Interview with Generalmajor Richard Daniel, winner of the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Nuemunster, 1983.

Thanks for letting me meet you and to ask a few questions of you. May I start by asking how you came to the Wehrmacht?

Richard: That is a long story my boy, and mighty bored it will make you. But as you wish, I will tell you about my life. You are in good company and it is not only a favor but a privilege to meet you. I started my young life in the service to the Kaiser, well before Hitler. After the defeat of 1918, and the shame of Versailles, I was lost with what to do, but a friend pulled me into the police. Many former soldiers went into the ranks of the German police after the war. Many times levies had to be passed to bring more funding for us, even though times were hard.

With the lawless attitudes that came after the collapse the people knew we were needed, so they always came up with the money to fund us. I started as a beat cop patrolling the streets, and was able to gain promotions, especially when Hitler came. He expanded the police to go after all the agitators and criminals. After he announced the re-creation of the army, I was placed in the Wehrmacht as an officer. This happened for many of us because we had military training. The new Wehrmacht was born out of a shell of a 100,000 man army, which was only on paper. No weapons to speak of. We jumped at the chance to serve in this new creation, and it was a proud time for me. I felt born to wear my nation's uniform. So that is how I came to be in the Wehrmacht.

Did you ever meet Adolf Hitler? What did you think about him?

Richard: Yes my boy I certainly did, he shook this hand which I extended to you. I saw him on a few occasions, first time was in 1926. He is hard to explain today, we Germans have had to change our tune. Defending him, or saying nice things about him is not the smart thing to do today. Many people have lost work, careers, and pensions for not keeping their mouths shut. The Soviet Union has turned the east into a communist state that has wiped out all traces of him. Here it is not as bad, but you must be careful. I can tell you I was an early admirer of him, and his plan. He was the type of leader who was bold and direct, he told us what we needed to hear, not what we wanted to hear. He did for Germany in four years what Weimar could not do in thirteen. He achieved so many great things for the German people. I do not perhaps have to tell you, but crime, poverty, suicide, hopelessness, and apathy were all bad then. He gave the people hope, and restored honor.

He made Germans want to say "I am proud to be a German", where before only shame and confusion was how many felt. The red revolution was crushed, and the Church was saved from going bankrupt. I could go on and on, he was great leader, of course our new friends disagree and speak of how he went too far. He was an incompetent strategist, meddler, and so on. Who can say, even our great generals said negative things after the war. The Hitler I witnessed up close was calm, well-spoken, and very intelligent it seemed. I attended a meeting of war with him and I can tell you there was no screaming and tantrums like has been written in the German press. He took bad news in stride, and only asked for solutions to the problem. I was an admirer of the man and do not believe much of what is written, we just cannot say so. So what else may I answer young man?

I have been taught that the German army hated Hitler, and tried to kill him. Was there a hatred of Hitler?

Richard: Oh heavens no young man, writing bad things about him after the war was more out of survival than anything else. Many former Germans who were forced to leave Germany due to political activity came back and were given free reign to write anything they wanted against him. Due to this Germans had three choices: flee the country, be arrested and go to prison camps, or agree with whatever the victors said. The victors, both east and west, took terrible retribution out on some Germans, depending on what area they were in. However, they also wanted to give us an easy way out of punishment and a road to their favor. We just had to acknowledge that Hitler and the Nazis were bad and forced us into things we did not want. Many Germans saw this as a way to fit into the new order, and it became the trend to say anything bad about the Third Reich. This continues to this day, with now the children writing about something they never saw or experienced. They are all full of contradictions, they say Hitler banned ideas and how wrong it was, yet they punish anyone defending him and the time.

So to your statement about the army, yes there were some in the ranks who did not like the Nazis. They either did not like the racial policies against Jews, or them not bringing back the monarchy. Some did not like the heavy-handed approach the SS took with partisans or removing Jews. There were murmurs of crimes being committed, but I can tell you as a front line officer I saw none of this. My opinion is that in the beginning there were acts of resistance and terror that were harshly dealt with so it would stop. This involved executing even women, and in some cases teens, if the crime was severe like murder.

Naturally this repulses people to even think of it, but it was what German forces faced in some areas. All it would take is for that bleeding heart to tell his friend what he saw, and then rumors would flow. The high command, war crimes bureau, government officials, even the SS themselves investigated these claims. I saw the reports when I was in the Führer reserve going through administrative duties and training. There was an effort to investigate any claims brought against German forces, and our allies. In every case I laid eyes on, there was justification for the action. I thought it a waste of time to spend energy on these, but they were taken seriously as the Allies got a hold of the claims and spread them as well.

So you can see how one person's misunderstandings, where they speak without fully knowing the context, can cause rumors to develop and gain attention. So much so that it feeds into the dissent that war can bring. Not everything was good under Hitler during the war, and sadly the war is what is remembered. The rationing, suppression of speech, and finger pointing at hoarders left some weary. I lived through the first war, so I understood. The younger ones could not understand why it was necessary to enforce rules to quiet dissenters. We saw what rabble-rousers did in the first war. Those who formed against him had their reasons, but they were not valid, and I believe the Allies aided them, which has been hidden. They would like it to appear that they acted within Germany, with no outside help or influence. Someday, if we ever become united again, the extent of Allied spies might be shown.

Do you think Hitler was good, or bad for Germany?

Richard: That should be a very easy one to answer but it is not. One thing good I will say is that he showed us true community. He proved Nietzsche wrong. Society is not the survival of the fittest, but the survival of those who work together and cooperate for the survival of the people. He built a system that for the first time really cared for the whole of the nation. You would have had to experience this, but it was divided back then, and under his idea we united. Of course the dissenters get plenty of attention today, but in truth they were very small. He was loved and followed like no other leader before or since. There will never be another Hitler, he cannot be matched. Why there are some who turned on him after the war, and during, was due to the war itself. Starting in 1938 we knew of problems with the Czechs and Poles. They were attacking, and literally killing Germans who refused to adapt to the new rulers of their land. I am referring to the Germans who were ripped away from the Reich and given to these new creations.

Hitler made it a mission to reunite these lands and people and most all agreed it had to be done. We wanted a peaceful solution however, no one wanted war. When in 1939 shots were fired, many were flabbergasted and we were unprepared for war. Due to this, even with the stunning early victories, we faltered due to supplies and manpower. The Allies, and even the Russians, had a massive advantage over Germany. To attack one nation after the other made no logical sense at all. Russia may have been the only true necessary fight. They were clearly planning to attack the west; I saw the evidence at the front.

Our occupiers have been telling the people it was all Hitler's fault, what the home front went through due to the bombings, all the lives lost, and sorrow. This is why some would say they want nothing to do with the idea anymore, they think of the war and its price. If he had not taken up arms, think of what could have been. His defenders say he had to and the Allies forced him into it.

[Above: Richard Daniel (December 24, 1900 - May 4, 1986)]

I know the war started in September of 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, were you there? What was your experience if so?

Richard: Yes, my regiment, which was right here by Rendsburg, was part of the drive to Bzura. We moved against a very large, well-equipped and well-trained army. They had many former Germans who adopted the new Polish rule, and served in the armed forces. One who stood out was a von Kollitz who murdered Germans who cheered the outbreak of war as their liberation. Our army was in most ways unprepared for war, and overmatched by Polish forces. We had Panzers that they easily knocked out. I saw this after a battle, it was sad to see the young faces of the men that the Poles looted and desecrated their bodies. One Panzer man I remember had been wounded it appeared, and they took off his bandages and scattered them as he bled to death. So you see we are not the only ones who can be accused of bad things in war; I saw many examples of mistreatment, and outright crimes by our enemies. I shall not mention them to be respectful. In Poland it was not all bad, I will tell you there was much cheering by Germans who viewed us as their saviors. The retreating Poles on some occasions mistreated the civilians, and committed crimes on them. This is where the rear SS and police exacted reprisals.

My regiment had hard fights with Poles, and they did not give up easily, our Luftwaffe was more than valuable to us. They helped break up rear areas, and stopped counter attacks before they formed. In only two weeks time the Poles were beaten and lost all hope of winning. I remember when we captured soldiers many of them had propaganda leaflets telling them they would be in Berlin for Christmas. One common retort we had when we found these was "you are indeed going towards Berlin, just not how you thought." I remember seeing all the people come up to either welcome us, or just watch. We gave the Polish soldiers their due, they put up a very heroic fight, and even Hitler praised them in a speech. One wonders what would have happened if they had more moderate leaders in place who wanted to work with Germany. We never quite saw them as our enemy, just a nuisance who was beating their chest behind bullies. The Polish campaign was our first taste of war and showed a lot of work needed to be done.

You told me you took part in the operations against Denmark, what was that like?

Richard: Yes, my battalion was part of the occupation. Denmark had only small-scale sporadic fighting. It was only on the border that some units stood and fought to delay the advance. They saw the air power we had, and many units saw fighting as a waste of life. Many of the Danes came out to welcome German units, this might surprise you but there were many National Socialists in Denmark. There were many of them who later served in the Wehrmacht or SS. Many were welcomed to come to Germany to fill the labor gap due to the war. My family had two young women who worked in a clothing factory stay with us for a time until they found an apartment. Here in this area many of them came to aid the farmers, RAD [Reichsarbeitsdienst, or Reich Labour Service], and factories. They could easily come and go and had even built beer gardens to relax in. We welcomed the help and saw them as allies. I found them to be very friendly and peaceful, they may not have liked us to walk in on them, but their leaders had put out feelers to England and France for pacts, so they opened themselves up to German concern. We could not have an ally of the British on our northern border.

You won the Knight's Cross and then the Oak Leaves, what did you have to do to win this?

Richard: Well, this award came to me due to actions in Russia. My unit was in the Crimea, fighting to take Sevastopol. Ivan was dug in and fortified very well; they had many deep forts protecting the harbor and city. They did not intend to let us have the city without a tremendous fight. We had limited resources and were often outgunned and outnumbered until reinforcements arrived and the Luftwaffe sent planes. I had received some intelligence that the commander of the division we faced was ill or wounded, so I encouraged an attack right away. My men led the way, and we overcame the stiff resistance. We punched a hole in the line, and it allowed for enveloping moves to surround many points of resistance. This broke the will of Ivan, and it was the beginning of the end of the defense. I looked at this action more as a way to save lives, the faster it ended the better off everyone was. This was nothing more than getting some potentially valuable intelligence, and using it to our advantage.

The award of my Oak Leaves came during the Soviet winter offensives in 1945. They launched great attacks on the thinly held lines defending Germany. I was leading the 45th division and led my men, who were quite young and inexperienced, into many counter-attacks that retook lost areas. These stunned the enemy in many cases, and caused them heavy losses. In turn, they brought up more reinforcements, which resulted in several hard battles. I was wounded here by a shell splinter and put out of action. It was said that due to the attacks of my men we held off the Soviets for days allowing more civilians to escape. Due to these actions I was presented with the Oak Leaves as the 857th soldier to be so awarded. It was a proud moment. I was also presented in the honor roll of the German army. This was worn on my ribbon for the Iron Cross, I would let you have it if I had another.

- Richard Daniel history -

  • November 10, 1938: Chief of the 3rd Company of Infantry Regiment 46.

  • September 3, 1939: Commander of the Replacement Battalion of Infantry Regiment 46.

  • October 1, 1939: Commander of the I. Battalion of Infantry Regiment 401.

  • January 20, 1942: Delegated with the leadership of Infantry Regiment 391.

  • April 2, 1942: Commander of Infantry Regiment 391.

  • February 14, 1943: Army High Command Leader Reserve.

  • [?] 1943: Commander of Infantry Regiment 391 (2nd time).

  • October 5, 1943: Army High Command Leader Reserve.

  • November 6, 1943: Instructor Officer for Regimental Leaders on Instruction Staff (Lehrstab) II at the Döberitz Infantry School.

  • July 10, 1944: Army High Command Leader Reserve.

  • July 15, 1944: Delegated with the leadership of the 546. Speer-Division, on July 19, 1944 renamed the 45th Grenadier Division.

  • October 1, 1944: Commander of the 45th Grenadier Division, on October 21, 1944 renamed the 45th Volksgrenadier Division.

  • March 18, 1945: Wounded/in hospital.

  • May 8, 1945: Prisoner of war in British captivity.

  • July 20, 1947: Released.

    --Die Generale des Heeres, 1921-1945, Band 3, ©1994 Dermot Bradley

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