Final Actions: 20th Panzer-Division 1945 Part II

Action at Dresden

The 20th Panzer-Division then received orders to proceed towards Dresden. Berlin had to be considered almost encircled, unable to be relieved from that side. Nevertheless, it seemed possible that the 20th Panzer-Division might yet be ordered to relieve Berlin from the south. All sorts of supplies were found in Bautzen, rations and fuel, so the formations could move out towards Dresden.

East of Dresden the columns turned off and went into action south of Großenhain. Adjoining on the left was the 10th SS-Panzer-Division “Frundsberg” with the Dresden—Berlin Autobahn as its boundary. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 112 was to occupy a position in the line Königsbrück, Ottendorf, Okrilla and Pulsnitz. The position was in open fields, with no significant roads, among small villages and rolling hills. Then, on 26 April, the report came that the Soviets and Americans had linked up in Torgau on the Elbe. In its own sector, the division expected a Soviet artillery division to arrive from the north, at the positions of the 20th Panzer-Division.

Therefore Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 112 dispatched patrols, principally to capture the bunkers in front of the position on the Königsbrück troop training ground. It was presumed to be already in the hands of a Soviet advanced detachment. For that purpose pioneers set up several so-called “Stukas zu Fuß” i.e. rockets in wooden launching frames.

The troops learned little regarding the situation. Word had gone round that Berlin was in a hopeless situation. In the meantime, the Soviets attacked on both sides of the Berlin—Dresden Autobahn. According to statements by prisoners, those were forces that had already been withdrawn from Berlin. The fact that the 20th Panzer-Division held its positions did little good. In light of the scarcity of German defensive forces, the Soviet forces advanced in areas that were nearly free of German troops, so they could avoid attacking the positions of the 20th Panzer-Division. In the areas between the defences they found no significant opposition. Nevertheless, on 29 April they strengthened their attacks, in particular using artillery fire on the positions of the 20th Panzer-Division. Apparently they used the expected Soviet artillery division’s guns of all calibres, from 7.5 cm cannon to heavy 22.9 cm howitzers. They fired with massive expenditure of ammunition and, indeed, in accord with the former German artillery manuals that they had taken over.

Preparation for the End of the Fighting

After Hitler’s death Generalfeldmarschall Schörner issued new instructions. The Americans should only be opposed where there would be difficulties with the withdrawal movements of the troops towards the south and west. It would be critical to maintain resistance to the east, to the extent that the infantry divisions and refugees could be brought back via Dresden.

In the first days of May, the Panzers drove from Ottendorf—Okrilla, 20 kilometres northwest of Dresden, into the area of the 4th Panzer-Armee towards the Dresden—Lübben Autobahn. They went into action driving northwest near Groß-Dittmannsdorf, Würschnitz and Klein-Naundorf. On 3 May, other elements of the division moved on into Dresden, via the “Weißer Hirsch” i.e. White Stag, after they had brought all but one vehicle out of the previous positions.

Fighting in Dresden

The sight of the destruction of Dresden gave rise to the conviction that there could be no hope of pardon with surrender. It became a matter of getting the columns of refugees into the mountains, in the hope that Schörner would keep his promise to make sure that nobody fell into Soviet hands. In the meantime the Soviets stood by, ready to attack with their armour. Swarms of Soviet bombers flew over Dresden towards Czechoslovakia, demonstrating their crushing superiority.

On the Reichsstraße to Dippoldiswalde, lines of refugees moved towards Bohemia between elements of a Waffen-SS division. As a precaution the batteries prepared new firing positions. The situation did not look good. One artillery Abteilung ended up in an enemy held village during its change of position, and remained missing ever after. The new position was near Frauenstein because the city itself was already in Soviet hands.

At that point the Americans were already in Karlsbad. Formations scouted minor roads to Brüx in the Sudetenland, in order to get all the men, vehicles and equipment that could be spared, over the mountains to Brüx and further on towards Karlsbad. The elements on trains were ordered to proceed there. The combat echelons merely formed the essential rearguard.

In the afternoon the Soviets attacked from Frauenstein, but 7 May too, passed with no order to retreat. The division intended to avoid being cut off. The Americans were to the west. The Soviets were coming from the north and east, so the only chance to escape seemed to be to reach the Sudetenland.

Elements of Panzer-Regiment 21 were ordered to block the Soviet advance near Neiße in Upper Silesia, and prevent them from crossing the Elbe towards Bohemia and Moravia. It was a mission that it could no longer accomplish. The Soviets proved to be faster. They had fuel, marched on whatever roads they chose, and brutally crushed the refugees fleeing on the roads. The German troops, on the other hand, had practically no fuel, and therefore had to drive in long strings of towed vehicles, and suffered other logistical difficulties. Waffen-SS formations and Fallschirm-Panzer-Division “Hermann Göring” also moved on the 20th Panzer-Division’s route of retreat, along with many refugees. The roads finally proved to be hopelessly jammed and blocked.

Part of the armour still made it, via Dippoldiswalde—Bärenburg to Altenberg. Other elements, particularly the trains, went via Heidenau, Pirna and Bad Schandau to Tetschen—Bodenbach, in order to cross the Elbe there. The railway elements entrained on 6 May to travel to Teplitz—Schönau, as well as Luhdorf. There they came under enemy artillery fire.

Dux—Brüx were already in Soviet hands. Trains assembled in a village south of Berlin, and off-loaded superfluous equipment and ammunition. It was planned to move out at 19.00 hours and drive as a unit into American captivity. During a last preliminary discussion, Soviet tanks suddenly appeared, standing in a semicircle on a hill facing the village. The last vehicles could still turn and leave from the other end of the village. Most, however, were unable to get away again. They were immediately captured by the Soviets.

Swinging in a wide arc, the vehicles that had escaped drove towards Saaz, past the airfield and the blazing German aircraft, on towards Karlsbad, which they reached on 9 May. There they ran into long German columns from Bohemia that had the same objective of escaping capture by the Soviets. Bumper to bumper, the vehicles were locked in a stationary traffic jam when suddenly, tanks opened fire on them from a hill to the left. However, it was not Soviet, but American tanks that had received orders to open fire to provide exciting scenes for the American weekly newsreels. Columns followed with American military police who escorted the German vehicles to prisoner assembly points near Falkenau. The next morning they were moved on to the Eger airfield, where about 9,000 soldiers arrived with many vehicles. The first releases began after 10 days. However, the Americans turned over the entire Marienbad and Pilsen camps to the Soviets.

By order of the division commander, the Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung of the 20th Panzer-Division moved out towards Prague. The German radio station, working around the clock in Prague, then transmitted that it was under siege and appealed for help. The Panzer-Aufklärungs-Abteilung did not reach its objective. Early on 8 May, other elements of the division including Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment 92, received orders to retreat, without clear instructions. Therefore the Abteilungen themselves had to see what progress they could make through forest cuttings, towards Teplitz—Schönau, with Karlsbad as their objective. When they learned of the surrender they turned off towards Aussig, until they too were caught up in a hopeless traffic jam. Some elements attempted to gain ground towards the southwest, moving cross-country over dry terrain. In the early morning of 9 May, Soviet tanks pushed into Aussig, triggering a wild panic. Some of the vehicles headed towards Bilin on country roads where they were met by Soviet tanks. Elements of the division went into captivity on 13 May. They were loaded on trains for Dresden, and proceeded from there on foot to the Königsbrück POW camp.