Gerhard was born in 1914 in the city of Wagstadt (today Bílovec) located in the part of the Czech Republic, which after 1918 was named the Südetenland. By profession, Gerhard was as an electrical mechanic.
Gerhard was married and lived with his wife in Wagstadt, not far from the parents.
On October 28, 1939, Gerhad’s Soldbuch was opened at the 3/II./ Schwere-Artillerie-Abteilung 762 in Münster. Gerhard’s unit of was 5./II/Artillerie-Ersatz-Abteilung 169 and his rank was “Kanonier” (Private). After completing basic training, Gerhard was transferred to the 3rd Battery with Schwere-Artillerie-Abteilung 762, which, on February 7, 1940, was placed under the 253rd Infantry Division. Gerhard had been promoted to Gefreiter in December 1939.
As a soldier in the 253rd Infantry Division, Gerhard participated in the invasion of Belgium and France in 1940 and December 1940 he was appointed Unteroffizier (Corporal) by the 2nd battery of the Schwere-Artillerie-Abteilung 762. In 1940 Gerhard had leave twice with one total length of 5 weeks and he held his leave in Wagstadt.
The Schwere-Artillerie-Abteilung 762 had 3 batteries of heavy 15 cm. Feldhaubitze (howitzers) and on January 30, 1941, the unit was renamed IV./Artillerie-Regiment 253. Gerhard was enrolled inthe 11th battery in IV./Artillerie-Regiment 253.
On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and 253rd Infantry Division was part of Heeresgruppe Mitte during Operation Barbarossa . On October 31, 1941, Gerhard was wounded by grenade splinters in his right upper arm and at this point the division lay around the town of Rshew on the Volga River. Gerhard was first treated at Kriegslazarett 2/608 in Riga. The German Kriegslazarett (field hospitals) on the Eastern Front typically had a capacity of 4,000-6,000 beds and dealt with a composition of medical personnel from the Wehrmacht and the German Red Cross. The severely wounded and very ill soldiers were treated here until they were suitable for further transport – for example to Germany for further treatment. Later in December 1941, Gerhard was transferred to Reservelazarett 102 in Küstrin, Wehrkreis III for further treatment.
In the German army, the soldiers were awarded a so-called Verwundetenabzeichen (wounded badge) if they were wounded by hostile action and were awarded either black, silver or gold, depending on the number of times the soldier had been wounded or out of the extent of the damage.
In December 1941 Gerhard was awarded the wounded badge in black at the Reservelazarett 102 in Küstrin. In his Soldbuch, the doctor in charge signed the award entry. Gerhard was on the lazaret Until February 10, 1942 when he went on leave to Wagstadt, lasting until March 1. During the period April to May 1942 Gerhard underwent several checks and probably also rehabilitation on various lazarets. On May 12, 1942, Gerhard was declared fit for service and sent from Reserve-Lazarett Hamm located in North Rhine-Westphalia to Artillerie-Ersatz-Abeilung II./169 in Hamm.
Gerhard was in Hamm until January 1943, when he was transferred to Artillerie-Ersatz-Regiment 6 in Osnabrück. Here he was given a Marschdecke (marching blanket) at the Unterführer-Lehr-Abteilung in the Artillerie-Ersatz-Regiment 6 on 26 January. This Abteilung (section) was a training unit for NCOs and Gerhard was probably Unteroffizier in this unit. With his background and experience from the front, Gerhard may have been part of the training instructors in the unit.
On page 8 of Gerhard’s Soldbuch, it was noted that he was in possession of two pistols: a Mauser pistol of 6.35 mm caliber. (issued to him June 1944) as well as a model 27 pistol of caliber 7.65. These pistols were written into Gerhard’s Soldbuch by a Hauptmann, from his unit, likely the unit commander when looking at the stamp. The stamp contained the field post number for the 3rd battery at the Artillerie-Ausbildungs-Abteilung 6 in Osnabrück and thus Gerhard was with this unit.
In January 1943, Artillerie-Ausbildungs-Abteilung 6 was subjected to the 166th Infantry Division and transferred to the West Jutland village of Ulfborg and from Gerhard’s hospital stay at the Reserve Kriegslazarett-Copenhagen on March 20, 1943, Gerhard was most likely with the unit in Ulfborg. In Ulfborg, the unit trained artillerists for a number of artillery regiments, i.a. Artillerie-Regiment 6 which later in June 1944 was wiped out in central Russia.
Gerhard’s time in Denmark was probably a welcoming break from normal service as Denmark was known as the “Sahnefront” (“cream front”) amongst Wehrmacht soldiers due to the very limited number of episodes of conflict.
On March 20, 1943, Gerhard was registered in the Reserve Kriegslazarett-Copenhagen, located at Frederiksberg in Copenhagen. In his Soldbuch, the staff of the military hospital entered index number 18 in his Soldbuch, which covered Grippe (influenza). Gerhard spent a month in Copenhagen and was discharged on April 20 and sent back to Ulfborg.
Gerhard was in Ulfborg until the summer of 1944, and in the spring of April 20, 1944 he was awarded the Kriegsverdienstkreuz II Klasse mit Schwerter (war merit cross 2nd class with swords). On page 22 of Gerhard’s Soldbuch, Gerhard’s battery commander noted the medal on behalf of the Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber Dänemark (Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht in Denmark) and stamped with the unit’s field post stamp – field post number 03586D.
The picture in Gerhard’s Soldbuch was probably taken around Ulfborg on April 20, 1944, with Gerhard wearing the black / red / white ribbon to the war merit cross which he had been awarded on April 20. Gerhard continued his service in Ulfborg and on 1 July 1944 he was promoted to Reserve-Offizier-Bewerber (reserve officer aspirant) by 3rd Battery / Artillerie-Ausbildungs-Abteilung 6.
Gerhard’s Soldbuch does not indicate that he was able to attend officer’s school for further education.
Gerhard took leave on August 7, 1944 on a 7-day leave for his hometown of Wagstadt and whether he was aware at this time that he would be sent back to the 11th battery in IV./Artillerie-Regiment 253 is unknown. In the back of Gerhard’s Soldbuch he hid a tot of blond hair that was probably from his wife.
During the spring of 1944, the 253rd Infantry Division, in stark contrast to Gerhard’s existence in Ulfborg, was involved in fierce fighting in northwestern Ukraine beginning at Brest-Litowsk. During the summer of 1944, the division had to retreat from the positions in Kowel by the Castle of Weichsel and the Beskids in Galicia (today divided between Poland & Ukraine). The mountain chain was to form the network of defenses consisting of Heeresgruppe Heinrici, including the 1st Skijäger Division. In August 1944, fightings erupted in Slovakia, where Slovenian communists revolted against the fascist regime, which caused the Russians to change their plans for a new major offensive to the west. The Russians chose to deploy their reinforced 4th Ukrainian Front together with their 38th Army against the fortified German positions of the Carpathian Pass from the north. The goal was initially the Slovenian city of Presov, but in order to reach Presov, Russian units had to pass through the mountain passes at the Beskids. The Russian army leadership had planned the operation to last for 5 days.
The Russian offensive began on September 8, 1944 and was initiated by more than 2 hours of giant drum fire from 1,500 Soviet guns along the 10 kilometer wide front line .
The Russian operation quickly ran into unexpectedly fierce German resistance and at height number 534 northwest of Dukla, one of the bloodiest battles was fought from 10 to 20 September. The height fell in German and Russian hands alternately 20 times within the 10 days. In mid-October 1944, the 253rd Infantry Division was sent by train from Kielce towards Gorlice and located north of the Ozenna mountain pass at the village of Huta-Polanska. Here, the division took up defence in the surrounding hills. The fighting was intense and in the book about the German Skijägers, cited under source references, the bloody battles are described in detail through eyewitness accounts.
In early October 1944, the Russians launched the latter part of their offensive and the 253rd Infantry Division was fiercely attacked. The 11th Battery in the IV./Artillery Regiment 253 was at that time presumably located around hill 688, giving the fact that Gerhard was killed on October 9 in the Ciechania area of the small village of Huta-Polanska, which was located just east of hill 688.
The circumstances surrounding Gerhard’s death are unknown, but his corpse was probably saved by the comrades, as Gerhard’s Soldbuch survived the battle. Hill 688 was taken by the Russians on October 26, 1944 but later recaptured by units of the 1st Skijäger Division.
Today the Soldbuch is in poor condition and with clear water damage. It is not known whether the water damage happened on the day Gerhard was killed but what we know is that this Soldbuch survived the muddy hills of the Beskids and the Battle for Dukla Pass.
Gerhard is today buried in the Slovenian town of Zborov. The 253rd Infantry Division and the other German units suffered significant losses during the fierce fighting of the Beskids. The exact loss figures are uncertain but Czech historians estimate up to 61,000 dead Germans and 131,000 dead Russians.
This is Gerhard’s Soldbuch which he had on him when he was killed in action against the Red Army:
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Die deutschen Skijäger – von der Anfang bis 1945, Georg Gunter, Nebel Verlag GmbH, Eggolsheim
253. Infanterie-Division – Weg und Ende einer rheinisch-westfälishen Division im Osten, Clemens Freiherr von Bönninghausen, published privately in 1972