A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

History: Matawan Corporal Bears Witness to the Elbe (May 1945)

Corporal William Andrews, of Lower Main Street in Matawan, was serving with C Company, 405th Regiment, US 102nd Infantry Division when the US and Russian armies met at the Elbe River on 3 May 1945. The 20 September 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal published some of Corporal Andrews' memories of that day in Germany.

The paper recounted how Andrews witnessed Russian artillery level a nearby German town and surge towards the river. He saw thousands of German soldiers flee across the river to surrender to the Americans and avoid the approaching Russians. I especially appreciated his remark that the Germans watching the scene with him from the riverbank seemed to be relieved to be on the American side of the river, as if the Americans would protect them from the Russians. 

"At Arnesburg on the Elbe, Corporal Andrews was able from the high bank of the river to watch the Russians surge from the east and destroy a town by artillery. The sight was as if at a side show, the Americans watching along with the German inhabitants who seemed to be relieved to have the Americans on their side of the river. Thousands of German soldiers crossed the river to give up."

"A Brief History, 102nd Infantry Division - The Ozarks," compiled by Wilson R Reed, Brig Gen, US Army (retired), provides more details of that day.

"On 3 May the Russians at last appeared. To the Ozarks of 2nd Battalion 405th fell the honor of first greeting our Allies of the East. They met at Sandau a war-torn but joyful party of the 1185th Inf. Regiment, 156th Russian Division. Thousands of German soldiers, civilians and displaced persons (DPs) of every nationality fleeing the Russians, crowded the east bank of the Elbe, pleading for permission to cross. They crossed on debris, on hastily contrived rafts, on rubber tubes, in wash tubs, on planks. They crossed singly and in groups. Guilty fear of the Russians was palpable."

The general's suggestion that the Germans exhibited "guilty fear of the Russians" as they desperately fled to the Americans on the other side of the river is unconvincing. Frankly, the Russians haven't changed much in seventy years.


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