Friedhelm Lepinat

Friedhelm Lepinat was born on 1 January 1927 in Kettwig, South-west of Essen in Germany. As most German children Friedhelm joined the Hitler-jugend (political boy scout) movement. On 30 March 1944 Friedhelm joined the Reichsarbeitsdienst (government labour-service) for 3 months, ending it on 29 June 1944. At this time the Allies had landed in Normandy and thus created a westernfront, while the Russians were closing in on the easternfront.

2 weeks later on 12 July, while only being 17 years old, Friendhelm volunteered for army service. Friedhelm was send to Panzergrenadier-Ersatz-Bataillon 60. This armoured-infantry trainings unit was located in Rheine, Germany. On 24 July Friedhelm received his Soldbuch from the Stamm-Kompanie of this unit.

As Friedhelm already received some basic (drill) training during his Reichsarbeitsdienst service, he only needed a few months of specialising training. Friedhelm was send to 2./Panzergrenadier-Ausbildungs-Bataillon 60. This field-training unit was also located in or near Rheine. After completing his training Friedhelm was send to a front unit on 18 september 1944, according to his Wehrstammbuch.

Divisional sign of 116. Panzer-Division

His front unit was the 116. Panzer-Division “Der Windhund”. This Division was created in early 1944 in France from the old battered 16. Panzer-Grenadier-Division coming from the easternfront and reserve units already stationed in France. The Division continued the traditions of the 16. Panzer-Grenadier-Division and therefore bared the nickname "Der Windhund". The 116. Panzer-Division was heavily engaged in the Normandy battles, having just escaped from the Falaise pocket with heavy losses. In September it was engaged at Aachen, Germany.

On the 20th of September, Major Vogelsang of the 116. Panzer-Division, recorded the following in his diary: “… At the same time [yesterday], a march Bataillon from our own replacement units arrived, 20 officers and 380 men strong, half of them being recovering Division veterans returning as convalescents”. It is mostlikely that Friedhelm was in this march Bataillon.

Friedhelm was put in 1st (gepanzerte) Kompanie of Panzergrenadier-Regiment 60. This Kompanie was equipped with halftracks. Friedhelm stayed with his Regiment near Aachen until the Division got relieved in late September. Friedhelm pulled out of the front in the night of the 29th. The Division was send directly towards the front at Arnhem, Holland, to participate in an attack together with the 9. Panzer-Division and the 10. SS-Panzer-Division.

The 9. Panzer-Division and the 10. SS-Panzer-Division started their attack on the 1st of Oktober 1944. The enemy resistance was tough and not much progress was made. Therefore the 116. Panzer-Division was ordered to attack with available units as soon as possible. Only part of the Division had arrived, including Panzergrenadier-Regiment 156 which was ordered to attack and capture the Snodenhoek area the next day. The Regiment was able to make gains. The enemy made multiple counter-attacks but the German units were able to hold them off. Meanwhile Friedhelm’s Regiment, the 60th, had arrived and started their attack to capture the town of Driel on 4 Oktober 1944. The Regiment made small gains.

The Division continued to attack in the area until 8-9 Oktober, when the Division was pulled away from the front and send back to the Aachen area in Germany. Friedhelm’s Regiment, combined with parts of other units of the Division and named Kampfgruppe Bayer, was moving ahead of the main elements of the Division to be inserted in the Aachen front at once. Kampfgruppe Bayer arrived at Vorweiden, 8 Km.norteast of Aachen, in the night of the 10th to 11th. At this time Friedhelm’s Regiment consisted of 2 weak Bataillons with a total of 650 men.

Together with other units Friedhelm’s unit attacked Bardenberg in the afternoon of the 11th. The German forces were able to make gains and free encircled German troops. But Bardenberg itself was not yet reached. Meanwhile the remainder of the Division arrived. On the 13th the Division continued the attack towards Bardenberg. On the 14th the enemy counter-attacked the Division, Friedhelm’s Regiment carried the main burden of the attacks this day. The following days the enemy kept attacking and the Division tried to hold its ground. German units were pushed back and the Americans were able to surround Aachen. The Division tried to open up the encirclement, but was not able to. On the 21st Aachen was lost to the enemy. Friedhelm’s Regiment was fighting in the Würselen area but was able to hold off enemy attacks.

During the evening of 25 Oktober Friedhelm’s Regiment was pulled away from the front.
The next day the whole Division was relieved and moved away from the front. The Division badly needed new troops, equipment, etc. It was worn out. But the war situation prevented that. The Division was moved into the Linnich-Titz-Steinstrass-Hambach-Schophoven-Pattern-Bourheim area as Army-Reserve. On 28 Oktober the Division was ordered to move to the Erkelenz-Wegberg-Krüchten area. The Division had some quiet days behind the front and used the time for training. The Division also received some new troops and equipment/weapons.

The rest was not for long. On 3 November 1944 the Division was ordered to go to the Hürtgen forrest. Here the Americans had launched an attack. Regiment 156 of the Division had arrived before the bulk of the Division and started its counterattack on the village of Vossenack on the 4th of November. The attack started of good, but was halted by strong enemy fire and the soldiers had to withdraw towards their starting line. During this day Friedhelm’s Regiment had arrived. The soldiers left their (panzer)vehicles behind in Untermaubach and moved on foot into the Tiefenbach valley via Brandenberg. Only parts of the I. Bataillon (Friedhelm’s Bataillon) mounted close combat attacks on the enemy in the hills ahead of Vossenack and hardly came out of the forrest. On 5 November the Division attacked Vossenack with several units and was able to capture most of the town. Friedhelm’s Regiment also participated in the attacks but had little success. The enemy regained small parts in counter-attacks.

The Kall trail near Vossenack, Friedhelm's Regiment fought here

On the same night, 6 November at 04:00 hours, a new attack on Vossenack was ordered by the Division with various units. Friedhelm was in the 3rd Kompanie of his Regiment at this time. His Kompanie, together with the 1st, attacked Vossenack at the Tiefenbach valley near the Lukas Mill. This attack was described by a fellow soldier in his Kompanie, Panzergrenadier Otten:

“At 0500 it was, “Prepare for attack”. Move forward to initial position. We proceeded close to the town’s entrence and waited for the signal to attack. We remained there in the pouring rain until about 07:00. Then the signal for attack sounded. By the light of dawn, we ran towards the American positions that were directly in front of us. We had the disadvantage. Our clothes were heavy from the rain and our limbs were stiff, besides that we had run uphill, burdened by ammunition cases and machine guns… When crossing the fields we had no cover, and many comrades already fell there…

At the mill [Halmes Mill, in eastern part of town] we took the first prisoners. They were completely surprised by our attack. We blew up a jeep and crippled a tank. This discouraged the American soldiers and gave us courage and confidence. Up to now, our losses must have been considerable because only a handful of men, including a Feldwebel and I, received orders to comb through Vossenack up to the church. For today, the attack was stopped at the church… With another comrade, we combed the row of houses on the left side of the street. First, we thoroughly observed every house, then one of us ran over to it, while others covered him…. Around 1100 hours, we reached the parsonage and church. The church already showed many signs of the war… I felt my way through the rubble to the door, where I was to take up position. About 40 meters in front of the door was an American tank with its commander looking out, Americans were all over the street, as though they just came from the chow line”

A Feldwebel tried to destroy the American tank with a Panzerfaust. That failed. The Feldwebel was killed. Panzergrenadier Otten continues:

“Automaticly, firing started from machine guns and tank cannons. I crouched behind the right support wall of the tower, hoping to be in the safest place, while tank shells buzzed close above me to the altar and ripped it to bits in front of my eyes… After some time, the shooting stopped. I used this break to quickly report the events to the parsonage. I was relieved by the door and told to first go to the cellar of the vestry and rest. I immediately fell asleep and did not wake up until I heard the moans of a wounded soldier and the rustle of weapons. The Americans actually went around my successor at the post “in front,” took him out of action by shooting him in the knee, and were now standing at the top of the cellar entrence. We sat in a trap. We were disarmed and brought into the Wehe Valley for questioning”.

German P.O.W.'s in the Hürtgenwald are being transported towards a P.O.W. camp

Later that night the commander of Friedhelm’s Bataillon, Hauptmann Nagel, formed an assault platoon and regained the church.

During the battles this day, Friendhelm was captured by the Americans. There is a good possibility that Friendhelm was with Otten in the cellar.

The Kompanie did not know what Friendhelm’s fate was and reported him missing. In these 3 days of combat the Division lost 11 officers and 350 men. But many more were to follow, as the battle for the Hürtgenwald had just begun.

A few weeks later, on 26 November 1944, the Kompanieführer send a letter to the mother of Friendhelm, informing her that her son is missing in action. But that he might have been captured.

During his capture Friedhelm was able to send a special prisoner of war card, to inform his family on his whereabouts. Friendhelm survived the war and was released after the war. I do not know at what date.