Heroes: the Army
"...The report by the 10th Tank Battalion states that one "Panther" tank destroyer was hit in the tracks and was set on fire by its crew. In Schwicheit another "Panther" tank destroyer is reported to have been abandoned as a result of the air attacks and was captured by elements of C Company..."
April 1945 - The Rest of the Story
The 5th (US) Armored Division's Push
Toward the Elbe River
In April 1945, as the noose tightened around the German units on the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, available American and British troops pushed vigorously toward the River Elbe. The objective was to prevent German units from setting up an organized defense on the Weser River. Our area (Hannover - Hildesheim - Peine - Braunschweig) was occupied by the U.S. 9th Army. One of the spearheads was the 5th US Armored Division. The British attacked north of a line running from Minden to Celle.
On 3 April 1945, first elements of the 5th Armored Division reached the Weser River south of the town of Minden. Now they only had to find an intact crossing site, if possible the autobahn highway bridge near Vennebeck in order to drive for Hannover from there. This plan however, failed as the bridge had been blown up somewhat earlier as the British troops entered Minden.
As the next day still had not brought success, a crossing was to be forced near Minden on 5 April. For this purpose, the 84th Infantry Division moved up forces until nightfall, but this attempt in the area of Porta Westfalicia had to be abandoned due to stiff enemy resistance. As a result, the commanding XIII Corps decided to postpone the crossing to 6 April.
In the meantime, the forces of the 5th Armored Division had gathered in the Herford - Bad Oeynhausen - Rintein area. Secured by roadblocks and reconnaissance patrols, the division started to comb through the area, netting a large number of German soldiers and other civilian refugees. In addition to these activities, the division was preparing to provide personnel and material support to the crossing by the 84th Infantry Division. However, this was not to materialize. In the meantime, the right-hand neighbor, the 2nd Armored Division assisted by the 30th Infantry Division, had forced a crossing near Hamein and started to build an emergency bridge as a prelude to the drive for Hildesheim.
As a result of this development, the 5th Armored Division was diverted on 8 April and ordered to quickly cross the bridge near Hamein. First the Combat Command Reserve was ordered to leave the Rintein area and march to Hamein. This was out of the ordinary as Hamein was located in the area of responsibility of the XIXth Corps and to reach it a wide southward turn was required. Also often, the order surprised the troops. Subsequently, a northward turn would be required again to reach the area around Gestorf south of Hannover. The Combat Command Reserve was to cross the bridge between 1400 and 1900 hours. When the order arrived, it was already noon. Thus the Combat Command Reserve had only a few minutes in which to take the lead and start out on its roughly 60 - 80 km move. At 2130 the entire Combat Command Reserve had reached the Springe - Gestorf area and was this back in the zone of operations of its parent XIII Corps. There was some stiff resistance in Springe, which was reduced by the reinforced 10th (US) Tank Battalion, clearing the way to crossings over the Leine River near Ruthe and Koldingen.
On 9 April, the attack was continued at 0730 hours. Reconnaissance forces quickly pushed towards the crossings and reported their seizure in less than an hour. Now the Combat Command Reserve was able to follow up immediately and attack in the direction of Lehrte in order to cut the important lines of communications east of Hannover. Nothing seemed to jeopardize this endeavor until the leading units, the 47th Armored Infantry Battalion (Task Force Boyer) in the left and the 10th Tank Battalion (Task Force Hamberg) on the right, reached the Mittelland canal north of Muflingen.
They were less than 100 yards away when the bridges blew up. When the lead elements came under heavy artillery fire and friendly close air support failed to materialize due to fog, the attack bogged down. In general, the resistance around Hannover seemed to be growing.
At this point, the right-hand neighbor, again the 2nd Armored Division suggested bypassing the enemy to the south in order to cut the road network west of Peine. Earlier, the division commander, Major General Lunsford E. Oliver, had visited the command post of Combat Command Reserve near Rethen to discuss the further course of action. The southern route of march was identified quickly since the only road with an adequate capacity to accommodate the forces of an entire division ran from Harsum - Hohenhamein - Rosentahai to Vohrum.
In the meantime, the 2nd Armored Division had its engineers install bridging equipment on the Hildesheim branch canal near Harsum, creating the conditions for even heavy tracked vehicles to cross. Thus the reinforced 10th Tank Battalion only had to turn south and subsequently attack toward the northeast. According to the available reports, the further march of the Combat Command Reserve went according to plan.
Only in the Equord - Schwichelt area, when lead elements had already passed Rosenthal in the direction of the autobahn near Vohrum ~ Eixe, a firefight between German tank destroyers (of the Panther variant) and the following companies developed. At least four German tank destroyers were identified and forced to withdraw with the assistance of the American air forces. The report by the 10th Tank Battalion states that one "Panther" tank destroyer was hit in the tracks and was set on fire by its crew. In Schwicheit another "Panther" tank destroyer is reported to have been abandoned as a result of the air attacks and was captured by elements of C Company.
In advance of this action, the "Panther" tank destroyers had deployed from Braunschweig to the Harmelerwald woods where they took cover. Apparently, this detachment had order to delay the advancing Americans and withdraw to the Oker River. This plan was obviously made without consideration of the American air forces. As soon as the skies had cleared the Germans were unable to hold any longer.
Peine lay unprotected and the American move had brought it into the line of fire. Low-flying aircraft flew strafing missions everywhere. What everybody had been fearing for days and weeks was a reality now. The burgermeister of Peine sought a quick surrender of the town, which accommodated three large military hospitals. By contracting A Company of the leading reinforced 10th Tank Battalion he opened negotiations, which ended the next day with the surrender of the city and the Americans continued to pursue their original objective.
The autobahn near Eixie and Vohrum was cut that same evening and they succeeded in holding the area around Rosenthal and Schwicheldt. What is more, Rosenthal even had to accommodate the command post of the advance unit for the night, and all access points were secured. Further to the south, contact was established with elements of the 2nd Armored Division and the 30th Infantry Division, which were part of the right-hand neighbor, the XIX Corps. Braunschweig, Saizgitter and Magdeburg were their next objectives.
After the surrender of Peine on 10 April, the leading Combat Command Reserve briskly departed that town, but encountered the resistance of more "Panther" tank destroyers even before reaching Enemissen at the swampy Schwarzwasser brook.
One American tank and one half-track were knocked out. Delays were short, however, thanks to the American close air support. Ahnsen, Meinersen and Meine were reached and seized that same evening. Subsequently, further forces arrived from the Weser River. This the 5th Armored Division was on its way again even though it was rerouted several times. The unit was now to make every effort to reach the Elbe River. The objectives were Tangermunde, Stendal and Wittenberge.
This report was taken from a book by Karl-Heinz Heineke and Peter Heimatkalender published in 2000. Only this portion was sent to the Ozark historian.
(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.)
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "April 1945 - The Rest of the Story", by Karl-Heinz Heineke and Peter Heimatkalender, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 4, July/Sept., 2002, pp. 15-16.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for 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 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 26 March 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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