Unterwachtmeister Scharnhorst

Grossdeutschland Unteroffizier ScharnhorstName: Karl Scharnhorst
Born: 10th October 1914, Rüdesheim-am-Rhein.
Occupation: Career soldier

Karl was one of two sons born to Ernst and Maria Scharnhorst. His father Ernst had served with distinction in the German Imperial Army during the Great War of 1914 – 1918, before joining the Freikorps until 1919. Ernst eventually returned home to his family and resumed his trade as one of Rüdesheim’s many local wine merchants in the Rhine Valley.

Influenced by his father’s wartime stories, Karl enlisted in the Reichsheer in October 1934 on a minimum 12 year engagement. As the Rhineland was a demilitarized area at the time and therefore had no recruiting offices, he travelled to Berlin to join the army, which gave him a better scope of opportunity. In October 1935 Karl was stationed in Zossen with the 6th Panzer Regiment, 3rd Panzer Division, moving to Neuruppin during 1936. After extensive training exercises on the proving grounds at Staumuhlen to act as reserves for the re-occupation of the Rhineland, the regiment then provided volunteers for Group Imker, the ground contingent to the Condor Legion, tasked to teach tank and infantry tactics to General Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Arriving in Spain in early October 1936, Karl, like many of the German ground forces was often rotated to the front line and engaged in direct combat, taking part in many operations including Von Thoma’s armoured assault in the Battle of Madrid.

During his time in Spain Karl showed an exceptional ability as a combat instructor, leading to a promotion to Gefreiter and an eventual posting back in Germany to the Infantry Training Regiment at Doeberitz in May 1938. After 11 months, upon the announcement of the expansion of the Wachregiment Berlin to four full battalions, Karl submitted a transfer request to join this prestigious guard unit, which was renamed Infantry Regiment Groβdeutschland on the parade ground at Moabit Barracks, Berlin on 14th June 1939.

The outbreak of war saw Karl miss out on the invasion of Poland due to both reorganisational training of the regiment. Mobilised at the rank of Obergefreiter, he thought his first taste of action in the war was upon him, but a cancelled unit airborne operation late in the Polish campaign saw him miss out again. However, during the Western offensive of 1940 as part of 7 Kompanie, 2 Battalion, Groβdeutschland, Karl saw action throughout France, most notably at the crossing of the River Meuse on May 13th, where his efforts resulted in him being decorated with the Iron Cross 2nd Class. By the end of the six week French campaign, after further combat including Chemery, Bulson, Arras, Dunkirk, and Amiens he was awarded the Infantry Assault Badge.

During autumn 1940 Groβdeutschland was again reorganized, moving to Alsace and then the Swiss border to be trained in preparation for the postponed invasions of Britain and Gibraltar, before taking part in the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. By this time Karl had become part of Groβdeutschland’s new 17th Kradschütze (Motorcycle) Kompanie and had married a girl from Hamburg during a period of leave, before returning to duty. After resting up in Zelechów, near Warsaw, the regiment crossed the Russian border at Brest-Litovsk on 27th June 1941 for the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.

The drive into Russia soon found Karl once again battling for a bridgehead on a major river crossing as Groβdeutschland reached the Dnieper. His experience from the river Meuse in France bore well in the fierce fighting on the sunflower covered banks of the Dniepr and the battle at Bryansk. In early December 1941 with temperatures plummeting far beyond zero, Karl was hospitalized for severe frostbite only days before the disaster at Kolodesnaya, where most of the company were killed. Returning for duty he was soon back in hospital with shrapnel injuries to his arm and leg while assaulting enemy positions at the Oka River. Despite his injuries he continued to motivate the men under his command and protect several wounded soldiers under enemy fire. For this he was later recommended for the Iron Cross 1st class. In February 1942 he was promoted to Unteroffizier and for combat with his comrades through the previous summer heat and dust, autumn rain and mud and the -40°C winter freeze, from the Russian border to the gates of Moscow, he was later awarded the Russian Front Medal. With the expansion of Infantry Regiment Groβdeutschland to a Division in the spring of 1942, Karl found himself in the 2nd Squadron, Kradschütze (Motorcycle) Battalion, Groβdeutschland and he would continue at the forefront of every major Groβdeutschland engagement throughout 1942, including Bolkhov, the Don region, Rzhev and the Lutschessa Valley.

With the battalion renamed as Panzer Aüfklarungs (Armoured Reconnaissance), 1943 saw Groβdeutschland being used as a ‘fire brigade’, moving Karl many to critical locations and weak points along the German lines. Surviving the battles of Kursk, Karachev and Akhtyrka, things began to look grim for Karl as the German army descended into retreat to the Dnieper River. By early 1944 he was no longer fighting in Russia as defensive battles and fighting withdrawals, such as Targul Frumos and Podul, drove him and the German line back as the year passed. After being injured again in action by shrapnel while retreating into northern Poland from the Orzyc River bridgehead in January 1945, it seemed as though his luck was finally running out. He was last seen in heavy fighting at Pillau, 24th April 1945 and was reported as missing in action.

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