The End of the War - US Occupation
On 29 April 1945, the 7th US Army under General Alexander Patch, consisting of the 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division, with elements of the 10th Armoured
Division attached, approached the town of Oberammergau without opposition.
Regular German troops designated to defend the town melted away ahead of the US advance however a tank 'stop line' was constructed just south of the Barracks on the road to Ettal and was manned by SS personnel and officer cadets from Mittenwald. This defensive line was shelled by US artillery positioned in Unterammergau on 29 April and tragically, a number of the teenaged defenders were killed.
The Architect of Auschwitz was wanted for war crimes and Kammler may have escaped Allied capture by disguising himself as a monk at nearby Ettal Abbey; there are a number of theories surrounding the demise of Kammler, including his subsequent involvement in US and Soviet weapons programmes, but he is thought to have died near Prague in May 1945.
Although the town Oberammergau was spared the destruction of war, it faced many challenges. The US Army set up a local militar y government to re-establish order and address the chronic food, fuel and housing shortages. The US Army set up headquarters, initially in Villa Ammerhof (opposite the railway station), and US personnel were billeted in already crowded local houses.
United Nations Refugee Camp
By mid 1945, the town was swamped by thousands of civilians, former forced labourers and released prisoners of war who had moved west ahead of the Soviet advance. Part of the barracks was established as a United Nations Displaced Persons (refugee) Camp under the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to cope with these ‘DPs’. It is thought that the UNRRA camp closed in mid-1946.
Leap into Space
In addition to discovering the existence of the Messerschmitt complex – unknown to the Allies - perhaps the greatest discovery made by US forces was Wernher von Braun (1912-1973), director of the V-2 (‘A-4 Bombardment Rocket’) ballistic missile programme, accompanied by up to 500 engineers, scientists and technicians, billeted around Oberammergau.
Wernher Von Braun
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) became director of the Army Rocket Research Centre in Peenemünde where he developed the V-2 ('A-4 Bombardment Rocket') ballistic missile.
Braun was evacuated by train and car from the Harz Mountains to Oberammergau with his development team of 500 engineers and technicians under the direction and close supervision of SS General Dr Hans Kammler.
Von Braun became a naturalised US citizen in 1955 and was chiefly responsible for the successful launch of America's first satellite - Explorer I - in 1958. He then became director of the Marshal Space Flight Centre under NASA where he developed the Saturn V launcher, responsible for the successful Apollo Moon landings.