|XIX CORPS NEWSPAPERS & PUBLICATIONS|
The function and drama of a Corps in the organized hell of war is not very well publicized. Divisions carry out tactical operations in actual contact with the enemy and develop individual personalities and reputations. Armies capture headlines because their mass takes the imagination of the public mind, which wants the ultimate simplification of swaying lines, or thrusting arrows on a map. Somewhere in between are the Corps, which partake of both, and insert the element of flexibility between the mass of the Army and the unity of the Division. But the component parts of a Corps could be the best indication for the enemy of the high command intentions, and for most of the war they have been carefully screened from any publicity until after the operations upon which they have been engaged are long over and done.
The life and function of XIX Corps has been evident in many ways in the fighting in Europe. In the massed thundering fires of the Corps Artillery, seeking out assembling German tanks and destroying counterattacks before they can get under way; in the swift, screening progress of the 113th Cavalry Group on the flanks or out ahead of the Divisions; in the Engineers of the Corps putting in bridges under small arms and artillery fire; in the AA guns guarding Division CP's, or bridges over the eight major rivers that lie behind XIX Corps; in the Tank Destroyers rolling fast across the first bridges, to set up antitank defense for the Infantry in a new bridgehead. Less spectacular but equally important are the basic decisions and careful planning of the Corps Commander and his Staff. in the 800 odd miles of fighting progress that lie now behind XIX Corps since the landing of its advance party on the Continent on June 10, 1944, this outfit has built up a personality and a meaning for the units and individuals with whom it has been associated. Its essential characteristic is a dedication to the needs of the doughboy and tanker down front. Almost every imaginable tactical and strategic problem has been faced and satisfactorily solved by this Corps. This has been done with only one purpose in mind: to do it fast, and at the lowest possible cost in lives!
This book is an attempt to summarize the facts of the Corps' achievements in battle, and at the same time provide a running background of incident, and description which try to give the details of a few things that had to be done and be done well and faithfully in order that the facts as shown on the record could have found record there. No book can pretend to tell all the details and facts at once; this one is only partially complete; this framework of fact and vignettes of impression must be rounded out by the individual memories of each man who took part.
XIX Corps began life as the III Armored Corps, activated at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on August 20, 1942 under Major General Willis D. Crittenberger. After training at Camp Polk and two maneuvers in Louisiana in 1943, the headquarters left for England on January 7, 1944. In England General Crittenberger left to head a Corps in Italy, and Major General Charles H. Corlett took over command. The headquarters settled at Knook Camp in Wiltshire, near Warminster, where active planning for the Corps' part in Operation Neptune, for the landing in France, got under way in the old Manor House of Boyton. While the divisions that were to operate under XIX Corps maneuvered and perfected their plans on the Salisbury Plain, the XIX Corps Staff drew up their plans for landing soon after D-Day, as the first of the build-up Corps, to take over the central sector and advance on St Lo, the strategic communications center of that part of Normandy. It was not merely a question of one plan, but many alternate plans, to take advantage of as many eventualities as could be forseen. The soft English April passed into May, and many of us were told the target date, and finally the date for D-Day. With everything set and ready, we waited for the fifth of June, and wondered when it passed uneventfully. Were we to wait another month? or another year?
Finally the morning of the sixth found the air full of news. The Invasion was on! It was going well; it was going badly; the Germans said it was being swept off the beaches. the official news was mixed, but without the extremes. On our beach, Omaha, they were having a rough time. But the plans for XIX Corps would go as scheduled, and everyone got ready to move. Two days later, on the 8th, the headquarters left Knook in two motor convoys for Camp D4, one of the assembly areas near Dorchester. There we spent two days lined up under trees in the rain along what had been country lanes, making final checks of waterproofing and equipment, prepared to move to our ships. The news was good, and then bad. We drew our conclusions when a part of the Second Armored Division was hurriedly pushed through ahead of us and to their ships. The Corps Commander, the Chief of Staff, and a few of the Chiefs of Staff Sections went ahead in a motor torpedo boat to size up the situation on the ground and be ready with their plans when the headquarters came ashore.
Finally, on the evening of the 10th, we made the move over the darkened roads to Portland, and loaded the vehicles on two LST' s during the night. The next morning we were off, after loading and lashing all night, in one of the gigantic convoys that almost covered the English Channel those first days. By the next morning we had hove off Omaha Red Beach, marked by the breakwater of sunken Liberty Ships, the marks of flame, shell, and mine, the fox-holes of the men who had won the beach, and the ceaseless traffic of supply and reinforcement. Most of us had braced ourselves for the prospect of being under artillery fire, perhaps even small arms, and certainly aerial and torpedo attack. But by this time the battle was farther inland on Omaha Beach. St. Laurent-sur-Mer, the little fishing hamlet, showed where the battle had passed, but our landfall was undisturbed. Farther west the great convoys filled the horizon, heading for Utah beach, and the great hulk of the floating piers loomed high and mysterious. To the east a French battleship swung inshore at intervals, to deliver its broadsides in support of the British operations moving down on Caen. After lying off-shore all day, our LST' s finally ran up on the high tide, and landed us dryshod at 1830. The convoy made its way across the beach, past the line of German prisoners, and the knocked-out 88' s which had commanded the defiles, down the country roads thick with dust, to our first bivouac in one of the sunken fields we were to know so well in the next months. So far, we felt, as we have often felt since, that we were the lucky ones; our safety had been bought dearly by the blood of the men who had stormed that beach, and taken these roads and towns. We owed them all we could find of energy and service.
Once ashore, with the Corps units coming in after us, we found that VII Corps was rapidly moving across the Cotentin peninsula which it was to cut off before turning for Cherbourg. On our left, V Corps under whom the combat teams of the 29th and 1st Divisions had won the beach, was moving south in conjunction with the British. On the 14th of June, XIX Corps became operational, taking over the 29th Division, which despite the agonizing punishment it had sustained on landing, was fighting its way forward into the first of the hedgerows. The 30th Division came across the beach, and moved in on the right of the 29th. Our job was to get as far as we could and then hold, while First Army threw all the strength it could muster into cutting off and reducing Cherbourg. To test the German defense, an attack was ordered for the next day, and inched forward for three days through the terrain and defense that was to try American fighting qualities for more than a month. Finally the attack rested on the line of the Vire River and the Vire and Taute Canal. The CP moved to Castilly, little more than a chateau and a church at a crossroad.
You came by the church as you rounded the corner on the road from the beach, and there was a long lane of trees that met overhead, and if it was Sunday the French would be walking to or from church in their stiff black clothes, and not even looking curiously at Jeeps any more. The CP tents clung to the hedgerows, back to back in three fields, and down at the far corner of the field was the War Tent, a big British hospital tent, and close beside it the G-2 and G-3 tents. There was usually a liaison officer or two from one of the outfits sleeping on the grass if the sun was out, because he knew he was due for a hard night, and Colonel West and the G-3 Officers would go in and out. Down to the right at the far end was the General's caravan, and when he came up to the War Tent most everyone left. This got to be almost home after a while, and you came back to it with relief if you'd been up front, and maybe there would be a drink of Calvados around somewhere, and you'd wonder if they'd bomb the place that night. They certainly must know we were here by this time. But maybe we weren't important enough. There was the time that those two Jerries came in fast to begin a strafing run from over the schoolhouse, but it just happened that there were two P-47's loafing around behind a cloud on the other side; who jumped them before they could start, and shot one down over to the west. But every night there was plenty of fireworks over the beaches, and we slept in our slit trenches most nights. The 12th AA Group set up in business, and began the shooting which was to net them 29 planes before V-E Day.
Day by day the Corps units came in, got their assignments and dug into their jobs. The Corps Artillery began its work, and its effectiveness was apparent at once. Many of us carried on our jobs shuttling between the CP and the Front, learning by hard experience which roads were under fire, how a burp-gun and an 88 sounded, and what the fighting was like down where efficiency or inefficiency in our jobs meant lives.
Almost at once however there was the supply problem. Artillery ammunition was rationed, and when the terrific four-day storm blew in we sat with our fingers crossed, only a few rounds to a gun, and hoped nothing would happen. The slow tempo of peasant life in Normandy seemed little affected by our presence. A double row of men and officers crouched in some ditch down near Airel or St. Clair would look up in surprise as a peasant wandered unconcernedly down the road under the fire of German mortars, going after his cows. But in Isigny we found the individuals who had waited for us as Liberators, the FFI of the area. And they were glad to see us, even in the powdered ruins of their homes.
When the French Major with Civil Affairs came into Isugny he had the first French uniform they had seen for all that time, and they crowded around him, with all the news at once. And soon every town you went to had the office of XIX Corps "Affaires Civiles", and a captain and a couple of sergeants in the mayor's office, with an interpreter; and the patient farmers sat in the ante-room waiting to go in and see the officer and ask their questions. There was that creamery Civil Affairs fixed up at St. Marguerite where the refugees were taken and fed, and sat around gossiping, waiting for a chance to go back to their homes. And in St. Clair on the 14th of July, Bastille Day, the band of the 29th played in the little square, and the children of the town carried flowers to the monument of the poilu, and the veterans of the last war stood stiffly in their black suits, and Colonel Price made a speech, and they couldn't seem quite to realize that France was free, at least this little part of it. Isigny was a wreck, the center of it, but there was still the cheese factory, and you could get wine once in a while, and the combination was good for eking out K-rations. We began to get pretty tired of K-rations.
The first week in July the 30th Division went to work on the salient which the Germans had kept west of the river Vire, a salient which reached menacingly toward the sea at Carentan, where they were able to keep the bridge on the one road there under intermittent artillery fire. On July 7th the 30th crossed the Vire from the east and the Vire and Taute Canal from the north, and, joined by the 3rd Armored, slugged its way down through St. Jean de Day, to erase the salient.
The Corps Commander needed more and fuller information on the yard-by-yard situation than he could get from the Regimental Commanders and staffs, who had their own worries. He talked about it to Colonel Carl Jones, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and major Roy Attebury went to work to organize it. Men from the 2nd Signal battalion drove the jeeps and worked the 193 radio, and every day the officers of the Combat Liaison Section went out to where the attack was the hottest to radio back the details the Corps Commander would need to make his decisions. Whenever you came to the CP of whatever regiment or battalion was making the attack, Capt. Bill Dollahite, or Sam Salzman, scribbling up the dope for his radio operator to encode. Toward evening thy'd come back to the CP and go report to the Chief of Staff, General Maguire, G-3 Colonel Gustav West and the G-2 Washington Platt. Or they'd bring back some special supply problem of the frontline units and the G-4 Colonel O'Shea would go to work on it.
The day they crossed the Vire River, and the Vire et Taute Canal, the Combat Liaison was on the job. You came down this long hill to the river, along the road where they'd knocked out the 88, and down at the end of it was where they wanted to put the bridge. this was the first important XIX Corps operation, and the Engineers wanted to make it good. They did. the 228th Field Artillery Battalion hedged off a 200 yard bridgehead with HE and smoke, and twenty minutes later that troublesome little river, thirty feet across, was bridged, the vehicles were back in hiding and the armor was pouring over the bridge to clear the way for the 30th.
There was the little man who was roads and bridges engineer for the French government in the area. He knew the roads, and the river and canal like the back of his hand. The MII Team attached to G-2 had gone out and found him, and brought the first of his information to the Engineers. He and Colonel Hodges of the Engineer Section became great friends. Very soon we were raising and lowering the water level in that canal to fit all the needs of the moment: low when we wanted to cross, high to guard our flanks. We raised the river suddenly one night, by six feet, and caught and drowned some German horse-drawn artillery on an underwater bridge they had built at Pont Hebert.
There was that crossing at Airel, under fire a good part of the time until we took St. Lo, and no matter when you came there, artillery or no artillery, there was an MP from the 817th directing the traffic. In Normandy, with the few roads and narrow, it was a juggler's job getting the convoys through. The G-4 did the planning for it, and the MP' s had to carry it out. But in the Provost Marshal, Lt. Col. Vernon Smith, the Corps had one of the most experienced traffic regulators in the Army. The convoys went through. When the weather got dry, and the dust rose from passing vehicles the Germans had a fine artillery target. The Corps Chemical Warfare Section under Lt. Col. Cobb, took their mobile decontaminators, and wet down the dusty roads, and we drew less fire there north of St. Lo.
The hedgerows were a great problem tactically, and a lot of people stayed up nights trying to figure out how to beat them. When they did, Ordnance stayed up nights, making the hedgerow cutters they mounted on the tanks, and putting them on. Then we found the TD's needed turret covers to protect the crew from overhead fire. Ordnance designed and made them.
With the line straightened out, the western sector was transferred to VII Corps, and having the 35th Division to the 29th, XIX Corps turned its attention to St Lo. The fighting that followed will probably rank forever as some of the grimmest and bloodiest American troops fought on the European Continent. When the 29th had ground its way to the edge of the old town, a task force of the 29th and of the 113th Cavalry Group, under Brigadier General Norman D. Cota, Assistant Division Commander of the 29th, went in and took the town, and held it under a rain of fire from the Germans on the ridges to the south. To take it they had to root out and kill off the bitter-enders of the 3rd Parachute Division, fighting from every hole and corner, and stand off a massive armored counterattack.
Coming down that road into St. Lo the morning after, we got a flat from the shell-splinters road, and while we stopped on the roadway to fix it, not daring to pull off because there were so many mines, the ambulances began careening by at full tilt, one right after the other, and then there came a jeep with a couple of cameramen perched on the back, and they stopped to ask if we had a drink for them. We had some Calvados, and the cameramen took a long pull and wiped his mouth, but his eyes were still staring. "It's horrible down there", he said, "I hope never I never have to see anything as horrible again. There aren't enough ambulances, and they're laying the wounded out along a wall. They hit an ammunition truck down there just now, and just about wiped out a battalion." We fixed the tire and moved down the road, and sure enough they had the first corner at the bottom of the hill zeroed in with mortars, and it took us an hour of hitting the ditch to get across and down. And the ambulances kept coming by. We saw one get hit at the corner, and that was too horrible, as the man had said. They were from the 546th Ambulance Company, that Corps outfit, some of them. later on, going back up the road, there were a couple of Aid Stations in the orchards, and the cases had spilled out of the two small tents they had and covered the ground with stretchers, all among the soft green grass and the blossoming trees.
Suddenly the next days the war began to seem endless. Were we going to butt our heads into these hedgerows for months? Wistful questions began coming up from Divisions to the Corps G-2; "How far down does the Bocage country extend? How long before we can break out where we can see?"
The capture of St. Lo made possible the next move by General Bradley and the First Army to break out of the stalemate of the hedgerows. After 1st Army's Operation Cobra broke trough, XIX Corps moved west of the Vire River, commanding the 29th, 30th and 28th Infantry Divisions and the 2nd Armored.
Colonel Charles M. Wells was Adjutant General, and that section everybody though of as Rear Echelon stuff, but he was up reconnoitering for a new cemetery with Col. Louis L. Martin, G-1, one day when a German mortar dropped in and got him, and he was evacuated to a hospital. That somehow pointed up the fact that there were a lot of people helping to win the war who had to do it by being patient, and sitting in a chair and paying attention to small things. And they knew what St. Lo was costing, when they processed the casualty reports of over a thousand men a day about that time.
Those last days before the breakthrough, the stuff really began to pile up. Not one of those orchards along those little roads was empty. You'd have a battery of 105's south of the road and just the other side a battery of 8 inch howitzers or 155 guns. The 105's said the big boys were a nuisance kept'em awake nights, but they were glad to have them there. the ditches were a mass of wire and cables now, and farther back toward the beach there were miles and miles of dumps: rations, ammunition, clothing, trucks, jeeps, parts, tanks, tires, and the road from Isigny south was always jammed with convoys.
The great breakthrough attack tore a hole in the German lines on the 25th of July, and drove for Avranches and Coutances. XIX Corps's job was to guard the east flank of the breakthrough and prevent the enemy from sending reinforcements from the east. The German 2nd Panzer and 116th Panzer tried just this maneuver, and met XIX Corps troops just north and west of Tessy sur Vire. These two crack outfits were fought to a standstill and forced to retreat, and the gap remained in the German lines for the First and Third Armies to pour through. Again the Corps fulfilled a vital task when it took Vire, which in General Eisenhower's plan was the pivot for the First and Third in their swing east, north and northwest, to bottle up the German Seventh Army. Tessy sur Vire was taken on August 2nd, and by the 5th the Corps had covered 18 miles of hedgerows and was assaulting Vire. The 29th Division took it on the night of August 6th.
There was still heavy fighting to be done on this shoulder of the pocket, and the Germans who had brought over all their armor from the British sector, made one more thrust to try to cut off the great flanking drive. The 30th Division, then under VII Corps, took the brunt of that attack at Mortain, and blunted and finally drove it back, in a magnificent stand. XIX Corps had its part in holding the attack, and finally in helping to bottle up nearly 100,000 Germans in the Falaise-Argentan pocket. From the 13th to the 17th of August the Corps pushed northeast; then it shifted to the east and from the vicinity of Brezolles drove due north to cut off the Germans trying to escape across the Seine at a narrow shoulder of the river from Elbeuf to Quellebeuf. It was XIX Corps who stopped them. The 30th took Evreux and advanced beyond; the 28th followed the 2nd Armored beyond Conches up to Elbeuf, where the powerful 2nd Armored for two days and two nights, slaughtered everything that tried to cross the river. On August 25th they reached Elbeuf itself, and Corps made contact with the Canadians to the north. That marked the end of the German Seventh Army.
These were the days when they were giving France away to us. This was something different from Normandy: the streets black with people, who seemed to do nothing twenty-four hours a day but stand there and cheer us and wave, and weep, some of them, and throw us flowers and fruit and vegetables, and stare wide-eyed at the trucks and jeeps and tanks. What always got them most were the Tank Retrievers that filled the whole road, with red lights blinking, and all armored up like something from Mars, and the Long Toms and 8 inch Hows. They loved them!
The XIX Corps Artillery got to be known as the best aggregation in Normandy. Under Brigadier General George Shea, they were just as tough as he was, and they demanded the best from every man and gun they had. The Divisions early had enough confidence in the Corps Artillery to take chances of counterattacks they otherwise wouldn't take, because they knew that Axel, the Fire Direction Center would lay in in a matter of seconds on any threat that appeared. The FDC was bombed pretty hard for three nights running near Ste. Marguerite. There were casualties, but they never stopped turning out the fire.
There was that CP we had in that dense woods, behind the chateau they were using for a children's home. And the little wizened Frenchman of the FFI who had come down from the group he led to tell us where they were holding a couple hundred Germans surrounded, but they couldn't clean them out because they didn't have enough arms, and the ammunition was running low. The G-2 sent him down to the 30th in a jeep to lead a patrol for them out there. An he sat in the jeep shaking his head with a quiet wonder, saying "I never thought I'd ever live to see it. All the rest who were with me when we started have been shot, and I really never believed I'd be alive this day!"
He was really amazed, and he kept touching his fingers to the back of his other hand as if to verify something he couldn't quite believe. His pocket was right in the line of the 30th's attack for the next morning, so they were glad to see him and gave him a dinner, but he kept shaking his head in that funny way, and saying the same thing over and over.
The bulk of the rest of the German Army in the west was now in full retreat. The Corps swung east to where XV Corps had made a crossing of the Seine, at Mantes-Gassicourt, where the 79th held a bridgehead, passed through and made after the Germans. The Germans might stop and fight in strength almost anywhere, and they did fight for river crossings and terrain features. But the drive of the Corps gave them no chance to organize anywhere. The Corps crossed the Seine on August 28th, by September 1st the Corps advance elements had crossed the Somme, and at 0930 in the morning of September 3rd were into Belgium, the first Allied troops across the border. Tournai, the first large town in Belgium was taken the same day.
They sent Colonel Biddle and the 113th to cover the right flank of the Corps on the north side of Paris. The Engineers of the Corps threw seven bridges over the Seine, and one of them took the place of the road-bridge blown by the Germans at St. Germain. Now the Corps Commander could cover his right flank there and go hell-for-leather for the Belgian border. For three of the seven bridges the Engineers had to clear the opposite bank themselves, before they could put them in. That operation of the cavalry was slightly nuts, said the men of the 113th Group. When you're ducking 88's and being kissed by beaucoup beautiful girls at the same time; when the cafes open up, give away all their wine, and you dance in the streets while a burpgun is still rattling away within a block, that's a funny kind of war. But it was that way all the way up through those towns, Sartrouville and the rest.
Now the battle became the Battle of Supply. Trucks that should have been used to bring up gasoline and keep the dumps close behind the advance were continually pressed into services to carry troops in the pursuit. There just weren't enough trucks, and artillery ammunition again became a critical item until the resistance dropped off even more. For several days the Corps had to mark time until enough gas was accumulated to push on.
Civil Affairs ant the Resistance reported a few caches of German gasoline, but the G-4 was finally becoming desperate for more supplies. everybody asked each other about it every morning, and the G-4 was always full of liaison officers or visitors from higher headquarters explaining why they should get just one can of gas to get home. Major Marshall, Assistant G-4 finally got a liaison plane and went up to look over the canals in that part of Belgium, looking for tank barges. Then the QM sent out and tested the gas in it. We got 30,000 gallons that way. G-4 could always tell to a gallon how much there was in the dumps, and the heads always turned his way at the Staff meetings before any plan was discussed.
By September 8th the 113th Cavalry Group had drained all the other outfits of gas and made their way all across Belgium to the Albert Canal. The 2nd Armored Division could move only one Combat Command at a time, and the 30th Division had to move half way across Belgium on foot. The Germans had time to set up an initial defensive line on the Meuse and to man the Siegfried Line. they left the fortress of Eben Emael undefended, and the 30th Division took it on September 10th.
Although all the bridges on the Meuse had been blown, the 113th Cavalry made an end run through Liege to the south and the 30th Division assaulted the Canal and river lines near Vise to establish bridgeheads south of Maastricht. The 30th Division became the first Allied troops to enter Holland on September 12th. On the next day Maastricht was taken from behind, and the 30th had advanced to Valkenburg by the 14th. On the 17th Heerlen was in our hands and a coordinated drive by XIX and VII Corps drove to the Siegfried Line just over the edge of Germany.
The Engineers of the 1104th and some AA were way out ahead of the infantry for the last dash across Belgium to the Albert Canal. They went south to Vise and helped the 30th across the Meuse, and then dashed to Maastricht to build a bridge from the enemy side to ours. The 1115th with a battalion of infantry and some artillery made their own bridgehead on the other side of the Albert Canal, and hung their bridge on a barge in the middle of the canal to get it across near Fort Eben Emael. Then the 1104th built that great big Bailey at Maastricht, the largest one in Europe, and we put a picture of it on the Corps Christmas card. The engineers said it was on 190 foot triple triple span, two 110 foot triple single spans, and one 40 foot single single span. Anyway it was a long bridge.
These weeks of August and September were a kaleidoscope of new scenes, rushing action, and hard work for the Corps troops and staff sections. Any mission away from the Corps might turn into a running fight with some pockets of Germans. We found our Command Posts in chateaux, woods, pastures, and again in chateaux. It was a real accomplishment to keep the Corps together and under control, ready for any eventuality. More than once the CP was pushed into and through a region dotted with German pockets.
Everybody argued about it later, even those who hadn't known anything about it until they'd seen the Hq Comdt, Lt. Col. Fosythe, at the head of that starling column of 150 Germans, marching down the road through the CP, brought up at the rear by Lt. Perez and Capt. Dollahite. It was just a lunch time, and they argued for days whether these Germans knew we were there, or just were too 'bushed' out to come and wipe us out. They ribbed the MP's because the Germans had come to earth on their compass course march trying to escape, right in the next field to the MP's, and the medics said they were through being flank guard for the CP; they wanted to move into the middle. Anyway, there were 150 prisoners chalk up to the credit of the Headquarters Commandt.
When you picked up the phones about this time you'd hear a buzzing sound and the operator would tell you "You're on radio link, guard your conversation." The Signal boys had to lay just as much wire, but this kept communications in better. It was something new, but it solved an old problem.
One night it was rainy and foggy, and there were more than the usual number of German pockets. The Army said all movements that weren't absolutely necessary should be cancelled, but the Corps Rear didn't hear him, and the Adjutant General's Section led them on a 162 mile night march from Sourdeval to Acon.
We were really moving fast, and no one knew it better than Ordnance who had to pick out spots for Ammunition Supply Points well in advance. On September 2nd they picked one off the map, but by evening it was already 75 miles too far back. had a solution. He told them to get 100 trucks on the road and rolling, and he'd go ahead and have an ASP ready to guide them into when they came up. He was the man the Artillery looked to to keep the Ammo rolling to their guns, and he never let them down. But he ran into a pocket, and the SS ambushed him and killed him, with, just southwest of Valenciennes. But the ammunition got to the troops.
The marches went by long stretches of road, littered with the debris of a fleeing army: dead horses (already partly butchered and the meat carried off by the thrifty Belgians), destroyed wagons, artillery pieces, trucks and supplies.
Nobody knew about it when it was going on, but hardly had the Corps moved into Maastricht when young men of the Dutch Resistance were out in the street looking for the G-2. They had a telephone system, they said, which the Germans didn't know about, and we could call through to almost anywhere behind the German lines: Roermond, Venlo, and find out what we wanted to know. So they were installed in a room at Civil Affairs, with their telephone, and a few maps, and when G-2 wanted to know something particularly important, the Dutch boys would crank their phone and speak quietly for a few minutes, and usually they'd have the answer. It was quite simple and quiet unbelievable. Finally, however, the Germans blew a bridge the wires ran across and it was all over. They sent three of the Resistance men up to find out what was on, and they never came back. Nobody knows what happened to them. But they can guess.COP2005
The Germans had some tricks still in their bag. On September 25th they chased out 30,000 people from Kerkrade, just in front of their lines, and drove them on the roads down toward our lines. they killed 15 of them by artillery fire on the way, and wounded fifty more. The G-5 Section went to work and by night all these refugees were sheltered and fed, and the roads were clear for the Army.
The rest of September the Corps held along the border of
Germany, and prepared its plans and supplies to smash through the Siegfried
Line, while the British and American Airborne troops made their gallant attempt
to turn the north flank of the German line at Arnheim. The weather began to
worsen, and we realized with the beginning of October that, barring miracles, we
were in for a winter war. The 29th Division came back to the Corps from its
siege of Brest. The attack for the Siegfried Line was delayed until this veteran
division could come up and guard the Corps exposed left flank. In the maze of
waterways and swamp that marked the borders of Holland and Germany there to the
north was a definite threat to the First Army, since the British were turning
their attention north.
Finally the attack began on October 2nd, with the 30th Division racing down a long slope and across the Wurm River to smash through the Siegfried Line at Palenberg and Rimburg. The 29th Division did its part with diversionary attacks around Geilenkirchen. The 2nd Armored crossed through the line the next day, and took Ubach alongside the 30th, then turned north to defend the bridgehead. The 30th turned south, and repulsing constant counterattacks, made slow but steady progress south to join with VII Corps and close the pocket around Aachen. The Germans brought up reinforcements from all along the whole Western Front to hold this breakthrough, but all the counterattacks they could throw in were repulsed or made good. By 16th of October, slugging, heart-breaking, close-in fighting against the best that the German Army had, brought the 30th, and the 116th Infantry fighting with it, to contact with the 1st Division, and Aachen was encircled.
The Corps Surgeon, Colonel Rumpf, knew that the problem would come, and when all the outfits began talking about their Trench Foot cases, he had them make up thousands of little bottles with oil and oil of peppermint mixture, with the label saying "Rub this on your feet every day and prevent Trench Foot." They say our average number of cases was low compared to other Corps.
It was cold and damp and raw, when it wasn't raining, and a few days of that kind of fighting was enough to drive them crazy, the men up front. The Corps began to set up Rest Centers. All of Valkenberg was one big Rest Center, run by the 426th Medical Collecting Company. They ran eight hotels, and Civil Affairs helped them to find sheets and linen to give the guy from the foxhole a taste of civilized living again. And the Red Cross and Special Services made Heerlen, the clean little town where the Corps CP was, into another island of rest for the GI. Corps Artillery took over the hot baths hotel at Aachen and made its own Rest Center, with the best of chow, hot baths, clean sheets, and even a bar.
All this bitter time the drizzly cold Fall was closing in and the warmth and light of the previous summer seemed like the memories of another world. We made fast friends in Holland, and the Corps Headquarters found a second home in the clean little city of Heerlen, which made a record of hospitality and kindness to the American soldier that could not have been equaled. They had their problems, intensified by shortages of food and clothing, of limitations on their activities, by increased danger from shelling and bombing, but they never let us forget their gratitude for what the men of the American Army were doing to give them back their freedom.
Nobody could explain what the stuff was at first, the night it came in. Some said it was a new kind of V weapon, remembering that we had been the first reciprients of the V-2 when we were in Maastricht. But the Artillery said it was a 280mm Railroad Gun somewhere to the south, just lining in on the town of Heerlen. Anyway they had a new kind of fuse they guessed, because they seemed to adjust with air burst, and then bring them down to ground. The first night they made two hits on the hotel where the Red Cross girls stayed, and Colonel Goodwin had just marshalled them all downstairs in their hotel when the fragments peppered many of the rooms. They took it all like a picnic, and the officers mess at the Grand Hotel the next morning was considerably dressed up, with lovely girls in negligees, for breakfast. The next time they began coming in near the station, and started fires in the hotel where the Rear Echelon Officers lived. That was a lively place for that night, and Corps Headquarters ambulance had a job. But it was more a break in the monotony that they made than anything else. The Corps Artillery had the gun spotted and made it move several times. And later VII Corps found the wreck of a 280mm gun in their sector. We may have hit it, at that.
By the middle of October the men of the American Army were taking another hitch in their courage, and facing the grim fact that it was still a long way to Berlin. Preparations went on to move forward in the inching village-to-village fighting to and across the next natural barrier that faced us, the Roer River. General Corlett, who had ably led the Corps all across France and Belgium and to the edge of Germany was recalled to the United States for other duties, and Major General Raymond S. McLain arrived on October 18th from command of the 90th Division to be the new Corps Commander. His was a record of action and leadership that augured well for the Corps, and so it has proved. A machine-gun Company Commander in the last war, he had led his troops under fire in some of the fiercest fighting of this one. He had made the landings in Sicily, at Salerno, and Anzio. He had come to France as Artillery Commander of the 30th Division, had taken over the 90th Division in mid-campaign and built it into an outstanding fighting division. Most of his long list of decorations were won under fire, actually leading his troops, and his unmistakable mark has been on all the subsequent operations of this fighting Corps: in its thorough planning and preparation, its speed and daring in attack and maneuver, its recognition of the problems of the doughboys and tankers, and the constant insistence on the least possible cost of every operation in human lives.
At about this same time the new Ninth Army appeared in the American Order of Battle, with its headquarters at Maastricht, and XIX Corps became part of it.
The main effort of the American Army in the Fall campaign was centered farther south, but when the jump-off came in the middle of November, XIX Corps attacked for the line of the Roer. The enemy had had time to dig in well, and the resistance they offered was bitter. But the Divisions of the XIX Corps, working under the Corps plan, refused to hit him where he was strongest, by frontal attacks on the line of low ridges parallel to the river. The 2nd Armored lashed out northeast with crushing power, overcoming the muddy terrain and inferiority in tanks by sheer fighting guts. this attack drew most of the German armor, and the enemy threw in the best he had. Against the 2nd Armored he threw the 9th Panzer and the 15th Panzer Grenadier, but the 2nd Armored and the Corps Artillery and Tank Destroyers knocked out 118 of their tanks. As the armor flanked each ridge, the attached infantry cleaned out the Germans from its flanks. At the same time in the center the 29th drove east toward Juelich. Meanwhile the 3rd Panzer Grenadier and elements of the 116th Panzer Division smashed at our right flank where the 30th Division turned them back. By the 28th of November all three divisions were at the Roer, and the plans for crossing were begun. Higher headquarters had to hold up any such operations until possession of the Roer River dams was assured. With these dams under German control a wall of water could be sent down the Roer to wash out any crossing operations, and isolate our bridgeheads beyond rescue. So the Corps held at the Roer to wait for the dams to be taken.
The 8 inch Howitzers of the Corps Artillery's 793rd Battalion could lay their big projectiles in on a dime. When the Sports Platz of Juelich held out against the 29th Division for over a week, they smashed this pocket day after day, and got commendation from the 29th for their accuracy and help.
Part of the Prisoner of War Interrogation team at Corps had been attached to the 113th Cavalry near Sittard when we were getting ready to hit for the Roer. The officer with them was on his way to his old home, with a good escort of the American Army: Lt. Ernest Kaufman had grown up just on the other side of the Roer, in a little town just south of Duren. Just before he had been forced to leave Germany in '38 all the countryside had known about the great new dams that were being built in the wooded area up the Roer. He came and talked about it to Colonel Washington Platt, the G-2, who sent him to First Army with the urgent advice to listen to him. The Army Engineer did, and it was news to him. Lt. Kaufman was among the first into Aachen, and made for where he knew the information would be: the offices of Water Administration. He had to blow a safe to get them, but there they were - the complete Wehrmacht plans for the flooding that would follow the destruction of the three great dams, with the delineation of the area to be flooded, the speed of water, the duration of the flooding and all. Now the Army was really interested, and we could see the results in the way the plans were laid.
It was then, on the 16th of December, that the Ardennes offensive of von Rundstedt struck, and forced a postponement of three months in all our plans. The Corps moved south of Aachen and took over the divisions formerly under VII Corps: the 104th, the 78th, and the 8th. There with a Command Post in an old monastery in Kornelimenster, the Corps held the north shoulder of the "Bulge", rebuffed German patrols, and later pushed forward toward the big dams on the fronts of the 78th and 8th Divisions. Colonel Sloan became Corps G-3 when Colonel West left to become Chief of Staff of the 2nd Armored. It was not until the 5th of February that we moved north again, took over our old divisions, the 30th, the 29th, and the 2nd Armored, with a newcomer, the 83rd, and prepared to put our plans into operation and cross the Roer.
The AA was more noisy than usual the night the Germans hit down south, and the XIX Corps' 554th AW Bn shot down a JU-52 that got mixed up in the lights of the 226th Searchlight Battalion. It had a full load of parachutists out for sabotage in our rear areas. They all killed. And all the next day the trucks carrying the 30th south roared down the road through Heerlen, and the Dutch began to look anxious, thinking we were going to pull out. But they felt better when the Tomahawk emblem stayed around those few days. There were reports of parachutists in all our rear areas, and one of the AA outfits had quite a job rounding up a few who holed up in some houses. And every time you went anywhere for those weeks, you were stopped by MPs who wanted to know who won the World Series in 1938, or the capital of the Empire State.
Sometimes, "said the Assistant G-4, "you have to fight your own army harder than the enemy. these men have got to have sleeping bags and shoe pacs for this weather, and we've got to fight for 'em, day and night it seems". He turned to one of his officers. "Better go up to Army again this afternoon and pound on the table. They're doing their best, but they'll do better if we make enough noise."
And suddenly there was snow, and the Germans had
camouflage suits of white which made them practically invisible. But our men
stood out against it, good black targets. G-5 turned to and collected sheets,
covers, anything white, from thousands of German civilians, although they
complained bitterly. Soon our troops too were equipped with camouflage for snow.
After a delay of almost two weeks, forced by the German's blowing of the spillway of the Schwammenauel Dam, the crossing of the Roer River was made on the 23rd of February, before the Germans expected it could be done because the flood had not yet subsided. Here the Corps Engineer units did an amazing job. They built a total of fifteen bridges across the racing flooded river which brought down debris to smash them time after time, besides the fire of artillery, machine guns, and mortars that harassed the operation. Many of the crossings had to be made not only over the river itself, but also over hundreds of feet of flooded area on both sides. One bridge was built and rebuilt nine times. The Corps Artillery covered the assault with a total of more than four hundred tons of shells. The crossing was made by the 29th and 30th Divisions, soon followed by the 2nd Armored and the 83rd.
Colonel Miller said that the dams held a hundred million metric tons of water. If they let it all go it could flood the Roer Valley a thousand yards wide for twenty miles down. All those months of fighting got control of the Erftalsperre, but the lower one was still in Germans hands. And the Germans blew it. When we started it was still racing and flooded, but Corps Engineer had said they could put in the bridges, so the 29th and 30th went ahead. The 1104th Group handled the 29th bridges opposite Juelich. The anchors wouldn't hold at first, and then the cable was shot away three times in a row, and they changed the location once. But they got across under the eye of the Corps Engineer himself. To the south, were the 1115th put the 30th across, it was tougher. There they used alligators at first for the assault across more than 1000 yards of flooded land on each side of the river. And the washed-out roads had to be rebuilt for 1500 yards on each side. The Chemical Warfare Section had the Smoke Generators working and they put down a perfect screen. The enemy artillery landed 1000 yards downstream from the bridge site. When they found an unexploded bomb on the far side abutment they were going to use for the bridge, and their anchors were swept away, it seemed often that they'd never get this bridge in. But it worked, and it was finished - along with bridging a 60 foot canal on the other side - fifteen hours ahead of schedule.
The Corps Artillery moved up close, and had their targets zeroed in when the jump-off came. There was some fire for a while on the bridge sites, but by the time the bridgehead started expanding, the Corps Battalions had silenced every enemy battery, and the attack was started in full momentum. They showed their power when the 30th Division reported a counterattack on the other side of the Hambach Forest. We fired all the Division Artilleries and the complete Corps Artillery, 20 battalions, in a serenade. When the smoke cleared a full German battalion had been wiped out, and six to ten tanks.5
The Corps wheeled up the AA to support the attack too. The 459th AW Bn supported the 29th and the 30th with their Bofors guns, and laid streams of fire on strong-points across the river.
XIX Corps' attack from their rapidly-acquired bridgehead soon swung east, throwing the German defense plan off balance, and catching their reserves in mid-maneuver. The 29th took Juelich and pushed on to take Muenchen-Gladbach on March 1st, while the 30th overran the Hambach Forest, and guarded the right flank of the Corps until VII Corps finally came up alongside. The 2nd Armored, committed on the fifth day of the attack, drove between Muenchen-Gladbach and Neuss, to reduce Uerdingen, while the 83rd, which had attacked along with them, pealed off to the right to reduce Neuss and be the first American troops to reach the lower Rhine. The 95th Division was thrown in eventually and cleaned up the left bank of the Rhine from Uerdingen to Rheinhausen. This battle drove the attack deep into the heart of Germany for the first time, and the Corps Artillery was able to fire across the Rhine into the steel plants of the Ruhr. Here, too, for the first time, the men of the Corps began to see the hordes of slave-workers used by the Germans in factories and on farms, and effects of the bombing with which our Air Force had crippled German industry.
The attack was over in ten days, and XIX Corps had 11,000 prisoners, 353 towns, and over 300 square miles of territory to its credit. The enemy had rushed more of his best troops into battle: 9th Panzer, 11th Panzer, 130th Panzer Lehr, elements of the 2nd Parachute and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions. They had been cut up, driven back, and in some cases, completely destroyed.
The assault on the Rhine barrier fell to the XVI Corps to our north, but XIX Corps had an important part in it. Colonel Hubert S. Miller, the Corps Engineer, was in command of all the naval and engineer troops for the entire operation, and our Corps Artillery moved north to reinforce the preparation and supporting fires for the attack. The first crossing was made on the night of the 23rd, and by March 30th the 2nd Armored under XIX Corps was across and attacking east.
After the 2nd Armored had cut loose, the Corps moved its three divisions over one road through Haltern, which was under fire most of the time from German artillery from the pocket to the south which the 2nd Armored was helping to make of the Ruhr. The 83rd, the 30th, the 8th Armored and the 95th Divisions swung behind the 2nd Armored. Hamm was by-passed, and cleaned up later by the 95th. The 2nd Armored swung southeast to Lippstadt where they made contact with the 3rd Armored to close the Ruhr pocket, the greatest encirclement of all time.
Both sides of the roads were lined with them, day and night. French, Belgian, Polish, Russian, Jogoslav, Dutch, Italian, pulling carts full of their possessions. And every one of them another headache for Lt. Col. Bosch, G-5. the French PW Camp south of Soest was just one example of the job for G-1: 8,000 to be evacuated and fed and cared for. And that was only the beginning.
XIX Corps carried on for some time now a war on two fronts, 125 miles apart, and heading rapidly in opposite directions. To the northeast the 2nd Armored, flanked by the 30th and the 83rd rolled toward the Weser, the Elbe and Berlin, while to the southwest the 8th Armored, the 95th, and a combat team of the 17th Airborne were reducing the northern portion of the Ruhr pocket. The Germans tried to stand and fight at the Teutoburger Wald, but the 2nd Armored broke through , and in one rush crossed the Weser, with the 83rd close behind. The 30th cleaned up Hameln and was soon up with them again. On the east bank of the Weser they held up briefly, on orders, but on April 9th XIX Corps was relieved of responsibility for the Ruhr operations and was off again. With the 113th Cavalry screening the flanks, the 30th Division on the left, the 83rd on the right, and the 2nd Armored thrusting powerfully in the center, the drive went on at increasing speed. Braunschweig was taken by the 30th while the 83rd took Halberstadt to the south. The armor ran into a fight at the Hermann Goering Steel Works south of Immendorf, but smashed through and went on.
On the 11th of April the 2nd Armored went 57 miles in one day to reach the Elbe, and the 83rd, moving on anything that had wheels, came up with them at Barby on the 12th. Both divisions immediately began bridging and carving out bridgeheads. The 2nd Armored's bridge came under heavy fire, so it was withdrawn and all our strength was put into that of the 83rd farther south, which went in and stayed.
South of Halberstadt they found it, another one of the Concentration Camps we'd never believed the stories of in the States for all the years we'd heard about them. This was called Langenstein, and it was a small one, only 1500 or so, although ten times that number had died. When first found it, the parade ground was pilled high with bodies of the dead. In the huts the dead lay in the same bunks with the living, and they both rotted. This was another job for G-1. And for the Corps Surgeon too, for, with all the length of sector the Corps had, he had to find medical attention for these people. The 20th Field Hospital moved in, and went to work, but still they died, the Dutch, and the French, and the Russians and the Poles, who had had to work twelve hours a day excavating rock by hand, on one bowl of water soup. Now they had fruit juices and vitamins and eggs and milk, but for some it was too late. And all that green countryside stank from the death that Nazism had put there.
All the time we were liberating thousands of Allied PWs. The French had to be sent back by truck and train, and there was another job for the G-1 under Colonel Martin. the Americans and British were taken by the thousands to Hidesheim, where the Corps G-1 set up shop to evacuate them, at the Luftwaffe barracks there. they had to be fed and cared for, and the Surgeon sent the 426th Medical Collecting Company to help out. The Special Services sent all the Red Cross Clubmobiles and the Red Cross girls. Over 40,000 prisoners were repatriated from there before Ninth Army finally took it over.
The old problem of supply came up again in this pursuit. For a while, when we reached the Elbe we were hauling supplies of all kinds 500 miles, and the Divisions were having to go 150 miles for them. And counterattacks on the 83rd's bridgehead were using up ammunition. The assistant G-4, Lt. Col. Phillips, had told the 2nd Armored on their way that we wanted the railroad left in as good shape as possible, and we wanted the location of rolling stock and engines reported. When they were located and inspected, the G-4 gave the 1104th Engineer Group the job of pushing them through. Capt. Clemens had never seen the inside of an engine before, but on the trail trip he taught the German engineer to jump the engine over gaps. On April 20th, 13th carloads of artillery ammunition and 11 carloads of gasoline went from Hildersheim to Oeschersleben, all the way from the Wesser to the Elbe. After awhile, with the 247th Engineer Combat Battalion running it the train had over a hundred cars and 8 engines. Going back, G-5 loaded these trains with refugees, and in the time the Corps ran it we moved more than 25,000 of them, including thousands of Russians, PWs and Displaced Persons. This Corps can do anything, and usually does.
As preparations were being made to push on to Berlin, the order came to hold. We were to wait for the Russians. After two days of cleaning up in Magdeburg, by the 2nd Armored and the 30th, the war was almost over for XIX Corps. In this last rush we had taken 172,000 prisoners, advanced 220 miles across the Wesser and the Elbe, and seized the cities of Hamm, Halberstadt, Hameln, Hildesheim, Braunschweig, Magdeburg and Soest. The Russian armies were rumored close day after day, but they didn't appear. Finally, on the 30th of April, after a two-day running fight from Zerbst, the 125th Cavalry Squadron of the Corps' 113th Cavalry Group, made contact with the men of the XXVII Guard Corps under General Cherakmanov near Wittenberg on the Elbe, the first Ninth Army junction with the Russians.
We moved to Bad Nauheim, down by Frankfurt, but the work for the Corps Staff wasn't over. The Surgeon's Section had to take over and administer 40 German military hospitals with 45,000 wounded Germans. The Artillery Headquarters had to take over the running of a big area. G-5 still had thousands of DP's on his hands, and the trains carrying the Russians left Wetzlar every day. G-2 had to run down war criminals and Nazis, and set up Document Centers to process the papers we found. G-3 started to Education Program, and everyone wondered about his points.
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