Notes for a History of the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop [Mechanized]

George E. Arnstein 2510 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20037-1904, 202-965-1664, e-mail:garnstein@calalum.org

Contents:

1. Background and Context - p.1

2. From the National Archives - p. 2

3. Cavalry with and without Horses - p.3

4. History Notes [1945] by Ed Illes - p.4

5. History notes [1945] by Harold Sweeting p.12

6. How the War Ended....Limbach - p. 16

 

 

1. Background and Context

Some time in 1945, after the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop was deactivated in Hof, Bavaria, I received a copy of the history of the 76th Infantry Division, but I no longer recall how I came into possession of the Notes which appear below. I tucked them into the back of the division history. At the bottom there was a hand printed note: "One copy per customer" and at the very end I wrote on my copy: "Compiled by Ed Illes."

Obviously written under adverse circumstances I was impressed with how good a job Ed had done, especially because I had tried my own hand and found the result so inadequate that I gave it up. One reason for my own dissatisfaction: I had nothing to say about actual combat and circled around it to avoid it. I focused on lack of sleep and showers.

What follows is a retyped, lightly edited version of Ed= s notes which are in all capital letters,hecto-graphed, probably on a borrowed typewriter, to which I have added some photographs from my 1945 files. These snapshots were taken by several members of the Troop, developed and printed by a German photography shop named Frunzke in Glauchau. It was short of chemicals and suitable paper, and some of these old pictures have now been scanned into my computer.

I would have liked to renew friendship with Ed but Edward J. Illes died in 1995; his widow, Joane C. Illes, continued as a member of our association; she lives [1996] at 13228 Mannen Way, Lakeside, California 92040.

 

We earned three battle stars: Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe.

 

I am grateful to Bill Hauger, who keeps looking for lost troopers and who found me a few weeks ago [1996]. Because I grew up in San Francisco and whence I went into the Army in 1943, he looked for me there; instead he found me half a continent away. I am also grateful to Harold Rowan for organizing the reunion in Peabody, Mass., in September 1996. I hope that the revival and republication of Ed= s hectographed typescript, more than half a century old, will revive pleasant memories and make a small contribution to the 1996 reunion of the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (mechanized).

In retyping Ed= s essay I realized that readers like my wife and others know little about the jargon, the equipment and organization of that old-fashioned unit known as a cavalry troop. Accord-ingly I have have added a few details, in part for the benefit of spouses and others who may not know that an M-8 is an armored car -- with wheels  is not a tank, or where some of the small places are located. Some of these I recalled; others I had to look up.

2. From the National Archives:

76th Cavalry Recon. Troop [Mechanized]

A couple of years ago I visited the depositary of the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, and looked up the records of the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop. The file is part of the much larger documentation for the 76th Infantry Division.

Here is a reminder of just how small a part we played in the tremendous effort of World War II. There are Special Studies which include a Chronology 1941-45, compiled by Mary H. Williams. Office of the Chief of Military History, Washington,1960, part of the series on the U.S. Army in World War II. The only mention I could find is page 487, 11 April 1945:

In U.S. Third Army area, XX Corps passes armor through infantry and drives quickly to the Saale [river.] During day= s advance, Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar and Allied prisoner compound in Bad Sulza area are overrun. Passing through 76th Div, 6th Armd Div drives East.... Mopping up to rear of armor, 76th Div reaches Buttstaedt area.

CP Locations: This is a mere listing, probably not complete of places where the 76 Recon Command Post was located. Various platoons of course stayed in different villages, and the 76th Div. HQ has a still different list. The list reads from West to East, from Luxembourg to Saxony during 1945:

 

26 Jan

76th committed to action

24 Feb

Luxembourg to Ferschweiler, Germany

1 Mar

CP at Idenheim

3 Mar

Eisenach

5 Mar

Crossed Kyll river. CP to Speicher. Speicher repulsed counterattack

7 Mar

Reconnoitered ca. Beilingen. CP to Herforst

10-13

Grosslittgen area reconn.

13-18

Reserve

18-21

Uerzig & Traben [-Trarbach on Moselle]

22-27 Mar

To Nastatten

31 Mar

CP to Seelenberg

1 Apr

CP at Seelenberg

2 Apr

Heftreich to Homberg to Holzhausen

4-8 Apr

CP at Albshausen, Rommerode, Grossalmerode

9 Apr

Frieda. CP at Soemmerda, Tromsdorf, Thierbach, Stein

10 Apr

Furthest Eastern penetration of all [Western Allies]

18 Apr

CP at Burgstedt

19-24

Jena. Law and order

25-30 Apr

Limbach

10 May

Limbach victory ceremony

11 May

Forward element, 3rd Platoon, for 69th TD Ban to [Koenigstein castle}

12-26 May

To Glauchau. Patrol [Soviet] sector lines.

12 June

To Werdau

29 June

To Saalfeld

1 July

To Hof [Bavaria]

31 August

76th Cav. Deactivated

A different list follows.

From Onaway 15 June 1945, p.11 there is a more elaborate listing of the locations of the Command Post of the 76th Recon Troop.

Fermes Weidig, Luxembourg

Idenheim

Welschbillig

Eisenach

Speicher

Binsfeld

Grosslittgen

Bombogen

Bengal

Salmrohr

Uerzig

Laudert

Holzhausen

Albshausen

Rommelrode

Grossalmerode

Frieda

Soemmerda

Tromsdorf

Thierbach

Stein

Burgstaedt

Jena

Limbach

3. Cavalry with and without Horses

Many of us went overseas with modern equipment, even though we had taken our basic training in the horse cavalry, incredible as this may sound today in 1996. In fact, it sounded a bit strange even in the early 1940's when I went through basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, learned how to ride and groom a horse, did my share of cleaning out stables, practiced Morse Code on a pack radio mounted on the horse behind us, threw a coil of wire over a branch to have an antenna for the clumsy radio, and had to enlist some other trooper to operate the hand crank which provided the necessary electricity.

We were highly mobile and our mission was not so much to fight, as to reconnoiter, to maintain liaison at the vulnerable point where two divisions adjoined each other, and similar matters. One example was the old trick in Western movies where the scout puts his hat on a stick and raises it slowly to see if anybody will shoot at it. We were the hat, loosely speaking.

We were cavalry, organized in a troop -- the comparable infantry unit was a company -- and several troops made up a squadron, not a battalion. We were troopers and some of us felt like ancient knights on a horse, holding a lance in our left hand, except that the lance was an antenna and it had a bulge in the middle which was the radio into which we plugged earphones to wear under our modern steel helmets.

When we went overseas we were part of the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop [Mechanized] -- and that word in brackets was of major import-ance. We were 149 men and six officers, if memory serves, attached to the 76th Infantry Division which had something like 12,000 or 14,000 men (none of whom were colored in those segregated days).

Much of our equipment had to be modified: The lead jeeps were fitted with a piece of angle-iron so as to cut wires which might be strung across the road to decap-itate us. Jeeps and armored cars had brackets welded to side and rear to accommodate supplies and equip-ment: Sleeping bags, gasoline cans, mines, C rations, ammunition, mines, and all of our worldly belongings. The original design had not allowed for all of this.

4. Ed Illes Look Back [1945]

[Brackets indicate my additions  ga]

The game of rumor, rumor, who has the best rumor, began as far back as Camp Miles Standish outside of Boston Port of Embarkation. Bets were being made about our destination even when we were still some 50 miles from camp. Once we arrived, it was only a question of hours before some of the mongers had us on the Queen Mary en route to France. But first we had a week of inspections and showdowns and fast passes into the nearest beer joint. Boston wasn= t quite the same as Chicago, and the women were like the weather, but a beer joint is a beer joint, and we managed. And then, too, we were leaving home and you could hardly say that we were in the mood to be happy about any town and its women.

The camp itself was a madhouse. So many things had to be done that people kept get-ting in each others way and as a result the situation became M-1, A-1 snafu. Nothing went right but everything that had to be done was done. We were shot in the arm several times; we were issued clothing and had some replaced. We labeled everything we owned, including the tent pins. We watched them get out of a boat in the middle of a windy lake without drowning them-selves. We marched to chow lines and managed to time it so that we never had to wait less than half an hour in order to eat. Ten days of this and we left.

Our boat was not the Queen Mary; it was the S. S. Richardson, a brand new job, and this was its maiden voyage. Maiden or not, for my part all boats rocked and so did this one. In a couple of very dull weeks, laced with fire drills and bunk fatigue and sea sickness, we made Southampton [on 21 Dec 1945]. From there a train took us to an unpronounceable town where we were in the middle of a very black night worrying ourselves into a frenzy about the prospects of having to sleep in an open field. Up a couple of hills, around fifty corners, and there were our billets.

We have since then been in much better places but these couldn= t have looked any better to us at that time. The edge didn= t come off our pleasure until we found out how bare and cold the houses were. The grates didn= t quite warm half of the rooms, and it was impossible to build a smokeless fire with the grade of coke that the British used. Only a couple of the several buildings had tubs that could be made to produce hot water. That, and hikes up and down the winding streets, and guard duty, and KP for the poor privates made it something just this side of utopia. Utopia wouldn= t fit anyway because nectar is the sort of thing that Utopians would probably drink. The English beer does not stack up well against nectar. The women, I might say, do. They are things of beauty and a joy forever and so on. Very pretty squash in England -- from a platonic viewpoint of course.

The town of Bournemoth had once been a resort town and was tidy little port on the Channel. When we were turned loose we covered it thoroughly looking for entertainment. The first place wasn= t good; the people weren= t as liberal and casual as we have always been. The second glance was much better. We learned how to talk to them and we found a dance hall and some shows, and located the beer pubs and soon the idle hours were less idle.

In spite of the fact that it was Christmas time, few of us could get the idea into our heads that the British had been fighting a long and exhausting war, and there was little time or money for festivity. Being away from home was enough to spoil the sentiment for us. As I recall from painful experience, even the kitchen duty on Christmas day wasn= t so bad. There was simple no feeling about the matter (which is normal for KP).

Mail helped but it was three weeks arriving. Censorship was beginning to get in our hair. We still felt a little painful about being personal with our people in front of a comparative stranger. Eventually this shyness wore off but in England we had trouble, and the people back home could no more tell what was really going on, than they could fly.

New Year= s was very quick. There was darned little liquor and few signs of the times hanging out where people could see them and remember the occasion. So there was no celebrating worth mentioning. Most of the men occupied themselves with making the mess sergeant angry by lifting provender from his kitchen stores. When a guy gets hungry late at night and room isn= t padlocked, the results are inevitable.

The absolute high spot was the pass list to London. The name itself had high magic in it and many were the students of biology who visited Piccadilly circus. The tower of London, St. James, all the ancient buildings and the history of London were given a treatment by the men and they enjoyed themselves. The present-day cost of living, I might add, is terrific. The good and the bad, added and subtracted, left a distinct general feeling that England was a rather fine experience. It had too many Englishmen in it for the taste of a few radicals but most of us were happy about the whole thing.

One very early and very cold morning in the first half of January we left for the seaport of Weymouth. It was cold as blazes, and the wind blew in and out of the jeeps like a door wide open in the house. We said good-by to a couple of charming Red Cross girls in the coffee and doughnut shack on the beach and loaded on the LCT= s [Landing Craft Tank]. What a life those sailors have! Hot and cold showers, good food, shore leaves, and a nice soft ship to ride in the Channel. That= s our Navy!

France. LeHavre was a shock. Few of us had seen much of the bombed out building in London, so we were surprised when we saw the complete devastation of the harbor and town. The snow was deep and ice was every-where. All we saw were shattered outlines of buildings against the white background of snow. People walked up and down the vacant streets and apparently lived under the huge piles of brick and stone where the building had been. This was a new sight for us and it seemed incredible that human life could exist under conditions like that.

The ride from the harbor was a cold one, and it got colder when we drove the M-8 [armored car] off the road into a field to put on chains. It took six hours to get them out of the deep snow and back onto the road. Then we drove on in the bitterest cold any of us had seen until -- wait a minute! It wasn= t until we got to Belgium a few days later that the men, [the old-timers] who had been up north [on maneuvers] to Watersmeet [Michi-gan] and Sidnaw and Iron Mountain, had to admit that this was colder. At first they were very stubborn about it. We poor troopers who had not been there and were freezing to death a corpuscle at a time and were admitting it, had to listen to those brave boys who had been there. "Cold," said these folks with a leer. "Why you should have been up in northern Michigan. Man, but it was cold up there." But I think they had to  admit they were cold after a couple of cases of trench foot showed up; it was a question of honor.

The roads we traveled were beautifully banked on the curves. This is an excellent thing in the summertime and with this help you can make many miles an hour if youre in a hurry. When it freezes and turns to ice it is not as good. Ask an M-8 driver or a half-track man what it feels like to catfoot into a curve ever so softly only to have it slide out from under you with everything going in three directions at the same time. With a trailer on the back end. Even the jeeps couldn= t stay on the curves when they were going slowly. A couple of stops were carelessly made on the curves. It was like watching a slow motion movie to see the jeeps slowly slide sideways down to the bottom of the curve. The wheels would slip and the back whip around until finally something took hold, and ever so slowly it would straighten out. A time or two it was a very bad idea to slam on the brakes. Few ballet dances can do the twirls which a jeep can on an icy road.

Tôtes [France, about 30 km S of Dieppe] was a pleasant surprise. Well, it was not all that pleasant but at least there was a roof, except for those who slept in one section of the house and had the roof burned from a bad stove upstairs. Again, the routine began of trying to create a smokeless fire. A few of the results weren= t too bad; others were more fire hazards, and pretty dangerous what with straw on the floor. Straw is not very tidy but it is better than a plain floor. In this place they weren= t even soft pine (if I may be so corny) and they were very bare and very hard.

That night the first guard was posted with encouraging comment from the First Sergeant that paratroopers had been reported in the vicinity. Two men walked their post with their hearts lumped in their throat and a death grip on the M-3s [machine pistols]. In retrospect I don= t believe that a paratrooper had been within miles of the town for months but the poor guy who first heard the thump of horses hoofs in the barn near the end of the guard post was in no condition to be told anything. He was scared.

Tôtes was our introduction to calvados [apple brandy] and coffee. A beautiful cough remedy! If you have tasted the stuff you know what is meant. If not, it might be described as rancid coffee and vinegar. Warmed.

Church service the next day was quiet and provincial. It was spoken in two languages. We couldn= t understand either of them but in spite of the extreme cold and the necessity of sitting on planks we were contented to listen and pray in the universal language of God.

Having had some experience with billets, we ceased bothering about where we were to sleep next. We ignored the cold ground, placidly reveled in the memory of warm nights inside. So our next stop was Soisssons [France, about 30 kilometers W and a bit N of Reims] in the biggest and most vacant field anybody ever saw. All of the special troops [signal company, ordnance, quartermaster, military police etc.] of the [76th Infantry] Division managed to get in the field and disperse and still leave room. The worst part of the situation was the wind. It began at some far corner at a breakneck pace. By the time it got to us it was really moving. We put our tents against the side of the vehicles as close as we could get to fox holes that had been dug and went to chow. Salmon and spinach. After we spread out looking for straw, or just looking at the French who were busily looking at us. There wasn= t much for them or for us to see so we went to bed. The next morning was miserable. Another move. We hadn= t been warm since we left the boat. It was getting to be a foul war and we hadn= t seen any of it.

The next stop was Selles and it had a roof. The mansion in which we were lodged was a pretty nice place. It had been owned by some rich widow who had moved to Paris.

Sleeping ten in a room has its objections but it could have been worse. The fireplaces didn= t

smoke. There were marble banisters and electric lights. We wrote some letters and relaxed, quite pleased with the world.

The war was getting nearer and we crossed into Belgium the next day. The road cut through the heart of the Ardennes forest in what must have been the most beautiful part. The sight of the tremendous arch of fir trees crusted with white, growing right to the edge of the road, and the narrow trail the road made between them, with only a small glimpse of a pale blue sky above where the trees didn= t quite meet, was austere and magnificent beyond description. The only marks of man were the splintered trees and the occasional fallen tree at the side of the road. Near Bastogne we saw bulldozers still clearing the road. A section [of the Troop] got lost that night and the men found themselves near artillery. The war was getting nearer.

That billet was another country house. [This almost certainly was St. Hubert, Belgium.] It had been used by the Germans and was pretty well messed up. A crew checked for mines and booby traps and reported "Cleared," I think. But nobody got hurt and we forgot about it. The next day we were pretty angry indeed. The entire house had to be scrubbed down so the general could set up a CP [Command Post]. Being what we are, we have small respect for rank. The job of cutting wood and cleaning entrails out of a cellar isn= t the best job we ever had either; but it was done. We scraped the ice from the steps, and we took it when the good colonel came and bawled us out for doing a lousy job. The Army!

We moved a short distance to Champlon into an ex-resort hotel. This had been in use less than a week before and was even worse than the country house. We cleaned it out and moved in and tried to make non-smoking stoves. The cleaning was all right but the stoves weren= t. One room had five stoves before a fairly satisfactory arrangement was worked out. The answer was an old oil barrel. The drawback-- there always is a drawback -- was the size of the thing; about one third of the room was oil barrel. While we marked time here, the division artillery went into action. We listened to the news [thanks to the powerful radios in the armored cars] and worked over our vehicles. We wrote letters and read pocket books, and went around asking everyone if he knew any good rumors. Rumors were plentiful, and inaccurate. The cooks too were pretty well exhausted by then.

It so happened that the kitchen was directly in front of the main door downstairs in the very center of the building. Members of the troop took this to mean that it was also an information booth like the one in a railroad station. That didn= t appeal to the cooks at all, be-cause it is difficult to cook and answer the same silly questions over and over again. Especially when you don= t know the answers.

One day for the sake of variety some of the men went deer hunting [in the Ardennes forest]. A couple of small deer were shot and cleaned and hung in the cellar ready for the next day= s chow. The next day we moved to [the Grand-duchy of] Luxembourg. We took it in two jumps. Morsch came first; we slept on the main ballroom floor in neat and orderly rows. Some of the luckier men had rooms upstairs. Some of the less lucky came in late and had rooms upstairs, without beds. One little man slept in a chest of drawers and another in a sink. This can be proved by affidavit.

One more jump and we sat down in Luxembourg near the Sauer River [also known as the Sûre]. Each platoon was located in a separate tiny village near the CP [which was located at Fermes Weidig, a mere cluster of farms; other locations were Eschweiler and Beidweiler]. That sounds odd but in Luxembourg everything is done in miniature, and a village could just barely support and make room for a platoon. The towns are all very tiny and set only a little more than a mile apart in most cases. They are in hollows between the many small hills that mark all of the province. Here more than anywhere else we found a quaint charm about the countryside, a feeling of peace and contentment and warm pastoral beauty. It was a land made for fairy tales.

It got pretty dull even in fairyland before the month [of February 1945] was over. The first mission there, however, was anything but that. A group of men were awakened in the middle of the night and sent out like a bunch of little Eva= s into a snowstorm to guard roads into and out of the Division area. The snow was so thick we couldn= t have warned anybody if trouble had occurred. Travel was impossible on the roads. The job lasted three days until some-body realized the folly of it all and the mission was canceled.

For a day or two nothing happened and then patrols began. We started looking for paratroopers. The idea was that a small patrol had to be on the road all of the time on the alert for enemy from the sky. So, obediently enough, we rode back and fourth, in and out of the tiny little villages, past the manure piles in front and around the shelled out houses looking for trouble. In addition we listed at night at several different listening posts, we, who couldn= t separate a Piper Cub from a B-29 [heavy bomber]. I can personally recall several arguments about the sounds of motors and whether they were going East and West or South to North, or up and down.

Except for minor troubles which we encountered on the patrols, like flat tires and rainy weather, and the trouble we had on the listening post, with getting to sleep on the hard floors and the getting out of the sack once we were asleep, there was little to plague our carefree days. We argued with each other. We cleaned our vehicles and weapons and ate and slept and worried a little bit about the war.

Near the end of the month we began to send patrols out to positions on the [Sauer] river. Some were scouting, some were observation posts, and one or two odd balls went out expressly to draw [enemy] fire -- which they did. Nobody got hurt except a few souls who suffered from nervous tension.

The first week in February we were alerted for a move across the Siegfried Line [the heavily fortified German defensive line overlooking the Sauer river]. The doughs [infantry] were pushing a bridge over the river and we were scheduled to follow right behind. Once across it was to be our mission to rush out to the flanks and guard them from possible attack, and further to plug a big hole between our division and another. The picture of us ducking in and out of pill boxes, and M-8s stuck on the side of a hill while we protected flanks and plugged gaps between Divisions was almost too much. We were such a little troop. Fortunately nothing came of the mammoth plans. Unfortunately the doughs were having trouble with their bridge and we could= t move until a good successful bridgehead had been estab-lished. Finally, near the end of the month we left our very soft establish-ments and went to work.

Although most of the division had been very seriously occupied with the war for some time, it wasn= t until we actually made the crossing of the Siegfried line that it came close enough for any of us to reach out and touch. From then on it was a very deadly business. We learned a great many things quickly in the next two months. We learned them the hard way. None of it was or is in books. Actually it is pretty impossible to write down all of the things that took place and how they happened. The stories that can be told are in the millions. Like the one about the sergeant who walked across a stream on stepping stones and found out after he walked across that the stones were teller mines. Or the man who cheered some ME-109s [German Messerschmidt fighter planes] mistakenly until they began to shoot at him.

There are others that are funny and serious and miraculous but when you tell them it sounds as if the sole purpose was to pass out Bronze Stars and that isn= t the purpose at all. The difficulty is that so many of the things which must be done just to remain alive to keep a friend alive are brave things and require guts and a display of bravery. If I tell one story like this I must tell them all. If any heroes are to be identified they must all be. Since this cannot be done and done properly, it won= t be done at all. It you want to hear a hero= s story, ask the man who gave you this book. He knows several. Meanwhile I will stick to the facts and tell you how we managed with the simple things like eating and sleeping. These were the two most important things beyond the persistent need for staying alive. What was on the menu and where do we sleep were questions that some guy was always asking.

For a day or two after the crossing the cooks were right with us and the guys got answers, but pretty soon they went off somewhere and nothing more was heard from them until they appeared one day in Limbach [Saxony.] It wasn= t their fault. The three platoons spread almost at once on individual missions and it was impossible to get warm food out to them.

The men learned to take care of themselves. The most obvious way was to open a can of rations and eat it. An enlargement of this basic ideas was to warm the ration first. For amateurs this was just the thing but after a week of it, the menu became monotonous. Those with a flair for that sort of endeavor began to take notice of cellars. There are cellars in all of the houses in Germany. In 99 percent of them we found canned fruits and vegetables and jams. That helped the menu immeasurably. And the occasional bottle of wine wasn= t bad. The jeeps and M-8s soon took on a look like a peddler= s cart. It seemed so foolish to toss away a half empty bottle of jam when it could be stuffed into a box which was stuffed on the end of a jeep or M-8. The boxes hung on the sides of the jeeps and the fantails of the cars. Coffee bags of Nescafé got to be as familiar as exhaust pipes. Even when time doesn= t allow a meal, a man can take out his little mountain stove and bang out a cup of hot coffee in five minutes, and it helps. From that point on the stoves took a terrible beating and the owner got to know them like their own flesh and blood. Each had its own little peculiarities and the owner was the only man who knew them all.

Then there was the subject of eggs. If it hadn= t been for the chickens of Germany there were many times when the troop would have gone hungry. More often, that is. Every stop was a good signal, from a ten-minute up to an over-night stop. Every available man would pile out of his jeep and scour the barnyards. It got to a point where some of the men would stand by the nest until the psychological moment and catch the egg before it touched the straw. That is probably rumor. I have never seen it myself but that= s the way the story goes. Salt was easy to get, a bit easier than sugar, and with it eating was cinch. We never were able to have shirred eggs or anything of the sort; but scrambled and fried and boiled, hard and soft, were well within our limits and we had them as often as we could find chickens.

The new type C= s [C rations in cans] helped vary the standard of living with the addition of cereal and jam and several variations on the basic dinner theme. Ham and lima beans, and chicken with vegetables, and frankfurters and beans were a few of the changes made. In time the men became very particular about the whole thing and refused outright to eat the old-style hash and stew. Not that anyone could blame them because they were pretty bad.

The choke point for all of the business of eating was in the preparation of the meal. Or perhaps not just the prepara-tion but the mess that resulted. It was awful! We could move into a spotless kitchen and within twenty minutes have it littered to the ceiling with empty tin cans, biscuit crumbs, papers, sugar, dirty dishes and sundry other items. If we had planned devastation it could hardly have been worse. Even the Germans= plates were at our mercy because using theirs saved wear and tear and washing of our own mess gear. Usually we took off too fast to pull KP on the dishes, so we left them. It was annoying to line up all of the ingredients for a meal, and then to discover somebody had the stove in use.

At first every vehicle had a [small mountain] stove but that didn= t last long; the stoves which were not lost thus had to work overtime. Otherwise cooking was nearly painless. We worried some about burning until we learned that nothing will burn if you add a little water and stir like hell.

Besides eating, the only other major concern was sleeping. Occasionally there was no successful answer. Fox holes are an example of an unsuccessful answer but in all of my personal reminiscences, I can recall only three of them. Others that qualify on the same grounds are the side of a railroad bed, a tunnel, or the side of a road. The back of an M-8 or a jeep or a church floor are just as bad. These things I can vouch for from experience. The best way to sleep and to sleep well was to move into a town, any town, and boot a few Germans out of the house and move in. The technique involved was extremely simple and is made simpler if it is remembered that raus in German is the same as the English out.

By this method several of the men who are fleet of foot can sleep on mattressed beds, occasionally with sheets, and those less fleet can have a nice soft stretch of floor beside the bed. The tactics vary as to getting into the house first after it is formally declared clear. The most successful at the game, that is those who sleep on beds most often, had to do a slight amount of hedging. Everyone was eager. Standing in doorways and dismounting first, and like methods were frowned upon by ethical troopers but it seemed to be the only sure way. Eventually lots were drawn but it wasn= t nearly as sporting as knocking down a buddy in the doorway. There was not the same zest to it.

Once inside the door it was mostly luck that determined whether or not you got a bed. You could not very well look into each room and then make up your mind which had the most appeal or the softest mattress. By the time you reached the last room, the others were all accounted for. A great deal of foresight had to be used and it was a moment for fast decisions. Many, many times we went through this involved process of getting bedded down and fed, only to discover that we had a mission and had to move. The un-fortunate owners would get all of their stuff out, we would get all of ours in and laid out for the night, and a messenger would show up with new orders. Usually we never saw the place again.

A curious thing about German houses is the dearth of plumbing, and the resultant odor in the hallways near the seat with the hole in it. We got used to it in time. We never did get used to the lack of bathtubs. And we could never figure out how the people stayed as clean as they did without tubs. When we found a tub it was a field day for us. Most of the boilers had to have a small wood fire lit beneath them, and it had to be watched for about four hours, and babied along until definite results showed. From then on it was easy. A bath with hot water in it: Luxury, no helmet, no wash rag. Rub down. Lovely. It seemed too bad that a change of clothing couldn= t go with these baths. We wore a single set of OD= s [Olive Drab wool uniforms] for a month at a stretch and let it go at that. There wasn= t any problem about what we had to put on in the morning anyway. The civilians couldn= t say that.

Only rarely did the entire troop get together as a unit and stayed back for a rest. The rest was more than likely in the form of cleaning of vehicles and weapons and perhaps the luxury of sleeping until 8:30. This was the results of having a good First Sergeant [Howard McDowell, since deceased]. Ours was good, as first sergeants go. He was most attentive to his duty and that meant we were under his thumb most of the time. He knew hours ahead of us what we were going to do and where and when we were going to do it. It makes for a good army, I suppose. It was the First Serge-ant who arranged showers at the rest periods. A leisurely drive of ten or fifteen miles and there the tents would be beside some lazy stream.

One hour or so later, and we would have five minutes or seven minutes of pleasure under the hot flood provided by QM [the quarter-master company]. Another leisurely return drive over a dusty road in the open 6x6 [large truck with power in all six wheels] and we would be ready for another shower. We did get changes of clothing however. Here more than ever we discovered how universal and adaptable we were becoming. Somehow or other we had melted into three groups of people: large, medium, or small. OD pants, shirt, socks, anything we wore: large, medium or small. They fit too, with a little extra stuffing inside the waistband. But then it was cold most of the time, and the more covering the better. So who was to complain.... It became a maxim that as soon as the shower point was located, and we had a shower, we were scheduled to get the hell out of there. It happened too often to be coincidence. Or was it only that some of the men needed an excuse and wanted to stay. It got to be a kind of habit, this staying dirty; you hated to break it.

Besides these rests -- there were two of them -- we took time out from the war for other things. Just before the war ended [and after we had met the Soviet Army east of Limbach in Saxony] we spent some time in Jena [in what later became the Soviet Zone] for example. Now there is a town of memories, some good, a few indifferent. But rather than attempt the individual stories I= ll gloss over the outline and let somebody fill in for me personally. We had to run the city for about a week and become its civil government. Our officers were the administration; we were the function-aries in charge of guarding Displaced Persons camps. It was mar-velous: no schedule, no training, no non-coms [non-commissioned officers] to issue orders. Wonderful, idle days listening to the pleasant chatter of the Russians and the Poles and the others. Idle days of contemplating the reasons a ban was placed on fraternizing. And there was plenty of material for contemplation. If your own camp wasn= t good enough there was a guy you know who was in charge of another camp where the contemplating was better. Looking never cost a man a dime. The percentage of popeyes in the troop grew by leaps and bounds. It is no secret that the foreign wenches are well hammered together and if we like anything about a female, it is that she be well hammered together. A lovely place, Jena. [April 19-24, 1945].

So that is the way it was. Coal cellars one day, castles and mansions on the next. Cow paths and open fields to ride on. Weeks without baths and then our individual rooms in a hotel. Screeming Meemies [German rockets] and fraeuleins with soft voices. Beer like tiger sweat and champagne like nectar. Wines and liquors and rubble and filth in the streets and blue skies and vast distances of farm lands.

Memories are peculiar things. When you look back on an experience like this it seems as if only pleasant things happened. It isn= t possible to recall just how it felt the first time you were scared. There isn= t any emotion to a memory. Except, perhaps, when you remember how Irish looked the day she came to the farewell party the troop had at the hotel. And then you imagine how she must have looked and felt the day she found he was dead and you thank God she couldn= t see the black column of smoke the armored car made as it burned. And you wonder if it wouldn= t be a pretty good trade to wipe the pleasure from your life so the men who died could be around today. There was a lot to see and a lot to enjoy. Was it worth it...

 

5. Harold Sweetings Look Back as of 23 May 1945  76 Recon.

Right after the end of censorship, Harold, who was part of HQ platoon, wrote home with a view of capturing his experience which was a bit different from the 76th Cavalry ReconnaissanceTroop (mechanized) because he was liaison with 76 Division. For example he crossed the Rhine ahead of our troop, as shown in the adjacent photo from Harolds files.

Here is a lightly edited, retyped copy of his letter to his family, from Glauchau (Saxony) where we were billeted on a kind of estate which had been a HitlerYouth leadership training center.

bout the only thing we are not supposed to write about is any movement concerning the CBI [China Burma India Theater of operations against Japan] but as we dont know anything, its awfully hard to give away any secrets

Im going to try to give you some sort of description of our travels since I landed over here. As you know, I cam six days ahead of the troop. We left Bournemouth, England, at 7 am on the 5th of January and arrived at Portland at 12:30 where we were given warmed up C [canned] rations. Just before we went on board the LST [Landing Ship Tank] at 6 pm the Red Cross gave us coffee and dough nuts. We sailed at 3:45 pm [sic  that means I, the typist, discern the problem but wont change anything] and dropped anchor at 3:45 am in the outer harbor of LeHavre. It was an awful smooth trip but when we moved from the outer to the inner harbor the ship stood almost on end.

At 3:30 we started for a place called Limsey which was where Div. HQ was to be located. We arrived there at 5:30 and my quarters were a room with six other GIs and no windows and colder than cold but the next night some GIs mov3ed out of the next room and as they had a fireplace yours truly moved in.

We stayed five days there and then moved in with the Medics at Totes, ten miles away..

In the meantime we drove al over the countryside looking for billets. Originally we were assigned two large fields but then it turned real cold and snowed so we finally found a chateau about 800 yards outside Totes, big enough for the Troop. After that we had to draw straws [as to whom] to put on the floors and then await arrival of the Troop.

The night of the 13th [of Jan] we were told they were at LeHavre but no one knew when they were coming ashore so we were told to just wait. That evening about 8:30 a messenger came out to tell us the Troop was on its way and for us to meet them at Yerville, about half way between Limsey and Totes. We got ready and loaded all of our equipment on our jeep and started out to meet the Troop. Our lights had gone out on the jeep so we were driving with none at all. We had gone only about four miles when part of the Troop passed us before we recognized them.

Lt. Harrison, the officer I was with, told me to turn around and chase them so they wouldnt go past the chateau. We started out but after looking at the headlights of all the other vehicles, it was hard to see. To make along story short, we, for one reason or another, didnt make a left hand turn and took out five reinforced concrete posts, tipped right upside down, finally coming to rest on the top with all wheels in the air.

The jeep was kaput and we got a new one for it. Neither of us got so much as a scratch or a bruise. I have three shots of the hole in the fence, on another lads camera; I hope they come out good, I could have told you about this a long time ago, but thought it would sound better after it cooled off.

On Jan 16 we moved out and spent the night on the frozen ground at Soissons and we nearly froze. The night of the 17th found us in a beautiful home in Selles. There was nothing there but the building, but there were fireplaces so we were war. It was here that we "loaded for bear" with all of our ammunition, miners, grenades etc. We had, of course, ammunition for our individual weapons when we left England. Our next stop was Champlon, Belgium, and another large chateau. This place was filthy but we only stayed one night and then moved, about four miles away, to Bacon, Belgium. This time we moved into a 60 room hotel and we thought the last one was filthy. A mixture of enemy and GI equipment was allover the place and every four feet someone was caught short. In the yard was an American light tank with a bazooka hole in its rear. This was in the heart of the Bulge. It took us a day to clean up the place and then we stayed only three days Our next stop was one night in a real hotel at Marche, Luxembourg.with foot thick mattresses

The next day we went through the city of Luxembourg and to a place called [Fermes] Weidig. We arrived there on 25 Jan. Here I slept in the attic with 18 others [I was one of the 18  ga] but we had a stove and it was nice and warm and the people were real friendly and clean. Oh my, every day the steps were scrubbed down on their hands and knees. They also made us cakes, pies, and every night we had a pail of cold milk or a little nip.

[Comment: We had orders not to drink the local milk which was plentiful because our hosts could not get it to market. We explained about the hazards of possible TB and got the reply: "What are you worried about? The German vets inspected our cattle only a couple of weeks ago."  Since our hosts also baked their own bread, I talked our cooks out of some flour. Instead of baking it separately, our hosts (M & Mme Kinnen, brother and sister, his name was Victor) blended our white with their dark. When our Troop Commander saw and sampled the result, he looked puzzled, then perked up and allowed how it was nice and chewey.  We "paid" for the bread with some chocolate bars. Our hosts had saved some of the white flour, turned some of the chocolate into frosting, and this explains Harolds reference, above, to "cakes and pies." As for the "little nip," some of us were invited into the cellar to sample the home-distilled (legal) schnapps. ga]

While the Troop was here it patrolled roads and operated observaton posts where they could watch Jerry [as described in the section on National Archives.] Here two of the men got frostbite and were hospitalized. Both got the Purple Heart.

At this time Div. HQ was at Junglinster, about three miles away. The liaison section moved there about Feb 4 but only stayed about four days. They then hooked up a telephone, so we moved back to Weidig. On14 Feb the liaison section joined Div HQ which had moved to Bech, about five miles from the German border at Echternach. Here we were in the attic of a home, with lots of straw. We had to use two ladders to reach the attic.

One day we had a visit by six "birds" [the context suggests enemy planes] so we had to move our M8 [armored car] to a better location. They moved us down the street into a small room where I did all the cooking. While at Bech, Dick [John Dick, Harolds driver] and I made two trips to Echternach and got our stove. They had been shelling the town before and after we were in it. Later we found out that the place where we had parked the jeep was all covered with rubble from a direct hit by an 88 [mm German gun.] It was while we were at Bech that the 417 Infantry [Regiment of the 76th Div] made the historic [Sauer alias Sure] river crossing at Echternach.

On 24 Feb Div HQ moved across the [Sauer] river and turned left to a town called Weilerbach. Here we slept in the cellar but on nice soft mattresses we carried from the upper floors. The 25th found us in Ferschweiler in one small room. On the 26th we moved across another river into Holsthum into a house where one side was still burning.

The following day we hit Wolsfeld, again it took a ladder to reach our abode. on the 28th we moved into a field, only for one night. We put up a leanto using a tarpaulin from our M8.  The first of March found us at Niederweis [about 12 km SSW of Bitburg] where we used the milk house and it wasnt too bad. We stayed here for four days. - The 5th found us in Sulm on the top floor of a school house. We stayed 3 days and the 8th found us in Speicher [SE of Bitburg.]

.

[Background: Harold does not mention the Rhine crossing  his jeep shown above  nor the shift northward  elements of our troop had entered Wiesbaden nr. Frankfurt  our transfer of the 76th Division from Third army to First Army, from the Frankfurt area toward Kassel. It marked the start of a new, final drive eastward until we met the Red Army near Chemnitz.  ga]

On the 4th we moved to Rohrenfurth, the 6th to Laudenbach [probably Lauterbach, roughly half-way between Frankfurt and Kassel] the 8th to Eschwege and the 9th to Langensalza. [20 km N of Gotha] where we had our first air attack. It was here that a bomb caused a Div. officer to lose a leg

[Context: Harold was with Div. HQ while the Recon Troop was in different locations, varying even by platoon. About this time there were two memorable events: We were issued bazookas, a shoulder-fired missile. We also encountered German jet airplanes, something new and unexpected.- ga]

The 10th found us in Dallstadt, the 12th in Buttelstedt [probably Buttstaedt between Soemmerda and Apolda], and on the 13th we made two moves. First to Molau [20 km S of Naumburg] from 1;00 to 5:00 and then on to Holsteitz. It was just outside this town that a liaison officer was killed. He was ambushed on the very road that [John] Dick and myself came over about two hours before.

The 15th found us in Rositz where we were on a railroad line in a small house. We had a big room about 6 by 6 for five of us. The 16th found us in Weiderau, the 18th in Burgstadt On the 24th we moved to Limbach where we waited for the end. It was here where the flag went up. [Today Limbach-Oberfrohna, a dozen km W of Chemnitz. Here Harold rejoined the 76 Recon Troop.]

We are now at Glauchau and I guess you are familiar with things here [presumably based on an earlier letter]

We had six men killed and about 25 or 35 wounded, some seriously. Remember Verb Rusch? .Well he lost a leg below the knee from a mine. Four men were sleeping in a barn when a larger shell hit, killing two and injuring the others. The other four were trapped in the M8 when they were hit and set afire.  Sgt Whitton lost part of his arch when his driver and trasdio operator were killed.

Thats enough of the gruesome details. [Harold [Sweeting, died 2002 in Florida. He left many of his military souvenirs to Bob Geberth who in turn lent this account to me.  ga ]

4. How the War Ended for 76 Rcn

By April 16, 1945, the 76th U.S. Infantry Division had advanced eastward and established two beachheads across the Mulde river. On April 21 operations were reduced because of the reported proximity of the Soviet Army. A day earlier, April 20, artillery of the 76th had fired on Chemnitz. The end was in sight.

The following is an excerpt from We Ripened Fast, the unofficial History of the 76th Infantry Division, about 250 pages, pubished in Germany in 1946:

The downtown square at Limbach, Germany.... In the center of the square there was the tall white flag pole where, not many months before, the nazi flag had flown.... Today, May 9 [1945], there were no nazis -- they had mysteriously vanished with their flag. Only "good" German people, "victims of the nazi reign" were left to witness the event that was soon to take place.

Do wn the old cobblestone street came the 76th [Infantry Division] band; the martial music filled the air..., bathed the scene in Americana. Close behind in pressed OD's, brass shining in the midmorning sun, marched the men of the ONAWAY in the easy-swinging step that marked the Yank the world over.

The "Limbach Parade" below is a retyping of my own notes written in 1945 when I was 20 years old and recalled the end of hostilities. [Material in brackets was added today, 1966, for clarification or elaboration.] Limbach today is Limbach-Oberfrohna, about 12 km West of Chemnitz which was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt for half a century under the so-called German Democratic Republic which we knew as the Soviet Zone. In May 1945 the Soviet Zone extended much further west. We, the 76th, were further East than any other American troops and the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (about 160 men), because we were highly mobile, were the last American troops to withdraw from that part of the Soviet Zone relinquished by us. (I have since been updated: Another small U.S component did not get "the word" to withdraw, thus, by mistake, left even after us.)

Limbach Parade

The surrender of Germany didn't exactly come as a surprise, and while a few hardy characters had enough foresight to save a bottle of something or other, the event did not cause very much excitement. Bob Geberth, Wilbur Zielke, [Jim] Green, [Bill] Engert [from Shaker Heights] and [George] Arnstein [from San Francisco] were occupying the luxurious rooms of Frau Schulze in Limbach [at Anna Esche Strasse 12, if I recall correctly some 50 years later], but they couldn't wait until the official cessation of hostilities. Before nightfall of May 8, 1945 they had smashed their glasses against the wall, swept up the remains, and had gone for a walk to get some much needed fresh air.

Other troopers [of the 76th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, mechanized, went to the nearby [renamed] Apollo theater, wrote letters, rehashed incidents of the war and most of all they wondered what was going to happen next.

May 9 was a gloriously sunny day and the brass instruments of the band seemed to reflect some of the pride of the men marching to the main square [of Limbach]. The 76th Infantry Division Band, the Reconnaissance Troop, and the Defense Platoon of the Headquarters Company had the honor of representing the entire 76th Infantry Division when the American flag was raised over conquered territory. After a short address by Maj.Gen. William R. Schmidt , who commanded the 76th, the men proudly presented arms, and the color went up to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. After the band played the national anthems of our British and Russian allies, the Troop marched back to the C[ommand] P[ost] to [lower] their own flag to half-mast in honor of the late commander in chief [President Roosevelt]. The entire ceremony was short and impressive to the many civilian spectators as well as the soldiers.

What I recall clearly were the crowds waiting for the border crossing, i.e. the line of demarcation between the Soviet Army and the U.S. Army, at Siegmar which is just west of Chemnitz. Some of them, headed west, were Germans and ethnic Germans seeking to escape the Soviet Army about which there were fearful rumors, not unreasonable when we recall what the Germans had done to the Poles and Russians. Others were forced laborers, also known as DPs [Displaced Persons], headed east to return to their former homes. What both populations had in common was the use of simple carts for transport, occasionally enhanced by a horse or oxen, the reliance on bicycles, and the overall dislocation and disorientation. There were cars but no fuel.

There were other memorable events during this period immediately after the end of hostilities. One was the expedition deep into the Soviet zone to Fortress Koenigstein, a forbidding old hilltop castle which had been converted into a prison for Allied generals.

76th Recon was part of special Task Force 76, assembled for its mobility, which rolled through Dresden to the fortress and collected a clutch of French and Dutch generals and others who had been prisoners of war. It was a highly emotional experience for the Allied prisoners who had been liberated by the Soviet Army and were now headed westward and home under American auspices. The generals, in their momentary euphoria and enthusiasm, promised their liberators all kinds of medals and honors which to my knowledge were never awarded, at least not to the troops who did the heavy hauling.

Fortress Koenigstein, by coincidence, is a well known, large and somber painting by Bernardo Bellotto, owned by the National Gallery of Art which now displays it in its usual spot in Washington, DC.

Dresden, although we did not realize it at the time, had been very heavily bombed and then wracked by a firestorm. There are charges even today that the bombing was unnecessary, that Dresden had no military significance even though it was a major railway junction, a view we were not likely to share as we advanced eastward. Task Force 76 drove through Dresden where it encountered and collected four English prisoners of war who claimed: "There are only four undamaged buildings left in all of Dresden.." To which the Americans added: We saw nothing to contradict this.

Also worth mentioning is the Gold Convoy. The Germans had accumulated a hoard of gold which we now were asked to escort to Supreme Headquarters [SHAEF] in Frankfurt.

We, serving in occupied territory, took seriously the order always to carry a weapon, as befits an army of occupation. But when the escorts for the gold arrived in Frankfurt there were challenges by the Military Police who did not know what to make of armed troopers without neckties, and without the newly issued Eisenhower jackets. The escort had difficulty getting fed in the local army mess, and for weeks told stories about effete rear echelon types.

Other memories were our own preparations, which started almost immediately, to start training for the presumed assignment in the Far East to fight the Japanese. We refurbished our equipment and weapons, started marching through Limbach and other towns in Saxony and Thuringia where we were stationed during our slow withdrawal into the American Zone. The good part was that it was spring time, with lots of sunshine. By the time we got to Saalfeld, we went swimming in the Saale river And then we arrived in Hof where the 76th Division was deactivated.

Where did the photographs come from? Few if any of us had cameras during the actual campaign, but we acquired them quickly, often by trading with cigarettes or chocolate. Film was hard to come by, but we found some, leaving us with the problem of chemicals and paper to get prints.

Since I spoke German, I did some scouting, located at least one photo shop, Frunzke in Glauchau, and arranged for prints which turned out to be good, bad and mediocre. In some cases I arranged to have an extra set of the small prints run off -- and that is where the present snapshots come from.

For the technically minded, the snapshots were scanned, recorded on diskette, then fed into a computer and integrated into the narrative on a word processor.-ga

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