1945 March 24 - April 12
It is March 26, 1945 and the entire
division, infantry, artillery, engineers, with our attached
tank, tank destroyer, and anti-aircraft battalions, have now
crossed the Rhine River and moved some six miles into the
front lines. Four miles behind us is the little town of Dinslaken
where the division C.P. is now located. It is just two miles
from the floating bridge at Rheinberg. The 134th infantry,
after one day of attack while attached to the 79th Division,
has been relieved and returned to the 35th Division control.
We look out to the South and southeast slightly rolling wooded
terrain, dotted with small villages and in the distance high
smokestacks which mark the locations of factories and iron
and steel mills, and the North edge of the Pittsburgh-like
industrial heart of Germany known as the Ruhr. Hidden to our
front, guarding strategic points, roadblocks, fortified buildings,
factories, slag piles, mines, railroad lines, are two German
Divisions, REM’s 180th Division to our right, and the
Hamburg Division to our left. Scattered out there are numerous
air defense and Luftwaffe units equipped with flak guns, 88's
and small groups of tanks. A few miles beyond that and parallel
to the Autobahn are two large canals, the Emscher and the
Rheinherne Canals which provide excellent defense positions
for the Germans. Eleven miles to the East and one of our objectives
is the large city, Recklinhousen. Four miles to our right
and southwest of us is the City of Essen, known for its steel
We were now part of the U.S. XVI Corps of the Ninth Army.
Along with the 79th Division to our right, and the 8th Armored
Division and the 30th Infantry Division on our left. The grand
strategy of the Allies was for the encirclement of the Ruhr
and capture of 300,000 German defenders, with the first U.S.
Army under Gen. Bradley’s control to attack from the
South, and the Ninth Army to attack from the North, surrounding
the Ruhr and cutting off any hope of German escape to the
East. Ninth Army opened a new major offensive next morning,
March 27th, at 6:00 a.m. Thus began another major battle for
the 35th Division. It would not yet be the last! But this
one was different.
Our high command was concerned that the Germans might still
launch a surprise counter-offensive out of the Ruhr Valley,
similar to that launched in the Ardennes last December 26th,
and so there was an element of caution in our attack, as we
watched for such a maneuver to develop. Small ones did occur,
but nothing really big. The result however was to reduce our
casualties substantially from that of previous offensive.
Our continuous attacks might be described more as deliberate
and careful aggressiveness. Heavy artillery and tank and T.D.
direct fire helped to locate and reduce German strong points.
Frontal assaults were used only when absolutely necessary
and most infantry and tank maneuvers were by infiltration,
and good fire support reducing casualties to a minimum.
Moving through the wooded areas, we reached and crossed
the Autobahn, overran the Town of Gladbech, and moved block
by block against machine gun nests, tank and flak gun positions
through Rentford, where we found 6,500 civilians hiding deep
in a coal mine. We took the towns of Buer, Ekjen and by March
30th we had taken and cleared Bottrop, a pre-war city of 89,000,
with its huge Rheinbaden factory. Ahead, smoke pouring from
chimney stacks indicated that some German factories were still
operating as usual, some only a few blocks behind the German
front lines. Many factories were well dug in below the ground
level and untouched by aerial bombing!
In crossing the Autobahn, the 320th Infantry had help from
a heavy smoke screen laid down by the 60th Engineers who then
brought up equipment to clear huge concrete slabs off the
pavement. Continuing on, the regiment crossed the Emscher
Canal, fought through a large factory area, bitterly defended
by Jerry, cleared the famous Prosper Coal Mine, and waged
a hard fight over a huge, fortified slag pile, taking Emscher,
Karn Ap, and Horst, and liberated over 8,000 German and foreign
workers who had been kept underground by armed guards in mine
shafts and buildings.
Also keeping their casualties low, the 137th Infantry, eliminating
snipers and machine gun nests and direct fire gun crews, by
April 1st had taken and cleared Recklinghausen Sud, and with
the 320th Infantry reached the North Bank of the Rhein-Herne
Canal, our primary objective.
These two regiments secured the North side of the canal and
found the Germans solidly defending the South side. Artillery
and mortar duels kept both sides from freely moving in the
streets in the daytime and snipers made us all careful against
incoming fire from positions one-half mile away and further.
Night patrolling was attempted across the canal but burning
slag piles made it difficult for patrols to avoid detection
by the enemy. German mortars were indiscriminatingly used
as fire was directed against German civilians to the surprise
of G.I.’s who could not comprehend German soldiers killing
their own people.
With direct hits!
The 134th Infantry cleared Hochlar, Recklinhausen, Herten
and Suderwick. Targets were so close at times that our division
artillery were able to lob shells on to the Germans using
charge No. 1. The regular Wehrmacht troops were using Volksturm
(civilians like our militia) to help fill their ranks and
defend many positions, but resistance still continued heavy.
Our G.I.’s found it hard to understand why so many Germans
would fight so tenaciously when it seemed to us so obvious
that they had no chance to win. Some German prisoners still
believed Hitler’s promises of new weapons which Germany
was about to unleash on the Allies. Years of Nazi dominance
with its propaganda still convinced the German people of their
invincibility. The canals and the Ruhr River seemed to be
the main line of resistance for the Germans and here came
some of the toughest fights. Meanwhile the noose fastened
tighter on the enemy. The U.S. 75th Division came up on our
left and to its left came the 95th Division as the 35th Division
closed to the Rhein-Herne Canal, then held fast while maintaining
active patrols into the German lines.
On April 4th, 1945, the Ninth Army, commanded by our own Gen.
Simpson, was officially relieved from Gen. Montgomery’s
21st Army group and returned to the command of U.S. Gen. Bradley
and his 12th Army group. The area behind us and over to the
Rhine River was assigned to the newly formed 15th U.S. Army
which took over these rear echelon areas. Rapidly behind the
front lines, military government officers were moving into
captured towns and villages, establishing new civil administrations
and beginning the daunting task of taking care of thousands
of freed P.O.W.’s from the Allied countries who had
been released by the rapidly advancing Allied Armies, including
slave workers, and displaced civilians of all nationalities,
many of whom were sick, wounded, emaciated and short of food
and medicines of all kinds. American soldiers were often besieged
by these persons and especially little children with whom
they frequently shared their rations including candy.
On April 4th, the Ninth U.S. Army, now under Gen. Bradley,
launched a new attack eastward and also southward into the
Ruhr ever deeper, inserting a second Corps near us. The 75th
Division was part of that attack, and needing reinforcement,
was given our 320th Infantry to assist in its assault eastward
through Holthausen and into the outskirts of Dortmund.
On April 9th, the remainder of the 35th Division was ordered
to cross the Rhein-Herne Canal and attack two miles across
the German main line of resistance into the City of Gelsenkirchen,
a pre-war city of 300,000. Our 60th Engineers were able to
convert a railway bridge over the Emscher Canal to handle
vehicular traffic and also built two treadway bridges over
the Rhein-Herne Canal to support the new offensive. On April
10th, the 134th and 137th Infantry Regiments attacking southward
reached the North bend of the Ruhr River where the first U.S.
Army was to link up with the Ninth Army, thus effectively
cutting the Ruhr defenses in half. The 320th Infantry Regiment,
still with the 75th Division, linked up with the 95th U.S.
Division which was driving down from the northeast near Lunen.
By the 11th of April, 1945, the Ruhr pocket had been reduced
over one-half of its original size as the twelve U.S. Army
Divisions from both of the Ninth and First Armies tightened
the noose around the Germans ever tighter. Three days later
the pocket was further reduced to one tenth of its original
5,500 square miles leaving just two small defended pockets
each of these completely surrounded by American troops.
On April 12, 1945, the 35th Division began extricating itself
from the Ruhr, as it was once again needed to bolster the
new American front which was being aimed at the Elbe River
and the Berlin sector forty miles East of the Elbe. Advance
American units such as the 83rd Division were part of the
new American blitz to the East some 200 miles away.
Looking back over the past eighteen day campaign, the men
of the 35th Division, from the old timers who had come over
to Europe with the Division, to the newest replacements who
were now outnumbering the “originals”, there was
a buoyancy and excitement that the end of the war was now
in sight. For the older ones who had seen the most fighting,
it was getting too hard to remember one day from the rest,
or what happened, and when – the days had begun to run
together. Now suddenly memories began to sharpen and each
day became more precious, more meaningful. The cloudy, wet
and rainy days of March had faded away and the sun came out
for good on the 7th of April. We could smell the fragrance
of the flowers of Spring. During our 18 days, the division
had captured 3,779 prisoners, freed innumerable P.O.W.’s.
The weakening of German resistance was evidenced by the 16
year olds in Volksturm uniforms, happy to be no longer a part
of the resistance. Some German cities like Duisberg and Essen
(site of the famous Krupp Steel Works) were viciously defended
by the Germans. Others, like Dortmund, yielded as scattering
Germans gave in after token resistance. The presence or absence
of S.S. troops would often determine the degree of tenacity
of German resistance. Wherever the S.S. was present, we rarely
saw the white flags that Burgomeisters were want to come out
with to “save” their villages. As overcast skies
and light rain gave way to warm and sunny skies, the IX and
XXIX Tactical Air Commands joined the ground Allied attacks
on columns of German foot troops and horse drawn and motor
vehicles as they retreated eastward or shifted positions.
The rationing of artillery shells had been raised during those
days to 259,061 rounds. During April, Ninth Army reported
341 KIA’s, 121 MIA’s (missing) and 2,000 wounded.
On April 12, the 35th Division was ordered to move by truck
to the new XIX Corps sector near the Elbe River. As the two
and a half ton trucks raced down the Autobahn toward Berlin,
filled with 35th Division men, we left behind 317,000 German
prisoners – that many less to fight at the Elbe River.
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