Austria, April 1945

WW2 is coming to a close and everybody knows it. The only real question is: When will the, once so mighty, German army surrender?

In the last weeks of the war, there are only small pockets of German resistance while the Russians are closing in from the East and the Allied forces approach from the West.

This photo report brings us back to Austria, April 1945. I was able to follow a Belgium based re-enactment group which portrays the SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 ‘Deutschland’ during their final weeks of the war. Going from the daily foxhole life to combat patrols and prisoner interrogation to final surrender to US Forces.

After having endured heavy fighting against Russian troops in the eastern part of Austria during the defense of Vienne and the surrounding areas, the SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 received orders to relieve the ‘Der Führer’ Regiment in the Gansbach/Kirschlag area around mid April 1945. On April 20th an order was given to attack St Pölten from the West but the attack is cancelled at the latest moment.

The Regiment was moved to the Passau region where they fought the Americans but had no choice to retreat due to overwhelming firepower of the 65th Infantry Division. The last combat actions of the Regiment took place on May 5th 1945 in Ernshofen.

The War ended for the soldiers of the SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 ‘Deutschland’ on May 8th 1945 when they surrendered to US troops of the 65th Infantry Division in the Donau/Enns/Ernshofen region.

The 65 Infantry Division, nicknamed the "Battle-axe" landed at Le Havre, France on January 21st 1945. The Division has a shoulder patch with a white halberd on a blue shield. This emblem symbolized both the shock action and the speed of the modern infantry division.

After a training period of 1,5 months the Division first saw action on March 8th when they took up aggressive defense of the sector along the Saar. On May 17th 1945 the Division attacked across the Saar, crossing the river at Dillingen and capturing Saarlautern. On March 19th 1945, the ‘Siegfried Line’ defense was broken and the division raced towards the Rhine, crossed the river on March 30th 1945 but ran into heavy German resistance and counterattacks. Continuing its advance against crumbling German opposition, the Division crossed the Danube on April 26th and seized Passau on April 27th 1945. The German Army surrendered en masse.

On May 9th 1945, the day all hostilities officially ended in Europe, the troops of the 65th Infantry Division made contact with the Russians at Erlauf.

I was fortunate enough to attend a re-enactment session which shows soldiers of the  SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment 3 'Deutschland'  and  the 65th Infantry Division as they would have conducted operations during the last days of the war. 

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