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.


  1. The tin boxes armed with pea shooters are the M-3 Stuart tanks. These were designed in the 1930s partly for service in sugar cane fields in the Philippines. They proved inadequate against German armor in the North African campaign and were supplanted by the larger, heavier M-4 Shermans, tank destroyers (TDs), and other variants. Still, the Stuarts served in reconnaissance roles. At best, the Stuarts were useful supporting infantry against dug in infantry as long as the enemy did not have any artillery.

  2. The tank in the photo accompanying this post is an M-5 Stuart, an upgraded version of the M-3 which includes twin V-8 Cadillac engines. The Stuart tank was named for Jeb Stuart the Confederate cavalry commander of Civil War fame.


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