I Was There13 October 2014

Alfred Regeniter in Northern Poland, 31 January 1945

Lieutenant Alfred Regenniter was the commander of a StuG III Ausf G assault gun, part of Assault Gun Brigade 276, Third Panzer Army. He was in almost constant action on the Eastern Front from the summer of 1944 to February 1945, when he was badly wounded and sent back to Germany. This extract from his journal is an example of a fairly typical day’s action for an experienced panzer commander on the eastern front in the later stages of the war. It describes the fighting for a small village in Northern Poland, close to the border with what was East Prussia.

31 January, 1945

At 09:00 hours I get orders for my 3rd Battery from General Heuke in person, commander of the 251st Infantry Division, at his HQ in Dretz (Dretschmin). They are counterattack with Grenadier Regiment 184 against Bukowiece (Buchenau) in order to effect a link-up with the remains of the 31st and 73rd Infantry Divisions, which have broken out of Thorn. In heavy snow I drive to Bukowiece. The village lies straight in front of us. Staff Sergeant Glaumann (from the island of Rügen, holder of the German Cross in Gold who has 45 tank kills) puts his foot down and racea ahead. We’re hardly able to follow him. Two Russian tanks disappear quickly behind the barns on the right in the village. Already we have reached the eastern part of the village without a shot being fired. Now I have the point and drive towards the right along the high street. A smaller street branches off on the left. I have hardly passed it when a round from a tank or an anti-tank gun explodes in a house to the right, behind me. Now I know where they are hiding. Therefore I guide the following StuGs through the gardens on our right side, in order to circumvent this danger.

Soon I am standing 30 metres in front of a T-shaped crossroads, where the main road runs from north to south. To the left of us Russians are swarming behind the hedges of the gardens. We open up with machine-gun fire. Suddenly one of the infantrymen that is accompanying us jumps onto my gun from the right: “Lieutenant, Sir, there in front to the left, round the corner stands a Russian tank.” Distance: 30 metres. With a beating heart I evaluate the situation. We will not drive forward. We’ll wait for the Russians to grow impatient and advance. In the meantime I want to force the enemy infantry, which assuredly is accompanying the tank, to retreat. I aim for the top of the roof with a high-explosive grenade. I have hardly had the time to aim, when my driver, Corporal 1st class Tischler, shouts: “He’s coming!” and pulls our heavy crate around to face the corner of the house. Quickly my loader pulls the high-explosive grenade out of the chamber (we would have been for it if it had jammed) and throws an armor-piercing grenade in. All this in fractions of a second. But the Ivan was stupid, and was only peeking around the corner of the house with his barrel (miserable driver). Apparently his optics did not spot us. Once more he comes out, and with speed drives towards us in a large curve. Before he has a chance to stop our shell penetrates his side. We pump three more rounds into the SU 85 assault gun. Its barrel buries itself in a display window right in front of us, where it remains hanging. One Ivan crawls out of the turret hatch and disappears on the other side of the assault gun. Joy and relief are with us.

We withdraw towards the southeastern part of the village, and the guns take up ambush positions. It becomes dark and spooky. In order to provide security we torch the house on the corner, from where the anti-tank gun took a pot shot at me. In that way we can observe the street, because we only have to hold position here till 22:00 hours. We need food. In the cellar of the great estate next to our gun there is an elderly, very corpulent, apparently very ill German woman, the mistress of the estate, lying on a bed of straw. The Polish labourers are with her in the cellar. She begs and pleads to be go back with us. We can’t do it, she doesn’t fit into the gun and she’d freeze to death on top of it with a temperature of minus 15 degrees centigrade. And what are we supposed to do with her later?

A Pole knows of a filled smoking room on the top floor of a neighboring house. By candlelight we open the lock that is hanging on the door, always watching out for Russian machine-gun fire that could strike through the roof tiles, and load up with two giant smoked hams and several bars dangling with smoked sausages. Why should we leave everything for the Russians? We have accomplished our mission and killed an SU 85, captured an anti-tank gun and destroyed five more. By 23:00 hours we withdraw towards Dretz. General Heuke informs us of his appreciation. We have held the right wing of the 251st Infantry Division and in this way made possible the withdrawal of the 542nd Volksgrenadier Division, as well as the link-up with the remains of the 31st and 73rd Infantry Divisions from Thorn. The 2nd Battery on this day suffered six losses.