90: Tangent . . .

90: Tangent . . .

The work of the historian-especially of one who has been a participant in the fact--is fraught with peculiar experiences. It is packed with nostalgia. It is vivid with memory, and with suspense almost as keen and clear as the event itself. At points such as this, for example, the chronicler finds blood racing through his veins, his breath quickening and. almost panting as if from running. The remembering of these things is still as real as was the actuality itself.

Divisional Reserve?---!

THIS may render it easier to understand what the true pace of the race must have been. The pause which took place after Meckel, Helenenberg, Olk and the arrested march on Trier, was long enough only for a swift readjustment of routes and positions. It could not actually be called a breather--far, far less than that. Capt. Ryan in his diary sounds the keynote: "That evening we moved back towards Meckel with the story that we were going back for a rest . . . The Gadget (T/5 Mignon) picked me out during the show (three hours later!) to report back to the CP and there I was told that the rest had about ended . . ." Up again and off again. On March 2nd at 2000 the notation is in the regimental journal: "Closed Regtl. CP at Gilzem" and two hours later: "Opened CP at Welschbillig."
The rest which the regiment had been expecting was, like most of the few good things which can be uttered about war, just a pipe-dream. True, they were not embroiled in action such as had filled those five terrific days from Echternach to Olk. Instead, the hours were filled to the brim with movement and redeployment. The armor went clattering and thundering through the lines of the 304th down the Trier highway like a pack of baying hounds eager to be in at the kill. But behind the scenes, under cover, with all the virtue of a complete surprise, a new arrow had been plucked from the quiver of the high command and fitted to the bow-string. Suddenly, out of the Trier route, almost perpendicular to it, this arrow was sped with a menacing twang, straight and true at the Kyll.
The regimental I & R platoon, as previously recorded, had already received the mission of exploring the territory in general to the east of Welschbillig and towards the river. There was the triangle of roads formed between the three "Is" (Idesheim, Idenheim and Ittel-Kyll). This terrain abounded in woods and it was always a good bet that they contained either pockets of resistance or stragglers or die-hard snipers. Roads--well, roads were always a "pleasant" problem in any advance which had been as rapid as this one. Perhaps they were cleared, perhaps not. In any event, the procedure was uniform--"have one in the chamber, keep your fingers crossed and keep muttering 'just testing!'" Jeep floors, from here on out, were methodically packed with sand bags. These might, at any rate, create the illusion of some protection against the "eggs" which the Germans, like painstaking ostriches, left buried in the road-beds behind them. (A perverse luck--judged on the baiss of percentages--followed the platoon throughout combat, however. With all of the motorized traveling which they were compelled to do in their work they never experienced a single motor accident of this nature. Indeed, they had the experience, not once but several times, of passing scathless through mined roads and discovering about the mines later.)
The battalions fanned out to the east and to the northeast of the new regimental command post. On March 2nd the journal laconically remarks: "1250, notified the battalions to be ready to move by 1400" and at 2200 the same day "2nd Bn. closed new area at 2110."


THE front from which the regiment was to jump off in this new phase stretched along the tortuous course of the Kyll River from Kordel to the southeast of Welschbillig and northwards all the way to a spot opposite Hosten which still lay in enemy hands. The program--to put it very simply, leaving aside all the detail of the Divisional order was to cross one river and, to drive straight through to the banks of another after that--this time the Rhine. It all sounds simple when put down that way. The only difference of any importance was that both east and west banks of the river consisted of densely wooded, precipitous slopes. These natural obstacles once overcome, there was beyond them the enemy defenses spread through Hosten and Auw and Speicher and Preist and Orenhofen. The story of these names has since then been written in blood. Specifically, a Task Force known as "TF Onaway" had been formed by Division, composed of tanks, TDs, armored cars and motorized infantry. Beyond the Kyll there lay some relatively flat country and it was the mission of this force to reach it and drive on through to Koblenz and the Rhine. After that--time would tell. Again it all sounded very simple--this matter of reaching the Rhine; but, as always, a bridgehead had to be established here in order to cross this other river some 100 kilometers away. This was first. Without it the other was impossible.
So the deploying began. And when it ended 2nd battalion had moved out of Welschbillig and on through to a wide strip of woods on the west bank of the Kyll, almost opposite Hosten on the other side. 3rd battalion moved out from Meckel and found itself in Ittel-Kyll to the south. "Here, due to the lack of available houses we shared the aid station of the preceding group, overnight . . . actually an OP . . . upon a hill overlooking the valley, the river and all surrounding terrain. Beautiful country but everybody could see everybody else and we were warned to be off the streets in the daytime and be careful about movements and blackout . . . (later). We moved down to a house in the center of town and spent a fairly uneventful day in Ittel-Kyll. That night, however, we were supposed to attack across the Kyll River. Our artillery opened up in a beautiful barrage, the sky was lit up, the noise was terrific, the shelling came in from all over. I and K Companies had been moved to Hofweiler which was also under easy and direct observation. I watched the barrage--white phosphorus and all--from the attic. At 1 a.m. we moved the aid station to Hofweiler which was nearer the Kyll River.

-- And Cliffs

"IN our attack across the Kyll (still with the 3rd battalion) the Engineers had trouble working on the bridge. They and Lt. Katz (I Company) were pinned down for quite a while at the site of the bridge before they could go to work on it. The river wasn't much but the sides were sheer, slippery precipices and were almost impossible to walk over--much less to fight over. Here Col. Barber again saved a lot of lives, I think, by holding up the hour of his attack until the bridge was in and shelling abated. The troops crossed and fought their way up through snipers, machine-guns and mortar fire on their way to Orenhofen." The Blue battalion history uses a few more words than usual in describing this progress to Orenhofen." . . . and the troops moved to an assembly area for the crossing. Heavy mortar fire and rocket fire kept the troops down at the assembly area until 0105 when the battalion moved out to cross a foot-bridge. By 1000, 4 March the battalion had crossed the river and had taken Orenhofen . During the afternoon the battalion repulsed two counter-attacks of infantry and tanks firing direct fire at 1000 yards and held the town during the night against infiltrating patrols. During 5 and 6 March repeated artillery and rocket attacks were made on the town. 283 PWs were taken in Orenhofen."

P. W. "Gives"


WHAT the battalion history does not mention is the capture of one PW in particular by the battalion before the crossing was even begun--this would be at about 2200--and the difference which his capture made. It is safe to say that without the information elicited from him by the skillful questioning of Sgts. Mann and Madauss of the IPW team, casualties might have been far heavier, the success of the crossing itself, far more in question. When they had finished putting him through the wringer there was no sap left in him; everything had spewed out. Positions of mine fields and road mining's--bridge conditions and plans for the blowing of them (using our own duds)--the preparation of wide and deep craters along what was supposed, to be the probable route of our advance--road blocks--tank obstacles, artillery positions, troops and their dispositions and numbers; everything finally seemed to spill out of this "super-man." When he had finished talking, it was a rush job. The information had to be reassembled and collated at lightning speed, submitted to regiment, sent to battalions and to Division.

But when the job was done it must have been a terrific satisfaction to these men--the realization that certain overlays (and plans on the overlays) would be changed in time so that some of the men up ahead. wouldn't be "cashing in their chips' this time. Again, it was part of that, all-important coordination of a combat team.
While 3rd battalion was waiting with the Engineers for the footbridge to go in, in order to cross on their way to Orenhofen, the 2nd was about four kilometers upstream climbing down one side of the Kyll cliffs and carrying assault boats to the, edge of the stream with other Engineers. The 1st battalion had been split up and attached to the 2nd for this move, with Able Company actually under command of the 2nd and Baker, Charlie, and Dog acting as support and rear guard--although these elements eventually found themselves fighting their way into Hosten in a type of action which was typically not rear guard.

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