Violence, death, mud, insanity.
October 17, 2009 3:43 AM   Subscribe

Photos from the war. A slideshow of photos taken by German soldier Werner Wiehe... vermisst in Russland, 1944. (While viewing the slideshow, might I suggest playing some appropriate musical accompaniment, arranged in sequential order?!)
posted by markkraft (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Accidentally linked the same song twice. Here's the final bit of music I meant to recommend.
posted by markkraft at 3:58 AM on October 17, 2009

The photos are fascinating. They are not in any particular chronological order, and appear to cover the period of German victories between 1940 though 1942. There are several shots obviously taken during the invasion of France; one of French Senegalese troops, another showing a sign indicating it was taken in Nancy, and quite a few of the Verdun battlefield, which was visited extensively in the summer of 1940 by the victorious Germans. One photo, showing shop signs in English, appears to have been taken in the Channel Islands (Jersey?Guernsey?). This would indicate a tourist visit in the summer of 1940, or perhaps that Herr Wiehe's unit was detailed there for occupation duty.

There are several shots of Heinrich Himmler. I infer that these may have been taken on an inspection of SS troops in France. It would appear that Wiehe must have been attached to a heavy field artillery HQ unit (numerous pictures of 150 cm guns and tractors, as well as staff cars), and that unit may have been in support of SS infantry in France. It is documented that SS troops captured (and executed) African colonial troops in the 1940 campaign.

Many of the other photos appear to have been during and after the invasion of the Soviet Union from June 1941 through the winter of 1942. At least one photo is clearly labeled "Wilno," that is, Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, taken in the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa in July 1941. (Unfortunately, many of the captions are unreadable.) The equipment depicted in the photos--both German and Russian--is of the early Ostfront period, before the tide of war turned irretrievably against the Nazis. For example, there are several pictures of the famous Stuka dive bombers; they are JU-87B models, the type used in the initial blitzkrieg campaigns. Destroyed Russian tanks are early war, obsolete models like the T-26 and BT. The winter photos show the German troops in captured Russian winter coats, consistent with what would have been seen during the first terrible winter on the Ostfront.

It is obvious that Herr Wiehe was a good photographer. Presumably, he had little time for photography as the war went on to cost him his life.
posted by rdone at 6:23 AM on October 17, 2009 [16 favorites]

Those photos are awesome and thanks to rdone for the time/place info.
posted by ghharr at 8:38 AM on October 17, 2009

Upon review, I made a metric mistake in cannon caliber ID: 15 cm (150mm) is the proper number.

The enormity of the tragedy of the Eastern Front beggars description. Wiehe was obviously a person of cultivated aesthetic and artistic sensibilities. What a nightmare it must have been for him to come to grips with the destruction wrought by his cannons and with the realization that he was trapped in an existential hell from which his only escape would be death. The shades of uncounted millions still silently reproach both Hitler and Stalin for causing their senseless deaths.
posted by rdone at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm always amazed to see images like this, the small things in the midst of such a vast, world-changing campaign. Wiehe seems to have been a particularly curious, sensitive and dare I say compassionate person. The two boys on bicycles (in France?) admiring the reconnaissance car for example is particularly touching.
And so many fascinating details - like how the paint of the Stuka's wing gets worn off by boots.
I wish there was more information about some of them. E.g. what is the significance of the tree surrounded by scraps of tarpaulin and a broken bicycle, which appears twice in the series? (And, what plane is this? Pretty sure it's British - it's like a Hawker Hurricane put with a different tail/canopy, and without the striated fuselage)

rdone, I would think that the Hotel Britannique is in mainland France, but catered to English, and kind of ironically German, tourists: one sign reads 'Splendid', the other 'Schoenen'. And perhaps it was just that as the war went on, Wiehe was seeing things that he no longer wanted to capture and remember.
posted by Flashman at 9:17 AM on October 17, 2009

Is it a Boulton Paul Defiant?
posted by pots at 11:15 AM on October 17, 2009

I have just been listening to Dan Carlin's podcast series about the war on the Eastern Front. This post is awesome. Thanks!
posted by The World Famous at 12:07 PM on October 17, 2009

pots, I venture that it is a Fairey Battle . The large landing light on the very thick wing is a strong identifier. Battles gallantly but notably unsucessfully attacked the Germans at Sedan in May 1940, and Wiehe appears to have been part of the German Army Group A that would have received the attacks.

Flashman, you may very well be correct. France retains its historic love/hate relationship with the "Anglo/Saxons."
posted by rdone at 12:33 PM on October 17, 2009

vermisst in Russland, 1944

Somehow I find that particularly - chilling, I suppose. Common enough fate, of course, but it comes a little closer after you idle through the pictures.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:46 PM on October 17, 2009

I second the Fairey Battle. That was my initial hunch.

rdone, quite a few of the captions on the Russian part of the photographs read "Witebsk". Apart from that, nice analysis. Would probably be easier to decrypt some of the captions if the images were sorted chronologically for the context.
posted by brokkr at 6:02 PM on October 17, 2009

brokkar, thanks for the decoding of Witebsk, then in Byelorussia, now in Belarus. That would indicate that Wiehe was attached to Army Group North in Barbarossa, and with the segment that was diverted by Hitler to attack Moscow. It would be interesting to be able to determine his unit, but all I can figure is that he was part of an "old" Wehrmacht unit that took part in the French campaign as well as Barbarossa.
posted by rdone at 6:54 PM on October 17, 2009

Apparently, the mystery of Wiehe's unit appears to have been solved by SpiegelOnline.

The name on one of the crosses -“Colonels Fritz Hertzsch, Kdr” - was the commander of the 77th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry division.

It was stationed around Cologne & Bonn during the “west campaign” against France, before being sent in June 1941 to the Russian border. There the 77th participated in “Operation Barbarossa”, the assault on the Soviet Union. Three weeks later, the commander fell during the battles around Smolensk and Witebsk.

If Wiehe remained with the unit, he marched with it to within kilometers of Moscow, before eventually being forced to retreat. The 26th Infantry division was disbanded on September 10, 1944 near Radom, reformed as part of the 26th Volksgrenadier Division. The 77th Infantry Regiment dissolved after heavy losses in north Ukraine.
posted by markkraft at 10:02 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

It certainly was startling to see Sinterklaas amongst these pictures.
I guess these soldiers were from the north-west of Germany.
posted by jouke at 10:28 PM on October 17, 2009

Thanks for the information markkraft. This was a great post.
posted by Justinian at 11:13 PM on October 17, 2009

Thirding that the crashed airplane is a Fairey Battle.
posted by Daddy-O at 4:59 PM on October 18, 2009

I've been browsing through the SpiegelOnline pictures. A lot of fascinating pictures although the navigation is quite cumbersome. F.i. the story of the U-boats that were transported 'secretly' over roads from the North to the Danube onto the Black Sea.
posted by jouke at 7:44 AM on October 25, 2009

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