Knocked Out in Warsaw

A PzKpfw II advances past another one. This photograph waw taken on Grojecka Street, the main thoroughfare entering Warsaw from the south-east and leading into the borough of Ochota, at its intersection with Siewierska Street. Grojecka was the axis of attack of Panzer-Regiment 35 both on the afternoon of the 8th and again during the morning of the 9th. The long shadows in Lanzinger’s photo show the sun in the east, which proves that they were taken on the 9th.

General der Panzertruppen Heinrich Eberbach, the first commander of the regiment from 1938 until August 1941. He was the 42nd recipient of the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross on 31 December 1941. He received the Knight’s Cross on 4 July 1940. He would go on to command a field army by the end of the war. He was one of the last German general officers of the war to die, living almost to the age of 100 (24 November 1895 to 13 July 1992).

The Polish Campaign, September 1939.

From My Diary (Hans Schäufler)

I had been the signals officer for the tank brigade for five days after Oberleutnant Ritzmann was wounded at Mokra II.

We prepared for the second assault on Warsaw along the road that led from Rawa to the capital, in the suburb of Ochota. Tank behind tank, tightly closed together. Behind us, the riflemen and the engineers waited for the orders to attack.

It was unaccustomedly quiet. Not a rifle round was fired; no machine guns were rattling. The artillery was silent on both sides. The only thing that stirred was an occasional reconnaissance aircraft in the clear skies.

I was sitting in the armored command and control vehicle next to General von Hartlieb. The brigade adjutant, Hauptmann von Harling, spread the situation map out over my drawn-up knees; there wasn’t much room in there. Both of the radio operators were sitting at their stations. One of them was listening out into the ether for the codeword to attack; the other one had his hand on the switch so as to disseminate the order immediately. The engine was idling; the driver’s foot was already playing with the pedal.

Then, suddenly, there was a howling in the air. Impact followed impact outside—first to the right, then to the left and then behind us. Salvo after salvo hissed and buzzed through the air. Rocks and shrapnel whizzed through the air; in between, the cries of the first wounded of the day could be heard. The Polish artillery was sending us some iron greetings.

Then the codeword to move out arrived. It was passed on as fast as lightning. The large engines of the tanks started roaring to life. The big fight for the Polish capital on the ninth day of war was about to begin.

We reached the first houses of Warsaw. While machine guns were barking outside, hand grenades were exploding with a dull thud and artillery rounds were slinging rocks against our armor, one radio message after the other was passing through the command vehicle.

“Straight ahead … blocked road!” Panzer-Regiment 35 reported.

“Five tanks knocked out, antitank mine obstacle in front of us.”

“Order the regiment to turn south!” the general roared.

Yes, you had to roar here in order to make yourself understood in the midst of the noise.

“Message sent!” I roared back.

“Message to division: Edge of Warsaw reached … mine and road obstacles … we’re turning off to the south!” the adjutant dictated.

“Obstacle taken,” the regiment reported. All of that happened in the space of a few minutes.

Then, suddenly, the cobblestones in front of us flew into the air. There was an impact to the right—and then to the left. I was kicked in the back: “Enemy battery 300 meters in front of us!” the general cried out. He was sitting in the turret and observing. “Turn off to the right!”

The tracks clattered on the cobblestones; we headed out across an open area.

“Faster, move faster,” the general yelled, since the aim of the Poles was not bad at all.

“Attack stalled,” Panzer-Regiment 36 reported. The general replied: “Ask the regiment where it wants artillery.”

Rocks and shrapnel rapped against the steel walls of the tank. The impacting artillery was quite close. Then—an impact that made our skulls smash into the equipment. The vehicle was raised up in the front and tossed to the side. A yellow stream of fire shot through the hatches. Gas masks, rucksacks, eating utensils all flew about. Hit by artillery!

A few seconds of anxious waiting passed, then a short glance from face to face and a swift running of the hands over the body. Everything was in one piece. The driver put it in third gear. We looked at each other tensely. The tank moved. Although there was a suspicious banging on the left side of the running gear, it appeared that things had turned out well this time.

Outside, it was as though all hell were breaking loose—there was a racket to both the left and the right. The rounds impacted into the armor with a dull thud. Hand grenades and bottles of fuel were being tossed from basement windows. We were facing a hundredfold in superior numbers. We could feel it.

Turned-over streetcars, wire obstacles, railway track rammed into the ground and antitank guns blocked our way. We had to keep turning off farther and farther to the south—just don’t break down now! That would have meant certain death.

The rattling and rasping sound coming from the running gear grew ever louder and suspicious. At the last minute, we discovered a fruit orchard. We snuck up under a tree.

Although elements of [Panzer-Regiment 35] had reached the main train station, we were getting other reports over and over again: “Attack stalling!” —“Numerically superior enemy!”—“Tanks lost dues to mines and antitank guns!”—“Artillery needed urgently!”

Once again, it started howling through the air. Artillery shell after artillery shell impacted around us. The Poles had discovered us. We could not go forward or backward. We had to try to repair the damage first, but we did not have any time for that, since the regiments were under extreme duress. The general dictated order after order, message after message. Finally, there was a break in the action. We had barely opened the hatches, however, when rifle rounds began smacking against the armor. Somewhere nearby the bastards were waiting for us. You couldn’t see a thing. We stood between berry branches and tried to make ourselves small.

The armor plate up front had been bent in; the shock absorber torn to pieces; all of the sheet metal torn away; the running gear and the track damaged. We tore off what remained of the sheet metal and the shock absorber, freeing up the track. We inserted two new track pins. If we were lucky, that would hold out for a few kilometers. We disappeared back into the tank.

We found out from the division that we could not get air support. Our artillery was too weak to pin down the powerful enemy. Therefore, the division issued orders: “Return to the line of departure!”

In a deliberate fashion, formation after formation disengaged from the enemy and was pulled out of battle. It wasn’t so simple everywhere. In one place, it was necessary to assume covering fires for the withdrawal; in another, it was to place artillery fire. There was a lot of work for us in the command vehicle at that point, so much that we nearly forgot that we were in a jam ourselves. It was not until the last outposts were withdrawn that our mission was accomplished. At that point, we attempted to move back. We had to go through that hell one more time, which we had only escaped through good fortune previously. We took the same route; we already knew it!

It was noticeably quiet at the time—suspiciously quiet. The quiet got on your nerves after all of the noise. We felt it—the enemy was still there—he was just waiting for a good opportunity. We passed the point where we had been hit by the artillery earlier. Just another turn to the left and we would have the long, straight road ahead of us. There was still a road obstacle there; we needed to pay attention. Then we hit the straightaway. We were secretly rubbing our hands together in glee. Then there was a smack against the rear armor. Once again, followed by another four. One after the other. That was from antitank guns. The engine continued to perform well, however. Then—a higher-pitched bang, an ear-deafening clash—the tank made a sharp turn to the left—and stopped. Knocked out at the last minute! Now the operative principle was to get out of the vehicle. The next round would certainly be a direct hit. But there was hell to pay outside. Grabbing the submachine gun and dropping to the ground seemed to be one motion.

What was going on then? Thick smoke was coming out of the rear deck. We thought the engine was on fire. But a hissing made us suspicious. A round from an antitank gun had set the smoke grenades alight. A slight breeze moved the cloud over towards the roadblock. That meant we did not have too much to worry about at the moment, since the smoke was concealing us and keeping us out of the enemy’s sight. He most certainly thought he had totally wiped us out anyway.

“Message to the division,” the general started. But the transmitter no longer functioned. The antenna had been shot off. The running gear was destroyed. The track lay curled up like a giant metal wristwatch band behind us. Direct hits had deformed the rear deck.

With a heavy heart, we decided to leave the tank. There was no way it could be repaired there. We dismounted the machine gun and the radio equipment and grabbed the secret documents. Every once in a while, we had to make ourselves small, because an artillery round landed too close. We could not bring it upon ourselves, however, to destroy the tank. We camouflaged it with tree limbs. Perhaps we would have an opportunity later to recover it. We gave each other covering fire as we moved back from house to house and from garden to garden. All of us made it back in one piece.

We went to sleep with limbs as heavy as lead and minds that kept recounting the events of the day. Over and over again, we jumped up from our sleep and only gradually came to the realization that our B 01 had been shot to pieces and was parked in front of the Polish roadblock with tripped-open hatches. It must have presented a pitiable picture. When I finally open my eyes wide and stare out into the light September night, my driver tapped me and asked with a rough voice: “Are you coming along?”

I didn’t need to ask him where. I knew what he meant. “I’ve already got a recovery vehicle,” he said, as he stood up.

We were able to get it that night, our B 01. By the time the Poles started firing, it was too late. It was already attached to the towing tank and got protection from behind it. We were even able to tow the track behind us with a tow cable. Although its steel body was shot to pieces, we would not allow the enemy to feast on it in its helplessness.

#

On 6 October, there was a military parade in conquered Warsaw. They forgot to invite the 4. Panzer-Division. But the shot-up and, in some cases, burnt-out 30 tanks of our regiment, which stretched from the outskirts to the main train station, reminded the participants in the parade who it had been who had first entered the enemy capital in bloody fighting on 8 and 9 September.

In the middle of October, the division moved back to its peacetime garrisons. All of Bamberg greeted us with jubilation when our tanks moved through the city to the garrison.

On 28 November, the division was quartered in the area around Lüdenscheid.

The fact that our tankers were received in a heartfelt fashion there accounts for the fact that a large number of them lived in the region after the war.

During the nights from 25 to 28 January 1940, the division was taken by surprise and moved into the Düren-Bergheim area. Effective 6 February, the division had to be prepared to move on 6 hours’ notice. Leaves were cancelled and then allowed again.

Our respected division commander, Generalleutnant Reinhardt, who had received the Knight’s Cross for the dashing employment of his forces, left us. He was given command of a motorized corps. The 5. Panzer-Brigade, which had been commanded by Generalleutnant von Hartlieb in the campaign in Poland, was taken over by Oberst Breith, the former commander of our sister regiment.

At the beginning of March, the 3rd Company was reassigned to become part of a tank battalion being formed for employment in Norway. The regiment formed a new 3rd Company.

At that point, there were still 80 Panzer I’s in the regiment, as well as 50 Panzer II’s, 22 Panzer III’s, 16 Panzer IV’s and 4 armored command and control tanks.

Only the 38 Panzer III’s and IV’s were equal to their French and English counterparts. The enemy we would be facing would be considerably superior to us in both numbers and quality, as opposed to the situation faced in Poland. That forced us to take matters into consideration, but it did not shake us.

Spring came. Easter passed. On Pentecost, a blind eye was turned and a little bit more than the designated 10 percent of personnel were allowed to take leave. Everyone had a wife or a “bride” at home.

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