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John Clement Schweitzer
John Clement Schweitzer
taken in Canada during World War II (building the Alaska Highway)
Hotel Bertemes 2.jpg
Hotel Bertemes 2.jpg
DUC Original-101st-bastogne.jpg
DUC Original-101st-bastogne.jpg
DUC PUC Dad Citation-347-1stBat 87th ID 25 Mar 1944 xing Rhine.jpg
DUC PUC Dad Citation-347-1stBat 87th ID 25 Mar 1944 xing Rhine.jpg
DAD Pic Sleeping.JPG
DAD Pic Sleeping.JPG
BastogneMcAuliffeChristmasLetter101Airborne.jpg
BastogneMcAuliffeChristmasLetter101Airborne.jpg
Map Bastogne Dad  35th Deployment.jpg
Map Bastogne Dad 35th Deployment.jpg
GuitarDad.JPG
GuitarDad.JPG
Dad0003.jpg
Dad0003.jpg
Schweitzer Coat of.jpg
Schweitzer Coat of.jpg
Dad Original Ribbons.JPG
Dad Original Ribbons.JPG
35th ECB 87th Moselle1.jpg
35th ECB 87th Moselle1.jpg
35ThEngineersMuskeg.jpg
35ThEngineersMuskeg.jpg
Bastogne Center Town.jpg
Bastogne Center Town.jpg
Rhine Crossing Troops 2.jpg
Rhine Crossing Troops 2.jpg

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Personal Details

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Person:
John Clement Schweitzer 3
John C Schweitzer 1
Also known as: Clem and Lum 3
Level of Education: Grammar school 1
Marital Status: Single, without dependents 1
Birth:
Male 2
Birth:
1917 1
Mifflin Township, St. Agnes Lane 2
Pennsylvania 1
Residence:
Place: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 1
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World War II 1

Branch:
Army 1
Enlistment Date:
26 Nov 1941 1
Army Branch:
Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA 1
Army Component:
Selectees (Enlisted Men) 1
Army Serial Number:
33116545 1
Enlistment Place:
New Cumberland Pennsylvania 1
Source of Army Personnel:
Civil Life 1
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Occupation:
DD214 shows "Rigger" 3
Occupation:
Carpenters 1
Race or Ethnicity:
White 1
Source Information:
Box Number: 0612 1
Film Reel Number: 2.276 1

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Stories

Overview of Service

 

My Dad, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, was attached to these specific units and in the “thick of it”, his actions and his service resulted in the decorations listed here: 

Note: The citations/decorations (1) are followed by (2) the Army regulations re: entitlement to awards, (3) specific documentation placing Dad at specific locations, attached to specific units

(1) Citations/Decorations

Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation (first award),

Attached 101st Airborne Bastogne (Combat Command B 10th Armored Division;326th Engineers; 327th Glider Infantry Regiment; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)  

Belgium Croix de Guerre avec Palme,

Attached 101st Airborne Bastogne (Combat Command B 10th Armored Division;326th Engineers; 327th Glider Infantry Regiment; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)

Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation w/oak leaf cluster (second award),

Attached 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th ID, Rhine Crossings

Luxembourg Croix de Guerre.

35th Engineer Combat Battalion, Defense of Luxembourg

Meritorious Unit Commendation, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, ALCAN HIGHWAY

Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal with 4 Battle Stars: 

*Northern France *Rhineland *Ardennes-Alsace *Central Europe

American Campaign Medal

American Defense Service Medal

Good Conduct Medal 

World War II Victory Medal   

DISTINGUISHED/Presidential UNIT CITATION (ARMY) BASTOGNE

John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion,Attached to 101st Airborne Division Bastogne,(Combat Command B 10th Armored Division;326th Engineers, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion)  

DISTINGUISHED/Presidential UNIT CITATION (ARMY) RHINE RIVER CROSSINGS Attached to 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division Rhine River Crossings w/Oak Leaf Cluster for Dad since it was his second award of the DUC  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101st_Airborne_Division#Decorations

Reference:http://www.327gir.com/MetalsandCitations.html

Foreign URL Reference: http://502-101airborne.pl/historia-502nd-pir/bastogne-ardeny/

Belgium Croix de Guerre avec Palme Description

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/101st_Airborne_Division#Decorations

Reference:http://www.327gir.com/MetalsandCitations.html

Foreign URL Reference: http://502-101airborne.pl/historia-502nd-pir/bastogne-ardeny/

 Luxembourg War Cross (Croix de Guerre) Description

Awarded to the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion,

Liberation of Luxembourg, Ardennes Campaign (Battle of the Bulge)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg_War_Cross

http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/eng/0035enbn.htm

Meritorious Unit Commendation Description

 AWARDED TO THE 35TH ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION ALCAN HIGHWAY

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meritorious_Unit_Commendation

http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/eng/0035enbn.htm

 

DOCUMENTATION OF DECORATIONS 

Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation (Bastogne)

John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion

Attached to 101st Airborne Division Bastogne

(Combat Command B 10th Armored Division;326th Engineers, 327th Glider Infantry Regiment; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion) 

“As authorized by Executive Order 9396 (sec. I, Bul. 22,WD, 1943), superseding Executive Order 9075 (sec. III, WD Bul, 11, 1942), the following unit is cited by the War Department under the provisions of section IV, Circular No. 333, War Department, 1943 in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows: 101st Airborne Division (less 2nd Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment), with the following-attached units: 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment; 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; Counterintelligence Detachment, 101st Airborne Division; Order of Battle Detachment Number 5; Military Intelligence Interpreter Team Number 410; Photo Interpreter Teams Number 9 & 81; Prisoner of War Interrogation Teams Number 1, 9 & 87; Third Auxiliary Surgical Group, Team Number 3; 969th Field Artillery Battalion; 755th Field Artillery Battalion; 705th Field Artillery Battalion; Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division including: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; 3rd Tank Battalion (less Company C); 20th Armored Infantry Battalion (less Company A); 54th Armored Infantry Battalion (less Company A and C); 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Troop D, 90th Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized); Company C, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less 1st Platoon; with 2nd Platoon Reconnaissance Company attached); Battery B, 796th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 21st Tank Battalion; Reserve Command, 9th Armored Division including: Headquarters Reserve Command, 9th Armored Division; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 12th Armored Group; 2nd Tank Battalion; 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion; 73rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion > Battery C, 482nd Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion (Self-Propelled); “These units distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy forces composed of elements of 8 German divisions during the period from 18 December to 27 December 1944 by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium. Essential to a large-scale exploitation of his break-through into Belgium and northern Luxembourg, the enemy attempted to seize Bastogne by attacking constantly and savagely with the best of his armor and infantry. Without benefit of prepared defenses, facing almost overwhelming odds and with very limited and fast dwindling supplies, these units maintained a high combat morale and an impenetrable defense, despite extremely heavy bombing, intense artillery fire, and constant attacks from infantry and armor on all sides of their completely cut off and encircled position. This masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material, and eventually morale. The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and undaunted determination of this gallant force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.” [General Orders No. 17, War Department, 13 March 1945.] Official: DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Chief of Staff EDWARD F. WITSELL Major General The Adjutant General 

Reference: http://www.327gir.com/MetalsandCitations.html

(2) US Army Regulations

US Army Regulations, Unit Awards:   Background:       U.S. unit decorations, in order of precedence, have been established to recognize outstanding heroism or exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services.  Awards are made to organizations when the heroism displayed or meritorious service performed is a result of group effort.  A unit award is given to an operating unit and is worn by members of that unit who participated in the cited action.   

Personnel Eligible: Soldiers that are assigned, ATTACHED, AND PRESENT FOR DUTY may wear unit awards in one of the two following categories. Permanent Wear: A soldier may wear the unit award permanently if the individual was assigned to, and present for duty with the unit any time during the period cited; or WHO WAS ATTACHED BY COMPETENT ORDERS* to, and present for duty with the unit during the entire period, or for at least 30 consecutive days of the period cited.  When a soldier is permanently awarded a unit award and is subsequently assigned to a unit that has received the same unit award, the soldier will wear the permanent award in lieu of the temporary unit award. See below references,(*Lt. Robert V. Skinner letter “attaching my men to his outfit” <Outfit was Lt. Franks, Armored Engineers, specific location in Bastogne>) assigning John Clement Schweitzer to the Armored Engineer Unit) Reference: https://www.hrc.army.mil/TAGD/Unit%20Awards

 

John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion was first deployed with his own battalion attached to Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division east of Bastogne at Mont 17 December 1944 (History 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, page 36) and was later attached by competent order of Lt. Col. Paul H. Symbol, Commander 35th ECB at the request of General McAuliffe to the 101st Airborne Division and subsequently attached by competent order of Lt. Robert V. Skinner to an armored engineer unit (Lt. Franks) in Bastogne from 20 December 1944 -28 December 1944. Per Lt. Robert V. Skinner letter to Shawn Umbrell. We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne.”

I (John Edward Schweitzer) asked my Dad, John Clement Schweitzer, “Where were you when those guys were surrounded in Bastogne?” He replied, “I was one of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne. I got back into Bastogne just in time to be surrounded.” Per our conversation at his home, Marienville, Pennsylvania, 1990.

 

 

 

References

Excerpt from Published Version:

First On The Line: The 35th Engineer Battalion in World War Two and the Evolution of a High- Performance Combat Unit 11-12-2009, Master‘s Thesis, Major Shawn M. Umbrell

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CC0QFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dtic.mil%2Fcgi-bin%2FGetTRDoc%3FAD%3DADA512977&ei=58zeUuWAF4bSyAH46oH4Cw&usg=AFQjCNGgbwgs7MVttn60Wo6Mio01n6qTMQ&bvm=bv.59568121,d.aWc

  “Shortly after reaching St. Hubert late in the afternoon of the 20th, Symbol RECEIVED ORDERS to send one platoon back to Bastogne to assist the 101st with general engineering work. Lt. Frank Rush, the assistant battalion operations officer, was chosen to lead a detachment, comprised of Lt. Skinner‘s platoon from Company A (*), to help the paratroopers. Rush and Skinner collected as much equipment as they could, loaded the men on trucks, and headed back for Bastogne. Reference: Page 106 of 154 above document.

“With the roads leading west out of Bastogne now blocked by the enemy, Rush and Skinner were trapped. They would spend the next week guarding positions within the city and serving as part of the 101st‘s reserve force.” Reference: Page 107 of 154 above document.

Excerpt from Unpublished version: First On The Line, Unpublished, and Unedited Version, supplied by Maj. Shawn Umbrell to John E. Schweitzer. This unpublished version was the basis from the Master’s Thesis and contained many references not included in the Master’s Thesis.

<Meanwhile, at Bastogne, the defenders fought bravely to protect the besieged city. The small detachment under Rush and Skinner was being held in reserve and helped out where they could. “Shortly after getting into Bastogne, I ran into a Lieutenant Franks with the armored engineers whom I had known in Officer Candidate School,” says Skinner.

“He was a rough and tough SOB and had just come back into town after fighting the Germans in a cemetery north or northeast of town. WE ATTACHED MY MEN TO HIS OUTFIT (*). We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne. Thanks to the 101st and the other men around the town, no tanks were able to enter town. But we were under constant artillery fire.”(76)> (76) Letter from Bob Skinner to Paul Symbol, January 24, 1985. Letter from Bob Skinner to Shawn Umbrell, March 11, 2002.

Excerpt below from The Battle for Bastogne, Hugh M. Cole:

Dad’s Deployment Afternoon 20 December 1944

Page 456…..”When the 501st went into position on the 19th, its southern flank had been none too solidly anchored by the thin counter-reconnaissance screen operated by Task Force O'Hara and the tired, understrength 35th Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. Paul H. Symbol). Enemy pressure around Wardin, although subsequently relaxed, indicated that here was a gap which had better be sealed. On the morning of the 20th McAuliffe sent the 2d Battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry from the division assembly area through Bastogne to relieve Company (Dad) A of the engineers.6

The engineers had just climbed out of their foxhole line west of Marvie and turned the position over to the 2d Battalion when one of O'Hara's outposts saw a German column streaming into Marvie. This was the advance guard of the 901st Regiment which had finally extricated itself from the Wiltz valley. With only a single rifle company and four tanks, the Germans never had a chance. In an hour's time O'Hara's mediums had accounted for the panzers and the 2d Battalion had beaten the attackers back in disorder and occupied Marvie. The paratroopers waited through the day for the main attack to come, but the only evidences of the enemy were a smoke screen drifting in from the east and occasional tanks in the distance. Unknown to the Americans a shift in the Panzer Lehr's stance before Bastogne was taking place.” 

Dad’s Return to Bastogne evening 20 December 1944. This corroborates Umbrell, Skinner reference above, First On The Line: 

Page 462…..”The American deployment on through the south and west quadrants could not yet be called a line. In the early afternoon McAuliffe took the 1st Battalion of the 327th (then attached to the 501st) and sent it due south of Bastogne; here tenuous contact was established with the division engineer battalion-the 326th-strung thinly across the Neufchâteau road and on to the west. (The airborne engineers were not well equipped with demolition matériel and this road had to be blocked; McAuliffe phoned the VIII Corps for assistance and in the early dark a detachment from the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion came north and did the job.)”

Skinner, Rush, Dad & 27 other enlisted men!!!! 

 Belgian Croix de Guerre Medal Decree no. 828 30 July 1945 John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luxembourg_War_Cross

http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/eng/0035enbn.htm

 John Clement Schweitzer was billeted in Hotel Bertemes (see pic), Clervaux (Clerf), Luxembourg and was operating a sawmill. At 0530 on 16 December 1944 the Germans attacked in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Clervaux was one of the first towns taken by Manteufel’s Panzers. Half of Dad’s unit were captured, Dad escaped to form the first defense of Bastogne at the village of Mont by the 35th ECB. Later he was attached to the 101st Airborne Division and was in Bastogne for the siege December 18 to December 28 1944.

 Documentation

Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster

(Assault Crossing Rhine River, Rhens, Germany)

John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion

Attached 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division

 http://87thinfantrydivision.com/History/347th/Official/UnitCitation.html

 

“25 March 1945…”Company C plus one platoon from Company A…put one battalion of the 347th Infantry Regiment across the Rhine River north of the town of Rhens. <H> hour was 0001 this date. Heavy resistance was encountered and was greater than all expectations. Continuous flare activity, heavy automatic weapons, small arms, mortar and direct AA fires were encountered at both crossing sites during the operation. The enemy harassed crossing sites intermittently throughout period with dires of all types. The direct AA fire employed against our troops and crossing sites was quite intense, at time and one of the troublesome features of the enemy resistance. The battalion (35th, not 347th) suffered 34 casualties during the operation, 9 men killed in action, 6 men were missing in action, 4 men seriously wounded in action and 15 men lightly wounded in action. All wounded were evacuated to the hospital.(History 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, page 53)

“Nearby, in Sergeant Lester Floyd‘s boat, Private Webb was hit and slumped into the boat, bleeding severely. On reaching the far bank, the men jumped out. Floyd tended to Webb, trying to keep him conscious, but Webb died before the medics could get to him.”

Excerpt from Published Version:First On The Line: The 35th Engineer Battalion in World War Two and the Evolution of a High- Performance Combat Unit 11-12-2009, Master‘s Thesis, Major Shawn M. Umbrell, Page 130 of 154  

Verification that John Clement Schweitzer was at the Company C crossing. Webb, a member of his platoon was killed in action at Rhens. Webb is pictured on the ALCAN with Dad. Dad spoke of Webb’s death and that of the others, “Christ, many of those guys went overboard and drown, there was nothing I could do."         

Documentation

Meritorious Unit Commendation  

Awarded to the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion

Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army), for ALCAN HIGHWAY

http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/eng/0035enbn.htm

http://www.hqda.army.mil/daen/engineer/35th%20EN%20BN%20Engineer%20Blast%20Spotlight.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meritorious_Unit_Commendation

 John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion worked on the ALCAN (Alaska) Highway as well as the Norman Wells Road from the beginning to end of construction.

The photo below appears in the Time Life Series, Battle of the Bulge, Chapter “Happy Days in the Ardennes”. See Pic "Hotel Bertemes"

In 1979 Dad visited me (John E. Schweitzer) in Rockville, Maryland. One of my co-workers, Ric Cavallero, had just received the above book and brought it to work. I told him Dad had been in the Battle of the Bulge and he lent me the book so Dad could look at it. Both of us setting on my couch flipped through the book, when we opened to the chapter above, Dad said, “Jesus Christ John. I stayed at that hotel and that was my room!” pointing to the Hotel Bertemes and the second floor right most window.   He told me he was running a saw mill northeast of town. It was here at the hotel where he was located on 5:30 AM, December 16, 1944 when the Battle of the Bulge started. It was here that Manteufel’s Panzer’s overran US positions, here where many in Dad’s unit were guarding a water point and were captured, Jim Gordon was one of them. Gordon spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. Dad spent the night of the 16th out. Mom told me that Dad sought shelter in a barn that night. While in the loft, a German patrol entered the barn. Dad could not move, could barely breath while the Germans were just below him. They left before morning and Dad got the hell out of there, vowing not to put himself in such a position ever again. Mom told me that Dad had nightmares about this incident just after the war and would wake up in a cold sweat. This story from Mom, Dad never mentioned it. Dad got back to his unit on the 17th or 18th and was part of the deployment east of Bastogne at Mont referenced elsewhere in these documents.

 Rhine Assault Crossing, 0001 25 March 1945

(Crossings plural as Dad made several crossings under fire) 

Note the upper left hand corner of this map, Dad was attached to 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division assault crossing at Rhens. The map is not specific. The actual crossing was just north (downstream) of Rhens. Refer to docuementation provided.

Map: The Last Offensive Charles B. McDonald U. S. Army History, ETO, WWII

Excerpt The VIII Corps in the Rhine Gorge

“As if to furnish incontrovertible proof for General Bradley's boast that American troops could cross the Rhine at will, the Third Army was readying two more assault crossings of the river even as Montgomery's 21 Army Group jumped the lower Rhine. Ordered on 21 March, shortly after Patton approved plans of the XII Corps for crossing at Oppenheim, the new crossings actually reflected a concern for success of the Oppenheim maneuver and of the subsequent crossing of the Main River that was intrinsic in the original decision to go at Oppenheim.

Responsibility for both new Rhine crossings fell to General Middleton's VIII Corps, its boundaries adjusted and its forces augmented following capture of Koblenz. Before daylight on 25 March, the 87th Division was to cross near Boppard, a few miles upstream from Koblenz. Slightly more than twenty-four hours later, in the early hours of 26 March, the 89th Division--transferred from the XII Corps--was to cross near St. Goar, eight miles farther upstream.17

After establishing a firm hold on the east bank in the angle formed by confluence of the Lahn River with the Rhine, the 87th Division on the left was to be prepared to exploit to the east, northeast (toward juncture with First Army troops from the Remagen bridgehead), or southeast (toward the rear of any enemy that might be defending the Main River). The 89th Division was earmarked for driving in only one direction, southeast. The two divisions were, in effect, to begin clearing a pocket that was expected to develop between the First Army and the XII Corps.

Terrain, everybody recognized, posed a special challenge. The sector assigned to the VIII Corps, from Koblenz upstream to Bingen, embraced the storied Rhine gorge. There the river has sheared a deep canyon between the Hunsrueck Mountains on the west and the Taunus on the east. Rising 300 to 400 feet, the sides of the canyon are clifflike, sometimes with rock face exposed, other times with terraced vineyards clinging to the slopes. Between river and cliff there usually is room only for a highway and railroad, though here and there industrious German hands through the years have foraged enough space to erect picturesque towns and villages. These usually stand at the mouths of sinuous cross-valleys where narrow, twisting roads provide the only way out of the gorge for vehicles.

So sharply constricted, the Rhine itself is swift and treacherous, its banks in many places revetted against erosion with stone walls fifteen feet high. Here, just upstream from St. Goar, stands the Lorelei, the big rock atop which sits the legendary siren who lures river pilots to their deaths on outcroppings below. Here in feudal times lived the river barons who exacted toll from shippers forced to pass beneath their castles on the heights. Here still stood the fabled castles on the Rhine. A more unlikely spot for an assault crossing no one could have chosen. This very fact, General Patton claimed later, aided the crossings.18 Whether infantrymen who braved the tricky currents and the precipitous cliffs would agree is another matter.

Certainly General Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps, defending the Rhine gorge, was relatively better prepared for its job than were those Germans on the low ground opposite Oppenheim; that preparation was attributable less to expected attack than to the simple fact that the LXXXIX Corps had had almost a week behind the Rhine. Hoehne's corps would have been considerably better prepared had not Field Marshal Kesselring ordered transfer on the eve of the American assault of the 6th SS Mountain Division, still a fairly creditable unit with the equivalent of two infantry regiments and two light artillery battalions. Kesselring sent the divisions to the southeast toward Wiesbaden, probably in reaction to the Oppenheim crossing, not from any sense of complacency about the Rhine gorge.

Transfer of the SS mountain division left General Hoehne with what remained of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division (some 400 infantrymen and 10 light howitzers), a few corps headquarters troops, a conglomerate collection of Volkssturm, two companies of police, and an antiaircraft brigade. The antiaircraft troops were armed mainly with multiple-barrel 20-mm. pieces, most of them lacking prime movers.19

On the 87th Division's left (north) wing, it would have been hard to convince anybody in the 347th Infantry that the Rhine gorge afforded advantages of any kind for an assault crossing. At one battalion's crossing site at Rhens, "all hell broke loose" from the German-held east bank at five minutes before midnight, 24 March, six minutes before the first wave of assault boats was to have pushed into the stream.20 Fire from machine guns, mortars, 20-mm. antiaircraft guns, and some artillery punished the launching site. Almost an hour passed before the companies could reorganize sufficiently for a second try. Possibly because few of the defenders had the stomach for a sustained fight, the second try at an assault proceeded with little reaction from the Germans. Once on the east bank, the men "let loose a little hell of their own."

A few hundred yards downstream leading companies of another battalion moved out on time, apparently undetected, but hardly had they touched down when German flares flooded the river with light. Men of the follow-up company drew heavy fire, and at both this site and the one at Rhens the swift current snatched assault boats downstream before they could return for subsequent waves. Reluctance of engineers to leave cover on the east bank to paddle another load of infantrymen across the exposed river added to the problem. All attempts at organized crossing by waves broke down; men simply crossed whenever they found an empty boat. After daylight an attempt to obscure German observation by smoke failed when damp air in the gorge prevented the smoke from rising much above the surface of the water. In early afternoon the 347th Infantry's reserve battalion still had been unable to cross when the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. John L. McKee, acting in the temporary absence of the division commander, ordered further attempts at the site abandoned.

Upstream at Boppard, two battalions of the 345th Infantry had experiences more in keeping with Patton's theory that crossing in the inhospitable Rhine gorge eased the burden of the assault. Although patrols sent in advance of the main crossings to take out enemy strongpoints drew heavy fire, the assault itself provoked little reaction. The leading companies made it in twelve minutes, and engineers were back with most of the assault boats in eight more. In contrast to 7 men killed and 110 wounded in the battalion of the 347th Infantry that crossed at Rhens, one of the battalions at Boppard lost 1 man killed and 17 wounded. In midafternoon General McKee made up for the lack of a reserve with the 347th Infantry opposite Rhens by sending a battalion of his reserve regiment to cross at Boppard and advance downstream to help the other regiment.

For neither assault regiment was the going easy once the men got ashore, but both made steady progress nevertheless. Machine guns and 20-mm. antiaircraft guns were the main obstacles, particularly the antiaircraft pieces, which were strikingly effective against ground troops. Although plunging fire is seldom so deadly as grazing fire, the spewing of these guns was painful even when it came from positions high up the cliffs.” END EXCERPT

 

Narrative Above: The Last Offensive Charles B. McDonald U. S. Army History, ETO, WWII

 

Personal Accounts of Rhine Crossing

Specific to Dad’s Crossing Point 

This is where John Clement Schweitzer crossed the Rhine, several times, as a combat engineer conducting the assault crossing at Rhens attached to the 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Inf. Div..

Daddy, Why Don’t You Write That Down?

By James D. Luther, A-347 (Co A, 347th Inf. Reg., 87th Infantry Division) Crossed with Dad

We assembled in an area near the big house where we stayed on the Rhine. We were on the outside of the wall along a road that ran beside the river. I started digging a foxhole and the machine-gun crew got behind the wall. We were waiting for orders to load into a boat. I had the foxhole about six inches deep when the Germans let loose on us with everything that they had. The first assault troops were already on their way

across and the banks of the river was full of men getting ready to jump off for the assault. The Germans shot up several flares that lit the area as bright as day. Then they fired small arms and 20mm guns in a stream of

fire across at us. They also had a larger gun that they would fire occasionally. They fired one round that hit the big house where we stayed. I could not tell how much damage it did but it must have been a lot because debris flew everywhere. We could not return fire across the river for fear of hitting our men who were already across. We just had to take it and hope for the best. While all of the action was going on I was working double

time on my foxhole. But when the big shell hit the house behind us a Lieutenant and two sergeants were going by and they saw the pile of dirt that I had, and thinking that I had a deep foxhole, they all piled down on top of me. I was on the bottom well protected from any fire from across the river. When things quieted down a little they got up and left and they didn’t apologize or anything else.  

It finally came time for us to leave and we went down to the river and loaded into boats. There were two engineers to tell us how to handle the boats properly and to see that we got across. I kept thinking that if we did get hit, I would sink like a rock. I had 220 rounds of ammunition for the automatic rifle in magazines and for my rifle I had 200 rounds in bandoleers. I had two hand grenades and enough K-Rations to last me 3 days. I was really worried about the boat getting shot out from under us. On the way across, someone in the boat kept saying, "Heave Ho, Heave Ho." It went on for a while and the engineer looked back and said, "if you don’t shut up I will heave your ho right out of the boat." <DAD?>Things got quiet then. It was a soldier that was drunk and he never said another word on the way over. While we were crossing, the 20mm was all that they fired at us. When we got to the other side they really let us have it. The 20mms were so close I thought I could feel the heat from them and the air was full of automatic weapons fire.  

We crawled up the banks and laid flat on the beach. I came across Col. Cobb, our battalion commander, he was trying to call artillery fire on the Germans but he was not getting it in the right place. Our intelligence had told us, before crossing, that this site was not very heavily defended. As it turned out it was the most heavily defended area on the whole 3rd Army front. The first battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for this action. It is the highest award hat can be given to a unit. We always thought that the Germans moved the 20mm guns on the night we crossed because our intelligence was always fairly accurate. The 20mm is primarily an antiaircraft weapon but they used it directly on us as an infantry weapon. All of the 20mm fire seemed to be aimed at the edge of the river and so it seemed safer now to move. When we got away from the river’s edge we found a bomb crater about eight feet deep and twelve or fifteen feet in

diameter. We were safe in there but the machine-gun crew kept sending me out on patrols to see what I could see and find out what was out there in front of us. Not far from the river was the railroad yard and beyond the railroad yard was the highway. I would stumble over the tracks and stop and listen. The Germans used a system of wires and pulleys to throw the switches on the railroad and they were about twenty inches above the ground. They were hard to see and I tripped over them numerous times skinning my shins. I never did get all of the way over to the highway but I could hear people shouting orders in English and there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what should be done. I was out there by myself in darkness and under fire doing this for the machine-gun section. It was while I was out there doing that when I decided that when daylight came I was going to hunt for A Company. After listening to the action for a while, I went back to the machinegun crew to report on what I had seen and heard. The machine-gun was still broken down into its pieces and it would have been impossible to fire it at night not knowing where our men were. I always thought it should have been set up ready for action in case we got run over by the Germans. We stayed in that bomb crater until daylight which was about three hours later. Finally at daylight I told the sergeant that I was leaving to hunt for A Company. I told him I was just supposed to stay with them for the river crossing and we were over here so I think that I will leave. He didn’t try to stop me or offer me any advice, so I left. I didn’t feel too safe with the machine-gun crew and I didn’t want to spend another day with them. I always believed that a machine-gun is what the Germans tried to knock out first.

 

Kilroy Was Here!

Thought I would share this Kilroy story. My Dad was in 3rd Plt, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion.  After an assault crossing of the Mosel, preparations were underway for the assault crossing of the Rhine. (The assault crossing took place at 0001 on 25 March 1944 just north <downstream> of Rhens.)   Dad was attached to the 1st Bn, 347th Regiment of the 87th Inf. Div.
 
You might imagine the trepidation with the assault from all concerned. A night or two before the actual crossing, as my Dad phrased it, "Some crazy SOB crossed the river and painted "Kilroy was here."  on the cement wall on the German side of the river!"  The men he served with took comfort in that fact.  Unfortunately, the crossing had the highest casualties (34)  for the engineers who made multiple trips under fire ferrying the 347th.  A Distinguished (now known as Presidential) Unit Citation was awarded for the action.  As a kid (I am 64) we drew Kilroy damn near everywhere.

Master's Thesis - First On The Line, 35th ECB Part IV of IV

Thanks to Major Shawn Umbrell for this paper.  Shawn's Grandad (Mose) served in the 35th ECB. 

FIRST ON THE LINE: THE 35TH ENGINEER BATTALION IN WORLD WAR TWO AND THE EVOLUTION OF A HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMBAT UNIT

First On the Line, 35th Engineer Combat Bn.

  Part II of II   Rush and Skinner decided that their best option was to return to St. Hubert to be with the rest of the battalion.  With day breaking on the 21st, the men headed into the early morning fog.  However, by now the Germans had cut the roads and were surrounding Bastogne.  Rush recalls, “Just to the west of the town, we came across a couple of GI vehicles that had collided in the fog.  We stopped to help them out and drew fire from some Germans that were ahead of us.” (52)   (52) Rush, “Letter”.   Under heavy fire, Skinner’s men rushed to retrieve the wounded soldiers.  To cover the platoon, Corporal Charles Flamboe set up his machine gun and raked the enemy position with suppressive fire.  Spotting an armored vehicle advancing toward the men, Corporal Alvin Crump and Private Peter Lari grabbed a bazooka from their truck and ran out to destroy the enemy vehicle. (53)   (53) 35th Engineers, “History”.   Seeing the two men advancing, the German vehicle stopped for fear of being destroyed.  After rescuing the wounded, the A Co men withdrew once again to Bastogne.   What was intended to be an overnight mission was not over by a long shot.  The engineers rushed the wounded to the field hospital in the city.  Unable to get back to their unit, the men sought refuge in a brick farm building.  “We had no sooner settled down when an 88 round came through the wall filling the building with brick dust,” recalls Rush.  Fortunately, the shell did not explode and the men rushed out, taking shelter closer to town. (54)   (54) Rush, “Letter”.   Earlier, in an attempt to rejoin C Co, Bonde and Brunson left the security of their newfound friends near Martelange.  The two had no way of knowing that their company had become committed to the west near St. Hubert.  That night, Bonde, tired and cold, recounted the day’s events in his diary:   “December 20: Took a chance on walking back to our tent to see what did happen during the night.  No one would go up and pull my trailer out for me.  Got back to the tent and everything pretty quiet.  Watched artillery shells fall nearby above Bigonville.  Washed up and then walked out to main road where we heard some chopping.  Engineer preparing roadblock.  Civilian came by on bike and said two Germans in car just around the corner.  We started up that way and heard voices.  Then a machine gun opened up and we took off.  Didn’t have time to get anything from trailer.  It was about 2 p.m. or later.  Walked back to same guards and told them the story.  They sent a recon party out to look the situation over.  They came back fast.  ‘No good’, was the report.  Fog came in early and it was thick as pea soup.  Laid on ground in ditch up one of the roads for advance spotter.  Could hear tanks creep very slow toward Martelange, just over the hill.  Was plenty scared as we heard .50 cal machine gun fire.  Also heard 88’s hitting in town.  At 10 p.m. a jeep came up from 299th’s HQ and wanted to see how things were in Martelange.  Heard rifle fire as soon as he left.  He came back with jeep riddled with holes.  No one hurt, funny.  He said the Germans were all over town and had our tanks.  Never saw our boys on guard at the bridge there.  We then blew our crater in the road and took off.  Germans threw up flare after the explosion and we could hear them come over the hill.” (55)   (55) Bonde, “Diary”.   On the morning of the 21st, Symbol’s men stood ready to defend the approaches to St. Hubert.  The engineers had prepared abatis (mined and booby trapped), blown culverts, laid extensive minefields, and placed bazooka teams in key locations covering the roads. (56)   (56) Cole , Ardennes, pp 325-326.   With the exception of one platoon that was detached to guard the 7th Tank Destroyer Group headquarters near Recogne, all available men, including clerks, mechanics, and truck drivers, were put on the line guarding roadblocks, screening traffic, and patrolling.  Even abandoned fuel and supply sites were sought out and destroyed to prevent their capture and use by the enemy. (57)   (57) 35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.   Lieutenant William Williams, the B Co administrative officer recalls, “During a recon run to the north we discovered an ammunition and fuel dump that the quartermaster and ordinance people just walked off and left.  We also found a 2 ½ ton truck with a disconnected clutch linkage that we were able to fix and load up with mines and TNT for our own use.  We dumped as much of the fuel as we could and then left.” (58)   (58) Letter from William Williams (Tucson, AZ) to Shawn Umbrell, October 6, 2001.   While the engineers were preparing their defenses around St. Hubert, the Panzer Lehr Division was in the process of breaking away from heavy fighting near Bastogne in an attempt to bypass the city and reach other objectives to the west.  During the night of the 20th, Bayerlein dispatched Major von Fallois, commander of the Panzer Lehr’s 130th Recon Battalion, to secure good roads and bridges that would support the division’s heavy columns that were expected to bypass Bastogne to the south, attack to the west, and reach the Meuse River on the 21st.  So, Kampfgruppe von Fallois, strengthened by the attachment of the division engineer battalion, started its march west and on the morning of the 21st was just east of the 35th’s positions. (59)   (59) Fritz Bayerlein, “Panzer Lehr Division: 1 DEC 44-26 JAN 45”, Foreign Military Studies MS A-941 (copy received from Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA).  Cole, Ardennes, p 325.   Having arrived at Jenneville around midnight, Captain Rickertsen’s C Co had worked nonstop establishing roadblocks and setting up defensive positions. J ust to the east of Jenneville, in the village of Pironpre, Igo and the men of second platoon set up positions at a crossroad.  “[There was] a stream running along south of the east-west road,” says Igo.  “A stone arch bridge crossed the stream there, with the road in a cut through a small hill just south of the bridge. T here were two or three farmhouses with a couple of barns, haystacks, etc.  We sent out bazooka and rifle teams with daisy-chained mines to the east, north, and west.  The jeep driver, platoon sergeant, and myself stayed with the jeep and machine gun we had on it at the bridge.” (60)   (60) Igo, “Bio”.   Second platoon guarded the Pironpre crossroads through the night until shortly after 0700 hours when the men of first platoon took over. (61)   (61) Letter from Larry Larson, Montesano, WA, to Paul Symbol, dated January 24, 1985.   Igo and his men then returned to Jenneville where they found refuge from the cold and settled down for some sleep.   Unbeknownst to the engineers, a portion of Kampfguppe von Fallois was just minutes away from the Pironpre crossroads.  While this column of four Mark IV tanks, a halftrack, and a truckload of soldiers crept slowly forward, the men of first platoon were preparing fighting positions in the frozen ground.  Sergeant Charles Cannon had begun setting out bazooka teams in various locations to cover the roads.  Private First Class Orie Combs and Private First Class Robert Lemos made up one of the teams.  “When we got to out position, I took off my overcoat so that I could start digging,” says Combs.   “I was the gunner and Lemos was my loader.  As we were preparing our position, we heard vehicles approaching.  I looked up and saw German tanks coming toward us on the road.”  Combs picked up his bazooka and took careful aim at the lead tank while Lemos slid a round into the back of the tube.  Combs’ fired and immobilized the tank.  Immediately, the other tanks stopped and opened fire in all directions.  Lemos rushed to load another round while Combs prepared to fire again on the lead vehicle.  Spotting the two men, a German machine gunner raked the engineers’ position, hitting both Combs and Lemos.  Though seriously wounded, Combs raised the bazooka to his shoulder and fired, destroying the vehicle."   “I was hit again and fell back,” says Combs.  “I looked at my right hand and noticed that it had been shot off.  I knew that I had to get out of there.  I got myself up and looked down at Lemos.  He was not moving and was covered in blood.” (62)   (62) Phone conversation between Orie Combs (Healdsburg, CA) and Shawn Umbrell (Navarre, FL) on August 6, 2003. 35th Engineers “Journal” and “History”.   Nearby, Private Kurt Boker and his partner were unable to put their bazooka into action.  The approach of the enemy column had caught them by surprise and they were now pinned down by well-aimed machine gun fire.  Seeing the plight of his men, SGT Cannon grabbed a bazooka and, along with Private First Class John Kenney, braved the enemy fire and advanced to within firing range of the enemy tanks.  Cannon dropped to a knee and took aim at the second vehicle while Kenney loaded a round.  Firing, Cannon struck the tank, taking it completely out of action. (63)   (63) 35th Engineers, “History”.  Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. Letter from Kurt Boker (Kelley’s Island, OH) to Frank Rush (Tigard, OR), November 7, 1988.   With two tanks lost at the hands of the engineers, the rest of the enemy began to withdraw for fear of being hit as well.  Still, small arms fire erupted as the American engineers exchanged shots with the enemy troops.   Losing blood and nearly unconscious, Combs made his way toward the rest of the platoon.  “I could hear firing as I made my way back to the rest of the platoon,” he says.  “In addition to my other wounds, I had been shot through the neck and chest.  Most of my field jacket had been torn away.  I remember feeling a very sharp pain in my back that prevented me from standing up straight.”   Determined to make it out, Combs continued on through a small stream, the chill of the chest deep water nearly numbing him.  Coming out of the water, he was grabbed by another soldier and could hear the platoon jeep coming toward him.  “When they got to me, we were still under fire,” he says.  “I remember lying on the ground by the jeep while one of the men placed a bandage on my throat.  Someone began yelling and I was thrown headfirst into the jeep, feet sticking out.” (64)   (64) Letter from Orie Combs to Shawn Umbrell dated May 12,2001. Phone conversation between Orie Combs and Shawn Umbrell, November 18, 2001 and August 6, 2003.   Private First Class Mose Umbrell, first platoon’s jeep driver, and Staff Sergeant Harrell Wyatt, the platoon sergeant, rushed Combs toward the nearest aid station.  When they arrived, they found that most of the medical personnel had evacuated the site; only a nurse and doctor remained.  Combs recalls, “The last thing that I remember is that the doctor began putting some blood back into me.  I went unconscious after that and woke up three days later at a hospital in the rear.” (65)   (65) Phone conversation between Orie Combs and Shawn Umbrell, August 6, 2003.  Author’s recollection of story told by his grandfather, Mose Umbrell.   In Jenneville, Igo had just arrived at Rickertsen’s command post when the enemy slammed into the Pironpre roadblock.  “Breakfast was being served and a cook had just put some pancakes in my mess kit when all hell broke loose,” says Igo.   “There was cannon fire and constant machine gun fire.  I dumped my pancakes in the garbage can because I knew that the Germans had just attacked our roadblock. Captain Rickertsen and I jumped in my jeep and rushed back to the crossroads.  We parked just short of the cut in the hill and crawled up on a knoll.  [We could see] the tankers out working on their treads trying to fix them.  We fired a few shots at them and they would occasionally let loose a burst of machine gun fire in our direction.” (65a)   (65a) Letter from Norman Igo (Lubbock, TX) to Shawn Umbrell, June 27, 2003.   Shortly after receiving word of the initial engagement at Pironpre, Lieutenant Colonel Symbol began making preparations and gathering soldiers to reinforce Rickertsen’s company.  At 0945, Colonel Simmons, from the 28th Infantry Division, entered the 35th’s command post.  Symbol informed Simmons of the situation, who then offered the assistance of some of his men that were assembled nearby.  Simmons’ men set out to patrol the area between Jenneville and St. Hubert, hoping to prevent an enemy infiltration, while Symbol and approximately one hundred men from the 724th Depot Company boarded trucks and headed for Pironpre. (66)   (66) 35th Engineers, “Journal”. Dearinger, “Letter”.     When Symbol arrived, he was pleased to find that additional reinforcements in the form of D Troop, 635th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and their M16 halftracks (with mounted quad .50 caliber machine guns) had arrived. (67)   (67) 635th AAA Bn, S-3 Journal. Igo, “Bio”.   As he surveyed the battlefield, he noticed that a culvert running under the road had not been blown as he had intended.  Rickertsen explained that he had not yet received any explosives to do the job.  Frustrated, Symbol called back to his command post, insisting that demolitions be brought to Jenneville.  But, at this point, destroying the culvert would require sending men into the open to set in the TNT.  “Sir, sending men out there now would be suicide,” Rickertsen commented.  “If you insist on blowing the bridge I’ll do it myself, but I’m not sending any of the men out there.”   Symbol said nothing. He knew that his company commander was right. (68)   (68) Igo, “Bio”.   At approximately 1500 hrs, still hoping to secure the route through Pironpre, the enemy began shelling the C Co positions with heavy artillery.  Until then, the German soldiers had not made any further advances toward Pirompre, but rather took up a position in the woods, occasionally firing at the engineers. (69)   (69) Igo, “Bio”. Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. 35th Engineers, “Journal”.     Now, it was clear to Symbol that the enemy wanted this road.  He knew that the enemy would attack with a larger force at any time.   After talking with Symbol, Rickertsen sent Igo out to see about setting up another roadblock west of Jenneville and to send the rest of the men to Pironpre for the expected fight to come.  When Igo returned late in the afternoon he found that the battalion had received new orders and was preparing to move out of Jenneville.  Earlier in the day, the 2d Panzer Division had attacked and captured Ortheuville, to the north, forcing the defending 158th Engineer Combat Battalion and a few tank destroyers from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion south to Libramont.  The fall of Ortheuville offered the enemy a northern approach to St. Hubert.  Fearing that the 35th would be cut off, VIII Corps Headquarters sent orders to Symbol to hold as long as feasible, then rejoin the corps, which was now headquartered in Bouillon. (70)   (70) Igo, “Bio”. Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. 35th Engineers, “Journal”.   Night had fallen when the engineers began their withdrawal.  Just to the south of Jenneville, in Moircy, General Bayerlein’s troops had arrived and were ready to continue their drive toward St. Hubert.  Having finally received their explosives, Captain Rickertsen’s men had put them to use and prepared to blow trees across the road to block the enemy advance.  As they loaded into their trucks, the sound of German tanks could be heard nearby.  Symbol, now sure that the enemy was just minutes away from smashing into Jenneville, calmly boarded the last truck and gave the order to move.  The trucks rolled slowly into the dark forest, picking up the last of the men one by one as they pulled the fuses on their demolitions, creating a sequence of bright explosions that followed the column into the night. (71)   (71) Letter from Norman Igo to Paul Symbol (Mercer Island, WA), January 24, 1985.   Passing through St. Hubert, Rickertsen’s men fell into the rear of the battalion formation and, together, the 35th slipped through the cold blackness of the Ardennes.  By midnight, Symbol’s men (with the exception of those guarding the 7th Tank Destroyer Group and those in Bastogne) were in their new assembly area in Bouillon, close to the French frontier. (72)   (72) Cole, Ardennes, p 326. 35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.   Meanwhile, near Martelange, Bonde and Brunson had become engaged in heavy fighting alongside the engineers of the 299th. After bitter close combat, both the Americans and paratroopers of the 5th Parachute Division occupied portions of the town.  Heavy casualties began to take a toll on the engineers and they soon began to lose some ground.  That night the 299th began to withdraw from the town.  In some areas though, American soldiers had been cut off from the rest of the unit.  When a recon crew headed back into the burning town, Bonde and Brunson volunteered to go along.  After locating their men, the engineers withdrew.  “Things were very hot there,” wrote Bonde.   “Gosh, those boys were happy to know that we could get to them.” (73)   (73) Bonde, “Diary”.   When dawn broke on the 22nd, the 299th was nearing Bouillon.  “When we got to Bouillon, we saw some of our trucks and was we happy,”  Bonde later wrote.  “Thought they may have been wiped out.” (74)   (74) Bonde, “Diary”.   Earlier, Lieutenant Nettle and his platoon from B Co received orders to report to the 7th Tank Destroyer Group headquarters in nearby Recogne.  Finding the unit command post in the woods at the edge of town, Nettle recalls, “I reported to the commander and informed him that I was sent to help guard the unit headquarters.  I didn’t receive much guidance, so I just kept the men together as best I could where we would be protected against any artillery or enemy attack.  I found it strange that the colonel had not established his command post in the town where it seemed we would be better protected.  It only took a couple of artillery rounds landing close by to change his mind.  Soon after moving into the village we were put to the task of conducting local patrols. Eventually, I was sent to meet with an Infantry captain who needed to have a minefield marked.  I reported to the commander at his CP that was in one of the winter dugouts.  The captain was very abrupt and told me to be sure to be quiet near the minefield because the Germans had artillery spotters in the area who were quick to send in a few shells.  Sure enough, as we were putting out our markers, artillery rounds came racing in and struck just behind us.  We hurried up to complete the job and headed back, receiving a stern scolding from the captain as we went.” (75)   (75) Letter from Charles Nettle to Shawn Umbrell, March 25, 2002. Phone conversation with Charles Nettle and Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002.   Meanwhile, at Bastogne, the defenders fought bravely to protect the besieged city.  The small detachment under Rush and Skinner was being held in reserve and helped out where they could.  “Shortly after getting into Bastogne, I ran into a Lieutenant Franks with the armored engineers whom I had known in Officer Candidate School,” says Skinner.   “He was a rough and tough SOB and had just come back into town after fighting the Germans in a cemetery north or northeast of town.  We attached my men to his outfit.  We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne.  Thanks to the 101st and the other men around the town, no tanks were able to enter town.  But we were under constant artillery fire.” (76)   (76) Letter from Bob Skinner to Paul Symbol, January 24, 1985.  Letter from Bob Skinner to Shawn Umbrell, March 11, 2002.   Such constant barrages had devastating effects on the city and the soldiers.  On the afternoon of December 21, Skinner and his jeep driver, Private Morris, were standing on the steps of the building there had been bivouacked in.  Suddenly, artillery shells exploded in the street in front of them, killing Morris. (77)   (77) 35th Engineers, “History”.   At 2030 hrs on Christmas Eve, the unwelcome drone of enemy planes was heard over Bastogne.  Moments later the city’s railroad station and the 101st’s field hospital bore the brunt of a massive German air strike.  Soldiers and civilians, alike, were caught in the devastating raid.  When the bombs stopped falling, the men of the 35th rushed out and began searching for survivors in the rubbled buildings and clearing debris from the streets. (78)   (78) David Pergrin, Engineering the Victory: The Battle of the Bulge (Atglen, PA, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1996), p 324.   Near Bouillon, the rest of the battalion held crucial bridges along the Semois River, securing the Corps’ left flank.  All along the Semois, the engineers had prepared bridges for demolition and guarded the crossing sites around the clock. (79)   (79) 35th Engineers, “History”.   “Those bridges became islands surrounded by darkness once the sun went down,” says Regenauer.  “It was dangerous to move at night, so when I went on guard I preferred to stay there until it was light.”   For Dearinger, the Christmas of 1944 would be unforgettable. Days earlier he had opened his Christmas gifts in the small town of Bisory, just outside of Bastogne.  Since that time, neither he, nor any of the other Allies on the western front, had had the time to cherish the Holidays.  But now, on this Christmas Eve, he sat in his jeep listening to the BBC broadcast carols over the radio.  “That’s the first time I heard ‘O’ Holy Night’,” he recalls. “It’s been one of my favorites ever since.”   “On Christmas night, I was making the rounds of the bridge guards,” he continues.   “Captain Day was apparently doing the same thing.  Sergeant Floyd had warned Captain Day to be careful not to slip up on anyone unexpectedly, but he did.  I heard the shot and a high-pitched scream.  By the time I got up to Mullin’s jeep, he and Sergeant Floyd were loading Captain Day into the vehicle."   He said, “I’m hurting Floyd,” and they took him off for the hospital.  The next day, Symbol came in with Day’s wristwatch and told me to take over the company. (80)   (80) Dearinger, “Letter”.   On the 26th, Lieutenant Nettle and his platoon were released from their guard duty at the 7th Tank Destroyer headquarters, now located at Libramont.  “We had been staying in an old schoolhouse while in Libramont,” says Nettle.   “We were preparing to leave and were suddenly attacked by two enemy airplanes, each dropping a five hundred pound bomb write in the center of town.  I was still in the building and was knocked across the room by the blast.  One of the men in the room was killed.  I went immediately to check on the platoon and found that none of my guys were hurt.  We went outside and started helping with the wounded where we could.  I found out later that the colonel that I had reported to on the first day was one of the men killed during the attack.” (81)   (81) Letter from Charles Nettle to Shawn Umbrell, March 25, 2002. Phone conversation with Charles Nettle and Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002.   On December 27, armored forces under the command of General George Patton punched a whole through the German lines and reached the besieged city of Bastogne.  On the 28th, Rush, Skinner, and the men of A Co found their way back to the battalion. (82)   (82) 35th Engineers, “History”.   As the days passed in Bouillon, it became apparent that the German counteroffensive was coming to a halt.  Unbeknownst to Symbol, his battalion had played an important role in stopping the German advance in the Ardennes.  In addition to defending the critically strategic city of Bastogne, the 35th was also successful in crushing any hope the Panzer Lehr had of reaching the Meuse.  The engineers had so completely blocked the routes to St. Hubert with obstacles that Bayerlein’s division took an additional two days to complete assemble around the town.  Helmut Ritgen, then a lieutenant in the Panzer Lehr, recalls:   “On 22 December the advance towards St. Hubert was continued, but delayed as the direct route via Pironpre was reportedly blocked by some cut down trees...  In spite of partly cloudy skies and clear visibility, the column was not attacked from the air.  The fuel situation was of greater cause for concern.  The first Panzer ran out of fuel west of Moircy and had to be refueled from reserve jerry cans.  Thus, St. Hubert was reached in the false hopes that gasoline would be found there.  We found only empty jerry cans.  It was established the following day that the Division’s arrival in St. Hubert had taken so long due the unusual route we had to take to get there.” (83)   (83) Helmut Ritgen, The Western Front: Memoirs of a Panzer Lehr Officer (Winnipeg, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc., 1995), pp 273-274.   This delay created by the 35th was sufficient enough to allow reinforcements to arrive and ultimately beat back the Panzer Lehr from their positions around St. Hubert.  Over the next several weeks, the Allies fought hard to decrease the bulge that was created in their line by the German army.  During the Allies’ renewed drive, the 35th moved east in support of the 11th Armored Division and later the 17th Airborne Division.  Symbol’s executive officer, Major Mike Miletich, left the battalion to take command of the 44th Engineer Combat Battalion, who had suffered heavy losses in fighting near Wiltz. (84)   (84) 35th Engineers, “History”.   Later, General George Patton commended the actions of the men of the VIII Corps.  In a commendation letter to General Middleton, he wrote, “The magnificent tactical skill and hardihood which you and your command displayed in slowing the German offensive, and the determined valor and tactical precision which caused you to retain possession of Bastogne, together with your subsequent resumption of a victorious offensive, constitute a truly superb feat of arms.”   In recognition of the 35th’s determined stance in the Ardennes, fifteen medals were awarded for valor.  The Silver Star was awarded to Cannon, Combs, and Kenney for their actions at Pironpre.  Robert Lemos was reported missing in action on the 21st of December, but was later found in a field hospital.  There is no record indicating whether or not he received a medal for his part in the defense of the Pironpre crossroads.  Additionally, the Bronze Star was awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Symbol, Lee Regenauer, Michael Semmelrogge, Peter Lari, Raymond Steele, Charles Harkins, Calvin Crump, Howard Bulman, Wilbur Ferguson, Frank Dunigan, Charles Botdorf, and Charles Nettle.   In March, the battalion made assault crossings of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers in support of the 87th Infantry Division.  While crossing the Rhine, the 35th suffered 34 casualties: nine killed, six missing in action, four seriously wounded, and fifteen slightly wounded. One of those killed was Charles Cannon. (85)   (85) 35th Engineers, After Action Report, dated April 4, 1945. (National Archives)   At war’s end, the 35th was deep inside Germany, near the town of Pausa.  During their march across the country, the engineers captured hundreds of prisoners and saw the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  One-by-one, those with enough “points” were granted discharge and returned to the United States.  Those remaining in the battalion departed from the port of Marseille, France, aboard the troopship, General Stewart, on September 4, 1945.  The battalion arrived in the New York port of debarkation on September 15 where it demobilized. (86)   (86) 35th Engineers, “History”.

RHINE RIVER CROSSING - Maj. Shawn Umbrell

The Rhine River Crossing

Over the course of the next few days, the men of the 35th maintained the bridge at Winningen while plans were prepared for an assault crossing of the Rhine. In conjunction with General Culin’s “Golden Acorn” Division, the 35th reconnaissance section, led by Lieutenant Arnold Dillard, took part in extensive patrolling of the east bank. Done mostly at night with assault boats, the men helped determine the best possible landing sites and the presence of mines and demolitions. All the necessary equipment was collected and the men spent days rehearsing for the assault on the newly acquired Mosel River. Because of the symbolic importance of the river, the men each knew that enemy would contest their assault in fierce battle.

Though there was plenty of work to be done, the men still found time to relax and forget about the impending battle. By now, most of the wine cellars in the area had been discovered and their contents were put to good use quenching the GI’s’ thirst. Laughingly, Lee Regenauer says, “I’ll never forget John Steele lying in the shade of a tree, a bottle of wine in each hand. He’d take a drink from one bottle, then one from the other. We found plenty of the stuff and had us a pretty good party for about three days. In one of the cellars we found some equipment that the Germans had tried to hide. Among other odds and ends we found a German motorcycle and promptly used it for target practice.”

But the engineers weren’t the only ones to get their hands on the treasure of the vineyards. Bob Franks recalls, “I overheard one of the officers from the infantry scolding his men and demanding that they bring all of their wine and lay the bottles at his feet. When the men were finished, a large pile of bottles had been collected. I guess he thought that he would teach his men a lesson and, turning to one of our officers nearby, he said, ‘Here, take all of this and give it to your men.’ ‘No thanks pal,’ came the reply, ‘My guys have plenty of their own.”

 

During the weeklong lull in action, the 276th Volksgrenadier Division worked to prepare defensive positions on the east bank. Plagued by shortages in personnel and equipment, the one good aspect of the German situation was the terrain on which they had to defend. The sector from Koblenz upstream to Bingen was known as the Rhine gorge. Rising from between 300 to 400 feet from the river, the gorge consists of rocky cliffs and terraced vineyards. Between the river and the cliffs there is usually only room enough for a highway and railroad. The few towns that exist in the area usually stand at the mouths of deep cross-valleys where narrow, twisting roads provide the only way out for vehicles.

So sharply constricted, the Rhine itself is swift and treacherous; its banks in many places are protected against erosion with stone walls fifteen feet high. Here, just upstream from the town of St. Goar, stands the big rock called the Lorelei. It was once believed that the beautiful siren sat atop the rock and lured river pilots to there deaths on outcroppings below. Also along the top of the steep slopes still sat many historic castles where river barons once required tolls from shippers forced to pass beneath.

For these reasons, Middleton believed that the sector would favor the crossings of his corps. “Two days after Patton told me to get ready to cross the Rhine, he came to my headquarters and asked, ‘Where are you going to cross?’ Between Boppard and Lorelei, I replied. Patton looked surprised. ‘Why, man, haven’t you read your history?’ he asked. Yes, I have, I answered. ‘Then you must know that no one has ever crossed the Rhine in that area,’ Patton persisted.”

Middleton’s answer disposed of Patton’s doubts. “George,” he said, “I know the Germans have read there history also. They know nobody has ever crossed there. Therefore, they don’t expect me to cross there. Besides, I don’t believe they’re holding the line in any strength along there.” Patton said no more.

Though he was somewhat correct in his assumption of the enemy’s strength, Middleton had miscalculated Oberst Wagner’s ability to assess the intentions of the Americans opposite him. Wagner figured full well that the GI’s would attempt a crossing in his sector. Wagner later wrote, “Reports from the 22nd and 23rd of March about lively movements in the woods on the western shore, where we recognized engineer river crossing equipment (pontoons and such like), announced the imminence of an attack across the Rhine. This impression was strengthened when, in the night of the 23rd, a few Americans in boats attempted to cross the Rhine.”

When the 276th arrived in position early on the 19th, it was attached to Generlleutnant von Berg’s Battle Zone XII North. Von Berg’s job had been to prepare the area for a suitable defense, but when Wagner arrived he found that little had been accomplished.

Responsible for defending a line extending south from Erenbreitstein to Osterpai, Wagner’s division dominated the heights overlooking the Rhine. However, assessing his ability to defend such a long front, Wagner determined that he would not be able to hold for more than a couple days. Besides, his fighting units were exhausted and severely under strength as a result of the recent fighting in the Mosel triangle. Though the attachment of three Volkssturm battalions, three engineer companies, two light anti-aircraft battalions (20 millimeter guns), and one battery of 37 millimeter anti-aircraft (12 guns) helped to fill the line, they too were under strength and were poorly trained.

Wagner’s supply situation was also in doubt. Ammunition among the division’s units was scarce and fuel to move supplies to his troops was virtually nonexistent. Additionally, the American air superiority forced Wagner’s men to work and move only at night. Daytime movements were virtually always met with terrible consequences dealt by American fighter planes.

 

Directly to Wagner’s south, Generalleutnant Brenner’s 6th SS Mountain Division had also arrived in the early morning of the 19th. Brenner’s division was at approximately fifty percent of its normal strength on arrival. After reaching the east bank, Brenner’s force was augmented with approximately five hundred replacement troops from the Volkssturm and a few anti-aircraft units.

Of his new replacements, Brenner said, “They were badly trained, poorly equipped, and their average age around fifty. [They] possessed no stamina as to combat or defense.” Clearly, Hitler was determined to defend his Reich even if at the risk of destroying the German people.

Surprisingly, Brenner received new orders on 22 March to move his division into an area north of Frankfurt, far from his position on the Rhine. When Brenner, left, only the anti-aircraft and ill-trained Volkssturm units remained to defend the sector.

 

To make final preparation for the Rhine crossing, the 35th moved on 22 March from Ochtendung to the battle damaged city of Waldesch. From the high ground around the city, the engineers marveled at the view of Koblenz, far below and the vast stretches of vineyards terraced on the steep slopes rising above the Mosel.

But here too, the men were made to remember that a war was still being fought. Making camp in a large field, the engineers continued assault crossing training with the companies of the 347th. The Germans intermittently shelled the high ground around Waldesch in a weak effort to disrupt the Americans who they believed were certainly building up to resume the attack.

LTC Symbol received the final plan for the crossing early on the 24th. Once again, the 35th would be responsible for moving the 347th Infantry Regiment to the west bank. For the crossings, each of the assault battalions would send two companies across in the first wave, using seventeen boats per company. The second wave would consist of the remaining company and the battalion staff. In reserve, the 35th had forty more assault boats. The time for the crossing was set for 0001 on the 25th, hopefully taking the enemy by surprise.

Rickertsen’s C Co with one platoon from A Co and one platoon from Wells’ H/S Co would make its crossing with Colonel Cobb’s First Battalion just north of Rhens. On reaching the opposite side, First Battalion would assault up the banks to secure Oberlahnstein and the high ground east of the town to block the enemy’s approaches into the 87th’s zone from the north.

Hritzko’s B Co with one platoon from both A and H/S Co’s, would make its crossing near Brey with Third Battalion. The Third Battalion, now commanded by Major Chapman, would then move up and secure Braubach and the high ground east of the town to block to block enemy approaches from the southeast. After securing Braubach, Third Battalion was to then move forces to seize Dachelm.

As before, Dearinger’s A Co would put the storm boats into operation once enemy resistance on the river was eliminated. Twelve such boats would be at Rhens and four at Brey. The motor boats were to only be used once the element of surprise was lost and only at the discretion of the appropriate infantry battalion commander. A Co would also operate the infantry support rafts for ferrying vehicles and supplies.

The 347th’s Second Battalion would provide supporting fires to help facilitate First and Third’s crossings, then, after making its own crossing, seize the town of Frucht and secure the Lahn River line. Like on the Mosel, platoons of the 735th TD Battalion and 607th Tank Battalion were to cross as soon as possible to support the attacks of the three battalions.

 

At C Co’s position near Waldesch, Charlie Cannon made final checks of his squad. Canteens had been filled and each man was carrying his basic load of ammunition. “Hey Ed,” he said to Bonde. “I want you to stay here tonight. Keep an eye on the company equipment for us.”

Bonde must have smiled remembering the last time that he stayed back to guard equipment. For several days he was separated from the rest of the company and narrowly escaped Martalange during the Bulge.

“You’re kidding right?” responded Bonde. “Who’ll go with you?”

“I’m taking Choppo,” said Cannon. “I can’t really trust him to stay back on his own. Besides, we’ll be back before you know it.”

Charlie had a good point. Choppo’s actions the night of the Mosel crossing had resulted in discussions of court martial. Choppo, after hearing such rumors, went AWOL and was found days later at the home of a German woman with whom he was believed to have been fraternizing. Never one to give up on his men, Cannon felt it was his responsibility to take care of Espinosa.

The men loaded onto trucks at approximately 1800 and rode to a release point near the river. To avoid detection, the engineers of C Co and the men of First Battalion then dismounted and moved along a covered route through a stream valley just to the west of Rhens. Their boats and paddles arrived on trucks in Rhens just after 2000. The attached platoon from H/S unloaded the equipment and moved it into position behind a railroad embankment that paralleled the river just twenty-five yards from the water.

By 2300, everything was set. All boats were in position, signs up, and guides on line along the tracks. The March night air was cold and a full moon hung high overhead. A light ground haze drifted over the smooth black Rhine. Walking toward the river, the men were careful not to make a sound.

“At about midnight,” says Sobieszczyk, “we left our safe haven behind the railroad embankment and were guided under a railroad bridge down to the river’s edge where our boats had been placed. We very quietly slipped our boats into the water [and climbed aboard].”

As they were about to push off, the Germans fired a flare into the night sky. As the bright light fluttered in the air, the men waited tensely, knowing that the game was up, but nothing happened. As the flare faded, the men relaxed a little and continued on, quietly paddling out into the river.

As he watched, Bob Skinner, whose platoon from A Co ( MY DAD, JOHN C. SCHWEITZER)   was attached to C Co, noticed that there was no obscuration smoke. “Surely,” he thought, “we’ll get some smoke.” None came, but the men continued across.

Upon reaching the center of the river, five more flares suddenly burst into the sky from the German side, lighting the night like a bright June day. Immediately, intense machine gun, rifle, and anti-aircraft fire erupted, raking across the men on the water. Red tracers and bullets snapped everywhere. Paddling frantically, the men pressed forward, but not before many were hit.

“As the flares died down,” says Sobieszczyk, “new and brighter ones took their place. We were receiving all kinds of enemy fire from small arms to twenty millimeter canon. Tracer bullets were carving their way across the sky. Machine guns, machine pistols, everything. Bullets were cracking like 22 caliber rifle shots as they zipped past our heads. There was no place to hide; we couldn’t hit the deck or dig in. We just had to head straight-ahead and pray. Instead of counting cadence or hollering ‘Row, Row, Row’, I was saying, ‘Jesus, Mary, Joseph help us,’ over and over.

“When we had about forty yards to go, the infantryman to my immediate left and the man in front of him were hit. The man right next to me kept yelling, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ The man in front of him just dropped his paddle and slumped over. Now we were in real trouble. The two men that were on the down stream side of the boat. Consequently, we began going almost straight down stream. No matter how hard I paddled to straighten the boat, I couldn’t keep on course. Finally I yelled to the guys closest to me on the upstream side to stop paddling. We finally got headed in the right direction.”

Just upstream from Sobieszczyk, Charlie Cannon was steering his boat as best he could, encouraging the men to keep paddling. “Choppo” and Richard Stobart, in the front of the boat, pulled hard on their paddles, as did the eight infantrymen on board. Suddenly the boat was hit with a barrage of bullets. With the exception of Stobart, everybody on board was killed.

Floating aimlessly down river, the boat careened into Sobieszczyk’s boat and knocked it off course again. When Ray looked to see what had happened, he noticed that no one was paddling and the boat continued down river. Ray and the others paddled hard, straightening the boat and finally reaching the shore.

In Sergeant Lester Floyd’s boat, Webb (GOOD FRIEND OF MY DAD, JOHN C. SCHWEITZER) was hit and slumped into the boat, bleeding severely. On reaching the far bank, the men jumped out. Floyd tended to Webb, trying to keep him conscious, but Webb died before the medics could get to him.

From the friendly shore, tanks positioned on the high ground and artillery returned the enemy fire. First Battalion’s artillery officer adjusted mortar, 105mm, and 155mm fire on the German positions, but still the enemy fire continued. Protected in deep draws and in well-concealed locations, the 37mm and 20mm guns were devastating the first wave.

Amazingly, most of the boats made it to the far bank. Both the engineers and infantrymen scrambled for cover against the steep banks. Taking a moment to organize themselves, the GI’s stormed up the banks, seeking out and destroying the enemy positions. Increasingly close, but accurate, artillery and mortar fire combined with the GI’s aggressive assault, quickly brought a massive decrease in the enemy fire, but still some positions continued to fire on the Americans.

Sobieszczyk continues, “As soon as the infantrymen his the shore, they were firing and they cleaned out the Germans in the immediate area in no time. We three engineers jumped out of the boat and snuggled it parallel to the concrete retaining wasll. The two wounded infantrymen stayed in the boat and got as close the wall as they could. In a short time, a couple of the infantry medics came along and tended to the wounded. Then they transferred our two wounded guys to another boat that had a badly wounded man in it.”

Picking up the wounded man, the medics were stopped by Corporal Leonard Beitia. Mingled with the shouts of GI’s who were trying to move up the slopes, Beitia had heard the cries of wounded left in the boats and lying on the beach. Braving the enemy fire, Beitia made several trips out into the open to pull the wounded men back to his boat. While Beitia’s crew and the medics began administering first aid, the medics explained that some of the men were going to die if they did get back to a field hospital. Without a second thought, Beitia told his crew to get their paddles; they were going back.

 

Meanwhile, near Brey, Hritzko’s men had already begun their crossing. Unlike at C Co’s site, the crossing went off without a hitch until the boats began hitting the far bank. German flares illuminated the night sky and fire erupted. Shells from 20mm, 37mm, and 88mm guns struck home throwing hot shrapnel everywhere. As the enemy fire zeroed in on the boats, several of the GI’s were wounded. In Nelson Cordry’s boat, one of the engineers was killed and the other wounded as bullets raked over them. Reaching the far side, Cordry pulled the boat onto the bank as the infantrymen jumped out and headed for cover. Cordry yelled for assistance and another engineer rushed over. Fearing that their buddy would die, the two pushed their boat back into the river and raced for the aid station back across the river.

Nearing the bank, Joseph Hansen jumped into the chilly water and pulled his boat onto the bank through a hail of bullets. Some of the men in the boat were hit, but Hansen and the others made it to cover. Identifying a nearby enemy position, the men opened fire and stormed forward. Determined not to die without putting up a fight, Hansen moved ahead with the infantry, firing into the enemy positions. Hansen remained with the infantrymen until they had secured a foothold near the bank.

The return fire had been almost immediate from M-1 toting GI’s. As the men rushed up the steep slopes, the German fire continued. Lee Regenauer and his partner, Hank Ridgeway, crouched as the German zipped past and mortar shells exploded nearby. “We managed to get our boat across and then we were pinned down,” says Regenauer. “All of a sudden, I heard the command, ‘Marching Fire!’ from the infantry. They all stood up shoulder to shoulder and fired from the hip; one shot for each step… I checked the boat next to mine and found Sergeant Callahan dead. A bullet had come down the two lines of infantrymen, through his helmet, and into his head.”

 

Amid the roar of mortar blasts and tank fire, the men still waiting to cross watched in horror, not knowing how many had made it through the initial assault. Commanders pressed their staff’s for information, but communication wires linking the crossing sites to the command posts were constantly being severed by artillery. Radio communications from the far side had not yet been established, but the distinctive sound of the GI’s’ M-1’s assured them that some had made it. Communications had to be reestablished. Sergeant Alois Lang, the 35th’s communications sergeant, immediately put his men to work. Nearly a mile and a half of wire lay between the two separate sites and had to be constantly checked for breaks. Under the heavy fire, the crew managed to reestablish the lines. This job continued through the night with Lang’s crew moving up and down the line reconnecting the wire wherever breaks occurred.

The firefight in the 347th’s sector continued for well over thirty minutes. As the enemy fire directed at the river began to die, the engineers moved back to their boats with as many of the wounded as they could. Some men also brought back German prisoners who had been caught near the river’s edge. As they went back across, the enemy once again targeted the engineers. Bullets coming from both sides of the river snapped menacingly close. One of Skinner’s men, a big husky guy from Ft. Worth named Main, was paddling for the west bank when a bullet passed sharply between his inner arm and ribs. Other than leaving a couple of painful scars, the big Texan was fine.

The swift current of the Rhine made the return very difficult. Since fewer men were available to paddle, many of the boats landed far from their designated points. After pulling their boats onto the bank, the engineers made a quick dash for the railroad embankment. The German fire was well aimed and continued to rake across shore and along the railroad embankment, wounding several of the men. As he crested the embankment, John Standridge was caught between the shoulders by a 20mm round, killing him instantly.

Waiting in the 35th’s aid station, the medics knew that they would soon be busy. One of the medics, Carl Uminger, formed a small group of volunteers to help bring the wounded in. Together with medics George Harrison, Anthony Narewski, Joel Rivera, and Myron Gilbert, Uminger tirelessly tended to the wounded, several times braving the deadly fire to pull men from the boats and off the beach.

Nearby, Jim Thomas and Ed Smola were doing their best to get behind cover. On the embankment, Smola was hit hard and knocked to the ground.

“I’m hit,” he cried.

Thomas turned back, grabbed Smola, and pulled him to safety.

“I’m hit bad!”

“Come on,” said Thomas trying to keep Smola calm while he searched for the wound. “Don’t think like that.”

Thomas searched more until he felt the back of Smola’s leg and noticed it was wet. Looking more closely, Thomas saw that a round had hit Smola’s canteen, but fortunately the bullet had stopped there, leaking water down the back of Smola’s pants.

At their respective crossing sites Captain Rickertsen and Captain Hritzko braved the enemy fire, directing the men back to the boats. This proved to be quite a challenge since many of the boats which had been hit were now washing down stream. Paddles, too, were lacking. In Rickertsen’s sector, the men were able to police up many of the boats that were adrift and coming from the site at Brey. Hritzko’s men were not so lucky and hardly enough boats with paddles could be secured.

 

To expedite the crossing, twenty-six boats were brought forward from the reserve stock to the crossing site at Rhens. Waiting nearby was Hank Mooseker, recently promoted to squad leader. “I did not like what I saw,” he says. “Too many of [the] boats were getting hit. [But] in the boats we went and, although it seemed hours to reach the far side, we made it all in one piece.

“We sloshed up the bank and hugged the cover where we could; wherever we could. There was lots of brush and we took advantage of it. I lost one man somewhere in this brush.”

Advancing forward, Mooseker and his squad crossed quickly over some railroad tracks and around a well placed enemy machine gun. Continuing up the slopes in the protection of a deep draw, the men located one of the anti-aircraft guns firing onto the river below. Maneuvering above the enemy position, the men poured rifle fire and grenades on top of the Germans.

Stopping briefly to tend to a wounded GI, Mooseker’s squad neared the top of the slopes. Here they encountered a squad-sized element of German soldiers who fired at the GI’s from their foxholes. With the help of a .30 caliber machine gunner who had been unable to find his own platoon, Mooseker and his men engaged in a brief firefight with the enemy directly to their front.

Firing from the hip, a task not easily performed, the machine gunner systematically eliminated most of the Germans. Most of the firing had ceased when a German popped up, killing a man near Mooseker. “The German then quickly popped out of his hole with his hands above his head shouting, ‘Kamerad!’ says Mooseker. “The dead man’s buddy promptly shot the German with several rounds from his M-1.”

Mooseker surveyed his surroundings and determined that it would be an easy area to defend if the Germans counterattacked, admiring the work that the Germans had done in preparing their foxholes. After clearing the area, Mooseker told his men to get in the foxholes for some rest. Dawn was breaking and he had no way of knowing what the situation was with the rest of his company; it would be best to sit and wait.

Before long, Mooseker could hear other elements of his battalion moving into positions near his on the heights overlooking Oberlahnstein. Having fought all night, Colonel Cobb’s battalion had secured its first objective. Cobb now hoped to push his lead assault company into Oberlahnstein to secure the town, but at approximately 0630, the Germans launched a powerful counterattack. Advancing behind a barrage of mortar fire, the enemy pressed the attack along the battalion’s front. The ensuing fight lasted for more than two hours before the GI’s, with the aid of a great deal of artillery fire, were able send the enemy back toward Oberlahnstein.

Hoping to pursue the enemy and seize the town, Cobb gave the word for his lead assault company to advance. Unfortunately, the company commander informed the colonel that his company was down to just forty-two men and was seriously low on ammunition. The situation was the same throughout the battalion.

Answering the need for ammunition, Rickertsen’s men rushed the supply across the river in motor boats. There it was picked up by some of Cobb’s men, but before they made it to the battalion, the Germans renewed their counterattack and managed to pin the ammunition toting crew down. Elements of the 276th were also able to intercept First Battalion’s heavy weapons company, nearly surrounding one of the platoons. This prevented, for the time being, any mortar support for Cobb’s men, who were now having to collect ammunition from the dead and wounded, and in some cases use discarded German weapons, in order to defend their positions.

For Mooseker and his men, the fight was getting desperate. “During the melee,” he says, “Jones, a tall lanky guy who could shoot the eye out of a squirrel, was almost at the right end of our squad. He had used all his M-1 ammunition and was then standing up in his hole shooting a Luger or Walther he had liberated from a POW. All the while he was cursing the bastards in a string of venom. Jones was an excellent shot and he didn’t get a scratch.”

As the fight continued, several positions in and around Oberlahnstein that were putting concentrated fire on the GI’s were identified. Receiving the locations of these positions over the radio, the tank destroyers on the east bank were able to put direct fire into the town. By 1055, the tank destroyers were able to account for one anti-aircraft gun, one mortar position, and two machine gun positions. This terrific success, together with a constant barrage of well-coordinated artillery falling very near the American positions, helped Cobb’s men to once again repel the Germans. Finally, the much needed ammunition arrived and was distributed among the companies.

     At 1440, one platoon from the lead assault company pushed toward the town and captured seven prisoners. Information from the prisoners indicated that there were still nearly 120 Germans still defending inside the town. No match for that many opponents, the platoon withdrew to their lines with the newly gained prisoners.

After assessing the situation, Cobb knew that to take Oberlahnstein, he would need some assistance from the supporting armor, but without a bridge to cross on, the tanks would not be able to reach him. All hopes of seizing Oberlahnstein that day were diminishing.

 

Meanwhile, at the Brey site, Hritzko’s engineers and the second wave of Third Battalion were still trying to cross. Casualties were mounting on the far side and ammunition was running low. Unfortunately, not enough boats or paddles could be gathered. To add to the misfortune, the enemy fire was sweeping the bank with deadly accuracy, preventing the men from loading what boats were on hand.

At that point, Major Chapman decided to put the motor boats into operation. Only a few of the boats were available at the Brey site, but they were brought to the river and loaded with infantrymen and ammunition. Once the motors started, however, the enemy answered with a volley of fire that sent the men running for cover.

When dawn approached, smoke canisters and white phosphorous shells were fired to build a smoke screen. The cold air over the river prevented any real effects of the smoke, however, and the enemy was able to continue firing along the river’s edge, halting any attempts at further crossings.

While the second wave continued to wait, the lead assault companies had pushed in a kilometer east of the river and were going ahead with efforts to seize Braubach. As they entered the town, the GI’s were met with small arms fire, but were able to claim possession of half the town by daylight. Hoping to dislodge their attackers, the Germans launched a counterattack and a long fight ensued inside the town characterized by building to building and room to room fighting.

To the south of Tupper’s 347th, the 345th had had an easy go at its crossing near Boppard. Already, a bridge was being put across to the far side. Colonel Tupper contacted Colonel _______, the 345th’s commander on the radio hoping to find a way to push some armor across the river at Boppard. “All of [First] and half of [Third] are over,” he said. “[Third] is unable to move. Tried to move by motor [boat], but fire was too heavy. I have talked to Chapman and told to have a coordinated attack with arty throwing everything in there and smoke. What about down south? Any chance of moving our armor down over there?”

“No,” replied ___________. What held you up?”

“Twenty millimeter and machine guns. We couldn’t see them to hit them good, but we should be able to do something when it gets light. I have [LCN’s] lined up, but they have to wait until small arms ceases.”

Major Chapman’s coordinated assault began at 0750 with just nine boats; all that could be collected. Under the cover of an awesome display of the Americans’ firepower, all nine were successful in crossing. However, when the engineers started their return trip they were taken under fire by the German guns. By 0830 only three boats had made it back.

By noon little had been accomplished in the effort to get the rest of Third Battalion across and frustration began to set in. Just after 1300, American fighters planes from the 19th Tactical Air Command came on the scene and strafed the German positions between Braubach and Oberlahnstein, but even this attempt to dislodge the menacing German guns from their positions on the slopes failed.

Something had to be done. Until these enemy guns were silenced, the engineers would be unable to begin ferrying the needed vehicles and supplies to the men fighting on the far side. There also existed no hope of putting in a bridge. Therefore, the assistant division commander of the 87th, General McKee, decided to send the division reserve, Second Battalion of the 346th, across at Boppard. Once across the bridge, Second Battalion would then turn north toward Braubach, eliminate the German resistance along the river, and then assume the mission of pushing east to seize Frucht. The tanks and tank destroyers were also sent south to cross on the Boppard bridge and move up the opposite bank to support the First and Third Battalions. The 347th’s own Second Battalion was to take over the role as the division reserve.

While the reinforcements moved south and waited in the long line of traffic moving across at Boppard, the engineers continued slipping a few boats at a time over the river. This continued well into the afternoon until the last of Third Battalion was finally across. These forces moved to Braubach where the lead companies had succeeded in running the Germans out and were now fighting for subsequent objectives.

The lead companies rapidly seized two more towns, but were slowed by stiff resistance coming from German positions around the historic Marksburg castle. Night was approaching fast, so the GI’s stopped their advance opting to make their assault the next morning with the assistance of the armor that they knew was on its way.

 

At the First Battalion position on Hill 260, the enemy had renewed its attack at approximately 1700. Seemingly weak at first, the attack escalated, and by 1800 Cobb was requesting that the artillery place “all fire on Oberlahnstein.”

Mooseker recalls, “In the late afternoon, approaching dusk, I saw a German approaching us. He was in green camouflage. We held our fire because my immediate thought was that he was surrendering and appeared to be unarmed. I quickly changed my mind when I saw him raise one arm and shout a distance and direction in German. He dropped out of sight in the low cover and I immediately heard the ‘thuck’ of a mortar…This was the beginning of a night of hell.”

The German mortar fire slammed into the ground all around the men’s positions. As before, the German soldiers were advancing under this barrage and adding their rifle fire into the assault. From the rear of Mooseker’s position, Lieutenant Gerald Levy, the company’s fire support officer, could be heard shouting coordinates for artillery over the radio. In his voice, Mooseker sensed the urgency which Levy was trying to convey to those on the other side.

“Soon our shells were falling in front of us, but behind the attacking Germans. I don’t know if they were 105’s or 155’s, but they made a helluva bang…During the battle, Levy continued asking for more fire. Since the Germans were so close, some of the fire fell on our positions; or so it seemed.”

The battle for possession of the heights near Oberlahnstein went on well into the night with the enemy inflicting several casualties on First Battalion. “During all this the Jerries’ mortars didn’t stop,” says Mooseker. “One hit in the center of [Brown and Rostelli’s], foxhole…In a short lull I crawled to their hole and tried to provide first aid. Brown had a small puncture wound high on the left side of his back and the hole was sucking air. I tried to prevent lung collapse by securing a waxed wrapper from a razor blade in my kit and placing it over the hole, but Brown died during the next shelling.

“Rostelli’s wound looked very severe as his whole abdomen had been cut open and the viscera were spilling out. I did the best I could to close the wound. He was still alive when they evacuated him to the aid station, but I do not think he lived.”

Similar scenes were being played out all over the First Battalion line and many men had run out of ammo. Once again the GI’s searched the dead and wounded for extra rounds. Finally, at 2100, Cobb called on the radio asking Colonel Tupper for assistance from Second Battalion. “Situation critical,” reported Cobb.

Fortunately, some of the tanks and tank destroyers had already crossed over the bridge at Boppard and were headed toward the 347th. Tupper instructed that these tanks were to continue north along the Rhine to Third Battalion where they would pick up a platoon of infantry and some ammunition to be rushed immediately to the First Battalion.

While the armor raced along the river with GI’s riding aboard, the supporting artillery delivered a devastating barrage against the advancing Germans. Hundreds of rounds tore up the dirt directly in front of the GI’s, inflicting such heavy casualties on the enemy that it was unable to continue its attack. By 2330, the situation was well in hand. When the armor arrived, just minutes later, Cobb’s men loaded up with ammunition and prepared to make their long awaited move into Oberlahnstein.

 

For Oberst Wagner, the day had been costly. His repeated counterattacks had not been able to throw the 87th back across the Rhine. Though he had delayed the advance of the 347th for a day, the 345th had made good ground and was threatening to break through the 276th’s weak line. Additionally, pressure was mounting in the north where elements of the American First Army were threatening Wagner’s right flank. Wagner informed corps headquarters of his situation hoping to gain approval for his division to withdraw, but he was told to hold his current positions.

When Colonel Cobb began his attack on Oberlahnstein in the early morning hours of the 26th, the Germans offered little resistance. One company pushed into the city from the southeast while the tanks swung around and attacked from the northeast. In this manner, First Battalion was able to seize the town. Though the GI’s worked throughout the morning clearing out snipers and small pocket of resistance, by dawn the battalion had the city secured.

Meanwhile, after learning from prisoners that the Marksburg castle was defended by just twenty soldiers who had sworn an oath to never surrender, Major Chapman’s men resumed their attack. Supported by fire from the tanks and tank destroyers, one company was able to maneuver so rapidly into a decisive position around the castle that the enemy panicked. Forgetting their oath, the Germans promptly surrendered.

Throughout the day, the two battalion of the 347th, along with Second Battalion, 346th, continued their drive east of the Rhine river. Resistance from the gun positions on slopes opposite Brey and Rhens was eliminated and the 35th began ferrying across more vehicles and supplies to aid in the advance.

Wagner’s men could do little to stop the American’s. “The strong frontal and flanking- on both sides- American attacks,” he later wrote, “taken in conjunction with our own high casualties, no longer allowed further delay on the [26th] in the line then occupied. [My] request to withdraw to the line Dausenau to west of Marienfels was authorized and duly ordered.”

Thus ended the hard won Battle of the Rhine. In it, the engineers of the 35th fought and worked hard to help deliver the final crushing blow to the enemy. The night of 24/25 March had been costly. During the crossing the 35th sustained 34 casualties: nine killed, 4 seriously wounded, 15 slightly wounded, and 6 missing in action. Of the six missing, none were ever found. At the American Cemetery and Memorial near Luxembourg City, an engraving on the memorial reads, “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their nation and who sleep in unknown graves.” There you can find the names of ….

As he stood looking out across the cold Rhine River on the morning of the 25th, Ray Sobieszczyk’s thoughts were of the good friends he had lost during the night. Staring solemnly at the east bank he noticed something. There, on the high concrete retaining wall, was written: “YOU GET US, BUT THE RUSSIANS GET YOU!”

 

* A forested ridge some ten miles long, running roughly parallel to the Belgian border east of St. Vith, rising abruptly from the surrounding country side to a height of just over 2000 feet.

THROUGH THE WEST WALL &amp;amp; ON TO THE RHINE - Major Shawn Umbrell

Through the West Wall and on to the Rhine           

            On 1 February, General Middleton’s VIII Corps comprised the 87th, the 4th, and the 90th Infantry Divisions. The 4th, commanded by Brigadier General Harold Blakely, was on the line in the Ardennes when the Germans attacked in mid-December. Throughout December and January, the division took part in the long struggle to push the enemy back to the Rhineland. Now in pursuit of the retreating enemy, the 4th was preparing to take part in the VIII Corps’ assault through the Siegfried Line.

Known to the Germans as the West Wall, the line was a series of more than 3000 concrete pillboxes, bunkers, and observation posts that blocked the western approaches into the heart of Germany. Built by the Germans throughout the late 1930’s, the fortified positions extended along the western borders of Germany from the vicinity of Kleve, on the Dutch frontier, to Lorrach, near Basle on the Swiss border. To the German people the wall represented an impregnable line of defense. Most of the major bunkers were made of concrete two to three feet thick. They dominated high ground and were mutually supporting. Others were camouflaged in wooded terrain or made to look like houses. Intermixed with these bunkers were rows of dragon’s teeth (concrete tank obstacles). Extending from three to twenty miles in depth, the West Wall presented a major obstacle to the advancing Allies.

On 28 January, the 35th was given the mission of supporting the 4th Infantry Division as it prepared to attack the West Wall. General Blakely’s mission for the operation was to advance through the West Wall astride the Schnee Eifel* north of the West Wall strongpoint of Brandscheid, then turn north and seize Brandscheid itself. Once Brandscheid was secure, the 4th was to then advance eastward to the city of Pruem on the Pruem River.

            “The only time I think I was scared during the war,” says Igo, “was when [LTC Symbol] said we were going to have to go in and attack one of the pillboxes with flame-throwers in support of the infantry. What concerned me was that we had never used a flame-thrower, and really didn’t know how to use one.”

However, as daunting an obstacle the West Wall seemed, little could be done by the Germans to man the entire line and even less time was available to prepare for the defense. By now, “the German army was no longer a cohesive force, but a number of fugitive battle groups, disorganized and even demoralized, short of equipment and arms,” as Allied intelligence analysts put it. The dramatic defeat in the Ardennes had cost the Germans greatly in men and materiel.

The 4th’s attack of the West Wall began a day early when, on 4 February, reconnaissance patrols found the initial line of pillboxes unmanned. In just two days, the infantrymen were able to break into the West Wall and seize Brandscheid.

Unfortunately, the 4th’s drive was slowed in the following days by stiff resistance combined with severe logistical problems caused by impassable roads. In late January the weather began to get unseasonably warm and by the first part of February the soldiers fighting in the Schnee Eifel were up to their elbows in mud, mud, and more mud. Not built for heavy military traffic, the roads of Belgium and Luxembourg had literally disintegrated under a combination of alternate freeze and thaw, daily rains and floods, and the coming and going of big tanks, trucks, and guns. The entire engineer strength of the VIII Corps was barely sufficient to keep the most essential supply routes open. So bad were the road conditions, supplies had to be dropped by parachute to the 4th Division’s lead regiment which had literally run out of ammunition.

Thrown once again into maintaining main supply routes (MSR’s), the engineers were prevented from taking part in the attack and were desperately trying to keep traffic rolling east. Ditches, clogged with destroyed enemy vehicles and equipment, were cleared and deepened to permit drainage into the surrounding fields. From their quarries, the engineers hauled tons of rock and sand for filling chuckholes and leveling the road surface. Where the road was completely gone, nearly a ton of rock per linear square foot of road was required.

            At St. Vith, the 35th encountered some of its worst road conditions. St. Vith was devastated in the fighting during December when remnants of the 28th Infantry Division desperately tried to hold the city against an onslaught of German artillery and armor. In the end, however, the town was lost. An area of smoldering rubble, burning vehicles, and corpses, St. Vith remained only in name.

Called to St. Vith to help the 243rd Combat Engineer Battalion, the 35th required help from several surrounding units and the local civilians. Together, this ad hoc crew of engineers labored for four days hauling sand and stone, running dozers, laying corduroy, and digging ditches. “There was nothing left of that town,” says Jim Thomas. “We took bulldozers and just made roads through there. We had no idea where the original roads had been.”

In addition to road maintenance, Symbol’s men were engaged heavily in bridge repair and reconstruction. Hundreds of bridges had been either damaged or destroyed during the German offensive and subsequent retreat of December and January. Some bridging jobs required only the construction of a culvert to span a narrow stream while other jobs required lengthy Bailey, timber trestle, treadway, or pontoon bridges.

While supervising one of the bridge jobs, Captain Dearinger was approached by General Middleton. Middleton had been admiring the work of the engineers and asked, “Captain, what unit is this?”

“A Co, 35th Engineers, Sir,” answered Dearinger.

Smiling, the general said, “Ah yes, the good ol’ 35th.”

Certainly, Middleton must have reflected on how well the engineers had supported his corps on the Brittany Peninsula, across France, into Belgium, and most recently during the battle in the Ardennes.

Norman Igo recalls, “On one occasion CPT Rickertsen and I needed to inspect a bridge on a river that had been blown. The spans were lying in the water, but the piers and buttresses were still intact. We were climbing over them to get a look when a sniper on the other side of the river began to take pot shots at us. We ran and got behind a tree on our side of the river. Then all of a sudden, a shot hit right at the base on the right side of the tree, then another at the left. After that, we made a dash to some buildings behind us. Needless to say, we abandoned the idea of building a Bailey bridge at that location.”

            Still, the most dangerous work involved removing enemy mines. Like snow, the mud created special hazards and difficulties, but the men continued. In one day alone, near Chenogne, Belgium, the men of C Co were able to clear more than nine miles of road. In total for the months of January and February 1945, the 35th was responsible for clearing mines from more than 210 miles of road. More than 1000 enemy mines of various types were removed and destroyed. Unfortunately, the 35th suffered five casualties as results of mine explosions; four soldiers slightly wounded and one soldier, PFC Charles Powell, seriously wounded. Powell received his wounds while taking down a bridge near Orreus, Belgium.

Though stalled on 11 February after entering the outskirts of the battle torn city of Pruem, the 4th Division’s drive gained new vigor at the beginning of March. Partly because the logistical situation had improved greatly, but mainly as the result of a new plan being executed by Patton’s Third Army.

Patton’s new plan was designed to thrust his army east to the Rhine River. The VIII Corps mission for the bold maneuver was to break out of the Pruem area, establish a bridgehead over the Kyll River, and rapidly thrust an armored division to the city of Brohl near the Rhine River. Thus, Middleton ordered the 4th Division to enlarge its bridgehead over the Pruem River, whereupon the re-attached 11th Armored Division was to pass through and strike due east to jump the Kyll, then strike northeast to the Rhine.

Heavy fighting resumed in Pruem as General Blakely’s infantrymen pushed to secure the city. During the lull of mid-February, the defending 5th German Parachute Division had worked hard to prepare defensive positions in and around Pruem. Fighting from well-organized positions, the Germans bitterly contested the 4th’s advance. Finally giving way to the superior 4th Division, the enemy withdrew, destroying the vital bridges over the river and blocking roads with trees and mined obstacles as it went.

On 1 March, the 35th was called forward to put a bridge over the Pruem. Fighting was still raging nearby as the engineers went to work and they were subjected to mortar and artillery fire. The bridge construction continued through the night and into the early morning. While the work progressed, some of the engineers cleared booby-trapped abatis and antitank mines from the roads. When the work finished and the bridge was opened for traffic at 0430, a heavy stream of tanks and supplies poured across the Pruem to aid the infantry on the far side.

On 5 March, the 35th was assigned a new mission and put in support of the 90th Infantry Division. The 90th, commanded by Major General James Van Fleet, was in the process of holding the VIII Corps right wing and driving east in the corps’ thrust toward the Rhine. While attached to the 90th, Symbol’s battalion operated water points, swept roads for mines, filled craters, maintained the main supply routes, and erected bridges. At Birresborn, the engineers constructed a 200-foot Bailey bridge over the Kyll River at night under ‘artificial moonlight.’ This light was created with the aid of searchlights projecting their high intensity light off low hanging clouds.

 

   Crossing the Mosel River and the Capture of Koblenz

 

            Like soldiers do, the men of the 35th adapted to the changing conditions throughout late winter, taking refuge in their friendships and the simple luxuries a soldier can find. Bob Taylor was a cook in Hritzko’s B Co. He made sure that his comrades always had something good to eat when they came back from long jobs. “John Standridge was my number one good buddy at that time,” he says. “I would keep the coffee at night and make pastries, mostly cakes. All the boys would beg for cake at night. I had to be very hardhearted because the cakes were for the next day and once you gave a piece out, that opened the door for everyone else to want a piece. John always got a piece. He would come by and we would shoot the bull at night. He was discreet about his piece and I never ‘gave’ him a piece. ‘I’m going to take a piece,’ he would say. ‘I won’t let anyone see me.’

            “The guys were always suspicious of the army,” he continues. “It was rumored that they put something in the food to keep down the sex drive. John came by one night while I was making a cake batter. I did not have enough sugar so I grabbed a jar of saccharin tablets and threw some in. He sat there and didn’t say anything for awhile.”

            “What are you putting in that cake,” John finally asked suspiciously.

            “Oh, nothing,” I replied.

            “Come on, tell me what those pills are,” he said.

            “John, if I tell you, they’ll court martial me,” I replied.

            “I promise that I will never tell a soul,” he said.

            “Well, If you promise that you won’t tell, I guess I can trust you. These are ‘salt peter’ pills. The army makes me do this.” John never ate another piece of my cake even though I later told him several times that it was only saccharin.”  

 

By March, the allied drive into Germany had the German army on the run. As soon as the Germans would establish defenses, the allies would break through, threatening to surround large German formations. After each break through, the Germans would scramble to the rear. Under such relentless pressure, German soldiers were surrendering in staggering numbers. The only hope that Hitler and the military’s high command had was to stop the Allies at the Rhine River. However, pressure was also mounting in the east where the Russian army was making a strong bid to break through the German forces on the Oder River and move on Berlin. General Eisenhower, realizing that the Russians were much closer to Berlin and more likely to be in the city before the allies, decided to drive his forces to other objectives and defeat the enemy east of the Rhine River.

Eisenhower knew that many of his generals inwardly desired to be the first to put troops over the famed German river. It was even a well-known fact that General George Patton and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had a running bet to see who would be the first to cross the Rhine. So when Eisenhower selected British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to lead the attack across the Rhine from the Allies’ northern flank while the American units in the south remained in static positions, you can imagine the uproar. Eisenhower stuck to his guns and Montgomery went forward with preparations for a major offensive designed to crush the German war machine in the industrial Ruhr Valley and “bounce the Rhine”.

All bets as to who would cross the Rhine first came to an abrupt end on 7 March when the famous Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen was captured intact by troops of Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges’ First Army. As elements of the 9th Armored Division had neared the bridge, the Germans set off the demolitions and an enormous explosion sent timbers and debris flying in a huge cloud of dust and smoke. However, when the smoke cleared, to the amazement of everybody on both sides of the river, the bridge still stood. A small group of American soldiers rushed across the bridge and managed to hold it long enough for tanks and more infantrymen to come across.

Over the next several days, American forces continued to cross the Ludendorf, but only to hold the bridgehead. Though General Eisenhower had initially planned to route as many units as possible to the bridge, he changed his mind after his staff persuaded him that the Remagen area was not the ideal location to launch their major operations. On 17 March, ten days after its amazing capture, the giant bridge suddenly collapsed into the frigid Rhine. Dying with the bridge were twenty-eight American soldiers, most of them combat engineers who were doing repairs.

 

Never one to sit idly by and watch the action, General Patton quietly went forward with his own plans to get troops across the Rhine. Never moving so boldly as to draw attention to himself, Patton shuffled his Third Army units here and there, searching for the right moment to get his men across. Racing from headquarters to headquarters, Patton prodded his corps and division commanders to keep up the fight.

During one trip, Patton happened across some Symbol’s men who were moving debris from the roads and building a culvert. Jim Thomas recalls vividly the events that followed. “We went to a little town called Tres Vierges, I never will forget it,” says Thomas. “Well, there were two old German trucks that had gone over the bank and spilled out all their goods. We couldn’t let such an opportunity to collect some souvenirs pass; somebody just had to go down in there and investigate. We had gotten down to the trucks digging around when General Patton showed up! I had just come back up on the road and he jumped out of his jeep. I saluted, and he got his nose real close to mine. He says, ‘Soldier, where’s your piece?’ I said, ‘It’s in the truck, Sir.’ He said, ‘Where’s your helmet?’ I said, ‘It’s in the truck too.’ He looked around and then asked, ‘Where’s your sergeant?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Sir. I don’t see him.’ Well, my squad sergeant, John Irving, had been standing there all along. He’s thanked me for saying that to this day!”

 

In his biography, “Troy H. Middleton”, by James Price, Middleton recalls:

“When the VIII Corps reached the Rhine, George [Patton] came to me and told me he would have to take all of my division but one. He said he was starting an operation up the Rhine with the XII Corps, that it would require more troops, and that the ultimate objective would be crossing the river near Mainz. George left me with only my corps troops, consisting of considerable artillery, and the 87th Infantry Division. Taking a leaf from George’s book, I asked him to let me capture Koblenz with the 87th. George laughed and said, ‘Only a fool would attempt such an operation with so few troops.’ I said, ‘Let me try; if I find it too well organized I can suspend the operation.’”

As was expected, Patton agreed with Middleton’s plan and the 87th went quickly into preparing for an assault crossing of the Mosel River and to capture the resort-city of Koblenz. Located at the tip of the so-called Mosel triangle, in the heart of Germany’s wine country, Koblenz held both strategic and symbolic importance.

Commanded by Brigadier General Culin, the 87th, nicknamed the “Golden Acorns”, had been rushed into the Ardennes to Middleton’s VIII Corps in late December. During heavy fighting against the Panzer Lehr at Jenneville, Pironpre, and St. Hubert, the 87th proved it was a worthy-fighting unit. The “Golden Acorns”, composed of the 345th, 346th, and 347th Infantry Regiments remained with Middleton’s corps throughout the continued battle, playing an instrumental role in pushing the Germans back into Germany. On March 13, the 35th received orders assigning it to the 87th Infantry Division to take part in the assault crossing.

 

By midnight on the 14th of March, the 87th had advanced to a position on the west bank of the Mosel River extending from a few kilometers north of Koblenz, located at the junction of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers, south along the Mosel to the city of Kobern. Throughout the 14th, the 35th’s reconnaissance section made extensive recons of the Mosel with the 347th Regiment, to whom the 35th would be attached for the crossing, in an effort to locate the best area to make the assault and emplace bridges. Having anticipated just such and operation, some of the engineers who had received special training in operating motor boats were gathered together a few days prior and had been collecting necessary equipment and rehearsing for the potential crossing.  

Symbol’s mission for the Mosel crossing was received on the 15th. The 35th would be responsible for crossing the 347th Regiment in the vicinity of Kobern and Winningen and to subsequently put into operation a ferry for transporting supplies and evacuating wounded. Ferrying operation would continue until bridges were established. For bridging in their area, Symbol had the support of the 511th Light Pontoon Company.

Working closely with the 347th, Symbol helped to fine tune the plans for the crossing. The assault would be made at 0300 on the night of 16 and 17 March, under the cover of darkness. Both B and C Co, each with one platoon from CPT Dearinger’s A Co, would provide three engineers per assault raft to move the infantry to the west bank and return the rafts to the friendly side. Seventeen rafts per company would be on hand to do the job with several others in reserve. The remainder of A Co, with a group of specially trained motor boat operators from within the battalion, would be ready to go into action once the element of surprise was lost and to later build and operate the ferries. Officers from the battalion would be at both crossing sites to assist in controlling the movement of the infantry to the river and to the far shore. Once on the east bank, the 347th would drive the enemy forces from the from the Mosel triangle and to the east bank of the Rhine in the vicinity of Boppard while the 345th Regiment would capture Koblenz.

While planning proceeded, the engineers received the assault rafts, paddles, and other equipment from nearby supply depots. With their equipment, the engineers, along with their brothers in the infantry, rehearsed loading, paddling, and unloading drills. Special instructions were provided on the proper way to carry the rafts to the crossing sites and on the specifics of loading weapons such as mortars and machine guns.

While the engineers and the men of the 87th made their plans for the crossing, elements of the 6th SS Mountain Division and the 276th Volks Grenadier Division were hastily forming a defensive line on the river south of Koblenz. A true division only on paper, the 276th had suffered heavy losses in hard fighting throughout the winter. The 6th on the other hand was still a strong and capable fighting unit.

The 6th SS, commanded by General Karl Brenner, had fought viciously during January in the Vosges Mountains. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the division and Brenner’s men were moved south where they received replacements and were re-equipped. Initially expected to take place in a counterattack against Field Marshall Montgomery’s troops at Trier, the 6th was slowed by allied bombing and was not able to be used effectively in the counterattack.

After the war, Brenner wrote, “On 9 March the division received orders to proceed to the Simmern area where it was to concentrate and be placed at the disposal of Seventh Army. I reported 12 March to my new superior, General Hoehne, commander of LXXXIX Corps…[We] were to build up a new front west of the Mosel River, in order that the remnants of the battered German divisions could escape eastward across the river. The corps’ right boundary was at the mouth of the Mosel, the left at Brierden.

“Until now the only forces available for this operation had been the remnants of the 276th Infantry Division and the badly depleted 159th Infantry Division. Now the 6th SS Mountain Division was to reinforce these troops by taking over the right part of the corps sector.

“On 12 March, the reconnaissance battalion was the first element of the division to reach the new area. It was immediately employed by corps headquarters at the boundary between the 276th and the 159th.”

Of the 276th’s situation, its commander, Colonel Werner Wagner, wrote, “By order of the Army, [my] division was subordinated on 8 March to the LXXXIX Corps and was to move immediately all elements assembled at that time to the area northwest of Boppard.

“There the division received new orders to take over the sector between a point two kilometers northeast of Lay and Alken, and prepare for defense along the Moselle…Subordinated to us for this task were the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 6th SS Mountain Division and two engineer companies from the garrison of Koblenz which were employed near Lay and Winningen to run the ferry traffic across the Mosel.

“[Our] main line of resistance was established close along the Mosel. There were no positions prepared for defense in this area. Considering [our] weak forces and the width of the sector which was to be defended, the division did not expect to be able to put up an effective defense against strong American attacks. We were, first of all, short of heavy infantry weapons, antitank guns, assault guns, artillery, and ammunition. There was hardly enough infantry forces to cover completely the bank of the Mosel.”

 

Late in the afternoon of the 15th, while the Americans continued preparation for the assault, the plan was changed and the crossing was moved up to that night. Realizing that the enemy had not yet completed their defenses and that the 6th SS was closing in on the sector en masse, General Culin decided to put his men across early. CPT Rickertsen’s C Co would cross the First Battalion of the 347th at Winningen with one platoon of Company A, 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion and one platoon of Company C, 735th Tank Battalion. CPT Hritzko’s B Co would cross the Third Battalion of the347th with one platoon of Company A, 607th TD Battalion and one platoon of Company C, 735th Tank Battalion. Additionally, B Co would cross the Regimental reserve, Second Battalion of the 347th, once Third Battalion was across.

As night began to fall on the 15th, final preparations were made. Guides moved into position to lead the infantrymen and their rafts to the river, trucks parked far from the crossing in order not to give away their intentions, and the soldiers began their silent walk to the river. Filing down “Adolf Hitler Strasse” from their final assembly area to the point of crossing, the Third Battalion shouldered their boats and half carried, half dragged them through a hedgerow, over box cars, through wire fences and apple orchards until finally they had them on the cobblestone bank and silently began to load.

Norman Igo recalls the quiet approach at Winningen, “As we were gathering the men around each boat a short incident broke out with one of our men making a lot of noise. Of course, the attack is supposed to be made in complete secrecy. [This particular man] had gotten drunk. A major from the infantry said if he didn’t get quiet he would shoot him and pulled his pistol as if he might do so.”

The soldier in question was Private “Choppo” Espinosa. Espinosa and a few others had found a wine cellar earlier in the day and began sneaking a few drinks. Before long, the men were drunk. Ed Bonde wrote later, “Arrived at Winningen 0230. Walked from top of hill down to river about two miles. Had to be very quiet as Germans sitting on other side. Worked in view of them. Put boats in water about 3 a.m. Fairly dark and I was disgusted with Choppo as I had to row with him. Charlie [Cannon] was to steer.”

C Co was the first to push off. The first wave started across from Winningen at approximately 0345 with First Battalion. Only ten minutes later the men reached the far bank. It seemed that the element of surprise had been achieved because the enemy offered no resistance to the crossing. Only after the infantrymen began moving inland did firing begin. By 0545 the engineers had moved the entire First Battalion to the west bank. All that remained to cross were vehicles and the battalion’s rear command post.

B Co’s first wave left Kobern at 0500. As at Winningen, the trip lasted only ten minutes and encountered no resistance. However, while the engineers were returning to pick up the second wave, the Germans discovered the operation. Rifle and machine gun fire was directed at the engineers, causing one raft to sink. The engineers, though, were able to swim to shore. Quickly, the infantrymen on the far bank cleared out the enemy resistance at the river’s edge and by 0600 the engineers had completed Third Battalion’s crossing.

Continuing his account of the crossing, Bonde wrote, “Took first eight men across at 0350. Had trouble getting off sandbar at start. Got across with little trouble. Had awful hard time to get boat back to starting point. Small arms fire going on now. Lots of tracers. Took another load across. This time I steered boat. Made it easier this time. Got very wet and tired. Got everyone across before they threw in mortars. Our infantry fired a lot as they started up the hill.”

Hank Mooseker, a buck sergeant in A Co, First Battalion, recalls, “We reached mid stream and suddenly the boat was caught in a very swift current that made the boat rotate. After a couple of perilous moments and spins, we decided on the correct direction to the far shore and paddled furiously toward it.

“Evidently, we had come to the apex of the funnel of an old fish trap or weir built of stone that funneled the flow of the river toward the center of the river. The narrow confines of the funnel had so increased the water’s velocity that it had caused us to spin when our bow hit the current. In our confusion and furious paddling, our paddles hit the metal boat frequently and I thought the noise would waken every Jerry on the far bank.”

Just as we pulled out in trucks three mortars hit in town…Will never know how lucky we were as thirteen Germans said they had three machine guns trained on us all the time, but wanted to give up. Choppo started shooting from our side and got everybody shooting.”

With the lead battalions across the river, Colonel Tupper released Second Battalion to cross in Dearinger’s motor boats. By now it was daylight and the engineers hoped to make good use of their fast boats. Unfortunately, elements of Wagner’s 276th, located in Neiderfell on the high ground opposite Kobern, met them with heavy machine gun fire from the vicinity of Neiderfell. In the broad daylight, the GI’s were easy targets. Simultaneously, accurate mortar fire fell directly on the crossing site killing one of the A Co engineers and wounding another. Three of Second Battalion’s medics were also killed.

During the Second Battalion’s crossing the German fire continued and several men were wounded and a few of the engineers’ rafts were sunk. When an infantryman in his boat fell from his raft severely wounded, Private First Class William Shannon jumped into the water after him, pulling the man back up to the raft.

Directing their rafts toward other GI’s that had gone into the freezing water, Sergeant Elmer Christensen and Corporal Chris Biringer were able to rescue several men who were struggling in the water. Diving in for the men, Privates First Class Walter Bambrough, Walter Wilson, Paul Lagace, and Edward Smola all helped to pull the men to safety. Still, the engineers pushed the assault and had Second Battalion across before 0900.

By now Hank Mooseker and the other men in his squad had reached the high ground opposite Winningen. During their movement, Mooseker stumbled upon a German soldier sleeping soundly in his foxhole. “I prodded him with my rifle while I took his piece and made him understand he was my prisoner,” says Mooseker. “I tossed his Mauser into the brush, told him to be quiet, to get out of his foxhole, and made him stand up and turn around and put his hands on his head.”

While searching the lone soldier, Mooseker was pleased to find warm potatoes and Knock Worst in the German’s mess kit. Making quick work of the warm food, Mooseker and the his men continued on until they linked up with the rest of their company.

As the infantrymen pushed across the high ground on the far banks toward their objective, enemy opposition of the crossing sites subsided. However, the engineers were still subjected to intermittent mortar fire that was being observed and fired from Niederfell. Lieutenant Howard Goodchild was directing his men in the construction of the support rafts when the enemy poured in a few mortar rounds on his position. A few of the engineers were wounded. One of Goodchild’s men, Private First Class William Fink, braved the enemy fire and moved some of the wounded to safety. Goodchild maintained control of his operation and was able to continue the transfer of supplies across the river.

Though the engineers had already begun putting a floating treadway bridge across at Winningen, even before the assault was complete, it would be some time before the bridge was ready for traffic. While the bridge work continued, A Co operated infantry support rafts carrying tanks, jeeps, and ammunition. The operation of the ferries was crucial to keeping the infantrymen supplied on the east bank. These ferries, consisting of short spans of treadway bridge material rested on top of pontoons, were capable of hauling jeeps and tanks across the river. All that was needed was the pushing power of a couple motor boats. The first ferries went into operation around 1400 delivering much needed vehicles to the far bank.

On one such trip, Private First Class Joseph Giard was struck by rifle fire while directing the ferry to its landing site. Additional fire severely wounded the 347th’s Regimental Supply Officer, Major Cornell, and knocked a motor on one of the motor boats. Though wounded, Giard remained in position and guided the ferry to the far bank, being evacuated only after completing his mission.

Private First Class Joseph Flinn, one of the assault boat operators, was busy speeding ammunition across the river when on his second trip the shear pin of his propeller broke, leaving him helpless in the middle of the river. Flinn’s boat floated dangerously away from the crossing site into enemy territory. Spotting the inviting target, German soldiers fired into Flinn’s boat. Flinn was able to replace the shear pin under fire and return upstream, unharmed, at the amazement of both the Americans and the Germans. Flinn’s cargo was promptly delivered and he continued his task throughout the day.

Hoping to have the bridge complete by nightfall, Colonel Tupper pressed Symbol, but Symbol explained that unless his men received search lights to provide “artificial moonlight” the job would not be done. Though Colonel Tupper tried to get the lights, none could be found and the engineers finished the 470’ foot bridge the morning of the 17th.

Throughout the 16th, things in the 347th’s sector progressed much faster than had been expected. To expedite the crossing of the 345th, General Culin proposed that Colonel Sugg utilize the 347th’s crossing sites where Symbol’s men had been able to get the infantrymen rapidly across. Sugg liked the idea and by noon, the First Battalion of the 345th, commanded by Major John Muir, was headed for Winningen. Dearinger’s men began moving Muir’s battalion across at 1300. On reaching the west bank of the Mosel, Muir’s men turned north and began their attack to capture the southern portion of Koblenz, secure the airport located there, and destroy the bridge leading to Koblenz’ industrial island.

 

While Muir’s battalion was making its crossing, the three battalions of the 347th pushed hard toward the east. On its way toward Dieblich, Third Battalion was caught by heavy machine gun fire coming from German positions in a schoolhouse. A flanking platoon eliminated the German resistance and the rest of the battalion marched toward Dieblicherberg.

During the battle for Dieblich, Third Battalion captured twenty prisoners. Sending their prisoners back to Company L, Company I set out in pursuit of the remainder of the Germans who had occupied Dieblich and who were now pulling out toward Koblenz.

At the same time Third Battalion was fighting for Dieblich and Dieblicherberg, First Battalion was having a field day as it stormed the steep slopes across from Winningen. By careful manipulation of his forces, Lieutenant Colonel Cobb was successful in capturing 154 prisoners, including several SS troopers.

As night began to fall, Cobb gave the order for his men to dig in for the night. “Dog tired, we heard Colonel Cobb refuse orders to ‘attack Rhens immediately’,” says Mooseker. “He said his men had not had any rest in twenty-four hours and to expect results from such men was foolhardy. That night among the trees, Larry Landgraff, our squad leader and friend was killed by friendly fire while he was checking his men in their holes. Automatically, I became the squad leader. We all liked Larry and his quiet manner. I then hated the Germans more than I had before.”

The Second Battalion, completing its crossing, moved south to secure the high ground in the vicinity Neiderfell and to eliminate the resistance in that village. LTC Bodner bypassed the town and first secured the high ground. At 0900, Bodner’s men located the German mortar position that had been causing such problems at the Winningen crossing and brought artillery fire on top of it. By 1200, the German resistance in Neiderfell was eliminated. En route to this objective the battalion had cut off a column of retreating Germans and captured a kitchen and supply train with a complement of twenty German soldiers. The horses that were drawing these wagons were immediately put in use carrying ammunition and supplies forward from the bridgehead on the river.

En route to Koblenz, Muir’s Second Battalion of the 345th made quick initial progress, but was slowed later when the lead assault company encountered a series of roadblocks which prevented the supporting tanks from moving forward. Frustrated, Muir moved ahead to try and rectify the problem. When he arrived, one of the men shouted, “There are enemy on the right flank!”

Muir recalls, “I shouted for my men to hold their fire and instructed the First Sergeant of Company D to talk to the Germans. The First Sergeant told them it was useless to fight further and called for their surrender. They answered with a hail of bullets and rushed our group on the right side of the road. Within a few minutes, six prisoners, including one SS officer, were taken, and two of the enemy were killed. No casualties were suffered by our group. Again the First Sergeant shouted in German of the Germans to surrender. At this time a group of sixteen lined up on the road in front of the tanks and had reached the right of our position when a trigger happy BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man cut loose, scattering the group of sixteen. For the third time the First Sergeant talked to them and after a few shouted commands to our group to hold their fire, the German group surrendered.”

When night fell, Muir’s battalion had still not managed to reach its objective of Koblenz. Issuing orders for a night attack, Muir hoped that he could still secure the Koblenz airport. The attack commenced at 1900, but was met with heavy fire from German positions.

“In the dark, it seemed that the entire German army had opened up,” says Muir. Through the hail of fire, B Co pressed the attack with tanks firing in support. Retaliating with artillery, mortars, and small arms fire, the Germans stopped the attackers. After bringing up additional tank support, B Co was able to advance 200 yards, but was once again stopped by heavy fire. This time, though, the exchange of fire resulted in the capture of several of the German defenders. Further advances by B Co were met with continued stiff resistance inflicting several casualties on the company. At 0030, Major Muir gave the order to stop the attack, but to be prepared to resume it just before daylight. It had taken B Co nearly five and-a-half hours to move only 500 yards.

 

At day’s end, Oberst Wagner’s men had little to show for their efforts against the 87th. Throughout the day, the grenadiers had been thrown into several counterattacks against the 87th’s forces, but these attacks did little to stop the Americans. The infantry battalions of Brenner’s 6th SS had still not arrived and what little force of SS troopers was available was either killed, captured, or withdrawing. Wagner’s requests for additional reinforcements were denied since the LXXXIX Corps had none to offer.

“We had to reckon with the fact that the enemy would further widen the bridgeheads and send in his tanks on [17 March],” wrote Wagner. “A breakthrough was very likely considering [our] lack of artillery and ammunition and since no antitank or assault guns were available.” Knowing that his position was untenable, Wagner deployed his forces throughout the night of 16/17 March in a manner to slow the 87th’s inevitable advance on the next day. Other forces then began heading toward Brey and Rhens where Wagner hoped his men could escape to the west bank of the Rhine.

 

When dawn broke on the morning of the 17th, Muir’s First Battalion of the 345th prepared to make a final assault in its effort to secure the southern portion of Koblenz. After clearing out small groups of German soldiers who had infiltrated into the battalion’s area during the night, cutting communication wire, Muir’s men began their attack. The Germans in the Koblenz garrison immediately offered stubborn resistance. One of the American tanks was struck by an antitank round and was forced to withdraw. Fearing the same fate, the other tanks pulled out of the battle area, taking much of the steam out of the GI’s attack.

With the support of a heavy concentration of mortar and artillery fire directed at the German positions, the attack began to gain some ground. At approximately 1200, A Co, commanded by Captain J.A. Boring entered the built up portion of Koblenz and began eliminating resistance in the city. C Company, under the leadership of Lieutenant John Davis, crossed the bridge to Koblenz’ industrial island and had it cleared by 1700. Due to faulty fuse igniters, the bridge to the island could not be blown. Muir’s men continued clearing the city until nightfall when orders were received to halt the attack.

 

The 347th’s plan for the 17th was to send First Battalion to seize the city of Rhens, Second Battalion to seize the high ground surrounding the farming village of Kreimer Kpf, and for Third Battalion to capture Waldesch and be prepared to continue its assault into the city of Brey.

With the exception of Second Battalion’s assault of the Kreimer farm village, the 347th’s advance was met with determined resistance from the Germans. Preceded by a massive concentration of artillery on Waldesch, Third Battalion’s assault made good initial progress, but was halted by heavy return fire from the men of the 276th and especially that of newly arrived assault guns from Brenner’s 6th SS. The Germans offered determined resistance throughout the morning, but by noon their strength faded and the GI’s began to gain the initiative. At one point during the fighting, several young SS troopers launched a small counterattack against the Americans. The effort was futile, however, and Third battalion tore the troopers apart.

Bypassing Waldesch, First Battalion advanced through the woods north of the town and, in spite of heavy resistance, pushed on to the high ground overlooking Rhens. Here the battalion’s advance was checked by heavy fire. Sitting on the Rhine River, Rhens was strategically important to the Germans. “Under these circumstances,” wrote Wagner, “we had to prevent by all means a breakthrough in the direction of Rhens and Brey, since these were the only ferries across the Rhine in the division sector. In the event of a breakthrough, it would have no longer been possible to cross the river.”

The combined resistance of the SS troopers and the 276th continued to deny repeated attempts secure the city. However, the might of the American attack wore away at the enemy who was now pinned against the Rhine. Realizing that further defense west of the Rhine was futile, LXXXIX Corps sent orders for its forces to break away from fighting and assume new positions on the east bank. The German movement across the Rhine was aided greatly in the late afternoon of the 17th by heavy river fog that masked their movements.

Brenner recalls, “On 17 March, in agreement with corps headquarters, I continued to hold our present line, employing [my] forces in order to prevent the enemy from reaching Boppard… Boppard remained under heavy artillery fire, which fell with particular force on the ferrying site and on the road between Boppard and Brey. Still, despite these great difficulties, the troops were able to carry out the crossing.”

Cobb’s First Battalion advanced rapidly in the afternoon into Rhens, but its advance was once again slowed by the enemy’s rear guard that stayed to buy time for the larger force to escape. Fierce fighting in the city continued well into the evening, but Rhens was secure at 2245.

Hoping to deny the enemy the opportunity to establish new positions and to capture the German bridgehead, First Battalion continued its assault throughout the night toward Brey. As they went, the Germans blocked the roads with felled trees and harassed the Americans with small army fire. The assault was successful, but not before the enemy had completed his crossing under the cover of heavy fog and darkness.

THE END OF THE BULGE - Major Shawn Umbrell

The End of the Bulge 

            On 29 December, after being relieved of its positions along the Semois River, the 35th moved once again to the east, this time taking part in the renewed Allied drive to crush the German army while it was exposed and vulnerable. Though the Germans were still throwing a great deal of effort into the battle, their fighting was mostly defensive in nature. The great German counter offensive in the Ardennes had failed.

Following a brief attachment to the 11th Armored Division, the 35th spent the better part of January attached to the 17th Airborne Division. Both the 11th and the 17th had been training in England and did not expect to cross the English Channel until sometime in January, but the German attack in December necessitated their early commitment into battle. Plagued by what General Middleton believed to be weak leadership, the 11th made little progress with its armored force and its operations were assumed by the 17th.

Commanded by Major General William Miley, the 17th moved into the VIII Corps sector, relieved the 11th AD, and was quickly engaged in heavy fighting. The division’s heaviest fighting took place at Flamierge where the Germans launched repeated counterattacks, nearly overrunning the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Displaying the typical audacity of paratroops, the 17th quickly earned a tough reputation.

            As the 17th advanced eastward, the 35th passed once again through the battle torn area around Bastogne. The engineers could not help but to be amazed at the destruction that had taken place there. Burned out hulks of tanks, both American and German, cluttered the roads and fields. Abandoned German equipment could be found everywhere.

Of the scene, Bonde wrote, “January 15: Swede [Larson], Bruce [Colling], and I went to Champs, north of Bastogne… Found one beat up trailer, full of bullet holes. Took pictures of a few destroyed tanks, glider, and C-47. Very much wrecked equipment everywhere. All in a ruin on outskirts of Bastogne. Many wrecked gliders everywhere. Bastogne was quite a mess. Many [prisoners] coming in. Dead still lying around…”

            Norman Igo recalls, “[I was] reconnoitering with my jeep driver to see if the roads were all clear. We came upon a location where there had been a massive battle and where [the 106th Infantry Division] had surrendered. Equipment was scattered everywhere. Trucks with only 700 miles on the odometer sat with the motor blown up. Artillery pieces were found with their breaches blown.

            “There were still some dead soldiers laying around. I looked at one soldier who had his papers rifled through, but that were still laying on him. I read a letter his wife had written him saying that they were doing okay and she hoped he was too. They had a newborn baby and [the husband] hadn’t been in the army but about four months. He was thirty-five years old and from Ohio. I started to take the letter and write her, but after thinking about it, thought it might be against regulations.”

 

            While attached to the 17th, Symbol’s engineers constructed one flight strip, maintained three others, built three bomb proof shelters for the division headquarters, swept roads for mines, laid and removed minefields, removed enemy minefields, and repaired or rebuilt damaged bridges.

            Of all these tasks, the 35th was most heavily engaged in the dangerous job of handling antitank and antipersonnel mines. The freezing weather and snow, which made even the most simple tasks a challenge, added a higher level of stress when performing mine detecting operations. Wading through knee-deep snow, the engineers swept vast fields, marking enemy minefields and removing the mines when possible. To expedite the slow process, the men fashioned a long wooden plow to the front of one of their dozers. With this, the engineers were able to clear large fields in much less time. Horses were also commandeered and used to drag plows through the open fields. Miles and miles of road were also swept and cleared of mines to allow traffic to move to and from the front lines.

            Additionally, the men constructed minefields to deny the enemy open avenues of approach to vital areas around the division. The 35th laid in excess of 10,000 mines in support of the 17th. “[Laying those mines] was quite an experience,” says Igo. “Only thing was we had to go back the next night and take them back up. Now, that was a chore because snow had gotten around the pressure cap and we couldn’t get the safety fork inserted. So I told the men to just lay the mines in the truck bed and not stack them one on another. This worked out okay, but another nearby unit was not so lucky. A truck load of mines went off near a building killing several people.”

 

           

Master's Thesis - First On The Line, 35th ECB Part III of IV

Thanks to Major Shawn Umbrell for this paper.  Shawn's Grandad (Mose) served in the 35th ECB. 

FIRST ON THE LINE: THE 35TH ENGINEER BATTALION IN WORLD WAR TWO AND THE EVOLUTION OF A HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMBAT UNIT

When the 3rd Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Griswold, arrived in Mont, he was met by Captain Day. Day pointed out the enemy positions and tanks that were firing into the town.

(37) Dearinger, “Letter”.

During Day’s discussion with Griswold, enemy fire continued to fall on Mont. Private Chet Russell recalls, “I had my truck parked by a building and there was a German tank coming toward us. He wasn’t on the road, and I don’t think he was over two hundred yards from me and my buddy, Dennison. I told the first sergeant, who was trying to find a bazooka, that I was going to move the truck, and he said to leave it right there. He then went off into the fog. I moved the truck anyway. A few seconds later, the tank blew a hole in the building where we had been parked. One of the fellows from the 101st managed to stop the tank with a hand grenade.”

(38) Letter from Chet Russel to Shawn Umbrell, August 31, 2001.

As the troopers of the 501st hustled in, one platoon went forward to assist Colonel Cherry. The arrival of the paratroopers at the chateau was too late to repel the attackers, but did cause the enemy to slow his advance, giving the tankers time to withdraw to Mont. Meanwhile, Day and A Co moved south along the Wiltz road toward Marvie and assumed a 300-yard front between the 501st and the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion, which had moved in to the south, relieving the engineers of C Co.

(39) 35th Engineers, “Journal”. 326th Engineers, “Narrative of 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion Activities from 18 December thru 31 December 1944” (copy received from Office of History, Ft. Belvoir, VA). The first unit to relieve C Co at Marvie was actually A Co, 326th Engineer Bn from the 101st. The airborne engineers were relieved the following afternoon by the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment.

When night fell, Day sent Dearinger and Lieutenant Bob Skinner, 3rd Platoon Leader, to confirm whether or not the company was still tied in with the paratroopers on the left and right. Occasional tree bursts and small arms fire interrupted the recon. “I was mostly afraid that our contact with the paratroopers would result in our being shot up,” says Dearinger. “The password was ‘stump’ and the countersign was ‘pulley’. I said ‘stump’ many times.” Unharmed, but exhausted, Dearinger and Skinner both returned confirming the security to the left and right.

(40) 101st Airborne, G-3 Journal. Dearinger, “Letter”.

With stragglers moving through to the west and the 101st heading toward the east, things were hectic in Bastogne. Still manning their position at Bastogne, Regenauer watched as the paratroopers made their way to the east. “What’s it like up there,” asked one paratrooper as he passed. “Rough,” replied Regenauer simply, yet matter-of-factly.

(40a) Phone conversation with Lee Regenauer (Shell Lake, WI) and Shawn Umbrell, October 2003.

Later in the day, a group of the troopers left on patrol through Regenauer’s position. Soon after, an officer approached and told the men that if anything came toward their position after 1630 hours it would be the enemy and to open fire. As fate would have it, the appointed time passed with no signs of the patrol that had past through earlier. Not long after, Regenauer and the others heard a vehicle approaching and saw movement to their front. Peering through the sights of their weapons, the men gazed into the fog. One by one, they were able to make out the forms of men approaching. As the figures drew closer, the engineers realized that it was the patrol from that had left earlier. Relaxing on their triggers, the men watched in silence as the patrol came through followed by a three quarter ton weapons carrier with a wounded paratrooper across the hood.

(41) Phone conversation with Lee Regenauer and Shawn Umbrell, July 31, 2001.

With the 101st now in control of the defense of Bastogne, Gen. Middleton continued to manage the defense of his sector from a new headquarters in Neufchateau. Realizing that Bastogne could still fall, he developed a plan to defend key roads and bridges to the west of the city. To cover these areas, Middleton resumed control of his engineers and assigned them new locations. Symbol received his new orders and gathered his staff to prepare a new plan. The battalion, with the exception of A Co, had been relieved and was assembled in the city. Expecting that Day’s men would be relieved the next morning, Symbol had the companies prepare to move and take cover for the night. “Everyone was spread out and the Germans were firing on [Bastogne],” says Regenauer. “Ridgway and I found a pig yard and figured that was as good a place as any and we dug in. The 88’s came in all night. We could hear women screaming as the rounds impacted in the town. I figured that the Krauts were gearing up for a big attack, so I stayed up all night.”

(42) (42) Phone conversation with Lee Regenauer and Shawn Umbrell, July 31, 2001.

Meanwhile, at C Co’s motorpool near Bigonville, Ed Bonde and the C Co motor sergeant, Sergeant Milton “Pappy” Brunson, were still guarding the company’s heavy equipment. Their last orders had been to stay at the motorpool, but two days had since passed. With the sounds of battle all around them, Bonde and Brunson decided to find out for themselves what was going on. Only a short distance from their camp, the two encountered Luxembourg police and civilians who told them details of the German advance. The two then returned to their tent to retrieve their equipment. Not long after they returned, German machinegun fire started and tracers passed close in front of the two lone engineers. Grabbing their weapons, Bonde and Brunson moved out again, this time determined to find other American soldiers. Later, Bonde wrote, “Walked out four miles through Perle to road junction between Martelange and Arlon before we were halted by some engineers manning machinegun. Boy, were we happy to hear their voices. They didn’t know what was going on or how far the Germans were from us… Stood guard with these boys all night and really froze.”

(43) (43) Bonde, “Diary”.

At daybreak on the 20th, heavy fighting resumed near A Co’s position. The sounds of squeaking tank treads, artillery, screaming meemies, and small arms fire broke the silence of the dawn. The fighting was fierce as the enemy slammed into the American tanks and soldiers. Men of the 101st’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment were engaged by a large armor force and had to fight their way back from Noville. From his position, Dearinger could see German troops making their way forward against the 501st at Bisory, to their north, and against Team O’Hara, to the south.

A Co received its order to move shortly after noon and began to pull out along with elements of the 101st’s 326th Engineers, now being replaced by the 327th Glider Regiment. The engineers had just boarded their trucks and were preparing to head into Bastogne when the enemy launched a vicious attack on Marvie. Preceded by a short, but savage barrage of tank fire from woods immediately southeast of Marvie, four German tanks and six halftracks filled with infantrymen dashed from the woods and into Marvie. The devastating enemy fire quickly destroyed one of the engineers’ jeeps, demolished a one-ton trailer, and tore through the 327th’s command post.

As the enemy vehicles stormed into the village, the German infantrymen leaped from their half-tracks. The response from the 327th’s troopers was terrific. Within seconds, they were engaged in close combat; in places, hand-to-hand. Also in the village were some light tanks from Team O’Hara. After losing one tank and having another damaged, the tank commander began moving his tanks to better defensive positions. This movement and that of the engineers in conjunction with the German attack led some to believe that the enemy had forced a retreat from Marvie.

Dearinger recalls, “There was mass confusion. Some troopers engaging the enemy thought there was a general retreat and took off. I remember a second lieutenant jumping on the back of our truck and riding with us to Bastogne. It did sound pretty bad, and Marvie got tore up, but the troopers and tanks held on. Our medic, T-5 Solis, disappeared about the time the attack started. I found out later that he tended to the wounded until he too was hit.”

(44) (44) S.L.A Marshall, Bastogne: The First Eight Days (Washington, D.C., Infantry Journal Press, 1946) p 104. In Marshall’s book he only says “engineers” and does not refer to the 35th. He may have thought that the 326th was the only engineer unit in that vicinity, but the soldiers of A Co, 35th ECB were definitely there. This is supported by other sources as well. Dearinger, “Letter”. 35th Engineers, “Journal”. 101st Airborne, G-3 Journal. CCB, 10th AD, S-3 Journal. Cole, Ardennes, p 457.

 

Though audacious, the German attack did not dislodge the glider troops and, with the added fire of some of Team O’Hara’s medium tanks, was repulsed. The attack had cost the enemy twenty prisoners, thirty enemy dead, three tanks, one self propelled gun, and two half-tracks. Once all of his companies were in Bastogne, Symbol issued the new orders to his company commanders. The battalion mission was to deny the enemy the crossroads at St. Hubert. A Co would defend at Recogne, B Co at St. Hubert, C Co at Jenneville, and H/S at Libramont. Symbol explained that he wanted the routes leading into St. Hubert blocked and nonessential bridges demolished.

(45) (45) 35th Engineers, “History”.

The exhausted engineers collected their weapons and equipment and began a slow walk to their awaiting trucks in an assemble area just west of Bastogne, leaving behind the town they had spent three hard days defending. The march must have seemed surreal at that moment, for as they walked, American artillery pieces along the road blasted away at enemy targets nearby. Yet, amid the noise and confusion, citizens turned out to thank the men and give them food as they went.

(46) Dearinger, “Letter”.

Even the paratroopers, who had seen so many others flee the area in panic, recognized what the engineers had done. “As we marched, I happened to look up and saw [one of the paratroopers],” says Robert Taylor of B Co. “He had a “Pet” milk can that he had cut the top off of and filled with hot coffee…He raised it to drink, but happened to glance at me just as I looked at him. I must have been looking pretty rough because the trooper walked over and handed me his coffee…I gave the guy marching in front of me part of it and the guy behind me part of it and I drank the rest. That was probably the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”

(47) Taylor, “Salt Peter Cake”, p 81. Phone interview with Robert Taylor (Mobile, AL) by Shawn Umbrell.

By nightfall, the companies had made it to their respective positions and began preparing their defenses.

No sooner had the 35th reached its new positions than Symbol received a request to send a platoon back into Bastogne to assist with some demolitions and general engineer work.(48)

(48) Cole, Ardennes, p 462.

Apparently, the airborne engineers were committed to the line and were not available to perform important engineer tasks for the division. Lieutenant Frank Rush, the assistant battalion operations officer, was chosen to lead a detachment, comprised of Lieutenant Skinner’s platoon from A Co, to help the paratroopers. Rush and Skinner collected as much equipment as they thought they could, loaded the men on trucks, and headed back for Bastogne.

  

“It was after 2100 hrs when we left our area,” says Rush. “It was dark and foggy, but we knew the roads, having done recon work in the area for the past several months. I was in the lead vehicle, a ¾ ton weapons carrier, carrying about 600 pounds of TNT. Behind me was Skinner in his jeep then three deuce-and-a half trucks with [Skinner’s] platoon and several hundred land mines. At the end of the column was an air compressor mounted on a deuce-and-a half with all our pioneer tools, picks, shovels, air tools, chain saws, etc.”

As the engineers hurried toward the city they encountered enemy soldiers who opened fire on the tail of the convoy, damaging some of the equipment and nearly hitting the TNT. The engineers continued past the enemy, never stopping.

(49) Letter from Frank Rush (Tigard, OR) to Shawn Umbrell, March 26, 2001 (hereafter cited as “Letter”).

Rush and Skinner made it to the 101st headquarters around midnight and were directed to link up with Colonel Joseph Harper, commander of the 327th.(50)

 (50) 101st Airborne, G-3 Journal.

“It was probably 2a.m. before we found him”, says Rush. “He was so busy that he didn’t know where to use us best. After a couple of hours, he said that things were moving too fast and that he couldn’t use us.” Leaving the load of mines to be used by the paratroopers, the engineers headed back toward Bastogne.

(51) Rush, “Letter”.

Rush and Skinner decided that their best option was to return to St. Hubert to be with the rest of the battalion. With day breaking on the 21st, the men headed into the early morning fog. However, by now the Germans had cut the roads and were surrounding Bastogne. Rush recalls, “Just to the west of the town, we came across a couple of GI vehicles that had collided in the fog. We stopped to help them out and drew fire from some Germans that were ahead of us.”

(52) (52) Rush, “Letter”.

 Under heavy fire, Skinner’s men rushed to retrieve the wounded soldiers. To cover the platoon, Corporal Charles Flamboe set up his machine gun and raked the enemy position with suppressive fire. Spotting an armored vehicle advancing toward the men, Corporal Alvin Crump and Private Peter Lari grabbed a bazooka from their truck and ran out to destroy the enemy vehicle.

(53) 35th Engineers, “History”.

Seeing the two men advancing, the German vehicle stopped for fear of being destroyed. After rescuing the wounded, the A Co men withdrew once again to Bastogne.

What was intended to be an overnight mission was not over by a long shot. The engineers rushed the wounded to the field hospital in the city. Unable to get back to their unit, the men sought refuge in a brick farm building. “We had no sooner settled down when an 88 round came through the wall filling the building with brick dust,” recalls Rush. Fortunately, the shell did not explode and the men rushed out, taking shelter closer to town.

(54) Rush, “Letter”.

Earlier, in an attempt to rejoin C Co, Bonde and Brunson left the security of their newfound friends near Martelange. The two had no way of knowing that their company had become committed to the west near St. Hubert. That night, Bonde, tired and cold, recounted the day’s events in his diary:

“December 20: Took a chance on walking back to our tent to see what did happen during the night. No one would go up and pull my trailer out for me. Got back to the tent and everything pretty quiet. Watched artillery shells fall nearby above Bigonville. Washed up and then walked out to main road where we heard some chopping. Engineer preparing roadblock. Civilian came by on bike and said two Germans in car just around the corner. We started up that way and heard voices. Then a machine gun opened up and we took off. Didn’t have time to get anything from trailer. It was about 2 p.m. or later. Walked back to same guards and told them the story. They sent a recon party out to look the situation over. They came back fast. ‘No good’, was the report. Fog came in early and it was thick as pea soup. Laid on ground in ditch up one of the roads for advance spotter. Could hear tanks creep very slow toward Martelange, just over the hill. Was plenty scared as we heard .50 cal machine gun fire. Also heard 88’s hitting in town. At 10 p.m. a jeep came up from 299th’s HQ and wanted to see how things were in Martelange. Heard rifle fire as soon as he left. He came back with jeep riddled with holes. No one hurt, funny. He said the Germans were all over town and had our tanks. Never saw our boys on guard at the bridge there. We then blew our crater in the road and took off. Germans threw up flare after the explosion and we could hear them come over the hill.”(55)

(55) Bonde, “Diary”.

On the morning of the 21st, Symbol’s men stood ready to defend the approaches to St. Hubert. The engineers had prepared abatis (mined and booby trapped), blown culverts, laid extensive minefields, and placed bazooka teams in key locations covering the roads.(56)

(56) Cole ,Ardennes, pp 325-326.

With the exception of one platoon that was detached to guard the 7th Tank Destroyer Group headquarters near Recogne, all available men, including clerks, mechanics, and truck drivers, were put on the line guarding roadblocks, screening traffic, and patrolling. Even abandoned fuel and supply sites were sought out and destroyed to prevent their capture and use by the enemy.(57)

(57) 35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.

Lieutenant William Williams, the B Co administrative officer recalls, “During a recon run to the north we discovered an ammunition and fuel dump that the quartermaster and ordinance people just walked off and left. We also found a 2 ½ ton truck with a disconnected clutch linkage that we were able to fix and load up with mines and TNT for our own use. We dumped as much of the fuel as we could and then left.”

(58) (58) Letter from William Williams (Tucson, AZ) to Shawn Umbrell, October 6, 2001.

While the engineers were preparing their defenses around St. Hubert, the Panzer Lehr Division was in the process of breaking away from heavy fighting near Bastogne in an attempt to bypass the city and reach other objectives to the west. During the night of the 20th, Bayerlein dispatched Major von Fallois, commander of the Panzer Lehr’s 130th Recon Battalion, to secure good roads and bridges that would support the division’s heavy columns that were expected to bypass Bastogne to the south, attack to the west, and reach the Meuse River on the 21st. So, Kampfgruppe von Fallois, strengthened by the attachment of the division engineer battalion, started its march west and on the morning of the 21st was just east of the 35th’s positions.(59)

(59) Fritz Bayerlein, “Panzer Lehr Division: 1 DEC 44-26 JAN 45”, Foreign Military Studies MS A-941 (copy received from Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA). Cole, Ardennes, p 325.

Having arrived at Jenneville around midnight, Captain Rickertsen’s C Co had worked nonstop establishing roadblocks and setting up defensive positions. Just to the east of Jenneville, in the village of Pironpre, Igo and the men of second platoon set up positions at a crossroad. “[There was] a stream running along south of the east-west road,” says Igo. “A stone arch bridge crossed the stream there, with the road in a cut through a small hill just south of the bridge. There were two or three farmhouses with a couple of barns, haystacks, etc. We sent out bazooka and rifle teams with daisy-chained mines to the east, north, and west. The jeep driver, platoon sergeant, and myself stayed with the jeep and machine gun we had on it at the bridge.”(60)

(60) Igo, “Bio”.

 

 

 

Second platoon guarded the Pironpre crossroads through the night until shortly after 0700 hours when the men of first platoon took over.(61)

(61) Letter from Larry Larson, Montesano, WA, to Paul Symbol, dated January 24, 1985.

Igo and his men then returned to Jenneville where they found refuge from the cold and settled down for some sleep.

Unbeknownst to the engineers, a portion of Kampfguppe von Fallois was just minutes away from the Pironpre crossroads. While this column of four Mark IV tanks, a halftrack, and a truckload of soldiers crept slowly forward, the men of first platoon were preparing fighting positions in the frozen ground. Sergeant Charles Cannon had begun setting out bazooka teams in various locations to cover the roads. Private First Class Orie Combs and Private First Class Robert Lemos made up one of the teams. “When we got to out position, I took off my overcoat so that I could start digging,” says Combs.

“I was the gunner and Lemos was my loader. As we were preparing our position, we heard vehicles approaching. I looked up and saw German tanks coming toward us on the road.” Combs picked up his bazooka and took careful aim at the lead tank while Lemos slid a round into the back of the tube. Combs’ fired and immobilized the tank. Immediately, the other tanks stopped and opened fire in all directions. Lemos rushed to load another round while Combs prepared to fire again on the lead vehicle. Spotting the two men, a German machine gunner raked the engineers’ position, hitting both Combs and Lemos. Though seriously wounded, Combs raised the bazooka to his shoulder and fired, destroying the vehicle."

“I was hit again and fell back,” says Combs. “I looked at my right hand and noticed that it had been shot off. I knew that I had to get out of there. I got myself up and looked down at Lemos. He was not moving and was covered in blood.” (62)

 (62) Phone conversation between Orie Combs (Healdsburg, CA) and Shawn Umbrell (Navarre, FL) on August 6, 2003. 35th Engineers “Journal” and “History”.

Nearby, Private Kurt Boker and his partner were unable to put their bazooka into action. The approach of the enemy column had caught them by surprise and they were now pinned down by well-aimed machine gun fire. Seeing the plight of his men, SGT Cannon grabbed a bazooka and, along with Private First Class John Kenney, braved the enemy fire and advanced to within firing range of the enemy tanks. Cannon dropped to a knee and took aim at the second vehicle while Kenney loaded a round. Firing, Cannon struck the tank, taking it completely out of action.(63)

(63)35th Engineers, “History”. Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. Letter from Kurt Boker (Kelley’s Island, OH) to Frank Rush (Tigard, OR), November 7, 1988.

With two tanks lost at the hands of the engineers, the rest of the enemy began to withdraw for fear of being hit as well. Still, small arms fire erupted as the American engineers exchanged shots with the enemy troops.

Losing blood and nearly unconscious, Combs made his way toward the rest of the platoon. “I could hear firing as I made my way back to the rest of the platoon,” he says. “In addition to my other wounds, I had been shot through the neck and chest. Most of my field jacket had been torn away. I remember feeling a very sharp pain in my back that prevented me from standing up straight.”

Determined to make it out, Combs continued on through a small stream, the chill of the chest deep water nearly numbing him. Coming out of the water, he was grabbed by another soldier and could hear the platoon jeep coming toward him. “When they got to me, we were still under fire,” he says. “I remember lying on the ground by the jeep while one of the men placed a bandage on my throat. Someone began yelling and I was thrown headfirst into the jeep, feet sticking out.” (64)

 (64) Letter from Orie Combs to Shawn Umbrell dated May 12,2001. Phone conversation between Orie Combs and Shawn Umbrell, November 18, 2001 and August 6, 2003.

Private First Class Mose Umbrell, first platoon’s jeep driver, and Staff Sergeant Harrell Wyatt, the platoon sergeant, rushed Combs toward the nearest aid station. When they arrived, they found that most of the medical personnel had evacuated the site; only a nurse and doctor remained. Combs recalls, “The last thing that I remember is that the doctor began putting some blood back into me. I went unconscious after that and woke up three days later at a hospital in the rear.”(65)

 (65) Phone conversation between Orie Combs and Shawn Umbrell, August 6, 2003. Author’s recollection of story told by his grandfather, Mose Umbrell.

In Jenneville, Igo had just arrived at Rickertsen’s command post when the enemy slammed into the Pironpre roadblock. “Breakfast was being served and a cook had just put some pancakes in my mess kit when all hell broke loose,” says Igo.

“There was cannon fire and constant machine gun fire. I dumped my pancakes in the garbage can because I knew that the Germans had just attacked our roadblock. Captain Rickertsen and I jumped in my jeep and rushed back to the crossroads. We parked just short of the cut in the hill and crawled up on a knoll. [We could see] the tankers out working on their treads trying to fix them. We fired a few shots at them and they would occasionally let loose a burst of machine gun fire in our direction.”(65a)

(65a) Letter from Norman Igo (Lubbock, TX) to Shawn Umbrell, June 27, 2003.

 

Shortly after receiving word of the initial engagement at Pironpre, Lieutenant Colonel Symbol began making preparations and gathering soldiers to reinforce Rickertsen’s company. At 0945, Colonel Simmons, from the 28th Infantry Division, entered the 35th’s command post. Symbol informed Simmons of the situation, who then offered the assistance of some of his men that were assembled nearby. Simmons’ men set out to patrol the area between Jenneville and St. Hubert, hoping to prevent an enemy infiltration, while Symbol and approximately one hundred men from the 724th Depot Company boarded trucks and headed for Pironpre.(66)

(66) 35th Engineers, “Journal”. Dearinger, “Letter”.

When Symbol arrived, he was pleased to find that additional reinforcements in the form of D Troop, 635th Anti Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and their M16 halftracks (with mounted quad .50 caliber machine guns) had arrived.(67)

 (67) 635th AAA Bn, S-3 Journal. Igo, “Bio”.

As he surveyed the battlefield, he noticed that a culvert running under the road had not been blown as he had intended. Rickertsen explained that he had not yet received any explosives to do the job. Frustrated, Symbol called back to his command post, insisting that demolitions be brought to Jenneville. But, at this point, destroying the culvert would require sending men into the open to set in the TNT. “Sir, sending men out there now would be suicide,” Rickertsen commented. “If you insist on blowing the bridge I’ll do it myself, but I’m not sending any of the men out there.”

 Symbol said nothing. He knew that his company commander was right.(68)

 (68) Igo, “Bio”.

At approximately 1500 hrs, still hoping to secure the route through Pironpre, the enemy began shelling the C Co positions with heavy artillery. Until then, the German soldiers had not made any further advances toward Pironpre, but rather took up a position in the woods, occasionally firing at the engineers.§69)

(69) Igo, “Bio”. Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. 35th Engineers, “Journal”.

Now, it was clear to Symbol that the enemy wanted this road. He knew that the enemy would attack with a larger force at any time.

After talking with Symbol, Rickertsen sent Igo out to see about setting up another roadblock west of Jenneville and to send the rest of the men to Pironpre for the expected fight to come. When Igo returned late in the afternoon he found that the battalion had received new orders and was preparing to move out of Jenneville. Earlier in the day, the 2d Panzer Division had attacked and captured Ortheuville, to the north, forcing the defending 158th Engineer Combat Battalion and a few tank destroyers from the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion south to Libramont. The fall of Ortheuville offered the enemy a northern approach to St. Hubert. Fearing that the 35th would be cut off, VIII Corps Headquarters sent orders to Symbol to hold as long as feasible, then rejoin the corps, which was now headquartered in Bouillon.(70)

(70)Igo, “Bio”. Cole, Ardennes, pp 325-326. 35th Engineers, “Journal”.

Night had fallen when the engineers began their withdrawal. Just to the south of Jenneville, in Moircy, General Bayerlein’s troops had arrived and were ready to continue their drive toward St. Hubert. Having finally received their explosives, Captain Rickertsen’s men had put them to use and prepared to blow trees across the road to block the enemy advance. As they loaded into their trucks, the sound of German tanks could be heard nearby. Symbol, now sure that the enemy was just minutes away from smashing into Jenneville, calmly boarded the last truck and gave the order to move. The trucks rolled slowly into the dark forest, picking up the last of the men one by one as they pulled the fuses on their demolitions, creating a sequence of bright explosions that followed the column into the night.

(71) (71) Letter from Norman Igo to Paul Symbol (Mercer Island, WA), January 24, 1985.

Passing through St. Hubert, Rickertsen’s men fell into the rear of the battalion formation and, together, the 35th slipped through the cold blackness of the Ardennes. By midnight, Symbol’s men (with the exception of those guarding the 7th Tank Destroyer Group and those in Bastogne) were in their new assembly area in Bouillon, close to the French frontier.(72)

(72) Cole, Ardennes, p 326. 35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.

Meanwhile, near Martelange, Bonde and Brunson had become engaged in heavy fighting alongside the engineers of the 299th. After bitter close combat, both the Americans and paratroopers of the 5th Parachute Division occupied portions of the town. Heavy casualties began to take a toll on the engineers and they soon began to lose some ground. That night the 299th began to withdraw from the town. In some areas though, American soldiers had been cut off from the rest of the unit. When a recon crew headed back into the burning town, Bonde and Brunson volunteered to go along. After locating their men, the engineers withdrew. “Things were very hot there,” wrote Bonde.

 “Gosh, those boys were happy to know that we could get to them.”(73)

 (73) Bonde, “Diary”.

When dawn broke on the 22nd, the 299th was nearing Bouillon. “When we got to Bouillon, we saw some of our trucks and was we happy,” Bonde later wrote. “Thought they may have been wiped out.”

(74) (74) Bonde, “Diary”.

Earlier, Lieutenant Nettle and his platoon from B Co received orders to report to the 7th Tank Destroyer Group headquarters in nearby Recogne. Finding the unit command post in the woods at the edge of town, Nettle recalls, “I reported to the commander and informed him that I was sent to help guard the unit headquarters. I didn’t receive much guidance, so I just kept the men together as best I could where we would be protected against any artillery or enemy attack. I found it strange that the colonel had not established his command post in the town where it seemed we would be better protected. It only took a couple of artillery rounds landing close by to change his mind. Soon after moving into the village we were put to the task of conducting local patrols. Eventually, I was sent to meet with an Infantry captain who needed to have a minefield marked. I reported to the commander at his CP that was in one of the winter dugouts. The captain was very abrupt and told me to be sure to be quiet near the minefield because the Germans had artillery spotters in the area who were quick to send in a few shells. Sure enough, as we were putting out our markers, artillery rounds came racing in and struck just behind us. We hurried up to complete the job and headed back, receiving a stern scolding from the captain as we went.”(75)

(75) Letter from Charles Nettle to Shawn Umbrell, March 25, 2002. Phone conversation with Charles Nettle and Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002.

Meanwhile, at Bastogne, the defenders fought bravely to protect the besieged city. The small detachment under Rush and Skinner was being held in reserve and helped out where they could. “Shortly after getting into Bastogne, I ran into a Lieutenant Franks with the armored engineers whom I had known in Officer Candidate School,” says Skinner.

“He was a rough and tough SOB and had just come back into town after fighting the Germans in a cemetery north or northeast of town. We attached my men to his outfit. We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne. Thanks to the 101st and the other men around the town, no tanks were able to enter town. But we were under constant artillery fire.”(76)

(76) Letter from Bob Skinner to Paul Symbol, January 24, 1985. Letter from Bob Skinner to Shawn Umbrell, March 11, 2002.

Such constant barrages had devastating effects on the city and the soldiers. On the afternoon of December 21, Skinner and his jeep driver, Private Morris, were standing on the steps of the building their had been bivouacked in. Suddenly, artillery shells exploded in the street in front of them, killing Morris.(77)

(77) 35th Engineers, “History”.

At 2030 hrs on Christmas Eve, the unwelcome drone of enemy planes was heard over Bastogne. Moments later the city’s railroad station and the 101st’s field hospital bore the brunt of a massive German air strike. Soldiers and civilians, alike, were caught in the devastating raid. When the bombs stopped falling, the men of the 35th rushed out and began searching for survivors in the rubbled buildings and clearing debris from the streets.(78)

(78) David Pergrin, Engineering the Victory: The Battle of the Bulge (Atglen, PA, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1996), p 324.

Near Bouillon, the rest of the battalion held crucial bridges along the Semois River, securing the Corps’ left flank. All along the Semois, the engineers had prepared bridges for demolition and guarded the crossing sites around the clock.(79)

(79) 35th Engineers, “History”.

“Those bridges became islands surrounded by darkness once the sun went down,” says Regenauer. “It was dangerous to move at night, so when I went on guard I preferred to stay there until it was light.”

For Dearinger, the Christmas of 1944 would be unforgettable. Days earlier he had opened his Christmas gifts in the small town of Bisory, just outside of Bastogne. Since that time, neither he, nor any of the other Allies on the western front, had had the time to cherish the Holidays. But now, on this Christmas Eve, he sat in his jeep listening to the BBC broadcast carols over the radio. “That’s the first time I heard ‘O’ Holy Night’,” he recalls. “It’s been one of my favorites ever since.”

“On Christmas night, I was making the rounds of the bridge guards,” he continues.

“Captain Day was apparently doing the same thing. Sergeant Floyd had warned Captain Day to be careful not to slip up on anyone unexpectedly, but he did. I heard the shot and a high-pitched scream. By the time I got up to Mullin’s jeep, he and Sergeant Floyd were loading Captain Day into the vehicle."

He said, “I’m hurting Floyd,” and they took him off for the hospital. The next day, Symbol came in with Day’s wristwatch and told me to take over the company.(80)

(80) Dearinger, “Letter”.

On the 26th, Lieutenant Nettle and his platoon were released from their guard duty at the 7th Tank Destryoer headquarters, now located at Libramont. “We had been staying in an old schoolhouse while in Libramont,” says Nettle.

 “We were preparing to leave and were suddenly attacked by two enemy airplanes, each dropping a five hundred pound bomb write in the center of town. I was still in the building and was knocked across the room by the blast. One of the men in the room was killed. I went immediately to check on the platoon and found that none of my guys were hurt. We went outside and started helping with the wounded where we could. I found out later that the colonel that I had reported to on the first day was one of the men killed during the attack.”(81)

(81) Letter from Charles Nettle to Shawn Umbrell, March 25, 2002. Phone conversation with Charles Nettle and Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002.

On December 27, armored forces under the command of General George Patton punched a whole through the German lines and reached the besieged city of Bastogne. On the 28th, Rush, Skinner, and the men of A Co found their way back to the battalion.(82)

(82) 35th Engineers, “History”.

As the days passed in Bouillon, it became apparent that the German counteroffensive was coming to a halt. Unbeknownst to Symbol, his battalion had played an important role in stopping the German advance in the Ardennes. In addition to defending the critically strategic city of Bastogne, the 35th was also successful in crushing any hope the Panzer Lehr had of reaching the Meuse. The engineers had so completely blocked the routes to St. Hubert with obstacles that Bayerlein’s division took an additional two days to complete assemble around the town. Helmut Ritgen, then a lieutenant in the Panzer Lehr, recalls:

“On 22 December the advance towards St. Hubert was continued, but delayed as the direct route via Pironpre was reportedly blocked by some cut down trees... In spite of partly cloudy skies and clear visibility, the column was not attacked from the air. The fuel situation was of greater cause for concern. The first Panzer ran out of fuel west of Moircy and had to be refueled from reserve jerry cans. Thus, St. Hubert was reached in the false hopes that gasoline would be found there. We found only empty jerry cans. It was established the following day that the Division’s arrival in St. Hubert had taken so long due the unusual route we had to take to get there.”(83)

(83) Helmut Ritgen, The Western Front: Memoirs of a Panzer Lehr Officer (Winnipeg, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc., 1995), pp 273-274.

This delay created by the 35th was sufficient enough to allow reinforcements to arrive and ultimately beat back the Panzer Lehr from their positions around St. Hubert. Over the next several weeks, the Allies fought hard to decrease the bulge that was created in their line by the German army. During the Allies’ renewed drive, the 35th moved east in support of the 11th Armored Division and later the 17th Airborne Division. Symbol’s executive officer, Major Mike Miletich, left the battalion to take command of the 44th Engineer Combat Battalion, who had suffered heavy losses in fighting near Wiltz.(84)

(84) 35th Engineers, “History”.

Later, General George Patton commended the actions of the men of the VIII Corps. In a commendation letter to General Middleton, he wrote, “The magnificent tactical skill and hardihood which you and your command displayed in slowing the German offensive, and the determined valor and tactical precision which caused you to retain possession of Bastogne, together with your subsequent resumption of a victorious offensive, constitute a truly superb feat of arms.”

In recognition of the 35th’s determined stance in the Ardennes, fifteen medals were awarded for valor. The Silver Star was awarded to Cannon, Combs, and Kenney for their actions at Pironpre. Robert Lemos was reported missing in action on the 21st of December, but was later found in a field hospital. There is no record indicating whether or not he received a medal for his part in the defense of the Pironpre crossroads. Additionally, the Bronze Star was awarded to Lieutenant Colonel Symbol, Lee Regenauer, Michael Semmelrogge, Peter Lari, Raymond Steele, Charles Harkins, Calvin Crump, Howard Bulman, Wilbur Ferguson, Frank Dunigan, Charles Botdorf, and Charles Nettle.

In March, the battalion made assault crossings of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers in support of the 87th Infantry Division. While crossing the Rhine, the 35th suffered 34 casualties: nine killed, six missing in action, four seriously wounded, and fifteen slightly wounded. One of those killed was Charles Cannon. (85)

(85) 35th Engineers, After Action Report, dated April 4, 1945. (National Archives)

At war’s end, the 35th was deep inside Germany, near the town of Pausa. During their march across the country, the engineers captured hundreds of prisoners and saw the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. One-by-one, those with enough “points” were granted discharge and returned to the United States. Those remaining in the battalion departed from the port of Marseille, France, aboard the troopship, General Stewart, on September 4, 1945. The battalion arrived in the New York port of debarkation on September 15 where it demobilized.(86)

 (86) 35th Engineers, “History”.

Master's Thesis - First On The Line, 35th ECB Part II of IV

Thanks to Major Shawn Umbrell for this paper.  Shawn's Grandad (Mose) served in the 35th ECB. 

FIRST ON THE LINE: THE 35TH ENGINEER BATTALION IN WORLD WAR TWO AND THE EVOLUTION OF A HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMBAT UNIT

Further east, near B Co’s position at Goebelsmuhle, the situation was deteriorating rapidly as a result of the advance of Oberstleutnant Groeschke’s 15th Regiment. The paratroopers had crossed the Our River early on the 16th, swiftly capturing Vianden after a brief firefight against troops of the 28th Infantry Division. With Vianden behind it, the 15th Regiment dashed westward and seized the town of Walsdorf unopposed. Most likely, because of a lack of radio contact with Oberst Heilmann and fearing that he had advanced too far ahead of the other regiments, Groeschke stopped his advance at Walsdorf. Meanwhile, his advance guard, the 5th Kompanie of his 1st Battalion, secured the heights of Tandelberg. Groeschke’s troops were now just seven kilometers east of Goebelsmuhle. To his dismay, his 3rd Battalion became decisively engaged near Fouhren where some 28th Infantry Division soldiers were still holding out. He had hoped to meet Heilmann’s intent of bypassing built up areas and small pockets of American troops. Additional problems further in the rear at the division’s crossing site added to a slowing of the regiment’s momentum and, though he had made the division’s deepest penetration, Groeschke made no further advances on the 16th.

On the morning of the 17th, though some of his force was still fighting at Fouhren, Groeschke pushed forward toward the Sure River bridges north of Bourscheid near Goebelsmuhle. The problems at the division’s crossing site had been relieved and the 15th was moving with the added support of a few tanks from the 11th Assault Gun Brigade.

 In Goebelsmuhle, the engineers of B Co were on high alert. Little was known of the German advance, but the sounds of battle said enough. Heeding Symbol’s warning to keep a close watch on their bridges, Hritzko kept his men on guard throughout the night. Private Lee Regenauer, a .30 cal machine gunner in Lieutenant Charles Botdorf’s platoon, had lain awake all night guarding the eastern approaches and footpath skirting the high ground above the village. Feeling a fight coming, Botdorf had gathered his men and, pointing to his new first lieutenant bar, said, “You men got me these, I know you will get us through this,” recalls Regenauer. “We still had no idea what was going on, but I think that the officers suspected something serious.”

The villagers feared the worst as well. The hardships of German occupation were still fresh in their memories. Now, as the sound of artillery and small arms fire neared, they believed that the Americans’ presence was coming to a quick end. Rumors swept rapidly through the village and many of the civilians were preparing to leave. The appearance of low flying German fighters hastened the preparations. Critically low on ammunition, however, the German pilots disregarded the small group of engineers. Instead, they continued low-level flights through the valley, drowning out the sound of Heilmann’s advancing troops and tanks. Since there was no direct communication with the battalion headquarters, Hritzko had not yet received the order to move his company to Wardin. Late in the morning, a patrol led by Lieutenant Charles Nettle returned with reports of German soldiers in the area. Nettle had encountered a couple of reporters in a jeep speeding to the rear. The two men, visibly shaken, told Nettle that German troops had mistaken them for GI’s and fired at them.

(14) Phone interview with Charles Nettle (La Habra, CA) by Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002.

By midday, B Co could hear fierce fighting being waged in nearby Hoscheid where troops of the 28th Infantry Division were holding out against the 14th Parachute Regiment. After a failed attempt to reach the artillerymen in Lipperscheid by phone, Hritzko headed off with his jeep and driver to see if they had information to share. Hritzko arrived in Lipperscheid only to find the artillerymen loaded up and moving out of town.

Meanwhile, 5th Kompanie had passed just north of Lipperscheid, purposely avoiding the small American outfit there, and was headed straight toward Goebelsmuhle. Still operating as Groeschke’s advance guard, the troops of 5th Kompanie had shot west from the Tandelberg heights in hopes of rapidly seizing the bridge at Goebelsmuhle and allowing the rest of the regiment to continue over the Sure toward its primary objective of Martelange. While returning to Goebelsmuhle, Hritzko found what he had been looking for; the paratroopers of 5th Kompanie en route to Goebelsmuhle and blocking the road just a few hundred yards east of the town. With no time to react, Hritzko shouted, “Run it!” The Germans fired wildly at the speeding jeep, narrowly missing both GI’s.

(15) Mary Janet Taylor, “Salt Peter Cake” (unpublished, 2000), p 79.

Once back in Goebelsmuhle, Hritzko received the word to move his company to Wardin. Captain Howard, the battalion intelligence officer, had come bearing the message and was ready to escort Hritzko and his men to the assembly area. Knowing that the enemy would be in the town before his men could get out, Hritzko told Botdorf to cover the company’s withdrawal. Botdorf immediately directed his men into position, hoping to spring an ambush on the approaching Germans.

(18)Phone interview with Charles Nettle by Shawn Umbrell, September 22, 2002. Conversation between Charles Botdorf and Shawn Umbrell, Branson, MO, 2002.

While the rest of the company loaded onto trucks, Botdorf’s men hurried to get into position to cover the movement, but before they could the German paratroopers were spotted advancing along the railroad tracks leading into town. Immediately, a firefight erupted.

The heavy fire dealt by the engineers surprised the enemy and sent the Germans looking for cover. After adding their own fire to the mix, Groeschke’s men began trying to move to the north side of the engineers along a footpath that led above and around the village. Fearing the enemy might get behind the company and cut the one road out of town, Botdorf sent Regenauer, and his assistant gunner, Private Ray Steele, to defend the company’s left flank. As he rushed into position, Regenauer watched Georges Kamphaus and his wife and three children, walk hand-in-hand toward the hills west of the village. Kamphaus was well aware of the German reprisal for aiding the allies and feared for his family’s safety.

Regenauer recalls, “I was on the opposite end of town from where the Germans came in. LT Botdorf ordered me to get up on the hill with my machine gun and stop the encirclement. When I got up on the hill with my gun there was no time to dig in. I set the gun as low as I could. I set the sights at 150 yards where I believed the Germans would come out, and I sprayed the woods with about 100 rounds right away. Then I waited. All of a sudden from my right a German squad of about ten men appeared.”

 Acquiring the squad of maneuvering troopers in his sights, Regenauer opened fire, catching six of the enemy soldiers. The other four ran back, narrowly escaping the withering fire.

(19) Letter from Lee Regenauer to Shawn Umbrell, January 2, 2002. 35th Engineers, “History.”

The firefight escalated quickly and the engineers’ ammunition began to run low. Realizing his plight, Botdorf began directing the movement of the platoon along the only existing road from town as the enemy soldiers continued to rush in. As the rest of the company withdrew, Botdorf’s men covered the movement by establishing subsequent lines of fire. Once the company was clear, Botdorf’s platoon began loading onto the remaining trucks. Spotting a German mortar crew setting up its weapon, Botdorf knew that it was time to move. With the last of his men on trucks and headed out of the village, Botdorf climbed into his awaiting jeep and followed the rest of the company toward Wardin.

(20) Conversation between Charles Botdorf and Shawn Umbrell, Branson, MO, 2002.

Throughout the day, Groeschke’s regiment assembled in Goebelsmuhle. “Pops” now accommodated, whether he wanted to or not, a different band of soldiers; many of whom were pleased to find Christmas packages left in haste by the engineers. As vague as the enemy situation was to Hritzko and his men, none could have understood the necessity of Goebelsmuhle’s seizure by the 5th Kompanie. Groeschke now had the required bridge to facilitate the movement of his regiment and supporting tanks across the Sure River and on to his primary objective of Martelange.

While the 35th was slowly collapsing on its assembly area in Wardin, General Middleton and what remained of his staff were finishing plans for the defense of Bastogne. Lacking the ability to defend in depth, they devised a screen line to the east of the city with a series of strong points at key terrain. This screen would have to hold out until expected reinforcements arrived. Middleton had received word that Combat Command “B” (CCB), 10th Armored Division and an airborne division were on their way to help restore the VIII Corps line, but it was unclear when these needed troops would make it to Bastogne.

At 1300 hrs, the corps engineer, Colonel Winslow met with Symbol and issued him orders for the all out defense of Bastogne. On the map, Winslow showed CCR’s positions and explained that the 35th would establish defensive positions east of Bastogne extending from the Bastogne-St. Vith road in the north to the Bastogne-Arlon road in the south; a distance of approximately five miles (the orders changed later to read simply from Foy to the Bastogne-Arlon road).(21) Another engineer battalion was reportedly on its way to assist in the defense, but had not yet arrived. To the best of his ability, Winslow then outlined the enemy situation, but much of what he knew hinged on rumors and assumptions.

(21)35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.

It was 1630 hrs before the entire had reached the assembled in Wardin. Symbol, meeting with his company commanders, outlined the friendly and enemy situations, on his map, as he understood them. “The enemy is said to be just a couple of miles from Bastogne, with armor and infantry advancing rapidly”, he told them. “Rumor also has it that a massive airborne operation is expected in the area.”

He went on to say, “elements of CCR, 9th Armored Division are setting up roadblocks with their tanks and infantry to the east. We are needed to establish a defensive line between Foy, in the north, and Marvie, in the south and hold this line until reinforcements arrive.” Quoting Middleton’s order, Symbol concluded, “The defense of this sector is critical; Bastogne has to be held at all costs.”

(22) James S. Parker and Norman G. Igo, Norman G. (unpublished, 2000), p 25.

To accomplish the overwhelming task, Symbol split the sector, assigning the area from Foy to Neffe to Captain Day and the area from Neffe to Marvie to Captain Rickertsen. Since Hritzko’s men were low on ammo they would refit in Bastogne and remain in reserve while H/S Co guarded the Corps headquarters. Symbol stressed that, until reinforcements arrived, the engineers and the tankers at the roadblocks would be the only soldiers standing between the enemy and Bastogne.

(23) 35th Engineers, “History”.

As the 35th moved out to man the barrier line, it became the first unit to establish fighting positions along what would become the defensive perimeter of Bastogne. Over the next several days, that perimeter would be tested, but never broken. Lieutenant Igo recalls, “[At Marvie], we set out to establish a defensive line. It was decided to put a bazooka team out on the road to the east, one on the road to the south, and to put a machine gun with some riflemen in the field between the two bazooka teams. This would give us some protection to the south. We would tie in with A Co to the west of our positions. This was the best that we could figure to do.”

(27) Igo, “Bio”.

Lieutenant Jack Dearinger, 1st Platoon, A Co, remembers, “I was supposed to meet Captain Day in a bar in Wardin, which I did. He was huffed and appeared concerned. The word was ‘enemy paratroops tonight and tanks tomorrow night.’ We got set up pretty well before dark. Between Neffe and Longvilly, there was a roadside shrine with many statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We set up a block there. I spent the night in the rail station in Neffe. No paratroops, just our own people heading west.”

(24) Letter from Jack Dearinger (Versailles, KY) to Bob Skinner (Spearman, TX), January 1, 1995 (hereafter cited as “Letter”).

 

Throughout the day and into the night, the engineers constructed obstacles, dug fighting positions, and patrolled along the barrier line. When entrenching tools broke from digging in the frozen dirt, the men used their bayonets to chip out fighting positions.

(28) Letter from Bob Skinner (Spearman, TX) to Shawn Umbrell (Ft. Campbell, KY), August 20, 2001.)

Meanwhile, B Co had arrived in Bastogne. The men unloaded from their trucks and were ushered into a school gymnasium where they settled down for some rest. Moments later Captain Hritzko arrived with new orders. The company was needed to set up roadblocks in the town should the enemy break through the barrier just to the east. Regenauer, along with his good friends, Hank Ridgway and Horace Morgan, moved out and sat up a .50 caliber machine gun position. Led by Corporal John Monokian, their squad leader, and Sergeant Frank Giacalone, the company weapons section leader, the men set up mines in the road to their front and rotated through guard shifts.

(25)Phone interview between Lee Regenauer (Shell Lake, WI) and Shawn Umbrell (Ft. Benning, GA), October, 2002.

On the 18th, Colonel William Roberts, commander of CCB, arrived. Though only one team from his force was immediately available, two other teams were en route and would be closing on Bastogne within a couple of hours. Middleton, certainly relieved to see Roberts, urged immediate commitment of the first team, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cherry, at Longvilly where German forces seriously threatened to breakthrough CCR’s roadblock. While Team Cherry rushed toward Longvilly, Middleton briefed Roberts on the situation. Already, Middleton’s headquarters had moved out of Bastogne and only a few of the corps staff officers remained to assist the general. Middleton explained that Roberts would take over the immediate defense of Bastogne and gave him control of the units already in line, to include the 35th.

In the early morning of the 18th, the 158th Engineer Combat Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sam Tabet, relieved the 35th of the northern portion of the barrier line. Tabet’s unit was coming in to help bolster the line, having been relegated to VIII Corps from First Army in the north. The 158th’s operations officer had located the 35th’s command post at about midnight, but to avoid confusion and potential fratricide, Tabet’s men waited until dawn to move into position. CPT Day’s A Co then moved south and established new positions near the village of Mont. Here they established strong points and laid mines to block the road leading east toward the village of Neffe. DAD!!!

(26)35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”. David Pergrin, Engineering the Victory: The Battle of the Bulge (Atglen, PA, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1996), p 260 and 276.

While the engineers adjusted and improved their positions, General Fritz Bayerlein’s Panzer Lehr Division continued its drive toward Bastogne with hopes of capturing the town that evening. Two days of fighting against surprisingly stiff resistance coupled with traffic jams on the narrow Ardennes roads had caused major delays in the division’s timeline. Now, however, Bayerlein’s tanks and infantry were within five miles of the city. “Things were quiet in Mont until midnight when all hell broke loose”, says Dearinger. “A patrol of Panzer Lehr hit a 9th Armored Division block at Mageret- Team Desobry of the 10th Armored Division was also involved.”

(29) Dearinger, “Letter”.

The violent clash at Mageret ended almost as soon as it began. The outnumbered Americans were forced to withdraw and by 0100hrs Panzer Lehr owned the village. Bayerlein’s forces were now sitting just four miles from Bastogne with just the 35th and a portion of CCB in front of him. Fortunately for the Americans, Bayerlein slowed his advance in the dark, reacting to a civilian’s inflated estimates of the American armored forces near Bastogne. Additionally, he had chosen a poor route to Bastogne that was causing navigation difficulties and traffic problems. Dirt roads had turned to mud under the weight of the tanks and all forward movement nearly ceased. Given his division’s situation and what little he knew of the American strength, Bayerlein decided to only probe for weaknesses in the American defenses and renew his attack on Bastogne in the morning.

Symbol’s men listened to the sounds of the approaching tanks and soon found themselves face to face with the enemy. For the remainder of the night the 35th was subjected to small arms and mortar fire, but the engineers held their ground.

(30) Igo, “Bio.” 35th Engineers, “Journal” and “History”.

 

“I was in 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, A Co,” says then Private Norval Cummings. “By evening we were in a single file line across a huge pasture or grain field with all the fire power [we had]. There were two .50 cal and three .30 cal machineguns. We also had three bazookas. I was carrying one of the bazookas and an M-1 rifle, along with ammo for both. I had three rounds for the bazooka, which made for quite a load. I was told to give up my rifle, but refused as I figured it was my primary means of protection. I had been told to only fire the bazooka at large targets such as tanks and trucks. At about midnight, we ran into some problems. German tanks and foot soldiers had advanced to within 150 yards so we began to fire. It was so dark and foggy that we could see very little, but we held them off. At daybreak, we were ordered to pull back into Mont proper, which we did. While moving, we were having one hard time keeping the enemy in check. They were wild and doing their best to force us out.”

(31) Letter from Norval Cummings to Shawn Umbrell (date unknown).

At approximately 0630hrs, the Germans made another attempt to break through the American line. In the 158th sector, the 26th Volksgrenadier Division was attacking Bizory and Foy. At Neffe, just east of A Co’s new positions, tanks and infantry from the Panzer Lehr attacked elements of Team Cherry. Barely a mile from Neffe in Mont, Day’s men could see plainly the fierce fight being waged. The Germans gained ground rapidly and soon intermittent mortar and tank fire began falling on Mont. The battle raged throughout the morning until the remaining defenders, including Colonel Cherry himself, were forced to a small chateau a few hundred yards south of Neffe. From within the thick walls of the chateau, the tankers used their dismounted machine guns to repel the enemy at distances as close as ten feet.

Having taken up positions near Neffe just that morning, a platoon from the B Co of the 158th moved in to help relieve Cherry and his men at the chateau. Lieutenant Cochran, the platoon leader, picked off two enemy soldiers who were riding on their lead tank. Rockets fired simultaneously by four engineers hit the tank and destroyed it. One of these soldiers, Private Bernard Michin, was burned and blinded by the explosion. As he crawled back to a covered position, which was then being raked by hostile machine gun fire, he located the enemy gun by sound and hurled a grenade, which silenced the weapon.

(32)Kenneth J. Deacon, “Combat Engineers #31, Bastogne, 1944,” The Military Engineer, January-February 1945, p. 21. Cole, Ardennes, p 303.

Captain Day and the engineers of A Co readied themselves for the fight that was sure to come once the chateau fell. They had stood their ground throughout the night and were now prepared to meet the enemy in the light of day. To bolster the line, Symbol sent a platoon from B Co to take up additional positions between Mont and Neffe and to protect a few guns from A Battery, 420 Field Artillery Battalion located behind the A Co positions. Nettle’s platoon answered the call and before long was in position. “When we reached the line near Mont,” says Nettle, “we took up defensive positions and placed our bazooka team near a large boulder which provided some cover and concealment… We could hear the enemy tanks churning their tracks. They sounded no further than a hundred yards away.”

Surprised by the ferocity of Cherry’s defense of the chateau, Bayerlein’s troops probed to the right and left to find weaknesses in the line. Private James Thomas and the rest of his squad from Nettle’s platoon were manning a .50 caliber machine gun position between Neffe and Mont.

 “It was very foggy,” recalls Thomas. “The fog would lift for about twenty minutes then settle back down for about twenty minutes. When the fog would lift, here the Germans would come and all hell would break loose; everybody shooting and hollering and the smoke rolling. Many of the poor devils got killed or wounded.”

Finally, in the late afternoon, German soldiers were successful in forcing the withdrawal of Cherry and his men. Incendiary grenades tossed in the windows had set the chateau ablaze. Dearinger recalls what happened next. “Just when things looked the worst and we were strung out across a pasture in skirmish line,” he says, “the 101st Airborne Division came over the hill from Bastogne.”

(33) Dearinger, “Letter”.

Amazingly, the 101st had made its way to Bastogne in the freezing weather from Mourmelon, France, in “cattle” trucks. This elite airborne division was still recovering from a long fight in Holland and many of its soldiers did not have weapons. Nevertheless, the 101st immediately set out to meet the enemy. As the 101st marched toward Bastogne, they were met by hundreds of retreating GI’s cautioning them of the fierce German advance, but the paratroopers were undeterred and continued toward the sound of battle.

Having arrived the previous day to review the situation with General Middleton, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, the acting commander of the 101st, decided that he would send his lead units immediately to the east to take over the defense of Bastogne. The first unit through was the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Julian Ewell.

“As the 101st marched by- seemingly headed right into the jaws of the Krauts- I noticed one of them wasn’t carrying a piece,” says Nettle. “I asked him about it and he said, ‘I’ll pick up one on the way!”

(34) Letter from Charles Nettle (La Habra, CA) to Shawn Umbrell, November 25, 2002.

Thomas recalls, “During [a lull in the fighting] I heard somebody say, ‘Hey bud, need some help?’ I turned around and there stood a tall redheaded sergeant with a big mustache.”

 Turning over their position to the newly arrived sergeant and his men, Thomas and the others moved back to Mont.

(34a) Letter from James Thomas (Wilmore, KY) to Shawn Umbrell, June 28, 2001

Serving as spotter for Nettle’s platoon and listening to the sound of the approaching tanks, “Spike” Zatopek recalls, “I was lying in a ditch loaded and ready when one of the guys from the 101st climbed beside me and asked, ‘Where are the goddammed Germans?’” Zatopek pointed forward and the trooper was off again.

(35)Letter from “Spike” Zatopek (Fredericksburg, TX) to Shawn Umbrell, December 12, 2001.

Sergeant Donald Castona, a soldier in 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment says, “We walked through Bastogne and passed an awful lot of GI’s heading the other way. There were a few combat engineers set up with their .30 cal. machine guns on the slope before we got to Mont. These were good soldiers and they were prepared to hold their positions. We set up positions after going through Mont and got ready to meet the Germans. We could hear tanks coming, but most of the guys were confident that we could handle things.”

(36)George Koskimaki, The Battered Bastards of Bastogne (Havertown, PA, Casemate, 2003) p 65.

Master's Thesis - First On The Line, 35th ECB Part I of IV

Thanks to Major Shawn Umbrell for this paper.  Shawn's Grandad (Mose) served in the 35th ECB. 

FIRST ON THE LINE: THE 35TH ENGINEER BATTALION IN WORLD WAR TWO AND THE EVOLUTION OF A HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMBAT UNIT

By the soft light of a lantern, Technician Fifth Grade Ed Bonde scribbled a few brief sentences in his diary. As he wrote, the cold Ardennes wind beat softly against the canvas wall of his tent and he wondered if tomorrow could be any colder. “December 15: Got up 0545”, he wrote. “… Water freezes fast outside. Bombers go over most of the day. Many go over in early evening. Joe’s squad helps capture seven Germans near Ettlebruck. Came through on patrol.”

With that, he put down his diary and pencil, crawled into his sleeping bag, and settled in for the night. The fact that his friends helped capture some enemy soldiers must have thrilled Bonde. After all, it had been months since he had even seen a German soldier.  

(1) From personal diary of Ed Bonde (original in possession of his son, Alan. Hereafter cited as “Bonde”).

Ever since his unit, the 35th Engineer Battalion (Combat), had arrived in Belgium in late September 1944, life had become routine. The war that had raged so fiercely across France during the summer now seemed to be a distant memory. Rather than clear mines or assault alongside the infantry, the men of the 35th now spent their days keeping roads in the Ardennes forest, around Bastogne, free of ice and snow. If it wasn’t snowing, it was raining, and it was always cold, very cold. But still, the distant sound of artillery, the appearance of bombers high overhead, and the ever-present threat of the German “Buzz Bombs” reminded the men that there was still a war to be won. And today, they had come through on their patrol. There were now seven less Germans to worry about.

The 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Paul H. Symbol, had begun “fighting” World War II as part of the 35th Combat Engineer Regiment on March 10, 1942 at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Not against the Japanese or German soldiers, but against the rugged terrain of northern Canada. It was here that the 35th began a hard fought battle to construct the Alaskan-Canadian (Alcan) Highway. The construction of the road began as a secret project intended to provide an overland route to reach American airbases in Canada and Alaska. At that time, no such road existed. Many believed that the Japanese would try to invade the American mainland through Alaska. For 18 months, the 35th battled the cold weather, mosquitoes, and unforgiving frontier of British Columbia and the Yukon. In the end, the men of the 35th had successfully cut more than 400 miles of road, constructed over 20 bridges, and collected enough stories of adventure and hardship to last a lifetime.  

(2) Heath Twichell, Northwest Epic: The Building of the Alaska Highway (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1992), pp 51-69. 35th Engineers, “History of the 35th Engineer Regiment”.

  

The 35th Regiment’s return to the United States, in September 1943, was marked by reorganization at Camp White, Oregon. Here, the regiment split into two separate battalions. The first remained designated the 35th, the second became the 145th Combat Engineer Battalion. LTC Symbol took command of the 35th on January 29, 1944. In April, the battalion moved to Camp Shanks, New York. While there, the battalion played a large role in building and improving the camp’s facilities while preparing for entry into the European Theater of Operations (ETO). On July 2, 1944, the battalion’s long anticipated journey across the Atlantic began.

(3) 35th Engineers, “35th Engineer Combat Battalion History” (hereafter cited as “History”).

Upon entering the ETO, the 35th took part in the fighting in northern France, helping to capture the port city of Brest and thousands of enemy soldiers. As part of Major General Troy Middleton’s VIII Corps, the 35th then headed east, clearing mines and repairing roads and bridges.

On September 28, the 35th crossed into Belgium. With winter rapidly approaching, the engineers found themselves busy improving main supply routes, operating sawmills and rock quarries, and building winter shelters for the troops on the front line. Due to the nature of their work, the companies of the 35th were decentralized and operating in various parts of Luxembourg and Belgium. While Symbol’s command post remained in Bastogne at the VIII Corps headquarters, Headquarters and Service Company (H/S), commanded by Captain Wayne Wells, was operating water points in Wiltz, Ettlebruck, and Clerf. Company A, commanded by Captain Warren Day was operating a sawmill in Clerf. Both Company B (Captain Dan Hritzko) and Company C (Captain Chris Rickertsen) were operating rock quarries in Bettendorf and Mersch, respectively. The engineers of the 35th were suited for the hard work, having gained a great deal of experience while, as they liked to say, “On the road”.  

(4) 35th Engineers, “35th Engineer Combat Battalion History” (hereafter cited as “History”).

By nature, the company bivouac sites were also dispersed. As near as possible to their work sites, the men made home in Belgian or Luxembourger towns. Officers sometimes rented rooms out of homes while the enlisted men slept in hotels, schoolhouses, and even bowling alleys. For Dan Hritzko’s B Company, home was the village of Goebelsmuhle. Nearly twenty miles southeast of the battalion command post in Bastogne, Goebelsmuhle sat in a deep valley on the north bank of the Sure River. The only road through the village twisted and turned along the Sure and bridged the river just north of the town of Bourscheid. The railroad also paralleled the river, taking a shortcut through a tunnel on the east end of the village near Lipperscheid where a platoon from the 687th Field Artillery Battalion was bivouacked.

Hritzko’s men had moved into Goebelsmuhle during the first few days of November. Sleeping arrangements were set up in the village’s small hotel where the men lived in cramped quarters, sometimes fitting nine men to a room. Where possible, the men set up Christmas decorations, sometimes placing small trees in their rooms to accompany gifts received from home. The men spent what free time existed in the hotel’s tavern where they played poker and drank the local beer served by the owner, affectionately named “Pops”. A young village girl who sang and played piano provided entertainment while the men talked and laughed.

Most nights, the village railroad agent, Georges Kamphaus, sat and laughed along with the men, though he could not understand a word of English. Initially intimidated by their weapons and cocky attitudes, the presence of the Americans now seemed to represent better times for him and his family; victory and security from the Germans. His youngest son, three-year-old Armand, enjoyed the presence of the engineers too, often earning their chocolate bars for some good deed done. Overall, the situation was as good as could be expected for all those concerned in Goebelsmuhle; the area was beautiful, the relations friendly, and the Christmas season was upon them.

The terrain in which they operated made the engineers’ work somewhat more difficult. Known as the Ardennes, the area was a beautiful combination of thick forests, deep river valleys, and small towns or villages. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the region had been very popular among tourists traveling in Europe. Militarily, however, the terrain posed a great obstacle. Traffic was restricted to the roads, which twisted and turned along rivers, through the forests, around steep hills and ridges, and through the villages. Where road conditions became poor as a result of the heavy military traffic and rain, vehicular movement of troops and supplies had to stop. Therefore, it was extremely important for the engineers to constantly maintain the roads in the Ardennes.

Historically, few battles had ever been fought in the Ardennes, though the Germans had successfully used the region on two occasions to launch major offensives. Both offensives were directed against the French, one in World War I, and the other in 1940, shortly after the beginning of World War II. During both operations the Germans had been able to move large forces virtually undetected and against little resistance from their enemies who chose to establish defenses elsewhere, believing the Ardennes to be impassable.

But now, as strong Allied forces occupied the Ardennes, few believed that the Germans would try such an operation again. This belief was supported by the fact that little contact with the enemy in the VIII Corps sector had been experienced since Middleton’s forces had arrived in late summer. Though heavy fighting was experienced in other sectors, the VIII Corps sector was quiet. So quiet, in fact, that it had become the place to introduce “green” units onto the front lines or to send weary units for rest and refit.

By mid December, to defend his sector, Middleton had the 106th, 4th, and 28th Infantry Divisions. Recovering from heavy fighting in the Huertgen Forest, the 4th and 28th divisions’ ranks were extremely thin. The 106th, on the contrary, had arrived on the line just two weeks earlier and had not been tested in combat. The 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, along with three other combat engineer battalions (159th, 44th, and 168th) and the 9th Armor Division’s Combat Command Reserve (CCR), made up Middleton’s formal reserve.

(5) With winter in full swing and no offensive plans, the VIII Corps troops conducted little more than local patrolling.

On 15 December, General Middleton’s intelligence officer reported, “For a two months period the enemy has been content to hold the present front line without engaging in activities of a greater scope than patrols and harassing artillery fire… There has been no indication of a change in this policy. No airborne or parachute troops have been reported in line or in assembly areas to the rear, nor have any armor concentrations been reported ready for employment in this area.” 

(6a) VIII Corps G-2 report dated December 15, 1944 (located in the National Archives)

So now, as Bonde and the men of the 35th slept, none imagined that on the east bank of the Our River, on the cold, cloud covered night of December 15, 1944 the largest counterattack force that the German Army would ever assemble was preparing to strike a crushing blow against the Allied forces in Europe.

The German build up had begun weeks earlier under strict secrecy, successfully avoiding the attention of Allied intelligence. Code named “Wacht am Rhein” (Watch on the Rhine), the German plan was to drive a wedge between the American and British armies in Europe and capture the strategic port city of Antwerp. The Reich’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, believed that if successful, the offensive would revitalize the German army, having recently suffered several defeats, and turn the tide of war back in Germany’s favor.

Fearful of having his plans compromised, Hitler ordered that the true nature of the build up be withheld from his commanders and moved units primarily at night. When the German commanders finally received their orders just two weeks before the offensive, few believed such a venture had any chance of succeeding. Heavy fighting against both the Russians in the east and the American and British forces in the west had inflicted staggering losses on the German armed forces. Unable to stem the advance of the Allies on the ground, in the air, and at sea, the once victorious German military was just a shell of what it had been during the early years of the war. Nevertheless, Hitler went forward with his plans.

Under his direction, many units were diverted from fighting in the east to take part in the new offensive. Other units were brought up to strength by filling vacancies with troops serving in nonessential positions throughout the German military. One such unit, the 5th Fallschirm (Parachute) Division, had moved to the Ardennes sector in early December. Devastated during heavy fighting in France, the 5th had gone through reorganization and now sat unnoticed in front of the 28th Infantry Division’s sector. Oberst (Colonel) Ludwig Heilmann, the division’s commander, recalls the problems created by his unit’s reorganization:

“Most of the units had indeed reached their authorized strength of personnel, but still lacked a lot of their equipment. Heavy mortars, antitank guns, radio equipment, optical instruments, motor vehicles and winter clothing had not yet arrived for the most part… The majority of the officers, NCO’s (noncommissioned officers) and enlisted men were formerly assigned to the “Luftwaffe” and consisted of personnel combed out from the air bases, without any infantry training or combat experience and no special parachute training. The commanders of the 13th and 14th Regiments…had not yet seen any infantry action during the war… Most officers of those two regiments were indignant about their assignment to the infantry and had grown pampered and soft by their previous life on the air bases and so on… Therefore, the striking power of the division consisted only of the 15th Regiment, the 5th Engineer Battalion, and the 11th Assault Gun Brigade. Here the level training was still good considering the fact that we were in the sixth year of war.”

(6) Ludwig Heilmann, “5th Parachute Division (1 DEC 44-12 JAN 45)", Foreign Military Studies, MS# B-023. Copy received from Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA. Unless otherwise noted, all information regarding the 5th Parachute Division comes from this source.

Ordered not to share the plans of the attack with his subordinate commanders, Heilmann was forced to conduct his own reconnaissance and create his division’s plan almost entirely on his own. With the attack set to begin on the morning of 16 December, Heilmann was hard pressed to accomplish such an overwhelming task. Dressed in enlisted soldier’s uniform, he scouted the front lines determining the best location for his assault and tried to assess the American positions into which he would attack.

On 11 December, Heilmann, along with other division commanders and higher-ranking generals, attended a secret meeting with Hitler. “The speech [Hitler] made was not intended to whip out our enthusiasm, but rather to convince the leaders of the necessity of an offensive,” recalled Heilmann. “Though Hitler spoke in a very convincing way, I newly doubted that this sick man was able to bring this war to a victorious end… At the end I got the impression that this offensive should stake everything on one throw of the dice; the last chance in a game of hazard.”

Finally, three days prior to the attack, Heilmann was able to issue his plans for the attack to his regimental commanders. The 15th Regiment, commanded by Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant Colonel) Kurt Groeschke, would carry his main effort. Groeschke’s orders were to attack from Roth across the Our River and take possession of the heights at Vianden. After securing the heights, Groeschke was to continue his attack toward Wiltz and seize the bridge over the Sure River at Goebelsmuhle, just north of Bourscheid. Once across the Sure River, the 15th was to continue its advance to the west and secure the town of Martelange, Heilmann’s primary objective.

The 13th and 14th Regiments, along with the engineer battalion and the assault gun brigade would follow similar routes, securing important terrain and ultimately falling into line near Martelange where the division was to defend the southern flank of the Fifth Panzer Army.

As night fell on 15 December, German panzer crews made final preparations, fallschirmjager sharpened their bayonets, and commanders reviewed their maps one last time. Tomorrow, in the words of their Fuehrer, they would go “forward to and over the Meuse!”

At precisely 0530 hrs on December 16, 1944, the German Army initiated Operation “Wacht am Rhein,” its great counteroffensive in the Ardennes. Preceded by a terrific artillery barrage, the waiting German tanks and infantry poured across the Our River, into the Ardennes. Immediately, the allied troops were stunned. Attacking on a broad front, the Germans had achieved total surprise. German commanders reported successes along the entire line as Allied units either broke or were overrun.

The Allied reaction was slow as commanders tried to gain control of the deteriorating situation. At VIII Corps headquarters, Middleton became increasingly concerned as reports from the 106th and 28th Divisions were relayed to his command post. German forces under the command of General Heinrich Freiherr von Luettwitz were hammering into Middleton’s sector. Luettwitz’ XLVII Corps (26th Volksgrenadier Division, 2nd Panzer Division, and Panzer Lehr Division) had crossed the Our River at Dasburg and Gemund and was to push west to seize the vital road center at Bastogne. Once Bastogne was secure, von Luettwitz was to continue to the Meuse River, seizing the crossing sites at Dinant, Anseremme, and Givet.

After learning of the attack, Symbol alerted his company commanders and warned them to closely guard bridge sites in their respective sectors. Already, as a result of the heavy German artillery fire, the men of B Co were not able to continue work at the Bettendorf quarry. Throughout the morning Captain Hritzko’s men tried to recover their engineer equipment at the quarry, but continued artillery barrages, coupled with the deterioration of the front lines, caused the men to abandon the quarry and return to their bivouac site in the small village of Goebelsmuhle.

(8) 35th Engineer Battalion S-3 Journal, located at the National Archives (hereafter cited as “Journal”). The journals of several units were used to put together the finer details of this account. I recommend that anybody wishing to conduct their own research get a copy of the journals.

Approximately 20 miles northeast of Bastogne, Goebelsmuhle was set in a deep valley on the north side of the Sure River, barely a mile north of Bourscheid. Only one road ran through the village along with a railroad, both paralleling the north bank of the Sure. On the western edge of the village, a long stone bridge provided access to the south side of the river. Positioned further east than the other companies in the 35th, Hritzko’s men stood the biggest chance of being cut off should the enemy achieve a breakthrough. Therefore, he wasted no time in directing his men to guard the approaches into Goebelsmuhle.

On the morning of the 17th von Luettwitz’ corps seriously threatened to break through the VIII Corps’ lines and seize Bastogne. The 28th Infantry Division had been hit hard, and its line was broken. Overwhelmed by the enemy armor, the troops had begun to retreat. The 106th Infantry Division was fighting for its life, but was eventually overrun and cut off from the rest of the Corps. But Middleton knew that to keep up its momentum, the enemy would need good roads for its tanks and equipment. Determined to deny the enemy the major road network that converged at Bastogne, Middleton began making plans to commit his reserves.

Unfortunately, most of the reserve units were already engaged in fighting. The 44th was defending Wiltz in a fierce battle. The 168th had been attached to the 106th Division and was fighting near St. Vith. In the south, the 159th was assisting the 4th Division in an effort to defend Luxembourg City. Additionally, CCR 9th Armored Division had already been committed further east and was now reporting heavy fighting. Only the 35th remained at Middleton’s disposal to defend against the German forces that were now only nine miles from Bastogne.

(10) Cole, Ardennes, p 313.

At 1000 hrs, a phone call from the 1102nd Engineer Group headquarters notified Lieutenant Colonel Symbol that plans were being made to commit the 35th to the defense of Bastogne. What troops he had available, mostly from H/S Co, had spent the night guarding the corps headquarters. Symbol wasted no time in alerting the companies who and directed them to assemble in a battalion assembly area in Wardin, just east of Bastogne. Minutes later, the engineer group commander entered the battalion headquarters with confirmation that the 35th was under the direct control of VIII Corps and would be acting as infantry.

(11) 35th Engineers, “History”.

Lieutenant Norman Igo, a platoon leader in C Co, recalls, “We first heard about the change with a phone call that morning with orders to abandon all operations and to load up all of our equipment onto our trucks and report to VIII Corps HQ as soon as possible. We entrucked in about an hour and were on our way. There was so much traffic on the roads due to the 10th and 9th Armored Divisions and their tanks that we didn’t make much headway.”

(12)Norman Igo, “Reminiscences of My Duty in World War II” (unpublished, 2001). Hereafter cited as “Bio”.

While the companies inched their way to the assembly area, the German army continued its seemingly unstoppable advance. Heavy fog and poor weather conditions grounded Allied aircraft, just as the German high command had hoped. The German armed forces had suffered greatly because of the Allied air superiority throughout the fighting in France, but now their troops moved almost unimpeded by Allied aircraft.

However, stiff Allied resistance at critical locations was causing drastic changes in the German timeline. Elements of the 28th and 106th were still making gallant stands at towns such as St. Vith, Clervaux, and Wiltz. Near Wiltz, Sergeant Wilbur Ferguson and his crew from Wells’ H/S Co were guarding their water installation point when they came under fire from enemy soldiers. Ferguson and the others returned fire, but were soon forced to abandon the site. While withdrawing, the men came upon an American anti-aircraft artillery battery and warned them of the German advance. Moments later, the men were again under fire from the enemy. Seeing that the anti-aircraft battery would soon be overrun, Ferguson directed his men to provide covering fire while the battery prepared to move. The engineers’ defense was stern and provided the necessary time for the battery to withdraw, taking the engineers with them.

(13) 35th Engineers, “History”.

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