Women in combat in the Wehrmacht.

Discussions on the role played by and situation of women in the Third Reich not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Vikki.
Acts 2/38
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Women in the Wehrmacht

Post by Acts 2/38 » 05 Jun 2005 13:45

In her autobiography The Gift Horse, the late German actress Hildegard Kneff, claimed that when the Russians were closing in on Berlin, she dressed up in a helmet & greatcoat, and fell in at the tail end of the Volkstrum unit that her recently drafted boyfriend had been assigned to. Her attitude was that combat with her boyfriend was preferable to being raped by the Russians. She was eventually caught & spent three weeks in a POW cage, before being released. The boyfriend was never seen again after the first encounter with the Russians. How much credence you want to give to someone's autobiography is up to you. But my own daughter did things that were just as stupid when she was 18.

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Re: Women in the Wehrmacht

Post by Vikki » 11 Jun 2005 07:16

Acts 2/38 wrote:In her autobiography The Gift Horse, the late German actress Hildegard Kneff, claimed that when the Russians were closing in on Berlin, she dressed up in a helmet & greatcoat, and fell in at the tail end of the Volkstrum unit that her recently drafted boyfriend had been assigned to. Her attitude was that combat with her boyfriend was preferable to being raped by the Russians. She was eventually caught & spent three weeks in a POW cage, before being released. The boyfriend was never seen again after the first encounter with the Russians. How much credence you want to give to someone's autobiography is up to you. But my own daughter did things that were just as stupid when she was 18.



That’s one of the few plausible ways I could see a German woman taking direct part in combat---at the end of the war, when the situation was so scattered and unglued. But she wouldn't have to be in male uniform to do it---there are both verbal and pictorial accounts of undisguised women taking up Panzerfausts and other weapons at the end of the war, as in the Volkssturm. As for how much credence I give to someone’s autobiography…well, since I have “a foot in both camps,” with a background in both history and anthropology, I tend to give them quite a bit---after some careful scrutiny of the other facts and general tone of the rest of their story.

Here’s an account that I heard a few years ago from an American veteran of the 78th (‘White’ Lightning) Division, whose word I have no reason to doubt, as his details of military aspects were all “straight up” to a knowledgeable friend of mine, who is also a long-time friend of his. It perhaps illustrates, with a vengeance, what I mean about “The Front coming to them…”

This veteran was a PFC who carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). His unit’s bazooka team had just hit a German tank and disabled it by knocking one of the treads off. The Panzer was still very much “live”...and the bazooka was ready to hit the tank again and take it out completely. But the vet (the one telling the story) was German-American, and could speak enough German that he was able to yell out to the tank crew to surrender (as he had done in similar situations a few times before). He described a few long moments of VERY tense waiting…and then the tank’s hatches popped open, and the crew began to emerge slowly, one at a time, hands over their heads. The American vet’s job was to keep the tank covered with the BAR as they came out, while his buddies took them in charge.

There was a slight pause after the last of the tank’s crew jumped to the ground, and while the vet was still watching the tank, another German suddenly popped half out of the top hatch, and let loose a long burst with a “Burp-Gun” (the vet’s word for an MP-40). Immediately, without thinking about it, the vet fired his BAR at the German, who was poised half-out (waist-up) of the top hatch. The vet’s exact words were that the rifle rounds from the BAR “just about cut the German in half.” As the body was slammed back against the hatch’s edge, the German’s helmet flew off…..and long hair tumbled out. The last German out of the tank, armed with an MP-40, was a woman.

Miraculously, not one of the Americans or Germans on the ground was hit by the desperate woman’s futile burst from the maschinepistol. After everyone, both American and Germans, had calmed down from the double bursts of gunfire, the German tankers told the story. The “German military woman” (she was in military uniform, and wearing a helmet, presumably a Helferin) had hitched a ride with the tank crew to get out of the direct battle zone. When the tank was suddenly disabled, she was terrified of being captured, and of being “molested” (raped).

When the vet finished telling the story, he looked over and said, before the question was even asked: “Did I feel bad about it afterward? About having shot a woman? Absolutely not. She shot first.”

~FV

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Wehrmacht women

Post by Acts 2/38 » 12 Jun 2005 00:14

Now that I think of it, one of my uncles related a story to me that, a few weeks before the end of the war, his unit flushed out a young German woman in some sort of military uniform. Tasked with taking her back to Bn. HQ, and being back "...in 10 minutes.", he walked her into to the woods, fired off a couple rounds for effect, and told the gilr "Raus!". It does sound like a bit of a stretch, but stranger things that that have happened. What kind of a uniform she was in I don't know.

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Women in German service WW2

Post by Franzl Rider » 27 Jun 2005 19:03

Osprey published in 2003 in the Men-at-arms series No. 393 "World War II German Women's Auxiliary Services" ISBN 1-84176-407-8

Franzl

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Post by Doggowitz » 28 Jun 2005 12:25

Don't let you perceive by photos of Women wearing German Uniforms. On many photos you can see woman wearing every kind of Uniform (Waffenrock, Feldbluse, Heer, SS, Kiregsmarine, Luftwaffe, whatever). The answer is quite simple. It was seen as funny or cool to take photos of wives, girlfriens, children wearing the Uniform of the Husband, Boyfirend, Father when he was on home visit. I guess the Photo with woman in Kriegsmarine Uniform with EKs were woman wearing the Uniforms of their men, friends for photos purpose.

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Post by Vikki » 01 Jul 2005 02:14

Doggowitz wrote:Don't let you perceive by photos of Women wearing German Uniforms. On many photos you can see woman wearing every kind of Uniform (Waffenrock, Feldbluse, Heer, SS, Kiregsmarine, Luftwaffe, whatever). The answer is quite simple. It was seen as funny or cool to take photos of wives, girlfriens, children wearing the Uniform of the Husband, Boyfirend, Father when he was on home visit. I guess the Photo with woman in Kriegsmarine Uniform with EKs were woman wearing the Uniforms of their men, friends for photos purpose.


Doggowitz,

You're absolutely right about the popularity of those kinds of photos, and I hadn't thought about that as an explanation for the photo the author of this thread was referring to. I've seen a lot of those kind of "girl in boyfriend's uniform" photos, and even have a few myself. In one set, taken in a studio with the subjects in rather formal poses, the first shows a young man in a Kriegsmarine "Middy" and cap with a young woman seated in front of him. The second photo shows the young woman alone wearing the "Middy" and cap, and the two photos together show that the purpose of the pictures were just what you said, and not a picture of her in "combat" clothing.

In most of those kinds of pictures I've seen, including a couple that I own of women dressed in obviously male Heer uniforms, the uniforms are noticeably too big for them, and I think part of that genre of photos is the comic look of the too-big boyfriend's uniform. In one of them, although the woman has the man's rifle in front of her, the sleeves of the M-36 tunic she's wearing would have covered her hands if she straightened her arms. And she's wearing a skirt and heels....I laugh every time I think of the advertisement by the seller of this photo as a "female combat photo"!

~FV

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Post by Doggowitz » 05 Jul 2005 23:16

advertisement by the seller of this photo as a "female combat photo"!

:lol: :D Lol... nothing too silly for a few bucks.

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Post by George Lepre » 17 Jul 2005 03:44

Hi Everyone -

Those interested in the subject of women in combat roles during the Third Reich might want to read Jutta Rudiger's book Zur Problematic von Soldatinnen. It tells of a group of women who served with an SS flak unit in 1945. It contains photos of the group and several personal accounts.

Best regards,

George

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Post by Larry D. » 17 Jul 2005 13:36

G.L. -

SS-Flak unit!! Very unusual to say the least. I've been studying the Flakartillerie for nearly 20 years now, read Horst-Adalbert Koch's pre-eminent tome on the subject and just finished the recent Edward B. Westermann study on the Flakartillerie published by the Univ. of Kansas Press. I've never heard of stationary (ortsfest) SS-Flak in any of the published and unpublished material I've studied. The SS-Flak was all motorized or at least transferrable (verlegefähig) because it was integrated into Waffen-SS units. I am unaware of women ever being assigned to anything but stationary Flak units deployed around cities and other important targets (ports, refineries, depots, installations, etc.), and of course this Flak belonged to the Luftwaffe. So this must be one of those truly rare exceptions. Does the book mention the identity of the Flak unit these young ladies were assigned to?

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Post by George Lepre » 17 Jul 2005 17:23

Hi Larry -

I saw the book at the New York Public Library. The particular unit was SS-Alarm Abteilung "Prag" or something similar, so you're on the right track about it being "static." The book's author, incidentally, was a senior leader in the German Women's League during the Third Reich and wrote several volumes on women during that period.

If you'd like, I can copy parts of the book for you next time I'm at the library, which should be in the next few weeks.

Best regards,

George

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Post by Vikki » 17 Jul 2005 21:11

George,

Thanks for the information about the book! When you have a chance to look at the book again, could you post any interesting information you see in it? I knew that Jutta Rüdiger had written several works, but wasn't aware of this one.

~FV

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Post by Larry D. » 17 Jul 2005 21:14

G.L. wrote:

I saw the book at the New York Public Library. The particular unit was SS-Alarm Abteilung "Prag" or something similar, so you're on the right track about it being "static." The book's author, incidentally, was a senior leader in the German Women's League during the Third Reich and wrote several volumes on women during that period.

If you'd like, I can copy parts of the book for you next time I'm at the library, which should be in the next few weeks.


Thanks, George. It was an Alarm-Flak unit so that explains it. That means the girls worked full-time at other jobs in Prague, probably at some SS school, or supply depot or the likes in an administrative or clerical function. In 1945, Prague was awash in SS- schools, many of which relocated there from elsewhere to avoid the bombing of the Allied advance.

According to Georg Tessin, Bd. 16/Teil 3 (Wehrkreise XVII, XVIII, XX, XXI und besetzte Gebiete Ost und Südost), page 138, there was an SS-Flak-Alarm-Abt. Prag in 1945. So the girls had received some simple training on Flak range-finding or sound-locating equipment, and when the sirens went off they rushed to the 8.8 cm guns (or whatever), manned their positions and awaited the firing order. Each Alarm-Batterie had a small full-time male cadre, but the other 85% or 90% of the positions were filled by male and female part-timers with other full-time jobs.

Thanks for the very kind NYP offer, but it's not necessary since the puzzle is now solved. I envy your geographical location because you are about halfway between NYC and WashDC and can use the libraries and archives there without staying overnight unless you want to. I used to use the Library of Congress at night while spending my days at NARA during month-long summer visits to Washington, so I know the value of an outstanding library. In the late 'seventies/early 'eighties I even had a Library of Congress Stack Access Pass, a rare and real honor and privilige that they stopped issuing around 1987 after some jerk professor from Ohio stole some rare books.

Thanks again,

--Larry

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Post by Vikki » 19 Aug 2005 05:54

I just got a copy of the book, which a friend in Germany managed to locate for me. And while I haven't had a chance to do more than peruse the text, the photos are definitely of Luftwaffe Helferinnen rather than of SS Helferinnen---breast eagles rather than arm eagles, etc. Interesting that Luftwaffe Helfs were assigned to an SS-Alarm-Flak-Abteilung, and a few good photos of female short jackets.

~FV



George Lepre wrote:Hi Everyone -

Those interested in the subject of women in combat roles during the Third Reich might want to read Jutta Rudiger's book Zur Problematic von Soldatinnen. It tells of a group of women who served with an SS flak unit in 1945. It contains photos of the group and several personal accounts.

Best regards,

George

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Post by Big Orange » 25 Aug 2005 23:03

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Anyway I doubt women served at full capacity in ranks of the Wehmartch or SS, even though by 1945 the Nazis needed all the help they could get and walls of the Third Reich were falling in. How come women rarely serve as soldiers in combat throughout most of human history, I wonder?

I imagine many women would be drafted in as military support staff, infantry and tank drivers in the Heer or SS. Was their a female combat pilot in the Luftwaffe that was higfhly decorated?

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Post by Big Orange » 26 Aug 2005 20:25

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Why did women only serve as flak crew offically, rather than full combat troops or NCOs, I wonder?

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