Lemnos/Limnos island

In 1943-44 my grandfather Lt. Ludwig Preller (1918-1945?) was stationed on the island of Lemnos with the V./Festungs Infanterie Bataillon 999, that unit being part of the Festungs Infanterie Regiment 963 (Fstg.Inf.Rgt. 963) under the command of Oberstleutnant Clotz (Rgts.Kdr. Obstlt. Clotz), later Oberst Clotz when the regiment was upgraded for Festungs Infanterie Brigade 963 (also known as ‘Brigade Clotz’).


Situated in the  Northern Aegean, the island (see map) played an important role during World War I for the Allies’ Dardanelles campaign, as the bay of Moudros served as a base for allied ships in the battle of Galipoli. Moudros harbours an important allied (Australian and New-Zealand) military cemetery from that period.


View of Myrina city today (credit Vasilis Protopapas, source: http://www.poseidonlemnos.gr)

During WWII, the island was occupied by the Germans on 25 April 1941, in the wake of the Wehrmacht’s invasion of Greece, by the Infanterie Regiment 382/164 Inf.Division under the command of Oberst Wilhelm-Helmuth Beukemann (see corresponding thread in the ‘Forum der Wehrmacht‘). The same bay of Moudros served as a base for German ships controlling the northern Aegean sea.


German troops marching through Myrina (Kastron), Lemnos’ capital, 25 April 1941

I found this rare photograph (on the forum MapleLeafUp) of the truck used by the Hafenkommandant of Kastron (today Myrina) on Lemnos, which is a captured British vehicle.


“Showing Morris-Commercial CS8 Z389950 picked up from the battlefield and put to use as a harbour command’s hack at Kastron, Isle of Lemnos, Greece, 1941”.

The “999” punishment units in the Northern Aegean

As is well documented, the “999” units in Greece were composed of former-prisoners, both so-called common criminals (under the nazi definition for this, which included for instance homosexuals!) and political (roughly 50/50%). Among the ‘politicals’ quite a few (generally with a communist party, KPD, or Social Democrat, SPD, background) ended up going over to the Greek resistance movement ELAS.

Such was the case for instance of renowned socialist jurist and political scientist Wolfgang Abendroth, an important contributor to the constitutional foundation of postwar West Germany.


Abendroth before the war (credit: International Institute of Social History)

As a lecturer he oversaw the habilitation in political science of major German philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist Jürgen Habermas.


Wolfgang Abendroth (1906-1985).

His account of his period on Lemnos and how he went over to the Greek resistance movement in 1944 gives some interesting insights into the military-political conditions on the island.

From September 1944, the German forces progressively withdrew from Lemnos to the mainland via Thessaloniki. This was the case of my grandfather’s unit, the V./Festungs Infanterie Bataillon 999 which was transported to Thessaloniki beginning of September.

The island was liberated by the  British forces, or rather by the Greek Sacred Squadron/Regiment (or initially ‘Greek Sacred Band’) under the command of the British Raiding Forces on 16 and 17 of October 1944.

Here some links with more information:

On the Island of Lemnos during WWI:


On W. Abendroth:







On British forces liberating the island:

Australian newspaper clip from 23 October 1944: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11366819





Paros Island

During WWII, Paros Island was first occupied by the Italians in 1941 and then, with the surrender of Italy, by the German Wehrmacht from end of 1943 until October 1944. The main strategic objective to occupy the island was to build an airport there – a dire need for the supply of the German units scattered in the Aegean islands and beyond.

The German unit occupying the island from December 1943 was the Festungs Infanterie Bataillon 1010 ( Fstg.Inf.Btl.1010, St./1.-4. Kp.).

Although, my grandfather Lt. Ludwig Preller wasn’t in this unit (but the V./Festungs Infanterie Bataillon 999) he seems to have been stationed on the island of Paros for some reason or at least to have visited it regularly on duty from September 1943 to December 1943 at least.

Lt Preller in Paros October 1943

Lt Preller in Paros October 1943


Lt. Ludwig Preller, Paros, Dec. 1943

Lt. Ludwig Preller, Paros, Dec. 1943

The Commander of the island was Major Georg Graf von Merenberg.

Here is a very interesting story about what happened on the island during the war, the kind of story that makes you believe in humanity again:


Photograph of Count von Merenberg, from http://www.lively-arts.com, courtesy of Dr Clotilde von Rintelen, Gräfin von Merenberg. Studio portrait taken 1943.

Count Georg von Merenberg seems to have been quite a character!… and certainly not a staunch national-socialist, but very much a representative figure of the old Prussian military aristocracy… and with prestigious Russian descent, counting  the Russian Zar Alexandre II and the poet Pushkin among his forebears!

Post Scriptum:

I also discovered this absolutely amazing series of photos of Milos and Paros in 1944, including colour shots (!!!) taken by a Grenadier with an obvious talent and expertise for photography:


Near Pollonia, Milos 1944. Photo taken by Albert Petersen, courtesy of Lutz Petersen.

As his son explains in the comments, the man wasn’t keen on the war, had very friendly relations with the islanders and ‘discharged himself’ from the Wehrmacht by taking refuge in  the Longuvarda monastery (the same one where G. von Merenberg was convinced not to execute 125 young Greeks in reprisal of the killing of German soldiers in a commando action).

Monastery Longuvarda, Paros, 1944

Monastery Longuvarda, Paros, 1944. Photo taken by Albert Petersen, Courtersy of L. Petersen.

For those who read German there is an interesting explanation of the photographers trajectory in comments to this picture of a monk.

He also took  this beautiful picture of a young lady who he visited again after the war in the 1950s and who was still alive in 2010 and remembered the picture being taken of her:

A girl from Milos in traditional dress, 1944. Photo taken by Albert Petersen, courtesy of Lutz Petersen.

For those who read German there is an interesting explanation of the photographers trajectory in comments to this picture of a monk:


and more with this picture of a local fisher:



III./Afrika Schützen Regiment 963 and V. Festungs Infanterie Bataillon 999

Incorporation Parade or

Incorporation Parade or “Vereidigung” (“Oath” ceremony), Heuberg 1943. Credit: M. Klopfer (foto from Christian Kopfer). Click on image to enlarge.

My grandfather Ludwig Preller was in the staff (Stab) of the III Bataillon/Afr.Schtz. Reg. 963. That translates as something like 3rd battalion of the 963rd Africa-rifles regiment.

A leutnant in 1943, he was the ‘Bataillons-adjudant’ under Hauptmann Fritz Schliephack (who led the unit until it was dissolved in June 1943, before its members were sent to Greece). There the Stab was transferred into the newly created V./ Festungs-Infanterie-Bataillon 999 which was sent to the island of Lemnos (or Limnos). That unit was itself part of the Festungs Infanterie Regiment 963 (Fstg.Inf.Rgt. 963) under the commander of Oberstleutnant Clotz (Rgts.Kdr. Obstlt. Clotz), later Oberst Clotz when the regiment was upgraded for Festungs Infanterie Brigade 963 (also known as ‘Brigade Clotz’).

I am trying to find out more about this unit and its continuations and also possibly to track family members of some of the men who were part of it.

In his role as ‘Bataillons-adjudant’ my grandfather kept a notebook of the organisation of the battallion and an inventory of its equipment. This notebook survived the war (my grandfather must have brought it back home before he went missing in action in Hungary in 1945).

In it there is the following list of names for the staff:

Planstelle Dgrd. Name

(role, rank, name)

Btl. Adj. Lt. Preller
Ord. Offz. Lt. Henschel
Btl. Arzt St. Arzt Dr. Knape
Hilfsarzt U’Arzt Dr. Wilde
Zahlmeister OZm. Ellinger
Führer d. Melder Uffz. Selig
Gefechtsschreiber Obgefr. Dippmann
1. Melder auf Rad Gefr. Kowalski
2. ” ” ” ” Schumann
3. ” ” ” ” Dziatsko
4. ” ” ” O’Schtz. Katscher
5. ” ” ” Schtz. Zimmermann
6. ” ” ” ” Blümel
7. ” ” ” ” Müller A.
1. Kraftwagenf. f. Pkw Schtz. Bobrowski
2. ” ” ” ” Schweißhelm

List of members of Staff from III./Afr. Schtz. Reg. 963

List of members of Staff from III./Afr. Schtz. Reg. 963

Click on the link below for a full scan of the whole notebook (in black and white, quality scans of individual pages can be provided on request): III_963 Btl-Adjudant heft L_Preller

The unit arrived in Greece sometime end of June or probably early July 1943 – after a perilous and tiring train trip through the Balkans (see photo series from Lt. Gmelin further in this post), a relaxing dip in the sea by Thessaloniki must have been very welcome!


7.7.1943 “Am Bad von Perea bei Saloniki”

Hptmn. Mickler oder Michler, Stabartzt Dr. Knape, Lt. Preller und Lt. Henschel

Hptmn. Mickler oder Michler, Stabartzt Dr. Knape, Lt. Preller und Lt. Henschel

Adendum, 25 August 2014 –

Traced another member of the Stab III./963 !!!

An exciting development! I found someone whose great-grandfather was in exactly the same unit as my grandfather after posting this partial list from the Staff of III. Bataillon of Afrika Schützen Regiment 963!  Doing a Google search of WWII pictures of the island of Lemnos I found the following photos posted by Bohdan Bobrowski on Flickr:

Jan Bobrowski
Andenken aus Saloniki 1944...
My granfather's Ford WOC-1 after fatal accident in 1944

As you can see from the list of members of staff published above there is a Schützen Bobrowski who appears precisely as a driver (1. Kraftwagenf. f. Pkw Schtz. Bobrowski : ‘First Driver for Personnel carrier/automobile’)… after connecting with Bohdan it is clear that his great-grandfather Jan Bobrowski is that same person! A fascinating – although sad story – too: Jan was Polish from Gdansk and forced into the Wehrmacht because his family was considered by the N.S. regime as of German descent (so called Volksdeutsche)!

In Greece, probably in Lemnos based on the unit’s location at the time, he was forced by his commanding officer (a Hauptmann it seems, though we couldn’t establish the identity) to teach him how to drive the Ford WOC1 truck when drunk… a fatal accident resulted, the officer died, Jan survived. There was an enquiry into the accident and it seems some documents relating to this still exist in the military archives in Freiburg!

This discovery opens up new leads on possible other members of the unit!

Jan Bobrowski was then involved in the difficult retreat through Yugoslavia end of 1944 and taken prisoner by Tito’s partisans (whereas my grandfather L, Preller was sent back to Germany on home-leave before going back to the front in Hungary, where he went missing). Jan survived the war and the harsh conditions of a Soviet POW-camp (as Tito’s partisans handed him over to the Red Army – rather than executing him as they did with some prisoners, probably thanks to the fact that he was Polish, not German). He then returned to communist Poland and lived until the mid-1970s. He had to deal with the stigma of having served under the Wehrmacht, although he had been forced to do so, and was pretty much a destroyed man according to post-war family memories.

Photographs from the Afr.Schtz. Reg. 963 on Ebay!

A series of photos taken by a certain Leutnant Gmelin, advertised as “soldier of Afrika Schützen Regiment 963” (but probably from another batallion within the regiment) were recently sold on Ebay.de

They show the training camp of Heuberg and the trip through the Balkans (Zagreb, Belgrade, Skopje) and then Athens in July 1943, including the repression of a protest (allegedly a ‘communist uprising’ on 22 July according to the comments written by the officer).

ASR963 in Belgrad. Photograph from Leutnant Gmelin. His comment:

ASR963 in Serbia (near Belgrad?) Photograph from Leutnant Gmelin. His comment: “Kommandeur, Serbien”. 1943

Soldiers of the Afrika Schtz. Regiment 963 above Argos, (Peloponnese, Greece) - 1943.

Soldiers of the Afrika Schtz. Regiment 963 above Argos, (Peloponnese, Greece) – 1943. The man standing and pointing his finger is probably Lt. Gmelin. Click on image to enlarge.

Here some retrieved links to some of the ebay-posts (with red “copyright” marks):

Belgrade train station:


An open air concert in Athens:


German soldier-tourist in front of an orthodox church in Athens:


The German officers’ residence in Athens:


The start of a protest (in front of the university?) – described as an ‘ELAS uprising’:


More information on ASR 963 and 999 Units:

Some discussion – in German however – which  I initiated on the unit on the online research forum “Forum der Wehrmacht” can be found on this link here.

See more about “punitive units” or so-called “Straff-bataillon” (the official term being “Bewährungseinheiten”) at:


German war cemeteries in Greece (Deutsche Soldatenfriedhöfe in Griechenland):



Missing in action – Grandfather Ludwig Preller

Ludwig Preller – Staff Officer Grenadier-Regiment 870

Ludwig Preller – Staff Officer Grenadier-Regiment 870

My German grandfather was reported missing in action a few weeks only before the end of the war, in Western Hungary (March 1945). Finding a relative missing in action during WWII – on any side of the conflict – is quite a challenge. All I knew from the family is that my grandmother had hoped for some time that he had survived his wounds sustained during a Soviet offensive and that he might have been taken into captivity. But a search with the German Red Cross (DRK) a few years after the war stayed fruitless. I present here some of the information obtained through the Deutsche Dienststelle/WaSt (Wehrmachts Auskunftstelle – Information service of the Wehrmacht established during the war) and the Volksbund Deutscher Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German war graves commission) together with some results from my own internet searches.

Anne,Adolf,Irmgard LudwigPreller194410__ FürthHornschuhpromenade.jp2

He was last seen on a motorbike on his way to deliver a message to or from staff when he was heavily wounded. At the time he was serving in the Grenadier-Regiment 870 which belonged to the 356. Infanterie-Division. This division was positioned west of Székesfehérvár/Stuhlweißenburg, north of lake Balaton (Plattensee) in March 1945. Military action in this region in March 1945 was part of Hitler’s last ever offensive: Operation Frühlingserwachen (Spring Awakening). As was typical of Hitler’s suicidal drive and his vengeance on the German people and soldiers themselves in the final weeks of the war, casualties were massive and pointless. Many didn’t awake any more from this “Spring awakening”. My grandfather was one such victim.

In the WaST report, it says there has been no declaration of death or of him missing in action. However the Volksbund has him down in the memorial book of the Budaörs cemetery west of Budapest (http://www.volksbund.de/kriegsgraeberstaette/budaoers.html) as missing in action with the following personal details:

Nachname: Preller
Vorname: Ludwig
Dienstgrad: Hauptmann
Geburtsdatum: 22.08.1916
Geburtsort: Fürth/Bayern
Todes-/Vermisstendatum: 03.1945
Todes-/Vermisstenort: Ungarn westl. von Budapest

The location of Mocsa/Mocza mentioned on the photograph from the VBL (Vermissten Bild Liste of the German Red Cross) would be of the last place he would have been seen in action – so probably about where he was wounded.

Here a couple of links to maps of locations of: Székesfehérvár (German: Stuhlweißenburg) and Mocsa.

Military trajectory

My grandfather finished his Abitur (Highschool) in 1937 in his home town Fuerth. This is where he had met Irmgard Puff (renamed Herrmann), in 1933 or earlier and whom. They then married in 1938 after his Arbeitsdienst (national work service) and her Maedelsdienst time. He went through military training (1938-1939) in Wünsdorf training school near Berlin, where he was integrated into the Panzer-Lehr-Regiment. Irmgard joined him there and that’s where they married, the regiment’s officer apparently held the ceremony or at least signed the marriage certificate.

Waffenschule Wünsdorf - Credit: Larrister Collection.

Waffenschule Wünsdorf – Credit: Larrister Collection. (Click on image for full view)

Below, in German, the information of his military trajectory sent to me by the Deutsche Dienststelle/WaST service in 2012:

Ludwig Preller, geboren am 22 August 1916 in Fürth, Bayern

Dienseintritt: 04.11.1937
Erkennungsmarke: -130 – 8./Panz.Lehr-Rgt.
Dienstgrad: Leutnant
Hemeitanschrift: Ehefrau Irmgard Preller, Fürth, Tannenstr. 6

04.11.1937 14. Kompanie/Infanterie-Regiment 63
lt. Meldung v. 19.09.1940 8. Lehrkompanie/ Panzer-Lehr-Regiment
lt. Meldung v. 07.06.1941 4. Kompanie/Infanterie-Regiment (motorisiert 900)
16.12.1941 Genesenden-Kompanie/Panzer-Jäger-Ersatz-Abteilung 3
15.03.1942 Restkommando II./Panzer-Lehr-Regiment
03.09.1942 1. Kompanie/Panzer Grenadier-Ersatz-Bataillon 8
25.09.1942 Stamm-Kompanie/Panzer Grenadier-Ersatz-Bataillon 8
Abgang: 14.11.1942 zur Verfügungs-Kompanie 233
26.11.1942 Stamm-Kompanie/Panzer Grenadier-Ersatz-Bataillon 8
lt. Meldung v. 05.05.1943 Stab III./Afrika-Schützen-Regiment 963
27.07.1943 20. Kompanie/Festungs-Infanterie-Bataillon 999
lt. Meldung v. 02.10.1944 Stab V./ Festungs-Infanterie-Bataillon 999
20.11.1944 Stab/Feld-Ersatz-Bataillon 356
Zugang: v. Führer-Reserve-Heeresgruppe C
Abgang 11.12.1944 zum Grenadier-Regiment 870

16.10.1941 in Malizkaja schwer verwundet;
an Haupt-Verband-Platz abgegeben,
17.10.1941 in Kriegslazarett 906 aufgenommen: Pistolenschuss-
Verletzung am linken Schulterblatt, (this field hospital was in Vitebsk, Belarus).
29.10.1941 verlegt ins Reserve-Lazarett Rastenburg,
08.11.1941 verlegt ins Reserve-Lazarett Wernigerode,
02.12.1941 dienstfähig- zur Truppe entlassen.

Eine Vermissten- bzw. Gefangenen- oder Todesmeldung liegt nicht vor.

Some links relating to locations in the above Laufbahn (trajectory):

About the Infanterie-Regiment (mot) 900: http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/Infanterieregimenter/IR900-R.htm

and about the battle of Wjasma (which is probably where Malizkaja lies, the place where Ludwig Preller was wounded): http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelschlacht_bei_Wjasma_und_Brjansk


About the “Spring Awakening” offensive in the Ballaton area:


Other related websites/links:

The missing persons photograph list of the German Red Cross (Vermissten Bildliste): http://www.gaentzsch.com/vermisste-ii-weltkrieg/vermisstenbildliste/index.php4


The German war graves commission’s search for missing soldiers link: http://www.volksbund.de/graebersuche-online/letzte-hoffnung.html

Map of the German invasion of USSR: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Invasion1941.jpg (Credit: The Department of History, United States Military Academy)

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The German war graves commission’s search for missing soldiers link: http://www.volksbund.de/graebersuche-online/letzte-hoffnung.html

Recent German History in one bayonet!

Bayonet and scabbardDPP_0016Fred Tolles or “Uncle Fred”, who was drafted in the US army early 1942 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, brought this German bayonet back from his campaign in the Battle of the Bulge. This last German attack on the Western front (December 1944) was Hitler’s final offensive attempt of the war, aimed at throwing back the Western allies and re-taking the port of Antwerp and thus cut their vital supply line. The idea was to win time to introduce and use the new “Wunderwaffen” (“miracle weapons”) on a massive scale, that is not only the V1 and V2 bomb-drones and missiles but also the recently introduced Me262 aircraft, the first ever operational fighter-jet as well as further technological developments (like the rocket-propelled Me163 aircraft also operational by the end of the war). Luckily, the Ardennes offensive was eventually halted (after heavy losses on both sides) and all this new German war technology was too little, too late, to turn the tide of the war.

Fred Tolles, was a truck driver in the army and would probably have been bringing up troops and supplies or moving some of the heavy howitzers to stop the German advance from breaking out of the Ardennes.

Fred Tolles at training barracks in USA, early 1942

Fred Tolles at training barracks in USA, early 1942

Back to the bayonet.
Fred’s nephew, Claude Long, very kindly gave it to me. Not much more is known about uncle Fred’s time on the European front, and less even about exactly where and in which circumstances he picked up this war trophy.
However, objects can speak for themselves, to a certain extent, and tell us a further story.
The markings on it tell us that it is a 1941 bayonet for the standard K98 Mauser rifle. In particular the “41 fnj” printed on the blade and on the scabbard indicate that is was made in 1941 by the Alex Copel factory in Solingen, a German town still known today for its good knives!
Now the tragic and dark irony of German history is that the Copel family owning the “Alex Coppel, Stahlware u. Waffenfabrik GmbH” which grew out of a family business founded in 1821 and produced many bayonets during both world wars, was Jewish!
In 1936 the firm was “arianised” – its legitimate owners expropriated although the factory’s name was apparently upheld! – and in 1942 Alex Copel and other family members were deported to Theresienstadt where he died within three weeks. That’s the Nazis gratitude for helping in Germany’s war effort!

Detailed description of the bayonet and its markings (click on images for close view):

This early war bayonet is of the the higher quality fabrication. Late war bayonets were made more crudely and are known as ‘Ersatz’-bayonets. Like others this early model reveals a fascinating multiplication of stamps/markings associated to the quality controls both from the maker and from the Waffenamt.

Year decimals and maker's mark on blade ricasso

Year decimals and maker’s mark on blade ricasso

Scabbard's frog stud with '611 a' mark on scabbard

Scabbard’s frog stud with ‘611 a’ mark on scabbard

'WaA833' stamp on the pommel identifies the Waffenamt 833 (German weapons agency) located in Solingen.

‘WaA883’ stamp on the pommel identifies the Waffenamt 883 (German weapons agency) located in Solingen.

Dismantling the handle reveals more information, like the fabrication number '2025' and...

Dismantling the handle reveals more information, like the fabrication number ‘2025’ and…

Inner side of bakelite handle plate reveals more markings

Inner side of bakelite handle plate reveals more markings

... reveals a different version with full German-NS eagle with Swastika rather than just the stylised lines above the 'WaA883' code!

… including a different version of the Waffenamt stamp with full German-NS eagle with Swastika rather than just the stylised lines above the ‘WaA883’ code! (click on image for close-up)

Some links: