Ein Kriegsende - Garmisch-Partenkirchen in den letzten Apriltagen 1945

 

 

 

 

LTC Fredrick P. A. Hammersen, The End of the War

unveröffentlichtes Typoscript - 1995

 

"At the same time, the Americans were continuing their rapid movement to the southeast. After crossing the Danube River near Ulm, Lieutenant General Alexander Patch, commanding general of the Seventh US Army, ordered that Innsbruck be taken with all possible speed to prevent the Germans' activation of the National Redoubt. He sent VI Corps and XXI Corps south to destroy the last cadres of General Brandenberg's Nineteenth German Army and seize the passes into Austria. The easternmost flank of VI US Corps was led by elements of the lOth Armored Division followed by the 103rd Infantry Division, while the westernmost units of XXI US Corps were the 12th Armored Division followed by the 36th Infantry Division. Their orders were to "push on and push hard, ... this is a pursuit, not an attack." The armored columns moved at rates of more than 30 miles per day.

At midnight on April 28th, Troop C, 90th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the lOth Armored Division (commanded by Captain D'Orazio) left Schongau with the mission of capturing the vital 1,000 foot long Echelsbacher Bridge that towered 250 feet above the Ammer River gorge. A four-man detachment of volunteers, led by Lieutenant Patterson, overpowered the German guards on the northern end and raced across the demolition-rigged structure to silence the other guards. By 0300, the bridge was secure, providing an vital route into the Bavarian Alps. A sign was erected "in grateful appreciation by the 55th Armored Engineer Battalion" who were thankful that they did not have to build a temporary bridge across the steep sided gorge.

At midday on Sunday, April 29th, 1945, the 411th Infantry Regiment of the 103rd Infantry Division, accompanied by elements of Combat Command A of the lOth Armored Division occupied Oberammergau. Just beyond town, they were temporarily halted by a huge crater.

That same day, Combat Command A (lOth Armored Division) accepted the peaceful surrender of Garmisch-Partenkirchen at 6:45 p.m. The 409th Infantry Regiment (103rd Infantry Division) followed them into Partenkirchen. A local legend has grown over the years that the town barely escaped a fiery destruction. That afternoon, Colonel Ludwig Hörl, who arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen only eight days earlier to become the garrison Commander, had received an order passed on from Colonel Franz Wilhelm Pfeiffer, Commander of the Mountain Warfare School in Mittenwald, stating "by order of Field Marshall Kesselring, the Garmisch area must be defended at Farchant. I am sending 250 officers from the Army High Command (OKH) Führer Reserve at Mittenwald." It was clear that the German High Command had decided to ignore the fact that Garmisch-Partenkirchen had earlier been declared a hospital city, as well as the fact that there were more than 10,000 wounded soldiers at dozens of reserve hospitals throughout the town. However, by the time he received the message, Colonel Hörl, a secret member of the resistance, had decided that fighting would only result in the unnecessary death of the many wounded German soldiers in the area. To avoid this, he had already sent two of his officers (Major Michael Pössinger and Lieutenant Guntram Licht) and a translator (Gisbert Palmie) to Oberammergau to convince the Americans that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was an open town and a hospital town. En route to Oberammergau to arrange the surrender, Major Pössinger reportedly ordered the Commanders of the two mountain infantry companies that were dug into defensive positions at Oberau and Ettal to stack their arms and fall in on the road to surrender to the Americans. Though he was only 26 year old, Major Pössinger, a native of Ettal, was a highly decorated combat veteran of the Mountain Division.*

When he arrived at the edge of Oberammergau, his way was blocked by an antitank obstacle. Continuing on foot under a white flag, the party was fired on by the machinegun of the lead American tank. Deciding to proceed at all costs, Major Pössinger crawled along the ditch beside the road until he was too close for the American tank to fire at him, then stepped out with his hands raised. The Commander of the lead American unit told Pössinger that it was too late; they had already called in an air strike consisting of several hundred bombers to level the area from Oberau to Innsbruck. Based on the stiff resistence that was being encountered by other units of the lOth Armored Division, the American officer reportedly refused to believe that the German mountain troops would surrender without a fight. Finally, the US task force Commander (LTC "Red" Hankins of the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion) arrived on the scene and Major Pössinger repeated that Garmisch-Partenkirchen was not defended and was full of thousands of wounded troops. He pleaded with the American Commander to use his forward air Controller to stop the air raid. In the end, the American told Pössinger that the bombing strike had been canceled at the last minute. Still wary of the German Claims that there would be no resistence, the Americans reportedly tied the two officers to the front of the lead tank as it wound its way down the mountain from Oberammergau to Oberau.

As with many legends, this one seems to have begun with a kernel of fact and become more elaborate over the years. According to its official history, the lOth Armored Division had employed the threat of imminent destruction repeatedly during their drive south from Ulm in order to avoid unnecessary house-to-house fighting in the towns. At Memmingen, for example, they sent the following Ultimatum to the town officials: "My troops will march into town immediately. Display white flags. There will be no firing of any kind. If Opposition is received, our tanks, artillery and bombers will destroy the town." However, if anyone in the lead elements of the lOth Armored Division made a threat to conduct a bomber strike on April 29th, it was a clearly just a ruse to get the Germans to surrender Garmisch-Partenkirchen without a fight. This entire legend of how the town was saved from a fiery destruction is flatly contradicted not only by several of the American officers who were with the lead elements of the lOth Armored Division that day, including the Operations Officer (S-3) of Combat Command A, the unit which took Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but also by the official histories of the US Army Air Corps. The Operations Officer stated that the division usually had only one or two fighter bombers in close air support. A major bombing strike would have been so unusual and such a significant operational plan that it would have been well known to the operations officer. He is certain that no such strike was planned because it would have made no tactical sense to destroy the only road that the American tanks could use to try to reach Innsbruck. In addition, since it was snowing on 29 April, he recalled that not even their normal close air support fighters were flying. This is supported by the official history entitled The Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology, 1941-1945, which confirms that none of the Air Forces in either the European or Mediterranian Theaters of Operations (Ninth, Twelfth, and Fifteenth Air Forces) were able to launch their medium or heavy bombers on April 28th, 29th or 3Oth, 1945 due to inclement weather. Therefore it is clear that there was no massive bomberforce in the air en route to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. When asked whether any bombing raid had been planned or if the German officers had been tied to the front of the lead tanks to shield them from possible German fire, the American officers' comments ranged from "That's preposterous!" to "I never heard of such a thing, either during or after the war." On the contrary, their specific recollections are that the lOth Armored Division made a high-speed run into Garmisch, at times reaching 30 miles per hour. The division encountered no resistence from the time they demolished an anti-tank obstacle north of Oberammergau until they approached Mittenwald. The German officers they met knew that the war was over, and the fight was gone out of the most of the German troops, who were fleeing south or surrendering in droves.

Further east, Combat Command A of the 12th Armored Division and the 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division (XXI Corps) captured Murnau on April 29th. As the American tanks slowly advanced along Kohlgruberstraße toward town, a young woman — Lina Arndt — walked out to the leading tank and placed a blooming lilac branch on the vehicle. This reflects the attitude of most of the local residents toward the arriving Americans. The only casualty in the capture of Murnau was an SS officer who charged out of the POW camp toward the approaching Americans, and was shot by the lead tank. The division continued to advance to the south, linking up with the lOth Armored Division at Oberau by midnight.

On Monday, April 30th, Combat Command A (lOth Armored Division) continued to lead the 409th Infantry Regiment (103rd Infantry Division) in the push toward Innsbruck. However, a roadblock at the narrowest part of the road east of Kaltenbrunn stopped the tanks. The infantry soldiers were able to bypass it and push on into Klais. In an attempt to keep moving, the tankers tried to drive along the nearby railroad track, but the steel rails did not match the width of the tank tracks and the signal block devices completely prevented the tanks from moving forward. General Morris, Commanding General of the VI US Corps, realized that the terrain had become a serious problem for his armored forces. Though he had ordered his tank units to "take care of the roads" and the infantry to "take care of the hüls when they are a bother," it was obvious that the tanks, which had covered more than 100 miles in less than five days, had now reached terrain that prevented their further advance.

The magnitude of the traffic jam caused by the the roadblocks was monumental. The armored units could not advance, and the infantry could not get around them on the limited road network. By late afternoon, Orders were issued to assemble the tank units in place so that the infantry could continue their advance toward Austria. The lOth Armored Division moved into assembly areas in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Combat Command A), Lermoos (Combat Command B) and Rotteri&uch south of Schongau (Combat Command Reserve). The lOth Armored Division established its headquarters in the building on Marienplatz which had been used by the local Nazi Party Kreisleiter. Officers were housed in Clausing's Post Hotel and the former Hotel Marktplatz (today's Dresdener Bank) across the street.

On Tuesday, May 1st, the 409th Infantry Regiment (103d Infantry Division) occupied Mittenwald after a very brief artillery shelling and moved south toward the Schneefeldpaß en route to Innsbruck. OKW generals and Gebirgsjägers alike were marched back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and placed in temporary POW camps that had been established at the Olympic Ice Stadium and Kurpark. The same day, at Scharnitz on the Austrian border, the troops fought a "short but sharp fight" before pushing through the old fortress town. The 410th Infantry Regiment moved south from the area around Ettal and assembled in the area from Oberammergau to Oberau, while the 41 lth Infantry Regiment remained in assembly areas at Farchant. Combat Command A (lOth Armored Division) continued to assemble in the vicinity of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, while Combat Command B was in Lermoos.

Seefeld, Austria, fell to the 1st Battalion of the 409th Infantry without a fight the next day, but southwest of that town, a 100 foot wide crater completely stopped vehicular traffic on the mountainous road. After the crater was filled in by soldiers of the 328th Engineers, a 50-foot bridge over a gorge was found blown. This was bypassed by the American troops, who then had to navigate a mine field, protected by snipers. One of the last fatalities suffered by the 103rd Infantry Division occurred here when Captain Adrian Leon, a surgeon with the 409th Infantry, was mortally wounded by a mine when trying to reach a wounded soldier. All this was compounded by severe weather, including a late spring snow storm that lasted for several days. On the same day, the 410th Infantry Regiment moved south into Partenkirchen and the 41 lth Infantry moved to Mittenwald.

The 103rd Infantry Division continued its advance, with the 409th Infantry Regiment reaching Innsbruck at 7:43 p.m. on May 3rd. The 411th Infantry Regiment passed through Innsbruck and continued south toward the Brenner pass, while the 410th Infantry Regiment moved into Mittenwald and prepared to continue south to Innsbruck.

After its linkup with the lOth Armored Division in Oberau, the 12th Armored Division and 36th Infantry Division had moved east toward Kufstein, Austria. Bad Tölz was captured on May 1st by Combat Command B (12th Armored Division) and the 141st Infantry Regiment (36th Infantry Division), and Lenggries fell to the 141st Infantry Regiment on May 3d.

The war had finally come to an end for the people of this region.

On VE Day, the lOth Armored Division staged a mounted parade on the main street of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The reviewing stand was occupied by Major General H. Edward Brooks (Commanding General of VI US Corps) and Major General William H.H. Morris, Jr. (Commanding General of lOth Armored Division). Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the division would occupy the Werdenfels area. Two weeks later, Major General Morris assumed command of VI US Corps in Tutzing, and Major General Fay B. Prickett (former Commanding General of the 75th Infantry Division) assumed command of the lOth Armored Division. Later that same month, the division began the process of demobilization."

 

*He had earned the Iron Cross (2nd Class) as an NCO in Poland, the Iron Cross (Ist Class) and the Knight's Cross as a lieutenant in France, the German Cross in Gold as a captain in Greece, and the Oak Leaves of the Knight's Cross as a major in East Prussia. He had commanded, in turn, mountain infantry and ski companies (in Russia), a battalion-sized unit (Kampßruppe) (m Russia) as well as the Ist Battalion/ GJR 98 (in Greece), the 2nd Battalion/Grenadier Regiment 1128 (in East Prussia), and finally - as a 26 year-old major — the 1128th Grenadier Regiment of the 578th Volksgrenadier Division. After being wounded seven tirnes in March 1945 in East Prussia, he was medically evacuated, arriving in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in early April 1945.

 

© Alois Schwarzmüller 2006

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