Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.

Two old members of the Volksturm seem relieved to have surrendered to British troops in Bocholt, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians cooking a meal in the town of Rees, 28 March 1945.

In Laubach in western Germany one man had maintained a small act of resistance against the Nazis throughout the war. A mid level civil servant, Friedrich Kellner deliberately set out to record every detail and nuance of Nazism as it affected ordinary Germans.

I could not fight the Nazis in the present, as they had the power to still my voice, so I decided to fight them in the future. I would give the coming generations a weapon against any resurgence of such evil. My eyewitness account would record the barbarous acts, and also show the way to stop them.

In doing so he took an extremely perilous course. So many other like minded Germans had ended up in concentration camps, which few survived. His diary reveals what many Germans knew about the war, including a widespread understanding of various aspects the Holocaust, based on first hand accounts from troops returning from the east.

On 27th March he had written about the imminent collapse of the front near him:

The German army is fleeing!

Since yesterday evening, March 26, 1945, cars heading toward the direction of the east have been racing past our building. We could not sleep the whole night because of the noise. The “best army of the world” (as it was so often called) is fleeing back.

To Where? To the Weser? God, you fools, you were not able to defend the Atlantic and Siegfried Line, as well as the Rhine. What do you think you can do inside Germany? Despite what those who would prolong the war might still invent, the dissolution is complete–and it is but a short time before the war machine itself comes to a stop.

Then an uncommonly serious and extremely heavy time of the reconstruction begins after this worst of all wars. And there are very few people who are in the clear; the war affected everyone’s thinking and actions completely until the war was at its end. The hangover will last longer than the greatest pessimist can imagine.

Then on the 29th March the Allies finally arrived:

Shortly after 3 p.m. there are noises on the street. In the cellar of our building are gathered those wounded in the name of Goebbel’s propaganda, and some neighbors, all overawed. Among them, naturally, are the Party members, who do not have a clear conscience. These believe the approaching Allied soldiers will behave like the German soldiers did in Poland, etc. This sheepish fear gives me pleasure. I do not pass up the chance to make scornful remarks.

We go outside to the courtyard entrance and see the advance guard drive by: tanks, armored cars, trucks, and jeeps. For the first time we behold Americans. The soldiers are outstandingly equipped. Their appearance is remarkably good, well-fed. There is no comparison between the Germans’ material and the Americans’. Anyhow, the American army makes an impression of excellent, disciplined troops. I want to hope that this good impression will continue to remain in the future.

Read more of his diary entries in English at Friedrich Kellner: Selected Diary Entries

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

German civilians pass burning buildings in Bocholt, 29 March 1945.

Meanwhile in Berlin the senior Nazis continued to delude themselves that the situation was in some way salvageable. Propaganda Minister Jozef Goebbels was also an assiduous dairy keeper throughout the war. His diaries give no hint of impending doom, let alone any sense of panic. He continued to write long detailed, daily analyses of the international scene and the war situation right up until the 9th of April.

On the 29th March he surveyed the eastern front, and considered a confidential report on the war in western Germany. He was still making plans for resistance to occupying Allies:

The report starts by saying that large-scale demoralisation has set in in the West, that a vast army of stragglers is on the move eastwards, that east-bound trains are crammed with armed men, that there is no longer any question of firm cohesion anywhere, and that in places detachments of Volkssturm can be seen marching westwards while the regular troops set off towards the east.

This is, of course, extraordinarily menacing and gives rise to the greatest anxiety. I am convinced that we shall succeed in re-establishing some sort of order in this wildly milling mob. But, the war having moved so far onto German territory, we can no longer afford to abandon large areas as is usually associated with such proceedings.

The Americans are already saying that they are only 150 miles from Berlin. This is not true but I believe that they are trying to divert our attention in a false direction …

Hannover was raided yesterday in addition to Berlin. The two raids were described as medium to heavy. Reich territory was clear of enemy aircraft during the night. For the first time for 35 days Berlin was not given the compliment of its Mosquito raid. Among the inhabitants of the Reich capital this produced a sort of definite disappointment. When the Mosquitos did not arrive in the evening, everyone naturally expected that they would come during the night. They probably stayed away for reasons of weather.

I am now very busy with the so-called Werwolf organisation. Werwolf is intended to activate partisan activity in enemy-occupied districts. This partisan activity has by no means got off to a good start.

Here and there certain noticeable actions have been reported such as, for example, the shooting of the Burgomaster installed by the Americans in Aachen; for the moment, however, no systematic activity is visible.

I would like to take over direction of this partisan activity myself and I shall possibly ask the Fuhrer to give me the necessary powers. I shall set up a newspaper for Werwolf and also make available a radio transmitter with powerful beam facilities; both will carry the same name. Announcements both in the news- paper and over the radio will be in definitely revolutionary terms without any external or internal political restraints.

In the present war situation Werwolf should be what the Angriff [ Nazi newspaper – ‘The Attack’] was during our struggle period [before the Nazis came to power] when we were fighting not only for Berlin but for the Reich; in fact it should be a rallying point for all activists who are not prepared to adopt the course of compromise.

See Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.

Displaced German civilians queue for water rations, 28 March 1945.

Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

Rations being handed out to displaced German civilians, 28 March 1945.

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Mar

28

1945

US infantry v Panzers in house to house fighting

Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying paratroopers of the 17th US Airborne Division, Germany, 29 March 1945.

There was shelling and there were tanks and self-propelled guns, the rattling cough of machine guns and burp guns, the high staccato of rifles. These provided the orchestration for certain tableaux: dusty glimpses of gray uniforms, green uniforms… the flicker of movement in the window of the house across the street, and your hands swinging the rifle to your shoulder in a single fluid motion … the patient resistance of the trigger under your tightening finger, the sudden punch of recoil… the stone barn and the thorny hedge…

Mar

27

1945

British infantry attack against dug in Fallschirmjäger

Troops of the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers advance warily along a lane, past the bodies of German soldiers, east of the Rhine, 25 March 1945.

Under these circumstances, an infantryman finds that the ground would be a very pleasant place to be! Eventually, the turret trap opened. The troop leader’s head appeared. “What the bloody,” he started to say. “Shut up and listen!” I snarled. “You’re stuck and can’t move. We can and we’re going to. I’m going to do a shallow right-flanking movement onto the objective so that we won’t mask your fire. You will concentrate everything you’ve got onto the following specific areas.” I indicated them by pointing.

Mar

26

1945

Forward Platoon makes contact as they enter Germany

Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery, the latter standing in a jeep, talking to Scottish troops near the Rhine, 26 March 1945.

It was a dry day and we advanced quickly to within one hundred yards of the lone house. For no good reason the leading Sherman suddenly moved forward of our leading section and halted beside the house. It had barely stopped when I saw it shudder and a small cloud of dust arose from it. A second later I heard a resounding metallic clang and the whip crack of a high velocity gun. As we rushed forward to surround the house the Sherman’s crew baled out shaken but unharmed.

Mar

25

1945

A brittle German resistance continues to be dangerous

British airborne troops with a 6-pdr anti-tank gun in Hamminkeln, Germany, 25 March 1945.

‘The bullets were going through the grass a foot above our heads. We heard a bren firing, and then a sten, and we heard them shouting: “Give up, you bastards! The Seaforths are here!” That must have been when they charged. There were a few bursts of spandau, and then silence.
‘We knew what that meant. They were our mates, and we were all boiled up. “To hell with this,” I said. “Come on.”

Mar

24

1945

Operation Varsity: Glider attack across the Rhine

Operation VARSITY. Douglas Dakotas of No. 46 Group fly in formation over Wavre, Belgium, heading for the dropping zones east of the River Rhine. Above them, Dakotas towing Airspeed Horsas fly a divergent course towards their objectives.

We were not equipped to deal with German heavy tanks. Indeed, the anti-tank guns that we did possess, six-pounders which could dispose of even a Tiger at close range, were almost certainly still within the Hamilcar gliders used to transport our heavier equipment. The concentration of enemy fire over the landing zones would have made it virtually impossible for such weapons to be removed. Most men were just thankful if they were able to crawl away from their gliders and find some sort of shelter from the incoming German fire.

Mar

23

1945

Operation Plunder: The first wave get across the Rhine

Men of the 15th Scottish Division leave their assault craft after crossing the Rhine and double up the east bank to their assembly point near Xanten.

Our troop leader was first and I was in the second craft manning the gun. We reached the river a few minutes to 9 p.m. and at exactly 9 o’clock the first ‘Buffalo’ entered the water and the rest followed. We manoeuvred into formation and headed for the opposition shore, which was just discernible through the mist. Our hearts were anywhere but in the right place, for we did not know what to expect, but the expected onslaught did not materialise, and we touched down at exactly 9.03 p.m. – three minutes which seemed like three years.

Mar

22

1945

The US Pacific Fleet prepares for Okinawa

Vast array of American warships just offshore of naval base on Mogmog Island in the Ulithi Atoll, part of the Caroline Islands.

At Ulithi we received briefings on the coming battle for Okinawa. This time there was no promise of a short operation. “This is expected to be the costliest amphibious campaign of the war,” a lieutenant said. “We will be hitting an island about 350 miles from the Japs’ home islands, so you can expect them to fight with more determination than ever. We can expect 80 to 85 percent casualties on the beach.”

Mar

21

1945

‘Maximum effort’ to ‘soften up’ the Rhine

Boston Mark III, AL775 ‘RH-D’, of No. 88 Squadron RAF based at Attlebridge, Norfolk, in flight.

The next morning, 21 March, Bocholt was again listed as the target. On the bombing run No. 1 in the box was badly damaged and an air gunner’s leg was almost shot away but the pilot retained control and made an emergency landing at Eindhoven. No. 2 in the box received a direct hit as the bombs fell away and virtually disintegrated, taking down No. 3, an all-Australian crew, from which one parachute was seen to emerge. This belonged to an air gunner who although captured on landing was freed eight days later by advancing British troops.

Mar

20

1945

The Waffen-SS retreat back over the Oder

A dead German following a Soviet artillery barrage on his position near the Oder.

But our fighting strength grew weaker and weaker. More and more men were brought back bloody and torn, never to return, and no reserves came to fill the ranks. Only a thin line of hardened, determined veterans remained. They were hungry, deathly tired, bloody, many with bandaged arms or heads, unshaven, black from soot and smoke, mud and lime-dust, with uniforms torn to pieces.