Rur River - "Operation Grenade"


When the 104th crossed the Roer (Rur) River on 23 February, 1945, we were not alone. The German's "Ardenes Offensive" had only delayed the inevitable and with that interruption contained, the Allies were anxious to continue their drive to end the war in Europe. Several plans had been under study, causing renewed lively debate among Allied commanders. But on 2 February, at a meeting on the Mediterranean island of Malta, the Combined Chiefs of Staff of the United States and Great Britain approved the specifics of Supreme Commander Eisenhower's plan for a drive to the Rhine; a staggered attack starting at the north to be joined step by step to the south.

The plan was for a major offensive to be put into effect and to start with Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group, at the northern end of the front facing Germany. With his Canadian First Army and British Second Army, Montgomery's Operation Veritable was set to start the attack on 8 February. Two days later (10 Feb), an operation code-named Grenade was to start with the U.S. Ninth Army commanded by Lt. General William H. Simpson. The Ninth Army, under command of Montgomery's Twenty-first Army since the Battle of the Bulge, was to cross the Roer and linkup with the Canadians coming from the Nijmegen area of Holland. Coverage of the right flank of the Ninth Army was assigned to the VII Corps of the U.S. First Army commanded by Maj Gen J. Lawton Collins & on loan from First Army for this task. Following Operation Grenade was to be General Omar Bradley's Twelfth Army Group, the center of the front facing Germany, in an operation named Lumberjack. But Bradley wasn't to move until Montgomery reached the Rhine, with this move scheduled to begin on 23 February. Next in line was the Sixth Army Group, on the south end of the line, commanded by Lt. General Jacob L. Devers, and it was to remain on the defensive until Bradley reached the Rhine. Code-named Undertone, this operation was set to begin on 15 March.

A key to crossing the Roer River was control of the major dams upstream from the assault divisions and responsibility for reaching them was with General Bradley's XII Army Group. The dams had been constructed to control flooding of the Roer and both the Americans and Germans recognized their importance. After a much tougher battle than anticipated, the dams were not reached until 9 February, and unfortunately only after the retreating Germans had opened the flood gates. Operation Veritable, of the British & Canadian Armies, had moved as scheduled at 5 AM, 8 February, after 5 1/2 hours of artillery fire from 1050 guns, firing 500,000 shells on their 6 mile front. But the rapidly rising waters of the Roer forced a delay of the Ninth Army's Operation Grenade. Once the vast storage of water was released from the locks of the dams, the once peaceful Roer flooded its banks. At the north, making matters worse for the Canadians, the retreating Germans had dynamited the areas dikes and by the second day of the attack, hundreds of men were stranded by swiftly rising floodwaters. At the south end of the line, the water from the largest Roer dam, the Schwammenauel, rushed out after the Germans destroyed the power-room machinery and the discharge valves, making it impossible to halt the flow of water. Operation Grenade would have to wait. Rising in depth by as much as 5', the worst effect of the flood was to increase the current sharply, at some points to more than 10 miles per hour. Along most of its banks, the Roer poured over its banks and inundated the valley floor. Just north of Linnich where the river is normally 25 to 30 yards wide, it spread into a lake more than a mile wide. More common were areas of 300 to 400 yards across and Grenade was to undergo successive postponements.

Acting on advice of the engineers, Ninth Army's Gen Simpson reset D-day for 23 February, one day before it was calculated that the reservoirs would be drained. By moving one day early, Gen Simpson hoped to achieve some measure of surprise. As the target date for Grenade approached, the accumulated stocks of supplies rose to huge proportions. In one 5-day period, for example, over 40,000 long tons was received, the biggest delivery to any army in the theater in a comparable period. Most of it arrived by rail in more than 6,000 freight cars.

Six infantry divisions were to lead the attack (left to right), 84th & 102th from the XIII Corps, 29th & 30th from the XIX Corps, and 104th & 8th of the VII Corps. The XIII & XIX Corps were to represent the main effort with the VII guarding the right flank. This plan not only gave the VII Corps, protecting the Ninth Army's drive, the deepest area of penetration, its own right flank was exposed for at least two full days. Methods of crossing the swollen Roer varied to some extend from division to division. The plans for some were for only a relatively small force to cross in assault boats with the balance to use foot-bridges to be constructed as soon as bridgeheads could be secured; a task that proved easier to plan than execute. The 8th Division planned to make use of motor boats, but had extreme problems in starting the motors. Some units planned to rely heavily on cable ferries and amphibious vehicles, while others, including the 104th, relied more heavily on transporting the attacking companies by assault boats. And while some elected to us smoke and others didn't, all plans had problems and the mighty Roer took it's toll.

While crossing techniques varied, all divisions relied on a tremendous 45 minute barrage of artillery supplemented by all available weapons. The 130 battalions of field artillery and tank destroyers assigned in support of the Ninth Army & VII Corps, totaling more than 2,000 guns, was one of the heaviest artillery concentrations of the war, providing one artillery piece for each 10 yards of front (the weight of the artillery projectiles that the XIX Corps alone could throw at the enemy in six days of combat on a two division front was a massive 8,138 tons). Adding to the fire power of artillery plus antiaircraft guns, tanks, tank destroyers, chemical mortars, and all other infantry weapons, each corps had an armored division attached. Also formidable air support was provided (in direct support of the Ninth Army was the XXIX Tactical Air Command, employing five groups of fighter-bombers, 375 planes, and one tactical reconnaissance group) and in spite of the difficult of the rampaging Roer, by nightfall, nearly 25,000 American infantrymen were across. On the second day, the water level had dropped enough to permit the construction of 19 bridges, 7 of them vehicular, allowing tanks to join the attack (in case bridge construction was delayed, 500 C-47 transport aircraft, fully loaded with supplies, sat ready for air-drops). Plagued by an open right flank, the 8th Division had the roughest D-day of all and on 25 February, its commander, Maj Gen Wm G Weaver suffered the fourth in a series of heart attacks & was evacuated & relieved by   Brig Gen Bryant E Moore, assistant division commander of the 104th. Enemy opposition was stubborn, but on 27 February VII Corps completed its role in Operation Grenade, covering 13 miles from the Roer at Duren to the Erft River & Canal to seal the Ninth Army's south flank. It's drive was to continued, but now the VIII Corps belonged to another operation that General Bradley planned to carry his 12th Army Group to the Rhine.

Operation Grenade was a tremendous success, but not with out great cost. The Ninth Army (with a strength of 303,243) reported 92 KIA, 61 MIA, 913 WIA for a total of 1,066 casualties and VII Corps (with 75,00 men) suffered 66 KIA, 35 MIA, 280 WIA for a total of 381.


Order of Battle (north to south)

    21st Army Group - (Montgomery)

            First Canadian Army

            Second British Army

            U.S. Ninth Army (Simpson) (303,243 men)

                            (75th Infantry Division under British control)

                                     95th Infantry Division, army reserve

                     XVI Corps ( Maj Gen John B Anderson)

                             35th Infantry division

                             8th Armored Division

                                     79th Infantry Division, corps reserve

                     XIII Corps (Maj Gen Alvan C Gillem, Jr)

                             84th Infantry Division

                             102th Infantry Division

                                     5th Armored Division, corps reserve

                     XIX Corps (Maj Gen Raymond S. McLain)

                             29th Infantry Division

                             30th Infantry Division

                                     2nd Armored Division, corps reserve

                                     83rd Infantry Division, corps reserve

                     VII Corps (Maj Gen J. Lawton Collins) (73,000 men)

                             104th Infantry Division

                             8th Infantry Division

                                     3rd Armored Division, corps reserve

                                     99th Infantry Division, corps reserve

    Twelfth Army Group (Bradley)

            U.S. First Army

            Sixth Army Group (Devers)


Timberwolves & the Roer

It is doubtful that there is even one single Timberwolf, if with the division at that time, who does not remember the date of 23 February, 1945. 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 (see Operation Queen) that had started on 16 Nov. with the objective of reaching the Rhine. But that action had slowed & brought to a halt by the German's "Ardennes Offensive" (Battle of the Bulge). Now, it was time to move again.

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 & 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 & 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 reserve).

History indicates that 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 & costly struggle through the Huertgen Forest, before the Germans opened the flood gates of the huge Schwammenauel Dam (plus the Urft & several smaller dams) & 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 Company I, 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, he wrote a detailed account of the experiences of his company as one of the 104th'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 the 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 81mm 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 Decker's company is shown in the picture on page 227 of Timberwolf Tracks).

The firing of all the weapons that Art Decker listed, coupled with the obstacle that we faced, was enough to make a profound & 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 a enormous and terrifying action, one of the most difficult for any infantry unit - a major river crossing.

While it was not without cost, 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.

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