Willi Kirschner began his career in the Wehrmacht like many other soldiers signing up for active duty on February 10th1940 (just shy of his 20thbirthday) reporting to Batterie 1 of 1. Art.Ers.Abt.33 in Posen as a Kanonier. On March 15th Willi was to receive the Westwall medal but was struck out for an unknown reason by his next unit – when this was done is unknown as on August 1st Willi was promoted to Oberkanonier by Art.Ers.Abt.33. Sometime between August and December 15th Willi was transferred to Schutzen Regiment 52 (mot 1st) which was part of the developing 18th Panzer Division.
Early 1941 would see the 18th Panzer division continue to build in Germany as part of Army Group C (11th Army) March would see Willi’s title change from Oberkanonier to Gefreiter (as part of 5. (schw) I.R. 52 , and in May the 18th Panzer Division would be moved to army group center on the Eastern front. On June 22nd the division rolled into Russia and with it Willi would receive his initial baptism by fire. By June 29th the Division had already advanced to Minsk, and followed the advance on Borissov crossing the Beressina but before the division could reach Smolensk Willi would end up in Rez.Laz. Bramberg with a case of Typhus.
After leaving the Lazarette Willi found himself in in Schtz-Gesh.Ers.Kp.(mot) .4 in Dresden. Between July 19th and November 19th not much is known about Willi’s whereabouts besides a pair of visits home. November would see Willi incorporated with 2. Schtz.ers.btl. 101 a replacement battalion for both the 18th Panzer Division and 52 Schutzen Regiment. Winter of 1941 would be a quiet one for Willi but changes were coming.
Back to Russia
In February of 1942 Willi would find himself in Schutzen regiment 126 (3rd company), by May 1st Willi would receive another promotion this time to Obergefrieter, July would see the regiment switch from Schutzen to Panzergrenadier Regiment 126 while setting up in southern Russia, subordinated to the 23rd Panzer Division. It’s interesting to note that due to the distance between combat groups Willi missed out on receiving his Ostmedaille medal. It was the summer of 1942 when the regiment saw combat in the Terek, Don area of Russia as part of the 1st Panzerarmee.
September would see another award snatched away from Willi as he was to receive the KVK 2nd class w/swords but was struck out by another officer but this time it was due to the fact that Willi was entitled to A wound badge in black. Still fighting on the Don Willi would receive his Iron Cross 2nd class on October 23rd. Willi wouldn’t have much time to celebrate as on October 29th Willi was struck by a bullet and wounded, putting him out of front line action until January of 1943.
After his recovery Willi was placed with the replacement Battalion of the 104th Panzergrenadiers sometime between January and April of 1943. It’s unclear if Willi saw active front line duty with the 104th as by February the unit took part in the last offensive in North Africa and March 6th the unit suffered massive casualties after being heavily bombed and those that were left were either captured or made their way to the Bone peninsula. What is certain is that Willi contracted a bout of Malaria in June recovering by the end of July.
The Panzergrenadier Regiment 104 was rebuilt mid July in Sicily (Italy) and was subordinated to the 15th Panzergrenadier Division. July 30th would see the 2nd Battalion again obliterated by allied air raids and from August 1st to 6th the regiment suffered greatly at the hands of the US 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) during the battle of Troina (Operation Husky) along highway 120, the linchpin of the Etna Line.The Regiment continued it’s retreat East towards the Strait of Messina, fearing complete encirclement along with the entire division and by August 17th the 15th Panzergrenadiers, 29th Infantry, the 1st Fallschimjager, and the Herman Goring Divisions escaped to the mainland.
The 15th Panzergrenadier Division would put up some of the stiffest resistance during Operation Avalanche offering stiff resistance to British forces around Salerno. October 2nd to 8th Willi ended up yet again in a Lazarette this time for tonsillitis and quickly returned to his unit. Fighting a retreating battle, the 15th Panzer Division found itself defending the Bernhardt Line and it is here where I believe that Willi earned his panzer assault badge on November 28th with the 104th regiment. The 15th Panzergrenadiers continued fighting in a retreating fashion until they found themselves in San Vittore where the division would see out the rest of 1943.
The beginning of 1944 remained fairly quiet for Willi and the 15th Panzergrenadier Division. On may 12th1944 the day after the Allies launched operation Diadem resulting in the complete collapse of the Gustav Line, Willi again was sent to a Lazarette, this time for ear problems? This would keep Willi away from the front until mid August when he was found fit to fight again. Willi was then given a Gensesungurlaub that lasted until the end of August. After his return he reported to Gren.ers.Btl. 104 or 109 and wasn’t long before he was sent to Feldersatz Batl. 553 as part of 553 Gren Div/553 VGD which went into action in Nancy, France under Armeekorps XIII.SS. Sometime after August 31st Willi was either killed or captured, his unit being smashed the same day it went into action October 9th in Lorraine.