CHAPTER VII   THE THIRD STAR                      [1] prev contents next

 

A river almost legendary -- the Rhine . . . .
The last great natural barrier defending what was left of the Reich . . . .


CHAPTER VII

THE THIRD STAR


A little less than seven weeks had passed since the ONAWAY fighters first rammed their determined fists down the throats of the enemy at the Sauer River crossing. "Morale-Superior" the commanding officers wrote on staff reports, referring to the spirit born among men who eat, sleep, fight, live and die together; men caught in a network of man-devised death; death that comes. out of the ground and down from the skies and through the woods, in all shapes and sizes, at every turn of the road. Fighting men have that morale or they don't. "Morale-Superior" had come to the men and officers of the 76th in those seven weeks.

Tempered by battle, hardened by intimate contact with death, tooled by bloody experience the 76th had become a power-driving machine; not the kind of machine manufactured by Hitler Inc., but the kind that had been whipping the pants off every oppressor since a bunch of fellows representing thirteen colonies got together and fought for the rights of freedom. Now that machine was across the Moselle River ready to roll into action again. Not more than sixty miles to the east was another river, a river almost legendary -- the Rhine, the last great natural barrier defending what was left of the Reich. Somewhere on the other side of that river sat Hitler on his tottering throne and somewhere on the other side of that river would be fought the final battle. Already the Wehrmacht had been butchered and slaughtered but the nazis had pulled men and equipment out of the hat before and they might do it again. There was definite evidence, uncovered by Allied Intelligence, of new and powerful weapons in the making. Radio Berlin had been boasting "secret weapon" for months and there was always the chance that it would be produced. Hitler was fighting for time.  The Allies were fighting to shorten time.

On the other side of the Rhine were the great armies of the Russians pushing steadily, westward. Like fingers of huge hands the spearheads of the British and American armies and the Russians were gradually coming closer together to be clasped in mutual accomplishment and accord.  The ONAWAY men were anxious to keep moving, advancing.

It wasn't very long before the orders finally came down. The division was to take over a portion of the west bank of the Rhine and pass to control of VIII Corps. It was a sixty mile trip and the infantry rode this time. Trucks were hurriedly mobilized by G-4 and on the morning of 19 March troops of the 385th Infantry Regiment piled on. The 76th Reconnaissance Troop moved into the area vacated by the 385th.

Signs began to appear on sides
of houses and barns but failed
to serve their purpose . . . . .

Keen-eyed air guards on the trucks watched the skies as the vehicles sped along the winding narrow roads. They rolled through bombed out towns decked with white flags and across Bailey bridges. They passed twisted remnants of one time German convoys -- stark, satisfying evidence of Allied air bombers' thoroughness. As the trucks neared their destination signs began to appear on sides of homes and walls and barns, signs designed to break down the "Morale-Superior", signs that read: "Scenery Beautiful but Dangerous" . . .   "Many Roads Lead to the Rhine but More Lead to Death" . . . "See the Rhine and Leave Your Skull There." Spotting the signs broke the monotony of the trip but not the morale of the determined men on the trucks.  By 1800 the same day the vehicles rolled to the vicinity of Lisenfeld and took over from the 2d Cavalry Group the section of the Rhine between Boppard and St. Goar.

Within a few hours the regiment was installed, observation posts manned and the outpost line established. The men dug in deep and logs covered foxholes out of deference to the enemy 88's already whining over the sector. There was no becoming accustomed to that whine, nothing to do except put up with it, but one learned quickly to interpret its eeriness, to recognize the tonality between balls and strikes. In the big picture, however, the 88's availed the enemy very little.

Next day Combat Team 417 moved into position to the right of the 385th from St. Goar to Neurath. The 304th moved the following day and lined up along the Rhine from Neurath to Bingen. 304th's Company K men remained behind to guard the important Mülheim Bridge over the Moselle.

Such was the line-up as the 76th joined in the watch on the Rhine. The river seemed almost impossible to cross in the division zone but ONAWAY had surmounted the impossible before. At 1500, 21 March, the division passed from XII to VIII Corps control and preparations got under way for the anticipated crossing as battle-wise patrols were sent out to obtain information about the terrain and the enemy. Men of the 301st Engineer Battalion made exhaustive checks of the river itself, the banks, the depth. Division Artillery Liaison planes were sent on air photo missions.

Division Artillery lobbed white phosphorus shells
on targets opposite St. Goar . . .

The tiny liaison plane floated over the Rhine and skimmed the tree tops. Maj (then Capt) Carl I. Sodergren was at the controls. In the rear cockpit was Photographer Raymond Graham, staff sergeant. He signaled to the pilot. The plane dipped to 500 feet. Above the roar of the motor the two men heard a sound -- a familiar one . .

In well camouflaged positions on the ground the krauts were well hidden. They knew that the nosey Yank plane above was seeking them out. The men at the antiaircraft guns heard the orders "Get that plane". Barrels pushed upward out of the green foliage. The plane came into the gun sights. There was the sharp crack-crack of the guns. Other nazis cut loose with rifles. The defenseless plane sailed serenely on, not varying from its course. A job had to be done. Graham's camera clicked away and when they completed their mission they turned back across the Rhine with vital information of terrain and enemy defenses recorded on the gelatin.

In the black of the night ONAWAY patrols paddled rubber boats across the Rhine to the enemy shore. The men slipped through the German guards and checked on locations of enemy strongpoints. Prisoners were captured and interrogated. The 76th's CIC team questioned civilians who revealed locations and strength of the enemy. VIII Corps provided additional information. The Division Photo Interpretation Team went to work on the photographs taken over enemy territory.

 


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