In April 1945 the end of the war was only weeks away but for the Allied troops in Germany, there was no obvious end in sight. In the four weeks since the crossing of the Rhine, Lieutenant General Alexander Patch’s US Seventh Army had pushed deep into southern Germany, but not without opposition.
Now the symbolic city of Nuremberg lay ahead; a city which was almost a shrine to the Nazi cause, having been the scene of some of the earliest and biggest Nazi Rallies in the years before WW2. Hitler had ordered that the city would never be taken and the defenders must ‘hold to the last man’. It would be a tough nut to crack, even for the experienced units under Patch’s command.
The city of Nuremberg was part of the 13th SS Corps sector but the actual units in the city comprised of several Luftwaffe Air Defence Battalions, some Volksturm and also the civilian population had been mobilised. They were under the command of the local Gauleiter, Karl Holz. Holz was a veteran of the First World War and an early member of the Nazi Party. He knew Hitler and sent him the following message in April 1945.
“My Führer: The final struggle for the town of the party has begun. The soldiers are fighting bravely, and the population is proud and strong. I shall remain in this most German of all towns to fight and to die. In these hours my heart beats more than ever in love and faith for the wonderful German Reich and its people. The National Socialist idea shall win and conquer all diabolic schemes. Greetings from the National Socialists of the Gau Franconia who are faithful to Germany.”
Street by street, house by house, GIs of the 3rd Infantry Division fought their way through the city up against almost fanatical resistance, some of it’s strongest around the sites of the Nazi Rally Grounds. This fighting proved a severe test even for these battle-hardened veterans who had fought all the way from Normandy to the Rhineland.
As the Americans pushed into the heart of the city on 18th April 1945, Holz withdrew into a bunker with the city Mayor, Willy Liebel. There had been a long-running dispute between these men and it is believed Holz killed Liebel as he wanted to surrender to the Americans. The final stand in the bunker, which led to the collapse of the city’s defence and it’s surrender, was on 20th April: Hitler’s birthday. Holz died in the bunker, but it is unknown whether this was in combat or if he took his own life.
The Bloody Battle of Nuremberg had cost the Americans more than 800 battle casualties. German casualties are difficult to estimate but one American report states that casualties in the whole region at this time were in the region of 145,000 of which over 128,000 have been taken prisoner.
Nuremberg was a bloody engagement but even then the fighting in Germany was not over and would spill into Czechoslovakia, where the last shots were fired on 7th May 1945.