90: Tangent . . . (continued)


Bridge Builders

THE Engineers were the lads who invariably caught it in the neck. It is safe to say that there is not a front-line infantryman of the 304th CT who will ever forget these "bridge-men" working side by side with them whenever a river was reached--and, God knows, there were plenty of these. How matter of fact it appears in print to read the brief phrases which are devoted to them in the crossing of the Kyll." . . . it became necessary for us to construct a foot-bridge . . . as we carried the pieces of the bridge down the winding trail to the construction site we could hear the whistle of our own artillery passing overhead and frequently see its flash as it landed on enemy positions on the far side of the river. Many times on the way we were pinned down by heavy concentrations of enemy artillery--only to continue when it had lifted. By daybreak the bridge was in and the infantry had taken the enemy positions." Or, then again, that very simple sentence: "From there, we crossed the Kyll River and more of our men became casualties." Or, at Bruch, just before Wittlich: ". . . with mine sweepers to clear the shore . . . a terrific explosion of Teller mines which cost Sgt. Monacell (S/Sgt. Edwin T. Monacell, 32141100) his life." Simple language and prosaic, but the hazard and the breathless drama of the work lies there between the lines for those who care to read--or for those who were there too.
Just as prosaic--on the surface--is the picture which is presented through the regimental journal and the work which was being done at the command post. True, there is no doubt that much of the activity here was a, day after day routine of method, of quiet, efficient control and supervision, of overall coordination. For work of this kind a certain amount of quiet and remoteness was absolutely necessary and, obviously, could not be done in the middle of a front-line action. But it was just as important and in its own way just as dramatic. And occasionally the stories behind the command post manage to peep through even the hum-drum entries of the journal. Thus, on the 4th of March which was very shortly after the business at Helenenberg, and while the Kyll crossing was still in the process, we find this simple entry: "0855, CO at OP reports to S-2, S-3 that C Company pinned down near 1st battalion approach. On this side of river. Reports that 2nd battalion CO must do something about 2nd battalion rear. Second battalion taking alternate route to objective because of heavy artillery fire."
The Colonel himself had come down for this one. Reports had kept flowing in to the regimental CP which plainly showed that the rear-guard supporting force was making no visible progress--in fact, it rapidly became apparent that communications and contact between these elements and forward elements of the 2nd battalion were so slim as to be virtually non-existent. Some of the reports coming in seemed even to be at slight variance; time, here, was of the essence; so Colonel Choquette (as he was wont to do from time to time out of a feeling of restlessness and slight exasperation) grasped the bull by the horns and came down in person. He had with him his jeep driver and personal body-guard, Sgt. Raymond Feeney, and an I & R man, Pfc. David, toting a 300 radio for the sake of communication and another radio jeep following some space behind for the sake of possible relay.
Helenenberg was behind them and a matter of past history, though still green in their memories. The Kyll and Hosten and Auw were ahead of them--only it was not so simple as all that. The road passed Purple Heart Corner and rose a trifle as it came closer to the river and then began to curl and to wind down the west bank of the Kyll. Charlie and Dog Companies were trying to make their way along this route. The vehicles would have to follow them later. The big difficulty, of course, was observation--enemy observation. The opposite bank of the river (which was the twin of this one in steepness and impassability) commanded this road completely.
By the time the Colonel reached there with his two-man crew the enemy zeroing in had well-begun. He was treated to a display of MG and sniper fire, of screaming meemies and 88s. The company columns were stretched (literally, on their stomachs) along this road. The COs were at the heads of the columns exploring the possibilities of the situation. Colonel Choquette crept and crawled half way down the column closely followed by Pfc. David until he found a spot of vantage sufficiently to his liking (behind a large tree) from which he could adjust his binoculars and obtain a clear unobstructed view of the far shore and high ground. In the meanwhile a volunteer GI (whose name the Colonel never did discover!) came up with an offer to make his way down to where the company commanders were and bring back a report of conditions ahead.
In all the Colonel bided there for a full ninety minutes. In a far shorter time than that, however, he had personally analyzed the situation and, with the help of his radio operator, originated the little notation in the regimental journal which is the only trace in the record of his experience: "0855, CO at OP reports to S-2, S-3 . . ." What a world of significance in those simple phrases!
It was at this time that a much needed and excellent addition was made to the regimental staff. CT 304 had come overseas with an executive officer who had been with it in the States. Earlier in this story it has already been told how Lt. Col. Emery was lost to the regiment in one of the Tiger Patrol missions. The loss was a great one and sharply felt by everyone in the regiment and by no one more keenly perhaps than by Col. Choquette himself. But, the damage having been done, it needed to be repaired and the gap filled in one way or another. Lt. Col. Lawlor, 1st battalion CO, was pressed into service to fill this position temporarily together with all his other duties. In all reason, this assignment could not last at all. Action was moving far too fast for any battalion commander to divide his attention for very long. For awhile, then, Major Clark pinch hit as both regimental S-2 and Executive Officer.

Finally in the week of March 10th the true solution was found in the assignment to the 304th of Major Daniel B. Porter as the Colonel's right hand man. This was the day before the regimental CP moved into Wittlich. From that point on out he became a familiar sight to all the regimental personnel. In a quiet, unassuming fashion he took all the various strings of duties into his capable hands and, without fanfare, without ostentation, kept the machine moving in the high gear style of which this history is the evidence. (It was a well-merited recognition of his services when he was finally commissioned Lt. Colonel in Altenburg after V-E day!)



Regimental Artillery


ANTI-TANK and Cannon Companies were in the middle of all this action at the Kyll and up to the Moselle [German: Moselle = Mosel - U.Koch]. "The regiment swung east in preparation for the crossing of the Kyll . . . The company (Anti-Tank) furnished a sixty-man detail to hand-carry chow and ammunition to the 2nd battalion . . . doing an excellent job of climbing the steep banks while loaded down with rations and ammunition. During this mission, the detail (just incidentally) captured 150 of the enemy." Again, about Orenhofen: "We picked our way into the middle of town and threw a perimeter defense around our 2= ton trucks and our 57s and waited for our platoon leader and squad leaders to return from their reconnaissance."

Yet it was here in this town that the platoon CP (attached to the 3rd battalion) suffered several direct hits, that one jeep was set afire and that two other jeeps and a truck were peppered full of air holes from incoming artillery and shrapnel--"the Kraut had excellent observation on our positions; we were right on the edge of town on a slight ridge."
The, regimental journal contains a brief note of the number of rounds used by Cannon Company. Even Cannon Company has not much to add to the journal when it says: "6 March, near Hofweiler and Orenhofen the cannons had another day and night session, this time firing over 800 rounds in the face of terrific enemy counter-fire. They gave excellent support to the 3rd battalion and aided materially in repulsing a serious German counter-attack." This is in perfect tune with another occasion, only a little while before, at the crossing of the Nims River. "For a period of hours while all other artillery units were displacing they alone poured out continuous fire which proved a godsend to the hard-pressed 2nd battalion. During this action the company had two men of its forward observer group killed, and Captain Bernard Robbins, the CO, was awarded the Bronze Star for the manner in which he handled the situation and 'kept the fire coming'"




"MAIL" FOR SPEICHER

It is impossible to read the regimental journal for so much as half a page and not run across some reference to the regimental OPs. This was the ceaseless job of the I & R platoon. In fact their names become so commonplace through-out the journal that the tendency is to take them for granted, to accept them and forget to mention them. From the first day of combat till the last this platoon was constantly on the go. There never was either part or all of them which was not occupied in one mission or another. And so it was here in this phase just as at any other time in these well crammed few months. There were road reconnaissance's, probing out the approaches to the river before the movement of troops really began. There were roving, mobile OPs which traveled with the battalions, carrying radios on their backs, and keeping in contact either directly with the regimental command post or with relay stations serving to link the two.

For these twenty-four regimental specialists communications was an all important factor. If they could not send the news back, the work which they did was of no use. So they carried their own communications crew, independent of, but always cooperating closely with the regimental and the battalion crews. All the way from Boudeler down to the end of the war in Germany these men did the work of keeping alive the network of wires and air channels which kept the reports coming in. Seldom recognized but always there were T/4 "Willie" Weiss and his two assistants--one for each squad--T/5s "Wally" Turner and "Count" Dorko.
The high-light of their activities between Welschbillig and Wittlich was the OP overlooking the latter town and the hours spent there in "sweating out" permission (which never came) to move in and "capture" the city. On the 9th of March the White battalion had been given the mission of capturing the town of Musweiler. Later on the same day the 1st battalion received orders to jump off in their attack on Hupperath. At 1945 the regimental journal records the following fact: "2nd battalion and TDs are on Obj. 4 (Musweiler). Can't move; being hit from Hupperath, Minderlittgen and Gipperath by mortar, MGs, 88s, Nebelwerfers and Arty." And at 2300 this follows: "1st battalion reports troops jumped off at 2048 for Hupperath;" to which the answer went ten minutes later: "To 1st battalion--seize Hupperath tonight. Continue and seize road net 1500 meters east of Hupperath." Six hours later the sequel begins, to be written: "0625, 2nd battalion starting into town." "0700, 1st and 3rd battalions have taken their objectives." In other words, the way into Wittlich was clear--or as clear as any such road ever was. And that morning the I & R platoon leader, Lt. Cloud, mobilized his squads, took most of the men with him and moved out to the crest of a hill lying to the north of the town. They had only radio and radio-relay communication to the CP.

Tantalus

FROM shortly after dawn until about 1100 they sat there and watched the progress of the 10th Armored Division along the roads which filtered into Wittlich. They saw the white flags hanging from the windows in most of the streets. And the longer they watched the more impatient they grew. Their messages kept going back: "May we proceed to and enter into the town?" The answer came only later, in the person of Major Alexander M. Clark, Regimental S-2, out at the OP to have a look at the situation for himself and finally deciding to have a closer and better look--inside Wittlich. By that time, however, the long lines of armor had already passed too far along the roads and were within the town itself. The credit for the capture could not to go CT 304. The I & R, however, could take and did receive the credit for being the first regimental unit to enter.

In the meanwhile, the plans had again changed--just as they had changed back at Welschbillig. Only a. few short hours before, at 2210 of March 9th, the regimental journal had transcribed into it one of those startlingly casual remarks with which its pages are filled: "Lt. Goforth of G-3 reports: plans now indicate that we will move to line Moselle instead of line Rhine. 2nd Bn., 385th will probably be attached to CT 304. CCA of the 10th Armd. Division is supposed to take Wittlich. 304th will probably have to take it on Division order. You may go ahead and prepare plans and move troops into position . . ."



OBJECTIVE

Well, there it was! At Welschbillig a special task-force had been "compiled." Its objectives were one: the Rhine. CT 304 had made the bridgehead, had cleared the way; had opened up to let Onaway through and had, closed up the gap behind it. They had scaled cliffs and crossed rivers and more rivers. They had had their eyes set on that best known of all German names, the Rhine. This was a river to see--and to conquer. They knew that they were supposed to take off at a sharp tangent after they reached a certain point--and this time they were fooled again. There was to be no tangent; their course was to follow a comparatively straight line.
How did the record stack up this time? Two rivers bridge-headed and nineteen towns taken. By the map, twenty-eight kilometers of movement. By the calendar, five and one half days--one hundred and thirty hours--or moments whichever way you preferred to look at it. Mission accomplished.
And the cost? Don't look at the cost now; war is an expensive game! Don't look back! Watch tomorrow.


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