Interviewed 6 June 2004:
Fred Novotny was drafted into the German
Army (Heer) after first serving with the National Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst-RAD).
He saw combat with
RAD Battalion 365 during the
British naval and commando raid at St. Nazaire, France in March
1942. Fred recalls that his RAD unit was quickly mobilized
into combat in response to the raid. During this battle he was given an old World
War I French rifle and what he remembers was a very oversized
German helmet. Fred wore a size 57cm helmet and he believes
that he had been given a 61cm helmet by mistake. Fred recalls
that wearing the large helmet felt as though a large steel bucket had been placed on his head.
His overwhelming desire was to have two eye holes cut in the front
of the helmet just so that he could see!
When questioned regarding the ability
to camouflage steel helmets in the field, Fred recalls that few if
any of the men in his company did so. He remembers that
the first time his unit (the elite Panzer-Grendadier Division Großdeutschland)
were issued camouflage items came in 1944. Fred recalls that
standard factory produced splinter pattern helmet covers were issued
to a large number of men at this time. Prior to this date no helmet covers were
apparently available to Fred's unit. He also remembers that few
helmet covers were
manufactured in the field.
issuing of helmets, Fred was trained at the famous Großdeutschland
training base in Chemnitz, Germany. He recalls that his
senior NCO in charge of his overall group's basic training
supervised the issuing of military uniforms including helmets.
During the first week of training, Fred and his training unit were
taken to a large supply room within the barracks. There
supply clerks handed out the uniform items under the supervision of
the senior NCO. Fred recalls that the supply clerks took the
time to measure each recruit's head using a flexible tape measure.
If the line was moving too slow, the senior NCO would simply make
the line move quicker by deciding whether or not a given helmet
actually fit or not. In some cases Fred recalls that
recruits were given helmets that were too small and uncomfortable.
Overall Fred recalls that as a recruit a person simply "did as
told without argument."
During one episode of combat on the
Eastern Front, Fred's helmet was hit by a large artillery fragment
or shell that pass through the front of his helmet and spiraled
around the inside. When he took his helmet off, the entire
rim (or flange) had been blown away. The only
thing that remained on his head was the crown of the helmet that
he recalled looked like a cooking pot. Fred received no
injuries as a result of this damage despite the fact that his
helmet was totally destroyed.
ended his service time in 1945 when he was captured by Soviet
forces. He spent two and one half years in various Soviet
labor camps before being released to his homeland. Fred was
awarded the Iron Cross Second Class, the Infantry Assault Badge,
and the Wound Badge in Silver. Fred ended his service time
with the rank of Obergefreiter.