Howitzers to Trombones
LEUTNANT TONI BRENDEL
51ST ARTILLERY REGIMENT
127TH PANZER ARTILLERY REGIMENT
Presented here is the uniform of Lt. Toni Brendel. He lived in Frankfurt prior to the war, and joined the German Army to fight for the Fatherland sometime in the 1930's. During his time in the military he served in the 51st Artillery Regiment. Lt. Brendel would see action in the Battle of France, Invasion of the Soviet Union, and the tail end of the Italian Campaign.
Following the successful conclusion of the Battle of France on the 25th of June 1940, in September 1942 his regiment was reorganized as the 127th Panzer Artillery Regiment, under the 27th Panzer Division, only lasting until January 1943. By this time the Division had been reduced to half strength through months of brutal winter combat. The remains of the 127th was then sent to France for refit as a Light Artillery Battalion II/51 with RSO tractors, and sent to reinforce the Italian front.
In mid 1944, Lt. Brendel was captured by the US Army while fighting in Northern Italy and sent to a POW Camp in New York. He wrote several letters, one of which is displayed here. During his service he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class for Bravery in Action, as well as the Eastern Front or “frozen meat” medal for service in Russia.
After the war, he decided to remain in New York, his wife and family soon joining him from Germany, bringing with them his uniforms. They raised their family and lived a happy life in New York State, until his passing in 1974. These items were purchased directly from the family by a close friend. They then came to me, last year.
A Bit of Crumpled Paper
Most interesting in this grouping is a crumpled 1943 page from the propoganda magazine "Illustrierter Beobachter" and ammo pack. When I first got the grouping, I was inspecting the boots and noticed that there was something inside. Often people put newspaper in boots to help them keep there shape when not being worn.
Well as it turns out, we can speculate based on the fact he returned home for a short time in 1943, that he got a new uniform before leaving for the Italian front and left these items with his wife. The paper had remained, stuffed in these boots since 1943, until I pulled it out in 2019.
History, English, and the Trombone
Following his capture in 1944, Lt. Brendel was sent to a POW camp in New York. While he was there he wrote several letters back home. One of them was kept with the group. I have included the translation below, as it provides a fascinating insight into his personal life and interests.
“Nov 15th 1944. My dear sister Maria! First I would like to happily inform you that two of your lovely messages reached me just yesterday. That’s now three! In the first was the sad news of Elsbeth, in the second the additions from Oberleutnant Schorrp, in the third you tell me about the gifts of the Daisies that are on the desk. Then came two packages with an address, the first with a card game, the second with a buchse sausage, that tasted very good. Even though there is no more post*, I have enough to eat. BLACKED OUT BLACKED OUT BLACKED OUT. For all us that’s quite normal, the monotony of living on.
So far I haven’t been bored. I visit the lesson at our “Camp Highschool” religiously, particular the technical fields, History and English. With physical exercise many hours also pass by easily. Then, with the reduction payments** I’ve taken up the trombone. I practice hard under the tutelage of a Music Miester that lives in the same room, that is to say, in the other half of the dormitory, because our new Camp Orchestra will soon give our first performance.
Sometimes we’re a shock to the head of Music Miester Korpis, but he has patience with us. Then, I am learning to box, it’s going somewhat difficultly but the training is healthy and I’ve got my body back into good shape. Then, there’s going for walks-together around the Camp, but there isn’t much room.
I greet you, the dear parents, and you all honestly from the heart, in old faithfulness, Your Tony.”
*Might be a typo, not sure if “no more mail” or “no more pork”.
**Reduction payments likely “Camp currency” issued for work.
2nd Battalion, 51st Artillery Regiment
The regimental staff of the Artillery Regiment 51 was established on 12 October 1937 in Fulda, in the military district IX. The Regiment appears to have had two Battalions and based on the available evidence, his service and capture times, and the mountain patch, it would appear he served with the 2nd Battalion. I have therefore omitted the 1st Battalions history as they are irrelevant to this story.
The 2nd Battalion of Artillery Regiment 51 was established on October 15, 1935 in Würzburg, in the former Military District V. In autumn 1937 the Battalion was transferred to Artillery Regiment 93. On October 12, 1937, a new 2nd Battalion was established in Fulda, in Military District IX. The Battalion was set up as a heavy mixed motorized Battalion with three batteries of four guns each: two batteries 15-cm heavy field howitzers, one battery 10-cm cannon 18.
At the beginning of the Polish campaign in 1939, the Battalion was subordinated to the IX Army Corps. They were stationed near Worms as 1st Army reserves.
Blitzkrieg in France!
On May 10, 1940, Lt. Brendel and the Battalion would find themselves assigned to Army Group C for participation in Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). During the opening phase of the invasion, Army Group C, composed of 18 divisions, were positioned to prevent any flanking movements from the east by Allied armies. They also launched several small attacks against the Maginot Line and the upper Rhine areas.
No doubt Lt. Brendel's first taste of battle would find him busy working to land accurate artillery fire against the formidable French defenses in support of ground assaults, and to ensure French forces remained pinned down. By the 27th of May, the Germans had managed to push the French, British and allied forces almost into the sea, forcing them to begin evacuations by ship in and effort called "Operation Dynamo".
Letter in background Dated May 3rd 1940 sent home by Toni
Smashing Through the Maginot Line
German forces began the second phase of their offensive, code named Fall Rot (Case Red), on June 5, 1940. This was a famous maneuver that would be remembered for ages, where German tanks would move to outflank the Maginot Line and push deep into France. Paris fell, unopposed on June 14th.
On June 15th, Army Group C launched Operations Tiger and Little Bear across the Rhine and into France.
All previous attempts to break through the Maginot line had failed. There was one assault which lasted an entire day, with the Germans suffering nearly 300 casualties, compared to the French who suffered only 2. Coincidentally, the same day the Germans launched their attack, the French 4th Army (one of the few remaining well equipped forces left) were pulling out of the region, leaving behind only a skeleton garrison.
The German army vastly outnumbered the French and had nearly 1,000 artillery pieces to deploy against the famous defensive line. Impressive as that seems, most of the guns were antiquated Great War weapons that couldn’t damage the French forts. Beneficial to the German war plan, they did have a few of the new 88mm guns and 150mm railway guns at their disposal, and nearly total air supremacy. The battle progressed slowly, with Germans facing stiff resistance. One at a time the fortresses did fall, some putting up an incredible fight. The Ouvrage Schoenenbourg alone fired 15,802 75 mm rounds at the German attackers, and coincidentally it was the most heavily shelled of all the French positions.
Operation Little Bear took place in the Colmar area. 5 Divisions of the VII Army Corps had been ordered to advance into the Vosges mountains, supported by over 400 artillery pieces. They encountered and were successful in pushing back the French 104th and 105th Divisions into the mountains by June 17th. Some larger fortresses held on, despite appeals for surrender. The last only capitulated on July 10th, after a request from Georges, and only then under protest. There were 58 major forts on the Maginot Line, with only 10 of them captured in battle, the rest either abandoned or surrendered in the face of overwhelming odds.
On June 22nd, the Second Armistice at Compiègne was signed by France and Germany. Following the successful completion of operations in France, Lt. Brendel and the 2nd Battalion 51st Artillery Regiment would be attached to the XVII Army Corps in mid July 1940.
27th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front
On June 19, 1941 the Battalion was subordinated to the XX Army Corps. In September 1942 the Battalion was deployed to the Eastern Front in Southern Russia to form the 2nd Battalion of the Panzer Artillery Regiment 127 of the 27th Panzer Division.
The Division organized in Voronezh in the rear area of the German 2nd Army, and was formally activated on October 1, 1942. The Division only had about 3,000 men, which was well under that required for a Panzer Division. As of October 9th, all operational parts of the division were placed under the command of the VII Army Corps in order to be ready for an expected Russian attack on the Don River bridgehead in Voronezh. On the same day, the Division's combat group moved to the Voronezh bridgehead, west of the city near Malyshevo.
On November 4th, the division was pulled together and marched into the area around Staraya Weduga-Star, where it was again placed under the command of the 2nd Army. The Division at this time found itself lacking in all forms of transport vehicles and this made it largely immobile. At the end of November, the Division was transferred south, behind the right wing of the Italian 8th Army, to the area around Rossosch. Parts of the Division were deployed here to reinforce the Italian defense on the Don River.
On December 16th, the second phase of the Russian winter offensive began, when strong Russian units broke through the Italian line in the Deresovka - Krasnyi Orkhovo section. The Division was then deployed to defend the Rososh area. At the end of December, heavy defensive battles followed northeast and northwest of Starobelsk and on the Aidar River, with the division being under the command of the 2nd Hungarian Army from the 19th of December.
Following months of brutal fighting during the onset of winter, by January 1, 1943, the division was depleted, with only 11 tanks and half its infantry left. The estimated total strength was less than 1,600 men by February 8th. Once the Soviet winter offensive Operation Little Saturn was stopped, the 27th Panzer was disbanded in March 1943.
Lt. Brendel would return to Germany and the 2nd Battalion, 51st Artillery Regiment was re-established on June 1, 1943 in Mühlhausen in Thuringia, Military District IX. The new Battalion was now Light Artillery Battalion II/51. It was equipped with light field howitzers and RSO tractors.
Germany suffered huge losses on the Eastern Front during the war. 1,105,987 were killed, 1,018,365 missing, and 3,498,059 wounded for a total of 5,622,411 casualties.
Lt. Brendel was one of the lucky ones to survive.
Yugoslavia, Italy and New York
In September 1943, the Division was attached to the XXI Mountain Army Corps. They would find themselves stationed mostly around Yugoslavia. During this period, the German Army was busy with the disarming of the now enemy Italian units, fighting also broke out around the islands of Corfu and Cephalonia, and against Yugoslavian partisans in September 1943.
In early July 1944, the Battalion was renamed Army Artillery Battalion II/51. Lt. Brendel and his Artillery Battalion were last deployed to Italy with the 14th Army. After the allied landings in January 1944, the 14th Army fought a series of defensive battles in central Italy, eventually retreating to the Gothic Line in the Appenines Mountains. The army also fought several defensive battles north of Florence and near Bologna as well.
On August 25th, the allied armies launched Operation Olive, which intended to break through the Heavily Defended Gothic Line. The Gothic Line consisted of over 2,000 re-enforced machine gun nests, concrete bunkers, observation posts and artillery fighting positions. The fighting around the Gothic Line was some of the deadliest and most brutal of the whole Italian campaign. Initially this line was breached in several places however German Field Marshall Kesselring's forces were consistently able to retire in good order. No decisive breakthrough would take place until April 1945, during the final allied offensive of the Italian Campaign.
The Letter Lt. Brendel wrote from the POW camp is dated the 15th of October, 1944. It's impossible to say for sure when he was captured, but safe to assume sometime in the mid to late summer. For him, now the war was over. He had served on all three European Fronts from the fields of France, to the brutal winters of the Eastern Front, and finally to the steep mountains of Italy.
Even for collectors, often we see German uniforms as these dark and inhuman things, with very few it seems to which you can attribute any story or personal connection. Between Lt. Brendel's letters and reading about the battles he fought, we can try to gain some insights into the mind of one of our enemies during the war. He was a man who enjoyed learning new things and had a passion for music, physical activity and history, not unlike many of the men he would fight, I'm sure.
Sources: http://www.lexikonderwehrmacht.de/, Wikipedia, Bundesarchiv, Letter dated 5/3/40, Letter POW Camp 11/15/44.