Battle of Central Germany . . .



Battle of Central Germany . . .


Before the concentrated fury of the Allied attack, Nazi defenses throughout all of western Germany were crumbling. From Cologne to Frankfurt-on-Main, armored spearheads had pushed to the Rhine, hewing huge paths through the Moselle valley to the south and the Cologne Plain to the north, A great trans-Rhine offensive was being mounted.


"Bridge-Head" to Russians

ALONG the Moselle, where the 304th was driving across the river to coordinate with XXth Corps, thousands of trapped Nazis were trying to withdraw east and north of the river in an effort to reach the Rhine before escape became impossible. For the Americans, what remained in western Germany was a gigantic mopping-up operation. This the 304th was to leave to other units, by-passing the German pockets in a single jump to the Rhine. Arid this was in perfect harmony with what the men themselves had down inside of them--though rarely putting it into words. For, across the Rhine, there were not merely Germans. There were Russians as well. And even as early as this period there ran through the regiment a deep-seated, unspoken hope, an impelling desire that they--CT 304--might take off and, possibly, be the first to contact this strange, little understood ally. So inexplicable to the enemy who lay before them, it was the old competitive sports-complex of the Americans at work again. And yet, psychologically it was perhaps one of the strongest factors in the mad race of the days which followed. Perhaps, also, it explains in large measure why so frequently in those days CT 304 kept finding itself "out on a thumb."
On March 20th, the regiment withdrew to the north bank of the Moselle, leaving K Company as an outpost until relief should be provided by another unit. At Platten, the units assembled in preparation for a long, motorized movement.
It was the first day of spring, March 21st. The regimental convoy struck out at dawn over a circuitous route plotted carefully to flank German forces to the east. Following the northeasterly course of the Moselle, heading straight for Koblenz, the convoy crossed the river at Hatzenport, using the great pontoon bridge constructed by Third Army Engineers, then turned down along the Rhine River, almost as far south as it had gone north, to Dvrrebach, a village some twenty kilometers west of the river town of Bingen. To reach its destination, the convoy traveled nearly a full two hundred kilometers, skirting trapped Germans all along the way.

Springtime



CP INTO DVRREBACH

THERE were aspects of the journey which more resembled a Cook's Tour of Germany Beautiful than a tactical move through enemy country. It was a tourist's dream . . . terraced vineyards, mile after mile of them, clinging to the steep slopes of the Moselle . . . ancient Rhineland villages untouched by the depressing effects of American artillery . . . centuries-old castles looking down from their pinnacles on the smooth-flowing Moselle . . . hairpin-turn roads climbing high above the twisting woodland brooks . . . splendid forests of pine and fir . . . picture-book river towns fringing the Moselle's lazy bends.
The tempo was changing. And this was noticeable in many ways. There was the traveling with the armor which became more and more frequent until it was almost constant.

There was the "making with the trucks" instead of "making with the bloody stumps!" There was a difference in rations; 10-in-1s became more and more common. There were the distances covered in a single day. Conversely, there were, strewn all about, the evidences of how precipitate was the retreat of the enemy. And, for the historian, there is the fact that his source material becomes comparatively less and less. There was just not the time to do the recording that had previously been done. Even the diaries, which he has used so liberally thus far, tend to become slimmer and slimmer. The time to do anything except just travel--and travel fast--simply wasn't there!
For the men of the regiment, who had endured an eternity of trudging up and down death-filled valleys, dodging 88s and screaming meemies, sleeping in water-logged foxholes, this was, comparatively, a carefree vacation. But along the roadside, Hitler's proud war machine lay kaput, a grim reminder that the war was still very present, very real. In the scorched wake of General Patton's armor, were strewn charred remains of trucks, tanks, artillery pieces, airplanes, dumps of gasoline and supplies. Here was the visible symbol of German defeat west of the Rhine.
In the golden haze of late afternoon the convoy moved down the Rhine valley to the vicinity of Bingen and Stromberg. Relieving the 2nd Cavalry, the 304th was to stop at the Rhine for seven days, performing a two-way guarding mission. To its rear were 80,000 Nazi troops. These had been ordered to infiltrate in small groups across the river and reorganize for a last-ditch defense of the Reich. To the front, it had been thought, on the far bank of the river, lay the last real strength of the Wehrmacht--a great natural barrier where the life-and-death struggle for survival would come. The mission was two-fold: prevent enemy forces from escaping into the redoubt beyond the Rhine; defend the west bank of the river as allied bridgeheads widened and control to the east was established.
With the regimental CP centrally located at Dvrrebach, the battalions took up fronts of approximately eight kilometers in breadth. White battalion with its CP at Oberheimbach, and Blue battalion with its CP at Waldalgesheim, patrolled the river, while the Red battalion, located at Daxweiler, swept areas to the west for enemy personnel. And the regiment had now left the XIIth Corps, to enter the XIIIth.

Watch on the Rhine

HERE, the troops exchanged their foxholes of the Sauer and Pr|m for medieval castles and resort hotels overlooking the most romantic of all rivers. In this new-found luxury, they were nonetheless alert. It was immediately noted that the enemy had assembled quantities of barges and motorboats on the far bank of the river, presumably to rescue whatever pocketed troops were able to make their way to the river. These, the battalions knocked out quickly and efficiently with mortars. Heavy weapons companies operated motorized patrols up and down the Rhine valley. Woods were combed daily for any enemy personnel who might have filtered through the outposts of Red battalion. But the mouth of the bag was well sealed. An I Company outpost reported a skirmish with a four-man enemy group, consisting of three enlisted men and one officer, as they made for the river. Men of Company B spotted a group of twelve enemy troops who had performed the nigh-impossible feat of traveling from Wittlich to the Rhine--a hundred kilometers--with an astonishing amount of baggage. A raft carrying four of the men was knocked out and the remainder were captured. Other companies rounded up similar groups--two or three men trying to cross the river on an improvised raft, or even trying to swim. These were isolated incidents; few if any German troops ever made this river-crossing; and during the period PW cages opened their doors to 117 enlisted men and five officers.
Meanwhile, Cannon Company's and 302nd Field Artillery's 105s, as well as Anti-Tank Company's 57s were laying fire on German-held towns across the river; castle turrets made excellent OPs. The following quotation from the artillery observer's diary is interesting:
"(March 21-28) This had a double purpose. We were to prevent an enemy counter-attack and to prevent the Jerries from crossing to safety from the pocket on our side. Arrived at Oberdiebach and set up defenses that night along a 3000-yard front. I had an excellent OP in this position. It was an old castle at the top of a 300-foot hill overlooking the river. Was
here that we knocked out two Kraut AA guns and two anti-tank guns. Our outposts captured several patrols of German soldiers attempting to cross the Rhine from our side.




LAYING FIRE

(March 29-April 12) Departed Oberdiebach and moved north along the Rhine to Boppard, our mission being to guard the bridges along the river. Here we encountered the U.S. Navy and it was sure a good sight to see them right in there with the rest of us. Company was billeted in hotels . . . (April 3-9) The section again joined the company at Grossropperhausen. The missions now were to mop up the areas which had been by-passed by the armor and other divisions in front of us. On this mission we moved east more than eighty miles. On one occasion, one platoon, forming a motorized patrol, took three towns in one afternoon . . . "
During night river-crossings of the 87th and 89th Divisions, artillery lay down "noise barrages" to frustrate enemy attempts to discover the point of crossing.

Stretching the Sector

ON March 26th, a readjustment of regimental and division boundaries left 2nd battalion covering a front of more than twenty kilometers along the river, relieving the 3rd battalion on the regimental right as well as elements of the 417th Infantry on the left. Added to its present mission, the regiment was now given the task of protecting important railroad and highway bridges, tunnels and locomotives in the division sector. This action on the Rhine is reflected from the account of a heavy weapons company at this period: "During the division's stay on the Rhine, the second section of the mortar platoon, H Company, was attached to E Company in defensive positions. They lived in a castle with the guns set up behind. just before American troops entered the town of Lorch, directly across the river, the section of mortars fired over 600 rounds of all types of mortar ammunition into the town, setting more than half the town on fire. When the fire would die down a few more rounds would be thrown in and the blaze rekindled. Seeing the blaze from an observation plane, an artillery captain remarked that it would have taken five battalions of artillery to do the same amount of damage."
At the same time, the 1st battalion was alerted to move to Koblenz, with one platoon of Anti-Tank Company and one of Cannon, as a holding force to relieve elements of the 6th Cavalry. The battalion reached the bomb-leveled city on March 27th, but in a fast-moving situation, it remained barely long enough to feast on steaks in its luxury-hotel billets. The regiment was preparing for its own jump-off across the Rhine.
Meanwhile, K and L Companies had been attached to the 6th Cavalry Task-Force Fickett to become the first units of the 304th to cross the Rhine, the first to participate in the teaming of infantry with tanks which was later to characterize the 304th's spectacular drive through central Germany. (And this, incidentally, brought to a high peak the record of K Company of being the first elements of 3rd battalion to cross each succeeding river--the Sauer, the Pr|m, the Nims, the Kyll, the Lieser, the Moselle, and now, as a final climax, the Rhine.)

With the Tanks



TEAM

THE spearheading push of K and L Companies with Task-Force Fickett opens a new phase in the combat record of the regiment. It is the real starting point of the series of bold thrusts which sank the 304th deep into the interior of Germany toward advancing Red Army forces. The two companies left regimental control March 27th and joined the 6th U.S. Cavalry Group at Kleinborn, a town four kilometers outside of Koblenz. There, Company K was attached to the 28th Squadron as a motorized infantry team, while L Company joined Task-Force Townsend, a subdivision of the main task-force. A few hours later, they were on their way, crossing the Rhine at Boppard--molested, but hardly heeding, a moderate-to-heavy rain of mortar shells.

Across the river, the squadrons fanned out toward their separate objectives.
The 28th Squadron, with K Company, headed toward Bad Nauheim, onetime internment center for American newspapermen and diplomats caught in Germany, and now an important headquarters of the Nazi army. TF Townsend, with L Company, had as its objective the city of Giessen, vital communications and supply center.
Both columns operated in typical tank-infantry-team, dovetail fashion. Rushing through weakly defended towns with 75 mm guns blazing pointblank into buildings which harbored enemy resistance, halting where the going was tough while the doughfeet cleaned out trouble spots, they followed a design of mutual support. The infantry element provided security while tanks raced ahead; the armor covered the infantrymen when they took the initiative.
At Strinz-Trinitatis, for example, the leading elements of the 28th Squadron were halted by the flat trajectory fire of 88s and a 20 mm flak gun. Acting on order of the squadron commander, Lt. Abernethy, K Company commander, gave his dough's the action signal. There was no hesitation. The Orenhofen veterans swung from their 6 x 6s and marched off to attack. A fire fight ensued--brief but bitter. Then the men moved in with marching fire, surrounded the town, knocked out six enemy 88s and destroyed the flak gun. With a bag of 250 prisoners, the K-men matter-of-factly jumped on their trucks and the squadron was off again.
At Reichenbach, a half-track and a jeep of the column were knocked out before the squadron commander decided that riflemen were needed. An assortment of forty SS troopers on high ground beyond the town were manning a flak gun. Again Lt. Abernethy moved K Company into the attack. Two hours of bitter fighting brought the decision: every SS man was a "good" German, the flak gun kaputt. And the squadron moved on. March 30th the column rolled into Bad Nauheim, the first Allied troops to enter the city.


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