Heroes: the Army

A Special Tribute to the Men of:

Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102nd Division (2nd Battalion)

European Theater of Operations


The Allies Drive for the Rhine

From an article in LIFE magazine, March 12, 1945


Since December the U. S. First and Ninth Arimes had been building up strength behind the swollen little Roer River. On Feb. 23 they let it go with a stunning night barrage. The Germans at the river were quickly overpowered. Beyond the river the rigid framework of their Rhineland defense began to break down. A week after the first gun had been fired at the Roer, the Ninth had arrived at the Rhine opposite Dusseldorf. The men of the Ninth exchanged shots with the Germans on the other side.

Lieut. General William H. Simpson, commander of the Ninth, hd been waiting for this drive to the Rhine. If the river was to be crossed by his army, the smooth crossing of the Roer was a battle rehearsal. For weeks the muddy little stream had been an obsession with the men of the Ninth. They prepared and planned to cross it early in February, in coordination with drives by the Canadians and General Patton's Third Army. But on the eve of the crossing the Germans opened the gates in the big earth dams of the upper Roer, partly flooding the cabbage land of the lower valley. General Simpson was forced to postpone the crossing while his engineers calculated when it would be possible.

The engineers, watching the flood dimish, told the general the crossing could be made on Feb. 23. The Ninth began to get ready again. The men and tanks and portable sections of pontoon bridges moved up to the river. At 2:45 A.M. the barrage began and a smokescreen drifted over river to cover the crossing.


As the morning sun shines through the open roof of a house in Julich, Ninth Army infantrymen dash across Roer under German mortar and machine-gun fire.

The U. S. Breakthrough Begins with the Crossing of the Roer: The Ninth Army's crossing of the Roer was a short, violent struggle against the Germans and the river. Forty-five minutes after the night barrage had begun, assault boats and amphibious tractors started across in a great wave. In some of the boats were combat engineers, ferrying cables to moor their pontoon bridges in midstream. It was an excruiating few hours for the engineers. The flood had lessened but the current was still swift and strong. Runaway boats and pontoons careened downsteam crashing into the bridges as they were being built. As the work went on the Germans kept up a blind but deadly machine-gun and mortar barrage through the smokescreen. But in spite of diffculties there were two footbridges across the Roer in the morning. Later the engineers put in bigger bridges for trucks and tanks.

image of roer crossing
Click on image to see larger view

image of roer crossing
Click on image to see larger view


On another Roer footbridge lies the body of an American soldier who was hit by German mortar-shell fragments when he was only 50 feet from east bank.

The hardest crossing on the Ninth Army front was made by teh veteran 29th Division of julich, which appears on the far side of the river on the opposite page.

The wreckage along the Roer at Julich was reminiscent of Normandy. All of Julich except the ancient moated citadel was taken by afternoon, freeing the 29th to join the power drive across the Cologne plain. But even after the entry into Julich, the crossing of the Roer were places of danger. The Germans still had the river under observation and shelled it heavily. The little bridge above and the dead soldier on it were principals in a grisly little drama which is unfolded on the following pages.


Caption on the following sequence of images read as follows:

Life Photographer George Silk Records Grim Little Incident of U. S. Combat Engineers at One of the Roer Pontoon Bridges.

image of roer crossing 1



image of roer crossing 2



On the east bank of the Roer, engineers edge toward a little picket of Germans left behind by the main advance. The Germans were sniping at the engineers on the bridge.



Some of the Germans walk out holding their hankerchiefs as white flags. The others, still undecided about surrendering, were killed when they fired a few halfhearted shots at the engineers.



image of roer crossing 3



image of roer crossing 4



Two engineers herd the prisoners back to the bridge. Just after LIFE's George Silk made this picture, one of the prisoners pulled a live grenade out of his pocket and tossed it to the ground.



Dazed men stagger after exposion. The German who threw grenade lies dead (center). Two men at the left, one on the ground, are badly wounded. Silk was hit in leg.



image of roer crossing 5



image of roer crossing 6



Walking across the bridge under guard, one of the prisoners hesitates as he picks his way over the body of the dead American shown in the picture on the proceeding page.



Stretcher-bearers bringing back one of the men wounded in the grenade explosion step carefully over the body. (remainder of text missing)



image of roer crossing 7



image of roer crossing 8



Cut by a mortar shell, the bridge swings downstream. Stretcher-bearers with another wounded man stand helplessly over the body on the bridge. Man in middle stands stunned by accident.



A splash of foam by the bridge marks where one of the men has dived in to help the stretcher-bearers, who are trying to keep the wounded man from falling into the river.



image of roer crossing 9



image of roer crossing 10



A pontoon capsizes when the fourth man climbs on to help the stretcher-bearers and the wounded man. On the west bank in the background other men look on transfixed.



As the bridge rights itself, one of the stretcher-bearers pulls wounded man out of the water. The other floats downstream on a pontoon broken loose. the dead man still lies on the bridge.



image of roer crossing 11



image of roer crossing 12



Motorboat comes up and the man who had been floating away on pontoon climbs in at right. Man who had dived in and had been hanging on to bridge, now climbs out of water in center.



Everyone is taken aboard except the dead man. Bigger bridges had been built upstream, so little bridge was left swinging with dead man for the rest of day.

[Note: The preceeding article/photographs ran in "LIFE" magazine on March 12, 1945 Vol. 18 No. 11., pp. 25-29. The photographer was George Silk who recorded this small portion of the overall battle. Edward Souder has kindly supplied World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words the materials depicted on this page.

Interesting note -- Ed Souder points out that the images depicted in this article were unique in the fact that for first times they depicted American dead -- which up to this point was never done. The issue was moral back home.]


image of american flag

George Silk in image taken at age 23 or 24


George Silk
Born: (Date and Location?)
Died: 23 October 2004 (Location?)

     Mr. Silk's memory as well as his work will be sadly missed by all who are students of World War II. He truly was a member of "America's Greatest Generation."

     The remarkable images depicted on this page of the history of the 102nd Division, were taken by Mr. George Silk. Mr. Silk was a combat photographer who was assigned to cover the Roer River Crossing. This page is dedicated to his memory.

     A very sad note. George Silk was one of the premier photographers for Life magazine. His specialty was sports photography; but he was a real artist with his camera. Sadly, Mr. George Silk passed away on October 23, 2004.

     A special "Thank You" is extended to a close family friend, Mr. Ed Parker for contacting us and telling us of the passing of Mr. Silk as well as allowing us the use of Mr. Silk's photograph.



Co. F., 405th Regiment -- Kitchen History Stories:

Gene Greenburg, Sgt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Gene's World War II Diary

Jim Hansen, Sgt., 2nd Lt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Jim Hansen Remembers

Bob Herrick, 2nd Lt., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- From the Roer to the Rhine

Edward L. Souder, Pfc., Co. F., 405th Reg. -- Going Off to War

Additional Stories Currently in the Works...



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

image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

National World War II Memorial


 Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Original Story submitted on 7 September 2002.
Story added to website on 16 September 2002.
Story updated on 17 January 2005