Eye Witness To A Battle
By Terry D. Janes
This website has served to educate and entertain the public about the history of “Patton’s Troubleshooters”. Every now and then, a new tidbit of knowledge on this subject comes across my desk. Recently, a citizen of Grossenritte, Germany contacted me regarding an incident described to him by his father.
This German resident was born in 1961, long after World War Two. During the war, his father was a child, too young to be drafted into Germany’s military. On April 2, 1945 the villagers of Grossenritte got word that an attack upon their village by American forces was immenent. They sought shelter in a nearby forest. The only defenders were German Luftwaffe soldiers from an anti-aircraft "flak" battery, likely from either the 21st or 22nd Flak Division. The German soldiers placed their anti-aircraft guns in the road, lowered the barrels, and prepared to meet the American attack with anti-aircraft weapons as direct-fire artillery. From his vantage point hidden in the nearby forest, his father saw American tanks coming down the road at 4:40pm. These were Shermans from 2nd Platoon, Company “B”, 702nd Tank Battalion “Red Devils”, commanded by Lt. Harold “Slim” Rives. The German soldiers opened fire, forcing the tankers to withdraw. Calling in artillery support from the 80th Infantry Division’s guns, the tankers waited until the German flak guns were silenced. The German flak crews had destroyed their own guns to prevent them from falling into enemy hands, then raised their hands to surrender to the Americans. The 2nd Battalion, 318th Infantry Regiment at 10:50pm were attacking Grossenritte and at 11:40pm were reported in the town.
He adds; “Yesterday, I talked with my dad about this event. He could not tell me any new facts, except that the flak battery had around 12 heavy guns (88 mm and 105 mm) and some smaller quadruplet guns for closer range. The battery location was between Grossenritte and Besse. He remembers also, that the battery soldiers came in the night before the battle to the farmers where they had taken their horses. With the horses, they pulled several guns from the battery field to the road, to use it against the tanks. In WWII, this area was heavily damaged by British and American bombers. In 1943 and 1944 more than 10,000 civilians were killed after several bomber attacks of the city of Kassel. [Editor’s note: The primary target of these bombings was the Tiger tank factory.] 70% of this city was damaged or burned down. The first bombs to hit the area were in 1940. One bomb hit the center of Kassel, the other hit the small village Grifte.
German Luftwaffe Anti-Aircraft Crew
August 28, 1942: Bombers hit Kassel. Grossenritte was also damaged. 70-80 fire-bombs and 4 bombs hit the village.
October 22, 1943: Heavy bomber attack of Kassel. The town was devastated by fire-bombs, bombs and air-mines. Between Grossenritte and the neighboring village Elgershausen, bombers dropped bombs and fire-bombs, but they landed on the fields.
April 19, 1944: Bombers attacked a factory for fighter plane engines nearby. The flak batteries around that area could not stop the attack.
April 22, 1944: A German fighter plane fought several Allied fighter planes. The German plane was shot down near Besse. The pilot was dead.
September 13, 1944: A bomber was shot down by the flak batteries in Grossenritte. The bomber crashed in a forest near Besse. Three men of the crew were rescued, five were dead. Of this incident, he writes, “I asked my dad if he remembered something about the bomber which was shot down September 13, 1944. He told me, that one engine of the plane and the plane itself were damaged and it was flying very low and slowly. Residents of our village and my dad came to see what happened there, because the low flying bomber and all the flack guns were very loud. He said, that every gun from the flack batteries opened fire of this bomber. The plane lost several parts and crashed into the forest of Besse, 5 Kilometers away. The residents from the villages around the crash area ran to the wreck and rescued some of the crewmembers. My dad told me, that residents from Großenritte ran to the area where the bomber hit the ground. The wreck was laying there for some years afterward.” RAF records do not record any raids on Kassel for this date, so speculation is that this downed bomber was American.
September 22, 1944: Another attack of bombers on the city of Kassel.
October 07, 1944: Bomber attack on Altenbauna.
December 15, 1944: Henschel-Werke in Kassel-Obervellmar was bombed.
January 29, 1945: Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe was bombed.
February 02, 1945: Bombers dropped around 200 bombs in the forest near Grossenritte. (The deep holes of the bombs were filled with water over time, and are still there today.)
March 08, 1945: Altenbauna was bombed.
According to the history of the RAF, “262 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitos of No.’s 1 and 8 Groups carried out the first large raid on Kassel since October 1943; it was also the last large RAF raid on this target. 1 Mosquito lost. This target was also covered by cloud.”
March 28, 1945: Bombers were flying over Grossenritte. One bomber was hit by flak from Grossenritte.
March 30, 1945: Messages that American troops were nearby. Tank blockades were built up in Altenritte. German artillery was also built up.
First day of Easter, 1945: An Artillery duel between an American battery near the village Werkel and the Grossenritte flak unit. One Allied plane was shot down. Civilians ran into the forests for safety.
Second day of Easter, 1945: American infantry captured Grossenritte. Suddenly, artillery shells hit the village, killed and wounded residents of Grossenritte. Two American soldiers were also killed, and about 20 houses damaged. The wounded residents (women and children) came into American hospitals in the towns of Homberg/Efze and Ostheim. The shells came from the American’s own artillery. They tried to hit two German flak guns outside our village, but they hit our village and their own infantry.
April 03, 1945: Grossenritte residents buried three young German soldiers. Their "home-base" was an anti-aircraft battery near Grossenritte. One of the soldiers was found dead near the battery with terrible head injuries. The other two were captured by the Americans. Each POW was made to sit outside, on the front of jeeps. The Americans were driving to Hertingshausen. On the way to this village, they shot the two young German soldiers with machine-guns in the back, killed them and left them beside the road. Near Altenbauna, they found five dead German soldiers.
April 03, 1945: All German soldiers in Grossenritte must report to the Americans. They sent them to a camp.
A few days after the war ended, the village was plundered by foreign workers.
I think these things happened in other villages or towns as well. Our village is only an example.”
Former 702nd Tank Battalion S-2 (Intelligence) Officer, Carl Nordstrom remembered the Tiger Tank factory near Kassel. The air corps had tried many times to level the factory, in order to halt German tank production. The entire area surrounding the factory had been leveled in the carpet bombing, but the factory remained virtually unscathed and continued production right up to its capture by the Americans. Professor Nordstrom thought it remarkable that in spite of the destruction surrounding it, this one factory still stood.
Former 702nd Tank Battalion, Company “B” Tank Commander, Fred Riley remembers; ”It seems as though there was a lot of horse-drawn artillery in that area.”
Former Platoon Leader Lt. “Slim” Rives, who led the tanks which encountered the Grossenritte flak unit, remembers; “There were so many of these little towns, they are hard to remember. My best recollection of Kassel was that my platoon captured a wine cellar. We loaded our tanks with all we could carry. Later we heard that higher headquarters took it over, and inventoried forty thousand bottles of high quality French wine. We also feared the attack on Kassel because it was either the factory for the Tiger Tanks or was a big mobilizing depot for the Tigers. As the Germans were out of fuel they could not mobilize the tanks, so the attack on Kassel was pretty much a "fizzle".”
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