H ans Sturm was born in the city of Dortmund, Germany on July 29, 1920, the son of an engineer. After completing his schooling, he studied metal working at the State Engineering Schools in Dortmund and Aachen.
In October 1940, he was called for military service and joined the Infanterie Regiment 473 on October 29. The regiment was part of the 253th Infanterie Division which was serving as occupation troops in France. In the spring of 1941, they were sent to Poland in preparation for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The division took part in “Operation Barbarossa” on June 22, 1941, when three million German troops invaded the Soviet Union along a thousand mile front. Sturm saw a great deal of action and was awarded the Iron Cross, II Class, on July 29 and the Iron Cross, I Class, on August 1. He continued to see heavy action and was wounded by hand grenade fragments on August 22. The following Septmenber, he was promoted to Gefreiter. That December, he received the Infantry Assault Badge.
(left) Gefreiter Hans Sturm was still in hospital in Smolensk recovering from wounds when he received the Knight’s Cross. The photo on the right shows Sturm after receiving his commission in 1944.
In the early part of 1942, the division was busy fighting defensive battles against the Soviet winter offensive. They were surrounded while fighting in an area south of Lake Volga, but did manage to break out, suffering heavy casualties. At this time Sturm was awarded the “Medal For The Winter Battle In The East, 1941/1942,” for the winter campaign in Russia. He continued to see heavy fighting in Russia and on August 26, 1942, he was awarded the German Cross in Gold, but it would be November before he received the decoration.
The division was located near Rzev in the area of the Volga bridgehead by early September 1942. The Russians surprised the Germans when they attacked their positions on the night of September 13. A key German machine gun position was knocked out, and Sturm, seeing the danger that this posed, ran over to the machine gun position. He found the weapon undamaged and began firing on the advancing Russians, forcing them back. The Russians began to concentrate their fire on Sturm’s position knowing that it had to be eliminated. His gun position took a direct hit and he was knocked unconscious. After coming to, he realized that he had a very bad head wound and had lost the sight in his right eye from shrapnel fragments. Although seriously wounded and in pain, he dragged himself back to his machine gun and began firing. The Russians eventually called off the attack, and the gravely wounded Sturm was evacuated to a field hospital in Smolensk.
Sturm was still recovering from his wounds in the hospital when he was awarded the Wound Badge in Silver. At the same time, he learned that he had been awarded the Knight’s Cross on September 26. Due to his wounds, the award was hung around his neck at the hospital in Smolensk on October 4. He was also promoted to Unteroffizier.
When he left the hospital, he reported to the regimental reserve at Aachen. As with other Knight’s Cross holders, he gave talks about what it was like to serve on the front lines. He also counseled officers and NCO candidates about their future in the German army.
He returned to combat when he was sent to the 871st Infanterie Regiment, which was part of the 356th Infanterie Division, in February 1944. They were located on the Italian Front, and because of Sturm’s engineering background, he was involved in the construction of defensive positions. He was promoted to Fahnenjunkerfeldwebel (Officer Cadet-Staff Sergeant) on February 25, 1944. The following month he was sent to Reserve Grenadier Regiment 88 in Fulda.
Sturm reported to the military academy at Hagenau in June and was commissioned a Lieutenant. He returned to Reserve Grenadier Regiment 88 where he stayed until November when he was sent to Grafenwohr to teach a course for Volkssturm officers.
In February 1945, he was assigned as part of the Leadership Staff of the Volkssturm. He saw action against Russian troops in the final battle for Berlin, where once again he was severely wounded. He was captured by Russian troops on May 2, 1945 and remain in Russian captivity until October 1953, when he was allowed to return to Germany.