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Welcome to the official site of the 35th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II

The Final Battle: April 12 - May 8, 1945

Gen. Eisenhower’s final offensive for the conquest of Germany began on April 5, 1945. Objective: the Elbe River, to be reached by April 12th. All the Allied Armies launched blitz-like strikes eastward.

Gen. Simpson, commanding our Ninth U.S. Army, ordered the 83rd, 84th, and 30th Divisions with the 2nd Armored Division to attack with speed in convoys along the Autobahn (a modern concrete divided highway) which reached directly toward Berlin, some 270 miles away. The route bypassed to the North the combat divisions of the German Army encircled in the Ruhr. 320,000 German soldiers were surrounded and pounded by American Divisions including the 35th Division in a steadily tightening noose.

A V-2-rocket bomb found near the Elbe River.

On April 12th, Gen. Baade received orders for the 35th Division to join the assault on the Elbe River, disengaging from the fighting along the North edge of the Ruhr where it was then assaulting along the Rhine-Herne Canal, and turning over its sector to the 75th and 79th Divisions and pulling out units as soon as they could be released. Gen. Baade ordered the division to move by combat teams as soon as they were able to do so, beginning with Combat Team 137 on April 12, followed by Combat Team 320 on the 13th, Combat Team 134 on the 14th of April, accompanied by attached tanks, tank destroyers, engineers, and anti-aircraft units, the 35th G.I.’s loaded into 2½ ton trucks, ½ ton trucks, and jeeps and barreled along the Autobahn through fresh, beautiful farmland and woods and some scattered towns along the way.

Admittedly, many apprehensive eyes were cast at the terrain to right and left as we passed defensible hilltops and strategically located possible roadblocks which could have concealed hidden German guns and armor, just waiting to ambush speeding American invaders. They weren’t there, but we did pass numerous sites where only a few days before our spearheading American divisions had decisive but brief encounters with disorganized German defensive troops.

Near the City of Hamelen on the Weser River, we encountered a bridge that had been destroyed, but Ninth Army Engineers had lost no time in replacing it with a pontoon bridge. No serious organized resistance faced the Combat Team 137 as it closed into positions along the West bank of the Elbe River, North of Magdeberg and in the vicinity of Stendall, reached late on April 13.

The 320th Combat Team was not so fortunate. There was trouble up ahead of which they were not aware as they road along enjoying the freshness of the spring-like weather, crossing fields and scattered woods. The 83rd Division had reached the Elbe River, along with the 2nd Armored Division to its left, about 15 miles South of Magdeberg and had together forced a river crossing and had troops and some tanks on the East side of the Elbe River. That was the good news. Now for the bad news. They didn’t have sufficient force to hold the bridgehead against the developing counter attacks.

It seems that the 83rd Division, while passing the Harz Mountains on its right about fifty miles before reaching the Elbe, a rough mountain region of some 1500 square miles, had uncovered the Germans in force, perhaps three divisions, ready to give battle. The 83rd Division dropped off its 330th Infantry Regiment to engage and contain this force while First Army Divisions closed on the Harz Mountain retreat from the South. The Harz Mountains contained deep underground factories which made V-1 and V-2 rocket bombs for use against the British Isles, and other factories making the new German jet fighters.

The 35th Division on the Saar River at Sarreguemines.

So it was that our 320th Combat Team was intercepted on the Autobahn and re-routed and attached to the 83rd Division to replace its 330th Regiment now seriously occupied in the Harz Mountains. The 320th Combat Team reached the Elbe River South of Magdeburg and near Darby and joined the embattled 83rd Division. On arrival on the 15th of April, our regiment was ordered to attack immediately, across the Saale River where it joined the Elbe River, and drive the German defenders from the West bank of the Elbe. This action would help secure the bridgehead and permit the engineers to put up a second pontoon bridge across the Elbe without being under fire from the Germans and supplementing the Harry Truman Bridge built in the initial crossing. This became the last coordinated major attack for a 35th Division unit and the last river crossing of the war for us. Fortunately we accomplished our objective with light casualties. We then crossed the Harry Truman Bridge and took up positions to protect the bridgehead along its North side, digging in, which wasn’t very reassuring as the ground was level, with no cover, and we could look across the flat Eastern fields and scattered woods which barely concealed the German Panzer units and infantry which had been only recently repulsed in their last counter attack of the 83rd’s positions. At the moment the enemy did not seem particularly aggressive, but there they were.

Captured German prisoners told us that the Germans would rather surrender, if they had to, to the Americans rather than to the Russian troops which were now fighting in East Berlin, some 45 miles away from where we now were. We didn’t know then that in January, 1945, at a conference in Moscow of American and Allied and Russian leaders, it had been agreed that the Elbe River would be the boundary line beyond which the Americans were not to go. Gen. Eisenhower communicated this on April 12th to his Army commanders. We now wonder how generals like Patton and Simpson must have turned the air blue around them when they got these orders!

At any rate, we were not to have the opportunity to find out whether the Panzers would have let us through to Berlin. We do know that the Germans attempted to attach a floating 500 pound bomb to the Truman Bridge by one of their underwater swimming teams. The 60th Engineers and the 320th Riflemen frustrated the attempt and captured two of the German swimmers dressed in tight fitting black rubber suits. We assumed that had the bridge been destroyed we likely would have had the honor, if not the pleasure, of being the last 35th Division unit to have faced a frontal counter attack by Panzers and Infantry against an indefensible position. Fortunately it didn’t happen. On April 22nd, Combat Team 320 was relieved and released from the 83rd Division and moved westward across the Truman Bridge to mount up on the trucks and resume the trek to rejoin the 35th Division, going into reserve in the rear of the 134th and 137th Regimental positions along the West bank of the Elbe.

Resuming the story of the rest of the 35th Division, on April 15th came Combat Team 134, having been the last to leave the Ruhr fighting, and closed along the Elbe River between the 137th Regiment, and spread very thin towards the 30th Division which was in Magdeberg. The two regiments established several isolated defensive positions which fought off several night patrols from across the river. German prisoners were rounded up in large numbers and over 1,500 Allied P.O.W.s were found and released, fed, clothed, given medical care and sent home. On April 16, the division was transferred from XIX Corps to the XIII Corps, and on the same day sent patrols across the Elbe to locate enemy positions and determine the best places to cross the river if we were ordered to do so. Over 5,000 German prisoners were processed to P.O.W. camps including top German officers like General Unrein and SS Gen. Heintz Jost. Some scattered artillery dueling was conducted with the enemy, more often at night.

We were aware that the 35th Division in the Stendel area was the closest of any American division to Berlin when on April 27th, the division was alerted to move again, this time to the West. Relieved by the 102nd Division, we again mounted our 2½ ton trucks and headed to the area around Hannover-Lehrte, some 75 miles behind the front where the division entered upon several weeks of military government duty in one of the leading industrial and farming centers of Northern Germany, an area that had a pre-war population of some 450,000 persons, an area that had suffered heavily from Allied bombing and destruction.

New duties were added to the old of rounding up P.O.W.s, chasing down small bands of die-hard Nazis who still had weapons and ammunition, rounding up, feeding and controlling displaced persons by the thousands, freeing slave labor, restoring civil government under Allied supervision, helping civilians resume living and caring for themselves, like assisting farmers to find seed potatoes for the Spring planting, restoring order and helping shattered or isolated communities to function again.

We followed the news carefully, radio reports, the stars and stripes, and discussed and analyzed rumors which came from every source. The link-up of the Russians and the Americans in the 69th Division area, at Torgeau on the Elbe River about 50 miles South of where we had fought, focused attention on the final collapse of Germany. We speculated on the where abouts of Hitler, and didn’t know at the time that he was in a bunker in Berlin, so close to where we were, or that on April 30th he had shot himself. We knew that Mussolini had been caught in Italy by partisans and executed. We learned that the German Army in Italy had surrendered. All signs pointed toward the imminent cessation of hostilities.

Of greater interest to some G.I.s was the prospect of furloughs to the French Riviera, and other exotic places – Paris, Brussels, London. And the prospects of just going home. It is May 7, 1945 and tomorrow is just another day. Or is it?

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By Maj. Norman C. Carey, Company A-320th Inf. Regt.

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