Which was the first army ever
May 6, 1945 The last battle of the Wenck Army
It must have been sometime in the 1960s. At a reception by the FDP veteran Thomas Dehler, the former FDP member of the Bundestag and former Wehrmacht soldier Hans-Dietrich Genscher approaches a man whom he sincerely thanks for saving his life and that of his former comrades. The man whom the future Federal Foreign Minister shakes hands with is the former General of the Armored Force Walther Wenck.
Most are very young guys
Up until then, Genscher and Wenck had never met personally. However, their fates in the last days of the war in 1945 are closely linked. Wenck, born in 1900 and born in Wittenberg, took over command of the newly established 12th Army of the Wehrmacht at the beginning of April 1945. The large association is created in the Fläming - Dessau - Wittenberg - Halle - Merseburg area from the last reserves, training units from various war schools and units of the Reich Labor Service (RAD) and Hitler Youth. The four newly formed infantry divisions "Scharnhorst", "Ulrich von Hutten", "Schill" and "Theodor Körner" form the core. The experienced frame staff of the new associations come from divisions that were previously dismantled on the front lines. The bulk of the crews are young weapons students, officer and non-commissioned officer candidates as well as 17- and 18-year-old RAD boys, some of whom only have two weeks of training left.
Known horrors of war
One of the soldiers of the 12th Army is the then 18-year-old Hans-Dietrich Genscher from Reideburg near Halle. Genscher may be very young, but he already knows the horrors of war. At the end of 1943, as a 16-year-old air force helper in the flak, he experienced the great bombing raid on Leipzig. After a subsequent period of service with the RAD, he volunteered for the Wehrmacht in January 1945 in order - as he later stated - to avoid being drafted into the Waffen SS. Genscher is trained as a pioneer in Wittenberg. Wenck is also extraordinarily young for the high command that Hitler gave him on April 7, 1945. At just 44 years of age, he is the youngest Army Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht. But he is by no means inexperienced.
Army for the Western Front
Wenck is to help build a new front in the west with his 12th Army. Nevertheless, even his thrown together large association cannot prevent the Americans from advancing to the Elbe and forming bridgeheads at Schönebeck and Barby on the right bank of the river on April 11th and 13th. Halle an der Saale was lost on April 17th, Leipzig on April 20th. On the same day, Eilenburg falls on the Mulde, 90 percent of which the US troops had previously destroyed through three days of artillery bombardment.
Use against the Red Army
On April 23, the direction of march changes for Wenck and his army, which was originally set up for use against the Western powers. On that day, the 12th Army was instructed to make an eastward front against the advancing Red Army. The Soviet troops had previously crossed the Oder-Neisse Line on a broad front on April 16 and fought for access to the Reich capital Berlin in the four-day battle for the Seelow Heights. The German Army Group Vistula, which is responsible for the defense along the Oder, is split into two parts. While two of their armies had to move north to Mecklenburg, the 9th Army under Infantry General Theodor Busse was pushed south into the area between Frankfurt and Cottbus. On April 24th it was enclosed by the left wing of the 1st Belarusian Front advancing on Berlin and the right wing of the 1st Ukrainian Front advancing via Cottbus to the southern area of the Reich capital. Around 80,000 German soldiers and thousands of refugees are stuck in the basin north of the Spreewald, which is now being pushed in further and further from the east.
Unrealistic attack commands
Regardless of this, Hitler still "operates" in his Berlin "Führerbunker" with armies and divisions, which at best are still fully fledged combat units according to their name. He orders an "army group" under SS-Gruppenführer and Lieutenant General of the Waffen SS, Felix Steiner, to march from the north on Berlin, which the latter fails to do. Thereupon the "Fuehrer" gave the order to the Army Group Center of General Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner, which was currently successfully advancing against invading Polish and Soviet units in Eastern matters, to march north on Berlin. But even this attack never takes place.
"Hitler's Last Hope"
General Wenck's 12th Army is now regarded as "Hitler's last hope". With the alleged words - "Wenck, I place the fate of Germany in your hands" - Hitler ordered his youngest army commander on April 25 to relieve Berlin from the south-west, which had meanwhile been enclosed. At the same time, the encircled remnants of the 9th Army are to advance from the south-east on Berlin, which of course is completely illusory. After all, Wenck's 12th Army set out in the early morning hours of April 26th from its staging area in Fläming to the northeast towards Potsdam and Berlin. It is the very last attack by the Wehrmacht in this war. Contrary to expectations, the German divisions are initially making good progress in the difficult forest area on both sides of the Reichsautobahn Munich-Berlin. The advance is by no means a walk. The then private Hans-Dietrich Genscher later remembers that he saw his first dead here. It is a comrade who has taken off his steel helmet and is shot in the head.
"Führer" thinks big again
The advance of the Wenck Army made Hitler dream of major military "operations" again. One only had to endure two to four days in Berlin until Wenck and perhaps even Busse would come and liberate the capital, he raved during a briefing in the "Führerbunker". But the rest of the 9th Army Buses, which are now squeezed into a small piece of forest east of Halbe, have long been fighting for their own survival. And Wenck's 12th Army is also making increasingly difficult progress. On April 28, her troops arrive at the Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital complex. Here, 3,000 wounded German soldiers are freed from the Red Army and handed over to the Americans through the mediation of the Red Cross.
"Tip Wenck is fixed"
One day later, the tops of the 12th Army reached Ferch am Schwielowsee. From here it is another 15 kilometers to Potsdam and 30 kilometers to the edge of the Berlin basin. But the forces are insufficient for a further advance. Instead, Wenck's worn out units are now themselves threatened by attacks from the outnumbered Soviet troops. On the night of April 30th, Hitler received a radio message from the Chief of the Wehrmacht Command Staff, Colonel General Alfred Jodl: "Point Wenck is stuck south of Schwielowsee. The 12th Army can therefore not continue the attack on Berlin." With this, Hitler's last "final victory" fantasies have also burst. On the same day he committed suicide in the "Führerbunker". In military historiography, it is still questionable whether Wenck ever intended to march on Berlin. For many of his mostly very young soldiers, the struggle for the Reich capital would have meant certain death. In any case, the then pioneer private Genscher is sure for his entire life that Wenck was concerned not to burn his army senselessly. Instead, he led her and other German soldiers to the Elbe and thus into American captivity.
Rescue for tens of thousands trapped
And in fact, it was Wenck's advance on Potsdam that enabled the garrison there to break out and subsequently be accepted by the 12th Army. The same applies to the approximately 20,000 soldiers of the 9th Army and approximately 5,000 civilians who can just make their way from the Halbe pocket to the Wenck Army. Genscher later remembers the first members of this army who met him at that time in the Treuenbrietzen area. They were officers with assault rifles, badly marked by combat, who had only narrowly escaped physical destruction and who could be seen to have seen it.
A boardwalk over the Elbe
After taking in these men, the 12th Army withdraws west to the Elbe, closely followed by Soviet troops. At Tangermünde, Wenck's army reached the river at the beginning of May, the western bank of which was already occupied by the Americans. Shortly before the end of the war on May 6, tens of thousands of German soldiers and civilians reached the west bank, which was to be saved, via a narrow wooden walkway that ran over the rubble of the blown up Elbe bridge. 18-year-old Hans-Dietrich Genscher is also among them. Even decades later, he remembers balancing across the raging Elbe while Soviet shells hit from behind.
End of war in US captivity
Shortly afterwards, in US captivity, the young man from Reideburg near Halle witnessed the total surrender of the German Wehrmacht and thus the end of the Second World War in Europe. He was released from captivity in July 1945 and returned to his homeland. In 1952 he went to the West, where, 45 years after the end of the war, he worked as Federal Foreign Minister in the reunification of his fatherland. General Wenck, who led Genscher and the majority of the other very young soldiers of the 12th Army across the Elbe into American captivity instead of in the battle to burn Berlin, did not see German reunification on October 3, 1990. He died in a car accident in Austria in 1982.
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