German army in Spring 1945
So much for the quick description that an outside observer might give. But history is more than a sequence of actions. To understand history as much as possible - but also to find as many relics as possible - we need to put ourselves in the position of those who acted. To understand the way people thought and felt is the key to find items regardless of the specific type of items you are after.
To find equipment hidden by German soldiers we need to know how they felt and under which circumstances they would hide their weapons. Lets try to put ourselves in the boots of the common German soldier in April and May 1945.
The German army always put great emphasis on discipline. But when the high command sensed the coming disaster in Spring 45 the orders became extremely strict to maintain order under the most hopeless circumstances. In the US army in WW II hardly any death sentences were executed. In the German army this was different.
In the archives I found several orders of the “to be destroyed after reading” sort. They mirror the spirit of the German high command of those days. In their own way they describe the situation better than anything else. The illustration shows such an order. The relevant passages translate as follows.
“April 15., 1945
I have to note that the taken measures [to maintain order] did not bring the expected results. The current serious situation requires the most strict measures to keep up the army as well as the population. The most extreme measures have to be taken if the need arises. I herewith order
1) To announce to the troops that the army judges have order to sentence to death every soldier who leaves his position without order or permission.
2) If necessary leaders of rebellions can be shot in front of their comrades without a war trial
3) Commanders have to build a squad and search villages and towns in a surprising way for deserted soldiers.
4) It is the task of the commanders and officers to avoid the use of these draconic measures by exemplary behaviour.
5) In all cases where the civil population hinders the army in any way the leaders have to be brought to trial. In urgent cases execution of these offenders is permitted without a trial. The responsible officer has to report about this immediately to the high command west.
6) Where the civil population shows white flags when the enemy approaches the houses have to be destroyed (burned) and all male inhabitants of 16 years or older have to be shot.
Signed Kesselring, General Field Marshal
Signed supreme army judge Dr. Freiherr von Wrangel
Order is to be destroyed after reading.
Order has to be passed down to the last soldier orally only.”
In another document, dated April 8, 1945, it says “We still observe a certain reluctance to convene war trials. Where the prerequisites for a war trial are given every commanding officer is obliged to convene a war trial. …”.
Apparently the army tried to follow these orders as little as possible. I found no official figures or serious estimations concerning the numbers of executed soldiers. I did find, however, various eyewitness accounts describing the execution of soldiers or civilians, especially in the last weeks of the war. There can be no doubt that the German soldier felt a lot of pressure in these days. They certainly were very careful not to throw their weapon away too soon. For the relic hunter this means that searching the last known position has better prospects than searching battle scenes or retreat routes.
(C) Thorsten Straub www.metal-detecting.de 2006-2011.