The Rhine: The Reserve Companies Go Over
Co B, which had been in reserve during the river crossing, completed its crossing at 1430 and prepared to move into Wellmich. The 1st and 2nd platoons were sent in to clear the town of any remaining Germans. A few were still there but a couple of bursts from BARs brought them out hands over head. After the town was cleared the company pushed east to consolidate their gains with the rest of the Battalion about five kilometers from the river. By 2200 they had reached the town of Weyer and by 2330 had cleared it and taken 47 prisoners.
Shortly after 1100 Co. G, the 2nd Battalion's reserve, set out for the opposite shore. With the 1st 2nd platoons leading the way, they made ten yards into the stream safely and then the Germans opened up with everything they had from the steep hills rising from the east bank A steady stream of machine gun slugs spat at the first two boats from a hilltop position commanding the river crossing while 20mm shells whooshed and plopped into the water from equally effective vantage points. The water churned with bullets.
S/Sgt. John Kenosian, seeing the head of one of his men nearly torn off by a fusillade, urged his boat forward by organizing the rowers to count cadence. Four of Kenosian's men were I wounded, in addition to the one fatality. The sergeant's M-1 was splintered and, as his boat hit the beach, he grabbed a BAR and led his men on.
The situation in the boats was a curious melee of curses, prayers and cadence-counting of "stroke" as the men paddled for their lives for the opposite shore. Machine gun and artillery fire supporting the Regiment combined with German bad marksmanship, helped keep down the number of casualties. As it was Co. G lost three men killed and 13 wounded in the crossing. The first squad of the 3rd platoon escaped without a casualty despite the fact that the boat was shattered by seven bullets and settled to the bottom of the Rhine right off the eastern shore.
"The outstanding fact about the crossing," Co. G's commander, Capt. John W. Otterbein, said afterwards, "was the courage of the men under fire. Despite the fact that they could see what was happening to their comrades, the succeeding waves of men pushed their boats into the water with clocklike precision. There was not a moment's hesitation on the part of any man. That, to my mind, is heroic."
In the CP boat, Capt. Otterbein, Lt. Harry M. Wilson and 1st Sgt. Earl Whitten all pulled oars during the daylight crossing. A man had to have plenty of rank to rate a paddle in that boat. One of the weapons platoon boats reached the middle of the river before the 20mm flak opened up. Then five out of ten men were wounded. The back end was knocked out of the boat and one mortar with 56 rounds of ammunition was sent to the bottom of the river. In the other boat carrying the weapons platoon no one was hit until they reached the east bank of the Rhine. Then they found themselves under murderous fire. Six out of nine men in the boat were wounded. The platoon leader, Lt. Carl Lundy, was shot in the foot. Ignoring his wound, Lt. Lundy assisted one of his injured gunners to safety.
Two Co. G medics did outstanding work on the east bank. TIS Russell Regenold landed in a boat that suffered no casualties but he saw another boat further downstream badly hit by machine gun, mortar and 20mm fire. He rushed to meet the boat and administered aid to all the wounded, carried them to the shelter of nearby buildings and prepared them for evacuation, all while under intense enemy fire. He then returned to the fire swept bank and attended to the other casualties of his company and nearby units. TIS Jack E. Schunk started administering aid as soon as he reached the east bank. With tireless energy and determination he cared for the wounded and assisted in the establishment of a temporary aid station from where he continued treatment and evacuation although still under enemy fire. As the last boat of Co. G completed the Rhine crossing the company quickly reorganized under sniper fire and pushed on.
Shortly after noon an air mission was called for to knock out AA guns on the right flank which had been sinking boats in the 2nd Battalion zone. By 1345 the planes had succeeded in knocking out many enemy installations. The 3rd Battalion mission was to prepare for an assault crossing on the right of the 2nd Battalion or to follow in the path of the other two Battalions, whichever made the best progress. The Battalion staff was on reconnaissance all afternoon. It was a death race with the sniper's bullets chasing the jeeps up the bald faced cliffs on the west side of the river. While Col. Burton issued his orders, mortar fire fell within the courtyard of the castle where the OP was set up. Occasional sniper fire whined across the paths and the area around the Battalion CP The company commanders crossed this area by infiltration, one at a time. Two hundred prisoners were captured during the day. Altogether two officers and 21 enlisted men were killed, one officer and 60 enlisted men were wounded and one officer and 78 enlisted men were missing.
The crossings were supported by the anti-tank and Cannon Coso as well as Co. B of the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 341st Field Artillery. The 1st platoon of Anti-tank supported the 2nd Battalion while the 2nd and 3rd platoons supported the 1st Battalion. Three bazooka teams from AT under the direction of T/Sgt. LeRoy K Colvin accompanied the 1st Battalion to the breakwater directly opposite its objective, Wellmich. The 2nd platoon opened fire at 0215 when enemy machine gun fire swept the bank directly beneath its position. It continued to fire until 0430 when Capt. Daniel A. Hughes, AT Co. withdrew his guns from their exposed position at the edge of the cliffs on the Rhine bank and pulled them back to Werdau. AT Co. Backs Up 1st Battalion At 0700 Capt. Hughes asked Lt. Col. Thomas G. Davidson, commanding the 1st Battalion, if his guns could be of any additional use in aiding the Battalion's crossing which was still meeting stiff opposition from enemy machine gun fire in the town of Erenthal, slightly below Wellmich. Col. Davidson asked Capt. Hughes to bring his guns to bear on the town and do what he could to clear out the machine gun nests. Capt. Hughes pulled his 2nd and 3rd platoons out of their original positions and moved them further up along the cliff giving them more direct lines of fire at ranges varying from 1,000 to 1,500 yards. With Capt. Hughes and Lt. Carlos Moore and Lt. Richard Burns directing fire, shell after shell hurtled across the river. They smashed into buildings housing the machine guns, setting some aflame and tearing big holes in the others. In one instance Sgt. Charles Young spotted a hand reaching out to close a shutter. As soon as Cpl. Walter Giles was given the target designation he sent one round right through the specified shutter. The guns continued firing for two and a half hours. When they ceased firing complete silence reigned on the other side.
Just as the AT crews were withdrawing their guns from the cliffs the company was asked to provide some men to cross the Rhine and lay wire with the Regimental Wire Section crew. Ten minutes later men from the 1st platoon were sliding down the slope right before the eyes of enemy observers. As they crawled into a tunnel on the shore they were told that only four of the group would go across at 0700 with members of the regular Wire Section, some of whom had just stepped out of a boat forced back by machine gun fire. Pfc. Van H. Maraman, Pfc. Paul E. Mullennix, Pfc. Dean E. Cludy and Pfc. Ralph W. Dyer crossed the Rhine with the wire layers without drawing fire. They carried with them the first wire to set up communications between ~ both sides of the Rhine. They had barely begun to lay wire on the other side when an enemy machine gun opened fire on them and stopped their work Capt. Charles J. Hill, Regimental Communications Officer, asked the four AT men to cover him while he tried to sneak up on the machine gun. They covered him and Capt. Hill crept close enough to toss a few hand grenades into the nest, knocking out the machine gun and its crew.
Capt. Hill and his wire crew had made two previous attempts to lay wire across the river. When shore to shore communication was established on this third try, he found that he was unable to establish direct contact with the assault elements because of a lack of Battalion wire facilities. To provide the forward elements with effective artillery support and to provide Regimental Headquarters with as much information as possible, he established himself as a forward observer, making quick transmissions directly to the Regimental CP Another wireman, S/Sgt. Mark R. Gates of Hq Co., 2nd Battalion, was ordered to bring two assault boats down the Rhine three quarters of a mile to a point where wire communications were to be laid to the CPs of the 1st and 2nd Battalions. He had gone about 100 yards when the enemy began covering that sector of the river with heavy 20mm and machine gun fire. At the risk of his life he continued his mission and reached his destination at the appointed time, making possible the establishment of communications.
The commanding officers of both the assault Battalions were decorated with a Bronze Star Medal for their work in leading their groups in the Rhine crossing. "Showing courage, energy, great resolution and excellent tactical judgment," read the citation of Lt. Col. Thomas G. Davidson, 1st Battalion CO, "he pushed the attack of his Battalion in the face of heavy fire (and a swift and treacherous current. Despite severe losses, his Battalion established a beachhead east of the river leading to the prompt defeat of enemy resistance in that area."
The citation of Lt. Col. Henry K Benson, CO of the 2nd Battalion, pointed to his determination, resourcefulness and coolness under fire at a critical time when initial attempts to cross the river were repulsed with heavy losses.
Maj. Gen. Thomas D. Finley, Division Commanding General, issued the following memorandum on the river crossing: "At 0200,26 March, the division began its crossing of the Rhine in assault boats manned by men of the 1st Battalion, 353rd Infantry, and 1st and 2nd Battalions, 354th Infantry. By nightfall of the same day eight infantry battalions were across the river. The attack was splendidly supported by our artillery and other weapons. Our engineers assisted Corps engineers in the dangerous work of handling boats and rafts. Our medical men were close behind the fighting troops. The Germans strongly defended the river bank and the leading waves were met by fire from machine guns, 20mm antiaircraft and artillery. Losses were heavy but there was no faltering. The boats went on and our troops landed and attacked the enemy wherever they found him. Many of these officers and men were under fire for the first time and all were new to battle. Their behavior showed the highest type of courage. "In this crossing the staff work and the performance of all the service elements was excellent.