This was originally meant for last weeks article (hence the reference to tomorrow being D-day) but circumstances beyond my control meant it had to be delayed.
Coincidences are a real pain in the posterior for historians. When you see them you start to wonder "is there a pattern here? Should I be looking for an underlying cause?". Luckily this coincidence is just that, there's no underlying cause. But over the last few years I've researched a fair few things and a surprising amount of them end up, at the end of the Second World War, at the German City of Kiel.
As it's the anniversary of D-Day tomorrow I figured I'd start with the first link. Marine Kenneth Burt had a rather hairy time on D-Day. To find out exactly what he got up too, you'll need to get hold of a copy of my first book (Oh Listy you tease!). However after surviving against the odds of both his superiors and the Germans trying to kill him, he ended up back in the UK.
After a brief period of retraining Marine Burt was formed into a light infantry battalion, the 33rd Battalion Royal Marines. It would later come under the 117th RM Brigade, however around the end of 1944 a single company was dispatched via Dover to Ostend and from there they followed the war into Germany. Although they experienced some shelling Marine Burt only had one contact with armed Germans. While on a night time patrol the Royal Marines ran into a patrol of Germans. Marine Burt describes it as both sides shouting in surprise at each other, both sides then fired in the general direction of the enemy, then silence as everyone, both the Germans and the Marines had dropped to the ground and were wriggling for cover. The silence continued and the Marines began to poke forward, only to find all the Germans had left. In April 1945 on they were taken to an airstrip and loaded onto a plane to be flown north to Kiel. En route the radio operator yelled back that the Germans had surrendered. This of course raised cheers from the Marines, but the Company Sergeant just said "Don't cheer too soon." He was correct as soon the air crew came back and announced that the war was to continue.
Then they arrived on the outskirts of Kiel. From here I'll pass over to Marine Burt's account:
"It was bombed during the night and soon after dawn the next morning was bombed again. We were trucked into the city itself then we dismounted to do the rest of the journey on foot in fighting order. Fighting order? This was a laugh, there was to be no more fighting from this enemy, rows of silent sad faced people watching us go by, here and there there was an odd service man or a policeman with his gun lying at his feet. And you could tell just looking at them what the major problem was, hunger, the civilians were starving!! We did not know but a short while after we had passed through, army trucks loaded with food were on our heels." After this Marine Burt was part of a guard detachment stationed on ships in Kiel harbour. The small group of Marines was to make sure that the German ships, and their captains behaved themselves. Eventually as the shipping was transported to the UK Marine Burt's unit was stood down, and he was shipped home, having survived the Second World War.
The need for guards on ships became apparent on the night the 117th RM Brigade arrived in Kiel. Thirteen German destroyers returned to their home port. All the crews were armed and surly. The navy didn't regard itself as have been beaten. On another night twenty one ships arrived. Some were carrying German soldiers from the captured territories. The situation was rather tense for some weeks.
Part of the reason why the situation remained calm was the 6th Guards Tank Brigade, mounted in Churchill tanks on VE day they provided a show of force. An entire brigade paraded through Kiel.
The Guardsmen had been a bit down in their morale, because on the 29th of April they'd been moved out of their base at Altenmedingen; just as a US hospital arrived to set up shop with 200 nurses (Yes, BAOR veterans, the mythical bus load of nurses did exist!).
One night Lieutenant Robert Runcie (Who later became Archbishop of Canterbury), of the Scots Guards, was driving along a coast road near Kiel when he saw a U-boat at anchor in a bay. With no support he returned to his HQ and assembled a boarding party. Piling several men into a captured Volkswagen they raced back along the coast and found a small village. Here they prodded a pair of elderly local fishermen out of their beds and got them to launch their rowing boat with the Guardsmen on board. As they approached the U-boat the Germans spotted them coming. The Guardsmen prepared to leap aboard and seize it... however the first issue was the sides of the U-boat were too high and slippery with no ladder.
The issue was solved when the German sailors reached down and kindly offered a hand up. On board the Guardsmen met with a rather grumpy U-boat captain who demanded to know what the meaning of these antics were. After being told that his crew were to remain on board until arrangements could be made to transfer them to Kiel the German lightened up and gave the British a guided tour of the U-boat.
On the German side we have the 614th Schwere Panzerjäger also sundered to the British at Kiel. Their journey starts in April 1945, when the last four operational Elephant tank destroyers and about 70 men were formed into a scratch company to help defend against the Russians to the south of Berlin. To bolster the defences the nearby armour testing centre at Kummersdorf opened its warehouses and gave out every armoured vehicle that they could get combat ready. With this they formed the infamous Panzer Kompanie Kummersdorf, which initially contained the Maus, at least until it broke down in very short order.
To the 614th they loaned a single captured Russian tank, none other than a T-35. She was formerly tank number 715-62 of the 68th Tank Regiment. Like most of her sisters she broke down in 1941 near Lviv with a faulty gear box and ventilator. The Germans captured her and returned her to Kummersdorf where she remained until the Russians closed in, when she was handed over to the 614th.
The company commander took her as his command tank, a fateful decision as she was knocked out almost immediately and the company commander captured. Two of the Elephant tank destroyers were also lost. One as it drove up autobahn main ramp at Mittenwalde, the other at Klein Koris. The remains of the company then retreated into Berlin, where as part of Germans last stand they fought the Soviet assault. One was destroyed at Karl August Platz and one at the Trinity Church. The remaining men and soft skins escaped the encircling Soviets to surrender to the British at Kiel.
|Tank 715-62 as Photographed at Kummersdorf
BBC.com and www.dishmodels.ru