Veteran Accounts - Arno Scheibchen
Unteroffizer Arno Scheibchen
I was born in Munich (Bavaria) on 29 March, 1921 but I grew up in Silesia (District of Militsch, near Breslau) since 1922. Graduation was in Feb. 1940 in Militsch and in the same month I volunteered for service and was assigned to the Infantry and Panzer Defense Reserve Company 221. There I received 3 months brief training on the 3,7cm PAK.
We entered France in 1940 with no fighting as a march company from Prum in the Eifel district, through Luxembourg, Belgium to Sedan on the Maas, as rear echelon. In the fall I was transferred to the staff of the 46th Panzer Corps in Hirschberg (Silesia). There I was Kradmelder (dispatcher on a motorcycle) with the escort command of General von Vietighoff-Scheel. We crossed the border at Brest-Litovsk. We were part of Panzer Group Guderian (therefore the large “G” on our vehicles). During the winter of 1941, we got up to the outskirts of Moscow. In the fall of 1942 I requested to be transferred to a fighting unit.
One of the units of the 46th Panzer Corps was the 2. Panzer Division. There I wound up in the Panzer Jaeger Abteilung 38, 3rd Company under the leadership of Hauptmann Strauss. At the time I was an Obergefreiter and was sent to an NCO course behind the front lines.
At the conclusion of this course, I was promoted to Unteroffizier and placed in charge of a self-propelled gun carriage consisting of a captured Czech Panzer (38t), mounted on it was a 7.62cm cannon (a captured Russian cannon). We called it a “Ratschbum” for it’s great velocity (Ratsch = firing noise, Bum = the hit noise that followed each other in a short time). The fire height was 2.03m. We gave the enemy an object to be seen far away. The crew: driver and radioman in the front of the panzer, gunner and loader on top behind an armored shield. Conversation between the driver and the radioman was via a throat mic and headphones. Munition: anti-tank rounds, high-explosive rounds, and scattered grenades.
In March 1943, I received a shot through my right hand. I was sent to the field hospital in Prague and Budweis (Czechoslovakia). Afterwards, I was sent to a convalescent company in Freistadt (Upper Austria). Freistadt was the garrison for the Pz. Jaeger Reserve Btl. 17, the reserve unit of the 38th Btl. By the end of November 1943, I was back with my old unit (3/Pz.Jaeger 38) in Russia. I arrived there in time to be sent to Northern France with the whole Btl. (advance unit of the 2nd Panzer Division) to Cambrai. Cambrai is known as the site of a great panzer battle in WWI. Our company was garrisoned in Hermies. The panzer vehicles remained in Russia to be turned over to an SS Panzer Division.
In Hermies, we recievedthe Jagdpanzer IV, each Zug (platoon) got four. With three platoons in a company, we had 12 panzers. From Cambrai we moved on to Amiens. Hitler expected the Allied invasion of France to be in the north, not Normandy. In the vicinity of Amiens, I got a special assignment. Near the town of Hebecourt (on the road to Paris) I was to bury tree trunks to counter Allied gliders.
We called the tree trunks “Rommel’s Asparagus” (the idea probably came from Rommel). The stakes were 4.5m long, and hard to cut. These were placed 30 m apart in the form of a square. They were buried 1.5m deep so that they stuck out of the ground 3m. the holes for them were dug by local civilians. Each evening the paymasters of the company came and paid the men. The pay was based upon the amount of dug holes, which I had to keep a record of. There was a scale, depending on the condition of the ground. Hebecourt had chalk ground with flint, which had the highest scale. I was chose for this task because of my knowledge of French.
On the day of the invasion of Normandy, the panzers were loaded on to railroad cars. Just before Paris, we had to change to the roads. The tracks were bombed out. We were forced to march through Paris, since the bridge over the river Seine in the north was destroyed. We drove mostly at night to evade the fighter-bombers (Jabos). As an example, my panzer already had over 20 hits. The small shells of the Jabos had no effect on the Jagdpanzer IV.
The main area of combat for me was SW of Caen, on top of the notorious Hill 112. I experienced my first rocket attack by Jabo. We could out maneuver the approaching rocket. On 13 August 1944, I was assigned to secure the road south of Falaise, about 3km NNW of Ranes (cauldron of Falaise). At daybreak on 14 August 1944, we encountered a Sherman tank and exchanged fire. We got shot down. My Richtschutze and I became prisoners of the U.S. Army. As we were driven back in a jeep, we could see why we didn’t have a chance to knock out the Sherman – the front of the tanks were reinforced with sandbags. An idea that unfortunately didn’t occur to us.
In U.S. captivity I fared pretty well. I was treated more humanely than in the German Army. In short time, I was became “reeducated”. I asked immediately for assignment to a work company, which was based on German organization (gruppen, or platoons).
One day when I was working, one of the Caucasian guards asked if I had a wish. What does one want when one is a prisoner and has nothing? So I asked for a toothbrush. The Ami promised to bring one for me the next day. I was to request permission to go to the outhouse. He would escort me and unobtrusively hand me the toothbrush (non-fraternization). So that’s what happened! To ask for a toothpaste I thought to be too bold.
Later on we had African-American guards. We were sort of skeptical about it, but we soon realized that they were good comrades. They went to the supply depot to steal for us, and kept the French away from us when they threatened us (God damned Frenchmen – go ahead!). During all this time, I had various functions: group leader of a work company, truck driver for the water supply of the camp, driver for a U.S. Army Captain (jeep), camp police and supply Sargent in an African-American company (3887 QM Gas Supply Company). The company commander, First Lt. Rexford D. Tompkins (whose address I would like to get if he is still alive) was Caucasian.
It was pretty odd that when an African-American soldier went on guard duty, he received rifle ammunition from me, a POW. One time, one of these men exchanged his drill uniform for a regulation cloth uniform because he had pawned his to a mademoiselle for amorous services. On one occasion, an African-American Sargent vented his anger about the French and said, “I want to take a company of prisoners and take off to that goddamned Cherbourg!” (at that time we were garrisoned in Cherbourg). My release from the U.S. POW camp over Bolbec near LeHavre (France) to Ansbach (Central Franconia in Bavaria). It wasn’t as nice in LeHavre. We lay on the ground together, and the food was bad.
In 1946-47 I was a day laborer and after a one year post graduate course, I became a grade school teacher. At the same time I studied industrial management and earned my MBA degree.