Westwallmuseum


Bad Bergzabern
 

14 th AD

March 1945

Attack on Oberotterbach and Steinfeld

    

The column entered Altenstadt on the Lauter during the morning.

The German artillery began to come in. Lieut. Reissner and his driver, Pfc. Edward C. Kistner, Jr., went forward to look for assault gun positions and were caught in a barrage; and Kistner was wounded. The enemy had blown the Altenstadt bridge and had pinpointed the location with artillery; every time the engineers went to work a barrage came down on them. Maj. Shedd went to Wissembourg; the bridge there was in, and the column moved around through the 36th Division and crossed

at Wissembourg. The tanks and infantry advanced to Schweighofen again;

and the Recon peeps were at work all night, as the German heavy artillery and the Nebelwerfers screamed in, leading the tanks into position for the attack. Tracers cut through the night as the shells exploded; and flares hung almost motionless, slowly descending in the sky, lighting the entire countryside in a cutting white light. The attack was using “artificial moonlight” somewhere nearby, batteries of anti-aircraft searchlights turned across the battlefield, blinding the enemy and throwing the world

into black and white relief; it was like a scene in inferno, with men for devils.

       

The 68th column came through Rittershotfen, side by side with the 3rd French DIA; and had conquered Salmbach; and on the 19th moved to Schweighofen.

Patrols were sent out to test the Siegfried again; and the Siegfried was as strong as ever. The night sky was alit with the flames of war. (At Hatten and Rittershoffen there was not even the savage life of war; the farmers had begun to fill their fields again, and there would be a farmer in the fields, slowly filling in a foxhole or a rench; and the men were filled with a strange bitterness and nostalgia to see those towns again.)

Task Force Blue attacked Schleithal and continued to force a crossing of the Lauter River. Early the next morning two platoons of B-63 and a platoon of B-25 jumped off from Schweighofien to assault the Siegfried town of Kapsweyer, the rest of the companies following in support; the town was taken, and the attack continued on

northeast toward the installations of the Siegfried. The infantrymen came under the same fierce artillery and mortar fire they had met on their first trip to that blood-

and-concrete line, and grazing machine gun fire cut at them. They were forced back to Kapsweyer. C Company of the 68th moved into positions along the railroad south of town. At noon, after a seventeen-minute artillery preparation (the last two minutes smoke) and under the support of the tank guns of the 25th, the attack drove out again toward Steinfeld.

B and C Companies of the 68th were to move forward under the smoke screen and clear the Dragon’s Teeth; but the smoke dispersed too quickly, and only the 1st and 2nd Platoons of B Company were able to drive as far as Steinfeld. They captured two houses on the western edge of town. It looked as though it was going to be a repetition of the bloody, casualty-heavy, deadly fighting the 14th had known before.

The other men of the 68th, caught in the open by the slashing German fire, dug in under the German artillery, mortar and rocket concentrations. There were 23 men from the 68th in those first few houses of Steinfeld, and now they were cut off from the rest of the company, cut off and subjected to a murderous barrage. They stayed there; for a day and a night. In the group were eight men from the 2nd Platoon led by Lieut. Iarnes Napier, and 15 men from the 1st Platoon, led by Lieut. Harry Kemp.

        

Here is their story:

“The 1st Platoon had 500 yards of open field to break across and the 2nd had 700. Dug-in machine guns and the mortars and heavy weapons in the pill boxes had the field plastered with fire and we didn’t think any of us would make it.

“Some of us prayed, others just stared into space. We all had the same idea, we’ll never get there. “Eighty-five men started the dash. The enemy waited until the men were about 30 feet from the Dragon’s Teeth, then opened up with a murderous screen of machine gun fire.” Those who got that far, hit the dirt among the teeth.

Bullets ricocheted with an unearthly whine on the concrete teeth and whirled crazily from one tooth to the other. The men began working their way slowly and painfully

under the rain of fire toward the first two houses of Steinfeld. Pfc. William H. Camp crawled from a foxhole to drag a wounded comrade to safety. With them, the men had two radios—two pieces of equipment that were to be of immeasurable value.

“We didn’t know whether we should make a break for the second house or not,” said Napier, “but finally we decided we’d have to, or the Krauts would be sure to get us.”

Half of the men broke for the second building and made it safely.

At 1230 they held the two houses. The wounded were feverish, and during the day and night, all water carried by the men in their canteens was given to the wounded.

The two houses were outposted. Fire poured in.German artillery opened up. American artillery, trying to knock out the pill boxes, fell all around them.

Napier directed artillery fire on the larger pill boxes, but it had little effect, so he called for direct fire from the tanks. One pill box to the south was knocked out by the tanks and fire was eliminated from that source. Platoon Sergeant Dale Riggle noticed a sniper who was continually poking his head out of a trench to take a quick shot. After following his actions for a while, Riggle drilled a hole through the center of his helmet as he stuck his head into view.

Night fell, but the red glow from the burning factory across the road lighted the surroundings as bright as day. In the whole group there were no automatic weapons and the only “heavy” fire power were two rifle grenades that were saved in case of a counter-attack. Artillery was becoming more and more accurate. “We all would have liked to have hit the cellar for protection from the artillery, but we had to stay at the windows to spot any possible attack,” said Pfc. Maurice Landrin. The minutes dragged by. Hungry, thirsty, and dead tired, the men stayed at the windows and at about 0200 the Germans began to close in.

Pfc. Manual Lamboy saw three enemy silhouetted in the red glow of the burning rubble and fired three fast shots. One of the enemies fell to the ground and the others took cover.

“If it wouldn’t have been for the light from the burning building, we’d have been goners,” said S/Sgt. Harry Roberts, “as it was, nobody could sneak up on us unseen.”

Shortly before 0600, the radio buzzed with a code message. They were to expect an American attack, preceded by a heavy artillery preparation, and another unidentified explosion. A few minutes later the explosion rocked the houses and the engineers had blown a gap in the Dragons Teeth. Then came the thunderous artillery. 2500 rounds were being fired in preparation for the final crack of the West Wall.

At 0600 came the attack. This time the men were relieved. The men of C Company had been pinned down by machine gun and rocket fire from the turreted pill boxes near Steinfeld and just inside the Bienwald. They could not inch forward.

That night, the engineers, with T/Sgt. John Sailors and Pfc. Ricardo Sanchez of A-68, crawled forward into no man’s land to blow a path for the tanks through the Dragon’s Teeth. (Sailors and Sanchez crawled over 400 yards of open terrain with fifty pounds of TNT on their backs.)

CCR was ordered up to give added strength to CCA; and was attached to CCA. Col. Karlstad, commander of CCA, was in command of the operation; Col. Hudelson, however, was in command of the 62nd (with A-4-8) and of the 68th; and finally, the 25th Tank Battalion was made available to CCR.

Next morning, the 62nd Infantry passed through the 68 th and took up the attack on Steinfeld. The guns of Headquarters Company, 62nd, supported the attack; in B Company, the 3rd Platoon was to assault frontally, the 2nd from the flank, while the other platoons were to be held in reserve initially.

The artillery barrage crashed at the pillboxes, snapped at the periscopes; and the momentum of the infantry attack carried it well into town. The men ran into the first pillbox houses innocent-seeming farm houses; but when artillery shells blasted against their sides, the tiles crumbled off and revealed six-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls; and the windows came away and revealed tiered, recessed gun ports, nasty-snouted enemy flat trajectory guns spitting out of them. Heavy enemy counter fire rained down on the men of the 62nd in Steinfeld. The platoons attacked, not down the streets, but through hack yards, from window to window. The 1st Platoon and the mortar sections, the Anti-Tank Platoon, dismounted, and a section of tanks entered the town and added their weight to the fight.

All through the long day the bitter fight raged back and forth, and the day was never quiet with the scream and explosion of incoming shells, the crack of rifles and spit of

machine guns, the screams and the shouts. The wounded were put on the rear deck of the tanks and carried out; and three times that afternoon, the German counter-attacked trying to drive the Americans back out.

At ranges of 200 yards, the mortars laid down fire 50 yards in front of the riflemen; from far back the Corps and Army heavy guns, the 8-inch howitzers and the Long Toms, were called into the fight.

The attack continued into the night. Here is B-62’s description:

“Throughout the night men fired across alleyways at fleeing targets, two company CPS were demolished, one after the other, by artillery fire; the burning buildings fatally outlined the men crouched near them. Every cellar was a foxhole. The machine gunners rested the barrels of their guns on window ledges, fired them without tripods, bazookas fired at point blank ranges so you had to watch the splash;

and pillboxes that had been cleared began to fire again, and had to be cleared again. Armor piercing 76 MM shells ricocheted off the six-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls, white phosphorous and fragmentation grenades were thrust by hand through the pillbox slits, lobbed into trenches.”

The Germans began to surrender.

One by one, slipping down the streets, waving a bit of white cloth, and then in groups of three and four and five and ten. Company C-62 came into town from the left, two platoons abreast, following close behind the supporting artillery. Pfc.

Robert J. Stone and Pfc. William R. Clemons were out in front; the company moved through the steep anti-tank ditch, half-filled with the water of early Spring, past the barbed wire and the interlocking maze of pillhoxes, into the town. Capt. Traminell moved up with the support platoon, the 3rd, into town under a deadly hail of small arms, mortar and artillery fire. The assault squads of the lead platoons, under the veterans S/Sgt. Edward C. Malla, S/Sgt. Robert M. Highsmith, S/Sgt. Roger D. Iohnson and Sgt. Elmer A. Taylor, had already begun clearing the houses.

Sgt. Benedict J. Kaczmarek was killed by fire from 21 pillhox; Sgt. Wilbert H. Tebbe, trying to get one of his crews out of an exposed position, was killed.

The Germans launched the first of their counterattacks.

S/Sgt. Wiuiam F. Maier, S/Sgt. Clarence D. Weaver, S/Sgt. George F. Kall and S/Sgt. Eugene T. Weichecki led the defense of the 3rd Platoon. A night counter-attack reached the company CP itself before it was driven ofl. Sgt. Carl Henderson established himself on the roof with grenades and a BAR and became a one-man outpost. He lobbed his grenades while observers on the floor below gave him fire direction orders. One enemy soldier tried—unsuccessfully—to grab a machine gun by the muzzle and pull it out the window. Pfcs. Howard W. Shanks and Raymond S. Leverton, advanced to a house by themselves; they were not ordered to withdraw and so they stayed there all night and part of the next day, firing their machine gun.

 

 

 

 

Then Company C, too, began to receive surrenders; Steinfeld had been taken.

The Battalion was moved back to Kapsweyer for reorganization; the 68th pushed through.

The 63th pushed through Steinfeld in a heavy artillery barrage, and at O450 the next morning took off again in the attack to clear the town of Schaidt.

A and C Companies were in the attack; Headquarters Company Machine Gun Platoon

protected the right flank. After a “devastating” artillery barrage the two companies

jumped ofi and crossed the long, open, Spring-wet fields leading toward Schaidt; thrown back by devastating fire, they reorganized, advanced again. The fire was incredibly vicious; the 68th could make no headway at all, and the men were pinned down outside Schaidt the entire day. The 25th Tank Battalion was made available to CCR; and the next morning, with the tanks, the 68th jumped off again.

Before the dawn had broken, the inen of the 68th had gained the first houses of the town. Then began the bitter house-to-house fighting that had characterized the taking of the other two towns; but after five hours Schaidt had been cleared, and the infantrymen, mounted on tanks, were circling the town going to pillbox after pillbox to clear it of enemy.

Lieut. Harold Hanhardt mounted his platoon of infantry on the tanks and started in

pursuit of the now retreating Germans. This time, the second time, the Siegfried had been cracked.

Two 88 MM guns were silenced on the way to Freckenfeld, and the battalion advanced to the fields west of town where it bivouacked for the night; next morning moved toward Bellheim.

For their work, the infantrymen and the tankers of CCA and CCR were commended by Col. Karlstad and Col. Hudelson. In this action, C Company of the 25th had at first supported with fire from Kapsweyer; Lieut. Martin and his A Company rejoined the battalion.

On the morning of the 22nd, over a treadway built by the engineers, the tanks of the 25th moved across the anti-tank ditch into the town of Steinfeld. S /Sgt. Warren F. Rohersorfs tank of A-25 was hit and knocked out; Sgt. John E. Ried’s tank was hit so hard, while he was attacking a pillhox, that

it spun around, and Sgt. loseph H. Stalling’s tank received a direct artillery hit. Lieut. Klinefelter was wounded. Lieut. R. I. Ferguson’s Mortar Platoon of Headquarters

Company laid down a smoke screen, and the Assault Guns moved up to take firing position. Corp. James W. Hall's 105 was hit, and the ammunition trailer started to burn; Pfc. Alfred D. Crawford jumped out and tripped it loose. Hall was evacuated by the medics, who were running peeps up into the Dragon’s Teeth.

                                              

It was on the night of the 22nd that the 25th was made available to CCR, the night the 68th was pinned down outside Schaidt, unable to move; in the morning, the tanks jumped off with the infantry, A-Z5 on the right and C-25 on the left, B-25 and A-4-8 in reserve.

ln the vicious fight that followed, that started almost as soon as the tanks jumped off, B Company of the 25th lost two tanks. Lieut. Geneser, Sgt. Vincent A. Corio, Corp. Andrew Inga, Pics. John D. Teeters and Cleophas Swain were killed. A Company was held up in the wet, marshy ground; and B Company was stopped momentarily by the fire of the AT Guns, picking ofl the tanks as soon as they showed themselves. Lieut. Chrisman of C Company, moving on the left flank, knocked out five pillboxes and silenced the AT guns that had been holding up B Company.

     

The AT ditch outside Schaidt stopped the tanks; and a tank dozer was called up to fill in the ditch. Smoke was laid on the far side of the ditch, and the dozer filled in three

passages; and A Company moved on into 'Schaidt.  Lieut. Chrisman went on to Freckenfeld with the infantry. D Company, on flank guard, had run into continued

heavy artillery fire; and later they moved into Kapsweyer to fire on pillboxes. The 37 mm guns had no effect on the fortifications. Sgt. Robert F. Leatherman’s tank was punctured when a rocket round landed a few yards away. In Company A-48, Lieut. Edgar D. Woodard was wounded before the jump off when his tank struck a mine; Lieut. Vernon Peterson, with the 2nd Platoon, took over the lead and moved through the Dragon’s Teeth into Steinfeld

    

Lieut. William Kidd of the 3rd Platoon was wounded by a direct mortar hit on his tank. Company C of the 125th Engineers took a major part in the breaching of the Siegfried.

 

The lst Platoon was with the 68th, the Znd with the 25 th and the 3 rd with Task Force Blue; they had watched the big guns move up, seen the attack jump off, and looked at the towns blazing against the sky at night. The 1st Platoon went into Schweighofen with the 68th; next day, a beautiful Spring day that was a nightmare of artillery, the men went to Kapsweyer. The cellars shook, and dirt and plaster showered down on the men, as the heavy shells landed outside. (And there is a peculiar sadness to war, in the Spring, when the weather is first turned lovely and still the high explosive screams in.)

Lieut. H. B. Hewitt woke his men that night. “We’ve got to do it tonight,” he said. “It’s darker than all hell.”  The half-track had been parked outside town, to avoid

shrapnel, and the charges had been made ready. The men who were handling them wore no gloves. The men started out just after midnight, staggering under the weight of a total of 300 pounds of TNT. It would have been dark, too, except that the buildings in the town were blazing with fire, and the artillery was still coming in intermittently.

They stopped at the 68th CP, and talked for a few moments with the men of the 68th, who told them of what they had gone through that day, trying to get to Steinfeld. It was not an encouraging conversation. The men moved out, not talking, at 30 yard intrevals.  (If a man were hit with that TNT, no use losing two.) It was hard to see the man ahead of you in the darkness, with the flickering, wierd light of battle at night. The stink of burning houses was in their nostrils. It seemed they would never get there; finally, dimly, they could see the Dragons Teeth in the light from the fires, like headstones in a graveyard.

Quickly, the first man was over the wall in front of the teeth; then the second man, and the third. Not a sound was uttered. The men tied their charges. The job was finished, finally, the men started back. Before they were in town, there was a lightning flash, a terrific explosion, and 300 pounds of TNT blasted the night.

The job was done.

       

The 2nd Platoon of C Company, meanwhile, had also moved up. At Hunspach, they built a bridge, using a German tank, lodged in midstrearn, for the pier. Mine fields kept them on the road; at Altdorf, they had to stop and take a quarter ton of dynamite out of a road crater; and two other craters had to be filled in. The platoon moved to Altenstadt, where the German artillery fire was so heavy that no bridge

could be installed; and they moved to Sohweighoffen; and men from the 2nd Platoon went up to the Dragon’s Teeth to place charges. (On the night of the 21st, 14- men of the 2 nd Platoon went back up and planted more charges.) Pfcs. Robert Snodgrass and Nicholas Pusi were killed by a tank recovery vehicle.

The men followed the infantry toward Steinfeld; they were to remove all barriers, clear debris, and fill the antitank ditch. They proceeded down the road on foot in the haze of battle smoke. An artillery barrage forced them to the ground; Pfc. Herman A. Bounds was wounded. Creeping, crawling and running, they moved on; in town they ran from yard to yard, house to house. Lieut. John C. Copes was wounded by a  machine gun; S/Sgt. Orlando Thomas took command of the platoon. Tee/4 Roy O. Seitz and Pfc. l. H. Stutz flanked the gun; and Sgt. Ray Hodson suddenly charged the gun, shouting: “Achtung, you Kraut bastards!”

The Germans surrendered and Hodson brought them hack; then he found the clip of his gun was empty. He had fired the last round.

Pfc. Gerald Goldenberg talked several enemy into surrendering; then he was wounded by a shell fragment. Four men were ordered back to the south end of town to maintain the road at the treadway bridge; Corp. Warren R. Shelley and Corp. Ralph Breedlove were wounded by shrapnel there. The artillery was coming in so heavily it was almost impossible to move, even from house to house. Pfc. Benjamin J. Rencher was wounded trying to dash from one cellar to the next.

The platoons were ordered back to Schweighofen. (The 2nd Platoon was being led by Lieut. Copes because Lieut. Charles Bardwell had been injured when his peep ran into a tank in the dark.) Their job, filling in the anti-tank ditch, had not been accomplished because of the volume of fire.

Lieut. Iohn Delmay, native of Brussells, volunteered to take up an open-turreted VTR to do the job; a round landed in the vehicle and Lieut. Delmay was killed.

The 3rd Platoon, meanwhile, moved with Task Force Blue to Schleithal. After clearing the town, the engineers put in 300 feet of bridging along concrete flood retaining walls along the Lauter; they laid corduroy roads for the tanks.

On March 20, they were moved to CCA to do their part in blasting the Siegfried; they moved to Kapsweyer. Lieut. Anthony Wise and Corp. Arthur E. Goldapske went forward to the infantry outpost; the Germans counter-attacked, and he was cut off for 36 hours. Sgt. Forrest L. .lohnson, and Pics. Eugene I. Lucien and Pat R. DiCicco went forward with their charges to blow the Dragon’s Teeth; they were pinned down by small arms, mortar and rocket fire. Two infantrymen, 25 yards ahead of them, were killed by machine gun fire; and they withdrew. Later, they made a second, and successful trip. Tee/5 Carlo Cascegno and Pfc. Joseph Fallat were killed, and two men wounded. Sgt. Robert R. Lukins, with his 3rd Squad, 3 rd Platoon, and some men, laid a 36-foot treadway bridge across a crater in the road so that the tracked vehicles could cross; Tec/ 5 Alfred Zimmerman was wounded by shrapnel while operating the crane on this job. For the job here, T/Sgt. James Beeson, Tec/5 Claude

Williamson, Tec/5 Zimmerman and Pic. Lewis Davis were awarded the Bronze Star.

           

The bridge completed, Sgt. Johnson was ordered to take his squad into town and clear the road blocks. In cellars while raking fire outside swept the streets, they prepared their charges. Two fifty pound boxes of TNT were placed against each road block and they were blown out. For the rest of the 125th, Headquarters was at Oberseebach, many of the men working with the line companies; and a new device was tried—worked on by Capt. F. R. Wallace and Capt. Joseph Mangan and the maintenance men welding three sections oi treadway bridge together (36 feet)

and cabling it onto the iron end of a VTR, so that it could be carried up under fire and lowered into place.

Headquarters later moved to Altenstadt. Company A was filling road craters and repairing roads between Schwabwiller and Surbourg, running bridge reconnaissance; A Company moved to Oberbetschdorf and swept the road between Hatten and Salmbach of mines, clearing rubble and debris (including knocked-out tanks) from the roads to open them to traffic. Roads were repaired, craters were bridged over; charges were prepared for Company C to use; the lst Platoon built a fixed bridge at Altenstadt on the 21st; the 2nd Platoon was sweeping the road between Trimbach and Altenstadt.

    

 

 

 

 

Near Kapsweyer, sweeping the road under artillery fire, the men found a new type German magnetic mine. The company moved up to Schweighoffen, began to clear the roads as far as Minield.

Company B, attached to CCB, moved to Reimerswiller. The company was sweeping roads, looking for mines and booby traps; Tec/5_lohn Critchley stepped on an S mine and was badly wounded. The lst Platoon at this time was attached to the 19th Infantry, the 2nd to the 47th Tank Battalion, and the 3rd remained with Company Headquarters.

   

On the 21st, the 1st Platoon was ordered to help build the bridge at Altenstadt; and on the 23rd, the company took off with CCB on that command’s mad dash to the Rhine.

(Even the first aid men, at the end, were bringing in German prisoners. Company B took 45 prisoners. The removal of wounded and dead presented a major problem of

its own.

On the 24th, the CP moved to Rohrwiller; two men in the 1st Platoon of B Company A comp. ]ohn R. Molinaro and Pic. Earl M. Harmon-—were wounded by shrapnel. The 2nd Platoon was removing demolition charges; and on the 25th, the company moved to Bellheim.)

Col. Francis J. Gillespie’s Combat Command B had moved to Berstheim, to relieve elements of the 36th Division; and for three days it remained in that area, patrolling and doing reconnaissance; the command was then ordered to assemble at Silz, to pass through the 103rd Division, and drive to the Rhine.

      

CCB broke free at Klingenmünster.

In the 47th Tank Battalion, the Assault Guns had been firing into Germany, Lieut. Lawrence Harding’s Recon Platoon had run night patrols along the fringes of the Siegfried, and Lieutenant Maynard Boucher had taken his light tank platoon into the Bienwald.

Company C had been attached to the 19th Infantry to act as the advance guard; Lieut. Sidney Hack’s 2nd Platoon, with a tank dozer commanded by Sgt. Daniel Fox, were in the point.

The command rolled up through the narrow, twisting mountain roads, woods reaching high on either side and the growling off the tank engines reverberated heavily. It was clear, and sunny—warm, actually; and a German column had been caught on the road, by aircraft, artillery, and tanks; the unbelievable, the unending litter and wreckage lined the roads.

A German infantry and artillery column, that was, horse drawn and winding its slow way along the clear roads of Spring before the shells began to scream in and the men to run and the horses to plunge; and as the Combat Command passed now there were the carts and the guns tangled along the sides of the roads, and the slashed and bloodied and bloated horses (and other horses, cut loose, munching grass in the early green Spring fields) and broken rifles, scattered papers, field desks, sodden uniforms, all the infinite paraphernalia of an Army, and German dead and American dead, a soldier lying by the side of the road, staring vacantly and white-faced to the sky, the dust from the tank treads settling on his face, his shirt torn and his chest white-bandaged where the medics had tried to save his life; and a still form under a blanket, only muddied combat boots showing at the bottom and one lifeless hand lying on the grass, a wedding ring glinting faintly on the fourth finger.

      

And further on, piles of carrion where the tank dozers had scraped the wreckage, carts and horses and men together, into a pile ofi the road. A tank burned out, the crew dead, half out of the tank, in the grotesque stiff poses of death, still smoldering, and woods cut to ribbons by the shell fire.

The attacking vehicles smashed forward with all the speed at their command, anxious to keep in touch with the retreating Germans, to keep them knocked off balance, to get to the Rhine and cut the retreating German forces to pieces.

The roads boiled with traffic, tanks and half-tracks and trucks going up, every imaginable vehicle in the army, and ambulances coming hack, ambulances and trucks and heavy, slow moving VTRS.

The engineers, in the column, spent two hours working on a road crater; one section of CCB’s vehicles got by the crater before the snarling tangle of tanks and men and

trucks boiled up so it was impassable; and the head of the column kept going, so anxious was the pursuit, with the rest of the column two hours behind; and beside the road the sun-lit streams ran rusty with the blood of men and horses, and floated gasoline.

The combat command passed through the villages of Germany, white flags hung from every house; and the German soldiers surrendered by the score.

Sgt. Walter Pomykacz, in the lead tank, shot up a Mark IV tank and an anti-tank gun at Rohrbach before the surprised Germans fired a shot.

It looked very easy at first. Then CCB hit the town of Herxheim.

         

The 19th Infantry had been ordered to the command. A Company was attached to the 47th Tank.  The men went over to look at Hatten and Rittershoffen; the battalion pulled into Schleithal and Salmbach, side by side with the French; there was reconnaissance work and patrolling.) lt was at Rohrbach, that the 19th first dismounted; then Sergeant Pomykacz knocked out the enemy guns, and after

a short fire fight the men of the 19th cleared the town; the column moved on.

(At Rohrbach, a civilian tossed a white phosphorous grenade into a 125th half-track, burning two men to death and injuring three; and the men cleaned that town out, and went through German towns with machine guns aimed at the house windows.)

    

At Herxheim, the Germans decided to make a stand. Herxheim was a close approach to the Rhine; if the enemy wanted to save any of the troops still left west of the Rhine, he must keep some crossings open; at Herxheim, he decided to play for time.

As Combat Command B’s column of tanks and half-tracks, peeps and armored cars rolled across the open, sun-lit road, the 88’s and machine guns opened up again, the flack guns and the snipers rifles. The column ground to a halt. Herxheim was a Siegfried town; the country was fiat and open and lovely in the early Spring; but there were the Dragon’s Teeth again, and the anti-tank guns. The sudden blast of fire from the strong points in the town, within a few quick and horrible minutes, knocked out three of the 47th’s tanks, the tank-dozer, a half-track and a peep.

   

The column deployed; the artillery, back in the column, moved up to get into position. The tanks of Company C-47 moved out across the fields, the 2nd and 3rd Platoons moving between the road and the woods, in the field, and the 1st Platoon moving up on the right.

As the 1st Platoon started to deploy, the AT Guns opened up again and four tanks were hit almost simultaneously. (Only one was permanently knocked out.) The tanks returned the fire; then laid down a smoke screen and withdrew. Sgt. Fox, in his knocked out tank dozer, was having his troubles. Not only had the tracks been knocked off, but the dozer blade had been driven into such a position that the cannon couldn’t be lowered enough to fire; and the tank was in plain enemy sight. Fox, Corp. Sidney Rosen (gunner) and Pfc. Herman Botts (loader) worked their way back into the tank and stayed there for two hours. The German thought the tank had been knocked out, and paid no attention to it; and Sgt. Fox and his men stayed inside and directed American artillery fire over the radio.

C. Company continued the attack savagely; but before the afternoon was over, C Company had run out of ammunition and Companies B and D moved up.

B Company drove straight on the town while D Company made an envelopment from the left. Darkness was falling. Lieut. Morris Hitzig was wounded by shrapnel and Lieut. Pete Berger took over command of the 1st platoon of D Company. (Capt. Robert W. Harper, former Assault Gun Platoon leader, now had command of D Company; Capt. Tilden had gone to Battalion Headquarters as S-3.) In the

falling dusk, the tanks and infantry entered town.

      

(Artillery, mortar and assault gun fire had been poured on the town by the guns of the 499th and the Platoons in Headquarters of the 4-7th and the 19th.)

Men of B-19 assaulted the wire-entangled Dragon’s Teeth, and the company had to pull back as the German fire slashed across the ground. Two men were killed and 14 wounded, including Lieut. Gray Thoron, the company commander.

Capt. John E. Donahey, advance party leader, had been wounded; Lieut. John Conroy took command of the company and hurriedly reorganized it; the company attacked again.

This time, the 2nd Platoon got into the houses past the Dragon’s Teeth, and the 1st and 3rd Platoons moved in behind them. S/Sgt. lack Crider and Pvt. Donald L. Stamps rushed the first few houses; S/Sgt. Willard S. Elliott, himself wounded, refused to leave his platoon and stayed to help evacuate the wounded.

     

The 1st and 2nd Platoons of C-19 had been on B Company’s flank; now they too swung into town. The tanks and infantry moved through Herxheim, clearing

it house by house. Sgt. Ray Capps, of the lL7th, left his own tank and crossed

fire-swept terrain to go to another tank that had been knocked out, to determine the fate of the crew; and an infantryman from the 19th climbed up on the back of a

medium tank and sprayed the crew of an 88 MM gun with 50 caliber fire.

The order was given that night to drive to Germersheim on the Rhine as quickly as possible; and, if possible, to capture the Rhine bridge there intact.

      

Capt. Ernest M. Spokes took A-19, l-B-47, 1-B-125, 2-B-94 and A-500 to drive to Germersheim to try to get to the bridge and hold it until the rest of CCB could catch up; spokes took off, the tanks and halftracks rolling down the roads almost wide open; and as they neared the objective, they began to come under heavy artillery fire. It was evident that the enemy intended to hold Germersheim.

The terrain was against Spokes. Germersheim is set on the flat, open, low country of the Rhine Valley; around it lies endless open fields. The only woods stand along the road into the city, and these woods were occupied by enemy troops.