In which the Reich expands even further.
September 5th, 1939. Somewhere in Bavaria, in an Armoured Training Camp of the Wehrmacht. Captain Wilhelm von Walsrode arrived for training two weeks earlier, and he still had two and a half months left until he could join an active Panzer unit. Until then, he will spend his days mostly by learning how the Panzerkampfwagen III Ausführung F works (which was the most commonly used tank in the Wehrmacht at the time), familiarizing himself with the basic features of the Panzerkampfwagen IV (which should replace the third series as the backbone of the Panzer arm during the following year), studying armoured tactics, the basics of the Blitzkrieg and the Armoured Schwerpunkt doctrines and improving his aim with the Machinegewehr 34 machinegun. He also had to learn how to reload and aim the main gun of the Pzkpf. III. and how to drive it or how to use the built-in radio, in case some of his future crew gets wounded or worse.
Top left: a British Intelligence picture, showing the amount of armour on the different parts of a Panzerkampfagen III; top right: a Panzerkampwagen II, mainly used for training purposes; middle right: Krupp trucks with Infantrymen, towing a Panzerabwehrkanone 36 Anti-Tank gun; bottom left: a Panzerkampwagen III Ausführung D during a training excercise; bottom right: German troops getting on-board a Krupp L2 truck.
During the following week, Wilhelm's future crew will be assigned to him, and he can start to get to know them as well. He never was good at getting around with new people. He was slow to build trust, but when he did so, it was to last. But it was much more important for the crew to trust him than the other way around. "They are supposed to be my crew, not my friends!"
But not all his time was spent with armour-related training. Serving in a Panzer-Division was as demanding as in the Infanterie. Marching drills, shooting excercises, even obstacle courses. A tankman has to be tough.
Later on, when he will have his crew, there will be tactical excercises as well. Combined arms cooperation is a key concept in the Whermacht's doctrine: infantrymen have to be confident in advancing alongside tanks, and tankcrewmen need to know how to effectively support the infantry. They also have to know when to advance and when to support. Going into forests unsupported or moving too close to an unsecured building can prove disasterous even for the mighty Panzerkampfagen IV. "The most important thing in battle is to know your limitations."
Top left: German Infantrymen during a shooting excercise; top right: German non-commissioned officers pose for a group picture; bottom: German Soldaten practice throwing their Model 24 Stielhandgranate.
He knew he still had a lot to learn, but it would worth it. He was sure that the war didn't end with securing the Northern flank. There was no real sign of the Allies giving up yet. There was definitely more to come, and he could serve his Fatherland best on the front, in the strongest arm of the Wehrmacht: in a Panzer-Division.
The war was far from being over, but only God knew what plans the Führer had in his mind for the future of the Reich...
*** *** *** *** ***
September 20th, 1939. Berlin, the rented apartment of Hans Grübermann and Anna Hoffmann. The couple settled in very quickly, and they felt rather confortable already. The apartment was well furnitured, and had some nice modern additions as well, like a telephone and a radio. Just like Hans' old place, although it was slightly smaller, with only one bedroom and no separate dining room: the table was in the kitchen.
It was a very special night, because Joachim, Martin and even Wilhelm were invited for supper. Joachim and Martin were frequent guests, but Wilhelm was rarely seen since the war broke out. After the end of the Northern Campaign, he got transfered into a Training Camp, so even with things more quiet, he still couldn't be around that much.
The meal was wonderful as always, giving them an excelent opportunity for some friendly conversation.
- What was it like to be in Sweden? Was it cold? - asked Anna. She was particularly interested in the life in the Wehrmacht. Then agian, it is easy to be interested in something you can never experience first-hand. As Erasmus said: "War is more delightful to those who have never experienced it."
- No, not at all. Or at least not where I was. But it was in August, so that's hardly surprising. You see, there's this geological phenomenon called the Gulf Stream, which brings enough heat that it is very similar to our own climate. Even the winters are relatively mild, considering how far to the north it is. And I didn't get that far north anyway, we stopped at Stockholm.
- How fascinating... - Hans, seeing the sparks in Anna's eyes was starting to get jealous again.
- Let's turn on the radio, shall we? - Joachim tried to get ahead of the brewing conflict. - The evening news will start any minute now! - They all went into the living room. The news has already started.
"Kkssshccrrrrrcccchsviet attempts at creating military bases in the Baltic States, and as a response, the German Reich issued an ultimatum to the governments of the three countries to break all relations with the aggressor. After they made it clear that none of them will comply, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered a declaration of war, effective immediately. Units of the Wehrmacht already started their advance through the mostly unguarded borders towards Kaunas and Riga, and two Panzer-Divisions landed around Tartu. The city is under siege. More news on the war as it progresses." - Martin turned the radio off.
- Wow, that was fast! - he said. - I knew about the tension between the Reich and the Baltic States, but when I left work today in the afternoon, this war was not yet started. And they already landed in Estonia! Incredible!
On September 20th, 1939, war is declared simultaneously on the three Baltic States.
- I can't believe they really started another war! - Joachim was surprised. - I mean, this is the third offensive in four months... When will this end?!
- Pretty soon, I guess... We are running out of possible targets rather quickly! - Martin was cheerful, as usual. Eventhough he did participate in a war three years earlier, his patriotic optimism didn't let him get effected by the experience. He had a tendency to not let reality interfere with his philosophy. - And what resistance could those poor states offer anyway?
- That's not the point! We can't just go around conquering the whole world! - Joachim was thinking about Erhard.
- And why not? - Wilhelm was silent until now, but he felt it's time to join the conversation. - Let the Communists do it instead?
- Well, no, of course not... But the British and...
- The British and their Empire of colonies, preaching freedom and equality! The hypocrats... And the French are cast in the same mold. They had the right idea but they are too weak to actually implement it. Their time is over. The time of the German Reich has come! - Anna was awed by Wilhelm's little speech. Hans had to intervene.
- And what about the Americans? They quickly got over the Great Depression and are not likely to succumb so easily.
- And why would that be a problem for Germany? Do you think that the Americans are our enemy? Why would they be? They are not concerned in European affairs, and Germany is not concerned in American affairs. Not to mention that our biggest commercial partner before the war was the United States, until those British rats started sinking our honest merchantmen!
- From what I've heard, the American people will most likely elect Fritz Julius Kuhn, the candidate of the German-American Bund into Presidency next year - said Martin.
Center: the German-American Bund parades in New York; top left: Fritz Julius Kuhn, leader and Presidential Candidate of the German-American Bund; top right: Fritz Julius Kuhn delivers a speech at a rally; bottom left: a Bund-Rally in the Medison Square Garden, in 1939.
- I don't think we should worry about them in the slightest. Where's Anna? - They looked around but couldn't find her. She must have sneaked out of the room while they were occupied with the passionate talks of Wilhelm.
- Anna? - Hans stood up to go look for her fiancé in the kitchen, but she just came back from there, with a big chocolate cake in his hands with candles on it. "Oh yeah, I forgot why we actually came together!..." thought Hans.
- Happy birthday, Joachim! - said Anna, handing the cake to Joachim.
- Happy birthday! - said all the others, then they all went back to the kitchen to get a slice of the wonderful cake.
*** *** *** *** ***
- How about "It's a man's life in the Kriegsmarine!"?
- And what does that supposed to mean anyway?
- Well... You know... That you need to be a real manly man to join the navy and serve on a warship! - Martin and Hans were working on a new recruitment poster for the Kriegsmarine. The picture showed a young sailor in uniform, his expression confident as he looked into the distance. In the background was a somewhat stylized picture of the new, Graf Zeppelin class carrier and next to it, the siluette of a submarine. Working together with Hans was worth it to Martin for the most part, but sometimes he could get a bit too scrupulous. - Why? Do you have a better idea?
- No, but it's not my job to come up with the ideas. I'm only qualified to rate your ideas. - Hans enjoyed the situation. He really felt like he contributed to the intellectual effort, yet he kind of had Martin in his power.
- Alright. There was something fishy about that slogan anyway... Get it? Fishy? - Martin was very proud of this joke, eventhough it was even worse in German. Hans was not impressed at all. - Sooooo... We need something short, inspiring, patriotic but not too deep. What would make you join the navy?
- Well, I guess I would have to go insane first.
- "If you are insane, join the Kriegsmarine!" That doesn't sound too catchy... Okay, let's think about it a bit. Why does the navy need more recruits?
- Because they are building new ships which need new sailors.
- Exactly. Now, why are they building new ships?
- Because they don't have enough? - Hans was a bit confused. This was not the usual way of their cooperation.
- Enough to do what? I'll tell you what: to defend our convoys from the British submarines! That's it! We will have to emphasize on the threat posed by the huge, mighty Royal Navy! They have hundreds of submarines hunting for our poor, defenseless merchants! They practically placed a naval blockade on us, similarly to the one in the Great War! And they even would have mined the coast of neutral Norway a month ago, the bastards... - Martin was starting to get carried away. That was much more like their usual working method. - The slogan will be about saving our countrymen from the British wolfs! What do we import from overseas?
- Not important enough.
- Well, I know quite a few people who would argue with that... What about steel? Joachim always whines about steel imports.
- Excelent! "Join the Kriegsmarine, or the British will steal our steel!" - Hans wasn't impressed by this pun either.
- Isn't that a bit too long?
- What about "Sailors safeguard Swedish steal!"?
- And what about our own submarines? Don't they do the same thing?
- They do nothing of the sort. Our Unterseeboots are on survailence duty, monitoring the movements of the enemy.
- If you say so...
*** *** *** *** ***
October 3rd, 1939. An Armoured Training Camp, somewhere in Bavaria, in the heart of the German Reich. The mess hall. Wilhelm felt he should get to know his men a bit more, so he decided to have lunch with them.
- You know, I really don't understand why they can't cook better than this. - First Seargent Hermann Benz, the gunner of Wilhelm's new crew and his second in command was a cheerful young man. He always found something to complain about, but never actually cared too much.
- I've had worse. - Seargent Karl Wulff, the driver of the crew was a veteran of the Great War. Unlike the others, he knew what it is like not only to fight in a war, but to lose it, too.
- Yes, we know you had, and you never shut up about it...
- Show some respect! - Wilhelm didn't like the attitude of First Seargent Benz. Eventhough he was senior in rank to Seargent Wulff, this was no way to treat someone who could be his own father.
- Thank you Captain von Walsrode, but I'm perfectly able to defend myself from a brat like him. - First Seargent Benz laughed out, and sat down with his plate.
- Anyway, did you hear the news? Tartu finally fell yesterday and Estonia surrendered. And I thought we will have something to do when the training is over...
- Oh, don't be so cocky - said Seargent Wulff.
- Yes, I know, I shouldn't long for battle, I heard this record too.
- No, you don't understand. You seriously think that the Baltic States were the last on the list? We will have a lot to do, don't you worry about that...
- Great! I can't wait! The other two could only hold for a mere week and Estonia only took this long because of the distance, too. If things go this easily when we get into action, I don't have to worry about anything!
- What about the British and the French?
- What about them?
- Well, do you think they will simply forget about this whole affair?
- Well actually, yes, I think they will. There's no point in them doing anything else. Our defences on the French border are impenetrable and their amphibious invasion attempts were ridiculous at best. What else can they do? Fly here? - he laughed out again.
- How about the naval blockade? Our nation can't produce everything it needs, and we are completely cut from the rest of the world because of the British submarines! And you know what? That also happened once already. It didn't work out that well back then...
- Yes, but then we were fighting the Russians, and Italy too. Now Russia is neutral and Italy is our ally! There's no reason to worry I tell you.
- I hope you are right, I really do. If only my bones weren't telling me otherwise...