Walter Bach

Walter Bach was born on 11 December 1910 in the town of Kirkel in the Kreis of Homburg. Which is in the Saar region in Germany. He was married with Johanna Neumann. In February 1940 Walter was called up for the army. He was send to 3.Kompanie of Kraftfahr-Ersatz-Batterie 105 stationed near Posen. This vehicle trainings unit was part of Artillerie-Ersatz-Abteilung 105, a heavy artillery trainings unit. Therefore Walter’s training unit specialised in artillery associated (towing) vehicles.

On 23 February 1940 Walter received his Soldbuch and equipment from the trainings unit. In the first days of May 1940 Walter received his gasmask set, a blanket and other equipment.

After a few months of training Walter was send to a front unit. This was to be 3.Kompanie of I.Schwere-Artillerie-Regiment 108 (mot). This motorized heavy artillery unit was stationed in Poland as reserve. It consisted of 3 Batterien (companies). One had 10-cm cannons and the other two had 15-cm cannons. These cannons were towed by vehicles. Walter drove one of these vehicles. The Regiment was a so called “Heerestruppe” unit, meaning that they were independent and not attached to a Division. In December 1940 Walter was promoted to Gefreiter.

A towed 15-cm sFH 18 in Russia, mostlikely Walter's unit had them like this

In June 1941 the Regiment participated in the invasion of Russia, in the middle part of the easternfront. First under the IX-Korps of the 4th Army. Later in July it was attached to XXIV-Korps of 2nd Panzer group. Later in July the Regiment switched to the 2nd Army. In late 1941 the Regiment moved to LIII-Korps of 2nd Army. In March 1942 Walter was promoted to Obergefreiter. On 20 April 1942, Hitler’s birthday, Walter was awarded the Kriegsverdient Kreuz II Klasse (War Merit Cross, second class). In June 1942 the Regiment moved from the middle part of the easternfront to the South part. It was attached to XXXXVIII-PanzerKorps of the 4th Panzer Army. Later in July 1942 the 2nd Army also came to the South part of the easternfront and the Regiment was again attached to it, under VII-Korps. In August Walter was awarded the easternfront medal for his service on the front in the harsh winter of 1941-1942.

After the battles in the Donbogen in early 1943 the Regiment was pulled away from the front and refurbished. The Regiment got new howitzers and changed into a light artillery unit. The towing vehicles were changed for special fully tracked "Raupenschlepper Ost" (RSO) vehicles. In April 1943 the unit was renamed to leichte Artillerie-Abteilung (RSO) I/108.

A RSO towed 15-cm leFH 18, mostlikely Walter's unit had them like this

After the refurbishment the Abteilung was send back to the South part of the eastfront. It was attached to LII-Korps, 4th Panzer Army. On 15 June 1943 Walter was awarded the Kraftfahrbewährungsabzeichen in Bronze. This so called “drivers medals” was awarded to those that drove vehicles at/near the front and met the required conditions to receive the medal. For the Bronze version Walter had to have had 150 service days on the Russian front. Walter's Soldbuch is missing the hospital pages. Don't know why.

In January 1944 the Abteilung was attached to the Grossdeutschland Division. On 24 January the Abteilung was ordered to immediately transfer to XI-Korps. They were to aid the 389.Infanterie-Division at Kapitanovka. This was done right away. According to reports the Abteilung seemed to have nine operational 10.5-cm howitzers. At this time XI-Korps, together with XXXXII-Korps, were in the process of being surrounded by the attacking Russians. Walter’s Abteilung managed to arrive at XI-Korps just in time before the pocket closed. Walter was trapped!

An 15-cm leFH 18 howitzer in the Tscherkassy kessel, 1944

The pocket, called the Tscherkassy kessel or Korsun kessel, was a debacle. Two entire German Korps got surrounded. Attempts to relieve the pocket failed. The Russians attacked it from all directions. On 16 February 1944 the remaining units in the pocket made a break-out towards the west. It succeeded but with the loss of most (heavy) equipment and many men. It is unknown how many men of Walter’s unit managed to escape. But Walter wasn’t one of them. The entries in his Soldbuch do not continue after the pocket. What exacly happened to Walter is unknown to me. Was he made prisoner? Did he died?

Sources and the opinions of historians differ. But the German army lost an estimated 30.000 to 55.000 men with the pocket. The Soviets lost 24.286 men and had 55.902 wounded. It was a bitter pill for the German army. Something they could not recover from easy. The Russian army kept on marching.

Equipment and vehicles left behind inside the Tscherkassy kessel, 1944