Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hitler's Demons: The Eastern Front December 1941

The following is an excerpt from Hitler's Demons Chapter 17:

In the HQ building, a former school, the destruction was less serious than might have been expected.  From the look of things, the room facing the street had not been defended. Apparently, the staff had taken refuge in the stairwell beyond, which had no windows. The door leading to the stairwell was splintered with bullet holes, and just beyond the door were heavy bloodstains. The banister had been ripped or otherwise broken off from the stairway, and again there was blood on and beside the stairs.

As Philip stood and surveyed the scene, Major v. Krosigk came up behind him and stood silently for a moment. Finally Philip turned to face him and hardly recognized him; he had gone grey.

"This is where Intendanturrat Lambrecht died." He indicated the blood stain on the wooden floor.  "He tried to delay them as they broke in, so the others would have time to get upstairs. But even so, Stabszahlmeister Dr. Domkirche and Heeresjustizinspector Schemmer didn't make it. You see," he pointed to the shattered banister. "They shot Schemmer in the back and he fell off the stairs, taking the banister with him.  Look, there are his glasses." Krosigk went forward and lifted a pair of wire-framed glasses off the floor near the shattered banister. One of the two lenses was broken, but the other was intact despite the twisted frame. Philip remembered the officious-looking inspector who had stared at him in amazement on the day of his arrival.

"Where is the rest of your staff?" Philip asked the IVa a little harshly.

Krosigk was snapped out of his contemplation of the glasses. He looked up and gestured vaguely, "Major Kellermann has them doing various things."

"Where is Major Kellermann?" As the Second General Staff Officer, Philip thought that Kellermann ought to have been more in evidence. He seemed to have played no role in the "engagement" at all.

Philip's disapproval must have been evident, because Krosigk answered by saying, "Dear Feldburg, you must understand, Major Kellermann is a genius at organization. Anything the division needs he'll somehow manage to find and provide, but he's not a combat commander." Krosigk's gaze strayed to Philip's Iron Crosses. "It's something you and the Herr General will have to remember; all the men here are basically civilians -- regardless of what uniform you dress them up in. Kriegsgerichtsrat Dr. Niesse is 48 years old! Oberzahlmeister Ebling has a heart problem. Inspektor Benecke has a stomach ulcer. These are middle-aged men with children and grandchildren. They belong in some provincial town working in offices -- not fighting Communist cavalry in the middle of nowhere at night." Although Krosigk said "they," Philip had no doubt he meant "we."

Philip was not without sympahty, but he didn't have the time or words to give comfort. Furthermore, it was clear to him that Germany had started this war, and if all the Krosigks and Beneckes and Eblings now regretted it, it was too late. Like every professional soldier, Philip felt a certain contempt for amateurs, who from the safety of their pubs were always more jingoistic and militant than the professionals who had to pay the price. Hadn't these Sunday soldiers cheered and applauded when Hitler promised them "living space" in the East?

"Major v. Krosigk, we have a division that is still -- at this very moment -- engaged against a much superior enemy. That division requires the support that this HQ is supposed to provide. You had better collect your staff at once and get to work becoming operational again."

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