Note: Extracts from the letters will shortly be on-line in the German language.
Introduction – Editorial
This is a brief note providing information aboout a German anti-aircraft battery of the Second World War which saw action in Poland and in France, at least during part of its existence.
The information was gleaned from letters of soldiers to their parents’ residence(s) in so-called Greater Germany, that is, Germany plus the parts annexed prior to the actual declaration of war. Information may have been combined, but the individual statements extracted are true. For simplicity sake, we will refer to one soldier only, unless we detect great stylistic differences in the German text.
Indeed, examination of the details provided by the letters show some discrepancies as regards to distances between towns and cities, so all information is provided on a provisional basis, subject to verification.
Investigation of the locations for the Polish Invasion was complicated by the change of names during the post-war period from German to Polish. Both versions are given.
The military cancellation stamps, without any military postal stamp indicating the military mail number (Feldpost Briefstempel) was “Feldpost ‘b'”, with an “85-” prefixed to the date 09.0.49, and just “Feldpost ‘b'” on 14.9.39. On the back of the envelope, the information for the soldier’s address is “Feldpostsammelstelle Troppau”, and the military postal address 31178.
If dates in the letters are valid (and if the letters are likewise authentic, as we have reason to believe to be true), the time it took between writing the letters and having them dispatched was 3 days in the first instance, and 2 days in the second, this during a major campaign of the war. Unfortunately, unlike that which happened in many cases of such soldier mail, no annotation shows on which date the mail was received at its final destination. In the case of a letter from France, the time difference between writing and dispatch was a mere day.
We might be able to provide some additional information, if our limited financial means, obsolete computer technology, broken-down hard drives, and lost flash drives permit. The preceding list of obstacles is also a reason for which our records are not as complete as full historical research might require. Were we reporters, we could escape by saying, our sources are confidential. But then, we might have an organization giving us proper tools for our work. Potential sources are or were private museums, other exhibitions, such as at points of sale, hard copies and on-line catalogues (one auction house has all its old catalogues on line). The total number of letters referring to the military address are not all the same, are purpose is only to determine the location. The thinking of the soldiers or family members is a historical plus, to enliven the otherwise geographical data.
It should be unnecessary to add, that the present author has no sympathies whatsoever with the racist ideology found in the letters. Furthermore, this writer believes that proponents of war should meditate on enthusiasm shown by letter writers at the beginning of war was wormwood to the defeated by the end of the conflict.
The soldier whose mail we have seen is either a braggart in a very lucky unit, or a lying lackey of the regime. In any event, his sympathies, and we have reason to believe, those of his father, are wholeheartedly in favour of the National Socialist regime, and express racial prejudices either springing from his own prejudices, or from subsequent brainwashing. We may be quite sure that he, and especially his father, were subjected to denazification at the end of the war, even if the former’s letters were never seen by the Allies. His father was at first a local civil servant, and later, a functionary (most likely in a minor capacity) of the Reich. If further information were available about him, we cannot know – this being true for three reasons: a particularly ugly handwriting has led us to an unverifiable surname, that is, our Internet search engine does not generate any matches. A second reason is that social media may have pushed the sought-after information way into the background. Finally, shame, in collusion with the community at large, may have determined that the family history not be mentioned. There is the fourth possibility that we, here on this web-page, have exagerrated the significance of the story, which, if of interest at all, has already been told a countless number of times. Nevertheless, we can contribute with the question of the military mail number, the “Feldpostnummer”.
In favour of this soldier/officer, we can say that in spite of the defects pointed out above, he does not end his letter with the “Ave” to his dictator. This omission has been seen in around 99% of all Feldpost this author has analyzed. However, it is worth pointing out that a higher percentage of such “Hails” are found, broadly speaking, in letters to such people as this man’s father.
Feldpost Information Generalities
Web-sites reporting information on any Feldpostnummer seem to come and go, and we suspect consist largely of compilations derived from a 3-volume work devoted to the issue, Die deutsche Feldpostübersicht 1939 -1945, by Norbert Kannapin . As we have never seen any copies, this is only conjecture, but we might also hazard a guess that Kannapin’s information was compiled from a number of sources, including from letters that revealed too much, or from transcripts of interrogations by the Allies of their prisoners. We really don’t know. The current batch of relevant web-sites (May, 2015) consists of a link on photo-war.com, plus axishistory.com and wehrmachtawards.com, each with somewhat different additional information. A couple of sites have disappeared over the last three or four years. In addition to what we found on one of the preceding, here is what we can say, based on our readings.
Locations of Feldpostnummer 31137: 1st Battery Flak Regiment 38 (1939)
Feldpostnummer 31178. 1. Batterie Flak-Regiment 38, that is, 1st battery of Flak Regiment 38, which according to the web-site http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de [link in German] was associated with the 5th Panzer (tank) Division during the Polish Invasion, spent 11 days in the Sudetenland (German-speaking region of what was at that time called Czechoslovakia). On August 30, the group was in Ratisbor, now Racibórz , where they were greeted with the Hitler salute, cigarettes, and bread and sausages. There was a possible mention of flowers, but this seems to have meant the just-mentioned food. On September 1, they were in Gross-Bauden, which is described as 2 kilometres, a bit over a mile, from the frontier, it is now the city of Rudy, or Kuźnia Raciborska. The border was crossed at 4:30 AM. Junkers 87 flew overhead.Crossing of the battery was for 4:00 PM, protected by the 5th Division of Tanks (this information matching that of lexikon-der-wehrmacht, except for the inversion of “who is protecting whom”). Denigrating comments are made about the population, with no distinction being made between who might have been an ethnic German in the region, a Christian Pole, or a Jew, for which race he reserves special ironic comments. “Here in Galizia there are many Jewish villages, they will suffer heavily for their great fame!” It is stated that they will continue onto Cracow. Unfortunately, (or maybe not), the letter is incomplete.
The second letter, from Opatow, laments that the battery did not enter Cracow. He claims to be 8 km. from Lublin, we have measured a distance of around 16 km., or 10 miles. He describes desolation, death, Polish desertors, “authentic” Jews, (a comment made with reference to their traditional way of dressing). hunger, the thought that the war in the East would end soon, the immense size of Poland compared to his native region, and the drinking of alcoholic beverages plundered (of course, he did not use that word) from basements of Jewish homes.
In a letter post-marked 29.12.39, he has become a corporal. Writing from France, with a postmark 24.5.40, he is then a lieutenant. Obviously, he had the right attitude, which guaranteed fast promotion. He briefly described going through Luxemburg and Belgium, British air attacks on a position merely mentioned as the North-West, his vanity has him say that the losses of his battery were a mere ½ %, and of his own group, nobody. He gives the approximate location as a few kilometeres from Saint-Omer, France, about 100 km. west of Brussels. The letter did not seem to describe his journey according to a strict chronology. What he was sure of, though, is that he knew what he was fighting for, while, in his opinion, the French did not.
As can be seen, we are dealing with a very opiniated climber in the ranks.