Posts Tagged ‘Knights Cross’
It was with sadness that I heard that Alexander Uhlig, a legendary name in the annals of the history of the Fallschirmjäger and of the Normandy campaign in 1944, had died on 1st November in Essen at the age of 89. My own encounter with the name, as no doubt with most who recognise it, was most notably reading of his conduct with FJR.6 in Normandy in the weeks following Operation Overlord, and an action in late July 1944 which Uhlig described in his own words (courtesy of The Guardian’s “D-Day: 60 Years On”):
“Our company commander ordered us to drive the Americans back across the river and, if I could, he ordered me to bring back a couple of prisoners for questioning. So our group mounted a surprise attack, picking up some more men and tanks on the way, at the end of which we managed to capture 250 Americans and took them back [to St Germain-sur-Seves].
But a lot of Americans were killed and even more were wounded [in the marshy ground around Seves]. And many of our men died, too. I lost several comrades, good men.”
Those familiar with the story will recognise that Uhlig was being modest: His company had in fact annihilated a battalion of the US 90th Infantry Division, and among the prisoners was the battalion commander. It was for this success that Oberfeldwebel Uhlig was awarded the Knight’s Cross. A previous veteran of Narvik, Crete and Italy, he was captured later in 1944 – only to escape from captivity and go down as one of the few German PoWs to return to Germany without recapture.
Uhlig’s postwar life involved heavy involvement with veterans’ associations, including those of the 90th Infantry Division – who had, in the aftermath of FJR.6’s assault, been allowed to gather up their wounded from the battlefield after Uhlig himself persuaded his superiors to hold fire and observe a brief truce for the Americans to go about unhindered. This led to five-yearly gatherings between the veterans of FJR.6 and 90th Infantry Division. He became head of FJR.6’s own veterans’ association in 1994, after the death of its wartime commander, Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte.
Mike Shilton, of the Luftwaffe Airfield Re-Enactment Association, recalled the following:
“I was very honoured to have met him and spend some time with him in Kreta in 2001. He took Bubi, Ron and I to the Samaria Gorge in the SW of the island, we all started the walk, but after some considerable distance, Alexander let the three of us carry on further down the gorge, on our return to Alexander we all went back to the car for the drive down the mountain. It was a long, very winding road to the bottom, Bubi was in the front, I was behind Alexander and Ron behind Bubi, on the first stretch down the mountain we encountered a coach coming up, instead of waiting for the coach to go by, Alexander overtook it on the outside, very close to the edge and at high speed, Ron and I just looked at each other. At the end of some of the hairpin bends were drop offs of probably a 1000ft or more, as we sped down the mountain and approached one of these hairpins, Alexander lost control and the car skidded sideways towards the edge, fortunately, it was one of the very few bends with a road running off it , I looked in the mirror to see Alexander quietly smiling to himself with a wicked glint in his eye, Ron however had buried his finger nails in the back of Bubi’s seat, I haven’t got a clue what I did. Needless to say the rest of the journey down the mountain was hair raising. You could tell Alexander had faced death many times in his life and nothing scared him, even when we got back on to level ground he still drove at speed, the return journey to Maleme went by very quickly. My other abiding memory, was at the memorial service at Maleme cemetery , there were government ministers, high ranking officers, soldiers, civil dignitaries and us wandering around waiting for the memorial service to begin, when Alexander arrived, not only was he wearing a Ritterkreutz, but it was the original, not the 1957 re-issue, we thought that absolutely brilliant, sticking two fingers up at the establishment, a true gentleman, may he rest in peace and share many happy times with his fallen comrades.”
My respect and recognition go to a man whom I had not the fortune to meet, yet whose exploits and character left an admirable and unforgettable impression.
Ruhe in Frieden.
(I wish to thank Mike Shilton, David Simon of the Luftwaffe Historical Group, and Peter Hilde of the Ritterkreuzträgerbund for their help in producing this article.)
I’ve decided to kick off my Book Reviews section (let’s be honest, the other ‘review’ was just me trying to cover up for my own idiocy) with this title – German Sniper on the Eastern Front by Albrecht Wacker – for two reasons: the first is that I’ve only just come into contact with this book and so it’s the most recent ‘new’ book I’ve read – in between re-reading a load of sci-fi I probably shouldn’t be – and secondly because, frankly, I thought it was so good that I had to have a book that left such a mark on me to have the dubious honour of being my first reviewed work.
The book places us at the point of Allerberger’s enlistment in the Gebirgsjäger in 1943, and the narrative rushes into his first taste of battle as quickly as Allerberger himself felt suddenly thrown into the war. Straightaway it is established that the depiction of the carnage of the Eastern Front is to be, from my experience with the genre, unusually brusque; I mean that in the sense that, while the blood-and-guts detail pulls no punches (and this book is unrelenting with its capture of the witnessed horror), the narrative never seems to dwell upon any of it or attempt to slam any inferences into the reader. Here’s what happened, in all the ghastly detail, but let’s move on. To me, it’s as though it does capture the train-of-thought of Allerberger in these situations, viewing something of utter repulsion and terror for a brief moment before the images being lost in the continuing flurry of combat. It augments the placing of the reader into situations excellently.
Albrecht Wacker, the editor/biographer, does point out that he has had to reconstruct the story using secondary research, owing to Allerberger’s natural memory-loss on certain points or simply a lack of knowledge of certain contextual matters relevant to the ‘narrative whole’ (in Wacker’s words). I felt that the extent to which the narrative was based on Wacker’s work was undetectable, the patching-up work added seamlessly into Allerberger’s input. The whole piece reads as one coherent account, and in addition to this it manages to feel like the sniper himself is personally sitting you down and letting you into his own personal Hell – the long journey of bullets, shells, chaos, fear and death that formed his long journey from the edge of the Crimea back into the Reich itself, with the Red Army behind them every step of the way.
The book provides a wealth of information for enthusiasts on several topics, most notably of the trade of the German sniper and to a lesser extent on the mountain-troop units’ taste of battle on the Eastern Front. Allerberger dismisses some of the popularly-perceived craftsmanship of the sniper such as camouflage technique and the more elaborate mechanisms showcased in newsreels (some of which can be found on Google Video) – his straightforward methods of clever cover and sternly self-imposed professionalism are his personal trade tools; not to mention devising a safe place to hide his sniper’s rifle if need be, for snipers were killed out of hand (and often tortured before that, as Allerberger himself describes in horrendous – but yet sparing – detail).
This book came very close in terms of first-read enjoyment to being comparable to Heinz Knocke’s I Flew For The Führer (a book I must definitely must review for this site in the near future), for I simply could not stop reading for trivial matters such as work, sustenence or meeting friends (one of whom found me at the train station when they arrived, sat under a lamppost desperately trying to finish the last chapter) – it’s graphic and it’s grim, but as you finish the epilogue that remains as to-the-point as the brutalities you will find yourself feeling – alongside that “Thank f**k it wasn’t me” thought – that emotion that all great war memoirs should evoke: Respect.