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