Heroes: the Army
"...Harry wiped the dust from his binoculars and went on observing the arena. "Not a single sign of life; it's too quiet!" he said to himself. At this instant an image appeared, moving across the field..."
From the Russian Side
Taken from the diary of Zvi Harry Glaser,
who met the 102nd at the Elbe
Halbe - Last Battle &emdash; 4/28/45
At dawn Harry led his squad into their last battle. The village of Halbe, 40 kilometers southeast of Berlin, appeared to be deserted with any civilians remaining in hiding. The squad deployed on the northern edge of the village overlooking a vast neglected pasture. A Maxim machine gun was brought up to reinforce the riflemen. Harry placed it on his right flank and, after issuing orders to his men went to search the farmhouse at their rear. In the cellar he discovered frightened inhabitants. "Stay indoors, don't leave the house under any circumstances until you get further instructions!" he told the astonished inhabitants in fluent German. "Ja, jawohl, Herr Offizier!" they responded in chorus. Harry's eyes scanned the shelf on the wall and spotted a row of cans of preserved meat. "Please take it" said an old man, the only male in the family. Harry picked up two of the cans, locked the door and went back to the trenches, stepping over a few corpses of German soldiers.
He was just in time. His soldiers were holding a 15 year old German boy with a swastika armband, who had been riding a bicycle with a Panzerfaust on his shoulder. Reaching the squad, he realized he had come to the wrong address; he tried swiftly to turn around but fell. There was no need to disarm him; the boy in an oversized trench coat looked pathetic and scared to death. On being asked how he came to be there, the boy said: "I am one of the German Working Youth" with confusion painting at the swastika. 'Three days ago we were assembled in a school in East Berlin to meet Dr. Gobbels. The Reichs Minister spoke to us, promising that we would win the war, we would just have to answer the Fuhrer's call to help out until the new weapons arrive:'Harry felt sorry for the boy. He helped him straighten his wheel out and sent him home to his mother, if she was alive.
Harry wiped the dust from his binoculars and went on observing the arena. "Not a single sign of life; it's too quiet!" he said to himself. At this instant an image appeared, moving across the field. Harry adjusted his lens and saw a woman with a baby in her arms running toward the village. Just as suddenly, she disappeared. "What the hell is she doing there?" he asked himself. The answer came the next day when they encountered crowds of desperate German civilians from the east who tried to reach the west, where the American-Allies were approaching. Then still confused, he waved off and went to distribute the two cans of German meat to his hungry riflemen. Then the runner arrived. A call for Harry to report to the battalion command post. While walking Harry read Lindern Strasse. It was the main street dividing Halbe in two.
The battalion commander and his staff were on the south side, and were observing the pasture towards the woods. White flags were waving among the trees, indicating a wish to surrender. Harry stood and was waiting to report his situation and state of readiness. The battalion commander turned to him "Corporal, you speak German, don't you?" Harry nodded and the captain continued: "You see the white flags? It is less than a kilometer. If you want to earn the "Red Banner" (the second highest decoration after the Order of Lenin), go clarify the situation and bring back some parliamentarian for their capitulation with you." Harry began crossing the pasture. After going about two hundred meters he stopped. The white flags had disappeared. He looked back. The command group was no longer there either. Several gunshots sounded from the woods. Harry looked towards the Germans again, but there was no sign of life.
Fifly years later he learned by chance what those white flags had been, which also explained the commander's remark about the high decoration, for he must have known how risky the task was. A group of German soldiers, known as Seydlditz Troops were the ones who acted. In 1945 a group of German emigrants in Moscow, among them future leader Walter Ulbricht and the head of the German war prisoners association, Gen. Walther von Seydlitz, created all means including sabotage of the Wehmacht. They were claiming to represent the National Komitee Freis Deutchiand, and for diverse reasons were working with the Soviets against Hitler. Many of then had experience on the Eastern Front and had no wish to go on fighting Hitler's war. Meanwhile the Soviet intelligence service had organized special task forces for parachuting behind the German lines and operating a complex spy and diversion system. Encouraged by the Soviets, the Seydlitz Troops grew in numbers with the retreat of the German Army on the Eastern Front, encouraging whole groups to desert, and thus sabotaging the Nazi war effort. As soon as they were discovered by the SS or other convinced Nazis, they would be shot. Thus the Fifth Column worked on both sides. The white flags Harry had seen were being waved by a group of Seydlitz troops attempting to arrange the surrender of the main body to the Russians, but they were spotted and most of them killed by the SS.
Harry realized that he was in danger of falling into a trap, and went back to his squad. The next moment the runner appeared. "German tanks are moving towards the village with infantry following them." The pasture immediately became alive as the German assault began. Letting them advance 200 meters, the squad opened fire, mowing down many of the attacking infantry, and the rest rolled back. The situation was worse to the squad's rear on the main street of the village, where German tanks were rolling forward, machine guns firing from their turrets, and followed by infantry assault group. Many of the attackers were fanatic SS. Now they were fast approaching Harry's lines and two of his men had already been wounded.
The squad was firing non-stop at the attackers, then the Maxim broke off, and a third man fell. The Germans kept coming on endlessly and the situation seemed hopeless. The squad tried to withdraw, but it was too late, the main street was already overrun. The supporting light 45mm gun on the sidewalk could not stop the German Tiger tanks. A shell from the leading heavy Tiger tank hit the gun, killing or wounding all the crew. The God helped the squad with a sudden dusk, which enabled then to reach the backyards, crawling with their wounded until they got out of Helbe and back to their main forces.
Twilight found the devastated battalion in retreat, having lost many of its combatants, including the commander. Many wounded were left behind, most of whom were found by the Germans during the night and shot. At this point some German groups succeeded in breaking out of their encirclement. As Harry would learn fifty years later, their aim was to avoid Russian captivity rather than save the Fuhrer and the already encircled Berlin garrison.
During the following day the battalion recovered, received reinforcements and prepared to retake the village. A contingent of Katyusha multiple-barreled rocket launchers arrived and took up firing positions. The night passed with much emotion; they knew it would be hot the next day.
The field kitchen arrived and set up on the ground. The corpses of enemy soldiers (22,000 casualties in one week) and horses were all around but the smell of burnt flesh could not keep the troops from their meal. It was April, spring, the season of life, and there were dead corpses. "It is horribly sad today in spring" Harry thought to himself. The mail came and with it a three months old postcard for Harry.
"Dear Brother, I am finally back in Riga. I found Aunt Jenny. She told me the sad news; Mother was shot at the beginning of 1944, just before the liberation of the city, while trying to escape the last selection for execution." The blood rushed to Harry's head. He put the postcard into his breast pocket for safety.
The T-34 tanks were also ready and the commander announced. To mount a tank on the special and risky mission was first announced as voluntary choice. With the field postcard about Mother's death on his chest, Harry called his squad and made the briefing and waited for the response. One after another they all joined.
It began early in the morning. The Katyushas softened up the Germans for some ten minutes, and then the infantry went in to clean out whatever tried to resist. Harry's squad piled itself on the leading tank, which moved towards the forest where the remains of the pocket were concentrated. The tank stopped a hundred meters short of the woods to avoid being hit by Panzerfausts and the squad jumped off and ran into the woods. The mission was swift and the German resistance broke down and the remaining German soldiers dropped their weapons. Further on a whole mass of Germans stood with raised hands, obeying the order for the prisoners to assemble in groups. It was all over. Sixty thousand Germans from this pocket surrendered. An estimated 40 thousand, including the civilians sheltering with the remains of the 9th Army, had been killed in the encirclement and breakout. Among the captured was a highly decorated tank commander.
Exactly 50 years later on this battlefield, 69 year old Harry would meet his former enemies, the Halbe Gruppe, and among them the 84 year old Panzer leader, Hans von Luck, commander of the 125th Panzer Regiment of the 21st Panzer Division.
For the turmoil, Harry was awarded the Order of Glory, the second highest medal for valor.
Berlin - Surrender
The Division rejoined the final battle on Berlin itself, eliminating the resistance in the southern part of the city. About midnight between the 1st and 2nd of May came sounds of the last broadcast of Nazi Germany in Berlin. Five times it repeated the announcement "Here is the LVI (56th) Panzer corps! Here is the LVI Panzer corps! We are asking to stop the fire! " The Soviet sender starts to communicate, but the German sender did not respond anymore; it died. Fifty minutes later: German parliamentarians with white flags appeared on the Potsdamer bridge. The capital surrendered. At 4:30 am, at the headquarters of the 8th Guard Army, the commander of the Berlin garrison, General Wiedling, with his escorting staff officer salute militarily the victor. Col. General Tshuikov demands "Capitulation with non-condition, yes or no?" Wiedling responds "Yes!" Then he is advised to direct his last order to his troops: "Stop the fire!"
About 2 pm, Soviet army cars rolled through the streets of Berlin with loudspeakers giving Wiedling's words: "The 30th of April, 1945 the Fuhrer left us, who had taken oath and loyalty to him, in our deepest distress. By his order you are still fighting in Berlin, despite the obvious final defeat and nonsense. The civil population and our wounded continue to suffer. In accordance with the agreement with the Soviet High Command, I demand immediately to stop the fire. Weidling, General of Artillery, Commandant of the defense zone of Berlin."
At evening, the Order-of-the-Day from the Supreme Commander Yosif Stalin was received from Moscow : "Soldiers and Officers! Today, the Second of May, 1945, the Fascist Nazi Capital has surrendered to your hands. More than 70,000 German officers and soldiers were captured. Glory and Honor to you comrades! Tonight at 23:00 in our Capital Moscow, the whole nation will salute to you with 24 Salvo!"
West of the city the resisting Germans tried to brake through to the Hannover Highway and reach the Elbe River. The 40th Corps received the assignment: "eliminate and advance to the Elbe River."
During two days Harry's 129th Infantry Division tailed the fleeing Germans covering 120 kilometers. At morning on May 4th Harry's squad advanced along the main street of Burg, a city richly decorated with sculpture and many medieval buildings engraved with Latin inscriptions, plus a beautiful arched church with stained glass windows. It looked almost untouched and relatively quiet; for a moment it seemed as if there had never been a war. The German Defense of the split 325th Battalion was weak; it was obvious they would rather retreat alive to the Elbe than die in the last days of the war.
The Squad fought its way without casualties. They passed an ancient tower, named after Otto von Bismark, the founder of the German Empire in the past century; an hour later the Red Flag had been erected on it. Here and there civilians would peer through windows; some even took courage to go out to the sidewalk, but they were only women, children and very old men. The majority of able German men were not seen; they had paid their duty to the Fuhrer by dying or going into capture. A light breeze from the Elbe reached the city. The squad went on eastward, to the river. On the West Bank there were already soldiers of the U.S. Army.
Blumenthal - Elbe - Meeting the Americans
Blumenthal appeared on the outskirts: a small village with neat houses almost reaching the east bank of the Elbe River. From his new position, 800 meters from the water, Harry looked through his binoculars. Across the river was already deployed the 9th U.S. Army. While groups of escaping Germans landed and immediately walked away, American soldiers, in clean light uniforms, stood next to the water and waived. They were part of the 102nd American Infantry Division.
Among them was a young Texan, George Rohrer, from M company, 406th Regiment, and 56 years later when he met Harry he would tell him: "Yes, we were happy it was over. I took a message to my company from General Ike. In part it read: 'We are meeting the Russian Allies. They ARE OUR FRIENDS. They have been fighting two thirds of the German Army. Treat them with respect.' " This letter was read to all of the American troops at the Elbe. About ten years ago this letter in its entirety was released to the news media. Up until then it was in the secret files, I guess, in Washington.
This was part of the link up with the Allies. "Why did they let them so easy - free to go?" Harry asked himself.
Four days later the Third Reich surrendered unconditionally. The day after the German capitulation, across the river, U.S. Artillery Captain Wilson shook hands with his Soviet Allies, celebrating the Victory.
This excerpt is my account of the ending battles of WWII and the link-up of the 129th Orel Infantry Division with the 102nd US. 9th Army.
I send it to my comrades in arms - Allies in WWII and hope to meet you guys one day, still on "this planet."
With soldiers Greeting
(Mr. Glaser included his name and address as part of this story -- but we have chosen to exclude this information to protect his privacy.)
----- Zvi Harry Glaser
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
The above story, "From the Russian Side", by Zvi Harry Glaser, 129th Orel Infantry Division, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 2, Jan/March 2002, pp. 7 - 11.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 16 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST