From Koenigsberg to Kaliningrad
Königsberg was the capital of Eastprussia, the place where my family originated from and where my roots are. We Prussians originated from Germanic pagans. It was when the ancestors of the English left the German mainland to the west, that my ancestors moved to the east were they settled in the area that came later to be known as Preussen (Prussia), the Iron Kingdom. That was roughly 12. centuries ago, it was the time after the Romans were defeated and the Germanic expansion began. That was a long time ago. Since ww2 Prussia is occupied by 6 different countries; Poland, BRD-Germany, Russia, Lithuania, and Czechoslovakia. 2/3 of my people were slaughtered and those who survived went into exile to Occupied Germany and other Western European countries.
I found a video I wanted to share which shows what has happened to the once beautiful city of Königsberg, now Kalingrad, named after a Soviet murderer who slaughtered his own people! Building such ugly structures as the Soviets did should constitute a war crime, or a crime against humanity or something, for a crime against beauty constitute their entarted architecture is in any case! Those who can take a lot of ugliness and what we in Germany call “entartung”, may use the net to search for pictures of the “palast der republik” and the “Berliner Stadtschloss”, the Palast der Republik, this ugly abomination of architecture, the Soviets build at the place where the Berliner Stadtschloss stand before!
I also came across a war biography from a German soldier who saw the last days of Eastprussia, the last days of civilisation in Eastern Europe before the Soviets started to slaughter almost everyone who was not illiterate. Justice is dead! It an interesting fact to note that many of those communists who committed the genocide on Russians and Ukrainians after ww1, became “holocause surviver” right after ww2! They came flooded into Germany and became life long pensions the German people had to pay for! Many of them became the new ruling class here after the war! Thus they were greatly rewarded for all their “achievements”, “achievements” like the starving of ~10.000.000 Ukrainian peasants to death for example!
“Justice exists only where just men rule” – Tacitus
22. At The Memel Front
My stay at the Gneisenau Post was very short, from October 2nd through October 11th, 1944 and I didn’t see much of the city of Heiligenbeil. During the time I was there, the Marschkompanie (Company which is moving out) hardly ever got to leave the barracks. Maybe it was meant to be that way.
As our small Troop moved out on October 12th we didn’t know what was going to happen with us. We drove to Zinten aboard a regular passenger train. It appeared as though we were going on a company outing. Once more we were inspected and equipped with field gear at the Troop- Training site Stablack. The train ride went past Koeningsberg and Labiau to Tilsit where we got off the train.
West Germany and Berlin were constantly under air-raid attack. East Prussia on the other hand was a peaceful oasis until the summer of 1944. By the end of July, beginning of August, Tilsit had been bombed a few times. Now, in mid October, the streets of Tilsit also had the look of the misery of war. It even smelled as if the Red Army was advancing toward East Prussia. The people who in the years before tried to avoid more frequent air-raid attacks by moving to East Prussia were the first to instinctively think it would be wiser to go back to the bomb threatened western region instead of falling into Russian hands. A secret escape movement got started.
Full of troubled presentiment, the East Prussia population looked toward the east. District Leader Erich Koch indicated, without having better knowledge, that the rumors about the Russians stepping onto East Prussia soil were just that, rumors. “Brave and loyal!” was written in big white letters on just about every house by Goldfasanen. (Political Leaders who were negatively called Goldfasanen because of their uniforms with golden trim).
It must have been October 14, 1944 when our Troop crossed the Memel River in Tilsit over the Queen-Luisen Bridge. Army Engineers decided on the course of the East Prussia defense positions. Individual construction was in the hands of the party. The hired help did not have the proper education for construction, therefore questionable structures emerged. They were protective trenches for two men and MG-Positions. We were assigned to one of them and presented ourselves to the enemy half way up a hill near Willkischken at the Jura, 15 km east of Tilsit.
On the morning of October 16, 1944, at 7:00 o’clock, the Red Army made them selves noticeable through a tremendous drum barrage. Russian tanks rolled ahead. The Russians and their PAK (Anti Tank Guns) slowly destroyed our trenches, which we defended fiercely. Enemy fire was so strong that communication from trench to trench was nearly impossible. So, everyone had to fight for himself. The missing connecting trenches made a transition to the sides impossible.
If we could only move the sun over the mountain so the night would make us invisible! Hour after hour, regardless of their many casualties, the Ivans pushed closer. When night finally came they lay in front of us within shouting distance but they had no time for an all out attack. The next morning the Ivans must have attacked our trenches with a loud “Urrahh”, but the bird had already flown out of the extremely bad coop. Even though we had to bolt from this place, we accomplished our mission during the next days. In heavy battles we withdrew from position to position, back towards the Memel River.
We crossed the Memel River on a pontoon bridge by Ragnit during the night of October 21, 1944. For the rest of the night we found refuge in the town of Neuhof. Rumors had it that we could get a few days of rest in Ehrenfelde, but once we arrived we received orders to move to the northern bridgehead of the Queen-Luisen-Bridge in Tilsit right away. After a hurried march through the badly damaged city of Tilsit we arrived at the bridgehead in the evening. Cadets from the Officer School of Thorn were there with their Colonel. Sergeant Fischhoeder who replaced the sick Lieutenant Quwien led our Company. He reported to the Bridge Commander with 40 men. The Commander asked for the rest of the Company. Sergeant Fischhoeder said, “This is all of us!” The Bridge Commander replied, “Go see how you will relieve 180 men!” The Cadets left the bridgehead as fast as they could! And us to our destiny. Sergeant Fischhoeder said: “Now we have the suicide mission!”.
Troops of all arms constantly moved over the bridge. A bridge is always a favorite target for enemy artillery. The Ivans shot with phosphor grenades, which was very effective and saved the bridge. After all, they wanted to take the crossing intact into their own hands. Many of the returning vehicles, tanks and assault weapons went up in smoke. We were sad and helpless. Around midnight an Engineer Unit reported that they finished their blasting operation and that there was no one left who wanted to cross the bridge besides themselves or the Ivans. The Regiment Commander, Colonel Lieutenant Von Kalm drove up with a Communication Troop. This was the first time I saw him and the impression he left on me was convincing. He promised to take us across the river on assault boats if we would have to stay at the bridgehead even after the detonation of the bridge. Then, a farming vehicle with three soldiers drove up. One of them lay badly wounded in the straw. They were very thankful to be able to still cross the bridge.
“If the enemy artillery fire stops now we have to get ready for close combat”, I thought to myself. But instead of the Ivans two officers came and gave us orders to withdraw across the bridge to the safety of the shore as quickly as possible. With a horrible bang and a following burst, the historic landmark of the city sank into the waters of the Memel River. We had been the last to cross. Sadly we looked to the other side; nothing moved. Hopefully our Engineer Battalion didn’t detonate the bridge too soon! How many more times could we be saved?
Of course the Russians have heard the explosion of the bridge. By now their artillery switched back to grenades with which they covered the south shore of the Memel. We moved to an embankment position at the river before the break of day. Our Engineer Battalion even blew the railroad bridge that crossed the Memel near the Queen-Luisen Bridge into the air. Now, the northern defense took its course along the Memel up to the Kurisch Haff. During the remaining days of October, the Russians made no attempt to cross the river. It got suspiciously quiet in our section. Sometimes tanned people would ride their bicycles on the northern Memel dyke. We used this time to expand our position. There was no shortage of material. We had wonderfully big, massive, freshly cut boards at our disposal. I have been with this Troop for nearly one week. Which, three weeks earlier – can you imagine – was loaded for the drive to the Reich in Riga, the northern capital of Latvia about 400 km further away from here. At the old Reich’s-Border the Troop had been intercepted and transported to the region of Tauroggen to block the Russian invasion. It was the 1. Company of Regiment 24 of the 21st East- and West-Prussian Infantry Division with the field-post number 27756 B.
I was 19 ½ years young, Private 1st Class. I was honored with the EK II and the Verwundeten-Medal in black (similar to Purple Heart). What I still didn’t have was the Close Combat Medal, which I think should be the silver one. During my time with the 340th ID, I saw the white of the enemy’s eyes several times. After I had been wounded the 340th Infantry Division as well as their documentation had been completely destroyed while in the area of Lemberg. When I got to the 21st Division no one asked where I came from. Due to the very wet crossing of the river Bug the entries in my pay-logbook were almost unreadable.
I was assigned a troop of soldiers by the Command who were younger than myself and had no front-line experience. Perhaps these guys needed a father figure like the one I had at the 340th Division, old “Oberschnaepser”. Due to my age I couldn’t have been a father figure but I tried to make up for that by instructing them of camaraderie with my front-line adventures. All of them had to understand that they needed each other and that one would be nothing, absolutely nothing without the support of the team. During these days the men had lots of time to think and too much time to think can be like poison to a soldier!
That’s when something terrible happened: During one of my rounds I found a very young soldier in his trench who had killed himself with a gunshot into his mouth. Why did he do this? How could he do this? He had unscrewed the stock of his rifle and pushed it into the wall of the trench in such a way that it pointed up in a slant. He hooked the trigger of his rifle in the stock, put the muzzle in his mouth and kicked the stock, which then fired the shot. I wouldn’t recommend trying this! No one had even noticed what had happened. While I went to report the incident I ordered all of the guys in the trench not to move anything. The incident was recorded.
I had been their Leader for only a few days and now something like this had to happen! It was like a nightmare! Later on I found out that the soldier had been from the Elsass. I guess he had lost his nerve. Everything that happened in this war must have seemed so senseless and terribly sad to him. Why didn’t he talk to someone about his emotional anguish? Even though it was not acceptable for a soldier to have a troubled mind he could have talked to me. – Where were we? Oh, the Ivans advanced over the Rominter Heide to East Prussia. Now it’s only a matter of time before we will be involved again. ….
23. At The Edge Of Rominter Heide
Soldiers who had recovered from their injuries and others came to our bunch at the Memel during the last days of October. A Non Commissioned Officer took over my Command. I was assigned to be the Communications Specialist for the Company by the Company Chief. This was really good for me! On Allerheiligen (all saints day, a German holiday) 1944 our Troop began to move out. What the population didn’t know yet was: On October 20, 1944 the Russians employed new, strong tank troops. 50 km south of us, behind us if you will, our defense line could no longer withhold the concentrated tank attacks. The tanks broke through by the town Gross Waltersdorf and reached the Rominte River. Without any resistance they crossed the Angerapp River and continued to Nemmersdorf. The city of Gumbinnen was in danger from the south.
It was said that between November 5th and 8th, 1944 the Division was transported in the area of Angerapp – Goldapp by rail. The bunch I belonged to must have been under a different command once again. We didn’t travel by train but instead marched only by night and fog on Reichs- Street 132, south towards Gumbinnen. Apparently there was no reason to rush. Supposedly the higher leaders thought of us as the reserve forces in case the Russians would start an attack toward Breitenstein. During the day we found shelter on big farms with our horses and wagons. The Russian Air Force couldn’t make us out. Though their little canvas-covered brother, the “Sewing Machine”, also known as the “Burbel”, “Coffee Grinder” or “Runway-UVV” followed us throughout the night. We were not allowed to light a match or cigarette. The pilots turned off their engines and sailed above us. This way they were able to hear all of the sounds. Once hand grenades exploded. Did we have to deal with guerillas? No, a “Burbel” once again started the engine and sailed along. Another time we transported a wounded soldier on a Panjeschlitten (sled which becomes a Panjeschlitten if pulled by small Polish or Russian horse). I sat on the back as an escort, when I heard a strange blubbering sound above the trees, which gave the “bird” it’s nickname “Sewing Machine”. The biplane flew very low and close behind us. The pilot looked at us for sure but didn’t know whom he was dealing with because of the snowstorm. Even though our pulses were racing we took advantage of the situation and stayed on our course.
We left the Reichs- Street in Breitenstein. On our left we passed the Eichwalder Woods and made our way towards Insterburg along the Inster River. There were still civilians in Insterburg. Women stood in clothing stores and dressed themselves in new, free clothes. Now we traveled on Reichs- Street 137, towards Angerapp. The train station of Ammerau is halfway between Insterburg and Angerapp. A shaky signpost announced it was 9 km more to Nemmersdorf.
What did the German population have to endure after Russian tanks advanced to this town on October 21, 1944? Two days after the reclamation of Nemmersdorf by our troops we found a gruesome scene! For the first time the Germans had been shown the fate that awaited them once the Russian soldiers had them in their power. The degraded officer whom I meet at the reserve hospital Strehlen sends his regards! Didn’t he tell me months ago that the Russian Author Ilja Ehrenburg composed a flyer in which he instigated Russian soldiers to rape and kill our women, to cut the throats of children? That’s exactly what the Ivans did in Nemmersdorf. Women had been raped and murdered in a most gruesome way
We had marched south all the way to Angerrapp. Now, leaving this town, we headed east towards the Rominter Heide where Reichs Marshall Hermann Goering had his hunting castle. The Russians dwelled in it now unless our engineers blew up the castle earlier. We reached Zellmuehle and Reichs- Street 132 in the beginning of November. It was 12 km to the heavily fought over Goldap in the south, and 24 km past the hard pressed Gumbinnen in the north. During the first night we slept on potatoes and coal with a few grenade duds in between which didn’t disturb us too much.
The following morning we moved into readily dug trenches outside of town in the direction of Goldap. Judging by the course of the front trench this had not been wisdom’s latest creation but we were satisfied with the structures for the Command Post and the shelter for the Company Troop. Both were bunkers lying directly next to Reichs- Street 132. There was even a Donnerbalken (described in chapter 12) under the clear blue sky.
In the following days soldiers kept going back and forth to town to gather supplies. All it took was to walk the 200-meter, slightly downhill street to get to the first buildings. On the left hand side was a small bridge. The enemy was not able to see the bridge but every now and again they threw grenades onto it. When once again our Company Chief was named the Battalion Commander he had to cross the bridge a few times together with a Communications Specialist. Quwien would lie in the ditch of the street and listen. If he didn’t hear the sound of muzzles he ran, without announcement, across the bridge as if stung by a tarantula. I followed him in my regular pace. After being wounded, First Lieutenant Scherer took his place. “Flowerpot 1” was the code word for the boss of the 1st Company. He got very angry with me when I addressed him by his name and rank over the field-phone at one time. If the field kitchen had arrived the Platoon Leaders were asked to a game of poker. Mangold, our second Communications Specialist was also a guy from Swabia. He was from the Welzheimer Forrest. If “Flowerpot” had too much Vodka, both of us had to report to him late at night to sing the German song “Auf de Schwaeb’sche Eisebahne”. It was during that time when, without a sound, the Russians snatched one or two of our comrades.
The next day the Ivans yelled to us “Attention, Attention! This is the National Committee of Free Germany speaking. Now you will hear a prisoner’s band. They will play the tune “Der Gott, der Eisen wachsen liess”. Then they announced in perfect German language that last night our comrade – What’s his name – was taken, that he sends his greetings and we should join him soon, and that the Soviet Army serves five warm meals a day. “Hello Fritz, how much further is it to Berlin?” Click, and the spook was over. We knew very well that we had only one man for every 30 meters; very little during dark nights. To the left and right of us were hundreds of meters of nothing, enough free space to attack us from all sides.
A Non Commissioned Officer, the Officer who was on Guard Duty to secure a section of the trench and a few men guarded these open sections.
On November 15th we went to get a few Russians for ourselves. Leading the assault was Staff Sergeant Fischhoeder. He briefed us very well on the course of our action. Our pay- logbooks and other things we didn’t need were left behind with our comrades. We were armed with machineguns, pistols and hand grenades. One after another we crawled towards the trenches of the Ivans. The Staff Sergeant was first, followed by Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok who was the old, tough soldier of the Company, honored with the German Cross in gold. Another 5 to 6 men followed and a Communications Specialist named Heinz Beck was last in line. All of a sudden hand grenades started flying and we dove into the Ivans-trench. The Ivans fled alongside the trenches. Suddenly a flare lit the sky. In it’s light I realized that my Assault-Comrades already headed back while I was still searching the enemy trench. “What a dummy I am”, I thought to myself, as I got very warm. As fast as I could I crawled out of this very deep Ivan trench and ran after the others. When I met the others I realized what had happened. Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok had been so badly wounded that he had to be carried. We caught one Ivan of whom I was left in charge. A dying Non Commissioned Officer and only one prisoner! What if he escapes? I thought to myself. I grabbed him by his neck, showed him the general direction and pushed him in front of me until we reached the Command Post.
The Battalion Commander and a translator from the Division awaited us. In the glow of the Hindenburgkerzen we realized that we brought back a Mongolian man who claimed not to speak any Russian. Maybe he didn’t lie? Maybe this was his first contact with German soldiers. He couldn’t hide his fear that this may be the end of his life and with gestures he questioned if now his head, arms, legs and other body parts that stick out would be cut off.
The Officers didn’t waste any time. They took our dying Comrade and “Slit-Eyes” away. Unfortunately Non Commissioned Officer Pitrok died at arrival at the main field hospital. One freezing cold day as I sat on the Donnerbalken a “Ratsch-Bumm” (cannon) was fired. With this Russian equipment the impact of the shell follows the firing almost immediately. But the shots came from our side! What is going on? Never before did I get off the Donnerbalken so fast. I pulled up my pants and ran to our shelter along the Splittergraben (trench in zigzag line in which one can walk and is protected from grenade- and bomb fragments.) It must have been a picture for the gods!
The Medic knew all about it. A captured Russian cannon was fired. I remembered seeing one of these cannons close up in the Ukraine when a Panje- horse came trotting by itself down the street. It had a feed sack around its neck and pulled a “Ratsch-Bumm” behind. Unnoticed it must have run away from the Ivans. It was a lightweight cannon with a barrel diameter of 7.62 cm. These things did a lot of damage to our tanks. They could penetrate a tanks 90 mm amour from 500 m away.
I always had a good relationship with my Company Chiefs. Even though I tried very hard to speak good “High” German, my schwaebisch (German dialect) was easy to make out but in some ways the men seemed to like it. Maybe they also appreciated my bravery and capability as Communications Specialist. They liked me more than I imagined, which I found that out when I was by Welnisze. My Platoon Leader had tears in his eyes when an unknown Captain borrowed me for a few days. I think my Company Chief was angry when the Battalion Commander had send for me after Christmas, on January 3, 1945, to be his Communications Specialist.
24. The Battle For East Prussia
In the beginning of January 1945, experienced men from the Army’s Upper Command carefully calculated the ratio of power between Germany and Russia. The conclusion: Infantry 1:15, Tanks 1: 7 and the Artillery 1:20. Without the protection from our aircrafts our troop was at the mercy of the Russian Air Force. Last fall the situation was the same. Reason enough to move largely at night.
At the River Weichsel the Russians had already made it through the front line. In order to close the gap and to possibly prevent the enemy’s breakthrough in the Army’s center section, Divisions were taken from East Prussia. With the misjudgment of the situation in the very threatened East Prussia province a disaster was inevitable.
On January 13, 1945, a foggy winter morning with some snow and frost, the beginning of the Russian offensive was under way at 7 o’clock, announced by a deafening noise. Our front line section towards the west had already been breached; so the Russians attacked the front line area in the east, thrust direction Koenigsberg. Further to the south the Russians planed to advance in the direction of Elbing in order to surround everything in between. The two Russian forces were 130 km apart. Our Army was 170 km further in the east. On January 21, 1945, several days too late, Hitler allowed our Army to withdraw.
We Communications Specialists had our hands full informing the Companies of the timing of our ordered withdrawal. Radios and phones had to be silent so the enemy had no hint of our secret departure. The boss didn’t forget to point out that we had to leave our positions spotless. For example, I remember that the 1st Company had swept their command post and shelters and clean ashtrays were put on the field-tables. If all of this impressed the Red Army, it defies my knowledge.
Ice, snow, snowdrifts, and countless refugees hindered our movements and made for terrible road conditions. In places refugees were fleeing in a panic. Several convoys headed west. Army vehicles were loaded with civilians. Crying women with strollers and small children who could not go on any further begged us to take them. With assuring words political party members had stalled the movement of the population. Now they had to figure out how to leave this place. Kradmelder (Communications Specialists on motorcycles) could not get through the wall of people. We Specialists were raced throughout the area like German Shepherds to scout possible routs, to check on the moving troops and to keep them together.
Through sometimes-heavy snowfall we reached Angerburg through Locken – Herzogsrode – Zoden and Jordanen. During the day we fought the Red Army in sharpshooter style, sometimes just because we didn’t have enough ammunition. On rare occasions we got support from requested assault tanks. Even though the situation was rotten for the Infantry, the “Knalldroschken” (Tanks) retreated after a few shoots. “Not enough fuel!” I heard. As the Ivans surrounded our Battalions Command Post they were not able to help. We understood, we had to help ourselves. In the cover of the night we were able to get out.
For five days we had to deal with the enemy who attacked us from the northeast. January 25th and 26th brought hours of concern and crisis. The Russians broke through many sections of the defense line at the Masuren (East Prussian region with many small and large lakes) and divided the remaining parts of our Division into single fighting groups. By now the enemy pressed toward us from the south and east. We stayed on our westward course and defended ourselves on both sides.
Thiergarten and Engelstein were the hometowns of some of our comrades. Some of their family members were still there but the Comrades were able to urge them to leave as quickly as possible. During the night the Ivans went wild. With heavy artillery they blanketed the towns. The village square of Engelstein was crowded with refugee vehicles. Heavy “suitcases” from the Russian artillery crashed down in between. We were able to make out that their position was very close by. Thanks to the help from Americans the enemy was motorized. I found shelter at an entrance of a house. A girl looked at me with big pleading eyes. She must have been 15 or 16 years old. She snuggled so close to me that I could feel the forms of her young, maturing body and she enjoyed the warmth from mine. The girl begged me to take her. I had to tell her that I couldn’t because I am a very busy Communications Specialist for the Battalion. With tears in the corner of my eyes I kissed her gently, carefully loosened the embrace then marched on with my Unit. – “Take care of yourself little girl”
Through high snow our unit stamped cross-country towards Fuerstenau. There was no getting through on the roads. Even in Fuerstenau there were still civilians present. Our Communications Troop found shelter inside a house. The Residents were about to leave. A warm deep-dish cake was left on a table. We ate it hungrily. Within minutes the cake was devoured. In the bedroom we found an old women completely dressed lying in bed. She wanted to leave with the others but her physical and mental state wouldn’t allow it. All she wanted now was to await her death. What tragedy must have unfolded before our arrival?
There was no time to think about this any longer. Sergeant Rehling, Commander in charge of the Communications Specialist Squad pushed the door open. “The Ivans are in town!” Flares of all colors lit the night sky. Tanks made tracks in the snow. “We’ll meet in Drengfurt, you’ll have to make it through on your own”.
I tried to stay with Battalion Commander Major Schulz but couldn’t keep his pace. Lets not lose his sight, I thought to myself. A few figures in white camouflage with hoods stood in the slightly sloping countryside. They were dressed the same as me! I stamped past them very close but I had my doubts. Were they Ivans or not? These dubious figures didn’t make a sound. Neither did I, which must have been the best thing to do! Once in Drengfurt I reported to Sergeant Rehling and he asked me “How is the situation?” “Serious, but not hopeless, Sergeant!” I answered. Once again I was glad that I had made it.
Our sense of time was gone these days. Minutes seemed like hours, days like minutes. We didn’t know what day of the month it was; only the difference between night and day. During the day we fought for our survival, at night we marched, carried the wounded, waited and hoped. Some would lay in the snow discouraged and weak. Encouraging words couldn’t make them get up, maybe they just couldn’t go on any further. The hint that the Ivans would pull them out of the snow and shoot them in the back of their neck didn’t revive their will to life.
On the streets and in all directions the Army, Refugees, and the Red Army were in a complete and immense chaos. Without consideration Russian Tanks crushed civilians under their chains. Have mercy, have mercy! They crush everything flat into the ground like rolled out dough. Sometimes a face could still be made out. In the night we reached an intersection. Army Divisions approached from three sides, all of them with the intention to cross first. There was terrible shouting. Our Commander drove ahead and with a few words clarified who would have the right of way. Colonel Lieutenant von Kalm died in March of 1945 near Heiligenbeil during an enemy air-attack.
We passed the town of Barten. Days before, the Russians ravaged inside the forestry building of Prassen. The Russians had tied the arms and legs of civilians to four horses, ripping them into quarters. Others had their eyes cut out and were hung. We were so de-sensitized, that all that had happened didn’t faze us any longer. Death could practically be salvation. It snowed continuously. The pine trees seemed to break down under the heavy weight of the snow. Soaking wet and freezing cold we stood under the pine trees for 1 ½ days. No one dared to lay down for fear of freezing to death. We had to keep our limbs moving. Besides the noise of snow falling of the trees there was no sound at all. Finally we received orders to move out.
Our remaining Infantry Regiment united with the Artillery Regiment of our Division near Schippenbeil. From now on we were one Regiment. We had to move out of Schippenbeil on January 31, 1945. We build a sparingly covered defense strip on the hills north of the Alle River. We could observe a herd of Ivans who occupied the railroad tracks south of the Alle River by Landskron. Going further west we stayed along the Alle-Line for 4 days. On February 4, 1945 we had to surrender Bartenstein. Landsberg, which was about 15 km to the west, fell into Russian hands two days before. The Ivans also wanted to take over the city of Prussian-Eylau, north of Landsberg, but that could be prevented.
In my notebook I wrote: The town of Albrechtsdorf and Eichenhorn lay between Bartenstein and Landsberg. We were practically cut off from the main Troop. The 1st Battalion of the IR 24 now only consists of three small Companies. As the Communications Specialist for the Battalion I had to familiarize myself with the route to the Command Posts as soon as the Unit was at a stand still. To the question “Comrade, where is your Command Post?” I seldom got a straight answer. Instead I was asked: “Why, what’s new, when will we withdraw?” My Comrades could not expect an answer from me! In their disappointment and anger I had been called a “Stupid Dog” many times. Deployment during the night was difficult. Under no circumstances could the Ivans notice our deployment. Communications Specialists announced the timing of deployment to the Companies. We had to be quick and silent.
I remember a situation when two Companies were on the move when the last Company, even after several orders, still refused to leave their position. Slowly the situation got dangerous for the Battalion. In my anger I struck First Lieutenant Weseling on his helmet-covered head with my signal-pistol when he still refused to follow the orders. He growled that he would report me and have me court-martialed. Only with great effort were we able to join the Companies in front of us. The First Lieutenant stood no chance with me. The Battalion Commander straightened him out. First Lieutenant Weselings argument that he had to stay to defend his family’s estate did not make a difference either.
During these days, in the snow-covered woods, Battalion Commander Major Schulz was killed. I was in front of the Battalion Command Post with a group of captured men from the Red Army taking their Troop-Passports when Sergeant Rehling brought me the news with tears in his eyes. In his bitterness he said to me: “Kill them all, these pigs!” But I couldn’t do it. These were old men without weapons, old men in despair, with bushy mustaches, probably from the Caucasus. I couldn’t bring them with me so I just left them standing there. On the other hand, a Russian Commander would have killed German soldiers without hesitation with a shoot in the back of the neck.
Only the devil knows why we were ordered to the Troop- Training Site in Stablack near Landsberg. The barracks were full of lice and bugs. Vehicles, mostly from the Artillery, stood in wild disorder. There was nothing here for us guys from the Infantry. Shortly thereafter we headed west towards Buchholz. Russians were at the coastal bay by Tolkemit and Frauenburg. Our path crossed with the refugees in the area of Mehlsack. We were able to keep the Russians away from them, but only with enormous effort.
The Battalion Staff found shelter in an old farmhouse. During one night, by the light of a Hindenburgkerze, when the battle had come to a pause I went on a hunt for lice in the crevices and seams of my clothing. Already they had left their marks on my torso and limbs. Sergeant Rehling walked up to me with the comment that I should have an immunization, and to come with him. He took me to an Officer whom I didn’t know. “In the name of the Leader”, he said “I present to Private 1st Class Heinz Beck of the 24th Infantry Regiment the Iron Cross 1st Class; Division Command Post, February 7, 1945. (Medal awarded for acts of heroism, bravery or leadership skills.) The Officer handed me a piece of paper with all the information in writing. Calmly I let him pin the cross on my left breast pocket. Deep down I felt no connection to my Leader. Maybe I would have been very proud if I could have received the award in the name of my Comrades and the refugees we protected!
Fierce combat started in the area of Eichholz – City- Wood Mehlsack – Lichtenfeld – and Gottesgnade. The Russians had the upper hand. Gunners, Engineers and Cannoneers fought together for every trench. Several times a day the Artillery switched positions. T-34 where always around. We Communications Specialists were exhausted from running around. One night, being overly tired, I fell asleep in a bathtub on the Gottesgnade Farm. There I also had to deal with another group of captured Ivans. Once again I didn’t shoot them, I just left them standing there.