|Panzergrenadier Division "Großdeutschland" (Greater Germany)|
Divisional insignia of Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland
|Type||Panzergrenadier Mechanised Infantry|
|Nickname(s)||Die Feuerwehr (The Fire Brigade)|
|Engagements||France 1940, Barbarossa, Orel, Kursk|
|Oberst Otto-Ernst Remer|
The Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland (German language: Infanterie-Regiment "Großdeutschland"; "Greater Germany" Infantry Regiment) was an élite German Army ceremonial and combat unit which saw action during World War II. The regiment served in the campaigns in France and the Low Countries in 1940. It then served exclusively on the Eastern Front until the end of the war. It was annihilated near Pillau in May 1945.
Großdeutschland is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be part of the Waffen-SS, whereas it was actually a unit of the regular German Army (Heer). In 1942 it was expanded to become the Großdeutschland Division, the best-equipped division in the Wehrmacht, which received equipment before all other units (including some Waffen-SS units).
Creation and early history - Wachregiment Berlin
After the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's armed forces (the Reichswehr), was limited to just 100,000 men. The Weimar Republic was far from secure. Veterans were forming private groups with their own political agendas (see Freikorps for an example). Communist and Fascist groups battled in the streets, and the threat of political overthrow was to be taken seriously.
To offset the threat of revolution, the Wachregiment Berlin was founded in early 1921. Besides defending the fledgling republic, the Wachregiment was used for ceremonial and representative duties such as parades and guard duties in the capital. The Wachregiment was short-lived, and was disbanded in June 1921. However, the unit was soon reformed as Kommando der Wachtruppe (lit. Guard Troop Command), a unit with the same duties as the Wachregiment.
The Wachtruppe comprised seven companies, each drawn from one of the seven divisions permitted Germany by the treaty. Each company served for three months before returning to their parent division. In this way, the Wachtruppe represented the whole Reichswehr.
The Kommando was based at Moabit Barracks, and every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, performed a changing of the guard ceremony for the public. This ceremony was quite modest, but on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursdays the entire Wachtruppe, accompanied by the regimental band, marched from the barracks through the Brandenburg Gate and to the War Memorial at the Neue Wache, similar to the changing of the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace.
The Wachtruppe was left in place by the NSDAP leadership after Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in 1933. In 1934, the unit was renamed Wachtruppe Berlin and in 1936 the addition of a headquarters and administration company raised the unit size to eight companies.
In June 1937, the unit was again renamed, this time to Wach Regiment Berlin. The recruitment system was reworked, with postings no longer on divisional lines, but instead individual soldiers were posted to the unit for 6-month tours of duty. A supply company was also added to the Regiment's order of battle.
In World War I, Germany had been more of a political concept than a nation, and most divisions were still named for their region (e.g. Saxon, Prussian, Bavarian, Baden etc.). Under the NSDAP, the country had been finally united as a true Deutschland, but this was only a part of the Party's plans for a Greater Germany, encompassing all Germanic peoples under one banner, and with its capital in Berlin, to be renamed Germania it was to become a Großdeutschland.
The Wach Regiment Berlin provided escorts and guards of honour for state visits, conferences and even the Olympic Games.
Despite the fact that Hitler's personal security was in the hands of the SS Leibstandarte, on the outbreak of World War II a small detachment was drawn from the Wach Regiment to become Hitler's official state bodyguard. This unit was called the Führer Begleit ("Führer Escort") battalion, and was to eventually be expanded to divisional size (see Führer-Begleit Division).
Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland - France and The Low Countries
In the months leading up to War, while the rest of the Wehrmacht Heer marched into The Saarland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, the men of Wach Regiment Berlin marched up and down Unter den Linden Strasse every Sunday. However they were not to stay out of the front lines for long.
In the first week of 1939, Hitler ordered that the Wach Regiment be renamed Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland. The unit was now a permanent cadre, and unlike other regiments of the German Army (which were raised from a particular region), the recruits of the Großdeutschland were to be drawn from across the nation. The unit was officially activated on 14 June 1939, and the occasion was marked by a parade through the streets of the capital.
The regiment was being reorganized in September 1939, and did not take part in Fall Weiss, a fact that dented the pride of the regiment which bore the name of the nation on their sleeves. However, in May 1940, the Regiment was attached to Generalfeldmarschall Ewald von Kleist's Panzergruppe Kleist and saw combat from the beginning of Fall Gelb, the invasion of the West, on 10 May 1940.
On the first day of the invasion, the majority of the Großdeutschland regiment was attached to the 10th Panzer Division and engaged fighting its way through Luxembourg in an attempt to outflank southern Belgian fortifications. Meanwhile, III. Battalion was involved in an airborne attack further north in Belgium. The regiment was then involved in the successful crossing of the Meuse river. Near the town of Stonne, the regiment was involved in heavy fighting with French armoured forces, and acquitted itself well.
The regiment then marched north towards Dunkirk, and was involved in defeating the British counterattack at Arras. Großdeutschland was then involved in holding the Dunkirk pocket, before being transferred south to join the attack across the Seine. The French surrender found the regiment in Lyon. After a stopover in Paris to take part in the German victory parade, the regiment was then sent north to Celsace in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, the projected invasion of Britain. After Sea Lion was called off, the regiment was moved to the south of France in preparation for Operation Felix, the planned invasion of Gibraltar.
Yugoslavia - Barbarossa
After the cancellation of Felix, the Großdeutschland was moved east to Romania to take part in the Yugoslav campaign then in progress. The regiment's operations in this campaign were mostly pursuing the broken Yugoslav forces. I. Battalion was involved in the occupation of Belgrade, before the regiment was moved back north into Poland in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.
For the invasion of the Soviet Union, the regiment was attached to Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock's Heeresgruppe Mitte. After crossing the border on 27 June 1941, the regiment was involved in the battles around Minsk and the creation of the Minsk pocket. Großdeutschland then crossed the Dnieper and advanced on Yelnya, where it was involved in heavy fighting and suffered heavy losses. After the reduction of the Yelnya salient, the regiment advanced again and took part in the Battle of Kiev. The end of the year saw Großdeutschland providing support to three Infantry divisions engaged holding the Oka River line near Orel.
The Soviet winter offensive cost the regiment dearly, and in early February the skeletal II. Battalion was dissolved and the survivors used to bolster the other battalions. Later in the month, the two Grenadier Battalions were reformed into a single under strength battalion. After over 9 months of heavy fighting, Großdeutschland was pulled out of the line and reinforced. The disbanded battalions were reinstated and the regiment was allowed a few weeks rest.
Infantry Regiment Großdeutschland 11 April 1942
On 1 Apr 1942, While resting and refitting near Orel, the Regiment reorganized and expanded to become Infanterie-Division Großdeutschland (mot). The existing Regiment was renamed Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 1, and was joined in the Division by Infanterie-Regiment Großdeutschland 2, which had been formed in Berlin. Supporting units in the form of a Panzer battalion, an assault gun battalion and increased flak, artillery and engineers were added with the upgrade to divisional status.
The veterans of "GD 1" had a very poor relationship with the new infantry regiment from the outset, as no cadre personnel of the existing Infantry Regiment GD were used to form the new organization. Little contact took place between the two units, and they were known to each other by derogatory nicknames. When Oberst Lorenz left GD 1 to command the division, this rocky relationship deteriorated even more as he apparently paid little attention to the second GD regiment and favoured his old unit.
After the reorganization, the Großdeutschland Division was assigned to XLVIII.Panzerkorps during the opening phases of Fall Blau, the assault on Stalingrad. The division took part in the successful attacks to cross the upper Don river and to capture Voronezh. In August, the division was pulled back to the north bank of the Donets and held as a mobile reserve and fire-brigade counterattack force.
Grenadier Regiment Großdeutschland 1 October 1942
On 1 Oct 1942, the Regiment was renamed "Grenadier Regiment Großdeutschland". Their counterparts became Füsilier Regiment GD. After the Soviet Operation Uranus, the Regiment was involved in heavy winter fighting with the rest of the Division near Rzhev. The exhausted division then took part in Generaloberst Erich von Manstein's abortive Operation Wintergewitter, the operation to relieve Stalingrad.
In January–February 1943, Großdeutschland and XLVIII Panzerkorps, along with the II SS Panzer Corps took part in the Third Battle of Kharkov. The division fought alongside the 1.SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 2.SS Division Das Reich and 3.SS Division Totenkopf during these battles. After the fall of Kharkov, the Großdeutschland was pulled back and refitted. This included equipping the division with a company of Tiger I tanks.
The 1st Battalion of Grenadier Regiment GD was re-equipped at this time with a handful of Sd Kfz 251 vehicles, mainly command vehicles but also some troop carriers (SPW), and by the fighting at Kharkov, the battalion under Major Otto-Ernst Remer was fully mechanized in 83 Sd.Kfz 251s - and the battalion became very prominent in regimental and even divisional operations. The Füsilier Regiment did not receive SPWs until the spring of 1944.
Panzergrenadier Regiment Großdeutschland
In June 1943, with the addition of armoured personnel carriers and a company of Tiger tanks, the division was redesignated Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, and Großdeutschland 1 was renamed "Panzergrenadier Regiment "Großdeutschland". Their counterpart in the division was named "Panzerfüsilier Regiment Großdeutschland".
The newly re-equipped division was attached to the 4.Panzer-Armee of Generaloberst Hermann Hoth, and was to take a major role (again paired with the SS-Panzerkorps) in Operation Citadel, the battles to sever the Kursk salient. During the buildup period, a battalion of new Panther Ausf. D tanks came under the operational control of Großdeutschland. After the launch of Citadel, the division was heavily engaged in the fight to penetrate the southern flank of the salient. The new Panthers did not perform very well, suffering from engine fires and many breaking down before reaching the battle. Despite this, the division fought on until it was pulled back to Tomarovka on 18 July 1943.
After the disastrous Kursk offensive, the division was transferred back to Heeresgruppe Mitte, and resumed its role as mobile reserve. GD saw heavy fighting around Karachev before being transferred back to XLVIII Panzerkorps in late August. For the rest of 1943, Großdeutschland was engaged in the fighting withdrawal from the eastern Ukraine, taking part in battles around Kharkov, Belgorod, and finally on the Dnieper, ending the year fighting strong enemy forces near Michurin-Rog, east of Kryvyi Rih. It was during this period that the division earned the nickname "die Feuerwehr" (The Fire Brigade).
Großdeutschland continued fighting in the area of Krivoi-Rog early in January 1944 until it was transferred west for rest and refit. During this period, 1./Panzer Regiment 26 (Panther) joined the Panzer Regiment GD, and GD's I. Battalion moved to France to refit and train with the new tanks; they did not rejoin the Division until after the Normandy invasion.
The Panzergrenadier Regiment GD was a 4-battalion organization in 1944, though by June it was reduced to three.
Over the next months, the division continued moving from crisis-point to crisis-point across the front. The division, less the Panzer Regiment, was involved in heavy fighting from the Dniester to Northern Bessarabia. In early May 1944, the division, as a part of LVII.Panzerkorps took part in the Battle of Târgul Frumos, near Iaşi in Romania, an impressive defensive action which was the focus of several NATO studies during the Cold War. The 1st Company of the regiment, under Leutnant Dieter Bernhagen, was wiped out to the last man during a Russian armoured attack. Oberst Lorenz, the regimental commander, led from the front in his command vehicle and played a very personal role in these actions, earning the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross.
The division was next involved in the fighting around Podul. After a brief rest in early July, the division was again committed to heavy fighting in northern Romania. In late July, the division was transferred to East Prussia. Over the next months, Großdeutschland was involved in heavy fighting in both East Prussia and the Baltic States, suffering immense casualties in both men and materiel. At Wilkowischken, a moderately successful counter-attack from East Prussia into Lithuania, the Panzergrenadier Regiment GD mounted a frontal attack with the SPWs of the 1st Battalion battling into the village itself, as the Panzer Regiment and Panzerfüsiliers effected a flanking attack.
The success was short lived, and the division was forced to withdraw into Germany, where it was virtually annihilated during the battles in the Memel bridgehead.
By March 1945, the Division Großdeutschland had been reduced to around 4,000 men. These escaped by ferry from the collapsing Memel bridgehead. They landed at Pillau and were put straight back into combat. By 25 April 1945, the division ceased to exist, having been completely destroyed in the battles around Pillau. Of the few survivors a few hundred were able to make their way to Schleswig-Holstein and surrendered to British forces. The majority of the men were left behind and were forced to surrender to the Russians where they were to face an often fatal and indefinite amount of time in Russian forced labor camps (Gulags).
As a celebration of their elite status, the Großdeutschland was permitted to wear unique insignia. An intertwined GD was displayed on the shoulder straps, and a cuff title, of the type granted to Waffen-SS units, was also distributed. The original version, which was silver writing on a green background left the unit unimpressed. Silver on green was the same colour as the LANDZOLL (Customs Service) cuff title. In 1940, a new cuff band, this one silver on black (like the SS) was greeted happily. The cuff titles may be one reason that the Großdeutschland is often mistakenly identified as Waffen-SS formation.
To distinguish between the two, the Großdeutschland was ordered to wear their cuff title on the right sleeve, while the SS wore theirs on the left.
The cuff band was not awarded until after a soldier had completed his trade training and was accepted into the division. In one instance, the cuff bands were removed from a unit for poor performance in combat; the 17th (Motorcycle) Company of Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland lost the privilege of wearing the cuff band for a brief period after the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union, but earned for themselves the right to wear it again with a successful attack on an enemy position.
As with all items of German military dress, older patterns were permitted to be "worn out" once newer patterns were available, and the older green cuff titles could still be seen worn in Russia by veterans of the original GD Regiment.
After expansion to a division, the Regiment wore a white numeral "1" on the shoulder strap, later replaced with the wearing of white loops across the straps, to distinguish from the second GD regiment who wore red loops. Even after redesignation as a Panzergrendier regiment, the white waffenfarbe (branch colour) was retained.
|Infantry Regiment Grossdeutschland (12 June 1939- April 1942)|
|Oberstleutnant (later Oberst) Wilhelm-Hunert von Stockhausen||12 June 1939 - 10 August 1941|
|Oberst Gerhard Graf von Schwerin (Temporary Command)||early May 1940|
|Oberst Walter Hörnlein||10 August 1941 - 1 April 1942|
|Infantry Regiment GD 1 (1 Apr 1942 - 1 Oct 1942)
Grenadier Regiment GD (1 Oct 1942 - June 1943)
|Oberst Köhler||1 Apr 1942 - 1 Dec 1942 (Killed in Action)|
|Oberst Karl Lorenz||1 Dec 1942 - 14 Dec 1942|
|Oberst Kurt Moehring||14 Dec 1942 - 14 Jan 1943|
|Oberst Karl Lorenz||14 Jan 1943 - 1 August 1944|
|Major Hugo Schimmel||1 August 1944 - August 1944|
|Major Harald Kriegk (?)||October 1944|
|Major Wolfgang Heesemann||November 1944 - Feb 1945 (Killed in Action)|
|Major Friedrich-Karl Krützmann||Feb 1945 - War's End|
Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Infantry Regiment GD
- HANERT, Karl, Oberleutnant, 4th Company. Jeljna, Soviet Union, 23 Aug 1941.
- FRANTZ, Peter, Oberleutnant, 16th (Assault Gun) Company. Borisovka, Soviet Union, 4 Jun 1942.
- GREIM, Alfred, Oberstleutnant, 2nd Battalion Commander. Kishkino/Tula, Soviet Union, 4 Jun 1942.
- BLUMENTHAL, Carl-Ludwig, Oberleutnant, 7th Company Commander, Infantry Rgt. Woronesh, Soviet Union, 18 Sep 1942.
Infantry Regiment GD 1
- KLEMM, Hans, Unteroffizier, 2nd Company. Belogurovo, Soviet Union, 10 Dec 1942.
Grenadier Regiment GD
- GEHRKE, Kurt, Oberstleutnant, 1st Battalion Commander. Kusovlevo, Soviet Union, 8 Feb 1943.
- REMER, Otto-Ernst, Major 1st Battalion Commander. Kharkov, Soviet Union, 18 May 1943.
Panzergrenadier Regiment GD
- KONOPKA, Gerhard, Oberleutnant der Reserves, 2nd Battalion Commander. Alissova, Soviet Union, 29 Aug 1943.
- SCHWARZROCK, Rudolf, Major, 1st Battalion Commander. Tragul Frumos, 19 Aug 1944.
- CZORNY, Wilhelm, Gefreiter, 2nd Company. Doblen, 4 Oct 1944.
- BIELIG, Martin, Oberfeldwebel, 17th (Infantry Gun) Company. Schaulen, 7 Oct 1944.
- PLICKAT, Fritz, Feldwebel, 2nd Battalion. Luoke, 9 Dec 1944.
- SOMMER, Clemens, Major, 2nd Battalion. Luoke, 18 Jan 1944.
- HEESEMAN, Wolfgang, Oberst, Regimental Commander. 17 Feb 1945.
- PFAU, Otto, Hauptmann, 1st Battalion. 23 Mar 1945.
Assault Gun Brigade GD
- STURM, Hans-Hermann, Oberleutnant, 3./SturmGeschBrig "Großdeutschland", 9 June 1944
Panzer Füsilier Regiment GD
- ROEGER, Hans, Unteroffizier, 1./PzFüsRgt "Großdeutschland", 24 September 1944
Holders of the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
- REMER, Otto-Ernst, Major, 1st Battalion Commander, Panzer Grenadier Regiment GD. Dniepr, 12 Nov 1943.
- LORENZ, Karl, Oberst, Regimental Commander, Panzer Grenadier Regiment GD. Krivoj Rog, 12 Feb 1944.
Orders of Battle
Infanterie Regiment "Großdeutschland" March 1942
Stab der Regiment
- First Battalion (I./Inf Rgt Grossdeutschland)
- 4.(MG) Kompanie
- Schwere Kompanie
- Second Battalion (II./Inf Rgt Grossdeutschland)
- 8.(MG) Kompanie
- Schwere Kompanie
- Third Battalion (III./Inf Rgt Grossdeutschland)
- 12.(MG) Kompanie
- Schwere Kompanie
- Fourth Battalion (IV./Inf Rgt Grossdeutschland)
- 13.(Light Infantry Gun) Kompanie
- 14.(Panzerjäger) Kompanie
- 15.(Heavy Infantry Gun) Kompanie
- 16.(Sturmgeschütz) Kompanie
- Fifth Battalion (V./Inf Rgt Grossdeutschland)
- 17.(Aufklärungs) Kompanie
- 18.(Pionier) Kompanie
- 19.(Nachrichten) Kompanie
- 20.(FlaK) Kompanie
- Artillery Battalion 400
- Supply Column 400
- Workshop Company
Panzergrenadier Regiment "Großdeutschland" September 1943
- Regimental Headquarters
- Headquarters Company
- signals platoon
- pioneer platoon
- motorcycle platoon
- Headquarters Company
- I. (SPW) Battalion (At the beginning of June 1943, 83 SPW halftracks arrived to equip the first battalion of the Grenadier Regiment.)
- 1. Company
- Rifle Platoon - light anti-tank rifle team, three squads, each with 2 LMGs
- Rifle Platoon
- Rifle Platoon
- Heavy Platoon - 4 HMGs, two 81 mm mortars, heavy anti-tank rifle team
- 2. Company - as above
- 3. Company - as above
- 4. (MG) Company
- HQ Platoon
- Mortar Platoon
- Light Infantry Support Platoon
- 5. (Heavy) Company
- II. (Motorized) Battalion
- 6. Company - as 1 above
- 7. Company - as 1 above
- 8. Company - as 1above
- 9. (MG) Company - as 4 above
- 10. (Heavy) Company - as 5 above
- III. (Motorized) Battalion
- 11. Company - as 1 above
- 12. Company - as 1 above
- 13. Company - as 1 above
- 14. (MG) Company - as 4 above
- 15. (Heavy) Company - as 5 above
- IV. (Heavy) Battalion
- 16. (FlaK) Company
- 17. (Infantry Gun) Company
- 18. (Panzerjäger) Company
- 1st Platoon self-propelled
The book German Army and Genocide (ISBN 1565845250) mentions the following incident, from the invasion of Yugoslavia:
When one German soldier was shot and one seriously wounded in Pančevo, Wehrmacht soldiers and the Waffen SS rounded up about 100 civilians at random... the town commander, Lt. Col. Fritz Bandelow conducted the courts martial... The presiding judge, SS-Sturmbannführer Rudolf Hoffmann, sentenced 36 of those arrested to death. On April 21, 1941, four of the civilians were the first to be shot... On the following day eighteen victims were hanged in a cemetery and fourteen more were shot at the cemetery wall by an execution squad of the Wehrmacht's Grossdeutschland regiment. (p. 42)
Part of the photographic presentation of the book included the photo of an officer where the GD cuff title is clearly visible. The official GD history by Helmuth Spaeter mentions only that "Draconian measures were occasionally required to halt looting by the civilian population" in Belgrade. The events of 21 April in Pančevo are not discussed directly, though many references are made to "security duties" in Yugoslavia.
The subject of Grossdeutschland's complicity in war crimes was the subject of the book by Omer Bartov The Eastern Front, 1941–45, German Troops, and the Barbarization of Warfare (1986, ISBN 0-312-22486-9).
- de Lannoy, François and Jean-Claude Perrigault La division Grossdeutschland ("The Grossdeutschland Division from Regiment to Panzerkorps 1939–1945") French edition, Editions Heimdal
- Lee, Cyrus A. Soldat: The World War Two German Army Combat Uniform Collector's Guide (Volume V: Uniforms and Insignia of Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland 1939–1945) (Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 1993) ISBN 0-929521-76-5
- Lucas, James Germany's Elite Panzer Force: Grossdeutschland (MacDonald's and Jane's, London, 1978) ISBN 0-354-01165-0
- McGuirl, Thomas & Remy Spezzano (1997). God, Honor, Fatherland: A photo history of Panzergrenadier Division "Grossdeutschland" on the Eastern Front. 1942–1944. Southbury (Connecticut, USA). ISBN 0-9657584-0-0.
- Quarrie, Bruce Panzer-Grenadier Division "Grossdeutschland" (VANGUARD series book, Osprey Publishing Group, London, UK. 1977. US version published in 1978 by Squadron/Signal Publications, Warren, Michigan.) ISBN 0-85045-055-1
- Sajer, Guy The Forgotten Soldier (English translation of the title Le Soldat Oublié), Harper & Row, 1990 ISBN 0-08-037437-9
- Scheibert, Horst (Bruce Culver Editor) Panzer Grenadier Division Grossdeutschland (English version by Squadron Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas, 1987) ISBN 089747061
- Sharpe, Michael and Brian L. Davis GROSSDEUTSCHLAND: Guderian's Eastern Front Elite, Compendium Publishing Ltd, 2001 ISBN 0-7110-2854-0.
- Solarz, Jacek. Division/Korps "Großdeutschland" 1943–1945 Vol. II. (Polish/English edition by Wydawnictwo "Militaria", Warsaw, 2005) ISBN 83-7219-237-5
- Spaeter, Helmut (c1990s). The History of the Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland Vol I-III. English Translation. Winnipeg, Canada: J.J. Fedorowicz. ISBN 0-921991-50-9.
- Spaeter, Helmut (1990). Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland: A Pictorial History (English Translation). USA: Schiffer Books. ISBN 0-88740-245-3.
- Pipes, Jason. "Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland". Retrieved April 8, 2005.
- "Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland". German language article at www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de. (Follow links for Infanterie Division Großdeutschland (mot).) Retrieved April 8, 2005.
- Brandenburg Historica (2006). "Grossdeutschland: Von der Wachtruppe zum Panzerkorps". Updated May 8, 2006.
- Wendel, Marcus (2005). "Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland". Retrieved April 8, 2005.
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