Germany – Third Reich. A Scarce Bravery Document Group of 5 Award Certificates to Obergefreiter Fritz Leonhardt, who served with 3rd Company (Motorised), 35th Engineer Battalion, 35th Infantry Division. Leonhardt took part in the frontier battles around Bialystok (winning the Iron Cross 2nd Class), the encirclement of Smolensk, the encirclement of Vyazma and the failed assault on Moscow, before being wounded in the subsequent Soviet counter-attack. Leonhardt later went on to win the Iron Cross 1st Class in the fighting withdrawal from Bobruisk in July 1944, following Operation Bagration, the Soviet offensive that effectively destroyed German Army Group Centre.
This is a scarce and very good typical bravery document group of 5 award certificates which relate to a former Junior NCO in an Infantry Division Engineer Battalion.
a) Iron Cross 1st Class, awarded in the field on 16th July 1944 as an Obergefreiter, 3/35th Engineer Battalion. Signed by Richert as Generalleutnant and General Officer Commanding 35th Infantry Division.
Richert was awarded the Knights Cross on 17.3.44. as Genlt & GOC 35th Infantry Division. The 623rd Oakleaves on 18.10.44 as Genlt & GOC 35th Infantry Division and the German Cross in Gold on 1st December 1941 as Oberst and Commanding Officer 23rd Infantry Regiment, 11th Infantry Division. Richert was hanged in Minsk on 30th January 1946. Richert was executed for war crimes against Partisans after being captured by the Soviets on the conclusion of the war. He was an individual with a fearsome reputation who issued orders to execute his soldiers who were found unwounded or found without diagnosed illnesses in German hospitals.
b) Iron Cross 2nd Class awarded in the field on 27th June 1941 as a Gefreiter in the 3/35th Engineer Battalion. Signed by Fishcer von Weikersthal as Generalleutnant and General Officer Commanding 35th Infantry Division.
Fischer von Weikersthal was awarded the Knights Cross on 6.8.41 and General Officer Commanding 35th Infantry Division.
c) The General Assault Badge awarded by the Division Headquarters on 20th February 1942, as an Obergefreiter 3/35th Engineer Battalion. Signed by Von Roman as Generalmajor and General Officer Commanding 35th Infantry Division.
Von Roman was awarded the Knights Cross on 19.2.42 as Generalmajor and General Officer Commanding 35th Infantry Division, he received the 313th Oakleaves on 28.10.43 as General of the Artillery and General Officer Commanding XX Army Corps and the German Cross in Gold on 19.12.41 as Generalmajor and Artillery Command 3. This is an unusual variant of this award certificate in that it has been locally produced on card in the field for the Divisional Commander.
d) The Ostmedaille, awarded on 20th August 1942, as an Obergefreiter. Signed for correctness by a Leutnant and acting Officer Commanding 3rd Company, 35th Engineer Battalion.
e) The Black Wound Badge awarded in the field on 25.3.1943, for his first wound which was received on 20th December 1941. Awarded as an Obergefreiter 3/35th Engineer Battalion. Signed by a Major and Battalion Commander.
The division was involved in the defence against the Russian Winter Counter-Offensive around Moscow on the date of Leonhardt’s wounding.
The Division was mentioned twice in the German Armed Forces Report.
13th March 1942 – The Baden-Wurttemberg 35th Infantry Division has particularly distinguished itself in the battles of the last week with the defence of numerous attacks of far superior enemy forces.
23rd September 1943 – All the enemy breakthrough attempts were defeated in bitter battles to the south-east of Gomel and in the area of Smolensk. The Silesian 18th Panzergrenadier Division, the Wurttemberg 25th Panzergrenadier Division and Baden-Wurttemberg 35th Infantry Division have particularly distinguished themselves.
It is not clear whether Leonhardt saw active service in 1939/40 but it is certain that he saw action on the Central Eastern Front between 1941 and 1944. His act of bravery which led to his award of the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 27th June 1941 would have taken place during the battles involved with breeching the Russian border fortifications. The 35th Infantry Division was part of 9th Army at the beginning of the conflict, it formed the Northern pincer of the Bialystok encirclement battles, before moving on to be involved in the encirclement of Smolensk, his Iron Cross 2nd Class would have been for his part in the actions around Bialystok. The division then fought in the area of Smolensk during the encirclement there, the encirclement battles around Vyazma in October 1941, the assault on Moscow in December 1941 and then in the defence against the Soviet counter-attack which began on 5th December 1941 during which Leonhardt was wounded (on 20th December), and subsequently awarded the Wound Badge in Black. On 20th February 1942 Leonhardt was awarded the General Assault Badge by Divisional HQ, and later in August he was awarded the Ostmedaille for his part in the battles that took place over the winter of 1941-42.
In the remainder of 1942 and the early part of 1943 the Division was attached to Army Group Centre in the area of Gzhatsk, which was in the middle of the heavily contested Rzhev Salient, the scene of several major unsuccessful Russian Offensives before the Salient was abandoned in early 1943. The division then fought in the Yelnya and Mogilev areas throughout the remainder of the year as well as in the unsuccessful defence of Smolensk.
His award of the Iron Cross 1st Class on 16th July 1944 would have been most likely for an act of bravery during the breakout from the pocket around Bobruisk as a result of the collapse of Army Group Centre in June 1944 and the Division’s fighting withdrawal through the Russian lines, getting through the Pripyet Marshes and reaching the Brest-Litovsk area via Pinsk by mid-July.
The conditions which the 35th Infantry Division (under the command of Generalleutnant Richert) went through during this period is well described in an extract taken from its Divisional History and published in Alex Buchner’s ‘Ostfront 1944’ (page 200):
‘After all attacks had been repulsed on 23rd June, at 0400 hours on the morning of the 24th the enemy launched a major attack following an hour-long bombardment on the Division’s sector, and soon achieved deep penetrations and breakthroughs. The next day (25th) the main body of the Division was forced to withdraw toward the west, as radio communications had been interrupted and it had lost all contact. On the 26th the Division was surrounded by far superior enemy forces near Osemlya (about 40 kilometres south of Bobruisk). After destroying all of its vehicles, heavy weapons, equipment and documents the Division, with only its small arms, broke through the Russian encircling ring with loud shouts of hurray. It then withdrew to the Ptitsch, pausing briefly before setting out again. During the further course of the retreat the Division fought it’s way through the Pripyet Marshes towards the Southwest, constantly pursued by enemy tanks its flanks threatened. Thanks to its great march performance a north-south thrust by the Soviets failed to cut off major elements of the Division as they left the swampy terrain…’
A number of map diagrams included clearly show the path of the 35th Infantry Division from the start to the end of this fighting withdrawal to the north of Brest-Litovsk.