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The Army of Occupation in Bad Kissingen and the Rhoen - Grabfeld Region

In May 1945, the war in Europe ended and there were no fewer than 1.6 million US soldiers in Germany alone.  The tasks at hand were organizing those thousands of companies, battalions, batteries and sections, divisions and corps for either continued war in the Pacific or return to the United States and discharge from the military.  Woven throughout the redeployment period were the missions associated with the formal occupation of Germany, something for which the rank and file in the Army had received little or no specialized training. 

The steady slog of daily combat and advance changed, overnight to standing guard at farm trail cross roads, checking the papers of thousands of Germans and central Europeans and taking some into custody, allowing others to pass and then simply waving vast groups along the trails, guarding against the potential last of the Nazis while controlling smuggling between the German states.  In pens by the major towns, captured Germans soldiers were collected and the rations were always dangerously short.  Selected units were fast down the trail in search of Nazi technology while Army legal teams poured over documents and created lists of significant war criminals.  There were so many American soldiers and so many problems in Germany - the Summer of 1945 was a period of  anticipation slowly turning to discontentment.

Around Bad Kissingen and the Rhoen - Grabfeld region, the border area that Eaglehorse troopers might recall, it was a busy Summer and Fall.  Here is our attempt to provide a glimpse of this part of the story of the Americans, the Germans and Bad Kissingen.

The Fog of Peace

After a period of significant troop movement, adjustment and readjustment in the Rhoen area, long after the 3rd Infantry Division and the 14th Armored Division had stormed through, the dust had settled by mid Summer and fragmentary evidence begins to turn up as to specific units, locations and activities.  This takes into account those divisions of the VIII Corps that had attacked north - northeast across the old German state lines of Bavaria into Thuringia and then were in the vicinity of Meiningen.

The 99th Infantry Division had initial occupation responsibility in the upper and lower Franconia region with the 79th Infantry Division also moving into local assembly areas.  Which other units followed and their significant experiences is unknown.  It was an extremely fluid environment, almost all divisional histories of that era end on the first official day of peace but now and then, a document turns up and a stray battalion can be traced to a familiar town.  It might seem safe to say that the parent Combat Command, basically the brigade combat mix, would have been nearby but this was not always the case.  Some units were consolidating for movement while others remained spread across large geographic areas.  One clue is that the Military Government ( MG )Teams, so crucial in re establishing immediate post war order to Germany, were generally matched to divisions tasked with the first days of the occupation and this single thread can lead to understanding troop dispositions.

MG teams attached to the 99th Infantry Division fanned out to Schweinfurt, Munnerstadt and team I2A3 led by a Captain Atwell, moved into Bad Kissingen.  But only a few miles to the north, MG teams in Bad Neustadt and Meiningen, were attached to a different and unidentified division.  They may have been supported by the 79th Division or some other unit, there is just no available evidence.

It was a Summer of great activity and some progress.  The old state border region between Hesse, Bavaria and Thuringia - what would become the Cold War border, had been earlier discussed as a convenient  line between the Russians and Americans.  US forces, in the heat of the campaign, had penetrated as deeply as 250 KMs intoThuringia and Prussia and when the fighting stopped, and everyone caught their breath, certain readjustments were necessary.  

American forces that had ended the war and then remained in place north of what was rapidly becoming more of a border and less of a simple line on a map, were withdrawn south into Bavaria in mid Summer 1945.  The American military government teams that had been stationed in Meiningen and similar surrounding towns, were likewise withdrawn and control handed off to the Soviets. But this is not to say that the Americans left empty handed.  Whether it was the search for looted art and Nazi science and technology, picking up war criminals or just cleaning our the banks - the American Army insured that the trucks were full as they headed south.  The first sunny days along the new border between the German states were marked by handshakes, smiles, trading vodka for cigarettes and both Russian and American MPs waving the military traffic through while trying to first manage and then prevent the German population from following the convoys out of the region.

For soldiers not otherwise engaged with the occupation missions of security, civil control, or administrating to hundreds of thousands of German POWs, and this was the vast majority of US forces, commanders took up the available time with intensive unit sports programs, inspections of men and equipment and, when all else failed, sight seeing tours.  The USO and Special Services Division were active with entertainment and running excursions, anything to divert troop attention from German women and venereal disease, a foe portrayed as dangerous as the last German soldiers battling from the final trench.

A Certain Clarity and a First Mission at the Border

By mid Summer, references to specific units and missions can again be found. The town of Bad Kissingen and the immediate surrounding area was a 9th US Army Air Force responsibility.  Rapidly shedding the many fighter and bomber groups, logistics and maintenance units, the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron augmented by a huge staff support section moved into the downtown area with their  926th Signal Battalion and the IX Air Defense Command plus other unidentified units in and around nearby Bad Neustadt.  There may have been other 9th AF units in the area, close aircraft squadrons were identified in Schweinfurt and Wurzburg but references to the 926th Sig and IXth.ADA units are frequently found in multiple sources.

The IX Air Defense Artillery Command was particularly active in getting the names of soldiers receiving awards, as well as brief articles recalling unit activities, into local US newspapers and this example illustrates what probably was a common soldier experience.

Iowa Globe Gazette

July 15, 1945

“PFC Charles Sorlien, son of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar C. Sorlien, 415 Georgia St. SE is at present stationed at Mellrichstadt, Germany according to word received by his former associates in the compositing room of the Globe - Gazette.  He writes that he works on a switch board from 8 until 11 each morning and during the same hours at night.  The rest of the time, he says, is his own.  He says he has seen Jack Benny at Schweinfurt and the Glenn Miller Band.  He has seen quite a bit of the countryside, going out in a jeep almost every day.  Some of his other spare time was used operating the movie projector for the unit, he wrote. “

Other articles recalled the trips across Germany made by Lt Leslie H. Mckensie, the 9th Army Air Force Reenlistment Officer as he convinced draftees to consider Army careers and the efforts of  9th ADA Command Chaplain, Floyd S. Smith, to help the locals in Bad Neustadt reestablish a local synagogue. 

Beyond the newsprint, the 9th Air Force staff was tasked with a wide variety of missions, everything from monitoring the weather and reviving agriculture throughout the region to the search for significant Nazi technology.  On the one hand they were compiling unit histories and disassembling the fighter and bomber commands and across the hall - coordinating with German agencies as soon as they could be stood up to insure some sort of transition from war to peace without chaos or starvation in the immediate region.

Following soon into Kissingen some months later, with an interesting back story all their own came staff units of the HQ XII Tactical Air Command and although the evidence is sketchy, they may in fact have established a local military school to retrain air personnel as MPs to secure local areas and this begins to hint at how airmen became occupiers in and around Kissingen in 1945.

We also find an interesting early snapshot of what was going on at Manteuffel Kaserne on the hill above the town from about this time.  A personal recollection by a trooper assigned to a signal unit of the XII Tac Air recalls that as his unit was being reconfigured, they drew jeeps and trucks from a vast collection of vehicles lined up in depot storage on the parade grounds of the barracks.  Apparently, as the 9th Air Force units departed Germany, their vehicles and perhaps those from other units as well, were pooled at Manteuffel and then made available to other units.

And then beyond the barracks gates, the first occupiers in the countryside, the 99th Infantry Division soon departed for America and assistance to the local MG teams became an ad hoc arrangement probably informally tasked to the local air corps units. But the gap was soon filled as units fully committed to the occupation mission were identified.

In October, the US occupation situation in the Rhoen  - Grabfeld is well documented.  The 3rd Infantry Division was withdrawn from northern Austria where it had ended the war and then spent the Summer.  After a very brief stay in the Frankfurt area, it received a new mission to occupy portions of south central Germany, the same general region it had fought through some months earlier.  The specific zone, the Main - Franken area, encompassed in the south, Schweinfurt and Darmstadt and extended in a box as far north as the city of Kassel.  Even for an infantry division, this was a large area to garrison. 

Around Bad Kissingen and the near border region, the immediate tasks fell to the 15th Infantry Regiment, then placed under the operational control of the 1st Infantry Division, the next major combat command  dedicated to the occupation,  located to the southeast. 

From this period,  there are some known unit locations for the 15th: Regimental Headquarters at Schweinfurt, Service Company at Wurzburg and the Cannon Company at Maroldsweisach.  The First Battalion was at Wildflecken with D Company at Elsenfeld.  The entire Second Battalion was at Hammelburg.  Third Battalion Headquarters was at Mellrichstadt, Companies L and M garrisoned Koenigshofen, and then continuing northwest along the border, K Company was located at Ostheim and I Company moved into Fladungen. Interesting to see that Bad Kissingen was not at all in the garrison plan.   While airmen may have ruled the city, the very first men to the border came with few jeeps, rather, 2 ½ ton trucks and combat boots were the choices at hand.  The border was in the hands of the infantry.

By the time the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry was in place north of Bad Kissignen, they were not alone on the border.  To assist in Bavaria, the Americans had allowed  a new civil Bavarian police force to be established specific to the border area and this was very much the work of the Military Government teams seeking German solutions to German issues.

Retaining German police in the cities and towns had been an obvious choice and required little effort but allowing a new force in the border region was a significant step along the line towards an official demarcation. These squads, consisting of former German soldiers and armed with pistols, opened offices in dozens of villages and towns along the border.  Most offices were staffed by small groups of ten or fewer men and were specifically to address civil control in the border area.  The Germans conducted many of their patrols jointly with US occupation forces.  And when it came to actual strife along the border line, more often than not, it involved German police based in the East and West - clashing.  The Russians had quickly responded with their own East German version of a border police. With so many checkpoints and groups of smugglers and displaced persons still on the move, and the border still essentially open, clashes were bound to happen.

In the forests and rolling farm land that characterized the border area north and east of Kissingen, the men of Companies  L, M, K and I would have spent much of their duty day in regular contact with groups of wandering civilians.  On the one hand were the refugees, Germans who had for whatever reason, lost their homes or were otherwise on the move.  The second group was defined as displaced persons. These DPs were homeless non Germans, streaming along roads and trails after walking away from Nazi slave labor camps.  Both groups posed significant problems for the infantrymen who had received  no training for this mission.

US Occupation Troops in the Rhoen - Grabfeld and German Refugees

Clearly, most Germans feared occupation by Russians and with the American zone so close, thousands were willing to become refugees and abandon their homes and run to the south and west.  The Americans were hardly able to provide for the resident population within their zone let alone allowing the numbers to swell by tens of thousands.  Likewise, the Russians, who were rapidly flushing German populations out of Western Poland and similar regions, saw only problems in rebuilding their zone of occupation if the native population fled.  Both sides agreed that the flow should stop. 

The initial US policy was to apprehend and return to the East, those who were trying to flee and in one of those twists of fate, senior American officers speculated that Russian and American troops would come to share the mission of keeping German refugees from fleeing the Russian zone into Bavaria and Hesse.  While numbers and other hard evidence are hard to come by, it seems clear that for American infantrymen and their German police counterparts from Fladungen to Coburg, a common part of any day would have been asking for the papers of Germans found on the run.

Initially, those civilians moving in the border area with the new, American issued ID papers indicating some tie to the region, might be allowed to move on and this was a boon to those who had gotten their papers from American Government Teams in Thuringia prior to the early July departure.  Those without papers or with papers from the Nazi period indicating their homes were in Thuringia, might be taken into custody or, more probably, escorted back to the open and frequently poorly marked border and ordered to march north under penalty of arrest.  So of these groups of hapless refugees who were turned back - many ran into the woods and tried again.

In the early fall of 1945, some of the features that would come to be associated with the border area came into existence.  Both US and Russian forces began to mark trees and wooden stakes with paint to indicate the physical border.  The Russians with their own newly created  East German border police began to close roads and trails with barriers, set up guard shacks and run single or double strands of barbed wire in open areas. The major road running north from Bad Kissingen to Meiningen and crossing the border by Eussenhausen remained open but under close supervision by American and Soviet troops.  There was some commerce along the normal roads but Americans and Russians agreed that what was produced in the states of  Bavaria or Thuringia should not cross state lines. The refugee steam was somewhat stemmed, and the border barrier system began.

Interestingly, at just about this period, the quality and professionalism of the US soldiers in the region and in fact, throughout Germany, began to deteriorate.  The war with Japan had ended and remarkably, the Army, under orders to begin a massive reduction in costs and personnel,  began to send to Europe, troopers who had received only basic training.  Units tasked with the occupation mission came to consist of veterans who desperately wanted to go home and recruits with at best, marginal training.

US policy towards fleeing Germans changed in 1946.  Along the border, the Russians were adding bunkers and guard shacks and relations with the Soviets were becoming increasingly tense.  By the second year of the occupation, as American soldiers picked up fleeing Germans in the border region, they turned them over to the local border police officials as soon as possible.  The Bavarian Border Police reported that in 1946, they had encountered  481 people fleeing from the East in the Rhoen hills and apparently allowed them to move on or had directed them towards relocation assistance. This number is probably only a small fraction of the number that slipped through uncounted.  Along the entire German border between east and west, by 1948, an accepted number is that over 700,000 persons had fled to the west.  As borders go, it was well guarded and porous, at least when it came to the Americans.

Occupation Forces and Displaced Persons

The second large group of people that members of the 15th Infantry would have encountered while on occupation duty in the Rhoen in late 1945 and well into 1946 were part of the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons wandering the countryside, primarily former slave workers imported by the Nazis from the east into Germany during the war and now adrift in the countryside.  While refugees tended to be found in small family groups, the DPs traveled in bands sometimes numbering in the several hundreds.  They clogged  roads, there were health and sanitation issues and incidents of revenge taking against local Germans were not uncommon.  The larger DP groups could even create significant local crime waves.  Many of these people had no interest in returning to nations now occupied by Russians but they had no where else to go.

To deal with the problem, the Americans set up camps including a huge one at the former Nazi barracks at Wildflecken and Army humanitarian efforts in this regard can largely be summed up as: round them up, ship them to camps, sort them out and then rail load them home.  Whether or not they wanted to return to the east was not, at least initially, given much consideration.  The Army’s handling of the DPs was increasingly viewed as both  ham handed and sadly efficient in the pre Constabulary period.

Actual administration of the refugee camps was by 1947, handed off to the International Refugee Organization that had moved its headquarters into Bad Kissingen and this was a major turn in both the politics of the problem and compassion towards the refugees.

Local camp police were formed,  drawn from the throngs of DPs and this freed the American Army from many of the dreary issues surrounding the day to day guarding and administration of the camps but even in the Constabulary period, massive raids by US forces on the Wildflecken Camp were common in an effort to maintain order or at least compliance of a population with no desire to return to the East.

The IRO, to their great credit, worked tirelessly to resettle the former slave laborers in the West if they refused to return to countries now run by Communists and even West Germany, at the time a minority share holder in the discussion, was not adverse to regulated re settlement and offered a sort of second class citizenship.  American soldiers may have been the first camp guards in 1945 but there were remaining echoes of this part of the occupation mission well into the 1980s.

American troopers at Hohenfels, Grafenwoehr and Baumholder might recall encountering  personnel from range labor companies consisting of middle aged men who spoke only Polish or Hungarian, while drawing tents, targets or Saab target mechanisms.  These men were the residue of the thousands of displaced persons of the immediate post war Germany.  Having been allowed to remain through one of the humanitarian programs and rather than being forced onto trains heading east, these men were given a special status, neither immigrant or resident, grouped into labor battalions and provided jobs in support of the major American training areas. They labored on until the end of the cold war coincided with their retirement and the chance to return to the newly freed east or slip into the German social safety net.

For the men of the Third Infantry Division and the 15th Regiment in the Bad Kissingen border area, the occupation mission ended in mid 1946 with unit redeployment to the United States. There is very little specific information related to these men and their occupation period in the Rhoen. Historians agree, however, that on the whole, in the last months of the occupation period, all across Germany, American morale and trooper conduct suffered significant breakdowns for a variety of reasons.  The war was over - the soldiers wanted to go home and there were other concerns.

The occupation forces were spread thinly over large geographic areas and housed not really in barracks but in tents or commandeered local German housing, this led to breakdowns in command supervision and communications.  There was a perceived lack of clear mission, poor quality replacements, a lack of social services for the troops as USO programs were cut back and unhappiness among the war veterans at being retained in Germany for so long.

Many of the junior officers were likewise poorly trained or, had returned to Germany after failing to find employment in the peacetime economy. Due to boredom and a lack of active command interest, there was excessive drinking, this led to rapes, shootings and other crimes directed at local Germans who in turn, openly brawled with American soldiers on pass.  One of the regional hotbeds for anti American sentiment during this period and an area noted by significant unrest was in and around Coburg.  

The very first Americans to the Rhoen border, flush with immediate post war excitement, were faced with throngs of homeless people, Germans, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and countless others.   There were smugglers and Communists, POWs and peasants,  wanderers in a vast population on the move and an Army not well suited to the mission.  These units did their best to stand down from the combat pace while taking on responsibilities for which they had no training and all the while, the units were rapidly losing veterans to be replaced by recruits.  The scant evidence indicates the troopers by and large did a credible job and when units began to break down on the mission, they were soon given a much deserved return to the United States.

Kissingen and then the Border

At Kissingen, the 9th Army Air Force officially decamped with one final awards ceremony on 1 December 1945. Select staff sections and the HQ XII Tac Air remained for some further months before the last hotel buildings in the town were returned to the German control and the International Refugee Organization moved in to finally unsort the many issues related to the displaced persons found in camps across Bavaria and Hesse.  The town and the barracks at Manteuffel Kaserne were momentarily mostly free of Americans.  But in the fields and the hills to the north and east, there was that sound of Jeeps running in the night, American soldiers with maps leaning forward, peering down the trail and ready for what waited in the darkness:  anticipation, readiness and resolve.

The next to the border came forward with dash, élan and esprit de corps.   The next to the border in Rhoen - Grabfeld, were the boisterous boys in jeeps with the Circle C Lightening Bolt insignia of the US Army Constabulary. 

 
Somewhere on the roads of the Rhoen, civilians and displaced persons
everywhere

.

But this was hardly a combat pace and there was time, perhaps too much time, to explore Germany.


Troopers screen papers of German
 refugees.

Border checkpoint by Eussenhausen, 1946.  The formal border began to evolve quite quickly starting in mid Summer
 1945.


By 1946, the units committed to the occupation mission began to breakdown in terms of both morale and discipline.  The veterans had been overseas for too long, the replacements were untrained, the missions were vague and supervision was scant

.

Occupation troops in civilian clothes off to see the sights in a German city, their days in Germany were numbered.


And the end could not have come at a better time

 
Happy to be done with the war and trying to figure out the occupation missions.


German refugee family fleeing south out of the Russian Zone.


First days of joint American - Russian cooperation on the border.

Displaced persons picked up and placed into camps, more humane than the earlier policy of immediate return to the East


An enemy nearly as lethal as the former German Army


The US Army Constabulary takes control of the border regions and remaining occupation missions across Germany.
 
     

Notes:

I have worked on this piece for months and keeping track of specific notes for each fact / sentence was not fully done.  The major source points are listed below and if anyone wants a specific citation to a sentence or paragraph, please contact Randy and I will try and reconstruct the appropriate source. 

US occupation of Meiningen and surrounding areas

Major source areas:

Come as Conqueror
Franklin M. Davis Jr.
Macmillan Press 1967

U.S. Army in the Occupation of Germany
Earl F. Ziemke
Center of Military History
On line here: 

The American Military Occupation of Germany
Oliver Frederiksen
United States Army Press 1953

Numerous period newspaper and magazine accounts.

August 2014
 
 


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