13 October 2013

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.D tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65

Image size: 1600 x 1127 pixel. 303 KB
Date: May 1941
Place: Ostpreußen, Germany
Photographer: Helmut Ritgen

Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.D tanks of Panzer-Abteilung 65 (in effect, III.Abteilung of Panzer-Regiment 11 / 6.Panzer-Division) photographed in East Prussia in May 1941 shortly before the invasion of Russia. The small turret number '421' identifies the battalion by its yellow color, the company-'4', the platoon-'2', and the platoon leader's tank-'1'. The two yellow 'Xs' on the front plate beside the driver's visor are the divisional sign of 6. Panzer-Division; this device replaced the original 'reversed Y' rune and two dots shortly before Operation Barbarossa. The national cross is in plain white outline on the 'Panzer grey' paintwork. On the nearside trackguard may be seen the shielded driving- and head-lights, the fire extinguisher, a jacking block of thick timber, barrel cleaning rods, and four jerrycans held by a retaining bar marked with the divisional sign. Note open flap of ventilation port in turret roof: ventilator fans were not yet fitted. The color photograph on this page are a selection from a remarkable - perhaps literally unique - collection taken in 1940-44 by Oberst Helmut Ritgen during his front-line service. The camera was a Leica III (Summitar f 1.2 lens). Oberst Ritgen's wife, at that time a nurse at the Paderborn military hospital, was a former employee of the Agfa company, and a keen photographer herself was able to obtain through a personal contact with the firm a supply of the new and very rare Agfa 35mm color film. The exposed films were sent back from Russia to Agfa through the Army mail service, and the processed pictures were kept in Germany by Frau Ritgen. Oberst Ritgen recalls that the excellent and sturdy Leica, which spent its time slung round his neck in a leather case, survived many hasty dives to the ground under Soviet shellfire; on one occasion he was forced to bale out of his burning PzKfw III after coming off second best in an encounter with a KV-1, but the camera continued to function well! It had no built-in exposure meter, and given the circumstances Oberst Ritgen was often limited to making a rough estimate, but it seldom let him down. It finally met its end in the stowage box of his tank near Tilly, Normandy, in June 1944 when he was serving with the Panzer-Lehr Division. He was forced to take cover under the tank when caught by a heavy naval bombardement, and a shell splinter - probably courtesy of the cruiser HMS Orion - put paid to both stowage box and camera.

Helmut Ritgen photo collection
Book "The 6th Panzer Division: 1937-45" by Oberst a.D. Helmut Ritgen

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