Heroes: the Army
"... Bullets from long bursts of machine gun fire are now cracking all around us. Mortar shells begin exploding just behind us. Sergeant Radice, who is bringing up the rear after finally leaving the shelter of the house, is hit almost immediately. His body threshes convulsively as Greenfield runs to his side..."
MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 - September 1945 MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 - September 1945
Edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible
Printed September 1995
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1. PREPARING FOR OVERSEAS
1.1. Camp Swift
1.2. Troop Train
1.3. Fort Dix
1.4. Camp Kilmer
2. CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
2.2. Life on a Troopship
3. MOVING TO THE FRONT
3.2. A Different Troop Train
3.3. Across the Border
4. FIRST SHOTS
4.1. Into the Front line
4.2. First Day at the Front
4.3. Events in the Nights
4.4. Making Ourselves at Home
4.5. The Island 4.6 Random Shots
4.6. In Division Reserve
5. EDEREN 5.1 First Views
5.2. Buried Alive
5.3. A Combat Patrol
6.1. Riflemen's Views of the Battle
6.2. After the Assault
6.3. A Glimpse Through an Enemy's Eyes
6.4. Civilians under Fire at Welz
7. HOLDING THE LINE
7.2. Laying Wire and Digging Holes
7.2.1. Christmas, 1944
7.2.2. An Unforgettable New Year's Day
7.3. On the Front Line at Lindern and Linnich
7.3.1. Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night
7.3.2. Trading Hand Grenades
7.3.3. Frigid Outpost in the "Roer Pocket"
7.3.4. A Flood in the Night
8. ATTACKING ACROSS THE ROER TO THE RHINE
8.1. Preparations for Roer Crossing
8.1.1. A "Dry Run"
8.1.2. A Night of Confusion
8.1.3. A Night on the Dike
8.2. D-Day Crossing
8.2.2. The Crossing
8.2.3. On the Far Side
8.3. Movement and Battles
8.4. At the Rhine
9. SWEEPING FROM THE RHINE TO THE ELBE
9.1. Mopping Up Bypassed Forces
9.2. The Watch at the Elbe
10. AWAITING TRANSPORT TO JAPAN
10.1. Gross Garz
10.2. Nauendorf, Thuringia
10.3. Iggensbach, Lower Bavaria
10.4. The End
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON,
Company K, 407th Infantry
McGUIRE, Manfore H., PFC
WHITAKER, Whyte W. Jr., PFC
LAHTI, Eljas O., PFC
VAN ATTA, Arthur H., PFC
STUMPFF, Hal N., S/Sgt
SCHAIBLE, William L., PFC
HAUBENREICH, Paul N., PFC
WANNAMAKER, Joseph E., Sgt
HARRIS, James R., Sgt
HUFFMAN, John D., PFC
DUNLAP, Wurtsbaugh H., PFC
GROTZ, Wesley H.
BARON, Matt, PFC
BOWAR, Manuel F.
DELANO, Ysidore, PFC
SMITH, Robert A., PFC
WOELKERS, Frederick J. Jr., PFC
FIORI, Frank J., CPL
BEHAN, Joseph C., Sgt
CURCIO, Salvatore, Sgt
FRANCOLINI, Sergio F., S/Sgt
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1 July 1944
Arrive at Fort Dix, New Jersey on troop train from Camp Swift, Texas.
Move to Camp Kilmer (staging area for New York Port of Embarkation).
Depart Staten Island, NY aboard S.S. Santa Paula.
Cross English Channel from Weymouth, anchor in Cherbourg harbor.
Go ashore, move to Area M, near St. Pierre Eglise. Go into bivouac.
Hike 14 miles to Valognes, depart in 40-&-8 car in troop train.
Arrive Hasselt, Belgium, ride trucks to Brunssum, Netherlands, hike into Germany, bivouac between Brunssum and Teveren.
Hike into Teveren, take over defenses from 29th Division troops. Guard "Island," patrol, forage. Saunders killed by artillery shell.
Relieved by British 43rd Division, move to rear.
Bivouac in forest by British artillery near Dutch-German border.
Ride trucks, then hike to Puffendorf. Wait until midnight.
Hike on to Ederen, relieve 406th Infantry troops.
Combat patrol hits corner of Welz, Mansour shot.
Attack; take Welz from 10th SS Panzers. Radice, Hurley killed, many wounded
Get replacements: Love and Hansen.
Actions under fire in and around Welz. Amore, Love killed, more wounded.
Move toward Rurdorf. Return to reserve in Welz.
Replacements: Reist, Voccio, Milgate, Pokorski, Phillips, Schmidt, Summers Ride trucks to Eigelshoven, Holland for "rehabilitation." "Battle of the Bulge" starts. Pull out of Eigelshoven.
Arrive back at Welz.
Move into foxholes near Gereonsweiler. Start laying wire and digging holes.
Move into house at edge of Gereonsweiler. Continue work on defenses.
Christmas Day. Leaflets, dinner and religious services. Then back to work.
25 Dec 1944
Somers arrives, is killed. Baron, Delao, Francolini, Lahti, Phillips wounded.
1 Jan 1945
Lt. Welti sick; goes to rear, never to return to Second Platoon.
Lt. John Wilson arrives, takes over as Platoon Leader.
Move up to Linnich (Smith's birthday).
Spearhead across Roer aborted by flood.
Cross the Roer on footbridge, under artillery fire. Schaible wounded.
Fight at Erkeleaz. Phillips killed, others wounded.
Advance past Wickrath to Rheydt
Begin rest and rehabilitation near Krefeld
Take up position on Rhine
Cross the Rhine at Wesel, in trucks with lights on.
Hit by Panzers near Fallersleben. Wheat, Eller wounded. Three captured.
Move up to Elbe at Heinrichsburg.
Victory in Europe Day
Move to Gross Garz
Move to Nauendorf
Move to Iggensbach
Hear the news: Japan has surrendered! We won't have to invade!
Move to Lichtenfels for occupation duty.
5 Sep 1945
Ozark Division returns to U.S.A.
8. ATTACKING ACROSS THE ROER TO THE RHINE
8.1 Preparations for Roer Crossing
A "Dry Run"
During the first week in February we learned that the 407th Infantry had been chosen to spearhead the assault across the Roer, "Operation Grenade," which at that time was scheduled to begin in the early hours of 10 February. We moved once more into Linnich, where we went through preparatory training for crossing in assault boats. The First Squad, Second Platoon, Company K had the honor of being assigned Boat No. I. The other two squads had similar assignments in the first wave. Ten infantrymen, complete with weapons and equipment, and two combat engineers were to be crowded into each boat. After we unloaded, the engineers would bring the boat back for a second load.
Reist tells about final preparations. "On 9 February we turned in our overcoats and any extra gear not needed. We were issued extra ammunition and rations and told we should be ready to go at 0230 hours. We were to meet the engineers at the boats. These were away from the river some distance to partially protect them from enemy artillery. Each twelve-man boat load was to drag the boat to the dike, up over the top, down the other side and then to the river's edge. At a predetermined signal, all boats were to be launched and paddled across the river, then at its normal width. All of this to be done in the pitch black and cold of a winter night.
"The last hours of daylight on 9 February were spent in writing letters to loved ones, cleaning weapons, eating K-Rations and especially praying, each in his own way. With darkness we lay down on straw to sleep in the basement of the abandoned hospital building where we had our command post. Sleep, if you could call it that, with much apprehension concerning the impending battle.
"The scheduled departure time of 0230 came and went without orders to move out and man our boats. At approximately 0430 we finally learned that the assault had been indefinitely postponed. The river had risen four feet during the night and was now impassable because of the swift current." Reist remembers climbing to the upper floor of the hospital building after daylight and observing that the river was now "nearly a mile wide instead of the 100 to 150 feet it had been the day before."
When we realized that the big battle was postponed and we wouldn't be crossing right away, our relief was indescribable: we had received a reprieve, albeit temporary. Still, in contrast, it was a letdown. We knew that we would have to go through the whole buildup again. We needed to get on with whatever we had to do. We didnt know it at the time, but as it turned out, this delay resulted in some changes in assignments that turned out to be very fortunate for us.
Far upstream of our sector (to the south along the northward flowing river), the Germans controlled several dams. This posed a threat to any attempted major crossing of the Roer, as it gave the Germans the ability at will to release a flood that would probably play havoc with assault boats and floating bridges. As fate would have it, as the time for our crossing neared, the First U.S. Army was approaching the area of the dams. At this point the Germans could wait no longer; they opened and jammed the flood gates, releasing the impounded water. How fortuitous that the high water came down just before we jumped off instead of a few hours later! Of course, we, the ordinary Gl, had no knowledge of this activity at the time. Information got to us, if ever, well after the fact.
A Night of Confusion
Harris remembers the following occurring after the aborted crossing. "We spent several weeks in Linnich and lived in a nice, dry cellar from which we conducted our operations. It was what passed for home. We always had one or two men on guard upstairs at street level. We loved our nice, safe cellar because very few shells could reach us there.
"One dark night the sentry tumbled down the stairs shouting 'Gas attack!' and Tanks are coming!' Someone went to check and came running back to spread the alarm. The night was dark and foggy but they could hear tank and smell gas. This started a frantic search for gas masks left on the upper floor as unneeded. It now seemed apparent that the Germans had decided to use gas and that their tanks were coming. Panic set in and a mad scramble ensued as everyone searched in the pitch black for masks. Failing this, they ran out and down the street away from the approaching tanks. We who had located masks put them on, grabbed our rifles and bazookas and went out prepared to do battle! By now the 'gas' had entered our safe, little cellar and mined our potatoes cooking on the stove and filled the street with a dense fog-like smell. The tanks came slowly down the street toward us, accompanied by a few infantrymen. Some brave individual challenged them. The lead tank stopped and a G.I. stuck his head out and gave the password. They were ours!
"The 84th Division was on our left and one of their units on a night maneuver had blundered into our area. An 84th Division officer came over to apologize and express his regrets at disturbing us at such a late hour and without an invite. They withdrew back into their area. The Second Platoon men that had rapidly departed the area slowly returned. No one could explain the 'gas' odor which was now gone. Peace returned to our 'home away from home.'"
We later read in the Ozark Division History that "Company A of the Third Chemical Mortar Battalion laid down a dense smoke screen." as part of "smoke and fire demonstrations" that were carried out to excite and confuse the enemy about our army's intentions. If the Jerries were as confused as we were, the operation was a great success. Of course and as usual no one had informed the lower echelon infantry. However we did keep better track of our gas masks afterward. [Smoke doesn't smell like poison gas &emdash; or does it?] We were told that D-Day had been rescheduled for on or about 20 February, the time estimated by the engineers to allow the river to return to its normal course and width. During this delay, other activities were in store for us. We were destined to revisit the dike by the river one more time.
A Night on the Dike
The flood initiated by the Germans slowly receded. On 21 February a detail was chosen from each platoon to dig emplacements down close to the river. The holes, on the reverse slope of the dike, were to be manned just before the crossing by bazooka (rocket launcher M-l) teams. The purpose, we were told, was to assist the artillery barrage that would precede our attack. All shells, of all types, were to impact their specific target areas simultaneously.
The men for each detail were chosen by the squad leaders. Each man who would be digging was issued an engineer-type pick or shovel, as the standard folding entrenching tool carried by each rifleman was inadequate for the job. In addition, one B.A.R. team was assigned to the work crew to stand guard. (Each of the others also carried his M-l rifle.) Schaible and Reist, the First Squad's B.A.R. team, drew this assignment from Sgt. Cox. Schaible believes there was a third man on the team, possibly Harris, although at this time B.A.R. teams consisted of only two men and not the prescribed three. Schaible describes the night's work as follows.
"At dusk the entire crew set out for the dike along with the details from the other platoons in Company K and, to the best of my knowledge, from other companies in the Third Battalion as well. We took a somewhat different approach route than we had weeks earlier when we had outpost duty at the dike. ['Flood in the Night' story in Sect. 7.3] We went down the same steep bank on a path that led to the small canal at the foot of the slope. We crossed on a narrow, flat steel channel or beam, which was a part of a water-control gate. There were vertical steel posts at intervals projecting above this beam and every so often someone would bang one of these with a shovel or rifle butt. In the dark stillness, the noise was seemingly earth-shattering. We were certain the Germans right across the river would hear us. They did. Immediately parachute flares went up from the far river bank and we all froze in place. We were either well-trained or were still too far from the river and shielded by the dike to be detected. In any case, we drew no enemy fire. It seemed unbelievable that the noise our crowd was making did not attract a vicious bombardment. Someone, while crossing the canal, even dropped a shovel or pick into the water below. Again more flares from the enemy side of the river. Again freeze in place. Our training taught us that if you don't move, even though standing upright in the light of the flares, you could easily be mistaken for trees or bushes. Of course, if you were detected, this made you a great target. It took a lot of willpower not to hit the ground and find some sort of cover. Again no enemy fire.
"We finally reached the reverse slope of the dike and all the work crews were spread out along the dike and commenced digging. We in the B.A.R. team were obliged to take a position near the top of the embankment where we could observe the approaching enemy, if any. The Germans on the far bank apparently were well aware that something was taking place on our side. More flares, one directly overhead. The parachute was slowly letting the white-hot flare down right on our B.A.R. position. We kept sliding farther and farther down the reverse slope as the flare descended and came to rest directly in front of us on the top of the dike. Still no firing from across the riverÉ?
"The work crews continued to bang away at the hard slope, and we decided not to get up so high on the bank. At this point the enemy made a big commotion on the far side: sounds of running and a definite splash in the water! What?? We imagined the launching of a boat to carry a reconnaissance patrol across to investigate our activity. Again we moved up high on the bank to observe what we were sure was the inevitable. After a long wait, peering into the darkness &endash; nothing? We in the B.A.R. team decided that we would rather be digging instead of worrying. At least we would be warmer and have a partially completed hole to take cover in should we receive any type of fire.
"About 0430 hours the excavating was complete and the order to withdraw was given. At this point we had become extremely cold from inactivity and asked no questions. Still no enemy firing? We withdrew cautiously and successfully back across the narrow beam/bridge over the canal, up the steep hillside and finally to the relative safety of our basement CP. Congratulating ourselves on our great good fortune and praying that we didn't have to face a repeat performance the following night." We didn't. The next night was to be the big show: the massive bombardment and assault across the Roer that we had been expecting so long.
The following day, February 22, 1945, we were told what we were to do that night and the next morning. We were to occupy prepared positions that night along the top or the crest of the steep slope that we had struggled up and down on our night-time excursions to the river. Apparently other excavators had also been hard at work while we were working at the dike. We also learned why the 10 February flooding would prove to be so much to our benefit. We, the Third Battalion, had been on line continuously for twenty days or more. The First and Second Battalions of the 407th Infantry were to spearhead the attack this time. The Third would be held in reserve to follow in support of the initial assault. We had avoided our ride in Assault Boat Number One.
Bill Schaible describes a scene in Linnich the afternoon after we got the news. "Our waiting was at an end. We again went through the preparations soldiers make prior to battle. Shedding excess baggage, writing letters and hoping and praying that we would still be around tomorrow at this time. It was almost dusk when word was passed that the 407th's Catholic Chaplain would hear confessions at the south entry of the CP. There was quite a line. Chaplain Gillis was kneeling on the muddy steps of the hospital building and each soldier took his turn while the business of war continued around us. Nothing private about this very personal sacrament. Men rushing up and down the steps. Soldiers carrying weapons and ammunition."
Jump-off time was set: 0330 hours, 23 February.
The early darkness of a winter night descended as the Platoon moved into our prepared positions. Schaible was in the middle of things until the next day at noon, when we was evacuated with a wound. His recollections of events follow. "The spacing of the emplacements seemed wider than was usual. We were thankful that we would not occupy the area much longer. The B.A.R. team of Reist and Schaible set up the automatic weapon to fire out over the river in order to assist with the promised impact on the enemy's positions. There was little or no confidence that their small contribution was of any import at that extreme range. Sometime before midnight we had an armored visitor in the form of a large, friendly type tank. Several in fact. The vehicle positioned itself immediately adjacent to our holes as did others all along the line. When their engines shut down stillness returned to the area. It seemed unreal! Was this another training exercise? Actually we hoped not. We wanted to get on with it. We had been here too long.
"At 0245 hours, right on schedule, we heard the big 240-mm howitzers and 155-mm "Long Toms' fire several miles to our rear. We thought, "This ought to be something to watch." It was more than that. Just then the tankers beside us opened up with their 90-mm guns, firing directly down from the ridge onto the low river front. The scene was lit by the muzzle flashes and the muzzle blasts were deafening. The entire hillside began to shake with the thunderous concussions. Now the entire battle line was firing, reloading and firing again and again continuously. When they finally came, the explosions of shells from the "Long Toms' impacting far to the rear of the enemy front were almost lost in the terrific din right next to us. Reist and Schaible both wondered if the bazooka teams manning the positions we had prepared for them down on the dike were also firing. In the excitement of the moment, we had momentarily forgotten our own mission to bring automatic rifle fire on the far river bank. Recovering, we got to it immediately, along with the machine guns from our weapons platoon and the Battalion's heavy weapons company.
"It seemed that the sounds of the barrage were intensifying. It was the German artillery, whose shells now began exploding all around us. The tank next to us received a direct hit with a phosphorus shell. Amid the explosions we heard the screeching sounds of the 'Screaming Meemies' and multiple rockets blasted the steep slope below us. The earth seemed to heave skyward. We swore later that our hole turned inside out. Needless to say, we retreated to the bottom of the hole. As shrapnel rained down on us, we were joined by several other men looking for cover. We discovered that a two-man foxhole can easily hold five or six.
"At 0300 hours our barrage lifted and rolled forward away from the riverbank. (We learned later that immediately afterwards Rogers' Raiders crossed in assault boats and within thirty minutes had cleared the dike of machine gun nests.) At 0330 hours the first big wave of infantry (our 1st and 2nd Battalions) launched boats and crossed. The enemy fire continued unabated for another 20 or 30 minutes. We remained in the bottom of our holes, unharmed but considerably shook up. We were very glad that we weren't in those boats on the river.
Schaible continues, "By the time daylight came, the front had quieted somewhat. The enemy barrage had stopped hitting the hillside. We waited in our positions, peering into the dense smoke screen laid on the river to cover the assault. Was the crossing successful? The sky lightened. There was a dense ground fog mixed with the smoke of the battle and from the smoke generators. "No news is good news' - or so they say. At approximately 0900 or 0930 hours the order came to move out. The Third Battalion got out of our holes, all 800 or more of us, in orderly units and moved single file down to the roadway."
Wannamaker remembers what happened on the way to the riverbank. "When the order finally came for the Platoon to move down to the river, we entered into a very scary world of smoke and fog. You couldn't see very far and, as usual, we didn't have any idea of what the hell was going on. You could hear small arms fire and shells going both ways. We finally got to the bottom of the hill and were moving slowly through the smoke to where we were to cross the river - on a bridge, no less. At this time, Herbert Peter Schmidt, a Third Squad rifleman, comes up and announces that he'd left his pack in his foxhole at the top of the hill. When I didn't offer much sympathy, he complained that his rations were in his pack. I told him to look around and find some rations in the packs of the dead G.I.s. Then he says, "But, Sarge, Bertie's picture was in the pack too!' This guy was carrying an 8x10 glass-covered picture of his wife and in the midst of this hairy situation, that's all he can think of. He about cried when I gently (?) explained that he was not going back to retrieve his pack. The next day he received a 'million-dollar wound' in his leg and was on his way back home to Bertie."
Schaible picks up the narrative, "We found that our combat engineers had succeeded in throwing a single-manway pontoon bridge across the river. Actually a second one; the first had been blown out almost as soon as it was completed. The fog was lifting now and we could see the abandoned assault boats, discarded life jackets and other debris of battle along the far riverbank.
"No boats for us! All we had to do was walk across - across a narrow, bobbing bridge with the rapidly flowing river inches below our feet. As we approached the bridge, each of us was handed an 81-mm mortar shell in its case to supply our Heavy Weapons Company. We stepped onto the narrow bridge walkway, which was arched menacingly downstream by the swift current. Long spaces between each man so as not to overload the bridge No artillery fire at present. The bodies of two dead Gl's lay on the walk at about mid-span. Jump over them, hang on to the rope guard lines, don't think about them, get across.
"Success: we had bridged the Roer. Courtesy of our Combat Engineers - God bless 'em! They were still extremely busy building a heavy-equipment bridge downstream so that armor (tanks and half-tracks) and trucks could be brought across. This activity was bringing in periodic enemy artillery fire in an attempt to knock out their work before it was complete. [The Germans had, of course, long before blown out the permanent bridge at Linnich to preclude its use.]
On the Far Side
Schaible's first-hand account continues, "Now what? What does an infantryman do most? Dig and wait! We were still in regimental reserve. We spread out over this flat flood plain, so recently under water, and dug slit trenches to lie in. The problem was that these immediately turned into reservoirs at the level of the ground water table &emdash; about one foot in depth. The sun broke through the overcast. The enemy began a periodic shelling of the general area and more specifically the heavy-equipment bridge construction site. Schaible sat down on the edge of his slit trench, back to the conquered river, feet in the water, and opened a K-Ration. It was 1200 hours: lunch time. A soldier stood near him, eating and talking. (Can't remember who.) A short, high-pitched whine and a terrific explosion. Schaible dove forward into the wet mud with the other man on top of him. The conversation continued. 'God, that was close!' 'You're right,' says Schaible, 'it hit me!'
"Our platoon medic, Art Greenfield, was there beside Schaible almost before the other man scrambled to his feet. No more artillery fire, more conversation. Greenfield: Where are you hit? Don't move!' The shell fragment had entered the back, tearing through four layers of clothing: field jacket, sweater, OD shirt, and undershirt. With his surgical shears, Greenfield cut this layering up the middle of the back, exposing the wound. Very little, if any, bleeding. He administered a shot of morphine and applied sulfa powder and the bandage from Schaible's aid packet to the wound. By then a litter with two bearers had arrived. Schaible was placed on the litter, face down. Carrying the litter, the medics, Wilfred Reist and Jack Tedrow started the trek back to the German pillbox being used as the collecting point for casualties. More incoming fire. The litter was transferred to the ground by dropping it 'gently' from about knee high as everyone scrambled for cover that was non-existent. In a few well-chosen words, Schaible requested that future drops be made at or in a hole if possible.
"More artillery fire in-coming near the pillbox, which was also being used as a way station for German prisoners of war. The wounded were placed inside the concrete bunker, which had its side blown out, and the POW's were held outside under guard by combat MP's. A man was brought in, littered' in a shelter half, both legs blown off at or above the knees. Schaible remembers being asked if he could walk. I don't know, but he sure as hell can't. No problem.' [Many years later at a Division reunion, he finds that the man with no legs was from L Company, 407th Infantry and that he survived.] By this time Schaible is a little high on the morphine. He gathers up his back-opened clothing in his arms and starts down the river road toward the collecting point at the bridge crossing. He remembers that one of the Combat MP's guarding the POWs was Bob Walker, a former First Squad member and B.A.R. man during training in the States. No time for greetings or reminiscing."
Bob Walker years later recalled the incident as follows. "When the Regiment went across the Roer on 23 February, I went in the second unit and got myself pinned down for a couple of hours and shelled while escorting some POW's back to the river from the big barn where regimental headquarters was located. We had a soldier with his legs blown off and the POW's were carrying him on a litter with me 'riding shotgun.' Four high-velocity rounds came in and hit in the soft dirt on the side of the road. I think they were from some enemy tank that had been by-passed. As each round hit, dirt and mud would fly in every direction, but the shell did not explode. I was never so scared in my life. I think I was more worried about this wounded man than about anything else. I expressed very definite opinions to those POWs as to what their fate would be if they dropped him. We did get him back to the river and turned over to the Medics and the POW's to the other squad in our [MP] Platoon." Schaible resumes his story, "More in-coming. Schaible begins to run toward the bridgehead at which the barrage is aimed. He loses his trench knife from his loosened belt and thinks to himself 1 really wanted to keep that knife.' At the bridgehead he is directed back across the river which he had crossed just a few hours earlier. Arriving at the aid station, still carrying his armload of clothing, he remembers seeing a row of dead G.I. buddies laid out like cord wood. He is examined by Dr. Scarpa, the Regimental Surgeon, tagged by a medic as approved for transport, is loaded on a jeep and is on his way to the 8th Field Hospital in Volkenburg, Holland. At midnight, 12 hours from the muddy field in Germany, a jagged piece of shrapnel about the size of a penny and three times as thick is removed from his back. The surgeon gives it to him as a souvenir. The following day he is flown by C-47 from Liege, Belgium to Paris, France. Still ambulatory, he is admitted to the 62d General Hospital.
"LuckÉ or a blessing? Schaible is told that the path the shrapnel followed after entering his back was from just below his right shoulder to the left, apparently across the spinal column, lodging below the left shoulder without hitting anything vital." Meanwhile, the war continues. The Platoon moved past a blown-out concrete pillbox, now being used as a collecting point for the wounded, along a road parallel to the river. Then we turned at a right angle to the river at a second concrete emplacement, actually a large barn and also a collecting point, and moved away from the river. A long line of men moving into a wet, marshy, open area to dig more holes and wait. Our attack battalions were nowhere to be seen in this area.
Lahti wrote in his diary, "The 1st and 2d Battalions were moving right along and by the end of the first day had secured Glimbach and Gevenich, the two towns opposite us at Linnich. Third Battalion remained in reserve. We dug in about 600 yards from the river and waited. The attack battalions dug in on the high ground above Glimbach and waited for tanks. We remained there in the muddy river bottom one night. That night German planes came over and dropped heavy bombs on our bridges and anti-personnel bombs on us. "
Progress of the Ozark Division from 24 through 28 February, 1945
Note the arrows that indicate attacks by the 3rd Battalion , 407th Infantry. Highlights of our Platoon's activities are as follows.
23 Feb. - Cross river at Linnich behind other battalions. Wait in flood plain. Schaible wounded.
24 Feb. - Follow 1st Battalion's attack. Lt. Wilson wounded.
25 Feb. - Up front in attack, capture of Lovenich. No real casualties.
26 Feb. - Advance against opposition to Erkelenz. Dig often. Phillips killed, Wannamaker wounded.
27 Feb.- In Erkelenz, fix up quarters, then move out.
28 Feb. - Advance on Division's right flank. Fight at Wickrath. Reach Rheydt.
8.3 Movements and Battles
In the following accounts of actions from the Roer flood plain to the Rhine, various Platoon members are quoted directly. The other text is a composite of inputs from several sources. Editorial notes are enclosed in square brackets like these: [ ]. The accompanying map and caption should be helpful in keeping track of events.
Lahti's notes follow. "February 24. [the second day] In the morning we moved up behind 1st Battalion's 'A' and B' Companies. While [we were] moving, the Germans spotted us and threw 81-mm mortar fire at us, wounding Lt. Wilson." Reist adds, "Wilson took a piece of shrapnel in the chin. He refused to be evacuated until ordered to by the Captain and finally by the Lt. Colonel. [Probably the battalion commander. Sounds like John &endash; no respect!] John wrote back that he had a real Purple Heart. He was back in 3 or 4 days." [Before his letter?]
Back to Lahti's notes on 24 February: "After we dug in, we spotted a pillbox down in front of us, about 1,000 yards away. 'A' and 'B' Companies were pinned down in front of the pillbox. Our tanks were maneuvering into position to assault the Jerry position. [The Division History says that by 0500 hours that day all of the 771st Tank Destroyer Battalion had cleared the river and three medium-tank companies of the 701st Tank Battalion were also across.] The tanks threw shell after shell at the pillbox and soon a white flag could be seen waving from the position. A Jerry soldier came out, but he was killed by a shell from a tank. The tanker had not seen the white flag. They got about 50 Jerries out of that pillbox. Also a woman."
Lahti continues: "The next morning [25 February] we jumped off and moved through 2d Battalion lines and took Lovenich. No casualties. Abercrombie thought that he was hit once and lay down on the ground and stuck his rifle with bayonet fixed in the ground with his helmet on it. Greenfield, our medic, convinced him he was not hit and he rejoined us later. As we did not have much opposition, some of our boys did not have their heart in the battle. Whitaker, of the 3d Squad, went through the whole attack with his hands in his pockets and his rifle slung over his shoulder. He did not seem too worried about shells even though some came pretty close."
Maybe Whitaker was in deep depression rather than being nonchalant as he seemed to Lahti. Bob Smith years later recalled an incident (whether in this attack or a later one, e could not remember) in which he was advancing by the side of Whitaker. "As we ran through one farmyard, there were several smaller outbuildings burning. When some old, dry wood bums, it snaps and crackles quite loudly. After several especially loud snapping sounds and a crash as part of the shed collapsed, I was amazed to see Whitaker, who was on my left, next to the shed, stop. As I watched, unbelieving, he withdrew his bayonet from its scabbard and fixed it on his rifle. Calmly and deliberately he jammed the bayonet into the hard ground and removed his helmet. He set the helmet atop the rifle butt and, gently wrapping his overcoat around him, lay down to await his removal from what had become for him a finally unbearable situation. The whole performance had a strange pathos to it." Smith concludes, "Who can fault him?"
Lahti's narrative continues, "The following morning [26 February] we had two towns and the city of Erkelenz to take. Up to this time we had not used tanks in our attacks. We had depended on a heavy rolling artillery barrage with infantry close behind." Reist wrote, many years later, an account of that day.
Reist remembers how the day started: "We were awakened well before dawn from our less than comfortable foxholes and our rather unsound sleep. We had our breakfast of K Rations. The small can of ham and eggs was heated over the waxed K-Ration box, which burned like a candle. We could also manage a canteen cup of hot coffee with a little luck. [Nothing like a good hot breakfast to get your day off to a great start.] We jumped off in the attack at 0830 hours in our regular platoon skirmish line.
Wannamaker picks up the story here. "It was gently rolling, open terrain and I remember at one point, after we had move a mile or so, I looked back. It was a sight to see, with all of our support coming on behind us. I remember thinking, 'What the hell am I doing way up here in front?' Our platoon was the left flank of the Division, the Third Squad was the Platoon's left flank and I was at the end of the line &endash; left flank of the whole mess.
"The attack stalled at various times and each time we frantically dug in." Reist remembers why the attack stalled and what happened each time. "Soon we were under a heavy artillery barrage and dug our first of six foxholes for the day. Our tanks soon arrived on the scene and knocked out the pillbox which was holding us up. We continued toward our objective. This sequence of events occurred at regular intervals as we advanced.
"While digging the third hole, Sgt. Harris and PFC Lahti were partially buried by a dud which landed right next to their hole. It caved in the sides, burying their legs and lower bodies. We helped uncover them and get them out and away from the unexploded shell" [probably from a 105- or 150-mm howitzer].
Wannamaker was impressed by a new lieutenant who didn't last long. "The First Platoon had a replacement officer whose name I don't remember. This guy just walked along in a full upright position and never ducked or flinched when there were incoming shells. One time when we were digging like hell, he calmly sat on a log and read his pocket book. He was later wounded in the ankle but just tightened up the straps on his combat boot and kept going for a while."
Wannamaker continues his description of what happened around him and to him, "As we approached Erkelenz we encountered some small arms fire from foxholes. One German, an older guy, shot Voccio in the leg and then promptly threw down his rifle and surrendered. We were moving steadily to the left of the city. When I stepped out on the tree-lined road leading into town, a German stepped out at the same time about 200 yards closer to town. Naturally I banged away at him and with every shot he ran that much faster. Never did hit him. After we crossed he road we were in some really flat fields with no cover. There was continuous small arms fire cracking all about. It was real spooky when you would see a weed suddenly be shortened by a bullet. Franky Giordano got his pack entangled in a three-strand barbed-wire fence and we both about had heart attacks before we got him free.
"We eventually got pinned down by machine guns dug in along a road. There was a slight rise ahead and if you went over that the Germans could cut you to pieces. We were pinned down from the front and our right flank was open to fire from the town. [Reist recalls that besides the machine guns there was a sniper located in a tall factory chimney which was 50 to 60 feet high.] Phillips was shot in the head right in front of me. I raised up slightly to see if I could see where the shot came from and was shot in the side. I could hear Captain Rhodey yelling for the Second Platoon to move forward. L'Ecuyer [the runner between the Company Commander and the Platoon] got up to wave the platoon forward and got shot in the hand for his trouble. At that moment, Mollica was digging a ridge of dirt around me for a little protection.
Greenfield crawled up to give me first aid. We had to stay down so low that there wasn't much that he could do. I had already located the bullet hole in my field jacket right next to the zipper. There wasn't much bleeding. Art gave me a shot of morphine, which I didn't want, and crawled on up to care for Phillips. As I lay there listening to Capt. Rhodey calling, from a hole in the rear, for the Platoon to move forward, I thought, 'Why in hell doesn't he throw some mortar fire on those machine guns instead of trying to push the Platoon into a suicide situation. Eventually that was done and the Platoon was able to move. Had the Second Platoon responded as Pickett's men did at Gettysburg, they would have probably all been killed and the Captain would have gotten another DSC for 'gloriously leading his troops in battle'."
Reist (who may have heard it from Greenfield) remembers, "Joe Wannamaker was wounded in his rib area. Joe had just recently received a picture of his first-born, Joe, Jr. He was more concerned about the sniper's bullet destroying the picture of 'Little Joe' in his shirt pocket than his wound."
Lahti's diary summarizes briefly the foregoing events and what happened next, "As we got near Erkelenz, snipers from the city began picking off our boys. Phillips got it through the head. Wannamaker through the side. A machine gun hit L'Ecuyer in the hand when we started up for our final objective - a road on the other side of Erkelenz. We got artillery and mortar fire on the road and then moved in and dug in on the far side of the road. A heavy enemy direct-fire weapon gave us a little trouble by shelling along the road, but as night came down on us he stopped his shelling and moved out."
Reist's describes the shelling in more detail, "The attack continued, keeping us continuously on the move until about 1600 hours, when we reached our immediate objective: a blacktop, tree-lined highway. We started to dig in on the back side of this road, which was five or six feet higher than the adjacent field. This was the sixth hole that day. [Reist feels sure that the photo on page 165 of the Division History, showing men digging, is of the Second Platoon at this place.] As a Kansas farm boy, I recognized that this soil was good, sandy loam and should have been easy digging, but things were going very slowly. We had been up since before dawn, walked ten miles in the attack under artillery and small-arms fire and had dug in five times. We were tired!
"Of course the Germans had direct observation and knew exactly where we were digging this sixth set of foxholes. The terrain ahead of us was flat. They lowered their 75mm artillery pieces to a horizontal position and fired. The shells would hit and skip over the roadway, exploding on the back side where we were attempting to dig in. One exploded very near, causing us to dive in the unfinished hole. I used my arms to break my fall. A piece of shrapnel pierced my field jacket, OD shirt, sweater and long johns between my shoulder and elbow, but caused no wound. The barrage continued and the foxholes were finished in record time. All signs of tiredness forgotten for the moment as more shells exploded around us. As darkness fell the shelling abated and we managed to eat our evening meal. And probably lunch, too &endash; we didn't have time for it earlier. We posted guard and some attempted to get some sleep."
Meanwhile Wannamaker and others were lying back in the field where the Platoon had been pinned down. He tells what happened after it got dark. "Litter bearers showed up and I told them to get Phillips but he was dead, shot through the head. They never asked me if I could walk, just put me on the litter and took off. We hadn't gone far when we found Noland, who was shot in the hip. Noland was another Air Force replacement. I told them I could walk and they put Noland on the litter. We went across a ditch to where they had a Weasel (a small tracked vehicle) parked. They put Noland's litter across the top from side to side and I got down inside. The litter bearers went to look for more casualties. Jerry began to shell the field so I bailed out and got under the Weasel. Noland, bad hip and all, got under there about the same time I did. Artillery was always a great motivator!
"I was taken to the battalion aid station where they put a temporary dressing on my wound and sent me on back to a field hospital. It was there that I woke up the next morning on a cot right next to Voccio. It was a big building with hundreds of cots lined up head to toe. The aisle between the rows was barely wide enough for the nurses to get through. Shortly I was taken into surgery. The surgical area was big, with at least 20 tables going at once. They gave me a local anesthetic and snipped away the torn flesh while I watched. The bullet hadn't hit me dead center, as the hole in my field jacket seemed to indicate. Had I not raised up when I did, the bullet would have hit me dead center, just below my breast bone. Instead it hit me in the ribs and plowed a furrow along my side. The weight of the two hand grenades in my field jacket pockets had pulled down to the side when I raised up, hence the bullet hole right by the zipper. (Earlier that morning I had surrendered the two grenades to a rather startled nurse.) There was considerable bruising and it was hard to breathe but, all in all, it was a nice little wound." [Wannamaker was evacuated via Liege to a hospital in Paris for recuperation. He returned to the Platoon in early April.]
Lahti's notes pick up the story on the day after the fight at Erkelenz. "The next morning [February 27] another outfit moved through our lines with tanks and we went back to Erkelenz. We were told that we were now in Division reserve. That usually meant a break of a couple of days so we searched for a building in which to live. When we found one, we spent the day cleaning it up and fixing up our beds. And then that evening we looked forward to a good nite's sleep. But about 6 that night, an order came down and alerted us for a road march. We didn't know what to make of it. We had been told that we were in reserve and now, after being there for about 8 hours, we were getting ready to move again. Well, you can imagine how everybody felt. We had found some wine - about a bottle per man - that we were planning on drinking while in reserve. Most of this we put in our packs. What we couldn't carry we drank on the spot. That made us feel a little better. Myself, I don't remember much about that hike. Only that it lasted about 4 hours. The outfit that had relieved us that morning had really moved that day. With tanks and truck-riding infantry, they had covered about 10 miles and were near Munchen-Gladbach. We came up and relieved the 405th Regiment and were told we were to jump off the next morning. [By now it was midnight or later.]
"That night we got a little sleep as the Second Platoon was in company reserve. We found canned food of all kinds down in the basement. There were also cows in the back that we got milk from in the morning. We started the attack about 9:00 in the morning. [February 28] They didn't orient us very much - as our C.O. didn't know exactly how the situation stood. All we knew was there was a pocket of Germans holding up the armor.
"So then we started out. As we were the reserve platoon, we had bangalore torpedoes [long pipe bombs], mines and flame-throwers to carry in addition to our usual weapons. We did not run into anything until we approached the city of Wickrath. Then the third platoon got pinned down by machine gun and sniper fire and was just about wiped out. After we got past the city - we were on the left flank &endash; we came up over a ridge and an MG-42 [20-roundper-second machine gun] opened up on us. We dug in on our side of the ridge and sweated out some mortar fire that got about 5 guys in other platoons. Then a Jerry half-track came rolling up behind us. He saw one of our jeeps and went back where he came from without ever firing his machine gun. We didn't have our bazooka with us-so we didn't try to knock it out. We did throw small arms fire at it, which just bounced of fits armor."
Harris confirms the foregoing account and adds that about this same location [near Wickrath] he saw a couple of Germans duck behind a haystack. "I got out my clip of tracer bullets which I kept for such occasions and fired into the hay to start a fire. I could see the tracers ricocheting off- a concealed concrete pillbox! It was here, too, that Sgt. Cox noting that we were all running low on ammo told me to take a couple of men and go back to get some ammo. Our supply truck was following us. Reist and Lahti came with me. Back about two or three miles we located our truck. The Supply Sergeant had a couple of cases of 5round clips. We all had M-l rifles and needed the 8-round clips. Well, we loaded ourselves with as many bandoliers as we could carry and spread out a bit to search for as many M-l clips as we could find on our return. We picked up quite a few and got the ammo back just in time to be relieved."
The narrative continues verbatim from Lahti's notes. "Soon we could see some of our tanks coming up behind us and then one of our tanks rolled up right to us and they said they were to relieve us. It was the 5th Armored Division. We moved back a little and then started going into another city [Rheydt]. K Company was in reserve. We were told that this city had been taken and that all we were going to do was find ourselves a place to sleep and then stay there for the night. But as the forward companies moved close to the city we started to get reports of enemy tanks. One of our liaison planes had spotted ten Tiger tanks moving into the other side of Rheydt. We were ordered to dig in and prepare for a counterattack from tanks. We moved up all of our anti-tank weapons: bazookas, anti-tank grenades, flame throwers, etc. up to our front. And then we started to wait and sweat out the attack. Our battalion commander had called for armor support but we didn't know if it would get up to us in time. While we were waiting, one of our P-47's strafing enemy columns was shot down and crashed right behind us. The pilot tried to parachute to the ground but the plane was already too low.
"Pretty soon we heard a rumbling in the distance. We couldn't tell whether it was our tanks or Jerry's. But when they got nearer, they were coming from behind us and then everybody was glad. As our tanks got closer you could see that there were a lot of them. As they came up, they fanned out into battle formation. When they passed us, the infantry greeted them like long-lost brothers. Then they moved off into Rheydt with tanks in front and infantry right behind. But the tanks did not go into Rheydt with the infantry. They stayed at the edge of town and offered direct fire support. When I and L Companies moved in, they ran into a lot of enemy tanks. But most of the tanks retreated and by night our side of the town was secured.
"K Company had been at the edge of town during the battle in the city. [That's what's good about being in reserve &emdash; you might not always be committed into the gap!] Then when night came, U. Blanchard went into town to try and locate quarters for us. [Lt. Wilson had been wounded and had not yet returned.] He left us in a ditch on the edge of town. We stayed there about five hours. While we were in the ditch, we got 81-mm mortar fire on us that almost got Bums and some of the boys. Burns' pack was ripped to shreds. Finally our Lt. Blanchard came back and led us into Rheydt. He hadn't yet found us a place to stay so Cox and some of the boys took a look around and they found a nice little house with two apartments. We stayed there that night and slept fairly good."
The Division History indicates that after reaching Rheydt on 28 February, the 3rd Battalion, 407th Infantry was designated the Division reserve. During the first three days of March the Battalion was responsible for protecting the exposed right flank of the Division as the 405th and 406th pushed north to capture Krefeld. This mission required our battalion to move several times in those three days to meet possible threats to the flank.
In Lahti's notes we read between the lines that the Platoon members, tired after a week of constant movement, were try to fix themselves a place to settle down comfortably, only to be repeatedly frustrated by orders to move again. DelaO and Whitaker, who evidenced propensities to excessive drinking while in Normandy, were probably more or less drunk when they violently expressed their resentment of the orders to keep moving.
Lahti's notes on March I and 2 follow. "The next morning we hiked to the city of Rheindahlen that had been taken a couple of days before. There we ran into our first civilians in any great number. We had overrun so many civilians that we didn't know what to do with them. They had to be sent back home, and when we came into town they were milling around in the streets like sheep. But soon most of them went back to their homes. We found a little house and got it cleaned up. Myself and McGuire had a bed all to ourselves. We also found some cherry brandy that was pretty good. Well after we were all set, an order was sent down that we were alerted to move in a few hours. So that night we moved again. DelaO hit [first sergeant] Monda and [lieutenant] Blanchard. This time it was not far. About an hour's walk to a suburb of Rheindahlen [Hehn] and here we spent the night and had our first hot meal since Linnich.
"The next morning [March 2] before we started out for the next city, we got strafed by a jet-propelled plane. He just glided in and strafed and then was gone before anybody could get a shot at him. Then we hiked to the city ofViersen. On this hike we passed a lot of farms and small towns and the civilian people would be looking out of windows, wondering what we were going to do. The Germans had told them we would kill their men and children and steal everything from them, rape their women &emdash; but as we did not, they just watched us with curiosity as we hiked by. Some of the Germans were glad to see us and actually waved at us and so did the little kids.
Reist's memories years later included a day and night that seem to correspond to the foregoing account by Lahti of March 2 (except that Reist thought the city was Krefeld rather than Niersen). If you knew Lahti and Reist, you could imagine why Lahti recorded the finding of wine and liquor but Reist remembers the mattresses and chickens. Reist's story follows. "We moved into Krefeld [an industrial center with a prewar population of more than 170,000]. We were scheduled to be relieved for 24 hours. To this day, I can't figure out why the Second Platoon didn't just lie down any place and get some much needed sleep. Instead, to get our first night's sleep for many months in a real bed, we moved new beds from a furniture store into the first floor or basement of the building where we intended to stay.
"Sergeant Al Cox [1st Squad Leader], never one to let an opportunity pass by, managed to get seven chickens from an old German lady. [This was one of the first places that we had much contact with German civilians.] He had her kill her chickens and then roast them for the First Squad. Now it approached the time when we were to send men to the K Company kitchen to pick up the first hot chow we were to have had in a couple of weeks. We sent the detail and a few minutes later they came back with K-Rations, no hot chow &endash; and orders to move out in 45 minutes. Forget 24 hours! We had four or five [hours] and were to walk all night and attack again in the morning. We hurried and got packs, weapons, arnmo, water, etc. packed and ready to move out &endash; but not before Al Cox picked up five of the seven roasted chickens. He gave the old lady two &endash; and received many thanks for giving her back two of her own chickens. The First Squad was walking down the dark road, each eating half a roasted chicken." Reist adds, "It was the best roast chicken I have ever eaten." Reist continues, "This was the night the Battalion and Company officers couldn't read a map or compass even with the help of flashlights. We and I think most of the Battalion walked an extra four miles in about a square route because, apparently, none of the officers could orient the maps with the North Star, which was clearly visible. This Kansas farm boy, lugging a [20-pound] B.A.R. this extra four miles, complained every step of the way, along with everyone else. [This wasn't unusual. Soldiers are very good at complaining &endash; most of the time with good reason.] We all realized during our extended walk through the night that we should have spent those four or five hours sleeping instead of moving furniture back in Krefeld. Those beds probably would have been so comfortable that we wouldn't have slept very well anyway."
Lahti's account of March 3 and the next several days follows. "Well, Viersen was a big city and had been bombed by us. We went into the most-bombed section and found apartment buildings to live in. We found plenty of liquor here and by afternoon we had accumulated quite a stock of whisky and wine. Here we got some more replacements. We got Babb, Warren, Mahalick, and Limmer. And Behan came back from the hospital [after being wounded November 30 in the attack on Welz. Harris says Voccio, also returning from the hospital after being wounded on February 26 at Erkelenz, joined the First Squad at about this time.] That afternoon we got orders to move again, so about 4:00 started hiking again. They told us that we didn't have to go far. We were still pretty pissed off, though. This was the hike that DelaO slugged Sergeant Monda. And also the night [March 2-3] that Whitaker told the colonel where he could go.
"Well, the next place [Neersen] was not a bad spot. We had enough room. I think one squad had a room to itself. I remember there was an old German frau there that seemed very bewildered and she couldn't understand that we were Americans. When McGuire and myself rolled back a rug in our room and built a small fire to heat our K-rations, she had a hemorrhage. She went out and got Sgt. Cox to come and see how the soldiers were making her room "kaput." We all got a pretty good laugh out of her as we figgered she should be glad that she still had a house!"
The final entry in the surviving portion of Lahti's diary follows. "We stayed there a couple of days and then we hiked on to Krefeld. On the hike we were strafed and we spent a lot of time running on and off the road. General Keating came by just as a plane strafed the front of our column. He stopped and asked me if I thought they were our planes. I didn't get time to answer as I was diving for cover, but I thought it was a pretty silly question.
"Well, we got into Krefeld that afternoon and Captain Rhodey told us that we were not quite to the river yet but that the Germans still held about two miles of ground between us and the Rhine. So we went on line again on the edge of Krefeld. Our sector was the railroad yard and I believe we ..." [The transcription ends here, unfortunately. See Acknowledgements for the story of Lahti's notes.]
Contrary to the expectation seemingly implied by the last sentences of Lahti's surviving notes, the Division did not leave Krefeld to clear the enemy from the west bank of the Rhine. According to the Division History, "On March 4 orders were received from XIII Corps that the 102d Infantry Division would remain in the Krefeld area and conduct a program of rest, rehabilitation and training. These instructions took the Division out of frontline combat for the first time since early November. Comfortable quarters with adequate bathing facilities were provided for the menÉ."
The return to garrison-like conditions lasted a week. During that time, our platoon had a visit from the American Red Cross, which is commemorated by the accompanying photograph of the Platoon as it looked in March, 1945.
Another incident that occurred during this time was the day the Company were called out to see [and hear] Captain Rhodey read a citation and pin a bronze star on the Company Supply Sergeant, Al Swelgin. It seems that at the risk of his life, the valiant sergeant came up close to the front just in time to supply us with ammo and save the day! Hams well remembered the incident, which had happened during the attack at Wickrath. Harris recalls that he, Lahti and Reist had hiked back "at least 3 miles" from the scene of action to the supply truck &emdash; then found that the .30-caliber ammo the Supply Sergeant gave them was in clips that wouldn't fit our M-l rifles. We were skeptical of the citation, to say the least. [Later, after the war, a bronze star or other award was worth 5 points toward the score that determined who got to go home first.]
8.4 At the Rhine
The U.S. Ninth Army, of which we were part, had reached its objectives sooner than expected and its commander. General Simpson, proposed to attempt a crossing of the Rhine in force while the German defenders on the east bank were still in disarray. He was overruled by Field Marshal Montgomery. (When the Battle of the Bulge started, U.S. forces to the north of the Ardennes were placed under the command of Montgomery and the Ninth Army was still under him.) As at El Alamein, Montgomery insisted on an extremely thorough preparation before launching an offensive. So the XIII Corps waited around Krefeld until U.S. and British forces to the north were in position and prepared for the long-planned crossing. This was to take place about 20 miles downriver from Krefeld, just north of the Ruhr industrial region, and would involve dropping airborne troops to help secure the bridgehead.
On 3 March, 20 miles to our north, Montgomery's American and Canadian forces met near Geldern, closing the prongs of a massive double envelopment on the major part of the German forces west of the Rhine. On 11 March the last strongpoint on the west bank of the river in this part of the front fell to the 35th Infantry Division. Meanwhile, on 2 March, south of us, the 9th Armored Division had captured the now-famous Rhine River bridge at Remagen. During the next three weeks the U.S. First and Third Armies reached and crossed the Rhine at several points. A result of all this was that the Germans had their hands full elsewhere, trying to contain the bridgeheads and we saw little, if any, hostile activity during our stay at Krefeld and along the Rhine.
On March II the 102d Division was assigned responsibility for defense of a sector along the river and we moved out from Krefeld. The point at which the Second Platoon first saw the Rhine was probably near the steel works about five miles due east of the center of Krefeld. By 14 March our battalion occupied a two-mile stretch upstream of the steel works. [See map on p. 174 of Division History.]
At about that time, as part of an elaborate effort (described more fully in the Division History) to make the enemy think that an attempt to cross the Rhine would be made in our sector, all civilians were evacuated from a zone along the river. Perhaps in response to the implied threat, the enemy moved parachute troops into the area across from us and occasionally their reconnaissance patrols slipped across the river at night.
On March 24 the U.S.-British offensive along the north edge of the Ruhr district was launched as planned, with a river crossing and airborne drop. When other divisions in the XIII Corps pulled out on March 30 to join the attacking forces, the 102d stretched itself out to defend eighteen miles of the west bank. Our 3rd Battalion, 407th Infantry was on the extreme right, across the river from the northern suburbs of Dusseldorf. Reist recalls that when we were near Dusseldorf, the Platoon dug defensive positions on a levee and occupied these positions for quite some time. He makes no mention of enemy action while we were deployed along the river.
Sometime in March, Reist was involved in another "walk-about." He tells the story as follows. "We were about one mile south of a road running east-west and Platoon CP was located in a small village about one mile east of us. [Nierst?] We had spent several days in these holes with lots of going back and forth to the CP at night to bring ammo, rations, water and other supplies. Most of the time the weather was bright and clear, and we knew how to get there. To the CP, that is.
"The night we were to be relieved, Sgt. Tony Mollica, our platoon sergeant from Birmingham, Alabama, came out from the CP to gather us up. Off we went through the fields north until we reached the east-west road. But then he turned left (west) instead of right. I remembered the extra four miles or so of travel from a couple of weeks before; so I informed sergeants Cox and Mollica that they could do anything they wanted, but I was not going to walk all over the countryside at night carrying my B.A.R. After much discussion, I finally started walking east followed by the platoon and the sergeants. In about 15 minutes we reached the Platoon HQ. I believe, after we ate some hot chow and bedded down for the night, that they were convinced that city boys can't tell directions in the country at night." Bob Smith recalls where we were on I April - April Fool's Day. "We were in a house across the river from Düsseldorf(?). The house had a greenhouse attached. We found an old Victrola, with a scratchy recording - in English! &endash; of 'We Belong Together, together we'll fly ....' and an old hunting horn that was carried with us for quite some time afterwards. I've wondered at times whatever happened to that horn. I recall the date because it was Easter Sunday and there were flowers in the greenhouse. I thought, 'Gee, Nita would love this.' Little did I know that back home, Anita had put our engagement notice in all the local newspapers &emdash; she said it was because it was Easter Sunday; I say it was because it was April Fool's Day. You judge."
Looting was prohibited. But no one considered "liberation" of food and drink to be "looting." Sometimes this took some skill. One who was skilled was Voccio, whom Harris calls 'a wine-hound.' Here is why, in Harris's words. "One of our replacements was 'old man' Voccio. Gosh, he must have been at least 35 years of age, which was old for a rifleman. He was assigned to the First Squad, but I never got to know him very well before he left with a wound. I remember he had a family of his own back home, was a very nice fellow, and that he liked a glass of wine with his K-Ration dinners."
Harris continues, "We had reached the Rhine River and were living in the cellar of a very large house that was almost free of battle damage. Clean, dry, comfortable &endash; but out of wine. Sergeant Shockey, our platoon expert in locating liquor, was not around close. The nearby houses had been searched and the coal piles investigated. We were out of alcoholic beverages and Voccio wanted some wine. So he came to see me. 'Sarge,' he said, I believe I can find us some wine.' He went on to explain that the nice house we were living in and the surrounding area indicated that the Germans who had lived here had money and that type had liquor. Probably more than they could carry away, so that they had to have hidden it. Going over to the fireplace, he picked up a long, brass poker. We went into the yard. Zook for any area where the ground has been dug up or disturbed and we will investigate.' So he was shoving the poker into the ground and we found places to dig up cases of wine. Voccio was right. There was wine and cognac buried close to almost every house in the area. Most had only a foot or two of dirt cover, some had new plants set out. We found a supply ample to last as long as we remained in the area."
It was in this general area, perhaps in the house Harris mentions, that our Combat Medic, Greenfield, went on an uncharacteristic rampage. Being Jewish, he had reason to feel bitter hatred for the Nazi regime and what they had done to Jews in Europe. Perhaps he had felt some satisfaction as he saw the death and destruction being wrought on Germany up to and across the Roer. But here he saw evidence that at least some of the Germans had been enjoying the good life &endash; fine homes, elegant furnishings, good clothing, enough food and plenty to drink. Probably alcohol released Greenfield's inhibitions about expressing his feelings. In any event, as everyone was drinking and relaxing in one of the houses of the well-to-do class, he startled everyone by starting to smash mirrors and vases and to turn over furniture. The others restrained him and he quieted down. Some would deplore this as "vandalism." What would you call it?
Despite all the quiet along our front and the exciting news of breakthroughs on other fronts, it was quite obvious that Hitler's regime intended to continue fighting to the bitter end. It was still a long way from the Rhine to Berlin, or wherever we had to go. Even though the enemy resistance was becoming more disjointed, there was bound to be many more clashes with die-hard units of the once "invincible" Wehrmacht. We knew our turn would come to cross the Rhine; we just didn't know when.
9. SWEEPING FROM THE RHINE TO THE ELBE
The Ozark Division's turn to cross the Rhine finally came on 4 April 1945. When the Second Platoon packed up and loaded trucks that day we had only a hazy notion of where we were going and what it would be like when we got there. For the next three weeks this was generally the case. With our limited knowledge of German geography and no access to wide area maps, we seldom knew where we were relative to any city that we had ever heard of.
Being in the dark about our whereabouts relative to the big picture was nothing new riflemen (and rifle companies' officers, for that matter) were, as a rule, not well informed about the big picture. What was unusual now was that for even high-level commanders, the disposition of enemy forces and what kind of fighting we would have to do were extraordinarily uncertain. After the historic Rhine barrier was breached, the structure of both civil and military authority in the Third Reich had begun to crumble. More and more the Wehrmacht and SS forces were split up by our spearheads. There was no continuous front. Some smaller units were trying to retreat to the east; some were holing up in the hills and forests to resist to the end. The German high command must not have known where all their troops were &emdash; much less did ours. No military history textbook and no current intelligence information enabled our strategists to predict where the retreating Wehrmacht forces would go and how much fight was left in them as they began to be squeezed between our armies on the west and the Russians on the east. Forewarnings, if any, from our higher command were usually rather general; they didn't know much more than we did about who would be hiding along our path. We learned of the enemy's situation mostly first-hand when our passage through forest or village was greeted with either gunfire or white flags.
Lest the reader of these memoirs be as confused as we were at the time, the map below indicates our Platoon's route from the Rhine to the Elbe. The Division History should be consulted for a more detailed description of our part in the Central Europe Campaign.
Generally speaking, we were part of the XIII Corps offensive. The 5th Armored Division was the spearhead of the Corps, thrusting boldly ahead, getting bloodied and battered but breaking through one hasty defense after another along a narrow corridor toward the east. Behind the 5th Armored came the 84th Infantry Division and the 102nd, widening the corridor and doing what was known euphemistically as "mopping up." Most of our hostile contacts were skirmishes, starting whenever our small infantry units were fired upon by snipers and machine guns as they advanced in trucks, on tanks or on foot through the forests. However, there were also several significant battles with enemy forces ranging in number into the thousands, which had been by-passed by the spearhead as it raced along the principal roads. The support of tanks, artillery and air strikes was required in some of these battles.
At the outset, on April 4, we knew only that the Division was moving this day and that we would not have to fight our way across the Rhine as we had across the Roer. Leaving our positions on the west bank just downstream from Dusseldorf, we traveled in a truck convoy from Meerbusch, the location of the Third Battalion CP. As we rolled northward, our convoy merged with an endless line of trucks and towed artillery. The whole division, 14,000 or so of us, were on the move toward a pair of floating bridges at Wesel, about 30 miles from our starting point.
Darkness fell while our trucks were still some distance from Wesel. Having lived under blackout conditions for months, everyone was well-versed in blackout discipline. As we approached the bridge site, we were cautioned that no light should show. Those of us who were inveterate smokers therefore covered up with raincoats or shelter halves to conceal their lit cigarettes. Surprise! The "light line" had been moved east of the crossing site and as each of the undercover smokers came up for air, he was practically blinded by lights everywhere. This became quite a joke &emdash; the "Fighting 102nd" crossing the Rhine in trucks with headlights blazing and lights on the bridge. We were reminded that the war was not far away, however, when we passed fires in Wesel still burning since the battle there.
After crossing the Rhine, our trucks went on for an hour or so before stopping for the rest of the night. From the Division History one can surmise that we were somewhere near Lembeck, about 20 miles north of Essen, on the north side of the "Ruhr Pocket." Three days earlier, the U.S. Ninth and First Armies had completed encirclement of this bomb-battered major industrial region.
9.1 Mopping Up By-Passed Forces
On our first day east of the Rhine, Regimental Combat Team 407 (our regiment plus armor and artillery support) was used as a mobile reserve, split up and deployed in trucks wherever necessary to guard against possible attacks by enemy forces in the gap developing between U.S. and British armies as their paths diverged. (After the assault troops had fought their way through the defense zones along the Rhine and the perimeter of the Ruhr, the U.S. Ninth Army headed east toward Berlin while the British Second Army, on our left, fanned out to the north and northeast toward the big port cities on the North Sea.) Meanwhile RCT 405 and RCT 406 cleared German troops from a swath about ten miles wide behind the 5th Armored spearhead.
As we traveled east along the edge of the Ruhr Pocket, we passed knocked-out tanks and other signs of battle. In the area where airborne forces had landed two weeks earlier (March 24), wreckage of large gliders was everywhere. Some gliders, practically intact, rested in small fields, others hung up in trees, some were burned or badly smashed up. All of us, seeing this silent testimony, were grateful to the troops that rode these gliders, seizing the bridgehead across which we now rode. Sad at their sacrifices; glad that it was not us who had to make another river assault.
The next several days included long truck rides. Fortunately the weather was dry and temperature moderate. However, after two or three hours riding jammed together in two-anda-half-ton trucks we always found it was very difficult to assume an alert standing position immediately upon dismounting. This often happened, as we were required to track down stragglers and by-passed German troops. The mopping-up operation, part of our daily routine as part of RCT 407, proved to be more dangerous than the name implies. As we moved deeper into Germany, the mopping-up involved clearing of the die-hard enemy from houses and basements and always expecting and being interrupted by sporadic artillery and sniper fire.
The German armies were no longer able to maintain a continuous defensive front. There were some strongly held areas, typically in the hilly, dense forests that were scattered along our route, and innumerable small pockets of resistance by isolated units. In many cases, their troops were a mixed bag, whose will to keep fighting in an obviously lost cause was sustained only by the presence of a few SS officers. Many of the latter seemed to prefer death to surrender. We, on the other hand, while not shirking the inescapable necessity of rooting out the hold-outs, meeting fire with fire, tried not to get ourselves killed unnecessarily in the last days of the war.
We spent the second day across the Rhine mopping up a hilly forest, the Teutogebirge. The next day, April 7, we were given a very different task. Around mid-day we were shifted south from the Division's left flank across to Bielefeld, a fair-sized city. German armed forces were gone and police were unable to cope with freed DP's (displaced persons, used as slave laborers by the Germans] when they began widespread breaking in and looting. Some German citizens also began plundering their own merchants. Throughout the afternoon the 407th's 2nd and 3rd Battalions had their hands full in the city streets before the situation was brought under control.
After another day clearing an area near Bielefeld, RCT 407 on April 9 traveled eastward without opposition, crossing the Weser on a heavy pontoon bridge near Bad Oeynhausen behind RCT 406. The 3rd Battalion, 407th Infantry spent the next two days sweeping through forests: Forst Brandhof on April 10 and Forst Oldendorf on the 11th. During this time, from the south, came sounds of heavy artillery and small-arms fire, where RCT 406 was fighting a three-day pitched battle with a determined enemy on the steep, heavily wooded slopes of the Wesergebirge.
We had now been on the move for a week. The Division History describes well how the incessant movement affected many soldiers.
"The war was moving swiftly. It was now considered greatly out of the ordinary course of events for a company to stay in any one town for more than two meals. It was a far cry from life along the Roer River, and a curious sense of insecurity developed among the troops. In spite of the ordeals of defensive life a soldier generally had a place to call his own, if only a comer of a murky cellar or even a muddy foxhole &emdash; it was his own, his 'home.' On the offensive, this security vanished; everyone was on a minute's call to move. The nervous tension of attack never had time to dissipate. As the convoys bored deeper and deeper into Germany, the tension increased. Every field, house, patch of woods, village or town was a potential strongpoint or hiding place for the enemy."
As our advance continued, some days the Platoon rode on top of tanks, getting off when resistance was encountered. This turned out to great fun! The infantryman sitting on the back of the tank became a sitting duck for sniper fire. You couldn't hear the report of the rifle due to the clatter and engine noise and, of course the tank's armor was no protection. The first indication that we were being fired upon was usually when one of us became a casualty. If we had been asked (we weren't) if we wanted to ride, our response would have been: "Thanks, but no thanks we'll walk!"
Part of our duties was the confiscation and destruction of any and all weapons we came across. This policy was aimed primarily at completely disarming the civilian population, which had become a real threat. During this period many prize and vintage shotguns and rifles found in cases in residences, homes and castles were smashed or otherwise rendered nonfunctional. Many of us who could appreciate the quality of workmanship and the value of some of the fine pieces would have dearly liked to be able to send or carry one or more of these pieces home. For the infantry, it was nearly impossible to do this. There wasn't any way to carry them except on our back, which really was impractical and wasn't allowed. It became a sore point that we had to collect these prizes and turn them over to rear-echelon personnel who we heard could mail them home. Later, after we more or less settled down, we were told we could mail shotguns and rifles home. When Art VanAtta, who had a keen interest in antique and fine custom firearms, tried this, his wrapped package, with proper authorization papers attached, was stolen from the mail room. Van understandably always had some harsh words whenever he thought about this. Some Platoon members had better luck, usually with rifles that were not valuable.
From April 12 until April 15 the Ozark Division left RCT 407 behind, under Corps control, finishing clearing Forst Oldendorf and providing security in the area around Corps Headquarters. Meanwhile the rest of the division pushed on eastward to within five miles of the Elbe.
In Hannover the Second Platoon had a large, three-story house to ourselves. Sergeant Eugene Shockey, Third Squad Leader, was an experienced forager who could hardly be beat when it came to ferreting out wine or liquor of any description. As soon as we moved in, he began rummaging around in the cellar and shortly turned up fifty or more bottles of wine. Shockey suggested dividing this up among our Platoon, which amounted to more than one bottle per man. Not knowing what tomorrow would bring, most of us set out to empty our bottle that night. The oft-repeated story is that Lieutenant Wilson and one of the platoon's runners had to stand guard by themselves all night. Is there any wonder why? Everyone was able to move out the next morning despite several hangovers of record proportions.
Clash with Division von Clausewitz
On 15 April the 3rd Battalion, 407th was released by Corps and moved east to Bismark, where Division HQ was located. After two days at Bismark we were wondering when we would move on up to the banks of the Elbe, 20 miles to the east. On April 17 we got the order to move out but the direction taken by the trucks was to the west, back the way we had come. We rode back past Gardelegen and on toward Gifhom, winding up 40 to 50 miles from the Elbe. Why? The answer we got was that an enemy force with armored vehicles was operating in the Corps rear area, ambushing supply convoys and raiding towns to seize vehicles and gasoline. The Third Battalion was being sent back to rejoin the rest of RCT 407, which had been assigned responsibility for securing an area of 1,800 square miles! Needless to say, that was no small task.
Our patrols soon encountered enemy foraging and reconnaissance parties, took some prisoners, and pursued those not captured back into the dense, dark Knesebeck Forest. From these clashes and information obtained by interrogation of prisoners, it became apparent that the enemy had moved a major striking force across the Elbe north of our zone and that this force was now moving south. Our Combat Team's mission was to find, confront and destroy this force. Intelligence estimated on April 19 that this battle group, which called itself Division von Clausewitz, had 25 tanks, 40 half-track armored personnel carriers, 4 batteries of artillery, numerous trucks and other vehicles, and a thousand or so troops.
For several days the enemy maneuvered along forest service roads, successfully avoiding confrontation with our main force. By April 19 the search had narrowed the area where the enemy had to be and on that day this area was heavily shelled and bombed. Incidentally on that day RCT 407 liberated the entire 84th Division HQ rear echelon, which had been traveling in a convoy that was captured by the enemy.
On April 19, Military Intelligence obtained information that the enemy intended to break out that night and make a run south for the Harz Mountains, where Hitler had envisioned a last, glorious stand of the once-mighty Wehrmacht and SS troops. It appeared most likely that they would try to cross the Mitteland Canal, which ran east and west across their path, by the bridges at or near the small city of Fallersleben. [To find Fallersleben on the map today, look for the giant Volkswagen plant at Wolfsburg. Fallersleben is snuggled against the west side of a greatly expanded Wolfsburg.] Two of the 407th Infantry's companies, Company M and 3rd Battalion Headquarters Company, were in Fallersleben that day. The Second Platoon was located at a hamlet just west of Fallersleben where there were some secondary road bridges across the wide canal.
Sometime that day the Platoon CP was notified that we might get unfriendly visitors, including heavy armor, during the coming night. This didn't seem to be considered very likely, however, as there was doubt that the enemy would try to get 60-ton Tiger tanks across the local bridges. So priority was given to defending the heavier bridges at Fallersleben. [Apparently friendly armored forces were unavailable, as Company M and Battalion HQ Company wound up having to do battle without the aid of tanks or antitank guns.] Wannamaker, who had just returned from the hospital and was at the Second Platoon CP, recalls that early in the afternoon word came down for K Company to be prepared to move into Fallersleben to help the two companies already there meet the expected attack. He also says that the Platoon was later ordered to bring our bazookas and mines to company headquarters to be transported without delay to Fallersleben. He adds, "When darkness fell we were still waiting for orders to move out."
At the time, from the ground-level perspective of the Platoon, our higher command appeared to be indecisive. In retrospect, we concede the possibility that Regiment may have been calmly waiting in hope of learning which route the Germans would actually take before shifting K Company. Most likely they would strike with a spearhead directed at Fallersleben. But it was credible that the enemy would send at least part of their forces south along secondary roads through our platoon's position to the bridges there. As night approached, we were ordered to stay where we were, to guard the local bridges against attack from the north or from the east. Harris recalls that "Just before dark the platoon rushed to take up defensive positions on the bridges crossing the canal and on the road from Fallersleben [on the east side of our village]." There was also an outpost on the north, about a hundred yards up the road past the last building. Reist remembers being told that it was likely that an enemy tank column might be coming down from the north on the road. He and two others were sent up the road about nightfall to man the north outpost, armed with a rocket launcher, a B.A.R. and two M-l rifles &endash; woefully inadequate for an encounter with tanks.
Harris's account of the action at the bridge follows. "The center bridge was defended by Sgt. Harris, Sgt. Stumpff, PFC Lahti and three others. We had five land mines to lay on the bridge, a bazooka and a light machine gun. We dug foxholes and set up to wait. As it got dark, we decided to put three on guard while three would try to get some sleep under the bridge. It was at this point that we heard cannon fire to the north and saw flashes of light, so we all stayed awake. After about an hour of waiting all hell broke loose at the bridge on our right [at Fallersleben] - approximately a mile away. A fast and furious battle took place. Two trucks on the bridge were on fire so that we could clearly see a column of tanks and trucks and other vehicles heading into the town. Eventually the sounds of gunfire and the accompanying flashes of light faded away and calm returned." Harris says that some time after the fire fight in Fallersleben died down, "A noise along the canal dike developed into five enemy soldiers coming toward us. They were promptly taken prisoner and we all settled down to await daylight. "
Ironically the bridge, where we had concentrated our remaining handful of mines, was the quietest spot that night. Wannamaker tells what he saw and heard. "When darkness fell, we were still waiting for orders to move out. Stumpff and Shockey left to check on the eastern outpost, the one closest to Fallersleben." [It seems likely that Stumpff had left Harris at the bridge when he saw the fighting was in Fallersleben and went to the Platoon CP to warn of a probable approach from that direction.] The east outpost consisted of a foxhole dug into the ditch on the side of the road, manned by Tedrow, Andrews, Limmer and Wheat. About an hour after Stumpff and Shockey left. Wheat came bursting into the CP. He'd been shot in the shoulder. As we dressed his wound, he told us what had happened.
"When Stumpff and Shockey got to the outpost they were talking to the guys when they picked up the sound of [a tank or] tanks coming down the road [from Fallersleben] toward them. The tanks stopped about a hundred yards down the road and, in the darkness, they couldn't be identified as theirs or ours. Stumpff and Shockey decided to walk toward them and check them out. Stumpff told me later that when they got fairly close they could hear Germans talking, so they got off the road and began making their way back through the fields. Before they got back to the outpost, the tanks started up again. The four guys in the outpost didn't know what to do since there had been no sounds of anything since the two sergeants had left to investigate." They halfway expected that they were ours and so hesitated to fire. The uncertainty was dispelled when the tank [a Tiger] stopped beside them and a voice in perfect English but unmistakable German accent informed them that they were now prisoners. Wheat was in position to try a getaway. He took off running through the dark, drawing a burst of submachine gun fire from the top of the tank. Andrews, Limmer, and Tedrow were taken prisoner.
Stan Pokorski and Quentin Babb had been at the north outpost until relieved by Reist, R.A. Smith and Carl Christine. They had walked back along the dark lane and were among the houses when they heard the firing at Wheat. Then they heard the tanks approaching along the dark street. They figured that there would be German infantry on or behind the tanks, so they decided to wait in a doorway and start throwing hand grenades. When the first tank was only a few feet away they tossed two grenades on its top. At least one rolled off and fell on the far side. When the grenades exploded, the tankers guessed where they had come from and directed machine gun fire at the doorways. Pokorski and Babb, expecting the infantry with the tanks to come after them, beat a hasty retreat. The German column then crept on and turned north out of the village.
Reist has a vivid memory of the situation. He writes, "The north outpost was a breastwork of big rocks stacked so that we would be protected from enemy small arms fire coming from the north into the village. This outpost was located on the south end of a small bridge over a small stream. The farmers had a fence about six feet high on each side of and parallel to the road. These fences were approximately twelve feet apart, (this served as a lane to move livestock from the barnyards to the pastures.) Going to the north outpost was like walking through a tunnel the width of the road with ditches on each side. The fences were nearly impossible to climb over, through or under."
When the lead tank reached the edge of the hamlet behind the men at the north outpost, despite the dim light, they could see it coming out from behind the barn. Reist tells what happened. "We figured the tank had to be German because of its size - it took it a long time to maneuver around the tight comer. We decided to let them pass and then fire the bazooka at the rear of the tank &emdash; a bazooka rocket hitting the front would have had no effect [because of the very thick frontal armor]. We, of course, did not know that our buddies were riding on the top and they could not warn us as they were closely guarded. They approached our outpost from the south [backside] instead of the north. As they approached they raked the position with "burp gun' fire, hitting the rocks and spraying fragments that hit my face, drawing small drops of blood. After the tank passed I fired the bazooka, hitting the rear of the tank. It apparently did no damage but it caused them to open fire again. I dropped the bazooka and we decided it was time to get the hell out of there. Confined by the fences, we ran in the ditches and around trees going back to the Platoon CP. About an hour later the rest of their armored force (some 10 to 15 tanks, jeeps, troop-carrying vehicles and 200 to 250 men) passed through the village. Except for capturing a few German infantry, we had to let them go. Small arms against Tiger tanks didn't seem a wise choice," concluded Reist.
R.A. Smith later described his memories of what happened at the outpost that night. "Carl Christine and one other man and I were on the far 'roadblock' at the other end of town. Two of us were behind the very low wall of rocks and Christine was lying under a G.I. blanket just off the rather narrow roadway. A standard, boring, nothing stint was enlivened by a company runner arriving with a report of German tanks behind our line in Fallersleben and that we should be alert! We waited and waited until convinced it was a false alarm. Christine retreated to his blanket and fell asleep. We thought we heard firing in the distance but, as nothing appeared immediately, we relaxed. Back toward town, the road ran straight for maybe a hundred yards until it cut sharply to the left just behind a barn at the very edge of the road. As we watched in the dim light, the shadowy outline of the barn seemed to expand. We realized that we were watching the approach of a Tiger tank bearing down on us!" Smith's story continues, "Knowing that he would give us all away if he got up and ran, Christine rolled to the far edge of his covering blanket. We realized that our 'position' had been constructed more for effect than for effectiveness. We crouched as low as possible, hoping to blend in with the rock and brush. The tank rumbled by, followed by a German jeep. Maybe the unnatural evenness of our stone 'fortress' caught the eye of the Krauts in the jeep, or maybe one caught a glimpse of movement, but we looked into the muzzle-blast of a 'burp gun* as he sprayed tiny rock fragments in our faces. As soon as they'd gone a short distance beyond us, we scrambled to our feet. Christine calmly [?] informed us. Thought I was a goner. Son-of-a-bitch of a tank ran right over the edge of my blanket. I couldn't move.' We all fired blindly at the retreating enemy not knowing that Tedrow, Andrews and Limmer rode on the tank"
When the enemy returned the fire, Smith and Christine joined Reist in abandoning the north outpost to take cover in the houses. Wannamaker recalls that sometime later he and Pemberton went down to the road and stood at the corner of the big barn and were there when the main body of the enemy's force came through. He says, "When the lead tank came along it was so dark we really couldn't see its outlines but we could have reached out and touched it. There was nothing to be accomplished where we were so we pulled back to the house. Pemberton and I were in some steps leading down to a fruit cellar. The Germans just moved on through." The Second Platoon was spread out, a few in each of several houses and the outposts. When the enemy column approached, some threw grenades and fired their rifles at the dark forms of vehicles creeping along the narrow street, drawing heavy return fire from the tanks' machine guns and accompanying troops. In the darkness and close quarters, the situation was terribly confusing. Not knowing just how large was the enemy force. Platoon members fell back away from the street, taking cover as best they could.
Francolini, Pokorski and Lt. Wilson wound up in the same barn. Wilson decided that if an enemy searcher came through the door, instead of shooting him, which would give away their location, they should kill him with a trench knife. Since Pokorski was the biggest and strongest of the three, he got the assignment of standing guard at the door. No one tried to enter the barn. Eventually all noises in the village ceased. At the first gray light of dawn, Francolini was sent out to reconnoiter. Slipping along the street, he encountered DelaO and the two of them teamed up to continue the scouting. Suddenly a white flag was waved from a doorway and two German soldiers came out to surrender. The main body had moved on through during the night, leaving behind no one but dead, wounded and stragglers such as these.
When the Platoon got together, it was found that Andrews, Limmer and Tedrow were missing. Our wounded included Wheat and Eller, who at that time was designated runner linking the Platoon and the Company CP. From somewhere came a rumor that a German soldier in civilian clothes had scouted the village the preceding afternoon and knew our approximate strength and the location of our outposts.
The Division History states that the enemy started south at 2300 on 19 April and at 0215 hit Fallersleben, where it "was effectively stopped in the course of three hours of furious night fighting." By daylight the enemy had withdrawn, leaving 4 destroyed tanks, 50 dead and 117 prisoners of war. Wannamaker says of the Second Platoon, "The next day we did move to Fallersleben. The Germans had taken some big losses there. I remember one of their jeeps sitting in the road with both occupants still in it &emdash; burned to a black crisp." The Ozark History records that after the fight at Fallersleben, "Three more days were required before RCT 407 completed its task of sweeping out woods." The experience during that time of our three men who were captured was later told by Tedrow. "We rode along until the whole enemy force came to a stop in a forest." Limmer could understand and speak German and it became evident that the Krauts realized they were surrounded. He also learned that an SS lieutenant wanted to kill them and actually lined them up a couple of times to shoot them. A major (the tank force commander) prevented it. Tedrow concludes their story, "As the Germans gave no indication of surrendering as requested, the Fifth Armored began a concentrated artillery barrage. Our captors all dived for cover under their tanks. Deciding not to wait around, we ran for cover elsewhere and escaped. We had been prisoners slightly less than three days. Over three days, it turned out that POWs were being shipped back to the States." So then, as it turned out, the only three of our number ever taken captive were soon back "home" in the Platoon, not back home in the U.S.A.
When the three ex-captives related their stories, it turned out that the SS officer was not the only one who came close to killing them &emdash; their buddies came even closer. They asked and found out that it was Pokorski and Babb who had thrown the grenades at the tank as it passed by the houses. At that point the three captives were walking at gunpoint alongside the tank and it was a wonder that none of them had been wounded when one of the grenades came over the top. By the time the tank was fired on after it passed the north outpost, they were riding on top of it. Smith recalls, "Limmer asked who'd had the B.A.R. on the outpost. When I told him I did, he showed me holes in his pant legs and said I owed him new trousers."
An indication of the chaotic dispersal of the Wehimacht by this time was a brief encounter in Hannover, a few days after the Platoon's night-time clash. Haubenreich, on his way back from hospitalization in England, was with a provisional platoon of men returning to the Ozark Division. He says, "For some reason, maybe the unavailability of trucks, we stopped for two or three days in Hannover, sleeping in a German Army Kaserne [barracks, etc.]. To give us something to occupy our time, and perhaps to make a show of force to the populace, we were called out to hike around the through the city. As usual, we carried our weapons loaded and locked, but we weren't thinking of it as a patrol expecting to run into armed enemy forces. The front was supposed to be 50 to 75 miles to the east. So we carried our rifles at 'sling arms.'
"We marched in a file on either side of the streets. (The sidewalks were frequently covered with rubble.) We kept on going until we were in a quiet district, well away from our army's busy supply route through the city. There were few if any civilians to be seen, much less any motor traffic. So, when we heard a vehicle speed around a corner and approach from our rear, we looked around. I was startled to see a German jeep, filled to overflowing with armed troops. They were jammed two or three deep on the seats and several were sitting on the front and rear decks, hanging on for dear life. Evidently the driver, who could barely see out, didn't spot us until too late to stop and back up. He just floor-boarded the accelerator and sped right between our two files. We looked at them and they looked at us from a range of ten feet. Most of them had "burp guns' slung around their necks. Their faces, dirty and unshaven, showed fatigue more than alarm or hostility. I suppose we had time to recover from our surprise and get our weapons into action &emdash; but no one did. In just a few seconds the jeep, with its cluster of faces looking back at us, screeched around the next comer and out of sight. Why didn't they either start shooting or surrender? Evidently they were intent on avoiding U.S. forces and making their way to somewhere. Neither we nor they were eager to get ourselves killed, especially not in the last few days of now-pointless fighting." During the mopping-up after the night-time action at Fallersleben, the Second Platoon encountered only a few military stragglers, ready to surrender, but had frequent contacts with civilians. Reist tells of an assignment given him by Lieutenant Wilson, probably at about this time. Eggs were a rarity on the menu of G.I. food provided by the Army for infantry soldiers. In the farming villages we found generous supplies of fresh eggs. As Reist knew better than anyone else where to look for them, he was delegated to search out the hiding places these wily German chickens might use to hide their caches of eggs. Reist says, "I can't remember the name of the village, but I found a chicken house housing about 200 or more hens &endash; Brown Leghorns. The eggs had not been gathered for two or three days. I imagine the Second Platoon gathered some 300 eggs. We turned that German house into a cook shack. We feasted on canned rabbit, beef and pork, fried potatoes, black bread &emdash; and all the eggs you could eat, fixed any way you might desire."
9.2 The Watch at the Elbe
Although we weren't running into any more shooting, we were told that there was still a sizeable German army on the east side of the Elbe River, desperately trying to hold back the advancing Red Army while doing their best to get across the river to surrender to the Americans. That made sense, considering what we had heard of the treatment of the Germans by the Russian troops, who were embittered by having had their own home towns burned and their families slaughtered or enslaved.
While RCT 407 was detached under Corps control, the rest of the Ozark Division had taken over an area along the west bank of the Elbe. On April 26 the 407th Infantry returned to Division control. Company K moved up to the river 15 miles north of Magdeburg at the village of Rogatz. The Second Platoon was sent out by itself to occupy Heinrichsberg, a smaller village four miles upstream (south) of Rogatz. As the Platoon entered the village, we encountered Polish DP's (Displaced Persons). Stanley Pokorski, who spoke Polish, was appointed translator/liaison person on the spot. The DP's told Pokorski that there were many more of them in town. They had been slave laborers, working on farms in the area. After their guards went away, they had gathered in Heinrichsberg, in the schoolhouse.
In the rest of the village, we found only women, children and old men. When we went down to the riverfront, we saw that the Elbe here was about 400 yards wide, bordered by dikes that sloped down to the water's edge. At the end of the village street, tied up to pilings in the dike, were two cabin cruisers and a barge on the order of a houseboat that a family called home. There were also several weather-beaten wooden rowboats that had been pulled up on the bank. Looking across the river, not a boat could we see on the other shore. Directly across from us there seemed to be a landing place, with a lonely road running straight away from the river a mile or so to another village. Evidently the Germans fleeing ahead of the Russian army had used anything that that would float and had left it on our side.
Our orders were to remain in Heinrichsberg, on the lockout for any activity on the other side. For our platoon's quarters, we picked one of the more substantial farmhouses in the village. The owners were ordered to leave immediately, taking only the personal belongings that they could carry. We supposed that they moved in with neighbors, as we continued to see them around. Pokorski was ordered to stay at the schoolhouse, where the DP's were located.
Jim Harris recalls the situation this way. "The Germans had stopped firing at us although we could still see activity of the German Army and the Russian Army was not in sight. None of us wanted to be the last man killed, so we stopped shooting also.
The last shot fired at the enemy by anyone in the Second Platoon was probably by Quentin Babb. Pokorski was with Babb and when they met again forty years later at Gatlinburg, one of the first things Babb asked was "Do you remember the day you beat me up?" Pokorski remembered it quite well. The way he tells it, one day not long after arrival in Heinrichsberg, he and Babb were posted in some kind of isolated building [a barn?] to keep watch on the river. After a while they saw a German soldier on the other shore. Babb said "Look at that!" and, doing what had been normal when an enemy was spotted, fired at him. After a bit another soldier showed up and Babb took a potshot at him. Pokorski was fussing at Babb: "Don't do that! They may have a tank over there that will try to blow us out of here!" But Babb was not easily deterred and took a shot the next time another moving target appeared. Pokorski told him if he did that again, he would beat him up. After a bit, Babb fired another shot. It was his last. Good as his word, Pokorski proceeded to beat the tar out of Babb using his fists.
Some of the most outstanding, albeit somewhat blurred, memories of Heinrichsberg for most of us is the barge that fell into our hands ~ or, more precisely, the cargo of the barge. Jim Harris was there when the barge showed up. His account follows. "We had foxholes dug by the Germans on our side of the river but had no use for them. We maintained an outpost on the river and on each edge of the village. This village was near [about 20 miles south of] Tangermünde, almost across the river from where the Potsdam [Elbe-Havel] Canal led into Berlin about 30 miles away. [We learned later that Heinrichsberg was 65 miles from the center of Berlin.] Every day a small boat would cross over with German officers flying a white flag. They would not talk to us but were taken by jeep to talk to our brass in the rear. Life was good at that time for us. One morning Jack Tedrow and I were down at the wharf when a large self-propelled barge came down the river and docked. An English-speaking German officer came over and said the barge was loaded with liquor for German headquarters in Berlin. He heard the Russians were in Berlin so he came back down the canal. He wanted to surrender the barge to us to keep it (and him) away from the Russians. We went on board and were astounded to see the huge volume of liquor: magnum bottles of cognac, cases of wine and champagne, cases of premium cognac, etc. almost beyond our imagination." R. A. Smith recalls that Sergeant Eugene Shockey, who had run a bar in Ypsilanti before the government had offered him broadened horizons, estimated the booze booty as "between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars wholesale, pre-war." Markings on the boxes and cases indicated that they had come from various regions of France. Each case was stamped with the eagle and swastika of the Wehrmacht. As far as we were concerned, that made the barge's cargo legitimate trophies of war, and we should take care of these trophies ourselves! However, as Smith recalls "We immediately each took a sample bottle and studied the question, 'What would a good military commander do in a case like this?' " Harris's account continues: "After a quick conference we arranged for some Polish slave laborers to hitch up a large wagon and take a load to our cellar at once. We knew that the top brass would confiscate it all at once, so we took a second wagon load to our cellar, then reported it to Battalion Headquarters after giving the Poles enough to keep them silent. Jack Tedrow and I concealed one magnum of cognac, which we buried that night in a German foxhole on the dike and covered it over with sand. It may still be there!"
Wannamaker recalls it this way: "There was a strategy session which dictated that we would take care of Second Platoon needs first and then we would call Company HQ and say 'guess what we found.' There was 4-star cognac in magnum bottles, each with its own pewter dispenser top, wrapped in a straw sleeve and packed in a wooden box. The boxes were banded together in three-box packages. There was champagne, some wine and a small supply of tinned food. Eugene Blair Shockey, the king of booze scroungers, rounded up a farmer with a team and wagon for the job of hauling the stuff to our CP. I can remember our throwing case after case on the wagon until it was piled so high the farmer was protesting. That was the only wagon load I remember us taking. It was tucked away all over our rambling house."
Smith remembers that after the Platoon reported the liquor find, "We received orders from Company HQ, superseded within an hour by orders stalting that no one was to remove any booze without written permission from Battalion. Regiment pulled rank, as did Division." Smith continues, "Of course we obeyed the orders to the letter. My happiest (well it is right up there near the top) memory of this episode was the day that a command car, followed by a short-bed truck pulled up to the foot of the gangplank. How I envied Limmer as he, very correct, at port arms, halted the portly figure halfway up the gangplank. As Colonel Dwyer roared and blustered, 'Dammit, soldier, you know who I am. Stand aside!' Limmer responded, 'Yes sir, I do, sir. Do you have written orders from Division Headquarters, sir?' This interchange, with minor variations went on for several minutes as we surreptitiously took care of the enlisted men who were supposed to load up the Colonel's vehicles. Colonel Dwyer left &emdash;dry."
Orders or no orders, we were more open-handed with other visitors than Limmer had been with the colonel. Jeep drivers bringing our chow down from the company kitchen got bottles, of course. Wannamaker remembers a larger gift, as follows. "One day an artillery spotter plane landed on the levee and taxied up to the barge. The pilot asked if this was the outfit with the booze and could he get some. We loaded that little plane about the way we'd done the farm wagon. When the plane left it wobbled down the top of the levee until it was almost out of our sight before the pilot could get it up and away."
There were somewhere around 150 bottles of champagne, which were divided up among all platoon members who wanted any. The liqueurs and cognac were so plentiful (hundreds and hundreds of bottles) that they were unlimited; open bottles sat around all the time. The champagne turned out not to be the big treat some of us expected. There was no ice to be had, of course. So we discovered that warm champagne spews violently from the bottle when the cork pops out and the fizz is lost at the same time. Some tried to solve the warm champagne problem by tying a string to a bottle and letting it down into the river. That cooled it down some but not enough.
R.A. Smith's experience stuck with him. He said later, "Remember, Bols Cherry Brandy isn't just for breakfast! In addition to anything else I had, I personally consumed a full case of the stuff in less than a week. Nowadays even Cheracol cough syrup tastes suspect."
Shortly after we got to Heinrichsberg, a direct telephone connection was established between our house and K Company headquarters in Rogatz. We heard that our regiment had just lost an entire company, presumably captured. The story was that somewhere in the higher echelons of command, a decision had been made to send an infantry company across the river in boats, with orders to reconnoiter to the east and, if possible, establish contact with the oncoming Red Army. Company C, 407th Infantry got the assignment. Not long after they had crossed, radio contact was lost. Then heavy small-arms fire was heard from the direction they had taken. That died down after a while. No one made it back to the river. A week or so later we learned what had happened. The company had advanced through a village or two without resistance. Then as they crossed open terrain toward the next village, they suddenly came under heavy machine gun fire which pinned them down. When tanks approached, the C Company commander saw that it was surrender or be wiped out. He surrendered. The German commander, with an eye to his own future treatment, treated the prisoners well and brought them with his unit when their turn came to cross the river and surrender to the U.S. Army. The C Company men had been P.W.'s just long enough to qualify for repatriation back to the States under the existing policy for Americans freed from P.W. camps.
Wannamaker recalls another expedition across the river, this one strictly impromptu. His story follows. "One day I was on CQ ('in charge of quarters') in the CP, sound asleep on a couch when I woke up to find three German officers staring down at me. That had come through our outposts and had to ask the civilians where the Americans' CP was. There was no fear on either side and they told me they wanted to make arrangements to bring some wounded across the river. I sent them downriver to Company HQ in Rogatz. That night I was sitting at the table with Francolini and (I believe it was) Lahti, having a drink. We discussed the fact that when the Germans got to Rogatz the guys in Company HQ would get all the side arms. As we drank, the thought of losing out on that haul became more unbearable. I mumbled something like Tor two cents I'd go across that river tonight and get those pistols. Franky said he'd go with me and Lahti did too.
"We went down to the river, pumped up a rubber raft that was there and took off. We headed for a light on the opposite shore and it led us to where barges were tied up. We tied up the raft and climbed up the bank to encounter a very startled but not hostile German sentry. I explained in my flawless (?) German that I was an American Unteroffizier (a buck sergeant) and wished to speak to the Commandant. The sentry took off and we stood there in the dark among the Germans who were feverishly loading the barge. We were sweating it a little bit but presently we saw an officer, wearing a full length black coat, coming toward us. In the dim light he couldn't see that we were standing on the edge of a big hole. He promptly fell on his face at our feet. When we regained our composure, I explained to him that I was sent by the American commander in Rogatz to deliver two messages. The first message was if the Russians close in on him and he was forced to move at night, he was to put a white flag on the bow of his barge and shine a light on it.' The second message was 'He was to collect all of the officers' side arms and deliver them to us.' Pretty clever thinking for some lowly infantrymen, was it not? It worked and a half hour later someone handed us a heavy gunny sack and we took off. On the way back the raft started losing air and we had furiously pump it up all the way home.
"As we sat around having another drink, we dumped the loot on the table. Not bad! Somthing like thirty-two pistols of all descriptions. There was one Luger, which we set aside for Lt. Wilson, who had always wanted one. We divided the rest and I got a P-38, serial number 4444 (which I still have fifty years later). We were pretty pleased with ourselves until we started thinking about some things. In the morning the Germans would come across at Rogatz and the guys at Company HQ would demand their side arms. The Germans would say 'We turned them over to your Unteroffizier last night.' We figured that in all likelihood the HQ bunch would add it all up and come down to the Second Platoon looking for the purloined pistols. We very quickly hid our haul where they'd never find it and prepared to put up a big front of innocence. However, nothing more ever came of that adventure." The Germans, civilians and military alike, were trying to get away from the Russians, as they feared reprisals for the harsh treatment of Russian prisoners by the Germans. Harris recalls an episode in the attempts of civilians to flee ahead of the Red Army. "A very few days later the Second Platoon was ordered to take a load of civilians back across the river. We were not told why &emdash; only to do so. We could bring back soldiers but no civilians. We loaded them up, Tedrow ran the barge, and we crossed the Elbe to where hundreds of armed soldiers were awaiting us.
"The civilians did not want to get off the boat and more wanted to come on board. We explained to the soldiers that our orders were to accept no civilians but could take soldiers back across. The soldiers helped get the civilians off and then as many as possible came aboard. I noticed Volkssturm, who had no uniform but only armbands, were also getting on board. We could only accept soldiers so the Volkssturm were put ashore also and replaced by soldiers. I only recall one trip back and forth across the river."
R. A. Smith's recalls that both barges were pressed into service as ferries. "We put in a long, long day as they carried their human cargo, trip after trip, across the river. We processed military prisoners and rejected the civilians. Courtyards filled with German soldiers, most seemingly relieved to have it finished and not being held by the feared Russians. Later in the afternoon the two barges tied up on our side of the river." After the Wehrmacht troops on the east bank had all been ferried across and marched off to the rear, our patrols along the dike up and downriver turned up no sign of either enemy or allies. Thereafter we maintained our watch on the river mostly from one of the two moored cabin cruisers. Reist recalls that some of us tried out the smaller, more elegant cruiser. Just as they reached the far bank the engine slowed and stopped. After a while they recognized that the Jerries had disabled the cooling water pump. After it cooled for a few hours, the engine started again and got them back to our shore.
Upriver, beyond our sector, some action continued for a day or two. We could see in the distance clouds of smoke and occasionally hear small arms fire. A jeep driver brought the rumor that the Russians had set fire to woods along the river and were shooting the Germans who were trying to swim the river to escape the flames. This seemed plausible as some of our observers at the river outpost had reported seeing bodies floating past.
Somewhere along the way to Heinrichsberg, the Platoon had come across a civilian car in running order. Lieutenant Wilson agreed with the men that it would be a useful addition to the Company's transportation. So we fixed it up, painted a white star on the hood and brought it with us to Heinrichsberg. Some seem to remember that it was a sedan and that, to facilitate rapid exit in case of an ambush, we cut the top off. Wannamaker remembers it as a beautiful Mercedes convertible "whose doors clicked shut like a bank vault." In any case it was rather conspicuous in. a convoy of G.I. vehicles and evidently was noticed by someone up the command chain. Wannamaker recalls, "After Lt. Blanchard made an inspection of the Second Platoon, he went back to Rogatz and called down an order for us to bring the car to to company headquarters." Of course we thought we needed "our car" more at Heinrichsberg than did anyone at higher headquarters. The guys who had worked so hard to get the car in good shape were especially upset. "Lieutenant Wilson called back and [stood up for them, presenting their side of the picture.} After a heated exchange John told Blanchard that he wasn't getting the car. The guys were scared that John would get in bad trouble and volunteered to send the car back to Blanchard." Some others were of a different mind: rather than see it go to "rear echelon brass," they first put sugar in the gas tank, then decided to "field-strip" it of essential parts. Eventually it did get back to the rear and the Platoon lost both the car and our well-liked leader. Lt. Wilson was disciplined by being transferred out of K Company. .
Wilson had both our respect and our friendship. The new lieutenant earned neither. R. A. Smith remembers "When our illustrious leader was removed over a trifling automotive misunderstanding, we were saddled with Lt. Brand X who told and retold us that after ten years in the Army, he'd only reached Second Lieutenant and how he blamed his wife who, incidentally, was bleeding him through his allotment." Wannamaker adds, "We were all glad that Lt. Walker was never our combat leader. Ten years in the army and his greatest skill was being able to eat with chopsticks. He worried constantly that we would cause him to get a court martial or at very least relieved like John had been."
On May 7 we got the word &emdash; the war in Europe was officially over. The highest German commanders had signed surrender papers. Hitler was missing. The rumor was that he had committed suicide to avoid capture by the Russians. We heard that the day had been declared Victory in Europe Day and that celebrations were going on back in the States. There wasn't much celebrating at Heinrichsberg. We had already celebrated, at least internally, when we got to the Elbe and concluded that we were probably going to survive the war. The war in this theater anyway - the war in the Pacific was still far from over and we expected to get sent there before long.
The day after V-E, Haubenreich and Schaible arrived back with the Second Platoon after months spent in hospitals and replacement depots. (Haubenreich had been wounded November 30 at Welz; Schaible, February 23 at the Roer crossing.) The last two days, they had been at Division headquarters, waiting for transportation and helping herd prisoners of war (P.W.s). At the Luftwaffe base in Stendal, which was extensively booby-trapped, the airfield had been turned into a staging area for P.W.s being passed back by the Ozark Division. Before the end, surrender of a whole army to the Ozark Division had been negotiated. There had been a continuous file, 24 hours a day, on planks lashed across girders of the damaged railroad bridge at Tangermunde. The soldiers brought with them their small arms, which they tossed on huge piles as they came off the bridge. Their own officers then formed them up in columns and marched them back to the airfield, where they patiently waited their turn to be searched. Barbed wire enclosures had been set up and a hundred or so prisoners at a time were marched in and required to open their packs and submit to search. Straight razors (which were still fairly common among the Germans), pocketknives and compasses were taken from them. The batch then passed out of the pen and climbed into trucks to be transported to a prisoner of war camp somewhere to the rear.
When Company K halted at the river, the kitchen set up operations in Rogatz. It wasn't practical for the Second Platoon to go the six miles around by the road to Rogatz three times a day, so at each mealtime the kitchen crew put hot food in insulated "Mermite" cans which were transported to us in a trailer towed by one of the Company's jeeps. Our only chore was to heat water and wash our messkits. The father of the family whose house we had taken over showed up every day, keeping an eye on things. With forty enemy soldiers lying around, he no doubt worried about theft or damage to his property, but he didn't dare give us any trouble. In fact, after watching for a few days and being invited to share some of our cognac and food leftovers, he decided we were not as terrible as he might have feared. He and his family, including two little girls about 8 or 10 years old, became rather friendly. They were cooperative, helping us to set up a fireplace in the farmyard, with big pots to heat water for baths and to wash our messkits.
When we reached the Elbe and the end of combat, strict orders had been issued that troops must stop "liberating" German articles of all kinds except "war materiel." However, the practice of scrounging for food did not completely stop, despite the official prohibition. The G.I. chow from the company kitchen was pretty good, but some Platoon members missed some of the better meals that had been possible as a result of foraging along the way across Germany. One evening Valdez, who was one of the more skilled foragers, came to Sgt. Harris and said he just had to have some fried chicken. There was a chicken coop near the house where we were staying and we had sneaked a few eggs. Now Valdez proposed that we get ourselves a couple of chickens. He assured Harris that he could get them without anyone knowing about it. He showed Harris his "secret weapon". He had a broom handle with a long, flexible wire nailed to the end and a staple beside it, through which the wire could be passed. Holding the broomstick in one hand and the wire in the other, he could push the wire out to form a noose. Valdez planned to go to the henhouse when all were asleep, slip the noose over a sleeping chicken's head and jerk it tight to kill the chicken before it could make a sound. The plan worked perfectly as Valdez lifted two chickens off the roost and passed them out to Harris. Retreating to our house, they dressed and fried the chicken. Hams remembers: "Wow, were they good! This was repeated every two or three nights while we remained up on the Elbe. Valdez could sure fry chickens."
Another change that came with the end of combat was the end of the practice of periodically bringing up bags of clean clothing. So it was that each of us was stuck with whatever clothing he had on at the end. Many, perhaps most, had shirts and trousers that were larger than necessary, which gave us a sort of baggy appearance. Our hair was neat, though, because our Platoon included a passable barber: Private Stanley Valdez. He had come in as a replacement late in the war and, as he was a big, muscular man, he was given the First Squad's B.A.R. "Swampy" Madison, who had carried it for so long, was a little guy and was greatly relieved to be back carrying an M-l. Valdez turned out to be skilled with scissors and after we began to have free time at Heinrichsberg soon had everyone's hair neatly trimmed.
A few days after the German soldiers had been brought across the river, our outpost in the cabin cruiser spotted a small party coming down the road to the opposite shore. Through binoculars we could see they were wearing Russian uniforms. When they reached the shore, they waved and motioned for us to come over. We got Company Headquarters on the phone and were told to take our power boat and go see what they wanted. We did and found that the party consisted of what seemed to be junior officers and/or non-corns. After warm mutual greetings including bearhugs and admiration of each others' weapons, they got across to us that what they wanted was to talk to our commander. So we brought the party back across to Heinrichsberg, to the living room that was our Platoon CP, There they were appropriately greeted by our Lieutenant and sergeants: tumblers of cognac were poured and toasts to victorious allies were exchanged. Inevitably they learned of the abundance of drink in our possession. Finally the Russians told us their business. In their village they were holding some allied prisoners of war that they had liberated and wanted to turn over to us. In turn we told them of the Polish DP's whom we were guarding. They seemed rather uninterested until they heard that most of the DP's were women. Then they had to go and see for themselves. When the meeting concluded and we took the Russian soldiers back, we were under the impression that on the next day the Russians would bring all the liberated P.W.s to the river for us to ferry over.
The next day, as expected, a party of Russian soldiers come to the river bank and waved for us to come over. We found that with them they had only a couple of allied prisoners. They were English, immensely glad to see us. They had been prisoners since their capture four years earlier at Dunkerque. Although not starving, they looked pretty worn out and in need of medical attention. Their Russian escort made us understand that we would have to wait until tomorrow for more to be more released. Meanwhile they insisted that we take them across the river so they could further investigate the case of the DP's in Heinrichsberg. As it turned out, this was a ploy to let a different group of Russian soldiers come over every day, bringing only a couple of P.W.s each time and staying for hours to enjoy OUT cognac and visit with the women at the schoolhouse.
On the whole, the daily meetings with the Russians were pleasant enough. On one occasion when cognac had been flowing freely, somehow our Platoon Sergeant (Mollica) and a Russian sergeant got into a incomprehensible but heated exchange of angry words. The Russian drew his pistol from his holster but he was wobbly from the alcohol and before he could get his pistol aimed at Mollica he was disarmed by one of his comrades. Calm was restored and before they parted, the two sergeants were again behaving as friendly allies should.
Practically every member of the Platoon had one or more pistols, taken from German dead or prisoners. Wannamaker recalls, "One day when we were sitting around the table cleaning our pistols, Mollica had a Belgian automatic that he wasn't too familiar with. I was sitting across the table from him when the damn thing went off right over my head and shot a picture off the wall. Tony was really embarrassed and apologized all over the place. (That was the second time a G.I. had taken a shot at me; the other time being at Welz.)" Soon afterwards an order was issued that all pistols retained by individuals as war trophies must be stored in a safe manner. The Platoon's handguns were tagged with the owners' names and placed in a large wooden box. There were lots of P-38's, several 9-mm Lugers, a few Polish and Russian pistols, and many smaller caliber (7.65-mm) automatics: Walthers and Mausers from Germany and various makes from Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Periodically they were taken out of the box and cleaned.
Wannamaker and Stumpff were detached from the Platoon for a while. Wannamaker tells the story: "Somewhere along here, Lt. Wilson came back to visit the Platoon. It was great to see him. He was doing his lawyer thing with the War Crimes Commission and his job entitled him to a vehicle, a driver and an interpreter. He chose Stumpff to be his driver and me to be his interpreter. Stumpff hardly new how to drive and I spoke only a bit of German and none of the legal-speak at all. Nevertheless, each day we'd get a vehicle from the motor pool, draw some rations and take off, looking for war criminals and witnesses. The weather was nice, we enjoyed each other's company and occasionally we would actually find the party we were looking for. One day we had a German amphibious jeep, with the propeller in back. I was driving and spotted an obscure road going off to the right ahead of us. Without warning I peeled off up the dirt road and, as we bounced along, I glanced at John. He was as white as a sheet and looking at me with wide eyes through those thick glasses. I may have ruined the good deal, because shortly thereafter John got a new driver and a new interpreter. We only saw him occasionally after that."
When Lt. Walker had been drinking a few extra toasts, he would be moved to the point of weeping by the prospects of our shenanigans hurting his prospects for a career in the army after the war. However, with the help of the cognac, his attitude was usually mellow and tolerant and the atmosphere was quite relaxed. Since only a few men were on duty at the outpost or at other sentry posts at any one time, we had plenty of leisure time. Eating and sleeping were popular. Some of the Platoon members tried for fish, tossing hand grenades into eddies along the shore, without much success. Some were quite content to loaf in the house or to take a bottle and sack out in the hayloft of the attached barn. Schaible, Haubenreich and others volunteered for dike patrol, riding miles in the pleasant late spring weather on commandeered bicycles.
Van Atta was still on the lockout for more war trophies, particularly firearms. That led him and Haubenreich into something of an adventure. They wondered what the Germans might have dropped on the other side of the river when they crowded into the boats to come across. So they decided they would just quietly slip over and see what they could find. When they started looking at the rowboats they discovered that the Jerries must have thrown the oars in the river; none was to be found. Not to be thwarted, they found a couple of driftwood boards that they figured could be used to paddle one of the boats canoe fashion. They looked for a small, narrow boat. The nearest they could come to a canoe was a heavily built, flat-bottomed skiff about twenty feet long. It was old, water-logged and heavy. Nearby was a rubber boat, about the size of a small bathtub or a large truck inner tube, which they surmised was a one-person life raft from a fighter plane. In it were two stubby paddles, designed to be used, one in each hand, by a person sitting in the bottom of the raft. On a whim they tossed the raft and paddles in their scow and launched forth. As soon as they got away from the shore, they were immediately impressed with the speed of the Elbe's current, the drag that it exerted on their craft, and how wide the river now seemed to be. Nevertheless, the lure of possible loot on the other side overcame their trepidation and they paddled on. Despite energetic paddling with the boards, they were carried downstream by the current and wound up at the east bank more than a mile below their intended landing at the road opposite Heinrichsberg. As they rested, they realized that across from them was the mouth of a sizeable stream [the Ohre River] entering the Elbe. They realized that if they did no better going back than they had coming over, they would wind up below the tributary and couldn't simply hike back along the dike to Heinrichsberg. Their solution was to cross the river in the one-man life raft. By sitting with feet under the other guy's armpits they could just squeeze in. When they launched, they found that with their combined weights plus a rifle and a carbine, cartridge belts and steel helmets, there was almost zero freeboard. Consequently they wielded the little paddles somewhat gingerly. As a result they did not swamp but did land below the river mouth. They portaged the raft to the tributary, paddled across and trudged back along the dike to Heinrichsberg, arriving before anyone had missed them.
All good things must come to an end and that included our barge load of liquor. One lazy afternoon a phone call from a buddy in company headquarters warned us that Division was sending trucks, already on the road, to haul off our barge's cargo, to be distributed more widely. Immediately the Platoon sprang into action. Someone located a farm wagon not being used at the moment. Eager hands propelled it down to the riverfront and a human chain from the hold to the gangplank to the wagon soon had enough bottles in the wagon bed to satisfy all but the greediest among us. At a run, we pulled and pushed the wagon up the street to a convenient barn and quickly piled hay high over the bottles. When the trucks arrived, we expressed surprise and dismay that we hadn't thought to bury our treasure. The remaining amount on the barge was apparently enough to convince them that they had the whole load. So, without further exploration, they emptied the barge and drove off. (Reist's recollection is that there was still several truck loads.)
Wannamaker recalls, "When we had to leave Heinrichsberg, we still had a big stock of booze that we couldn't take with us. Shockey got a bunch of it moved into a small back room in the cellar and then had a German bricklayer seal up the doorway with bricks and mortar. I suppose he hoped tha some way he'd be able to come back and retrieve it. I'd bet that our trucks weren't out of sight before that bricklayer was drunk as a skunk!"
While we were at Heinrichsberg, we enjoyed the rest; we did not worry much about what would happen beyond the next day or next week. One thing we knew was not going to happen right away: we weren't about to go home. If we made another ocean voyage any time soon, it would be to help bring an end to the bloody fighting with the Japanese. Although suffering heavy losses on island after island, like the English in 1940, the Japanese were determined to fight on the beaches and in the streets of their home island rather than surrender as a nation. Meanwhile in Germany, it was evident that for weeks to come practically the whole army would be needed to impose and maintain order among the civil population, to get DP's shipped back home, and to do something with the million or more captured German troops in prison camps. We could only guess at who would then ship out to the Pacific and who would stay in Germany for longer-term occupation duties. We supposed that the 102nd Division would be among those assigned to the task of invading Japan &emdash; an operation that would certainly mean heavy losses. Each of us knew that as a rifleman hitting the beach, his chances of coming through even a few weeks alive and uninjured would be less than fifty percent. Needless to say the Pacific was much on our mind as we awaited our turn to go. When the order came down to get ready to move out, however, the only information we were given was that we were being pulled back from the river.
We wondered if some other outfit would take responsibility for Heinrichsberg. If so, we never saw them. On or about May 15, trucks came, we piled in with our gear, and away we went, leaving behind, unattended, the DP's. All the Poles, at least. We had gotten to know a young fellow from Holland who somehow had wound up in the village. When he heard we were leaving, fearing takeover by the Russians, he begged us to let him hitch a ride west with us. We did, hiding him among our packs on the floor of a truck. He rode with us to our destination but, considering where that was, whether the ride was much help or not was questionable.
10. AWAITING TRANSPORT TO JAPAN
10.1 Gross Garz
When we left Heinrichsberg, it was to join the rest of K Company in a move about fifty miles north, to an isolated and quite undistinguished hamlet: Gross Garz. The weather had turned gloomy and after the sunny days along the broad river. Gross Garz seemed hemmed in and depressing. Much of the flat, sandy land around the village was covered with patches of dark forest and the interspersed farmland did not appear very prosperous. Nowhere was there a modem house.
The house assigned to the Second Platoon was especially crude. It was ancient, low-ceilinged, sooty, inadequately lighted, and too small even for everyone to stretch out on the floor. The beds had mattresses stuffed with straw, supported by sagging ropes attached to the bed frame. As a result quite a few of the platoon chose to sleep in the hay in the barn.
Our dissatisfaction was no doubt increased by the change from the relaxed atmosphere at Heinrichsberg and the loss of the degree of independence that the platoon had enjoyed there. Some time before Lt. Blanchard had taken over as Company Commander, replacing Captain Rhodey. Now that the fighting was over and the Company was all together, Lt. Blanchard set out to shape up his troops, who had long neglected some of the finer points of military courtesy and appearance. That was no easy task.
One day Blanchard was dismayed and angered at the outcome of a Company assembly at which he ceremoniously awarded a bronze star to the Company Mess Sergeant, Louis Bodine (his second). We riflemen regarded this sergeant as a "rear echelon" type. An award to him that many among the Company's real fighting men deserved but had never received was unpopular to say the least. As soon as the formation was dismissed, a great shout of disgust went up from the ranks, which the Company Commander (rightly) took as directed at him.
One task that the Company had at Gross Garz was to locate and register all the DP's in the surrounding area. The homes of most of the farmers were clustered in the village, but there were several isolated farmsteads out a kilometer or two. The farms were small and we found no large group of slave laborers such as we had come across in other, more open country. Generally there were a few DP's at each of the isolated farms, being used as slave laborers. All the able-bodied German men had gone off to war. On one farm, we were met with an unusual request. The old German couple whose farm it was had lost all their sons, dead or missing in combat. A Polish family assigned to work for them apparently had done well and had been more or less adopted. Now that it appeared that they would be repatriated, the farmer wanted them to stay. The old couple must have offered them a good deal because the Poles begged us to let them stay, saying they had nothing in Poland to return to. We sympathized and passed on their request but moved away before any further action was taken.
One enjoyable by-product of our interactions with the farmers around Gross Garz was that we were able to trade regularly for eggs and onions and grease to fry them in. We had plenty to eat, cooked in our old house, while we stayed there.
Thankfully our stay was not long. On or about May 28, a tracked vehicle, which we recognized as British, a Bren Gun Carrier, drove into the village. We heard from the English soldiers who dismounted that the U.S. Army was turning over the occupation duties in this part of Germany to the British. During the next couple of days we passed on to the British advance party what little we knew about the village and surrounding country. On June 2, Company K hit the road again.
10.2 Nauendorf, Thuringia
The move from Gross Garz to our next position was to be our longest yet and it was early morning when the trucks came for us. We were ready and were soon on our way, with no regrets at leaving. Within a few miles Company K's trucks had joined others carrying the rest of the Third Battalion. Soon our long convoy was rolling down a paved highway, headed south. As it turned out, we rode just about all day with periodic rest stops, covering about 150 miles before reaching our destination.
Passing Osterburg, we left the woods behind and rolled across open farmland. The convoy wound its way through the streets of Magdeburg, a good-sized city, passing many bombed-out buildings, evidence of air-raids aimed at the bridges over the Elbe. From our seats in the trucks, we could look over the rubble and see for blocks in any direction.
Continuing southward, we left the river plain and got into rolling country around Halberstadt. The weather was pleasant, mild and dry. The trucks were uncovered and not too crowded. So we sat and dozed or enjoyed the scenery. Along in the afternoon, we passed through the old city of Gotha. (The names rang a bell with those of us who had grown up reading pulp-paper magazines about World War I aerial combat; famous aircraft produced in Halberstadt and Gotha were called by their hometown names.)
Beyond Gotha we approached the foot of a range of wooded hills. (Later we learned its name: the Thuringian Forest or Thüringer Wald.) Now the convoy split up. Battalion Headquarters stopped ten miles south of Gotha in the small town of Georgenthal. Company K moved on about two miles to the village of Nauendorf.
Unlike our previous location, Nauendorf had some pretty nice houses, not all of them with connected barn and manure pile. The village was strung out along the paved road that here bugged the foot of a long ridge. The houses for Company K billets had already been chosen and cleared of occupants. The Second Platoon moved into a substantial, two-story residence situated on a steep slope above the road. Up behind the house were orchards and forest. From the front windows we had a good view across level, cultivated land that stretched away on the other side of the road. A mile or two across the pleasant fields we could see another, larger village which we were told was Ohrdruf. The name meant nothing to us at the time.
Looking around we found we were next door to a Gasthof. An Englishman would have called it a "pub." Behind the bar and dining room there was a Kegelbahn, a rather crude, single-lane bowling alley under an open-sided shed. The game was different from American bowling in that the pins were smaller and the balls were both smaller and without holes for thumb and fingers. Beyond the Gasthof was a building with a metal sign by the door that proclaimed it to be the local offices of the NSDAP &emdash; the Nazi Party. Souvenir hounds among us rummaged through this building's contents and turned up, among bushels of official-looking documents, a banner with a big swastika and several neat lapel pins. For those among us with more refined tastes in souvenirs, the shopkeeper next door offered for sale beautiful figurines of delicate porcelain.
There was nothing beautiful or delicate about the concentration camp at Ohrdruf. We had heard of the terrible condition of prisoners in the concentrations camps that Allied armies were discovering, but had not seen one ourselves. After Generals Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton visited Ohrdruf and were sickened by the smells and sights of piles of corpses, some partially burned in bonfires, Eisenhower had issued an order that American units in the area were to visit the camp. Harris, representing our platoon, spent a day there. His recollections follow.
"I recall a jeep took three of us Ozarks on the short ride to the Ohrdruf camp before daylight one morning. I was taken by a couple of Military Police to count prisoners. The SS guards and other prisoners being held in the camp were bedded down in wooden sheds: three walls and a roof, completely open in front, with straw to sleep on. No one would identify the Camp's main officers. I was briefed: "These guys are all thugs and killers, so do not feel sorry for them." Our people wanted to know who had been in charge of the camp and were going to keep these SS guys in that condition until they talked.
"They were ordered to line up for counting. One man fell down. Pull him over to the side and start counting all over. Then they were given breakfast. Each had a tin can the size of a Campbell soup can and got a dipper of soup and a piece of bread about fist size. I was told that this was what each former prisoner in the camp had received for a full day's food ration, so we had doubled the food ration. Plenty of water.
"The U.S. Army was building a boxing ring near by and a 12-man work party was loaded on a truck and moved out early while all the remaining P.O.W.s cleaned up the area and were marched around doing useless tasks. A steady stream of P.O.W.s were called out and taken for questioning at Headquarters.
"We had a nice lunch and ate where the prisoners could see us and smell the coffee. The day passed. At evening the work party returned and were waiting to be returned to their assigned areas when a couple of M.P.s who had been with them all day told us they saw the workmen pick up things from where they were building the boxing ring and concealed them. We decided to have a strip-down inspection on the spot. The men stripped to their skin and stepped back. A pint bottle of gasoline, quite a few potatoes, cans of sardines, tins of white margarine, boiled eggs, bread, a couple of knives, etc. It appeared that civilians in the area had placed these items during the night where they could be found. All items were placed in a neat pile. Picks and shovels were issued and they started to dig a six-foot-deep hole to bury each separate item. They were told that after everything was buried, they could get their can of soup and piece of bread. They were still working when the jeep came to return us to "K" Company.
"I was told a couple of days later that on that night several of the small fry had enough and pointed out all of the top SS brass from Ohrdruf Concentration Camp." About the time we moved to Thuringia, our own rations were reduced. We were told that it was because the U.S. Army was having to feed so many millions of DP's that the available food stocks were insufficient. We had to cut down so no civilian would starve. At Nauendorf this meant only that three or four times a week, our noon meal consisted of a canteen cup of soup and a thick slice of bread. Other meals were normal.
Back in Nauendorf, in an incident that could have ended tragically, we were called out to break up a crowd of civilians looting a store. The sentry at our front door heard shouting and saw people running down the street. He called Sgt. Mollica, who went out and saw down the block a crowd that seemed to be breaking into a building. This building had been closed and shuttered and we did not know its contents. (We had not searched the town, since other troops had done that before us.) Mollica yelled for the men who were in the building (a dozen or so) to fall out with weapons. That took only a minute, as our standing orders were still that whenever we left our quarters, we were to carry our rifles and wear cartridge belts and steel helmets. He led us on the double to the disturbance. When we pushed our way through the gathering crowd and got inside we found ourselves in what appeared to be some kind of warehouse with clothing and blankets on long tables. Civilians with arms full of dry goods were grabbing more. We chased them up and down the aisles until all got out of the building. When we followed them out, we found ourselves surrounded by a crowd that filled the street. We stood shoulder to shoulder around the door. They stood back at first but then started crowding closer, obviously angry and wanting to get in on the looting. Mollica ordered us "lock and load." When we did that, they quieted down, but when the sergeant motioned for them to turn around and go home, they refused to move. They obviously didn't believe we would shoot. Then Mollica ordered "fix bayonets!" We began slowly advancing in a line, with leveled bayonets. The front ranks turned and started pushing and in a minute the whole crowd was in retreat. We posted sentries at the building until the Military Government team decided what to do about the clothing store. We wondered, but never learned, if the clothing and blankets might have been taken from people as they arrived at the Ohrdruf concentration camp.
Sometime in June, we were told that we would be leaving Thuringia in a couple of weeks. An agreement had been reached in a meeting of the heads of the Allied governments that occupation of the region would be turned over to the Russians, who at that time were not at war with Japan.
While we were at Nauendorf, several things were done for our entertainment. One popular trip was a tour of the Wartburg. This historic fortress/castle was situated on a hill near Eisenach, about 30 miles from Nauendorf. The elderly German custodians showed us the room where Martin Luther made the first translation of the Bible into German and the big hall where legendary singers had performed and which had been restored to elegance on orders of Hitler.
Most of us enjoyed, a few at a time, a brief holiday: an overnight visit to a resort about 15 miles up in the mountains. Oberhof had been a popular resort and had some large hotels and many guesthouses. In groups of two or more, we were free to wander around the village. The inhabitants seemed glad to have the U.S. Army's business. They couldn't believe it when we told them that before long the Americans would be leaving and the Russians taking over Thuringia.
Unlike the transition when we turned over control to the British troops, we had absolutely no contact with the incoming Russian troops. The plan was that we move out one day, the next day practically no troops in the area, on the third day the Russians move in. We pulled out in a convoy with the rest of the Third Battalion on July 3. The ranks knew only that our destination was somewhere in southern Germany and that the 102d Division would be on temporary occupation status until shipping was available to take us to the Pacific.
10.3 Iggensbach, Lower Bavaria
Our convoy got on the Autobahn near Georgenthal and traveled on it about 120 miles. After another couple of miles on secondary roads, it halted by a large open pasture on a hilltop with broad views. We were told that we were now out of the Russian zone, not far from Bayreuth. We were to bivouac here a few days before moving on to our new station. The whole battalion pitched tents around the perimeter of a rectangle that was to be used for formations and parades. A flagpole was erected at Battalion headquarters, at the uphill end where there was an especially nice view of the whole camp and the scenic hills all around.
On July 4, for the first time in many months, we stood retreat in a battalion formation, with bugles calling "To the Colors" as the flag was slowly lowered. All went well except at one point in the ceremony when a 57-mm antitank gun emplaced by the flagpole was fired. At the loud, unexpected blast, several rifles fell with a clatter as most of us instinctively started to hit the ground. The ceremony was repeated each evening but at least we were braced for the cannon shot.
After three or four nights in the field, we decamped and mounted trucks. The journey this time was longer, taking all day and covering about 200 miles. Deggendorf, where we crossed the Danube, was the location chosen for 407th Regimental Headquarters. Third Battalion Headquarters was 7 miles farther, in Hengersberg. "K" Company went on another 6 or 8 miles over a country road to the village of Iggensbach. This would be our home for the next two months.
Iggensbach is about two miles west of the Danube, which is out of sight over a rounded ridge. From Iggensbach the land slopes gradually down to the northeast, then rises more steeply into a wooded range of hills along the German-Czech border about 20 miles from Iggensbach. On the hilly land around the village, patches of dark forest alternate with farmland, mostly green hayfields. A tiny, clear stream that begins near the village grows in volume as it flows gently down through meadows in a winding valley toward the northeast. When we were there, the main road curving through Iggensbach was unpaved and dusty. Most of the village's few dozen houses, with whitewashed walls and roofs of red tile, stood along the one road.
Company Headquarters moved into the schoolhouse, located on a small hill near one end of the village. The house assigned to the Second Platoon was the next to last on a lane leading out into the fields along the stream. It was a humble, small farmhouse, where one opened the door from the kitchen directly into a small cow barn. The weather was warm and dry and about half the Platoon chose to pitch puptents out back, in high grass among fruit trees. Our lot improved a few days later, when we relocated to a large, two-story farmhouse, near the Hengersberg end of the village street. The family Kufner, whom we displaced, moved in across the street. They took their furniture with them, so we set about making bunk beds. Rough pine planks came from somewhere, which we sawed and nailed together to make double-deck frames. The bottom of each bunk was simply thinner planks, on which we laid our blankets.
The Kufners continued to keep their cattle in the barn, across a courtyard from the house. A manure pile with an underground tank to collect seepage was beside the barn and the privy was around the corner. The houses in Iggensbach had running water, brought down from a reservoir on the slope above, but we drank water supplied by the Army in 5-gallon cans.
There was no such thing as a farm tractor in the village. The farm wagons were drawn by big, sturdy oxen. The Kufner oxen were a handsome, placid pair, which worked without reins, responding to voice commands. We learned that "Brrrrr" would stop them, but we didn't earn a driver's license, perhaps because our other commands came out with an American accent.
The farmers fertilized their fields with liquid manure, pumped from an underground reservoir in the barnyard into a horizontal, wooden tank on a wagon chassis. These "honey wagons" usually dripped as they rolled along the village street, giving the place an unmistakably agricultural scent.
Bacterial infection was common in Iggensbach. We noticed that most of the kids had sores on their feet and legs and any cut or abrasion that we suffered was very apt to become infected. Haubenreich developed blood poisoning that sent a red streak up his arm and kept him sitting for hours in the Company's aid station with his injured hand in hot Epsom salt solution.
The men of Company K came up with a couple of activities that supplemented our Army food rations, which continued to be short throughout our time in Iggensbach. Soon after our arrival the Company's kitchen began serving fresh venison several times a week. Later we had new potatoes with our meat.
The small deer called Reh were quite common in the countryside. As usual throughout Germany, the herds had been carefully managed, supplying venison to the market and keeping the deer population in each area in line with the carrying capacity. Now that hunting rifles and shotguns had been confiscated and destroyed, some individual landholders asked G.I.s to help them harvest their deer. The way it worked, a farmer would take one or two of us out to a shooting stand in the evening when we had free time. Reh would usually show up and one be shot. The meat was shared, the farmer taking one carcass and helping carry the next one to the village. In the cellar of our Company's kitchen the carcasses were hung, skinned and butchered. When there was enough meat for the whole company, venison stew was prepared.
The problem of meat but no potatoes was soon solved. There were several large fields of potatoes not far from the village. The optimum time for harvesting had not yet come, but we discovered that the potatoes were almost fully developed. So with encouragement from the cooks and blind eyes from the officers, we began harvesting on our own. Each night, after the curfew hour for all civilians, a work party would go out, dig a few bushels of potatoes and take them to the kitchen. No one suffered too much; platoons took turns providing the digging crew and we rotated the midnight harvest among the different farmers' fields. When the farmer discovered that some of his crop had been dug, he would come to the schoolhouse and file a complaint with the Kommandant. The Company Commander would commiserate and deplore the depredations of the gypsies, who everyone knew were clever thieves.
There was in fact a gypsy camp in the woods on the ridge not far above Iggensbach. As long as they kept to themselves, we left them alone. Probably most of them were transients, wandering on foot or in horse-drawn wagons back toward homelands in Hungary and the Balkans. They camped in and around a remotely located wooden building that we thought might have been erected to house DP laborers. Now it was a sort of community hall, where every night people danced to the music of accordions. Matt Baron located a civilian motorcycle, which he sometimes borrowed and rode up to the gypsy camp. This didn't occur very often because the only gasoline he had was what he could coax from someone who had access to the fuel for the company's jeeps and kitchen. Occasionally some of us hiked up to watch, but the camp was too far from the village to make visiting a regular pastime.
The stretch of the Danube nearest Iggensbach had a road on either side. The one on our side was narrow, unpaved and dusty. On the other side was a paved highway, running from Vilshoven downstream to Passau. Since the river flowed out of Germany, across Austria, into Hungary and beyond, it was a natural route for DP's from southeastern Europe to take as they tried to get back home. These included lots of gypsies who were being systematically exterminated by the Nazis in the last months of the war. Many freed gypsies had somehow gotten hold of farm wagons, which they covered with canvas over hoops, sort of like a "prairie schooner." Practically all of the gypsy wagons traveling down the Danube took the unpaved, quiet country road on our side of the river in preference to the highway on the other. Besides the wagons there was a steady stream of people on foot, most of them carrying backpacks, some pushing carts or baby buggies with their possessions, trudging along the road, headed downstream. Among the hikers were Hungarian soldiers who had been in Germany at the end of the war and were now being released, to get home as best they could.
K Company was responsible for maintaining a checkpoint on the riverside road. Men on guard duty were brought across the ridge in ajeep, over the dirt roads that provided access to fields and forests. Our orders were to stop every passerby and demand to see the travel permit, issued by the Military Government, that everyone who was more than a certain distance from home was required to have. We did stop everyone but seldom if ever detained anyone because of improper papers. Everyone could show some kind of official-looking document. If, as was usually the case, we couldn't understand what the traveler was saying, we would let him go on, trusting that he would be stopped again at a checkpoint nearer Passau, where the assistance of an interpreter was more likely. We were also required to confiscate any weapon or other contraband that we saw. We were a little more diligent in this, poking into packs and forcing at least some of the Gypsies to unload their covered wagons' contents for inspection. We never turned up anything very significant.
While in Iggensbach, the Company had a full schedule that kept the men busy. Every day there were calisthenics, close-order drill, lectures and tactical exercises. In the field exercises, a squad or platoon typically hiked and ran over hills and valleys, maneuvering against a hypothetical Japanese force. There was also athletics to bum energy and keep us fit. The regiment organized a "league" for several sports, with teams from each company. A regimental rifle team was assembled, mostly from among the snipers. Haubenreich was a member. Several days a week this team was brought together from the 407th's scattered companies, in a somewhat remote location suitable for target practice. Of course the team also practiced the popular Army sport of goofing off while out of sight of higher command. The 407th Regimental Rifle Team was abruptly disbanded one day when the colonel dropped by the range in mid-afternoon and found the whole team, including the officer in charge, asleep in the shade. The members were deemed to be in need of exercise, so they were assigned to company soccer teams (which had been short handed because it was an unfamiliar sport). We didn't know much about the finer points, but we burned lots of energy, running in our heavy combat boots from one end of the long field to the other in pursuit of the ball.
On one occasion we participated in a Saturday parade, complete with a small brass band. The villagers turned out to watch. To their amusement and our disgust, as we marched around the pasture/parade ground, we had to tramp through all the fresh cow piles.' Afterwards everyone was busy cleaning boots.
We of course had to keep our quarters clean and neat and the area around our house policed up. However, our woolen O.D.s, which we wore throughout the summer, were sent off to an Army-run laundry somewhere. In Iggensbach, there was a small local laundry. Probably because of its water heaters, arrangements were made for soldiers to take baths there. There was a large room where women went about their work of washing and ironing. Over on one side were several washtubs of galvanized metal in which we could bathe. The women didn't seem to pay any attention and after a while the lack of privacy didn't bother us either.
When we first came to Iggensbach, the relations between us and inhabitants were chilly if not overtly hostile. The Army put up posters on the village's official bulletin board to show the Germans what they didn't want to believe. Under a big, black title "Todesnothle!" (Death mills) were gruesome photographs showing walking skeletons, piles of corpses and incinerators that the U.S. Army had discovered in concentration camps such as Dachau, Buchenwald and Mauthausen. We had no trouble remembering that we were in the homeland of our enemies, who had inflicted casualties on our Platoon right up to the bitter end. Nevertheless, when we finished our meals on the street by the company kitchen and saw the hungry-looking little children waiting by our garbage cans with their buckets in hopes of taking our scraps home to their families, we were soft-hearted enough to save them some items we might have eaten ourselves.
A non-fraternization policy was in effect. It was strict: in principle a soldier caught carrying on a conversation with a civilian on anything other than official business could be fined sixty-five dollars. (Two or three months net pay for most of us.) Nevertheless, a course was set up to teach conversational German; classes were taught in the schoolhouse by a charming young schoolteacher who had been relocated to Iggensbach because of air raids in her home city. Her course was popular and, when coaxed, she taught us some sentences that had nothing to do with official business. We began to greet the Kufners in German and to practice some of the sentences on the kids who used to hang around, watching us. Fraternization, such as it was, was discreet we never heard of anyone in K Company being fined.
Of course, as time passed, we naturally struck up acquaintances with civilians in Iggensbach with whom we came in daily contact. If there was bitterness because of the war, it was not overtly expressed. In some cases, acquaintances developed into friendships. Wannamaker, who was fairly proficient in German already, enjoyed contacts with the Ruffer family: a father and mother and two small boys. The father, Heinrich, was a Czech who had been conscripted into the German army. He had fought, mostly on the Russian front, and had been wounded three times. They lived in an upstairs apartment in Iggensbach. Wannamaker says, "It was very pleasant, although against the fraternization rules, for me to spend evenings in their family atmosphere. Heinrich in peacetime was an artist. I appropriated a set of oil paints and brushes for Ruffer that one of the guys had left behind when he got an emergency furlough home. He painted several pictures for me and others in the platoon, which we were able to send home."
The long, long summer evenings after duty hours gave us ample opportunity to follow our inclinations for leisure-time activities. The most popular spot was the beer hall that we had taken over for our exclusive use. Every evening the place was full of G.I.s, drinking and swapping yams about incidents during the preceding months in Europe. Somehow, it seemed that the stories always took a humorous turn, ending with a good laugh. There wasn't much breeding over the horrors we had seen, at least not while we were in the crowd. There was no charge for the beer. Company members had voluntarily pooled the German currency that they had picked up here and there along the way and this was used to buy kegs of beer brewed in the region. G.I.s with bartending experience in civilian life ran the place.
There were fishermen among us. Rene Trochet, a Californian who loved angling for trout, had "liberated" a complete fly-fishing outfit, including a split-bamboo fly rod. He would often have a go at catching the brown trout that lived in the little meadow stream below Iggensbach. The stream was quite small and very clear, so it was almost impossible to sneak up close enough to cast a fly into a pool without spooking the trout into hiding in the hollows washed out under the grassy banks. When he scored, which wasn't often, he would ceremoniously cook the fish in our Platoon's kitchen and eat it with relish. Haubenreich also considered himself an angler, having been brought up fishing the Elk River and other clear water streams in the hills of Tennessee. One day Trochet, who was somewhat discouraged by the challenge of the meadow browns, let him borrow the rod and tackle. To the surprise of Trochet and everyone else, Haubenreich returned before dark with four or five trout equal to the best Trochet had ever caught. Several of us enjoyed trout that evening.
Coaxed to reveal the secret of his success, Haubenreich finally came clean. He had tried stealth, creeping across the meadow to within casting distance to avoid scaring the trout. They were too wild; all he caught was an occasional glimpse as a trout darted for a hole under a bank. Then he remembered how, back in Tennessee, some people "grabbled" for fish. It involved feeling with your hands back in holes in banks or under rock ledges where catfish would hide when disturbed. When one was found it was not too difficult to grip it near the head and bring it out. So he decided to try "grabbling" for these German trout. Pulling off his clothes, he got in the brook and got after them. He found lots of holes, quite a few fish and before wearing himself out, he was able to flip several out onto the grass.
10.4 The End
While we were at Iggensbach we regularly got to see copies of the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes. Through its pages, we kept up with news of the fighting in the Pacific, the air raids on the Japanese homeland and finally the atomic bomb destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the dropping of the A-bombs, we suddenly had good basis for hoping for an end to the war before we got back into combat. On V-J day the news came to K Company by telephone about noon: the government of Japan had unconditionally surrendered. World War II was over! What did we do to celebrate? After some indecision somewhere in the chain of command, it was announced that the troops would proceed to the field for the afternoon's scheduled activity: drills on Japanese tactics and countermeasures!
At the time, we were not at all horrified by the number of civilian casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After all, conventional high-explosive and incendiary bombs had been killing people wholesale in Europe and Japan for years and would have kept on in Japan if the A-bomb had not been developed. Secondly, after thinking about it, we realized that the capitulation of Japan when confronted with this unprecedented weapon would spare far more lives than were taken in the two bombed cities. And some of those spared lives were our own! It did not occur to us to deplore the use of the new weapons, which removed the necessity of our being part of bloody, bloody invasion and subjugation (extermination) of the Japanese army on its home ground. At reunions up to fifty years later, veterans of the Second Platoon still felt the same way.
We stayed in Iggensbach a while longer. Then the Division moved to the Bayreuth area, along the border with the Russian Zone. The 407th Infantry HQ was in Coburg; Company K, in Lichtenfels. The Company spent late fall and most of the winter there. Old-timers with more points left to join other outfits returning to the states. Lahti took his discharge in Germany and remained there as a civilian employed by the U.S. Army. Finally, the Ozark Division, including what was left of the old Second Platoon, returned to the U.S. and was demobilized in March, 1946.
Except for the passages from Lahti's account, the personal stories told in "Memories of Service in the Second Platoon" were first committed to writing forty to fifty years after the fact. A dozen or so of the surviving members of the Platoon contributed input during the period 1985&endash;1995. Some contributions were provided to the editors in writing. Other input was oral, in the form of yarns spun at reunions.
Paul Haubenreich and Bill Schaible were drafted at the Gatlinburg reunion in 1985 to receive contributions and to serve as editors to tie the fragments into a coherent story. Jim Harris and Bill Reist supplied them with written accounts of many episodes. Harris was one of the few who had not missed some of the action because of wounds. He had much to tell and access to lots of supplemental information, including German sources. Bill Reist, with his remarkable memory, was able to provide a lot of information. Other written input came from R.A. (Bob) Smith, Bob Walker, Joe Wannamaker and Sal Curcio.
Input in a class by itself came from Eli Lahti's account. Lahti died in 1990. The story of his account and our accession of a portion of it follows. During combat, front-line soldiers were not allowed even to mention in letters home where we were located, much less to keep diaries or any other written record of their unit's history that might fall into enemy hands. At some point, probably while in a hospital in January, 1945, PFC Eli Lahti decided to defy this prohibition and began keeping notes on events as they occurred. Years later Lahti still had his original notes and started expanding them into a narrative. As far as is known, no one else in the Platoon made notes and kept them.
Because Lahti's narrative was based on notes quite soon after the actions, it would be especially valuable in any case. The narrative expands his notes to some extent, describing each day, not simply logging the main events. However he did not attempt to give a comprehensive picture of the battles; even if he had, he, like other G.I.s, often did not know much beyond the view from his foxhole. Unfortunately, the portion of his narrative that reached the hands of the editors cuts off abruptly at the end of February, 1945.
We are lucky to have anything at all from Lahti. Jim Harris, in September, 1994, related the following account of how the first part of Lahti's notes but not the remainder was preserved. "Many years ago I went through Detroit and visited Lahti. He had hand-written notes of the war. Copy machines did not exist, so my very young daughter attempted to type them for me &emdash; here they are. His handwriting was not the best. Attempts to borrow or get a copy of the notes were not successful." After Lahti died his daughter sent Harris papers that had belonged to her father. The original notes were not included and presumably were discarded. The handwritten narrative was included but cut off where the transcription had: at Krefeld. If Lahti wrote any more beyond that point, it has been lost.
Haubenreich drafted the account from Camp Swift to Welz (Chapters 1 through 6). Wannamaker contributed much about Camp Swift. Substantial additions and some corrections were made by others, notably Jim Harris and Bill Schaible. Schaible put together a first-hand account of portions from Welz to the Roer crossing (Chapter 7 and Section 8.1), incorporating additional input from Reist, Harris, Smith, Walker, Wannamaker and Welti. Schaible and Haubenreich later pieced together Sections 7.2 through 9.1, the account from the Roer to the Elbe (during which time both had been in the hospital), from Lahti's journal and recollections of Reist, Harris and Wannamaker. The portions from Heinrichsberg to the end of the narrative were drafted by Haubenreich with substantial input from Harris, Reist, Wannamaker and Smith.
The sources of direct quotations are generally identified in the text. Beside the personal input from Platoon members, we used the histories of the Division and the Regiment that were compiled while we were still in Germany and a few excerpts from a couple of German war histories that Harris acquired. These histories were useful in establishing chronology and in relating Platoon experience to the "big picture" of what was going on outside our range of vision at the time. Various members of the Platoon reviewed and commented on almost every portion of the draft.
Haubenreich handled the final typing and reproduction. Schaible handled the orders and the preparations for mailing out copies (more than 70) of the second printing in March 1996.
A. H. Mick, ed., With the I Old Infantry Division Through Germany, Infantry Journal Press, Washington (1947)
A Combat Record of the 407th Infantry Regiment, privately published at Coburg, Germany (1946)
Paul N. Haubenreich William L. Schaible
501 West Hills Road 820 South Donovan Street
Knoxville TN 37909-2512 Seattle WA 98108-4730
Joe Behan, Jim Harris, Eli Lahti, Bill Schaible and Bob Walker; Paul Haubenreich, John Huffman, Art Roth, Art VanAtta and Fred Woelkers; R. A. Smith, Hal Stumpff and Joe Wannamaker.
Douglas Porch, a military historian, writing about highly motivated but green troops in the French Foreign Legion, made a similar observation. "The enthusiastic ignorance of men experiencing war for the first time caused them to perform beyond the limits veterans would have believed prudent."
from the Journal of the Juchems family, Floverich)
Memoirs of Service, Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry Division
1. Preparation for Overseas Page PAGE 3
2. Crossing the Atlantic Page PAGE 12
3. Moving to the Front Page PAGE 17
4. First Shots Page PAGE 54
5. Ederen Page PAGE 74
6. Welz Page PAGE 108
7. Holding the Line Page PAGE 139
8. Attacking Across the Roer to the Rhine Page PAGE 162
9. Rhine to Elbe Page PAGE 182
10. Awaiting Transport to Japan Page PAGE 194
-----End Part #4
Click on the link below to read the other installments...
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry - Pt 2
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry - Pt 3
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry - Pt 4
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
The above story, "Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry -- March 1944 - September 1945" was originally edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible and printed in September 1995. The story was forwarded to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, by the son of Paul N. Haubenreich, Joe Heubenreich as a follow-up to an original e-mail sent in December 2006.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Mr. Joe Haubenreich. Our sincerest THANKS for the men of the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 19 April 2007.
Story added to website on 19 April 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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