The importance of using every source to research and write a book cannot be stressed enough. Sometimes photos come with captions scrawled on the back, but most times they do not, so it is up to the researcher’s knowledge and ability to fill in the blanks. We recently had one such case.
A series of photos showed a Hauptmann leading the Panzerspäh (armoured recon) company of Auf.Abt.29 during the opening stages of Operation Typhoon, the advance upon Moscow, in mid-November 1941. A man by this rank commanding this company could not be found in any source, such as war diaries, transfer announcements, and promotion and casualty lists. The breakthrough came when a generous collector, Bill Brooks, provided scans of a Soldbuch to a man in the same unit. Each page was scoured to find a signature of this mysterious Hauptmann, and sure enough, there it was… It took a while to decipher, but it seemed to be “Kurzai”. A very unusual name.
Fortunately, a personnel file still existed and a copy soon came into our hands. It proved that the previously unidentified Hauptmann was indeed Erich Kurzai. His tenure with Auf.Abt.29 was so short that it did not even rate a mention in his main career highlights, but mention was found in one document. His photo and signature match perfectly.
Please remember that when you purchase one of our titles, a lot of time and effort has gone into determining the date and location, as well as who appears in it. One of the great pleasures in this kind of work is adding names to previously anonymous faces.
An unknown Hauptmann (middle) consults a map with the adjutant of Auf.Abt.29, Leutnant Dietrich (left), 21 November 1941. Who is he?
After much fruitless searching, the first major clue came from a Soldbuch. We felt certain this signature belonged to the mystery man. Expert opinion was that it read “Kurzai” and a man by that name and rank was found.
After obtaining his Personalakte (personnel file), a quick glance at the enclosed photo showed we had the right man.
However, Auf.Abt.29 is not mentioned in his career highlights.
Eventually, towards the end of the rather thick file, we found one mention of Auf.Abt.29, proving beyond doubt that Erich Kurzai was the unknown Hauptmann.
Comparison of the two pics:
Comparison of two signatures, one from his personnel file, the other from the Soldbuch: