Armin Scheiderbauer was born in 1924, the son of an evangelical pastor. After attending schools in Thuringia, and Stockerau, he was called up in August 1941. He served with distinction on the Eastern Front until 1945, with 252nd Infantry Division, reached the rank of Oberleutnant, was wounded numerous times, and was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and close combat clasp. He was wounded and captured by the Red Army in March 1945, returning home in September 1947. In the postwar years, he became a senior lawyer in Vienna, and continued his close associations with the evangelical church. He married a doctor, and has one daughter, also a doctor! He now
From Ch 13 January 1945
On 13 January the enemy large scale offensive in East Prussia began. It was still quiet where we were. There was harassing fire of varying strength and noise, and from time to time snatches of songs from the enemy trenches. With the field kitchen came best wishes and the usual bottles as presents. The General, the Divisional Adjutant, the commander and the commanders of the Artillery regiment whom I knew, Oberst Dorn and the battalion commanders all sent their congratulations. I was touched by the expressions in them of the respect and esteem in which my achievements were held. In the light of what faced us, the wishes were of particular warmth and sincerity. Unfortunately, the mail that I used to send them all home was lost. Unexpressed, but certainly honourably meant, was the wish that Leutnant Roberts had expressed to me in the summer in Raseinen. When we were saying goodbye to each other, as we were changing positions, he squeezed my hand and, smiling sadly, no doubt with the premonition that he was to die soon, said stay alive. He had been killed in action in October on the Narew.
At 6pm the company commanders received their orders at the Battalion. Since Hauptmann Fitz had left in the night after he had been wounded, Oberleutnant Husénett, wearing the Knights Cross, had taken over command of the battalion. I had gone off with the runner, Buck, and the dog. At the battalion command post we had learned more about the serious situation in the Weichsel bridgeheads and in East Prussia. There was no longer any doubt about the fate that awaited us.
On the way back, I went with the runner into the completely destroyed village church of Powielin. It had been a quite simple little old wooden church, but the tower had been shot off during the recent fighting. One single token remained to remind you of its religious purpose, namely a large cross on the side of the altar. Thy will be done, I could have no better prayer. When I got back to the company I strode once again from bunker to bunker, and went from post to post, to give everyone one more word of confidence.
On the morning of 14 January, as we had since the morning of the 12th, we were expecting from hour to hour the beginning of the heavy barrage. According to the custom of the Russians recently, the thunderclap was to be expected on the hour, i.e. at 6am, 7am or 8am. After we had been spared the unavoidable event on the 12th and the 13th, the beginning had to be today, because the long-observed preparations of the enemy allowed no other possibility. They would have to get as far as possible in daylight after the effect of their devastating fire. It would last several hours and would land on our positions. Their attack would necessarily have to be as early as possible. Thus the preparatory fire would also have to begin very early in the morning.
I was with the men of my company in the bunker. We were lying or sitting on bunkers or at small tables, weapons and steel helmets ready to hand. An all consuming nervousness, that no one let show, dominated us. A cold feeling crept over me, that trembling in the stomach that used to affect me in school before exams. But when at 7am the fire did not erupt, I hoped that the Russians would today be sparing us once again. The feeling was reinforced because even on the dot of 8am, by my service watch, nothing happened.
But just as I was about to say what I was thinking, there began the dreadful crashing, the familiar noise of Stalin organs firing. Several of them must have been firing in sequence, because the crashing went on for what seemed an eternity. Only within the detonations of the organ shells did the barking reports of cannons and those of howitzers, mortars, and the Ratschbum sound out. The earth was literally shaking and the air was thudding. An uninterrupted grumbling thunder descended upon the German lines. Obviously the enemy were trying to destroy the minefields of our trench system, extended fourfold, and to flatten trenches and shatter bunkers.
The only things dangerous to us in the company bunker were the shells dropping very close by, of which there were not a few. The whistling, rushing and crashing of shells round about indeed almost drugged the senses. But we were lucky and along the whole bridge of the nose we only received a few direct hits in the trench and none on the bunker. I got the impression that the Russians were sparing the Nase. Even the advanced observers of the artillery and our heavy company beside my command post remained untouched.
After exactly two hours the bombardment suddenly broke off. A paralysing calm fell over the main fighting line. It meant that the Russians were moving their fire forward, in order not to endanger their attacking infantry. Raus, I ordered, and that meant going into position in the small trench system around the company command post. All nervousness had fallen away from me. The patient waiting in the bunker was at an end, we could see and deal with the enemy. Outside there was fog, but it was the powder smoke from the massive amount of exploded shells that had dropped on our positions. I thought that I could not believe my eyes when on the right I saw that the second company had already retreated a long way. I then saw the enemy rapidly advancing in battalion strength on to the second trench. The Russians went round my company and cut us off. But from the left, charging at the company command post, there came the left wing of a confused brown wave, approaching unstoppably with cries of Urrah.