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Rhineland, Phase 1
September 15, 1944 - December 17, 1944




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Division Enters Germany

Now General Maurice Rose sent reconnaissance jabbing forward to determine the best routes to the Siegfried Line, to probe enemy strength, and to seek crossings through the dragon's teeth, those jagged symbols of Nazi Germany.

Task Force Lovelady, of Combat Command "B", led by units of Reconnaissance Company, 33rd Armored Regiment, went first, but progress was slow because of numerous road blocks which had to be cleared by engineers with bulldozers.

Resistance increased steadily as the task force neared German territory but, at 1451 hours, the first reconnaissance vehicles, closely followed by the main body of Colonel Lovelady's force, rolled across the border into the town of Roetgen. Several machine gun nests were mopped up and an enemy staff car destroyed. The infantry, tanks and tank-destroyers went on through, and the first German town to fall to an invader since the wars of Napoleon had been taken. That night the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion occupied Roetgen and secured its approaches.

In the meantime, the division's other patrol actions had been hindered by terrain and enemy opposition. On the evening of September 12-13, both combat commands prepared for the all-out assault.

Under cover of darkness, Hickey's crack Task Force "X", commanded by Lt. Colonel L. L. Doan, assembled in the Aachen-Eynatten wood. The plan was simple; the first waves of infantry, supported by direct tank-destroyer fire, were to secure high ground just beyond the dragon's teeth. Immediately following this part of the operation, men of the 23rd Armored Engineer Battalion would move forward and breach the obstacle line with high explosive charges. The tanks, which were usually considered point of the "Spearhead", would then go on into Germany behind the "Queen of Battles" and the engineers.

The attack began at 0800 hours when "Blitz Doughs" of the 1st Battalion, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment moved forward as planned. Under a covering barrage fired by division artillery, mortars, assault guns and the tank-destroyers, Company "C" first hurdled the dragon's teeth and advanced through a murderous hail of small arms fire. Division artillery threw concentration after concentration ahead of the advancing infantry, but enemy mortar bursts began to crump viciously among these assault forces and the first wave faltered.

Rallying, these doughboys and engineers went on to take a number of pillbox positions and machine gun nests. Behind them, M10 tank-destroyers sent long lances of direct fire at stubborn fortifications. The battle swayed in hot, fearful suspense.

Chapter Index

Breaching the Siegfried Line

Colonel Lawrence G. Foster's engineers, working frantically to attach explosives to the dragon's teeth, were raked with fire from machine guns and mortars. Still they persevered, and finally blew a path through the obstacles.

In the meantime, Colonel Doan had made a startling discovery - a ready made opening in the line! Evidently this path had been constructed by local farmers, and the retreating Wehrmacht had not found time to block it sufficiently. Into this breach Doan sent a flail tank, or " Scorpion," one of those Shermans which were fitted with a whirling chain mechanism to detonate mines.

The flail rumbled forward, reached the wicked array of dragon's teeth and, by an odd quirk of chance, was stopped cold - not by enemy fire, but because one of the huge chain flails had become entangled in the "teeth" of the Siegfried Line. Behind the "Scorpion" an armored division waited to smash into Germany. Before it, crack troops of Hitler's Wehrmacht noted the situation and poured small arms and mortar fire into the breach.

This action suddenly became one of those pivotal points in battle upon which hang the success or failure of an entire mission. Up ahead the "Blitz Doughs" were hanging on to their conquered ground by a prayer and an eyelash. They'd taken a number of pillboxes, but others sprayed a withering cross fire along the entire ridge. One concrete fort, which had been blasted by direct tank destroyer fire, still spewed lead each time an infantryman moved. When called upon to surrender, the German defenders shouted: "Go to hell - we'll fight it out!" It was an admirable attitude, but one that did not last. Soon afterward the 12-man bunker crew filed out, half blinded and dazed from the concussion of heavy shells hitting their retreat.

But all this had not yet happened, and in those long, terrible moments when the flail seemed to spell doom to the entire operation, five men were suddenly very important people. They were, Sergeant Sverry "Weegie" Dahl, and his crew in the "Scorpion": Gunner Technician Charles Hughes, Technician Milt Jeffery, Pvt. Orrin Madden, and Pvt. James L. Ferguson. The world has never heard of their part in the following action, but men of the "Spearhead" watched it with bated breath on that day in September, 1944.

These men never hesitated. Under intense small arms fire and mortar bursts, all five piled out of their stranded vehicle and proceeded to disentangle the flails from the dragon's teeth. Two medium tanks, in tandem, then pulled the machine clear. Ducking back under the protective armor, Dahl and his crew again rumbled forward through the gap. American tanks followed them into the first line of Germany's west wall.

Twenty tanks of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Armored Regiment, began cruising the area of fortification south of Verscheid. A number of 88mm dual purpose guns and pillboxes were knocked out, but casualties mounted alarmingly. Captain Louis F. Plummer, commanding the "Blitz Doughs" was wounded and evacuated. Lt. Colonel William R. Orr then assumed command of the battalion. It was his first day in action, and Orr later stated that he never expected to see another dawn.

Chapter Index

Heavy German Resistance

Meanwhile, the tanks were dueling with enemy armor and 88's. One by one the American Shermans were hit and set ablaze. At dusk on that bitter day, Colonel Doan, his lean face set in a scowl of worry, dismounted and travelled from one to another of his remaining vehicles, giving instructions and attempting to bolster morale. He was there all night, on the drive to Nutheim, shouting hoarse-voiced directions and disregarding the constant rain of death. At one time, Doan could see seven of his tanks blazing among the pillboxes. There was a steady flickering of guns along the skyline, and a meshing crackle of small arms to accentuate the curving whistle and crash of shells.

The first platoon of reinforcing tanks arrived as darkness began to hide the German countryside. Doughs and tankers went on together in the flame-bitten darkness with division artillery firing heavy support over their heads. By 2300 hours a halt was made to reorganize. The various elements coiled, and infantry outposted the area. At midnight on September 13, General Hickey's big combat command had bored deep into Siegfried defenses and it appeared certain that there was nothing Jerry could do about it.

General Truman E. Boudinot's tankers and supporting arms had also engaged in a vicious struggle during the day. His two task forces, one under Lt. Colonel William B. Lovelady and the other commanded by Lt. Colonel Rosewell H. King, had been delayed by craters, steel cables stretched across the road, iron gates, and mines as well as heavy defensive fires. Both task forces drove forward, however, Lovelady's men advancing in the general direction of Rott over a good road initially, and King's troops in the direction of Kornelimunster. Combat Command "B" engineers were also called upon to work under heavy fire in order to place demolitions and to remove mines along the route. At dusk Lovelady's task force had reached a creek near Vicht, and coiled to await night bridging operations by the engineers. Colonel King attempted a frontal assault on Schmidthof, but his infantry and tanks, although well supported by artillery, were stopped after small gains. Fortifications, heavy concentrations of mortar and small arms fire, plus well dug-in and camouflaged anti-tank guns, were too much for the battle depleted task force. However, both Lovelady's and King's men were well into Siegfried defenses.

Both combat commands drove forward again on September 14. CC "A" toward Brand, south of Aachen, where it coiled under heavy lashing by enemy mortars and artillery, and CC "B" to the outskirts of Breinig, encountering more road blocks and fixed fortifications. General Boudinot's tankers crossed the second line of Siegfried defenses on September 15 in spite of heavy resistance, and Hickey's men also continued the drive on through, even though losses thinned their potential strength. Many of the "Spearhead" Division's crack soldiers were lost at the Siegfried Line, either to death or wounds. S/Sgt. Lafayette Pool, one of the greatest, was evacuated with a serious leg injury after his tank had been hit while breaching the second line of defenses. Lt. Colonel Walter B. Richardson saw Pool knocked out of action and gritted his teeth at the sight. Richardson was a commander who felt deeply the tragedy of war and who was yet one of the 3rd Armored Division's most capable combat commanders.

During the following days, all of which were a nightmare of whistling shells and heavy mortar fire, men of the 3rd continued to mop up the area they had taken. Combat Command "Reserve" went into action here while the other two commands paused for breath.

By September 23, half of Stolberg had been taken, but the city was still full of machine gun fire and the scream of shells. General Maurice Rose, always anxious to be with frontline elements, moved his CP to the Prym House, which overlooked Stolberg and was within small arms range of the enemy lines. For some reason, probably because the enemy never expected an American general and his staff to be so near the front, the CP was never demolished by shell fire or aerial bombardment, although it received samples of both.

Chapter Index

Division Halts at Stolberg

Slowly, the big division ground to a halt in the Stolberg-Mausbach-Breinig area. Elements of the 1st Infantry Division took over part of the wide sector, and the "Spearhead" began to regroup and take stock of losses which were severe. That 18-day dash from the Seine to the Siegfried had been successful and very spectacular, but it had cost a great deal in men and machinery. There were scarcely 100 tanks of the original 400 left in proper operating condition. Supply had begun to lag in spite of the heroic effort of those troops who made trips of more than 200 miles in order to bring up vital ammunition, fuel and rations. Much of this supply, in fact, was still tunneling through the floating piers in Normandy beach areas, and it was nothing short of a miracle that the armies had been able to drive so far without a great port on the continent of Europe.

Now, the entire First Army had reached Germany's borders, but the "Spearhead" and the 1st Infantry Divisions were out on the point of a salient, and it was impossible for them to advance further until their flanks were secure. Therefore, the battle of attrition, which was hoped to be of short duration, began. Although men of the striking forces still believed that the war was practically over, there was still eight months of furious combat to be concluded before VE Day.

There was no magic formula or employment of secret weapons in this first breaching of the Siegfried Line. It was done by one armored division supported by attached infantry and artillery, but without air support. There was tactical surprise in the victory, but much of it could be ascribed to plain Yankee guts and know-how. One could go into the tactical plan and see how the entire operation had been the result of well-integrated teamwork. There was first the "Queen of Battles," the men of the infantry who take so great a part in every victory by force of arms. And there were the engineers, the heroic technicians of combat who must solve their problems of demolition or construction under the heaviest of defensive fire.

There were the tanks and tank-destroyers, the pin-point accuracy of division artillery, and the non-conforming, but highly successful blasting of pillboxes by direct 155mm gunfire. These different branches of service, all working together as one vast team, took their losses and bored in to complete the job.

Actually, the battle for the Siegfried Line had begun at Mons, Belgium, on September 3, when the 3rd Armored Division and the 1st Infantry destroyed that German corps which was retreating to take up positions in Westwall fortifications. As a result of that historic engagement, Germany was forced to supplement her first line forces with a number of very poorly trained elements. On September 19, for example, a prisoner of war was taken who asserted that he was 63 years old and had been a non-com in 1914. The prisoner, an infantryman captured in the fierce house-to-house fighting which took place in the factory district of Stolberg, said that he had been in the army for only three weeks and was told that his duties would be confined to guarding the "numerous" American prisoners of war taken by the Wehrmacht. Instead of which, he griped, he had been given a rifle and sent to the front.

There were numbers of such ancient warriors in the daily POW line-up, plus a percentage who were terribly young. Several declared that they had been sent to clean up block houses and defense points prior to their occupation by fresh troops. The promised reinforcements never arrived, and the raggle-taggle army of boys and old men suddenly found themselves in a desperate battle for which they had never been trained.

There were even a few reports of women in the pillboxes. American troops flushed a number of these females who had been living with soldiers in frontline bunkers. Whether the "blitz maedels" ever actually took part in fighting is a point for discussion. GI's of the "Spearhead" didn't much care. They promptly labeled these characters " Pillbox Annies" and sent them to the rear for interrogation along with the other sad-sack prisoners.

Battered, and finally at a standstill, the 3rd Armored Division had wound up one of the most amazing armored force operations in the history of warfare. Eighteen days from the Seine to the Siegfried! And now, in a last, climactic surge of strength, the division had smashed completely through that legendary westwall into the confines of greater Germany. Then, like an athlete who has breached the tape of victory and stands exhausted, the "Spearhead" paused. Vehicles were demanding maintenance. Men were haggard with fatigue. It was a long road they travelled and the far horizon was still befogged with smoke of battle.

Chapter Index

Stalemate at Stolberg

Stolberg was a divided city, half in German hands, half occupied by the 3rd Armored Division. There was a constant exchange of shellfire here, and fall rains had begun to change the front into a quagmire. Big guns of division artillery, buzz-bombs, "incoming mail," and air raids kept troops from sleeping too soundly at night.

For the most part, Combat Command "A" was stationed in Breinig. General Boudinot's CC "B" was between Breinig and Kornelimunster, and Division Rear Echelon at Raeren. Colonel Robert L. Howze, Jr., commander of CC "R", maintained a headquarters near forward echelon, on the outskirts of Stolberg. All of the other small towns in the area, such as Busbach, Schutzheid, and Mausbach, were also occupied by division troops and shelled periodically. The road from Busbach to Stolberg was a bowling alley for German 88's, and that from Breinig to Stolberg could not be considered much better.

While the stalemate continued and supply built up behind the lines, a bitter series of patrol actions went on in and about the demolished houses which constituted a sort of modern no-man's-land on this new western front.

From a world viewpoint, patrol clashes were merely a line in the daily communique, but to GI-Joe and his German counterpart, the men who kept the deadly rendezvous, it was primitive battle at its horrific height of strangle-hold and knife. These actions were seldom of great importance but they helped to round out the G-2 intelligence picture of enemy activity and were therefore necessary. Sometimes they were extremely successful and again, as in the case of Sergeant Archie Dustin, the report contained the sort of grim irony which made operations officers chuckle over the papers which told of mission not accomplished.

Dustin went out on a gusty October evening. He and five of his men intended to capture one German soldier and bring him back for interrogation. That was their intention, and they came pretty close to succeeding.

Entering the German half of the city of Stolberg at dusk, Dustin and his smudge-faced crew proceeded to work through alleyways and backyard flower gardens until they had passed several Jerry outposts. Well within enemy lines they entered a partially demolished building and began a ticklish job of playing cat and mouse with the Wehrmacht.

Presently a German patrol entered the house opposite. Other groups walked by on the sidewalk, their hob-nails echoing in the night; but they were always in great enough strength to resist capture. The Yanks were suddenly in a tough spot themselves. Dawn was on the way, and soon the hunters would be the hunted. They needed lots of luck - and they got it too, with a load of high explosives.

American artillery began to rip and tear into Stolberg. Two German soldiers, who had been clumping down the road, bolted in opposite directions. One darted in beside Dustin and stopped short with his eyes goggling as six M-1 rifles swung menacingly.

The trip back to American lines was even more hazardous than had been the penetration to enemy territory. Dawn was beginning to light the landscape and Jerry, as usual, was celebrating the return of day with a lot of automatic fire. Every machine gun in the world seemed to be searching for the little patrol.

The prisoner was submissive; in fact he usually beat the Yanks to the ground whenever shell or mortar fire landed nearby. Dustin was beginning to congratulate himself on a job well done. However, as the patrol passed through its own forward listening posts, a particularly wicked concentration of mortar landed nearby. Upon regaining his feet, Dustin found that the prisoner seemed unwilling to continue. Scared to a blue funk, he thought.

"Tell him," Dustin said to Pvt. John Weiner, "to get his butt off that ground and come along."

"Can't do it," Weiner said grimly, "he's dead!"

A splinter of German steel had killed the prisoner. Sergeant Dustin walked back to his CP in the sordid grey dawn. He had to report that the mission was not accomplished.

Of course there were many successful patrols. Sergeant Bob Wallace, another member of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, went out one night and brought back a burly Kraut whom he had bested in hand to hand combat. And, to top all patrol actions, there was the affair "Geitz."

Lieutenant William D. Hill led that one and, in the misty darkness beyond American outpost lines, the lieutenant and his squad leader, Sergeant Phillip Sullivan, suddenly discovered that their getaway man had disappeared. They held a whispered conversation. The man's name was Geitz.

"He's probably just out of place," Hill whispered, "Try calling him, but don't make it too loud."

"GEITZ!" Sullivan cried, in a stage whisper. A clump of bushes to the left front rustled slightly, and a distinctly teutonic voice declared, "Ja, hier! Was is los?"

The recon patrol lost no time in performing that strategic maneuver known as getting the hell out of there! Geitz was back at the CP; he'd been lost early in the game and returned to his own lines. Geitz number two probably died a hero's death when his machine gun nest was mortared on the following morning. On the other hand, he may be still wondering who called him that night, and why!

Chapter Index

Living with Shelling

Shellfire was the bane of existence at Stolberg and in the surrounding towns. German guns located in the Duren area constantly lobbed projectiles of various sizes into "Spearhead" positions. There were a number of casualties and a greater percentage of near misses. Reconnaissance Company of the 32nd Armored Regiment probably caught more shells than any other outfit on the line. For some reason Jerry seemed to have the unfortunate recon troops zeroed in no matter where they moved.

The narrow escape department blossomed with strange tales at Stolberg and vicinity. A 170mm projectile whirled in to hit a house occupied by CC "A" guards at Schutzheid. The shell was a dud but it managed to smash through the roof and two floors of the billet, finally coming to rest up against the blanketed form of Pvt. Louis Navarro, who was sleeping peacefully at the time. Also at Schutzheid, Pvt. Jake Cox grumbled because he had to go out in the rain to gas his vehicle.

"I wish," he griped, "that the damned thing would blow up."

Presto! A German shell arrived on the truck, setting it ablaze from radiator cap to tailboard.

"I'm a ruined man," said Cox, as he climbed out from under the table, "There was a package of cigarettes in the glove compartment!"

The grim humor of the front line manifested itself in many ways. When a shrapnel splinter imbedded itself in the wall just above Lt. Junius Layson's head, the young officer couldn't resist pasting a sign in the window of his billets. It said: ACHTUNG! ACHTUNG! GERMAN SHELLS WILL DETOUR IMMEDIATELY!

Because brushes with death were so frequent, a certain nonchalant fatalism came to the veterans. Lt. Colonel Paul G. Fowler and Major Robert E. Chaney were peacefully eating breakfast one morning when "incoming mail" shattered the windows.

"Pass the salt, please," said Chaney calmly.

"Sorry," said Colonel Fowler, "but a bit of shrapnel has just smashed the shaker."

A nervous orderly brought more salt. Major Chaney eyed the frightened man as he placed the new salt cellar in the center of the table. "Now," he said, "I'll give you five to one that they can't do it again!"

Aside from shell fire, nocturnal air raids and patrol actions, the front was quiet. 3rd Armored Division Military Government, formerly called Civil Affairs, was extremely busy working out the problems of occupation. Being the first unit of its kind to operate in Germany, there were no precedents upon which to base decisions. Lt. Colonel William E. Dahl and his men probably set the pattern for future dealings with German civilians in the soon to be occupied Reich. It was a good example. The Germans were tired of war and, in the main, peaceful and cooperative, although a little astonished and dismayed at the non-fraternization policy.

Not that there wasn't fraternization! A percentage of "Spearhead" soldiers openly violated the ruling and took their court martials as a matter of fact when they were caught at it. In Stolberg it was said that an artillery concentration was often welcomed. GI's who ducked into the nearest doorway for safety were often found to have picked a house which contained beaucoup frauleins!

Chapter Index

A Role in Aachen Siege

During this period of relative calm at Stolberg, Major General J. Lawton Collins's VII Corps was building up for the attack on Aachen. Men of the 3rd Armored Division took a small part in this action, but it was a memorable one.

A task force commanded by Lt. Colonel Sam Hogan was attached to the veteran 1st Infantry Division and committed in the western reaches of the city. The "Spearhead" units seized strategic Loueberg Hill on October 19, while working with the 26th Infantry. There was moderate resistance and heavy mortar fire, but Hogan's men found the mud their worst enemy. The sticky clay fogged tanks and half-tracks while German troops sprayed a steady concentration of fire from well concealed strong points.

One Sherman, commanded by T/4 Dries Franken, actually sunk into a shell hole until the crew could not see out of their periscopes. "This is the first time," said their platoon leader, Lt. Harland Austin, "that I've seen a bunch of tankers jump into a foxhole without getting out of their tank!"

The defenders of the key city of Aachen fought until the last bottle! When elements of the 3rd Armored Division, fighting with infantrymen of the BIG RED ONE, captured the last strongpoint, they found a great deal of ammunition and plenty of empty flasks. In this connection, Colonel Hogan probably made the greatest error of the campaign when he captured seven German half-tracks and then sent them to the rear without conducting a detailed examination. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry found the vehicles crammed with drinks - and they weren't soft! Hogan, a Texan, was reputed to know the difference in drinks and to appreciate it.

Colonel Hogan was luckier at that, than the 1st Sergeant of "H" Company, 33rd Armored Regiment, who took time out to examine a Jerry halftrack during the last hours of the Loueberg Hill fight. One of "H" Company's tanks saw movement, fired at the already knocked out German vehicle and managed to blow it up in their top-kick's face! Muttering imprecations, as only a 1st Sergeant can, that worthy walked off with two cases of cognac salvaged from the wreck. A few moments later he was strafed by an FW-I90 which added insult to injury by smashing the remaining bottles of liquor!

By mid-November, the 3rd Armored Division had recuperated after the long summer offensive, and waited for corps orders to attack. Intelligence channels had discovered that the 4/th German infantry division was preparing to replace the harried and weary 12th, then on the line. It was an opportune time for an American offensive.

In November the entire battle zone was wet. Heavy mist and fall rains kept sweeping dismally across the still-green fields of the Rhineland. It was doughboy weather, mean and muddy. Even the air force kept its head down and the sky belonged to Jerry's rumbling buzz bombs. Thoughtfully, tankers watched road surfaces degenerate into sticky ribbons of mud. There was no bottom, not even on high ground.

The inclement weather broke momentarily on November 16. Under a shifting, scud-blown sky the men of Combat Command "B" loaded up and waited for orders to move out. This was to be a strike for the troublesome Hamich-Hastenrath ridge which barred the way to the Roer River and the plain of Cologne. There wasn't much talk that day; the combat commanders scowled and chewed their lips. The men waited impassively but they knew very well what the attack would mean. They knew all about the way of a Sherman in soft ground. On this front the enemy had been digging in for two solid months. The Kraut was a good professional soldier and he had plenty of dual purpose 88's - each of which was capable of holing a medium tank from frontal drive to exhaust. The odds were not especially reassuring.

Preparation for the breakthrough began at 1115 hours when 1,300 Fortresses and Liberators of the 8th Air Force hit the area Eschweiler-Langerwehe. The bombing was not nearly as spectacular as that in Normandy, but troops could see the long, grey smoke markers drifting where the bombers had passed, and they could hear the surging thunder of explosives up ahead.

Chapter Index

Drive to the Roer River

The attack jumped off at 1300 as Division Artillery hammered targets to the direct front and rockets cut flaming arcs in the air. The tank tracks spun hard, gripped, and sheets of water flew to right and left. No dust this time.

Within 24 minutes of H-hour, Lt. Colonel William B. LoveJady's task force had reached its first objective in Kottenich. Initially it appeared that resistance might be less than had been expected, but then Task Force Mills ran into a cleverly concealed minefield and a vicious covering fire by mortars, artillery and small arms.

A dirty, disheartening struggle developed for Hastenrath and Scherpenseel. The route was deep in mud, water and debris. Underneath this surface scum lay the Teller and Riegel mines that could, and did, blow peeps into masses of tangled wreckage, or rip tracks and bogey wheels off the Sherman tanks.

Mills found his task force battling desperately to survive. Maintenance Company of the 33rd Armored Regiment sent its men into the flaming attack in order to retrieve crippled fighting vehicles. Back at Mausbach, the mechanics of the command worked night and day in order to return these machines to the line where they were so urgently needed. Yard by yard the task forces ground ahead, finally taking both towns after a bitter give and take slugging match. On November 18 Colonel Mills was killed in action and Colonel John C. Welborn assumed command of the depleted force.

In spite of heavy casualties, action showed that General Rose's division had not lost any of its driving ability. The objectives had been reached and secured regardless of mud and mines and a well prepared defense. The action of the tankers and infantry had been superb, but the badge of courage was not awarded to them alone. For extraordinary heroism, the medical aid section of the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Armored Regiment, was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation. These soldiers of the red cross had brushed aside the concern of veteran "Blitz Doughs" in order to set up a forward receiving station in the midst of the battle. Their work saved lives and earned the gratitude and administration of front line tankers and doughs.

By November 21, CC "B" had been pinched out of the new offensive at Hastenrath and Scherpenseel. However, a new drive began almost immediately and, while General Boudinot's troops rested, Task Force Richardson, of Combat Command "A" went into action in an attempt to take high ground between Langerwehe and Frenz.

Now the routes of advance had begun to resemble those terrible salients of World War I. The territory beyond Eschweiler had been heavily shelled by American artillery, periodically bombed, and now torn by tank fire. Small towns were masses of wreckage and every field was peeked with new craters. Buildings and dwelling houses leaned in lop-sided surrender, torn by American steel, and dead cows lay in stifflegged postures reminiscent of Normandy.

Mud and mines were still the order of the day as Task Force Richardson began to throw a steel arm around the outskirts of Weisweiler. Recent rains had swollen every marsh and stream in the battle area and high ground was soaked so thoroughly that attacking armor wallowed hulldeep in the clinging stuff. There was no opportunity for maneuver and Colonel Richardson watched in agony as his Shermans bogged down and were set aflame by accurate German anti-tank fire. Smoke screens were used to some advantage in this push, but the combination of mud, mines and well dug-in defenses seemed to nullify every theory of armored attack. Even at night the command knew little rest. While bivouaced at Nothburg, preparatory to jumping off, a dam on the Inde River was blown by German defenders, flooding the task force positions to a depth of nearly five feet in some particulars. Crews were forced out of basements and had much of their equipment soaked. Later, near Weisweiler, while German searchlight batteries cast an eerie artificial moonlight over the area, Luftwaffe squadrons scattered anti-personnel and high explosive bombs among the "Spearhead" vehicles. There were few casualties among the men, but peeps and command cars were riddled with fragments.

In spite of the raw cold and unfavorable weather conditions, Richardson maintained his steady but costly advance. Engineer units removed hundreds of mines along the way; one crew under Lt. Edmund Socha lifting more than 1,000 of the big tank-killers in a three day period. While tanks continued to bog down, the 2nd Battalion of the 4/th Infantry, attached, went forward to take the objective. For the most part, this last phase of action was an infantry show supported by tank and tank-destroyer fire. The played-out, frustrated elements of the task force returned to division control in the vicinity of Busbach. It had been a cold, miserable and bloody struggle.

Chapter Index

Push to River Banks

In the last stages of the push to the Roer, a little river which was troublesome because its levels could be so efficiently controlled, Combat Command "Reserve," led by Colonel Robert H. Howze, Jr., jumped off on December 10. Once again the combination of mud and mines and anti-tank guns nearly spelled ruin for attacking units. The enemy continued to defend with fanatical determination and, although Division Artillery paved the way with concentrated barrages, the German exacted a heavy price for every yard of ground he yielded. Two task forces, however, one led by Lt. Colonel Matthew W. Kane, and the other by Lt. Colonel Sam Hogan, supported by a battalion of the attached 60th Infantry, continued to advance. Kane's force took Echtz after a sharp battle, and Task Force Hogan drove into Geich and Obergeich. The combat command then went on to clear Hoven, on the banks of the Roer, slugging out a close decision over tanks, anti-tank guns and the ever-present infantry.

During this action at Obergeich, doughboys and tankers of the 3rd Armored Division witnessed one of those incidents which tend to become legend in wartime. It had to do with a pair of soldiers who displayed that sort of nonchalant bravery which is usually encountered only in motion picture accounts of battle.

The two gallant doughs, like so many of those men who become legends of war, disappeared almost immediately into anonymity. Nobody knew who they were; even their descriptions became a subject for debate. However, all accounts agreed that the enlisted man carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), and the officer - a walking stick. The lieutenant, it was said, was killed in action on the day following his greatest moment, but even that information is shrouded in doubt.

The facts of the matter remain.

Division tanks were attacking Obergeich, the little town which lay to the east of Langerwehe on the road to Duren. The axis of advance led along one of Germany's main rail lines. In the mud-bound terrain tanks and armored cars proceeded slowly, bogging down frequently and receiving heavy anti-tank, artillery, and small arms fire. Leading the armor were two small figures. The first was a GI carrying a BAR and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of grenades; The second was a lieutenant, strolling along with no weapon at all except his cane. With it the officer pointed out machine gun nests and other strong points for the following tankers to attack.

Neither of these doughboys attempted to duck the constant rain of heavy German mortar and shell fire. They walked upright, the dough spraying every position with his BAR and tossing grenades to right and left. About him terrified Jerries rose from their slit trenches and walked forward to surrender.

The lieutenant, ambling a few paces behind, appeared unaware of danger. He pointed with his absurd little walking stick, and went on. Together, the two small figures led the armored column into the town of Obergeich, which was subsequently captured by the tanks, and there they disappeared, promptly to become another brave legend of the western front.

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Back at Stolberg

During the period of vicious attrition on this sector, VII Corps had set up a rest camp in Verviers, Belgium, which was visited by many of the division's personnel. Passes to the Belgian towns and to Paris were also issued. It seemed as if the war would remain locked in a bitter stalemate until spring. Men of the combat commands performed ever-necessary maintenance on their fighting vehicles, washed clothing, and made billets more comfortable. Division engineers repaired and kept operating the Stolberg water system, and crews of local citizenry labored on the muddy roads. Up in Busbach, Lt. Arthur Rutshaw of the military police had organized an efficient police department. His German staff arrived punctually each morning, snapped to stiff attention and received their orders. During this period the only excitement was occasioned by small, miserable attacks for limited objectives, by air raids and robot bombs. Division artillery had moved up and the night was no longer a steady series of rippling, crashing explosions. Robots sputtered and rumbled overhead night and day until troops began to manufacture weird tales about "chimney details." It was necessary, the solemn GI's stated, to have a man on every roof. His duty? To refuel buzz bombs and bend the chimneys to allow the robots to pass on over the Stolberg-Breinig-Busbach area!

By mid-December division troops had begun to prepare for the Christmas holidays. Trees were selected and, in many billets, were set up and decorated for the celebration. Although positions were still under occasional bombardment by long range weapons, the front had been pushed forward until this was the exception rather than the rule. Even the roads were beginning to look relatively clear of mud, water and rubble. It looked like a peaceful Christmas for the "Spearhead" Division. And then, of course, one week before holiday, electrifying news came clamoring over the lines of communication. The great counter attack had begun. St. Nicholas, with a considerable-assist by General von Rundstedt, had presented a bitter gift to the allied high command.

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