A German picture of the aftermath of battle on the Eastern front in February 1945, with Soviet dead and destroyed T-34 tanks.

A German picture of the aftermath of battle on the Eastern front in February 1945, with Soviet dead and destroyed T-34 tanks.

The Volkssturm - the 'peoples army' of old men and boys was now bolstering German numbers on the eastern front.

The Volkssturm – the ‘peoples army’ of old men and boys was now bolstering German numbers on the Eastern front.

As the Eastern front descended into barbarity the German soldier was fighting for his life, without any alternative. Anyone found deserting, or even any straggler suspected of doing so, would not enjoy a carefully conducted legal process while his case was considered. Field ‘court martials’ , if they could be described as such, were swift affairs and usually ended with a firing squad.

Henry Metelmann was to enjoy practically the only route out available to the infantryman in a front line unit – he was wounded. More importantly he was wounded while the evacuation of casualties to the west was still functioning:

We were driven before the advancing Russians across the old Polish border, from which three years ago we had set out full of hope to conquer the USSR. During the campaign I had been wounded several times but, luckily, only slightly.

And then, it happened again. Not far from the River San and the large town of Przemysl I was hit by a shell fragment, which finally secured me a place on a Red Cross transport back home to Germany.

What a homecoming it was! We had heard, of course, about the Allied air attacks on the German cities. But what we saw from our windows was far beyond what we had expected. It shocked us to the core of our very being.

Was this what we had been fighting for in the East for several years? And yet, there was still a hard core amongst us, when we were discussing the horrible spectacle, who could not see the connection between these ashes and what we had done in Russia. Breslau was very bad when we saw it, but no worse than Stalingrad had been.

As the wounded were now also being rushed into the Fatherland from the Western and Southem Fronts, all the hospital services were heavily overloaded. We came through Dresden, Leipzig, Halle, Magdeburg etc. Sometimes we went through air attacks, but our coaches had large Red Crosses on their roofs, and fortunately nothing happened to us. Finally we were unloaded at an emergency Lazarett at Gutersloh in Westphalia.

The faces of the civilians were grey and tired, and in some of them we could even see resentment, as if it was our fault that their homes had been destroyed and so many of their dear ones burnt to cinders. Smiling wryly, we reminded each other that Hitler himself had promised his soldiers that the gratitude of the Fatherland to them would be ensured forever. But we realized that these had merely been words, and the cold reality was quite different.

Even so many of us expected some sort of reception committee, with flowers and speeches at the railway station. But when we arrived, there were only the porters, who had got used to these trains, and over-worked and harassed stretcher-bearers from the Hitler Youth, who dumped us as quickly as they could in the long corridors.

… the final collapse of our Reich was now only a question of time, and this dominated all the thinking of my waking hours. Though not daring to say to anyone, secretly I would have liked to have stayed medically unfit for war until the last shot was fired.

By this time, with powerful enemy armies fighting on all sides of our Reich, even the most fanatical amongst us began to realize that our practical use as soldiers could now be no more than as cheap cannon fodder, to be carelessly sacrificed on an idiotic altar of glory. With everything so openly and obviously falling to pieces all around us, it was – and still is — a mystery to me why no revolt broke out anywhere amongst the suffering German population.

It was a short respite for Metelmann because he was soon judged fit and returned to a front line unit in April. The real piece of luck that he enjoyed was that, having spent most of the war on the Eastern front, he now found himself on the Western front. When the time for surrender came he was in an incomparably better position than if he had not been wounded at the beginning of the year.

See Henry Metelmann: Through Hell for Hitler: A Dramatic First-Hand Account of Fighting on the Eastern Front With the Wehrmacht

Berlin was declared a 'defence zone' on 1st February - and civilian 'volunteers' were soon drafted in to build tank ditches.

Berlin was declared a ‘defence zone’ on 1st February – and civilian ‘volunteers’ were soon drafted in to build tank ditches.

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Jan

31

1945

The Execution of Private Eddie D. Slovik

Eddie D. Slovik

His subsequent conduct shows a deliberate plan to secure trial and incarceration in a safe place. The sentence adjudged was more severe than he had anticipated but the imposition of a less severe sentence would only have accomplished the accused’s purpose of securing his incarceration and consequent freedom from the dangers which so many of our armed forces are required to face daily. His unfavorable civilian record indicates that he is not a worthy subject of clemency.

Jan

30

1945

Worst ever maritime loss – the Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Gustloff in Gotenhafen (Gdynia), Poland in 1942. Gotenhafen would be the last port the Wilhelm Gustloff would sail from.

The young man next to me had fallen inside the net. He stared at me and saliva came out of his mouth. I tried to lift him up, but couldn’t. Across from me was a young seaman. He begged his comrades for one cigarette and told us about his daughter that had been born on Christmas and that he had not seen her. Then he fell backwards into the water. Finally he was gone. The remaining other two started to talk very negative – how our feet will be amputated, etc., etc. Then they complained about my feet. I tried to move to hold them still. I bumped against theirs and that hurt.

Jan

29

1945

Bitter struggle as Red Army encircles Breslau

Soldiers of the 'Volkssturm' the German 'People's army' in their trenches in East Prussia in January 1945.

We carefully removed our boots and shoes, What was left of our socks and foot-cloths had gone hard from dried blood and pus. My soles were just pus-filled flesh, but the worst pain came from inside. As I’d been running for three weeks on soles which were bumed and warped, my metatarsal was horribly inflamed. When I stood up, the pain coming from it was unbearable. In addition, my ankles had swollen badly where the top edge of my boots rubbed with every step. Our feet were a pathetic sight. In normal times, no one would have believed it possible that we could run even one more step.

Jan

28

1945

London – V2 rockets add to misery of cold Home Front

Large swathes of London were still bomb sites from the earlier blitz. The destruction around St Paul's Cathedral caused by  air raids on London is softened by a heavy dusting of snow. A mobile crane and truck can be seen at work to clear up some of the debris.

The V2 rockets also help the illusion. Four mornings in succession they have woken us up — not bangs so much as prodigious muffled explosions which resound in all quarters at once, reverberating for about ten seconds. The blast is upon us before we know it, blowing out curtains, rattling doors, and doing its usual trick of jolting up the loft trap-door. Well, trap-doors can be put back into place, so I don’t grumble, or try not to. At 4. a.m. yesterday one landed on the fringe of a spinney on Stanmore Common. I inspected it in the line of duty, the usual crater as big as a room with felled trees pointing outwards from it, like a small-scale meteoric crater in Siberia.

Jan

27

1945

The Red Army liberate Auschwitz

Liberation by Soviet soldiers surviving prisoners of Auschwitz .Above the gate of the camp is the famous sign-slogan "Arbeit macht frei",  - "Work makes you free". Concentration camp was discovered on January 27, 1945 by part of the 100th Infantry Division of General Fyodor Krasavina. 1st Ukrainian Front.

It was an enormous industrial plant, having its own branch facilities, each of which received its own special charge. In one, the processing of the arrivals took place: prisoners were made of those who, before death, could be put to work, while the elderly, the children, and the infirm were sentenced to immediate extermination. In another, a division for those who were so exhausted and worn out as to be barely fit for physical labor, they were assigned the task sorting the clothes of the exterminated, and of sorting their shoes, taking apart uppers, soles, linings.

Jan

26

1945

Audie Murphy’s single handed battle, kills 50, holds line

Winter in northwestern Europe, 1945 - conditions on the Ardennes front.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, I see the Germans lining up for an attack. Six tanks rumble to the outskirts of Holtzwihr, split into groups of threes, and fan out toward either side of the clearing. Obviously they intend an encircling movement, using the fingers of trees for cover. I yell to my men to get ready. Then wave after wave of white dots, barely discernible against the background of snow, start across the field. They are enemy infantrymen, wearing snowcapes and advancing in a staggered skirmish formation.

Jan

25

1945

POWs prepare to evacuate Stalag Luft III

General view of the huts and compound at Stalag Luft III prisoner of war camp, scene of the 'Great Escape' in 1944.

The enemy quickly launched an attack with 2 full companies of infantrymen, blasting the patrol with murderous concentrations of automatic and rifle fire and beginning an encircling movement which forced the patrol leader to order a withdrawal. Despite the terrible odds, Pfc. Valdez immediately volunteered to cover the maneuver, and as the patrol 1 by 1 plunged through a hail of bullets toward the American lines, he fired burst after burst into the swarming enemy.

Jan

24

1945

The Red Army races across Poland to German border

The troops of the 10th Tank Corps 5th Guards Tank Army 2nd Belorussian Front occupied city Mühlhausen (now the Polish city Młynary) the city was liberated from the Nazi troops January 24, 1945.

During the day we sometimes ran into horse-drawn supply columns. All the personnel and their escorts were dressed in German uniforms. Among them there were all nationalities except for the Russians — Kalmyks, Uzbeks, Tatars,Kazakhs, people from the Caucasus and Poles. Apparently, the Germans did not trust the Russians and did not “allow“ them to serve in supply units. We had different attitudes towards those men, but we did not show cruelty, did not abuse them and did not execute them. I think once we fought a supply column of Kalmyks and soldiers of other nationalities, as they tried to resist — they lost their heads and opened fire on us, and my soldiers did not like it.

Jan

23

1945

Fear and reality of the ‘Asiatic Hordes’ of the Red Army

A column of German prisoners of war in Warsaw, January 1945.

Over the next several hours, they trucked in people from nearby districts, and brought in film crews and journalists to record on film and print the city ruins, and the fear and grief of the sham residents. Even the park and its beautiful swans were destroyed: almost all the trees were burned, the swans were shot, and it was announced that the “Asiatic hordes” had killed them and eaten them.