of the main roads leading to St.Vith, just before the city was taken by the Germans
In front you can see the road and German carts with horses, running away from the bombings
Sergeant Major Rumpf stood with a blank look on his face, with his mouth open, and his notebook in his hand.
"Gee Poth," he said, "Are there any more coming?"
I looked at him with contempt and replied,
"Where were you for that idiotic mission?!"
Furious I walked past him and back to the bunker. Yesterday there was no room for anyone to stand in the bunker and today it was empty. Even the field cots up against the walls were empty. Luckily, Soldat Dwenger was among the 13 soldiers that survived the fiasco. Dwenger was at the back when the mission began and returned with a wounded soldier shortly thereafter. As I lay on my back, I starred at the ceiling of the bunker and shook my head. I would have loved to shoot that ass of a Sergeant Major. It was simply pointless to waist those men. My respect for him was now absolutely zero.
Men of a Vgd division shot to pieces in a useless attack on open ground against an with mg's fortified position
(northern area of Bastogne). As with Poth happened, unexperienced officers often led these men in ill-considered actions,
in wich they payed with their lifes.
I wondered where the others were
from my parent unit, and pictured what had become of the East Moravian. I
intended on returning to my unit after this action. Around evening,
Sergeant Major Rumpf entered our room and asked gingerly if he could
speak to me out side. He explained to me that the entire action was
ordered by Captain von Blomberg, the director of the division combat
school. Rumpf and I went to see Blomberg at his command post. Blomberg
looked at me very seriously and remarked that the entire affair took an
unlucky turn. He added that I was the only one who returned with a
weapon; the machine gun of a fallen comrade, in addition to my own.
But now he had a new assignment for me. He explained that German
soldiers had proceeded several kilometers on the left and right past the
bunkers. It was important to determine if the Americans were still
there. I was to pick one soldier from the few that were left and depart
immediately back to the front.
I returned to the sleeping quarters and said to Dwenger,
"Come on! Get ready to make reconnaissance!"
At first he looked at me with disgust. However, I gave him a signal with my eye, which indicated that I had something planned. I stopped once we were half way. I said to Dwenger, "OK, I know you are married with children. You will stay back here in this depression. I will go to the bunker alone and determine if the Americans withdrew. If I do not return, tell them we became separated. Just think of something. I will be back in one hour."
I proceeded forward along the same
path. Meanwhile, the temperature had risen and the snow was melting. It
was very difficult to move forward, and at each step it felt as though
my boot was ready to come off in the deep snow. After reaching the
minefield I could hear Americans swearing. The engines from their trucks
whined loudly in the night. I could see streams of light through the
forest. Clearly, the Americans were departing!
I noticed then that no dead were lying around. What happened? As quickly as possible I headed back with complete disregard for being quiet, in order for Dwenger to hear me coming. He was very happy when I told him that I would report to the Captain the departure of the Americans. The Captain was relieved I returned safely as I reported the Americans withdrew from the bunker. The Captain's entire staff was to occupy the bunker on the next day. The Americans laid all our dead comrades in a row in front of the bunker and covered them with a sheet. However, American dead were among ours. Apparently, the Americans used unauthorized ammunition, considering the plate-size exit wound on Leibetrau's back.5 The American bastion (bunker) was fully stocked with provisions. There was plenty of food, to include bacon, eggs, chocolate, etc. There was even available warm water, which we used to bathe ourselves. I put on clean American underwear. Then I received news that the leader of our battalion staff messenger, Corporal Krieger, was wounded and I was needed to fill his position for the next several days. I concluded they wanted to spare my life, for the simple reason that I had nothing to do in my capacity as a messenger. An elderly and fatherly captain gave the orders in the bunker. The reports being submitted were not very good.
A German in front of an abandoned artillery position of the US Army. The St. Vith area
ardennes dec 1944
The re-supply did not come through quickly and the roads were all clogged. My only thoughts revolved around my next opportunity to return to my company and how the others were doing. Three days later, a nine men were organized into a group. The task was to track down American stragglers that fired on the German messengers. We patrolled and combed through the entire area and searched everything. Individual Americans were happy we found them. They were frightened at first; apparently they were brainwashed to believe that we were dangerous. Some Germans with light wounds went into hiding, many of them were suspected of inflicting wounds to themselves. Up until Schönfeld things progressed reasonably well; American resistance in many villages was weak.
also some interesting occurrences, for example in a rectory. As I was
searching through the house I went into the kitchen first. Everything
was very clean and tidey. On a work-plate by the window there stood a
big flat pot with milk. I laid down my assault rifle and drank the
creamy milk. I heard sounds coming from the second floor, upon which I
immediately set down the pot. Very cautiously and ever so quietly I
ascended up the swinging stairway. In a room with a view (bay window) I
encountered an American soldier who sat in a pastor's armchair. He had
one leg elevated on another chair. I recognized immediately that he wore
on his chest a "wounded sign", bearing his name and other information.
His leg was shot through and been treated already by a medic. I assumed
his comrades wanted to pick him up later but were unable to do so. The
American immediately held out a pack of cigarettes that lay in front of
him and said, "You want a smoke?"
A column of US soldiers taken as prisoners in the St.Vith region, escorted by a few German soldiers
ardennes dec 1944
Despite not a big cigarette smoker I took one and he gave me a light. Apparently he was an officer, as he was very well groomed and clean. Other than he, there were no others in the rectory. I told him that a German Sanka-Wagen (medical ambulance/truck) had just arrived in front of the house in order to pick up wounded Germans. "I come back," I said, and I ran down the stairs to find the medics. I told them about the wounded American soldier, whom they carefully brought down to the truck. Sitting in the vehicle, the American smiled and winked with one eye, wishing me good luck. We were quartered in a village for two days as a result of the slow progress in crossing the Our River. We searched all the homes and then made ourselves comfortable. In other words, we washed ourselves and cleaned our rifles. Next to us, at a curve along the main road, a large house was severally damaged on the first floor from artillery fire. The staircase was also destroyed; the stairs hung from the wall in pieces. It bothered me when I discovered rooms that I did not yet inspect. Therefore, I slung my rifle over my back and climbed with some difficulty to the top floor. These rooms were very small with slanted walls and a ceiling height of about six feet. They each had a wooden farm bed. In the last room I was startled when I came upon two Americans; one lay in each bed. Next to them on the left and right stood Negro medics wearing helmets with a red cross painted on them.
The men were very big, and nodded their heads to me. Tehy all held their
hands up in the air. The Negroes both had large beads of perspiration
on their faces. Their eyes were wide open and bulging as I approached
the beds with my rifle slung over my back. I said,
"Hallo, how do you do?"
I lifted the blanket at one bed and said,
I went to the other bed and lifted the blanket as well. Then I went back to the stairs and called down,
"Here are two more wounded Americans!"
Of course, no one could hear me, but I pretended as though other comrades were downstairs. I approached the two big Negroes and patted them down, then bringing their raised hands down. "You make ready," I said, pointing at the two wounded soldiers. Then I made my way back down the stairs. None of my comrades believed me when I told them that four Americans were under the roof. We had to build a wooden structure in order to get them down. These men were immediately provided medical attention and brought to safety. Most of the dead Americans lay on the other side of the pontoon bridge that spanned the Our. Their faces were smeared with yellow lime. Apparently, here our tanks broke American resistance. We proceeded onto Manderfeld, Schönberg, and in the direction of St. Vith. From village to village we pushed on slowly. For three days we were exposed in the open, until we managed finally to penetrate into the city. Rocket launchers, which stood behind us fired, over our heads and into the neighboring areas. It was hell; an indescribable feeling which I never before experienced. The tanks departed, and now we began the attack.
The Americans formed a
defense belt with their tanks along the outskirts of the village. The
tanks were positioned behind an earthen wall; exposing only the turrets
that raked the wall. We circumvented the wall on the right side, which
allowed us to attack them from the side and rear. Individual soldiers
with Panzerfausts (rocket launchers or "Bazookas") were able to destroy
as many as five tanks. Additional tanks that were destroyed stood in the
road. Looking into the tanks from above down through the cupola
revealed a horrific sight.
Finally, I met some people from my company in St. Vith. They told me the company commander, a First Lieutenant from Husum, was severally wounded and brought to the field hospital in the village. The field hospital was completely filled to capacity, considering the Americans delivered to the hospital their wounded as well. The city was full of American materiel, and we dispatched a "captured equipment commando" in order to salvage as much as possible. Many Americans entered here captivity and were demoralized.
.. used by a unforgiven sick political system these men will never return.. small German cemetery
ardennes dec 1944
When a wounded American was encountered, we treated them exactly the
same way we treated our own. Our medic did not make any exceptions. The
success of capturing the village brought with it a certain degree of
confidence. Everything could still have turned out OK. However, on this
day on Christmas, we were expected to be in Antwerp. It was a hazy day,
very hazy indeed, when we heard the droning sound of approaching
aircraft engines. Looking up, I recognized the dropping of "christ
trees", which were markers for the bombers that followed. A whistling
inferno then filled the air and I screamed as loud as I could, "Save
yourselves under the American tanks!"
Disconnect the belt and dive down in a split second; this feeling I shall never forget. This is what must happen when the world is coming to an end.
The tanks shook
back and forth as if they were small toy cars. Every time I had to run
into an air-raid shelters back home, I thought the devil should take the
bombers! On one occasion I was at the train station in Hamburg when
bombers attacked the city. When we exited the air raid shelter, the city
was on fire. Phosphor created additional devastation, especially for
human beings; it was terrible. If a bomber pilot fell into the hands of
the survivors, they would have torn him to bits. During such times I
revoked my belief in God; how could he allow small children and innocent
people to be murdered in such a gruesome manner? Now, as I lay scared
to death under an American tank, I wanted to pray to God to help this
one more time, just this one more time. I decided, at that moment, if I
survived the war that I would never again complain about any type of
work I received. Under the tank I pressed my hands against my
ears. I thought to myself how small and hopeless a human being can be
during situations such as these. Indeed, how quickly the same person
becomes faithless as soon as the situation improves! I often thought of
all the good examples I received, and tried to live up them.
A Vgd mortar team, building op their 8 cm mortars, ardennes dec 1944
the earth stopped shaking and I began to hear voices declaring the end
of the bombing, we dug ourselves out from under the tanks into freedom.
Quickly! Let's get out of town! Everywhere the village was on fire.
Without any considerations for their own loses, the Americans bombed the
equipment left behind. This measure prevented large quantities of
materiel, supplies, and ammunition from falling into German hands.
Fortunately, most of the wounded were evacuated from the village
earlier. As we past the hospital, we saw flames jumping out of the
windows. The poor wounded; both friend and foe were the victims.
The village we reached on the height was Roth. Whenever we reached a height and turned back around, in order to look down into the valley, all we saw was smoke and burning vehicles. American aircraft destroyed our supply. In the village of Rodt I saw, for the first and last time, Field Marshal Gerd v. Rundstedt, who was accompanied by several officers. Despite the fact that it was Christmas, he did not allow the packages from loved ones to be distributed. One of my comrades from the Kampfgruppe took some photographs of our group and of the occasion. In Rodt we watched the employment of German jet aircraft; one of the wonder weapons often spoken of by the officials.
The weather was clear
with a blue sky when thousands of American bombers filled the sky. They
flew in formation at approximately 10,000 feet. As we pondered over
which village would be destroyed on this day, two German aircraft flew
at very high speeds towards the bombers and fired rockets at the
formation. The rockets exploded within the formation and soon several
four-engine bombers were on the way down. It seemed as thought the
German aircraft flew silently, but the sound came soon after. This was
the first and last time I witnessed such an event. In Roth we
discovered many dead soldiers from the Waffen-SS. They were young boys,
just like us. The bodies were plundered, and their ring fingers hacked
off. We wondered who could do such a thing. One dead soldier's mouth was
torn wide open; apparently they removed a gold tooth? It is no wonder
the Spiess was elated when we all reported back from our special missio
in one piece.
Men of a Voksgrenadier Division unit marching through a thick snowy forrest
ardennes dec 1944
I looked forward to being reunited with the comrades from the company. It was purported to be located in the same area. I wondered what could they have experienced over the last 11 days without me. It was bitter cold and the snow crunched under my boots as I crossed through the forest, marching up and down hills one kilometer after another.
Then suddenly we heard loud steps from upstairs, the cellar door flew open, and someone called down,
"Is someone there!"
"Yes!" I replied, "Here! I cannot walk!"
A medical NCO came down and leaned over me.
"We will get you out of here shortly," he said, and then disappeared.
After some time, he returned with two men and they brought me upstairs. The medic explained that he saw my dead comrades and followed my trail into the house in order to find me. When an ambulance convoy passed by the house, the medical NCO waved for a vehicle to stop, but the vehicle drivers yelled they had no room. Clearly, they intended to escape the artillery fire as quickly as possible. Then the medical NCO stepped out into the middle of the road with outstretched arms in order to stop a vehicle. Pointing at me, the medical NCO shouted at the driver, "This man is going along!" The driver and alternate driver shouted back, "The vehicle is full!" The medical NCO brought the vehicle to a halt and opened the back door. The driver's assistant moved to the rear inside the vehicle in order to show him that even the mid-bench area was occupied. However, the medical NCO discovered a body and said, "This man is dead! Get him out of here!"
An destroyed US M10 tank searched by some German soldiers, ardennes december 1944
The area I occupied in front of the house represented the waiting room. The medical staff arrived with blankets and treated individuals depending on their situation. Those that succumbed to their wounds were placed next to the building. It was very similar to a factory conveyer belt; one patient after the other was brought into the house. Then it was my turn. I was carried into the house and into a room that measured approximately 12 x 20 feet, which led into another room with an operating table in the middle of the room. Immediately I was placed on the table and two medical personnel removed my jacket. Two friendly doctors began working on my left shoulder. They said I was lucky, considering the shrapnel cut through the clavicle but was not life threatening. A second piece of shrapnel passed through my elbow two centimeters under the joint. Again they commented how lucky I was, and that they would not have to amputate my lower arm. As they continued their work, I turned my head and saw against the wall baskets full of amputated arms and legs. At the table next to me, doctors were busy with a saw. I realized how lucky I really was. Finally, they removed my left shoe where a steel splinter passed from the inside outwards through my foot.
As they worked on my foot I asked the doctors,
"Will I be able to dance again with that foot?"
They looked at each other with surprise and said,
"Are you a good dancer?"
I explained that I visited a dance school when I was 17 years old, but I was not given the opportunity to dance since then. They laughed and said everything would be all right, calling me a lucky mushroom.
I was relocated to Schönecken with other wounded soldiers. I became familiar with the village earlier during the first segment of my training at the divisional combat school. Now we were in an open room in an old school house. The seriously wounded lay in beds and the others lay on the floor. The room was overcrowded. The medical personnel had a lot to do. Among the wounded were many young SS soldiers. There was a constant coming on going and men were continuously transported to other locations. Several days later we heard the drone of engines noises overhead. According to the medical personnel, Allied fighter aircraft attacked anything that moved. Then suddenly a loud crashing and snapping sound was heard overhead. Shortly thereafter the ceiling separated from the roof and fell into the room. Instinctively I rolled over to my right and under a wounded soldier's bed. Horrific screams and panic caused great chaos. We were told that Allied aircraft followed the ambulances to the aid station and attacked the aid station with splitter bombs, despite the fact that a red cross was painted on the roof of the house.
Luftwaffe soldiers are looking through left behind goods from US soldiers, near St.Vith
ardennes, dec 1944
The next evening we were scheduled to relocate to Andernach. However, there were not enough ambulances to carry the wounded. Trucks were used as an alternative mode of transportation. The convoy departed in the dark and passed through the village of Mayen, where many houses were on fire. The Americans just completed bombing the village. The convent was perfectly suited to serve as an auxiliary or secondary hospital. There were four of us in a room. Two Germans and two Americans lay next to each other. The rations here were very good. My favorite meal was salted potatoes and meatloaf covered with a leek sauce. Stew was served frequently as well. We received on a daily basis a cheroot, a type of cigar with two square-cut ends, and an apple as dessert. However, I cut the cigar up into very fine pieces with a razor blade and mixed them with the rind from the apple, and turned my own cigarettes. The cut tobacco absorbed the moisture from the apple rinds in order to turn better cigarettes. Both Americans watched me with great interest. I offered each one of them a finished turned cigarette. One of the two, a young tank driver, was in a cast that reached from his neck to his Styrian. He could only move his eyes, so that I also gave him a light. He puffed a few times, and I removed the cigarette from his mouth, and this continued until the cigarette was gone. Our conversation remained very shallow due to the language barrier.
The German doctors spoke English with the American, as well as other
comrades that visited him during the day. I noticed there were many
wounded Americans among the Germans, but that was never a concern to
anyone. The nuns that cared for us day in and day out were real angels.
Our recovery made good progress and soon I was able to walk across the
floor using crutches. Then suddenly the condition of the young American
soldier worsened to a degree that both doctors and the chief doctor were
coming to his aid. He was returned to intensive care where he died
several days later. On the day the American was buried, the coffin was
wrapped in an American flag and placed on a wagon. All the wounded
escorted the coffin directly from behind the wagon, which was followed
by several medical personnel and American.
Nearing the convent an American fighter aircraft swooped down and over our heads, which caused the procession to instinctively jump to the side of the road and seek full cover.
German soldiers with their MG34 manning defences, somewhere in the Ardennes, dec 1944
The two men that pulled the wagon with a shaft
immediately let go and took cover. The wagon continued on it's own until
it ran off the road and the coffin tumbled onto the ground. This
situation was very embarrassing for the wounded Americans who apologized
At this point in the war, news from the front was always disappointing and negative. The fact that my comrades continued to risk their lives while I slept in a warm bed, and ate warm meals, made me very uncomfortable. Those comrades that were wounded only lightly and released from the convent were pick up immediately in order to form new Kampfgruppen. Several comrades placed deliberately one or two Pfennig pieces into their wounds in order for the wound to become re-infected. In the mornings, medical personnel arrived and treated the outside edges of the wounds.
On 4 February 1945, I woke up and found two nuns standing at the end of my bed looking at me with a friendly smile. One nun said to the other,
"Today it is his birthday and he is now of age. Today is 4 February 1945. Happy Birthday from all of us."
(Poth survived his injuries, but did not get the time to heal fully, as
once again (as a former wounded soldier) was incorperated into another
unit untill the end of the war..).
Unfortunately, to date we have not been able to find pictures of Poth himself or what exactly happened to him after the war and if he is still alive today.
Two soldiers of a Vgd division seek protection in their self made shelter, made from snow and some canvas
ardennes dec 1944