The Last "W" . . .



The Last "W" . . .


"Give Me Land"

THIS was the 11th of March. It was one of those days when it is warm walking and cold if you are riding a jeep. Wittlich was occupied by the regiment--meaning that Wittlich was a thing of the past. What lay ahead? It was common knowledge that it was another river. That, of course, was S.O.P. The summation of this feeling about rivers is to be found in the remark of one anonymous GI who gave birth to the epic remark: "Isn't there any dry land in this b . . . country?" That just about covered the situation of the Moselle which now lay across the new path of CT 304. One thing was sure. By this time they had had enough practice in crossing rivers. This one couldn't be much tougher than any of the rest; a little bit wider, perhaps, a little bit deeper; but so far as reaching the other side--, it was just another job.
This was the beginning of a new phase (if any part of an uninterrupted nightmare can be called a phase) but, beyond perhaps a night's sleep it did not have any breather. The activity and planning started out at 1010 with some spade work by the IPW team. "IPW reports Lieser River supposed to be new (enemy) defense line. Dug in positions from 403--528 to 415--530. Pillbox at 375--549 with zone of fire on road from woods 371--553. Built in positions 378--545. Pillboxes at 386--531 & 905--269 & 409-538. Zone of fire from road on Wengerohr (42--52). 2 pillboxes in area 402--548. Zone of fire on approaches Wittlich. Bridges across Mosel at Bernkastel and Wehlen, Zeltingen and Trittenheim and Niederemmel still open. Hq. 246th Inf. Div. might have gone across one of them. PW stated Volkssturm at Wittlich had been called up."

Thumbs

THE regimental sector here could be equally well described in either one of two ways. It was either a rude letter "S" with a trailing tail formed by the Moselle. Or it was a couple of thumbs, dovetailing each other, one of them sore and one of them awfully well and alive. The "S" was formed by the tortuous course of the river from Lvsnich and Erden down as far as Minheim. Only, the actual regimental sector did not begin as far to the north as Erden. It ran only so far as a spot about midway between \rzig and Zeltingen. The two thumbs were German and American and again were formed by the river; the one, from Lvsnich down to Wehlen gingerly prodding its way into American ribs; the other from Wehlen down to Kesten pointed sharply at the key town of Bernkastel. There were woods, hills, mined roads, and some ten odd towns to be cleared out before American flesh and bone could find the room it needed to wiggle around comfortably in their finger of the glove. That was the mission with which the day started.
During the progress from the Trier-Bitburg highway, across the Kyll and over the hills and down the draws preceding Wittlich the trails of the various regimental units had criss-crossed so frequently that it was almost impossible to tell which path had been followed by which. It is even difficult to a certain degree to tell "how who got where."

The best method is to pin-point the positions of the various battalions at this particular time and state that this is the point from which they made their fresh jump-off. We find the 2nd battalion still busy wiping up some towns to the northwest of Wittlich--Plein, Greimerath, Hasborn, Schladt and Gipperath--and then withdrawing back to Plein again. Blue battalion had by-passed the big town and had landed in the village of L|xem, a little to the northeast. White was in Wittlich itself.

Earned Rest

BY approximately mid-day of the 11th of March the 2nd battalion had completed the clearing out and occupation of the five towns in the northern sector outside of the thumb. On the same day they were relieved by elements of the 89th Division and they withdrew southwards to Plein and then still farther back into Wittlich itself for a rest as regimental reserve. That is to say, all of them did with the exception of E Company which (a few days later) became attached to the 3rd battalion and proceeded with them towards the Moselle. The remaining three companies remained for a while in Wittlich and then withdrew again further south to the town of Altrich until the 15th when they went into active support once more. It was a well merited rest for this battalion. They had more than deserved it. "The battalion withdrew . . . tired and battle-worn. Strong defensive positions were, posted that night and every guard was on the alert. Some men, cracking under the strain, just walked around in a daze; most of them didn't say much at all. The battalion had been going eleven straight days on practically no food and had fought long hard battles with an enemy determined to hold ground at all costs. But the bridge-head had been established and armor and supplies were pouring through . . . The men had done their job. All of them felt a new surge of self-confidence. Major General Schmidt, the Division Commander, on a visit to the front-lines had declared that the 2nd battalion was the best in the Division at that time. Morale jumped a hundred percent . . . The jeeps brought up mail and hot food . . . "
For the job ahead, the 3rd and the 1st battalions had been elected. Theirs was the exclusive copyright. Wiggle the finger around in the thumb of the glove and make comfortable room for it-that was the story.
The I & R platoon had preceded all elements into Wittlich. They had had the unusual luck--for once--of being able to choose their own billet and "look around" before too many other people had done the same thing. Besides the billet (and a small variety of other things which they conscientiously "liberated") one enterprising soul discovered a "modest" quantity of that local beverage innocently known as "Moselle wine." Quite simply, without undue ceremony, this developed into
an occasion. For the first time in a long while, the platoon was without visible important duty or mission to discharge. They too were scheduled for a short rest. What was more natural than to precede such a moment with a round or two of the cup that cheers? With them were Lt. Cloud, their platoon leader, Maj. Clark, Capt. Gindele, communications chief, Capt. Hill, the adjutant, and others--who kept dropping in casually.

Came the morning-and the end of the rest. The battalions were moving and the I & R squads would move with them. This was to be, as usual, front-line reporting; blow-by-blow story telling; candid camera tabloiding. It should prove to be interesting. So the jeeps were packed--spare rations, radios, wire and telephones, extra gas, the 30 cals. were mounted, loaded and manned--maps, handed out to the leaders and a thumb-nail sketch of what the mission was to be--and that was that.



SOAP AND WATER

New Mission



BLUE IP

L\XEM is a little town slightly to the northeast of Wittlich and derives most of its importance from the fact that it is only some two kilometers from the larger city. This day, its greatest significance was the fact that the 3rd battalion occupied it; that it was still, one could say, smoking, with the scars of artillery and battle fresh upon it and PWs being marched through it with their hands atop their heads and the village priest hurrying around the houses of his flock administering to some among them who were in extermis. Amidst these surroundings was the IP of the 3rd battalion's trek to the Moselle.

The action about to take place stretched from the 11th of March until the 19th. In some spots it was bitter--in others it was not too much so. At that point no one knew which way any single one of the various cats-on-the-griddle were going to jump. It might be this way or that--but everyone had to be ready to jump with it. The territory being explored now could not be considered completely virgin territory. But there was plenty about it still unknown. The big question was not so much what lay on this side of the river but how much still remained--and how close--on the other side. There could be no doubt trat some did remain. The shelling which greeted any movement or advance was ample proof of the fact.
This section of the Moselle Valley and the country immediately surrounding it seems to have been painstakingly carved out of the mountains by human hands. (This actually is what did happen. It becomes immediately obvious whenever one comes within sight of what are called the "sunny sides.") These are terraced to within an inch of their life and, gazing at them, it does not appear possible for anything but a goat to feel secure in working these vineyards. Scattered among them are hundreds of little shelters which normally were designed for the laborer to rest or to shield himself from whatever violence's of weather there might be, either of sun or of storm. Here too, in times of peace, were stacked the tools to which these slopes were broken from time immemorial. The hills are literally studded with these shacks. The river and its valleys winding throughout the country-side the way it does, one of these frequently looks straight across the Moselle into another on the opposing slope.


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