Bridgehead Across the Elbe

German Communique: The Little Dunkirk

 

Stars and Stripes - April 19th, 1945: One Elbe Bridgehead Lost (actual newspaper clipping, images are large and readable):
Elba Crossing, The Little Dunkirk.
Elbenau Residents Perspective
Article 4 - Translation of Schonebeck Hoffman
Article 5 - Commentary German Re: Elbe Crossing
  
In 1991, following the reunification of both Germanys, I revisited the small town of Elbenau, located on the East side of the Elbe River, near Magdeburg. My rifle company, Company L , 119th regiment of the 30th infantry division (Old Hickory) took this town on the night of April 11 or 12, 1945.

We were then surrounded by German tanks and infantry, mostly Hitler youth. Approximately a dozen of us along with three German prisoners of war whom I was earlier ordered to guard, and several civilians, hid in a cellar for a couple of days. Friendly fire from across the river pounded us and set the house on fire three times. There was a well in the cellar and on two of those occasions, we formed a bucket brigade and extinguished the blaze. The third time, we were unaware of a fire. A German civilian shouted into the house: Eric….Hiraus…your house is on fire. Since there was no reply, he alerted the Hitler youth who ordered us to come out.

Fortunately, one of our prisoners was an anti-aircraft officer, who told me that he had studied at a university in Philadelphia before the war. He spoke English well. He only revealed this when our situation became hopeless and he urged us to surrender. We sent him out in advance of our surrender and when we emerged, he took command and perhaps saved our lives. Hitler youth were among the most fanatic of all German combatants. They were all armed with semi-automatic weapons and may very well have slaughtered us.

As I can recall, we were assembled in a square with approximately 30 additional American prisoners, searched, marched for a long time with hands behind our heads and then transported by train to another location where we detrained and made the rest of our journey, on foot, to Luckenwalde and Stalag 3a.


This image is from the cellar of an Elbenau home, typical of cellars throughout Germany where GI's took shelter, rested when possible and occasionally feasted on home preserves.

My host, Wolfgang Lehman, who was 18 years old in April 1945, and at that time, in the German Army. When I first waved to him from the street, he declined to respond with other than “arbeiten, arbeiten,” which meant that he was working. When I called out that I was an American, he dropped everything and I and my daughter and son-in-law were welcomed as treasured guests. It is quite possible, that in 1945, we had each other in our respective gun sights.
Image shows shrapnel damage on second floor which came from earlier bombardment of the area and artillery barrages when we were engaged there.
Close up which shows extensive shrapnel damage, still un-repaired during the Soviet occupation of East Germany.
Family whose parents lived in the home when under assault by GIs.
Parents in the home, their daughter and me. Mr. Lehman’s wife was in the home during the engagement of our troops with German defenders. She told me that this was the first house GIs entered and remarked to them at that time: “We are so happy that you have come.” She also pointed to the field outside where several of our boys died.
Woods and clearing which concealed a German tank approximately 100 yards opposite the cellar in which we hid and prevented our escape, although some of our men did manage to escape when they called down phosphorus smoke during the day. We were totally unaware of what was taking place since there was no communication between houses, nor did we know the source of the smoke. We did not dare move during the day because one shell from the tank would have wiped us out, or so we believed. lst Lt. Johnny Tullbane was in the cellar with us and we received no orders from him to move out. At one point, he himself escaped. Sergeant Jerry Klingerman, also in the cellar, had suffered a bullet wound to the elbow and was in no condition to take command.
I am trying to retrace our movements, but, failed to find the home in which we were hiding. These residents were also ignorant of the location.
Gravesite of Hitler Youth who was killed in the Elbenau action.
close-up of grave marker that shows his time of birth and death. He was 15 when killed in action, April 14, 1945.