May 6th 2017: The end of the war in Munich – then and now

Munich was, in 1920, the birthplace of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – the National Socialist German Worker´s Party, what in English, we generally refer to as the Nazi Party.

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Munich and its immediate environs in 1936. (Authors collection)

The SS had their origins here. The SA had their HQ here (and many would die here at the hands of their SS colleagues in 1934). Munich was the scene of abortive “Beer hall Putsch in 1923.

In 1933, the first permanent Concentration camp opened just a few miles from the city in the sleepy town of Dachau. “Kristalnacht” – the infamous attack on the Jews, their homes and businesses – was orchestrated from here in 1938.The same year Hitler would achieve one of his most trumpeted diplomatic successes with the signing of the “Munich Agreement”, hoodwinking both Édouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain over the issue of the Sudetenland.

Being the city where the Nazi Party was founded, it was honoured with the title “Hauptstadt der Bewegung” – “Capital of the (Nazi) Movement”. It was also given the honorific “Hauptstadt der deutschen Kunst – the “Capital of German Art”.

Munich, was, according to American Reuters journalist Ernest Pope, a playground for Hitler and the higher echelons of the Party. It was the home turf, a place to be celebrate, contemplate and plan for the glorious “1000 Year Reich”.

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Hitler speaking to the “Old Fighters” on November 8th 1942 in the Löwenbraukeller. The hall has been remodelled and more often than not, is closed, save for special occasions.  Still, they have a nice beer garden and on a hot day, a chilled glass of Helles is most welcome. (A propaganda postcard by Hitler´s court photographer, Heinrich Hoffman/Author´s collection)

Alas, it was not to be. On November 8th, 1942, Hitler addressed the “Alte Kampfer” – the “Old fighters” in the Löwenbraukeller. This speech, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1923 Putsch, was intended to highlight the fact that Stalingrad – a city of huge physical, strategic as well as emotional importance for both Hitler and Stalin –  was in the bag and that it was a question of mopping up.

He was a little premature.

In fact, the very same day, the Western Allies landed in North Africa – Operation Torch. The full tally of events that led to the defeat of Germany need not be reiterated here. Suffice to say that on April 30th 1945 the US 45th, 42nd, 3rd Infantry Divisions and the 20th Armoured Division took the city.

Unlike Aachen, Cologne or more recently, Nuremberg, for the most part the defenders of the Bavarian capital were more than happy to throw in the towel. Engagements with determined pockets of resistance did occur within the city environs- and will form the subject of future posts – but given the spiritual place the city held in the Nazi psyche, it is surprising that the city fell, relatively speaking, so quietly.

The Gauleiter of Munich, Paul Giesler had given orders that the troops fight to the last.

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The Gauleiter of Munich: Paul Giesler (Wikicommons)

It was not to be. Less than 24 hours previously, the US 20th Armoured Division had fought an intense action at the SS-Anti Tank school and barracks at Freimann, on the outskirts of Munich. With them defeated, Munich fell without too much in the way of fighting.

Due to the fact that Munich itself saw little in the way of combat, the vast majority of history books do not dwell on the events of that day and those immediately following. It is a bit of a black hole, a void. The Germans, normally such a bureaucratic people found themselves somewhat distracted and their records, normally so plentiful, are lacking somewhat for the last days of April: while the big picture is clear, detail can be elusive.

Photographic analysis can shed some detail on how the city fell. Whilst German troops were a little preoccupied with what their immediate futures held to take pictures, individual GI´s and the US Army Signal Units had no so issues. They captured plenty images of  Munich in the last dying days of the “1000 Year Reich”.

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German troops surrender to a US unit near Munich. (US Army)

The presence of four tanks in the field strongly suggests that these are elements of the 20th Armoured Division. This would likely place the the location as being to the north, just outside the city limits. The open terrain would prove to be a boon to German anti-tank gunners from the nearby gunnery school – subject of a future post.

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US troops of an unknown unit proudly display their latest trophy. “Haupstadt der Bewegung” translates as “Capital of the (Nazi) Movement”. (US Army)

The men in this photo are bunched up, have their weapons slung and seem to be enjoying the moment: presumably they are pretty sure that the enemy – in this area at least – pose no real threat.

The figure in the middle is carrying a SCR-536 radio. You would be forgiven for calling it a “Walkie-Talkie” – they were originally called “Handie-Talkie”. As a radio man he would not have been issued with the M1 Garand, but with the M1 Carbine. We cannot see on this picture what he carries but he buddies certainly carry carbines instead of rifles. Exact location unknown to me at present.

From the Isar to Karlstor:

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PoW´s en route to their “cage”. Exact location unknown but most probably on the eastern side of the river Isar. (US Army)

This – the eastern side of the river Isar was home to two Luftwaffe bases – München-Riem (which had until very recently been home to the “Squadron of Aces” –  JV44 – led by the charismatic Adolf Galland. This unit flew the revolutionary Me 262 jet and the the crew list of the squadron read like a  “Who´s Who” of Luftwaffe aces) and Neu-Biburg.

Being a black and white photograph it is difficult to workout the shade of wool they are wearing but some are certainly Luftwaffe: the chap wearing a greatcoat with a blanket roll over his shoulder (1) in the bottom right is clearly wearing a Luftwaffe peaked cap, known as a Schirmmütze. At least one German army officer is present: towards the end of the foremost column (2), one can see an individual with a leather or rubberised  trenchcoat with a distinctive contrasting (It would be a dark green wool) collar. His cap is that worn by army officers (Note that “Wehrmacht” refers to the armed forces – excluding the SS – as a whole. The army was referred to as “Das Heer”).

The US truck is a Dodge WC62 3/4 tonner. You can just see that it is towing something. By looking at other pictures from this series it becomes clear that it is a 57mm M1 anti-tank gun – a design copied and modified from the British. The unit markings are unclear but is very likely from the 42nd “Rainbow” Division.  Of interest are the civilians on the left with wheelbarrows: are they going to try their luck looting?

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At the time of writing, I am unable to pin down this exact spot – more research is needed but the building the background is quite distinctive and so a modern comparison shot should be possible.

This is the same group of prisoners in the foreground of the photo above: you can now clearly see the Luftwaffe uniform worn by the soldier with the blanket roll. To his left (our right), the soldier is wearing the ubiquitous M43 ski-cap (Einheitsfeldmütze) and what looks like the special coat worn by motorcyclists. He has high leather boots – a cherished item in 1945, since with leather shortages, most troops were wearing short ankle boots with canvas gaitors.
The 2 figures in the foreground are also members of the Luftwaffe. As well as greatcoats they wear a side cap – the “Schiffchen” – literally “little ship”: if you turn it upside down it looks like a little boat. The youth of some conscripts at this stage of the war is obvious.

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Isar Tor, April 30th 1945 (US Army)

Isar Tor: this Medieval gateway dates originally to the 1330´s and as such as seen many armies come and go. On November 9th 1923, Hitler´s sycophants and supporters – among them Field Marshall Erich von Ludendorff and Captain Herman Göring – marched through here during their ill-planned  revolution: the “Beer Hall Putsch” would end shortly afterwards in a hail of bullets and Hitler would nearly be killed. A little over 24 years later and millions dead, his dreams of a 1000 year empire, would be, like much of Europe, in ruins.

The building in the background is the “Hotel Torbräu”. It was here in 1923 that a splinter group of the Sturmabteilung (SA= Storm Troopers) met for a meeting, led by Hitler´s trusted chauffeur, Emil Maurice: in time this group would known as the SS. This history and site will form the basis of a future post, so I will say no more here just now.

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The same view today. No PoW´s passing through, just lost tourists. (Taff Simon)

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Isar Tor, shortly after the city fell on April 30th 1945. It would appear that although the city fell without too much fighting, here, the SS  made their final stand. Analysis of the period photos of PoW´s shows that the SS are conspicuous by their absence – which begs the question – “Did any surrender”? (US Army)

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Following an air raid in WW1, Munich was fully aware that in any future conflict they might take heavy damage. In the 1930´s with this in mind, the city undertook a programme of recording the older structures, allowing any damage to be rebuilt once the Blitzkriegs had been won. Thankfully, the dreams of Hitler were never to be fully realised. The question of how to rebuild was a tricky one, with various groups putting forward passionate pleas for this or that style – for some, restoring past structures to such a degree that you could spot it was a reproduction was tantamount to denying the past – something Germany was keen to avoid. In the end, a balanced policy was followed – some new builds, some restoration. I am pleased with the way that Isar Tor was restored – very sympathetically. (Taff Simon)

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Munich: Tal, April 30th 1945 (US Army)

Once through Isar Tor (A) you find yourself on the street known as “Tal”.On this street stood a pub – the “Stereckerbräu” (B)- that Hitler first dabbled with a small political party called the “Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (German Workers Party). This was very much the seed out of which the N.S.D.A.P. would shortly emerge. It is now a shop selling mobile phones.

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Tal 2017: KFC, pubs, mobile phones and a sex shop. (Taff Simon)

The PoW´s march down Tal, heading to Marienplatz. the majority seem to be Heer.  They have just marched past the sex shop.  (US Army)

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Tal, approaching the bombed-out Heiligeistkirche (Oringally built in the 1400´s as a church ministering a nearby leper colony, it was largely rebuilt 1724-30 by Johann Georg Ettenhofer (US Army)

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April 30th 1945. The church has been rebuilt and this area is now home to some great bars and restaurants. (Taff Simon)

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Approaching the Old Town Hall (US Army)

The neo-gothic New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus – 1908) can be seen beyond, facing onto Marienplatz. The two tall onion-domed towers belong to the cathedral (The Marienkirche, aka Frauenkirche aka, simply the “Dom” – 1468 – 1488).

There had been a tower on the left where the truck is, which survived intact until c. Feb – March 1945. Following air attacks, the two tunnels were full of rubble and so – so the anecdote goes – the tower was demolished to allow military traffic to pass through. In this picture, the rubble and debris from the tunnels has gone but you can clearly see that the building is gutted.(US Army)

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The same view, with restored tower on the left. The building is used for social functions while the tower contains a toy museum. (Taff Simon)

It was here in the Altes Rathaus that the orders for the Jewish pogrom known as Crystal Night were given on November 9th 1938 – a mere taste of what lay in store for the Jews of Europe.

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While there had been a memorial in the Old Town Hall regarding Crystal Night since the 1960´s, only fairly recently has this English translation been installed. (Taff Simon)

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The prisoners march through Karlstor, heading in the direction of Hauptbahnhof. (US Army)

Figure 3 is differently attired from his Kameraden: he is dressed in the special flight suit known as the “Kanalanzug” or “Channel Suit”. This was very practical clothing, developed after Luftwaffe pilots based in France started to adapt their issued uniforms by adding extra pockets as a result of combat experience. The pockets contained survival equipment like a flare pistol and plenty of cartridges, signalling mirror, a torch, chocolate and special knife, issued only to aircrew and paratroopers to cut their parachute cords. While there were several Luftwaffe bases in the Munich area, by March-April 1945, sorties against the high flying Allied bombers and increasingly, lower flying fighter bombers attacking targets of opportunity where severely restricted by a chronic lack of fuel.

The men marked as 4 and 5 are wearing the standard issue camouflage poncho known as a “Zeltbahn”. It was made of waterproof cotton and could be worn in a variety of fashions depending on whether one was walking, riding a bicycle or a horse. (Contrary to popular belief – fuelled largely by period propaganda footage showing tanks and half-tracks storming into battle like modern-day Teutonic knights – the German military of WW2 was hugely dependent on horses for traction. However, this emulation in using raw horsepower en masse was no homage to the glorious days of yore but an economic and logistical necessity)

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Karlstor: April 29th 2017 (Taff Simon)

Elsewhere in Munich:

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Exact location unknown, although possibly near Laim (about a mile from where I am typing). Laim had a large marshalling yard – which may account for the multiple pylons for the electric cables. This was labelled on the reverse thus: ” Photo….T/5 Joseph A.Bowen-163 Infantrymen file along the electric railway line as they enter the outskirts of Munich 7A, 9th Tank BN, 20th Armd div, 30th Inf Reg 3rd inf Div Munich, Germany”   (US Army/Author´s collection)

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Probably from the same sequence: it certainly shows troops in an area with multiple railway lines. Original caption located this near Nyphemberg Palace – just next to Laim. (US Army)

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An M36 tank destroyer in Munich, April 30th 1945 (US Army)

An M36 tank destroyer, possibly from the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion – attached to the 45th “Thunderbird” Division. moves down Dachauer Str.  A still from a film sequence. In the film, it appears that the crewman sitting astride the gun is giving out food or maybe cigarettes. Both units had a hand in the liberation of the Concentration Camp at Dachau the day before – Dachauer Straße, as the name suggests, leads straight to the town of Dachau.

The attitude of the locals to the American troops ranged from shock, anger and despair to joy and gratitude: “Better an end to the war than a war without end“. It is likely that some of the civilians are foreign forced labourers.

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The same view, April 28th 2017. The lower levels of the building with the distinctive arched façade have been drastically altered but the building on the corner retains its distinctive chamfered face. (Taff Simon)

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An M4 Sherman passes the damaged Justizpalast (Palace of Justice). It was here in 1943 that members of the resistance group known as “The White Rose” had their show trials before being executed. (US Army)

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An American M3 halftrack of the 20th Armoured Division on the outskirts of Munich. In the background, German troops are taken prisoner. (US Army)

The war in Europe was practically over and for Munich, now began the rebuilding. Physical rebuilding started soon after the guns fell silent. Mental rebuilding – well that continues to this day:

The years of Nazi rule still exude an influence over Munich – keenly felt by every tour guide when dealing with this period. Personally, I have been insulted by members of the public for daring to talk about it, been photographed and reported to the authorities, been subjected to what can only be described as harassment by the Bavarian State Office for Protection of the Constitution(a.k.a. the Verfassungschutz): it seems that an interest in WW2 is essentially tantamount to an endorsement of Nazi policies. (The irony of being reported to the authorities for what some stranger thought were my beliefs, or being ambushed by undercover agents who went on to quiz me on my politics – is lost on them). Most recently, standing very near the spot where Georg Elser came within an ace of killing Hitler in 1939, one thoughtful Hausfrau thought it her civic duty to ring the police. My crime? Showing my guests a picture of Hitler standing where the bomb went off.

This, I think is a particular Munich sickness – certainly this history is more openly discussed in Berlin.

This is my first ever blog post, the first of what I hope will be many – if it is permitted to comment on history in an objective manner in Germany in 2017.

I would like to thank the following people for helping to flesh out the detail on how Munich fell in 1945: Mr Rich Mintz, John Yates and Paul L James as well as the rest of the hive mind at the 20th Armored Division in World War II Facebook group