- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Denis Edwards (email:email@example.com)
- Location of story:
- Germany - 1945
- Background to story:
- 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 6th Airlanding Brigade, of 6th Airborne Division
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 October 2003
I suspect that by 1945 the western Allies had already made the political decision to grab as much German territory as possible before it could be occupied by the rapidly advancing Russians
On 24th March 1945 the 17th American amd 6th British Airborne Divisions carried out a combined daylight landing over the river Rhine and directly on top of a large hastily assembled German force preparing to counter-attack Allied ground forces then crossing the river in considerable numbers.
Both Airborne Divisions suffered around 50% casualties during, and immediately following, the landings.
We survivors then embarked upon a gruelling 270-mile rapid advance across northern Germany.
We marched flat out, hour after hour and day after day although sometimes, when we came up against enemy resistance, we had the opportunity of hitching a ride on the accompanying tanks amd, occasionally, we enjoyed the luxury of being carried forward in well-packed trucks.
Towards the end of April my Company was selected to spearhead the advance and, as an experienced Sniper who had already survived three months in Normandy and two months in the snowbound Ardennes during the so-called Battle of the Bulge, I was told to scout ahead to seek out any possible enemy forces waiting in ambush.
By that time I had learnt to work out the most likely locations and to 'sense' the presence of the enemy before I even spotted them. (Since those long-past days I have often wondered whether I had a Guardian Angel 'Spotting' for me and whispering into my ear or making the hairs on the nape of my neck suddenly stand up like a row of well drilled soldiers, but, of course, there is no evidence of such happenings!)
On the eastern outskirts of the town of Ebsdorf I came across what at first sight appeared to be a large wire-enclosed prison camp which I entered with very considerable caution but was soon able to establish that the German guards had fled - unoccupied machine-gun turrets and guard posts.
In one part of the camp I saw a long, wide and deep trench which was half filled with the naked bodies of many men, women and children and, on the edge, was a pile of, presumably, recently killed people waiting to be unceremoniously dumped into the trench.
Elsewhere I entered some long wooden huts which contained many more dead and dying people lying on the floor or in crude multi-tiered bunks. (The terrible sight of that trench and the stench from those awful buildings will be with me for the rest of my days}.
What really sickened me was the fact that at that stage the Germans must have realised that their war was lost yet they continued with their evil executions right up till the very end.
Promising to get help as quickly as possible to the pathetic survivors we pressed on with the advance, leaving Medics to care for these unfortunate people.
Soon afterwards we literally bumped into a massive German force complete with armed tanks, artillery, lorries, trucks, cars, vans, motor and pedal cycles, horse-drawn and hand-pulled carts and continuous lines of battle-weary marching troops. They could have easily wiped out our much smaller and lightly armed force but they were no longer interested in fighting; their only deside was to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the rapidly advancing Russians.
They were travelling westwards along the same narrow road that we were using to advance in the other direction, which caused utter chaos!
Taking advantage of a halt, we were glad to rest at the roadside watching the long lines of retreating Germans and thinking that, at last, the war must be over and that we could return to our homes.
A smart high-ranking German officer in long grey trench coat and with highly polised jackboots climbed from his halted Staff car and approached us. In perfect English he said that the Germans and British had a great deal in common while the Russians were ignorant barbarians. He suggested that we should combine our forces, attack the Russians and drive them all the way back to Siberia! (With current thoughts of home in mind we had no desire to become involved in another bloody war)
When we mentioned the recently liberated death camp it seemed quite obvious that, at least, this German had no idea of what we were talking about. He had long been fighting the Russians on the eastern front and told us that the were short of food and ammunition. With their fast-moving advance - presumably they had exactly the same thoughts about gaining territory as the western allies - they had no facilities for containing prisoners of war, and no spare bullets with which to shoot them. According this this German General, when they captured an enemy they simply hacked off his hands and/or feet on the basis that this would prevent him from running away or taking up arms against Russia in the future!
Soon after meeting the dispirited German army we met up with the Russians on the banks of the inland Schwerin Sea. A vast inland lake connected to the Baltic Sea by a river. Where the river and lake met was a narrow bridge over which the jubilent Russians swarmed into our hastily erected tented camp.
While they may have been short of food they seemed to have an endless supply of their favourite Vodka which they offered to share with us. (Perhaps it was this potant drink that heped them to keep going?)
However, whilst paying us a friendly visit they also took the opportunity to have a good look around our camp for, when darkness finally arrived, a large band of them paid a return visit, entered our main supply tent, and, at gun point, tied up the uartermaster and his staff and made off with a large quantity of our rations!
When the raid was discovered we immediately placed an armed guard at our end of the bridge and, after a short time, the Russians did likewise at their end. (This may well have been one of the first acts that was to culminate in the so-called 'Cold War' that was to bedevil Europe for decades)
Shortly after daybreak one of the lads from the Quartermasters Store thought that he recognised one of the Russians who had been in their raiding party. The man was standing around near the far end of the bridge.
A small group of us marched across the bridge and were met by a Russian officer - we assumed that he was an Officer as he wore a reasonably smart uniform while most of the others - mainly Mongol types - were clad in scruffy smocks.
As best we could, using a form of sign language, we acquainted the Officer of our suspicions. He seemed to get the general drift of what had been said, nodded, turned and walked across to the man that we had pointed out. We naturally assumed that he would question the suspect and bring him over for a more positive identification but, instead, he withdrew a large revolver from its holster, placed it against the man's mouth and fired - blowing away half of his head!
We were horrified as he returned to us, grinning from ear to ear and indicating that while the man may have stolen our food he would not be eating any more of it.
Since no effort was made to return our rations, we assumed that the victim's summary execution was not for stealing our food, but for being caught!
As we retraced our steps across the bridge I was reminded of the words spoken by the German General who, just a few days earlier, had said that the Russians were different.
Denis Edwards. Ex-6th Airborne Division. An extract from my book 'The Devil's Own Luck' (From Pegasus Bridge to the Baltic Sea as an Airborne Sniper 1944/45; Published by Pen & Sword Books Ltd under their Leo Cooper imprint. Available in some libraries or from bookshops)
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.