Roer River Crossing
Anthony D. Manzella
Company C, 329th Engineer Battlion
It was the darkness of early morning, February 23, 1945, when we put our boat, along with many other boats, in the waters of the Roer River in Germany. Our object were the Germans on the other side of the river.
The boat was put in the water facing down the river, so the current would push the boat even when it reached the other side. In the boat were 13 men, hand grenades, rifles and other equipment. About in the middle of the river, we were shot at by Germans. The boat then turned facing upstream being pushed by the fast current of water. The boat then struck a bridge which had been blown by the Germans. The dam was also blown causing the flow of the river to be very fast.
When we struck the blown-out bridge, that end of the boat went up, causing the rear of the boat to sink. I was in the rear when the boat struck the bridge. The other soldiers came back on me and pushed me below the steel rods that were hanging from the bridge. These rods were used in the concrete reinforcement of the structure. At this point in time as I was pushed under, I was unaware of the condition of the other soldiers in the boat. Some of the men that fell back on me may have gotten caught on the rods and drowned. Later I discovered 11 of the other soldiers in the boat had perished.
After being pushed down in the water I went under the bridge with the current. This current carried me about a mile or more down the river. It was still dark when I grabbed grass roots and dirt in the middle of the river. A German fired a parachute flare and upon spotting me, began firing his weapon causing me to go under the water for cover. Daylight approached as I swam to the American side of the river. I pulled myself ashore. I was cold, tired and missing a shoe from my frozen foot. The German continued to fire. Looking further on shore I discovered concertina barbed wire with booby traps strung out. Somehow I went through a small opening in the wire without setting a charge off. I then went up a small hill, drawing fire from the German again. Once at the top of the hill, I threw myself to the ground and rolled down until I was safe from that particular German.
I went through a blown-up German factory where I discovered some charcoal boards that were still warm. I put my feet on the boards to warm them. The air temperature was about 30 degrees. After I warmed my feet, I went through the factory until I reached a road. I was lying there when an American jeep picked me up and brought me to where I would receive medical attention.
God was with me.
Roer River Crossing, Feb. 23, 1945
John C. Smith
Co. C, 329th Engrs
On the morning of the Roer River crossing, my very good friend John Hanchett and I were given four bangalore torpedoes with enough non-electric blasting caps to detonate the torpedoes. Our mission was to cross the river with the second wave and help the infantry, if needed, to breach a known enemy minefield.
Just before leaving the line of departure for the river, one of my fellow platoon members (I can't remember his name) asked me to take charge of the boat as he was afraid he couldn't do it. He was very young, and had no experience at river crossings, so I told him I would, and handed him my two bangalore torpedoes with instructions to leave them in the bottom of the boat when we got to the other side. We made the crossing in good shape, and as I was the boat commander, I had to hold the boat until everyone unloaded. After everyone was out of the boat, we pulled it up on the bank, and I started looking for my partner not knowing he had been wounded (not seriously), and I failed to find him. The mistake we both made was that he had all the blasting caps with him, so my bangalores were useless.
I moved inland some and waited for daylight to see if I could be of help in getting any wounded back across the river because that was our secondary mission. Soon after daylight, coming toward me was a young soldier without any helmet, weapon, or any kind of equipment. He seemed to be in a little shock, and asked me if I would take him to the other side. I told him we could try it, but first we had to wait and see if anyone else needed to go back across the river. After waiting, maybe a half an hour, and no one showed up, we started to push the boat up the river about two hundred yards so allowing for drifting we could land at the place we wanted to.
We shoved off both paddling on the downstream side of the boat, and we made it across very close to our place we wanted to land. Upon landing, this young soldier went toward the houses, while I checked in with my platoon leader and spent the rest of the morning assisting in getting the wounded across the river.
I often wonder, after more than 40 years, did this soldier rejoin his unit, or was he sent to the rear, and did he make it through the war?
Theodore W. Sery
Company C, 329th Engineer Battalion
In any war experience there is always that initiation, the first commitment under fire, the so-called baptism of fire, that stands out in one's memory even down to some insignificant details. The raw recruit is usually an eighteen, nineteen or twenty year old who, through his training, has experienced simulated battle conditions, things that he finds to be really "big events", something to write home about. But when the moment of truth finally arrives for the real thing, that long anticipated event which he and his buddies have talked or bragged about, or even joked about, it creates some very tense emotions and he is forever left with deep sobering memories. The first day of such an event serves better than any other experience to bridge the gap that transforms a young boy from his carefree childhood days into a state of grim reality and solemn maturity.
Our third platoon was held in reserve during the first attempt at the assault crossing of the Mark River in Holland. It had filled us with all kinds of anticipation. During that first operation two days earlier, by other units of our company, Sgt. Garner had been killed. Bailey bridge construction had failed because of a German observer hidden near the site, phoning in accurate shell fire. Williams, while trying to rejoin his men in the dark, had stumbled upon a group of German soldiers and by desperate reflex action responded faster than they did and had to shoot all of them at close range. This would trouble him a long time afterwards because of his memory of their anguished screams and cries of pain and surprise as they died in front of him. Casarta had survived from a bullet that had penetrated his helmet at a shallow angle and spun around inside; it only creased his scalp. These and other stories lingered with us as our platoon took its turn on the night of November 2, 1944.
As to how we arrived at this river, I only recall a long arduous portage late at night, in moderate weather. It was the mud that was our immediate enemy and we swore at it as we struggled with our heavy assault boat and full field equipment. It was not the mushy kind of mud, but more of a congealing consistency. You walked on top of it and not through it, but with every step a layer of it would cling to the bottom of your boots. It would build up and only fall off by its own weight after three or four layers had accumulated. It made your feet feel like lead.
The Mark River was more like a canal, about 40 feet wide with sharp banks on either side. My close buddy Greenberg and I ferried our complement of eight or ten GI's across and returned for others that arrived sporadically over the next two or three hours. There were long pauses and to get out of the light from a burning house on the other side we moved back from the river to a cabbage patch and started to dig in. We quickly found out that Holland is not the place to dig a foxhole. You would drown. It has to be a slit trench to lie prone in it, and this too would fill with water if you dug down below six inches.
Greenberg was doing his digging while lying down prone, and when he saw me digging in a sitting position, he swore at me for my foolhardiness and reached over and shoved me down onto my back. We must have been seen at that moment and immediately a Jerry machine gun cut loose right over me and I lay there counting the green tracers. They could have cut me half; so I gladly accepted my water-logged slit puddle. Our infantry must have later silenced this gun because we managed to bring eleven boatloads of men across the river that night without a mishap. On one such return trip, Greenberg lost his footing and fell into the river. He wasn't able to climb back in and the sharp bank gave him no footing or anything but mud to grab onto. It was a long and desperate struggle, but finally I was able to hook my hand down under his right knee and, with his leg pulled up over the boat rim, roll him into the boat which almost capsized.
During all of our training days I was an avid reader of anything that would give me an edge for survival. There was one little pamphlet I came across that I took very seriously. It gave all this advice about the well-prepared soldier who should also supply himself with a sharp, narrow, double-edged knife in a scabbard strapped to his lower right leg. I went out on a pass to Colorado Springs and bought myself a stiletto. The survival-minded soldier also never went into battle without his poncho neatly folded and overlapped under the back of his cartridge belt. I forgot what else was said in that article, but I followed it all to the letter. One thing I know that it forgets to mention was to waterproof the leather sling of our rifles.
Sgt. Kamrowski was rounding up the different boat teams at the end of this operation before dawn and had the last six of us ready to cross the open mud flats when a barrage of German artillery started coming in. Kamy gave the order and we took off. We hit the mud with every incoming shell and Kamy kept us on the move, repeating his commands to "keep moving, don't stop!". This was one of two facts that saved us as the 88's tracked us in front and behind all the way back. I would have been content to remain in one of the hot, smoke-filled shell holes I had dropped into--after all, would another shell ever drop in the same place? I was now terrified by all the pandemonium, the confounding restraining action of that terrible mud, and exhaustion. But, amid all the furor, Kamy kept up his commands until the shelling stopped.
By this time, I was a picture of a demoralized, confused and disorganized GI. My rifle was dragging at the end of a waterlogged leather belt that had stretched out to twice its normal length; my dumb poncho was all tangled up and kept tripping me up; and I had lost my stiletto somewhere among the cabbages. In my downcast and depressed appearance as I slogged along to our bivouac area I would have made an apt subject for a Bill Mauldin cartoon. My good friend Worb came alongside me and inquired about my condition and offered to carry me or my rifle on the last couple hundred yards. I was too proud and thanked him for his kind offer. What a sad loss of a friend we would face. Worb would be killed a few weeks later by an 88 shell from a German pillbox while we were on patrol at the Sigfried Line.
There was another friend we had on that first night. It was the mud. The soft mud actually had a protective effect; it has prevented a horizontal spread, or trajectory, of shrapnel from all of those 88 millimeter shells that fell in our midst. Deep penetration into the mud before detonation kept the shrapnel fragments confined to a more narrow or vertical spread.
There are two kinds of fear which people are subject to. One kind is the fear known as terror, the kind that grabs a person in the pit of the stomach and causes him to lose control of reason and mobility. The other kind of fear is the kind that incites a sense of stable self-control and a healthy respect for danger and how to meet it with sound common sense. The fear that caught me during the latter part of "first night" was close to the worst kind. I was shaken up quite a bit by the shelling sequence, but I would get over it and carry away lessons that would serve all of us in the days to come.
The Memories of an Infantryman
Duane A. Robey
Headquarters Company, 415th Infantry Regiment
As the infantry was moving toward Oudenbosch, Holland in late October 1944, as gaps would form between the rifle companies, we would dig in next to the road because this was our central point from which to move in any direction and it was the best vantage point. We would then in groups of one to three men move up and down the line in the trees. Then move carefully to the edge of the woods and casually or carelessly expose ourselves while digging a hole, walking to close to the forest edge, or any action a soldier might do. Then we would quickly move to another spot and do it again. In this manner, we hopefully give the impression that there was a large force of Infantry in position. It must have worked because we did this all day and did not receive any probes from the German Infantry. We did not fire a shot all day. We also decided that we would send out three man patrols during the day to ascertain where the German lines actually were, or if there was any activity developing in our immediate area. Fortunately for us, two things were found out from our patrols. One: the area in front of us was lightly held and two: the Germans had pulled back their main line of resistance nearly a mile. We quickly reported our findings.
Late in the afternoon Sergeant Estie C. Vanek, Pvt. Robert M. Huntington and I went on one of the patrols. Sergeant Vanek was in front, I in the middle, and Pvt. Huntington behind me. We had moved out from our positions across the open area, through another wooded area and were moving across a large open field about one-half mile from our starting point when German 60 millimeter mortar shells came in an exploded on both sides of us in the very damp soil of the field. We were walking along a dirt road when the first shell exploded to our right. Sergeant Vanek and I fell to the ground as fragments went zzzzzzt. More shells came in. Above me steel fragments sounded like angry hornets flying by. I heard Pvt. Huntington coming towards me. As he walked he said, "What the hell are you doing down there?" with a very impatient tone of disgust in his voice. He made me feel so foolish that I got up and started walking also. The two grenades that I had stuck on my cartridge belt by their handles fell to the ground. I stooped and picked them up, the handles were bent upright. When I hit the road, I must have slid forward. It gave me a funny feeling because only the pins held the handles in place. I bent the handles back in place and again replaced them on my cartridge belt. Sergeant Vanek also got up and the three of us walked down the road with mortar shells exploding in the field on both sides of us. The shelling stopped. The Germans probably thought it was a waste on those crazy Americans walking through the fire without any affect on them.
We entered a very large wooded area, now tense and jittery like small creatures expecting to be pounced upon. After the shelling we expected company from the Germans. Warily we moved through the trees, looking in all directions for any movement, intently listening for any sound. Nothing moved. The rustle of leaves around our feet and the distant rifle fire were the only disturbances. Like shadows we moved through the woods, each tree standing at attention in straight rows. All this time our movement was forward and toward the left of our defense line. We came to a clearing in which there was a small cottage with a straw roof and some farm buildings for farm animals. Nothing moved--no animals, not even a chicken. As we moved toward the cottage we could hear women crying. The reason was not apparent to us. Moving through the out buildings we found them empty.
As we approached the cottage the women came out, the older in her forties and the younger in her twenties. They looked like mother and daughter. When they saw us they cried all the louder, wringing their hands, holding their faces and then stretching their hands toward us pleading to us to return their men. They were in terror for they believed they would not see the men again. Sergeant Vanek could understand Flemish and related this all to us. Questioning disclosed that our infantry had swept through this area earlier in the day and took their husbands away and the older woman's sixteen-year old son. The reason for this was that the German soldiers were being left behind the lines dressed in civilian clothes. Then they would do anything to disrupt our efforts--blow bridges, mine roads, direct artillery fire or just kill. One or two of these German soldiers would become part of a Dutch family, keeping them silent under the threat of death. Therefore any one of military age was automatically picked up as the infantry moved forward, taken to the rear and questioned. It did not take long to separate the enemy from the Dutch farmers. As soon as the area was considered safe, the men were released and allowed to go home. The women did not know this and they feared the worst. We could not pacify them.
The Jinx of the 4th, Section
Near Weisweiler, Germany, November 1944
B Battery, 387th Field Artillery Battalion
This incident happened while still in the Coal Mine Position. It happened the night a German Plane crashed into the Coal Mine. Five or six paratroopers decided to stay with the plane and hoped it would land safely, but they were wrong, as they were all killed in the crash. Five or six decided to bail out and they landed in our area, which resulted with us being turned into Infantrymen to hunt them down at dawn when it was light enough to see what we were doing. The Battery was dug in behind this mask, composed of the trailings and slag that was dumped there by the mine and was about 12 feet high and leveled off at the top. The Germans had dug a series of zig-zag trenches that were about five feet deep and four feet wide. Most of us headed for the top as it was the most likely place for the paratroopers to hide. Just as I reached the top, I saw Big John Hudson drop to his knee and level his gun directly at me and emptied his clip in rapid fire. Five of his bullets zipped past my head and I naturally dove for cover. What I didn't know at the time was that while Hudson was searching for Germans, one popped up from a shell hole and fired tow shots at Hudson but missed. Hudson hit him twice, once in the mouth and once square center of his chest. The bullet went clear through and out his back. After I worked up enough courage to go back up there, Hudson was helping our Medic, Doc King, patch up the German's wounds. He was still alive, but unable to talk, as his tongue and half of his jaw were shot away he died on the way to the Field Hospital. Hudson said to me, "Sorry Lom, I saw you but had no choice." Hudson, earlier on, had turned in his Carbine as being nothing but a toy, and opted for an MI that he found on the battlefield. Hudson was one big tough Texan and the M1 was more to his liking. Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. Starr had another one trapped in a dugout covered with some old doors, after ordering the man out several times, Sgt. Starr pulled out his 45 and stuck it in the hole and killed the paratrooper.
One other man spent the night up in the coal conveyor belt tower in "A" Battery area. The poor slob was cold, tired and hungry and when he heard "A" Btry's mess call, he climbed down and got on the end of the line. Poor Mess Sgt. Rappaport almost had a heart attack when he saw a German mess kit shoved under his nose. I don't know what happened to the other paratroopers, I imagine they are all captured.
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