by Eric Tobey
interview 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.
of this article appeared previously in the Fall 1989 news-sheet called "Der
Meldeweg". It was the result of
perhaps a half-dozen conversations with Mr.
Becker, and the questions represent the
evolution of our "101 Questions for
German Vets". We had to omit some
of the questions due to space, perhaps we
will run them in a following issue.
Although Mr. Becker had imperfect recall on
many small details, he is as responsible for
the actual existence of our research efforts
than any one else. It seemed that his
most frequent expression was, "You
must ask others about that... there are
others that can tell you more. You
have to talk to many people before you can
really get the feel of how something was or
was not." Al Becker now lives
in retirement in Florida.
Unit, and brief service record:
I am Alfred Becker, born in 1924, and am
from Köln (Cologne). I belonged to
the 326th Infantry (Division). I was
in Normandy and in the Ardennes
Counteroffensive. I was promoted to
Gefreiter in the Fall of 1944 and was
captured on January 19, 1945.
you wear you Drillichanzug (HBT uniform) in
No, that is ridiculous. Our Drillichanzug
was white. The enemy would have shot
us down like rabbits.
your uniform and clothing.
Feldgrau wool blouse and trousers.
We had shoes and not boots like in the
movies. Also a long overcoat, same
color as everything else. All the wool
was very rough, not very high quality.
Our underwear were long johns, and we had
two kinds of shirts. One shirt had no
collar; the collar buttoned inside your
blouse. The other had a collar but was
made out of really bad material. When
they were new they were like sandpaper.
type of equipment were you issued?
I don't remember much from France, but
for the Ardennes I carried a carbine and a
smoke grenade. The smoke grenade was
to hide you if you wanted to attack or get
away. Later on, when I became the
squad leader, I carried a sub-machinegun.
do some Erkennungsmarke (dogtags) lack the
blood type stamp?
We were given a choice to have it
tattooed on either our foot or our shoulder.
My feet are very sensitive, so I had it done
on my shoulder, see? (Pulls up his tee shirt
and shows a purplish-red "A",
about on his left shoulder blade.) I
wore my tag on a string around my neck.
you carry your Soldbuch in the field?
How did you carry it?
We had our Soldbuchs in our blouse
pockets except when we were out in a very
isolated position or on patrol. Then
we gave them to our officer. I did not
have mine when I got hurt in Normandy, so
they gave me a new one in the hospital.
songs did you sing?
I loved the singing! We sang Erika,
Lili Marlene, Als Wir Nach
Frankreich Zogen, Muß Ich Den, Rosemarie,
and many, many, others. We sang a lot.
of a squad, gun crew, patrol, or training
In training, we were put in Korporalschaften
of about a dozen or more men. This was
also the number of men in our Stube in the
barracks. One man in the room was the Stubenalteste,
he made sure the room was neat and that we
got all the news. It wasn't really a
rank. Our Stubenalteste was a kid I
knew, he was young but he was a junior
leader in the Hitler Youth so he was the
real responsible, military type. I was
in the division's replacement group in
France, and I don't remember how we were
organized. In the fall, when I was
transferred to the 752nd Regiment, I was a Stellvertretender
Gruppenführer, that means I was second
in command of a Gruppe. Our Gruppe
had nine men at the beginning. After a
few days at the front, you would have less.
what kinds of things could you buy and where
did you get them? How much would
certain items cost?
It was primarily alcohol and tobacco.
You could also get books, writing material,
soap, and things like that. I still
remember the toothpaste, it was called
Klorodont. We got it from the Kantine
which was run by the Zahlmeister
(paymaster). I don't remember prices.
you wear Fußlappen or socks?
In the winter, I wore both. In the
summer, socks until they wore out, then the
you have a Rucksack, Tornister, or Sturmgepäck
Tornister. I saw some rucksacks on
others. Never had the last thing.
your basic training: instructors, daily
routine, the barracks, etc...
It was very tiring, almost as tiring as
combat. The instructors were mostly
veterans, they could really teach you
something. We got up early, before the
sun was up, ran around all day and sat in
classes, and went to bed late. When I
went to France I got more schooling: they
showed us how to detect resistance fighters
and hide from the Jabos. When I went
to Hungary in the fall, I got even more.
your field rations.
got bread and Mukefuk (coffee).
Sometimes a pickle. We also ate lots
of soups and Eintopf (stew).
Our cook made most of our food for us, we
did not do any of our own cooking; in the
front line we ate stuff cold.
Sometimes we bought stuff from the local
you earn any decorations? What did you
do to earn them, how were they awarded to
you, and how did you wear them?
I got a black wound medal. They
came in black, silver, and gold. Black
was the lowest grade, you got it for minor
wounds. If you got your legs blown off
they would give you a gold one, or if you
were wounded lots of times. They gave
it to me in the hospital. Back in
France, a guy next to me tried to fire a
Panzerfaust and it blew up. Got me and
another guy and killed the shooter.
When I told the doctor what happened, he
said, "No, you are mistaken. An
enemy bullet hit the weapon and blew it up.
You have an honorable wound."
Hah. I wore the medal on the pocket of
my new blouse when I was out of the
type of field cap were you issued? Was
there a special way of wearing it?
I got one with a brim, like a baseball
hat with ear flaps. There was a
certain way of wearing it, but I forget how
it was. We did not lower the flaps, I
and what was the "Putz und Flickstunde".
What did you do?
You would clean and repair your
equipment and your clothing, and clean the
you smoke? What was more common,
pipes, cigars, or cigarettes? Describe
the above. How about lighters?
I smoked a pipe. This was popular
with even young men back then. It was
a small pipe, I don't remember what I lit it
with, I must have had a lighter. Pipes
were better in the front lines. You
can see a cigarette burning and so they tend
to draw bullets to your face. This is
not good for your teeth.
the worst place you were in.
Near Saint Vith during our Ardennes
Counteroffensive. The Americans were
slaughtering us and the weather was very
the best memory you have of your service
I had many good friends in the Army, and
we helped one another in every way we could.
You don't see that now. It was called Kameradschaft.
We would share the good times and the bad.
your winter clothing: scarves? Gloves?
I had an overcoat and a Kopfschutzer
(toque). Mittens with the trigger
finger. A sweater with a high neck.
I saw some soldiers who I think were in our
division who had camouflaged snow suits.
White on one side, brown on the other.
We copied them from the Russians. I
also saw soldiers who had felt boots that
were also copied from the Russians.
a Biwak (bivouac).
This meant camping outdoors. I did
not do this except in training. At the
front, we either stayed in a building or
outside in a hole with a blanket around you.
were your relationships with the local
We were OK with the French, I think.
I did not have too much to do with them,
though. I was a very shy and awkward
youth. I was in Hungary for a while, I
got along very well with the Hungarians.
were your feelings at the end of the war?
I was glad it was over and anxious about
my family. I had not heard from them
for a long time. They were OK and
living in Bavaria.
anyone in your command ever get lice?
Not that I remember.
you ever use any pieces of captured
equipment or clothing?
We had American-type marker panels to
fool the Jabos, but they may have been
were your feelings toward your enemies: the
Russians, the British, the Americans.
We were afraid of the Russians. We
thought we could beat the English and
Americans in a fair fight, but they had more
material than we did, so the fights were
very uneven. If you shot at an
American Infantry unit, they would blow you
to bits with bombs or artillery shells.
This was very frustrating. The
Americans were very spoiled. Lots of
good food, good clothing, nice boots.
But they were very humane. After some
very bad fighting in January of 1945, we got
so tired some of us just quit fighting.
We were so tired and hungry, we didn't care
if the Amis shot us. But they actually
treated us pretty well.
were your feelings towards your NCOs?
Most of my superiors were all right.
Most of the NCOs had been privates at one
time, so they were usually sympathetic.
The officers were usually on our side too.
They called us meine Kinder (my
children). They looked after us, and
we were expected to do our best for them.
Many of the officers died with their men.
you receive or send Feldpost (mail)?
What kind of mail did you send or receive?
No, for some reason, I did not get much
mail, especially after I left the hospital.
I got some letters in the hospital. I
wrote my parents and family all the time.
do you remember about train transport?
The trains were and still are very
important in Europe. When I left
Germany for France, they gave us enough food
to last us the whole trip. You see,
usually the train would have to wait or get
re-routed because of bomb damage or other
problems, so they gave us each a big box of
food. Bread, a bottle of fruit drink,
cheese, sausages, enough for perhaps a week.
Imagine all those hungry men having this big
box of food with them but the Marschkompanie
Feldwebel told us how much we could eat.
But for some reason, the trip only took a
few days. We had a real feast at the
end of the line.
you ever get an Urlaub (leave)?
After I got out of the hospital, I got a
leave, I think it was for a week or two.
I had to wear some old uniform from the
hospital store room, my old one was pretty
burnt up. I went to the Kantine and
bought some gifts for my family and took the
train to Cologne. Most of my friends
were in the war so I spent my time with my
family. My girlfriend was working in a
hospital and I went to see her once.
were your defenses against Jabos (fighter
bombers)? Were there roadside shelters
As I said, we had these markers to fool
them. We were supposed to put them out
in front of our Stellungs to make the Jabos
think they were bombing their own men.
We never used them. We also had
roadside shelters that they showed us in the
training group in France.
did you carry your overcoat in the field
when you were not wearing it?
If I had it, I was wearing it. In
the Kaserne (barracks) we hung them
in our locker.
combat: do you remember using Panzerfausts,
mines, or smoke grenades?
The English were coming through our
position in France. We were out in
front in a ditch. We watched few go by
before one guy decides to shoot at one of
the tanks with a Panzerfaust. It blew
up in his hands. I could barely see
because I had gravel blown into my eyes and
cuts on my head, but I got back through a
drainage ditch to where our company had been
around a small farm. The Tommies were
shooting at me all the way. Another
unit was there, they carried me back as they
retreated. We had Panzerfausts again
in the Ardennes but I would never fire one
because of what happened the first time.
I saw them used, though. They were
very effective, better than your bazooka.
you issued Eiserne Portionen (iron rations)?
Yes, you were only supposed to eat them
when someone ordered you to. I don't
remember what was in them.
are your memories regarding the "Kettenhund"?
That was our equivalent of your MPs.
I never had any trouble with them.
you have a watch? What kind was it, a
wristwatch or a pocketwatch?
I had a wristwatch that my grandfather
had bought for me when I was younger.
It had an inscription on the back. I
traded it to an Englishman for an extra
were the typical German Army punishments?
What would happen if you were missing a
piece of equipment or your weapon?
What happened if you overstayed your leave
or did not salute an officer?
I never had any trouble, but if you got
into trouble they would put in the Arreststelle
on bread and water.
you have a camera?
are your memories regarding "HIWIS"?
Did you ever see female HIWIS? How
could you tell if a man was a HIWI, did he
have a special uniform?
Ha ha. HIWIS. I haven't
heard that word in years. They were
Russian volunteers who helped do jobs like
help the cooks or repair clothing, or help
the Waffenmeister. You could tell who
they were when they spoke to you: some of
them could barely speak German.
are the biggest mistakes that film companies
make when making movies that have German
soldiers in them?
The German soldiers are always nasty and
ugly. And when they attack, they are
so stupid, running upright in big bunches
until they are all shot down like rabbits.
And they always show the soldiers from the Vormarschzeit,
from the early days of the war. Tall
shiny boots, gaudy uniforms and shiny Stahlhelm.
Me and my comrades did not look like that,
and we did not make suicidal attacks like
you have a pocket knife? What kind was
it and where did you get it?
Ha ha. My comrades called me the
"Messerschmied" which means
knife man. My father was a butcher and
I learned a lot about knives. One of
the things I brought from home was a small
stone to sharpen knives. I could
really sharpen knives, so everyone would
bring me their knives to sharpen. I
would use a little gun oil and sharpen them
up. I also collected a bunch of
pocketknives. I can't remember where I
got them, but I always had at least a couple
soldiers allowed to have beer or liquor?
Where would they get it?
I did not really acquire a taste for
liquor until after the war. Sometimes
we would get wine from the local civilians
you wear Gamaschen? Do you remember
soldiers throwing away their Gamaschen and
rolling the tops of their socks over the
cuffs of their trousers?
Yes, I remember soldiers doing that, but
I can't remember where or why. I was
issued Gamaschen and I wore them. They
kept the dirt out of the top of your boots.
you ever attend a field burial?
Actually, I was quite shocked at how the
fallen were taken care of. Before I
went into the army, I watched films where
the soldier is buried in a neat cemetery,
his comrades sing "I hat eine
Kameraden", the chaplain prays,
right? And they either died instantly
and gloriously or peacefully in the hospital
in the arms of a nice nurse. I went to
a nice funeral once while I was in training
after a soldier drowned. But at the
front, I never saw that. What we did
was dig a hole and bury the man, and that
was if we had the time. At Saint Vith,
we just piled them up or left them in the
snow. The ground was frozen and we
couldn't dig a grave. If a man was
shot and fell on his face and died, his face
froze twisted or flattened so you could not
even tell who he was. It was terrible.
Good sons and husbands left out in the snow
like bags of garbage on the curb. I
remember this sentimental advertisement
where a woman was shown thinking about her
soldier at the front, she is thinking:
"I will do this for my Fritzl at the
front," or something like that.
What she didn't know was that Fritzl was
dead in the snow. We were not allowed
to write home about casualties.
enemy weapons did you fear the most?
I was afraid of them all. They
could all hurt me. The artillery was
pretty bad, but I saw many men killed by
rifles and machine guns around St. Vith.
We were attacking over open terrain, not in
the woods like you think. There was
nowhere to hide and we were shot down like
rabbits. Granatwerfers (mortars)
were also bad. You did not hear them
coming and they did not bury themselves in
the ground like artillery did.
did your own countrymen treat you after the
Everyone was so busy with their own
problems to worry about one more returning
soldier. But the Allies cleared out
all the teachers, politicians, and police
who had been Nazis or had reason to support
the Nazis. Well during the war, almost
everyone who had any authority was probably
a member of the party so a lot of good
administrators lost their jobs. Some
of the ones that the Allies put in, my God,
they were terrible. A few of them
hated anything from the Reich, including its
soldiers. They could make life rough.
your mess equipment: your Eßbesteck
(utensils), lard container, etc.
I had a little fold-up spoon that I
carried in my pocket. That's about all