301st Engineer Combat Battalion, 76th Infantry Division

The following remembrance came to me in February 2003. The author is Merrill Butler, member of the 301st Engineer Combat Battalion of the 76th Infantry Division during World War II. Mr. Butler was a 20-year old Lieutenant at the close of the war in May 1945. He was part of a mission the day after the war ended to rescue Dutch and French general staffs who were held prisoner in the Konigstein Castle. The leader of the mission was Major Mark Terrel who passed away a few years ago. With the urging of Doug Terrel, Major Mark Terrels son, Mr. Butler wrote down the following remembrances of the "Konigstein Mission" in April 2002

On May 10-11, 1945

INTRODUCTION: The following report represents my best recollection on this date of my personal experience on May 10 and May 11, 1945 while in Saxony, Germany and while (1) serving as a 2nd Lt., Corps of Engineers, and (2) participating in the "Konigstein rescue efforts" on the above dates.


A. In the afternoon of May 10, 1945 I received a signal to immediately contact my Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Mercer. Col. Mercer ordered me to stand by and promptly prepare to report for duty with a small part of my platoon and to be prepared for "demolition duty" (my words in 2002) within the next few hours! He told me that our objective would be to assist in the rescue of senior Allied officers (e.g., French, Dutch and English Senior officers plus their enlisted men) imprisoned in a castle on the Elbe River.

Col. Mercer, to the best of my recollection, also told me that the reason for my pending assignment was due to the last-minute decision that it might be necessary to "blow open" the very large wooden entrance doors into the castle (my platoon had plenty of this type of experience during our attacks within the Siegfried Line in February/March 1945). If necessary, I was to use our standard demolition charges and weapons necessary to accomplish this objective. He also ordered me to prepare immediately for this task and for me and my men to stand by for further orders from him. Inasmuch as my platoon and I were at least 10-20 miles from Company A Headquarters, Col. Mercer also informed me that another one of his staff officers would inform my Company Commander (Capt. Dieter) of his direct order to me (to this day I am certain that Col. Mercer did this in part to upset Capt. Dieter, which also pleased me).

B. My best recollection is that around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning of May 11, 1945 I was ordered to take my jeep and two 2-1/2 ton trucks (part of our standard equipment) with weapons and demolition, and to join Task Force 76 commanded by a Major Terrel from Division Headquarters. I was to report to him at a place that I cannot remember but which was near Chemnitz. I recall that my men and I were to report no later than 5:00 or 6:00 that morning (which we did), and I also remember saluting and then introducing myself to Major Terrel- he shook my hand.

It was obvious to me that my unit was a last-minute addition, but Major Terrel was obviously expecting this last minute, but very minor addition to his Task Force 76 that he had arranged to be assembled and for which he was the Task Force Commander.

C. Major Terrel ordered me to insert my equipment (my jeep and two trucks) into a position in the convoy (it was well forward in the convoy). He informed me he knew the purpose of my assignment. He also gave me my personal mimeograph "Pass" with my name on it and which was written in English, Russian, and German (I still have it in my possession). He also gave me a sketch of our route down and back (I am very sorry to report that someone stole my copy many, many years after the war was over).

D. From the start of the convoy until we reached a point just outside the castle my "detachment" simply rode in our assigned position without further contact with other members of the Task Force, including Major Terrel. I should also mention, as a matter of interest, that I seem to remember that, as usual, we brought along our supply of "K-rations" for food (this was our standard daily source of food for most of the months since arrival in France pus several more weeks after Germany surrendered).

E. Major Terrel's official report and description of our convoy venture down to the castle and return is much, much, much better than my brief recollection of the trip to and from the castle and, therefore, there is no need for description by me of our venture to and from Konigstein.

F. We finally found our way to the base of the hill on which the castle was situated. Major Terrel then directed my "detail" plus 2 or 3 of his other officers up the sloping path (wide enough for cars, etc.) that led to the "parade grounds" (my nomenclature way back then) from which we could see "my objective" --namely, two immense double oak doors (as I remember they each appeared to be about 10-12 feet wide and over 30 feet high!) I saw no activity around the entrance and came to the immediate conclusion and recommendation that we attack the doors and, if necessary, use our demolition charges to blow the doors open as planned. Major Terrel, who was beside me, agreed, but ordered that we were absolutely not to fire our weapons unless we were either fired upon or until he himself ordered same.

G. I quickly assigned my men with their weapons (rifles and BAR's) to various locations just below the top of the slope supporting the parade grounds and at a speed as "fast as possible or faster." In 10-15 minutes we were ready for the attack.

H. My platoon sergeant (named Hilton) and I each had one "satchel charge" (medium-size demolition charges in a bag) and some 1/4 lb. composition "c" explosives. After my signal to my men, Hilton and I both got up from the edge of the slope and we began to run (zigging and zagging) as fast as possible toward the doors - THEN - Sgt. Hilton and I simultaneous saw the door closest to us v-e-r-y slowly start to open and a voice shouted from behind the door in fairly good English, "Don't shoot, I am an American!" Needless to say but... when we first noticed the start of movement of the right-hand door, we dove for the ground and got our rifles into firing position within seconds (and that is the truth!). As soon thereafter we heard the yell of, "DON'T SHOOT, I AM AN AMERICAN," I signaled to my men, "Hold your fire" and Sgt. Hilton and I slowly stood up, guns in hand.

I. As the door continued to open very slowly, a rather small man in civilian clothes wearing a camel hair jacket (I will always remember that jacket -I believe he purchased it while working in Los Angeles) again shouted (with a German accent), "DON'T SHOOT, I AM AN AMERICAN" plus he now held both sides of his jacket wide open! Sgt. Hilton and I just stood there, our guns aimed at this man, and waited for him to come to us, which he did and he was followed closely by another older man.

J. I ordered him and his friend (in English and German) to stop when they got within a few feet of us, and Hilton and I then quickly "patted them down" to see if they had any hidden weapons -- which they did not.

K. The "lead man" in the camel hair jacket (I cannot remember his name, but see later comments) then immediately opened his jacket again and directed our attention to his big silver belt buckle on which were the letters in blue of 'ELKS!" Hilton and I were stunned! But, we quickly determined that it was authentic!


M. ANOTHER VIP NOTE: In the meantime, the other door had been opened and Major Terrel and his men ran forward toward the doors. I believe they were immediately met by a few of the senior Allied prisoners. I really did not know and don't have any the last few months as contained in the official report rendered by Major Terrel.

N. However, for everyone's information, Major Terrel again commanded another rescue effort three days later to the castle and safely returned, again without casualties and with the remaining Allied soldiers. I was not part of this second effort.

FYI: I have just related an exceedingly small part of a fantastic and noble accomplishment because Major Terrel stole some very, very valuable Allied prisoners from right under the nose of all those extremely lousy Russkies, including some of their generals. Wow -Wow -Wow.


The following is a combination of the best of my "old memory" and the use of a few of my old notes, including notes of a long ago conversation with some old friends who still remember my telling them this story. Also, in a 1995 visit to our very good German friends, the Wohrs, they insisted that I write a brief outline of my 1945 wartime adventures in Germany for inclusion in their family album. (I did so and some of that material is part of this presentation.) The Wohr family lives in Stuttgart and has lived there for 350 years. My wife and I have enjoyed this friendship since 1971.

To this day I am still astounded by the realization that at the end of World War II in an east German castle I was suddenly confronted by a German man who spoke English, who had lived in Los Angeles (my birthplace and home town), graduated from the University of Southern California, worked for the Bureau of Power and Light (owned by the City of Los Angeles), and belonged to the "Elks", a large social organization located in McArthur Park in the heart of Los Angeles.

Now I will proceed with some recollection and information that might be of interest. For ease of presentation, I am going to give the "don't shoot man" the name of "Fritz" for easy reference as I relate what I learned from him in the 1-2 hours of our conversation on May 11, 1945. But I want to first briefly describe him as a 5'8" very, very pleasant and intelligent individual and a non-combatant.

Following is my report on the details that Fritz told me about himself, etc. as we sat in my jeep at the base of the castle grounds (I cannot vouch for the accuracy of what he told me, but I did and still do believe what he said). We talked while waiting for Major Terrel to return from the castle and issue orders as to what we should do next. I assumed the order would be to go back to headquarters with the Allied officers as passengers in the vehicles of our Company, and that proved to be correct. For me, the only change was for me to ride in the back of my jeep while a French General was assigned to the front seat by Major Terrel himself. I do well remember this incident - it was a long ride back!

NOTE: All of the following is, to the best of my recollection, what Fritz told me while we sat in my jeep waiting to go back to Limbach:

First, I should advise you that despite his verbal shouting of "Don't shoot, I am an American" that that was not correct! He was a German citizen who wanted to become an American citizen but was summoned back to Germany by his family. I have now forgotten whether he had even started the process of becoming an American citizen.

Fritz informed me that he was born in Dresden, Germany to a famous German family; I believe the name was Janzen. The Janzen family owned and operated a VERY large and world-renown knitting mill complex, etc., on the Elbe River near Dresden. (I think most Americans will recall the very popular Janzen knitted swimwear that was sold in American stores with the name Janzen knitted into the garments.)

Fritz was well educated in Germany in his early years. I believe he was the eldest son of several children in his family. Apparently before the start of World War II his father and grandfather, etc., had operated the family business for a very long time. However, Fritz informed me that by 1940 the business was mainly the manufacturing of uniforms, blankets. etc.. etc. for the Armed Forces of Germany. I assume all this was true althouqh I have never checked it out. When I left Fritz on that morning I never heard from him or saw him again. Now, back to the remainder of the story.

Somehow (he told me how, but I cannot remember) Fritz obtained permission to come to Los Angeles and attend USC as part of his educational process. I recall that he said that he studied Electrical Engineering and graduated in 1930 (maybe one year either side!). He then decided not to go back to Germany for further education. The Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light then employed him for quite a few years when suddenly the death of his father (maybe his grandfather) made it necessary for Fritz, to return to Germany in 1937. (I believe that is the correct year - perhaps it was 1938.)

As best as I can recollect, Fritz became one of the senior officers in charge of the Janzen complex and remained in that capacity until the British bombing of Dresden in February 1945. Apparently after the plant was destroyed, Fritz decided to move down to the castle and become the "main German civilian" who voluntarily took on the responsibility of helping in the care and feeding of the Allied prisoners in the Konigstein Castle.

Evidentially over the last months of the war, the prisoners, who had been properly treated up to sometime in 1944, began to suffer from shortages of food, medical care, etc. However, as I understand it, Fritz, as previously noted, had started sometime in 1944 to take an interest in the health, care and feeding of the prisoners. Several of the Allied officers came over to my jeep and told me how great Fritz had been and urged me to bring him out with us.

When it became time to "saddle up" and take the Generals and their aides back to our lines, Fritz said that he wanted to stay and for me to NOT talk to Major Terrel about his going with us -and I honored his request.

I never saw or heard from Fritz again, and I never tried to contact him - a bad oversight on my part. I have no idea as to whether or not he is still alive! However, today, and during that 1995 trip to Europe, I greatly regret not having made some effort to contact him, but the Russkies were not prone to this type of thing.

Before finally ending my presentation, I also want to state my feelings regarding the dastardly three-day bombing attack on the formerly beautiful City of Dresden.

1. I do know for certain that the Janzen Mills were destroyed in February 1945 along with most of central Dresden. This was due to the massive three-day 1,000 plane raids (each day) that "Bomber Harris" of the Royal Air Force ordered done in response to the German bombings of England, particularly Coventry. In my opinion, the raid on Dresden was a dastardly act and certainly unnecessary.

2. When my men and I saw just a very small part of the devastating effect of the raids in February we were astounded. It was the worst we had seen during the whole nine months we had been in the war and, obviously, we all thought it to be unnecessary.

3. When Barbara and I visited downtown Dresden and the surrounding area in 1995, we were absolutely appalled at the extent of the needless damage to residential and business areas. The damn Russkies did almost nothing in the years 1945-1993 to correct the bombing damage to Dresden.

4. However, we were excited and thrilled to be shown though the completely rebuilt Opera House that, with minor exceptions, had been totally rebuilt from the rubble of the original opera house and looked exactly the same as the original Opera House.

5. I understand that today, April 15, 2002, great progress continues to be made in renewing Dresden... Wunderbar.

Unfortunately, I did not keep any accurate notes of what I have just described other than "jotting down" a few notes while "grilling" Fritz. However, I assure the reader that the 1 - 2 hours with Fritz was one of the most fascinating, intriguing few hours of my life. I repeatedly retold this experience of mine from the day I got home in November 1945 until today.

Merrill Butler

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