pleased to find some information on The Cross of Iron on the
internet, posted by Hardy Huber to the message board at
www.feldgrau.com He has
graciously given permission for this information to be reproduced
here, as well as new information regarding his uncle.
Cross of Iron is a very well known book, originally by Bobbs-Merrill
in 1956 and republished many times since then. In 1977, in a rare
international co-operative effort, the book was made into a major
motion picture, released in both Germany and the United States,
starring James Coburn, Maximillian Schell and James Mason.
has been speculation over the years as to how much of the story is
true, or if the characters in the book and film represent real
people. The author's biography of the 12th printing states that the
author, Willi Heinrich, "...came by his competence (as a writer)
honestly and bitterly as an infantry officer in a fearfully mauled
German division that bit deep into Russia and withdrew its remnants
in broken retreat."
Huber, the nephew of a soldier who fought and gave his life on the
Russian Front, shared the following:
A while ago I read some questions ... about the unit Heinrich is
referring to, in his book "The Cross of Iron.” One of my
relatives served in the 229. Jäger Regiment of the 101.Jäger
Division and by researching his service I came across Willi
Heinrich. Heinrich was born in 1920 in Heidelberg and served
during the war in the First Battalion, 228th Jäger Regiment
(I./228.Jg.Rgt.), part of 101 Jäger Division. He was wounded
five times. Willi Heinrich is still alive and lives in Karlsruhe.
There are several clues in the book that will identify the 228
Jäger Regiment of the 101.Jg. Division as Steiner's unit.
Page 13, second paragraph; He (Steiner) had been
wounded at Izyum and hospitalized at home.
The 101 Jäger Division was fighting in this sector in May
and June 1942.
Chapter II; "The
Regiment’s new positions ran west of Krymskaya through hilly
terrain bare of vegetation. The dominant feature of this
sector was Hill 121.4... " Compare this to an entry
in the regimental history of the 228 Jäger Regiment on May
26th 1943: “Kampfgruppe Busche (101.Jg.Div.) wird
zum Gegenstoß auf die verlorene Höhe 121.4 angesetzt”.
(Battle Group Busche from 101 Jäger Division will take the
lost hill 121.4 back.)
Kriegstagebuch des Jäger Regiments 228
Lieutenant Colonel Karl Busche was the commander of
the 228 Jäger Regiment. He was awarded the Knights Cross on
28.02.43 and was killed in action on the 28th May 1943
trying to take back hill 121.4
The battle of hill 121.4 is described in "The Cross of Iron”
Page 33; Meyer tells
Stransky that Steiner saved Lieutenant Colonel Brandt's
life, “He was still company commander when the
regiment was stationed in Pribram. They got into a bad spot
– that was in the beginning of the Russian campaign – and
Steiner saved his life.” In the original German
edition on page 41 is an account of the incident, this
account is omitted in the English translation. Meyer (his
name is Schäfer in the German edition) tells Gausser that
Steiner saved Brandt’s (Strauss in the German book) life a
year ago at Studenok on the Donez (not at the beginning of
the Russian campaign, the German text says that Brandt and
Steiner know each other since the beginning of the Russian
campaign.) "Steiner hat ihm einmal sein Leben
gerettet." and “Es war bei Studenok am
Donez. Strauss führte damals schon das Bataillon. Die zweite
Kompanie lag, soviel mir bekannt ist direct am Donez. Den
Russen war es gelungen, bei Nacht über den Fluss zu kommen.
Bei den Kämpfen wurde die zweite Kompanie fast völlig
( “Steiner saved his life once…. It happened at Studenok on
the Donez. Brandt led the battalion at that time already.
The second company was situated, as far as I know directly
at the Donez. The Russians had succeeded in crossing the
river at night. In the battle the second company was almost
completely rubbed out.) This actually took place on the
19th and 20th of May 1942 see:
Hans Kissel: Angriff
einer Infanteriedivision (Die 101. le.I.D. in der
Frühjahrsschlacht bei Charkow. Mai 1942). 1958;
Kriegstagebuch des Jäger Regiments 228;
According to these Sources, a company of the I./228.Jg.R.
was surprised and pinned down by Russian forces (two
Regiments and eleven tanks of the Russian 296. Division)
that crossed the Donez in the night from the 19th to 20th of
May 1942. It took the 101.le.Div until the 23th of May to
clear the western bank of the Donez of the enemy.
There was also an Oberfeldwebel in the 228.Jg.Rgt.
that was awarded the Knights Cross on May 17th 1943, his
name is Johann Schwerdfeger, platoon leader 1./JägRgt 228.
Could he be the inspiration for the character of Steiner?
From this website:
Schwerdfeger was born on 24 November 1914,
in Plein bei Wittlich. He served from 1935
to 1937 with Infanterie Regiment 84, and at
the beginning of the campaign in Poland
transferred to the Third Company of
Infanterie Regiment 186 (73rd Infantry
In June 1942,
after service with Jägerersatzbattaillon 75,
Schwerdfeger joined Jäger Regiment 228, part
of the 101st Jäger Division. The division
saw action in the Don Bend, at Rostov and
Maikop in the Caucasus, and joined the
retreat through the Kuban and the Taman
On 17 May
1943, Feldwebel Schwerdfeger was awarded the
Knight's Cross as a platoon leader in the
First Company. In April 1944, during the
breakout from Hube's Pocket, he was severely
wounded and on 14 May 1944 was awarded the
Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
kind permission of Robert Balsam
Ritterkreuzträger der Wehrmacht
My Uncle, after only
six weeks on the eastern front was killed in a small village 3km
east of Izyum on June 22nd 1942. He was nineteen years old. I tried
over the last thirty years to find out more about his fate.
Jäger Willi Maier
Jägerregiment 229, 101. le. Division (Jägerdivision)
Born: 29 August 1922, Langensteinbach, Karlsruhe
Died: 22 June 1942
Location of Death: Rossochowatij bei Isium.
According to the official letter my Grandmother received, he was
with a small reconnaissance group of the 7.Komp., Jägerregiment 229,
101.le.ID. Upon entering the small village of Rossochowatij near
Isium (Ukraine) the group was met by retreating Russians incl. a T34
tank and annihilated. A comrade and school mate of my uncle who was
not part of the recce group that day, told my Grandmother later,
that the reconnaissance group, let by a young Leutnant, was to find
out if there was enemy activity in Rossochowatij, but they were
under orders not to enter the village. The Leutnant, against orders
and the advice of the accompanying Unteroffizier, decided to capture
two light trucks and their crews, that he believed were the only
enemies in and around the little village. Only a few of the group
got out alive, amongst them the Leutnant who was subsequently
degraded to an NCO rank. The comrade told the story to my
Grandmother when he was on home leave in the fall of 1942.
Gefreiter Ludwig Augenstein
Feldpostnummer: 27453 C,
7 Kompanie, Jäger Regiment 229
Born:4 August 1922 in Langensteinbach, Karlsruhe
Went Missing in Action: 26 May 1943, Krymskaya
This was the day that Hill 121.4 was stormed by the 101st Division.
Jäger Willi Maier
Recruited to Infantry Regiment 109 (35th
Division) Sep 1941 (Karlsruhe)
Transferred to 101 Leichte Division in Ulm
for advanced training.
Early May 1942 sent to Slaviansk.
Killed in Action 22 June 1942
His Jäger cap badge and Infantry Assault
Badge are just visible in this photo.
Special thanks to Hardy
Huber for making this page possible.
Hardy also has a page devoted to his father, Oberjäger