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William Lubbeck

Interview 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 over. 

- Above description from

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 Army?
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 frontline.

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 were common?
Skat for money (very minor stakes)

What were hairstyles like? Do you remember any mustaches?
Shaved sides, longer on top. Don't recall mustaches

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 field?
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 field?
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 into combat?
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, or A-Frame?
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 pride.

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 (Inspection)?
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 something wrong.

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 combat?

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 the field?
Only a white poncho over my uniform during winter combat.

Describe your cold-weather clothing.
A wool coat and a lined jacket.

What kind of Troop-entertainment did you receive?
None at the frontline, though there was entertainment in Krasnogvardeisk behind Leningrad.

Did anyone in your unit ever have lice?
Everyone had body lice.

Describe Marketenderware.
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 your pockets?
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 Leningrad.

Did you have cleaning brushes and a sewing kit?
No, but the quartermaster (Tross) had a tailor.

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 1939.

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 butter.




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