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Combat History of the Eighth Infantry Division in World War II
Prepared and Edited by Lieutenant Marc F. Griesbach, Historian of the Eighth Division
EIGHTH INFANTRY DIVISION
in WORLD WAR II
PREPARED AND EDITED BY LT. MARC F. GRIESBACH, HISTORIAN OF THE DIVISION
This account was written during the period of combat from official reports and personal interviews with commanders and men of the Eighth Division.
HEADQUARTERS EIGHTH INFANTRY DIVISION UNITED STATES ARMY OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL
To the Officers and Men of the 8th Infantry Division: The proud record of the 8th Division in battle and service is unsurpassed. You won your battles in the recent war by courage any by devotion; by the bravery of the men, and by the peerless example of the leaders. With great pride in your accomplishments and with humility before the heroic self-sacrifice of the officers and men of this great Division, I subscribe myself. Yours very respectfully,
Major General, U.S. Army, Commanding.
Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., 24 September, 1945
MAJOR GENERAL BRYANT E. MOORE
COMMANDING GENERAL Eight Infantry Division
This is the story of the 8th Infantry Division of the American Army in World War II. It is, however, a story which begins long before the Nazi version of German militarism struck down the peoples of Europe, before Japanese imperialism ravaged China and imprisoned the islands of the South Pacific— before the world was thrown into this greatest of all wars. History records January, 1918 as the activation date of the 8th Infantry Division.* Camp Fremont, Palo Alto, California, was its first station, and there it remained in training until September, 1918. Units of organization were the 8th, 12th, 13th and 62nd Infantry Regiments, the 2nd and 81st Field Artillery Regiments, the 319th Engineer Battalion, 320th Field Signal Battalion and the 8th Supply Train. None of the units of what was then the 8th Division saw combat service in World War I, for they were still enroute to France when the Armistice was signed. One of them, the 8th Infantry Regiment, was attached to the Army of Occupation and served on German soil until August, 1919. The other elements of the Division returned to the United States in January, 1919, and during the following month the organization was disbanded. In March, 1923, it was reconstituted as an inactive unit, and on July 1, 1940, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, it was again brought into active service. That day marks the beginning of the present 8th Infantry Division. Major General Philip B. Peyton was named its first commander, and from the 8th Infantry Brigade, Fort McPherson, Georgia, came the cadre for a division headquarters. Original units of the organization were the 13th, 28th and 34th Infantry Regiments, the 28th and 83rd Field Artillery Regiments, the 12th Engineer Battalion, 8th Medical Battalion, 8th Reconnaissance Troop, 8th Signal Company, and the Headquarters and Military Police Company. Of these, only the 13th Infantry Regiment had been a member of the 8th Division of 1918. Before relating the story of the 8th as a division, it might be well to go back into the history of the units which make up the organization. Although the Division is still comparatively young in American military history, its infantry units bear traditions of long and meritorious service.
* Available records indicate that there probably were one or more divisions designated as the 8th prior to 1918, but there is no connection between them and the present organization.
13th Infantry Regiment
John Adams was President of the Nation, and George Washington had just retired to his home in Mount Vernon, when the 13th Regiment of Infantry was formed on July 16th, 1798. This was in accordance with the first plan for the expansion of the United States Army after the War of the Independence. The 13th was mustered out in January, 1800, but was reconstituted in the first year of the War of 1812, and took part in a number of engagements during that conflict. The 13th first went into action on the Canadian border at Lewiston, New York, which fell to the American forces on October 10, 1812. Three days later, Queenstown Heights was also taken by the newly-formed regiment. In commemoration of its service, the city of Buffalo raised a monument to the 13th at Fort Porter, New York. The annals of the Buffalo Historical Society contain the following passage concerning the battle at Queenstown Heights: “Outside of the casualties of war—the death of the distinguished British General Brock— it had no military significance except the introduction into history of the gallant 13th Regiment of U.S. Infantry, so dear to the whole frontier.” The next engagement in which a unit of the 13th is known to have taken part was at Black Rock, New York, where a company of the Regiment, after considerable losses, captured a British battery. A few days later, the 13th, by this time for some obscure reason known as the “Jolly Snorters,” was teamed with Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Winfield Scott’s artillery. Attacking the British at Fort George, New York, the Americans forced them back to “Twelve-Mile Creek.” During the remainder of the war, the 13th was engaged almost constantly in skirmishes along the northern frontier. Then, on September 11, 1814, came the final battle of Plattsburg. American General Macomb with 1,500 men and a small naval detachment, defeated a mixed army and navy command composed of 15,000 of Wellington’s veterans—and the war was over. In May, 1815, the 13th was consolidated with the 5th Infantry Regiment, and it so no more active service until the Mexican War. Although a roster of officers during that conflict is still in existence, no record is available of the Regiment’s role in battle.
War Between the States
Reconstituted in May 3, 1861, with General W.T. Sherman as its commander, and Philip Sheridan as one of its captains, the Regiment’s service from that day to this is continuous. President Abraham Lincoln had issued a call for 75,000 volunteers, and with the assignment of some of these men, the 13th Regiment of United States Infantry was brought to full strength. In October, 1862, seven of the eight companies of the Regiment were assigned to General Sherman’s command at Memphis, Tennessee. On one occasion when Sherman, then a temporary Brigadier General, was asked his permanent rank, he proudly replied, “I am Colonel of the thirteenth Regiment of United States Infantry.” It was under Sherman a few months later that the 13th saw its first action in the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Union forces, had decided that the West must be wrested from Confederate control. The Mississippi had
already been forced, and now it became necessary to reduce the fortress at Vicksburg. Grant’s plan was to hold Pemberton, while Sherman, with the 13th Regiment of the United States Infantry, crossed the Black River in rear of the Confederate forces. After much difficulty, Sherman succeeded in landing his forces near Walnut Hills, Mississippi, on December 22, 1862. A week later, the heavy fire of the 13th assisted the 6th Missouri in crossing Chickasaw Bayou. The main attack failed, and Grant was driven back; but the 13th was highly commended. It was then withdrawn from this sector and, on January 11, 1863, participated in the capture of the Arkansas Post, where it received a citation for gallantry. Beginning with the Battle of Haynes Bluff, on May 1, 1863, the 13th took part in a series of engagements in Mississippi which culminated in the assault at Vicksburg. Then on May 19, 1863, the colors of the 13th Infantry flew briefly atop the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg. Seven men carried the colors that day, and all seven lost their lives. Grant had greatly underestimated the strength of the enemy, and the attacked was repulsed with heavy losses. Though the price they paid was high, the officers and men of the 13th that day won for the Regiment the motto that it still retains. Their valor so impressed General Grant that he directed that the 13th Regiment of United States Infantry be permitted to carry on its colors, from that day forward, the legend, “First at Vicksburg.” Although hard hit by casualties, the 13th fought through the remainder of the campaign until July 4 when Vicksburg finally surrendered. There was another hard fought battle at Collierville, Mississippi, at which the Regiment earned General Sherman’s commendation. Then on November 23, 1863, the 13th took part in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, its last engagement in the War. Casualties had taken over 60 percent of its strength. Three time the thanks of Congress were bestowed upon former members of the 13th—twice to General Sherman, and once to General Sheridan. General Sherman always retained his affection for the Regiment, and later, to show his esteem, he appointed it the Headquarters Guard.
In the years immediately following the Civil War, the Government again reduced the Army. In 1869, only four regiments of infantry—the 12th, 13th, 20th and 23rd—remained intact. These were frequently broken up into one or two company units and sent to fight Indians or assist in the development of the West. There were, however, many colorful episodes during this period. The 13th, on one occasion, was given the mission of quelling the Mormon uprising. With Colonel De Trobriand in command, the Regiment marched into Salt Lake City and took over the streets. The Colonel then invited himself to lunch with Brigham Young. He dared the legendary leader of the Mormons, with his thousands of Nauvoo warriors, to attack. Brigham Young, seeing the men of the 13th at uncomfortably close range, reconsidered. There were no more armed clashes, and the Morman uprising had been crushed. Next stationed in New Orleans, the Regiment on January 4, 1875, proceeded, under official orders, to arrest the Louisiana State Legislature. Later
there came a call for volunteers to take a boatload of medicine and supplies through the yellow fever-infested area between Vicksburg and Memphis. Two lieutenants of the Regiment volunteered; one died. Companies E, F, and H had the honor of forming part of General Sherman’s funeral escort in 1892. Company F represented the Regiment at the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The next year the 13th was garrisoned at Fort Niagra, Fort Porter and Governor’s Island in New York, and there remained until the Spanish-American War.
War With Spain
When war broke out with Spain, the 13th was assigned to the 1st Division, V Corps. The Regiment arrived off Santiago, Cuba, on June 20, 1898, and was engaged in battle at El Caney shortly thereafter. Advancing unexpectedly to within 800 yards of the hostile trenches, the Regiment suddenly came under heavy fire from the Spaniards and suffered heavy casualties. It succeeded, however, in driving the Spaniards from El Caney, and then joined in the attack of San Juan Hill. Next the regiment was given the task of guarding prisoners of war, and in September, 1898, embarked for its home stations in New York. In May, 1899, it was sent to the Philippines. Until October, units of the Regiment were engaged in frequent minor forays against the insurrectos in the environs of Manila. Later it was ordered north to San Fabian in the province of Pangarian, where it joined in the drive to cut Aquinaldo’s retreat through this district.
Burning of Siboney, Cuba—July 14, 1898
Although the complete history of the Philippine campaign has never been written, it is known that the 13th took part in the remainder of the action and received the thanks of the Commanding General of the Islands. In July, 1900, the Regiment returned to the United States, where its units were sent to various West Coast stations. In May, 1903, Company I was ordered to Fort Liscum, Alaska. From 1905 to 1907, the Regiment was again in the Philippines. In October, 1911, after four years garrison duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, it made a third trip to the Islands, where it remained until the outbreak of World War I. Leaving the Philippines in July, 1917, the 13th Infantry returned to California and was immediately sent to Camp Fremont. In January of the following year, it became a part of the 8th Infantry Division. As a member of that organization, it did not participate in battle during World War I. After the war, units of the 13th Infantry were stationed at one time or another at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Boston Harbor Forts, Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont and Fort Adams, Rhode Island. In October, 1939, the Regiment was ordered to the Canal Zone. There, in June, 1940, its personnel, with the exception of the band, was transferred to other organizations. In July, the Regiment was reconstituted at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as a member of the present 8th Infantry Division.
28th Infantry Regiment
Organized in 1901 at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, the 28th Infantry Regiment earned its spurs in the Philippine jungles of Mindanao and added to its laurels during World War I in the forests of Cantigny. Shortly after its organization, the Regiment was sent to the Philippines. For two years it remained on the Island of Mindanao, building military roads through the dense jungle and suppressing the Moros, savage inhabitants of that land. Raids and ambushes by these treacherous headhunters were a constant danger. Moros, with their bolos, crept up on lone sentries and small groups of soldiers in the blackness of night, and at dawn the slashed bodies of the victims would be found. Disease followed the men of the 28th from camp to camp of the malaria-infested swamp. In spite of the hardships, they continued on their mission. Through Jolo, Pantar and Marahui the road was rushed to completion. The Moros were conquered, pacified or killed, and the 28th returned to the United States. For the next ten years, the Regiment performed ordinary garrison duties. It was stationed for a time at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and later in Texas. Little information is available of this period. Then, in 1913, there weer serious outbreaks along the Mexican border. President Taft ordered the Regiment to patrol the Rio Grande rover. The city of Vera Cruz was seized by the United States Navy in April, 1914, and later taken over by the Army. The 28th Infantry was a member of this expedition. Until November, 1914, it remained in the city, patrolling the streets and guarding public utilities. Hardly had the Nation entered World War I before the 28th, as a member of the 1st Infantry Division in General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force, was on its way to France. On June 28, 1917, the Regiment arrived at
the port of St. Nazaire, and early the next morning, the men of Company K became the first American combat unit to set foot on European soil. Immediately the Regiment entrained for the province of Lorraine, where it began a program of rigorous training under the famous French “Blue Devils,” the 52nd Battalion of Chasseurs. All through the following winter the 28th was in training, and when spring came it had been moulded into a rugged, hard-hitting combat team.
The Regiment had occupied the trenches before the city of Toul when the Germans drove a powerful salient between the British and French forces in the vicinity of Montdidier. To the American 1st Division was given the task of overcoming this dangerous drive which was aimed at the all-important Channel ports. The first American offensive of the war began near Cantigny on May 28, 1918. Fighting was vicious, and the battle lasted three days; but after counter-attacking five times, the Germans withdrew. American forces had gained their objective. No longer was there any doubt in the minds of the British and French as to the fighting ability of the Americans. Not only was their victory a military success; the psychological effect upon the Allied armies was tremendous. On that day the tide of battle turned in favor of the Allies. The Regiment was cited for gallantry in action by Marshal Petain, and Colonel Hanson Ely, its commander, was rewarded by promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. The 28th had already made an important contribution to the complete victory that was to come.
There were more victories for the American forces—and the 28th Infantry. On July 18, 1918, the 28th, despite heavy artillery bombardment and strong resistance, succeeded in cutting the German line of communication in the Battle of Soissons. Despite severe casualties—56 officers and 1,760 enlisted men—the Regiment’s spirit remained unbroken. After a brief respite, it went into action again, taking part, on September 12, in the destruction of the St. Mihiel salient. For three years the Germans had maintained this wedge deep within Allied lines. Now, in spite of the enemy’s tenacity, and in the face of bitter cold and rain, the Americans smashed through.
Then came the Battle of the Argonne, a month of steady slugging in the tangled underbrush and dense thicket against a stubborn enemy. Again the Germans were driven back. There was more bloody fighting before heavily fortified Sedan; and when the Americans had fought their way into position to take the City, they stepped aside and allowed the French to march in and reclaim the prize when they had lost to the Germans in 1871. The War had been won, and the 28th Infantry had played no small part in the victory. To the French, no display of gratitude seemed too great, as they decorated the members of the Regiment with the Fouragerre. More than 5,00 officers and enlisted men of the regiment were war casualties. After the Armistice was signed, the 28th began its triumphant entry into
Germany. Marching through the Duchy of Luxembourg, the Regiment crossed the Rhine on December 13 and entered the American bridgehead area. There it kept the “Watch on the Rhine” until the treaty of peace was signed. Returning to the United States in September, 1919, the 28th paraded in New York and Washington D.C., and then took up its station in Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky. In 1920, the Regiment was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and in June, 1922, it was moved to the State of New York. There, one battalion was stationed at Fort Niagra, another at Fort Ontario. The 1st Battalion garrisoned Fort Porter until it reverted to inactive status in 1933. The 28th remained a member of the 1st Division until October, 1939, when the Army was reorganized, and divisions became triangular. During 1939– 1940, the Regiment underwent a period of winter training in northern New York, testing skis, snowshoes and other equipment for use in cold climates. In the summer of 1940, the 1st Battalion was re-activated at Fort Niagra, and the entire Regiment was brought to peace-time strength. It then proceeded to Fort Jackson, where, on July 1, 1940, it was assigned to the 8th Infantry Division. “Vincit Amor Patriae”—“Love of Country Shall Conquer” is the motto of the 28th. The Regimental emblem is a shield emblazoned with the “Lion of Cantigny.”
121st Infantry Regiment
Among the Confederate forces opposing Union troops during the Civil War, were a number of colorful units of the Georgia militia. In January, 1891, more than twenty years after the close of the ear, a number of these small units were combined to form the 2nd Infantry of the Georgia National Guard. It was this organization which, on August 5, 1917, was redesignated the 121st Infantry, and become popularly known as “The Old Gray Bonnet” Regiment. Unraveling a few of the strings that went into the making of the Old Gray Bonnent, we come again to pre-Civil War days. In May, 1810, there was organized in Milledgeville, Georgia, a company of volunteers known as the Baldwin Blues. During the Civil War, this company, as part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, participated in the battles of Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Spottsylvania and Gettysburg. In September, 1841, volunteers from Macon, Georgia, organized the Floyd Rifles, who later fought at Tanner’s Creek, Seven Pines, Malvern Hill and Gettysburg. The Barnesville Blues were organized in February, 1861, and served as part of the Western Army of the Confederacy under Generals Bragg and Johnson. It was this company which most probably was engaged in combat at one time or another with units of the 13th Infantry, at the Battle of Chickamauga. Most of these units were disbanded for a time after Appomattox, and reorganized a few years later. Other units of the Regiment were formed shortly after the close of the Civil War. Among them were the Macon Hussars, The Southern Cadets of Macon, the Jackson (Ga.) Rifles and Albany (Ga.) Guards.
On the Rio Grande
The 2nd Infantry of the Georgia National Guard was mobilized in June, 1915, because of the trouble with Mexico. The Regiment went into training at
Camp Harris, Georgia, and remained there until October when it entrained for Texas. Arriving at Camp Cotton, Texas, on October 27, the Regiment was assigned the task of patrolling the border. Late in March, 1917, the Regiment returned to Camp Harris, Georgia, and began training for participation in World War I. In August, it was redesignated the 121st Infantry, and was assigned to the newly-formed 30th Infantry Division. Beginning in January, 1918, the Regiment received frequent calls for infantry replacements, and by June, nearly every enlisted man who was physically fit had been sent overseas with some other unit. Soon, however, a new draft again brought the organization up to full strength.
The long-awaited orders to sail came at last. The Regiment embarked at Hoboken, New Jersey, on September 29,1918, and landed at Brest on October 18. Colonel J.A. Thomas, the regimental commander, died aboard ship in the French harbor. Four days later, at Le Mans, France, the 121st was broken up and its men sent to the front as replacements. There was bitter disappointment among the officers as they saw the Regiment disintegrate. Major Wilder took possession of the Regimental colors, and refused to give them up until he returned to Atlanta where he presented them to the Governor of Georgia. The Regiment was reorganized in 1919 as a member of the Georgia National Guard. For a brief period in 1934, it was called into active service to quell riots in the Georgia textile strike. Finally, on September 16, 1940, the 121st Infantry was again inducted into Federal service at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where on November 22, 1941, it replaced the 34th Infantry as a member of the 8th Division. The Old Gray Bonnet remains to this day the emblem of the 121st, as well as its Regimental song. “Faciendum Est”—“It Shall Be Done”— is its motto.
8TH DIVISION RE-ACTIVATED
When the 8th Infantry Division was re-activated on July 1, 1940, two regiments of field artillery were also reconstituted as active units. One of them, the 28th, was reorganized as a battalion in October of that year, and in the following June, furnished cadres for three more battalions—the 43rd, 45th and 56th. Headquarters Battery of the 28th became Headquarters Battery, 8th Division Artillery. The other regiment, the 83rd, was similarly divided into battalions, and then transferred from the Division. Some of its personnel, however, was re-assigned to the remaining artillery units of the 8th Division. The other elements of the Division, with the exception of the 208th Ordnance Company, were activated at Fort Jackson during July, 1940. The 708th Ordnance (originally designated the 208th) was activated on July 1, 1942. These are the units which were brought together at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to form the 8th Infantry Division. To recount all the events in the four years from its Day of Activation to its D-Day, July 4, 1944, would be simply to list the innumerable steps in the training routine of an American infantry division. There are, however, highlights and a number of unusually incidents during this long period of training and preparation, and these form an essential part of the history of the 8th. Beginning in September, 1941, the 8th Division, then under command of Major General James P. Marley after a brief period under Brig. General Wm. E. Shedd, and already well through its preliminary stages of training, took part in the Carolina Maneuvers. For more than two months, a large proportion of the Nation’s armed forces was engaged in extensive operations throughout the Carolinas, and the men of the 8th took a major part in them.
Atlantic Coast Patrol Duty
Then came Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had crippled the American Navy, and with packs of German submarines roaming the Atlantic, there was the constant threat of an attack against the American mainland. The 8th Division was ordered to patrol the Atlantic coast. For six weeks during the Winter of 1942, units of the Division ranged along the eastern shores of the Country from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. Returning to Fort Jackson late in March, the Division resumed its training. During the following month, by an order of the War Department, it became the 8th Motorized Division. The 8th Quartermaster and 208th Ordnance Companies became battalions; the 8th Reconnaissance Troop became a squadron, and the 8th MP platoon, a company. Between March and July, the Division
furnished cadres of 1280 men each to the 77th and 80th Divisions, and a cadre of 200 men for activation of Headquarters Company, XII Corps. On July 1, 1942, Brigadier General Paul E. Peabody succeeded Major General Marley as Division Commander. In September of the last year, there was a motor march to the area of the Tennessee Maneuvers. Two more months of war games further hardened the troops of the 8th. Then, after a brief stay in tents at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, the Division set out for its new station, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From December, 1942, to March, 1943, there was another period of comparative calm. Again the Division changed commanders, Major General William C. McMahon assuming the post on January 24, 1943. In March, 1943, the 8th moved to Camp Laguna, Arizona, for six months of desert training. During the latter part of this period, it was de-motorized, reverting once more to its original status as a standard infantry division. It was also during this period of desert training that the 8th Division Band was organized from the 13th and 121st Regimental bands. The band of the 28th Infantry was transferred to the 65th Division at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
Upon completion of desert training, the Division returned to Camp Forrest. Preparations were begun immediately for an overseas movement. Late in November, the 8th arrived at the staging area at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Then, on December 5, 1943, a convoy, bearing the 8th Infantry Division, sailed from New York Harbor. Ten days later, after crossing uneventful except fro the severe Winter storms, the Division arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Headquarters were established at Omagh, County Tyrone. The 13th and 28th Regiments were billeted at Ely Lodge and Drumcose estates in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, was stationed at Shadow Camp in Fintona, and later at Bally-Northland in Dungannon, while the remainder of the Regiment was sent to Ashebrooke-Colebrooke, the property of the prominent Northern Irish statesman, Sir Basil Brooke. Other elements occupied surrounding territory, spreading out over an area approximately thirty miles square. This presented a difficult problem for supply, training and administrative supervision.
Training in Northern Ireland
Training in Northern Ireland was as varied as the limited terrain permitted. Greatest emphasis was placed on small unit tactics. There was an abundance of scouting and patrolling, with one third of all training conducted at night. A rigorous physical conditioning program was put into effect. Firing of all kinds was stressed throughout the entire period. Florence Court and Carrickawick combat ranges and the Gorton known distance range were frequently used. At St. John’s Point, troops fired on anti-aircraft targets, and at Mayar, they were training in the assault of fortified positions. General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the Division in April, during one of his tours of inspection of Allied troops. The Supreme Commander witnessed a number of small unit problems by members of the 13th Infantry, firing by Division Artillery and a regimental review by the 28th Infantry at Enniskillen. Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Third Army Commander, also inspected
troops of the 8th Division in Northern Ireland. He commented favorably on a demonstration of an attack on a fortified position staged by the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, on Sleive Beigh range. Later, at Castle-Coole, he addressed the assembled Division. Every two weeks during the period in Northern Ireland, the Division sent seventy-five enlisted men and fifteen officers to the British 55th Division and received an equal number of United Kingdom troops for a two-week period. This was in accordance with an exchange plan worked out my military authorities of both nations. It proved beneficial from a training standpoint, and helped promote better understanding among Allied soldiers.
As the time for the invasion of Western Europe drew near, the training program was expanded to include battalion and regimental combat exercise, command post problems, and the study of German tactics. Elementary amphibious training was given to all troops. Some units began language classes in French and German. Several weeks before sailing to France, the 121st Infantry conducted a “dry run” of the embarkation. So secret and realistic was the operation, that the discovery that it was only an exercise came as a tremendous surprise to officers and men alike.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower joins a group of men of the 28th. Infantry regiment attending a land mine school in Northern Ireland.
On July 1, 1944, a convoy of four troop ships and twelve motor transports steamed out of Belfast Harbor, carrying the 8th Division to the continent of Europe. On July 4, twenty-eight days after D-Day of the Normandy invasion, the Division began debarking at Omaha Beach on the Cherbourg peninsula. Two days later, it had assembled in the vicinity of Monteburg, where final preparations for battle were completed. Allied invasion armies, at this time, held only a few square miles of the territory of France. The city of Cherbourg had recently fallen, and the Germans were driven from the northern tip of the peninsula to a point a few hundred yards north of La Haye du Puits. From there, the enemy line stretched westward through Carentan and St. Lo to Caen and the Orne River estuary. German resistance in most sectors was heavy, even against already achieved air superiority. The plan for the VIII Corps, to which the 8th Division was assigned, was to attack to the south toward La Haye du Puits. The 8th Division was to pass through the 82nd Airborne Division, taking over the center of the Corps front. The main effort of the drive was to be made in this sector.
Early on the morning of July 8, the Division jumped off on its first attack in the Battle of France. The 28th and 121st Regiments were on line, the 13th in reserve. A last-minute change in the VIII Corps order made it necessary for the men of the 121st Infantry to make an eight-hour march and go into the attack without rest. The first objective, the Ay River, was strongly defended by the Germans, and progress was slow. The Division had only advanced 1,000 yards, when enemy resistance stiffened. A counter-attack hit the 121st Infantry, but was repulsed with a night attack by the reserve battalion without loss of ground. The attack began again the next morning. Again the enemy counter-attacked. During the afternoon of the third day the advance tempo quickened. There were indications of local withdrawals by the enemy. Troops of the 8th were quick to take advantage of this opportunity. Infantry elements isolated small pockets of Germans, by-passed them and forged ahead. Corps Cavalry then cleaned up the disorganized enemy elements. During the following three days, however, the enemy continued to resist all attempts to break through his lines. German machine gun fire was heavy, and mortars were accurate. During a break in communications, the 3rd Battalion,
28th Infantry, advanced approximately 1,000 yards beyond its adjacent units, thereby exposing its flanks. Before contact could be re-established, the enemy counterattacked in strength and badly mauled Company L. On the morning of July 13, the 28th Infantry was placed in Division reserve. The 13th Infantry passed through that zone of action and went into the attack for the first time. Progress was still slow, but on the following day, both assaulting regiments reached the north bank of the Ay River. Here, under instructions from VIII Corps, they held their positions.
The 8th Division had been through its first action of World War II. It had reached its first objective and suffered its first casualties. The territory it had taken was slight; the advance had been slow. The lessons learned, however, were many. Commanders and troops had become battle-wise to the enemy’s tactics. Hedgerows had become as familiar as the hills of Missouri and Northern Ireland. When the Division first went into action, artillery laid down a heavy barrage immediately before each day’s attack. Soon it was discovered that this fire only alerted the enemy. The barrage was omitted, artillery laying down heavier harassing fires until the time of attack, and then continuing its sup-
French residents flock to streets of Sartilly, in Normandy, to welcome 8th Division doughboys moving through in pursuit of fleeing Germans.
port by neutralizing and knocking out strongpoints uncovered by attacking infantry. It was also learned that contact between adjacent units was frequently lost; flanks were exposed; and enemy counterattacks took a heavy toll in men and material. Casualties throughout the action were heavy, as might be expected among troops in combat for the first time. The Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Nelson Walker, was seriously wounded while at the front, during the second day of action. He died early the following morning. Maj. James P. Mallory assumed command of the 2nd Bn. 121st Infantry that spearheaded the attack of that regiment until he was killed in action. Lt. Colonel Augustine D. Dugan, battalion commander of the 121st infantry, though seriously wounded, refused to be evacuated until the action had ended. On July 11, the Division Commander, Maj. General William C. McMahon was succeeded by Brig. General Donald A. Stroh. Shortly after this, Colonel John R. Jeter and Kenneth B. Anderson succeeded Colonels Albert H. Peyton and Lester A. Webb as regimental commanders of the 121st and 28th Infantry respectively. During the following eleven days, the Division continued to hold its position, waiting for the VIII Corps under which would begin a new general offensive. Artillery continued to shell enemy positions across the Ay River. Air bombardment leveled numerous German strongpoints. At night, Division Artillery lifted its fire to allow patrols to reconnoiter south of the River and to clear gaps in enemy mine fields. The 709th Tank Battalion and the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the Division. Members of the 8th Division Band became combatants, serving as military police or signal company linesman during the period of fighting. Each night, shortly after darkness, the enemy sent over lone aircraft, usually reconnaissance planes, which attempted to detect troop movements by dropping flares. Occasionally there were also strafing attacks. Enemy artillery continued to harass the troops, and on one occasion it became necessary to shift the Division command post to avoid the nightly shelling.
THE AY RIVER
Finally, after several tentative dates for the offensive had been announced and subsequently cancelled, the attack was set for 0530, July 26. The line of the Ay River, from its mouth to the bridge at Lessay, was so swampy and so strongly defended that an advance southward by the 79th Division, which held this sector, was impossible. The Lessay bridge had been destroyed, and the only ford crossing the River was so heavily mined and covered by hostile machine gun fire that it could not be used. Similarly, along the eastern flank of the line, the sector of the 90th Division, the ground was swampy and strongly held by the Germans. On the entire Corps front, only a segment in the center, approximately two kilometers in width, was practicable for an attack. This was the front of the 8th Division. The VII Corps plan of attack was to have the 8th Division push forward, overcome the strong enemy defenses to the south, and established a bridgehead between the south bank of the Ay River and the Lessay Perier railway. The 79th Division was to follow the 8th through this gap, fan out to the southwest, and take out the German defenses along the western sector of the river line from the flank.
Similarly, the 90th Division was to take advantage of the breakthrough by the 8th Division, by-pass the German strongpoints to the east, and continue to attack to the southeast. The success of the entire Corp attack depended on the ability of the 8th Division to break through the German defenses.
Both assaulting regiments, the 28th and 121st, jumped off as scheduled. The enemy established observation post in the tower of a church which afforded observation of most of the Division sector of advance. Requests for air bombardment of the church were denied. Corps and Division Artillery fired on the tower for two days before it was finally relinquished by the enemy. The 28th, attacking with the 1st and 2nd Battalions forward, met resistance immediately. As it advanced, its front lines became irregular, and it was necessary to halt for reorganization. A second attack penetrated the enemy’s defensive position, and the 28th reached the Lessay-Periers road, making untenable the entire enemy position across the Corps front.* The 121st Infantry reported no resistance initially, but in the afternoon it was evident that the report was overly optimistic. One battalion had actually been pushed back across the Ay River to the original line of departure. It was
* For their part in this action, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th Infantry have been recommended for the Presidential Citation. At this writing, recommendation has not yet been acted upon.
French civilians and men of the 8th Division look at the damage caused during the liberation of Rennes, France, from German yoke.
planned that on the following day the 28th Infantry would hold its position until the 121st came abreast. At this time both regiments were to attack again. The plan was carried out. The 121st, meeting little resistance, came abreast of the 28th at 1400 that afternoon. At 1500, the coordinated attack began, and the only resistance encountered was light artillery and mortar fire, and heavy mine fields. This day was the beginning of the mass retreat of the German Seventh Army. The mission of the 8th Division had been completely accomplished. The 79th and 90th Divisions followed through the gap in the enemy lines, fanned out to the west and east respectively, and joined in the pursuit of the fleeing enemy. American Armor drove into the breakthrough area created by the infantry elements and began lightning thrusts through Brittany and Eastern France, which were to sweep beyond Paris to the frontiers of Germany.
Resuming the advance on the morning of July 28th, the 8th Division proceeded rapidly against light resistance, until it had taken all objectives. In the days immediately following, pursuit of the enemy continued. The 4th and 6th Armored Divisions had passed through the VIII Corps sector. Closely following them, in route column, was the 8th Division. South through Coutances, and Avranches the march continued, until the Division, less Combat Team 13, reached an assembly area southeast of Avranches. The 445th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, attached to the Division, assisted the advance by protecting the advancing columns from air attack. Combat Team 13, which had been motorized and attached to the 4th Armored Division, was sent ahead to secure the towns of La Jourdaniere and La Mourdraquiere. It rejoined the Division in the assembly area on August 1st. During the following days, the Division continued to move southward, clearing out small pockets of resistance and securing road nets and vital installations along the route of march. Combat Team 13 was again attached to the 4th Armored Division on August 2nd, and transported south to St. Aubin D’Aubigne, eleven miles north of Rennes. By nightfall of August 3rd, the 8th Division, less Combat Team 13, had reached St. James. On the morning of August 4th, the Division continued the movement by motor. Combat Team 13, having reached St. Aubin D’Aubigne, and discovering that the enemy had withdrawn from Rennes, passed through that city and occupied the heights south of it. By 1100, the situation was so favorable that the Division Commander ordered the remaining elements of the Division to move to an assembly area near Betten, slightly northeast of Rennes. By 2200, outposts were set up defending all roads and railroads leading into the city. Until August 13th, the 8th Division, less the 121st Infantry, which remained near St. James under VIII Corps control, continued its mission of holding and defending Rennes. During this period, it maintained road blocks, cleared rubble and obstacles from the streets, and engaged in extensive patrolling. Although some prisoners were taken, no contact was made with organized enemy forces. On August 8th, the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, was attached to the 6th Armored Division, operating in the direction of Brest.
121ST TAKES DINARD
The 121st Infantry, under VIII Corps control, was attached, on August 6th, to the 83rd Infantry Division, and immediately began movement by motor to Dinard. Near Tremereuc, on the following day, it encountered determined resistance. Road blocks and heavy machine gun fire forced the Regiment to detruck and fight its way forward. Scarcely was the attack underway when the enemy showed that he was prepared to offer the most determined resistance. From concrete pillboxes, protected by formidable tank obstacles and numerous minefields and barbed wire entanglements, the Germans fought back. Enemy mortar and machine gun fire was severe, and several tanks were encountered. On August 9th, the 3rd Battalion was cut off from the Regiment. For three days it withstood almost incessant artillery bombardment and repeated attempts by the enemy to annihilate it, suffering many casualties, but throwing the enemy back every time he attacked. Two artillery liaison planes flew over the position, successfully dropping blood plasma, and then collided in mid air, destroying both planes and killing all occupants. Late in the afternoon of August 12th, contact with the “lost Battalion” was regained. The Regiment then drove through the remaining enemy defenses, occupied Dinard on August 14th, mopped it up on the 15th, and reverted again to 8th Division control. The Division, meanwhile, had moved to an assembly area near Dinan, where it remained until August 17th. On August 14th, a task force, composed mainly of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, moved to the Cap Frehel peninsula, farther east in Brittany, to take over positions held by French Forces of the Interior, and reduce the enemy. It was joined on August 15th by the remainder of Combat Team 28. Before noon of that day, the enemy surrendered. Three hundred prisoners were taken. On August 17th, the remaining elements of the Division began movement to an assembly area near Brest. There, for three days, operations were confined to patrolling. Then, on August 21st, the Division closed into its sector and awaited orders to attack.
At Brest, an estimated 50,000 enemy troops were trapped within an arc drawn tightly around the city and its port, the second largest in France. The German Commander of the port, Lt. General Hermann Bernhard Ramcke, was a ruthless soldier who had previously led the German airborne invasion of the Island of Crete. He was under direct orders from Adolph Hitler to hold out for at least four months, and had already refused two Allied demands for his surrender. The troops under his command included three German divisions, the 266th, 343rd and 2nd Paratroop, and a number of marine units and labor battalions. The defenses of the old city on the top of the Brittany peninsula were as formidable a series of strongpoints and obstacles as were encountered anywhere in France. They were bolstered by numerous heavy coast artillery guns which had been turned around to fire inland. The three divisions of the American VIII Corps, the 2nd, 29th and 8th, were assigned to the battle for Brest. Tremendous artillery strength was brought in to assist in the attack. The Corps plan of attack was to use all three divisions to close in on the German defenders from three sides. The 2nd Division
was to attack from the northeast; the 29th from the northwest; and the 8th was to make the main effort with a frontal attack from the north.
Shortly before midnight on August 24th, elements of the 13th and 28th Regiments, on line for the 8th, began infiltrating toward preliminary objectives from which the attack was to jump off. The offensive began shortly after noon of the following day. Before nightfall, an advance of 1200 yards had been made against heavy resistance. The next morning, the attack was resumed. In the face of an enemy deeply entrenched and employing intense small arms automatic weapons, mortar and light artillery fire, only slight gains could be achieved. Enemy resistance increased during the succeeding three days. After slight advances, the 13th and 28th Infantry Regiments consolidated their gains and strengthened their positions. They repulsed numerous counterattacks and sent out patrols to the south. On August 26th, Lt. Colonel Edmund Fry, commander of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion was captured by the enemy, only to escape by sea and rejoin his battalion on the Crozon peninsula nineteen days later. On the morning of August 29th, the enemy in the sector of the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, called a truce to evacuate wounded. Previously, two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, had advanced beyond their adjacent units, been cut off and captured by the Germans. Following the truce, it was found that communications with these two companies had been cut. Several weeks later, after Brest had capitulated, these two companies were freed by men of their own unit from a German prisoner of war enclosure on the Crozon peninsula, south of the harbor of Brest, and returned to their unit. On August 30th, Brig. General Stroh was promoted to the rank of Major General. That day and the next, the 8th Division consolidated further small gains and regrouped. The 121st Infantry, which had been in reserve, went forward to relieve the 28th. On August 31st, the 8th prepared for a coordinated Corps attack which was to include also the 2nd Division. A road in the vicinity of the town of Kergroas was the objective.
Men of the 12th Combat Engineer Battalion complete a Bailey Bridge over a ravine near Lambezellec, France, on the road to Brest.
On the following day, when the attack was begun, this objective was quickly seized. Besides cleaning out strong enemy pockets of resistance in the villagers of Kergroas and Kergaclet, this action materially assisted the 2nd Division in the capture of the town of Fourneuf.
The next day, attacks by the 13th and 121st Infantry Regiments forced the enemy to withdraw. A serious limitation in artillery ammunition prevented the carrying out of any large scale offensive action. Because of this, activities for the next three days were confined to patrolling and holding of occupied positions. On September 8th, with an improvement in the supply of artillery ammunition, the 121st Infantry attacked and seized the eastern end of the strongly defended Lambzellec ridge. The 121st then advanced toward the town of Lambzellec, and by noon was fighting in the streets. The 13th Infantry advanced abreast to positions from which it supported the attack of the 121st. On September 10th, having passed through Lambzellec, the 121st was confronted with Fort Bouguen. This was a formidable work of thick walls, twenty to thirty feet in height, surrounded by a dry moat, twenty feet deep. Within the Division zone, the western extremity of those walls rested on the Penfeld River. It was pierced only by one narrow entrance. Once through this wall, it would still be necessary to pass through two tunnels and across two narrow ridges. Moreover, between the river and the inside of the wall was a steep cliff. Such an obstacle could not be assaulted by infantry without artillery fire or extensive engineer demolitions having first breached the wall. Detailed examination of the plans of the fort and photographs of it indicated that engineer demolitions were impracticable. Therefore, on September 11th, heavy artillery fire was directed on the wall. This fire failed to make an appreciable breach and the VIII Corps Commander decided to suspend further operations against that portion of the inner defenses, and to contain the enemy within Fort Bouguen, while efforts were renewed farther east. He therefore directed that elements of the 2nd Infantry Division relieve the 8th Division in front of the fort. Accordingly, on September 12th, the 13th and 121st Infantry Regiments withdrew to a temporary assembly area near Plouvien. Two days earlier, the 28th Infantry, less the 2nd Battalion which remained in Division reserve, had been moved toward Guilorn to relieve elements of the 29th Division, which had been making only limited progress in its sector. When the 29th had regrouped, the 28th Infantry rejoined the other elements of the 8th Division.
At this time, the 8th Division was sent to the Crozen peninsula, reportedly a strongly-held finger of land which would menace the port of Brest even after it had been taken. On the Crozon peninsula, Tank Force A, under command of Brig. General Herbert L. Earnest, had been holding the Germans west of a line about fifteen miles from the four tips of the peninsula. The enemy forces had prepared strong defenses. Crozon was expected to be a tough nut to crack, and when the Division moved into its attack positions on September 14, it had attached, in addition to its normal attachments, Task Force A. This organization consisted of the 1st Tank Destroyer Group, the 35th Field Artillery Group,
13th Medics—Bronze Star Awards—Normandy. the 83rd Armored Field Artillery, and the 15th and 17th Cavalry. West of the line of departure, two main ridges ran parallel to the axis of the peninsula to a point where it branched into four fingers. A stream ran between the two ridges. The 28th Infantry was given the mission of advancing along the north ridge. An air field near Lanvenoc was expected to be stubbornly defended. The 121st Infantry was to take the south ridge, passing through the city of Crozon. The 13th Infantry was in reserve. Task Force A, with a zone down the center of the valley, was to advance as infantry elements cleared the dominating ridges, and mop up remaining pockets of resistance. On the morning of September 15th, after a strong barrage by heavy and light artillery and chemical mortars, the attack began. In the zone of the 28th Infantry, the 3rd Battalion led the attack. By 0930 it was approaching the hamlet of St. Eflez. The 3rd Battalion and the 1st following it were under heavy flanking fire from the south ridge. All officers of Company L became casualties. Tech Sergeant Charles E. Ballance reorganized the company and took command. He was killed by a sniper the next day. In the vicinity of St. Eflez, resistance grew so fierce that it was apparent that the main line of enemy defenses had been reached. On the south ridge, Company G, 121st Infantry, led the column of companies in which the battalion attacked. After a short advance, the attacking troops met small arms and automatic fire of such intensity that it left no doubt that here the enemy intended to hold to the last. The ground was flat and open, giving the enemy good observation. On the night of September 15th, German counterattacks on both ridges were repulsed. At 0700 the following morning, the attack was renewed under cover of a dense fog, which was to furnish an effective mask for each morning of the Crozon action. In the 28th Infantry sector, the 1st Battalion was moved up on the right of the 3rd. Although the advance for the day was slight, it
penetrated the enemy’s line. Numerous strongpoints had been reduced and 150 prisoners taken. Two enemy documents were secured which had a far reaching effect on the campaign. Pfc Ervin D. Lammley of the Intelligence Section, 3rd Battalion, recognized at once the importance of a map he found while searching prisoners. It showed complete gun positions of all enemy artillery on the peninsula. Before daylight, 8th Division Artillery had laid effective fire on these positions. In the opinion of senior officers of the regiment, the resulting loss to the Germans of their artillery was a decisive factor in their swift defeat. On the evening of the same day, a complete field order, giving the enemy plan for defense of the peninsula, was taken from a captured German officer. With it went the enemy’s confidence and reliance on his defense plan. Strongpoints remained to be broken, but through bypassing them, the Division advanced at such speed that the Germans never succeeded in reforming a line of resistance. A fort which had been considered formidable fell to the fire of one machine gun. Once having broken the main line, the 121st took objectives with a speed that baffled and harried Germans. Before the town of Crozon was reached, effective enemy resistance had collapsed. By the afternoon of Sept. 17th, the shaft of the peninsula was in 8th Division hands. It was time to plan the cleaning out of the branching fingers of the western extremity. The ground was dominated by Hill 70, in the zone of advance of Task Force A. The task force had been following up the advance of the two regiments, but was hampered by the nature of the terrain and the lack of a road not in its zone. Consequently it had fallen behind. The 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, was therefore given the mission of securing this key to the last phase of the Crozon campaign. On the night of December 17-18, a reinforced platoon of Company L, 13th Infantry, outposted Hill 70 without finding evidence of any Germans. The first light of dawn, however, revealed the position of the enemy, who had believed himself in a secure position. In their bewilderment at finding themselves infiltrated, the Germans became panicky. Sergeant Will R. Wheeler of Company L, in charge of a combat patrol of little more than a squad, took more than a hundred prisoners, and marched them down the hill to where the main body of Company L was advancing to attack. Before 0900 on the morning of September 18th, the 3rd Battalion had occupied the essential hill. The mop-up of the fingers of the peninsula proceeded as planned. Later that day, Lt. General Erwin Rauch, Commander of the Crozon peninsula force of Germans was captured. Four forces, acting almost as independent combat commands, accomplished the final phase of the campaign. Task Force A reduced the Cap du Chevre sub-peninsula to the south. The 28th Infantry, driving west, cleared the Camaret Point. On the north, the 2nd Ranger Battalion, which had been attached to the Division on September 17th, mopped up the Le fret area, and the 13th took over the task of smashing through the massive wall and Old Fort guarding the large north finger, the Point Des Espagnoles.
These are My Credentials
The 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, attacked after an artillery preparation of an hour’s duration. The doughboys caught the Germans coming out of their
shelters and took them captive before they could reach their positions. As the assault companies drove north, the reserve company, Company I, was left to clear out a strip of beach containing pillboxes and coastal guns. A platoon commander, 1st Lieutenant James M. Dunham, leading his men through these knolls and emplacements, saw Germans waving white flags. A German medical officer announced in perfect English that General Ramcke was in a dugout below, and would like to talk terms with the American Commanding Officer. Ramcke, Commander of the Port of Brest until its surrender a few days previous, was rumored to have fled to the Crozon peninsula. Brig. General Canham, Assistant Division Commander, and Colonel Robert A. Griffin, 13th Infantry Commander, together with Dunham and Lt. Colonel Earl L. Lerette, 3rd Battalion Commander, arrived at the dugout. They were escorted down a concrete stairway about seventy-five feet underground, where General Ramcke was waiting. The Nazi commander addressed General Canham through his interpreter: I am to surrender to you. Let me see your credentials.” “These are my credentials,” Canham replied, pointing outside to doughboys crowding the dugout entrance. Early that evening, a truce was signed, and all German resistance on the Crozon peninsula ceased. In four days of swift advance, the units of the 8th Division took more than seven thousand prisoners.
Lt. General Herman Bernhard, commander of the German garrison at Brest, is brought before Major. General D. A. Stroh and members of the 8th Division staff after his capture on the Crozon peninsula.
THE SIEGFRIED LINE
While the 8th Division was taking part in the fight to destroy the Germans trapped on the Brittany peninsula, other Allied forces had exploited the breakthrough in Normandy to its fullest. Caught within an Allied ring of men and steel, Von Kluge’s German Seventh Army was all but obliterated by air and artillery bombardment, its scattered remnants sent in headlong flight across the Seine. The British Second Army, thrusting northward to the Dutch border, had trapped the bulk of the German Fifteenth Army along the Channel coast, where it was methodically destroyed by the Canadians. The American First Army swept into Belgium and Luxembourg, and mopped up the stragglers from the disintegrating enemy units fleeing toward the German border. American Third Army troops drove eastward to the Moselle, leaving a trail of charred enemy armor, weapons and vehicles strewn across France. From the south, a new landing by the American Seventh and French First Armies cleared the Germans from most of southeastern France and developed rapidly into a drive to a junction with the Third Army near the Swiss-German border. More than three hundred thousand prisoners had been taken in the Allied onslaught. Most of France, Belgium and Luxembourg, and part of Holland, had been liberated. Allied armies had breached the Siegfried Line, the vaunted German border defense, and along a continuous front from The Netherlands to Switzerland, American, British, French and Canadian forces were poised for the thrust into Germany to complete the destruction of the Nazi military machine. On this front, the 8th Infantry Division was now to resume its part in the fight to crush the enemy.
Ordered to the Ninth Army sector of the West Wall, the 8th Division began the long move from the Crozon peninsula to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on September 26th. Foot troops and trucked vehicles made the journey by rail. Motorized elements drove in convoys, arriving near Ettelbruck, Luxembourg, on September 30th. The 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry had been retained at Rennes, France, and was assigned to temporary duty with Communications Zone, for the purpose of guarding Allied rail and motor supply routes from Cherbourg to Paris. The front assigned to the 8th Division was a stretch of more than twenty-three miles along the Our River, which was the German-Luxembourg boundary. It was divided into three general sectors. In the southern sector, which was approximately ten thousand yards wide, troops of the 5th Armored Division
had previously penetrated the Siegfried Line, inflicting heavy losses on the Germans, and then withdrawing to a line generally along the southwest limitations of the enemy fortifications. Reasonable activity was expected here, but since the Germans had regained the ground they had lost, it was believed that they would confine their activities to patrolling, and that there would be little danger of serious offensive action. In the central sector, approximately thirty thousand yards wide, no American offensive action had been undertaken. The Siegfried Line remained intact across its entire front, and it was anticipated that it would remain quiet, with patrols of both sides operating rather freely in a “no man’s land.” A long northsouth ridge, approximately in the center of the area commanded observation of the German lines and was the logical line of defense. In the northern sector, a wedge had been driven half way through the Siegfried defenses. Because here the German doctrine of defense called for an attempt to recapture the terrain and fortifications lost, heavier enemy action was expected. In consideration of these factors, it was decided to employ the entire 13th Infantry, reinforced by normal combat team attachments and one company of tank destroyers, along the northern front, and to support this regiment with one battalion of medium artillery. The 28th Infantry, strongly reinforced by two companies of the 64th Tank Destroyer Battalion, one light tank company of the 709th Tank Battalion, and the 8th Reconnaissance Troop, was assigned to the central sector. An additional battalion of light artillery was to support it. The situation, it was believed, called for a series of small outposts, connected by foot and motor patrols, operating also to the east. The bulk of the Regiment could then be centrally located and maintained as a mobile reserve in event of an enemy attack. Additional vehicles were attached to this force for greater mobility, and the terrain was thoroughly reconnoitered for most suitable positions and routes of movement. The 121st Combat Team, reinforced by one company of tank destroyers, was assigned to the southern sector. It was planned to use one battalion on line, one in reserve. The bulk of the 709th Tank Battalion was to be held mobile on a good road, prepared to move to any portion of the Division front. This plan was later amended to place one medium tank company in rear of each regimental position, while maintaining the Battalion under Division control. This enabled the tanks to move more swiftly to any threatened point. Additional Corps artillery was to reinforce the Division front. Wide employment of the roving guns of the Tank Destroyers and, if necessary, the Tanks, was planned to give the impression of greater artillery strength than actually existed.
Provisional Defense Battalion
By October 3rd, this plan had been put into effect. Since the Division was essentially without a formed reserve, and because the line was so thinly held, it was decided to form a provisional battalion from the administrative units. Organization of this unit was completed on October 8th. Training began the following day, with 1,538 officers and enlisted men available. They were armed for the most part with rifles, automatic weapons and several anti-tank guns. Eight companies of approximately 200 men each compromised the battalion. Five of these were rifle companies. In addition, there was a reconnaissance
company, a communication company and a transportation company. Training of this unit was continued, for two hours daily, until October 20th, under command of Lt. Colonel Henry B. Kunzig. At that time, it was believed that the units was sufficiently trained to repel any possible enemy threat to the Division command post area in Wiltz, Luxembourg.
Considerable enemy activity and construction of several foot bridges across the Our River, near the towns of Roth and Bethel, led to assumption that possibly the enemy was preparing to cross the Our River in force. Action was taken at once to reinforce this area. One company of the 709th Tank Battalion was alerted for possible utilization. Artillery fire and air bombardment was directed upon the bridge site. The threat failed to materialize. The hilly, wooded terrain of Luxembourg afforded the enemy ample opportunity for infiltration, ambushes and the more treacherous methods of Nazi warfare. During daylight on October 7th, a vehicle bearing Lt. Colonels Frederick J. Bailey, Jr. and John P. Usher of the 28th Infantry, was travelling well in rear of the front lines when it was flagged down by what appeared to be a U.S. Army captain and sergeant, standing beside a halted American First Army jeep. Pulling alongside, and hearing the “captain” talking wildly in German although he wore an American combat jacket and helmet, the 28th Infantry officers opened fire and killed the two men. An enemy machine gun and at least one rocket launcher opened up from
Major General Donald A. Stroh at his desk at the 8th Division Command Post in Wiltz, Luxembourg.
8th Division men entering one of Clerveaux, Luxembourg’s cages in rest camp. the edge of the forest. Realizing that they had driven into an ambush, the American officers dismounted and started shooting it out with the Germans. Lt. Colonel Usher was killed. Bailey continued to fire back until the Germans withdrew. The driver of the 28th Infantry vehicle had disappeared, presumably captured by the enemy. Photographs of the American-clad Germans were taken, so that this violation of international codes of warfare could be substantiated. The Division Commander ordered that in the future no vehicles would go forward of the Division command post without at least two armed passengers in addition to the driver. During the hours of darkness, no vehicle was to proceed beyond those limits without another vehicle following it. Also during that period, flying bombs, the Nazi “V-1” rocket propelled weapon, began to fall in the 8th Division area. There were numerous reports of these projectiles flying over front line positions. Several of them landed in the regimental installations and near the city of Wiltz, causing some damage, but no loss of life.
Marshall and Eisenhower Visit Division
Among the many high military commanders who visited the 8th Division during this period in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg were General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and General Dwight W. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. General Marshall, who in World War I had served as an officer with the 28th Infantry, discussed immediate problems of the Division with Major General Stroh and his staff. Later he appeared before a group of officers and enlisted men of the 8th, explaining to them the broad picture of world battlefronts. While visiting the Division, General Marshall presented the Silver Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster to Major Donald R. Ward of the 28th Infantry, for
courageous exploits on the field of battle. General Eisenhower, accompanied by Lt. General Omar S. Bradley, 12th Army Group Command, remained withe the Division long enough to pin Silver Star Medals on seven members of the unit, join in a brief discussion with Major General Stroh, and chat informally with a group of enlisted men.
Changes in Defense Plans
From time to time during this relatively static period, minor changes in the Division plan were required. In the broad central sector of the Division front, the 8th Reconnaissance Troop and the Reconnaissance Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been, between them, outposting and patrolling an area approximately 12,000 yards wide. This required virtually all personnel to be on continuous duty. Men were beginning to show the strain of repeated contact with the enemy. A plan was worked out to rotate the troops. Beginning on October 19th, one platoon at a time was relieved. To accomplish this, the Reconnaissance Platoon of the 709th Tank Battalion was attached to Combat Team 28, which was responsible for this sector. On October 20th, the 9th Armored Division, recently assigned to the VIII Corps, closed into the area. Although the newly arrived organization was intended primarily as a Corps reserve, its elements, it was believed, could be given valuable battle indoctrination by attachment to front line divisions in the VIII Corps. For this reason, the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion and the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron, less Troops C and D, were attached to the 8th Division. The 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion was attached to Combat Team 121, where it was assigned to one of the front line battalion sectors. This made it possible to move one of the battalions of the 121st to the town of Diekirch, where it was held in regimental reserve. The four troops of the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron were attached to Combat Team 28, and assigned to the northern portion of that sector. This made it possible to relieve the 8th Reconnaissance Troop, the Reconnaissance Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and elements of the 709th Tank Battalion. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop was placed in Division reserve, and the 644th and 709th elements reverted to their respective units. The reserve battalion of Combat Team 28, no longer needed in the southern sector of the front, was moved to the town of Alschoid and held motorized for possible use to reinforce the 9th Armored Division. Elements of the 9th Armored Division remained attached to the 8th Division until November 9th. At this time, they reverted to their parent unit, and the original plan for holding the Our River was again put into effect.
In the town of Clerf (or Clerveaux) in Luxembourg, the 8th Division established a rest camp to provide relaxation for the battle-weary front line troops. To this pleasant village, which in pre-war years had been a popular tourist center, each combat unit of the Division was permitted to send a quota of 300 men every three days. Soldiers were given clean, comfortable rooms in the town hotels, provided with adequate recreational opportunities, and granted freedom to spend their time as they saw fit.
Hurtgen Forest Area, Germany
THE HURTGEN FOREST
While the 8th Division continued its holding mission on the LuxembourgGerman border, a large scale American offensive had developed in the Aachen area. The Siegfried Line has been breached, and the fortress city of Aachen encircled by powerful First Army pincers, reduced to rubble by air and artillery bombardment, and taken in bitter house to house fighting. Large scale German counterattacks were beaten back, and American strength rapidly built up for a renewal of the assault upon Germany, Southeast of Aachen, in the V Corps sector, the 28th Infantry Division began a limited objective attack early in November. The plan for the 28th was to take and hold the towns of Vossenack and Schmidt to the east, and to uncover the enemy defenses near Hurtgen, in preparation for a general attack in this sector by the VII Corps. By November 3rd, both Vossenack and Schmidt had been taken, and a line of departure for the attack upon Hurtgen secured. So difficult was the terrain, however, that only foot troops could get through to Schmidt. There was no road between the two captured towns over which armor and anti-tank guns could move. The enemy reacted promptly and violently, throwing one panzer and two infantry divisions into a counter-drive to retake the towns lost. Heavy artillery shelled the 28th Division positions. German tanks, instead of overrunning the infantry, who were well dug in, stopped short of the foxholes and fired point blank at American doughboys. Still unable to get armored units through to the foot troops, the 28th Division was forced to withdraw from Schmidt on November 7th. At one time, the Germans also recaptured half of Vossenack, but here their counterattack was again driven back.
Casualties had crippled the 28th Division, and it was decided by higher authority that the unit should be withdrawn. The 8th Division was transferred to the V Corps and ordered to relieve the 28th. The latter division took the place of the 8th as a member of the VIII Corps on the Our River front in Luxembourg.
On November 16th, the 13th Infantry and the 8th Reconnaissance Troop began the motor march of the 8th Division to the V Corps front, and by nightfall, November 19th, all elements of the Division had closed into their positions in the area southeast of Aachen. The 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry, released from temporary duty in France, had rejoined its parent unit. The 2nd Ranger Battalion, 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion and the firing units of the 86th Chemical Battalion were attached to the Division for its new mission. Orders had already been received from the V Corps Commander, Maj. General L. T. Gerow, to undertake an important offensive. One regiment—the 121st, strongly reinforced, was to break out of the Hurtgen forest and seize the Hurtgen-Kleinhau ridge, considered by the enemy the key to his defenses west of Duren and the Cologne plain. That this was the German belief was evident from the elaborate barriers and the strength in men and guns massed in this area. The terrain west of Hurtgen was heavily wooded, boggy and irregular, with numerous gullies and steep cliffs. German engineers had laid
After their truck slipped off the icy highway into a ditch in the Hurtgen Forest Area, Germany, T/5 Melburn Brodbeck, Kinsley, Kansas, and Pvt. Marion Butterfield, Livermore, California, both members of the 8th Infantry Division, get busy and reload equipment which shifted with the accident.
anti-personnel mine fields across most of the zone of Advance. Heavy wire entanglements blocked possible routes of approach. Enemy automatic weapons were well situated to cover all obstacles. Mortars and artillery batteries were zeroed in upon habitable assembly areas and possible points of penetration and supply routes. Combat Team Wegelein (later Weinen) and other German elements of the 985th and 1056th Infantry Regiments, all seasoned units reinforced with stragglers, were committed to the enemy defense of Hurtgen. The Division plan was to attack for with the 121st Infantry, through the sector of the 12th Infantry, 4th Division, on the north flank, and seize the remaining wooded terrain west of Hurtgen. Since the road leading northeast into Hurtgen, and most of the regimental zone of advance were known to be heavily mined and obstructed, the entire 12th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 121st Infantry for this operation. All Division Artillery units, except the 43rd Field Artillery Battalion, were to support the drive of the 121st Infantry. Combat Command “R” of the 5th Armored Division, consisting principally of one battalion each of tanks, artillery and armored infantry, a company of tank destroyers, an engineer company and reconnaissance, ordnance and medical elements, was attached to the 121st Infantry. Other organic and inorganic attachments to the 121st included Company A of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and Companies B and C of the 86th Chemical Battalion. When infantry elements, according to plan, had reached the fringe of the forest, Combat Command “R” was to move forward from the west under cover of darkness, break out of the woods at daylight, and seize Hurtgen and Kleinhau to the northeast. The 121st was then to occupy both towns and the ridge between them. These operations were to be strongly supported by air and accompanied by attacks by the 4th Division in the VII Corps zone.
On the morning of November 21st, the 121st Infantry opened the drive on Hurtgen. Attacking with three battalions abreast, the Regiment immediately ran into strong resistance. Enemy mortar and artillery tree bursts shattered the forested area and hailed shrapnel down upon infantry units whenever they attempted to advance, anti-personnel minefields further increased the peril of movement through the dense woods. Progress was difficult. Only the 3rd Battalion, on the right flank, neared its objective for the first day. The 1st Battalion, in the center, made only slight advances, and the 2nd Battalion was held without gain. Casualties, principally from mines and shrapnel, were unusually heavy. Three times the Regiment renewed the attack the next day. Except for slight gains by the 2nd Battalion, no progress was made. A platoon of light tanks of the 709th Tank Battalion was thrust into the attack the following morning. The 78th and 18th Field Artillery Battalions had been attached to Division Artillery, the bulk of which continued to support the attack of the 121st. Each day at H-hour, the 18th fired a concentration of rocket artillery, while the 56th, 28th, 45th and 76th placed 105 and 155 mm. barrages on the German positions. Enemy resistance continued to stiffen. Heavy small arms fire, added to the mortar and artillery shelling, anti-personnel mines and mud, increased the hardships of the men, who had been able to get little sleep or rest during the last four days. Medical aid men, litter-bearers, surgeons and all members of the 8th Medical Battalion were called upon to work almost continuously with little rest under the most trying conditions. The Regimental Commander, Colonel John R. Jeter, and the 2nd Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel James E. Casey, were transferred. Lt. Colonel Robert M. Jones, 1st Battalion Commander, was evacuated as a casualty. The 3rd Battalion had previously lost its commander, Lt. Colonel Gordon M. Eyler, by illness during the unit’s period of temporary duty in France. Colonel Thomas J. Cross, Division Chief of Staff, took command of the 121st Infantry, and was replaced at his former position by the Division G-5, Lt. Colonel Thomas B. Whitted. Lt. Colonel Henry B. Kunzig, formerly executive officer of the 28th Infantry, became 2nd Battalion Commander. Major Roy W. Hogan, a member of the 121st Infantry for eighteen years, had taken over the 3rd Battalion when Lt. Colonel Eyler became ill, and remained in command of that unit.
On November 24th, the attack of the 121st Infantry resumed. Except for slight gains by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, no progress was possible. The bulk of the 709th Tank Battalion was thrown into the attack, but the infantry elements were still unable to reach the edge of the woods. Meanwhile, the 12th Infantry and other of the 4th Division, on the left flank, had progressed eastward sufficiently to be in a position to support the 121st. By late afternoon on November 24th, the situation was not yet satisfactory for an attack by Combat Command “R.” It was imperative that the edge of the woods be gained, so that the road leading into Hurtgen from the southwest could be cleared of mines and obstacles at least as far as its first bend. German reinforcements, however, were already arriving in the Hurtgen area,
and it was necessary that the attack begin without delay. At a conference of V and VII Corps Commanders, and with the approval of Lt. General Courtney H. Hodges, First Army Commander, it was decided to begin the armored attack on the morning of November 25th. At least three rifle companies were to advance astride the road during the night, so the road could be cleared. A strong artillery concentration was to support the attack. The 117st Engineer Group was directed by V Corps to assemble on two hours notice as division reserve. Elements of the 4th Division were to support the attack of Combat Command “R” from the south. Since the point where the Hurtgen road emerges from the forest was under continuous enemy observation, the Division Commander proposed to use a smoke screen preceding the attack. Since the area was too close to the troops to allow artillery to place a smoke concentration, it was decided to use smoke pots, placed and ignited by hand. Necessary chemical equipment was procured, and during the night, men of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion placed the smoke pots. Before dawn, the task was completed, and at 0720, the smoke pots were ignited, producing a heavy screen of smoke. Tanks of Combat Command “R” moved forward through the smoke and attempted to break out of the narrow bottleneck. Four tanks were immediately disabled, completely blocking the only route armor could use. The armored infantry battalion, attempting to advance astride the Hurtgen road, was thrown back. The attack was smashed before it could get started.
Drive on Hurtgen
Before resuming the attack to capture Hurtgen, it was planned to reduce the remaining enemy pockets in the woods in front of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 121st Infantry. This terrain was taken without opposition before noon of November 26th. During the morning, unconfirmed reports that the enemy had
Camouflaged 8th Division antitank gun emplacement on edge of Hurtgen Forest near Germeter, Germany
evacuated Hurtgen were received. Patrols were sent out that afternoon in an attempt to verify the reports. One patrol managed to work its way into the southwestern corner of the town, but all others met heavy resistance, indicating that the town was strongly held. Before nightfall on November 26th, Company F, 121st Infantry, had advanced to a point approximately 300 yards southwest of Hurtgen. Here it was met be dense machine gun fire. Company F held its advanced position during the night, and resumed the attack with the entire regiment the next morning. The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, joined the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 121st Infantry in the attack at 0700, November 27th. Division Artillery, less the 43rd Field Artillery Battalion, again fired prearranged concentrations in support of the infantry units. Company C of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion was also in close support. By noon, the 3rd Battalion had broken through the remaining woods west of Hurtgen. The 121st Infantry—and Lt. Colonel Roy Hogan’s 3rd Battalion, in particular—by breaking through these woods had accomplished what three regiments of other divisions had been unable to do. The 2nd Battalion, with a platoon of medium tanks of the 709th Tank Battalion in support, advanced to the southern edge of the town. The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, advancing north of Hurtgen, drove through heavy artillery fire on open terrain to the northeast of the town. Here the attack was halted for the day, with the German strongpoint nearly encircled. During the night, patrols of the 2nd Battalion, 121st, and the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, went through Hurtgen and again reported it unoccupied. On the following morning, Companies A and B of the 13th, with Company A, 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion attached, quickly seized the KleinhauBrandenberg road, east of Hurtgen, and there organized defensive positions against possible counterattack.
While Pvt. Eugene Dougherty, right, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, keeps guard with a light machine gun, Pvt. Charles Barlow, left, Waynesborough, Pennsylvania, works building a log cabin near Hurtgen, Germany.
When elements of the 121st Infantry, expecting little or no resistance, attempted to enter Hurtgen from the west and south, they met strong machine gun fire and were stopped. The regimental commander reorganized and planned to take the town by storm. At 0800, the 2nd Battalion, 121st, and Company C, 13th Infantry, closely supported by Company A of the 709th Tank Battalion, fought their way into Hurtgen from the northeast. The 1st Battalion closed in from the southwest. Doughboys rode the tanks, followed by tank destroyers. They blasted the town building by building, then dug the Germans out of cellars and ruins in fierce hand to hand fighting.
Capture of Hurtgen
Hurtgen fell late that afternoon. Three hundred-fifty prisoners were taken, and the remainder of the German garrison destroyed. Bodies of the dead, both German and American, were strewn along the streets. While in Hurtgen itself, the enemy defended strongly until the town had been completely taken, the Germans were evidently surprised by the rapid advance upon the Kleinhau-Brandenberg road, to the east. Resistance was light. The expected counterattack came late in the afternoon, and was repulsed with heavy casualties to the enemy. The 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry completed mopping up the edge of the woods southeast of Hurtgen, and outposted the commanding terrain. Combat Command “R” was alerted upon capture of Hurtgen and ordered to move through the town and be prepared, by daylight, to attack and seize Kleinhau and the high ground northeast of it. The 121st Infantry and the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, on its right flank, were to continue the attack south and east of Hurtgen, in preparation for an advance upon Brandenberg. The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, was to relieve Combat Command “R” in Kleinhau as soon as the town had been taken.
A 121st Infantry jeep passes through a flooded street in Hurtgen, Germany, shortly after the town fell to the 8th Division.
Blasted buildings in Hurtgen, Germany, testify to fury of 8th Division attack that routed Nazis from the town after a 15-day siege.
The attack on Kleinhau began at 0700, November 29th, and by late afternoon, Combat Command “R” reported it taken. The enemy defended stubbornly, holding out in cellars and wooded areas even after armored forces had driven through the town. During the night, the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, took over the captured town and the high ground. On the following day, men of the 13th cleared out remaining enemy pockets. Company B, 121st Infantry, and elements of the 709th Tank Battalion and 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion relieved the 13th Infantry unit the next day, and prepared to defend the town while the attack was resumed further south. During the day and the next, elements of the 121st and 28th continued to push southeast. On November 30th, patrols were sent out by both regiments to determine enemy strength around Brandenburg. Resistance was encountered almost immediately, and orders were issued to hold present positions until plans for a full scale attack were completed. Throughout this period, remaining elements of the 28th and 13th conducted extensive patrolling, while maintaining defensive positions. Several pockets of enemy were cleared. Germans in one group between the 121st and 28th Infantry positions, particularly, showed little will to fight, after night-long shelling by Division Artillery. Ninety-five prisoners were taken in this area on November 28th.
Strong Artillery Support
Division Artillery, with its attachments, supported each phase of the attack. The 56th Field Artillery Battalion fired on call missions for the 121st Infantry while the 43rd placed harassing fires in front of 13th Infantry positions. Remaining Artillery elements, including the 28th and 45th Field Artillery Battalions of the Division, and elements of the 18th, 76th and 987th Battalions of Corps Artillery, supported the Division with prearranged concentrations. Units of the 644th Tank Destroyers and the assault platoon of the 709th Tank Battalion were frequently used as indirect fire weapons. Rocket artillery concentrations of the 18th
Field Artillery Battalion and 155 mm. fire of the self-propelled guns of the 987th were used to blast the towns of Kleinhau and Brandenburg. Dense forests and hilly terrain made difficult the effective employment of artillery. Good positions were too far to the rear; consequently, guns could not fire deep enough into hostile enemy territory. Continuous rain and mud interfered with communications and ammunition supply. In spite of these limitations, demands on artillery batteries were heavier than during any previous period of combat. Demands upon the men of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion were also unusually heavy. Throughout this period, the engineers cleared minefields, road blocks and other obstacles, and made extensive repairs on the road net in the Division area. Personnel of the 8th Signal Company encountered serious hazards, maintaining wire communications under heavy artillery shelling and over routes, thick with anti-personnel mines. The 708th Ordnance Company was called upon to perform unusually heavy work to keep vehicles and equipment in condition under extremely difficult circumstances.
Plans for continuation of the 8th Division offensive were embodied in Field Order 19, issued November 30th. Since Kleinhau and the high ground northeast of it was strategically important to the advance, not only of the 8th Division, but also the adjacent VII Corps, it was to be held in strength. The 121st Infantry, with the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, was ordered to continue to attack eastward, driving the enemy from the woods east of the Kleinhau-Brandenberg road. Elements of the 28th Infantry were to drive southeast from Hurtgen toward Brandenberg. Combat Command “R” was to remain in Kleinhau, prepared to seize Brandenberg as soon as the road had been swept of mines and the adjoining woods cleared of the enemy. Attacking as ordered at 0730, DecemBrig. General William G. Weaver took ber 1st, elements of the 121st and 13th command of the 8th Division in the Infantry Regiments partially succeeded in Hurtgen Forest in Germany. gaining their objectives. The flanking action of the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, took the enemy by surprise, and resistance was scant. By 1530, that unit had cleared the enemy from the woods in its sector, southeast of Kleinhau. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 121st, encountering heavy small arms fire from concrete bunkers, made only slight advances. The 1st Battalion held Kleinhau and the surrounding high ground without difficulty. The 28th Infantry, although meeting heavy resistance, made noteworthy
progress during the day. The 3rd Battalion reached the Kleinhau-Brandenberg road quickly, and continued to fight for the woods east of it. The 1st Battalion advanced to the northeast end of Vossenack, clearing the enemy from remaining houses. Here, the Battalion was held by heavy small arms, mortar and artillery fire. The 2nd Battalion, attempting to advance to the southeast, was stopped by an enemy strongpoint after gaining only a few hundred yards. During the day, Colonel Numa A. Watson took command of the 13th Infantry. Lt. Colonel Lerette reverted to his former position as Regimental Executive Officer. Colonel Robert A. Griffin, former commander of the 13th, had been evacuated previously. On the following day, the attack was resumed. Strong enemy counterattacks near Grosshau and a setback inflicted upon Combat Command “A”, both in the 4th Division zone, directly north of Kleinhau, forced that Division to go on the defensive. Consequently, the 8th Division flank defenses on the north had to be strengthened sufficiently to withstand any attack which the enemy might make on this area. For this reason, elements of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, were ordered to take over the remaining portion of the commanding terrain northeast of Kleinhau. This ground had been held previously by the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion of Combat Command “R.” Company B of the 121st was later sent to Hurtgen as a reserve. During that day, the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, advanced the remaining distance to its objectives in the wooded area east of the Kleinhau-Brandenberg road. The 3rd Battalion was stopped after moving forward only 150 yards. Slight gains were made by the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, while the 2nd Battalion, attempting to reduce the strongpoint uncovered the previous day, failed to gain. The 3rd Battalion, already on its objective, consolidated its positions and prepared to attack in conjunction with the 1st Battalion when that unit
In the town of Kleinhau, Germany, advancing tanks of the 709th Tank Battalion take shelter behind buildings that they have already damaged by their shellfire.
Disregarding the body of a dead German, a 121st Infantrymen advances near Hurtgen, Germany. had come abreast. Combat Command “R” began moving down the Kleinhau-Brandenberg road at 0730, but was stopped midway between the two towns by anti-tank guns, mines and artillery. Orders were issued to clear the road of mines under cover of darkness and complete the taking of Brandenberg the following day. At this time, the Division front was an arc, curving to the southeast and extending nearly fourteen miles. Since the only reserve available was the infantry company and platoon tanks in Hurtgen, it was decided to dispatch trucks to the alerted 2nd Ranger Battalion, which could be committed in an emergency. The 117st Engineer Combat Battalion was also alerted for possible combat use on two hours notice. Prisoner of war reports at this time indicated that the enemy was making no preparations to booby-trap Brandenberg. Engineer units in the area, which had been intended for use in laying additional minefields, had been committed as infantry. Other reports, however, indicated that wooden fortifications were being constructed and buildings in Brandenberg prepared as strongpoints by enemy engineers.
The Division Military Government section operated offices at Rott, Roetgen and Mulartshutte, in Germany. Buergermeisters had been appointed by preceding units. Proclamations, ordinances and notices had been issued, covering circulation, curfew and war crimes. Abrogation of Nazi law and dissolution of the Nazi party had been proclaimed. Military Government authorities of the Division organized fire fighting units in each town. Rationing systems
were augmented by an arrangement for the exchange of butter from Mulartshutte for bread from Zweifall. Groups of civilians were organized under Military Police guard, to dig potatoes and chop wood in nearby forests. Of the civilians on the First Army blacklist, all had fled, except one man who had previously been arrested. The remainder of the population was cooperative. Maj. General Donald A. Stroh had left the 8th Division on November 29th to return to the United States. He was succeeded as commander by Brig. General William G. Weaver, former assistant commander of the 90th Infantry Division.
Resuming the attack the next morning, Combat Command “R”, before noon had seized Brandenberg, taken approximately 300 prisoners and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. The German defense was found badly disorganized after nightlong shelling by Division Artillery. Capt. Clarence K. Hollingsworth’s 3rd Battalion, the 28th Infantry quickly seized the remaining wooded terrain west of Brandenberg, and prepared to relieve Combat Command “R” in the town. An enemy counterattack was repulsed during the afternoon. Other elements of the 28th and 121st Infantry Regiments continued to attack to the
Pfc. Lawrence B. Mihalic, 2652 Broadway, Lorain, Ohio, and Pfc. James Peterson, 20 Tennent Ave., Englishtown, New Jersey, 13th Infantry men, gather materials to make their snow-covered dugout in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany more comfortable.
southeast and east, making only slight advances against heavy resistance. Considerable hostile air activity occurred in the Division sector during that afternoon. Enemy planes, taking advantage of weather which grounded Allied fighters, strafed front line positions and the Division command posts at Rott and Roetgen, with little Success. Of sixty planes over the V and VII Corps front that day, eighteen were reported shot down, twelve of them by the 445th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, attached to the 8th Division. North of Kleinhau, elements of the 5th Armored and 4th Infantry Divisions, which had been in action for a considerable time, were relieved by the 83rd Division, thereby lessening concern regarding this key terrain. On December 4th, the 121st and 28th Infantry Regiments were to continue their attack southeast. Combat Command “R” was directed to go forward, upon orders of the 8th Division command, to Bergstein, southeast of Brandenberg, and probe the ground 1,000 yards east of the town. The 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, was to be prepared to assist Combat Command “R” in capturing this terrain. Elimination of the remaining enemy pockets in front of the 28th and 121st Infantry elements was to be accomplished, if possible, by December 5th. This would materially shorten the Division lines, since it was planned merely to block the line of the V Corps boundary, extending from the high ground northeast of Kleinhau, southeast to the Roer River. The remaining terrain west of the Roer and northwest of the Kall, its tributary, could then be cleared of the enemy, making possible an advance farther southeast. Although reinforced be elements of Combat Command “R” and the 709th Tank Battalion, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 28th Infantry, were able to make only slight advances on December 4th. Heavy machine gun fire from enemy strongpoints, which consisted of mutually supporting, dug-in, logged emplacements, manned by eight to ten men, continued to impede the advance southeast of Vossenack. Mortar fire fell almost continually in this area, and small quantities of white phosphorus artillery were used by the enemy. Southeast of Kleinhau, satisfactory progress was made by the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry. Farther south, in the 121st Infantry sector, the 2nd Battalion was still unable to advance. The 3rd Battalion gained its objectives before nightfall, reorganized, and consolidated its positions against possible counterattacks. On the following day, the 3rd Battalion relieved the 1st of its holding mission in Hurtgen and the Kleinhau area.
Combat Command “R”, aided by air action, drove southeast from Brandenberg at 1400, December 5th, and captured the larger part of Bergstein. The armored unit blocked the roads leading into the town from the southwest and southeast, and prepared to hold its position during the night. Attacking in conjunction with Combat Command “R”, the 1st Battalion, 121st, on the left, and the 3rd Battalion, 28th, also advanced toward Bergstein. During the night, the 3rd Battalion of the 28th covered by fire the bald ridge extending southwest of the town. Later, Company K was sent forward to occupy the northeastern end of the ridge, protecting the right flank of Combat Command “R”, and maintaining contact with the armored unit at the edge of Bergstein. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, was directed to continue its attack toward the high noses adjoining the Roer River,
at the same time maintaining contact with Combat Command “R”. These positions having been secured, preparations were made for all-around defense. Division Artillery was directed to furnish close-in protective fires, paying particular attention to the gap between the 1st Battalion, 121st, and Combat Command “R” in Bergstein, and to the enemy pocket still holding out in front of the 2nd Battalion, 28th, southeast of Vossenack. All units were ordered to continue the attack to seize the remaining objectives on the morning of December 6th.
At 0730 the following morning, the first of three enemy counterattacks during the day hit the 3rd Battalion of the 28th Infantry and Combat Command “R” in Bergstein. The attack came first from the south, then from the southwest, then from the southeast. Approximately 300 infantrymen, of Companies 1, 2 and 4 of the 980th German Infantry Regiment, made the attack. They were supported by at least five self-propelled guns. Riflemen of Company K and machine gunners of Company M held their fire while swarms of enemy crept toward them across 300 yards of open ground to within twenty-five yards of 3rd Battalion positions. The burst of fire which hit the Germans on all sides at that moment threw them into a panic, and they started to retreat across the open ground. Artillery fire caught them in the open without cover, and all the way down the Battalion line the Germans were beaten back and cut down. For this courageous stand and for their outstanding work in the Hurtgen Forest during the five preceding days, the men and officers of Captain Hollingworth’s 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, were awarded the Distinguished Unit Badge, a Presidential Citation. Shortly before noon, the enemy hurled another counterattack against Bergstein. The attacking troops were survivors of the earlier attempts to retake the town, supplemented by another company of the German 980th Infantry, and again supported by armored vehicles. This attack was repulsed after twenty minutes, without loss of terrain. At 1400, another small group of enemy infantrymen moved against Bergstein from the northwest, and was repelled. Meanwhile, the enemy continued to shell the town with artillery and mortars. Most of the fire came from the Schmidt area, to the west, and from the east side of the Roer River. Since Berstein was the most active point of the present Division front, the 2nd Ranger Battalion was directed to proceed to this area, to be committed if it became necessary. During the day, the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, had secured the right flank of Combat Command “R”, taking the enemy by surprise, and seizing the southern slope of the ridge southwest of Bergstein. Here it was ordered to hold during the night. The 2nd Battalion of the 28th, despite continuous artillery support, was still unable to clear the pocket of Germans blocking its advance southeast of Vossenack. The 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, using different tactics, attacked to the southeast at 2130 during the night, and advanced approximately 300 yards. Remaining elements of the Division continued to hold and to strengthen their positions. At 0330 on the morning of December 7th, 2nd Ranger Battalion attacked through Combat Command “R”, and seized the remainder of the ridge southwest of Bergstein. A strong counterattack, flung at the newly-won positions
later that morning, was repelled by the Rangers. In Bergstein, enemy artillery and mortar fire continued heavy. The enemy kept up his futile counterattacks on the high ground east of the town. Units of the 28th and 121st Infantry Regiments made limited gains during the day against the remaining enemy pockets in the area. The 1st Battalion of the 13th was relieved from attachment to the 121st. Its positions, southeast of Kleinhau, were taken over by elements of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion.
On the Defensive
Since most of the Division objectives had been taken, orders were issued to make the best possible defensive use of terrain, weapons, mines, boobytraps and other obstacles, and to hold the line with as few men as possible. This would enable each regiment to keep one battalion in reserve. Heavy shelling and counterattacks against Bergstein and the surrounding territory continued through the following days. On December 8th, the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, was directed to relieve elements of the 121st Infantry and the 2nd Ranger Battalion, both of which had suffered heavy casualties, and to assist the 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry, in the defense of Bergstein. Meanwhile, the wooded area northeast of the town were to be searched for remaining enemy stragglers. On December 8th, the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, began making progress against the troublesome enemy pocket southeast of Vossenack. This strongpoint, it was learned, was being defended by enemy engineers, fighting as infantry. Prisoners of war explained the bitterness of the fight by stating that German officers considered this a breakthrough point for a possible attack by American armor upon Schmidt. They compelled their men to hold out, and installed minefields behind them to prevent their withdrawal. On November 9th, however, a three hundred yard advance was made against the fanatically defended pocket, and on the following day, it was wiped out by the 28th Infantry. Elements of the 13th Infantry were relieved by Combat Team 311 of the 78th Division, on the same day. The 78th, a newly-arrived unit, was sent into the First Army line on the 8th Division right flank. The 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry, then relieved the 3rd Battalion in Bergstein. On the following day, Colonel Watson, Regimental Commander of the 13th, took over the Bergstein defense. Additional mines were laid and obstacles erected on the approaches to Bergstein, since prisoner of war reports indicated that the Germans would try to retake the town at all cost. Nazi Field Marshall von Model, it was learned, had promised the Knight’s Cross and additional rewards to the enemy unit to recapture the key town. Elsewhere in the Division area, units continued to hold, while awaiting orders for new offensive action. Enemy patrols which had infiltrated into the area northeast of Bergstein during the night of December 11th were quickly rounded up the following day by Companies 1 of the 13th and L of the 28th Infantry. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop, whose positions on the right flank of the Division line had been taken over by 311th Infantry units, was directed to patrol the exposed north flank of the 121st Infantry southeast of Kleinhau. On December 13th, units of the 8th Division continued to hold their positions, while the remainder of the V Corps opened a new offensive. To draw opposing forces away from the 78th Division, attacking on the 8th Division
right flank, the 1st Battalion of the 311th Infantry, now attached to the 8th Division, was directed to make a limited objective attack against enemy-held high ground north of the Kall River. Companies A and B of the 311th attacked at 0630, quickly knocking out two enemy pillboxes and seizing the designated terrain. Having accomplished this objective of confusing the Germans, the attack was halted, and the newlywon positions organized for defense. The 78th Division’s main attack then got underway and made good progress. In the 8th Division Sector, the period, December 13–17, was relatively quiet. The 12th Engineer Combat Battalion continued to assist the infantry units in improving defenses by laying anti-tank and anti-personnel minefields and constructing other obstacles. Enemy artillery was heavy, especially in the Bergstein, Hurten and Vossenack areas. German patrols attempted repeatedly to operate in the Division zone. On December 16th, three strong enemy combat patrols were driven off in the Bergstein-Vossenack area. A small scale attack by Company K of the 311th Infantry, on December 15th, apparently took the enemy by surprise, and quickly regained ground lost previously to an enemy counterattack. Newly organized German units had moved into the line north of Kommerscheidt. Everywhere, along his front opposite the 8th Division, the enemy continued to improve his defenses.
During the night, December 16–17, German troops transports flew over the Division zone and dropped between 300 and 500 paratroops in rear and adjacent areas. On the preceding day, a violent enemy counteroffensive had crashed through thinly held First Army lines on a fort-five mile front from Monschau, Germany, to central Luxembourg. With American positions south of the Division over-run, and supply and communication lines periled by the swift enemy advance, it became necessary to concentrate on all-around defense and to postpone all plans for continuing the drive into Germany. Units of the 8th Division were alerted, and special counterattack plans were drawn up to forestall possible German attempts to penetrate or encircle this sector. Numerous patrols were sent out to determine whether the enemy was moving fresh troops into the area opposite this Division. The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion, 121st, were placed on one-hour alert for possible use as V Corps reserves. At 0400, December 17th, the 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry, moved to Roetgen, Germany, where it was attached to Combat Command “R” of the 5th Armored Division. Other elements of the Division continued to improve their defensive positions. Provisional organizations, both regimental and divisional, were alerted. Military Government units, assisted by Division military police and reconnaissance elements of the 644th and 817th Tank Destroyer Battalions, searched civilian homes and other possible hiding places for German parachutists. Supply and rear installations were directed to reconnoiter locations farther north in case it became necessary to evacuate present areas. On December 18th, the 8th Division was attached to the VII Corps, and directed to hold all ground previously gained, as well as assisting other VII Corps units by fire and reinforcements, if called upon.
T H E
H U R T
G E N
F O R E S T
The German offensive continued with increasing fury, digging deeper into Belgium and Luxembourg. The enemy, it became apparent, had thrown his best troops, well equipped and strongly supported by armor and airpower, into an allout attempt to break the Allied drive into the Rhine, by cutting supply and communication lines. He was gambling for big stakes in men and supplies. Hostile aircraft continued to harass units of the 8th Division, dropping flares and bombs, and strafing front lines. Increasing activity of enemy troops and vehicles opposite the Division sector required constant watchfulness.
On the northeast flank of the Division, Germans still held a strongly fortified, well-garrisoned wedge of land west of the Roer. To shorten the frontage of units holding this river line, it was decided by the VII Corps Commander that this pocket should be cleaned out. The attack was begun December 20th by elements of the 5th Armored, 83rd Infantry Division and 4th Cavalry Group. The 121st Infantry and 8th Division Artillery supported the attack by fire. Along the 8th Division front, the holding mission was to continue until the enemy salient in the south had been wiped out. Division boundaries were extended gradually to include the 311th Infantry sector. That unit then reverted to its parent organization, the 78th Division. Meanwhile, German prisoners of war captured in the sector opposite the 8th Division stated that their mission was to hold until this portion of the front had been outflanked by the southern salient. Then they were to join in a drive to retake Aachen. On December 21st, elements of the 121st Infantry were directed by VII Corps to take over the mission of the 4th Cavalry Group in the reduction of the remaining enemy pocket west of the Roer at Obermaubach. The Division front was already so wide that lines, especially in the 121st infantry sector, were thinly held. This new offensive mission made it necessary to alert the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion for use as front line infantry troops. The 1st Battalion of the 121st relieved elements of the 4th Cavalry Group, west of the Roer River town of Obermaubach, that night. One platoon of light tanks of Company D, 709th Tank Battalion, was attached to the infantry unit. Enemy observers on the east bank of the Roer had full observation of any action taking place on the open ground southwest of the town. For this reason, Colonel Cross, 121st Infantry Commander, decided to attack from the northwest. Intelligence reports indicated that there were still approximately 500 German troops in this area. Among them, were elements of the 6th Paratroop as well as the 942nd and 943rd Infantry Regiments. East of the Roer, the enemy was known to have strong artillery and mortar elements.
DRIVE ON OBERMAUBACH
Attacking at 1100, December 22nd, the infantry elements advanced quickly to the edge of Obermaubach. At the town, heavy machine gun fire and small arms fire halted their drive. The German defenders, employing all the tricks and advantages of defensive street fighting, fought back every attempt to dislodge them. Enemy troops had been told, according to prisoners of war, that the Obermaubach bridgehead west of the Roer was important to future German operations in this area, and must be held.
The same night, at 2300, the attack was resumed. Enemy machine guns, which had stopped the advance earlier during the day, now held their fire. Company C entered the western outskirts of the town, and was not heard from again. German reports later substantiated the belief that the entire attacking force of six officers and approximately 70 men was surrounded and captured. The attack was interrupted for two days, while the Battalion reorganized and regrouped for a new assault upon the enemy bastion. Other elements of the 8th Division, now attached to the XIX Corps, Ninth Army, continued to hold. The German penetration to the south, while still a serious menace, had lost much of its early fury. In clear weather, Allied aircraft kept up an incessant pounding of German supply bases and communications. First Army troops had blunted the wedge east of the Meuse River, and held firm against all attempts of the enemy to fan out to the north. Elements of the Third Army had swung around to attack the south flank of the salient. The 101st Airborne Division, besieged in the town of Bastgone, threw back all enemy efforts to close in on it. Supplied by a huge glider fleet, the defenders of the surrounded Belgian city inflicted heavy losses in men and material upon the Germans. Meanwhile, a Third Army column was driving toward the pocket from the south. Southwest of Obermaubach, the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, with Company C of the 13th attached, began an attack on the morning of December 24th to clear the enemy from the woods. Numerous minefields were encoun-
Wearing the new GI snow capes, 8th Division infantrymen make their way past barbed wire at a road block as they return from a patrolling mission somewhere in Germany. They are S/Sgt. Carl Pines, Teaneck, New Jersey, left, and Pfc. Frank J. Truska, New York City, right, Hq. Co., 3rd Battalion, 28th Infantry.
tered; enemy mortar and artillery fire was intense. Germans, from logged emplacements, poured heavy small arms and automatic fire on the attackers. Only slight progress could be made. The attack on Obermaubach was resumed at 0800, December 25th. Companies A of the 13th and L of the 121st and two additional platoons of tanks were attached to the attacking force. Major Joseph D. Johnson, in command of this small task force, although wounded early in the battle, remained forward with his men, refusing to be evacuated. As the attack got underway, a heavy volume of supporting machine gun fire hit the enemy occupied positions in the town. It was later discovered that it came from a machine gun platoon which had not been heard from since the loss of Company C, to which it was attached. Sergeant Joseph Malenowski, Company D, had taken charge of the platoon when he learned that the platoon leader was missing. He set up an all-around defense on a ridge overlooking Obermaubach, and held this forward position without rifle support for 36 hours. When the 1st Battalion attack began, Sergeant Malenowski and his men poured fire into the town, giving valuable support to the assault troops. Enemy resistance at Obermaubach was still well organized. The town is an arc-shaped double row of buildings, with its center along the banks of the Roer River. Company B of the 121st, and Company A of the 13th were to advance astride the main road into the town from the northwest. Company A however, immediately encountered intense small arms fire, and was stopped at the edge of the town. An 18-man platoon of Company B, led by Tech. Sergeant Oscar W. Dumas, forced its way into Obermaubach. Dumas and his men cleared the Germans out of the first four houses. Here 1st Lieutenant Edwin Inman, Company B Commander, instructed them to hold until other troops could join them. When next heard from, Dumas and his men had cleared another section of eight houses to obtain suitable quarters for the night. The artillery, the men explained, had set fire to the first few houses. The attack on Obermaubach was resumed once more at 1100, December 26th. What had at first been considered an isolated pocket of trapped Germans was now known to be a well-organized, strongly-held position. Supplies continued to reach the enemy at night by way of a bridge above the dam at Obermaubach. This bridge and the dam were partially destroyed by the Germans on December 26th, preventing the withdrawal of their own men, still under orders to defend the town. Company L, 121st Infantry, entered the northeastern part of the town on the morning of December 26th, and began clearing out the houses along the river. When the first section was taken, Company A of the 13th was able to move in from the northwest. Men of Company A quickly advanced to the center of the town, bypassing some of the enemy occupied buildings. Company B, 121st Infantry, which already had elements in the town, moved forward, searching and digging enemy troops out of each house. Two medium tanks had reached the edge of the town, where they fired in support of the attacking infantry elements. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, and Company A, all of the 121st Infantry, also supported the attack with flanking fire from the southwest.
In Obermaubach itself, after the outer defenses had been penetrated, the enemy offered only token resistance. Mortar and artillery fire, most of it from the east side of the Roer, fell throughout the attack. Only in the center of the town, however, was any volume of small arms fire received. Most of the enemy troops had been withdrawn to this point of the town and ordered to finish the fight. They though of a better way. After a brief fire fight, they surrendered in large groups. In all, 93 prisoners were taken in the town, the majority of them by Company B. By 2230, the enemy had been completely cleared from Obermaubach. Shortly after that, elements of the fighting 12th Engineer Combat Battalion relieved the infantry units and took over defense of the area. The engineers completed the demolition of the bridge and dam spanning the Roer at Obermaubach, and began to prepare the area for all-out defense. Major Johnson, 1st Battalion Commander, was finally evacuated for his wound, the next day. Captain Howard L. Bartholomew replaced him. Meanwhile, elements of the 2nd Battalion of the 121st, with Company C of the 13th attached, kept up the attack to clear the enemy from positions southwest of Obermaubach. The Germans, from well-sited, sturdily-built log bunkers, drove back every attempt to dislodge them. Heavily supported by mortars and artillery, the enemy inflicted many casualties on the attackers. Late during the night of December 27th, between 80 and 100 Germans attempted to cross the Roer in this area. They were quickly repulsed. During the day, 24 hostile planes were reported over the Division sector. Three were known destroyed, one by the normally peaceable 8th Quartermaster Company. During this period, elements of the 83rd Division and attached units had captured the remaining terrain west of the Roer River and north of the 8th Division sector. The 113th Cavalry Group then relieved these units, and was attached to the 8th Division. By December 29th, the pocket southwest of Obermaubach was finally wiped out, and with the area west of the Roer River entirely free of the enemy, the 8th Division plan for defense of this sector was put into effect. The Division front now extended along the Roer from the northern edge of Kreuzau to a point southeast of Bergstein, then southwest along the high ground south of Vossenack. The 104th Division was on the left flank, the 78th, on the right. The 113th Cavalry Group had previously gone into the Kreuzau-Winden area. During the night, December 27–28, the 8th Reconnaissance Troop took over the sector on the right flank of the 113th Cavalry, while the 13th Infantry completed relief of the 121st Infantry in the Obermaubach area. Companies B and D, 709th Tank Destroyer Battalion, were attached to the 13th Infantry, and went in an assembly area on an alert status for possible deployment in support of the 13th and the 113th Cavalry Group.
The 121st Infantry took over the Bergstein sector of the front, maintaining defensive positions with the 1st and 3rd Battalions on line, and the 2nd Battalion in reserve. The 28th Infantry remained in its former position south of Vossenack. During the night, December 28–29, the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion was relieved of its position in the line near Obermaubach, and took
up the task of laying mines forward of Division lines. The 295th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 113th Cavalry Group, where it assisted in maintaining and improving their defensive positions. Elements of the 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion supported units of the 8th Division from positions along the entire sector. Division artillery, with the 153rd, 280th and 25th Field Artillery Battalions attached, provided direct support to the infantry elements. The 43rd Field Artillery Battalion supported the 13th Infantry; the 45th supported the 28th Infantry; the 56th Field Artillery Battalion supported the 121st; and the 25th Field Artillery Battalion supported the 113th Cavalry Group. The 445th Anti-aircraft-Artillery protected field artillery gun positions from air attack. After 40 consecutive days of offensive action, all units of the 8th Division and its attachments had now reverted to an all-out defensive mission. They had just completed their bloodiest engagement. Rehabilitation and reequipping of units was urgent. This was the opportunity which had been long awaited.
Occasional minor changes and additional defensive measures were undertaken by elements of the 8th Division during the following weeks. On the night, January 3–4, the 8th Reconnaissance Troop was withdrawn from the line and relieved of attachment to the 13th Infantry. After three days in an assembly area, the Division cavalry unit was attached to the 113th Cavalry Group and sent forward to relieve Troop B of that unit. Enemy activity on the Division front, except for nightly patrols and harassing artillery fire, was slight. Lone reconnaissance aircraft frequently operated over the Division area during the hours of darkness, and occasionally dropped flares on front line positions. During the night of January 14th, three enemy patrols, of approximately 20 men each, attempted to cross the Roer River. Division Artillery fires broke them up before they could reach the west bank of the stream. Three Germans, who succeeded in crossing the Roer, however, were driven off before they had reached 113th Cavalry positions in Winden.
Because of the scarcity of enemy prisoners taken during this relatively inactive period, it was planned to have one regiment of the Division each week send a combat patrol into enemy territory, with the primary mission of taking prisoners. One such patrol was sent across the Roer by the 13th Infantry during the early morning hours of January 13th. The patrol, a 25-man raiding party under command of Lieutenant Haight, Company E, moved out at approximately 0300. In three groups, the men of Company E waded the Roer, midway between Obermaubach and Bergstein. East of the River, the first group came upon a three-man German outpost. Attempting to maneuver into position to take the enemy by surprise, one men stepped on a booby trap, alerting the Germans. A fire fight ensued, and the three enemy were killed. A second group reached the east bank of the Roer, moved forward to a railroad overpass, and were about to take a lone sentry prisoner when German machine guns opened up. The patrol withdrew after killing several more of the enemy,
while themselves losing two men killed and two wounded. The third group also became involved in a skirmish, and was unable to take a prisoner. The remainder of the patrol recrossed the Roer safely, bringing back the two wounded men. At this time, a German counterattack hit the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, in the sector east of Bergstein. Approximately 100 enemy infantrymen emerged from the woods and advanced toward Company L. The Company Commander, Captain George H. Gardner ordered his men to hold their fire on call. When the enemy had advanced almost to the barbed wire directly in front of Company L positions, rifles, machine guns and mortars opened fire, mowing down many of the Germans. While the remainder of the enemy fled back into the woods, Captain Gardner called for the artillery. Fleeing Germans and 8th Division Artillery hit the woods at the same time. The counterattack was repulsed. Another German counterattack of smaller size hit Company K, and was also quickly repelled. Enemy ground activity, during the following days, reverted again to patrolling. During the night, January 15–16, a 40-man German patrol, operating in the 28th Infantry sector, attempted to blow gaps in a minefield. The patrol was swiftly driven off by small arms and automatic weapons of the alert doughboys. The enemy, in his flight, left numerous articles of equipment and several weapons behind. Of greater value, one German prisoner of war, of the 6th Paratroop Regiment, was captured by the men of Company E, 28th Infantry. During the night, January 19–20, a combat patrol of the 113th Cavalry Group crossed the Rower and attacked an enemy position held by a 9-man squad. Of the 9 men, 6 were taken prisoner. All were members of the 81st Light Motorized Reconnaissance Company, and stated that the Niederau area, where they had been captured, was lightly held. During the raid, 1st Lieutenant John Wright, the patrol leader, was killed. Another raiding party, “Grover’s Ghosts,” led by Lieutenant Lawrence D. Grover, and consisting of 38 volunteers of the 121st Infantry, operated in enemy territory in a general southwesterly direction on the night, January 21–22. While advancing astride a path in the woods, the two scouts were challenged by a German sentry. They immediately threw grenades. Other members of the patrol also began throwing grenades at the Germans, who had opened fire from well concealed bunkers. Lieutenant Grover called to them to surrender. They refused, and the skirmish continued. He called to them again, in German. Three Germans came out of their bunkers and were taken prisoner. The sentry had been killed. Three members of the patrol were injured when they ran into booby traps on the way back to 121st Infantry lines, but all returned without help.
Meanwhile, upon order from higher headquarters, a complete Division withdrawal plan was prepared for use if necessary. The plan provided for general withdrawal of the 8th Division elements to a main line of resistance generally on the high ground west of the Mulartshutte-Zwiefall-Mausbach road. Each regiment was to leave a covering force of one battalion to screen any ordered withdrawal. Orders were issued to the regimental and field artillery battalion commanders to reconnoiter appropriate defensive positions. Sectors were assigned and ordered staked out to include wire, minefields, automatic weapons, mortar, anti-tank gun and tank destroyer positions. Routes of withdrawal
were assigned and ordered reconnoitered. Demolitions were prepared. It was emphasized that these were merely precautions designed to thwart any possible enemy counter-offensive, such as that which had now been completely smashed in the Ardennes sector.
During the remainder of January and early February, the Division continued its holding mission along the west bank of the Roer River. Units improved their defenses with additional minefields, wire and anti-tank obstacles. There was little enemy activity. German patrols, usually five or six men, operated intermittently in the Division zone. Patrol activity, however, was mostly an effort to learn Allied intentions in this area. Occasionally, small enemy groups harassed the Division by cutting communication wires. One large patrol was driven off in the Bergstein sector. Division intelligence personnel indicated that this might have been an overly ambitious commander’s attempt to win the Knight’s Cross, offered by Model to the unit retaking Bergstein. Enemy mortar and artillery fire, through this period, was light. There was little air activity. Smoke was used by the Germans on several occasions, probably to cover relief of troops. The front opposite the Division was held for the most part by the German 85th Infantry Division and the 6th Paratroop Regiment, Only 33 prisoners of war were captured during the entire month of January. Men of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion were called upon to improvise snow plows and to remove numerous mines buried underneath the snow. Mine
Pfc. Michael Gileno (left), Bronx, New York, and Pfc. Mavies Van Dis, East Saugatuck, Michigan, members of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion, bring in a sled attachment to their jeep to be used to haul ammunition to their unit over snowy roads in Germany.
detection and removal were made difficult by snow and frost, and it was found most practicable to destroy mines in place. Largest camouflage project was the erection of a mesh road screen more than a mile long along a heavily travelled road in the open country of the Hurtgen-Vossenack area. Two thousand five hundred snow capes, many of them improvised from sheets requisitioned from German civilians, and sewed by German women in Zwiefall and surrounding towns, were effectively used by front line infantrymen. Some vehicles were painted white. For units of the Division, this period of comparative inactivity afforded opportunities for necessary rehabilitation. The 8th Quartermaster Company took over the public baths at Stolberg and accommodated approximately 45,000 men for showers and exchange of clothing. The Division Special Service Office conducted a rest camp and beer garden at Stolberg. Shortages in tires, tubes and other vehicular equipment were relieved, and the 708th Ordnance Company completed the task of fully equipping all Division vehicles. Frozen ground eased the problems of supply and evacuation. Battle casualties were few, but there was a moderate number of trenchfoot, frostbite and combat fatigue cases in the Division. Some use was made of “weasels” (halftrack supply vehicles) and sleds for evacuation of casualties during the days of heaviest snowfall and worst ice conditions. Division Military Government personnel retained responsibility for Zwiefall and the surrounding towns during most of this period. Many of the civilians were employed, men in the Zwiefall saw mill, women in laundering, sewing and similar occupations to assist the troops. Generally, the civilians cooperated fully with military government officials. Numerous articles, including stoves, furniture, sleds and sheets were requisitioned for military use,
Support 78th Division Attack
On January 30th, the 78th Division, on the 8th’s south flank, attacked to seize the territory west of the system of lakes and dams which contain the headwaters of the Roer River. The 8th Division supported the attack with intense machine gun, mortar, rifle and cannon fire. Division fire was directed on the Kommerscheidt area in particular and on all German troop concentrations observed, which might hold up the advance of 78th Division elements. Division artillery battalions reinforced the fires of 78th Division artillery. Observation posts of all units were alerted so that fire could be brought immediately upon enemy forces revealing themselves. Patrol activity was increased to divert enemy attention from the 78th Division zone of action. Progress of the 78th Division attack was rapid. All remaining towns and terrain west of the system of lakes had been seized by February 5th. The town of Schmidt, which controlled the approaches to the Schwammenauel Dam, containing the bulk of the headwaters of the Roer, and which had been the primary objective of most Allied offensive action in this sector for the last three months, was captured. Infantrymen reached the massive dam itself and controlled it by fire. The Germans, however, had blown the sluice gates, unleashing 152 million gallons of water contained in the lakes, and transforming the Roer River into a swirling torrent. The normally placid, knee-deep stream rose to a depth of more than ten feet in the Duren area and overflowed its banks to form lakes more than a mile wide in the Julich-Linnich plain.
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Meanwhile, on February 5th, the Division was transferred to the VII Corps, First Army. The 113th Cavalry Group was detached from the Division. Beginning on the night, February 6-7, the 1st Division relieved the 8th of its positions in the Kreuzau-Bergstein sector. By February 8th, all units of the Division had been relieved and had taken up, new positions in the area formerly held by the 104th Division, opposite Neiderau and the south half of Duren. The 104th Division had regrouped in the north half of its former sector. Along the entire west bank of the Roer, from Linnich to Bergstein, infantry and armored division of the Ninth and First Armies were poised to assault the last major water barrier west of the Rhine. The Roer continued to rise. On February 8th, engineers were moving bridging materials to forward areas, preparing soggy roads for the heavy traffic of trucks and tanks that was soon to roll over them. The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 740th Tank Battalion and Companies C and D of the 87th Chemical Battalion were attached to the Division for the coming offensive. The 8th and 104th Divisions were to attack on the morning of February 10th, seize Duren and the VII Corps bridgehead, and draw the Germans off balance for the stronger assault by the Ninth Army to the north, on the following day. On February 10th, the Roer was still rising. The attack was postponed. Units of the Division conducted training in river crossings and street fighting. The narrow front was held by the 1st Battalion of the 13th and the 3rd Battalion of the 28th Infantry. By February 15th, the Roer had reached its highest point was beginning to fluctuate. Meanwhile, the attack was again postponed. Troops of the 13th and 28th Infantry regiments continued training in river crossings by assault boat. Engineers utilized the time to clear the approaches to the river in preparation for bridging operations. Reconnaissance photographs and prisoner of war reports indicated that the enemy was utilizing the time he gained by releasing the floodwaters of the Roer to refit and regroup his forces and to improve defensive positions. Much activity was noted in the Rhineland rail centers, notably in Cologne. Concentrations of tanks, self-propelled guns and vehicles were detected in Golzheim. Blatzheim, Modrath and numerous town between the Roer and Rhine rivers in front of the Division. Enemy artillery during the period was comparatively light, although numerous battery positions were spotted by aerial reconnaissance. Patrol activity across the flooded Roer was particularly hazardous, since many of the enemy’s land mines had been inundated, making it difficult to
Engineers attached to the 8th Division rush to completion the first pontoon bridge in the vicinity of Duren, Germany, across the Roer River. This work was done under fierce fire from the enemy. land with safety on the east bank of the river. Several engineer and infantry parties did cross the river in assault boats, although most of these operations proved more costly than practical. On the night of February 16-17, three men of the 28th Infantry were rowed across the Roer by an engineer crew. They were equipped with radio and enough food for the following day. It was planned to contact them again the next night and return them to the west bank of the river. On the following night and on two succeeding nights, attempts were made to reach the stranded patrol. They were unsuccessful, however, and it was presumed that the patrol had been captured. Small enemy groups were observed intermittently improving their positions on the east bank of the river. Enemy air activity increased. Several formations of jet propelled planes appeared over the Division sector, bombing and strafing front lines and rear installations. The river, although receding steadily, was still far above its normal level; the current was still exceedingly rapid.
D-Day for the Roer crossing was again set—this time for February 23rd. Detailed plans were completed. Division assault elements were to cross the river on a front of approximately 7,000 yards. The north sector, including the south half of Duren and 1,500 yards south of the city, was assigned to the 13th Infantry. The 28th Infantry was given a sector approximately 4,000 yards wide,
including the town of Niederau. Elements of the 104th Division were to cross on the left flank of the 8th, taking that part of Duren north of the AachenCologne railroad. The 1st Division, on the right flank, was not to cross the river until the 28th had secured its bridgehead. Consequently, the Division south flank would be exposed. Plans called for troops of the assault units to cross the river in boats powered by 22 and 50 horsepower motors. One foot bridge, one infantry support bridge, and on Treadway pontoon bridge were to be constructed in each regimental sector. In addition, a Bailey class 40 bridge was to be erected in the 13th Infantry sector. Division engineers were to erect the foot bridges and operate the assault boats, while VII Corps engineers constructed the remaining bridges. The Roer River had receded only slightly, was still approximately seven feet deep, and flowed at a speed of nearly ten miles an hour. At 0245 on the morning of February 23rd, the heaviest artillery barrage ever fired by the 8th Division Artillery began to pound the enemy river defenses and communications. All batteries of the Division, reinforced by the 18th and 188th Field Artillery Battalions and the assault guns of the 644th Tank Destroyer and 740th Tank Battalions, fired continuously for 45 minutes. Along the entire Roer River front, every battery of the First and Ninth Armies joined in the barrage which preceded H-Hour of the battle of the Rhineland.
At 0245—45 minutes before the scheduled jump-off of all other units— Major Edward J. Regan and his 3rd Battalion of the 28th Infantry climbed into their assault boats on the extreme south flank of the Division front and pushed off for the enemy-held east bank of the Roer. Men of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 3rd Battalion (28th) Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon manned the boats. The raging 12-mile river was as hazardous a no-man’s land as the men of the 3rd Battalion ever crossed. In spite of the current and the difficult east bank of the river, approximately 60 per cent of Regan’s men reached the opposite shore. Companies K and L crossed in the first wave, dove quickly into a system of trenches on the river bank and came out with 23 German prisoners, apparently so dazed by the tremendous artillery concentration that they did not realize that any troops had crossed the river. Half of the men who survived the river crossing had lost their rifles and helmets. All mortars and three of the four machine gun sections were also lost. Grenades were redistributed, and rifles were taken from the German prisoners. Major Regan led his men south of Niederau to a road fork at the edge of a patch of woods. The men of Companies K and L, preceded all the way by a rolling barrage of white phosphorus artillery, reached the edge of the woods at 0430. Here they waited for Company I to join them. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th, attempting to cross 1,000 and 2,000 yards to the north at 0330, encountered even more serious difficulties. Six 1st Battalion assault boats were overturned in midstream. Men and equipment were carried far down the river, Heavy enemy mortar and artillery fire caused many casualties. All mortars and more than 75 per cent of the boats were destroyed in the first crossing. Only elements of Companies A, B, C and F reached the east bank of the river, north of Niederau, where they reorganized
and prepared for offensive action.
Meanwhile, Company I crossed the river and joined Companies K and L at the road fork near the edge of the woods southeast of Niederau. Troops of these two companies had taken 19 more prisoners when they surprised a group of Germans, capturing them while they were still in bed and seizing a 75 mm. gun intact. An enemy wire party and a supply part were also captured as they were moving along the road from Stockheim to Niederau, completely oblivious of the presence of American troops in the area. Troops of the 2nd Battalion, who were to clear the southern part of Niederau and then to relieve the 3rd Battalion at the road fork, had not been able to cross the river. Major Regan received instructions by radio to move his battalion forward to the eastern edge of the woods. Although virtually isolated, the battalion began moving east through the woods along the Niederau-Stockheim road. Company L, on the right, ran into an enemy strongpoint. Company I moved around to the south of L and dug the Germans out of log bunkers. The advance was resumed, although to the south were several more bunkers which had been by-passed. The 3rd Battalion reached the eastern edge of the woods by nightfall, meeting only light resistance. Here the troops dug in. Enough German weapons had been obtained so that all the men were again armed. In on instance, when the enemy counterattacked, a machine gunner allowed the Germans to come within 20 yards of his position before mowing them down, because, as he ex-
ROER TO RHINE
plained, “then the men can get the Kraut’s weapons without exposing themselves.” Twenty-five panzerfausts (German bazookas) were taken, and classes in their operation were conducted on the spot.
The 13th Crosses
Colonel Numa Watson, 13th Infantry Commander, had divided the sector of his regiment into two zones. To the 3rd Battalion, he assigned the north 1,500 yards, which included most of the ruins of Duren south of the railroad. The 2nd Battalion, on the right, was to take the remaining 1,500 yards of the regimental zone. Troops of the assault battalions were assembled in the towns of Gurzenich and Derichsweiler. Boats had been brought up under cover of darkness and concealed behind buildings along the riverfront streets. When the artillery barrage began, the assault troops and a detachment of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion picked up the boats and moved to the river bank. At H-Hour, the boats were launched. Most of the motors, however, could not be started. Despite the use of trained personnel, only a small number of troops succeeded in crossing the river. One boatload of 18 Company I men, under command of 2nd Lieutenant Louis DePhillipo, reached the east bank of the Roer shortly after the attack was underway, and moved forward into a group of residential buildings along the river. Two other boatloads of men from Company K paddled their way across the river. These men, led by 1st Lieutenant Coleman, fought their way into a factory where they took 12 prisoners. Counterattacked later by an enemy force of at least 50 men, the group lost half of its members and all of its prisoners. When rescued by members of Company F early the next morning, only Lieutenant Coleman and six of his men, all wounded, remained. Machine gun fire and the swirling currents destroyed or capsized most of the assault boats. Observed artillery and direct fire from well-sited self propelled guns continuously harassed the troops as they attempted to cross the river. From Aachenerstrasse, directly across from the main launching site, such a torrent of high velocity fire continued to pound the troops that they renamed the street “88 Boulevard.” The 1st Battalion, in reserve at Rolsdorf, suffered several casualties from artillery air bursts. Throughout the river-crossing operations, men of the 8th Military Police Platoon directed traffic, often in the most exposed positions. Company E, one of the original assault companies, had four double assault boats with motors knocked out before they could be launched by short rounds of white phosphorous artillery from friendly batteries. Ten single assault boats were then launched in an attempt to paddle the company across the river. All of them were swamped and swept downstream by the current. Casualties from artillery and the current slashed the assault platoons of the company to 18, 22 and 26 men, and forced the company to withdraw to reorganize. Several of the men swept downstream later rejoined the company. Across the river, the men of Company K and I, who had plunged into the enemy-held city, captured a machine gun nest on the river bank, came through several fire fights, and approached their company objectives. Three hours after the attack had begun, Company F had also succeeded in ferrying a few more men to the east bank of the river. The swift current and intense enemy
artillery fire prevented construction of any foot bridges. Several attempts, both by the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion and VII Corps engineer personnel, were made under heavy fire, but had to be abandoned. Before daylight, two flying ferries were installed by pulling ropes and then steel cables across the river. In this way, boats could be controlled as they fought the current to the east bank. Two additional platoons of Company I were enabled to cross the river through this method. At daylight, Division artillery and chemical mortars of the 87th Chemical Battalion began placing white phosphorus smoke shells on known observation points. Enemy fire slackened somewhat, but despite continuous smoking, German mortar and artillery shelling severely hampered river crossing operations throughout the day. Cables were cut repeatedly soon after they had been installed.
The men of Companies I and K, who had succeeded in crossing the river, expanded their hold on the east shore to a depth of 400 yards on a 400-yard front during the day. This area was the original bridgehead at Duren, and through it all operations against the enemy-held city were forced to move. During the night of February 23-24, the enemy made a serious effort to knock out from the air whatever river installations the Division had been able to construct across the Roer. Jet-propelled Me 262’s swooped down repeatedly, bombing and strafing the riverline. Except for one ferry which was destroyed in the 28th Infantry sector, enemy aircraft had small success. At darkness, engineers had begun work on a Bailey class 40 bridge in the 13th Infantry sector. By 0530, the bridge was opened for use of foot troops, and shortly thereafter, vehicular traffic started moving across it to the east side of the Roer.
Sounds of armored movement in the Stockheim area where heard during the night from positions of the 3rd Battalion of the 28th. Shortly after dawn, the enemy hurled the first of six counterattacks during the day against Major Regan’s isolated battalion. Three enemy tanks supported the attacks of a company of infantrymen. The Germans were thrown back. They came again and again, from all sides. It was obvious that the battalion was surrounded. Then, at 1355, the enemy began an all-out assault on the trapped battalion, charging in from all sides in an attempt to annihilate the American forces. Major Regan called down the massed concentration of all Division and Corps artillery, which had been planned for such a situation as this. With perfect precision, the tremendous volume of fire from every gun of every battery of six field artillery battalions crashed down on all sides of the surrounded 28th Infantry troops. Some of the men described it as “the most fearsome defensive barrage ever.” Many of the enemy were killed beneath the avalanche of shrapnel which boxed in the 3rd Battalion. The counterattack was decisively broken. Only six of Major Regan’s men were hit by shell fragments, although shells dropped as close as 75 yards from the battalion positions. This, on of Regan’s staff officers pointed out, was an unmistakable indication of the accuracy with which a battalion commander pin-pointed his unit’s position on the map. It is also a tribute to the perfection with which the Division artillerymen planned their massed fires.
Troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th, meanwhile, had been transported across the river. The 1st Battalion fought its way through Niederau from the north, clearing the town early in the day against only moderate resistance. The 2nd Battalion advanced through the southern part of Niederau and began moving through the woods to establish contact with the 3rd Battalion. At 1905 that night, Company E, after a brisk fight, reached the weary troops of the 3rd Battalion, opening the way for supplies and ammunition to be brought up.
FIGHT FOR DUREN
Meanwhile, elements of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 13th Infantry has crossed the river and were making steady progress through Duren. In the city, itself, there was moderate small arms resistance and heavy mortar and artillery fire. So completely had some sections of the city been destroyed by Allied air and artillery bombardment, that it was often impossible to interpret maps of the streets. Twisted steel and rubble was all that remained of the center section. Craters were numerous and in many of them, the enemy had placed booby traps. Streets as such had ceased to exist. Bulldozers were rushed across the Roer bridge, and paths were forced through the tangled girders and mounds of brick and debris. By mid-afternoon, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had advanced more than 1,5000 yards east of the river. The 1st Battalion moved up behind the 2nd and worked its way south. At 1700, this unit had reached the new German barracks on the south edge of Duren. Companies A and B seized the four westernmost buildings, after overcoming intense small arms and machine gun
A mine sweeping patrol of the 12th Combat Engineer Battalion in Duren, Germany, clears a path for the infantry.
These men of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, attached to the 8th Division, first Allied armored group to enter the battered German city of Duren. fire. Company C, driving in from the south after a wide flanking move, joined A and B at 2300 in the final assault to clear the remaining buildings. This attack apparently took the enemy by surprise, and a number of Germans were still asleep when the buildings were overrun. At 0200 the following morning, the 2nd Battalion began an attack against the old barracks, 500 yards to the north. After a ten-minute massed artillery concentration of 1,500 rounds of 105mm and 155mm shells, Companies G and E assaulted the buildings. Riding the armored vehicles and tanks of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalions, infantrymen stormed the buildings, with the heavy guns of the tanks and tank destroyers blasting down all obstacles. When the foot troops dismounted, armored vehicles provided covering machine gun fire, while Company F supported by fire from the southwest. The buildings were cleared by 0530. The three battalions of the 13th then moved rapidly through to the eastern outskirts of Duren. Here, before dawn, elements of the 121st Infantry passed through the regiment and continued the 8th Division advance. The 13th then withdrew to assembly areas in Duren, to await attachment to the 3rd Armored Division.
121st Goes Into Action
Before daylight on February 25th, the 121st Infantry had crossed the Roer over the Bailey bridge, now completed in the 13th Infantry sector. Passing through the 13th Infantry lines in Duren, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 121st continued the Division advance. The 1st Battalion drove rapidly toward the
town of Binsfield, knocked out two self-propelled guns defending it, and cleared the town of all enemy resistance before 0830. The 3rd Battalion, driving on Girbelsrath, encountered much stronger resistance. Three tanks, supporting the foot troops, were destroyed by high velocity fire in the flat open country east of Duren. Enemy artillery and mortar fire continued to be heavy. After knocking out two 88mm guns with bazooka fire, 3rd Battalion infantrymen quickly overran enemy troops dug in along the open country, and drove on toward the town. Gilbelsrath was taken late that night after fierce street fighting.
Stockheim was the primary objective of 28th Infantry troops now massed in the woods west of that town. At least six enemy self-propelled guns fired on the troops as they emerged from the woods and advanced on the town across open ground. The guns hastily withdrew, however, when the men of the 28th entered Stockheim. The 1st and 2nd Battalions converged on the strongly defended town. Street fighting continued throughout the day. The enemy had to be dug out of cellars and trenches. By midnight, the town was cleared except for a small group of buildings in the southern outskirts. The 3rd Battalion of the 28th, meanwhile, had maneuvered to the north, relieving the 121st Infantry in Binsfeld at dusk, taking 12 additional prisoners out of the town, and then moving east to continue the attack. The towns of Binsfelderburg, Rommelsheim and Burg Rubenheim were taken during the night. Attacking in a column of companies, the battalion took the three towns in quick succession. As foot troops advanced on each town, a terrific artillery concentration was called down. When the artillery lifted, doughboys rushed the town before defending troops could come out of the cellars to man their guns. By 0500, all three towns had been taken. The prisoner count was high, 104 being captured in Burg Rubenheim alone. Two self-propelled guns, which had eluded the 3rd Battalion all night, were finally captured and destroyed in Burg Rubenheim. Maj. General W. G. Weaver was evacuated on February 25th. Brig. General Bryant E. Moore, former assistant commander of the 104th Division, took command of the 8th Division. On February 26th, the 8th Reconnaissance Troop took over the town of Stockheim, on the still-exposed Division right flank. A brisk skirmish took place in the southern section of the city during the night, when the enemy attempted to retake it. Before dawn, however, the enemy had been cleared from the last buildings in the town.
The 121st Infantry continued its advance during the night of February 2526, and by morning had driven east from Girbelsrath to seize the town of Eschweiller. Troops of the 121st met heavy mortar, artillery and high velocity fire, when they attempted to move across the open country toward Ollesheim. It was decided to wait until nightfall before resuming the attack. At darkness, the town was quickly captured. Roadblocks were erected, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions drove approximately three miles farther east, crossing the Neffel River, and attacking the town of Neider Bolheim. Here, the regiment met its
only determined resistance of the night, encountering several enemy assault guns and heavy small arms fire. The town was cleared before dawn, and the 3rd Battalion moved north to take over the town of Blatzheim, which had been captured by the 3rd Armored Division. On the following day, elements of the 121st moved east of Blatzheim to mop up the remaining resistance in Bergerhausen and the high ground to the northeast. The 3rd Armored Division had driven swiftly beyond the town, and some enemy stragglers still remained to be cleared out. Meanwhile, the 28th Infantry continued to move up behind the 121st, defending the exposed south flank of the Division.
Fight for Kerpen
That night, the 3rd Battalion of the 121st and a task force of the 3rd Armored Division attacked in conjunction to seize the town of Kerpen. The 121st Infantry cleared the north half. The Germans were known to be defending the town with strong infantry elements and high velocity weapons. Two attempted counterattacks were broken before they had a chance to get underway. Civilians, many of them foreign workers eager to flee the town, obstructed the troops in their advance, but once they were gotten under control, the attack made rapid progress. Kerpen was taken early the next morning after much street fighting and sniping. Tanks and tank destroyers of the 740th and 644th assisted the advance of infantry elements through the town, blasting enemyheld buildings with their heavy guns.
Across the Erft Canal
The 1st Battalion of the 121st, passing through the 3rd Battalion in Kerpen, attacked toward the Erft Canal, three miles to the east. Reaching the canal at 0400 the next morning, the troops attempted to cross a bridge on the main Kerpen-Modrath road. They met intense enemy automatic fire. Next, they attempted to slip through the woods and cross the canal 1,000 yards north of the road. This time, they ran directly into four German tanks. A severe counterattack cost the 1st Battalion many casualties. The unit then withdrew slightly and prepared to cross the canal under a smoke screen. Tanks and tank destroyers were brought up during the morning, but the enemy blew the bridge before they could cross the canal. Foot troops of the 1st Battalion crossed the canal later during the day and fought their way into the westernmost section of Modrath. Experienced enemy troops, most of them wounded veterans of other fronts, fought savagely against the attackers. Companies A and B advanced slowly through the town until they were stopped at a twenty-foot railroad embankment by intense small arms fire. Here, the 1st Battalion held until the canal could be bridged and armor brought forward. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop, with a company of tanks and a platoon of tank destroyers attached, was operating as a task force. Sent to patrol a section of high ground southeast of Kerpen, one of the attached tank destroyers came upon two haystacks. A few shots were poured into the haystacks, and they took off down the road. On numerous occasions, such haystacks in peaceful German fields, upon similar action, were found to be motorized and thickly armored.
28th Takes Up Advance
The 28th Infantry, meanwhile, had moved to Bergerhausen. The 3rd Battalion was given the mission of moving through the woods north of Kerpen during the night, and seizing a large Rhenish castle, Schloss Lorsfeld. The Battalion, in a column of companies, moved through the woods unopposed until at 0100, the castle was reached. The men of Company L surrounded the moated fortress of several centuries ago, shot a guard, and stormed through the gates. After a brief skirmish, the enemy garrison surrendered. Thirty prisoners were taken. Six men of Company L were left to guard the castle, while the remainder of the Battalion returned to Bergerhausen. On the night of March 1st, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 28th were assigned a more hazardous mission. The Battalions were to cross the Erft at Gotzenkirchen, a village in the 104th sector which was found unoccupied by a patrol the previous afternoon. They were then to advance south against Modrath on a two battalion front, attacking the town in conjunction with the 121st Infantry. The crossing was made without mishap shortly after darkness. The troops swung across the water barrier on the girders of a blown bridge, and moved into the thick woods east of the Erft. The 2nd Battalion then moved directly south along the east bank of the canal. The 3rd Battalion moved farther east, maneuvering to take the castle and a small group of buildings at Boisdorf, from where it would then advance southward toward Modrath. The column of companies of the 3rd Battalion had approached within 125 yards of the castle without being detected. Suddenly, several explosions broke the silence. The entire column had walked into a dense minefield. The enemy was alerted, and heavy small arms fire from the castle and the woods hit the trapped infantrymen. The commanders of Company K and L were killed. Several other officers and men were wounded, and the rest scattered.
Hand to Hand
Major Regan reorganized as large a force as possible, rushed the castle, battled with the enemy defenders in fierce hand to hand combat, took the castle. The men then settled down to occupy the castle and surrounding buildings for the remainder of the night. All communications with Company I were lost until the following day. Others of the scattered troops found their way into the buildings now occupied by the battalion. Shortly before dawn, a group of soldiers was observed approaching Boisdorf. Not knowing whether they were American or German troops, Major Regan called them to halt. They continued to advance, and the battalion commander gave the signal to open fire. Some of the enemy troops had come so close to the buildings occupied by the 3rd Battalion troops that a hand grenade dropped out of a window killed three Germans. The counterattacking forces were finally driven back until they were trapped in several buildings which they had reoccupied. At dawn, artillery was called down upon the enemy-held buildings, causing many casualties before the last 52 Germans surrendered.
121st Takes Modrath
The 2nd Battalion, supported by elements of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, moved south against light opposition and entered the northern out72
skirts of Modrath early on the morning of March 2nd. The 1st Battalion of the 121st fired into Modrath in support of the troops of the 28th, while continuing to hold its railroad embankment positions. A tank dozer, brought up during the morning to clear the rubble blocking an underpass through the embankment, was knocked out by an enemy self-propelled gun. Another underpass was discovered further to the south. By noon, the canal had been bridged by the engineers, and tanks and tank destroyers moved across. While the armor moved through the underpass, foot troops of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, went over the embankment and began clearing the enemy from the remainder of the town. Enemy resistance was fierce when German foot troops were bolstered by self-propelled guns, but crumbled as soon as the guns were knocked out. Artillery fire was heavy. The fight continued during most of the day. Elements of the 28th, now under command of Lt. Colonel Thomas H. Beck, moved in from the north, while the 121st cleared the major part of the town. Before nightfall, Modrath was reported cleared.
28th Takes Over
Simultaneously with the battle in Modrath, another attacking force, the 1st Battalion of the 28th, was fighting for the town of Habblerath, to the northeast. After a wide flanking maneuver, during which enemy planes strafed the troops repeatedly, the battalion entered Habblerath shortly after daylight. Resistance in the town, particularly from self-propelled guns, was strong. Enemy strongpoints were marked by artillery smoke shells, and at 0900, an air bom-
German civilians being evacuated from homes have ringside seats at the battle of Kerpen. 155-mm Howitzers of the 8th Division Artillery carry on the fight as the refugees wait for transportation to a safe area behind the lines.
bardment mission was flown against the town. The troops then moved in quickly and cleared Habblerath by 1000. The enemy counterattacked from the southeast shortly thereafter, but it was thrown back. That night, while the 2nd Battalion of the 28th relieved 121st Infantry elements in Modrath, the 1st and 3rd Battalions were to continue the attack to the south. The 3rd Battalion left Boisdorf shortly after midnight, passed through the 2nd Battalion in Modrath, and attacked toward Bottenbroich. Company I, which had rejoined the battalion during the day, led the column of companies. At the approaches to Bottenbroich, intense enemy machine gun fire pinned down the company. Company K maneuvered around I, hit the enemy pocket from the west, wiped it out. Company I then moved in to seize Bottenbroich. Company L drove beyond the town to the mines and factory southeast of it. As the company neared this area, a terrific artillery barrage was laid down. At 0455, the artillery lifted. Companies L and K stormed the factory area, quickly clearing the enemy from the above ground installations, and discovered a mine shaft leading down into the earth. One guard was killed; the other two quickly surrendered. With Major Regan leading, the men of Company L climbed down seven 15-foot ladders. At the bottom, they came upon an elaborate network of more than two miles of underground passages. Two hundred civilian families were found living in the subterranean corridors. Among them were 91 members of the German army, who were quickly rounded up. The 1st Battalion of the 28th reached the norther edge of Grefrath at approximately 0300. Here the fire of enemy self-propelled guns became intense. As 1st Battalion troops moved in, enemy guns withdrew. The town was taken after a brisk street fight. Gains were consolidated and mopping up in the area continued during the day.
Advance on Frechen
At 1930 that night, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th began an advance along a northerly route between the network of lignite mines toward the city of Frechen, two miles south of Cologne. One hour later, the 3rd Battalion began a wide enveloping movement from the southwest. Frechen, largest city in the Division zone of advance since Duren, was to be attacked from three sides. The lignite mines were a crescent-shaped chain of huge pits, approximately 50 to 100 feet deep, which honeycombed the entire area over which an advance against Frechen must move. Only routes of approach to the city weer the narrow causeways between the pits which could easily be defended by the Germans. Along these causeways, the three attacking forces moved. Moving into the attack, the 1st Battalion, advancing directly toward the city from the west, immediately encountered intense mortar fire. The battalion continued to advance in spite of the enemy fire, and by 2200, Company A had reached the western edge of Benzelrath. Company C, advancing astride the main road, also entered that town, only to find that the bridge over one of the pits along the route to Frechen had been blown. The 2nd Battalion, advancing along a much longer route, met only light resistance from enemy small arms fire, and entered Frechen shortly after midnight. The 3rd Battalion infiltrated through two-thousand yards of enemy-held territory before it ran into a strongpoint, covering a 100-foot gap in the cause74
Kendenich, Germany, captured by the 121st Infantry, retains some of the old world charm in this dog-drawn milk cart. 3-7-45. way. Unable to move across to the other side of the gap without meeting intense enemy fire, the battalion spent the remainder of the night on the narrow ledge, on hundred feet from the enemy.
Frechen Falls to 28th
Company L succeeded in crossing to the other side farther to the north, shortly after daylight, and took the enemy strongpoint from the flank. Enemy machine guns were emplaced in cement bunkers and covered by a series of logged emplacements manned by 12 to 15 riflemen. Fifty prisoners were taken by the men of Company L. Many of the enemy were killed, and the remainder fled. The battalion then drove swiftly toward Frechen. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion, encountering little resistance within Frechen, had cleared the entire northeastern section of the city by daybreak. Engineers had quickly constructed a bridge across the gap which was holding up the 1st Battalion at Benzelrath. The battalion then advanced through the town, closely followed by the bulk of the 644th Tank Destroyer and the 740th Tank Destroyer Battalions. Resistance was strong, particularly in the Benzelrath area. Early in the afternoon, the 1st and 3rd Battalions linked up, and by darkness, the city was completely cleared. Company B, which had been attached to the 3rd Battalion during its maneuver around the southern part of the city, seized the town of Bacheim, southeast of Frechen. During the night, Company K cleared the factory area, 1,000 yards east of Frechen.
121st Opens Drive
On the night, March 4-5, the 121st Infantry again went into the attack. Passing through the 28th Infantry, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 121st drove, in two columns, toward the Rhine, now only five miles away. Attacking under searchlights after heavy artillery preparations, the two battalions advanced against the towns of Horbell and Gleuel. The 3rd Battalion hit heavy opposition from enemy automatic weapons. Tanks and tank destroyers were brought up to knock out the enemy strongpoints. The battalion entered Gleuel shortly before dawn, rapidly cleared the enemy from the town, and continued the attack toward Burbach. The 1st Battalion seized Horbell by 0630, meeting only moderate enemy resistance. One hour later, the enemy came back with a determined counterattack. Spearheaded by two tanks and four self-propelled guns, 100 enemy infantrymen moved against the 1st Battalion. The attack was quickly repulsed. Two self-propelled guns and one enemy tank were knocked out, and the foot troops fled in disorder. Task Force Grover, a group of 121st Infantry troops of half-company strength, seized the town of Sielsdorf after a fight later that morning. Throughout the day, enemy artillery fire continued heavy. Troops of the 3rd Battalion met fierce resistance in their drive toward Burbach. Enemy self-propelled guns prevented an advance across the open terrain during daylight. It was decided to resume the attack at nightfall. By midnight, the 3rd Battalion had cleared Burbach and had moved on toward Alstadten. The 1st Battalion seized Stolzheim after a brisk street battle. The 2nd Battalion had also joined in the attack, driving toward Hermulheim. Here the enemy resisted fiercely, fighting from house to house. Artillery fire was heavy, and it was not until 1600 on the afternoon of March 6th that the town was completely cleared. The 2nd Battalion then continued toward Kendenich, which fell after a brief fight shortly after nightfall.
28th Joins Attack
The 2nd Battalion of the 28th attacked and cleared Kalscheuren shortly after midnight, March 5th. The 3rd Battalion of the 28th then passed through the 2nd in Kalscheuren and drove forward to Konraderhof, taking that town by 0130. The 3rd Battalion then advanced toward Rondorf, along the main road. Four Mark IV tanks came rolling down the road from the town, passed the forward elements of the 3rd Battalion without being recognized. Once within the column, the tanks began firing on the troops, disorganizing the battalion. Then the tanks withdrew again into Rondorf, from where they continued to harass the attacking forces as they attempted to reorganize. When the 3rd Battalion assaulted Rondorf, a short time later, two bazooka rounds sent the huge German tanks fleeing from the town. When foot troops entered the town, the civilians had gathered all rifles from the German soldiers. The town fell without a fight. The 1st Battalion of the 28th, attacking also at midnight, quickly seized the towns of Berrenrath and Knapsack, in neither of which did the enemy show much will to fight. Hurth, another town in the same area, fell to the 3rd Battalion of the 121st later that morning.
Elements of the 28th Infantry continued the attack on the night of March 67. The 1st Battalion, advancing toward Meschenich, reached the town shortly after midnight. Resistance in the town was severe. At dawn, when the town had finally fallen, a strong counterattack, supported by three tanks, hit the battalion. Friendly artillery fire fell on the troops of the battalion, causing thirty casualties. The enemy counterattack was finally gotten under control and repulsed. Driving on toward Immendorf, the 1st Battalion was again hit, this time by four tanks. The 3rd Battalion of the 28th was ordered to take the town. Smoke was placed on the town, and at 1500 that afternoon, the men of Company I, riding tanks of the 740th Tank Battalion, stormed Immendorf and took it within an hour at a cost of six men wounded.
28th Reaches Rhine
That night, the 3rd Battalion was ordered to take Rodenkirchen on the Rhine. Moving through the 104th Division in Cologne, the battalion hit the suburb of Rodenkirchen from the north. At the edge of the town, a machine gun nest was silenced by a grenade throwing patrol. No further resistance was encountered. Forty prisoners surrendered without a fight. The 3rd Battalion continued driving down the west bank of the Rhine toward Weiss. That town fell at 1000 to the men of Company K on tanks while Company L closed in on the town from the west across open terrain. Godorf, also on the Rhine, fell to the 1st Battalion of the 28th during the night of March 6-7. The next morning, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th joined to clear Surth. With the mopping up of enemy stragglers (including four roving self-propelled guns) that afternoon, all organized resistance in the Division sector west of the Rhine had been destroyed. First rounds to be fired across the Rhine by troops of the Division were aimed at several barges in midstream, which were attempting to flee with two enemy tanks. Direct hits were scored. Tanks and barges disappeared in the Rhine.
13TH TEAMED WITH 3RD ARMORED
The exploits of the 13th Infantry during the period of its attachment to the 3rd Armored Division comprise a colorful separate phase of the Division advance to the Rhine. The regiment was attached to the Armored Division, one battalion to each combat command, at 0600 on the morning of February 26th. Each combat command was divided into two task forces, composed of a tank battalion each and a battalion of armored infantry with one, a battalion of the 13th Infantry Regiment with the other. Tank spearheads of the 3rd Armored Division passed through Duren on the morning of February 26th, and thrust out along the main Duren-Cologne highway and across the Cologne plain toward the east and northeast. Thirteenth Infantry troops rode the tanks—as many as could climb aboard. The remainder of the foot troops followed the armor in 2 1/2 ton trucks. Combat Command A, with Lt. Colonel Morris J. Keese’s 1st Battalion attached, moved out first along the road to Cologne. Quickly seizing Golzheim, which had already been entered by troops of the 104th Division, this task force drove on to Blatzheim, and secured the town before nightfall. Resistance was slight, since the enemy was apparently taken by surprise by the swiftness of the advance.
An entire German mortar company was over-run. The number of prisoners taken was large, and approximately 1,200 civilians, many of them foreign workers, had remained in the town. Combat Command B, with the 2nd Battalion of the 13th, commanded by Major Theodore Leonard, swung out behind CC“A” until Golzheim was reached. Here, CC“B” swung north on the road to Buir, an industrial town of more than 5,000 people. Foot troops cleared the town after brisk street fighting, with tanks firing in close support. The armored columns then pushed through the town and drove north to Manheim, another manufacturing town. Manheim was quickly cleared. Many prisoners were taken, among them two full companies which surrendered intact. Before nightfall, CC“B” and the 2nd Battalion had also seized Etzweiler and Giezendorf and had reached the southern outskirts of Elsdorf. Combat Command “R”, with the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, attached, was committed at Manheim, and drove northeast along secondary roads to seize Heppendorf, Widdendorf and Berrendorf before halting for the night. On the following day, CC“B” drove north through Paffendorf. That town was quickly cleared by the 3rd Battalion, under command of Major Francis L. Jenkins; when then drove northeast to reach the Erft Canal. A bridge was seized intact near the town of Gleich, and troops of the 3rd Battalion crossed the canal and established the first bridgehead across this last water barrier west of Cologne.
Violent fighting continued in the bridgehead area east of the Erft. The Germans threw five strong counterattacks, supported by tanks, against 3rd Battalion positions. All were beaten back. Meanwhile, engineers were reinforcing the captured bridge so that tanks could cross the river. During the day, CC“B” and the 2nd Battalion of the 13th fought their way through Elsdorf against strong resistance, and then went into reserve. CC “A” and the 1st Battalion continued their advance along the main Duren-Cologne highway through Bergerhausen and Kerpen. Kerpen was cleared in a coordinated night attack with the 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry taking the south half of the town, CC“A” and the 1st Battalion of the 13th the north half. At this time, CC“A” swung north to join CC“R” and continue the drive toward the Rhine. One combat team of the 99th Division crossed the Erft in the CC“R” bridgehead area on March 2nd, with the mission of clearing the woods east of Paffendorf. However, when troops of the 3rd Battalion attempted to move through the supposedly cleared woods the next day, they ran into a violent fight. Major Jenkins was wounded, and Lt. Colonel Earl L. Lerette, executive officer of the 13th, was sent down to take charge of the battalion temporarily, while familiarizing Major Tarkington, regimental S-2 with the work of a battalion commander. Major Tarkington was then to remain in command of the battalion. On March 4th, CC“R” and the 3rd Battalion seized the town of Niederhausen after brisk street fighting. CC“A”, meanwhile, had passed through Oberhausen. On the following morning, CC“A” was to take Busdorf, while CC“R” moved parallel to it, swinging around Busdorf and driving toward Stommeln. The 1st Battalion, with CC“A”, succeeded in entering Busdorf, and proceeded to clear
the center of the town. The 3rd Battalion, moving through the outskirts of the town, was hit from the flank by a severe German attack. The enemy, caught between the two advancing spearheads, abandoned the center of the town and struck at 3rd Battalion troops before they had a chance to detruck. Two 2 1/2 ton trucks loaded with men were hit by high velocity fire. On one of them, every man was killed or wounded. The remainder of the force continued to advance, and by 1000 that morning, had taken Ingendorf, northeast of Busdorf. This placed CC“R” two miles east of all other armored elements, and the troops were instructed to hold. Meanwhile, the enemy was defending Busdorf fiercely.
Fight for Stommeln
Later that day, orders were received for CC“R” and CC“B” to seize the key communications center of Stommeln before nightfall. The 2nd Battalion of the 13th was to move up from Paffendorf with CC“B” and hit Stommeln from the southeast, while the 3rd Battalion moved in from the southwest. The coordinated attack jumped off under a heavy smoke screen. The two attacking forces met in the center of the town and fought their way from street to street to take the town late that afternoon. That night, 3rd Battalion troops mopped up an enemy pocket south of Stommeln, ran into a stiff fight, and knocked out four German self-propelled guns before the pocket was wiped out. With that action, the mission of CC“R” and the 3rd Battalion was completed. The battalion went into reserve, with Major Tarkington in command. Lt. Colonel Lerette returned to his position as executive officer of the regiment. CC“B” and the 2nd Battalion of the 13th continued to attack, taking Pulheim, Sinnersdorf and Fuhlingen that day. Driving on during the night, troops of the 2nd Battalion cleared Roggendorf before morning. Merkenich fell to these troops shortly after that. Later during that same morning, the men of the 2nd Battalion seized Rheincastle on the west bank of the Rhine, to become the first troops of the First Army to reach the river.
1st Battalion Enters Cologne
CC“A” and the 1st Battalion swept straight down into Cologne from the north. In quick succession, they took Longenich, Pesch and Morheim, all suburbs of Cologne. Thirteenth Infantry troops overran the vast railroad yards of Germany’s third largest city. Massing the entire battalion, they stormed the city’s major airport with its tremendous underground installations and huge stores of supplies and equipment. By nightfall, troops of the 1st Battalion had penetrated the inner ring of the city. Before midnight, patrols had reached the river front. Within the inner city, it was strictly an infantry battle. Armor remained outside the ring, while foot troops cleared out the remaining enemy from the twisted wreckage. Tanks were brought up only when they were needed to knock out an enemy strongpoint. Principal resistance inside the city was from the Nazi-regimented police. Well-armed and equipped, these old men (some of them nearly 60 years old) fought with fanatical zeal but with no concept of modern warfare. They rushed into machine gun fire headlong, only to be slaughtered in futile attempts to defend the city. During its drive from Duren to Rhine with the 3rd Armored Division, the
Infantrymen of the 13th Infantry walk and ride tanks as they advance to the front near the Erft Canal at Bergheim, Germany. 13th Infantry lost 164 officers and men killed or wounded. Along its trail of conquest, the regiment captured approximately 4,400 prisoners. The 1st Battalion alone took almost 2,000 enemy troops, while the 2nd and 3rd Battalions captured approximately 1,200 each. Its current offensive mission completed, the 13th Infantry went into an assembly area in the outskirts of Cologne, still under attachment to the 3rd Armored Division.
DIVISION IN RESERVE
On March 8th, the Division was placed in Corps reserve. This was the first time, except for brief periods of travel from one sector to another, that the Division was not in contact with the enemy during the eight months since first going into action on July 8, 1944. On March 5th, Lt. Colonel Joseph K. Gibson, former G-2, had succeeded Colonel Thomas B. Whitted as Division Chief of Staff. Elements of the 104th Division relieved the 28th and 121st Infantry regiments in position. All units of the Division, except the 13th Infantry which remained attached to the 3rd Armored Division, then went into assembly areas. Training and rehabilitation programs were set up, and troops were given a respite from constant contact with the enemy. The 8th Quartermaster Company took over the public baths in the town of Hurth, recently seized by Division troops, and operated a clothing exchange and shower point for all units. It was also during this period that each infantry regiment received on platoon of colored troops, all volunteers, for frontline duty.
Holding the Rhine River Line
After six days in reserve, the Division received instructions to relieve the 1st Division, holding the Rhine River line directly south of the former 8th Division sector. By March 14th, relief had been completed, and the 28th and 121st Infantry regiments again faced the enemy across the Rhine from a point north of Wesseling to the southern edge of Bonn. At this time, major First Army efforts were directed toward enlargement of the bridgehead east of the Rhine opposite the Remagen bridge, which had been captured intact on March 9th. Constant watchfulness along the Rhine was required to frustrate any possible enemy attempts to destroy the bridge. Except for intermittent light artillery shelling and movements of individuals and small groups east of the Rhine, this was a comparatively inactive period. Small numbers of prisoners continued to be picked up, most of them stragglers and deserters. On March 17th, the 13th Infantry reverted to 8th Division control. Meanwhile, orders were received to be prepared to relieve the 104th Division in the adjacent sector to the north. This relief was completed by March 22nd, and the 104th joined the First Army forces in the Remagen bridgehead. The 8th Division now held the west bank of the Rhine from a point north of Cologne to the northern edge of Bonn. The 121st, 13th and 28th Infantry regiments extended in that order from north to south. Comparative inactivity continued. Meanwhile, First Army troops had broken out of Germany. Other Rhine River crossings by the Third Army to the south and the Twenty-First Army Group north of the Ruhr had cracked the German defenses in the West.
8th Crosses Rhine
At this time the 86th Infantry Division, recently arrived on the Continent, began relieving the 8th Division. On march 28th, the 13th Infantry was relieved by 86th Division elements, and began the Division move across the Rhine south of Bonn. By the night of March 29-30, the 28th and 121st Infantry regiments also had been relieved, and the entire Division went into the trans-Rhine sector, progressively relieving the 1st Division, on the right flank of the 78th Division along the south bank of the Sieg River.
The 13th began the Division’s offensive action east of the Rhine at 1000, March 29, when it passed through elements of the 1st Division to attack northward. The towns of Zeppenfield, Salchendorf and Neukirchen all fell to the 13th Infantry with only slight opposition. The 2nd Battalion, advancing against Herdorf and Struthutten, encountered no enemy resistance until its advance elements reached the outskirts of the towns. Within these two towns, the enemy fought from house to house until the area was cleared, shortly after midnight.
Sieg River Offensive
On the following day, the 28th Infantry joined the 13th in the attack toward the Sieg river. Small enemy groups scattered throughout the difficult terrain harassed attacking elements and impeded their advance. The 28th Infantry encountered only slight resistance from small arms. Five towns were taken during the day by troops of the 28th, as units of the regiment moved north to reach the Sieg River in several places. The captured towns were Wisen, Alsdorf, Scheuerfeld, Bruche and Betzdorf. The enemy resisted fiercely in Betzdorf and Scheuerfeld with heavy small arms, mortar and artillery fire. For the most part, however, resistance was disorganized and numerous prisoners were taken. The 13th Infantry, continuing its advance, made steady progress throughout the day. Two more towns, Sassenroth and Brachbach, were captured, and numerous groups of isolated enemy forces were taken prisoner as elements of the 13th also reached the Sieg River in several places. Several self-propelled guns were encountered during the day, and one well-dug-in tank was knocked out by a 13th Infantry patrol. On March 31st, the 121st Infantry also joined in the attack north to the Sieg River. Destroying three enemy tanks, troops of the 121st seized four towns during the day. Lanhof, Helgersdorf, Salchendorf and Griesenbach were cleared of the enemy against moderate small arms and self-propelled gun fire. The 8th Reconnaissance Troops, given the mission of protecting the Division right flank and clearing the enemy in its sector south of the Sieg, also made steady progress throughout the day. At Erndtebruck, however, several enemy tanks were encountered, one of which was knocked out. The enemy in the 13th Infantry sector re-crossed the Sieg during the night to occupy several isolated positions, from which he resisted strongly until driven out during the morning. The 28th Infantry seized the towns of Bruche and Lasdorf, and sent patrols across the Sieg. Reconnoitering a railroad tunnel, they discovered four cars loaded with bombs and two cars of small arms am82
munition. Almost 400 prisoners were captured during the day, bringing the number taken by the Division east of the Rhine to well over 1,000.
Fight for Siegen
During the night of March 31, orders were issued for the Division to cross the Sieg River and establish a bridgehead sufficiently wide so that the eastwest road long the river could be used. Meanwhile, reports from civilians were received which indicated that Siegen, major city in the Division area south of the Sieg River, was not strongly defended and might be induced to surrender. Pamphlets urging the enemy troops in Siegen to surrender before 0900, April 1st, were fired into the city at dawn. Earlier, the 2nd Battalion of the 28th and the 1st Battalion of the 13th had crossed the Sieg River and advanced almost to the bridgehead objective. The 28th’s crossing was made at the extreme western flank of the Division, while the 1st Battalion of the 13th crossed the river directly west of Siegen. At 0900, there had been no response from the enemy troops in Siegen. Final preparations were made to attack the city at 1100, after an hour’s artillery preparation. The 3rd Battalion of the 13th was to seize the western half of Siegen, while the 1st Battalion of the 121st took the eastern half. A determined enemy counterattack employing tanks and infantry hit the 3rd Battalion of the 13th just as it was about to begin its attack on Siegen. The enemy was thrown back, however, and the advance on the city began. The 1st Battalion of the 121st took advantage of the confusion caused by the enemy counterattack and fought its way into Siegen. During the day, attacking elements advanced slowly through Siegen. Repeated enemy counterattacks and heavy fire from small arms and tanks impeded progress. Thirteenth Infantry elements ran into a group of SS troops, but Company L reached the river at the north edge of the city by 1800. During the night, troops of the 121st also advanced to the river at several points. Elsewhere along the Division front, varying resistance was encountered. The 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry, attempting to seize the remaining ground south of the river in its sector, met strong resistance before taking the towns of Kaan, Marienborn and Burbach. The enemy defended these towns with tanks, nebelwerfers (rocket artillery) and heavy small arms fire. Numerous roadblocks were encountered, and the enemy counterattacked several times in the Netphen area. Enemy resistance was overcome, and the town of Netphen was cleared during the night. In the 28th Infantry sector, 100 enemy infantrymen crossed the Sieg south of the 2nd Battalion, temporarily cutting off two companies. These enemy troops were rounded up, and Wissen was cleared for the second time. Twenty-eight infantry elements secured the high ground north of the Sieg River against moderate resistance and cleared the towns of Kirchen and Betzdorf during the night. The 1st Battalion of the 13th, advancing in a column of companies, met only slight opposition north of the Sieg, took the town of Rothkirchen, its final objective, and continued to patrol. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop fought its way into Erndtebruck and Schamder several times during the day, but was forced to withdraw when tanks and strong infantry forces appeared.
Fighting in Siegen continued throughout the night. Elements of both the 13th and 121st Infantry regiments had reached the Sieg River which runs through the northern part of town. All bridges had been blown, and it was found that the river consisted of two separate streams in this area. The 121st Infantry’s 1st Battalion, reporting only light resistance, started across the river shortly after 0300 on the wreckage of a railroad bridge. Three men of Company B had crossed to the north bank of the river when the enemy struck, killing tow of them and wounding the other. A few hours later, Company A succeeded in crossing the river farther upstream. The remainder of the battalion followed Company A across the Sieg and began clearing the enemy from that part of the city across the river. The 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, also crossed both streams before daylight and continued its fight. Resistance was moderate; many prisoners were taken. Throughout the day, Division elements made good progress all along the line. The stream of prisoners—1110 for the day—was reminiscent of the Crozon campaign, eight months previous. The 1st Platoon of Company K, 13th Infantry, captured an entire German infantry battalion of 350 men and their commander in the northern outskirts of Siegen. The enemy continued to counterattack frequently. Six attempts were made by the Germans to regain their positions north of the Sieg River. Tanks, and as many as 150 infantrymen were thrown into these abortive assaults by the enemy. German losses were heavy. At 1200 that day, the Division was transferred from the VII to XVIII Corps (Airborne). It was contemplated that the Division frontage would be decreased preparatory to a coordinated attack to annihilate the enemy forces now trapped in a huge pocket. By 2200, the 2nd Battalion of the 13th had relieved the 121st Infantry elements in the eastern half of Siegen. During the night, the city was cleared of remaining resistance. The advance was continued against varying resistance on the following day. From civilian reports it was learned that the town of Lutzel, in the 121st Infantry sector, was a collecting point for German troops. Huge stores of ammunition were reported stored in that area. During the morning of April 3rd, prisoners of war affirmed that Field Marshall von Model had been in Lutzel on the previous day and that he had departed around midnight on the road to Erndtebruck. Division artillery fired two ammunition dumps near the town. Meanwhile, 121st Infantry units were continuing their advance through the difficult terrain south of the Sieg. Task Force Grover, the regiment’s reinforced raider platoon, and the 121st Infantry I & R Platoon, working on the flanks of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, assisted in overcoming the multiple German strongpoints in this area. The enemy continued his tank and infantry counterattacks, at times driving between and behind attacking companies.
The 13th Infantry, fighting north and west of Siegen, was forced several times to detach units to clear Germans who had infiltrated back into previously cleared positions. The 28th Infantry, maneuvering to overcome moderate enemy resistance, reached the high ground north of the Sieg valley. Again the number of prisoners taken was high, more than 800 being captured during the day.
Enemy counterattacks increased in intensity on April 4th. Groups of 100 to 150 infantrymen, often supported by as many as six heavy tanks, knifed their way between units all along the Division front. In the 28th Infantry sector, Company A was almost completely cut off by a strong force of enemy troops which had infiltrated behind them during the night. The enemy counterattack was finally beaten off later in the morning with the assistance of Company B. The 121st Infantry received the first of a series of counterattacks in the Netphen area shortly after daylight. Five enemy tanks spearheaded the assault on the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. Bazooka and tank destroyer fire bounced off the hulls of the German Mark V’s. The attack was finally broken up by artillery. Two of the enemy tanks were destroyed. Troops of the 13th Infantry, attempting to advance northward, discovered that several enemy groups had infiltrated behind them. One German force of almost company strength had slipped in between Companies C and K while they were attacking, and reoccupied a series of barracks behind the lines. The 2nd Battalion continued to attack, while the 1st fought off another enemy counterattack, and the 3rd attempted to mop up the enemy behind its lines. Throughout the day, the 13th Infantry fought off one counterattack after another. Shortly after 1700, two Mark V tanks, followed by a group of German infantrymen, hit one platoon of Company I, overran a platoon of three antitank guns which attempted to stop them, and charged down the main road toward Siegen. Tank destroyers were quickly maneuvered into positions along the road, and artillery fire was called down upon the enemy behind 3rd Battalion positions. The attack was finally broken up. At the same time, approximately 100 enemy infantrymen infiltrated through the dense woods and slipped behind Company L. So troublesome had the situation become that the 3rd Battalion was ordered to withdraw to the northern edge of Siegen. During the night, the troops of the 3rd Battalion fought their way back through the stubborn enemy, and formed a new line which they were ordered to hold at all cost. The enemy lost heavily by his repeated counterattacks. Many Germans were killed, and 1,287 prisoners were taken. Casualties among the troops of the Division were also heavy, particularly in the 13th Infantry. Meanwhile, the 28th Infantry was in process of being relieved of its positions on the west flank of the Division by the 310th Infantry, 78th Division. The 28th was then to relieve the 8th Reconnaissance Troop and elements of the 121st Infantry, on the right flank of the division. This was in preparation for a full offensive to be opened on April 6th. The Division was to drive northwest, taking an important part in the final reduction of the pocket of an estimated 85,000 to 100,000 enemy troops now hopelessly trapped.
The 13th Infantry held firmly throughout the following day and reorganized for an attack to recapture the territory given up in the face of enemy counterattacks. Company A of the 121st Infantry, which had advanced beyond its adjacent units, received a severe counterattack during the afternoon and was almost completely cut off. Company C fought its way through to the surrounded unit before nightfall. Several other smaller counterattacks were re85
pelled during the day. More than 500 additional prisoners were captured. Lt. Colonel Earl L. Lerette, former regimental executive officer of the 13th Infantry, took command of the 121st Infantry on April 5th. Colonel Thomas J. Cross, former 121st Infantry commander, was evacuated through medical channels.
DRIVE TO CUT POCKET
The coordinated campaign to destroy or capture all enemy forces trapped in the Ruhr-Sieg pocket began on the morning of April 6th. From the north, units of the Ninth U.S. Army were to apply pressure against the enemy in the heavy industrial area north of the Ruhr River. All along the southern rim of the pocket, units of the First U.S. Army were to drive north from the Sieg River. Other First Army units, driving deep into central Germany, had effectively sealed off the enemy pocket from the east. Maj. General Ridgeway’s XVIII Corps (Airborne), consisting at present of the 8th, 78th and 86th Infantry Divisions and the 13th Armored Division, was to make the main effort, driving swiftly northwest to cut the pocket in tow. The 78th Division, on the left, and the 8th Division were to begin the Corps assault. With all three regiments abreast, the 8th Division began its attack on May 6th. The 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 8th Reconnaissance Troop were in
Infantrymen of the 8th Division, enter the town of Wurdinghausen, Germany. The pass was under enemy fire, and part of the bridge shown fell on passing soldiers. direct support of the infantry elements. Against strong enemy resistance, the Division made only slight gains. In the are north of Siegen, particularly, troops of the 13th Infantry encountered heavy opposition from machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. The 1st Battalion was able to advance only 500 yards. Company B took the town of Seelbach after a fierce battle. At 1600, the enemy counterattacked with five tanks and strong infantry forces. Before the Germans were repelled, Company A lost its commander, Lt. Mathews Gregory, killed in action. The 2nd Battalion of the 13th fought its way through the town of Weidenau, gaining approximately 1,500 yards. The 3rd Battalion, fighting to destroy infiltrating German units which had retaken the Fischbacher barracks, north of Siegen, two days previously, finally crushed all enemy resistance by 1955. The Germans, all young, fanatical members of the 3rd Paratroop Regiment, held out until their positions were overrun. Two hundred were taken prisoner. Troops of the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, which has been fighting in Netphen throughout the night preceding the attack, mopped up that town and also captured Eschenbach. The 3rd Battalion attacked at 0600, and by midafternoon had seized Lutzel. The enemy counterattacked strongly with heavy tanks, one of which was hit with approximately 25 rounds of tank destroyer fire without being stopped. The 28th Infantry had not fully completed its shift in position at the time of the attack. The 3rd Battalion, which had gone into the line during the preceding night, jumped off at 0600 and cleared the town of Erndtebruck by early afternoon. One Tiger tank and two other armored vehicles were destroyed.
On the following day troops of the 13th Infantry gained up to 3,000 yards, while the 28th and 121st Infantry elements advanced 4,000 yards. Enemy resistance, generally, was still strong. The 2nd Battalion of the 13th fought its way into Klafeld, while the 3rd attacked Trunbach. The 1st Battalion continued to fight off counterattacks in the Seelbach area. The 3rd Battalion of the 28th continued its advance, taking Birkelbach after a brisk fight. Troops of the 2nd Battalion joined the 3rd in the attack, advancing approximately three miles. In the center of the Division front, elements of the 3rd Battalion, 121st Infantry, were able to make only slight progress against strong enemy small arms and artillery fire. The 2nd Battalion of the 121st advanced approximately 4,000 yards. Company E took the town of Eckmanhausen. Company F attacked Herzhausen, while Company G moved against Unglinghausen. Four other small towns were ordered cleared by Division units during the day. Huge stores of enemy supplies and equipment were seized. Among them were four warehouses of French, American and German weapons and ammunition, 200 boxcars, and six 350 mm. railroad guns fully mounted. Prisoners of war for the first two days of the attack numbered approximately 1,000. Substantial gains were made on April 8 in the northern and central sectors of the front. In the southern sector, the enemy continued his stubborn defense. Troops of the 121st Infantry received three counterattacks after clearing the town of
An infantryman moves cautiously past burning vehicles knocked out when an 8th reconnaissance column was ambushed near Oberbrugge, Germany. The reconnaissance troops quickly organized and returned fire with mortar, machine gun and 75-mm. anti-tank fire.
Kredenbach, Dahlbruck and Allenbach. The 28th Infantry gained 10,000 yards during the day. The 1st Battalion reached Wurdinghausen; the 2nd entered Rinseke. It was in the 13th Infantry sector that resistance was most severe. The 1st Battalion attacked through the 3rd and advanced slightly beyond Birlenbach. The 2nd Battalion cleared four small towns north of Siegen against an enemy defense of numerous roadblocks and self-propelled weapons. On April 9th, the 86th Division passed through 28th Infantry lines and went into the attack on the Division right flank. The 28th Infantry was given the mission of protecting the Division left flank, since advances during the day had placed the 13th and 121st Infantry regiments in advance of adjacent 78th Division units.
Enemy Defenses Crumble
On this day, the enemy defense in front of the Division began to crumble. Only the main roads and towns were defended, and many of these only haphazardly. The 1st Battalion of the 13th advanced nine miles during the day against spotty small arms and occasional self-propelled fire. The 2nd Battalion gained ten miles, and at the close of the period was entering the city of Olpe. Here an entire German infantry company was captured as it was going out to man the city’s defenses. Elements of the 121st Infantry also made substantial gains, advancing five to seven miles. More than a thousand prisoners were captured during the day. Eight tanks and three other armored vehicles were knocked out. Approximately 15 enemy Brig. General Bryan E. Moore awards towns were cleared; among them: Elben, the Silver Star to Pfc. Lacey Cox, Rahrbach and Krombach. It was in the Jamaica, New York, for knocking out last mentioned town that the heaviest an 80-ton tank in Netphen, Germany. fighting occurred. Rocket artillery and four enemy self-propelled guns were encountered in the city. Although his vehicle was hit by enemy fire, Brig. General Canham, assistant Division commander was uninjured.
Germans in Flight
A general crumbling of enemy defenses was apparent by April 10th. The Division made advances of eight to twelve miles. Division troops swept past numerous undefended roadblocks and scores of camouflaged vehicles parked in the woods. Among the 1,125 prisoners of war taken during the day’s operations were many artillerymen and service troops from a conglomeration of disorganized units. The towns of Olpe, Rohde, Drolshagen and Wilkemberg, and many smaller towns and villages were cleared of the enemy after brief skirmishes.
On the following day, the 28th Infantry passed through the 13th which then went into reserve. The 740th Tank Battalion had again joined the Division. Rapid advances continued. Principal resistance encountered was from enemy 20 mm. anti-aircraft guns, which were being used as flat trajectory weapons. Gains of eight to ten miles were made; 2,200 prisoners were captured. Among the larger towns taken during the day were Meinerzhagen, Kierspe and Beckinghausen. Advances up to ten miles were made on each of the following two days. Enemy forces were thoroughly disorganized, and offered only sporadic resistance. On April 12th alone, 5,067 prisoners passed through Division channels. An additional 2,500 were captured on the day following. In a tunnel, troops discovered three carloads of ammunition, six railroad guns, thirty assorted railroad cars with loving accommodations, and two locomotives with steam up. So effectively had Allied fighter planes taken command of the air that trains did not dare risk movement during daylight hours. Halver, Oberbrugge and approximately forty smaller town and villages fell to the Division in the two day period.
13th Reaches Ruhr River: Cuts Pocket
On April 14th, the 13th Infantry, which had again gone into the attack after passing through the 121st Infantry, reached the Ruhr River. At Hattingen, troops of the 3rd Battalion shouted across the river to men of the 3rd Battalion, 313th Infantry, 79th Division, telling them to call off the artillery fire in
A machine crew of the 8th Infantry Division fire cover for advancing troops street fighting their way into Schwelm.
Men of the 8th watch as thousands of Nazis are brought into a prisoner of war enclosure near Remscheid, Germany. this area. This was the first contact between First Army and Ninth Army troops during this campaign. The enemy pocket had now been cut in two. Units of the 28th Infantry, meanwhile, were encountering heavy resistance in the industrial sector north and west of Schwelm. The enemy defense consisted of four tanks, five self-propelled guns and a number of panzerfausts. Crossroads were defended with heavy small arms and automatic fire. In the towns, much sniper fire was received. Despite the strong opposition, Schwelm, Milspe, Vorde and many smaller towns were cleared, and 2,224 prisoners were taken, during advances of three to five miles.
Although the original mission of the Division had been completed, orders were received on April 15th, to continue offensive operations, attacking west along the south bank of the Ruhr River. For this operation, CC“R” of the 13th Armored Division was attached to the Division. The westward advance began at 1000, April 15th, when the 121st Infantry passed through rear elements of the 28th. Encountering heavy opposition, particularly from enemy 20 mm. flak guns, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 121st gained approximately three miles during the remainder of the day. The 28th Infantry, meanwhile, had continued its drive north to reach the Ruhr River west of the 13th Infantry positions.
CC“R” of the 13th Armored Division was attached to the 13th Infantry. Three task forces were formed, one consisting of the 1st Battalion of the 13th with armored engineer and reconnaissance elements and one company of medium tanks attached; another, composed of the 3rd Battalion and similar armored attachments; the third was comprised of the armored infantry battalion and the remainder of CC“R”. Advances of approximately three miles were made over difficult terrain. Among the principal towns cleared were Neidersprock, Hovel, Hasslinghausen and Linderhausen. Approximately 2,5000 prisoners were captured by the Division and attached units. Substantial gains were made on the following day against only sporadic opposition. Enemy armor provided a slight threat, but only one defended roadblock was encountered during the entire day. The towns of Wulfrath, Heviges, Langemberg and Hierenhof were taken. So disorganized were the enemy forces that at Wulfrath, two entire regiments surrendered intact with their commands and staffs to 121st Infantry units. A total 5,633 prisoners were taken during the day.
Division Offensive Mission Completed
Before daylight on April 17th, the 13th Infantry had cleared the towns of Wenden and Heiligenhaus to complete the Division offensive mission in this sector. All resistance ended early that morning. Only mopping up operations and the rounding up of remaining German soldiers, many of them in civilian clothes, remained to be accomplished. During the day, 8,305 additional prisoners of war were processed through Division channels. Of the 317,000 prisoners officially reported taken in the enemy pocket by all units engaged in its destruction, the 8th Division accounted for 50,192. Casualties of the Division in the campaign were approximately 1,500, of which approximately 200 were killed. Artillery support in the fast moving campaign was particularly difficult. During some days, displacements were so frequent that communication was almost entirely by radio. Toward nightfall each day, an effort was made to establish wire communications so that control could be regained and orders for future operations disseminated. Principal engineer operations during this period took place early in the advance, when numerous bridges over the Sieg River were required. For a time, the Division sector was so wide that all available bridging equipment was in use. Mines were relatively few throughout the advance. Roads were in good condition. Problems of supply and signal communication in this fast-moving campaign were numerous. Wire crews, particularly, worked long hours to keep communications with Division forward elements. On days of most rapid advance, only the frequent trips of liaison officers between units and the Division could keep organizations abreast of the situation.
From April 18th to April 26th, the Division was employed in Military occupation of a section of the Ruhr-Rhine area. Principal districts under Division control were the Wuppertal, Dusseldorf, Wissen and Mulheim areas. A number of officers and men of Division and attached units were temporarily
attached to the Military Government section to facilitate administration of so large an area. Among the chief problems of military government officials during this period was the control of displaced persons. The large cities of Ruhr, particularly Wuppertal, Hagen, Solingen and Dusseldorf, were heavily over-populated with Russian, Polish, Italian and French slave laborers. When these area had been cleared of German forces, displaced persons began looting and pillaging to gain revenge against the Germans and to obtain food and clothing. Several instances of violence occurred in the Division area until the situation was gradually brought under control. Transient displaced persons were placed in camps and provided with food for the most part from German civilian stores. There were no serious disease epidemics in the Division area, although several cases of typhus were reported in the town os Siegburg and several other overly-congested places.
TEAMED WITH BRITISH SECOND ARMY
Less than ten days after beginning on its mission of occupation and military government in the Ruhr-Rhine area, the Division received orders for another combat mission. Still under XVIII Corps control, the Division was to travel north by motor to the Luneberg area. The XVIII Corps, which included at this time also the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th Armored Division, was to attack across the Elbe, east of Hamburg, with the primary mission of protecting the flank of the British Second Army. British units, after crossing the Elbe northwest of the XVIII Corps, were to drive northeast to Wismar, cutting off the Danish peninsula. Operations of the XVIII Corps were to be under Second British Army control; administration and supply under Ninth U.S. Army.
8th Crosses Elbe
Troops of the 13th Infantry began movement to the new area on April 26th, completing the move before nightfall of the following day. On April 28th, the 13th was attached to the 82nd Airborne. On the day following, while troops of the 82nd crossed the Elbe at Bleckede, troops of the 13th held the Walmsburg sector of the Elbe River. By April 29th, remaining elements of the Division and attachments had arrived in the Luneberg-Bleckede area. At 1800 on the following day, the 121st Infantry was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. At 0100, May 1st, the 121st Infantry, with the 3rd Battalion of the 13th attached, began crossing the Elbe over the pontoon bridge previously constructed by 82nd Airborne Engineers. Relieving elements of the 505th Parachute Regiment in the bridgehead area during the night, troops of the 121st attacked northeast at 0800. The enemy resisted with scattered small arms and light artillery fire. Chief opposition was encountered at Gulze, where 250 prisoners were taken after a brief fight. Sixteen towns were taken during the day. In most of them, the enemy offered only token resistance to the powerful force of 121st infantrymen, supported by the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 740th Tank Battalion. Gains up to five miles were made, and 678 prisoners were captured. During the afternoon, the 28th Infantry also crossed the Elbe to join the attack. The 8th Reconnaissance Troop was attached to the 28th for this operation. British troops, which had crossed the Elbe at 0200 on the previous day, were advancing rapidly against light resistance. The enemy was believed incapable of anything more than token resistance to the Allied drive. Recon94
naissance flights detected a large-scale westward movement of German troops and civilians north of the British and American advance, presumably fleeing from the Russian armies.
Task Force Canham Rolls Forward
Task Force Canham, consisting principally of the 121st Infantry, 644th Tank Destroyer and 740th Tank Battalion, and led by the assistant division commander, swung into the attack at 0600, on May 2nd. The powerful mobile force was further supported by the 56th Field and 83rd Armored Field Artillery Battalions, a battery of the 445th Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, Company C of the 89th Chemical Battalion, Company C of the 12th Engineer Combat Battalion and Company C of the 8th Medical Battalion. With doughboys riding the tanks and tank destroyers, Task Force Canham began rolling at 0600. Light initial resistance was brushed aside, and the powerful 8th Division force swept northwestward virtually unopposed. Followed closely as possible by the 28th Infantry and elements of the 13th, Task Force Canham drove twenty-five miles before mid-day, halting only upon orders from higher headquarters, when it reached Lake Schwerin. Here contact was made with advance elements of the Russian armies of the north.
Schwerin Falls to 8th
More than a hundred cities, towns and villages, including the large air base and city of Hagenow and the 1,000-year-old capital city of the province of Mecklenburg, Schwerin, fell to Task Force Canham and other units of the 8th Division that day. All along the avenues of advance, large groups of enemy troops awaited arrival of American units to which they could surrender.
German soldiers coming in to surrender as the 8th Infantry Division drives north to meet the Russians beyond Schwerin, Germany.
German prisoners who surrendered to the 8th Infantry Division, Ninth U.S. Army, near Schwerin, Germany.
Enemy Troops in Mass Surrenders
Roads were jammed with columns of prisoners. On foot, on bicycles and horseback, in all types of horse-drawn and motor vehicles, troops of the defeated German armies were moving to the southwest. Men, with their women and children, their animals and whatever worldly goods they could transport, surrendered at the already over-crowded prisoner of war enclosures. The Seventh Panzer Division drove into the 28th Infantry area in tanks to surrender. Eight German generals were among the estimated 55,000 prisoners who surrendered that day. On the following day, all available troops were engaged in directing officers and men of the disintegrating wehrmacht into Division prisoner of war enclosures. The convoys of motor vehicles, tractors and trailers, horse-drawn carts and foot columns brought in more than 150,000 captives on May 3rd. Among them were ten more generals, including the Third Panzer Army commander and his subordinates. On the following day, another 39,500 prisoners were counted, bringing the total number taken by the Division since crossing the Elbe to slightly more than a quarter of a million. Captured war material reached such huge proportions that much of it wasn’t even counted. Panzer divisions obligingly delivered their tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition to Division areas. At the Hagenow air base, a large number of Luftwaffe places, some of them still crated, fell into the hands of Division units. Vehicles of all kinds, both army and civilian, were picked up— many of them to be later used in the transport of displaced persons and recaptured Russian prisoners of war from the Division area toward their homes. A few officers and men of the 8th Signal Company received the surrender of five German armored railroad trains.
Above: Scene in Schwerin, Germany, as German troops come in to surrender to troops of the 8th Infantry Division.
German and Polish political prisoners freed from the Nazi concentration camp at Wobbelin, Germany.
Brig. General Charles D.W. Canham and a party of 8th Division men link up with the Russians east of Schwerin, Germany.
Near the town of Wobbelin, in the Division area, medical units uncovered a concentration camp, where approximately 2,500 near-starved political prisoners still remained alive. These men were evacuated and cared for under supervision of the 8th Medical Battalion, as were the patients in numerous hospitals found in the Schwerin area. Several hundred emaciated bodies of men who had been starved and beaten to death in the Wobbelin concentration camp were unearthed and buried after funeral services in the town squares of nearby communities. The civilian population was ordered to attend the burials, and many German men and women were shown through the concentration camp itself.
The 8th Division had fought its final battle in the European Theater of Operations. In ten months of combat, the units of the Division had captured 316,187 prisoners of war and vast stores of enemy war material. The Division had taken a major part in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Central European campaigns. Enlisted men and officers of the Division killed, wounded and captured during the ten-month period of combat totaled 13,293. Non-battle casualties brought the total number of casualties above 18,000. On May 4th, announcement was made of the final surrender of all German troops in Holland, Denmark and northern Germany. At 0241 on May 7th, Colonel General Jodl, a representative of the German High Command, signed the unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe, to become effective at 0001, May 9th, 1945.
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