Notes & Despatches

In our Notes & Despatches section are short, topical articles, first-hand accounts and reviews of books, films and websites. We add new articles and reviews every month and you can keep up to date with what’s being added by subscribing to our newsletter. We welcome suggestions for contributions.

Sites23 January 2015

Military History Now

Launched in 2012, MHN has now published more than 400 thought-provoking articles from respected writers on all aspects of military history, with a wealth of fascinating insights into World War II, including a contribution from German War Machine (The Deadly 88 — Was the German Flak 18/37 the best gun of World War II?/14 December 2014).

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I Was There12 January 2015

Rudi Frühbeisser, 16 December 1944

In this account, Pfc Rudi Frühbeisser, 9th Infantry, 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, describes the confused night fighting that followed the capture of Lanzerath on the opening day of the Battle of the Bulge. His unit had been pinned down for more than eight hours by a single platoon from the US 394th Infantry and now found themselves facing a well-prepared second line of defense.

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Wehrmacht In Action12 January 2015

January 1942 - The Wehrmacht’s Finest Hour


The winter of 1941-42 in Russia was bitterly cold (temperatures reached a record low of -42 centigrade late in December), and the German Army was poorly equipped to operate in the freezing temperatures in which it found itself. At basic operational levels, from the grease and fuel needed to keep tanks running to the provision of adequate winter clothing for infantrymen (there were 228,000 casualties from frostbite alone during winter 1941-42), the Wehrmacht encountered grave problems. The failure of Operation Typhoon to take Moscow in November and early December was followed by the Red Army offensive that began in the morning of 5 December 1941. Within 10 days, the German Fourth Army in front of Moscow had been driven back 300km, and there was a real possibility that the entire German position facing Moscow would collapse. Next, the Red Army launched a concerted series of offensives all along the Eastern Front early in January 1942 - from Leningrad down to Rostov on Don - catching many German formations unawares. Then, too, this was a period when Hitler’s exasperation at the failure to to obey his order to stand fast made him sack generals willy nilly - C-in-C von Brauchitsch was sacked on 17 December, while 35 corps and divisional commanders were dismissed from December to March, adding further confusion.

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Wehrmacht In Action3 December 2014

The Stalingrad Airlift


On the morning of 7 December 1942, the men of KGr.zbv 50, a Luftwaffe transport squadron, woke to another dismal morning on the Russian steppe. The blinding snow of the previous week had been replaced by persistent, chilling rain, and the men had to pick their way across the mud on duckboards. For the last two weeks they had been operating out of Tatinskaya airfield in support of the encircled Sixth Army at Stalingrad, battling to keep their fleet of ageing Ju-52s in the air. The men had spent the night in tents clustered along the northern side of the runway. They were protected from the wind by embankments of snow, but the canvas was still frozen stiff most mornings. As they ate their breakfast in the mess hut, the officers, including their commander Oberstleutnant Otto Baumann, arrived in the truck they had driven over from their marginally better accommodation in the nearby village.

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Wehrmacht In Action3 December 2014

The First Battle of Gazala


The Libyan village of Gazala is an unlikely strategic pivot. Located some 31 miles (50km) west of Tobruk, in 1941 it consisted of a squat mud-brick mosque and around 15 simple farmhouses. The people subsisted by herding goats, cultivating small patches of fertile land, and hunting birds in the nearby salt-marshes. It was these salt marshes, more specifically their proximity to the cliffs to the south, that gave Gazala its significance; the village marks a point where the flat coastal strip that runs along Libya’s mediterranean coast narrows to just 1.25 miles (2km) – one of the few defensible points in the otherwise featureless Western Desert.

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I Was There3 December 2014

Arsenti Rodkin, 10 October 1944

This account was written by the Russian historian Artem Drabkin based on his interviews with Arsenti Rodkin. Rodkin served as a T-34 commander in the 1st Tank Corps from 1943 to 1945, taking part in the advance through Lithuania and into East Prussia. This account provides a glimpse of what life was like for those who opposed the German War Machine in the east, fighting as part of the brave and determined – but sometimes chaotic – Red Army. It also illustrates the difficulties that faced crews of the T-34/85 tank, which was massively front-heavy and had a gun that protruded 6ft 6 inches (2m) past the front of the hull.

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Wehrmacht In Action5 November 2014


V-WEAPONS - Jim Mclean

Like everyone who grew up in London, I am well aware of Hitler’s obsession with Veltungswaffe (reprisal weapons). I grew up in a neighborhood that was pocked-marked with great big holes, the rows of houses interrupted by patches of overgrown wasteground; sometimes still with bits of shattered brickwork jutting up out of the ground. Many of them were relics of the 1940–41 ‘Blitz’, the work of incendiary bombs for the most part, but others were made later in the war by the ‘doodlebugs’ (V-1 – we British always give cute names to terrifying things) and V-2s.

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I Was There4 November 2014

Helmut Ritgen, 19 December 1942

This account comes from the memoirs of Helmut Ritgen, who was the Regimental Adjutant of Panzer Regiment 11, part of the 6th Panzer Division. Seated in his command tank on the night of 19 December 1942, he witnessed how strangely anticlimactic even an important victory can be. Operating well in advance of the main force, the biggest threat to the success of his unit’s mission was getting lost and running out of fuel in the featureless landscape of the Kuban Steppe. The poorly trained raw recruits of the Soviet 51st Army had probably never seen a German tank before, and so let them pass unharmed.

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Wehrmacht In Action4 November 2014

Operation Typhoon

Seventy-three years ago this month, the men of Gunther von Kulge’s Army Group Center were huddled in mud-filled foxholes or idling the engines of their vehicles in the fields around Mozhaisk, Kallinin, and Serpukhov. A mile or two to the east, across the Nara River, the Red Army was assembling one last defensive position along a line of rolling hills less than 50km (30 miles) from Moscow.

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