|INSTAHLGEWITTERN-IN THE STORM OF STEEL||
SS Kriegsberichter Kurt Hoppe, according to NARA records, was assigned to cover SS Kavallerie units during 1943-1944. On February 26-27, 1943, however, he visited a training exercise that involved Heer (Army) trainees. His visit resulted in the following set of photographs:
The vehicle illustrated above and in the next three images is an example of one of the myriad variants of the SdKfz (Sonderkampffahrzeug) 251 "halftrack" vehicle utilized throughout the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS. Its use in this training exercise suggests that the recruits involved were destined for inclusion in a Panzergrenadier unit. On the front of the vehicle can be seen a military license plate. Unfortunately, the image is not clear enough to determine whether the number designation begins with "WH" (denoting a Wehrmacht vehicle) or an "SS" (denoting a Waffen SS vehicle).
A very good image of the SdKfz 251 being used in this exercise. The SdKfz 251 weighed 3 tons, or three times the weight of its cousin the SdKfz 250. Normally this vehicle carried two machine guns, although in these photographs only one such weapon appears. The vehicle was manufactured by HANOMAG, a company located principally in Hanover, although another manufacturer, Buessing-NAG, also was responsible for for creating the vehicle hull and superstructure..
Here, a closeup of the foreward-mounted machine gun, along with one of its crew members. The machine gun appears to be an MG (Maschinengewehr) 34, perhaps a model MG 34m, the variant most often used in German armored fighting vehicles. Although generally supplanted by the later MG 42, a more robust and less technically complex weapon based on similar design features, the MG 34 continued to be manufactured throughout the war and was well suited to its role in the SdKfz 251 and similar vehicles.
The SdKfz 251 was designed to carry up to 12 men, or an entire Zug or combat section. As can be seen in this image, the infantrymen deployed from the vehicle from the rear, and could therefore avail themselves of the cover provided by the vehicle's ample size and armor plate.
When thus deployed the riflemen were trained to disperse as widely as the terrain and the mission permitted, so as to take advantage of the opportunity to decrease their exposure to enemy fire. Naturally, their number would include the Zugfuehrer, or section leader, who can be seen in this image issuing instructions to his men.
In this and the following two pictures, a two-man team of gunner and loader is depicted, deploying their weapon and preparing to engage the enemy with it. In this instance, the weapon also appears to be an MG 34. In fact, by the time these pictures were taken, in the winter of 1942/1943, most machine gun teams in the Wehrmacht operated with the MG 42, but this was training, and it seems likely that the more ubiquitous earlier model Maschinengewehr would have been used instead of its later progeny.
In this image the helmet of the young landser bears the early model eagle/swastika emblem, rather than the SS symbol that would have been in its place if these had been Waffen SS troopers.
And in this photograph the Heer eagle/swastika emblem is also clearly shown on the helmets of the trainees depicted. Perhaps Kriegsberichter Hoppe was new on the job, and took the first opportunity for his own training efforts, even in spite of the fact that the soldiers he was photographing were from the Heer rather than the Waffen SS.
A PzKw III appears in this photograph, probably making an appearance in this training exercise to lend a dose of reality to it.
A baby-faced young landser gets his first (perhaps) training dose of the "real thing".
Although this photograph lacks clarity, it does seem to show rather clearly that the collar tabs on these men's uniforms were those of the Heer rather than the Waffen SS.
In this and the following two photographs the officers in charge of the exercise are depicted speaking to some of the men taking part in it. Although the photographs lack clarity, it does seem apparent (from the shape and size of the cap devices) that these are men of the Heer rather than the Waffen SS.
In all three of these pictures (in the first, standing at the far right of the picture) is an officer in a leather overcoat. He thus stands out and apart from the other officers, who are dressed in cloth overcoats rather than leather ones.
In this last picture, the officer in the leather overcoat appears to have a cap device that is considerably smaller than those of his comrades, suggesting he is of the Waffen SS rather than the Heer, thus accounting for SS Kriegsberichter Hoppe's participation in the training exercise.