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Reestablishment of the 272nd VGD at Döberitz
By Otto Gunkel, Translated by Merle Hill

The following is an account by Otto Gunkel, formerly of 8th Kompanie, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 981 of the 272nd Volks-Grenadier Division.  It was written in December 1986.

The "Cathedral-Barracks" at Goslar, where the famous "Goslar Jägers" used to stay in the old days, was overfilled as all other military barracks were near the end of the war. The men of the 272nd ID that came back from their stay at the hospital or from their sick leave were brought into a big hall outside of the barracks area. More men came in every day and we welcomed a lot of our comrades from the old units.

After all the formalities were finished and we received new clothing, we were transported by military freight train to Berlin / Döberitz on 22 September 1944. We needed two days for this trip. On the 24th of September we had an air raid at the Berlin rail transfer station, but this didn't cause any losses. In the evening we arrived at the former Olympic village of Döberitz where we met up with our Division, which was called 272nd VGD now (Volks-Grenadier-Division).  Again, I went back to the 8th Company and the Feldwebel placed me at the orderly room of the Company right away. There I would stay for the next 5 weeks, until we were transported to the Eifel. We took up quarters at the former N.S.K.K. school at Elstar. At the end of September the following men from the old Company detachment were there: the company commander, Feldwebel Holler and myself. Two runners and a man from communications came back in October.

The re-establishment of the Division was supposed to be finished in mid October. Replacements came from the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine – well-fed guys who were equipped as if it was peacetime, and who were not very fond about a duty as Infantrymen. They first had to resign themselves to their fate and then they would become good and loyal infantrymen.

Our Company went into the village of Priort at Döberitz on the 2nd of October, where our orderly room found quarters at the Jänicke farm. The Feldwebel and myself shared a room to sleep. The people where we were billeted took good care for us, and this helped to fill up the lack of rations that we had. They even washed for us and repaired our clothing. There was also a cinema at the Olympic village, but it was difficult to find a seat because of the mass of soldiers. It was difficult to go to Berlin because it was too far away and it took a lot of time to get there.

Both times when I went to Berlin, there was an air raid and I couldn't get back to Döberitz till early morning without having any sleep. On the 23rd of October we received message that our Division would get in action on the western front, to which we would be transported by train in the next few days. On the 30th of October I was promoted to Obergefreiter, backdated from the 1st of October. Now I was one of the "older" soldiers. We celebrated my promotion in the evening at the farmhouse where we were quartered and the next day we said goodbye.

We were transported from Döberitz, by way of Magdeburg, Kreiensen, Hoxter, Soest, Schwelm, Neuss to Kall at Gemünd at the Eifel, where we arrived in the morning of November 4. Because of the cloudy November weather there were no enemy fighter planes or reconnaissance planes. We easily could hear the artillery firing on the approaching front - We were back in the war again!

After the unloading we marched in a stretched line through Gemünd, and uphill by way of Herhahn to Einruhr at the Roer valley. In the afternoon we marched to the Forester’s lodge Rothekreuz at Hofen to the north of Monschau to take over the already prepared positions of the 89th Infantry Division. Packed with all our equipment and all our weapons, we marched by way of Erkensruhr and Wahlerscheid to the front. Our arrival at the front and the movement of our troops went not unnoticed by the enemy --- it was Americans this time --- and during the night they ranged over our sector with their artillery. We manned the pillboxes at the German / Belgium border.

As a runner, I was most of the day out in the woods with our Company commander to check the area and the front lines. We found good covering because of the forest. We could see the little village of Monschau, which the enemy had occupied already, and we also could recognize the American Infantry positions at the high plains across the border. There were several small fire-fights and we could get accustomed to being at the front again without any losses.  Grenadier Regiment 980 took over our positions the next day and we were to take over some other positions to the north at Simmerath. This was the center of the sector that our Division held. The sector that our Division was to hold went from Kall - Schleiden - Hofen on our left side then to Heimbach - Schmidt - Vossenack on our right side. We would stay in several places in this sector until the end of February 1945: During all this time we were within reach of the enemy artillery and we never could feet safe during this period. - No matter if we were eating, sleeping or during any other activities.

The relief took place during the dark night in the rain. This relief was pretty difficult on such bad forest roads in an unknown area, especially because of the incoming artillery. Soaking wet and tired we arrived at Einruhr. The next day several of the twin-tailed "Lightnings" (P-38s) attacked - We could remember them very well from Normandy. A lot of artillery came in at Einruhr when we prepared to march off in the evening - Our Company had its first losses of men and horses. The company detachment lost their runner Leonard because of the shrapnel.

During the night we reached Eicherscheid by way of Rauchenauel, Dedenborn and Hammer and we went into a pillbox at the edge of the village. This was a communication-pillbox - Our men of the 8th Company manned this pillbox with the men of the communications unit. Because the communications and the repair of broken wires needed to be secured day and night, even the runners had to do this work. A crash course from the men of the communications was all I needed to do my duty at the communication pillbox. I also went out to repair the broken wires - especially during the nights this was a dangerous and exhausting job.

The Battalion Headquarters was inside of a pillbox on the other end of the village Our three infantry companies were positioned in the pillbox and trenches at the border, alongside the road from Aachen City to Monschau between the villages of Simmerath and Imgenbroich. Our heavy machine guns, howitzers and mortars were positioned in and around Eicherscheid and Huppenbroich.

All these defensive positions were connected by telephone, partly the ground wire of the Siegfried Line and partly field wire, which was destroyed often by the enemy artillery. We always sent 2 men to repair the broken wires. This was very difficult in the dark November nights because the destroyed wire was mostly blown away quite a distance, and it often was broken in several places. We needed to crawl on hands and feet in a circle of 50 yards or more to search for the broken wires. We needed to do this job almost every night - During a pitch-black rainy night we even needed to go out 6 times!

There wasn't any fighting. The use of heavy weapons and tanks was almost impossible in the hilly landscape. It was a static war that lasted for about 3 weeks. Life in the wet, cold pillboxes wasn't very comfortable, but it was safe behind the big concrete walls. Winter brought us the first snow in mid November. The noisy V-1 rockets were flying overhead in the direction of Antwerp and London from the 16th of November on -- The wonder-weapon that would bring victory for Germany, as Secretary of propaganda Goebbels had told us.

While it stayed quiet in our sector, the Americans increased the strength of their attack on our right side at the end of November. They were planned to break through from the Aachen / Stolberg area to Düren to reach the Cologne plain and the Rhine River. This fight raged at the forested area around Hürtgen - Bergstein - Vossenack; And the Hürtgen Forest, which would be mentioned almost daily for 3 weeks in the Wehrmacht accounts, would get its sad and bloody name in history because of this fight. On the 27th of November 1944 our Regiment was to support the harassed 89th Infantry Division and 344 VGD in that area.

We marched by way of Rauchenauel, Kesternich, Strauch, Ruhrberg, Woffelsbach, Steckenborn, Schmidt, Nideggen, Kreuzau at Duren and Horn to our sector and went into position between Birgel and Gey. It was very hard for us to defend positions in the trenches in the open after we stayed for weeks in the dry pillbox, the more because we didn't have sufficient winter clothing. The melting snow and the rain that lasted for days made the soil marshy and our defensive positions got full of mud. We were looking like pigs after a few days. It made us shudder to think about the coming winter months, in which we often needed to struggle for bare survival.

On the 2nd of December, the Americans broke through our defense at several places in Gey and Strass. Our Regiment was ordered to counter attack on December 3rd to restore our lines. At daybreak the 1st Battalion rushed to the direction of the Hubertus Heights, and our 2nd Battalion attacked Gey after an artillery preparation and the help of our assault guns. We were able to push the enemy back and the resistance wasn't very stiff during the start of our attack. But then they increased their resistance and our attack broke down. We started to make a new line of defense during heavy enemy fire. Our companies had dug in on both sides of the road, uphill from Gey to Kleinhau and Hürtgen. Our heavy machine guns were positioned right behind them at the edge of the village of Gey. The command post of the 8th Company was positioned in a cellar at the crossroads at the center of town, our mortars behind hedges and in sunken roads behind Gey, and our howitzers were positioned at Horn.

We held this line for the next 7 days; it was a horrible situation because the Americans were looking right into our positions from the edge of the forest on the height outside of Gey. The enemy observer recognized even our smallest move, and they threw in more artillery and mortar fire than they ever had done before. They even used phosphorus to smoke us out -- A really nasty thing. Feldwebel Kohler got wounded on the day of the attack: He had been with us at Normandy. Two days later we lost Jaeckel, Kroll and Emmerich from the communications unit while they were working on a telephone wire.

One of our mortar crews was killed by a direct hit. Three of my comrades were killed when they were trying to recover our fallen soldiers in the "no-man's land" between the lines -- Two more got wounded. The number of men in our units decreased fast because of our daily losses, and it became more and more difficult to put up a good defense. Our Battalion lost 194 men in the period from 29/11 till 6/12 1944 (dead, wounded, missing). On the 6th of December we had only 164 men left. I got lightly wounded by shrapnel again - This time it hit me above the knee in my right leg. But again it was not serious enough to get me into the hospital. After treatment I would stay with my comrades.

During the night of the 10th of December I spent hours outside as a runner with our company leader. We went along all our machine gun and mortar positions to inform them about a possible attack. We saw a lot of activity at the enemy lines, which could mean another attack was being prepared. Around 2 o'clock we were back at our cellar again. I talked a while with Walter Eckhardt, who was also a runner and an old comrade from our time in France. He was on duty at our command post and I went to sleep in a corner of the cellar. It would be our last conversation, because Walter died a few hours later by shrapnel in his chest while he was bringing a message to one of our mortar positions.

The expected enemy attack took place in the early morning. The Americans pushed through the thin defense line of our infantry and got inside the village. There was house-to-house fighting - They fought man to man. Feldwebel Holler, another 2 comrades and myself succeeded to overrun a group of American infantrymen in the guesthouse "Brauner Hof" and to take them prisoner. We locked them up in the cellar so we would be easier for us to guard them. Our situation became more precarious during the day, but then we received reinforcements and in the night some units of the 89th Infantry Division relieved us.

A sad little group of tired soldiers, dirty, unshaved and torn uniforms, marched on 11 December upstream of the river Roer through Kreuzau, Drove, Soller, Thum to Vlatten at Heimbach. - It was the last men of our 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 981. It was only one third of our original strength. Our company HQ detachment had only 4 men. Both our heavy-machine gun platoons were decreased to squads. The 5th company was wiped out -- wounded, dead, or taken prisoner. This was the horrible result of only 10 days Hürtgen Forest, even higher losses than during the first 10 days in Normandy. The Battalion never completely recovered from these losses until its disbandment at end of March 1945 - The few replacements never could fill up our lack of men. I walked behind the horse-drawn cart that was loaded with our dead of the day before - Walter Eckardt was also among them. We buried them the same day on the cemetery of Vlatten, beside the church. Today they are buried at the cemetery of the German war-graves-commission at Gemünd/Eifel.

In the same night we were to march by way of Hergarten downhill the curvy road to Gemünd, where we had a few days rest and needed to wait for replacements. But on our way to Gemünd we already received new orders - The Regiment has to take over the positions at Simmerath and Huppenbroich immediately. We couldn't understand this, because the woods around Gemünd and all the other small villages were full of soldiers from newly arrived units. These men were well equipped with winter camouflage uniforms, winter-boots, fur-hoods, etc, etc. Long convoys of armored vehicles, assault guns and artillery were standing along the roads. But we didn't know that these troops were preparing for the "Ardennes Offensive" that would start on December 16 and that was meant to turn the tide of war for Germany.

At Gemünd we were able to supplement our equipment and weapons by hasty reorganization. They sent us some craftsmen and other specialists from the supply units and other services behind the lines as reinforcements - a measure that would end up in a deadly fiasco 2 days later. In the night we marched to our sector on the same roads that we used 5 weeks ago and we reached our defensive positions before daylight on the 14th of December.

The American 78th Infantry Division captured the village of Kesternich and the height in front of it a few hours later. We encountered some our troops retreating from there as we approached. This enemy action brought us in a precarious situation, because from the heights at Kesternich they had a perfect view into our lines and they could engage us easily from that position. Our decimated Regiment was ordered to counter-attack. A battalion from another Division (the 326th VGD) reinforced us. On 15 December at 3 o'clock afternoon, our artillery opened a short but heavy barrage on the enemy position east of Kesternich, before we attacked from the valley between Huppenbroich and Kesternich. Then our artillery was directed to the west side of the village, to prevent the enemy tanks to intervene in the fight. Three tanks (Jg.Pz. 38t “Hetzers”) and a quadruple FLAK supported our attack.

There was only a little resistance and the Americans retreated to the old positions west of the village; this was a new experience for us: The Americans avoided infantry close combat when they could use their supremacy of material to save human lives. They indeed had an enormous amount of bombers, guns and tanks - They overpowered our strength by far!  We brought in about 300 prisoners after a search through the village - among them were 9 Officers. The war was over for them after only a few weeks on the front. We had only few losses - only a group of men from our supply unit had walked right into the fire. Six of them were lying side by side; killed by a machine gun. They were all older men and were probably married. The other men of this group got wounded - Senseless victims -- like so many in this senseless war!

The frontline was restored in the evening of this day. The Company HQ detachment went inside pillbox 56, next to the Forester’s Lodge “Hohenau” on the road to Simmerath. Having surviving this attack, I had earned my "Infantry Assault " medal, because it was my 3rd attack into enemy lines. The next morning at 5 o'clock the Ardennes-Offensive started from the frontlines south of Monschau. This would dominate the war at the Eifel until the end of the year.

It was quiet in our sector for the next 2 weeks -- there was only little artillery fire because the enemy brought many of their guns to the Ardennes to use in the defense against the German thrust -- We could see them doing this during daylight. On 23 December we brought our command post into the school of Huppenbroich, again together with the men from the communication unit of battalion headquarters. In the meantime it had become winter again with a lot of snow and ice. We had a pretty easy time between Christmas and New Year at Huppenbroich.

Some Huppenbroich civilians came back to their village around these days as well. Walter Eckardt had introduced me to them in November. It was Mrs. Schroeder from the Schroeder guesthouse with her daughters Maria and Gretel, Mrs. Loehrer (nicknamed "Aunt Anna") from the house next door, and her niece Hilde from the Forester’s Lodge Hohenau.

Shrapnel killed Mrs. Schroeder's husband the past October when he was working in his garden. He was temporarily buried at the crossroads only few yards from the house. In fact it was not allowed for civilians to stay near the frontlines, but our "Boss" was generous to them. We had some advantages because of them as well, like cooking, doing our washing, etc. From our side we helped them to save their furniture and other belongings and bring these to Einruhr and Gemünd. The women could stay until New Year because it stayed quiet on the front, but than they had to go - only "Aunt Anna" came back secretly and she was still in her house when the Americans took Huppenbroich on the 31st of January 1945.

After the war I exchanged letters with the Schroeder Family and I visited them twice. It was a wonderful reunion and we exchanged many memories about the days that we shared in the winter if 1944. Especially Mrs. Loehrer, a very old woman now, could clearly remember how we survived an attack of an enemy fighter plane on second Christmas day. The women had made fire in the stove during daytime carelessly. The smoke went through the chimney into the clear winter sky and the Americans on the other height probably saw this. Not much later, an American fighter-bomber came circling above Huppenbroich; and after the enemy artillery fired a few smoke signals near the house, we saw the plane coming down on us. "Aunt Anna" quickly extinguished the fire with a bucket of water. We pressed ourselves against the wall in the cow-stable next door and we waited for the bombs to fall.

The first bomb hit right in front of the house and ripped open the wall with the front door -- The guesthouse was literally "open" now. The other bomb hit the stable. As soon as the bomber pulled up again, we ran through the garden into the house next door. We survived again, but it also could have ended up in another tragedy of this useless war.

The enemy increased his activities with the beginning of the New Year, and their artillery fire increased as well. The Ardennes Offensive had been stopped and the German defeat in the West could only be a matter of time. The Americans began to push through our defensive lines with local strong attacks. A heavy fight with severe losses raged for the pillboxes 24 and 27 at Simmerath.

We finally received our communication gear and because I was connected with these pillboxes by phone, I could hear exactly what was going on. Our "Dora"- communication gear was not very useful because of its bad quality or because sometimes they didn't even have batteries.

We were relieved on January 7th 1945 and than we were ordered to Herhahn on the road from Einruhr to Gemünd to have some rest. We received replacements and were also able to get some new weapons and equipment. We had severe problems because of the harsh winter with its low temperatures and all its snow. We were not allowed to make a fire during daylight because of the enemy planes and we didn't have sufficient winter clothing. Completely frozen we awaited for the darkness so we could warm ourselves at a stove. Our life on the front became harder the longer this winter lasted, but there still was no end in sight.

The enemy succeeded to break through our lines in the sector at Strauch/ Schmidt on the 11th of January (1945), so on the right side of Kesternich at the sector of the Regiment next to us. This meant the end of our rest! We just reached the mill at Einruhr to get rid of our lice when the order came to march back to the front again. We were transported by trucks, which drove like crazy via Gemünd, Foresters Lodge Mariawald and Paulushof to Ruhrberg.

We went into position near Steckenborn during the night, but we didn't have to support in the attack the next morning. We stayed in the pillboxes 135 and 137 as a reserve. During the night of January 15, I had an experience that I still recall as one of the most impressive and most beautiful moments in my duty as a soldier. Feldwebel Holler and myself were ordered to get some badly-needed supplies at the supply unit at Herhahn. A sledge, drawn by 2 horses waited for us at Woffelsbach at the Roer River dam. We covered ourselves with blankets and we had a ride for several hours through a wonderful moonlighted winter-landscape along the Roer River lake. It was like a winter fairy tale and it was like I could forget the whole war. But the incoming enemy artillery always brought back the cruel, deadly reality. The next night we drove back on the same roads with our loaded sledge.

We also had severe lack of drinking water during this January. The wells and water pipes in the villages in the battle area were all frozen. We needed to melt lots of snow to get our drinking water, but without sufficient fireplaces and jars this was a huge problem. The increasing use of phosphorus grenades by the Americans poisoned the snow and this only added to the problem. It wasn't very healthy to take shelter in the snow for the incoming artillery. We also got health problems because there were no minerals in the snow that we melted. Later we received salt-pills to lessen these problems.

On January 20 we went to Woffelsbach, partly because we were badly in need of relief but also because we would be trained in the use of new anti-tank weapons, like the Panzerschreck and the Goliath. The Goliath was a very small remote-controlled armored vehicle loaded with high explosives, which was invented to destroy enemy tanks.

I was the runner of a group of company and platoon leaders who were checking the wooded area at the "Kermeter' hill on the right banks of the Roer River Lake from January 24th on. They were checking where to make the new defensive line, which Engineers and forced laborers - even Russian women were among them - had to dig. We crossed the whole forest from the cloister Mariawald by way of the Foresters Lodge Mariawald to the Schwammenauel Dam during these days - This wonderful wooded area would be our sector for the coming 3 weeks of February 1945.

We already awaited the American attack for several days and it started on January 30 along the whole front from Düren to Monschau. We woke up from the sound of battle that was coming from the direction of Kesternich - Simmerath, and we were told to get ready to move out a short time later. We marched to Einruhr through a cold winter-landscape on the same roads that we used during our nightly sledge-ride. The chaotic situation that we saw there was beyond every description. Military convoys from several direction, horse drawn and motorized vehicles, route columns, Red Cross vehicles with wounded from the front - They all ended up in a giant traffic jam at the bottleneck in front of the only bridge across the Roer.

The enemy had recognized this and their artillery fire on this spot caused a slaughter among our troops - dead and wounded men and horses, burning cars and houses, overturned vehicles. We succeeded to cross the bridge during a pause of the firing and at sundown we continued our march to Huppenbroich on the roads that we already knew. The enemy attacked Huppenbroich on January 31 from the direction of Simmerath and Eicherscheid.

They forced us to retreat and at the afternoon we defended at the edge of the village in the direction of the Tiefenbach valley. We were lying in the snow behind hedges and fences. The ground was frozen, which made it impossible to dig a foxhole. By taking turns we went to a house at the slope of the hill to prevent freezing. When I was inside of this house at sundown, an enemy tank came suddenly from the village into our direction. I jumped out of the window into the snow, and this probably saved my life because a tank shell destroyed the room right after I jumped out. For the next 3 days we would hold the heights at Dedenborn and the Tiefenbach-mill, which would be our command post.

On the 3rd of February we were forced to retreat from Dedenborn to Schöne Aussicht (a Gasthaus named for its beautiful view) because of the increasing pressure being exerted by the Americans. Now they could use their tanks because of the frozen ground. Our mortars at Dedenborn still caused severe losses to the enemy when they attacked the village, but then our mortars were completely wiped out shortly thereafter. We had directed the fire of our mortars by telephone from a house at the other slope of the hill, and we could observe its effect on the enemy. During these days we lost also our last 2 heavy machine guns and all our howitzers at Einruhr. We retreated by way of the Roer River dam on the 5th of February, and we manned the defensive positions that we dug here about 10 days ago. The Americans followed and waited on the left banks of the Urft and Roer River dams – both sides could now have a short rest.

The remnants of the Battalions were changed into Kampfgruppen. The 8th Company received light howitzers as a replacement for their lost heavy weapons. The reinforcements that we got were from supply and reserve units. Whole groups of men from all kind of units behind the front were brought in. "Men were needed!" – and many men that had no frontline experience at all ended up as cannon fodder shortly before the end of the war. It was a horrible, voracious war!

Although a heavy battle raged on the north and the south side of the lakes where the Americans gained ground, it stayed quiet in our sector. -- The mass of water of the 2 lakes was a natural barrier. But the enemy artillery was ranging over our whole wooded area, which caused us severe problems. Their artillery rounds exploded high in the trees and its effect was horrible - the forest was completely destroyed and we had many losses - like our Company Commander. On the 10th of February I wrote in my dairy - "Poor suffering homeland - forest from Paulushof to Mariawald".

Our Battalion command post was at the Foresters Lodge of Paulushof and our Company was manning the bunkers and trenches around it. The Regimental command post was at the Foresters Lodge Mariawald and the Division with our main first aid post was at the Cloister Mariawald on the height above Heimbach. During these weeks I was on duty as a runner and was mostly on my way through the woods - to the Foresters Lodge - to the Cloister - to our observation posts along our side of the river. I spent several nights at the cloister and had a good rest behind its thick cellar walls. I also drank some of the beer of the cloister. The monks suggested that we should drink the beer, before the Americans would drink it. The cloister and monks were of the order of the Trappists. Some of our wounded died at the first aid post of the cloister, like our good friend Fridolin Schweizer from the Black Forest - now they are resting at the military cemetery at the edge of the forest on the height above the cloister. During these weeks my comrades gave me a nickname, which I'm still proud of. I was called "The Stubborn Runner of the 8th", and this "Stubborn" was due to my seeming invulnerability and reliability, and because of my comradeship.

But this comradeship was the only thing that kept our hungry, beaten and abused soldiers together, and it enabled many of us to survive.

End of February 1945 -- The winter was over and the temperatures were like springtime. The enemy attacked from the area around Gemünd - Dreiborn. Our new howitzers were a big help during the defense of these attacks. On the 1st of March, we defended the cloister area from the trenches on the heights above the cloister, where now the cemetery is. We were forced to retreat, and in the evening we went into defensive positions at Heimbach on the road to Vlatten. We had heavy losses during the next few days, and our howitzer section was taken prisoner. On the evening of the 2nd of March 1945, Feldwebel Holler and Obergefreiter Gunkel (me) were the only ones from our Company HQ Detachment / 8th Company that were left.

The Americans broke through our defense on many places on the 3rd of March 1945. Their tanks - that weren't very useful in the hills of the Eifel - rolled unhindered into the open plains via Euskirchen and Rheinbach to reach the Rhine River. We defended desperately while often the enemy tanks had already passed us. The Division retreated by way of Berg / Vlatten, - Weisskirchen / Obergarten, Billig at Euskirchen - Kreuzweingarten, and in the evening of March 5th we reached the area around Münstereifel. We had an orderly retreat via Scheuren, Altenahr and Ahrweiler to the Rhine River, which we reached around noon on the 7th of March. The Americans had already some tanks at the bridge of Remagen, and they put up a bridgehead on the right side of the Rhine River on the same day.

From this bridgehead they would push further into the center of Germany. We marched upstream along the Rhine to find a place where we could cross. All roads that were coming from the Eifel and the left side of the Rhine were overfilled with retreating German troops. The cloudy and foggy sky prevented the enemy planes to get in action; otherwise it would have caused thousands of dead on the roads. We crossed the Rhine River over the railroad-bridge at Engers during the night. For the next 2 days we were at Isenburg at the Westerwald, where the rests of our Division were rallied again. It was a long, long way through the Eifel, along the River Ahr and Rhine into the Westerwald, and my boots were completely worn out.

They set up Kampfgruppe 981 from the remnants of the Regiment, reinforced by some men that were stopped during their retreat and brought in by the Field Police. It was one mixed-up bunch of soldiers -- men from all kinds of units with lack of equipment, some of them were even unarmed. They were completely unknown and distrustful to each other. This group marched on 13 March 1945 from Oberdreis to get in action somewhere in the woods between Waldbreitbach and Hönningen. -- no one could tell where exactly! They told us that we would find the front without any problem: -- "You only have to follow the sound of battle" as it was written in Field-Marshall Model's order to stand fast. We were to sign that order, which told us that -- "Everyone who retreats from the front will get death sentence by hanging"!

We went from Willroth on the autobahn to the area at Waldbreitbach at the River Wied. The road is running on the left side of the river and has steep rocks along its side, with a bridge that leads to the direction of Hausen. Over here we found the same bottleneck situation as in Einruhr -- everyone had to take this bridge to get to the other side, while the enemy artillery was coming in. The enemy planes crossed the sky above the valley. The rounds hit the steep rocks behind the bridge and its effect on the men that were waiting to cross the bridge was terrible - It was a race against death to get to the other side. We went in small groups close to the bridge, using every shelter we could find. We waited for the right moment to run across the bridge -- again we had losses. Our wounded were brought to a nearby cloister, which had also a clearly marked hospital behind its walls. An older man and a young boy were lying on the bridge while we ran across.

We took shelter for the enemy planes at the church of the village. It was a "cat and mouse game," in which the enemy planes chased us several times around the church. I almost got hit when the rounds missed me by only a few inches and their impact sprayed a fountain of dirt in my face.

We marched on by way of Hausen and Frorath and we clearly could hear the increasing sound of battle. Than we went into position in a patch of woods at the village of Weissfeld.

The 14th of March went by quietly -- Our recon-troops checked our frontline areas. On the 15th of March we could hear that a heavy fight was going on around Hönningen, and around noon we saw the Americans in front of our forward positions. They didn't attack, but pushed through on the left side of our positions in the direction of Frohrath. In the evening our Company leader ordered me to search for the battalion command post, which was yesterday in a quarry between Hönningen and Frohrath. There I would receive our new orders. It must have been around 7 p.m. not far from this quarry, when I ran straight into a group of American infantrymen. When I heard "Hands Up", I dropped my carbine K98 and raised my hands. Resistance was useless and would have been suicide. I was a prisoner of war!




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