Chapter 6

Other Expedients

I. Improvisations in the Construction of Bridges

In European Russia temporary bridges were built almost exclusively of wood because iron and steel were scarce. In general, the first construction was a wooden emergency bridge which was not secure against the danger of floods. Later on, this bridge was usually replaced by a permanent structure above flood level. Whenever it was possible, attempts were made to construct double­track bridges. GHQ engineers, bridge-construction engineers, or ordinary construction battalions were usually employed for the building of the first temporary bridges. The bridges above flood level were built by bridge-construction battalions and Organization Todt [Ed: paramilitary construction organization of the Nazi Party, auxiliary to the Wehrmacht] personnel. The local civilian population served as auxiliaries and were paid for their services.

During the spring of 1942 one division was ordered to move from Kiev across the Seim River to the east. The floods were assumed to have receded by then, but this was not the case and no bridges above flood level were available. A low emergency bridge had to be quickly constructed. No engineer units were within reach because they were all at the front. There was therefore no other choice but to recall one competent officer and some technicians from the front and to build a 600-foot bridge and a 450-yard corduroy approach road with the help of local civilian labor. The work was completed within five days with the help of 500 women volunteers. These native women were well paid and fed; they performed their heavy work in the best of spirits.

The hauling of the essential lumber and the procurement of nails and iron straps always constituted great problems, mainly because the engineers were chronically short of organic vehicles. Timber-and-nail stringers had to be substituted for the long steel I-beams which were not available. .

II. Improvised Road Maintenance

Army and paramilitary construction units were responsible for keeping roads and highways in serviceable condition. This meant hard work and required a lot of manpower, particularly in spring. Special roads were reserved for armored vehicles and maintained with particular care. Along these roads the con-


struction units had to build bridges or fords for heavy tanks and assault guns since the existing ones usually could not carry such heavy loads. These improvised methods of improving the road net facilitated quick movements of entire units and reinforcements which were to be transferred from one sector to another. They contributed decisively to the success of many defensive and offensive operations.

III. Deceptive Supply Movements

Supply vehicles were frequently dispatched along certain routes in order to deceive the enemy and make him believe that these movements meant the relief or arrival of troop units. Dust raised by motor or horse-drawn vehicles behind the front lines also deceived the enemy. The vehicles dragged tree trunks or brushwood along the roads in order to raise more dust.

IV. Invasion Barges as Means of Transportation

During the course of preparations for a landing in England in the late summer of 1940, the Germans built invasion barges, the so-called Siebel ferries, in record time and put them through various tests. These ferries were equipped with four 88-mm. guns and an appropriate number of 20-mm. Flak guns which could be fired at air, land, or naval targets. Powered by obsolete aircraft engines, these ferries reached a speed of four knots. They were actually used for transportation on Lake Ladoga, in the Mediterranean, and in the Straits of Kerch where they performed well.

V. Transportation over Frozen Waterways

Most rivers in European Russia freeze during winter and the ice was frequently used as a roadbed for supply routes. For this purpose the roadway was reinforced by blocks of ice and, whenever the ice grew thinner, by rafts. Such improvised supply routes across and along rivers could be found in all parts of the Russian theater. Leningrad, for instance, was supplied over ice roads during many months of the year and, during the later stage of the siege, even by a railroad that crossed the deeply­frozen Lake Ladoga. The Russians also used their most important inland waterway, the Volga, as a main traffic artery for motor vehicles and sleighs during the winter months.

In East Prussia the entire supply of Fourth Army moved over ice bridges across the Frisches Haff in February 1945. More-


over, during the winter 1944-45, elements of Third Army were supplied with rations, ammunition, and equipment over an ice route across the Kurisches Haff.

VI. Fuel Conservation Expedients

Forced to apply strict conservation measures because of the gasoline shortage, which gradually increased during the war, the Germans introduced wood-gas generators in ever greater numbers. At first these were installed on supply trucks used in the zone of the interior. Fuel conservation measures had to be imposed on combat units soon afterward but the conversion to wood-gas generators was impracticable for tactical reasons. The railroads had to carry all supply as close as possible to the front and were used even for minor local troop movements. In the Tilsit area in East Prussia ration and ammunition trains moved as close as 500 yards behind the front line. On the lower Memel front a narrow-gauge lateral supply railroad was built at 500-yard distance from the main line of resistance.

These measures alone were far from sufficient. The field forces therefore introduced expedients on their own initiative. Every empty truck had to take a second empty in tow. With the exception of certain staff cars no passenger vehicles were allowed to undertake individual trips. Passenger vehicles had to be towed by trucks even during troop movements. These and some other similar measures subsequently became standing operating procedure and their enforcement was strictly supervised. They did not alleviate the over-all gasoline and oil shortage but it was only by their enforcement that it was at all possible to maintain the most essential motor traffic.

VII. Railroad Tank Cars Towed Across the Baltic
(Map 4)

Continuous air attacks during 1944-45 drained Germany's fuel reserves and reduced her means of transportation. The heavy losses of tank cars caused a great shortage of vehicles capable of transporting fuel by rail. Seventy tank cars immobilized in Memel were therefore urgently needed. But it was no longer possible to move them out of Memel because the city was surrounded by Russian forces. Nor were there any suitable vessels on hand that could transport tank cars across the sea. Various expedients were considered in an effort to find a way out but none promised success. Finally an engineer officer calculated that empty tank cars could float on the sea if they were sealed airtight. On-the-spot experiments immediately confirmed this theory. Local


naval units instantly received orders to tow all the tank cars from Memel across the Baltic to the nearest port with railroad facilities. Despite all doubts expressed by the Navy, the army commander insisted on the execution of this order. The first vessel with five tank cars in tow arrived in Pillau, west of Koenigsberg, in the fall of 1944 after a night journey of 110 miles across a fairly calm sea. The cars were undamaged upon arrival and were put into service without delay. Thereafter these phantom voyages continued in the same manner night after night with the number of cars in tow varying between eight to ten per convoy. Everything went according to plan. Only toward the end of these curious railroad-sea convoys was it found that several cars had broken loose because of heavy seas and had floated away from their towing vessel. They caused considerable excitement in coastal shipping when they were first discovered anal reported as enemy submarines. Naval planes and patrol boats immediately put to sea to observe this enemy threat from closer range. To everyone's relief the dangerous submarines turned out to be the turret-like superstructures of the tank cars which had been lost at night and were now rocking on the high seas. The runaways were soon caught and towed into port.


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