Obersturmfuhrer Franz Hahl 5.SS-Panzer Division 'Wiking'Mit meiner 6. Kompanie ‘Westland’ im Kessel
Obersturmfuhrer Franz Hals survived World War 2, fighting on the Eastern front 1941-45 his book Mein Jugend im Deutschen Reich detailed his escape from the Korsun Shevchenkovski, February 1944, encirclement in his own words. The Eastern
front, OstFront, was not the bloody conflict as perceived. In many cases Soviet artillery targeted empty forward trenches as German forces were jostled back repeatedly to prepared positions from late 1943 until war's end, May 1945.
Korsun airfield supplied the pocket until it was overrun mid-February, then the urgency to breakout was organised. Soviet and German forces were about equal,most units were depleted.
Korsun airfield, JU52s protected by ME109s Bundesarchiv
At year's end we were in reserve in Moschny, 30km northwest of Tscherkassy. I was the youngest SS-Untersturmfuhrer with 6 Company in the Panzegrenadier 10 'Westland'. On January 20, 1944 we were alarmed, the Soviets broke through our front. On January 28, 1944 our Battalion commander told us we were surrounded. 54,000 soldiers, fortunately with enough munitions and supplies, we were under strain, however, despite the roads being impassible and severe nightly frosts, my men were determined
to avoid a Soviet prison camp and so we undertook operation freedom.
By February 10 our front was threatened with the destruction of Company 7 'Westland'. A swift attack on a Soviet company liberated two heavy machine guns and a 7.62-cm-Pak which had been bought from Germany in 1930. This and other stories are beyond the scope of this report. The men were in good spirits. By February 14, 1944 we arranged the breakout with three assault groups ready to attack by 23.00hrs February 16. We followed the reconnaissance group. Then came a suicide order. My company was ordered to occupy a height to allow the mass of soldiers to escape. This was a senseless tactic, fortunately, the Battalion commander rode up on a horse, when I asked him how long we had to remain he said,'That depends on your intelligence', I remembered General Hausser's speech during training in Lichterfield-Berlin 'Prussian tactics rely on free thinking not on following orders dutifully'. Out tactic - 'Assess the situation and decide with little explanation'. I ordered 'Company march, password Freedom'.
III-Panzer Division on the way to relieving Korsun Pocket, Bundesarchiv
Heavy artillery and tank fire from T34s tore through the mass of soldiers trying to escape. I was injured in my back by splinters from a T34 round, however I was able to fight on. Suddenly we found ourselves near a company of Soviet soldier, we attacked quickly surrounding them knowing that they usually gave up under overwhelming attack.
We arrived at the 15 metre wide Gniloi Tikisch fast flowing river. The T34 tank fire tore through the soldiers on the river bank trying to escape. My company was scattered to the winds. My last order 'Save yourselves, Swim'. I jumped in and my uniform became heavy, yet I reached the far shore with another officer from 'Germania' regiment. The tank and artillery
fire forced us to shelter behind a slope. We approached a Tiger tank commander who confirmed we had reached the safety of German lines. 36,000 German soldiers escaped the Kessel with months of recuperation in Poland.
Wrecked German vehicles, Korsun pocket, Bundsarchiv
Source: Mein Jugend im Deutschen Reich 1922-45, Fritz Hahl, Am Wall 2013; Bundesarchiv Photographs acnowledged; Translation by www.hibernianscribe.com