By Chris Pittman
Translations by Nadine Wichmann
At a flea market in Hamburg in 2001 I found a small lot of Feldpost letters that cost 50 cents. I have hundreds Feldpost letters in my collection. Most have boring content, but some of them have interesting stories to tell. One of those letters I bought that day in Hamburg is particularly interesting. Inside the small envelope was not only the letter it had originally contained, but also a bunch of papers and documents that tell the story of Willy Spörer, an Oberreiter in Schnelle Abt. 510, part of Schnelle Brigade 20. Reading these papers, you can almost sense what it might have been like to be in Germany during the war, enduring bombing raids and worrying about loved ones serving at the front…
It was a cool fall day in the sixth year of the war. A mother in Hamburg looked up at a framed photograph of her only son in his sharp-looking wool uniform. It had been such a short time since Willy had left their home to go perform his duty, but it seemed like an eternity of worrying. But never had the worrying been so bad as today, Willy’s birthday. She took out her stationary and began yet another letter to her beloved son…
“Hamburg 1. Okt. 1944
Our dear only son!
We are endlessly sad because we have been without news from you for the last 6 weeks, dear Willy. But, dear son, the news would be too sad today on your 19th birthday.
I want to caress you, I want to hold you in my arms and comfort you, but we are separated. We don’t even know where you are. I would make your heart heavy, dear Willy, if I wrote to you how we worry, the heart wants to break. Today was really terrible; it hurts us so much when we imagine how you, too, suffer. We don’t know whether our letters even reach you, that would be terrible if you also had to be without news from us.
Today we spent your 19th birthday in longing. Flowers decorate your picture; we wish you every imaginable good. From our deepest hearts we wish for you that this state and the momentary situation will clear up soon and turn out for the better. I want to plead and beg to God that he will keep us to you, and you to us, healthy. Let Fate be merciful with us, since the pain and suffering are really too great after 6 weeks without a sign of life.
Schween and Krueger wrote to your parents, or rather they had the opportunity to write but our mail got destroyed.
We, dear son, are doing OK except for the great pain that we are without any sign of life from you. God be with you my beloved son, all imaginable good wishes to you from our hearts. Many dear, dear greetings and 10,000 kisses we send you. Mom and Dad. Auf wiedersehen!”
It was very unfortunate that the mail had been destroyed by the constant bombing. All the mail was delayed, including a letter from the family of Willy’s Kamerad Schween that had been written 2 weeks earlier. When the letter finally arrived, it brought an unwelcome explanation for the lack of news from Willy.
“Roenneburg, den 17.9.1944
Dear Familie Spoerer,
Since receiving news from my son, this is my first chance to write to you. News from our son was that they arrived in France and came into heavy battles near Paris. They came back with only a few Kameraden. He wrote that his kamerad Spörer was not among them. This news was devastating to us, since we have met personally. Now we can’t automatically assume the worst, there are many who were captured or are with a different unit. Our son is in Thüringen now, that’s where they are being reunited. Who knows what still lies ahead of us? I will right to you right away when he knows about your son. Dear family Spörer, please don’t be mad that I am writing the truth to you, as I consider it my obligation.
Now we wish you all the best, that you get good news from your son. Heartfelt greetings, Familie Schween.”
This news was further confirmed for Willy’s parents when the birthday letter came back to them with scary-looking official stamps in red ink. They read, “Return to sender- Addressee Missing.” All the family could do was wait and hope. Any day they might receive a letter from Willy with a return address in a POW camp or from a different unit. Poor Willy had been in the Wehrmacht such a short time. His parents only knew what training unit he had been in, they didn’t even know what field unit he had been assigned to, and the only information they had about where he had been was what they had heard from the Schween family. But weeks passed without any word from Willy. The fear grew worse and worse. Finally at the beginning of November they had to write a letter to Willy’s training unit, 13. Aufklärungs Ers. Abt., to see what they could learn about the whereabouts of their son. Eventually they received a copy of the official report on the action in which their son had gone missing.
“Report of Uffz. Schubert of the Schnelle Abt. 510, Sept. 11 1944
Account of the action of the Schnelle Abt. 510 near Mons on Sept. 3 and 4, 1944.
On Sunday Sept. 3 the regiment of Glasow assembled in a forest in order to reform the regiment. There, the MG Staffel (detachment) of the 1st Schwadron led by Wachtmeister Bencke, under the 7.5 PaK of the 3rd Schwadron Uffz. Schubert, took up security duty. The enemy attacked with tanks during the late afternoon. The regiment had already partially assembled when the attack occurred. During the early evening the enemy had been brought to a halt; 4 tanks had been stopped completely, 1 of them by a mine and 3 were shot by the PaK. The rest of the tanks went into cover and shot from there into the forest where the regiment lay.
In the late evening came the following order: “The regiment must depart towards the north and go over the street crossing ‘X’, the Schnelle Abt. 510 takes over security.” Schnelle Abt. 510 took over the Nachhut (rear guard), led by Leutnant Bloecker. When I came to the street crossing I heard that the regiment had already suffered a great deal of killed and wounded. The 1st and 2nd Schwadron had already had some killed and wounded whereas the 3rd Schwadron only had wounded. Now the Regiment moved toward Mons. The Nachhut followed at 2:30 AM. Connection with the Regiment was broken in St. Quentin because there were still no maps available. Because all bridges in St. Quentin had been bombed, the connections within the Nachhut broke as well. Now each vehicle went independently. When we found a bridge- it was the only intact one- we met up with larger German formations, tanks and Fallschirmjäger. We went with them and then met the Gefechtstross of the 2nd Schwadron of the Abt. 501 led by Hauptmann Pfarr. We got to Mons in the early morning hours. There we were met and shot at by an enemy armored spearhead. As ordered, we moved further north and avoided Mons. On the way back, we met further troops of the Abt. 509, 510 and 511 and one Abteilung of smashed artillery, which had been destroyed by aircraft. Some kilometers further on, the enemy attacked with tanks again, also, fighter aircraft approached. All troops were put up front to mount a counterattack, but this was hindered by the tanks. In a very short time, the enemy formed a ring around us. Fighter aircraft attacks followed, and we received shellfire. Very many vehicles fell out; also these attacks caused a great mess. By the evening almost everything was destroyed. The rest of the troops retreated to surrounding manor buildings. In the afternoon we tried to break through. Here Uffz. Schenck of the 3rd Schwadron fell, as well as some Mannschaften (enlisted men) of the Abeteilung. At night I left the encirclement. At this time I still saw Uffz. Brunkhorst (Abt.510), Obgfr. Westen, Obgrf. Henning, Obreiter Betz, Konrad Meier, Buesueng, Peters as well as several unknown enlisted men of 1st and 2nd Schwadron. From 3rd Schwadron Uffz. Schubert, Uffz Strin, Ogfr. Brueck, Oberreiter Kohl, Rolf Rieglers got out.
Rittmeister Lang-Dreyer, Ob.Ltn. Ehrhard
Ob.wachtm. Grassmann, Wachtm. Grub
Uffz. Schenk, Uffz. Dierksen
Obgefr. Ruschen und Gunther
Ober-R. Gerken und Schwarz
Lt. V. Alten
Uffz. Urban und Schmidt
Uffz. Schubert was himself also wounded in this action. This dramatic report didn’t provide Willy’s family any promising information. But still, they hoped. Even when the weeks turned into months, they still hoped and prayed for their dear only son. Even when the war ended they were hoping to hear that Willy had been taken prisoner and was safe. In June 1946- more than a year after the end of the war- the still-hopeful family wrote to the authorities to determine where their son was and if he might be coming out of captivity soon. But sadly, all these hopes were for nothing. Fate was not merciful with the Spörer family. On what would have been his 19th birthday, the day his parents wrote that loving letter, Willy was already dead, lying in an unmarked grave. He had never made it out of the encirclement and had died in the fighting. After the war Willy’s remains were located and identified. He was later reburied in the Champigny- St. Andre cemetery in France, only one of 19,809 German soldiers killed in action and buried in that cemetery.