Heroes: the Army
"...The second battalion, likewise moved rapidly after the air and artillery fire cover was furnished and by 1830 the battalion had passed through Rheindahlen and was occupying the high ground along the railroad tracks to its north..."
Taking the Roer and Beyond
This report was taken from the Archives
After the battle for possession of the west bank of the Roer River and early in December the 102nd Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Frank E. Keating, remained in its original zone from Flossdorf on the south to Linnich on the north and confined its activities to patrols. When divisions of the Ninth Army were drawn south to meet the German threat in the First Army zone the 102nd remained to guard the west bank of the river and was given, in addition to this sector the section formerly held by the 84th, south to Lindern and the Wurm. The 11th Calvary group was attached to the division to help hold the sector and the 701st Tank Battalion, which had not seen action before, was also attached to replace the 771 st Tank Battalion which was sent south with the 84th.
To meet the threat of possible German counterattacks from the north, the division engaged in extensive preparations, including the systematic digging and laying of minefields. One troop of the 11th Calvary group was assigned the task of patrolling the roads as a precaution against parachute attack. German pillboxes and other prominent fortifications were destroyed so that if the division were to be driven back these emplacements could not be used for defensive action by the Germans. The expected attack, however, failed to materialize although heavy increase in air and artillery activity was noted. The cold, unsettled weather, plus the Roer's swift current, made patrol work difficult so that the division was unable to capture easy prisoners or learn much about those on the far bank.
On the 26th of January, 1945 the division went on the attack for the first time in two months when it staged the operation Swift against Brooklyn., a town on the Roer just north of Linnich and Randerath, to the west of Brooklyn. Operation "Swift" turned into little more than a maneuver because the Germans had withdrawn, leaving the town lightly held by outposts which surrendered at the approach of the Americans. Approximately 25 prisoners were taken and about the same number of casualties sustained. All the casualties were from mines which were sown thickly and haphazardly at the approach to the town. The entire operation was over in less than half an hour.
Following operation Swift the division again began preparation for operation Grenade, the attack across the Roer to the Rhine. First scheduled for mid-February, the operation was postponed until the 23rd of February after the Germans had flooded the Roer by opening the dams to the south in the First Army sector. The plan, as it was carried out by the 102nd on the 23rd of February, was the same as that originally set up for the mid-February attack.
Just prior to D-day, Gen. Keating told his headquarters staff at a meeting at which the writer was present, that the plan for the crossing violated all accepted principles of an attack across a river. He pointed out that an attack across a river should be made on the broadest possible front, the forthcoming attack would be "bottlenecked", as he expressed it through the towns of Linnich and Roerdorf on the north, left on the division's sector. This move was forced, he said, by the current and the river banks near Flossdorf on the division's right which made a crossing there virtually impossible. To partially compensate for this, a diversionary smoke screen was placed at Flossdorf in the hope that it would draw a portion of the enemy's fire.
Gen. Keating went on to outline how the division, after seizing its initial bridgehead, would then swing north and later be passed through by the 5th Armored Division, which would attempt to break through to the Rhine. Gen. Keating predicted a hard fight and heavy casualties. At 2:45 on the 23rd of Feb. the division artillery opened up a forty-five minute preparation against the east bank of the Roer to soften up the enemy defenses before the infantry assault at 0330. The artillery's fire was supplemented by attached units and by tank destroyers and tank fire. No counter battery fire was received during the preparation, but the enemy almost immediately began laying heavy mortar fire along the river banks.
The first infantry to cross the river was a raiding patrol from the 407th Regiment which crossed just north of Linnich at 0300 hours and wiped out several machine gun nests along the dike paralleling the east bank. The patrol, led by 1st Lieut. Roy "Buck" Rogers- a veteran of many patrols across the river, stayed on the far bank when its work was completed. At 0325 the assault boats were lowered into the water and at 0330 the first assault wave started across the river.
The 405th attacked from Roerdorf by columns of battalions with the first battalion leading, followed by the second battalion and the 407th jumped at Linnich in line of battalion with the second battalion on the right and the first battalion on the left. All men crossing were in assault boats and all wore life belts. One attempt to use alligators was made. The crossing was opposed not only by small arms fire but by rocket and mortar fire going along the banks and into the river which upset some of the boats and others got out of control and drifted downstream. The writer was unable to find any example of men drowning in the stream and it is doubtful if many did (Ha!), but many were carried downstream and were unable to rejoin their units until later in the day.
As a result the companies were under strength and disorganized when the reached the far shore, even though actual battle casualties were far lighter than had been expected. The artillery preparation was largely responsible for the light small arms fire opposing the initial crossing. Many Germans had been killed in their foxholes along the river banks and we may be assured that others fled and still others were dazed and befuddled. Major George Domm, Division Chaplain, who said many of the prisoners taken in the first few hours of the attack told the writer on the morning of the 25th of February that they all seemed numb and half shell-shocked and many of the younger ones were shaking and crying.
Following their reorganization a short distance in shore the two lead battalions of the 407th pressed on toward their objective. The first battalion , led through the minefields by prisoners, moved on toward Gevenich with rifles cocked without firing a shot. By 0630 the battalion was in the town and had taken a number of prisoners, surprised by the silent and unexpected entry of the Americans.
On the left the second battalion reorganized after its crossing and attacked with all companies toward the first objective. Co. F moved quickly thru Breitender and passed thru Co. E which had been held up just short of Glimbach, and moved into the town. Meanwhile Co. G occupied the high grounds southeast of Glimbach without trouble. The third battalion of the 407th assisted the crossing of the assault battalion with fire of all varieties and after Glimbach and Gevenich had been secured, crossed and took positions on the left flank from north of Glimbach to contact the 84th division on the left. The 407th attacked no further on the 23rd of February after the capture of Glimbach and Gevenich, but spent the remained of the day in consolidating its positions.
At Roerdorf companies A, B, & C crossed at H hour, a company at a time, with Co. C in the lead, followed by companies A and B. The crossing was attended by considerable confusion because of the swift current, and enemy mortar fire and a number of the boats were washed downstream. The battalion, however, reorganized without too much difficulty about 500 yards inland and at 0745 attacked from a small patch of woods toward the railroad tracks running north of Tetz. The attack was slowed by automatic weapons fire but heavy artillery enabled the infantry to occupy the escarpment immediately east of the tracks by noon. That battalion remained there the remainder of the day and night.
The second battalion crossed at 0550 with company E in the lead, followed by companies G , F & H. Reorganization was effected near Bischof without opposition from the enemy other than small arms fire, and at 0650 the battalion attacked back toward Tetz which was occupied by Co. E with little difficulty at 0820. Meanwhile companies G & F advanced abreast passing south of Tetz and by 0930 had seized the high ground south and east of Boslar, During the afternoon the same two companies were shifted to fill the gap between Boslar and Gevenich and they dug in in the field between the two towns.
The third battalion of the 405th assisted the crossing of the first two battalions and by helping to carry the assault boats down to the water and later with support fire. After the first two battalions had crossed and moved on to their objections the third battalion crossed at about 1300 hours by means of the infantry support bridge which by that time had been put across the river. At 1535 the battalion attacked from the railroad north of Tetz, passing through the first and second battalions, in an assault on Boslar. There the stiffest opposition of the day was encountered and the battalion was able to enter the town only under heavy artillery support. Once within the town the battalion attempted to consolicate its position but beginning about dark the enemy began to strike back with its heaviest counter attack of the entire operation. Approximately seven attempts were made by enemy armor and infantry to drive the battalion out of the town, but the Germans were repeatedly driven back by heavy artillery fire which the battalion commander called on his own position.
The 406th infantry, which initially was in division reserve at Basweiler, began to move out by foot in the afternoon and at 1600 hours the Third battalion crossed by way of the Roerdorf footbridge. The first battalion followed a half hour later and the third battalion crossed about 2100. The third battalion moved to Tetz and after dark was ordered into the line to protect the right flank ofJthe division. Companies K & L moved into position facing south east along a line from southeast of Tetz.
During the night, Co. L on the left, received a small counter attack by the enemy without armor. It was easily repelled. The first battalion arrived in Tetz about 1800 hours and moved on to Mulefink creek, prepared to remain in division reserve, but it was also committed as was Co. K, to hold the right flank after the attacks began to develop against Boslar. The battalion moved directly to the high ground running from Boslar to the position occupied by the third battalion.
The first Battalion, during the night, was subjected to heavy artillery fire, some of which was supporting artillery called upon Boslar by the commander of the third battalion of the 405th. The First battalion also was hit by an infantry counterattack about 2300 and had a little trouble fending it off. The Second Battalion crossed the river about 2100 and was in reserve at Tetz during the night.
The 701st Tank Battalion began to cross the river early on the morning of the 24th and reached Tetz about 0900 2/24. The 771 Tank Destroyer Battalion likewise crossed early on Feb. 24 and after crossing, split into its various support objectives.
Co A. was in direct support of the 405th Infantry during the campaign. Co. B supported the 407th and Co. C initially was in reserve and later attached to the 406th.
Other that the counter attacks at Boslar and to the southeast, it is the writer's opinion that they constituted the only enemy coordinated attempt during the entire operation to fight other than the delaying actions.
Feb. 24 - A swing to the north out of the first day's bridgehead began. The turn presented the division with an exposed right flank, a state of affairs which continued to exist for almost the entire operation, since the 29th Division on the right, out-
side of the turn, did not progress as fast, and throughout the operation units guarding the division's right were subjected to heavy fire across the flat terrain from points well within the division's sector. On the left flank the first and second battalions of the 407th attack, while the third battalion remained in reserve throughout the day.
The second battalion on the left attack without tanks due to the latter's failure to arrive on time, from Grunbach at about 0930 toward Koferen, and Diaguchoff with the intention of seeking the high terrain west of Koferen. The attack went badly at the start because Co. G. attacking north thru Koferen at the battalion's right, was hit and badly disorganized by the salvos of time fire from 927th FA battalion which was firing at extreme range. Co F, meanwhile, was pinned down by heavy fire coming from the left flank within the zone of the 84th division and was forced to dig in after an advance of about 500 yards.
About mid-morning, Co. C on the of the 701st Tank Battalion made its appearance and at 1350 the attack was continued with the help of this armor. Co. G, supported by the tanks, moved into Koferen, followed by Co E and F. Helped also by the tanks which returned from Koferen, they also were able to move up and take their place on the left. The battalion moved to the north of the town and dug in for the night along a line extending almost twenty two hundred yards from just east of Koferen towards the west.
The first battalion of the 407th attacked from Gevenich at 1000 and, employing marching fire, moved up approximately 1000 yds. across the open ground between Hottorf and Koferen, where they met with the second battalion. The attack took only about 10 minutes. On the left of the 405th sector the first battalion of the 405th attack at 1000 toward Hottorf from its position along the nearest encarpment north of the railroad tracks, running from Tetz. The attack was virtually by fire from Hottorf, but heavy fire was received from the direction of Hospeson and Mustze which slowed the advance. Supporting tanks of Co. A of 701st Tank Battalion also lost heavily. By noon, however, the battalion was in the town where only light opposition was encountered and was consolidating positions on the north edge.
The third battalion of the 405th, followed by Co. B of the 701st Tank Battalion, attacked from Boslar toward the high ground to the east of Hottorf. Opposition was light from the north but fire from right flank hit the tanks with telling effect. By 1230, however, the battalion was dug in along the line running east along the high ground from Hottorf overlooking Ralshoven. The second battalion of the 405th moved up in the afternoon to art assembly area in the outskirts of Boslar, and at 1430 it moved up to fill a gap on the right flank of the regiment between the third battalion and the 406th infantry to the right. The battalion's line stretched from just south of Ralshoven almost to Hospeson. The first battalion attacked at 1100 toward Holenstreth and seized the town within a short time with an heavy artillery cover. There the attack was halted and the battalion dug in along the eastern outskirts of the town and tied in to the 405th sector on the left. The second battalion moved to Boslar at 1800 hours and during the night moved to Hottorf, prepared to attack north the following morning. The third battalion likewise moved to Boslar during the day and during the early hours of morning, pushed on to Hottorf. The attack on Feb. 24 definitely brought the division on line facing north with one battalion of the 406th facing east to protect the right flank. This swing in movement, in this writer's opinion, completely disrupted the Germans' defenses. Harassing fire from the right flank was a continual hinderance to the 102nd after the 24th, but except for sporadic attacks the Germans' activities consisted of an attempt to withdraw as slowly as possible and inflict as much damage as possible on their attackers. The Germans' prepared defenses in the area, which consisted of trenches, pits, and tank ditches, had obviously been designed to repel an attack from the east and not from the south, although antitank ditches before the towns also ran around the southern and northern edges as protection against tank movement.
On the 25th of February the second battalion of the 407th reverted to reserve and remained in its position occupied the day previously. The third battalion on the left and the first battalion on the right jumped off at 0900 hours against Lovenich, moving the line from the left of the Hottorf road and at the Koferen/Lovenich road with the 3rd battalion and an extra line of companies to the left as a protection for the flank, exposed through the inability of the 84th to move abreast. There was only scattered opposition to the front and by 0945 the battalion, supported by Co. C of the 701st Tank Battalion, had reached Lovenich and were engaged in consolidating the high ground immediately to the north. The 405th Infantry was placed in division reserve on the 25th of Feb. and the attack on the right flank was continued by the 406th, which had moved into position during the night. The attacking elements of the 406th were the second battalion on the left and the third battalion on the right, which constituted the right flank of the division, and as usual, had the heaviest opposition. The attack started at 0900 hours with both battalions on line. The second battalion moved north with its left flank along the Hottorf/ Lovenich road easing against the east edge of Lovenich, while the third battalion attack north against the east edge of Katzen and the high ground to the north and east.
The advance was supported by armor from elements of the 701st tank battalion and the 771st tank destroyers. The second battalion, encountered minor opposition just south of Katzen while the third battalion was forced to move forward through heavy fire from the right flank. Some resistance was encountered in and around the scattered clumps of houses which dotted the flat terrain. It was midafternoon before the infantry had reached Katzen and the other objectives and it was nightfall before all enemy resistance had been cleared away. The battalions dug in for the night in a line running immediately east of the city to the 407th position on the left. Meanwhile the first battalion moved behind the attacking echelon and moved into Katzen after it had been taken.
The 26th of Feb. H-hour on the 26th was delayed until noon in order to allow the 29th division on the right to push up to protect the 102nd's exposed right flank. At noon the 407th, still with the third battalion on the left and the first on the right, jumped off against Erklenz with the intermediate objective of Tennolt and Bellingshoven. Tennolt fell with little trouble but Bellingshoven was stoutly defended by enemy infantry in a trench south of the town. There the first battalion was held up for some time until the enemy had been blasted loose by rifle fire, artillery and white phosphorus. In Bellingshoven the first battalion reorganized while the third battalion waited and the attack was resumed at 1550.
The remainder of the advance to Erklenz was light opposed although the first battalion lost heavily while going through a minefield jus south of the objective. Few enemy soldiers were encountered in Erklenz and by 1630 it had been cleared with little trouble except for a short fight the third battalion had with defenders firing from the east edge of the town. The third battalion dug in for the night along the road running west from Erklenz, while the first battalion organized its defenses around the northern perimeter of the town. On the division's right was the first battalion of the 406th which had attacked earlier at 0800 from Katzen to Kucknovea while the 2nd battalion followed, prepared to swing to the east of Kucknovea and strike against Rockrath.
The first battalion had little trouble reaching its objective except for some 13th Corp artillery firing late in the area by mistake. By noon Kucknovea had been reached without opposition and the battalion was reorganized. Meantime the second battalion had passed through in a column of companies and reached Wockerath, also without opposition, where it also reorganized. At 1545 the battalions with tanks supporting attacked at a rapid pace directly west to the southeastern edge of Erklenz, and by 1830 the battalions and their supporting tanks were in the town and consolidating a position along its outer edge, tied in with the 407th on the left and with the first battalion on the right, which had attacked toward the southeastern edge of the town at 1300, coming abreast of the 2nd battalion when it moved out of Rockrath.
During the night of the 26th of Febraury, elements of the 5th Armored division passed through the 102nd to attack the next morning in a effort to break through the remaining enemy to the north. The 405th infantry reverted to division reserve during the night and did not participate in the attack the following day.
The 27th of February - The 405th infantry employed all its battalions in a sweeping advance up the right rise. During the fight, the first battalion moved up and took positions in Ternzog and Kautausen from where at 0830 in jumped off against Viersen. Two companies advanced across open terrain while the third provided a basic fire from Kautausen. Companies were through Benrath with a loss of only two men by 0900 and then swung northeast up the road to Herrath, an advance which was unopposed. Meanwhile the second battalion, from positions along the Ternzog/Erklenz road attacked at 0830 at Herrath and bypassing Munichrath, from which enemy fire was received, and got to the objective at about the same time as the first battalion cleared Benrath. The third battalion left Kuchhaven at H-L hour, moving behind the attacking echelon and after the fall of Benrath and Herrad, they deployed along the road between the two towns. At 1030 it jumped northeast against Beckrath which it reached by 1130. Opposition to all the battalions was extremely light and consisted only of a small amount of artillery and light small arms.
The first and second battalions of the 406th moved out in the morning in the wake of the 5th Armored division, which was attacking ahead. Neither battalion initially was deployed. North of Sittart, however, the armor was held up by heavy enemy resistance and it was decided to commit the infantry in an effort to clear out the opposition. The battalions employed were the first on the left and the second on the right, with the third in reserve. The attack went forward under cover of heavy air and artillery strike placed on Rheindahlen and the infan- try was able to pass through the armor at Sittart and make some progress. The first battalion, under trouble with the air and artillery support, moved slightly to the northwest and passed around Rheindahlen, and moved into Broich. Enemy opposition faded after the heavy bombardment and the battalion's progress was almost unimpeded, except for civilian refugees who clogged the roads.
The second battalion, likewise moved rapidly after the air and artillery fire cover was furnished and by 1830 the battalion had passed through Rheindahlen and was occupying the high ground along the railroad tracks to its north. Both battalions dug in for the night.
In the 405th sector, after the fall of Herrath and Beckrath, the attack was pressed again in the after- noon. The second battalion attacked about noon from Herrath, for Wickrathn. Moving up to the left of the railroad track in the face of fire from the east. By 1300 the town had been taken and Co. C moved up to Briorshon to investigate the town, which was found empty of enemy soldiers.
The 27th of February - The 405th infantry employed all its battalions in a sweeping advance up the right rise. During the fight, the first battalion moved up and took positions in Ternzog and Kautausen from where at 0830 it jumped off against Viersen. Two companies advanced across the open terrain while the third provided a basic fire from Kautausen. Companies were through Benrath with a loss of only two men by 0900 and then swung northeast up the road to Herrath, an advance which was unopposed. Meanwhile the second battalion, from positions along the Ternzog/Erklenz road attacked at 0830 at Herrath and bypassing Munichrath, from which enemy fire was received, and got to the objective at about the same time as the first battalion cleared Benrath. The third battalion left Kuchhaven at H-L hour, moving behind the attack- ing echelon and after the fall of Benrath and Herrad, they deployed along the road between the two towns. At 1030 it jumped northeast against Beckrath which it reached by 1130. Opposition to all the battalions was extremely light and consisted only of a small amount of artillery and light small arms. The first and second battalions of the 406th moved out in the morning in the wake of the 5th Armored division, which was attacking ahead. Neither battalion initially was deployed. North of Sittart, however, the armor was held up by heavy enemy resistance and it was decided to commit the infantry in an effort to clear out the opposition. The bat- talions employed were the first on the left and the second on the right, with the third in reserve.
The attack went forward under cover of heavy air and artillery strike placed on Rheindahlen and the infantry was able to pass through the armor at Sittart and make some progress. The first battalion, under trouble with the air and artillery support, moved slightly to the northwest and passed around Rheindahlen, and moved into Broich. Enemy opposition faded after the heavy bombardment and the battalion's progress was almost unimpeded, except for civilian refugees who clogged the roads.
The second battalion, likewise moved rapidly after the air and artillery fire cover was furnished and by 1830 the battalion had passed through Rheindahlen and was occupying the high ground along the railroad tracks to its north. Both battalions dug in for the night.
In the 405th sector, after the fall of Herrath and Beckrath, the attack was pressed again in the afternoon. The second battalion attacked about noon from Herrath, for Wickrathn. Moving up to the left of the railroad track in the face of fire from the east. By .1300 the town had been taken and Co. C moved up to Briorshon to investigate the town, which was found empty of enemy soldiers. The first battal- ion attacked from Herrath at about 1330 against the high ground to the east of Rheindahlen, passing north through the woods while the supporting armor went around by way of Genholland. Bucholtz was by-passed and the battalion moved slightly ahead of the third battalion on its right which received fire from enemy rifles to the east. This, however, did not halt the advance and by 1730 the battalion had reached the objective and was digging in.
The third battalion attacked at 1420 from Beckrath and swung to the left of the 2nd battalion and attacked toward Menrath. The attack was not opposed until the troops reached a point just south of the town but there they encountered a heavy artillery and mortar concentration and took a number of casualties. The lead companies, however, were able to get started again under the cover of a heavy artillery strike and a smoke screen which covered their right flank. As was usually the case through the operation, enemy opposition fell once the Americans reached the town and the battalion had no trouble cleaning the town. There it spent the night, this put the regiment on a rough line extending south from Broic to Reindahlen to Wickrath.
The 28th of February - The 405th regiment operations were resumed: one at 0530 when the third battalion attacked from Wickrath to Gusnoven, and got to their objective with no opposition except light harassing fire from the right flank. Meanwhile, the second battalion had moved from Wickrath to Rheindahlen. From there it attacked at 0830 against Kethausen and Dorthausen. There was almost no opposition in the two towns and Co. G was left be- hind to clean them out, while companies E & F moved up the road against a large mental institu- tion. Heavy resistance was encountered from seven and self propelled guns. The armor delayed the infantry companies until the return could be placed on the, when they withdrew enabling the companies to move against the objective. Later in the Afternoon Companies F & G moved to Wolfsittard without encountering any opposition. Following the occupation of Guanevea, the third battalion and second battalion jumped off in a coordinated attack against Hohs. The first battalion moved out at 1030 behind the second battalion, while the third battalion attacked directly north at 1230 with the first battalion on the right. The third battalion ran into some trouble from a patch of woods to the northeast but swung to the left and planted the enemy with marching fire. By 1430 the third battalion had arrived and cleaned up Heha , where little opposition .was encountered and the first battalion was digging in along al line running south east of the town, facing east to protect the division's right flank. The third battalion, in a final action of the day, passed rapidly north about 3,000 yards to Winkelm, passing through Berst, which like Winkelm, contained only a few Germans waiting to be captured.
This report is taken from the National Archives in College Park, MD. It was transcribed onto a Sap top combuter or recorded by voice on a recorder by the historian and his wife. The author of this piece was not identified on the report.
There is more material to be recorded there, but we only spent one full day. Hope to get back soon.
(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, "Taking the Roer and Beyond", from the archives, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 52, No. 1, Oct/Dec., 1999, pp. 15-21.
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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