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.
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."
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.
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!
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.
(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 . . . "
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
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
of Central Germany
. . . (continued)
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