The campaign against the Soviet Union
effect of 1st June 1941 Gabriel Kopold became a Oberjäger, which in
the Gebirgstruppe is the equivalent rank to Unteroffizier.
After the brief campaign into Yugoslavia
the 1. and the 4. Gebirgsdivision were moved again into the German occupied
part of Poland. On the morning of 22nd June 1941 Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment
98 was positioned around the little village of Dzikow in the southern part
of what was Poland until September / October 1939.
Gabriel Kopold and his comrades were sure
that some new action was under preparation, but what was told to them this
night by their Kompaniechefs (Company Commanders) was really a surprise
if not a shock to them. They were told that Germany needs „Lebensraum im
Osten" (Living space in the East) and that the Führer (Adolf Hitler)
therefore had decided that the German Wehrmacht was to attack the Soviet
Union at dawn of this very morning. They also had been told that this campaign
would be quite different from those they had fought during the last two
years, since this in the first place would be a crusade against Bolshevism-Communism.
Gabriel Kopold and most of his comrades didn't know very much about Bolshevism-Communism
or the „Führers" great visions. But what they did know this
morning, as Gabriel Kopold later told, was that this would be the start
of a long march with an uncertain end.
At 03:15 in the morning Gebirgsjäger-Regiment
98 advanced across the German-Soviet demarcation line which had been established
in October 1939. Their first objective was the Polish town of Lemberg (L’vov)
which the 1. Gebirgs-Division in September 1938 already had taken but what
afterwards ,due to the Hitler-Stalin-Pact, had to be handed over to their
then new „ally" the Soviets.
That the war had turned into a horrible
dimension became obvious to the Gebirgsjäger when they entered Lemberg
and found piles of corpses of Poles, Ukrainians and ethnic Germans
that had been tortured, mutilated and killed by Soviet NKWD-Units prior
to their retreat. When all the prisons of the town had been inspected it
was estimated that about 4000 civilians had been murdered by the NKWD.
Gabriel Kopold later told with disgust what they had seen in Lemberg
in June 1941. But he also told what he experienced about a year later in
October 1942 when, because of illness he had to stay for some months in
a Wehrmachts-Hospital in Lemberg.
On one evening he was ordered to escort
3 young concentration camp inmates, who during the day had to work in the
hospital, back to a Lager (Camp) outside the town. Since it was rather
a distance to march and they also had to take a tram, there was plenty
of time to hear from them quite a lot about the horrors of a concentration
camp. Though, when they crossed a rather crowded place in the town Gabriel
Kopold made a quick decision and gave them a sign to run. When he reported
their escape to the camp guards he was told it wouldn't matter, they
would get them anyway.
The 1. Gebirgs-Division and the 4. Gebirgs-Division
together with 125. Infanterie-Division, 97. leichte Division and a Slowakian
Brigade formed the XXXXIX. (Gebirgs) Armee-Korps and advanced into Russia.
Commanding General of this Army Corps was General Ludwig Kübler, the
„Father" of the German Gebirgstruppe. Command of the 1. Gebirgs-Divison
in the meantime had changed from General Kübler to Generalmajor Lanz.
Oberst Schörner the former commanding officer of Gabriel Kopolds Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment
98 had become commander of the 6. Gebirgs-Division while the Regiment was
now commanded by Oberst Picker. The commanding officer of the III.
Bataillon in which Gabriel Kopold fought, was Major Salminger.
After the campaign into France the 3rd
Regiment (Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment 100) of the 1. Gebirgs-Division was
used as the „nucleus" to form the 3. Gebirgs-Division. Thus, the 1. Gebirgs-Divison
had to go into battle in the East with only two Jäger-Regiments, the
98th and the 99th.
For the advance into Russia those two regiments,
which represented the backbone of the division, were reinforced by detachments
from the divisional artillery (Gebirgs-Artillerie-Regiment 79) and by some
further divisional troops. Both reinforced regiments formed so called Gefechtsgruppen
(Battle Groups) that where named after the respective regimental commanders
„Gefechtsgruppe Picker" and „Gefechtsgruppe Kreß". A third
„Gefechtsgruppe Lang", was named after the Commander of the Gebirgs-Panzerabwehr-Abteilung
44 (Divisional Anti-Tank Battalion). This Gefechtsgruppe acted as an advance
The remaining units of the division formed
the divisional staff, an Artillery Group „Artillerie Gruppe Winkler" and
a divisional Reserve Group „Gefechtsgruppe Feld-Ers.Btl." Also attached
to the division from other Heeres-units were some Sturmgeschütze (Self
propelled assault guns) and some 8,8 cm Flak (Anti-Aircraft Artillery).
On 25 June, before the division reached
Lemberg, Gabriel Kopold’s III. Bataillon near Jazow Stary, was encountered
by heavy Russian tanks (KW-1 and KW-2)for the first time and also by the
well armoured and agile T-34’s. Gabriel later often told how they had been
attacked by a number of T-34’s which came upon them through a large corn
field showing only their turrets. Again the German anti-tank guns (3,7
cm) weren't able to stop them. This formidable weapon soon was nicknamed
by the Landsers „Heeresanklopfgerät", which could be translated as
„The army’s door-knocking device". Thus, quite a number of the tanks were
attacked by the Jägers by means of makeshift demolition charges -
bundled hand grenades.
One of the Jägers, the prewar Ski
World Champion Feldwebel Gustl Berauer (See Photo), from the 13./III. Bataillon
stopped 3 of the T-34’s with his squad. One was stopped by Berauer by placing
hand grenades into the muzzle of the gun. Another one was finished off
by Berauer by lobbing a hand grenade into the open commanders hatch. This
day a total number of 28 tanks were killed in close combat by the Jägers
of Gebirgs-Jäger-Regiment 98.
Luckily there were also some 88 mm anti-aircraft
guns on the spot who engaged some of the T-34’s. Gabriel Kopold told how
the Acht-Acht one by one shot off the turrets of the Russian tanks. He
recalled that while watching this, they had the impression these turrets
flew as if they were blown away like hats in a strong breeze.