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.
following interview was conducted by Eric
Tobey on April 3rd, 1989. The veteran,
who then resided in New Mexico, asked that
his full name not be used for fear that
knowledge of his war service would hurt his
professional relationships. The actual
conversation rambled quite a bit, and the
following transcript does not necessarily
follow the order in which things were
what unit were you in?
I was a telephone-operator in Army
Artillery Regiment 260. The regular
cannoneers called us "Strippenzieher"
which means something like
"line-puller". We wore a
little lighting bolt on our sleeve.
did you wind up in the Army?
Actually, I thought that I could avoid
going. I always liked machine tools,
and as a young man I got an important job
making aircraft instrument parts in
Stuttgart where my parents lived. I
thought that by having such vital work I
could stay out of the Army. This was
in 1942 and nobody had any doubts about what
it was like at the front. But they
drafted me anyway.
old were you when you were drafted?
Hmm, lets see... I was 20 years old.
you in the Hitler Youth as a boy?
Sure, almost all the boys were.
Eventually, you had to be by law. Even
before that, in my neighborhood, you were
considered either antisocial or a
momma's-boy if you weren't in.
you enter the RAD (Labor Corps) after the HJ?
No. I went to work.
Actually, I was working full time while I
was in the HJ. Eventually, we got so
busy at the shop that I couldn't afford to
attend the HJ functions, so I sort of
dropped out. I guess because I was
doing such important work, they
me about your Army training.
We went to a camp in France for our
training, the people there were not very
friendly. I remember that I was always
tired, it was very strenuous. I would
get real excited when I got a letter from my
parents but then fall asleep half way
through reading it.
did you go after training?
Russia! Everybody go to Russia!
I went there in September 1942. We
were stationed at Novgorosk (?). I was
put into a telephone group. Our leader
was an ethnic Pole named Weisskopf. We
all called him "Scheisskopf"
(shithead). We hated him! He was
an asshole. When he got mad he would
start yelling in Polish, which made us
laugh. That would make him madder, but
that just made it more impossible to speak
German. My, but he would get
frustrated! It was all very funny.
happened to him?
He got kicked by a horse. The
cannons were all pulled by horses and one of
them bashed him for some reason. I
guess the horses didn't like him either!
(Laughter) We never saw him again, I
guess he was really hurt.
kind of food would you get in the field?
We got all kinds of food issued to us,
most of it was cooked in our rolling stove.
We called this thing a "Futterkanone"
(animal-feed cannon). The cook would
make up soups, noodles, stew, oatmeal and
stuff like that. Some of the food came
from the local people. We would get
the food either directly from the cook or
somebody would bring it out to us in big
back-pack thermos cans. You would put
the food in your mess kit and you usually
had to eat it all right away or it would
freeze solid if you were outside. I
set the whole thing into a fire to thaw it
out and forgot about it. The whole
canteen melted, it was only aluminum.
In the German Army you were supposed to take
care of your equipment so this didn't go
over real well.
you ever in a battle?
(Laughs) Oh yes! I won lots
of them single handed! I was a German
John Wayne! (Laughter) Actually,
I guess I was in some battles but I didn't
see very much because I was scared to death
and more interested in saving my hide.
As a communications soldier, I was a little
too far back to be shot at, but I was
shelled a few times. Once, I got stuck
on an observation post on a little knoll
during a Russian attack. It was pretty
interesting to watch until the Ivans figured
out that there was something interesting on
our knoll and decided to shell it.
None of us was hurt, but it felt like the
knoll was in the air a few times and the
telephone line was broken in a hundred
places. That was the worst part of my
job - fixing broken telephone lines.
I can see where this could be a lot of fun,
especially under fire.
Ja! One of the most terrifying
experiences of my life occurred when two of
us went out to repair a line to an
observation post one day.
Shortly after a Russian attack, a line
went dead. Me and a soldier named
Hofmann were sent out to fix it.
Hofmann was known to be a real cool
character, and so we crawled out with him in
front. We were crawling through this
brush when Hofmann stops and turns his head
to me and smiles. I smiled back.
He said "I think I know why the line is
broken." I said "how?".
He pointed ahead of him and said
"because there is a tank parked on
it!". I said "ours or
theirs?". He said
"Theirs!". He was smiling
like it was a big joke. Then the
engine started and I suddenly realized that
it was REAL close, only a couple meters
away. Hofmann stopped smiling and said
"Lets get out of here".
Seeing Hofmann so scared almost made me
faint with fear. We crawled away as
fast as we could, with the tank crashing
through the brush behind us. We got
back and our Feldwebel later sent four of us
back out but the tank was gone.
ever happened to Hofmann?
I don't know.
this the worst experience of the war for
The worst? Hmm. (Thinks for
a few minutes) I helped after a bomber
attack in Stuttgart... no, that was not the
worst either. The worst thing was when
we had a fight with some Russian
infiltrators. Not a very big event,
but bad memories...
was all he would say at that point about
this affair, but later he was persuaded to
recount the following story):
and my friend had driven back with a Russian
wagon to a town-depot to get something or
other. Here we were commandeered by an
officer to deal with some
"partisans". We, along with
some other unfortunate guys were loaded into
some trucks and driven over some terrible
roads for maybe a half hour. The ride
itself nearly did us in - it nearly shook me
to pieces. They had these Russians
trapped in a creek bed and a wood lot.
There were some dead or wounded Germans in
the ditch along the road and some others
laying in the field between the road and the
creek. A group of us was sent crawling
down a ditch that led to the creek.
But another group must have gotten into the
creek from another direction because heavy
shooting started before we ever got into the
creek. By the time we got in there, it
was all over. About a half dozen Ivans
were standing in the freezing water with
there hands up, and maybe another half dozen
laying in the water. They were not
partisans because they had full Russian army
uniforms on, you know, with the padded suits
and helmets and all. There was a
police officer there was really angry and
kept calling them bandits. Then I
think a long burst of machine gun fire came
from the woodlot and someone was screaming
in there too. One of our prisoners
started wailing and the police officer shot
him with his pistol - BAM - just like that.
Then there was a lot of shooting and the
whole bunch was just rubbed out. The
whole thing happened real fast. I
never fired a bullet, I never had time.
My friend later came up to me and said
"wait until we tell the guys what we
did!", like it was a big game.
Some of the soldiers took pictures of the
scene. I left in a big hurry.
Somebody took our wagon, so we had to walk
all the way back to the battery. My
friend talked about it all the way. I
did the rest of the guys think when you told
I don't remember, but you have to
remember, we were really hardened by the
war. Later, I told my father about
this and all he said was "that's
sort of weapon were you issued?
A rifle, we had to carry it everywhere.
Sometimes we would get our hands on
grenades, but we just used to set them off
for the fun of it!
kind of rifle was it?
I don't know, it was just a rifle.
souvenir hunting popular with your unit?
No, not like I understand it was in the
U.S. Army. We only picked up what we
could use, and what had value for our
commanders like letters or maps. Some
guys wore Russian fur hats; they were warmer
than what we got. Same with their
boots. I traded a book to an engineer
once for a Russian tent section. I was
going to have our unit tailor make me a pair
of pants from them like some of the other
guys had, but I was gone by the time he
could finish the job.
you get mail on a regular basis?
Oh, yes, all the time! (Laughs)
We called getting yelled at "getting
mail" (Post bekommen).
Yes, we did get letters and packages from
home, but not always regularly.
were you sheltered in the field? Did
you make tents from your Zeltbahns?
The only time I think I saw a tent made
from our camouflaged ponchos was in training
camp. We lived in dugouts or Russian
buildings. Most of my Russia-time was
in the cold weather, but I suppose that in
the warmer weather, soldiers would camp in
their holes or under the open sky. We
mostly lived in dugouts which were a hole in
the ground covered with logs or boards and
dirt. Some dugouts had stoves in them.
Some were heated with these little oil
heaters - it was funny because you could
tell which dugouts were heated with these
things because their occupants would all
have black faces from the fumes those things
did you end your Army service?
I was riding with some other guys in
this French truck in early April of 1943.
The driver was terrified of Partisans so he
was driving like a maniac. The truck
slid on the mud on a turn and hit a tree.
I broke my hip along with some other parts.
The next thing I know, some Russian
civilians were loading me onto a sled.
This hurt so bad that I yelled like thunder.
It was raining. They pulled me into a
shed and tried to comfort me but I was in a
lot of pain. Then some German medical
people came and loaded me into an ambulance
and took me to the hospital.
you were discharged?
No. I never did quite heal up
quite right, this limp I have now was a lot
worse back then. But men were in short
supply so they sent me to work in a depot
outside of Stuttgart. I did office
work. There was a lot of bomber
attacks during this period, and we certainly
did work up a lot of hate for the Americans
and British for their bombing. Good
thing a bomber airman never parachuted near
me, I probably would have killed him.
Anyway, the officer in the depot was a good
man and let us all go just before the French
came. I guess he didn't see the sense
in all us heroes winding up in a POW camp.
I had a few anxious moments with some cops
on the way home, but made it there alright.
I acted so crippled that authorities never
bothered me. I guess I was a good
do you view the war and your service time
Having been a German soldier doesn't
really bother me as much as it seems to
bother people. After all, I put the
uniform on because I had to, and I don't
have any guilt because there is nobody's
blood on my hands. Maybe I'd feel
different if I'd killed somebody. I
did my duty for my country. Although I
must admit that I had a lot of admiration
for Adolf Hitler just like most everybody
else, at least up until close to the end, I
was serving my country, not Hitler.
Those were certainly historic days, and
sometimes I'm glad that I did something in
you do it over again?
(Laughing) You kidding? I'd
go to Switzerland!