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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Fortress Koepenick

 On 13th February 1849 a lowly shoemaker living in Tilsit, in Prussia, met his brand-new son. The son’s name was Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, and he would have one the speediest rises through the ranks of the Imperial German Army. However, Voigt’s early years were somewhat less auspicious. At the age of 14 he was arrested and convicted for theft, and subsequently imprisoned for two weeks. Upon his release he found he had been expelled from school. Thus, with no other option open to him he learned the trade of a shoemaker from his father. Although he had a trade, he continued his criminal enterprise catching multiple sentences for theft, forgery and burglary. His final sentence was for a failed attempt at a cashier’s office, for which he received a sentence of 15 years. 

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt, taken in 1906

He was released the day before his 57th birthday in 1906. He then moved in with his sister in Berlin and obtained a job at a local shoemaking factory. However, his attempt at going straight would not last, as the local police soon began to harass him due to being an ex-convict, and eventually expelled him from Berlin on the 24th of August. It was at this point Voigt started his rise through the army’s rank structure. As he had been expelled from Berlin, he had to quit his job, and told everyone he was heading to Hamburg. However, in reality he stayed in Berlin. He then visited several second-hand shops purchasing parts of a Prussian captain’s uniform. Once he had a complete uniform, he began to approach German soldiers and test the effect he had on them whilst wearing it. In stereotypical Prussian fashion the soldiers leapt to obey his every command. This testing lasted until October when Voigt had refined his role enough that he felt confident of his disguise. 

Voigt's officer uniform.

On the 16th of October Voigt marched towards the barracks in the town of Tegel. He halted a group of four soldiers and a NCO and took command of the detachment, relieving the NCO and dismissing him. He then gathered another six soldiers from a nearby shooting range. Now leading ten armed soldiers he marched them to the station and onto a train, which took them to the town of Köpenick. Once there Voigt and the soldiers moved to the town hall. He informed the soldiers that the Mayor Georg Langerhans and the City Treasurer von Wiltberg were accused of fraudulent book keeping. With the might of the army behind him, he also obtained support of the local police, ordering them to stop all telephone calls at the local exchange for an hour but otherwise to keep out of politics and look to local law and order. 

Mayor Georg Langerhans

Then Voigt led the soldiers into the town hall, and the mayor’s office. When Voigt arrested the Mayor, Langerhans demanded to see his warrant. Voight pointed to the soldiers, with bayoneted rifles and said ‘There is my authority!’

Voigt then sized the city’s funds, some 4,002 marks and 37 pfennigs. He did issue a receipt for the money, signed in the name of the jail warden he had been imprisoned under for the previous 15 years. He then had the soldiers commandeer two carriages, into which the two detained officials were placed, along with an armed guard in the form of some of the soldiers. The guards were told to deliver the men to the Royal Guardhouse in Berlin. The remaining soldiers were ordered to secure the offices of the mayor. Voight then simply left with the money, headed back to the train station and changed into civilian clothes.

Unsurprisingly the military authorities were furious (although it is claimed the Kaiser was amused, as was the general public). Voigt was arrested on the 16th of October and sentenced on the 1st of December to just four years in prison. However, the Kaiser pardoned him in 1908. Voigt capitalised on his fame, with books, signing events and even wax work models in museums. In 1910 he moved to Luxembourg where he took up his old trade of shoemaker for a couple of years before buying a house and retiring. He would die in 1922. 

Voigt's grave at Cimetière Notre-Dame in Luxembourg

Now, there is a reason for me telling you this story, other than it’s a damn funny story, and that is this incident became famous for the embarrassment of the German military. So much so that in 1943 when the Luftwaffe embarrassed itself Voigt’s exploits would be referenced by none other than Herman Goering. 

Düren, albeit after a Bomber Command attack in 1944

In early October 1943 the USAAF launched its infamous Schweinfurt raid. This caused a certain amount of alarm in the German officials, so that when on the 20th of October the USAAF launched a raid on a small town on the border of Germany and France called Düren, there were reports of the American bombers heading deeper into the Reich. It has been suggested this report was due to radar returns from window expended during the raid. The assumption from the Luftwaffe was that the Düren bombing was a feint, and there was another mass-formation heading towards Schweinfurt again. Thus, German fighters were scrambled and vectored in. Like the Battle of Barking Creek and the Battle of Los Angeles, the fighters were picked up by the ground radar, and this caused them to be mistaken for enemy aircraft. So further fighters were dispatched, and lo and behold the enemy formation grew in size, resulting in more fighters being scrambled, and so on. When many hours later the mistake was discovered, and the Luftwaffe had scrambled most of its squadrons, Goering sent a telegram to everyone involved (including himself, as he had taken direct command and ordered the scrambling of many of the fighter squadrons himself) congratulating them for the defence of Fortress Koepenick, a direct reference to Voigt's escapade. 


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