Into Central Germany: Wizleben
At the next town, Wizleben, Co. G and Co. F took an infantryman's nightmare in stride -- an assault on a town across 900 yards of open terrain raked by murderous enemy automatic fire. Lt. Col. Henry Benson, 2nd Battalion commander, later said that it was one of the most perfectly coordinated assaults he had ever witnessed. A magnificent display of guts," was the way the colonel described the combat action. "I didn't see one man hang back. There wasn't one moment of hesitation as Co. G charged the town."
Wizleben looked like an ordinary small German hamlet on the tactical maps, but as leading elements of the 2nd Battalion approached it in their drive east to cut off remnants of Nazis troops It encountered unexpected resistance. Co. E was held up by heavy artillery and automatic weapons fire. During the six hours that Co. E was held there no movement was possible. Machine guns from the town and 20mm fire from the woods on the company's right made any sort of maneuver costly. Snipers were leisurely picking off the men who were vainly trying to find cover. Pfc. George Short made several long dashes from one end of the company to the. other to bring a machine gun and ammunition which succeeded in increasing the mortality rate of the troublesome snipers. Pfc. Thomas G. Ryan, firing his BAR at extreme range, put a 20mm out of action which was inflicting many casualties on the company. The elimination of these two hazards made it possible for the company to withdraw, reorganize and join the assault on Wizleben as reserve company.
Co. G occupying the neighboring town of Wullersleben, was called upon to seize Wizleben by force. A half mile of open terrain with little or no cover from automatic crossfire of burp guns and machine guns faced Co. G as it emerged from the woods above the town. Without a , moment's hesitation the 1st and 3rd platoons, with the 2nd platoon in close support, charged I down the hill with bayonets fixed in the face of enemy grazing fire. Co. F joined the assault on the right flank,
Despite the fact that its company commander and all three of its rifle platoon leaders were wounded, the company continued across the open field in leaps and bounds until the town had been entered. The cease fire order was given and the town occupied at 1930.
The toll for Co. G was seven killed in action and 21 wounded including Capt. John W. Otterbein, the company commander. A later check of the battlefield revealed that the Germans had been well dug in with their automatic weapons placed where they could have perfect crossfire and frontal fire.
Over 400 rounds of light and medium artillery had been fired into the town in preparation for the assault. This was credited with holding in check a Mark IV Tiger tank and several smaller enemy tanks spotted in the region. The Regiment lost two tanks earlier in the afternoon to 75mm shells which Co. G was helping Co. E in its efforts to enter the town. When the two tanks ' were hit they were in a mass formation of five attempting to give support to the 2nd Battalion. ! Smoke was laid by Cannon Co., which had forward observation on hand, and the undamaged tanks and survivors of the knocked-out tanks were enabled to withdraw without further casualties. Later the same team directed fire which knocked out the anti-tank guns and crew, neutralized 120mm mortars near Wizleben and to a great extent destroyed the town. One German 20mm AA gun failed to open up and its entire crew was captured. Co. E lost three killed and 17 wounded, including the company commander, Capt. Marvin Hanson.
Pfc. Richard F. Warner of Co. G, who was pinned down momentarily in a ditch by enemy fire, took off to a position about 50 yards from a foxhole from which a burp gun was operating. His own weapon had been shot to pieces so he took a rifle and some hand grenades from one of i his dead buddies. Deliberately exposing himself to locate the German's position, he knocked i the gun out with one grenade.
Among the first over the top from the 2nd platoon of Co. G were S/Sgt. Clay H. Grady and Pfc. Charles B. Johnson. Their fearlessness was credited with giving courage to the other men. i Johnson was on the receiving end of a freak shot which went through the side of his helmet, lopped off part of his ear and went out through the back of his helmet. Despite his wound, he continued to urge his men on. T/Sgt. Eugene E. Leach was instrumental in getting two machine guns into action on the company's left flank when he took command of the platoon after its leader was wounded. T/Sgt. Dale E. Spencer dragged five wounded men into a ditch. Pvt. Glen R. Barth, a medic, got a bullet wound in the arm and through the side while giving first aid. Despite his wounds, he supervised Pvt. Floyd E. Klinger in dressing wounds. Pfc. Clyde H. Sneed and Pfc. William Abell worked all night helping to set up an aid station and carrying dead and wounded from the field.
The 3rd Battalion was also heading over the Gera River that day. At 0900 they entered Dosdorf and encountered no resistance. Espenfeld and Danhein were also taken without a fight. When a platoon of Co. M, led by Lt. Fred P. Pipkin, neared Wullersleben they were checked temporarily by heavy mortar and self-propelled fire. During the bombardment Pipkin worked his unit into the town. He got his vehicles under cover, reorganized and continued the attack. As the shell fire slackened, enemy sniper fire began. Pipkin formed a group to search out the snipers. When the rocket launcher ammunition of this group was almost exhausted he left a protected position and ran through the area covered by snipers to get more ammunition. As he came out in the open again from the supply point, an artillery shell exploded nearby and killed him instantly.
During the bombardment of Wullersleben by the enemy, Battalion communications became critical. S/Sgt. Leonard O. Hogen of 3rd Battalion Hq Co., Battalion radio chief, who was directing radio operations, discovered that interference made reception impossible. Along with a radio operator, Pfc. Phillip L. Lavan, he moved to an exposed position suitable for radio operations. When the radio went out of order completely they remained at their hazardous post and quickly repaired the set.
As the 3rd Battalion tried to enter some woods southwest of Wizleben they ran into more resistance. At 1525 they were subjected to heavy small arms and artillery fire. By 1900 they had seized the woods and had pushed on to the eastern edge of some woods southeast of Wizleben.
At 0800 the next morning the 1st Battalion was instructed to advance through the woods east of Osthausen to help the 2nd Battalion of the 355th Infantry take Kranichfeld. At 1400 they reached Kranichfeld and received heavy enemy mortar and artillery fire. The 2nd Battalion moved on to the east, meeting little resistance until they approached Thangelstadt. There the enemy held up the Battalion with machine gun fire while they withdrew under a cover of smoke. The Battalion entered Thangelstadt and bivouacked there for the night.
The 3rd Battalion moved to Dlenstedt. There Co. L was shelled and subjected to machine gun fire as they crossed an open field approaching the town of Ellichleben. Co. L took the town. Meanwhile, in Dienstedt, two Germans PWs were picked up. In the interrogation they were found to be artillerymen. In the fight for Rittersdorf Brig. Gen. John Robinson, assistant Division commander, was with Co. L in the action. The General captured a prisoner and commended Co. L on its action. The enemy was pushed back to high ground north or Treppendorf.
Late in the afternoon the Battalion entered Rittersdorf. A "tea party" -- as all afternoon shellings by the enemy came to be called - then ensued. Moderate casualties were suffered including the CO of Cannon Co., Capt. Aleck C. Gaylor, and Sgt. Carthell B. Atkins of Co. M.
Cpl. Albert M. Zack, a medic with Co. K, was in a relatively safe spot with his platoon. But when he heard calls for aid from other units which had become separated from their aid men, Zack left his shelter, went out under the shelling and attended several casualties. Giving rapid first aid, he evacuated several wounded men who might otherwise have remained unattended until the shelling ceased.
Co. M's mortars and machine guns were active all afternoon and until late in the evening, answering counter battery fire. A mortar section and a litter team of medics were captured in an ambush by the Germans as they approached Treppendorf to aid Co. L. The 14 men put up stiff resistance against great odds and killed and wounded a number of enemy before they were captured. Several of the men were wounded. Lt. Edward F. Burns of the medics was also captured at this time.
Back at Rittersdorf several more prisoners had been taken, all artillerymen, who made it quite evident during the shelling by their language and gestures that they were chauffeurs and had never fired a shot at anybody. They divulged important information during the shelling when it seemed to them that they were going to be shot as Hq men led them to the safety of a wall. They went down on their knees and began pulling out pictures of the frau and the lieblings, as well as the kinder, in order to get pity. The Americans tried to explain that they were safe but the Germans kept pulling out yards of rosary. Finally they were locked in a cellar for the night. By 2300 the enemy had withdrawn from his positions on the high ground north of Treppendorf and the Battalion bivouacked at Rittersdorf.
The Regimental CP was at Kranichfeld that night. The 353rd Infantry relieved the Regiment at daylight on April 13. At Kranichfeld Lt. Col. Kenneth Pughe, Regimental Executive Officer, left the outfit to become commanding officer of Division Rear. At the next CP, Blankenhain, Col. Pug he was replaced by Lt. Col. William Burton, who had been in command of the 3rd Battalion. Maj. Elmer J. Ricker, formerly Col. Burton's Executive Officer, took command of the Battalion with Capt. William W. Sleeper as Executive. At Blankenhain Maj. Richard A. Gaskins, Regimental S-2, also left to go to the hospital. For the next four days the Regiment operated without an S-2 with T/Sgt. Edgar C. Boehnke, Intelligence Sergeant, taking over the work.
The Regiment was recommitted on April 15 with the Regimental CP located in a castle near Stenau. Elements of the 6th Cavalry were operating in the Regiment's forward area. The 1st Battalion moved forward to Weida, reached the town at 1815. They cleared Weida in the face of light enemy artillery fire and bivouacked there. The 3rd Battalion passed through several towns and ended up at Standoff where they had another afternoon tea party given by some 120mm German mortars. Ammunition supply and communications were brought up under fire. During the night the Battalion S-4, Lt. Joseph F. Arrack, bringing up rations, entered several towns which had not been liberated, but the rations were delivered early in the morning. The Battalion then reverted to Regimental reserve, replacing the 2nd Battalion which had moved to Nidernollnitz during the day. The Regimental CP advanced to Bunkersdorf.
On April 16 the 1st Battalion kicked off at 0700 and by 1000 Co. B had reached Berga. There they found a blown bridge covered by small arms fire. Forty-five minutes later the company worked its way into Berga. A ford across the river was in operation by 1100. Passing through Wernsdorf and Zickra, the Battalion reached Sorge-Settendorf at 1540. At 1700 they received enemy artillery fire in the vicinity of the town. During the night strong patrols were sent to the east. Eighteen prisoners were taken.
The 2nd Battalion returned to action by taking Untergeissendorf, Eula, Tschirma, Waltersdorf and Lehna. As the Battalion moved east beyond Waltersdorf and Lehna they received enemy automatic weapons fire from the woods to the south and southeast. At 1950 the Battalion entered Kleinreinsdorf. The 3rd Battalion, in reserve, moved into the vicinity of Sorge-Settendorf where the Regimental CP was located.