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History of the Kriegsberichter (War Correspondents)
   

During the First World War the Allies on the Western Front were so much more successful and organised at Propaganda than the Germans. So in 1938 Adolf Hitler ordered a new and efficient special unit in the German Army focused solely on propaganda. The first four Propaganda-Kompanien in the Wehrmacht were formed in September 1938 with the same sort of Propaganda-Kompanien established in the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine the following year.

Their role was to;

  • Report on the war through text, photographs, drawings, radio and films;
  • Entertain the troops;
  • Propaganda against the enemy;
  • Counter propaganda against the enemy propaganda; and
  • Misleading information to cover up military operations.

At the beginning of the war, Kriegsberichters worked at the divisional or regimental level in conjunction with a cameraman and a driver. These three men constituted a Propagandatrupp. Several Trupps formed a propaganda platoon at corps level and several propaganda platoons constituted a propaganda company at Army level. Later in the war, from 1944 onwards the role of war journalist and cameramen was combined and accomplished by one man.

Kriegsberichters were always a soldier first before completing the tasks as a war correspondent. They received standard army pay (as per their rank) and received orders just like every other soldier in the unit. The chain of command goes from the W.Pr. (OKW) to the propaganda companies and further down to platoons and Trupps. As a general rule, every war correspondent was required to have gone through basic training and to have had a few weeks' front line experience.

 
Erich Wenzel of the Kriegsberichter-Zug 5 of Luftflotte 3.
 

The actual reporting is done in the following way. The reporter transmits his story to the headquarters of the Propaganda platoon, which is usually in the immediate vicinity of G-2,. Army Group. From there, the report is disseminated to W.Pr. (OKW) where it passes through the rigid censorship of this section. Thus "purified", the story goes to the office of the Reichspressechef (Reich Press Chief) in the Propaganda Ministry. Here, the report is further moulded according to the demands of the hour. It is finally submitted to the newspapers, which have the option of accepting or rejecting it.

In January of 1940 the Kommandoamt der Waffen-SS ordered the establishment of a SS-Kriegsberichter-Kompanie (Waffen-SS war reporters company) and its three Züge (platoons) were attached to the three SS-Divisionen (Adolf Hitler, Das Reich, Totenkopf). They reported on the Western Campaign in 1940. By August of 1941 many additional units were fighting as part of the Waffen-SS. As a result, the SS-Kriegsberichter-Kompanie was expanded to Abteilung (battalion) strength. Waffen-SS expansion continued to grow throughout the war as did the number of SS Divisions and in December 1943 it was at regimental size. It also received an honour title at this point becoming known as SS-Standarte "Kurt Eggers".

It is estimated that during the whole war the Kriegsberichters produced over 80.000 written reports and more than 2 million photographs.

An extraordinary image of a captured British Paratrooper taken by Wenzel.

© Barch : 497/3526/12a (Koblenz)

   

Kriegsberichters in Arnhem
   

After the news of the airborne landings had arrived at the German headquarters several Kriegsberichter were ordered to report this battle. Because there were no Kriegsberichters in the area of Arnhem the first German photographs were taken on Tuesday 19 September. Two German Luftwaffe photographers arrived in the morning and started to take pictures. They were called Jacobsen and Erich Wenzel, both of the Kriegsberichter-Zug 5 of Luftflotte 3. In next two days they shot a lot of photographs of which 150 images survived the war and are well known. They covered a rather fair distance. The first photographs were taken on the Boulevard Heuvelink in Arnhem and from there they walked to the Velperplein, where they photographed a group of British prisoners-of-war. The continued in westerly direction and here they encountered a flak halftrack of the SS-Panzer Flakabteilung 9. From the northern direction the first StuG's of the StuG-Brigade 280 arrived of which they took several photographs. Wenzel continued in the direction of Oosterbeek and Jacobsen turned left towards the river Rhine, where a took a series of photographs. Shortly after he rejoins Wenzel and they shot a lot of photographs of the fighting on the Utrechtseweg.

Another Kriegsberichter of which a film was saved was Leutnant Erwin Seeger, who was with the Luftwaffe Kriegsberichter Abteilung of the Fallschirmjäger AOK. He arrived from the north-easterly direction and encountered British POW in a village called Ellecom. In Arnhem he took several photographs and went then to Oosterbeek where he photographed the debris of the war. Of about 37 Kriegberichters photographs are known to have operated in and around Arnhem. Only a few of these photographs are known because they appeared in newspapers or illustrated magazines. Hardly any of the archive of the SS-Standarte 'Kurt Eggers' survived the war, so only a few photographs of SS-Kriegsberichters are known; most of them came from the archives of news agencies. The only Dutch Kriegsberichter who took several photographs was an SS-Kriegsberichter called Henri Rheinsberg. He wrote several articles, illustrated with his photographs, in which he did not glorify the German victory. He used the people of Arnhem in his articles to show what the liberation by the Allied meant; total destruction and chaos.

 
 

Portrait of Luftwaffe PK-Kriegsberichter Leutnant Erwin Seeger

© Bilder eines Wüstenkrieg


Kriegsberichter Anecdote

Kriegsberichters were soldiers first and war correspondents second. They were expected to take part in assaults, offensive operations and fight next to their comrades as their positions were being overrun by the enemy rather than taking photographs. They gained respect very quickly as most Kriegsberichter demonstrated remarkable courage in the face of battle. One such soldier was SS - Kriegsberichter Peter Adendorf who was a war correspondent with the II. SS Panzerkorps at Arnhem in September 1944. He had spent the previous 2 years on the Eartern Front was the 3rd SS-Panzer Division 'Totenkopf'. Adendorf was awarded during the war the Panzer Assault Badge in Bronze as well as the Close Combat Clasp in Silver. This last award was for 30 days of hand-to-hand combat!!!! proving that these correspondents were never to far away from the combat zone during the war.


 

 

Prisoners of war being taken away in a captured jeep. This jeep belonged originally to the Airlanding Light Regiment (Serial No.46) The driver is of the Waffen-SS the other two German soldier are of the navy. The building behind the jeep is called the Musis Sacrum and was used by the Wehrmacht as Wehrmachtsheim.

© Barch: 590/2330/14

 

A photo of a German Mortar crew bombarding Allied positions on the Betuwe taken by a Dutch SS Kriegsberichter - SS PK Reinsberg.

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