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Interview with a Pz.IV Gunner pt.3 - Canadians


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Waelwulf #1 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 05:04

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Continuing from http://forum.worldof...nner-pt2-d-day/

Facing the Canadians

Notes:
* Canadians will be part 3, British part 4
* Heavily edited, taking out most of what I could not verify so mostly opinions and observations except for two "events"
* Two events are someone controversial and could not be verify with other sources but I felt they needed to be left in.
* I should note that Bruno was very emotional during this and he needed to drink a lot to even talk about it.
* I've purposefully left out the long recollections of friends he lost to focus on subject matter for this forum
* Sorry about the delay but it was very hard personally editing much of the material - November is a rough time for me and material didn't help


As before lets keep the discussion constructive and if there are questions PM and I might be able to answer them. If there are problems please let the mods know.


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What did you do on the 7th of June?
Well firstly the night of the 6th things changed.

How so?
Discipline and reality kicked in I’d say. Hearing the constant drone of planes and the shelling focused the men and the officers. Radio discipline was enforced and there was no more listening in on other German units or the Allied transmissions. Everyone was on high alert with rotating watches to give us some sleep and to protect against any surprise attacks. The officers went around to each crew and unit to bolster our spirits and to check that we were ready. Finally about an hour or so before dawn food and drink was distributed and Meyer gave a speech about defending the Reich, making the Hitler and our families proud, throwing the little fish back into the sea, and other party tripe.  After Meyer’s speech on the radio Siegel gave real speech and his  was more to the point and focused most of us.

What did he talk about?
That Germany and our families depended on us. That the British we would face would be professional soldiers determined to defeat us, and that the Canadians we faced were all volunteers that had sailed across an ocean for the chance to fight us. He also said that the Allies had committed everything and that if we pushed them back into the sea we could force a peace with them and then turn on the Russians. Finally he said if we didn’t push them back the Allies would not stop until Berlin and Germany was beaten and in ruins. Like I said it focused our minds on the challenge ahead and the weight that rested on us.

What happened next?
We rolled out at dawn to take up our advance positions that had been plotted out by the officers to maximize fields of fire that the Allies would advance into outside of Caen. The plan was to bloody the Allies and then hit back hard with all the reserves as the struggled to regroup. In the afternoon we had allowed the Canadians to advance towards our hidden positions and then opened up on their flanks. I got my first tank kill that day, hitting a Sherman square in the side and it stopped dead. The tanks and infantry then fell back once we destroyed about a squadron of tanks, and the panzergrenadiers managed to overrun a company of Canadian infantry capture two villages back. Meyer then ordered a halt and pull back to re-organize before we could push into the main body of the Canadians. Siegel wasn’t happy, you could see how livid he was storming around outside his tank. Honestly I think Meyer was smart to order the halt since the 21st hadn’t show up to support the counter-attack and the Panthers on the right flank got hit hard on their exposed flanks. Meyer took the time to shift so reserves to protect our flank before we tried pushing between the Canadians and the British, but by then it was too late and the Canadians had dug-in and I think the panzergrenadiers had gotten too confident because it sounded like they had simply launched a frontal assault that night.

I didn’t think night combat was common.
It was common enough. It gave us an advantage since we were more familiar with the land and the Allied air power couldn’t hit us. We could get in closer, hit from unexpected directions, or attack isolated or poorly positioned units. That night Meyer even personally lead an attack with a company of Panthers.

What was your opinion of your unit’s performance?
We were too inexperienced and eager and we let that get the better of us. We attacked in set ambushes, frontal assaults, or badly co-ordinated thrusts. I think too many of us believed in our own superiority or the superiority of our tanks without thinking about how to use it effectively.

Do you believe that the Germans tanks were superior?
Initially yes. When it came to roughly even fights in the beginning we generally came out better than the Allies those first couple of days. But the Canadians and British learned fast and replaced their loses fast.  Our tanks were great in some ways but poor in others, the Allies Sherman was all round decent and that began to tell as the battles became more and more of a bar brawl.

Any specific opinion of the Pz.IV?
I loved it. Good armour and all round combat performance if used properly, but it took some getting use to. The skirts were always getting caught in the brush or something, you really had to make sure you took care of the mechanics, and many had driving or turret quirks.

Quirks?
Well I know a few drivers complained about how the tank could jerk or lurch about unexpectedly when trying to make fine or slow adjustments. Can remember a few running into things or getting stuck because of this. I know my tank had a bit of an issue rotating the turret smoothly mechanically, it could jump a bit and there wasn’t enough fine control. I always used the manual traverse to fine tune my aiming rather than the switch. I know Siegel’s tank had the same problem.

What about the Panther?
It was a beautiful tanks but temperamental like a beautiful women <laughs>. Good armour in the front, an incredible gun, and beautiful cross county. But like a woman who gets by on looks it had personality problems. Poor gunnery control, poor side armour, required a lot of engine work to prevent fires, and it had to be driven carefully. In the opening part of a battle it was deadly, but as the battle turned into more of brawl it wasn’t so good. The Allies also tended to shoot them first. I was happier with my Pz.IV.

How about the Sherman?
Like I said it seemed to be a nice balanced tank like the Pz.IV. It didn’t excel at anything, but it deemed seem to have any glaring faults either. Gun wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. Armour wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. Driving cross-country wasn’t great, but again wasn’t bad. Actually with driving I’d say it was one area it’d was good at since they could be driven everywhere while we had to use special transport. I had a chance to look around inside one at the War Museum decades ago and I liked the layout inside more than I liked my tank’s, everything seemed better thought out for the crew.

You mentioned you got your first kill on the 7th, how many did you have?
This is a tough subject that I don’t like to talk about, but very well. I know I had four certain kills, and four possible kills. The first kill stopped dead and I never saw any crew try and get out. The second was a British one that the turret blew off with his ammunition exploded when I hit him with a lucky shot through a shed. The third was an American that caught fire and I did see two crew make it out. The forth was a Soviet tank that I shot through the turret, only the driver bailed out. The three possible kills were all against the Canadians as we exchanged fire in those damned hedge rows. I know the tanks were disabled but I couldn’t confirm that they were knocked out.

You seem to know or care about the crews of the enemy tanks.
They were like us. They had the same fears, and they faced the same horrible deaths we did. I didn’t think about it at first but later there was an understanding or respect for them. I guess it is similar to the opinion sailors have for each other in combat. Besides it also helped that the Canadian crews looked exactly like we did, and from a distance of more than 100m you’d have trouble telling German and Canadian tank crews apart. It becomes very easy to identify with you enemy when he looks just like you. We've all heard the screams as a tank burns over the radio, or had to recover the ruined remains of friends from shatter tanks, or seen the terrible wounds others suffered so you know what the enemy is going through and you'd have to be inhuman not to feel for them.

What was your opinion of the Canadians?
Brave. Smart. Dangerous. But human and kind too. They were the hated enemy but it was hard to hate them, and even the hard core Party members respected them.  They were determined fighters and if you weren’t careful you’d find yourself flanked. The tanks and infantry worked good together isolating units or tanks, and it was not uncommon to have one track a distracted tank. They had their good and bad elements of course. We had all heard rumors about the three men tied to the Canadian tanks in mid-June. But I also saw Canadians go out of their way to help or care for our troops too.  . Let me tell you about what I saw a month after D-Day when the fighting was a real brutal brawl. In a close fight around a farm manor we lost three tanks and they lost about five. A forth panzer had been hit in the track and he was getting flanked by two Shermans moving up behind the building. I was trying to get a glimpse of one Sherman through the farmhouse door or window when the other poked out and shot the immobile panzer with a perfect shot to the engine and the panzer started to burn up. I had a perfect shot at the side of the Sherman’s driver but watched in stunned amazement as one of the crew from one of disabled tanks ran forward and waved off the Shermans and he scrambled onto the panzer to help pull the crew out. It had to have been a Canadian since the Shermans stopped. I have never seen something so brave or human, and we made a point of firing off to the side after the crew was out so they could see us pull back and Peter had his hatch open saluting them. By this point we respected the Canadians and as the war dragged on we only respected them more.

What about what happened at the Abbey?
I know you wonder what I know about what happened at the Abbey. I can say I was there. Siegel had taken me back as a driver to confer with Meyer and see what we knew about the enemy. I was by the car trading for sharing some British cigarettes with a driver from the 25th when I heard the shots. I panicked and thought there was a Commando attack, but the driver from the 25th just laughed. Siegel came back to the car with a look I had never seen before, he was pale and shaking. On the drive he kept mumbling that “this is wrong” again and again. Eventual we pulled over so he could puke and compose himself. Sharing some cigarettes on the side of the road he asked me if I was still Catholic, I told him yes, and he told me what had happened on consecrated ground.  I wanted to go back and kill that driver from the 25th after smashing in his laughing face. We sat by the side of the road watching troops for a while. Finally he said “no more”, looked me in the eyes and said it again. As the war went on any prisoners we controlled were handed off to regular army units and honestly I think the other units made an effort to take and treat prisoners well as word spread. Within the unit there was varied and confused reactions from the different crews and vets, some didn't care about the executions, others were outraged, some said it was part of war, and I can remember a lot of fist fights and arguments in the week afterward as the rumors made the rounds. Siegel was never the same after the Abbey, and I think he blamed himself for not being able to do something to have stopped it. Our testimony against Meyer didn't seem to accomplish much after the war, but honour demanded we at least try.

What stands out in the battles with Canadians for you?
Well the first time we encountered a Firefly on the 8th, can still remember the God awful boom and flash of it’s gun firing and seeing the turret of one of our tanks not 50m from us taken blown clean off. Always kept an eye out for them and never fired more than twice from same spot after that. The attack by the Black Watch on Verrières Ridge does stick out too for two reasons. Six of our tanks were held in reserve so we were listening to the radio traffic closely that day. The overwhelming shock of the infantry as the Canadians marched over the open field against them as they were hit by machine guns, 88s, rocket artillery, and rifle fire. They simply couldn’t believe what they were seeing, and after the shock there you could easily hear the respect the infantry had for the Canadians, and then finally concern with orders to cease fire and calls for medics. The second reason why I remember the battle is it was the only time I ever saw a prisoner executed. One of the senior Eastern Front vets had obviously searched a wounded Canadian and was sitting by a tree talking quietly him, and the vet asked Herbert and I to hurry and get some good alcohol before the 9th SS came back to collect the prisoner. He gave the wounded Canadian two drinks, started to tear up and looked him straight in the eyes and whispered something to him I couldn’t understand, then shot him with his pistol. I didn’t know how to react since the vet was now sobbing sitting next to the Canadian. Weird part was how Herbert reacted, he kneeled down next to the vet and asked “Juden?”.  The vet through his sobbing said yes and said that he spared him. On the way back to our tank Herbert told me the vet had whispered “please forgive me” in Hebrew. I have no idea where he learned that. Herbert only said he had heard dark stories talking to some of the other SS units. After that day my innocence about what was going on was gone, and the Americans finally broke lose. It bothers me that I never found out who that Canadian was. After this every timed we faced the Canadians we were always retreating and no matter how much we made them pay the Canadians just pushed harder, until the end when we fought a final holding action to try and let as many escape Falaise as we could. By the time my battles with the Canadians were over I was on one of only a dozen or so tanks left.

*** The British will be the next part

Brickfight #2 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 05:30

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Wow. This is fantastic. Thank you for all of this.

SinsOfWrath #3 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 05:31

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Very nice

CanadianGuitar #4 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 05:35

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Quote

They were like us. They had the same fears, and they faced the same horrible deaths we did. I didn’t think about it at first but later there was an understanding or respect for them. I guess it is similar to the opinion sailors have for each other in combat. Besides it also helped that the Canadian crews looked exactly like we did, and from a distance of more than 100m you’d have trouble telling German and Canadian tank crews apart. It becomes very easy to identify with you enemy when he looks just like you. We've all heard the screams as a tank burns over the radio, or had to recover the ruined remains of friends from shatter tanks, or seen the terrible wounds others suffered so you know what the enemy is going through and you'd have to be inhuman not to feel for them.


Quote

But I also saw Canadians go out of their way to help or care for our troops too.  . Let me tell you about what I saw a month after D-Day when the fighting was a real brutal brawl. In a close fight around a farm manor we lost three tanks and they lost about five. A forth panzer had been hit in the track and he was getting flanked by two Shermans moving up behind the building. I was trying to get a glimpse of one Sherman through the farmhouse door or window when the other poked out and shot the immobile panzer with a perfect shot to the engine and the panzer started to burn up. I had a perfect shot at the side of the Sherman’s driver but watched in stunned amazement as one of the crew from one of disabled tanks ran forward and waved off the Shermans and he scrambled onto the panzer to help pull the crew out. It had to have been a Canadian since the Shermans stopped. I have never seen something so brave or human, and we made a point of firing off to the side after the crew was out so they could see us pull back and Peter had his hatch open saluting them.


I've never had to experience war, or combat, but hearing stories of respect and compasion for people whom war dictates you to hate tears me up. Maybe more soldiers are like that, and I haven't had the privelege to hear their stories, but I think it would take a very brave and bold man, to think of things in a manner like this.


I wish I had the exact quote, but one of the interviews from Band Of Brothers, A verteran said something along the lines of, 'I didn't hate the enemy, they were just like us. Young men taught to do a job. Maybe if this war wasn't going on we'd have been friends? Maybe he liked fishing and hunting like I do'

HMCS_ElsAnna_ #5 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 05:51

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War is hell. But this man kept some humanity through the hell.

Acherona #6 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 06:07

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Very powerful recollection. Thanks again for doing all this.

Risking your life to save enemy crew members from a burning tank? Wow.

Waelwulf #7 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 06:45

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View PostCanadianGuitar, on Nov 30 2013 - 05:35, said:

I've never had to experience war, or combat, but hearing stories of respect and compasion for people whom war dictates you to hate tears me up. Maybe more soldiers are like that, and I haven't had the privelege to hear their stories, but I think it would take a very brave and bold man, to think of things in a manner like this.


I wish I had the exact quote, but one of the interviews from Band Of Brothers, A verteran said something along the lines of, 'I didn't hate the enemy, they were just like us. Young men taught to do a job. Maybe if this war wasn't going on we'd have been friends? Maybe he liked fishing and hunting like I do'

i really wish I could have verified the story about one crewman saving another but I could find nothing in the regimental records or any citations :-(

CanadianGuitar #8 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 06:49

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View PostWaelwulf, on Nov 30 2013 - 06:45, said:

i really wish I could have verified the story about one crewman saving another but I could find nothing in the regimental records or any citations :-(

I believe it. Theres no reason for him to make up a story like that. I'm a firm believer that miraculous things like that do happen in wartime, albiet rare, which makes their impact that much stronger.

Brickfight #9 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 07:02

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View PostWaelwulf, on Nov 30 2013 - 06:45, said:

i really wish I could have verified the story about one crewman saving another but I could find nothing in the regimental records or any citations :-(
You hear it from time to time in accounts. In some of my stuff on the 761st, they tended to mention quite a bit of instances like that one. One of the stories that keeps popping up is of one of the Sargeant organizing a retrieval of German and American wounded as an opposing German officer saluted him. Another famous one was a British paratrooper removing a wounded German from a tank that was burning and cooking off its ammo on D-Day. Even though the German died in hospital care a few hours later, I don't think that British soldier would hesitate in hauling off that soldier if we was forced to re-live it a thousand times. I don't think any sane person wants to commit or witness the acts of horror that just happen every day, they just want to do anything to retain what amount of humanity remains.

Edited by Brickfight, Nov 30 2013 - 07:03.


rossmum #10 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 10:08

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I can believe it for sure. I've actually seen one account of a 109 pilot shooting down a Macchi that was shooting up a Red Cross C-47 (this being before Italy switched sides) before waggling his wings and flying off. War is a strange thing, it truly does bring out the best and the worst in humanity.

Walter_Sobchak #11 Posted Nov 30 2013 - 21:06

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Thank you for posting this Waelwulf.

collimatrix #12 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 20:04

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This was worth the wait.  Some parts of that definitely got my heart racing.  I have a few thoughts on this series:

Editing:

I'm a big fan of including all the material you turn up during investigation, and I've mentioned this before.  There are definitely instances where something you didn't think was particularly important turns out to be very exciting later, like that picture of the experimental jagdpanther autoloader Yuri Pasholok or someone turned up in the Hunnicutt archives.

That said, you did a really outstanding job editing this portion, and keeping it on topic.  Some parts were thrilling.  I'd still love to hear the non-combat bits of Bruno's story, even if it has to be cleaned up a bit and posted as an appendix or something.

Context:

Is there any chance you could find a map or something of where this was all going down?

Technical:

Interesting to hear that the Pz. IV's steering was jerky and unpredictable.  My prediction: interviews T-34 drivers will have the same complaint, M4 sherman drivers will not.

Having the steering spaz out on you like that must have really sucked in the turret-less TD and assault gun variants.

Brickfight #13 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 20:43

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I've actually located the unit on a few of my maps. My scanner is broken, and the cellphone pictures I get tend to be crap. Gonna try and use my parents' if I can see them soon.

EnsignExpendable #14 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 21:21

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Yes, I have read some complaints that the T-34's turret traverse was a bit wild.

collimatrix #15 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 21:53

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I meant the hull traverse actually, owing to the clutch and brake steering.  Interesting that the turret was a little glitchy as well.  Any notion why?

EnsignExpendable #16 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 22:45

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No idea, the ones I've seen move looked perfectly fine. I guess it's a different experience when you have your face pressed to the sight.

shapeshifter #17 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 23:06

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View PostEnsignExpendable, on Dec 01 2013 - 22:45, said:

No idea, the ones I've seen move looked perfectly fine. I guess it's a different experience when you have your face pressed to the sight.

Just like you can get lemon cars, I am sure they make lemon tanks that just seem to have everything go wrong on.

Waelwulf #18 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 23:32

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View Postcollimatrix, on Dec 01 2013 - 21:53, said:

I meant the hull traverse actually, owing to the clutch and brake steering.  Interesting that the turret was a little glitchy as well.  Any notion why?

Only thing I can remotely think of was electrical connection issues, wire conductivity issues, or electrical power flow issues - could a slightly fluctuating electrical system account for some jerkiness from the traverse? I don't know asking anyone familiar with control systems on old tanks.

KaiserMartens #19 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 23:37

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Good Gods, that last part about the hebrew thing is spine-chilling.

Meplat #20 Posted Dec 01 2013 - 23:53

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Wishing I'd recorded/taken notes with the client I had back when I was working on sailplanes.

Was doing some volunteer work for the local CAP, and one of their members was a very friendly guy with somewhat of an accent. Fantastic sailplane pilot, guy really knew his energy management.

Turned out he was ex HJ then Luftwaffe.  Very open about it,  and IIRC his reasoning was "no way I could have gotten flight time, at that time if one wasnt HJ.".

Very sure the guy was not really interested in the whole political part because,  1. Civil Air Patrol. and 2, one of his best drinking buddies was retired IAF. (listening to them both bitch about the 109 while both were half in the bag was pretty damned funny).

Got the vibe he was in the party at the time, just to play the system and get what he wanted.

Wished I could remember more, but this was near 20 years ago.




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