In May 1945, as the barbaric hordes of Bolshevism crushed the last pockets
of German resistance in central Berlin, French soldiers fought back.
They were the last surviving members of SS Charlemagne, the Waffen SS division made
up of French volunteers. They were among the final defenders of the city and of the Führerbunker.
Their extraordinary story gives a compelling insight into the Battle for Berlin and into
conflicts of loyalty faced by the French in the Second World War. The performance of these
soldiers as they confronted the Soviet onslaught was unwavering, and their fate after the
defeat was grim. Once captured, they were shot out of hand by their
French compatriots or imprisoned.
SS-Major-General Krukenberg’s account:
At about 2000 hours I returned to the Corps command post to get my instructions for our
future employment. There the chief of staff gave me the orders to engage the Nordland
next day in the central Defence Sector ‘Z’, whose commander was a
Seifert with his command post in the Air Ministry.
went to the Air Ministry, where I was received by Lieutenant-Colonel Seifert
in the presence
of his liaison officer, who constituted his whole staff! Straight away he told
me that he had
no need of my regimental commanders, or their staffs, because the effectives
of their respective
units did not amount to more than a single battalion. I retorted that more
grenadiers were rejoining
every day, that they were Scandinavian volunteers confident in
their normal superiors and that
it would be dangerous to separate them in the present
situation. Moreover, Sector ‘Z’
would become the core of the defence. The more one
deployed experienced officers the greater
would be the strength of the resistance.
Seifert refuted my argument and told me that in his sector everything
had been prepared in such
a way that we would not need any support. He showed me
a map on which were featured command
posts, machine-gun nests and other combat
positions. When I finally asked him if he would like
to have one or two of those accompanying
me to reinforce his command post, he refused in an
arrogant manner. He would not change
his mind, even when in order to overcome his prejudice,
I told him that I had only been
with Waffen-SS for a year and that during the First World War
I had served in Army
Headquarters. He dodged my question about what had already been done in
saying that everything was being organised.
I returned to my command post in the Opera most annoyed. After a short rest, I informed
the commanders of the Regiments Danmark and Norge about the orders from Corps
the attitude of Lieutenant-Colonel Seifert, asking them to use the next morning to
their units and put them into order.
It should be noted
here that, although Seifert had been appointed Defence Sector commander
of this central sector
that included the Reichs Chancellery, SS-General Wilhelm Mohnke
was responsible for the defence
of the Reichs Chancellery and regarded all SS troops
in the immediate area as subordinate to
him, a situation that only added to the general
confusion at this stage of the battle.
The night of the 26th–27th April passed without disturbance. Next morning was passed
reorganising and re-supplying the troops. Towards midday the commanders of the Norge
and Danmark reported that each of the two regiments disposed anew of an effective strength
of between 6–700 men. I gave orders that not more than a third were to be placed at the
disposition of Sector Headquarters and to continue to prepare the remainder for battle.
same time I ordered that even if Sector Headquarters did not want to speak to them,
remained responsible for their troops and that during the afternoon they
should make themselves
familiar in advance with the conditions in which their troops would
have to fight.
Towards 1900 hours, the commanders signalled that they had found no one behind
our grenadiers and that nowhere had they been able to discover the command posts or
nests that I had indicated as ready. With that I had the impression that all the
of Sector ‘Z’ existed only on paper and began to realise why my offers of
had been refused.
I decided not to defer any longer presenting
myself to the Waffen-SS liaison officer to the
Führer, SS-General Fegelein, and to go myself.
Describing to him what had happened,
I begged him to support me in my efforts to prevent the
dissipation of the only SS division
in the Berlin Defence Area. Defence Sector ‘Z’,
where it was to be engaged, would
become in time of capital importance. So far its preparations
existed only on paper! There
would be serious consequences if the regimental commanders of
the Nordland were to
be removed, having already removed their divisional commander, SS-Major-General
whom they fully trusted. It would then be easy to blame the Waffen-SS for any setback
defence of Sector ‘Z’.
I repeated all my objections to General Weidling, who entered the room at that moment,
begging him, to his obvious annoyance, to engage the only experienced formation in the
centre under the command of its own officers. In any case, he wanted to leave
Seifert only the sector immediately leading to the Chancellery.
he aquiesced in subordinating the whole of Sector ‘Z’ to SS-General Mohnke,
of the Chancellery, and in forming two sub-sectors: that on the right with its
in the Air Ministry reserved for Lieutenant-Colonel Seifert. Outside the boundary
the centre of Wilhelmstrasse the Nordland would be engaged under its own officers,
being limited on the east side by Döhnhoffplatz–Kommandantenstrasse– Alexandrinenstrasse.
Stadtmitte U-Bahn Station was nominated as the city centre command post. The Nordland
units already engaged in Seifert’s sector would stay there until relieved by others and then
return to my control. General Weidling then left and I never saw him again nor received any
further orders from him.
It was already 0100 hours
on the morning of the 27th April when I returned to the Opera.
the majority of the French volunteers of the Storm Battalion were sat, half-asleep
in the entrance
of a block of flats on Belle-Alliance-Platz. These troops were the remnants
of only three of
the companies. The 2nd Company was effectively reduced to the strength
of a section, its Company
Commander, Lieutenant Pierre Michel, having been gravely
wounded the previous evening. The 3rd
Company was down to Sergeant-Major Pierre
Rostaing with twenty-five men, all the section leaders
and many of the men having been
either killed or wounded in Neukölln. The 4th Company was
temporarily commanded by
Officer-Cadet Serge Protopopoff in the absence of Staff-Sergeant Jean
and had had one section completely wiped out the previous day.
Detached from the battalion, the 1st Company, commanded by Second-Lieutenant
Jean Labourdette, had been engaged the previous day further the west, to the north of
Airport. One of its platoons had been engaged defending the Landwehr
Canal near the Hallesche
Tor while attached to a unit commanded by the signals officer
of the 2nd Battalion, SS-Panzergrenadier
Regiment 24 Danmark, SS-Second-Lieutenant
Bachmann, facing attacks from Soviet armour, shelling
and mortar fire.
Meanwhile, the SS-Lieutenant Weber’s
had gone off in the direction of the Reichs Chancellery.
At 0500 hours the 1st Company rejoined the remains of the battalion to the relief of
Captain Henri Fenet, who now had to negotiate with Lieutenant-Colonel Seifert, who
these men to reinforce his poorly manned sector. A section was sent off to
the north, but was
almost immediately eliminated by a shell-burst,
which killed two men and badly wounded the
The battalion adjutant, SS-Lieutenant Joachim
von Wallenrodt, found accommodation
for the battalion in the Thomas Keller pub opposite the
Anhalter railway station, several
hundred metres to the northwest, where the men were able to
themselves out on the tables and benches for several hours of sleep.
Meanwhile, Captain Fenet was accompanied and supported by his liaision officer,
Officer-Cadet Alfred Douroux, for Fenet had been wounded in the foot by a machine-gun
bullet. The pain was such that they stopped at the Regiment Danmar’s first-aid post in
the cellars of the Reichsbank, where Fenet rested for several hours in a state of semi-consciousness.
At daybreak an elderly Wehrmacht officer helped him on to the Nordland’s headquarters,
which had been installed in the cellars of the Opera House since the 25th, and where
Krukenberg was holding a command conference. He told Fenet that
he was very pleased with the
work of the French battalion and that they would have the
whole of the day off before reorganising
into eight-man tank-destroying
sections in support of the armour and assault guns based on
During the morning I returned to the Chancellery once more to introduce myself to the
new sector commander, SS-General Mohnke, but met General Krebs, who told me that
the advance guard of General Wenck’s army had just reached Werder, west of Potsdam.
He knew nothing new about the state of negotiations with the West, but the Americans
in a position to cover the 90 kilometres between the
Elbe and Berlin in very little time and
restore the situation in the city.
During my visit, SS-General
Mohnke promised to give me all the support possible in my
difficult task and told me that he
would place at my disposal a company of sailors that
had flown in during the night and were
in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs garden.
Moreover, the Nordland’s SS 503rd Heavy Tank
Battalion, which still had eight tanks
and self-propelled guns, would remain under my command.
These two trumps reinforced our defensive capability.
On the 27th April the situation was calm within the formation and only a few individual
Russian soldiers tried to advance cautiously along Blücherstrasse towards the
canal at the Hallesche Tor.
Captain Henri Fenet continued
All morning the shells continued to crash down on the Opera
House, Schloss Berlin and
the surrounding area with such violence that the headquarters moved
to a less unpleasant
place as soon as there was a gap in the shelling. This was at the Schauspielhaus
and then in Stadtmitte U-Bahn Station. On the way, the medical officer said
that we were
on Französische Strasse (French Street). Two and a half centuries ago our
ancestors had installed themselves in the area we were about to defend.
Shortly afterwards von Wallenrodt collected the battalion and the general proceeded
to award Iron Crosses won the previous day in his underground command post. We were
very happy to be together again and this break of several hours had been most welcome
all. The men gathered around me bustled around, filling my pockets with sweets,
and cigarettes that they had just been given. They sang happily in the underground
but the party was incomplete, for No. 1 Company was
still missing. What the hell had happened
It was only towards the end of the afternoon
that de Lacaze, an Officer-Cadet in the
1st Company, arrived with the bulk of the effectives.
Labourdette was not among them.
He had left with several of his men for an outer position in
the U-Bahn tunnels while
giving de Lacaze orders not to worry about him but to gather up the
rest of the company
at the stipulated time should he not have returned, in which case he should
to the command post. He had not been seen since. At the last contact, he had not
at the location where he had set himself up in a primitive fashion, and it had not been
possible to trace him. We were not particularly worried for the moment, for in these battle
conditions several hours of delay were nothing extraordinary, but it was not much later
that we learned of Labourdette’s death. He had fallen in the tunnels, riddled with bullets
returning from a reconnaissance and protecting the withdrawal of his men with an
He was 22 years old and immensely proud of having been enlisted as
No. 3 in the French SS.
the 1st Company under Second-Lieutenant Labourdette was engaged in a
sector better prepared
with dug-in tanks and solid barricades. de Lacaze’s platoon was
engaged in defending one
of these, whilst Croisile’s platoon, reduced to 20 men, deployed
in the U-Bahn to counter
eventual underground probes. When they came up again,
de Lacaze’s platoon had disappeared.
During a bombardment that followed, the platoon
gathered in a small group under Officer-Cadet
Robelin. There were a few casualties.
Towards midday, the
company was taken over by a Wehrmacht major near Yorckstrasse
S-Bahn Station. T-34 tanks were
swarming about to the east. The S-Bahn bridges
(over Yorckstrasse) were blown and dropped into
the street. There they encountered a
young French civilian whose only concern was to know how
could get back to the little factory in the area where he worked!
The company took shelter under a porch while awaiting a counterattack. Robelin left with
his platoon to rejoin the Fenet Battalion, but they were never seen again. Croisile’s platoon
was down to 14 men, plus a Wehrmacht soldier, one airman and one Volkssturm man.
Only one machine gun in firing condition remained, but they had assault rifles.
At about 1400 hours a small counterattack to enable the major to evacuate his wounded
Seven tanks arrived via Yorckstrasse and the Russians came from every–where,
tackling a group so strong. Five or six disguised as civilians and pulling a cart
on and fled. An old gentlemen politely asked Labourdette to remove boxes of
in his apartment on the 5th floor. When they were opened, they were
found to contain Panzerfausts.
What a windfall! The first T-34 to approach was missed by
Croisile, but hit by the Wehrmacht
soldier. However, news was
scarce and uncertain, and couriers often failed to return.
Meanwhile the Sub-Sector Stadtmitte was occupied without incident and lookouts were
posted along the Landwehr Canal. On the wings, the Regiments Danmark and Norge had
a third of their effectives in lines in the rubble south of Hollmannstrasse. In the event of
an attack in force, they were to withdraw slowly to the principal line of resistance on the
level of Besselstrasse and Ritterstrasse, where prepared nests of
anti-tank and machine guns
would offer them the necessary support.
At their command post
level, the battalions and regiments held a third of their grenadiers
formed into shock troops
ready to move forward quickly by passages
pierced through the buildings to reject any enemy
that penetrated our lines.
A last third, held in relative
rest in Leipziger Strasse, was to stay there. This street, just
about suitable for traffic,
served as a deployment route for our tanks, which were supported
by groups of tank-hunting
detachments of French volunteers. The remainder of the latter
and the Engineer Company of the
Nordland remained in the cellars of the
Opera or the Allianz building, from where they could
easily join them.
The integral occupation of Sub-Sector Stadtmitte
failed primarily because at the beginning
Lieutenant Colonel Seifert only released those elements
that had been placed at his disposal slowly.
this, various groups of reinforcements continued to join us, particularly SS
volunteers so that
soon the whole of Europe was represented. (Among these reinforcements
was a company of naval
radar trainees that had been flown in and were armed with Italian
rifles but had received no
infantry training.) These elements remained behind
the Sector wings to prevent any surprise
attacks from neighbouring sectors.
As for artillery, this
was assembled out of sight of aerial view in the Tiergarten under the
orders of Colonel Wöhlermann,
artillery chief of the LVIth Panzer Corps, because no
plans had been made for its deployment
in the defence. I had the guns deployed behind
our Sector at the entrance of streets leading
on to the Unter den Linden, so that they could
at least check any tanks surging in from the
north, from the Reichstag or Schlossplatz
because, despite repeated enquiries, the situation
remained obscure for us.
That afternoon I went to the command
post assigned to me by General Weidling, an
abandoned U-Bahn wagon with broken windows, no electricity
or telephone, in Stadtmitte
U-Bahn station. Such was the command post of the Stadtmitte Sector
in the Berlin fortress!
The vault of the station was soon
pierced by a medium shell that caused us 15 wounded
evacuated to the first aid post organised
by the Nordland’s senior medical officer,
Colonel Dr Zimmermann, in the air raid shelter
of the Hotel Adlon on Pariser Platz.
Captain Fenet was
in the command post when this occurred:
News was received of the outside.
The Wenck Army, which was trying to reach the capital,
had reached the outskirts of Potsdam.
On the other hand, the Reds had launched their
big offensive across the Oder that we had been
expecting for weeks and had already
reached Prenzlau, which, until recently, had been the seat
of the OKH. Those of our
comrades that had remained in Neustrelitz while waiting to join us
in Berlin would now be
engaged in battle. In any case, even if the Wenck Army succeeded in
getting through to us, our comrades would not be able to rejoin us.
The day was over, and as the Division feared night infiltrations by the Reds, the battalion
was tasked with setting up sentry posts. That night two anti-tank commandos set off for
Belle-Alliance-Platz (now Mehringplatz). The first was led by von Wallenrodt, the second
Staff-Sergeant Hennecart. Hennecart was the man who would walk through a hail of shells
bullets with his hands in his pockets and, whenever cautioned, would answer: ‘I am
too old to make a corpse.’ At 38 years old he was in our eyes an old man, almost
and the men venerated him. He should have received the epaulets of a second-lieutenant
time ago, having earned them a hundred times, and should have figured
on the 20th April (Hitler’s
birthday) promotions list. But where was it?
but no one came back. The Division was still asking for reinforcements for
its sector and, if
this went on, all the battalion would soon be engaged. Douroux led me
hobbling over the rubble
and I do not know what ruined monument to Stadtmitte U-Bahn
Station, where the general briefed
me in detail on the situation. The whole battalion was
to be engaged together at Belle-Alliance-Platz
to prevent access by the Red tanks and
infantry to the Reichs Chancellery via Wilhelmstrasse
and Friedrichstrasse. I got up to go.
‘Where are you going?’ asked the general.
‘To get the rest of the battalion going.
We should be gone in ten minutes.’
‘Don’t leave here, you can’t even stand! Issue your
orders and remain at rest here in the command post.’
‘General, it is impossible for me to remain
here when all my men are in action!’
‘I find it above all impossible that you should not
my orders,’ replied the general. ‘Don’t insist!’
Time passed slowly in this wretched underground. The Reds did not forget us, for a shell
on the access staircase killing or wounding fifteen men. The battle
continued to rage all day
long and one no longer paid attention to it.
The focal point
of the Nordland’s defence was Belle-Alliance-Platz, which was defended
by a combat team
of the Danmark under SS-Second-Lieutenant Bachmann, whose sappers
attempted to demolish the
Hallesche Tor Bridge, but failed to so effectively, leaving sufficient
space for tanks to cross.
The first Soviet tank did so at 1430 hours, and was promptly
destroyed, but others followed.
That evening Combat Team Dircksen of the Danmark was driven back on Friedrichstrasse
to 200m south of Kochstrasse U-Bahn station, using the tunnel to withdraw as the Soviets
on the surface. Six Soviet tanks reached as far as Wilhlemplatz
outside the Reichs Chancellery
before they were destroyed.
The remains of the Nordland held positions with the Norge Regiment from the Spittelmark
on the left flank to Kochstrasse with the Danmark Regiment on the right. The armour
of SS-Panzer-Regiment 11 and about five Tiger IIs of SS-Panzer-Battalion 503
were deployed between
the Tiergarten, Unter den Linden and Leipziger Strasse.
Charlemagne troops had spent the night either in the Schauspielhaus cellars or
U-Bahn station, where Eric Lefèvre later described the situation:
The HQ is now roughly organised. The telephone works. Blankets and sheets separate
different offices and services of the headquarters. One works on tables and chairs
here and there, and the boxes. But the lighting is dependent upon candles.
There is an intimate,
partly unreal atmosphere. Sounds of the battle taking place on the
surface are clearly audible.
Water from broken pipes oozes down the walls and covers
the platform. During the final hours
of the night reports from the Combat Team Dircksen
and from Sector Z Headquarters say that
Soviet tanks are still crossing the canal bridge
and massing on Belle-Alliance-Platz, indicating
powerful new attacks and in depth.
General Krukenberg even expects a penetration as far as his
own command post.
A patrol commanded by SS-Lieutenant von Wallenrodt is despatched towards
to get a precise picture of the situation. Without waiting for his return, the
commander sends off two French anti-tank detachments led by SS-Lieutenant Weber
and Staff-Sergeant Lucien Hennecart. The first takes men from the
Combat School, the
second elements of the battalion’s liaison team.
dawn Friedrichstrasse was blocked at the level of Hedemannstrasse by a combat
team under SS-Lieutenant
Christensen with a nucleus of grenadiers from the Danmark
Regiment expanded by elements from
the Navy, Volkssturm and Labour Service. Obstructed
by rubble, pierced by craters and holes
in the roof of the U-Bahn tunnel, the street was
impassable to tanks, the latter forming a threat
only along Wilhelmstrasse upon which it
deployed today and on which the French anti-tank detachments
concentrated. The leading
detachment, commanded by Sergeant Eugène Vaulot, reached as
far as the canal west
of Belle-Alliance-Platz, but was obliged to pull back under fire from
automatic weapons after having seen the mass of tanks assembled on the square.
Involved here were the 28th and 29th Guards Rifle Corps of General Chuikov’s 8th
Army at Potsdammerstrasse and along the line of Wilhelmstrasse from Belle-Alliance-Platz
respectively, together with General Badanian’s 11th Tank Corps and the 50th Guards
Tank Regiment, a total of 230 tanks in all. In addition, the 1st Guards Tank Army provided
support with the 11th Guards Tank Corps, together with the 11th
Independent Guards Tank Regiment
equipped with Josef Stalin 2 tanks.
Eric Lefèvre continued:
A little later, the detachments of SS-Lieutenant Weber and Staff-Sergeant Hennecart took
up positions on Wilhelmstrasse adjacent to SS-Lieutenant Christensen’s combat team
on Hedemannstrasse. Most of the men were concealed behind the ground floor or cellar
windows, or inside the entrances to the buildings. Look-outs were deployed behind the
of rubble covering the pavements. Suddenly came the throbbing of engines, the
clanking and creaking. A lone tank rolled along Wilhlemstrasse checking the
Vaulot raised the grilled sight on his Panzerfaust and thumbed forward
the safety catch. He
calmly aimed the tube on his shoulder with the foresight on the explosive
head in line with
the lower notch on the grill. He aimed and pressed the trigger. The
detonation released a jet
of flame to the rear, fatal to anyone in line behind for three metres,
and there was a cloud
of white smoke. The projectile, stabilised by four flanges, pierced the
air at 45 metres per
second. Then came the shock of the explosion, the jet of focused gas
penetrating the armour
with a diameter of ten centimetres, thanks to the hollow charge.
A rain of metal fragments
projected within the crew space, provoking the ignition of exploding
shells and a series of
detonations that seemed to shake the heavy machine. Then came
the final explosion in a cloud
of dust and smoke that dislodged the turret, spreading
innumerable bits of debris around. The
experienced firer then took care to
take cover by crouching against the wall or throwing himself
to the ground.
For ‘Gégène’ –
the name given to him by his comrades – it was all in the day’s work, but
job nevertheless. This plumber from Pantin was of a retiring nature, at least with
his superiors. In the course of the two years that he had spent in the ranks of the
had been said of him, save as an example of discipline and application to the
service. As a
combatant, he had advanced slowly, no doubt with the encouragement of
SS-Lieutenant Weber in
the Company of Honour then in the combat school. On the 26th
February, during the fighting
at Elsenau in Pomerania, he had destroyed a heavy Josef Stalin
tank, and on the 26th April he
had added two more tanks to his score in Neukölln,
so this was his fourth.
A change in Soviet tactics then took place that was to be repeated during the fighting.
The first phase was the ‘cleansing’ of the route by 120 mm mortars, the effectiveness
of their bombs being at its maximum in a street. Then guns of the tanks, the 85 mm
of the T 34s, or the 122 mm of the Josef Stalins, and the 57 mm anti-tank guns fired their
explosive shells directly at the facades of buildings where they had located firers. Under
of this bombardment, other tanks tried to tow back the wrecks blocking the route.
to find this more successful under cover of darkness but, for the moment,
it was broad daylight.
The mounting curls of smoke and the dust suspended in the atmosphere
practically blocked out
the spring sky. Sticking to the men, it rendered less and less
discernible the brown and green
flecks on their combat uniforms in which they were nearly
all clad. A tenacious smell of burning
rubber and decomposing bodies filtered through
everywhere. The sounds of battle and the persistent
less and less perceptible to the ears over accustomed to hearing them.
the general seemed better disposed towards me and the report on the
clearly pleased him. I took advantage of this to say that I was feeling
much better, which was
true, although I was still in a bit of a stupor,
but fit enough to leave with Finck and his
Early on the morning of the 28th April, the Soviets succeeded in crossing the canal in
vicinity of the Hallesches Tor with the aid of numerous auxiliary bridges. From
then on the fighting developed building by building and in the heaps of rubble.
Casualties increased on either side. They resulted not only as the result of enemy arms,
but also by the collapsing of buildings on which the enemy increasingly concentrated
artillery. Despite this, on that day and the following the grenadiers of the Nordland
in holding their set positions against the Soviets with the exception of some
and breaches. The fighting against their accompanying tanks by self-propelled
guns, but above
all by the French anti-tank troops, played an important role in the resistance.
Thus Sergeant Eugène Vaulot, having already destroyed two enemy tanks with Panzerfausts
within 24 hours in Neukölln, went on to destroy another six Russian tanks in the same manner.
On my recommendation, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, which I
presented to him by candlelight on the morning of the 29th in my command post
in the S-Bahn
station in the presence of my staff and his French comrades.
my short address in French, I said that the personal conduct of this young volunteer
accordance with what French soldiers were renowned for
historically for their bravery on all
the world’s fields of battle.
In all, the number of
enemy tanks definitely knocked out in our sector mounted to 108,
of which at least a half was
attributable to the French volunteers. This demonstrates well
the severity of the fighting
and explains why the Soviets were unable to penetrate the front in our sector.
At the divisional command post it was decided to reinforce the forward positions.
Krukenberg decided to keep Captain Fenet with him at this command post.
The majority of the Storm Battalion’s men remained in reserve in the cellars of the Schauspielhaus,
where some of them amused them-selves by donning stage costumes. Some were
while collecting rations, for the Soviet artillery and ground-attack aircraft were
menace to all movement. Staff-Sergeant Jean Ollivier from the 4th Company
had two MG 44s installed
in an anti-aircraft role at the entrance to the shelter situated
alongside the little public
garden next to the French cathedral, and this was how
Officer-Cadet Protopopoff, a ‘White
Russian’, succeeded in bringing down one of two
aircraft flying over the Gendarmenmarkt.
Captain Fenet resumed:
We all left
together after visiting Staff-Sergeant Hennecart, who had been wounded and
just been brought
in. We found him sitting pensively in one of the carriages serving as a
first aid post. He had
been hit in the leg and knee during a bombardment and was
unable to stand upright.
Finck took me along the tunnels as far as Kochstrasse. Access to the firing position was
not at all easy. One had to pass through blocks of buildings and climb down a ladder into
yard to finally arrive at the firing line. SS-Lieutenant Weber, the young combat school
a man who needs at least one tank for breakfast every morning, took me
into a low room from
which one had an excellent view of Wilhelmstrasse . He took
me by the arm while putting a finger
to his lips and led me to the loophole. ‘Look!’
was a stationary T-34 only three metres away. Its turret bore the mortal wound of a
Short flames were emerging from the transmission and were gently licking
the carcass. ‘Isn’t
that a beauty!’ said Weber in a low voice. It surely was, and he was
the one responsible
for this fine bit of work; yet another one. He then gave me a detailed
account of the day’s
work; five or six tanks destroyed with Panzerfausts, and numerous
infantry attacks repulsed
with severe losses for the Reds. However, we were reduced
entirely to our own resources; not
a tank, gun, mortar, not a single rifle grenade. All we had
left were the Panzerfausts, assault
rifles and several MG-42 machine guns, not much.
On the other hand, the Reds in front of us
had tanks in plenty. The more we destroyed,
the more they replaced them. They still had anti-tank
guns, and a pack of 120mm mortars,
an infantryman’s worst enemy in the open. Their infantry,
which had been quite timid until
then, now appeared to be quite numerous. But what did that
matter, we ‘held the Cup’ and
our men were fighting mad.
At the battalion command post I was received by yells of joy from the runners, who hastened
to relate their latest exploits. Really, their tally was quite considerable, and there was no
stopping them. Roger and his acolytes located a big building that the Russians had occupied
in strength. They had infiltrated the cellars and set light to them, then left to cover the
exits and waited patiently. When the fire reached dangerous proportions, the Reds evacuated
precipitately without taking any precautions, only to be met by a fusillade from assault rifle
grenades that caused carnage. Those who tried to get into the street or courtyards were
cut down by the assault rifles, and those who tried to take
shelter in the rooms still intact
were tackled with hand-grenades.
They were all killed, one
after another. When it was over, they had counted about fifty
bodies scattered around the building
or in the entrance. The operation had taken
place at night in the light of the flames. ‘It
was better than the cinema,’ declared Roger.
On the morning of the 28th April, the patrols sent towards Belle-Alliance-Platz
that led by SS-Lieutenant von Wallenrodt, the battalion adjutant and German liaison
failed to return, for the whole battalion was soon engaged on Belle-Alliance-Platz
an anti-tank commando to prevent the Russians access to Wilhelmstrasse and
Friedrichstrasse. The Soviets were again checked there with heavy losses.
The main action was near Kochstrasse U-Bahn Station, where five or six tanks were destroyed
by the French during the day, who had neither armour, artillery, anti-tank guns, nor mortars,
but only several MG-42s, assault rifles and Panzerfausts to oppose
the Soviet T-34
tanks, anti-tank guns and 120mm mortars.
A building occupied
by the enemy was set on fire by the French, while others covered the
windows with assault rifles
to prevent the Russians fleeing the flames. Some fifty bodies
were counted at this place. The
fighting was ferocious, from door to door, window to window.
At daybreak a fresh attack by Russian tanks was stalled, but the enemy began a terrible
bombardment of all the buildings held by the French. The battle had
reached a pitch that was
to be maintained to the end. It was hell.
spirit was such that men took the remaining Panzerfausts
to claim ‘their’ tank.
Sergeant Roger Albert already had three to his credit.
enemy fire directed at the French increased, forcing them to withdraw about 50
metres. A new
surprise attack was repulsed. Two more tanks were destroyed
and one damaged, with the support
of our 120mm mortars and nests of resistance.
sector was almost surrounded once more. A little counterattack by the
Main Security Office Germans
at the cost of heavy losses permitted the re-alignment
of our positions before the next massive
tank attack. This failed in its turn, because
the first two tanks, having been knocked out,
blocked the way for the others.
The pounding continued.
Sergeant-Major Rostaing, commanding the 3rd Company (ex 6th Company of Regiment 58),
which was uniquely composed of former members of the LVF, received the Iron Cross First
Class for his brave conduct and Second-Lieutenant Albert the same for his fourth tank.
The battalion was occupying an advance post of the local defence several hundred
metres from the Chancellery. The attacks by Russian tanks soon gave up and
infantry infiltrated a little everywhere using flamethrowers or grenades.
The battalion fought on, the lightly wounded returning to their posts as soon as they had
been bandaged. Staff-Sergeant Ollivier, commanding the 4th Company, was three times
and three times evacuated, but returned three times to his post. Many of the
from Neweklau fell in action: Le Maignan, Billot, and Protopopoff were killed.
The bombardment raged and the city was in flames all night of the 29th–30th April,
but all the French SS were resolved to hold out until their ammunition ran out.
Once more we were sustained by high hopes for the arrival of Wenck’s army, but we
becoming sceptical about this subject. We learned nothing about
it either from the commander
of the city’s defence or from the Chancellery.
a relatively quiet interlude, SS-Lieutenant Weber visited Captain Fenet with
who had destroyed four tanks in Wilhelmstrasse the previous day,
and Sergeant Roger Albert,
who had destroyed three. But before the dust had even
settled, there was another tank attack
with the tanks well spaced out and the leading
two were stopped with Panzerfausts. The tanks
behind withdrew after firing at the
buildings. According to Fenet, there was a dramatic situation
at his command post:
The floors collapsed and the rooms of
our semi-basement were filled with a dust
so thick that we had great difficulty in breathing
and were unable to see more than
50 centimetres. The ceiling fell in pieces and several of
the men were injured by falling
masonry. In an angle of the wall where we had made a loophole,
there was now a gaping hole in the angle of fire from the tanks.
Moreover, the Soviet infantry were in the process of surrounding the building containing
the command post. A little more to the east, in Friedrichstrasse, which was impractical
the tanks, the Chnstensen Combat Team had been in action since dawn. The fighting
line was now
150–200m beyond Kochstrasse U-Bahn station and Puttkammerstrasse.
Also Soviet infantry
were installed in the upper storeys of the neighbouring buildings
and firing on anything that
moved. But they were not occupying the lower storeys and
the French set these buildings on fire
with large stocks of paper that they had found
in the cellars and could thus use the cover
of the fire to effect a withdrawal,
despite the protestations of SS-Lieutenant Weber, who wanted
to hold on at all costs.
The new front line was based on the Puttkamerstrasse crossroads, 140 to 150 metres
further back from the previous one. The internal courtyards here provided relatively
passage. The new forward command post was installed in a building that was still
it was necessary to block the large entrances, apart from the large gaps
made by the bombardment
in its façade. The cellars and ground floor, where the men
installed themselves, were
full of works of art. Two women were still living there and at
first refused to leave.
While the new positions were being arranged, the Soviet 120-mm mortars, which had
not been heard since the day before, proceeded to reduce
to dust those of their infantry
that had not broken contact!
No doubt it was at this instant
that Officer-Cadet Protopopoff of the 4th Company was
killed. He was talking to Sergeant-Major
Rostaing in one of the courtyards situated
behind the command post building and had been directed
a porch when a shell exploded in the yard, riddling him with shrapnel.
A catastrophic counterattack was launched by the old officers and NCOs from the Main
Security Office, who suffered frightful losses in trying to establish forward look-outs.
the infantry pressure combined with a fresh tank attack, the third that day. The
in tight groups of seven or eight, a tactic with the aim of swamping
the Panzerfaust firers,
but the latter were not overawed by this. The two leading tanks
were stopped and blocked the
route. The five or six others withdrew, then came forward
again to tow away the dead ones.
Numerous shots with Panzerfausts forced them back
a second time. The volunteers of the French
battalion knew that they had to immediately
take cover. However, not all!
When the Soviet tank guns and anti-tank guns concentrated their fire on the basement
windows, Sergeant-Major Rostaing remained in his observation post on the second
of a building offering a good view of Wilhelmstrasse. He had rejoined the battalion
with the 20 to 25 remaining men of the 3rd Company. Rostaing was in a
stairwell with a French
grenadier. The two men were flat against the wall on one side
and an opening whose glass and
frame had long since disappeared. They remembered
seeing a vast tank firing, no doubt a Josef
Stalin. The shell hit the ceiling above two lookouts,
covering them with debris and tearing
away a main beam that fell on them. Other men
witnessed the event. They went up to the storey,
called out, but did not see anyone and
went down again. The NCO did not recover consciousness
for a considerable time later,
and got out without difficulty. He staggered to the command
post, covered with dust.
It was from Captain Fenet that Sergeant-Major
Rostaing learnt that he and Sergeant Albert,
who had just destroyed his fourth tank, had been
awarded the Iron Cross First Class.
The awards were made in the one of the building’s
interior courtyards. No doubt it was
then that SS-Lieutenant von Wallenrodt received his Iron
Cross Second Class. Captain
Fenet had hardly shaken the hands of the recipients when fresh
shells hit the building,
raising enormous clouds of dust. ‘We stayed there blind, suffocated,
able to move a step, and it was a while before we regained the use of our senses,’
wrote Captain Fenet later.
Christensen had quit his command post on the left at Kochstrasse U-Bahn
station to conform with
the French, passing round several bottles of wine with which to
refresh their throats.
On the other hand, Captain Fenet seemed to have only a hazy picture of the Müncheberg
Tank Division’s sub-sector on the right. Reports coming from there that day
indicate otherwise than all communications had been severed with the Nordland:
Soviet spearheads have reached the Anhalter Railway Station some 200–300 metres
from the French positions. However, a Tiger II of SS-Panzer-Regiment Hermann von
the ‘314’ of SS-Sergeant Diers – one of the two still at the disposal of the
– is stationed on Potsdammer Platz and is keeping Saarlandstrasse under
fire with its
formidable 88mm gun, which has hit several
tanks trying to come up the road towards the north-west.
That evening, after several more tank attacks supported by infantry, the problem of
effectives became of concern to Captain Fenet, who had seen the number of losses
even with the lightly wounded remaining at their posts. He now only had one
officer, one officer-cadet
and a sergeant-major left, SS-Lieutenant von Wallenrodt,
Officer-Cadet Douroux and Sergeant
Major Rostaing. Officer-Cadets Protopopoff,
Billot, Le Maignan and Karanga had been killed,
Officer-Cadet de Lacaze and Staff-Sergeant
Ollivier wounded and evacuated. Second-Lieutenant
Aimé Berthaud had been evacuated
after having been found unconscious under the ruins
of a balcony. Officer-Cadets Boulmier
and Jacques Frantz had also been evacuated, the latter
in a tent-half, after being
hit by mortar fire.
Sergeant Eugène Vaulot had also left the front line for the divisional command post
receiving the Knight’s Cross that evening in candlelight from SS-Major-General Krukenberg
on the station platform, being the first of the French volunteers to receive this decoration.
other members of the Charlemagne were awarded the Knight’s Cross that day,
the record number for any contingent in the battle for the city and demonstrating
of their anti-tank role. The destruction of sixty-two tanks, a tenth of the
against this sector, was attributed to the Charlemagne alone.
a visit to the Reichs Chancellery first-aid post after having been wounded in the
destroying his thir-teenth Soviet tank, SS-Lieutenant Wilhelm Weber,
reported to SS-Major-General
Mohnke, who, greatly impressed, had then recommended
Knight’s Cross awards for Weber,
Captain Fenet and Staff-Sergeant Appolot (six tanks)
to General Wilhelm Burgdorf, head of the
Army personnel branch.
On the morning of the
30th April, as I learnt later, General Weidling had held a commanders’
conference at the
Bendlerblock, in which one could speak freely about the situation.
But, despite the central
importance of his sector, SS-General Mohnke was not invited
anymore than myself as commander
of the Nordland Division, which constituted the
main fighting force of the LVIth Panzer Corps,
and whose command I had taken
over at his request.
The volume of fire on the city centre had increased and our positions subjected to the
of ‘Stalin-Organs’. The battle seemed to be reaching its climax, but the enemy had
penetrated our sector and we prepared for more assaults from him. Ammunition
were deposited along our main line of resistance and on Leipziger Strasse.
of our tanks, whose guns were still capable of firing, had been
immobilised by direct hits.
The usual evening conference at the Sector ‘Z’ commander was called off without
explanation. To our surprise, enemy artillery fire in our sector lessened towards
midnight and almost completely ceased.
resumed his account:
Now we receive a big reinforcement. A good hundred
men from the Main Security Office,
armed with rifles and flanked by three or four SS-majors,
two SS-Captains and five or six
other officers. All are full of good will and courage, but have
long become unaccustomed
to handling weapons and lack combat training. Most are between 50 and
60 years old.
Nevertheless, their arrival enables a considerable strengthening of the battalion
they mix in with plenty of spirit. However, they soon realise that they are in no
for such a pitiless battle. There losses are serious, because the Reds, like ourselves,
more than us, have their elite snipers hidden everywhere and
aim at any silhouette appearing at a window or in a yard.
Lacaze, who since the beginning of the battle has led his men with astonishing confidence
a debutant, neutralises every attempt by the Red infantry, but he too falls to an enemy
and has to be evacuated. Here is Roger again with his usual accomplice, Bicou, at
18 the youngest
NCO in the battalion. They are both excited and explain
that they have just dislodged several
Red snipers from the rooftops.
There are some more there,
but we have run out of grenades. While speaking, they are
stuffing their pockets with egg grenades,
attaching others to the buttons
of their jackets, and sticking stick grenades into their belts.
They rush off.
Sometime later Bicou returns with his head
‘We got them, captain, but Roger was wounded.’
Roger comes in paler than usual, a trickle of blood running from his right eye. At the
moment a piece of grenade caught him above the eyelid. We sit him down in the only
armchair in the building, where he soon dozes off. A little later Bicou takes
to the medical aid post with a group of wounded, then comes back alone.
‘Poor Roger, the fighting is over for him. The doctor says that the eye is
and he still does not know whether he can save the other one.’
Bicou himself is lucky. During the day he had taken shelter behind a pile of debris that
was hit by an anti-tank shell. He didn’t even get a scratch, but was knocked unconscious.
An hour later he was on his feet again. Now he takes over the section with a sombre air,
that Roger’s eye will cost dear.
It is quite calm as
night draws to an end. There is nothing in the street but the T-34 burning
alongside us, long
flames dancing around the steel carcass, projecting their violent light
against the dark night
which the rose-coloured halo of fires above the roofs is unable to
disperse. One hears the crackling
of the flames mixing with the distant, confused sounds
of fighting in the capital. But sometimes
we are startled by heartbreaking cries, cries that
are no longer human, the voices of women
not far from us howling in their
distress, despair and anguish as the men from the steppes assert
With daybreak the Red tanks set off again
and we are alerted by the sound of their engines
starting up. Several well directed Panzerfausts
and the first wave is easily stopped, because
the tanks are following each other well spaced
out, which gives us plenty of
time to see them coming and to give each one the greeting it deserves.
Of course, having checked this first attempt, we are subjected to the usual bombardment.
The tanks and anti-tank guns fire full out at the buildings where they detect our presence.
The walls tremble dangerously, plaster falls on our heads, and sometimes a well aimed
into a window opening or loophole showers us with earth and stones and plunges us
into a spell
of powdery obscurity. Already yesterday and nightfall were hard enough, but
now the battle is
about to reach a climax and maintain it to the end. Up to this point we
have been living in
an infernal din, pounded ceaselessly by mortars, anti-tank guns and
tanks, harassed by the
infantry, repelling several tank attacks an hour. Weber, whose
tally is already quite considerable,
brings a young NCO from his combat school, Sergeant
Eugène Vaulot, a tall, blond chap
who has already bagged four tanks since yesterday,
another sergeant, Roger Albert, who has
his third and is claiming a fourth. As there are
not enough Panzerfausts for everyone, they
all want the chance to bag at least one tank.
The more our
resistance hardens, the more the enemy fires at us. In the command post
building, which has
become the main point of resistance, we expect the walls to collapse
over our heads at any
moment. The façade is already completely cracked and one can
feel the building sway with
every blow. Sooner or later we will have to evacuate or be
wiped out or buried, but I delay
the departure as long as possible, for the configuration
of the area is such that if we evacuate
this building, our whole front will have to pull back
at least 50 metres if we are want to find
another suitable location, and 50 metres
now is not that easy. We are only several hundred metres
from the Reichs Chancellery.
No doubt believing us hors de
combat, the Reds launch another tank attack, but this
time without an artillery preparation,
but we are not dead yet. The result is two tanks destroyed
and a third damaged. The attacking
wave turns round. Now they are going to make us
pay for this disappointment. Once the tanks
are out of range of our Panzerfausts, they
aim their guns at us again and every barrel they
have fires at us. The upper storeys collapse,
the rooms of our semi-basement are filled with
such thick dust that we can hardly breathe
and we can only see 50 centimetres in front of us.
The ceiling falls in pieces and several
men are injured by falling masonry. The loophole that
we had made in the angle of
the wall has become a gaping hole right in line with the tanks’
line of fire. The next bombardment
will bring a general collapse. Moreover, the Russians are
working dangerously on our left
wing and are making their way across the ruins to encircle our
whole block of buildings,
and all our exits are now under fire. Nevertheless, we have to leave;
in ten minutes it
will be too late. Our troops are engaged in neutralising the Red snipers stationed
in a big
building opposite from the neighbouring houses. Their building has vast cellars, which
Ivans have neglected to occupy that are full of enormous quantities of paper. We set them
on fire and, while Ivan plays fireman, we get out. Saluted on our way by several burst of
fire and some grenades, we manage to get through without losses and cross the field of
that separates us from our new positions without difficulty. Only one building in
still standing in this area.
According to Krukenberg, this
move took place at 1800 hours.
The new front will be easier
to defend, for a system of interior courtyards provides
excellent communications protected from
the enemy, a small compensation for the
50 metres we have just lost. There is only one dangerous
corner, alongside Friedrichstrasse,
where a ruined building, very difficult to keep an eye on,
offers our opponents magnificent possibilities for infiltration.
We quickly set up our sentries, for the Reds are not going to waste any time. Our old
east front enemies, the 120mm mortars, take us on and keep lashing us right until the
very end, harassing us with the diabolical precision to which they are accustomed.
infantry too engage strongly. We have to mount a little attack in order to set up
positions to obtain a little peace, relatively speaking. This is done by the
men from the Main
Security Office, who carry out the operation with remarkable spirit.
Unfortunately, for lack
of support from heavy weapons, our losses are very heavy.
the infantry are fighting it out furiously, another tank attack begins. This time the
taken into account the errors they have been making until now. Instead of
arriving one by one
to serve as ideal targets for our Panzerfausts, seven or eight set off
together and remain
bunched together, only a few metres apart from each other. They
want to make us concentrate
to maintain the effectiveness of our fire. Fortunately, our
men are up to this change of tactics.
The two leading tanks block the middle of the street,
barring the way for the others, who are
obliged to turn around. Shortly afterwards there
is another alarm, this time the Reds are trying
to tow away their wrecks
to clear the street for their next attack, so again there a fine scrap.
We have hardly time to draw breath before the next shelling begins. Sergeant-Major Rostaing,
commanding No. 3 Company, is buried under the debris of his observation post on the second
floor. They call him and someone climbs up to the second floor with difficulty, but nothing
moves, where is he under all this debris? An hour later he reappears, somewhat haggard,
that he had been knocked unconscious by the fall of the ceiling, and had only
I award him the Iron Cross First Class in a
little courtyard nearby, and also Roger Albert,
who has just bagged his fourth tank. While we
are shaking hands, another tornado falls
on us, raising clouds of dust so thick that we remain
blinded, suffocated, unable to move
a foot, no longer knowing where we are, and it takes a moment
or two before we
regain the use of our senses.
We begin to get bad headaches. Outrageously smothered with dust, our eyes shining,
in their sockets, our cheeks lined, we hardly look human. Water is scarce and we
even have enough to drink. Occasionally a few rations arrive from Division.
One eats what one
can find, when one can find it, otherwise, in the feverish state we
are in, it is not a problem
that concerns us much. After the days we have just been
through, we are now only acting on our
reflexes, and everything we do seems as natural
as everyday life. We seem to have been living
this infernal life for ever, the problem
of the future does not even arise, and we see ahead
of us more days like this,
knocking out tanks, firing at the Reds, throwing grenades, alarms,
fires, ruins, holding on, not allowing the enemy to pass. All our strength,
all our energy is only for this, it is simultaneously our reason for living and for dying.
I get visitors from time to time, particularly from an officer of the Nordland commanding
a neighbouring company. He comes, he says, to refresh himself with us, although he
does not seem to need it. He does not hesitate to express his admiration for his French
Every time he comes he repeats: ‘While you are there, we are content that
all is well
and certain that the sector will hold.’ He only knows how to show his sympathy,
to him, we can pass around several bottles of wine,
from which everyone drinks a symbolic mouthful
In one place or another, our frontline positions
are shrivelling up, and we are now in front
of the lines, an advance defence post in front
of the Reichs Chancellery. Also, more and
more the Reds hound us. We no longer keep count of
the tank attacks, the infantry are
more and more aggressive, and abandoning frontal assaults,
now attempt to penetrate
a little everywhere to dislodge us with grenades or flame-throwers.
If the Red’s losses
are high, our effectives are also diminishing, even though only the
severely wounded are
evacuated; the others make do with a summary bandaging and carry on fighting,
take a few hours’ rest in the first aid post before returning to their positions. Staff-Sergeant
commanding No. 4 Company, beats all records in this field. Hit three times, three
evacuated, he has calmly returned to his post three times. Our young officers,
second-lieutenants and officer-cadets, have already paid a high price: Labourdette,
Maignan, Billot, Protopopoff, killed, de Lacaze, Bert, François, Ulmier, seriously wounded.
who since the beginning has shown an extraordinary ardour, and has put all
his energy into it,
has been evacuated in his turn with a serious injury. In all the unit only
Douroux and von
Wallenrodt remain uninjured among the officers. Douroux is very proud
of the fact that an officer
of the Nordland removed his own Iron Cross to award him with
it after an engagement in which
he had performed marvellously. As for von Wallenrodt,
he remains very calm and very much at
ease in all this din, a former war correspondent,
he is at once both spectator and actor, acquitting
in his new role as adjutant. He also receives a well earned Iron Cross.
The command post is in a large library that has some magnificent works of art. One of
us has pulled out an album of coloured pictures of Spain, which becomes a distraction
for men taking a break. We flip through it in search of sunny country scenery as an
to our vision of hell. Passing the rows of bookshelves, I am angered by the
thought that they
will become victims to the flames, or worse,
will be torn up and trampled underfoot by bands
of drunken Mongols.
We are living in scenes from another world:
the days are the colour of the dust that
overcomes and devours us. We no longer see the blue
sky, being absorbed in a gritty
fog that only dissipates at rare moments until a new torrent
of missiles plunge us back
into yellowish opaqueness. Buildings are burning everywhere, ruins
collapse with a
great noise, thickening the atmosphere with soot, dust and smoke, which we
with difficulty. The silence that follows a bombardment is only the prelude to a roaring
of engines, the clanking of tracks, announcing another wave of tanks. Crouched in the
doorways or behind windows with Panzerfausts in our hands, we await our turn to
storm. A long tongue of flame behind the firer, a violent explosion, shortly
followed by another
marking the arrival of a mortal blow, almost always firing at point
blank range, which is more
certain. The explosions follow each other within several
seconds: one, two, sometimes three
tanks are immobilised in the middle of the street.
The others retire and several minutes later
they return to tow back the dead carcasses
under cover of clouds of dust raised by the bombardment
that always follows an aborted attack.
The battle continues
to rage throughout the night. How can one describe the night?
Darkness, chased away by this
enormous brazier that the city has become, has vanished
and only the colour of the light varies
by the hour. The burning buildings and tanks are
our torches, and Berlin is illuminated by the
fire devouring it. A sinister clarity hangs over
the city, now suffused with a reddish glow
on which the flames rising around us shed
their violent light. Beneath this tragic display
cutting the incandescent sky take on unreal, incredible shapes,
The rumbling upheaval of the battle has now submerged all the city, which fiercely struggles
and fights on not to let itself be engulfed by defeat, prolonging its hopeless agony to the
extreme limit. In this duel to death, as the hours pass and the enemy accumulates
us more tanks, more men, more shells, our determination only grows, our resolution
more. Hold on, the words always returns to our lips, invades our spirit as an
on, as if tomorrow will be like today, like yesterday. Until when? The
question no longer arises:
as long as we have bullets, grenades, Panzerfausts. The Red
infantry continue to bite the dust,
the tanks, despite their furious assaults, are checked
in front of or inside our lines, where
they burn in agony. We can see the flames emerging
between the tracks, then climbing progressively
up to the turret, while the ammunition
explodes in an uninterrupted series of detonations that
shake the steel carcass belted
with fire until a formidable explosion shakes the whole area,
sending enormous chunks
of steel flying until nothing remains of the tank but a mass of twisted,
On the evening of the 30th April a Russian
is brought to the command post who had
allowed himself to be captured without difficulty. He
is a Ukrainian NCO, a big, well
fed lad. He brings with him several loaves of bread, which
the men share between
them with pleasure, for they haven’t seen anything like that for
several days. In exchange
the prisoner is given cigarettes, which seems to please him. Very
explains to the interpreter that he is Ukrainian and not Russian. Compulsorily
and a ferocious adversary of bolshevism, so much so that we could not have a better
friend than himself in the Red Army. Of course we are under no illusions about the
of his good will, but we pretend to listen with interest. Confident, he chats with
replying at length to the questions negligently put to him during the
course of the conversation.
A communiqué has been distributed in the Red lines today
announcing imminent victory;
there is only one square kilometre left in Berlin to be taken,
and this last bastion must be
taken by tomorrow in honour of the 1st May. A burst of
laughter greets the translation of these
last words: ‘We will still be here tomorrow,
old chap, and your pals will get the same
as usual if they try and pass!’
He recognises that
we are giving them a hard time and that morale in the area leaves much
to be desired, but we
don’t believe our ears when he adds that the tank crews will only
board at pistol point.
The interpreter asks good humouredly if he is kidding us.
‘Niet! Those getting into the
leading tanks know that they will not be coming back!’
Krukenberg resumed his account:
During the night and morning of the 1st
May the battle continued with extreme violence.
The Russians were glued to the ground with the
fire from our assault rifles. That afternoon
the enemy resorted to using flamethrowers to reduce
isolated points of
resistance, an effective tactic, for there was no water to extinguish the
Tuesday, the 1st May, at about 0700 hours in the morning,
I was summoned by telephone
by SS-General Mohnke, who told me that during the night General
Krebs (a former military
attaché in Moscow), Colonel von Dufing and Lieutenant Colonel
Seifert had crossed the
lines in the latter’s sector to conduct negotiations with the
Soviets. He could not give me
the exact details about this mission, but he gave the impression
that one could no
longer count upon being relieved by Wenck’s army, which had been forced
withdraw by superior enemy forces.
Contrary to expectations, General Krebs and his companions, for whom those opposite
had guaranteed free access, had still not returned or reported their news, despite an
radio link. He suggested a possibility of betrayal and said that now the
Soviets knew the weakness
of our defences we could now expect a sudden attack.
been able to establish that the Potsdammer Platz S-and U-Bahn stations were
thus offering an opportunity for an enemy shock troop to approach the
Chancellery via Voss-Strasse.
I should do the necessary in this respect, but before all else,
go to the Air Ministry and
take charge of the Seifert sub-sector from its commander.
It seemed to him that there were things
going on there that I should suppress by all means.
Wilhelmplatz under enemy fire accompanied by a Franco-German escort and
advanced along Wilhelmstrasse
as far as the Air Ministry, on which there were no security
guards, although the Russian mortars
and anti-tank guns were only several hundred yards away.
was an old Luftwaffe general asleep in the cellars of the Air Ministry with a hundred
Then I came across a young army captain, who was the staff watch keeper for
who told me that Lieutenant Colonel Seifert, having told him he had no
need of anyone, had
shut himself in his office with his liaison officer to apparently destroy
documents. I immediately
went with him to the sector command post in which he was the
only member of Lieutenant Colonel
Seifert’s staff. We entered into a lively discussion,
during which, having explained
my mission, he refused to tell me what had happened the
day before, nor where his commander
was, when the latter entered the room
escorted by two NCOs from my escort, having found him
in another part of the building.
Soon afterwards a message
arrived from Mohnke’s command post explaining what had
happened was due to a misunderstanding
and that the order given that morning
was now nul and void.
I returned to my sector at about 1000 hours, not before begging Lieutenant Colonel Seifert
to finally return the men of the Nordland and the Frenchmen that were still in his sector.
Towards noon I received an order to immediately place the last ‘Tiger’ tank
of our tank
battalion at SS-General Mohnke’s disposition. No indication of what was happening
at higher level filtered through to us.
hours I was summoned by SS-General Mohnke and took my operations officer
(Ia) and adjutant with
me. SS-Major-General Ziegler approached me in the antechamber
to the command post, saying: ‘It
has just been announced that Hitler committed suicide
yesterday after-noon. Apparently he married
Fegelein’s sister-in-law. The latter tried to
flee from the Chancellery in civilian clothes
and has been shot. Goebbels
and his family are also dead!’
Then SS-General Ziegler added that for several days now no one had expected Wenck’s
army to succeed, and that the negotiations with the west, entered into with too great an
optimism, had failed. We had been deceived from above on all these points for several
All the sacrifices made by the troops had been in vain. We had been abused
in the worst possible
way. How was I going to tell those under my
command when I could reproach myself most for my
SS-General Mohnke appeared after a long wait accompanied
by Reich Youth Leader Axmann
and in short sentences told me what I already knew from SS-General
Ziegler. Then he
recalled the nocturnal attempt by General Krebs to obtain an immediate stop
to the fighting
in Berlin to prevent any further shedding of blood. General Chuikov
facing us refused and demanded an unconditional surrender.
This was unacceptable. Thus, basing himself on a very old order, SS-General Mohnke
asked me if I, being the most senior officer in my rank, would continue to assure the
of the city, in which case all troops still available would
be placed under my command. I rejected
this stupid idea.
Then, he said, there is nothing else to
do than follow the order already given by
General Weidling for the remainder of the Berlin
garrison to attempt to pierce the Soviet
encirclement in small groups. In answer to my question,
he said that the rest was
up to every one of us; the general direction was Neuruppin and then
on in a north-westerly direction.
Everything was now on the
move. It was impossible to obtain information about the situation
in other parts of the city.
Each of the groups assembling with a view
to breaking out had to make its own necessary reconnaissance.
Finally, in order to avoid chaos, the news of the death of Hitler and the other events
had been told about were not to be divulged until 2100 hours that evening. According to
General Weidling’s orders issued to all sectors, the defence would cease everywhere at 2300 hours.
All the rest, including the choice of routes, was left to the individual sectors. No rear
was anticipated. SS-General Ziegler said that he would rejoin the Nordland for the
breakout. In leaving the Chancellery, I saw no disorder in the rooms or corridors.
The commanders had carte blanche for the careful with-drawal of their troops from
2300 hours onwards, the little posts remaining behind until midnight would mask the total
evacuation of our positions from the enemy. At midnight, Regiments Norge and Danmark
Strasse, heading north via Charlottenstrasse and Friedrichstrasse. The
U-Bahn tunnel could
only be used under the most disciplined conditions and with intervals
between groups. It was
nevertheless necessary to leave it at Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn
Station, for the tunnel was blocked
by a solid grille preventing passage under the Spree.
fact this ‘grille’ was a waterproof steel bulkhead, normally closed at night for security
reasons, and had a guard of two transport-authority watchmen,
who refused to open
it as to do so would be against regulations!
We took a pause
to regroup and decide north of the Spree near the Grand Opera.
I myself was in Albrechtstrasse
attempting to explore the possibilities with some
officers who knew the area well.
Having abandoned my command post a little after midnight and taken the convenient route
with my staff and the accompanying French detachment, I sent my liaison officer,
SS-Second Lieutenant Patzak to the Air Ministry to collect the men of the Nordland and
the French still in that sector. According to a report by Captain Fenet, the latter were engaged
in the vicinity of Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse. It is not known whether this officer reached
or whether he was killed on the way. Captain Fenet never received my orders.
Captain Fenet continued his account:
That Ukrainian hadn’t lied. All night and all morning of the 1st May the storm of
assaults beats against us with desperate violence, but we are determined to respond
with defiance. The Red infantry has been reinforced and launches waves of attack
simultaneously with the setting off of the tanks. We let the T-34s approach to fire at
point blank range, while pinning down the infantry with our assault rifles.
The latter try
to advance again, but they don’t get far and soon they don’t get up again.
The Russian concentrate their tanks barely 300 metres away, and the infantry move round
behind that steel barrier. We know the buildings they are using, from where the deluge of
fire fails to crush us, and of which we easily have the advantage. We have to wait until
are quite close at the end of a rifle or Panzerfaust, so close that several missed
open up the way and cause the front to collapse. The fate of the battle depends
on the outcome
of every attack. The Reichs Chancellery is being fiercely defended.
One moment of weakness,
one inattention on our part, and we would have the catastrophe
that threatens, always more
precisely to the extent that it consumes
our strength and our effectives go on in this battle
During a particularly violent attack, a T-34 succeeds
in passing and is only knocked out
30 metres behind our first position. For several moments
a terrible anxiety seizes us,
as if an abyss has opened beneath our feet. But no, it cannot
be said that a Red tank
has succeeded in penetrating our lines with impunity. There is a second
the intruder is immobilised.
The situation worsens during the afternoon. Our building, practically intact when we
it, has now fallen into ruins, and if the ground floor is still holding, long strips of
are hanging down to the street, a perfect target for the Red flame-throwers, who,
of the scarcity of out troops, infiltrate through the ruins. We try to get
these awkward bits
of wood to fall into the street, but without tools in the middle of
tottering walls and under
enemy fire, our men can only establish the uselessness of their
efforts. After several fruitless
attempts, the Reds succeed in setting fire to this hanging
pyre. We haven’t got a drop
of water. Georges, the signaller, a placid, smiling, young
Norman with plump cheeks, does his
best in his quality as a former Parisian fireman, but
soon he has to report that we must abandon
all hope. If all goes well, we should be able to
remain another hour, not more!
The Main Security Office had been decided upon as our next centre of resistance,
several dozen metres away. While waiting, we continue the battle with the flames
our heads, while Georges and several others try desperately to slow down the fire’s
at the risk of being burnt alive. After alternatives of hope and anxiety, Georges,
a charcoal burner, returns to report that there is not much time left; the ground
be engulfed in its turn and the hundreds of books ranged along the shelves will
flames magnificent nourishment. The ground floor fills with smoke and flames
come from the
ceiling. It is now impossible to reach Wilhemstrasse.
Regretfully, we must leave. It is now
The Main Security Office is in ruins, but its
cellars opening unto the street still provide
useful shelter. Our sentries take up their positions
without any reaction from the Reds.
In fact our move was conducted as discreetly as possible.
Soon a violent infantry fight
starts up on our right, a furious fusillade opening up and nourished
by both sides.
The Reds advance and are repulsed, advance again and are again repulsed. Finally
they manage to gain a little ground in the neighbouring sector, but our front remains unaltered.
In a cellar serving as a shelter and rest place, and by the light of a candle, I award
Crosses to a certain number of our comrades. To be decorated at the front in the course
of an impressive parade is everyone’s dream, but tonight the pathos of this so simple
ceremony with a few gathered round in this dark and narrow cellar during the last hours
of a super-human battle is worth all the parades in the world. By the trembling light of this
candle, whose flame celebrates the victory of light over the shadows and hope
over death, the
blackened, dull, emaciated faces, creased with fatigue and hunger, the faces
tense or shining,
with feverish, ardent eyes, take on an extraordinary aspect.
‘In the name of the Führer
The last night is relatively calm. A neighbouring
company leaves on a mission on behalf
of the Reichs Chancellery and we take over their sector.
The Nordland’s command post
has moved out of Stadtmitte U-Bahn Station and is now in the
Reichs Chancellery itself.
Dufour, sent there, reports that all is well. This evening they are
celebrating the award
of the Knight’s Cross to Vaulot, who destroyed his seventh tank
today, and our few comrades
there – the commander kept back several at his disposal –
are singing and drinking with
their German comrades of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. We haven’t
and Dufour and his group have brought us some chocolate and several bottles.
May, a fateful day, has passed much more successfully than the Ukrainian predicted
the other evening.
Captain Fenet concluded his account:
daybreak, our sentries report that we are again alone ahead of the lines. I check,
it is true;
there is no one to left or right of us. A little later a patrol reports that the front line
is now back to the Air Ministry. We withdraw there during the course of the morning and
contact with the Luftwaffe troops occupying the building. We take up our new positions
any loss of time, but we have hardly done so when we see vehicles bearing white
from the enemy lines. In them are German officers and Russians. There is
talk of capitulation.
Soon unarmed Russian soldiers come forward offering cigarettes,
and some of the Luftwaffe soldiers
start fraternising. Other Red
soldiers arrive in detachments, but they come from within our
The Luftwaffe commander tells me of his intention
of surrendering when the Reds invite
him to. ‘Its over,’ he adds, ‘the capitulation
has been signed.’ But he is unable to provide
me with any details. No, we cannot believe
that it is all over, that’s impossible! In any
case, we cannot remain here to be taken
stupidly! What’s happening at the Reichs Chancellery?
There at least we should learn something,
and if there is a last square to be formed, we will
be the ones to form it!
We quickly leave the ministry without responding to the Reds, men and women, that
cordially invite us to hand over our arms. Avoiding the streets, we filter through the ruins
as far as the U-Bahn and climb down through a ventilation shaft. There is no living
soul at Stadtmitte Station, only two or three empty bags. We then come to the Kaiserhof
just behind the Reichs Chancellery. A ladder goes up to a ventilation grid at street
I am the first to go up and look, my ears attuned to sounds of combat, but there is
noise of klaxons and moving trucks. More bars, but at last I can see, with my
the ladder, my eyes take in the spectacle that my body rejects. As far as
I can see are Russians,
vehicle with the red star going in all directions, not a single
shot, the Reichs Chancellery
walls are dumb, there is no one around, it is all over!
go back down again without saying a word. The men gather round me with wide eyes.
The Russians are there, everywhere. The Führer is certainly dead.’
They lower their
heads in silence.
‘Now, we have to get out of here.
In my opinion the only solution is to try to get through
to the west. We will use the U-Bahn
tunnels as long as possible. Let’s
go! We will get out of this situation this time too!
Does everyone agree?’
With our ears pricked we continue
on our way. The ceiling has collapsed in several places,
in other places rubble blocks the way
and we clear a path through with our hands and
bayonets. But at Potsdammer Platz a cruel discovery
awaits us; from here on the U-Bahn
lines are in the open.
It would be best to remain hidden underground and wait for nightfall. One of the tunnels
opens under a railway bridge and is blocked with debris, offering a wonderful hiding place.
We quickly split up into small groups and vanish one after another. However, some Volkssturm
arrive at the same time with the same intention as ourselves. These poor old chaps are
and noisy, attracting the attention of a Red patrol that enters several seconds later.
shoot! Don’t shoot!’ the first Volkssturm calls out in an anxious voice as they grab
hold of him. The Reds carefully search the whole area and flush out our group one after
We hold our breath as the Russians go past. Several times they stop right in
front of us. Our
hearts beat to breaking point. Pressed one against the other, we
wait and cling stubbornly to
our last hopes.
The end comes suddenly. Our protecting wall
collapses under angry booting, the Russians
surround us and comb through our pockets. The first
things they take are our watches,
and then our weapons. We are dragged outside, where we see
drunken groups of the victors
staggering around. A swaying Russian approaches us with angrily
blinking eyes and
threatening mouth. He grabs Roger Albert marching next to me and pushes him
a wall. A guard intervenes and pulls his prisoner back into the column. ‘I thought
had it!’ whispers Roger Albert to me. At this moment the drunken Russian returns,
seizing his victim again: ‘SS! SS!’ he cries, pulling out his pistol. A shot rings
Roger Albert falls at my feet without a sound. Seeing that we are about
to stop, our guards push us on shouting, and we continue on our way.
We come to the Reichs Chancellery, which is being ransacked, while hundreds and
of tanks parade through the Tiergarten towards the Brandenburg
Gate, which still raises its
mutilated profile like a last hope, a last act of defiance.
and sixteen other French survivors were sleeping exhausted in the ruins of
station at around midnight when they were
awakened by a call to surrender or the station would
be blown up.
General Krukenberg concluded his account:
Having crossed the Spree, I sent the two officers that lived locally off on reconnaissance,
but neither of them returned, so towards 0300 hours on the morning of the 2nd May I
made a reconnaissance myself accompanied by my French detachment. An attempt
through the Charité Hospital failed because Professor Sauerbruch (the hospital director),
agreement with the Russian command, had declared it a neutral zone, so I tried
to go via Chausseestrasse.
I encountered elements of the Nordland with SS-General Ziegler,
who had joined us with his
companions. There were four or five holders of the
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in
our group, including the Frenchman Vaulot.
Meanwhile day was
dawning and the Soviets, seeing our column, brought it under violent fire.
We turned around
with the hope of leaving via Gesundbrunnen towards Pankow and from
there on to Wittenau.
Following Brunnenstrasse we were suddenly hit by well directed mortar fire at the level
of Lortzingstrasse, apparently coming from the railway ring. We sought shelter in the
courtyard of a building on the corner, where SS-General Ziegler was mortally wounded
near me by explosions that wounded other members of our group. Soviet infantrymen
infiltrated the quarter took us under fire in turn, obliging us to turn back towards the city.
At the level of Ziegelstrasse we saw the ‘Tiger’ tank I had placed at the
disposal of the
Chancellery the day before, burnt out and abandoned, with no trace of its crew.
All the area,
including the Weidendammer Bridge, was still clear of the enemy at 0900 hours
By 1500 hours all resistance had definitely
ceased in Berlin.
That evening the German armies in Italy and Austria also capitulated.
Having succeeded in hiding myself away with some friends in Dahlem for several days,
I eventually surrendered to the Soviet authorities in Berlin-Steglitz.