Rapier to the East . . .
Rapier to the East . . .
IT was Germany's eleventh
hour. The Russian juggernaut was pounding at the gates of Berlin, as the Americans battled for
Magdeburg, barely seventy miles
away. To the south, the Russians were fighting a bitter battle for Dresden and the
Elbe River, while General Patton's Third Army was straining supply lines to the breaking point in a dash from the west.
One more powerful thrust and the Reich would be neatly cut in half.
precisely, was the objective of the 6th Armored Division when it moved out toward the
Elbe on April 12th, with CT 304 giving close support as part of the spearhead
(other elements of the 76th following more slowly), sweeping the path for the
advance. For the regiment, which had fought through three hundred miles (500 Kilometers) of Nazi territory in forty-five
days, this was a new test of endurance in long movements without rest; of efficiency in maintaining supply lines already severely
stretched; of versatility in adapting itself to the tactics of blitzkrieg
Vive la Liberte!
ALONG roadsides and city streets, the liberated lined up to cheer the advancing
columns, which with every passing mile became more like a triumphal
procession. In Bad Sulza side-walks were thronged with British and French veterans eager to exchange a few words with their Allies as the convoy inched through city
streets. Many had been behind barbed wire since Dunkerque--for five misery-filled
years. GIs tossed them cigarettes and candy, as much of it as they had.
The British and French responded with wine and cognac and champagne taken from their
captors. For here, in this town, the SS had had an important headquarters and supply
depot. But now the roles were reversed and the one-time captives were now captors and were in possession--most importantly--of the cellars
thereof. The occasion was--to say the least--gala.
Joining in the rejoicing were thousands of slave
laborers--Poles, Jugoslavs, Dutch, Russians, Czechs, French, Norwegians--who were freed as the column pushed
ahead. Here the men of the regiment could see for themselves the first fruits of the victory they had been grinding out since the jump-off from
The town the Colonel had casually suggested was--at a glance--useless. It was rapidly being gutted by fire. The intent of the Colonel being perfectly clear, it was out of the question for the captain, to look for another town to the west. His only alternative was eastwards. Accordingly, he and his party proceeded onwards and at Kretzschau, practically within a stone's throw of the smoking city, ten kilometers closer than Osterfeld, the new CP was opened. Meanwhile, the troops rested. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
ALTHOUGH it was not all rest.
Even as the troops moved into town, prisoners were moving in also in the beginning of a flood of them which was to appear
endless. IPW was working overtime. The Security Platoon detached some of its men to help control the ever-crowing
cage. As fast as they could be screened and milked of all possible information they were shuttled back to the Division cage under guard of two jeeps and a detail of men from the I & R
platoon. (Thus, to their many other duties was added another which became one of their regular functions from this time on.)
Regimental CP was a beehive of
activity. The enemy was on the run. The regiment--all battalions--were in hot
chase. And so on through the night.
With two tanks in support, F Company deployed towards the area in an enveloping movement. Their "catch" was a dug - in camp--complete with barracks. The taking of this pocket, a slam-bang business while it lasted, bagged them ninety-five prisoners (including four women who might have been catalogued as German "Wacs"), ten 128 mm AAA guns, radar equipment and a huge searchlight. So back to the town--and more work for the IPW. Here was another prime example of the "sport" of spearheading with the armor and "clearing to road shoulders only." Well --"all's well that ends well."
NO sooner was the "Kretzschau pocket" cleaned up and PWs marched off (to the tender mercies of Sgts. Madausa and Mann) than a new form of excitement made its appearance.
This was the Luftwaffe, attacking with thirteen planes, circling around--coming in--circling off--and coming in again.
For a solid hour the sky was ribboned with tracer-fire, spangled with black puffs of flak from the guns of the 778th AAA.
It seemed as if all the surpressed venom of the men, secreted for the past week, erupted in one fell explosion with the appearance of "Jerry."
Every available and worthwhile weapon in the town was manned-by the man who were not there first; and there were at least a dozen men who rushed for each gun.
Those who were not at the trigger busied themselves with the chores of ammunition - or fast-changing a gun barrel as some of them burned out.
Other just stood and shook their fists at the sky and muttered.
"Zeitz was Tough!"
AN industrial city with a peacetime population of 40,000,
Zeitz was no pushover. A bend in the
Weisse Elster River embraced the city on three sides, forming a defense which dated from medieval days, when it was used as a moat before fortified walls.
High ground around the old church dominated the river and the green fields beyond.
Tentative probing by the armor had given ample warning that the city would be defended with every trick in the Nazi bag--from 88 mm AA guns to civilian snipers.
A hodgepodge of Wehrmacht troops held Zeitz, most of them from Volkssturm units and replacement battalions.
Panzerfaust men of the 2nd Air Force had been rushed in the day before. Deployed in and around the city were seven companies of NCO school enrollees.
to the East
. . . (continued)
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