Valor Friday

| April 9, 2021

Leutnant Friedrich Lengfeld

It’s not often I’ll highlight the bravery of a belligerent on the side of one of our enemies. There are stories of camaraderie between enemies during war. Events like the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I or the mid-World War II near fatal damage to an American B-17 by a German Luftwaffe pilot who then escorted his stricken prey back to friendly lines (taking down a wounded opponent was considered dishonorable to the German pilot) capture the imagination. They remind us that while war often brings out the worst in humanity, it can bring out the best. Today’s subject is a little different and was an act of battlefield bravery to save the man’s enemy.

Friedrich Lengfeld was a 23 year old German Wehrmacht infantry lieutenant. Known for not asking more of his men than he himself was willing to do, Lengfeld would often take the lead or “point” position on patrols, putting his safety literally ahead of that of his men.

Lengfeld would face off against the US Army’s 22nd Infantry Regiment. The 22nd Infantry had first seen combat in the war on 6 June 1944 at H plus 75 (75 minutes after the assault began) on the beaches of Normandy.

Fighting their way across France, the 22nd Infantry gained historical and popular recognition for their efforts at the French-German border at the Siegfried Line when Ernest Hemingway wrote about the regiment’s action in an article title War in the Siegfried Line.

Lieutenant Lengfeld, like most German soldiers, had already seen significant action on the Eastern Front facing off against Russia. Wounded and cited several times for battlefield bravery, he was believed to have been assigned to the German 8th Mountain Division on the Western Front after the Allied invasion at Normandy.

From September 1944 until February 1945, the two sides would battle at the Siegfried Line at the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. This would be the longest single land battle of the war on German soil and the longest battle fought by the American Army ever. The Siegfried Line was a line of fortifications Germany had erected along the French border opposite the French Maginot Line.

The American side, commanded by Generals Omar Bradley and Courtney Hodges, numbered about 120,000 men. The German side, commanded by Field Marshal Walter Model, numbered 80,000. In the brutally fierce fighting over those three months in the fall and into the winter of 1944, the Americans would suffer between 33,000 and 55,000 casualties while the German defenders lost 28,000.

It was in this maelstrom that Lengfeld was placed in command of a company in the German 275th Infantry Division. He and the Americans were fighting back and forth over a strategically important forester’s house. The Germans had just retaken the house early on the morning of 12 November.

As dawn broke, the Germans heard screams of pain and calls for help along a nearby road. The soldier was lying in no man’s land between the two warring infantry formations. The wounded man was trapped in a minefield known as “Wilde Sau” (German for “wild boar”). Lengfeld gave the order to his men that no medic coming to the aid of the wounded shoulder was to be shot at. The Americans would be allowed to retrieve their comrade.

Hours passed though and nobody came to rescue the downed man. His cries of “Help me!” repeated over and over, weakening as the hours passed. At 1030 hours, Lieutenant Lengfeld could take it no more. He ordered his own medics to prepare to move out to rescue him themselves. As was his style, he personally led the team himself.

Under an improvised Red Cross banner, Lengfeld led his own medical personnel out of the forester’s house and towards the injured enemy soldier.

Lengfeld was able to navigate his men through the relatively easy to spot anti-tank mines, but stepped on an anti-personnel landmine. Severely wounded by shrapnel, the medics dressed his wounds and rushed him to a nearby aid station where the brave Lieutenant succumbed to his wounds eight hours later. He was 23 years old.

Lengfeld had done the unthinkable in a time of war. He gave his own life for the chance of rescuing one of his enemy.

Private Hubert Gees was Lieutenant Lengfeld’s communications runner and aide. It was he who was there, next to Lengfeld when the decision was made to go help the American left behind in a minefield to die.

Gees said, “With this cruel turn of events, I lost my best commander. He had meant much to me in the difficult weeks behind us and he had given me much inner strength. He was an exemplary company commander, who never asked us to do more than he himself was ready to give. He was in the lead of our reconnaissance patrol as we moved up to the American outpost line. When American infantry ammunition exploded in the trees overhead and gave us the impression that the enemy had broken through, he did not order ‘Go at once!’, but rather, ‘Come with me!’”

It’s not known the identity or fate of the wounded American. He was either rescued by the US soldiers or was able to make his way back to friendly lines himself, as there was no wounded or dead American at that location when the Germans recaptured the field on the following day.

Lengfeld is buried at a German war cemetery in Hürtgen. In 1994 a monument was placed at the entrance to the cemetery by men of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, including former regimental commanding officer John Ruggles (who would retire two decades later from the Army as a major general).

The memorial is believed to be the only American memorial erected anywhere to honor an act of a German soldier. It says, in both English and German;

No man hath greater love than he who
layeth down his life for his enemy.

IN MEMORY
OF
LIEUTENANT FRIEDRICH LENGFELD

2ND CO., FUES. BN., 275TH INF. DIV.

Here in Huertgen Forest on November 12, 1944,
Lt. Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life
while trying to save the life of an American
soldier lying severely wounded in the “Wilde
Sau” minefield and appealing for medical aid.

PLACED AT THIS SITE ON OCTOBER 7, 1994

THE
TWENTY SECOND UNITED STATES
INFANTRY
SOCIETY – WORLD WAR II

“Deeds Not Words”

It’s doubtless that Lieutenant Lengfeld had killed or wounded Americans during the weeks long battle. To earn the respect of those men he’d fought against by his final act of chivalrous courage speaks to the character of the man. “Deeds not words” indeed.

Category: Army, Historical, Valor, War Stories, We Remember

Comments (10)

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  1. STSC(SW/SS) says:

    It is unfortunate that good men have to do bad things.

    I salute you Herr Leutnant Lengfeld.

  2. AW1Ed says:

    Another great story, Mason. Thanks again.

  3. 26Limabeans says:

    The sound of human suffering awakens something in all of us.
    Perhaps politicains should be required to listen to recordings
    each day as part of their job before starting wars.

    • KoB says:

      If the politicians had to fight the wars, there would not be any wars.

      Gun Salute for this Warrior! PREPARE! FIRE!

      Thanks Mason, another great story.

  4. Ex Coelis says:

    Thank you for posting this impressive story, Mason. Like STSC(SW/SS), I also salute you Herr Leutnant Lengfeld. @26Limabeans – well said, Sir.

  5. Green Thumb says:

    Hardcore.

  6. President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neanderthal B Woodman Domestic Violent Extremist SuperStraight says:

    (damned Onion Fairy! Where is that sucker? Gonna catch it, chop it up & sauté its ass)

    Deeds, not words, indeed.

  7. Prior Service. says:

    I’ve visited Lengdeld’s grave twice. There are two German cemeteries IVO Hurtgen. This one is right outside Vossenack where some of the fiercest fighting of the war occurred. Both cemeteries are very somber. The German war cemeteries are all privately funded because Germany does not provide for them. It’s one of the few places I will donate Euros. I figure we put them all there (not joking or sarcastic).