Fred Koenig: A SS Grenadier from Chicago USA
- Published: 22 July 2012 22 July 2012
- Last Updated: 22 July 2012 22 July 2012
by Phil Froom
Those of you who like me, watched the Band of Brothers series, may remember the scene when Easy Company came across some German POW’s near Carentan? Malarkey mockingly asked one of them where he was from and the ‘German’ replied in perfect American English that he was from Eugene, Oregon... Malarkey was amazed to find that the ‘German’ was actually a Volksdeutsch German born in USA who had lived in his own town in Oregon and even worked at the same factory there...
I personally found this especially interesting, as in my collection I have a very unusual German Wehrpass belonging to SS Grenadier Friedrich Erwin Koenig who was born in Chicago, Illinois, USA... When I came across the pass – somewhat like Malarkey - I could not believe it, how could an American, born and bred in Chicago end up serving in the Waffen SS in France, fighting US Forces?
Well, like the Band of Brothers character, it seems likely that Koenig either decided himself that he felt honour bound to return to Germany – actually not the land of his birth – to defend the Fatherland, or maybe his Father, Mother or other relative may have pressured him to return. I suppose to be fair, he could simply have been taken back to Germany by his Family, and from the documents with his Wehrpass, it seems that at least his Father Erwin did return with him, as his Father is listed as living at Unterturkheim, Lindenschul Strasse 7, Stuttgart at the time he joined the SS.
Koenig’s Wehrpass showing a youthful Friedrich Koenig and clearly on the facing page showing his birthplace as “Chicago USA”
I was keen to try to research Koenig and as he was born in Chicago, I decided to search the web for likely organisations in Chicago who may be able to help. Ultimately I found myself
corresponding with the Curator of Local and Family History of The Newberry Library in Chicago. To be honest, I had little hope of finding anything useful and actually even less hope that as a ‘Non-US Citizen’ I would even be permitted to obtain any information which may be available. As it turned out I was very pleasantly proven wrong on both counts. Not only did I get a very positive response from Jack in Chicago, but they actually had records relating to both Koenig and his family...
Sometimes historical and military research is a matter of mere luck and in this case it turned out that the luck was good. Jack; my contact at the Newberry Library, emailed me back and told me he had found a family who exactly fitted my SS man. Friedrich Erwin Koenig was born October 30th 1926, in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. His parents were Friedrich, aged 30 and Gertrud [maiden name Kaser] aged 27, who were both born in Germany but were also Naturalised Americans - Friedrich in 1924 and Gertrud in 1923.
In the relevant sheet from the Department of Commerce – Bureau of the Census, which covers the 15th Census of the United States - being for the year of 1930 - it states that the census was carried out in the 79th Precinct of Cook County (the 41st ward) in the State of Illinois, on 10th April 1930. The entry for the Koenig house - 4767 Neptune Ave, Chicago – shows that it was a rented home in the 131st block of the 79th Precinct and that the house had a rental value of a princely $65 per month. Interestingly amongst the many questions on the Census one of them asks if the family own a Radio? Obviously the Koeing Family did, as an ‘R’ entry is made on the sheet. Whether this question innocently relates to their ability to receive National US public information broadcasts, or more sinisterly shows concern for foreigners in USA having access to communications hardware is unclear.
The Census notes that Friedrich Koenig was the head of family, he was white and both he and both his parents were born in Germany. He was 30 at the time of the census and had been married since he was 24. The language spoken at home by the Koenig family was German, so the ability of an ‘American’ like Friedrich to easily return to Germany seems far more plausible if he spoke fluent German.
The house held six occupants at the time of the Census; his parents Erwin and Gertrud, his Father’s 25 year older brother Eugine and three children; Werner, Friedrich and Delores, all born in Illinois.
When or why Friedrich Koenig returned to Germany is not clear, but his Wehrpass shows that after service in the RAD he joined the 3rd Company SS Signals Training and replacement Battalion 2, based in Unna, on 20th November 1943. He served with 3rd Company until 12th December when he was assigned to the Cadre Company of SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment 21, part of the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg”
10th SS-Panzer Division "Frundsburg" was named after Georg von “Frundsberg” who was a well known, capable and chivalrous German soldier, who fought in the services of the Habsburgs throughout many wars of the 13th and 14th Centuries – he is now regarded of the ‘Father of German Infantry’. 10th SS Division had begun recruiting in Charente, France, some ten months before Koenig joined them in January 1943. After joining “Frundsberg”, Koenig was engaged in defence operations along the coastline of France between December 12th and March 31st.
Then on 25th March, 1944 Generalfeldmarschal Erich Manstein committed the division to an operation to relieve the 1st Army who were cut-off from German support by the Soviets. The Division was located 35 miles east of Tarnopol at the time and on 1st April the Division arrived at the front and was attached to 4th Panzer Army (Armeegruppe "North Ukraine").
Entries in Koenig’s Wehrpass noting his short and fatal service history with “Frundsberg” in France, Ukraine and finally Normandy where he perished
He served in the East until 11th June 1944 when Hitler ordered the cancellation of a planned offensive near Kowel. When as a result of the Allied landings, the Division was ordered to move to the “Invasionfront” (Normandy) France without delay, departing by rail transport on 12th June from Sokol and Krystinowpol. Due to the badly choked transport system, it took the Division 5 days to reach Saarbrucken, then finally Houdan south west of Paris on June 18th. The Division then moved by road via Dreux, Chateauneuf, Digny and Le Magne to Longy, where they remained until 25th June.
The Division deployed to positions between Caen and Villers-Bocage, Normandy on the eve of the allied launch of Operation EPSOM. On 27th June “Frundsberg” Counterattacked the British VIII Corps and 11th Armoured Division initially halting the allied counterattack. However, by 28th June the British 11th Armoured Division had crossed the Odon River and was advancing through the outskirts of Caen.
“Frundsberg” were assigned to the II. SS Panzerkorps along with 9th SS Panzer Division "Hohenstaufen", and 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend” moved into position between the XLVII. and I SS-Panzerkorps, facing Hill 112 on the Odon River. The Germans were desperate to contain the Allied breakout and defended tenaciously. In that six-week period, the British and Germans losses were huge in order to gain and regain the prize of Hill 112.
Although the hill itself is of modest elevation, it did offer a valuable position for forward observers who could direct artillery fire and air attacks upon anything moving on the exposed surrounding countryside. From this elevation the entire valleys of the Odon and Orne rivers could be seen, and German thoughts were that, "He who controls Hill 112 controls Normandy." Possession of Hill 112 would allow the British to cross the Odon and Orne rivers and thereby outflank the German defences in Caen.
From this point a desperate battle developed for the high ground of Hill 112 and along the Odon, the hill first falling to the British 11th Armoured Division, which then unaccountably withdrew back across the Odon River. Then between 29 June, when the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions attacked Gavrus, moving toward Esquay-Notre-Dame where they regained the hill, and on 23rd July, when they were driven from Maltot, the area around Hill 112 changed hands many times and thousands of Allied and German troops were killed or wounded on its lethal slopes, the 43rd Division alone lost more than 2,000 men in the first 36 hours of operation JUPITER to regain Hill 112!
However, by 30th June the Cherbourg peninsular had collapsed and allied troops continued their advance, with German units fighting a rearguard action South East. On 15th July 1944 the Division are very badly mauled by constant allied bombing raids in the area south of Villers-Bocage and finally trapped along with 2nd Panzer and 9th SS Panzer Divisions west of Caen, by the allied launch of operation GREENLINE. On 18 July 1944 Caen fell to the Allies and allied forces continue to build then steadily begin their push forward, by 26th July St. Lo had fallen. On 30th Avranches fell to the US 4th Armoured Division and the following day British VIII Corps launched Operation BLUECOAT, an assault towards Vire. ““Frundsberg”” counter-attacked and halted the British advance just 3 kilometres short of
Matters were made far worse on 7th August when German forces launched Operation Luttich towards Avranches. “Frundsberg” were in the second assault wave along with LAH and “Hohenstaufen“ as German armour moved forward under cover of fog. However by the time the armour was committed in the open, the fox had burned off, leaving them to the mercies of swarms of Allied fighter bombers – yet more of the Divisional Armour was lost... On 12th August American Forces launched a fierce attack on “Frundsberg” in the area of Barenton, St-Georges-de-Rouelley, some 26Km south of Vire) between Mortain and Domfront. The Division now had only Eight Tanks remaining and by that afternoon, the Division was forced to fall back to a line running through Lonlay-l’Abbaye. Finally on 12th Alencon had also fallen, placing allied troops north, south and west of German units in Falaise. On 13th and 14th July “Frundsberg” fell back gain, this time to St-Bomer-les-Forges, north of Argentan accelerating their painful attempt to escape.
The 10th SS, along with the other remnants of the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army - some 150,000 men - were slowly but surely encircled. On August 16th, Hitler at long last – and too late for most of his Armoured forces in Normandy - gave the order for a general withdrawal. But 10th SS Division – along with Friedrich Koenig - was now encircled 1 kilometre north of Briouze within the Falaise Pocket. A general withdrawal across the Orne River officially began, but in reality, many German units had been falling back for days in the vain hope of saving at least some of their armour for what German commanders could now see was to be the desperate defence of Germany herself... Most infantry units, now leaderless and scattered throughout the bocage, fled in increasing disarray towards the neck of the pocket which still remained open between Argentan and Falaise, but which was becoming narrower by the day...
German forces were now being harried by the Americans and French to the south, the British to the west and the Canadians and Poles to the north, as the pocket inexorably tightened between Argentan and Trun, where the final destruction of German mechanised forces in the pocket took place. Allied artillery and air forces pounded the enemy from all sides and the retreat turned into a rout as desperate German units in complete disarray fled towards what has become known as the “corridor of death” between the villages of Chambois, Saint-Lambert, Trun and Tournai-sur-Dives. As they attempted to pass through narrow roads choked with previously destroyed and abandoned transports, they too were slaughtered by packs of allied fighter bombers which were by then said to be queuing-up to begin their strafing runs.
Finally on 20th August German forces received a small reprieve when poor weather kept allied fighter bombers grounded and large numbers of German forces encircled in the pocket were able to extricate themselves and melt away that evening. At mid-day the 10th SS Panzer Division and the 116th Panzer Division “Windhund” were clearing the Saint-Lambert bridges to allow GHQ and its Commander, General Paul Hausser, to pass through the corridor, Hausser apparently hanging onto the turret of a Panther tank and being wounded again in the process.
Ultimately Hauser and some 45,000 German troops were able to escape back across the bridges at Saint- Lambert, but critically for the future of the German armed forces, they were however, forced to leave almost all their Armour, and most of their other heavy equipment behind them (some 567 Tanks and SP’s, 950 Artillery pieces and 7,700 other vehicles) together with 50,000 prisoners and over 10,000 dead.
Koenig’s records show that he served with 10th SS Division “Frundsberg” in Normandy until 20th August 1944, whereupon he was listed as ‘Missing in Action’ in the region of Falaise-Argentan, it seems most likely then that Koenig perished in the Falaise bloodbath, and like many has no known grave in Normandy, I am however awaiting information from WASt in Germany to see if there are any records of Koenig being listed as KIA, or having survived - which seems unlikely.
The entry in Koenig’s Wehrpass noting him Missing on 20th August 1944 near Falaise/Argentan
Along with Koenig’s Wehrpass are two other military documents. The first being his official military record sheet giving an overview of his albeit short service in the Waffen SS, the second being a smaller document from his recruitment office to the SS Recruitment District “Sudwest” notifying them of his change of status to “Missing” on 20th August 1944. It seems unlikely he survived the war as this document is dated 17th April 1945.
Having struck lucky initially, I have had less luck since. I have tried trawling the Genealogy bulletin boards looking for details of Koenig’s surviving family, but unfortunately even though you can be extremely clear on dates of birth, names etc, every enquiry receives a flurry of “I’m looking for my Grandfather Cecil Koenig from Hawaii...” type of replies, so it is very slow going. I have sent Koenig’s details to WASt in Germany, but as yet have had no replies...
So there you are, a quick overview of a ‘Band of Brothers’ German/American serving - and seemingly perishing - with the Waffen SS in Normandy... By the way, the German/American portrayed in Band of Brothers was genuinely encountered by Easy Company, but was from Portland Oregon, not Eugene – this was changed in the series so that he was from the same town as Malarkey and so adds a personal link to the scene.