Albert Ernst and 512th Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion

On 21 March, the battalion was assigned to LIII Corps and committed to the Battle of Remagen. By the end of the month it was reduced to a strength of 13 Jadgtigers. During April, the 1st and 2nd companies were destroyed in the Ruhr Pocket, while the 3rd Company was lost during fighting in the Harz Mountains. Hauptmann Albert Ernst surrender his 512th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion (Panzerjägerabteilung 512, sJgdPzAbt) to the US Army 99th Infantry Division at Iserlohn, Germany.

The 512th schwere Panzerjaeger Abteilung (sPz.Jg.Abt.) was formed in late January 1945 at Sennelager, north of Paderborn. It was one of only two Abteilungen (the other being the 653rd) to be equipped with Jagdtigers.

On March 7th, 1945, the US Army took the bridge at Remagen intact. Also it collapsed 10 days later, the US forces now had a bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine. On March 14th, 2nd Company of the 512th started traveling south (via rail), eventually reaching the Lauschied woods southeast of Eitorf on March 20th, 1945 (movement was very slow and only during the darkness). Three Jagdtigers were produced in March 1945 by Nibelungen Werk and had the following chassis numbers: 305075, 305076 and 305077. These three were delivered to schwere Panzer-Abteilung 512 with 1 being transported on 14 March and 2 transported on 26 March.

On March 24th, elements of the 512th Abteilung, together with the 506th schwere Panzerabteilung and 654th schwere Jagdpanzerabteilung formed Panzergruppe Hudel and attacked between Eitorf and Siegburg towards the southwest, with the intention to destroy the US bridgehead.

The battalion was equipped with the new Jagdtiger tank destroyer, which was built at the Hindenburg factory in St. Valentin near Linz, Austria. Ernst was impressed by the giant vehicle and its 12.8cm gun, whose barrel was more than eight meters long.

Albert Ernst

Following firing trials in the Döllersheim area, on 10 March 1945 the new tank destroyers were thrown into action against the American bridgehead across the Rhine at Remagen. For crews experienced in conventional tanks, fighting in the Jagdtiger held some novelties. Before entering combat the gun’s travel lock and barrel support had to be disengaged. Aiming required pointing the entire vehicle, as the 12.8cm gun was housed in a fixed superstructure. For Ernst and others with experience in tank destroyers, conversion to the Jagdtiger posed few problems.

The German assault on the Remagen bridgehead failed mainly because the attack forces were committed piecemeal. Generalleutnant Bayerlein, commanding general of the German LIII Army Corps, suggested that the attack not begin until all three designated divisions and their heavy weapons were in place. This idea was rejected, however, and he was forced to attack on 10 March. Hitler had given orders to attack “immediately with every available unit.”

The attack, in which the Ernst company took part, was unsuccessful. Guderian’s maxim, to strike hard and not disperse one’s forces, had been disregarded.

Following the failure of the attack, Ernst and his Jagdtigers were given the job of covering the German withdrawal. The tank destroyers moved into position and knocked out pursuing American tanks from a range of two kilometers, demonstrating the outstanding accuracy of the Jagdtiger’s 12.8cm gun. Ernst and his unit then fell back through Niedernepfen and Obernepfen to Siegen. A German attack was planned from there to open the Ruhr pocket.

COMMENTS OF GENERAL BAYERLEIN, commanding general, German LIII corps

The following story, told to American interrogators by General Leutenant Frity Bayerlein, depicts, to some extent, the state of mind of the German high command in the field during March 1945. The subject, General Bayerlein became an officer in 1922. He served with the panzers in the Polish Campaign (1939) and the French Campaign (1940), and was Rommel’s Chief of Staff in the Afrika Corps in 1943. After commanding the 3d Panzer Division in Russia for a brief period. General Bayerlein was ordered to France to organize, train, and command the Panzer Lehr Division-the unit especially equipped and trained to repulse the Allied invasion of France. After the seizure of the LUDENDORF BRIDGE over the RHINE by the 9th US Armored Division, General Bayerlein was designated the commander of the LIII Corps, a battle group charged with the mission of throwing the American forces back across the RHINK.

The interrogation is especially interesting for three reasons: It is a partial chronicle of historical events, it indicates the German pre­occupation with our air corps, and it details by example the state of mind of the German officer corps when faced with certain defeat. The careful student will note the lack of pre­vision demonstrated by General Bayerlein in his location of his units. This interrogation took place one month after the events re­counted. At that time, the subject’s recollec­tion of the events which transpired was most vague in contrast to his vivid remembrance of Personal danger or embarrassments.

While all but the most prejudiced will agree that Allied air power was a most important factor in the final outcome of the war it is interesting to see the importance given to minor losses by German ground officers when he losses were caused by air power. For instance, the loss of 100 men in ground action was accepted as a normal thing, while 100 casualties sustained from air bombardment was headlined as a crippling blow to the unit— a decisive factor in a subsequent defeat.

General Bayerlein gives an excellent example of the German professional officer’s state of mind in the closing days of the war. While, from the German point of view, the war was irrevocably lost, Bayerlein continued to per­form his duty to the best of his ability while blaming his superior for poor decisions and making certain that no act of omission oc­curred which could justify his court-martial.

Comments of General Bayerlein to US interrogators:

On 1 March 1945, General Bayerlein, Commanding General, German LIII Corps, was in his headquarters at RHEINFELD (F3879). At this time, he received an order which Hitler sent to all units west of the RHINE stating that “…no staff officers, under any circum­stances, will cross the RHINE”; the hope evidently being that the continued presence of high-ranking members of the German General Staff west of the RHINE would stimulate the waning resistance. Bayerlein stated that he was only too happy to comply, as it was clear to him that the defense of Germany was finished. On 3 March, it became even clearer when US tanks fired directly into his com­mand post at RHEINFELD, driving him and his staff practically to the river bank across from BENHAT. Such a situation seemed “the end of the world” to Bayerlein, he said; but on the night of 3-4 March, he received direct orders from Army Headquarters to cross over, which he did in a small boat early on the morning of 5 March. “It seemed that Army Headquarters did not feel, as the Fuehrer did, that Germany had so many capable division and corps commanders she could sacrifice them for a gesture.”

On 9 March, Bayerlein was ordered to OBERPLEIS (F676350) for a new assignment, and the situation at REMAGEN made it very clear to him just what it would be. Although there were no cohesive German units of any size defending against the bridgehead, ele­ments of the 11th and 9th Panzer Divisions were marching toward the threatened area. (The size of these units was limited by the gasoline supply rather than by the number of troops and vehicles available.) The com­mander of the “Defense of the RHINE” was an old man, one Kortzfleisch, of indeterminate rank and commanding an assortment of Hitler Jugend and Volksturm. Kortzfleisch was in jittering terror of being disgraced and shot should the RHINE be crossed in his sector. (General Bayerlein did not state the limits of Kortzfleisch’s sector.)

Model arrived in person on 9 March and gave General Bayerlein his assignment, which was to take a battle group of the Panzer Lehr, and the 9th and 11th Panzer Divisions, and wipe out the bridgehead. He was given a day to study the situation and prepare a plan. (It should be noted that Model and Bayerlein were not particularly fond of each other. Shortly before the ARDENNES battle Bayerlein had requested that his unit, the Panzer Lehr Division, be withdrawn from the front in order to permit it to reorganize, re-equip, and retrain. Model censured his division com­mander and told him to “reorganize in the line. That is what we did in Russia.” Bayerlein replied that if that is what had been done in Russia it apparently had not been too suc­cessful. From that time on relations between the two officers were rather strained.)

General Bayerlein’s plan for the reduction of the REMAGEN bridgehead, which he pre­sented to Model, was to attack along the line OBERERL (F685217)-ERPEL (F647207) at dusk on 10 March with whatever troops were available at that time. During the night of 9-10 March, however, a few American tanks crossed and moved south to HONNINGEN (F700127), and the next morning Model refused to permit the attack through OBERERL, insisting that the threat to the south be met by an attack on LINZ (F678187).

(NOTE: This decision was most illogical as: (1) The tanks referred to were one platoon of the 14th Tank Battalion, which had been east of the river for a day and a half; (2) the main effort of the bridgehead was and had been north and east; and (3) the strategic objectives in the vicinity were the RUHR area in the north and the autobahn to the east. There was neither a logical objective nor good maneuver ground to the south. Furthermore, Model was a high-caliber officer and knew that his only chance of success was.to hit the bridgehead hard and early before the Americans had time to build up their forces east of the river. The only possible reasons for General Bayerlein’s statement are that he was trying to put the blame for his failure on Model or else that Model was insane, as many people claimed.)

On 12 March, Model appeared at OBERPLEIS (F67&350) with Marshal Kesselring, who stated that he was the new commander in the West over Model, who continued his same duties but under the direction of Kessel­ring. During the visit, Bayerlein explained his initial plan for destroying the bridgehead to Marshal Kesselring, who became furious that the plan had not been executed. Model, perhaps to justify his decision, complained that he was being furnished nothing in the way of troops and supplies. Inasmuch as the Americans had captured OBERERL by this time, the plan became unworkable and was dropped. Marshal Kesselring did order, however, that LEYBERG (HILL 359) (F668262) be retaken.

On the night of 12-13 March, Bayerlein moved his headquarters to ASBACH (F780297) in order to be more centrally located with respect to his sector. This move, like all moves of Bayerlein, was made at night to escape the American tactical aircraft. Bayerlein claimed that, between NORMANDY and the end of the war, he had lost the fighting strength of his division two and a half times from enemy air action alone. Furthermore, the omni­present threat of air strikes on any column so greatly restricted his freedom of movement that an active mobile defense was usually im­possible. The REMAGEN operation was no exception to the general rule, although the rugged, heavily wooded terrain minimized the effectiveness of fighter-bombers on the battlefield proper. During the critical period of the bridgehead, however, there was a con­tinual drumming of the rear areas. On 10 March, the 130th Infantry Regiment, arriving from Denmark, was due to detrain at ALTENKIRCHEN (F935320). On the preceding day ALTENKIRCHEN had been destroyed to the point where the railroad station was unusable and the streets impassable. It was necessary for the regiment to detour north and south by way of BACHENBURG (F938342) (north) and NIDER WAMBACH (F901257) (south). Such situations were the usual thing and made time and space computations nearly impossi­ble, with the resultant piecemeal employment of units. On 13-14 March, FLAMMERSFELD (F854277) and the forest west of ALTENKIRCHEN (F935320) were heavily bombed. While the heavy 17-cm guns which were shelling the bridge at REMAGEN were located in these woods, no great damage resulted, which convinced Bayerlein that the Americans knew the general location of the guns but did not have them pin-pointed. On 16 March, how­ever, a trainload of gasoline, nearly the entire fuel reserve of the corps, was destroyed-a tragedy to the fuel-short unit. (In spite of the losses and inconveniences enumerated by General Bayerlein, the REMAGEN operation ap­pears to have been almost exclusively a ground force show in the plodding infantry style. As the general had no Luftwaffe under his com­mand, it was an easy thing to place an undue amount of weight on factors affecting the operation which were beyond his control.)

In compliance with the orders of Marshal Kesselring, General Bayerlein attacked LEYBERG (F668262) on 13 March and retook the objective. An attack on HONNEF (F640275) the same day, however, failed.

(NOTE: At 132400 March, the 1st Battalion, 309th Infantry, was reported 1500 yards east of LEYBERG with the 3d Battalion, 311th Infantry, on its north and the 2d Battalion, 39th Infantry, on its south. It is extremely doubtful that three battalions from three dif­ferent regiments of two divisions would falsify their locations by 1500 yards. It is much more probable that General Bayerlein reported an untrue “mission accomplished” to the new commander of the West, trusting to the con­fusion rampant at the time to cover his false official report.)

A second plan to smash the bridgehead was now (13 March) planned, consisting of an attack by the newly arrived 130th Infantry Regiment through BRUCHHAUSEN (F658226) and ORSBERG (F652216). Once more Model stepped in and, accusing Bayerlein of “atomizations” of his forces, demanded that the available offensive forces be consolidated with the 340th Volksgrenadier Division under the command of General Tollsdorf ( . . . “who had established some sort of a reputation for destroying tanks with panzerfausts.”). Bayerlein said that this division consisted of 200 men practically without arms and certainly without any heavy weapons or proper training under Tollsdorf, a grossly incompetent leader. Nevertheless, Bayerlein tinned over to Tollsdorf the 1500 good troops in the available bat­talions and assigned them a sector in front of the autobahn. Bayerlein stated that upon the employment of his last striking force he be­came convinced, and reported, that no chance remained to eliminate the bridgehead.

(NOTE: Indicative of the mental status of the command in the West at this time is the example of an army commander correcting a corps commander in his employment of 1500 men. Here we see high commanders with a few troops at hand that the countermanding of orders becomes the rule. Although General Bayerlein stated that in his opinion, and in the opinion of other German General Staff officers, Model was insane at this time, there is certainly no proof of this accusation in this case. Bayerlein planned an attack through the American assault forces, along the line BRUCHHAUSEN-ORSBERG to the river, with a three-battalion force totaling 1500 ef­fectives. On 13 March, there were five American battalions in reserve within 2000 yards of BRUCHHAUSEN and ORSBERG. It appears that Bayerlein was merely trying to build up his own prestige by insinuating that his fore­doomed plan would have been a success had it not been precluded by his superior. The chronic cry from German corps commanders that Model was mad could be due to his intense and misdirected sense of duty or to the human failing of subordinates covering a defeat by blaming a superior. Certainly, it is doubtful whether a disciplined officer of the mental ability of Model would become un­balanced because of a military defeat which he must have foreseen and which his training would indicate as being inevitable.)

On 16 March, Bayerlein received official notification through channels that Hitler had ordered the whole bridgehead area wiped out with V-2 bombs, regardless of the resultant harm to the local population. While this drastic defense was never employed, the knowledge of its possibility did not increase the German soldiers’ will to resist on that particular piece of ground. (NOTE: In its after action report for March 1945, III Corps reported six V-2 bombs landing in the bridgehead area. It is believed that General Bayerlein meant that while V-2 bombs were used in the operation, no cold-blooded effort was made to wipe out all living things within the bridgehead. The order required a prohibitive number of bombs in the first place and probably could not have been obeyed even if the military commanders had desired to do so.) The effectiveness of the defense was also impaired by the execution of five officers for dereliction of duty in failing to destroy the LUDENDORF BRIDGE-an event that made the whole offi­cer corps extremely conscious of the personal responsibility for failure. As a consequence the justification of acts and decisions became the paramount thought in most minds. Bayerlein stated that when the American forces cut the autobahn on 16 March, he had concentrated an especially strong defense at the northern edge of his sector so that this disaster at least could be debted to someone else. In addition, a bridge complex swept the command which caused officers of all grades to spend a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and explosives in blowing all sorts of bridges, even senselessly. In many instances, bridges were blown in rear areas by high-ranking officers, thereby crippling the war effort but clearing the individual of responsibility for an unblown bridge.

The high command apparently concurred in Bayerlein’s belief that the reduction of the bridgehead was impossible, as he was ordered on 18 March to pull out of the line and move north to the defense of the area east of COLOGNE (F4560) and BONN (F550370). The Americans, however, unleashed a drive to the east instead of to the north, so BAYERLEIN was ordered south again with his battle group to defend ALTENKIRCHEN (F935320). The result of all this jockeying around was that he was unable to put up a strong defense anywhere, being too preoccupied with moving his troops to be able to fight them. As a con­sequence he retired to the north, and, facing south, extended his line to STEINBACH (FM065352), from which position he continued to retreat north until captured in the last days of the RUHR pocket.

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