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Alfred Becker


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.

Most 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.

Name, 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.

Did you wear you Drillichanzug (HBT uniform) in combat?
No, that is ridiculous.  Our Drillichanzug was white.  The enemy would have shot us down like rabbits.

Describe 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.

What 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.

Why 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.

Did 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.

What 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.

Organization of a squad, gun crew, patrol, or training group:
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.

Maketenderwäre: 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.

Did you wear Fußlappen or socks?
In the winter, I wore both.  In the summer, socks until they wore out, then the Fußlappen.

Did you have a Rucksack, Tornister, or Sturmgepäck (assault frame)?
Tornister.  I saw some rucksacks on others.  Never had the last thing.

Describe 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.

Describe your field rations.
We 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 civilians.

Did 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 hospital.

What 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 remember that.

When and what was the "Putz und Flickstunde".  What did you do?
You would clean and repair your equipment and your clothing, and clean the barracks.

Did 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.

Describe the worst place you were in.
Near Saint Vith during our Ardennes Counteroffensive.  The Americans were slaughtering us and the weather was very bad.

Describe the best memory you have of your service time.
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.

Describe your winter clothing: scarves? Gloves? Winter boots?
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.

Describe 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.

What were your relationships with the local population?
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.

What 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.

Did anyone in your command ever get lice?
Not that I remember.

Did 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 German made.

What 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.

What were your feelings towards your NCOs?  Officers?  Government?
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.

Did 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.

What 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.

Did you ever get an Urlaub (leave)?  Describe it.
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.

What were your defenses against Jabos (fighter bombers)?  Were there roadside shelters constructed?
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.

How 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.

Anti-tank 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.

Were 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.

What are your memories regarding the "Kettenhund"?
That was our equivalent of your MPs.  I never had any trouble with them.

Did 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 blanket.

What 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.

Did you have a camera?
No

What 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.

What 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 that.

Did 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 of extras.

Were 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 in France.

Did 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.

Did you ever attend a field burial?  Describe it.
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.

What 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.

How did your own countrymen treat you after the war?
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.

Describe 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 I remember.

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