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Hermann Fuhrmeister's Story
By Eric Tobey, revised by Jonathan Bocek


The following was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

It's January 30th, 1945.  In the damp, chilly interior of a bunker in the Siegfried Line, a 42 year-old Hauptfeldwebel inventories the personal effects of members of his Kompanie who were recently killed in action.  The twin rings of tress on his cuffs shone dully in the candlelight as his hands move across the table; checking items against a typewritten sheet before signing his name at the bottom: soggy photographs, sweat-stained wallets, pocketknives, a string of rosary beads, a broken wristwatch with powdered bits of bunker-concrete trapped under the fractured crystal...

It's now July 1993, and we can look at the legacy of this sad inventory - a number of personal effects lists, all signed by the Company's Hauptfeldwebel.  The Company was the 272nd Füsilier Kompanie, and the man with the blue pencil was Hauptfeldwebel Hermann Fuhrmeister.  Who was this man, who undoubtedly was a person of importance to the other members of the 272nd Füsiliers?  Lucky for us, we have his Wehrpaß, and although it can't tell us of things such as what it was like to be the "Mother of the Company", it can give us some information on his background and military history.  The following article has been put together from entries and documents in his Wehrpaß.

He was born Hermann Karl Fuhrmeister on December 4th, 1902 in Süpplingen to Emma and Hermann Fuhrmeister; Hermann Sr. died in 1932.  Hermann Jr. took part in some SA competitions in the early 1930's, for he was awarded the SA's Sport Badge.  The 1936 Wehrpaß photo shows him as a fair complexioned, blonde-haired, open-countenanced man of 33 years.

On January 30th, 1936, Hermann volunteered for the Army, and he left his wife Ilse and his home in Hildesheim for 16.(Erg.) Kompanie, Inf. Regt. 82 on January 4, 1937.  He took his soldier's oath seven days later on January 11th.  During his basic training he trained with the G98 rifle, MG13 machine gun, and the P,08 (Luger) pistol.  The three-month training course ended on March 4, 1937, after which he was deemed qualified to serve as an MG gunner.  Also on March 4th, 1937, he was selected as an UnterFührer-Anwärter, or Gefreiter candidate.

Hermann then attended a 2-month UnterFührer-Anwärter school in Hildesheim as part of 16.(E) Kompanie, I.R.17, which he completed in October of 1937.  This qualified him to serve as a Gefreiter d. Reserve and an Unteroffizier-Anwärter d. reserve.  After this training, he was discharged into the Reserves.

On August 28th, 1939, he was recalled to active duty and became a member of 4. Kompanie, Infanterie Regiment 396 of the 216th Infantry Division, and almost immediately on Sept. 3rd, he left for the Western border of Germany with his unit.

Like most of the Landwehr Divisions mobilized at the beginning of the war, the 216th had a shortage of certain specialists.  In order to fill these gaps, the various units held courses to retrain soldiers for the desired technical jobs.  Hermann attended one of these courses: a three-month long class in radios and telephone equipment conducted by the 396th's Regimental Signals Platoon.  On December 4th, 1939, Hermann was promoted to Unteroffizier.

On February 18th, 1940, Hermann was transferred to the Stab (HQ group) of the 2nd Battalion of I.R.396 was dissolved in the fall of 1943.  His first job a member of this organization was as a Funk Trupp-Führer, or radio team leader.  It was in this capacity that Hermann marched off on the invasion of France on May 10th, 1940.

Hermann and his radio team participated in the attack on the Lys River near Machelen in Belgium on May 26th, and this was the first day recorded on his "Sturmtage" which counted to the award of the Infantry Assault badge.  He probably also participated in the invasion of the Channel Islands, and at some time during his participation in this strenuous campaign, Hermann earned himself the Iron Cross, Second Class.

Sometime during the occupation-service which the regiment found itself performing after the French capitulation, the decorated Unteroffizier received training to be a Nachrichtenstaffel-Führer, or Battalion Signals group leader.  The Battalion Nachrichtenstaffel was a small unit composed of radio and telephone teams which allowed the battalion staff to communicate with its own companies and with regimental HQ.  This training probably culminated with his promotion to Feldwebel on Christmas Eve of 1940, and his permanent assignment as the 2nd Battalion's Nachrichtenstaffel-Führer.

In the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht marched eastward, and later that Fall the Landserof the 216th Division boarded the trains which would carry them into the cauldron they would call the Ostfront.  Like most of the German units that winter, they left with winter clothing and equipment which would prove to be woefully inadequate.

The list of battles that Heinrich participated in up to the fall of 1943 is long and reads like a Russian train schedule: town after town, rivers, regions, army zones.  During his time on the Eastern Front, he racked up 5 more "assault days" (his assault badge was awarded to him by Regt.348 on May 7, 1942), and 5 days of "close combat" which would count toward the receipt of a close-combat clasp.  In the summer of 1942, he was given the Medaille "Winterschlacht im Osten" (Eastern Front Medal), and sometime in September he was wounded.  He was awarded a black wound badge, and after he recovered was promoted to Oberfeldwebel.

On July 12, 1943, the Nachrichtenstaffel leader was awarded the Iron Cross First Class by Divisonal HQ.

By the fall of 1943, the Lower-Saxon 216th Division was so battered that a decision was made to completely rebuild it to the standards of a Infanterie Division 43 neuer Art (New type Infantry Division 43).  Most of the survivors of the old Division were sent back to Belgium to reform within the framework of Infanterie Division 272, and the 2nd Battalion of Regt. 396 was renamed Füsilier Battalion 272.  Hermann now found himself in the Second Company of this unit.

While the Füsiliers were training and doing occupation duty in the south of France, Oberfeldwebel Fuhrmeister was appointed to a special post in his Company: that of the Spieß, or Hauptfeldwebel.  In the American Army, this would be approximately equivalent to a rank of Company First Sergeant, although in the German Army this is not really a rank at all.  The organization of a German Infantry Company had sort of a "dual monarchy".  The Company Commander was responsible for the execution of operational orders received by his unit and the direction of the Company in action.  The Hauptfeldwebel was concerned with the internal workings of the outfit - the "human" side.  One German vet has aptly put it: "The Hauptmann, he is the father, the one who takes care of outside business.  The Spieß, he is the mother.  He takes care of the family".  Although still an Oberfeldwebel in rank, Hermann would have added the two Kolbenringe of tress to each cuff of his tunic, stuck the Company duty-book in the front of his tunic, and assumed a myriad of responsibilities: organizing details, managing the company supplies, arranging transportation of supplies to the line units, managing the company's field kitchen, handling enlisted men's records, etc..

Normandy came next, and it was a broken and bloodied Division which marched out of the smoke of Caen and Lisieux.  For the second time, Hermann marched back towards his Fatherland with a decimated unit which was ordered to rebuild; this time it was back to the Berlin area to be rebuilt within the framework of Volksgrenadier Division 272.

The initial tables of organization of the VG Divisions had reduced the Füsilier Battalion of the 43nA Division to a single Füsilier Kompanie, and the veterans of Füsilier Battalion 272 were collected and placed into Füsilier Kompanie 272.  Fuhrmeister was chosen to be their Spieß: he was the first man on the rolls of the new unit - his Stammrollenummer was 1/44 (the "1" was his numerical order of entry with the unit, and the "44" was his year of entry).  As ex-members of former companies of the defunct Füsilier Battalion were integrated into the new Kompanie, there were letters written between Fuhrmeister and the other Hauptfeldwebels of the old battalion.  These letters usually dealt with Hermann's attempts to get up-to-date data on the men of his new unit, for instance, who was really at which battles (towards earning an assault badge or close-combat clasp), and so forth.

By November of 1944, the Kompanie was in combat in the Monschau Corridor area of the Hürtgen Forest Region.  At the beginning of December, the Company CO, Oberleutnant Kolb, informed the Spieß of his responsibilities as the keeper of records in a mobile unit (since the Füsiliers had bicycles, they were considered mobile troops) and Hermann signed the document which informed him of the seriousness of said duties:

We know that Hermann was still with the Kompanie in the early part of 1945, for there are company records from this period which bear his distinctive signature.  We don't know for certain what happened to him, but since only his Wehrpaß was found amongst the papers of the company (the KIAs were represented in the records by their Soldbuchs and dogtag-halves), it is hoped that he survived and returned to his wife in Lower Saxony.  If he did make it home, then he would have been one of the very few Landser who marched into one end of the war and out the other.

What kind of Spieß did Fuhrmeister make?  Again, with the limited data we have available that is almost impossible to say for sure, but we can make some educated guesses.

German veterans and pertinent literature informs us that Hauptfeldwebels came in all levels of competence and character; from the strict and feared, the kind and lovable, to the lazy and corrupt.  One Spieß could be constantly found at the front, fighting with the troops, while another would be found drunk in a cellar.  How did Hermann rate?

Well, we know that he did not spend as much time at the front as some other Hauptfeldwebels.  For example, the records of Willi Kumpka, who was the Spieß of 5./G.R.1120, lists thirteen "close combat days" for 1944.  Likewise, Fuhrmeister's unit recorded literally dozens of close-combat and assault days for its soldiers in Normandy, and yet more after reorganization and commitment to the Siegfried Line actions.  Not one day of either close combat or assault is listed for Hermann as an individual after his appointment to Hauptfeldwebel.  On January 5th, 1945, the majority of the Füs. Kp. was either killed in Bunker 24 or wounded in the earlier attacks launched against US positions; among the slain was Oberleutnant Kolb.  Again, Hermann was untouched and apparently not involved.

On the other hand, the records of Füsilier Kompanie 272 show an amazing degree of accuracy and attention to detail which was uncommon at this chaotic stage of the war.  Records on the burial of casualties were kept up-to-date, personnel lists were accurately kept, and memos regarding supply issues filed.  While Hermann may not have been among the most combative of Hauptfeldwebels, he apparently took his administrative duties very seriously.

After taking some time to acquaint myself with this man through his paperwork, and having seen the pictures and read the records of many other men from this company whose lives ended before the war did, I find myself sincerely hoping that Hermann eventually graduated from Hauptfeldwebel to Großvater.

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