Hannes Richter

The Liberation of the Salzburger Land in May 1945

Hannes Richter
The Liberation of the Salzburger Land in May 1945

Top: Photo: 3rd ID soldiers stage a rodeo in Salzburg. U.S. Army Signal Corps


The Story of the Third Infantry Division in Europe

By Timothy R. Stoy

The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the St. Tropez peninsula in Southern France on August 15, 1944. After driving west first, they went north up the Rhone Valley chasing the German 19th Army. It moved 249 miles in 30 days and by September 14th was fighting for the town of Lure at the foothills of the Vosges Mountains. From mid-September to the beginning of December, it made its way across the Vosges to the Rhine Plain, and after more than 2 months of heavy fighting played a major role in destroying the famed Colmar Pocket.

It broke through the West Wall at Zweibrücken in mid- March 1945, crossed the Rhine, and drove through Germany taking the cities of Bamberg, Nürnberg, Augsburg, München, Berchtesgaden and finally the Obersalzberg on May 4th. Thanks to the efforts of the city commandant of Salzburg, the city surrendered on May 4 without a fight, saving the city from destruction. The peaceful surrender freed the 3rd Infantry Division to seize Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg, which had not been their originally assigned objectives. Three units of the 7th US Army, namely the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st Airborne Division, and the 2nd French Armored Division, were competing to capture Hitler’s so-called Eagle’s Nest, the Berghof on the Obersalzberg.

The 3rd Infantry Division arrived in Berchtesgaden first, having seized the only standing bridge over the Saalach and barring its use by any other units. Major General Leclerc of the 2nd French Armored Division was turned away at the bridge on the express order of the 3rd Infantry Division Commander, Major General “Iron Mike” O’Daniel. The French moved into Berchtesgaden later in the evening of May 4, and participated in a joint flag-raising ceremony with the 3rd Infantry Division’s 7th Infantry Regiment on the Obersalzberg the morning of May 5. The 3rd Infantry Division occupied Salzburg from May 4 until early July 1945, at which time it was transferred to Bad Wildungen, Germany. Trying to return to a sense of normalcy, the Division instituted an athletics program, including a rodeo which used captured Hungarian cavalry horses and Austrian bulls.

 The People of Salzburg greet the first U.S. Troops in the City. Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps

The Division held numerous award ceremonies, including Medal of Honor presentations to Lieutenant Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier of WWII, and Captain Charles E. Murray, Jr. Murray was present in Salzburg on May 4, 2010 when the city dedicated a memorial plaque for the 3rd Infantry Division. On May 28, 2015, the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, led by Outpost President Captain C. Monika Stoy, and the Austrian Embassy in Washington commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Salzburg and Austria with a memorial ceremony in the Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery, as well as wreath laying ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the 3rd Infantry Division Monument, and the grave of Audie Murphy, followed by a reception and historical seminar hosted by the Austrian Ambassador Dr. Hans Peter Manz in the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Salzburg Mayor Dr. Heinz Schaden traveled to Washington for the single purpose of participating in the commemorations to pay respect to the veterans past and present. Five U.S. veterans participated: Dr. William Weinberg, retired historian who served in Audie Murphy’s unit, B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment; Mr. Alois Groegler; Mr. Robert A. Dutil, retired walnut farmer; Mr. John Keller, retired policeman; and Mr. John J. Miller II, retired chemical engineer. Groegler, Dutil, Keller, and Miller all served in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. The U.S. Army Chief of Staff was represented at high level by Lieutenant General Robert Bruce “Abe” Abrams, a former 3rd Infantry Division Commander. At the time of the seminar, he was Military Assistant to the Secretary Defense and has since been promoted to General and currently serves as the 22nd commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces Command.

Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. Stoy served 31 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2012. He holds a Master of Arts in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He also serves as Historian for the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division and is Secretary/Treasurer of the Society’s Outpost International