The Siegfried Line . . .



The Siegfried Line . . .


The Three "W"s

ORIGINALLY the three phases (which follow in this chronicle) were scheduled to have been written as but one. As time progressed it became evident that they would be far too compressed within such limitations. Gradually, like Topsy, the one phase "just grew" until it became three and by the same token, the whole of the three phases came to be known as the "Three Ws" in virtue of the fact that each phase substantially ended at a town beginning with "W"--Welschbillig, Wittlich and Wehlen.
These events are still so close and their background still so fresh that it seems almost as if the chronicler need only turn on the spigots of memory and allow the material to jet out unrestrainedly. Inexplicably, however, the moment pencil is set to paper the difficulties of a straight, evenly flowing, faithful, accurate and unprejudiced account appear well nigh insuperable. Perspective is lacking. Because of personalized experience some events loom too large--and others too small. The very rapidity of the movements tends to make incidents telescope together. At times this is so true that it seems to make separate and distinct accounts of one occurrence appear directly contradictory. Comprehensive tapestries with all the threads and shadings in due proportion are difficult, even painful, to weave. Some events never yet have been quite clear--and, perhaps, never will be fully so.

When Is a Mile . . .

THE more the facts pass in review the clearer the difficulties become. To appreciate this fully it is only necessary to scan a simple, straightforward time-table of the regiment; for example, the first few days after the Echternach jump-off. As the crow flies the progress made by CT 304 at that time would have been a matter of some fourteen-odd kilometers. In ordinary training estimates, this scant mileage--between Echternach and Welschbillig--would have taken a day for the regiment to cover.
Actually it represented a combat route of some thirty-five kilometers, with a narrow and still dangerous bridge across the Sauer to negotiate; then two more rivers to ford (the Prüm and the Nims) against stiff enemy resistance; pillboxes to breach, woods to clear out; nebelwerfers and 88s and tanks to neutralize; hills (which were actually mountains) to climb and command--all this by troops who had just prepared for, never actually been in combat. This was the acid test!

. . . Not a Mile?

INSTEAD of one day it took from February 23rd at 2300 until March 1st--one hundred and twenty hours instead of twenty-four. Despite that, how incredibly fast was the action, how much was accomplished! The record speaks for itself: a dozen towns taken and occupied; six hundred and thirteen PWs taken (of whom ten were officers and eighty-nine were non-coms), three rivers crossed--and everything poised for the next phase. At the end there were three battalions straddling Route 51, south of Welschbillig, ready and anxious to leap-frog all the way down and into Trier.
A layman, obviously, cannot fully appreciate just from the reading of it how confusing such movements appear to one who is part of and in the middle of them. It would be far easier to understand how simply these could become utterly confused and disorganized if a single cog had slipped in the whole machine. Coordination and rapidity!--this, undoubtedly, was the true formula of battle victory. It was so, in any event, with the 304th.

Apology Before the Fact

THE combat team started off keyed to an already high pitch. This pitch never diminished. On the contrary it continued building, building up to an ever increasing volume and crescendo, so that by the time the regiment reached Altenburg (and the end of this chronicle) the roar and sweep of battle had become so customary, so habitual as to leave an emptiness, a terrific void when it sharply, abruptly stilled. It was like something going dead inside one's self.
If an appearance of breathlessness occasionally communicates itself to this narrative it may well appear to be a fault. It will, however, be an unconscious error and merely a reflection of what true conditions were.
Already the 2nd battalion had, in a sense, spearheaded CT 304 over the Sauer. As of 2000 on February 12th two platoons were assigned for duty to the 417th and occupied both sides of the bridge above Echternach. Their mission was to guard the bridge and patrol its road approaches. On February 17th at 0200 these platoons reverted to battalion command and the battalion itself relieved "RED," of the 417th and temporarily passed under command of the 385th. Until the 20th, in this fashion, they continued as the most forward element of the 304th, maintaining a static position on both banks of the river. On February 21st, Division sent to the regimental command post preliminary details and plans of the proposed action. And on the 22nd, the day previous to setting up the advanced CP at Weilerbach, 2nd battalion reverted to regimental command and was assigned its new mission.
Two days before this, unbeknown to most of the regiment, Col. Wallace A. Choquette had already crossed the river and personally reconnoitered the new area. On February 23rd at 1055 the advanced CP set up at Weilerbach. White battalion was even then completely readied. They were waiting, poised like relay runners, for elements of the 385th to take over their positions. And when that relief came they took off.



WEILERBACH



FOOT BRIDGE ACROSS THE SAUER

Long Way Around



THROUGH ECHTERNACH

TRIER was the focal point. And Ferschweiler and Schankweiler to the north were the two spots from which the push was scheduled to begin. The distance was not great--even using the "long way around"--but the hurdles, if one stopped to look at the map, were plenty.
This was a foot movement. All day long and a good part of the night columns of troops wound and wound along the road past and through Echternach and sharp to the right through Weilerbach. Here the way began to climb and grow steep. Unceasingly the columns climbed and climbed and were gradually swallowed up by the road and the high wooded horizon of the hills at the foot of which the road began. These slopes and mountains were thick with walds, only so recently devoid of enemy resistance that the smell of it still hung pungent in the air.

The road lay low in the valley as far as Weilerbach, then turned sharply to the north. Before this turn the signs of, war had already begun. Echternach was strictly a breath-taking sight. There were few if any buildings which had not been hit. Medical aid-men, closely followed and preceded by armed guards, were still conducting a house-to-house--or, rather, a ruin-to-ruin--search, and the work which they found to do was not light.
Beyond and once in the bill country were few homes or buildings save, at scattered points here and there, a Gasthof and a mountain lodge all showing traces of the recent conflict. Along the way the column passed through scattered rear elements of the 5th Division which was moving along substantially the same route to occupy the left flank. The first town of any consequence was Johannes just before Ferschweiler. Here was where enemy observation began. And here the real deployment began as well. The signing in of the battalions gives the picture sketchily.

Ready! -- Waiting!

"0500, 23 FEBRUARY. Blue (3rd battalion) completed first phase 2100. Closed out old site 2400. Closed new area 0455." And the next day: "0410, 24 February, 3rd battalion completed relief (of 10th Infantry elements): 2000." And: "'0915, 24 February, Cannon Company closed new area a/o 2400, 23 February. Not able to register guns before dark!" "1645, 24 February, OP 3 reports German rockets fell at 03.4--45.2 at 1340." "1710, 24 February--Two teams of horses drawing carts and six Germans moving SE at 092--142. MG nest located at 062-434." And finally at "2300. 24 February, 1st battalion ready to move and not under fire. 2nd battalion on move. Receiving some shelling. Does not interfere with move." All entries terse and to the point.

Perhaps the start of the jump-off can better be visualized in the scene which took place after nightfall in the ill-lit cellar of a ruined chateau in Weilerbach on the night of February 24th. A temporary CP had been established here for a meeting of the battalion commanders and the liaison officers and staff with the Colonel. There was something forceful, impressive, in the very surroundings; something arresting in the very simplicity and brevity, the matter-of-factness of the proceedings. Colonel Choquette turned to his officers and said: "Gentlemen, gather around where you can see this map and take notes.



FERSCHWEILER


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