The US 1st Army had crossed the Weser at Minden and driven across Thuringia on a line linking Gottingen, Nordhausen, and Eisleben, covering nearly 80 miles between April 8 and 12 1945. It was its left flank that made contact with the US 9th Army’s right. This pincer movement cut off the retreat of the German 11th Army, which had stayed in the Harz mountains as ordered. To clear a way through for withdrawal, O.K.W. sent the “Clausewitz” Panzer Division to the rescue. It attacked at the junction between the Allied 21st and 12th Army Groups and inflicted some damage on the US 9th Army. But having got 35 to 40 miles from its point of departure, in the region of Braunschweig, it too was enveloped and annihilated. The same fate struck the German 11th Army, falling almost to a man into Allied hands.
The Last Fight
15 April-23 April
After its spectacular drive to the Elbe the Fifth Armored turned around, cleaned out by-passed rear areas, destroyed a newly-formed German division, and for the second time, fought to the Elbe River.
CC B raced 55 miles to the rear to trap and destroy the Von Clausewitz Division. CC A drove north to the Elbe and made contact with the British, CC R, keeping abreast of CC A, also drove to the Elbe.
Combat Command B
CC B’s final appearance on the Western Front came as an encore. But it was an encore which almost surpassed an already brilliant and spectacular main performance. Appropriately, it was a battle between American armored and German panzer forces. And it was CC B’s most decisive engagement.
When the combat command reached the Elbe on 13 April, it appeared that CC B’s job on the continent had been completed. But on 15 April, when word was received that marauding enemy groups were endangering the division’s supply lines far to the rear, CC B was ordered to meet this new threat. At 1730 that day, less than an hour after they had rejoined the rest of the command on the Elbe after being relieved of their security mission at the Weser-Elbe Canal, the married B Cos. of the 81st Tank Bn. and the 15th Infantry Bn. were sent racing back to Winterfield. The entire command prepared to make the 50-mile run the following morning.
While the column was on the road, rolling west during the morning, Col. Cole was notified that a convoy of supply trucks had been ambushed near Ehra. He immediately sent the armored fingers of the reconnaissance elements probing the area north of the main supply route between Ehra and Klotze. Task Force Anderson combed the area in the vicinity of Donitz, while Task Force Dickenson worked from Brome to Millin and the 85th Reconnaissance Sq.’s B Troop from Brome to Jubar. But no enemy force was encountered.
Forest Combed for Krauts
The forests in the area were combed again the next morning and roadblocks were strung out along a 25-mile front facing north from Wittingen through Zaesenbeck to Ruhrberg. Thirty minutes after tankers and infantrymen from the married A Cos. had set up a roadblock near Ohrdorf they spotted a column of vehicles sneaking along the edge of a woods southeast of Wittingen.
“We could just about make them out because they were about 2600 yards away,” said S/Sgt. Harold J. Strunk, sergeant of the 2nd Platoon. “There were five tanks and two halftracks.”
“Right after we caught our first glimpse of the column, it disappeared behind another clump of trees,” said Sgt. Salvatore Candito, a tank commander, “But when it came out on the other side of the trees, we started tossing shells at it.”
Sgt. John Ivers, tank gunner, targeted in and, at the 2600-yard range, knocked out a tank and a halftrack.
That evening Col. Cole summoned his task force commanders for a meeting at CC B Headquarters. On his way there, Lt. Col. Dickenson was thrown out of his peep and injured when the vehicle hit a bomb crater in the road. He was evacuated to a hospital and Major Emerson F. Hurley took over command of the task force.
That night Task Force Anderson established roadblocks at Mehmke, Ruhrberg and Stockheim, while Task Force Hurley set up roadblocks at Zaesenbeck, Ohrdorf and Wittingen.
About noon on 18 April the 71st Artillery Bn.’s observation plane reported that strange vehicles were moving southeast out of Lindhof. A section from the married B Cos. was sent to investigate, and when the men reached Jubar they noticed what appeared to be a column of enemy tanks heading into the woods north of Ludelsen,
More Road Blocks Established
Task Force Anderson moved quickly to surround this enemy force. The married B and C Cos. set up strong roadblocks at Jubar, Borsen, Mehmke and Stockheim, while a tank destroyer platoon from the 628th T.D. Bn.’s B Co. and the Anti-Tank Platoon from the 15th Infantry Bn.’s B Co. put in a roadblock at Ludelsen.
After all of the exits from the forest had been sealed off, the gun batteries of the 71st Artillery Bn., which were in position at Gladdenstadt, started pounding the woods. Fire was adjusted by the Cub observation plane, and then the 47th and 555th Artillery Bns. joined in the serenade.
When the clouds of billowing smoke and dust started to clear, a platoon of infantrymen with a tank destroyer and a new M-26 tank went down one of the firebreaks to develop the situation.
“Our first shot got an American truck which the Krauts had captured and were using,” said Sgt. Herbert A. West, commander of the tank destroyer. “After our second shot set the truck on fire, our third round also went through the truck, set fire to a halftrack that was behind it, and then knocked out an armored reconnaissance car.”
Small arms fire was heavy, but the M-26 tank opened up with its powerful 90 mm. gun and destroyed two more armored vehicles. Then the small probing force was instructed to pull back out of the forest immediately. Supporting fights of Thunderbolts had arrived to deliver a final, crippling blow to the remaining enemy resistance in the woods.
Six flights of four planes each descended on the woods. Following the radio directions of the slow-flying but sharp-eyed Horsefly (air-ground liaison observation plane), they bombed and strafed and sent rockets smashing into the trapped enemy force. The roar of the explosions could be heard for miles across the German heartland and by dusk every German vehicle beneath the huge clouds of dust and smoke had been destroyed.
The Horsefly, a recent innovation to aid fighter-bomber observation, had been developed some time earlier, but ideas for its further development had been added by Major Ernest Briggs, division G-3 air officer. Lt. Edward F. Little, of CC A Headquarters, did the observing during the action; he helped the fighter-bombers locate their targets and then radioed back the results. Survivors of the attack came out of the woods. Sick of war and shaken within an inch of their lives, they surrendered readily. Just before dark the 3rd Platoon of the married A Cos, went up from Ohrdorf through Haselhorst and set up a roadblock in the little village of Lindhof. They were sent there to prevent any elements of the battered enemy force to their right from moving west and also to protect the 71st Artillery Bn.’s batteries which had taken up positions to the south of Haselhorst. They did not know what was north of them and had been informed that friendly troops might be in the area. About 2130 that night a powerful force of tanks and armored vehicles descended from the north and rolled into the village. We held our fire and let them get up close to us because their column was led by three American halftracks,” said Cpl. Vincent Stolarczyk of the 15th Infantry Bn. “We didn’t know they were Heinies until they started talking German.”
“Before we knew it, they had hit our tank and set it on fire,” said Cpl. Stacey Dickson, a tank commander of the 81st Tank Bn. “We were lucky and we all managed to get out of it all right.”
When the Germans started to surround the roadblock, the GI’s fought their way out of the encirclement and pulled back toward Haselhorst. Ten infantrymen and two halftracks got caught in the enemy trap. The wounded infantry platoon leader, Lt. William M, Capron, was evacuated on the back of one of the tanks.
From the ridge near Haselhorst, the tankers, acting as observers, started directing artillery fire on the enemy vehicles and temporarily halted the advance.
We used our knocked-out tank, which was burning brightly in the darkness, as a reference point and laid down the artillery barrages all around it,” said Sgt. Wilbert Hufman.
When the shells started whining in on the enemy force and scattering the German soldiers, the A Co. infantrymen who had been encircled took the opportunity to make a break from their captors. Cpl. Stolarczyk and Pvt. Glen Byrd got up and ran while the Germans had their heads down and rejoined their platoon at Haselhorst, Then Pfc. Robert E, Scharon and Pfc. Charles G. Harrison climbed out of the foxhole where they had concealed themselves and made a dash to one of their abandoned halftracks. While Scharon guided him from the front of the vehicle, Harrison drove the halftrack back to American lines.
Enemy Plans Revealed
“They captured me and I was put in a halftrack with 12 Germans,” said Pvt, Rasilo Contrares, “But when our shells began whistling in, they all jumped out and headed for cover–all except my guard. So during the excitement I grabbed him and threw him out of the vehicle; then when a shell blew his head off, I took off and got back to my outfit.”
When the enemy assault wave first hit the roadblock at Lindhof and started to overrun it, the 85th Reconnaissance Sq.’s B Troop, which was holding a block on a road that ran northeast out of Lindhof, captured one of the attackers. Pfc. Ray F. Burke took this soldier and rushed him back to CC B Headquarters through territory that had now been overrun by the Germans.
Interrogated by Lt. Franklin P. Copp, this prisoner revealed not only the identification of this enemy force, but also its strength, mission and operational plans. He stated that it was the Von Clausewitz Panzer Division, and that it was attempting to push south across the Weser-Elbe Canal and then head for the Hart Mountains. The recon party that had been sent out to find a clear route south out of Jubar was the force that had been destroyed in the woods that afternoon.
The main body of the panzer division, he said, consisted of three task forces. Each task force, approximately 1000 men strong, was equipped with one Mark V tank, two tanks mounting 75 mm. guns, one Mark IV with 75 mm. rifle one tank destroyer mounting an 88, 25 halftracks, four 105 mm. self-propelled howitzers, three tractor towed 105 mm. guns, many cargo trucks, and several American peeps, trucks and halftracks. The division also had attached to it a special signal company so that it could remain in direct contact with its army group.
Said CC B’s S-2, Major Martin M. Philipsborn, who had also served as an intelligence officer in North Africa, “This is the first instance in operations against the enemy, that I can recall, when we knew his strength, objective and tactical plans while they were still being executed.”
This invaluable information was immediately dispatched to all units. They now knew what faced them and could prepare to counter the enemy plans. On the road that led west out of Lindhof, Headquarters Platoon of the 85th Reconnaissance Sq.’s B Troop held a roadblock with two halftracks, one armored car and three peeps. When the B Troop commander, Capt. Loran L. Vipond, read the message from CC B, he immediately sent back the following message: “If the attack is diverted in this direction, we may need a little help.”
While one enemy column was pushing from Lindhof to Haselhorst that night, another started south down a second route which led to Hanum. Out in front was a truck and an American halftrack with all guns blazing. When a 628th T. D. Bn. Tank Destroyer smashed both vehicles as they approached the town, the remainder of the column deployed into the woods and did not attempt to advance any further.
Throughout the night the enemy vehicles could be heard moving about and getting into position for an attack in the morning, At the A Cos, command post the tank company commander, Capt. Robert M. McNab, and the infantry commander, Capt. George W. Kellner, organized their men and prepared to meet the full weight of the enemy thrust. The married 1st Platoon was sent to Haselhorst to reinforce the 3rd Platoon. Then, after the 71st Artillery Bn. batteries had displaced from Haselhorst to Ohrdorf, the two platoons also pulled back to Ohrdorf at 0500 and set up defense positions in a semi-circle around the town.
“As we were withdrawing to these new positions, a German self-propelled gun and a halftrack started down the road toward us,” said Lt. Robert P, Lant, the 1st Platoon tank commander. “Our tanks opened up and got the gun and our infantry shot up the personnel in the halftrack.”
Germans Try Again
At daybreak the German tanks and self-propelled guns rumbled to the edge of the woods and started blasting the defense positions around the town. Two medium tanks were hit and the building in which the 71st Artillery Bn, fire direction center was located was also hit and set on fire. The rest of the Shermans swept the advancing enemy tanks and guns with fire and the artillery batteries put down a barrage of shells on them. “We pumped five shots into a Mark IV and finally stopped it,” said Sgt. Charles Petersen, tank commander. The enemy attack got no further than the edge of the woods. To the west, tank destroyer men on a roadblock near Wittingen saw two German vehicles come out of the forest behind them.
“Our gun was pointed in the opposite direction when we spotted them through binoculars,” said Sgt. Mike Gazdaka. “We swung it around quickly and at a range of 1500 yards knocked out both of them. We later discovered that one was a halftrack and the other a German tank destroyer.”
At Lindhof Pfc. Grover Peffers and Pvt. Paul Dempsky had remained in their foxholes all night while the artillery pounded the enemy-held village. Then, at daybreak, they crawled out and were taken prisoner.
“We got to talking to this Heinie tech sergeant who spoke very good English,” said Dempsky. “He had lived in the States for several years and we talked about Boston and New York and the World’s Fair. And then he told us he was fed up and wanted to surrender. So during the next barrage the three of us took off for our lines.”
All day the artillery continued to smash the bottled-up enemy vehicles which had deployed in the woods. Waves of Thunderbolts roared in and, working through the Horsefly, mercilessly strafed and bombed the German force.
During the afternoon six enemy ambulances, loaded with wounded, pulled down to American lines and surrendered. Out of the woods came streams of nerve-shattered prisoners, including all of the division’s staff except the division commander, Gen. Unrein, and his chief of staff who managed to slip through to the south and were later captured in the Hart Mountains.
When one of these prisoners declared that a GI lay wounded in a house at Lindhof, the report was radioed to Task Force Hurley and was overhead by Pfc. George S. Kehm and Pvt. Herman Kaplan, medical aid men,
Although the village was in German hands and was being leveled by artillery and fighter-bombers, Kehm and Kaplan left immediately in their peep and entered Lindhof. The peep was seen by the planes from the air, but task force headquarters could not assure the pilots that it was one of their vehicles, so the planes continued to bomb and strafe.
“After we picked up the wounded man and started back out of town,” said Kaplan, six Germans who said they wanted to surrender jumped on the peep and came back with us.”
On the right flank Task Force Anderson combed the woods in which the recon elements of the Von Clausewitz Division had been trapped, but no further resistance was encountered. Later in the afternoon the roadblocks south of Jubar were strengthened, as it was believed that the Germans would make an attempt after dark to break through there.
The remnants of this debacle did make the desperate attempt to escape through the steel cordon that had been tightened around them, but they were unsuccessful.
“Our battery was still in position near Ohrdorf and about 0230 that morning we heard their vehicles start milling around, and then about 0400 they started coming toward us,” said Lt. Norman E. McNees, reconnaissance officer for the 71st Artillery Bn.’s B Battery. “We started firing point blank, but we didn’t hit anything in the dark.”
“When it got light,” said Sgt. Philip L. Henderson, third section chief, “we knocked out a radio truck with direct fire and captured the occupants of an armored recon car and a motorcycle rider.”
Sgt. Gazdayka and his tank destroyer crew, after firing without success in the dark, went into action again at dawn and destroyed a halftrack and a cargo truck.
At 1000 that morning the married B Cos. started clearing the Klotze Forest from the east, pushing west toward Lindhof and Haselhorst. The fighter-bombers and artillery worked the woods over again about noon and by 1400 both towns had been taken. On the west side of the forest a tank equipped with a loudspeaker urged the Germans to surrender. Twenty men and one officer responded immediately.
CC B had trapped two task forces of the Von Clausewitz Division in this pocket. The third task force had turned west and then south and was being destroyed by XIII Corps troops. By the morning of 21 April, all of the enemy vehicles which had attempted to slice through CC B had been knocked out and all but a few of the German soldiers had been killed or captured. CC B’s losses in annihilating these two task forces were five men killed, two wounded, two missing.
Since 1 April the command had taken 3150 prisoners, killed 800 Germans and wounded 800 more. And it had destroyed or captured 72 miscellaneous assault guns, 110 miscellaneous vehicles, 10 tanks, 21 locomotives, a trainload of ammunition, 11 barges and two flak radar stations.
On 24 April the order came down for CC B to leave the Klotze Forest and move to another area a few miles west. Men in the command did not know it then, but for them the war in Europe was over.
On 4 April 1945, a directive was issued to create Panzer-Division “Clausewitz” by utilizing Panzer-Ausbildungs-Verband “Grossdeutschland.” This was revised on 6 April with directions to create Panzer-Division “Clausewitz” using the Division-Stab mit Begleit-Kompanie “Holstein”, Panzer-Ausbildungs-Verband “Feldherrnhalle”, and the remaining elements of Panzer Brigade 106 along with other remnants. On 7 April 1945 orders were issued to transport Panzer-Jaeger-Abteilung “Grossdeutschland” with two Kompanien and one Kompanie from Panzer-Abteilung “Potsdam” (total of 31 Sturmgesehuetze) by rail to Ob. West for Panzer-Division “Clausewitz” instead of the previous plans for three Kompanien from Panzer-Abteilung “Potsdam.” On 9 April, the remaining elements of Panzer-Brigade 106 joined up with Panzer-Division “Clausewitz.” Panzers were shipped from the Heeres-Zeugamt to outfit the units as follows: 31 StuG III on 13 April, 10 Panthers on 14 April, 5 Jagdpanther on 14 April, and 10 Pz. IV/70(V) on 15 April 1945. On 13 April 1945, Kampfgruppe Putlos was ordered to join Panzer-Division “Clausewitz.” Named as Panzer-Abteilung “Putlos” on 17 April, it was organized with an Abteilung-Stab outfitted with two Panthers, the 1. Kompanie with two Tiger I and 10 Panthers, and the 2. Kompanie with seven Pz. Kpfw. IV, one Jagdpz. IV, one StuG, and four Pz. IV/70. On the night of 17/ 18 April 1945, Panzer-Abteilung “Putlos” was in Uelzen under Panzer-Division “Clausewitz.” Ten Panthers and five Jagdpanthers arrived in Buchen on 15 April and were given to the Panther-Kompanie of Panzer-Abteilung 2106 under Panzer-Brigade 106. A second Kompanie with 10 Pz. lV/ 70(V) left Dresden on 15 April. The two operational Jagdpanthers and ten operational Panthers with Panzer-Brigade 106 were ordered to go into action in the area east of Lueneburg on 16 April 1945.
Commander: Generalleutnant Martin Unrein (6 Apr 1945 – 8 May 1945)
German General Martin Unrein commanded Panzer Division Clausewitz, a ragtag collection of disparate German units.