6. FROM LE HAVRE TO THE RHINE
The morning of 29 January found the 8th Armored Division once again an integral unit. Still proceeding under XX Corps operational orders to rotate each combat command in turn at the front, the Commander of CCB, Colonel Edward A. Kimball, was preparing his unit to move.
The battle-tried troops of CCA were given a chance to rest and perform vital maintenance on weapons and vehicles.
Thiacourt was the Division Administrative Center. The Division band was bivouacked in the town tavern which made an excellent site for a dance-once the tables were removed. Gen. Devine and Col. Dodge, always thinking of the welfare and morale of the men, directed the Division Special Services Officer, Major Henry B. Rothenberg, to provide some entertainment for the CCA men. A dance was suggested, but it was all the best talent of Tornado could do to find 15 girls ready, willing and able to risk going to a dance at Thiacourt. Most of the girls were already "engaged" to 5th Infantry Division men who had spent some time in the area prior to the arrival of the 8th. But 15 girls were driven to the "New Palladium" in 6 x 6 trucks. Gen. Devine, Col. Dodge and Chaplain MacArthur found partners and led off the dancing.
What should have been a rest for CCA's and fun for the girls, gave everybody in Thiacourt a severe reminder that war was close at hand. Just as the dance ended and the girls were being driven home, a large flight of heavy bombers appeared overhead. Bombs began flying through the air and bursting at the edge of the town-five hundred pound bombs at that. But the Administrative Center was ready for it under Lt. Col. Hairston the AG.
A previous plan to protect the center was put to work and the men of the center in jeeps and C & R's sped to the area where a plane had fallen and men were seen bailing out. The men of the AG section, Finance and SSO drew their revolvers and captured the men who landed but couldn't properly identify themselves. Next day the British found some of their crack Lancaster bombers en route to the marshaling yards at Karlsruhe had gotten a bit too close to each other in the air and had damaged two of their planes, which had to jettison their bombs, bail out and crash their planes near Thiacourt to add to the excitement of the CCA dance and prove that all echelons of the Division were ready for action.
The plan to commit CCB did not materialize, for hardly had combat orders been given when rescinding orders followed. Effective on 1 February and pursuant to instructions contained in SHAEF TWX SH GCT 31 2245, dated 1 February 1945, the Division was relieved from attachment to XX Corps, 3rd Army, and reassigned to 9th Army. On the same date the 8th was attached to XVI Corps in accordance with instructions in 9th Army Number 5M44: "8th AD having been assigned NUSA effective 1 February 45 is attached to XVI Corps effective same date." XVI Corps was at this time located far to the north in Holland.
During the time prior to the motor march to join the 9th Army, General Devine and members of the Division staff visited each unit of Combat Command A, awarding decorations and congratulating the men on their splendid job. The Division Commander journeyed to the Evacuation Hospital at Thionville, France, to present the Silver Star to Colonel Arthur D. Poinier, CO, 7th AIB, who had been severely wounded at Nennig.
Also prior to the long trip north the jittery members of Headquarters Company, 7th AIB, were frightened into action in their billets at Nomeny when Private First Class Charles H. List cut loose with a captured enemy "burp gun" (Schmeisser Machine Pistol). Rumors ran wild: there was an enemy counterattack- a regiment of enemy paratroopers had been dropped in town-the Germans had reoccupied the town during the absence of the Company! The actual truth brought quite a laugh.
At 0800 2 February 1945, the 250 mile motor march to Holland began. The trip consumed almost three days, as the last units of the Division did not close in on the new bivouac area until the night of 4 February. The trip was another nightmare for Division drivers; icy roads, seemingly the usual lot of the 8th on long moves, continued until the border of Holland had been crossed.
Because of snow and ice conditions prevailing on 1 February, it was necessary to provide additional traction for medium tanks, as well as some means for preventing side slip. This was originally accomplished by tank maintenance crews welding small steel blocks on every fifth grauser of the track. This method was satisfactory until hard surfaced roads were encountered. Then the blocks wore out rapidly or broke off. Finally wedges were built up using either the wedge portions of' two old wedges or suitable small blocks welded on top of the original wedge. This enabled the drivers of tracked vehicles to move over icy roads without sliding into the ditches at every turn.
Halting only to refuel and to eat "C" or "K" rations, the Division moved northward. Ingenious individuals rigged up lights to read mail or play poker during the trip. During one game Private First Class Albert Raffelli found it very difficult to see what a good poker hand he had. Other players of Headquarters Company, 7th AIB, were particularly happy to discover that he had mistaken a diamond for a heart in claiming a straight flush. Belgians greeted us at every stop in the dark with cake and cookies and got cigarettes in return.
Enroute the Division Commander received orders from the Commanding General, XVI Corps, assigning the unit initially to XVI Corps reserve. Three possible future missions were outlined in the orders: First, the 8th Armored was to hold itself in readiness and be prepared to repel possible enemy counterattacks in the Corps zone. Second, the Division was to prepare to assist the British Seventh Armored Division in its sector. (This was the Division that had earned the title of "The Desert Rats of El Almein" during the fight for North Africa.) Third, the 8th was ordered to be ready to assist the 35th Infantry Division in restoring defensive positions which had been overrun by the enemy.
The area into which the 8th Armored was moving and in which it would be engaged in future operations was a poor one for armored employment. Throughout January and most of February the terrain along the entire 9th Army front was in such condition that any coordinated infantry-armor attack was practically prohibited by unstable muddy ground. The immediate goal, crossing the Roer River, was virtually impossible, for the flooding river at several points was more than 2,000 yards wide. Enemy control of the Schwament Dam further heightened the dangers of this projected operation. The dam on 9 February 1945 was two-thirds full of water. Containing 60,000,000 cubic meters of water, the dam had seen a rise of 40 feet in five days. Division Engineer, Lieutenant Colonel Edward T. Podufaly, was warned that if the dam was blown the whole area to the 90 foot contour line would be under water.
During the last half of February, however, these conditions improved somewhat and the long-projected "Operation Grenade" of the 9th Army could be launched.
Moving by battalion serials, each combat command of the 8th closed in on its respective tactical bivouac areas by the evening of February 4. The Division was located in the general vicinity of Maastrich, Holland, with Division Headquarters at Simpelveld. CCA was quartered in the area of Gulpen; CCB was bivouaced at Margraten (site of the 9th Army American Military Cemetery); while CCR was located at Cadier-en-Keer.
Further confirmation of the various missions assigned to the Thundering Herd was contained in Field Order Number 1, Headquarters, XVI Corps dated 5 February 1945:
"8 Armd Div – (1) Corps Res. Vic Valkenberg.
Be prepared to:
(a) Move on 6 hours notice on Corps ) to execute counter- attack anywhere in Corps sector.
(b) Atch one (1) CC on Corps O on 6 hours notice to 7 Armd Div (Br) or to 35 Inf Div to assist in restoring
During the stay in these bivouac areas the 8th men had their first opportunity to see the new German V-1 rockets, which passed overhead at regular intervals enroute to the channel port of Antwerp and the British Isles. It soon became known that if one could hear the motor as the rocket passed overhead all was safe. It was only when the motor stopped that a deep hole became a real necessity. Close by the area occupied by Service Battery, 398th AFA, a German V-1 rocket crashed and exploded in an open field near the village of Saffelin, Holland. Fortunately no one was near the scene.
German planes appeared over the Division area on numerous reconnaissance missions. The most serious damage from these air visits was the interruption of several poker games which were broken up when the players dived for cover as the AA batteries went into action.
New replacements arrived to fill the gaps left by the casualties of the battle of Nennig-Berg. As no replacements had been received since the Division left the States, approximately 200 officers and men were required. 9th Army replacements (Repple Depples) supplied the 8th with 49 officers and 791 enlisted men. The resulting overstrength enabled "filler" personnel to become acquainted with a variety of jobs within the units to which they were assigned. This replacement policy of Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence L. Boyd, Division G-1, paid off in combat dividends, as the "fillers" did not thereafter have to take over jobs totally unfamiliar to them.
For the units of Combat Command A the time between 4 February and 20 February was, in general, devoted to training replacements, maintaining equipment, and reconnoitering routes. Assault training was conducted by the 7th AIB, and the 18th Tank Battalion engaged in specialized training with tank dozers. Profiting from experience gained during Nennig-Berg engagement, assault teams were trained to attack enemy pillboxes. "Training aids" for this were destroyed German fortifications northwest of Aachen.
Some members of the Division had the opportunity to visit Paris for three wonderful days. These lucky ones told such tales on their return that everyone became eager to see the sights of "Gay Paree."
For those not so fortunate the Division Special Services Office established a Division Rest Camp in the vicinity of Division Rear. Able to accommodate a capacity crowd of 200 men, the camp was equipped with bathing facilities, sports equipment, and an American Red Cross Clubmobile.
Don Rice a USO entertainer visited the troops and assisted in converting an apple wagon into a portable stage which was pulled to troop areas so he could entertain. The Division band played a concert at Simpleveld and men marched gladly to hear some good old jazz music.
At Wilrje, Holland a German jet shot up the main street and a few curious men found lead in their pants and had to be removed.
To care for the spiritual needs of the members of the 8th Armored, the chaplains were reassigned so that each combat command had with its forward elements one chaplain of Catholic faith and one of Protestant faith. This new policy proved very effective during the time the Division was in combat. Chaplains so assigned were
CCA-Captain Joseph J. Rydz, Captain Raymond T. Mattheson,
Captain Howard D. Small
CCB-Captain Alyle A. Schutter, Captain John S. Walsh
Division Artillery-Captain James W. Conlin
Division Trains-Captain Ruben A. Chapman, Captain John T. Loftus
The reconnaissance units of Combat Command A were given the mission of exploring and marking the road net running from the Division area to the front and laterally behind the lines. During this work Private First Class John Lauth, Headquarters Company, 7th AIB, was killed when the jeep he was driving hit an unmarked mine.
While this period was one of comparative leisure for the men of CCA, it was a different story for their comrades in Combat Command B. Letter of Instructions Number 1, Headquarters, 8th Armored Division, dated 7 February 1945, attached the following units to CCB:
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, CCB
49th Armored Infantry Battalion
36th Tank Battalion
399th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
Company B, 78th Medical Battalion
Company B, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion.
Headquarters, XVI Corps, seemed to have selected this unit for special attention. On February Colonel Kimball received a verbal warning order from the Commanding General, XVI Corps. Combat Command B was detached from the 8th Armored Division and put under operational control of Headquarters, XVI Corps. The mission of the Command was to move on 8 February and relieve the 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division, which was holding a defensive line extending north along Roer River from Heinsberg to Haaren. Relief was to be accomplished by 0400 on the morning of 9 February.
Preparations to effect the relief of the Regiment immediately began. The unit commanders of CCB conducted vigorous reconnaissance of the zone of the 137th Infantry Regiment. Commanders concerned made coordinated plans for the actual relief by personal contact. At the same time Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, commanded by Captain Charles C. Caserio, assisted by the Corps Engineer Battalion, was making every effort to provide a Main Supply Route from the area that CCB was ft occupy back to the supply point at Sittard, Holland. Roads were repaired and necessary by-passes were constructed in the area.
At 1245, 8 February, Colonel Kimball received an order postponing the relief operation for twenty-four hours. His unit was put on a standby alert. At the same time Headquarters, XVI Corps, directed that the 399th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Roger M. Lilly, be detached from CCB. This Battalion, together with the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dawson), the 405th AFA (Lieutenant Colonel William McG. Lynn), and Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery (Captain John R. Metcalf), was to pass to Corps control. The entire 8th Armored Division Artillery, commanded by Colonel Henry Holt, moved to the vicinity of Hontem-Selsten to fire missions in conjunction with Corps Artillery.
On 9 February CCB's pending relief operation was postponed for another 24 hours. The radio message from XVI Corps left no doubt in Colonel Kimball's mind that he was to have another day of waiting. However, any enemy monitor who might have picked up the message would have gone insane trying to figure out what was meant by
"Notify Tornado 5 'This show today postponed until tomorrow. Nuts not to be put in bag until tomorrow night.' "
The unit was to remain on a standby alert until further orders were received from Corps Headquarters. On 10 February Colonel Kimball was notified that the relief of the 137th Infantry had been postponed indefinitely. CCB was to remain under Corps control and engage in a training program of test firing and combat testing. 0 n 18 February the Combat Command and Division Artillery were released from attachment of XVI Corps and reverted to 8th Armored Division control.
Combat Command R, under Colonel Robert J. Wallace, had remained in the vicinity of Cadier-en-Keer during this period, test firing and maintaining equipment. Enemy activity was restricted to occasional planes reported and V-l's seen or heard. Per instructions contained in TWX No. IM018, 6 February 1945, 9th U.S. Army, and further implemented by General Orders Number 4, Headquarters, 8th Armored Division, dated 15 February 1945, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th Armored Group, under command of Colonel Fay Smith, was attached to Combat Command R.
This unit was integrated into CCR to form a Headquarters Company similar to the Headquarters Companies of CCA and CCB. The majority of the officers under command of Colonel Smith reported for duty as the Armored Section of the General Staff of XVI Corps. This integration formed three operating combat commands, each with a staff and a headquarters company to house and feed them. General Devine immediately set up three balanced combat commands, each with a permanently assigned infantry and tank battalion.
The 8th Armored was further augmented by the attachment of the 473rd AAA AW Battalion (SP), led by Lieutenant Colonel James R. Gifford, on 8 February 1945; and the 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Walter R. Lawson, on 9 February 1945.
The support echelons of the Division also made good use of the lull in activities. The problem of fuel supply, always an important one for an armored division, was somewhat eased when the 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion modified six M-25 Tank Transporters to carry huge cages formed from a network of iron bars. Four were to be used to haul gasoline and two to haul ammunition. The ammunition carriers could haul a maximum load of 20 tons. Each of the gasoline carriers would hold 96 five-gallon jerricans of gas, so these four vehicles carried a "rolling reserve" of 30,720 gallons of gas on the drive from the Roer to the Rhine.
Large hydraulic-operated bulldozer blades were attached to some of the Division tanks. These had to be welded together in the open, as the men of Companies A and B, 130th, had no shops large enough to permit this work to be done under cover. German planes, immediately attracted by the glow of welding arcs in the night, flew over to investigate, but did no actual harm.
Paratrooper "scares" were many and frequent. At Margraten on 9 February Sergeant Bertram Sperling of Headquarters Company, 36th Tank Battalion, dashed into the Battalion CP and cried, "Paratroopers, or something-in a tree-over in the orchard!" Men from Headquarters and Headquarters Company rushed out, led by Master Sergeant Edward Conklin, to discover, much to the chagrin of Sperling, the "paratrooper" was only an Allied propaganda leaflet balloon which had fallen into one of the trees.
During this period Divisional activities consisted mainly of all-important combat training. General Devine desired a crack outfit-one that could accomplish any mission assigned-and he assured this by carrying through a policy of vigorous preparation and training.
"Tornado" did not wait long for another trial in the crucible of combat. On 17 February General Devine received the new mission for the Division tersely summed up in XVI Corps Letter of Instruction Number 13:
"2. 8th AD with atchmts will relieve 7th Armd Div (Br), attchd I Commando Bde, in its present sector commencing 19 Feb. Details of relief will be arranged by direct communication between commanders concerned. Relief will be initiated by CC "R" 8th AD relieving I Commando Bde prior to 192400 Feb 45.
"3. Relief will be completed by 210700 Feb 45.
"4. Command of Div sector will pass from GOC 7th Armd Div (Br) to CG 8tb AD at a time to be mutually agreed upon between the commanders concerned, at which time CG 8th AD will assume responsibility for defense of the sector. This headquarters will be notified 24 hours in advance of the time control passes to CG 8th AD."
The 8th Armored as an integral unit was to be committed to battle to relieve the "Desert Rats." This British Division was along the Roer River in the vicinity of Echt, holding a defensive line running generally from Posterholt to Roermond, Holland, with the First Commando Brigade (British) located in the vicinity of Posterholt.
German opposition in front of the 7th Armored Division (British) was relatively light. British Intelligence believed that the Para Regiments Hubner, Muller, and Hermann were opposing them. 8th Armored G-2 later discovered that elements of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force) and parachute troops were also in the area undergoing infantry training. Prisoners reported that these various units had been incorporated into the 24th Para Regiment as part of the 8th Parachute Division. The enemy defenses between St. Odilrenberg and Vlodrop consisted of an elaborate system of trenches, dugouts, and concrete bunkers.
Combat Command R had been selected as the first unit to move into the line, so Colonel Wallace immediately issued a movement order. On 19 February CCR moved into defensive positions in the vicinity of Brackterbeek and passed to Operational Control of the 7th Armored Division (British) until 1400 on 21 February 1945. CCR consisted of:
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Command Reserve
58th Armored Infantry Battalion
80th Tank Battalion
405th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
Company C, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
Troop C, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized)
Company C, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion
Company C, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion
Company C, 78th Medical Battalion Armored.
From the 19th to the 23rd of February little enemy activity was noticed except for occasional fire of 75-mm or smaller caliber shells. The Germans were content to sit behind the many mine fields they had laid over the marshy terrain. Because CCB was still on the "top secret" list of 9th Army (due to the previous mission which had been assigned by XVI Corps, but not carried out), no patrolling was permitted by any unit until 23 February. On this night patrols from the 58th AIB were sent out to probe the enemy strength and determine the size and nature of the anti-tank obstacles to the front.
On the nights of 24 and 25 February aggressive patrolling was conducted all along the front of CCR's zone. Patrols found almost no resistance on the right flank, light resistance in the center of the line, and a hornet's nest of small arms and automatic weapons fire on the left flank.
Initially Combat Command A was placed in Division reserve. On 21 February this Combat Command moved to the vicinity of Schilberg. Arrangements were made for each medium tank (M-4 General Sherman) company of the 18th Tank Battalion to fire indirect fire missions in the sector opposing CCB. The 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion was also given an opportunity to fire support missions for Combat Command B.
CCB was to occupy ground between St. Odlienberg and Posterholt. Colonel Kimball formed two task forces for the occupation of this sector. Task Force Van Houten, under Major John H. Van Houten, CO, 36th Tank Battalion, was to occupy the southern section of the line. This force was composed of:
36th Tank Battalion less Company C
Company A, 49th Armored Infantry Battalion
1st Platoon, Company B, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion
1st Platoon, Battery A, 473rd AAA AW (SP) Battalion less one section
Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized).
Task Force Roseborough, led by Lieutenant Colonel Morgan G. Roseborough, CO, 49th AIB, consisted of:
49th Armored Infantry Battalion less Company A
Company C, 36th Tank Battalion
2nd Platoon, Company B, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion
2nd Platoon, Battery A, 473rd AAA AW (SP) Battalion less one section.
This force was ordered to occupy the northern section of the line which extended to Posterholt.
The remaining troops of the Command and Troop D, 88th, attached for this operation, constituted Colonel Kimball's reserve.
CCB moved into the line the evening and night of 21 February, with the CP of the Command being established in a monastery at Diergaarde, Holland. The next two days were spent preparing positions, gathering firing data, and being oriented by the British, who passed on information concerning minefields and anti-tank obstacles to the front. During the day of the 23rd paths were cleared through these mine fields by units of Company B, 53rd Engineer Battalion.
The British troops occupying the area had labored long and hard to make the foxholes and caves as comfortable and safe as possible. When the units of the 8th moved into position, they found many caves divided into rooms with bunks constructed along the walls. Company C, 36th Tank Battalion, established a "recreation hall" within 300 yards of the front lines to sell beer and cokes and show movies during the evening.
This type of combat was not to last long for the members of the 8th Armored. The Commanding General of the 9th Army, Lieutenant General William H. Simpson, had decided to launch an attack to reduce all enemy pockets of resistance on the west bank of the Roer River and to make the initial crossing of the Roer. The original plan called for the XVI Corps and the XIII Corps to attack, with the XIII Corps to establish a bridgehead over the stream. However, XIII Corps hit unexpected resistance and was not able to accomplish its part of the mission. The XVI Corps established its own bridgehead and raced for the Rhine River in the vicinity of Wesel.
The mission of the 8th Armored Division in this 9th Army "Operation Grenade" was to clear the area on the west bank of the Roer and push north to the city of Roermond. The night of 22-23 February all Division artillery, tanks of the 36th Tank Battalion, and all heavy weapons of CCB joined other XVI Corps units in laying down a preparatory barrage which preceded the Corps' jump-off at 0330 on 23 February. The 8th Armored was to remain in position until a hole could be punched in the enemy line to permit the tanks to pass through.
Communications between outposts, artillery forward observers, and the rear were very hard to maintain in this instance. Artillery would cut phone lines almost as fast as they could be repaired. Telephone linemen of the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion (such as Second Lieutenant William J. Sparkman, who singlehandedly found and repaired a break in a telephone line in full daylight under intense fire) kept the information flowing from the forward observers to the gun crews.
Aggressive patrolling continued all along the Division line. In the early morning hours of 24 February Sergeant Paul Toms, Headquarters Company, 49th AIB, led a reconnaissance patrol across the Roer River to determine the condition of a bridge and the road beyond. On the morning of the 25th, patrols from the 49th AIB captured the towns of Triest and Voorsel, Holland. The only casualties resulted from booby traps and antitank mines. Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, cleared the towns of mines and repaired the road between the towns.
During the night of the 24th Second Lieutenant William P. Ryan, Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, led a night combat patrol across the Roer River. After having accomplished its mission, the patrol returned to its lines to find that six of its members were missing! Lieutenant Ryan, Corporal William R. Healy, Private First Class William L. Denend, and Private Joseph A. Perillo volunteered to return to the area in which the patrol had been pinned down by enemy fire. The missing men were found there and returned to the Americans' side of the river.
Patrols sent on tactical reconnaissance missions on the night of 24 February reported considerable enemy activity. Large groups of men and vehicles were moving both east and west along the Roermond-Elmpt road. An enemy prisoner of war captured during the night reported that he had been acting as guide for officers and non-commissioned officers of a new enemy unit moving into the line. Some quick, effective work by the Division's G-2 Section, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Emett R. White identified this unit as an element of the 176th Volks Grenadier (Infantry) Division.
General Devine had previously ordered Colonel Kimball to prepare to attack on a wide front with a two-fold mission: (1) to clear the enemy from positions west and south of the Roer, and (2) to prepare to cross the Roer River either at Vlodrop or Saint Odilienberg, Holland. However, when General Devine learned of the new enemy situation and received from XVI Corps TWX Number 2732, dated 25 February 1945, which read in part, "Rcn in force S of Roermond by 8th AD," he decided to commit CCR in order to strike the enemy while they were in a state of movement. This operation, XVI Corps' "Plan B," was to send a combat command on a reconnaissance in force to determine the extent to which the Germans had reinforced their lines and to clear the enemy from the Roermond-Linne-St. Odilienberg triangle. The decision to utilize "Plan B" was received by the combat commanders at 1615 hours on 25 February. To give CCR more support, General Devine ordered the 7th AIB and Troop A, 88th, to be attached to the Command. The 7th, under Lieutenant Colonel Albert Mossmann, was placed in CCR reserve on the night of the 25th.
After heavy artillery preparation laid down by the 405th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the attack jumped off at 0600 on 26 February. Major George Artman's 58th Armored Infantry Battalion crossed the line of departure with Companies A, B, and C abreast. The attack was met by intense mortar and small arms fire. Roadblocks and mines slowed the advance of Major Austin E. Walker, 80th Tank Battalion, whose unit was supporting the attack. These roadblocks were heavily defended and surrounded by an immense amount of "concertina" barbed wire entanglements. Working under small arms and mortar fire, Company C, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, managed to clear the Linne-Roermond Highway. Engineers headed by Sergeant Vincent Maschio, Jr., and T/4 Fred C. Schmidt cleared a path through a minefield which lay in front of Company B, 58th AIB.
Staff Sergeant Fred W. Hamel, Company C, 58th AIB, spent 40 hellish minutes entangled in the concertina wire with a German machine gun located 200 yards distant preventing his moving. Seeing the Sergeant's predicament, Captain Paul J. Malarkey, CO, Company C, 58th, called artillery fire down on the machine gun. The artillery fire killed the enemy gunners and enabled Hamel to withdraw.
Company C, 58th AIB, commanded by 1st Lt. Ralph J. Elias, forced its way into the town of Spielmanshof. As the leading platoon reached the cover of the building in the edge of the town, it came under an intense hail of mortar and small arms fire from the Hiede Woods to the north. The platoon was completely cut off from all support. Radio contact with the artillery was disrupted and casualties began to mount. To secure a radio so that contact could be re-established, Staff Sergeant William McClain and Private First Class Napoleon L. Bourget made a tortuous 400-yard dash across an open field swept by all types of fire.
Company B, 58th AIB, was fighting its way forward to the vicinity of a factory on the left of the road. After being informed that the Company was cut off, Colonel Wallace ordered Lieutenant Colonel Mossmann to commit the 7th AIB. Company C of this Battalion (First Lieutenant Cecil M. Lane) jumped off and fought desperately to establish contact between the B Company and his own unit. After the factory was reached and contact established, Company C, 7th AIB, was withdrawn and the 7th AIB again reverted to Combat Command reserve.
The training received by support elements of the Division during the "breathing spell" in Holland had resulted in a combined effort by the 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion and the 53rd Engineer Battalion to produce a bridge-laying tank. Six of these treadway bridge-laying devices were constructed to fit the M-32 tank recovery vehicle. It was possible to lay a single span 36 feet in length or a double span 24 feet in length without dismounting from the vehicle or exposing any of the crew to small arms fire. One of these experimental vehicles, making its maiden run under fire on the 26th, faced the problem of spanning a 22-foot crater. Lieutenant Richard J. Symonds, Company C, 53rd Engineer Battalion, directed the M-32 (Tank Retriever) into position, the treadways were dropped and secured, and tanks from the 80th Tank Battalion crossed the bridge to take care of a pillbox holding up the advance.
The Germans, identified as elements of the 176th Volks Grenadier (Infantry) Division and the Para Lehr (Training) Regiment of the 8th Para Division, made a determined stand in their prepared defenses. Time fire and round after round of HE from the 405th Artillery kept the Germans pinned down in the Hiede Woods and enabled a combined tank-infantry team to enter the woods and clear the enemy from all but the northwest corner. Passing through Company B, Company A of the 58th AIB, led by First Lieutenant William T. Stockton, Jr., continued the attack in the woods. The Company was able to advance about 2,500 yards before being pinned down by heavy mortar, machine gun, and artillery fire coming from the east bank of the Roer River. Company A, completely stopped, was ordered to withdraw to a line approximately 1,000 yards to the rear in order to gain protection from the woods.
The 58th AIB was ordered to establish a defensive position the night of the 26th and to renew the attack the following morning. At 0830 on
the 27th, Company B, 58th AIB, crossed the line of departure with Companies A and C remaining in position. The men of Company B were amazed to find little opposition; the Germans had fled across the river during the night.
Casualties suffered by CCR during this action were relatively light. The 58th AIB lost 58 men as a result of enemy fire, while the 80th Tank Battalion evacuated four men.
Having accomplished the mission of clearing the area to the Roer River, CCR was alerted to move to a new position. The 15th Cavalry Group (Mechanized) was to relieve the Combat Command during the day of the 27th. After relief had been accomplished CCR was to move to the vicinity of Huckelhoven, Germany, on the other side of the Roer. The 7th AIB was relieved from attachment to CCR and became once more the infantry arm of CCA. On the 27th the Battalion returned to control of CCA, which had been in a position of reserve in the vicinity of Echt.
Troops of XVI Corps had crossed the Roer River! That was important news to members of the 8th Armored, for it meant a way was now open for the American 9th Army to reach the Rhine. And who was better suited to lead the advance than a battle-tried armored division that boasted speed, armor, and an enormous quantity of decisive firepower? The 35th Infantry Division had established the XVI Corps bridgehead on the night of 26 February.
XVI Corps Letter of Instructions Number 18 was received by General Devine on the 27th. Specific mission given the Division was for one combat command to pass through the 35th Infantry Division on the night of 27 February. This combat command was to attack to the north of its zone, on the right flank of XVI Corps, and to secure Corps Objectives 10 and 11, the towns of Klinkum and Arsbeck. The entire 8th Armored Division was to be in the zone east of the Roer by the morning of the 28th. The town of Huckelhoven was designated as the Divisional assembly point.
This Letter of Instructions also contained several broad objectives for the Division. Realizing that an armored unit could move with flexibility, the XVI CG had designated the 8th Armored to capture several important objectives, the towns of Merbeck and Amern-St. Georg being two of the most vital. After the Division had secured these towns, the 9th Army would decide the nature of further employment. Possible future missions were (1) to continue the attack toward the Rhine in the Division sector, or (2) to turn southeast and assist the XIII Corps.
Upon receipt of this Letter of Instructions, General Devine decided to send Combat Command A through the 35th Infantry Division, with Combat Commands B and R following in march column.
Brigadier General Colson was informed and preparations to move immediately began. During the late afternoon of the 27th Combat Command A started toward the assembly area in the vicinity of Huckelhoven. While enroute General Colson stopped at Headquarters, XVI Corps, located at Sittard, for further instructions. He was given a verbal order by the Commanding General, XVI Corps, to avoid the Division assembly area at Huckelhoven, pass through the 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, and continue to advance to Wegberg, Germany.
General Colson, realizing that time was of the essence because of the new change of orders, divided his Combat Command into two task forces and an advance guard while enroute. Task Force Crittenden (Lieutenant Colonel William S. Crittenden), which was to act as advance guard until the Division reached Amern-St. Georg, assembled at the head of the column. Composing this advance guard were:
Company A, 18th Tank Battalion
Companies A and B, 7th Armored Infantry Battalion
Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized)
Company A, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
1st Platoon, Company A, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
During the night of the 27th CCA crossed the Roer River via the Hilfarth Bridge, which had been captured intact by the 35th Infantry Division. Traffic congestion at the bridge consumed precious time. Members of the MP traffic control unit stationed at the bridge attempted to move two separate units across the bridge by interspersing vehicles, and the result was maddening confusion. The MP's guarding the approaches to the bridge and directing traffic attempted to do a good job, but many of them were just as confused as the men of the units waiting to cross. In this mix-up an MP at the bridge gave a section of Division Headquarters faulty directions to Huckelhoven. The section wandered about aimlessly until Captain James E. Colvin and Sergeant Eells of Division Headquarters Company effected a rescue.
The river finally crossed, task forces reformed and CCA headed for Wegberg, with Company B, 7th AIB (Task Force Crittendon), leading. After passing through elements of the 35th and 84th Infantry Divisions, the Task Force Commander received the following verbal message from General Colson:
"You're leading the Division. Enemy contact has been lost. Keep going east until you hit something. Use any and all available roads."
The Combat Command continued to move forward during the night. At 0300 on the 28th the column halted outside Wegberg at a strongly defended roadblock. Troops of Company A, 53rd Engineers, reduced this obstacle. As the engineers were working on the roadblock a bitter small arms fire fight developed between its defenders and Troop A of the 88th Cavalry. Once the roadblock was removed the enemy defenders took flight and the CCA column rolled through Wegberg toward Merbeck.
The attack on Merbeck jumped off at 0530. About one kilometer south of the town the attacking tanks and infantry met another roadblock. Company A tanks moved forward into the fields west of the road and destroyed the enemy machine gun positions with direct fire. The engineers, covered by the tanks and infantry, then removed this obstacle and the stalled attack proceeded, meeting relatively light opposition. By 0800 Companies A and B were in the town. Mopping up operations went forward under heavy artillery and mortar fire which the retreating enemy managed to throw into the town.
Next objective was the town of Tetelrath to the northeast. As the infantry companies were reorganizing to continue the attack, artillery, mortar, and small arms fire continued to pour into Merbeck. Company A, 7th AIB, moved out of Merbeck only to be pinned down by fire from both flanks and from pillboxes to the right front. The Company worked its way forward to a line immediately to the rear of the anti-tank ditch across the road, where again they were forced to halt. To add to the plight of this Company, small arms fire was pouring from practically every house on the south side of Tetelrath.
The Company Commander of A Company, 18th Tank Battalion, sent three tanks forward to bring fire on the automatic weapons emplacements holding up the infantry advance. Employing direct fire, the tanks were unable to pry the enemy loose. High velocity 88 mm shells and heavy mortar fire began forming a pattern of searching fire on the MerbeckTetelrath road about 1045.
Even direct tank fire and point-blank artillery fire had little effect on the well-entrenched Germans. After seeing that 105 mm shells from an artillery piece of the 398th were not affecting them at all, the Germans thumbed their noses at Lieutenant Mike P. Cokinos' battery. This was adding insult to injury, so Corporal Thomas Colligan and Private First Class Samuel Coleman promptly scored a direct hit on one of the automatic weapons' emplacements.
At noon Company Ag 7th AIB, was still pinned down and the heavy fire was producing many casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Crittenden ordered Lieutenant Fisher, CO, Company B, 7th AIB, to clear the woods to the right of the road so as to permit Company A to move. After a short but bitter small arms fire fight, Lieutenant Fisher informed Colonel Crittenden that the woods had been cleared.
To further impede the attacking units of CCA the hard-surfaced MerbeckTetelrath road had been heavily mined on both sides and the mines had even been dug into the pavement. These mines, the pillboxes, and the anti-tank ditch across the road had to be cleared and the obstacle breached before the attack could really get rolling.
Under cover of all available artillery and tank fire, Company A, 53rd Engineers, led by Lieutenant Warren H. Baker, moved forward. Their task was a difficult one. The mine clearing unit laid mines to one side and at one point simply held them as the tanks and infantry poured through the gap. The mines removed and the ditch breached, the tanks were able to move forward and bring the pillboxes under direct fire at almost point-blank range.
The enemy had sown mines liberally in this area. After the first troops of Task Force Crittendon had moved through the gap, the mine disposal team from the 130th Ordnance Battalion was called in to dispose of the mines. In one 200-yard stretch of the road 31 mines were dug from the pavement.
Fifteen pillboxes were destroyed by the tanks and infantry of CCA heading for Tetelrath. These pillboxes had been expertly camouflaged to blend with the surrounding terrain, and only after fire from them had been directed on the troops of CCA were they discovered and destroyed.
As the tanks rolled forward the opposition seemed to dissolve in front of them. Lieutenant Vannie Albanese's platoon of Company A, 7th AIB, captured 30 prisoners from two pillboxes. Despite the wounds he had sustained Lieutenant Albanese continued in command of his unit. The infantry elements of the advance guard entered Tetelrath and succeeded in mopping up all remaining resistance by 1620. 125 prisoners were taken from the town and the ring of pillboxes defending it. CCA had suffered 30 casualties in Companies A and B of the 7th AIB. In the 18th Tank Battalion two M-4 tanks became mine casualties and one M-4 tank was knocked out by an 88 mm gun.
The Commanding General, XVI Corps, directed that the Thundering Herd continue to advance in its zone of action and gave a new mission to General Devine. Contained in Letter of Instructions Number 21, Headquarters, XVI Corps, dated 28 February 1945, were the specific details:
"8th Armd Div-Continue adv N in Z and secure Amer-St. Georg.
Be prepared on Corps 0 either to move E to assist XIII Corps or to continue adv on Venlo. Maintain contact with XIII on R and 35 Inf Div on L."
Upon receipt of this new mission General Devine directed General Colson to order Task Force Crittendon to continue the advance toward Amern-St. Georg.
During the night of the 28th patrols from Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized), pushed across the Swalm River and brought back reports that there were two bridges across the river, intact and in good condition for tank traffic. Located about 100 yards beyond the river was a heavily mined crossroads which was under enemy observation. Frequent enemy patrols were discovered in the area. Colonel Crittendon ordered this crossroads cleared before morning of I March. Troops of Company A, 53rd Engineers, and Troop A, 88th, went forward to accomplish this task. As the men from Troop A, 88th, kept enemy patrols from the area, the engineers cleared a total of 90 Regal and Teller mines. Continuing on their reconnaissance mission, the party found an anti-tank ditch across which was a destroyed bridge. The engineers laid a treadway bridge across the ditch and, further, cleared a 150-yard abatis with a tank dozer. The path to Amern-St. Georg was open for the men of Combat Command A.
Respite for troops of CCA after the battle for Tetelrath was indeed brief. Crossing the Swalm River at 0600 on I March, CCA quickly captured the town of Waldniel and continued the advance. Only slight resistance arose at Amern-St. Georg and the town was taken by 1100 in the morning.
Task Force Crittendon was dissolved at Amern-St. Georg and Task Force Goodrich, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Guinn B. Goodrich, was formed to continue the advance. This Task Force was formed of:
18th Tank Battalion less Company A
Company C, 7th Armored Infantry Battalion
Company A, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized).
General Colson received a new mission for Combat Command A shortly after the town of Amern-St. Georg had fallen. Following XVI Corps Letter of Instructions Number 22, dated 28 February 1945, General Devine ordered CCA to proceed to the north and take the town of Lobberich. Following an hour-long artillery preparation, Task Force Goodrich jumped off at 0800 on 2 March. The attack on Lobberich was mounted from the south. Task Force Goodrich temporarily halted before a roadblock flanked by an anti-tank ditch. Upright steel bars embedded three feet apart, three rows in depth made up the roadblock. Two platoons of Company A, 7th AIB, formed a bridgehead on the northern side of the AT ditch and enabled the engineers to blow a path through the steel uprights so the tanks could move through the breach and toward the town.
It took only an hour of fierce fighting to convince the enemy defenders of the city that "to die for the Fuehrer" would be to die in vain. The men of Task Force Goodrich entered Lobberich and captured 125 prisoners. During the artillery preparation the redlegs of the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion had scored two direct hits on the town bank. The streets were covered with Reich currency when the infantry arrived! The mopping up operation continued throughout the morning and the Germans continued to surrender voluntarily. The final count for the day was 400 prisoners of war.
Shortly after the town had been taken Task Force Goodrich was ordered to move through the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, on the right flank and secure Corps Objective 23, the town of Wachtendonk. Advancing rapidly northward through the town of Hensbeck, Aerbeck, and Haizbeck, Task Force Goodrich overran all that stood in its path. The Task Force was halted outside Wankum by a hail of small arms and mortar fire from the town. Tanks from the 18th Tank Battalion poured round after round of HE into the defenses of Wankum. Resistance was overcome and the Task Force continued to move forward toward Wachtendonk, which was situated on the north bank of the Niers Canal.
The retreating Germans had blown the only bridge leading into the town. Under cover of an artillery barrage, the engineers of Company A, 53rd AEB, threw a treadway bridge over the canal. The tank-infantry team of Task Force Goodrich moved over the bridge and the town, but not the surrounding area, was cleared by evening of 2 March. Wachtendonk, a vital supply depot, contained large quantities of ammunition, rifles, optical and signal equipment. Among the installations located there was a huge synthetic oil plant.
Meanwhile the 8th, less Combat Command A, had started to move to the vicinity of Huckelhoven on the night of 27 February. The mission for the Division, as given to General Devine by XVI Corps' Commanding General, Major General J. B. Anderson, was to pass through the 35th Infantry Division zone on the right flank of the Corps area and to secure Corps Objectives 10, 11, 17, and 18.
General Devine ordered Combat Command B to move out at 1800, 27 February 1945. Moving via Sittard, Gangelt, Geilenkirchen, Randerath, and Bracblen, the Command arrived at the Hilfarth bridge on the night of the 27th. Here Colonel Kimball received new orders to push on through Huckelhoven and attack and secure the town of Arsbeck. Retaining the task force organization used with great success previously, Colonel Kimball ordered Task Force Roseborough to prepare to attack the town of Arsbeck. The march order for the Combat Command was Task Force Roseborough leading, followed by Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, 399th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and Task Force Van Houten. The Combat Command trains brought up the rear.
The attack on Arsbeck jumped off at 1300, 28 February, from the town of Gerberath, Germany. As the Combat Command in march column pushed forward, General Devine ordered Colonel Kimball to bypass all small resistance and take the town of Ober Kruchten. Further orders would issue to the Combat Command after it had secured this town.
Having encountered light resistance, chiefly small arms fire, Task Force Roseborough had cleared the town of Arsbeck by 1500 on the 28th. Preparing to move toward Ober Kruchten the Task Force halted at a blown bridge to the north of Arsbeck. Company B, 53rd Engineers, commanded by Captain Charles C. Caserio, moved forward to construct a bypass which permitted the column to move forward. Ober Kruchten was captured by 1900 that evening.
After the town had been taken General Devine ordered the Combat Command to remain in place. XVI Corps had, in effect, halted the forward movement of CCB by placing restrictions on the use of the roadnet in the vicinity of Arsbeck. This was the beginning of the Corps "pinchout" order which placed the 8th Armored Division in reserve while the Commanders of XVI and XIII Corps, Major General Anderson and Major General Alvin C. Gillem, Jr., were discussing the re-alignment of boundaries. Colonel Kimball was ordered to prepare to move to the north or northeast on Division order.
The third combat element of the Division had not been idle during this period. Combat Command R had withdrawn from forward positions in the Hiede Woods during the day of 27 February after being relieved by elements of the 15th Cavalry Group (Mechanized). Moving in march column the Combat Command had moved to the Division assembly point in the vicinity of Huckelboven. At 1800 on the 27th Colonel Wallace had received instructions to move to the vicinity of Wegberg. At that point the Combat Command was to turn northeast and close in on the area east of the town of Aldekerk.
Arriving in the designated area on the 28th CCR moved rapidly through the towns of Richelrath, Duken, Boisheim, Flothend, and Lobberich. At that point the Corps' restriction on use of the roadnet also hampered CCR's activities. Cross-country movement was infeasible, as the terrain was not suitable for tank maneuver. Since the Corps order had directed that the Division use only one lateral road between Wegberg and Lobberich, movement was seriously restricted.
Colonel Wallace, determined to aid the forward thrust of CCA toward Amern-St. Georg and Corps Objective 23 (Wachtendonk), ordered Troop 6, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, to search for possible routes by which the Command could move and come abreast of CCA's drive. Ranging far and wide, the troopers of the Squadron could find no suitable roads. Colonel Wallace, employing all means possible to move forward, contacted the adjacent 84th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General A. R. Bolling, for permission to move through its area. This permission, which would have unleashed the mobility of an entire combat command, was flatly refused. Colonel Wallace could do nothing but sit and wait during the entire day of 1 March.
Finally during the afternoon of the following day Colonel Wallace received instructions ordering him to move forward. CCR was to make an all-out dash for the Rhine River. General Devine, acting on orders received in XVI Corps Letter of Instructions Number 23, dated 1 March, 1954, ordered CCR to capture the towns of Grefrath and Moers and to secure intact, if possible, the railroad bridge over the Rhine in the vicinity of Moers. Contact was to be maintained with the 84th Infantry Division moving forward in its zone on the left flank of CCR.
Colonel Wallace divided his Command into two task forces to complete this mission. Task Force Artman, under command of Major George Artman, CO, 58tb AIB, was composed of:
58th AIB less Company C
Company C, 80th Tank Battalion
1st Platoon, Company C, 53rd AEB
1st Platoon, Troop C, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron
1st Platoon, Company C, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Task Force Walker, Major A. E. Walker, CO, 80th Tank Battalion, commanding, consisted of
80th Tank Battalion less Company C
Company C, 58th AIB
2nd Platoon, Company C, 53rd AEB
2nd Platoon, Troop C, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron
2nd Platoon, Company C, 809tb Tank Destroyer Battalion.
The remaining troops of the Combat Command constituted Colonel Wallace's reserve.
Grefrath fell to Task Force Walker by 1800 hours on the 2nd, with light opposition and few casualties. Darkness forced Task Force Walker to remain here during the night of 2 March.
Throughout this night the engineers of Company C worked to bridge the Niers Canal, which was holding up the advance to Moers, Corps Objective 25. Until they completed this task in the early hours of the morning of the 3rd, they were protected by Troop C, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
Led by Task Force Artman CCR jumped off at 0600 3 March and rolled eastward. Arriving at Vosch during the morning, Colonel Wallace separated his two task forces. Task Force Walker was ordered to proceed to Vinnbruck and secure this town before moving on to attack Moers. Task Force Artman was ordered to capture the town of Schrephuysen, thus clearing the area for lateral maneuver in the attack of Moers. As the columns of CCR moved out Colonel Wallace was willing to take all comers at even money that he would be sitting on the Rhine by 1800 hours that evening.
Task Force Walker captured the town of Saint Hubert, encountering light opposition, and moved to Vinnbruck. A blown bridge halted the column outside Vinnbruck. The engineers hastily constructed a treadway bridge and the leading tank of Company A, 80th Tank Battalion, had crossed over when the orders came to halt all forward movement, withdraw, and proceed to the Division bivouac area in the vicinity of Alderkerk-Wachtendonk-Zeigelheide. The Division had been completely "pinched out."
Meanwhile Task Force Artman had been encountering stiffening resistance. A fierce firefight, which developed in the vicinity of Saelhuysen, was quelled and Company A, 58th AIB, prepared to move out toward Schrephuysen. As the Task Force entered this town the withdrawal order arrived and the unit began immediately to move to the bivouac area.
At this same time Combat Command B faced difficulties similar to CCR's in trying to find available roads to bring itself abreast of CCA's drive. After having captured Arsbeck and Ober Kruchten, CCB came up behind the rear units of CCA which bad been moving on its left flank. General Devine instructed Colonel Kimball to move his unit laterally and into action on the left flank of CCA. However, no roads could be found to permit such a maneuver.
General Devine, knowing that Colonel Kimball's unit was relatively fresh and ready for action, decided to have CCB pass through CCA and continue the offensive. He directed that necessary details for the relief of CCA be worked out by General Colson and Colonel Kimball. The two commanders met in Wachtendonk on 2 March 1945 and decided that the exchange would take place the following day. CCB, with Task Force Van Houten leading, moved through CCA on the morning of 3 March.
Mopping up the area in the vicinity of Wachtendonk, Task Force Van Houten headed for Alderkerk. This town appeared to be well defended, and there was a possibility that enemy reinforcements would be brought up from the northeast. To prevent such a reinforcing action on the part of the Germans and to stop the escape of enemy troops located in the town, Colonel Kimball ordered Major Van Houten to bypass the city and swing around to form an outer ring of steel through which no enemy could pass. As soon as the encirclement of Alderkerk had been completed, a part of Task Force Van Houten was to assault the town from the southwest. For the assault on the town Task Force Van Houten was given air support from a 9th Army Tactical Air Squadron. Time after time the P-47's appeared over the town laden with death-dealing rockets for the enemy.
The town was not so heavily defended as had been believed, however. The Germans put up little opposition as the troops of Task Force Van Houten entered the outskirts of the town. They seemed eager to surrender and escape the pounding by air, artillery, mortar, and small arms. The last opposition was mopped up in the town about 1600 hours. The order to cease forward movement and move to the bivouac area arrived for CCB at 1700 on 3 March.
That the drive to the Rhine was so highly successful for the 8th Armored Division was due in no small part to the people who brought needed supplies forward to keep the Division's vehicles moving. The gas transporters built in Holland by the 130th Ordnance kept gasoline in the forward areas where it was needed. The system of combat supply under direction of Lieutenant Colonel Carl E. Bledsoe, Division Quartermaster, and Lieutenant Colonel H. Nelson (Gus) Lang, Division G-4, kept needed materials flowing forward. Much credit goes to the drivers of the various service companies and the 3454th and 3658th Quartermaster Truck Companies. Supply rules were broken, but no vehicle ever lacked fuel and no weapon was silent for want of ammunition. First Sergeant Robert G. Marcum, Service Company, 18th Tank Battalion, summed up well by saying, "As soon as a truck was empty it would hightail for another load instead of waiting for a convoy. It took a lot of nerve for two men to drive a single truck through territory infested with snipers, knowing one shell could send their load skyhigh."
Personnel casualties in the Division totaled 150 during this period. On the other hand, statistics showed that the drive to the Rhine was a very successful one for the Thundering Herd, fox fifteen fair-sized towns had been overrun, more than 1,300 prisoners had been taken, and numerous tanks and artillery pieces had been destroyed or captured.
Commenting on the prisoners taken and their preparedness for PW camp life, Staff Sergeant William R. Miller, MP Company, stated, "They came in carrying blankets, mess gear, extra socks, and satchels with most of them holding several copies of the Eisenhower proclamation guaranteeing fair treatment." Miller added, "One prisoner had a carton of American cigarettes which he said were issued by his company and he had the nerve to ask us for more."
During the drive to the Rhine Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Bullock, Division Signal Officer, introduced a new composition of the SOI. This consolidation greatly reduced the work of the unit communication officer.
The 8th was completely stopped, not by enemy action, but by XVI Corps Letter of Instruction 26, which directed the Division to continue its advance and mop up to the limit of its zone, then revert to Corps reserve. The 8th Armored had been "pinched out;" that is, its zone had been constricted by the advance of the 35th Infantry Division on the left flank and the 84th Infantry Division on the right flank.
This Corps restraining order was received when the Division was finally advancing in a zone with width and roadnet sufficient to permit the combat commands to maneuver. The previous frustrating inability to move had been overcome by the rapid advance of CCA and the road to the Rhine was open. Enemy resistance was disorganized and in a confused state of withdrawal. Activity was generally restricted to critical roads, bridges, and villages. Detachments of men from the 176th, 183rd, and 190th Volks Grenadier Divisions constituted the bulk of prisoners. The Germans were salvaging what they could in their withdrawal to "safety" behind the Rhine River.
The opportunity for armored assaults was ripe, but the Thundering Herd could do nothing but return to the designated area and await the next opportunity to strike the enemy. This opportunity soon arrived.
It was late night of 3 March when the 8th completed the move into the Aldekerk-Wachtendonk-Zeigelheide assembly area. But since XVI Corps had no intention of permitting an entire battle-tempered armored division to lie idle, Corps Letter of Instruction 27, received 4 March 1945, attached Combat Command B to the 35th Infantry Division, effective 2240 on 4 March 1945. CCB was to assist the 35th, which was already augmented by the 15th Cavalry Group, in pushing from Sevelen to the Rhine. The forces were to capture the Wesel bridge across the river and establish a bridgehead in that vicinity.
This new mission for the 35th Infantry Division and attached units had been made possible when Lieutenant General William Simpson, CG, 9th U.S. Army, had altered Corps boundaries. As the XVI Corps' drive had progressed more rapidly than anticipated, 9th Army had decided to permit continuation of this successful "open field running." Boundaries between U.S. 9tb and British 2nd Armies were moved northeast to the Rhine in the vicinity of Rheinberg and later further northwestward to the vicinity of Wesel.
In terms of the overall picture, the task facing the 35th Infantry and its attached forces was to close a gap at Wesel through which Germans, driven by British 2nd Army and U.S. XVI and XIII advances, were fleeing across the Rhine.
When Colonel Kimball, CO, CCB, reported to the CP of the 35th Infantry Division at Nieukerk, Major General Paul W. Baade, CG, 35th Infantry Division, gave him the mission of securing Lintfort and Rheinberg. Specifically CCB was to move from Alderkerk northeast to the tree line on the ridge overlooking Lintfort so as to be prepared to attack Lintfort itself at 050800 March 1945.
The intelligence briefing given Colonel Kimball was of a very promising nature. Only minor opposition was to be expected. Available information indicated that Rheinberg was defended by approximately 300 disorganized demoralized troops supported by a few self-propelled weapons and anti-tank guns. (However, intelligence proved "off-base" in estimating enemy capabilities at Rheinberg, and the units making the attack faced some of the toughest, bloodiest fighting in which the 8th was ever engaged.)
The Combat Command was to jump off with the infantry leading, supported by tanks and artillery, seize the town of Lintfort, reorganize and reconnoiter for routes through or around the town. After reorganization CCB was to attack northeast by the most convenient route to Rheinberg. After this town was taken Task Force Houten (Major John H. Van Houten, CO, 36th Tank Battalion) was to launch an attack to the northeast striving to reach deep into the enemy rear, seize the Wesel bridge, and force a bridgehead on the east side of the river.
Task Force Goodrich, Combat Command A, was immediately alerted to relieve CCB in the vicinity of Alderkerk during the night of 4 March so that CCB could move to its new assembly area. The 8th Armored, less CCB, was retained in Corps Reserve during the period of CCB's attachment to the 35th Infantry Division. The 88th Cavalry, (Mechanized) less Troop B was used to clear isolated pockets of resistance in Budberg, Eversael, and 16 other nearby towns. Patrols were dispatched daily and ranged from the vicinity of Rheinberg to the southern border of Corps Area along the west bank of the Rhine. Before CCB left the Division assembly area, Colonel Kimball dispatched Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, to find routes to the objectives and ascertain the general condition of the roadnet. At 0100 this reconnaissance reported the route satisfactory for tank movement. The only obstacle reported was a blown bridge on the road to Lintfort; under Colonel Kimball's orders Company B, 53rd Engineer Battalion, protected by the 3rd Platoon, Company C, 49th Armored Infantry Battalion set out at 0430 5 March to construct a suitable bypass.
Meanwhile the Combat Command had moved from Alderkerk, reaching the forward assembly area on the ridge at approximately 0630. Colonel Kimball decided to retain task force organization used in the drive to the Rhine, so Task Force Roseborough again consisted of:
49th Armored Infantry Battalion, less Company A
Company C, 36th Tank Battalion
2nd Platoon, Company B, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion
2nd Platoon, Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
The "armor heavy" task force under Major Van Houten was again composed of:
36th Tank Battalion, less Company C
Company A, 49th Armored Infantry Battalion
1st Platoon, Company B, 809th Tank Destroyer Battalion
1st Platoon, Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
From 0630 to 0800 5 March, Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, was still scouting the area for suitable routes near Lintfort. As all previous intelligence reports had indicated that relatively light opposition was to be expected in both Lintfort and Rheinberg, no provision had been made for air reconnaissance beyond Lintfort. The air reconnaissance team had reported no appreciable enemy activity in the vicinity of Lintfort on 3 March.
Blood-red clouds filling the sunrise sky on the morning of 5 March may have been an omen of the bloodshed ahead for men of CCB. At 0830 Task Force Roseborough crossed the line of Departure dismounted (the bypass had not been completed by the engineers) and entered the outskirts of the town of Lintfort at approximately 0900. Here, at the small village of Pitgen, the Task Force effected a junction with the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, which was to move on the left flank during the attack on Lintfort. At approximately the same time that this coordinated movement got underway, heavy enemy fire hit the Task Force. This fire, coming generally from an easterly direction, caused the 3rd Battalion units to lag behind Task Force Roseborough.
However, once inside the town the Task Force met relatively light opposition and the town quickly fell. Some small isolated pockets of resistance had to be cleared after Task Force Van Houten had passed through, but this task was completed in two days.
Company B, 49th AIB, turned north to engage the enemy on the outskirts of the town as the Task Force moved through, while Company C began clearing the southern edge.
Meanwhile Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, had moved by an outside route around Lintfort on the way to Rheinberg. Colonel Kimball ordered Lieutenant Colonel Roseborough to secure the east side of Lintfort and the outlying area to permit Task Force Van Houten to pass through the town and launch the attack on Rheinberg. A large amount of small arms fire was anticipated northeast of Lintfort, and the tanks of Task Force Van Houten were more suited for an assault against this type of defense than the armored infantry elements of Task Force Roseborough.
Colonel Kimball ordered Task Force Van Houten to bypass the column of vehicles of Task Force Roseborough and move into Lintfort, so Task Force Van Houten immediately began to double the column into the town. The Task Force moved with Company A of the 49th AIB "married" to the tanks of Company A, 36th Tank Battalion: that is, tank, halftrack, tank, halftrack, down the line.
When Task Force Van Houten reached the outskirts of Lintfort it halted to wait for a report from Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. Radio contact with the reconnaissance elements proved impossible and Colonel Kimball ordered Major Van Houten to move out against Rheinberg without further delay.
Halfway to Rheinberg Major Van Houten divided his force into two attacking elements: one led by Captain David B. Kelly, CO, Company C, 36th Tank Battalion, which was directed to attack Rheinberg from the south, the other, under command of Captain Kemble "Cowboy" Tucker, which was to move into the town from the southwest.
The German defense line had been formed with Rheinberg and Ossenberg as the chief links in the main line of resistance (MLR). The line had been set up in order to take advantage of long-range fields of fire for antitank weapons, the terrain between Lintfort and Rheinberg being flat and providing no cover for attacking tanks. The area is a maze of canals and streams which generally converge on Rheinberg and restrict cross-country movement of armored vehicles.
Task Force Van Houten moved out with Company A, 36th Tank Battalion, commanded by Captain Kemble "Cowboy" Tucker, in the lead. The advance elements reached Schmidt Brook, a short distance from Lintfort, at approximately 1400 and here encountered the reconnaissance elements held up by intense small arms fire. Captain Tucker informed Colonel Kimball of this situation. He radioed, "Shall I bypass and double the 'Recon' column and keep going?" As only small arms fire had been encountered up to this point, Tucker was ordered to keep moving, maneuver toward the east, then northeast, and turn north to Rheinberg.
Company A, 36th, accompanied by lst Platoon, Company A, 49th AIB, doubled the reconnaissance column and proceeded north. Moving through a patch of woods, the tanks drew heavy fire. An intense fire-fight developed. The enemy was on all sides; the tankers were having a field day. Captain Tucker reported gleefully:
"I'm killing Germans left and right. Just got a Mark IV tank. Having a good time. I also got a truck and a half-track."
Leading Company A, 36th, with the attached infantry platoon, Captain Tucker reached the Fossa Canal Bridge (near Ratschendorf), which was blown as the tanks approached. Heavy small arms, bazooka, artillery, and anti-tank fire continued to rain down on Captain Tucker's small force. Mines took a toll of tanks. Bazookas and anti-tank guns were doing the same. Fire poured from the woods north of the canal, from foxholes, from houses along the road, and from enemy positions southwest of Rheinberg. The infantry platoon was completely pinned down.
The tanks of Captain Tucker's company could neither maneuver nor move ahead. "All we could do was sit there and sweat," recalled Sergeant Vernon McLean. "We were hemmed in. We couldn't turn." Despite this exposed position Corporal William Grote, tank gunner, knocked out a scout car, a Mark IV tank, and four AT guns. After an 88 mm shell had ricocheted off the front of the tank Grote and the rest of the crew wiggled to safety.
Lieutenant Wesley S. Buller, Platoon Leader in Company A and later Battalion S-1, crawled out on the rear deck of his tank after it had been knocked out and covered the escape of his crew with a blazing .50 caliber machine gun. He sprayed houses and enemy emplacements and later entered a fortified house and killed 15 enemy snipers.
Company A, 49th AIB (Captain Wade H. Corder), less 1st Platoon which was following the tanks of Company A, 36th, ran into heavy enemy fire at Ratschenhof and Kereschenhof. Germans had set up defensive interlocking fields of fire from machine guns, burp guns, mortars, and anti-tank guns. Major Van Houten ordered Captain Tucker to get in front of the infantry elements and help them move forward. This was accomplished under continual mortar and anti-tank fire. The unit began to advance cross-country parallel to the Fossa Canal and was again forced to halt because of intense fire.
Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, which had been pinned down at Schmidt Brook, followed in the path of Company A, 36th Tank Battalion. Lieutenant William P. Ryan's armored car (M-8) bogged down while attempting to bypass one of A Company's tanks which had been hit and was afire. Intense anti-tank fire knocked out the car, killing Lieutenant Ryan and wounding T/5 Edwin J. Kowalczyk. T/5 Kowalczyk managed to operate the car's 37 mm gun until Corporal William R. Mealy dismounted under fire, hooked a tow cable on the damaged M-8 and succeeded in moving it from the area.
lst Platoon, Company A, 49th, remained pinned down for about an hour. Then Captain Tucker gave the order to move forward and the unit managed to fight its way to a point some 100 yards from Rheinberg. The Platoon was divided into three groups-one under command of Lieutenant Robert E. Ames, Platoon Leader, and Technical Sergeant William N. Merril; one directed by Staff Sergeant Herbert M. Schaub; and the third led by Private First Class Rocco M. Zuccarella. Company A was forced to halt again because of terrain and anti-tank and mortar fire. The Germans had ringed the town of Rheinberg with 88 mm anti-tank guns and, to provide protection and added fire support, had placed twin 40 mm antitank weapons in close proximity to each 88 mm.
The German defenders of the area allowed the tanks of Task Force Van Houten to move into their midst. They held their fire until the tanks were very close. About one half of the tank losses suffered by CCB can be attributed to Panzerfaust fire from German paratroopers dug in along the road.
The infantry and dismounted tankers from knocked-out tanks remained in position until they could move to the rear to reorganize under cover of darkness. Company A, 36th, had been badly battered in the day's action, but they had taken a heavy toll of the enemy. Even though Company A had suffered intensely, its battle spirit was exemplified by the last message from the fatally wounded Captain Tucker. Groggy from the loss of blood, one arm shot away, he was typical of the men who refused to stop fighting, "I'm a one-armed cowboy now-let's go cowboys!"
Another example which typified the spirit of Task Force Van Houten's men was the manner in which Private First Class Roy S. Doan, Jr., Company A, 49th, carried out his duties. Although painfully wounded he refused to disclose the fact and stayed with his squad. Finally he collapsed and was evacuated.
Meanwhile Company B, 36th Tank Battalion, commanded by Captain David B. Kelly, had moved from Lintfort generally north and east onto the main north-south road to Rheinberg. B Company tanks lacked infantry support as they moved down this road. At Winterswinck intense small arms and Panzerfaust fire was concentrated on their advance, so Captain Kelly requested Major Van Houten to send infantry support to help dislodge the enemy bazooka teams, dug in five or ten yards apart on both sides of the road, which were inflicting heavy damage on B Company tanks.
Captain Kelly, directing the battle on foot after his tank had been knocked out, distinguished himself by his outstanding leadership under fire. Collecting the crews of knocked-out tanks, Captain Kelly formed small groups to attempt to clear the area of German Panzerfaust teams. Armed only with M-3 Submachine Guns, the dismounted crews had little success in clearing the area.
Major Van Houten collected the elements of Company A, 49th, that were not with Captain Tucker's unit and four tank destroyers and took them to the assistance of Company B, 36th. Enroute he contacted Lieutenant Colonel Roseborough, requested, and received assistance from Company B, 49th AIB. Company C, 36th Tank, commanded by Captain Stanley Bodin, returned to control of CO, 36th Tank, and was ordered to move to the assistance of Captain Kelly's men.
Company B, commanded by Captain Clarence E. Smith, was in an assembly area in Lintfort. Upon receipt of Colonel Roseborough's orders to assist Major Van Houten, the unit moved to the vicinity of Strainers; here it dismounted to move forward with Company B, 36th. Company B, 49th, moved out with the 1st Platoon on the left of the road, the 4th Platoon on the right, the 2nd Platoon in support, and the AT Platoon following the 1st Platoon. The combined tank-infantry team moved forward in a new attack on Winterswick.
As Major Van Houten was personally directing the disposition of these units a hit on his tank ignited a fire on the rear deck. Private First Class Edward Murray, Headquarters Company, 36th, the loader, hopped out of the tank in the midst of small arms fire to extinguish the blaze before any serious damage could be done.
Company B, 49th, was met by an accurately directed "one-a-minute" barrage of 88 mm direct fire. A gap of 350 yards developed between the 1st and the AT Platoons, and the 2nd Platoon crossed the road to fill in this gap. During the advance through the town three 88 mm AT guns were destroyed, along with two 20 mm guns. At the north edge of town the infantry elements were pinned down by interlocking machine gun fire.
An enemy strongpoint in a large building on the east side of the street was cleaned out by Technical Sergeant William C. Lowry, Private First Class Charles J. Righini, Private First Class James J. DeDecker, and Private First Class Earl Davis. These men were instrumental in capturing 50 prisoners and weapons. Sergeant Lowry had the prisoners "fall in" in three ranks and proceeded to march them back to the "PW cage" set up in the first house cleaned out on the edge of town.
Captain Smith, directing B Company's advance, was with the leading elements of the 1st Platoon when he was instantly killed by an artillery shell. Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. Meech assumed command of the Company.
The town of Winterswick was cleared and a third assault on Rheinberg was launched by Company B, 36th, and Company B, 49th. Three of the tanks succeeded in penetrating the defenses of the town, but were soon knocked out. Still, a foothold in Rheinberg was held until relief by the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, was effected at 1900 hours. Then units of CCB withdrew to Winterswick to reorganize.
At 1500 before Company B, 49th AIB, and elements of Company A, 49th, had been able to move to the assistance of Captain Kelly's B Company tanks, Colonel Kimball had ordered Captain Edward H. Look S-3 49th AIB to gather what infantry he could and go to Captain Kelly's assistance. Captain Look collected the AT Platoon of Company C, 49th, and five half-tracks from Company B, 49th, in all about 30 men, and moved out. On the road to Winterswick this small unit met Major Edward J. Gurney, Jr., Executive Officer of the 36th Tank Battalion, who was with elements of D Company, 36th Tank, commanded by Captain Arthur C. Erdmann. This Company had originally been ordered to occupy an attack position southeast of Alterspan Wood, but their scheduled attack on Rheinberg was ordered postponed for awhile by Major Van Houten.
Gurney took command of the combined detachments and ordered the 1st Platoon of D Company to lead the advance of the small force. The infantry element split into two groups, one directed by Captain Look and the other by Technical Sergeant William A. MacFadden. Moving dismounted with one group on each side of the road, this unit ran into heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire which forced the groups to spread out. Captain Look sent Staff Sergeant Nicholas J. Prokop, Company C, to the rear to collect the stragglers, and during this action Staff Sergeant Prokop was killed.
Fighting forward under heavy fire the unit managed to reach the bank of the railroad tracks at Rheinberg Station. At this time the last remaining tank of the original five of the 1st Platoon, Company D, turned into the road to cross the tracks and was knocked out moving into Rheinberg. Captain Erdmann was thrown clear of the tank before it caught fire, and subsequently he was carried to safety, but others of the crew were killed. The small infantry force withdrew through small arms and MG fire.
Major Gurney was seriously wounded and Private First Class Thomas D. Cook was badly wounded during the withdrawal. Barricading themselves in a large warehouse on the edge of Rheinberg, Captain Look's detachment remained in this position until approximately 1730. A German medic was captured and Staff Sergeant Frank M. Burney of Company C was chosen to conduct him to the rear and contact the Battalion. This attempt was unsuccessful and the detachment remained barricaded in the warehouse throughout the night. Contact was re-established the next morning.
The attack on Rheinberg also engulfed Company C, 49th AIB (Captain Elmer Clark), before it was carried through successfully. This Company moved out of Lintfort at approximately 1300. Terrain and traffic caused some delay and confusion. Ordered by Major Van Houten to attack on the right flank of Company B, 36th, the infantry moved out in the approach march with the 1st Platoon on the left, the 2nd Platoon on the right, and the 3rd Platoon in support. Advance elements were pinned down by heavy small arms fire, and Lieutenant Felix F. Kupris, 1st Platoon Leader, was killed by machine gun fire. Captain Clark ordered the 1st Platoon to advance as far as possible on the left. Movement was facilitated by the accurate fire of Technical Sergeant Edward J. Rutkowski's light machine gun and mortar squads. Sergeant Rutkowski's exemplary leadership won him a battlefield commission.
The 3rd Platoon on the extreme left flank began pushing back the defenses. To help exploit this success Lieutenant Charles Young, Platoon Leader of the Assault Gun Platoon, 49th, moved two assault guns up behind the 1st Platoon to render close support.
Enemy fire was extremely heavy and aid men were not able to move to the assistance of the wounded infantrymen, so the infantrymen themselves served as aidmen. Private Thomas W. Howard, 3rd Platoon, and Sergeant Lionel W. Cooke, AG Platoon, loaded a wounded man on the rear deck of the assault gun while under machine gun fire. Private Kenneth M. Edmunds crawled forward under enemy fire to minister first aid to two wounded men of Company C.
At least 15 enemy soldiers were killed and 137 prisoners captured during this action, which ceased at approximately 1800. The Company dug in on the ground to await further orders.
Final tally of the battle for Rheinberg shows not only the determination of the men of the Thundering Herd to accomplish their mission, but also the fanatic defense put up by the Germans in an attempt to hold open the Wesel "escape route." The 49th AIB suffered 68 casualties, while the 36th had 131 either wounded or killed in action. From the enemy ranks 512 prisoners were taken and 350 killed. The 36th Tank Battalion lost a total of 41 tanks. Baker Company had lost all but six tanks. Able Company fared somewhat better, but a final count showed 11 of its tanks knocked out. D Company, which had been ordered to attack from the southwest, left 17 of its 18 tanks along the road and the remaining tank had to be withdrawn. The combined tank-infantry force destroyed or captured from the enemy:
14 88 mm anti-tank guns
16 20 mm anti-tank guns
4 Mark IV tanks
1 SP 75 mm gun.
The Germans had intended to defend Rheinberg strongly in order to withdraw as many men and as much equipment as possible behind the temporary safety of the Rhine. Here in Rheinberg the Germans had employed anti-tank guns en masse. The entire city was ringed with 88 mm guns supported by 20 mm and 40 mm anti-tank guns. Along all routes and approaches to the town the enemy had prepared positions. Fanatical members of the Second Para Regiment were dug in and well armed with automatic weapons and Panzerfausts. These defenders were supported by a large quantity of heavy artillery, including guns of 150 mm, which were "zeroed in" on every prominent terrain feature of the surrounding area.
Badly battered but proud, CCB reorganized during the night of 5 March and awaited new orders. The 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, expanded the foothold in Rheinberg and cleared the town of all effective opposition by 2300 5 March. During the night Combat Command B, 8th Armored Division, was attached to the 137th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel William S. Murray. The combination of CCB and the 137th, known as Task Force Murray, was to continue the attack to the northeast on the morning of 6 March.
Heroism and gallantry in action had keynoted the advance of the Tornado units on 5 March. Two 49th Medical Detachment aidmen, Private George Vukich and Private Nicols A. Verness, operated upon 1st Lieutenant Bun Baldwin, Jr., under fire and amputated his shattered leg using only a German straight razor. Lieutenant Baldwin, Headquarters Battery, 399th AFA Battalion, acting as a forward observer in Rheinberg was wounded by an artillery blast. During the crude operation Lieutenant Baldwin used the strap on his binocular case as a tourniquet. The action of the two aidmen saved the wounded officer's life.
T/5 Raymond H. Kurtz, another 49th aid man, went to the assistance of three wounded men after he himself had been wounded. He managed to drag the men to safety and continued to treat them until he lost consciousness.
The valor of Lieutenant Herbert L. Erickson, Company B, 36th, has seldom been equaled. Wounded in the face, he single-handedly killed the six man crew of the 88 mm gun which had knocked out his tank. After being fired upon by six more Germans he threw away his empty carbine, grabbed a submachine gun and killed them. He mounted another tank and continued to fight. The tank was later found burned out and Lieutenant Erickson was listed as missing.
The courageous action of Lieutenant Charles Young, Headquarters Company, 49th AIB, saved the lives of several members of the Assault Gun Platoon. While bringing up ammunition, his halftrack was taken under direct fire by a SP 75 mm gun. Armed only with a .45 caliber pistol Lieutenant Young flushed out and killed the sniper who was directing the SP weapon fire. Artillery from the 399th Armored Field Artillery subsequently destroyed the weapon.
T/5 Arthur O. DuBois, Troop B, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, captured several prisoners in a house near the bank of the Rhine River. Advancing under constant small arms and sniper fire across 200 yards of open ground, he eliminated a sniper holding up the advance of his patrol.
Leadership and spirit displayed were superb. Non-commissioned officers assumed command when their platoon leaders became casualties. Injured men grabbed their weapons and carried on. Even the seriously wounded waved on tanks and infantrymen offering to stop to assist them.
The desire to move into the forward areas was felt by everyone, even the mess personnel of Company B, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion. In Lintfort General Baade encountered "Pop's Coffee Shop" with the remark, "In all my army career, this is the first time I've seen a mess truck in the spearhead of a drive; get that ***** off the road!"
The members of B Battery, 399th AFA (Captain Marvin Sather), had a real scare while they were being re-supplied with ammunition by Service Battery. The ammunition was being unloaded and sorted out to the gun sections when a round of counter-battery fire landed between the ammunition pile and Sergeant Robert Vannetto's M-7. It failed to go off! Had it exploded half the battery might have been added to the casualty list.
The time for rest, re-supply, and reorganization was all too short for the battle-weary men of CCB, for the attack to the northeast was to resume at 0700 on the morning of 6 March. Colonel Murray divided his task force into three groups for the assault:
Group I Task Force Van Houten
3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment
Group II Task Force Roseborough
Group III 137tb Infantry Regiment less 3rd Battalion.
Each group was a tank-infantry team with an average of 1 tank platoon and 1 tank destroyer platoon moving with each company of infantry.
The general plan of the attack from Rheinberg to the northeast was two groups abreast, one in reserve. The attack was to proceed along the highway north from Rheinberg to Grunthal, north through Broth and Buderich, then to the Wesel bridge and the Rhine. Groups I and 11 were to move abreast to Grunthal. At this point Group III would pass through Groups I and 11 and proceed north of Wesel.
At 0700, the bridge across the canal north of Rheinberg having been repaired, the attack moved out. Almost immediately it ran into another well-planned wall of fire. The entire area from Rheinberg to Ossenberg was under observed, direct anti-tank and heavy artillery (170 mm) fire. (This area was aptly named "88 Lane," with its end at the town church in Rheinberg called "Suicide Corner.") From the first crossroads north of Rheinberg to the town of Ossenberg the road forward was lined with machine guns, riflemen, and panzerfausts. Each house had to be cleared by dismounted infantry.
The attack of Group I was led by Company C, 36th Tank, and Company 1, 137th Infantry. The advance bogged down under intense artillery, antitank, and small arms fire. Mines along the highway further restricted movement of both Groups I and 11, and throughout the 6th gain of ground was negligible.
Colonel Murray called for heavy concentrations of artillery on enemy positions throughout the night of 6 March. During this artillery concentration Captain Marvin Sather, CO, Battery B, 399th AFA, was wounded while adjusting fire from the church steeple in Rheinberg. On the 7th Lieutenant Arthur M. Blatman of the same battery was killed by mortar fire while observing artillery with the leading platoon of Company A, 49th AIB.
The attack moved out against heavy resistance on the morning of the 7th. Only after the tankers had called for "time fire" (M-54 shells) and had buttoned up and moved forward were the leading elements of Groups I and 11 able to secure a foothold in the vicinity of Grunthal at 2100 on the 7th.
At 0500 8 March Group 11 attacked the Solvay factory area on the outskirts of Ossenberg. This unit moved out at 0530 with Company C, 49th AIB, as the advance guard. The objective for Company C was the woods north of Ossenberg in the vicinity of Little Borth. Moving along the factory wall at the Solvay works, Company C proceeded north on the left fork of the road running through Ossenberg. Deployed with 3rd Platoon on the left, 2nd Platoon on the right, and 1st Platoon in support, Company C moved into the woods. Intense small arms and direct 20 mm fire pinned down the advance and tanks were brought forward to help dislodge the dug-in infantry. One tank was knocked out and caught fire, but no one was killed due to the heroic action of Staff Sergeant William J. Rogers, Company C, 49th, who removed the wounded tank commander. Company C, remained in these positions under a constant hail of artillery and mortar fire throughout the night of the 8th.
Meanwhile Group I had continued to move forward after the factory area had been secured. A brief but fierce counterattack which had been mounted to the north of the factory hit Group I but was broken up before any hard-won ground was lost. A Mark 11 and a Mark IV tank were destroyed in this vicinity. Company C of the 36th was relieved by Company A of the same unit. This group moved on the west side of the Rheinberg- Ossenberg-Grunthal Highway and halted at a point near Millingen.
At 0500 on the 9th the attack was resumed and the town of Ossenberg was secured. This town was full of church spires which had provided wonderful OP's for enemy artillery. The attack pressed forward and secured the town of Borth where two ammunition dumps were blown up. The Task Force then succeeded in clearing Wallach.
At the same time the units of Group 11 weave having a difficult time holding their forward positions north of Ossenberg. Under intense artillery fire throughout the day, Company C, 49th AIB, was able to move forward and finally clear the woods at 0120 10 March. Colonel Murray ordered all units to remain in position and dispatch patrols to mop up the area.
Per instructions contained in XVI Corps Letter of Instructions Number 31, dated 9 March 1945, CCB was relieved of attachment to the 35th Infantry, effective 2400 the same date. The Combat Command was ordered to move to the Venlo, Holland, rest area. The relief of the units of CCB the men was accomplished during the 10th and 11th of March.