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The Battle of Itter Castle (Austria) took place during World War II and saw the Germans, Americans and French fighting side by side. Itter Castle is located on a hill at the beginning of the Brixental (Tyrol). From 1312 to 1816, it was owned by the city of Salzburg until Sophie Menter, pianist, composer and pupil of Franz Liszt, bought it.
After the Anschluss of the 12th of March 1938, the castle was confiscated in 1940 by the German government on the orders of Himmler, who ordered it to be converted into a prison for VIPs. On the 25th of April 1943, the prison became operational under the command of Sebastian Wimmer. Guests at Itter Castle included Édouard Daladier, Paul Reynaud (two former prime ministers of the French Republic) and Marie Agnès de Gaulle, sister of Charles de Gaulle.
On the 4th of May 1945, a few days after Hitler’s suicide, Wimmer left the castle to escape the Allies together with the SS-Totenkopfverbände, responsible for the prison’s security. The French inmates took over the building and the abandoned weapons and prepared for a confrontation with the Waffen-SS, who were marching towards Itter.
On the other hand, a rescue team consisting of 14 Allied soldiers, 10 Germans, two Sherman tanks, a Volkswagen Kübelwagen and a troop transport truck was ready. Among them was Zvonimir Čučković, a member of the Yugoslav resistance, who had managed to escape two days before Wimmer had abandoned the castle. While running, he came across the rescue team near Innsbruck. The team consisted of a battalion of the 103rd US Infantry Division commanded by Lieutenant John C. Lee and a unit of the German regular army under the leadership of Major Josef Gangl, who, after surrendering to the Allies, had also decided to participate in the rescue of Itter’s prisoners.
The small column reached the castle just before the enemy surrounded it and prevented all the occupants from retreating. Thus, at dawn on the 5th of May 1945, the Waffen-SS began their attack on the castle, defended by Americans, Wehrmacht rebels and French prisoners. Three Austrian men from the small village of Itter also took part in the fighting, bringing the total number of fighters to 27, against 100/150 Waffen-SS troops. The situation soon became desperate due to the unsustainable disparity in numbers. When the outcome seemed to be a foregone conclusion, in the afternoon of the same day, the allies of the 142nd Infantry Regiment arrived and finally liberated the besieged.
Major Gangl, who fell in the battle, was posthumously decorated as an Austrian national hero while Lieutenant Lee was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and promoted to Captain.
After the downfall, a castle besieged
Facing the nazis awaiting relief
Gangl and Lee and their men set the prisoners free
An it’s the end of the line of the final journeyThe Last Battle, Sabaton
Enemies leaving the past
And it’s American troops and the German army
Joining together at last