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Max Groner's Story
By Eric Tobey


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.

The wound was a mortal one, and the staff of Medical Company 246 knew it.  There was nothing remarkable about this particular casualty, really, because dying soldiers had become sadly common over the previous 5 years, and this field hospital was full of other maimed and hurt Landser.  The dying man, who was undoubtedly aware of his fate after he was hit, was now probably drowsing under the influence of morphine -- this was a good thing, because it blocked not only his physical pain but also the mental anguish that would have come as he faced his own mortality.  The wounded man had surely been acquainted with the usual result of serious stomach wounds, for he had seen the effects of bullets before -- both in another hospital in 1942 and on the battlefields of France and Russia.

He died that evening, 2 months short of his 30th birthday.

As they carried his body out to the sprawling cemetery near the dressing station, some other member of the Medical Company gathered his personal effects and sat down to perform the necessary paperwork:

"Name, let's see here... Max Groner.  Not even from our division, says here that he's one of that bunch from the 272nd.  Tough luck for you, Groner, to get it now.  I mean, surely the war cannot last much longer..."

Max Groner was born on March 4, 1915 as part of a new generation, destined to inherit a Germany from their fathers who were being slaughtered elsewhere at that very minute.  He was raised in the quaint Upper Bavarian city of Regensburg.

Max donned a field-gray suit for the first time in the mid- to late 1930's when he fulfilled his compulsory 1-year military obligation, after which he was discharged into the Landwehr (Reserves) as a Gefreiter.  He then returned to Regensburg and took up his father's occupation as a painter.

Meanwhile, old Adolf was doing his martial rain-dance, and the war-clouds were gathering obediently in response.  Angry declarations were shouted and countries were annexed or occupied without any fighting, but in August of 1939, the German reserves were mobilized in preparation for something much bigger.  Max was not called up just yet.  In September, the Wehrmacht marched on Poland.  Unlike the earlier bloodless conquests, more than one Landser was blasted out of his jackboots this time, for the Poles were possessed by a fierce national pride, and were not defenseless even if they were outclassed.  Like most of the German units involved, the 10th Infantry Division had to send a message back to its replacement centers in Upper Bavaria: "We need more men!"

One such replacement center housed the Infanterie Nachrichten Ersatz Kompanie 10 (Infantry Signals Replacement Co. 10), located in Regensburg.  They in turn sent out letters to bring in new conscripts and area reservists.  One of these letters was delivered to Max Groner, ordering him to forsake his paintbrush and report to the barracks at the beginning of October.  On October 3, 1939, he was issued a dogtag (stamped I.N.E.Kp.10  #57) and a Soldbuch.  Incidentally, the number of his Soldbuch and dogtag were the same (#57), and while this was uncommon later in the war, it was more frequent in early- or pre-war issues (for explanation of why this happened, see the article on German Infanterie Dogtags).  He also retained his old rank of Gefreiter.

The purpose of an INEK training unit was to supply infantry regiments with trained communications specialists.  These soldiers would have worn a white blitz (lightning bolt) on their sleeve and the white-piped shoulder boards of the infantry.  Unlike the yellow-piped signal troops who were organized in specialized units and who received comprehensive and diversified training on communication techniques, these "infantry signalers" were only trained in the specific methods used at infantry regiment and below: telephones, infantry radio gear, and messenger service.

INEKs were small units, too small in fact to have their own paymaster, sick bay, or clothing and equipment stores.  For these services, an INEK depended on a larger training formation which was stationed in the same place; in this case, the larger unit was Infanterie Ersatz Btl. 20.

We don't know what Max's function was in INEK 10.  These units normally also provided "boot camp" for new recruits, but since Max was prior service, it is doubtful that he underwent basic training a second time.  He may have been part of the training cadré, or he may have attended a "refresher course".  What probably happened, however, was that Max was part of an army-wide program to supply itself with certain types of specialists.  For some reason, during the 1939 mobilization it appears that the Army experienced  a severe shortage of infantry signalers, and a variety of methods were used to correct it.  Herman Fuhrmeister, for example, was a former rifleman who found himself in a divisional signals school for retraining.  Max probably represented a second method of quickly producing signalers: retraining of reservists by the replacement centers.

Whatever the circumstances, Max would seem to have been more suited to climbing a painter's scaffold than lugging 50 pounds of telephone wire over rough terrain.  He was described as being 5' 6" tall and of slight build.  He also had dark blonde hair, gray eyes, and was of the catholic faith.

Late that year or early in 1940, Max was transferred to Infantry Regiment 20 (of the 10th Division) which was recuperating in Marburg after the Polish campaign.  Max was assigned to the HQ group of one of the battalions, which was the normal location for battalion-level communications personnel.

In February 1940, Max was promoted to Obergefreiter and about two weeks later got a routine 1-week leave.

In May, the German Army marched again, this time its traditional foe - France.  The 20th Regiment waited in reserve until June, then served in the Aisne sector until the end of the campaign.  By late August, they were back in Germany at the Grafenwöhr training grounds.  Meanwhile, the army had decided to convert the 10th Infantry into a motorized division, and this initiated a number of changes.  In a regular infantry regiment, the Nachrichten Staffel (communications group) was equipped with horse-drawn wagons.  Of course, in the motorized units they used cars and light trucks, all of which required drivers.  Max attended a driving school and was issued a Class I military drivers license in September.  According to a statement on the gray oilcloth document, it was "only valid in conjunction with the Soldbuch".  Staple rust marks show it to have been carried inside the front cover of the Soldbuch.

After this he got a 20-day Zustehender Urlaub (routine leave).  By the time he returned, the method of divisional transition from foot to tire had changed.  Rather than retraining and re-equipping all of the different horse-drawn elements, they would all be transferred out and replaced with trained motorized personnel from the replacement centers.  The horse-drawn elements were sent to the brand-new 134th Infantry Division which was in the process of forming at Grafenwöhr.  Max was assigned to the HQ group of III./IR 439 (3rd Bn., Inf. Regt. 439).  Rather than looking over a truck's hood, he would continue to view the backside of a horse.  The 134th organized and trained at Grafenwöhr until March 1941 when it was moved to eastern Germany.

In June of that summer, the 134th joined the field-gray tide moving east.  They fought their way across Russia, steadily losing men and energy until they dragged themselves, utterly exhausted, to a place called Jelez at the beginning of December.  It was unfortunate timing: the worn out, disorganized, ill-equipped German division, grinding to a halt right in front of a concealed steamroller of Siberian assault troops poised to start a large-scale offensive.

On December 6th, the Soviets unleashed their famous winter offensive and Regt. 439 was almost immediately cut off and surrounded.  Brutal fighting erupted as the regiment battled Ivan and the cold to regain the German lines. 

Courageous armies produce bravery on an individual basis as well.  On Dec. 10, 1941, Obergefreiter Groner did something during that fighting retreat which earned him an Iron Cross, Second Class.

By January of 1942, the lines were beginning to stabilize and the 439th was back on the attack by the end of the month as it advanced through a forest near Orel.  During a brief rest on February 4th, Max was field-promoted to Unteroffizier and awarded his Iron Cross Second Class.  It was a time-honored practice in armies of all ages: after a debilitating battle, fill some vacancies with field promotions and hand out some awards to buck up morale.

By February 12th, the small remnant of the 439th had reached the edge of the woods.  Its next mission was to fight its way across the open fields beyond, cross a river, and on to the next town.  Their ranks were thinned out even more in the process of accomplishing this.  Among the Landser who were struck down was the brand-new Unteroffizier; he was wounded and evacuated to a hospital in Warsaw.

Max was transferred from one hospital to the next.  At Reserve Hospital 26 in Vienna, he underwent an audit of his uniform and equipment.  One can only imagine the reaction of the war-weary, frosbit, bleeding soldier as some hospital clerk made the official notation in his Soldbuch: "ist nicht im Besitz einer Gasmaske!" (is not in possession of a gas mask!).

Max remained in hospitals for a total of about 4 months until June 2, 1942, when he was transferred to the Genesenden Kompanie (Convalescent Co.) of the replacement unit associated with Inf. Regt. 439 which happened to be Infanterie Ersatz Bn. 440 in Zittau.  He was then immediately given a 2-week Genesendenurlaub (convalescent leave).

After performing the typical light duties assigned the soldiers of a convalescent company, Max was reassigned to the Marsch Kompanie of IEB 440.  Another common part of training battalions, these companies were filled up with trained recruits at the replacement facility, then transported to the front where the rookies were transferred to units in the field regiment.  The Marsch Kompanie "Cadre", which consisted of command and administration personnel just like any other company, then returned to the training camp to begin reforming.  Max was probably one of these "cadre" soldiers who escorted the recruits to the front.  He definitely looked the part of the veteran now, for he had received a black wound badge for his previous suffering and the Eastern Front Winter Campaign medal, better known to the soldiers as the Gefreierfleischorden (order of the frozen meat).

The months passed with little change.  In October of 1942, the Zittau dental station gave Max a new dental plate (!).  He got a wide variety of furloughs, including a Wochenendurlaub (weekend leave) for the 1943 new year, a couple of 4-day Kurzurlaub (short leaves), and a Festtagsurlaub (holiday leave) for New Year 1944.  He got a Sonderurlaub (special leave) in August 14, 1943, and would have been in Regensburg during the big US bombing raid on August 17.  Max received a total of 86 days of leave time between the time he left the hospital and March of 1944.

On Feb. 5, 1943, he was examined and found fit for "tropical service", but the subsequent demise of the Afrika Korps probably eliminated the need for more "tropical service" men so Max stayed on the continent.

The summer of 1944 almost destroyed the Wehrmacht.  The Russians had flattened an entire Army Group and France had been lost along with many of its defenders.  By Autumn, hostile soldiers pressed in on almost every border of the Reich, and the surviving Landser were fighting desperately for time as the German Armed Forces attempted a miracle recovery.  This eleventh-hour comeback was accomplished as recruits were hurriedly trained and the whole Wehrmacht was scoured for surplus men to be used in reforming the combat divisions.  Max Groner was netted in this search, given his marching papers and pointed towards the front.

After receiving his orders, he was given the customary Einsatzurlaub (deployment leave), which for him lasted from November 18 to December 3, 1944.  On December 4, he went to the clothing and equipment depot of Grenadier Ersatz Bn. 440 and left with the following items as he prepared to leave for the front:
 

field cap wool tunic
helmet fat container
wool trousers Zeltbahn
1 pr. drawers belt & Buckle
overcoat overcoat strap
1 collar liner shirt
breadbag with strap canteen with cup
sweater 2 ammo pouches
toque mess kit
2 pr. socks hand towel
2 blankets 2 pr. footwraps
eating utensils dog tag
1 pr. lace-up boots 1 pr. gaiters
brush trouser suspenders
Zwieback bag Y-straps
rucksack 2 handkerchiefs

The photgraph in the Soldbuch was probably taken earlier that year, but his appearance would have been the same at this time: he wore a new M43 tunic with subdued tress, and his two ribbons are worn through a buttonhole.  The collar liner listed above is just visible above his tunic-collar.

The "transportation unit" organized for this group of replacements from many sources was called Marsch Btl. z.b.V. 800 (transport battalion for special employment 800), and Max was put in the 1st Company.

The battalion headed for the Western Front, and Max was deposited at the billets of Füsilier Kompanie 272 sometime in December, and became the 213th man placed on the rolls.

The company was being used as a "fire brigade" on the 272nd Division's sector of the Siegfried Line, being rushed from danger point to danger point.  On January 4th, they were given the mission of recapturing Bunker 27 just west of Simmerath.  What they didn't know, however, was that elements of the American 78th Division (including some tanks) were given a similar mission to eliminate German positions in the very same area.  The two attacks collided, but the GIs had the "bigger gun" and the result was predictable: the German attacks were bloodily repulsed and the Füsiliers were eventually overwhelmed by the American assault which followed.

During the battle, as the Germans attempted to storm Bunker 27 for the second time in the early morning hours of January 5th, a sub-machinegun bullet caught Max in the stomach and passed clear through the body.  He was probably carried back to the Truppenverbandplatz (battalion aid station) of the 1st Bn. of Grenadier Regiment 689, which was a unit of the 246th Volksgrenadier Division.  Another member of the company named Kurt Siegmund, also wounded in the stomach, had been brought there too.  Max was then evacuated to the 246th Division's Hauptverbandplatz (divisional aid station), but Kurt died before he could be moved.

Max died in the HVP at 8:45 that evening.  His personal effects (or at least whatever was left; some members of the German Medical Service were infamous for pilfering their patient's belongings) and a letter from the surgeon in charge were sent straight to his family, and his Soldbuch and a copy of the letter was sent back to Füs. Kp. 272.  The letter, which is probably full of comforting half-truths (as many such letters are), reads as follows:

Dear Groner Family,
     It is with sadness that I must bring a painful message to you.  Your son, Unteroffizier Max Groner, was seriously wounded in the stomach on Jan. 5 at 3 AM during combat over positions in the Eifel.  He was immediately brought to our main dressing station where he died at 8:45 PM despite undergoing an operation performed by specialists.  Your son was not aware of the severity of his condition and like every casualty in this situation, he hoped to recover and see his loved ones again.
     Dear family Groner, I can sympathize with you, and I know what the hero's death of your son means to you and how hard this news must be for you.  You can be assured that my staff and myself did everything possible to save his life.  He paid the supreme sacrifice in the ultimate fulfillment of his oath.  The importance of his mission for a high purpose can also be a consolation to you.  We buried your son in the military cemetery in Sauermühle, 10 km west of Gemund in the Eifel.  The possessions which your son had when he came to us will be sent to you shortly, and his possessions which remain at his company will be sent to you from there.
     With sympathy in your grief,

Heil Hitler                         
(Dr. Werther)                     
Stabsarzt u. Kompaniechef

Originally, Max was buried in the dressing-station's cemetery along the main road in Sauermühle, 10 kilometers from where he was wounded.  All 120 of these graves were moved after the war to a permanent war cemetery at Gemünd.

The war dragged on for 5 months after Max was killed, and Germany was left to rebuild.  The bomb craters were filled, the rubble cleared, and the bunkers which were once so vital that men died for them were left to weather amid grazing dairy cattle.  Today, there are few people who even remember who Max Groner was, or know anything about him.  Besides the details already covered in this story, we also know one other thing about him though, concerning a certain passion of his.  He was a collector of sorts, for still pressed between the pages of his Soldbuch are a dozen four-leaf clovers.  It is truly amazing to note the things that people put their faith in: while Max Groner was finding some hope in a clover patch, his country was entrusting its future to a man in Berlin.  In the end, neither one seems to have been a sound investment.

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