From: Thunderbolt Across Europe
A History of the 83rd Infantry Division 1942-1945
COMPILED EDITED & PUBLISHED BY 83rd DIVISION I & E SECTION
C.D.PHILOS MAJOR INF.I & E OFFICER NARRATIVE BY
SGT. ERNIE HAYHOW
PRINTED BY F. BRUCKMANN KG., MUNICH GERMANY
The Allies' latest offensive in Europe started in the northern portion of the wide First Army sector while we were still guarding Luxembourg. The going up north was slow and costly, because the Germans were bitterly contesting every inch of their native soil. Our infantry and armor was smashing hard at the enemy, but the enemy was fighting back almost as persistently, and the vicious warfare began to take its toll on both sides in killed and wounded. So it was that the call came for the Thunderbolt to take an active part in this latest offensive and to relieve some of the hard-pressed troops who had initiated the drive.
Approximately in the center of the triangular area marked by Aachen, Duren and Cologne, lay the Hurtgen Forest. It was here that the men of the 4th Infantry Division were Fighting, fighting and dying. In this thickly wooded forest. Jerry easily concealed himself and his weapons. It was a forest filled with death. There were many Heinie snipers; there were machine guns, mortars, and camouflaged and entrenched Nazis with rifles and burp guns. Besides all this, there were the ever deadly tree bursts—artillery shells fired so that they would explode near the tops of the trees and send fragments flying in all directions. In places, nearly every tree contained a booby trap and nearly all the space between the trees was covered with mines. The terrain lent itself naturally to the defense, and the Hun was exploiting his many advantages to the utmost.
It was here that the 83d was to be committed. Our mission was to relieve the 4th Division, to continue through the Hurtgen, and to seize the west bank of the Roer River. This would be our first fight in Germany, our first engagement with the enemy in his homeland.
Some armchair strategists long before had ventured the opinion that Jerry, once he had lost his hold of the occupied countries, was beaten, and that he wouldn't elect to muss up the sacred soil of the fatherland by fighting for it. But the experiences of our 4th Division comrades in the Hurtgen Forest indicated that these prognostications were, at best, the products of wishful thinking. We, ourselves, were soon to learn that Jerry was fighting, and fighting like hell, on his own soil.
The 330th and the 323rd FA Bn the first Thunderbolt units to enter this stubbornly de-tended area, were attached to the 4th Division in the vicinity of Gressenich on December 3rd. We relieved the 4th's 22d Regiment. Our 1st Battalion was on the right, 2d on the left, and the 3d Battalion in reserve. Immediately, we received intense artillery and mortar fire which inflicted casualties. Then our artillery moved up north, followed by the 774th Tank Battalion, the 308th Engineer Battalion, the 331st, and, afterwards, the 83d Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop. We had rejoined the VII Corps of the First Army.
Our first Division CP on German soil was established at Krewinkel, a little ghost town on the edge of the forest. Colonel York's 331st men with 908 FA Bn in direct support relieved the 4th Division's 12th Infantry, the 24th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron joined the Division, and we attached our own Cavalry Troop to the 24th Squadron. Now that most of us were in the new area, the 330th with 323rd FA Bn backing it up was relieved from its attachment to the 4th Division and again took its place as apart of the Thunderbolt.
We of the 330th, first in the 83d to enter the shell torn forest, were also the first to attack the Germans in their homeland. On December 9th, Companies A and B took Hill 375, causing considerable loss to the enemy and capturing 22 prisoners, including the German commanding officer. Next day we attacked towards Strass, one of the several small towns near the eastern edge of the Hurtgen. As always, we encountered extremely heavy mortar and artillery fire from the enemy, but our 3d Battalion, by means of a vicious assault with tanks of our 774th Tank Battalion, fought its way into Strass. We had by passed Schafberg, but later our Company G was ordered to clean out the one hundred German troops entrenched there and to seize the town. But German mortar and artillery shells was by no means our only form of opposition. There were plenty of Jerries around who vigorously counter-attacked
our troops in Strass. Companies L and K, 330th, became isolated in the town. Attempts by our tanks and tank destroyers to contact them were driven back by German infantry, tanks, and artillery fire. The Luftwaffe was active in strength again for the first time since Normandy days. We shot down three enemy planes the first day of our attack and on December 11th men of the 453d AAA Battalion bagged six more. Each day. Jerry came over to strafe and bomb our lines, or just to make a reconnaissance. Each day, the 453d gave Jerry a warm reception.
While the 330th went after Strass, we in Colonel York's 331st Regiment attacked and entered Gey. We found a great many mines in and around the town and here, too, the mortar and artillery fire was extremely heavy. If Jerry was beaten, he either didn't know it or was too stubborn to admit it. There was no longer any doubt about his fighting on his home soil; he was bitterly contesting every inch of it.
The 329th Buckshots came up from Luxembourg and joined the Division on December 11th. Next day we attacked through the mine-infested forest in the face of machine gun, small arms and artillery fire and captured Hof Hardt. From Hof Hardt, the 2d Battalion, 329th, with 322nd FA Bn in direct support launched an attack across 1500 yards of open ground into Gurzenich, a village just across the Roer River Jrom Duren. Moving in a column of companies, the battalion slugged its way into the village by nightfall. This rapid and aggressive advance drove a deep salient into the enemy's defensive positions west of the Roer. With both flanks exposed, the 2d Battalion consolidated its positions during the •next two days in spite of repeated enemy attacks and intense artillery fire.
At 0530, 16 December 1944, German artillery began a concentration which blanketed the entire village. During the next fifty minutes, the 2d Battalion was subjected to the most unremitting and concentrated artillery fire it had received during five months of combat. At 0620, the Germans struck in force from the northeast and east. Moving under cover of the early morning darkness and their artillery preparations, a reinforced battalion, supported by tanks and assault guns, struck from east, southeast, and south. During the ensuing four hours, a pitched battle was fought in yards, in buildings, and in streets. But the men of the 2d Battalion held, smashed, and drove J.erry back across the Roer with the blasting support of our 83rd Div arty and Corps artillery. This vicious attack was part of Von Rundstedt's push which broke through in the Ardennes. As a result of this outstanding action, the 2d Battalion, 329th Infantry Regiment, was later awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
Meanwhile, 3d Battalion, 329th Infantry Regiment, struck vigorously southeast from the forest, captured Birgel, and, during the ensuing two days, smashed repeated vicious German counter-attacks employing tanks and infantry. Following this, the 1st Bn., supported by a platoon of Co A, 774th Tank Bn, attacked swiftly south from the vicinity of Gurzenich and hit the German positions defending Rolsdorf from the rear. The Germans in the defending trenches had enough. They came out with their hands up. This operation netted the 329th approximately 1050 prisoners.
Meanwhile, Companies F and E of the 330th continued the attack on Schafberg. Initially we made some progress, but were delayed by direct fire from enemy guns in the town and from Jerry's well concealed tanks and self-propelled guns. We slugged away at this opposition and finally occupied and cleared Schafberg. Then our 1st Battalion moved in to hold the town while our 2d Battalion attacked north to contact the 3d Battalion cut off in Strass. Our Battalion re-inforced by Company C, 774th Tank Battalion, and Company B, 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion, had maintained their positions in the town against repeated counterattacks for two days. At 0330, one of our patrols contacted these isolated troops and delivered medical supplies. In the afternoon an artillery liaison plane dropped food to the men cut off in Strass. Late in the afternoon, our 2d Battalion made contact in force and the situation was thus considerably relieved. However, we still could only move supplies into Strass during hours of darkness, because the Germans covered all roads leading into town by direct fire.
By December 14th, we had opened a way through the forest for passage of tanks of the 5th Armored Division. They came through this passage and attacked on our left. The 2d Battalion, 330th, in a closely coordinated attack with Combat Command B, 5th Armored Division, advanced through mortar and artillery fire against enemy positions on the high ground just west of the Roer. On this occasion, we encountered the heaviest artillery concentrations we had received since our entry into Germany. On December 15th we captured Bergheim.
The 1st Battalion of the 331st seized the high ground south of Birgel. Then our 2d Battalion, 331st, passed through and advanced another 1,100 yards to take the high ground west of Berzbuir. Progress was slow, for Jerry kept shelling us with artillery and mortar concentrations. Those of us left in Gey were also still feeling the might of German artillery. More enemy planes came over and strafed our front lines, repeating the action later in the day. Then, in the face of intense small arms fire, we fought our way into Berzbuir. The 3d Battalion, 331st, moved into Kufferath where they relieved Combat Command A of the 5th Armored Division. The enemy left behind many booby traps and mines. Russians from forced labor battalions were among the prisoners we captured. The Hun was using everything and everyone at his disposal in a vicious effort to halt our advance.
A very large number of German planes attacked our front lines, but the 3d Battalion of the 331st continued the attack and captured Lendersdorf. So many enemy planes were coming over our area now that we began systematically to check the entire area for German paratroopers possibly dropped behind our lines. None was found, however.
With the west bank of the Roer River in its area cleared of Germans, the 329th sent two platoons towards Duren. We seized the west end of the bridge and some buildings in the vicinity. Later a dozen men from Company A crossed the Roer River, entered Duren, and came back to report two spans of the bridge destroyed. Thus these Buckshots became the closest Americans to Berlin as of December 18th. That day is remembered also by the 453d
Anti-Aircraft men who shot down 29 Heinie planes.
At Division Headquarters, the men who issue the orders became concerned over the possibility of the enemy flooding the Roer Valley by blowing the Urft Dam on the Urft River and the Earth Dam on the Roer River. Blowing of these dams would flood many of our front lines' positions. We were under Major General McLain's XIX Corps now, and we began to make plans for completing our mission prior to moving into Ninth Army Reserve.
The 414th Infantry of the 104th Division relieved the Buckshots. But the additional mission was given to the 1st and 3d Battalions of the 330th to take an objective formerly assigned to the 5th Armored. We attacked towards Winden and reached the edge of town. Again the enemy opposition was extremely heavy, and our progress was slow. We continued the attack through the night. Our 2d Battalion, relieved from attachment to the 5th Armored Division, supported the attack on Winden by mortar Fire. Winden became ours on Christmas Day. Our mission was completed. We had hurtled the Hurtgen and roared to the Roer.
From: See It Through: History of the 331st Combat Team
By Sgt. Jack M. Straus
Printed by F. Bruckmann K.G., Munich, Germany
Forest fighting was depressing, cold and muddy
ON December 6th, we gave our positions along the Moselle Valley to the 22nd Infantry of the 4th Division. We then moved by truck to the Hurtgen Forest east of Aachen to relieve the battered men of the 12th Infantry in this densely wooded area of hell, mud and snow.
In this cold and depressing forest, we were greeted with Nazi propaganda leaflets which informed us we were "given a damnable Christmas present by being transferred to the famous Aachen sector where fighting is harder than anywhere else. It's all woods here. They are cold, slippery and dangerous." They reminded us—"Death awaits you behind every tree. Fighting in woods is hellish." But it took more than these silly notes to dampen our spirits. Even the nightly "serenades" of enemy heavy artillery and their devastating tree bursts and intensive strafing from the luftwaffe could not make us buckle. Still it was plenty tough; about the roughest experience we had since Normandy. It wasn't enough that we lived in holes roofed with logs, ate K rations with a hot meal only once each day. Our feet got numb and our hands got blue from the wet and the cold.
Trench foot was our biggest nemesis. At every opportunity we removed our shoes and dried and massaged our feet, changing to dry socks. One man massaged the feet of another. Drying tents were set up near the battalion aid stations. As our companies came off the line, we visited the tents in rotation where our chilled bodies were warmed and our clothes, shoes and socks dried. But the constant exercise of one's feet was the only real safeguard against trench foot, and this was done right in the foxholes wiggling one's toes as often as possible while sweating out artillery, mortar barrages and German counterattacks.
We slugged our way out of the forest, and hurling our might against the German town of Gey on December 10th, smashed one of the most formidable Nazi strongholds on the outskirts of the Hurtgen Forest and drove the stubbornly resisting enemy to the banks of the Roer River just south of Duren.
Gey was one of the most strategic strongpoints in the network of German defenses protecting the vital approaches to Duren. Situated at the edge of the Hurtgen Forest, it lies in a valley through which all roads leading from the forest cross. The Germans were determined to hold this town which they had built into a veritable fortress. Every house was a complete arsenal. At each window large supplies of ammunition were stacked. The basement of every home, reinforced with double walls of cement and steel, was a pillbox. For three days the Nazis continued to pour reinforcements into the town as we fought in a house-to-house struggle punching again and again until the enemy was forced from the cellars and corners.
Nearly every company in our Regiment had a crack at this heavily defended position and felt the sting of the enemy's force. We fought through artillery, mortar, machine gun and small arms fire. As each house was taken, we held it against the most violent enemy counterattacks. Supporting tanks were knocked out on both sides of the town by mines in the streets, bazookas and artillery fire. Supplies could only trickle through. It was impossible for jeeps or any vehicle to get near the town as the Jerries continuously pounded the town's approaches with artillery fire. Basements of houses became aid stations where only medical aid men of our companies cared for the wounded. There were no battle lines. Each house was either an American or German sector. For two days and a night our attacking companies were without water, many of our men without food.
And then from one point of high ground to another, with support of tanks, artillery and engineers, we stabbed relentlessly forward through enemy anti-personnel mine fields in rain, ankle-deep mud and snow, and pushed the Germans back while beating off a series of successive savage counterattacks. Capturing the towns of Horn, Berzbuir and Lendersdorff, we held a firm grip on the west bank of the Roer River just south of Duren, five days after our initial attack from the Hurtgen was launched.