A Wounded Young Soldier in Hitler's Afrika Korps
These are excerpts from the Memoirs of Werner Mork, who was a young soldier in Hitler’s Afrika Korps. We often see biographies of allied soldiers on television, but what was it like to actually be a soldier in Hitler’s armed forces? How patriotic were they? How were they treated? It was such a bizarre time in history, and questions abound.
Find out now.
Injured and Leaving Africa
For me it was, “Adieu Africa!” But the parting was not painful, what was painful was what was to
come next and it became very painful very quickly. My great good luck was that I was loaded into the very last aircraft to leave Derna. After us no plane got out, and no one else in the hospital could be evacuated. The Tommies quickly entered the city. All of the German and Italian solders in the city and in the hospital were taken prisoner. I was one of the very few soldiers who got to the airport and got into the air on one of the brave little JU-52’s. We took off and headed to Crete without incident. Once again my very good luck held.
The flight in the brave little JU-52 went smoothly, something that was not necessarily the norm in these times. We crossed the Mediterranean to Crete. We landed there and sat for a very long time while it was decided if we should stay there or be sent on to Greece. Finally, we were sent on to Athens and from there by ground transport to Piraeus, the famous port. Because of the lack of beds in the wards, we new arrivals in the army hospital were placed in the ward for sexually transmitted diseases, or what in army jargon we referred to as “Ritterburg.” It wasn’t very nice there but it much better than what we would have experienced in Derna. The main thing for us was that we managed to get out of Africa; we didn’t give a damn about anything else.
The events in Africa were also having their effects here in Greece, the clinic was overflowing.
Competent and professional care of the sick and wounded was no longer feasible. No wonder, this was a rear echelon facility that was only used to treating ‘normal’ cases such as in the “Ritterburg” where we were situated. We could only wait and see what was going to happen to us. Rumors were rampant that we were going to be sent back to Germany. These were only rumors and for the merely ‘sick’ there was only the slightest chance of transport back to the Reich. The wounded, without question, had the first place in line and after them only the most critically ill. So we were at the mercy of only what was possible with the local medical knowledge and care.
I was examined by a young staff physician, who was apparently on active military duty. He was not particularly interested in my jaundice, it was too ordinary a case for him to waste his time with. He was much more interested in my right arm. It was covered with countless sandflea bites and the inflammation so advanced that it was quite deformed, thick with swelling and ulcerated. It was extremely painful and I could hardly move it.
The staff doctor studied it with great intensity then gave instructions for its care. He followed that by saying that if it did not get better in a few days, and he doubted that it would, then my right arm would have to be amputated. It would have to be a total amputation, right up to my shoulder. He gave me the impression that amputation would be the only option and that he was more or less looking forward to doing the surgery himself. It was in keeping with the motto, “Learn by doing.” Apparently in his previous practice he did not have anywhere near the opportunities for ‘learning’ as he did as a doctor in the army.
Hearing that was a great shock, but I also felt a certain calmness rather than horror. When I looked at my arm, I too, thought that the knife was the answer to the problem. To lose an arm would not be
good, but in the balance it would be a fair trade for not becoming a “Dead Hero.” The possible loss of
an arm seemed better to me than a hero’s death on any of the many fronts developing in this war.
The earlier euphoria of conquest was fading. In the short time I was with the Afrika Korps I got to
experience and live the true horror of war. I also had the uncomfortable feeling that victory for Greater Germany was not so sure any longer, and the possibility that the war could come to a good ending was becoming more and more doubtful. I could not see victory for us on any of the many fronts we were fighting on. Such doubts were taking hold of me and my enthusiasm and confidence in victory wasdampened. Now I saw an amputation as my chance to spend the rest of the war not as “kv,” [Kriegsverwendungsfäig: Combat Capable] but as a soldier in a garrison back home.
Obviously this was not a very good attitude. It was not very patriotic, but I was not alone, I was not the only one in the godawful world of war to think like this, even if I was still not yet totally against the war and nationalism. In spite of all of these bad thoughts there was still the idea that the loss of my entire right arm would leave me forever a cripple. How could I continue my profession [radio sales and installation] with only one arm and hand? That thought was very disturbing and I fell into a depression. The loss of an arm was not a trifle and the loss of a right arm even worse, but I could think of no way to prevent it. I railed at my fate which no longer seemed to mean well for me.
Read the entire memoir here: http://home.comcast.net/~dhsetzer/Mork/Halberstadt.pdf