Germany - Third Reich: The Demyansk Pocket Iron Cross 2nd Class, Polotsk Iron Cross 1st Class, and Retreat to the Kurland Pocket Black Wound Badge Group of Documents to Oberfeldwebel Franz Hulsmann , HQ and HQ Company, 503rd Infantry/Grenadier Regiment, 290th Infantry Division, recipient of the Infantry Assault Badge in Silver, Demjansk Shield and War Merit Cross 1st Class, a seldom seen combination of awards.
A fine and scarce group of 8 award certificates relating to a former senior warrant officer in the German Infantry. A scarce combination of The Iron Cross 1st Class and the War Merit Cross 1st Class with swords to the same individual.
Franz Hulsmann was a career soldier who would have enlisted in the German Army before World War 2 as we can tell by his rank of Feldwebel in early 1941. Seeing service in the west during the Polish Campaign and then fighting in France in 1940, his unit served as part of Army Group North on the Eastern Front from the outset of the war in the East. Starting out from East Prussia, 503rd Infantry Regiment served as part of 290th Infantry Division, Army Group North during Operation Barbarossa, the early days of the campaign saw quick advances whilst sporadically engaging the Russian defenders, it crossed the Lithuanian-Latvian border area, and then the Latvian-Russian border area in early July before engaging in battles to penetrate the organised Stalin line defences in July 1941. Through late July and early August the division took Staraya Russa and then defended it against Russian counter-attacks made by the 34th Army. It would have been during this phase that Lange would have engaged in some of the Infantry Assaults that resulted in the award of the Infantry Assault Badge.
Throughout the remainder of the autumn and into the early stage of the winter the Regiment was involved in fighting up the Postinka. On 7th January 1942, the Russians as part of their winter counterattack broke through the defence in the area of the Ilmen and Seligen Lakes and the 290th Infantry Division was involved in the fighting inside the Demjansk Pocket until the withdrawal and escape of the forces inside the pocket in February 1943. The Russians made several concerted efforts to crush the pocket, but due to aerial supply by the Luftwaffe it maintained enough defensive strength to continue its existence until its eventual withdrawal. The award of the Iron Cross 2nd Class was most likely made for his units efforts to open and maintain a supply route to the west of the pocket between the end of March and early May 1942.
The Russians continued their attempt to crush the pocket for the whole of the summer of 1942 and into the winter of 1942-43, when as part of the unsuccessful Timoshenko Offensive which ran from November 1942 until January 1943 the pocket was again attacked in force. After the conclusion of the offensive, the Germans successfully withdrew their forces from the pocket.
Later in 1943, the 290th Infantry Division was involved in the heavy defensive fighting to the South of Lake Ladoga, and then in the Nevel area, and throughout the winter fought off heavy Russian attacks in the area of Nevel, for which the 290th Infantry Division was mentioned in the Armed Forces Bulletin on 19th December 1943 for its part in defeating a Russian attack during wich along with the 122nd Infantry Division it destroyed 41 Russian Tanks and inflicted high casualties.
Into the spring of 1944 and the Division was fighting in the area of Polotsk, it was for combat in this area that Hulsmann received his Iron Cross 1st Class, the division went on to be on the receiving end of Operation Bagration in the Summer of 1944 and was forced to eventually retreat into Latvia, in the process it was twice Mentioned in the Armed Forces Bulletin, on 30th June 1944 for its actions near Borisov whilst fighting off Russian attacks, and again on 18th August 1944 for its part in counter-attacks in the region North of Birsen.
During early to mid-September 1944 the fighting in the area was largely centered around Riga and the attempted re-opening of a corridor between Army Group Centre and Army Group North which was trying to escape from the Baltic Countries and ended up surrounded in the Kurland Pocket until the end of the war in May 1945. On 15th September 1944, Hulsmann was wounded and subsequently evacuated to Silesia where he received the certificate for his Black Wound Badge on 23rd September 1944 whilst in Hospital in Munsterberg.
It is unknown what further part, if any that Hulsmann took in the war