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Linz falls to Patton’s Third Army

Days after the 25 April 1945 bombing raid on Linz, Combat Command A (CCA) of the US Army’s 11th Armored Division was advancing on the city. CCA was expecting a fight, having heard August Eigruber, the Nazi Gauleiter—provincial leader—of Upper Danube, announce on the radio on 2 May that the people of Upper Austria were to fight the Allies. No one was to display white flags, he had said, and all government officials were to remain at their posts.

The declaration masked a behind-the-scenes struggle between Eigruber and a group of Nazis in the municipal administration of Mayor Franz Langoth. As American units closed in, Langoth and others argued with Eigruber against a last-ditch defense of Linz, which would not only be futile but would also only add to the destruction already caused by the bombing raids. After two days of heated debate, the Gauleiter threw up his hands and left the city. At noon on 4 May, half an hour after elements of the 945th Field Artillery unleashed a volley of incendiary rounds on the city, marking the final American bombardment of Linz during the Second World War, Eigruber went back on the air to declare Linz an open city.

Though the Americans didn’t know it, the Austrian Resistance had already negotiated a peaceful transfer of power with Langoth, and, when Gestapo units had fled the city days earlier, Resistance figures had begun working together with local authorities to prevent the destruction of Linz’s slaughterhouse, food stores, power and water plants, and the bridges over the Danube.

At two o’clock, an emissary claiming full authority to negotiate on behalf of the commander of German forces in Linz arrived at the CCA command post in Gramstetten. He offered to surrender the city with the stipulation that German troops be allowed to withdraw to the east to fight the advancing Russians. The American commander declined and told the man he had two hours to secure the unconditional surrender of the city and all German forces therein. Unfortunately, CCA was bogged down by heavy fighting and poor road conditions around Gramstetten, and when air reconnaissance units reported that German armed units were pulling out of Linz and heading north and east, CCA could do little to stop them.

Before departing, German troops destroyed many of the flak guns and anti-aircraft radars that had given Allied bomber crews so much grief on 25 April and earlier. On the night of 4-5 May, Resistance members took to the streets and removed anti-tank roadblocks. Hitler’s hometown was ripe for the taking.

Early on the morning of 5 May, a civilian police emissary approached the command post of CCA’s Task Force Hearn, claiming the Germans had pulled out and offering once again to surrender the city. It was too late. CCA’s Task Force Wingard was already on its way to Linz with orders to secure the Linz-Urfahr bridge at all costs. At 10:00 A.M., Troop C, 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, reached the high ground west of Linz and reported no opposition. Thirty minutes later, white flags began to appear in windows across the city, and at eleven o’clock, Task Force Wingard units were in Urfahr and making for the bridge.

A tank from the US Eleventh Armored Division closes in on Linz on 5 May 1945

At 11:30 A.M., CCA’s operations officer received a one-sentence message from Task Force Wingard: “We are in the middle of Linz.” US troops quickly surrounded the Rauthaus, where in March 1938 Hitler had addressed the crowd upon his triumphal arrival in Linz. There an American general dictated the terms of surrender to Langoth. Outside, US soldiers removed two tons of explosives from the Danube bridges and took 153 German troops prisoner. The city was secure by mid-afternoon.

Linz had fallen, and the liberating Americans had entered the city over the Nibelungen Bridge, which, aside from two adjacent buildings, was the only element of Hitler’s grandiose plans for Linz that was ever actually constructed.

Generalmajor Alfred Kuzmany, the German combat commander for the Linz region in the waning days of the war, credited the Fifteenth Air Force with hastening the fall of the city. In a report written in 1950, he concluded, “The Allied air attacks on the city of Linz and especially on the railway station installations were very effective. The subsequent interruptions of the water, gas, and electricity supplies was very troublesome. In view of the critical situation, it was impossible to consider any effective defense of the city.”

Sources: - Eleventh Armored Division, S-2 Section Incoming Messages, Combat Command A, NARA, Record Group 407, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917 - , WWII Operations Reports, 1941-1948, Eleventh Armored Division, 611-CCA-2.4 to 611-CCA-3.2, Box 13051. - Evan Burr Bukey, Hitler’s Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 216. - Radomir V. Luza, The Resistance in Austria, 1938-1945 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 261-262. - Hal D. Steward, Thunderbolt: The History of the Eleventh Armored Division (Nashville: The Battery Press, 1981). - Eleventh Armored Division, S-2 Section Outgoing Messages, Combat Command A, NARA, RG 407, Box 13051. - Eleventh Armored Division, S-3 Journal, 1 April to 10 May 1945, Combat Command A, NARA, RG 407, Box 13051. - Generalmajor Alfred Kuzmany, Foreign Military Studies, B-Series, Linz-Donau (28 Mar-11 May 1945), AFHRA, microfilm reel B0106.

Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration.


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