Liberation of Ohrdruf

On 4 April 1945, members of the 4th Armored Division, supported by an attachment from the 89th Infantry Division, liberated the Nazi forced labor camp known as Ohrdruf.

Most Americans first learned of the atrocities of the Nazi camps in 1942, but it was not until April 1945 that US soldiers witnessed what happened firsthand when they liberated Ohrdruf.

914th Unit History p6 web[1]

I never thought I’d write about the documentation of a tragedy while living in the midst of another. It is hard to write about concentration camps at any time, and it’s harder now with the world currently facing Covid-19. This post continues the series on researching World War II service, recalling the efforts and sacrifices of the past, and presenting the evidence that tells us what happened. The past must be documented, and we, and succeeding generations, must learn and remember.

The 89th Infantry Division, of which the 914th Field Artillery Battalion was a part, has been commemorated by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Army Center of Military History as a Liberating Unit. Their guidelines define a Liberating Unit as

  • Recognize units only at the divisional level;
  • Accord the honor of liberator status on the basis of unit records housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, not oral testimony; and
  • Accord liberator status to those divisions arriving at the site within 48 hours of the initial division’s encounter.[2]

I knew from reading the history of the 89th that some units were attached to the 4th Armored Division during a couple key dates, specifically 3 – 6 April 1945. These units were

  • 355th Combat Team[3]
  • 914th Field Artillery Battalion
  • 314th Engineers Combat Battalion, Company C[4]

The 4th Armored Division, like the 89th, was recognized as a Liberating Unit of Ohrdruf. It seemed from the general history of the 89th that my great uncle Irv Carl would have been a witness to the atrocities of the Ohrdruf camp. The unit histories of both the 4th and the 89th also document their presence at Ohrdruf, as does the history of the 914th. To learn the daily movements of each company of the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, and access every possible record available, I needed to review Morning Reports.

Morning Reports are the most granular of the documents available to WWII military researchers – they were created the morning after events took place. The reports are omission-based, meaning that if nothing happened to a soldier that day, his name would not appear, just some descriptive details of what the company did and experienced. Reports only show the names of men wounded, sick or who arrived/departed the unit on a particular date, meaning that the vast majority of soldiers’ names were not in Morning Reports.

Morning Reports vary in detail, and in preservation quality. Morning Reports were microfilmed by the National Archives and are housed in St. Louis. Some reels have fared better than others. The 914th Field Artillery Battalion reports have some gaps – days when the “buck slips,” the small slips of paper on which the reports were filed, were not received. The data was input on later dates.

The Morning reports for the 914th Field Artillery Battalion – for all Batteries – are missing buck slips for many days of the first two weeks of April. Even so, the Morning Reports for Battery C – the Battery to which Irv Carl belonged – provide details on exactly where and when. On 4 April 1945, after traveling more than 200 miles in less than three days, Battery C arrived 2 miles southeast of Meteback, Germany[5] at 1130. The next morning, 5 April, it was onward to take Gotha. Battery C arrived at Ohrdruf in the rain, at 1600 on 6 April 1945. They remained at Ohrdruf for several days, departing at 0630 on 10 April 1945.

A few days after the 914th Field Artillery Battalion departed Ohrdruf, General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived, along with General George C. Patton. In a letter to George C. Marshall written on 15 April 1945, Eisenhower described the experience[6]

6995916_042_Page_2 Eisenhower ltr to Marshall crop

Resources

First person accounts of Ohrdruf:

[1] Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, World War II Operations Reports, 1940 – 1948. Entry (NM3) 427, File 389 – FA(914) – 0.1 History 914th FA BN, 89th Inf. Div 2 Feb 1942 – 30 Oct 45.

[2] USHMM, https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/us-army-units?parent=en%2F7836, accessed 30 March 2020.

[3] A Combat Team is a temporal fighting force, depending on the tactical situation. In the case of a Regimental Combat Team, it stays in the base unit (Infantry Regiment), allowing the Commanding Officer (Regimental Commander) to add heavy weapons, antitank assets etc. as needed for the situation. Many thanks to Patrick Brion, Förderverein “Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Walpersberg“ e.V., Sitz Kahla for assistance with the abbreviations and definition of a Combat Team.

[4] US Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/documents/ETO-OB/89ID-ETO.htm, accessed 30 March 2020.

[5] There is more than one Meteback. The one mentioned here is located at 50.9698, 10.6091

[6] Eisenhower, Dwight D: Papers, Pre-Presidential, 1916 – 1952. Principal Files, 1916 – 1952. File Unit: Marshall, George C. (6), Letter, Dwight D. Eisenhower to George C. Marshall, 4/15/1945. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene, Kansas. To view the entire letter, see here: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/12005711.

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