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WW2 Eastern Front Battlefield Archaeology

I was pretty sure there was a thread on this subject, but other than a couple of specific references to vehicle recoveries, a search came up blank. Given the huge area and numbers of personnel missing, this would be a life-long vocation.

'Thomas Siepert looks across the verdant grain field, glowing in the sun after a spring thunderstorm, as windmills slowly churn in the distance.

'Wild boar piglets trundle across the road into town and a hare pops out and dashes away. Yet the serene scene belies the slaughter there 75 years ago as German troops fought furiously — and futilely — to stave off the Soviet Red Army that was approaching the Nazi capital. “It seems so idyllic, but it’s a huge cemetery,” Siepert said. “That shouldn’t be forgotten.” But for decades, many of those who died there were forgotten, some buried where they fell and others dragged by civilians in the months after the war into trenches and foxholes they had themselves dug, and covered over.

'For the last 15 years, volunteers like Siepert from around Europe have been trying to rectify that, devoting vacations to excavating long-buried trench lines and military positions in the search for those who never made it home. During 19 digs across a square kilometer (less than half a square mile), members of the Association for the Recovery of the Fallen in Eastern Europe have found 116 German and 129 Soviet soldiers. They seek to identify as many as possible — to provide closure for families, to give the dead their names back, and to separate them from the numbers in the history books in the hope of explaining the cost of war to future generations. “On all sides, these are destroyed lives. These are all people who died senselessly,” said Albrecht Laue, chairman of the association. “If we talk about a huge slaughter with hundreds of thousands of dead, nobody can understand that. But if I talk about the story of a young 17-year-old soldier, that’s tangible.”

'Laue, a 46-year-old businessman from Hamburg, got interested in the search when looking for the grave of his grandfather, which he located near where he died fighting in Russia in 1942 as a young lieutenant. Siepert, 47, an engineer from nearby Frankfurt an der Oder, remembers as a child having regular lectures in school about avoiding the grenades and other munitions still found in the area, and wondering why. Other volunteers include anthropologists, archaeologists, excavators and the disposal experts needed when munitions are found. They hail from all over, including Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands. “We couldn’t, and also don’t, want to look for soldiers from a specific nation,” Laue said. “That’s the interesting thing when one finds one of the dead; one never even knows at the beginning if it’s a German or a Soviet.” In February 1945, they were bitter foes.

'The village of Klessin sits on a height 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Oder River. German military observers used it to call in artillery strikes on Soviet troops as they streamed across a pontoon bridge in the build-up before the final push on Berlin. Recognizing the strategic importance of the hamlet, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Berlin, the Soviets made it a target. The Nazis resolved to hold it, moving in a unit of soldiers, augmented by officer cadets and older “Volkssturm” militia, scraped up as the number of military-aged men dwindled. The fighting pitted 400 Germans in Klessin against about four times that number of Soviets, with the Germans supported by a unit of Panther tanks in the neighboring village of Podelzig, nearby artillery and air-dropped supplies. Fierce combat raged for nearly two months, often hand-to-hand, as the Soviets attempted to take the village, firing off 62,000 mortar rounds and artillery shells.

'Exactly how many were killed or listed as missing is not known, but the casualties were enormous, Siepert said. “On March 20, German troops tried to break through there to make a corridor,” he said, pointing to a field between Klessin and Podelzig where the Soviets had laid a minefield and other defenses after encircling the village. “There were 150 missing from that single attack, as well as 50 killed. Seventy made it through.”

'On March 23, 1945, the beleaguered German soldiers attempted a breakout under the cover of darkness. About 60 made it, and the others were captured or killed. German tank commander Lt. Hans Eimer was listed as missing after the breakout attempt. Eimer had led his Panther tank into Klessin the week before on his 22nd birthday to support the garrison, but the vehicle ended up being knocked out and he was wounded and trapped in the village. Eimer’s younger brother, Fritz, had died in fighting that January. After the war, his sister Margarete had long urged Laue’s group to try and determine the fate of her only other sibling. Eimer’s remains were located by Laue’s group in 2016 by chance and identified by dogtags. The group told Margarete before she died in 2018 that her brother had made it 250 meters (yards) out of the village before he was killed, and lay with two other soldiers.

'Identifications are rare, especially of the Soviet soldiers who had no dogtags, but occasionally the volunteers get lucky. In a dig on a Soviet outpost on a hill outside of Klessin in 2018, they came across three Soviet soldiers who were all highly decorated and traced their names through the medals. This year’s spring dig has been postponed due to lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Some work is still underway on a memorial site being established amid the rubble of the original farm buildings.

'Hermann Kaiser, a member of the small community association behind the memorial, said he remembered finding military material as a kid growing up in the area, happily throwing on an old steel helmet and fighting “war” with his friends, while not understanding they were playing on graves. The hope is with the memorial to make sure that others do understand. “We want to present what happened here 75 years ago, what war means, show the younger generation that war destroys everything,” he said, looking at the cratered landscape and rubble of the memorial. “And if we can do that in the place where it happened, it’s unforgettable.”


 
reminds me of a book I have, Die Unsichtbare Flagge, ( the hidden flag) about a medical unit that got it's way back from the Kerch Peninusla to the end of the war. Very moving at times.
 

Joshua Slocum

LE
Book Reviewer
unfortunately there are a few groups who seem to be right wing, digging up anything just for souvenirs to sell on ebay, I doubt they bother to record and notify
 
unfortunately there are a few groups who seem to be right wing, digging up anything just for souvenirs to sell on ebay, I doubt they bother to record and notify

Yes, I recall a few threads on looters, but couldn't locate anything on this forum of the site.
 
unfortunately there are a few groups who seem to be right wing, digging up anything just for souvenirs to sell on ebay, I doubt they bother to record and notify
There are a LOT of groups who go digging for WW2 objects, especially in Russia. The videos are all over you tube, seems to me that they are treating bones etc. correctly.
 
The Halse Pocket is another area being combed for remains .
It's still full of corpses to this day .
 

Whining Civvy

War Hero
There are a LOT of groups who go digging for WW2 objects, especially in Russia. The videos are all over you tube, seems to me that they are treating bones etc. correctly.
Most of them do seem to be doing for the same right reasons. There are one or two, however...
 
Stalin had vast numbers of German war dead simply plowed in rather than buried in organised war graves.
 
Stalin had vast numbers of German war dead simply plowed in rather than buried in organised war graves.
Kindly Uncle Joe? Shurely shome mishtake!
 
Kindly Uncle Joe? Shurely shome mishtake!


IIRC, he delivered some directive or other that as the Germans were unwelcome visitors, they 'weren't fit to share the same soil' as Russians and had German designated grave sites destroyed.
Harsh, but he was a bit miffed about 27 million dead Russians at the time.
 
I watch these type of vids on YouTube; most discovered skeletons seem to be treated with a modicum of respect but Russian diggers seem to give less of a shit for the uncovered bones than other nationalities do. It seems that identifying German corpses is easier due to their metal dog-tags, the Soviet dead seem to have less of a chance as IIRC their ID was on a small written document rolled up inside a tiny capsule which was presumably less resilient to being blown up.
 

ches

LE
One of these flashed up on my FB feed on a modeling group I'm part of. Cpl of blokes in eastern germany metal detecting in a forest they knew had been subject to some intense action in 45. Found a ruckload of personal kit & unearthed an intact MP40 with mag. Clay type soil meant it was pretty well preserved. Few cluncks of rust on the top of the receiver & barrel but easily identifiable. Have also seen plenty which a fake as a fake thing, esp these magnet fishing ones.
 

Chef

LE
Funnily enough i was watching this sort of thing Youtube last night for the first time in a while.

The standard seems to be enthusiastic amateur and where found they seem to treat the dead with respect but then they are filming themselves.

The casual way they treat live munitions makes me wonder what the attrition rate is among them:

 

WALT

War Hero
The casual way they treat live munitions makes me wonder what the attrition rate is among them:

It happens. A few years back we did an exchange with some Russians from St Petersberg. They came over to the UK for a walt and we went over to St Petersberg for the same.
He sported a lovely scar in his leg from a shell splinter. His mate, who actually found the shell, wasn't so lucky.
 
Fair way west Eastern Front archaeology; of some of the first war casualties of WWII.

'Genetic testing has revealed the identities of five Polish soldiers who died defending the Westerplatte peninsula in what is now the Polish city of Gdańsk on the first day of the Second World War.

'The soldiers were killed in a bombing on 1 September 1939, during the start of the German invasion. The remains were unearthed in archaeological work last year, and their identities – including names and ranks – announced today, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

'At the start of the war, Polish forces held out for seven days in the defence of Westerplatte, which was then part of the Free City of Danzig. After German victory in the battle, the bodies of most Polish soldiers where reburied in the nearby Zaspa district cemetery.

'However, some were left on the peninsula, and remained there due to no archaeological works taking place at the site until 2016. The remains of the five newly identified soldiers were found buried at a depth of just 20-50 centimetres beneath what had been Guardhouse no.5 in the Polish garrison.

'A team of scientists at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin in northwestern Poland used testing to compare the DNA of the dead soldiers to that of suspected living relatives.

'As a result, they were able to identify the deceased as Corporal Jan Gębura, Sergeant Adolf Petzelt, Corporal Bronisław Perucki, Senior Rifleman Władysław Okrasa, and Legionary Józef Kita.

'They were among nine sets of remains discovered at the site since archaeological work begin. Four are still awaiting identification.

'When all nine have been identified, their bodies will be reburied at a cemetery constructed on the peninsula by the Museum of the Second World War, reports TVP Info. The ceremony will likely take place in 2022, according to deputy culture minister Jarosław Sellin.'


 
One of these flashed up on my FB feed on a modeling group I'm part of. Cpl of blokes in eastern germany metal detecting in a forest they knew had been subject to some intense action in 45. Found a ruckload of personal kit & unearthed an intact MP40 with mag. Clay type soil meant it was pretty well preserved. Few cluncks of rust on the top of the receiver & barrel but easily identifiable. Have also seen plenty which a fake as a fake thing, esp these magnet fishing ones.
There is one channel in particular thats fake as hell but gets loads of views , i think all comments are blocked as well so no one can call them out. Its a chap who speaks in English with an accent and he doesnt even say what country he is in . Some of its ok , digging up old dumps but i have seen plenty of ones where he goes in bunkers that apparently no one has been in since ww2 and finds intact clothing , weapons etc .
All done for the views.
 

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