Iron burns: Raddes Route of Flight

From the recollections of Karl Radde (*1934, 10 years old at that time)

Route of flight from 2-3-1945 until 10-3-1945, return from 11-3-1945 until 16-3-1945

The daily difficult amounted to about 15, at most 20, kilometers. There were no directional signs or place names, these had already been removed that fall by the German Army to make orientation difficult for spies and deserters. Only our grandma could always tell us the names of villages, she literally knew every village and every road. As a young girl she had been employed by the nobility at Mickrow Castle.

The columns were directed by the Army or the SS. Use of the main roads was forbidden because these were to be held open for Army vehicles. The main roads were often under fire from Russian low flying aircraft which made special attacks against the refugee columns because there was no resistance and the bombed out wagons made ideal road blocks on the narrow roads to prevent Army vehicles from getting through.

When we finally had to take what was then Route E28 from Karlshöhe almost to Lauenburg (on the 8th of March) a terrible scene was revealed to us, and we knew then that the end was near. It took us more than an hour to get from the side road to the main road and to find a gap in the traffic. I still remember it: a wild flight toward Lauenburg. The military vehicles went at a high rate of speed in two lanes. And in between were the refugee wagons. Everything was covered in deep snow. But the road surface was clear of snow (probably due to the efforts of special crews with snowplows), but heavily iced over. To the right side (Pogorzelice?) in front of an estate house there was a tank battalion (I counted at least 500 men in black tanker uniforms), whose commander was giving an address before 3 coffins, obviously victims of the continual attacks from low flying aircraft. . . But besides myself no one paid any attention. It was only escape, escape. . . everyone was terribly apathetic, especially the military, no orders, no directions, it was save yourself if you can.

As we entered the village of Bresin shortly before dark on the 9th of March there was steady fire from a heavy machine gun nest that was in a field about 100 meters away from the road. Someone called to the soldiers to ask them what was going on. One of the two gunners waved to us with a liquor bottle in his hand: "Don't be afraid. We were just practicing. . ." We were then reassured. But I asked: "They are practicing with live ammunition, that should not happen, and why do they need to practice now?" But grandma answered: "You don't understand. You are too small." As it turned, out I was the only one who really understood the situation: This was a curtain of fire (an unbroken aimlesss fire from machine guns in an area so that neither infantry nor horses could penetrate, only tanks). The Russians were already 2 kilometers behind us and they came in masses and with horses, thus the curtain of fire made military sense. The 3 tanks that had broken through the day beforewere destroyed by our last three soldiers (one man = one T-34 model Sherman), who also advised us to go no further. "Too late, you will be killed, the Russians fire at everything that move. . . The three Russian tanks before Bresin still burned as we passed by them on the morning of 11-3, and this taught me something surprising: iron burns. . . I had always believed that.

On the 10th of March 1945 the Russians overtook us in Bresin. More about that later.

Our return: Our way home was guided by our grandma and Josef Durawa, who knew every road. Our rule of thumb was: avoid the main roads, take the side roads whenever it was possible. And, after our horrible experience on the 11th of March in burning Lauenburg, to avoid at all costs going through Bütow. In Lauenburg our youngest (Heinz, 3 years old) was to be shot before the eyes of his mother. At the last moment, it did not happen. We anticipated a similar experience in Bütow. As it turned out, that was an error. Bütow on that day was completely free of Russians. Since grandma came from Gustkow, she guided us from Pomeiske by way of forest paths. But there was one thing we had not counted on. After all the snow there was a thaw and the paths were muddy, stirred up by tanks and heavy military vehicles. Our weakened horses could not pull our heavy wagons because we returned more heavily loaded (100 pounds of sugar!). Sometimes we remained in the same place for hours. In the villages no one was to be seen, only here and there bodies.

On the way between Pomeiske and Damerkow we met no one. And then at the small station master's house a Russian with a long rifle spent an hour searching Pelzen's wagon, the smaller one, but our larger one he totally ignored - strange things happen in war. . . We just happened to be with the Pelzens. At a military control point in Pomeiske Durawas were allowed to pass because they were Kaschuben, but not us. We were directed to a collection point and thoroughly searched. We had to remain there overnight. But for the first time completely unmolested by the Russians. The Poles took nothing from us, although we had things worth stealing. I believe also that they kept us overnight to protect us from the Russians. The effect of this at least. . . One must think back on it it. . . Still another episode: Before Pomeiske our heavy wagon was again stuck a half-meter deep in mud and could go neither forward nor backward. It had to be pushed, but the women and children could not manage it. . . A group of men came toward us from the direction of Bütow, who all carried a Tri-color, that is, freed French prisoners of war. Grandma asked their leader, a tall fellow, to help us. He growled at us in perfect German: "You would like that.. You German should perish!" No one would help the women and children.

On the 2nd day of our return journey we experienced the following after Lauenburg: The narrow road was completely ice-covered. Our horses slid out of control. Our wagon skidded and then stood crosswise. We pushed on the rear wheels, trying to straighten the wagon on the ice. Impossible; too heavy. Coming toward us was a Russian tank column, moving rapidly with closed ports (indicating that they were expecting enemy fire) on their way to the front. Otherwise the ports would have been kept open for fresh air, if for no other reason. We thought they would roll over us. The column stopped and waited. We pushed harder to no avail. After awhile the 3rd tank (normally the position for the commander) port was opened, also that of the 1st tank. The soldier in the 3rd tank asked his people in the 1st tank for the reason for the delay. They pointed to us. Then 2 young fellows jumped out of the 3rd tank, ran to our wagon, each took a wheel and they set our wagon to the side. Before we could recover from our shock the two fellows returned to their tank, closed the port and the journey (ours and theirs) continued. That really happened!! The Russians could have simply rammed us, then they could have gotten through. . . For me they were real heroes. Unfortunately, we usually see only the dark side.

But to tell everything in my report would really take an entire book.

Dresden, January 1999, s/Karl Radde


Links

Eisen brennt: Raddes Fluchtroute 1945: Dieser Bericht in Deutsch
I was ten only (by Karl Radde): The entire flight report in Russian
Expulsion from Gross Tuchen: Reports of Witnesses (in English)
Gross Tuchen / Tuchomie: A Village in Eastern Pomerania