134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
By Major General Butler B. Miltonberger, Former Commanding Officer, 134th Infantry Regiment
and Major James A. Huston, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois
. . . attacked through a factory area toward Buer.
So long as blood shall warm our veins,
While for the sword one hand remains,
One arm to bear a gun - no more
Shall foot of foeman tread thy shore!
Dear Fatherland, no fear be thine,
Firm stands thy guard along the Rhine.
- Max Schneckenburger,
The Watch on the Rhine.
(Trans. by John R. Thompson)
The magnitude of the offensive smothered resistance all along the Western Front. The shattered condition of the German transport system and the sustained speed of Allied advance prevented the enemy from coordinating a defensive line in any sector. He did offer bitter resistance at isolated points but these were by-passed by the armored columns, leaving pockets to be mopped up later.
- General George C. Marshall,
Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff, 1943 - 1945.
With the hope of achieving a break-out on the plains of northern Germany, General Eisenhower had decided that the main effort in crossing the Rhine should be made north of the Ruhr, that is, in the area of Field Marshall Sir Bernard L. Montgomerys Northern (21st) Group of Armies. In a great windfall of the war, however, troops of General Courtney Hodges First Army (the 9th Armored Division) had seized intact the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, and before the main effort could be mounted in the north, First Army already had developed a bridgehead 25 miles long and 10 miles deep, and its three corps were ready to strike out. This major threat to the Germans in that region south of the Ruhr lent a considerable assurance of success to the big attack of the British, Canadian, and U.S. Ninth Armies in the north (in Operation PLUNDER) when the great air fleets of the First Allied Airborne Army and the waves of boats - operated mostly by naval personnel - began crossing the great barrier early on 24 March, 1945. (General Patton had about stolen the show again when, without air or artillery preparation, the XII Corps of his Third Army had made a surprise crossing of the Rhine the night before - 22, 23 March - in the vicinity of Oppenheim, south of Mainz.)
At a meeting at the Regimental C.P. that morning Colonel Boatsman reported the progress of the operation and announced plans for the Regiments participation in it. Two British corps had attacked at midnight, and Commandos were now taking Wesel. At 0200 the 30th (U.S.) Division had begun crossing at three sites in the area south of Wesel, and by 0400 six battalions were across, and now they had penetrated to a depth of 2,000 yards. An hour later troops of the 79th Division had begun crossing some distance to the right (south) of the 30th, and by 0400 it had three battalions across and likewise had achieved a penetration of 2,000 yards. Opposition had been surprisingly light.
A quartering party left with Captain Lysle Abbott in mid-morning to reconnoiter an assembly area near Rheinberg, and the Regiment was alerted to be prepared to move on 30 minutes notice after 1700. (Earlier plans had contemplated use of the 35th Division to exploit a breakthrough no earlier than D plus 4.) Later orders indicated that there would be no movement toward the bridgehead until the next day.
With the formation of Task Force Miltonberger that next afternoon (25 March), the former regimental commander had one further opportunity to direct the combat of his old command. (His S-3 was Major Harlan B. Heffelfinger.) Attached to the 79th Division for the operation, the task force included, in addition to the 134th Infantry, the 161st and 127th Field Artillery Battalions; Company A, 784th Tank Battalion; Company A, 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company A, 60th Engineer Battalion, and Company A, 110th Medical Battalion.
The crossing site (near Rheinberg) had the appearance of Omaha Beach. There were barrage balloons, and busy aircraft, and engineers at work maintaining roadways, and supply trucks moving about. Soon after arrival of the Regiment in the Rheinberg area, where the line companies detrucked, orders came for an immediate crossing of the river. Night was falling as the 3rd, 1st, 2nd Battalions marched across the great pontoon "Love" bridge at "Blue" beach (commanders had preceded the foot troops in order to make reconnaissance), and even the night sky assumed a look similar to that of the first night in Normandy when airplanes of the Luftwaffe exchanged colorful streams of tracers with anti-aircraft guns near the bridge.
Completion of plans, coordination with units of 153rd Infantry (79th Division), issuance of orders in all echelons, movement into position - all these consumed most of the night, but the battalions, the 3rd on the right and the 2nd on the left, jumped off on time at 0800. Line of departure was the front of the 315th Infantry, and after that area had been cleared, the 79th Division turned generally southeast to protect the right flank of the XVI Corps. Although the Regiment was going into the industrial Ruhr region, this first days attack was mainly through patches of woods. Opposition - primarily from direct fire of 20mm and larger caliber SP guns - was somewhat more pronounced in front of the 3rd Battalion, and these same centers of resistance held up to a similar pace the 2nd Battalions right - G Company. Company E, however, advanced rapidly from the first. Further delay came to the 3rd Battalion when its attached tanks bogged down in the mud of an autobahn roadbed which was under construction. (Tanks attached to the 1st Battalion, in reserve, were sent forward to the 3rd.) By 1430, both battalions were on the task force objective, and the 3rd Battalion had seized a bridge intact over the Schwartzer creek. A total of 98 prisoners, mostly from the German 116th Panzer Grenadier Division and 180th Infantry Division, were taken during the day. As a warning against desertion they had an order from Hitler: "Whoever becomes separated from his unit and does not report to the nearest officer will be shot."
With arrival of the remainder of the 35th Division east of the river, Task Force Miltonberger was dissolved at 1800, and CT 134 reverted to division control. The 137th Infantry came into the line on the right, and the two regiments prepared to launch a coordinated attack at 0600 on the 27th.
As far as the 134th was concerned, there was something of a shift in emphasis in enemy opposition. Woods were even more prominent in the terrain now, and it was deep within the timberland that the 3rd Battalion met its first center of resistance. A vigorous fire fight on the part of Company I eliminated that, and by 0900 the battalion, after an advance of about 3,500 yards from the line of departure, had debauched from the woods (Forst Wesel) to arrive at the first phase line, designated "Able." A major problem here was the resupply of ammunition to replace that expended in the woods. Spring had come to the Ruhr on time, and winters snows were gone, but thaw and spring rains had made the trails through the woods impassable for any wheeled vehicles. Once again M-29 carriers (weasels) provided the solution until an alternate route could be found. This done, Company K moved up abreast of Company I to follow a parallel route on the left toward new objectives - another 3,000 yards to the east - by 1450.
It was in front of the 2nd Battalion that opposition - still characterized by direct-fire cannon and anti-aircraft guns - developed strongest. When the 3rd Battalion forged ahead on the right, the possibility of an enveloping action against the right flank suggested itself. Men of E Company mounted attached tanks and TDs, and, swinging down through the zone of the 3rd Battalion, hit the rear of the enemy positions. This assisted toward some advance, but in the afternoon new troubles appeared. First there were a pair of German tanks camouflaged as haystacks, and when they withdrew, assault guns, supplemented by mortars and small arms, took their place. Now that battalion was deployed on a two-company front, with F on the right and E on the left, and G closely following E.
Visiting the regimental C.P. at 1500, the division commander ordered the Regiment to reach phase line "Uncle" (a railway cutting across the front) by night. At this point the 3rd Battalion was at least 1,200 yards from that goal - with some threat of counterattack, and the 2nd was nearer 4,000 yards away. To accomplish this mission it would mean for the 2nd Battalion a greater advance in two hours (and there were no immediate signs of any diminishing trend in opposition) than had been battered out the whole day. Colonel McDannel committed his reserve company (G) on the left and shifted E somewhat to the right in order to bring all possible firepower against the enemy.
A new potential threat appeared shortly after General Baade issued his order for continuation of the attack. The 137th Infantry had been having considerable difficulty advancing along the autobahn (Hitlers super highway) on the right, and, as a result of the 3rd Battalions rapid advance, an important gap in depth now existed between the forward elements of the two regiments. A call from the 137th at 1520 warned that a group of about 75 enemy infantrymen had been flushed out, and were withdrawing to the northeast - toward the rear of the 3rd Battalion.
As darkness threatened to overtake the whole operation, Colonel Boatsman decided to shift his troops in a final effort to reach the objective. He committed Major Davis 1st Battalion, in reserve so far, on the right, with a mission of maintaining contact with the 137th - which required a considerable extension of that battalion; and he directed Colonel Wood to renew the attack to the northeast with the 3rd Battalion - into the zone of the 2nd. The 2nd Battalion had gained another kilometer by 1700, and then orders came to halt the attack at 1800. Confidant that, with these dispositions, the Regiment could reach the objective, and convinced that it would be an easier task to accomplish now than after the enemy had been given further opportunity for consolidation, the regimental commander asked permission to continue the attack after dark. On resumption of the attack at 2000, one of the Tanks of Company E was knocked out, and there still was 20mm and SP gun fire. But a platoon of Company K attained a patch of woods near the railway, and then other elements of the 3rd Battalion moved up to occupy the objective before midnight.
Attacks during the next day (28 March) were aimed at clearing pockets of resistance which remained in front of the 2nd and 1st Battalions. With the 2nd advancing again on the left, the 3rd now turned back toward the southeast as Company I attempted to neutralize some of the serious opposition which had developed in front of the 1st, but it was unable to cross the railroad. Areas of opposition which were proving so troublesome for the 137th were becoming thorns in the side of the 134th, and it was fire from that area (around Bottrop) that was giving the 1st Battalion much of its difficulty.
It doubtless would be hard for most infantrymen to say which was the more eerie experience, an attack at night through enemy-infested woods, or an attack at night through the streets of a large enemy city. Men of the 134th Infantry had an opportunity to make such a comparison in the Ruhr. First major urban objective for the Regiment in the urban Ruhr area was the city of Gladbeck (peace time population: 61,000), and at 2100 that same night long columns of the 3rd and 2nd Battalions moved down through a railway overpass, and then out into "no-mans" land over the blacktop highway. A few aroused Germans delayed the advance with some small arms fire, and the difficulty of restoring control in the leading companies after a night fire fight delayed it some more, but well before morning both battalions were in good positions in the smaller section of the city which lay to the west of the first main railway. With renewal of the attack at 1530 the following afternoon (29 March) groups of enemy defenders - mostly from the German 190th Division - still tried to delay advance into the heart of the city. Automatic weapons fire from a group of buildings halted Company I, and pinned down the support platoon, and then, following the old pattern, mortars began to work over the pinned-down men. Pfc. Joe M. Kelley of Arizona, with Virgle E. Lockwood of Missouri and Gene F. Fletcher of Oklahoma following to cover him, moved out toward the strong point. Using the partial cover of a ditch, Kelley got within less than 25 yards of the enemy-occupied house and then began throwing hand grenades. All three men charged the house and brought out three enemy soldiers in addition to two who were wounded. Some fanatical old men and young boys, members of a Volksturm unit, put up some vigorous, but ineffective fighting, as the battalion marched on through the heart of the bomb-damaged city.
About three kilometers to the east of Gladbeck lay Buer, a city of about 100,000, and it was next for the 134th Infantry - with an attacking force of about 1,200. Again with the 3rd Battalion on the right, and the 2nd on the left, the Regiment jumped off at 0700 (30 March). Defenses were of the same nature as those which had been encountered previously - islands of resistance, but no well-coordinated defensive line. Here at least units could apply the technique of maneuver against flanks, and employment of bases of fire to cover movement in the manner with which they had familiarized themselves in pre-combat training. In the 3rd Battalion Lt. Warren Hodges I Company made a wide swing to the right, through a factory area, while L Company, with K close behind, advanced generally along the main road. At 0820, with the battalion half way to its goal, small arms fire held up Company L, but, once that was overcome, it continued rapidly to the outskirts of Buer, overrunning five emplaced 128mm anti-aircraft guns (and capturing their crews - members of the 4th and 7th Flak Divisions) in the process. But then there was further small arms fire. A strong point in the vicinity of the town hall was reduced with the assistance of fire from supporting tanks and TDs, but advance could continue only with the greatest difficulty. At about this time, as Colonel Wood was going forward to confer with Captain Brigandi of Company L on what measures might contribute to an early completion of the task at hand, Pfc. Henry Alonzo of the L Company light machine gun section, come running up to the company commander.
"I wanna get outa this rear echelon outfit," he said.
With some hesitation and a great deal of reluctance, Captain Brigandi consented to a change. "All right, you are now a member of 1st Platoon; thats your platoon sergeant right over there."
But already Alonzo was racing up the streets of Buer completely unmindful of shooting about him. He dashed into a building which seemed to be a center of activity, and mounting a stairway, he found himself at the doorway of a room where three Germans were near the window firing into the streets. He made short work of them - he got two with rifle shots, and the third with his bayonet. He emerged shortly with seven prisoners, returned them to his company, and then was on his way through the streets again.
Company I, after a lightning advance on the right, already was sitting on its objective in the southwest section of the city. Company L now moved on to the east side (and found Alonzo sleeping peacefully near some dead German officers beside a bullet-riddled Nazi command car!), and Company K began mopping up the south-central districts. One platoon almost found itself ambushed, but the sergeant, Walter E. Janken of Illinois, sensed something strange in the quiet situation, and he called for his men to halt just before the enemy opened up with bazooka, burp guns, and rifles. This brought on a prolonged fight for K Company when a group of Nazis, defending themselves in a building by the Hugo Mine, refused to give it up. Lt. Tom Parris, company commander, mounted a German motorcycle and led a platoon of tanks to the scene, and that resolved the conflict.
In its advance the 2nd Battalion still was meeting considerable resistance, and the opposing fire became more intense in the afternoon as the battalion approached Buer and began to clear out the northern half of the city. It was 2000 before it could reach the east side, and even then gun fire and small arms fire continued. Total prisoners for the day was approaching the 200 mark.
At 1830 the 1st Battalion, relieved of its mission of protecting the right flank, passed through the 3rd Battalion to seize a suburb about a kilometer to the east of Buer. Activity within Buer continued sporadically throughout the night. At 2245 newly commissioned Lt. Thomas Patrick Ryan of Company L and his platoon were reported missing. Capt. Brigandi sent out small patrols all during the night with no results. At 0747 Lieutenant Ryan, a bullet hole through his helmet (and a minor wound in his scalp), reported to his company commander with his platoon intact, and with 15 German prisoners. A skirmish broke out at 0145 near a hospital in I Companys area, and its principal result was the surrender of 15 more Nazis.
Continuing its position as the right assault battalion when the Regiment renewed its attack at 0700 (31 March), the 1st Battalion advanced through a small settlement to the east of Buer at 0900, and then through the sizeable town of Buer-Resse at 1100. As one looked across the landscape here, he could see a general similarity to the great Gary-Chicago industrial districts. Results of the heavy bomber attacks for which the Ruhr had been a favorite target were strikingly evident here and there, but the destruction had been far from complete. Indeed, men could see factory chimneys smoking to the south even as they advanced. But, in spite of the industrial character of the region, green meadows, attractive gardens, and trim woods broke the pattern of factories and collieries and contiguous buildings. This contrast impressed the men of the 1st Battalion as they left Buer-Resse. Company C took a large castle (complete with moat and lagoon) and its attractive grounds, while Companies A and B were advancing through the great wooded Ewald estate. But as they went into the city again, now Herten, direct fire from self-propelled guns and small arms stopped the advance through the streets. As the first of the supporting tanks entered the town, it was hit by bazooka fire and disabled, and when members of the crew left the tank, all except the platoon leader, Lt. Stanley V. Trick, were hit. Disregarding the heavy fire, Lt. Trick applied first aid to his men and dragged them, one by one, to a place of comparative safety. This done, he noticed an infantryman who had suffered the loss of a leg lying in the open. The tank lieutenant went to him, made a tourniquet from his belt, and dragged him to safety.
The 2nd Battalion likewise had a stretch of woods to cross in reaching Westerholt, but it did so rapidly, and, without the disadvantage of any strong resistance, arrived in the vicinity of Disteln. Here there was something of an impediment to progress as elements of the 8th Armored Division passed across the front and then continued to the northeast, but there was some comfort in knowing that an armored division was moving out in that direction. At 1700 the 2nd Battalion turned to the southeast to advance along the road designated as phase line "Dothan" (the division operations memorandum had designated other phase lines in this operation with such familiar names to the 35th Division as "Omaha," "Topeka," "Pasadena," and "St. Louis"), to Backum, and, continuing the attack after night fall, cleared the area around the Schlagel U. Eisen Mine shafts 1 and 2 and the town of Stuckenbusch. Once more direct gunfire greeted the arrival to a new position. The 3rd Battalion had remained in reserve at Buer, but late in the day moved to Westerholt preparatory to passing through the 2nd.
Easter morning seemed an inappropriate time for warfare, but was there such a time as could be called appropriate? At an hour when, in time of peace, many men now soldiers had attended Easter sunrise church services, men of the 134th Infantry prepared for a new attack. (The 75th Division, having relieved the 8th Armored, now was attacking on the left.) After moving out at 0700, the 1st Battalion concerned itself immediately with further wooded areas (east of Herten), and then the Ewald Mine, shaft 5. Here Colonel Boatsman ordered the 1st Battalion to swing to the north, into the zone of the 3rd. There was a strong defensive position in the vicinity of the main road, Stuckenbusch Strasse, southwest of Recklinghausen, but, that broken, the 1st Battalion moved rapidly through the area of General Blumenthal Mine, shaft 5 and the big slag pile around shafts 2, 6, and 7, then past a slaughter-house, through sports grounds and the great railway repair shops, and through Berghausen, by 1720, and Rollinghausen, 35 minutes later.
In order to take advantage of the early morning haze in launching an attack against the positions which had been so troublesome for the 2nd Battalion, Colonel Wood asked permission to move up the time of attack for 3rd Battalion to 0630. That granted, the men of 3rd Battalion marched out of Westerholt at 0445 in order to get to the area of departure at Stuckenbusch in time for the attack. Jeeps carried the heavy weapons as far as Backum. First objective for the battalion was Hochlar, but it was to be prepared to continue the attack to the northeast toward the major city of Recklinghausen. In the face of intense machine gun and mortar fire from the vicinity of the railroad just east of Stuckenbusch, Companies I and K fought their way forward. They were well through Hochlar at 0830, and, with a regimental order to go for Recklinghausen, the sizable task of mopping up Hochlar was left to L Company while the others moved out to the open, gently sloping ground toward Recklinghausen. A city of about 87,000, Recklinghausen was an important communication center and a center of Nazi activity. But, as the 3rd Battalion troops fought toward it, they encountered for the first time what seemed to be a coordinated defense line. (Actually it was a part of the same line of resistance which was holding up the 1st Battalions attack on the right.) Heavy concentrations of fire - including at least 500 rounds of time, percussion, and white phosphorous fired in successive volleys of battalion strength by the 161st Field Artillery - and determined movement forward - broke the defense line. Observers reported the withdrawal of enemy troops and two horse-drawn guns. Colonel Schuster, commander of the 161st, happened to be at the 3rd Battalion O.P. at the time, and he called for heavy artillery concentrations which practically turned the withdrawal into a rout. During the preceding night, the artillery had poured over 4,000 rounds into the Recklinghausen area, and, since H-hour, time on target fires of three to four battalions had been falling on the city every 15 minutes. Supporting tanks and tank destroyers moved up, and Company I made a wide swing to the right to go into the city from the south (along Herner Strasse), while K, with L following, moved in from the southwest. Before 1300 the companies had reached the streets following the course of the wall which once had surrounded the old city. A Mark IV tank still was burning in the square. A captured German officer attributed the fall of the city to "an excellent executed attack; artillery followed closely by infantry and tanks."
There yet remained large built-up areas along the right of the zone. Colonel Boatsman called upon Lt. John F. Tracys Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon to clear out Aufder-Haide. There was some harassing mortar and artillery fire, but the civilians were far from uncooperative; children even collected and turned over abandoned German weapons.
At 1540 the 2nd Battalion was committed on the right of the 1st with the mission of establishing contact with the 137th Infantry. Further pockets of resistance denied this contact, however, until later in the operation.
In addition to the score of wounded Germans which had been found in hospitals, 147 prisoners were added to the previous days total of 137.
That same day the Regiment received the news that units of the First and Ninth Armies had linked up near Lippstadt to complete what General Marshall called "the largest pocket of envelopment in the history of warfare." Now cut off from the outside, there remained within the Ruhr 300,000 soldiers of German Army Groups B and H.
While the 3rd Battalion remained in reserve at Recklinghausen the next day (and the chaplain had an opportunity to hold church services a day late), the main direction of the Regiments attack turned generally south-southeast toward the Rhine-Herne Canal. Actually the objective included two parallel canals. The smaller Emscher Canal (the northern one in the Regiments zone) crossed the Rhine-Herne near the left boundary of the left (1st) battalion. The Reichs Autobahn also crossed the major canal near the left boundary. Company F came under heavy fire as it went into Poppinghausen, and it soon discovered that any movement was the signal for another enemy barrage. Company E deployed on the left of F to contain a woods in the center of the zone, and G advanced along the left. After the artillery forward observer got into position where he could adjust accurately on the intervening enemy emplacements, he was able to silence four enemy guns with time fire and white phosphorous. Thereafter the battalion, and , concurrently, the 1st Battalion, moved to the objective along the main canal.
Relieved that night by elements of the 75th Division, the Regiment assembled 3 April, in Herten and Buer-Resse, as division reserve - only to go back into the line the next day when the 3rd Battalion relieved a battalion of the 320th (in Buer Erle and the Emscher Bruch woods east thereof) and the 2nd Battalion relieved a battalion of the 137th (on the left or east, of the 3rd) to give the Regiment a defensive role in the center of the divisions sector along the canal.
Tactically, these days in the defensive were confined pretty largely to coordination of fires, night reconnaissance patrols across the canal, and motorized security patrols through the rear areas. But problems arose in this great center of population which only had been suggested before. Some 6,000 displaced persons - French, Italian, Belgian, Dutch . . . - had been found in Moeller coal mine near Gladbeck; another 5,000 had been found in another mine; and most of the DPs - they had been brought into Germany as forced laborers - were suffering from malnutrition. There were problems of keeping civil activities going, of screening Nazi officials, of investigating information concerning enemy activity - problems which could not await the arrival of military government teams because of their bearing on the requirements of maintaining a military organization in a sea of a dense enemy population. Fortunately, the civilian population showed little inclination toward resistance, but the magnitude of its numbers made more pressing the other problems. This meant much work for the civil affairs officer attached to the Regiment, Captain Martin, in trying to keep the most basic municipal machinery operating until such times as regular teams could arrive. It meant busy days for Lt. Theodore Teimer and his attached IPW team in interrogating groups of prisoners being captured in numbers approaching those of August in France, and busy times for the S-2 in trying to coordinate intelligence activities and make something of the mass of reports. A typical day for Joseph P. Tolli, a special agent of the Counter-intelligence Corps, included conferences with Major Godwin (S-2), clearing two curfew violators at the prisoner of war enclosure, arresting a local Volksturm commander, interrogating four line crossers from Buer-Resse, arresting one Hilmut Romberg of Essen as a security threat, searching for a Gestapo agent from Buer Erle, investigating the mayor of Westerholt and recommending a change there. But these staffs of specialists could not begin to meet, alone, all the problems demanding immediate attention. Provisional groups were formed to work with the battalion S-2 sections. A notable example of the activities of some of these people is to be found in the work of Pfc. George T. Mertens, a man who had gone to Battalion Headquarters from M Company. In Buer, Mertens had gone out on his own, late at night, while skirmishes still were going on, to investigate the house of a high ranking Nazi official; he had returned with valuable rosters and documents as well as a number of small arms. Again in Recklinghausen he had undertaken a night mission following the capture of the city - he had gone with a civilian to a bunker a thousand yards east of his battalions position, and there he had found 15 soldiers and 50 civilians in hiding. In Buer Erle, Mertens discovered a secret underground passage in a mine which led to a large cache of weapons and ammunition; he was responsible for the capture of the Nazi official formerly in charge of the area concentration camp, together with complete rosters of storm troopers and Volksturm in the area; his inquiries led to the discovery of a large stock of foodstuffs which was turned over to the food control commission.
With the 1st Battalions relief of the 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry, on 6 April, the Regiment had all three battalions on the line (right to left: 1st, 3rd, 2nd). The 1st Battalion lost one company temporarily, however, when C Company went to Letkampshof to guard the corps C.P.
The Ruhr pocket now completely encircled, units of the First Army, to the south, and of the Ninth Army, to the north (and Lt. Gen. Leonard T. Gerows Fifteenth Army had become operational to hold the west of the pocket), had begun attacking toward the Ruhr River, and toward each other. The 79th Division (on the right, or west, of the 35th) launched an attack across the canal on 7 April, while the 134th held its position and "attacked by fire." The 35th Divisions turn came two days later.
Heavy machine gun and tank destroyer fire preceded the 3rd Battalions attack for canal crossings, but K Company, on the right, was unable to cross the debris of a fallen railway bridge in its sector when it developed that improvised materials would not span the gap, and intense fire broke out from the buildings opposite. Company L was crossing near a destroyed road bridge. Leading squads were able to make their way across the debris in the first, minor, canal in the darkness, and then Sergeant Keith B. Dowell of California, squad leader, swam across the major canal, overcame two German guards on the other side, and seized a boat which his squad used to cross and which later the platoon used to improvise a foot bridge. Colonel Wood shifted K Company to follow L across at that site.
Meanwhile the 1st Battalion was executing a brilliant enveloping maneuver. Crossing a bridge in the zone of the 79th Division, far to the right, the 1st Battalion advanced rapidly to the east-northeast, and before 1000 hours Company A came into the rear of the enemy facing Company K and captured the whole lot.
Orders at 1115 to continue the attack brought a renewal of the advance against scattered opposition, and the completion of an advance of five kilometers which netted another 134 prisoners. After being relieved by the 35th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, the 2nd Battalion crossed the canal and assembled as reserve north of Gelsenkirchen.
Little serious opposition developed the next day as the 2nd Battalion cleared Gelsenkirchen (population 313,000) and guarded the rear areas, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions continued their advance through Rottbruch, Riemke, Hofstede, Eickel, Rohlinghausen, Ecelbruch. Nor was there anything more than scattered resistance as those battalions passed through the 313th Infantry (79th Division) and advanced south from Bochum (population 303,000) 11 April, and continued southward through Weitmar, Weitmar-Mark, Neuling Haarl, Weitmar Holz, Sundern, Brockhausen, Stiepel, and reached positions on the scenic, garden-spotted heights overlooking the Ruhr River. Artillery observers had another "field day" late in the afternoon against widespread enemy activity south of the river - and there were some German replies in kind.
There did remain, however, one very irksome pocket of resistance north of the river - in a pocket formed by a bend in the stream along the right boundary of the zone. Its elimination became the 1st Battalions task as it attacked at 0700 (12 April), against a group of fanatical paratroopers. A daylong attack - and after darkness until 2300 - made little gain. On the contrary, the stubborn Nazis launched a counterattack at 0300.
After a sudden concentration of bazooka fire, German riflemen, with the support of their inevitable machine guns, began moving toward a house occupied by men of A Company. Corporal Russel H. Pedigo of Michigan and Pfc. William H. Bean of Illinois, on guard near the door, stood their ground, and returned the fire. But, in the determined action to gain time for the men inside, both were killed. Lt. Vernon L. Rottman of Colorado, platoon leader, saw the silhouettes of about 30 approaching enemy. He dispersed the men, armed only with rifles, throughout the first floor. Germans would fire a rocket to tear a hole through the wall, and then pour machine gun fire through the opening. Privates First Class Ralph Porter and Tony Anton, both of Ohio, were knocked unconscious by the concussion, but came to and resumed their firing positions. Falling plaster clogged the M-1 rifles so badly that they had to be operated by hand. Nevertheless, the defenders turned the bazooka holes into loopholes and kept up their fire. With the coming of daylight they called for artillery fire, and that broke up the attack. The 1st Battalion followed up with another attack of its own at 0530, B on the right, and A on the left. A platoon of C Company cleared the Dahlhauser Tiefbau Mine. After another all-day effort, the battalion finally was able to clear out the pocket. Already, during the afternoon, the 3rd Battalion had been relieved by the 315th Infantry (79th Division), and the 2nd Battalion - with Anti-tank Company attached - had been relieved of its security mission by other elements of the 79th Division (the Regiment was attached to that division for the days operations while the remainder of the 35th was moving to the east) and of the 17th Airborne Division. Now, its mission in the Ruhr accomplished, the 134th Combat Team prepared to move by motor to catch up with the war which had moved far to the east during these operations in the pocket.
Leading vehicles of the first serial (3rd Battalion, with Anti-tank Company attached) crossed the IP north of Bochum at 0600 (14 April). Other units followed in the order: 2nd Battalion, with Cannon Company and one platoon of Company A, 60th Engineers attached; 1st Battalion, with Service Company attached; 161st Field Artillery, with Company A, 110th Medical Battalion attached. It was after 0800 hours when the tail of the column passed the IP. The trucks moved along the broad express highway, the Autobahn, for a short distance, but then followed a route which generally paralleled it on the south. Across the Weser River on the crowded pontoon bridge at Hameln, on through the once beautiful but now ruined city of Hildesheim, the column was approaching the area, south of Peine, where it was supposed to meet its advance billeting party. Guides, however, directed the Regiment farther to the east. "We have run off the map, sir," Sergeant Shearer reported to the commander, but at each important road junction there would be a new guide - from Division Headquarters Company, or the cavalry troop, or the TD battalion. Finally, well beyond Braunschweig, the Combat Team arrived at its assigned assembly area east of Oebisfelde Kaltendorf (the Regimental C.P. opened at Bosdorf). A distance of 231 miles from Bochum, it was a new record for the Regiment for a one-day move (actually it was 0400 before some elements - notably two kitchens of the 3rd Battalion which had turned over - arrived in the new area). The Elbe River was hardly 30 miles away. Even that distance was to be overcome shortly.
Another new chapter in military operations was added to the annals of the 134th Infantry the next day when it made a tactical move by motor to the Elbe. Already the 30th Division, on the right, had reached the river north of Magdeburg (it seemed that the 35th Division might be ending combat as it had begun it at St. Lo - in the XIX Corps, with the 30th Division on the right), and, south of Magdeburg, the 2nd and 5th Armored Divisions had established bridgeheads across the river, only to lose them, but the 83rd Division still held to one (and the 320th Infantry was sent down to reinforce it). Moreover, the 137th Infantry, on the left, had been able to reach the Elbe with little difficulty. But a major potential trouble spot in the zone of the 134th was a large forest area.
At 0800 the Combat Team began advancing in three motorized columns - the 3rd Battalion on the right, the 1st in the center, the 2nd on the left. Only scattered groups of enemy were encountered, and these could be handled by the points of the columns, and busy jeep patrols rounded up scores of prisoners on the flanks (a total of 132 were taken during the day). There was a little delay when the right and center columns came out to a good highway and a large artillery range and ordnance proving grounds which were not shown on the map (at one point here, leading elements of the 1st Battalion noticed a strange motor column crossing its route, and proceeded with caution to discover that it was the tail of its own column; - it was a turn-around dictated by the terrain.)
Colonel McDannels 2nd Battalion motored directly to its objective in the vicinity of Ringfurth. Then the 3rd Battalion moved into the area on the right with K and L, at Kehnert and Sandfurth respectively, on the river, I, in depth at Bertingen, and Headquarters at Utz. The 1st Battalion occupied Zibberick and Mahlwinkel (where Regimental C.P. opened at 1600), and reverted to reserve.
In the advance to the river the Regiment had overrun a German motor park and captured large amounts of enemy equipment. Added to that captured or destroyed during the subsequent days, this included such items, for example, as 145 trucks, 35 automobiles, 26 motorcycles, 4 tanks, 2 self-propelled guns, 9 half-tracks, 16 anti-aircraft guns, 5 artillery pieces, 300 machine guns, 8 searchlights, 3 range finders, 30 electric generators, 80 field radios.
Originally there was no corps restraining line, and, in view of the bridgeheads which had been effected to the south, it appeared that the Regiment might be scheduled for a role in the final drive for Berlin (G Company now was within 12 miles of the Reich capital). But, to the disappointment of practically no one in the Regiment, that was not to be; there was to be no advance beyond the Elbe in this sector.
A boundary change gave the Regiment responsibility for a four-kilometer addition in frontage, and I Company moved to a sizable town of Rogatz on the 16th. (This same day the division passed to control of the XIII Corps.) Later the 2nd Battalion, relieved by the 3rd Battalion, 137th, moved by shuttling down to the sector on the right of the 3rd Battalion. Companies E and G relieved I at Rogatz (and I returned to Bertingen), and the remainder of the battalion went to Angern.
Even at this late stage, the Germans had not abandoned their aggressiveness. All kinds of bands were roaming through the woods in the rear area (by 16 April, 73 different units were represented in the prisoners taken). The 1st Battalion and special units sent patrols through the area almost daily. Pfc. John R. Connelly, Jr., of the I and R Platoon, was killed less than 200 yards from the Regimental C.P. (now at an estate a mile and one-half southwest of Angern) when he moved out from his guard post one night to investigate strange footsteps. Movements of "Task Force Clausewitz," a collection of German soldiers with German and American vehicles, across the rear toward the Harz Mountains had many people worried until the force disintegrated under constant pursuit.
But aside from these disorganized activities, the enemy even mounted some attacks from across the Elbe River. One hit K Company, at Kehnert, before daylight on 17 April. Pvt. Richard W. Stoll of New York was on outpost duty at the time, and remained at his post, firing his rifle, until his last round of ammunition was gone. He started moving toward his platoon C.P., and though wounded en route, he was able to get there. Germans got into the town and surrounded a squad. Staff Sergeant Bertice F. Womak of Kentucky ran through the fire to reach a building near the squad. A round from a bazooka knocked him down, but he got up and went into a building and began throwing hand grenades. This gave the squad a chance to deploy and drive out the enemy.
Some further personnel changes occurred in the Regiment: Lt. Col. Frederick C. Roecker had returned, and, after acting as executive officer for a while, he now took command of the 3rd Battalion when Colonel Wood returned to the States; Captain Mason had returned, and now was executive officer of the 1st Battalion; Colonel Craig had returned, and now he was regimental executive officer; and 1st Lt. Don Craig (cut from the same piece of cloth), his younger brother, had joined the Regiment and was assigned to D Company as executive officer.
A second, and more determined, enemy attack came against K Company at 0530 on 23 April. This time the enemy, with a force of about 50 men, attacked Kehnert from two directions. After bazooka and machine gun fire had created a major disturbance in the center, larger groups of enemy began moving across the open ground toward the north edge (i.e., left flank) of the town. Sergeant Joseph J. Pogonowski of Ohio was on duty at his well-located light machine gun which covered that flank. He opened fire with deadly effect. An SS lieutenant approached the machine gunner from the flank, and when Pogonowski noticed him, the officer tried to lure him from his position by faking surrender - he walked up to within three feet of the foxhole and dropped a grenade; but it was ineffective. He, and his orderly as well, fell from a burst of machine gun fire. When machine gun ammunition began to run low the section leader, Sergeant Robert E. Ovitt of Illinois, braved the enemy fire to get a new supply. Meanwhile the 60mm mortars, shortening their range to within 50 yards of the front positions, were keeping up a continuous barrage. The final result was 17 enemy killed - by count after daylight - 7 wounded, and 12 others captured. That was the last combat for the 134th Infantry; that days were the last battle casualties.
Patrols - in every direction - continued, but principal interest turned now to "watching for the Russians." Tardy arrangements for recognition signals finally had been made, and almost as soon as units were notified that the Russian signal would be two red flares, and the American reply was to be three green, the companies began to report red flares all along the front. Russian soldiers failed to arrive in this sector, however, while the Regiment was there.
Lieutenant Haugen arrived at 1730 on 24 April with a warning order. The whole division was to move back to the vicinity of Hanover on 27 April, with the mission to "clear any enemy from the area, occupy, and govern . . . Duration of occupation???"
It appeared that the shooting war in Europe was over for the 134th Infantry.
|The Regiment crossed on "Love" bridge at "Blue" beach.|
|Company L overran some flak guns near Buer.|
|Mertens and Belbke of the 3rd Battalion found documents and money in police headquarters at Reckinghausen.|
|On the Autobahn.|
|Map of the Ruhr pocket.|
|The 2nd Battalion cleared Gelsenkirchen.|
|Along the streets of Herne.|
|A Company advanced south of Bochum toward the Ruhr.|
|The Russians were coming from the east: Gen. Simpson and Gen. Tsvetaiev join in cerimonies celebrating the link-up.|
|Map Ruhr to Elbe.|
Return to 134th Infantry Regiment Combat History Table of Contents