Germany – Third Reich: The stunning and exceptionally rare Paratroopers 'Fallschirmjager' France September 1944 Battle of Nancy Knights Cross of the Iron Cross and accompanying Close Combat Clasp in Bronze award certificate along with a Personal Identity Document belonging to Oberstleutnant Walter Paul Liebing, a former reconnaissance pilot with the Luftwaffe who after completing 32 missions in the east transferred to the ground forces with whom he was to win a Knights Cross as Commander of 23rd Fallschirmjager Regiment in the Battle of Nancy in September 1944, and who would later be unsuccessfully recommended for the Oak Leaves for his part in the ferocious defence of the Adolf Hitler Bridge at Uerdingen on the Rhine, the position at which the first American troops to cross the river in early March 1945. One of only 130 German Paratroopers to receive the Knights Cross during the Second World War. Awards to Paratroopers for fighting in North West Europe after the D-Day landings are particularly scarce.
1) Preliminary type award document for the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross awarded in Berlin on 7th February 1945 as a Major. Signed by Oberst Wolff on behalf of the Chief of the Luftwaffe Personnel Office.
2) Close Combat Clasp in Bronze awarded by Regimental HQ on 30th March 1944 as a Major, 2nd Battalion/Jager Regiment 83. Signed by Bernhard Ueberschar as Oberst and Commander of Jager-Regiment 83.
Ueberschar was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 1st June 1944 as Commander of Jager Regiment 83, and was Mentioned in the Honour Roll of the German Army on 7th September 1944 as Commander of Jager Regiment 83.
Personal Identity Document of Walter Paul Liebing, detailing his date of birth, education and other personal information.
Walter Paul Liebing was born in Dresden on 12th August 1912, the son of Paul Liebing who was born at Neulitz on 26th October 1888. He was to go to elementary school in Dresden between 1919-1926 before attending the Freiherr von Fletchersche Graduate School in Dresden between 1926 and 1932.
Before leaving School, Liebing was awarded the DRL Sports Badge in Bronze on 21st July 1931, and upon leaving education joined the Army, being awarded the 4 year long service medal on 2nd October 1936. Transferring to the Luftwaffe before the war, he was awarded the Pilots Badge on 10th June 1937, and appears to have started the war still in a flying capacity, as he was initially awarded an Iron Cross 2nd Class on 30th July 1940 almost certainly for an act of gallantry performed during the campaign in France. Liebing was then awarded the Front Flying Clasp for Reconnaissance on 14th June 1941 for flying 20 missions.
Subsequently transferring to the Eastern Front, Liebing was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class for an act of gallantry performed early in the Russian campaign, before he later transferred to the ground forces, with whom he was awarded an Infantry Assault Badge on 20th March 1944.
On 30th March 1944, Liebing was awarded the Close Combat Clasp in Bronze whilst serving with Jager Regiment 83, which formed part of the 28th Jager Division, which at this time was involved in the heavy fighting near Opotschka which lasted for several months, and was the beginning of the end for the 28th Jager Division which was severely damaged in the fighting and moved to the south at Kowel in June 1944 for recuperation, only to be caught up in the initial stages of Operation Bagration, the Red Army’s decisive summer offensive of 1944 which resulted in the destruction of Army Group Centre.
At some stage during the summer months of 1944, Liebing transferred and became the Commander of Fallschirmjager Regiment 23, which during 1944 fought at Brest, before largely being destroyed in the Falaise Pocket in late August 1944 with the 2nd Parachute Division. The remainder of Liebing’s unit was attached to Kampfgruppe Eggers and was part of a hastily assembled defence of the Moselle and Muerthe positions near the town of Nancy in near-eastern France, his successful defence of the positions near the city was of vital strategic importance to the German Army, and as a result led to Liebing being awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 2nd February 1945 as a Major, and the Commander of Fallschirmjager Regiment 23.
Liebing is noted in the book ‘Knights Cross Holders of the Fallschirmjager’ by Jeremy Dixon as having been unsuccessfully recommended for the Oak leaves to his Knights Cross as a result of defending the Adolf Hitler Bridge over the River Rhine at Uerdingen whilst the last of the German troops retreated over it, before he blew it up in the face of the advancing Americans.
The action at the Bridge is covered in a newspaper article from the USA titled ‘Two Yank Patrols Make Rhine History’:
‘The great Adolf Hitler Bridge at Uerdingen (southwest of Duisberg) was blown up in our faces by the Germans to-day just as the last of two Yank patrols had crossed it and returned.
Two officers and 16 enlisted men, who made the hazardous crossing of the Rhine with the knowledge that the bridge was mined and might be blown up at any moment, were decorated with the Silver Star by Brig. Gen. Isaac D. White of Des Moines, Iowa, commander of the 2nd Armoured Division. They were the first invaders to cross the German Rhine since the Napoleonic wars more than 125 years ago. In the first patrol of engineers whose mission it was to find and neutralise the German demolition charges were two New York boys – Pvt. Harold Florano, 25 of 1575 Townsend Avenue, Bronx and Pvt. Alfred F. Staehle, also 25, of 310 Central Avenue, Brooklyn. Patrol cut wires. This patrol led by Capt. George L. Youngblood of Charleston, S.C. of Company D, 17th Engineers, climbed to the western end of the bridge at 10 o’clock last night while German artillery was pounding it. They crawled across a foot wide girder where a shall had blown out the pavement, cutting all the wires they could find. The far end of the bridge was on fire, blocking further progress. Fiorano actually got farther across than anyone else of the two patrols.
Captain Youngblood stopped the patrol 75 feet from the flames but Florano crawled another 50 feet forward. Fire of the burning asphalt then blinded him so that he could not see ahead. Florano got furthest. The Germans were throwing shells into the flames, which splattered shrapnel about and made the flames flare up. So Florano can claim the honour of being the first and farthest across the Rhine. When Youngblood’s patrol returned it was decided to send a small infantry patrol across the determine whether foot soldiers could follow. Lieut. Guy Amspoker of 465 Repier Ave, Macon, Ga, was picked to lead the five enlisted men.
Pinned down by Fire. As they set out at 3.30am, heavy small arms fire was being exchanged near the western approach to the bridge and bullets pinned them down for half an hour. Then they, too, felt their way across the narrow girder and gained the far end of the bridge above the eastern bank of the river. There they, also, were stopped by the flames. The battle was still raging at the western end when they returned and one enlisted man was slightly wounded in the leg by rifle fire. Although they knew the Germans might touch off their explosives at any instant, they halted to vie the wounded man first aid and helped him to the end of the bridge. Daylight was just breaking and the Germans within 100 yards of the end of the bridge were putting up a terrific battle in an attempt to drive back elements of the 2nd Armoured Division, so the members of the patrol had to pick their way carefully down from the bridge to avoid fire. Knocked out flat by the blast. They had gone only a short distance from the bridge when a terrific explosion knocked them flat. The Germans had set off the charge that blew the span. Asked what he thought when he was standing on the other side of the Rhine. Amspoked said ‘Well, I thought mostly about how I was going to get my boys back safe. Our mission was accomplished, but it looked like a long way back ‘Our toughest time’ said Sergeant Dalton A. Griffith of Petersburg, Ind. Who went over with the first patrol ‘was getting across a shell hole in the bridge. You had to crawl down three or four feet and get on the one girder that was left, walk six or eight feet along it and crawl up the other side. It was dark and we couldn’t see much, but it looked like an awfully long drop to me. Luckily only 2 shells hit. The Germans threw shells at the bridge all the time this patrol was on it but only two hit the structure, according to Corp. Harry N. Powell of National City, Calif ‘The bridge was swaying and didn’t feel too solid to me’ he added ‘I guess we were all glad to get off after our mission was accomplished.’ Three German self-propelled guns battled our tanks in Uerdingen this morning. One was knocked out, and another was abandoned but the third was still roaming around the city and we were warned to proceed carefully. We were also warned not to go beyond the bridge approach because a group of German paratroopers had made a strongpoint of a factory just to the north, and although surrounded, refused to surrender. Preparations were being made to storm the building with tanks and flamethrowers when we entered the city. Bodies on Sidewalk. The enemy was shelling Uerdingen from across the river and what few refugees were on the streets were almost running. On the sidewalk near a street crossing lay the bodies of two women, with belongings from burst bundles strewn around them. A shell crater a few feet away explained the tragic scene. Four other women carrying bundles came hurrying past. They made a wide detour of the bodies, kept their faces carefully averted, and quickened their pace almost to a run’
Continuing to fight after the successful Allied crossing of the Rhine, Liebing was taken prisoner by US Forces on 26th April 1945, he would subsequently be released and go on to live until 18th October 1998 when he died in Dusseldorf.
An exceptionally rare document set to one of only 130 German Paratroopers to receive the Knights Cross during the Second World War, 13 of these would receive the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves, 6 the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves and Swords and 1 the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds.
Awards to Paratroopers for fighting in North West Europe after the D-Day landings are particularly scarce, the awards predominantly being issued for actions at Eben-Emael during the invasion of France in 1940, the Battle of Crete in 1941, and a total of 24 being issued for the fighting around Monte Cassino in Italy during the early months of 1944.