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As It Happened -

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(generated from captions) to be captured was Aachen, The first German city the inner feeling. Honest, that's the gut feeling, and we beat 'em. That's all. You're just glad it's over with you're liberating anyone. you don't feel at the time, at the end of the war, So... and indoctrinated as Hitler Youth. because they were trained 12-year-old boys And the fact that we couldn't trust a personal feeling of bitterness. the people as a whole - I had towards the nation as a whole - I had a feeling of bitterness like a liberator. Certainly didn't feel as conquerors, or as liberators? Did the Allies see themselves of a final victory. and boy soldiers' delusions as well as fanaticism Hitler's last reserves, The Allied troops were fighting Dresden, Wurzburg, Pforzheim... continued in a hail of bombs. The destruction of Germany's cities airborne operation of the war. It was to be the biggest of bombers and gliders. were assembling an armada American and British planners To seize the Rhine, of this German officer. but was the undoing saved many lives, seen here after its destruction, The bridge at Remagen, proved the key. An out-of-the-way rail bridge on their own ground. and defeat the Germans into Germany, we had to get substantially We had to cross the Rhine, before we could win the war. It was a necessary operation had no alternative. The British and Americans in the liberation of Germany. would be the last act The battle on the Rhine back to where it began. and carry the war into Hitler's Reich were waiting to cross the river Over a million troops on their way to Berlin. the last big natural obstacle For the Allies, it was the Rhine was the front line. By March 1945, poets and thinkers as the Rhine. Few rivers have so inspired A place of romance. waterway in Europe. and the most important The Rhine is Germany's longest river, as the Rhine. so much meaning for a nation, so laden with history, and with Europe so steeped in legend and myth, There is hardly another river in

It no longer had any use for reality. still spoke of certain victory. But the weekly newsreel children and old men. were being mobilised - All over Germany, the last reserves with appeals to hold out. like Aachen, Posters responded to defeats Had it been defeated or liberated? of a strange tribe. venturing onto the territory Padover felt like an anthropologist the German nation." "You must not punish "We are all innocent," he said. and waxed rich therefrom. who supported Hitler be attached to German businessmen Nor could any guilt "They obey orders." not politicians. "They are professional soldiers, "So were the German generals. "were innocent. "But the German people" he said, against Jews and Poles. committed by the Germans he'd heard of the atrocities He admitted Padover observed: One was a real estate broker. had time to think up excuses. He met Germans who'd not yet of the defeated population. to examine the attitudes He was assigned from Vienna in 1920. a Jew who had emigrated to enter Aachen was Saul Padover, One of the first American officers moved into a wasteland. The liberators in October 1944.

was defended by just a few soldiers. The bridge at Remagen German resistance was weak. had only a few kilometres to go. By March 6, its forward units towards the Remagen bridge. The US 1st Army advanced steadily But he didn't want to talk about it. and that fighting was pointless. He knew the war was lost 32, married, with two children. was Major Hans Scheller, The bridge commandant the moment the Americans arrived. They were to be destroyed for retreating German troops. were the last escape route like the one at Remagen, The Rhine bridges, would advance on Cologne and Bonn. A third army also head for Oppenheim, near Mainz. In the south, the Americans would near Wesel, in the north. They were planning their main assault were advancing on the Rhine. Western allies had reached the River Oder. By February, Stalin's troops spread to the Rhine. Reports of Soviet atrocities was rolling over East Prussia. the Red Army By January 1945, Another so-called 'fortress'.

were hundreds of civilians. Sheltering with him in the tunnel the order to destroy the bridge. From there, he planned to give on the east bank. withdrew into the railway tunnel he and most of his men But at about 2.30, had delayed blowing it up. Major Scheller still falling back across the bridge, With German soldiers from where we were. It was a good view of that went through a tunnel. and the railroad track was a high hill, and at the other side of it crossing the bridge - German soldiers and German civilians going across the bridge - soldiers and civilians people running, I can remember seeing the bridge over the Rhine was intact. They met with an astonishing sight - reached a hill overlooking Remagen. men of the 9th Armoured Around midday, had to do with capturing a bridge. Nothing in the orders we received and clear that edge over there. and then turn south and go along... Our mission was to go to the Rhine they would be heroes. out of sheer luck, They had no idea that in a few hours, the Rhine's west bank. They were only supposed to capture from Meckenheim, near Bonn. set off for Remagen units of the US 9th Armoured Division Around 8 a.m. on March 7, and listened in on a conversation. was serving there as a telephonist An anti-aircraft crew member was in one of the bridge pillars. The commandant's switchboard that could no longer be held. for a position None wanted to sacrifice himself

The Remagen bridge still stood. None of the Americans had expected this. A rifle company was the first to cross. The first Americans on the bridge were... Lieutenant Karl Timmermann, born in Frankfurt, Germany, A second attempt also failed. The fuse failed. to blow the bridge up. Major Scheller now gives the order On the other side, in the tunnel, prepare to storm the bridge. 3.20 p.m. The first Americans were still on the bridge. Only a few German soldiers that the fighting would soon be over. Men, women and children who hoped

Sergeant Alexander Drabik, a butcher from Toledo, Ohio, and Lieutenant Hugh Mott from Nashville, Tennessee. After the infantry had taken the town of Remagen, the task force commander Lieutenant Colonel Engeman called me up and ordered me out on the bridge to do some reconnaissance. I was to find out what demolitions were on the bridge, if the bridge would take traffic and if not, how long it would take to repair it for traffic. There wasn't a whole lot of fire fighting really... that first afternoon there. In fact, the firing was... a little firing here and there, and you was asking about the feeling you had, when I went out on that bridge. I felt like they were laying back in the shelter saying "Come on, baby, come on across here "and we'll get you and the bridge both at the same time." (Laughs) That's the kind of feelin' you had. They were lucky. Without a fight, the Americans had captured an intact bridge over the Rhine. They could hardly believe it. Eisenhower said it was worth its weight in gold. Major Scheller withdrew and requested reinforcements. The people in the tunnel were scared of the foreign troops. And there was a deadly danger - a trainload of fuel. Railway worker Willi Feldens had sought shelter in the tunnel with his mother, his wife and their son Karl. Now he wanted to surrender to the Americans. Carrying a white flag, he walked towards the tunnel exit. A shot rang out. The shot passed through Willi Feldens' wallet. He was badly wounded. Nonetheless, he achieved his aim. The German soldiers and civilians left the tunnel unharmed. Willi Feldens and his wife Maria remained behind. In her diary she wrote: A dreadful night. No doctor. "My dear little wife, help me," he said time and again. But how could I? He died at 5.30. I feel dreadful, losing my one and only love. He'll no longer say "My darling", no longer "My dear little wife". Now we're going home, alone again, with bleak times ahead. Why did they shoot a man with a white flag? Out of the blue, an intact bridge over the Rhine had fallen into American hands. Hitler was furious and tried to regain control of the bridge. He had it bombarded, hoping it would at least collapse. But it was too late. The Americans had thrown all their available forces over the Rhine. Within 24 hours of taking the bridge, they already had 8000 GIs across. The German front was crumbling. Not exhilaration, 'cause we didn't recognise the value of that then. Your job is to do something, you don't stop to say "Is this a valuable mission? Is it meaningful?" You don't learn till years later that we were the first to cross since Napoleon, but don't know that when you're in combat, see? On March 17, ten days after it was taken, the damaged bridge collapsed. But the Americans had long since stabilised their bridgehead. For Hitler, the loss of the bridge was a disaster. He wanted scapegoats - and personally set up a summary court martial as an example to others. Major Scheller, the bridge commandant, was the first to suffer. Field Marshal Model, Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B, personally arrested him. On March 13 the court martial convened in a house near Rimbach in Westerwald Forest. Scheller was sentenced to death that very day. Colonel Reichhelm, an officer on Model's staff, was also questioned by the court. The sentence was carried out immediately. In a wood near Rimbach, Major Scheller was executed by firing squad. Another pointless victim. Scheller had two children, with a third on the way. His heavily pregnant wife heard the news on the radio. 20,000 German soldiers were sentenced to death and executed during the war - most of them, like Hans Scheller, during its final year. North of Remagen, almost all the Rhine's west bank was now in Allied hands. This was Cologne on March 6. Even now, Nazi propaganda hailed last-ditch resistance by fanatical Hitler Youths. The so-called 'Werewolves' - Nazi saboteurs working behind the American lines - were a figment of Nazi propaganda. But Lieutenant Demetri Paris saw boy soldiers who really did fight to the end. It's only some radical, but we had one man killed by a junior kid. He didn't suspect him, the kid suddenly rose up with a bazooka and fired at him... Hitler Youth had been inspired to fight for the homeland, but normally that would be the exception to the rule. Normally when the white flags came out you knew it was pretty safe to proceed through there... because if there were armed men around there, they wouldn't dare show the white flag. They'd be shot by their own soldiers. So we felt pretty sure there were no soldiers around and no SS or SA or anything like that. If they felt safe enough to show a white flag, we felt safe enough to ride through their town, say it that way. The Australian war correspondent Alan Moorehead wrote: "Few people, I think, were prepared for Cologne. "There was something awesome about the ruins of Cologne, "something the mind was unwilling to grasp. "A city means movement and noise and people, "not silence and emptiness and stillness, "a kind of cemetery stillness. "The cathedral spires still soaring miraculously to the sky "made the debacle below more difficult to accept and comprehend. "The rubble lay in the morning sunshine, so real and solid, "that it seemed that Cologne had always been like that." First contact between the victors and the vanquished. Psychologist Saul Padover received a warning: "You Americans will discover one day "you've made a great mistake in your allies," said a senior educational official. "The Russians are not a real nation but a mixture of breeds. "You'll never get along with them. "But the British are your real mistake. "They are a hard, cynical, selfish people... "You Americans do not understand Europe." Yet most Germans were relieved to be liberated by the Americans and not by the Russians. A short reprieve from the war... a glimpse of peace. CHEERFUL CIRCUS MUSIC And for the liberated, their first taste of the American way of life. The two sides were still strangers to each other. The collapse of the Remagen bridge did not halt the Allied advance. American tanks crossed the river on pontoon bridges. Sweeping past the remnants of a German army now in full retreat past the backdrop of a ruined country they had defeated and liberated. In the week after the capture of the Remagen bridge, 25,000 US troops crossed the Rhine. For the persecuted in Hitler's Germany, they meant... Afraid of being arrested, the Gruters family from Buderich, near Cologne, moved to the village of Nentershausen near Limburg. Classified under the Nazi racial laws as a 'half-Jew', Veronika's father had lived for years with the fear of being deported. Meanwhile, Montgomery was preparing the main assault into the Reich, on the Lower Rhine, near Wesel. He wanted to send over a million men across the Rhine. To camouflage the preparations, a smokescreen was laid along the west bank. Under cover of this giant cloud of oil and water, men and equipment were moved up to the Rhine. But despite their superiority, many Allied troops remained sceptical. I thought there was going to be a lot of resistance. I thought that this was the ideal place for them to throw us back into the Rhine and to ensure that we couldn't get a crossing. But, as you say, the fall of the Remagen bridge might have had a considerable effect from the enemy point of view, because it wouldn't be so vital for them to throw us back. March 23, 1945. Over a million men were ready to land the decisive blow. H-Hour was 5 p.m. Fire! With a barrage from over 1300 guns, the major offensive on the Rhine began. The German defences on the other bank were to be blasted into submission. Four hours later, men of the 51st Highland Division were the first to cross. They wanted to catch up with the American troops near Remagen... and they met with little resistance. The British, Americans and Canadians realised what this day meant. In the drive for Berlin, the Rhine was the last major obstacle in the West. There was a terrific feeling of competition, that we had to get over the Rhine and that somebody was going to report back before anyone else that they'd taken their objectives on the other side. To support his ground troops, Montgomery organised the biggest airborne operation of WWII. On the morning of the 24th, two divisions of paratroopers left England and France. Their mission was to break resistance in the rear of the German front and help the ground forces make a rapid breakthrough. We was told that this operation was based on mistakes... made on D-Day, which was the night drop and at Arnheim, where they dropped the troops too far from the objective, which gave the enemy that much time to prepare for the offences. This time was going to be different. The British and American paratroopers were to be dropped into the operational area in daylight directly above the enemy. Charles Harding's battalion was the first to jump. It landed in a field near Bergerfurth at 9.51. In the nearby woods, a company of the German 7th Parachute Regiment was dug in. There was bitter fighting... hand to hand. Harding and his fellow paras stormed the woods. The men were angry having lost their well-respected company commander, and the platoon commander and... I'm afraid there wasn't very many prisoners. I'm sorry to say this in front... There are no known German survivors. 25 of the German paratroopers are still officially missing in action. The British also suffered heavy losses. At the end of that wonderful March sunny day, by 5 o'clock in the afternoon our division had lost 1500 chaps... killed or wounded. Very few were missing, because you couldn't miss much. 11 a.m. One hour after the first paratroopers landed, a second wave approached. 1300 assault gliders brought supplies, soldiers and equipment to the front. The final approach was risky. The slow-moving gliders were an easy target for German anti-aircraft guns. Many pilots preferred to risk a nose-dive and crash-land. With the reinforcements came medical orderlies. They tended the wounded of both sides. The brutal face of war had become part of everyday life. Brigadier James Hill, commander of the British 3rd Parachute Brigade, often thought of his mother's words. My mother... in 1939, when I went to the war, sent for me, and she was a very good, spiritual lady, the wife of a distinguished soldier, and she said: "Now, darling, if you survive this war, "you've got to learn to harden your heart." And of course that's what you had to do, you had to get used to seeing all these things. Churchill had anticipated that the battle for the Rhine would be far more difficult. The day after the operation, he made the crossing himself. The German defences near Wesel had been smashed. He remarked to Eisenhower: "My dear General, the German is whipped. "We've got him. He is all through." From their bridgeheads at Remagen and Wesel, the Allied armies drove rapidly east. On April 1st, they closed the ring around the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland. Germany's Army Group B, with over 300,000 men, was caught in the biggest pocket of the Western front. Field Marshal Model's staff no longer had any illusions about which side was the stronger. The German soldiers had no supplies, no food and no hope. So why did they go on fighting against overwhelming force? Hitler, in his notorious 'Nero Decree', ordered a scorched earth policy. All of Germany's industrial infrastructure was to be destroyed before it fell into Allied hands. The German people had lost their right to live. They should perish with him. The criminal order to destroy everything was not followed by commander-in-chief of Army Group B, Walter Model. But for him too, there was only victory or annihilation. He instructed his officers: "Let us fight as fervent National Socialists "and teach our men to do the same. "There is no doubt about victory!" But Model's principal staff officer knew what he really thought. At Hitler's request, Colonel Reichhelm was flown from the Ruhr to Berlin. He was to give Hitler a personal account of the situation of the encircled army group. The government district around the Reich Chancellery was deserted. Berlin was like a ghost town. Hitler rarely left his bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. In the cramped rooms, the dictator assembled his closest advisers for a daily briefing. The last footage of Hitler, shot on March 19, 1945.

The last reserves... Boys of the Hitler Youth. And old men. But the will to fight in the murderous war had for many German soldiers long since gone. The end was in sight. They knew it. Only the youngest still believed in victory. They fought for a regime that did not scruple to sacrifice them to delay the certain end by a few days. Conquerors... or liberators? More and more German soldiers in the Ruhr pocket were giving up the hopeless battle. Word had got around - the Americans treated their prisoners well. No one wanted to throw his life away in the final days. The Americans realised it too. On the way back, I'm walking back all alone with one man and he said, "Sir, you were telling us what we say, "if we're trying to get these German soldiers to give up." I said "Presume there are German soldiers in these woods." I spun around and said "Kommen Sie her! Kommen sie aus dem Gebusch! Kommen Sie hierher." I was about to say "That's what you say" when I heard "Ja, wir kommen!" I turned around and out comes a whole battalion staff all with Schmeisers and everything else around their neck, and inadvertently I'd taken about 30 guys prisoner. The will to hold out had finally broken. In some places, the Allied soldiers received a warm welcome. In the main, the locals were relieved to have an end to the battles and the bombing. There were first attempts at reconciliation between the liberators and the liberated. The last German tanks were flying white flags. Field Marshal Model acknowledged that the struggle was over, but he didn't want to surrender. On April 16, he issued his final order. A ploy to avoid a formal surrender. It came to the same thing. April 16, 1945. German soldiers lay down their weapons in Iserlohn. Captain Albert Ernst surrenders his unit to the liberators. Staff officers also let themselves be taken prisoner. Among them was Heinz Gunther Guderian, son of Hitler's legendary tank general. What was going through his mind? Guderian, a colonel, was taken to a field camp on the Rhine near Remagen. The Americans were overwhelmed by the huge numbers, and the prisoners had to camp in the open for weeks. Of the 300,000 inmates at Remagen, 1200 died. A wood south of Duisburg. "A field marshal does not go into captivity. "It is just not done," Model once said to his son. On April 21, he shot himself - out of shame, not at the war, but at suffering defeat. Why didn't he surrender?

With the battle for the Rhine and the end of the Ruhr pocket, the war in the West was decided. As they advanced, the Allied troops also liberated concentration camps and uncovered atrocities they found beyond belief. Free, at last. On April 25, Soviet and American soldiers linked up at Torgau, near the River Elbe. They celebrated the meeting of the Western front with the Eastern. It was the hour of liberation for over 3 million foreign forced labourers and prisoners of war in the Western zones of occupation alone. The majority of German soldiers were now prisoners. At the end of the war, almost every second German was sent to a prisoner of war camp or was a refugee. 14 million people lost their homes forever. For many people, a sense of having been liberated only developed after the end of the war.

For seven months, the psychologist Saul Padover studied the liberated Germans. When he left the country that had seemed to him like the territory of an unknown tribe, he wrote to his wife: "In Germany there was death, "there was fear, there was inner despair. "The Germans showed no awareness of, "or even surface interest in the peace. "They were defeated, crushed "and in a sense relieved that the nightmare was over. "They were a race apart, cursed and feared... "Only the coming generation of Germans can redeem their country. "One must hope and pray that they will not fail." Only now could reconciliation begin. In early May 1945, American soldiers occupied Hitler's house on the Obersalzberg. The dictator was dead, his empire at an end. For some, the defeat came too late. Hans Scheller had been at war for six years. He was executed eight weeks before peace came. His family survived. For the liberators, the Remagen bridge is still a symbol of their victory over Nazi Germany. And a reminder of the lives sacrificed on the long march from the beaches of Normandy to the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe. For the victors too, the end of the war was a liberation. It's very curious, to wake up in the morning and feel no fear. It was sort of inherent in you, this feeling of fear, which was part of being in active operations. I think you always had it. You weren't aware of it, until it went. And then it was like a great load being lifted. In the end, there were no victors and no vanquished, only liberated people, no longer hostage to war. The battle for the Rhine marked the beginning of the final act in the war of the century. Over 50 million people were victims of that war. The victory over Hitler was a liberation for the world. Above all, however, it was liberation for the defeated Germans. Captions (c) SBS Australia 2005