The defence line stiffens on the German border

German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.

German citizens prepare the defences in the Vosges region, overseen by the Wehrmacht.

German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.

German Grenadiers in a defence position on the Adriatic front October 1944.

In the Vosges mountains, approaching Germany from the south west, the Germans now found themselves facing the French again, this time equipped by the Americans and part of the broad Allied attack. The surviving officers of the German Army were now very experienced, most having been at war for five years. With their home country at their backs, fighting in terrain that did not suit Allied armour or air forces, thy a would be a formidable opponent.

Due to casualties Georg Grossjohann had just taken over command of his regiment. They were trying to establish a defensive line in the thickly wooded countryside – but it was difficult to establish how far the French had penetrated. Grossjohann suddenly saw a man in the bushes ahead taking aim at him – and instantly emptied his magazine in reply:

With more leap I stood next to him. He was a very young officer, not Algerian or Moroccan, but a blond Frenchman. I had hit him in his thigh, close to his torso, and I saw right away that any help would be too late. He still managed to ask me for his morphine needle, which every American – and therefore French — first-aid kit contained.

I stayed with him for a few moments and tried to give him some encouragement, but then I had to go on. In more than four years of war, our souls became callused, although without this protection, we probably could not have endured so much!

The more deeply we moved into the thick forest, the more dispersed our lines became, because we had to secure our western flank at least scantily. Yet, in the end, I had to give up. With barely 150 men, one could not mop up an extremely clever opponent, presumably superior in numbers, in five to six kilometers of thick forest. We also had an uneasy feeling that the Algerians or Moroccans had already passed us in the north, and that it was only a flank guard that we were fighting. This feeling would become an extremely unpleasant reality by the evening.

It was, therefore, not feasible to advance any further. It also appeared to me to be extremely risky to leave my thin line of defense in this dense forest during the night. My aide-de-camp and I noticed at dusk how clever and dangerous the opponent was.

For some time, there had been total silence and we had a short exchange of thoughts as we were standing in a clearing. Suddenly, a shot was fired, and a messenger who had come with us stood for a second as if frozen, then fell to the ground. Upon my rather frightened call, “Fiege, what’s the matter?” he answered in clearly understandable words, “I am dead, Herr Major!” Seconds later, that’s what he really was. One could move only with the most extreme caution. Comrades carried the dead back as usual, wrapped in his ground sheet.

During the long war I had experienced many things, but a messenger reporting his own death was one of the more macabre.

Shortly before complete darkness, I ordered to pull back and only kept outposts on the clear hills outside the woods, facing north and northwest. A patrol confirmed our concerns from late afternoon. The opponent had practically encircled us; Some houses were in flames in Ramonchamp, situated some five hundred to one thousand meters south of us in the valley. One could clearly hear the bustle of vehicles and voices in the clear night. We were surrounded.

After my return to the command post, I heard the rattle of shovels in the dark. When I questioned what they were doing there, they answered, “We’re digging a hole for Fiege!” Exhausted and depressed as I was, I just could not control myself anymore and yelled, “This is not a hole, you idiots, this is a grave!” Right away, I regretted my outburst, since the poor guys were at least as depressed and worn out as I was. Their irreverent expression was only a kind of cover for their stress. , This nocturnal episode was always one of those especially deep impressions I had of the war.

SeeGeorg Grossjohann: Five Years, Four Fronts: A German Officer’s World War II Combat Memoir

German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.

German troops ended in a counter attack near Memel on the eastern front, October 1944.

'Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands' - livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.

‘Nothing should be allowed to fall into Soviet hands’ – livestock is driven back to German held territory in the east. October 1944.

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