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The Day the War Ended, 2

My father by this together in 1995; now, on the 70th anniversary, he's emailed it around to his family and friends. I may have posted it before, but I think it deserves a wide audience...

–The fighting and dying in Europe went on for nine days more, but at Stalag VIIA, April 29, 1945, was –

The Day The War Ended

David Westhelmer, krlegie
We began hearing distant, spaced explosions. The artillery men among us said it was fieldpieces and only forty or fifty miles away. My German friend came to see me. He said, "I have heard this sort of thing before. On the Russian Front. Your friends are very near. I think they will be here within twenty-four hours. Then you will be free, and I will be a prisoner."

I lay awake that night wondering if he were only telling me what I wanted to hear, as I suspected Germans did a lot, or had information we weren't privy to.

Lt. Cot. A.P.Clark, POW Intelligence
We began hearing the guns. We knew how close they were, and one night the Germans called the senior officer out front. At that time the senior officer was "Pop" Goode, an Army officer and very distinguished senior colonel. I went with him because he had selected me to be his operations officer – operations and intelligence officer – along with a half a dozen others.

The German said, "Tonight is probably the night. Tomorrow morning you will probably be free. Colonel Goode, the local commander of this area would like to talk to you."

So they put him in a German jeep and took him to the headquarters of whoever was defending that sector.

The German general said, "I would like you to take this message to the local American commander and give him a proposal. The proposal is that we demilitarize this particular sector because of the huge POW camp in it."

There was also a river crossing in the sector with two very crucially important bridges and that's what he wanted to demilitarize so we couldn't get across the river.

Pop Goode said he would be happy to take the message; he couldn't give any promise. So he took the message.

14th Armored Division History
While the assault on Landshut was going on, the 477th Tank Battalion had jumped off in the assault on the Moosburg Prison Camps.

Here is that story:

It is 0600, 29 April. The attack of Combat Command A Is due to be resumed at this moment. The command post is located in Puttenhausen, Germany.

The 47th Tank Battalion is eight miles to the southeast where it halted operations at 2300 last night. Lieut. Col. Bob Edward's 68th Armored Infantry Battalion is three miles north of the command post, having run into hard resistance late the preceding day and having been ordered to halt at Malnburg to avoid running into a known night ambush.

Soon now, reports should arrive that the battalions are moving, and the guns of Joseph J. Murtha's 500th Armored Field Artillery Battalion should be heard. At one minute before 0600 a strange group strode into the headquarters of Combat Command A, to meet Brig. Gen. C.H. Karistad, Combat Commander. It consisted of a German Major, representing the commander of the Moosburg Allied Prisoner of War Camp, Col. Paul S. Goode of the United States Army, and a Group Commander of the British Royal Air Force-the senior American and British officers respectively – imprisoned in the Moosburg Camp; a Swiss Red Cross representative; and Col. Lann.

The German Major brought a written proposal from his commander for the creation of a neutral zone surrounding Moosburg, all movement of Allied troops in the general vicinity of Moosburg to stop while representatives of the Allied and German Governments conferred on disposition of Allied Prisoners of War in that vicinity.

The German proposals were rejected and the party was given until 0900 to return to Moosburg and to submit an unconditional surrender offer – or receive the American attack at that hour; a CCA staff officer was dispatched to General Smith.
German SS troops moved outside the city and set up a defense perimeter. They opened the fight.

He (Col. Goode) was up all night. He got to this leading division headquarters, command post; it was one of his old friends. They gave him breakfast of bacon and eggs, white bread, and he said, "Pop, obviously I am going to reject this offer, but we'll be through there at, let's see, 8:30 tomorrow morning. There will be a few shots fired, and that's all there will be."

Dick Schrupp, kriegie
We had cameras that had been smuggled into the camp and Colonel Clark told John Bennett and me to try to get out the front gate and get pictures of the expected liberation.

We had no trouble with the guard at the gate. He knew that for him the war was over. Soon after we got outside, two cars marked with red crosses drove up. To our surprise, out stepped Colonel Goode, senior American officer, and Group Captain Kellett, the senior British officer.

Col. Goode said to us, "You guys better hunt a hole, because the war is going to start."

So Goode took back the rejected answer to the Germans and then came on back into camp. He got into camp just about daylight, and we all gathered around him in his room. He was tired. He peeled of his shirt, reached soulfully into his pocket, and pulled out a crumbled piece of white bread. We hadn't seen that for three years.

He said, "I had bacon and eggs for breakfast."

And he said, very casually, "They are coming through this morning just about 30 minutes from now. There will be a little shooting and then it will be all over."

Rev. Eugene Daniel, kriegie chaplain
Sunday, April 29, 1945, began much like any Sunday in Stalag 7A, but there was a mysterious air of uncertainty or expectancy. After eating a scant breakfast I began to prepare for the 10 o'clock church service. No building was available, so plans had been made to hold the service on an open plaza in front of a small building used for food distribution. The place was centrally located and well known to the kriegies. It could accommodate several hundred standing men and even more because it was just off the paved street which ran down the middle of the camp. Men could even stand in the street if necessary. I placed a small table in front of the building and put some Bibles and hymn books on it. Worshippers began to arrive in small numbers from about 9:30 A.M. onward. By 9:45 a large congregation had gathered. About that time we saw planes in the distance and heard explosions far off.

At ten o'clock two P-51 fighters roared in and began beating up the camp. For fifteen minutes they made passes, rocking their wings or tumbling in acrobatics. Kriegies massed outside, waving and cheering. The fighters slowrolled and streaked southwest. We heard long, crackling bursts as they strafed ground targets. Why had they taken time off from a strafing mission to entertain us?

Several American fighter planes buzzed the camp, as if to show us POWs and the Germans that our ground forces were near and that our planes could roam at will. All of us let up cheers, and the excitement mounted to a feverish pitch. Our planes did not fire on the German guard towers nor did the guards fire their machine guns at the planes. However, after a plane had buzzed the camp, it would proceed to a nearby railroad yard and blast railroad cars standing there. We heard explosions all around. It was impossible to hold service with all this air activity going on, so I announced that we would wait until the planes had gone away before beginning church service.

While we were watching and waiting, we began to hear rifle fire in the direction of camp headquarters. It grew more intense and bullets began to whiz all around us. We assumed correctly that the American ground forces had arrived and were taking the town by force. Everyone hit the ground and tried to crawl to a safe place. I crawled to one of the posts holding up a shed in front of the building. The post was sitting on a square cement block about 15 inches high. I put my head behind the block and on the opposite side from which the rifle fire was coming. I was scared, but I was comforted when I heard a frightened voice back of me saying over and over again, "I'm right behind you, Chaplain."! turned my head enough to see it was one of my friends, Air Force Colonel Lew Parker, who was apparently as scared as I was.

Small arms fire began slamming into the area just outside the camp where Bennett and I waited with our cameras. We jumped into an air raid slit trench. As we hunkered down, we saw we were sharing the trench with some of the German guards. With American combat troops due to roar in any minute, it suddenly dawned on us that this wasn't exactly the best company to be in. We ran like blazes toward a building near the front gate and threw ourselves behind it.

Then, to avoid the possibility of being sighted and fired on by the retreating SS troops, we broke into the building. We no sooner got inside than a tank shell bored through the German administration building and into ours, blowing a big hole in the wall.

John Bennett, kriegie
At this moment I am sitting in a fox hole listening to the gunfire of the troops and the rumble of our tanks. The odd bullet whistles overhead. All in all, it is quite exciting. The German SS troops have taken up positions just to the north of our camp, about 300 yards away and have been blasting away since 9 a.m.

Great excitement when the building we were occupying was hit by an American tank shell. Thank heaven none of my party was hurt. The shell went through the Goon barracks where German troops were billeted and wounded a few of them. I don't know how many were hurt or killed, or how many of our fellows were hurt.

I was rounding the edge of a barracks when a burst of fire from a machine gun set up in the cheese factory across the road rattled overhead. I hit the dirt, angry I'd been fired on. Didn't they know kriegies were protected species? And anyway, I hadn't done anything wrong. There were bursts of fire all around the camp now. A firefight. There obviously were German troops who didn't know Stalag VIIA was an open area.

With no more fire coming inside, I crawled to a spot behind our barracks to join friends. All the ground officers were on the deck or peering from a slit trench. Kriegies who'd never been shot at personally were still on their feet trying to see what was going on. Fighters flew over low on strafing runs, not pausing to entertain us. Firing increased on every side. We knew friendly forces were close. A burst from the cheese factory tower tore through the front end of our barracks. I learned later the only casualty was Doc Heston Daniel. A bullet grazed his stomach. Barely a Purple Heart wound.

Lu Cox, kriegie medic
I was interrupted while attending to morning sick call by a burst of machine gun fire which came through the walls of my clinic room, just over my head. The bullets left a neat row of stitches about a foot below the ceiling where they entered the room and they made ugly splotches where they left. I Immediately dived under the table, hugging the floor. I gradually worked my way to the window and dived headlong out the window and plunged head first into the nearby slit trench. Small arms fire and 105mm and 90mm fire filled the air. Having never heard tank fire before, I thought we were in the middle of a heavy artillery duel and I just knew that some of those shells would land near us. Those shells made enough noise to make me think they were firing sixteen inch naval shells.

I was plenty scared, believe me. But curiosity had greater powers. I just had to see what was going on. I had to see how our forces were doing. Every time I stuck my head above the top of my trench, the air around my head was filled with the sounds of many angry bees. I knew that there weren't any bees around so there could only be one other thing that made noises like that - bullets. It didn't take much for me to know that the most logical place for my head was at the bottom of the trench and not the top. After living through three years of this war, this was no time to get my head blown off just because I wanted to see what was going on. I'll be satisfied to read about it In books or see the action in the movies, after I get home – If I ever do.

We were all on the deck now, apprehensive but exuberant. A colonel came out of the back of our barracks and ordered everyone inside. When I reached our tier I found Kennedy sitting on a lower bunk, a tight, nervous grin on his face. We sat side by side, listening to the battle and talking quietly. What was it going to be like to be free again? Would our troops have food for us, hearty army rations? How long before we'd be home? We were nervous but happy, though not as deliriously as we'd anticipated. Our only concern was that we might be caught In an artillery duel.

Kriegles huddled in lower bunks all around us, out of the line of stray bursts that might whistle through the compound. Schoonmaker was trembling with excitement, smiling. Machine guns opened up from the direction of Moosburg, from the sound of them within the town. Kennedy and I were too nervous to sit still. We went to the washroom to brew up. He
split wood while I got out the Nescafe, Kllm and sugar, for once not stinting. We crouched near the window while the water heated, peeking out from time to time, seeing only eerie emptiness. There was not a soul, German or krlegie, out of doors.
We talked restlessly, too numbed by what was happening to fully appreciate it. A distant, loud explosion rattled the washroom windows. We thought It might be a mined Isar bridge going up. The battle would be over soon. We were consumed with impatience. Now that freedom was at hand all we could think of was how quickly they'd get us out. We tried making specific plans for our first days at home, but there were so many possibilities we gave up and whispered only of how soon, how soon?

Presently the shooting died down, but not before two or three men who had come to worship had received flesh wounds. In a lull, we all scurried back to our barracks or to trenches in the open area. Following previous instructions from the Germans, we closed the shutters on our windows and waited to see what was going to happen Most of us lay on the floor. Some of the men got under the barracks on the ground.

Occasionally one of us would peep out to see if we could find out what was going on. Shooting in the camp gradually ceased except for an occasional single shot. No Germans could be seen in the guard towers. However, in the town of Moosburg the Germans and the Americans were still fighting. Moosburg sat on a hill so we could see bits of the action. German machine gunners were firing at the Americans from the bell tower of one church.

When the shooting died down, we went back to the front gate, and decided to go down the road a piece to greet the American troops. As we moved along a hedge row we heard running feet on the other side, German troops, we guessed, heading elsewhere.

Again we were under fire, apparently from the church steeple in Moosburg. We beat it back to the front gate and waited, cameras ready, for the arrival of our troops.

After a quick survey, we discovered that about seven of our boys had been wounded by stray bullets. One of them had been standing in the street when a stray shot hit him in the thigh. The rest of the boys around him had no sooner hit the dirt when a burst of machine gun fire raked the street. Doc Daniels was standing in one of the First Aid Rooms when a rifle bullet struck one of the iron bars in the window at which he was standing. It ricochetted from the bar and hit Danny in the abdomen. It went through the buckle of his belt and his clothes and lodged in the outer muscle layer of his abdomen. We took care of those boys until medical attention could be sent in from outside.

14th Armored
By 1030 the SS were lying dead in the fields and along the roads, grey-white faces and open mouths, twisted and staring sightlessly at the cold, blue sky above; and American medium tanks were roaring through the cobbled streets of the ancient city.

The 47th had split into two columns, one led by Maj. Kircher and the other by Col. Lann; and Gen. Karistad went into the city with the 47th. Gen. Karlstad picked up a German officer as a guide, and with Lieut. Joseph P. Luby and Lieut. William J. Hodges took off for the prison camp proper.

The jeep mounted a .30 caliber machine gun; as it swung up, there were several score armed German guards outside. Luby rolled into their midst, his jeep stopped, and with his hand on the gun called: "Achtungi" The group surrendered.

General Smith arrived at the camp shortly thereafter; an American flag was raised.

A jeep rolled in the gate first. Never had such a thrill. The camp went wild with joy. I took pictures of the whole proceedure: the official capitulation of the German CO to our Senior Officer, the disarming of our German guards, the arrival of the tanks and the raising of the U.S. flag over the camp.

The tanks were right behind the jeep and I took some excellent pictures of the tanks with some of our POW officers on them. My finest photo was of the German senior officer and the British senior officer making the surrender official. The photo shows the American tank unit commander standing just under the barrel of his tank gun.

About an hour or so from the time the shooting began all became quiet and we could look out the windows freely. We saw an American flag go up in Moosburg but it was soon hauled down again. We didn't know whether the Germans had retaken the town but soon the Stars and Stripes went up again. Later we found out that the first time the flag was upside-down so had to be turned rightside-up.

From our barrack, located more than half the distance from the front end of the camp to the back, we could not tell what was going on at the main gate or at camp headquarters.

We went back to our bunks to sip our rich brew from the cans, speaking in tense whispers as all around us were doing, straining for any new sound. We heard one. A heavy rumble. 'Tanks," said a ground officer. Krlegies shouted on the main road. A kriegie rushed in the back door, screaming, 'A Sherman tank just came in the front gate? We're out?" All firing had ceased but an occasional burst from Moosburg. "Well, Jesus Christ, Westhelmer," Kennedy cried, 'let's go out and have a look?"

We went out to the main street. Just as we reached the mob there, the cheering began. An American flag was flying from the steeple of the village church. It was over.

It had been two years, four months and eighteen days since we swam out of the Natchez to Mobile, Memphis to St. Jo – 869 days.

Shortly after, I saw our Sherman tanks crash through the main gates. At 1240 hours the American flag flew over the camp, on the very same flag pole where only a few hours ago the Nazi flag was flying. The commander of the Tank Division, the Fourteenth Armored Division, brought his tank right into the camp. He drove it up and down the full length of the street that ran through our camp. The commander was Major A.S. Kircher of Lansing, Michigan. As the tank moved through the narrow prisoner-jammed streets, the krlegies swarmed all over it. All you could see of the tank was the long, ugly, black barrel of the 90mm that was mounted on the front of the Sherman.

The major was standing in the turret, waving to the men as they cheered and shouted to him as the tank moved slowly through the mass of men. The entrance of the camp was surrounded by numerous other Shermans. The men in the tanks assured us that even though this was only a spearhead, we had nothing to worry about, for they were being supported closely by the 68th Armored Infantry.

The camp went wild with happiness and some of my photographs show the celebrating. The American tanks rolled right through the middle of the camp and krieigies crawled all over them.

Shortly after noon every one of the 125,000 kriegles was out celebrating. Men were all over the roofs of the barracks waving home-made flags of every nation represented in the camp. Someone counted 21 different nations. Where they got the material for the flags I'll never know, but they surely made some professional-looking ones in a hurry.

After awhile an American tank came rumbling down the main street of the camp. The ex-POWs swarmed all over it so that the driver finally had to stop while the men tried to touch it and get a look at it. The tank crew entered into the fun and threw cartridges and anything else that would serve as a souvenir to the krlegtes. The tank crew and the other soldiers who came into the camp were bombarded with questions about how things were going in the war and back home. These liberators shared their cigarettes, chewing gum, candy and whatever else they had with the swarms of men but, of course, they could only give to a small fraction of the 125,000 prisoners.

14th Armored
Official estimates of the total Allied prisoners freed at Moosburg were 110,000, including an estimated 30,000 Americans, officers and men. Besides a series of seven prisoner of war camps, the Division captured a German garrison of 6000 men at Moosburg.
Once the sharp, pitched battle by the SS was over, the German defenses crumbled. The 600-man 47th Tank Battalion took 2,000 prisoners; the 600-man 94th Reconnaissance Squadron took 2,000 more. Division total for the day was set at 12,000.

14th Armored
Scenes of the wildest rejoicing accompanied the tanks as they crashed through the double 10-foot wire fences of the prison camps. There were Norwegians, Brazilians, French, Poles, Dutch, Greeks, Romanians, Bulgars. There were Americans, Russians, Serbs, Italians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, British, Canadians — men from every nation fighting the Nazis. There were officers and men. Twenty-seven Russian Generals, sons of four American Generals. There were men and women in the prison camps – Including three Russian women doctors. There were men of every rank and every branch of service, there were war correspondents and radio men. Around the city were thousands of slave laborers, men and women.

All combined to give the 14th the most incredible welcome it ever received. The tanks were finally slowed to five miles an hour as they went through the camps – the press of men in front of them was so great. Men, some of them prisoners five years, some American Air Corps men prisoners two years, cried and shouted and patted the tanks.

News Wire

Edited by Joe Consolmagno for:
Special Edition Moosburger Zeitung April 29, 1995


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2015 04:04 pm (UTC)
A detail I only just learned, that won't let go of my memory: When the Americans liberated the survivors of the death camps, Gen. Patton wouldn't inspect them because it made him so sick.
Apr. 29th, 2015 07:31 pm (UTC)
On this same day, 29 April, Dachau was liberated. My father was a medic in 42nd ID and the medical battalion he was in set up just outside Dachau soon after. He went inside and said he could remember walking up to the gates, and after he had gotten back out (including some of the human skeleton prisoners that were by now outside) but he couldn't remember what he'd seen inside.

This was a combat medic who had spent the previous several months hauling people off battlefields and before that had worked in hospitals.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be so terrible that he blotted it out.
Apr. 29th, 2015 05:05 pm (UTC)
I had no idea the number of prisoners was so high.
Apr. 29th, 2015 05:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you for posting this!
Apr. 29th, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this, to you and your father both. :)
Apr. 29th, 2015 11:42 pm (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )