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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, November 11, 2018

At the War's End

At 0900 on the 19th of April 1945 the Chief of Leipzig's fire department scrambled through the rubble of his home city. To either side crouched men and soldiers of the Volkssturm and the remnants of the German armed forces, clutching at their weapons. In total the defenders consisted of just over 1000 fighting men. The core was the 107th Infantry Regiment, strengthened by Luftwaffe flak units, the usual grab bag of German remnants and some Volkssturm. There was a force of about 3,000 police, however the commander of the police forces had been desperately trying to surrender the city to prevent its destruction. He especially objected to the use of Volkssturm, describing their deployment as tantamount to murder.
For the last few days the city had been cut off, and for the last 24 hours the US Army had been assaulting the city. Through determination and fierce fighting the Americans had been held from the town's centre and its town hall.
Now the Chief of the fire department carried a dire warning to the remains of the government. He had been sent by the Americans demanding a surrender. If the defenders refused to give up in the specified time period of 20 minutes, then they would be obliterated by massed artillery, which would be followed up by a division strength assault, with attached flame throwers. Realizing it was over, that the ill-supplied exhausted men could not hold the Americans out the remains of the city government surrendered. In the next few minutes while the word of the surrender was carried to the assaulting forces, many of the officials took their own lives, some accompanied by their families.
Col Poncet
The city’s military commander, Colonel Hans von Poncet, however decided to fight on. He along with around 150 men, with enough food and supplies for several weeks, had dug themselves into the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. This was the monument to the Battle of the Nations, where in 1813 an alliance of states had stood up to the French Dictator Napoleon, and defeated him, hastening his fall from power. The battle was fought between some 650,00 men over several weeks. The Völkerschlachtdenkmal was built from thick granite slabs, and resembled nothing so much as a bunker.
The Völkerschlachtdenkmal
Initially the US tried to blast Col. Poncet and his soldiers out with 8" artillery. These shells had almost no effect on the massive granite construction, with some shells being described as 'bouncing off'. The scale of destruction open to the US forces were further limited by the presence of seventeen POW's captured earlier in a failed armoured push the day before. A long siege and bloody fighting were on the cards at this German last stand.
Then a young Captain stepped forward. His name was Hans Trefousse. Born in Frankfurt in 1921 he had moved to the US in 1936. He was serving as an integrator and translator in the US Army. He asked permission to try to negotiate the positions surrender.
At 1500 Cpt Trefousse, a German POW with a white flag and the battalion’s executive officer approached the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. Outside of the monuments gift shop they met with three German officers, including Col Poncet.

There's no chance to win. The war is lost. It's wise to give up now and save men."
"I have orders from the Fuhrer in person never to surrender." was the reply.

While the negotiations continued Col Poncet did agree to a cease fire to allow US forces to recover any wounded in the area.
After two hours the negotiating team had managed to convince Col Poncet to continue the talking inside the monument and the group moved inside.

In the early hours of the 20th Cpt Trefousse passed a message onto Col Poncet, that if he exited the monument then he would be allowed to surrender. If his men follow, one at a time, they too would be taken prisoner. Col Poncet agreed, and at 0200 exited the Völkerschlachtdenkmal.
A US soldier standing inside the Völkerschlachtdenkmal
However there was a problem, the message had been miscommunicated, and the offer had only applied to Col Poncet, not the rest of his force. If they surrendered, they were to be held temporarily inside the monument. Cpt Trefousse attempted to negotiate the change to these terms of surrender, however one man insisted on the original deal. To sweeten the deal Cpt Trefousse offered 48 hours leave to the officers should they accept. The reluctant soldier still insisted and was allowed to exit as a captive. Some fifteen officers were smuggled out of the monument for their promised leave period, and two days later all returned, apart from one who sent an apologetic note explaining the cause of his absence.

Image Credits:
warfarehistorynetwork.com and english.leipzig.de