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Karl Nagel's Records
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.

What seems 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 spotless record:

Karl August 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).

The 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 soldier.

In a 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.

We can 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:

Karl, his 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.

Karl, 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 in Stalingrad.

After a 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.

The 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 just yet.

It was 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.

On March 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.

Apparently, 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.  Oop!

From June 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.

For one 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.

Perhaps he 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 arrest.

In March 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.

In August, 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.

In 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.

What 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!

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