Interview by Jeff Johannes; additional
information provided by Chris Pittman &
edited by Douglas E. Nash
of this article would like to extend his gratitude and
appreciation to Chris Pittman and members of the
recreated 3rd Panzergrenadier
introduced Gustav Rewwer to the author and provided
additional details about Mr. Rewwer and his military
service during WWII.
“War is nothing but misery and boredom”
following article is about Gustav Rewwer, a
veteran who initially
volunteered for flight service but was later
Fallschirm-Panzergrenadier Division 2 Herman Göring.
was derived from an actual interview with Gustav
Rewwer that took place in January 2010, supplemented
by additional written information he provided the
Gustav Rewwer was born in 1924 in Osnabrück, a town in
northern Germany. In 1942, after finishing high school
in Freiburg, 18-year old Gustav was faced with having
to perform mandatory military service in one of the
service arms of the
Gustav chose the
with the hope of becoming a pilot. He was then sent to
carry out his basic training at a base located in
Following initial training, Gustav was then assigned
to an airbase in Holland from March to mid-1943. He
stated at the time he felt very proud to be a part of
the German military, especially during his guard duty
shifts when he had the opportunity to admire the
base’s Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter planes up close.
During the summer Allied attacks on the airfield left
bomb craters 15 to 40 feet deep which Gustav and his
comrades had to fill with dirt and rock in order to
repair the runway. Gustav recalled that they were also
ordered to extend the runaways amid rumors that it was
for a new type of airplane that did not use
propellers. They thought that rumors of such an
airplane were merely a joke; however, it turned out
that the rumors later proved to be true; the runways
being upgraded to accommodate the Me-262 jet fighter;
unfortunately, Gustav was reassigned before he was
able to witness their arrival.
In the spring of 1944,
Gustav was sent to southern Germany for glider school,
which was the initial introduction to flight training.
He also received classes in flight navigation,
meteorology, etc. Gustav then transitioned to small
single-engined planes with a
flight instructor riding along to provide him
However, in May or June of
1944, the situation dramatically changed for Gustav
and many other
Due to the drastic
shortage of aircraft fuel, due primarily to the Allied
bombing of the Romanian oilfields in Ploesti, he and
his fellow trainees were told that they were now going
to become foot soldiers instead, probably as infantry
in one of the several
or Field Divisions then
serving on the front lines.
During his interview,
Gustav added that even experienced bomber crews,
including some who were highly decorated, were also
being transferred to the infantry.
These bomber crews,
many of whom wore
Luftwaffe air combat
decorations, had to take them off upon being
involuntarily transferred to the
(for example, 15,000 Luftwaffe personnel were
transferred to the
IV. SS-Panzer Korps
in September 1944 alone).
Without further ado, in the
mid-summer of 1944 Gustav and his other flight school
classmates were transferred to the Eastern Front to
assist in stabilizing the situation after the massive
Russian offense earlier that summer had destroyed Army
Gustav stated he and
his comrades had hoped to be assigned to the front in
Italy (which wasn’t so bad), but that he and some his
friends were instead assigned to the
Division 2 Herman Göring,
then occupying defensive positions along the Vistula
River south of Warsaw.
Gustav himself was
Fallschirm-Panzergrenadier Regiment 3,
where he was further assigned as a machinegunner in
one of the infantry companies. Issued an MG-42, even
though he had little infantry or machinegun training,
he was thrown into the line anyway to help stem the
tide of the Russian onslaught.
Division 2 Herman Göring
was formed on 24 September
1944 in the area of Radom, Poland in order to create
Fallschirm-Panzerkorps Herman Göring
Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1 Herman Göring.
Not to be confused with the
Göring Division, this
second division was formed using cadres from
Fallschirmjäger Regiment 16
escort or Begleit
Gustav described his combat
experience as being constantly “scared to death” all
of the time.
He added that when he
arrived at the front lines in October of 1944, he
spent the first few weeks (well into November, he
later recalled), digging trenches and dugouts, mostly
Gustav recalled that
their initial positions were set up 20 yards apart
from each other.
He added that the
late fall and winter nights in Poland and in East
Prussia were long; he said it seemed like the nights
lasted 14 hours or longer, due to having to be on the
alert all night for Russian patrols.
The Russians would
launch flares all night that seemed to be brighter and
burn longer than the German ones.
Gustav also learned
how to identify Russian fighting positions at night,
because they used green tracer ammunition, while the
Germans used red.
Gustav was an MG-42 gunner, he experienced some combat
situations that were unique to those who operated that
weapon in the last year of the war.
For example, Gustav
was very frustrated with late war 7.92mm ammunition,
because its steel cartridges had to be lacquered to
prevent rust, a compensation for the shortage of brass
and copper alloy cartridges used earlier in the war.
made from this material tended to jam inside the
machinegun’s breech because the lacquer tended to melt
inside the hot firing chamber, causing lacquer to
build up and jam subsequent rounds.
Gustav stated that if
a machinegun experienced this type of a jam during a
Russian attack, you might as well considered yourself
dead or captured, because it would be nearly
impossible to clear the weapon and place it back into
operation before you were overwhelmed.
Another problem with the MG-42 was its high rate of
fire, which, when fired too frequently, caused the
gun’s barrel to overheat with a resulting lack of
accuracy and frequent jamming.
To compensate for
this shortcoming (if there wasn't time for a barrel
change), the assistant gunner would scoop snow onto
the machinegun’s barrel casing to cool it down and
prolong the rate of fire at an acceptable level.
gunner, also known as
MG Schütze 2
or Gunner Number 2, was armed with an MP-44 Assault
Rifle that could be used to keep any Russians at bay
while the machinegun was being reloaded or the barrel
Whenever the Russians were preparing an attack, they
habitually bombarded the German defensive positions
with mortar fire prior to launching their assault;
Gustav added that the Russian mortars were, in his
opinion, their most heavily used weapons on the
Eastern Front. The Russians would also fire smoke
rounds for a duration of ten minutes or so, which cut
down the German’s visibility to 10 yards or less.
Russians also used an artillery piece that he and his
comrades called the
(Crash-Boom), which fired a direct-fire airburst round
that exploded just above ground level.
Gustav stated this
type of round made it difficult to find adequate
shelter whenever troops were occupying uncovered
trenches or foxholes.
He believed that this
type of round, as well as certain types of mortar
rounds, was made by the Russians not to kill a
soldier, but to disable him, thus causing his comrades
to evacuate him to a first aid shelter, bringing about
the temporary absence of two or three soldiers from
the line at a critical phase of the attack. (Note:
Gustav here is probably referring to the 76.2mm
antitank gun, nicknamed the
due to the high muzzle velocity wherein the impact of
the round would be heard nearly simultaneously as the
weapon was fired.
weapon fired a high-explosive round in addition to the
standard antitank round).
Gustav's unit was not always able to set up barbed
wire entanglements in front of their trenches to slow
a Russian attack due to shortages of materials, but
was frequently able to set up anti-personnel that had
the same effect.
Gustav added they
usually constructed a reserve or secondary trench 200
yards behind their main one, which they used whenever
their first-line positions were overrun or when they
were ordered to retreat to their secondary trenches.
He remembered that
these trenches were always full of snow when they
jumped into them, which made an uncomfortable
situation even more unbearable, since they would then
have to scoop the snow out in order to be able to take
advantage of the trench’s cover and concealment.
Gustav recalled another
Russian weapon common to the Eastern Front that
usually made its appearance at night:
the Russian biplane,
which they called the
or “flying sewing machine.”
that these primitive and slow-flying planes would fly
at night and attack whatever targets they could see in
On one occasions, one
of these plane mistook its own Russian positions for
those of the Germans, attacking and killing its own
troops by accident, one of the few humorous occasions
the Gustav could recall while fighting in East
These planes would
also drop propaganda leaflets asking him and his
comrades to surrender because Germany had already lost
Gustav recalled an incident that occurred one morning
when a Russian patrol got lost in no-man’s land and
unknowingly approached the German lines thinking they
were their own.
that if they simply had paid attention to where they
were going, they would have easily had seen the German
lines and would have been able to retreat back the way
they had come.
they were ambushed and driven off, discarding weapons
and other field gear as they fled in haste.
Snipers were also a constant threat during the
No one dared to stick
their head over the trenches, lest they be picked off
by Soviet marksmen who were notoriously good shots.
Uniforms & Equipment
Gustav’s uniform and
equipment at the time consisted of a woolen
blouse with woolen
The one item that was
blue was his
(field cap), made out of the usual
or field gray material.
Over this, Gustav
wore a tan/marsh pattern reversible camouflage parka
and winter trousers.
He added that he
never took this outfit off during the winter months;
since he was on the line for most of his tenure as a
combat infantryman, he never had the time or
opportunity to do so. In addition, he was not issued a
blanket, so he had to sleep with all of his clothing
on to keep from freezing to death.
However, Gustav was fortunate in the footwear he was
issued, which was a pair of
jump boots, which kept the wet and cold out better
than any other type of German issue footwear.
Gustav added that he
did not take them off for four straight months, due to
continuously being in the front lines where the
Russians might attack at any minute.
Instead of socks, he
wore foot wraps, known as
which kept his feet somewhat drier in the adverse
conditions prevailing in the muddy trenches of the
wore standard leather equipment and retained his
gasmask container; however, he discarded the gas mask
it contained and used the carrier instead to hold
He considered his
Feldflasche, to be
useless, since the water inside always froze anyway.
threw it away, though he added that from time to time
he had used it to hold hot coffee whenever that was
Gustav recalled that he wore the standard
helmet, as did most of his fellow
However, his platoon
leader, a Leutnant,
helmet instead, but he could not recall if his platoon
leader was a former paratrooper or not.
(Note: he possibly
could have been, since Gustav’s regiment was formed
Gustav remembered that one item of field equipment he
wore that was not German Army issue was a Red Army
had stumbled across the frozen body of a Russian
soldier, and after searching the corpse for food and
other valuable items, he relieved the dead Russian of
his Red Army-issue belt and used it for himself as a
Life on the Line
Gustav added that the real
enemy to him and his comrades was not the Soviets but
the harsh environment, which seemed to consist of
eternal rain, mud, and more mud along with the cold,
snow, and brisk winds.
Gustav estimated he
spent five months straight in the trenches of Poland
and East Prussia.
He remembered that
during the fall of 1944, his feet were always cold and
wet and that when winter finally came, the snow was
accompanied by a freezing wind.
He frequently lived
in uncovered fighting positions in cold and wet
previously mentioned, when Gustav first arrived at the
front lines in October 1944, he spent the first few
weeks digging trenches and dugouts. He recalled that
their initial positions were set up 20 yards apart
from each other.
One of the defensive
positions they constructed in East Prussia consisted
of three levels of defense – an anti-personnel
minefield to their front, the main defensive position
consisting of fighting positions/strong points
connected by a trench line dug in a zigzag pattern,
and a secondary defensive line that consisted of
another series of fighting positions/strong points
connected by a more trench lines dug in a rectangular
Gustav remembered that near one of these defensive
positions a farmhouse was located about 200 yards
behind the secondary defensive line, where the
company’s field kitchen wagon or
would drive up and unload the daily or evening
He remembered that
his daily ration usually consisted of bread.
Once in a while,
Gustav stated they would receive warm food, usually
consisting of soup made mostly from potatoes and
vegetables, since very little fresh meat was available
even for frontline field kitchens by this stage of the
recalled that at least on one occasion, he was issued
a special ration box that had the words
Nur für Frontkämpfer im
(For the Front Line Infantryman Only) written on it.
Gustav could only
recall that the box contained cookies, though such
special frontline rations usually had other items,
such as fruit drops, cigarettes, instant coffee, and
He stated that
another standard issue item he received was crisp
bread or Knäckebrot
(Note: During the interview, Gustav noticed a piece of
brand crisp bread lying on a
dish and recalled that the
he was issued during the war looked very similar in
respect to food, Gustav remembers always being hungry,
so much so that the first thing he always did when he
came upon a fallen soldier was to search the body for
He went through the
pockets and equipment of both friends, including
recently killed comrades, and foe looking for any
Gustav stated that
when a friend was killed in action, he was dead and
there was nothing more to do but help yourself as best
you can and move on.
for comforts of life or basic soldier items, such as
foot powder, a sewing kit, or other necessities,
Gustav jokingly remarked that these were for those
“fancy soldiers” stationed in Norway and Denmark who
had time to sew on buttons and such things.
He stated that the
time to do such things such as sewing buttons and
keeping his uniform and kit clean was a rarity while
on the front lines, where most soldiers had more
pressing needs to attend to, such as staying alive.
Maintaining disciplining, even amongst the famous
units (of which Göring boasted of their combat prowess
and superb discipline), could be at times brutal.
Gustav recalled an
incident in which an officer stopped and questioned
three men on a road who were walking away from the
immediately accused them of desertion and shot them
down with an MP-44 where they stood.
this, Gustav admitted that he and his comrades coldly
went over to the bodies and searched them for food
immediately after the officer departed the area.
not in the trenches or in the immediate vicinity of
the front lines, Gustav said that he and his comrades
avoided sleeping in buildings or in towns.
These structures were
almost always targeted by Russian artillery, so he
preferred to sleep or take shelter in a nearby wooded
shortages of every type became more prevalent among
the German forces at this late stage of the war, one
device he noticed increasingly in use in his
Division’s area was the
Gustav described this
as a wood-burning stove-like device mounted on trucks
behind the driver’s cab.
It burned wood cubes
that were 4cm square that were supposed give the
vehicle enough power to operate in order to conserve
He added that these
devices were messy, unreliable, and inefficient and
never provided the same performance as a normal
gasoline engine could.
A truck equipped with
this device had to burn 10 sacks of wood cubes to move
30 to 50 kilometers, the normal daily distance trucks
had to drive to and from the front.
A common joke that
made the rounds among Gustav and his fellow frontline
was that Germany has
developed a new super tank:
one that weighed 70
tons that had a heavy gun, could take out any Allied
tank, had thick armor plates, but perched on the
tank’s rear deck were 20
sawing wood to power its
Wounded and Post-War Life
On March 15, 1945 when his division was fighting near
Heiligenbeil, Gustav was wounded in the left leg by a
He did not even know he had been wounded until
he felt the warm blood trickle down into his boot. The
shard of metal had ripped through the three layers of
clothing he was wearing, slicing through his thick
camouflaged winter trousers, the quilted winter liner
for the trousers and the Keilhosen under them.
It had hit him behind his left knee but
fortunately did not penetrate his kneecap or artery,
thus narrowly avoiding losing his leg; he estimated
that the shrapnel hit him at angle that missed his leg
and knee bones by half an inch.
Despite his wound, Gustav was able to walk all
the way back to his battalion aid station.
He was motivated by the knowledge of what he
had seen happen to his fellow Jägers who had
been wounded and left to their fate at the hands of
managed to make it to a dressing station set up in a
large barn, where he was forced to wait in line with
other wounded soldiers, some of whom were bleeding
from more serious wounds, so he could be questioned by
a medical orderly.
Gustav vividly recalled the man standing in
line in front of him was an artillery officer who was
in such a state of shell shock and exhaustion that he
could not answer any questions posed by the orderly.
He described the field hospital as scene of
horrors as the surgeons operated on soldiers while
they were still conscious without the aide of
After being treated, he and
several other wounded Soldaten were taken by
truck to a small harbor where there were placed on a
boat and ferried to the port of Pillau.
He recalled that Russian planes and bombers
attacked the area constantly and on one occasion, one
of the bombers flew so low that he could see the face
of the tail gunner. Finally,
one evening he and the other wounded were taken to a
larger ship, which sailed to the port of Copenhagen in
By this time, Gustav’s wound had become so infected
that he had lost all feeling in his left leg and
thought he would lose it.
His boat was also attacked by Russian
fighter-bombers as it sailed through the Baltic Sea,
but the ship’s antiaircraft gunners were able to fend
While on board, the surgeons continued to treat his
leg, but due to the numbness caused by the infection,
he mercifully could not feel anything they were doing.
After arriving in Denmark, he
briefly recuperated at the German military hospital in
Copenhagen, where he lay when the end of the war found
him on May 8, 1945.
Gustav was finally returned to Kiel in August
1945 as a convalescent.
When he arrived, he found that the area was
under the control of the British Army.
After disembarking, Gustav and his wounded
comrades had all their personal items taken by British
soldiers, such as pocketknives, watches, pens, etc.
However, the British let them keep their medals as a
sign of respect.
Gustav recalled that despite the theft of their
personal belongings, the British treated them very
well and provided ample rations, a welcome change from
having to scrounge for something to eat when they were
fighting in East Prussia.
Before being discharged from the hospital,
Gustav and his fellow POWs were given documents that
described how Germany had started the war and that
millions of people were killed due to the actions of
They were told that German industry was going
to be dismantled completely so they would never be
able to start another war.
In September 1945, Gustav was
allowed to return home and found that 73% of Osnabrück
had been destroyed during the war by Allied bombing.
His parents were fortunately still alive but
they were surprised to see him again, since they had
not received a letter or any news about Gustav for
eight months and did not know whether he was alive or
all had to live in his Aunt’s house for nearly a year
until their own home could be rebuilt.
Eventually, Gustav was able to put his life back
together and begin to build a career.
In 1957 he met his future wife, a United States
citizen, while they were both vacationing in the
mountains of Yugoslavia.
After being married, he immigrated to the
United States and moved to Indianapolis where he
worked for the US Navy as a civilian employee.
Gustav and his wife had two daughters and he
eventually retired with a full pension from the
Department of Defense, settling in Chambersburg, PA.
the conclusion of the interview, Gustav said that
before he goes to bed at night, he still reflects back
to this his time on the Eastern Front.
Nearly 70 years
later, he still has difficulty accepting the fact that
no one is going to rush into his bedroom at night to
warn him that the Russians are attacking and that he
needed to immediately dash to his position in the
trenches to clear his trusty MG-42 for action!