Right to left: Joe Johnston, Otto Hiegel, Joel Johnston
Otto Hiegel was one of the first people I met here in Lambsborn. He does not speak very much English, but I can speak pretty good conversational German. Over the course of time, we have become friends and he has shared his stories of WWII with me.
Otto was born in 1925. Lambsborn is located on the second echelon of the West Wall or Siegfried Line. I was thrilled when I found this out. We have 35 bunkers spread around the town and surrounding woods. When I moved here, I found German field gear in the loft of my barn because there was a garrison stationed here to defend. Eventually, the 26th "Yankee" Infantry Division pushed through in 1945. There was a small firefight here and 3 German soldiers were killed. I have spent much time hunting for relics with a metal detector and my "virtual museum" is one of my next projects. However, in 1939, with Europe on the brink of War, Hitler himself came to Lambsborn to inspect the defensive positions.
Hitler only inspected one of the bunkers, but when the staff car pulled up on the street, 12 year old Otto Hiegel slipped under the arms of the surrounding staff officers and saw Hitler face to face at a distance of 3 feet. Hitler made a brief visit to the bunker and then left.
Otto's HJ certificate. Click to enlarge.
In 1942, Otto's older brother, Robert had joined the Army and Otto joined the Hitler Jugend. Once he was old enough, Otto joined the Luftwaffe and signed up to be a radio operator on German bombers (Ju 88s and He 111s). Ironically, the Luftwaffe extensively trained him in Morris code and radio operation with only rudimentary training in weapons such as the MG 15, 98K, and P-38 pistol. Otto's brother, Robert, was killed in Stalingrad and this made Otto want immediate revenge. However, by then, fuel was scarce for the Luftwaffe and fighters were the priority. Otto was going nowhere in the air.
Click to enlarge
Otto's Luftwaffe Erkennungsmarke, or dog tag.
Unit is 6th Luftnachrichten Ersatz Luftgau Nachrichten Regiment 7. Soldier #4580
In 1944, Otto got a new job offer. In Otto's words, "the blue uniform went away, and I put on the gray uniform. As Germany prepared for a winter offensive, Otto was plucked from the Luftwaffe and assigned to the 3rd Battalion Sturmgeschutz of the 1st SS Division known as LAH or Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler. He was a radio operator on a Sturmgeschutz IV. Most of the men in his battery were born and raised SS. Otto and one other comrade were Luftwaffe transplants. The SS men had their blood type tattooed on the inside of each arm. Otto and his friend did not. This would later prove crucial.
Otto participated in the Battle of the Bulge (Wacht am Rhein or "watch on the Rhein") and indeed, fought against American forces. In the town of Recht, Belgium, Otto stated that American planes flew over dropping leaflets. They stated that the Germans had 30 minutes to get out of town or the they would all die. All the Germans laughed and held their ground. Exactly 30 minutes later, the American bombers flattened the town.
After the Battle of the Bulge, Otto's unit was transferred to the Eastern Front where they engaged the on-coming Russian Hoard. In Liter, Hungary, on 22 March 1945, Otto's self propelled gun was hit by a Russian tank. He was pulled out of the hatch and taken for medical treatment. Below is a card of shrapnel that worked its way out from under his skin over the years. Also, is a picture of the coin purse that he had in his pocket at the time. It stopped a large piece of Russian steel and is imbedded in the purse to this day. Otto's wounds were severe and he still has many scars.
Otto ended up in a hospital in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and was captured when the Russian came through. As previously stated, Otto did not have the SS blood type tattoo under his arms. Both the Russians and the French were executing soldiers who did bear these marks. Otto survived and was released by the Russians because his wounds precluded him from working. On 8 October 1945, he received a pass to cross the US sector and arrive home to his family in Lambsborn.
He soon married and went to school to become a engineer. He and his wife had two children and he even owned one of the first cars ever in Lambsborn. Due to his preciseness from his engineering degree, he has become a defacto town historian and has helped publish two history books about the region. His life is quiet now. He and I spend alot of time drinking beer and talking about the war, politics, and guns.