Saale River Offensive
The Seizure of Halle

On 12 April the VII Corps directed the Division to prepare plans for continuing its drive to the east assigning it the mission of forcing a crossings of the Saale River and the seizure of Halle on the east banks of the Saale. Fifty-three miles east of Nordhausen the "golden valley" was crossed by the Saale River. The river flowed north from Fichtclgebirge Mountains joining the Elbe River south of Magdeburg. (The entire length of the Saale was 442 kilometers of which 180 kilometers are navigable from Halle to the Elbe River. The average depth was ten feet, its width 200 to 300 feet.) Over fifty towns and communities had to be cleared before the Saale could be reached. In the path of the Division were the large towns of Sangerhausen with 11,000 Inhabitants and just to the north was Eisleben, 23,000 population, the birthplace of Martin Luther. It was realized that aside from the Saale River as a stumbling block in the eastward advance, historic Halle would be a formidable obstacle.

Halle, with a population of over 210,000, was the tenth largest city in Germany and the largest Nazi city spared from allied bombing. Near the close of World War I it was the seat of Germany's internal revolution, a rallying point of communism in Germany; and in 1933 when Hitler came to power, it became a center of Nazi organization. The important salt resources and the many soft-coal strip mines contributed to Halle's wealth. The 16th Century City Hall, many Gothic churches, a university, and several hospitals and orphanage foundations showed the importance of the town. It was the birthplace of the famous composer, Handel.

The 415th was east of Nordhausen, the 414th was blocking the exits of the Harz Mountains north of that city, while the 413th was engaged in holding the Nazis in the Harz Mountains northwest of Nordhausen. The enemy in the Harz Mountains maintained desperate resistance and therefore it was impossible for the Division commander to release the 413th for the proposed assault of the Saale River. Consequently for the second time in the past twenty days, the Timberwolf forces would conduct two widely separated operations. To this end, certain regroupings on the north flank were decided upon, giving responsibility for the sector to the 413th and releasing TFL and the 414th for the attack on Halle. To lead a rapid and powerful Timberwolf attack on Halle, General Allen constituted a Division armored spearhead under command of Colonel Gerald Kelleher (Commanding Officer, 414th Infantry Regiment). The Division directed Task Force Kelleher to be organized and prepared for assembly prior to 0800 on 14 April and that the Task Force consist of the 414th Infantry (less the 2d Battalion which was still operating with the 3d Armored Division); the 750th Tank Battalion (less one company); the 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less two companies); Company B, 329th Engineer Battalion; the 386th and 802d Field Artillery Battalions; Battery B, 555th AAA Battalion; the 104th Reconnaissance Troop and Company B of the 87th Chemical Battalion. Eighteen trucks were attached to the Task Force leaving nine with each of the other two regiments. The Division would advance with TF Kelleher spearheading, closely followed by the 415th, with the provision that if the 413th were released, then it would advance behind the task force on the left with the 415th on the right.

The fighting along the southern border of the Harz Mountains continued 13, 14 and 15 April for Colonel Summers' Seagulls (413th Infantry). The enemy was constantly dominated and his attempted infiltrations were quickly mopped up. On 13 April, during the fighting on the outskirts of Bad Lauterberg, the chief of police and a medical officer who presented themselves as emissaries of the people in the town and the military garrison, contacted the 3d Battation, 413th Infantry. They suggested that the town might surrender and offered to act as intermediaries. The usual unconditional terms were offered and the emissaries were sent back to the town where they presented their case to the German commander. They soon returned, however, requesting that an American officer accompany them to the German commander. Lieutenant Carl L. Johnson, S-3 of the 3d Battalion, volunteered for the mission along with Technical Sergeant Walter 0. George as interpreter and Pfc. David L. Acker and Pfc. Richard Klein as flag bearers. These four together with the two Germans went into the town again and were taken to a company CP. Here the Americans were blind folded and taken to the battalion command post. The enemy battalion commander indicated his own personal desire to surrender and this feeling was reflected by the men; however, he stated he was under strict orders to hold the town and continue fighting. He called his regimental commander by telephone who likewise indicated his willingness,, to surrender, but because of his present orders he was unable to do so The regimental commander then placed a call to his division headquarters and the division commander signified his willingness to capitulate, but withheld his decision until he could contact German Army Headquarters. Two hours later after much passing the buck, the Army commander's decision of refusal to surrender was received and the emissaries returned to their battalion. Lieutenant Johnson reported that all the soldiers and civilians had hoped that a surrender could be effected, and when they heard the Army commander's decision, they seemed crushed. The Germans at the time knew that their situation was hopeless since troops of the Ninth and First Armies had them surrounded. After completing its mission of holding the German forces within the Harz mountains, and when relieved by elements of the 1st Division and the 4th Cavalry Group, the 413th moved to the east on the afternoon of 15 April, and rejoined the Division which was then along the Saale River. Over 65,000 German troops were later gathered from the Harz Mountain area.

The situation in the Harz Mountain so developed that it was necessary for the Division to leave the 413th in its blocking role and to proceed with its attack on the 14th of April without that regiment. On the 13th the Task Force perfected its plan for the assault. it would advance over two routes with Task Force Rouge (the 3d Battalion, 414th Infantry, reinforced, commanded by Lt. Col. Leon Rouge), on the north route and Task Force Clark, (the 1st Battalion, 414th Infantry, reinforced, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert R. Clark), on the south (see footnote). From a line of departure then held by the 415th twenty-five miles to the East of Nordhausen, the Task Force would commence its drive at 1200, 14 April. The 415th would closely follow and eliminate all bypassed resistance along the twenty-five-mile wide Division zone. The 3d Armored had passed through part of the Division zone 13 April having turned north out of our zone just west of Sangerhausen. It was to continue its attack to the cast parallel with the 104th.

HALLE ... During the night of 13 April and the early morning of 14 April the Task Force assembled and made final preparations for the attack. At 1200, spearheaded by the 104th Reconnaissance Troop, tanks of the 750th and tank destroyers of the 817th Tank Destroyer Battalion mounted by infantry, Task Force Rouge on the left and Task Force Clark on the right, crossed the line of departure and drove rapidly to the east. Limited resistance was encountered initially but when the force was in sight of Halle it encountered heavy flak and 88mm fire. At 1800 Task Force Rouge had reached the Saale on the north and patrols of Task Force Clark on the south had the river under observation. The bridges over the mighty Saale had been destroyed by German defenders. The "Old Faithful" regiment shortly thereafter closed behind the Task Force having cleared the Division zone and captured over 215 prisoners. The boldness and aggressiveness of the Task Force had resulted in the seizure of thirty-two additional towns and over 500 prisoners in an advance of twenty-eight miles.

When it was soon discovered the Germans had strong defensive positions within Halle facing the west and all bridges were destroyed over the Saale, it was determined by the Division commander to envelop Halle from the north. The 3d Armored Division had completed crossings of the Saale earlier in the day and a bridge was avail able for use within its zone. The commanders of the 414th and the 415th met with the Division commander at the Division command post in Teuschenthal. Colonel Kelleher was directed to move his force to the north under cover of darkness, cross the Saale over the 3d Armored bridge and from an assembly area on the east side of the river, attack the city from the northwest at 0800 on 15 April. Colonel Cochran's regiment would relieve the 414th in its present position and would clear the Division zone up to the west banks of the river and with a minimum force secure the west bank. In addition, it would support by fire the attack of Task Force Kelleher.

During the night 14-15 April, Colonel Kelleher's Task Force skillfully disengaged themselves west of Halle and moved by motor north to the 3d Armored's pontoon bridge at Fredeburg. After a hazardous and most difficult night march over unreconnoitered terrain, the Task and Force, from its assembly position north of Halle, jumped off in two columns at 0800. Against small arms and bazooka resistance by the fanatical defenders, the Task Force advanced rapidly toward the city. Within the city the resistance stiffened; the enemy employed road blocks, flak guns and panzerfausts. One of the greatest obstacles encountered was the frequent accurate sniper action which necessitated thorough searching of each room and building. By darkness of the first night the Mountaineers had seized one-eighth of the city and had captured over 800 prisoners. The citizens of Halle, having observed the destruction wrought other cities which had chosen to resist, and knowing too well the hopeless situation of the Wehrmacht, pleaded in vain with military officials for an open city declaration. Knowledge of this situation had enabled Lieutenant Colonel Plaisted, the Division G-2, to initiate an ultimatum leaflet which prophesied the consequences of the attack. Over 100,000 of the leaflets were dropped by air the morning of 15 April. The document stated:

MEN AND WOMEN OF HALLE!

Complete destruction threatens your city. Either Halle will be surrendered unconditionally or it will be destroyed.

At the present stage of the war, surrender is the only choice. We Americans do not wage war against innocent civilians. Already, millions of your fellow countrymen live peacefully in territory occupied by us and help rebuild Germany. If, however, the military commander and the party leaders do not want to prevent bloodshed, we have no other alternative but to completely destroy Halle.

MEN AND WOMEN OF HALLE!

Your houses are still standing. Your homes still offer you refuge. Until now, your city has been spared the fate of so many other German cities.You can still save yourself and your city, by acting immediately. Go to the responsible authorities to prevent senseless bloodshed and complete destruction. This is the hour to act. The time is short. In a few hours it will be too late. There is only one choice

SURRENDER OR DESTRUCTION

Major General Fritz De Witt, the military commander of the Halle area, had decided to defend at all cost, which was evident when he directed all Saale River bridges to be blown. The more than 4,000 defenders were steadfast in their vain efforts to stop the advance of the Mountaineers.

With the 413th still blocking the southern exits of the Harz Mountains the Division was stretched out over a front of one hundred miles. Through ingenuity and use of field expedients by the 104th Signal Company, communication by radio and telephone was constantly maintained between the Division headquarters and the 413th, eighty miles to the west, and with Task Force Kelleher, twenty miles to the east. The Timberwolf signal men employed German wire and four intermediate switchboards in order to maintain the vital communications. In the afternoon of 15 April the 413th was released from its mission and late that day rejoined the Division.

The battle for Halle raged from 0800, 15 April to 1055, 19 April, during which time General De Witt's troops resisted, house to house from the northern to the southern extremities. Artillery fire and air attack were withheld during most of the time because hospitals containing American wounded were known to be in the city. Colonel Clark's 1st Battalion on16 April established road blocks to the east and south of the city thus preventing any of the trapped Nazis from withdrawing,

Task Force Rouge meanwhile had a bitter five-day struggle through the main streets of the city. Staff Sergeant John P. McLaughlin of Company I, the main prong of TF Rouge's assault, tells how it began as "a slow process of house-to-house fighting, blasting the holed-up Jerries out with band grenades and cold steel, which the German supermen did not particularly relish. The position of the Task Force was K Company on the right, L Company on the left and I Company making the main effort in the center, supported by heavy machine guns and 81mm mortars of M Company. The second day was a very slow process as we battled for every inch of ground. At 1800 the order for cease firing was given for the purpose of declaring Halle an open city. This was never fulfilled. At 0600 the third day we attacked and met the heaviest resistance of all. After hand to hand fighting and rapid maneuver we fought out way through the German barriers. By darkness we had about two fifths of our mission accomplished. At this point the Germans pulled back to the end of town, and set up a last ditch defense. The fourth day we walked through the heart of town with very little resistance. By 1900 we were again in contact with the enemy. After due reconnaissance it was decided to set up our defense for the night. That night Jerry tried numerous counterattacks but to no avail. The fifth morning we pushed off again to sink our teeth into the remaining portion of Halle. We took block after block by digging our way through rubble-filled cellars and blasting the enemy out with grenades and bayonets. We kept up a relentless attack, hitting now with everything we had, and the German defenders slowly but surely gave ground. When darkness came we were just about at the edge of town. The sixth and final day we jumped off at 0600 and by noon the town was ours, having completely pushed Jerry out of his proud city of Halle".

During the early afternoon of 16 April Count Felix von Luckner, known for his sea- raiding exploits of World War 1, a longtime resident of Halle and self-styled Nazi-hater, came through our lines after our troops had captured the northern third of the city to discuss surrender plans and to arrange neutral areas over which civilians and allied prisoners would be contained for safety. The unconditional surrender terms outlined by General Allen and Colonel Kelleher were not accepted by General De Witt because as he stated: "I am afraid of what they might do to my family." However it was agreed that all armed personnel would withdraw to the southern third of the city and resume fighting. The house-to-house fighting was thereby reduced one third. At 1055 on 19 April the 414th had crushed the last bit of resistance in the German metropolis of Halle. SS troopers and die-hard youths of the Hitler Jugend made the German resistance bitter but the aggressive maneuver of our seasoned soldiers, superbly led, was too much for the best the Nazis could offer. The city yielded 2,640-prisoners including General Fritz De Witt, who prior to capture retired to one of the city hospitals to rest his nerves and nurse his stomach ulcers. As soon as the Mountaineers had completed clearing the large city, they turned eastward to link up with the 413th and 415th which had crossed the Saale, and were headed in the direction of the Mulde River.

-----------------

Newsweek,

April 30, 1945

A fabulous figure emerged from the ruins of Germany last week. He was Count Felix von Luckner, the captain of the renowned commerce raider Seaadler in the last war (WW I) and later a globe-trotting lecturer. In the city of Halle he surrendered personally to Al Newman, Newsweek war correspondent, and another correspondent. Here is Newman's story of his encounter with Luckner.

The battle of Halle never will receive its just deserts as a military classic, mainly because there was too much happening on other fronts. Nevertheless, your correspondent freely predicts that when all the returns are in, this fight will be examined as frequently by students of war as many Civil War battles.

It was fought by a new streamlined unit - an infantry task force under Col. Gerald Kelleher of Albany (Commanding Officer, 414th Infantry Regiment). Task Force Kelleher consisted of two smaller task forces equal in strength, one commanded by Lt. Col. Leon Rouge of Los Angeles (Commanding Officer 3rd Battalion, 414th Infantry Regiment), and the other by Lt. Col. Robert R. Clark (Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 414th Infantry Regiment).

A Two-man Task Force: Your correspondent makes no apology for injecting himself into this narrative, for at some points of the activities he and C.K. Hodenfield of the Army paper Stars and Stripes had some influence on it. The task force of Hodenfield and Newman was traveling with the medium tanks of Task Force Clark on the southern route.

It had been agreed that the first task force - either Rouge or Clark to hit the main road junction in Trotha, a northern suburb of Halle, was to attack the town, and the other force would encircle the city, setting strong roadblocks to trap the enemy.

Rouge, after one minor encounter, hit the junction an hour before Clark and roared due south along the Magdeburgerstrasse and then down the Reilstrasse. Just three blocks inside the town, reconnaissance elements of Rouge ran into a grimly defended roadblock. Task force Hodenfield and Newman watched the fray until dark, a simple process of poking our heads from the upper story of windows in the Reilstrasse, then barricaded itself for the night in a luxurious German apartment two blocks behind the front line.

They Shall Have Music: Our tanks and machine guns kept up sporadic fire throughout the dark hours. This noise competed with strains of classical music, for by some miracle the owner of the flat had a record player, an excellent record album, and a fine radio. By other miracles there were electric lights and running hot water (in towns 100 miles back there had no water of any kind, let alone electric lights). Thus the task force shaved for the first time in many days and listened to Cavalleria Rusticana punctuated by nearby shooting and the comfortable popping of liberated fried eggs in a pan.

On the German side of the lines, the picture became plainer. The German commanded a force numerically superior to Task Force Kelleher, though inferior in fire power and efficiency. However, he was outflanked on a grand scale by thrusts on Dessau and Leipzig. On the other hand, the Halle commander had a very strong Gestapo and SS garrison. Men from the two latter followed him around with drawn pistols, watching him for any sign of weakening. In addition, this commander knew his family was under Gestapo surveillance elsewhere in Germany and feared reprisals.

Consequently, the next day infantry tanks resumed the offensive to the south of the Reilstrasse. By noon they had covered twelve blocks, house to house. Meanwhile Task Force Hodenfield and Newman was reconnoitering the suburbs, where it found a clay pit with 21 Russians, military prisoners, who kissed the task force's hands liberally. It also found the first good German overseer I have seen. The Russians said he was a swell boss, and I was ready to take their word for it, since they had worked under him for three years. Germans who treated the Russian prisoners decently three years ago when Nazi forces were triumphant all over Europe are mighty difficult to find.

By Joe, Al: Furthermore, this German who spoke English, told us he was a friend of Count Felix van Luckner (The Sea Devil of World War I), who lived in Halle. The count, he told us, often came there. He was no favorite of the Nazis, and was constantly shadowed. The overseer, a former imperial naval officer, gave us Luckner's address, which was perhaps a mile in advance of the front lines, and Task force Hodenfield and Newman set out in search of an exclusive interview.

The aforesaid task force was stopped a mile inside the town by a tank battle going on up ahead in the Reilstrasse, so it decided to outflank the main effort to see what it could do. We drove two blocks east, where no American soldier had been before, so thin was Ronge's concentrated thrust through the town. Then since it seemed inadvisable to go further at the moment, we busied ourselves kicking dumb civilians off the streets into safe cellars. Two men put up an awful squawk about being sent underground and said something about Luckner in fast Kraut. "OK," I said in my reprehensible German, "Bringen sie hier der Graf." They turned and went south. I figured I had seen the last of them.

Somewhat later, I heard a car behind me. It had come along the west side of the railway embankment from the south - the direction of the main body of the enemy. It was painted gray and a uniformed German soldier was at the wheel, but it displayed Red Crosses, and one of the characters who had gone for Luckner was sitting on the hood waving a white flag enthusiastically.

I walked toward the car and suddenly a tall, burly, somewhat stooped figure in a gray knicker suit erupted from the back seat and ran over and embraced me. "By Joe," he choked, "I'm glad to see you. I haven't been so happy since I broke through the British blockade in 1916." It was Luckner all right. Enemy mortar shells started dropping near, and we retreated to the underpass and the count, a veteran of many a lecture tour and quick on the draw, whipped out a picture of himself and wrote: "Never say die, my dear Al Newman, the first American I have seen in my native town."

Captured, One Count: Then the other half of the task force returned, and after taking photos for posterity of this historic meeting at the peril of life and limb of the entire unit, Hodenfield and Newman proceeded in triumph to battalion headquarters, with the German following not more than 20 yards behind. Then after a brief interview we escorted him to Gen. Terry Allen at 104th Division headquarters. A long conference ensued during which Luckner made a plea for the town and its civilians, and Allen gave him a message and an ultimatum for the German general. Task Force Hodenfield and Newman then delivered Luckner to the same intersection in no man's land where it had found him and bade him Godspeed as he turned south of the German lines.

Probably as a result of the parley between Allen and the count, the next morning, after a quiet night, the Americans pushed unopposed through the main part of town.

                                                                  THE MULDE ADVANCE

The average distance from the Saale to the Mulde was approximately thirty miles, a distance seemingly insignificant when compared with the sweep of over three hundred and fifty miles from the Rernagen bridgehead in less than one month. It was realized, however, that aside from the Saale River and Halle, there were many communities including Delitzsch and Bitterfeld which loomed as formidable obstacles. Midway between the two rivers stood Delitzsch, a city of 17,000 population, with several small industries, sugar refineries, flour mills and soap factories. Bitterfeld was located in the province of Saxony on the west banks of the Mulde in the northern part of the Division zone. The 22,000 population city was noted primarily for its industries; chemical works of I. G. Farben, soft-coal strip mines and huge power station. The GI's later discovered that rationed camera film was also plentiful in this city. Duben with its 4,000 inhabitants located on the east banks of the Mulde was famous for its mud and salt baths. (The Mulde River .flows in a northwest direction and ends as a tributary of the River Elbe south of Dessau, a few miles to the north of the Division zone. The Mulde is slightly larger than the Saale with a much stronger current. The Elbe River is one of the main arteries of transportation in Germany: The waterway from Bohemia to the North Sea is 1,160 kilometers in length, of which 830 are navigable.)

                                                             ____________________________

Task Force Clark consisted of the 1st Bn, 414th Inf reinforced by Companies C and D of the 750th Tank Bn, Reconnaissance Co. plus one Tank Destroyer platoon of the 817th Tank Destroyer Bn, 1st Platoon from Co. B of the 329th Engineer Bn, the 802nd Field Artillery Bn, one platoon from Battery D of the 555 Anti-Aircraft Artillery Bn (Mobile), Co B of the 87th Chemical Bn and the 1st Platoon of the Antitank Co.

Task Force Rouge consisted of the 3rd Bn 414th Inf, reinforced by Co A of the 750th Tank Bn, two platoons from the 817th Tank Destroyer Bn, Co B of the 329th Engineer Bn (less one platoon), the 386th Field Artillery Bn, Battery B of the 555 Anti-Aircraft Artillery Bn (Mobile), the 104th Reconnaissance Troop, and Antitank Co (less one platoon. According to official records, TFR also included Cannon Co. However, Timberwolf Tracks does not mention Cannon Co. as a part of TaskForce Kelleher, so this may be incorrect.


See Mulde River Crossing


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