Sharing God's Blessings: An Oral History of a Family
Bareheaded, Leutnant Gerhard Krieger, aged 20, pushed up his sand goggles to a point above his eyebrows. His tousled blond hair was as filthy as the unprotected skin of his face, the latter accented by the owlish area around his eyes. The column was halted while Oberstleutnant Renze, commander of the 8th Panzer Regiment, conferred with Oberst Maucke, 15th Panzer Division commander. Ahead lay Alam el Halfa Ridge, their objective. The date was the 1st of September, 1942. This deepest penetration of the German forces into British Egypt had brought the Panzers to the "gates of Alexandria," seventy miles to the east. Libya and the major port facility at Tobruk were 250 miles to the west.
"Herr Leutnant," came a faint voice from Krieger's feet, "do we have a minute?" Dietel, the speaker, was not employing the intercom.
"I must water the desert."
"Out. All of you. Buy chocolate. Bring me a cigar," Krieger said into his mike.
"Please, Herr Leutnant, your future does not lie with the theatre."
Dietel slammed back the driver's hatch, leaped out and attended to his business. Fahr, the gunner, slipped out the same opening, held up a chunk of yellowish-orange cheese. "Genuine Swiss, Herr Leutnant."
Krieger laughed, watched as Fahr sectioned the rock-hard brick and spread the pieces over the blistering hot engine plate. That done, he again used his pocket knife to carve up a quarter loaf of bread. The jagged slices joined the simmering hunks of cheese on his impromptu stove.
Krieger remained in the PzKw IV's turret. As the platoon commander he must be alert to all aspects of the situation. Visual and radio. Four months ago he had been at Kaiserslautern, the training and replacement center of Wehrkreis XII, a mere fifty kilometers from his home in Saarbrücken. He wondered if the pleasant house, a villa on the east side of the city, was still standing. English bombers had carpeted Saarbrücken several times before his hurried transfer from the training center to the excitement of the Western Desert. Rommel's vaunted Afrika Korps was badly in need of replacements. Kaiserslautern was the 15th Panzer Division's Depot. When order prevailed, the 21st Panzer Division drew its personnel from Berlin, the depot center for Wehrkreis III.
By turning his head, Lieutenant Krieger could see the dusty outline of 21st Panzer's column of tanks. The two divisions, 15th and 21st Panzer, were what Generalfeldmarschall Rommel called his Afrika Korps, supported by the 90th Light Division and the Italian Xth and XXth Corps.
Gerhard thanked the Lord that his parents were safe. His father's gift for languages and his enterprise had opened the export-import door. From the early thirties he had been in business for himself, and then with the blossoming of the Hitler years and the growing importance of foreign trade Georg Krieger had established a branch office in Buenos Aires. In 1941 with the concurrence of the government...all travel by German nationals was subject to government approval...his father had transferred his headquarters to Argentina, taking his wife with him. Beef, wheat, and coffee from Brazil were his principal concern. The civilian front was beginning to feel the weight of British bombing. And with Operation Barbarossa in full swing, Georg Krieger worked hard to meet Germany's growing need for foodstuffs.
Gerhard's tank, one of the new Mark IV specials, was armed with a long-barrelled 7.5-centimeter gun equipped with a recoil-assisting, double-baffle muzzle brake. This high velocity weap