by David B. Hurt
William Lubbeck, age 19, was drafted into
the Wehrmacht in August 1939. As a member of
the 58th Infantry Division, he received his
baptism of fire during the 1940 invasion of
France. The following spring his division
served on the left flank of Army Group North
in Operation Barbarossa & would end up in
the outskirts of Leningrad.
A soldier who preferred to be close to the
action, Lubbeck served as forward observer
for his company, dueling with Russian
snipers, partisans and full-scale assaults
alike. His worries were not confined to his
own safety, however, as news arrived of
disasters in Germany, including the
destruction of Hamburg where his girlfriend
served as an Army nurse.
In September 1943, Lubbeck earned the Iron
Cross First Class and was assigned to
officers' training school in Dresden. By the
time he returned to Russia, Army Group North
was in full-scale retreat. Now commanding
his former heavy weapons company, Lubbeck
alternated sharp counterattacks with
inexorable withdrawal, from Riga to Memel on
the Baltic. In April 1945 Lubbeck's company
became stalled in a traffic jam and was
nearly obliterated by a Russian barrage
followed by air attacks.
In the last chaotic scramble from East
Prussia, Lubbeck was able to evacuate on a
newly minted German destroyer. He recounts
how the ship arrived in the British zone off
Denmark with all guns blazing against
pursuing Russians. The following morning,
May 8, 1945, he learned that the war was
- Above description from amazon.com
The following interview was conducted
between David Hurt & veteran William Lubbeck.
Lubbeck's memoir "At
Leningrad's Gates: The Story of a Soldier
with Army Group North" was published in
November 2006 by Casemate & is definitely a
must read for any WWII German historian.
Special thanks to David Hurt for helping us
post the following:
What unit were you in?
13th Company (heavy weapons), 154th
Regiment, 58th Infantry Division
What was your job?
Began work with the communications squad
in France (1940) and then became the forward
observer in Russia (1941-1943). Following
officer training at Dresden (1943-1944),
returned to command the same heavy weapons
company until the end of the war.
What rank did you hold?
Rose from the rank of private (Schütze)
during boot camp in August of 1939 to
captain (Hauptmann) in March of 1945.
What decorations did you have?
Iron Cross First and Second Class (EK I and
II) and Sturmabzeichen
What was your best experience in the
Comradeship and discipline.
Do you have any funny stories from your
time in the army?
Getting drunk with comrades in my bunker on
a couple of occasions. Receiving
direct personal threats from the enemy.
These warnings were read out over the Red
Army's loudspeakers located at the
What songs did you sing?
About a dozen songs that were tied to our
division’s north German regional identity.
Did you put your name on any pieces of
uniform or equipment?
Do you remember any Army slang?
The leather army-issue boots were sometimes
referred to “Knobelbecher”, based on their
resemblance to the cup used to shake dice
before they are rolled.
What do you remember as pastimes?
Letters to home
Was card playing popular? What games
Skat for money (very minor stakes)
What were hairstyles like? Do you
remember any mustaches?
Shaved sides, longer on top. Don't recall
How uniform was your unit? Did everyone
look the same?
Yes, it was highly standardized
Did you carry your Soldbuch in the field?
How did you wear your Dogtag in the
Yes, worn around neck
Did you throw away your Gasmask?
Put it on two or three times during the
French campaign in 1940, but did not carry
it after we reached Leningrad in 1941.
Where did you put your field cap when you
were not wearing it?
Under my belt
How were your uniforms laundered in the
Typically, we only had a chance to hand
launder our T-shirt and underwear every two
or three weeks. Wool uniforms would be
steamed to remove lice on return to Germany
for leave. We were issued new uniforms about
every nine months.
Did you ever use captured equipment?
Our company used captured French trucks in
Russia and I had a captured Citroën to use
as the company commander.
Were rules for personal appearance
enforced in the field?
They were seldom enforced on the frontline.
For example, I didn't shave for weeks during
the bitter fighting at the Volkhov during
the winter and spring of 1942.
Where were your packs kept when you went
In the wagons that accompanied us.
Where did you carry your overcoat when
you weren't wearing it?
In the wagons
What did you have: Rucksack, Tornister,
No, that was more WWI
Describe your first days in the Army.
It was exciting. Army service was well
regarded in society and was a source of
Who were you required to salute?
Anyone of higher rank (all services), both
indoors and outdoors.
Describe a typical roll-call.
During training, these took place after
breakfast. At the front, we didn't
have a roll-call. There might be one a
week if we were off the front.
What did they check during an Appell
During basic training, they would inspect
our overall appearance and boots. However, I
more clearly recall their inspection of the
barracks for dust with white gloves and of
our floor waxing. They would always find
How were you paid? What kind of currency?
As I recall, we received payment in
Reichsmarks once a month. However, I only
collected my stipend for combat pay and had
the remainder deposited into a bank account.
Did you regularly send and receive mail?
Yes. Mail was typically delivered once every
second day or so, though it might be once
every couple of weeks during heavy fighting.
What do you remember of the
Feldgenarmerie: the Kettenhund?
Only saw them occasionally.
What sort of punishments do you remember?
As a captain at the end of the war, I had to
issue punishment for stealing.
Did you ever wear HBT (cotton) uniform in
How did you get along with the other
branches: Navy, Luft, SS?
Fine, no problems.
Did you have contact with non-German
soldiers in the Wehrmacht?
Yes, the Viking SS Division at Leningrad.
What types of camouflage did you use in
Only a white poncho over my uniform during
Describe your cold-weather clothing.
A wool coat and a lined jacket.
What kind of Troop-entertainment did you
None at the frontline, though there was
entertainment in Krasnogvardeisk behind
Did anyone in your unit ever have lice?
Everyone had body lice.
Once a week or perhaps once a month, we
would receive an extra ration of vodka or
chocolate. I even had an issue of Hennessy
cognac at one point.
Where did you carry your wallet?
In the back pocket.
What were the common things you kept in
My wallet, a knife, and a handkerchief
Did you smoke? What was more common,
pipes, cigars, or cigarettes?
Yes, I began smoking cigarettes during the
invasion of the Soviet Union. These were
manufactured in Germany or the Baltics.
Did you have lighters or matches mostly?
Were you issued candles for the field (sparlampe)?
We only had these in the bunkers at
Did you have cleaning brushes and a
No, but the quartermaster (Tross) had a
Did you have a watch?
Did you wear suspenders?
Did you have a soldier's handbook?
Did you have a camera?
Yes, I bought a 35-millimeter camera in
Did you ever have a pocket torch?
Did you wear the Gamaschen?
Were you issued Iron rations? Describe
your field rations.
Canned tuna, cracker bread, marmalade, and