Headquarters of Army Group Nord, 21 February, 1945. Order concerning the Management of foodstuffs and animal feed, Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic.
In the first weeks of the East Prussian offensive, Army Group Nord had been mauled and had been forced to fall back, often in disarray. Many, if not most, soldiers set out to "organise" their own food, which often simply came down to acts of theft and plunder. Generaloberst Rendulic, after his appointment in late January, immediately set out to restore order, often under the threat of harsh penalties.
Point 4 is most interesting and reads: "When a unit is deployed in the support for refugees, or when it occasionally gives foodstuffs to refugees, it must precisely record and account for the foodstuffs used for this purpose."
Heiligenbeil Kessel, February 1945, Two orders pertaining to Ostpreussenfeldpost, General Müller (16 February 1945) and Generalleutnant Sperl (25 February 1945)
Soldiers in East Prussia, particularly the Fourth Army fighting in the Heiligenbeil Kessel, were engaged in brutal defensive fighting. To raise morale, Fourth Army's commander, General der Infanterie Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller ordered that letters sent by soldiers of his army were to be be prioritised.
"The watchword of the East Prussia-fighter is: BRAVE and LOYAL"
Heiligenbeil Kessel, 26 February, 1945. Ostpreussen-Feldpost of Stabsgefreiter Hans Klüge.
This letter, sent from an undisclosed location (O.U. - Ortsunterkunft) on 24 February was written by Hans Klüge to his girlfriend Marga. In the letter, he states that he is "still in good health" (gesundheitlich noch gut), and hopes the same for her and her family. Soldiers knew that they were not allowed to mention military details, and Klüge indeed just uses the opportunity to give a sign of life.
Army HQ Fourth Army, 27 February 1945. Letter of appreciation for the care for wounded by General Müller
By late February, as Red Army forces kept tightening the ring around East Prussia, possibilities for the evacuation of refugees and wounded shrank with the day. The military ensured that the transport of wounded would always have priority over the transport of evacuees. The assurance that a wounded soldier would be evacuated was meant to maintain morale among the troops, and this letter addresses the issue. It reads:
"It is thanks to the tireless dedication of medical personnel and the willing support of all troops and command authorities that, despite all difficulties, tens of thousands of wounded could be taken care of and removed from the heavy fighting of the last weeks. I express my thanks and appreciation to the troops and command authorities of the army, navy, and air force, who were involved in this exemplary cooperation for the sake of our wounded.
Every soldier should know that the wounded will receive the best possible help even under difficult conditions, and the wishes of each troop leader should be taken into account so that his wounded who have proven themselves on the front can be put back into the battle front after recovery.
The service to wounded comrades is a duty of honor for us all, every recovered wounded strengthens the heavily struggling front!"
Divisions-Gefechtsstand of 61st Infanterie-Division, 28 February and 8 March 1945, Two orders concerning the award of the Knight's Cross
Due to its constant deployment on the front during the defece of East Prussia, the 61st Infanterie-Division, here referred to as the "Devil's Division", many of its men were awarded with the Knight's Cross. After six weeks of defensive fighting, seven men were awarded the Knight's Cross, and one received the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
- Hauptmann Traugott Kempas, 28 February 1945 (Oak Leaves)
- Major Max Edler von der Planitz 14 February 1945
- Major Jarislaff von Kleist-Retzow 14 February 1945
- Hauptmann Alois Wolf 14 February 1945
- Oberleutnant Claus Pieper 24 February 1945
- Leutnant Bruno Liedtke 18 February 1945 (posthumously)
- Stabsfeldwebel Helmut Neubert 25 January 1945
- Oberfeldwebel Bruno Ehm 1 February 1945
Throughout the war, the Knight's Cross underwent a certain devaluation, as it was rewarded more and more. Eventually, on 8 March 1945, Hitler ordered that every soldier who knocked out six or more tanks with a Panzerfaust or other means of close combat would be awarded the Knight's Cross. This order, as the telex print shows, was to be conveyed to the troops as quickly as possible.
Divisions-Gefechtsstand, 5 March 1945. Division order of the day of the 61st Infanterie-Division.
This order discusses a number of issues, but point 5 and point 8 stand out.
Point 5 discusses "Executions in case of cowardice": ""From now on, soldiers who have been executed for cowardice are to be reported by telephone, by name, rank, year of birth and unit as a supplement to the daily casualties to Department II [Adjudantur] of the division as follows:
a.) Execution on the basis of court-martial judgments
b.) Execution on the basis of summary courts-martial
c.) Execution by officers as immediate measure"
The order shows the randomness and arbitrariness of the executions and the different manners in which this could be done, and also shows that it came with full knowingness and approval from above.
Point 8 discusses the "Reporting of defectors": "In cases where there is a suspicion that soldiers have defected to the enemy, not only Department Ic of the Division [Generalstabsoffizier], but also the court-martial are to be informed immediately by telephone or by special dispatch with a short indication of the facts and evidence."
Defection became more common as the war entered its final stage, and could result in the soldier's property back home being confiscated, or that of his family. To do so, a case would have to be built as solidly as possible, and here we see the first step of this process.
Divisions-Gefechtsstand of the 61st Infanterie-Division, 9 March 1945. Assorted orders
These orders come from the National Socialist Leadership section/ Divisional adjutant of the division, and thus occupy a crossroads between morale and organisation. They show that certain jobs were delegated to the local Party chapter, which by this stage of the war apparently was better equipped to deal with issues which the division itself traditionally dealt with.
Point 1 concerns the "Notification of Relatives of Fallen Soldiers": "The notification of relatives of fallen soldiers who lived in Gau East Prussia can from now on be send to the Gauleitung of East Prussia, which will forward it."
The 61st Infanterie-Division was mustered in East Prussia, but by March 1945, most of the province had fallen in Soviet hands, so most of the soldiers' relatives had fled the province. Apparently, the Party office was considered to be better aware of the new whereabouts of the evacuated and fled refugees, and therefore they were designated to send these notifications to the new places of residence. Incidentally, it shows that the relationship between Party and Wehrmacht in East Prussia was not as strained as often assumed.
This closely ties to point 3, which concerns Feldpost to evacuated relatives": "Inquiries about addresses of repatriates and current locations of transferred state departments of all kinds are to be briefed on postcards to the Berlin resisdence office..."
In 1945, all of Germany was on the move. People fled in fear of bombing and warfare, offices were evacuated, camp inmates and prisoners were marched from one place to the other, and so on. Once a family or office was evacuated, it was often hard to keep track of their whereabouts. To "solve" this matter, an office was set up in the Berlin residence office, although it is unknown whether the office achieved anything substantial.
O.U,. 13 March 1945. Order concerning family members in Königsberg of soldiers of Bau u. Sich. Btl. 161
The 61st Infanterie-Division (of which the 161st Bau und Sicherungs-Battallion was part), fought in the Heiligenbeil Kessel, but in late March/ early April was sent to Königsberg. This letter seems to anticipate that move, and orders company commanders to list which family members are in the city. This might serve two purposes:
One one hand it might help to strengthen the will of the troops to defend the city, but, more cynically, it might help to map which soldiers would have the opportunity to go into hiding in the city.
Heiligenbeil Pocket, Divisional Command Post of the 61st Infanterie-Division, 16 March 1945. Order concerning Heldengedenktag.
In 1919 the Weimar government introduced the Volkstrauertag (People's Day of Mourning) as a memorial day for the fallen soldiers of the First World War. Under National Socialism, the day became a national holiday in 1934, and was rechristened to Heldengedenktag (Day of Commemoration of Heroes), and set on 16 March, the day of the reintroduction of conscription.
After the Second World War broke out, Heldengedenktag was also used to commemorated the fallen soldiers of the ongoing war. The division's commander Generalleutnant Rudolf Sperl writes:
"On Heldengedenktag, after heavy battles, we respectfully and proudly commemorate the fallen comrades of our division.
We include in this all those who, in undying German Soldatentum, gave their most, their lives, for the creation and preservation of the Reich.
This year, we particularly commemorate the victims of the blind hate and destrcutive will of the terror bombing and atrocities.
All these sacrifices can not be in vain. They serve as an example and a reminder of the duty to hold the freedom and the preservation of the German people higher than one's own life during this fateful struggle.
The dead, they live on in our community. They give us new strength as heralds and reminders of unconditional commitment to the faith in the German people, the Führer, and victory."
Ortsunterkunft, 19 March 1945. Leaflet of the 3./Bau-u. Sich. Btl. 161 concerning the number of volunteers
This short leaftlet, an answer to an order to the 3rd Company of Bau-und Sicherungsbatallion 161, mentions the number of "volunteers" from the East in the unit. Obviously, these men were not volunteers, but forced labourers drafted from the massive pool of Red Army prisoners of war.
Most remarkable of this document is the number of forced labourers it mentions: most German units had by March 1945 been decimated, and companies were often reduced from around 200 to 50 men or less. Given that the unit consists of 22 men from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania, it is clear how large the role of forced labour was in the Wehrmacht.
Heiligenbeil Kessel, 24 March 1945, Leaflet to the remnannts of the Fourth Army at the Frische Haff
On 13 March, the Red Army started with the elimination of the Heiligenbeil pocket. In January 1945 the Fourth Army had retreated to the area on the Frische Haff, around the town of Heiligenbeil. Throughout February, the Army was incessantly shelled and unit sizes dwindled, yet by orders of Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz and Hitler they were force to stay put. When Soviet forces launched their final assault, the destruction was inevitable.
Soviet propagandists had long tried to convince German troops to surrender, and this leaflet, dated 24 March, was one of their final and most sustained attempts. The leaflet summarises the hopelessness of the situation, and stresses that help should not be expected. After stressing that the nearby ports or Danzig and Gdingen are blocked and themselves also isolated, while the sea routes to Pillau are under control of Soviet submarines and the Red Army's air force - as such hammering home the idea that the German grouping could not be supplied anymore - the leaflet appeals to troops "strategic" sense, and stresses that large parts of Western Germany, such as Cologne, Bonn, Koblenz, and Worms, are already in the hands of the western Allies, while the Soviets have pushed on over 400 kilometers and are nearing Berlin, 400 kilometers further west.