Among the little principalities, one in particular gained a special reputation for its warlike character: Hessen-Kassel, whose people were descended from the ancient warrior Catti. Of all the princes who let out troops for hire, those of Hessen-Kassel were the most successful, and eventually incurred the greatest odium. Hessen had become Calvinist in 1605, and fought consistently on the Protestant side in the Thirty Years War. Armies were ceaselessly marching across the land or quartered in its town. The longer the struggle lasted, the more of the people were under arms. And when the Hessian troops were finally disbanded at the war’s end, the White Regiment of General Geyso and some other bodies of men were kept on as three Schlosscompagnies to guard the Landgraf’s palace. These units were to form the nucleus of the Hessian Guards, the core of the Hessian army. Hessen had received subsidies for fighting in the war, and the countryside, which was generally poor, had been wasted. Thus it was not illogical to look on the army as a source of income. In Germany there was a centuries old tradition that troops had to pay for their own upkeep.
To take this course was the decision of the Landgraf Karl (1670-1730). The European power struggle in the century following 1660 facilitated the soldier business, for the great powers, without modern resources to conscript and maintain armies, turned to princes like Karl, who had a steadily growing force. By 1676 the original three companies had grown to eighteen of foot and five of horse. Karl, however, did not initiate the new phase in the soldier business; namely, the leasing of standing troops by a prince himself at peace to another state at war. This was done by Duke Johann Friedrich of Braunschweig, hiring three regiments to the Republic of Venice in the 1660s. Karl of Hessen concluded the first agreement of the Hessian soldier trade with Christian V of Denmark in 1677. Hessen sent ten ‘compagnies’ of sixteen men each at twenty talers a man. The 3,200 talers thus paid were used by Karl to equip his troops, for from the very beginning the country’s revenues were insufficient to support the army alone.
Nearly half of those Hessians who went failed to return with their regiments in 1679, and the flags of the Regiments von Hornumb and Ufm Keller still adorn the Ridderholms Church in Stockholm. Well might von Stamford, historian of the Hessian army, write, ‘This first expedition of the fighting men of the Hessian standing army was a forbidding prelude to the sacrifice of valiant men, which was to happen so often in subsequent times.’
In that same year Hessen profited from the war in another way: Brandenburgers and Danes paid to be quartered there during the winter.
In 1687 Hessen-Kassel and Hessen-Darmstadt sent troops in the service of Venice to seize Morea from the Turks. The Regiment Prinz Karl was specially formed in Hersfeld in April 1687 of 1,000 men drawn from recruits and from other units, for each of whom Venice paid fifty talers. This expedition was even more costly than the Danish one. Of the 1,000 only 191 returned; of 1,000 Darmstadters only 184. Yet Negroponte was taken and the terrible Turk thrown back.
Under the military arrangements of the German Empire, Hessen was to contribute troops to the Upper Rhine Circle. Karl, however, began to develop his army as that of a self-contained state. To increase this army he continued to obtain revenues from subsidies, and although Hessen was landlocked her best customers were maritime powers, the Venetians, Holland and England. In 1688 by the Concert of Magdeburg some 3,400 Hessians took service under William of Orange, freeing Dutch troops for the expedition to England. Karl’s troops distinguished themselves in the Wars of the Grand Alliance (1688—97) and Spanish Succession (1701—14) against Louis XIV. Although hiring soldiers was profitable to the Hessian ruling house, the princes shared the perils of war with their subjects. Five of Karl’s sons were in the field, and two of them fell in battle: Karl at Liege in 1702 and Ludwig at Ramillies in 1706. A corps of 10,000 Hessians crossed the Alps and served with Prince Eugene in 1706-7 and thereafter in the Netherlands. Despite various bribes offered by the French, Karl remained loyal to the allied powers. This was not solely for financial reasons. One notable consistency of the Landgrafs’ policy was to hire their troops exclusively to Protestant powers, for the Hessians remained stern Calvinists.
After the treaty of Utrecht ended the wars of Louis XIV, Karl’s son Friedrich, married to the sister of Charles XII of Sweden, led an auxiliary corps of 6,000 Hessians into Swedish service, but the intercession of Prussia and Britain prevented them reaching the battlefields of Pomerania. George I of England made a new agreement to secure the services of 12,000 Hessians to protect his throne against the Pretender. When Britain joined the Quadruple Alliance in 1726, she once again hired the soldiers of Hessen to fulfil her continental obligations. By a treaty of 1727 she paid an annual retainer of £125,000 to have first call on the Hessians’ services. Britain was rapidly becoming the Landgrafs’ best customer. For the first time the term Soldatenhandel was applied to the Hessian princes’ dealings. By 1731 the Hessians had become such an established part of British foreign policy that Horatio, first Baron Walpole, dubbed them ‘the Triarii of Great Britain, her last Resort in all Cases, both in Peace and War; both at Home and Abroad; howsoever ally’d, or wheresoever distress’d!’ Objections to hiring the Hessians were not made against subsidy treaties in themselves; they were grounded on expediency: against the cost, against introducing foreigners into the kingdom, against sacrificing Britain’s interests for those of the Despicable Electorate. Lord Strange was one amongst many who said it was contrary to the law of the Empire, for the Hessians might find themselves at war with their sovereign, the Emperor. He might as well have saved his breath. In 1731, a time when Britain was at peace, Sir Robert Walpole obtained a vote of £241,259 1s 3d for keeping 12,094 Hessians in readiness for British service. Nor was the Emperor likely to condemn the commerce in soldiers. He was a customer, and most of his theoretical subjects were in the market like Hessen. It was scarcely surprising that the learned professors of Wiirttemberg, Rostock, and Helmstedt all proved conclusively in their theses that the princes had the legal right to aid foreign powers and that German fighting men were permitted by the law of the Empire to go into their service.
In actual practice all British ministries resorted in wartime to employing mercenaries. The arguments in favour of hiring the Hessians were that as trained troops they could be ready much more quickly than Britain could recruit and train men; that Hessen’s geographic location put her close to any probable seat of war; and most compelling of all, but one never admitted, that Britain’s own military establishment at the beginning of any war did not inspire confidence. The most eloquent example of Britain’s eighteenth-century dependence upon continental mercenaries is Pitt, who condemned paying subsidies in violent speeches for years and voted against the treaties of 1755 with Russia and Hessen-Kassel. Yet during the Seven Years War he paid out subsidies not only to Frederick of Prussia, but also to maintain ‘His Brittanic Majesty’s Army in Germany’, an army composed mainly of Hessians, Hannoverians, and Brunswickers; and at the end of the war he boasted that he had conquered America in Germany.
The Landgraf Karl died in 1730. His eldest son Friedrich, then King of Sweden, and nominally Landgraf, was a gallant warrior and lover, but politically insignificant. His brother Wilhelm, Statthalter of Hessen and de facto ruler, continued his father’s policy. His aims were to enrich Hessen’s military chest with British subsidies, maintain the traditional alliance with Protestant Prussia, already re-affirmed once in a treaty of 1714, and obtain possession of the County of Hanau, promised to Hessen by a treaty of 1648, whenever the existing ruling house should expire. In the War of the Austrian Succession Wilhelm was thrown into a dilemma, for his paymaster Britain was opposed to Prussia and allied with the Catholic Habsburgs, who had not recognized Kassel’s right to Hanau and supported a Darmstadt claim instead. A corps of 6,000 Hessians was already serving in British pay when in 1744 Wilhelm supported Karl VII, Bavarian candidate for the Imperial crown, in return for the promise of an Electorship and territorial gains. His support included 6,000 men for Karl’s army. Similarly Wilhelm reaffirmed the treaty of alliance with Prussia in 1744.
Thus there occurred the extraordinary spectacle of Hessian troops at war simultaneously on both sides: in British pay garrisoning fortresses in the Low Countries and in the Bavarian army in southern Germany. A secret clause in theory prevented the two contingents facing each other on the battlefield. Nevertheless, the double agreement caused bad feeling later, not least because the treaty with Bavaria included a ‘blood money’ clause: for every dead man Wilhelm was to receive 36 florins, for a dead horse 112 florins and 30 krone, and for a dead horse and rider together 150 florins. Three wounded were to count as one dead. It was just as well that the Bavarians were defeated, Karl VII died, and the Hessian corps in Bavaria was saved from captivity by a speedy declaration of neutrality. They were still interned in Ingolstadt for six weeks before being allowed to return to Hessen. In 1745 Wilhelm renewed the British subsidy treaty, so that henceforth Hessians were available only to England. This apparent double-dealing shocked later historians, but it was nothing extraordinary in the age of cabinet diplomacy, and when Wilhelm died in 1760 Frederick of Prussia wrote to his successor, ‘Germany has lost its most valuable prince, his land a father, and I my truest friend.’
The Hessian soldiers, composed of a larger proportion of natives than the armies of most German princes, was as good as any other of its time. Karl VII of Bavaria, visiting Hessians in his service in October, 1744, noted in his diary, ‘The fine appearance and smartness of these troops cannot be surpassed . . . one could not see better.’ On many battlefields the Hessians ‘held the sum of things for pay’: at Rocoux (11 October 1746) against the French ‘the Hessian Regiment of Mansbach, having stood their ground to the last… refused quarter, so that few of them escaped’. In both 1745 and 1756 Hessian troops were brought to Britain to repel threatened French and Scottish invasions. Guibert, seeing Hessians and Hannoverians garrisoned at Hanau in 1773 wrote, ‘Le bataillon Hessois, surtout, m’a paru beau et bien tenu.’
In the Seven Years War the British alliance cost Hessen dearly. In 1756 the French army under Richelieu broke into Germany, and, defeating the Duke of Cumberland at Hastenbeck, occupied Hessen, making it a theatre of war for the succeeding five campaigns. The French imposed heavy contributions. A tribute of 850,000 talers was demanded in 1757 in an attempt to break the alliance with Britain. Since this failed of its purpose, 500,000 more were demanded each year from 1759 to 1761. A smaller sum was levied in 1762. In addition the French requisitioned grain for their soldiers and hay for their animals. Both the main towns, Kassel and Marburg, were besieged, taken, and retaken many times. Marburg’s famous Elisabethkirche, a centre of pilgrimage before the Reformation, was used as a granary by the occupying French army. The ancient town changed hands fifteen times, the castle on the heights above, seven times.
The effect of a prolonged war in Hessen, with French levies and British subsidies, was to make the Landgraf more independent of the Hessian Parliament (or, more accurately, Estates), the Landstände, which was burdened with making good the losses to the country out of its own sources of revenue. The subsidies, however, flowed into the war treasury (Kriegskasse), which the Landgraf s officials controlled and administered. Thus the Landgraf became rich while the Landstände lost the traditional power of the purse over their sovereign. A British military historian notes, it was a curious fact that the British Parliament in its reluctance to create a large British army, for fear of military power in the hands of the monarch, helped German princes in their struggle against their own Parliaments by making it possible and profitable for the princes to maintain large forces on hire to the British.’
The Hessian corps fought throughout the campaigns of the Seven Years War. Ferdinand of Brunswick, commander of ‘His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany’, regarded them as more able to withstand the hardships of war than any other contingent. Despite its name this army contained more Hannoverians and Hessians than British troops, who only appeared in September, 1758. Of total strength in 1760 of 90,000, some 37,800 were Hannoverians, 24,400 Hessians, 22,000 British, 9,500 Brunswickers, and there were some lesser contingents. Yet it succeeded in tying down double its number of French troops, a service of inestimable value both to British conquests overseas and to Frederick of Prussia in his struggle against a European coalition. When Frederick heard of the conclusion of an Anglo-Hessian subsidy treaty for additional men in early 1759 he wrote to his minister in London, ‘C’est avec bien de la satisfaction que j’ai appris par votre rapport ordinaire du 16 de ce mois la conclusion du nouveau traite de subside avec le cour de Hesse.’ In both 1759 and 1778 Frederick regarded Hessen-Kassel as having an essential role in the defence of his western flank.
With the fighting going on in Hessen, Hessian soldiers were sorely tempted to make off home to see how wives and sweethearts, or livestock and crops, were faring. In 1762 some 111 cavalry and 2,196 infantrymen deserted out of a contingent of 24,000. The strain of maintaining this large corps fell heavily on the small state. By August 1761 the Landgraf informed Colonel Clavering, British representative at his court, that it would be impracticable to get more recruits if the war continued for another year. Recruiting officers sent to Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen picked up only deserters and vagabonds, who were no sooner enlisted than they deserted again. The corps could hardly be kept up to strength until the Landgraf was once again master of his own country. Hessian subalterns and rank and file for the last campaign were sixteen- and seven teen-year-olds.
This mainly German army, by tying down French strength, enabled Britain to conquer her first empire overseas. British subsidies were well spent. By contrast the French who paid for the Duke of Württemberg’s corps to serve with the Imperial Army against Prussia got a rabble. Duke Karl Eugen had introduced Prussian recruiting methods to enlist his troops, and in spring and summer of 1757 thousands of young men were forcibly pressed into service. Badly trained and brutally treated, they deserted in droves and were routed by Frederick of Prussia at Leuthen. Only about 1,900 of some 6,000 returned to Württemberg months later.
The hardiness of the Hessian folk fitted them to endure the rigours of military service. A young German traveller noted in the 1780s that the men were stout and strongly built, and matched the country, which was rough and wild, abounding in woods and hills. The air was cold but wholesome, the food not luxurious but nourishing. Not only were the young Hessians of sturdy limb, but from early years they were mentally prepared for the soldier’s life:
to the use of formidable weapons; so when he has reached the size necessary to take a place in the valiant ranks, he is quickly formed into a soldier.
Proportionately the Hessian army was the largest in Germany. In 1730, in peacetime, some 14,000 men were under arms, roughly one in every nineteen of the population of a quarter million. Prussia had only one of every twenty-three of her people under arms. One commentator felt this was too many:
The people of this country are numerous and warlike, being disciplin’d and train’d, perhaps more than what is for the good of the Country. The Prince might employ them a great deal better in making them labour the ground, and take to useful trades.
The Landgrafs would have denied this. The army was the country’s greatest source of revenue, its ‘Peru’ as Wilhelm VIII called it. Although the chief tax in Hessen was the military Kontribution, internal revenues alone could not pay for such forces. Kriegskasse accounts for 1742, a good year for subsidies but one in which a corps had to be maintained in the field, show that without subsidies from Britain of 933,000 talers, the state would have had a deficit of 445,000. With those subsidies it had a surplus even greater, 488,000 talers. In the years from 1730 to. 1750 the subsidy payments totalled some 8.3 million talers (£1.25 millions). The total revenue in taxes in that period was not much over 20 million talers.
Despite the country’s warlike constitution, the transition from the old-fashioned levy of armed men to a modern state army, financed by taxes collected by bureaucrats and recruited systematically, was only gradual. Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the old duties of the Hessian farmer to quarter both horse and man and to provide them with sustenance were commuted into cash payments which were used to build barracks. The requirement to provide horses and wagons for the army’s train also became a cash duty called Heerwagengelder. The obligation to provide haulage for the transport, Vorspanndienst, was only reckoned as a set payment after it proved too much of a burden in the Seven Years War. After this war Hessian troops were supplied for the first time, not directly by farmers in kind, but by magazines erected on the model of the French ones seen in Hessen.
The feudal obligation of certain parties to provide horse and weapons became submerged in the more universal requirement of military service. In 1762 the new Landgraf Friedrich II divided Hessen on the Prussian model into recruiting cantons, one for each regiment. Recruiting by violence was forbidden and large elements of the population were exempted, either by paying taxes or by profession, from being called up. Certain towns like Kassel, Marburg, and Ziegenhain were exempt from the cantons, although the artillery and the Guards regiments could draw volunteers from them. Propertied farmers, apprentices, salt workers, miners, domestic servants, students, and other important workers and taxpayers were also exempt, very much in accord with mercantilist principles of preserving vital elements of the population. Otherwise the names of all ‘strong and straight-limbed’ young men aged sixteen to thirty, not under 5 feet 6 inches, or 5 feet 4 inches if still growing, were enrolled on lists, kept by the local bailiffs, as available recruits for military service. The young men were to present themselves yearly at Easter and the lists kept up to date. Thus by the end of the Seven Years War the Landgraf, by converting the traditional duties of his subjects, had obliged everyone to support the army, either by actual service or by paying taxes. When the Swiss historian Müller visited Kassel, he wrote, ‘Before I came to Hessen, I scarce knew what a military people were. Nearly all peasants have served: thus in every village there are men of fine stature, manly form and bearing, and everywhere they talk of war: for in this century the Hessians have not only fought against the French in Germany, but even in Sicily and the Peloponnesus, and in Hungary under the great Eugene, and now in the New World.’
BY ANDRAS PALASTHY
The 1. Rohamtûzer Osztaly (1. RO) was the 1st Assault Artillery Unit raised and then enlisted into by the Honvéd.
It is at the end of 1942 that the Hungarian Chief of Staff took the first decision to introduce into the Hungarian Army the weapon that the Wehrmacht had already used with success in 1940 during the campaign in France.
At the end of February 1943, three officers chosen by the Hungarian Artillery Inspectorate came to the end of a training course that lasted six weeks in Jüterborg near Berlin at the instruction centre of the Sturmartillerie (VI. / Artillerie-Lehr-Regiment (mot.) 2). The commander of the small group was Százados (Captain) József Barankay, the creator of the Hungarian Assault Artillery, on his return to Hungary, the captain surrounded by a team of young enthusiastic officers, devoted himself passionately to preparing courses destined to train the first volunteers.
The instruction methods largely inspired from the new German methods, contributed to the formation of a true espirt de corps.
The 1st October 1943 sees the start of official construction of a further seven new RO. Unfortunately it becomes clear that the only Hungarian production plant (Manfred Weiss) would not be capable of meeting the needs of 8 RO. The German allies assure Hungary that it will provide equipment for the other RO in the form of Sturmgeshütze providing the personnel can be raised for these units. The 1. RO is exclusively equipped with Zrinyi, conversely the support elements consist of a great deal of German produced equipment, Opel Blitz, Krupp Protze, and R75 BMW motorcycle’s.
The 12th April 1944, three rail convoys, respectively transporting the 2. and 3 Üteg (Batteries) and also the HQ elements of the 1. RO (commanded by now (Major) Ornagy József Barankay) depart for the Galizian Front, prior to this in May 1944 they participated in a combined demonstration exercise in front of the Artillery Inspector and Regent Horthy, the 1st Üteg remains stationed in Hajmáskér. It did not join the rest of the RO until two months later during June 1944.
The Assault Howitzers of the 2nd Üteg (temporarily commanded by 1st Lieutenant Röder – the actual commander; 1st Lieutenant Kulifay, convalescing at the time) moved off from the Stanislau plateau on the evening of the 16th April (now called Ivano-Frankousk) where the RO commander sets up his HQ. The 3rd Üteg arrives in Stanislau 3 days later.
The Zrinyis of the 1. RO were engaged in combat in Galizia for more than 3 months with the 1st Hungarian Army, itself subordinated to the Heeresgruppe Nordukraine.
Mobilised on the 6th January 1944, the Hungarian government had originally planned to use the 1st Hungarian Army for the defence of the national borders in the North-eastern Carpathians, however the German High Command would not allow this and used the Army in Polish Galizia to fill a gap in the front line between the Carpathians and the Dniester. This ‘hole’ was located between the 1st German Pz. Army (Right flank of Heeresgruppe Nordukraine) and the 8th German Army (Left flank of Heeresgruppe Südukraine).
The 1. RO arrived in Galizia on the evening of the attack by the 1st Hungarian Army, the Army had limited objectives (Then commanded by General Lakatos) which had been set by the Germans. These were to take the Army to the Kolomea-Obertyn-Ottynia-Stanislau line to re-establish contact between the Heeresgruppe Norukraine and Südukraine and establish a continual frontline.
An attack started between the Pruth and the Dneister on the 17th April 1944 at 14:00hrs, on the left flank of the Army the VIIth Hungarian Corps (16th and 18th Infantry Divisions) were tasked with the objective of capturing the towns of Ottynia and Obertyn, by the evening of the 20th April the 16th Infantry Division had seized Ottynia with negligible losses, however Soviet resistance hardened quickly and by the 22nd April the 16th Infantry Division were reporting the first counter attacks.
A little after his arrival in Stanislau, Ornagy Barankay contacted the 301st Sturmgeschütz-Brigade that was operating in the sector. He followed on foot with some of his subordinates the Sturmgeschütz-Brigade during an engagement to observe the tactics and unit operation.
The Assault Howitzers of the 1. RO received their baptism of fire on the 21st April 1944 in the Bohorodyczyn sector on the left flank of the 16th Infantry Division, only the 2. Üteg took part in this engagement, supporting infantry of the 18th Hungarian Infantry Division who were tasked in capturing the town of Bohorodyczyn where the Soviets were entrenched. The ground was in the Soviets favour; they had concentrated a great deal of men and material in the area. The town could not be taken on the first day by the Hungarians, several anti-tank guns and a dug-in T-34 were destroyed by the Zrinyi’s, during the fighting the battery had two of its three platoon commanders seriously injured and their vehicles damaged
On the 23rd April the 101st Jäger Division moved into the offensive on the left flank of the 18th Infantry Division, again they were met with fierce enemy resistance, supported by Sturmgeshütze of the 301st Sturmgeschütz-Brigade and a combat group from the 16th Panzer Division, they managed to progress only a few kilometers.
On the 28th April, the combined efforts of the Hungarians and Germans allowed the 2. Üteg to capture Bohorodyczyn, where surprised from the flank several Soviet Anti-tank guns were captured intact with their American made M3 half-tracks.
A few days after its first engagement, where they destroyed two T-34’s, the 3rd Üteg on the 27/28th lost their commander, 1st Lieutenant Waczek, he sustained a fatal head wound, the commander of the second platoon was also killed in this action. Ornagy Barankay took command of the Üteg until the end of the engagement, which was a success. 1st Lieutenant Rátz became the Üteg commander at this time.
On the 30th April the 2. Üteg received the order to withdraw to Stanislau, that same day General Lakatos gave the order to stop the advance of the Hungarian 1st Army without all the objectives being achieved, the VIIth corps did not capture Obertyn and the front was stabilised on the Peczenyczyn-Kolomea, South-west Ottynia East Tlumacz line, the Hungarians and Germans now preparing defensive positions.
Two months of relative calm follow in the sector of the VIIth corps after the Hungarian offensive.
On May 19th the 3. Üteg was transferred South of Pruth, where it operated as an independent unit within the XIth corps which was part of the 1st Hungarian Army. In this region, the 3. Üteg is engaged for the first time on the 20th May in the area of Peczenyczyn, Captain Barankay who took part in this engagement was moved back to Stanislau with his Zrinyi riddled with holes after the engagement.
In mid-June the 1st Üteg commanded by 1st Lieutenant Sandor rejoined the RO at the front with its 10 Zrinyi.
With Captain Barankay remaining with the 3rd Battery, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Rátz it was again involved in violent defensive actions on the 7th, 8th and 9th of July in the Peczenyczyn sector. On the 9th of July at the end of the engagement a Zrinyi had to be abandoned after becoming stuck in an infantry trench, this was later recovered under enemy fire during the 9th and 10th of July, this recovery was led by 1st Lieutenant Rátz for which he received the Iron Cross 2nd class on the 11th of July 1944.
While 1st Lieutenant Rátz’s assault guns had been engaged several times South of the river Pruth, it was only from the 13th of July 1944 that Soviet activity in the sector of the 1. and 2. Üteg increased.
After the Soviet offensive on the 22nd June broke through the lines of Heeresgruppe Mitte it was the 1st Ukrainian Front of Marshall Koniev who pressed on with the offensive. Opposing the 1st Ukrainian front were Heeresgruppe Nordukraine comprising of 4th Pz. Army on the left flank, 1st Pz. Army in the center and the 1st Hungarian Army on the right flank.
As the Soviet advance concentrated its efforts on Lemberg (Today L’vov) which was defended by the 1st Pz. Army, the OKH was forced the commit the armoured units (German) who were fighting with the Hungarian 1st Army to this sector. This move affected the VIIth Hungarian Corps, which was in contact with the right flank of the German 1st Pz. Army leaving them exposed. In the Corps sector the Soviet activity intensified from the 13th July, 10 days later the left flank of the 1st Ukrainian Front (North of the 1st Guard Army, South of the 18th Army) gets into the action.
On the morning of the 13th July 1944 the 1. RO is placed on alert; the Zrinyis of the 1. and 2. Üteg are prepared for combat to the East of Ottynia. On that day, the aerial activity increased in the sector, during the move of the 1st Üteg towards Ottynia the Üteg came under aerial attack, with the commander of the 1st platoon being the first casualty. Once the Üteg was underway again it encountered the vehicle that was transporting the body of Ornagy Barankay commander of the 1. RO himself a casualty of a bombing raid on the town of Targowica which was behind the front lines, he had been following the engagements of the 2. Üteg by radio from here.
Captain Barankay was buried in the military cemetery in Stanislau, in the position he had reserved for himself between the first two men killed from his unit.
Ornagy (Major) Doóry arrived from Hungary at the end of July to assume command of the 1. RO.
The Soviet offensive in the sector of the VIIth Hungarian Corps concentrated all its efforts on Ottynia, the combined efforts of the 16th and 7th Infantry Divisions along with the Hungarian 2. Páncéloshadosztály (2nd Armoured Division) was unable to prevent a Soviet breakthrough. The Hungarian withdrawal started in the direction of the Carpathains. On the 23rd July, Ottynia fell to the 18th Soviet Army who, advancing on Nadvorna threatened to take the VIIth Hungarian Corps from behind from the South, on the 25th July Nadvorna fell, at this time the VIIth Corps was cut off from the 1st Hungarian Army and the 1st RO from its 3.Üteg.
During the retreat, the 1. and 2 Üteg of the 1st RO completed a number of hard fought rearguard actions, which allowed a number of units to withdraw and escape complete destruction.
The route followed by the 1. and 2. Üteg was Ottynia-Winograd-Lachowca-Lukwa-Krasna-Rozniatow-Dolina-Wygoda.
On the 24th July, a reconnaissance patrol from the 2nd Üteg destroyed three T-34 during an ambush in the area of Winograd, that same day 2nd Lieutenant Buszek (2nd Üteg) under his own initiative led an action that liberated a unit of field artillery that had been surrounded by the Soviets, after this action a German Hauptmann took down 2nd Lieutenant Buszek’s details and location, he later received the Iron Cross 2nd class for his actions.
The combat elements of the 1. RO on the 27th July were attached to the 2. Páncéloshadosztály, under the orders from Major Doóry and 1st Lieutenant Kulifay they were forced to stop their westward march, the only safe route of withdrawal. The valley of Lukwa was blocked by retreating forces, the valley was under fire from the Soviets. The RO received the order to open the road at all costs, they were forced to push/shove or crush any obstacle in their path. Every Zrinyi carried around 10 wounded soldiers on route. The 1. and 2 Üteg lost more than 2/3 of their assault howitzers during the retreat.
On the 28th July the 1. and 2. Üteg along with the RO commander crossed the Hungarian border by the Toronya pass in the Northeastern Carpathians.
The RO established itself at Felsöveresmo (near to Hust where the Hungarian 1st Army Chief of Staff had previously arrived) they remained here until the end of September.
The 3rd Üteg of 1st Lieutenant Rátz, was operating in a less exposed sector and returned to Hungary with all of his Zrinyi’s by means of the pass at Tatàr, however while the support vehicles of the battery could still cross the River Pruth by the bridge of Deatyn, the tracked vehicles had to ford the river further south.
On arrival in Hungary the battery billeted at Korosme.
At the end of September 1944, the RO was embarked for Hajmáskér, however before leaving the 3. Üteg was involved in the last engagement in Transylvania. Following the failure of the Romanians to hold the Soviets on the 23rd August a breach was opened in Translavania on the right flank of the Heersegruppe Südukraine. On the 13th of September 1944 the 3rd Hungarian Army launched a general offensive against the 1st Romanian Army (now allied to the Soviets) so that they could partially close the breach. Transported by rail until Nagyvárad (Today Oradea in Romania), the 3rd Battery of 1st Lieutenant Rátz were engaged around mid-September on the left flank of the 3rd Hungarian Army with the VIIth Corps. The intervention of the 3rd Üteg forced the Romanians from the town of Belenyes, unfortunately the Zrinyi of 1st Lieutenant Rátz fell victim to a mine in front of Belenyes, and the vehicle was irreparable and abandoned. The battery was withdrawn from the front after releasing all its equipment to an Üteg from the 10th RO who at that time were also in Transalvania.
After two weeks of rest the 1. RO was again placed on alert at Hajmáskér for the defence of Budapest, which the Soviet advance was now threatening, again after disposing of a battery of equipment (The Rátz Battery rearmed) the unit was attached to ‘Csoport Billnitzer, essentially constituted of assault artillery fighting on foot.
During the months of November and December 1944 the assault gunners of the 1. RO were engaged on foot (mostly) in the sector of Vecsés-Maglad-Ecser (around Pest) attached to the 1st Hungarian Armoured Division. Assigned to another position, Ornagy Doóry was replaced by 1st Lieutenant Wáczek having recovered from his wounds. He was gravely wounded again on the 19th November North of Vecsés during a reconnaissance mission, 1st Lieutenant Sándor who was to be the last commander of the RO replaced him.
On the 4th of December 1944, from the island of Csepel, the Soviets achieved a foothold on the West shore of the Danube with the intention of rapidly breaking through the Margarete line to take Budapest from behind. They threw themselves against the defenses of the 271st Volksgrenadier Division and of the 239th Sturmartillerie-Brigade. On the 5th December at sunrise, without receiving orders to do so 1st Lieutenant Rátz led his Battery out of the sector he was assigned to join with the 10th RO (commanded by Százados (Captain) Sándor Hanák) at Székesfehérvár. This unconventional initiative provoked the wrath of the General-Major Billnitzer, however no charges were brought to 1st Lieutenant Rátz
On the 8th December 1944, attached to the 271st Volksgrenadier Division, the 10th RO were engaged south of Baracsta, with the Üteg of 1st Lieutenant Rátz, in all 10 Zrinyi took part in the engagement, the close protection of the assault howitzers was provided by the 10th Motorised Assault Company of Lieutenant Harkay (A special unit organically attached to the 10th RO and mostly constituted of soldiers from destroyed or routed units armed with sub machine guns) and German ground forces. That evening the Soviets sustained heavy losses, the RO with Captain Hanák as its commander returned to Martonvásár where the RO and German Divisional headquarters were located with several prisoners and considerable amounts of captured material (according to documents of the time). No less than 7x 76.2mm antitank guns were captured, 1 x heavy howitzer, 6 x 76.2mm antitank guns and an antitank gun of inferior caliber were amongst others destroyed. The officers were commended by the commander of the 271st Volksgrenadier Division, some receiving the Iron Cross for their actions.
On the same day the 8th Pz. Division had also been engaged in the Martonvásár sector carrying out a counter attack which failed in its objectives, the following day with 65 armoured vehicles the 8th Pz. Division was again denied its objectives. On the 11th December1944 the Üteg of 1st Lieutenant Rátz and the 10th RO were again engaged in the streets of the town of Erd (Southwest of Budapest). The Zrinyi of the commander of the 2. platoon of the Rátz Battery was hit and destroyed by an antitank gun hidden in the higher parts of the town, Erd was cleared and the Soviets lost several heavy weapons including antitank guns, which had been crewed by women.
On the 26th December the 1. RO as the other units of the 1st Hungarian Army and IX SS. Gebirgskorps found themselves trapped the Hungarian capital after the link up of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts in the area of Esztergom. This date marked the beginning of the siege of Budapest, which was to last more than 6 weeks. Around the turn of the New Year, 1st Lieutenant Kulifay commander of the 2. Üteg partially re-equipped with Turan 41M died in his command tank after being hit by an antitank gun.
The 1. RO was finally destroyed in the street fighting of Budapest in January-February 1945.
The military historian Matthew Cooper described the German Panzer arm of service as: ‘a failure. A glorious failure … but a failure nonetheless … The significance of this failure was immense. The Panzer Divisions, the prime offensive weapon, had become indispensable … in both tactical and strategic terms … Upon the fortunes of the armoured force was based the fate of the whole army …’. ‘He concluded that the fault for the demise of the Panzer arm lay in the hands of Hitler and the Army commanders, ‘who failed to grasp the full implications of this new, revolutionary doctrine and consistently misused the force upon which their fortunes had come to depend’. Another reason was the neglect of equipment and organizational requirements, which stunted the Panzer arm’s potential in the field.
Hitler was impressed by armour operating in conjunction with other arms. In 1933, after witnessing a demonstration of mobile troops, he had been very enthusiastic, although armoured theory and practice were not new in the Germany Army. Indeed, it would be true to say that Germany’s armoured force was born on the steppes of Russia during the 1920s. Among other prohibitions, the conditions of the Versailles Treaty forbade the German Army from having armoured fighting vehicles. To circumvent this restriction, the governments of republican Germany and the Soviet Union entered into a conspiracy: the Soviet Union would grant a vast area of land upon which the German military commanders could practice manoeuvres, while in another part of that territory, factories would be set up to construct the armoured fighting vehicles which German experts had designed and which the German commanders needed for their manoeuvres. A great number of German senior commanders and armour theorists went to Kasan in the Soviet Union and developed the skills required in handling armour in the mass and in conducting exercises using aircraft. Between them, the Army and Luftwaffe commanders evolved and developed the concept of Blitzkrieg.
This collaboration between Germany and Russia lasted until 1935, when the Nazi government withdrew the Panzer and Luftwaffe detachments from Soviet territory. Thereafter, it was on German soil that tank design and construction was carried out. The first types of Panzer had been given the cover name ‘agricultural tractors’, to hoodwink the officers of the Armistice Commission, and because that name fitted In with conventional German military thinking that armoured vehicles would be used principally to bring supplies forward across the broken and difficult terrain of the battlefield. This negative attitude towards the strategic employment of armour as a separate arm of service was common to many generals of the high command: one even went so far as to say: ‘The idea of Panzer divisions is Utopian.’ But the protagonists advanced their ideas, and a Mechanized Troops Inspectorate was set up in June 1934. Hitler’s repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles brought the expansion of the German Army, and with it the beginning of an armoured force. As early as July 1935, an ad hoc Panzer division successfully carried out a training exercise which demonstrated that the movement and more particularly, the control – of major Panzer units was practicable. Even further than that, a general staff exercise had studied the employment of a whole Panzer corps in action. The year 1935 also saw the birth of a new arm of service when the Armoured Troops Command was created, which was followed by the raising of the first three Panzer divisions. The Armoured Troops Command had, as yet, no real authority, for armour was not considered to be an equal partner with the infantry, cavalry and artillery arms.
General Guderian was given the post of Chief of Mobile Troops, and took over the development and training of the entire mechanized force of the Army. As a consequence, he had direct access to Hitler. During 1938, two more Panzer divisions were created, as well as a command structure which allowed the Panzer arm – in theory, at least – to be one of the partners in the Field Army.
It was one thing to be accepted as a partner, it was another to be equipped for that role. The Panzers which the armoured divisions needed were issued to non-Panzer units, and another hindrance was that tank quality was poor. The majority of machines in the armoured force were Panzer I and II types, which were not only obsolete, but were under-gunned and under-armoured. A third negative factor was the raising of three light (mobile) divisions in November 1938. These, together with a fourth division, were created instead of Panzer divisions.
It was not until 1940 that the OKW placed all German armour within the framework of its Panzer divisions. This favourable situation was of brief duration, for by the middle years of the war one-fifth of the AFV strengths still remained outside a divisional framework. One final factor was that the German leadership neglected to plan for new types of replacement tanks. Apart from the existing III and IV types, no preparation was made to produce adequate stocks of tanks or other armoured vehicles or any new marks of Panzer. It was not until 1943 that top priority was given to AFV production. Total production of Panzers in the second month of the war, September 1939, was only fifty-seven machines. Clearly, there was a need for improvement.
German superiority in the matter of Panzer operations during the war owed nothing to the number or quality of the machines it fielded, but was rather the product of superior organizations and training. The campaign in Poland did not see the Panzer force being used in the way that Guderian and the other theorists had planned. It was, instead, the speed with which the whole German Army moved – not just that of the Panzer divisions – which brought victory. For the Polish campaign, the German Army had fielded 2,100 tanks, and lost 218 of them. More serious than the 10 per cent battle loss was the high rate of mechanical failure, which kept 25 per cent of the machines out of action at anyone time. There had been no improvement by 1940, when the war in the west opened. For that campaign, out of a total of 2,574 machines, fewer than 627 were of the heavier Panzer III and Panzer IV types, and 1,613 were the obsolete Panzer I and II. Nevertheless, as Guderian recorded, the Panzer force fought its battle more or less without interference from the OKW, and as a result, achieved dramatic successes.
One of the few examples of Hitler’s direct interference was when he halted the Panzer divisions outside Dunkirk, an act which allowed Britain to withdraw the bulk of its Army. As a result of the experiences gained through the victory in the west, it became clear that the Panzer arm of service would soon rise to become a partner equal to the infantry. Hitler was determined to invade the Soviet Union, but needed to increase the number of Panzer divisions. To achieve that growth, he could have decided to increase the output of German tank factories. Instead, he deluded himself that numbers equalled strength, and raised the number of armoured divisions from 10 to 21 by the simple expedient of halving the AFV strength of each division. Thus, each division was made up of a single tank regiment numbering 150-200 machines. Hitler was convinced that a Panzer division fielding a single armoured regiment had the striking power of a division which fielded two regiments. It was a fatal mistake, particularly since Panzer production in the first six months of 1941 averaged only 212 vehicles per month. The total number of machines available for the new war against Russia was 5,262, of which only 4,198 were held to be ‘front-line’ Panzers, and of that total, only 1,404 were the better-armed Panzer III and IV. Those vehicles, good as they were, were soon to be confronted by the Red Army’s superior T 34s and KV Is. Although inferior in every respect, the Panzer llls and IVs were forced to remain in front-line service until the Panzer V (Panther) and the Panzer VI (Tiger) types could be rushed into service. An example of the blindness of the general staff towards armour requirements was shown by General Halder, who seemed to be satisfied that 431 new Panzers would be produced by the end of July 1941, although this was less than half the number of machines lost during that period. Throughout the war, replacements never equalled the losses suffered.
To summarize: German industry was not equipped for the mass production of AFVs, and the ones which were produced for the Army were inferior to those of its opponents – certainly until the Panther and the Tiger came into service. Although the Panzer arm fought valiantly to the end, from 1943 it was firmly on the defensive, except for a few isolated offensives. The greatest mistake was that the supreme commander, Hitler, would accept no limitations upon his strategic plans, and sent major armoured formations across vast areas of country without consideration for the strain upon crews or machines and the drain upon the petrol resources of the Reich, and then committed those tired crews and worn-out vehicles to battle against unequal odds. Because of those and many other factors, Matthew Cooper must be seen as correct in his verdict that the Panzer arm was a failure.
The Panzer divisions of the German Army were eventually numbered 1-27, 116, 232 and 233. The establishment also contained named Panzer divisions, as well as light divisions, which were later upgraded to Panzer status. When general mobilization was ordered, the Army had five Panzer and four light divisions on establishment.
The infantry component of the 1st Panzer Division was Schützen Regiment No.1, made up of two battalions, each of five companies; the 2nd Panzer Division incorporated the 2nd Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of five companies; the 3rd Panzer Division had the 3rd Schützen Regiment, also with two battalions, each of five companies; the 4th Panzer Division’s infantry component was the 12th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies; and the 5th Panzer Division had the 13th Schützen Regiment, with two battalions, each of four companies.
The organization of the light divisions was not standard. The 1st Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No.4, which was reorganized into a motorized infantry brigade, with a single infantry regiment, a recce battalion and a tank regiment. The 2nd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 6 and 7, formed into two motorized infantry regiments, a recce regiment and a battalion of tanks; the infantry regiments were made up of two battalions, each of which fielded four squadrons. The 3rd Light Division had Cavalry Schützen Regiment No. 8 on establishment, formed into a motorized infantry regiment of two battalions, each fielding two squadrons; the divisional establishment was completed with a motorcycle battalion and a Panzer battalion. The 4th Light Division fielded Cavalry Schützen Regiments Nos 10 and 11, forming two motorized infantry regiments and a Panzer battalion; each of the motorized regiments was composed of two battalions, both of these fielding four squadrons.
In the months between the end of the Polish campaign and the opening of the war in the west, the four light divisions were upgraded to Panzer division status, and were numbered 6-9. Three motorized infantry regiments were taken to create the 10th Panzer Division. Other infantry regiments were used to increase the strength of the first three Schützen regiments to three battalions, as well as helping to create the 11th Schützen Regiment.
The number of Panzer divisions on establishment was increased from 10 to 20 during the autumn of 1940, and that number was further increased during 1941, with the 21st Panzer Division being raised for service in Africa. During the winter of 1941/2, Panzer divisions Nos 22, 23 and 24 were raised. The 24th was created by conversion of the 1st Cavalry Division, whose mounted regiments were renamed and renumbered Schützen Regiments Nos 21 and 26.
On 5 July 1942, the Schützen regiments of Panzer divisions were renamed Panzergrenadier regiments, and there was a change in organization, with the disbandment of the machine gun company which had been on the strength of each battalion. Panzer Divisions Nos 25, 26 and 27 were formed during 1942. Ten divisions were destroyed on the Eastern Front and in Africa, the 14th, 16th and 24th were lost at Stalingrad, while the 22nd and 27th suffered such severe losses that they had to be broken up. The 14th, 16th and 24th Divisions were then re-raised in France. In Tunisia, the 10th, 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were lost, as were the 90th Light Division and the 164th and 999th Light Africa Divisions. The 15th and 90th Light were re-raised as Panzergrenadier divisions. The 21st Panzer was also re-raised in its former role. Neither the 164th Light nor the 999th Light were re-formed.
Most of the Panzer divisions on establishment were reorganized along the lines of a ‘Panzer Division 1943 Pattern’. In this, the first battalion of each division became armoured Panzergrenadiers, able to fight from their armoured vehicles. The first three companies of the battalion had a war establishment of 4 heavy and 39 light machine guns, 2 medium mortars, and 7.5 cm and 3.7 cm guns. No.4 Company had three heavy PAK, 2 light infantry guns, six 7.5 cm and 21 machine guns.
The first, second and third companies of the battalions in the new-pattern division each had 4 heavy machine guns, 18 light machines guns and 2 medium mortars. No.4 Company had 4 heavy mortars, 3 heavy PAK and 3 machine guns. No.9 – the infantry gun company – had 6 guns mounted on tracks. No. 10 Company was the pioneer company, and was equipped with 12 machine guns and 18 flame-throwers. During 1943/4, the 18th Panzer Division was broken up, and units were taken from it to create the 18th Artillery Division. During this period the ‘Panzer Lehr’ Division was raised, and three reserve Panzer divisions were used to create the 9th, 11th and 116th Panzer Divisions. The military disasters of the summer of 1944 brought about the creation of Panzer Brigades 101-113, which were used to reinforce Panzer or Panzergrenadier divisions which had suffered heavy losses.
During the autumn of 1944, the Army followed the pattern of the SS in combining two Panzer divisions into a permanent corps structure. Until that time, Army Panzer Corps HQs had been administrative units, to which divisions had been allocated as required. Army Panzer corps were then created, and ‘Grossdeutschland’, ‘Feldherrenhalle’ and XXIV Panzer Corps were created. The first named contained the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Panzergrenadier Division, the Panzergrenadier Division ‘Brandenburg’ and the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Musketier Regiment. The ‘Feldherrenhalle’ Corps had 1st and 2nd Divisions of that name, and the XXIV Panzer Corps contained the 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions, as well as the 29th Panzer Fusilier Regiment.
The final reorganization of the Panzer arm of service saw the creation of the ‘Panzer Division 1945′. This was an internal rearrangement which created and fielded a Panzer battle group because there was insufficient fuel to move all the Panzer vehicles, and only the machine gun company and the heavy weapons company were mobile.
The last of General MacArthur’s Far East Air Force (FEAF)
A Japanese aircrewman bails out of a burning Mitsubishi G4M bomber after being attacked by a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk of the 21st Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, during the battle of Bataan. The blue patches on the P-40′s fuselage indicate bullet holes.
P-40E “Kibosh” was flown by Captain William Edwin “Ed” Dyess during the 1941-42 Philippines Campaign. He was captured after Bataan fell but survived the subsequent Bataan Death March. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his actions in the Philippines, and another DSC for his actions against the Japanese while serving among Filipino guerillas. After his successful escape and recovery, he was sent home for hospitalization.
Dyess was killed in Burbank, California on 22 December 1943, while attempting to land a disabled Lockheed P-38 Lightning in a vacant lot, rather than leaving it to crash into an urban area. He was posthumously awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his actions.
His story of the Bataan Death March was revealed to the American public on 27 January 1944.
“It delivered a gigantic blow…then literally collapsed.”
By Donald J. Young
Prior to the Japanese attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941 (December 7 in Hawaii), there were 92 operational Curtiss P-40s on Luzon, distributed at three air fields. By the end of the day only 58 remained flyable. The loss of 34 fighters and 17 of the 35 Boeing B-17 bombers in the islands immediately put General Douglas MacArthur’s Far East Air Force on the offensive.
Between December 8 and the order to withdraw into the Bataan peninsula on December 23, the 24th Pursuit Group had been whittled down to just 18 P-40s. In anticipation of the execution of War Plan Orange-3, a plan that had been devised before the war began to withdraw to Bataan and Corregidor if there was an attack by the Japanese against the Philippines, U.S. Army personnel and a handful of civilian engineers had begun work on several small air fields on the peninsula. Little more than dirt runways bulldozed out of dried-up rice fields, they were known as Orani, Pilar and Bataan fields. Two more that would become operational later were at Cabcaben and Mariveles.
No sooner had the tiny air force on Bataan become operational than its resources began disappearing. The biggest single loss came on January 4, resulting from the unintentional transfer of eight of the remaining 18 fighters to Mindanao, some 500 miles to the south. Between December 23 and January 4, the handful of American fighters that had filtered into Bataan had remained virtually inactive, lulling the Japanese into thinking that there were no U.S. planes on the peninsula. Because of that, beginning on December 29, the unchallenged Japanese had begun sending unescorted bombers on daily 1:00 p.m. raids on southern Bataan and Corregidor.
The predictability of the enemy attacks brought Colonel Harold George, commander of the 24th Pursuit, to order his fighter pilots to intercept the 1:00 p.m. flight on January 4. All 18 planes were ordered to take part, nine of which were at Pilar and nine at Orani. Because of the vulnerability of the handful of American fighters on Bataan, Colonel George had decided to transfer all 18 P-40s to Mindanao that same day. After the anticipated intercept, the planes were supposed to return to their respective fields, refuel and take off for Mindanao.
Ironically, while the 18 P-40s were in the air attempting to rendezvous and find the Japanese, an order rescinding the Mindanao transfer came from General MacArthur’s headquarters on Corregidor, which had decided to retain the planes for reconnaissance purposes. Colonel George immediately notified two of the fields of the change. For the nine Pilar pilots, however, the order came too late. Having failed to either make the scheduled rendezvous with the Orani fighters or locate the Japanese, Lieutenant Fred Roberts led his squadron back to Pilar. After refueling, he and his pilots took off for Mindanao.
The nine Orani fighters, led by Captain Ed Dyess, actually ran into the enemy formation before reaching the rendezvous point, resulting in an unsuccessful pursuit of the Japanese back toward Clark Field. “When they spotted us, ” lamented one of the pilots,”12 Japanese planes went in 12 different directions. We simply couldn’t catch them…they held such a pace that [we] never got within shooting distance.”
By the time Dyess returned to Orani, the orders rescinding the Mindanao transfer had come through. Except for the unscheduled return of one of Roberts’ Mindanao-bound P-40s with engine trouble, nearly half of what would become Bataan’s air force had left.
Three days later, on the morning of January 6, six P-40s took off from Pilar field to observe the scale of Japanese troop movements into northern Bataan. Led by Lieutenants Bill Rowe and Bud Powell, they soon spotted a six-plane formation of enemy twin-engine bombers over Manila Bay, heading toward the peninsula. Despite orders to avoid combat, Powell went after the tail end of the Japanese formation. He was hit by fire from one of the enemy bombers and had to bail out.
Rowe saw Powell’s shoot open, and circled until the airman hit the water a few yards off the coastal village of Orani. After making sure his friend was safe, Rowe led the remaining four fighters out over the bay, so they could make an approach back to Pilar. Much to his dismay, as he turned toward the field, he saw it was under attack–probably by the same six Japanese planes Powell had gone after. With no other alternative, Rowe signaled that the flight should land at Orani, ten miles to the north.
Two days later, on January 8, the remaining nine fighters were pulled back from Orani, which would soon be inside enemy lines, and Pilar, which had been bombed regularly since the 6th, to Bataan Field, near the southeastern edge of the peninsula. There, while waiting for the Cabcaben and Mariveles strips to be completed, they would find better concealment and be protected by the anti-aircraft batteries of the 200 Coast Artillery, which had moved in behind the field.
On the afternoon of January 17, word reached Del Monte Field on Mindanao from General MacArthur’s headquarters that four of the P-40s that had been flown south on January 4 were to return to Bataan. None of the pilots who had flown there on the 4th were anxious for the assignment, which was considered a one-way trip. They decided to draw cards to see who would go. The four unlucky pilots were Lieutenants Dave Obert, Bob Ibold, Ed Woolery and Gordon Benson.
It was decided to make the fight in two legs. The first, from Del Monte Field to Cebu, was 140 miles. The plan was to spend the night there, then make the remaining 310-mile hop into Bataan early on the morning of the 19th. That information was radioed to Colonel George when they reached Cebu. Anticipating that they would arrive low on fuel and therefore vulnerable to enemy fighter attack, George assigned four of his pilots to fly cover for the planes as they came in.
At 7:00 a.m. the 19th, four P-40s roared down the gently sloping Bataan Field, crossed over the East Road and out over Manila Bay, then banked south toward Corregidor. Twenty minutes into their patrol, they spotted what was thought to be an eight-plane squadron of slow-moving Japanese dive bombers over northern Bataan. The American pilots–Lloyd Stinson, Bill Baker, Keifer White and Marshall Anderson–took off after them. As they closed on the Japanese, they discovered they were diving into a formation of enemy “Nate” fighters (the army’s version of the Zero).
Outnumbered two to one, Baker and White were quickly jumped by a pair of Nates but were able to shake them and land safely back at Bataan Field. Stinson knocked down one of the enemy fighters before jammed guns forced him to also return to the field.
At first, it was unclear what happened to young Anderson. The next day witnesses on the ground said they had seen him knock down one of the Japanese planes before his Kittyhawk was hit, forcing him to bail out near the village of Bagac on Bataan’s west coast. What followed was a heart-wrenching scene. As Anderson floated slowly down, two Japanese fighters dived on the helpless pilot with their guns blazing. Their gunfire collapsed his chute, and moments later, the lifeless body of 1st Lt. Marshall Anderson was picked up by American soldiers in a field near Bagac. The next day he was buried in a small military cemetery located less than 50 yards from the edge of the fighter strip at Mariveles.
The four P-40s scheduled to return to Bataan from Mindanao on the morning of the 19th had run into bad weather that delayed their arrival some 12 hours. After spending the night at Cebu, they took off for Bataan, but they were forced to land at San Jose on Mindoro, where an emergency airfield had been set up. There they planned to wait until dusk to take off, so that they would arrive at Bataan after dark, when there would be less chance of interception.
Thirty-or-so minutes out from Cebu, Gordon Benson radioed that he was having engine trouble. Lieutenant Dave Obert looked back just in time to see Benson’s P-40 spinning toward the ground. Fortunately, Benson–who was losing his third fighter since the war started–had bailed out, landing in the water a few yards off Panay Island. After making sure Benson made it safely to shore, the three pilots flew on to Mindoro, reaching the field at San Jose safely around 1:00.
On the ground they were greeted by Lieutenant Warren Bagget, who–with a detachment of 60 men–had been sent to Mindoro a month before to set up an emergency air strip. Bagget told the three pilots that they were the first to use the field in the 30 days they’d been there. With the setting sun just disappearing behind the South China Sea horizon, the three planes took off for Bataan, all landing safely an hour later.
On January 25, Colonel George was informed that he had been promoted to brigadier general. That same day he learned of an intelligence report about the large number of Japanese planes that were concentrated on Nichols and Nielson fields, south of Manila. George decided to attack the two airfields the next night. Eight pilots out of the 14 available were chosen, including Lieutenants Jack Hall, Bill Baker, Bob Ibold, Ed Woolery, Lloyd Stinson, Sam Grashio, Earl Stone and Dave Obert. The plan, which the pilots themselves devised, was to attack the two airfields with three fighters each, and if all went well, to follow up with three more.
First to take off were the three assigned to attack Nielson. The first two Kittyhawks, piloted by Hall and Baker, took off with three 30-pound fragmentation bombs under each wing, closely followed by Bob Ibold. About half-way down the runway, blinded by the dust raised by Hall and Baker, Ibold veered off the runway and his wing struck a boulder, causing the three bombs under his right wing to explode.
As rescuers reached the wreckage, they were amazed to find the young pilot still alive. Ibold, although in shock and badly burned, would survive. Shaken by the accident and the loss of one of his precious fighters, General George decided to hold off on the attack on Nichols.
Meanwhile, Hall and Baker, who were unaware of what had happened, had circled over Corregidor waiting for Ibold. Guessing after several minutes that something had happened, they headed across the bay for Nielson. As they approached the field, the Japanese, thinking the approaching planes must be their own, turned on the landing lights. The two Americans wasted no time in letting the Japanese know they had made a mistake. They made four or five passes, strafing and dropping their bombs before heading back to Bataan.
When Hall and Baker told George of their success, he decided to go ahead with his original plan. Three fighters would hit Nielson again, and three would attack Nichols. Ed Woolery, Lloyd Stinson and Sam Grashio were briefed on Nielson, while Dave Obert, Bill Baker and Earl Stone prepared to hit Nichols. As before, Corregidor was again asked to notify anti-aircraft crews that friendly aircraft would be assembling over the island at 11:00 p.m., and not to shoot.
There would be no runway lights to guide the fighters on this attack. In fact, the actual results of their missions were not known for several days, when intelligence reported that 37 enemy planes had been destroyed on the two fields. Not mentioning the loss of planes, Manila newspapers the next day claimed that there had been more than 300 casualties from the raids.
For a while the fate of the fighter flown by Dave Obert was in doubt, until he landed some 20 minutes after the first five were down. With nearly a full load of ammunition in his six .50s, Obert had decided he’d make a pass over the road leading into Bataan, hoping to spot an unsuspecting supply convoy or something. He was in luck. At the northern end of Bataan’s East Road, he spotted it, “a wonderful target–a long convoy with all lights on driving toward Bataan.”
Attacking head on from 1,500 feet, the excited young lieutenant opened up with all six .50s, strafing the column of close to 40 trucks from one end to the other. In his exuberance, however, Obert nearly flew his Kittyhawk into the ground behind the last truck. With his bombs and ammunition gone and luck still holding, he returned to Bataan Field, where he landed around 12:30.
On the night of January 29, a routine exchange of miscellaneous military information between Corregidor and Brig. Gen. William F. Sharp’s command in Mindanao included word that the Japanese had captured the air field at San Jose on Mindoro Island. Twelve Japanese bombers were reportedly spotted on the field. The field, known as Waterous, was one of the few airfields still in friendly hands between Bataan and Cebu, and a vital emergency landing spot for the few American planes traveling back and forth between those two locations.
Before dawn the next morning, General George dispatched four P-40s to reconnoiter Waterous. If it was found to be in Japanese hands, the planes–flown by Woolery, Obert, Hall and Glover–were ordered to destroy the enemy bombers. It was barely light when the four took off from Bataan Field for the 150-mile flight to Waterous. On the way, Wilson Glover got separated from the three other planes and returned to Bataan.
The three planes reached Waterous at daybreak. Spotting what appeared to be a row of enemy planes off one end of the runway, Woolery and Obert dived on the target. Woolery, for some reason, failed to release his bombs. Obert, however, dropped all six of this 30-pounders, as he said later, “square on the target.” Unfortunately, the “enemy planes” said the embarrassed young second lieutenant, turned out to be “clumps of bushes so arranged that they [were] mistaken for planes in the faint morning light.” In fact, a close examination of the strip from the air indicated that the report had been in error. There were no Japanese.
After circling to make sure, the three pilots came in to land, where they were met by Lieutenant Warren Bagget, whom Woolery and Obert had met 10 days earlier on the way up from Mindanao. After an enjoyable breakfast and a few laughs over Obert’s “attack” on the bushes, they took off for Bataan, loaded down with a 100-pound sack of sugar each from the nearby sugar central in San Jose.
Before leaving, Woolery and Hall decided that since they still had their load of bombs, they would unload them on the Japanese in northern Bataan before returning to base. Arriving over the northeastern Bataan coast at 9:30 a.m., with Obert flying cover against possible intervention by Japanese fighters, Woolery and Hall took off after an enemy convoy spotted heading down the East Road. Seconds later, according to Obert, who had just glanced up to look for enemy fighters, there was a “large mid-air explosion below and off to one side.”
Scanning the sky below him, Obert could see no trace of his two companions. Diving down to investigate further, he spotted some debris falling from the sky and got a quick glimpse of what appeared to be a burning plane crash into Manila Bay. The puzzled young pilot orbited the area for 30 minutes. With no sign of his two comrades, and hoping there was a chance they’d returned to Bataan Field without notifying him, Obert turned his Kittyhawk for home.
As he climbed out of his P-40, he asked if the two had landed. “Lieutenants Woolery and Hall were not there, and were never seen again,” wrote Obert in his diary that night. He described them as “Two of the best pilots in the Philippines (who) until their disappearance had above and beyond the call of duty continued to do everything in their power to stop the Japanese advance.”
About two miles south of Bataan Field, on the southeastern edge of the peninsula, was the coastal barrio of Cabcaben. A quarter of a mile north of the village was a wide, flat rice valley, which, by February 6, had become the operational site of Cabcaben airfield. There were revetments, landing lights, a crude control tower, and anti-aircraft protection. Although no planes had yet been hit by Japanese bombs on Bataan Field, General George decided to move half of his operational fighters to newly completed Cabcaben after dark on the 6th.
The first two planes, flown by Sam Grashio and Kiefer White, took off and landed without incident. Lloyd Stinson was next. As he started in, however, the landing lights suddenly went out, forcing him and Bill Baker, who had banked behind Stinson for his approach, to pull up and go around again.
By the time the two planes had lined up for their approach for the second time, the lights were back on. But again, when the planes were at almost the same spot, they went out. Again Stinson got his fighter to react, safely clearing the field for the second time. But as Baker started to pull up, his engine, still a little cold from the short flight over from Bataan, stalled. Baker’s fighter hit the ground in the middle of a battery of anti-aircraft guns, showering one of them with pieces of the plane that had scattered over 200 yards of jungle. A few minutes later, startled members of a nearby gun crew found Baker staggering about amid the smoldering remains of his P-40. Although burned and incoherent, he would live. But the Bataan air force was down to just seven flyable airplanes. It was discovered that the cause of the lighting problems was a carabao that had twice wondered out onto the field as the two planes were approaching.
On the night of January 22, a Japanese force of some 1,200 men had attempted to land on Bataan’s rugged west coast. A costly miscalculation caused the force to separate, 300 of them ending up on the southern tip of the peninsula, while the larger 900-man force landed on a headland known as Quinauan Point, some 8 miles north of the smaller group. The battle to dislodge the enemy from these locations, recorded as the Battle of the Points, lasted 20 days, during which time the Japanese twice attempted to reinforce their isolated garrison on Quinauan without success.
Realizing it was a lost cause, on the night of February 6 the Japanese command in Olongapo, in Subic Bay, sent a fleet of small boats to the Quinauan area to rescue what was left of the Japanese force. A little before midnight, U.S. listening posts along the coastline picked up the barely distinguishable sound of small boats moving south. Word was passed immediately down the line to be on the alert for an enemy invasion attempt. A few minutes after midnight, a call came into Bataan Field requesting the airmen to stand by.
By 3:15, the enemy rescue force was standing off the vicinity of Silaiim Point, a few hundred yards north of Quinauan. Suddenly, the coastline erupted with machine-gun and artillery fire. On shore, a call went out to “send the planes.” Roughly 15 minutes later, homing in on the lines of tracers pouring from the cliffs, two P-40s flown by Sam Grashio and Lloyd Stinson, dived low over the water and unloaded their 30-pound fragmentaries among the disorganized fleet of enemy boats. A little while later three more planes piloted by Dave Obert, Earl Stone and John Posten repeated the act. By 4:00 a.m. what was left of the rescue flotilla was high-tailing it back toward Olongapo. The Japanese had been turned away, but so had Lady Luck for another of the P-40s.
Lieutenant Kiefer White, attempting to take off from Cabcaben with Grashio and Stinson, apparently confused by his first nighttime takeoff from the field, veered off the runway, totaling his Kittyhawk. White was unhurt.
General Harold George’s Bataan air force was now down to just six fighters. By February 7, just one month and three days since their first action on Bataan, the American unit had lost its sixth plane. By later World War II standards, that wasn’t bad, but on Bataan, it amounted to the irreplaceable loss of one-half of the entire force.
On the afternoon of January 14 observers on Corregidor spotted a convoy of Japanese heavy artillery being towed into position on the southern shore of Manila Bay. Realizing immediately what threat artillery would pose on Corregidor and the three Manila Bay forts–all of which were well inside of the enemy’s range–Colonel Paul D. Bunker, commander of the island’s Seaward Defense, directed that the area be shelled. But, with no specific target coordinates, his order was overruled until the gun positions could be pinpointed. It was suggested that an aerial reconnaissance of the area be made to locate the Japanese guns. On January 16 a lone P-40 made several runs over the suspected area, but the pilot could see nothing.
As a last resort, the job was dropped in the U.S. Navy’s lap. At 5:30 on the afternoon of January 18, PT-41, under the command of Ensign George Cox, stopped at Corregidor to pick up U.S. Army artillery observer Major Stephen Mellnick and then sped across the South Channel to the southern shoreline.
For 15 minutes while her crew scanned the coast, PT-41 moved boldly along the shore “tempting the Japs,” Cox recalled. “When they opened fire at us, the major would take careful note of their position.” But there was nothing–not a shot fired. ”The Japs refused to take the bait,” lamented the young Navy ensign as he headed back for Corregidor.
Finally, it was decided to wait until the Japanese put the guns into action, after which U.S. observers could pinpoint their locations from muzzle flashes and telltale smoke. It wasn’t until February 6, some 24 days since they had first been seen, that the Japanese opened up. That day all four Manila Bay forts were fired on, but again the guns were not located.
Facing the possibility of being shelled at will by the hidden Japanese batteries, Major General George F. Moore, commander of the entire harbor defense, persuaded General MacArthur to once again seek help from the air corps. General George, asked if he had a plane that could be used on a photoreconnaissance run over the Ternate area, replied that he would modify an old Stearman trainer that was hidden amongst the trees at the head of Bataan Field. To escort the slow-moving biplane, George planned to send five of his remaining six P-40s.
The man who accepted the assignment to fly the Stearman was Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) Captain Jesus Villamore–who had already received the DSC for taking on an entire squadron of 27 Japanese bombers on December 10, in his open cockpit 1933-model P-26A fighter. Sergeant Juan Abanes would shoot the pictures through a hole cut in the floorboard. In order to take full advantage of the sun and the enemy air force’s penchant for long lunchtime breaks, it was decided to take off at 1:00 p.m. Once over the area, the plan was to stack the five escorting fighters at different altitudes, while Villamore made his photo run.
Everything went well–in fact, so well that Villamore, at the urging of Abanes, crisscrossed the Ternate area enough times to allow him to shoot the entire roll of 110 exposures. With the last click of the camera, Villamore waggled his wings to the circling fighters and turned for home. Nearing Corregidor, he “fancied a couple of figure-eights” for a cluster of men watching from the island’s Kindly Field, and then headed for Bataan.
Villamore had pressed his luck. Unbeknownst to him as he swung out over Manila Bay for his approach to the field, the escorting fighters had received word that six enemy pursuits were coming in their direction.
At Bataan Field the message had also been heard, sending everyone–including General George and General Richard Marshall, MacArthur’s deputy chief of staff on Bataan–sprinting to the edge of the field to watch the show. From where they were standing they could see the escorting P-40s strung out behind the Stearman as it began its approach.
The P-40 pilots had realized they were being tailed. Suddenly, as Villamore lined up for his approach, the P-40s roared past him toward the field. They had also been spotted from the ground. “There’s the Zeroes!” yelled George, pointing to the diving enemy planes.
The fast-approaching Americans were only able to get in a quick burst as the diving Japanese passed above them. George yelled, ”The Japs have overshot them. He’s just plain overshot them….Now give it to ‘em, kids!”
Dave Obert was the first to tangle with one of the Nate fighters. However, he was only able to get in a short burst at the Japanese before his guns jammed, forcing him to outrun a second enemy plane that had got on his tail. Leveling off over the North Channel between Bataan and Corregidor, he quickly cleared his guns, then headed back looking for the enemy. A few minutes later he spotted a lone fighter flying over the channel south of Corregidor. Obert dived on the Japanese, but again, after “a fairly long burst,” his guns jammed. By the time he cleared them for a second time, the sky was clear of enemy planes, so the young lieutenant returned to Cabcaben.
After tangling with two enemy planes, Ben Brown, like Obert, also had to dive to escape a Japanese fighter. After losing his pursuer, when he climbed back to look for more, none of the enemy was to be seen. After Obert landed at Cabcaben, he was greeted by Lloyd Stinson, the pilot of the fifth P-40. As planned, Stinson had continued to orbit over the South Channel for several minutes, to give the rest of the planes enough time to land. By the time he swung out over the bay for his approach to Cabcaben, not a single Japanese or American plane was to be seen.
Satisfied that the warning about the “Six enemy pursuits coming in [their] direction” hadn’t materialized, he came on in. When Obert told him of what had occurred, Stinson was beside himself. He had missed the whole show. A Bataan fighter pilot’s dream–a dogfight on even terms.
But what of the two planes flown by John Posten and Earl Stone? By late afternoon, neither had been accounted for. It was dusk when a lone P-40 got the green light to land at Bataan Field. It was Posten. A dogfight with one of the Japanese had carried the two adversaries southwest toward Lubang Island. After escaping the enemy fighter, and unaware of what the situation was back at Bataan, he decided to make for Waterous Field at Mindoro. Posten refueled and waited until it was nearly dark, then headed back.
It was obvious by the time Posten arrived that something had happened to Earl Stone. An Air Corps observer at Mariveles Field had watched Stone and a single Japanese fighter disappear into the mask of gray-white clouds over Mt. Mariveles, followed moments later by an explosion, then silence. A tragic midair collision had ended the life of Lieutenant Earl Stone. “Ace pilot of Bataan Field…officially credited with three Japanese planes,” wrote Captain Allison Ind, General George ‘s intelligence officer, in his diary that night.
Days later a search party reported finding the wreckage of the Japanese plane along with the body of its pilot. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain, neither Stone nor his plane was ever found.
Although not a single Japanese plane was claimed by the American pilots, news that one victory had been confirmed came a couple of days later from a Philippine Army artillery unit. An enemy fighter that had apparently been damaged in one of the air battles was seen trailing smoke and losing altitude as it headed north.
A short distance in front of the newly manned U S. position on what was called the Orion-Bagac line, was the once used Pilar Field. The openness of the field, now sitting squarely in the middle of no-man’s-land that fronted the new line, had forced the Air Corps to abandon it in early January. It was there that the crippled enemy fighter–to the delight of the American artillerymen–decided to set down. Quickly word came down from observers to one of the batteries of 75s concealed in the jungle below Mt. Orion. Coordinates were phoned down, followed seconds later by the command to “Fire!” In one salvo, the “probable” became the first confirmed kill in the most adventurous day yet for the Bataan air force. There would be one more to come.
On the evening of March 3, with the sun about 40 minutes behind the South China Sea horizon, the air raid siren on Corregidor wailed at the approach of unidentified planes. Searchlight and anti-aircraft positions were manned, and steel helmets were donned. Fifteen minutes later the all-clear sounded; it was a false alarm. It didn’t take MacArthur’s chief of staff, General Richard Sutherland, long to trace the planes picked up on Corregidor’s radar to the Bataan air force.
Upset, he called General George, who was at that moment at his advanced headquarters behind Bataan Field. For the second time in six weeks, he bellowed, the Air Corps had failed to notify Corregidor of pending night operations. And for the second time in six weeks, they had avoided being blasted by Rock guns by the skin of their teeth
Apparently Sutherland didn’t know that George’s boys had just blasted a Japanese convoy up in Subic Bay, a feat that, given the odds, was probably unmatched by anything the entire U.S. Air Force had done against them since the war started. George told Sutherland that the air raid alarm incident was caused by his planes returning from their last raid on the Japanese convoy in the bay.
Sutherland, who earlier that morning had been the one that tipped the Air Corps to the entrance of the “good-size enemy convoy into Subic,” asked, “What were your losses?” Four planes and one pilot, George told him, quickly adding that one of the planes could probably be salvaged. “What’d we do to them?” asked Sutherland.
George explained that the Japanese had lost no less than one 12,000-ton transport sunk; one 6,000-ton ship beached and burning; two 100-ton motor vessels sunk; several barges and lighters destroyed; an unknown but vast amount of supplies and equipment blown up and burned on both Grande Island and Olongapo docks; and a large but undeterminable number of the enemy killed or missing.
After Sutherland’s tip, which had come just before noon, George had contacted Captain Ed Dyess, leader of the 21st Pursuit Squadron and senior pilot of those currently on flying status. Ironically, just the day before, the ground crew, under the guidance of Warrant Officer Jack Day, had put the finishing touches on a homemade 500-pound bomb rack on Dyess’ fighter, made from parts of automobiles and wrecked planes. “Do you think that your homemade rig for releasing the heavy egg is ready for a practice test?’ asked George.
“There never was a better day, General,” answered Dyess, adding that he would be ready in an hour.
After Dyess left, George contacted Captain Joe Moore at Mariveles. After filling him in on the situation, George told him to have his two fighters take off for Subic Bay. A few minutes later, Lieutenant John Posten, loaded with a half-dozen 30-pound fragmentaries, took off from Bataan Field for the bay. He found it full of ships and the docks at Olongapo crammed with newly arrived supplies. Knowing his 30-pounders were useless against big ships, he bombed the docks, but he couldn’t stay around long enough to find out the results.
Roncey lies some ten kilometres south-east of Coutances in the area overrun by the American VII Corps offensive west of 5t La on July 25. The town was captured five days later – littered with wrecked German armour. This is the Panzerjager 38(t) Ausf M (5dKfz 138) armed with the 7.5cm PaK 40 and most probably belonged to SS-Panzerjager Abteilung 2 of the 2. SS-Panzer Division.
Six weeks after the Normandy landings, the British Second Army still struggled to take Caen and the U.S. First Army was mired in the Cotentin Peninsula’s dense hedgerow country. The American seizure of St. Lô on July 18, 1944, set the stage for Operation Cobra, which kicked off the breakthrough of the German lines on July 25.
By the evening of July 27, elements of the 3rd Armored Division’s Combat Command B were near Camprond in a drive to cut off German units north of the Coutances-St. Lô Road. Farther south, elements of the 2nd Armored Division had reached Notre Dame-de-Cenilly. On July 28th, tanks of the 3rd Armored approached Savigny and Cerisy-la-Salle and elements of the 2nd Armored Division threatened St. Denis-le-Gast and Lengronne. The next day, spearheads of the 3rd Armored had flanked Roncey, which lay to their south, and cut the Coutances-Lengronne Road, while the 2nd Armored advance units entered St. Denis-le-Gast and reached Lengronne. American possession of those forward positions was tenuous at best, given the chaos of battle and the ebb and flow of territory gained and lost. Even though the Germans were now in full retreat, they resisted tenaciously as they withdrew.
Fritz Langanke was one of the German soldiers who fought against the Allies with great determination during the retreat. At the time of the Normandy campaign, the 25-year-old veteran of seven years’ service in the SS was an officer cadet in the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. It was during his efforts to bring his tanks out of the Roncey Pocket that he saw some of the most intense combat of his service in the SS and earned the respect of his senior officers, who would eventually award him the coveted Knight’s Cross. Langanke was interviewed for World War II Magazine by George J. Winter Sr.
World War II: Where were you at the start of Operation Cobra?
Langanke: Early on the night of July 28, 1944, I was attached with my platoon of four Panthers of the 2nd Company, SS Panzer Regiment Das Reich, to the reinforced 3rd Battalion of SS Regiment Deutschland, which was part of our division. The American encirclement of the bulk of those German units that had been north of the main American breakout thrust from St. Lô was nearly complete. The Roncey Pocket was closing. Our task force, led by the commander of the 3rd Battalion, Major Helmut Schreiber, was ordered to take the route via Cerisy-la-Salle and Notre Dame-de-Cenilly toward Percy, where a new defense line was to be established. Many of the infantry fragments of divisions that roamed around in that area, as well as stragglers, were to be taken along. This was an absolutely unrealistic order.
WWII: Orders being orders, what did you do?
Langanke: I took the lead, and Schreiber sat on my tank. The lanes and roads were plugged with vehicles of all kinds. Eventually, we got things started. On the east side of Notre Dame-de-Cenilly we could hear the noise of battle. At the end of the night we had reached la Croix-Marie, close to the road that led from Villebaudon via Lengronne to Brhal. This crossroads was already blocked, and there was some shooting. Schreiber ordered me to clear this junction so we could continue. In front of us vehicles had driven up close and packed the road. All of them were staff or maintenance cars; none were combat units. Most of the drivers and crews had left their vehicles in panic. I drove along the side of the vehicles and called out to make way for my tank. But whether I begged, swore or hollered, only a few drivers reacted. I pushed a car or a bus to the side here and there, and slowly proceeded. Then there were two or three open radio vehicles right in the middle of the road, and I had to drive over them. Being an old radio operator, I tore two or three radio sets out of their fastenings and tossed them on the rear of our hull before we flattened the cars.
WWII: Were you able to clear a route through?
Langanke: We reached the area of the one-sided fight and shortly drove off the American infantry into a field to the left. Back on the road we were hit by a round from an anti-tank gun and were deeply shocked. The driver and radio operator cried, ‘We are burning, we can’t see anything anymore.’ Here, for the first time in the war, we experienced phosphorus shells. It must have been a towed gun, because I couldn’t see any armor. We backed up a couple of meters and crawled into a small side lane. Just around the corner and out of sight we ran our tank up onto a big heap of ammunition boxes and other junk, thereby killing the motor. Several attempts by the driver to start the motor were in vain. We didn’t dare let the Panther roll forward down that heap because we would be helpless in sight of the enemy. We had to crank up the motor. I jumped out of my turret and put some boxes together so I could stand on them. I stuck in the crank at such an angle that I could force down its handle with my stomach and push it up with my arms. I did this several times as quickly as possible, and finally the motor turned over. Fear increases your strength considerably; normally you needed two men for this action. We then rushed around the corner and, firing with cannon and machine guns, we eliminated the anti-tank gun. The way was now free, and we returned to the head of our column. All that had taken some time, and under the impression that we couldn’t break through the roadblock, Schreiber had decided to turn back, swing to the west and try another route south. I pleaded with him not to do that, pointing out the traffic jams and the fact that, come daylight when aircraft were overhead, there would be no movement at all. He insisted, and I had to obey, of course. At the next corner, we talked to the leader of a small battle group that had already been in contact with the enemy. He was confident he could hold his position. He was too optimistic.
WWII: Was it still dark when you were done with all this?
Langanke: The night was gone by now, and we moved in full daylight. Pretty soon aircraft dotted the sky. First they were busy north and south of us, and we were able to drive another three to four kilometers in the next hour or so, thereby passing St. Martin-de-Cenilly. Then our route was taken care of — after the first attacks, the road was blocked for good. The planes could then, quite calmly, pick target after target. Since there was no defense, it must have been a picnic for those guys in the air. For us on the ground it was terrible. To make it even worse, artillery started shelling us. Here we were with quite a bit of combat capacity and no chance to use it, just being smashed. Our division lost about two-thirds of its weapons and equipment in the pocket. When all was over in the afternoon, I guess the same number of vehicles as were destroyed could still have moved. But the jam on the road was complete. Just before the first attack on our column, we had reached a point some 200 meters from the Hambye-Roncey Road near la Valtolaine. In front of us a burned-out tractor with a big artillery piece and other vehicles blocked the way. Schreiber jumped off our Panther and tried to find out what was going on in front of us. He ran across the Hambye-Roncey Road, but American troops had established a roadblock at that point, and he couldn’t come back. From then on, the rest of the men relied on me.
WWII: Were there no other officers present at that point to take command?
Langanke: Yes, but this was an unusual and unexpected situation. Normally the next rank took over, but this was different. It just happened. Somebody had to do it, and I was the guy on whose tank Schreiber had sat.
WWII: Now that you unexpectedly found yourself in command of this ad hoc force, what did you do?
Langanke: After the first couple of attacks, the radio sets on the back of my Panther caught fire. I quickly opened the back hatch of the turret, leaned out and pushed the ignited stuff off the vehicle. I burned one hand, but it wasn’t too bad. What was real bad was that the planes had seen one tank left down there, seemingly still operable and with the crew in it. They now concentrated on us. It was finally a considerable number that dealt exclusively with us. The continuous rattle of the bullets on all sides of the turret drove you crazy. Then a big bang! In the turret roof there was a hole, where a discharger for smoke grenades should be installed. When that piece of equipment was not available, this opening was covered with a round plate fastened with four bolts. We had such a lid. The enormous number of bullet impacts had broken the bolts and flung the lid away. Daylight in the turret! The loader and myself had the same reaction. We grabbed our blankets, turned them together into a kind of cone and wedged them into the hole so it served as a backstop. Twice, the impact of so many projectiles threw our contraption down, but luckily we had it in again before more bullets rained down on us.
WWII: Can you describe the scene around your tank?
Langanke: Some 20 to 30 meters in front of us a group of paratroopers had been mowed down by the first air attack. Among those pilots must have been some extremely queer characters. Time and again they buzzed this group and fired into the dead bodies. They flew just above the treetops, so they must have seen all the details. Slowly the limbs were torn off, the intestines were spilled. It’s one of the most terrible impressions I remember from the war. The gunner had a view out of the tank with his sighting telescope and its narrow field of vision. That, unfortunately, was pointed at this group of dead soldiers. In this tremendous stress we all had to suffer, the horrible sight tipped the scale, and he cracked up. Hollering and swearing, he wanted to get out. He was for a short while out of his mind. I drew my pistol and stuck the barrel in his neck, hollered back at him and told him to stop playing the crazy idiot. He immediately got back to normal. This man was one of the finest comrades we had, absolutely reliable, sturdy and imperturbable. But I am sure every man exposed long enough to really extreme pressure will have a weak moment.
WWII: Clearly the pressure was mounting. How did you keep your group together?
Langanke: I had to change the situation somehow. We started the motor, turned to the right and hit the hedgerow regardless of the danger for our drive sprockets and reduction drives. Behind the hedgerow there was a very big orchard where we could hide. The planes strafed and bombed that area for a while but then lost interest and gave up. Soon thereafter, one of the roaming soldiers told us that close by, in a bunker at a farmhouse, a regimental commander of some infantry and 10 or 12 officers sat together. I assumed they were discussing what action to take to cross the Hambye-Roncey Road and continue their retreat. I told my crew I would run over and find out how we could join this group. Still close to my tank, I got caught in a burst of artillery fire. All around me shells fell. I felt forlorn, hit the ground and started crawling around in an absolutely senseless way. It was my breakdown. When I had myself under control again, I first ascertained that my crew hadn’t seen me. Most probably there is no closer and unrestricted comradeship than in a tank crew that has to live and fight together through real hard times. If they had watched me crawling, those nice guys would have asked me — in a mighty compassionate way, of course — what kind of beetles I was trying to catch or was it moles or other nonsense like that.
WWII: Once you regained your composure, did you continue to the farm?
Langanke: I got to the bunker, snapped to attention and reported to the regimental commander and asked for orders. He didn’t have any for me, and I left the shelter. For the next two or three hours I was quite busy. I ran back 200-300 meters down the road looking for vehicles from our task force and others. Most of the men who had abandoned their vehicles were back now. I found two operable Panthers and one Panzerkampfwagen IV. With them I was able to move enough obstacles so that our halftrack and wheeled vehicles could pass. We formed quite a column. I told those with me that, come darkness, we would break out. I reported this fact to the regimental commander and checked in another two or three times. He finally told me not to make any noise and wait. He would, under cover of darkness, sneak stealthily through the American blockade with his infantry and all the stragglers, without shooting. I thought he was kidding me, because that was mere nonsense.
WWII: It sounds like that officer was losing his nerve.
Langanke: Shortly after my last encounter, some seasoned parachute noncoms came and said to me: ‘You poor bastard. You’re the only one around here who doesn’t know what’s cooking. Those guys don’t plan anything. They are going to surrender.’ I felt ashamed for my stupidity. I went over to the bunker and told them I would start with my column at 2200 that evening and the hell with them. Then two officers came to my tank. One, a major, was the commander of an assault gun battalion, and the other was his adjutant. They had camouflaged their two vehicles in a sunken lane close by. They asked me whether they could join our column. By that time I had given up wondering why an officer of his rank would ask a platoon leader, who wasn’t even an officer, if he could join instead of taking over command. I then drove with my tank back to the road and broke two passages through the hedgerow on the left side in order to pass the big gun and other destroyed vehicles in front of us. In the attempt to move the destroyed vehicles to the side of the road, one of my Panthers had broken a sprocket wheel and had to be abandoned.
WWII: What other preparations did you make for your anticipated breakout?
Langanke: I set up a march formation. First my tank with grenadiers on the left side and about 50 to 60 paratroopers on the right side as a safeguard against close combat fighters with bazookas. Then the two assault guns, the wheeled vehicles of our task force, various stragglers, self-propelled infantry guns and mobile flak followed. The rear was brought up by the Panzer IV and my second Panther. The frequency of our radio communication was set, and at 2200 hours we started. Of course, no scouts had moved at all before this.
WWII: Had the other three Panthers of your platoon been knocked out by that time?
Langanke: No. The second Panther that took part in the breakout was the only one from my platoon left. The commander’s name was Panzer. Sounds funny! The other Panthers were stuck in traffic or mechanically disabled. On the right side a farm was in flames. In the wavering light I thought I saw a Sherman in the field to the left. We fired twice and hit it, but it didn’t burn. Then I drove full speed across the Hambye-Roncey Road, where I expected stiff American resistance and, if I remember correctly, we rolled over an anti-tank gun. I shot into the lane that led into the main road from the other side and stopped. Passing the intersection, I saw two Shermans to my right side standing at right angles, sticking their heads into the hedgerow. Now I realized these were the machine guns that had fired at our paratroopers when we started and had wounded a number of them. We had to be quick to use the surprise effect, so I ordered the assault guns to rush to the crossing, turn right and knock out the two tanks that showed them their sides. They hesitated and started deliberating. I was enraged. I turned my turret and told them to start immediately or I would knock them out. They did, turned right and had no problems destroying the American tanks. I proceeded down the lane. To my right side there was a wider field with a hedgerow bordering it. Along this hedge a number of armored vehicles were parked, pointed toward the main road. I was lucky. We hit the last one, probably an ammunition carrier, and it was like fireworks at a summer festivity. The flare ammunition with the different colors was a fantastic sight. The whole area was illuminated, and I could easily pick out another four to six of these armored halftracks. I don’t remember the exact number. With all this, a great many soldiers of the infantry units behind the north-south road were encouraged to jump up and follow us. They did this in an unmilitary manner, with shouts and yells, firing in the air and the like. At first I was appalled, but then I realized it was quite useful. The Americans seemed to be completely surprised and even dumbfounded. They left a number of cars, which were taken over by Germans, and there was practically no further resistance. I drove on and maybe 150 meters in front of me an American tank raced from the right toward the road. We wanted to stop it, and that thing happened that all tank crews are most afraid of — you pull the trigger or push the button, and the gun doesn’t fire. Figuring that was the end for us, I turned my head and got an even bigger shock. From the south, four American tanks rushed onto the road that joined ours, which came from la Valtolaine. They turned back and disappeared at full speed. I again looked forward. That first tank had such momentum when it hit the road that it couldn’t stop in time and got stuck with its nose in the ditch next to the road. Only with great trouble could it get out, turn around and get away. We were sitting there in our Panther, not only undamaged but even unmolested and almost couldn’t believe it.
WWII: It sounds as if things were going your way.
Langanke: The column we had started with comprised about 300 men. By now it was around double that number. As we moved farther, our progress was made easier by a number of captured [Allied] vehicles. Some stragglers joined us, while others separated and chose different ways. We were a motley, mixed bunch. I figured that combat action would occur in this intersection area, which appeared to be more than a mere roadblock. I ordered the other Panther to take the lead, and I brought up the rear. Radio communication still worked, and we began our erratic wandering. We first reached Lengronne, continued to Crences, crossed the Sienne River and drove on to Gavray.
WWII: What did you find in Gavray?
Langanke: When we reached the town, it was under fire. Here our column became mixed with a number of other vehicles. Outside the town we continued without loss and turned toward St. Denis-le-Gast, but before reaching it, we left the road and drove to the bridge at la Baleine. As we approached, our movement nearly stopped. I climbed out of my Panther to find out the reason. Artillery fire, which continued sporadically, or bombing had damaged this bridge, the sides of which were partly destroyed. The drivers were very reluctant to go on it. I then took over, organized the approach to the bridge and directed each vehicle across. When our tank crossed, as the last vehicle, only half the width of the tracks found footing in some places. On the south side of the river, tactical signs of quite a number of units were installed, and the column could dissolve. Most of them now knew where to go. My self-appointed mission was finished. It was full daylight by now, and the first planes appeared. We drove into a lane that led up a hill, and at the first farm with an orchard we stopped. I told the crew we would now have a good nap after three nights of nearly no sleep at all. We crawled under our tank and were lost to the world around us. It was high noon when we were awake again, and we were alone.
WWII: What happened to the remaining Panther of your platoon, Panzer’s tank?
Langanke: Panzer went along with the vehicles from Deutschland and reached the regiment. My crew and I couldn’t continue after the river crossing, we were completely spent. The driver and gunner fell asleep every so often while we were moving, and I was totally exhausted. When I got all the vehicles over the river — which was a beastly business, with yelling, swearing and threatening — all my energy was gone. Physically and mentally we were just done, we couldn’t continue, we had to get some sleep. That was the reason we stopped alone at the orchard.
WWII: What happened after you finally woke?
Langanke: Some 100 meters away we saw a Panther on the right side of the lane pointed toward us. From the left side another lane joined ours. There, Americans must have come up the hill, because the Panther was knocked out. It had a hole in the gun mantlet.
WWII: Was this Panther knocked out before you went to sleep?
Langanke: I don’t know, but I can’t believe that the Americans were already there when we reached the farm. I went over into the field on the left and met some German soldiers. They told me that there were already plenty of American troops down in the valley, and you could hear it, too. I went back and then had a mighty strenuous afternoon. The sky now swarmed with planes. I would run ahead some 50-100 meters, watch the direction of the flight of the various groups of aircraft, give a sign when it was favorable for us to move, and then the tank would race to its new position. After some hours, shortly before dark, we met a supply column of our division, where we could partly replenish our fuel. In this area Americans must have been present, because there were no planes above. We had lost one wheel set from artillery fire, and the bogies had damaged several track links. With a one-kilogram standard explosive charge we blew off the damaged part and were lucky not to harm the other tracks and suspension parts. During the night we completely lost track of our direction. In the morning we arrived at Beauchamps. Then we found a road sign that told us we had only 15 kilometers to Granville. That gave us our orientation back. We turned and sneaked around Villedieu-les-Poêles, evaded American columns several times on the roads south of that town, turned north, then east of it and reported back to our regiment during the night of July 31-August 1, in the Percy area. The regimental commander had already heard about our action and was mighty glad to see us, all the more so as he now had one more operational tank. Before the night passed we were on the way to another roadblock.
For his part in ensuring that hundreds of soldiers and their equipment managed to escape from the Roncey Pocket, Fritz Langanke was recommended for the Knight’s Cross on August 7, 1944. He was awarded that medal on August 27, 1944.
This article was written by George J. Winter Sr. and originally appeared in the November 2003 of World War II. For more great articles be sure to pick up your copy of World War II.
A crusade (sometimes known as the Barons’ Crusade) consisting of successive expeditions led by Thibaud IV, count of Champagne, and Richard, earl of Cornwall, that regained considerable Frankish territory in the Holy Land by way of diplomacy.
In 1229 Emperor Frederick II and the Ayyūbid sultan of Egypt, al-Kāmil, had agreed to a ten-year truce for the kingdom of Jerusalem. On 4 September 1234, Pope Gregory IX, who had condemned this agreement, wrote to the English and encouraged them to be ready to launch a crusade once the truce expired. A number of English and French nobles took the cross, but the crusade’s departure was delayed because Frederick, whose lands the crusaders had planned to cross, opposed any crusading activity before the expiration of his truce with al-Kāmil. Frederick’s excommunication (20 March 1239), prompted by differences between him and the pope regarding their Italian spheres of influence, caused most crusaders to avoid his territories on their way to Outremer.
The crusaders of the French expedition assembled in Lyons in August 1239. Their leaders were Thibaud IV of Champagne (who since 1234 had also been king of Navarre) and Hugh IV, duke of Burgundy, joined by two officials of the French royal court, namely, the constable Amalric of Montfort and the butler Robert of Courtenay, and by Peter of Dreux, the former count of Brittany. Most of them sailed from Marseilles. On 1 September 1239, Thibaud arrived in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), where the crusaders set up camp. They were soon drawn into the Ayyūbid wars of succession, which had been raging since the death of al-Kāmil (1238). At the end of September, al-Kāmil’s brother al-Şālih Ismā‘ïl seized Damascus from his nephew, al-Şālih Ayyūb, and recognized Ayyūb’s brother al-‘Ädil II as sultan of Egypt. On 21 October, Ayyūb was captured and imprisoned by his cousin al-Nāşir Dāwūd of Kerak. Realizing that a Damascus with close ties to Egypt would place Frankish Outremer in a dangerous embrace, the crusaders decided to fortify the city of Ascalon (mod. Tel Ashqelon, Israel) to protect the southern border of the kingdom and to move against Damascus later. While the crusaders were marching from Acre to Jaffa (2.12 November), Egyptian troops moved up to Gaza to secure the border. Contrary to Thibaud’s instructions and the advice of the military orders, a group of 400-600 knights, led by Henry of Bar, Amalric of Montfort, Hugh of Burgundy, and Walter of Jaffa, decided to move against the enemy without further delay, but they were surprised by the Muslims and forced into combat. Hugh and Walter escaped to Ascalon, Amalric and many others were captured, and Henry was killed (13 November 1239). Following this defeat, the military orders convinced Thibaud to retreat to Acre rather than pursue the Egyptians and their Frankish prisoners.
In the spring of 1240, al-Nāşir released Ayyūb and helped him to seize control of Egypt. Realizing that Ayyūb’s new position of power could become dangerous for Damascus, Ismā‘ïl approached the crusaders, with whom he had been in negotiations for some time. He promised to restore Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and considerable coastal areas to the Franks in exchange for their support against Egypt. Much of the territory Ismā‘ïl was offering in fact belonged to al-Nāşir. Naturally, the truce was opposed by those hoping to obtain the freedom of the Frankish prisoners held in Egypt. Al-Nāşir’s hopes that his support for Ayyūb would earn him assistance to win Damascus were disappointed once Ayyūb was firmly installed in Egypt, and so both al-Nāşir and al-Manşūr Ibrāhïm, ruler of Homs, joined the Frankish-Damascene alliance (summer 1240). In mid- September 1240, after a visit to Jerusalem, Thibaud departed for Europe, while Hugh of Burgundy remained to help fortify Ascalon.
On 8 October 1240, the crusaders of the English expedition arrived, led by Richard, earl of Cornwall, who had left England on 10 June, traveled through France, and then sailed from Marseilles to Acre. The crusaders marched to Jaffa, where an Egyptian envoy suggested that Ayyūb would honor Ism¢‘ªl’s territorial promises (even though Ayyūb himself controlled none of those territories), with the exception of the strategically important cities of Gaza, Hebron, and Nablus, which Ayyūb reserved for himself, and that he would release the Frankish prisoners if the crusaders would abandon their alliance with Damascus for a position of “benevolent neutrality” [Jackson, “The Crusades of 1239– 41,” p. 48]. Richard consented, the new agreement was ratified by Ayyūb by 8 February 1241, and the prisoners were released on 13 April. Meanwhile, Richard’s forces helped to work on Ascalon’s fortifications, which were completed by mid-March 1241. Since he was Emperor Frederick II’s brother-in-law, he entrusted the new fortress to Walter Pennenpié, an imperial representative, and departed for the West on 3 May. Throughout their crusade, Thibaud and Richard had to contend with opposing factions of local barons as well as disunity among the military orders. The main sources for this crusade are the Old French continuations of William of Tyre (Estoire d’Eracles and Rothelin), the Gestes des Chiprois, the Chronica maiora of Matthew Paris, and the works of Ibn Wāsil, Ibn Shaddād, and al-Maqrïzï.
Bibliography Denholm-Young, Noël, Richard of Cornwall (Oxford: Blackwell, 1947). Jackson, Peter, “The Crusades of 1239–41 and Their Aftermath,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 50 (1987), 32–60. Lower, Michael, The Barons’ Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). Painter, Sidney, “The Crusade of Theobald of Champagne and Richard of Cornwall, 1239–1241,” in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton et al., 6 vols., 2nd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969–1989), 2:463–485. Rozankowski, Janush J., “Theobald of Champagne: Count, Crusader, and King” (Ph.D. diss., Fordham University, 1979).
Thibaut IV (1201-1253), Count of Champagne and Brie, and, as Thibaut I, King of Navarre, was probably the greatest trouvère.
Born in Troyes, the capital of Champagne, on May 30, 1201, shortly after the death of his father, Thibaut at birth was Count of Champagne and Brie. Troyes had a long tradition of courtly poetry. Thibaut’s grandmother, Marie, the great-granddaughter of the first troubadour, had established a brilliant court there and patronized several of the most famous poets of the 1170s, among them Chrestien de Troyes, the creator of the romances about Lancelot, Parsifal, and others.
At the death of her husband, Thibaut’s mother asked for royal protection, in exchange for which Thibaut was obliged to serve several years at court and later to accompany the successive French kings on their military campaigns. Among these was the Albigensian Crusade, a disastrous civil war that crushed the south of France, the home of the Provençal-speaking troubadours. Thibaut reluctantly accompanied the King in 1226, but he would not participate in the fighting and finally withdrew by night from the royal camp. The King died shortly thereafter, and Thibaut soon made his peace with the queen regent and dedicated several poems to her. However, his withdrawal antagonized certain noblemen, who invaded Champagne. In 1234, on the death of his uncle, Sancho VII, Thibaut became king of Navarre.
Although he was opposed to the Albigense war, Thibaut pursued its religious aim, the elimination of a dissident sect; and before leaving for a crusade in Palestine in 1239-1240 he had nearly 200 adherents of that sect burned at the stake. After his return he became known as a good king. He died in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, on July 7, 1253.
As with other trouvères, it is difficult to determine the exact number of Thibaut’s works, since several occur with different attributions in the many collections (chansonniers) of the period: 65 can be safely assigned to him, 5 more may be his, and 7 others are very doubtful. Almost all are preserved with melodies, a good number of them with more than one. His preserved poems are more numerous than those of any other troubadour or trouvère. They were highly praised by his contemporaries and quoted in France, Germany, and Italy until the 14th century.
The poems cover a wide variety of subjects, though 60 percent follow tradition and are lyrics devoted to courtly love. Fifteen poems are in the form of real or pretended debates (jeu-parti or tenso) on love and knightly honor. Thibaut’s works in this genre were particularly appreciated; for them he sometimes used already existing melodies. Other poems are works dealing with the Crusades, one being a letter to his lady love sent from Palestine, pastourelles and descriptions of shepherds’ love, and religious songs, including several dedicated to Mary, the religious symbol of courtly love.
Some information on Thibaut is in Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades (3 vols., 1951-1954). For background see Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (1940), and Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson, eds., The Pelican History of Music, vol. 1 (1960).