My trip to NARA (College Park)

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Piet Duits
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Piet Duits » Thu Sep 02, 2010 5:14 am

Hi all,

Before I start writing about my latest trip to the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv, I have to thank Tom P. for asking me to do so :-)
Thanks Tom :-)

Due to some reasons I had to plan my annual trip to Freiburg in 1 day, instead of the usual 5 days.
So, I had to prepare as good as I could and order folders and microfilms in advance.

There was one problem that I had to face: were there enough microfilmreaders to use?
Why was this a problem?
Well, since the reading room was moved to the 3rd floor of the flat holding the staff of the BA-MA (be aware Richard!) because of a major reconstruction which went from bad to worse in the usual building. The usual reading room has some large windows which needed to be replaced. The constructors who took the measurements made some mistakes ending up with incorrectly sized new windows. And so, the planned return to the usual reading room has been postponed for several times now. The latest date is 6 september, but I have my doubts that will be enough.
You have to leave your ID behind with the guard, and receive a note and an ID card.

Arriving on the 3rd floor, you will find a small space where you can leave your jacket, bags etc. in an even smaller locker.
There are 4 seats where you can enjoy from a drink. Don't expect too much, since it's only a temporary location.
Report to the ladies in charge of the reading room (either Frau Andrea Meier or Frau Helga Waibl), and you can start with the job!

Back to my trip.
I travelled to Freiburg on Wednesday 11 August, and slept at a private house. The opening hours of the temporary reading room are from 0900-1700, so on Thursday 12th I arrived at 0905h on the 3rd floor, with almost all places occupied.
Even one of the microfilmreader/printers was occupied, the other one had a note that the printer was out of order.
The machines used were Canon MS300-II, with the Fileprinter 250. Lousy machines, as each print takes forever. Personally I prefer the old Canon MP 90's which are more than enough available in the usual reading room.
Although I was prepared and had ordered too many folders in advance, I still was unlucky enough to find several folders being wrong, or not available.
It is my experience that unless you know the exact contents of a specific folder (because you have ordered it before), it is a wild guess on what's inside the folder. The desciption can be longer than the real contents.

I had 3 goals during my latest visit.
1) find Stellenbesetzungslisten for the Heeresgruppe Nord, the 18. and 16. Armee, A.A. Narwa, and the Korps belonging to them
2) find Zustandsberichte, Meldungen, Gliederungen, Iststärke- und Fehlstellen reports of units belonging to the Heeresgruppe Nord
3) search for KStN or KStN related things.

I know, more than enough work for only one day.

One of the folders I ordered was about trainingplans for the 2./ Sturmgeschütz-Brigade 341, a StuG-Brig forming in the West and organized as a 45 gun battalion. I have the KStN for the HQ and HQ Battery, but lack the KStN for the Gun Battery as of 1.2.1944. Too bad for me, the folder did not contain any kind of KStN related information, so I returned it.
Two other folders contained the war diary of the schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 655. Very interesting, but no information on gun deliveries etc. (I have the chassisnumbers for all armored vehicles).

Since I am visiting the BA-MA from 1997 onwards, the staff knows me. This gives me some advantages. I know my connections, know who to speak to, ask about how well the grandchildren are etc.
If I had more days to spend, I would have searched for some other things too, like Luftwaffe things, but now I had to keep myself on target.
Before I knew it, it was nearly 1700h. I had printed quite a few pages from the enormous amount of microfilms that I ordered, and at 0,15 Euro per page, this wasn't such a big deal.
My complaints this year were: wrong material, some folders completely missing. Printing with a Fileprint 250 which takes forever.
Otherwise, a pleasant trip.
Recommended to anyone, and if you can convince your better half to come along as well, she can have a nice holiday too, because Freiburg has more enough to offer for tourists!
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John P. Moore
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by John P. Moore » Thu Sep 02, 2010 9:46 am

Piet - Thanks for the interesting report. It makes me treasure the good old days when I could handle original documents and could have used a digital camera (if they had been available back then!)

What is the object of your research? Do you have plans for a book(s)?


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Richard Hargreaves
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Thu Sep 02, 2010 2:08 pm

Well as I've spent the day at the British Newspaper Library, I might as well offer hints for anyone planning to study old papers (which I believe are a rich treasure trove and too seldom used by military historians...).

Ok, first of all, the catalogue is fully searchable online here - by title or by place. If you using the latter, remember that the place is the current name, not what it was in, say, 1939 (e.g. for papers in Breslau, you have to search under Wroclaw, irrespective of the era).

Aside from all British newspapers/journals/magazines, the library has an excellent selection of foreign-language papers, certainly a lot of German ones from the major cities. There's a complete set of Völkischer Beobachter to the very last days of the war (although editions vary; some are more complete than others - the Reichsausgabe seems to be the most complete set), and a lot of issues of the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, both on microfilm. You'll find very incomplete sets of the three Service magazines (Wehrmacht, Adler, Kriegsmarine), but I'll leave the searching to you: ... l_base=NPL

I'd certainly advise ordering in advance; it'll save waiting times of 30-60 minutes (typically the former) for material to be delivered.

Now down to the basics: it's in Colindale, about half an hour on the Tube from Tottenham Court Road. Take the Northern Line, Edgware Branch. It's the stop just after the police college. The library is right opposite the station. Or you can drive, but the car park is tiny and fills up in an instant.

You'll need two forms of ID (one photo, one with your address) to get in if you don't have a reader's ticket. Leave your coat/bags at the cloakroom and go upstairs to the reading room. Reception is directly in front of you, to your left is where your pick up your newspapers/microfilms and also hand in requests for the same.

There are well over 100 seats; a good 50 or 60 microfilm readers as well as ordinary seats for the printed word. The microfilm readers are simple to use and reading is a piece of cake as the screen is enormous.

There's only a handful of microfilm copiers, however (six or seven by my count). It's not a major problem - read the papers on the ordinary readers, pick the pages you want, then use the copiers. It does get busy at times, but there's a maximum 20 minutes on the copiers, so plenty of turnover. A4 is 21p, A3 is 66p. You can charge your copy card account with as much dosh as you like using cash or card.

Opening times are 10am-5pm (they'll only take orders up to 4.15 and, to be honest, that won't give you time to read anything) Monday through Saturday.

Anyway, I've been going there for nearly a decade. It's always a straightforward visit, no hassle, nice and quiet, and there's always the added bonus of dropping in on Charing Cross Road bookshops on the way home. :D
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by MadDog » Thu Sep 02, 2010 6:49 pm

Thanks to Piet and Richard for writing on their experiences.

Can you bring flatbed scanners to BAMA or the British archives ?

Now all we need is for someone to explain the Russian and French archives.....

Mad Dog

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Richard Hargreaves
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:05 am

You can use a camera (no flash) at Kew certainly, not sure about a scanner.

You can use a camera too in the Lübeck city archives. They charged me for each shot... on my own camera. :shock:
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Richard Hargreaves
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Sun Oct 03, 2010 2:04 am

So how does one go about visiting BA-MA?

Well, I'm glad you asked. :D Here's an idiot's guide (so called because it's written by one...)

Firstly it's in Freiburg. Not an especially easy place to get to. Personally, I fly to Basel Euroairport then get the hourly bus to the ZOB (central bus station next to the railway station).

No shortage of hotels in the city - if you want cheap, you have to go to the edge of the city to the Etap, Blu, or B&B Hotel, all for about 40€ a night; those in the city centre are around 60€+ per night. And no shortage of eateries around the city centre.

There's a good bus and tram network - 2.10€ for one trip, 15€ for 8 trips and about 45€ for a month's unlimited travel.

If you have time to visit the city centre, all shops open until 7pm (some until 8pm). Kaiser Joseph Strasse is the main street with the usual department stores (Karstadt, Kaufhof, Saturn) and plenty of banks. Bookshops wise, there's Thalia in Kaiser-Joseph Strasse and the excellent Rombach in Bertoldstrasse. A bit further along the latter there’s the Walthari University bookshop which holds more academic tomes. Also the Stadtbibliothek, opposite the stunning Münster, has an ok history section.

Right, to BA-MA. To get there, take either the No.3 tram to Vauban or the No.11 bus to Lörracher Strasse from the central station; it’s about a 15-minute journey.

BA-MA itself is in an industrial park on the south side of town, next to the main rail line to Basel. There’s a huge white tower block and next to it is a small white/silver two-storey office building. This is the reading room – not that you’d know it, there’s nothing marked on the door or the wall. There’s a small car park outside for visitors.

Opening times are 8am-6pm Monday-Thursday, 8am-4pm on Friday. Closed on Saturdays.

Inside, the cloakroom is now on the right just as you walk in with lockers (you’ll need a 2€ coin to use them), plus drinks/vending machines. The Lesesaal/Benutzersaal (reading room) itself is upstairs.

As you walk up you’ll find the microfiche readers and map tables facing you. On your left is the admin office where the staff are; one window for handing out material, one for making inquiries. Report in at the latter. Early in the morning it’ll probably be either Frau Maier (30s ish, speaks good English), or a chap in his 30s with a quite high-pitched voice who doesn’t speak much English; later in the day they’re joined by a middle-aged Frau, who’s quite scary but knows her stuff.

Opposite the reporting point are the Findbücher, the bound volumes/lever arch file guides to the files. Alternatively, you can use the three or four PCs which have the online Findbücher (you’ll also find these online).

There are a couple of ways of searching the files electronically ... s=selected

which isn't bad, but be aware that a lot of documents aren't listed on line (particularly anything below Corps level; you'll only get a general overview of what a division's papers contains - for the full details and reference numbers, you'll have to go to the archive in person and search through the bound volumes). ... 5DB357A359

Click on "Bestände", then "Abteilung Militärarchiv" and browse away. Be warned. It's a very arcane system.

Personally, I much prefer going to the reading room and flicking through the bound volumes; it's quicker and you'll generally find much more detail.

As a simple intro, a few useful series

RH19 – Army Group files
RH20 – Army (AOK) files
RH21 – Panzerarmee (PzAOK) files
RH24 – Corps files
RH26 – Infantry division files
RH27 – Panzer division files
RH28 – Gebirgs division files

N – Nachlass (personal papers)

Be aware, not all the bound volume Findbücher are there; some are being worked on by the staff (bits of RH37 and the MSg guidebooks were both missing on my recent visit).

Ordering documents is made on a PC – the staff will show you how, it involves logging in with a reader number which they’ll give you. You can order up to 15 documents at a time. When they arrive, they’ll be put in a pigeon hole with your name on it. You have to go to the window to ask for them – staff won’t tell you if something’s arrived from the archive. It’s a case of wandering past and seeing if anything new has turned up.

There are 24 seats in the room – it’s quite small and there’s always a dozen or so people in there. Booking in advance is imperative for that reason; I’d also advise booking documents in advance too, not least because delivery times can be anywhere from one hour to three or four!

All seats have sockets to plug in your laptop (take an adapter if you’re not from the continent, of course). There’s plenty of space to work, it’s nice and quite and they’ll shut the blinds if the sun’s blinding you. There’s no air conditioning though, and in July and August the heat in Freiburg is oppressive, so it can be a bit sticky…

Once your done with a file, take it back to the window where you got it; tell them you’ve finished with it, otherwise they’ll put it back in your pigeonhole.

I’ve never ordered photocopies, but I have used the microfiche copier – they’ll give you a counter to plug in to the machine which keeps a tally; you pay when finished. It’s only 15c per copy – which is far cheaper than any UK archive.

There’s a complete set of the KTB Seekriegsleitung, the German official history, SD Meldungen and Tessin on the shelves for instant access. I’ve never ordered books from the library, but people were leafing through volumes while I was there.

And that’s about it. BA-MA’s one of the most relaxed archives I’ve used. It can be slow at times and a bit frustrating (documents you order have a habit of never materialising, particularly if you order in advance!). But there aren’t too many archives where you can get ten hours’ solid work done in a day. And Freiburg is a really nice place to visit. :D
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Sam Wren
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Sam Wren » Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:54 pm

This will be a bit redundant, but I thought my experience at the UK National Archive might be of interest and use to someone, so here goes:

After arriving at Heathrow and getting my suitcase, I took the Picadilly line from the airport toward the first station where I could get off and transfer to the District line which goes to Kew Gardens station. I was staying in a Bed & Breakfast (without breakfast) about two blocks away from the station. Unfortunately, once I got off at the station and had waited for about 20 minutes for the Central line subway to show up, an announcement was made that someone had thrown themselves on the track further east and the line was, therefore, closed until further announcement. I was informed that I could go upstairs and catch a bus nearby which I did, but I was misunderstood or misinformed and got off the bus nowhere near Kew Gardens. I asked for directions from several passer-bys and walked for about 45 minutes lugging a suitcase and a very heavy backpack. After a while I reckoned I was in Wandsworth, which is way far in walking distance from Kew. The maps that I had with me at the time were very rudimentary and only had major roads. I had passed some signs about 25 minutes before for North Sheen. I ran into some policemen and they kindly informed me that I was going the wrong way and was quite a long way from Kew. They were going to catch the bus that would take me in the right direction and they offered to show me where I needed to get off. So, I arrived finally but they had been expecting me several hours before at the Bed and no one was home. I called and the owner at her place of work and she said she'd be home by about 5:00 pm.

So, I lugged my suitcase and backpack to the NA, which was just around the corner from where I was staying. I had done some research on the NA website so I was fairly well-prepared. The staff was very nice and helpful and showed me the cloakroom where I was able to lock up my suitcase and backpack. They showed me to the room I needed to go to get my reading card and after about 20 minutes I was able to start ordering documents.

I went with a list of document numbers (war diaries) so in this aspect I was totally prepared. Once the reading ticket is obtained, one needs to go to the reading room. There is a desk by which one must pass and they check anything that you take with you. I had only my digital camera, a laptop and a folder containing the list of war diaries I wanted to copy. Once checked, one then goes to a computer terminal which has an apparatus that reads your card. You then need to reserve a seat in the reading room and order the documents that you want - a maximum of three at a time although some that I know have been able to negotiate to order more than this. There are a large number of small (2 x 2 ft maybe) boxes with clear glass or plastic doors with numbers on them that correspond to the seats in the reading room. Once you make your request, it takes around 45 minutes officially (though it usually only took about 20 minutes for me) for the items to be placed in your box. While waiting for you first order, you can go downstairs and peruse the bookstore or eat or drink something from the cafe. You should only have this downtime on the first day.

Once the first three items are placed in your box, you can immediately order the next three. I did not know this at the time but you are only allowed to take one item at a time into the reading room. You leave the other items in the box until you are ready. The first day I was there I was not familiar with the reading room setup and reserved a seat close to the window but without a copy stand. You can reserve the same seat for a specified length of time so for the following day I found the number of one of the stations with a copystand and reserved it for the rest of the week.

At the end of the day if you have not finished with any of the documents that are in your box, you can indicate via the website that you want to keep them reserved, so they will be there the next day when you get there and you won't have to wait for documents to show up - you can get right to it.

The documents are for the most part originals. My documents were all WWII British War Diaries, but there were others around me viewing WWI War Diaries, books, old maps etc. I attached my digital camera to a copystand,focused it and photographed away. With the card that I had in the camera I was able to take about 700 photos before it was full. Then I downloaded the photos onto my laptop, deleted all the photos on the camera card and started all over again. By using this method I was able to photograph approximately 1300 pages per day.

The staff for the most part were very helpful and friendly. There are a few staff members who circulate and make sure that the documents are being treated properly. There were two of African origin who were very strict. One of them made me go to the front desk and get cotton gloves to wear. I couldn't help but notice that no one else around me was wearing gloves and some of them were looking at documents much older than mine.

Overall my experience at the UK NA was very positive and trouble free. I was able to get less done that I expected but that was mainly because the war diaries contain much more information than I had anticipated, with the average being around an inch thick for each month.
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Re: My Second trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by MadDog » Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:58 pm

Well, I finally managed to get to the NARA archives at College Park again. Airfares were cheap and I have relatives in the area.

I was able to go up for 2 days. This time, I brought my flat-bed scanner (an old Epson Photo perfection 3170). Since I was there last, the procedures are the same, nothing has changed with respect to security or what items you can bring in. I did have to show the main desk my scanner to make sure it was ok. Sheet feeding scanners are not allowed.

Documents are on level 2 and thats where I spent most of my time. I didnt get as much done as I had hoped due to the confusion that still exists about what item is filed where. The Foreign Military Series is one example that still can cause some confusion. You can get the drafts, the finals, the english translations, etc. Still, it wasnt a bust. My scanner takes 10 seconds to scan a pages at 150 DPI in 8-bit greyscale (much preferable to B&W).

I made a trip to the 4th floor - microfilm. They have every RG242 film in one room, free for the reading. Unfortunately, they still dont have an easy way to get that material out of the room. They have the typical Canon M300 style reader-printers, and thats it. YOu can use a camera to take shots, but you still cant use a scanner to scan the microfilm.

For the first time, I went to the 3rd floor - cartography. This floor has all the Lage maps in film. Lage West, Lage Ost, Lage Where-ever. All for the scanning. It took me 3 minutes to scan a single 8x10 map photo @1200 DPI, giving excellent quality digital files. newer scanners should be faster. I met John Calvin there, of ww2.maps-photos website who was there for 5 days, scanning thousands of maps and pictures (hardcore !).

I was also able to buy digitized large maps on the cartography floor. They can scan oversized maps or drawings at $3.50/map. This allowed me to scan maps I could not otherwise digitize and which were otherwise not included in my previous orders (take note ! - sometimes you dont get all of what you order !).

So, take it from me, if you go there, bring your own laptop and scanner. While you will never have enough time to get everything you want, you can still get out a lot of material, and do it for free, or very little cost. Next time I go, I plan on bringing 2 scanners and using them at the same time .

Mad Dog

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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by MadDog » Mon Apr 18, 2011 7:08 pm

OK, I went for 5 days in early April. 5 days of scanning until I could hardly see straight !

First, I am totally surprised how fast the Epson 3170 is. I got it down to 9 seconds/scan, which ends up being 4 pages/minute once you account for paper handling in and out of the scanner. My new Epson V500, takes 15 seconds to scan a page at the same settings. Suck-tastic !

I highly recommend getting the fastest scanner you can. faster scanner = more scans/minute. One word of caution : dont go to fast and damage something ! 5 pages/minute is about as fast as a human can do without looking out of control.

Cartography: I spent more time copying Lage maps. During the scans (~3 minutes at 1200 DPI, 24 bit color), I indexed the contents of 6 boxes. I will post the index files when I get organized. I also found out that for some reason you can only run one scanner at a time (I brought 2 laptops and 2 scanners in the hope of running both at the same time). I hope to write an eloquent email to the director of cartography and make the case that 2 scanners/time is ok, as long as you only have 1 folder of maps out of a box.

Speaking of boxes, something I forgot to mention: whether you are on the documents floor or cartography, you are allowed to have 1 box open at a time, and one folder removed from that box. This is to avoid confusion. Dont forget !

Mad Dog

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Bill E. Russ
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Bill E. Russ » Sat May 07, 2011 8:01 am

Hi All,
My wife and I went to DC the last week of April to do the tourist thing (which was great!). I managed to slip off to the National Archives to see if I could find any photos of the German corps and divisional generals who participated in the May 1942 Kharkov battles. Of course, I was forewarned about the file system they have and it is indeed all paper indexes which takes longer to look through. If your looking for any of the corps or divisional commanders forget it. They only have, pretty much, the top guys like Rommel, Rundstedt etc. I only found one divisional commander and that was Obstfelder!
Looks like I'll have to fall back to other sources.

all the best, Bill

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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by MadDog » Sat May 07, 2011 12:09 pm

Bill, there are some personnel files or some sort for those generals that participated in the Foreign Military Series (RG549). I dont know if its the same as what you are looking for, by PM me if you want an example).

Mad Dog

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Richard Hargreaves
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:50 pm

Gedenkstätte Seelower Höhen -

Just completed two days in the archive here, so here's some tips if anyone wants to visit.

It's about an hour or so outside Berlin (about 10€ on the train either via Frankfurt an der Oder or direct from Berlin Lichtenberg).

The museum is directly opposite the railway station (T34 et al parked outside)... however the archive is actually in the small building to the left.

Inside, you'll be greeted personally by the director, Herr Herrmann, who's very friendly and enthusiastic - he'll pop in from time to time while you're researching to ask how you're getting on.

As for the reading room, it's very small - there's one work table for probably no more than four researchers with laptops. Photocopies are 30c each and they'll do it there and then for you; no form filling in and the like, no waiting around. Brilliant.

There are about three bookcases of WW2 material - at least one of which is a complete set of Soviet memoirs (the museum was established during the DDR era). No real surprises with the books on the shelves - Kohlase, Ramm, Lakowski etc.

The gem is at the back of the room - two cupboards full of lever-arch files of documents, letters, orders, first-hand accounts, all well organised and very easy to use. Most relates to the fighting in and around the Seelow area/Küstrin/Frankfurt; there's quite a lot of material relating to 20 Pz Gren Division (personal diaries and accounts).

There's a complete set of KTB HGr Weichsel papers (copied from BA-MA/NARA) and an assortment of leaflets, newspapers, Flugblatter.

There are also several volumes of Soviet official documents - orders from the various commanders, Stavka/SMERSH documents - and one file of Soviet memoirs. All translated into German. Which is nice.

Almost all the papers (apart from the KTB HGr Weichsel and original official German military documents) have been typed up on PC so are a piece of cake to read.

So all-in-all, very useful. It's one of the simplest archives I've ever used; no waiting around, just help yourself to looking at the documents. The staff even bring you cups of coffee! The impression I get, from signing the guestbook, is that only a handful of people actually use it every year, which is a shame because it's worth using if you're interested in the Endkampf.

There's nothing to do in Seelow itself - it's a very sleepy farming town with a handful of shops, one hotel (and also a restaurant).

And that's it. The museum itself is very small and won't take you long to look around - but the bookshop's pretty good. It's worth also spending a few minutes in the beautifully-kept Soviet cemetery and its impressive monument to a Soviet soldier. :[]
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Dutto1 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 4:51 am

Hi Richard,

Thanks sharing the info of your trip to Seelow . Me and my wife were planning a Berlin trip this summer and the Seelow Museum was one of the place we were going to travel to,but due to being made redundant we have had to reschedule.

Out of interest is your next book after the Breslau book going to be an Endkampf subject ?



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Richard Hargreaves
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Richard Hargreaves » Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:33 am

Hi Ron,

The Seelow museum is very small; you wouldn't really spend more than 90 minutes there - which is a long way to come from Berlin. It's the archive which is the little gem.

The next book is a little 1942 project. :[]
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Re: My trip to NARA (College Park)

Post by Manage1 » Wed Aug 31, 2011 8:09 pm


Just following up on last years posting re your trips to the Military Archives at Freiberg - did you eventually find your Stellenbesetzungslistens - I am currently in the process of trying to find references to these at particular points of time e.g. that may aline with the yearly Dals etc

Can you provide me with any help regarding these?



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