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Joachim Benz on the Eastern Front

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

Throughout World Warfare II, Joachim Benz served on the Japanese Entrance in a Luftwaffe floor unit referred to as a area division.

by Joachim Benz, as advised to Peter D. Fyfe and Ward Carr

Following service as a lieutenant within the U.S. Military Air Protection Artillery in the course of the early 1970s, Ward Carr determined to stay in Germany, residing in Frankfurt. He has labored as a language coach, freelance journalist, and translator. In 2001, Carr and a German colleague started writing a guide that includes the crew of the well-known battleship Bismarck. Whereas looking for survivors and relations of Bismarck sailors, Carr typically encountered veterans or relations of veterans who had served within the German armed forces throughout World Struggle II. Though they could not have been related to the Bismarck, lots of their tales have been nonetheless fascinating.

Through the course of his analysis, Carr positioned an advert in a nationwide veterans’ journal. Joachim Benz was a type of who responded. Over a interval of a number of years, the 2 communicated typically by phone and visited each other. Benz has contributed oral passages, feedback, and pictures for publications, and a German-language guide of his memoirs was revealed in 2003.
The images on this article have been all taken by Joachim Benz with a Kodak Junior digital camera that he received as a affirmation current.

As a scholar on the Virginia Army Institute within the 1960s, Carr had discovered German from Peter Fyfe. The 2 renewed their acquaintance within the 1990s, and Fyfe contributed his translation expertise to quite a few tasks, together with the interview with Benz, which shaped the idea for this text.

Benz tells an fascinating story of fight with a Luftwaffe subject division. After the conflict, he labored on a farm for 2 years earlier than opening up a grocery retailer and delicatessen in Dangerous Arolsen within the German state of Hesse. He has typically met with buddies from his former flak regiment, lots of whom have been prisoners of warfare in america after their seize with the Afrika Korps. Though he has tried repeatedly, he has by no means been capable of get in contact with anybody from the third of 4th Luftwaffe Subject divisions.

The Story of Joachim Benz in His Personal Phrase

On the Japanese Entrance

I used to be born November 13, 1922, in Hamburg, Germany. I had a cheerful childhood with my older brother and two sisters. I wasn’t very gung-ho about it [the Hitler Youth]. I most popular enjoying soccer or going to the films. As soon as, a policeman and the Hitler Youth chief got here to select me up as a result of I hadn’t reported to drill.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

PFC Joachim Benz in Vitebsk, Spring 1944.

In November 1940, I used to be referred to as to the colours in Hamburg. Then I used to be drafted into the RAD [National Labor Service] on February 2nd, 1941. Our primary coaching was in Cammin/Tessin, Mecklenburg, after which we have been despatched to a bit of village in Poland about 50 kilometers east of Warsaw. It was immediately on the demarcation line [between Germany and the Soviet Union]. We constructed a munitions depot for bombs and constructed roads to the depot. Originally of June 1941, we have been transferred to Lyck, in East Prussia, the place they armed us with previous French rifles and educated us. Since these rifles have been very lengthy, the 4th Platoon obtained Dutch carbines, which have been very inaccurate as a result of they have been so brief!

Later, in Russia, we exchanged these ineffective arms for captured Russian weapons. The Russian carbines resembled our 98Ks however didn’t have security catches. As well as, each platoon was issued a Russian machine gun. They have been extraordinarily heavy, and we referred to as them “The Gramophone” as a result of the journal was spherical, lay flat on the barrel, and rotated.

Proper after the struggle with Russia broke out, we have been deployed to protect a ahead airfield east of Vilnius [Lithuania]. After Minsk fell, we have been redeployed there, the place we had lovely quarters in a big, multistoried constructing of a former uniform manufacturing unit. We have been detailed to protect captured materials and an airfield. Our unit was assigned to the Air Drive Central Command. There was materials of German origin among the many captured booty. The uniform manufacturing plant was furnished with German Singer stitching machines. On the Russian airfield we discovered, recent from the manufacturing unit, BMW rear-propelled airplane motors within the unique packing containers. In a single room of the uniform manufacturing unit there was a German grand piano. We used this room as a movie show to point out movies, a really welcome change for us. I also needs to point out the magnificent Opera Home in Minsk, which was richly adorned with marble. There have been many different huge, splendid buildings on Lenin Sq..

The winter of 1941 got here very early; on October 6, we had the primary snow, and our gear was not suited to this local weather. In the midst of December, we have been transported by rail again to a city in Mecklenburg and have been launched from the RAD two days earlier than Christmas.

Truly, obligation within the RAD was fairly good. We have been all the identical age and virtually all of us already knew each other both from faculty, the Hitler Youth, or from sports activities golf equipment. Nevertheless, our leaders weren’t the decide of the litter. Our commander was a gnome, and never simply bodily. He was a particularly corrupt man and diverted part of our rations. Each time he was irritated with us, he didn’t salute us on the morning formation and stated we weren’t worthy of being greeted with the identify of the Führer!

On January 15, 1942, after a four-week depart, we have been absorbed into the headquarters battery of the Reserve Antiaircraft Division 62 in Oldenburg. Right here we met virtually all of our previous buddies from the RAD once more. We have been a bunch of previous Russia palms, which couldn’t be stated of our trainers. We have been all educated as radio operators after a check, which I handed with the assistance of my buddies from the RAD. Truly, I used to be a nasty signalman. As much as a sure velocity I used to be okay. After that, I couldn’t inform the dots from the dashes. You needed to have a reasonably good musical ear, and I didn’t.

After primary, we have been ordered to the Air Drive Communications Faculty 5 in Erfurt. After eight weeks we took our radio operator’s examination and went again to the reassignment middle. Sadly, our previous group was damaged up. I used to be despatched to Rostock and assigned as a radio operator to the heavy antiaircraft battery, the 88s. We protected the Heinkel airfield the place the brand new jet fighter was examined in August 1942.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

Reassignment to the Mediterranean

In October 1942, our unit, the ninth Antiaircraft Regiment (Motorized) was reassigned to the Afrika Korps. At the moment, nevertheless, I used to be within the hospital with a critical pleurisy an infection. After my launch and recuperation depart, I reported to the Antiaircraft Alternative Part in Rosenheim to rejoin my unit, which was already preventing in Africa. However I solely obtained so far as Caserta/Naples in Italy. It seems my buddies who made it to North Africa had an excellent conflict later as POWs within the USA. They might go to courses there and so forth.

Issues had gotten so dangerous due to Stalingrad that the Luftwaffe needed to assign its floor divisions to help the military. Subsequently, on the finish of January 1943, I used to be transferred to the Air Drive Floor Division and went from Italy to the Munsterlager reassignment middle in north Germany. [Munsterlager was a reception, troop distribution, and training center. It also served as a reception center for German POWs returning home after the war.] This reassignment was an actual shock, for it was again to Russia, once more. It had been like spring it Italy—over 60 levels. In Russia it was zero.

Our division commander was Lieutenant Common [Robert] Pistorius. I didn’t know him personally, however then once more I by no means noticed any common on the entrance strains. He signed the attestation for my Iron Cross, Second Class. Later he took general command when the third and 4th Area Divisions have been merged in 1944. He later fell within the Vitebsk Pocket.

Our regimental commander, Colonel Windesch, whom I knew personally, was a very courageous and upright superior. A forester by career, he was an aged, fatherly determine. He visited often on the firing line and the ahead observers out entrance. As soon as throughout a go to on the gun emplacement he requested me if the rations have been passable. I stated no. He was amazed to seek out out that I, as a soldier underneath 21, was purported to get the supplementary rations. I informed him that our battery commander, by his personal admission, issued these “youngsters’s” rations to everybody. The colonel noticed to it that supplementary rations have been immediately distributed to these entitled to them. A short while later, I used to be rewarded for this by my battery commander by being lent from the gun emplacements to the ahead statement posts.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

A German ahead remark place northeast of Vitebsk.

Our battalion commander was Main Meyerkort, who had been a tropical fruit importer in Hamburg earlier than the warfare. He was a beloved chief amongst us troopers, with a variety of braveness. He wore a leather-based uniform with out rank insignia so we referred to as him “Leatherstockings.” Main Meyerkort visited us regularly at our ahead observer posts. He additionally often inquired about our needs and considerations. Main Meyerkort fell into the arms of the Russians in June 1944, and died in Baku of dysentery. It’s fascinating that the key is claimed to have had a Russian mom and to have been born in Baku, and he spoke Russian. His captivity in Baku was definitely not an accident, and so I doubt that he actually died of dysentery there!

We had a number of battery commanders in a short while, they usually all appeared to have just one factor on their minds: to be reassigned to Germany or France as shortly as potential. Primary was 1st Lieutenant Sauer. He was our commander for about 5 months; then he was transferred, I assume, within the path of the homeland. I used to be with him at battery headquarters for a number of weeks, and we frequently performed chess collectively. After I beat him as soon as, he stopped enjoying me. He was actually a really useless man. Quantity two was a 1st Lieutenant Werner. I consider he got here from Hamburg. Twice we performed soccer collectively in Battery 11. He, too, was transferred after a short while, in all probability again house. Quantity three was 1st Lieutenant Lohse. He in all probability was misplaced with the battery in June 1944. We rarely noticed these three gents on the ahead observer positions.

Our different officers have been 2nd Lieutenant Müller, deputy battery commander, and 2nd Lieutenant Streib, a regulation scholar from the Saarland. Our platoon chief was Grasp Sergeant Hermann. There was a personal with us, Gerhard Schubert, whose father was a basic. Gerhard was later killed in motion.

Drawback in Gear

Once we acquired to the reassignment middle in Munsterlager at the start of February 1943, we went via a three-week orientation course as artillerymen. My new unit now was the fifth Battery, 2nd Battalion, third Artillery Regiment.

I used to be assigned to the calculating part as a tabulator. The part chief was Corporal Setz, a instructor from Austria. We have been imagined to calculate the climate and different influences 4 occasions a day utilizing logarithm tables. We acquired the numbers for the analysis 4 occasions day by day from the climate bureau. Our battery was outfitted with 4 75mm items. These weapons have been captured French struggle booty from World Warfare I. The date “1916” was engraved on the barrels. Since we have been a motorized unit, the gun barrel had been mounted on a 50mm antitank gun carriage. The 50mm antitank gun had been taken out of service in Russia since its projectiles couldn’t penetrate the Russian T-34 tank. We referred to as the 50mm antitank gun “door knocker.” The carriage was not a lot use both.

The 75mm gun had a variety of about 12 kilometers. If we shot over 9 kilometers, we needed to be cautious to not break the crossbar, as a result of at this elevation the recoil was instantly on the weak crossbar. The choice was to dig a gap beneath the again of the carriage. From the outset, we have been clearly at an obstacle with this weapon, and certainly with all our gear.

“Direct Hit! Take Cowl!”

In mid-February, our convoy left for Russia. After a seven-day journey by means of East Prussia and Lithuania, we reached Newel. Then we have been off-loaded and drove by way of bitter chilly and a snowstorm eastward to our assigned place. We quickly found our gear was unsuitable. The roads have been as clean as glass and the tractors have been utterly nugatory. The iron tracks slipped on the graceful roads. The bolts on the treads got here off, and the tractors have been left stranded on the street with out treads. Our “Lanz” tractor that was supposed to assist us out in troublesome conditions was additionally ineffective. It had ironclad wheels and couldn’t maintain to the roads. We needed to depart these brand-new tractors sitting within the ditches. Thanks solely to our Opel all-wheel-drive vans, which carried out excellently in all climate, have been we capable of attain our vacation spot to the south of Welicke-Luki.

We had simply arrived on the entrance when the weapons have been instantly positioned and aimed, and we needed to begin firing. The Russians welcomed our ahead observers over a megaphone, saying, “You half-trained Luftwaffe troopers straight from Munsterlager repo-depot, we’ll whip your asses very quickly!” This confirmed how properly knowledgeable Ivan was!

Our computing part was quartered in a farmhouse just a few meters behind the weapons. On the first salvo, the window pane blew out on our card desk, and the battery commander was mendacity on the bottom shouting, “Direct hit! Take cowl!” Then we came upon that the injury had been brought on by the reverberation of the recoil of our personal weapons. After a couple of days our battery was transferred to the east of Newel, about 10 kilometers from Uswaty. We have been situated on the firing line near the village. We stayed there for a half yr.

At first, we help troops have been quartered in “Finnish huts,” massive spherical buildings manufactured from plywood. About 20 individuals might stay in this stuff. Because the Russians shortly noticed us, we quickly acquired nuisance hearth from a 172mm battery. The shrapnel from the shells penetrated one among our cabins, however, thank God, there have been no casualties.

We referred to as the 172mm weapons “black sows” as a result of the shells produced an enormous black cloud once they exploded. One other Russian artillery piece was the 76mm cannon, which we referred to as the “creaky bang.” Due to its excessive muzzle velocity, you heard the sound of the explosion earlier than the sound of the firing. This terribly efficient weapon was developed in Germany by Krupp. The Military artillery specialists had rejected this gun as a result of the muzzle velocity was too excessive, and thus the cannons have been bought to Russia.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

On the finish of March 1943, we revamped the artillery place in order that we might defend it in all instructions. Each gun crew and the battery headquarters acquired particular person bunkers. Constructing bunkers right now of yr was very troublesome because the floor was frozen strong. Ceaselessly, we needed to blast, and due to the scarcity of correct explosives, we used mines. There was a trench across the complete artillery place with a 15mm antiaircraft machine gun emplacement that was supposed to guard us on all sides. At the moment, the entrance was extraordinarily quiet. Solely the partisans have been making pests of themselves behind the strains.

The Propaganda Conflict

Now we had the time to study extra about our weapons and gear. As well as, we fired in our barrage areas. Air exercise on each side was minimal, except for reconnaissance flights. The Russians tried to recon our strains utilizing a captive balloon till one in every of our fighters shot it down. As soon as we noticed Russian fighters shoot down a German Focke-Wulf double-bodied reconnaissance aircraft. On the very subsequent day, a German Military communiqué introduced: “Yesterday ‘X–quantity’ of Russian planes have been shot down with out loss to us!”

Up on the entrance line Ivan used megaphones to make virtually day by day bulletins like “Stalingrad [is a] mass grave website,” or he invited us to abandon. “German troopers—desert! Probably the most lovely ladies in Leningrad await you. You’ll have common intercourse. Deliver two mess kits alongside, one for pudding.” I have no idea of a single German deserter, however Russians typically abandoned to us. These bulletins have been made by Seydlitzers, members of the Nationwide Committee for a Free Germany, Stalingrad prisoners.

[Lieutenant General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, captured at Stalingrad, joined several other officers in forming the Association of German Officers and the National Committee for a Free Germany. Opposed to Hitler’s management of the war, they hoped to gain some leverage with the Soviets for Germany after the defeat they expected. The organizations created and supported propaganda efforts aimed at convincing German soldiers to surrender to the Soviets.]

A Calm Entrance

I turned a ahead observer in mid-1943. Our computing unit was damaged up, so I misplaced my comfortable place as a calculator. They found out that the consideration of bizarre and climatic elements is redundant for mild artillery. I used to be assigned to the ahead observers as a result of our ahead observers— regardless of the overall lull on the entrance—had suffered critical losses from Russian snipers. The artillery place sometimes had to offer a gun to fight the partisans. Right here, too, we had losses. Virtually each night time so-called “stitching machines,” previous Russian biplanes, flew over us and dropped rations and munitions to the partisans, particularly within the Lapel space.

Due to the partisan exercise, resupplying was troublesome. A number of provides have been misplaced—mail, meals, and munitions. Solely when our provide vans drove in convoys protected by armored reconnaissance automobiles did the availability state of affairs enhance. Because the summer time of 1943 was very pretty and the entrance was calm, we constructed a soccer area and scheduled video games towards different batteries. The world round Uswaty was very degree. We might see a big white home by means of our artillery vary finder—perhaps it was a palace. And there was a lake in entrance of Uswaty.

Through the breaks within the motion, films and theater got here up close to the strains, in order that the blokes had somewhat diversion. There was a barn, which they used for these performances. Each unit might launch a sure variety of males to attend these performances. In fact, the positions needed to be battle prepared always. The Russians shortly came upon about these exhibits and shelled us throughout one efficiency with a 172mm gun. We instantly ran out of the barn and took cowl, so there have been no casualties. The shells hit proper close to the barn. A dancer received hysterical, and our medical officer, well-known for his tough method, handled the poor woman with a slap within the face and the phrases: “Go behind the barn and piss your self dry!”

An Assault on Christmas Eve

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.Within the fall, the entrance obtained livelier. To the left and proper of our sector, the Russians made main breakthroughs, so on the finish of October we needed to abandon our superbly constructed place with out direct contact with the enemy. The time of straightening the entrance started. New fronts had good names like Panther, Tiger, or Bear Place. However now these positions have been simply merely strongpoints. There have been not strong, unbroken entrance strains. Moreover, these strongpoints have been a lot too thinly manned. The enemy might assault us from all sides.

Shortly earlier than Christmas 1943, we took up a place east of the street from Vitebsk to Nevel. On Christmas Eve the Russians attacked. It was very chilly, and an icy snowstorm was raging. Ivan broke by means of left and proper of our place, and our battery was ordered to desert its place as shortly as potential and get again to our new strains to keep away from being reduce off.

We had been wanting ahead to a cheerful Christmas Eve in a heat bunker! We hurriedly loaded our gear, vary finder, radio gear, and machine gun on our motor sled, which seemed like a bit boat, and sped off to the west. Towards midnight, we 4 sat underneath the open sky and sang the Christmas carol, “O Du Froehliche…!” We reached our strains on Christmas Day, and—what a miracle—we even obtained a bunker, which we shared with six squaddies. We artillery ahead observers have been very welcome friends, for all of us had our tommy weapons and a 15mm machine gun. We additionally had hand grenades and armor-piercing antitank grenades. We have been supposed to carry this place—I feel it was referred to as Place Panther—in any respect prices as a result of it protected the Nevel-Gorodok-Vitebsk street.

Driving Again Russian Assaults

At first of January 1944, the Russians attacked virtually day by day with none noteworthy success. Our battery and ahead observer line have been transferred to the northeast of Vitebsk, within the Dvina River bend. Our ahead remark publish was situated on a bald knoll, a really perfect place for protection. The knoll was about six meters excessive and really steep, scarcely negotiable for tanks. The limestone was so onerous that our trenches have been solely a meter and a half deep.

Through the day, we might solely transfer round in them bent over, virtually crawling. The enemy positions have been solely 150 meters away, and the Russian snipers have been damned good; in a number of days we had three males killed. We used mirrors within the trenches to see what was happening. In the event you put a helmet on a pole and put it into view—pow—inside minutes a Russian sniper would put a gap proper by means of it. The obligation was tough as a result of a ahead remark publish like this had solely a four-man crew, and since we had double guards at night time, we needed to go on guard each two hours. It was higher through the day since we had just one guard on watch at a time, so that you solely needed to fall out each six hours. A number of makes an attempt by the Russians to storm our place failed. We held it with our ahead observers with the assistance of 10 squaddies. On April four, 1944, a Russian shock-troop unit managed to penetrate our place. Naturally, it was once I was there on their lonesome!

Nevertheless, I used to be capable of struggle off the Russian assault with hand grenades and a light-weight machine gun. The squaddies from a Brandenburg unit and my three comrades fought via and acquired me out. Correct hearth from our battery brought on the Russians further extreme losses. There have been three males killed simply in our place alone. All of us acquired the Iron Cross, Second Class and have been credited with a day of shut fight on our data. Our battalion commander, Main Meyerkort, visited us a number of days later and handled us to an enormous bottle of vodka and cigarettes. Generally, vodka performed an enormous position on this interval. We obtained a cup of vodka with 1 / 4 liter of schnapps day by day. The rations have been higher this winter, when the provides reached us. One of many squaddies was a barber from the identical city in Brandenburg as my father and truly knew him. A small world.

Iron Cross Coaching

I keep in mind seeing the Stuka pilot Rudel at work. [Hans Rudel, a Luftwaffe colonel, was the most highly decorated soldier of the Third Reich. He piloted a Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive- bomber and flew 2,530 missions during the war and destroyed 532 tanks. In September 1941, he sank a cruiser and the battleship Marat.] Every time issues received tight, we referred to as for the Stukas as a result of we couldn’t cease the Russian tanks with our 75s. They have been too properly armored. We might use a particular armor-piercing cost, which was positioned on the muzzles, however they weren’t correct. So we referred to as for the Stukas.

Rudel approached the tanks from the rear as a result of the armor there’s weakest, it being over the motor. Then he blasted them with the cannons. Since Stukas have been very sluggish, he was all the time protected by two ME-109s [fighter aircraft]. It was all the time an excellent aid for us once we noticed the aircraft with lengthy cannon barrels protruding from the wings approaching. The cannons seemed like broomsticks.

One other factor I keep in mind is the ensigns—officer candidates—on the entrance. They needed to spend a sure period of time in a fight zone. We referred to as it “Iron Cross coaching.” Because the Russians have been all the time capturing at us or sending raiding patrols out, the ensigns must come to us for contact with the enemy. Once they had gone via an assault, they might be given an Iron Cross and will return to no matter faculty or course they have been attending.

One time a raiding patrol attacked, and an ensign was there with us. He needed to report the motion to the colonel, however he was so excited and nervous that the colonel merely stated, “Simply give me Personal Benz.” And I made the report; it was nothing new for us.

R&R in Hamburg

On the finish of January, I acquired three weeks of R&R. It was a troublesome and harmful journey via the rear space, and lots of a soldier misplaced his life on the journey residence. The partisans harassed the rail strains with gunfire and explosives. There have been destroyed automobiles up and down the rails. Our practice was protected by a 20mm cannon and a number of other machine weapons. We have been glad once we reached the border at Wirballen, the place we have been deloused and given a “Führer’s meals pack.” [This was a special package given to front-line soldiers for their home leave. It contained items such as butter or margarine, sugar, coffee, chocolate, etc., which were almost impossible for the normal citizen to get.]

I hoped for a brand new uniform since mine was all torn up and actually filthy, and my underwear had not been washed for 4 months. However as a result of the Luftwaffe floor division was now underneath the command of the Military, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Military felt answerable for me. So, they let me go house to Hamburg on this situation. My mother and father had been bombed out in Hamburg, and I had no garments again there. It was solely because of my intelligent sister that I used to be capable of spend my depart in a clear uniform. She received me the brand new uniform and underwear at a store for antiaircraft personnel. I had an exquisite depart in Hamburg. My household was housed in a Hitler Youth dorm. However I used to be livid over the destruction to my hometown.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

Benz snapped this photograph of the Russian limestone manufacturing unit on the Dvina River from his ahead remark publish.

A Ahead Observer Course

Again on the entrance we have been nonetheless in our previous place on the Dvina, northeast of Vitebsk. Simply outdoors the town, the practice was shelled from each side by Russian artillery. The hall to Vitebsk was getting narrower and narrower, and it will be only a matter of time till the Russians shut the lure. I didn’t hear any cheerful information once I arrived. We had suffered substantial losses, notably within the ahead statement posts. Since we couldn’t rely on reinforcements from residence any longer, we have been slowly bleeding to demise. The Third and Fourth Air Pressure Floor Divisions had been merged within the meantime and have been now referred to as the Fourth Air Drive Floor Division. Basic Pistorius was in command.

The previous routine started once more—manning the station at our ahead statement submit. The Russians have been all the time arising with new concepts to make life depressing for us.

It was April 1944, and presently of yr the Dvina was nonetheless operating excessive. I had simply come on obligation someday when a somewhat giant, unmanned barge got here floating down the river. I started firing at it with the machine gun when it handed our place, however I couldn’t injury it. So, I reported it to our battery commander, and he ordered a gun on the Dvina introduced into place. When the barge got here degree with the cannon, it was shelled. It blew up after a direct hit. It had been loaded with explosives and was presupposed to blow up the Dvina Bridge at Vitebsk. One artilleryman was wounded by the super explosion.

In Might, Russian reconnaissance actions elevated. It was clear that Ivan was planning an assault. Though we might observe the Russian actions, we weren’t permitted to fireside. We needed to save our ammunition. Our weak place fearful us as a result of the Russians would shortly tie the noose round Vitebsk in the event that they attacked. So, I used to be overjoyed once I obtained orders on the finish of Might to attend the artillery ahead observer course in Lepel.

This order didn’t make sense to me. They needed to make me a ahead observer formally. However I had been directing artillery hearth for a number of months as an assistant observer, and particularly when our ahead observer, Corporal Ditmann, had been killed. However it turned out that these absurd orders saved my life. On the best way to the course I met one other fellow from Hamburg, Corporal Louis Petersen, who had been ordered to the course too. We hit it off immediately and have remained buddies ever since.

Most people within the course have been sergeants or corporals; I used to be one of many few Pfcs. On June 7, 1944, our course chief, a serious, knowledgeable us that the Allies had invaded France. He made a really daring assertion: “If the Allies aren’t repulsed in a couple of days, then the struggle is misplaced.” How proper he was!

On the Retreat and Underneath Hearth

Shortly earlier than we completed the course, the Russians began their offensive. Vitebsk was shortly surrounded. We have been all assigned to preventing models. Petersen and I have been hooked up to the crew of an previous 105mm howitzer with ironclad picket wheels. It had no sights, and we needed to purpose level clean alongside the gun barrel! So, off we went, six males plus cannon towards the East, and we have been alleged to cease the Russians with it.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

Cpl. Paul. Gustloff, who labored as a stevedore on the docks of Hamburg earlier than the warfare, stands holding an MG-15 machine gun. Gustloff was later killed in motion.

We quickly misplaced contact with the opposite outfits. We neither heard from nor noticed something of our college officers. We scarcely had contact with the enemy once we have been pushed apart by troops flooding again, notably provide models. Close to Glebokie we captured a Russian antitank gun with two horses and ammunition. The 2-man crew escaped. That they had in all probability misplaced their approach and all of the sudden landed—to their shock and ours—proper in our location. Now there have been six males and two weapons. After we had fired all of the ammunition for the 105, we blew it up, for there was no resupplying anymore.

Off we went with our captured antitank gun within the course of Schwentschionen. We handed over our antitank gun to an artillery provide practice since Petersen and I have been now alone. The opposite 4 had disappeared throughout a tank assault. We two had hidden in an enormous wheat subject.

Then we joined up with a quad 20mm antiaircraft gun. These weapons have been mounted on halftracks and have been actually efficient. The Russians had nice respect for them. Often their planes attacked convoys immediately alongside the axis of motion, both from the entrance or behind. Once they thought we had quad 20s, they attacked the convoy from the edges, which restricted the injury they might inflict.
From Vilnius we went north. We have been underneath steady assault from low-level bombers, IL-2s, the Shturmoviks. Even quad 20s had hassle capturing them down. These planes have been actually one thing, not very quick however have been they properly armored! As soon as we got here throughout one which had crashed. Only for enjoyable we shot on the cover. The bullets simply ricocheted off of it—didn’t even scratch it. They usually had rear-firing rocket launchers. They might make a cross firing machine weapons, then hearth rockets going away. We all the time had to ensure to attend for some time after they handed over earlier than popping out of canopy.

“Throw These Grenades up Their Ass”

The Latvian individuals have been properly inclined towards us and regularly warned us of the pursuing enemy. The entrance had utterly disintegrated. Provide columns, fragments of troop models—all streamed leaderless to the west. Officers have been hardly seen. That they had in all probability saved themselves in motorized consolation. Rations have been an issue; the meals shops had been set ablaze. As soon as, in Utena, we have been capable of get provisions earlier than the shops have been blown up.

On the best way from Vilkomir to Kovno, two MPs on bikes all of the sudden appeared and threatened the retreating guys, saying, “Halt! Whoever retreats will probably be shot!” When the blokes gave no signal of stopping and pointed unmistakably to their weapons, the 2 MPs rotated and took off.

In Kovno, Petersen and I reported to the native headquarters and have been assigned to a process drive. This commander clearly had a “sore throat” and needed the Knight’s Cross in any respect prices. He gave us a stirring speech. His favourite phrases have been, “When the Russians come, don’t be cowards. Throw these grenades up their ass.”

Simply how we have been purported to repulse an enemy that had tanks, low-flying planes, and a whole lot of weapons, he didn’t say. In any case, we have been solely armed with carbines. Afterward, whereas within the hospital in Hamburg, I learn in Der Völkische Beobachter [the official Nazi newpaper] that the colonel had fallen on the Japanese Entrance. He obtained the Knight’s Cross posthu-mously. I couldn’t guess what number of guys needed to chew the mud for it.
Whereas the duty pressure was nonetheless being assembled, Petersen utilized once more to the native commander and truly acquired orders for us to report back to our alternative unit within the Alsace. Armed with these papers, we left Russia with the subsequent practice heading west.

On July 13, 1944, we crossed the border after being deloused in Wirballen. After a few days’ journey, we reached the alternative group in Diedenhofen. My buddy Petersen was already on depart, and I used to be interrogated by a courts-martial officer. The one factor I might report was that we had been deserted by our officers from the artillery faculty. I by no means heard something extra concerning the matter.

On August 2, 1944, I acquired a 16-day reassignment depart. Due to the hardships of the retreat and journey, I had come down with a critical lung an infection, and so I used to be taken to the Reserve Hospital in Hamburg the place I stayed till September 11, once I was allowed to take my postponed depart.

“Match for Restricted Obligation Solely”

Within the meantime, our alternative unit had been transferred to Regensburg, so I reported there after my depart. On November 1, 1944, I took half in a corporal’s coaching course in Ansbach, close to Nuremburg. After passing the examination, I turned a reserve corporal candidate. Due to my sickness, I used to be categorised “match for restricted obligation solely” and was reassigned to a different base the place I used to be made an teacher for a corporals’ class, which consisted of males from 16 to 42 years previous. In February 1945, I caught pleurisy once more and was despatched to the Reserve Hospital in Hamburg till March three.

Within the meantime, the Allies had crossed the Rhine. About 15 limited-duty individuals have been despatched again towards Regensburg. After a four-week foot march, we reached our reserve unit in Regensburg. The Amis [slang for Americans] have been proper behind us the entire method. Once we arrived in Regensburg, they have been already proper on the gates.

During World War II, Joachim Benz served on the Eastern Front in a Luftwaffe ground unit known as a field division.

Benz says, “The fifth Battery Calculation Part, situated within the woods, with our CO 1st Lieutenant Sauer standing second from the correct. I’m sitting behind him and to the fitting. The person fourth from the left, sporting darkish blue coveralls, is a truck driver. The NCO third from the left is holding a raven that he captured, tamed, and taught to talk.”

Our individuals informed us to take 30 younger and virtually unbroken horses from there to Landshut. Solely two or three of us had ever been on a horse. It was inconceivable to maneuver through the day as a result of the enemy fighter-bombers had full management over the roads. So we set off at night time towards the top of April. Each man had two horses, which he took turns driving. Utilizing again roads, we went the 100 kilometers to Landshut, the place we arrived one morning utterly exhausted. Since we didn’t have driving britches—and have been no horsemen—we had horrible blisters on our cheeks and have been utterly uncooked between the legs. Up to now within the conflict this had solely occurred to my ft!

Captured Briefly

Once we arrived on the garrison, we instantly lay down on the cots and slept proper by way of to the subsequent morning, Might 1, 1945. Once we acquired up, we realized that the entire garrison personnel—together with the officers—had run away. As soon as extra we had been abandoned by our officers. The Amis have been already within the metropolis and standing proper in entrance of our barracks. Since we had no meals, we raided the army shops, placed on new uniforms, and en-tered into American captivity.

That day, I used to be wounded by shrapnel from a tank shell. The garrison was shelled by tanks though we had raised the white flag and provided no resistance. The People took us to the infamous POW camp, Regensburg-Donauwiesen. On the best way there, they put us in a cow pen. When the farmers tried to convey us cooked potatoes—we had not eaten something for 24 hours—the People shot at us. A buddy was hit within the thigh and bled to dying. The People denied us any assist. Thus we turned acquainted with our liberators immediately.

It was not any higher within the Regensburg camp, the place there have been over 100,000 prisoners. We obtained scarcely something to eat—three biscuits per day. However not getting any consuming water was actually a unclean deal. A number of occasions in the course of the week there was a so-called roll name. We have been herded from one camp to the opposite. The People stood to the left and proper and beat us with bamboo canes. For weeks we lay underneath the open sky; that they had taken away our tarps. The climate god was gracious; it scarcely rained in any respect. On the primary of Might, the day of our seize, it had snowed. Many comrades, particularly the older ones, died of lung infections.

Firstly of June 1945, rumor had it that we have been to be handed over to the French to work within the mines. Now, I needed to pretend one thing. I went on sick name and advised the American physician that I had TB [tuberculosis]. The People have been very fearful of TB, in order that they launched me shortly.

Because the People solely launched prisoners in their very own zone, I gave my grandmother’s home in north Hesse as my residence handle. There was one remaining soiled trick. These of us to be launched, about 40 males from the Kassel space, needed to have our heads shaved.

On Sunday, June three, 1945, black American troopers drove us by tractor-trailer truck from Regensburg to Kassel. We went by way of Würzburg and Giessen. Within the villages that we handed by means of, the individuals tossed bread to us. Within the night, not removed from Giessen, they threw us out of the truck and advised us to stroll the remainder of the best way.

The Finish of the Warfare for Benz

It solely took a couple of days to succeed in my grandmother’s home. However a few fascinating issues occurred on the best way. An American patrol stopped me and requested to see my papers. Once they learn that I had a lung illness, they gave me the papers again instantly and wiped their fingers on their pants. Then, I used to be strolling previous a former SS barracks occupied by American troops. Some GIs heard me approaching. I used to be nonetheless sporting the hobnailed boots, which made lots of noise on paved roads. They usually frolicked of the home windows razzing me, shouting “hip – hop – hip – hop” in rhythm with my boots plunking on the street.

I appeared up and yelled, “Fellows, the conflict is over for me. You get to remain right here and play soldier boy a bit longer!” You’ll be able to think about the tirade of curses and oaths that got here again. Lastly, on June 5, 1945, simply earlier than the night time curfew, I received to my grandmother’s home. For me the struggle was over. Though I attempted for a few years to determine contact with my former buddies from the Third/Fourth Air Pressure Floor Division, I by no means succeeded. I had no higher luck with their kin. All of the comrades who have been within the Vitebsk space have been reported lacking.

Interviewer and translator Peter D. Fyfe resides in Lexington, Virginia, and labored as a professor of German at Virginia Army Institute. Ward Carr is a veteran of the U.S. Military. He carried out preliminary modifying of the interview and resides in Frankfurt, Germany.