The Rhineland Campaign, 1944
Military Government In Action
Two hours before dark on 11 September 1944 a five-man patrol from First Army's V Corps waded across the Our River into Germany. By nightfall, two other patrols had crossed and brought back souvenirs: a German cap, some currency, and a packet of soil-the soil, no doubt, very similar to that of Luxembourg on the west side of the river.1 Behind the border opposite V Corps lay the German West Wall in the rugged, heavily wooded, sparsely populated Eifel region. Appropriately, since V Corps had been the first corps in the Army to establish a civil affairs section, a V Corps military government officer posted the first proclamations in Germany in one of the border villages on the 12th. But V Corps was headed for frustration, surprise, and heartbreak; and the few miles of German territory forward of the West Wall was all it was going to get for a long time. Thirty-five miles to the north, VII Corps, also of First Army, crossed the border out of Belgium and took Roetgen on the 12th. No metropolis, Roetgen, sandwiched between the border and the forward edge of the West Wall, normally had a population of 2,500.
First Army was operating in what the Germans call the Dreilaenderecke, the corner where the boundaries of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands meet. On the German side, the city of Aachen sits in the corner astride a corridor between the Maas ( Meuse ) River on the northwest and the Huertgen Forest on the south which opens toward Cologne on the Rhine forty miles to the east. VII Corps proposed to pass between Aachen and the Huertgen Forest, encircle the city with an assist from XIX Corps on the north, and be on its way via Dueren to Cologne. By 16 September, it had driven a wedge ten miles deep and twenty miles wide into Germany south of Aachen. In this sliver of territory-which was, however, two-fifths of the total area SHAEF forces would occupy in Germany before 1945-military government began when temporary detachments were stationed in Roetgen on 15 September, and on the 18th in Monschau, the first Landkreis capital to be captured. In the next several days military government took over in six other communities, Kornelimuenster, Lammersdorf, Rott, Schevenhuette, Vicht, and Zweifall. In the planning, only Monschau had been considered. The others were not administrative centers.
The civil affairs detachments of the 1st European Civil Affairs Regiment (ECAR ) , which had come through France with First Army, inaugurated military government in Germany, beginning with D8B1 at Roetgen. They were integrated detachments, each having one British officer, and were scheduled to be withdrawn and reorganized into military gov-
POSTING THE ORDINANCES
ernment teams which would be exclusively American. The procedure was the same everywhere, as it was to be throughout Germany. First came the posting of the Supreme Commander's proclamation and the ordinances. Here a temporary hitch had developed. SHAEF had sent out the proclamations on 10 September but had to withdraw them promptly for revision when Washington raised objections to the language. Until the first week of October, 12th Army Group substituted a "Notice to the Population" announcing the occupation.2 The second step was to find the Buergermeister (mayor) or, if he could not be found or was obviously a Nazi, appoint one and thereby establish a link to the population.
Next came a series of security actions. The first was to collect weapons, ammunition, and explosives in civilian possession and confiscate radio transmitters and other means of communicating with the enemy, including pigeons. The orders to surrender prohibited items were followed by house-to-house searches, which in fought-over areas
CIVILIANS TURN IN WEAPONS AND CAMERAS
frequently turned up sizable collections of arms that the civilians had not turned in, probably more out of fear than malice. For convenience and for security, the civilians also had to be kept out of the way of the tactical troops.
Often the commanders would have preferred to have the civilians removed altogether; in early October V Corps tried evacuating a five-by-ten-mile area in the Eupen-Malmédy sector where the inhabitants were nominally Belgian although real loyalties were difficult to determine. V Corps' G-5 thought little of the experiment at the beginning, and even less later. It appeared only to prove what military government doctrine had assumed all along, namely, that people could be controlled best at home. Moving them was expensive; imposed hardships on the old, the young, and the ailing; made the evacuees economic charges of the occupation forces when their own crops and property were lost or damaged; and probably allowed dissidents to conceal themselves more easily.3
From the start military government -and, after the V Corps' experience, the tac-
tical commands too -preferred to rely on circulation restrictions and the curfew. The stringency of both tended to depend somewhat on the tactical situation and the whim of the local commander since 12th Army Group did not have a uniform policy. In general, no one was allowed to travel more than three miles from his home, and gatherings of more than five people, except in food queues and in church, were prohibited. The curfew was always at least from sunset to sunrise, and very often local commanders extended it through the daylight hours as well, giving the men an hour in the morning and evening to go to and from work and the women an hour or two during the day to fetch food and water.
The key to population control was knowing who was being controlled; this problem usually provided the detachments with their first big job. Every adult civilian had to be registered and issued a registration card, which would give military government a permanent hold on him. In the towns occupied in September, however, there appeared at first to be almost no one to register. The German authorities, to avoid the propaganda embarrassment of having Germans under Allied rule, had ordered all inhabitants to evacuate to the east. The towns seemed empty for several days after being occupied, until those who had disobeyed the order felt safe enough or became hungry and thirsty enough or just curious enough to leave the cellars and woods. None of the places occupied in 1944 had their usual populations, but on the average, excluding Aachen, about a third of the people stayed behind which, after the war had passed through the communities, was more than most of the towns could house or the land could support.
On 21 September, Companies G and H of the 2d ECAR arrived at First Army, and a week later Detachment I4G2, commanded by Capt. Robert A. Goetcheus, took up its station in Monschau, becoming the first detachment to reach its pinpoint location in Germany. Upon seeing the military government detachments, First Army developed a sudden strong preference for going into Germany with the civil affairs detachments that had accompanied it across France. The military government detachments, First Army complained, were understrength and the personnel were misclassified and not satisfied with their assignments ; and they were particularly short on interpreters and public safety officers. Of twenty-four officers assigned to public safety, First Army G-5 reported, only nine had police experience. The European Civil Affairs Division (EGAD) explained that the detachments had been set up in a hurry, and some of the omissions had been deliberate to leave vacancies for experienced officers from the civil affairs detachments being disbanded.4
Since the bulk of the detachments were not yet needed in Germany, First Army billeted them in barracks at Verviers, Belgium, which it designated as the MASTER (code name for First Army) Military Government Center, and sent them back to school. First Army G-5 believed it still had something to teach even to officers who had already been shunted from school to school for a year or more. In following the German Army through France, it had become unhappily aware that the stereotype of the German officer as smart and efficient and the American as sloppy and careless could not be shrugged off as Nazi propaganda when faced with civilians who had ample
experience from which to make exact comparisons. Military government was competing with the image left behind by the enemy. In this competition, First Army G-5 had concluded, moral superiority and technical expertise needed to be backed by what Americans too often regarded as superficial appearances : offices arranged not only to be worked in but to look efficient, flags prominently displayed, officers who looked and acted their parts.5
The staffs were not much better prepared for the move into Germany than the detachments were. G-5, 12th Army Group, after coming to the Continent in the first week of August, had been on the run ever since to keep up with the front: to Periers and Laval in August, to Versailles in early September, and to Verdun at the middle of the month. In these weeks, while the entry into Germany approached at express train speed, ECAD had to be brought over from England and the civil affairs detachments in France regrouped and retrained for Germany. The latter was itself a monumental job, not the least part of which was separating the British officers from the detachments and recalling the U.S. officers attached to British detachments with 21 Army Group.6
ECAD, out of the picture aboard ship Off UTAH Beach when the first detachments went into Germany, was badly situated at Rochefort-en-Yvelines, either to keep in touch with the detachments at the front or to reorganize and train those that stayed behind. The division headquarters occupied the "only chateau on the only hill in the village," a moderately elegant structure with an elaborate stone staircase outside, formal gardens, a park, and no heating. For reasons of health rather than rank, officers over forty-one years old were billeted in the chateau. The remaining officers and the enlisted men lived in tents and shelter halves in the adjacent woods. Because of the blackout, lights and fires were prohibited after dark, and the days were beginning to get short and the nights cold.7
G-5, First Army, was, after G-5, V Corps, the oldest US civil affairs-military government section in continuous existence, having been activated on 5 November 1943 by Col. Damon M. Gunn, then the civil affairs officer and later the G-5, and his executive officer, Maj. James S. Thurmond. Unfortunately, at the army level, seniority had not been much of an advantage. Gunn and his officers had spent months getting civil affairs accepted as a legitimate staff function, and as long as SHAEF's plans for military government in Germany were unsettled, which was until D-day and beyond, little guidance had filtered through to 12th Army Group and even less to First Army. The Army G-5 historian has recorded as a towering event in the preinvasion planning the receipt of 150 copies of FM 27-5 on 16 March and of an approved table of equipment on the 17th. Only one copy of the field manual had been available in the whole army until then. The Standard Policy and Procedure had come in earlier, but it took a full month to travel the 114-mile distance from London to the army in Bristol.8 As part
GERMANS READ THE PROCLAMATION AND ORDINANCES
of the highest US headquarters in continuous action since D-day, G-5, First Army, had accumulated much practical experience in civil affairs and was confident of its ability to install military government in Germany; but the front was at the German border before copies of the handbook arrived from SHAEF and the first directive for Germany came down from 12th Army Group.
The Germans were easier to understand in the abstract and from a distance than as flesh-and-blood people in their own communities. The French had been friends and allies-even if frequently not very friendly. The Germans were enemies and alleged inveterate disturbers of world peace; but how well they lived up to their image seemed to depend on the angle and distance from which they were observed. G-5, First Army, was struck by their orderly behavior and reported that they kept to their homes but seemed to be watching the troops with great interest while attempting to conceal their curiosity. On the streets, the army reported, the men saluted the American soldiers or tipped their hats politely. The chil-
dren were more friendly. Many of them ventured to wave at passing soldiers, which their elders allowed them to do.9 Further removed, Headquarters, EGAD, described the Germans as outwardly blank, stolid, and indifferent, while inwardly harboring "subdued, latent hostility mixed with fear." Most of them, ECAD claimed, shied away from anyone in uniform and remained stubbornly taciturn under questioning.10 An observer from the Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF, who actually entered the occupied area, reported:
the crossing of the German frontier is something of a shock. Even in Nazi Germany the cows have four legs, the grass is green, and children in pigtails stand around the tanks. Self-indoctrination by years of propaganda make it a shock to rediscover these trivialities. All the officers with whom we spoke reinforced this. The people left behind in this area are human beings with a will to survive. Just because we are conquerors and they know it, they are in certain ways easier to handle than the liberated Belgians or Frenchmen. They know they must obey our orders, and if they are allowed to survive and reconstruct their lives by self-help, they do not of themselves cause any trouble. Behind the front line, for instance, every road and byway is littered with cables, telephone lines, etc. Minor sabotage would be child's play. It has not happened because the people are not in interested in the war but looking after themselves.11
On one score everyone agreed : the German civilians were not causing trouble. In the first three weeks of the occupation not a single serious act against the Allied troops was reported. One officer said he had been doused with hot water from a farmhouse at night. Some sniping was going on, but the military government officers were convinced it was the work of German troops since it occurred only in the areas closest to the front.12
One question that could not be answered was whether the Germans in the occupied areas were typical. Probably, they were not. The out-and-out Nazis could be assumed to have obeyed the evacuation order. On the other hand, the citizens who had stayed could not be shown to be particularly anti-Nazi. If asked, most admitted that they had stayed because they did not want to leave their homes and property and that they had not considered what they did an act of defiance. Their strongest motive for staying, next to looking after property, was apparently their desire to get out of the war.
While the military government officers could leave analysis of the German character in general to a time when they had more leisure, they had to make decisions on the character of certain Germans immediately, namely, those whom they appointed to administrative posts in the occupied communities. Such decisions were almost never easy. It was one thing to be determined to eliminate nazism, another to single out a man from an always small contingent of candidates, none of whom inspired genuine confidence. One of the first and most frustrating discoveries was that administrative ability usually went hand in hand with political taint; the Nazi party had been thorough in enlisting able men one way or another. The Germans themselves had unintentionally helped solve what was probably the easiest part of the problem, getting rid of Nazi incumbents, by evacuating almost the entire civil ad-
ministration, including the police and fire departments; but they had also either destroyed or taken along the local records, which left military government nothing to go on in reconstructing the governments or in checking on the people who had stayed behind. One information source the Germans had overlooked was the Church. Since the occupied area was overwhelmingly Catholic, the priests knew nearly everyone and a great deal about local politics. In the early weeks, before both became a bit more wary of each other, the detachments relied heavily on the priests for advice, and a few priests became temporary Buergermeisters in their communities.
The first appointments were impromptu and usually also impermanent. One morning in October in Wuerselen, a coal mining town of 16,000 inhabitants northeast of Aachen, while fighting was still going on in the outskirts, a Herr Reuters stepped out of his cellar refuge onto an almost deserted street, just where an American major had stopped his jeep. Reuters, fifty-eight years old, had worked all his adult life as a cashier at one of the coal mines. His salary had been too small to support a wife but sufficient for him as a bachelor to cultivate middle class appurtenances, such as a wing collar and a frock coat, without which he never appeared in public, not even on that morning in the wake of battle. While the major, taking him for a more distinguished citizen than he was, questioned, him about candidates for appointment as Buergermeister, a miner happened along and told the major that Reuters himself would make a good mayor. The major continued up the street and questioned a few other people who agreed that Reuters was a decent enough fellow; the next day a soldier delivered a document to Reuters' door appointing him mayor of Wuerselen. The appointment was only the second political experience of his life, but there had been another and it was to be his undoing. One day in 193 7 he had received a notice to pay the Nazi party initiation fee and begin paying his monthly dues. Afraid of losing his job, he had paid and been a party member ever since, without attending any meetings or benefiting from his membership, as his economic circumstances amply attested. His term in office under the occupation lasted eighteen days. On being dismissed he said sadly that he had hoped "to dedicate the last days of my life to the American Herren." His successor, Herr Jansen, a bookkeeper in the Singer sewing machine factory in Wuerselen, was not a Nazi. He had not joined for two reasons: he had not been asked and his boss had not joined. He had no discernible political convictions and did not want to be mayor. The military government officers wondered who was the better man.13
In Stolberg, another mining town, the 3d Armored Division uncovered a bona fide Nazi Buergermeister, Dr. Ragh, who had been in office since 1935. Under the Weimar Republic, he had been a leading member of one of the middle class parties, the Deutsche Volkspartei. After the other parties were abolished in the spring of 1933, he had joined the Nazis. He had secured the appointment in Stolberg through the influence of Gauleiter Josef Grohe of Cologne, who Ragh said had chosen him not because he was an active Nazi but because he had come to respect him while they were political opponents in Cologne. Under Ragh, the government of Stolberg had been markedly less Nazi than those of the surrounding towns, reportedly to the
annoyance of the local party leaders. People questioned about him said he had done his job well and had made it clear that his party membership was a formality, necessary for being in office. While conceding that he was the kind of man who would probably win in a free election, military government dismissed him. His successor, Dr. Deutzmann, was just the opposite type. His ability as an administrator was unproven, but he was not a Nazi. He had supported the republic in the 1920s and had not switched after Hitler came to power. He had been a primary school principal slated for promotion. When the Nazis came in, he was demoted to the rank of ordinary teacher. In appointing him to replace Ragh, military government had deliberately chosen political character over administrative efficiency, no doubt both out of moral conviction and out of knowledge that a Buergermeister with Ragh's past service under the occupation would make headlines in the press from London to San Francisco. The local clergy and reportedly the people seemed to support the sacrifice of efficiency for character. For military government the Ragh case, nevertheless, raised qualms about determining who were "active Nazis or ardent sympathizers." 14
For the detachments, the chance to get some experience with authentic Germans was exhilarating in itself. In October, Detachment E1H2, slated for Cologne when the front got that far, moved into Alsdorf, another mining town north of Aachen. Alsdorf, with a usual population of 12,000, less than half of whom were in evidence when E1H2 took over, was no Cologne but a challenge nevertheless, since the town was at the front itself and since the detachment had a special job to do. The two local coal mines, named Anna I and Anna II, were in danger of flooding, and the detachment had to extract enough coal from them to generate power to keep the pumps running. To accomplish this task, the detachment had to have a bulkhead built to seal off one shaft that ran behind the German line.
Being among the first in Germany was something to write about and one of the detachment officers exulted:
It's just like the book, putting up the proclamations, taking over the best place in town, and calling in the Buergermeister to lay down Uncle Ike's rules of the game. The Buergermeister is just like the book too-a middle-aged, efficient public servant. I don't know if he's prompted by fear or gratitude at being freed of the Nazi yoke, but he's been most cooperative, and has gone out of his way to make us comfortable. Our offices are set up in a neat 4-room apartment, and after swapping desks for beds and maps and signs for knickknacks we're the darndest combination of comfort and order you ever saw. We've even hired a cook-charwoman who builds the fire, cleans, and then serves our noon meal in the vacant apartment above. Today we found linen, china, silver, and even flowers on the table. She had borrowed them from the Buergermeister. After three days of having people clicking their heels at me and calling me "Herr My-yor" I'm beginning to feel like God Inc.15
Working practically at the front added something that military government personnel did not expect to experience often. E1H2's billets were located forward of the nearest regimental command post. Day and night the town shook from the blasts of both US and German artillery, and the detachment members acquired a soldierly
skill at distinguishing by sound between mortars and antitank guns and between .50- and .30-caliber machine guns. Nobody was shooting at them specifically, but the front did not move for nearly a month, and the Germans occasionally dropped a few rounds on the town. On the morning of 17 November, Capt. Arthur K. Olsen was killed and Tech. 5 John H. Bergmann wounded by a shell that hit in the street outside the detachment headquarters.16
After the nonfraternization order appeared, 12th Army Group wanted to know what the troops thought about the Germans. It gave the job of finding out to Maj. Arthur Goodfriend, editor in chief of Stars and Stripes, who was going through the replacement system incognito as an enlisted man anyway looking for story material. Opinion on the Germans, Goodfriend concluded, could be compressed into a few typical G.I. vignettes:
These Germans aren't bad people. We get along with them O.K. All you've got
to do is treat them good and you have no trouble.
These people aren't real Germans-they're Catholic. This part of Germany is all Catholic. They're good people and don't have any of this Nazi feeling toward us.
Hell, these people are cleaner and damned sight friendlier than the Frogs. They're our kind of people.
One military government officer interviewed by Goodfriend estimated thirty days as the interval before the onset of complete fraternization. Goodfriend doubted it would take that long. The temptation, he said, was great; the opportunity was also great; and the American soldier was "by nature kindly and generous in his treatment of other peoples, friend and foe alike." Nonfraternization, Goodfriend was convinced, established a standard difficult to define and pursue that was "beset every inch of the way by the attractiveness of many Germans, especially women and children, which tends to weaken the strongest determination to be aloof ." Furthermore, the officers were not setting an example, he observed. They were subject to the same temptation as the enlisted men and shared their confusion and conflicts.17
Apparently as a by-product of Goodfriend's tour in the enlisted ranks, military government in Germany received its first blast of press criticism. Aside from one or two allusions in London papers to Nazis retained in office and pictures showing alleged fraternization, the civilian press had so far not taken much interest, critical or otherwise, in the occupation. The big news was at the front. But, on 20 October, Stars and Stripes ran a three-column article under the headline "Don't Get Chummy With Jerry." The gist was in the opening paragraphs:
Here's what's going on around Aachen:
1) German civilians are giving Yanks the V-sign, the glad hand, free beer,
big smiles, plenty of talk about not being Nazis at heart, and hurray for
2) Some G.I.s and plenty of officers are returning the smiles, flirting with the Frauleins, drinking the beer, and starting to .think what nice folks the Germans really are.
3) German civilians are being removed from Aachen and driven two miles in U.S. Army trucks to Luetzow Barracks, in Brand, a suburb of Aachen. To move them out is a matter of strict military necessity, but these Nazis are being quartered in the best build-
AACHEN EVACUEES ARRIVING AT BRAND
ings outside Aachen. They are being brought there in Army vehicles. There are canvas covers over them (the vehicles. They have already received 20 tons of Army food." 18
Whether the first two paragraphs would do more to arouse indignation or to stimulate envy among the troops not yet in Germany was no concern of military government. The third paragraph, however, implied that the Germans were getting soft treatment from military government at the expense of the US soldiers. Aachen was then encircled; and as the troops pushed into the heavily damaged city, First Army G-5 had undertaken to evacuate the civilians found in cellars and bomb shelters to the barracks in the suburb Brand to get them out of the way. Fortunately, Col. Gustav C. Dittmar, executive officer of First Army G-5, witnessed the evacuation, and he was able to assure the higher headquarters that all of the civilians who were able-men, women, and children-walked the two miles to Brand; only the aged and sick were moved in trucks; and the trucks had canvas tops because the weather was rainy and they were also being used to haul
supplies. The food for the civilians, he reported, came not from Army stocks but was either requisitioned locally or taken from captured German depots.19
As instruments for shaping relations between the population and the occupation forces, military government courts were regarded as most important. They were expected, on the one hand, to enforce sternly the authority claimed in the proclamation and ordinances and, on the other, to point up for the Germans the difference between nazism and democracy by giving fair and impartial trials to all accused. Modeled after Army courts martial, the military government courts convened on three levels summary (one officer) , intermediate (one or more officers), and general (not less than three officers). Summary courts could impose up to one year in prison and fines in marks up to $1,000; intermediate courts, ten years in prison and fines to $10,000; and general courts, the death penalty and unlimited fines.
The first summary court in Germany opened in Kornelimuenster late in September. The judge, an Army captain, presided behind a kitchen table on the ground floor of the town inn. In the first case, military police accused four women of returning, in defiance of notices posted throughout the town, to homes in a restricted military area from which they had been evacuated four days earlier. The charges, read in German and English, were explained to the accused by a former court interpreter from Aachen. The German lawyer who represented the women pleaded that they had returned to their homes to get more clothing. The hearing lasted fifteen minutes. Each of the women was fined 2,000 marks (reduced to 200 on review) and given thirty days to pay or six months in jail.20
In October, also in Kornelimuenster, the first intermediate court tried a woman, Maria Jensen, for concealing records of the NS Frauenschaft (the Nazi women's organization) . She was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.21 In early November, First Army G-5 held the first general court at the MASTER Military Government Center in Verviers to give the detachments training there a chance to observe. The court tried two men from Stolberg charged with harboring German troops. The defense argued that the area was not occupied, only patrolled, at the time the German soldiers were found, and that the soldiers were deserters being sheltered in response to Allied radio appeals. The two men were acquitted.22
During September and October, summary and intermediate courts tried twenty-three cases involving twenty-nine persons. Twenty-five of the accused were convicted. More than half of the offenses were minor circulation and curfew violations. The Germans were living up to their reputation for orderliness.
Col. Gerhard Wilck, the last German commander in Aachen, surrendered the city at noon on 21 October, but shells from behind the German line not much more than a mile away continued to fall for days afterward. The garrison had been completely encircled for five days and had been under ground and air attack for more than
AACHEN AFTER THE BATTLE
a month. The city, which had already been heavily bombed half a dozen times earlier in the war, was 85 percent destroyed. Of the 160,000 inhabitants, First Army had found and removed 5,000 to Brand and Homburg. A few thousand more turned up in the ruins after the surrender and in surrounding communities, eventually raising the total to 14,000. Some of the rest, no doubt, were dead and buried under the rubble; most had either followed the evacuation orders or dispersed into the countryside to areas not yet captured.
The Aachen detachment, F1G2, moved in on the day after the surrender. Its thirty-five officers and forty-eight enlisted men had by then been running the Brand refugee camp for a week and a half and had begun screening men for municipal posts-without much luck, since almost all the qualified candidates also had relatives on the German side and feared reprisals against them. After some searching for buildings in usable condition, the detachment set itself up in a former Gestapo headquarters and a courthouse. The city was virtually empty. The SS had evacuated the fire and police departments, including the fire engines, and the municipal records had been removed. Stores and Wehrmacht food
dumps were unguarded and being rifled by the troops and the few Germans left in the city.23
To restore order, VII Corps assigned the 690th Field Artillery Battalion as military government security police. In their own areas the divisions formed roving squads mounted on 3/4 -ton weapons carriers. At the military government center in Verviers, First Army G-5 began an experiment in training captured German policemen for work under the occupation. After evacuating them, the Germans had put many of the Aachen police at the front, and some had been captured. As prisoners of war they could not be used, but since they had been captured in police, not Wehrmacht, uniforms, First Army decided that they were not actually prisoners of war. Starting with two dozen of these policemen, First Army had nearly a hundred in training by the end of October. The experiment was a qualified success. Only ten of the recruits turned out to be professional policemen; the rest had come to the police force late in the war from nonessential occupations; and the ten professionals all had been Nazi party members. However, they were better than nothing. First Army kept the professionals as instructors and put the others on duty after they had some training.24
F1G2 was a regional detachment that expected to assume supervision of all detachments in the Aachen Regierungsbezirk; but the whole Regierungsbezirk was not occupied yet, and the control that did exist was in the hands of the G-5's of the tactical units. Moreover, the division and regimental boundaries shifted frequently, at times almost every day, and each new command seemed to have its own concept of how military government ought to be conducted. Nevertheless, after F 1 G2 settled in Aachen, military government officials in the area occupied so far, which would not be greatly increased before the end of the coming winter, began to take the measure of the job that lay ahead. Sooner or later the front would move on, but military government would stay. For this one corner of Germany, the war seemed to be over and the permanent occupation beginning.
In one respect this prospect was awesome. Aachen lay on the western fringe of the Ruhr industrial complex, and even in ruins it was a highly sophisticated area. The Public Relations Branch, G-5, First Army, gave the following description:
Germany is different from France. France was mostly small towns that received water from wells. Except for Paris, power was supplied by small, widely separated stations. The section of Germany now before us is Pittsburg, Youngstown, Detroit, and Toledo rolled into one. The telephone system is automatic and probably better than at home, having a complete underground cable system where long distance calls can be dialed to almost every city in the country. The large industrial cities, like Aachen, are served by tremendous power and gas systems.25
Under the rubble, the utility systems were still almost intact. The Germans apparently had not had the heart to destroy them. But if the systems had been more primitive, they might have been more useful. The
men who could have repaired and run them were gone.
Winter was coming, and life in Aachen was not going to be easy. The most optimistic prediction First Army G-5 would venture was that the area might just be able to feed itself through the winter from local stocks and from what could be gathered in the countryside provided "no more people return." 26 Privately the military government officers worried that the area might be picked clean before the winter came. The detachments reported persistent looting by the troops. Each new unit passing through cut a swath, taking along "radios, food, bicycles, crucifixes, doors, cooking utensils, and cattle." When questioned, the soldiers expressed the belief that having fought for the property, they were entitled to it, particularly since the Germans had acquired so much wrongfully.27 Paradoxically, the troops also seemed to be the best guarantee that the German civilians would survive. Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, commanding VII Corps, declared that the Germans would have to be fed one way or another because the American soldier would not permit women and children to starve while he was well fed.28
SHAEF policy was to turn the problems of their existence over to the Germans themselves. After moving into Aachen, FIG2 created a new functional subdivision, the Special Branch of Public Safety, to screen the political backgrounds of candidates for municipal offices. The Special Branch was going to become a permanent and pervasive fixture in the occupation, as was also its chief weapon against nazism, the Fragebogen. A deceptively simple-looking questionnaire, the Fragebogen required the respondent to list all his memberships in National Socialist and military organizations and to supply a variety of other information concerning his salary, associations, and employment back to the pre-Hitler period. With the information in the Fragebogen military government expected not only to be able to detect overt Nazis but also sympathizers, militarists, arid individuals who had benefited materially from the Nazi regime. The Special Branch in Aachen opened with no public records with which to verify the information in the Fragebogen and only one agent-investigator from the Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) ; consequently, the branch resorted-as most Special Branches did later-to hiring Germans to check on Germans.
On 30 October, F1G2 installed Franz Oppenhoff as Oberbuergermeister (chief mayor) of Aachen. His was the most important appointment yet made in Germany and one that was certain to attract attention on both sides of the front. Military government was concerned over press and political reactions in the United States and England; Oppenhoff was concerned for the safety of his relatives in unoccupied Germany and for his own life. Earlier in the month the SS newspaper, Das Schwarze Korps, had written that there would be no German administration under the occupation because any official who collaborated with the enemy could count on being dead within a month.29
Oppenhoff was a native of Aachen and a prominent Catholic layman. He was an
expert on Nazi law, had been legal representative for the Bishop of Aachen, and had defended some cases for Jewish firms. Knowing that the Gestapo was interested in him, he had taken refuge in Eupen, across the border in Belgium, in the first week of September, taking his wife and three daughters with him. When he returned to be sworn in as mayor in Aachen, he was alone.30
On the day F1G2 moved in, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) Branch of First Army G-5 began a survey. With a history dating to Charlemagne and a special position as the coronation city of medieval German kings and emperors, Aachen had been known particularly for its architectural treasures. Of these only four-the cathedral, the Ponttor (the fourteenth-century city gate) , the Frankenberg Castle, and the Haus Heusch (an old patrician dwelling) -could be described as "to a degree spared." The most important was the cathedral, which housed the coronation chair, the so-called throne of Charlemagne. The cathedral was in rather surprisingly good condition after what it had been through : five fires and a direct hit by a heavy bomb, which, had it not been a dud, would surely have demolished the whole structure. A six-man fire-fighting force had stayed with the building through the bombings and the siege ; when the Americans arrived, they were still there, on guard against fires that might be started by German shells falling in the city. The archives, library, and movable treasures had been taken out early in the war, and the heavy coronation chair was intact inside a masonry shield, the floor beneath it reinforced against the bombing by temporary brick arches and shoring.31
The most sensational "find" of treasure was not in Aachen-there practically everything of value had been removed several years before-but at Rimburg Castle in the northern outskirts. Lt. George F. Stout, MFA&A, First Army, and Lt. James B. Larwood, MFA&A Officer, Detachment E1H2, made an inventory in the castle in the third week of October. By then the war had passed through the old place with a vengeance. The SS had taken away the owner, Siegfried von Brauchitsch, a cousin of the former commander in chief of the German Army, after the 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler. Subsequently the Germans had used the moated structure as a field hospital and to billet troops and had constructed a pill box in one of the buildings on the grounds. During the fighting for Aachen, German infantry had holed up behind the stone and brick walls for a short but bitter exchange with troops of XIX Corps coming across the Wurm River out of Holland. When Stout and Larwood arrived they found every window broken and the masonry holed by artillery and bazooka shells. Inside, the furniture, paintings, and art objects were in fairly good condition considering what had been going on around them. The two biggest discoveries were a diamond and platinum tiara and a collection of ancient coins, which apparently neither the Germans nor the Americans had previously suspected were there.32
Monschau in peacetime had been a quiet border town tucked into the valley of the Roer River and framed on the east and west by wooded ridges. Its medieval-looking, beamed and stuccoed, three-story houses huddled over narrow streets had made it a local tourist attraction until the Organisation Todt, the German military construction agency, built the West Wall around it. As a Landkreis capital it had the appurtenances of a moderately elevated status, a jail, a courthouse, a Kreissparkasse (county bank) , two hotels, and the office of the Landrat, the chief administrative officer of the Kreis. When the Americans came in the third week of September they were vastly less interested in viewing the scenery than in cracking the West Wall and breaking out into the open country lying northeast of Monschau between the Roer River and the southern edge of the Huertgen Forest. The 9th Division took the ridgeline on the west and pushed its outpost line into the valley and out to the eastern edge of the town, but the Germans held on to the heights on the east. In the succeeding months while the Americans and Germans shelled each other from the ridges and the Germans sporadically dropped rounds into the town in the valley, Monschau added to its other modest attainments a place in the history of the occupation.
When Detachment I4G2 was given Monschau as its pinpoint assignment, no one suspected that such a thoroughly average I detachment of two officers, a warrant officer, and six enlisted men would have anything but a routine career in a backwater Landkreis.33 Goetcheus, the commander, as a captain, held the average rank for detachment commanders.
While waiting to move into Monschau, 14G2 established itself for several days in Roetgen, six miles to the north, which was by three or four hundred inhabitants actually the largest community in the Landkreis. Roetgen provided an unvarnished introduction to the small towns of western Germany. It had a flour mill and a police department consisting of one man, age sixty, who made his rounds on a bicycle and presided over a jail with one cell and a toilet. It also had a civil defense organization and a volunteer fire department; each house had a stirrup pump and a box of sand, but there had not been any fires in recent years as Roetgen had not been on the bombing schedule. The MFA&A function reached its fullest possible scope in Roetgen with the posting of off-limits signs on a hunting lodge outside town, which contained some paintings of uncertain value. Roetgen was, as a detachment stationed there later reported, "a typical rural village in which the residents obey the rules-no brothels, no reports of a black market, no intoxicating liquors sold, and all military routes free of civilian traffic." 34
In Monschau, 14G2 opened its headquarters in the movie theater building. Herr Scheibler, the acting Landrat, already broken in, reported for his instructions every morning at ten. On 29 September the registration of civilians started, and the US flag was raised at the headquarters, the detachment believed for the first time in Germany. A day earlier the electricity had been turned on again. Monschau received its electricity from a small water
BUILDING A BRIDGE IN MONSCHAU. Captain Goetcheus second from the left.
power plant on the Roer River. The 9th Division's outpost line looking into enemy territory was four blocks from detachment headquarters, and artillery shells going both ways rumbled and whistled overhead.
In its subsequent daily reports the detachment interwove the drama and triviality of the occupation:
1 Oct : The Buergermeister of Muetzenich reported enemy patrols contacting
civilians for food and threatening the lives of him and his family.
6 Oct : All civilians ordered evacuated from Kalterherberg to Malmedy within the next two days. No transport being provided by tactical units, and the movement Involves 1,100 persons. The people at Kalterherberg knew about the evacuation 5 hours before the tactical units told the MG detachment. Enlisted men escorted a civilian truck to Roetgen to get 4,000 lbs. of rye there to be ground into flour.
7 Oct : Ten enemy soldiers surrendered at detachment headquarters. Among them was a soldier with relatives in Monschau. Before being taken to the PW enclosure he was allowed to visit his mother, sister, and brother. Photos taken.
8 Oct : Buergermeister of Muetzenich reports US soldiers broke into his office in the schoolhouse and stole 12 cameras, 7 pair binoculars, 15 sabers, all of which he had been retaining by order of a tactical unit now gone. Wanton destruction of gardens also re-
ported. This serious because the Germans depend on them for food.
Provisional MG police detachment has moved to Kalterherberg to protect the evacuated village from looting and plundering.
9 Oct : Capt. Goetcheus requested arrangements for Protestant church services for civilians and US soldiers.
10 Oct : Capt. Goetcheus held a summary court to try four civilians for violation of circulation. Two were convicted and fined. Two were dismissed on technicalities of borders and insufficient evidence.
11 Oct : Capt. Goetcheus went to Kalterherberg to confer with the C.O. of the MG police detachment. While there noticed two sides of beef hanging in a schoolyard CP of the local tactical unit. Also a local farmer reported loss of a heifer. Investigation requested.
12 Oct : Evacuation of the part of Monschau outside the tactical outposts but inside the city limits was ordered on recommendation of the tactical troops owing to possible subversive activity by small, roving enemy patrols.
Two German soldiers of a patrol were killed. Bodies taken to the local cemetery and Buergermeister ordered to have them buried.
13 Oct : Buergermeister of Muetzenich reports US troops using public bathing facilities in local schoolhouse using up the available water supply at an alarming rate.
14 Oct : [Report on the missing heifer from Det. "A: 20th Engineer Bn.] MG officer, Monschau, said he saw a cow hanging in the vicinity of VANITY [28th Division Rear Headquarters. Capt. Welch investigated, but cow had been butchered, so he could not identify it. Lieutenant at the headquarters knew nothing about the cow. First sgt. knew about the cow but did not know how it got there-except that it had been brought in by some men who found it wounded from artillery fire. Lt. Anderson of this detachment observed a live cow standing in the back of a 2 1/2, ton truck on 12 Oct.
16 Oct: Woman prisoner received from Aachen to be confined in local jail.
18 Oct : Three boys, 13, 14, and 15 years old, tried for attempted theft of US property consisting of chocolate bars and cigarettes. One convicted. Two acquitted. Woman from Zweifall taken into prison for six months for possession of firearms.
19 Oct : During the night all windows on one side of the MG building were shattered when an enemy shell burst on the roof of a building 50 feet away. Having trouble with CIC. Do not believe security threatened so have concentrated on assuring food, proper administration, and property protection on the assumption these will prevent unrest. Have done these at the expense of looking into past activities of present civil servants.
21 Oct : First Protestant services held. Many soldiers attended. Arrangements made to obtain 1,500 kilos of soap and 500 kilos of salt from Stolberg.
22 Oct : During the night another artillery shell struck the same building struck three days ago.
28 Oct : During the night an enemy patrol demolished the interior of the schoolhouse being used as the Buergermeister's office in Muetzenich.
German policemen in Muetzenich reported four US soldiers in a jeep climbed through a window and stole 2,150 RM [Reichsmarks), 3 gold bracelets, 2 gold wristwatches, a necklace, and a ring. People were at the time attending church.35
1 Nov : Went to Stolberg to buy soap. Two civilian trucks with military
2 Nov : One enlisted man escorted civilian truck to Stolberg for salt. On return dropped some salt at Roetgen and picked up shoes for Monschau.
3 Nov: Another trip for salt and soap to Stolberg.
Capt. Goetcheus went to Roetgen to make arrangements for shoes from supply at Roetgen.
Submitted requisitions for food. 6,500 civilians in the Landkreis now. Requisitioned food for two months. No sugar or salt has been available for two months. Salt is needed for slaughtering cattle. Local vegetables normally not enough for the population, and this
CIC CHECK IN MONSCHAU
year the crops are rotting in the fields because the people have not been
allowed to go out to get them. No hay or other fodder for the cattle.
7 Nov : Civilian truck and enlisted escort went to Stolberg with a load of beef. Returned with soap for Roetgen and from Roetgen brought back 10 sacks of meal to be used as cattle feed.
8 Nov : First snow. Seventeen artillery shells fell on Monschau during the night.36
Snow fell again on the 11th and continued falling for the next three days. What was left of the summer's crops, potatoes especially, was buried and frozen. In normal times Kreis Monschau was no more than 20 percent self-sufficient in grain and potatoes and imported 200,000 tons. Now not even the potatoes in the fields, which would not have been enough to last the winter, could be dug. Roetgen had enough grain to make up the bread ration for nine more weeks, provided the mill could be kept running. F1G2 in Aachen undertook to administer a barter system for the distribution of food between the occupied communities, but the most that such an
arrangement could do in the long run was equalize the shortages.37
One deficiency the Germans were not likely to suffer during the coming months was in supervision. Landkreis Monschau had two detachments permanently assigned and others coming and going on training assignments. (The whole occupied area, which had been slated to have four detachments at most, had twenty-one detachments deployed on 1 November.) It was good training, and the detachments of themselves did the Germans no visible harm. Monschau, because of the peculiarity of its position, also attracted visitors from higher staff's, war correspondents, and waves of CIC teams. These teams seemed to regard Monschau as a bottomless pit of subversion, each refusing to accept the judgments of its predecessors and usually locking up some Germans who had previously been screened and passed. On one day, a CIC team carried off as suspected prisoners of war six men, including the town's only dentist and the man who operated the power plant. Goetcheus retrieved both-the dentist on the condition that he be kept locked in the town jail during curfew hours.38
In the second week of December, CIC and G-2, First Army, performed a full-scale security check in Monschau to discover and arrest unregistered persons and to discourage would-be spies. Fifty-four three-man teams descended on the town before dawn on the morning of the 9th. At every house, one member of a team stood guard outside, one gathered all the residents in one room and checked their registration, and the third secured all the keys to locked doors and drawers and searched the building from top to bottom. Everybody checked was found to be registered. The contraband picked up amounted to a few cameras and binoculars, some pieces of German military uniforms, and some US rations. No one was arrested.39
Shells continued to fall in Monschau, more frequently in the latter half of November : twelve on the 20th, nine the next day, and nine the day after. One round hit between the military government headquarters and the building next door causing in the former a short circuit in the electrical wiring and a fire. The civilian volunteer fire department put the fire out. At first the casualties were few and all civilians, who were taken to the hospital in Eupen in Army ambulances. Goetcheus thought the enemy was trying to break the civilians' morale because the shells came mostly in the early morning when the people were either on the way to or at Mass. On the 25th, three hit the Catholic church during the service, but no one was injured. The shellfire kept the detachment busy finding lodging for civilians and billets for troops driven out of damaged buildings. In the early afternoon on the 29th, three shells hit one of the hotels causing casualties among the troops quartered there, and that evening another half-dozen shells hit a schoolhouse wounding several soldiers seriously.40
Battle of the Bulge
Winter came early to western Germany in 1944. After the heavy snow in the mid-
dle of November, rain alternated with sleet, snow, and cold. Clouds brushed the tops of the evergreen forest and sent swirls of mist and fog down to the ground beneath. The Eifel, the German extension of the Ardennes Forest, could hide an army or two or three with all their troops, artillery, tanks, and supplies. Hitler knew this. On the morning of 16 December, three armies-half of the entire German forces in the west-attacked along a fifty-mile front in the Ardennes from Monschau south to Echternach. They were aiming for Antwerp to cut off Eisenhower's whole left flank and, Hitler hoped, force the Western Allies to come to terms. The result was the Bulge, a sixty-mile-deep wedge driven through the Ardennes almost to the Meuse River. First Army's VIII Corps took the worst of the attack east of Bastogne. V Corps was hit hard too but held on to its anchor at Monschau.
The half dozen military government detachments deployed in Germany south of Monschau all escaped. I8G2, which had been stationed at Winterscheid, fought its way out with the troops of the 14th Cavalry Group. I4H2 at Buellingen had to leave its equipment behind. But Civil Affairs Detachment D6G1 at Clervaux, Luxembourg, was overrun, and its eight officers and men were captured.41 Monschau was in the midst of the two-hour artillery barrage that preceded the attack on the morning of the 16th. I4G2 had permission to leave Monschau on the 17th but decided to stay:
. . . detachment vehicles and trailers were brought to the west side of the Roer River. All personnel were instructed to pack and hold it ready out of sight of civilians. The civilian population was ordered to stay indoors in lower and western sides of buildings. Conference of detachment officers resulted in a decision to evacuate only in the most extreme necessity for the following reasons: (1) presence in town assists the local tactical unit; (2) departure would be obvious to civilians who have already seen a group and a battalion headquarters leave and would have serious effect on morale possibility resulting in a mass evacuation that would be difficult for tactical units to control; (3) military government would be handicapped in the future in the Kreis if the unit departed leaving those who had cooperated at the mercy of the German military.42
Monschau had never been a routine assignment, and Goetcheus was not surprised a week later when a civilian brought him the following letter:
I tried to meet German troops near Monschau. As I could find
there no German troops, I surrender because I am hurt and ill and at the end of
my physical forces.
Please be kind enough to send me a doctor and an ambulance as I cannot walk.
I am lying in a bed at Mr. Bouschery's and am awaiting your help and orders.
Freiherr von der Heydte
Commanding German paratroops
in Eupen-Malmedy area.
I4G2 took von der Heydte prisoner and eventually ran its score of captured German paratroopers to twenty-five, most of them brought in by local civilians.43
For a month the battle and the winter swirled around Monschau, the latter at times appearing in the detachment reports as almost the worse:
18 Dec: Town shelled continuously for twenty-four hours. Population told to
stay close to homes. Capt. Goetcheus made several trips to investigate areas
shelled and assist in obtaining first aid by tactical unit and removal of
injured civilians. Two civilians dead.
19 DEC: Population of Monschau remaining calm and cooperative. Three-fourths of population of Muetzenich evacuated themselves on 18 and 19 DEC across the Belgian border toward Eupen. Muetzenich had been under heavy artillery fire for three days. The people were led by the acting Buergermeister and police.
21 DEC: Pf c. traveled to Brand to obtain supplies six days overdue and found Company G headquarters had moved to Holland. C.O., G Company, stated supplies and mail would be sent 22 Dec.
Detachment is grateful to VISUAL (99th Division. As other tactical units evacuated on the 16th and 17th and bridges were prepared for demolition the population became apprehensive. The outward attitude of officers and men of VISUAL was helpful in restoring confidence in US troops being able to defend the town.
24 DEC: Five hundred head cattle and horses face starvation because of no fodder. Oats has been used for humans. Some has been sent to try to save the horses which will be needed in the spring. Restrictions in travel make it impossible to get fodder. Tactical units say present situation renders any relaxation impossible.
Capt. Goetcheus asked permission for people to go out and feed cattle. No passes to be issued under any circumstances.
26 DEC: Col. Gunn, G-5, 1st Army, and Lt. Col. Pharr, G-5, V Corps . . . went
to I4G2 and talked to Capt. Goetcheus about evacuating Monschau, Kalterherberg,
and Muetzenich. At end recommended no evacuation be made.
29 DEC: Supply of fat for baking bread exhausted. German artillery shells continue to fall.
30 DEC: Men from the security guard relieved cattle feeding situation by hauling seven loads of hay to Reichenstein and Monschau.
3 Jan: Large amounts of organizational equipment, ammunition, and jerricans were left behind by units that evacuated on 16 Dec. Private property, including stoves, typewriters, and furniture were taken in lieu of issue US Government property and equipment when troops departed.
8 Jan : Heavy snow for past 36 hours. Civilian trucks that have been driven by security guards to haul food for civilians cannot operate. Request two 6 X 6 2 1/2 ton trucks. Twelve-year-old girl killed by shell. Some civilians killed almost every day.
11 Jan: German Civilian Ration Report, Period 70: Daily allowances-normal not to exceed 1,400 calories, actual 977 calories. Electric supply cut in half. Flow of Roer River has decreased so there is not enough water to turn the generators fast enough to get necessary voltage.
13 Jan: Two US 6 X 6's travelled to Aachen and Stolberg to get oats and rye flour for the Landkreis. Two head of slaughtered beef taken to Stolberg in trade for rye flour.
19 Jan: Capt. Goetcheus went to Aachen to arrange nine tons soap-scabies increasing. Almost a blizzard. Military government trucks could not move. Monschau shelled. All electric service stopped-lack of water.44
The German Ardennes offensive was the severest test of civil affairs-military government since D-day. The detachments had thought they were about at the stage where they could relinquish direct control and confine themselves to supervision of German agencies. The civilians had seemed convinced that for them the war was over, and the fear of Nazi reprisals against those who collaborated with the occupation had abated. The German offensive struck hard at both those impressions. The civilians suddenly realized that far from being out of the war, they were back in the thick of it. Seeing the roads filled day and night with convoys of troops and supplies going
COLLECTING BEDSHEETS DURING BATTLE OF THE BULGE
in all directions and not knowing what was happening, they were gripped with fear that the Nazis might return and take vengeance on them. Military government detachments, often not much better informed than the civilians, had to supply courage and stamina to thousands of frightened people, suppress hysteria where it threatened to break out, control refugees, keep the roads open for military traffic, and in some places, provide security against German paratroops and partisans.
As they did at Monschau, the German civilians in the occupied area, while freely admitting that they were inwardly terror stricken, remained outwardly calm and orderly. There were no reports of civilian acts against the occupation forces. The majority of defendants in military government courts were charged with minor circulation and curfew violations. Everywhere, including Monschau, bank deposits increased.45 The fear did not degenerate into panic. The police stayed at their posts, including those trained at Verviers, some of whom had been brought into Aachen a week before the attack, where, for secur-
ity reasons, they were lodged in the jail. The city officials in Aachen, plainly the most prominent candidates for reprisals, declared their willingness to continue at work, even though they knew they might be risking their lives. To accept Germans as allies would have been awkward, but 12th Army Group did instruct the detachments confidentially to take along the Germans who had collaborated with the occupation if evacuation was necessary.46
Military government learned some lessons that, had they been heeded, could have made the whole occupation a less unhappy experience. A detachment in Merkstein ordered all radio sets turned in for security reasons. It got 400 sets-and a flood of wild speculation. In Herzogenrath, when bicycles were ordered turned in, miners stopped going to work and doctors and nurses could not make their rounds; rumors of various sorts of impending requisitions sprang up as the news spread. On the other hand, when camouflage snowsuits failed to arrive for the troops and the tactical units sent soldiers from door to door collecting bed sheets, one corps collected 60,000 in a few days. The soldiers explained what they would be used for, and most civilians co-operated without grumbling. 47
The battle of the Bulge put a period to a phase in the occupation. Dreams of an early victory evaporated, and the Aachen experience of the fall of 1944 slipped out of mind. The victory would come, as would the occupation, but on harder terms. Hitler had bought a four months' lease on life, and the German people would pay.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Return to the Table of Contents
Return to CMH Online