The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, veterans of Sicily, D-Day, Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and the battle through Germany suddenly found that the war was coming to an abrupt end. The German 21st Army wanted to surrender to them, even though their easternmost units were still engaged with the Red Army.
James Magellas, by now the 82 Division’s most decorated officer and another American thief, one of the few who had survived all the way through, describes the situation:
The forward element of the 3rd Battalion, H Company, set up a road-block on one of the roads leading into the division sector to disarm the surrendering Germans.
On that historic day, an entire army, with a vast array of tanks, trucks, half-tracks, howitzers, vehicles of all types, and motorcycles, began to pass through the division’s checkpoints heading to the rear. With Russians not far behind, the convoy of German soldiers and armaments bore little resemblance to the Wehrmacht that had fought so hard against us.
We were witnessing an unprecedented event. First, an entire German army, about 150,000 men, surrendered to a division of about 10,000. Second, their frontline units were combating Russian forces, not American. Third, the Germans passed through our lines in reverse order—army headquarters first, then corps, divisions, and regiments; the combat troops came through last.
The general staff included ten generals; the headquarters appeared to be in excellent condition. They seemed to have prepared for the grand finale. Clean-shaven and groomed, uniforms clean and neatly pressed, boots shined, with monocles and medals, they were proud to the very end. They represented some of the top brass of the Wehrmacht.
They rode in large, chauffeured staff cars accompanied by their women, wives, or mistresses. The obedient aides, still by their side, took care that the generals were going out in style.
They took approximately one week to pass through our lines, with vehicles almost bumper to bumper for the first few days. Their rear-echelon troops appeared to be in excellent physical condition, looking much better kept than our own combat forces.
All of their equipment and armor was also in good condition. I found it difficult to believe that they were the conquered and we were the conquerors. On the third day, their frontline units began to pass through our lines.
On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.
The focus of attention for many men rapidly switched from the rigors of battle to more material concerns:
As the Germans passed our checkpoints, they were disarmed; in many cases, our troops relieved them of their cameras, watches, and other “souvenirs.” “Other souvenirs” – he chose to leave out the definition: Identification Papers, Pictures of Wives and Loved Ones, Crosses, Food, and the most disgusting thing – the Awards and Medals won honorably by German soldiers. This is not an honorable thing for any combat soldier to do to his enemy.
Sergeant Charles Crowder recalled: “I obtained a burlap bag, mounted a motorcycle with a sidecar, and, as the enemy troops marched by, I told them to throw their pistols in the bag. I started taking watches and rings until the bag was full. I figured this was my chance to get rich. I also took money in German marks. I gave away all the pistols that I gathered to other men in my unit, except for four, which I kept for myself. I kept most of the watches.”
Sergeant Jimmy Shields emptied a barracks bag full of pistols on the table and told his squad, “Help yourself.” I picked out several highly prized pieces: a Luger, a P38, and an Italian Beretta.
Sergeant Donald Zimmerman traded a Mauser pistol with me for a weekend pass. The Mauser, a semiautomatic that could be fired as a pistol or attached to a wooden holster and fired as a shoulder piece, was carried by general officers and was of World War I vintage. It was the only one I ever saw.
By James Megellas in his book: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.
Many collectors will have all kinds of items in their homes and on display. Others wonder where did you get all this stuff? The honest answer: My grandfather stole it off dead or alive German soldaten.
We find this practice of thievery the worst kind. We do understand when the undisciplined lower ranks of the American army do this, but for officers, this is disgusting and less than honorable. Of course, this must be an acceptable practice since this officer had no shame in writing this in his book. His country, of course, beat evil Germany so his actions are called heroic. Some call this the spoils of war… they lost, we can take it. How about the 10,000 rapes that occurred to French civilians by American, British, and Candian troops after D-Day in France. Are these spoils of war? That is a story for another day.
Think twice when you decide to buy that item. Where did it come from? Was he dead? Did they steal it off another soldier who was fighting for his country? Do you have honor or are you trash also? This is one of the main reasons we preserve these articles for future generations to see in full. To honor the soldaten who fought hard and bravely. These are museum pieces. Not some fools collection to show to his friends.
On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War.
After the German advance through Belgium and eastern France was curtailed by a decisive Allied victory in the Battle of the Marne in late September 1914, the Race to the Sea began, as each army attempted to outflank the other on their way northwards, hastily constructing trench fortifications as they went. The race ended in mid-October at Ypres, the ancient Flemish city with its fortifications guarding the ports of the English Channel and access to the North Sea beyond.
After the Germans captured the Belgian city of Antwerp early in October, Antwerp’s remaining Belgian forces along with troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Sir John French, withdrew to Ypres, arriving at the city between October 8 and 19 to reinforce the Belgian and French defenses there. Meanwhile, the Germans prepared to launch the first phase of an offensive aimed at breaking the Allied lines and capturing Ypres and other channel ports, thus controlling the outlets to the North Sea.
On October 19, a protracted period of fierce combat began, as the Germans opened their Flanders offensive and the Allies steadfastly resisted while seeking their own chances to go on the attack wherever possible. Fighting continued, with heavy losses on both sides until November 22 when the arrival of winter weather forced the battle to a halt. The area between the positions established by both sides during this period from Ypres on the British side to Menin and Roulers on the German side became known as the Ypres Salient. A region, that over the course of the next several years, would see some of the war’s bitterest and most brutal struggles.
U.S. President Truman signed an act officially ending the state of war with Germany.
In the early hours of October 4, 1918, German Chancellor Max von Baden, appointed by Kaiser Wilhelm II just three days earlier, sends a telegraph message to the administration of President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C., requesting an armistice between Germany and the Allied powers in World War I.
By the end of September 1918, the Allies had made a tremendous resurgence on the Western Front, reversing the gains of the previous spring’s massive German offensive and pushing the German army in eastern France and western Belgium back to its last line of defenses being the Hindenburg Line. Stunned and despondent, German General Erich Ludendorff, chief architect of that final spring offensive, reversed his previous optimism about the German military situation and demanded at a crown council meeting on September 29, that Germany seek an immediate armistice based on the terms President Wilson had laid out in his famous Fourteen Points address in January 1918. Feeling that the army’s leadership had completely usurped the government, Chancellor Georg von Hertling immediately resigned. Kaiser Wilhelm subsequently appointed his second cousin, Prince Max von Baden, to the post.
As soon as von Baden arrived in Berlin to take office on October 1, he made it clear that he had no intention of admitting defeat until Germany had regained at least some ground on the battlefield. In this way, he hoped to retain some powers of negotiation with the Allies. On October 3, however, Paul von Hindenburg, the German army’s chief of staff and head of the Third Supreme Command, as Germany’s military leadership was known, reiterated Ludendorff’s advice, stating that “The German army still stands firm and is defending itself against all attacks. The situation, however, is growing more critical daily and may force the High Command to momentous decisions. In these circumstances, it is imperative to stop the fighting in order to spare the German people and their allies unnecessary sacrifices. Every day of delay costs thousands of brave soldiers their lives.”
Von Baden disagreed with Hindenburg, telling him that too early an armistice could mean Germany would lose valuable territory in Alsace-Lorraine and East Prussia, which had been implicit under the terms of the Fourteen Points, despite Wilson’s expressed desire for a peace without victory. Deciding to seek his own way apart from the Supreme Command, von Baden brought two Socialist members of the German Reichstag into his cabinet. They too, appraising the growing anti-war feeling on the home front and in the government, advised the chancellor to seek an armistice. On October 4, heeding their advice, von Baden telegraphed his request to Washington.
Wilson’s response, in notes of October 14 and 23, made it clear that the Allies would only deal with a democratic Germany, not an imperial state with an effective military dictatorship presided over by the Supreme Command. Neither Wilson nor his even less conciliatory counterparts in Britain and France trusted von Baden’s declaration of October 5 that he was taking steps to move Germany towards parliamentary democracy. After Wilson’s second note arrived, Ludendorff’s resolve returned and he announced that the note should be rejected and the war resumed in full force. After peace had come so tantalizingly close, however, it proved even more difficult for Germans on the battlefield as well as on the home front to carry on. Within a month, Ludendorff had resigned, as the German position had deteriorated still further and it was determined that the war could not be allowed to continue. On November 7, Hindenburg contacted the Allied Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch, to open armistice negotiations. Four days later, World War I came to an end.
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet in the Alps at Brenner Pass. Hitler was seeking help from Italy to fight the British.
The German Bundestag parliament has its first meeting since reunification.
In an attempt to delay the Allied advance toward Rome, Italy, German forces set up a series of defensive lines, collectively called the Winter Line, that began with the southern-most Volturno Line to the northern-most Rome Switch Line, with the Gustav Line intending to be the strongest. The Winter Line was mainly constructed by members of the German Organization Todt, featuring many gun pits, concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, minefields, and other defensive structures, manned by soldiers of 15 German divisions.
In the first week of Oct 1943, British infantry crossed the Biferno River on the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy, reaching the eastern end of the southern-most Volturno Line, also known as Viktor Line. A German armor counterattack on 4 Oct nearly pushed the infantrymen back across the river, but British engineers were able to set up a bridge in time to bring up Canadian and British tanks to the front to counter the German counterattack. By 6 Oct, the territory lost to the German counterattack was regained, and the British and Canadian troops would gradually push north toward the Barbara Line. On the western end of the Volturno Line, the US 5th Army crossed the Volturno River during the night of 12 Oct and advanced through a series of delay action engagements.
The next defensive line, Barbara Line, was reached by Allies on 2 Nov, near-simultaneously on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast by US 5th Army and on the Adriatic Sea coast by the British 8th Army. In early Dec, on the western side, German troops fell back to the intermediate Bernhardt Line, also known as Reinhard Line, while on the eastern side the Germans fell back to the main Gustav Line.
The US 5th Army attacked the Bernhardt Line on 1 Dec 1943, using both US and British troops. Monte Camino and the surroundings were captured after eight days of heavy combat. On 10 Dec, US troops captured the peaks surrounding the Mignano Gap; despite gaining the advantageous terrain, the Americans could not drive the Germans out of the valley until 16 Dec, and fighting in this general area would last until the end of the year.
The British 8th Army attack on the Gustav Line began on 28 Nov 1943, one week behind schedule due to heavy rains. On 5 Dec, the Canadian 1st Infantry Division under Major-General Christopher Vokes launched an attack at the German defenses along the Moro River; meanwhile, New Zealand 2nd Division marched toward Orsogna. Although the advance across the lines south of the Gustav Line had been costly in terms of casualties, the movement had been relatively swift, and the Allied leadership expected the same from the British 8th Army at the Gustav Line. As Route 5, the main highway linking Pescara on the east coast with Rome to the west was situated less than 30 miles from the Gustav Line, several German divisions, including the tough 1st Parachute Division and 5th Mountain Division, were prepared the stand their ground. At 0000 hours on 5 Dec, Canadian troops attacked toward Villa Rogatti, immediately engaging in heavy fighting, but were able to capture the town before dawn. The mid-morning counterattack by German panzers was repulsed, but the Canadians suffered high casualties and had to abandon Villa Rogatti. A similar scene played out at San Leonardo and San Donato on the following day. In the afternoon of 8 Dec, a renewed attack was launched at San Leonardo after a two-hour artillery bombardment, finally securing a bridgehead by sundown; overnight, troops of Royal Canadian Engineers built a bridge over the Moro River to allow tanks and supply trucks to reinforce the bridgehead. San Leonardo was captured by mid-morning on 9 Dec, and remaining German forces, after holding out in positions surrounding the town for the length of the day, fell back northward about 3 miles toward the area later to be nicknamed The Gully.
Meanwhile, New Zealand troops attacked Orsogna starting on 7 Dec, with British paratroopers in support. This attack would fail to dislodge German defenders and would be called off on the following day.
Three Canadian battalions attacked The Gully on 10 Dec, capturing Vino Ridge, but over the next three days, they would suffer heavy casualties against stubborn defense by troops of the German 90. Panzergrenadier Division. On 13 December, however, German strength began to be dwindling, and the German 1st Parachute Division was moved up to relieve the 90. Panzergrenadier Division. At dawn on 14 Dec, Canadian troops attempted to flank The Gully by attacking Casa Berardi to the west, capturing the roads leading into the town by 0750 hours and then the town itself in the afternoon.
After sundown on 13 Dec, 17th Infantry Brigade of Indian 8th Division moved toward Caldari. The fighting lasted through the following day, capturing roads between Ortona and Orsogna. By the evening on 15 Dec, the Indian troops began to make considerable breakthroughs, complemented by New Zealand troops’ favorable progress at Orsogna. On 16 Dec, the Germans launched a counterattack at positions held by New Zealand at 0315 hours, which would be repulsed, exhausting both sides in the process.
On the morning of 18 Dec, Canadian artillery pieces mounted a heavy barrage on German positions in The Gully, followed by an assault by Canadian and Indian troops across the Ortona-Orsogna road. This attack saw initial successes, but it was ultimately repulsed with heavy losses. Two days later, in the afternoon, the Canadians mounted yet another attack, only to find that the Germans had already evacuated The Gully and had fallen back into Ortona. Although Ortona would be taken by the Allies by 26 Dec, by this time the British 8th Army had been exhausted. An attempt was made on the final day of 1943 to send a small party toward Pescara, but the heavy snowstorm that hindered this advance party only confirmed that the British 8th Army needed time to regroup before it could launch another offensive especially as weather conditions were about to change for the worse.
Toward the western coast of Italy, the US 5th Army was suffering from similar problems. Although the Germans were slowly being pushed back from the Bernhardt Line back toward the Gustav Line, and the Americans were indeed able to launch another offensive in the half of Jan 1944, capturing Monte Porchia, Monte Chiaia, Cervaro, and Monte Trocchio, the northward advance along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast were to be halted as well to regroup before challenging the western end of the German Gustav Line.
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