The World War II History Project

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  •    •  Case: Afrika Korps Panzermann Karl Friedrich Koenig
Karl Friedrich Koenig and Guenter Halm 2010

First Meeting

Tank Veterans' Gathering

Getting to know Karl Friedrich ``Charley`` Koenig at a veterans' reunion in Germany in 2010. In the foreground, Knights Cross holder Guenter Halm of Africa Corps.

Karl Friedrich Koenig Interview 2010

First Interview


A 7-hour-long marathon interview session with Charley, who was 86, in his home in Hamburg a few days after meeting him. Charley served with the 5th Panzer Regiment of the 21st Panzer Division in Africa Corps in Tunisia in 1943. He fought both the British and the Americans before Africa Corps was forced to surrender. He became a POW in Africa, the US, Belgium and the UK, and returned home to Hamburg in 1947. In 1990, he reached out to his former British Desert Rat enemies who became some of the best friends of his life.

Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment Regimental Dinner 2012 in Nottingham - Karl Friedrich Koenig - Heather Steele - Bert Jenkins

2012 Visit to England

Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment Regimental Dinner

Karl Friedrich ``Charley`` Koenig's former enemies from the Desert War welcomed him to their regimental dinners as a member of their regiment.

John Semken fondly welcoming Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig into his home

Interviewing Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment Veterans

John Semken, Military Cross, Silver Star

After the regimental dinner in Nottingham, we travelled to visit John Semken, a veteran of the African Campaign. John spoke with us about his time fighting the Germans, his admiration of their courage and his fighting spirit, and his welcoming of Charley into the Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades Association.

Visting and Interviewing Panzer Commander Egmont Fortun

2012: A Summer of Interviews

Tank Commander Egmont Fortun

En route visiting veterans throughout Germany, we stopped and interviewed Charley's Tank Commander Egmont Fortun, who fought in the 7th Panzer Division in 1940 in France and in 1941 in Russia, and the 21st Panzer Division in Africa in 1942 and 1943.

Visiting former POW camp Camp Chaffee, Arkansas with Charley Koenig in 2013

A Trip to the USA in 2013

Camp Chaffee, Arkansas

Charley Koenig's first POW camp in the US was Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. In honor of his visit, the Camp Chaffee museum put on an exhibit of the German POW camp complete with a picture of Charley as a 19-year-old in the Wehrmacht panzer uniform.

Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig rides out onto the prairie at the Watson Ranch in Okmulgee, Oklahoma

A Trip to the USA in 2013

Okmulgee, Oklahoma

Charley and I visited the ranch in Okmulgee where he worked as a German POW translator. During the war, kind-hearted ranch owner Doc Watson let Charley ride one of his horses onto the prairie, where Charley could feel free, and not as a prisoner, for a couple of hours. And although it was freezing and raining on the day of our 2013 visit, 89-year-old Charley rode out on the prairie again, envisioning those days of his youth.

An American veteran and a German veteran salute each other

A Trip to the USA in 2013

Alva, Oklahoma

Charley spent some time in the POW camp in Alva, Oklahoma in 1944 and 1945, where he worked as camp translator. In 2013, we visited the museum in Alva, which has an amazing collection of items left behind by the German POWs, and walked the grounds with an American tanker. Deep honor and respect on both sides.

Fort Polk Commander honors Karl Friedrich Koenig with a challenge coin

A Trip to the USA in 2013

Fort Polk, Louisiana

A warm welcome awaited us at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The museum curator showed outstanding hospitality to us, spoke German with Charley, and arranged for media coverage and a visit with the base Commander, who honored Charley with the gift of a challenge coin.

German Panzermann Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig laughing it up with American 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Thomas Blakey

A Trip to the USA in 2013

World War II Museum New Orleans

At the World War II Museum in New Orleans, Charley was interviewed by a staff historian, we climbed inside their Sherman, and then had an hours-long tour of their weapons' storage room. Charley immediately became friends with American WWII 82nd Airborne paratrooper veteran Thomas Blakey. Another example of Charley's philosophy of reconciliation in word and deed.

Charley Koenig regales rapt visitors to the World War II Museum cafe with stories of serving as a tanker in Rommel's Africa Corps in 1943

A Trip to the USA in 2013

World War II Museum New Orleans

Everywhere we went in the USA, Charley was treated like a rock star. Here, in the cafe at the World War II Museum, American visitors listen intently as Charley talks about his wartime service as a tanker in Rommel's Africa Corps

Charley Koenig aims an MG34 on top of the turret of a Panzer IV tank at the Jacques Littlefield private collection in 2013

A Trip to the USA in 2013

Jacques Littlefield Armored Vehicle Collection

We were honored guests at the private armored vehicle collection of the late Jacques Littlefield, and given a tour of all the vehicles in the facility and allowed full access to the weapons, as well as tanks' exteriors and interiors, including the Panzer IV and the pristine Panzer V. Here Charley has placed an MG34 on the turret of the Panzer IV and is showing us how he shot at tank-busting Hurricanes in March 1943.

Erich Klein, 16th Panzer Division, Stalingrad, with Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig, 21st Panzer Division, Tunisia

Conducting Veteran Interviews in 2013


Charley and I travelled around Germany 2-4 months a year between 2010 and 2015, interviewing veterans, visiting battlefields, and researching at archives and museums. He was my WW2 weapons' expert, he read documents in the old Suetterlin script, explained cultural references from WW2, and translated when necessary. He established trust with German WW2 veterans, and proved to be an incredible oral history and archival research partner. Here with Erich Klein, 16th Panzer Division.

Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig, Africa Corps Panzermann and 99-year-old Rittmeister (Calvary Captain) Emilio Schulz

Conducting Veteran Interviews in 2013

Rittmeister Emilio Schulz

With the last German cavalry captain alive in 2013, 99-year-old Rittmeister Emilio Schulz

Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig, Africa Corps and 99-year-old Wehrmacht und Bundeswehr veteran Helmut Jeserer

Conducting Veteran Interviews in 2013

Helmut Jeserer

With 99-year-old Helmut Jeserer, Knights Cross holder in WW2, soldier in the post-war West German Bundeswehr from 1956 until 1971, retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Heather Steele - Graham Stevenson of the Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment - and Charley Koenig of the 5th Panzer Regiment in Bayeux, France for the D+1 celebration of the liberation of Bayeux in 1944

Normandy with the Sherwood Ranger Tank Regiment

D-Day 2013

We accompanied the last remaining Sherwood Rangers on a tour starting at Gold Beach, where they came in with swimming tanks on D-Day, through Normandy, and for the ceremony in honor of the liberation of Bayeux on D+1 by the Sherwood Rangers.

Heather Steele and Charley Koenig at the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany for its 30th anniversary celebration

30 Years Panzermuseum

Munster, Germany 2013

One of our many visits to the Panzermuseum in Munster, Germany. This time, for their 30th anniversary.

Charley Koenig, Africa Corps, and Bert Cox, Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment, who swam into Gold Beach on D-Day when his tank dove to the bottom

Normandy 2014

Sherwood Rangers

Loyal Unto Death. That's the Sherwood Ranger Tank Regiment motto, and the thread that bound their decades-long friendship. Here with Stan Cox.

Karl Friedrich Charley Koenig visits a battlefield where his grandfather fought in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71.

Following in his Grandfather's Footsteps

The 1870-71 Franco Prussian War

Charley's grandfather won the highest award for bravery in the Saxon Army in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war. We followed his path through France, stopping at the battlefields where he fought. Here at a monument to fallen Saxons. The French maintain their history, even when they lose. Nothing about this monument, the battlefields, or the cemeteries from 1870-71 had changed in this rural part of France for nearly 150 years.

Heather Steele and Charley Koenig dancing to Glen Miller's "In the Mood"

Battlefield/Wine Tasting Tour

Maginot Line, 2014

Because when Glen Miller's ``In the Mood`` is playing, you really ought to dance, especially if you are 90 years old.

Heather Steele interviews Georg Fischl, a German paratrooper who fought in Normandy in June 1944

More interviews

Georg Fischl

By the end of 2015, I had gathered around 200 interviews - about 100 with American and Allied veterans, and 100 with German veterans. Here we are visiting Georg Fischl, a paratrooper who fought in Normandy in June 1944. Fallschirm Jaeger Regiment 5.

Heather Steele researching RAF South African Hurricane IIDs in the British National Archives in Kew, London

Finding the Archival Records

British National Archives, Kew, 2015

Charley and I visited Kew together to research the archival documents connected with his time in Africa. Here, I am looking at a file relating to the South African Hurricane IIDs that hit his tank at the Mareth Line in March of 1943. Charley is behind the camera.

Heather Steele researching St. Heinrichs Medaille records in the Dresden Archive

St. Heinrich's Medaille Award Records

Saxon Staatsarchiv, Dresden, 2015

Researching, with Charley, the Saxon records detailing how Charley's father and grandfather won the highest medal for bravery in the Saxon Army in 1870-71 and World War I.

Charley Koenig visits the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz, Poland in 2015

Jewish Cemetery in Lodz

Litzmannstadt Ghetto, 2015

Charley and I visit the Jewish cemetery in Lodz, Poland, where many German Jews were deported and where tens of thousands suffered horrifically and died. We are deeply affected.

Local Polish villager Josef shows Charley Koenig where WWI German soldiers who died in a 1915 battle are buried in a field. Charley's father was horrifically wounded in the battle.

Visiting the WWI Polish Battlefield

Where Charley's Father was Wounded

Although Josef could speak neither English nor German, and we had no Polish, he very kindly brought us to the graves of the German WWI soldiers who were killed 100 years before in 1915 when Charley's father was seriously wounded fighting the Russians in WWI. Charley's father lost an eye, and many of his teeth, and suffered what we think were symptoms Traumatic Brain Injury until his premature death in the 1930's.

Heather Steele researches at the German Federal Military Archive in Freiburg

Researching in Freiburg

At the German National Military Archives

Charley and I dive deep into the records at the Bundesarchiv-Militaerarchiv in Freiburg, Germany in 2016.

Charley and American paratroopers in St. Mere Eglise, Normandy, France for D-Day celebrations 2017

D-Day Commemorations

St. Mere Eglise, Normandy, 2017

Charley and American paratroopers who had dropped near St. Mere Eglise for the D-Day commemorationss.

Graham Stevenson, Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment, and Charley Koenig, Panzer Regiment 5, salute American war dead in Normandy

American Cemetery 2017

Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy

Graham Stevenson, who fought between the ages of 17 and 19 with the Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment in Africa, and who was badly wounded by a German machine gun on his first day in combat in Normandy, and Charley Koenig, 5th Panzer Regiment, Africa Corps, salute American war dead.

Charley Koenig, Graham Stevenson, and Bob Filby in Tilly-sur-Seulles, June 2017

Bob Filby, A New Friend

Tilly-sur-Seulles, Normandy, 2017

Charley, Graham, and new friend Bob Filby, of the Essex Regiment, in Tilly-sur-Seulles, a most sacred place, where the Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment lost Colonel Major M.H. Laycock, MC, Capt. G. A. Jones, and Lt. A. L. Head to a direct hit from a German 105mm shell on June 11, 1944.

Charley and Graham at the grave of Hans Poelchau, Charley's Jewish childhood neighbor and friend, who died fighting for the Germans in Normandy in 1944

Visiting Hans Poelchau's Grave

La Cambe, Normandy, 2017

Charley and Graham visit the grave of Charley's close childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Hans Poelchau, whose mother was Jewish. Hans was then considered half-Jewish by the Nazis. Although according to the documentation we could find, Hans had been arrested and probably tortured by the Gestapo in Hamburg, he still died fighting in the German Army in Normandy in the summer of 1944, probably to protect his mother from deportation.

Charley and Joe. A balm for an old soldier's soul.

Honor and Respect

from a British lad, 2017

No young Germans were ever encouraged to ask Charley about his service. Here, a young British lad named Joe wants to hear more about the German veteran who is a member of the Sherwood Rangers Tank Regiment. This connection, this sort of balm for the soul, which was needed and wanted so badly, was generally withheld from German veterans. It was deeply meaningful for Charley.

Former Enemies - Best Friends - Karl Friedrich Koenig