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Citizen Soldiers

German Jerks

Converted for the Web from "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose

The German army had its fair share of jerks. There too they were often quartermasters. Colonel von Luck recalled that in early September, during the retreat through France, he came on a supply depot. His tanks, trucks, and other vehicles needed fuel; his men needed ammunition and food. He demanded it be handed over.

The sergeant in charge gave what Luck called "the typical, impudent reply: 'I can issue nothing without written authority.' When I asked, 'And what will you do if the Americans get here tomorrow, which is highly likely?' the answer was: 'Then in accordance with orders I will blow the depot up.'

"As my men advanced threateningly on the sergeant, weapons at the ready, I replied, 'If I don't have fuel, ammunition, and food within half an hour I can no longer be responsible.'" The sergeant looked at the grim-faced Luck and his men and gave them what they needed."

Similar scenes were enacted a thousand times and more during the retreat. At the other end of the scale, corps commanders in the Wehrmacht could be as crazy as Hitler. Like their leader, they moved long-gone regiments and divisions around on their maps. From the safety of their headquarters, they ordered counterattacks by phantom units. In January 1945 in Belgium, Lt. Col. Gerhard Lemcke of the 12th Panzer Division, a career soldier, had a typical experience. He had his hq in a farmhouse on a hill. From the kitchen window he could see Sherman tanks in the process of surrounding his position. He got orders to attack, which he ignored.

A staff officer drove up. He had been drinking, to bolster his courage -- staff officers seldom came to the front, and when they did they were afraid of the combat commanders. In this case, the officer informed Lemcke that he had come to take Lemcke into custody.

"May I ask why?"

"You have not carried out the orders of the Corps commander."

"And what am I to do? Should I tell them to throw rocks? Or maybe snow, there's lots of that -- I have nothing else. The artillery battery behind me, they don't shoot anymore because they have no ammunition. But Corps has ordered them to stay and defend us. How about telling Corps hq to take back their guns and send their personnel up here to become part of my infantry."

"You tell them," the lieutenant replied.

Lemcke got on the radio. Corps repeated the order to attack. Lemcke again refused. Corps then told the lieutenant to arrest that man and bring him in. As the lieutenant made to do so, Lemcke's men surrounded him. "These were soldiers who had been with me since Russia," Lemcke recalled. "A number of them had long since earned the Iron Cross 1st Class. They would not allow this lieutenant to take me anywhere."

Next to Hitler himself, the biggest jerks in Germany were Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. In November 1944 Himmler was put in command of the eastern bank of the Upper Rhine. Himmler knew a lot about how to terrorize and slaughter civilians, but nothing about military affairs. On January 3, 1945, he ordered Maj. Hannibal von Lüttichau to attack.

"I don't doubt that these orders were developed with the greatest care," Lüttichau told Himmler. "But we must have fuel."

"You don't need to drive," Himmler replied.

"But a dug-in panzer is easily destroyed from the air," Lüttichau explained. "The panzer's strength is to shoot and move. Suddenly pop up and fire and get out of there! Besides, I don't have ammunition. It doesn't matter how much heroism we have, we won't last a day before our soldiers know that we are crazy and stick their hands in the air and give up. What should I do about that?"

Himmler ordered him arrested. He was, but his Iron Cross 1st Class protected him and he survived.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

This text is from Chapter 14 of Stephen E. Ambrose's book "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany." To read another online chapter, "Expanding the Beachhead, June 7-30, 1944," click here. Click here for purchasing information from Amazon.

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