|A view from the east side of the river, showing the blown bridges.|
|Perhaps the only thing that saved the Cathedral was that it was made of stone, and thus did not burn down, as well as the large clear spaces separating it from buildings that did burn.|
|Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne 1945 -- Karl Hugo Schmolz.|
|Cologne, March 1945.|
|Cologne and the cathedral smoldering after a 1000-bomber raid.|
|A Sherman Tank, crew posed for the camera.|
|A US T26E3 Pershing M26 Tank.|
As the gunner of the T26E3 in this action said on a website:
"U.S. troops and German civilians were in awe of seeing the M26. Some troops thought it was a captured German tank."Needless to say, that there was a T26E3 at all in Cologne, much less one only a few streets over, was a phenomenal stroke of luck for the advancing American GIs. The T26E3 was not the world's best tank by far - it had much narrower tread than the King Tiger, for instance, and the armor and gun were not quite as capable - but it was worlds better than the Sherman and could take on any tank in the world on fairly even terms. It was at the very least equal to a Panther, probably a bit better, but not dramatically so.
|One of the 20 Pershings in the ETO. This was their furthest advance in Czechoslovakia.|
|This was the situation, the Pershing in the foreground, Panther in the background.|
"We were told to just move into the intersection far enough to fire into the side of the enemy tank, which had its gun facing up the other street (where the Sherman had been destroyed). However, as we entered the intersection, our driver had his periscope turned toward the Panther and saw their gun turning to meet us. When I turned our turret, I was looking into the Panther's gun tube; so instead of stopping and becoming an easy target, our driver kept going through the intersection, so I fired a round and hit the enemy tank. The Panther was dispatched and burned for 3 days after the duel, with 2 of the crew surviving."So, moving along the street and not stopping for long so as not to present a target, the US tank took a quick pot-shot at the German Panther and scored a direct hit. One can well imagine the feeling of the tank driver seeing the Panther sitting there waiting for him, and the gunner seeing the Panther's gun pointed straight at him, about to fire.
|A Panther medium tank.|
|The Germans fleeing their burning tank.|
|This shot gives a good indication of how shot-up the Cathedral was.|
|Jim Bates in 1972.|
A Tank Commander named Robert Early from E Company 32nd. Armored Regiment went on foot to investigate. I asked to go along and we went on the mezzanine of a building and saw the tank. He told me to stay there and he would come back in his tank and try to put the German tank out of commission and I could photograph it. He had one of the new M-26 Pershings with a ninety-mm gun. Sgt. Early said he would turn into the square under me, stop and fire at the German tank.A question seldom asked is why these Germans were sitting in that spot waiting patiently for the Americans. Some cryptically refer to it as a "last stand" sort of deal, common during 1945.
Well, in this author's view at least, it indeed was a sort of the last stand, but not of the type many probably think. It was not the last stand for Hitlerism or anything like that. Cologne Cathedral was the symbol of Germany. It stands outside of politics. It is a source of national pride and, in a very real sense, symbolizes the German soul. These Germans easily could have turned tail and found their way across the river before the last bridges were blown. However, they chose to make a "last stand" in front of the symbol of Germany, a symbol which had absolutely no military value. It made absolutely no military sense, but they were not thinking in military terms. They were fighting for something here, but it wasn't Hitler. Imagine the last group of American soldiers parking their tank in front of the Washington Monument, with Washington D.C. in ruins, and saying "Come and get me you lousy (&)()(*@ we don't care anymore." They wouldn't be upset because of who happened to be in the White House at that moment. You get the idea.
|Picture by war correspondent Margaret Bourke-White: some American soldiers attend Mass in March 1945 inside the bombed cathedral of Cologne.|
This is an extremely rare occasion where there is actual footage of a tank battle. If there are any cases like this, we're not aware of them.
|Sight Seers Keep Out!|
There were ordinary people still in the vicinity of the Cologne fighting. Why they stayed... you'd have to ask them. However, running isn't always possible - and where do you go when the fighting is everywhere? Numerous civilians perished during the fighting or simply from being run over during vehicle movements, and usually not in a pleasant way. The bodies very often were left where they fell. Even injured people briefly attended by medics were left lying in the gutter - there was nowhere to take them and trying to move them could expose you to fire from bitter-enders in overlooking buildings. The victims are almost all anonymous. A few gained some notoriety from making the newsreels and later documentaries - but they still died.
All of this affected soldiers on both sides at the time and long after the war. U.S. soldiers were not used to hard fighting in large cities like Cologne, most of it took place in the countryside or along river lines. Seeing victims everywhere was difficult. There were unusual expressions of grief in Cologne Square.
|He risks his life 24 hours a day.|
Below is a good sequence of combat footage from the war. The Shootout at Cologne Cathedral features at the 3:10 mark.
And finally, some additional footage that was taken by Jim Bates in and around Cologne.