2 April 1945

2 April 1945


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2 April 1945

Eastern Front

3rd Ukrainian Front approaches Vienna.

Western Front

Canadian troops approach Arnhem and Doesburg

British 7th Armoured Division enters Rheine, on the Dortmund-Ems Canal

Italy

British 8th Army begins an offensive between Lake Commacchio and the sea



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What does life path number 7 mean? Life path number 7 represents analysis, awareness and understanding. You are the searcher and the seeker of the truth.


Background to the Italian Campaign, Po Valley

Rome had been liberated in early June 1944 and fascist Italy was virtually out of the war, but much more had been accomplished elsewhere with the liberation of France and the great westward drive of the Soviet Red Army which had already crossed into Germany and was close to the battle for Berlin itself. To close the book on the Mediterranean Theater, the 15 Army Group had to overrun the top of the Italian Boot, the Po Valley.

The fighting in the North Apennines had exhausted 15 Army Group which was starved for replacements and supplies due to the shift in Allied priorities to France and western Europe. But by the end of the winter of 1944-1945, the fully rested and resupplied 15 Army Group, under U.S. Lt. General Mark Clark since December 1944, prepared to renew the offensive into the Po Valley, the final Allied push of the war in Italy. 15 Army Group consisted of U.S. Fifth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. since Clark move up to 15 Army Group in December 1944, and British Eighth Army, commanded since 1 October 1944 by General Sir Richard L. McCreery.


2 April 1945 - History

“Kill! Kill! In the German race there is nothing but evil. Stamp out the fascist beast once and for all in its lair! Use force and break the racial pride of these German women. Take them as your lawful booty. Kill! As you storm forward. Kill! You gallant soldiers of the Red army.” Ilya Ehrenburg

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a young captain in the Red Army when it entered East Prussia in 1945. He wrote later in his book, ‘The Gulag Archipelago’: “All of us knew very well that if girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction.” He was arrested and sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. Other Russian officers agreed with him and those who dared to report excesses of violence against civilians met a similar fate.

Scenes of sexual depravity and horror spread throughout the Eastern regions as rampantly as the diseases the criminals left behind. In Silesia, Red Army soldiers embarked upon another horrendous spree of rape so brutal that in one instance in Neisse, 182 Catholic nuns were raped by Red Army soldiers and in the diocese of Kattowitz, the soldiers left behind 66 pregnant nuns. In all German areas taken by the communists, civilians who were not exiled were subjected to brutality.

Master hate propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg told soldiers on January 31, 1945: “The Germans have been punished in Oppeln, in Königsberg and in Breslau. They have been punished, but yet not enough! Some have been punished, but not yet all of them.” In contrast to Ehrenberg’s rhetoric, rape was in truth a German military offense punishable by death. Rape by German troops was the smallest recorded in occupied territories and lower than that of US troops on US bases.

As the Red Army started its offensive toward Berlin during the spring of 1945, thousands of Germans from the east tried to cross the Oder River and flee westward, but there were too many, and many were trapped as they waited to be allowed to cross. As many as 20,000 girls and young women were stranded and at the mercy of the Red Army as they marched through in February.

Many were captured, lined up, with some singled out for immediate “pleasure,” then packed into trains headed for Siberia in April, 1945, some repeatedly raped while being transported and others dying along the way from lack of food and mistreatment. Once in Siberia, they were slave laborers forced to do heavy manual labor such road building, all the while enduring constant sexual abuse. Many of these women remained in Stalin’s work camps for up to five years, during which time two-thirds of them died. Some were sent to an infamous camp near Petrozavodsk in Karelia called Number 517. Once they arrived, they were paraded naked in front of the camp officials who would select favorites, promising lighter work in exchange for sex. “Stubborn prisoners” were subjected to solitary confinement, genital mutilation or murder. Of the 1,000 girls and women who were sent to that camp, over half, or 522 of them, died horrible deaths within six months.*

* In 1949, some surviving women, suffering from illness and severe emotional trauma, were transported back to eastern Germany but forbidden to talk about their experiences. Others waited 10 years for freedom. Once the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, some of former labor camp prisoners related their experiences only to find it was politically incorrect to “dwell” on such topics in modern Germany.

The Red Army entered Berlin first, seething with hatred and determined to exact vengeance, while the Americans and the British lagged behind to the west. They had two months to freely plunder and rape, and Berlin was a city virtually without men. The female population had swelled to 2,000,000 with thousands more refugee women who had fled there from the east. Up to a million females from ages 8 to 80 were believed to have been raped. Over 10,000 women and girls are recorded as having died as a result. There were so many rapes that doctors in the hospitals could not even treat them all.

On one occasion, when Stalin was told that Red Army soldiers sexually maltreated German refugees, he said: ‘We lecture our soldiers too much let them have their initiative.’ In fact, Stalin’s police chief Lavrenti Beria was a serial rapist himself and he condoned rape as an instrument of state military policy. Beria’s bodyguard, Russian actress Tatiana Okunevskaya, and an American diplomat all witnessed Beria grabbing German women off the street and shoving them into his limousine for his warped pleasure. It is claimed that this man who ran the NKVD, the feared forerunner to the KGB, drugged and raped more than 100 school-aged girls and young women.

In one notorious instance, Red Army soldiers entered the maternity hospital at Haus Dehlem and raped pregnant women, women who had just given birth, and women in the process of giving birth. The future Pope Paul VI lamented that in Berlin even nuns in habit were raped. Some women lived for weeks on rooftops trying to escape the violence. Thousands committed suicide as a result of sexual abuse, thousands of underage girls died as a result of violent injury and thousands of girls left pregnant would be left to virtually starve as the Allies blocked shipments of food from Berlin.

Heinz Voigtländer, a consulting surgeon at the hospital in Ludwigslust, said: “It was particularly dreadful. with the pregnancies that dated from the first half of 1945. I remember a figure of 150 to 180 abortions that we had to carry out at that time. Frequently this was a matter of pregnancies in the fourth, fifth and even in the sixth month. Sometimes, in the seventh or eighth month, this help no longer was possible. Then the nurses promised to look after the child after the birth. But once we observed that a woman left the hospital after the birth and drowned her child in the brook that flowed right by the hospital. We spoke as little as possible about these matters.”

As well as the astonishing estimate of well over a million Red Army rapes in Germany, there were between 70,000 and 100,000 in Vienna, anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 in Hungary, as well as thousands in Romania and Bulgaria, which had been pro-NS.

“In Berlin, in August 1945, out of 2,866 children born, 1148 died, and it was summer, and the food more plentiful than now. From Vienna, a reliable source reports that infant mortality is approaching 100 per cent.” US correspondent Dorothy Thompson

Rape was not the only violent abuse German women suffered. Throughout the regions of Germany given to the communists, women were treated with barbaric cruelty, and their suffering did not end in 1945.Those who could not or would not relinquish their homes to their new masters were persecuted.

To the surprise and horror of the trapped inhabitants, occupying Americans in war-torn east Germany proper “liberated” it just long enough to turn it all over to the Red Army for enslavement. In this area, the communist GDR, for stated reasons of “ public security,” instituted detention areas for political prisoners, many of them female. From 1950 to 1989, an insidious internal spy agency existed with a military structure and over 90,000 workers. There were district offices in over 30 cities. Not spoken of in our media, thousands of women suffered horrible repression at the hands of the Communists. With no men left to protect the women, the ‘Stasi’ in East Germany stuffed unruly females behind the walls of dank, dark, 13th century Hoheneck castle in Thuringia.

The photo below, far right, was smuggled out of Danzig by US news sources and shows a public hanging of 11 “war criminals” consisting of 10 Germans, four of whom were women. A crowd of 35,000 watched as the cars the victims had been forced to stand on drove away, leaving them dangling from the ropes. These events took place in all communist occupied formerly German areas.

When Stuttgart was first occupied by the French immediately after the war in August 1945, mostly French colonial soldiers from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia under French command rampaged through the bombed out city and shelters and committed an orgy of rape. The local police verified 1,198 cases of rape. The ages of the victims ranged from 14 to 74. According to police reports, most of them were attacked in their homes by turbaned thugs who broke down the doors in looting forays. Four of the women were killed by their attackers, and four others committed suicide. One of the victims was killed by her husband who then killed himself. They committed 385 rapes in the Constance area, 600 in Bruchsal and 500 in Freudenstadt. They moved in gangs relentlessly from home to home in Karlsruhe, threatening, raping and stealing all they could carry. In the County Women’s Clinic in Karlsruhe alone, 276 terminations of pregnancies after rape were performed in April and May of 1945. Eisenhower, fearing bad publicity, then ordered Stuttgart under American occupation, but when the story broke anyway, American newspapers immediately and without any investigation, discounted it as “German propaganda,” apparently forgetting that the war was over.

Although not technically rape, since American occupation troops had ready access to food needed by hungry, deprived German and Austrian women, often to feed their children with, sexual favors were sold out of desperation. By the end of 1945, the official ration in the U.S. zone of Germany had slid to 1550 calories per day, and it later fell even lower to 1275 calories by the spring of 1946. In some areas, people were not receiving rations of much more than 700 calories per day, allotments well below the minimum necessary to maintain health. On December 5, 1945, the Times reported: “the American provost marshal Lieutenant Colonel Gerald F. Beane said that rape presents no problem for the military police because a bit of food, a bar of chocolate, or a bar of soap seem to make rape unnecessary. Think that over, if you want to understand the situation in Germany.”

But rape WAS a problem. By April 1945, 500 rape cases per week were being reported to the Judge Advocate General of American forces in Europe and those were only the reported rapes in limited areas. According to recently disclosed US military records, between 1942 and 1945, US GIs were legally “charged with” committing 11,040 rapes in Germany (a far lesser number were prosecuted). G.I.s were warned against indiscriminate sex but merely to protect themselves from disease, not to face prosecution for rape or prevent pregnancies. TIME magazine reported in September, 1945 that the government provided American soldiers with 50 million condoms per month. at the same time German women could be arrested for fraternizing with US soldiers!

German and Austrian courts had no jurisdiction over paternity cases involving Americans, and during the early stages of the occupation, the U.S. Army would not allow an American to make support payments to a German or Austrian woman even if he admitted being the father of their child because such allotments were considered “aid to the enemy.” Neither would the U.S. military take any responsibility for illegitimate children fathered by its occupation troops, nor would it permit marriages between American troops and Austrian women until January 1946, and between American troops and German women until December 1946.

But the U.S. Military certainly made it easy for irresponsible G.I.s to have casual sex with German girls. Aside from providing free condoms, on April 8, 1946, The Stars and Stripes published an article titled “Pregnant Frauleins Are Warned!” explaining that the U.S. Army was not responsible for the sexual relationships of its personnel and: “Girls who are expecting a child fathered by an American soldier will be provided with no assistance by the American Army. If the soldier denies paternity, no further action will be undertaken other than to merely inform the woman of this fact. She is to be advised to seek help from a German or Austrian welfare organization. If the soldier is already in the United States, his address in not to be communicated to the woman in question. Claims for child support from unmarried German and Austrian mothers will not be recognized.”

Meanwhile, in Austria, the Soviets in Vienna were not only raping but also starving their victims to death. Women under Communist occupation ate less than 1,000 calories a day, and 1,000 new cases of TB suddenly arose each month. Pregnant women, the elderly and children were at grave risk. In July of 1945 alone, 389 out of 1,000 newborns, most “rape babies,” were dying. In Salzburg, under the Americans, there was at first a strict anti-fraternization policy with the local population. The first Americans arriving in Salzburg from the west were units which had been issued a ‘Handbook for Germany,’ which prescribed a typically “strict” treatment of the locals. The zone of occupation controlled by the US Armed Forces consisted of the provinces of Salzburg and Upper Austria, south of the Danube River, and parts of the Austrian capital, Vienna. The number of GIs stationed there between 1945 and 1955 eventually reached several hundred thousands. The US occupation of Austria lasted for ten years and produced almost 2,000 illegitimate children between 1945 and 1955 in the province of Salzburg alone. During these first years as occupiers, 80% of children in Austrian suffered from malnutrition, and the population was understandably depressed.

By estimates, 94,000 “Besatzungskinder” or ‘occupation children’ were born in the American zone fathered by American soldiers in the decade after 1945, most of whom ended up as wards of the German and Austrian welfare services. More recent estimates revise this figure downward to around 36,000-38,000 children born to an American parent (as well as 10,188 to French, 8,397 to British, 1,767 to Belgians, 6,829 to unknown nationalities, and untold thousands to Soviets). Most never met their fathers and many of these children were never adopted and remained in long-term public care

The enemy Germans had been so thoroughly dehumanized that depravity and abuse by the victors was accepted. Civilians had born the brunt of the murderous Allied air war without any moral outrage emanating from the civilized world. Secondly, the Allies had agreed to and helped plan the genocidal expulsion of millions of people from their homes in the east, and this too passed without disapproval. Likewise, few objected as women and children suffered immensely from starvation policies put into place after war’s end by Soviets and Allies alike. The last item on the agenda for the unprotected, civilian female non-combatants and their children was the infliction of “re-education” policies to forever “break the German will to wage war.” What were these women doing during this time?

Germany was missing 15 million men. Husbands, brothers and sons were killed, maimed or not yet released from their long captivity, and the clean up was left to the women, many in grief, illness and physical distress. The women also had to feed and house their children and elderly parents. They also tended the wounded, buried the dead and salvaged belongings. Many women still had to stand in line for hours to get bread or butter and ended up with nothing. It was a daily battle for survival. With the lack of manpower to clear the rubble, women were left to rebuild Germany in the post-war period. To make sure that they did, the Allied Control Council introduced a MANDATORY work duty for women and, rather than refer to them as slave laborers, they gave the women in charge of debris removal the generic name of “rubble women” and usually allowed them a few added food rations as a token reward.

The western media likes to talk about “rubble women” as if it was a cheerful and voluntary work detail. In reality, some females cleaning up the destroyed cities had no choice: many were much too old, too young or too malnourished to do hard manual labor and quickly became ill or perished as a result. Women on work crews often worked under armed guards, often with no private sanitation facilities. Some were victims of rapes and other criminal activity. Trümmerfrauen was their official name, or “aid workers in the construction industry.” With great physical and psychological pain, and using only basic tools and, above all, their bare hands, they loaded rocks with shovels on debris-laden trolleys on rails which they often had to push themselves.

Allied bombing had transformed most German cities to nothing more than an estimated 400 million cubic meters of debris. In Berlin alone there were approximately 60,000 women debris removers. Many women volunteered for debris removal out of desperation for higher food rations. The food ration cards had five categories and those who physically worked hardest got the highest rations. Housewives, on the other hand, were classified in the same category as deskbound workers. Long lines of women worked on the piles of rubble, and watching them hammering out stones and handing them down in buckets was a common sight, even years after the war ended.

When the men began returning home from the war, they faced women who had become very independent and had established a different role in society. At the end of the 1940s, when more and more men returned home from their captivity, divorce rates increased at a rate Germany had never experienced. Most despicably of all, many women were forced to watch staged atrocity exhibits involving human corpses and at times were even forced to bury dead bodies without protection, thus heartlessly exposed to disease (see link above). Thousands of German civilians, mainly women, were forced to watch film such as “Mills of Death” (‘Todesmühlen’) fabricated by the “re-education” team and screened at hundreds of cinemas, some hastily rebuilt from bombed out ruins while hospitals and schools remained in rubble, for the sole purpose of instilling Germans with a sense of collective guilt and indoctrinating them in “American” values. In these films, grisly scenes from work camps were recreated into dramatic Hollywood-type movies to shame German women who were, at the same time, deprived of the ability to grieve their own dead and were trying to come to grips with their own personal tragedies and the horrors of war.


Breaking the City of Kings: The Battle for Nuremberg, 1945

The medieval city of Nuremberg, once the seat of power for German kings, became the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II in the month of April 1945. As American forces closed in to seize the former bastion of Adolf Hitler’s political power, fanatical Nazis mobilized for a battle of total annihilation and executed German civilians. The siege of Nuremberg would see American troops locked “in bitter fighting with the enemy, as Nürnberg reverberated with the sound of weapons of war and smoldered in its ruins,” according to U.S. Army 7th Infantry historian Nathan White in 1947.

Nuremberg was a fortress of National Socialism under Hitler’s regime. During the Middle Ages, the imperial city was a nexus of German might—a center of art, culture, industry, trade and centralized rule. After coming to power in 1933, Hitler and his followers capitalized on the city’s imperial past and associated Nuremberg with their ideals of empire and world conquest. Hitler’s political favor brought a boon of prosperity and prestige to the city, and Nazi interests were largely welcomed by residents.

The city became a hotbed of virulent racism and anti-Semitic violence. During the 1930s, Jewish residents were beaten and publicly humiliated by mobs, stripped of their property and executed. The city hosted extravagant public performances to boost racial pride—most notably the Nazi Party Rallies, which combined displays of military might with political speeches, sport performances, light shows and festivals. Nuremberg rallies seemed visually spectacular to the international public. Although members of the international media denounced Nazism, tourists from all over the world attended the rallies. The outbreak of World War II brought a halt to the opulent spectacles. However, during the war, the city of Nuremberg continued to host annual events commemorating Nazi ideology.

As Germany’s Third Reich collapsed under invading Allied forces in the spring of 1945, eyes on both sides zeroed in on Nuremberg. The Allies viewed the city as a high-value target its capture was essential to break German morale. The Nazis were aware of Allied intentions to seize their imperial city—and had no intention of yielding it without a fight to the death.

By the time the battle-weary men of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division rolled towards the city through the forested valleys of Bavaria, Heinrich Himmler had issued orders on April 3 that any male occupant of a residence who showed a white flag was to be shot immediately. Civilians in the vicinity of Nuremberg were given steel helmets, armbands, and firearms during the first week of April and ordered to resist invaders at all costs.

Civilians panicked. Radio propaganda broadcasted victory—but signs such as escaping POWs and German deserters caused doubt. Fear led to accidents with weapons—in Schwabach, a Volksturm militia man accidentally shot electrical wires while target practicing, and two boys, ages 12 and 14, were injured while attempting to prepare an explosive device. A mob of panicking townspeople raided a military grain silo—the violent brawl left a 16-year-old boy dead.

The Nazis commenced a reign of terror to suppress civilians as the Americans approached. A man in Brettheim who took away weapons from Hitler Youth was executed. Two local officials, including a mayor, were also killed for refusing to sign the death sentence. The three were hanged in the town cemetery and their bodies were left on display with an S.S. poster, which deemed them “cowardly, selfish, and disloyal traitors.”

Local commander Werner Lorleberg of Erlangen, a small city just north of Nuremberg, was murdered by an unknown assailant during his attempts to negotiate surrender with Americans. Civilians in Nuremberg who refused to take up arms were hanged. A 19-year-old Ansbach student, Robert Limpert, was denounced for sabotaging the Nazis and was hanged from the town hall gate as American troops encircled Nuremberg. Resistance was crushed.


American troops moving through Nuremberg, April , 1945. (National Archives)

Additionally, Hitler had already issued his “Nero Decree”— ordering German cities to self-destruct rather than fall into enemy hands. Nazi and S.S. officials in Nuremberg systematically prepared demolitions and rigged entire sections of the city to explode on command. However, the local radio personality, Arthur Schöddert, a popular organist and broadcaster known as “Uncle Baldrian”, charged with broadcasting the self-destruct signal—called “Code Puma”—failed to do so at the last minute. Instead Schöddert ended his final broadcast with the words: “I bid farewell to my listeners. Maybe one day we will hear each other again.”

American forces were met with furious opposition as they hemmed in around the outskirts of Nuremberg on April 16. The 3rd, 42nd and 45th U.S. Infantry divisions met with feverish violence from three German battle groups: S.S. troopers of Battle Group Dirnagel, Luftwaffe officers in Battle Group Rienow, and the 1st Battalion of the 38th S.S. Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Added to this, local residents shored up fierce resistance. They included the desperate Volkssturm militia and radicalized Hitler Youth, as well as an estimated 150 city firemen and 140 city police officers who fought as infantry.

Nuremberg became a hell of small arms fire, grenade explosions and tank blasts. Nearly all the windows of houses and apartment buildings contained nests of snipers it took the American soldiers hours to clear city blocks. The Germans used bomb craters to create camouflaged dugouts.

Nuremberg’s Thon district presented some of the most gruesome urban combat. Civilians wielded Panzerfaust antitank grenade launchers, inflicting many casualties to American troops. The Germans also hid themselves in the debris, and as a result, American soldiers were ambushed from all sides. The stealth and vehemence of Nuremberg’s defenders required that American soldiers carefully clear every building during their advance. Room-to-room battles unfolded in some apartment buildings, as the army faced fanatical resistance. It took the U.S. infantry several long, hard hours to clear four apartment blocks. Tanks accompanied the soldiers forward.

“The Germans used every trick in the book to hold the city,” according to a history of the 3rd Infantry Division published by the U.S. Army in 1947. Aside from small arms fire, the U.S. infantrymen encountered mines and even German corpses rigged with booby traps.

Panzerfausts were fired from top-story floors and rooftops at the American armor, but to the sorrow of the enemy, as the armor would wheel and practically blow them into the sky with rapid fire,” according to the U.S. Army.

The Germans continued to fight, however, using the medieval fortifications to launch attacks as the city disintegrated into a smoky inferno.

On April 19, the Americans closed in on the ancient citadel in the heart of Nuremberg—once the castle keep of the Holy Roman Emperor, it sported a massive stone wall and strongly built watchtowers.

One watchtower, the Laufer Tor, became a stronghold in a bizarre combination of modern combat and medieval siege warfare. U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Telesphor Tremblay and his men engaged in a pistol duel with no less than 125 German snipers holed up inside the tower. As in ancient times, the defenders used the tower as a high vantage point to stave off invaders from the keep’s walls. The siege only ended after the Americans introduced a barrage of bazookas to the fight, and the tower’s occupants surrendered.

The U.S. Army issued orders in German via loudspeakers to convince the remaining opposition to lay down their arms:

“Your city is completely surrounded and the old city has been entered in several places. People in the occupied part of the city are being treated humanely. Your unconditional surrender will be accepted under the following conditions: Raise white flags over the buildings and open all entrances to the inner city. Otherwise you will be destroyed. We will not wait, so act quickly.”

When no surrender was forthcoming, the soldiers brought an M-12 assault gun forward and began blasting the walls of the medieval fortress, firing direct hits at the keep wall and gates.

“Twenty rounds of the hard hitting big stuff were fired point-blank. But the old wall stood up under the terrific pounding with huge chips flying everywhere,” wrote White.

Germans at the St. Johannis gate surrendered, while American infantry breached a hole in the wall and allowed the remainder of the 3rd Division to enter.

On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, the struggle for Nuremberg came to an end. The day was initially overshadowed with grim expectations—the Americans anticipated attacks from diehard Nazis on the symbolic anniversary.

The German Werewolf terrorist organization was expected to strike each member had pledged to kill an American soldier. And, true to predictions, Nazi forces in the old city launched a massive counterattack at 4 a.m. that day. The assault was so fierce that it nearly succeeded in repelling U.S. troops from their positions. The attackers used automatic weapons, grenades and Panzerfaust launchers.

However, they were soundly defeated by the determined valor of the American infantrymen, who rose to many daring acts of bravery during the bitter fight. Five members of the Third Infantry Division, from the 15th and 30th Regiments, would receive the Medal of Honor for the courage they displayed during the Battle of Nuremberg, including First Lieutenant Frank Burke, Captain Michael Daly and Private Joseph F. Merrell.

In a strange stroke of destiny, the city was ultimately taken on Hitler’s birthday. A group of tired yet victorious American soldiers stood on the main city square on a day that would normally have been celebrated with Nazi fanfare.

On April 22, American soldiers unfurled the Stars and Stripes over the Nazi Zeppelin Field, the scene of Hitler’s past glory. Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch decorated the conquerors of Nuremberg for gallantry from Hitler’s former speaking platform. The men sang the popular anthem, “Dogface Soldier,” to celebrate their victory.

The gigantic stadium beyond them, where vast crowds had cheered and smiled for the Third Reich, was now a ghostly scene. Six huge bomb craters scarred the field once illuminated by Albert Speer’s “Cathedral of Light.” Swastika flags hung lifelessly from the 200 flagpoles lining the charred ruins. The Americans destroyed the last apparition of Nuremberg’s Nazi exaltation by detonating the stadium’s 20-foot-tall swastika with a 200-pound TNT charge.


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2 April 1945 - History

President Truman: Using Atomic Bombs against Japan, 1945

Digital History TOPIC ID 63

Every American president makes decisions with enormous repercussions for the future. Some of these decisions prove successful others turn out to be blunders. In virtually every case, presidents must act with contradictory advice and limited information. At 8:15 a.m., August 6, 1945, an American B-29 released an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. Within minutes, Japan’s eighth largest city was destroyed. By the end of the year, 140,000 people had died from the bomb’s effects. After the bombing was completed, the United States announced that Japan faced a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which had never been seen on this earth." Background: In 1939, Albert Einstein, writing on behalf physicist Leo Szilard and other leading physicists, informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Nazi Germany was carrying on experiments in the use of atomic weapons. In October, 1939, the federal government began a modest research program which and later became the two-billion-dollar Manhattan Project. Its purpose was to produce an atomic bomb before the Germans. On December 2, 1942, scientists in Chicago succeeded in starting a nuclear chain reaction, demonstrating the possibility of unleashing atomic power.

It was not until April 25, 1945, 13 days after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, that the new president, Harry S. Truman, was briefed about the Manhattan Project. Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed him that "within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history."

Stimson proposed that a special committee be set up to consider whether the atomic bomb would be used, and if so, when and where it would be deployed. Members of this panel, known as the Interim Committee, which Stimson chaired, included George L. Harrison, President of the New York Life Insurance Company and special consultant in the Secretary's office James F. Byrnes, President Truman's personal representative Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State and scientific advisers Vannevar Bush, Karl T. Compton, and James B. Conant. General George Marshall and Manhattan Project Director Leslie Groves also participated in some of the committee’s meetings. On June 1, 1945, the Interim Committee recommended that that atomic bombs should be dropped on military targets in Japan as soon as possible and without warning. One committee member, Ralph Bard, convinced that Japan may be seeking a way to end the war, called for a two to three day warning before the bomb was dropped.

A group of scientists involved in the Manhattan project opposed the use of the atomic bomb as a military weapon. In a report signed by physicist James Franck, they called for a public demonstration of the weapon in a desert or on a barren island. On June 16, 1945, a scientific panel consisting of physicists Arthur H. Compton, Enrico Fermi, E. O. Lawrence, and J. Robert Oppenheimer reported that it did not believe that a technical demonstration would be sufficient to end the war.

  1. Ralph Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy: Ever since I have been in touch with this program I have had a feeling that before the bomb is actually used against Japan that Japan should have some preliminary warning for say two or three days in advance of use. The position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation and the fair play attitude of our people generally is responsible in the main for this feeling.
  2. James Byrnes: [Physicist Leo Szilard wrote:] "[Byrnes] was concerned about Russia's postwar behavior. Russian troops had moved into Hungary and Rumania, and Byrnes thought it would be very difficult to persuade Russia to withdraw her troops from these countries, that Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might, and that a demonstration of the bomb might impress Russia."
  3. General Dwight D. Eisenhower: "In 1945 . , Secretary of War Stimson visited my headquarters in Germany, [and] informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.'

What consequences did the use of atomic weapons have on the American public?

1. Was Japan on the verge of surrender in August 1945?

2. What factors did the decision makers take into account when they evaluated the use of the atomic bombs?

3. Why did the United States and its allies inform the Japanese that their country could retain the emperor before the atomic bombs were dropped?

4. To what extent was the timing of the use of the bombs related to Soviet intervention in the war against Japan?

5. Identify each of the following and compare and contrast their views about the decision to deploy the bomb:


The US Army and the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945

At the beginning of May 1945 fighting was still going on in Prague. The Czech lands were one of the last places in Europe where people were dying even after the official end of hostilities between the German Army and the Allies on May 8. There was a last-minute uprising in the Czech capital and the US 3rd Army was only some 80 kilometers (or about 50 miles) away, near the western city of Plzeň.

The US Army was not expected to even enter the territory of what was then Czechoslovakia in 1945.

However, General Patton, whose 3rd Army was moving south through Bavaria, needed to secure his flanks. As early as April 19, when the Red Army was still fighting the bloody Battle of Berlin, the Americans crossed the Czechoslovak border.

Czech journalist and officer Zdeněk Vršovský sent the following report to the Czech department of the BBC:

“It is Thursday, 19 April 1945. Today we are going to tread Czechoslovak soil again after six years. We are driving through Bavarian villages and towns. It is a beautiful sunny day and not far ahead of us appear the peaks of the Czech mountains.

“A few kilometers away from headquarters there is a small village in a valley. It is very small and with only German-speaking inhabitants. The Czechoslovak border must be somewhere around here.

“We stop a German with the white sleeve-band of the provisional German police and ask him to show us exactly where the border is.

“He timidly looks at our uniform patches with the name Czechoslovakia, starts to understand and becomes pale. He runs just a few steps back to a white building with an obedient, even subservient complaisance.

“He measures the distance with his steps and stops about 20 metres down the hill. Then he explains: the border is here. We are in Czechoslovakia on this side. And Deutschland is on the other side.

“That man spoke in the present tense, having understood that the time has come to reconcile himself with the existence of the Czechoslovak Republic. On his pale frightened face, I could read a great worry: the Czechs are here. What will happen now?”

The local Germans had a double reason to worry. They had occupied the predominantly German-speaking Sudetenland on the border between Czechoslovakia and the Third Reich back in 1938 and now it was obvious that the region would again come under Czech control after six years of occupation.

The Allied Supreme Commander in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, first agreed with his Soviet counterpart, General Aleksei I. Antonov, that US forces would stop on the line of the Czech cities of Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) – Plzeň – České Budějovice.

“Soon it was clear that the Alpine Fortress was just one big myth and the US troops could quite easily advance to Czechoslovakia. Eisenhower, urged by Churchill, sent another dispatch to General Antonov.

“Unfortunately, he decided to ASK about the possibility of Americans pushing forward to the logical line given by the rivers the Vltava and the Elbe, instead of simply ANNOUNCING that that was going to happen.

“General Antonov replied the next day, May 5, by protesting that the Prague Operation of the Red Army has already started, the US and Soviet armies could accidentally clash with resulting friendly fire, etc.

“However, we now know that he was misleading Eisenhower. Soviet troops were at that time only beginning to take up positions on the move towards Prague around Dresden. In fact, the operation did not start until May 7.”

Meanwhile, the Czechoslovak resistance started a last-minute uprising in the still occupied Prague. They called for help via the airwaves of Czechoslovak Radio in Prague. And the Americans were hesitant, says Vít Smetana.

“Even as late as on May 7 there was a possibility that the Americans could send an armored task force to help the insurgents in Prague.

“But then it was decided that a mission would be sent under the command of Colonel Pratt to the German military headquarters of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia that was located in Eastern Bohemia.

“The main purpose of the mission was to inform the Germans that an armistice had been signed and that all military activity on the part of German troops should cease.

“Twelve vehicles went from Plzeň to Prague and then to Velichovka spa near Hradec Králové. On the night from May 7 to 8 they arrived in Prague and were welcomed as liberators.

“However, this was only a negotiating unit with a single purpose: to make sure that the Germans were aware of the unconditional surrender of the German high command and that there was no need to go on fighting.”

There was at least one other US military mission to Prague, says Igor Lukeš, a professor of history at Boston University:

“The commander of the Czech section of the American intelligence organization OSS ordered two of his men to take a Jeep and drive to Karlovy Vary.

“Lieutenant Eugene Fodor and his deputy, Sergeant Kurt Taub, had orders to go there, find out what was going on in the city and return to Pilsen.

“They accomplished this part of their mission easily, finding out that the city was full of German refugees and soldiers whose only wish was to become American POWs and get away from the Red Army.”

“So these three US soldiers decided that instead of going back to Plzeň they would try to get to Prague.

“The trip was a little rough: some of the Czech guerillas decided at the very end of the war to shoot at anything that moved on the roads. They had never seen an American Jeep. They took it to be a German vehicle and sniped at it.

“Nevertheless, the Americans did get to Prague. They drove to Bartolomějská St. in the center and the headquarters of the Prague Uprising.”

There they offered to drive someone from the Czech underground leadership to the American headquarters in Plzeň.

However, the Communists, who were already the dominant force in Prague, preferred to wait for the Red Army, knowing that liberation of the Czech capital city by the Soviets would help to solidify their power in post-war Czechoslovakia.

Even then it was possible that Americans might reach Prague. Historian Vít Smetana again:

“The American commanders were considering a plan to send an armored group to Prague till the very last moment.

“Obviously, the Germans were still shooting and thus did not respect the agreement about unconditional surrender.

“So it was seriously discussed during the night from May 8 to 9 that the Americans would send such a group to help the insurgents in Prague. “But then there were reports of Red Army movements in the Prague suburbs towards the center. And that was that.”

So, in the end, it was the Soviet Army that liberated Prague. There is little doubt that it helped the Communist Party to persuade many Czechs and Slovaks that it made sense to rely mainly on Moscow and not the Western powers.

That, in time, would destroy democracy in Czechoslovakia for more than four decades and become a major factor in establishing the totalitarian government in the country.

Of course, history knows no “ifs”. However, if the American generals had been just a little more resolute in May 1945 two generations of Czechs and Slovaks could have lived in a free world rather than a Soviet satellite.


2 April 1945 - History

By Michael E. Haskew

In October 1813, the combined allied armies of Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Saxony, and Württemberg met and defeated the French Grand Armee under Napoleon Bonaparte at the German city of Leipzig, forcing him to retreat and hastening his eventual abdication and exile to the island of Elba. Some 600,000 soldiers took part in the momentous battle. A century later, the German people commemorated the great victory in the Völkerschlacht, or Battle of the Nations, with the construction of a huge monument, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, that was completed in time for the centennial of the battle.

One of the tallest monuments in Europe, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal rises 299 feet and occupies a square base 417 feet by 417 feet. Nearly 27,000 granite blocks and tons of concrete and sandstone were used in the construction of the two-story edifice, which includes a crypt and 500 steps to a viewing platform at its top. Adorned with figures mourning the sacrifice of the dead in the Battle of the Nations and celebrating the triumphant will of the German people, the monument was constructed like a massive, thick-walled fortress. In April 1945, as World War II came to an end, the monument actually became one. How that happened is a story in itself.

A key part of the battle for Leipzig centered around the huge Völkerschlachtdenkmal monument, dedicated to the defeat of Napoleon in 1813, shown here in a recent photo.

Montgomery’s Intentions to Take Berlin

For months, the Allied rallying cry in the West had been “On to Berlin!”

From D-Day through the hedgerows of France, the breakout, and the pursuit across the German frontier, British and American commanders and their troops had looked forward to the day that the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes would be raised in triumph in the capital of a defeated Nazi Germany.

Now, in the final days of World War II with the Third Reich in its death throes, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, architect of

the broad-front strategy, skirted protocol a bit and cabled Soviet Premier Josef Stalin directly. On March 28, 1945, he forwarded a message to Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, the U.S. military liaison in Moscow, and three days later the communiqué was in the Soviet dictator’s hands.

It read in part, “My immediate operations are designed to encircle and destroy the enemy forces defending the Ruhr. My next task will be to divide the remaining enemy forces by joining with your forces…. Before deciding firmly on my plans, it is, I think, most important they should be coordinated as closely as possible with yours both as to direction and timing. Could you, therefore, tell me your intentions and let me know how far the proposals outlined in this message conform to your probable action. If we are to complete the destruction of German armies without delay, I regard it as essential that we coordinate our action and make every effort to perfect the liaison between our advancing forces. I am prepared to send officers to you for this purpose.”

A 3rd Armored Division crewman with a .30-caliber machine gun mounted on an M3 “Stuart” light tank fires on enemy troops in the woods flanking a highway near Leipzig, April 17, 1945. Although the war was nearly over, some Germans stubbornly resisted, preferring death to dishonor.

By the end of March, the Allied XXI Army Group under British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had completed Operation Plunder and was across the Rhine in strength. Monty’s next move, he believed, was to be a massive eastward offensive against the German capital 250 miles away. Meanwhile, the American XII Army Group, commanded by Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, had crossed the Rhine more than two weeks earlier, particularly leveraging a bridgehead across the great river at Remagen.

Montgomery’s setpiece victory in the north had been ponderously slow in developing. Despite his March 27 message to Eisenhower, “Today I issued orders to army commanders for operations eastward which are about to begin,” and expressing his intent to cross the Elbe River swiftly and drive “thence by autobahn to Berlin, I hope,” some high-ranking staff officers estimated that he would need several weeks of preparation for a renewal of offensive operations.

Berlin: “A Prestige Objective”

Early in March, Eisenhower received word that the Soviet Army was across the Oder River, in some places less than 30 miles from Berlin. On March 19, the supreme commander invited Bradley to accompany him to Cannes, on the French Riviera, for a few days of rest and relaxation. While there, Eisenhower sought the perspective of his old comrade and fellow member of the U.S. Military Academy graduating class of 1915.

Eisenhower asked Bradley what he thought about a final, all-out push for Berlin. Bradley responded that the effort would cost 100,000 casualties and added wryly that it was “a pretty stiff price to pay for a prestige objective, especially when we’ve got to fall back and let the other fellow take over.”

True enough, though symbolic of the Nazi evil, Berlin held little strategic military value. Further, the “Big Three”—U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Stalin—had sealed the deal that designated prescribed Allied occupation zones in Germany after the end of the war. Berlin was 100 miles deep in the Soviet zone. It stood to reason that American and British blood should not be shed for the German capital if it was to be subsequently relinquished to the Soviets. There was also talk of diehard Nazis, many of them battle-hardened men of the SS, moving into the Harz Mountains and establishing a national redoubt from which to carry on a guerrilla war that might last for years.

As the front lines moved closer to Berlin, the fighting became more intense. Here a soldier from the 104th Infantry Division looks for any signs of life in a disabled German tank in the middle of a ruined village.

Above all, Eisenhower strove to fulfill his mission to prosecute the war with military rather than political objectives in mind. His communication with Stalin was not altogether improper. He had been authorized to discuss purely military issues with the commanders of Allied troops, and Stalin was the commander in chief of all Red Army forces. Churchill and Montgomery howled disapproval, but Eisenhower prevailed with the solid backing of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall.

His mind made up, Eisenhower rankled the British once again by removing Maj. Gen. William Simpson’s Ninth Army from Montgomery’s command and returning it to Bradley and XII Army Group for upcoming operations. It was clear to Montgomery that the focus of Allied offensive efforts was shifting southward to the Americans. Eisenhower had long managed the difficult task of balancing the Anglo-American alliance, a tall order given the often-prickly relations between his lieutenants. This decision, however, was true to form—the right choice given the exigencies of the military situation.

The High Cost For Berlin

Berlin would be left for the Soviets to conquer—and shed blood for. British and American troops would halt at the Elbe River and link up with the Soviets there. Territory seized by Eisenhower’s command and slated for postwar occupation by the Soviets would be vacated at the appropriate time. Not surprisingly, some American field commanders, particularly Simpson, were dismayed that they were not to be allowed to advance on Berlin. Nevertheless, they followed orders.

In his response to Eisenhower, Stalin confirmed that American commander’s course of action “coincided entirely with the plan of the Soviet high command.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “In the Soviet high command plans, secondary forces will therefore be allotted to Berlin.”

In reality, Stalin mistrusted his Western allies. Red Army forces were already being marshaled for the conquest of the Nazi capital. By the time the fight for Berlin was over, the Soviets had suffered at least 80,000 dead and nearly 300,000 wounded. Some estimates are higher.

Striking Into the Heart of Germany

On March 25, just two days after the first of Montgomery’s troops set foot on the east bank of the Rhine, seven divisions of the U.S First Army under Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges struck eastward from Remagen, spearheaded by Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose’s 3rd Armored Division. Simpson’s Ninth Army jumped off from positions around the German city of Wesel with Maj. Gen. Isaac White’s 2nd Armored Division in the lead. The two pincers would converge some 70 miles eastward near Lippstadt and Paderborn, trapping German Army Group B in the Ruhr, the industrial heart of the Reich.

Completing their lightning run, elements of the two armored divisions met at Lippstadt about 1 pm on Easter Sunday, April 1. Surrounded in the Ruhr Pocket, some 30 miles by 75 miles, were more than 300,000 German soldiers, including the headquarters and support troops of Army Group B, most of the Fifteenth Army, two corps of the First Parachute Army, and all of the Fifth Panzer Army.

An M4 “Sherman” medium tank from the 3rd Armored Division rolls cautiously through a shattered German village.

Eisenhower weighed his options. Bradley allocated 18 divisions to the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket and readied his remaining 30 divisions for the next move. The bulk of the First and Ninth Armies were directed to continue their eastward advance across central Germany and to the Elbe. Montgomery was ordered to advance in the north, protecting the left flank of the XII Army Group. The U.S. Third Army, under General George S. Patton, Jr., continued driving southward toward the German city of Chemnitz and the Czech border, while the Sixth Army Group attacked farther south and the Seventh Army thrust toward the Austrian frontier, capturing the city of Nuremberg, site of Hitler’s massive Nazi Party rallies of the 1930s, on April 20.

“You Must Stop on the Elbe”

For reasons that were never made perfectly clear, perhaps to preserve their fighting spirit, Eisenhower chose to withhold his decision not to advance on Berlin from virtually all of his senior commanders except Bradley. On April 4, the day Ninth Army was officially returned to XII Army Group command, Bradley maintained that his subordinates were to endeavor to cross the Elbe and even ordered Simpson to “exploit any opportunity for seizing a bridgehead over the Elbe and be prepared to advance on Berlin or to the northeast.”

The veteran 2nd Armored Division again led Simpson’s thrust by April 12, Ninth Army had crossed the Elbe at Magdeburg, only 50 miles from Berlin. As Simpson sought permission to continue toward the German capital, he was taken aback by Bradley’s response.

“My people were keyed up,” Simpson remembered. “We’d been the first to the Rhine, and now we were going to be the first to Berlin. All along we thought of just one thing—capturing Berlin, going through and meeting the Russians on the other side.”

Bradley telephoned Simpson on April 15: “I’ve got something very important to tell you, and I don’t want to say it on the phone,” the XII Army Group commander said. When the two generals met at Wiesbaden, Simpson was carrying his detailed plan for the advance on Berlin.

Then, Bradley stopped him cold. “You must stop on the Elbe,” he said flatly. “You are not to advance any farther than Berlin. I’m sorry, Simp. But there it is.”

The First Army’s Advance

Hodges’s First Army was tasked with the main American thrust, directly east toward the cities of Dresden and Leipzig in Saxony. For the offensive, Hodges fielded two corps: to the left was the VII under Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins consisting of the 1st and 104th Infantry Divisions and the 3rd Armored Division, and on the right was V Corps under Maj. Gen. Clarence Huebner and including the 2nd and 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions. Eventually, Dresden was occupied by the Red Army following the German surrender. However, the American advance on Leipzig precipitated an unusual series of events.

An M7 105mm howitzer motor carriage (“Priest”) of the 9th Armored Division advances through the streets of a German town, April 1945.

On April 5, First Army resumed its eastward drive. Huebner’s V Corps was led by the 69th and 2nd Divisions, under Maj. Gens. Emil F. Reinhardt and Walter M. Robertson, respectively. After two days of fighting against the German LXVII Corps, the best of their patchwork Eleventh Army, the 69th Division had advanced from Kassel and crossed the Werra River. Against lighter opposition, the 2nd Division was across the Weser River in little more than 24 hours. On April 7, troops of the 2nd Division pressed six miles beyond the Weser. Concerns that the Germans were preparing a substantial defense in the vicinity of the Weser faded.

On April 8, both V Corps infantry divisions crossed the Leine River near Göttingen, and the following day they advanced another 10 miles against only token resistance. Troops of the 2nd Division discovered a prison camp at Duderstadt and freed 600 prisoners, including 100 Americans. Meanwhile, the 69th occupied Heiligenstadt.

The Flak Cannons of Leuna and Leipzig

To date, Bradley had been concerned that his combat units maintain a coordinated front as they advanced. However, on April 10, he lifted all restrictions on eastward movement. Huebner shifted the 9th Armored Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard, to spearhead the V Corps drive. In Collins’s VII Corps, the 3rd Armored Division, under the command of Brig. Gen. Doyle Hickey after the death of General Rose near Paderborn at the end of March, led the way.

Both divisions made significant progress as the 3rd Armored Division liberated the Nordhausen concentration camp on April 11, where a corpsman of the 329th Medical Battalion observed, “Rows upon rows of skin-covered skeletons met our eyes…. Their striped coats and prison numbers hung to their frames as a last token or symbol of those who enslaved and killed them.”

The bodies of hundreds of slave laborers are laid out at Nordhausen concentration camp in preparation for burial. GIs from the 3rd Armored Division liberated the camp on April 11, 1945.

The tankers waited for fuel, and in the meantime found a slave labor camp with a capacity for 30,000 workers, none of whom appeared to have been left alive, and a large underground manufacturing facility that produced engines for the dreaded V-2 rocket that terrorized London and other cities in the waning months of the war.

An American soldier inspects the engine of a V-2 pilotless rocket bomb on the assembly line at the underground factory near Nordhausen. The V-1 rockets were also assembled here by slave laborers from concentration camps.

As the V Corps vanguard approached the Saale River, its northern shoulder came under fire from German antiaircraft weapons, their crews directed to depress their firing angles to hit the American armored formations. The 9th Armored Division lost nine tanks to the accurate fire before the guns were silenced. Apparently, the Germans had concentrated several rings of antiaircraft weapons in the region—not to defend the cities, but to guard synthetic oil refineries and numerous industrial facilities in the vicinity. Reports indicate that 374 heavy flak weapons were in the area, 104 of them around the city of Leuna and 174 around Leipzig.

Since the spring of 1944, the 14th Flak Division had been headquartered in Leipzig. Grouped in batteries of 12 to 36 guns, they ranged from 75mm to heavy 128mm weapons. Early in the war, the German 88mm antiaircraft gun had proven deadly against ground targets, and the flat terrain surrounding Leipzig offered excellent fields of fire. The area had been known to Allied airmen as “Flak Alley” for some time however, no one had found it necessary to inform the advancing infantry and armor of the menace that awaited them.

General Huebner concluded that the flak guns were the outer band of the defenses of Leipzig. He ordered the 9th Armored Division to move 13 miles southeast, around the city and to the banks of the Mulde River. The 2nd Infantry Division was to continue directly eastward toward Leipzig, while the 69th was ordered to follow the 9th Armored and then enter the city from the south and southwest.

Cutting Off Leipzig

General Leonard’s tanks ran into stiff resistance at the Saale River near the town of Weissenfels and rerouted to cross the waterway on an intact bridge to the southwest. That same day, April 13, the tanks neared the town of Zeitz and rolled over the Weisse Elster River. Breaking through the deadly ring of flak guns, Combat Command Reserve (CCR) of the 9th Armored raced to the Mulde River, 20 miles southeast of Leipzig, on April 15.

On the 16th, CCR entered Colditz and liberated the 1,800 Allied prisoners of the infamous Oflag IV-C, better known as Colditz Castle, which held a number of famous and high-ranking officers, some of whom had been transferred there because of repeated attempts to escape. With the capture of Halle in the Harz Mountains two days later, Leipzig was effectively cut off.

Meanwhile, the 271st Infantry Regiment, 69th Division secured Weissenfels during some spirited fighting on April 13-14, killing or capturing many of the 1,500-man garrison and then crossing the Saale in small boats. On the 15th, elements of the 2nd Division captured Merseburg and occupied numerous small towns in the area. As one regiment crossed the Saale after dark on a railroad bridge that was damaged though still standing, other infantry units crept close enough to the German antiaircraft guns to radio coordinates to their own artillery and bring accurate fire on the positions, finally destroying many of the enemy weapons.

Their faces full of concern for the unknown future, Leipzig residents emerge from hiding as German resistance ends and American occupation begins.

The Allied noose around Leipzig, Germany’s fifth largest city with 750,000 inhabitants, was tightening. Leipzig had long been revered for its historical significance and as a center of German culture, higher education, trade, and industry. Martin Luther had led the congregation of the St. Thomas Church there composer Johann Sebastian Bach played the organ in the same church for more than 25 years and was buried on the grounds. Composer Richard Wagner was born in the city. And in Leipzig the Völkerschlachtdenkmal was built to commemorate a great victory. It was inevitable that the monument would become the scene of Germany’s last stand.

Poncet vs Grolmann: A Fanatic Against a Realist

Colonel Hans von Poncet commanded the relative handful of German defenders in Leipzig, which included troops of the 14th Flak Division, some of whom had lost their antiaircraft weapons and were now serving as infantry, 750 men of the 107th Motorized Infantry Regiment, a motorized battalion of about 250 soldiers, some Hitler Youth, and several battalions of the Volkssturm, mostly old men and boys who had been forced into the Army as a home guard when the fortunes of war turned decidedly against Germany.

One sizable unit that Poncet did not control was the 3,400-strong Leipzig police force. The policemen, paramilitary in their own right, were firmly under the command of Brig. Gen. of Police Wilhelm von Grolmann.

Grolmann decried Poncet’s willingness to employ the Volkssturm and considered it tantamount to murder. He saw nothing to be gained in a futile defense of the city. Hoping to spare Leipzig from destruction, Grolmann was particularly concerned about damage to the city’s electrical and water supplies if the bridges over the Weisse Elster River were destroyed to slow the Americans. Poncet couldn’t have cared less he was determined to fight and fortified numerous buildings around the city hall and later withdrew into the Battle of the Nations Monument with about 150 men, some of whom were later described by the Americans as SS troops.

While Poncet plotted his own Götterdämmerung, Grolmann was trying his best to surrender the city. Late on the afternoon of April 18, Grolmann miraculously made telephone contact with General Robertson of the 2nd Division and offered to capitulate. As the news was passed up the American chain of command from Huebner to Hodges, Grolmann got Poncet on the telephone and was told curtly, just prior to the click of a hangup, that Poncet had no intention of surrendering.

Charles MacDonald Attempts to Negotiate the Surrender of Leipzig

By this time, Hodges had responded that only the complete, unconditional surrender of Leipzig was acceptable. Then, an already strange series of events became even more bizarre. Despite Poncet’s intransigence, Grolmann sent a junior officer to the closest Americans he could find. In the gathering darkness, the emissary was shuffled into the command post of Company G, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Division and the presence of its commander, Captain Charles B. MacDonald.

At the tender age of 22, MacDonald was a combat veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, the Hürtgen Forest, and the campaign into the Third Reich. In later years, he became an acclaimed author and deputy chief historian for the U.S. Army, writing and supervising the preparation of several volumes in the official series United States Army in World War II, popularly known as the Green Book Series. Among his other works are the quintessential reminiscences of a young officer in combat, Company Commander, and A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge. MacDonald authored The Last Offensive, the volume of the official history containing the story of the fall of Leipzig and downplayed his role in it. In Company Commander, however, he remembered a wild night of cat and mouse, cloak and dagger, and outright comedy.

“Now wait a minute,” MacDonald remembered asking the excited soldiers who had brought in the German officer. “Does he know I’m just a captain? Will he surrender to a captain?”

“A captain’s good enough,” another soldier said. “The Oberleutnant [first lieutenant] here came along so you’d believe us. He’ll tell you.”

“He [the other American soldier] spoke to the German officer in German mixed with gestures, mostly gestures, and the Oberleutnant looked at me and smiled widely, shaking his head up and down,” MacDonald recalled, “and saying, ‘Jawohl! Jawohl! Ist gut! Ist gut!’”

An American MP escorts three German prisoners of war, who had changed into civilian clothing in hopes of evading capture, to a temporary stockade near the main Leipzig railroad station. Note the other prisoners lying on the ground.

Only the regimental executive officer was available for any higher direction, and he told MacDonald to give it a try. The young captain went first to see a German major and several other officers, dressed in clean, neatly pressed uniforms, inside the city. When MacDonald was not convinced, the major offered a bottle of cognac. After a drink, MacDonald, another American officer, the German major, and their chauffeur embarked on a wild nocturnal ride in a sleek Mercedes Benz—to see Grolmann.

MacDonald was fearful of being shot by German sentries and by his own men. Finally, he arrived at Grolmann’s headquarters. In contrast to MacDonald, dressed in a filthy uniform and with a scruffy beard, Grolmann was “even more immaculately dressed than the others, a long row of military decorations across his chest. His face was round and red and cleanly shaven. A monocle in his right eye gave him an appearance that made me want to congratulate Hollywood on its movie interpretations of high-ranking Nazis.”

Grolmann offered to surrender but acknowledged that he had no control over Poncet. Still, he pressed MacDonald for a guarantee that the Americans would not attack. Finally, MacDonald, Grolmann, a staff officer, and the general’s civilian interpreter were on their way in Grolmann’s open-top car to the confused American captain’s battalion headquarters. Once they arrived, the situation was out of MacDonald’s hands. As it turned out, the surrender effort was noble but fruitless. There was already some fighting in Leipzig.

The Battle of Leipzig

Forward elements of the 2nd and 69th Divisions entered Leipzig on April 18. The 2nd encountered some resistance along the Weisse Elster River, but the bridges remained intact. A few Volkssturm and Wehrmacht soldiers made a stand behind a roadblock of overturned trolley cars filled with large rocks but were rapidly subdued. Spearheaded by an armored task force of the 777th Tank Battalion under the command of Lieutenant David Zweibel, troops of the 69th advanced into Leipzig from the south at 5:30 pm and ran into determined resistance at Napoleon Platz, where the monument was located.

GIs from a machine-gun squad move through the rubble of a destroyed German town in early April 1945.

As Zweibel’s armor neared Napoleon Platz, the tankers were greeted with a hail of small-arms fire and rounds from panzerfaust antitank weapons. One Sherman tank was disabled, and the supporting infantry took a number of casualties. Eager to get out of the line of fire, the tanks picked up speed and rolled at nearly 30 miles per hour down the streets toward the city hall some infantrymen riding atop the armored vehicles were actually thrown off. Faulty maps caused the attackers to overshoot city hall and placed them in a precarious position, unable to advance or fire on nearby German positions. After dark, the tanks were withdrawn.

The following morning, Zweibel again assaulted the center of Leipzig, firing at city hall and the surrounding buildings from a range of only 150 yards. Just after 9 am, following several frustrating attempts to secure the area, Zweibel sent Leipzig’s fire chief into city hall with a surrender demand. The note read that the Germans must surrender if they wanted to avoid a heavy artillery bombardment followed by an all-out assault with tanks, flamethrowers, and a division of infantry the attack would begin in 20 minutes. Nearly 200 Germans walked out of city hall with their hands up. Inside, the bodies of Mayor Alfred Frieberg and his wife, City Treasurer Kurt Lisso and his wife and daughter, and several others who had committed suicide were found.

Not wishing to live in a defeated Germany, Leipzig municipal treasurer Kurt Lisson, his wife, and daughter committed suicide in the Rathaus (city hall).

Standoff at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal for the Battle of the Nations

However, Leipzig was not completely subdued. The drama at the Völkerschlachtdenkmal remained to be played out. On the morning of April 19, Poncet was still defiant. His small force occupied a nearly impregnable position. Heavy artillery shells did little damage to the sturdy walls of the monument, and the Germans inside were holding 17 American prisoners. Because there were Americans inside, General Reinhardt decided against using flamethrowers to burn the Germans out.

As the standoff wore on, Captain Hans Trefousse, an interrogator of German prisoners with the 273rd Infantry Regiment, persuaded his commanding officer, Colonel C.M. Adams, to allow Trefousse to attempt to persuade Poncet to surrender. Trefousse had been born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1921 and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 13. He graduated from City College of New York with a Phi Beta Kappa key and joined the U.S. Army when war broke out.

Volkssturm battalion commander Major Walter Dönicke also took his own life on April 19 in Leipzig city hall rather than surrender. Someone has propped a torn portrait of Hitler next to his body.

At 3 pm on the 19th, Trefousse, a German prisoner, and the executive officer of the 273rd Regiment, Lt. Col. George Knight, approached the monument under a flag of truce. When Poncet and two other German officers met them, Trefousse pointed out the hopelessness of the situation but Poncet responded that he was under a direct order from Hitler not to surrender. He did, however, agree to a two-hour ceasefire to allow at least a dozen American casualties to be removed.

Throughout the ceasefire, the two argued in front of the entrance to the monument’s gift shop. At 5 pm, the heated discussion moved inside. While celebrations among the American troops were in full swing elsewhere in Leipzig, the grim exchange at the monument continued past midnight.

“If you were a Bolshevik,” Poncet sneered, “I wouldn’t talk to you at all. In four years, you and I will meet in Siberia.”

Trefousse retorted, “If that is true, wouldn’t it be a pity to sacrifice all these German soldiers who could help us against the Russians?”

Terms of Surrender

As it seemed the impasse would never be resolved, Trefousse extended one last option. If Poncet surrendered and walked out of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal alone, his men could follow one at a time. At 2 am on April 20, the diehard Nazi commander strode out of the main entrance. The pockmarked, damaged monument was secured, but not before some confusion ensued as to the disposition of the newly acquired prisoners.

Word reached Trefousse that only Poncet would be allowed out of the monument and that the rest of the Germans would temporarily remain inside under guard. When Trefousse tried to persuade the captives to accept the change in terms, he offered to try to get them 48 hours’ leave in the city in exchange for a pledge not to escape. One German insisted on the original bargain and was allowed to leave the monument.

Seemingly being watched by displeased Germanic statues, a 69th Infantry Division soldier stands amid the rubble inside the Völkerschlachtdenkmal shortly after Leipzig was taken.

Trefousse went to Lt. Col. Knight for permission to grant the 48-hour leave. Knight agreed but insisted that the Germans had to be moved without General Reinhardt getting wind of the compromise. As Knight supervised the disarming of the enlisted prisoners, Trefousse guided more than a dozen German officers through the lines to their homes in Leipzig. When it was time for them to return to captivity, only one failed to appear, although he did leave behind a note of apology.

Leipzig Handed to the Soviets

Leipzig was, at long last, completely in American hands. The infantry of the 2nd and 69th Divisions hurried to catch up with the V Corps armor that was already near the banks of the Mulde River. Garrison troops began to file into the city to initiate its military administration.

For most American soldiers, the fighting was over. They were not going to Berlin. They were simply to wait for the Red Army and extend a tenuous hand to their allies. On April 25, 1945, 1st Lt. Albert Kotzebue of the 69th’s 273rd Infantry Regiment and three soldiers of an intelligence and reconnaissance unit crossed the Elbe in a small boat and met soldiers of a Red Army Guards rifle regiment belonging to the 1st Ukrainian Front. East and West had met amid the ruins of the Third Reich.

In July, the Americans withdrew from Leipzig, retiring westward to the line that marked the designated postwar zones of occupation and the Red Army moved in. For the next half century, Leipzig was one of the principal cities of the communist German Democratic Republic.

Today, after years of neglect and disrepair and the reunification of the German nation, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal has undergone extensive renovation in observance of the 200th anniversary of the first great Battle of Leipzig. It remains an imposing monument, not only to the victory over Napoleon, but also to one of the last battles of World War II.

Comments

My father was in the 777th Tank Battalion in the 69th Infantry Division in Leipzig. He was involved in the tank assault on city hall and entered the hall to find the suicides – as well as a ton of money. Told by their Battalion Commander Lieutenant COLONEL David Zweibel that the money was worthless, they used it for toilet paper and to light cigarettes and cigars. Note thtat Zweibel was Lieutenant Colonel, NOT simply a lieutenant.

Hello. Great article. I was reading this because I have a Nazi flag captured by the 302d FA Btln. of the 76th ID. They were in or near this battle. The flag is signed and in very good condition. Was signed in Arnstadt. Call me if you you are interested (I am not selling it or anything, just researching ).

Best regards,
Hans Reigle
(302)331-1122 cell

My father also was in the 777th and participated in this battle. He was in the Reconnaissance Platoon.

My late father was a prisoner of war at espenhain , south of Leipzig
He escaped & found his way to the American forces
On his way he ran into a flak battery , where he talked & smoked with a German artillery sergeant , he pointed out where the American army was , & allowed my father to leave

On getting to the us forces , they nearly shot him, thinking he may be a German ( having a heavy south African accent didn’t help )

He found out that they were having problems with a flak battery ( the one he had been at ) & led the Americans to it


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2 April 1945 - History

Karte mit allen verlinkten Seiten: OSM | WikiMap

Das Jahr 1945 markiert das Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges und damit den Beginn der Nachkriegszeit.

In Europa wird die Wehrmacht an der Ostfront von der Roten Armee in ihrer Winteroffensive an die Oder zurückgedrängt, während mit der Ardennenoffensive ein letzter Vorstoß gegen die Alliierten an der Westfront scheitert und die deutschen Städte im Bombenkrieg zerstört werden.

Im Februar diskutieren Roosevelt, Churchill und Stalin auf der Konferenz von Jalta die Nachkriegsordnung. An der Westfront gelingt den Alliierten Ende März die Überschreitung des Rheins als letzte Barriere vor der Besetzung Deutschlands. Ende April marschiert die Rote Armee in Berlin ein. Adolf Hitler begeht am 30. April im Führerbunker Suizid, die bedingungslose Kapitulation der Wehrmacht tritt am 8. Mai um 23:01 Uhr MEZ in Kraft.

Deutschland und Österreich werden in Besatzungszonen eingeteilt, am 5. Juni übernehmen die Alliierten in der Berliner Erklärung formal die Regierungsgewalt in Deutschland. Am 20. November beginnt der Nürnberger Prozess gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher.

In Asien werden die Japaner im Pazifikkrieg von den US-Streitkräften Insel für Insel an die japanischen Hauptinseln zurückgedrängt, halten jedoch unter anderem in China (siehe Zweiter Japanisch-Chinesischer Krieg) noch weite Gebiete. Nach den Atombombenabwürfen auf Hiroshima und Nagasaki am 6. und 9. August und dem Eintritt der Sowjetunion in den Krieg gegen Japan (8. August), leitet die erste öffentliche Ansprache des Kaisers an die Bevölkerung die Kapitulation ein (15. August). Die Kapitulationszeremonie am 2. September an Deck des amerikanischen Schlachtschiffes USS Missouri beendet den Zweiten Weltkrieg.

Die Unterzeichnung der Charta der Vereinten Nationen am 26. Juni und das Potsdamer Abkommen vom 2. August bildeten den Rahmen der politischen Weltordnung der kommenden Jahrzehnte, geprägt vom Kalten Krieg.


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