Heroes: the Army
"...the air was acrid with the smell of burnt powder and the sky was continually lighted with the bright flashes from the muzzles of about 2000 artillery pieces, and the larger but less brilliant flashes from the shells bursting on the other side of the river..."
Carl F. Main
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. B., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Columbus, IN
"Ninth Army Front Remained Quiet Today"
Carl Main, B-405
The following account was written in early March, 1945, from a hospital bed in souther England by Carl Main, B-405.
The headlines said, "Ninth Army Advances 3 1/2 Miles Across Roer." About ten days earlier, in small type, the report was, Ninth Army Front remained quiet today." That was February 12 when we lost our C.0., Capt. Norman Estes, and one of his platoon runners and Lt. Robert Smith lost his left arm and suffered severe wounds to his right arm. A German mortar shell had scored a direct hit through a window of the CP.
Feb. 23, 1945 we had been awakened early about 0100 hours - for a breakfast of hot pancakes and syrup prepared and served to the men passing through the line, by the Company cooks.
Shortly after 0200 hours we had "saddled up" with each man carrying, in addition to his usual load, a mortar round, an anti-tank rocket grenade, and other ammunition or equipment which was thought might be needed on the other side of the river before pontoon foot and vehicle bridges could be established. I had about 40 pounds of ammunition for my BAR packed in a gas mask carrier, and I carried also a rolled-up section of what appeared to be a picket fence - laths laced together with primer cord - which was designed to be unrolled in a mine field and detonated with a friction fuse to clear a path to the next mines. Then what?
As we moved toward the river in the early morning, the air was acrid with the smell of burnt powder and the sky was continually lighted with the bright flashes from the muzzles of about 2000 artillery pieces, and the larger but less brilliant flashes from the shells bursting on the other side of the river. The stillness of the night had been shattered at 0245 and to the ears of the men moving silently forward in a column on either side of the muddy road, the deafening reports were like the sound of exploding popcorn drumming on the lid of the popper, magnified a million times.
From overhead came a constant rustling sound as the projectiles sped on their way. Just as we started down the hill to the river, Dominic Massaro was hit on the left wrist by a bullet or a piece of flying schrapnel, but he continued even though he hadn't the use of one hand.
In prearranged groups we piled into assault boats, seized paddles and shoved off. The swift current from the receding flood and the mortar shells which were falling all around took their toll promiscuously from among the boats. A few feet from the far shore our boat got hung up on a submerged log but we threw our ropes to another boat as it swept by and after it gained the bank, we were pulled alongside.
We scrambled out of the assault boats, and the combat engineers who had accompanied us across, now started back across the swollen river to pick up another load. Once out on the bank, we quickly helped one another reduce our loads by removing mortar rounds and anti-tank grenades from our packs and depositing them to form a growing ammo dump. Platoons regrouped on the east side of the river and began making their way in single file toward the company assembly points. In the first few hundred yards, we waded through ditches and canals which seemed larger than the Holland and Belgium streams we had crossed in boats in practice for this operation.
Mines riddled a quarter of the battalion. It was like crossing a field of cabbages - except that cabbages don't blow a man in two. Our artillery had laid down a smoke screen and we couldn't see farther than about ten yards ahead. Tracer fire from machine guns firing steadily from the west side of the river along boundaries helped to guide us toward our objectives.
We dug in while waiting for contact to be established with units on our right and left. Somewhere out in front two German machine guns were firing at us. They couldn't see us but they could hear us digging and two more men of the platoon were hit. Eddie Leonelli, I think, was one of them. As I bent over to get a shovelful of mud I felt a slight tug at my pack. I knew what it was and kept digging. A few inches below the surface we hit water. That made digging more difficult but we had to go on down.
Dominic's wrist was bothering him. I gave him my compass and he started back toward the river to find and guide litter bearers to our other wounded. Mortar shells were still whistling in and spattering us with mud. Most of the men were shivering from wading and standing in the cold February water for so long. It was a problem to keep our weapons in firing condition. Eventually, the sky began to lighten a little and the German machine guns to our front were no longer heard.
Soon after daylight we received orders to move out and take the high ground about three thousand yards from the river. About halfway toward our objective was a railroad which ran roughly parallel to the river. As we approached the railroad we were pinned down by machine gun fire from behind the rails. Perhaps luckily for us we had gotten in close enough that the gunner couldn't quite get us in his angle of fire without being exposed to fire from our side.
We were told to stay down which idea wasn't hard to comprehend. I wondered how long before those bullets cracking just above our heads would start coming a few inches lower. In battle nothing stays the same for very long and soon the firing from that source stopped, and we were moving forward again. By mid-afternoon we were dug in on our objective, although it wasn't accomplished nearly so simply as the recording of it.
My buddy, Gizza Oncheck, then saw the bullet hole in my pack and remarked that it had been a close one (which is a liberal translation of his Pennsylvania Dutch expressions). Along with the K-rations we carried, I had included a can of sardines mailed to me from home, in the meat can pouch of my pack (designed to accommodate mess gear.) On removing the can of sardines, we could see the hole where the bullet had passed completely through the can, parallel to the flat ends. Gizza took a can of tuna fish from his back but we didn't eat it. A bullet, no doubt from the same burst that had hit my pack, had perforated the can of tuna fish through the center.
One at a time, we changed socks, exchanging the soggy wet ones with the damp ones we wore on our chests pinned to our undershirts. Later we would change again after our bodies had dried out the chest pair. Dry feet were seldom available but we had learned to value dry socks highly and to take care to make them as dry as possible.
That evening we had a short respite from battle and were entertained by a spectacular air show. For a couple of hours P-47s circled from unbalanced V formations, then peeled off to bomb and strafe German gun positions beyond a village to our left. Hundreds of B-26s flew over in formations varying from 36 to 42. They were in German ack-ack from the time they crossed our lines until they recrossed them in returning. One of a returning formation was hit and spun down in flames not far behind the German lines. Several jet-propelled German fighters flew over and one appeared to be shot down by two P-47s
We had cleaned our weapons. When we became hungry and had the opportunity, we ate Dbars.
The night of the 23rd it rained. The Engineers had been successful in getting a bridge across the river and, in the night, several tank destroyers and tanks came up behind our positions just below the crest of the high ground. We could hear them in the night milling around.
Feb. 24, 1945
When the dawn broke my foxhole buddy and I counted 17 tanks and tank destroyers formed in a semi-circle just behind our position. We were relieved to know that we now would have our armored vehicles out in front of us clearing the way. That proved to be a short-lived relief.
At 1000 hours we jumped off on a long skirmish line to take the town of Hottorf, about three thousand yards ahead. Save for a few trenches, the terrain was as flat as a dining-room table top. In these sugar beet fields, our tanks would have been easy targets for the German artillery, so the infantry was called upon to make the world safe for tanks. Every man was firing to the front as we advanced in a line of "marching fire". A thousand yards ahead Germans could be seen leaving their holes and trenches - Berlin bound. Some of them looked as if they were planning to get there in a couple of minutes. From the left, from the right, and from the front came the sharp staccato crack of machine gunfire.
Here is where Carl was hit in the left thigh, and the remainder of his story appeared in Vol. 45, #2 - Jan./March 1993. He was transported back to a hospital in Holland. He story ended "We had blankets and it was good to feel really warm for the first time in three months. They were cleaning me up; I didn't care what they did to me."
----- Carl Main
(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, "Ninth Army Front Remained Quiet today", by Carl Main, Co. B.,405th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 48, No. 1, October/December. 1995, pp. 10-11.
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 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 24 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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