PFC William Pinkney III
Unit : 51st Armoured Infantry Battalion, 4th Armoured Division.
Service No. : 31331366
I arrived in Europe in January of '45 as a combat rifleman replacement in the 4th Armored. We crossed the Rhine and after several smaller battles went on to liberate Ordurf and Buchenwald concentration camps. In a small village outside of Prague myself and 2 other persons at a check point came face to face with the German 17th Army wanting very much to surrender to us rather than the Russians. At any rate their General with his Heidelberg dueling scars, SS insignia, and a full Colonel SS as his Chauffeur came up to our point and wanted to surrender. I got in the back seat of this Mercedes open sedan and we started to drive to the rear. Unfortunately he wanted to go all the way back to Division Headquarters, but I told him he had to surrender to our company commander in the village. (He spoke, by the way, in a beautiful smooth British accent). At any rate he drove right past the command post and I had quite a time getting him to turn around and go back to the village. Finally he gave up and told the Colonel to turn around, which he did in a nearby field. We got back to the village and he went in to the inn and surrendered. Meanwhile villagers had gathered, and, seeing the SS insignia were preparing a rope and wanted to hang the Colonel. I had quite a time convincing them that he was my prisoner and I did not want him hanged. The end of the story, so to speak, was that we turned the whole army over to the Russians, and the General, who had his family with him, shot them all and turned the gun on himself. His army, we learned, had committed many atrocities in Russia and he was most fearful of surrendering to them. The Army, by the way, formed a double column many miles long, and at the end the SS were continually shooting and harassing them not to give up. The closest big town where the German Army surrendered to us was probably Strakonice. The column of tanks and vehicles stretched back over 30 miles all the way to Prague. Initially, we started to collect arms and send them off the road into the fields, but there were too many. Finally, we just let them sit until the Russians came along and took over. I collected about 15 pistols, 3 iron crosses and a lot of other stuff, finally I quit. I could have bought home all 15 pistols, but we were told that any over one would get us kicked off the return ship. No one ever checked and I could have kept them all.
I was among the members of the USA 4th Armored Division who took over Stalag 383, Hohenfels, in early 1945. By the time we arrived most of the POWs' were gone. My overall impressions were that Stalag 383 must have been a picnic compared to other camps. No one we noticed was undernourished or maltreated. A large number of Hungarians who were fighting on the German side were put in the POW camp. It seemed to us that most were short and wore very heavy dark brown uniforms. Company C of our battalion handled most of the guard duty. There were few problems and mostly the guard duty went smoothly. I remember we put the Hungarians in the old POW camp and the SS in the stockade. We stood guard on the stockade, although no one was inclined to escape. In fact I remember I climbed the guard tower with a blanket and proceeded to sleep. There were many other barracks in the overall camp with Polish and other slave laborers.
In Hohenfels our command post, at the top of a small hill, was the former home for pregnant unwed Nazi mothers. Early on before moving to the camp we set up outposts and check points at each end of the town. Nothing much was discovered as none of us really had a clue as to what a legitimate pass or document looked like. We did have a big excitement, so to speak, when an informant told us that a major Nazi stronghold was forming at a farm nearby. We, of course raided in full force and found exactly nothing. The check point was right next door to the home of a young lady. After a while one of our group became very friendly with the said young lady and one night, about 2:00 AM, I was surprised to see him coming down the street with a large ladder. He proceeded to put it up against the top window and climb up. Apparently there was a happy ending since she later followed him to our posting in Passau, and I think to America.
There was a large contingent of displaced persons in the many barracks surrounding the POW camp. Most were Polish and had been there for quite a while. On one of my exploration visits in the surrounding countryside a buddy and I stayed overnight in a small guesthouse in a tiny nearby hamlet, only to be awakened in the middle of the night, by what was apparently a common occurrence. A group of the Polish dp's were raiding the town and took food and other articles. We were asked to defend and whatever, but they were already gone. I fired off a few rounds in their general direction, but it was really only for show.
The SS troops we were guarding in the stockade were quite cooperative and even friendly after the first few weeks. Some made souvenirs picturing tiger tanks, deathheads and other SS symbols on pieces of wood and traded to us guards for cigarettes. I remember, we had some charming evenings with a German PHD or Doctor of something, a former camp official, who was living with his girl friend in the attic of the main inn in Hohenfels.
I forget exactly how long we were in Hohenfels, but we later moved on to Passau. I have some souvenirs from the SS in the stockade, as well as a carved shield like wooden award for "Championship 7 A Side Football", dated September, 1943, and bearing the name of Sgt. G. Smith. It states winner 10 COY.
After Hohenfels we moved to Passau and stayed there until I was shipped home. In later life I went back to college, graduated from the University of Connecticut and became a Vice President of an insurance company. After many mergers and moves I decided to retire when I was 58 and make my part time rare book business full time. So far its' worked out fine.
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