Heinz Puschmann was a paratrooper who served at Cassino, Normandy and again in Italy.
HEINZ PUSCHMANN SIDE ONE
From then on I went north. Everything was destroyed, but finally we got to Nurnburg & over the Brenner Pass. I came down to Bologna.
When did you arrive in Bologna?
I think it was the end of February ’45. I don’t want to tie myself down; the battle of Bologna started on approx 11th or 12th October 1944 & it was a fierce battle. I wasn’t there because I was in hospital but I have heard from my comrades. The American troops attacked & were driven back & we got hold of Bologna right through the winter when the ?? started then I was there. We saw the whole front line lit up with search lights; like daylight. I came back to St Giovanni & there was the colonel, Colonel Klaus, he was my commander. Two of us were introduced to him because we were young officers. He said â€œYou better take off ???? & see what you can do there. Then we came to the River Po – the bridge was completely destroyed & our division, the 4th, in German it’s ?? the comet stake, the 4th division, the engineers made a ? supported by ropes.
Like a rope walkway?
Yes & we had to swing.we went over in the afternoon. It was 5.30, I remember because we came & sat on the river bank & there was a captain in charge of us, never ever been on the front. He had no decorations; no nothing. There came 2 dive bombers & they flew over the bridge – came down like that & took off again. This captain said â€œEveryone down on their belly! We said â€œYou must be mad! He was so scared. We learnt later that from 5pm – 8pm you could cross the bridges quite safely. You could move your transport on the road – nobody worries you because at 5pm the Americans have their dinner. This one came down & then we didn’t see it any more. It went off for dinner. Anyway we came down into St Giovanni & after that we went to Bologna. By that time, the 1st & 4th divisions were grouped together to form the 1st parachute corps. General Heidrich was in charge of the 1st division at Casino. My general in the 4th division was General ?? I came back to the assault regiment because Major Vonderheich (??) was my commander before & he wanted to have his old hands back. I came to Bologna; crossed the river ?? then came to the river Po. We assembled again on the river Po & then came our corps commander who said â€œWe can’t do much here; we’ll go across the river. But to go across the river was so dangerous because the Po is very dangerous. Many of our boys lost their lives there; trying to swim across. So we tried to get a floss (??) together, but we had to get our luggage & when we came back we saw the floss capsized in the middle of the river. General Heidrich said â€œDestroy everything what you have got. The cannons have to go because I came to the infantry as signal officer to the artillery because I wasn’t allowed to ?? because of where I was wounded. It had healed but you can’t bear ?? otherwise you rip it all off again. So the cannons & the vehicles – everything was destroyed. Luckily enough I caught & my friend caught one of the last ferries across to the other side where we assembled again & came up to ? in the ? valley. It was spring – approximately April. When we crossed the Po, it was about the 10th or 11th of April 45. I’m not too sure. From then on, we made our retreat. We came up to the ? valley & our 1st division went up to Trieste & they had to cross the ?? river ?? & I went with the 4th division up north. The enemy, the infantry was no more in close combat with us; it was more a war from the air. They bombed & strafed us & we couldn’t move. Verona was a fortress before & there are big underground vaults. They dropped a bomb just on the entrance to the vaults & panic broke out – not our division, but there were other soldiers there & also civilians. After that, we came up the ? valley & took the position of the SS. The SS retreated into the mountains; the Alps. We stayed there for maybe 10 days & then we went over to Roboretto (?) By that time it was May & General ? capitulated. The war in Italy was over – 2nd May 45. Of course, other units were still fighting against the Russians & in the desert against the Americans. In Roboretto we were for 2 days & we said â€œWe have to try to get over the Alps. So we started off over the Alps & all of a sudden we got fired on & so we went back. The next night we tried again, later, already dark. We still had mules with us to carry some stuff & we had some machine guns. We were picked out again so we went back to Roboretto & never tried that again. We wanted to go into Austria & fight against the Russians but we never made it. So we stayed in Roboretto. We could buy biscuits & everything there. One day I came with my friend & another couple of boys – I think we were 5 or 6 marching along the road. We wanted to go to the store & all of a sudden, there were 4 or 5 partisans in front of us. One of them was older, much taller than I – a big bull of a man. He said â€œWhere are you going? He had the red scarf around his neck to identify himself as a communist. We said â€œWe’re going to the shops; we’re allowed to buy biscuits. He said â€œBut you are our enemies. We said â€œYou can’t stop us. You can see what we can do. They came closer & I said â€œThere’s no use starting an argument here. Then they backed down but said â€œThe shop keeper will be hung up. We went into the shop & said â€œWe’ll give you escort out of town. Move as far from her as you can. He moved & we never saw him again. We wanted to protect him. Many people wanted to go across to the south, especially young men, but they said â€œNo, you can’t do that. First of all they would have told our position; what troops are there..they couldn’t do that. When we went through the Po valley & the Americans came closer with those big tanks – Shermans – it was a good tank but it was a cast iron block. It never could turn its turret. They experienced that the first time in France, at D Day, near Carentan. It was easier for us to knock a tank out
Did you attack it from the side or the rear?
From the rear. We were working in a pair; one on a machine gun firing against the tank. He couldn’t hurt it but he got the attention drawn to him so the tank turned round & we could put a mine on the back. Or if you could get in with a ??
That’s like a sort of rocket grenade?
Yes. On impact it ignited & went in to the tank – burnt a hole through it & exploded inside the tank.
A fearsome weapon.
Oh yes, it was.
Neither the British or Americans had anything like your German tanks – nothing as good as the Tiger or Panzer.
The Tiger was fantastic. But in the Po valley, I can’t remember the name of the settlement – I have tried so hard over the past few days – the river was Lorenzo & the other was Reino (?) the one we crossed before we came to the Po.
So what was your last bit of action?
That was in Arla. When you came into the valley, there was a big bridge. The SS had got it all prepared for blowing up. They gave us the detonator. When the Americans came, they had to go across – the valley was like that & ???? drivers.
What were the conditions like in Italy when you returned?
We had good contact with the people. Many people came up to us especially young women & girls & they said â€œTake us with you, because the Americans they will rape us.
So they were specifically scared of the Americans rather than the British or the
Canadians or the New Zelanders?
They were scared of them.
But scared of the Americans?
Yes. We preferred to fight against the New Zealanders.
Because they were honest fighters. They never had any dirty tricks. The women started to go with us & we said â€œNo, you can’t do this because you hinder us & if we have to take care of you..if you get killed, you are a civilian & we get blamed for it. They blame us for everything anyway.
So at that stage, were you on the move all the time?
All the time.
So you’re sleeping wherever you can? And rarely in houses, more often in the open?
Yes. If we could we slept in stables because it was winter & where there were animals it was warm.
What rank were you then?
A lieutenant. But that was different to you. We didn’t have a pip – you did.
How were the paratroopers made up? In the British army there were platoons, companies.
It was the same with us. There’s a group which is 10 men. Then a platoon..
And you would be in charge of a platoon?
How many men?
40 or 50 – it could be less.
So between 3 & 4 platoons?
And then came a battalion. There were 3 platoons in a company & then 3 companies in a battalion, plus a supply company.
So a battalion would only be about 500 men?
Yes, then in war, 4 battalions to a regiment. When we were in France, we had 1,800 men in our regiment. Of that 1,800 men, after 10 days, they assembled again & there were only 40 men left. This was under Major Vondereich. The rest was killed. That was Carentan. 11th June 44. Back to Italy, when we returned, it was not the same as before. There were a lot of partisans. The people were very friendly to us. Another thing was that if we had stolen something, a car or something, that was the finish, we were court martialled.
A very serious offence?
Oh yes, you couldn’t do it.
So there was no looting, no plundering or anything like that?
No. I am talking about our unit – not speaking for others.
Did the paratroopers have their own codes?
Oh yes. One order that Hitler gave us was â€˜Fight fairly & squarely; treat your enemies fairly, & treat them properly when you take them as POW’s; never harm the defenceless.’ Hard but fair.
That was ingrained in you from when you joined?
Can we re-wind a bit? Can you tell me where you were born & about your family?
When I was wounded in northern France & I was volunteered out & got my final leave in December 44. The doctor said â€œYou can go now to home for your leave. I said â€œCould you postpone the leave for a week? because the last Christmas with my parents – I was born in Silesia & my home town was Hindenburg. We were in an industrial triangle. The most high producing coal area & when I was home at Christmas, I could hear the rumble of the cannons & when you stood outside at night you could see the flashing lights from the explosions of the cannons & the Russians were coming. They were creating a home defence unit & I asked if I could be in it but I was told no, I was a paratrooper & I had to go back to my unit. I wanted to defend my home town of Hindenburg, in Prussia. Hindenburg was branded as the town of the soldier race. When I was 13 or 14 it was my last year getting transferred from primary school to high school, my father said â€œWhat are you going to do? I said â€œI am going to join the air force. He said â€œHow long? I said â€œ25 years. He said â€œAlright – there’s no high school for you boy. You go & learn a trade. My father was an engineer. So I learned a trade; an apprenticeship as a fitter & turner. It should be 3 and a half years. But I didn’t serve it all because I applied for officer cadet place. I was accepted into the paratroopers.
What made you want to go into the paratroopers?
It was a new unit & they were looking for boys who pay attentionI have a book here
which describes our training as paratroopers very well. We had to climb a tower 50m high & jump into a water bowl.
You found that ok?
If you didn’t want to jump, they saw you didn’t have the will, or the courage to jump, so you were out.
How old were you then?
17 and a half. After the training, I did my jumps
Was the training strict?
Very. Preliminary training was 6 weeks for normal infantry training, then you had to do the jumps – 6 day jumps & 1 night jump & then you qualified & got your parachute badge.
That must have been a proud moment I should think?
Yes, it was & my father was believing that I went to the air force.
So you joined up without telling him?
He knew I went to the air force.
Oh yes because paratroopers were part of the Luftwaffe weren’t they?
Yes, except we had grey trousers & a blue tunic like the air force. We had yellow things like you see here & then you could identify the unit. Red was anti aircraft. Red and brown signals & so on.this was when I was wounded.
It looks like you made a very good recovery. Can you remember it happening?
Oh yes. I was on patrol & lying on the ground & all of a sudden I got hit & I screamed. A Red Cross man came up to me & my commander came up to me & said â€œYou have to go back to hospital. I couldn’t eat because the bullet stuck through my nose, & a hole here where they pinned it & I couldn’t move my mouth sideways.
It sounds very unpleasant.
It must have been quite frightening I should think.
It was frightening. It took me some time in Italy before I got my confidence back. I shouldn’t have thought of it but.
Were you a large family?
I had just a younger sister. In 44 I saw them the last time. I saw them again in 1972 for the first time – 28 years after.
Was that because of what happened in Silesia?
Yes because it was occupied by the Russians & then the Poles. The Poles took our land. Where my sister lives today, it is still occupied by the Polish.
Where you were born is still part of Poland now?
Yes. In 44 when I had my leave, when I left on the 30th December 44, I was in Stendahl on 1st January & I was transferred to my unit at 5 or 6 ? later.
It must have been quite an emotional departure when you left?
I thought I’d never see them again.
You must have been terribly upset.
My father didn’t want to shift from Hindenburg.
Did you try to persuade him?
I didn’t talk about it. Politics – I never talked to my father about it. He was interested in my life as a soldier. I didn’t tell him I how I felt about the 3rd Reich. I never spoke to him about that because he was not in favour of it. He was never happy about it.
He wasn’t pro-Hitler?
No – well, I don’t know if he was pro or not. I don’t think so. I left & my mother took me to the station.
Was your mother upset? Did she know what was coming as well do you think?
Oh yes, but the worse part was that at the beginning of the war – I joined the Hitler Youth in the early days. You couldn’t get an apprenticeship if you weren’t in the Hitler Youth. You couldn’t go to university if you weren’t in Hitler Youth.
It was compulsory almost wasn’t it?
Yes. I was with a group in the Hitler Youth doing drama in the hospitals for wounded soldiers & I had a uniform from Frederick the Great & when the Russians came in, they found it because they came into the houses. They looked through everything.
Was it a real uniform?
No, a replica that I used in the play. They took my mother & put her up against a wall & they were going to shoot her. There was a woman who could speak Polish & Russians can understand what you say in Polish & vice versa, & so the woman persuaded them after about 45 minutes to let her go & approximately 6 months later she was dead from the upset.
What happened to your father?
When the Russians marched in, my father had gone to work & they were transporting German POW’s through the town & when the Russians counted there were some missing & my father was in his suit (?) up onto the train & he never came home for 2 years from Siberia.
So he never saw your mother again?
Was he sent to a Gulag?
Yes, to the mines. The he had a problem with his legs that went to his heart & the German doctor said â€œYou must work. And he said â€œI can’t work; I’m too weak. Then a Russian woman doctor came along & she said& what I am telling you now is what my father told me. I can’t verify it. The Russian doctor said â€œWhat’s the matter with that man? & the German doctor said â€œHe doesn’t want to go to work. She saw the legs swollen up like that & said â€œHe doesn’t have to go; he’s sick. He was sent to the hospital & then on a train home to his home in Germany, but in fact the Russians wouldn’t let the doctors go. They said â€œYou look after your own fellows.
So 2 years after the end of the war, he got back?
In fact, the beginning of 47.
He was there when you came back for your last leave, that Christmas?
Oh yes. He had never been a soldier because his firm needed him. He was a qualified Mechanical & Chemical Engineer. He had 2 degrees so they needed him in his work.
Presumably the place name of Hindenburg was changed?
Yes, straightaway. Today it is called Zabrze. He lived there til he died. I went over in 72 with my wife. It was the first time that my wife met my father & sister. 3 years later he was dead.
Did you communicate with them in the meantime?
Yes, we wrote to each other, but what is a letter when you can’t have personal contact.
Did you enjoy all the dramatics & stuff that you had to do in the Hitler Youth?
I imagine it was a bit like the Boy Scouts – good fun.
It was fun because before Hitler came in 1933, there were 20 million out of work. He brought prosperity. Before there was unemployment & depression & the Hitler Youth came up. My father said it would be a good thing for me to join & so I did.
When do you join that?
END OF SIDE ONE
When were you born?
1924. The leader of the town was working with my father. He said â€œWhy don’t you send your son over? ?? From 10 to 14, it was what we called the camps, wolf camps. Then it was boy scouts, then Hitler Youth. I made my mind up pretty early when I said I wanted to go in to the Air Force.
You wanted to join the military because of the tradition in Silesia of Prussian history &..?
In one way, yes. It appealed to me.
The sense of adventure?
Yes, it was a sense of duty. I shouldn’t say this but a soldier is something more than a civilian because you have a duty to defend your country.
Did you know that war was imminent when you joined?
Oh yes & ???
Tell me about swearing allegiance to the parachute regiment rather than the Nazi party? Was that something you had to do right away?
Before you even joined. If you wore the badge of the Nazi party, you had to resign from the Nazi party before you joined the army because you give your resignation & then they couldn’t say anything to you. I mean they wouldn’t have said anything because you were doing a better thing – defending your country. At 14 or 15, I started flying gliders. Other people who wanted to join the navy they joined the sea scouts for sailing & rowing – training as navy men. I did my training as a pilot.
You weren’t tempted to become a pilot?
When I started off – yes. But then paratroopers came out & it was more adventurous & perhaps I’d have a chance to jump. When I flew gliders it was interesting. We started off with an SG38. 12 men in front on a rubber rope & 2 men holding the plane back & there was an open cockpit. The instructor said â€œRun! & the people ran down the hill. The he said â€œLet’s go! & the plane took off like that – catapulted. Later we got Visastorch (??)
That was an amazing plane – it could take off on nothing.
Oh yes. We had to build our own plane & repair our own plane. I was never good with working with my hands. That’s why I went into the signals because I had morse code & I learnt about the signals from the radar. There was about 2 hours a week signal duty & I could fly at the weekend. If you built 2 hours on the plane, you were allowed to fly. We didn’t have to pay for it. When the war started, we were 9km from the Polish border. The troops assembled in our towns near the border.
You saw it all?
We saw it all. We went to the border & we saw the tank tracks & all the iron bars (?) & all that about 9km back from the border.
It must have been quite a spectacle.
The police needed runners because there were people up in church towers watching for Polish troops or planes & the headmaster said â€œYou & you & you. When the war started in 39 we were sleeping at the police HQ. At night we took orders to the towers. One day I remember the whole sky lit up with flares & we shot them down & a plane came over & then we thought the plane was gone, but it came back 2 minutes later & dropped bombs. That was the only time bombs were dropped right up to 44 on our area. The very first time I saw a Lightning was in 44 in France. We were trying to jump over the hedges. The American 101st Airborne parachuted in & as long as a parachutist was in a shoot, we were not allowed to shoot – that was a court martial offence. Only when he was on the ground could we shoot. In Crete, a man had landed in a tree & they came & violated him. We never were allowed to do that.
To go back to your training – it was pretty rigorous & how long did it last for?
12 weeks – 6 weeks in the country then 6 weeks jumping & then you qualified & were posted to a regiment.
Where did you do your training?
In Steinhardt (?) The first training was you had to jump over 3 boys lying back to back like dogs. It was increased til there were 10 then you were allowed to jump. You were not accepted to jump if you didn’t do that. ? towers in a parachute harness. You jumped & then swung around in the harness. 10 meters, 5 meters – then they dropped you through the ? They wanted to see your reaction – how you landed. If you landed on your feet then you were taken up further. You had to go through tunnels that you could just squeeze through for about 5 or 6 meters, I’m not too sure & there was a hole with a sergeant there & he’d say â€œBack in the water! ?? if they caught you, you were history. Then we climbed up the hill again in this tunnel. Then we jumped out of the fuselage of a ? then a plane & you had 10 seconds then you had to go out.
Can you remember your first jump?
I don’t think so. It was exciting but I can’t.I did something wrong because I got into the plane first & the first one in is the last one to jump & the last one in is the first to jump, because you stood in the door – head out, legs by the door & your hand on the handle & you stood there & waited for the sign & at that point you have time to look at what’s going on down there; you got a better view. The first jump we did, there was 4; 4 then the machine turned & came round again – another 4, & another 4. The second jump was 12. Then I think the fourth or fifth, we had to jump out of the Heinkel 1-11 (?) which has a bomb. When the command came to jump we had to hold tight. 3 of them stood there, near the pilot & 3 of us stood in the rear & we had to jump one side first then the next one. You couldn’t take anything with you, just your pistol but when we had to jump out of the Junkers 52 (?) you had your rifle round your head & when you were above the ground – 500 or 600 meters (?) you dropped it slowly because you couldn’t roll with a rifle.
When you’re jumping in a battle situation, you’ve presumably got all your kit?
Yes, & all your ammunition, & rifle or machine pistol – all above your head. That was after the mistake of Crete, when they jumped without weapons, when the 6th man jumped, then they dropped a container. Then you had to get to the container to get your rifles & all that. The same as our radio equipment.
So after Crete, you started jumping with rifles & machine pistols etc?
Why did you have different shaped helmets?
Our helmet had a string here & here
It was more like a bucket helmet wasn’t it?
When you had the other one..I think I had it once or twice..in the wind it was horrible because of the noise of the wind. First of all we couldn’t have attached a second ? to the helmet & the wind noise was terrible when you jumped.
Can you remember when you finished your training? The date you qualified?
It must have been 42 I think.
Where were you posted to?
I went to Italy in 43. I joined up with the 1st Parachute division. Because when I finished my training I went to officer training school. I had to do a course for 6 months & then I was accepted & promoted & then had to go to the front to prove ourselves. The commander of the platoon would say â€œYou go out on patrol.
So this was when you first went to Italy?
Yes. When we first came from the school, we were posted to companies or battalions
So you were the first regiment of the first division?
Yes. They said â€œWe need some volunteers to go there, there & there first of all we wanted to get some medals & second the sooner you got your time over, you went back to officer cadet school for a second course. Then you go out for front duties again & provided you do your front duty, you can be promoted to officer; not otherwise.
What was your title when you joined after the first 6 months?
Paratrooper, nothing else. When you came back you became an Oberleader, which is like a ??
Then you become a second lieutenant & then a first lieutenant?
Then you became second lieutenant & then first lieutenant, yes.
So you were sent down to southern Italy to start off with?
Yes, & then I went to cadet school again & then Casino.
Cassino must have been horrendous wasn’t it?
A baptism of fire to put it mildly. Which company were you in by the way? Did you have an A, B, C?
No, no – first battalion, second battalion..
Then it was split into companies – what were the companies called?
I was attached to a company – I never had a company. We were from the signals. We were attached. Sometimes, like in France, I was with a battalion commander. I came back to Italy & I was with Ober Strauss. I had no company.
What do you remember of Cassino?
We were in Monte Rosa & the New Zealanders were right beside us & the other ? battalion ??? the station. It was a very, very rough time there. There was the Rapido running through Casino (??) & that Rapido was very bad. And when I spoke to a general ?? he said to me ?? when we came to Casino, we’re fighting the elite troops – the German paratroopers ?? I met a chap here, we were working for 5 or 6 months together & when we finished I said â€œThanks very much, & I said â€œHave you been in the war? & he said â€œYes & it turns out he was at Casino. I said â€œHow did you enjoy it? The Poles were there, the Dutch ???
The paratroopers were always known as elite troops weren’t they? You knew you were joining an elite outfit.
Paratroopers were the closest in similarity to the SAS weren’t they?
Similar to the SAS yes.
Did you enjoy your time as a paratrooper?
Oh yes, I did.
Even despite the fact that
You forget the bad times & remember the good times.
Oh yes. We had to because the officers were the same machine as you were. We ate the
same food as officers ate. The only thing that was different was when the battle was over & you went back to camp, the officers had separate quarters. We were living in barracks.
But in the front line, you were all together?
Would you say all your officers were first class?
Yes; there were exceptions, as I mentioned to you at the beginning, that captain ? he was a bit scared; I don’t know how he came to be there; no decoration nor nothing. We had green medals & when we came out from the rubble at Casino, the Americans & the British said â€œHere come the green medals again. We had respect from the British & the New Zealanders; I don’t know how it was with the Americans.
How did you view the Americans compared to the British?
Different; a different style altogether.
In what respect?
Because when the British fought, the same as the New Zealanders – they’d fight even if they didn’t have air support. The Americans – if they didn’t have air support, they wouldn’t go. That was the same at Casino. When I was talking to that New Zealand captain we were saying that when the British planes came over, we ran for cover. When the German planes came over, the British ran for cover but when the American planes came over, everyone ran for cover!! Two thirds up the hill at Casino were Ghurkhas & the Ghurkhas were nearly wiped out by the bombing. They missed Clark’s (?) headquarters, they bombed so far back. When the British bombers came, they hit their target. It was different altogether.
Did you ever come across American soldiers?
Did you talk to them about it?
Not about the war. My brother in law in Germany has an American friend who was a soldier in the (?) war. He’s quite a nice man; he’s one of the few I took a liking to. They’re all different.
I was interested in what you said about the Italian women, wanting to stay with you rather than face being raped by the Americans.
I think the Italian people trusted us. At night sometimes, they took us into their houses, at San Giovanni they invited us..
And this was with the war almost at an end.
Yes, in 45 only a few months before the war ended & they were still friendly to us. After the war, we were interned first at ? then we were sent to Ancona on the top of a dirty great sandy hill. Twice I experienced the ? of the British. We had very little to eat & some of the men couldn’t stand the heat & collapsed & the British hit them with their rifle butts. That was the first time. The second time was when I came to a town to prison camp & we were very badly treated. We used to get through the wire & pick some grapes. In January 46 I was in Tarranto. They said we were all prisoners of war – 10 months after the end of the war. Then I experienced another ? with the British. They made us get those buckets & take them to the middle of the town & put it into the ? there. That was humiliating. That town clapped – that town I believe hated the Germans. That was somewhere near Naples. I can’t remember the name. I was freed in December 1946. In the meantime I worked in Casino. They said you destroyed the monastery, you build it up. We shifted all the heavy stones. There were still unexploded bombs & the Americans or British came & changed the mechanisms. In December 45, I took charge of a group of 30 German prisoners & we were sent to St Spirito (?) to a convalescent ? 30 Germans & 30 New Zealanders & we were treated like New Zealanders. We got the same food – everything. The chap in charge was a major & he called me into his tent & said â€œDo you mind if I ask you if you & your friends want to go on a raid with us; one New Zealander & one German? I said â€œI’ll talk to them. They agreed because they treated us well. He said â€œWe have to guard the camp against the Italians because they might rob us. The New Zealand major & myself we became friends & that’s how I came to be here. The last night we were together he invited me into his tent & said â€œLet’s have a drink. Whiskey? Straight or with water. I said â€œStraight. I didn’t know what whiskey was; I thought it was like Schnapps. I’ve never drunk whiskey since. I was at university in Frankfurt & he came to visit me & he said â€œWhy don’t you come & see New Zealand for yourself? I thought I met New Zealanders in war time; I’d like to meet them in peace time & I graduated in 1952.
What was your degree in?
I majored in engineering.
Where did you meet your wife?
I met her in 44 in Cologne. Before I went to France, she was stationed in Cologne in the Air Force ?? ground force ? night fighters & we kept in touch but I hadn’t seen her for 3 years. I looked her up before I went to university. I had 2 options – one – I didn’t know what had happened to her – if she was married orI lost contact with her, then later on, 3 or 4 months before I was released. I had the option to go into the priesthood or study engineering. I got married to the girl. My father in law said â€œWhat’s your idea for your life? I said â€œIf I had the money, I’d go to university to study engineering. He said â€œDon’t worry; I’ll pay it for you.
So you married quite soon after you got to Frankfurt?
You were working as a fitter/turner then?
Yes, & then my father in law paid my university fees & so I did my degree.
Then you went to New Zealand?
I worked in Frankfurt first because I needed money to go out there.
Any regrets about leaving Germany?
Sometimes, yes, when I look at the pensions they get in Germany & I have just the universal pension.one story – when I finished my training we had a big party. I had Schnapps that night. Anyway we went to bed at 2am & at 3am the alarm went – â€œGet ready to jump! We collected our parachutes & staggered to the Junkers 52. The pilot saw & thought he’d teach us a lesson. When we jumped the machine dropped down to 200k. At that point, we went down to 200k & we jumped already (not sure about this sentence I’m afraid!!) & of course when the parachute opened, everything went – the arms went; the legs went – I never drank after that!
Can we just go back to that Christmas of 44 – your last leave. When you left after Christmas, did you get a train somewhere?
And did your family go with you to the station?
I had to catch the train in the morning & my mother came with me.
END OF SIDE B – TAPE ONE
SIDE A – TAPE TWO
.going back to the front, I said â€œTake that, & I gave my mother the cap.
I can’t remember where you said you went when you first left home.
I went to Stengarten (?). Every paratrooper had to go to Stengarten; that was our barracks. We had to report there & you were marked off in the register & from there I got my posting to Dresden where I came to a unit which was signals. From Dresden, we were transferred to Italy.
You were there for the bombing?
My transport train stood there; we couldn’t move; we were surprised by the attack. I believe the first bombing was at 2.00; the next one was at 4 or 4.30 & the next one was at 10 in the morning & then we could get the train out. We went to the station master & said â€œNow, we have to get out because we don’t want our gear destroyed in another attack. In the morning when we saw the bombers coming, we ran into the fields where there was a little wooden hut – maybe 2m x 2m & we stood there & when the bombs dropped, I said â€œI’m not standing here, & there was a hole from a bomb, â€œCome with us, – there were 3 of us. We ran & the bombs dropped & the ? dropped onto our tin hats & when we looked the hut was gone; completely gone. The night before, the 4 o’clock raid, we were in a cellar & it had swing doors
The night before?
No, the same night but it was 4.30 in the morning & the next attack was at 10 o’clock. We were sitting in the cellar & they dropped air mines & the air pressure was..& the doors swung.
So before the first bombing raid occurred, you were just about to leave & you were on the train & you were all on the train & it was standing still & then the air raid siren goes & you get off the train & run into the fields & take cover?
Two had to stay back to guard the train because next to our train was a train full of Russian POW’s, but the next air raid, someone else was guarding the train
So that’s why you were in the cellar?
Yes & the third raid I was in the fields.
So you were guarding the Russian train
No, no, I was guarding our train because our equipment was on the train & then we went to the station master to ask him to get us out of the station. That was after the raids. Then we went through the south of Germany, over the Brenner Pass into Italy.
So it was when you were guarding your train that you had the Russians nearby?
Yes, it really upset me.
Because they were screaming in fear & terror.
Of course – the bombs dropped. I was guarding our train – it was 4 boys or something, I don’t know. But if the bombs had come too close, we could have jumped. But the Russians couldn’t jump. It was cruel. It was so inhuman. The inhumanity of those prisoners.but then you forget about it. Then the station master got us out. During the night, after the first raid, Dresden was burning. In Dresden there were so many refugees from the east. It was a beautiful town; the town of porcelain. Stalin demanded the bombing of Dresden so they could come closer to it.
You must have been horrified when you saw it weren’t you? You never expected it.
No, never. When I came back from the war, I walked up the hill, back to the bridge & from there you could see over the town. I came to London in 54 & I was a bit disappointed to see all the rubble still.
When you got back to Italy in 45, did you notice that the shortages were kicking in?
Yes we had less ammunition, especially for rifles & machine guns.
What about food?
Food was alright for us.
What were your typical rations?
We got half a loaf; it was a special bread; dark bread. It was very nice. Butter, grapes – I don’t know how many – oatmeal. The half loaf was for dinner & breakfast; lunch was always ? with us. For us it was enough. We were better off than the others.
Yes, when we jumped we got a litre of milk extra; half a pound of butter extra – on the day you jumped.
Can you ever remember being hungry?
We always had enough to eat. We never starved.
That article you showed me about Freiburg – was that a different paratroop
division? With the flame throwers?
Yes, the fourth division. I tried to get this book for you today. It’s called Warrior Nation.
You said you enjoyed the experience of being a paratrooper.you must have lost friends in the war. How did you cope?
After my friend died – I assume he died. I heard his scream on the radio & then silence. After that, I never became close to anyone.
How did you know him? From training? He was just your best friend?
Yes, he came to the regiment in Cologne;
Before you went to France?
Yes; he was in my room. We were attached to the third battalion.
What was his name?
Theo Kaddos (?) – he was from Nurnburg (?) a proper Bavarian! Different cast to us, but he was a nice chap.
But when he died you made the conscious decision not to get too friendly.
Be friendly – rely on them because they’ll rely on you but don’t get too close because you never know when it will end. You get emotionally upset. I was very upset for a couple of days when he was gone but then you couldn’t think much because you had to concentrate on yourself.
Did you think â€˜It’ll never happen to me?’ Was that your attitude?
I never thought it would. When I got wounded, I assume I screamed because I saw the blood & it comes out of your mouth & that’s alarming & when I touched my forehead, it was ice cold & I thought my mother & my father & my sister – those were the first things.
Did you think you were going to die then?
I wasn’t sure. I was so cold.
But you knew it was serious.
I knew it was serious, yes.
In war you see so many horrendous things – do you think you become accustomed to it?
No, never. I can’t see blood; I can’t stand the sight of raw meat.
And that’s a total throwback to the war?
Straight back to the war. When I was in the hospital in Carno, (?) a chap had his ?? – it was all gone. The doctor had to sew it back – I can’t remember. The sister came in & said â€œQuick, we need you; you have to hold his legs because the anaesthetics & you mustn’t shake while the doctor’s working. I did that, but I was so white, the sister took me out & said â€œI won’t call you again!
Did your attitude change between joining & the end?
No. I always felt what I was doing was right because I wasn’t doing it for myself; I was doing it for the Fatherland. I am protecting my home; my family & many other families because it is my duty. I am not glorifying war & I hope you’re not mistaking.it is far away from that. War should be outlawed. Near ?? there was a cave & our company was still there & on 20th April I remember as if it was yesterday. The company commander said â€œEveryone into the cave. We stood there & he said â€œThe war is coming to an end & today is the day that Hitler was killed in the fight for Berlin. But he didn’t die in the fight for Berlin; he killed himself but at that time they believed he died because the message said that & we believed it but after that we heard different.
You must have been devastated weren’t you at the end of the war?
Oh yes because we thought we could clear up what happened in the First World War; that victory might be ours. The hopes of victory faded away – when Carentan was attacked & most of us were eliminated – we were only 40 people around our commander & our last attack before they drove us back to St Clos & we launched an attack & with that attack, the whole victory for Carentan died. When you’re put in that position as a soldier, it is devastating.
When you returned to Italy, the opposition was mostly American was it?
Yes – we held on through the winter & then when spring came we marched up to the Po & he gave the order â€œDestroy everything! We had nothing else but rifles.
Are you a member of any veterans associations in Germany?
I’m a member of the Fallschirmjager Association.
So you keep in touch with old comrades?
So you go back to Germany occasionally?
I try – every 4 or 5 years.
Were your children born here?
No, in Germany.
But they’re here in New Zealand?
And you became an engineer over here?
Yes & then I was lecturing & teaching German. I enjoyed it very much.
And you keep busy?
Oh yes; I’ve just done a computer course.
Are you on e mail?
No, I don’t want it.