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Northern France & Belgium
July 25, 1944 - September 14, 1944




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Bypassing Paris

The swift campaign which followed Argentan-Falaise marked the utter rout of the disorganized remnants of a once great German army. Never, in the nightmare dash from the Seine River to the Siegfried Line, was the enemy able to marshal his forces for a decisive counter-attack; he was constantly on the defensive, without proper communication or supply, battered by air power and ground action, harried by Maquis in France and members of the Armee Blanche in Belgium. There was a quality of madness about the whole debacle of Germany's forces in the west, something which was not easily explained. Isolated garrisons fought as viciously as before, but the central planning and coordination which must go into a decisive action were missing. In the last months of the 1944 summer offensive, it looked very much as though Adolf Hitler's Third Reich might be forced into surrender long before American and British units reached the Rhine. That was the avowed opinion of allied soldiers on the western front, and German prisoners were of the same mind, often stating that it couldn't last for another week.

Among GI's of the "Spearhead" Division, the nightmare drive through northern France and Belgium seemed the beginning of the end. Their days merged in one long stream of fatigue and weariness in the endless pursuit. They followed the white road all day long with their eyes streaming from sun and wind and dust. At night they drove in total blackout, often with no better guide than ordinary read maps of the give-away type into territory where the only certainty was the dubious knowledge that the enemy might, or might not, be at any given point. The strange realization of this was only overcome by accumulated, groaning fatigue, and the sureness that Jerry was on the run. By Normandy standards action was light, but there were still plenty of vicious small actions and an occasional show like that at Mons where the 3rd Armored and First Infantry Divisions combined to trap and massacre a German corps. Of course, to a man in action, there is little difference - the burp guns are equally deadly in an insignificant fight or a pivotal struggle for world power. The short communique which mentions patrol action and "minimum losses" may not be startling news, but human death is there just the same.

The 3rd Armored Division mopped up at Fromentel and rested for two days. Then on August 22, a long road march was begun to reach assembly positions west of the Seine River below Paris. By August 24, the "Spearhead" coiled in readiness for its next operation. In the same general area, the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions prepared for battle. This trio: the 3rd Armored, the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions, worked so efficiently together in the lightning campaign of northern France and Belgium, that they were henceforth called the "First Team of the First Army."

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Seine River Crossing

The Seine crossing began on the night of August 25 when division units poured across a bridge built by XX Corps engineers at Tilly, south of Corbeil. The division's own 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion built a 540 foot span during the night and, at dawn on August 26, it was put into use. This was the first serious combat bridge building attempt of the engineers under Lt. Colonel Lawrence G. Foster. A complete success, it was the first of many to be constructed during the long months of battle ahead.

Resistance was encountered almost immediately after combat commands had branched out into multiple spearheads. Reconnaissance Company of the 33rd Armored Regiment, which had led units of CC "B" across the Seine, were ambushed at first light on August 26. The company had reached a forward position at 0230 and, after posting guards, coiled into a tight leaguer among the trees of a little grove. At dawn the men of the command awoke to an inferno of horror; they had been discovered by an enemy tank force and were under heavy direct fire. Shivered trees crashed about the parked reconnaissance vehicles, and AP shells cracked through the wood. Several men were hit before they had fully awakened. One was cut completely in halves by a screaming projectile. A second gazed numbly at his hand which had been shot off at the wrist. One recon vehicle after another was hit and set ablaze.

There was momentary panic until Captain John H. Haldeman, the commanding officer, restored a semblance of order. He directed the mounting of several machine guns. and prepared a hasty defense.

A motorcyclist was immediately dispatched to the rear, but his machine hit a ditch and toppled while enemy fire crackled overhead. The men who lay in that grove of death then felt that all hope had vanished. The enemy, however, seemed reluctant to close and finish the action as he should have done.

For four hours, from 7 in the morning until 11, the company remained pinned down. Then American artillery began to land in the German position, and shortly a platoon of Sherman tanks arrived to rout the enemy.

Combat Command Hickey initially led the advance, with CC "B" on the left. After crossing the river, the command moved to the vicinity of Chausse en Brie in two columns, driving through sporadic resistance offered by rear guard infantry elements. On the following day, August 27, the speeding tanks passed through Coulommiers and crossed the Marne River at La Ferte sous Jouarre, halting for the night just north of the historic Marne.

On the personal request of Major General J. Lawton Collins, the division sent a small detachment to Chateau Thierry. There was consequently some small discussion as to who entered the city first, but a study of the record would indicate that elements of the 3rd Armored Division and the 7th Armored Division entered almost simultaneously. However, Captain Theodore Black, and Lt. Thomas S. Noble, division photo detachment commander, zoomed past advancing 7th Armored Division vehicles on the outskirts and reached the public square in the center of Chateau Thierry before any other American troops or vehicles. Captain Black received a signed statement from the Mayor, reading: "Second taking of Chateau Thierry by the Americans; all our gratitude." Unlike the first "taking," there was no resistance. Captain Black traded the local resistance leader a Schmeiser burp gun for a Luger, smiled benignly on a furious staff officer of General Patton's outmaneuvered XX Corps, and returned to the "Spearhead" Division very well pleased.

By mid-afternoon of the 27th, Combat Command "B" had advanced beyond the Marne and, in an enveloping maneuver from the West, captured Meaux, furthest point of the German advance in World War I. Great names of the great war were increasingly noted on the situation maps as both combat commands arrowed for their objectives: respectively, Pont D'Arcy, and Soissons.

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A Disorganized Enemy

The enemy seemed to be completely disorganized. All "Spearhead" troops were engaged in taking prisoners and cutting down surprised Germans who were encountered in the little towns. At dawn on August 28, a Jerry column even attempted to drive through the center of the Division Forward Echelon bivouac. After a short, but one-sided battle, the enemy lost two 88mm guns, three 20 mm weapons, four trucks and one motorcycle, two weapons carriers, 10 dead and 70 prisoners of war. Forward Echelon casualties were one officer dead and three enlisted men wounded.

Driving at high speed through scattered resistance, the division also readied Braisne and Soissons on August 28. By a strange quirk of circumstance, troops of both combat commands nailed railway trains of the German army at approximately the same time. "B" Battery, of the 486th Armored Anti-Aircraft Battalion, opened the engagement when one of its vehicles, commanded by Sgt. Hollis Butler, spotted the first train in Braisne at dusk. Butler and his crew promptly opened up with their quadruple .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns. The engine's boiler blew up in a cloud of dense, white vapor, and suddenly German tracer cut streaks of light around the American column. Bullets screamed and ricocheted in all directions, and black-uniformed SS Panzer troopers went scrambling aboard a tank which stood on one of the train's flat cars.

Anti-aircraft gunner John DeGrasse touched the foot pedal firing mechanism of his 37mm gun, and livid flame leaped at the enemy tank. The light ack-ack shells bounced off like so many flaming golf balls!

The guns of both sides yammered wildly. Then, suddenly, German resistance was broken, and the SS came out with their hands up. One train, 21 flat cars, 9 passenger coaches, the baggage and equipment of a German panzer company, a staff car and a tank, plus 70 prisoners, were taken as a result of Sergeant Butler's alertness and the smooth teamwork of his crew.

Late in the night, a second train was destroyed by the 32nd Armored Regiment of Combat Command "A", this one carrying four of the latest Mark VI Tiger tanks. After a short but furious fire fight, the train was halted and the tanks either destroyed or captured.

Braisne, on the night of August 28, was a luridly painted town. Both trains burned at the station, and a nearby church tower flamed high in the air. German reconnaissance aircraft roared low over the convoy and dropped flares, but there was no bombing recorded.

At approximately the same time, a third train was destroyed at Soissons by elements of General Boudinot's speeding combat command, this one a freight carrier.

On August 29 the crossings of the Aisne River were secured intact, but one of the bridges was suspected of being damaged. To ascertain the accuracy of this report, General Maurice Rose went himself to check. For this, and for other acts of personal disregard for danger in action, the general was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Both combat commands branched out and seized high ground to the northeast of the river, and CC "B" liberated Laon as well. Troops of the 3rd Armored Division found that, fortunately for them, the extensive steel and concrete fortifications north of Soissons were unmanned. The enemy was still in headlong flight.

At the Aisne River crossing of Combat Command "A", after an order had been received to deepen the bridgehead then existing, Major Stanley Hidalgo instructed MP Lieutenant Arthur Rutshaw to mark the task force route forward, but failed to tell him to travel behind combat troops. Lt. Rutshaw thereupon gathered his MP's and travelled from Borg to Corbeny, a distance of 14 miles, marking the route ahead of fighting elements!

After travelling a considerable distance without seeing any American vehicles, the MP's began to inquire. One woman said: "You're the first Americans I've seen in ten years." Rutshaw's knees were knocking by this time, but he went on to mark the route the rest of the way.

Before infantry units had arrived to relieve the "Spearhead" Division on its bridgehead line, orders came down to strike for Sedan and Charleville.

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90-Degree Pivot

Again the multiple columns of task forces rumbled out of bivouac and hit a thin crust of resistance which had built up during the brief halt. After blasting a path through these rear-guard elements, exceptionally fast time was made. By 1300, the five spearheading columns had encountered some resistance, but were still smashing ahead. At this time a new order arrived at Forward Echelon which called for a ninety degree change in direction, from due east to north! The new objective was Mons, Belgium, and routes of advance led through Hirson and Vervins.

The speeding combat commands were immediately notified by radio and, at 1430 hours, the entire division had turned on its axis and was again attacking.

This feat is considered to be one of the most spectacular ever accomplished by the 3rd Armored Division. At the time the command was given, some of the elements were already 30 miles into the initial drive; yet by voice and radio order, the entire complex plan was shelved, and the new order put into operation in little more than one hour.

A six pronged drive was launched toward Mons on September 1. Battling moderate resistance all the way, Combat Command "B" had reached a position west of Avesnes by nightfall. Combat Command "Reserve" was at Hirson, and CC "A" coiled in the town of Avesnes. As usual, fanatic groups of enemy units closed in behind these front fighting spearheads and supplies came only after sharp fighting along the way. Liaison officers and their drivers were also in trouble during the entire operation. There was no way to tell whether enemy elements had cut the column, except by running the gantlet with a peep and a prayer. The liaison men did the job, although many of them failed to return from these trips.

The enemy was still disorganized, but he was capable of fighting a hard delaying action. In little strong points which consisted of a few tanks and infantry, the Germans persisted in trying to slow division elements. They didn't succeed very well, and air power smashed them when the combat commands were forced to bypass.

General Doyle O. Hickey's Combat Command "A" crossed the Belgian border at 1610 hours on September 2, after passing through Maubeuge. Wildly shouting crowds of Belgians screamed greetings to the first Americans to enter their country in World War II. The objective, which was high ground west of Mons, was reached late in the afternoon and all elements of the "Spearhead" Division had closed in that city of bitter memory by dark. The accomplishment was unfortunate for Nazi Germany.

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The Battle of Mons

The second great battle for Mons was not anticipated by either the Wehrmacht or the American First Army, and yet it probably decided the outcome of future battles more profoundly than had any previous action, with the exception of Mortain and Argentan-Falaise, in which the 3rd Armored Division had been engaged. Briefly, an estimated 30,000 German troops, attempting a mass retreat to the fortifications of the Siegfried Line, were met at Mons by the 3rd, cut to pieces, and further mauled by the following 1st Infantry Division. Their organization shattered and without proper communication, this huge force blundered into the road blocks of General Rose's armor during the early morning hours of September 3. The debacle that followed was complete and, as a result, the Siegfried Line never received its full complement of defending troops.

The "Spearhead" Division alone captured nearly 10,000 enemy soldiers at Mons, and killed many more. The 1st Infantry Division, supporting the armor, captured 17,000 after the 3rd had moved forward again upon the order of Major General Collins. Probably never before in the history of warfare has there been so swift a destruction of such a target force. This entire German corps, a part of the Seventh Army, dwindled to nothing in approximately three days!

At Mons, as at Fromentel, there was no such thing as "rear echelon" in the 3rd Armored Division. Headquarters, trains and supply troops fought heavy actions alongside the combat infantry, the tanks, tank-destroyers and the artillery of the command. There were no non-combatants.

American air reconnaissance first observed the approaching enemy columns, and Thunderbolts promptly went to work with bombs and strafing attack. The German convoy, which appeared to be miles in length, headed straight for Mons and the shortest way back to the Siegfried Line. Instead, it ran into the road blocks of the 3rd and there foundered in blood and destruction such as few German armies had seen before.

The chaos was complete. A platoon of tank-destroyers, commanded by Captain Bill Smith, destroyed 20 vehicles in one six hour period. His gunners, Cpl. Victor Borek, and Cpl. Frank Karpinski, sent round after round of high explosive and 3-inch armor piercing shells through the successive German vehicles. Infantrymen and engineers herded the enemy in droves, committed them to PW pens if they were willing to surrender, or mowed them down ruthlessly if they chose to fight.

There was no front line at Mons. The smoke and crash of battle was everywhere. A wire crew of the 143rd Armored Signal Company ambushed and destroyed a German half-track. The section, let by Cpl. Francisco Bolla, used their communications system to good advantage. T/5 John E. Kelley spotted the Jerry vehicle first, but it had already passed his line of fire. Grabbing a phone, Kelley called the next post and shouted: "German halftrack loaded with Krauts heading your way!"

"Okay," came the reply - "chalk him up."

The German troops opened up with all arms as they neared the second wire outpost, but Pvt. Leonard Ethridge and Pvt. Stanley R. Presgrave fired the careening half-track with their .50 caliber ground mount. Few of the enemy escaped.

Many more of the signal company's men were with the Division's Forward Echelon and Headquarters Company at Mons, when the group earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for its considerable part in the victory. The ostensibly "rear echelon" troops (and they were never rear echelon in the "Spearhead" Division) cut to pieces a German attack which threatened to overwhelm them.

As though drawn to the city by a fatal fascination, German troops kept pouring in to 3rd Armored Division road blocks. Tanks and tank-destroyers enjoyed a brief field day, the crews firing their big guns until the tubes smoked. 1st Lieutenant Vernon Dingley and Sergeant Tony Bocchino brought their big Sherman, ELIMINATOR, into a short battle which saw the destruction of five 170 mm artillery pieces, one 88mm dual purpose gun, and 125 motorized and horse drawn vehicles. Artillerymen blasted the confused columns with direct fire from their 105mm self propelled guns.

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Avalanche of Prisoners

Prisoners came in thousands at Mons and three German general officers were captured. Lt. General Rudiger von Heyking, of the 6th Luftwaffe Field Division, said that he had been completely surprised by our forces. Heyking had been erroneously advised that there was a 15 mile escape gap south of Mons. Major General Hubertus von Aulock, brother of the "Madman of St. Malo," was taken with his whole staff by Captain Walter I. Berlin of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment. Von Aulock had been commander of the Kampfgruppe which was supposed to defend Paris. General Karl Wahle and his artillery commander, a Colonel Lueken, was captured on the 4th of September. Wahle at one time had been garrison commander of the city of Hamburg. These, and thousands of their men crowded into a POW enclosure located in and around an old sugar refinery in Mons. Their very number constituted a serious problem for the division's provost marshal, Major Charles H. Rapes. With prisoners still pouring in by the hundreds, and close to 4,000 already confined, Kapes, and a force which consisted of 16 division MP's and 27 doughboys from the 1st Infantry Division, waged a pitched battle against attacking German soldiers. The major and his 47 men managed to hold off the frenzied attack and, after it was over, they found that they had captured 300 more of the befuddled supermen!

Mons was not only confusing to the Germans, it was something beyond reason to men of the 3rd. Many Jerry soldiers came in and surrendered willingly enough, but there were others, like the group of paratroopers who attempted to blast through a 36th Armored Infantry road block to rescue their general officers. After a short, sharp fight they were all killed, or wounded and captured. And, at Mons, a CC "A" MP, directing traffic at night, calmly motioned a Mark-V Panther tank into an American bivouac area. The Kraut continued on in and surrendered!

By noon of September 4, the situation had become partially stabilized. There were still thousands of prisoners to be taken, but the 1st Infantry Division was systematically rounding them up. Road nets around the city were choked with wrecked and burning vehicles of the "Wehrmacht, and the dead were so numerous that graves registration crews shook their heads sadly in contemplation of the job they faced. The Spearhead Division had suffered relatively light casualties.

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One Bridge at Namur

Major General "Lightning Joe" Collins, believing that the time was ripe for further advance, ordered the 3rd Armored Division forward again. Namur was the new objective. Flushed with the Mons victory, the division moved east in four columns of task forces, Combat Command "A" on the left, and General Boudinot's CC "B" on the right. Cheering Belgians urged the armor forward. There was sun and dust and victory in the air. The war seemed practically over.

However it was not time for rejoicing. The hills of Belgium were replacing stubble fields and wide plains country. Little, picturesque towns nestled at the bottoms of deep gorges, and the precipitous hills soared far above. Such terrain might be easily defended. The tankers of the 3rd proceeded swiftly, but with new caution. Somewhere the German could be expected to make a last-ditch stand. Was it here?

Evidently not; a task force commanded by Lt. Colonel Herbert Mills reached Namur on September 4, taking a route-south of Jemeppes. The rest of CC "B" advanced further south, meeting some resistance all the way. Bridges over the Meuse and Sambre Rivers had been blown.

In some places the pursuit was fast becoming a triumphal march. Wildly cheering multitudes of Belgians mobbed the columns. General Hickey had allotted his combat command 45 minutes to traverse Charleroi. The passage actually came to that, plus two hours, because of the milling, celebrating thousands of civilians.

One bridge had been discovered intact at Namur. Now, troops of the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion threw another across the Meuse and, at dawn, both spans were ready for division traffic.

A task force commanded by Lt. Colonel Rosewell King was detached to aid the 9th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Dinant. The rest of CC "B" crossed the Meuse while elements of Combat Command "A" found themselves fighting a sharp battle to get through Namur.

Members of the Belgian Armee Blanche had asserted that the bridges at Huy were still intact, so General Rose ordered one task force of CC "B" to spearhead far in the lead of other units and seize the crossings. Although sharp fighting broke out to the east of Namur, the task force broke through and captured two undamaged spans at Huy. The rest of the division immediately drove for the city, "A" on the north side of the Meuse, and "B" on the south. By nightfall, both assault commands had reached their objectives. Behind the leading elements of "B", Task Force Hogan began to experience stiff resistance from the usual bypassed infantry and anti-tank gun positions.

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Assault on Liege

Increased opposition indicated that the German defenders were preparing a defensive line along the river. General Rose, striking swiftly, upset the plan. While Hickey's CC "A" battered forward in a bold frontal assault on Liege, Boudinot's tankers swung right in a wide, circling maneuver over high ground. Rumbling forward irresistibly against harassing fire and small groups of enemy defenders, CC "B" reached a position on the southeast side of Liege by sunset. The command was still fighting and taking prisoners by the hundreds, but it appeared that the swift maneuver was a success.

In the meantime, Combat Command "A", in frontal attack on the city, faced heavier defenses and was momentarily halted by a number of heavy, dual purpose anti-aircraft guns on the outskirts. Concentrated and extremely accurate fire by the 67th Armored Field Artillery Battalion destroyed these guns in a dramatic duel, and General Hickey sent patrols probing forward.

The flanking movement accomplished by CC "B" had evidently taken the enemy completely by surprise. Elements of General Boudinot's command had crossed the Meuse on a bridge south of the city and were in position to observe all permanent defense installations. In fact, when enemy defenders awoke to the fact that they had again been outguessed by the 3rd Armored Division, their guns were pointed in the wrong direction. General Rose accompanied the circling force and must have derived keen satisfaction from its obvious success.

Although the situation now appeared to be well under control, there were the usual tragedies of the small actions. Outside the city, elements of the 32nd Armored Regiment, the 67th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion had mopped up and gone into a leaguer for the night. The area appeared to be well secured and men were allowed the luxury of showers in a nearby factory building. Unbeknownst to the "Spearhead" command, however, a group of bypassed enemy soldiers were hiding on the brushy slopes of a huge slag pile nearby. One of these men decided to snipe at American troops. His one and only victim was a tank-destroyer ace, whom crewmates found lying halfway to the shower point, his soap and towel still in his hand and his pockets rifled. He had been shot through the head.

Throughout the entire combat command the tank buster had a reputation for cool bravery and skill. If he had been killed in flaming action, his friends would have shrugged their shoulders in the manner of frontline GI's who have borne so much sorrow that additional pain is just so much weariness. They felt that if a soldier must die, then it should be in action, going forward. This death - to be killed by a skulking sniper behind the lines - was revolting. Lt. Colonel John K. Boles immediately asked that the tank-destroyers be allowed to comb the slag pile personally in an effort to avenge their crewmate. However, long before Boles had been advised of the affair, tankers, artillerists and TD troopers were all in action. The snipers were very shortly rounded up.

Again, as so often happened when German defenders found themselves outmaneuvered by the powerful drive of the 3rd Armored Division, there was a mad scramble by the enemy to get out of town. On the night of September 7, General Konrad Heinrich, commander of the 89th German Infantry Division, was killed as he attempted to motor through a roadblock in a civilian car. His body lay by the Belgian roadside like that of any other Kraut soldier, and passing citizens of Liege spat upon it.

Division forces immediately mopped up the metropolitan area and combat engineers of Colonel Foster's command constructed 510 feet of treadway bridge across the Meuse under cover of darkness. General Bock von Wolfingen, a German military government official, was captured on the 8th, falling prey to a Combat Command "B" road block which alone accounted for 35 enemy vehicles in two days.

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Cheering Civilians

Liege was practically undamaged, and the civilian population went wild with joy as "Spearhead" tanks rumbled over the wide, cobblestoned avenues. Once again cognac, champagne, and pretty girls overwhelmed the fatigued but happy troops of America. There were kisses and flowers and gifts of all kinds - even ice cream.

Tanker Lloyd Rinker received a package of the cool delicacy and promptly set it down on the hot transmission of his tank. Later, by the time he remembered - what with cheering crowds, squealing girls, and all - the ice cream sandwiches were rather the worse for wear.

Although the German army seemed to be paralyzed, there was no halting to celebrate in Liege. The big "Spearhead" Division arrowed for Verviers, and it became apparent that the Siegfried Line wasn't too far ahead. General Boudinot's CC "B" set out at 1100 hours on September 9 and, for the first time in days, met organized and heavy resistance. Engineers worked during the night hours to build a bridge across the Eauspa River.

Meanwhile, General Hickey's armored striking force moved to the east side of the Meuse and, in spite of sharp opposition, advanced quickly to the high ground north of Dison. Air reconnaissance revealed enemy escape columns stretching from Louveigne to Limbourg, and the Thunderbolts immediately went to work strafing and bombing vehicular traffic. By nightfall, leading elements of the 33rd Armored Regiment were consolidating their positions in Pepinster.

Operation in the narrow Belgian valleys was not especially appreciated by division soldiers who recalled the accuracy of German anti-tank gunners throughout the long campaign. However, aside from short, quickly terminated struggles, the Belgian sweep had been surprisingly easy. Now, Combat Command "A" reached Limbourg, and CC "B" went on to Theux, battling sporadic resistance and clearing many felled trees, which were used as road blocks, from the right of way. General Boudinot's tankers rolled into Verviers on the same day and the entire division joined them there.

Verviers was a pleasant textile town where a large minority of the people spoke English. Again celebrating Belgians threatened to slow the drive.

At Verviers, one of the amusing sidelights of war brought chuckles from men who were almost too tired to smile. An American P-47 fighter plane was shot down over the city. The pilot 'chuted to safety, but his aircraft roared down out of control and crashed heavily into a dwelling house. Bob Reuben, a newspaperman who was accompanying the division, and who habitually wore a fleece lined flying jacket, strolled into the house by way of a side door, in order to ascertain the damage. When he emerged again, by the front entrance, the amazed war correspondent found a frantic throng gathered to scream greetings to the lucky "pilot."

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Approach to German Border

Grimly, the men of the command noted that town names were losing their Belgian origin. Eupen fell to Combat Command "B" on the 11th and was occupied by the infantry. Combat Command "A" advanced through Lohirville and Welkenraedt against constant opposition. The enemy was now using every device to halt or slow rampaging "Spearhead" tanks and infantrymen. In spite of air cover and a screen of 83rd Armored Reconnaissance vehicles in front of the heavy columns, serious resistance was encountered all the way.

There was no longer any evidence of V-for-Victory signs, nor flowers and "Vive la Amerique" declarations. Eupen was theoretically Belgian, but it was a sullen, paradoxical town. A few Belgian flags hung from the windows; in others trailed the white banner of surrender. Street signs conflicted in French and Germany wording.

This was border country, a place of conflicting emotions, bitter hatred and suspense. Snipers appeared and were systematically hunted down. The artillery pounded in quickening tempo. There were few civilians on the streets to watch American armor clatter by, but behind the drawn curtains many a sympathizer of the Third Reich must have watched - with terror, and some wonder at this manifestation of overwhelming power aimed unerringly at the Siegfried Line.

Combat Command "B" had taken the city by 1600 hours on September 11th. Numerous road blocks and blown bridges had delayed the force, but division engineers made proper use of their portable treadways and the mission had been accomplished with relatively small loss of life.

The gates of Germany loomed before the "Spearhead" Division. Weary men, spent after the long pursuit across northern France and Belgium, readied their played-out fighting vehicles for the assault which the world had long awaited. Deep into the night of September 11-12, 1944, the combat. commanders strained their red-rimmed eyes over operations maps. Dirty and ragged, their nerves screaming from lack of sleep and constant concussion of the guns, General Courtney Hodges's first Americans shrugged their shoulders wearily - and prepared to hit that line hard.

Next Chapter: Rhineland, Phase 1

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