Tuesday, October 4, 2022

In Reserve - Leningrad Front, November 1941

(Author's note - КРАСКИ is Russian for "PAINTS" a paint shop perhaps?)
Schützen¹ Michael Offenbach and Walter Schnabel nodded as their old squad leader, now platoon leader walked by, "Afternoon Herr Leutnant" they said nearly in unison.

Von Lüttwitz stopped and looked the two over, "Looks like you boys could use some clean clothes."

"Fresh mud on top of old mud, our greatcoats are getting heavier with each march Herr Leutnant."

Von Lüttwitz turned and grinned as he recognized his old assistant squad leader's voice.

"Sepp! Sorry I haven't stopped by lately, things have been, as you know, busy. By the way, your promotion has been approved, find a pair of Unteroffizier epaulettes to replace those plain shoulder straps you're wearing."

Offenbach and Schnabel both snapped ostentatiously to attention and Offenbach bellowed out, "Herzlichen Glückwunsch Herr Unteroffizier!²"

Sepp Wittmann just stared at the two soldiers for a long moment before saying, "Thank you for volunteering, Unterfeldwebel Hansen needs two men to fetch our supper from the Gulaschkanone³ which, unfortunately, hasn't caught up with us yet. I believe it's about two kilometers back down the road to Kievskiy. If you leave now ..."

Both men groaned but dutifully barked "Zu befehl, Herr Unteroffizier!" before turning on their heels and commencing a slow jog in the direction of Kievskiy, some four kilometers to the south-southwest.

"I see you've learned a few new tricks, Sepp." von Lüttwitz grinned as he said that.

"Ah, I learned from the master himself, Herr Leutnant."

Von Lüttwitz and his platoon were now in reserve, along with the rest of the company. Their parent unit, the 223. Infanterie-Division was now on the Eastern Front in full strength. Though a number of its train units were still arriving, the combat component of the division was in place.

Currently the division was being held in reserve, ostensibly for another push on Leningrad, though von Lüttwitz thought it more likely that the division would be used to build up the encirclement of the besieged city. His battalion was being used to garrison the town of Krasnogvardeysk⁴, which Wittmann had told him meant "Red Guard City," but which the German occupation force had renamed Lindemannstadt, after a General Lindemann who commanded L Korps.

The city was also rather famous, infamous from a German viewpoint, for having been the scene of a battle wherein five Soviet KV-1 Panzers had delayed the advance of three German Panzerdivisionen at a cost of over one hundred German vehicles with no losses on the Russian side.

Yet another instance, von Lüttwitz thought, of the problem faced by the German military on this front, the spaces were vast, the enemy was numerous, and resistance increased the farther into Russia they advanced. Von Lüttwitz doubted that they could take Leningrad before winter, scarcely a month away at this point in time. He shuddered at the thought of having to be in the trenches in the weather he had experienced so far, it would undoubtedly get worse before spring.

Offenbach and Schnabel were heading down the main road to Kievskiy, they had just crossed a small wooden bridge when they entered a small forested area. They would have been a bit more on their guard had the presence of the German Army not been so obvious. Trucks passing by going to the front from the supply depots further back, the bridge they had just crossed had sentries with machine gun emplacements on either side.

That fact should have given them pause, why have machine gun emplacements in a rear area if there was no perceived threat?

"How much further I wonder?" Offenbach said to Schnabel.

"Hopefully not far, we've still got to lug the food back with us, these containers are a lot heavier when full!" Schnabel gestured at the ration carriers both men had strapped to their backs.

German military hot food canister/backpack
The three Russians lay still in the forest, watching intently as the two Germans walked blithely down the road, chattering as if the war were a million kilometers away. They knew that the men coming back from the front towards Leningrad would be carrying empty food containers, on the way back is when they would strike. Two men, two canisters, it would be more than enough to feed their little band of twenty partisans.

They would be patient and hope the two would be as careless on the way back as they were now.

"Go ahead and take that bag over there, ration bread, more than enough for a platoon. That and the soup should keep you boys happy for another day. We should be up to your position by tomorrow. The f**king Feldgendarmerie⁵ won't let us move out without an armed escort, and they're all busy at the moment." The big cook smiled at the two infantrymen, he had been one of them in the first war, now he was a cook, safely behind the lines. But he still had a soft spot for the common soldier.

Schnabel grabbed the sack of ration bread, opening it he realized from the smell that it wasn't that long out of the oven. "This smells good, Herr Feldwebel," he said to the cook.

"Baked not an hour ago. If you lads can wait, I might be able to get you a ride back to Lindemannstadt."

"Where?" Offenbach asked, with a very puzzled look on his face.

The big cook laughed and said, "The Army renamed your little burg, I guess it's called Krasnogvardeysk by the Reds."

"Oh, well, sounds like something the Army would do," Schnabel grinned, "I'm surprised they haven't renamed the country yet."

The men all laughed as the big cook sent one of his helpers off on an errand.

"Mail wagon is going forward soon, I told my boy to have them stop by here. It's the one thing the Kettenhunde are allowing to go forward, they figure the officers would howl without any mail. Your rifles ARE loaded aren't they?"

"Of course, do we look like rookies?" Offenbach said as he grinned at Schnabel who grimaced in return. Schnabel had two nicknames in the platoon, die Grüner ("greenie," Grünschnabel in German means rookie or greenhorn) or Saugrüssel (which means "proboscis in German, Schnabel is the German word for "beak"), neither of which he found amusing.

The cook didn't get the joke, but it didn't matter as at that moment the mail wagon rolled up. "Climb up if you want a ride. They say they're partisans in the area. Be nice to have some protection. You can stack those cans up front with me."

The trip back to the platoon's bivouac went a lot quicker than the trip to Kievskiy. Offenbach and Schnabel rode the mail wagon in blissful ignorance, not seeing the men in the forest who cursed their lost opportunity for fresh rations.

No doubt, there would be more opportunities in the future, if any of the partisans survived that long. Winter would hurt them as bad as the Germans as they had scant shelter in the forest. They might be better acclimatized to the harsh Russian winters, but the winter that approached would be one of the most severe in memory.

Even the Russians would suffer.

¹ Plural for "Schütze," the lowest rank in the German Army, translates to "rifleman," equivalent to an American Private.
² Congratulations Sergeant! Technically speaking this rank was somewhere between corporal (Gefreiter) and junior sergeant (Unterfeldwebel), but was considered a non-commissioned rank. It's actually more complicated than that, as NCOs of a certain grade were authorized swords in full dress uniform, Unteroffiziers were not, they were part of the Unteroffiziere ohne Portepee (no sword knot, as in no sword), i.e. junior NCOs. Gefreiters were NOT considered to be NCOs. I know, I know, TMI.
³ Literally "goulash cannon," horse-drawn German mobile kitchen.
⁴ Modern day Gatchina in Leningrad Oblast. Oddly enough, though the city reverted to its pre-revolutionary name of St. Petersburg, the Oblast retained the name of "Leningrad." Note - An oblast is an administrative region of Russia (also in the USSR as well).
⁵ Field police, German Army military police


  1. Caught a ride in my favorite German LKW, a Kfz 70 Krupp Protze?

    1. More likely an Opel of some sort or another. (I had a model of the Kfz 70, a cool truck, would like to own one!)

    2. Crusty Old TV Tech here. Opel Blitz? Those were dead common in the war I hear. Along with the British Bedford truck and the Dodge truck, sort of iconic.

    3. That's the one, they came in various sizes, good pictures here.

  2. Soviets get hungry enough that cook won't be safe anywhere. Once there's snow then there are footprints.

  3. Drei soldaten sharing a brief moment of humor for the photographer in a war zone. Going to be fewer smiles in a few weeks and months. Center soldier (officer or NCO?) missing an overcoat button; perhaps caused by the constant chafing of the strap of his map case? Eerie to see these photos of men long dead. Good story. Luck and fate have much to do with survival...

    1. The button may not be missing, just unbuttoned so that he can reach in to access his tunic pockets. The strap is most likely for his gas mask canister which was made of cloth. The map case (I own one) hung directly from the belt by two leather straps.

      I see pictures like this and wonder what their ultimate fate was, very eerie.

  4. 1) Never draw attention to yourself, even in jest. You always get volunteered.

    2) It will be a very cold Winter indeed.

    3) I wonder the same thing when I see the old pictures. What happened to them, and how did they come to view the world?

    1. Point 1 - I know many who learned that the hard way.

  5. It actually says “PANTS”… and they’ll be sorry they didn’t loot it for some warmer garb.

  6. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Another Good Post; The HEER or Hitler severely overestimated how effective the German Military would be in Russia, I'm surprised that they didn't talk to some "old hands" that knew how the Russians behaved to get a better feel how things would go, but considering how their equipment fared during the Spanish Civil War and how the Soviets did during the "Winter War" it gave the Germans a huge case of "Overconfidence".

  7. The first thing that struck me (and I do mean whacked me over the head) as I focused only on the faces in the photo:
    Are these GIs who're just fooling around?

    1. German troops always seem to have a smile for the Kriegsberichter (war correspondent).

    2. I can remember dishing up breakfast out of a can that looked sort of like the one you had a picture of. In the alert shack that’s what they brought down from the officers club or the mess somewhere. One part of it had eggs, well, liquefied powdered ones, one part of it had that kind of bacon that you could wrap around your finger without worry of breaking it and the third container always had SOS. We had our own toaster!

    3. No kidding, I wonder where that came from, though I imagine most militaries have something similar.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.