103D INFANTRY DIVISION
The Beginning Of The End
22. Slow Blue(?) Danube And Fast Moving Action
Kircheim was located southeast of Stuttgart and the Division command post was set up there. As the bulk of the Allied power crushed them from the north and west, the enemy made desperate effort to escape the encirclement by fighting south and southeast.
Urach became the hub of resistance. The 10th Armored Division slashing through had left behind large bands of enemy. The disorganized Germans resisted and fought or hid, and then surrendered.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - APRIL 22, 1945 KIRCHEIM 3 NIGHTS
We arrived here late at night and it was too late to put anyone out in the cold (the Military Government officials make these hard decisions) so we stood around mad and frustrated freezing for an hour or so and then went and told a German family that they would have to move into their basement as we were going to use the house. It was a very nice (?) basement, but we did think that we heard some murmuring and complaining at times.
We slept that night and laid a line or two in town the next day while the officers were trying to figure how to cope with the faster movements and greater area we would have to cover. That evening the plan was set and Mr. TARDIFF (Warrant Officer) took several of the wire teams out to work on the German commercial wire circuits to put in a usable line to the leading regiment. This was a type of combined effort and process that none of us were familiar with and there was much duplication of effort and general confusion.
Sgt. JONES and his team were assigned to go ahead down the road the commercial telephone lines were following and to look for breaks in the wire and to repair them. We were never too sure just how close to combat action we might be, but were not overly concerned as we drove slowly along checking the overhead wire. The combat action found us before we found gainful employment. A mortar shell landed a hundred yards in front of the truck and off to the left side of the road, getting a lot of attention of the men on the back of the truck who in general may not have been as dedicated to the war effort as JONES and his driver, WILBUR ELLIS.
The alert members of the crew, ANANIA, TISCH, DORTMAN and Bill, were off the slow moving truck very quickly and did gain the attention of the others with a lot of yelling about "Fat Heads" and "Fools" until the truck was stopped.
The road was descending a hill into a rather narrow valley
where it intersected a railroad line and some additional communication
lines. The road began to climb again just after crossing the RR line.
The German mortar crew apparently could see the section of the road we
were on and part of the intersection, and had that area "zeroed in" for
firing. The safest cover seemed to be at the intersection in
a house that was there. We left the truck in the open field of fire
and ran to the house.
It was already occupied by a group of soldiers who had a Halftrack vehicle pulled up close behind the house. Everybody was in the basement hoping the Germans could only see the approaches to the house for effective firing.
After firing once more after we left the truck, the mortar squad must have decided they were saving their ammunition for personnel and the truck seemed to be safe as long was it was not approached by men. There was some comparing of experience and opinions among the two groups of men now in the house. The Halftrack men seemed to have been there for some time and had "found a home". They didn't even want to think about leaving until after dark which was several hours away.
Sgt. JONES, after a period of time, thought we should try to
make some kind of move but was not anxious to get out into the line of
fire to recover the truck.
Some time of inactivity, fear and general discussion was interrupted by the explosion of several mortar rounds on the approach road. It was not possible to see what was happening from our shelter in the basement of the building, Bill, followed by another man, started up the narrow dark stairs to have a look. There was a rush of activity on the ground floor of the building, and a very scared and excited young American officer pointing a 45 automatic pistol in front of him appeared at the top of the stairs looking down into the dark basement.
In the gloom of the stairwell was Bill wearing a green baseball type hat that looked a lot like a German soldier's garrison hat, particularly because it was adorned with a Nazi eagle and swastika on the front.
(Bill was very unmilitary in his dress and not any smarter than he should have been for survival). The officer had every reason to think he had run into an enemy and/or an idiot - fortunately he hesitated long enough before shooting to hear some glib remarks in reasonable English from Bill and his partner. His fear and anxiety turned to outrageous anger. "The Hat" and the skulking, but thankful wiremen, hurried by and up the stairs to see what all of the mortar activity had been, thus ending one of the most intense "Labor/Management" conferences of WWII.
The officer and his driver in a jeep had been approaching on the road and just after passing our abandoned truck, the mortar shells had begun to land on the road in front of them. They apparently had jumped out and had run down the road to safety just before a round had exploded near the jeep in a fan-like spray of shrapnel that had flattened all four tires - it was no wonder that they were scared and paranoid when they got to the house.
With the arrival of one enlisted man and one OFFICER, the basement became exceedingly crowded. The desire to recover our wire-truck and be "someplace else" became too urgent to resist.
Two members of our team left the shelter of the house and ran back up the road to the truck, and one of them who had never driven an army vehicle before, got the machine moving down the hill and into the cover of the reverse slope of the valley where the other men came out to it and we went on with our business of laying wire.
OUR MEN; TOM BROWN
I had a good friend named Bill Steiner in one of the 103d lin companies. In combat he was a killer. Once I asked him how many Germans he had killed. He answered with a straight face that he had eleven comfirmed. "Confirmed?" "What the heck does that mean?" "Well, confirmed is after I shoot 'em I see what they have in their pockets!!"
One day I saw him, and he was really depressed. When I asked what was troubling him, he said that he was afraid that his luck was going to run out, that he had been offered the job as Communication's Sergeant for the company, but didn't know anything about communications, except that it was a lot safer than being a platoon sergeant. I told him to take the job, that he was smart enough to figure out how things worked.
The next time I saw him the first thing he said to me was, "What are you trying to do to me, get me killed?" I didn't know what he was talking about and said so. He said, "I took that communictions job you advised me about, and I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. We got a new company commander and his line of march on the attack is first scout, second scout and then company commander, and I am always with the company commander! He's gonna get us both killed. I thought I was gonna get a nice safe job in the rear, and now I am out ahead of everybody!"
The story ends well. Bill Steiner's death premonition was false. He survived the war. I have lost touch with him.
Before I leave the Bill Steiner saga I have one more story to tell, which probably affected all of us. One day I was talking with Bill about the effect dead soldiers had on me. I said, "Dead Germans have absolutely no effect on me at all. I could sit on a dead German's chest and eat my lunch. However, when I see a dead GI it gets to me, but not like you think. I have strong guilt feelings. I look at the dead GI, and I don't feel sorry for him, or for his family, or girl friend. My thoughts are purely selfish! The first thing I think of is, that could be me lying there! And this thought makes me ashamed." Bill said, "Join the crowd. We all feel the same way. Everybody I have ever talked to has the same story, and everybody thought his feelings were unique."
(1995 Editor's note: There seems to be a very impersonal feelings about the dead German men we saw as we moved across the country. My memory of that period was that at times as I looked at the young, or not so young man lying there, I thought about the fact that perhaps his family would soon recieve the same type of notice that our American families would receive about a son, husband or brother - but perhaps they would never know.)
OUR MEN: REYNOLDS
At one time during the war, when we were in a rather confusing period, I was going to the house where our Message Center was located on a very dark night. I was almost there when out of the shadows a sentry put his MI in my belly and wanted the pass-word for the period. It happened so fast that I could not think of the word quickly. When I finally uttered the proper word "sail", the sentry said, "you better be quicker with the pass-word next time because I was about to shoot you!"
Another time, I was standing in a doorway when a sniper shot at me and I felt the bullet whiz by my head. A tank was on the street and had been looking for a sign from this sniper, it blew the room apart, needless to say there was no more sniping from him.
On April 24, 1945, the 103d Infantry Division made a change of zone of operations, that is, it moved laterally to take up a new position in the combat front. The division had been on the right side of the VIth Corps front heading generally south through Germany while still a few miles north of the Danube River.
The total division and its supporting units was moved in a
" Motor March" eastward into a section of Germany already occupied by elements
of the VIth CORPs who were now on the left side of the front.
The tactical purpose of this move was not apparent to most of us, but it was prelude to an important mission in the overall plan for the conclusion of the war and the elimination of a supposed scheme by the German high command to protect its leaders in a final defensive position, called NATIONAL REDOUBT.
The ragged remnants of the Wehrmacht and Volkssturm units continued to make their way to the ever constricting perimeter of the "redoubt area"--an area in southern Germany and western Austria which time proved to exist in last minute German propaganda and in the newspaper columns of many American military "experts".
The 103d division, the 10th Armored division and other elements of VIth Corps became an important force in a drive to link the Allied Forces fighting in Germany and western Europe with the Allied Forces that had been fighting in Italy for a longer time.
The start of the new drive south met fairly light resistance until the Danube river was approached,this was a natural defensive barrier of the Germans. The division was able to move up to the banks of the river by April 25, 1945 in the early morning of which, elements of the 409 regiment crossed in assault boats and secured a position some miles north of the city of Ulm.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - APRIL 25, 1945 GEISLINGEN 1 NIGHT
It was from this setup that we went out to lay Spiral Four cable up to the Danube river. This type of cable was ordinarily used by Army Corp Signal companies and it was another operation with which we had little experience. Most of the work was done at night and it was rather tiring and not too confidently done. After we had completed the job and had returned to the barn where we were staying, JONES and ELLIS had to go out and trouble shoot the line to make it work. There was lots of cannon rumble and activity during the night.
APRIL 26, 1945 DANUBE CROSSING - Our first look at the Danube told us that the "Blue Danube" of the famous waltz must be down the road a piece but it wasn't here. What we saw was a fast flowing green river about 40 yards wide.
The engineers were busy putting a combat bridge made up of rubber boats tied together and pushing and pulling it across the river, but the current was giving them a bad time and they were running behind schedule. There was a lot of pressure from the combat commanders to get the bridge completed so that support supplies and communication to the advancing troops on the far side could begin to flow. We were the men with the priority communications lines and a compromise action was started to get our lines and us across before the bridge would be completed.
The engineers helped us to temporarily secure the lines to the part of the bridge that had been completed and then used one of their boats to take JOHN ANANIA and BILL and the reels of wire across to the far shore and secure it in a position that would not interfere with the vital bridge building.
When the line had been secured and tested, the engineers came in a smaller assault boat and picked them up and carried them back to the rest of the wire team and the truck. It had been a very exciting and interesting morning of sailing.
To complete the wire communications link, we drove 10 miles or more down to the city of Ulm and crossed over a bridge that had not been destroyed and then drove back up to pick up the ends of our wire, secure it to the almost completed pontoon bridge, and then extended the wires into the wire-head board for connection to other lines.
By 25 April 1945, the division had moved to some small village a few miles north of the city of Ulm, and the Danube river. At that time I was a sergeant who had been assigned to the radio detachment of the lead infantry elements, and was at regimental headquarters ready to supply special radio communications for a newly created task force.
The rumor was that we were to cross the Danube the following morning, it sounded true because the artillery was going all night, both theirs and ours. A few landed in the field adjoining the farm house we were trying to rest in, but they didn't come any closer.
The following day, the infantry was finally able to cross the river and secure a landing position so that the engineers could put a pontoon bridge in place. It was the next day that the bulk of the task force (including our vital radio operating team) was able to cross the river, the Germans did not give up this good defensive position easily - the fairly open country that we would now be operating in would be to our advantage.
The assignment for this special group of fighting units was
to move south through the Bavarian region of Germany and to go as far and
as fast as possible. If it should become possible to neutralize (disarm)
the enemy units we encountered, that was to be our choice to maintain a
Our radio operating team in addition to the regimental team, was directly attached to the regimental commander. We had about four or five vehicles in our group, jeeps and weapons carriers. Our destination was some small village on the south bank of the river, however we went right through it following the advancing combat units.
Soon the whole force of the division was moving south. The attacking force was composed of the 409th and 411th regiments and support units. In motorized columns, moving in difficult terrain and mopping up an enemy that lost some of its spirit, they were able to cover 35-40 miles in one day. There were fights and resistance points, but many prisoners were taken or by-passed to following troops.
OUR MEN: WILK
On the highway we passed our infantry men going forward as part of the support of the advancing front. Some GIs had captured a few Krauts, and made them carry part of their equipment. More and more Germans passed us on the road, wanting to surrender to us to gain security in the chaotic condition of the rapid movements. We were too busy moving up, so we simply told them to keep on marching, some one would take care of them. We would see this same circumstance more and more often in the days to follow.
We passed a number of Frenchmen guarding POWs, they appeared
rather happy with their Job. One Frenchman told me he'd been waiting
a long time for this. Among those POWs were a group of Lithuanians
who had been put into uniforms and formed into some sort of labor gangs.
They kept apart from the Germans, and hoped for the best.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - APRIL 26, 1945 PFAFFENHOFFEN 1 NIGHT
We stayed in this town until early morning when we go up and left for the next set-up. Jones, RUDY DORTMAN and MATRICARDI spent part of the night out trying to make connection with a few girls that we had passed on the road. Some rascals from the Service company apparently beat them out of the adventure.
OUR MEN: BECK - APRIL 27 (Written in Innsbruck, Austria in
My mind jumps back to the time that COL. BROWN and I wound up ahead of the advancing troops. It was in Pfaffenoffen, Germany. The town was deserted except for a few "Anti-Nazis" who were too scared to even come up out of their cellars. The enemy had fallen back and our troops would be there in the morning. The communication was in and we found our selves rather free for a while. Nothing to do but wait for the troops to come up.
Naturally, the first thing to enter our heads was that we were hungry. Picking out the nicest (and the wholest) [sic] house in the burg we dropped our dirty equipment and sent two of the boys to kill a couple of chickens. In short order we had some fried chicken with gravy, some lettuce out of the Kraut garden and some choice wine out of the Nazi's cellar. What a feed!
While waiting for the chickens to get done someone reported that there were a couple of hundred Jerry soldiers a few towns in front of us. I felt "So what, there are Krauts all over the place." A Major who was with us said, "Let's go out and get 'em."... "I'll stay and watch the chickens."
"Hell no! Let's go!"...
About ten of us scrambled into a few jeeps and took off. I kept thinking about all that good chicken and the Major kept thinking about the Jerry soldiers.
"They'll be there tomorrow. Can't we go Kraut hunting tomorrow?"... "No. The chicken will taste better tonight."... "Nuts."
We entered the town that they were reported to have been in. It was quiet. Nothing happened as we rolled almost to the church in the center. Then suddenly a machine pistol opened up and we scattered.
"Did someone say that the Jerries were in a giving up mood?"... "Quiet." Oh, that chicken.
We fired from behind a blown building. It seemed so damned silly. The Germans were half scared to death. Most of us were bored. A couple of Krauts made a break for it. Then a few more. We fired into the crowd.
It dawned on me that we were actually cut off and the Jerries didn't even know it. Some more firing. How in the Hell did I get wound up in this circus. None of us were infantry men, but, on occasions it is necessary to act as such. This was a good act.
A couple of Nazis hit the dirt. They stayed there.
After a fashion the others decided to call it quits and came running up
with a white flag. Screwy war.
On our way back we dropped them off with some doughfeet who would, in turn, turn them over to a PW cage. That night I did have the chicken. And also, besides getting a little cleaned up I found the time to write you a letter.
The act just described may impress you as a foolish stunt. Tactically, it was far from it. We were all alone in a newly captured town. We were going to sleep that night and get some rest. We had no security should we be attacked during the night. By eliminating the evil beforehand, there was no worry to contend with it later on.
[1994 Andy Beck note: rear echelon?]
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
In the three days at Geislingen, two of our number, NOVOTNY and STAR, got caught up in railroading, using small powered RR cars that were plentiful at the bahnhof. It was said that they did some of their sightseeing in German-held territory. I suspect that wasn't an impossibility, because units of the 409th regiment were still moving into areas in the vicinity of the town on the 24th (according to East and Gleason 1986, the 409th Inf. in WWII. Battery Press p.138). In any case, at the time, I judged that sightseeing to be a kind of minesweeping the hard way.
Three days later, on the 27th of April, repair crossed the Danube River on a floating bridge (the river was a disappointing muddy yellow, not blue) on the way to Krumbach. The next day en route to Shongau, it seemed that Germans were surrendering to everyone, everywhere. Alfred Nixon had some 30 "captives" in his truck. It was an apparent ego trip for these rear echelon soldiers who had never fired a shot in anger.
OUR MEN: NANEY
Ergenbrechtswiller... that, some should remember, was a terrible mess. And then you crossed the Danube... what a memory. Things were moving pretty fast at that time and everyone was trying to keep up. Our Sgt. WILMER LEE was a good example of the one for advancement. He would go back and get wire when he was so tired he could hardly walk. Good man!
And I can remember the guys that policed the wire along the
side of the road. I was driving and saw the dead cow lying in the
road. So, I pulled around it. GLEN HILLIARD was policing the
wire and he ran into it. You could hear him scream for a mile.
Just some of it was funny... not much.
My stories are mixed, but I am thinking and writing at the same time; and I wonder if NELSON remembers the time we disassembled a German anti-aircraft shell and put it in a slit trench on a wire, then built a fire under it. Unfortunately it was under a large, a very large pine tree. And that was it.
23. Landsberg - Mein Kampf And "My God!"
The 103d Division, following elements of the special task force, continued to move southward toward Bavaria. The final goal of this movement was not generally known by OUR MEN, and perhaps many of our officer leaders. The first priority seemed to keep moving, keep pushing, and keep in touch with those tactical officers we were leaving behind.
The matter of communicating ahead and behind our special forces put the radio and wire teams to extreme tests of their ability to move and continue with their primary roles.
OUR MEN in message centers, there may have been several of them, "leap- frogging" over one another as they moved forward, all of the motor messengers, and the support and supply people - just grabbed a'hold and kept up as best they could.
OUR MEN JONES' BOYS - APRIL 27,
1945 KEMPTON 4 HOURS
We were moving fast at this stage of the game, but this place is only slightly important because MATRICADI and JOHN ANANIA picked up a couple of German officers out of a house and each of them got a pistol out of the deal. RUDY DORMAN, JOHN and MATRICARDI went down to CIC ( Combat Intelligence Command) with the captives and to pick up some ammunition for the pistols and the rest of the team took off for a ride to Ketterschwang.
At Landsberg the men of the 103d discovered six concentration camps where victims had died by the thousands of atrocities, starvation, and exposure.
OUR MEN: EVANS
We rolled into Landsberg, the city where Adolf Hitler had been imprisoned before his rise to power. While in prison here he wrote "Mein Kampf". In Landsberg prison was the cell suite where Hitler, Rudolph Hess, and Maurice Grebel were imprisoned after the abortive Munich beer hall putsch.
The place had become a national shrine. "Here a dishonorable system imprisoned Germany's greatest son from November 11, 1923 to December 20, 1924. During this time Adolf Hitler wrote the book of the National Socialist Revolu tion,"Mein Kampf", the blueprint for his future attempt to conquer all of Europe.
We had only been in Landsberg
for a few hours when word was received of a concentration camp on the outskirts
of town. Several of us drove out for a look.
All of the horror story writers in their most morbid states of mind could not describe what I saw in just a few minutes. --- Nor could photographers capture the scene with the best equipment.
Inside the electrically charged double fence were rows of huts built in the ground with only the roofs exposed. In these huts were crammed approximately 5,000 human beings although none could even be called beings, much less human in the condition in which we found them. They were starved until there was nothing left but skeletons covered with skin. Most of them could not possibly have been nourished back to life but the sadistic SS men who were in charge of the camp were not satisfied with that.
They packed all of the living ones into the huts and set fire to them, after removing all their clothing of course. Very methodical these Krauts.
Many were roasted alive. Others escaped from the huts only to be stopped by the electrically charged double fence.
Those who were too weak to move were clubbed and beaten to death on the ground. Many more were stacked like cord wood in a long deep pit. Untold numbers lay under the charred ruins of the filthy holes they lived in.
I had heard about concentration camps before but was always suspicious about the accuracy of the stories because everyone heard the story from someone who heard the story from someone else who read it somewhere or heard it from some other Joe. This time it was not hearsay. I saw it myself and will never be able to forget it.
It turned out that there were four or five other camps just like this one situated in a ring around Landsberg.
I made sketches to be included in a letter to a friend of mine "back home" in the evening of our first day at Landsberg. As we walked around, those scenes were burned into my memory (and soul). I could produce finer pictures now but these showed the truth and the horror best.
The next day we brought
the citizens of Landsberg (the men only, because we Americans were too
soft to ever think of showing the women anything like that) to the camps
to bury the grisly remains of those poor creatures.
The American guards would not let them move the bodies with their shovels. They were forced to pick them up with their hands and carry them respectfully to the mass grave that had been dug and to lay them gently in it.
The people of Landsberg professed to know nothing about the camps, but they knew. How could they not know?
It was impossible to put the finger on any one individual, except perhaps Adolf Hitler, and say that he was responsible for the whole thing. But it is too simplistic to lay it all on Hitler.
The people of Landsberg, like the people of all of Germany, idolized Hitler and condoned whatever he did for the glory of the Third Reich. They were all responsible.
Within a few days, photographs
of these camps were published throughout the world, but pictures speak
only to the eyes. The senses of smell, sound, and touch magnified
the horror a millionfold.
In Landsberg we were quartered in a house that had a baked enamel address plate, "2-1/3 Adolph Hitler Strasse". We unscrewed the address plate and fastened it to the door of our truck. It became our rolling address for the duration.
OUR MEN: FADER
And finally we entered Landsberg where many of us found that there was a purpose to the war. When we entered the town, which was inhabited, we were aware that the shutters on all the windows were closed. There were no people in the streets. We found out why.
Shortly after entering I went reconnoitering in a jeep with some others, who I cannot remember. On the road leading our of town we noticed fenced in areas with barbed wire. We drove to the gate and found that it was a work camp of Frenchmen. We broke the gate, told the inmates that the area was captured by Americans, and was told that there were other work camps along the road. There were separate ones for people of different nationalities. Then we noticed smoke in the distance. We rode further and found another camp, except this was different. The barracks, except for the sod-covered roofs, were below ground and they had been set on fire.
We broke the gate down,
broke open the doors to the barracks and found Lager No. 2--a forced labor
camp of Jews in striped uniforms in horrible condition. We offered
some rations we had, but didn't realize they could not digest the food.
One of the men who seemed in fair condition said to me in Yiddish, "I don't
want food, I want a gun to go after the SS." He told us that the
SS troops had just left. So quickly back to town where we informed
headquarters and the relief parties took over.
This explained the closed shutters and empty streets. The people of Landsberg knew of these camps and were afraid of what might happen to them. We were told to search the houses. In each one I went into the woman of the house (with children in some of them) immediately protested, "Nicht Nazi", but in the closets we found uniforms with swastikas on the sleeves. Since we were to stay in Landsberg for a day or two, we went exploring and found the jail where Hitler was imprisoned in 1923 and where he wrote Mein Kampf. His cell was more like a room in a 3-star hotel. It was fairly large, comfortable bed, desk, large windows, though barred.
Not what I would compare to a forced labor camp barracks.
OUR MEN: SHEWARD
I can never forget the two concentration camps I saw or the unbelievable condition of those who survived their stay in them. Some nut was on "60 Minutes" recently saying that the Holocaust never happened and that Hitler was a much maligned man. He should have been there.
(Editor's note - 1995: After all of these years and after all that has been written and shown on televison about the Holocaust and the crimes committed by the Nazi Germans, at our convention in Chicago there were people from the Chicago Tribune looking for veterans who could give a 'first-hand' account of their experience in concentration camps as we moved forward during the war. There was still efforts being made to deny the truth of these outrageous atrocities. Andy Evans and some others were certainly able to help establish the truth of the history in our area of operations.)
OUR MEN: EVANS
There was a bridge across the swift waters of the Lech River and a few miles straight ahead was Munich. It looked to us like we would beat old "Blood and Guts" Patton to Munich for sure, but then it blew up in our faces, --- literally.
The Germans blew the bridge and that ended any thoughts about Munich. Those of us near the head of the column walked up to the still smoking bridge for a look. It was a hopelessly crumpled mass of steel girders. As we started back, there was a rifle shot from one of the buildings across the river. No one was hit but a G.I. saw where the shot came from and answered with a few rounds of tracers from a machine gun. Then tracers started lacing back and forth across the river as it quickly developed into a brisk fire fight.
I dove down between some railroad tracks and flattened myself against the ties.I turned my head slightly and saw a tight mesh of tracer fire overhead and the realization that for every tracer there were four other bullets that left no visible path made me glad that we wore O.D. underwear.
There was a shout relayed back down the street, "Bring up the tanks!"
The tanks came, turned left along the river, swung their turrets toward the buildings on the other side and moved slowly down the road firing as fast as their 75 mm guns would permit. In less than five minutes, everything was quiet again.
I peeked up over the rails and then ran for cover, but there was no need to run. The Kraut guns on the other side of the river had been thoroughly silenced.
(1995 Editor's note: It is interesting note that it was a division of the 7th Army, the 45th Infantry Division, that did complete the drive into Munich and in the process helped liberate the very first concentration camp created by the Nazis, DACHAU!
The majority of the men
of the 103d division were transfered to the 45th before being sent home,
and had a chance to visit Dachau. For a time SMITTY and some others
of the Radio Repair Group were station there.)
24. Cold Alps, The Storm Before The Calm
By dusk April 27, the task force reached the town of Schoengau, 30 kilometers south of Landsberg. At this period, the Division liberated thousands of Russian, Polish, French, and Yugoslav slave laborers who had been laboring for two to three years in German homes, factories and farms.
Soon the whole force of the division was moving south. The attacking force was composed of the 409th and 411th regiments and support units. In motorized columns, moving in difficult terrain and mopping up an enemy that lost some of its spirit, they were able to cover 35-40 miles in one day. There were fights and resistance points, but many prisoners were taken or by-passed to following troops. The sustained march of more than two-hundred miles to the south in less than ten days placed an unprecedented strain on services of supply. Nevertheless, careful planning and anticipated requirements were so adequate that at no time were military operations retarded because of supply deficiency.
The foot soldiers may not have been aware of how well off they were.
While the race went on, many nights for the doughs were periods of long fatigue from riding--actually from riding. The GIs in motor columns cooked incessantly on squad burners set on the hoods of jeeps and trucks, or just on the road way or bare ground. A column moved in jerks. Sometimes it sat on the road for two hours. Sometimes it moved for three. Sometimes it just sat.
As long as the GIs were on the move and not fighting, they could appreciate almost any uncomfortable, but not life-threatening situation.
MONTHLY REPORT OF ADMINISTRATION AND SUPPLY ACTIVITIES
103D DIVISION SIGNAL COMPANY - APRIL 1945 (Cont'd)
Our trucks were required to travel as far as one hundred (100) miles in some instances. Due to the rapidity of movement, all Class II and IV supplies were dispensed with.
By retaining the company supply of winter clothing,
such as shoe-pacs, linings to the combat jacket, hoods, etc., signal personnel
were well protected against the elements of the cold weather encountered
as the advance entered the Bavarian Alps.
With the procurement of a captured enemy four-wheeled trailer, the supply section was able to carry more gasoline. Prior to this acquisi tion, five hundred (500) gallons was the top load. Now the company gas dump has a capacity of one thousand (1,000) gallons.
By utilizing two separate mess teams, all signal personnel were assured a hot meal. One mess team was kept well forward to feed the advance signal group, while the other mess team took care of the balance of the company.
The company is now required to carry two days hard rations on hand at all times. This requirement was met by issuing six (6) units of K rations to each officer and enlisted man. Whenever units were consumed, the individual reported it to his section supply non-com who consolidated his section's requests and turned the request into the mess sergeant.
Maximum use was made of beer taverns, hotel dining rooms, and local restaurants for the location of the mess. Personnel were seated at tables and chairs and really enjoyed their meals.
(1993 Note from Harold Rorem: "I don't really remember this
gracious dining. Could it have been a figment of Capt. Beck's imagination,
or maybe he was the only one to eat like that." Evans:" Perhaps Captain
Beck was thinking only of the Headquarters men. Most of the Signal
Company men were in far ranging wire and radio teams or on the road as
messengers. We never experienced the luxury of
real mess-hall meal ...and we got our K Rations, (not always three a day) by raiding
Quartermaster supplies whenever we could.
A number of captured enemy vehicles and trailers were added to the company transportation facilities. These vehicles greatly aided the movement of the company. Practically no shuttling was necessary during the month.
In general, the motor maintenance of the vehicles suffered as a result of the frequent moves. In some instances the motor section could not operate upon pulling into an area. As soon as they arrived in a locality, they were required to depart for the next one. However, only one (1) vehicle remained deadlined at the end of the month. There were eleven (11) 6,000 mile inspections and thirty-nine (39) 1,000 mile.
(1995 Editor's note: The matter of "gracious dining" has been discussed at various times recently and it is possible that a relatively small number of men clustered about the various CPs set up during this period may have had the benefit of this level of dining. I don't believe the majority of the company spread far and wide in the operating area ever experienced it.)
The most interesting dining facility I remember was from an earlier time. We were in a drafty building, perhaps a barn, and were eating off the top of coffins - the type seen in Dracula Movies. There were a few empty coffins leaning against the walls. After 2 or 3 meals, our "need to know" led us to clear the dining equipment off the top of the coffins. Each of them contained a body, just waiting for a quite time to be buried.
OUR MEN: JONES' BOYS - APRIL 27, 1945 KETTERSCHWANG 1 NIGHT
On our way down here, we passed a lot of places that our leaders considered as sites for a Command Post, but the 10th Armored division and our troops were moving too fast so we had to move up each time after a brief pause, to be sure that going on was better than stopping. We saw a lot of German soldiers walking around in the open country in a daze looking for someone who would take the time to capture them. In one town we passed a six-man gallows that the local folks (all Germans) had built for hanging SS men. We knew they had hung at least one of them because they were cutting him down when we passed.
We were the first Americans in this town because it had been bypassed by the fast advancing elements of the Task-force we were following. Some of the German soldiers here came out to surrender to us. None of them had pistols so they were most unwelcome and we had to move on. Some French men who had been work prisoners of the folks whose house we took over milked the cows for us and pulled KP and helped us clean up - good deal.
The boys we had left behind caught up to us that night and in the morning we were ready to move out together.
By April 27, 1945, a spear head task force composed of a battalion of the 409th, part of the 781 Tank Destroyers (using self propelled cannons), the 614th Tank Destroyers (using open half-track vehicles and towing 75mm cannons), 824th Recon. Troop, and the 83rd Chemical Mortar battalion (these 81mm mortars were used as very mobile and close support artillery) had reached Schoengau, 30 miles south of Landsberg.
OUR MEN: WILK
We finally came upon an armored reconnaissance detachment sitting a few hundred yards outside a group of houses. They told us they had been fired on and one man had been wounded. We waited until one of our jeeps made a round trip into the village without finding any enemy forces still there. We bypassed this village and went on to the next one where advanced elements and the regimental commander had set up a C.P. There were many messages to be enciphered and sent to division headquarters to keep them posted on the progress of the forces, and of course there were incoming messages and orders that needed to be deciphered and passed on to the commanders.
One message gave the locations of certain advanced elements attached to this special effort. When the colonel saw those, he couldn't believe it. It seemed they were much too far ahead. After we received confirmation of the positions of his troops, he just shook his head in amazement - those troops out front were really moving aggressively forward!
Later in the evening an armored column passed us on its way to reinforce the leading elements of the drive. Sometime during the middle of the night, we began to move again. We would only stop occasionally for an hour or so when a temporary C.P. was set up.
Our little group, consisting of about three jeeps and weapons carriers, moved fairly rapidly. We were not equipped for fighting necessarily, but for movement and communications. We didn't know whether the roads had been mined or not, and to worry about it didn't do any good so we just went on being as observant and cautious as possible.
Somewhere ahead of us we knew there were Germans - between
us and them there was an armored task force of our troops. That protection
might not be on the same road or actually between us and the enemy, but
we felt somewhat secure. Behind us, motorized infantry (soldiers
hanging all over trucks or anything else moving forward at a pace faster
than a walk) were moving up to fill the gaps left by the faster moving
armored infantry we hoped was ahead of us.
We ran into companies and battalions of Wehrmacht, who marched by us with their hands over their heads with someone in the front rank carrying a white flag. Most of these groups had been bypassed by the forward elements of our task force and realized that their position behind our lines was impossible of changing and seeing the overwhelming force against them just gave up to their weariness and discouragement. They would come out of the woods where they had probably dumped all of their arms.
As a sign of their surrender, they usually abandoned the steel helmets that were so characteristic of the German soldier since the first world war, and would be wearing soft uniform hats. Somewhere it must be written that any soldier of any army must wear a hat when outdoors!
We motioned them back toward our advancing infantry - never thinking that even those forces would probably bypass them. Maybe they would just eventually sit down and wait for someone to take notice of them and take them prisoners and feed them, etc.
We kept moving, through open country, into and out of villages with white flags of surrender hanging out of the houses and some people standing mutely in the streets. Occasionally there would be a group of former PWs that the Germans had taken years before and sent them into this area as enforced labor-they were always over-joyed to see us.
The Bavarians were standing outside their houses merely watching us pass by. Once in a while they tried to smile, and one woman made a little girl wave, something we didn't pay any attention to.
The people who were really happy were all the former POWs and displaced persons. They would stand along the road and yell and cheer us with laughing faces. At times they would applaud us, as if we finished a superb performance. Some who apparently had been in the army at one time,saluted every vehicle passing by.
At one place in the open country, our tanks had run into and over a German supply column. The road was littered with parts of vehicles, supplies, and bodies. It looked quite messy. We made a little detour, trying not to run over too many bodies and carried on.
SWINDELLS had been on the radio for some time trying his best. After a couple of hours, he got so disgusted with not being able to raise any one that he took off his headsets, threw them down, and began to swear something awful. No sleep for several days, the tension of our situation, and the frustration for all of us was taking its toll. I took over, and he half collapsed and fell asleep, totally exhausted.
We finally entered the little town of Schongau where a short rest and reorganiza tion stop was taken. The medics came and picked up one of the fellows who had been wounded in the strafing attack.
There were important messages to be cleared to division.
Our radio set was the only link between our little command group and the
division headquarters and the other American forces. We had a difficult
task - using radio equipment that under normal conditions would cover about
thirty miles, we were trying to cover about seventy miles from operating
positions that could not be chosen for best results.
After a while the Task Force S-3 (Intelligence Officer) crawled into our vehicle to inquire about our success. I just looked at him and shook my head and said, "Can't get through, those other guys must all be asleep or have forgotten about us". We were really mad at the people sitting back there who didn't have the foresight to put a radio relay set into a good position to make communication with this advancing front possible. As a minimum measure, there should have been special instructions to units behind us and closer to headquarters to listen for us and to help relay vital information.
We were the spearhead of the Seventh Army, as a matter of fact
of the Sixth Army Group on an important tactical operation of the
Allied effort on the western front, and certainly deserved some consideration.
Finally we succeeded in contacting another of the regimental stations (410th) which was in contact with the division's more powerful radio van. I got together all of my messages which I had previously enciphered;, and began to send them.
The interference and the atmospherics were so bad I had to send the coded groups four or five time, sometimes more often. After a long time all the messages were sent. When I told the intelligence officer (S/3) who was accompanying the group that the division now knew what our position and status was, he thanked me, and for the first time smiled a bit.
The next day we moved into a house for a brief time. The occupants weren't happy about it. One time they complained about our using their kitchen and china-ware. We told them they should be happy they were allowed to occupy part of the house, because under the official rules of occupation, Germans were not permitted to live in the same house with Americans. After that, they kept quiet.
We didn't stay there long. Soon we were out in our vehicle, waiting to move again. While sitting on the street, we saw a CIC agent spotting a German on a bicycle. Apparently he had been looking for this German because he checked his papers, and asked him several questions. All of a sudden the agent began to slap the German and yell at him. We then found out that this German was some party-man for whom they had been looking. He had tried to escape, using forged papers, but it didn't work.
We were now in the Bavarian Alps. The country was beautiful, except for the fact that we somehow kept looking for snipers. At first, in the hills, it wasn't so bad, we kept creeping along following closely behind the advancing infantry .
On we moved, right through the mountains. The road was winding around and around, and the mountains on each side were getting bigger and bigger. Every so often we would come to a guard who stopped us. Now we came upon a guard who said that further down, and covering the road, was an enemy machine gun or other defense in use on one side of the mountains. Vehicles would be dispatched singly, and the run was made at top speed. While we waited our turn, the machine gunner opened fire on one of the vehicles trying to make the hazardous run.
While we watched, one of the 10th Armored Division M-8 armored
cannons silently swung its turret around, aimed and fired. Only a
few of us saw this preparation. The others, however, among them
a couple of Captains, thought we were being fired upon and dove into the
ditch along the road. After we'd informed them of the facts, they came
up again. One of the Captains complained, "Why doesn't some one tell
me about these things!"
The cannon kept firing, and finally silenced the machine gun. On we moved with the now mobile column.
OUR MEN: JONES, BOYS - APRIL 29,1945 STEIGADEN 1 NIGHT
We arrived here in the afternoon and the Wire-head leaders were mad at us for having created a work slow down. After receiving some verbal abuse, we went out to lay a line. We stayed in a nice house next to Sgt. BARBY and his wire-team, all nice guys. It snowed a bit and the mountain were a lot closer. We all started looking for our winter clothing.
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