Rank and File
A Clerk’s War
16th August to 19th August 1939
Admiral Raeder has been given permission to take the Nordseeflotte to the coast of Holland where it can not only provide shore bombardment to assist battles near the coast, but can also blockade the Koninklije Marine in Amsterdam. The authority, which came from the Fuhrer himself, was reluctant in tone and warned that the Admiral must not risk the precious ships in a serious encounter.
Once more the day was routine, with the only activity late in the evening, when we received a brief message from General Petzel in Bitburg. Two French divisions have crossed the border from Luxembourg and the General sounded worried. He pointed out that his 34.Infanterie was exhausted from recent fighting, that the Slovak militia was in even worse shape and that the recently mobilised 10.Infanterie (motorised) is still not fully supplied and equipped. Although only facing two divisions, General Petzel fears that this is just a warm up, that his opposing general, de Verdillac, has many other units in reserve.
Battle of Bitburg
The battle raged all night and into the next day, and General Petzel was forced to pull his division out of the fight as his men were on the point of collapse. He handed over control of the battlefield to General Bless, who is still struggling to get his new command organised while fighting what is now a major attack by nearly 30,000 French troops. Our Slovak allies are standing shoulder to shoulder with us, and General Bless states that though they may be classed as militia, he sees them as the equal of our best troops. He will hold as long as he can, but unless he gets reinforcements we may lose not only the factories and resources of Bitburg, but also the massive airbase near the city.
Perhaps some of the soldiers freed up from our attack on Pirmasens can be used in Bitburg. After a bitter three day battle they will need time to recover though, and may be too late. They will also need to receive replacement soldiers, as we lost 1,655 men in the course of the battle. The French took even heavier punishment, losing 3,016 soldiers.
Despite our intelligence telling us the Dutch Army is near collapse, they keep on fighting. General Ulex, commander of the Army of the Ardennes is getting frustrated that his men cannot achieve the breakthrough he wants. The Dutch try to defend every province, even when the position is hopeless. Although our losses are negligible, each battle slows our advance and ties up valuable units.
The Osterreich Army continues to make progress against the Belgians, though General Dennerlein has also mentioned that the number of Belgian divisions has been an unwelcome surprise. He had expected to be attacking Bruxelles by now, but is still some days away from the city. Volkmann has reached Arlon and has immediately clashed with the Belgian 3eme Division. Scouts from 1st Gebirgsjager report that the Belgian unit is only at half strength, and General Volkmann hopes for a short, sharp victory, but I have heard this too often.
Battle of Arlon
Commander Fricke, leading our newest Unterseebootsflotte, has recorded his first success. Patrolling the Southern Porcupine Plain, his lead submarines located a convoy travelling from Nauru to Plymouth. Unfortunately he could only sink two ships, but more sinkings boost the strength of the U-boat lobby here in Berlin. With fierce competition for all production capacity, but especially for shipbuilding, I can see these reports being cited many times in the next few months.
During the afternoon, General Ruoff’s 2.Infanterie (motorised) moved into den Haag, on the Nordsee coast. Since the start of the war, 2.Infanterie has been at the forefront of every attack, stopping only to refuel and receive replacement soldiers before loading up and heading towards the front. Several submissions have been made to OKH and, to recognise the consistent contribution of the officer and men of the division, it has been renamed. From now on it will be known as the “Vorwarts” Division (motorised). General Ruoff assured General von Blomberg that his men appreciated the honour granted them, and that soon he would report from the beaches of the Norsdee, having cut off the Dutch from their southern allies.
Just as I was leaving at the end of the 18th, a message was rushed to me by a smiling delivery clerk. Someone in the telegraph office must have heard me make a remark about General Volkmann’s timetable for victory in Arlon, because the note from 1st Gebirgsjager was to inform Berlin that the Belgians were retreating and that Arlon was ours. Volkmann lost only 46 men while the Belgian’s had 109 casualties. I must be a little more discrete when being critical of optimistic victory claims. Although there was no real damage this time, I would not like a sarcastic comment to reach the front. An administrative supervisor could easily lose his position if a senior Wehrmacht officer made a formal complaint about derogatory comments that questioned an officer’s professional opinion.
1st Gebirgsjager sent a photograph of an abandoned Belgian T-13 light tank. Our men have encountered a few of these, but usually in small numbers.
Finally we have another Panzer division. 2nd Panzer has been formed in Koln, under the command of Major General Dietrich. It had been intended to assemble the division in Bitburg, but the French attack has forced a change, as it would be unrealistic to try to organise the new unit while under fire. The Ministry of Armaments has immediately placed orders for tanks, trucks, self-propelled artillery and everything else necessary for another Panzer division. At the same time, orders were approved for another Messerschmitt Bf 109G geschwader and an infantry division with an attached anti-air regiment.
Fresh orders have been sent to General Ulex, reflecting the changed circumstances on the ground. With Arnhem and Eindhoven secure, they have been removed as objectives for his Army of the Ardennes. New objectives have been set: Antwerpen and Brugge. It has been stressed that he must start to swing his axis of advance immediately. The drive to the French-Belgian border must begin.
While that may have been the order, in practice it takes time to alter the focus of a dozen different divisions. Roads must be allocated, supplies rerouted and complex orders drafted. So I was not surprised that the rest of the day passed with no news from the front. Battles on the Westwall and in the west of Belgium continued, as did the increasingly desperate struggles by the Dutch. But the start of the drive on Paris would have to wait until tomorrow.
Amsterdam: Udet with 2 x Ju 87G: 50, 139
Saarlouis: Kesselring with 2 x Ju 87G: 41, 83, 93
Pirmasens: Schwartzkopf with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111: 49, 116, 113
Leuven: Muller-Michiels with 2 x He 111: 66, 112, 57
Amsterdam: Kitzinger with 2 x He 111: 170
Amsterdam: Udet with 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Saarlouis: Schwartzkopf with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111: 73, 123
Pirmasens: Muller-Michiels with 2 x He 111: 68, 111
Amsterdam: Sperrle with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: 116
Amsterdam: Dorstling with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111: ??
Saarlouis: Lohr with 2 x Ju 87G: ??, ??
Pirmasens: Kesselring with 2 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: 151, 81
Amsterdam: Sperrle with 2 x Bf 109G, 6 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: NIL
A worrying trend in reporting procedures has been noted. 3 units failed to lodge bombing estimates on the 17th. It is believed that the missions were successfully carried out and that casualties were inflicted, but for some reason no information was passed to the Luftwaffe administration. I will need to keep a close watch on this.
Amsterdam: Udet with 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Luxembourg: Schwartzkopf with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111: 74, 129, 68
Saarlouis: Lohr with 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Leuven: Muller-Michiels with 2 x He 111: 76, 125, 74
Amsterdam: Dorstling with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Saarlouis: Kesselring with 2 x Ju 87G: 71, 91, 92
Luxembourg: Lohr with 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Amsterdam: Sperrle with 1 x Bf 109G, 4 x He 111: 94, 78
Amsterdam: Kitzinger with 2 x He 111: 146
Udet’s Stukas over Holland: why are we missing their mission reports?
Amsterdam: Dorstling with 1 x BF 109G, 2 x He 111: ??, ??
Saarlouis: Kesselring with 2 x Ju 87G: 41, 66, 106
Luxembourg: Schwartzkopf with 1 x Bf 109G, 2 x He 111: 59, 112, 139
Den Haag: Grauert with 2 x He 111: 66, 128, 60
Leuven: Muller-Michiels with 2 x He 111: 69
Leuven: Lohr with 2 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: ??
Amsterdam: Sperrle with 2 x Bf 109G, 4 x He 111: 105
Leuven: Lohr with 2 x Ju 87G: 35
Leuven: Muller-Michiels with 2 x He 111, 2 x Ju 87G: ??
I am trying to discern a pattern in the missing reports. A memorandum has been sent to my superiors but I suspect that the Luftwaffe has more pressing issues at the moment than a request for missing reports from the Filing Division of the Ministry of the Interior. At first glance it seems to be restricted to missions led by Udet, Dorstling and Lohr, but I noted that Lohr filed reports for his last mission. Perhaps it is just a temporary problem. I hope so – few people realise it but correct collection and analysis of information is critical if we are to win this war.
Westwall at end of 19th August
Fall Gelb at end of 19th August: Ruoff’s “Vorwarts” Division is already living up to its new name by achieving a breakthrough.
An Italian fleet with loaded transports in the Gulf of Taranto: where are they heading? With three heavy cruisers and two destroyer flotillas escorting the five transport groups, the Italians are taking no chances.
Albania-Greece: at some time in the past two weeks the Italians have regained Korce from the Greeks. There was no official notification, and my sources at the Foreign Ministry tell me that the view there is that the Italians are trying to gloss over the fact that they were initially beaten by the Greek army.