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.
to be the typical German Soldier stereotype? To
many of us, it is almost that of the "purebred
warrior"; either the SS Teuton, determined to
sacrifice everything to bring the "new
order" to the world, or the virtuous German
citizen, respectfully assuming his traditional guise
of the dutiful soldier to fulfill the wishes of his
government. The actual truth is, of course, that
wartime armies are merely citizens in uniform and are
bound to catch their share of Sad Sacks, Beetle
Baileys, and Gomer Pyles. I mean no disrespect
in this, but to assume anything else would be
insinuating that the German People are something other
than earthly human beings. Furthermore, German
military law was considerably stricter than our own,
so it was proportionately easier to slip up. The
subject of the following article (derived from this
man's Wehrpaß and other records) examines the
military career of one soldier who had a less than
Nagel was born on August 18, 1920, to August
and Auguste Nagel in the small town of Kruppanmühle
near Groß-Strehlitz in Silesia. If the
synchronization of names and birth date was aimed at
delighting his parents and their friends, then Karl's
father died laughing because he died the same year.
At some point in time, Auguste moved her family from
Silesia to Brandenberg, and she herself was living in
Frankfurt on the Oder by mid-war. Karl, however,
was trained for a agricultural profession more
reminiscent of his Silesian birthplace: he was a
trained cow milker.
In July of
1939, when Karl was a month away from his 19th
birthday, he reported to his regional recruiting
headquarters in Eberswalde (about 25 km
northeast of Berlin) for his first examination.
He was found to be fit for military service and placed
in the "Ersatzreserve I" category.
This was roughly the same as our own "1-A"
classification, and was composed of all males under 35
who had not yet been given military training. He
also had his picture taken: the photo which peeks out
of his Wehrpaß is that of a slightly confused-looking
young man with dark hair and heavy eyebrows. In
fact, he looks a little like Peter Lorre, the famous
character actor. After all this, he returned
home to await his Einberufung (call-up).
call-up paper arrived in the fall of the next year
(1940), and Karl was instructed to report to the
facility of I. Art. Ers. Abt. (mot.) 75 (light
artillery "motorized" replacement battalion
75) in Biesenthal. This training unit was
located about midway between Berlin and Eberswalde.
He reported on October 4th, and was given another
physical on October 15th. Found to be fit, he
was sworn in two days later. Karl was now
(supposedly) transformed into the dutiful German
remarkably short training period, Karl was trained on
the Model 18 Light Field Gun and the ever-present K98.
On November 22, after about 6 weeks of training, he
was transferred to another training unit back in
Eberswalde for just three days and from there he was
assigned to 3./Pz.Jäg.Abt.3. (3rd Company, 3rd
Anti-tank Battalion). This unit was part of
Motorized Infantry Division 3. Unlikely as it
sounds, the Germans probably figured that if you can
shoot one kind of large gun, you can shoot another,
and so they moved him from straight artillery to
anti-tank artillery. Nevertheless, Pz.Jäg.Abt.3
retrained him on the 37 mm PAK anti-tank gun as well
as the Luger pistol and the MG 34. On June 22,
1941, Karl and his tank-busting comrades stepped off
into Soviet territory.
only imagine what Karl and his buddies experienced in
the first six months of that campaign, but based on
what we know about their equipment and the experiences
of similar units, we can formulate a general scenario:
comrades, and their 37mm gun are in Russia. A
Soviet tank clatters into range. The gunners
don't recognize the model, but they stuff a round into
their gun and fire at the vehicle. No effect!
Thinking that perhaps they made an unlucky hit on a
strong spot of the tank's armor, they load up and let
fly. Again, no effect! The tank is much
closer now. OK, the gunners think: its so close
now that a hit anywhere will surely pierce the beast,
so they load up and fire again. No effect, and
now the tank is so close that they are horrified to
see the ineffectual scratches that their previous hits
made on the tank. Their marksmanship was fine,
but the 37mm gun proved to be worthless. The
tank was that nasty surprise called a T-34, and now it
was time for the crew to improvise. In
situations like this all over the Eastern Front, there
were 3 possible acts to finish the scenario (provided
"Lady Luck" did not show herself to one side
or the other): acts of heroism (destroying the
enemy tank against all odds), acts of self-preservation
(running away), and acts of Futility
(staying, failing to destroy the tank, and paying the
price). Karl somehow survived this test, but the
37mm PAK did not. It was derisively dubbed the
"door knocker" and eventually replaced with
more potent ordnance.
still playing the virtuous Soldat, did his duty.
In fact, in September of 19411, he was promoted to Gefreiter.
A few months later, somewhere in the snows of late
fall and early winter, he won himself the Iron Cross
Second Class. His outfit was at this time very
close to Moscow, and was caught in a life-or-death
struggle with the Russian winter and the Soviet Army.
On December 30th, he collected something else which it
seemed that no long-time Landser could do without: a
piece of enemy metal. A Russian shell fragment
caught our hero in the left foot, and for this he was
evacuated from the Russian Front. Luck was with
our man, because if he had stayed with this unit for
much of 1942, the war could have taken a different
turn for him: the 3rd Motorized Division was trapped
stay in an unknown hospital, Karl was sent to a
convalescent unit: the Genesenden Kompanie of
Panzer Jäger Ersatz Abteilung 43 (convelescent
company of Anti-tank replacement Battalion 43).
He was with this outfit until May of '41, when he was
transferred to the training element of the same unit:
1.Pz.Jäg.Ers.Abt.43. He was awarded a General
Assault Badge in April, so he probably cut a
respectable figure for the new recruits with his
decorations and combat-veteran poise. He
apparently didn't clamor for return for the front,
however (probably thanks to "combat-veteran
preservation instinct") because he stayed managed
to stay with the trainees until September. In
August he had applied for the 12-year enlistment
option which would enable him to be promoted to Unteroffizier.
The training unit surgeon examined him and found
nothing out of order, so he was accepted as a 12-year
volunteer. His NCO schooling started in
September in a unit called Verfügungskompanie 233.
Apparently, this was a training unit which produced
NCOs and other specialists for Panzer Grenadier
Division 233. This "division" was
really just an organizational command for all of the
motorized training units in Wehrkrise III; the 43rd
Anti-tank "repple" battalion was also a part
of this division. He was recorded to have passed
the course for NCOs given by the "Field NCO
School for Mobile Troops" conducted from
September 14th, 1942, when he was back to the training
unit, this time for service in the
"reception" company. He was now
sporting the Eastern Front ribbon (awarded in August)
and a wound badge which he was finally awarded in
October for his wound of the previous year. I
suppose the recruits were impressed.
beginning of 1943 found him shuttling replacements to
the front in the Marschkompanie (transfer
company) of Pz.Jäg Ers.Abt.43, and in the
middle of January he was back with the reception unit.
Karl had now bounced in and out of every element of
this training battalion, and he would not come to rest
about this time that the Unteroffizier-to-be began to
slip on his military bearing. On February 20th
he was officially reprimanded by his commanding
officer for committing a horrible offence: he was
caught wearing his toque during a lecture! Maybe
his ears were cold. At any rate, this didn't
agree with the official German military regulations.
1st, 1943, he was formally recognized as an
Unteroffizier, and his specialty was noted in his
Wehrpaß: his primary talent was that of a gun
commander, and his secondary usage was that of an MG
commander. On March 12, he was transferred to
the 4. (heavy weapons) company of Panzer Grenadier
Regiment 891. This unit was formed in Belgium as
an independent mobile infantry regiment.
Karl decided to slip the traces again, but this time
he falsified a document. Perhaps he made himself
a pass. Whatever he decided to write up, he got
caught and this time got four weeks close arrest.
to September, 1943, he was back transporting
replacements to the front. Another lucky bounce,
because the 891st Regiment went off to Croatia and was
destroyed there on October 5th, 1943.
month, from Sept. 4 to Oct. 4, he was with Panzer Jäger
Abt. 519. This unit was something new for
Karl, because this unit's main armament consisted of
"Hornisse" self-propelled tank
destroyers, later known as "Nashorn"
(Rinoceros). Then, until Dec. 14, he was back in
the Convalescent Company of his old training unit,
Pz.Jäg Ers.Abt.43, and later back to the reception
company, this time until March of 1944.
was growing tired of the soldier's life, perhaps he
was just a rebel. Perhaps he just goofed up at
the wrong times, or maybe the German Army was just too
picky. Anyways, one day in January of '44 he
passed an officer he knew on the street, but did not
salute him. This earned him three days close
of 1944 he was transferred to Schnelle Abteilung
503 which was doing occupation duty in Holland.
This unit was part of a second-line unit which got its
"mobile" status from its generous allotment
of bicycles. He got 3 more days of close arrest
in the beginning of May. This time, he was
caught during a night march without his helmet on,
contrary to the orders of the battalion commander.
Worse yet, he allowed his men to take theirs off as
well! Karl's sheaf of "crime sheets"
was getting pretty thick.
the German front in France collapsed, and this
heralded some major shifting of the Wehrmacht's
manpower resources. Much of Schnelle Abt. 503
was poured into the ranks of various combat units
which were preparing to defend the western borders of
the Reich. Karl, however, managed one more dodge
of front-line service. He was transferred to
another training unit, this time to Aufklärungs
Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 9 (Reconnaissance
Replacement and Training Battalion 9) located in Fürstenwalde
Spree near Berlin. He hadn't been assigned to
this outfit even 4 days before he was in trouble
again. While traveling on a military mission, he
apparently took a little vacation and returned to his
unit a day late. He was locked up two days after
he got back and remained in the klink for 5 days.
mid-October of '44, the Heldenklau (hero hook)
finally re-caught our man and he was shipped to the
272nd Füsilier Company. We can only guess what
use they made of this professional anti-tank soldier
instructor, but since he was accustomed to heavy
weapons and appears to have survived the infamous
Bunker 24 massacre unscathed, we can assume he was
assigned to one of the heavy weapons groups of the
company. Given his secondary specialty of
"machine gun commander", perhaps he was
assigned to the heavy machine gun platoon.
Perhaps he was utilized in the infantry-howitzer
platoon. The records are unclear about this, and
for now we can't know for sure.
eventually became of Unteroffizier Nagel? Sad to
say, we don't know. We don't have any evidence
to point to his becoming another of the rather long
list of casualties, so hopefully he wound up in an
American POW enclosure, or maybe he even slipped away
from his unit as it dissolved and stepped off for
parts unknown. If he did make it home, it would
have been a different home than he left as a draftee.
His birthplace was now part of Poland and his mother's
home in Frankfurt on the Oder was occupied by Soviet
troops (and would be for a long time).
If he did
survive the war, we can only hope that he managed to
follow civil law better than he did military law!