Cologne was bombed by the RAF for the last time on 2nd March and occupied by US troops on 6th March. The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.

Cologne was bombed by the RAF for the last time on 2nd March and occupied by US troops on 6th March. The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.

Infantrymen of the 4th Infantry Division move through the debris littered city of Prum, Germany.

Infantrymen of the 4th Infantry Division move through the debris littered city of Prum, Germany. 1 March 1945.

The United States would suffer over 550,000 casualties in north west Europe between the invasion of France in 1944 and the end of the war, 104,000 men would die in this theatre alone. The British were now struggling to replace the casualties that they had sustained. America had a steady supply of young men who would fill the gaps in the ranks. There were men yet to cross the Atlantic who would have still have time to die in the cause of freedom.

In March the casualty rate was similar to that of July 1944, the height of the Normandy fighting. Amongst those arriving fresh to the battlefield and yet to see action was eighteen year old rifleman Jack R Blann:

We moved out of town a little distance directly toward Cologne and soon came to the top of a hill where there were bodies of dead Germans laying everywhere. There were two German Mark 5 tanks knocked out over on one side of the hill and there were dead German soldiers laying all around the vehicles. We felt that this action must have occurred all day before, although the vehicles were still smoking.

Beside one of the vehicles, we noticed that one of the Germans was still alive, even though he had been blown almost in two and his legs were missing. His eyes were open and he was moaning. There was no way that this man could recover from such wounds. In fact, we couldn’t understand how he had managed to live this long. We were all disturbed by the suffering that the man must be enduring, so one of the officers walked over and closed the man’s eyes, and shot him in the head with his forty five.

From the hill, you could see the battle line still quite some distance in front of us and you could see the bursting artillery in the distance all along the front. The panorama stretching before us reminded me of some of the panoramic drawings of battles that I had seen in Life Magazine. The line seemed to bulge out in the direction of Cologne and it looked as if some of our troops must be getting pretty close to the big city.

At this time, a big armada of B-26’s flew over and began to bomb Cologne and the roads around the city. We were so close to the bombers that we could see the bombs as they left the planes. There was no flack going up against them, probably because the retreat had thrown the antiaircraft defenses into confusion.

Some of the men looked around the dead Germans on the ground around us to see if there were any valuables that might be worth picking up. As for myself, I never became hardened enough that I could loot the dead. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the dead soldiers. It was hard enough to just look at these men, killed at such a young age.

One good looking young German boy had long black hair that was usually combed straight back from his forehead. Now it had fallen forward over his face. I could see myself lying there.

We left the hill and went down into a little ravine where we waited for our orders. While we were there, chow came up and we had a hot meal. I picked up some old German and French money laying on the ground in the ravine, probably discarded by some of the looters because it apparently had no value.

Then it began to sprinkle, and we began huddling around each other to talk about what the future might hold for us. All of us were hoping that maybe we would never catch up with the front line, but of course, we all knew that sooner or later we would.

See Jack R Blann: A private’s diary: The battle of Germany as seen through the eyes of an 18 year old infantry rifleman

See Hyperwar for casualty figures.

A medic helps an injured soldier through a rubble filled street. Saar-Lautern,-Germany 3 March 1945

A medic helps an injured soldier through a rubble filled street. Saar-Lautern,-Germany 3 March 1945

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Feb

28

1945

Churchill – on the ‘terror’ bombing of Germany

An overview of the widespread destruction in the centre of Dresden.

Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.

The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.

Feb

27

1945

Churchill … Polish – German border to be redrawn

The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

But even more important than the frontiers of Poland, within the limits now disclosed, is the freedom of Poland. The home of the Poles is settled. Are they to be masters in their own house? Are they to be free, as we in Britain and the United States or France are free? Are their sovereignty and their independence to be untrammelled, or are they to become a mere projection of the Soviet State, forced against their will by an armed minority, to adopt a Communist or totalitarian system?

Feb

26

1945

An infantryman makes his first kill

"Then came the big day when we marched into Germany--right through the Siegfried Line."

It occurred to me later that he must have been young and very green, because he ran in a straight line, an easy course to follow with the sights of a rifle. He had unbuttoned his over-coat for greater freedom in running, and the skirts flapped like huge blue wings around his legs. He was a moving dot of blue, a clumsy blue object to be stalked deliberately… now, impaled within the sights, the blue coat was enormous, presenting itself to my squinted eye like a cloud, like a house, like a target painted solid blue on the firing range at Camp Wheeler.

Feb

25

1945

Sgt Aubrey Cosens shatters the Germans at Moosdorf

A Canadian soldier escorts captured German parachute troops during fighting near Uedem, 28 February 1945.

The hard core of the German resistance in the immediate area was thus broken. Sergeant Cosens promptly gave his small force orders for the consolidation of the position and started off to report to his company commander. He had not travelled more than twenty feet when he was shot through the head by an enemy sniper. He died almost instantly. The German force in the Moosdorf area had by this time become so compietelv shattered and dispirited, however, that there was no further counter-attack against this position.

Feb

24

1945

Hitler speaks – the anniversary of 25 years of Nazism

The scene on Oranienstraße, following the bombing of Berlin on the 3rd February.

Our enemies have destroyed so much that is beautiful and holy that we can now live for only one task – to create a state that will rebuild what they have destroyed. It is, therefore, our duty to maintain the liberty of the German nation for the future; not to permit German labor to be carried off to Siberia but to mobilize it for reconstruction on behalf of our own people. It is frightful what the homeland has to endure and the tasks of the front are superhuman, but if a whole people is to show itself equal to such suffering, as our nation does, then Providence will not deny us in the end the right of survival.

Feb

23

1945

U.S. Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi

Marines at Iwo Jima 3 cent postage stamp issued Washington, D.C. July 11, 1945, 137,321,000 stamps were sold.

Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sands, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.

Feb

22

1945

Across Germany in the special custody of the SS

German civilians in February 1945 in Danzig and the surrounding area; fleeing from the approaching Red Army, they have had to leave their homes.

At the curves I could see that the train was extraordinarily long and seemed to be carrying everything: prisoners, troops, refugees, and even cattle, which I could hear mooing at the far end. We took advantage of the frequent stops for obvious reasons. But because the train would always start again without warning, I was terrified of being left behind or having to jump into a wagon filled with strange people. The idea of using these opportunities to escape did not occur to me, nor, I think, to anyone. The thought of being alone in that frozen countryside, without papers, money, or food, was enough to put one off the idea immediately.

Feb

21

1945

Fatal error at 18,000 feet over Germany

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing water pouring through a breach in the western channel of the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Ladbergen, Germany, following a daylight attack by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. This was the fourth time that Bomber Command had put the canal out of action, following repairs by the Germans.

He had made the fatal mistake of picking up his parachute pack by the shiny handle, the ripcord, and it had opened in the aircraft. He had, however clipped it to his harness and gathered the canopy in his arms. I watched him jump and saw the canopy which was torn from his grasp by the slipstream pass over the top of the tail-plane and his body beneath. His body was found later on the ground, still attached to his parachute: he had been killed by the impact when dragged back into the tail by his entangled canopy.

Feb

20

1945

Nazi propaganda continues in face of desperate reality

German troops in Breslau in February 1945

Criminally caused by our regime, it is the worst crime not only against our people, but the entire world. Every day the senseless continuation of this war devours countless human lives, destroys our cities and villages, makes an entire nation homeless and poor. How terribly has God’s judgment been unleashed against our nation, whose leadership has committed outrages against everything which God stands for these past dozen years.