Sweep to the Elbe
As the First Army had swung northward to close the pincers around the Ruhr, General Hodges was secure in the knowledge that his right flank and rear would be adequately screened by Patton's Third Army. Having sent the XX Corps across the Rhine at Mainz on 28 March in the last of three major Rhine crossings, Patton by nightfall of the same day had already gained a leg on the assignment of protecting the First Army by driving on Kassel.
Through 28 March, the Third Army's success story could be told pretty much in terms of General Eddy's outsized XII Corps. At the same time, the sudden swing of that corps from the Oppenheim bridgehead almost due north across the Main River had created one of those situations seemingly peculiar to the Third Army that would require some legerdemain to straighten out.
Even as Task Force Baum was fighting for its life at Hammelburg, the rest of the 4th Armored Division on 26 March had begun to exploit the little bridgehead over the Main near Hanau and by nightfall of the 28th had plunged more than thirty miles northward to a point near Giessen. Also under the XII Corps, the 6th Armored Division on the 28th had crossed the Main into a bridgehead won by the 90th Division west of Hanau and by nightfall was fifteen miles north of the river. Continued advances along these lines by the two armored divisions soon would pinch out both Walker's XX Corps and Middleton's VIII Corps.
As General Bradley adjusted army boundaries on the 28th to turn the First Army north on Paderborn, General Patton solved his problem by juggling units. The 6th Armored Division and the 5th Division, the latter having finished the job of clearing Frankfurt, went to the XX Corps. That move had the effect of splitting the zone that the XII Corps had taken over, giving the left half and the divisions there to the XX Corps. The two corps now could drive side by side on Kassel. Although Middleton's VIII Corps still would be pinched out, Patton could deal with that situation later.
The swift advance by the two U.S. armored divisions reflected the general disruption of the north wing of the enemy's Seventh Army that the Third Army's multiple Rhine crossings had produced. By driving north, the armor had cut in behind the LXXXV Corps (Kniess), only recently committed to hold the Rhine-Main arc, and the LXXXIX Corps (Hoehne), which had turned too late to flee before the Rhine crossings of the VIII Corps and the drive down the autobahn from Limburg by a combat command of the First
Army. The LXXXIX Corps, headquarters included, simply disintegrated. Although the staff of the LXXXV Corps eventually would make its way to safety, neither the headquarters nor any of its subordinate units would be able to do anything to stop the American armor's headlong dash toward Kassel. As did Hodges' First Army, Patton's Third Army would profit from the great gap created between Army Groups B and G.1
Under terms of the shift to the northeast, the 6th Armored Division of the XX Corps was to head for Kassel while the 4th Armored Division of the XII Corps passed through the northern reaches of the Fulda Gap, a narrow divide between two clusters of wooded hills known as the Vogels Berg and the Hohe Rhoen, and then turned eastward. The 11th Armored Division, committed 29 March on the right wing of the XII Corps, headed directly for the Fulda Gap. In all three cases infantry divisions were to follow closely for the usual mop-up.
For both the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, the attacks on the next two days, 29 and 30 March, were little more than road marches. For the 11th Armored Division, committed through the Main bridgehead at Hanau, it was much the same, but not until the armor, with the help of infantrymen of the 26th Division, had expanded the bridgehead through great stretches of woods to the east and northeast. This newly created wing of the XII Corps was brushing against the northern flank of the one fairly cohesive defensive force left to the new commander of the Seventh Army, General von Obstfelder. There stood the LXXXII Corps (Hahm) with remnants of three divisional formations, charged with holding the line of the Main and containing the bridgeheads at Hanau and Aschaffenburg.2
During those two days, General von Obstfelder was trying to piece together an armored force to counterattack into the 4th Armored Division flank. As a nucleus he had a new unit, Panzer Brigade Thueringen, a training group with a tank battalion, an assault gun battalion, and a panzer grenadier regiment. He hoped to join that force with the reconnaissance battalion of the 11th Panzer Division, the only part of the division to reach the Seventh Army after leaving Army Group B. He counted too on some forty new tanks scheduled to arrive momentarily by rail.
He would never see the tanks. On the 29th they reached an unloading point near Bad Hersfeld, some thirty miles south of Kassel, at about the same time as a column of the 4th Armored Division. The American tanks opened fire. Less than a dozen of the German tanks got away.3
When news of this debacle reached Obstfelder, he used it as an excuse to call off his embryonic plan for counterattack. It would be futile in any case, he reasoned, now that the 4th Armored Division flank was protected by an infantry and another armored division. Besides, Obstfelder was sharply conscious of the necessity for sending some force northward to build a line behind
the Werra River, a tributary of the Weser, and making some effort, as the high command in Berlin insisted, to establish contact with the Eleventh Army, thereby sealing the great gap that had opened between Army Groups B and G.
Relieving General Kniess from command of the LXXXV Corps for his failure to hold the Rhine-Main arc, Obstfelder gave the command--for what it was worth--to General de Panzertruppen Smilo Freiherr von Luettwitz and sent the corps to positions behind the Werra in front of the city of Eisenach.4 The only appreciable strength available to the new commander was the reconnaissance battalion of the 11th Panzer Division, beefed up with odd collections of artillery, troops with five tanks from an armored training center, and stragglers. General von Luettwitz did succeed in establishing tenuous contact with contingents of the Eleventh Army at Kassel, but it lasted only briefly.
In the center of the Seventh Army's zone, Obstfelder had to use the XII Corps, the upgraded Wehrkreis headquarters that had been called to oppose the Oppenheim crossing. Led by Generaloberst Herbert Osterkamp, the corps had little other than Panzer Brigade Thueringen, which was to absorb stragglers from the 2d Panzer Division and assume that once-proud division's name. Recognizing that Osterkamp had insufficient strength to do more along his 35-mile front than delay the Americans temporarily, Obstfelder designated a "combat commander" (Kampfkommandant) for the city of Fulda, a growing practice when a city was about to be bypassed or surrounded. All these combat commanders usually had for a city's defense were stragglers, Volkssturm, and any fixed antiaircraft installations that might exist.
To the south of the zone was General Hahm's LXXXII Corps with its three makeshift divisions. General Hahm would face not only the right wing of the Third Army but also the left wing of General Patch's U.S. Seventh Army.
Throughout the Seventh Army zone, signal and supply services had broken down. For communications, commanders frequently used the civilian telephone network; for supplies, they scrounged from army, Luftwaffe, or SS installations. The troops were sometimes shocked at what they found in those depots--in one, 95,000 pairs of fur-lined boots, something the men had been begging for the preceding winter in the mud and snow of the West Wall. To meet gasoline needs, the units appropriated the hoarded stocks of Nazi party officials. "Flight fuel," the troops bitterly called it.
As German commanders made their arrangements, dutifully drawing tidy boundary lines and spotting units on operations maps as if it all had some meaning, the armor of the XX Corps and the XII Corps drove relentlessly toward the northeast. So heavy was the collection of American armor that General von Obstfelder reckoned the drive to be either a race to beat the Russians to Berlin or an Allied main effort to link with the Russians and split Germany in two.5
During midafternoon of 30 March, in a roadside meeting, the XX Corps commander, General Walker, told the 6th Armored Division's General Grow to make a dash for Kassel. If resistance proved firm, Walker said, Grow was to leave the city to the infantry, jump the Fulda River, and continue to the east.
By nightfall of that day Grow's division was only six miles short of Kassel, holding a bridge captured intact across the Eder River. The next day, the 31st, the leading combat command began to meet organized resistance. It came from part of the 166th Infantry Division, the unit Hitler had sent from Denmark, and various makeshift units available to the combat commander of Kassel. While continuing the attack through the day and into the night, General Grow prepared for a shift to the east by sending another combat command toward the Fulda River. Armored infantrymen after nightfall forced a crossing of the river under machine gun fire.
The 4th Armored Division of the XII Corps by nightfall of the 31st was only a few miles from the Werra River southwest of Eisenach. The 11th Armored Division meanwhile gained high ground overlooking the city of Fulda.
Leading units having reached those positions, the Third Army had come abreast of the easternmost positions held by the First Army. If Patton's columns continued eastward with the same momentum, they soon would outdistance a First Army that would have to regroup after encircling the Ruhr before turning part of its strength to the east.
Although General Bradley saw a need to halt the Third Army until the First was ready to drive alongside, he had received vague but enticing information from a German officer deserter, apprehended west of the Rhine by the 4th Armored Division, that a high-level German headquarters or communications center was to be found some thirty miles beyond the Werra River in the town of Ohrdruf, a few miles south of Gotha. Told by planners of the First Allied Airborne Army that they would be unable to mount an airborne assault on the town on short notice, both Bradley and General Eisenhower agreed to give Patton free rein for another twenty-four hours in hope of seizing Ohrdruf.6
The next day, Easter Sunday, the urge for Ohrdruf and whatever mystery its capture might reveal proved stronger than the urge to hold back the Third Army to await a new drive by the First. Although the 4th Armored Division seized a bridgehead across the Werra River and the 11th Armored Division came almost abreast farther south, both divisions still were about twenty miles from Ohrdruf when in late afternoon General Bradley telephoned the news that the armor could keep going until Ohrdruf was in hand.
Against resistance that now could be considered normal--roadblocks manned by motley contingents of infantrymen, antiaircraft artillerymen, Volkssturm, whatever; an occasional tank or self-propelled gun; sometimes a quick strafing run by one or two Me 109's; blown bridges--one combat command of the 4th Armored Division headed for Gotha, the other for Ohrdruf. The head of CAA's column at one point ran into an ambush; in rapid succession two batteries
WHITE FLAGS HANG ABOVE A DESERTED STREET
Drive to the Elbe
4-24 April 1945
of 88's knocked out seven tanks and four half-tracks. Yet civilian authorities surrendered Gotha without a fight on the morning of 4 April (men of a small military garrison were discovered later masquerading as patients in the city hospitals), and CCA moved on in the afternoon to take Ohrdruf. (Map XIV)
They found at least part of what they had been expecting in Ohrdruf--an immense underground communications center set in deep concrete tunnels, with radio facilities, cables, and telephone switchboards large enough to serve a small city.7 It had been constructed as a headquarters for the Armed Forces High Command (OKW) during tense days preceding the Czechoslovakian crisis in 1938, but never used. In recent weeks the Reichsfuehrer SS, Heinrich Himmler, had ordered the facilities expanded as a possible retreat for Hitler and his entire entourage, to be presented to the Fuehrer for his birthday on 20
April; but work had hardly begun before the Americans arrived.8
The men of the 4th Armored Division unknowingly had missed by hours a chance to capture important live prey at Ohrdruf. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, Field Marshal Kesselring and headquarters of OB WEST had fled the town.9
The 4th Armored found something else at Ohrdruf. On the fringe of the town, the soldiers came upon the first of the notorious concentration camps to be uncovered by the advancing Allied armies. Small by the standards of others to be discovered later, the camp nevertheless contained enough horror to make the American soldier and even his Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, pale. Patton, when he saw it, vomited. Forced by the XX Corps commander, General Walker, to tour the camp, the burgomaster of Ohrdruf and his wife went home and hanged themselves.10
Elsewhere in the Third Army during those first days of April there were sometimes fierce engagements with die-hard defenders, other times unopposed advances sweeping up docile Germans left behind in the rapid thrusts of the armor. In most cases the nature of the defense depended not so much on the number of troops available as on the character of the local commander. If a true Nazi, thoroughly indoctrinated, he saw to it that the men under him fought back; otherwise there might be only token opposition or none at all, a weary acceptance of the inevitable.
During the last day of March and the first two of April, General Brenner and the survivors of his 6th SS Mountain Division, bypassed in the swift American drive, tried to fight their way out to the east, in the process capturing an American field hospital.11 On 2 April one battalion of the 26th Division was sufficient to clear Fulda; at Kassel, the entire 80th Division had to fight fiercely for the better part of four days before a defiant German garrison surrendered on 4 April. On several occasions at Kassel the Germans counterattacked sharply with infantry supported by as many as ten tanks, apparently drawn from the big Henschel tank works in the city. As at other industrial cities, fixed antiaircraft batteries firing deadly flak bolstered the defense.
On the south flank of the XII Corps, the 2d Cavalry Group on 2 April entered Bad Orb, liberating 6,500 Allied prisoners of war, half of them Americans. Farther east, a battalion of the 11th Armored Division overran a Walther small arms factory, finding enough pistols--including many of one of the war's most prized souvenirs, the P38--to equip almost every man in the division.
As the Third Army paused, General Patton inserted Middleton's VIII Corps back into the lineup between the XX Corps on the left and the XII Corps on the right, again juggling divisions in the process. While some units completed mop-up of rear areas, others made local
advances to secure better positions for the new jump-off once the order came.
In one of these local operations, a battalion of the 90th Division's 358th Infantry occupied the village of Merkers, west of the Werra River, southwest of Eisenach, and made one of the war's more sensational finds. By chance the men discovered that in a nearby salt mine the Germans had hidden almost all the nation's gold reserve, great stores of German and foreign currency, and hundreds of priceless works of art. At Meiningen on the Werra, other troops of the XII Corps captured the central records depository for all prisoners of war in Germany. Far to the rear, a Quartermaster detachment accepted the surrender of the commander of the LXXXIX Corps, General Hoehne, whose command had disintegrated before the Rhine crossing of the VIII Corps.12
A New Allied Main Effort
The pause in the Third Army's operations coincided with the Supreme Commander's return of General Simpson's Ninth Army to the 12th Army Group. With this transfer on 4 April, General Bradley had under his command 4 field armies, 12 corps, and 48 divisions--more than 1,300,000 troops, the largest exclusively American field command in U.S. history.13 Using this powerful force, Bradley was, while reducing the Ruhr, to cut a wide swath across the center of Germany in the general direction of Leipzig and Dresden in a new Allied main effort aimed at splitting Germany in two by linking with the Russians.
The main role in the new drive fell to Hodges' First Army in the center, a thrust directly east on Leipzig, to be followed by a crossing of the Elbe east of Leipzig. The Third Army also was to drive eastward, aiming for Chemnitz, but was to be prepared to turn later to the southeast. Unaware of General Eisenhower's decision to forgo a drive on Berlin, the Ninth Army commander, Simpson, and many of his subordinates deduced that the Ninth Army had drawn the choice objective, the grand prize, Berlin. General Bradley's formal order, issued on 4 April, inferred as much. Once the Ninth Army had seized a bridgehead over the Elbe, Simpson was to "be prepared to continue the advance on Berlin or to the northeast."14
In conjunction with the new main effort, the Second British Army on the Ninth Army's left was to strike for that part of the Elbe extending from the coast to Wittenberge, eighty miles upstream from the great port of Hamburg. The First Canadian Army meanwhile was to aim for the coast from the mouth of the Weser westward. With its left wing, the Canadian army was to drive north from the vicinity of Arnhem some thirty miles to the IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee), thereby cutting off any Germans left in the western part of the Netherlands.15
As the Ninth Army passed to the 12th Army Group's control before daylight on 4 April, both the 5th Armored and
84th Divisions of General Gillem's XIII Corps, forming the army's left wing, reached a great westward loop of the Weser River near Minden, almost due west of the metropolis of Hannover. The 2d Armored Division of General McLain's XIX Corps, having run into delaying action by remnants of the First Parachute Army in the Teutoburger Wald, would arrive at the Weser later in the day near Hameln (Hamelin), the town which the Pied Piper reputedly rid of rats and children. Mopping up resistance in the Teutoburger Wald, the 30th Division was soon to press forward behind the armor. Even though part of the Ninth Army was helping to reduce the Ruhr Pocket, General Simpson still could provide for the eastward drive these four divisions plus the 102d, which had begun to cross the Rhine, and the 83d, recently relieved from the fight for the Ruhr.
The forces of General Hodges' First Army that would be available for the eastward thrust once regrouping had been completed consisted of the 3d Armored, 1st, and 104th Divisions in Collins's VII Corps on the left and the 9th Armored, 2d, and 69th Divisions in Huebner's V Corps on the right. The First Army was to take over Kassel from the Third Army once the city was clear, broadening the frontage for the First Army's main effort to approximately thirty miles.
As the Third Army paused, its forward line formed an east-facing arc from Muehlhausen in the north, through Gotha and Ohrdruf, back to Meiningen in the south. Following the shuffle of divisions to bring headquarters of the VIII Corps back into action, Walker's XX Corps on the left had both the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions, plus the 76th and 80th Infantry Divisions; Middleton's VIII Corps in the center, the 65th, 87th, and 89th Divisions; and Eddy's XII Corps, the 11th Armored, 26th, and 90th Divisions, plus a newcomer to the front, the 71st (Maj. Gen. Willard G. Wyman). Another new division, the 70th (Maj. Gen. Allison J. Barnett), was mopping up rear areas and providing security for bridges over the Rhine.
That portion of central Germany facing the 12th Army Group provided two ready avenues leading eastward, one on either side of the storied Harz Mountains. Once a stronghold of paganism, in more modern times a tourist retreat, the Harz, rising higher than 3,000 feet, served as anchor for the boundary between the First and Ninth Armies. The Ninth Army on the north could advance across low, rolling country providing ready access to Magdeburg on the Elbe, while south of the Harz the First Army and the north wing of the Third could utilize the wide Thueringen Plain for their drives on Leipzig and Chemnitz. The Third Army's right wing would find the terrain less hospitable; here, extending southeastward from the vicinity of Eisenach, stands the Thueringer Wald, a spinelike range of forested mountains with many heights above 3,000 feet.
Having already jumped the Fulda and Werra Rivers, the Third Army faced no more formidable water obstacles. Both the First and Ninth Armies still had to get across the Weser, which, like the Rhine and Elbe, is a sprawling waterway, and the First Army's right wing would have to cross lower reaches of the Werra River as well.
Except for Leipzig--then Germany's fifth city--and an intermediate objective, Halle, the bigger cities lay in the zone of the Ninth Army--Hannover, ancient seat of the Hannoverian kings, Braunschweig (Brunswick), and Magdeburg. The Third Army faced smaller cities--Erfurt, Weimar, Jena.
From the standpoint of German units available for the defense, the shift of Allied main effort from the north wing to the center was unquestionably well advised. Almost all of Army Group B, plus the south wing of the First Parachute Army, having been encircled in the Ruhr, and the north wing of Army Group G having been pushed back rudely by the Third Army's swift crossings of the Rhine, the armies of the 12th Army Group faced a vast gap with nothing but the hastily constituted Eleventh Army (Hitzfield) to plug it. Although Hitler had issued his fanciful order to form a new army, the Twelfth, to assemble in the Harz Mountains and drive to the relief of Army Group B, most of the troops designated to fill the new divisions were in officer training schools and replacement training centers east of the Elbe and had yet to head for the Harz. Not until 6 April would Hitler even settle on a commander for the new army, General der Panzertruppen Walter Wenck, who was recuperating in a Bavarian resort from injuries incurred in an automobile accident.16
The Role of the Third Army
As the Third Army paused, General Patton shifted his infantry divisions to the fore to be prepared if a new crust of resistance should form. He also sent the 11th Armored Division of the XII Corps in a one-day advance to the southeast to get out of the worst of the mountainous terrain of the Thueringer Wald into the southwestern foothills whence the division would later continue the drive to the southeast. This shift was in keeping with the plan to turn the entire Third Army eventually to the southeast.
On the Third Army's north wing, the 76th and 80th Divisions, as well as the 6th Armored, which had paused at Muehlhausen, absorbed a series of small counterattacks, in one case involving close to a thousand infantry supported by more than a dozen tanks. The stabs represented a feeble attempt by General Hitzfeld's Eleventh Army to carry out Field Marshal Kesselring's dictum to counterattack into the north flank of the Third Army in exchange for permission to abandon the drive from Kassel to reach Army Group B in the Ruhr.17 Although the Americans had to relinquish one village temporarily, the darting thrusts required no realignment of forces.
At last free on 10 April to get on with the offensive, Patton turned the 11th Armored Division loose for its drive along the southwestern slopes of the Thueringer Wald and gave the infantry divisions a day to break a band of resistance protecting the city of Erfurt. On the 11th as the 80th Division drove into Erfurt, the 4th Armored Division pushed eight miles beyond the infantry's lines along the autobahn south of Erfurt, while the 6th Armored Division exploited the gap between the enemy's
GERMAN PRISONERS HEAD FOR THE REAR as American armor advances.
Eleventh Army and Army Group G's Seventh Army for the day's most noteworthy advance. In rapid strides, General Grow's armor drove fifty miles, halting for the night only after seizing bridges intact across the Saale River north of Jena.
The next day the 6th Armored Division advanced another fifteen miles and crossed the Weisse Elster River near the city of Zeitz. This time the advance was markedly difficult; the armor was brushing against the southern end of a broad belt of fixed antiaircraft defenses forming a semicircle before Leipzig.
At the same time the 4th Armored Division, bypassing Jena and the battlefield where Napoleon had defeated the Prussians in 1806, picked up momentum to reach points flanking the autobahn more than five miles beyond Jena. While the 80th Division's 318th Infantry cleared stubborn defenders from Erfurt, the city of Weimar capitulated as a flight of fighter-bombers hovered overhead to give weight to a surrender ultimatum. The defenders of Jena, other men of the 80th Division discovered as night fell, would elect to fight. The city would be in hand nevertheless before another day had passed.
GERMAN CIVILIANS, forced to disinter victims of a concentration camp from a mass grave, carry them through the streets for reburial.
In the course of the day's advance, the 4th Armored Division's CCB uncovered one of Nazi Germany's largest concentration camps northwest of Weimar at Buchenwald. Aside from the horror that was common to all the camps, this one merited special notoriety because the commandant's wife, Ilse Koch, collected the tattooed skin of prisoners to make ornaments and lamp shades.
Also on 12 April Patton's superiors, Eisenhower and Bradley, visited the Third Army commander. After touring the treasure cave at Merkers and the concentration camp at Ohrdruf, they retired in the evening to Patton's command trailer, where General Eisenhower confided that Patton was to stop his victorious armor short of the objective of Chemnitz. Pending detailed arrangements for meeting the Russians, the Third Army was to halt at the Mulde River, ten miles west of Chemnitz, roughly on a north-south line with that part of the Elbe River to be reached by the Ninth Army. The First Army, too, was to halt at the Mulde. Eisenhower had made up his mind to make no attempt to take Berlin.18
Before the three commanders went to sleep, they learned the news that during the day had shocked their nation and the world. The Commander in Chief, Mr. Roosevelt, was dead.19 It took General Walker's XX Corps, with the 4th Armored Division moving into the lead, only one more day to reach the Mulde. By nightfall of the 13th General Hoge's combat commands had seized four bridges intact across the river and carved out holdings large enough to protect the bridges. Middleton's VIII Corps, with no armor to spearhead the advance, would make it to the Mulde on the 17th. Eddy's XII Corps meanwhile had taken the city of Coburg on the 11th after a night of unceasing artillery fire and a hovering aerial threat similar to that at Weimar, and on the 14th entered Bayreuth at the southeastern tip of the Thueringer Wald. There the XII Corps too paused to await a new order turning the entire Third Army to the southeast.
A Bridgehead to Nowhere
On the other flank of the 12th Army Group's new drive, in the meantime, General Simpson's Ninth Army was under no obligation to pause until its divisions had crossed the Weser River and reached a point as far to the east as the Third Army's starting line east of Ohrdruf. Imbued with a sense of urgency because the army group's orders indicated that the eventual goal was Berlin, units of both the XIII Corps on the left and the XIX Corps attacked with a special fervor.20
Despite unusual efforts to seize a bridge intact across the 255-foot width of the Weser, nobody succeeded. With the assistance of the attached 119th Infantry of the 30th Division, a combat command of the 2d Armored Division
nevertheless quickly established a bridgehead near Hameln early on 5 April against only a smattering of small arms fire. The rest of the 30th Division followed quickly to clear knots of suicidal resistance from the picturesque river town.21
The adjacent 84th Division of the XIII Corps also tried a crossing on the 5th but abandoned it in the face of shelling directed on exposed approach routes to the river from a high east-west ridgeline, the Wesergebirge, that split the division's sector. Moving before dawn on the 6th to another site, a battalion of 84th Division infantrymen paddled across without a sound from the enemy other than erratic firing by a 20-mm. antiaircraft gunner apparently trying to calm his own nerves with noise. A second battalion crossing a few minutes later drew fire in the fading dark, but not a man was hit.
Like most of the 12th Army Group, the men of the Ninth Army were striking into a vacuum. The XLVII Panzer Corps that might have been expected to defend the Weser in this sector had been trapped with Army Group B in the Ruhr. The rest of General Blumentritt's First Parachute Army was falling back to the northeast in front of the British. The only troops immediately available to hold the Weser's east bank were in makeshift formations belonging to Wehrkreis VI, which technically was under command of Hitzfeld's feeble Eleventh Army.22
Seeing that the American thrust had virtually severed communications between General Blaskowitz's Army Group H, which included the First Parachute Army, and Field Marshal Kesselring at OB WEST, OKW on the same day that the 84th Division crossed the Weser, 6 April, removed the northern army group from Kesselring's control. Henceforth, Army Group H was to be known as Oberbefehlshaber Nordwest (OB NORDWEST), directly subordinate to OKW. The commander was to be Field Marshal Ernst Busch, a veteran of the Russian front who most recently had handled defense of Germany's north coast. Blaskowitz was shifted to become Oberbefehlshaber of the Netherlands, subordinate to Field Marshal Busch, an indication of Hitler's continuing disenchantment with Blaskowitz, which had been demonstrated earlier when he sent General Student to lead a counterattack by Blaskowitz's troops.23
While Kesselring retained authority over the rest of the Western Front, Busch was to command everything in the north, including men of the Navy and the Luftwaffe, an unusual procedure. For defending the Weser from Hameln to the coast (a line already breached), Busch was to have a hastily created special force called Army Blumentritt. The commander, General Blumentritt, was to assume control of units
and staffs of Wehhreise VI and XI, plus some naval troops in the downstream sector near Bremen.24
While the Germans thus played at shuffling essentially paper commands, the 2d Armored Division of the XIX Corps dealt in tangibles called power and speed. Long anxious to be turned loose toward Berlin, the division commander, General White, had directed his operations officer to prepare a plan even before the division crossed the Rhine. His army commander, General Simpson, was equally enthusiastic. Judging from the eager way the men in the tanks and the half-tracks took off from the Weser, the zeal of their commanders had passed down the line without diminution.
It took the armor just one day (6 April) to traverse the eighteen miles from the Weser to the little Leine River. The Leine was a phase line established by General Bradley as a means of control to release his three horses--the First, Third, and Ninth Armies--from the starting gate at the same time. Although obligated to pause along the Leine until given the starting signal, the eager 2d Armored made a point of seizing bridges intact across both the Leine and another river ten miles farther east before coming to a full halt the next day, 7 April.
The two infantry divisions of the XIX Corps--the 30th and 83d--meanwhile made their way to the Leine. To the north the 84th Division of the XIII Corps, having completed a bridge over the Weser late on the 7th, reached the Leine on the 8th. There the infantry crossed on a bridge seized intact by the 11th Cavalry Group northwest of Hannover. In the process the division captured a German soldier who was carrying a map of Hannover's defenses. These, the map revealed, were concentrated in the southwest and south. Before daylight on 10 April, the men of the 84th moved against the city from the northwest and north, clearing it by midafternoon. Acres of rubble from Allied bombing and thousands of foreign laborers made overly exuberant by looted liquor posed more problems than did the Germans.
As with the Third Army, the word to resume the eastward drive reached units of the Ninth Army on the 9th. General White's armor in the center of the XIX Corps the next day made about twenty miles, despite a brief but violent encounter with sixty-seven big antiaircraft guns arrayed to protect the Hermann Goering Steel Works southwest of Braunschweig. While the 83d Division continued eastward on the right wing of the corps, dropping off a regiment to deal with that part of the Harz Mountains in the Ninth Army's zone, the 2d Armored Division's Combat Command B on 11 April broke free.
The men of CCB and their commander, Brig. Gen. Sidney R. Hinds, were imbued with one thought: get a bridge across the Elbe. Overtaking fleeing German columns, sweeping aside the defenders of roadblocks with blasts from the cannon of their tanks, surprising Volkssturm defenders who could but gape in bewilderment and then throw down their newly acquired arms, the tanks and half-tracks of CCB drove relentlessly eastward.
In late afternoon an attached contingent of the division's reconnaissance squadron raced into a western suburb of Magdeburg, startling civilian shoppers. After dark a column of tanks commanded by Maj. James F. Hollingsworth made a run for a bridge across the Elbe southeast of Magdeburg at Schoenebeck, but the Germans who had been fleeing suddenly turned to fight. Although Hollingsworth's tanks got within a few feet of the bridge, they at last had to fall back in the face of determined German fire. Before a new attack with infantry could reach the bridge, the Germans demolished it.
The first news of CCB's exploits to reach headquarters in the rear arrived shortly after 2000 the evening of 11 April. The message was laconic, but it said all that needed to be said: "We're on the Elbe." During the day, CCB had traveled fifty-seven airline miles, seventy-three when measured by road.
Making such extensive use of captured German vehicles, military and civilian, that news correspondents nicknamed them the "Rag Tag Circus," men of General Macon's 83d Division were only a step behind the armor. Late on the 12th, men who themselves preferred another nickname, the "83d Armored Division," reached the Elbe a few miles upstream from Schoenebeck at Barby. About the same time, the armor of the XIII Corps, General Oliver's 5th Armored Division, having pushed past the 84th Division at Hannover, rolled up to the Elbe fifty miles downstream from Magdeburg at Tangermuende, only fifty-three miles from Berlin. As tankers and armored infantrymen swarmed toward a bridge that still stood, the Germans destroyed it.
The 30th Division meanwhile cleared Braunschweig after a fight with flak guns on the western approaches, and the 84th and 102d Divisions advanced in the wake of the armor of the XIII Corps. But the most important news after night fell on the 12th again came from the 2d Armored Division. Using dukws hastily brought forward, two battalions of armored infantry slipped quietly across the sprawling Elbe at Westerhausen, just south of Magdeburg. Not a shot sounded from the far shore.
Not to be outdone, men of the 83d Division, the Rag Tag Circus, fought hard through the 12th to clear a stubborn contingent of Germans from Barby on the Elbe (the 329th Infantry lost 24 men killed, 5 missing, 35 wounded), then in early afternoon of 13 April sent two battalions of infantrymen across the river in assault boats behind a heavy smoke screen. It was "just like a Sunday afternoon picnic with no fire of any kind."25 The regimental commander, Col. Edwin B. Crabill, went up and down the west bank, exhorting the men to get going. "Don't waste the opportunity of a lifetime," he shouted. "You are on your way to Berlin."26
Colonel Crabill did not know it, nor did even the Ninth Army commander, General Simpson, but he and his men were not on their way to Berlin. Their Supreme Commander had already made and would soon reaffirm the decision that was to turn their holdings into a bridgehead to nowhere.
INFANTRYMEN RIDE AN ARMORED CAR IN THE RACE TO THE ELBE
A Flak-Infested Route to the Mulde
The role of the First Army in the 12th Army Group's eastward drive meanwhile had developed according to the location of the divisions of the V and VII Corps when the attack to seal off the Ruhr came to an end. In General Collins's VII Corps on the left, the 3d Armored Division took the lead. Starting to drive eastward on 5 April, the division encountered stubborn resistance at numerous roadblocks the next day from remnants of the Ersatzbrigade Westfalen, which had proved such a persistent foe near Paderborn, and reached the Weser on 7 April only to find all bridges destroyed.
In General Huebner's V Corps, the 2d and 69th Infantry Divisions headed the advance. Ordered first to relieve troops of the Third Army in Kassel, the 69th Division began its eastward drive as darkness was approaching on the 5th. In a region of wooded hills in an angle formed by confluence of the Fulda and Werra Rivers, which meet at the town of Hann-Muenden to form the Weser, the division almost immediately ran into those Germans that constituted the best of General Hitzfeld's Eleventh Army, the LXVII Corps. Nowhere did they give in without a fight. Not until late on the 7th was Hann-Muenden cleared and were crossings gained over the Werra there and upstream.
It was the happy chance of the 2d Division in the meantime to strike the weakest part of the Eleventh Army defense before the Weser. Little more than the garrison of a training center at Hofgeismar, ten miles from the river, barred the way. There the Germans on 5 April fought tenaciously, but the next day the division's 23d Infantry reached the Weser. Crossing unopposed in assault boats moments after darkness fell, rifle companies pushed quickly to a towering wooded ridgeline a mile to the east. The First Army had gained a bridgehead only a day behind the Ninth Army.
On the 7th, a battalion of the 104th Division used the 2d Division's bridge to provide a first crossing of the Weser for the VII Corps, followed later by assault crossings by other contingents of the 104th and by units of the 1st Division on the north wing of the corps. Only intermittent and generally ineffective machine gun fire posed any threat to the crossings. The 2d Division meanwhile extended its bridgehead to a depth of six miles against resistance no more formidable than that posed by a hastily formed battalion including men impressed from mental hospitals. By nightfall of the 7th, concern that the enemy might have formed a solid position anywhere along the Weser had been dispelled.
The fact was just as apparent to the German commander, General Hitzfeld, as to his adversaries. Without bothering to seek approval from OB WEST, Hitzfeld told his units to begin a step-by-step withdrawal to the Leine River, thirteen miles east of the Weser, there to try again to make a stand. He then compromised that position immediately by declaring the east-bank university town of Goettingen an open city because of thousands of hospitalized soldiers there.
Hardly were his orders disseminated when Hitzfeld relinquished command of the Eleventh Army to General Lucht, who as commander of the LXVI Corps had narrowly escaped capture in March
CROSSING OF THE WESER RIVER BY MEN OF THE 1ST INFANTRY DIVISION
when his command post west of the Rhine had been overrun.27 This was no prejudicial relief of Hitzfeld; Lucht had been earmarked all along to command the Eleventh Army but had been unavailable earlier. General Hitzfeld returned to command of the LXVII Corps.28
General Lucht had been in his post only a few hours on 8 April when new orders arrived from his commander in chief, Field Marshal Kesselring. In keeping with Hitler's grandiose scheme for a counteroffensive from the Harz Mountains to relieve Army Group B in the Ruhr, all available troops were to withdraw into the Harz, where they were to turn the wooded region into a fortress to be held until General Wenck's hastily forming Twelfth Army could arrive to start the counteroffensive. To gain time to prepare the Harz for defense, the Eleventh Army was to defend the Leine River "under all circumstances."29
How impossible to execute was the latter, if not the first, part of the order was amply demonstrated within the day as men of the 2d Division seized a bridge intact across the Leine outside Goettingen and pushed rapidly beyond the undefended university town. The 69th Division too crossed the Leine, though without benefit of a bridge. On the 9th both divisions drove more than ten miles to the east. The 2d Division occupied Duderstadt, east of Goettingen, liberating 600 Allied prisoners of war, including a hundred Americans (another 44 had died within the last month from malnutrition); the 69th captured Heiligenstadt, a few miles to the southwest.
A day behind the V Corps in crossing the Weser, General Collins of the VII Corps made up the time by committing his armor early on 9 April. Resistance in rolling wooded country along the left wing was occasionally strong; at one point a dozen Mark V and Tiger Royal tanks knocked out five of the 3d Armored Division's Shermans, but as night came the armor held a bridgehead over the Leine at Northeim.
For the First Army, there was to be no pause at the Leine, because the arrival of its divisions there coincided with General Bradley's release of all restrictions on eastward movement, effective on the 10th. In the VII Corps, the 3d Armored Division continued to pace the drive, while General Huebner committed the 9th Armored Division to take the lead in the V Corps.
For the Germans, the object was to try to get as many men as possible into the Harz Mountains, to hold there in keeping with the myth that the Twelfth Army soon would arrive to set everything right again. All contingents of Lucht's Eleventh Army except Hitzfeld's LXVII Corps tried to reach the mountains on the 10th. Hitzfeld's corps drew an equally impossible assignment of building a line from the Harz eastward to Halle, in order to keep the American forces from turning northeastward behind the Harz and thereby denying the Twelfth Army its destination. Although the German generals involved admitted to themselves the futility of it all, they somehow were able to close their minds to reality and try to bring it off.30
As General Collins set the 1st Division to sweeping the mountains systematically from the west, to be joined a few days later by the 9th Division, the 3d Armored Division and infantrymen of the 104th continued eastward. Seldom was there more opposition than occasional delaying actions except when some column turned north toward the Harz. In those instances, the Germans reacted with determination, sometimes employing small coveys of tanks or self-propelled guns.
On the 11th the armor swept into Nordhausen, uncovering more grisly, almost unbelievable evidence of Nazi bestiality in another concentration camp. Here is how a sergeant from the 329th Medical Battalion saw it:
Rows upon rows of skin-covered skeletons met our eyes. Men lay as they had starved discolored, and lying in indescribable human filth. Their striped coats and prison numbers hung to their frames as a last token or symbol of those who enslaved and killed them . . . One girl in particular I noticed; I would say she was about seventeen years old. She lay there where she had
fallen, gangrened and naked. In my own thoughts I choked up--couldn't quite understand how and why war could do these things . . . We went downstairs into a filth indescribable, accompanied by a horrible dead-rot stench. There in beds of crude wood I saw men too weak to move dead comrades from their side. One hunched-down French boy was huddled up against a dead comrade, as if to keep warm . . . There were others, in dark cellar rooms, lying in disease and filth, being eaten away by diarrhea and malnutrition. It was like stepping into the Dark Ages to walk into one of these cellar-cells and seek out the living.31
Outside Nordhausen men of the 104th Division found large underground factories, one for manufacturing V-2 rockets. Scientific teams later shipped a hundred of the rockets to the United States for study, along with scientific data found buried in an abandoned mine a few miles away.32
Near the V-weapon factory was a slave labor camp with a capacity of 30,000. Indisputable evidence showed that no workers ever left camp and factory alive; if they became too weak to work, they were simply left to die and their remains disposed of in crematory ovens. Survivors testified that 150 bodies a day were cremated.33
Pausing briefly at Nordhausen to await arrival of gasoline and oil, the tankers of the 3d Armored Division resumed their advance early on 12 April, entering Sangerhausen, twenty-two miles to the east, by midday. From that point the armor turned northeast, heading for the Elbe at Dessau, while the 104th Division began a march on Halle. Although the men in the tanks noted increased resistance on 13 April, particularly in volume of antitank fire, they advanced another twenty-three miles and established bridgeheads over the Saale River a few miles northwest of Halle. Another day would pass before the portent of the increased resistance would be revealed.
During the first two days after the 9th Armored Division was committed on 10 April, the V Corps made similar progress. On the third day, 12 April, the armor got a rude shock. Just over five miles from the Saale River, a task force forming the division's north column suddenly came under heavy fire from fixed antiaircraft guns. The guns were as deadly against tanks as against the airplanes they had been designed to combat. Only after losing nine tanks did the task force succeed in knocking out the big pieces.
Like the Third Army's 6th Armored Division, which on this same day at Zeitz had bumped into a nest of the fixed antiaircraft pieces, the 9th Armored Division had come up against one of the most concentrated belts of flak guns in all Germany. The belt formed a great arc extending from Bitterfeld, northeast of Halle, southwestward to encompass Halle, Merseburg, and Weissenfels on the Saale River, then southeastward to Zeitz. Although Leipzig stood behind the center of the arc, the Germans had not created the ring of steel to protect the city but to defend a number of synthetic oil refineries and industrial plants related to them: nitrogen, explosives, hydrogen, and synthetic
rubber.34 Near Merseburg, for example, was Germany's largest synthetic rubber plant, second largest synthetic oil refinery, and a big hydrogen plant.35
The build-up in antiaircraft defenses had begun in May 1944, with assignment to the area of a flak division with headquarters in Leipzig. Beginning with 374 guns ranging in caliber from 75-mm. to 128-mm., the defenses had been increased by the spring of 1945 to possibly a thousand pieces.36 Grouped in batteries varying from 12 to 36 guns, the weapons were particularly effective against ground targets in the Leipzig area because relatively flat terrain afforded excellent observation and fields of fire.
Although the concentrated belt of flak was well known to Allied airmen as a notorious "flak alley," nobody had reported the concentration to the ground troops that now had to face the guns. Allied air forces had detailed plottings of the locations of the batteries, but it took three days for the 9th Armored Division's urgent requests for information to produce results. Slave laborers and occasionally a German civilian sometimes helped the troops to spot the guns before they opened fire, but too often the first warning was the sharp crack of shells exploding in a rain of deadly fragments.
Since the flak guns appeared to represent the outer defenses of Leipzig, the V Corps commander, General Huebner, directed the 9th Armored Division to shift southeast to bypass Leipzig and gain the Mulde River, thirteen miles beyond the city. While the 2d Division took over the drive on Leipzig from the west, the 69th was to follow the armor, then come in on the city from south and southeast.
Having stirred up a fury of resistance at Weissenfels on the Saale, the armor on 13 April backed away, crossed the river on a bridge taken intact southwest of the town, then before the day was out crossed the Weisse Elster River near Zeitz. Two days later CCR on the south wing broke free of the flak belt and dashed all the way to the Mulde, twenty miles southeast of Leipzig. Having seized two bridges intact, CCR the next day, 16 April, crossed, captured Colditz, and released 1,800 Allied prisoners of war, including several ranking British officers.
The 69th Division's 271st Infantry meanwhile cleared a determined garrison of 1,500 from Weissenfels on the 13th and 14th, in the process crossing the Saale in assault boats. The 2d Division on the 15th took Merseburg and neighboring industrial towns with their large synthetic oil and rubber plants. To avoid observed fire from antiaircraft batteries, one regiment that night crossed the Saale over a damaged railroad bridge, the start of a series of night attacks designed to circumvent the big flak guns. Advancing by night, the men could get close enough to the guns to bring accurate artillery fire on them. Since the gun crews were unaccustomed to ground combat, the stratagem was usually sufficient to prompt them to flee.
A 12.8-CM. "FLAK" GUN, as deadly against American ground troops as against planes.
Within Leipzig itself as American troops closed in, a contest of will had developed between the head of the city's 3,400-man police force, Generalmajor der Polizei Wilhelm von Grolman, and the "combat commander" of the city, Col. Hans von Poncet. Poncet expected the Hitler Youth, Volkssturm, odds and ends of regular troops, and the police to wage a fight to the death. To General von Grolman, that plan was folly, assuring nothing but destruction of the city. Imploring Colonel von Poncet not to fight, Grolman asked particularly that he avoid demolishing the bridges over the Weisse Elster River in order to save water, gas, and electric lines running under the bridges to western sectors of the city. When Poncet insisted on fighting, Grolman determined to maintain control of the police himself and withhold them from the struggle.37
Hoping to keep casualties to a minimum in view of the impending end of
the war, both the 2d and 69th Divisions made measured advances toward Leipzig. Only on the 18th did the two divisions break into the city. In the south and southeast, the 69th Division found resistance at times determined, particularly around the city hall and Napoleon Platz, the site of a monument (Voelkerschlachtsdenkmal--Battle of the Nations Memorial) commemorating Napoleon's defeat in 1813 in the Battle of Leipzig. Approaching from the west, men of the 2d Division encountered their first real fight at the bridges over the Weisse Elster, which were defended by Volkssturm and a sprinkling of regulars who were behind overturned trolley cars filled with stones. Whether on order of Poncet, Grolman, or otherwise, the bridges stood.
As men of the 2d Division settled down for the night on the east bank of the Weisse Elster, a police major approached with word that General von Grolman wanted to surrender the city. A rifle company commander accompanied him to police headquarters, but there discovered that Grolman, still begging Poncet in vain by telephone to surrender, controlled only the police.38
Although General von Grolman returned with the U.S. officer to American lines to confer further with higher commanders, the negotiations had no effect on Colonel von Poncet and the Germans at Napoleon Platz. As resistance in the city hall collapsed early on the 19th (inside, the mayor, his deputy, and their families were suicides), Colonel von Poncet and about 150 men holed up in a sturdy stone base of the Battle of the Nations monument. Through much of 19 April, tanks, tank destroyers, and artillery employing direct fire pounded Poncet's position. Because the Germans held seventeen American prisoners, the 69th Division commander, General Reinhardt, declined to use flame throwers.
In midafternoon, a German-born American captain went under a white flag to the monument where for nine hours he argued to convince Poncet to surrender. At long last, past midnight, Poncet finally agreed.39
By this time a special control force formed from artillery battalions of the V Corps already was arriving to administer Leipzig, and first contingents of the 2d and 69th Divisions were on their way to join the corps armor at the Mulde River. In keeping with General Eisenhower's decision not to go to Berlin, the pending assignment for these troops was to await contact with the Russians.
A Short New War
While this kind of fairly typical pursuit warfare took place in the First Army's V Corps and throughout the Third Army, what seemed by contrast to be almost a new war had suddenly erupted a few miles to the north. In the Harz Mountains, at Halle, on the roads to Dessau, and in the bridgeheads over the Elbe, men of the First and Ninth Armies who had been engaged in what appeared to be an end-the-war pursuit suddenly found themselves fighting a determined though ill-equipped foe. The combat was as senseless as it was
unexpected. The Germans could hope to accomplish nothing other than to insure a warrior's death for more men on both sides and, by slowing the American drive, expose more of their people and their land to the mercy of the Russians, whom they all feared.
The new war in all cases could be laid directly or indirectly to a new force, the inchoate Twelfth Army, which Hitler absurdly counted on to sweep to the Harz, then to the Ruhr, thus gaining time in the west while some nebulous something happened to wrench victory from defeat in the east. The Twelfth Army made its presence felt first against the 2d Armored Division's little bridgehead on the east bank of the Elbe.
Hardly had the army commander-designate, General Wenck, reached his command post on 12 April in a panzer training school at Rosslau, across the Elbe from Dessau, when word arrived from the combat commander of Magdeburg that Americans had crossed the river nearby. While the artillery under the combat commander, including Magdeburg's fixed antiaircraft pieces, opened fire on the American crossing site, Wenck tried to discover what force he could send to attack the bridgehead.
His new command, Wenck found, was to consist of four corps headquarters, to be withdrawn from the east, and nine divisions. In most cases named after heroic figures from German history, the divisions were formed primarily of young men from army schools, particularly officer training schools, and from the Reich labor service. They were in varying stages of mobilization. Although food and ammunition were ample, most of the divisions would have no tanks; all would have little transport, only a few assault guns per division, and little artillery. Filled with spirited young men led by experienced officers who had been instructors at the schools, the divisions would make up in esprit something of what they lacked in training and equipment.40
One unit, Division Potsdam, was lost to General Wenck from the first. While being formed from army schools in the vicinity of the Harz Mountains, it had been trapped by the rapid American drive. Three other divisions would be insufficiently organized for commitment for more than a week. Two more, along with one of the corps headquarters, were under orders from OKW to assemble west of the Elbe north of the American zone of attack with the aim of driving south by way of Braunschweig to the Harz while the main body of the Twelfth Army drove west. General Wenck thus had immediately available at the Elbe only three divisions plus some small miscellaneous units.
Under orders from OKW before Wenck's arival, the commanders of two divisions, Scharnhorst and Ulrich von Hutten, had committed their units as they became available to hold a bridgehead west of the Elbe around Dessau whence the Twelfth Army might start its drive to the Harz. The third division was holding the east bank of the Elbe far to the north of Magdeburg.
To counter the 2d Armored Division's bridgehead south of Magdeburg, Wenck had to depend for the moment on Volkssturm and a miscellany withdrawn
from the local defense force of Magdeburg. To supplement these, he ordered Division Scharnhorst to ready one battalion to counterattack the bridgehead in conjunction with a mixed force of assault guns drawn from an assault gun training school, and a few tanks.41
Before daylight on 13 April, a battalion of the 30th Division's 119th Infantry crossed into the 2d Armored Division's bridgehead, bringing the strength there to three battalions; but no antitank guns, tanks, or tank destroyers made it across. (See Map XIV.) So shallow was the water near both banks of the river that supporting engineers despaired of operating vehicular ferries and concentrated instead on bridging the river. Construction was slow in the dark, and sporadic German shelling interfered. With the coming of daylight the shelling increased, much of it deadly air bursts from big antiaircraft pieces at Magdeburg. Although supporting artillery tried constantly to neutralize the fire and engineers laid out smoke pots to screen the site, neither effort had apparent effect. Call after call went back for fighter-bombers to strike the artillery positions, but so far behind had airfields fallen in the race across Germany that the Elbe was almost beyond range of tactical aircraft. None showed up.
Despite the shelling, engineers by midday of the 13th had advanced their pontons and treadway tracking to within twenty-five yards of the far shore. Then came a deluge of shells that wrecked everything.
Giving up on that site, the 2d Armored Division commander, General White, directed the three infantry battalions to move after nightfall--in effect, to attack--upstream approximately three miles to a point opposite the bridge earlier demolished by the Germans at Schoenebeck. As daylight approached, Company L, 119th Infantry, and portions of a battalion of the 41st Armored Infantry were inside Elbenau, not quite two miles from the river, while the other battalion of armored infantry had cleared some 250 Germans from the riverside village of Gruenewalde. Other units were digging in on open ground to form the wings of a bridgehead. That was the situation when, in the dissipating darkness, a battalion of Division Scharnhorst supported by Assault Gun Training School Burg with approximately eight tanks and assault guns began to attack.
Catching the American infantrymen in the process of establishing their bridgehead and still without antitank defense other than bazookas, the Germans rapidly cut off the 119th Infantry's Company L in Elbenau and began systematically to reduce the defenders in the open, foxhole by foxhole. In the confusion, a score of Americans surrendered. The Germans put them in front of their tanks, forcing them at gunpoint to shield their continuing advance. The bridgehead began to go to pieces.
Five miles upstream, out of range of the enemy's artillery and antiaircraft guns at Magdeburg, men of the 83d Division were having little difficulty in their bridgehead opposite Barby. No sooner had two battalions of the 329th Infantry crossed in midafternoon of the
13th than engineers began to ferry supporting vehicles across, while other engineers went to work on a treadway bridge that was completed by nightfall. They named the bridge after their new Commander in Chief, President Harry S. Truman, and called it the "Gateway to Berlin." Although four small counterattacks struck the bridgehead during the day of the 14th, the presence of attached tanks and tank destroyers enabled the infantrymen to disperse them readily.
Remarking the contrast between the fortunes of the two bridgeheads, General White early on the 14th ordered his reserve combat command into the 83d's bridgehead to attack down the river's right bank and relieve the beleaguered men at Gruenewalde and Elbenau. CCR moved out early in the afternoon, but hardly had the attack begun when word came to call it off.
So desperate had matters become in CCB's little bridgehead that one of the armored infantry battalion commanders in midmorning returned to the west bank to report his battalion lost. He had seen his companies overrun, many men surrendering. The CCB commander, General Hinds, himself went into the bridgehead to survey the situation.
Engineers at the river had in the meantime been constructing a ferry and anchoring a guide cable for it to the east bank. Although the water at this site also was shallow close to the west bank, they coped with it by hauling rubble into the river to create a loading ramp. At noon a ferry carrying a bulldozer to be used to shave the east bank began to cross, but as the ferry neared the far shore a concentration of German antiaircraft artillery fire severed the cable. Set free in a swift current, the ferry careened downstream.
To General Hinds, this was the end. Aware of the 83d Division's successful crossing and the plan to send CCR into that bridgehead and acutely conscious of the crisis in his own bridgehead, the failure to get tanks across, and the lack of air support, General Hinds gave the order to withdraw.
Returning to the west bank, Hinds reported his decision to his division headquarters where, in the absence of General White, he talked with the chief of staff. General White later concurred in the order, as did the corps commander, General McLain.
By late afternoon, most of the surviving infantrymen had made their way back to safety except for the men of Company L, cut off and hiding in cellars in Elbenau. These men finally learned of the withdrawal when their artillery forward observer established radio contact with an artillery observation plane. The forward observer called for a blanket of artillery fire on Elbenau to catch the Germans in the open. When the fire lifted, some sixty men made a break for the river. As tanks and tank destroyers fired from the west bank to cover their withdrawal, fighter-bombers of the XXIX Tactical Air Command with auxiliary fuel tanks in place of bombs finally arrived to strafe German positions. Most of the sixty men returned safely
Through the night and the next day other survivors trickled back from the east bank, including one group of 30. Final losses totaled 330; of those only 4 were known dead and 20 wounded, an indication that many had been captured. Although the fighting in the bridgehead
obviously had been severe, reports of eyewitnesses revealed that the confusion caused when the Germans struck before the defenders were organized had as much to do with the loss of the bridgehead as did anything else.
Word of the 83d Division's success at the Elbe had in the meantime flashed up the chain of command to General Eisenhower. When General Bradley gave him the news by telephone, the Supreme Commander was moved by the turn of events to reconsider his decision not to go to Berlin. How many casualties, he asked Bradley, might it cost to drive through and capture Berlin? Bradley estimated 100,000.42
The men inside the Elbe bridgehead were confident the drive on Berlin would be resumed momentarily. While the infantry with help of the 2d Armored's CCR extended the bridgehead to a depth of about five miles, the 320th Infantry (attached from the 35th Division to make up for a regiment of the 83d left behind in the Harz) attacked southeast across the Saale River to clear Germans from the angle formed by confluence of the Saale and the Elbe so that a second bridge could be constructed over the Elbe nearby. Although an occasional German plane harassed the bridgehead, American fighter-bombers extending their range with auxiliary fuel tanks in place of bombs were active much of the day, artillery and armored support were plentiful, and nobody doubted the 83d Division's ability to break out of the bridgehead at will.
The Ninth Army staff already had a plan for driving to Berlin, couched behind the euphemistic phrase, "to enlarge the Elbe River bridgehead to include Potsdam [a suburb of Berlin]." On the 15th General Simpson flew to General Bradley's headquarters to present it. Although Bradley listened closely as General Simpson's G-3, Colonel Mead, disclosed the plan, he said he would have to telephone General Eisenhower for a decision. Overhearing Bradley's end of the conversation, Simpson soon had his answer.
"All right, Ike," Bradley said, "that's what I thought. I'll tell him. Goodbye."
There was to be no drive on Berlin.43
Two more combat assignments remained for the Ninth Army. One was to reduce Magdeburg, where the combat commander refused an ultimatum to surrender. After a strike by 350 medium bombers of the 9th Bombardment Division during the afternoon of 17 April, the 30th Division and parts of the 2d Armored began a systematic reduction of the city. The next day, as the last resistance faded, at least one American commander, General Bradley, was pleased that the Germans demolished the last bridge over the Elbe, for it spared him from putting men across to create another bridgehead to nowhere.44
The second assignment was to defeat an incursion into the zone of the XIII Corps from the north and to clear a newly assigned sector along the Elbe that originally had been a British responsibility, a two-faceted task which the XIII Corps aptly named Operation KAPUT.
According to orders of OKW, two of the newly formed divisions of Wenck's Twelfth Army were to have attacked
southward into the Ninth Army's flank to gain the Harz Mountains, but because one division got tied down in a fight with the British, only the other showed up. That was Panzer Division von Clausewitz, formed from staff and students of a panzer training school off the Ninth Army's flank near Uelzen. At full strength in men, the division had at least fifty tanks and additional armor that included experimental and antiquated equipment found at the school.45
Conditions favoring employment of German forces against the Ninth Army's flank had begun to develop around 15 April when the 8 Corps of the adjacent British Second Army swung north at Uelzen in keeping with a British main effort toward Hamburg. A 60-mile stretch of the Ninth Army's north flank from Uelzen to the Elbe was thus left exposed except for British cavalry patrols and a screen maintained by the 11th Cavalry Group.
The XIII Corps already had been having trouble in its rear areas as a result of bypassed Germans who holed up in some of the vast expanses of woodland in the corps zone and refused to give up. Astride the Wesergebirge on the east bank of the Weser, the 102d Division fought for two days against more than 2,000 Germans who had coalesced in the wooded highland. Farther east on 13 and 14 April contingents of both the 84th and 102d Divisions fought to eliminate two other pockets of resistance, one of which encompassed eight tanks.
The first indication of the presence of Panzer Division von Clausewitz emerged on 15 April when the British identified a portion of the division in a counterattack at Uelzen. Before daylight the next day, a force estimated at a thousand men and thirty tanks cut the main supply route of the XIII Corps near General Gillem's command post at Kloetze, 36 miles southeast of Uelzen. For four more days, contingents of the new panzer division turned up at various points in the rear of the corps, involving at one time or another in the fight to erase them contingents of all three divisions in the corps, including the 5th Armored Division and a newly assigned division, the 29th. Telephone communications and motor messenger service between the XIII Corps and the Ninth Army were disrupted for two days. Half in jest, half in earnest, service troops complained that it was safer on the front line at the Elbe than in the rear echelon.
In most cases the German thrusts were stopped well short of the corps south boundary, although portions of one column did get into the zone of the XIX Corps, where contingents of the 2d Armored Division wiped them out. The most persistent of all the enemy groups hid in a forest near Kloetze. A chemical mortar battalion tried in vain to burn the Germans out with white phosphorus shells. A regiment of the 29th Division supported by 155-mm. and 8-inch pieces was required to "give Kloetze Forest a real hair cut" and eliminate the force.46
Although more troublesome than serious, the German forays delayed for a day a start on a new assignment handed the XIII Corps to assume responsibility for the vast triangle of uncleared territory north of the Ninth Army's boundary
between Uelzen and the Elbe. When the attack finally began on the 21st, the 5th Armored Division encountered and destroyed the last of Panzer Division von Clausewitz. All together, American forces had knocked out forty-seven tanks and more than a dozen assault guns.
The sweep north of the former army boundary gained rapidly on the 22d. By 24 April the new assignment was completed, with the Ninth Army holding the line of the Elbe to a point near Dannenberg, thirty miles downstream from Wittenberge.
The brush of the First Army's VII Corps with General Wenck's Twelfth Army began in earnest on 14 April, the day after the 3d Armored Division had seized bridgeheads over the Saale River northwest of Halle. Heading for Dessau, where the Mulde River flows into the Elbe, the 3d Armored hit positions of Division Scharnhorst and Division Ulrich von Hutten, which were striving to hold a bridgehead west of the Elbe as a base for the Twelfth Army drive to the Harz.
Roadblocks now were more numerous, more stoutly defended, and the larger towns, such as Koethen, eleven miles from Dessau, could be taken only after slow house-to-house fighting. One combat command reached Koethen at nightfall on the 14th; it was nightfall the next day before tanks and half-tracks could move on. Although planes of the IX Tactical Air Command were overhead much of the time, their help generally was limited to strafing because, like planes of the XXIX Tactical Air Command in support of the Ninth Army, they had to carry auxiliary fuel tanks in place of bombs.
Except for a task force on the extreme south wing of the division, which came within range of fixed antiaircraft guns near Bitterfeld at the northeastern tip of the flak belt encompassing Leipzig, seldom did the columns encounter enemy shelling. The main obstacles were towed antitank guns and Panzerfausts. Sometimes the Germans turned Panzerfausts against deployed armored infantrymen, firing them in batteries like mortars. The going posed problems for rear echelons of the division too; no infantry division of the VII Corps was available for mop-up, and these youthful Germans revealed no inclination to surrender simply because armored columns had passed them by. After Koethen was cleared in a fight that lasted twenty-four hours, so many Germans infiltrated back into the city that another twelve hours of fighting ensued before Koethen was finally secure. As the armor drew up to Dessau, a wide swath of forest south of the city served as a base for German raids and counterattacks.
Bypassing defended towns, one task force fought through a portion of the forest to reach the Mulde River at a demolished autobahn bridge just two miles southeast of Dessau on 15 April. Although infantrymen scrambled across the wreckage to form a small bridgehead, difficult approaches and occasional shelling delayed building a bridge until, on 16 April, the same stop order that had halted the Ninth Army the day before at the Elbe prompted the division commander, General Hickey, to pull back the bridgehead.
As part of the armored division swept the west bank of the Mulde southward in the direction of the First Army's V Corps, the attack on Dessau began early
on 21 April. It took two days of house-to-house fighting to clear the city and another day to erase a hold-out position along a railroad leading across the Elbe to Rosslau. Although the ultimate fate of two divisions, Scharnhorst and Ulrich von Hutten, had been inevitable from the first, the two hastily formed units had forced upon the armor of the VII Corps ten days of unpleasant anticlimax to the war.
The 104th Division, in the meantime, also had a hard fight. At Halle a die-hard combat commander, Generalleutnant Anton Rathke, was determined to hold out as long as possible with about 4,000 men, including troops from a communications school, a sprinkling of SS, and antiaircraft gunners who were part of the Leipzig defense belt.47 An aerial bombardment of leaflets demanding surrender and urging civilians to convince the troops to spare the city brought no immediate response.
All bridges over the Saale on the city's western boundary having been destroyed, General Allen sent his units to cross the 3d Armored Division's tactical bridges and strike the city from the north. A house-to-house fight was well under way when on 16 April Count Felix von Luckner, who had gained renown as a sea-raider in World War I, came into American lines to negotiate. While General Rathke refused to surrender, Luckner said, he did agree, in order to spare civilians and Allied and German patients in the city's hospitals, to confine his defense to the southern third of the city.
For three more days, through the 19th, the 104th Division's 414th Infantry fought for Halle, killing or capturing unorganized three- to five-man groups in almost every building, while the division's other regiments turned east to conquer Bitterfeld and reach the Mulde River.
The other German holdout was in the Harz Mountains, unattainable goal of General Wenck's Twelfth Army. As many as 70,000 Germans had congregated there for a last stand under the aegis of General Lucht's Eleventh Army. It was with some surprise that those Germans found themselves under immediate attack, since they had hoped the Americans might merely contain them and drive on to the east. The Germans were reckoning without the plethora of power available to American commanders.48
The 1st Division pierced the western fringe of the Harz as early as 11 April. (Map 6) On the same day the 330th Infantry, left behind when the 83d Division drove for the Elbe as part of the Ninth Army, began to attack along the northern fringe, and later was supported by a combat command of the 8th Armored Division. On 13 April the 9th Division joined the VII Corps to sweep the eastern end of the Harz from a starting position northeast of Nordhausen.
Many of the ingredients for a grim stuggle to the death were present in the Harz--a trapped enemy, harsh, sharply etched terrain cloaked by dense woods,
The Harz Pocket
11-17 April 1945
caves, mines, and winding roads that could be readily blocked at defiles, stream crossings, and almost anywhere else within the woods. Some of the fighting conformed to the inhospitable setting, but most of it failed to follow the form. Since the Germans lacked appreciable strength in mortars and artillery, the lethal tree bursts that often characterize forest fighting were missing. Nor was there the steadfast determination to fight to the end usually associated with a trapped foe. Theirs was a lost cause; the end of the war was at hand; the men represented less an army than a conglomeration; and few other than the young newcomers of Division Potsdam saw much point in dying at that stage of the denouement.
Further, the Eleventh Army commander,
General Lucht, doubted his assignment. The Harz had no prepared defenses, no stockpiled supplies, and he had no faith in the fancy that the hastily created Twelfth Army could break through the powerful American units that had flowed around the Harz. Lucht refused to consider a scorched earth policy to prolong a hopeless defense. As a soldier, he deemed it a matter of honor to follow his orders and fight, but he determined in the process to spare his troops and the civilian population as much as he could.49
The Harz was above all a network of roadblocks, the barriers limited in size only by the energy of those who constructed them, for on every hand there were trees enough and more. On the most logical routes for American advance--those from the west taken by the 1st Division--the Germans backed up the roadblocks with the few tanks they possessed (judging from the numbers ultimately knocked out, probably fewer than twenty-five). So long as a chance to hold the position existed, the tanks remained, but when American infantrymen flanked the defenses through the woods or advanced under cover of artillery fire or of their own tanks, the Germans at the last moment usually withdrew. It was 15 April, fifth day of the fight, before men of the 1st Division caught up with more than one or two German tanks. On that date they knocked out four, plus three self-propelled guns. Two days later they accounted for ten more. In a small counterattack at the town of Altenau, the Germans employed a captured U.S. light tank.
During the first few days German infantrymen sometimes used the concealment of the woods to infiltrate back into towns and villages. In some cases they laid mines or erected log barriers behind American columns, and occasionally they counterattacked with perhaps as many as a hundred men; but in general they carried on a delaying action on a large scale. When pressed, the Germans either withdrew or surrendered.
Some 200 men holding the Brocken, at 3,747 feet the highest point in the Harz, proved an exception. Here stood a radio station, the Eleventh Army's only means of communication with OB WEST. Here the Germans held on 18 April against an assault by the 330th Infantry that followed a bombardment by planes of the IX Tactical Air Command's 365th and 404th Groups, but the resistance collapsed the next day when pressed from the other side of the hill by a company of the 1st Division's 26th Infantry.
Reflecting the nature of the fighting, the 1st Division during the first few days took about 200 prisoners a day, while the 9th Division, which was in effect cutting across the enemy's rear, averaged a thousand. On the 16th, the 1st Division's prisoner total rose to a thousand; the 9th Division took 2,000. Those figures almost doubled on the 18th as many Germans took to the mountain roads for a flight to nowhere and as American fighter planes made one strafing run after another.
Some idea of the quandary of German units seeking to avoid capture was apparent in the peregrinations of the Eleventh Army command post: one day in the town of Braunlage, the next in a limestone quarry, another in a forester's
cottage, then a cave, a monastery, and, at last, a wooded hill just beyond the northern fringe of the Harz near Blankenburg.
On 20 April the end drew near as German units began to surrender en masse. Some drove their vehicles under a white flag into American lines. By the close of the day, the 9th Division had taken over 8,000 prisoners, the 1st Division, 10,000. In the mop-up that followed, stragglers surrendered passively. Finally, on 23 April, a patrol found the Eleventh Army command post near Blankenburg and captured the staff, including General Lucht.
The fight was over in the Harz, at Halle, Dessau, and Magdeburg, the infiltrators north of the Ninth Army's old boundary had been cleared, and the Germans of Wenck's Twelfth Army were wondering why the Americans made no move toward Berlin from the 83d Division's successful bridgehead at Barby when, on 23 April, the Twelfth Army began to turn its back on the Americans.
Seven days earlier, on 16 April, the Russians had begun their attack across the Oder River toward Berlin, thirty miles away. By the 22d, two Russian army groups were closing on the city. Tank spearheads had bypassed the city on the north, forces approaching the city from the east had at one point penetrated the inner defense ring, and others approaching from the southeast were close to surrounding the German army defending there. All else having failed, Hitler decreed that the Twelfth Army turn and come to the rescue of Berlin.50
Having learned on 31 March through General Eisenhower's message that the new Allied plan was to drive to the Leipzig-Dresden area rather than to Berlin, Marshal Stalin had moved swiftly to speed a Soviet thrust on the German capital. While professing to agree with Eisenhower that Berlin had lost strategic significance and indicating that a new Russian offensive would begin only in the second half of May, Stalin on the first day of April had called in the commanders of the two army groups closest to Berlin to determine how quickly they might attack. The Allies, said Stalin, were trying to beat the Red Army to Berlin.51
Whether Stalin believed Eisenhower's message a ruse designed to lull the Russians while the Allies captured the capital or whether he merely used it to spur his field commanders, the effect was the same. In the first two weeks of April, the Soviet armies executed "their fastest major redeployment of the war."52
In approximately nine of the fifteen days when the Russians were making their preparations, roughly from 5 through 13 April, the First, Third, and Ninth U.S. Armies had driven some 150 miles across central Germany, not, as Marshal Stalin accused in a letter to President Roosevelt on 3 April, through some deal with the Germans to open the front to the Allies, but because the
Germans who might have defended central Germany were trapped in the Ruhr.
Although American supply lines at the conclusion of the drive were taut, they were nowhere near a breaking point. The essentials--food, gasoline, ammunition--were ample. Only forward airfields were lacking, and captured German fields could have been put into shape quickly had close air support been essential. While the Twelfth Army had given a new complexion to the fighting for a few days, Wenck's troops in the long run were no more than a nuisance. Even though the Twelfth Army imposed some hurt (having averaged 80 casualties a day in early stages of the drive, the VII Corps in five days of increased resistance averaged 260 casualties a day), its commitment in no sense threatened to halt or even seriously delay the offensive. Nor did the Germans have other than Wenck's troops to pit against the American drive.
The American armies, the Ninth in particular, could have continued their offensive some fifty more miles at least to the fringe of Berlin. The decision of the Supreme Allied Commander and nothing else halted the Americans at the Elbe and the Mulde.53
What taking Berlin might have accomplished to speed the end of a war already tumbling to a conclusion or to insure a postwar world more favorable for Allied policies was another matter; but it would probably have been little, since prestige was about all that was at stake. A question remained, too, of what the Russians might have done upon arriving at the prize of the German capital to find an American force already there, contrary to Eisenhower's word to Stalin. That General Eisenhower halted his troops at a time when they were capable of continuing, in the process sparing them casualties not worth additional prestige which the powerful Allied force had no need of, made his decision to halt all the more judicious.54
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (16) * Next Chapter (18)
1. See MSS # A-893 (Gersdorff) and # B-703, The Fighting of Heeresgruppe G in the West--The Final Battle in Central and Southern Germany Until Capitulation, 22 March 1945-6 May 1945 (Oberst Horst Wilutzky, Opns Officer, Army Group G).
2. MS # A-893 (Gersdorff).
3. Ibid. See also 4th Armd Div AAR, Mar 45.
4. Not to be confused with the commander of the XLVII Panzer Corps. For the LXXXV Corps, see MS # B-617, Combat Report of the LXXXV Corps (General der Panzertruppen Smilo Freiherr von Luettwitz).
5. MS # A-893 (Gersdorff).
6. Gay Diary, entry of 31 Mar 45. See also Dyer, XII Corps, p. 398; Koyen, The Fourth Armored Division, p. 115; and combat interview with Lt. Col. Hal C. Pattison, ExecO CCA, 4th Armd Div.
7. Koyen, The Fourth Armored Division, p. 115; CCA, 4th Armd Div, AAR, Apr 45.
8. General Bruce C. Clarke (USA, Ret.), The Command, Control and Communications National System of Germany During World War II (Menlo Park, Calif.: Stanford Research Institute, 1963), pp. 11, 18.
9. MS # C-020 (Schramm).
10. See Koyen, pp. 115-16; Patton, War As Knew It, pp. 292-4; see also Toland, The Last 100 Days, p. 371.
11. See above, ch. XVI.
12. Dyer, XII Corps, p. 406; Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 287, 291-92; Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, pp. 407-08. See also Toland, The Last 100 Days, p. 364.
13. Bradley's command included the Fifteenth Army west of the Rhine with two corps and six divisions.
14. 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 20, 4 Apr 45.
15. Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic, pp. 261-63; Stacey, The Victory Campaign, pp. 539, 546.
16. MSS # B-606 (Reichhelm); # B-581 (Estor). Ryan in The Last Battle, pages 274-76, tells of Wenck's appointment.
17. See above, ch. XVI; MS # B-581 (Estor).
18. See Toland, The Last 100 Days, p. 371.
19. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 409; Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 541; Patton, War As I Knew It, pp. 294-95.
20. This attitude is clearly evident in official records of the period.
21. In the advance on Hameln, a platoon leader in the 30th Division's 119th Infantry, 1st Lt. Raymond O, Beaudoin, was killed while making a one-man charge to eliminate German fire that was raking his platoon. Lieutenant Beaudoin was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
22. MS # B-354 (Blumentritt); MS # B-217, Central Germany From 22.3.1944 to 11.5.1945 (General der Infanterie Mattenklott, Comdr., Wehrkreis VI).
23. See above, ch. XV, MS # B-354 (Blumentritt); MS # B-414 A GP H (OB NW), 10 Mar-9 May 45 (Oberst Rolf Geyer); Kesselring, A Soldier's Record, p. 315.
24. This force was first commanded by General Student and called Army Student, but four days later Student and Blumentritt exchanged commands. MSS # B-354 (Blumentritt) and # B-414 (Geyer).
25. Combat interview with 1st Lt. William Stout. Several interviews deal with this action.
26. Combat interview with Crabill.
27. See above, ch. X.
28. MS # B-581 (Estor).
29. Ibid. See also MS # B-606 (Reichhelm).
30. MS # B-581 (Estor).
31. Sgt. Ragene Farris, as quoted in Hoegh and Doyle, Timberwolf Tracks, pp. 330-31.
32. See McGovern, CROSSBOW and OVERCAST.
33. 104th Div AAR, Apr 45.
34. British Air Ministry, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (1933 to 1945) (London, 1948), p. 355.
35. V Corps Operations in the ETO, p. 430.
36. This figure is an estimate based on reports of American units involved and on a letter from Dr. Arenz, Militaergeschichtliches Forschungsamt, Freiburg, Germany, to USAREUR Historical Division, 31 October 1966, in response to a query by the author. Copy in OCMH.
37. MS # B-478, The Collapse of the German Reich as Seen From Leipzig (Generalmajor der Polizei Wilhelm von Grolman).
38. Details of this episode are in Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1947), pp. 241-55. See also MS # B-478 (Grolman).
39. Toland, The Last 100 Days, pages 394-96, provides details.
40. Information on the Twelfth Army is from MS# B-606 (Reichhelm) and MS # B-394, Report on the 12th Army, compiled for Historical Division, U.S. Army (General der Panzertruppen Walter Wenck).
41. The German sources make no mention of tanks but in the extensive combat interviews available on the ensuing action, so many American witnesses speak of tanks that their presence can hardly be doubted.
42. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 535.
43. Quotations are from comments on the draft MS of this volume by Mead.
44. Bradley, A Soldier's Story, p. 539.
45. MS # B-606 (Reichhelm). Tank strength is based on prisoner-of-war statements in XIII Corps G-2 Periodic Reports and on numbers destroyed in ensuing actions.
46. Quotation is from XIII Corps G-2 Periodic Rpt, 20 Apr 45.
47. MS # B-219, Activity of the German XLVIII Panzerkorps in the American Campaign Against Central Germany (General der Panzertruppen Max Freiherr von Edelsheim). Halle came under Edelsheim's command as his headquarters moved from the Eastern Front to become part of the Twelfth Army only a few days before the 104th Division's attack.
48. Kesselring, in A Soldier's Record, pages 314-15, gives undue credit to the holdout in the Harz for delaying American advance eastward.
49. MS # B-581 (Estor).
50. For the Russian offensive, see Earl F. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East, in the ARMY HISTORICAL SERIES (Washington, 1968), ch. XXI.
51. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, pp. 467-09; Herbert Feis, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), pp. 604ff; and John Ehrman, Grand Strategy (London, 1957), vol. VI in the official British history of World War II, pp. 132, 142. Ryan, The Last Battle, pages 243-52, provides an account of the Stalin conference based on interviews conducted in the Soviet Union well after the war.
52. Ziemke, Stalingrad to Berlin, p. 470.
53. On this point, see General Simpson's letter to the editor in The New York Times Book Review, 12 June 1966.
54. In addition to sources previously cited dealing with this decision, see General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's Six Great Decisions (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1956), pp. 181-86, and Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945--The Decision to Halt at the Elbe (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1967).