When the drive reached Germany, the 44th crossed the Rhine River and was soon striking for the important industrial city of Mannheim. Mannheim, Germany’s 8th largest city, had a prewar population of over 500,000.
The 114th Regiment flanked the city to the north and captured the town of Schriesheim. In this town, the 114th first encountered fanatic Nazi civilians, who sniped from windows and cellars. After secured, came a forced march, over long mountainous terrain, in a failed attempt to capture a key bridge at Ziegelhausen. This bridge, over the Neckar River, was blown in eyesight of the GIs.
A 772nd Sherman moves forward in Mannheim
Meanwhile, moving S.E. from Worms, the 71st Regiment relieved the 3rd Infantry division on the northern outskirts of Mannheim on March 28, 1945 without even a shot being fired by the German defenders. From the city came a strange sight. A lone figure approached with a large white flag. Wary of a German trick, 3rd Battalion 1st Lieutenant Conrad Lundquist dispatched Private Marvel Wren to instigate. Surprising things happened in succession. The man carried large numbers of sensitive German papers, including proof of his American citizen, was fluent in English and German and had a plan for a bloodless surrender of Mannheim. After a quick conference, his plan was accepted.
City hall after the fighting is over.
Companies I and K, with the plan mastermind in the lead, closely guarded by Private Wren, advanced nervously into the city, ready to fight, fearing German treachery. The lead man ordered all inhabitants off the streets and into the cellars. The civilians complied. The scheme worked and disrupted the German defensive plans and captured critical infrastructures in the northern half of the city, including the telephone exchange, water works, electrical plant, several munitions dumps and other places of military value.
Meanwhile, the 1st and 2nd Battalions advanced on other suburbs and made slow progress moving toward the Neckar River. Snipers and German regulars fought intensely from the tenement houses and gutted factory windows. The U.S. 772nd Tank Battalion provided armor support and saw its first combat supporting the 44th in the pitched battle.
Engineers from the 63rd build another bridge in the advance into Germany.
Heavy German artillery fire from across the Neckar River and mortars wrecked havoc on our troops. But by noon, the Neckar was reached.
While taking the northern half of Mannheim, drama shaped the German leaders in south Mannheim. The “Sieg Hieling” German civilians lost all stomach for the glory of war, now that their own homes were marked for destruction. They rightly feared the power of the U.S. artillery. The Burgermeister wanted to surrender, but the Nazi commander fought it out the bitter end. With the telephone system intact and in the hands of the 44th, the Mayor telephoned and offered to surrender the city. A meeting near the remains of a blown bridge and a cease fire were arraigned. During this meeting with Col. Robert Dulaney, the German commander directed intense concentration of artillery and flak fire at the location, to wipe out both parties. This barrage failed to do so but halted the surrender move.
Sgt. Nunziato brings a group of captured German officers back from Mannheim
Civilians were not discouraged and many crossed the Neckar, by boat, to the Americans. Again the German commander concentrated artillery fire, this time at his own people fleeing to the 44th. On March 29, 1945, units from the 71st crossed the river into German held Mannheim. The city fighting raged and heavy sniping and artillery fire took its toll. By March 30th, the entire city was secure and captured by the 44th.
Published reports said Mannheim surrendered by telephone. The report was optimistic. Mannheim was won the hard way. The next major city, Heidelberg would prove to be a different story.