79th Engineer Battalion History: Karlsruhe in World War 2

Karlsruhe in World War 2

Webmaster Note: Once again, this webpage is a mess and needs a lot of work. It will take some time and I'm thinking it might as well become something else while I'm at it. In the meantime, it is what it is; and it has some great history that isn't well known. I used to live in Linkenheim and cross the Rhein on that old ferry. We partied at the Linkenheim lake a lot with the topless German girls.

WWII Chronology:

Rhein Kaserne to Gerszewski Barracks

Rhein Kaserne (circa 1938)

Knielingen (circa 1938)

Hitler Video Clip

Hitler Audio Clip

1936 – 1939

Rhein Kaserne was constructed in Knielingen as 3 separate kasernes for the German Army.


Pioneer Battalion 35 was set up and stationed in Karlsruhe.


The new Rhein Kaserne in Knielingen was occupied by Pioneer Battalion 35.

17 January: The new bridge crossing the Rhein River at Maxau (near Rhein Kaserne) is opened for traffic.

Picture 1

3 April: The railway part of the new bridge is opened.

10 September: "Crystal Night". Two Karlsruhe synagogues are set on fire and numerous Jewish businesses and dwellings are destroyed.


17 May: Adolf Hitler went to Karlsruhe to inspect the western barrier (Ettlinger gate).

Wehrmacht Recruiting at Rheinland Kaserne in Ettlingen


30 July: The first allied bombing of Karlsruhe does not cause damage to property of persons. Further attacks in the year occur in the peripheral areas.


6 August: The first casualties of Karlsruhe in WWII are recorded. An overnight British bombing attack kills 27 and injures 9.

3 September: A large air raid on Karlsruhe kills 73 and wounds 711. For the first time the British Royal Air Force uses a new tactic called the "Pathfinder Procedure". They mark the target first by flying planes ahead of the formation with special soil and sky marking devices like smoke bombs. That way the formation didn't waist so much time finding the target and could hit it faster and be more accurate.

Apparently the goal was the Muehlburger gate. The west city was particularly heavily damaged. On the upper grain road the first 4-Ton Air-mine of the war caused large damages. The Reinhold franc road was burned nearly completely. Among the things destroyed were: Office for national trade, Markgraefliches palace, collection building at the Friedrichsplatz, Christ church, west final road (today Reinhold franc road), grain road, numerous enterprises in the Rhine harbor.

Expecting a new large-scale attack on Karlsruhe the air defenses were strengthened for 20 batteries; which, proved successful on Nikolausabend in 1942 during the next large-scale attack.

  • Compared to other major German cities Karlsruhe received the smallest degree of destruction. This is because the air raids were more spread out over time. Therefore the population had more time to handle the attacks that had occurred and then protect itself better for future ones.


The year 1943 passed by surprisingly without larger air raids. The population spent the time to prepare the city for further attacks by making collecting stations and fire fighting water pits.


Pictures: Karlsruhe Archives

25 April: The British launched a large air raid that was a total failure. Thunderstorms over the city blew the sky markings off to the northeast. So the marking planes returned and tried ground markings. But because they had to fly deeper in they themselves became easy targets for Anti-aircraft artillery in their approach. The result was wrongly marked targets. Therefore the bombers inflicted only minimal damage in the city but the eastern peripheral areas Rintheim and Hagsfeld were hit hard.

27 May: In preparation for a French invasion the Americans launched a large scale air raid on various railway facilities in the area. The marshalling yard and the south and east city are heavily hit. 108 Karlsruhers died, and both the Johannis and Evangelist town churches were heavily damaged.

July/December: A continuous series of daytime air raids occurred on 25 July, 9 August, 5, 8 and 15 September, 19 October, 5 November, and 11 December.

STRIKE PHOTO - November 5, 1944 Karlsruhe, Germany - Marshalling Yards. The 466th BG put up 35 a/c, and dropped 26,000 lbs. of bombs on the marshalling yards on this mission

On 27 September came the attack method called the "Death Fan" which surprised the population completely. That night the air raid alarms had gone off several times already, so when the sirens went off again at 5am the people thought the planes were returning from another target so they did not go into the shelters. The guidance airplane marked one point before the actual target area. The bomber formation then flew over and released the bombs after an exactly computed time interval. 248 British bombers dropped 200,000 incendiary bombs and hundreds of high-explosives bombs on the city and destroyed among other things the lock and the city hall. The enormous sea of flame developed from Durlach going east of the city through Durlacher Allee, Ost and Suedstadt, and in a large corridor through Innenstadt, Weststadt, Muehlburg, and Knielingen. Cold temperatures and fire fighters controlled the fire to prevent a larger destruction. Since this attack had not brought the desired complete destruction to the city, air marshal Harris instructed to the bomber COMMAND the order for another large-scale attack.

28 November: The First fighter-bomber attack on Karlsruhe happened in the area Aue Gruenwettersbach. To end of the war about 30 more of such attacks were registered, against which the German air defense does not possess a suitable defense means.

4 December: The largest high-explosive bomb attack on Karlsruhe occurred with 989 bombers, which had electronic guidance to outwit the Flak. The raid began in Durlach and continued over the west city and Muehlburg to achieve the strongest intensity. But the strong tail wind accelerated the bomber fleets so much that they already began at 19.28 o'clock with the bomb releases, before the goals were correctly illuminated. Additionally the strong cloudy appearance made recognizing the markings more difficult. 375 died, including about 100 in the public air shelter under the hotel "three lime trees" in Muehlburg. Entire house lines were totally destroyed. The goal of "complete destruction" however had not been reached.

14 December: 892 British bombers fly the heaviest air raid on Karlsruhe. In only 21 minutes large parts of the west city, Muehlburgs and the Rhine harbour are destroyed; 357 dead and 259 hurt.

  • Altogether Karlsruhe gets off glimpflich: 28 air raids have killed 1754, among them 227 foreign prisoners of war and forced laborers; 12,500 buildings are totally destroyed of 57,000 dwellings . This is among other things because of the fact that there were different dummy installations in the Hardtwald and in Friedrichstal (mockups and firebreaks in fan form), which misled 1940/41 the air aggressors. After the December attack only 60,000 people still lived in the city. (= 1/3 of the population of Karlsruhe before the Second World War).


Pictures: Karlsruhe Archives

24 January: Attack by fighter aircraft on the Rhine River bridge at Maxau near Rhein Kaserne.

2 February: Another death fan raid over the city. However the weather was bad again. The sky markings were driven off to the northeast, so that mainly the land municipalities and Bruchsal were bombed. 14 British bombers were shot down by German night fighters. After this renewed miss the air raids were stopped on Karlsruhe, and the Royal air Force turned to more worthwhile goals.

11 February: Swearing-in of "people storm battalions" which were formed since 25 September 1944.

14 February: Deportation of the last Jews from Karlsruhe

15 March: Beginning of the allied offensive into the Pfalz and against the Rhine north of Karlsruhe.


19 March: French troops break through the west barrier in the Suedpfalz.

Wörth am Rhein

20 March: The Rhine River bridge at Maxau is blown up by German pioneers (Apparently from Rhein Kaserne).

Picture 1
Picture 2

21/22 March: French artillery bombardment has killed 46.

31 March: On Easter the remaining people in Karlsruhe experienced the longest and last air alarm of the war. The French are close to the city. The "people storm unit: is alarmed. German pioneers blow up different bridges because of the advance of the French.

French Pontoon 1
French Pontoon 2

21/22 March: French artillery bombardment has killed 46.

  • Altogether 1032 alarms occurred with about 100 air raids, with which 1754 people died and 3508 were hurt. About 25 per cent of all buildings are totally destroyed, among them very many historical buildings of the city center.

1 April: The entrances to the city center are barricaded.

2 April: The mayor withdraws considering the threatening invasion of the French.

3 April: Neureut and Knielingen are taken by the French. The Karlsruher experiences the heaviest artillery attack of the war in their cellars, while the "bear division" vacates the citizens and withdraws into the positions at the edge of Black Forest.

  • The Day Rhein Kaserne Fell: In spite of the bombardments of German artillery, the head of bridge develops. A first column of armoured tanks - tanks destroyer (they was the largest tanks which one used in the French Army which was of American manufacture, with a super shielding thick which did not resist, these, always but finally often with the shells of 88 German who had an enormous capacity of perforation which were drawn by the German tanks jagde Panther) of the R.C.C.C. and 2 squadrons of the R.I.C.M. - the river passes on the bridge of MANNHEIM, not dynamited, to make its junction with LINKENHEIM with the infantry. After a 4 hour old combat, the armoured cars take HOCHSTETTEN and LINKENHEIM. A second armoured column crosses, in its turn, the Rhine with MANNHEIM. It is then the attack of KARLSRUHE in the North-West by 21E R.I.C. and by the Navarre Grouping of 9E D.I.M. in the North-East. The 4 in the morning, KARLSRUHE will be taken without serious resistance. One was surprised, they packed up, they practically did not resist. 21E R.I.C. takes again its progression on LEOPOLDSHAFEN. Slowed down by an important stopping anti-tank devices, it marks a downtime, then of EGGENSTElN. Decree again by blockhouses, it arrives again with NEUREUT and the armoured tanks occupy KNIELINGEN. The crossing of the Rhine continues in LElMERSHElM: it is the turn of 23E R. I C. - SOURCE: LES GERSOIS AU COMBAT DANS L'ARMEE REGULIERE 1er SEPTEMBRE 1944 - 2 SEPTEMBRE 1945

4 April: The French engage in Karlsruhe from the north; therefore the German armed forces withdraw themselves in view of the crushing supremacy to the east. The French occupy the city against slight resistance of Nachhuten of the armed forces, member of the police, the people storm unit and the Hitler Youth. Occupation is final at 11.00 o'clock. 11 people are killed.

  • Altogether 1501 humans had been killed by the air raids, 7790 buildings were destroyed, 20735 only partly stood.
French Tanks on Karl-Friedrich-Strasse
Karlsruhe in Ruin

5 April: The French remove the barricades to the city center with German POWs and Karlsrhuers able to work.

6 April: Plunderings and rapes begin for weeks to come. In the plunderings the distressed population is involved. For civilians of 18.00-9.00 o'clock a curfew is imposed.

7 April: Karlsruhe is visited by Charles de Gaulle.

8 April: Most former policemen are fired. New police are educated mainly from Strassenbahnschaffnern. In order to stop the excesses in relation to the female population, brothels are furnished

9 April: Sgt Adolph Gerszewski is killed in action in Heilbronn. Web Page

12 April: The new police head Kaenemund used by the French suggests the mechanism of brothels, in order to contain the numerous (the talk is daily of 200) rapes, as well as the establishment of camps for the reeducation of young people; the latter does not receive an attention.

By 15 April in the war road (122-24) and the chapel road (70) brothels are furnished; the inhabitants are ausquartiert.

15/22 April: In the Knielinger Rhine Kaserne the French determine former NSDAP members and bring about 500 prisoners in foot marches to Offenburg , where they remain interned several weeks.

15 April: Picture After the French stopped their arbitrary arrests to begin clearing up work, Rhein Kaserne became the internment camp and housed the arrested ones for this work. All male Karlsruhers between 16 and 45 years had to report to Rhein Kaserne, where they were examined and questioned. Approx.. 300 of them are interned in Offenburg. Some were let go. About 700 remained in the internment camp.

22 April: 200 to 250 Karlsruhers are arrested and interned at Rhein Kaserne and Offenburg. After the urban hospital was seized, the patients are accommodated by April 1946 in the Lessingschule

May: War Ends. Rhein Kaserne was codenamed "Blackhawk" kaserne by the Americans because a tank battalion known as the Black Hawks moved in from Italy to occupy it. (See Expanded Chronology from 1945-1992 in the floating menu) The Black Hawks were eventually redesignated as Troop A, 1st Constabulary Squadron, an element of the 15th Constabulary Regiment. They were responsible for policing a large sector around Karlsruhe.


5. June: In the agreements of the allied USA, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France, Germany is divided by zones of occupation. Karlsruhe lies in the American zone.

  • In the middle of June: Renaming of roads, places and schools begins.

July: The Americans seize 2000 dwellings for the accommodation of the officer corps and their staffs.

7 July: The French pull out of Karlsruhe. Karlsruhe is handed over to the Americans.

8 July: In accordance with the allied zone agreement US armed forces occupy the city.

22 July: In Blackhawk Kaserne (Rhein Kaserne) the first refugees, 360 Danube swabia from Yugoslavia, arrive.

September: Blackhawk Kaserne was renamed for Sgt Gerszewski and became known from then on as Gerszewski Barracks.

  • Commentary: As a sidebar comment I would like to share some other observations I made while putting this page together.

    Some of you might have wondered why the French went all the way up to that old ferry crossing spot near Linkenheim and also Speyer and Mannheim to cross the river. One reason is probably because they would be sitting ducks while trying to cross the river in front of a kaserne intended to defend against such things. But also, the other side of the Rhein River from Knielingen is very mucky and swampy. The "Alt Rhein" meanders through that area and has been a problem to deal with for centuries. Soil traffic-ability is everything with tanks and armies. One or two tanks and some soldiers might make it across muck, but to invade with battalions of them you need firm ground on both sides. That's why they went up the one side, then crossed, and then came back down the other side to Karlsruhe. That's also why the Germans put up the hardest fight in Linkenheim. They knew the invasion would cross the river there.

    After the French blasted through Linkenheim it was apparently a virtual cake-walk to Karlsruhe, and one Neureuter's eye witness report says some very interesting things about it. Here is my source for most of the following comment: The War's End in Neureut

    He speaks of the roar of aircraft engines, howling sirens, and defensive fire from anti-aircraft artillery as the breaking disaster announced itself by moving closer and closer every day. Women and children and old people with bundles and bags rushed to the shelters and spent many nights there. The areas in front of the invasion were bombarded by artillery as the tanks and infantry made their approach. Low flying fighter planes fired on anything they suspected including carts in the fields and individual persons. The scared population shifted more and more to the shelters.

    On 3 April the last German soldiers, storm troopers, and the mayor fled. The eye witness report says "the Third Reich ended in a very frightening way, and new dangers began immediately".

    With force of arms the invading French soldiers penetrated into every house and took everything of value they could find. He talks of countless "rapes of the most brutal kind" particularly by the Moroccans among the French troops, and the cries and screams of women at night. Apparently the French also released forced laborers, Russian and Polish, for the plundering who attacked people out of revenge. Field working men and women were forced to undress and robbed of their clothes, and at least one 14 year old youth was shot because he carried an old piece of uniform. Two "south of Neureut" German soldiers were also shot with him. The witness says that they found General Eisenhower's proclamation "We do not come as eliminators" very hard to believe. He goes on to say specifically that the "Knielingen Barracks" was used as a internment center for former party comrades. Apparently 323 Neureuter soldiers were killed. There were "catastrophic food conditions" under the French.

    When the French gave control to the Americans on 27 June 1945 the French military government ordered that each German family deliver "a complete suit with shirt and tie, underwear, handkerchiefs, socks, a pair of shoes, radios, and cameras, all in perfect condition". I remember my good friend Dieter Weinhardt from Woerth telling me one time when he took me hunting near the old Roman road that the French cut all the oak trees in the forest and hauled them back to France before the Americans took control. He also gave me a piece of shrapnel from his house.


Pionier Bataillon 35
Karlsruher Stadtgeschichte im Überblick (1930 – 1945)
Kriegsende 1945, Zeitzeugen der Karlsruher Region erzählen
Zeitleiste Dezember 1944 - Februar 1948
Die Schutträumung
About Adolph Gerszewski
The Legend of Sgt Gerszewski
466th Bombardment Group
Woerth am Rhein, Orts Chronik, vol 2, pages 1457-1482

79th Engineer Battalion, Gerszewski Barracks, Knielingen
Rhein River at Speyer, May 1975


Copyright © 2004
Bruce Christman
All Rights Reserved

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