Joined: Oct. 2007
||Posted on: Oct. 17 2007,14:59
Here is our story
The Verhaufer Story
To tell the story of Otto Verkaufer one must include the meanderings of his twin brother, Franz for they experienced life’s adventures together and their military careers and accomplishments ran parallel to one another since their earliest years. They were both born in Munich in 1893 and were raised by their grandfather who lived with them and their parents, Amon Verkaufer and Marlene Vekaufer (nee Lichel). Amon worked for the German State Railways as a stationmaster (der Fahrdienstleiter). Their mother stayed home and provided for a good home. Grandfather (Oskar Verkaufer) was a traveling salesman in his working days (before his back started to ail him) and used to amuse the boys with stories of far off lands and daring exploits. This eventually led the brothers to seek out their own fortunes in far off German Southwest Africa (One of Germany’s colonial possessions.) (Oskar suffered death prematurely at the hands of an irate police official who claimed that his wife was engaged with Oskar in a breach of trust. The police covered up the ensuing investigation and Franz vowed that one day – no matter how long it took - he would find the true culprit in this incident and therefore restore honor to the family name.)
Just on the eve of WWI (summer of 1914) the brothers (both 21 now) departed for Walvis Bay to seek their fortunes. They struggled initially to make a start but had their destiny decided by the turmoil created by the beginning of WWI. This upset their plans to go into farming and they resultantly found themselves trying to resist the advance of British troops into German territory. Resistance proved useless against superior forces and they fled SW Africa for German East Africa where they had heard resistance was more organized. This led to a torturous and dangerous cross-continental expedition through the heart of Africa on foot. Months later, after they had endured unbelievable hardships (many miles were crossed in small river craft that they either stole or built from the materials at hand and these were sometimes carried for miles through thick brush before reentry into crocodile and leach infested waters) they succeeded in reaching friendly German forces lead by General Emil Von Lettow-Vorbeck. For the next several years the brothers fought alongside native Askari soldiers fighting with the German forces. The fighting was largely guerilla in nature and on this front the German forces remained the only undefeated German Army in WWI. In an offensive launched in Rhodesia in early 1918, both brothers were wounded and taken prisoner by Belgian forces. Otto was severally wounded in the head and still sports the scar where the bullet passed removing a portion of his skull. Left to languish in an Allied prisoner of war camp, it was only Franz’s knowledge of mysterious African herbal remedies that saved Otto from dying. Both survived British captivity in good condition and were repatriated to Germany with the November Armistice later that year. They participated along with other members of Gen Vorbeck’s Schutztruppe on a victory march through the Brandenburg Gate. They were the only German formation granted that honor as one of the last decrees of the Kaiser.
Following WWI, exorbitant reparations demands placed on Germany by the victors in that conflict placed the German economy and people in a vice’s grip of desperation. The demands placed on them ultimately led to WWII and thus it was the Allies that could really be blamed for the ensuing debacle. The brothers tried to get on with their lives living in and around communities near Munich and shuffled from job to job but the pressures of the inflationary economy and both brothers dealing with recovery from their war experiences had complicated their pursuit of any successful calling. Each brother went through several failed marriages, a plethora of low-paid and unrewarding jobs and for Franz, a small stint in prison, for being caught up in the rabblerousing surrounding early SA activity. Otto also lost his freedom for a short while in the 1920’s for a misunderstanding regarding the paternity of a child but was released when the woman (who was socially of a higher caste) married another. By the 1930’s, the rise of the National Socialist party signaled a new sense of optimism for Germany’s future and for those underprivileged workers left betrayed by German policies through the 1920’s. Both brothers now came into contact with Nazi elements that would shape their future. Franz toiled long hours as a mechanic and became interested in the speeches of Ernst Rohm. Looking back, he admits now that the allure was for a restoration of German hegemony in Europe and not personal gain and he was glad that Rohm and other traitors received their just reward in June 1934. Franz however nearly escaped death during this event. Having become a driver for one of Rohm’s lieutenants he was rounded up along with other SA soldiers on June 30, 1934 and faced an uncertain future. It was fortunate that Otto became aware of the situation. Otto had not considered Franz’s fascination with the SA a healthy preoccupation and had warned Franz to consider lessening his involvement. Otto had obtained a job at a university as a janitor in the gymnasium and primarily became interested in fencing (watching it) and was noticed by one of the better connected fencing devotees at the facility, Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich deigned to answer some questions and Otto’s interest in fencing seemed to amuse Heydrich who understood that the social gulf between them would never be bridged allowing Otto a chance at competing. Yet, Otto traded stories of his African experiences for a chance to hear Heydrich expound on his political views and plans. Many of these ideas seemed far fetched to Otto but ultimately they became reality in the coming years. This connection with a powerful head of the SS movement is what saved Franz when during the “Night of the Long Knives” he found himself imprisoned and sent to a holding camp. While Heydrich did not intercede directly, he allowed Otto a written pass to the camp to speak on his brother’s behalf. This seemed to do the trick and afterwards, both Otto and Franz retreated for several years into obscurity in a family owned cabin. The political turmoil and events confronting Germany seemed too complicated and the Verkaufer brothers needed more defined enemies to become inspired against. This opportunity presented itself in 1939 when war broke out in Poland (as a result of Polish Communists attacking a German radio station on the border). Although both brothers were already 46-years old they had maintained their fitness by their hard living in the countryside and Germany’s demand for experienced fighting men welcomed their return to arms.
In 1939, attempting to use his influence Otto tried to secure billets with the Infanterie-Regiment Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (mot.) (LAH) but he was unsuccessful. After being told that they did not meet the standards the brothers were referred to a Wehrmacht unit and urged to join. In their case they enlisted in the 29th Infanterie Rgt. of the 3rd Infanterie Division and they started the war fighting in Northern Poland and in the Polish corridor. During this conflict both brothers emerged unscathed. Also, they both received promotions to Gefreiter.
After the Polish campaign, the brothers then took part in the Western Campaign, first against the Low Countries and then against France. They were now assigned to a MG Kompanie within the Division and they hoped to stay together until the war’s conclusion. The 3rd Infanterie Division pushed through Luxembourg and Belgium and on towards the Aisne River. During the later phases of the campaign both brothers were engaged in security operations along the demarcation line. These were heady times for the two veterans who flushed with victory made the mistake of taking excessive liberties with French families in their jurisdiction and found with stolen goods they both received demotions back to Grenadier (not the last time this was to occur). This incident also came with a suggestion from their commander that a requested transfer would be looked on favorably but once again Otto was able to prevent this by utilizing his influence (now close to being exhausted) in order to remain with the 3rd.
Following the conclusion of the campaign their Division returned to Germany and completed the refit to the 3rd Infanterie (Mot.) Division. By June 1941 it was ready for combat and advanced with Army Group North's drive on Leningrad as part of Operation Barbarosa. The brothers fought in actions along the Baltic coast and then in heavy fighting before Leningrad and were then sent towards Moscow for the winter push on the Russian Capitol. They pushed towards Moscow's spires but were then pushed back during the Russian winter counteroffensive. Both brothers survived an incredibly cruel Russian winter and in the Spring, the 3rd Mot. Infanterie Division was pushed South to the Ukraine and participated in the push for Stalingrad and the Caucasus.
Franz Verkaufer was not surprised by this turn of events and often boasted about his combat prowess and those of his men. Both brothers had reached NCO status in their company sized units by the time the summer of 1942 approached and they lead their squads on unexpectedly successful offensives into the Caucasus. The ultimate goal was the capture of the Baku oil fields and Stalingrad. Within six weeks that summer, Rostov and the entire Don Region had been recaptured. Otto Verkaufer had begun by this time using a discarded MP-41 sub-machinegun as his weapon of choice. He admired the addition of a wooden stock and semi-automatic feature incorporated on this upgrade to the MP-40. Also, retrieved from discarded weapons found at the scene where several SS soldats had been ambushed by partisans who were in turn destroyed in the process by Franz's patrol was a handy sub-machinegun made by the Swiss and designated the MP-34. It boasted superior construction and Franz was never far from it after that. Both weapons were in addition to their companie issued arms and were concealed during officer go arounds in their belongings. Usually one of the attached trucks served for this purpose. The added offensive potential was what made the risk worth taking.
And offensive potential was called for during fighting for Grozny in September 1942. It was during this failed action that Otto Verkaufer experienced his first hand-to-hand kill. In city street-to-street action, Otto had confronted several soviets hiding on the second floor of a brick building and along with two other members of his squad climbed up a staircase connected to the side of the building. In all his years of combat, Otto had not had to resort to the bayonet but this time was different. After a flurry of rounds had passed through the wall and doors separating them from the enemy soldiers Otto’s compatriots all lay slain on the stairway, Otto found himself pulling the trigger on his empty weapon, however, the room containing the two soviet soldiers had muffled screams coming from one of those hit (this soldier had been hit in the throat and was rolling around in agony) and another sound escaped from the entranceway which was the distinctive sound of a firing pin striking above an empty magazine. Realizing that his enemy was also out of ammunition, Otto charged into the room to finish it. His opponent had already pulled a knife but in the ensuing struggle (in which Otto received a bite to his face) Otto bettered him and lying atop his enemy forced the knife slowly into the man’s chest cavity (but humanely as he respected this adversary). Otto still relives this fight on cold nights in his entrenchments and ponders the pleading eyes in the face of his vanquished foe. Did this adversary expect honestly to survive the conflict and had he not prepared for this eventuality? As a postscript, when Otto left the scene of this struggle, he was walking down the staircase after the fight; and encountered another soviet soldier huddled in fear near the staircase. Disgusted with this cowardly display and realizing that the soldier he’d just dispatched would still be alive but for this coward, Otto walked on. “A coward dies a thousand deaths, but a hero, just once.” Not that Otto deemed himself a hero, but he was no lover of cowards either. This action presaged another war wound. On the outskirts of Grozny, while passing a medic treating two German tanker casualties a bullet ricocheted off the tank and entered Otto’s stomach. He was out of action. Franz seeing his brother hit rushed him to safety however and the medic (a strange looking fellow) assisted with early triage efforts. The time was October 1942.
Franz (who was nursing a wound as well to his hand) and Otto were sent to Warsaw to recuperate. Fully recovered by March 1943, both Otto and Franz escaped the fate of the remainder of their Division which had surrendered with the rest of the 6th Army in the Stalingrad debacle. The brothers were sent to Germany and were drafted into the newly reforming 3rd Panzergrenadier Division. This Division was formed from the remnants of the 3rd Mot. Inf. Division survivors and from the 386th Motorized Division. It was during this time that both Otto and Franz attempted to visit Austria on leave. After spending some time in the Swiss border communities they were both arrested for allegedly attempting to hike into Switzerland. Franz protested vehemently that there was a gross miscalculation on the part of the authorities and Otto sat sullenly during their brief captivity. In the end, the authorities relented and reasoned that it was better to send both back to their unit than to set an example which was still not certain. Instead they were once again demoted but it had been a close call for the adventurous and outdoors loving brothers. They followed the new Division to Italy where they fought in the Salerno, Cassino, and Anzio battles. The reassignment of the unit to Italy suited Otto and Franz. The temperate climate was in drastic contrast to what they had experienced in Russia and the defensive nature of the campaign was more to their liking as they were no longer pushing forward attacks but were more comfortable in defending unattackable positions.
During the Anzio beachhead battles the younger recruits of the 3rd Panzergrenadier were ably led by veteran NCO’s and officers who had “cut their teeth” on the Eastern Front. Although still both grenadiers at this point, the brothers often provided their experience though suggestions and commands and those wise enough to stay alive long listened to them. When their views conflicted with the views of their superiors, smart soldiers, those that wished to survive, followed instructions from the brothers that came to be characterized as the "Verkaufer Way."
For Franz Verkaufer however the operation provided another chance to distinguish oneself in combat. Franz related a close call he had at the hands of American attackers. While manning a static MG-42 machine gun position placed under a communications antenna he was assaulted by a squad of American infantry. He and his four man crew killed several of the attackers but they had maneuvered unseen into position close enough to throw grenades and the results of one explosion killed his comrades and knocked him unconscious for a brief time. When he awoke, he was being roughly handled by his captors. He knew some English through his previous experiences and realized that they were discussing his fate in their discussions. He was forced to dig graves for the fallen attackers and try as he might it didn’t seem he was going to convince his captors to spare him. They seemed preoccupied as though on another mission of importance and acted as though they couldn’t afford to detach a soldier to take him back to captivity. Franz tried to speak friendly and let on that he liked baseball and Betty Grable and he tried to appeal to the soldiers not to shoot him. Franz played the fool hoping to relax his captors. One soldier did seem to argue against it and the leader, an American Captain, (Miller, they called him) seemed to weaken. Franz ensured his captors that if released he would return to Germany never to fight again and pleaded for mercy and in the end, instead of shooting him Franz was allowed to go free on the expectation that he would honor his pledge. It proved to be a foolish decision for Miller. Within days they met again on the front in a small village south of Rome. Franz who had returned to his lines and was welcomed back by his brother believed that he fired the fatal shot into a wounded Miller during that later skirmish. This action took place across a small river within a suburban center surrounding the city but Franz recognized his captor and finished him while he lay wounded against a disabled German Motorcycle. In a counter-attack by American Jabos (fighter-bombers) it was impossible to acquire any war souvenirs from this action but the lesson of the story that Franz imparted onto his squad mates was to never trust an enemy.
During the final days of Spring, 1944, the Division was withdrawn and raced to France shortly after the D-Day landings. The allies had opened a second front in the West.
(First person – present date) It is now June 1944, and my brother and I rail across Europe intent on reaching the Normandy Invasion area in time to throw the invaders into the sea. Our 3rd Panzergrenadier will be successful in this task and of that I am sure. For my own efforts I have been recently promoted to Obergefreiter. It seems the paperwork has finally caught up to me for using a Tellermine to eliminate a Russian armored car on the Eastern front. No valor award though for wasting a precious munition. I believe the truth is that friction between myself and the squad leader who is jealous I might eclipse his accomplishments prevented my just deserts being awarded. Franz is also so treated. I only look to end this war with my honor intact. Franz whose expected promotion hinged on some battlefield reports sent up to higher headquarters was not surprised to hear that the dispatches had been lost. That another member of the company who had lost some money gambling to Franz and was the report courier seemed odd. It raised some eyebrows among the men and despite assurances that Franz will get "what is coming to him," I doubt it at this point. Others in the unit will find over time that Franz is deserving of respect and promotion once they get some more battle experience. I will be adding to this narrative once we reach the Front. Good luck in battle comrades and if you can’t have luck then maybe you will be issued a new MP-44. I’m told that with those you won’t need luck.
Any similarities between these characters and persons living or dead is not intended. This is solely for the purpose of persona creation as a WWII airsofter.
Otto Verkaufer, May 1944
"Lebenspraum for more airsoft" - Franz
"My other car is an Sd. Kfz. 250/1