The following interview of Mr. Heinz von Schilling was conducted by Mr. James Triesler, by electronic mail, between August 21 and October 13, 2006.
Triesler: Where were you born?
Von Schilling: I was born in Mainz on the Rhine on June 27, 1918.
Triesler: Please tell us about your military service.
Von Schilling: My 2 years of military service started in October 1937. I was in an anti-aircraft unit, Flak Regiment18, in Mannheim-Käfertal and
I was in staff service. During the first months in 1939, after the outbreak of war, I was close to the French border, near Karlsruhe, as a Sergeant responsible for 88 millimeter cannon. A couple of weeks later I changed to a unit in northern Germany with similar responsibilities. Our batteries had to protect the Volkswagen factory against possible air attacks. After some time, I was in the hospital for standing in the muddy fields, (I had got water in my knees, which had to be cured). In 1940 I got the responsibility for a battery close to the Rhine, south of Strasbourg, and it was after that in 1941 that I was a member of the regimental staff, situated at Freudenstadt (Black Forest) as assistant of the department for training our soldiers. In April 1941 I was promoted to Lieutenant and after having passed the Rhine we proceeded with our unit into eastern France. A couple of weeks later I was transferred to Ostende in a regimental staff and had to take care of different tasks within this Anti-aircraft artillery staff. There much didn’t happen, only attacks of British single planes at nighttime. They didn’t cause mentionable damage but we also couldn’t succeed in shooting one down, at least we were not aware if we had hit one. Here we were shooting with 3.7 cm cannons from the flat roof of a five-story hotel, and we were not there for pleasure. In daytime I had office work to do in the staff.
Four months before the attack on Russia we were transferred to a small town south of Berlin, of course not knowing what was waiting for us. During this time I had anti-gas training in Berlin. In May of that year we moved into southern Poland close to the river BUG, quite close to the Russian border. On June 22nd at about midnight our Colonel assembled all people and informed us of the announcement from Hitler, saying that tomorrow morning the Russian border will be passed, because there is the close danger that Russia wants to attack us. Within 10 days we arrived without big fights in Kiew and than proceeded to Dnjepropetrowsk. It was the tactic of the Russian to always let us get deeper into their country in order to prolong our supply ways and developed their advantage of being used to hard winter temperatures, which was a problem for our sensible cars, truck engines, etc. not being used to such coldness.... Theirs were more primitive but robust machines and had much less problems. I forgot to mention that during the 10 days of marching to Kiew the local Ukrainian population welcomed us with flowers and dances in the evenings because they hoped to get independent from Stalin!! Arriving then in Dneprop I suddenly got ill (Icterus infectiosus) and had to be brought to a military hospital. My comrades all had to proceed in their marching on - and later on I got aware that God had protected me because they all were on the way to Stalingrad and not one of them survived unharmed later on. Some came into prisoner camps in Siberia. Many fell ill there and only some returned home 2 years (!) after the end of war, normally in a deplorable state of health.
I was transferred from the hospital out to Berlin, by plane, and had been made 1st Lieutenant while still in Russia. After 9 months in a Munich hospital I had recovered and had a command as adjutant of the chief of a school for learning how to handle our improved machinery to locate planes, for several hundred Italian officers in Italy (Anzio-Nettunia) for 2 years. When the American invaded Sicily and slowly chased us to the north I belonged again to a DIVISION STAFF as C officer and so came via Firence, Bologna, Verona to Bolzano, where the war ended. I finished my "soldier" life in Merano as a US prisoner and was released in
APRIL 1945, in southern Germany. I joined my family (wife and daughter) in my former home at Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
In1946 I started my professional carrier at the great sparkling-wine house Kupferberg at Mainz on Rhine, which was founded by my great-grandfather Kupferberg in 1850 (60 cellars in 7 floors underground, producing around 15 million bottles/year).
Triesler: Did you ever participate in blitzkrieg attacks and if so, what was that like? Did the army always try to use blitzkrieg tactics when fighting?
Von Schilling: BLITZKRIEG IS NO GERMAN INVENTION - as long as there were wars the factor of surprising the enemy was of course always most important.
Triesler: As a soldier in artillery, how were you used in battle?
Von Schilling: Our attack against Russia was a perfect surprise for them but they used the most clever tactic to withdraw and let us run into this vast, endless country, making our supply lines longer and longer and open for being interrupted. As we were always threatened by the danger of battle, the enemy kept mobile and retreated. We had to always be ready for counter attacks. Don’t forget the fact that with every day winter came closer with conditions which we were not accustomed to, aside of the much less complicated - let me say "more robust and primitive" Russian technical installations especially their cars, trucks, all machinery in general, which they had built for such hard winter conditions. They could build bridges without metal and steel, just by putting lots of branches and trees on the weak ice and pumping water above and so getting a well working bridge even for higher weights because it got a giant ice-construction! Their engines could be started even at the lowest temperatures, because they were constructed so that making fire underneath the motor didn’t inflame them but produced the necessary heat to start them. Our cars would have been destroyed, by that, immediately. Moreover we were not prepared to live at these low temperatures. We didn’t have enough corresponding winter-uniforms! So we were running into a catastrophe more or less with open eyes. Who ever dared to tell that to our "GRÖFAZ" (this got the nickname for Hitler and it means in German; "Grösster Feldherr aller Zeiten" which is translated as Biggest Field "Marshall" of all times!) Of course one had to be careful with using this naughty expression, because there were always people, who could inform somebody of the "party" and then you could “disappear” very fast.
Triesler: Did you know much of Field Marshall Rommel during the war? What did you think of him?
Von Schilling: I saw Rommel in North Africa and we, as the British and the Americans, had the highest respect for this genial military leader. Once he succeeded to visit clandestinely a British military hospital and spoke with German imprisoned, wounded soldiers. When the British detected this, they asked him to please immediately leave this place. That is how highly he was respected. But later on, when his demands to get more material and petrol were not accepted, he turned into a man who started disliking Hitler and fell into disgrace. Hitler didn’t dare to officially quit him, but once gave him a pistol with the remark that he certainly knew what that meant. So he killed himself. What a tragedy. I was on duty in Italy, in Bologna, when the invasion started and we were rather sure that this was the start of the end. Hitler and Goebbels were still speaking of "the turn to the better" because we would soon unveil "secret weapons" which would change everything to our advantage, but there were very many - including me - who had heavy doubts of these claims....
Triesler: For how long had Germany been expecting the American and British invasion to come?
Von Schilling: You know that many coastline fortifications were built by us along the French coastline, so a landing of enemy units was always looked at as being possible one day... The longer war continued and the more desperate our military situation got, after the tragedy in Stalingrad, the more an invasion seemed possible, but one had trusted too much into those coastline fortifications and there were not enough troops. We only had enough troops to station them in an "attending position" along the coast. As you know during the first days of the landing there were big problems and high losses in consequence of these defense installations. But a longer resistance was impossible with the limited forces on our side.
Triesler: Did soldiers sing much during the war? When did they sing? When marching? What are some of the names of songs or types of songs that the soldiers would have sung? Did you have any favorite songs during the war? Did you hear Wagner much on the radio? What type of music did you hear on the radio? Could you still listen to German radio broadcasts and German music in Russia and Italy?
Von Schilling: Of course, all soldiers of all nations, if I’m right, have songs, which they sing when marching. Soldiers sing songs dealing with the beauty of their homeland, of their dears, of the soldier’s duties, and of course songs about love. In entering Russia, there weren’t many possibilities to march or to sing as we were driving the military cars. When riding in trucks, especially in big cannon-moving special trucks, one didn’t have much chance to sing....
There was of course one favorite song, which was then also sung by the American and British: Lili Marlen! Certainly the German National Anthem is a wonderful melody once composed by a famous composer, but this was only sung at special events. Of course also music of Wagner sometimes was listened to, but not all soldiers preferred Wagner with his "hero"-music. There was no problem hearing German radio also in Russia or Italy or in Africa. Of course we were not allowed to listen into British or American broadcasting, especially when performed in German, because one knew it had the logical tendency to discourage us. But of course some listened into these programs clandestinely. Normally they didn’t talk much of what they heard there, because it was forbidden....
I don’t think it was very clever to attack the Civilian, mainly women and children, by bombing at night. Such bombing even made the hatred bigger against the enemy and didn’t shorten the terrible war!!
Especially such a crime, like bombing the beautiful and peaceful town of DRESDEN, knowing that thousands of old men and women and children who had escaped from the Russians, tried to sleep in some of the parks of that town. This was so unbelievable and cruel that we made fists and thought that people who do things like that aren’t better than this idiot Hitler.
As you know I belong to an old noble family in Germany and very many of these families hated Hitler and belonged to those who tried to kill him (i.e. Schenk von Stauffenberg). We are closely related to Von der Schulenburg and to the Graf von Hardenberg Family, who, in connection with the 20th July assassination attempt, were eliminated by Hitler. He hated the members of the Nobility.
Triesler: Were you married when the war began? Was it easy to communicate with your wife? What was censorship like?
Von Schilling: I married in 1942 and we had a daughter in 1944. Normally our “Field Mail” worked well. Telephoning was only permitted under special conditions. I never had trouble with censoring but of course we were not allowed to specify where we were stationed actually.
Triesler: Were you confident of victory on your march into Russia?
Von Schilling: I was convinced, like also my Commander and quite a lot of comrades, that the new involvement with such a big country like Russia wouldn’t make our chance to win this terrible war easier. Quite the contrary! Also the clever way of the enemy always to retire and make our supply lines longer and longer was seen as a very dangerous situation aside of the fact of the terribly cold winter in front of us without special clothing and knowing that the Russian primitive, but robust, construction of their machines were much more cold resistant than our sensible machinery.
Triesler: You mentioned that you served in Eastern France. Did you ever visit Paris?
Von Schilling: I only came with my anti-aircraft unit after having crossed the Rhine, about 100 km deep into France. A couple of months later, I got a member of a Regimental Staff, which was stationed in Belgium at Ostende.
Triesler: Did you ever have the opportunity to see Hitler or to hear one of his speeches in person?
Von Schilling: Yes, of course our propaganda ministry took care that we always “had” to listen to Hitler’s speeches. No doubt, he was a “perfect seducer.” I only saw him a little closer during my labour service time during the yearly big “shows” at Nurnberg, when we were marching through the town. His personality had something fascinating, which impressed people always, even if they didn’t conform with his decisions. We saw a lot of different, more or less, “high-ranking” people in pictures and at his Party-day in Nurnberg. My step-father, in 1934, got “Air-Attachee” at the German Embassy in London (he belonged to the Air Force since 1933 as a Colonel and later General. Since 1910 he was a member of the Navy and during 1914 – 1918 he was one of our most successful submarine commanders. My mother married him in 1931 in her second marriage. His name was R. Wenninger and he got the highest ever German war award in 1917, the “Pour le Merite,” which also his father had gotten in 1916, begin a Bavarian General. He commanded a Prussian Corps and was the first General who “fell” during this First World War. I was in London more or less during all my school holidays. My step-father had put me and my brother into a German “Internat” School at Potsdam in 1934. I was then 16 and my brother was 13.
Triesler: When a soldier would fire an 88 millimeter cannon, how would the soldier protect his hearing?
Von Schilling: There was no need to protect your ears when firing 88 cannons. We were placed very much at the back of this long cannon.
Triesler: Do you have any photographs of yourself from when you were a soldier?
Von Schilling: I haven’t got photos of me as a soldier at hand, but I will try to find one. I was, just to make this clear, no “career officer!” I only got 1st Lieutenant, in spite of having entered the army in 1937 for my two years of military service. I had hoped to leave this service in 1939, but then the war started and I had to stay in uniform.