Saturday, February 27, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat April 16-24, 1945

On April 16th the Second Battalion spreads out from the river to Fein Woods and begins attacking parallel to the Neckar. The Third Battalion is already in the area. The 397th is relieved of its right flank by A Company and Battalion HQ in a hilltop castle at Untergruppenbach and a pincers movement on a huge wooded area beyond a long low plain to the south is planned. Able is assigned the task of taking Helfenberg at the edge of the woods.

A series of wooded noses leading to a large forest defend the approaches to the roads leading southward. These noses are well zeroed in and grazing fire from automatic weapons further interdict their approaches. The attack on Helfenberg moves across one of these noses. There it is stopped. No amount of artillery and small arms fire can force a wedge into the town during the afternoon of April 17th. The order is made to dig in and wait. The position is deemed to be too precarious and a withdrawal is made after dark, the casualties being carried without litters.

The next morning another try at Helfenberg over the same route is successful. Jerry had pulled out because of pressure by the Third Battalion. The night of April 18-19 is spent peacefully in Helfenberg. The next night after motor movement to Nassach Jerry artillery causes considerable loss of sleep, but after clearing the woods to the bottom of the valley Company A, 399th Infantry Regiment sees its fight finished. What remains is a rip-roaring, loot-accumulating rat race.

The rat races are perhaps the best remembered of the campaigns conducted by the Company. No one is able to get much sleep during those days. On April 20 Winnenden is found to be full of rear echelon enemy and is set on fire. The next day an enemy held bridge is taken and crossed. Five times during the day orders are received to hold up and defend. On the fourth order everyone gathers at the local beer hall and a huge songfest commences which stops only when the Colonel comes in and tells the men to be on their way. Lobenrot is occupied at midnight April 21. The town is so small that every house is used and still the men are crowded.

Everything is a big rush southward. TD’s loaded with dusty dogfaces, a few carrying radios, others wearing derby hats or toppers, one guy nearly falling off waving a lady’s panties, artillery and chow trains capturing towns for themselves. At about noon on April 23 the Company rolls into Oberesslingen. Word is received that the French have taken Stuttgart. The realization sets in that Able Company will not see combat again. There are only a handful of the 190-odd originals left. The men are a long way from home and the future is clouded by the realization that there still is a war on the other side of the world.

About Letter 190

Bill is back with Company A, having returned from Paris. He is in a "nice, comfortable and what is more important a safe place." The war news is good. "Unless the Jerries try to make a stand in the Bavarian Alps the thing should be over in a few days or week at the most."

Letter 190- April 24, 1945

April 24, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Well, I’m back from Paris now. The beautiful interlude is “finis, caput”. Alas, alas. However, I’m in a nice, comfortable and what is more important a safe place and it looks as if I may stay here for quite some time. I know that’ll make you feel better. If feel much better myself. Here I live among the comforts of home—running water, electric lights, radio and the like. Almost as good as Paris. On second thought it couldn’t be that good. First thing you know I’ll be off in a blue daze of shined shoes, clean shave, ties, etc. I’ll be back in the army.

The news sure looks good these days. The armies are moving around so fast that nobody knows what the score is. Unless the Jerries try to make a stand in the Bavarian Alps the thing should be over in a few days or week at the most. I hate to make predictions, however.

The weather here has been beautiful for the last few days; real California weather. I never have seen such bright clear days in Europe. The horizon is even rippling with heat waves.

I received several letters from you yesterday. They were the first ones in about 2 weeks so they really were appreciated.

There’s not much else to say right now so until I work up enough energy to write again…..

Best Love,

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat April 10-15, 1945

Higher echelon, having interrogated a few of the youths captured at Heilbronn decides that a general counter-attack is to be launched against the city on April 10 or 11. Consequently, Able Company makes adjustments. The Second Platoon outposts its apartments and picks out supplementary positions along the railroad tracks, the First spreads thinner and forms strong points, the Third fortifies the left flank, and the mortars and artillery zeroes in fire to the front. Typically reliable, G-2 makes a wrong guess and on the twelfth of April, after the Second Battalion takes its positions, Able occupies Heilbronn garrison jointly with Baker. The edge of town is in the rear now, and in front are hills and woods, and Crailsheim. The 10th Armored is reported to be having trouble in Crailsheim and the 44th is sent in to relieve them. In addition, the 100th breaks out eastward in an attempt to relieve pressure.

Before dawn on April 14, Charlie and Able jump off into the woods that straddle the hilly roadbed toward Crailsheim. It is a very rainy day, there are a number of enemy automatic weapons, and the woods are large. The attack progresses to the crest of the hill. Tanks arrive to cover the road, Charlie contacts Able by patrol and the positions are consolidated. Then direct fire is taken from enemy 88’s and orders come through to withdraw.

Unknown to the First Battalion, the 10th Armored pulls back from Crailsheim, the 397th moves around in front blocking any eastward attack and the French head south towards Stuttgart after failing to cross the Neckar River. As a result, the direction of attack moves southward. Following the retaking of Crailsheim by the 44th the left flank begins to move. Pressure on the right flank needs to be relieved, for the drive on the southern redoubt has begun. A large crescent shaped woods spreads along the hill crest from south of Heilbronn at Flein eastward to Untergruppenbach. It is the task of A and C Companies to clear these woods. Charlie remains in positions vacated by Able which in turn withdraws to the town of Flein where Baker Company has forced a toehold in the edge of the woods.

The next morning, April 15, Able Company jumps off through Baker and, straddling the crest of the ridge, heads for contact with Charlie coming around from the other side. Considerable 88 fire is encountered and a heavily defended road block slows progress. TD’s artillery and 81 mm. mortars help somewhat and the drive continues. Baker Co. and the tanks come up to help with the defense. The first night spent in the woods since Briedenbach is survived without bedrolls or hot chow.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat April 6-9, 1945

It requires most of the night of April 5-6 for Able Company, relieved of Schweigern by the Second Battalion, to occupy Böckingen across the river from Heilbronn. The platoon leaders on their reconnaissance make, in effect, a single-handed capture of the town. It is believed that they are the first Allied troops in.

Heilbronn, on the Neckar River southeast of Frankfort, was, before Air Corps attacks and the arrival of the First Battalion with the rest of the Division, a vital rail and communications center whose marshaling yards and switchboard served the whole of Würtenburg and connected the redoubt of Southern Germany with Cologne and the Ruhr. Its strategic value is not underestimated by higher echelon, for the 10th Armored and 100th Infantry are ordered to attack it from two directions while the 44th, held in reserve is called on for support. As the action becomes tougher and German tactics more tenacious, much Corps Artillery, mainly the 250 and 36th FA Battalions are called on to help the howitzers of the 100th and the 10th Armored Artillery level the town. The 10th Armored, using typical armored tactics sweeps around the town from the north and holes up in Crailsheim, behind Heilbronn, and waits for the Infantry to clear the place. But the enemy had blown the bridges and set up prearranged artillery to cover most of its length. The 397th, however, crosses in assault boats, secures a foothold north of the outer town, and is closely followed by the 398th. Meanwhile, the First Battalion, in Böckingen all this time, has Charlie Company commit to assault boats at the southern section of the town. The 36th Engineer Battalion throws a half-dozen pontoon bridges over the river. At one time every combat unit of the 100th Division is fighting in the streets of Heilbronn save the Third Battalion of the 399th Regiment.

On April 8, the Second Battalion arrives at Böckingen. Able and Baker Companies, moving from two directions, arrive simultaneously at the footbridge. There is much confusion from a considerable store of “Weinbrand” found in Böckingen, and also from the fact that the bridge is under a heavy Jerry barrage at that moment. The state of confusion is best demonstrated by the fact that Company HQ of Able spearheads the crossing of the bridge into Heilbronn and runs into the midst of Baker’s Third Platoon. In addition some D Company mortars are on the other side, ahead of the riflemen. In due time the disposition of troops is straightened out and Dog’s mortars are recalled. Orders are issued to attack and clear the southern half of Heilbronn, up to the apartment houses at the city limits. In short order this is accomplished with little disturbance except to the civilian population and a few Russian factory workers hanging out their washing during the attack. Then the area is organized defensively with the First Platoon on the right near the river, Second in front straddling the main street, and the Third Platoon joining with Baker Company across the railroad tracks; the tactics become passive, the mortars and artillery commence tearing hell out of a few quite innocent looking houses. “Sweating it out” is the order of the day. Then come the “Screaming Meemies”, Hitler Jungend snipers, French fries, and the order to clear the rest of the town.

The First Platoon, having the most trouble, spreads out and moves forward until it holds the stretch between the river and Main Street at the edge of town. The Second Platoon captures three rows of two block long apartments with hack yards, no electricity, and connecting cellars. The Third swings left, facing the hills beyond the Heilbronn Garrison. At the same time Baker occupies the section of town at the front gate of the garrison.

The Battle of Heilbronn has become a battle of supply boats and communications, counterattacks and house to house battles, panzerfaust teams and automatic weapons, snipers and Screaming Meemies, King Tigers and Hitler Jugend. The food situation is never pressing: the doughboys diet on French Fries and bottled cherries.

Monday, February 15, 2010

About Letter 189

In the midst of battle Bill remarkably draws a pass to Paris. He says that "maybe it's only because I've just come off the lines, but Paris seems to be all it was ever claimed to be......there's only one place I'd rather be and that is home." In addition to "seeing almost all the important sights" Bill has a number of photos taken and an artists sketch, all of which he plans to send home.

Letter 189-April 20, 1945

April 20, 1945
(Paris, France)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

You said that there would be a blank spot in the mail from me and I guess this breaks it. I really can’t remember myself how long it’s been. This war is like that. A person seems to lose thought of everything. You know what the situation is from the newspapers. I don’t see how this damn thing keeps going but it does. I can’t make heads of tails of it.

Anyway I’m in Paris in the spring. “April in Paris.” This sounds romantic doesn’t it? I was fortunate enough to draw a pass for Paris last week and I must say it came at a wonderful time. I was getting so fed up that I almost blew my top. My outfit all feel that way.

Maybe it’s only because I’ve just come off the lines, but Paris seems to be all it was ever claimed to be. It’s broad tree-lined streets, perfumed atmosphere, its millions of apparently worthless but charming people—it’s all here.

There are automobiles everywhere and at night the city is lit up as if there never was such a thing as war. In fact all of Paris is out at night. I do believe that there are more people around at night than in the daytime. There’s only one place I’d rather be and that’s home.

I went on a tour yesterday and had this picture taken in the “Place de Concorde.” Where we stand is the spot where the guillotine stood during the Revolution. Just out of the picture, on the left is the American embassy. In front of us is the famous Egyptian obelisque of Luxor and beyond is the Seine and the Chambre of Deputies. I’m standing in approximately the center of the third row. We saw almost all the important sights. The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, I think, were the least impressive. The Arc d` Tromphe was impressive. We paid our respects to France’s “Unknown Soldier.” Napoleon’s Tomb, I believe, was the most impressive of all. The church was built in the 17th. century. The windows are made in such a way that there is sunlight in the church even on a cloudy day. I couldn’t swear to that, however, since the day was beautiful.

I’ve had some pictures taken while I was here. I don’t know how long they’ll be but they’ll be along anytime.

An artist here drew a fair sketch of me the other day. I’ll send that along too.

I’ll try to write again tomorrow.

Best Love,

Friday, February 12, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat March 25-April 5, 1945

From the 26th to the 31st of March Able Company waits in Maudach while Mannheim, across the Rhine is cleared by Patton’s 3rd and 45th Infantry Divisions. Meanwhile, a pontoon bridge is thrown up across the Rhine. Once these tasks are completed the race is on. The pressure from Patton’s forces causes the Jerries to withdraw southeastward. The delay caused by the bridge building task gives the enemy sufficient time to reorganize along the Neckar River. The night of March 31st is spent by A Company in a German barracks disguised as a hospital.

The forest south of Ostersheim, where the barracks is located, is cleared the next morning and Reilingen is occupied that night. It now becomes A Company’s task to maintain the right flank of the Seventh Army front. At Reilingen contact is made with the First Company of Free French Fusileers and the attack swings eastward. In quick succession, on successive days and with no opposition, the Frankfort-Karlsruhe autobahn at Walldorf is breached and the town of Steinfurt, an outpost of the German defenses along the Neckar is occupied.

Schweigern is a little town on the rail and road route from Mannheim to Heilbronn. It is approached from Steinfurt along a macadam road which is graded for perhaps a mile before it enters the valley floor west of the town limits. Most of this grade is flanked by wooded ground which rolls downward half way to the bottom and then cuts away into plowed fields and tree-lined lanes. If Schweigern were to be held, the defense could be organized in either of two ways: the woods flanking the road at its graded approach could be enveloped; or the town could be fortified by utilizing automatic weapons on the good fields of fire offered by the ploughed ground and lanes.

Able Company, light tanks, and TD’s halt a mile short of the woods in front of the town and proceed to probe ahead without a general commitment of any great part of the Company strength. Three light tanks and two armored cars of the Reconnaissance Troops are sent ahead into the grade. They draw small arms fire from the south side of the woods. The fire, along with enemy roadblocks, prevents the probing party from going more than halfway into the woods.
Based on previous experience with enemy tactics it is decided to send a platoon ahead under 81 mm. mortar protection in an attempt to force an avenue through the wooded terrain to the edge of the open ground where tanks can be used. The First Platoon goes ahead on this mission, heading into the woods north of the road and encounters no initial resistance. The remainder of the Company follows up. C Company in the rear of Able takes to the woods from which the small arms fire had come. No Jerry resistance is encountered until the cleared ground before Schweigern is reached. Then harassing direct fire from 88’s commences, and although few or no casualties are taken, the morale effect that only direct 88 fire can inflict is felt.

With the first phase of the operation complete the men of Able Company must “sweat out” the enemy artillery while waiting for the friendly tanks to arrive. Upon the arrival of the tanks the First Platoon commences the attack on the town of Schweigern. No more than three light tanks materialize to support the advance and it is inspiring to watch the First Platoon spread out down the open slope toward the town with three insignificant but very courageous looking little tin boxes with 37 mm pea shooters scattered along the column. Schweigern is entered without resistance, and the medium tanks, when they finally appear are of considerable value to the defensive organization of the town. Able Company and the three light tanks hold Schweigern that afternoon and into the evening when finally C Company, suffering heavy casualties, is able to force the right side of the highway and enter the town.

About Letter 188

Bill writes from the comforts of a house. With continued good war news he opines that "I can't see how or why these Jerries manage to hang on. Evidently they believe their own propaganda and think that if we capture them we will slit their throats." Bill is in the last stages of a lingering cold and adds that the only thing that seems to cure his coughing spells is "a cigarette-strangely enough."

Letter 188- April 5, 1945

April 5, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

This letter will have to go “free” as I’ve got no V-Mails or airmail stamps, but most fellows say that these get there about as quick as any. I doubt it but it’ll have to do.

I haven’t received any letters from you for several days but I guess it’s just a normal delay. Such big things are going on that it’s a wonder that anything is running smoothly. I don’t get to see a paper for 3 days and I’m so far behind the news that it’s pitiful. I can’t see how or why these Jerries manage to hang on. Evidently, however, they believe their own propaganda and think that if we capture them we will slit their throats. Wot a life. It’s a sad thing when the only people one ever runs across are a bunch of “jerks”. That’s Germany; a few rats and 90,000,000 jerks. I repeat, “wot a life.” To quote our beloved President, “Ah hate woah.”

That’s enough corn for the present so let’s proceed with the letter. I’m getting over the damnedest cold I ever had in my life. It was a cold to end all colds. I’d get coughing spells and darn near choke to death before I was through. The only thing that seemed to do any good is a cigarette—strangely enough. I have “beaucoup” cigarettes by the way. I have 2 unopened packs of butts in my pocket right now, heh! Heh! I can see you drooling now. A fiend ain’t I! Anyhoo, to get back to my ailment; it’s pretty well broken up now.

I wonder what it is like to be home now. It won’t be long ‘till I’ve been overseas a year. Gee! I’ll probably look like an immigrant when I get back. You know, “no spikka da Englush.” No kidding though. I’m getting awfully homesick. It’s worse here in Germany where no one can talk to the civilians.

We’re having nasty weather today, but I’m in a house and that helps matters immeasurably.

I got quite a kick out of our “assets” in German utilities. Hot stuff. Here I am putting the skids under our own dough. I’m glad that the rest of the money is in somewhat better shape.

Well, I’ll close now. I’d like to get a letter off to Jess before dark.

Best Love,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

About Letter 187

Bill says "I've been pretty busy as you can see from the papers". He notes that he is sending home a box of Nazi souvenirs that "I've picked up in my wanderings". It includes 3 belt buckles, 2 breast emblems, shoulder flap, collar patch, various campaign ribbons, metal wreaths, postcards, among other collectables.

Letter 187- April 2, 1945

April 2, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

I suppose that you’re surprised to hear from me. I’m surprised myself. I’ve been pretty busy lately as you can well see from the papers. Now it seems at least possible that the damn war could be over before too long. In fact, it could be over before you receive this letter. I hope, I hope.

I received 3 letters dated March 13, March 17 and October “sumthin”. I wonder where that last one was hiding all this time. As the French say, “Cest la guirre”. I’ve said that before, haven’t I?

At this time I’m sending home a box of souvenirs that I’ve picked up in my wanderings. There’s nothing that amounts to much but I think it’ll interest you. As follows: First there’s the little Nazi pennant. I don’t know where it came from. One of the fellows in my squad found several of them. Then there’s the green and silver tassel from an officer’s sabre—left behind in one of the Jerries speedier retreats. Later I hope to obtain an entire sword. There are 3 belt buckles, each of them different. The dull metal one is Luftwaffe. The O.D. buckle is regular army and the shiny one is Hitler Jugend or Hitler Youth. There are 2 breast emblems. The green on white cloth eagle is regular army and the other Luftwaffe. Next there is a shoulder flap and collar patch. The silver shows our “caput” friend was a buck sergeant and the pink piping shows that he was a member of an armored infantry outfit. I don’t know what the campaign ribbons represent—probably honorable mention for kicking some defenseless civilian in the face. The same goes for the red, white and black ribbon. The metal wreaths, pips and eagles are from Nazi officers caps. I don’t know exactly what the rest is, but the Cross of Lorraine is Free French. The postcard’s of “Unsere” “Wehrmacht” I also thought interesting. I thought I’d send all this stuff home so that Daddy can pass it out to the kids at school if he likes.

Best Love,

Sunday, February 7, 2010

About Letter 186

For the first time Bill writes from German soil. Things continue at lighting speed. "Armies tearing here and there.....Patton, I fully expect will be fighting in China in a few weeks." He describes Germany as "rich and beautiful" except for the towns where "the effectivenes of our air corps is quite evident". The people, Bill says "appear well fed and are anxious to please us (they're quite afraid of us)."

Letter 186- March 29, 1945

March 29, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

This has sure been an exciting time these past few days. Armies tearing here and there. The war’s been going so fast that we really don’t know what the score is. I suppose the headlines at home are a foot high. There have been so many sensational advances during the past few days that the Stars and Stripes has to put items that ordinarily rate two full columns on the front page somewhere in with the comics. Patton, I fully expect, will be fighting in China in a few weeks if he continues to push as he has during the past week.

The mail situation is about the same. I believe airmail is still faster that V-Mail, and now they don’t even put the V-Mail in envelopes.

I suppose you are eager to hear about Germany. I don’t know what I can say but I’ll tell you a little anyway. Germany, as much as I’ve seen of it is rich and beautiful. In towns, of course, the effectiveness of our air corps is quite evident. Nevertheless, Germany has France beaten all hollow. The houses in Germany are clean, bright, and well appointed. Even their plumbing is second only to ours. The people appear well fed and are quite anxious to please us (they’re quite afraid of us) and, they all claim to be ANTI-NAZI, GOOD PROTESTANTS OR CATHOLICS as the case may be, and every damn one of them has at least 3 close relations living in America. About that time I feel like slapping them in the face with a rifle butt. Oddly enough they don’t know or pretend they don’t know who they’re fighting. One man thought we’re English, another Russian??!!, and several said we’re Canadians. Either they’re terribly stupid or awful liars—maybe both. That’s about all that’s general enough to write. Censorship is pretty strict.

I don’t remember whether or not I told you in my last letter but I received a letter from Bob Brewer the other day written on the 11th. He told me about his wound and getting married.

It’s raining like the devil outside now. I’m glad I’m indoors.

Chow will be here in a minute so it gives me an excuse to close.

Best Love,

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat March 16-24, 1945

The night of March 16 A Company spends the better part of twelve hours in the city of Bitche. In the morning of March 17, 1945 the First Battalion, 399th Infantry Regiment moves northeast, through the defenses of the “Ensemble of Bitche” to a ridge of hills beyond Roppertswiller at the German Border. No exact hour is known, but at some time in the late afternoon of the 17th Company A crosses into Germany. Little enemy resistance is met and no casualties are taken. Shortly after securing their position the First Battalion is relieved and returns to France near Breidenback.

On the morning of March 22, with Charlie Company as the task force and Able forming the main striking force, the First Battalion becomes mechanized and heads for the Rhine on tanks, trucks, bulldozers and jeeps. The tank ride is through lines of “Kriegs Gefangenen”, Germans marching to the rear without guards, through towns of all sizes, and past ever-present white surrender flags until the Lauter River is reached, halfway to the Rhine. The highway bridge across the river had been blown and is unusable. While task force engineers, using several dozen Mongolian slave laborers from a camp by the crossing work feverously to rebuild the bridge, A Company discovers a foot-bridge, detrucks and the drive continues. After a two-hour march the tanks and trucks arrive and the movement is once again mechanized, complete with bulldozer. The radio is so jammed with messages from all kinds of outfits headed for the Rhine, that it is decided to stop at Deidesheim, a few miles west of the Rhine. In the morning of March 23 the ride continues, and with Charlie Company in the lead the First Battalion arrives at the outskirts of Ludwigshafen, near the west bank of the Rhine. Here they link-up with the 94th Division of Patton’s Third Army. Thus the Saar is isolated in less than 24 hours with no casualties within the unit.

On March 24th Charlie Company takes up positions along the west bank among the ruins of Ludwigshafen while Co. A forms a line with the Third Battalion to the south along the river. The Germans, for the most part had pulled as many of themselves as possible back across the river leaving an abundant amount of loot available for the American troops to collect. In fact, souvenirs are accumulated in such quantities that the mail orderly must spend half a day in package wrapping, addressing and postal regulation procedures. Able Company is withdrawn to housing facilities courtesy of the Maudach Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, February 1, 2010

About Letter 185

Bill struggles to write this letter using a "lousy Jerry pen." Things are moving so fast that "nobody can tell what's going to happen the next minute." He receives 7 letters from home. In closing Bill laments, " I wish I could tell you what's going on here."

Letter 185- March 24, 1945

March 24, 1945
Dear Mudder and Dad,

I don’t know if you will be able to read this. I’m trying to write with a lousy Jerry pen.

Things are moving so fast these days that I don’t know what’s what. Nobody can tell what’s going to happen the next minute.

This won’t be much of a letter but I’d better write while I can. I received my first mail in several days this evening, and I got 7 letters.

By the way, I got a letter from Bob Brewer the other day. It had been written on the eleventh. He said that he didn’t know whether or not the army medics wanted to operate on that head wound. Too dangerous. I understand he wants to get married soon.

I can’t stop thinking about the progress of this the war (damned this pen). I wish I could tell you about what’s going on here. Oh.

Gotta close. “Helluva” letter, huh?

Best Love,