Some days ago +/- 300 German soldiers was put to rest on a cemetary outside Saldus in Latvia.
Searching and recovering the fallen soldiers of WW2 is done of respect for the soldier who lost his life, so he can have a real grave, hopefully a named one so also remaining family members can have a closure. Since I am new to the group I haven`t had a chance to attend the reburials yet, but hope to do so this spring. Edgars and Viktors from Legenda lent me these pics so I could put them up here and show you some of what happens after we have found a fallen.
Some days ago +/- 300 German soldiers was put to rest on a cemetary outside Saldus in Latvia.
From reburial of Red Army soldiers in Riga in april. Legenda guys behind the soldiers coffins.
Red Army veteran. He fought from Leningrad all the way to Kurland.
Fallen in Combat
When I visited Latvia in october we went searching in an area where many soldiers has been found and recovered earlier. Huge battles rolled across the fields and forests here, and the few farms in the area was totally wiped out. The HKL (HauptKampfLinie - main battle line) stretch for a few kilometer and in a depth of probably several kilometers and could change hands in close combat several times pr day. Much of the area is covered by thick forest today which can make it difficult to work , and rules out the use of tractor. We had been searching around some dug-outs and it was clear that we was in the right place because we found a lot of battle discards. A few meter from the dug-out someone had a good signal and they opened it up. After a while buttons and pieces of leather started to show up and not long after a soldier was found quite deep in the ground. Just a couple of meters away some other guys started to dig,also deep this time and it started to become clear to us that we had found a filled up trenchline untouched since the battles. In the second hole a damaged K98 Mauser rifle was one of the first finds and underneath it a very damaged body was recovered. It was only broken bones. Just looking at the rifle and what we found of his arms it could look like he was holding his rifle above the trench fending off the enemy when a direct hit ended his life.
Having recovered these two soldiers the diggers was hungry and went to get a bite, but me and Matt had decided to dig on a signal we had found earlier just a few meters away. It was the same trench so we thought we had to investigate it. Infact we had started digging it earlier on the day, but left it because we had met a big rock just above the signal, and I mean this rock was big, 100 kg class at least. We decided to try dig around it from another side and not long after we knew we was looking at the rim of a helmet! In the process we discovered that it was two of these huge rocks just atop the helmet. We needed bulls to remove these ones so we called out for some of the Latvians,, it took three of these huge guys and no way they could get it out of our pit. "Call for Ivan" one of them shouted out. Ivan came, now he is not a big guy at all, but they assured me the rock would be gone. I`ve never seen such strenght from a human ever before, he just flipped the rock away! The second rock was lighter so the other Latvians took that one. Now we could dig again. The helmet wasn`t empty. We had found a third soldier! A Volksbund plastic tray was arranged for us and we could start finding and taking up each bone which always is a somber and strange feeling. We found the ID disc on the chest of the soldier and we could read that he was a Sanität, a medic. Maybe he had run to help one of his friends further down the trench when he too fell and found a forgotten and temporary grave for 70 years. All three of our recovered soldiers this day was taken care of and returned to the Volksbund for registration and reburial. Somewhere else in the forest other guys found two Red Army soldiers which will have an official military burial next spring.
Helmet in the mud
We were searching in an area with very overgrown forest but located a few dug outs with trenches between. Dimas had some good signals and started digging,,for a while nothing but smaller pieces like buttons,small buckles a wehrmacht toothbrush , a few shell casings and a grenade came out of the ground but he kept searching the trench. After a while we heard some shouting in Latvian from his pit and went over to have a look and he had pulled out a german helmet! It was covered in a thick layer of mud and clay but some cleaning showed it was in nice condition and even had a decal!
A Soldier Recovered
On a field in Kurland we had just located a small cluster of bunkers and their connecting trenches. They had been filled in shortly after the war and the field has been plowed a few times pr year ever since so there was no visible trace of these bunkers today. The metal detectors soon indicated there had been some sort of activity here,and sure enough,shrapnel,mortar grenade end pieces,cans,a few helmets and soon a Soviet Ppsh submachinegun came out from the soil when searching the surrounding area. The experienced diggers had dug some test pits and probing of the ground and found the first bunker. The tractor was put to work and minutes later a timber roof of a bunker was uncovered. All the time checking the ground and the dug up dirt with metal detectors we found pieces of bricks,porcelain,bottles and food ration tins. Probably a little more than half hour of digging we had hit the bunker floor and guys with metal detectors jumped in to start searching it. On the floors was found a Mg42 bolt,a gasmask canister with mask,and some other small bits. The tractor removed another slice of the bunker wall and we saw a round shape..Helmet! Digging it carefully loose from the wall it became obvious it wasn`t an empty helmet. It took a while for the diggers to find the whole soldier as the skeleton was very damaged, most probably he met with a grenade. We found his ID disc so he can be identified by the German Volksbund and given a grave. R.I.P
Rest of bunker roof. The whole bunker was filled with soil we had to dig through..
Finding helmets is always very fun and we found many helmets laying around this day,but the fun shifts to serious quickly when you see that its not just a helmet...
Finding the ID disc is essential. This time we had luck. Here we are cleaning it to be able to read it.
Some of the Legenda guys. A great bunch:) I dont remember the names of them all,but will update this post as well in the coming time:)
First off,the Boss,Talis,going to cook something it looks like:)
Dainis and Maris, Clowns and hardcore Diggers.
Matt, Digger and jeweler,good nose for helmets.
Roberts,Digger and camera operator.
Dainis. One of our tractor drivers. Highly skilled.
Viktors,Digger and Filmmaker.
A hungry and cold bunch of diggers.
Not far outside Riga is a town named Ciemupe, there is the coolest little cafe I have ever come across. My friends brought me here on one of my visits this summer. The owner,Jurij,is a friendly guy full of stories. He runs the cafe and has collected militaria most of his life. In his young days he built miniature airplanes and have a big cabinet where he displays them all. In front of the cafe is 2 airplanes,a submarine deck gun,military cars and a sea mine. Inside the seatings by the tables is seats from Antonov passenger planes. The walls of the cafe is covered with interesting photos and objects. Airplane models,cameras,guns , helmets and lots more. He even has the whole nose section of an Antonov integrated to the cafe! The menu has some nice things listed and the coffee is great! The backyard of the cafe is a open air museum. I couldnt believe it. Cannons,machine guns,aircraft cannons and rocket launchers,several working war time jeeps and ofcourse more airplanes. This is the cafe you`ll want to visit again and again:)
a few finds From the field
In and around bunkers and trenchlines lies all kinds of stuff. Some military equipment, often civillian and personal items such as bottles,kettles,cutlery etc. Here is a few pics of things that we found one afternoon outside Saldus.
Starting with a k98 Mauser ammo pouch containing rounds for the Stg.44.
RAD (Reicharbeitsdienst) fork.
Red Army food or water bucket.
Latvian sport medallion or token of some sort.
A russian fork.
In september we were out on a field somewhere in Kurland, opening up a few bunkers and connecting trenches with the help of a tractor. The soil was very hard to dig and a strong autumn sun and a blistering hangover didn`t make the day easier. I am so glad we had the tractor. 4 bunkers was opened and we found 3 fallen soldiers and lots of evidence of battle.
Mosin rifle find
With a tractor we was digging a trenchline searching for fallen soldiers, as the digger removed layer by layer we sweeped the cleared ground with our metaldetectors. When I moved the detector to the shoulder of the trench I had a great signal and moments later I realized it was a gun of some sort. It took a little work to carefully get it out from the soil and it was a great feeling when I had it up in the daylight. A Red Army Mosin rifle with fixed bayonet. In the bottom of the trench we also found a German helmet which when cleaned turned out to be a real stunner.
A good drive south-east of Riga metal thieves found some skulls as they dug an old cable. Police became involved and diggers contacted. I was lucky enough to be in Latvia for this expedition. We were many diggers,10-12 at least, from two authorized recovery Groups,Legenda and Zvaigzne, which translate to `Star`. When me, Talis, Viktors and Andris arrived the other group had already been digging for a while recovering a few soldiers. Here was fieldgraves side by side along the old rural road. They had been forgotten about in the chaos when the frontlines broke and nature had soon covered any trace of them. As the first graves were on the 2 meter depth they was supposed to, the graves in the west end of the line was very shallow so we could imagine they was dug in a rush. Several of the skeletons had big damages indicating they had met their faith in grenade or artillery fire and in some graves there was more than one soldier. After a long day we had recovered 15 soldiers, many of them could be identified since we found their dog tags, and before we arrived in the morning the Zvaigzne guys had found 5 soldiers, so in total 20 german soldiers was found this day. They were all returned to the German Grave Commission.
It is one of the first times I see skulls like this in real, and it is very chilling moments. The mood of the whole group shifts to a more serious when remains is found. Even if the guys have done this hundreds of times it is still a strong moment for them as well.
Video from the exhumaton: