Wilhelm Rohrbach

 

Unit : Bataillon II, Sturmgeschütz Brigade 280, II S.S. Panzer Korps.

 

The following is an interpretation of an interview with Wilhelm Rohrbach in Dusseldorf, 30th November 1967, describing his experiences in Arnhem and Oosterbeek.

 

Rohrbach was born in Karlstadt on February 15, 1922. He was still single in 1944. He was NCO in 2nd Sturmgeschütz Brigade 280 (self-propelled gun brigade). In September 1944 his unit was in Denmark where they had been equipped with new tanks. On the 18th they were in Hamburg on their way to Aix-la-Chapelle when they were suddenly diverted in the direction of Arnhem. They had 40 self-propelled guns, and supply trucks. They were an independent unit usually attached to another unit. They had one officer who found out through the radio that there had been air landings in Holland. He was about the only one who knew where Arnhem was.

 

They arrived from the direction of Bocholt in trucks on the 19th and were immediately engaged in action. Coming through the city of Arnhem was sheer murder. He had never experienced such shooting. Every bullet hit its target. It seemed to Rohrbach that the English never missed and there was a paratrooper in every house. They lost most of their best men in the city. The five days he spent in Arnhem were the most trying days he experienced during the whole war. He had been on the Russian front before going to Denmark for rest and re-outfitting but he had not experienced anything like this there. It was more bitter fighting than in Russia.

 

Rohrbach's unit simply kept pressing forward, relentlessly pushing the English soldiers back. The casualties in his unit were very high. Many old friends who had made it through the fighting in Russia fell here at Arnhem. Rohrbach always retained the impression of hard, bitter fighting.

 

They did have some respites. On the 23rd or 24th an officer came and told them that there would be a cease-fire from such-and-such time to such-and-such. The wounded were then brought out from the perimeter through no-man's-land to the hospitals in the city. They drove right by their self-propelled guns. What he took to be Dutch firemen also helped in evacuating the wounded. In fact these were the only Dutch people he remembers seeing during this whole time. He was very impressed by the cease-fire. Again he could only compare this with his experience in Russia and was amazed at the difference in the behaviour of soldiers on this front.

 

One day they decided to have a bit of fun and when the English fired red flares they did the same. As a result they received supplies from the English aircraft. There was tinned goods, chocolate and, best of all, coffee.

 

Right at the beginning they had lost six or seven guns. By the end they had only about seven of eight still in good condition. Rohrbach remembers that one day he had wanted to get into the same tank as his sergeant. But it drove off down a small side-street before he could get in. A 92mm anti-tank gun fired from an overhanging balcony. The whole crew was killed. He had one other close call. One day a phosphorus bottle was heaved out of a window and hit the side of their tank doing relatively little damage. But had it landed a few inches further forward it would have landed on the hot motor and exploded. All he could think was "Thank God".

 

The worst thing was the lack of sleep and the hide-and-seek game the English played with them. They never knew where the enemy might be hiding. The English soldiers' favourite trick was to wait for their tanks to pass by, then shoot at them in the rear with their bazookas. The self-propelled guns are more heavily armoured in the front than in the back, which is ridiculous, and the English soldiers had realized this. His nerves were shot by the time the fight was over. He had lost so many old friends who in Russia had destroyed 30-40 tanks, and were decorated with the Knight's Cross. He was sure he could never come out of it alive. It was close-range fighting all the time which made it even worse.

 

Towards the end he remembers the jubilation with which they greeted the appearance of the big 70-ton Tiger tanks. As someone in his unit said, they were like life insurance. The English were very scared when they saw them.

 

The end came very suddenly. It was the 26th and they were supposed to go into action during the morning. They were running their motors to warm them up but no orders to start off came. Then the German prisoners came from the tennis courts, marching at the head of a column of British prisoners. Everyone wondered what had happened and finally an officer told them it was all over. They hardly had time to rest before being ordered to get their guns into running condition before re-assignment to another sector.

 

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