The Last Hurrah: German Stand Against the Americans With Brand-New Panzers at Kassel
Kassel is a mid-size town in central Germany. It had a population of about 250,000 but its importance cannot be underrated as it housed the Henschel manufacturing plant of the Tiger tank. The Henschel factory complex was a massive industrial complex that manufactured the Tiger I& II tanks. The factory had been founded in 1810 by George Christian Carl Henschel. The factory had continued production of the Tiger tanks right up to 1 April 1945.
US Army Air Force and RAF carried out a sustained bombing of Kassel from 1942 to March 1945. As per records available in a single raid by the Allies air force on 22–23 October 1943, 150,000 inhabitants were bombed-out and at least 10,000 citizens were killed. The USAAF and RAF combined 569 bombers dropped more than 1,800 tons of bombs (including 460,000 magnesium fire sticks) in a concentrated pattern.
The city finally fell to the American 1st Army on 3 April 1945 but by then its population had reduced to 50,000. Before this happened the Wehrmacht launched their last offensive against the American Army. It was a bloody four-day battle in which the German army proved that they were not ready to throw in the towel.
The Americans after they recovered from the famous thrust of Hitler's Ardennes winter offensive turned their attention towards central Germany. General Patton ordered the capture of Kassel. It was important to capture Kassel because of its tank manufacturing plant. It was equally important for the Wehrmacht and the German high command had designated Kassel a Festung (fortress) with dire orders to "resist to the last round". There was however a paucity of troops. The tank company had rolled out 13 brand-new Tiger II tanks which were available for combat along with 88MM anti-aircraft guns and several hundred soldiers from the labor battalion and the 15th armored regiment. Overall command was with Generalmajor Johannes Erxleben, a signals officer with little battle experience.
General Erxleben realized that he had very little options other than going on the offensive and try and throw the Americans back. He made use of the latest Panzer Tiger Mark II tanks which had just rolled out from the factory. They were taken over by two companies of the German 510th and 511th Heavy Tank Battalions.
The German attack began on 30 March 1945. When seven tiger Mark II tanks rolled out to meet the American spearhead of the American third army. The attack had initial success and many American tanks and truck vehicles were destroyed but the Americans retaliated with heavy artillery fire and the Germans had to pull back.
On 1 April 1945, the Americans advance elements of the US 80th infantry division tried to move into Kassel from the south but they were thwarted by the heavy anti-aircraft fire.
The Germans now went on the offensive and the 15th Battalion mounted 15 half-tracks and, supported by about 12 tanks, moved south and surprised elements of the 1st Battalion, 318th Infantry. The Americans were taken by surprise at the ferociousness of the German assault and had the worst of the exchanges. The battle saw six U.S. tank destroyers knocked out and one Tiger II damaged.
In the ensuing battle, the German infantry got separated from the tanks which continued their advance against the Americans. U.S. troops had to pull back and orders were passed to stop the advance of the German Panzers. The Americans now began to use heavy artillery and 155MM artillery guns began to target the tanks from a distance and two of the tanks were destroyed. The Germans then decided to pull back for the defence of the city. They made one more attempt later in the day but this time the Americans did not allow them to proceed further.
After the belligerence shown by the Germans the Americans decided to assault the city. For this purpose, the 80th revision and the 318 infantry were given the task. They were initially thwarted by self-propelled guns in deep embankments and a firefight commenced. Ultimately 500 German soldiers surrendered.
The Americans now moved inside the city and there was hand-to-hand fighting. The Germans had very few defenders in numbers and soon began to give way to the Americans. Seeing the collapse of his defenses General Erlxeban sent an emissary to the Americans to negotiate terms of surrender in the early hours of fourth April. The offer was rejected that there would be no talks until German resistance completely ceased. Around 1100 on April 4, U.S. tanks crossed the Fulda River from the east and moved toward the center of Kassel. At 1200, General Erxleben capitulated and was taken prisoner along with 1,325 others, effectively ending the Battle of Kassel
The last hurrah
With surrender just a month away the German army still packed a punch and despite dwindling numbers and weaponry gave a good account in the battle of Kassel. They fought to the last and did not surrender until the situation had become hopeless. General Erlxeban was a committed supporter of Hitler and exhorted his troops to the fight to the last and the result was hand-to-hand fighting between the Americans and the Germans in the city. But ultimately numbers prevailed and the Germans had to surrender. Unlike some of the bigger names in the Nazi military hierarchy who immediately surrendered to the Americans, general Erlxeban did not throw in the towel and surrender to the Americans till the very end.
The Germans had about 6000 soldiers at Kassel but the figures of the Americans have never been published. In all probability, they were many times the number of German soldiers.