The author could be described as a 'veteran' in every sense of the word, even though he was only aged 21 when the war ended. Armin Scheiderbauer served as an infantry officer with the 252nd Infantry Division, German Army, and saw four years of bitter combat on the Eastern Front, being wounded six times.
This is an outstanding personal memoir, written with great thoughtfulness and honesty. Scheiderbauer joined his unit during the winter of 1941/42, and during the following years saw fierce combat in many of the largest battles on the Eastern Front. His experiences of the 1943-45 period are particularly noteworthy, including his recollections of the massive Soviet offensives of summer 1944 and January 1945. Participating in the bitter battles in East Prussia, he was captured by the Soviets and not released until 1947.
Adventures in my Youth is a unique memoir - the author originally wrote it only for his daughter. It has never been published in any language, until now.
|Publisher:||Helion and Company|
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About the Author
Armin Scheiderbauer was born in 1924, the son of an evangelical pastor. After attending schools in Thuringia, and Stockerau, he was called up in August 1941. He served with distinction on the Eastern Front until 1945, with 252nd Infantry Division, reached the rank of Oberleutnant, was wounded numerous times, and was awrded the Iron Cross 1st Class and close combat clasp. He was wounded and captured by the Red Army in March 1945, returning home in September 1947. In the post-war years he became a senior lawyer in Vienna, and continued his close associations with the evangelical church. He married a doctor, and has one daughter, also a doctor. he now lives in Salzburg, Austria.
Read an Excerpt
August 1941-June 1942: Call-up and training
Aged 17 years - called-up for basic training; aged 18 years - training complete, appendicitis
On 1 August 1941, I had to be in the Jäger barracks at St Avold in the Westmark by 3pm. If the word 'Westmark' had not been added, I would not have had even a vague idea as to where my destination was. Westmark was the name given to that region which had been added on to the Reich after the surrender of France. Whether that included only the former German Alsace and Lorraine, or more, no one knew. In any event, I had to seek the aid of a large-scale map to find St Avold which, I finally discovered lay between Saarbrücken and Metz in Lorraine. 1 August was not a normal call-up deadline, the normal dates were 1 April and 1 October. It turned out that there were in fact only a few of us young lads who turned up on 1 August 1941, in accordance with our call-up orders. In the meantime, Mum was in the Liesertal with Rudi and Liesl, so I went for a few days to where they were staying in Zlabing Post Lieserbrücke. For 31 July they had planned a trip out to the parsonage at Eisentratten to visit the family of Pastor Schimik, a school friend of Father's.
From there, I began my journey on the regular afternoon post bus. The journey took me first as far as Spittal on the Drau, and from there by rail via Salzburg. During the night we crossed southern Germany to Saarbrücken. There I left the express train to get on an ordinary passenger train going towards Metz. On the platform I met a boy who was looking around just as I was. He was dragging along two big suitcases. I spoke to him and it turned out that we were both going to the same place. He was Ludwig (Wiggerl) Popovsky, the son of a Vienna tram driver. In him I had found my first comrade. We remained close through two years, more or less.
Neither of us knew or had any explanation why we had ended up in that particular district. We also knew nothing about the unit to which we had been assigned, namely the 2nd Company of Infantry Ersatz Battalion 7, nor from which part of the country its members came. Wiggerl, like me, had left it up to chance as to what infantry unit he would be assigned. The mystery was resolved shortly after we arrived. First, after getting out at St Avold station, we had to lug our heavy luggage two kilometres over a mountain, behind which lay the little town. At the edge of it was the Jäger barracks.
We arrived at about 2.30pm. Although we were not yet soldiers, we had nevertheless to experience for ourselves the truth of the saying that 'half his life the soldier has to wait in vain'. There are certainly good reasons for that. At 3pm, however, to a certain extent in an official manner, there began the new and serious part of my life. It turned out that altogether there were four of us soldiers who had been provisionally accepted as officer candidates. Most were from Lower Silesia. One came from the Ruhr area, two from Trautenau in Lower Bohemia and the two of us, Popovsky and I, came from Vienna and the Vienna area.
The battalion stationed in St Avold was the Ersatz unit for Infantry Regiment 7, in peacetime based in Schweidnitz. We found out that the entire Silesian Ersatz Army Corps had been moved into the 'Westmark'. In the French campaign Regiment 7 had been commanded by a colonel from Vienna. At that time, replacements had been added to the regiment to the strength of almost a battalion of men from Vienna. It was the case, right up to the end of the war, that in almost every company I came across there was at least one Viennese or Austrian.
For my part I often regretted that I had made no attempt to join a unit from my homeland. Before I became a soldier I had dreamed how grand it must be to march in the victory parade through the Ringstrasse with the returning troops. But later my regret was because I had no close wartime comrades living nearby. That became clear to me when eventually I sat on the Linz regional high court with my colleagues Zauner and Hemetsberger. They had been in the Linz Division, the 45th. Zauner was among the men of the Linz Infantry Regiment–'the sons of the region and of the city'–who marched off to war from the castle barracks. Hemetsberger had been an artillery officer in the Division.
Immediately after 'installation', under which general heading I include being assigned a barrack room and a bed, and obtaining items of military uniform and equipment, there began the rigorous service involved in basic training. It lasted six weeks. It turned out that this too had been a kind of test. Of the seventeen of us who had joined on 1 August, six were dismissed because they did not meet requirements. Because they were not yet of age for military service they were sent back home. We could easily imagine with what mockery they would be welcomed back to school by their classmates who had stayed behind, after their experience of a 'holiday' that brought so much trouble.
So, 'eleven' of us remained together. Our service went on, apart from the normal work of the barracks, under the supervision of a Leutnant, a NCO, and a Gefreiter who, at the same time, was senior soldier in the barrack room. The 'eleven' of us were Hans Alterman from Gottesberg in Silesia, Walter Borrmann from Breslau, Walter Henschel from Reichenbach in the Eulengebirge, Hans Bernt and Gottfried Bergmann from Liegnitz, Jochen Fiedler from Glogau, Diesel and Helmut Überla from Trautenau, Pohlmann from Wuppertal, together with Popovsky and me.
Since Popovsky had a camera with him, I have some photos. The first shows us in a group on the parade ground. We are wearing field service jackets, with our top collar button undone, our belts buckled, army boots, and the 'forage' field service caps on our heads. My hands are still stuck into my trouser pockets in a quite unmilitary fashion.
After basic training was over we were moved to Mörchingen, halfway between Metz and Saargemünd. The place mostly consisted of barracks built after 1871, after Alsace-Lorraine had reverted to Germany. Here was the staff of Ersatz Regiment 28, to which the two infantry regiments 350 and 461 belonged. From then on our group was part of the 2nd Company of Infanterie-Ersatz-Bataillon 350. I scarcely have any recollections of St Avold, because at the time, during basic training, you were not allowed to leave the barracks. I can only remember one single trip out that we used to find a photographer's studio. I recall Mörchingen as the place where all our training took place, carried out on the parade ground and on the firing range. Certainly, in St Avold we drilled on the parade ground and first practised with our weapons. That was only a little compared with the variety of the drill to which we were then subjected.
The 'Training Regulations for the Infantry' (A.V.I.), Army Service Regulations (HDV 130/2a) for Schützenkompanie was the 'bible' according to which our life as soldiers then proceeded. From the Individual Training I shall quote the following, concerning the 'basic position':
1) The soldier's good bearing is an index of his training and overall physical education. It is to be improved whenever everyday service provides the opportunity.
2) Standing without weapon to 'Attention'! In the basic position the man stands still. The feet stand with the heels close together. The toes are placed as far apart as to position the feet at not quite a right angle to each other. The weight of the body rests at the same time on the heels and on the balls of both feet. The knees are slightly straightened. The upper body is held erect, the chest slightly pushed forward. The shoulders are at an equal level. They are not drawn up. The arms are stretched gently downwards, the elbows pressed moderately forward. The hand touches the upper thigh with fingertips and wrist. The fingers are together. The middle finger lies on the trouser seam, the thumb along the index finger on the inside of the hand. The head is held erect, the chin a little drawn back into the neck. The eyes are directed straight ahead. The muscles are easy and at the same time tensed. Convulsive over-tension of muscles leads to a poor and forced bearing.
3) Should there be heard the cautionary part of a word of command, the call of a superior or the command Achtung! without these being preceded by Attention! the man of course remains still.
4) 'Stand at Ease'! The left foot is moved forward. The man may move, but not speak without permission.
We had the old Kar 98 rifle. Rifle training was followed by training on the light machine-gun (LMG), the 08 Pistol, the machine-pistol, the hand-grenade and the anti-tank rifle. All that was followed by the infantryman's training in combat and field service, and training in close-quarters fighting. No less important was training in the section, the smallest unit, which consisted of the section leader and nine men.
The section leader is leader and first of his section into battle. He is responsible for:
1) carrying out his combat task,
2) direction of the light machine-gun fire and, as far as combat allows, the rifle troops,
3) ensuring that the weapons, ammunition and equipment of his section are ready for combat and are at full strength.
Section training also included the section's method of combat, its behaviour under fire, working its way forward, penetration, taking and holding a position, withdrawing, as well as the group being on reconnaissance service and picket duties.
HDV 130/2a of course also covered training in the platoon and in the company. All that was contained in 670 points. Infantry officer training, however, not only required the knowledge necessary to command a section, a platoon or a company, but also knowledge of the so-called heavy infantry weapons, i.e. the heavy machine-gun, the heavy mortar, the light and heavy infantry guns, and the antitank gun. It covered training in horse riding and driving, the latter including driving both horse-drawn and motorised vehicles.
By listing the material it can be seen that we spent most of our service time on the training ground. We began with simply moving around the ground in the respective formation, then to march training in formations of different, slowly increasing lengths, and finally firing practice. All that was preceded by a thorough process of training in firing positions. I proved to be a good shot. I soon found out that my vision in my right eye was not as sharp as that in my left. The eye test we had when we mustered had been a cursory one. It was only much later that I became aware that I had an astigmatism, with a clear decrease in visual sharpness of my right eye as against my left. Meanwhile, after I had successfully tried shooting left-handed, I stuck with it and achieved excellent results. At the exercises at 100m range, standing offhand, and 200m range, lying offhand, I managed to score 30 and 55 respectively, and thus was in the narrow range leading the group.
Firing practice, and the marches that regularly took place on Saturday, stood out from the drill on the parade ground. Firing practice involved bodily relaxation. Marches involved particular bodily exertion. If on the first march, which lasted an hour, we covered only 5km, within a few weeks that was increased in 10km increments to 55km. It all led to the very edge of exhaustion. As proper infantrymen, on the marches we wore footcloths instead of socks, and before the march we smeared our feet with deer tallow so that, provided our boots fitted, blisters or sores hardly ever occurred. Only once did I get so-called pressure points, that is, blisters under the hard skin. They were extremely painful but at least entitled me to sit up on the horse-drawn vehicle that followed behind us.
Everyday life in the barracks began with reveille, soon followed by the duty NCO's (UvD) call 'those detailed to fetch coffee step out'. Before work began, one-and-a-half hours after reveille, morning washing had to be done, beds had to be made expertly and lockers tidied up. Inside work included cleaning weapons, and cleaning barrack blocks. The weekly hour of polishing and patching also took place as part of the daily boot cleaning and occasional uniform cleaning sessions. We pressed the trousers of our walking-out uniform by laying them overnight between the sheet and the straw mattress.
In addition to the field uniform and drill clothing, every man also possessed a walking-out uniform. It was called Sarasani, because in actual fact it looked by no means smart, but resembled circus dress. While the field uniform was made of single coarse cloth of a green-grey-brown colour, the walking-out uniform had two different kinds of grey cloth. The jacket was vaguely green, but the trousers were more of a blue tinge. The collar was dark green, the collar patches and those on the forearms were of silver braid trimming.
To that was added the field service cap and, best of all, the white braid, which was the colour of the infantry arm of the service. Apart from its smart and clean appearance, this colour always seemed to me to express the innocence and unpretentiousness for which the infantry was praised. Other colours used were the red of the artillery, the green of the Gebirgsjäger, the black of the pioneers, the blue of the medical units, the bright blue of the Panzer units, the citrus yellow of the signals units, the dark yellow of the cavalry and later reconnaissance troops, and the violet of the military chaplains. But none of them could compare with our pure white.
Outside training mainly took place on the large garrison training ground. However, especially for marching, we switched to the friendly, hilly countryside near to, or further away from, Mörchingen. Once we were resting near a large plum orchard that was far away from any village. It gave the Leutnant the idea that we should 'take cover' there and stuff our bellies. Some time later, before the wine harvest, our march took us past a field that was planted with vines. Here, too, the lieutenant let us 'take cover' between the furrows. As you see in old pictures of the land of milk and honey, we lay on our backs between two furrows, reaching for the nearly ripe grapes hanging over us, and contentedly ate our fill.
The most pleasant activity, because it was completely different from all the others, we had on Wednesdays. Then, from 2pm to 4pm there was riding, and from 4pm to 6pm driving. In our riding training each one of us had his own horse, mine was the mare 'Orange'. Everyone had to keep a piece of bread from his rations for the horse, to win its trust and to be able to reward it. We learned not to approach the animal from the rear, and how to bridle and saddle it. We also had to muck-out the stalls and brush the horses.
During the course of that training we learned the paces of the horse, the walk, trot, and gallop, and how to control the horse. Finally, in the riding arena we jumped modest obstacles, and performed exercises on horseback. Riding outside was more satisfying than strenuous, especially when, after our first few hours of riding, our behinds were not burning any more. Once, I must have irritated 'Orange' because she bolted with me on the training ground. She slipped into a raging gallop and I could not hold her. After almost a kilometre she had calmed down, but evidently wanted to vex me some more, because she stopped abruptly in her tracks. I had to summon up all my strength not to fly out of the saddle, which is certainly what she intended.
The driving instruction passed off without such difficulties. To drive a horse-drawn vehicle was something we learned in an afternoon, but instruction in driving motor vehicles stretched out over several months. As well as a thorough theoretical and technical training, taken with the aid of an Army service regulation book, a lot of time was spent on the driving itself. We rode motorcycles, motorcycles with sidecars, and drove a medium-weight Kübelwagen. On 18 January 1942, that is, a few days after my eighteenth birthday, we received our Wehrmacht driving licences.
On Wednesday evenings in the officers' mess there were 'Gentlemen's Evenings'. We officer cadets, in our walking-out uniforms of course, had to take part. Before dinner you would stand about aimlessly in the side rooms of the dining hall. Then the commander of the Ersatz Regiment would invite us to take our places. On the first occasion we were, understandably, somewhat awkward and almost stood in ranks. That led a doctor, whom I later got to know as a very clever man, to the sarcastic remark, 'Ah, the gentlemen have turned up for confirmation'.
We did not always sit together at the end of the table, but were placed individually between officers and thus had to take part in their conversation. If I had not already learned at home how to behave at table, I would have been taught it there. It is true that I had not learned at home that you had, on occasion, to manage with only 40cm space at the table. That had to be done on Christmas Eve, when the wives of the married officers were invited to dine with us and space was tight at the table.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Adventures in My Youth"
Copyright © 2019 Armin Scheiderbauer.
Excerpted by permission of Helion & Company Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I - Training,
1 August 1941-June 1942: Call-up and training,
Part II - From Raw Recruit to Old Hand,
2 July-September 1942: First actions,
3 October 1942-January 1943: Training courses and promotion,
4 Spring/Summer 1943: Platoon commander in Silesia, trench warfare at Nemers,
5 Summer/Autumn 1943: Trench construction and positional warfare,
6 Autumn/Winter 1943: Company commander, the Russian offensive, wounds,
Part III - The Tide Turns,
7 January-July 1944: Officers' course, Operation Bagration - the Russian summer offensive,
8 Summer 1944: Bitter defensive battles,
9 Autumn/Winter 1944: The Narev bridgehead, a training course and special leave for bravery,
10 January 1945: The Russian Vistula offensive,
11 February/March 1945: The last days,
Part IV - Captivity, then Freedom,
12 April 1945-April 1946: Captivity and recovery from wounds,
13 April 1946-January 1947: Prisoner of the Russians,
14 January-September 1947: Freedom - aged 23 years,