Early in 1944, General Dornberger and LXV Corps had been striving for fast production of V2 equipment and vehicles. Enough material was being produced in the Spring of 1944 to equip one battalion per month. It was hoped that the Art. Abt. 836 would be fully equipped by April 15, 1944. Plans were being made for the opening V2 attacks, given the code name "Operation Penguin". A single battalion commander was to conduct this operation, and the incomplete Art. Abt. 485 was to be attached to the 836 Battalion.
In early summer of 1944, the operation was expected to be conducted from the prepared firing sites in Northern France. The Art. Abt. 836 moved for further training near an area named Baumholder, a large training ground near Koblenz. The immediate effect of the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944, was a stop to all V2-related construction work west of the Seine River. The loss of all prepared V2 positions in the Cotentin peninsula soon followed but, none of these contained any essential equipment.
The SS had gained exposure to the V2-systems after the RAF raid on Peenemünde in 1943. The V2 tests had been moved to the secret SS testing facility at Heidelager in Poland. Soon, the SS would also control the A4/V2 manufacturing plant, the Mittelwerk (near Nordhausen, Germany). On July 20, 1944, after the attempt to assassinate Hitler, Heinrich Himmler was appointed "Commander in Chief of the Replacement Training Army". Soon after, Himmler then appointed the ruthless SS General Hans Kammler as "Special SS Commissioner for V2 Operations".
By the last week in August, 1944, the Allies had crossed the Seine River and the German LXV Corps was withdrawing toward the Low Countries, having evacuated as much equipment as possible (most important, the machinery required to make liquid-oxygen). Even with this evacuation, Hitler ordered that "Operation Penguin" should begin on August 29, 1944.
On September 2, 1944, LXV Corps was released from its V2 objective. LXV Corps would now solely concentrate on the V1 flying bomb campaign. The V2 command structure that evolved at this point would place SS General Kammler in charge of what was called - "The Immediate Improvised Commitment of V2's". The actual firing of V2's was under General Metz, Senior Artillery Commander 191. General Dornberger was charged with training and development, procurement, and delivery of supplies to the V2 units in the field.
SS General Kammler moved his headquarters to Brussels on August 30, 1944. From Brussels he issued orders to have V2 operations underway by September 5, 1944. The Army High Command issued orders to the V2 troops instructing them to move to a firing area between Antwerp and Malines on September 3, 1944. General Dornberger was responsible for getting this movement organized and underway.
By September 3, 1944, a total of 6306 personnel and 1592 vehicles were on their way to the firing area. Units of Gruppe Süd (Group South) moved from Baumholder to a point west of Venlo, where they stopped. Later, they withdrew to the Euskirchen area near Koblenz. Gruppe Süd was now commanded by Major Wolfgang Weber and consisted of the second and third batteries of Art. Abt. 836 and the Abt. 444 Batterie (Training Battery). On September 8, 1944, Abt. 444 Batterie fired the first two V2 rockets on Paris from a position in Belgium near the tiny village of Sterpigny. With these attacks, the operations of the V2 units of Gruppe Süd (Group South) were started.
The Art. Abt. 836 opened fire on Lille and Mons on September 14, 1944, from the Euskirchen area and remained in this area throughout this early phase. On September 17, 1944, SS General Kammler's headquarters at Berg en Dal was almost captured by the Allied troops that landed at Nijmegen during the Allied Market Garden offensive. The headquarters was immediately moved to Darfeld, Germany near Burgsteinfurt. The Art. Abt. 836 continued operating in the Euskirchen area until the last week in September, when it moved across the Rhine River to the Westerwald area, north of Montabaur. During this early period, the Art. Abt. 836 fired on Tourcoing, Lille, Arras, Cambrai, Mons, Charleroi, Diest, Hasselt, Maastricht, and Liege.
|Phase One in
By September 20, 1944, the reconnaissance for new firing sites in the area of Westerwald (east of the Rhine River near Koblenz) was finished. From September 22, 1944, until October 3, 1944, there were three launching positions at each town (near Roßbach and near Helferskirchen) for the V2.
On September 23,
1944, the firing site and the command post of the 3./836
is located in the Roßbacher Forest (district
Herrlichkeit). The soldiers of 3./836 were
billeted at Roßbach and Mündersbach. The entry to the
Roßbach sites went from the
Welkenbacher Road (today K10 road), between
kilometer markers 1.8 and 1.4, new paths were
created into the woods in half-circle tracks of 50
meters into the beech trees and then back onto the
main road. The new paths made it very easy for the
long vehicles delivering the rockets to turn easily
in the wooded area. There were two firing pads here
consisting leveled ground covered in gravel.
From the Railway
Station at Selters, the rockets were moved through
Herschbach into the forest near Marienberg, where the
Technical Troop checked and serviced the rockets.
After the warhead was mounted, the rocket was towed by
the Meillerwagens over forested roads through the town
of Roßbach and the Hachenburger Way (today K10 road)
to the firing sites.
During the night of September 25-26, 1944, the Headquarters Batterie, the 2./836, the Technical Batterie 91 and the flak train Wojahn (armed with anti-aircraft guns), the Security Platoon of 1./836 and the Sendezug / Funkhorchkompanie 725 (Brennschluss signal) all moved to Helferskirchen, where the firing site is positioned about one kilometer south of the town.
On September 26, 1944, the 3./836 located at the Roßbacher Forest (1½ kilometers northeast of Roßbach) fired two rockets at Liege. These were the first V2 rockets fired from the Westerwald. The second rocket launched from Roßbach was a failure. The troops heard a huge "thud" at ignition but, the rocket lifted normally into the sky - only to explode in the air after 40 seconds of thrust.
On September 27, 1944, enemy aircraft flew over the V2 positions in the Westerwald. Twelve Allied fighter-aircraft bombed and strafed the railway stations at Hattert and Hachenburg and the flak emplacements of the 3./836. No significant losses occurred. The Headquarters Batterie of the Art. Abt. 836 Battalion took positions in Hachenburg. The Technical Troops were stationed in the forest north of the road from Steinen to Dreifelden and the Security Group of 1./836 was at Gehlert.
was manning sites at Helferskirchen and on September
27-28, seven V2's were fired in a 27-hour period. The
targets were Liege, Maastricht, and Hasselt. This site
would be abandoned the next day. On September 29,
1944, the remaining parts of the Gruppe Süd
arrived at Westerwald / Hachenburg area. But, they
would not stay very long. During the night from
September 28-29, 1944, the preliminary forces of 2./836
and 1./92 were ordered to move into new
emplacements across the Rhine near Merzig and begin
firing on Paris. On October 3,
1944, the 3./836 (from Roßbach) was ordered
to join the other batteries in the Merzig area. On
October 6, 1944, they were joined in the Merzig by
the 3./836 for operations.
In the beginning of October the batteries 2./836 and 3./836 were in the Merzig area. On October 14, 1944, they began firing on Antwerp. The 1./836 had been conducting some experimental work in Poland but, by the end of the month the 1./836 would take up positions in the Hermeskiel area (about 20 miles northeast of Merzig).
Fritz Siewczynski was a soldier attached to the newly formed Art. Abt. 1./836 - After his batterie's training in Peenemünde, followed by their V2 trials in Poland near Krakau, the whole unit was shipped via train to Westerwald. On October 6, 1944, Fritz and his unit reached the town of Rennerod. There they unloaded all of the vehicles and launching equipment brought with them. They drove that afternoon with their vehicles to Beilstein. It was the time of the fruit harvest and at every corner local families displayed baskets of full ripe plums. Fritz and his buddies were allowed to eat as much plum cake as they wanted, even in those lean times of war. Fritz had no idea as to the reason for their stay at Beilstein. But, they would enjoy this beautiful rest from the war for the next 18 days.
On October 24, 1944, they drove down to the station at Herborn, where they loaded the vehicles again on rail cars of the National Railroad. A terrible accident happened - near the loading ramp was a large amount of trunks. Nearby some local children were sitting, watching the activity. Fritz and a few of the other soldiers had just said 'hallo' to them when suddenly there was a crash. Some of the vehicles had fallen from the platform and crushed the children. One child was killed and others hurt badly. Medics arrived and moved the children to the Herborn hospital. The rail transport brought Fritz's unit to the area of their first military deployment. After arriving in Beuren, they took positions near Hermeskeil, about 15 km east of Trier.
On October 12, 1944, the employment of the V2 rocket units for the bombardment of military goals was terminated. General Field Marshal von Rundstedt had received the instruction from the OKW. Rundstedt instructed from this point on - the fire of the V2 with all operational batteries is to be concentrated exclusively on London and Antwerp. Hitler had demanded the V2 be the final the terror weapon.
Soon the train loads of fresh rockets would arrive near the firing sites. These trains consisted of rockets laying on a 4-axle stakebed flatcar and sometimes on two-axle cars. The trains pulled ten or twelve 4-axle railcars and some closed rail cars (covered with gray, black or white canopies). They were camouflaged sometimes with piles of hay. The goal was to make the trains look like ordinary transportation of goods.
Fritz and his firing troop (1./836) began firing V2's on October 27, 1944, from the area of Beuren. The batteries 3./836 and 2./836 had likewise shifted on October 26-28 into the area of Hermeskeil. The target was Antwerp.
The second batterie (2./836) was one of the best and most experienced launching crews. On November 3, 1944, they launched a final V2 against Antwerp before they were ordered back to the experimental station at Peenemünde to do testing for the railway launching equipment (V2 train) in nearby Karlshagen. Other experimental launches were performed near Buddenhagen under the command of WaPrüf 10. They would remain in the east until January 23, 1945.
On November 12, 1944, 1./836 was ordered to fire on Paris to disrupt the meeting of important Allied leaders. This order was countermanded five hours after it was given because the 1./836 would have to move to a new position to be in range of Paris.
In the dead of night on November 30, 1944, 1./836 moved across the Rhine River, from Hermeskeil to the Westerwald frontier. The move across the Rhine River was completed by the evening of December 1, 1944, followed by the 3./836 on December 9, 1944.
Not only was the V2 operating from the Westerwald in late 1944, but it was also being partially produced here also. The Nachbauring 2 production ring was established involving projects of the Reichsluftwaffe. Both V1 and V2 parts were produced along the small Dill River Valley, where there were many heavy iron industries. The towns of Dillenberg, Niederscheld, Merkenbach, Eschenburg, Sinn, Ehringshausen and Wetzler were connected to the building of parts and pieces for the V-Weapons.
A factory at Herborn named - "Burger Eisenwerke" - painted some portions the rockets in their camouflaged color. Parts of the rockets were delivered to Herborn beginning in September of 1944. In December the factory was closed as the result of a US bombing raid that hit Herborn. In this period only the ragged camouflage pattern was applied to the rocket parts. There was another factory at Wetzlar named - "Pfriffer Aparatebau" - produced automatic pilots & controls for aircraft, and also controls for the V1 and the V2.
|Phase Two in
After December 1, 1944, there were launching areas near Hillscheid and near Gehlert. The 1./836 moved into positions near Hillscheid, while the 3./836 occupied newly prepared sites outside of Gehlert.
Fritz Siewczynski and his comrades moved to new positions in the forest (forest Oberelberter Marktwald in the district Hillscheider Stock) three kilometers east of Hillscheid. This was firing site #604 and it was used by batterie 1./836 (later renamed Art. Reg. 1./901) from December 9, 1944 until February 25, 1945.
At Hillscheid there
were four launch platforms at this position (three concrete pads remain even
today). The sites were constructed on turnouts from
a hard surfaced road, and the firing platforms were
concrete; except for one which, was a rough plank
platform over a base of logs embedded in the ground.
The 1./836 (Art. Reg. 1./901) Technical
Troop field store for the Hillscheid positions
was located between Dernbach and Hillscheid near
Höhr-Grenzhausen in the Stadtwald. These locations
were all camouflaged by suspending branches from
wires strung high among the trees. In total, 189
V2's were fired from Hillscheid positions with 23
failures of various nature.
Things did not go so well the next day - the 1./836 again fired two rockets against Antwerp, one Kurzschusse (means rocket lifts off but, goes off course) (rocket No. 20477), crashed into the road 200 meters away from the launching site. A very large crater was torn in the road. Because of this, it delayed operations at the two other firing platforms, as it was not possible to deliver A-Stoff (liquid-oxygen) and the hole blocked the path of the Meillerwagen to at least one firing site.
The other failure
(rocket No. 20471) did not come up to full thrust at
launch. It tilted on the firing table and toppled onto
the firing platform. The five-fold connector had not
been detached from the rocket and caused the rocket to
be pulled to one side. It was decided to drain the
remaining fuel from the crumpled rocket by using a
pick-axe to puncture the tanks. The draining fuels
ignited and exploded. Three soldiers were killed and
two others wounded. This was a great loss of material
and also ruined the firing position. After the day was
over the site was not in use any longer.
The second position in operation in December was manned by the soldiers of the 3./836 near Gehlert. The first V2's fired from this region lifted off on December 15, 1944, targeting Antwerp. The site was numbered #605 and the third batterie would eventually fire 199 V2's, the last one on March 16, 1945.
One Gehlert launching pad was completely
destroyed on December 18 when a rocket fell back
onto the pad and the warhead exploded. There were at
least 5-6 launching points at Gehlert, only one
point can be plainly seen today.
After December, the shortages of liquid-oxygen were hampering the operations of Gruppe Süd. This was mainly caused by the abandonment of the Wittringen plant during the Allied advance on December 7, 1944. The first and third batteries only fired on average one V2 every three days.
A search for more efficient launching
positions was made on December 19, 1944. The
triangle made by the three towns of Weilburg,
Limburg and Nastatten was chosen as an appropriate
area since the new emplacements allowed for
liquid-oxygen fuel conservation and also conserved
gasoline for the battalion vehicles. Launch sites at
Gehlert and Kirburg were close enough to then share
the Brennschuss signal from one sending station. The
technical and engineering stations were also
centrally located between the new sites.
On January 1, 1945, the "Table of Organization" was issued which, upgraded the V2 battalions to regiments. This re-organization took place in January. The 836 Artillery Battalion became the 901 Artillery Regiment.
On January 10, 1945, another Kurzschusse fired by 1./901 at Hillscheid (rocket No. 20950) lifted normally from the firing table and seemed to be on correct course. But, experienced a visible explosion in the tail section at about 2-3 miles high. The remaining portions of the rocket, including the warhead, fell on the town of Wied. The impact and explosion at the edge of the town resulted in injuries to three local women, roof damage to houses - doors and windows at Wied and Höchstenbach were blown out.
On January 23, 1945, the 2./836 (2./901) returned from experiments in the east and rejoined the other batteries of the 836 in Westerwald. Batterie 444 left Den Haag and took over the experiments at Buddenhagen. Because of the low supply of liquid-oxygen, the second batterie, which returned from the east on January 23, 1945, did not fire again until February 28, 1945.
In this period the railway stations
involved with V2 supply operations in Westerwald
included a station at Hattert (2.5 Km's
west-northwest of Hachenburg) for unloading of
B-Stoff, a station at Hachenburg (on the northern
edge of the village) for unloading A-Stoff &
T-Stoff, a station at Korb (on eastern side of
village) for unloading B-Stoff, and the V2 rockets
were unloaded at a station near Erbach (approx. 3.4
Km's southeast of Hachenburg on the southern side of
the town). There was one Strabo crane in Erbach but,
another crane was held in reserve at another
location. All unloading stations were heavily
protected by German flak batteries.
On February 7, 1945, two Kurzschüsse were launched by batterie 1./901 (at Hillscheid). One of these rockets, No. 21763, lifted normally but, after 28 seconds the engine shut off. About 80 seconds later the detonation was heard. It impacted between Hillscheid and Höhr-Grenzhausen in a meadow.
Another Kurzschusse impact occurred on February 8, 1945, 150 meters away from the launching table of batterie 3./901 (at Gehlert). That same day at Hillscheid (1./901) a rocket lifted up only a few meters before falling back onto the launch point. Luckily, the warhead did not detonate.
At 01.42 hrs on February 20, 1945, a rocket was fired from the concrete pad of the first launching platoon (at Hillscheid). It malfunctioned and crashed down on its tail between the firing platforms of the second and third platoons causing much damage.
Between Gehlert and
Alpenrod the projectiles usually flew north past
Wahlrod and made an enormous noise as they rose. Local
residents saw the rockets ascending in the east with a
fiery tail. Sometimes they came down not only on
Antwerp, but in the Eifel. That gave the name "Eifel
Fright" for them. In the middle of March a V2 came
down in the Stoeffel quarry with Enspel. Some workers
were seriously hurt.
In early February 1945 vehicles of the returning 2 Battalion, Reg. 901 (formerly Batterie 2./836) were loaded onto train cars. The soldiers of 2./901 had been away for some months in Tuchel and Peenemünde doing experimental shootings. After traveling for many hours, the troops were unloaded at either Weilburg or Aumenau. Driving over the country roads through Grävenwiebach / Seelbach and Falkenbach they arrived into Wirbelau. The technical troop was then located at the sports field in Wirbelau and possibly a second technical troop was at Seelbach. The 2./901 troops were billeted in several houses in Wirbelau.
To the west, above of the town, the streets were closed from the crossing at Wirbelau to the crossing at Eschenau and the complete forest area was secured. Everywhere were armed soldiers and signs reading - "Restricted Area". At about 400-500 meters into the forest from the main road there were three stationary launching tables (concrete pads) and a network of vehicle paths, which were made by the engineering platoons. The three batteries of the 2./901 took up these positions.
Later, rockets were delivered on
Meillerwagens. It was difficult for the long
vehicles to pass through the small streets of
Wirbelau. The rockets, camouflaged in a
tan-gray-olive ragged painting, were lifted up at
the launching position, waiting on fuel. The 2./901
firing crews had lots of spare time at Wirbelau
because no rockets were ever launched from these
On March 16, the 3./836 (Art. 3./901) fired four rockets from sites at Gehlert. That same day the 2./836 (Art. 2./901) launched three rockets from the new sites at Kirburg. These were the last rockets launched from the Westerwald area. The failing supply of fuel and Allied advance at Remagen, caused the 836 (Art. 901) to be the first V2 launching unit to halt operations.
In late February and March 1945, these areas were bombed and strafed nearly every day, several times each day by the Fighter Bombers of 9th USAAF - on some occasions, as the US fighters were circling Kirburg, the V2 troops launched rockets anyway, blasting skyward in plain view of the 404th Fighter Group pilots.
On March 19, 1945, transportation was arranged for the 2./836 (Art. 2./901) out of their positions. The movement was to be carried out at night. From Kirburg to Marienberg the unit drove to Lüneburger Heide. Soon, plans were made for the rest of the Regiment to leave the area. During the movement of the Work Station unit of the Regiment (from Langenbach near Marienberg into the area of Marburg), the truck column was damaged, so that it was stationary on the road the whole day. It was attacked by Allied aircraft and totally destroyed.
The 1./836 (Art. 1./901) was not able to load their equipment for evacuation as the marshaling yard at Firckhofen was badly damaged by fighter-bombers and no trains could come in to get them. The loading of the remaining V2's and supplies was finished in Hachenburg. Another train, this one with B-Stoff was connected to the Hachenburg train, but these trains were unable to move out, as only damaged locomotives were available. The American bridgehead at Remagen, was increasing, but had not reach the rocket troops. The units soon used any means possible to leave the Westerwald area.
The tiny town of Bromskirchen (25 Km's north of Biedenkopf, north east of Westerwald) was captured by Combat Command B, of the American 3rd Armored Division on March 29, 1945. That day between 8:00 and 9:00 hrs, a train was coming into Bromskirchen from the marshaling yard at Allendorf / Eder. This train was very long with no end in sight. At the head of the line was an oil-fired locomotive and further back was a coal-fired locomotive. After moving a few kilometers, it so happened that the train came to a stop near Bromskirchen because the coal powered locomotive ran out of water.
The train operators did not want to be stuck there in the open so they disconnected the train in the middle and the commanding officer ordered the first half of the train to continue under the power of the oil locomotive to Winterberg. This train only made it to the tunnel at the Brilon Forest. The Americans later found seven railway cars, each containing twelve V2 warheads, one car containing boxes of carbon-graphite V2 rudders, fuzes, batteries, and cans of Z-Stoff (permanganate).
The remaining part of the train, with the
steam locomotive, waited about 20 minutes at
Bromskirchen to fill up with water. Suddenly, a US
tank appeared on the road and opened fire on the
train with its machine guns. The locomotive received
a direct hit, damaging the main steam pipes and
leaving a 15 centimeter (diameter) hole in the
locomotive. The railway workers jumped from the
train and escaped. It is also believed to have been
attacked by P-38 fighter aircraft at some point,
possibly a day earlier. After its capture, the
Americans found ten railway cars containing 9
damaged and partially burned V2 rockets, plus the
scattered parts of another V2 and some warheads.
Also, elements of the 3rd Armored Division captured
a factory nearby located at Hatzfeld, which
contained several intact V2 rockets.
Train A) 10 cars containing 9 complete
V-2's (less certain controls and fuzes) and rear
half of 10th. Location is G 629772 (sheet R3
1:1000,000) Bromskirchen rail road station.
The discovery of these V2 rockets - intact - was the first contact the western press had with the infamous "V-Weapon". The finding was in the limelight for several days. The Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower himself, came to have a look at it. The English and American newsreels reported in detail about this sensational discovery. The missiles were loaded onto large trucks and taken to Antwerp, from there they were shipped to America.
On April 10, tanks and infantry of the US
83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion overran the
German rear guard elements and fought with
occasional Panther tanks. One of the platoons
cleared a V2 assembly plant at Kleinbodungen, and
found a number of V2 rockets, complete except for
war heads, lying on jigs.
the retreat from its operational area in late March
1945, the Battalion 836 Art. Rgt. 901 originally
was to have gathered at Bramsche (about 10 miles west
of Osnabruck) for the so-called "Ziethen Undertaking".
The deterioration of the military situation, however,
prevented this. Instead, the "Blucher Undertaking" was
ordered, in which the units were to move to Celle
(about 20 miles north of Hanover). From there the
remaining rockets were to be fired against the
"Kustrin Fortress" (the polish Kostrzyn of today,
about 60 miles northeast of Berlin). The plan fell
apart because of the total breakdown in Germany.
As a result, all of Gruppe Süd's
equipment was destroyed in the area of Celle, to
prevent capture, on April 7, 1945. SS-General
Kammler had already given the order to
re-organize the rocket units into infantry
regiments. The war diary of the Abt. 836 Art.
901 stated on April 8, that - with all of
their specialized equipment destroyed, the FR Gruppe
had lost its character as an elite unit. They were
now nothing more than an infantry combat group.
In total, 432 rockets were fired from Westerwald. Of those, 34 were "Short" which, did not reached their intended targets. Rocket fuel shortages plagued the battalion, especially in the latter months of the war. Target areas were in the first phase : Diest, Hasselt, Maastricht, Liege ; in the second phase the targets were : Antwerp and Liege
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