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Juilius K. ("Karl") Anderssen


Interview by Eric Tobey

 
This 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.

The interview which follows was conducted in the evening of April 2, 1992 in a restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut.  Julius K. ("Karl") Anderssen was one of those members of the Kriegsmarine who was transferred to the Army in the final months of the war.  While he seemed to be a rather reserved person, his manner brightened considerably when he spoke of his naval service, and he was willing to go to great lengths to describe his experiences in the Kriegsmarine.  When it came to his memories of life in the Infantry, however, it was apparent that his feelings were less than pleasant and his memories less vivid.  Nevertheless, he did provide a few interesting tidbits as you will see.

He was born in Segeburg which is a small community in the Northern regions of Germany in 1917, and as a young man was a member of the Marine Hitler Youth.  This organization, which was a Naval version of the regular HJ, was obviously one of the more enjoyable experiences of Julius's youth.  He described brief voyages on the Baltic Sea in small sailing craft and tours of German Warships.  In 1938 he volunteered for the German Navy - the Kriegsmarine.

His specialty became gunnery and he did a short stint aboard the famous Scharnhorst before being assigned to duty on destroyers and other small vessels.  While serving on coastal craft during the winter of 1940-1941, he slipped on an icy gun mount and fractured his skull.  The resulting problems left him unfit for sea duty, much to his chagrin.

He performed various shore tasks in Norway until the summer of 1944 when we start the story in his own words:

How did you get transferred out of Norway?
My commander didn't like me and had me transferred.  After I got land duty I guess I got frustrated and got into some trouble.  I lost my Dienstgrad (rank).  I became "sand in the boot" of my commander, so he got rid of me.  I was supposed to go to the Naval base in Wilhelmshafen for reassignment, but this actually pleased me because I wanted to go to sea and the only way I could do it was to get transferred to Germany.

At that time, they were moving troops from Norway to France.  I was put on a ship with a group of these soldiers.  At first, I was worried because I had to make the trip by ship, but the trip made me very happy because I did not suffer from my concussion as I did before.  I was sure I was ready again for sea duty.

Where did you disembark?  How did you get back to Germany?
I arrived in Antwerp in June of 1944, and almost as soon as I got off the boat, my leave was cancelled.  I was temporarily put into a Marine-Flak Abteilung.  Then in August the front collapsed and everyone ran for Germany.  There was about 4 or 5 of us sitting on the railing of a bridge outside a town called Geel when we hear this popping sound.  Some terrorist was shooting at us with a revolver, we were quite far away for the weapon, perhaps 200 meters.  We didn't jump to the ground right away or anything, I guess we weren't too worried.  Then a bullet hits me right here (points to his left side, about 6 inches below his armpit).  A lucky shot for him, bad luck for me.  Pech, we would say.  But lucky for me it was just a revolver bullet, if it had been a rifle bullet it would have killed me.  Then a half dozen more terrorists appeared, so my comrades picked me up and we took off.

My comrades found a Luftwaffe medical convoy who took me in and drove me to Germany where they put me in a hospital near Hamburg.  One night in September the hospital was hit by a stray bomb and fell in.  That was worse than getting shot, all the wounded had not been moved and were yelling, it was terrible.

When were you transferred to the Army?
I don't remember exactly, maybe in October or November of '44.  They let me out of the hospital and I went to a Genesenden Abteilung where other wounded or sick men were put together before going back to sea.  Then every one of us got the news that we were going into the Heer, or Army.  I remember some of the men were happy because they felt that by this time in the war you would not stand a very good chance of living if you stayed in the Navy and went to sea.  They figured the odds were better on land.  Not me, I would have rather taken the risk and gone to sea.

Did you have to turn in all your Navy uniforms and equipment?
We went to the Kammer and gave back all our blue clothing.  You see, the Navy issued you blue stuff for sea and dock work, and green stuff for land work.  I gave the guy at the counter all my blue clothes, it was the same stuff they had issued me the week before!  They didn't leave us with much, just a shirt, sweater, socks, coat, green trousers, and certain things that we were never supposed to be without, like a belt, gasmask, and helmet.

We then went to an army Kaserne in the Lüneburger Heide, first by train, but then we marched because a section of the track was bombed out.

At the Army Kammer they issued us Army uniforms and equipment.  Outside was a truck from the Navy, and we went out there and threw the rest of our Navy stuff in the truck.

They gave you a complete reissue?  The Army gave you an entire outfit?  Even your helmet and belt?
(Laughing)  I think so!  Germans are very efficient!  But we kept a few items.  We kept our Navy boots, socks, underwear, and so on.  These were the things the Navy didn't want to give to someone else.  This was good for us because we had plenty of extras then, and the Navy stuff was superior to the Army stuff.

Like our boots.  At Bremen the Navy gave us boots with the Beschlag, the spikes (hobnails) on the bottom.  The Army guys were getting shoes that leaked.  The Army soldiers were always trying to get our boots because they were better.  I lost mine to a soldier in a wager.

But to answer your question, everything else we tossed to the guy in the back of the Navy truck.  Do you know how to tell a Navy truck?  By the license plate.  Navy ones will say "WM" for Wehrmacht Marine.  And Navy trucks are always cleaner and run better than Army trucks.  You know why?  Because Navy mechanics were educated to work on battleships, which were much more complicated than trucks!

What about your paperwork, like your Soldbuch. Did the Army give you a new set of papers?
I don't remember.  But yes, they always had lots of papers, the Germans are very fond of papers.  Besides, wars are actually fought with papers, not bullets, so we had lots of papers.

What Division did they put you in?  What was your job?
I don't remember the number, they never used the number.  If it were a ship, I'd probably remember the name and the number of guns it had too, but not the number of some Army unit I was with for only a few months.  Besides, if they wanted all the men in the unit together, the would yell, "Schonheim's Group, come here!"  They would use the commander's name.  I was a number 1 man on a PAK (anti-tank gun).  This meant that I loaded the gun.  The Richtschütze (gun aimer) pointed the gun, he was on the left of the gun behind the bullet shield.  I was on the right with the firing trigger and shell slot (?).  I loaded and fired the gun when the aimer gave the command Feuer.  It was common to put Navy men on the big guns because we were experienced with Schießwesen (gunnery?).  Everybody in our crew was Navy except the tractor driver who was Army.  Ours was the second gun.  The gun aimer had been on a U-Boat.  And I am not being to proud when I tell you that the Navy gunners were always better shots than the Army gunners.  This was good in the field because they would put the better crews in positions which had the farthest shots.  If you were a bad crew, they might put you in a position where you were going to be shooting close-up, like around the bend in a road.  And this was bad, because then you wouldn't always have a chance to get away.

What type of anti-tank guns did your unit have, and what did you use to tow them?
The guns were called PAKs which stood for Panzerabwehrkanone.  I don't remember exactly their type, they shot a Granate (shell) that was maybe 7 centimeters round, it was a common gun (int. note: probably a 75mm PAK 40).  We had tractors to pull them.

Halftracks?
No, all track, like a light bulldozer (Probably an RSO?).  We spent a lot of our time trying to hide them from the American Air Force.  We would always try to have more than one position ready for the gun.  When the American tanks came, you fired, then brought the tractors up when the Amis (German slang for Americans) fell back.  Then you moved to the other position so that you could surprise them from another direction and so that they could not get you with their artillery.  The American artillery was very very good.  Zerstorungsfeuer (destructive barrages) would come quick, and they were accurate and very heavy.  We would ride the tractor when the whole unit was moving, but in combat it was safer to follow from farther away.  We were supposed to stay close to the tractor, but the tractors were good targets so we stayed as far from them as possible in combat.  They couldn't leave you behind because they were so slow.

Describe your training in the Army.
I don't remember much, it couldn't have been very interesting.  They showed us how to work the PAK and how to dig holes and hide, things like that.  We got our training right behind the front lines in Württemberg.

Were you engaged in combat a number of times, do you remember any of the battles?
It was a battle to just do your job, it was MISERABLE.  Cold and wet, hungry, afraid.  That's life in the Army - ROTTEN.  I was in a couple of fights, that was my job.  But you had to live like an animal, not civilized like on a ship.  Our tractor was blown up, so we couldn't move our gun.  The Americans came around our side so we ran away from the gun and left it there.  Then the officers put us in an Alarmzug, or emergency unit.  We were supposed to be infantry now.  Our officer was a guy who had already lost all his men, but he was still hungry for battle.  We would say that he had a "sore throat", that he just wanted a Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross) to rest on his neck.  What a bunch of crap, this was too much.  We were so tired, the first time they put us out we decided to surrender, so we ran up this little gully to get away from the officer, then walked out and surrendered.  This was February of 1945, I think it was towards the beginning of the month, I can't remember.  They took us back in a truck, and our gun aimer was so tired he fell off.  The Americans left him there.  I don't know what happened to him.  I think his name was Hauser.  Unteroffizier Hauser.  I came back to Germany from France in 1946.  I moved to Newark in 1954 and to California in 1960.

Most of my fighting was done in the Alsace-Lorraine region, or as we called it Elsaß and Lothringen.  We were fighting over a town called Bitche which we finally lost.  Ha ha.  We finally lost everything, including parts of the Fatherland!  By this time, anyone with a brain knew the war was lost, with the Russians rolling over our men on the east and the other Allies on the west.  Fighting hard against the Western Allies did not make much sense.  Every day we held up your people meant one more day the Russians had to capture more German land in the east.  What we should have done was run like crazy from West to East as soon as it looked like the war was lost.  But you must understand that we had a very strong sense of duty, and so we kept fighting.

How did the GIs treat you when you were captured?
OK, not bad.  But we weren't fighting.  You see, if you were to try and give up during or after a battle, then you might get killed.  They didn't know we were there, we just walked out of the woods with a towel on a stick.  It was different if you were fighting them.  One of them asked me in German if I had a watch.  When I said no, he went to the next guy and asked him the same thing.  Very polite, ha ha.  In fact, the only thing that happened was when we got into France, we were marching through this French town when a civilian reached out and slapped the hat off my head, so I lost my hat.

Did you actually have a watch?
I don't remember.  But I did have a real nice one when I left Norway - It was a Navy watch we used for timing the flight time of shells or something.  It was a real nice watch but I lost it after I was wounded in Holland.

So being in the Army did not compare with being in the Navy?
My God, no!  In the Army you live like an animal.  Digging into the dirt, mud in your ears.  Life on ship is not always as clean as it should be, but not like living in the field.  If you are at sea in a storm, you get wet and cold.  Then sometime the sun comes out and you dry off and feel good.  In the Army, you sit in the mud and freezing water.  The next day the sun is out but you are still wet and dirty.  You stay filthy.

The Navy had a different feeling to it, too.  The Navy was more businesslike, more geared to technology.  So I guess it had a more modern outlook, more class.  The Luftwaffe had a similar feeling I think.

But the Army was grim and crude.  They seemed to me to be all wrapped up in sacrifice, rather than doing what made the most sense.  I don't know, it is hard to describe.

I remember one time, we are all sitting in the cold and filth, but then we get hot food and mail at the same time.  The Army guys are sitting around with big smiles saying: Man, isn't this great!  What a laugh!

The American Navy is supposed to have better food than our Army.  Was this true in your German Military?
(Laughs)  Compared to what you eat here in the US, it was all bad.  I can't remember much except that it was bad.  And never enough,  we were hungry much of the time.  One thing I do remember was vitamin sausage.  It looked like a Leberswurst (liverwurst) filled with a disgusting gray paste.  It was supposed to be full of vitamins and good for you, but it was disgusting.  We also would get food from the civilians, but they weren't much better off than we were most of the time.  When I was in the Navy, we would get packages from home.  In the Army, I didn't even get many letters, let alone packages.  If I remember though, some of my letters did get to them, I just did not get theirs.

What rank did you hold in the Army?
Gefreiter.  I was Maat in the Navy which would have been a Sergeant in the Army, but I was reduced in rank after I had some problems in Norway.  I was frustrated at being left on land and I guess I got a little wild.  I was reduced to Matrosen, then promoted in the Army to Gefreiter.

What decorations did you have?
Verdienstkreuz mit Schwerten (war merit cross with swords), Narvik arm plate, Verwundetenabzeichen (wound badge), destroyer medal.  The only one I wore was the Verwundetenabzeichen which they gave me in the hospital near Hamburg.  The others I lost when I was brought out of Holland, which was OK because the Army gave sailors a hard time over wearing their Navy medals.  It was in the rules, but they thought it was actually bad for morale and may give embarrassing information to the enemy.

What was your best experience in the Army?
The first time I left port on the Scharnhorst.

I mean in the Heer, on land.
There wasn't any good experiences, they were all bad.  If there were any good ones, the bad ones block them out.

OK, what was your worst experience then?
When they put me in the Army, and I realized that I wouldn't go to sea again.

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