The II SS Panzer Corps at Arnhem

The formation that played the critical role in defeating the Allies in Market Garden was II SS Panzer Corps, consisting of the 9th Waffen-SS Division Hohenstaufen and the 10th Waffen-SS Division Frundsberg. These two elite divisions had played a leading part in freeing the First Panzer Army from encirclement by the Russians in April. They then took part in the Normandy battles from the beginning of July onward. By early September, the corps had been reduced to about 6,500–7,000, of whom a small majority were Frundsberg men. Both divisions were officially down to Kampfgruppe (Battle Group) strength, but their fighting quality was high and their leadership exemplary.

The corps commander was SS-Lt. General Wilhelm Bittrich, whom Roy Urquhart described as a leader of “tremendous professional ability.” The acting head of Hohenstaufen was SS-Colonel Walter Harzer, who was young, articulate, able and ambitious. Both Bittrich and Harzer were Anglophiles, which accounts in part for the healthy respect which both sides held for each other. The commander of Frundsberg was SS-Maj. General Heinz Harmel, whom the historian of the Waffen-SS, Col. General of the SS Paul Hausser, referred to as a leader of “proven ability.” He was known to the troops with warmth as Der alte Frundsberg (Old Frundsberg Himself).

During the retreat of II SS Panzer Corps from the Falaise pocket on 21 August, command and control of Army Group B broke down completely. Model rarely knew where his units were or what shape they were in, receiving information that was either out of date or otherwise unreliable. Hausser, the commander of II SS Panzer Corps before he was promoted to head Seventh Army, was carried out of the Falaise Pocket, badly wounded, on the hull of one of the last remaining tanks from 1st SS Panzer Division.

During this chaotic period, Bittrich, who had taken over from Hausser, still found time to demand 111 new tanks on 26 August. On 3 September, Model had ordered all SS armored divisions to refit north of Namur in Belgium; this order was apparently never received by Bittrich. By 4 September, Bittrich had been out of touch with Army Group B for three days. He made his way on foot to Model’s HQ near Liege and received verbal orders to disengage and move north into Holland for rest and refitting. Both the 9th and 10th SS divisions began withdrawing on 5–6 September, advanced units of the former reaching the Arnhem area by the evening of the 6th.

Bittrich then discovered to his chagrin that in refitting his two divisions they were to be split up; Frundsberg remaining in the Arnhem area and Hohenstaufen entraining for Siegen in the Reich, just east of the Ruhrindustriegebiet. Hohenstaufen was ordered to hand over its remaining armor and vehicles to Frundsberg, but these were still with the division on D-Day, when only technical and administrative units had left for Germany. Despite the corps order, both divisions were prepared for imminent action.

Hohenstaufen was divided into nineteen Alarmheiten, each of about company strength, comprising about 2,500 men in total. Most of these “alarm companies” were stationed 10–15 km northeast of Arnhem so that they could be brought to bear against any landing west of the city as well as north and east. Particularly crucial was the location of the 9th SS Reconnaissance Battalion at Beekbergen. In defiance of the order to hand over their vehicles to Frundsberg, the Hohenstaufen men disabled them in various, reversible ways such as having the tracks removed. While most of the vehicles were already loaded onto flatcars ready to move to Siegen, the battalion was otherwise poised to descend on Arnhem and points south.

Most of the corps had been thoroughly trained in anti-paratroop operations in France in 1943. Where the corps was deficient was in transport; the alarm units having to travel, for the most part, on foot or by bicycle. Communications with Harzer’s HQ at Beekbergen outside Apeldoorn and between the companies were also so poor that the resulting siege of Frost’s battalion at the Arnhem bridge was achieved as much by luck as by design.

Frundsberg’s Harmel, with more men and heavy weapons than Hohenstaufen’s Harzer, also reorganized his division so that by 17 September he could call upon three battalions of Panzergrenadiere motorized infantry, a tank group of Panzerkampfwagen (Panzer) IVs in Vorden, and a flak (anti-aircraft) regiment in Dieren. Panzergrenadier Regiment 21, with a complement of 12 anti-tank guns, was stationed at Deventer.

The dispositions of Frundsberg are essential to an understanding of the German reaction on D-Day. The division’s reconnaissance battalion under SS-Major Brinkmann was at Borculo and Eibergen, east of Harmel’s HQ at Ruurlo, and the furthest of all the Panzer Corps units from Arnhem. The units at Vorden, Dieren and Deventer were also further from Arnhem than those of Hohenstaufen. The only units close to Arnhem were Battalion Euling at Rheden and the battery of artillery at Dieren commanded by SS-Lt. Colonel Ludwig Spindler. The reason they were there was that they had been transferred to Frundsberg from Hohenstaufen; after the airborne landings, Spindler took charge of all Hohenstaufen units that were put into the fight against the First Parachute Brigade.

Frundsberg, most of it further away from Arnhem than Hohenstaufen, was directed on to Nijmegen, including Euling’s battalion. There, Frundsberg barred the way to Arnhem, which was even more important than the success of Hohenstaufen and SS Training Battalion Krafft in checking the British at Arnhem-Oosterbeek. The actions of Frundsberg were the death-knell of Market Garden.

On 17 September, Frundsberg was without its commander. During the Normandy battles, there had been rumblings of dissent among the Waffen-SS leadership. Discontent with the military direction of the war had reached such a pitch that Rommel, the commander of Army Group B, hatched a plan to end the war on the Western Front. He sounded out several of his commanders, including those of the Waffen-SS. Hausser, Bittrich, even Sepp Dietrich, an old Nazi and the longest-serving of the senior SS commanders, all expressed support.

The plan was that Hitler would be arrested but not killed and Rommel would direct an orderly withdrawal to the Siegfried Line and invite the Western Allies to occupy France. But then Rommel was wounded in an air attack on 17 July and Army Group B was without a commander until Model took over on 17 August. The attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July caught these western conspirators by surprise and Rommel later killed himself, not because his plot had been discovered but because his name was on a list of senior figures designated by the 20 July conspirators to take over from Hitler.

Bittrich’s diatribes against the military leadership during the Battle of Normandy had reached the ears of the Reichsfuehrer SS, Heinrich Himmler. The last straw came when Bittrich heard that Col. General Erich Hoeppner, his former commander on the Eastern Front, had been condemned to death by hanging. Bittrich exploded in fury, saying that such a disgraceful fate meant the end of the German Army. Himmler dismissed Bittrich although his senior officer, General Hans Eberbach of the Fifth Panzer Army, refused to let him go. Himmler tried again during the Arnhem battle but Model again refused to release Bittrich, quite possibly saving his life.

Unfortunately, Bittrich still needed to plead the case for more heavy weapons and equipment from the SS-Fuehrungshauptampt (Operational Department). Since Frundsberg was in the most immediate need of heavy weapons, it was Harmel who was sent to Berlin, unbeknownst to Model. The fact that he left his division shows that Bittrich had no inkling at all of the massive attack that was to fall on the Germans from Eindhoven to Arnhem. Harmel left Ruurlo by car on the evening of 16 September and met with SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Hans Juettner, the head of one of the two vast military bureaucracies governing the Waffen-SS, and Himmler’s military Chief of Staff. Juettner promised 1,500 recruits but was noncommittal about heavy weapons. Negotiations were overtaken by events and Harmel was summoned by teletype back to Arnhem on the afternoon of the 17th.

ANTICIPATING ATTACK

The Germans certainly anticipated Allied paratroop landings in offensive actions to follow up their retreat. In general, they expected the landings to be larger than those in Market and much deeper behind the German lines. The only inkling that the Allies had of the Germans anticipating Market Garden were Ultra decrypts of 14 and 15 September, showing the Germans expected large-scale air landings in Holland and a thrust by ground forces on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem.

The decrypt of 15 September is particularly revealing. The message was decoded at a time when, apart from the military situation at Brest, most of the decrypted messages concerned the Aegean, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean. The Germans correctly identified XXX Corps and speculated that a further corps would be brought up to the front line. They also projected that 800 to 900 tanks would be available, which was an overestimate. However, the Germans were correct in their speculation that a ground offensive would take place, moving up on both sides of Eindhoven to Arnhem, with the aim of cutting off German forces in the western Netherlands. These projections were not passed on to the lower commands. A warning by a German agent in neutral Sweden that something quite close to this scenario was about to take place reached Berlin only on D-Day.

Lower down the chain of command, the greatest likelihood was thought to be a ground offensive from Neerpelt in support of the Americans to the south. Model’s staff speculated that the Allies would advance from the Neerpelt bridgehead, concentrate between the Maas and the Waal, then move east toward that part of the Ruhrindustriegebiet east of the Rhine. Any parachute landings would be in the Ruhr area.

When the blow fell, both Bittrich and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) thought that the aim was to prevent reinforcement at the northern end of the West Wall by Fifteenth Army in an Allied attempt to open the way to Muenster. Hitler refused to allow reinforcements from Fifteenth Army toward Eindhoven that would weaken the approaches to the Scheldt. His grasp of military reality at this point was greater than that of subsequent military historians.

At the time of Market Garden, Hitler was already planning what became the Ardennes offensive in December. He received the news of the landings with great calm, possibly because of his confidence in Model and the preparations he had made. Hitler’s military situation conference, of which only parts of the record have survived, began at midday and continued until 0207 hours the next morning. The conference was typical in that it was rambling and unstructured, switching back and forth from one general topic to the other, without systematic reports from the Army Groups or theaters. The flow was interrupted by reports on the military situation in the Netherlands, which started at around 1700 and continued until the small hours.

Hitler linked the paratroop landings with a coastal invasion. He also expected further landings on the following day and mused that the capture of his headquarters was worth the risk of two parachute divisions. He later “used strong language” about the folly of allowing bridges to fall intact into the hands of the enemy.

One officer at the conference speculated with great prescience that the offensive was aimed at the Zuyder Zee, more accurately at the IJsselmeer to the south. The officer was Lieutenant Colonel Waizenegger, adjutant to General Jodl, chief of the operations staff of the OKW. Waizenegger connected the ground assault from the Neerpelt bridgehead with the airborne operation. Though the picture was incomplete, Hitler’s HQ got a fair indication of the forces that could be brought to bear, including the 107th Panzer Brigade to the east of the Corridor, Poppe’s 59th Division from Fifteenth Army, and the 406th Division from Wehrkreis VI, the German military district on the Dutch border. There was much uncertainty and discussion about the strength and deployment of the First Parachute Army. II SS Panzer Corps was not mentioned, except for the battalion already detached to counter any advance from Neerpelt.

Bittrich’s reaction was both rapid and pertinent. He ordered Hohenstaufen, the closest to Arnhem of his two divisions, to secure the Arnhem bridge and destroy the British formations that had landed at Oosterbeek to the west. A top priority was to keep the British away from the bridge.

Equally important was Nijmegen. He ordered Frundsberg to proceed immediately south to defend the Nijmegen bridge from the south bank of the Waal, seeing that Second Army would move through Nijmegen to Arnhem. At the same time, he ordered a reconnaissance in the direction of Emmerich and Wesel; the Allies learned from an Ultra decrypt early on D+2 that the Germans thought there had been paratroop landings in the vicinity of Emmerich as well as Nijmegen and Arnhem.

Bittrich also ordered a reconnaissance toward Nijmegen, to precede the move south by Frundsberg. Since the Hohenstaufen reconnaissance battalion at Beekbergen was far closer to Arnhem than that of Frundsberg, he transferred it to the command of Frundsberg and sent it south, over the Arnhem road bridge. The Frundsberg reconnaissance battalion was later ordered to secure the Arnhem bridge for the division’s move south.

Model’s reaction was different from that of Hitler. Early on, he ordered the bridges not to be blown, as they would be needed for a counterattack. This instinct for a counterattack while fighting a major defensive battle was typical of Model. His personal reaction was less typical: the sight of parachutists caused the hurried evacuation of his HQ and departure with unseemly haste to Bittrich’s HQ at Doetinchem, east of Arnhem. By the time of Model’s arrival, Bittrich had already issued orders to his corps; Model, known for meddling in the lower orders of command, could only confirm what Bittrich had already undertaken. He later received a description of the entire battle plan, taken from a downed American glider which had crashed near Student’s HQ at Vaught on the outskirts of ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Student sent the plans by radio to Model, who had received them before the end of D-Day. Model was sceptical about the plan but it indicated no action different from what was already under way. Even the next day, Model considered that the aim of the Allied operation was to capture him and his headquarters; he marveled repeatedly at his own escape. He was no doubt influenced by the warnings of landings near his headquarters that he had received previously from his SS and Luftwaffe colleagues.

Model’s handling of the battle was perhaps his best military moment. He took II SS Panzer Corps under direct command and confirmed the order that Bittrich sent to his troops at 1730 hours. Beyond that, Model divided the defense into three sectors. The First Parachute Army was to halt the British ground offensive and eliminate the 101st Airborne Division on the Son-Veghel road. Kampfgruppe Chill was already in place to oppose the ground offensive, the 59th Infantry Division in transit west of Tilburg was to engage the 101st, and the 107th Panzer Brigade was diverted from its move to the Aachen sector to oppose the 101st from the east. Second, Wehrkreis VI was ordered to nuetralize Allied paratroopers on the Groesbeek Heights, to defend or retake the road and rail bridges over the Waal, and to prepare for offensive operations toward the south. Lastly, the Netherlands Command was called on to undertake operations against the British in ArnhemOosterbeek, under Christiansen’s operations and training officer, Major General Baron Hans von Tettau. These orders were in place before midnight on D-Day.

A premise of Allied strategic thinking for Market Garden was that it would take many weeks for a limited number of German divisions, between six and twelve, to arrive by train from Denmark and the Reich. The SHAEF Intelligence Summary of 13 September said that the German “CiC West can expect no more than a dozen divisions within the next two months to come from outside sources to the rescue.” Instead, the Germans pulled together, with astonishing speed and efficiency, a large number of disparate units already in the vicinity, though the myth that the German cupboard was bare persisted long after the war’s end.

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The Tirpitz and the War in the Arctic

The bombers from the 9th and 617th Squadrons landed in Scotland during the afternoon of 13 November, their mission having been accomplished. One aircraft was missing, as it had been forced to land in Sweden. Another had flown to the Shetlands, after an engine had been hit by German Flak and fuel consumption had risen alarmingly. Eight bombers had to land on other fields than those they had taken off from. Among the latter was Tait’s Lancaster. When he and his crew climbed down from the bomber, they were asked if they had been on a cross-country training flight.

Next day, at the 5 Group morning conference, the officers present waited to see whether the outcome of Catechism might cause a temporary change in Cochrane’s stern exterior. He sat down behind his desk, glanced at the report, and then said in a matter-of-fact voice: “Last night’s raid … successful. Tirpitz sunk! Now, about tonight’s operations … the Dortmund-Ems canal …”

But if Cochrane appeared to regard Operation Catechism as little more than a navigation exercise, the 9th and 617th had finally put an end to British fears that the Tirpitz would threaten Allied shipping. They had done their utmost to prevent the German battleship from breaking out onto the Atlantic—air attacks by heavy bombers, torpedo bombers, human torpedoes, midget submarines, carrier aircraft, and further operations by heavy bombers. They had initiated deception operations like Tarantula and the pre-emptive attack on St. Nazaire. After all these efforts, success was finally achieved. In the shallow water where the Tirpitz had capsized, her hull, which had become a grave for almost 1,000 German seamen, would remain visible for many years. A Norwegian company later began to dismantle the wreck and sell it as scrap metal. The work continued well into the 1950s, when the war was already fading into the past.

In fact, when the Tallboys hit their target near Tromsø, the outcome of the Second World War had already been decided for some time. Most likely, the German defeat was already inevitable when the midget submarines penetrated into the net cage on 22 September 1943. The battleship would not participate in any operation after Sizilien. Her remaining career was characterised by German attempts to keep her battleworthy, while the British strenuously strove to damage and destroy her before she became fully operational again.

Perhaps Hitler’s negative attitude toward the heavy warships made the efforts to repair the Tirpitz less energetic than they might otherwise have been. On the other hand, it was difficult to repair such a large warship in northern Norway, as suitable facilities were mainly absent. As is known from many other warships—not least German—long periods of maintenance and repairs were often needed even if no battle damage had been sustained. Almost always, such work was conducted at well-equipped shipyards.

Against this background, it appears unlikely that the Tirpitz could have significantly influenced the course of events after the summer of 1943. The outcome of the war had been effectively decided and, at most, the German battleship could hardly even have delayed it. Largely, the war was decided on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army firmly dictated the main events from 1943 onwards. Valuable goods were unloaded from the convoys that arrived in Murmansk and Archangelsk after the summer of 1943. Above all, these products enabled Stalin to speed up his advance west, as the equipment provided by the Western powers improved Soviet mobility.

At most, an active use of the Tirpitz would have prevented some merchant ships from reaching their destination, but when the battleship was finally destroyed, even this rather remote possibility vanished. At this stage of the war, the Tirpitz was no longer an important component in the German war effort. The British were not fully aware that the Germans had written off the Tirpitz as an offensive weapon in autumn 1944, but even so, their final efforts appear almost overzealous. Perhaps this is an example of how wars develop their own logic. When a process has begun, it tends to carry on by its own inertia.

With the destruction of the Tirpitz, the last German battleship was neutralized. Admittedly, the Gneisenau remained in Gdynia, but she lacked her heavy guns. They had been removed for use in Norway as coastal artillery. The work to fit her with new 38cm guns had been discontinued after the Scharnhorst was sunk. She was not a battleworthy warship, and as she lacked her heavy guns, was hardly even useful as a floating battery. In March 1945, the Germans sunk the Gneisenau to block the port of Gdynia as the Red Army was about to capture it. The autumn of 1944 did not only see the end of the German battle fleet. In the Pacific, the Battle of the Surigao Strait was fought on the night of 24–25 October, about three weeks before the destruction of the Tirpitz. This night action between American and Japanese battleships would turn out to be the last occasion when battleships fought each other. The battleship era had come to its end, although the ships were still used for coastal bombardment.

During her career, the Tirpitz did not receive significant modifications. Her radar equipment as well as her anti-aircraft defenses were improved, but otherwise she underwent no major changes. She remained very similar to her sister ship Bismarck. However, few modern battleships were significantly altered during World War II. The most important shortcomings the Tirpitz suffered from could not be attributed to her construction, but to the concept she was supposed to fit into.

Raeder had worked to create a powerful German Navy, and the heavy warships had consumed most of its resources. He had hoped to use them against British transoceanic shipping. The Tirpitz had been designed for this concept, but she was never permitted to fulfill the role Raeder had conceived for her. Except when she narrowly missed PQ12 and QP8, she never even came close to an enemy convoy. All other Allied ships retained a healthy distance from the Tirpitz’s heavy guns. Why did events unfold in such a way?

The Tirpitz was the last German battleship; in fact she was the last heavy German warship completed during the war. When she was commissioned, Hitler had adopted a strong aversion to using the heavy warships on any mission that entailed risk. The constraints resulting from Hitler’s attitude did not make the German Navy officers inclined to use the warships with daring and innovation.

On the other hand, Hitler’s caution may have been fostered by the events of 1939–41, when many German warships had been lost without having achieved any major triumph. Perhaps he valued a fairly intact fleet more than insignificant successes on the sea, in particular if the latter were won at high cost.

If Hitler argued along these lines he was not detached from the reality, because the mere existence of the Tirpitz in Norwegian fjords tied up significant Allied resources. For over three years the British made considerable efforts with all arms to destroy the German battleship. In a sense, the Tirpitz can serve as an example of a fleet in being. It is, however, difficult to judge if these effects on the British justified the resources spent by the Germans in building the battleship and maintaining it. Once the ship was completed, it was perhaps wise to make the most of her, but nevertheless the German program on heavy warships, at least later in the war, appears wasted.

Lack of fuel seems to have been a major constraint on German naval warfare. An ocean warfare concept of the kind envisaged by Raeder would have required substantial quantities of oil, or else the impact on the enemy would have remained slight. It is doubtful that Germany could have acquired the necessary quantities. Thus a common notion—that Germany began the war before her naval build-up was completed—can be called into question. The so-called Z-Plan, which Raeder put forward during the second half of the 1930s, envisaged a much larger fleet, but not until a decade later; that is, not reaching fruition until after 1945. The sources do not agree entirely on the composition of the German fleet according to the plan, but it was projected to encompass about 10 battleships, 12 unspecified armored ships, 4 carriers, and at least 20 cruisers. As it proved difficult to supply the small German fleet in World War II with sufficient fuel, a much larger fleet along the lines outlined in the Z-Plan would have been almost impossible to use effectively.

The fact is that the German strategic position before World War II placed her between two land powers: France and Poland. They were the most likely enemies, and against them the Germans above all needed a strong Army supported by air power. The Navy could not be expected to contribute significantly in a war against France and Poland and was consequently allotted only a minor portion of the defense budget. But it must also be remembered that the other major powers were accelerating their naval programs during this period. Great Britain, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, and even the Soviet Union had initiated large naval production programs. Clearly, it cannot be taken for granted that the German Navy would have been in a better position if the war had begun later. Other countries, particularly those with overseas possessions, would have progressed further. Most importantly, many of the other powers controlled much larger sources of fuel.

The German effort to produce heavy warships could hardly have contributed significantly to defeating any of its major enemies. Probably the conquest of Norway was the most important German success to which the Navy contributed significantly. By controlling Norway, the Germans had removed the threat against the Swedish iron ore deposits, which were very valuable to the German war economy. However, the occupation of Norway took place before the Bismarck and Tirpitz were completed.

If the expansion of the German Navy before World War II was a blunder, it was not without precursors. In the decade before World War I, the Imperial German Navy expanded considerably, even more than before World War II. In the end, the German surface fleet in World War I obtained very meager results, and it seems that Germany’s expansion of its Navy before the war significantly contributed to the British decision to declare war.

The men who were caught inside the Tirpitz’s hull had more mundane problems to consider than naval strategy in distant waters. Bernstein’s group had survived inside the sickening oil tank for more than eight hours when Sommer’s men cut a hole in the hull. Fearing the oil might catch fire, Bernstein ordered some of the men to go for a few fire extinguishers he had seen in an adjacent compartment. They sprinkled the area where the welding flames cut through the plates. Soon a hole had been created, and the rescue party poured water on the edges to chill them. When Bernstein had got up through the hole and stood trembling while breathing the fresh air, Sommer approached him and asked, “Are there more men down there?”

“Yes, next to us,” Bernstein replied. “They were banging and we could hear a piece of metal falling.”

“They have already been saved,” Sommer said. “They were inside the workshop above one of the tanks. We got them out before you.”

Bernstein looked at the devastation surrounding the ship. Below him, remains of the torpedo nets floated in the oily water and small boats were picking up the bodies of dead seamen. On the beach, he could see small groups of survivors who had not yet found shelter from the cold. The German repair ship Neumark had been positioned alongside the battleship, as had the Norwegian pilot boat Arngast, on which more sophisticated welding equipment was carried. Everywhere on the keel, both rescuers and rescued congratulated each other. Bernstein recognized Sub-Lieutenant Wache, one of the engineers who had participated in the rescue work. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He did not weep over the lost comrades, but shed tears of joy over the saved.

“I am sure there is another group rather close to us,” Bernstein said. “I heard them knocking on the bulkheads.”

“You have done enough now,” Sommer said. “Take one of the boats and row ashore with your men. Get some rest. We are still working at the bow and I have to go there.”

The rescue work continued during the night and well into the morning, when the last survivors were brought out from the interior of the battleship. Altogether, Sommer and his men had saved 87 men from the wreck. At last he would find some rest.

When Sommer sat in the boat which brought him to Tromsø and looked at the huge keel, which resembled an enormous dead whale, he watched the sad remnants of the German efforts to create a powerful battle fleet. The efforts had been initiated at the end of the 19th century, and the results had been tested in two world wars. The man who set the program in motion was Alfred von Tirpitz, Secretary of the Navy in the Imperial German Cabinet, 1897–1916. It is ironic that the last German battleship carried his name.

The Bismarck had been the last German battleship endeavoring to cut off the British transatlantic trade routes and thus cripple the British economy. The Tirpitz had been given the less ambitious task to halt Allied Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union.

Neither of these aims had been achieved.

Panzer-Division “Clausewitz”

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.

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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.

Report on the Commitment of the Panzer-Division Clausewitz

 

Felix Steiner and the Eleventh SS Panzer Army

Award ceremony for the panzermänner from the 503 (schwere) SS-PzAbt near Arnswalde (Pomerania) in February 1945. From right to left are SS-Ustuf. Karl Bromann (future Ritterkreuzträger and panzer ace), SS-Stubaf. Friedrich “Fritz” Herzig (future Ritterkreuzträger and Kdr. of 503 s.SS-PzAbt).

From February to March 1945 the division had rough battles in Danzig, Stettin and Stargard. In March they fought on the Oder front and in Neukölln, where they suffered great losses. On March 20, 1945 the exhausted division was put into reserve, but already on April 16 the Nordland was sent to protect Berlin.

On Stettin’s quayside, Ziegler and his men disembarked, climbed into their vehicles and left the bombed-out city behind them. The Nordland’s grenadiers drove south into the quiet Pomeranian countryside where they married up with their panzer battalion, now reformed and boasting 30 Panthers and 30 assault guns. This would be the last period of calm the division would experience before its extinction in the rubble of Berlin three months later. From this moment until the end, the Scandinavian Waffen-SS would be involved in bitter fighting across the east German landscape, being worn down by battles at Arnswalde, Massow, Vossberg and Altdamm. At each location, now all in modern-day Poland, they would leave yet more comrades behind, lying dead in the mud. For now though, the war seemed a long way off as the men spent more than a week training during the day and then relaxing night in the local Pomeranian hostelries, eating, drinking and dancing with the local farm girls.

To the east and south the Red Army was equally happy, but for very different reasons. Having surged forward from its bridgeheads on the Vistula, the Red Army had broken into Germany and was approaching the Oder River just to the east of Berlin itself. Successful though the offensive had been, the STAVKA’s plan to defeat Nazi Germany in 45 days had failed, as the troops’ logistics failed to keep pace with their leader’s ambitions. Having splintered Army Group Vistula, under the hapless command of a totally unqualified Heinrich Himmler, the Russians were now short of fuel and ammunition and their attack came to a natural halt. Guderian, probably Hitler’s best remaining general, was the first to see the opportunity for a counter-attack to destroy Zhukov’s overstretched 1st Belorussian Front, and give the Germans much-needed breathing space.

A plan was quickly pulled together that called for a double pincer movement to cut Zhukov’s command in half, a thrust from Stargard in the north meeting up with a southern one from Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Guderian also proposed that, for the first time in the war, the operation be totally controlled by the Waffen-SS. He called for Dietrich’s Sixth SS Panzer Army to form the southern arm, and a new SS Army, the Eleventh Panzer, to form the northern one. This made sound military sense as it would position Dietrich’s veterans to defend Berlin in the coming battle, but there was now no place at all for sound military thinking on Hitler’s part. The dictator was still obsessed with Budapest and Hungary, never mind that the city had fallen and the country almost lost. He refused to sanction Dietrich’s move north, and insisted the northern thrust alone would be enough.

That blow would be delivered by none other than the man who symbolised more than any other the incorporation of European volunteers into the Waffen-SS – Felix Steiner. Promoted from Corps to Army command, Steiner was now given ten divisions, most of them divisions in name only, and no time to properly organise his staff. Ammunition was low, fuel desperately short and air cover non-existent. Arrayed on a 30-mile front, the attacking force was split into three columns. The Eastern Group was the weakest being made up of the 163rd and 281st Infantry Divisions and the Führer-Grenadier Division, collectively called the Corps Group Munzel after their commander. Their goal was flank protection, and to push out towards Landsberg on the River Warthe. Steiner’s old command, the III Germanic SS Panzer Corps, comprising the Nordland, a Flemish SS battlegroup, the Führer-Begleit Division and the Dutchmen of the Nederland (now upgraded to a division), made up the Central Group under General Martin Unrein. Their mission was to punch south and reach Arnswalde (now Polish Choszno) before advancing further. Completing the counter-attack force was the XXXIX Panzer Corps known as the Western Group. This Corps contained the Army’s Holstein Panzer Division, as well as the 10th SS-Panzer Division Frundsberg, the 4th SS-Panzergrenadier Division SS-Polizei and Degrelle’s Walloons, like the Dutch, recently renamed as a division. Their role was flank protection, as with the Eastern Group, but they were also there to exploit and reinforce any success achieved by the Central Group.

Facing Steiner’s new army were no less than five Soviet ones, including the experienced 1st and 2nd Guards Tank Armies, the 3rd Shock and the infantrymen of the 47th and 61st. With each Soviet Army being roughly equivalent to a German corps in size, it was clear that even if the attacking divisions had been up to strength they would have been badly outnumbered by the Soviets. As it was, their only hope of achieving the three to one ratio all military manuals lay down as necessary for an attacker to ensure success against a defender, was to concentrate all of their combat power into one overwhelming punch. This, Steiner’s inexperienced staff failed to achieve. Confusion reigned in the troops assembly areas, men and vehicles clogged up the few roads, and a thaw made the ground boggy and restricted movement. As a result when H-hour came on 15 February, only the Nordland was ready to cross the start line. They attacked into the northern flank of Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front, but right from the off Soviet resistance was bitter, and the going heavy, as the rain poured down and the ground turned to slush. It wasn’t exactly blitzkrieg. Nevertheless the Scandinavians, Germans and volksdeutsche pushed on, and reached the beleaguered town of Arnswalde on 17 February. Just as with so many towns and villages across the east, the local Nazi Party hierarchy had not prepared the people for the invasion and evacuation was left far too late. Needless to say the ‘golden pheasants’ themselves, as Nazi Party functionaries were disparagingly called on account of their penchant for flashy baubles of rank, managed to escape in time, but for the majority of the populace the swift Soviet advance left them high and dry and at the mercy of a vengeful Red Army.

More than 2000 German soldiers, many of them wounded, had taken refuge in the town and beaten off several determined Soviet attacks while the civilian population cowered in their cellars praying for deliverance. For once that early spring, their prayers would be answered with the arrival of the Nordland’s grenadiers. As the camouflaged and heavily-armed young troopers stormed into town there was a surge of relief as thousands of people poured out into the streets to greet them. Ziegler’s men consolidated for the day and then surged south again, only to hit a veritable wall of Russian steel, as artillery, armour and aircraft fire deluged them. As the SS troopers struggled on, behind them the civilians of Arnswalde packed as many of their belongings as they could onto carts and their own backs and headed north to safety, saved by the Nordland’s advance.

Further gains were impossible, and in a matter of days the now-deserted Arnswalde was again the frontline as the Nordland was pushed back by ever-greater Soviet attacks. On 23 February the town was abandoned. Summer Solstice had failed and the Nordland withdrew back to the line of the Ihna River. So ended the Nordland’s last offensive of the war.

Ultimately unsuccessful as the operation was, Ziegler and the Nordland were commended for their part in the battle. The official report formed part of Ziegler’s citation for the Oakleaves to his Knight’s Cross:

On February 15 1945 the 11th SS-Panzergrenadier Division Nordland, in spite of the severe shortage of fuel and ammunition, began the planned attack to free encircled Arnswalde. Knowing that with the quickly replenished panzer grenadier regiments, the attack’s objective could only be achieved by achieving surprise and leading it personally, SS-Brigadeführer Ziegler and the regimental commanders supervised the deployment for the attack in detail. At the beginning of the attack Ziegler placed himself at the head of the foremost battalion. After breaking the first resistance of the enemy, SS-Brigadeführer Ziegler ordered his armoured group to undertake a violent breakthrough towards Arnswalde.

With further attacks of the panzer grenadier regiments, the enemy [a large part of the 7th Guards Cavalry Corps] was annihilated. Booty included 26 anti-tank guns, 18 heavy grenade-launchers and two batteries of heavy artillery destroyed.

The enemy was defeated by surprise with minimal casualties [one regiment had just seven dead and two wounded] and for the first time an encircled fortress [1,000 wounded, 1,100 troops and 7,000 civilians] was liberated.

Praise indeed, but though casualties were relatively few overall the Scandinavian volunteers were fast becoming a rarity in the Nordland. By the time of the retreat into Courland the division still counted 534 Norwegians in its ranks, this had dropped to just 64 in the Norge by the end of Summer Solstice, and barely a hundred in total throughout the formation. Their places in the ranks were taken by recently-drafted German conscripts and redundant Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine men. Hastily kitted out, these poor unfortunates became so much cannon-fodder, with the Nordland’s remaining veterans providing it with its real combat power.

Solstice had indeed failed, however the Arnswalde relief had unintended consequences for the Germans. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Stalin and the rest of the STAVKA still feared what the once-mighty Ostheer could achieve, and they were now worried about a more general German assault from the north. They were determined to avoid this by driving to the Baltic Sea on a wide front and crushing all of north-eastern Germany. This would clear their flank, and leave the way open to take Hitler’s hated capital and end the war. While this operation was being hastily planned and executed, the chastened Red Army also pushed west seeking to establish bridgeheads across the last natural barrier between itself and Berlin – the River Oder.

U-Boat Activity Around WWII Bermuda

As with any battlefield, the human toll is the saddest element. Steel on steel is one form of warfare—the young men who cling to life on a barren life raft for weeks in the Atlantic tell another type of tale, one of tenacity and of perseverance. The men from ships like the Muskogee, abandoned by their antagonists to die a slow death on the windswept crests of North Atlantic waves, would of course never live to tell their tale. They leave it to others to piece together.

Were it not for Bermuda sticking its stubborn, reef-strewn hide out of the northern seas astride the Gulf Stream, over a thousand Allies would likely have perished, two U-boats escaped, and the carnage in the nearly half-million-mile-wide region been vastly more devastating. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers, the men and women from disparate backgrounds who landed on the island were treated humanely, welcomed by kindred souls whether in the African Methodist Church, the Anglican graveyard, a sailor’s canteen, the hospital or the Sailor’s Home, not to mention private homes. The fact they were not treated like commodities (shipwrecked Allied sailors in Archangel Russia were forced to work in factories), speaks volumes to the spirit of hospitality of the tight-knit island community.

These exemplary characteristics can still be found today, and tenets of which are still practiced by members of the Guild of Holy Compassion, as they patiently tend the graves of those lost nearly three generations ago, with no thought to the recognition they are unlikely to receive in any event. No offspring having been borne of the survivors’ short sojourns in the Somer’s Isles, these white-washed grave sites stand silent sentinel for the hundreds more who made it off the island’s war-ravaged coast and back into the fray. There are not likely to ever be U-boats waging war off Bermuda again, and the hulks of most of the victims lie still tantalizingly beyond our grasp.

The Allied ships came from all over—mostly British, US and Norwegian flagged, they also hailed from Latvia, Canada, the Netherlands, neutral Sweden, Uruguay, and Argentina. They steamed ploddingly from Portuguese East Africa or raced from New York, from the Caribbean to Canada, the Pacific to the US, from up South American rivers to US ports like Baytown and Weehawken. Most of them were on their way between Europe and the Americas, ports like Liverpool and Halifax or New York, or the islands and US Gulf to Halifax to convoy east.

During World War Two, there were 1,224 survivors landed in Bermuda from 24 ships (one US Navy, one Canadian Navy), between 17 October 1940 and 27 February 1943. Most of them were passengers on liner ships, followed by merchant sailors and then naval officers and men. The largest number of survivors was from the City of Birmingham (372 landed 1 July 1942, nine fatalities), and the Lady Drake (256 landed 6 May 1942, twelve deaths). The fewest were the schooner the Helen Forsey and the Melbourne Star with four each. Some men from the following ships were landed by air: the Derryheen, USS Gannet, the San Arcadio, and the Melbourne Star. Only the following succeeded in rowing and sailing their way to Bermuda on their own: the Helen Forsey (four Canadians) and the James E. Newsom (nine Canadians).

While other merchant ships picked up most survivors, a number were rescued by naval vessels: the Jagersfontein, the City of Birmingham, the Lady Drake, HMCS Margaree, the British Resource, and USS Gannet. Of those landed in Bermuda, most (twelve ships with 243 men) came from British ships, five ships from the USA accounted for 506 survivors and three Canadian vessels for 299 persons. Other ships whose men landed in Bermuda had been flagged to Uruguay, Sweden, Norway, and Netherlands (one ship each). Six ships experienced the longest survival voyages on open boats or rafts: the Melbourne Star for thirty-eight days; the Empire Dryden for nineteen days; the Fred W. Green for eighteen days; the San Arcadio for fifteen days; the Helen Forsey for twelve days; and the Stanbank for ten days. All the other eighteen ships experienced voyages of nine days or less, with five ships’ crews on the water for one day or less. There were several weeks of particularly intense activity on shore when several ships’ survivors arrived in Bermuda:

Late October 1940: the Uskbridge on 28 October and HMCS Margaree on 1 November 1940.

Mid-March 1942: the British Resource on 16 March and the Oakmar on 24 March 1942.

Late April 1942: the Agra and the Derryheen on 22 April, the Robin Hood on 25 April, and the Modesta on 26 April

Early May 1942: the Lady Drake on 6 May, the Empire Dryden on 8 May, the James E. Newsom on 10 May, and the Stanbank on 15 May.

Mid-June 1942: the West Notus on 5 June, USS Gannet on 7 June, the Melbourne Star on 10 June, the L. A. Christiansen on 12 June, and the Fred W. Green on 17 June 1942.

Early July 1942: the Jagersfontein on 28 June, and the City of Birmingham on 3 July 1942.

Some, like the Derryheen, Maldonado, Uskbridge, and West Notus, only had a portion of their crew landed in Bermuda. The others were rescued by ship or air and taken to different ports. Excluding the passenger ships, the average number of men per ship with survivors landed in Bermuda was 27. Including all ships attacked around Bermuda, but excluding the Uskbridge and HMCS Margeree, which happened before Operation Drumbeat, the attacks began on 24 January with U-106 under Rasch’s attack on the Empire Wildebeeste and ended on 27 February 1943 with the attack by U-66 under Markworth on the St. Margaret some 1,140 nautical miles from Bermuda.

Attacks inside the central circle lasted eighteen months, though the U-boat patrols lasted longer—into 1944. The busiest month of attacks was April 1942 with twenty, followed by May 1942 with fifteen and March 1942 with fourteen. The only months during which there were more than one attacks were January to July 1942, generalizing that the sustained attacks lasted for the first seven months of 1942, though many patrols transited the area and random attacks were made after that period.

Four attacks took place on 20 April 1942: the Agra, the Empire Dryden, the Steel Maker, and the Harpagon; another four happened on 5 May 1942: the Lady Drake, the Stanbank, the Santa Catalina, and the Freden.

There were 3,942 people aboard eighty ships attacked by U-boats between 24 January 1942 and 27 February 1943 (thirteen months—excluding the Uskbridge, sunk off Iceland). A total of 957 men were killed, or a mortality rate of roughly twenty-five percent. Luckily, 2,985 men survived. Of the survivors, approximately forty-one percent of the survivors and thirty-one percent of the overall number of people attacked landed in Bermuda. The majority, or forty-four, of Allied ships were steamships laid out to carry general, or dry bulk cargo, as opposed to tankers or other types. There were eight motor ships that carried dry or general cargo, meaning fifty-two out of eighty (sixty-five percent) were dry cargo ships. There were twenty-one tankers, of which eighteen were the more modern motor tankers, and three were steam tankers. Thus, twenty-six percent of the ships carried liquid cargoes, and most of them were motorized, whereas steam-driven machinery propelled most of the dry ships.

Additionally, there was a US Navy minesweeper, two schooners, and four passenger ships, of which three (the Lady Drake, the San Jacinto, and the City of Birmingham) were steam and one (the Jagersfontein) was motorized. Some other ships, including the Fairport and the Santa Catalina, carried passengers as well as freight. There were only five ships (the Frank B. Baird, the Leif, the Astrea, the Anna, and the Freden) between 1,191 and 1,748 tons, and two—both schooners—less than 1,000 tons: the James E. Newsom at 671 tons and the Helen Forsey at 167 tons. The total gross registered tonnage of all eighty ships was 473,420 tons, so the GRT of the average ship would be 5,918 tons. The largest ships were the San Gerardo (12,915), Victolite (11,410), and Montrolite (11,309). There were four ships between 10,000 and 10,389 tons: the Narragansett, the Opawa, the Jagersfontein, and the Koll.

Generally, the tankers were larger than their dry-bulk cousins; of the top twenty-five ships by tonnage, all except the Lady Drake, the Westmoreland and the Hardwicke Grange were either tankers or motor ships. Out of eighty ships, twelve of them, or fifteen percent were proceeding in ballast—in other words, their cargo holds or tanks were empty except for water or sand, carried to keep them at a safe trim for ocean passages. The Halcyon, for example, was 3,531 tons and carried 1,500 tons of ballast to keep the ship steady in rough seas.

On the dry cargo side, the cargoes were the most varied. They included coal, motor boats, military stores, beer, nitrates, motor trucks, chrome ore, cement, bauxite ore, phosphate, aircraft, locomotives, timber, manganese ore, mahogany, anthracite coal, refrigerated cargo (i.e. meats, butter), gas storage tanks, metal piping, flour, automobiles, wine, cereal, canned meat, wool, eggs, leather, fertilizer, explosives, and bags of mail. The variation continues, with ships carrying wheat, tungsten, nitrate, fuel in drums, steel, tires, small arms, fats, flax seed, tobacco, licorice, rugs, ‘war supplies,’ construction equipment, cigarettes, tanks, lead, asbestos, chrome ore, copper, resins, cotton, zinc concentrates, asphalt, burlap, rubber, linseed, and tea.

On the tanker side, cargoes varied from petrol and paraffin to linseed oil, crude oil, fuel oil, aviation spirit, high-grade diesel oil, gas oil, lubricating oil, gasoline, heavy crude oil, benzene and white spirit, kerosene, furnace oil, and petroleum products. The Helen Forsey was not a tanker, but rather a schooner; nevertheless, she carried molasses and rum—presumably in barrels, not in bulk.

Ships attacked in the Bermuda area flew the flags of eleven countries: Great Britain (thirty-four ships), USA (fifteen), Norway (twelve), Canada (five), Sweden (four), Netherlands (three), Panama (two), Uruguay (two), Argentina (one), Latvia (one), and Yugoslavia (one). Great Britain accounted for forty-three percent of ships lost in the region, the US eighteen percent, and Norway fifteen percent, with the others trailing significantly. Nine out of the thirty-four British ships, or twenty-five percent of them, were tankers. In contrast, only two out of fifteen US-flagged ships (thirteen percent) were tankers. On the Norwegian side, five out of twelve (forty-two percent) were tankers.

Eleven ships left from New York, followed by ten from various ports in the UK and ten from Trinidad—the three lead destination ports. Eight left Bermuda, and seven left Curacao in the Dutch West Indies (invariably tankers loaded with petroleum or distillates), five from the US Gulf, and two from British Guyana. Five ships had made stops in Cape Town on their way from Middle Eastern and Indian ports. Four ships sailed from Halifax. Ten ships had last called at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to receive bunkers, or fuel, on long voyages from South America or South Africa. One sailed from Buenos Aires, with another four from Norfolk or Hampton Roads. Three sailed from Panama (having left New Zealand or Australia), and four left Philadelphia. One left from Savannah, another three from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. One ship left Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), and another from Recife, Brazil. Yet another sailed from Montevideo, Uruguay. Small ports like Turks and Caicos and Barbados were hailed by the schooners. Ship destinations are somewhat clouded by the reality that, if the ship is included in this study, it was attacked by an Axis submarine and most likely never made it to port. Twelve were going to Halifax, but sixteen were going to Canada; two to St. John, as well as Sydney Nova Scotia and Montreal.

Sixteen were going to New York. Six were destined for Bermuda, one for Aruba, one for Baltimore, one for Iran, eleven to Cape Town and thence the Middle East or India. Two were destined for Venezuela, one for Cuidad Trujillo, Dominican Republic, three for Curacao Dutch West Indies to load petroleum products, one to Freetown Sierra Leone, one for Georgetown, British Guyana. One was bound for Iceland, two for Norfolk, two for Philadelphia, one for Pernambuco, another for San Juan and yet another for Rio de Janeiro. One ship was bound for Texas City and another for Trinidad, and yet another for Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

The average distance of victim vessels from Bermuda (excluding the Uskbridge), was 350 nautical miles. The Modesta, sunk on 25 April 1942, was the closest to Bermuda at 121 miles, or ten hours’ steaming at 12 knots. Next came the Harpagon the same week, at only 164 miles distant, followed by the Raphael Semmes and theWestmoreland, both 175 miles away. The Tonsbergfjord was sunk 176 miles from Bermuda by the Italian submarine the Enrico Tazzoli in March 1942. The Astrea was sunk the same week by the same sub 194 miles from the island, and the Ramapo and the Fred W. Green roughly 185 miles away. There were twenty-two ships struck between 200 and 300 nautical miles from Bermuda, and thirty-three between 300 and 400 miles away. Eight Allied merchant ships were attacked between 400 and 500 miles from Bermuda, and four between 500 and 600 miles away; more if Cape Hatteras was included in this study. These ships would have been sunk to the east and south of Bermuda. Five ships were sunk more than 600 miles from the island, but were included in this study because their survivors were landed on Bermuda: the Uskbridge and the St. Margaret. The other three ships were the Pan Norway (sunk 743 miles away), the Triglav (919 miles), and the Athelknight, sunk 1,000 miles away. Since this study is about the men and women who landed in Bermuda during World War Two, their stories are included.

Ultimately, history is told not so much in statistics as through the eyes of the participants. Behind every number in this analysis are the tales of men and women caught unawares and pitched into the merciless North Atlantic. The fact that the majority of them survived and a good number made landfall in Bermuda is a testament not only to the tenacity of their rescuers, who came across the seas and from the clouds, but also to the survivor’s good fortune. For many, the ordeal was not over, as they had to ship out on other vessels and brave the same seas again to reach North America or Europe.

The people of Bermuda—both civilian and those in uniform—did the very best they could under the circumstances to welcome, accommodate, and resuscitate the survivors so that they could sally forth and adjust back into their individual roles in an all-consuming, global war that continued for a further three years. These are the victors of the campaign; men and women who were given up on by both Germans and perhaps by their colleagues ashore, but who battled to survive—and did. By comparison, in the Bahamas only 257 sailors made it ashore from many more ships (130). And in New England 547 landed from thirty-five vessels.

Were it not for fortress Bermuda providing a welcome landing platform for these desperate souls, who would have faced some 650 more nautical miles to make the mainland, most of them would undoubtedly have perished. Bermudians managed the integration of over 1,000 people into a population of 30,000 with aplomb and grace, tending to survivors of all creeds and ages, ranks and genders—the living and the dead. Not only that, but even before the United States joined the fight, they had fortified the island colony with runways and air bases for land as well as sea planes, so that they could not only collect survivors from the air, but avenge the attackers as well. What more could Allied mariners, their passengers, and navy sailors ask of any small and isolated populace?

AIR RECONNAISSANCE FOR U-BOATS

The Problem of Air Reconnaissance

Since Dönitz’s efforts to locate convoys with U-boats alone remained unrewarded, it may be wondered why no air reconnaissance was provided. Had there been no pre-war preparations for aircraft to support U-boat operations? In peace the Navy had certainly envisaged air co-operation; they regarded aircraft as vital for U-boat operations. Joint maneuvers with reconnaissance aircraft and U-boats had shown co-operation to be possible. These exercises had been carried out in the North Sea and the Baltic, areas which aircraft could reach from Germany, but air support was also planned for the Atlantic. In the winter war game of 1938/39, in which officers of the Naval Air Command participated, a daily reconnaissance had been made around Britain and Ireland; the outward course of the aircraft was over the North Sea and the Shetlands, the return route over France.

Suitable types of aircraft were expected to be ready within the near future. At the outbreak of war, however, such types were not available and it was impossible to aid the U-boat operations west of England. In 1939, discussions on Atlantic reconnaissance took place between F.O. U-boats and the officer appointed to the command of the future long-range reconnaissance unit, I. /KG. 40. The air experts believed that aircraft would be able to fly over France to the main U-boat operational area west of the Channel and back. But there was no air support, as I. /KG. 40 was not ready for operations until the summer of 1940. When the conquest of France gave us air bases on the Atlantic, the problem of support for Atlantic operations was again raised by the Naval Staff. On 8th June, 1940, the U-boat Staff Officer in the Naval Staff Operations Division wrote:

“. With the newly acquired operational bases in northwest France the possibility arises of air reconnaissance of the enemy convoy routes and disposition in the area south and southwest of Ireland and perhaps even in the remoter areas to the west and north. The task of the aircraft will be to intercept enemy convoys and other valuable ships, shadow them and, even if contact should be lost, regain it on the following morning…”

On 18th June, 1940, the Naval Staff issued the first directives for support of the U-boats by the Naval Air Force. Dönitz was asked to propose plans for direct co-operation between his Headquarters and those of the Naval Air Commander. In the same month the Luftwaffe Operations Staff were approached to discover the intentions of their Commander-in-Chief regarding air warfare at sea and air support for the Atlantic operations.

At first the only available aircraft were those of the Naval Air Force, namely Coastal Reconnaissance Gruppe 406 under Naval Group West and Coastal Reconnaissance Gruppe 506 under Naval Group North. The following entries on air co-operation appear in the War Diary of F.O. U-boats:

“… 26th July, 1940 – Conference with Naval Air Commander… West At present only four Do 18.. From 29th July some Do 17 and three Do 26 will be available and later some He 115.

14th August – From today KG. 40 (Fourth Fliegerkorps) will operate on reconnaissance in our operational area off the North Channel.

1st October – The Luftwaffe, which should reconnoitre to the northeast and southwest of the operational area, i.e. around Rockall Bank, has, despite all my endeavours, reported no forces available for this task.

15th November – I approach Naval Groups North and West with a request for reconnaissance northwest of Scotland and west of Ireland.

16th November – Both groups agree to the suggested reconnaissance and order it to be carried out today… The reconnaissance planned in the area near the North Channel can only be partly carried out in the northwest because one aircraft crashed.

9th December – Air reconnaissance by Gruppe 406 (mostly type BV 138) must be provisionally postponed for two months owing to mechanical defects in the aircraft.

14th December – A loose form of co-operation has been achieved with the following units:

  1. Coastal Reconnaissance Gruppe 406, Brest, which is under the tactical control of Naval Group West; their long-range BV 138 will not be employed for some two months.
  2. KG.40, Bordeaux. They are independent, and co-operation is due only to personal contact. Type FW 200. At present there is usually only one aircraft available daily.
  3. Luftflotte 5. They require previous notice for reconnaissance in a specified area. To date, only one flight made. Several requests were recently refused owing to lack of aircraft.”

Five months had passed since the capture of the Atlantic bases, but no progress had been made. In fact air reconnaissance was negligible; usually one aircraft, and never more than three, were available daily for operations, and F.O. U-boats was not able to direct these to suit his requirements.

F.O. U-Boats demands Air Reconnaissance Forces

By the late Autumn of 1940 the problem of locating targets had become urgent, and Dönitz again sent the Naval Staff a list of his requirements for air reconnaissance. His war diary for 14th December, 1940, stated:

“The war has shown that the lise of U-boat packs against convoys is right and can be very effective. However, in every case contact with a convoy was achieved only by chance. Should no convoy approach them, the boats might be at sea for days without result. They waste their time in the operational area, unable to make the most of their striking power,”

and later:

“The power to dispose the aircraft for reconnaissance must lie with the Command for which they are working. Further co-operation once a convoy is sighted, such as shadowing and the sending of homing signals by aircraft at daybreak, must be directed by the Command in charge of the convoy action. This will not interfere with tactical control by the flight commander. In other words, F.O. U-boats must determine the reconnaissance area and the number of aircraft required; he must be able to direct all forces in order to ensure an effective, unified operation…”

1./KG.40 Bordeaux subordinated to F.O. U-boats

A conference on further operational plans was held in Berlin. On 2nd January, 1941, Dönitz at the suggestion of the Commander-in-Chief, Navy, approached General JodI, Chief of the Operational Staff in the Supreme Command, stating his requirements, including the necessity for operational subordination of the air reconnaissance units. He wanted a minimum of twelve very long-range aircraft to be available always for daily simultaneous reconnaissance of the operational area. The outcome of this discussion was a decision by the Führer whereby from 7th January l./KG.40 was to be allocated and subordinated to F.O. U-boats for tactical reconnaissance. This was the only long-range unit (of FW 200) capable of penetrating as far as 20° West.

The Führer’s decision was made while Goring was away on a hunting trip, and was contrary to his wishes. On 7th February Goring had a discussion with Dönitz in France, at which he attempted to persuade the latter to agree to a cancellation of the Führer’s order. But Dönitz was adamant, for he saw no other way of solving the problem. Goring conducted the discussion in an unprofessional manner, making it clear that little support could be expected from him. Though he appeared to realise the necessity for supporting naval operations, he saw in the subordination of I./KG.40 to F.O. U-boats the beginnings of a naval air force, and his objections to this outweighed all other considerations.

Reconnaissance by 1./KG.40

On 7th January, 1941, I./KG.40 was placed under the operational control of F.O. U-boats, who commented:-”… This order marks a decisive advance in U-boat warfare. It is only the first step in this direction and in view of the few aircraft available and the various technical difficulties still to be solved, the immediate effect will not be great. However, I intend to gain the best possible results from the co-operation…”.

But these tentative hopes were not to be realized. In two of the earliest reconnaissance flights on 16th and 28th January attempts were made to lead the boats to sighted convoys, but they were fruitless, for in both cases the air reconnaissance failed to regain contact with the convoy on the second day.

The first successful contact by aircraft of I./KG.40 with British shipping was due to a U-boat. U.37, while on her way to Freetown, had on 8th February sighted a homeward-bound Gibraltar convoy (HG) off Cape St. Vincent. No FW 200 had so far appeared in this area, and a surprise bomber attack promised success. The boat was ordered to shadow the convoy, with a view to homing the aircraft on to it. On the 9th February U.37 attacked the convoy (HG 53) about 160 miles west-southwest of Cape St. Vincent, sinking two ships. She” homed” six FW 200, which attacked in the afternoon, sinking another five ships. She continued to shadow and sank a further ship on 10th February. At this time Hipper was in the vicinity of the Azores and received permission to attack the convoy, acting on further homing signals from U.37 But she only succeeded in sinking a straggler, the British S.S. Iceland, on 11th February. That evening Hipper gave up the search for HG 53, and proceeded south to intercept SL (S) 64 on the strength of German Radio Intelligence. Her attack on this convoy early on 12th February resulted in the loss of seven out of nineteen ships. These operations showed the possibilities of a combined attack by aircraft, U-boats and surface ships-the first example in naval history.

In the battle area northwest of the North Channel no change was made in the U-boat dispositions and method of attack. The aircraft available from I./KG.40 were still too few to allow the U-boats to abandon their own reconnaissance. Usually only two aircraft operated each day. Whenever a special area was to be reconnoitered by four or five aircraft, or when a special bomber operation was planned, this necessarily depleted the air reconnaissance both before and after the air operations.

Thus air reconnaissance was still only an occasional aid, and F.O. U-boats still had to place his boats “where he thought best”. This” hit or miss” policy was even less satisfactory than before, for in January, 1941, the British began to spread the convoy routes over a wider area, and to send the convoys further north. Naturally it took us some weeks to collect the data from which this change was established. Until 10th February the U-boats operated west of North Channel as far as 20° West, when they began to follow up the convoy diversions to the north. The battle area stretched in stages as far as the coast of Iceland. The longest north-south extension occurred on 27th February and again on 2nd March, when seven boats were stretched between Iceland and Rockall Bank. But the northward movement of the U-boats was not conducive to co-operation with KG.40, whose aircraft, being based at Bordeaux, could only reach the southeast corner of the area. For reasons which they did not state to F.O. U-boats, the Luftwaffe found it impossible to transfer KG.40 to Stavanger airport. From the middle of February the usual procedure was for the FW 200 to take off from Bordeaux, reconnoitre the area northwest of North Channel and then land in Stavanger, returning on a reciprocal route on the following day. This procedure-though often cancelled because of the Norwegian weather-led to a number of convoy sightings and to several large-scale operations.

Support from the Air

On 19th February an aircraft en route for Stavanger sighted a westbound convoy, OB 237, 80 miles northwest of Cape Wrath. All the boats, which were then in a bunch south of Iceland, were directed to proceed southeast at maximum speed to form a patrol line ahead of the reported convoy course. On the second day the convoy was picked up by two aircraft. Their reports were so inexact that searching on that day remained without result. Further patrol lines by the boats on the next day also failed to find the convoy and the operation was abandoned on the evening of 21st February.

Two days later an aircraft returning from Stavanger sighted another westbound convoy, OB 288, 40 miles southeast of Lousy Bank. Approaching the position given by the aircraft, U.73 was able to make temporary contact a few hours later. The aircraft which took off on the following morning had insufficient range to find the convoy, but the U-boat report of the previous day was sufficiently accurate for the boats to find it again east of their patrol line. Four boats attacked and destroyed the convoy during the night, reporting nine ships sunk, which is corroborated by the British Admiralty. In this operation, as in the simultaneous operation against OB 239, torpedo failures prevented even greater results. The latter convoy was sighted by U.552 (Lt. Topp). With two more boats, also on their first operation, Topp pursued the enemy for three days, but was himself unable to obtain results owing to the heavy sea and torpedo failures. Two ships were reported sunk and one damaged. British Admiralty records give three ships sunk and one damaged.

It was by chance that OB 290, the next Atlantic convoy to leave the North Channel, was also attacked between 25th and 27th February. The sighting was not made by aircraft, but by Lt. Prien who was proceeding north. Two returning boats without torpedoes were ordered also to maintain contact until the arrival of U.99 (Kretschmer). Prien’s shadowing reports enabled six FW 200 to carry out an effective bomber attack- another instance of U-boats leading aircraft to the target. Prien reported sinking altogether 22,000 tons. British Admiralty records give three ships totalling 15,600 tons sunk, two damaged and nine sunk by FW 200.

An extensive but unsuccessful operation began on 2nd March, when an aircraft proceeding to Stavanger sighted OB 292 just west of the North Channel. All available boats were assembled in patrol line by 3rd March, while three FW 200 searched in vain for the convoy. The three aircraft reconnoitred the area southwest of North Channel more fully than the northwestern sector, so it was assumed that the convoy had been diverted to the north, and the boats were ordered to proceed slowly northwards. On the third day of the operation an aircraft returning from Stavanger found a convoy of the same composition 150 miles north of the position reported on the first day. Presumably the weather had forced it to heave to. The boats were drawn up in a new patrol line. At dawn on 5th March they proceeded eastwards to meet the convoy, but were unsuccessful. It had passed out of the range of our aircraft, and as there was no way of finding out which direction it had taken, the operation was abandoned that evening.

Air Support Inadequate

After this unsuccessful operation, F.O. U-boats decided that for the time being no more U-boats should be sent against convoys reported by aircraft. The aircraft had hardly sufficient range to direct the U-boats to outward-bound convoys. They were able to maintain contact for one or two hours (as far as 10° West) on the day of sighting, but on the second and most important day the westbound convoys would be beyond their range. In the case of convoys on northwesterly and southwesterly courses, air contact could be made only if the ships happened to be on the direct route of the aircraft, and even then there was not enough fuel for searching, shadowing, or sending homing signals. The aircraft could not even remain long enough over the convoy to deduce its mean line of advance. No air reconnaissance could be provided for attacks on homeward bound convoys as the aircraft could not reach the northern area. Aircraft reports on convoy positions were often badly in error. A comparison of convoy positions reported by aircraft, U-boats and the Radio Intercept Service showed that the aircraft reports were sometimes as much as 70 miles in error. This was the reason for the failure of the actions against OB 287 and OB 292.

Too few aircraft had been available for all these operations. Daily reconnaissance by two aircraft-relying only on visual location-could not be effective. F.O. U-boats estimated that once the British knew of the aircraft/U-boat co-operation, their convoys would always be diverted on sighting an air shadower. With a view to keeping the air shadowers unobserved, they were ordered on 3rd March not to bomb the convoys. F.O. U-boats took this step reluctantly, being aware of the tonic effect of successful air attacks on aircrews engaged in long and wearying reconnaissance. But the large Kondors found unobserved shadowing impossible, and on 31st March general freedom of bomber attack on all targets was restored.

Steps to strengthen Air Support

The situation could only be improved by the allocation of more aircraft, which, according to the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, would be forthcoming. Aircraft of longer range were in process of development and construction. The FW 200 must serve until these were available. During the following months additional fuel tanks were installed in the FW 200 to improve their range.

On 3rd May F.O. U-boats issued the following orders to improve the methods of determining position:

“… Aircraft will take off on the same route at intervals of one to two hours. Convoys are the objective of reconnaissance. They should be reported as quickly as possible by homing signals giving position, course and speed. Composition of the convoy should be reported later. Contact should be maintained as long as fuel permits. All subsequent aircraft will fly towards the convoy reported by the first aircraft, and will make independent, complete reconnaissance reports as already detailed. The first aircraft’s report will be checked with the others. Each aircraft must report its own navigational data, uninfluenced by any report of the preceding aircraft…”.

To check the aircraft position reports, the H/F-D/F shore stations were ordered to take bearings on the aircraft radio transmitters. Until this new procedure had been tried out, F.O. U-boats was reluctant to allow the U-boats to act on convoy reports from aircraft. The boats now moved further west, and the intended procedure could not be tested in the following months, nor were there any more combined operations west of North Channel. However, at the direction of F.O. U-boats, KG.40’s daily reconnaissance was continued in the area west of Ireland and northwest of North Channel. All information regarding enemy traffic, even if negative, was useful in deciding the boats’ operational areas.

Escape from the Bunker

At 5.30pm 30 April 1945, Weidling appeared in Hitler’s bunker. Goebbels informed him of Hitler’s death and of the composition of the new government. Bormann, Goebbels, Axmann, Krebs, Burgdorf, Weidling, Mohnke, Günsche and Naumann took part in the ensuing conference at which they discussed the plans for breaking out of the Chancellery or for asking the Russians for a temporary ceasefire. After much wavering, the second plan was adopted. It was decided that the Head of the Operations Department on Weidling’s staff, Colonel Dufving, should be sent as an envoy to the nearest Russian command post.

At 7.30pm that evening Dufving left the bunker and passed through the German lines around the Chancellery to the Russians. At around 11.00 he was back. He reported that the Russians would not listen to him as he was not carrying any authority on him. That same night Goebbels and Bormann despatched Krebs to the Russian High Command, where he was meant to negotiate as Chief of the General Staff. His return was impatiently awaited.

This extract from The History of the Grossdeutschland Panzer Corps records:

Major Lehnhoff gave orders to this combat team of the Grossdeutschland Guard Regiment to assemble at 2300 hours on the 1st May in Kastanienallee to break out to the west via Rathenow.

The remaining vehicles were tanked up, millions of Reichsmark coins were shared out among the men, the last rations issued, and then away. The break through the Soviet lines was made at the Schönhauser Allee station, where Stalin-Organs and tank fire inflicted heavy casualties. With five tanks and 68 men Major Lehnhoff broke out of the city toward Oranienburg, where unfortunately the tanks had to be blown up because of breakdowns. Divided into four groups the men then pushed on toward the Elbe and Schleswig-Holstein.

When Linge emerged from his billet on the morning of 1 May, he ran into Goebbels in the bunker’s antechamber. After they had said hello, Goebbels said in a hoarse voice, ‘Tell me, Linge–could you not have stopped the Führer from committing suicide?’ Linge riposted, ‘Herr Doctor, if you could not manage it, how do you think I would have been able to do so?’ Goebbels went on, ‘I have had a horrible night. I have also decided to bring my life to an end; but it is a very difficult moment. I have been arguing with myself for ages, but I lack the courage.’

At around midday Krebs returned with the news that the Russian High Command demanded unconditional surrender. At 6.00 p.m. Burgdorf summoned SS-Major General Wilhelm Mohnke and Günsche to the New Chancellery bunker. Weidling and Dufving were already present. When Mohnke and Günsche entered, Weidling was just taking a piece of paper out of his pocket and telling Dufving, ‘Oh, before I forget, the Führer had promoted you colonel. Congratulations.’ On a little table Weidling laid out a city plan of Berlin. He informed Mohnke and Günsche that the remnants of the Berlin garrison were going to make an attempt to break through the Russian lines and escape from Berlin that evening at 10.00. After he had gone into certain details he asked Mohnke which direction he was thinking of taking with his battle group. Mohnke showed him on the map his planned route to the north-west via Tegel. The meeting then came to an end, and Mohnke and Günsche left the room. From the other side they heard loud hammer blows: the radio station and the telephone exchange of Führer HQ were being destroyed in accordance with instructions.

Mohnke went back to his command post to prepare the order for the break-out. Günsche informed Linge, Schädle, Högl and Kempka that the garrison was planning to escape that evening. He told Bormann, Voss, Hewel and Stumpfegger that they should make themselves ready to depart. He also informed the women–Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly–who had not taken Hitler’s advice to kill themselves. They elected to go with the men.

At 8.00 p.m. Günsche, Linge, Schädle and Kempka went to Mohnke’s command post. The soldiers of the battle group lay in the corridors, passages and rooms of the New Chancellery bunker on chests, on benches or on the ground. They slept in the most unnatural positions with their steel helmets and weapons at their sides, exhausted by the endless heavy fighting. Between them lay the wounded, groaning. At short intervals, when Russian artillery fire slackened off, the latter were carried off in stretchers to the hospital that had been set up in the cellar of the half-bombed-out Hotel Adlon on the Linden. Those who had already expired from their wounds were carried into the Chancellery garden to be buried. The stream of wounded men never ceased. Wild screams of agony and groans rang out in all the rooms. Tobacco smoke, sulphur, carbolic and the stench of overflowing lavatories mixed with the stale air. It was enough to make one throw up.

Axmann, Naumann, Albrecht, Rattenhuber and several officers from the battle group had already made their way to Mohnke’s command post. Mohnke read out the order to escape, which also decreed by what stages the Chancellery was to be evacuated. The first group was to be commanded by Mohnke himself. It was to be composed of Günsche, Hewel, Voss, Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly, as well as Hitler’s Escort Company under the command of Obersturmführer Doose. The second group, under the command of Naumann, was to comprise Bormann, Schach, officials of the Berlin Nazi Party and a Volkssturm battalion from the Propaganda Ministry. The third group, headed by Kempka, was made up of Linge, the soldier-servants, Hitler’s bodyguard and the Chancellery drivers. A fourth group was commanded by Hitler’s personal adjutant, Brigadeführer Albrecht, and consisted of the staff of Hitler’s adjutants. The fifth group under Rattenhuber was made up of Baur, Betz, Högl and the members of the SD. The sixth group led by Axmann was composed of 200 Berlin boys whom he had brought into the bunker a few days before to get Hitler out of Berlin. When Hitler had refused their services, Axmann kept them on for his own use.

The break-out was to go ahead according to the following plan: after leaving the Chancellery the six groups were to take the U-Bahn tunnel to Kaiserhof station, and from there proceed as far as possible towards Wedding. In small groups they could use the side streets to get past the Stettin station and Tegel and move in a north-westerly direction to reach the German forces fighting there.

Günsche left Mohnke’s command post to inform Linge, Schädle, Kempka and Högl of the details of the escape plans. At 10.00 p.m. Günsche said goodbye to Hitler’s ADC Burgdorf and the Chief of the General Staff, Krebs. They did not wish to take part in the escape attempt, but preferred to shoot themselves in the cour d’honneur at the moment the Russians came in. Burgdorf explained, ‘As a young officer in 1918 I lived through the defeat of Germany in the First World War. I was young then and full of strength. Now I am too old and too dispirited.’ Then Günsche took his leave of the Gestapo Chief, SS-Gruppenführer Müller, who told him that he was going to shoot himself in the Chancellery, as he had no desire at all to fall into Russian hands alive.

Günsche next went to Goebbels to say a last adieu to him and his wife. Frau Goebbels was sitting in a chair in the depths of despair. She just stretched her hand out silently to Günsche and withdrew into Goebbels’s bedroom. Goebbels’s face was ashen. He was almost inaudible when he spoke: ‘I am going to shoot myself with my wife here in the bunker. I hope that you get out of Berlin safely.’ Goebbels took out a cigarette, gave Günsche his hand and likewise disappeared into his bedroom.

Now Günsche went across into the New Chancellery bunker. The groups had assembled there at 9.30 for the break-out. At 10.00 Goebbels’s adjutant Schwägemann and the valet Ochs came from Hitler’s bunker to join their group. They told Linge the following: Goebbels and his wife had shot themselves a few minutes before in the bunker. Naumann, Schwägermann, Ochs and others had soaked the bodies with benzene in Goebbels’s bedroom and set fire to them.ix After that they had problems getting out of the bunker themselves as the fierce draught that had been unleashed by the flames had made the armour-plated door slam shut.

A few hours before, at 4.00 p.m., when Linge was still in Hitler’s bunker, Hitler’s doctor Stumpfegger had performed the task assigned to him by Goebbels and had killed his five children, mixing poison into their coffee. Frau Goebbels waited for Stumpfegger outside the door. When he came out, he nodded to her as a sign that the children had been poisoned. She fainted and two SS men from Hitler’s bodyguard carried her back to her husband’s bedroom.

Around 2,000 people left the Chancellery. Most of them were armed with machine guns, automatic pistols, revolvers and anti-tank weapons. They left with the Mohnke Battle Group, which was composed of some 3,000 men and several Tiger tanks, self-propelling guns, anti-tank guns, mine-throwers and heavy machine guns. The hospital remained in the New Chancellery bunker under the direction of Professor Haase.

#

Mohnke, who was in charge of the Führerbunker group, failed to liaise with SS-Major General Dr Gustav Krukenberg commanding the 11th SS Nordland Panzergrenadier Division in this area, so considerable confusion resulted.

The Führerbunker group, which was split into ten smaller groups, had set off at ten-minute intervals with the intention of following the U- and S-Bahn tunnels as far as the Stettiner railway station (now the Nordbahnhof) some 1,200 metres due north of the Spree. From there they would march as far as the Gesundbrunnen station, another 2,000 metres, and there split up to make their individual way to find the German forces via Neuruppin.

However, when the leading group under Mohnke, which included Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, reached the level of the Spree, they found their way blocked by a waterproof steel door guarded by two railway men, who refused to let them through. The door was regularly locked between the last train at night and the first in the morning, and although no trains had passed for a week, the watchmen were sticking to their orders. Amazingly, the group complied, turning back to emerge above ground at the Friedrichstrasse station.

The Weidendammer bridge was blocked by a German anti-tank barrier and was being shelled by the Soviets, so they cut their way through the barbed wire blocking the footbridge integrated under the near side of the still intact railway bridge and made their way across the river. Following an encounter with Soviet troops at Lehrter station (site of the present Hauptbahnhof), Martin Bormann and his companion, SS Colonel Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger, committed suicide, realising the hopelessness of their situation. Their remains were not found and identified until 1972.

Meanwhile other groups started arriving at the Friedrichstrasse station, some having come above ground, and attracted Soviet attention, so that searchlights and artillery fire were directed at the crossing. SS-Major General Krukenberg had been caught unprepared and decided to use those of his troops immediately available to force a break-out. A Königstiger with a damaged turret led the way, smashing through the anti-tank barrier on the bridge, closely followed by five armoured personnel carriers and then a mass of soldiers and civilians. However, by then the Soviets were waiting in ambush for them. All the armoured vehicles were destroyed and hundreds of people killed. Only a few survivors managed to get through with Krukenberg. SS-Sergeant Major Willi Rogmann wrote:

Meanwhile we were all waiting for Mohnke in vain. I went around the crowd and met some people I had not seen for years, but it was no time to chat, we were all too concerned with what might await us.

Then at last there was some movement. A lone Königstiger tank rolled up noisily with a defective track. I crossed the Spree and stopped a short distance behind the barricade there, whose right-hand side was open. Then a self-propelled gun and an armoured personnel carrier drew up behind it side by side. Next five armoured personnel carriers drew up and lined up behind the others. In the second one I could see a figure in a cap and overcoat, whom in the darkness I took to be Mohnke. . . .

The officer I had taken for Mohnke was in fact SS-Major Ternedde, commander of the Norge Regiment of the Nordland, and all the vehicles were from that division. . . .

The armoured vehicles started moving forward and we formed up right across the street beyond the barricade. The first rank consisted of machine gunners with their weapons on slings, all carrying 50-round drum magazines. Apart from my machine gunner, I and my men followed in the second rank.

The armoured vehicles speeded up. We followed in quick time, but could not keep up and soon lost contact. We then came under infantry fire from the windows of the buildings on the right side of the street and all the machine gunners returned the fire, spraying the front of the buildings. The din caused by a hundred machine guns firing simultaneously was enough to burst one’s eardrums. Now tanks opened up on us from either side. . . .

There was no sense of leadership in this mob. There were no responsible officers. My men only obeyed me because they knew me and trusted me. They had only to catch my eye and signal, for shouting was no good in this din, to follow my orders. Literally thousands of people were thrusting blindly forward behind us. I had never seen such a primitive form of attack, being used to an empty battlefield in modern warfare. This was utter nonsense.

They were not just Waffen-SS behind us, and not just soldiers, but even officers with their wives, even my former company commander SS-Lieutenant von Puttkamer with his heavily pregnant wife.

Meanwhile we had reached the level of Ziegelstrasse on our right, which was now full of Russian tanks that must have been alerted to our impending break-out by their scouts. With our incomprehensible long waiting we had given them plenty of time to form up, although the tank had been able to slip through, if a bit damaged. But the self-propelled gun and one of the armoured personnel carriers had been shot up as the other armoured vehicles passed through, as I saw no other wrecks around.

The Russians fired into our packed ranks as we stumbled forward without regard for our dead and wounded. My group was now in the lead. Then we came under fire from tanks in Johannisstrasse on our right, and the effect of high explosive shells bursting in our ranks was simply terrible. The advance came to a halt and thousands of people started streaming back. I had never seen such a fiasco.

However, we did not go with them. It was obvious that there would be another attempt, so we vanished like lightning into the buildings on our left, where we were safe. As we had been right in front, no one could prevent us stepping aside as we did. We were right in front because in an attack that is the safest place to be, as experienced front-line soldiers know.

So far my own men had suffered no casualties and were still sticking together. We waited for the inevitable second attempt, which was preceded by an armoured personnel carrier firing on all sides as it raced toward us, but it was only hastening to its fate, for it stopped and burst into flames, blocking the street for the other armoured vehicles following.

As those on foot reached us, we jumped out to resume the lead. The street now lay full of dead and wounded, the armoured vehicles racing over them. While under cover in the buildings, we had met up with some experienced men from the Nordland and even some parachutists. Enemy tanks appeared in front of us again and we tried to creep up under their fire to knock them out in order to get past, but fresh tanks appeared behind them from the right and sprayed those in front with machine-gun fire, the ricochets causing heavy casualties among us. Practically the whole of my platoon was hit by this fire, which broke up the attack, sending the masses streaming back again.

We pulled our wounded into the cover of the buildings and bandaged them up as best we could. I used my bottle of schnapps to pour courage into them. I realised that the whole business was hopeless. The Russians had been reinforced and when another crowd moved up they were slaughtered before my eyes.

We did not take any further part in this massacre. I worked out that the leadership had driven off, abandoning us, so I owed them no further allegiance and must save my own life and those of my few remaining unwounded men. We had to leave our wounded behind, which made my heart bleed, for it was for the first time in this war.

#

Shortly after 10.00 p.m. the first group left the bunker under Mohnke’s orders. Besides eighty to a hundred soldiers there were Günsche, Hewel, Voss, the secretaries Frau Christian, Frau Junge and Fräulein Krüger, the diet cook Fräulein Manziarly and several officers from the Mohnke Battle Group. In small parties they crossed the New Chancellery’s cour d’honneur and went out on to the Wilhelmsplatz through the great arch before running to Kaiserhof U-Bahn station. From there they reached Friedrichstrasse station through the tunnel. The tunnels, and the stations above all, were crammed full of soldiers and civilians. Weeping children and hysterical, screaming women were everywhere, along with soldiers either uttering curses or giving orders. The situation at Friedrichstrasse station was particularly chaotic. Here the tunnels had been barricaded up and rendered impassable. One could get out only in small groups, as the exits were covered by Russian mortars.

One part of the Mohnke group was lost in the crowd. Mohnke with some of his people managed finally to leave the U-Bahn and get across the Weidendamm Bridge to the other side of the Spree. From there they made it through the courtyards of the Charité Hospital and, via connecting cellars, on to the Chausseestrasse. From there they passed the Maikäfer Barracks and arrived at Wedding station. The group had been reduced to twenty to twenty-five persons, including–besides Mohnke himself–Günsche, Hewel and the four women, Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly. The streets were deserted and many houses were burning. This part of the city had suffered little shelling up to now. They unexpectedly ran into a brace of T-34 tanks which were controlling a crossroads and which fired on them with their machine guns, forcing them to retreat. They tried to negotiate the back streets, but without success. The little group was becoming noticeably smaller. In the end only Mohnke, Günsche, Hewel and the four women remained.

Before noon on 2 May they reached the big air-raid shelter next to the brewery on the Schönhauser Allee. This contained several hundred German soldiers from every sort of unit. The cellar housed the command post of 18th Panzer-Grenadier divisional commander General Major Josef Rauch and the commander of the 9th Parachute Division, Colonel Harry Herrmann. Together with Rauch and Herrmann and a few other officers, Mohnke and Günsche tried to redeploy the soldiers and continue the break-out. Gradually more and more officers and men from Mohnke’s battle group turned up, plus SS officers from Hitler’s bodyguard and the SD as well as several members of Hitler’s personal staff who had left with other groups. Among them was the head of the SD, Rattenhuber, who had been slightly injured in the leg.

At 3.00 p.m. Russian units approached the air-raid shelter in the Schönhauser Allee. Russian officers came to Rauch’s and Hermann’s command post and declared that the Berlin garrison had capitulated the night before.iz In order to avoid further bloodshed, they requested that the Germans lay down their arms and give themselves up. They asked Rauch and Hermann to accompany them to the nearest Russian staff post, where Berlin’s capitulation would be confirmed. Günsche advised Hitler’s secretaries and Fräulein Manziarly to leave the air-raid shelter and to break through on their own. They agreed and Mohnke gave Frau Christian a little sack filled with diamonds. The gems had been intended for the making of important medals, and it had been Burgdorf’s job to look after them. He had handed them to Mohnke when his group left the Chancellery.

At 4.00 p.m. Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche drove with one of the Russian officers to Russian army HQ. There a Russian general confirmed to them that Berlin’s Commandant, General Weidling, had capitulated during the night of 1 May. The general declared, ‘Now this horrible war has come to an end. We should all rejoice in that.’

Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche returned to the air-raid shelter escorted by the same officer. It was now 10.00 p.m. The remaining German officers and men had already given themselves up. The air-raid shelter and a few adjoining rooms were now occupied by the Russians. As Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche went in, they ran into Hewel, SS-Standartenführer Professor Schenck, a lieutenant colonel and several young officers who had hidden from the Russians in another room. Mohnke told them it was all over. Russian officers came in and demanded that they lay down their arms and follow them. At that moment Hewel whipped out his pistol and shot himself. The others handed over their weapons and followed the Russian officers.

The third group to break out, the one to which Kempka and Linge belonged, left the New Chancellery bunker at 10.30 p.m. It contained more SS men from Hitler’s bodyguard as well as his drivers and soldier-servants.

When Linge and Kempka and the group emerged into the Vossstrasse, the government district was being subjected to a continuous Russian artillery barrage. In the darkness only ruins were to be seen. Everywhere half-destroyed façades pointed up to the skies. Thick clouds of smoke billowed out of dark window-frames. On streets pitted by bombs and shells lay beams, bricks and pieces of masonry. The skies were bright from the reflections of so many fires. Linge, Kempka and the others ran past the ruins to the Wilhelmplatz U-Bahn station. From there they followed the tunnel to Stadtmitte station, before running across the ruined Friedrichstrasse to the station of that name. At the other end of the Weidendamm Bridge soldiers of the Mohnke Group were fighting the Russians, who were pinning them down with fire from houses in the Chausseestrasse. The German soldiers were trying to get through with the help of tanks, but they did not succeed.

Linge saw from the other side of the bridge how Bormann and Naumann jumped on to a German tank that was driving by, in order to get through the Russian lines. He also saw that a grenade was thrown at the tank. At the same time Albrecht, Högl and many members of Hitler’s adjutants’ pool were killed on the Weidendamm Bridge. Linge lost Kempka in the confusion and joined the rest of a troop of Mohnke’s battle group, which together with a hundred civilians managed to get through the U-Bahn tunnel from Friedrichstrasse to Seestrasse. Among them was the Assistant Gauleiter of Berlin, Schach.

On the morning of 2 May Russian soldiers informed this group too that Berlin had capitulated during the night. They requested that they give themselves up. Schach shot himself on the spot Linge and the other members of the group went into captivity.

On 8 May Germany capitulated. Here ended the epoch of the Third Reich, which according to Hitler should have lasted a thousand years. When he came to power he had promised the German people, ‘If I remain in power for ten years, you will no longer recognise Germany.’ And that was true: after Hitler’s rule Germany was no longer the same. It lay in ruins. Hitler himself had ended his life in suicide in terror of the Russians.