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All photos are thumbnails - click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized picture


Major Rudolf Haen in a late war formal pose.


The officers of Panzer Regiment 4, part of the 2nd Panzer Division in Schweinfurt 1938. There were no names with the photo, in the back rows are two or three faces that bear a resemblance to Haen.


Home of Panzer Regiment 4 in 1938, later recalled as U.S. Army Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt.


From the first German POWs taken in Normandy …


… to the vast flood at the end of the war …


… from teenagers taken prisoner by men slightly older …


… to SS men in camouflage fatigues …


… to old men in uniform …


… to decorated combat leaders …


… to dog faced soldiers goofing around with the end of the war in sight …


… the U.S. Army did its best to care for and feed the POWs, one at a time …


… in groups counted in the hundreds …


… and then the thousands …


… filling the camera view finder …


… and finally into the sky to appreciate the extent of the task.


There were many more acts of kindness …


... but there was still a war. Original photo captioned, “ Me and Jerry PW that tried to get away. “


Haen’s marker in Austria, in error, it lists his rank as " Major ".


The wide view of a beautiful mountain scene.


All yours for $11,000. The Haen papers fanned out on a table including personal photographs, award authorizations, diaries and private papers.


On left, award document for the Iron Cross First Class and at right, document authorizing the Combat in the East ( Russia ) Award.

 

Award for Tank Combat Actions highest level, 100 distinct occasions.

    Where are Your Decorations?

In early 2007, one of the major retailers of military collectables placed for sale a significant lot of medals, presentation certificates, formal paperwork, badges, photos and other personal and military effects related to Oberstlieutenant ( lieutenant colonel ) Rudolf Haen, a German Panzer officer from World War II. Haen’s career began with the 2nd Panzer Division and as the war progressed, he became one of the highest decorated armor officers of the Reich. He survived the war and somehow escaped from his last duty assignment in Italy only to be shot by U.S. forces on the first day of peace at a POW camp just outside of Bad Kissingen. Much of his life is well documented, the great mystery lies in the circumstances of his death.

To Die with the Coming of Peace

Oberstleutnant Rudolf Haen

The 3rd Infantry Division and the 14th Armor Division cleared Bad Kissingen and the immediate surrounding regions of German resistance in the first week of April 1945. The city surrendered without fighting, the last tanks of the famed German 2nd Panzer Divison, once traditionally linked to this Oberfranken region, were destroyed just north of Bad Kissingen. The smoke cleared, the U.S. tanks and infantry moved on and Bad Kissingen rapidly became part of the XV Corps rear. The military significance of the area was relegated to the bridges and major roads that were still intact and how they fit the vast logistics plan supporting the surging Army in the final days of the war.

In tracing the specific threads of history related to the American Army and Bad Kissingen during this period, only fleeting reference is found to the Kurstadt. A few rare citations mention an Army vehicle repair area and a POW camp in the vicinity of the city; the specific units responsible for these operations is unknown. At least for the moment, which American unit ran the POW camp and how a highly decorated German officer came to be shot on the first official day of peace in 1945 is lost to the fog of war.

The Army and the Army of Prisoners

From the first trickle of German POWs taken in the opening hours of the Normandy invasion to the unparalleled flood of prisoners encountered by Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force in the last days of the war, the record is clear that on the whole, captured or surrendering German forces were treated professionally and humanely by U.S. forces. There were exceptions, particularly when members of the SS were captured or, towards the end of the war, once the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps were discovered and became widely know among Allied troops. It was not uncommon for newly liberated concentration camp victims to take the law into their own hands for a few hours as U.S. soldiers stood by. There also were isolated instances of American soldiers roughing up, beating and even executing captured Germans but these were not sanctioned events and while not thoroughly investigated or prosecuted, actions of this nature, when suspected, were at the minimum, strongly discouraged.

U.S. Commanders and leaders at all levels were to insure that prisoners were disarmed, interrogated when possible for locally important information and then sent quickly to the rear. Combat troops handed responsibility off for POWs as soon as possible with battalion and division support troops usually sheparding long German columns to the rear. POW camps were the responsibility of the Military Police within Corps and Army rear areas but by the Spring of 1945, their numbers were stretched thin by the sheer volume they faced and under utilized units with no formal training in prisoner administration increasingly were ordered to the POW task.

In central Germany, the number of POWs reached proportions that began to strain the abilities of U.S. forces to adequately process the vast broken army. The Wehrmacht was dissolving and given the choice between surrendering to the Americans or the Russians, the roads and forests became choked with unarmed soldiers in gray fleeing to the west - southwest to reach American custody, hide in the woods or simply make their way home. In the British sectors of responsibility, surrendering Germans were often directed, led or chased towards the boundary with U.S. forces. The numbers of POWs were astounding and Earl F. Ziemke wrote in his The U. S. Army in the Occupation of Germany 1944 - 1946,

“ the plans had anticipated U.S. prisoner of war holdings to reach about 900, 000 by 30 June 1945. On 15 April 1.3 million prisoners were in U.S. hands. Another 600, 000 captures were expected in the next two weeks and at least that many more in May. Legally they were all entitled to the basic rations and quarters furnished to U.S. troops of the same rank. “

At the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, to help guard all the prisoners, additional forces were allocated to include the men from most of the U.S. anti - aircraft battalions deployed in Germany. Open air camps holding tens of thousands of men became the norm, the prisoners had no shelter beyond the tent halves they may have brought with them. There was no running water or sanitary facilities. Thousands would have died of exposure were not for the late Spring of 1945 being relatively mild and the POWs were, by virtue of long years of war, already familiar with Spartan conditions and short rations. Logisticians tried to insure that at a minimum, each POW received one C ration per day . Camp administrators organized captured German medics and doctors to form local POW hospitals overseen by Allied medical personnel.

The search was on for a select, small list of Nazi political figures and known war criminals but for the vast numbers of rank and file POWs, the Spring of 1945 was spent staring out at the countryside separated from the German woods by a few strands of barbed wire and the U.S. guards. From the camps, it was not uncommon for the prisoners to see, in the wood lines, groups of their fellow soldiers, marching along in some loose order heading home. American guards might give chase or allow the bands to disappear into the forests. Maybe someone else would pick them up. Such was the environment that prisoner of war Oberstlieutenant Rudolf Haen found himself in early May 1945.

The Career of Oberstlieutenant Rudolf Haen

By any standards, Oberstlieutenant Rudolf Haen was a remarkable combat leader. He was born in Stuttgart in 1915 and began his career after graduation from the prestigious Military Academy at Potsdam Berlin in the traditional pattern of an enlisted soldier quickly placed into the Junker - Fahnenjunker officer training path. One source states his first assignment was with the 5th Aufklarungs Abteilung, the scout battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division, located in the town of Kornwestheim. Other sources place him during this period with the 5th Kraftfahrabteilung, a motorized transportation battalion headquartered in Stuttgart with companies in Ulm and Kassel. This latter source is probably the more accurate account; Haen, never married, maintained his official home of record at a Stuttgart address. Either way, this was all consistent with the beginning of a Panzer career although, there is an interesting brief side story.

Apparently, Haen was fascinated during his career with the German Army’s Fallschirmjagers - paratrooper corps. The owner of Haen’s papers reported that found in the collection were dozens of photos related to these specialized Luftwaffe units and Haen, had he the chance to restart his military career, probably would have followed Luftwaffe General Karl Student into the fledgling paratroopers. This was not an option in the mid 1930s and it was with the dynamic Panzer forces that he would make his mark.

By 1938, Haen had passed the probationary period, was promoted to the grade of lieutenant and assigned as the “ ordnance officer “ of the II Battalion, Panzer Regiment 4, 2nd Panzer Division. This position was similar to the U.S. battalion / squadron motor officer with the additional responsibility of maintenance and repair of all weapons associated with the unit. It is unclear if Haen was with the battalion while it was in Schweinfurt; he certainly was with the unit after the move to Laxenburg, Austria.

With the coming of the war, Haen participated in both the invasions of Poland and France while assigned to Panzer Regiment 4. At some point, he may have served as a tank platoon leader during these campaigns although there appears to be no clear specific record. He received the Iron Cross 2nd Grade for his actions in the Polish campaign and was not decorated for valor in the French campaign.

Haen’s combat career became particularly noteworthy with the invasion of Russia in 1941. After service with the 2nd Panzer Division, he was transferred to Panzer Abteilung 100, a battalion assigned to the 47th Panzer Corps operating in the central sector of the Russian front and is awarded the Iron Cross 1st Grade. The following year, as a senior lieutenant, he was transferred to the 103 Panzer Battalion, part of the 3rd Motorized Infantry Division. This armored unit did not have tanks but rather was equipped with the highly effective tracked assault guns that served the Wehrmacht well in both attack and defense. Promoted to captain, Haen took command of Company 1 and in September 1942, is awarded the German Cross in Gold for valor during the fight for Stalingrad. In November, he is again cited for valor and received the Knight’s Cross. Wounded in action, Haen was evacuated from Russia to recover in Germany. The battalion he left behind was subsequently destroyed over the next few months as the Soviets encircled and eliminated the Sixth German Army at Stalingrad.

In mid 1943, the 3rd Motorized Division was reconstituted as the 3rd Panzergrenadier Division and Haen, recovered from his injuries, was given command of the reformed Panzer Battalion 103. The division was sent to the Italian front and employed against the Americans as they fought their way north thru the mountains. In early 1944, he was promoted to Major and in November, in recognition of his combat achievements in both Russian and Italy, Haen was awarded the Oak Leaf cluster to his Knights Cross. With this level of award, Haen reached the upper echelons of the German combat award hierarchy. After attending the General Staff School in Berlin, in early 1945, Haen was ordered to return to the Italian front as a member of the Command Staff of the 14th Army. At this point, the facts surrounding Haen’s well documented career suddenly become very sparse.

The last entry in his military record records his promotion to Oberstlieutenant effective on 20 April 1945. In Italy, the German 14th Army surrendered on 2 May and the final line found in Rudolf Haen biographies in English and German usually states he was “shot “ or “ died “ in American captivity at Bad Kissingen on 9 May 1945.

How does Haen get from northern Italy to central Germany when virtually all German rail and air operations had been destroyed is just one of the many frustrating questions at hand. There still were a few brave pilots with light aircraft ferrying the most senior officials around what was left of the Reich in the Spring of 1945. Combat record notwithstanding, at his grade, Haen hardly qualifies for that type of service and it is a very long walk in the snow through the Alps from Italy to Bad Kissingen. Had Haen abandoned the 14th Army earlier and somehow found his way into Bavaria? This hardly seems in keeping with his career that placed enormous value on loyalty to the sacred German military traditions.

The owner of the Haen document collection speculated that Field Marshall Albert Kesselring may have assisted in Haen’s departure from Italy. They had know each other in the Mediterranean front and Haen was a personal favorite. In the last days of the war, Kesselring was the Commander - in - Chief of Wehrmacht forces in the West and certainly had the means to expedite Haen’s escape. Whatever the circumstances, Haen, most probably heading to Stuttgart, was scooped up by American forces somewhere in the Main - Franken region in the Spring of 1945 and was sent to the closest U.S. POW enclosure. It was located just outside of Bad Kissingen.

POW Enclosure Bad Kissingen and to Die with the Coming of Peace

Beyond the fact that there was a POW camp at Bad Kissingen, very little is known of its location, size or the unit responsible for its operation. It was not at the Kaserne or in the town, those facts are well established and the Bad Kissingen city archivist has nothing in his files related to Haen or the camp. The one published German book that focuses on the war years and immediate post war life in the town makes no mention of the camp. The one camp in that area that does appear in some detail in written accounts was located at the Hammelburg, somewhat southwest of Bad Kissingen. As soon as U.S. forces liberated the captured Russians and Americans held at Hammelburg, the camp immediately began to fill with German POWs.

Zeimke quotes the account of Lieutenant Colonel F. Van Wyke Mason, a member of the SHAFE G 5 staff as he reported a visit to a typical large POW enclosure located near Bad Kreuznach in mid April 1945.

“ … I had a look at the jail that was well supplied with Nazis and suspects. Then went on to the PW cage on the edge of town. We arrived at sunset and saw a breathtaking panorama; 37, 000 German, Hungarian and other Axis prisoners roaming in a caged area of about half a square mile. They certainly were not coddled there. They slept on the bare ground with whatever covering they had brought with them. They got two ’ Cs ’ per day and that was it. …there was a separate enclosure for officers where they were so tightly packed they had barely room to lie down and more trucks kept coming up every few minutes … In command of the camp was a 1st Lt of infantry with less than 300 ( he probably intended to write 30 ) men. The boys looked a bit serious as they crouched behind their machine guns for there was only one strand of wire and no search lights for night time. Periodically some Germans did try to get loose but they were always cut down before they got 50 yards distance. “

The camp at Bad Kissingen certainly was not this large but Mason’s account describes a scene that in many ways probably accurately reflected the situation that Haen found himself in.

Which American unit in specific had responsibility for this enclosure; yet another frustrating and unanswered question. In the last week of the war, the 3rd Infantry Division and 14th Armored Division have long cleared from the immediate area. The post war published histories of both units shed no light on the issue and in the Main - Franken region, corps boundaries and divisions within each corps seemed to change with lightening speed even as the war was coming to an end. Those post war accounts of U.S. POW operations in the end phase of the war generally concentrate on either the search for the war criminals or take the “ big number “ approach to the topic. With hundreds of un - named camps and hundreds of thousands of prisoners, perhaps more detailed accounts are just not possible.

I think Bad Kissingen lay deep in the U.S. XV Corps area during late April, then on 2 May, the 99th Infantry Division, part of III U.S. Corps, was ordered to suspend its advance and pull out of the combat line. Five days later, this unit was ordered to move towards northern Bavaria and the area including Bad Kissingen, and begin a formal occupation mission. Taking control of the many POW camps and enclosures was one of their tasks along with garrisoning of selected cities an towns, safeguarding roads and bridges and a myriad of other tasks. I do not believe they were fully in place, however, by 9 May.

So how did Oberstlieutenant Haen die? Did he become distraught at the announcement that Germany had lost the war and challenged a jumpy and untrained guard? Did an opening in the wire prove to be too much temptation, then a mad dash and a blaze of gunfire? Did a guard, during the sortation of prisoners by rank, discover that Haen was a field grade officer and decide that one more Nazi, alive or dead, just wouldn’t matter? Did he simply die of exposure? This is all lost to history but perhaps in the memories of a few old veterans who were there, German and American, all facts of that day are recalled.

The exclamation point to the end of the war. Events unforgotten because everyone remembered where they were and what they did when they learned that the war in Europe was over and that German or American, they had survived. A day of prayers, laughter, black slapping for some, for others, perhaps fear for the future. The 9th of May was a day filled with so much that it could not be easily forgotten. Memories to last a lifetime of having survived the war, a story to be told over and over again. And there may be one or two men living to this day who also recall a vision of that day outside of Bad Kissingen, of a camp, the barbed wire and the blue sky and the story of one last man who died on a late Spring day with the coming of peace.

By June of 1945, U.S. units involved with POW camps were releasing tens of thousands of captured German troops each week to ease the strain on care and feeding requirements and insure that some level of local recovery and in particular, farming, could begin that year.

The Rudolf Haen collection of medals, badges, ribbon bars, paperwork, diaries and photos sold for $ 11, 000.00 to a Spanish collector. They probably had been kept at Haen’s home or by a relative and at some point, still intact as a group, found there way into the military collectables market. Between his globe trotting job and other interests, the current owner is slowly translating the Haen diaries and papers that perhaps at some point, may will clarify at least Haen‘s last months in Italy.

After the war, the remains of Rudolf Hain were recovered and moved to an Austrian Military Cemetery in Saint Johann, the Tyrol. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the Veteran’s Association of the 2nd Panzer Division was hard at work, recovering its honored war dead.

 


Documents authorizing lower levels of the Tank Combat Award.

 

 

 


A marker in Austria and his decorations and papers fanned on a desktop, Rudolf Haen, dead with the coming of peace.

Feb 08 

 


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