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Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

Article about: I apologise for the length of this report but the research I did after recovering the sign is so interesting its worth recounting in full here. The photos at the end show the two signs, the

  1. #1

    Default Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    I apologise for the length of this report but the research I did after recovering the sign is so interesting its worth recounting in full here. The photos at the end show the two signs, the battle damaged one then closeup photo's of the bullet holes and the final picture is signed by Fritz Langanke taken on the day he received the awarded of the Knights Cross (RK) 27 Aug 1944.

    Several years ago on one of my annual Normandy trips I was uncovered two partially buried original 1930’s French enamel road signs.
    When home I traced their original position by locating the village names then working back along the roads the distances shown to find the cross roads called La Valtolaine just 2 km North of the village of Roncey.
    Now in my distant memory I could remember reading about an action that took place at the La Valtolaine road junction, but I couldn’t remember the details. But what really interested me was three bullet holes in one of the signs. One through the front likely German 7.92 and a 2 larger calibre probably .30 or .50 cal US from the back. Through research I discovered a fascinating history that made me realise what an interesting find I'd made.
    The action involving La Valtolaine Cross roads led directly to the awarding of the Knights Cross to Leutnaut Fritz Langanke 2nd SS ‘Das Reich’ Panther Commander.
    After 6 weeks of heavy fighting since the D Day landings the allies were still holed up in the bridgehead. But in the West the Americans had time to build up reserves and consolidate their position ready to begin an offensive. The German troops facing the Americans had been continually whittled away to bolster the Caen sector where a huge battle of attrition fought against the British, Canadians and Poles was still continuing.
    The Americans in the West seized the moment and broke through the German lines Operation Cobra had begun. The front was shattered and small pockets of German troops soon formed fighting to breakout toward the East. The routes of advance followed the roads south many meeting in the centre of the town of St Lo. The Germans realising its strategic importance stopped their retreat and fought to bar the town and its roads to the US forces. Following two weeks of heavy fighting in which the picturesque town was destroyed the Americans were finally able to say it was in their hands, St Lo fell on the 18/07/44. But due to the severe damage caused in the battle it took the American forces a couple of days to bulldoze away through the town and repair the roads before their advance could continue.
    But when it did it enabled General Lawton Collins VIIth Corps to exploit the hole now blown in the German MLR (Main Line of resistance) and rush all forces South. General George Patton’s famous Third Army was ready to exploit the gap created by Collins Corps. The Cobra offensive was now unstoppable.
    The Elite 2nd SS Das Reich, the 17th SS Gotz von Berlichingen and elements of the 6th Fallstirmjager (Parachute) regiment held the German line between St Lo and Periers as well as other mixed units toward the rear. The Corps Commander Paul Hauser could already see the hopeless position his troops were currently in. So he issued orders for them to withdraw 6 km East by night to re-establish a new MLR near the village of Percy.
    This withdrawal as fate would have it, took place at the same time across the same ground as the American forces advanced south, so each Army was cutting across the others route which created immense confusion with neither side knowing who was in the next field, village or road to their front or rear. It was to become a night of complete confusion with fire fights erupting all over.
    The South Eastern route taken by the German forces inevitably meant that many converged on the village of Roncey because the road network they followed passed through Roncey with its 5 road junction in the centre.
    German troops reaching the Village early, were able to pass through unhindered but as the night wore on, a huge bottle neck occurred as different units arrived on different roads trying to push their way through before first light. Horses, Trucks, Panzers, Ambulances, Artillery Pieces and troops. Everything was mixed in and desperately trying to get through before morning, because they knew that day light would bring the dreaded allied Jabo’s fighter bombers.
    As the long shadows of sun up reduced and the early morning light filtered through the inevitable occurred,. Swarms of American P47 Thunderbolts swooped out of the sky and raced along the stalled mixed columns destroying anything in sight. With only sporadic anti aircraft fire it was ‘A fighter bombers Paradise’. But for those trapped in the maelstrom it was ‘Hell on Earth’ their ‘Gotterdamerung’. Every house was flattened as was the church and many vehicles were destroyed in the vicinity of which 77 were armoured. By this time only small groups were able to make an escape cutting across country.
    Fritz Langanke was interviewed after the war about his recollections of this time. He said that during his efforts to bring his tanks out of the Roncey Pocket he saw some of the most intense combat of his service in the SS. ‘After the first attacks the road was blocked for good, the planes could then quite calmly pick off target after target since there was no defence‘. ‘For us on the ground it was terrible, even artillery started to shell us !’. Here we had quite a lot of combat capacity and yet no chance to use it‘, ‘it was just being smashed‘. ‘Our Division lost 2/3 of its weapons and equipment in the pocket !’.
    He pushed on through the carnage with his Panther and continues ‘we reached a point some 200 meters from the Hambye-Roncey Road near the La Valtolaine Junction. ‘In front of us a burned out tractor and big artillery piece together with other vehicles blocked the way‘. ‘Schreiber jumped off the Panther and ran forward to find out what was going on ?, he crossed the road but American troops had established a road block and he couldn’t get back‘, ‘from then on the rest of the men relied on me !’.
    Fritz found himself in charge of an ad hoc force. After the first couple of attacks the radio sets he’d retrieved earlier and placed on the back of his Panther caught fire, he had to lean out of the turret hatch and pushed them off his vehicle, burning his hand in the process. Leaning out of the turret he was spotted by the Jabo’s above, who realised his tank was still operational. The Jabo’s dived down for repeated attacks wave after wave. Langanke remembered ‘It was finally a considerable number that dealt with us !’. ‘The continuous rattle of bullets hitting the turret drove you mad and then suddenly a big bang and day light !. The bullet impacts had broken the bolts of the smoke grenade discharger and flung it and the mounting plate away. Langanke and his loader had the same thought, instantly grabing their blanket rolls and wrapping them tighly into cones they stuffed them into the hole. Twice bullets knocked it down but they were able to replace it each time without being hit.
    20 to 30 meters ahead were a group of dead paratroopers, who were killed in the first air attack, The planes flew low and could probably see they were dead but still kept firing into them. A terrible sight, the tank drivers telescope faced this scene, the bullets ripped the limbs off and spilled the intestines of the dead. Seeing this was just too much for the Driver and he understandably cracked, trying to escape and get out. But Fitz Langanke’s pistol in the back of his neck soon restored his composure, Fritz said of this man ‘he was one of the finest most reliable, sturdy comrades he had‘. But under this pressure it could have happened to anyone !.
    Langanke realised they couldn’t sustain this for long and needed to find cover quickly, to the side was a bank and the Panther crashed up the bank and through the hedge to hide in an orchard. There were several more bombing attacks without hits and the Jabo’s soon left. On looking out, Troops already sheltering in the orchard advised him that close by was a bunker with Officers. Langangke dismounted and ran to the bunker being shelled and blown to the ground on route. He reported to the Regimental Commander and asked for orders but non were given ?. He dismissed himself and left the bunker to work on a way of breaking out. For the next two to three hours he passed back down the road looking for operational vehicles and men to form into a column. He found 3 Panthers including his and a Panzer IV and used them to clear obstacles to enable the half tracks and wheeled vehicles to get through. ‘We formed quite a column’ he said ‘come darkness we will break out’. He reported back to the Regimental Commander several times telling him what he was doing. The Regimental Commander finally told him to not make any noise and to wait, He told Langangke that he planned to sneak through the American Lines with his infantry and escape without having to fire a shot !. Langangke knew this would be impossible,
    He walked out and soon met some seasoned Fallschirmjager non-coms who said ‘ you poor bastard you’re the only one who doesn’t know ?, They’re going to surrender !.
    He returned to the Bunker and told the Officers he was breaking out with or with out them with his column at 22.00 and to hell with them. Soon after two officers of higher rank approached him from the bunker and asked if they could bring their two Assault Guns to join his column. His first thought was ‘they shouldn‘t ask ?‘, they should take command !. He wasn’t even an Officer and they were asking him !.
    Soon holes were driven through the hedge by one of the Panthers to allow the other vehicles to by pass a destroyed artillery piece. But doing this damaged a sprocket wheel on the Panther so it had to be abandoned.
    His column was set up in march formation, Langanke’s Panther lead from the front, he put Grenadiers to his the left and 60 Fallschirmjager on the right to safeguard against close combat with Bazooka’s. Behind were the two Sturmgeschutze assault guns, followed by the wheeled vehicles, various stragglers, self propelled infantry guns and a self propelled flak gun. The rear was guarded by the Panzer IV and the other Panther Commanded by an Officer with the unbelievable name of Panzer !. A total of around 300 men.
    At 22.00 they set off with no reconnaissance. A farm to the right was burning and in its light a Sherman tank could be seen to the left in a field, Langanke’s Panther fired two shots that hit, but the Sherman didn’t burn. His Panther then accelerated and drove across the La Valtolaine Cross Roads.
    At this point his Panther would have closely passed my the road sign on his right where it stood on the corner of the Hambye-Roncey Road. In crossing the junction at speed he crushed an American anti tank gun that was set up on the road. He then continued into the lane opposite, firing as he went and then stopped.
    To his right, standing at right angles were two Sherman tanks camouflaged in a hedge, they had .50 cal M2 Browning machine guns on the turrets and had sprayed the supporting Fallschirmjager protecting his right side.
    From where the Sign stood and the described position of these Sherman tanks it is most likely that a couple of these bullets hit the road sign. The .50 cal machine guns caused many casualties to the Fallstirmjager. Some wounded who'd fallen in the road were crushed by the column as it rolled forward.
    Langangke realised he had to act quickly to keep the initiative and surprise, so immediately ordered the two Stugs forward to turn right and hit the Shermans in the side. But the Officer Commanders hesitated and started to deliberate, He was furious at the delay and turned his turret toward the Stugs threatening to fire, and ordered them to start immediately or he’d knock them out. They did so and turned right and had no problem in destroying both Shermans.
    Langangke’s Panther then proceeded down the lane. To his right was a large field with a hedge boarder, along this hedge he noticed several American armoured vehicles pointed toward the main road. He fired immediately and was lucky to hit the last one, it turned out to be an ammunition carrier. It went up like a fireworks display, flare ammunition of different colours flying all over the place, it was a fantastic sight. The whole area was illuminated and he could easily see another 4 to 6 American armoured vehicles along the hedge.
    With this going on many German soldiers of infantry units behind the North South Hambye-Roncey Road jumped up and followed him in an unmilitary manner, they were shouting, yelling and shooting in all directions as they ran forward.
    From where the road sign stood and the trajectory of the bullet it is likely that it was hit by the 7.92 round, fired from the positions occupied by the German troops as they rose to cross the Hambye-Roncey road firing wildly.
    Langanke initially thought ‘This is no good what are they doing ?, but soon realised the Americans were completely surprised and dumbfounded and ran away abandoning their vehicles without any resistance. The vehicles were taken by the Germans and this included jeeps and halftracks.
    Langangke’s Panther continued forward another 150m where he spotted another American tank racing from his right toward the road. They tried to stop it and fired but nothing happened !, a nightmare of all tank crews the fire mechanism had failed. His first thought was this is the end for us ?, and he instinctively turned his head to the South and got an even bigger shock. Another 4 American tanks were rushing along the road towards the La Valtolaine Cross Roads and his position. But luck was with him, they must have seen his Panther and rather than fight it out they stopped, turned back and disappeared at speed ?.
    The first tank that he’d tried to destroy continued on but was travelling so fast that when it hit the road it couldn’t stop and slid gun first into the mud of a ditch on the opposite side. It was only with great trouble that the American crew freed themselves, turned and got away.
    Afterwards he said ‘Here we were sitting in our Panther not only undamaged but unmolested by the whole incident’ He realised surprise had been on his side but also the reputation of the Panther tank.
    His column had now grown from 300 to 600 many being carried in the American Vehicles. They continued on, German units joining them and others leaving to make their own route out. They were a mixed bunch a motley crew. Because his Panther could not fire he ordered ‘Panzers’ Panther forward from the rear to lead and he fell back to the rear. They reached Lengronne and then onto Cacrences and crossed the Sienne River and then onto Gavray
    Gavray was under sparodic fire and more German vehicles joined them, They continued on without loss toward St Denis le Gast, Before reaching St Denis the column turned off the road to the bridge at La Baleine. Because of shelling drivers were reluctant to continue. So Langanke left his Panther and took control. He checked out the approaches to the bridge which had suffered shell damage and personally directed each vehicle individually across. He said it was a Beastly Business with yelling, swearing and threatening, in the end all his energy was gone. His Panther was the last to cross and in places the footing was only half the width of the track.
    On the south side of the river, they found tactical direction signs in position for many units, so his column split up as the men now knew the routes to follow. His self appointed mission was over.
    It was by now just getting light when the first American planes appeared in the sky, so they drove up the hill in a sunken lane stopping in the first orchard. They hadn‘t slept for three nights, so just climbed out and crawled under it the Panther and soon were asleep lost to this world. Waking later at midday they found they were now alone.
    Surprisingly only 100m away was another Panther that had been knocked out while they slept. A german soldier advised them that the Americans were already across the bridge and working toward them.
    The sky was full of Jabo’s but they managed to get away Langangke led his Panther out on foot watching for the waves of Allied Jabo’s coming in.
    For his part in ensuring that hundreds of soldiers and their equipment escaped the Roncey Pocket Fritz Langanke was recommended for the Knights Cross on the 7th Aug 1944 and was awarded the medal on 27th Aug 1944. Luck had been on his side, the American front line had been just to the south of the road that his column had travelled along. The American troops with their backs to him assumed they were a column of their own troops and let them go.
    Thats what I like about this hobby finding an interesting object and a little research can uncover some amazing history.
    Fritz Langangke is still alive and a copy of my original transcript was sent to him.
    Luckystrike
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Sign 1.jpg   Sign 2.jpg  

    Sign 3.jpg   Sign 4.jpg  

    Sign 5.jpg   Fritz Langanke.JPG  


  2. #2
    Harry Morant
    ?

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    A great retelling of a small piece of the war - well done!

  3. #3
    ace
    ?

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    wow awsome story whar a guy this man must of been , even officers asked him and followed him out a true leader

  4. #4

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    Really well done!
    Any relics has a story which lead to the history.....

    Soldiers as Langagke makes always the difference.....

    thanks

  5. #5

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    Thank you for the positive response on my post. I agree he was an exceptional leader and inspiration to all around him at that time. He was responsible for getting the largest group of troops (several hundred) out of the pocket. Obviously others did escape but only in small groups or even alone and none with vehicles.
    For those interested in a bit more detail, below is an interview conducted by WWII Magazine in 2003 with Fritz talking about that time.

    I N T E R V I E W

    BREAKOUT FROM NORMANDY

    By George J. Winter Sr.

    Fritz Langanke was one of the German soldiers who fought against the Allies with great determination during the retreat. At the time of the Normandy campaign, the 25-year-old veteran of seven years' service in the SS was an officer cadet in the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. It was during his efforts to bring his tanks out of the Roncey Pocket that he saw some of the most intense combat of his service in the SS and earned the respect of his senior officers, who would eventually award him the coveted Knight's Cross. Langanke was interviewed for World War II Magazine by George J. Winter Sr.

    World War II: Where were you at the start of Operation Cobra?


    Langanke: Early on the night of July 28, 1944, I was attached with my platoon of four Panthers of the 2nd Company, SS Panzer Regiment Das Reich, to the reinforced 3rd Battalion of SS Regiment Deutschland, which was part of our division. The American encirclement of the bulk of those German units that had been north of the main American breakout thrust from St. Lô was nearly complete. The Roncey Pocket was closing. Our task force, led by the commander of the 3rd Battalion, Major Helmut Schreiber, was ordered to take the route via Cerisy-la-Salle and Notre Dame-de-Cenilly toward Percy, where a new defense line was to be established. Many of the infantry fragments of divisions that roamed around in that area, as well as stragglers, were to be taken along. This was an absolutely unrealistic order.

    WWII: Orders being orders, what did you do?

    Langanke: I took the lead, and Schreiber sat on my tank. The lanes and roads were plugged with vehicles of all kinds. Eventually, we got things started. On the east side of Notre Dame-de-Cenilly we could hear the noise of battle. At the end of the night we had reached la Croix-Marie, close to the road that led from Villebaudon via Lengronne to Bréhal. This crossroads was already blocked, and there was some shooting. Schreiber ordered me to clear this junction so we could continue. In front of us vehicles had driven up close and packed the road. All of them were staff or maintenance cars; none were combat units. Most of the drivers and crews had left their vehicles in panic. I drove along the side of the vehicles and called out to make way for my tank. But whether I begged, swore or hollered, only a few drivers reacted. I pushed a car or a bus to the side here and there, and slowly proceeded. Then there were two or three open radio vehicles right in the middle of the road, and I had to drive over them. Being an old radio operator, I tore two or three radio sets out of their fastenings and tossed them on the rear of our hull before we flattened the cars.

    WWII: Were you able to clear a route through?

    Langanke: We reached the area of the one-sided fight and shortly drove off the American infantry into a field to the left. Back on the road we were hit by a round from an anti-tank gun and were deeply shocked. The driver and radio operator cried, "We are burning, we can't see anything anymore." Here, for the first time in the war, we experienced phosphorus shells. It must have been a towed gun, because I couldn't see any armor. We backed up a couple of meters and crawled into a small side lane. Just around the corner and out of sight we ran our tank up onto a big heap of ammunition boxes and other junk, thereby killing the motor. Several attempts by the driver to start the motor were in vain. We didn't dare let the Panther roll forward down that heap because we would be helpless in sight of the enemy. We had to crank up the motor. I jumped out of my turret and put some boxes together so I could stand on them. I stuck in the crank at such an angle that I could force down its handle with my stomach and push it up with my arms. I did this several times as quickly as possible, and finally the motor turned over. Fear increases your strength considerably; normally you needed two men for this action. We then rushed around the corner and, firing with cannon and machine guns, we eliminated the anti-tank gun. The way was now free, and we returned to the head of our column. All that had taken some time, and under the impression that we couldn't break through the roadblock, Schreiber had decided to turn back, swing to the west and try another route south. I pleaded with him not to do that, pointing out the traffic jams and the fact that, come daylight when aircraft were overhead, there would be no movement at all. He insisted, and I had to obey, of course. At the next corner, we talked to the leader of a small battle group that had already been in contact with the enemy. He was confident he could hold his position. He was too optimistic.

    WWII: Was it still dark when you were done with all this?

    Langanke: The night was gone by now, and we moved in full daylight. Pretty soon aircraft dotted the sky. First they were busy north and south of us, and we were able to drive another three to four kilometers in the next hour or so, thereby passing St. Martin-de-Cenilly. Then our route was taken care of -- after the first attacks, the road was blocked for good. The planes could then, quite calmly, pick target after target. Since there was no defense, it must have been a picnic for those guys in the air. For us on the ground it was terrible. To make it even worse, artillery started shelling us. Here we were with quite a bit of combat capacity and no chance to use it, just being smashed. Our division lost about two-thirds of its weapons and equipment in the pocket. When all was over in the afternoon, I guess the same number of vehicles as were destroyed could still have moved. But the jam on the road was complete. Just before the first attack on our column, we had reached a point some 200 meters from the Hambye-Roncey Road near la Valtolaine. In front of us a burned-out tractor with a big artillery piece and other vehicles blocked the way. Schreiber jumped off our Panther and tried to find out what was going on in front of us. He ran across the Hambye-Roncey Road, but American troops had established a roadblock at that point, and he couldn't come back. From then on, the rest of the men relied on me.

    WWII: Were there no other officers present at that point to take command?

    Langanke: Yes, but this was an unusual and unexpected situation. Normally the next rank took over, but this was different. It just happened. Somebody had to do it, and I was the guy on whose tank Schreiber had sat.

    WWII: Now that you unexpectedly found yourself in command of this ad hoc force, what did you do?

    Langanke: [I]After the first couple of attacks, the radio sets on the back of my Panther caught fire. I quickly opened the back hatch of the turret, leaned out and pushed the ignited stuff off the vehicle. I burned one hand, but it wasn't too bad. What was real bad was that the planes had seen one tank left down there, seemingly still operable and with the crew in it. They now concentrated on us. It was finally a considerable number that dealt exclusively with us. The continuous rattle of the bullets on all sides of the turret drove you crazy. Then a big bang! In the turret roof there was a hole, where a discharger for smoke grenades should be installed. When that piece of equipment was not available, this opening was covered with a round plate fastened with four bolts. We had such a lid. The enormous number of bullet impacts had broken the bolts and flung the lid away. Daylight in the turret! The loader and myself had the same reaction. We grabbed our blankets, turned them together into a kind of cone and wedged them into the hole so it served as a backstop. Twice, the impact of so many projectiles threw our contraption down, but luckily we had it in again before more bullets rained down on us.

    WWII: Can you describe the scene around your tank?

    Langanke: Some 20 to 30 meters in front of us a group of paratroopers had been mowed down by the first air attack. Among those pilots must have been some extremely queer characters. Time and again they buzzed this group and fired into the dead bodies. They flew just above the treetops, so they must have seen all the details. Slowly the limbs were torn off, the intestines were spilled. It's one of the most terrible impressions I remember from the war. The gunner had a view out of the tank with his sighting telescope and its narrow field of vision. That, unfortunately, was pointed at this group of dead soldiers. In this tremendous stress we all had to suffer, the horrible sight tipped the scale, and he cracked up. Hollering and swearing, he wanted to get out. He was for a short while out of his mind. I drew my pistol and stuck the barrel in his neck, hollered back at him and told him to stop playing the crazy idiot. He immediately got back to normal. This man was one of the finest comrades we had, absolutely reliable, sturdy and imperturbable. But I am sure every man exposed long enough to really extreme pressure will have a weak moment.

    WWII: Clearly the pressure was mounting. How did you keep your group together?

    Langanke: I had to change the situation somehow. We started the motor, turned to the right and hit the hedgerow regardless of the danger for our drive sprockets and reduction drives. Behind the hedgerow there was a very big orchard where we could hide. The planes strafed and bombed that area for a while but then lost interest and gave up. Soon thereafter, one of the roaming soldiers told us that close by, in a bunker at a farmhouse, a regimental commander of some infantry and 10 or 12 officers sat together. I assumed they were discussing what action to take to cross the Hambye-Roncey Road and continue their retreat. I told my crew I would run over and find out how we could join this group. Still close to my tank, I got caught in a burst of artillery fire. All around me shells fell. I felt forlorn, hit the ground and started crawling around in an absolutely senseless way. It was my breakdown. When I had myself under control again, I first ascertained that my crew hadn't seen me. Most probably there is no closer and unrestricted comradeship than in a tank crew that has to live and fight together through real hard times. If they had watched me crawling, those nice guys would have asked me -- in a mighty compassionate way, of course -- what kind of beetles I was trying to catch or was it moles or other nonsense like that.

    WWII: Once you regained your composure, did you continue to the farm?

    Langanke: I got to the bunker, snapped to attention and reported to the regimental commander and asked for orders. He didn't have any for me, and I left the shelter. For the next two or three hours I was quite busy. I ran back 200-300 meters down the road looking for vehicles from our task force and others. Most of the men who had abandoned their vehicles were back now. I found two operable Panthers and one Panzerkampfwagen IV. With them I was able to move enough obstacles so that our halftrack and wheeled vehicles could pass. We formed quite a column. I told those with me that, come darkness, we would break out. I reported this fact to the regimental commander and checked in another two or three times. He finally told me not to make any noise and wait. He would, under cover of darkness, sneak stealthily through the American blockade with his infantry and all the stragglers, without shooting. I thought he was kidding me, because that was mere nonsense.

    WWII: It sounds like that officer was losing his nerve.

    Langanke: Shortly after my last encounter, some seasoned parachute noncoms came and said to me: "You poor bastard. You're the only one around here who doesn't know what's cooking. Those guys don't plan anything. They are going to surrender." I felt ashamed for my stupidity. I went over to the bunker and told them I would start with my column at 2200 that evening and the hell with them. Then two officers came to my tank. One, a major, was the commander of an assault gun battalion, and the other was his adjutant. They had camouflaged their two vehicles in a sunken lane close by. They asked me whether they could join our column. By that time I had given up wondering why an officer of his rank would ask a platoon leader, who wasn't even an officer, if he could join instead of taking over command. I then drove with my tank back to the road and broke two passages through the hedgerow on the left side in order to pass the big gun and other destroyed vehicles in front of us. In the attempt to move the destroyed vehicles to the side of the road, one of my Panthers had broken a sprocket wheel and had to be abandoned.

    WWII: What other preparations did you make for your anticipated breakout?

    Langanke: I set up a march formation. First my tank with grenadiers on the left side and about 50 to 60 paratroopers on the right side as a safeguard against close combat fighters with bazookas. Then the two assault guns, the wheeled vehicles of our task force, various stragglers, self-propelled infantry guns and mobile flak followed. The rear was brought up by the Panzer IV and my second Panther. The frequency of our radio communication was set, and at 2200 hours we started. Of course, no scouts had moved at all before this.

    WWII: Had the other three Panthers of your platoon been knocked out by that time?

    Langanke: No. The second Panther that took part in the breakout was the only one from my platoon left. The commander's name was Panzer. Sounds funny! The other Panthers were stuck in traffic or mechanically disabled. On the right side a farm was in flames. In the wavering light I thought I saw a Sherman in the field to the left. We fired twice and hit it, but it didn't burn. Then I drove full speed across the Hambye-Roncey Road, where I expected stiff American resistance and, if I remember correctly, we rolled over an anti-tank gun. I shot into the lane that led into the main road from the other side and stopped. Passing the intersection, I saw two Shermans to my right side standing at right angles, sticking their heads into the hedgerow. Now I realized these were the machine guns that had fired at our paratroopers when we started and had wounded a number of them. We had to be quick to use the surprise effect, so I ordered the assault guns to rush to the crossing, turn right and knock out the two tanks that showed them their sides. They hesitated and started deliberating. I was enraged. I turned my turret and told them to start immediately or I would knock them out. They did, turned right and had no problems destroying the American tanks. I proceeded down the lane.
    To my right side there was a wider field with a hedgerow bordering it. Along this hedge a number of armored vehicles were parked, pointed toward the main road. I was lucky. We hit the last one, probably an ammunition carrier, and it was like fireworks at a summer festivity. The flare ammunition with the different colors was a fantastic sight. The whole area was illuminated, and I could easily pick out another four to six of these armored halftracks. I don't remember the exact number. With all this, a great many soldiers of the infantry units behind the north-south road were encouraged to jump up and follow us. They did this in an unmilitary manner, with shouts and yells, firing in the air and the like. At first I was appalled, but then I realized it was quite useful. The Americans seemed to be completely surprised and even dumbfounded. They left a number of cars, which were taken over by Germans, and there was practically no further resistance.
    I drove on and maybe 150 meters in front of me an American tank raced from the right toward the road. We wanted to stop it, and that thing happened that all tank crews are most afraid of -- you pull the trigger or push the button, and the gun doesn't fire. Figuring that was the end for us, I turned my head and got an even bigger shock. From the south, four American tanks rushed onto the road that joined ours, which came from la Valtolaine. They turned back and disappeared at full speed. I again looked forward. That first tank had such momentum when it hit the road that it couldn't stop in time and got stuck with its nose in the ditch next to the road. Only with great trouble could it get out, turn around and get away. We were sitting there in our Panther, not only undamaged but even unmolested and almost couldn't believe it.


    WWII: It sounds as if things were going your way.

    Langanke: The column we had started with comprised about 300 men. By now it was around double that number. As we moved farther, our progress was made easier by a number of captured [Allied] vehicles. Some stragglers joined us, while others separated and chose different ways. We were a motley, mixed bunch. I figured that combat action would occur in this intersection area, which appeared to be more than a mere roadblock. I ordered the other Panther to take the lead, and I brought up the rear. Radio communication still worked, and we began our erratic wandering. We first reached Lengronne, continued to Cacrences, crossed the Sienne River and drove on to Gavray.

    WWII: What did you find in Gavray?

    Langanke: When we reached the town, it was under fire. Here our column became mixed with a number of other vehicles. Outside the town we continued without loss and turned toward St. Denis-le-Gast, but before reaching it, we left the road and drove to the bridge at la Baleine. As we approached, our movement nearly stopped. I climbed out of my Panther to find out the reason. Artillery fire, which continued sporadically, or bombing had damaged this bridge, the sides of which were partly destroyed. The drivers were very reluctant to go on it. I then took over, organized the approach to the bridge and directed each vehicle across. When our tank crossed, as the last vehicle, only half the width of the tracks found footing in some places. On the south side of the river, tactical signs of quite a number of units were installed, and the column could dissolve. Most of them now knew where to go. My self-appointed mission was finished. It was full daylight by now, and the first planes appeared. We drove into a lane that led up a hill, and at the first farm with an orchard we stopped. I told the crew we would now have a good nap after three nights of nearly no sleep at all. We crawled under our tank and were lost to the world around us. It was high noon when we were awake again, and we were alone.

    WWII: What happened to the remaining Panther of your platoon, Panzer's tank?

    Langanke: Panzer went along with the vehicles from Deutschland and reached the regiment. My crew and I couldn't continue after the river crossing, we were completely spent. The driver and gunner fell asleep every so often while we were moving, and I was totally exhausted. When I got all the vehicles over the river -- which was a beastly business, with yelling, swearing and threatening -- all my energy was gone. Physically and mentally we were just done, we couldn't continue, we had to get some sleep. That was the reason we stopped alone at the orchard.

    WWII: What happened after you finally woke?

    Langanke: Some 100 meters away we saw a Panther on the right side of the lane pointed toward us. From the left side another lane joined ours. There, Americans must have come up the hill, because the Panther was knocked out. It had a hole in the gun mantlet.

    WWII: Was this Panther knocked out before you went to sleep?

    Langanke: I don't know, but I can't believe that the Americans were already there when we reached the farm. I went over into the field on the left and met some German soldiers. They told me that there were already plenty of American troops down in the valley, and you could hear it, too. I went back and then had a mighty strenuous afternoon. The sky now swarmed with planes. I would run ahead some 50-100 meters, watch the direction of the flight of the various groups of aircraft, give a sign when it was favorable for us to move, and then the tank would race to its new position. After some hours, shortly before dark, we met a supply column of our division, where we could partly replenish our fuel. In this area Americans must have been present, because there were no planes above. We had lost one wheel set from artillery fire, and the bogies had damaged several track links. With a one-kilogram standard explosive charge we blew off the damaged part and were lucky not to harm the other tracks and suspension parts. During the night we completely lost track of our direction. In the morning we arrived at Beauchamps. Then we found a road sign that told us we had only 15 kilometers to Granville. That gave us our orientation back. We turned and sneaked around Villedieu-les-Poêles, evaded American columns several times on the roads south of that town, turned north, then east of it and reported back to our regiment during the night of July 31-August 1, in the Percy area. The regimental commander had already heard about our action and was mighty glad to see us, all the more so as he now had one more operational tank. Before the night passed we were on the way to another roadblock.

    For his part in ensuring that hundreds of soldiers and their equipment managed to escape from the Roncey Pocket, Fritz Langanke was recommended for the Knight's Cross on August 7, 1944. He was awarded that medal on August 27, 1944.

  6. #6
    ?

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    I have corresponded on a few occassions with Fritz Langanke he is a really good guy, many of his combat actions in Normandy are recorded in Will Fey's Armour Battles of the Waffen SS including a fantastic description of an encounter with his commander SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Christian Tychsen SS Panzer Regt 2 DR. Fritz had enormous respect for his leadership and personal bravery which is evident throughout this account.

    regards

    Paul
    The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter" 26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke. 26th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers , ( 3rd Tyneside Irish )

    1st July 1916

    Thought shall be the harder , heart the keener,
    Courage the greater as our strength faileth.
    Here lies our leader ,in the dust of his greatness.
    Who leaves him now , be damned forever.
    We who are old now shall not leave this Battle,
    But lie at his feet , in the dust with our leader

    House Carles at the Battle of Hastings

  7. #7
    ?

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    A young Fritz Langanke
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Langanke.jpg  
    The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter" 26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke. 26th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers , ( 3rd Tyneside Irish )

    1st July 1916

    Thought shall be the harder , heart the keener,
    Courage the greater as our strength faileth.
    Here lies our leader ,in the dust of his greatness.
    Who leaves him now , be damned forever.
    We who are old now shall not leave this Battle,
    But lie at his feet , in the dust with our leader

    House Carles at the Battle of Hastings

  8. #8

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    Paul
    Thank you for your reply and the great photo, I agree a friend of mine has also met and corresponded with Fritz Langanke and he said he's an honourable man of quality. I will get myself a copy of the book you recommend, it sounds very good. Below are a couple of photos of Christian Tychsen, I have visited the site where he was reputed to have been ambushed and killed in Normandy (third photo below) his Kubel was heading toward us just going round the corner on the Guehebert Road. Ambushed by Lieutenant Richard Rogers platoon from the low ground to the right, only Jochiam Frotscher got out wounded and escaped off to the left. The farm (out of picture behind) La Noraiserie had its barn searched in 1998 and two gas mask tins were recovered that came from Tychsen's Kubelwagen one was marked 4588 and the other Lemke. There's still a mystery about why he ended up being buried two miles from the site of ambush with all identifiable items including his dog tag removed. His body was finally identified only in 1968 after numorous enquiries by his family. The final photo shows his first resting place. The corner directly in frontto the left the Haut Vents crossroads on the D49. These photo's were taken a few years ago and I've scanned them so thats why the qualities got so good.
    LUCKYSTRIKE
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Tychsen.JPG   Tychsen 1.JPG  

    Tychsen ambush.JPG   Tychsen grave.JPG  


  9. #9

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    Sorry for some reason the photo of the site of the ambush did not post so here it is, photo 3 as discussed above.
    LUCKYSTRIKE
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Tychsen ambush.JPG  

  10. #10

    Default Re: Battle damaged Road sign route to a Knights Cross.

    Thanks for posting that interview LUCKYSTRIKE

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