Central Europe: Beginning of the End

As 3rd Battalion, 355th, prepared to join with tanks in an assault on the ancient city, Gotha surrendered. More than a thousand prisoners and large quantities of supplied were captured. The tank-infantry team at this time was fifty miles ahead of all adjacent troops and the force was ordered to wait until the rest of the Division had secured the autobahn and cleared Eisenach. Supply trucks operating over the extended communications line were forced to run a perilous gantlet of strafing by German planes and several vehicles, including a truck hauling gasoline, were knocked out. CT movements took a line running from Henningsleben through Wiegleben to Westhausen. This located the Division near the so-called Werra River Line, and launched the drive to the Saale River. These and other small rivers afforded the Germans natural defense barriers, but they chose instead to fall back through the dense Thuringian Forest, using it as an escape route. Much of the heaviest fighting took place there. As this offense developed, it became evident that the Wehrmacht in central Germany was finished as an effective fighting force. Hitler's much-vaunted inner core was largely defenseless, without air, armor or first-class troops. In some places SS troops held out stubbornly. More often civilians flew the while flag from their houses and PWs surrendered by the hundreds as Third Army armor and infantry teams ripped deep into the bleeding heart of the defeated Reich.

Earliest opposition was stiffest in CT 3's zone. Attacking Fortha to clear the approach to Eisenach, the 3rd Battalion, 353rd, clashed with a pocket of 300 SS men and stragglers, meeting heavy small arms, Panzerfausts and automatic weapons fire, but cleared the town by 1700, April 5. On the left, CT 4 advanced more rapidly against light opposition to reach the vicinity of Wangenheim. The 1st Battalion moved to Wagenleben. Isolated German planes were active in the Division forward area, strafing bridges and supply columns on the superhighway.

The 353rd's 1st and 2nd Battalions, closely supported by the 340th Field Artillery, resumed the attack on Eisenach, a city of 60,000. Little resistance was met and several nearby towns were cleared. The following day, F and G companies of the 2nd advanced to heights overlooking Eisenach and pushed to within a thousand yards of the city when word came through that the city was about to surrender. However, when moving into the outskirts, the companies were ambushed by machine-gun and small arms fire and were immediately ordered to halt.

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