Assault Crossing of the Roer

William Ecuyer

Company C, 329th Combat Engineers

This is Germany. The month is February, the day is the 23rd and the year is 1944. The land is lightly snow covered. It is cold. This is Eschweiler and Weisweiler a few miles from the Roer River. This is the setting and this is the river that we have to cross. For possibly two months the river had been swollen and we could not cross it in our plywood "rowboats." Finally, on this February night, three engineers to each boat and ten infantry to each boat, a total of thirteen in each boat, many, many boats, leave the shore of Hoven. Actually I should explain. Hoven was a small town on the western edge of the Roer River.

In the rear of our boat the infantry had brought with them a large reel of telephone wire. This was to be strung out as we crossed the river so that they would have communications with artillery and other support groups in the rear. Also, an unfortunate incident occurs as we push off the shore. Two engineers are up front, myself and Douglas Miller, and one engineer in the rear, who is supposed to steer the boat, or help steer the boat.

Unfortunately, our rudder man falls off the boat as we leave and we lose him. Now it’s ten infantry and two engineers. Well, as we push off we row and row and as we approach the center of the river the current starts to take us and the boat spins on itself. It rotates and spins and the wire drags and it’s a heck of a job to try to get it straightened out. And finally, after much, much trouble being floating, floating down the river on this heavy water we finally reach the other side. In knee deep water the infantry leave Miller and me in the boat taking with them the giant reel of telephone wire. Wow! at least we got across.

Now we’ve got to bring the boat back. Well, Miller and I turn the boat around and push off as best we could with just the two of us and again the current takes us. Meantime we approach an area where the green tracers are right above the water. Green tracers you know are from the German machine guns. Miller jumps over the side and hangs on to the edge of the boat. I, remembering how cold the water is, choose to lay in the bottom of the boat. After we pass this area of fire I help Miller back into the boat. Meantime there are parachute flares going off. There are mortars going off in different directions. It’s a hell of a thing.

As we’re being swept down the river now with no control of the boat at all we approach the autobahn. The autobahn, as we all know, is the super highway that the Germans built. Well, they decided as we advanced and they retreated to blow this bridge over the Roer River, the autobahn bridge. They blow it and it settles into the water. But it settles into the water almost flush with the water causing a tremendous blockage of water. Now the water has no choice but to go around it in a little bit of area, or under the platform that has been exploded and has sunk into the river; thus causing a tremendous undertow. Miller and I are not aware of this and as our bloat floats down, it is being rushed towards this submerged concrete platform. On the platform is one GI. Greenberg is his name and he yells to us, "Look out for the undertow, jump as the boat hits!" Well, we did just that. We jumped onto this platform on which Greenberg is standing. Fortunately, our boat didn’t disappear.

Well, the story from Greenberg is that his boat never got across and he was the only one that jumped clear. The other two engineers and ten infantry and the boat were sucked under this platform and disappeared. At this point Miller and I and Greenberg pull our plywood boat up onto the platform. Meantime, there are mortars landing up above on part of the autobahn. There are parachute flares going off all over the place and fortunately our side finally releases smoke covering the river like fog helping to conceal us and not only us, but of course, many others that were in different positions in different areas.

After some thought we decided to pull the boat to the far side of the autobahn, away from the undertow, get back in and float down river. Unfortunately, the stream of the river is just as rapid and with much difficulty we finally row to our side. But of course it’s dark, we can’t see too well now. We’re well down stream from the main battle area and Greenberg is the first to leave the boat. He ends up well to his armpits in water and finally gets out as we keep floating down the river. Miller jumps out. There's a little peninsula of ground sticking out and he jumps to that. I’m left in the boat. It’s a question do I jump with my rifle or I jump and try to save myself so as I'm floating down I again see a piece of ground jutting out and make a jump for it. Hip deep in water I get out and now we’ve all been separated we’re talking fifty, sixty feet/yards apart maybe greater, don’t know. It’s pitch black. So here I am alone. I know the general direction that I should travel, away from the river of course, but now my next problem. Schu mines. What am I going to walk into. And if I do walk onto one, who is going to find me, and when? So here I gingerly walk along just wishing and hoping and praying that I don’t step on one of those little wooden boxes. Finally, I make it to a road which parallels the river. I walk along the road to the underpass. The road underpass of the autobahn which had not been demolished by the Germans and here I find Greenberg and Miller waiting for me. What a happy reunion.

Meantime things have quieted down a little bit, but tracers are still coming across to a certain extent. Mortars are flying around so we decided, after freezing our "gezunds" that we’re going to follow the road and hope to find our lines. Well, we did just that. We ran when we could, to keep warm if nothing else and finally as we’re running up this road toward what we hope is our lines we hear a "Halt, who goes there?" And fortunately we did remember the password for that night which was Whitehouse. We holler, "Whitehouse, Whitehouse, don’t shoot, coming in."

Finally, we reached our lines and were able to get some hot coffee, as I remember, and dry ourselves off; and we were glad to be back. Many others, not as fortunate as us, were swept down river. Some survived, many did not. But what we found out the next day, or the day after, I don’t recall, that just a few yards from where I left our plywood boat there was a big waterfall. Had I stayed on much longer, I would have been swept over with the boat and probably wouldn’t be here today. This was our Roer River crossing, on a black night in February, many, many years ago.


The Drive to the Roer River

"Nat" Jay Jaffee

Company A, 415th Infantry

We proceeded to move along the flat, open fields northwest of Merken. The enemy were scattered in the fields, hiding in dugouts which were covered with burlap or canvas. We would lift the covers up, and there they were, looking at us sheepishly and ready to be taken prisoner. It was cold , with a light rain falling. The fields were muddy. We paralleled a road that led to the river. The Company had taken a town called Vilbenich and set up a command post in one of the attached houses along the road. Our men had captured a number of prisoners who were now packed into a small room at the CP. They seemed quite happy. I overheard one of them say, "Mir gehen zu Florida." (We are going to Florida.) They looked dreadful and in need of a hot meal.

Lt. Fox, the company commander, called me out into one of the rooms and told me to take my squad and "flush out" a walled courtyard which was about three hundred yards down the road. Suspected enemy were holed up inside the courtyard. I asked the lieutenant if I could take one of the prisoners with me, telling him that I would use him to make contact with the Germans inside the wall. He told me to go ahead with any plan I thought necessary.

I got my squad together and told them to "fix bayonets." We looked mean and there was no question that we meant business. I looked into the crowded room filled with prisoners and pointed to a frail, slight young soldier whose grey blue uniform was still discernible. The marking on his jacket seemed to indicate that he was in the Luftwaffe but my knowledge of military identification was limited. "Comm mit mir," I said, waving him towards me, hoping he would understand my vernacular German, derived from a combination of Yiddish and watching Hollywood movies about war stories that included American and German soldiers in two world wars.

The young German was confused and frightened. The squad gathered outside the CP and I explained to them our mission. I told the German what he had to do and off we went, down the road, leading my squad in single file with the German in front of me being prodded by my bayonet. Halfway to the wall, artillery began to fall around us. It was "friendly fire" coming from our rear. I motioned my squad to double time it to the wall. We arrived without casualties. The barrage let up. The German was shaking. We crouched against the reddish brown stone wall which was ten feet high and continued for about 100 feet and then cornered to make a complete square, forming a natural fortification around the courtyard, built to enclose farm animals and caretakers or field workers. It was a very old wall, but the concept of this enclosure dated back to the Middle Ages.

We stopped to catch our breath. We also wanted to make sure that our artillery would not being firing at us again. The German was still trembling. He accepted a cigarette I offered him. He did not look any older than fourteen or fifteen. It was apparent that he had been under our artillery fire before. After a few puffs, I told him to continue along the wall. Ahead was a large wooden, double door that was slightly open. When we got to it, I kicked the door nearest to me wide open, pressed my bayonet into the German’s back and told him, "Mit geschrei, komm heraus, Americanische soldaten nicht schiessen, Geschrei!" (Shout, come out, American soldiers won’t shoot. Shout!)

The young German entered the courtyard timidly but with surprising authority repeated my instructions. This had been my plan as soon as I was told what our squad had to do. I wasn’t ready to barge into the courtyard without having some idea about the strength of the enemy inside. The German again repeated my directive. There was no response. My squad and I then entered the courtyard. I noticed that there were two tiers of quarters. The bottom half was probably used for farm animals and the floors above for the hired hands or families who owned the courtyard. Sergeant Bob Anderson, second in command of the squad, opened one of the bottom doors and discovered two wounded enemy lying on makeshift straw beds. I instructed the young German to wait in that candlelit room until we came for him. Concerned about a counterattack, I sent my men to the tier above and into the rooms that faced west and south, where an attack, because of the open fields, was possible.

I positioned myself in the middle of the courtyard, thinking of my next action, when out of the corner of my eye I picked up a movement. Suddenly, on the left side of the courtyard, a door of the bottom tier opened, and there, moving slowly as if in slow motion, came a German soldier with his hands slightly raised. I stared at him for a moment. Another soldier was coming out behind him. I shouted to my squad to come back. They didn’t hear me. They were inside the upstairs rooms looking out the windows or whatever else they were interested in. When I saw another enemy leave the basement, I raised my gun with its bayonet and hurried towards the growing group of Germans, still wondering what happened to my squad. (The way the Germans were emerging reminded me of the clowns I once saw in the circus coming out unendingly from a very small car.)

I counted fourteen prisoners when they finally stopped coming out of the cellar. It was obvious that they heard my prisoner telling them they would not be shot. They were watching us through a small opening in the door to see if we would harm their injured. Sensing that they would not be killed, they decided, as a group, to surrender. I asked if any more soldiers were in the courtyard. They said none. They then began to offer me their watches, wallets, money, rings, photographs of their family and other trinkets thinking that I would treat them with special favor. I refused to take anything and told them to put all their offerings away. I wanted no part of being caught by the enemy with any German souvenirs in my pocket.

When I was training in the States, I fantasized about capturing a group of the enemy and marching them in cadence to the stockade. I was aware that it was a childish fantasy that stemmed out of a need for a feeling of superiority and dominance. I never believed that I would have the opportunity to play out my dream. Unexpectedly, I now found the right circumstances. In my broken German, I instructed the men to "machen zwei columne" (make two columns) which they immediately formed and I proceeded to march them out of the side door that lead to the road. As we reached the road, I began to count cadence in German. "Ein, zwei, drei, vier, ein, zwei, drei, vier." They looked bedraggled and weary. In spite of their appearance, they followed my meter with enthusiasm and in perfect unison. I was alongside the column with my bayoneted rifle as I marched them to the command post. A medic assigned to our Company stepped out on to the road to photograph us as we approached the CP. I was so engaged with these prisoners, it did not occur to me to ask the medic for an eventual print. I was not to know yet that this event would be one of the highlights of my combat experience.

Note: It would be greatly appreciated if anyone owns this photograph or knows who might possibly have it so that I could make a copy of it or if any man can put me in touch with the medic who took the photograph. Write to N.J. Jaffee, 8 Janes Lane, Lloyd Harbor, NY 11743.


A Night on the Roer River, February 23, 1945

Theodore W. Sery

Company C, 329th Combat Engineers

"Catch Poncho, catch Poncho" was Ward’s desperate cry to the next boat as Poncho was floating away still buoyant from the air that was trapped in his clothing. Poncho (Julian Mares) had jumped out to secure our boat when it scraped bottom on the German side of the Roer River, but the swift current had dragged us out again. I had managed to hang on to the front rim of the boat in deep water; Poncho clung on to me momentarily, but lost his hold and was being carried away. In the dark I could barely see his head above water as Corporal O’Connor’s boat now approached on our left. An infantryman in Oke’s boat heard his cries and was able to grab him just in time. Sheridan Ward pulled me back into our craft and, when we hit bottom again, we were able this time to drag it in and hold it secure.

This was our first major drive in over two months. The delay was because of the Ardennes campaign which the Germans launched in mid-December, but that "Battle of the Bulge" was now over. For the past several weeks we had practiced for the Roer River crossing on lakes and rivers by giving refresher courses with infantry units on proper handling of the boats: how to carry a 410-pound, 4 by 12 foot rectangular plywood craft; important for everyone to coordinate their paddle strokes and allow the steersman in the rear to control the direction; the safety value of not wearing heavy weapons on our bodies, but stowing them in the center, etc.

Our patience was wearing thin after several false starts, but on the night of February 22nd, George Washington’s birthday, our sergeant came to us and said, "This is it, we will move out in the morning at 0100 hours and assemble in the town of Hoven." We drove there under a night sky that was unrealistically still and quiet. I had all my equipment on – bandoleer, cartridge belt, rifle, gas mask, canteen, jacket, and a long scarf my sister had knitted for me.

Just before we reached our shelter in town our artillery barrage opened up against the enemy in a fantastic display of brilliant flashes. Every gun in the division thundered and boomed continuously for 45 minutes. Our captured German "screaming meemies" added to the torrent of noise with a sound like a thousand squealing pigs. Some shells seemed to fall short, but we waited it out in a basement shelter. I fidgeted with my gear. I had to rewind our boat rope. I retied my boot laces so that they would have small loops. I felt that I had too much stuff on and went out and tossed my gas mask into our truck. One of our shells dropped nearby tossing particles of dirt into my face, adding to the mounting tension. The call to move up came. I got in line and headed for our boat. I now got rid of more stuff. My life belt was too tight so I tossed it aside.; Then I got rid of my canteen and finally threw off my bandoleer – my cartridge belt would suffice and most likely it too would be useless weight – I never did get a chance to fire a shot on the Mark River crossing in Holland.

Our big guns were pounding endlessly on the enemy shore and our machine guns were streaming orange tracers across the river. I got to my boat, No. 7, with Poncho and Ward; then our passengers came. My Lord! There were 12 of them and we were supposed to have only 7 more soldiers on this plywood craft. Well, we carried and dragged our boat a few hundred yards over the mud flats and the noises became of second importance. We forgot them. At the river we had to wade out quite a ways because the Germans had blown a dam up river and it was now a very broad and fast flowing body of water. Twice we all got into the boat, but it wasn’t out far, or deep enough. Well, we managed it and I took my position as steersman in the rear. I had everybody stroking unison, but the current was terrific and the boat sat too deep in the water. A GI in front of me on the right was choking his paddle at the neck, making it useless, and I repeatedly told him to spread his hold. Green tracer bullets from a Jerry machine gun were rasping across the river on our right and from another one on our left. With the force of the current I couldn’t keep the boat angled upstream and she turned completely around twice. In the dark I lost all sense of direction, but took my bearing by the flow of our orange tracer bullets.

Having made our landing as already described, everyone quickly piled out. A Jerry machine gun was shooting over us on the shallow bank and we had to lie half in and half out of the freezing water with the infantry men. My legs were completely numb from the cold. I could not feel them. I was scared. I prayed a little. Ward, who was by my side, kept telling me that I had his rifle. I denied that I did. But since I had moved to the front of the boat to jump out and secure it, I now felt the stock for my personal notch and found that he was right. So I gave him his rifle. Great! My last encumbrance was gone.

Then another boat swung into shore next to ours on our right. More GI’s jumped out and went into the attack over the bank. One of them said that there were wounded men on board. Amid all the turmoil and noise I could hear the anguished cries of pain. One man, in delirium, was screaming with cries of "Mother, Mother, Mother!" Their boat had been raked by a Jerry machine gun and was taking on water. Another boat on their right landed in this shamble of boats. A medic got out and we called him over. He got in and I offered to help. I was scared to death because of that machine gun, but got in anyway. It was difficult to see in the dark with very little moonlight. In the din of the battler there were cries of "Medic, medic, where’s a medic? I’m hit, I’m hit, get off my foot, you’re standing on my foot; please get us out of here!" One of the wounded had been hit in his neck, another in his back. The medic started work and I did my best to calm them down. A third GI was lying very still face down. In the dark I mistook his form for a large overstuffed duffel bag and, while cursing why it had been brought to a dumb place like this, tried to lift it out to level the boat. But I soon realized my error that it – he – was a GI and maybe dead.

Others now entered the boat and said, "Shove off, we’re taking them across." That turned out to be a mistake. We were lopsided, crowded and were caught completely by the current. We hit a rock, took on a lot more water and were flying downstream. I started to bail out water with my helmet and told the others to do the same. Ward kept calling out to us to keep paddling. He was on with us; I didn’t know who else was. Suddenly the bombed Autobahn bridge loomed up ahead in the darkness. We could barely see it through the smoky haze. Fortunately, we didn’t hit the half-submerged part, but were carried through a narrow passage on the German side that had head space for us. Beyond the bridge I saw a large overflow, or waterfall, in this rushing torrent and then I realized that were doomed to sink. It was inevitable. I removed my cartridge belt and over we went. I found myself trying to swim to shore and in a brief moment I caught sight of some of the others. It seemed as if they were wading in, but I couldn’t touch bottom.

I was caught in the powerful turbulence. It dragged me under and then up again. I was getting heavy and the shore was far away. I became desperate and looked for the boat, for anything. I was drawn under again. I felt as if I was tumbling. My immediate impulse was to swim to some unknown surface but, struggle as I might, there was no response or feeling of direction. And then a great peace came over me. I had always been afraid of drowning even though I loved to swim. It was a fear of choking for air. But now there was no fear. I remember no choking. I just remember giving up in a soundless black void.

Perhaps at the very last moment of consciousness something touched the back of my right hand and I remember grabbing it. In that very instant I was pulled up to the surface and found that I was holding on to the rope tied to the front of my boat. And only now was I choking and gasping at the air. Immediately the boat was dragged down again in a powerful undercurrent and I went down with it. In thoughtless panic I let do of the rope, but the rope seemed to have a mind of its own; it wasn’t through with me, it now became tangled in my legs. I grabbed it again and hung on as the boat now came to the surface in calmer water. It was floating upside down. I pulled myself onto the boat bottom and knelt there with a prayerful feeling of thanks to God in my heart. I was thinking how unreal the whole event was. Looking for a chance when it came I leaped onto some stationary brushwood. Soon, on the shore someone appeared in the dark. My first thought was that he was a German soldier. It was a buddy, Jim Halkiotis, from our boat who had run along the shore helping the others and pulling the two wounded infantry GI’s out of the water. He waded out and when I saw it was not deep I met him halfway.

We ran back to where the others were: Woodard, Morizano, and Douglas. Only two of the three wounded were there. Ward didn’t make it (his body was found two weeks later) and I don’t know about the medic. He probably chose to stay with the infantry for other casualties.

The destroyed bridge was about a hundred yards away. We decided to go there for shelter, hopefully it was not in enemy hands. It was free, but it was on the German’s target list, I guess to prevent it being spanned with a new addition. Many enemy shells started coming, in, but we were safe because we were under a long concrete channel with a thick cement "skirt" that came down to within three feet of the ground. Opposite this was a solid wall that did not have any opening with the other side upriver. Bursts of German 88s were coming sporadically. I found by counting off seconds that they were following a five-minute interval so, between barrages, I went out to get the wounded. Halkiotis came with me and we brought back the one who could walk. He had been shot in the neck. We could not manage the soldier who was shot in the back and was not conscious. We thought it might be in his spine and we didn’t chance it at this stage. Artillery shells kept hitting the bridge sporadically, but we were fairly safe. The concussion was bad, but it was O.K.

Fortunately, as dawn brought a little light, we saw the second wounded GI crawling toward us. He wasn’t paralyzed and Hal ran out with me to bring him in. His name was Kirker (spelling?). During the night I had been working on Atkins, the one with the neck wound, to give him some warmth. I removed his boots and stockings and held his feet up against the skin of my chest. We were all soaking wet and freezing, but he was lying very still and couldn’t do anything. At daylight two more GIs showed up, a forward observer named "Linke" who was wounded in one leg, and a friend of his from the 237th Engineers. I patched Linke up and gave Kirker wound tablets and water from his boot. Halkiotis removed his boots and socks and we both worked on his feet…I worked on Atkins again; his condition was very bad.

Hal and I did a little reconnaissance around the bridge near the water and topside, but the river could not be crossed. Then, about noon, a few of us decided to try to fetch one of the abandoned boats far up the river. Halfway there the Germans spotted us. I got as far as one boat and ducked behind it as return fire from one of our own 50-caliber machine guns across the river gave us good cover fire. I was cursing like hell at this gunner thinking these tracers over my head were meant for me. I felt secure behind my thin plywood boat and would have felt the same if I was inside a paper bag. Our effort wouldn’t work and we ran back to the bridge.

As I approached the upriver side of the bridge I met with sniper fire and, surprisingly, I was waved into another shelter on this side by two GIs who had holed up there sometime during the night without our knowing it. They had 30 German prisoners with them. This destroyed bridge was part of a large, multi-lane, modern highway and our respective grounded chambers were well out of earshot of each other. The space on this side was much smaller and crowded. I commented on how come the GI’s rifles were leaning against the wall, but a Jerry who heard me said, in English, "Don’t worry, we are prisoners, but the war is over for us." Good thing they were Wehrmacht soldiers and not SS. They had a Jerry medic and I managed to get him to climb around the massive concrete rubble with me to tend to our wounded soldiers. A little later Linke and I ran to the end of our chamber to capture a German soldier who we saw crawling under the concrete overhang of our enclosure. But he was a harmless straggler. Linke, not leaving anything to chance, in a flash, grabbed the man with hammerlock hold then held the man’s own bayonet at his throat while I frisked him for a gun.

Well, so it went. We bided our time and we froze all day. Late in the day a lieutenant and two GIs relayed information to us from across the river that a bridge was now in use a mile or so south of us. We decided that several should take off for it to get help. The two GIs who had prisoners wanted two of us to stay to help with their prisoners so Douglas and I volunteered. Linke also stayed because his leg was getting worse. Later, near dusk, a lieutenant with three of his men came to our aid and we took off in a slow procession with the prisoners carrying the wounded. On the way we picked up another wounded GI, one of our medics, who had a foot blown off by a Schu mine in a field beyond the river bank. Boy! He sure was a calm and collected soldier with never a complaint. Up ahead at a cliff-like ditch with only a log to cross over on he even put his full weight on his stump (his foot was still partly attached) as he was handed across by the Germans.

In the failing light just before it got dark we were warned of some half-buried mines in our path and, to prevent any mistake by the prisoners with their heavy burdens, I straddled on of the three visible mines with one foot on each side and kept calling out in German "Meenen! Meenen! Meenen!" Our party proceeded safely by and we crossed the bridge over the Roer. We left our charges in good hands at the M.P. quarters. I went to G-2 to give information about two mine fields and about our men to my Captain, Max Eisner, who was there. Douglas and I were driven to our unit later that night. We were the last ones to return. Sadly, five buddies from our company died that night.


What You See is Not Always True…Especially at Night

Paul Q. Chronister

Company K, 413th Infantry Regiment

Duren, Germany, February 23, 1945.

This was the beginning of the big spring offense in Germany 1945. Our company had just crossed the Roer River in boats at about 3:30 in the morning. We were trying to get the units together. When we crossed the Roer in boats, the units become small boat loads and all are trying to get together into larger organized units on the other side.

We were going through a badly damaged factory and we saw people going through this hole in the wall. First we challenged them and got no response as they kept on going through the hole. We started shooting and they continued going through that big hole.

We took a flashlight and shined it at the hole. Much to our surprise it turned out to be a solid wall. Looking upward we saw the roof had a hole in it and the moon was shining through and it appeared as a hole in the wall. It was our men walking by above us. When they crossed the moon beam it looked like men going into what looked like a hole in the wall.

Soooooooo – sometimes what you see is not always true…especially at night.


Hill 287 "Stolberg"

November 16 & 17, 1944

Wes Gaab

Company M, 414th Infantry Regiment

The blur of almost fifty years has somewhat dimmed my recollection of what transpired on or about November 16, 1944, outside the town of Stolberg, Germany. The 104th Division had replaced the 1st Division in an attempt to take Stolberg Hill, which I believe was designated as Hill #287.

The hill was dominated by a huge bunker which some say was three stories deep and surrounded by numerous pillboxes and connecting trenches. The taking of Hill #287 was the key to the drive to the Roer. The attack was launched on November 16th with a massive bombardment from the 8th Air Force and our supporting artillery. I was a machine gunner with Co. M 3rd Battalion of the 414th Regiment. We were in support of K and L companies. The battle was gigantic and its memory is one of confusion, noise, death, and the smell of decaying German soldiers left on the battlefield. We did not take Hill #287 on that day.

The attack resumed early in the morning of the 17th and it’s here my story begins. Through heavy fire, countless mines, and booby-traps, a small group of GI’s somehow made it to the top of the hill. We found refuge under a knocked out Tiger tank which the Germans had used as a pillbox. There were two dead Germans still inside the tank. We were less than 100 yards to the left of the bunker. The dirt under the tank had been excavated and provided just enough room for the five of us. It was about midday when we finally got to the top. Then something strange occurred. We suddenly realized that it was all quiet. The shooting on both sides had stopped. We assumed the 2nd Battalion had successfully taken Hill #287. We even cracked out the K-rations to celebrate. But if the 2nd Battalion had taken the hill, why were there only five of us here – where were the others? We learned later that they had pulled back to a row of battered houses at the foot of the hill.

I was at the end of our undertank fortress, so I was elected to go out and take a look around. I borrowed an M-1 from someone since my sidearm was a 45 and we didn’t even have the machine gun set up. I crawled over to what looked like a low coop that could have housed chickens or rabbits. I rested the M-1 on the top and looked around. There was no one to be seen until a head slowly appeared above the top of the bunker. He was a German soldier using binoculars. He wasn’t looking at us to his right, but down the hill in the direction from which we had come. I shot him. Within minutes, I saw Germans pouring out of the rear of the bunker. They were in a trench with only their heads and shoulders showing above ground. I fired on them with the M-1 and the heads would disappear only to reappear in a matter of seconds. They were in a big hurry to get out of here.

When the last had left the bunker, I returned to the tank and told the other four what had happened. We were sure it was all over for us. We waited for the Germans to surround us, but they never came. What did come was even more frightening. The clanking, rumbling sound of a tank coming up behind us. He put two rounds into our tank at point blank range. Miraculously we weren’t even scratched. He didn’t do the two dead Germans in the tank any good. We then heard him back down the hill and all was quiet again.

We remained under the tank for the rest of the day with infrequent trips out to see if we could locate any of our buddies, but there were none to be seen. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we five GI’s had taken and held Stolberg Hill #287.

We decided to wait until darkness and go back down the hill to our own lines. Tiptoeing through a minefield at night can get the heart beating faster, but by going from shell crater to shell crater, we managed to get down safely. Well almost – we didn’t know the password and almost got shot by our own guys who thought we were a German patrol. We finally convinced them that we were one of them and they let us in one at a time. We reported to a Lieutenant that the Germans had vacated the bunker, but he gave us a "Ya, sure they did." He then wanted us to stand guard shifts with his platoon, but we told him we were going to look for our own outfits. I found a pile of straw at the back of a destroyed shed and burrowed in for a fitful night’s sleep, but one free of sentry duty. The next morning, November 18th, the Battalion once again charged the hill and the bunker only to find it abandoned.

The strange thing about reliving this tale which I had done hundreds of times through the years, is that I can’t remember the names of the other four GI’s who shared our conquest of Hill #287. I think one might have been Staff Sergeant Bob Hatlen and the others from Rifle Companies involved in the attack on November 17th. K Company seems to stick in my mind. Should this account ever be published, I sure would appreciate hearing from anyone who might have shared in the knowledge of Stolberg Hill #287 was conquered on November 17th and not on November 18th, 1944, as history has recorded.


Stolberg, Germany, Nov. 1944

Charles Humphries

M Company, 415th Infantry

There were a bunch of us 15 or 20, and we left the 3rd Armored C.P. to make our way down the street, in Stolberg, to give heavy 30 cal. Machine gun support. We ended up going through a row of buildings by using mouse holes from cellar to cellar. We got to the end of the row as it was getting dark and the house next to ours (on the way back out) was but a shell and caught fire. As it burned, it kept trying to burn over into our cellar and we were busy pouring jars of pickles and pickle juice on it to keep the fire from coming in. One of the guys picked up a bottle of clear liquid and was starting to pour it on, when I said "Wait a minute, we’d better check that." It was pure alcohol.

Anyway, as we were all down in the cellar that night, a German patrol came into the house and we could hear their hobnail boots grinding on the floor above us. We didn’t let out a peep (although there were a lot of us, all they had to do was roll a couple of grenades down the steps and we would have had it.) They must have been kind of nervous too, as they did not come down to us. However, as they left, one of them stuck his rifle in the cellar window, that opened onto the sidewalk. Again, we didn’t let out a peep and he pulled the gun out and left.

The next morning a couple of guys went out the front door and a German machine gun opened up on them. They took off running with the bullets chipping the bricks behind them as they ran. Neither one got hit. They were real lucky. We decided not to go out the front door and began to go back through the mouse holes. We heard a muffled bang ahead. One of our guys had set off one of our booby traps but wasn’t seriously hurt.

Somehow, After we went through a huge warehouse with shells and bullets flying all over. We went out of that, through a small open yard and into another small warehouse of factory building. One of us went up to a second story window, looked out and said, "we got Germans on three sides of us." We decided that might be all right for a rifle platoon, (maybe not) but it was certainly no place for a heavy machine gun platoon. We started back into the open yard when a shell hit on the edge of the warehouse roof and a fragment hit one of our guys in the leg. I was sent back to the 3rd Armored C.P. to get medics. I did, but when I got back with them everybody was gone, except the wounded guy. I then started looking for the outfit, again with bullets and shells flying all around. After about 3 or 4 hours, I decided that was crazy and went back to the 3rd Armored C.P., where I spent the night.

During the night, the Germans pulled out and the next morning there was not a sound. I again went looking for the guys and this time I found them. They told me they had battled with the Germans, across the street, part of the night. They also said they though I was dead. They were very glad to see me, as I was carrying all of the K-rations and they had no breakfast.

We went down the street checking the buildings. We ended up in a yellow front schoolhouse. We checked inside and found a German machine gun. I put it closer to the wall. We later discovered it was booby trapped and if it had been pulled out instead of being put in, it would have been set off. Also, we discovered a booby trapped toilet with one of those pull handles. We didn’t pull it. That was a crazy two days.

On our battlefield tour in 1992, I found the schoolhouse and it looked just the same. One of the teachers was there and put a story in the Stolberg paper.


The Ace

Hugh Bell

Company C, 415th Infantry Regiment

March 5, 1945: If you were there you may remember it as the day the Timberwolves finally reached Cologne. I was there; I remember it as the day I almost reached Cologne. It was my last day in combat; it was the day I was dealt the Million Dollar Ace.

"The Ace" as it was known to one and all in C Company, was an obvious reference to the high card winner in a poker game, where the stakes were measured in dollars. Our "Ace" was much more valuable; it was an extension of life. In its simplest form it was a wound that would remove the fortunate recipient from the field of battle.

Although I knew of no G.I. who had voluntarily sought this escape from peril, it was still a subject of frequent discussion around many a smoky campfire or flickering candlelight in some dark cellar. The consensus definition of the Ace (always subject to amendment or revision) went something like this:

That certain wound or wounds, received at the hands of the enemy, which would cause immediate and permanent removal from the field of battle, and ultimate transfer to Z.I. (which was army lingo for Zone of the Interior, or in plain words, the U.S. of A.). Further, said wound, or wounds should not involve the head, vital organs, or reproductive equipment. I have no idea what the current definition might be, but I suspect it would be close to what C Company arrived at in those faraway days.

My involvement with the Ace began in a decidedly unspectacular way. Midmorning of the day in question, the first battalion kicked off for the final push to Cologne. C Company was in reserve position following A and B as we moved across wide open land on a dull, overcast day. We could see clearly up to half a mile on either side, and straight ahead the farm land disappeared into the horizon. It was not quite so flat as our Western plains, or Holland, but it was in no respects hilly. The strange thing that I observed was that there was zero vegetation under foot. It appeared to me that the soil had been plowed and worked some months before, and then left alone during the winter. The ground, though damp, was not muddy, nor did it cling to our boots. We were dispersed across several hundred yards of field, and the mortar section brought up the rear.

After perhaps an hour of marching towards the north with no sign of any enemy resistance, we noticed that we were being overtaken by a number of armored vehicles, long barreled tank destroyers. They passed us on the left, in effect shielding us from the enemy on that side. Since their speed was at least twice that of our column, they soon passed from view, leaving us to our solitary advance.

As noon approached I suddenly noticed a strange thing directly in front of me. In less time than it takes to tell I observed what appeared to be string of small eruptions in the mud; the mud itself seemed to be boiling up and moving towards me as I moved towards them. I took only a second or two to cover the 10 foot distance, and while I was trying to figure out what it was that I was seeing, the answer came in the form of a stunning blow to my left ankle. "German machine gun" was the message as I dropped in a heap.

It was immediately obvious that I was not in any great danger. There was scant blood from the wound, and no great pain unless I tried to move my foot. The mortar section was soon up to me and I passed off to a squad leader the wrist watch with the luminous dial which the section used for night guard duty time keeping. Also I passed on the .45 cal. "grease gun" sub-machine gun that I had been carrying. Finally, the last man came by, the bazooka man. I hailed him over and dug out my prized possession – a German officer’s 7.65mm Watther, taken the previous week at Arnoldsweiler. I told him to keep the pistol for me and return it at the end of the war. He agreed to do so. Naturally that was the last I ever saw of either the bazooka man or the pistol.

When I said that we were at the end of the column I meant that there was nobody behind us. No heavy weapons company, no headquarters company, no medics – nothing. I lay there for a while and then the thought came to me that if that machine gun reached me once, maybe they would try again. For some reason I didn’t have an entrenching tool on my pack. The only implement I could come up with to try to build a mud wall was my trench knife. The next fifteen minutes were a study in futility. The soil was just muddy enough to really stick to the blade of the knife and almost impossible to get it off. I fooled around trying to cut chunks to fashion a parapet with scant success. The ankle only hurt when my whole body moved, and I finally decided that it was just a lucky shot that got me in the first place, and they probably were not still there since they were so badly outflanked by our armor.

A lonely couple of hours ensued. I had experimented with trying to crawl to a different position, but the pain drove me to rationalize that anywhere else might be just as bad as where I was, so I stayed put.

Never once during this time had the thought of the Ace come to my mind. I had no idea of how severe my wound might be but I was sure that my ankle bones were gone. Other than that I was in good shape.

Sometime later, I judge it to be about 3 p.m., my reverie was suddenly shattered. The sound any infantryman knows and dreads reached my ears; the hollow, low-pitched, grunt of a mortar being fired. I judged it to be from the same area, off to the left of our attack route, where the machine gun burst came from.

Was it aimed at me? I could not envision our mortar crews trying to eliminate a single wounded German soldier (unless we had knowledge that it was Hitler). My question was soon answered. Round number one exploded about 100 yards to the right of our advance line and north of where I lay. I could almost hear the correcting orders being barked to the gun crew. We could call our foes lots of things, but unfortunately "incompetent" was not one of them. I was soon to see just how competent they were.

Round number 2 confirmed my worst fears. They had halved the distances of both over and right. Fifty yards seems like a long distance, except when you are the target, and the fire is coming closer.

Round number 3; they weren’t wasting any time in making their corrections. This time the round hit not over 25 yards away. Although I had survived numerous close calls before, this was my first experience at being the proverbial "sitting duck." Now I was really worried. The next round had all the marks of bad news for the home team.

Round number 4 followed and my body tensed; I gritted my teeth and with my eyes shut, silent prayers beamed skyward. The shell landed with a "splat," not three feet from where I lay, and did not explode. I cautiously opened my eyes to behold the miracle of miracles, the shell buried in the mud with its dull metal fins protruding.

Now the question was, not why, but what comes next? They obviously had me under perfect vision. Would they launch another round at the last setting? Nothing happened, one minute, five minutes, thirty minutes. I began to breathe a little easier with each passing minute.

Now a flood of questions flashed through my mind. What had caused the misfire? Sabotage, failure to arm the shell, just the odds, or Act of God? Then, why no follow-up shell? Were they out of ammo, did they get orders to move out, did they think I died of a heart attack, were they just teasing me? This whole scenario lasted all of three minutes raised far more questions than it answered.

Later that afternoon, when Pete Harlow and Tommy Burgess came back to tote me to the aid station, I finally realized that I had indeed been dealt that Million Dollar Ace, for which I and my five children and nine grandchildren are today truly thankful.


A GI’s Wife

Mildred Goldberg, Wife of Milton

Hq. Co. 2nd BN, 414th Infantry

Milt and I had been married about 8-9 months, at the onset of the war, when Milton was drafted and sent to the farthest state from New York, namely Oregon. We had an apartment in Brooklyn which I put on hold, and move to Oregon to spend as much time as I could with Milt. Following our wedding I was employed at the Port of Embarkation; later Milton wrote that he was sad as he passed through that area to "God Knows Where."

In Oregon, after four days on a train, I found a room in Salem on Center Street. The room was small but faced the front so that in lonely moments I gazed at the street. My days were endless so I found employment at the Highway Department in Salem. There, my co-workers became my close friends. Now, 48 years later, I still correspond with two women who became life-long friends. Evenings, I volunteered time at a USO which was in a church, preparing sandwiches and drinks for servicemen. My stay lasted about nine months, at which time Milton was engaged in maneuvers so I returned home by way of Minneapolis and Chicago, to visit relatives and get myself together. During my stay in Oregon I became acquainted with several service wives but our routines were different. I worked, volunteered, and the next day came before I could turn around, plus none of them lived at 757 Center Street.

After several months back in Brooklyn I once again relocated, this time in Colorado Springs after Milton was sent to Camp Carson. I did not work this time, but applied at Peterson Air Base when a letter arrived from my sister that she was coming to stay with us in Colorado. The day she arrived a plane crashed into a Peterson Base hanger but I wasn’t there – so considered it a blessing.

We had a darling basement apartment, not just a room, and spent many afternoons at the public pool near the university; some days were spent shopping and sight-seeing. Then word came that the 104th Timberwolves were to ship out to Europe so I returned once again to Brooklyn.

 


The First Day In Combat

by a BAR man in E Co. 414th Infantry

Robert E. Wood

Company E, 414th Infantry Regiment

The first day of combat started very early for the men of E Company, 414th Infantry, with the dispatch of each platoon as a combat patrol to locate enemy positions. The night before, we had relieved elements of the British forces who had lost contact with the retreating enemy. The British had been engaged in clearing the Antwerp Estuary so that Allied shipping could safely enter the port, and we took over that task.

During the initial search for the enemy positions, each platoon operated as an independent unit. I was a Browning Automatic Rifleman (BAR) in the 1st squad of the third platoon, and during the day the E Company units had lost contact with each other. Therefore, late in the afternoon my three man BAR team was picked to locate the rest of the company, so that we could regroup before dark. The team ended up in a little patch of woods, which we later discovered was between the Germans and our outfit. We found this out when we drew rifle fire from first the Germans, and then from one of our units. About this time one of the team (John Dubelko) noticed some mortar craters, and yelled "Let's get the HELL out of here! They have the area ZEROED IN with mortars." Sure enough he was right. The Germans chased us almost all the way back to our squad, with mortar fire.

Luckily, we were close enough to the German positions, that we could hear the mortar round being fired from the launch tube. This allowed us to jump up and run about a hundred feet or so, while the mortar round was in the air, aimed at our old positions. This worked fine for a while, until the Germans started to anticipate how far we would run each time. Finally, we had to take cover in a small ditch, and waded in knee deep water to our squad. We were very wet and scared, but we had done our job. We had forced the Germans to disclose their position and we had identified the location of the rest of our company.

After the Company had reassembled, a large night attack was planned. (I thought it was to be a Regimental attack, but maybe it was just by the 2nd Battalion. Another case of an infantryman knowing only what he could see.) Anyway, my rifle squad with four men in front of me, led the whole attack. We started from a large farm house, and moved out in a column of twos across some fields or pastures. We expected to spread out in a skirmish line on a broad front before we reached the enemy positions. However, long before we were ready to spread out, we were fired upon by a German machine gun, just as our two scouts had cut a fence by a small ditch. The gun was located almost in front of us, just a few yards beyond the fence. The four men in front of me (the two scouts, the platoon leader, and my squad sergeant) were probably killed in the first burst. I hit the ground and remained motionless, expecting someone from the rear of the column to sneak up and take out the gun, in accordance with our training. Everything was quiet for some time, and I don't remember any kind of activity or grenade explosions. Later I was told the machine gun positions had been covered with some kind of netting, which prevented our grenades from knocking out the gun. After a while, I realized that there were four guns firing on us, rather than just one. I suspect that the Germans realized that they had pinned down more than just a small patrol. Anyway, they then moved two guns up along our right flank to box us in, and proceeded to lay down traversing fire over the entire area. Fortunately, for most of us they kept their fire about 12 to 14 inches above the ground, which allowed me (us) to lie flat on the ground without being hit. This was pretty scary, because strange as it may seem, you can see the streaks made by bullets passing over you, especially at night.

I decided to try and find some cover, because lying out in the middle of a cow pasture did not provide much protection. So I belly crawled up to the ditch, but there was no room for me. Apparently, many other men had the same idea, and the ditch was full of what I though were dead bodies. While I was debating about what to do next, the enemy gunner in front of me, started to fire into the ground at the next fence post to my left. He then traversed the gun towards me, with the bullets hitting the ground directly under the fence. I knew that the little four inch fence post I was hiding behind would not protect me. Frankly, I expected to die momentarily with a bullet in the face. I have never been more terrified in my life, than I was at that moment. However, for some reason the gunner stopped firing when the bullets hitting the ground and turning white hot were less than a foot from my left shoulder. There was no further question about what to do, just get away from there! Quickly I turned around, only to discover that there did not seem to be anybody in the field behind me. So I assumed that everyone had already "bugged out." Consequently, my only thought was to get back to the farm house where we had started. I just started to crawl out, dropping all of my equipment, except my BAR and ammunition belt. I didn't ever try to see if anyone needed help or anything.

After getting back to our original jump off position, I learned that John Dubelko had been shot through both legs, but there was no information about my other BAR team member (Harold Scatterday). Later we were notified that he had been wounded, and lost some fingers. The next morning, after the terror of the night had passed, I was very glad to be one of the few men from E Company that showed up for breakfast (maybe 50 out of about 280). Although, none of us had a mess kit to use, they either had holes in them or had been abandoned the night before. However, mess kits were not the only things damaged. One man discovered that his back pack had been hit, and the outer layer of his field jacket was cut, but the inner lining was only scorched, and he was not hurt. The bullet had passed between his back and his pack. Also, the hospital sent back a BAR belt in which none of the twelve 20 round clips, nor the six pockets in the belt, nor the 240 rifle rounds in the clips were usable, everything had been hit by several machine gun bullets. What speculation this BAR belt caused. We thought it was Scatterday's and we wondered how he had survived.

Later, I came to believe that I had a protective "ANGEL" on each shoulder, and that I would survive as long as I didn't do anything stupid (like unnecessarily exposing myself to enemy fire).

These are the events that I remember about that fateful day almost 50 years ago. In retrospect, I probably could have done many things differently than I did, which might have saved someone's life, but I did the best that I could at the time. To paraphrase someone "my combat experiences were the greatest adventures of my life. I wouldn't take a million for them, and wouldn't give two cents to repeat them."


Attack on Morschenich

Nile R. Blood

Company A, 413th Infantry

The crossing of the swift and flooded Roer River in Germany in the early morning hours of February 23, 1945,was a major offensive effort for our 104th "Timberwolf" Infantry Division. It was preceded by a massive, earth-shaking and spectacular artillery barrage against the German positions across the River. The small assault boats used to cross the River had the maneuverability and seaworthiness of a bathtub as we frantically paddled them across the River in the darkness and toward the well-defended enemy positions on the other side; expecting to be hit by enemy fire or have the boat upset at any moment. Others have written about this crossing, so I won't dwell on it, but jump ahead two days, until after the 104th had taken and secured Duren and the adjacent suburbs of

Birkesdorf and Arnoldsweiler.

After we secured a bridgehead across the River, the Division and VII Corps Engineers worked furiously and under intense enemy artillery and aerial attacks to establish pontoon bridges across the River for tanks and vehicular traffic.

On February 25, our battalion (1st Bn. 413th) was given the objective of taking the town of Morschenich, about 8 miles east of the Roer River. This was a continuation of the Roer River offensive. If we were successful in taking and securing this objective, tanks of the 3rd Armored Division were to cross the River on the pontoon bridges and come through Morschenich the next day to join with the 104th Inf. Division for a push to take the major German city of Cologne on the Rhine River.

Our company (413-A) along with other companies of the 1st Battalion left the outskirts of Birkesdorf on the evening of February 25 for a night attack on Morschenich. Night attacks were a "standard" procedure for our Division and this was to be a long, hard night. We proceeded through Arnoldweiler and through positions of the 2nd Battalion, 413th, who had previously captured Castle Rath in a fierce battle. It seemed that we encountered a little of everything that night. We soon ran into fire from small arms, machine guns and a self-propelled (SP) gun in a semi-wooded area. Following an exchange of fire, Werner Wichmann, who was fluent in German, called to the enemy troops and tried to get them to surrender. The response was confused and uncertain. After our attack with small arms and anti-tank grenades, the SP gun withdrew. Several of us were milling around in the dark a little unsure of our next move. One of our platoon commanders, Lt. Paul Zimmerman, I think, organized a sizable group of us in a line and we proceeded forward in a line of "marching fire". From the loud cracking sounds around our heads, it was soon apparent that some of the bullets were coming in our direction. As I strained to look ahead in the darkness, I saw what appeared to be a foxhole about 15 feet ahead with a man standing in it. Looking for a little protection and thinking he was "one of us" I yelled, "Move over, I'm coming in!" and proceeded to run up and jump in the hole. The man dropped his gun, threw up his hands and shouted, "Nichts schiessen, Nichts schiessen" (Don't shoot, Don't shoot). Obviously, he wasn't one of us. He must have thought I was an aggressive dude and charging in to shoot or bayonet him. Believe me, I was as surprised as he was!

We continued toward Morschenich, and through a wooded area, under cover and support of our mortars and artillery, encountering intermittent small arms fire and taking several prisoners. I then heard a few small explosions to the right and cries of "Medic!" We had walked into a Schu minefield. We suffered three (3) or more casualties. Lieut. Dunbar of the 3rd Platoon lost both legs in the minefield. Our medics went into the minefield at great personal risk to treat and help bring out the wounded. Sgt. Stanley Felth and Jess Rogers, Medic, were later awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star, respectively, for probing for, and removing, mines and helping remove the wounded from the minefield -all this in the dark. Companies A and B proceeded directly toward the town. Co. C had previously made a flanking move to the right to come into the town from the rear. Following some skirmishes in the outskirts of Morschenich, we entered and secured the town shortly after daylight. It had been a nightmarish night. Unfortunately our troubles in Morschenich were not over. Our company quickly established a headquarters in a large, square, two-story brick house. Actually, this house was the second one we had chosen for a headquarters. We were "kicked out" of the first one by officers of the staff of Gen. Rose of the 3rd Armored Division, who wanted that building for the General's command post. I was a runner for the company at that time. I always tried to get some sleep at any opportunity and a favorite site was the corner of a basement, out of the line of fire. I started looking for a couple of couch cushions for a "bed". About that time, our communications Sergeant, Stanley Felth, came by looking for help to string communications wire to our Co. A platoons and outposts at other locations in the town. I went with him to assist with that task. I Archive 3

Assault Crossing of the Roer

William Ecuyer

Company C, 329th Combat Engineers

This is Germany. The month is February, the day is the 23rd and the year is 1944. The land is lightly snow covered. It is cold. This is Eschweiler and Weisweiler a few miles from the Roer River. This is the setting and this is the river that we have to cross. For possibly two months the river had been swollen and we could not cross it in our plywood "rowboats." Finally, on this February night, three engineers to each boat and ten infantry to each boat, a total of thirteen in each boat, many, many boats, leave the shore of Hoven. Actually I should explain. Hoven was a small town on the western edge of the Roer River.

In the rear of our boat the infantry had brought with them a large reel of telephone wire. This was to be strung out as we crossed the river so that they would have communications with artillery and other support groups in the rear. Also, an unfortunate incident occurs as we push off the shore. Two engineers are up front, myself and Douglas Miller, and one engineer in the rear, who is supposed to steer the boat, or help steer the boat.

Unfortunately, our rudder man falls off the boat as we leave and we lose him. Now it’s ten infantry and two engineers. Well, as we push off we row and row and as we approach the center of the river the current starts to take us and the boat spins on itself. It rotates and spins and the wire drags and it’s a heck of a job to try to get it straightened out. And finally, after much, much trouble being floating, floating down the river on this heavy water we finally reach the other side. In knee deep water the infantry leave Miller and me in the boat taking with them the giant reel of telephone wire. Wow! at least we got across.

Now we’ve got to bring the boat back. Well, Miller and I turn the boat around and push off as best we could with just the two of us and again the current takes us. Meantime we approach an area where the green tracers are right above the water. Green tracers you know are from the German machine guns. Miller jumps over the side and hangs on to the edge of the boat. I, remembering how cold the water is, choose to lay in the bottom of the boat. After we pass this area of fire I help Miller back into the boat. Meantime there are parachute flares going off. There are mortars going off in different directions. It’s a hell of a thing.

As we’re being swept down the river now with no control of the boat at all we approach the autobahn. The autobahn, as we all know, is the super highway that the Germans built. Well, they decided as we advanced and they retreated to blow this bridge over the Roer River, the autobahn bridge. They blow it and it settles into the water. But it settles into the water almost flush with the water causing a tremendous blockage of water. Now the water has no choice but to go around it in a little bit of area, or under the platform that has been exploded and has sunk into the river; thus causing a tremendous undertow. Miller and I are not aware of this and as our bloat floats down, it is being rushed towards this submerged concrete platform. On the platform is one GI. Greenberg is his name and he yells to us, "Look out for the undertow, jump as the boat hits!" Well, we did just that. We jumped onto this platform on which Greenberg is standing. Fortunately, our boat didn’t disappear.

Well, the story from Greenberg is that his boat never got across and he was the only one that jumped clear. The other two engineers and ten infantry and the boat were sucked under this platform and disappeared. At this point Miller and I and Greenberg pull our plywood boat up onto the platform. Meantime, there are mortars landing up above on part of the autobahn. There are parachute flares going off all over the place and fortunately our side finally releases smoke covering the river like fog helping to conceal us and not only us, but of course, many others that were in different positions in different areas.

After some thought we decided to pull the boat to the far side of the autobahn, away from the undertow, get back in and float down river. Unfortunately, the stream of the river is just as rapid and with much difficulty we finally row to our side. But of course it’s dark, we can’t see too well now. We’re well down stream from the main battle area and Greenberg is the first to leave the boat. He ends up well to his armpits in water and finally gets out as we keep floating down the river. Miller jumps out. There's a little peninsula of ground sticking out and he jumps to that. I’m left in the boat. It’s a question do I jump with my rifle or I jump and try to save myself so as I'm floating down I again see a piece of ground jutting out and make a jump for it. Hip deep in water I get out and now we’ve all been separated we’re talking fifty, sixty feet/yards apart maybe greater, don’t know. It’s pitch black. So here I am alone. I know the general direction that I should travel, away from the river of course, but now my next problem. Schu mines. What am I going to walk into. And if I do walk onto one, who is going to find me, and when? So here I gingerly walk along just wishing and hoping and praying that I don’t step on one of those little wooden boxes. Finally, I make it to a road which parallels the river. I walk along the road to the underpass. The road underpass of the autobahn which had not been demolished by the Germans and here I find Greenberg and Miller waiting for me. What a happy reunion.

Meantime things have quieted down a little bit, but tracers are still coming across to a certain extent. Mortars are flying around so we decided, after freezing our "gezunds" that we’re going to follow the road and hope to find our lines. Well, we did just that. We ran when we could, to keep warm if nothing else and finally as we’re running up this road toward what we hope is our lines we hear a "Halt, who goes there?" And fortunately we did remember the password for that night which was Whitehouse. We holler, "Whitehouse, Whitehouse, don’t shoot, coming in."

Finally, we reached our lines and were able to get some hot coffee, as I remember, and dry ourselves off; and we were glad to be back. Many others, not as fortunate as us, were swept down river. Some survived, many did not. But what we found out the next day, or the day after, I don’t recall, that just a few yards from where I left our plywood boat there was a big waterfall. Had I stayed on much longer, I would have been swept over with the boat and probably wouldn’t be here today. This was our Roer River crossing, on a black night in February, many, many years ago.


The Drive to the Roer River

"Nat" Jay Jaffee

Company A, 415th Infantry

We proceeded to move along the flat, open fields northwest of Merken. The enemy were scattered in the fields, hiding in dugouts which were covered with burlap or canvas. We would lift the covers up, and there they were, looking at us sheepishly and ready to be taken prisoner. It was cold , with a light rain falling. The fields were muddy. We paralleled a road that led to the river. The Company had taken a town called Vilbenich and set up a command post in one of the attached houses along the road. Our men had captured a number of prisoners who were now packed into a small room at the CP. They seemed quite happy. I overheard one of them say, "Mir gehen zu Florida." (We are going to Florida.) They looked dreadful and in need of a hot meal.

Lt. Fox, the company commander, called me out into one of the rooms and told me to take my squad and "flush out" a walled courtyard which was about three hundred yards down the road. Suspected enemy were holed up inside the courtyard. I asked the lieutenant if I could take one of the prisoners with me, telling him that I would use him to make contact with the Germans inside the wall. He told me to go ahead with any plan I thought necessary.

I got my squad together and told them to "fix bayonets." We looked mean and there was no question that we meant business. I looked into the crowded room filled with prisoners and pointed to a frail, slight young soldier whose grey blue uniform was still discernible. The marking on his jacket seemed to indicate that he was in the Luftwaffe but my knowledge of military identification was limited. "Comm mit mir," I said, waving him towards me, hoping he would understand my vernacular German, derived from a combination of Yiddish and watching Hollywood movies about war stories that included American and German soldiers in two world wars.

The young German was confused and frightened. The squad gathered outside the CP and I explained to them our mission. I told the German what he had to do and off we went, down the road, leading my squad in single file with the German in front of me being prodded by my bayonet. Halfway to the wall, artillery began to fall around us. It was "friendly fire" coming from our rear. I motioned my squad to double time it to the wall. We arrived without casualties. The barrage let up. The German was shaking. We crouched against the reddish brown stone wall which was ten feet high and continued for about 100 feet and then cornered to make a complete square, forming a natural fortification around the courtyard, built to enclose farm animals and caretakers or field workers. It was a very old wall, but the concept of this enclosure dated back to the Middle Ages.

We stopped to catch our breath. We also wanted to make sure that our artillery would not being firing at us again. The German was still trembling. He accepted a cigarette I offered him. He did not look any older than fourteen or fifteen. It was apparent that he had been under our artillery fire before. After a few puffs, I told him to continue along the wall. Ahead was a large wooden, double door that was slightly open. When we got to it, I kicked the door nearest to me wide open, pressed my bayonet into the German’s back and told him, "Mit geschrei, komm heraus, Americanische soldaten nicht schiessen, Geschrei!" (Shout, come out, American soldiers won’t shoot. Shout!)

The young German entered the courtyard timidly but with surprising authority repeated my instructions. This had been my plan as soon as I was told what our squad had to do. I wasn’t ready to barge into the courtyard without having some idea about the strength of the enemy inside. The German again repeated my directive. There was no response. My squad and I then entered the courtyard. I noticed that there were two tiers of quarters. The bottom half was probably used for farm animals and the floors above for the hired hands or families who owned the courtyard. Sergeant Bob Anderson, second in command of the squad, opened one of the bottom doors and discovered two wounded enemy lying on makeshift straw beds. I instructed the young German to wait in that candlelit room until we came for him. Concerned about a counterattack, I sent my men to the tier above and into the rooms that faced west and south, where an attack, because of the open fields, was possible.

I positioned myself in the middle of the courtyard, thinking of my next action, when out of the corner of my eye I picked up a movement. Suddenly, on the left side of the courtyard, a door of the bottom tier opened, and there, moving slowly as if in slow motion, came a German soldier with his hands slightly raised. I stared at him for a moment. Another soldier was coming out behind him. I shouted to my squad to come back. They didn’t hear me. They were inside the upstairs rooms looking out the windows or whatever else they were interested in. When I saw another enemy leave the basement, I raised my gun with its bayonet and hurried towards the growing group of Germans, still wondering what happened to my squad. (The way the Germans were emerging reminded me of the clowns I once saw in the circus coming out unendingly from a very small car.)

I counted fourteen prisoners when they finally stopped coming out of the cellar. It was obvious that they heard my prisoner telling them they would not be shot. They were watching us through a small opening in the door to see if we would harm their injured. Sensing that they would not be killed, they decided, as a group, to surrender. I asked if any more soldiers were in the courtyard. They said none. They then began to offer me their watches, wallets, money, rings, photographs of their family and other trinkets thinking that I would treat them with special favor. I refused to take anything and told them to put all their offerings away. I wanted no part of being caught by the enemy with any German souvenirs in my pocket.

When I was training in the States, I fantasized about capturing a group of the enemy and marching them in cadence to the stockade. I was aware that it was a childish fantasy that stemmed out of a need for a feeling of superiority and dominance. I never believed that I would have the opportunity to play out my dream. Unexpectedly, I now found the right circumstances. In my broken German, I instructed the men to "machen zwei columne" (make two columns) which they immediately formed and I proceeded to march them out of the side door that lead to the road. As we reached the road, I began to count cadence in German. "Ein, zwei, drei, vier, ein, zwei, drei, vier." They looked bedraggled and weary. In spite of their appearance, they followed my meter with enthusiasm and in perfect unison. I was alongside the column with my bayoneted rifle as I marched them to the command post. A medic assigned to our Company stepped out on to the road to photograph us as we approached the CP. I was so engaged with these prisoners, it did not occur to me to ask the medic for an eventual print. I was not to know yet that this event would be one of the highlights of my combat experience.

Note: It would be greatly appreciated if anyone owns this photograph or knows who might possibly have it so that I could make a copy of it or if any man can put me in touch with the medic who took the photograph. Write to N.J. Jaffee, 8 Janes Lane, Lloyd Harbor, NY 11743.


A Night on the Roer River, February 23, 1945

Theodore W. Sery

Company C, 329th Combat Engineers

"Catch Poncho, catch Poncho" was Ward’s desperate cry to the next boat as Poncho was floating away still buoyant from the air that was trapped in his clothing. Poncho (Julian Mares) had jumped out to secure our boat when it scraped bottom on the German side of the Roer River, but the swift current had dragged us out again. I had managed to hang on to the front rim of the boat in deep water; Poncho clung on to me momentarily, but lost his hold and was being carried away. In the dark I could barely see his head above water as Corporal O’Connor’s boat now approached on our left. An infantryman in Oke’s boat heard his cries and was able to grab him just in time. Sheridan Ward pulled me back into our craft and, when we hit bottom again, we were able this time to drag it in and hold it secure.

This was our first major drive in over two months. The delay was because of the Ardennes campaign which the Germans launched in mid-December, but that "Battle of the Bulge" was now over. For the past several weeks we had practiced for the Roer River crossing on lakes and rivers by giving refresher courses with infantry units on proper handling of the boats: how to carry a 410-pound, 4 by 12 foot rectangular plywood craft; important for everyone to coordinate their paddle strokes and allow the steersman in the rear to control the direction; the safety value of not wearing heavy weapons on our bodies, but stowing them in the center, etc.

Our patience was wearing thin after several false starts, but on the night of February 22nd, George Washington’s birthday, our sergeant came to us and said, "This is it, we will move out in the morning at 0100 hours and assemble in the town of Hoven." We drove there under a night sky that was unrealistically still and quiet. I had all my equipment on – bandoleer, cartridge belt, rifle, gas mask, canteen, jacket, and a long scarf my sister had knitted for me.

Just before we reached our shelter in town our artillery barrage opened up against the enemy in a fantastic display of brilliant flashes. Every gun in the division thundered and boomed continuously for 45 minutes. Our captured German "screaming meemies" added to the torrent of noise with a sound like a thousand squealing pigs. Some shells seemed to fall short, but we waited it out in a basement shelter. I fidgeted with my gear. I had to rewind our boat rope. I retied my boot laces so that they would have small loops. I felt that I had too much stuff on and went out and tossed my gas mask into our truck. One of our shells dropped nearby tossing particles of dirt into my face, adding to the mounting tension. The call to move up came. I got in line and headed for our boat. I now got rid of more stuff. My life belt was too tight so I tossed it aside.; Then I got rid of my canteen and finally threw off my bandoleer – my cartridge belt would suffice and most likely it too would be useless weight – I never did get a chance to fire a shot on the Mark River crossing in Holland.

Our big guns were pounding endlessly on the enemy shore and our machine guns were streaming orange tracers across the river. I got to my boat, No. 7, with Poncho and Ward; then our passengers came. My Lord! There were 12 of them and we were supposed to have only 7 more soldiers on this plywood craft. Well, we carried and dragged our boat a few hundred yards over the mud flats and the noises became of second importance. We forgot them. At the river we had to wade out quite a ways because the Germans had blown a dam up river and it was now a very broad and fast flowing body of water. Twice we all got into the boat, but it wasn’t out far, or deep enough. Well, we managed it and I took my position as steersman in the rear. I had everybody stroking unison, but the current was terrific and the boat sat too deep in the water. A GI in front of me on the right was choking his paddle at the neck, making it useless, and I repeatedly told him to spread his hold. Green tracer bullets from a Jerry machine gun were rasping across the river on our right and from another one on our left. With the force of the current I couldn’t keep the boat angled upstream and she turned completely around twice. In the dark I lost all sense of direction, but took my bearing by the flow of our orange tracer bullets.

Having made our landing as already described, everyone quickly piled out. A Jerry machine gun was shooting over us on the shallow bank and we had to lie half in and half out of the freezing water with the infantry men. My legs were completely numb from the cold. I could not feel them. I was scared. I prayed a little. Ward, who was by my side, kept telling me that I had his rifle. I denied that I did. But since I had moved to the front of the boat to jump out and secure it, I now felt the stock for my personal notch and found that he was right. So I gave him his rifle. Great! My last encumbrance was gone.

Then another boat swung into shore next to ours on our right. More GI’s jumped out and went into the attack over the bank. One of them said that there were wounded men on board. Amid all the turmoil and noise I could hear the anguished cries of pain. One man, in delirium, was screaming with cries of "Mother, Mother, Mother!" Their boat had been raked by a Jerry machine gun and was taking on water. Another boat on their right landed in this shamble of boats. A medic got out and we called him over. He got in and I offered to help. I was scared to death because of that machine gun, but got in anyway. It was difficult to see in the dark with very little moonlight. In the din of the battler there were cries of "Medic, medic, where’s a medic? I’m hit, I’m hit, get off my foot, you’re standing on my foot; please get us out of here!" One of the wounded had been hit in his neck, another in his back. The medic started work and I did my best to calm them down. A third GI was lying very still face down. In the dark I mistook his form for a large overstuffed duffel bag and, while cursing why it had been brought to a dumb place like this, tried to lift it out to level the boat. But I soon realized my error that it – he – was a GI and maybe dead.

Others now entered the boat and said, "Shove off, we’re taking them across." That turned out to be a mistake. We were lopsided, crowded and were caught completely by the current. We hit a rock, took on a lot more water and were flying downstream. I started to bail out water with my helmet and told the others to do the same. Ward kept calling out to us to keep paddling. He was on with us; I didn’t know who else was. Suddenly the bombed Autobahn bridge loomed up ahead in the darkness. We could barely see it through the smoky haze. Fortunately, we didn’t hit the half-submerged part, but were carried through a narrow passage on the German side that had head space for us. Beyond the bridge I saw a large overflow, or waterfall, in this rushing torrent and then I realized that were doomed to sink. It was inevitable. I removed my cartridge belt and over we went. I found myself trying to swim to shore and in a brief moment I caught sight of some of the others. It seemed as if they were wading in, but I couldn’t touch bottom.

I was caught in the powerful turbulence. It dragged me under and then up again. I was getting heavy and the shore was far away. I became desperate and looked for the boat, for anything. I was drawn under again. I felt as if I was tumbling. My immediate impulse was to swim to some unknown surface but, struggle as I might, there was no response or feeling of direction. And then a great peace came over me. I had always been afraid of drowning even though I loved to swim. It was a fear of choking for air. But now there was no fear. I remember no choking. I just remember giving up in a soundless black void.

Perhaps at the very last moment of consciousness something touched the back of my right hand and I remember grabbing it. In that very instant I was pulled up to the surface and found that I was holding on to the rope tied to the front of my boat. And only now was I choking and gasping at the air. Immediately the boat was dragged down again in a powerful undercurrent and I went down with it. In thoughtless panic I let do of the rope, but the rope seemed to have a mind of its own; it wasn’t through with me, it now became tangled in my legs. I grabbed it again and hung on as the boat now came to the surface in calmer water. It was floating upside down. I pulled myself onto the boat bottom and knelt there with a prayerful feeling of thanks to God in my heart. I was thinking how unreal the whole event was. Looking for a chance when it came I leaped onto some stationary brushwood. Soon, on the shore someone appeared in the dark. My first thought was that he was a German soldier. It was a buddy, Jim Halkiotis, from our boat who had run along the shore helping the others and pulling the two wounded infantry GI’s out of the water. He waded out and when I saw it was not deep I met him halfway.

We ran back to where the others were: Woodard, Morizano, and Douglas. Only two of the three wounded were there. Ward didn’t make it (his body was found two weeks later) and I don’t know about the medic. He probably chose to stay with the infantry for other casualties.

The destroyed bridge was about a hundred yards away. We decided to go there for shelter, hopefully it was not in enemy hands. It was free, but it was on the German’s target list, I guess to prevent it being spanned with a new addition. Many enemy shells started coming, in, but we were safe because we were under a long concrete channel with a thick cement "skirt" that came down to within three feet of the ground. Opposite this was a solid wall that did not have any opening with the other side upriver. Bursts of German 88s were coming sporadically. I found by counting off seconds that they were following a five-minute interval so, between barrages, I went out to get the wounded. Halkiotis came with me and we brought back the one who could walk. He had been shot in the neck. We could not manage the soldier who was shot in the back and was not conscious. We thought it might be in his spine and we didn’t chance it at this stage. Artillery shells kept hitting the bridge sporadically, but we were fairly safe. The concussion was bad, but it was O.K.

Fortunately, as dawn brought a little light, we saw the second wounded GI crawling toward us. He wasn’t paralyzed and Hal ran out with me to bring him in. His name was Kirker (spelling?). During the night I had been working on Atkins, the one with the neck wound, to give him some warmth. I removed his boots and stockings and held his feet up against the skin of my chest. We were all soaking wet and freezing, but he was lying very still and couldn’t do anything. At daylight two more GIs showed up, a forward observer named "Linke" who was wounded in one leg, and a friend of his from the 237th Engineers. I patched Linke up and gave Kirker wound tablets and water from his boot. Halkiotis removed his boots and socks and we both worked on his feet…I worked on Atkins again; his condition was very bad.

Hal and I did a little reconnaissance around the bridge near the water and topside, but the river could not be crossed. Then, about noon, a few of us decided to try to fetch one of the abandoned boats far up the river. Halfway there the Germans spotted us. I got as far as one boat and ducked behind it as return fire from one of our own 50-caliber machine guns across the river gave us good cover fire. I was cursing like hell at this gunner thinking these tracers over my head were meant for me. I felt secure behind my thin plywood boat and would have felt the same if I was inside a paper bag. Our effort wouldn’t work and we ran back to the bridge.

As I approached the upriver side of the bridge I met with sniper fire and, surprisingly, I was waved into another shelter on this side by two GIs who had holed up there sometime during the night without our knowing it. They had 30 German prisoners with them. This destroyed bridge was part of a large, multi-lane, modern highway and our respective grounded chambers were well out of earshot of each other. The space on this side was much smaller and crowded. I commented on how come the GI’s rifles were leaning against the wall, but a Jerry who heard me said, in English, "Don’t worry, we are prisoners, but the war is over for us." Good thing they were Wehrmacht soldiers and not SS. They had a Jerry medic and I managed to get him to climb around the massive concrete rubble with me to tend to our wounded soldiers. A little later Linke and I ran to the end of our chamber to capture a German soldier who we saw crawling under the concrete overhang of our enclosure. But he was a harmless straggler. Linke, not leaving anything to chance, in a flash, grabbed the man with hammerlock hold then held the man’s own bayonet at his throat while I frisked him for a gun.

Well, so it went. We bided our time and we froze all day. Late in the day a lieutenant and two GIs relayed information to us from across the river that a bridge was now in use a mile or so south of us. We decided that several should take off for it to get help. The two GIs who had prisoners wanted two of us to stay to help with their prisoners so Douglas and I volunteered. Linke also stayed because his leg was getting worse. Later, near dusk, a lieutenant with three of his men came to our aid and we took off in a slow procession with the prisoners carrying the wounded. On the way we picked up another wounded GI, one of our medics, who had a foot blown off by a Schu mine in a field beyond the river bank. Boy! He sure was a calm and collected soldier with never a complaint. Up ahead at a cliff-like ditch with only a log to cross over on he even put his full weight on his stump (his foot was still partly attached) as he was handed across by the Germans.

In the failing light just before it got dark we were warned of some half-buried mines in our path and, to prevent any mistake by the prisoners with their heavy burdens, I straddled on of the three visible mines with one foot on each side and kept calling out in German "Meenen! Meenen! Meenen!" Our party proceeded safely by and we crossed the bridge over the Roer. We left our charges in good hands at the M.P. quarters. I went to G-2 to give information about two mine fields and about our men to my Captain, Max Eisner, who was there. Douglas and I were driven to our unit later that night. We were the last ones to return. Sadly, five buddies from our company died that night.


What You See is Not Always True…Especially at Night

Paul Q. Chronister

Company K, 413th Infantry Regiment

Duren, Germany, February 23, 1945.

This was the beginning of the big spring offense in Germany 1945. Our company had just crossed the Roer River in boats at about 3:30 in the morning. We were trying to get the units together. When we crossed the Roer in boats, the units become small boat loads and all are trying to get together into larger organized units on the other side.

We were going through a badly damaged factory and we saw people going through this hole in the wall. First we challenged them and got no response as they kept on going through the hole. We started shooting and they continued going through that big hole.

We took a flashlight and shined it at the hole. Much to our surprise it turned out to be a solid wall. Looking upward we saw the roof had a hole in it and the moon was shining through and it appeared as a hole in the wall. It was our men walking by above us. When they crossed the moon beam it looked like men going into what looked like a hole in the wall.

Soooooooo – sometimes what you see is not always true…especially at night.


Hill 287 "Stolberg"

November 16 & 17, 1944

Wes Gaab

Company M, 414th Infantry Regiment

The blur of almost fifty years has somewhat dimmed my recollection of what transpired on or about November 16, 1944, outside the town of Stolberg, Germany. The 104th Division had replaced the 1st Division in an attempt to take Stolberg Hill, which I believe was designated as Hill #287.

The hill was dominated by a huge bunker which some say was three stories deep and surrounded by numerous pillboxes and connecting trenches. The taking of Hill #287 was the key to the drive to the Roer. The attack was launched on November 16th with a massive bombardment from the 8th Air Force and our supporting artillery. I was a machine gunner with Co. M 3rd Battalion of the 414th Regiment. We were in support of K and L companies. The battle was gigantic and its memory is one of confusion, noise, death, and the smell of decaying German soldiers left on the battlefield. We did not take Hill #287 on that day.

The attack resumed early in the morning of the 17th and it’s here my story begins. Through heavy fire, countless mines, and booby-traps, a small group of GI’s somehow made it to the top of the hill. We found refuge under a knocked out Tiger tank which the Germans had used as a pillbox. There were two dead Germans still inside the tank. We were less than 100 yards to the left of the bunker. The dirt under the tank had been excavated and provided just enough room for the five of us. It was about midday when we finally got to the top. Then something strange occurred. We suddenly realized that it was all quiet. The shooting on both sides had stopped. We assumed the 2nd Battalion had successfully taken Hill #287. We even cracked out the K-rations to celebrate. But if the 2nd Battalion had taken the hill, why were there only five of us here – where were the others? We learned later that they had pulled back to a row of battered houses at the foot of the hill.

I was at the end of our undertank fortress, so I was elected to go out and take a look around. I borrowed an M-1 from someone since my sidearm was a 45 and we didn’t even have the machine gun set up. I crawled over to what looked like a low coop that could have housed chickens or rabbits. I rested the M-1 on the top and looked around. There was no one to be seen until a head slowly appeared above the top of the bunker. He was a German soldier using binoculars. He wasn’t looking at us to his right, but down the hill in the direction from which we had come. I shot him. Within minutes, I saw Germans pouring out of the rear of the bunker. They were in a trench with only their heads and shoulders showing above ground. I fired on them with the M-1 and the heads would disappear only to reappear in a matter of seconds. They were in a big hurry to get out of here.

When the last had left the bunker, I returned to the tank and told the other four what had happened. We were sure it was all over for us. We waited for the Germans to surround us, but they never came. What did come was even more frightening. The clanking, rumbling sound of a tank coming up behind us. He put two rounds into our tank at point blank range. Miraculously we weren’t even scratched. He didn’t do the two dead Germans in the tank any good. We then heard him back down the hill and all was quiet again.

We remained under the tank for the rest of the day with infrequent trips out to see if we could locate any of our buddies, but there were none to be seen. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we five GI’s had taken and held Stolberg Hill #287.

We decided to wait until darkness and go back down the hill to our own lines. Tiptoeing through a minefield at night can get the heart beating faster, but by going from shell crater to shell crater, we managed to get down safely. Well almost – we didn’t know the password and almost got shot by our own guys who thought we were a German patrol. We finally convinced them that we were one of them and they let us in one at a time. We reported to a Lieutenant that the Germans had vacated the bunker, but he gave us a "Ya, sure they did." He then wanted us to stand guard shifts with his platoon, but we told him we were going to look for our own outfits. I found a pile of straw at the back of a destroyed shed and burrowed in for a fitful night’s sleep, but one free of sentry duty. The next morning, November 18th, the Battalion once again charged the hill and the bunker only to find it abandoned.

The strange thing about reliving this tale which I had done hundreds of times through the years, is that I can’t remember the names of the other four GI’s who shared our conquest of Hill #287. I think one might have been Staff Sergeant Bob Hatlen and the others from Rifle Companies involved in the attack on November 17th. K Company seems to stick in my mind. Should this account ever be published, I sure would appreciate hearing from anyone who might have shared in the knowledge of Stolberg Hill #287 was conquered on November 17th and not on November 18th, 1944, as history has recorded.


Stolberg, Germany, Nov. 1944

Charles Humphries

M Company, 415th Infantry

There were a bunch of us 15 or 20, and we left the 3rd Armored C.P. to make our way down the street, in Stolberg, to give heavy 30 cal. Machine gun support. We ended up going through a row of buildings by using mouse holes from cellar to cellar. We got to the end of the row as it was getting dark and the house next to ours (on the way back out) was but a shell and caught fire. As it burned, it kept trying to burn over into our cellar and we were busy pouring jars of pickles and pickle juice on it to keep the fire from coming in. One of the guys picked up a bottle of clear liquid and was starting to pour it on, when I said "Wait a minute, we’d better check that." It was pure alcohol.

Anyway, as we were all down in the cellar that night, a German patrol came into the house and we could hear their hobnail boots grinding on the floor above us. We didn’t let out a peep (although there were a lot of us, all they had to do was roll a couple of grenades down the steps and we would have had it.) They must have been kind of nervous too, as they did not come down to us. However, as they left, one of them stuck his rifle in the cellar window, that opened onto the sidewalk. Again, we didn’t let out a peep and he pulled the gun out and left.

The next morning a couple of guys went out the front door and a German machine gun opened up on them. They took off running with the bullets chipping the bricks behind them as they ran. Neither one got hit. They were real lucky. We decided not to go out the front door and began to go back through the mouse holes. We heard a muffled bang ahead. One of our guys had set off one of our booby traps but wasn’t seriously hurt.

Somehow, After we went through a huge warehouse with shells and bullets flying all over. We went out of that, through a small open yard and into another small warehouse of factory building. One of us went up to a second story window, looked out and said, "we got Germans on three sides of us." We decided that might be all right for a rifle platoon, (maybe not) but it was certainly no place for a heavy machine gun platoon. We started back into the open yard when a shell hit on the edge of the warehouse roof and a fragment hit one of our guys in the leg. I was sent back to the 3rd Armored C.P. to get medics. I did, but when I got back with them everybody was gone, except the wounded guy. I then started looking for the outfit, again with bullets and shells flying all around. After about 3 or 4 hours, I decided that was crazy and went back to the 3rd Armored C.P., where I spent the night.

During the night, the Germans pulled out and the next morning there was not a sound. I again went looking for the guys and this time I found them. They told me they had battled with the Germans, across the street, part of the night. They also said they though I was dead. They were very glad to see me, as I was carrying all of the K-rations and they had no breakfast.

We went down the street checking the buildings. We ended up in a yellow front schoolhouse. We checked inside and found a German machine gun. I put it closer to the wall. We later discovered it was booby trapped and if it had been pulled out instead of being put in, it would have been set off. Also, we discovered a booby trapped toilet with one of those pull handles. We didn’t pull it. That was a crazy two days.

On our battlefield tour in 1992, I found the schoolhouse and it looked just the same. One of the teachers was there and put a story in the Stolberg paper.


The Ace

Hugh Bell

Company C, 415th Infantry Regiment

March 5, 1945: If you were there you may remember it as the day the Timberwolves finally reached Cologne. I was there; I remember it as the day I almost reached Cologne. It was my last day in combat; it was the day I was dealt the Million Dollar Ace.

"The Ace" as it was known to one and all in C Company, was an obvious reference to the high card winner in a poker game, where the stakes were measured in dollars. Our "Ace" was much more valuable; it was an extension of life. In its simplest form it was a wound that would remove the fortunate recipient from the field of battle.

Although I knew of no G.I. who had voluntarily sought this escape from peril, it was still a subject of frequent discussion around many a smoky campfire or flickering candlelight in some dark cellar. The consensus definition of the Ace (always subject to amendment or revision) went something like this:

That certain wound or wounds, received at the hands of the enemy, which would cause immediate and permanent removal from the field of battle, and ultimate transfer to Z.I. (which was army lingo for Zone of the Interior, or in plain words, the U.S. of A.). Further, said wound, or wounds should not involve the head, vital organs, or reproductive equipment. I have no idea what the current definition might be, but I suspect it would be close to what C Company arrived at in those faraway days.

My involvement with the Ace began in a decidedly unspectacular way. Midmorning of the day in question, the first battalion kicked off for the final push to Cologne. C Company was in reserve position following A and B as we moved across wide open land on a dull, overcast day. We could see clearly up to half a mile on either side, and straight ahead the farm land disappeared into the horizon. It was not quite so flat as our Western plains, or Holland, but it was in no respects hilly. The strange thing that I observed was that there was zero vegetation under foot. It appeared to me that the soil had been plowed and worked some months before, and then left alone during the winter. The ground, though damp, was not muddy, nor did it cling to our boots. We were dispersed across several hundred yards of field, and the mortar section brought up the rear.

After perhaps an hour of marching towards the north with no sign of any enemy resistance, we noticed that we were being overtaken by a number of armored vehicles, long barreled tank destroyers. They passed us on the left, in effect shielding us from the enemy on that side. Since their speed was at least twice that of our column, they soon passed from view, leaving us to our solitary advance.

As noon approached I suddenly noticed a strange thing directly in front of me. In less time than it takes to tell I observed what appeared to be string of small eruptions in the mud; the mud itself seemed to be boiling up and moving towards me as I moved towards them. I took only a second or two to cover the 10 foot distance, and while I was trying to figure out what it was that I was seeing, the answer came in the form of a stunning blow to my left ankle. "German machine gun" was the message as I dropped in a heap.

It was immediately obvious that I was not in any great danger. There was scant blood from the wound, and no great pain unless I tried to move my foot. The mortar section was soon up to me and I passed off to a squad leader the wrist watch with the luminous dial which the section used for night guard duty time keeping. Also I passed on the .45 cal. "grease gun" sub-machine gun that I had been carrying. Finally, the last man came by, the bazooka man. I hailed him over and dug out my prized possession – a German officer’s 7.65mm Watther, taken the previous week at Arnoldsweiler. I told him to keep the pistol for me and return it at the end of the war. He agreed to do so. Naturally that was the last I ever saw of either the bazooka man or the pistol.

When I said that we were at the end of the column I meant that there was nobody behind us. No heavy weapons company, no headquarters company, no medics – nothing. I lay there for a while and then the thought came to me that if that machine gun reached me once, maybe they would try again. For some reason I didn’t have an entrenching tool on my pack. The only implement I could come up with to try to build a mud wall was my trench knife. The next fifteen minutes were a study in futility. The soil was just muddy enough to really stick to the blade of the knife and almost impossible to get it off. I fooled around trying to cut chunks to fashion a parapet with scant success. The ankle only hurt when my whole body moved, and I finally decided that it was just a lucky shot that got me in the first place, and they probably were not still there since they were so badly outflanked by our armor.

A lonely couple of hours ensued. I had experimented with trying to crawl to a different position, but the pain drove me to rationalize that anywhere else might be just as bad as where I was, so I stayed put.

Never once during this time had the thought of the Ace come to my mind. I had no idea of how severe my wound might be but I was sure that my ankle bones were gone. Other than that I was in good shape.

Sometime later, I judge it to be about 3 p.m., my reverie was suddenly shattered. The sound any infantryman knows and dreads reached my ears; the hollow, low-pitched, grunt of a mortar being fired. I judged it to be from the same area, off to the left of our attack route, where the machine gun burst came from.

Was it aimed at me? I could not envision our mortar crews trying to eliminate a single wounded German soldier (unless we had knowledge that it was Hitler). My question was soon answered. Round number one exploded about 100 yards to the right of our advance line and north of where I lay. I could almost hear the correcting orders being barked to the gun crew. We could call our foes lots of things, but unfortunately "incompetent" was not one of them. I was soon to see just how competent they were.

Round number 2 confirmed my worst fears. They had halved the distances of both over and right. Fifty yards seems like a long distance, except when you are the target, and the fire is coming closer.

Round number 3; they weren’t wasting any time in making their corrections. This time the round hit not over 25 yards away. Although I had survived numerous close calls before, this was my first experience at being the proverbial "sitting duck." Now I was really worried. The next round had all the marks of bad news for the home team.

Round number 4 followed and my body tensed; I gritted my teeth and with my eyes shut, silent prayers beamed skyward. The shell landed with a "splat," not three feet from where I lay, and did not explode. I cautiously opened my eyes to behold the miracle of miracles, the shell buried in the mud with its dull metal fins protruding.

Now the question was, not why, but what comes next? They obviously had me under perfect vision. Would they launch another round at the last setting? Nothing happened, one minute, five minutes, thirty minutes. I began to breathe a little easier with each passing minute.

Now a flood of questions flashed through my mind. What had caused the misfire? Sabotage, failure to arm the shell, just the odds, or Act of God? Then, why no follow-up shell? Were they out of ammo, did they get orders to move out, did they think I died of a heart attack, were they just teasing me? This whole scenario lasted all of three minutes raised far more questions than it answered.

Later that afternoon, when Pete Harlow and Tommy Burgess came back to tote me to the aid station, I finally realized that I had indeed been dealt that Million Dollar Ace, for which I and my five children and nine grandchildren are today truly thankful.


A GI’s Wife

Mildred Goldberg, Wife of Milton

Hq. Co. 2nd BN, 414th Infantry

Milt and I had been married about 8-9 months, at the onset of the war, when Milton was drafted and sent to the farthest state from New York, namely Oregon. We had an apartment in Brooklyn which I put on hold, and move to Oregon to spend as much time as I could with Milt. Following our wedding I was employed at the Port of Embarkation; later Milton wrote that he was sad as he passed through that area to "God Knows Where."

In Oregon, after four days on a train, I found a room in Salem on Center Street. The room was small but faced the front so that in lonely moments I gazed at the street. My days were endless so I found employment at the Highway Department in Salem. There, my co-workers became my close friends. Now, 48 years later, I still correspond with two women who became life-long friends. Evenings, I volunteered time at a USO which was in a church, preparing sandwiches and drinks for servicemen. My stay lasted about nine months, at which time Milton was engaged in maneuvers so I returned home by way of Minneapolis and Chicago, to visit relatives and get myself together. During my stay in Oregon I became acquainted with several service wives but our routines were different. I worked, volunteered, and the next day came before I could turn around, plus none of them lived at 757 Center Street.

After several months back in Brooklyn I once again relocated, this time in Colorado Springs after Milton was sent to Camp Carson. I did not work this time, but applied at Peterson Air Base when a letter arrived from my sister that she was coming to stay with us in Colorado. The day she arrived a plane crashed into a Peterson Base hanger but I wasn’t there – so considered it a blessing.

We had a darling basement apartment, not just a room, and spent many afternoons at the public pool near the university; some days were spent shopping and sight-seeing. Then word came that the 104th Timberwolves were to ship out to Europe so I returned once again to Brooklyn.

 


The First Day In Combat

by a BAR man in E Co. 414th Infantry

Robert E. Wood

Company E, 414th Infantry Regiment

The first day of combat started very early for the men of E Company, 414th Infantry, with the dispatch of each platoon as a combat patrol to locate enemy positions. The night before, we had relieved elements of the British forces who had lost contact with the retreating enemy. The British had been engaged in clearing the Antwerp Estuary so that Allied shipping could safely enter the port, and we took over that task.

During the initial search for the enemy positions, each platoon operated as an independent unit. I was a Browning Automatic Rifleman (BAR) in the 1st squad of the third platoon, and during the day the E Company units had lost contact with each other. Therefore, late in the afternoon my three man BAR team was picked to locate the rest of the company, so that we could regroup before dark. The team ended up in a little patch of woods, which we later discovered was between the Germans and our outfit. We found this out when we drew rifle fire from first the Germans, and then from one of our units. About this time one of the team (John Dubelko) noticed some mortar craters, and yelled "Let's get the HELL out of here! They have the area ZEROED IN with mortars." Sure enough he was right. The Germans chased us almost all the way back to our squad, with mortar fire.

Luckily, we were close enough to the German positions, that we could hear the mortar round being fired from the launch tube. This allowed us to jump up and run about a hundred feet or so, while the mortar round was in the air, aimed at our old positions. This worked fine for a while, until the Germans started to anticipate how far we would run each time. Finally, we had to take cover in a small ditch, and waded in knee deep water to our squad. We were very wet and scared, but we had done our job. We had forced the Germans to disclose their position and we had identified the location of the rest of our company.

After the Company had reassembled, a large night attack was planned. (I thought it was to be a Regimental attack, but maybe it was just by the 2nd Battalion. Another case of an infantryman knowing only what he could see.) Anyway, my rifle squad with four men in front of me, led the whole attack. We started from a large farm house, and moved out in a column of twos across some fields or pastures. We expected to spread out in a skirmish line on a broad front before we reached the enemy positions. However, long before we were ready to spread out, we were fired upon by a German machine gun, just as our two scouts had cut a fence by a small ditch. The gun was located almost in front of us, just a few yards beyond the fence. The four men in front of me (the two scouts, the platoon leader, and my squad sergeant) were probably killed in the first burst. I hit the ground and remained motionless, expecting someone from the rear of the column to sneak up and take out the gun, in accordance with our training. Everything was quiet for some time, and I don't remember any kind of activity or grenade explosions. Later I was told the machine gun positions had been covered with some kind of netting, which prevented our grenades from knocking out the gun. After a while, I realized that there were four guns firing on us, rather than just one. I suspect that the Germans realized that they had pinned down more than just a small patrol. Anyway, they then moved two guns up along our right flank to box us in, and proceeded to lay down traversing fire over the entire area. Fortunately, for most of us they kept their fire about 12 to 14 inches above the ground, which allowed me (us) to lie flat on the ground without being hit. This was pretty scary, because strange as it may seem, you can see the streaks made by bullets passing over you, especially at night.

I decided to try and find some cover, because lying out in the middle of a cow pasture did not provide much protection. So I belly crawled up to the ditch, but there was no room for me. Apparently, many other men had the same idea, and the ditch was full of what I though were dead bodies. While I was debating about what to do next, the enemy gunner in front of me, started to fire into the ground at the next fence post to my left. He then traversed the gun towards me, with the bullets hitting the ground directly under the fence. I knew that the little four inch fence post I was hiding behind would not protect me. Frankly, I expected to die momentarily with a bullet in the face. I have never been more terrified in my life, than I was at that moment. However, for some reason the gunner stopped firing when the bullets hitting the ground and turning white hot were less than a foot from my left shoulder. There was no further question about what to do, just get away from there! Quickly I turned around, only to discover that there did not seem to be anybody in the field behind me. So I assumed that everyone had already "bugged out." Consequently, my only thought was to get back to the farm house where we had started. I just started to crawl out, dropping all of my equipment, except my BAR and ammunition belt. I didn't ever try to see if anyone needed help or anything.

After getting back to our original jump off position, I learned that John Dubelko had been shot through both legs, but there was no information about my other BAR team member (Harold Scatterday). Later we were notified that he had been wounded, and lost some fingers. The next morning, after the terror of the night had passed, I was very glad to be one of the few men from E Company that showed up for breakfast (maybe 50 out of about 280). Although, none of us had a mess kit to use, they either had holes in them or had been abandoned the night before. However, mess kits were not the only things damaged. One man discovered that his back pack had been hit, and the outer layer of his field jacket was cut, but the inner lining was only scorched, and he was not hurt. The bullet had passed between his back and his pack. Also, the hospital sent back a BAR belt in which none of the twelve 20 round clips, nor the six pockets in the belt, nor the 240 rifle rounds in the clips were usable, everything had been hit by several machine gun bullets. What speculation this BAR belt caused. We thought it was Scatterday's and we wondered how he had survived.

Later, I came to believe that I had a protective "ANGEL" on each shoulder, and that I would survive as long as I didn't do anything stupid (like unnecessarily exposing myself to enemy fire).

These are the events that I remember about that fateful day almost 50 years ago. In retrospect, I probably could have done many things differently than I did, which might have saved someone's life, but I did the best that I could at the time. To paraphrase someone "my combat experiences were the greatest adventures of my life. I wouldn't take a million for them, and wouldn't give two cents to repeat them."


Attack on Morschenich

Nile R. Blood

Company A, 413th Infantry

The crossing of the swift and flooded Roer River in Germany in the early morning hours of February 23, 1945,was a major offensive effort for our 104th "Timberwolf" Infantry Division. It was preceded by a massive, earth-shaking and spectacular artillery barrage against the German positions across the River. The small assault boats used to cross the River had the maneuverability and seaworthiness of a bathtub as we frantically paddled them across the River in the darkness and toward the well-defended enemy positions on the other side; expecting to be hit by enemy fire or have the boat upset at any moment. Others have written about this crossing, so I won't dwell on it, but jump ahead two days, until after the 104th had taken and secured Duren and the adjacent suburbs of

Birkesdorf and Arnoldsweiler.

After we secured a bridgehead across the River, the Division and VII Corps Engineers worked furiously and under intense enemy artillery and aerial attacks to establish pontoon bridges across the River for tanks and vehicular traffic.

On February 25, our battalion (1st Bn. 413th) was given the objective of taking the town of Morschenich, about 8 miles east of the Roer River. This was a continuation of the Roer River offensive. If we were successful in taking and securing this objective, tanks of the 3rd Armored Division were to cross the River on the pontoon bridges and come through Morschenich the next day to join with the 104th Inf. Division for a push to take the major German city of Cologne on the Rhine River.

Our company (413-A) along with other companies of the 1st Battalion left the outskirts of Birkesdorf on the evening of February 25 for a night attack on Morschenich. Night attacks were a "standard" procedure for our Division and this was to be a long, hard night. We proceeded through Arnoldweiler and through positions of the 2nd Battalion, 413th, who had previously captured Castle Rath in a fierce battle. It seemed that we encountered a little of everything that night. We soon ran into fire from small arms, machine guns and a self-propelled (SP) gun in a semi-wooded area. Following an exchange of fire, Werner Wichmann, who was fluent in German, called to the enemy troops and tried to get them to surrender. The response was confused and uncertain. After our attack with small arms and anti-tank grenades, the SP gun withdrew. Several of us were milling around in the dark a little unsure of our next move. One of our platoon commanders, Lt. Paul Zimmerman, I think, organized a sizable group of us in a line and we proceeded forward in a line of "marching fire". From the loud cracking sounds around our heads, it was soon apparent that some of the bullets were coming in our direction. As I strained to look ahead in the darkness, I saw what appeared to be a foxhole about 15 feet ahead with a man standing in it. Looking for a little protection and thinking he was "one of us" I yelled, "Move over, I'm coming in!" and proceeded to run up and jump in the hole. The man dropped his gun, threw up his hands and shouted, "Nichts schiessen, Nichts schiessen" (Don't shoot, Don't shoot). Obviously, he wasn't one of us. He must have thought I was an aggressive dude and charging in to shoot or bayonet him. Believe me, I was as surprised as he was!

We continued toward Morschenich, and through a wooded area, under cover and support of our mortars and artillery, encountering intermittent small arms fire and taking several prisoners. I then heard a few small explosions to the right and cries of "Medic!" We had walked into a Schu minefield. We suffered three (3) or more casualties. Lieut. Dunbar of the 3rd Platoon lost both legs in the minefield. Our medics went into the minefield at great personal risk to treat and help bring out the wounded. Sgt. Stanley Felth and Jess Rogers, Medic, were later awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star, respectively, for probing for, and removing, mines and helping remove the wounded from the minefield -all this in the dark. Companies A and B proceeded directly toward the town. Co. C had previously made a flanking move to the right to come into the town from the rear. Following some skirmishes in the outskirts of Morschenich, we entered and secured the town shortly after daylight. It had been a nightmarish night. Unfortunately our troubles in Morschenich were not over. Our company quickly established a headquarters in a large, square, two-story brick house. Actually, this house was the second one we had chosen for a headquarters. We were "kicked out" of the first one by officers of the staff of Gen. Rose of the 3rd Armored Division, who wanted that building for the General's command post. I was a runner for the company at that time. I always tried to get some sleep at any opportunity and a favorite site was the corner of a basement, out of the line of fire. I started looking for a couple of couch cushions for a "bed". About that time, our communications Sergeant, Stanley Felth, came by looking for help to string communications wire to our Co. A platoons and outposts at other locations in the town. I went with him to assist with that task. In the meantime, tanks and vehicles of the Third Armored Division had moved across the river and were moving into and through the town in great numbers, preparatory to the drive on Cologne. It was a bright sunny day and the town was full of troops and armor. As Stanley and I started down a street laying wire, we suddenly heard low flying aircraft and the thunder of exploding bombs. Looking up, we saw U.S. Air Corps planes, bombers and P-47 fighters, our own planes, and they were bombing and strafing the town. Obviously, there had been a failure of communications and the Air Corps thought they were attacking a concentration of German troops and armor. Stanley and I dove head-first through the open windows a of a building at the side of the street as a fighter plane strafed the length of the street. The attack didn't last long, but there were many casualties and appreciable damage. We quickly went back to the location of the company headquarters. There was no house there! It had taken a direct hit by a bomb and there was only a large crater full of bricks and rubble. Had I not left to help lay communications wire, I would no doubt have been in the basement and beneath that crater full of rubble. The company commander, Capt. Andrew Peltonen, and a runner, Robert Hogan, were both killed. Several others in our company were wounded, some severely. I'm sure Companies B and C and Third Armored Division personnel also suffered some casualties. We had taken Morschenich, but we had paid a high price! Co. A, 413th, had three men killed on February 23 and three more killed on February 26, in addition to many wounded. For us, Morschenich was a turning point. Now accompanied by the tanks and firepower of the Third Armored Division, we started to advance much more rapidly. Enemy resistance became more sporadic. There were still many fierce battles to be fought, but we were not fighting for every foot of progress, as before. We even got to ride forward in a truck occasionally. There seemed to be a faint flicker of light at the "end of the tunnel".


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