23 February 1945
by Peter Branton
Do you remember 23, Feb., 1945? I seriously
doubt that there is even one single Timberwolf, if with the division at that time, who
does not remember that date. The Roer River, at flood stage, was a major obstacle and
crossing was a dominant challenge. We had been part of the great offensive action (Operation
Queen) that had started on 16 Nov. with the objective of reaching the Rhine. But that
action had slowed and brought to a halt by the German's "Ardennes Offensive" (Battle
of the Bulge). Now, it was time to move again.
Company I, 413 Infantry Regiment
We were the "new kids on the block"
when we joined the VII Corps to fight along side combat veteran units such as the 1st and
4th Infantry Divisions. Our VII Corps commander (Lt. Gen. J. Lawton Collins) showed a
little lack of confidence in us at first, but that soon changed as our division's attack
carried almost four times as far as the 1st Division's in the VII Corps main effort and
plans for the "Big Red One" to pinch us out at the Inde River were soon changed.
(Gen. Allen was later to tell Gen. Bradley that those more experienced units were in
"damn fast company" with the Timberwolves.) We were now an accepted and
respected member of the team when on 6 Feb. our division was directed to, we knew it was
coming, prepare to cross the Roer River (413th on the right, 415th on the left, 414th in
History indicates our higher command, in a
major underestimation, had been slow in recognizing the importance of the several dams, to
our south, controlling the water level of the Roer. To cross the Roer before those dams
had been secured was a risk too great to undertake, and unfortunately, the efforts to
reach them had been hampered by a slow and costly struggle through the Huertgen Forest,
before the Germans opened the flood gates of the huge Schwammenauel Dam (plus the Urft and
several smaller dams) and the peaceful Roer became a raging obstacle. The Germans,
however, had recognized the value of the Roer River Dams and the dense Huertgen Forest
offered them an ideal shield in their defense.
In his book, Citizen Soldiers, Stephen
Ambrose wrote, "For the 104th Division, the objective was Duren. The obstacles
between them and the town were nearly as formidable as the Channel and the Atlantic Wall
had been in June 1944. The river was from two to four meters deep, 300 to 400 meters wide
with currents running more than ten kilometers per hour." And he added, "At
0245, February 23, the Roer River line, thirty-five kilometer long, burst into a ball of
fire. It was one of the heaviest barrages of the war. Big guns, ranging from 75mm to
240mm; heavy and light mortars; rockets; direct fire from tanks; 50-caliber machine guns
and 40mm anti-aircraft guns - every weapon the Americans had hurled against the enemy a
forty-five-minute deluge of bullets and high explosives designed to stun, kill or drive
him from his position. Men who were there were men who had been through many barrages;
their testimony is that this was the biggest one they ever saw."
Capt. Arthur Decker commanded I Company, 413th
Infantry Regiment, during most of that unit's combat experience. In 1947-48, while a
student at the Advanced Officer's Course, The Infantry School, Fort Benning, Art wrote a
detailed account of the experiences of his company as one of the l04th's assault units in
the crossing of the Roer River. His report stated: "At 0245 began the greatest
preparation that had ever been fired in front of the 104th Division. All guns of Division
Artillery plus the 957th and 283rd Field Artillery Battalions, the 87th Armored Field
Artillery, 750th Tank Battalion, 692nd Tank destroyer Battalion, and the 555th AAA
Battalion laid down a murderous preparation for one hour. To supplement those fires were
the 4.2 mortars of Company A and Company B of the 87th Chemical Battalion, all 8Imm and
60mm mortars of the Division, and all .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine guns that could
be placed on the line. In addition great numbers of captured German rockets filled with
TNT, weighing 225 pounds each were fired into the enemy lines." (the initial
objective of Art's company is shown in the picture on page 227 of Timberwoff Tracks).
The firing of all the weapons that Art Decker
listed, coupled with the obstacle that we faced, was enough to make a profound and lasting
impression on all present as an offense was set in motion that was to continue until the
end of the war. We were not alone, this was a major Allied offensive action as five other
divisions on our flanks also started attacks at the same hour, each with massive artillery
barrages, and as the 3rd Armored Division sat coiled behind us ready to strike as soon as
bridges were secured for their tanks along with those of our attached friends of the 750th
Tank Battalion. It was an enormous and terrifying action, one of the most difficult for
any infantry unit - a major river crossing. While it was not without cost, there is no
"free lunch," it was a profound success, and a major step toward our ultimate
goal of victory. Truly a day to remember in both remorse and pride.
My Last Battle
by Mervin T.
Company M, 415th Infantry
After almost 8 months of fighting the Germans,
capturing towns and cities we moved deeper and deeper into Germany.
It was about the third week of April 1945 that we came to the city of Bitterfeld. The
Germans had the city well fortified. They had cut down a lot of trees to block the roads
and build barricades. They had dug deep trenches on each side of all the roads that led
into the city.
In my sector, we reached the edge of the city
in late afternoon. We were approaching with a rifle Co., with two air cooled 30 cal.
machine guns, two heavy water cooled machine guns, two 50 cal. machine guns and
four army tanks. I was in charge of one squad with a 30 cal. water cooled machine gun.
When we got close enough to the barricades, every gun we had, opened fire. With every
sixth round being a tracer, we watched a solid stream of bullets sailing into the enemy
lines. Several of us took turns sitting behind our gun, firing it. I don't remember how
long the battle lasted, but our gun got too hot to handle. We fired it until it began to
glow. Finally, just about dark, the Germans began to wave white flags.
We moved in and all the German soldiers surrendered. After we rounded up all the soldiers,
another group of men dressed in white coveralls and white gloves, waving white flags
approached us. They led us into a place where poison gas was stored. There were many white
storage tanks, mounted several feet above the ground. All the people working there wore
white clothes and gloves.
By this time it was dark, but these shiny white
storage tanks were gleaming in the dark. They told us the storage tanks contained poison
gas - but if we didn't disturb anything all would be safe.
They were ready to stop the war and all seemed to be relieved that we had conquered them.
The Germans were left in charge, but with the G.I.s guarding them. You can bet that no
G.I. tried to loot anything in that place.
There was no mishap and the gas stayed safely stored in the tanks. At the time we didn't
know this was to be our last battle. The war went on for about two more weeks and there
were more battles. But I had fought my last battle.
by Morris Kaplan
Company B, 415th Infantry
all remember Feb.23, 1945; That was the day
of the Roer River crossing. At that time I was a medic with B Company, 415 Infantry.
We were the first troops across the river.
Luckily, we crossed without difficulty. We got out of our boats, and started across an
open field. The platoon split up: one squad in the center, and the other two on the
flanks. We did not meet any resistance, and were moving quickly when there was a loud
"boom". I knew at once that one of our guys had stpped on a shue mine. I
immediately back-tracked around to get to the center squad. The sergeant, John Rindfleish,
said "Doc, give him a shot, we have got to keep going!" I knelt and gave my
casualty, Pat Mastricovi, a shot of morphine, I dressed his wound and looked up: The squad
had gone on, I was "alone".
I cradled Pat in my arms, and headed back to
the river bank. I hoped we would meet other troops crossing the river. As we neared the
river's edge I saw an outpost dugout, and stumbled into it. About ten minutes later I
heard approaching voices. I looked out into the darkness and saw silhouettes of three
German soldiers coming towards us. I felt I had to keep them from getting to Pat. I
crawled out of the dugout and started firing my weapon, a grease gun I had acquired. They
went down but returned fire. I rolled over two or three times and heard a "plop"
followed by a hand grenade explosion at the place I had been moments ago. Following the
explosion a German leaped up and ran to my right. I fired at him and he went down. I knew
the enemy was there, but I had drawn their attention away from Pat.
I was almost out of ammunition and I was alone.
I had to get help! I crawled down to the river bank and saw an assault boat at the water's
edge. Sheltering myself on the river side of the boat I pushed out into the icy water. I
hung onto the side of the boat and paddled and somehow got to the other side.
The details of the next hours are lost in time,
but I remember being in a C.P., having my soaked clothes stripped off and dry clothes
provided. At first light I was with the troops at the river bank. German prisoners were
being herded on the other side of the river. I was highly aggitated. I needed to get to
Pat. I was in the first boat across the river, and ran to the dugout. There was Pat!!
Shaking and unconscious in obvious shock, but alive!! I got Pat into a boat and back to
the aid station.
A few hours later I was wounded. I was carried
away and spent the next 27 months recovering in army hospitals. I lost all contact with
everyone. I had no way of knowing if Pat had lived.
At our reunion in Minneapolis I met John
Rindfleish. He gave me the news I had hoped for, Pat had survived. After fifty years of
wondering and questioning, my solitary quest had come to an end.
Postscript: Pat died in
1996. John and I revisited in Louisville and Arlington, and hope to meet in Portland.
The Russians, April 1945
by Charles Gensler
HQ Company, 413th Infantry Regiment
When the 413th reached the Mulde River at
Delitszch, we were halted from further advance. The Russians were on the Elbe with about a
20 mile "no man's land" between our armies.
The Russians sent over a foot patrol of two
junior officers and Colonel Summers greeted them warmly and introduced them to regimental
As asst. regimental 53, Colonel Summers
appointed me to return the Russian officers to their lines, with a jeep and a
Polish-American driver to act as interpreter.
We arrived at the Russian HQ near nightfall and
when the young officers reported to their Colonel that they had been well received in our
lines, the Russian Colonel decided to serve a banquet in our honor.
We had 30 to 40 Russian officers at the banquet, which served astonishingly good foods,
and an endless supply of vodka. There were a continuous round of toasts and [found I had
to simply touch the glass to my mouth or I would have soon been under the table.
The Russians were particularly emotional about
the recent death of President Roosevelt, and of course the meeting of the armies, the
approach of the Nazi surrender, etc.
Halfway through the meal, the Russian Colonel gave me a photo of his son, who had been a
junior officer and been killed in the battle of Stalingrad.
He then asked me for a photo of General Terry
Allen. I told him I was sorry I had none with me but would attempt to send one to him when
I returned to American lines. At this point all the warm friendly gestures came to a dead
halt, and the Russian officers sat stone-faced at their places. I asked my driver what was
going on and he said "Captain, they think you're holding out on them." I said
"What can I do?" and he answered, "I don't know, Captain, but you better do
something, they're awful mad."
I worried over that for a couple of minutes and
then I had a brainstorm. My first son was born the day I sailed and my wife was sending
infant pictures of him to me, bottoms up on the rug. I offered this to the Colonel and
asked my interpreter to tell him that I had not yet seen my own son, since I was fighting
a war, but he was as precious to me as the Colonel's son and I hoped he would grow up to
be as great a hero as the Colonel's. This reestablished international relations. The
Colonel kissed me on both cheeks, and we had another series of rounds of toasts!
by Edwin W. Hopkins
Company F, 415th Infantry Regiment
I went overseas with Co. F, 415, but prior to
combat was transferred to Regimental Headquarter Co. as a regimental MP. Here is a story
you might find interesting. In December while the outfit was stuck in one place,
Regimental Hq. Co. was in a coal factory near the Mulder River. Actual HQ was in a tunnel
air raid shelter the Germans had built into the side of the hill. There were concrete
barriers at each entrance. Part of our job as MP's was to guard each entrance. One night
just at dusk I was on duty at one entrance. You couldn't recognize people at a distance
but at a reasonably close distance they were easily identified. I halted someone
approaching and advanced them. When he was close by I could see it was Lt. Col. Floyd. I
told him he could go. He chewed me out royally for not checking for password and told me I
should have someone come out and identify him if he didn't know it. A few days later I was
on duty at the other end of the tunnel at about 2 a.m. when Col. Cochran came out to go to
a latrine which was a ways away near a railroad track. When he came back I stopped him and
asked for the password. As he didn't know it I made him wait until someone came out to
identify him. He was slightly peeved (putting it mildly) but I told him Col. Floyd had
chewed me out for the same type of thing.
Two Memories Of
The Sublime and The Ridiculous
by Harry Whitlatch
While companies A, B and C of the 415th
Regiment were completing their seizure of the Merken area, Company D's 81 mm mortar
platoon settled in behind a four-row apartment. I had joined them in Holland as their
medic. In the short time we were in Merken, two incidents occurred that were so different,
but yet so typical of the odd things we experienced, it seems that. calling them
"sublime" and "ridiculous" is appropriate.
415th Medical Battalion
THE SUBLIME -- As soon as the
fighting ended, word was passed that the Catholic Chaplain, Gerald Quinn, would be
offering Mass in the relatively undamaged Merken Parish Church. Pete Brately, Bernie (Abe)
Recktenwald, Wally Tuminsky, Wilson Bonamour and Don Tanno were among those from the
platoon in attendance.
About 10 minutes into the service, a German
artillery shell exploded close by. Like spectators at a tennis match, heads moved from one
side to the other to check the reactions. Nervous? You bet. A lot of us in that crowded
church felt that, church or not, it might not be the best place to be. All eyes then moved
to Father Quinn, who was continuing Mass as if he hadn't heard a thing.
Nerves had barely settled down when the second
shell landed, and this time more serious thought was given to the possible advantage of
not being in a place where the roof might be collapsing. But no one dared to be the first
Once again we looked to Father Quinn. He still gave no indication that anything unusual
was going on. It finally dawned on us that, especially in a church, we best put our trust
in the Lord. The Scriptural reference to "Ye of LittIe Faith" came to mind.
A few more shells fell, but none any closer. Nevertheless, the cigarette lighters were
very busy as soon as we were out of church.
Father Quinn's behavior should not have been a
surprise. Later, in "Timberwolf Tracks," I noticed he was awarded both the
Silver and Bronze Stars.
THE RIDICULOUS -- The only
non-military inhabitant of Merken that 1 remember was Herman. Herman was very definitely a
mixed breed dog, and a true smvivor. He met us right after we arrived, his allegiance
quickly switched to the Allied side.
If there is one quality American soldiers have
in more abundance than those of other nations, it is friendhness toward children and
animals. Our platoon Cxemplified this - to the point of overdoing it.
It's safe to say that the fruit bars were one
of the least used items on the K Ration menu. There certainly were a lot of them available
for handouts to a dog that probably hadn't had any fruit for aWhile, and dogs just don't
know when to quit eating.
We never knew how many guys fed Herman a fruit
bar, but the total was far more than the poor dog needed. He had, shall we say, a dramatic
movement in his digestive system. Herman just made a mess; he made messes all over the
place. But he did survive.
When we left, Herman remained behind, no doubt
hoping the next bunch of soldiers had something better to eat.
The Big Turn Around
by Miton Bass
April 17, 1945; Thurland,
Germany -- Things weren't too bad in the little German town. The short, almost comical
burgermeister couldn't do too much for the American soldiers and the girls smiled when
they passed the Yanks on the streets. Medics of the 414th felt good when they lay down for
At 01:30 the first noise came, the sputtering
of an American machine gun. Then came the clump of hob-nail boots, the voices of excited
civilians directing the Wehrmacht soldiers tossing potato mashers. With the coming of dawn
we were all prisoners.
Over 50 men were taken that night, including
Capt. Repman, 2nd Battalion surgeon, Captain Yohe, chaplain, men of the 2nd Battalion
Headquarters Cornpany, and H Company, including 1st Sgt. Bob Kates and machine gunner Bob
Things were different in the little German town
now. The burgermeister wore a steel helmet, an American 45 slung low around his waist and
a sneer bigger than himself. He strutted around and about the streets, pushing people here
and there, yelling and having a hell of a time.
Then up stepped one of the maidens to accuse
the medics of attacking her.
Things happened and happened fast then.. a
thunderous barrage.. and the German captain requesting the medics to aid his men.. GIs of
the 83rd Recon Troop retaking the blazing, shattered town.
A little way down the street we found the
German Captain face down. Beyond him lay the burgermeister. And on another lane, they
found the body of the girl.
Schophoven, Germany, December 13, 1944
by Francis A. Felix
Company F, 414th Inf. Regiment
"Slim" Norm Estes
and I were both wounded on December 13, 1944 at Schophoven, and I was almost captured also
on that day.
I joined the Division Thanksgiving day 1944 at
Eschwei ler. The Company was on the line at the time and Capt. Bowman had lost so many
replacements before he even knew who they were that he gave orders to keep us back until
he could talk to us. The Germans were about to break through, so they called us outside
Eschweiler to a factory one night and told us to dig in. The next morning we found two men
that were married and had children buried alive, their foxhole caved in and only one foot
was sticking out.
My hole caved in. my buddy's head and one arm
was sticking out but I was buried up to my arm pits so we made it out OK.
My first real attack was at Schophoven. I was
in front at the crossroads and a farm house. We got in a small orchard and all hell broke
loose and the next thing I knew I was all alone out there. I crawled in a horseshoe shape
across the roads and up to a leanto on the house and my Sgt. told me to go into the main
house. Later on every-body in the leanto was captured, my Sgt. & Lt. and all the men
As 1 went in the house I heard a squeaking
noise and looked down the road. I saw three tanks and armored personnel carriers. I could
see the men in the open part and could probably have shot them but I was scared to death.
The three tanks went in the orchard and fired into the leanto and one of our men went out
with a bazooka and knocked out the middle tank and at the same time he fired, someone in
an out-building shot him in the knee.
Then the tanks left with all the men from the
leanto walking between the tanks, so we couldn't fire at them.
A little later I was standing in the middle of
the kitchen putting my canteen bottle away and there was an explosion at the back door and
the room filled with plaster dust and I felt something hit my lett foot, it felt about the
size of a halfdollar. I felt my foot and it seemed OK but later on I felt blood in my
boot. I had two fragments in my foot.
Another man screamed his legs were blown off
and when the dust cleared his legs were full of it. Another man was laying on the floor
and his whole back from his head to his heels were full of it. I wouldn't go down to the
basement to the Aid man because I felt whoever threw the grenade was still out there.
I went across the hall to a little room like a
pantry and in a few minutes here came a mean looking guy with a burpgun trying to see in
the window. I knew if I yelled at him he could spray the window and he couldn't miss. I
raised my rifle real slow and aimed at his heart. He fell on his right side with the gun
still under his arm and his hand still on the trigger. His mouth was still twitching so I
shot him again in the head.
by Roy Thomas
Company M, 415th InfantryRegiment
When we arrived in Cologne, one section of the
heavy moitar platoon, received five new men as replacements. They had not seen any action,
but had seen several movies about booby traps. Mckenzie, was one of them.
In the house he was in, he wanted to open a
drawer but thought it might be booby-trapped, so was a little reluctant. Finally he said.
'what the heck" and opened it anyway. Their was a loud explosion and plaster fell all
around him. One of our 155 Long Tom's nearby had fired at the sarne time. No one was hurt,
on our side anyway. We were more careful from then on.
Back To Schmallenberg
by E.A. Shaw,
In late March, 1945, with the U.S. Army across the Rhine River in
Germany and headed toward a junction with the Russians, it appeared to us on the ground
that the war could end any day. I was there with the U.S. First Army, then cxploiting the
breakout from the Remagen bridgehead, and, having survived thus far in the water, was
hoping for an early victory and return to America. What I got, instead, was another
hair-raising encounter with the enemy, but through a series of fortuitous and near
ludicrous events, was able to return to tell about it.
929th Field Artillery Headquarters
In the very early morning hours of March 31st, my
driver and I left the town of Medebach to go to the rear to arrange field artillery
support for the day's operations. Dawn was just breaking as we drove rapidly down a
winding country road. Because of fatigue and a presumption that we were on a safe route,
neither Bran-don, my jeep driver, nor I was especially alert. Quite unexpectedly, I saw
troops and vehicles in front of us as we came around a curve. Suddenly, I realized that
they were not Americans. A split second later, I said, "Good God, Brandon, those are
Germans. Stop!" He skidded the vehicle to a halt, but it was too late. German
soldiers were all around with weapons aimed at us, and a tank was immediately to our
front. It was so close that I could see right into the barrel of its gun which was pointed
directly at us. I heard a German soldier say, "Roust. Hands up." We complied.
Oddly enough, at this moment, I had the feeling that I had been through all this before.
Two years earlier, while on maneuvers in eastern Oregon, I had been "captured"
under circumstances almost identical to those I now found myself in. This time, however,
it was different. These men were not American soldiers identified as "enemy" by
red markings on helmets and uniforms and carrying empty weapons. These were real enemy
soldiers, and the rifles and burp guns we faced contained live ammunition. Reality then
hit me; we were prisoners of war!
The troops which we had encountered were part of a
panzer, or armored, unit, normally the elite of the German army, with a reputation as
aggressive fighters. Our captors disarmed us, taking Brandon's carbine and my pistol, and
then held a discussion as to what to do with us. In this interval, I turned to my driver
and said, "Well Brandon, it looks like I got you into one hell of a jam this
time." He responded laconically, "Yes Sir." Soon we were put in the custody
of a fierce looking individual, at least in my opinion, who motioned us to walk down the
road and around a bend. I was certain that he was taking us back out of sight to shoot us.
We looked around for possible ways to escape, but there appeared to be no way as enemy
soldiers were all around. We proceeded a few hundred yards to the rear, where, much to our
relief, we were loaded into an American jeep, and, after much palaver among the Germans,
were driven away with an armed guard and Brandon and myself as passengers. As we were
leaving, we heard the sound of machine gun and rifle fire coming from the area where we
had been intercepted. I later learned that a convoy of American vehicles had blundered
into the panzer unit, just as we had, but it certainly wasn't being treated as hospitably
as we had been. What we were hearing was actually the beginning of an intense three day
battle, with the panzer unit trying to break out of the pocket being forged by encircling
As We rode along, it became apparent that the driver
of the jeep was far from expert. He managed to get the vehicle up to a rather high rate of
speed, considering the narrow and crooked road conditions, but he kept weaving from side
to side. I again became alarmed for our safety, but this time for quite non-military
reasons. Suddenly the driver turned his head and said in broken English, "Vot do you
tink of ze Russians?" We gave no reply. Again he turned and said, "Ze Russians
are your allies." We made no comment. Once more he turned and said, "Ze Russians
shoot their prisoners." This conversation ended abruptly, because the careening
vehicle, quite predictably, went off the road and came to a crashing halt in a ditch.
Fortunately, no one was injured, but the Germans were unable to extricate the jeep from
the mud and rocks into which it had plunged.
Other troops soon arrived in the area, and we were
turned over to a young German officer who took us several miles to the rear and left us at
a large farm house. After a short wait, I was conducted to another part of the house to be
interrogated. I was somewhat apprehensive as I recalled stories of torture employed by
enemy interrogators to obtain information. The man who questioned me was dressed in
civilian clothes and claimed to be an army captain. He greeted me in flawless English by
saying, "Good morning, Captain. You look weary. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
Right then I would rather have had a big shot of whiskey, but I accepted the coffee and a
cigarette, both ersatz. I provided my name, rank and serial number, just as I had been
trained to do if captured. The captain was quite congenial. He told me that he had spent
quite a number of years in the United States and had enjoyed living there. Re said that he
had lived in Boston and that Mayor Curley was a personal friend of his. After some more
small talk, he asked for the identification of my unit and what its mission was. I
responsed in effect that I was sorry but I just couldn't provide that information to him.
He merely smiled and said that would be all for the time being.
Later that day Brandon and I were joined by another
American, an enlisted man named Wilson, and the three of us were confined in another large
farm house. We spent an uncomfortable night. There were no beds, no covers, and the
weather was quite cold. That evening we were provided food, which consisted of some bread
and a thick gruel which tasted quite good. One of the guests seemed quite friendly and
tried to carry on a conversation. As best as I could piece it together, he had spent a lot
of time on the eastern (Russian) front, and had been rotated to less hazardous duty in the
interior of Germany. He had a very low opinion of the Russians. From his description, I
gathered that he regarded them as little better than animals, and that they literally
slept with their poultry and livestock. The conversations helped a lot to pass the time.
That evening he received his ration of schnapps, and he generously gave me a tiny bit.
The three of us were subsequently transferred to
Schmallenberg, a small rural town, apparently unscathed by the war. There we were placed
in a small barbed wire enclosed compound on the outskirts. The occupants of the compound
were French soldiers, who had apparently been incarcerated there since the beginning of
the war. Their reaction when we were admitted to the compound was unbehevable. They
greeted us as if we were conquering heroes, not the tired, dirty and unshaven prisoners of
war that we really were. They shouted and danced, and suddenly they began to sing La
Marseillaise, their national anthem. I didn't know what to make of all this, but I later
learned that the Frenchmen had pretty good information on the location of the American
Army, and that the arrival of Americans, even prisoners, was an indication to them that
their liberation was soon to come.
The commandant of the compound took us to his office,
obtained our names, and assigned us bunks. These were mere platforms with straw-filled
pads, but were a definite improvement over the hard floor we had slept on previously. We
set about getting acquainted with our fellow prisoners. This turned out to be difficult
because of the language barrier. They appeared to enjoY a sort of "trusty"
status, working on nearby farms during the day and returning to the compound at night.
Their apparent leader was a big man who bore a striking resemblance to the American movie
actor, William Bendix. They were very friendly and went to considerable effort to make us
feel at home. One found me a razor; another gave me what must have been a prized
possession - a pack of Lucky Strike Green cigarettes.
The next morning, Brandon, Wilson and I were placed
in custody of a German soldier, who marched us away to a village several kilometers from
Schmallenberg. I deduced that we were to be transferred, possibly to the German army.
There were a lot of troops in the area, and a lot of movement. I sensed an air of
apprehension and confusion in their actions. Therefore, I was not surprised when we
arrived at what seemed to be a headquarters and we had to wait a long time. Finally an
officer appeared and asked our guard some questions. The guard's response infuriated the
officer, and he spent several minutes heatedly berating the man who was quite taken aback
by this turn of events. Since nothing was being done as to our disposition, I sidled over
to the guard and said, "Let's go back to Schmallenberg." He brightened up and,
to my slirprise said, "Ja". We all gladly departed and headed back toward
We were about half way back to Schmallenberg when our
guard ordered us on-to a side road which led to a grim looking building with closely
barred windows and surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. There were a lot of people in
the building, and they ca~ to ti'e windows and waved and called out in a language I could
not identify. I guessed them to be Russians. Shortly after we arrived at the gate of the
enclosure, an imperious little man wearing an army uniform came out to see what was
happening. He snarled something to our guard, then looked at me and grabbed my pistol
hoster which, of course, was empty. It simply had not been removed from my web belt which
I was still wearing to carry my canteen and cup and first aid packet. Finding the holster
empty didn't put him in a better frame of mind. This quite obnoxious person, just as the
officer had done earlier, Ibegan to scold the guard vehemently. The poor fellow was quite
disconcerted, and looked as if he would do almost anything to get away from there. About
this time a little mongrel dog came trotting out of the compound to where we were. It was
friendly and I reached down and gave it a couple of gentle pats. The German from the
compound, seeing me pet the dog, reacted by viciously kicking the poor little animal from
the area. This act of cruelty so enraged me that I stepped close to him, doubled my fists,
and threatened to knock him down. We glared at each other for a few moments. I quickly had
some second thoughts. Realizing that confinement in that compound under that man would be
tantamount to a death sentence, I once more said to the guard, "Let's go back to
Schmallenberg." It worked. He said "Ja." Oddly, we were allowed to depart
Our return to Schmallenberg elicited a repeat
performance from the French. They gave us another exuberant welcome and sang La
Marseillaise again. Even dinner was special. One of them had apparently stolen a chicken,
which was duly converted into the main dish of the meal. There was some chicken for all;
nothing was wasted. I do not remember what part I had, but the fellow across the table
from me ate the head. The French were jubilant. They told us that the Americans were maybe
25 kilometers away and approaching Schmallenberg. However, the reports became less
optimistic the next day.
On the evening of April 4th, we heard air raid sirens
and the civilian populace of Schmallenberg moved out of their houses into the streets and
began to leave the town. We, too, were evacuated from the compound and taken into a nearby
forest. Soon a flight of American bombers appeared and flew low over the town. This
created panic among the residents, but no bombs were dropped. A short time later, some
American artillery fire fell on the town. We were grateful that we had been moved to a
safe area. We were informed that we would remain in the woods for the night, and this
prospect set us to thinking about possible escape. We decided our chances would be best if
we waited till just before dawn, rather than trying to travel in the woods in the
With the arrival of dawn, we decided to make our
move. I consulted with "William Bendix" to inform him of our intentions and to
invite the French to accompany us if they wished. They decided to stick it out where they
were, but they did furnish us with French army hats and overcoats to make us less
conspicuous. "William Bendix" and another Frenchman agreed to help us get
started. The five of us left the area without detection. I do not know what the guards
were doing, or even if they were still around. We went back to the now deserted compound
and obtained some food. We felt reasonably secure in our French army garb, as the local
people were used to seeing the Frenchmen in the area. The disguise seemed to be effective.
We passed by a German artillery battery going into position adjacent to the compound and
no one paid any attention to us. Nevertheless, we left the area without further delay.
We moved to an open glade above the valley and the
town, and "William Bendix" indicated the direction in which we should proceed.
It was here that our cover was blown. There were quite a few refugees from the town in
this area, and I thought that they were paying no attention to us. All at once, a woman
came over, pointed to my American army gloves, and said "Americanish?"
We moved to an open glade above the valley and the
town, and "William Bendix" indicated the direction in which we should proceed.
It was here that our cover was blown. There were quite a few refugees from the town in
this area, and I thought that they were paying no attention to us. All at once, a woman
came over, pointed to my American army gloves, and said "Americanish?" To my
consternation, one of our French friends said, "Ja. Americanish. Hauptman."
(Hauptman is German for Captain.) With a show of bravado I didn't feel, I reached under my
coat lapel, exposed my U.S. Army Captain's insignia, and said, "Ja. Me
Hauptman." I then turned to Brandon and Wilson and said, "Let's get the hell out
of here." We quickly retreated into the woods.
The woods which we entered were very dense and
provided good concealment, but at the same time forced us to walk very slowly and to crawl
at times. It was a dark and cloudy day, and we had difficulty maintaining direction. Once
we almost blundered into a German artillery battery position, but were alerted to the
danger by the noise of the soldiers working. After a few hours, we discovered to our
dismay that we had traveled in a circle and were very close to the glade from which we had
started. We then abandoned the relative security of the forest and adopted a more open
route in the valley, even though there was some shell fire and occasional sounds of
skirmishing. Fortunately we were not intercepted.
Just before dusk we came to an open valley which ran
perpendicular to our course. As we started across the valley a column of vehicles appeared
on the far side. One of the vehicles bore a large cerise colored panel, which identified
American. We broke cover and ran across the valley toward the vehicles, all the while
waving and shouting to get their attention. We got it. Some soldiers quickly dismounted
and prepared to fire on us. We hit the ground. I thought of how ironic it would be, after
eluding the germans, for us to be shot by Americans this close to freedom. And how there
could be no going back to Schmallenberg. We called out that we were Americans, and for
them to hold their fire.
We approached cautiously, and were permitted to come
to their position, and, subsequently, to satisfy them that we were, indeed, Americans
Soldiers. Thus ended our strange adventure on the wrong side of the battle line. In two
days I was back with my own unit, where I happily resumed my normal duties. In a month
came the victory I had been hoping for when this incredible experience began.
The Roer River Crossing
by Joseph T. Capone
Company E, 415th Infantry
Lucherburg, Germany, in
February of 1945, a small town about two miles north of Duren and two miles west of the
Roer River, was the typical war-torn town so familiar to GI Joe ... ravaged, filthy, and
at the time we entered it, uninhabited. Under the miserable conditions that prevailed, we
lived as best we could, with mail and chow the only bright prospects. A lone cow left in
one of the barns offered quite a tempting target until AMG spotted it. However, mess
sergeant Frankie and his cooks made things bearable by preparing three hot meals a day,
and Billy the mail clerk saw to it that our letters and parcels got to us on time. The
town was on the highest ground west of the Roer between Merken and Duren and because of
its commanding view it was of extreme military value. Our squad Quarters, in a dilapidated
old brick house, was an OP for our artillery and much time was spent observing the enemy
through the BC scope. Things were rather quiet except for the occasional incoming
artillery and, naturally "Bed-Check Charlie." Then it came.
The inactivity was broken with orders for an
all out attack over the Roer. Things began to buzz with preparation. All day long assault
boats were transported through the town on the way up to Merken, and in the skies above
out planes were out in force. The atmosphere was alive with the hum of an all out
offensive. We began to familiarize ourselves with assault boat
practice, the test firing of our weapons, the checking of equipment, and the study of a
planned attack of "E" Company's objective........ Stammel.
Stammel, another typical enemy town, was two
miles north of Duren on the east bank of the Roer. It was directly east of Merken where
our Third Battalion, who had recently relieved us, was holding. In our two week stay in
Merken, constant patrols, observation, and reconnaissance familiarized us with the
enemy-held town. A final orientation produced a well planned
attack. We were to cross the Roer from Merken during the final fifteen minutes of a
forty-five minute artillery barrage that would lift, then roll, as we advanced behind it.
The Third Platoon was to break to the right,proceed over a known enemy tank ditch and a
possible mine field, to the southeastern end of Stammel where teams of four to five men
would take assigned houses. The second Squad would assault a lone shack one hundred yards
east of the town and set up an OP. Our artillery would then box in the town to hamper a
possible counter-attack from Oberzier, a town a half mile northeast of Stammel. First and
Second Platoons were assigned other sectors of the town and our Company Weapons Platoon
and Battalion Weapons Company would offer close support. "F" Company was
assigned a factory six hundred yards north of our objective, and "G" Company was
to take Huchem, a town adjoining the factory and Stammel.
H-Hour was close at hand and a rigid tenseness
gripped the men as they smoked cigarette after cigarette and ate with little appetite. We
had turned in all our personal belongings and were fully supplied with weapons and
ammunition. During the final checkup of equipment the word came down to delay the attack.
No reason was given but, nevertheless, the reprieve was
welcomed, for it broke the tenseness and once again the men were at ease. A second
postponement disclosed the reason. Capture of the Roer River dams around the Schmidt, to
prevent the enemy from flooding the valley, was a necessity and had to be accomplished
prior to a jump-off. However, the enemy did blow the dams when Infantry threatened
encirclement and thus, the Roer Valley was flooded. We could not stop at this point. It
was then that SHAEF designated the morning of February 23,1945 as H-Hours in the drive
across the Cologne Plain. Men of all faiths had opportunity for final devotions and again
that nervous, uneasy restless tension gripped them as they wrote a last letter home. I,
like the others, consumed many
cigarettes and, nervously, tried my best to keep at ease. However, the "Battle of
Nerves" that results from "Sweating it out" always seems the worst. Some
men tried sleeping, some played poker, some wrote letters, or some, as I did, merely
talked. We discussed everything, and as usual the conversation turned to the subject of
women. Finally, word came down from CP
to fall in for the march to Merken. One last check of equipment, another cigarette, and
out we poured into the pitch black night that enveloped Lucherburg. "Lets Go"
came the Captain's determined voice as he led the way. During the march, I became
confident of the successful accomplishment of our mission. We of "E" Company and
of the Battalion had been fully oriented in every minute detail. We could not fail.
We reached Merken about 0130 hours. Under the
cover of buildings we smoked a last cigarette and said a final prayer. At 0230 hours we
proceeded through to the eastern end of the town where the assault boats were hidden and
then carried them through hip deep flood waters to a point as close to the actual river as
possible. We came back 150 yards and "Sweat it Out".
At 0300 hours our artillery began hitting the
eastern bank of the Roer. This was said to be the greatest barrage ever mustered on the
Western Front. However, the artillery barrage prior to Second Battalion's jump-off over
the Mark in Holland was, to me, more intense. At 0330 hours the jump-off order was given.
This was it! We, of the Second Squad-Third Platoon, went to our boat, struggled to the
river, and immediately shoved off. A powerful enemy counter fire was proving effective
upon the first two boats. This caused the men in our boat to become excited and to lose
control as the fast current threw us downstream and grounded us. I jumped into the water
from my position at the rear of the boat and gave it a shove. At that moment the current
caught the boat and, in making a desperate leap to catch it, I lost my helmet which sank
quickly to the river's bottom. A felling of nakedness crept over me as the constant enemy
fire grew fiercer. A look back showed confusion and turmoil on our western bank.
What was happening to the company was in the
minds of all of us as we reached the enemy bank safely, but frightened, in an assault
crossing through an intense enemy fire that landed us far downstream and below our mark.
The boat was quickly secured by the two front engineers as we in the squad went up the
bank. As we spread out and hit the ground, I, along with
my squad leader, took cover in a shell hole, for Jerry was still throwing plenty of fire
power. We had a twelve man squad, plus three men from "H" Company Weapons with a
thirty caliber, and a few men from the other boats who did make it to shore. At this
point, things looked very bad. My squad leader decided to have the men spread out on each
side of the thirty caliber
and dig in. He was mortally wounded in getting up from his position to pass on his plans
to the men. Upon my call, the assistant squad leader crawled to my position where I
relayed to him the situation. All Hell was breaking loose and still the company had not
come ashore. A short time later an incoming shell hit between the BAR men and his
assistant with mortal effect.
The platoon medic got ashore and immediately
set about his-work of first-aid. "Doc", as we called him, was admired by all the
men of the company because of his superb work under fire. While he was rendering aid, we
fired scattered, harassing shots to our front not knowing their effect. In the course of
the next ten minutes our squad suffered two riflemen killed, and assistant squad leader
and two riflemen wounded. In our squad , that left two riflemen, Eddie and me, and about
nine others. After an endless wait for help I grew desperate and decided to take Eddie and
go upstream to look for elements of the Company. I informed the assistant squad leader of
the First Squad and off we went back over the bank. How we made it I'll never know, for
our silhouettes were obvious to the enemy. We edged slowly upstream along the bank until
we came in sight of the blown out bridge over the Roer from Merken, where the bank dropped
and disappeared into the water. We had felt fairly secure behind a six foot bank, but here
was an obstacle. We had to get through to someone and this was no time to turn and go
The quick turn of events had left us a little
dull for we ran splashing across the area and, I suppose, we were detected, for we had not
gone very far when flares began dropping close by. With the first flare Eddie and I hit
the water, but fast. Finally, after a let up, we got to our feet and started forward
again. This time we advanced almost to the bridge when again enemy flares and fire filled
the air. We hit the water and noticed to our left front a rise of ground that would offer
fair cover so we crawled up to it. We looked everywhere but could not spot the company.
BAR'S, thirty lights and heavies, and other weapons could be heard, but we were confused
as to whom they belonged. To our rear was the blown out bridge and flares were dropping
consistently in and around it. The probable conceived reason for this was enemy knowledge
that engineers were to repair it. We laid in the water with just our heads exposed trying
to figure things out. While there, a riflemen from the First
Squad, and an engineer, made shore and joined us. By this time, it was about 0430 hours
and, being soaked from head to foot, cold, miserable, and frightened, we didn't know quite
what to do. So, we prayed. Prayers do help and we prayed hard. However, about fifteen
minutes later a shell hit the water just a few feet behind us and the effect was terrific
because the next thing I knew it was 1030 hours and overhead our-planes were raining
havoc. I tried to get my bearings and account for that time lost between 0445 and 1030
hours. When I tried to move my limbs, I found I couldn't do so. I was paralyzed from head
to foot. The other fellows with me were in just as bad, if not worse, shape. My conclusion
was that the concussion through the water was of such force that it blacked me out and
after laying in the water for about six hours I was paralyzed from exposure.
I tried noting any fractures, pains, or wounds, but had no feeling. Useless, helpless, and
miserable, we tried to check the situation but couldn't see anything. We laid in the Roer
until 1630 hours when a medic from downstream spotted us and motioned that he would be
back with help. A little later we spotted some Jerry medics checking our squad area with a
lone GI. We laid motionless for we believed that our squad had been captured and the check
was for us. We thought that we failed in assignment.
After a five hour wait, Medics from Battalion
finally found their way through the darkness to our spot and carried the four of us back
across the very same position we had occupied that morning. The belief that we were to be
prisoners was changed when we reached the factory, where we were placed on lifters with
Jerry bearers, a "G" Company sergeant as a guard, and then told of our
evacuation to the aid station in Merken. A boat took us back across the river where we
were carried over many foot bridges and placed on a weasel that took us to Merken. Here my
wet clothes were removed, my shoes cut from my swollen feet, and warm blankets wrapped
around me. A cup of black coffee, a,cigarette, and back I went in an ambulance to a
hospital in Eschweiler. That was the last I saw of the others.
About four days later at a hospital in Spa,
Belgium, I came upon Shoo Shoo, a buddy from Company Headquarters. After telling my story
he told me his; it was then that I learned of the Company's withdrawal to Merken. When the
Company didn't get ashore I should have realized the situation. However, the Company was
reinforced and re-equipped in Merken and at 1630 hours they attacked through a different
During my eleven day stay in the hospital, I
gave constant thought to what lay ahead. I saw that there were still towns to take, hills
to storm, and rivers to assault before the enemy could be annihilated and thus bring final
and complete victory.
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