WOLFGANG K: So I am! Thanks very much, to the club here for inviting me, it’s very gracious. For someone who hasn’t seen something like this before, it’s interesting to realize that models are not necessarily toys and that people are really go ape about it.
ROY C: Convince our wives! (audience laughter)
WOLFGANG K: I’m most impressed. It’s very nice – it’s interesting. Actually what you might not even notice is that the majority are either American or German models. There are very few Russian models. I haven’t seen any French tanks. I haven’t seen any Italian tanks, you know.
I was born in 1923 in a city called Plauen, which is north of the Czech Republic, in Germany. I had a very normal upbringing. My father was drafted into the German army in 1939, I think. He was a reserve officer in the First World War, so he left right away.
I volunteered for the German Army in 1941. When you volunteered into the German Army you had a pick of what branch of the Army you wanted to go to. They didn’t guarantee that – but that’s what they tell you.
So I picked tanks. If you were a volunteer, instead of going six months in the werke organization, you went only three months in the werke organization.1 So I went to the werke organization from Fall 1941 to December and I was in Jarocin which is part of Poland today. I drove home with two weeks vacation. I received my draft notice and I went to Mödling, a suburb of Vienna, where I had basic training with the Panzer Eins (Panzer Mk I). I had infantry training – everybody had to have infantry training: rifle and all this kind of stuff. The German army looked for people who might make officers. So they asked me if I would want to become an officer at the end of the training period. There was a question if I wanted to be a professional officer or a reserve officer. They always said, “Well, if you want to be an officer, you want to be a professional officer.” But my father told me long time ago: “Don’t you EVER become a professional soldier” (laughter).
I went from there to the Eastern Front, the Center Section. I had about seven battle days; that means seven days where you were really engaged with the enemy. I was in a Panzer Drei (Panzer Mk. III). And then they took me out of the front and moved me to a place called Wundsdorf – that is a suburb of Berlin. It had a big school of armor where all the people of the Armor Forces undergo officers’ training for three months. That was in 1942.
In Spring of 1943, I went back to the front and that was the time of the Kursk offensive and I was in the Panzer Drei.2 And when we were put out there, I got sick – I had typhus. I spent a long time in the hospital. Then in 1944, I was transferred from the Panzer units to the Panzerjager units because the Army was transforming from the PAKS, an anti-tank gun with wheels, to the “saukopfs”.3 All the panzerjagers were then assault guns with the PAK 40, which you probably have seen pictures of with the long gun.4
So in 1944, I joined a unit as a teaching officer. I went to the front and we got beat badly. I got wounded and I got out and I went back to Germany and stayed a couple of weeks in the hospital. For a while, I was an officer standing around nothing to do. They transferred me. They flew by Ju-52 into the kessel (pocket), the surrounded areas, of Kurland.5 It was Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. I fought with a Panzerjager unit until May 1945. I surrendered to the Russians and then I was a prisoner of war until 1948 in Russia. Then I returned to East Germany, enjoyed the Russians from all ends, including as occupying forces. Before the Wall went up, the Russians tried to draft me so I took a powder (audience laughter). I lived a year in Munich. My then girlfriend, now wife, was in the United States. She lived in Monroe (Michigan). “I’ll help you come over here” So she helped me and I came over here, a bona fide political refugee. I was here a week and I started working and have been working ever since. Now, I don’t work any more.
I have the standard decorations. I was wounded four times. But otherwise I was not a great hero. If you’re looking for a hero, this is the wrong place to look. I was a survivor! That’s what counts! So if there are any questions…
Roy C: (to audience) Here’s what I think we’ll do: I have some questions that cover some broad things that will probably be of interest to our audience here-- we’re historians, modelers. At the end, we’ll take audience questions. Mr. Kloth is our guest. Let’s make sure that we keep our questions appropriate for this setting.
Mr. Kloth, when you first joined, you were with the 2nd Panzer Division, correct?
WOLFGANG K: Correct.
ROY C: For our audience, the 2nd Panzer Division was one of the first formed divisions in the resurrected German Army in 1935, I believe.6
WOLFGANG K: They came originally from a place called Magdeburg. And then with the occupation of Austria and they were transferred to Austria. It became actually, an Austrian division. For a while, they had the Austrian double eagle as part of their emblem.
ROY C: The Second Panzer took part in the invasion of Poland, the invasion of France and the invasion of Russia. They got within 20KM of Moscow, is that correct?
WOLFGANG K: Yes, yes.
ROY C: So it was one of the units that got furthest east amongst the German units.
WOLFGANG K: I want to mention that all that, when things were going rosy – I wasn’t with them! (audience laughter)
ROY C: Can you tell us anything interesting about your training as an infantryman? And as a tanker?
WOLFGANG K: No, actually not. It was basic infantry training which I don’t think is much different from the training in the United States. You learn about the rifle and about the pistol and how to make your bed. You know, all this garbage didn’t make very much difference later on. The only thing we had, we had driving school. We learned how to drive a tank. We had driving in a Panzer Eins (Panzer Mk I) which, if you see a picture of it, it’s laughable. It was a two man tank but with no turret on it. But we had a good time driving these things around the countryside. It was playing around you know. It was kinda strange that after a while, as an officer candidate, when you were done with basic training, you became a gefreiter. What is a gefreiter? In the American army, one degree above private.
Audience Member: Private first class.
WOLFGANG K: Yes. Then you come to the front – all the noise and everything. You’re really kinda scared. You have been in a panzer but you’ve never had any hard experience in a panzer. You had to get used to the tank functions as a crew. Everybody had a specific function. You had to learn what to do and not to do. It was an interesting learning experience.
In addition, if you didn’t get killed you were lucky.
ROY C: In your training, did you train in all the different crew positions?
WOLFGANG K: I learned how to basically drive a tank but didn’t drive the real thing. I learned the functions of the radio operator but I never had that position. I have only three positions in a tank: gunner, loader and commander. I had only two battle days as loader.
Some of the stuff is just out of my memory frankly. I don’t have any recollections of it any more. It was a long time ago. ’42! ’43! Somebody’s whole lifetime!
ROY C: Were you a good gunner?
WOLFGANG K: Ya, I think so, I think so. I tried to hit what I aimed at. We already had a long gun at that time. The guns would get out of adjustment if you went over irregular terrain for a long time. The gun would keep whipping. LATE in the war, they came up with idea to support the gun with a lock. VERY LATE in the war. (laughter) You usually lost one or two shots just trying to figure out where your gun was aiming at in relation your picture in the sight.
The German gunsight is seven triangles. Three small ones, a big one and then another three triangles in a line. If you learned well enough (which I didn’t), you could figure out from the distance between the triangles, how far the target was away. But in most cases, the commander would give you the estimate anyways. It was his responsibility – in the addressing of the targets, to tell you its range.
ROY C: So you trained in the Panzer I. When you first went into action you were in the Panzer IIIs. Eventually you upgraded to the Panzer IV and later on, you fought in the Assault guns. Is there anything that stands out in your memory about the reliability of each of these? What was good? What was bad? About each of them?
WOLFGANG K: They were really, really different tanks. The Mk III was more moveable. It moved faster. The horsepower to weight ratio was better in the Mk IIIs than the Mk IVs. In addition, it was shorter so there wasn’t as much room in the Mk III (as the Mk IVs). The real shitty thing was the driver and radioman didn’t have any openings. They had to come out through the turret.
I liked the Panzer III but its guns were not long enough – you couldn’t shoot far enough. So I was glad the first time I got back out there in a Panzer IV. It was an improvement.
ROY C: I know that the 2nd Panzer Division fought in France. Did you ever fight in the west?
WOLFGANG K: No. I spent all my military life in Russia. (sarcastically) I loved that! (audience laughter)
ROY C: What are your thoughts about strengths and weaknesses about Russian armor?
WOLFGANG K: Very Good! When they were starting out, they only had a short 76.2mm. Then they came around with this thing that we called the T-34 with long “wach boom”7. (We called the long Russian gun the “wach boom” because you could hear “wach boom” and the shot was here). That was a very dangerous tank. The only advantage we had was the Russians had no communications between their tanks. Absolutely helpless. But they were very good at repairing their tanks; they were very good about going places where we wouldn’t dare go because of their ratio of kilogram per square inch track was a heck of a lot better than ours. Their footprint was a lot faster. In addition, you learned that the Russians would always come where no one said they could come out of.
They were an efficient army. They did a good job fighting. However, if they collapsed, they collapsed totally. But as long as they kept fighting, they were a very good force. Nothing wrong with that.
ROY C: I’ve read that the Russians were very, very good with their camouflage.
WOLFGANG K: Oh yes!
ROY C: Were Russian anti-tank guns very dangerous to you? What tactics or special precautions did you take versus them?
WOLFGANG K: Don’t get in the way! (audience laughter)
If you’re faced with AT guns, it’s always a question of who sees whom first and who shoots first. In many cases, the intelligence of the commanding officer of the vehicle, to describe where the target is because the gunner can’t see the target, made the difference. He sees a little round thing in the distance (through the sight).8 As the commander, you have to get him to see what you want him to shoot at. And sometimes that’s not so simple.
ROY C: As the war progressed, the German Army equipped its infantrymen with anti-tank weapons (Panzerschreck, Panzerfausten). What was your opinion of Soviet infantry? Did you fear them much?
WOLFGANG K: The Soviet infantry was always doing what they were told. Only they were shot if they didn’t do the right thing. Their form of discipline was very foreign to the American and German systems. A life was nothing. In the German army, people were considered an asset. In the Russian army, it didn’t make any difference how many people died, or why they died.
They have a very strange way in their relations between officers and men. In the German Army, if a lieutenant came and you were a soldier (enlisted man), you had to do what the lieutenant said. In the Russian Army, if a lieutenant comes and you as a soldier are not in that lieutenant’s company, you don’t do what he tells you. So that leads to very strange relations and they had problems with that. But in the end, they were a successful army, no question. And besides, there were lots of them! (audience laughter).
In Germany they say: “Too many dogs are the death of even the smartest rabbit”
ROY C: Did you ever face any enemy air actions?
WOLFGANG K: Not much, not much.
ROY C: You said you had seven battle days in Russia. Did you have any battle days in the Panzer IV?
WOLFGANG K: Yes.9 Everything that had to do with Kursk. That was about five or six days. Battle days were only counted when you were behind enemy lines in a tank. If you had enough battle days, you were either lucky or dead.
ROY C: Are there any anecdotes about encounters with enemy armor or infantry that you want to share with us today?
WOLFGANG K: Well, the bad thing is that the bad parts of your memory stay and the good experiences are forgotten. We had some very bad experiences where sometimes we didn’t think fast enough and it cost a lot of lives. The Russians are masters, MASTERS in digging trenches and making foxholes.
When I came home in 1948, my hometown was occupied by a Russian Infantry division and you could go outside of the city and for miles, you saw nothing else but holes. They would take the regiment out and just dig holes, just dig holes. To train how to dig holes fast. They had a system where all the dirt that came out of the hole was redistributed. In many cases like during rain, you didn’t see the hole. The Germans said: “You had to have a mound in front where you can lay your rifle on it.” It’s kinda crap you know! (laughter) From a hundred yards away, you can see where it is!
The Russians: you saw just a little dark spot and when you got there, there was a hole and the Russian could stand in it! That surprised us, especially in the later years when the Russians used anti-tank rifles. Very high quality! And a very high penetration. There are a lot of places on a tank that an anti-tank rifle could shoot right through.10
They fought a different war. They had a large sack, like a large grocery sack on their back, and a bottle of water and five potatoes and they lived on that for five days. The Germans would get all upset if they didn’t get any food. And the Americans would get MORE upset if they didn’t get any food.
An army can be described as a triangle where the top is the fighting soldier and the bottom are the people that support that soldier at the front. While the Germans are like this (motions an equilateral triangle), the Americans like this (a very squat, wide bottomed triangle), the Russians were like this (a very thin, steep triangle). Very few people were needed to keep a Russian soldier alive and fighting.
ROY C: Do you recall any aspects of good fortune that you or your comrades had? Heroism? Remarkable circumstances?WOLFGANG K: Nope. Nope. The best things you can have are dumb luck and dry martinis! Sometimes luck is so obvious! You ask: Why didn’t that happen to me? Why am I here and not there? Why am I here and not under the ground?
Sometimes you have something that you have would come in handy one day.
ROY C: Like what?
WOLFGANG K: (long pause) I became a prisoner of war in Russian in 1945. The Russians divided the labor force in four categories. One would be the very muscular ones. A different work load would be assigned to each category. So if you were in category 1 and he was in category 2, you would have to shovel more sand than he does. You can imagine what that picture is.
In order to determine your category, you paraded naked in front of them and they pinched you in the ass. They checked how big your gluteus maximus was. I was born with almost NONE (audience laughter). So! You’re talking about dumb luck! (laughter) I was in very good physical condition but I don’t have a butt! So I was always category 3 which put me way ahead of everybody else when it came to workload. You talk about dumb luck, that’s dumb luck.
ROY C: Were you ever in any tank that was knocked out by enemy action?
WOLFGANG K: Ya, ya. I took a long range shot – I don’t know where it came from or what it was. I was in a Panzer IV and a solid shot dropped down between the driver’s hatch and the radio man’s hatch. It cracked the armor. It hit the transmission. It killed the driver. It killed the radioman. But we got out. That was it.
ROY C: You said you were wounded four times. Were most of the times in the tank or sometimes outside the tank?WOLFGANG K: It was most of the time stupid! Once we were standing somewhere and got some fire from mortars and I hopped in the commander cupola but forgot to take my hand in – a mistake. And I got wounded in an assault gun. We couldn’t see the enemy and I was standing upright with the radio on, with the headphones on and I got it that time.
ROY C: Any questions from the audience?Audience Member 1: How was artillery during battle?
WOLFGANG K: You know, honestly you didn’t pay any attention to artillery because, unless you got hit directly, it exploded someplace – it made some noise outside but you didn’t pay any attention to that. Same thing with mortars. You’re inside you tank and you hatch is shut. A mortar wouldn’t hurt a tank. A big mortar may crack a plate and make a big noise inside but it was a safe place inside. The common thing was tankers didn’t want to walk and infantry didn’t want to be inside a tank! (laughter)
AM2: You said you were in assault guns. Stugs?
WOLFGANG K: Yes, sturmgeschutz. Saukopf. With a round mantlet on the gun.
AM2: That leads me to my next question. Was it a length of gun was it? Was it a …
WOLFGANG K: Don’t ask me. I never measured it. (laughter)
AM2: The only reason I ask is that later in the war, the later versions have better guns, right? You had better range, right?
WOLFGANG K: Ya. But we never really came up with a very long range gun. Maybe ¾ of a mile was about as good as it gets. And that was a bad deal because when the T-34 came out with an eight seven millimeter, they shot at a long distance.11 That was very uncomfortable – when you get shot at but you can’t return the fire because you don’t carry that far. Or when you carry that far, your parabola is like this (Wolfgang makes arching motion), you don’t hit the target.
The longer the gun, the flatter the trajectory, the better you are. We didn’t do too good with that. Where we did good was the eight-eight.12 Now that was the thing to have!
AM2: Did you progress into the Panther or Tiger variants?
WOLFGANG K: No. No. The German army said: “If these idiots can drive around in these tin cans until now, let’s keep them driving them.” So we were very much upset because in many cases, very young and inexperienced crews ended up in Tigers and Panthers. And the old people, who had the experience, got stuck with the old stuff (equipment).
AM3: In any reunions, have you ever had opportunity to talk with former combatants? Any Russian tankers?WOLFGANG K: No.
AM3: In Otto Carius’ auto biography, he talks about often tankers having to sleep in their tanks.
WOLFGANG K: Oh yeah. We did that too.
AM3: Then did you have to store everything inside your tank?
WOLFGANG K: You could store nothing inside your tank except ammunition. Most of your stuff was stored outside and very often, you lost it. Tank crews always got rations for five people. The radio man was the “sandwich man”. He had to get the food and divvy it up. He sat in his fairly decent sized compartment and made sandwiches and divided the stuff and gave it to the crew. He was responsible for the drinks, too. It was part of his job.
AM4: When you were in the Assault guns, were they in the defense or were they being deployed in offensive maneuvers?
WOLFGANG K: My friend, after half of 1943, everything was defense. We would make counter attacks but the majority was defense. That’s a bad deal for an armored vehicle because you were scared shitless. Out of gas. Out of ammunition. Busted bridges. And all of that, you were afraid that you had to go outside and start walking. And nobody wanted to do that!
ROY C: Did you ever have to walk?WOLFGANG K: Did I ever have to walk? (laughing) No, I never had to walk. (audience laughter)
AM5: The beginning of the war, you served under Von Kleist? Who was your commanding officer when you began your service?
WOLFGANG K: I don’t know.
AM5: And upon you surrender in May of ’45, who was your commander?WOLFGANG K: In May of ’45, the last guy was Hilpert.13 You know – this is a strange thing – most people who are involved today through re-enactment or modeling or things like this – they know more about the German Army than I do. You were so concerned with your own neck and your own well-being that you kept your focus very narrow. “I have to go there and I have to do that”. Maybe you know who is at the right and left of you but that was the max. Someone will come to me and say: “Well that was the 357th this and this and so and so”. I say: “I’m glad you know that because I don’t!” (audience laughter).
ROY C: Yes, as modelers we can be a very unusual sort. When I put an announcement on the internet about your appearance at this show, a gentleman asked me to ask you: “What color were fire extinguishers?” (Wolfgang laughs) Yes, we modelers are an unusual sort.
AM6: Can you talk about the circumstances about your capture?WOLFGANG K: I wasn’t captured. I surrendered. The war was over. We lined our guns up and the Russians came. We threw our weapons away and marched – became prisoners.
AM6: Do you know where you went?WOLFGANG K: You can look it up on the map. It’s Tukums. It’s close to Estonia. It’s all the way on the Baltic Sea.14
ROY C: Many of us are familiar with the hardships of the Germans who were captured after the war. You said you were very fortunate to…
WOLFGANG K: You know, this is a very unpleasant thing and I really … All the time you were so concerned to just stay alive. You can’t even imagine that. From one day to the next.
You knew that the country was defeated and that no one gave a damn about you. For two years, my parents didn’t even know if I was alive. So it’s a very strange circumstance.
The Russians weren’t really a friendly people.
AM7: As modelers we sometimes don’t hear about the amount of maintenance that tankers would perform. Did you ever have to change a road wheel or change a track?WOLFGANG K: Track change was common. Because you broke links in the chain (track) and the crew knew what to do. There was really not much to it. It was a combined effort. It took five men to do it. The driver had to roll the tank back. It took two men to tighten the chain (track) and one man to put the pin in. But more than that about general maintenance, I don’t remember honestly. I don’t remember seeing anyone change the oil but I know it happened! (audience laughter)
AM2: As modelers we want to weather and age our vehicles. What was the average life of a vehicle?WOLFGANG K: I don’t know.
AM2: Weeks? Months? We are trying to determine how much to dirty up the model – scar it up…
WOLFGANG K: Ahh… It was ALWAYS dirty. But there were certain things that were ALWAYS clean. Track tightening mechanism was always clean.15 There were always at least two crow bars on each tank. There was a heavy hammer on each tank. Usually inside, there were spare (track) pins. And there were lots of spare locking pins that go through the (track) pin. Lots of those. There were bogie wheels but in lots of cases, we didn’t change the bogie wheels – repair crews came. They did that in twenty minutes – much better than what we could do because they had special tools. The average tank crew put gas and water in the tank. Make sure the batteries are OK. Adjusting the brakes and clutch on the steering mechanism – and he learned from scratch how to do that. And it was an article that would wear out so you had to watch out about the clutch and brake. There were hatches for them. The driver could take about four hours trying to get it just right, the way they wanted it, because they were the ones who got screwed if it didn’t work right.
AM2: Did any of your vehicles get knocked out behind enemy lines and you had to go back to retrieve it?WOLFGANG K: No. But I know it happened.
AM8: Was it common to scavenge parts from incapacitated tanks?
WOLFGANG K: Oh yah. Unless the tank was completely obliterated – if it was halfway moveable, someone came and took it back and they would cannibalize it.
AM8: Would you cannibalize tanks out in the field? In the battlefield?WOLFGANG K: No. Not the crews… now we stole what wasn’t nailed down (audience laughter).
ROY C: Like tools?WOLFGANG K: Tools. Shovels. Because when the tank got repaired, they came back completely re-equipped, you know. Why not? We especially tried to get tarpaulins. Everybody tried to get enough to cover the tanks. The bastards leaked like sieves!! (audience laughter)
AM9: You hear a lot about paint schemes and what the paint consistency was like. What were did the paint look like when you got it? Was it a paste? In a jar?
WOLFGANG K: Paint? Paint? I never painted a tank. I wasn’t a painter! (audience laughter) No. No. I have no idea. People would camouflage a tank by throwing dirt on it or in winter try to find some chalk or white paint. But painting per se? That wouldn’t happen. And besides, soldiers are lazy! (audience roars)
ROY C: Ah! You’re breaking the hearts of many modelers! (more audience laughter)
AM10: As far as your training as a gunner, did you get to fire live rounds before you went out?WOLFGANG K: If you had a good gunner, he always let go a couple of rounds to make sure he would hit what he was aiming at. As soon you got in a position to do that safely. Sometimes you couldn’t do that because you would reveal where you were at but in most cases, they would get to knock off a couple of rounds.
AM2: Were your tanks camouflaged? Was it panzergelb? We tend to paint three-tone camouflage schemes. Were they basic sand color?WOLFGANG K: Ummm…Brown tones, earth tones.
AM2: More than one color? Do you remember?WOLFGANG K: You have to ask the painter! (audience laughter)
AM11: How did you find the German infantry? Did you work closely with them?
WOLFGANG K: Oh yes. Oh yes. They wanted our protection. And we wanted them to make sure that no one got close to the vehicle. Getting enemy close to the vehicles was one of the big no-no’s. That really got us scared. Once, we were retreating and the Russians were running on the right and left of us. That’s a bad deal. You don’t want to have anything to do with that!
AM12: Have you seen any war movies…
WOLFGANG K: No, I don’t watch movies. You know, reality kinda gets you away from that. The only war movie saw that I was impressed with was “Das Boot”. That was something I didn’t know anything about. Their space was even smaller than mine! (laughs)
AM13: What kind of food did you have? Did you have to scavenge for food?WOLFGANG K: It was the responsibility of the regiment to see that the companies got warm food. One warm meal a day. And there were people who went to a great extent to make sure the crews got warm food. We collected cold food once a week. A guy came with four loaves of bread, a couple tins of butter, and some sausage and stuff like this. But we were supposed to get one warm meal a day. And this worked very often – let’s say 75%.
AM14: How long were you engaged at Kursk?WOLFGANG K: At Kursk, it was four days. And that was not very fun. The Germans faced for the first time, HUGE numbers of T-34s dug in – up to the turret. And that’s a bad deal – very bad. Number one, they are hard to see. Number two, they are hard to hit. And number three, they had already pre-determined distances to targets. “You know that they have to come through there, over that hill is 1500 meters and over there is 1200.” They were WAY in the advantage, way in the advantage. That was a sad affair. We really took a beating.We were in the Northern section of the bulge. Right after we had a little bit of success, they broke through way to the north of us. We had a three day road trip in retreat. It’s murder. You’re glad to stop after only a couple of miles. Imagine! We were driving day and night. I was surprised they got us the gasoline. Then I got wounded and was out of it.
ROY C: Sometimes soldiers are reluctant to speak about this but do you recall how many enemy tanks you knocked out?
WOLFGANG K: I guarantee two. Yes, two. I had some real luck with infantry and in my sturmgeschutz. We did some real serious damage.
We also killed quite a few of our own. It’s terrible because in a retreat a lot of people died from friendly fire because you didn’t know where they were. You were shooting at the Russians coming at us, after the Russians disappeared and all of a sudden came the next wave. We didn’t realize they weren’t Russians, they were Germans. A lot of people got killed that way.
AM15: When you were first talking you made a reference to French tanks. Did you have any captured Renaults or Hotchkiss tanks in the 2nd Panzer division?
WOLFGANG K: No. There was an interesting unit in Kurland; Panzerbrigade Kurland. And they only had captured tanks. They had a Sherman and a General Lee and two T-34s. They took the Russian 87mm guns out and took it to the ship wharf and reamed it out to 88. They shot 88 ammunition out of it. They were very inventive! Because up in Kurland, your back was against water, you know.
ROY C: So up to the end, this unit operated a captured Russian Sherman, a captured Russian M3 Lee and re-bored two T-34s to 88mm ammunition? Up til May of 1945. (facetiously and scratches head) I wonder what markings they had? (audience laughter)
WOLFGANG K: That Kurland theater – everyone knows that there’s no place to run. If the enemy breaks in, don’t expect an order to clean this up. You clean it up automatically. That was a bad deal. And we had hoped that they would take us back to Germany. If they had, we may have ended up all dead. You never know, you never know.
ROY C: The Russians also had American and British tanks. Did you ever…
WOLFGANG K: The most American stuff I saw was the food. They had huge tins of food. They had these gallon tins of butter. Horrible tasting stuff! (laughter). No one in America must have wanted it so they sent it to the Russians. (laughter).
Vehicles? We saw a lot of Studebakers. Lots of those. We saw some jeeps. But lots and lots of American food. They loved that! The Americans must have given millions of Libby’s cans. When we were prisoners of war, they Russians sent us the empty cans and we made cups out of them. We cut the tops off of them and out of other cans, made handles – and we riveted them to the cans to make the cups. We made piles of them. (laughter)
AM16: Were you ever on the receiving end of Katyusha rockets? We read about them.
WOLFGANG K: Oh yes. That’s not nice. Even though we were in a tank and nothing happens if you’re hit. The rockets all had very highly sensitive detonators. Even if they hit a corn field, they would explode before hitting the ground, really spraying shrapnel. But if you’re in a tank… aha! (laughing) That’s why you don’t want to walk! (audience laughing)
AM17: You mentioned maintenance. How about maintenance on the gun?
WOLFGANG K: That’s a five man job. It takes two men to take the breech apart inside the tank, and it takes three men to clean the barrel. So it was a crew effort to clean the gun. The loader and radio man were responsible for their machine guns.16 In many cases, they weren’t even fired very much. There weren’t many targets to fire on. We hated them because the damn shells fell down all over the floor! It was very unpopular.
AM17: How often would you clean the main gun?WOLFGANG K: At each pause of a major engagement, we would clean the main gun.
ROY C: Let’s close things down here. You left East Germany in 1951 and moved to Michigan. You have 2 kids and 2 grandkids.
WOLFGANG K: I lived most of the time in the United States in Kalamazoo (Michigan). I am an American citizen – I am a convinced American citizen. I vote in all elections! (audience laughter)
ROY C: Most of us grew up after WW2 here in America or Canada. Do you have any words for us?
WOLFGANG K: It is interesting and difficult because the US and Europe are different continents. It is SO different. The people think different. The approach of people doing things in Europe is so different than here. You can’t give anybody this advice: “You ought to do this like the Europeans.” You can’t do that. We have an absolutely EXCESS of freedom. In many cases, we don’t know what to do with it. We have the freedom to elect a democratic government but we don’t. When 36% of the people go to the voting booth, then we do not elect a government, you know. Only 1/3 of the people get off their butts and decide and the rest of the people just sit there and bitch – the “good American way.” Immediately after an election, everybody says: “We should have done this, we should have done that…”
Now I vote absentee ballot so it’s easier but even before, I would take off work to go to the polls. Interesting enough, people ought to recognize that the United States is not equipped to encourage people to vote. In no European country do you vote during the week – you vote on the weekend. Because everybody ought to have a chance to vote and nobody ought to have a chance to make an excuse for voting. But here, voting was originally designed for privileged people and in many cases, they never changed the rules. Now everybody has to vote on a very inconvenient day. But even that’s a cheap excuse—I don’t buy it! (laughing)
ROY C: (to the audience) Mr. Kloth still wants to look at the models, he told me. He didn’t get a chance to look at as many as he wanted to. Thank you for all you attention. Mr. Kloth thank you very much for being with us. (loud applause)
1 The werke organization was a non-militarized labor force.
2 Later Mr. Kloth mentions that he manned a Mk IV at Kursk. Discrepancy here.
3 Mr. Kloth was referring to certain units with standard anti tank guns upgrading with self-propelled guns. In his case, his unit received Sturmgeschutzen (assault guns).
4 Author’s note: the Sturmgeschutzen were armed with the L/48 75mm Kwk, not the Pak 40, which was a standard field anti-tank gun.
5 The Kurland Pocket battles lasted from Oct 14, 1944 to May 1945. The pocket which contained elements of 26 divisions and 200,000 men was reduced but never overrun. Its units surrendered at the end hostilities.
6 Referring to the re-militarization of Germany after the prohibitions placed on it after WW1.
7 Mr. Kloth must be using wartime German nomenclature. Actually it must be the T-34/85 Russian Medium tank, based upon his description. It mounted the excellent 85mm tank cannon.
8 The gun sight’s reticle, described earlier.
9 See note 2 where Mr. Kloth recalls that he manned a Mk III at the Kursk battle.
10 The Russians used AT Rifles early in the war as well. Perhaps Mr. Kloth only encountered them later on as a matter of coincidence.
11 See earlier note. In all likelihood, it was a T-34/85 with 85mm cannon.
12 8.8cm tank cannon
13 Colonel-General Carl Hilpert was the last commander of the entire Heeresgruppe Kurland.
14 Tukums, Latvia. About 100 miles west of Riga, on the Baltic coast.
15 Perhaps Mr. Kloth was speaking about the idler tensioning mechanism on the Pz III, Pz IV and Sturmgeschutzen.
16 Coaxial and hull MGs, respectively.
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