The story

4 March 1941

4 March 1941

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4 March 1941

March 1941


Occupied Europe

British commandos raid the Lofoten Islands


British troops depart from Egypt to support the Greeks

Historical Events in March 1941

    Former University of Notre Dame star fullback Elmer Layden is named first Commissioner of the NFL German troops invade Bulgaria

Event of Interest

Mar 1 Himmler inspects Auschwitz concentration camp

    Rangers' goalie Dave Kerr becomes the 5th goaltender in NHL history to record 200 career victories when New York wins, 3-1 over the Canadiens at Montreal World War II: First German military units enter Bulgaria after it joined the Axis Pact.

Event of Interest

Mar 3 Netherlands NSB-leader Mussert visits Hermann Goering in Berlin

    18 Geuzen resistance fighters sentenced to death in The Hague Chicago Black Hawks goaltender Sam LoPresti faces NHL record 83 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Bruins in Boston

Event of Interest

Mar 4 Serbian Prince Paul visits Adolf Hitler

    The United Kingdom launches Operation Claymore on the Lofoten Islands, during World War II. 3rd largest snowfall then in NYC history (18.1") 50,000 British soldiers land in Greece during WWII British troops invade Abyssinia (Ethiopia) 1st baseball player drafted into WW II (Hugh Mulcahy, Phillies)

Event of Interest

Mar 11 Bronko Nagurski beats Ray Steele in Minn, to become wrestling champ

Event of Interest

Mar 11 FDR signs Lend-Lease Bill (lend money to Britain)

    German occupiers confiscate AVRO studios in Netherlands A Bougne forms AGRA (Amis du Grand Reich Allemand) Nazi occupiers of Holland forbid Jewish owned companies Xavier Cugat & orchestra record "Babalu" Blizzard in North Dakota kills 151 people Blizzard hits North Dakota & Minnesota killing 60

Event of Interest

Mar 16 Russian composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich receives the Stalin Prize

    National Gallery of Art opens in Washington, D.C. Jimmy Dorsey & orchestra record "Green Eyes" & "Maria Elena" Nazi-German Yugoslav pact drawn

Boxing Title Fight

Mar 21 In a hard fought 15th title defence Joe Louis KOs Abe Simon in the 13th round at Olympia Stadium, Detroit to retain NYSAC heavyweight boxing crown

Event of Interest

Mar 22 James Stewart is inducted into the Army, becoming the first major American movie star to wear a military uniform in World War II

Event of Interest

Mar 24 Glenn Miller begins work on his 1st movie "Sun Valley Serenade", starring Sonja Henie and John Payne, for 20th Century Fox

    LIU beats Ohio U 56-42 for NIT basketball championship Richard Wright & Paul Green's "Native Son" premieres in NYC Carolina Paprika Mills in Dillon, South Carolina, incorporated Britain leases defense bases in Trinidad to US for 99 years Adolf Hitler signs Directive 27 (assault on Yugoslavia) Yugoslavian coup gets rid of pro-German Prince Paul Sea battle at Cape Matapan: British fleet under Cunningham defeats Italy

Music Premiere

Mar 29 1st performance of Benjamin Britten's "Requiem Symphony"

The birthstone for March 4, 1941 is Aquamarine. Aquamarine is the official March birthstone. Derived from the Latin words aqua and marina, the aquamarine represents the water and the sea. Therefore, it is a gemstone that is known to protect sailors at sea. It has a striking blue color, that can range from light to dark and can also contain hints of green. The aquamarine represents youth, hope, fidelity and eternal life and is a popular gift for wedding anniversaries. The birthstone for June 2021 is Pearl, Moonstone and Alexandrite.

Each month has a flower that symbolizes the month of somebody’s birth. The characteristics that the flower has may be “inherited” by whoever is born in that certain month person.

Accordingly, the flower associated with this month is Daffodil also known as Jonquil or Narcissus. The colors of the bloom include white, yellow and orange. A gift of these flowers conveys the hidden meaning of friendship and happiness. The birth flower for June 2021 is Rose.

4 March 1941 - History

Watch Part Number: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | Surprising Beginnings (March 1940-September 1941)

"Surprising Beginnings" sets the stage for the series and examines the radical increase in violence against all opponents of the Nazi state during this 18-month period. In particular, the program explores the importance of the German Army's invasion of the Soviet Union during the summer of 1941 and connects this campaign to the first gassing experiments in Auschwitz, which were aimed at Russian prisoners of war, not Jews.

In the final segment, Linda Ellerbee talks with Michael Berenbaum, professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and author of Anatomy of the Auschwitz Nazi Death Camp (published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Indiana University Press, 1994) and Melvin Jules Bukiet, professor of creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and author of Nothing Makes You Free: Writings by Descendants of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (W.W. Norton, 2002).

Surprising Beginnings: Episode 1

This is the site of the largest mass murder in the history of the world&mdashAuschwitz. 1.1 million people died here. More than the total British and American losses in the whole of the Second World War.

This is the story of the evolution of Auschwitz and the mentality of the perpetrators. It's a history, based in part on documents and plans only discovered since the opening of archives in Eastern Europe, and informed by interviews with people who were there, including former members of the SS.

Oskar Gröning: "And if you ask yourself if this is really necessary you say to yourself, "Yes, of course, we have been told that these are our enemies and there is a war on."

But the horrors of Auschwitz did not occur in isolation. The camp evolved alongside the Nazi plan for the conquest of Eastern Europe. A war of destruction unlike any other in modern times. One in which innocent civilians were murdered by special killing squads.

Hans Friedrich: "The order said&mdashthey are to be shot." "And for me, that was binding."

As the war developed Nazi decision makers conceived one of the most infamous policies in all history. What they called the 'Final Solution'&mdashthe extermination of the Jews. And at Auschwitz they journeyed down the long and crooked road to mass murder to create this&mdashthe building which symbolised their crime&mdasha factory of death.

Dario Gabbai&mdashJewish prisoner, Auschwitz 1944-45: "They were, the people screaming&mdashall the people, you know&mdashthey didn't know what to do, scratching the walls, crying until the gas took effect. If I close my eyes, the only thing I see is standing up&mdashwomen with children in, in their hands, there."

What follows is the surprising story of the birth of Auschwitz, and the Nazi policy of mass extermination. With Auschwitz initially built for an altogether different purpose than the gassing of the Jews. And the Nazis evolving their wider policy of killing in ways that defy the popular myth of the SS as robotic killers who simply acted under orders.

AUSCHWITZ: Inside The Nazi State

Surprising Beginnings: Episode 1

In the spring of 1940, Captain Rudolf Höss of the SS journeyed through Poland to take up the job of Commandant of a new Nazi concentration camp. Höss was travelling to the outskirts of the town of Auschwitz. In the midst of territory snatched by Hitler during his invasion of Poland the previous year. Here Höss would create this concentration camp. The very first Auschwitz, which was later known as the Stammlager or Auschwitz 1. But when Höss first arrived in April 1940 few of these buildings existed. This infamous concentration camp began life as a collection of dilapidated former Polish army barracks set around a huge horse breaking yard.

Words from "Commandant of Auschwitz" by Rudolf Höss: "The task wasn't easy. In the shortest possible time, I had to create a camp for 10,000 prisoners using the existing complex of buildings which were well constructed but were completely run down and swarming with vermin."

And this first Auschwitz was built not to hold Polish Jews who were to be confined elsewhere in ghettos, but chiefly Polish political prisoners, anyone the Nazis considered a threat to their occupation.

Rudolf Höss: "True opponents of the state had to be securely locked up. Only the SS were capable of protecting the National Socialist State from all internal danger. All other organisations lacked the necessary toughness."

The Nazi occupation of Poland was to be brutal. They wanted to make the Poles a nation of slaves and it was to help them achieve this aim that the Nazis first built places like Auschwitz, modelled on concentration camps they'd already established in Germany. Höss who had worked in concentration camps since 1934 knew that his task was to create a place that would strike terror into the Poles. But the gas chambers for which Auschwitz was to become infamous were not yet conceived.

Höss even adopted the cynical motto of Dachau concentration camp in Germany&mdashArbeit Macht Frei&mdash"Work makes you free"&mdashand emblazoned it on the new gates of Auschwitz. The Polish prisoners now arriving at the new camp were subject to appalling treatment from the SS. Over half the 23,000 Poles first sent to Auschwitz were dead within twenty months.

Jerzy Bielecki was imprisoned in Auschwitz because the Nazis suspected he was in the Polish resistance. Once there the SS sentenced him to hanging torture, a punishment favoured in other concentration camps as well, where the prisoner was made to carry his full body weight on arms pulled back into an unnatural position.

Jerzy Bielecki&mdashPolish Political Prisoner&mdashAuschwitz: "He wanted to hang me on the hook, he said stand up on your toes. Finally he hooked me and then he kicked the stool away without any warning. I just felt Jesus Mary oh my God the terrible pain. My shoulders were breaking out from the joints, both arms were breaking out from the joints. I'd been moaning and he just said shut up you dog you deserve it, you have to suffer.

Appallingly violent as life was at Auschwitz, the camp itself was not yet a major priority in the Nazi scheme of things, so much so that in those early days Höss was forced to go scrounging for basic supplies.

Rudolf Höss: "Since I could expect no help from the inspectorate of concentration camps, I had to make do as best I could and help myself. I had to drive as far as 60 miles to Zakopane and Rabka just to get some kettles. I didn't even know where I could get 100 metres of barbed wire, so I just had to pilfer the badly needed barbed wire."

After a day of pilfering Höss returned home to a house on the edge of the concentration camp. Here he lived as he thought a Nazi conqueror should and treated the prisoners as his serfs.

Józef Paczynski&mdashPolish Political Prisoner, Auschwitz: 'Every week and a half or so, a junior officer from the guard company would come and take me to his house and I would cut Höss's hair, "kein Wort". He wouldn't say a word to me and I wouldn't say a word, because I was afraid, and he despised inmates.'

Interviewer: "Weren't you ever tempted to stick the scissors in his neck?"

Józef Paczynski: "It could have happened. I had a razor in my hand I could have grabbed him and slit his throat. It could have happened. But I'm a living, thinking being. Do you know what would have happened? My whole family would have been destroyed, half of the camp would have been destroyed, and in his place someone else would have come."

While Höss lived in comfort the prisoners struggled to survive. Deprived of adequate sustenance they evolved their own code of conduct, and one of the worst crimes an inmate could commit was to take another's food.

Kazimierz Piechowski: "What was done to get rid of such people? They were liquidated. The prisoners killed them at night. They put a blanket over his face and kept it there until he stopped breathing. And no one would ask questions. In the morning the block elder would report&mdashso many dead. Fair enough."

Interviewer: "And you didn't feel anything? This was normal"

Kazimierz Piechowski: "Absolutely. It was completely normal. Except for a kind of flash&mdashsubconscious perhaps: God, and still things such as this are happening. And still things such as this. But these things couldn't be helped. In other words, "don't think about it. It's been and gone. Now think about where to go to work, to survive the following day, just to survive the following day. Watch your bread, so that no-one steals it, so that you get to eat some breakfast. Go to work and try to find a lighter job." This is what you were preoccupied with, and this was a constant vigilance. 'Be vigilant. You have to survive.'"

Presiding over the horror of prison life at Auschwitz in 1940 were Höss and around 300 members of the SS. They held comradeship evenings for themselves and their families to foster a sense of solidarity. But as Höss reveals, it was a charade.

Rudolf Höss: "Palitzsch, the roll call leader, was the most cunning and slippery creature I had ever got to know and experience during my long and diverse service in various concentration camps. He literally walked over bodies to satisfy his hunger for power. Fritzsch, the first camp officer, was short-witted yet stubborn and always quarrelsome, even though he was trying to present himself as a good comrade and also talked a lot about comradeship when he was off duty. His behaviour was, in reality, anything but comradely."

Höss' memoirs reveal him to be a hard-hearted, petty-minded man, always wanting to shift responsibility for his mistakes onto others. And in his own admission Auschwitz was, from the first, a concentration camp where great brutality was practised.

Despite this, during 1940 the camp he ran was almost a backwater in Nazi occupied Poland. All that was about to change. The crucial reason for the transformation of Auschwitz was simple&mdashits location.

The area around the camp was rich in natural resources. This part of Poland possessed a plentiful supply of fresh water, lime and most importantly of all for what was to come, coal. Within 20 miles of Auschwitz lay a network of mines with access to some of the richest coal seams in Europe.

Towards the end of 1940, these were just the resources that scientists at IG Farben, the giant German industrial conglomerate, were looking for. They'd been experimenting for years in how to make synthetic rubber and fuel, essential raw materials for the German war effort. Water, lime and coal were the most important ingredients they needed. Now they found that Auschwitz was just the right place to site their new factory in the East.

Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS, now visited Auschwitz for the very first time. He had heard the news that IG Farben with its huge financial resources was interested in coming to the area. Himmler was accompanied on his tour of inspection by Höss, the regional Nazi leader&mdashthe Gauleiter -, and other senior members of the SS. Himmler told them that he wanted Auschwitz tripled in capacity from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners&mdashthe camp would be a backwater no longer, but the biggest concentration camp in the Nazi state. But as Höss witnessed, the local Nazi leader had problems with Reichsführer Himmler's plans.

"The Gauleiter raised objections and the County President tried to put a stop to the plan by pointing to the unresolved drainage issue. But the Reichsführer would have none of it."

Subtitles: Get the experts in this field and your problem resolves itself. Gentlemen, the camp will be expanded. My reasons for it are far more important than your objections.

Unsurprisingly, Himmler got his way.

A whole series of plans was drawn up over the succeeding months and years, detailing the grandeur, almost megalomania of the new Nazi vision for Auschwitz. Hidden for decades, the detailed drawings surfaced only shortly before the death of the original German architect.

The Nazi dream was that the money IG Farben were bringing to the area would fund the creation of a new town of Auschwitz, a model German settlement in the East. Ethnic Germans would now live here, with those who currently lived in the town thrown out of their homes and deported. Plans were made for a gigantic Nazi party headquarters and a host of other new buildings. And nearby, down the Sola River, the concentration camp itself was to be transformed.

Prisoners would work as slave labour at the IG Farben factory nearby, the SS would sell IG Farben raw materials and a huge new 'Kommandantur', a central administrative building, would be built. A special apartment was even to be constructed for Himmler himself. Auschwitz was to be his home away from home. Plans were drawn up for suitable furniture for the Reichsführer. From his sofa to his occasional table, from his armchair to the hangings on the wall.

Himmler's vision for the new Auschwitz was certainly grandiose. But it was the epic plans that Adolf Hitler was working on at the same time which would transform Auschwitz in ways that dwarfed anything Himmler had contemplated. Hitler intended not just to reorganise a concentration camp and a town, but to reshape entire countries. For, during the spring of 1941, Hitler worked on plans to invade the Soviet Union. This decision would in turn act as the catalyst for radical change in the function of Auschwitz.

Before the end of 1941 Hitler expected German troops to be parading through Moscow's Red Square. The Nazis hated the Soviet Union. It was the home of Communism&mdashan ideology they both feared and despised. The Nazi's believed that it ought not to be hard to defeat Stalin and his Red Army.

Hans Friedrich&mdash1st SS Infantry Brigade: "They were&mdashin civilisation terms&mdashnot as far on as the West. You just have to imagine the following: France&mdasha civilised nation with flushing toilets. Russia&mdashpredominantly toilet behind the house."

In Berlin that Spring of 1941, this view that the Soviet Union was peopled with inferior human beings, pervaded Nazi strategic thinking. Nazi economic planners worked out how the German army could be fed once the invasion was launched. And in the process they thought it legitimate to plan mass starvation. Every word spoken here is taken from Nazi memoranda and minutes of economic committees held just before the war against the Soviet Union began.

Subtitles: If we want to get anything out of Russia we need to reduce consumption. Poverty, hunger and thrift have been the lot of the Russians for centuries. Their stomachs are elastic, so let's have no misplaced pity. And let's face it: millions of people will die of starvation if we take what we need from the country. We have no other choice. The war can only be continued if the whole of the Wermacht is fed from Russia.

So even before the war started, the Nazis envisaged the extermination of large sections of the Soviet population. This was to be a war of annihilation.

In the weeks after their invasion of the Soviet Union the Germans took 3 million Soviet prisoners. Within 9 months 2 million of them were dead, many starved to death in German captivity. Any Soviet political officers, or commissars, found amongst the Red Army prisoners on the front line were to be shot.

But some who slipped through were sent to concentration camps&mdashwhich is how Auschwitz first became involved in the war in the East. On this spot in July 1941, Soviet prisoners were forced to work in gravel pits. From behind a nearby fence, a Polish inmate of Auschwitz, Jerzy Bielecki, watched what happened to them.

Jerzy Bielecki&mdashPolish political prisoner, Auschwitz: 'The Prisoner Overseers beat them mercilessly, kicked them, clubbed them they would fall to the ground, it was a macabre scene. I had never in my life seen anything like it. Neither did I later on, even though I remained in the camp for a long time after.

I saw an SS-man, a junior officer, walking around the gravel pit with a pistol in his hand&hellipIt was sadism. 'You dogs! You damned communists! You pieces of shit!' Horrible words like these. And from time to time he would direct the pistol downwards and shoot: pow&hellip pow pow."

It wasn't just the Soviet prisoners of war who were to suffer as the Nazis moved East it was the Soviet Jews as well. The Nazis, hardened anti-Semites, believed that the combination of Slavs, Jews and Communism was particularly dangerous.

Hans Friedrich: "There were connections between Jews and Bolsheviks, there was sufficient evidence for the fact that there were connections between the two."

The Nazis spouted any number of similar prejudices about the Jews. Even claiming there was an international Jewish conspiracy against them and that the Jews had somehow lost Germany the 1st World War. Their delusions knew no bounds.

Subtitles: These are the types of Eastern Jews who flooded Europe's cities after the last war. Small parasites, undermining their host countries threatening thousand-year-old cultures and bringing with them crime, corruption and chaos.

From the moment the Germans first invaded the Soviet Union, Nazi special units operating throughout the countryside and towns had shot many male Jews including Communists, civic leaders and even those just of military age. They'd also encouraged locals to rise up against the Jews as is happening here in this rare footage from the Ukraine in July 1941.

After a series of meetings between Hitler and Himmler in the summer of 1941 there was an escalation in the persecution of the Soviet Jews. New units were committed to special duties in the East, among them the 1st SS Infantry Brigade. In a typical action, they approached the town of Ostrog in the western part of the Ukraine on August 4th 1941, where over ten thousand Jews from the surrounding area had been gathered together. Among them were 11 year old Vasyl Valdeman and his family. They were now at risk. The Nazi killing squads in the East had now began to target Jewish women and children as well as men.

Vasyl Valdeman&mdashJewish resident, Ostrog: We knew something would be done to us here. When we saw people hit and driven along here with spades, even small children realised why people were carrying the spades.

One of the members of the 1st SS Infantry Brigade at the time was Hans Friedrich. He claims not to recall exactly which actions he took part in that summer, but he does admit to participating in killings like the one in Ostrog.

Hans Friedrich&mdash1st SS Infantry Brigade: "They were so utterly shocked and frightened, you could do with them what you wanted."

Vasyl Valdeman: "Kids were crying, the sick were crying, the elderly were praying to God. Not on their knees but seated or lying down. It was very tough to go through it all, hearing all this wailing and crying. Then they had everyone get up and said 'Go', and as soon as people started moving, they selected people for shooting, for execution."

The selected Ukrainian Jews were taken out to this spot and a pit was dug. In scenes which were repeated right across the areas of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis, men, women and children were ordered to strip and prepare to die.

Hans Friedrich: "Try to imagine there is a ditch, with people on one side, and behind them soldiers. That was us and we were shooting. And those who were hit fell down into the ditch.

Interviewer: "Could you tell me what you were thinking and feeling when you were shooting?"

Hans Friedrich: "Nothing. I only thought, 'Aim carefully' so that you hit properly. That was my thought."

Interviewer: "This was your only thought? During all that time you had no feelings for the people, the Jewish civilians that you shot?"

Hans Friedrich: "Because my hatred towards the Jews is too great. And I admit my thinking on this point is unjust, I admit this. But what I experienced from my earliest youth when I was living on a farm, what the Jews were doing to us&mdashwell that will never change. That is my unshakeable conviction."

As he grew up in the 1930's in an atmosphere of vicious anti-Semitism, Hans Friedrich came to believe that local Jewish traders had cheated him and his family.

Interviewer: "What in God's name did the people you shot have to do with those people who supposedly treated you badly at home? They simply belonged to the same group! What else? What else did they have to do with it?"

Hans Friedrich: "Nothing, but to us they were Jews!"

Vasyl Valdeman: "Though I was a small boy at that time, I understood what Nazis were. I had no idea before but afterwards I was thinking all the time&mdashwhat makes those people be so cruel, what makes them beasts?"

The killings went on into the evening. Vasyl Valdeman and his mother managed to escape and hide in a nearby village. But the SS killed his father, grandfather and two uncles.

Vasyl Valdeman: "That's how it was&mdashthe first execution&mdashthe most horrible one. It wasn't the last one. There were three more large executions after that with 2000 to 3000 people shot at every one of them. More people were executed afterwards in smaller scale ones and this is how the Jewish community of Ostrog was annihilated."

At the same time as the mass shootings of Jews in the Soviet Union, there was also an escalation in the killing of Auschwitz prisoners. For the first time inmates of Auschwitz were to be killed by gassing. But not in the way for which the camp was eventually to become notorious.

Höss received news that doctors from the so called Adult Euthanasia Programme would visit the camp. They were looking for those prisoners who could no longer work. Members of the Nazis' Adult Euthanasia Programme had up to now been targeting the mentally and physically disabled. A section of the population who had long been demonised by Nazi propaganda.

Subtitles: The German people are unaware of the true extent of all this misery. They are unaware of the depressing atmosphere in these buildings, in which thousands of gibbering idiots must be fed and nursed. They are inferior to any animal. Can we burden future generations with such an inheritance?

In 1939, Hitler had authorised a scheme by which severely disabled children could be murdered. Then once the war began, this killing was extended to disabled adults as well. The selection was straightforward. A doctor would examine a report on the patient and then if he thought they were suitable candidates for the scheme, he would mark the form with a red cross. Two other doctors separately marked identical forms and a majority vote decided the patient's fate. The doctors met neither each other, nor the patient, before reaching their verdict. Those selected to die were taken to special institutions inside Germany like this one, the Sonnenstein Clinic near Dresden.

There were six centres like this spread throughout Germany. And in them, a new method of killing had been devised using a subterfuge that would eventually be adopted at Auschwitz. The disabled were told they were going to have a shower. They were taken into a room from which hung pipes and showerheads. But the pipes were not connected to water. They led out through the walls to bottles of carbon monoxide gas. Once the room was sealed, the carbon monoxide was turned on and the patients murdered. Around 70,000 disabled people had been killed in this way by the summer of 1941.

Himmler wanted the Adult Euthanasia Scheme to be extended to concentration camps, which is why a special unit came to Auschwitz that summer.

Kazimierz Smolen&mdashPolish Political Prisoner, Auschwitz: "During an evening roll call, we were told that all the sick among us could go away for treatment. that they could leave to be cured, and that they were to sign up. Of course, it was said that they would be going for treatment. And, in the camp, some people believed it. "

So the first Auschwitz prisoners to be gassed were not killed in the camp but transported to gas chambers in Germany. And they were selected not because they were Jews but because they could no longer work.

Kazimierz Smolen: "There were 575 people and they walked like some kind of funeral procession, because some walked, others were carried on stretchers&mdasha kind of melancholy march. And the inmates standing nearby were saying farewell to their relatives and friends. All of them were worn out prisoners. There were no healthy people among them. Male nurses carried some on stretchers. It was terribly macabre. It was a procession of spectres."

Two weeks after the sick were taken from Auschwitz, Heinrich Himmler visited the Soviet Union. A visit that was to be of great significance in the development of the Nazis' Extermination Programme. The discovery in the 1990's of Himmler's appointment diary for this crucial period allows his precise movements to be tracked. He drove to the outskirts of Minsk and on the morning of Friday, August 15th 1941, he watched an execution of Jews and alleged partisans. The sight must have been similar to this execution, filmed around the same time on the sand-dunes of Liepaja in Latvia. After the shooting, SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski told Himmler there was a problem with the SS killers.

Subtitles: Reichsführer, these were only 100. What do you mean? Look at the eyes of the men in this commando. These men are finished for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are we producing here? Either neurotics or brutes.

Bach-Zelewski knew that all over the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 the Nazis and their collaborators were murdering women and children at close range and in cold blood. Himmler realised he had to find a better way of killing&mdashbetter for the murderers, not their victims.

Which is why SS Lieutenant Dr. Albert Widmann of the Technical Institute of the Criminal Police travelled into Eastern Europe. Widmann and his colleagues had been involved in the experiments which had led to the use of bottled carbon monoxide to kill the disabled. But he knew that it would be expensive and difficult to send canisters of carbon monoxide all the way to the new killing locations far from Germany. So he had to find a new way forward, which is why he drove into the Soviet Union followed by a truck carrying boxes of high explosive. Widmann reported to Artur Nebe, commander of one of the killing squads, at his headquarters in the Lenin House in Minsk.

Widmann reported to Artur Nebe, commander of one of the killing squads, at his headquarters in the Lenin House in Minsk.

Subtitles: I hope you've got enough explosives with you? You ordered 250 kg, I've brought 450 kg with me. You never know. Very good.

Nazi eyewitness account of murder experiment with explosives: "The bunker had totally collapsed, there was total silence. Body parts were scattered on the ground and hanging in the trees. And the next day we collected the body parts and threw them back into the bunker. Those parts that were too high in the trees were just left there."

After this horror, Widmann and his SS colleagues tried another method of mass murder&mdashthis one suggested by what had happened to Artur Nebe of the SS earlier on in the year. Nebe had driven home drunk from a party in Berlin and passed out in his garage with the car engine still running. As a result the carbon monoxide from the exhaust gasses had nearly killed him. Learning from Nebe's experience, Widmann and his colleagues now conducted experiments in the Soviet Union, like this one.

This film is believed to show patients from a Soviet hospital being locked in a room which was connected to the exhaust pipes of a car and a lorry. The Nazis had now developed a cheaper method of killing people with carbon monoxide than that previously used in the adult euthanasia scheme.

Around the same time as these gassing experiments were being conducted in the East, the authorities at Auschwitz were innovating new ways of murder as well. Whilst Höss was away from the camp, his deputy Karl Fritzsch had a radical idea, one of the most significant in the history of Auschwitz. With the SS in the camp still relying on shooting to kill Soviet prisoners unable to work, maybe, he thought, another method of killing lay right in front of him. In Auschwitz, clothes infected with lice and other insects were disinfected with crystallised prussic acid, mass produced under the trade name Zyklon B.

Subtitles: Zyklon B is used for pest control and thus protects our national economy and its assets, in particular the health of our people.

Once released from their sealed container, Zyklon B crystals dissolved in the air to create a lethal gas.

Fritzsch chose Block 11 in Auschwitz to conduct his first experiment with Zyklon B. This was the most feared location in the camp. A prison within a prison. The place where the SS sent inmates to be punished&mdashinterrogated, tortured, even executed. In Block 11 were standing cells where prisoners would be crammed together scarcely even able to breathe and starvation cells where inmates would be locked up, deprived of food and left until they died. Everyone in Auschwitz knew of the reputation of Block 11.

Józef Paczynski &mdashPolish political prisoner, Auschwitz: "I personally was afraid of walking past Block 11. Personally, I was afraid. Although it was closed off, I was really scared to walk past there. Whether it was the avenue when I was walking there, or what&hellip I was afraid. Block 11 meant death."

On a day in late August or early September 1941, Fritzsch ordered that the basement of Block 11 be prepared for the use of Zyklon B. Doors and windows were sealed&mdashthe whole block locked down.

August Kowalczyk&mdashPolish political prisoner, Auschwitz: "Our attention was drawn&mdashmany of my colleagues saw this&mdashby SS men running around with gas masks. The windows of the bunker had been covered up with sand, and in the bunker&mdashthe cells of the bunker, in the cellar&mdashSoviet prisoners of war were assembled. And it turned out the following day that the SS&mdashactually, it was Palitzsch in particular who attracted attention because he was running around like crazy. It turned out that the gas hadn't worked properly and that many of the prisoners, the people, were still alive. So they increased the dosage, added more crystals and finished the job.

The prisoners dragged it all away on carts known as Rollwagons. They took them to the crematorium, because the crematorium was already being used, you could see smoke from the chimney&hellip So it was&hellip an open secret."

Józef Paczynski: "How does a person feel? One becomes indifferent in the midst of all that. Today it's your turn, tomorrow it will be mine."

Once Höss came back to the camp, he learnt about the experiment.

Rudolf Höss: "When I returned, Fritzsch reported to me about how he had used the gas. He used it again to kill the next transport of Russian prisoners of war."

As Höss returned home to his wife and four children in his house on the edge of the camp, he felt pleased.

Rudolf Höss: "I must admit that this gassing had a calming effect on me, I was always horrified of executions by firing squads. Now, I was relieved to think that we would be spared all these bloodbaths."

Höss was wrong. He was about to oversee an even greater bloodbath. By building a camp here on this patch of swampy ground a mile and a half away from the town of Auschwitz at a place the Poles called Brzezinka and the Germans Birkenau.


Documentary Description

Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution' , is a BBC six-episode documentary film series presenting the story of Auschwitz through interviews with former inmates and guards and re-enactments, first televised on BBC One on 11 January 2005. The series prominently featured the music of Gorecki Symphony No 3 , Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel" and Handel's Harpsichord Suite No. 4 In D Minor, HWV 437: Sarabande.

In the United States, this series first aired on PBS television stations as Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State in early 2005 and was released, under that title, in a 2-DVD box set (Region 1), by BBC Warner, on 29 March 2005.

BBC Press Releases

Auschwitz: The Nazis & the 'Final Solution'

With a number of recent high profile Hollywood films such as Schindler's List and The Pianist and iconic books such as The Diary of Anne Frank it is easy to assume that everyone is familiar with the Holocaust and Auschwitz.

Yet a recent BBC survey suggests that almost half the adult population (45%) claim to have never even heard of Auschwitz.

Amongst women and people aged under 35 the figure is even higher at 60%.

Even among those who have heard of Auschwitz, 70% felt that they did not know a great deal about the subject.

Most of them (76%) were unaware of its roots as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners the majority (74%) did not know that people other than Jews were killed there and only a few recognised the name of the camp commandant or knew who finally liberated the camp at the end of the war.

The BBC's research informs a definitive new series which has been made to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in January 2005.

Written and produced by Bafta Award-winning producer Laurence Rees, Auschwitz: The Nazis & the 'Final Solution' offers a unique perspective on the camp in which more than one million people were ruthlessly murdered.

"We were amazed by the results of our audience research" says series producer Laurence Rees. "It's easy to presume that the horrors of Auschwitz are engrained in the nation's collective memory but obviously this is not the case.

"We were particularly startled by the fact that less than 40% of younger people have even heard of Auschwitz.

"The research reinforced the importance of making this series and trying to ensure the atrocities that unfolded at Auschwitz are never forgotten."

The series is the result of three years of in-depth research, drawing on the close involvement of world experts on the period, including Professors Sir Ian Kershaw and David Cesarani.

It is based on nearly 100 interviews with survivors and perpetrators, many of whom are speaking in detail for the first time.

Sensitively shot drama sequences, filmed on location using German and Polish actors, bring recently discovered documents to life on screen, whilst specially commissioned computer images give a historically accurate view of Auschwitz-Birkenau at all its many stages of development.

"The name Auschwitz is quite rightly a byword for horror," says Laurence Rees. "But the problem with thinking about horror is that we naturally turn away from it.

"Our series is not only about the shocking, almost unimaginable pain of those who died, or survived, Auschwitz. It's about how the Nazis came to do what they did.

"I feel passionately that being horrified is not enough. We need to make an attempt to understand how and why such horrors happened if we are ever to be able to stop them occurring again."

The BBC will be marking Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January 2005) with a number of other television and radio programmes, including a live event on the day, an international musical performance in and around the museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and a documentary that traces one woman's story of survival told through her grandson's eyes.

Notes to Editors

The research findings were based on a nationally representative postal survey of 4,000 adults aged 16+ conducted by IPSOS RSL as part of their weekly Quest survey.

All respondents recruited were mailed a questionnaire to complete covering a number of topics, with quota controls imposed, within region, by age within sex and social class.

Fieldwork was conducted during February 2004.

The Killing Evolution

The Nazis did not start World War II with a plan to eliminate the Jews. This solution evolved&mdashespecially from 1939 to 1941&mdashas they tried different techniques to accomplish their goals. Particularly in Germany and Poland camp commandants experimented with various killing methodologies and consulted with one another on their successes and failures. The ability of a single camp to kill 2,000-3,000 people per hour took years to achieve. At first, though, murder was done at close range-man-to-man, woman, or child.

In 1941, SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski told his superior Heinrich Himmler that the Nazis had been murdering Jews, including women and children, at close range and in cold blood all summer. Bach-Zelewski was worried about this method's traumatizing effects on his men. Himmler recorded in his diary the General's concerns: "And he said to me, 'Reichsfuhrer, these men are finished for the rest of their lives. What kind of followers are we producing here- either neurotics or brutes?'"

Himmler realized he had to find new methods that would spare his troops the psychological strain of killing human beings at close range.

Carbon Monoxide

According to the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, Adolf Eichmann suggested using "showers of carbon monoxide while bathing, as was done with mental patients in some places in the Reich." Instead of leading to water, the showerheads were connected to canisters of carbon monoxide.

The birth of this method had varied sources, including one ironic twist. Artur Nebe, a Nazi-killing squad commander, had come home drunk from a party one night and passed out in his garage with his car still running. The carbon monoxide gas from the exhaust nearly killed him.

As Nebe related the incident to his SS comrades, this near-miss convinced him that gassing could be used effectively against the Jews and other Nazi enemies. Gas would be cheaper than bullets, and no Nazi would directly take a life.

The Nazis' experimented with another methodology using carbon monoxide. Deported Jews from the Lodz Ghetto were led through a basement corridor and then up a ramp to a small windowless room that turned out to be the cargo area of a large van. Once the van was full, the doors were slammed shut, and as it was driven to a nearby forest, exhaust fumes were routed into the back, asphyxiating the trapped victims.

After the van reached its destination, the bodies were buried or burned. Zofia Szalek, a German residing in the Polish town of Chelmno, describes what she witnessed: "We could hear the screams, but we couldn't see the people. They were loaded in and murdered there. It was hell. That's why we called these vans 'Hell Vans.'"

The most effective and efficient technique developed for killing at Auschwitz depended on the same pesticide that was used to kill the lice in prisoners' clothing. The disinfectant, sold under the trade name of Zyklon B, was in plentiful supply. Once exposed to properly heated air, the crystals produced lethal gas.

In the fall of 1941, the basement of cell block 11&mdashthe Auschwitz building where some of the most despicable punishments were meted out&mdashwas sealed and locked down. August Kowalczyk, a Polish political prisoner on a nearby work detail, witnessed the entire event. He reports that because they were still experimenting, Nazi judgments in error caused the murders to take place over a two-day period, instead of the expected half hour.

Massive Gas Chambers and Crematoria

By the early spring of 1943, four huge crematoria became fully operational at Auschwitz II (Birkenau). They housed eight gas chambers and forty-six ovens that could dispose of some 4,400 corpses per day. Trains would arrive at the camp and those most fit&mdashapproximately 10-30 percent of the arrivals&mdashwould be selected for a work detail. The remaining prisoners were sent to the gas chambers.

Prisoners assigned to a unit known as the Sonderkommando had to move the bodies from the gas chambers to the furnaces. Several bodies at a time were burned in a single oven. In May 1944 a serious bottle-neck occurred at Auschwitz, because the deportation and extermination of the Hungarian Jews was under way.

Numbering about 725,000, plus thousands more who were Christian converts but still counted as Jews by Nazi racial criteria, the Hungarian Jews were the largest Jewish group that remained alive in Nazi-dominated Europe. Between late April and early July 1944, more than 380,000 of them were brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most were gassed and cremated. When the demand for corpse disposal overtaxed the camp&rsquos ovens, camp authorities, needing to speed up the process, again resorted to burning bodies on pyres, using the huge pits that had been dug behind Crematorium V.

Precise counts of how many people actually were murdered in death camps can never be made because those marched off directly from the trains usually were not registered. However, a calculation that is both conservative and reliable indicates that at least 1.1 million people were gassed to death at Auschwitz&mdash90 percent of them Jews.

Even with all of the death technology, the Germans could not cremate everyone they murdered during the Holocaust. As they retreated from the advancing Allied forces, they blew up the gas chambers and crematoria to destroy the evidence at Auschwitz. But the evidence lingered. In camps throughout Poland and Germany, tens of thousands of bodies remained stacked or spilling out into the cold winter snow.

Surprising Beginnings

March 1940 to September 1941

Auschwitz, the site of the largest mass murder in the history of the world did not start out as a death camp. In the spring of 1940, Rudolf Höss, a captain in the SS (Schutzstaffel), the elite defense organization that answered only to Hitler and advanced his plans, became Commandant of a new Nazi concentration camp at the southwestern Polish town of Oswiecim. Auschwitz, as the Germans called it, was in territory that Hitler had invaded the previous year.

Höss was directed to create a concentration camp for 10,000 prisoners, using old Polish army barracks, but as he later wrote in his memoirs, "The task wasn&rsquot easy. In the shortest possible time, I had to create a camp for 10,000 prisoners using the existing complex of buildings which were well constructed but were completely run down and swarming with vermin."

&ldquoTrue opponents of the state had to be securely locked up. Only the SS were capable of protecting the National Socialist State from all internal danger. All other organizations lacked the necessary toughness.&rdquo

&ndash Memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz

Auschwitz I, as the camp came to be called, was built primarily to confine and oppress Polish dissidents whom the Nazis considered to be a threat to their occupation. Polish Jews were confined elsewhere, increasingly in ghettos. Höss adopted the motto of Dachau, another concentration camp where he had previously worked: Arbeit Macht Frei ("Work Makes You Free").

&ldquoWatch your bread so that no one steals it. This is what you were preoccupied with, and this was a constant vigilance.&rdquo

&ndash Kazimierz Piechowski, Polish political prisoner, Auschwitz

The Polish prisoners were subjected to appalling treatment from the SS. More than 10,000 died within twenty months. The camp received little support from Nazi headquarters and Höss often had to scrounge for supplies.

Jerzy Bielecki was one of the first Polish prisoners at Auschwitz. The SS thought he was with the Polish resistance and sentenced him to &ldquohanging torture,&rdquo a brutal punishment where the prisoner carried his full body weight on his arms that were pulled behind his back in an unnatural position:

&ldquoHe wanted to hang me on the hook. He said, &lsquoStand up on your toes. Finally he hooked me and then he kicked the stool away without any warning. I just felt Jesus Mary, oh my God, the terrible pain. My shoulders were breaking out from the joints. Both arms were breaking out from the joints. I&rsquod been moaning and he just said, &lsquoShut up you dog. You deserve it. You have to suffer.&rsquo&rdquo

Writing in his memoirs, Rudolf Höss admits that Auschwitz was a concentration camp where cruel and brutal treatment was routine. Despite this&mdashduring the early 1940s&mdashthe facility was almost a backwater in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Auschwitz, however, was about to change. The town was situated on major railroad lines. Its surrounding area was rich in natural resources, particularly fresh water, lime, and coal. This made it an excellent location for IG Farben, the German industrial conglomerate, to build a factory that would manufacture war materials.

March 1940 to September 1941

Industrialization interested Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the SS. His dream was that IG Farben's activities would fund the creation of a model Nazi settlement where Auschwitz prisoners would work as slave laborers and the SS would profit by selling coal and gravel as well as labor to IG Farben.

Toward the end of 1940, Himmler visited Auschwitz and ordered the camp tripled in capacity from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners. Auschwitz would be a backwater no longer, it would become the largest concentration camp in the Nazi empire. Over the succeeding months and years, a series of architectural plans were drawn up, detailing even greater expansion of the Nazi vision for Auschwitz.

While Himmler formulated his ideas for a bigger and greater Auschwitz during the spring of 1941, Adolf Hitler completed plans to invade the Soviet Union. Hitler's plans for Russia would in turn cause a radical change in the function of Auschwitz.

Because it was the home of communism, the Nazis feared and despised the Soviet Union. They also believed that Joseph Stalin's Red Army was made up of inferior human beings and would not be hard to defeat.

&ldquoThey [the Russians] were&mdashin civilisation terms&mdashnot as far on as the West. You just have to imagine the following: France&mdasha civilised nation with flushing toilets. Russia&mdashpredominantly toilet behind the house.&rdquo

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Of the three million Soviets troops taken prisoner in the invasion, two million were dead within nine months, either shot, starved, or worked to death.

Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz, watched what happened to the Russian prisoners who were forced to work in gravel pits.

&ldquoThe prisoner overseers beat them mercilessly, kicked them, clubbed them. They would fall to the ground. It was a macabre scene. I had never in my life seen anything like it. Neither did I later on, even though I remained in the camp for a long time after. &rdquo

&ldquoI saw an SS-man, a junior officer, walking around the gravel pit with a pistol in his hand. It was sadism. &lsquoYou dogs! You damned communists! You pieces of shit!&rsquo Horrible words like these. And from time to time he would direct the pistol downwards and shoot: Pow. Pow. Pow.&rdquo (Jerzy Bielecki).

&ldquoDuring an evening roll call, we were told that all the sick among us could go away for treatment. Some people believed it.&rdquo

&ndash Kazimierz Smolen, Polish political prisoner, Auschwitz

Not only the Soviet prisoners of war suffered as the Germans moved east. Hitler did not want to keep alive any prisoners who could not work.

In the autumn of 1939, Hitler authorized a secret Euthanasia Program, which administered so-called mercy deaths first to handicapped children and later to mentally and physically disabled Germans adults. These people were taken to special institutions where they were gassed with carbon monoxide. Himmler wanted to extend this program to concentration camps, including Auschwitz, to eliminate the need to transport people who could not work. He realized that he had to find a better and more efficient way to murder people&mdashpsychologically better for the killers, not for the victims.

March 1940 to September 1941

One of Höss' deputies at Auschwitz developed an efficient method that featured crystallized prussic acid, mass produced under the trade name Zyklon B, and widely used as a pesticide. At Auschwitz it was being used to fumigate barracks and disinfect prisoners' clothes. When the crystals dissolved in air, they created a lethal gas. Block 11, the most feared location in Auschwitz, was chosen for the first Zyklon B experiments.

On a day in late August or early September 1941, the doors and windows in the cellar of Block 11 were sealed.

August Kowalczyk, a Polish political prisoner at Auschwitz, watched what happened the day Zyklon B was first used on Block 11:

&ldquoOur attention was drawn by SS men running around with gas masks. The windows of the bunker had been covered up with sand, and in the cellar Soviet prisoners of war were assembled. And it turned out the following day that the SS&mdashactually, it was [Gerhard] Palitzsch in particular who attracted attention because he was running around like crazy. It turned out that the gas hadn't worked properly and that many of the prisoners, the people, were still alive. So they increased the dosage&mdashadded more crystals&mdashand finished the job.&rdquo

Rudolf Höss later wrote that the experiment with Zyklon B had a calming effect on him: "I was always horrified of executions by firing squads. Now I was relieved to think that we would be spared all these bloodbaths."

But the bloodbaths would continue and grow even larger when a new camp was built a mile and a half from Auschwitz, at a place the Poles called Brzezinka, and the Germans Birkenau. It also became known as Auschwitz II.

Important Events From This day in History March 4th

2nd John Adams 1797 to 1801
3rd Thomas Jefferson 1801 to 1809
4th James Madison 1809 to 1817
5th James Monroe 1817 to 1825
6th John Quincy Adams 1825 to 1829
7th Andrew Jackson 1829 to 1837
8th Martin Van Buren 1837 to 1841
9th William Henry Harrison 1841 to April 4, 1841 ( Died in Office )
11th James K. Polk 1845 to 1849
12th Zachary Taylor 1849 to July 9th 1850 ( Died in Office )
14th Franklin Pierce 1853 to 1857
15th James Buchanan 1857 to 1861
16th Abraham Lincoln 1861 to April 15th 1865 ( Assassinated )
18th Ulysses S. Grant 1869 to 1877
19th Rutherford B. Hayes 1877 to 1881
20th James A. Garfield 1881 to September 19th 1881 ( Assassinated )
22nd Grover Cleveland 1885 to 1889
23rd Benjamin Harrison 1889 to 1893
24th Grover Cleveland 1893 to 1897
25th William McKinley 1897 to September 14th 1901 ( Assassinated )
27th William Howard Taft 1909 to 1913
28th Woodrow Wilson 1913 to 1921
29th Warren G. Harding 1921 to August 2nd 1923 ( Died in Office )
31st Herbert Hoover 1929 to 1933
32nd Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933 to April 12th 1945 ( Died In Office )
The following were not inaugurated on March 4th for differing reasons including natural death, assassinations etc of previous president causing change in date

1st George Washington April 30th 1789 to 1797
10th John Tyler April 4th 1841 to 1845
13th Millard Fillmore July 9th 1850 to 1853
17th Andrew Johnson April 15th 1865 to 1869
21st Chester A. Arthur September 19th 1881 to 1885
26th Theodore Roosevelt September 14th 1901 to 1909
30th Calvin Coolidge August 2nd 1923 to 1929
33rd Harry S. Truman April 12th 1945 to January 20th 1953
In 1953 the date for Presidential Inaugurations was changed to January 20th. Check January 20th for later Presidential Inaugurations.

Ellesmere Guardian, Volume LXII, Issue 17, 4 March 1941


Sorry to cut in on current talks, but I've just come across a post from March 2014 re. Nissen Huts in Deptford.
I lived in one in Croft street (number 12), cannot find anywhere to post in response to it. Valerie.

does anyone remember croft street off evelyn street
in the 50s . When we moved to London and remember well the Nissan huts , any pictures ?
4 March 2014 at 11:51"


I contacted lewisham local history dept about croft st and they told me you had replied to my post . Ellams family at no2

how on earth do I contact Valerie . my neighbour 60 years ago

family history of growing up in deptford

Hi I lived directly behind Deptford police station from 1964-9 in Napier Street. It's all gone now and it's a a smaller cul-de-sac called Napier Close.
I wonder if anyone might have some pics of that area from the 50s or 60s? We were the last family to move in that street.

1941, March 4 – Biggest Blaze in Marion’s History

Origin of the blaze, which was discovered at 12:30 A.M. and drove 32 persons from their beds in the hotel, was unknown. Although the fire appeared at first to be located in the basement of the Economy Variety Store, Fire Chief Orlie Ing expressed the opinion it started in the hotel furnace room. The $200,000 estimate of the fire loss was made by insurance men.

The amount of insurance carried on the buildings and contents was estimated at $100,000. Fire departments of Marion, Herrin, West Frankfort and Carbondale fought the fire for six hours. At 11 A.M. Tuesday smoldering ruins broke into flames again, and firemen had to resume the fight.

The buildings destroyed were owned by Louie Gudder and W.T. Hudspeth. Destruction was complete. Tuesday’s dawn found only the skeleton fragments of brick walls standing where one of the city’s most valuable blocks had stood the day before.

The fire was discovered at 12:30 A.M. by Ralph N. Adams, former Circuit Clerk, who managed the hotel. He smelled smoke in the hotel lobby, and called the fire department. He then notified the guests, and all left the building without panic. At that time the fire all seemed to be in the basement of the Economy Variety Store.

Fire Chief Orlie Ing spotted a Marion fire truck on Madison Street near the post office, and ran a line of hose to the Economy store basement from the rear. He sent out a call for assistance to Herrin and West Frankfort. Twenty-two minutes after receiving the call a West Frankfort pumper went into action from a position at the southeast corner of the square. A Herrin truck hooked up directly in front of the hotel building.

With three lines of hose pouring water into the front and rear of the Economy Store, firemen appeared to make headway against the fire which they could not see through the black smoke which poured from the building. Firemen carried one line of hose into the basement of the Economy store, far inside the building without finding the source of the fire, and were finally forced back out of the building by the stifling smoke.

At 2 A.M. the fire had not yet broken out where it could be seen, and a momentary lessening of the billowing smoke gave rise to a belief among owners of the business houses involved that the fire was under control. But by this time, the fire which was eating away far within the interior of the basement of the hotel building had burned its way upward beyond the reach of the fire hose, and attacked the ground floor rooms.

Almost at the same time that flames were seen licking the steps of the hotel stairs, the fire broke through windows of the ground floor level on the east side of the building and through a wooden partition separating the furnace room from the store rooms on the East Main Street side. Rapidly devouring the ancient wooden floors and stairways which gave way to make a chimney for the raging inferno, the blaze showed itself through the roof of the three-story section of the building.

As the first glare of light was reflected in the huge smoke clouds above the building, Chief Ing sent out a call for the Carbondale fire department. A truck which arrived from Carbondale went into action from a hydrant at the head of South Market Street. By then all three stories of the hotel were a mass of flames. The dense smoke inside the Economy store had given way to blazing heat.

The Virgil Center store to the south was afire, and firemen who had placed a ladder against the Hudspeth building to carry the Carbondale hose to the roof, retreated to the roof of the gas company building across an alley to the south. From there they played streams of water upon the Hudspeth building, with no hope of doing more than keep the blaze from leaping across the alley.

At that time firemen had been forced to retreat from the East Main Street side of the hotel building and shortly afterwards the north wall of the building fell into the street. Then the east wall of the third story structure toppled on the roof of the Marion Baking Co., building owned by A.B. McLaren. A portion of the south wall of the Hudspeth building fell into the alley adjacent.

Windows in the Warder building on the north side of East Main Street and in the gas company building south of the Hudspeth building were broken by the tumbling walls. The west walls all remained standing, but the front of the hotel building was pulled down early Tuesday to eliminate danger of its falling on persons in the square. A wide area was roped off by police as a precaution against injury to sight seers.

Throughout the night the regular firemen from Marion and out of town departments were assisted by volunteers who manned the hose lines in the cold wind that fanned the flames. All members of the police force remained on duty throughout the night, assisting firemen and handling the traffic. With hose lines from five pumpers strewn across the east side of the square, automobile traffic was halted and scores of cars which had arrived at the fire scene early could not be moved until the hose lines were taken up after daylight Tuesday.

Throughout the battle with the flames, hundreds of men and women stood and watched. Women wearing cloaks thrown over house coats or house pajamas were in evidence everywhere. As the blazing interior of the building illuminated the sky, and caused the gaping windows to stand out in relief against the brick walls of the doomed structure, the red mass of flames was punctuated by the white flash of amateur cameramen’s bulbs recording the worst fire in many years.

The fire which lighted the sky could be seen for many miles. A motorist driving to Marion from Harrisburg saw the light, and thought Crab Orchard was being swept by fire. As the various property owners took stock of their losses there was much speculation as to future plans, and store operators were already looking for new locations.

As for the hotel building itself, said to be insured for $35,000, no definite statement was forthcoming. Louie Gudder, the owner, had been out of town since Sunday. Members of his family said they had no idea what future plans for the building site would be made. F.E. Parks of the Parks Pharmacy estimated his loss at $15,000.

Virgil Center said his stock inventory was $10,000 on Jan. 1, and that considerable stock had been added since. The Economy Variety Store stock was appraised at a similar figure.

4 March 1941 - History

By Pat McTaggart

Hitler was obsessed with Leningrad. When planning his invasion of the Soviet Union, the Führer demanded that the capture of the city, which he regarded as the cradle of Bolshevism, be one of the top priorities of the campaign, giving it precedence over the capture of Moscow.

Therefore, when the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht—the German Armed Forces High Command) issued Directive No. 21, also known as Operation Barbarossa, it included instructions for Army Group North to attack out of East Prussia, destroy Soviet forces in the Baltic area, and then drive forward to capture Leningrad.

The Plan to Secure the Daugava River

To accomplish that mission, Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, the army group commander, had two infantry armies, the 16th and 18th, and Panzer Group 4, which would be his mailed fist. The approximately 700 kilometer thrust to the city would take von Leeb’s army group through country that was dotted with marshes and forests and was crisscrossed with streams and rivers.

One of the first objectives for von Leeb was the Daugava River (also known as the Dvina), which rises in the Valdai Hills in Belarus and flows 1,020 kilometers to the Gulf of Riga. Securing crossings on the river was vital for von Leeb, especially because they also sat on some of the few good roads in the area.

General Erich Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4 was given the task of taking the bridges spanning the river intact. This would involve a mad dash across Lithuania to the Latvian cities of Daugavpils (Dvinsk to the Russians and Dünaburg to the Germans) and Jekabpils. The Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had been “liberated” and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

Hoepner’s forces consisted of two motorized corps—the XLI, commanded by General George-Hans Reinhardt, and the LVI, under General Erich von Manstein. Reinhardt was to take the Jekabpils crossing, while von Manstein was to take the Daugavpils bridges. On Panzer Group 4’s right flank, General Ernst Busch’s 16th Army would move on Kaunus. General Georg von Küchler’s 18th Army, positioned on the left flank, would push toward Riga.

An Innocuous Warning

Facing von Leeb were the forces of Lt. Gen. Fedor Isadorovich Kuznetsov’s Baltic Special Military District, which would become the Northwest Front the day the war started.

Maj. Gen. Petr Petrovich Sobennikov’s 8th Army, five infantry, two tank and one mechanized division plus two frontier regiments, was anchored on the Baltic coastline. On his left was Lt. Gen. Vasili Ivanovich Morozov’s 11th Army, eight rifle, two tank, and one mechanized division plus three frontier regiments. They were backed up by Maj. Gen. Nikolai Erastovich Berzanin’s 27th Army of six rifle divisions.

The Soviet High Command (Stavka) knew that a German attack was imminent from German defectors crossing the line. Stalin, however, remained unconvinced, but he did allow his front line commanders to be issued a warning of a possible surprise attack. The warning was worded in a way that caused most commanders more consternation rather than giving them direction. For example, “The assignment of our forces—not to give way to provocations of any kind which might lead to major complications.” They were also told them to man forward positions but “no other measures are to be taken without special authorization.”

Upon receiving the rather innocuous warning early on June 22, 1941, Kuznetsov ordered his men to “secretly man the defenses of the basic zones.” In the forward areas, sentries were moved to guard pillboxes, but units assigned to occupy the forward zones were to be held back.

He added, “In the case of provocative action by the Germans, fire is not to be opened. In the event of flights by German aircraft over our territory, make no demonstration, and until such time as enemy aircraft undertake military operations, no fire is to be opened on them.”

The order, no doubt, must have caused many commanders to wonder what the difference was between provocation and military operations. At any rate, only a few of the frontline commanders had received the order by 0300 hours, and by that time it was too late.

Blitzkrieg on the Eastern Front

Across the border, the western sky suddenly lit up. The brilliant flashes were swiftly followed by the howl of shells overhead. Seconds later, massive explosions rocked pretargeted positions along the Russian lines. Operation Barbarossa and the race to Leningrad had begun.

Both von Manstein and Reinhardt knew speed was essential in reaching the Daugava. Because of the poor road system, both generals would have to rely on armored spearheads smashing through the Soviet line while disregarding their flanks, but before the mechanized units could move the infantry would have to take the forward enemy positions along the Neman River, which ran along the border between East Prussia and Lithuania.

There was little resistance as assault troops rolled over the surprised Soviets. Crossings on the Neman were secured, giving von Manstein and Reinhardt the openings they needed to begin their dash to the Daugava.

German PzKpfw. IV and PzKpfw. II tanks pause momentarily during their rapid advance into the Soviet Union during the opening days of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. German pincers encircled hundreds of thousands of Red Army troops, and the initial successes were greater than even the most optimistic war planners had believed possible.

By 6 am, von Manstein reported that Brig. Gen. Erich Brandenberger’s 8th Panzer Division had taken Jurbarkas and Maj. Gen. Theodore Freiherr von Wrede’s 290th Infantry Division was advancing through the village of Mitua, 12 kilometers northwest of Brandenberger’s unit. In Reinhardt’s sector, the 6th Panzer Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. Franz Landgraf, was already four kilometers south of Taurage, and Maj. Gen. Friedrich Kirchner’s 1st Panzer Division was directly west of the city.

“We Advise You Not Engage in Combat Operations”

The initial German bombardment and aerial attacks had made a shambles of the Soviet communications network. Morozov’s 11th Army had received no orders at all as Hoepner’s panzers continued to push deeper into Russian territory. Colonel Fedor Petrovich Ozerov, commanding the 5th Rifle Division in Maj. Gen. Mikhail Mikhailovich Ivanov’s 16th Rifle Corps, watched as German forces overran his forward positions. Radioing corps headquarters, he was told, “We advise you not to engage in combat operations. Otherwise you will answer for the consequences.”

By midafternoon, Brandenberger’s 8th Motorcycle Battalion, under Lt. Col. Rudolf Kütt, had created a bridgehead across the Dubysa River at Seredžius, and by early evening a combat group under Lt. Col. Wilhelm Crisolli had secured vital crossings at Ariogala. Without those crossings, the advance to Daugavpils could not have continued. Elements of the 8th Panzer were thus able to continue their advance reinforced by units of the 290th, which was, in von Manstein’s words, “marching at record speed.”

Ozerov managed to pull back most of his division behind the Dubysa and had taken up positions near Zasinai, about two kilometers northeast of Arigola. Advance elements of the 8th Panzer moved into the area and were met with antitank fire and harassing attacks from light Soviet tanks. The first day’s action ended for the 8th Panzer at 11 pm when the Germans pulled out of range.

Meanwhile, the 290th kept filtering units across the Dubysa, and Maj. Gen. Kurt Jahn’s 3rd Motorized Division was coming up fast. To the southeast, Brig. Gen. Theodor Eicke’s 3rd SS Totenkopf (Death’s Head) Division was also coming up to join the fight.

Soviet Encounters With the Luftwaffe

In Reinhardt’s sector the going was slower. Launching his attack from the Tilsit area in East Prussia, his four divisions hit a single Russian division, which fought a desperate delaying action at the frontier. The Russians eventually crumbled, opening the way to Taurage. Local counterattacks, however, made the initial advance of the Germans difficult.

On the Soviet side, Kuznetsov was frantically trying to marshal his forces for a counterattack. During the evening of the 22nd, Stavka issued orders for both the 8th and 11th Armies to stop the German advance. As Reinhardt moved toward Raseiniai, about 55 kilometers northeast of Taurage, Sobennikov’s 12th Mechanized Corps (23rd and 28th Tank Divisions and 202nd Mechanized Division), commanded by Maj. Gen. Nikolai Mikhailovich Shestpalov, and Morozov’s 3rd Mechanized Corps (2nd and 5th Tank Divisions and 84th Mechanized Division), under Maj. Gen. Aleksei Vasilevich Kurkin, moved into the area to intercept and destroy the Germans.*

The Soviet forces seemed to be cursed from the start. To avoid Luftwaffe detection, Kuznetsov ordered the armored units to advance toward Raseiniai in small detachments. That did not stop the fighters and bombers of General Alfred Keller’s 1st Air Fleet from savaging the Russian units. Heavy air attacks hit the 12th Mechanized Corps southwest of Siauliai, about 100 kilometers northeast of Taurage. Colonel T.S. Orlenko, commander of the 23rd Tank Division, watched in horror as 40 of his vehicles were blown apart by low-flying bombers. Soviet fighters were nowhere to be seen.

Other units suffered a similar fate, but the survivors kept moving on. As both German and Russian forces moved toward Raseiniai, the opening shots of a four-day battle rang out. The Germans were about to get the first of many nasty surprises of the war in the east as they ran headlong into the surviving elements of the Soviet mechanized corps.

The Fearsome Russian Heavy Tanks

Although the main tanks of the Soviet Army at the time were the T-26 and T-28, the Russians were also producing the heavier T-34s and the KV I and KV II. On June 23, Maj. Gen. Egor Nikolaevich Soliankin’s 2nd Tank Division, which had some KVs in its inventory, overran elements of the 6th Panzer Division near Skaudvile, about 20 kilometers west of Raseiniai. The Germans’ Czech-made Panzer 35s, equipped with 37mm guns, proved ineffective against the 45-ton monsters, as did German antitank guns.

Soviet tanks roamed the battlefield at will, often crushing antitank guns under their treads when they ran out of ammunition. The Soviet behemoths were finally destroyed by first immobilizing them with concentrated fire at their treads. Once that occurred, teams of tank-killers moved in, blowing them up with explosive charges. Soliankin lost much of his armor and was killed in action on June 26. However, those tanks that remained continued to be a thorn in the 6th Panzer’s side.

A single KV I cut the 6th Panzer’s supply route to its bridgeheads on the Dubysa. It held out against everything the Germans could throw at it for a day. Finally, an 88mm gun was moved into position while the KV was distracted by a panzer platoon. The 88 was able to destroy the Russian, opening the supply route and allowing other elements of the 6th to advance.

Major General Kirchner’s 1st Panzer was similarly surprised. “The KV I and KV II which we first met here were really something,” wrote a member of the division. “Our companies opened fire at about 800 yards, but it remained ineffective.…Very soon we were facing each other at about 50 to 100 meters…. The Russian tanks continued to advance, and all armorpiercing shells simply bounced off them.”

Eventually, the Russians were stopped with special purpose shells fired from 30 to 60 meters. A counterattack forced the Soviets back, leading to further advances by the division. By June 26 Kirchner’s division had linked up with Brig. Gen. Otto Ottenbacher’s 36th Motorized Division, encircling the main body of the 3rd Mechanized Corps. Many of the Russian tanks were out of fuel, making them easy targets for the Germans.

The 2nd Tank Division was decimated. Only one tank and 400 men made it back to the Russian lines. Colonel F.F. Fedorov’s 5th Tank Division and Maj. Gen. Petr Ivanovich Formenko’s 84th Mechanized Division were greatly understrength, and the 12th Mechanized Corps, which had escaped the trap, was in similar straits. Soviet tank losses were estimated to be in the hundreds.

“Keep Going at All Costs”

While Reinhardt was slugging it out with the Soviet armor, von Manstein kept moving forward. His corps had hit a relatively weak part of the Russian line, and after the first lively encounter with Red Army frontier forces his armored units were able to break uncoordinated enemy counterattacks and continue their advance. By June 24 the LVI Motorized Corps had reached the Daugavpils highway near Ukmerge, about 170 kilometers inside Lithuania.

Von Manstein was now within striking distance of the bridges over the Daugava, about 130 kilometers away. Disregarding the fact that he had outpaced his neighbors, he kept his units moving, ignoring flank protection. Short, sharp engagements were fought against reserve Soviet tank units sent to intercept him, but his orders were simple—“Keep going at all costs.”

The Brandenburg Commandos

With the spearhead of the 8th Panzer Division was a special unit commanded by 1st Lt. Hans-Wolfram Knaak. In the early hours of June 26, the 26-year-old Knaak detached his men from the spearhead and sped toward Daugavpils in two captured Soviet trucks. Knaak and his troops were members of the Lehr (Training) Regiment “Brandenburg”—commandos trained in sabotage and subterfuge that were part of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris’s Abwehr (Intelligence Service).

Many of Knaak’s men were fluent in Russian, and the two trucks were able to make it through the Soviet defenses unmolested. The drivers, in Red Army uniforms, joked with sentries and disseminated false information concerning the German positions. Driving into Daugavpils, the trucks headed for the precious bridges. The first truck almost made it to the eastern side before sentries fired on it. Driving down an embankment, the men in the rear of the truck jumped out with weapons firing.

The second truck, caught in the middle of the bridge, came under heavy fire that resulted in several casualties. The survivors pushed forward to link up with their comrades on the other side, and their combined fire forced the Soviets back before engineers could arrive to blow the bridge. Some of them were then able to make it to the nearby railroad bridge and succeeded in cutting the detonation wires on that structure.

Holding off attempts to recapture the eastern side of the bridge, the Brandenburgers were soon reinforced by the 8th Panzer spearhead, which had sliced through the Russian lines. Following units took control of the city, and armor was soon massing to meet the main body of Maj. Gen. Dmitri Danilovich Leliushenko’s 21st Mechanized Corps, which was on its way to help the Russian defenses.

Knaak’s unit had won the day, but Knaak himself did not live to see it. He had been killed during the fight for the crossing. For his actions that day, he was posthumously awarded the coveted Knight’s Cross on November 3, 1942.

Von Leeb Defies Orders

As the German armor crossed at Daugavpils, the foot units of von Wrede’s division followed in its wake. Although the 290th could not possibly hope to keep up with the panzers, its advance served to widen the hole punched through the Russian lines and guaranteed relative safety for von Manstein’s supply lines.

Hearing of von Manstein’s success, Hitler began meddling in the affairs of Army Group North. In his war diary, General Franz Halder, the chief of the General Staff of the Army, wrote, “Führer wants to throw the whole weight of Armored Group Hoepner on Dvinsk. Possibilities of a crossing at Jakobstadt (Jekabpils) problematic.”

Von Leeb would have none of it. Reinhardt had defeated the bulk of Kuznetsov’s armored forces, leaving the way open to the bridge at Jekabpils. The movement to von Manstein’s sector would entail traveling through wooded areas where few roads existed and would take days to accomplish. He simply ignored any suggestions to change the original plan, giving Reinhardt free rein to continue.

Crossing at Jekabpils

On June 27 the XLI Corps moved forward again. With a battle group under the command of Brig. Gen. Walter Krüger, the 1st Panzer smashed the remnants of the 12th Mechanized Corps, which were desperately trying to form a line on the Musa River. At the same time, Stavka Chairman Marshal Semen Konstantinovich Timoshenko ordered Kuznetsov to pull his remaining forces back to join up with Berazin’s 27th Army, which was occupying positions along the Daugava.

Battle Group Krüger moved on, spearheaded by the I/113th Rifle Regiment under the command of Major Josef-Franz Eckinger. By 2300, the battalion was 10 kilometers southwest of Jekabpils. At 0415 on the 28th, the fight for the crossing began.

As at Daugavpils, a unit of Brandenburgers tried to take the bridge by deception. This time the plan did not work, and the commandos found themselves involved in heavy fighting. Soon the main elements of Colonel Hans-Christoph von Heydebrand und der Lasa’s 113th Rifle Regiment joined the fray. The Soviets were slowly pushed back, but Red Army engineers stood at the ready. As the Germans advanced toward the Daugava, a series of explosions shook the area. The bridges had been destroyed.

After the retreating Soviets have destroyed a bridge across a stream near the coast of the Baltic Sea, this German tank of the 8th Panzer Division fords the waterway in July 1941.

Assault boats were brought forward and, as German artillery from Artillery Regiment 73 hammered Soviet positions on the north shore, Major von Kittel’s II/113 was able to cross and establish a bridgehead. By midnight, the south bank of the Daugava at Jekabpils was firmly in German hands, and engineers were building a bridge to funnel reinforcements to von Kittel.

Red Army’s Respite

Both Reinhardt and von Manstein were now coming under attack by the 27th Army. The 21st Mechanized had also arrived, and Russian units managed to occupy the northern suburbs of Daugavpils, setting off a round of savage house-to-house fighting. The Germans also received reinforcements as the first elements of the Totenkopf entered the city.

Leliushenko’s units were driven back with heavy losses, but Soviet bombers were able to make it through German air defenses to hammer German positions. Arriving Totenkopf soldiers noted, “The greater part of the city has been totally destroyed.”

Reinhardt had also been able to hold his bridgehead as more German forces arrived at Jekabpils. The first great objective on the road to Leningrad had been achieved. Most of the Soviet forces in Lithuania had been destroyed, and the Germans had their crossings in Latvia. With his mechanized forces chomping at the bit, von Leeb was ready for the next stage, but once again, Hitler intervened. This time the order could not be ignored or conveniently “lost.”

Hitler had suddenly become nervous about his army’s success in the north. The enemy was in disarray and the lightning advances in Poland and France had proven the panzers’ ability to strike deep into the enemy’s rear, but he became jittery when looking at the long narrow arrows on the map showing Reinhardt and von Manstein far to the north of the slowly advancing infantry armies on their flanks.

After his success at Daugavpils and the smashing of Leliushenko’s mechanized corps, von Manstein was ready to continue north to prevent the Soviets from regrouping. Instead, he was told to wait until the bulk of Reinhardt’s corps could be brought up to Jekabpils. The wait lasted until July 2, precious days that Kuznetsov used to scrape together the remnants of his command to make another stand. A trickle of reinforcements also made it forward, braving Luftwaffe attacks and bolstering Kuznetsov’s forces. When Reinhardt and von Manstein were finally given orders to resume their attack, they moved on Pskov, about 275 kilometers northeast of Daugavpils and 240 kilometers northeast of Jekabpils.

The Soviets Reorganize

The initial advance of both German corps was marked by sharp clashes with the mechanized forces that had survived the initial June onslaught. Under heavy pressure, the 12th Mechanized Corps and its 35 remaining tanks were forced back by the 1st and 6th Panzer Divisions while the 21st Mechanized Corps fought hard to stall the advance of von Manstein’s corps.

While the mechanized forces grudgingly retreated, reserve divisions were being moved to Pskov to man the so-called “Stalin Line.” Maj. Gen. Mikhail Lvovich Cherniavskii’s 1st Mechanized Corps was on its way from Leningrad and his 3rd Tank Division, commanded by Colonel K. Yu. Andreev, had already occupied woods about 16 kilometers northeast of the city. The 27th Army’s 22nd Rifle Corps (180th and 182nd Rifle Divisions), under Maj. Gen. Mikhail Pavlovich Dukhanov, was moving into Porkhov some 75 kilometers to the east, and Maj. Gen. Kuzma Maksimovich Kachalov’s 24th Rifle Corps (181st and 183rd Rifle Divisions) was in the vicinity of Ostrov, about 55 kilometers south of Pskov. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Ivan Stepanovich Kosobutskii’s 41st Rifle Corps (111th, 118th, and 235th Rifle Divisions) was taken from the strategic reserve and sent to Pskov itself.

7RD-R1-RIA-606705 (1246663)
The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. One of the guerrilla teams in Pskov region. Young Communist Shura Pavlova is swearing. 1941.

The command structure of the Northwest Front was reshuffled. Kuznetsov was relieved of command for his failures during the first week of the war. Sobennikov took over command of the Front, while Lt. Gen. Fedor Sergeevich Ivanov, the former Deputy Commander of the Southwest Front, took the reins of the 8th Army.

Troubles With Terrain

German forces were hampered more by the terrain than they were by the Red Army as they moved off. Instead of advancing solely along the few roads and railways in the area, the panzer and motorized divisions advanced on a broad front through heavily wooded and marshy areas. Despite those difficulties, the Germans were able to keep pushing the 8th, 27th, and 11th Armies back.

Reinhardt’s corps sector contained the main road to Ostrov, which did allow armored spearheads to advance at a greater pace. Von Manstein was to cover Reinhardt’s right flank and advance toward Sebezh and Opochka in an attempt to outflank the Stalin Line. The going was so bad that Maj. Gen. Kurt Jahn’s 3rd Motorized Division had to halt, change direction, and fall in behind Reinhardt in order to move forward. Eicke’s Totenkopf Division made better progress, but it was slowed by a fortified line in front of Sebezh.

On July 4 Reinhardt’s units were fighting for Ostrov. At 1300, elements of the 1st Panzer Division crossed the old Latvia-Soviet border, and by 1700 the 1st Panzer Regiment was fighting in the streets of the city. The rest of the division was stretched along a wide front, and Soviet columns south of Ostrov were caught unaware as more of the 1st moved forward. Southeast of the city, units of the division reached the Velikaya River and were faced with the bunkers and antitank ditches of the Stalin Line.

While the fight for Ostrov and the Stalin Line was under way, the Soviets were building yet another defensive line along the Luga River. Stavka ordered that the line consist of antitank ditches, strongpoints, and minefields and have a depth of 5-6 kilometers. Lt. Gen. Markian Mikhailovich Popov was assigned to command the overall defenses, and his deputy Lt. Gen. Konstantin Pavlovich Piadyshev was given command of the “Luga Operational Group,” which was centered on the city of Luga, some 95 kilometers south of Leningrad.

At Ostrov, the 1st Panzer Division fended off attacks from Colonel I.M. Ivanov’s 111th Rifle Division and what was left of Andreev’s 3rd Tank Division, and it also came under air attack from Soviet bombers. The divisional history reports that KV I and KV II heavy tanks caused severe damage to the 1st Company of the 37th Anti-tank Unit, whose 37mm shells bounced off the giants as they rolled forward. The situation was saved by the timely arrival of Major Wilhelm Söth, the commander of the III/Artillery Regiment 73, who ordered the field guns of his 9th Company to fire at the Soviet tanks at point-blank range. Söth’s guns destroyed 12 tanks, forcing the others to retreat.

A Two-Pronged Plan of Attack

In von Manstein’s sector, the panzers continued to slog forward. The 8th Panzer Division finally reached the Velikaya early on July 8, hoping to take several key bridges by storm. As the Germans approached, sappers of the 1st Mechanized Corps’ 50th Motorized Engineer regiment blew them up one by one. The final bridge was destroyed along with several panzers that were attempting to cross it.

The day before, Reinhardt, having overcome the defenses of the 24th Rifle Corps at Ostrov and having the advantage of a somewhat decent road, was ready to hit Pskov. The 36th Motorized Division advanced on the corps’ left flank, with the 1st Panzer going up the middle and the 6th Panzer on the right flank. Facing them in front of the city was what was left of the 41st Rifle Corps supported by remnants of the 1st Mechanized Corps.

While the panzers of the 1st and 6th fended off attacks from Soviet mechanized units, Ottenbacher led his 36th into Pskov and became involved in heavy house-to-house fighting. The Soviets were tenacious in their defense, and artillery had to be used along with Luftwaffe bombers to break their positions. After taking severe losses, the remaining Russians abandoned the burning city on July 9. Another step toward Leningrad had been taken.

The OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres—German Army High Command) finally realized the futility of trying to flank the Russians from the east, so von Manstein was ordered to disengage and head to Ostrov. With von Manstein on the way and Reinhardt consolidating his positions along the Velikaya, Hoepner received a new directive. Panzer Group 4 was to launch a two-pronged attack, with Reinhardt driving to Luga and von Manstein heading toward Lake Ilmen in a flanking movement.

74,000 Killed or Missing

The odds for success looked good. The Northwest Front, which had started the war with 23 divisions, had lost about 74,000 men killed or missing with another 130,000 wounded. Of the original divisions, only seven were near full strength, while 11 had only 2,000 to 3,000 men fit for combat. Some of the 14 new divisions that had been released to the Front also suffered heavily.

Material losses had been horrendous. More than 2,500 tanks, 3,500 artillery pieces, and 900 aircraft had been lost.

Reinhardt jumped off on July 10 supported by General Wilhelm von Chappius’s XXXVII Army Corps, which had moved from the 18th Army to Panzer Group 4. The 118th Rifle Division, which had come from the Moscow Military District, was hard hit. It retreated toward Gdov, a town on the shore of Lake Peipus. This retreat opened a gap in the Soviet line, leaving the road to Luga open.

To stop the Germans from exploiting the breach, Colonel I.M. Golubev’s 90th Rifle Division was ordered to plug the hole. Stationed around Strugi-Krasnoye, about 65 kilometers northwest of Pskov, Golubev’s division was caught on the march by the Luftwaffe, totally disrupting the movement.

The 1st and 6th Panzer Divisions fought their way through scattered Soviet units and headed toward Luga. To their right, the 58th Infantry 36th Motorized Division moved on Gdov. On July 12 the 1st Panzer ran into the 90th Rifle Division and a running battle ensued, ending with the 90th finally giving way. By evening, the 1st Panzer was 30 kilometers southwest of Luga but was stalled by a strong defensive line guarding its approaches.

To Reinhardt’s right, von Manstein moved toward Lake Ilmen. The 3rd Motorized Division took Porkhov after a particularly fierce battle and then turned north, while the 8th Panzer headed toward Soltsy, a town about 50 kilometers southwest of Novgorod. Fighting both Russians and bad terrain, Brandenburg’s panzers and armored infantry finally captured Solsty on July 14.

Fighting for Lake Samra

In the Luga sector, Reinhardt had hit a stone wall. Repeated attacks failed to pierce Luga’s forward defenses, and the Luga Operational Group had received reinforcements in the form of Maj. Gen. Ivan Gavrilovich Lazarev’s 10th Mechanized Corps (21st and 24th Tank Divisions and 131st Mechanized Division) and the remnants of the tenacious 41st Rifle Corps.

Frustrated, Reinhardt turned his forces toward Sabsk and Kingisepp. Northeast of Luga, the 1st Panzer Division’s Battle Group Krüger with a battle group of the 6th Panzer under Colonel Erhard Raus, moved around the swampy land southeast of Lake Samro and fought off Russian attacks along the highway leading to Sabsk. Defensive positions were established by the Germans around key villages such as Lyady and Alexino, which the Soviets strove to recapture. The 36th Motorized Division followed in the wake of the battle groups.

By July 15, Major Eckinger’s I/Rifle Regiment 113, the spearhead of Battle Group Krüger, was fighting its way through the village of Osmino. Reinforced by following elements that threw up a defensive perimeter around the village, Eckinger headed north once again with the II/Rifle Regiment 113 close on his heels.

In the early evening, the spearhead entered Sabsk and established a small bridgehead on the opposite bank of the Luga. As with most panzer generals, Maj. Gen. Kirchner liked to be at the forefront of the battle. On his way to Sabsk, Kirchner was wounded by a shell splinter. He relinquished command of the 1st Panzer to Krüger, who oversaw the defense of the bridgehead and the protection of his flanks.

With more units arriving, Reinhardt ordered the 36th Motorized Division to expand the defensive flank to the west of Lake Samra. The division’s 118th Motorized Infantry Regiment, under Colonel Carl Caspar, took up positions in the villages of Borki and Zaruch’e on the western side of the lake to await the inevitable Soviet counterattack.

A New Defensive Line

Moscow realized that the weakened and raw divisions along the Luga could not do anything but buy time. Therefore, formation of a new line of defenses was begun. Worker battalions from Leningrad joined children and the elderly to build a new line between the mouth of the Luga and Chudov, located about 125 kilometers southeast of Leningrad on the Moscow-Leningrad Highway. Thousands toiled to construct miles of trenches, pillboxes, minefields, and antitank positions, but the question remained whether a strong line could be built in time.

While Reinhardt worked on consolidating his bridgeheads across the Luga, von Manstein was slugging his way toward Novgorod. With the 8th Panzer in the lead, the LVI Corps fought off attacks from Morazov’s 11th Army around Soltsy and, even worse, the corps was in danger of becoming isolated. Russian forces took advantage of the long, mostly undefended flanks of the corps.

At 0300 on the 15th, von Manstein received the following message at his headquarters west of Soltsy: “Rear areas of the 8th Panzer Division, three kilometers east of Borovichi, are defending against an enemy attack with machine guns and mortars.”

That attack and others along the 8th Panzer’s supply lines effectively isolated the bulk of the division’s combat forces. Meanwhile, Soltsy was being attacked from the north, while other Russian forces crossed the Shelon River and attacked the town from the south. Von Manstein decided that Soltsy was to be abandoned, with German troops establishing defensive positions south of the town.

Janh’s 3rd Motorized Division was also facing heavy enemy attacks as it attempted to move north. In effect, the Soviets were striving to isolate and destroy the entire corps.

To alleviate the situation, elements of the Totenkopf were sent north. Within hours lead elements of the division were on the move. Eicke had been wounded when his command car hit a mine on July 6. His replacement, Brig. Gen. Georg Keppler, wasted little time in getting the rest of his division going. Moving up the Dno-Soltsy road, the division slammed into Russian infantry, pushing them back toward the southeast. It also sent a reinforced battalion to help Jahn, who was fighting off repeated Soviet attacks.

Pausing for a moment during offensive operations on the Eastern Front, battle-hardened panzergrenadiers of the Waffen SS take a moment to rest in July 1941. These troops, belonging to the 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division Totenkopf, or Death’s Head, joined the advance on Leningrad in late June.

Von Manstein’s corps was fending off attacks from several Soviet rifle divisions as well as Maj. Gen. Nikifor Gordeevich Khorudzenko’s 220th Motorized Division, Andreev’s 3rd Tank Division, and Colonel L.V. Bunin’s 21st Tank Division. Once the Totenkopf had cleared the supply route, the situation was much better with ammunition, fuel, and food making their way northward once again. With the news that General Hans Kuno von Both’s I Army Corps (11th and 21st Infantry Divisions), which had recently been subordinated to Panzer Group 4, had cleared Soviet units from Dno and was advancing on Soltsy, it seem as if the advance on Leningrad could continue.

The Russians had other plans. Maj. Gen. Herbert von Böckmann’s 11th Infantry Division retook Soltsy on the 21st, but was immediately counterattacked by the Russians while the 11th Army, which had been reinforced with two rifle divisions, hit other parts of von Manstein’s line.

On July 23, the Russians on the Luga received a new commander. For his previous week’s failure, Piadyshev was relieved and later executed. His former commander, Lt. Gen. Popov, assumed the position of commander of the Luga Operational Group while still holding his overall command of the Northern Front.

Merging Von Manstein and Reinhardt

While the new fighting had stalled the Germans for the moment, the toll of Russian dead and wounded grew. Sensing a chance for a breakthrough, both von Manstein and Reinhardt proposed that their corps be united for a concentrated action. Von Manstein wanted to move his corps to Reinhardt’s sector, where the better road network would allow both corps to advance side by side instead of having his corps move through the swampy wooded area surrounding Lake Ilmen. Reinhardt concurred, but Berlin did not.

Hitler worried about his precious panzer divisions’ supply lines, which had shown themselves to be open to attacks and raids by Soviet units. He therefore ordered the halt of offensive operations in von Manstein’s sector until the infantry of the 16th Army could be brought up to secure his right flank.

Von Leeb was tempted to order Reinhatdt’s corps to resume the attack on his own, but instead he told Hoepner to use the corps to finish clearing the south bank of the Luga. After a bitter struggle, Reinhardt succeeded in clearing the Soviet bridgehead at Kingisepp, although the town, located on the opposite bank of the river, was still in the hands of the Red Army.

During the next few days, the 16th Army arrived, taking up positions along the Shelon. To the east, the 18th Army was clearing out the rest of Estonia and was advancing toward Narva, securing Reinhardt’s left flank.

In the interim, Hitler decided that the terrain around Lake Ilmen was indeed not suitable for armored operations. On July 30, Halder noted in his diary: “It is becoming evident that OKH is revising its erstwhile notions and no longer insists on the impossible demand for Army Group North to cut off the eastward retreat route (Manstein’s mission) of the enemy around Leningrad.”

Consequently, it was decided that von Manstein should join forces with Reinhardt for a renewed thrust to Leningrad. While pleased, von Manstein ran up against a new set of orders that reshuffled his corps. The Totenkopf would be attached to the 18th Army, while the 8th Panzer would go into the Panzer Group Reserve. In their place von Manstein received Brig. Gen. Ernst von Leyser’s 269th Infantry Division and Maj. Gen. Arthur Mülverstedt’s 4th SS “Polizei” Infantry Division. That left von Manstein with only one motorized unit—Jahn’s 3rd.

Frustration With Berlin

The Soviets still held onto the town of Luga. While Reinhardt was clearing out Kingisepp, which would hold out for a while longer, and established a bridgehead on the northern bank of the river near the city, part of his corps rushed toward Narva to secure a connection with the 18th Army. At the Luga bridgehead itself, the Russians had rushed two divisions to the area by rail along with some brand new KV I and II tanks, fresh from the factories of Leningrad.

Reinhardt was still furious that the opportunity for a joint attack with von Manstein had been frustrated by Berlin for so many days. In his diary he noted: “Time and again our corps urged a speedy resumption of the attack and asked that some units, at least of von Manstein’s corps, should be switched over to us, especially as they were bogged down where they stood. But it was all in vain…. More delays. It’s terrible. The chance that we opened up has been missed for good, and things are getting more difficult all the time.”

With Reinhardt occupied in the east, it was up to von Manstein to take Luga. The continuous march and countermarch of his corps took up precious time, leaving the Luga front virtually stagnant for several days. That time was used by the Soviets to funnel more reinforcements to the Northwest Front in the form of nine rifle and two cavalry divisions. I.I. Pronin’s 34th Army (five rifle and two cavalry divisions) was detached from the Reserve Front, and Lt. Gen. Stephan Dmitrievich Akimov’s 48th Army (one militia, one tank, and three rifle divisions plus a mountain brigade) would also soon be sent to bolster the line.

A Revitalized Soviet Opposition Force

While von Manstein marshaled his units for the assault on Luga, things were going fairly well in other sectors of the northern front. Elements of the I Army Corps reached Schimsk on July 30, and around Lake Ilmen the X Army Corps was moving toward Staraya Russa while encountering heavy resistance from the 11th Army. By August 6, both Staraya Russa and the city of Kholm were in German hands, strengthening a German line along the Lovat River.

The sky had opened up early on August 8, bringing a heavy downpour, when Reinhardt and von Manstein were finally set to renew their drive toward Leningrad. The assault was to be three-pronged with a southern group composed of von Both’s I Army Corps and General Mauritz von Wiktorin’s XXVIII Army Corps, both from the 16th Army, attacking Akimov’s 48th Army along a line running from Schimsk-Novgorod-Chudovo, rolling up Leningrad’s southeast flank. Von Manstein was to attack directly up the Luga Road while Reinhardt, supported by Von Chappius’s XXXVIII Army Corps, would attack toward Leningrad from his bridgehead near Kingisepp, while the battle for the city still went on.

In pouring rain, which prevented any Luftwaffe support, Reinhardt moved out with the 36th Motorized Division in the lead. Instead of the relatively weak Soviet forces that had faced them a week ago, the Germans found a line of newly constructed field positions manned by Maj. Gen. Pavel Patrovich Bogaichuk’s 125th Rifle Division and Colonel Sergii Vasilevich Roginskii’s 11th Rifle Division. What was supposed to be a swift German advance soon turned into a brawl as Reinhardt pushed forward while the Soviets fought for every meter of ground. Reinhardt was still struggling to break out from his bridgeheads the following day.

The Fight for Luga

By the 9th the I and XXVIII Army Corps were in a bitter fight with the 48th Army around Novgorod. Meanwhile, von Manstein, plagued with parrying Soviet spoiling attacks, finally moved on Luga on August 10 when his 3rd Motorized Division launched a frontal assault on the town. The Soviets put up a spirited resistance, and the 4th SS and 269th were called in to support the motorized units.

The wooded area around the town provided excellent cover for the Russians. The 4th SS ran into a line of bunkers west of Luga, and in the bitter fighting that ensued Maj. Gen. von Mülverstedt was struck by a shell fragment and killed. Around the city itself, the fighting continued unabated.

German infantrymen pick their way through a heavily wooded area north of the town of Luga as they advance toward the city of Leningrad in September 1941. Although initial progress was promising, the Red Army and Russian civilians prepared defenses that eventually ground the German effort to capture the great city to a halt.

On August 11, Reinhardt pierced the Luga River defenses and established new bridgeheads southeast of Kingisepp at Bolshoi Sabsk and Ivanovskoye. For the next couple of days, the bridgeheads were reinforced as the forces inside them fought off several Soviet attacks. The road to Leningrad seemed to be opening up again, but before Reinhardt could continue he had to secure his left flank, which was threatened by Soviet units retreating toward Leningrad from Estonia.

Hoepner pleaded with von Leeb to release one or two divisions to protect Reinhardt. After a heated discussion, von Leeb finally agreed to pull the 3rd Motorized Division out of the Luga battle and send it to Reinhardt. On August 15 the 3rd, along with von Manstein’s corps headquarters, was ordered to join Reinhardt. Responsibility for taking Luga now fell to General Georg Lindemann’s L Army Corps.

The Luga Line Falls

With the LVI Corps Headquarters in the lead, von Manstein moved out with the 3rd Motorized Division trailing. Von Manstein had hardly reached his new headquarters position when he received orders for the 3rd to turn around and head toward Staraya Russa, where the X Army Corps had been encircled by the 34th Army. He reached Dno on the 16th and received word that the Totenkopf Division would again be placed under his command for a relief attack. Meanwhile, Reinhardt had finally taken the city of Kingisepp while von Both and von Wiktorin’s corps entered Novgorod amid heavy fighting.

While von Manstein waited for the 3rd Motorized and the Totenkopf to arrive at their jump-off positions, Reinhardt continued to press the Soviets. With the Luga Line crumbling, he ordered elements of his corps to push forward to Narva, flank protection or not. That city fell on August 17, cutting off stragglers from the 8th Army who were trying to flee to Leningrad.

On August 19, von Manstein struck the 34th Army, coordinating his attack with the encircled forces that hit the Russians from within the pocket. The Soviets were taken completely by surprise. In three days of fighting, von Manstein stated that 12,000 prisoners were taken and 1,412 tanks and 246 guns were either captured or destroyed.

Capturing Luga

Hoepner’s armor was now scattered across the front, with Reinhardt pushing toward Krasnogvardievsk from his positions east of Narva, the 8th Panzer still near Luga, and von Manstein, with the 3rd Motorized, helping the infantry push the Russians back to the Pola River toward Demyansk. There was, however, some good news for Hoepner when he heard that General Rudolf Schmidt’s XXXIX Motorized Corps was being transferred from Army Group Center to Army Group North. The corps, consisting of the 12th Panzer and 18th and 20th Motorized Divisions, would be attached to the 16th Army, but it would give Army Group North an added armored punch for the drive on Leningrad.

Even though Panzer Group 4 could not concentrate its armor in one place, the individual units kept up pressure on the enemy, but they did run into some roadblocks. In the Krasnogvardievsk area, Reinhardt ran into a strong set of defenses. Backed up by antitank positions, the Soviet infantry kept the Germans at bay for several days.

At Luga, the Polizei Division mounted a frontal attack on August 24. The fighting was extremely savage, with both sides taking horrendous casualties. Colonel Hans-Christian Schulze, leading elements of his Police Rifle Regiment 2, pressed into the town from the east after finding a bridge that had not been destroyed by the Russians. By 1700 he reported the town had been captured.

As the Soviets were pushed back, the 8th Panzer, down to a third of its original strength, reached Siversky on the Luga-Krasnogvardievsk rail line. It then turned south to meet the retreating Russians coming out of Luga. In heavy rain, the division’s rifle regiments set up a line in the forest to intercept and destroy the Russians, often engaging groups of 500 to 1,000 as they tried to escape.

Shattered Momentum of Panzer Group 4

By now, with his corps basically chopped apart, von Manstein was out of the Leningrad operation. Instead, his corps headquarters and the units still with him were heading toward Demyansk, some 285 kilometers southeast of his original objective. Bogged down by torrential rains, the corps eventually lost the 3rd Motorized Division to the 9th Army. Von Manstein stayed in command of the corps until September 12, when he was given command of the 11th Army, which was fighting near the Crimean Peninsula far to the south.

Hoepner’s Panzer Group 4 was now reduced to the 1st and 6th Panzer and the 36th Motorized Divisions of Reinhardt’s corps and the 269th and Polizei Infantry Divisions of Lindemann’s corps, with the battered 8th Panzer once again in reserve. While Lindemann’s divisions were fighting their way toward Krasnogvardievsk, Reinhardt was looking for a way to outflank that position.

The stubborn Russian defense of Luga and the line at Krasnogvardiesk had cost the Red Army thousands of casualties, but each day they held bought Stalin precious time to strengthen the defenses outside Leningrad. Tens of thousands of civilians labored day and night, building antitank ditches, artillery and machine-gun positions, and trenches and strongpoints for the infantry that was now pouring into the city.

The race to the Daugava, breaching the Stalin Line, and the advance to the Luga had seemed too good to be true for the Germans. Now, the chances of taking Leningrad with another lightning attack seemed nothing more than a dream —a dream that had been shattered with Russian blood.

Reaching the Great “White City”

Reinhardt was finally on the move again during the last days of August. With the 36th Motorized again in the lead, his corps took Izhora, about 18 kilometers south of Leningrad, on the 28th while German infantry strove to break the defenses at Krasnogvardiesk. The panzers were literally on Leningrad’s doorstep. To the east, Schmidt’s corps took Mga on the 30th but was forced back by a fierce counterattack from the 48th Army. It was recaptured by the 20th Motorized Division on September 1. With the fall of the city, the last rail link between Leningrad and the rest of the Soviet Union was severed.

Rain began to fall again during the first days of September, hindering the movement of the German mechanized units. While waiting for the roads to dry, von Leeb made his final plans for the assault on the great “White City” on the Neva.

By now, however, Hitler had another change of heart. Instead of conquering Leningrad outright, he ordered that the city be encircled and besieged. Von Leeb was furious and he would resign a few months later, partly due to that decision.

Nevertheless, he went forward with plans that would now give his forces the most favorable positions to bombard the city and starve it into submission.

A Two-Pronged Attack

His first aim was to capture crossings on the Neva with a two-pronged thrust.

The first group consisted of von Chappius’s XXXVIII Army Corps (1st, 58th, 254th, and 291st Infantry Divisions), Reinhardt’s corps (1st and 6th Panzer and 36th Motorized Divisions) and Lindemann’s L Army Corps (269th and SS Polizei Infantry Divisions). Its job was to take Krasnogvardievsk and cut off Soviet forces west of Leningrad. The 8th Panzer was held in reserve behind Reinhardt.

A second group was made up of von Wiktorin’s XXVIII Army Corps (96th, 121st, and 122nd Infantry Divisions) and elements of the 12th Panzer. Its objectives were the cities of Slutsk and Kolpino. Farther to the east, Schmidt’s corps (20th Motorized and the rest of the 12th Panzer) was tasked with widening the Lake Ladoga corridor and then fanning out to protect its eastern flank.

While the Germans were deploying, the Soviet command structure underwent another change as the Northwest Front was disbanded, its forces being absorbed by the Leningrad Front. Marshal Klement Efremovich Voroshilov, who had overseen the catastrophic attack on Finland in the 1939-1940 Russo-Finnish War, was placed in command of the combined forces on September 5, a day after the German assault began.

In Leningrad itself, divisions of Red Militia were formed from the city’s industrial workers to augment the Red Army troops manning the defenses. There was an outer defensive line running from Petrodvortsovyy, about 19 kilometers west of Leningrad, through Krasnogvardievsk and then to the Neva River at a point about 20 kilometers east of Leningrad. The inner line ran from just west of Leningrad and then east with the town of Mozhayskiy and its surrounding hills and Kolpino as its strongpoints.

According to the German plans, Reinhardt’s corps would head toward Mozhayskiy, while Lindemann’s corps would crack the Krasnogvardievsk defenses. The area in front of Reinhardt contained hundreds of field fortifications connected by an elaborate network of trenches. Strong gun emplacements and wide antitank ditches also peppered the area, so it would be up to Ottenbacher’s 36th Motorized Division to make the first assault. Once the infantry had breached the forward enemy defenses, the 1st Panzer would follow with the 6th Panzer standing ready to advance and widen the breach.

The Opening Assault

On September 4, German 240mm guns placed north of Tosno opened fire on Leningrad. To the east, Schmidt and von Wiktorin began an assault aimed at Shisselburg, a city on the mouth of the Neva about 30 kilometers from Leningrad’s suburbs. A weakened 48th Army held positions in front of the town, and its line crumbled under attacks from the 12th Panzer and 20th Motorized Divisions. Shisselburg was captured on September 8, closing the last land route out of Leningrad.

Hoepner began his assault on September 9. Reinhardt, supported by von Chappius’s infantry, cut through the Soviet lines and advanced almost 10 kilometers with the 1st Panzer and the 36th Motorized in the lead. Recovering from the initial shock, the newly formed 42nd Army put up a stout resistance.

The Soviet divisional commanders were ordered to fight for every meter of land, and their men did so magnificently. Landgraf’s 6th Panzer became bogged down in heavy fighting in front of Krasnoe Selo, while the 1st Panzer and 36th Motorized sat astride the Krasnogvardiesk-Krasnoe Selo road, fending off Russian attacks. Von Chappius’s infantry was also halted by the Soviet defense, which was helped by fire from the Baltic Fleet anchored around Kronstadt Island.

Later in the day, Colonel Carl Casper took his 118th Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 36th Motorized Division and, backed by divisional engineers and elements of the 1st Panzer, breached the enemy line. He then headed toward the Mozhayskiy Hills. The Soviet defenses there were manned by fanatical units of Young Communists, battalions of Leningrad Workers Militia, and units of the 55th Army that had so far been held in reserve. They were backed up by Red Army artillery, which had pretargeted every meter of ground so that artillery observers could call in a strike within seconds of seeing the enemy.

Casper’s men moved forward under a rolling barrage from guns of Artillery Regiment 73 and XLI Corps artillery, while the 1st Panzer units engaged pillboxes at point-blank range. The Soviet bunkers were solidly built, and a call was sent for Luftwaffe support. In about half an hour, Stukas from General Wolfram Freiherr von Richtofen’s (a cousin of the famous Red Baron) VIII Air Corps arrived on the scene. Diving almost vertically, the dive bombers hit the Soviet positions with devastating effect.

Before the smoke cleared, German assault groups leaped forward. Using flamethrowers, grenades, and machine guns, Casper’s men took one enemy position after another. The fighting finally ended when it was too dark to see.

Taking “Bald Hill”

On the morning of the 10th, Casper ordered the assault to continue. Once again, progress was somewhat slow for the men of the 118th. To their right, Landgraf’s 6th Panzer was hit by a Russian counterattack that caused many casualties and momentarily stopped the division in its tracks. When Landgraf got moving again, Reinhardt, seeing an opportunity, ordered him to attack the Soviet flank farther to the east. He then moved most of the 1st Panzer into the gap left by Landgraf, bringing more pressure on the Russian defenses. Late in the evening, the Germans had reached a trench line on the northern ridge of the hills.

With the 1st Panzer in the line, the attack moved forward again on the 11th. Eckinger’s I/113th Rifle Regiment, reinforced by a company of the 1st Panzer Regiment and a platoon of engineers, was in the lead. Von Richtofen’s Stukas arrived right on time and blasted a path through the Soviet positions. With Colonel Westhoven’s 1st Rifle Regiment providing flank support, Eckinger headed for Hill 167, known as “Bald Hill.” The 6th Panzer Company, commanded by 1st Lt. Wolfgang Darius, and the leading company of Eckinger’s battalion hit a naval artillery battery and succeeded in destroying the guns before the surprised Russians could fire a shot at them. At 1230 Darius sent the following message to his battalion headquarters: “I can see St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and the sea.” Hill 167 had finally fallen.

While the Germans consolidated their positions in the Mozhayskiy Hills, the main elements of the 36th Motorized, backed up by units of the 1st Panzer, attacked Krasnoe Sela, which fell on September 12. Leningrad’s defenses were nearly broken now that the 1st Panzer and 36th Motorized had outflanked Krasnogvardiesk, putting the rear areas of the Soviet units defending Slutsk and Kolpino in peril.

Zhukov Arrives in Leningrad

On September 13, Stalin ordered General Georgii Konstantinovich Zhukov to fly to Leningrad. With him were Lt. Gens. Ivan Ivanovich Fedyuniskii and Mikhail Semenovich Khozin. When his aircraft landed, Zhukov went straight to Voroshilov. He handed him a note from Stalin appointing Zhukov commander in chief of the Front. It was brief. “Hand over the Front to him and come back by the same plane,” it said. The note was simply signed “Stalin.”

The same day, Reinhardt and von Chappius breached the lines of the 42nd Army north of Krasnoe Sela and advanced toward Uritsk. Krasnogvardiesk was also taken by the L Army Corps which was supported by elements of Reinhardt’s corps.

Red Army artillerymen lie in wait for the advancing Germans during the summer of 1941. At times, antitank units and artillery were effective in slowing the German juggernaut that advanced into Russia.

Zhukov sent Fedyuinskii to the 42nd Army Headquarters where he found Ivanov, its commander, “sitting with his head in his hands, unable even to point out the location of his troops.” Reporting the situation to Zhukov, Fedyuinskii received a simple order: “Take over the 42nd Army—and quick.”

While Panzer Group 4 continued to press Leningrad’s defenses, Zhukov worked tirelessly to stop the entire German advance. On the 14th he reached into his reserves and sent a rifle division to Fedyuinskii to help defend Uritsk. He planned to use the 42nd Army as a defensive bulwark while forces behind it dug into new positions. He also ordered the recently formed 55th Army under Maj. Gen. Ivan Gavrilovich Lazarev to defend the Kolpino and Pushkinskiy sectors at all costs and for Marshal Grigorii Ivanovich Kulik’s 54th Army to recapture Mga and Shisselburg.

Panzer Group 4: Short of Triumph at Leningrad

September 15 saw heavy fighting at Uritsk, while Kulik struggled to take his objectives. In the end, Kulik would fail and he was demoted to major general. Hoepner lost another armored unit that day when the 6th Panzer was pulled out of the line in preparation for the move to Army Group Center, which was preparing the assault on Moscow.

Units of the 1st Panzer, Polizei, and 269th Infantry Divisions entered Pushkinskiy on September 16, with the Soviets fighting for every block of the town. New battalions rushed to help defend the area, but the Germans continued to push forward, finally capturing the town two days later. The 1st Panzer then turned toward Leningrad again but was halted by units of the 42nd Army in front of the city.

The following day, Zhukov basically stabilized the front at Uritsk, although fighting in the city’s suburbs was still raging. German forces still had a ring around the land approaches to Leningrad, but the city’s defenses had held. Reinhardt began pulling the 1st Panzer and 36th Motorized out of the line that day. Along with his corps headquarters, the units would soon follow the 6th Panzer to deploy for the Moscow offensive. Panzer Group 4 Headquarters also prepared to move southeast for the offensive.

Schmidt’s XXXIX Corps with its armored and mechanized divisions would remain with Army Group North for a few more months, but it would now be up to the infantry and Luftwaffe to force Leningrad’s surrender. They would not succeed. For Panzer Group 4, which had started the war with great victories and high hopes, there would be no triumphal panzer parade through the streets of the “White City” on the Neva.

Krakow Ghetto

In May 1940, the Germans began to expel Jews from Krakow to the neighboring countryside. By March 1941, the SS and police had expelled more than 55,000 Jews, including refugees from the German-annexed District Wartheland about 15,000 Jews remained in Krakow.

In early March 1941, the Germans ordered the establishment of a ghetto, to be situated in Podgorze, located in the south of Krakow, rather than in Kazimierz, the traditional Jewish quarter of the city. By March 21, 1941, the Germans had concentrated the remaining Jews of Krakow and thousands of Jews from other towns in the ghetto. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews lived within the Krakow ghetto boundaries, which were enclosed by barbed-wire fences and, in places, by a stone wall. Streetcars traveled through the ghetto but made no stops within its boundary. In March 1942, the Germans arrested 50 intellectuals in the ghetto and deported them to Auschwitz concentration camp, where the camp authorities registered all of them as prisoners on March 24.

The Germans established several factories inside the Krakow ghetto, among them the Optima and the Madritsch textile factories, where they deployed Jews at forced labor. Several hundred Jews were also employed in factories and forced-labor projects outside the ghetto. Among the businesses utilizing Jewish forced laborers was the firm German Enamel Products (Deutsche Emalwarenfabrik), owned by Oskar Schindler, located in Podgorze, and later moved to Plaszow.

In June 1941, Krakow SS and Police Leader Scherner authorized the establishment of two forced-labor camps for Jews on the Jerozolimska Street in the Plaszow suburb of Krakow, one for men and one for women. By February 1943, the SS had established seven other forced labor camps in Plaszow. Inside or adjacent to the camps were several textile factories the SS deployed Jews with the Siemens firm and in a brickworks factory and a stone quarry. The Germans deployed Jewish forced laborers on construction projects as well, building or repairing bridges, rail track, and an indoor sports complex. By February 1943, the Jerozolimska Street camp housed approximately 2,000 Jewish men and women.

Operatives of Operation Reinhard, within the framework of which the SS and police planned to murder the Jewish residents of the Generalgouvernement, arrived in Krakow in spring 1942. The Germans claimed to be deporting some 1,500 Krakow Jews to the forced-labor camp in Plaszow in reality the transport was directed to the Belzec killing center. On June 1 and 6, 1942, the German SS and police deported up to 7,000 Jews via Plaszow, where the camp authorities assisted in the murder of approximately 1,000, to Belzec. On October 28, 1942, the Germans deported nearly half of the remaining Jews in the ghetto, approximately 6,000, to Belzec. During the deportation operations, Plac Zgody and the Optima factory were the major assembly points. During the operation the SS and police shot approximately 600 Jews, half of them children, in the ghetto.

Nella Last's opinion column

Nella was housewife throughout her life, but had made clothes for members of her husband's family, to make ends meet. Throughout the period of her diaries, she was angry at the lack of power of women and felt that in the future, partnership was the answer. Here are some extracts on that theme.

Thursday 8 August 1940: If I could choose, I'd like to be a man when I 'come again'. Men do seem to get the best out of life. All the responsibility and effort, all the colour and romance.

Sunday 10 May 1942: I'd like to be a man and have the freedom to go to the far ends of the Earth, to do things and see places, to go where few, if any, have travelled.

Sunday 1 August 1943: As the war progressed Nella grew in confidence, thanks to her work outside the home.

I'm beginning to see that I'm really a clever woman in my own line, and not the 'uneducated' woman that I've had dinned into me. In the World of tomorrow, marriage will be - have to be - more of a partnership. They will talk things over - talking does do good, if only to clear the air.

I run my house like a business, I have had to, to get all done properly, everything fitted in. Why, then, should women not be looked on as partners. as 'businesswomen'. I feel thoroughly out of time. When one gets to 53, and after 32 years of married life, there are few illusions to cloud issues.

At other times Nella seems to have felt real despair .

Friday 14 February 1941: With everybody killing and fighting each other. How soon will there be famine over the world. Food and beauty for all in this world and yet soon none will have the first or care about the second - so wrong and twisted.

Saturday 13 September 1941: He was undersized, dirty, tousled and ragged. His poor little eyes were nearly closed with styes and when I touched his cheeks, his flesh had the soft, limp feeling of malnutrition.

Nella worked as a volunteer in the Red Cross Centre canteen. She was from a generation who had lived through World War One. In that conflict, men who hadn't joined up were given white flowers by women as a symbol of cowardice. In that period, there was huge public hostility to the conchies (conscientious objectors), who had refused to fight. This extract shows that while attitudes had mellowed, such men were still treated with scorn.

Friday 12 December 1941: I was taken aback by one dirty soldier, whose leather jerkin showed he was on labour duty. He said 'Cuppa tea, lady and I ain't a conchie'.

I said 'I beg your pardon' and he said 'My mate said if you want a smile and a joke with them at the counter, tell them you're not a conchie in spite of them being in the Labour battalion - they never joke with the conchies - just pass their tea over and say thank you.' We must have shown it plainly.

As Nella was adept with coping with the shortages of rationing, she was astonished to discover during a visit to Blackpool that not everyone had to penny pinch to survive.

Monday 27 April 1942: I cannot possibly find words to express my surprise at the lavish luxury in the shops. There was everything as in peacetime and the only restrictions I saw were the [references] to coupons or the "points" value on tinned goods. Whole roast chickens, potted herrings and cooked sausage.

As the war neared its end, Nella thought that the older generation had done enough damage to the world.

Thursday 12 July 1945: I think that the youth of today could turn round and say to people of 50 to 60. Keep out of our affairs. We couldn't do any worse than you did - two world wars and half the world in ruins. No careers as we expected. No houses to begin married life in.

Look at our maimed bodies and minds. Can we do worse? Can we appease the strong and neglect the weak. Shut our eyes to the cry of ones who saw what was ahead. What worse can we do? Keep quiet and let us work out our own way, in the world we will have to live in.

On the new weapons of war, Nella was fearful, as she realised that they could mean oblivion for mankind.

Sunday 5 August: This war has taught us that man is finished as the deciding factor in future wars. The V bombs [pilotless flying bombs - used against Britain in the last year of the war] showed in a dawn of horror, weapons that no country could leave out of future developments. Just a few people could smash civilisation in the future, it will not need marching armies.

For Nella's reactions to the effect the war had on private events in her life, see War Diary of Nella Last: Part One

Watch the video: Начало войны Катастрофа 1941 год. Ставка 1 серия (May 2022).