From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI's Experience

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As an Official Army Photographer, "Mac" Fleming's assignment was to take motion pictures of significant wartime events for the US Army. In the pouch intended to carry his first-aid kit on his belt, he instead carried a small personal camera, which he used to take pictures of the people and places that interested him, capturing in his field notes details of the life he observed. From these records, Fleming has assembled this absorbing private chronicle of war and peace. Assigned to the European Theater in February 1945, he filmed the action from the battle for the Remagen Bridge across the Rhine, to the fighting in the Hartz Mountains, on to the linkup with the Russian forces at the Elbe River. After the armistice, Fleming helped document how the Allied Expeditionary Force established a military government in Germany to cope with masses of POWs, establish control of the country, deal with the atrocities committed by the German army, and help thousands of newly released slave laborers return home to Poland, France, and Russia. He also recorded how the army provided rest, recreation, and rehabilitation to the remaining US soldiers and sent them home by truck, train, and ship. Awaiting shipment home, Fleming explored postwar German town and country life and toured some famous castles and historic spots. The foreword by historian James H. Madison describes the important role of photography in war and the special contribution of Fleming's photographic diary.

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1 Battle for the Remagen Bridge across the Rhine River

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Statue of Beethoven amid the ruins of his native city, Bonn. Official pictures of this by Sig C got quite a spread in US papers.

That’s T/3 Kitzero standing there, he’s an army photographer like me.

Less than a block from this statue was the photo shop basement where by match light I located the 40 rolls of size 127 film without which this would have been among the last photos for me.

Bonn, Ger—14 March ’45
Verichrome Film

I have chosen to write in the clipped style of my field notes. “Sig C” means Army Signal Corps.

Partially ruined cathedral of which I was to see many, later. The Germans found them too effective as OPs.

Bonn, Ger—14 March ’45

OPs are observation posts.

Unusual position for a Sherman Tank, but the tanker was hunting an unusual prey. The army, still jittery about the newly won Remagen Bridge, feared the enemy might destroy it by a one-man submarine or floating mines. So that’s what this tanker is looking for. Also searchlights were even used to watch the river by night.

 

2 Fast Evacuation of Wounded—An Experiment

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An experiment in the rapid evacuation of wounded men by glider. A C-47 tows the glider in and drops it, later snatching it into the air again by means of the ground pickup loop shown here. This method is particularly fit for use near the front where landing fields large enough for the plane are not available. The glider can land and be picked up from a tiny strip suitable for the little L-4 liaison plane used by the Artillery.

Near Unkel, Ger—22 March ’45

The glider has been adapted to hold twelve stretcher patients and three attendants or walking patients. This glider was built as a cargo glider and used in airborne landing operations. It this time brought in bundles of medical supplies and will take out a full load of wounded.

The walking wounded on the right is a German. Men submitting to use in this experiment were either volunteer GIs or Germans, with or without their consent.

Near Unkel, Ger—22 March ’45

Hold your breath—the C-47 is swooping in to snatch that loop of nylon rope, a tricky job at 130 miles per hour. But he does it and the surprising part is that people in the glider feel only a sensation like that of a car starting with a fast pickup speed. Of course the rope had some elasticity, but the real reason for the non-jerk takeoff is a special cushioning mechanism in the C-47.

 

3 Continued Fighting

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On the hill above Margarethenkreuz was this Forward Observation unit which was helping the Artillery direct its fire on the towns below. Particularly at night they would spot enemy guns by their muzzle blast and phone their locations to our own batteries. Here was my first birds-eye view of war, the so-called front lines being several miles distant. The fellow showed me what towns had been taken and what had not. Big puffs of smoke and dirt would occasionally jump up over the “had nots.”

Near Königswinter—21 March ’45

The 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion assigned to 1st Div. for close infantry support, here firing 4.2 in. mortars about 800 yds. from the front lines.

3 mi. from Oberpleis, Ger—23 March ’45

Eymo 35 mm

This is a frame of a 35 mm motion picture I filmed with an Army Eymo camera. Each one-hundred-foot roll of 35 mm motion picture film we shot was flown to England for processing. Occasionally we got back a test strip, often with critical comments about how we photographers were doing. This is a frame from such a strip.

 

4 On Leave in Paris for Training

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The trusty C-47 that took us safely to Paris for a week of “schooling” by the Army. Two mornings and one afternoon were spent screening some of our own movie footage and getting a critique of it—both technical & how well it told the story (gave coherent information).

However, some of us who carried bags bulging with cartons of cigarettes, dozens of chocolate bars, and beaucoup soap had other priorities.

Euskirchen, Ger—1 April ’45

After much jockeying for a position, I got this angle shot of the Eiffel Tower along with three very cooperative planes. According to our guide, two daredevil flyers had flown under the tower in times past, but since the war who is the pilot who cannot brag of the feat?

Paris, France—6 April ’45

GIs Evans, Rosborough, and Randolph pause from their sight-seeing and snap-shooting for a glass of wine, vin rouge.

Paris, France—6 April ’45

A sculptor’s idea of love adds atmosphere to the real thing. Yes, they knew I was taking their picture, afterward. No, they didn’t throw anything or seem to care at all. Americans do the darnedest things.

 

5 Advance through the Hartz Mountains

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Removing road block of wrecked vehicles, ours & theirs.

Between Dorste & Osterode, Ger—12 April ’45

Eymo 35 mm

This is another frame of a 35 mm motion picture I filmed with an Army Eymo camera. It’s from a test strip I received back after processing.

Infantry and Armor move cautiously to clear road running by a lake in the Hartz Mts. Doughs smashing through the brush on either side flushed out several prisoners, and the captain leading the column on foot picked off a German on a motorbike with his pistol. That’s about all that happened till about 4 PM they approached a town. As we left them to get our film turned in the heavy weapons section was setting up to cover a platoon going in, tanks being in reserve. Most doughs were busy sleeping in the town next morning when we returned. Infantry were of the 18th Regt of 1st Div. Tankers were of the 745 Tank Bn.

Near Osterode, Ger—14 April ’45

 

6 Civilians during the War

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An old shepherd leads his sheep out to pasture while GIs watch the show.

Blankenheim, Ger—25 April ’45

T/3 Jack Kitzero had a little after-dinner sport with a German youngster. She and a handful of others were eager to play and got a particular kick out of my helmet and liner. They scrambled for the chance to swing between our arms as we headed back to the billets.

Blankenheim, Ger—25 April ’45

Old duffer sits and puffs contentedly on his pipe. He speaks to us of a brother he has in the States.

Marktleuthen, Ger—28 April ’45

Main street of this city—its only straight stretch. It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and the military curfew keeps all civilians off the street. A “Dog’s Life” is not so bad in this case.

Marktleuthen, Ger—29 April ’45

The street has quickly come alive now. Everybody’s busy shopping and visiting while their time lasts. Curfew rules allow them onto the streets only from 8 to 9 in the morning and 4 to 5 in the afternoon.

 

7 Russians in East Germany Part I—Linkup at the Elbe River

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The scene of the historic linkup. A confab and party for the respective army generals, Russian and US, is going on in a building hidden by those trees across the Elbe, but after rushing 150 miles to get there Kitzero and I were not allowed to cross, being too late to go with the other newsmen who were all carefully counted by the Russians as they crossed over and later as they returned. Our “Eisenhower Passes” didn’t cut much ice with the Russians. They, incidentally, had uninhibited access to our side.

Torgau, Ger—30 April ’45

Four Russian soldiers pose with a couple of GIs in front of the 69th Inf Div’s famous sign at the Elbe R. linkup point.

Torgau, Ger—30 April ’45

Kitzero took this pic of me. The Girl and the sign were the favorite props of all GI photo fans there. She’d been in the Red Army since Stalingrad, where all her folks were killed or captured. She is a sniper and is said to have liquidated 120 Germans. This was a personal fight to her and to most Red soldiers.

 

8 Russians in East Germany Part II—Russians Occupy the Land

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Some of the advance party of Russians stop to exchange a few German words with part of a small group of GIs left behind temporarily as security. The signpost holds German, American, and now Russian signs pointing to Arnstadt.

Ichterhausen, Ger—4 July ’45

This Russian occupation took place about two months after the linkup.

Russian tank rolls by our Peep.

Ichterhausen, Ger—4 July ’45

Wagon after wagon rolls by as the Russian occupation of Thuringia goes on. All US Troops have left except three photogs and a few Medics and hospital cases awaiting evacuation by C-47s that are several days overdue.

Gotha, Ger—5 July ’45

“We Greet the Red Army,” the big red banner reads in German and Russian. “We Fear the Red Army” would be more literally true of the German sentiment. Accused of being two-faced, the people absolve themselves of any guilt by saying that the Bergermeister ordered the banner hung. The Little People don’t feel they have or want a say in the way things are run.

 

9 Gardelegen Atrocity

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On the day before US Forces took Gardelegen, over a thousand slave laborers were burned and shot to death here. They were herded into a barn, the floor of which was covered with gasoline-soaked straw. A grinning 16 yr. old SS boy struck the match. Victims who tried to smother the flames or escape the barn were shot—machine guns being emplaced around the building. About one in twenty was identified as Jewish.

Near Gardelegen, Ger—20 May ’45

Mayors were brought from all the towns in Gardelegen County, made to view the 300 charred bodies and the makeshift grave for the other 700. All able-bodied males in the city of Gardelegen were forced to exhume the bodies in mass graves and bury all in individual plots with white crosses.

Near Gardelegen, Ger—20 May ’45

Sign marking the cemetery entrance. As it implies, each grave has a Gardelegen family charged with keeping it forever beautiful. As we were leaving this area on May 30 the British, who had taken over, saw to it that flowers were placed on each grave.

 

10 Rules of the Occupying US Army

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“Off-Limits” signs that greet the GI on every civilian door. Those on certain stores were later qualified by “Except for business reasons.” Also on each door was the name and age of all occupants. The great age gap amongst the males was readily apparent.

Gardelegen, Ger—27 May ’45

Civilians scan the bulletin board for the latest Military Govt notices.

Wetzlar, Ger—16 May ’45

The predecessor of all such, Proclamation No. 1. Well-known especially for the sentence, “We come as conquerors, not as oppressors,” it is all worth reading.

Gardelegen, Ger—27 May ’45

Some of the following attempts
to copy fine print in the field
are inadequate, but titles
at least give the main intent
.

The Curfew Notice is quite legible. Interesting to note how all are printed in both English and German. The little notice below concerns the turning in of all firearms to the police.

Gardelegen, Ger—27 May ’45

 

11 Wartime Destruction

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This greatest synthetic oil plant in Germany, the Leuna Werk, was bombed 22 times and was forced to cut its production to ¼ its capacity. This and other interesting facts I got from a French slave laborer who worked in the office of the plant and kept track of all the raids. He now is serving the American Military Govt in the city as an interpreter.

Near Merseburg, Ger—6 May ’45

On Nov. 2, 1944, during the 12th raid on this vital Leuna Werk, the B-17 that my friend, Bob Campbell, was piloting was hit by flak, set afire, and forced down.

Near Merseberg, Ger—6 May ’45

Huge statue of Emperor Ludwig, the Bavarian, stands serene in the desolate city center. 171 winding steps bring fools and photographers groping through pitch blackness up to the top of the 125 ft pedestal. See next photo.

Darmstadt, Ger—13 May ’45

Burned-out shells that once were the city’s important buildings. The Air Force must have had a grudge to settle here. All damage is said to have been caused by a single raid with incendiary bombs. View is from a statue-topped tower.

 

12 People on the Move following Victory in Europe, May 7

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Part of the lineup waiting to cross a narrow bridge. Traffic was one way at a time and very slow. The VE Day news is out, and many of these people are former slave laborers making a break for it.

Weissenfels, Ger—8 May ’45

Young German farm folk, looking a bit amused at the prospect of having their pic taken. They are stopped at a checking station at the end of town and an MP is investigating their wagonload behind for stowaways etc.

Sangershausen, Ger—11 May ’45

The CIC and Photo Units of 3d Armd. pause for a rest and ration stop on the autobahn to Frankfurt.

Between Sangerhausen and Frankfurt, Ger—12 May ’45

Presumably in VE Day glee, American fighters swarm playfully over Frankfurt.

Near Frankfurt, Ger—12 May ’45

Wreckage in the streets of Frankfurt am Maine. The nuns wearing packs and carrying suitcases appear to be on the move to some more habitable city or place of greater need.

 

13 Displaced Persons, or DPs—A Nice Name for Slave Labor

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By hand and by cart these former slave laborers move their “households” onto the waiting trains for Russia, where, their homes perhaps destroyed, they must begin again from scratch.

Chemnitz, Ger—2 June ’45

Having just piled off American trucks, these Russian DPs haven’t just yet found out how to get their duffels to the train.

Thousands of these people are arriving here daily from all over American-occupied Germany. We had just filmed a story of 1,200 being brought from Ohrdruf, 85 miles distant. Finding ourselves for the first and last time with a little freedom in a Russian-occupied German city, we snooped a bit. The Germans we talked to were glad to see Americans, wondering how long we were going to stay, and complaining about the skimpy ration of food.

Chemnitz, Ger—2 June ’45

Polish children hungrily munch an afternoon snack of rations that were once in the Red Cross PW Packages. This is part of the DP Camp’s nursery program.

 

14 German Village and Country Life

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Children wait for their daily measure of milk. The lady has a horse-drawn wagon which she stops at each street corner, ringing a bell to rouse the nearby housewives.

Gardelegen, Ger—23 May ’45

Little fellow makes his way to the Mulberg town bakery balancing on his head the pie his mother sent him with.

Near Gotha, Ger—9 June ’45

Farmhands are exceedingly scarce these days. Age is no exemption from manual labor. Youngsters usually come to the fields with their folks. Another way of thinking about this photo is as “War’s Residue, the Very Old and Very Young.”

Sangerhausen, Ger—11 May ’45

They couldn’t help giggling at the two American soldiers who stopped their Peep and walked clear out in the field just to take pictures of them. The youngest is ten, and they work about nine hours a day.

Near Gardelegen, Ger—29 May ’45

Husky and hard-working, but not eager to be photographed in such a role. The German people are surprisingly alert to the propaganda possibilities of pictures and hence object to posing for any that might show them in an unfavorable light, not so much as individuals, but as representative Germans.

 

15 Reminders of the Past

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Outside of the Adolf Hitler Sportsplatz looking rather bare without the great gilt swastika framed in oak leaves that topped its center.

Nürnberg, Ger—8 July ’45

One side of the huge open amphitheater that was one of the foremost prewar Nazi Party meeting places. Now renamed Soldiers Field and used for the GI Olympics and 3d Army baseball finals.

Nürnberg, Ger—8 July ’45

GIs relax in courtyard of the castle Wachsenburg. Though originally built in 933 AD by monks, this castle has been restored several times and is now the official Museum of German Wars—1600 thru World War I.

Near Gotha, Ger—9 June ’45

Strictly candid. I’m perched on the wall of a tower getting a nice all-over shot of castle towers. ’Twas one of the Drei Gleichen. Lt. Rosenmann is holding the tripod in place. Another guy was holding me for awhile.

Near Gotha, Ger—9 June ’45

Lt. Rosenmann and me view the ruins of Burg Gleichen from atop one of its towers. This castle was built in the 1000s. The best preserved part is the eerie network of underground passages and dungeons.

 

16 Relations between US Soldiers and German Civilians

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Careful there, soldier, that is fraternizing with the enemy, which isn’t legal. Rumor has it, though, that all but a few of the MPs have left for the new area at Gotha, so you’re quite safe. Then, too, your spot is such that trouble can be spotted quite a distance away.

Gardelegen, Ger—28 May ’45

GI hands a morsel of food out to eager child. In many places they haunt mess-gear laundries, carrying a can for food and one for coffee. The fellows soon get used to pouring the leftover coffee from their cups into the container held out and allowing the food in their mess gear to be picked over before dumping into garbage cans.

Regensberg, Ger—mid-Sept ’45

Children everywhere it seems, and many of them. Fellows like them and find most are intelligent and surprisingly healthy.

Regensberg, Ger—mid-Sept ’45

GIs leaving German Church after their Service walk between a double line of children waiting to go in for their Sunday School. Carrying a weapon to church was a strange experience.

 

17 Where Are the German PWs?

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Huge PW enclosure. Some 2,600 are being held here. Their two meals a day come from a supply of regular German Army rations captured in a nearby warehouse.

On Leipzig-Frankfurt Autobahn—16 May ’45

GIs make civilian prisoners clear them a ballfield. The Germans and Poles were caught stealing cigarettes and other rations. MG had them locked up till this better use was found for their time.

Neuhaldensleben, Ger—21 May ’45

“MG” means Military Government.

German PWs sweep the street in front of the new 102 Inf Div CP. The modern building was a German Finanzamt or Fiscal Office.

Gotha, Ger—2 June ’45

 

18 Entertainment and Rest

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The whole USO troupe out for the finale number. The stage was especially built for this show, the usual showplace being inadequate for the expected crowd.

Regensburg, Ger—5 August ’45

Bob Hope is busy autographing. He seemed tired to me, but got his usual barrel of laughs from the fellows.

Regensburg, Ger—5 August ’45

Full house of GIs at the evening circus performance. An afternoon show is given for civilians, but they think it rather third rate because many performers are not German. The fellows, though, keenly enjoyed it all. As with most of the acts this one is a family, the Burketts. It’s a contortionist stunt known as the Elastic Act. The father, negro, and mother, white, are shown here holding their heavily tanned daughter split between. The daughter inspired many a GI whistle.

Gotha, Ger—24 June ’45

One of the formidably enclosed courtyards in the Oberhaus. The moat and bridge approach to this part appear on the left. Once a Roman fortress, the place recently was a favorite partying spot for Hitler until the US Army took over and converted it into a rest area for GIs. I enjoyed some rest time here.

 

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