October 28, 2014

1944. Germans Fighting to the Last Man

German Desperation in Belgium
"A British soldier poses next to a knocked out Jagdpanther in Geel, 16 September 1944" (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 15, 1944
British troops today have their second bridgehead across the Escaut Canal in their march across the difficult water barriers which the Germans are using to protect the northern border of Germany. This latest crossing of the Escaut Canal was made just north of the town of Geel and about fifteen miles west of the first crossing that carried British patrols into Holland three days ago.

With the breaching of the Albert Canal line, the Germans have been falling back northward from the area between the two waterways, and today the British troops are fighting another battle very much the same as that which one the Albert.

Late yesterday the British troops were across the Escaut Canal in two places in their new drive, but bitter Nazi counterattacks forced them to give up one of these crossings and concentrate on holding the main bridgehead north of Geel.

Violent German counterattacks were also made against the other crossing further to the east at Hechtel. The Germans are using battle groups of up to 200 men supported by a half-dozen or so tanks to make these counterattacks. Although the Germans are often outnumbered and always outgunned and out-armored, they press in their attacks bitterly and well. The series of small, sharp clashes that have marked this canal fighting are extremely bloody. And the British soldiers who meet these new German battle groups often remark on how hard the German is fighting despite the odds against him.

I was up in the canal area the other day to find out something more about these Nazis soldiers—Hitler's new "total" soldiers.

The German total soldier may be a boy of high school age or an elderly veteran of the last war. Up until a month ago he might have been an accountant or a bricklayer or a student. But now he's in the army, and sometimes his uniforms don't fit him. He is inadequately armed, sometimes with out of date rifles. He has had only three or four weeks training. Usually total soldiers know how to handle a rifle, but know nothing about a machine gun or a mortar.

These are the Germans from the bottom of Hitler's manpower barrel who the Nazi leaders hope will save their skins for them and, somehow, defeat the Allies and throw them into the sea.

Although this seems ridiculous to us, it is taken very seriously by the Nazis. And the German soldiers, even the inadequately trained total soldiers, continue to fight with determination.

For example, the other day at a Belgian village, Nazi soldiers fought a bitter delaying action that ended only after British troops cleared the village by blasting every house in the village.

These Germans, including many soldiers in action for the first time, knew they were surrounded and that there position was hopeless. According to a British soldier who was a prisoner in their hands during the battle, they also thought that Germany had lost the war.

Now the question is: why do the Germans continue to fight as they do under hopeless circumstances?

As far as I could find out, there are several reasons for this. First of all, most German soldiers deep in their hearts hope and believe that Hitler will pull a military white rabbit out of his sleeve and produce a new weapon that will win the war.

Another reason is that many of the men in the army are afraid to give up. They are afraid of their officers and afraid of the fanatical Nazis in their units—and they fear for the safety of their families in Germany.

And still another reason for the bitter German resistance is that now the German soldier has yet a greater reason for fighting than even the fantastic ideals of the Nazi Party—the Germans have been on the business end of an invasion for so long that they know pretty much what it means. But now they are on the receiving end of invasion, so the German soldier knows that he is fighting for the Fatherland as well as Hitler. It's something new in German history of the past 100 years.

And finally, the German soldier fights to the last simply because many of them are Nazis—the bad boys who know that a great many people in Norway and Russia and Greece and Poland and Czechoslovakia are after their heads. They have no other choice.

And the German soldier will probably go on fighting with fanatical madness until he is completely and utterly beaten into submission; until he is convinced by Allied force of arms that resistance is futile; and until he and the other Germans inside the Reich who make his weapons decide that perhaps, after all, they are not a master race, and that Hitler is just another man with a mustache.

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.