Although the American attacks in the Eifel and the Saar-Moselle triangle were unpopular with Field Marshal Montgomery, they were in reality of assistance to him, for they did, in fact, limit the units the Germans could disengage to send north. They also put General Bradley's forces into better positions for gaining the Rhine whenever the signal came and denied hard-pressed German units the respite they desperately needed.
In making plans for going beyond those limited objective attacks, General Bradley had to consider not only the responsibility for protecting the right flank of the Ninth Army as far as the Erft in Operation GRENADE but also an additional task that the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, assigned on 20 February. Before Bradley could turn full attention to gaining the west bank of the Rhine, he had to extend his protection of the Ninth Army's right flank by clearing a triangle of land between the Erft and the Rhine extending northward from Cologne to the confluence of the two rivers near Duesseldorf.1
Bradley logically gave the assignment to the First Army's General Hodges for execution by Collins's VII Corps. Once the job was completed, the VII Corps was to take Cologne, then head south along the Rhine. As Collins turned south, other contingents of the First Army were to launch a narrow thrust from the vicinity of the road center of Euskirchen southeast to the Ahr River, there to converge with a thrust by the Third Army through the Eifel and create a pocket of trapped Germans in the northern reaches of the Eifel.
Bradley's plan went by the code name, LUMBERJACK.2
Despite having relinquished units to flesh out the Ninth Army, the 12th Army Group still was a powerful force. In the First Army, General Hodges had twelve divisions (three of them armored), plus another at reduced strength (the 106th) and two cavalry groups. In the Third Army, General Patton had ten divisions (including three armored) and two cavalry groups. While nondivisional artillery was in no such strength as that which had helped the Ninth Army over the Roer, it was impressive nevertheless. Each corps in the First Army, for example, retained its usual attachments of four battalions of 155-mm. howitzers, two battalions of 155-mm. guns, and a battalion each of 4.5-inch guns and 8-inch howitzers. In deference to the role in GRENADE, the VII Corps had two additional battalions--one light, one medium. The 32d Field Artillery Brigade
with two 8-inch gun and two 240-mm. howitzer battalions, operating under the First Army's control, assumed positions favoring the north wing.3
The breakdown of roads under the February thaw was of some concern to all but prompted few special measures except in the First Army where the two assault divisions of the VII Corps were authorized to accumulate five days' supply of ammunition before jumping the Roer. Both armies were relatively close to major railheads--the Third Army to Luxembourg City and Thionville, the First Army to Liège--so that rail transport could handle much of the burden except for the last few miles to the front. Nor was either army so heavily engaged throughout February but that some supplies could be stockpiled. The First Army, for example, built up its Class III (gasoline) reserves from 1.8 days of supply to 6 days. Nevertheless, with the lesson of the 4th Division's supply problems near Pruem in mind, General Bradley directed both armies to instruct division staffs in how to obtain emergency supply by air. He directed also prepackaging of vital supplies at various airfields for prompt loading if needed.4
Intelligence officers estimated approximately 40,000 Germans in front of the First Army and some 45,000 facing the Third Army. If the G-2's erred at all, they erred on the side of caution; as noted during the first fortnight in February in the pessimistic report of Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the Germans in all of Army Group B amounted to the equivalent of only six and a half full divisions.5
During late February, no major changes occurred in the German order of battle opposite the First and Third Armies except those occasioned by Operation GRENADE and by the Third Army's attacks in the Eifel and the Saar-Moselle triangle. Hit by the U.S. VII Corps in GRENADE, the southernmost corps of Zangen's Fifteenth Army, Krueger's LVIII Panzer Corps (still minus the armor the corps name implied), had been pushed back, in some places behind the Erft River and Canal system. In continuing northeast after crossing the Erft, the VII Corps would strike the remnants of Koechling's LXXXI Corps and of Corps Bayerlein, the latter composed of what was left of the 9th and 11th Panzer Divisions after their piecemeal and futile commitment against GRENADE. From a boundary with the Fifteenth Army immediately south of Dueren, Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army stood with three corps behind the Roer River and its upper tributaries while awaiting the shift in zones with the Fifteenth Army that was to come around 1 March beginning with exchange of the two army commanders, Manteuffel and Zangen. Commanded at this point by General Felber, the Seventh Army stood behind the Pruem and Kyll Rivers, impotently awaiting continued strikes by the American Third Army.
In reaching the Erft River late on 27 February, General Collins's VII Corps had fulfilled its mission in Operation GRENADE. Yet because of the added assignment of guarding the Ninth Army's flank all the way to the Rhine, the corps
1-7 March 1945
would make no pause at the Erft except that necessary to expand the bridgeheads established on the 27th and to put in bridges. By the end of the first day of March, the corps was beyond the Erft complex astride the main highways leading from Juelich and Dueren to Cologne. (Map VIII) Despite frantic efforts by German planes, usually operating singly, six class 40 bridges were in place across the Erft.
Resistance was at most places light, mainly mortar fire and shells from roving self-propelled guns. Only at Moedrath, lying between the river and the canal, was the defense determined. There, a local defense force, reinforced by stragglers from units of the LVIII Panzer Corps, held contingents of the 8th Division's 121st Infantry at bay for two days until a battalion of the 28th Infantry crossed the Erft farther north and came in on the German flank.6
The conspicuous feature of the terrain immediately beyond the Erft, west and southwest of Cologne, is a low, plateau-like ridge some twenty-five miles long, the Vorgebirge. The slopes of the ridge are broken by numerous lignite ("brown coal") surface mines with steep, clifflike sides. Abandoned mines have filled with water to create big lakes, often confining passage to the width of the roadways. Factories and heavily urbanized settlements abound. Northwest of Cologne, the country is generally flat and pastoral, dotted with villages and small towns, particularly along the major highways radiating from Cologne.
Because of the basic requirement of protecting the Ninth Army's flank, the VII Corps was to make its main effort north of Cologne, leaving the city to be taken later. General Collins split responsibility for the assignment between General Rose's 3d Armored Division and the 99th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Walter E. Lauer).
The critical assignment went to the armor, beefed up during the opening phase of breaking out of the Erft bridgehead with attachment of the 99th Division's 395th Infantry. Rose was to strike north from the bridgehead to cut the Cologne-Muenchen-Gladbach highway at the town of Stommeln, thereby severing a vital artery leading into the Ninth Army's flank, then was to turn northeast to reach the Rhine at Worringen, eight miles downstream from Cologne. A clear intent was to split the enemy's sector swiftly and forestall reassembly and counterattack by remnants of the panzer divisions of Corps Bayerlein. Meanwhile, General Lauer's infantry was to clear the ground between Rose's armor and the Erft with help from the 4th Cavalry Group, while the 8th and 104th Divisions on the corps right wing fought their way through the lignite mining district in the direction of Cologne.7
When the armor attacked before daylight on 2 March, all thrusts were successful, but they failed to precipitate immediate breakout. Conglomerate German units, mainly from the 9th Panzer Division, fought back stubbornly behind antitank ditches and obstacles that made up an extension of the third line of field fortifications the Germans had prepared behind the Roer. The gains here were insufficient to have any effect on the counterattack projected for that day by the 11th Panzer Division into the
Ninth Army's flank; that failed to come off only because the Ninth Army's capture of Muenchen-Gladbach prevented the Panzer Lehr Division from launching its converging thrust.8
As night fell on 2 March, the armor had expanded the Erft bridgehead to a depth of three miles, which carried it beyond the northern reaches of the Vorgebirge into open country. From that point the Germans would be capable only of delaying actions, almost always in towns and villages since the flat terrain afforded few military features. Although reinforced from time to time by stragglers spilling across the Erft before the steamroller of the Ninth Army, Corps Bayerlein had no depth. Conglomerate forces usually including a few tanks or self-propelled guns would have to gauge their defense carefully to keep from being overrun in one village lest there be nothing left to defend the next one.
That fact was demonstrated early on 3 March when two task forces of Combat Command Hickey moved before dawn to take the Germans by surprise in two villages southwest of Stommeln.9 So complete was the surprise in the first village that the attacking armored infantrymen incurred not a single casualty. At both villages the Germans were annihilated, leaving nobody to a final village still remaining short of Stommeln, the division's intermediate objective.
Combat Command Howze moved against Stommeln from three sides. Despite an extensive antitank minefield covered by a relatively strong concentration of antitank guns, the columns converged on the town in late afternoon. Aided by P-47 air strikes against the antitank defenses, they cleared the last resistance by nightfall. General Rose meanwhile sent a column from his reserve, Combat Command Boudinot, beyond Stommeln to a village just four miles from the Rhine. Only one more town lay between the armor and the final objective of Worringen.
The 99th Division had made comparable progress on the left, cutting the Cologne-Muenchen-Gladbach highway at several points late on 3 March. Nor was success confined to the left wing of the corps. Moving toward Cologne astride the Aachen-Cologne highway and the adjacent right-of-way of the uncompleted Aachen-Cologne autobahn, the 104th Division made relatively short but nevertheless telling gains.10 So did the 8th Division, advancing astride the Dueren-Cologne highway. Bearing the additional responsibility of protecting the open right flank of the corps, the 8th Division had the slower going but still took the second row of towns beyond the Erft and gained a firm hold on western slopes of the Vorgebirge. The 104th Division cleared a big forest astride the Aachen-Cologne highway and crossed the crest of the Vorgebirge.
Even though the 3d Armored Division still had several miles to go to reach the Rhine, the VII Corps commander, General
Collins, deemed it time to shift emphasis from the northward thrust to capturing Cologne. The armored division's advance already had split Corps Bayerlein from Koechling's LXXXI Corps, leaving the remnants of the latter force as the only obstacle to taking Cologne. For two days the Ninth Army's right flank had been anchored on the Rhine at Neuss, so that any threat remaining from the 11th Panzer Division was minimal. Fighter pilots throughout the day had reported Germans scurrying across the Rhine on ferries and small craft, and more than 1,800 prisoners had entered VII Corps cages.
Late on 3 March Collins told General Rose to continue to the Rhine at Worringen the next day but at the same time to divert a force southeast against Cologne. The attached 395th Infantry was to return to the 99th Division to enable the infantry division with the help of the 4th Cavalry Group to clear all ground northwest of Worringen.11
Not waiting for a new day before continuing to the Rhine, patrols of the 3d Armored's 83d Reconnaissance Battalion in early evening of 3 March determined that the one town remaining short of Worringen on the Rhine was stoutly defended. Declining to give battle, the reconnaissance battalion turned north over back roads, bypassed the town, and in the process captured an artillery battery and 300 surprised Germans. Before daylight a 4-man patrol led by 1st Lt. Charles E. Coates reached the Rhine north of Worringen. A task force of Combat Command Boudinot then moved up the main road at dawn, cleared the defended town, repulsed a counterattack by 200 infantry supported by five tanks, and drove on to Worringen and the river.
The 99th Division had continued to advance on the left in a manner indicating that the threat from what was left of Corps Bayerlein was empty. Unknown to the Americans, the splitting of Corps Bayerlein and the LXXXI Corps had resulted in the paper transfer of the tattered 9th Panzer Division to the LXXXI Corps, leaving only a Kampfgruppe of the 11th Panzer Division and stragglers of the 59th Infantry Division available to Bayerlein. These had prepared hasty defenses facing northwest toward the Ninth Army, so that the 99th Division was free to come in swiftly from flank and rear. In such a situation, Bayerlein, his staff, and the 11th Panzer Division were thinking less of fighting than of escaping across the Rhine.12
Despite Hitler's refusal of every request to withdraw, most supporting units by evening of 3 March had already crossed the river, and the 11th Panzer Division held only a small bridgehead on the west bank north of Worringen. Lacking authority to withdraw, General Bayerlein saw the little bridgehead as "the end of the world."13 On 5 March approval finally came to pull back. Through the day rear guards fought hard to hold open two ferry sites; and as night came, the last contingents of Corps Bayerlein pushed out into the stream.
On this same day, 5 March, the attack of the VII Corps against Cologne got going in earnest. The framework upon which the thin fabric of defense of Germany's fourth largest city was hung was
THE DEMOLISHED HOHENZOLLERN BRIDGE at Cologne with cathedral in the background.
General Koechling's LXXXI Corps, now heading the staffs and the few other remains of the 9th Panzer, 363d Volks Grenadier, and 3d Panzer Grenadier Divisions. Koechling was to use what was left of those three units--the equivalent of two weak regiments--to defend a so-called outer ring in the city's suburbs, while policemen, firemen, and anybody else who could pull the trigger of a rifle fought from an inner ring deep within the city. Among the defenders of the inner ring were the Volkssturm, a levy of old men and youths Hitler had ordered to rally to the last-ditch defense of the Reich.14
As the 3rd Armored, 104th, and 8th Divisions drove toward Cologne on 5 March, resistance was strongest in the north, where General Rose's armor faced the seemingly ineradicable 9th Panzer Division, and in the south where the 8th Division at the end of the day still was two miles short of the city limits. The relatively slow progress of the 8th Division reflected not only the
difficulties of attacking through the coal-mining district but also the fact that the division was striking the north flank of the LVIII Panzer Corps.
The armor nevertheless broke into Cologne soon after daylight, to be followed two hours later by the 104th Division from the west. In a precursor of what was to come as Allied armies fanned out all across Germany, the stiffest fight developed around an airfield where the Germans turned sixteen stationary 88-mm. antiaircraft guns against the tanks of Combat Command Hickey. The tanks finally eliminated the guns in smoke-screened cavalrylike charge. Almost all resistance by the 9th Panzer Division collapsed a short while later when the division commander, Generalmajor Harald Freiherr von Elverfeldt, was killed.15
As evening approached, the First Army commander, General Hodges, shifted the southern boundary of the VII Corps to the southeast to provide room for the 8th Division to drive to the Rhine south of Cologne and cut the enemy's last landward escape route.16 The next day, 6 March, the 3d Armored drove quickly through the heart of the city, a wasteland from long years of aerial bombardment, and reached the Hohenzollern bridge, only to find a 1200-foot gap blown in it. Close by amid the sea of ruins stood the stately Cologne cathedral, damaged but basically intact.
By noon of 7 March almost all of Cologne had been cleared, despite curious crowds of civilians jamming the rubble-strewn streets. No road or rail crossing of the Rhine remained. A battalion of the 8th Division's 28th Infantry meanwhile reached the river south of Cologne. For the third time in less than a fortnight, the enemy's forces were split. The remnants of the LVIII Panzer Corps, along with contingents of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, which had fallen back southward away from Cologne, formed a last-ditch defense across an eastward bend of the Rhine but began to evacuate the position early the next morning.17
General Collins and his VII Corps had completed their assigned role in the drive to the Rhine in exactly two weeks, at once a spearhead for the First Army and protection for the flank of the Ninth Army. In operations begun on 25 February, only two days after the VII Corps had assaulted the Roer River line, other parts of the First Army meanwhile had joined the race to the Rhine.
Toward Bonn and Remagen
The operations had begun with limited goals, though with the certainty that they later would be expanded. The plan was to uncover the line of the upper Roer, protect Collins's VII Corps during its added assignment beyond the Erft, and at the same time gain a leg on the drive to the Rhine.
General Hodges directed General Millikin's III Corps, which had joined the First Army in the reorganization that followed halting of the main effort in the Eifel, to cross the Roer south of Dueren and reach the Erft River northward from the road center of Euskirchen. When the VII Corps turned to take
Cologne, the III Corps was to cross the Erft and drive southeast to converge with the Third Army "in the Ahrweiler area," the first basic objective of Bradley's Operation LUMBERJACK. The two corps then were to clear the west bank of the Rhine from the Ahr River to Cologne. General Huebner's V Corps at the same time was to advance its left wing as far as Euskirchen to protect the south flank of the III Corps and to "prepare for further advance to the east."18
Confronted with the swollen, closely confined waters of the Roer tumbling headlong through the gorge upstream from Dueren, General Hodges devised a crossing plan that avoided another frontal joust with the river. He directed a division of the III Corps to use bridges of the VII Corps at Dueren, then attack south to clear bridge sites upstream. Each division in the corps in turn was to use the neighboring division's bridges, repeating the attack to the south to clear additional bridge sites. A division of the V Corps finally was to use bridges of the III Corps to get beyond the waters of the Roer reservoirs.19
Two battalions of the 1st Division started the maneuver in midmorning of 25 February, a few hours after the 8th Division announced a footbridge and a Bailey bridge available at Dueren. (See Map VIII.) Crossing in the sector of the adjacent division not only avoided frontal attack across the Roer, it also enabled attached tanks and tank destroyers to cross with the infantry and lend weight to the drive upstream that took the Germans of the 353d Infantry Division of Krueger's LVIII
Panzer Corps in flank. At noon one of the infantry battalions attacked the Roer town of Kreuzau and made such progress that forty minutes later engineer units that had been waiting impatiently in the wings west of the river began building a footbridge within the 1st Division's sector.
As night came on 25 February, the 1st Division's bridgehead already was firmly established without the loss of a man in the actual crossing of the river. The infantry battalions of two regiments were across, and forward positions were as much as a mile and a half beyond the river.
The next day, 26 February, as the 1st Division expanded its bridgehead with emphasis on gaining more of the east bank of the Roer upstream to the south, engineers put in a Bailey bridge that
enabled the 9th Division's 39th Infantry to repeat the river crossing maneuver in late afternoon. Before daylight on 27 February, men of the 9th Division attacked south to clear their own bridge sites at Nideggen, picturesquely located on the rim of the Cologne plain overlooking the gorge of the Roer and the road leading back to Schmidt and the Roer dams. Resistance was firmer than that faced by the 1st Division, mainly because the 9th Division had crossed into the sector of General Puechler's LXXIV Corps and encountered a relatively battle-worthy unit, the 3d Parachute Division. Having undergone a hasty reorganization following the Ardennes counteroffensive, the division contained its full complement of three parachute regiments, though all were understrength.20
The 78th Division's 311th Infantry crossed the Roer on the last day of February through the 9th Division's sector and immediately attacked to the south, covering more than a mile against the 272d Volks Grenadier Division. This completed the river-crossing maneuver in the III Corps, but as the 78th Division created its own bridgehead plans proceeded for the V Corps to follow a similar procedure for getting beyond the Roer reservoirs.
The III Corps commander, General Millikin, had moved quickly to get his armor into the fight as soon as the inhospitable terrain of the Eifel lay behind. CCB of the 9th Armored Division (Maj. Gen. John W. Leonard) was to attack east between the 1st and 9th Divisions to reach the Erft several miles downstream from Euskirchen, while CCA was to move south and enter the zone of the 78th Division, then turn east, oriented generally toward Euskirchen. CCA was to be joined later by the rest of the armored division operating in a "zone of advance" within the sector of the late-running 78th Division. The 14th Cavalry Group was to follow CCA and protect the south flank of the corps.21
Attacking in early afternoon of 28 February, CCB before daylight the next morning came abreast of the most advanced battalions of the 1st Division along the Neffel Creek, half the 15-mile distance from Roer to Erft. Beginning its attack a day later on 1 March, CCA smacked almost immediately into a defensive position lying behind the upper reaches of the Neffel Creek and barring the way to the village of Wollersheim. Manned by troops of the 3d Parachute Division, the position was reinforced by several tanks and assault guns.22 When an attack by dismounted armored infantrymen failed to carry it, CCA held up for the night to await arrival the next morning of an infantry battalion from the 78th Division.
On the second day of March genuine exploitation developed all along the front of the III Corps. A double envelopment by CCA's 52d Armored Infantry Battalion and an attached battalion of the 310th Infantry carried the sticky position at Wollersheim, while the 309th Infantry put the 78th Division into the eastward drive and came almost abreast of CCA. Those two advances brought an end to solid defense by the enemy's 3d Parachute Division. Already the 353d
Infantry Division in the north and the 272d Volks Grenadier Division, the latter trying to prevent expansion of the 78th Division's bridgehead to the south, were reduced to executing isolated delaying actions.
The commander of the LXXIV Corps, General Puechler, had nothing left to use in the fight except a weak Kampfgruppe of the 62d Volks Grenadier Division, which had been reorganizing behind the line when the American attack began. He sent that force to the north to try to maintain contact with the faltering LVIII Panzer Corps, but so weak was the Kampfgruppe that the attacking American troops hardly noticed its presence.23
The 1st Division on the 2d got within three miles of the Erft, while in the center, the 9th Armored's CCB crossed the river along the Euskirchen-Cologne highway. Following in the wake of CCB, one regiment of the 9th Division approached within two miles of the Erft.
To many a soldier in the III Corps, this day and those immediately following could be summed up in two words: mud and fatigue. As light snow flurries ended in midmorning, a warm sun triggered a latent springtime in the soil and turned roads and fields into clinging mud. The mud and daytime attacks alone would have been enough to produce fatigue, but hardly was there a commander who did not continue to push his men through much of the night in order to overcome the advantage that flat, open fields afforded the enemy in observation.
At command levels, 2 March and the three days following brought preoccupation with boundary changes and juggling of units as General Bradley's original plan for clearing the west bank of the Rhine underwent revision. Prompted by the relative ease with which Millikin's III Corps was advancing, the change limited responsibility of Collins's VII Corps to the city of Cologne while the III Corps was to clear the west bank of the Rhine throughout the rest of the First Army's zone from Cologne to the Ahr River. At the same time the III Corps retained responsibility for crossing the Ahr and establishing contact with the Third Army.24
The first shift came on 2 March when General Millikin transferred the 14th Cavalry Group to his north flank for attachment to the 1st Division in anticipation of broadening the 1st Division's sector. The boundary change became effective the next day, 3 March, as the 26th Infantry jumped the Erft and began to climb the Vorgebirge, southwest of Cologne, seven miles from the Rhine. While the 9th Armored's CCB held in place on the Erft, awaiting relief by units of the 1st Division, CCA took the ancient walled town of Zuelpich against little more than a show of resistance. At the end of the day General Millikin assigned the armor a specific zone between the 9th and 78th Divisions.
Despite the importance Bradley and the First Army's General Hodges attached to gaining bridgeheads over the Ahr River for linkup with the Third Army, it was obvious from orders issued by Millikin and his division commanders that the fabled Rhine was the more irresistible
attraction.25 The 1st Division was to reach the river north of Bonn, the 9th Division to take Bonn, and one column of the 9th Armored to come up to the Rhine midway between Bonn and the Ahr. Only one column of the armored division, protected on the south flank by the 78th Division operating in a confined sector, was directed toward the Ahr.
The emphasis on the Rhine around Bonn coincided with expectations of the German army group commander, Field Marshal Model. Believing the main effort of the III Corps to be directed at Bonn, Model began to make ambitious but futile plans to reinforce the city with the 11th Panzer Division once that division had withdrawn from the triangle between Erft and Rhine north of Cologne, and even to counterattack with the panzer division.26
The Fifteenth Army commander, General von Zangen, responsible now for this sector, saw it another way. In driving to the Erft, Zangen might note, the III Corps had cleared the cup of a funnel delineated on one side by the Eifel, on the other by the Vorgebirge. The obvious move at this point, Zangen believed, was a drive down the spout of the funnel from Euskirchen southeast of Rheinbach and the Ahr River, thence along the north bank of the Ahr to the Rhine at Sinzig and the nearby town of Remagen.
The town of Remagen was of particular importance because of the location there of a railroad bridge that was being covered with a plank flooring for motor traffic to provide a vital supply artery for the Fifteenth Army. To block the way to Remagen, Zangen asked permission to withdraw his LXVI and LXVII Corps from the Eifel, where they faced entrapment even if they succeeded in the apparently impossible task of holding their West Wall positions. To this Model said no. The two corps were to continue to hold in conformity with Hitler's long-standing orders to relinquish no portion of the West Wall without a fight. If forced back, Puechler's LXXIV Corps was to gravitate toward Bonn.27
To Zangen and any other German commander on the scene, probably including Model himself, the absurdity of further attempts to hold west of the Rhine was all too apparent. The only hope was quick withdrawal to save as much as possible to fight another day on the east bank.28
Puechler's LXXIV Corps provided an obvious case in point. What was left of the corps was incapable of a real fight for even such an important objective as Euskirchen, a road center yielded after only "light resistance" to the 9th Armored Division's CCA on 4 March. Seldom could counterattacks be mounted in greater than company strength and usually they had no artillery support. Furthermore, the corps was split as continued advances by the 78th Division on the south wing of the III Corps forced back the 272d Volks Grenadier Division onto the neighboring LXVII Corps. The split became irreparable when on 3 March the 2d
Infantry Division of the V Corps crossed the 78th Division's Roer bridges and headed south through the Eifel toward Gemuend at the head of the Roer reservoir system.29
The boundary adjustments on the American side continued on 5 March when General Hodges made the change that allowed the 8th Division of the VII Corps to drive to the Rhine south of Cologne. Late the same evening Hodges also adjusted the boundary between the III and V Corps, turning it distinctly southeast to a point on the Ahr upstream from Ahrweiler, thereby providing the III Corps over ten miles of frontage on the Ahr.
Those two moves eliminated any lingering misconception about the importance Bradley and Hodges attached to crossing the Ahr River. Early the next day General Millikin shifted all his division objectives to the southeast--the 1st Division to Bonn, the 9th Division to Bad Godesberg, the 9th Armored Division to Remagen and the Ahr from Sinzig to Bad Neuenahr, and the 78th Division to Ahrweiler. When the 9th Armored's G-3, Lt. Col. John S. Growdon, telephoned to ask whether the armor should continue to make its main effort toward the Rhine, the III Corps G-3, Col. Harry C. Mewshaw, replied unequivocally that the Rhine was of secondary importance. The main goal, he said, was "to seize towns and crossings over the Ahr River."30
Patton in the Eifel
The force that was to link with troops of the First Army along the Ahr, Patton's Third Army, had made a start on the assignment in late February and the first days of March with the "probing attacks" that captured Trier and advanced the VIII Corps to the Pruem River and the XII Corps to the Kyll. The decision General Patton faced then--whether to turn southeast and envelop the Saar industrial area or to head through the Eifel to the Rhine--the army group commander, General Bradley, already had made for him. The goal was the Rhine.
On the assumption that this job would be soon done, Patton planned a secondary attack to set the stage for clearing the Saar. To General Walker's XX Corps, he assigned a narrow one-division zone north of the Moselle running from the Kyll to one of the big northward loops of the Moselle, some thirty-six miles downstream from Trier. The zone enclosed a shallow depression lying between the high ground of the Mosel Berge, which parallels the Moselle, and the main Eifel massif. Clearing it would provide access to the transverse valley leading to the Moselle at the picturesque wine center of Bernkastel and thence into the heart of the Saarland.31
To General Bradley's protest that the Third Army was spreading its forces too thin and would be unable to make a "power drive" to the Rhine, Patton replied that the terrain and the roadnet in the Eifel permitted a power drive by no more than two divisions in any case.32 The VIII and XII Corps faced the Hohe Eifel, the high or volcanic Eifel, a region even more rugged in places than the
western reaches of the Eifel that the corps already had conquered. There, in an effort to overcome the weird convolutions of the land, the limited roads generally follow the low ground along the stream beds, somehow eventually ending up at the Ahr, the Rhine, or the Moselle. If the Third Army in this kind of terrain was to hope to keep pace with the First Army on the open Cologne plain, daring would have to be a major part of the plan.
When the Third Army's long-term ally, the XIX Tactical Air Command, reported that the enemy already showed evidence of withdrawing and probably would limit his stands to blocking positions along the roads, that was all Patton needed. He ordered that, once the VIII and XII Corps had established bridgeheads over the Kyll, an armored division of each corps was to thrust rapidly northeastward along the better roads without regard to the wooded heights in between. Artillery and fighter-bombers were to take care of the high ground until motorized infantry could follow to secure the gains.33
Since General Bradley's plan for Operation LUMBERJACK had put the burden of linking the First and Third Armies along the Ahr River on the First Army, General Patton was free to think primarily in terms of reaching the Rhine. He directed Middleton's VIII Corps to gain the river around Brohl, midway between the Ahr and the ancient Rhine town of Andernach, while the XII Corps (commanded again by General Eddy after return from a brief leave) came up to the river at Andernach.
When Patton's order came, the VIII Corps stood generally along the Pruem River, still some ten miles short of the Kyll. As a corollary to successful clearing of the Vianden bulge, the 6th Cavalry Group and the 6th Armored Division had made substantial advances beyond the Pruem, but they were in the south of the corps zone, relatively far from the main roads leading to the Rhine at Brohl. Besides, the 6th Armored was earmarked for early transfer to the SHAEF reserve, that irritating outgrowth of the Ardennes counteroffensive that seemed constantly to be plaguing some unit of the Third Army. Thus Middleton ordered the 4th Division at the town of Pruem to enlarge its bridgehead over the Pruem River, whereupon the 11th Armored Division was to pass through and strike due east to jump the Kyll, then strike northeast to the Rhine. The 4th Division was to follow to mop up, the 87th Division was to protect the north flank, and the 90th Division, taking the place of the 6th Armored, was to advance on the south wing.34
With units of the XII Corps already up to the Kyll, General Eddy gave the job of forging a bridgehead to an infantry division, the 5th; then the 4th Armored Division was to pass through to drive northeast to Andernach. The 5th Division and the 80th were to follow, while the 76th Division protected the right flank.35
On the enemy side, it was an understatement to say that German commanders viewed the pending Third Army offensive with anxiety, since the February attacks in the Eifel already had
severely lacerated General Felber's Seventh Army. How long the Seventh Army could hold in the Eifel depended entirely on how soon and how vigorously the Americans attacked.
A breakthrough across the Kyll could prove fatal, not only to the Seventh Army itself but to the two corps (LXVI and LXVII) forming the center and south wing of the Fifteenth Army and to the entire First Army, the north wing of Hausser's Army Group G. Should the First and Third U.S. Armies quickly join along the west bank of the Rhine, the two corps of the Fifteenth Army would be encircled. In the process, the Third Army's clearing of the north bank of the Moselle would expose from the rear the West Wall pillboxes in the Saarland, still held by the First Army.
A partial solution, as the Seventh Army's General Felber saw it, was for the Seventh Army to withdraw from the Eifel and protect Army Group G's rear by defending the line of the Moselle; but in view of Hitler's continuing stand-fast orders, nobody higher up the ladder of command took the proposal seriously. The only change made was to transfer the faltering Seventh Army on 2 March from Model's Army Group B to Hausser's Army Group G. By vesting control in the army group headquarters that had most to lose should the Seventh Army collapse, the change inferred some strengthening of the Seventh Army by Army Group G. In reality, it merely shifted from one army group headquarters to another the dolorous task of presiding over the Seventh Army's agony.
From confluence of the Kyll and the Moselle near Trier to a point near Pruem, the Seventh Army's zone covered some thirty-five miles. The most seriously threatened part, General Felber believed, was the center opposite Bitburg, for there stood the U.S. 4th Armored Division, a unit looked upon with considerable respect by German commanders.
With this in mind, Felber shifted to the sector headquarters of the XIII Corps on the premise that the corps commander, General von Oriola, having only recently arrived at the front, would be steadier under the coming crisis than would General von Rothkirch, commander of the LIII Corps, who for weeks had been watching his command disintegrate. Thus the new lineup of corps from north to south was the LIII Corps (Rothkirch) near Pruem, the XIII Corps (Oriola) opposite Bitburg, and the LXXX Corps (Beyer) between Bitburg and the Moselle.
The Seventh Army contained, nominally, ten divisions, but only two--remnants of the 2d Panzer Division east of Bitburg and the 246th Volks Grenadier Division, the latter hurried down from what was now the Fifteenth Army's sector too late to save Bitburg--could muster much more than a small Kampfgruppe. Both divisions were to remain with the XIII Corps in keeping with the theory that Patton's main thrust would be made there with the 4th Armored Division. Because the attack by the U.S. VIII Corps would spill over the Seventh Army's northern boundary against the extreme south wing of the Fifteenth Army, another division with some creditable fighting power remaining, the 5th Parachute Division of the LXVI Corps (Lucht), also would be involved. Neither the Seventh Army nor the Fifteenth Army had any reserves, although the Seventh did possess a separate tank battalion with some ten to fifteen Tiger
tanks. This battalion General Felber wanted to send to his center opposite Bitburg, but he would still be searching for sufficient gasoline to move the tanks from a field repair shop in the sector of the LIII Corps when the American attack began.36
Because of the requirement to get from the Pruem River to the Kyll, General Middleton's VIII Corps began to attack first. Indeed, since the south wing of the corps had never stopped attacking after clearing the Vianden bulge and since the XX Corps and the 76th Division of the XII Corps still were giving the coup de grâce to Trier as the month of March opened, no real pause developed between the February probing attacks and the March offensive.
For the 4th Infantry Division, enlarging its minuscule bridgehead over the Pruem to enable the 11th Armored Division to pass through, the task was no pushover, primarily because of the presence of the enemy's 5th Parachute Division. Given some respite since the American drive on Pruem had bogged down on 10 February, the Germans defended from well-organized positions and employed unusually large numbers of machine guns. So determined was the resistance that General Middleton at one point postponed the target date for the armored exploitation twenty-four hours, although subsequent gains prompted him to reinstate it for the original date of 3 March. Nor was stanch resistance confined to the sector of the 4th Division. Protecting the corps left flank by reducing West Wall pillboxes on the Schnee Eifel ridge, the 87th Division found that the fortifications still put considerable starch into the defense.
Passing through the infantry shortly after midday on 3 March, Combat Command B of the 11th Armored Division attacked to seize crossings of the Kyll in a big bend of the river north of Gerolstein, some eleven miles northeast of Pruem. Delayed by confusion in the passage of lines, the armor failed to advance the first afternoon as much as two miles. It was nevertheless apparent that the Germans could muster no real strength short of the Kyll once the tanks got rolling. By late afternoon the next day, 4 March, the combat command overlooked the Kyll from heights a mile southwest of Gerolstein, but patrols sent down to the river drew intense small arms fire from both the east bank and from high ground in the bend of the river. Antitank and artillery fire also rained from the east bank in disturbing volume.
Having followed the path of least resistance, the armor had come up to the Kyll south of its intended crossing site at a point where troops trying to cross would be exposed to fire not only from dominating ground beyond the river but from the big bend as well. Impressed both by the terrain and the amount of German fire and apparently reluctant to risk involving the armor in what could be a time-consuming river-crossing operation, the division commander, General Kilburn, asked for infantry help. While the 4th Division cleared the high ground in the bend of the Kyll, Kilburn suggested, CCB might swing to the north and cross the river north of the bend.
Although the corps commander, General Middleton, approved, the maneuver took time, particularly when determined Germans, again mainly from the 5th Parachute Division, kept a regiment of the 4th Division out of the bend in the river through much of 5 March. By 6 March, the fourth day after passing through the 4th Division, CCB did get some troops across the Kyll, but only armored infantry supported by a smattering of tanks and tank destroyers that managed to cross at a ford before the river bed gave way.
Even with a foothold already established on the east bank, General Kilburn remained reluctant to commit his armor to the river crossing operation. Again he prevailed on General Middleton for permission to use infantry of the 4th Division. Only after the infantrymen had expanded CCB's foothold were the tanks and tank destroyers to renew the drive toward the Rhine.
While the armor dallied, less conservative forces elsewhere in the VIII Corps rapidly rewrote the entire script for crossing the Kyll. Assigned to protect the left flank of the corps, the 87th Division went a step further, overtook the armored spearhead, and jumped the Kyll just after midday of the 6th on a bridge captured intact. The 90th Division, commanded now by Brig. Gen. Herbert L. Earnest and committed on 2 March on the corps south wing to relieve the 6th Armored Division, scored an even more striking advance. At the point on the Kyll southwest of Gerolstein that General Kilburn earlier had spurned as a crossing site, a task force organized around the division reconnaissance troop and two attached medium tank companies jumped the river before daylight on 6 March. At the same time, men of the 359th Infantry crossed a few hundred yards to the south. By late afternoon contingents of the 90th Division had taken Gerolstein and established a bridgehead over a mile and a half deep and some two and a half miles wide.
General Middleton in early evening ordered General Kilburn to alert a second combat command, CCA, to cross the Kyll through the 90th Division's bridgehead. In the end, CCB also would backtrack and use the 90th Division's crossing site.
Just before daylight on 7 March, engineers of the 90th Division--having worked with the aid of searchlights--opened a Bailey bridge over the Kyll. In midmorning, CCA began to cross. The 11th Armored Division at last might get started in earnest on an exploitation that was to have proceeded without interruption beginning five days earlier. Yet Kilburn's men would have to hurry if again they were not to be overtaken by events precipitated by more audacious units, for to the south, opposite Bitburg, General Eddy's XII Corps had struck in a manner not to be denied.
Veterans of many a river-crossing operation, infantrymen of the 5th Division sent patrols across the Kyll before daylight on 3 March, then threw in footbridges to allow the bulk of two battalions to cross near Metterich, due east of Bitburg. Fanning out to the high ground, the infantry cleared Metterich before nightfall, while engineers put in a vehicular bridge before daylight on the 4th. Except against the crossings themselves, the Germans reacted strongly, at one point launching a determined counterattack supported by three tanks, apparently from the 2d Panzer Division,
but to no avail. By dark on 4 March, the bridgehead was ready for exploitation. It was only a question of when General Patton chose to turn the 4th Armored Division loose.
Patton, Eddy, and the armored division commander, General Gaffey, had only one real concern: weather. Days of alternating rain and rapidly melting snow, freeze and thaw, already had wreaked havoc on the generally poor roads of the Eifel, and continued precipitation could severely crimp the plan for the armor to drive boldly forward on the roads, leaving the ground in between to air and artillery. Yet weather alone was hardly sufficient reason to delay the exploitation. The armor got set to move at daylight the next day, 5 March.
General Gaffey's orders were explicit. Passing through the 5th Division's bridgehead, two combat commands were to drive north for some eight miles over parallel roads in rear of the enemy's Kyll River defenses. Having sliced the underpinnings from much of the XIII Corps and part of the LIII Corps, the armor was to swerve northeast near the village of Oberstadtfeld (five and a half miles southeast of Gerolstein) and head for the Rhine near Andernach, there to seize any bridges that might still stand.37
Combat Command B in the lead quickly began to roll. As the tanks approached the first village north of the 5th Division's forward line, artillery and rocket fire ranged near the column; but the tanks roared ahead. A contingent of Germans in the village threw hands high in surrender. Although rain, snow flurries, and overcast denied any tactical air support, the armor quickly picked up speed. The combat command's reports of the day's advance soon began to read like a bus or railroad timetable--0845: Orsfeld; 1135: Steinborn; 1350: Meisburg; and at the end of the day: Weidenbach, twelve miles northeast of the bridge over which the armor had crossed the Kyll.
In one day CCB's tankers had broken through the north wing of Oriola's XIII Corps, plunged deep into the south wing of Rothkirch's LIII Corps, and sent over a thousand Germans straggling back to prisoner-of-war compounds. The fighting at day's end at Weidenbach emerged from a desperate effort by General von Rothkirch to delay the advance with the only reserve he could assemble, a Nebelwerfer brigade. Draining the last drops of fuel from command cars and other vehicles, Rothkirch managed also to send toward Weidenbach a few of the Tiger tanks that had been languishing in a repair shop, but they failed to arrive during the night and were destined to be shot up individually in the next day's fighting.
Rothkirch also ordered the 340th Volks Grenadier Division, continuing to hold positions along the Kyll west of the American penetration, to escape during the night along a secondary road still open north of Weidenbach. Counting on the Americans' calling off the war during the night, Rothkirch intended the 340th to establish a blocking position at Oberstadtfeld, but hours before dawn on the 6th, the American combat command was on the move again. The tanks entered Oberstadtfeld long before the men of the 340th arrived, forcing the Germans to abandon all vehicles and artillery and to try to escape by infiltrating northeastward
across the tail of the American column.38
Unlike CCB, the 4th Armored's CCA found the going slow on the first day, 5 March, primarily because CCA had been relegated to secondary roads farther east. Boggy from alternate freeze and thaw, the roads and a demolished bridge over a creek at the village of Oberkail held the day's advance to a few miles. Hardly had the tankers warmed their motors the next morning, 6 March, when continuing reports of rapid gains by CCB prompted General Gaffey to order CCA to follow in the other command's wake on the main highway, leaving the secondary roads to the 5th Division.
The infantry division now was experiencing real problems--not so much from the enemy as from the complexities of traffic on narrow, poorly surfaced, winding roads. Until all vehicles of the armored division could clear the bridgehead, the armor had priority; yet the infantrymen also were under orders to move swiftly lest the armor get too far beyond reach of infantry support. With great distances hampering radio communications and the roads too congested for motor messengers, orders to forward units of the 5th Division had to be dropped from liaison planes.
The weather on 6 March again was so bad--rain and fog--that tactical aircraft for the second day could provide no help; but the armor scarcely needed it, for the Germans were in a state of confusion. Even though the tankers actually cleared the enemy from little more than the road and shoulders, preattack concern that the Germans might continue to defend from woods and adjacent high ground failed to materialize. Germans in great bunches, sometime numbering in the hundreds, streamed from hills, woods, and villages to surrender.
At one point, so many surrendering Germans were clustered about a column of tanks of the 37th Tank Battalion that the LIII Corps commander, General von Rothkirch, driving past in his command car, assumed it was a German formation. Too late he saw what was actually happening.
"Where do you think you're going?" asked 1st Lt. Joe Liese of the 37th Tank Battalion's Company B.
"It looks like," Rothkirch replied, not without a touch of irony, "I'm going to the American rear."39
Monitoring the American radio net, German intelligence quickly picked up the news of Rothkirch's capture and the extent of CCB's penetration. Apparently with approval of OB WEST, Model at Army Group B tacitly acknowledged the fact that the LIII Corps had been cut off from the rest of the Seventh Army by subordinating the corps to Zangen's Fifteenth Army, whose LXVI and LXVII Corps still held portions of the West Wall opposite the U.S. V Corps. Model also ordered forward a new commander for the LIII Corps, Generalmajor Walther Botsch, who earlier had been charged with preparing defenses for a bridgehead to be held at Bonn and Remagen. Even though troops of the American First Army were fast bearing down on both those towns, so urgent did Model consider the need for a new commander of the LIII Corps that he refused
to allow General Botsch to wait long enough to brief his successor on the situation at Bonn and Remagen.40
From that point, no commander on the German side could have entertained any genuine hope for continued defense west of the Rhine either by the LIII Corps or by the other two corps of the Fifteenth Army still in the Eifel, the LXVI (Lucht) and LXVII (Hitzfeld). The three corps obviously were in imminent danger of encirclement. It was without question now a matter of trying to save whoever and whatever to help defend the Rhine, but in view of the stranglehold the word of Hitler still exercised at every level, nobody would authorize withdrawal. Botsch, the other corps commanders, Zangen at Fifteenth Army, and Model at Army Group B--all focused their General Staff-trained minds on issuing defense, assembly, and counterattack orders that looked as pretty as a war game on paper but made no sense in the grim reality of the situation in the Eifel. In the process, each protested to his next higher commander the idiocy of it all.
Model, for his part, ordered the 11th Panzer Division--or what was left of it after withdrawal from the triangle between the Erft and the Rhine north of Cologne--to recross the Rhine at Bonn and counterattack southwest toward Rheinbach to cut off spearheads of the First U.S. Army's III Corps. That was a patent impossibility. The remnants of the panzer division would be too late even to recross the Rhine, much less counterattack.
Still convinced the main objective of the III Corps was not Bonn but Remagen, General von Zangen ordered General Hitzfeld of the LXVII Corps to assume command of the 272d Volks Grenadier Division, already forced back onto this corps by the south wing of the attack of the U.S. III Corps. He was then to turn over his West Wall obligations to the LXVI Corps, and with the 272d and his own divisions (89th and 277th) to counterattack on 7 March into the flank of the III Corps southeast of Rheinbach to cut the "funnel" leading to the Ahr River and Remagen.41
After making the usual protest that the project simply was not feasible, Hitzfeld went through the motions of readying the counterattack. Already the corps was in a somewhat better position to assemble than might have been expected, for as early as 3 March the 89th Infantry and 277th Volks Grenadier Divisions had begun limited withdrawals from the West Wall positions in the vicinity of the Roer reservoirs. By 6 March the two divisions were some five miles behind their original lines, almost out of contact with the Americans except on the right wing where the 2d Division of the U.S. V Corps had joined the general offensive.42
Even so, assembling for counterattack in the face of continuing advances by the III Corps in the north and the northeastward thrusts of the VIII Corps still was impossible. About all Hitzfeld accomplished in that direction was further to clog roads already choked with withdrawing columns and to expose the north flank of the LXVI Corps. Continued bad flying weather was the only thing that prevented Allied aircraft from turning the entire situation to utter chaos.
The position of General Lucht's LXVI Corps, still holding some West Wall positions astride the Weisserstein watershed, was most perilous of all. Already the south wing of the corps had been forced back by the drive of the U.S. VIII Corps to the Kyll River northeast of Pruem. With the north flank exposed also by Hitzfeld's withdrawal, Lucht's divisions now were in serious trouble, a fact underscored early on 6 March when the V Corps commander, General Huebner, began to broaden his thrust--heretofore confined to the 2d Division on his north wing--by sending the 69th Division (Maj. Gen. Emil F. Reinhardt) eastward in the center of his zone. It would be driven home with even greater emphasis the next day when the 28th and 106th Divisions also joined the attack. While a regiment of the 2d Division plunged forward ten miles and took a bridge intact across the Ahr River, a column of the 28th Division (Maj. Gen. Norman D. Cota) overran Lucht's command post, bagging most of the corps headquarters, including the chief of staff. Lucht himself escaped because he was away at the time.43
When General Botsch arrived to join the LIII Corps with the unenviable assignment of assuming command, he learned he had scarcely any combat troops left. Such as there were--tiny remnants of the 326th and 340th Volks Grenadier Divisions--the corps chief of staff had organized into battle groups and given the only realistic mission possible, to harass American columns as best they could.
During the day of 6 March, CCB of the 4th Armored Division gained another thirteen and a half miles, roughly half the distance between the jump-off on the Kyll and the Rhine near Andernach, then veered northeast off the main highway in the direction of the road center of Mayen. That added another five miles to the day's total before the armor had to stop for the night because of crumbling roads. Other than a growing problem of handling hundreds of prisoners, the combat command had no real difficulty all day except for an undefended roadblock that took about an hour to remove and occasional fire from assault guns or isolated field pieces on the flanks. Although CCA attempted to diverge from CCB's route to force a second passage a few miles to the south, demolished bridges eventually forced that combat command to tie in again on the tail of CCB.
The infantry divisions of the XII Corps in the meantime still found the going slow because of boggy roads, demolished bridges, heavy traffic, and sometimes determined resistance. Having turned north immediately after crossing the Kyll, the armor had left the infantry to deal with the two divisions (246th Volks Grenadier and 2d Panzer) upon which the Seventh Army's General Felber had based his unenthusiastic hopes of stopping the armor. As night came on the 6th, neither the 5th Division nor the 76th, the latter having crossed the Kyll southeast of Bitburg, held bridgeheads more than a few miles deep.
Matters would improve only slightly for the infantry divisions the next day, 7 March. A predawn counterattack, for example, knocked a battalion of the 5th Division from a village on the northeastern periphery of the bridgehead.
Although real and disturbing to the men and commanders who had to overcome it, this resistance when viewed against the backdrop of developments elsewhere in the Eifel on 7 March was negligible and futile. It was on this day that defenses of the LXVI and LXVII Corps in front of the U.S. V Corps began to fall apart. On 7 March also the 11th Armored Division in Middleton's VIII Corps at last got across the Kyll River in strength at Gerolstein and advanced eleven miles. As night fell, the armor took the important crossroads village of Kelberg, near a famous prewar automobile race course, the Nuerburg Ring. In the process, the tankers forced the newly arrived commander of the LIII Corps, General Botsch, and his headquarters troops to flee.
Even more spectacular and--in the end--decisive was the advance on 7 March of the 4th Armored Division's front-running CCB. Backtracking several miles to get on a better highway and avoid the crumbling roads that had stalled advance the evening before, CCB attacked in early morning through rain and fog. Brushing aside halfhearted resistance in the first village, the column paused on the fringe of the second, Kaisersesch, while a German-speaking soldier, using an amplifier, demanded surrender. A heterogeneous collection of German troops meekly complied. Racing on, the tankers drew their next fire five miles farther along at Kehrig. This time a demand for surrender drew more fire from Panzerfausts and antitank guns, but an artillery concentration on the town brought a quick end to the defiance.
From that point, the advance was little more than a road march with the tankers signaling German soldiers rearward to be taken prisoner by those who followed. Here and there along the road clusters of impressed laborers of almost every European nationality waved and cheered.
At one point, 1st Lt. Edgar C. Smith, piloting an artillery observation plane, spotted a column of retreating Germans not far ahead, obscured from the tankers by the rolling countryside. At Smith's urging, a company of Sherman tanks speeded up in pursuit.
"They're only 1,500 yards from you now, go faster," radioed Lieutenant Smith.
Later he reported they were only a thousand yards away, still screened by the terrain.
After another pause, the radio crackled again.
"They're around the next curve," Smith said. "Go get 'em!"
The tanks burst upon the rear of the startled Germans and raked the column with 75's and machine guns.44
As night fell, the head of CCB's column coiled on the reverse slope of the last high ground before the Rhine, three miles from the river, across from Neuwied. The drive to the Rhine was all but finished in just over two and a half days. The 4th Armored Division had driven forty-four airline miles--much longer by road--from the Kyll to a spot overlooking the Rhine. The division took 5,000 prisoners, captured or destroyed volumes of equipment, including 34 tanks and assault guns, and killed or wounded 700 Germans. The division itself lost 29 men killed, 80 wounded, 2 missing.
In the process, the armor had spread havoc through whatever cohesion still remained in the German defense west of the Rhine and north of the Moselle. Everywhere irregular columns of foot troops interspersed with a confusion of motor and horse-drawn vehicles toiled toward the Rhine, hoping to find a barge, a ferry, perhaps a bridge still standing. Other Germans gave themselves up by the hundreds, particularly in front of the V and VIII Corps, while still others--some successfully, most not--tried to slip behind the armored spearheads to escape southward across the Moselle. Abandoned equipment, vehicles, antitank guns, and field pieces, many of them smoldering, dotted the Eifel in macabre disarray.
Yet for all the striking success of the drive, a chance to cap it with an even more spectacular achievement remained. Unknown to commanders and men of the 4th Armored Division, a few miles upstream from CCB's position, midway between Andernach and Koblenz, near the village of Urmitz, a bridge across the Rhine still stood, the Crown Prince Wilhelm Railroad Bridge.
Although the 4th Armored Division was under orders to seize any bridge over the Rhine still standing, nobody entertained any real expectation that a bridge might be taken; and in line with General Eisenhower's plan for a main effort across the Rhine by Montgomery's 21 Army Group, the thoughts of senior commanders in the Third Army were turning from the Rhine to the Moselle, which General Patton hoped to cross in order to trap the Germans in the West Wall in front of the U.S. Seventh Army. Aerial reconnaissance had already confirmed in any case that no bridge still stood across the Rhine in the Third Army's zone. In keeping with that report and to avoid exposing tanks and other vehicles to antitank fire from the east bank of the Rhine and to the fire of stationary antiaircraft guns ringing nearby Koblenz, the men and vehicles of the 4th Armored Division stopped short of the Rhine itself and remained under cover on the reverse slope of the last high ground short of the river.
The coming of daylight on 8 March provoked something of a mystery. From the high ground observers could see Germans retreating individually and in ragged columns toward what maps showed to be a railroad bridge near Urmitz. Because of haze and generally poor visibility, they were unable to make out a bridge, but presumably the Germans were gravitating there in order somehow to get across the Rhine. As the day wore on, some prisoners and civilians said the Germans had already destroyed several spans of the railroad bridge while others reported that the bridge still stood.
CCA had readied an attack to be launched before daylight on the 9th to drive to the bridge and seize it if it was still intact when word came that General Bradley had approved the Third Army's turn southward across the Moselle. The 4th Armored Division was to change direction and try to seize a bridge over that river.
Soon after daylight on the 9th, after CCA had abandoned its plan to drive for the bridge at Urmitz, the Germans demolished it. Close investigation explained the conflicting reports the Americans had received. The Germans had earlier destroyed two spans of the railroad bridge, but beneath the rails they had hung a tier for vehicular traffic.
It was the makeshift bridge that they destroyed early on the 9th.
Whether CCA could have taken the bridge before the Germans blew it was problematical, for by that time the Germans had become exceedingly wary of bridges falling into Allied hands. That was because of a happening a few miles to the north in the zone of the First Army's III Corps. There a 9th Armored Division only recently oriented to make its main effort to seize crossings of the Ahr River had found a Rhine bridge intact at Remagen.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (9) * Next Chapter (11)
1. Ltr, Eisenhower to Bradley, 20 Feb 45, 12th AGp Military Objectives, 371.2, vol. VI.
2. Operation LUMBERJACK, Outline Plan, 23 Feb 45, Hq 12th AGp.
3. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45, p. 5; TUSA AAR, Feb-Mar 45.
5. For details, see above, ch. VIII.
6. 8th Div AAR, Mar 45.
7. VII Corps Opns Memo 163, 25 Feb 45; VII Corps FO 16, 1 Mar 45.
8. MS # B-202 (Mellenthin). See above, ch. IX.
9. The 3d Armored Division usually labeled its combat commands after their commanders.
10. As the 104th Division prepared to attack before daylight on 2 March, a German shell struck the command post of the 2d Battalion, 414th Infantry killing the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Joseph M. Cummins, Jr., and two visiting officers, Col. Anthony J. Touart, 414th Infantry commander, and Col. George A. Smith, Jr., assistant division commander. See Hoegh and Doyle, Timberwolf Tracks, p. 257.
11. VII Corps Opns Memo 167, 3 Mar 45.
12. MS # B-053 (Bayerlein).
14. MS # B-202 (Mellenthin).
16. VII Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Mar 45.
17. MSS # B-202 (Mellenthin); # B-080 (Langhaeuser); # B-098, 353d lnfantry Division, 2-22 March 1945 (Oberst Kurt Hummel, CG).
18. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 23 Feb-8 May 45, p. 12.
19. Sylvan Diary, entry of 24 Feb 45.
20. III Corps AAR, Feb 45; MS # B-118, LXXIV Corps, 2 October 1944-23 March 1945 (General der Infanterie Karl Puechler).
21. III Corps Opnl Dir # 4, 28 Feb 45.
22. III Corps AAR, Mar 45; MS # B-118 (Puechler).
23. III Corps AAR, Mar 45; MS # B-118 (Puechler).
24. 12th AGp Ltr of Instrs 16, 3 Mar 45, 12th AGp Rpt of Opns, vol. V.
25. Even though the First Army G-3 had made it clear otherwise. See Memo, sub: Resume of Instructions From General Thorson, G-3 First U.S. Army, 28 Feb 45, III Corps G-3 Jnl file, 28 Feb-1 Mar 45.
26. MS # B-828 (Zangen).
28. This theme runs through all German manuscripts for the period. Even allowing for postwar extenuation, it can hardly be questioned except in degree.
29. Quotation is from III Corps AAR, Mar 45.
30. III Corps G-3 Jnl file, 6-7 Mar 45.
31. TUSA Opnl Dir, 3 Mar 45; XX Corps AAR, Mar 45. For further mention of this attack, see below, ch. XII.
32. Patton, War As I Knew It, p. 252.
33. XIX TAC AAR, Mar 45.
34. VIII Corps Opnl Memos 26 and 27, 1 and 2 Mar 45; VIII Corps G-3 Jnl file, 1-3 Mar 45.
35. XII Corps Opns Dirs 83 and 84, 1 and 2 Mar 45.
36. German material comes primarily from MSS # B-831 (Felber); # B-828 (Zangen); # B-123 (Gersdorff); and # B-797, LIII Corps, 27 February-10 March 1945 (Oberst Werner Bodenstein, Opns Officer LIII Corps).
37. XII Corps FO 15, 2 Mar 45; 4th Armored Div FO 12, 3 Mar 45.
38. MS # B-797 (Bodenstein); XII Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Mar 45; 4th Armored Div Periodic Rpt, 6 Mar 45.
39. George Dyer, XII Corps--Spearhead of Patton's Third Army (XII Corps History Association, 1947) (hereafter cited as Dyer, XII Corps) p. 330.
40. MS # B-828 (Zangen).
41. MSS # B-101 (Hitzfeld); B-828 (Zangen).
42. MS # B-828 (Zangen).
43. V Corps Operations in the ETO, p. 394.
44. Dyer, XII Corps, pp. 330 and 334.