By mid-April of 1945, one could safely say that World War II, from an Axis perspective, was going pretty badly. Italy had long ago capitulated. Japan was reeling and in the throes of its last major conflict on Okinawa. And Germany was feeling a tight squeeze from the Allied contingent converging on its capital from both east and west.
In the early morning of April 20, 1945, the city of Leipzig, Germany surrendered to elements of the U.S. 69th Infantry Division after fairly lengthy negotiations. But most of the action and the drama had taken place over the preceding 48 hours.
As U.S. troops closed in, a conflict had erupted between the head of Leipzig’s police force, Wilhelm von Grolman, and the military commander, Col. Hans von Poncet. In order to save lives and prevent the destruction of the city’s services, Grolman wanted to surrender the city. Poncet, on the other hand, expected all military personnel, including the police, to fight to the last man. American forces, unaware of the tension in the city, but sensing the imminent end of the war, approached the city slowly to minimize their own casualties and entered the city’s outskirts on the 18th, where fighting was, at times, intense.
That evening, Grolman began negotiations to surrender the city, but couldn’t complete them without agreement from the military side. The 19th saw most resistance collapse and the suicide of the city’s mayor and deputy and their families. But the military force (Poncet and about 150 men) continued to fight and was subjected to a merciless pounding throughout the day. Negotiations with Poncet began in the afternoon of the 19th and were finally concluded early on the 20th.
Leipzig was in American hands…for the time being. It would be “given back” to the Soviets as it had already been determined at the Yalta Conference that the city lay on the Soviet side of the “Line of Contact“. U.S. troops had already moved well east of that line, and moved further east in ensuing days. In July of 1945, the agreement would be honored, and U.S. troops would leave, to be replaced by their Soviet counterparts and a Communist regime.
Recommended Reading – Company Commander – McDonald’s work has become something of a standard and he gives a very good description of the events at Leipzig. I’ve somehow managed to end up with two copies of this book.