Friday, May 7, 2021

The Final Days, Part Two


"Cap'n Hernandez! Sir!" Cpl. Jake Winters was trying to get his company commander's attention, he had battalion on the radio and they were adamant, "Whatever he's doing, have him drop it and get on the horn, NOW!" Winters realized he was talking directly to Cpt. Jack Walker, the acting commander of 1st Battalion.

Hernandez had been talking with 1st Platoon's commander, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Gonzales, they were discussing whether or not to call in artillery on a suspected German position just ahead. The division was advancing to the outskirts of Karlovy Vary. While opposition was starting to fade, there were still small pockets of Germans who wanted to fight.

Hernandez spun on his heel and, uncharacteristically, barked at his radioman, "Damn it, Winters! Can't you see I'm f**king busy?" In the captain's defense, he had had virtually no sleep over the past 48 hours. Still, Winters flinched.

Hernandez saw that and immediately regretted his outburst, reaching for the radio handset he put a hand on Winters shoulder and said, "Sorry Jake, that was uncalled for." Then he spoke into the radio, "Charlie Leader here."

Hernandez listened for a few minutes, occasionally he would interject a "Yes Sir" or an "Understood Sir" into the conversation, mostly he listened. Winters heard a barked "Out" from the handset as Hernandez handed it back to him. The captain looked very thoughtful for a few seconds, then he looked at Winters.

"Radio all the platoons. We're to stand down. Defensive actions only, it seems the Krauts surrendered this morning. It's finally over..."

Oberstleutnant¹ Werner von Kleist was walking at the head of a column of approximately 2,000 Germans, a mixture of soldiers and civilians. The Red Army was advancing quickly into western Czechoslovakia, he did not wish to be a prisoner of the Soviets.

He had started to move west with the remnants of his regiment, roughly 500 men. As the march continued, more and more civilians joined the column. He had talked briefly with one of the civilian leaders, the man's family had lived in the region for generations. He was understandably distraught with having to leave his homeland.

"Herr Oberstleutnant, my family has lived in the Sudetenland since 1650, my ancestors served the Hapsburgs against Napoléon, I myself served the Emperor Franz-Joseph on the Italian front in the last war. Now my Czech neighbors are talking revenge. Revenge for what? I did nothing to them!"

"I know Opa, the world has gone insane. My family lands are in Prussia and have been overrun by the Red Army. I had a letter from a friend who said that the rape and the looting by the Red Army is out of control. Which is why I'm taking the remnants of my regiment west, to surrender to the Americans."

"Will they take us in? Can we expect mercy from the Americans?" The older man wanted to know.

"I don't know Opa, better them than the Reds I think."

1st Lt. Nate Paddock's 2nd Platoon was manning a roadblock on the Cheb - Karlovy Vary road. The men had been stunned by the sheer number of refugees on the road. Sgt. Melvin Katz was running the checkpoint because of his language skills, most of the refugees were Sudeten Germans.

Pfc. Bogdan Nowak walked up to the sergeant and said, "It looks like most of western Czechoslovakia is walking this way." Nowak was fluent in Polish, German, Russian, and English and, as it turned out, could have simple conversations in Czech. So he was a good man to have on the roadblock as well.

"Yes, I think you're right. Then there are those guys as well." Katz said this while pointing with his chin towards a bedraggled looking group of German POWs, soldiers who had dumped their weapons and joined the flock of refugees. As the columns passed, the men manning the road block pulled the soldiers aside.

"Wow, look at that." Nowak pointed down the road, where coming around a bend there was a battalion-sized group of German soldiers marching in formation. Their uniforms were dirty and worn, but their military discipline was still strong. Behind them was another group of civilian refugees.

"I wonder where Germany is going to put all of these people." Katz wondered aloud.

"They should have thought of that before starting a war." Nowak grumbled.

Oberstleutnant von Kleist had his sergeants form the men in columns of four by company. The men fell in naturally, most had been in the Army for at least two years, the younger ones followed the examples set by their sergeants and corporals. Once they had formed it was only natural that they marched in step.

The civilians fell back to follow the battalion into the American lines. Von Kleist wondered if they would be met by machine gun fire, then he saw the group of German soldiers off the side of the road. He felt confident that his men would be taken prisoner.

As the column approached the roadblock, von Kleist ordered the men to halt. He then walked up to the roadblock and noted that there was a sergeant on duty. He stopped, came to attention, saluted, and then in broken English indicated his desire to surrender.

He was somewhat surprised when the American soldier answered in perfect Viennese German.

Sgt. Katz was bemused at the idea of a lieutenant colonel saluting him, but he came to attention, returned the salute, and said, "Der Krieg ist vorbei, Oberstleutnant, Ihre Armee hat sich heute Morgen kapitulieren. Sie sind jetzt Kriegsgefangene der 1. Infanteriedivision der US-Armee.²"

"Ich verstehe Unteroffizier, wo wollen Sie meine Männer?³" von Kleist expected to be pointed to the roadside, but he had 500 men, surely they wouldn't fit.

Katz thought about it for a moment. As he was trying to figure out where to put a battalion of German POWs, Cpt. Hernandez and 1st Lt. Paddock joined him. After he explained what was going on, Paddock decided, with Hernandez' concurrence, that Katz' squad would escort the German soldiers back to regiment, where a proper POW cage was being set up.

Pointing to the bedraggled lot sitting off to the side Hernandez said, "Have this colonel take those guys with him."

Katz explained this to von Kleist who immediately detailed two of his sergeants to have those other men fall in behind his men.

Hauptfeldwebel Martin Benfeldt had been in the army nearly twenty years, like most professional non-commissioned officers, he despised disorder and sloppiness. The men sitting in dejection at the roadside were stunned into motion at Benfeldt's first words.


As these men fell in behind von Kleist's, their own sergeants chivvied them into formation, which pleased Benfeldt immensely. Shortly thereafter, von Kleist gave the order to march.

And as they marched down the road, the men began to sing...

A little flower blooms on the heath,
And it's called: Erika.
Hot with a hundred thousand small bees
Swarming around it, Erika,
For her heart is full of sweetness –
Delicate fragrance wafts from her flowery dress.
A little flower blooms on the heath,
And it's called: Erika.
There's a little maid back home,
And she's called: Erika.
This girl is my true little treasure
And my happiness, Erika.
When the heath turns a purplish colour,
I greet her singing this song.
A little flower blooms on the heath,
And it's called: Erika.
A little flower also blooms in my room,
And it's called: Erika.
Already at first light and at sundown
It looks at me, the Erika.
And then it seems to me as if it speaks aloud:
"Do you also think of your little bride?
At home, a girl is weeping for you
And she's called: Erika."

Erika, as it's known in German - heather in English.
We had this in our garden in Germany, I miss that garden.


Hernandez and Paddock watched the Germans marching down the road to captivity and an uncertain future. Their heads were held high and every man was singing at the top of his lungs. Hernandez looked at Paddock and said, "I hope we never have to fight those bastards again. Defeated and they still look like soldiers."

"Amen to that Cap'n. Amen to that." Paddock nodded, the Krauts had nearly killed him, had killed men serving under him, had killed friends of his, but he understood. It was war. Perhaps in the future they should send the politicians out to fight their own battles.

If only...

The 7th of May 1945

After authorizing Patton to advance to the Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceske Budejovice line, General Eisenhower sent a message to the Soviet High Command informing them that he was considering an advance beyond that line to the west bank of the Vltava (Moldau) River.  This storied river flows north through the heartland of Bohemia and Prague before joining the Elbe River in Germany.

The following day on 5 May 1945, the Soviet High Command strenuously objected to Eisenhower’s proposal, as doing so would enable Patton’s army to liberate as least part of the Czechoslovak capital.  With German resistance melting away before the Americans and Czechs partisans rising up against the Germans in Prague and numerous towns, Third U.S. Army could easily have reached Prague before the Soviets.  As the Soviets were intent on imposing a Communist government in the post-war Czechoslovakia, the U.S. Army could not be permitted to liberate Prague.  Accordingly, they prevailed upon Eisenhower to halt Patton at the Karlovy Vary – Plzen – Ceske Budejovice line.

In responding to Eisenhower’s proposal, the Soviets falsely claimed a quid pro quo with Denmark. They insisted that they had allowed Eisenhower’s forces to liberate Denmark earlier that week.  The fact was Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group had successfully raced the Soviets to the Baltic Sea and thus prevented the Soviets from seizing Denmark.  Even with Czech partisans in Prague desperately crying out for American help via radio and courier, Eisenhower would not permit Third Army to advance any farther east.

On the morning of 7 May, Third U.S. Army was well positioned to resume the advance on Prague.  In the north, CCA 9th Armored Division was just a few miles west of Karlovy Vary.  In the center, 16th Armored Division had liberated Plzen and pushed several miles east.  The 4th Armored Division had similarly advanced beyond the restraining line.  In the south, the 5th Infantry Division was west of Ceske Budejovice.  More importantly, only scattered organized resistance was being encountered.   Rather, torrents of German soldiers and civilians were rushing westward to surrender to the Americans and thus escape being captured by the Soviets.  That morning, many of Third Army’s units resumed their advance up to the restraining line.  The orders to halt the eastward advance did not reach many of the units until late morning of 7 May.

On the morning of 7 May 1945, the units of 1st Infantry Division and its attached Combat Command A, 9th Armored Division resumed their attacks eastward.  Their attacks had not proceeded far when word was received to halt.  In mid-morning, CCA was ordered to halt just short of Karlovy Vary.

Later that morning, the 1st Infantry Division and other Third U.S. Army units received the official word from General Eisenhower’s headquarters informing them the German High Command had surrendered early in the morning of 7 May.  The provisions of the surrender agreement would take effect at 0001 on 9 May 1945.  All offensive operations were to cease immediately.

Also that morning, senior leaders of the German XII Corps surrendered not once but twice to the combined 1st Infantry Division / CCA 9th Armored Division force.  In the first surrender ceremony, Major Henry T. Mortimer and Captain Cecil Roberts of CCA and a major from the 1st Infantry Division accepted the surrender of General Herbert Osterkamp and his corps at his headquarters with Captain Roberts formally accepting Osterkamp’s sword.

Subsequent to Capt. Robert’s acceptance of that German corps’s surrender, Gen.Osterkamp surrendered his XII Corps again.  This time, Gen. Osterkamp surrendered his corps to Brigadier General George A. Taylor, the Assistant Commander of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Also present were Major Mortimer, Brig. Gen. Thomas Harrold - commander of CCA, 9th Armored, and several other 1st Infantry Division officers. Under interrogation, Osterkamp revealed that his corps had only about 2,200 soldiers in its three depleted divisions, and that altogether there were some 17,000 Germans in his area of responsibility. There was some difference of opinion over the exact terms of the German surrender but Gen. Taylor quickly prevailed. With little choice, Osterkamp accepted Taylor’s precise terms and surrendered his corps for the second time. (Source)

¹ Lieutenant colonel
² The war is over, Lieutenant Colonel, your army surrendered this morning. You are now prisoners of the US Army's 1st Infantry Division.
³ I understand, sergeant, where do you want my men?

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  1. Well well well......what a surprise(sarcasm)......Commies gonna Commie. Wonder how many Germans and refugees were turned back over to the Soviets?

    1. Thousands. But then again, how many thousands of Russian POWs were killed by the Germans? - Millions.

    2. Then again, how many Russian civilians were killed by the Russians? - Tens of Millions.

      Neither side was covered in innocence. Something the after-war treatment didn't really cover.

      Dammit, we should have taken Prague. But at least we saved Denmark.

    3. The Russians had no way of getting to Denmark. Communism always eats its own, no surprise there.

  2. The Brits were happy to do so.

    1. actually a small group of canadian paratroopers stopped the soviets from getting to denmark.

  3. What an excellent tale you've woven. I was following this story from the very beginning and looked forward to every installment. Thank you so much.

  4. Doug Sanders was my physics prof. He said when Germans get together, the world takes notice. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be the last group heading into the meat grinder when it slowly clanks to a stop. And you don't get chewed up.... The relief beat Rolaids by a mile I bet.

    VERY good story today.

  5. Sarge, I have often contemplated what life must have been like the civilian von Kleist spoke with: served in one empire, saw that collapse, and then was thrown into the interwar period, then Nazi Germany, and then the postwar period. How utterly disorienting it must have been (And this was not the only time - I did a report many years ago on the Volga Germans who had emigrated during Catherine the Great's reign and were shipped off by the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan.

    Thank you for sharing the song. Do we sing like that anymore? Do we even share enough of a common musical library to do so?

    Sadly, post war the Allies did not cover themselves in glory either. Perhaps I understand - politically - the exigencies of returning people to what must have been certain death, but I certainly do not understand the human side of it.

    1. I'm sure revenge played a part.

    2. And don't forget just plain stupid bureaucratic stupidity and fecklessness. Never underestimate the stupidity and fecklessness of any nations' bureaucrats...

    3. Most bureaucrats are, by their very nature, feckless and stupid. It's why they're bureaucrats.

  6. I have often wondered if Eisenhower really understood the political implications or was he under Roosevelt boot? Of course Roosevelt had died by then.

    That wasn’t Patton in Magdaburg and in position to take Berlin? With the Russians have fought so vehemently had we gone into Berlin? I think the Russians lost 200,000 killed taking Berlin.

    I remember hearing a lecture from a great professor of mine, Norman Graebner, to University of Virginia.

    During the 50s there was a lot of recriminations about how we had won the war but lost the peace in Europe with an eastern part of Europe under an iron curtain.

    And Professor Graebner said it wasn’t ours to lose; they had already occupied it.

    But I guess the border could’ve been changed a bit in Czechoslovakia

    1. One thing you MUST understand, the American people were tired of the war. Taking casualties to seize Berlin would have been unacceptable to the public. The idiots in charge had made noise about the "war is almost over" back in late '44, only to have the German Army lunge out of the Ardennes, causing more death and destruction.

      Another thing to keep in mind is that the US military is civilian controlled. Eisenhower was bound by law to obey the orders of the politicians in Washington DC. The last thing anyone wanted (well, except for Patton) was a war with the Soviets, which probably would have happened. I believe Churchill was the only western politician who understood the implications of letting the Red Army seize most of eastern Europe.

      The demarcation lines had already been drawn at the numerous conferences between the US, UK, and USSR. Going past those lines would have gotten men killed, only to have to give it back.

      Blame the politicians, not the soldiers.

    2. There is also the very little known fact that... we were almost broke. Printing more money couldn't save us. We had run out of the ability to cover the existing War Bonds and were looking at a very expensive invasion in Japan plus a whole lot of post-war cleanup.

      Tired men. Running out of money. And tired civilians. It was time to end it.

    3. Wars are insanely expensive. Politicians don't get that because they spend other peoples' money...

    4. Churchill understood the implications of letting the Red Army seize most of Eastern Europe, after all he coined the phrase 'The Iron Curtain'. The other thing is there would have been little enthusiasm amongst the British troops to go on and fight the Red Army. At that time there was still a lot of enthusiasm and admiration in the UK for the USSR. My late father in law left me a collection of bound magazines produced during the war. It's interesting to see how British propaganda changed during the war. At the start of the war Germany and the USSR were regarded as equally evil, come Barbarossa and it's good old 'Uncle Joe' and articles extolling the Red Army. By the end of 1945 the USSR is regarded as an enemy and articles were beginning to appear which did not sugar coat Nazi war crimes but essentially separated the Nazis from 'ordinary' Germans. I would add that the Labour govt under Attlee absolutely despised the communists and were active in fighting communist insurgencies in Italy and Greece. They were hard times but from a British point of view everyone was tired and the country was worn as. As someone born in the mid 1950's there were plenty of war veterans around that I met. None spoke of the war as a time to be enjoyed and a lot were no fans of Churchill.

    5. Add to that the UK was running out of men who could be soldiers. Same with the USA, but not as bad as Britain.

      The war had gone on and on and everyone was tired, it needed to end. Only those who wouldn't have to do the fighting wanted to press on against the Russians. That would have been a new Thirty Years War with equivalent results. Devastation and death on an even grander scale than WWII had already been. Probably would have led to the extinction of Germany and the Germans.

  7. It has been very interesting to read this day-by-day account of the war - it really gives a sense of just how long it took. It also breaks the "History Channel" view of things: "We're 45 minutes into the 1 hour show so the war must be over."

    You really get the sense of being there. Other than not being cold, wet, and shot at ...

    1. Thanks BP. That was one of my goals once I decided to keep writing past D-Day. At first this was going to be "mini-series," if you'll pardon the expression, but when I got to the 6th of June, and after numerous "you should write a book" comments, I decided that there was no time like the present. I have been happy and humbled by the reception this work has received by you and all my readers.

      Now if I could only simulate climate...

  8. A great story! Thanks for sharing it!!

    1. You are most welcome Rob.

      And thanks for reading!

  9. You kept the suspense going, Sarge; as it must have been for "our" people. I'll echo Bore patch's assessment of most of sorta-history's programming.
    I know we're not done -again like "war's over, story's over". These people will live it for all of their days, one way or the other. WE, the beneficiaries need to appreciate what they brought us. I fear we've squandered much of our inheritance.
    Eagerly awaiting the book.
    Boat Guy

    1. Squandered...

      That word is more than appropriate.

      And thanks BG!

    2. One of the great things about the mini-series "Band of Brothers" is that they do spend an episode dealing with the 'After European War' and then vignettes dealing with some of the soldiers' lives afterwards.

      Very few shows or books handle it. The great relief when August comes around and Japan surrendered must have been huge for most of the men (there are always those that do better in combat or in the military than as peaceful civilians.)

    3. I've talked to men who were preparing for the invasion of Japan, the bomb saved their lives.

  10. And yet another excellent episode. Makes me wonder how the German commander felt knowing he was leading his men into captivity and realizing the ugly reality of their situation while attempting to keep as many of his soldiers alive as he could. And then having the civilians join the march seeking possible safety...war just sucks.

    Break: was outside a few minutes ago and heard what sounded like one of the engines on a T-6 Texan II out of Randolph AFB. Familiar but something different; much louder and not as "pure" (if that makes sense). Start scanning the sky and lo and behold, a flight of six(!) in a "V" formation! Leader with two trailing astern to the left and three to the right. The last guy on the right had about twice the distance from the other plane as the other planes had from each other. Very cool to watch!

    1. I love those engine sounds, and to see a formation flyover, priceless!

    2. I would assume that he felt a great relief the moment the Americans didn't open fire on them. Knowing that, at least for now, they had escaped the madness of the Russian retribution. And with many civilians in tow.

    3. There was always the chance that they might be gunned down where they stood.

  11. Great work.

    But, the suffering, sacrifice and ingenuity confronting new problems continued after V-E day. Much of it involving the same no-long combatants, but in newly found roles of occupier and defeated in unprecedented conditions of ruined infrastructure and housing, uncertain food supplies, near total loss of government structure and services, and an undercurrent of ancient scores to settle.
    There's gotta be more to the story of our now familiar friend and former enemies. Winning the peace, or mere survival can be exciting too.

    Carry it thru until "our boys" hit the points needed to leave for home.
    John Blackshoe

    1. That story does need telling.

    2. Having to deal with all the new issues and the beginning build-up of Soviet skullduggery in the western portions, dealing with the now-defecting Easterners, dealing with the inevitable rise of crime syndicates, petty crime, black markets, and bored soldiers. What a mix rife for stupidity to win.

  12. Excellent beginning of the end. And thanks for the overall information of the final days.

    Yet another thing not taught in school. A Soviet Denmark. That would have effectively isolated Sweden and northern West Germany from any ships and made post-war guarding against the Soviets practically impossible. Okay, I'll step away from my Monty hating and give him chops for that.

    Too bad we couldn't have kept what we took, well, kept within our sphere of influence that is. And punched closer to Berlin, rather than leaving a 120 mile gap between it and West Germany. Punching closer to or into Prague, could probably have done that, too. And then kept the new lines. Would that have made post-war Cold War easier or worse? But then again, like everyone said above, we were tired, nigh unto broke, and war-weary.

    It always seems that way, doesn't it? We fight like lions but when peace breaks out our attention span goes elsewhere. We as a nation are very ADHD...

    Pat yourself and your muse on the back for me. Looking forward to the Occupation phase of the story.

    1. Denmark would have been a "bridge too far" for Stalin. But an interesting topic to dig into.

  13. Sarge,
    I have one question. What are you going to post about next? Asking for a friend.


    1. I'm wondering the same thing - bet the guys on our side are going to be speculating about going to the Pacific. You could always get them (some of them?) to participate in the hunt for Nazi loot stolen from occupied territories and Jewish families. Or maybe a platoon assigned to Berchtesgaden?? or coming across Nazi's trying to blend in with lines of refugees?
      Anyway, it's been a great read so far, Sarge - can't wait to see where this all goes, where your Muse takes us all.

    2. Juvat - Honestly, I have no idea...

    3. Tom - Not sure where this goes next.

  14. (Don McCollor)...Wonderful story! Let it end here (maybe a separate sequel later)...

    1. One more episode, tomorrow.

    2. I started paying attention to this story on the 2nd of June last year... Tomorrow is it... I'm looking forward to it!

  15. Hey AFSarge;

    Sorry I didn't Post yesterday, Had a heart ablation done so I am catching up today...This was an excellent by far one of your best in a sea of good post. We won the war and almost lost the peace during the Postwar period, we as a nation didn't know what to do with Germany, we had to focus on Japan and our policies on Germany ebbed and flowed whereas the Soviets had a focus on Germany, basically force the Allies out of Berlin and out of Germany. The postwar period of Germany was a unique time for the Germans, there was a lot of soul searching and debauchery because the depths of Hitler's crimes were laid bare for the world to see, the German Propaganda(News) did a good job covering up the more egregious sins of the camps and the other pograms. I was talking with some of older German Soldiers in a gasthaus swilling bier and we were talking soldier to soldier and they were telling me this in German. by this point I was fluent, I had returned from the Gulf and they figured one combat vet to another kinda thing. they told me what restored hope to the Germans was when they saw "their own currency" for the first time in 1949, rather than "occupation Script" something small as that did wonders for their psyche. It helped counteract all the propaganda from the Soviet sector. Willie Brandt(the First Postwar President is much revered in Germany). It was an enlightening conversation.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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