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Wolfgang Klünner's Soldbuch 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.

Although Karl Nagel had his share of transgressions with Wehrmacht military law; none of his crimes would ever earn more than a spell in an Arreststelle.  This installment's soldier, however, could have gotten the death sentence if they had ever caught him.  The following article has been assembled from information in his Wehrpaß and other associated papers which are in our possession.

Wolfgang Walter Willi Klünner (he used his first first name) was born on September 26, 1926 in the small town of Berleburg in the far eastern reaches of Westphalia.  His father was a teacher, but his next of kin was listed as his mother Erna.  By 1943, he was living at 103 Elberfelderstrasse in Hagen.  Hagen, with a population in excess of 150, 000, was located in the industrial Ruhr valley.  Elberfelderstrasse was a relatively short street and was situated in downtown Hagen, so it appears that Wolfgang was a genuine metropolitan German.  His 1943 occupation was listed as "student", so perhaps he was a cultured young man as well.  He had the coloring of a Viking but the build of a acrobat: he is described as being blonde-haired, gray-blue eyed, but of slight build and only 5'7" tall.  The Wehrpaß photograph above shows a finely-featured individual with a worried look on his; this is understandable when one remembers that Wolfgang's hometown and its environs were among the most frequently bombed regions of Germany.  The air-raid sirens could have been wailing as the picture was being taken on June 1, 1943.  Unlike many other young Germans who sat for the photographer in their "Sunday best", including at least a suit jacket and sometimes a necktie, Klünner faced the camera in a decidedly casual jacket; it was very light colored, with a zipper front and a pair of button-flapped breast pockets.

Klünner was noted as being an English-speaker and holder of a Freischwimmer certificate.

On March 31, 1944, he was taken into the ranks f the Reichs Arbeits Dienst, or RAD.  Although this organization was formed with the intention of performing various construction tasks for the benefit of the State (such as mending dikes, digging ditches, draining marshlands, etc..), wartime pressures forced come of these units to be used in support of the military.  Wolfgang's Wehrpaß describes his RAD service to have been in support of the Luftwaffe at another bomb-magnet of a town called Regensburg.  By the time his RAD obligation was finished on May 24, 1944, it is safe to say that he had seen more of the cruel hand of war than some others did even as they finished their stint in the military.  At one of his speeches, Josef Goebbels asked the German People if they wanted "total war", and the audience cried "JA!!".  Well, they certainly got what they asked for.  Unlike many Americans who were only touched indirectly by the war, most Germans were unable to find the back row seats to the show.  Wolfgang was no exception; it is likely that in some ways, he was a veteran even before he entered the Wehrmacht.

About three weeks after being discharged from RAD, Wolfgang was inducted by the Wehrmacht.  He was put into the roll of the Stamm-Kompanie (reception company) of Grenadier Ersatz Btl. 167 located in Herford, on June 14, 1944.  The reception company probably performed the typical tasks: initial processing, issue of uniform, and began to acclimate the new recruit to military life.  It was here that Klünner was issued his dogtag: it was probably steel, with the inscription "Stamm-Kp.G.E.B.167" and the number "6454".  He was sworn in five days after his induction, and the next day he was transferred to 4./Res. Gren. Btl. 184 in Denmark where he received his basic training while simultaneously providing garrison duty on the western coast of the country for a possible Allied invasion.  This combination of training and occupation duty was common feature of the German Army in occupied territory.

His training/garrison duty lasted 5 months, until November 21, 1944, when he was transferred back to Training Regiment 426 (of which Gren. Ers. Btl. 167 was a part).  He had been trained on the k98 rifle (oddly called the Gewehr 98k in his records rather than the Karabiner 98k), MG42 light and MG34 heavy-machine guns, and the 120 millimeter heavy mortar.  Training Regiment 426 placed Wolfgang back in the unit which had inducted him, the 167th Infantry Replacement Battalion, but this time he was assigned to the transport company (Marschkompanie) of the battalion.  This was actually a typical process for late-war recruits: inducted, processed, and equipped by a homeland Stamm-Kompanie, then trained by a distant Reserve unit, and returned to the Marschkompanie of the homeland Ersatz unit for assignment and transport to a field unit.  Wolfgang waited in this transport command (Marsch. Btl.z.b.V.Inf.809) which was en route to the front.  Along with a number of other new soldiers, some of whom were inducted on the same day and probably were with him all through basic training, Wolfgang arrived at Füsilier Kompanie 272 on December 22, 1944.  The company was refitting after some participating in some particularly heavy fighting in the middle of the month.  Wolfgang was probably assigned to either one of the two mortars or the pair of heavy machine guns of the company.  Most of his buddies went into one of the three infantry platoons.

Two weeks after these rookies arrived, they were fighting for their lives south of Bickerath in the battles for Bunkers #27 and #24.  Although Wolfgang survived this combat, he must have been touched in another way: many of the young Landser who he trained and traveled with had been killed.

It would be interesting to speculate that the wholesale slaughter of his friends had some influence on what he did next, but it would be only that: speculation.  What we do know is that Wolfgang was either wounded or sick and therefore assigned to light duty with the company supply column (the Troß).  The Germans called this condition troßkrank, and it allowed the unit to utilize ailing soldiers to a limited extent without losing them entirely.  On the night of March 23, 1945, the commander of the company's rear echelon (the company Hauptfeldwebel, or Spieß as he was commonly called), ordered at least four men to accompany a wagon on a supply run to the combat troops at the front line.  The four men were identified as Füsiliers Klünner and Ahrens, Gefreiter Schönherr, and a Feldwebel named Hans Klose.  The party departed in the night, this was also common practice to prevent supply vehicles from becoming prey for the Jabos.  When the wagon returned however, only Schönherr and Ahrens were with it.  The only idea we have about what happened in between comes from the official statement made by Gefreiter Schönherr the next day.

According to the Gefreiter, they proceeded on their way until they reached the town of Strassenhaus, where they were informed that the place was under artillery fire.  The best course of action, it was ordered, was to split up, pass through the town, and meet on the other side.  On passing through the town, an explosion was heard.  Ahrens and Schönherr waited with the wagon in vain at the other side of town for about 45 minutes, but Klose and Klünner  did not appear.  After Ahrens repeatedly called out their names, he and Schönherr resumed their mission.  Neither of the missing men had their weapons with them; they had been hauling them in the wagon.  The guns were brought back to the supply column on the return trip.  At least this is the story that Schönherr told the company commander.  With the war clearly lost, an English-speaking educated soldier in the company of a (probably) war-weary sergeant disappear in the middle of the night after a convenient "explosion".  Perhaps the explosion part was fabricated in an attempt to suggest that the two were blown to bits.  A more likely story is that the disenchanted pair told the other two of their plan and walked off when they split up in Strassenhaus.

The company administration certainly had its doubts, because they immediately drew up papers accusing Klünner of going AWOL and desertion.  Interestingly enough, the papers were typed out in quadruplicate and were unsigned and un-notarized which suggests that they were never officially filed.  This is reasonable since within two weeks, much of the 272nd Volksgrenadier Division surrendered in the Ruhr Pocket.  The remains of the Füsilier Company escaped and retreated towards the Harz mountains where they were captured at the end of the war.  In the chaos of these final weeks of the war, I doubt that anyone really had much enthusiasm to pursue a couple of "deserters".  There is one interesting thing about the AWOL report, however, for there is a detailed description of what the missing man was wearing when he disappeared: Wolfgang is described as wearing a grayish wool uniform with the belted field trousers (Rundbundhosen), a billed field cap, lace-up low-quarter boots, and gaiters.

Was he really a deserter?  Could anyone really be called a "deserter" at this period of the war?  What happened to him?  We don't know.  Perhaps we don't want to know, for although he managed to leave the ranks of his company, he could have been caught later by a roving patrol of Feldgendarmerie (chained dogs), and many of us know what that would have meant, especially in this rather brutal and desperate period of the war.  Perhaps he was gunned down by a group of nervous GIs he intended to surrender to.  Maybe he really was blown up in an explosion in Strassenhaus that night.  Perhaps he made it home; at least I hope he did.

And Wolfgang, if by some weird quirk of fate you should ever read this, believe us when we say that the only judgment we are making, is that we are happy never to have been in your shoes.  49 years after experiences like yours, this is the only judgment anyone should be able to make.

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