Heroes: the Army
"...The infantry companies were given snow suits so they would blend in with the snow that had fallen the past few days. All assault activities were coordinated with the entire Division and the Artillery units fired thousands of rounds of ammunition at the enemy fortifications..."
Joseph J. Szalay
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Paris, TX
From the Battle of the Roer River to the Spa at Krefeld
BY JOSEPH J. SZALAY, 380 FA HQ.
The bitter winter and record snow during the month of December 1944 took its toll on our troops of the 102nd Infantry Division. The Battle of the Bulge near the Belgium border was finally coming to its disastrous end for the German armies. They were pushed back to their original position in the Siegfried line that was composed of permanent concrete and steel reinforcements at critical locations.
During the battle it was reported that the Germans were dropping parachutists behind our lines to capture prisoners to be interrogated for intelligence purposes. Hitler was making his final efforts to do something to boost the morale of his troops.
He knew that the end was rapidly approaching.
I was returning from a meeting with my battalion commander during the time of the parachutist scare. We were driving under blackout conditions and the night was a black as it gets without a full moon. Guards were stationed at the crossroads and other critical locations to intercept any Germans who might have parachuted into our area. We were stopped by a guard at a crossroad.
We heard someone holler HALT! We stopped immediately although we never did see the guard in the blackness of the night. "What is your name? What outfit are you from? What is your home state? What is your hometown? What is the capital of your state?" If you couldn't answer these questions promptly you were in serious trouble -- "like being shot." Well, we answered all the questions and were given the order to proceed. We continued our journey and eventually got back to our outfit without any more serious problems.
Our division was preparing for the battle to the Roer River. This would be the final massive assault through the Siegfried line. All three infantry Regiments were given specific military targets to capture. The infantry companies were given snow suits so they would blend in with the snow that had fallen the past few days. All assault activities were coordinated with the entire Division and the Artillery units fired thousands of rounds of ammunition at the enemy fortifications. This was the most devastating infantry and artillery firepower that was used against the Germans by the 102nd Infantry Division.
After the battle to the Roer was over, we learned that some of the Siegfried line fortifications were abandoned because of the intense and massive infantry and artillery firepower demoralized some of the German defenders. This was a great victory for our troops.
Plans were being finalized to prepare for the crossing of the Roer River. Our unit was moving into the town of Linnich to stay there until the crossing was made. We were greeted by a lone German plane that strafed us as we lined up for chow. The 50 caliber bullets peppered our entire area without causing a single casualty. Miracles like these are why some of us are still around to talk about it.
It was about the middle of February 1944 when the Roer River crossing was planned. Normally the river was just a few feet wide. The water upstream was controlled by a dam. The gates were opened by the Germans and the Roer River became a treacherous river with a swift current. The narrow river suddenly became a massive body of water about a mile wide in places. The crossing was postponed until February 23. Small boats were used for the initial crossing. Our infantry and engineers suffered considerable casualties during the crossing. By the end of February 1944 most of our Division units had made the crossing.
It was now time to prepare for the battle north to the city of Krefeld, which was located about fifty miles to the north. Supplies of gasoline, ammunition, food, clothing, medical supplies and other military items had to be trucked to all of our Division units.
There were few permanent fortifications left, but the Germans didn't want to give up this part of their homeland without defending each village regardless of casualties. Up until now there were very few civilians to be found by our troops since they fled as their armies retreated. but the caretaker was nowhere to be found.
The advance of our troops was slowed by the series of canals and other military obstacles that were encountered. There were battles being fought from door to door in many villages. The Germans had used civilians, men, women and children to dig trenches and build other fortifications to slow down the advance of our troops.
Many of the towns that were captured had civilians who hadn't had an opportunity to escape. The ones who did flee left everything they owned behind. Utilities were still available in some of the villages that were captured.
After several weeks of combat and numerous individual battles our troops finally made it into Krefeld. Streetcars had been left on their tracks as everyone had to flee from the advancing armies. One of the infantry companies boarded a streetcar and rode in into town with GIs hanging on and enjoying the victory ride.
The German army retreated across the Rhine River, where they planned to set up defenses to stall the advance of the Allied Armies.
There were thousands of civilians that remained in Krefeld and its surrounding areas. Many of them were grateful that their part of the war was now over. We were no longer the enemy and we were welcomed by most of these civilians.
Krefeld was known to have a famous spa by the German people. Our military government officers made arrangements with the local authorities to have the spa available for use by our troops. A couple of buddies and I decided to go to the spa to take hot baths. I had a cold and I felt that the healing waters were what I needed. I introduced myself to the caretaker who was in charge of the facility. He was an elderly gentleman about four feet thirteen inches tall. He couldn't speak English but we managed to understand each other.
He placed me in a booth with numerous heat lamps mounted around the entire inside of the cubicle. After several minutes of this treatment I was ready to get out and get into the warm mineral water that would cure my ailments. I was getting extremely hot and needed to get out of the steam bath. After some time -- it seemed like hours -- my little German friend showed up and got me out of the hot booth and into the warm tub of mineral water. For a few moments I thought he suddenly had become my enemy and had plans to get even with me for all the destruction done to his homeland. Thank God he was a grateful friend who was glad that we were there to liberate his people.
----- Joe Szalay
(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.)
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The above story, "From the Battle of the Roer River to the Spa at Krefeld", by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA HQ., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 52, No. 1, Oct/Dec., 1999, pp. 12-13.
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 7 October 2004.
Story added to website on 12 October 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST