Die Amis arrive!

Photo by James Jarche/Paul Popper/Popperfoto.

Berlin, 1945 Nach Kriegsende: an American Sherman tank is parked in front of a S-Bahn station with a shattered apartment building and a destroyed tram stop background. Next to it, the tank’s crew stand in a relaxed pose and a few metres away a pair of Soviet soldiers enjoy a smoke and smile for the benefit of the camera.  

The scene must be captured when the first US tanks rolled into the streets of the defeated Nazi-capital at the end of the Second World War, entering Berlin from the southwest Autobahn to their planned zone of occupation. Transfer of power took place on July 4th afternoon but both forces coexisted at the area until 12 July when the Soviets finally left the American sector, so we can date the image between 5th to 12th of that month. 

Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images.

Photo by James Jarche/Paul Popper/Popperfoto.

The tank belongs to the 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division of the US Ninth Army. The larger turret for the 76mm main gun and the front glacis’ angle identifies it as a M4A3(76)W with normal suspension. Painted on the side hull of the tank is “DEC 7TH”, most probably in memory of the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941. The division’s vehicles were cleaned up for the Berlin occasion, removing the extra appliqué armour on the glacis too. A new set of big white US stars has been painted also. Notice the officer with binoculars at extreme right, and that all the combat crew are wearing M1 steel helmets instead of the “football” helmet, more common among tankers.

The 2nd Armored Div, known as “Hell on the Wheels” a combat-seasoned unit throughout World War II from North Africa to the Elbe battlefields, would be the first of the US task force sent to go to Berlin as occupation force and the first one to enter the city. On July 3rd, the division started the 2-day movement to Berlin from its accommodation area at Halle, some 150km west of the capital. Leading elements of the force, with Colonel Howley, deputy commandant and head of US Office of Military Government in Berlin, had already reached the city on 1 July, but the main force of the unit completed its move on July 5th. Some 25,000–30,000 US troops would occupy this sector in the southwestern zone of Berlin, comprising Zehlendorf, Steglitz, Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, Tempelhof and Neukölln.

As laid out in the Berlin plan, the division’s priorities “comprised the protection of US facilities, billeting areas, and supply routes through Berlin”. The unit, equipped with nearly 2,000 vehicles with four medium tank and two light tank battalions of three companies each, arrived at the defeated capital basically to provide security in the Western sector (including act as honour guard to President Truman assisting to the Potsdam conference) until a better-suited unit could take over in the following months. Finally, on August 6th after a five weeks duty, the first elements of the 2nd Div began their withdrawal from the German capital, being relieved by the 82nd Airborne Div paratroopers.

[Here, the new visitors are surrounded by a crowd of curious Berliners around the US tank. The American Sector was largely residential, and the Soviets had ruled the city for nearly ten weeks so the interest in the arrival of the Americans to the city was extremely high.]

Photo: ullstein bild (00271358).

A PR unit and cameraman of the US Army captured in film too the scene at the Schöneberg streets. American press used striking headlines like U.S. Armor Impresses Berlin” and “You Can’t Beat Them” referring to the first US Army tanks arriving in the capital. 

Video credit: US NARA.

Some scenes of this ‘cordial’ action are shown too on this superb video from the British Pathé newsreel “Berlin 1945 aftermath” starting at 01:20 minute running time.

Video credit: British Pathé/ FILM ID:2141.05.

[Two film-screens of American GIs and Soviet Ivans chatting and smoking standing next to the Sherman. Notice the damaged U-Bahn entrance behind.]

Photo: still from film. British Pathé/ FILM ID:2141.05.

Photo: still from film. British Pathé/ FILM ID:2141.05.

But where was this pre-Cold War scene taken? Close examination of the Bahnhof’s sign on the wall reveals that the location was Innsbrucker Platz, on the southern end of the Berlin-Schöneberg district, a main central traffic junction next to the 1945 German Ringbahn defensive line. 

The destroyed and burned out building seen in the background next to the train station and the Südringbrücke housed at the time a Opel-Automobile Verkaufsstelle G.m.b.H. (a car dealership) owned by Bruno Dietzmann on the ground floor and a Café at Innsbrucker Platz Nr 1. Compare it as seen here in 1935 with the next three pictures which show the gutted condition when the war comes to an end: only the skeleton and the facade have survived. 

Photo: ©Thomas Lautenschlag; Flickr.

Photo: still from film/ NARA.

Photo: still from film/ NARA.

Photo: Landesarchiv Berlin.

The 1940-edition of the Amtliches Fernsprechbuch für den Bezirk der Reichspostdirektion Berlin (the telephone directory) confirms Bruno Dietzmann’s car seller address during the war years. 

Photo: Berlin: Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin, 2012.

Partially ruined, the Reichsbahn four-story building was refurbished after the war but the housing was only restored with three floors and some other differences -the roof sculptures were dismantled too- but in the 1980s both the building and the Ringbahn entrance were finally demolished. 

This 1953 postwar view of the square show to us the rebuilt building at Innsbrucker Platz 1 with a new roof built and just three floors. Note that the Opel lettering has disappeared from the facade and at left the S-Bahn train passing by the elevated railway of the Ringbahn.

Photo: friedenau-aktuell.de.

Film footage also reveals one of the most distinctive Berlin Weimar-era buildings that confirm us that this action was taken at Innsbrucker Platz: the DeGeWo-Hochhaus, badly damaged during the battle, with Hauptraße at right as we can see in this frame of the same Sherman tank this time accompanied by a personal carrier M3A1 half-track, both parked in the middle of the square. The US military government (OMGUS) HQ building was not far from there, in Berlin-Dahlem. 

Photo: still from film/ NARA.

Innsbrucker Platz, once a heavily congested traffic junction back to life as soon as the first tram and S-Bahn lines went back into service at the end of May, as electricity was restored in all districts of Berlin by Soviet new administration, including the heavily bombed Schöneberg. 

[Tram service from Berliner Verkehrsgesellschaft (BVG) was reopened short time after the end of the war, in this picture we see a streetcar pass by Bahnhof Innsbrucker Platz with the gutted Reichsbahn building as background during the summer of 1945.]

Photo: photolibrarian/Flickr.

[Same scene as above in this case before or during the war years with tram Nr 1106 of Linie 40 at Innsbrucker Platz. This streetcar didn’t survive the conflict.]

Photo: © Max Rieck/ Sammlung Sigurd Hilkenbach.

American and Russian soldiers chatting and smoking together are good propaganda to the new world born in 1945… the Allies had to show, at least in appearance, that all them victors had fought for the same cause. Marshall Zhukov has ordered his soldiers to not confront to the US detachment. William Heimlich, one of Howley’s intelligence officers, recounted when he reached the city: “The few people out on the streets were pale and malnourished. “Shocked into utter silence. They moved about the city like zombies. They were starving, that was clear.” To Berliners, the shock and joy was immediate.

The new division of the big city was started as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew from the Western Zones… until 1990.

On our next post the Innsbrucker Platz and the famous DeGeWo-Hochhaus building along nearer Schöneberg Bezirk area would be described with new research and photos.


Bibliography and sources:

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  • Diefendorf, J. (ed) (2014). Transnationalism and the German City (Studies in European Culture and History). Palgrave Macmillan.
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