According to the IHF catalog, "One of the rarest cinematic documents to survive the war, Germany's Front Shows offer a unique perspective of Hitler's 1941-43 Russian campaign. Skillfully blending German frontline footage and captured Soviet combat film, the programs depict the German soldier in battle, on forced marches, forts and shelters, and coping with climactic hardships.
"Censored from the public, the features were screened to recruits to help prepare them for the realities of the east.
"This program features: Mountain Troops Battle for a Town depicting the assault on Baronwice in Soviet eastern Poland in 1941. Advance German infantry and armor traverse Russia's dusty roads in this lively feature showing the right and wrong ways to move troops behind the front. Russian Construction of Positions depicts the Red Army's formidable elaborate defensive belt that German propaganda called the Stalin Line that is shown in detail after capture late in 1941.
"Infantry on the Attack: Supported by artillery, German infantry and soldiers of the SS Totenkopf/Death's Head Division attack Soviet positions near the Valday Heights in late summer 1941. Construction of Positions and Shelters for the Fighting Troops of Those in Rest Areas; Attack by Infantry and Armor Against a Village; Traveling Across Ice Surfaces and Waters with Drifting Ice; Defensive Battle in Winter filmed by German cameramen on the Leningrad front in 1943; Terrain Difficulties in the East, Winter, and Spring. "
In the first film, elite German Alpenkorps/Alpine Corps troops are used as regular infantry in steel helmet and full combat load, a rifle battalion. We see rugged, small, specially developed mountain guns and horse-drawn artillery, as well as 81mm mortars, rangefinder viewers, Czech-made PAK 37.cm light cannon, Edelweis flower patches on sleeves and caps. Also seen are artillery shells wrapped in straw wicker coverings, the crossing of anti-tank ditches, and the nastiest Red Army surprise of the war: the T-34 medium tanks that were the best made of any army on either side.
The viewer sees cable gear racks on the backs of soldiers, self-propelled assault guns, and engineers, plus short-barreled light tanks in action. Red Army combat films are inter-spliced with German footage. An enemy bunker is attacked with grenades and flamethrowers, barbed wire, and Red Army men running forward toward Nazi lines to surrender, their hands held high. We view German troops under Red Air Force attack, and Stuka dive-bombers attacking helpless Red Army troops as well.
Small 60mm mortars go into action, medics tend the wounded, a town is taken, and swastika flags are spread on the ground as markers to prevent Luftwaffe/Air Force "friendly fire".
March discipline on the left side of the road with troops carrying uniform loads are shown, and explained as well as why weapons are carried a certain way, the men followed by horse-drawn field kitchens. The business end of machine guns were supposed to face backward. Motorized traffic was supposed to travel on the right side of the road and to move at regular, spaced intervals to prevent clogging up on crowded roads. The viewer is instructed not to clog up roads, and not to race to catch up in case that did happen. Assault guns being slower become strung out.
"There must be rest areas for draying horses hauling freight so that they can drink water. Traffic police must be posted, and rest periods for driver maintenance provided as well. Sleep is also essential. Rifle squads must be assembled off-road so as to keep the roads open and clear for traffic. No concentrations should be allowed and camouflaged, due to the ever-present danger of air attack. Troops should form up together and move out, as standing columns also invite aerial assault. This reviewer saw far too many, unnecessary staff cars for officers, too!
Horse harnesses should be checked and the horses' gait monitored. Axles should be greased often. Sitting of field kitchens is forbidden---but is shown being done nonetheless! Sentries should be posted, but not close to stonewalls, due to shell fragmentation wounds, and foxholes shouldn't be too close together, either.
Boil water before drinking, and use a handkerchief as a drainage filter, too. Clean all weapons daily and maintain gear and uniforms in addition. Camouflage posts. Tents are warmer and better overnight for sleeping than dank, damp foxholes in the ground.
The Russians are known to be masters of the usage of positions terrains with obstacles, and trenches reinforced by wire and anti-tank ditches and along hillsides with wicker work and also reinforced by wire. Attack angles to "hang up" tanks of the German Army are shown filled with water. Steel hedgehog jumping jack obstacles with wire are seen being constructed by Red Army engineers, and bunkers are captured revealing 1912-era artillery pieces behind earthworks of timber logs and soil in the vaunted-but breeched---Stalin Line. We also see flamethrower barrels detonated by remote control ignition, and dead Red Army troops killed by German assault weapons, plus destroyed equipment and gear.
Red Army anti-aircraft guns and ammunition are shown unfired, as the first snow flurries of 1941 blanket barbed wire posts and concrete dragon teeth anti-tank obstacles in the field. Rows of wooden posts are revealed to prevent paratroop and glider landings around wooden bunkers made of logs, with apertures for guns and observation.
Scouts are seen bringing in Soviet POWs for interrogation before a coming action, then "The first platoon moves out," fanning out into an open field, thus detailing the small unit tactics drilled into young second lieutenants in military schools the world over. Small PAK guns are seen being pulled by hand and with ropes up hills and over ridges, with the troops now wearing warmer overcoats: truly arduous work. Having carried 81mm mortar parts across hill and dale, this reviewer can personally attest to that!
We witness crew-served weapons in action and forward observers on the reverse slopes of ridges radioing back instructions to their respective gunners to direct both mortar and heavier artillery fire. Flares call up artillery fire support, and heavy mortars using plotted coordinates, as tractors haul guns into position. We also see fire control centers wherein the information relayed from the forward observers is evaluated, and then transmitted to the actual gunners waiting to drop the rounds down mortar tubes or feed shells into the heavier artillery pieces.
An enemy village is taken by storm as medics provide first aid, and captured officers and enlisted men are questioned separately. The pursuit of the retreating enemy must never be slacked off, even though the men may be tired from constant combat.
When winter comes, frost appears first, then soldiers in their light summer uniforms, later replaced by white---but still light---smocks, and, finally, heavier overcoats. Scarves are wrapped around caps, but only later do actual fur caps and earmuffs appear. Men are instructed to place straw on the floor of dwellings for additional warmth, with tunnels dug to link posts, dug with pickaxes and shovels. "Keep connecting trenches narrow, and keep weapons at the ready and outdoors," the troops are told. "Snowdrifts can be used as walls and shelters in case of incoming shrapnel. Smokestacks for underground stoves are seen, as well as men washing and scrubbing themselves with snow.
Men dig foxholes with entrenching tools such as I used as well in our Army in the 1960s, and wooden-walled trenches are seen, too, with stick steps, roofs with logs and earth overhead to protect against shrapnel. Latrines are placed far off from these same trenches, moreover.
Tents are also camouflaged, the weight of wet snow being taken into consideration. Tent pole ends are sharpened with penknives, and tents pitched so as to provide for the running of water off the tent surface, and not inside it. Severe cold weather inside can be combatted by using more straw as insulation, we are told.
Plywood tent sections tied together with sturdy wire and/or string holds up well. POWs are used to build log fortifications from lumber cut in nearby forests providing available wood supplies thus gained, with straw and moss as insulation. Layered beams protect against shell fragments. Brick and iron ovens retain heat. Dugouts are camouflaged with snow-covered roofs, and horses as well can be protected from the elements in these same shelters: "Comrade Horse."
Military engineers are used first, and only later civilian Organization Todt laborers in work fatigues. Good roofing guards against water and rain. Grass patches are cut with special tools and implements pulled by ropes by German RAD/Labor Service men so that uniform shapes are cut. Thatched straw roofing learned at home comes in handy by men stationed in the east.
POWs are used as lumbermen by splitting logs and rails, and digging postholes. Two-man saws for log cabin construction is depicted, as well as rafters with planks being emplaced, reminding this reviewer of childhood days of Lincoln Log building sets, complete with notched fittings. Vermin-contamination from Russian buildings is to be guarded against. The what, where, and how to build instructions are drilled into the viewers time and again, the result being akin to our own Revolutionary War Valley Forge encampment.
Available on DVD from International Historic Films, Inc. Germany, 1941-43, B & W, 158 minutes, English voiceover narration, switchable English and original German narration tracks.
Die Frontschau/The Front Show: Deluxe Edition DVD