Spearheading with the Third Armored Division


The Ruhr-Rose Pocket

Chapter 4 - Remagen Springboard

There was a strange letdown after the excitement of action. Cologne was quiet. An occasional artillery piece lobbed shells over the river, but the "incoming mail" was slight. There was a time to clean up and a period to perform proper maintenance on the vehicles: a few drinks to celebrate the occasion - and plenty of rumors. Someone speculated on the chances that the 3rd might be relieved from further combat. The story was either sworn accurate or laughed to scorn. Most of the tankers suspected that they would be going across the Rhine, into Germany: a majority would have felt somehow left out of the party if, indeed the "Spearhead" were pulled out of action. These men had been the first team of the First Army since Normandy. They were the first through the Westwall, the first to take and hold a German town. There is an indescribable esprit de corps about such an outfit. The 3rd had a reputation. The tankers said to each other: "Call me spearhead!" And they chuckled, and quipped: "Call me meathead!" But they were proud, too.

When Major General J. Lawton Collins presented Division Headquarters Company and Forward Echelon a presidential citation for heroism in action, he said: "Since the St. Lo days I have commanded a great many divisions. All of them were fine, but few were great, and this is one of the great divisions".

Earlier that week, the division Maintenance Battalion had also been honored by the presentation of a meritorious service plaque in recognition of day and night labors which had kept the "Spearhead" rolling forward in continuous battle. These things were warp and woof to the fabric of high morale.

The 3rd Armored Division expected to cross the Rhine. It was a foregone conclusion. Therefore, the tankers talked it over, repaired battle wagons, and waited. Then, of course, the 9th Armored Division, through a stroke of luck and a dash of brilliance, secured the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen. There was no need for the First Army to create a bridgehead - we had one ready made. The 3rd Armored Division moved out of Cologne shortly afterward and crossed the "sacred river" by way of a pontoon bridge at Honnef. Combat Command Howze had already crossed on the 20th.

Up ahead, the Big Red One, America's justly famous 1st Infantry Division, and the 104th Infantry, were engaged in widening the bridgehead. Close to the Rhine, the "Spearhead" coiled over acres of Beautiful summer-vacation-lands. On March 24 the orders came down through combat command channels: the 3rd was moving out at dawn in full scale attack! This was the beginning of the big push. There was victory in the air, and it was contageous. The American 1st, 3rd, and 9th Armies were already across the Rhine. So were Field Marshal Montgomery's forces. Now General Courtney Hodges was preparing a haymaker to the heart of Germany, a drive to isolate the Ruhr! The battering ram he chose for this stupendous task was Major General J. Lawton Collins' VII Corps and again, as in the past, the 3rd Armored Division was scheduled to spearhead the attack.

At 0400 on March 25, the combat commands were rumbling out of bivouac. They went out along the dawn-dim roads in multiple columns of spearheads, the 32nd and 33rd Armored Regiment tanks leading, squat and black in the gloom, with blue flame spitting from their exhausts. Tank destroyers of the 703rd TD Battalion followed, clacking rapidly over the cobbles, their long 90mm guns perfectly balanced in heavy steel turrets. Armored infantrymen of the 36th, the blitz doughs, rode in personnel half-tracks. There were the combat engineers of the 23rd, light reconnaissance units of the 83rd, mobile artillery, and all the other complex and highly maneuverable elements that make up a modern armored division. Upon this morning there was no waiting, no wondering, and no rumors. There was plenty of hard work, though.

The dawn of March 25 was clamerous with motor-sound. On a wide front the steel fingers reached tentatively forward, two columns to the right, under General Hickey, two to the left, under General Boudinot. It was an almost overpowering spectacle to see and, although you knew that there is no glamor in war, somehow the thunder of powerful engines, and the clatter of tracks, the wide grins and genial curses, the guns weaving gently on their balanced mounts, brought a decided thrill. You could loath war and its by-products, but you knew that, so long as you lived you'd always remember, with a little shiver of pride, the morning when the "Spearhead" moved out to make history in a drive that isolated Germany's great, industrial Ruhr.

The 3rd is a Meat Grinder

The initial attack was launched through the 1st and 104th Infantry Divisions. Combat Command Boudinot rolled to the left of the salient, and Combat Command Hickey to the right. Famed Colonel L. L. Doan again blasted through the German main line of resistance early in the action, to find deliberate mine fields and a well dug-in defence. Although the route was strewn with glass mines, which defied ordinary detection, Task Force Doan penetrated the defensive crust and pushed forward to seize the town of Asbach, meanwhile bypassing a German airfield which was littered with the hulks of destroyed aircraft and parts. Advancing east against sporadic shows of resistance, Doan took the town of Schonesberg and crossed the Mehr river.

The "Spearhead" advanced in a series of armored haymakers. Colonel Doan's tankers ground forward on the extreme right. To his left, Task Force Kane pushed through a curtain of small arms fire, artillery, and self-propelled guns to take Krumscheid and Puscheid. Further to the left, Combat Command Boudinot met heaviest resistance. Consequently the progress here was the less spectacular.

Task Force Lovelady, operating to the left of Kane's tankers, nevertheless went forward to take Wallroth, Oberscheid and Griesenbach in a grinding offensive. At the end of the day, Fiersbach had fallen and the armor was still moving ahead.

On the far left, Task Force Welborn immediately engaged heavy concentrations of tanks, self propelled guns, artillery and small arms fire. Advancing against heavy opposition, this force seized Kircheib and worked through a thickly wooded area to cross a small stream.

The first day of combat had been a war of attrition. The 3rd Armored Division had assumed the properties of a meat grinder in the process of chewing up Nazi General von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army. The Nazi threw his best elements into the defence. Thoroughly identified during the first day of combat were: the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, the 9th and 11th Panzer Divisions, parts of the 130th Panzer LEHR Division, 340th and 363rd Volksgrenadier Divisions, and several GHQ units. The result of this day's fighting, according to one report, was that the enemy left behind "a zoo-full of Panthers and Tigers!"

Day and Night Assault

On March 26 the attack continued with round the clock regularity. Elements of Combat Command Hickey reported pronounced gains in spite of dug-in infantry and hasty mines. The nature of these defences was the first single indication that the German line was beginning to break - because on the previous day the mine fields had been deliberately laid. Time was running out for Jerry. Doan fought continuously for 72 hours to reach the Dill River.

On the left flank, Combat Command Boudinot still inched ahead as the enemy fought viciously to repel any threat to his Sieg River line, which ran roughly parallel to the 3rd Armored Division flank. Self propelled guns, supported by infantry, defended the high, wooded ground, and artillery was expended as in Normandy days of 1944. Disregarding obvious enemy strength, Task Force Welborn and Task Force Lovelady pounded forward, close air support aiding their drives.

To the right, Task Force Doan had advanced well beyond and south of much bombed Altenkirchen. At noon, Task Force Richardson entered the town against light resistance. The prisoner toll had risen to 1,000 and the route of advance was a shambles of smashed German vehicles.

Task Force Welborn, receiving fire from high ground on both flanks, was still the most desperately beset of the 3rd Armored Division spearheads. Welborn accepted his losses and ground forward.

Aside from this force of Combat Command Boudinot, the entire division seemed now to have broken through the first hard crust of resistance. Tankers gazed through the rolling and wooded hills of the Hohe Venn and shook their heads in wonder. If this area had been made the scene of a defensive belt approaching the magnitude of the Siegfried line, it might have been impenetrable. Instead, the enemy seemed to be breaking. There was bright sunshine and warm, spring-like weather.

On March 27, electrifying news came back over the battle nets. Task Force Doan had broken into the clear and was smashing through town after town! Kane and his dusty, triumphant tankers were advancing as swiftly. Across the hills of Germany there was acrid dust in the air and the multiple sound of many motors. Along the churned, dirt roads of this fluid battle ground, the Wermacht's last reserves were strewn like a child's pile of jackstraws. Mobile 88's and their prime movers burned sullenly where the spearhead had passed. French, Belgian and Russian slave laborers, freed of bondage by this swift wave of allied power, trudged happily to the rear, shouting and holding aloft the two-fingered V-for-Victory salute to their Yankee liberators. For the first time in many months, this show began to look like the last rat race in Europe.

As usual in armored battle, there were no non-combatants. Major General Maurice Rose himself engaged the enemy with his pistol on a lonely stretch of road near Rehe, and aided in the capture of 12 prisoners.

All around, it was the sort of day for which the "Spearhead" was designed. It was movement and fire, broken communications and pockets of resistance to be mopped up. It was the longed-for all out effort which left liaison men in a rough spot trying to maintain those vital lines of communication. There was expectancy in the air, and victory too. It was something like the breakthrough at Normandy, the same dust in the air - billowing clouds of it, pungent and stinging, laced with the stink of burning Nazi vehicles. There was wreckage and there was death, but the men of this big steel striking force were riding a wave of enthusiasm. They blessed the so-far lenient weather. The acrid dust pleased them even as it inflamed already tired eyes.

Task Force Doan took Herborn on the Dill River, then secured a bridgehead on the far side, while Task Force Kane pressed forward on his left, also to the river. Kane then cleared the town of Burg, on the banks of the Dill.

Meanwhile, Combat Command Boudinot, which had encountered the principal resistance in the drive, went into reserve. Combat Command Howze took its place. At Weiefeld, anti-tank, small arms and artillery fire was encountered, but the town was taken and the advance continued by Task Force Hogan.

During the entire operation the 414th Infantry Regiment of the 104th Division was attached to the "Spearhead".

Somewhat rested, Combat Command Boudinot went through Howze's forces in the Herborn area on March 28. Task Force Lovelady, with Task Force Welborn echeloned to the rear, pushed on against lightening resistance to seize the important town of Marburg. As the course of the attack suddenly veered north-east, the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance battalion was unleashed on the division's left flank. By nightfall, Yeoman's forces had secured Bottenhorn and Holyhausen. Combat Command Howze secured the town of Dillenberg, north of Burg on the Dill River, against light opposition.

By this time prisoners were beginning to pour in. Spot estimates for the day soared to the 3,000 mark, and many could not be processed through the division cage on the day of capture due to the rapidity of the advance and the lack of transportation.

Meanwhile, air reports indicated that the enemy was withdrawing roughly parallel to the 3rd Armored Division columns, in an attempt to head off attacking units before the encirclement was complete, or to shun the inevitable pocket.

The Magnificent Drive

March 29 was a day for the historians to remember, and it all belonged to the 3rd Armored Division! It was a day comparable, but more gratifying than the occasion in France when the entire division moved from the Mayenne River to a point beyond Pre en Pail on the route to Ranes. It was even better than the day in northern France when the entire division, on the move toward Charleville, was given a 90 degree change in direction to attack toward Mons. For, on March 29, led by the free wheeling 83rd, the "Spearhead" moved more than 90 miles, largely across country, from the Marburg area to Niedermarsburg - a point less than 20 miles from the famous tank training grounds at Paderborn, which was the division's objective. For all practical means, the startling all-out drive had sealed the doom of the entire industrial Ruhr, plus German Army Group B under Field Marshal Model.

In this rapid advance, the route lay almost entirely overland. Towns which were thought to contain road blocks were bypassed. The orders were to go through and around enemy resistance and get to the objective - fast.

The day was overcast with light rains and cool weather. There was no air support, but none was necessary. The enemy flank had been turned and there was nothing he could do about this slashing attack. The towns of Mangeringhausen, Obermarsburg and Drilon were taken in rapid succession.

Few, if any of the small towns which had been passed, were damaged by the armored fist of total war. This, indeed, was a different circumstance from that of the initial bridgehead area where nearly every village had been either bombed or shelled, and often both.

Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Division had heard of the German prisoner of war camps and so-called "slave labor". Now they saw a small part of that system. Thousands of slave laborers plodded the dusty road back to freedom. And, everywhere along the route, trudged the grey-green figures of the Wehrmacht, hands clasped behind their heads, marching to some distant prisoner of war camp. Resistance? One report stated that terrain obstacles and prisoners of war interfered with the advance of the columns!

The Trap is Closed - A Leader Dies

On March 30, though, resistance really stiffened as elements of the SS Panzer training regiment and the SS reconnaissance regiment from the Sennelager training camp north of Paderborn, were committed. These picked school troops and students might be compared to the men of our own armored force center at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Mainly the resistance consisted of bazooka teams which fired at the 3rd Armored Division tanks as they rolled through roads and paths in wooded areas. Small arms were also used to advantage by the enemy, but there was a shortage of mortars and artillery. Several tanks were encountered and swiftly smashed to smoking junk.

Task Force Welborn encountered a strongly dug-in infantry defence and some tanks in the area north of Etteln, barely more than three miles from Paderborn. At approximately six o-clock in the evening, his column was cut by marauding Panther and Tiger tanks. The maneuver was a costly one to men of the 3rd Armored Division, for their general was killed in the following action.

As was so often his custom, General Rose was following the forward elements of his command. With him was his driver, T/4 Glen Shaunce, and his aide, Major Robert Bellinger. Two other jeep loads of officers and men, and one armored car, were also in the general's party.

Unfortunately, General Rose was caught in the center of the break caused by the enemy in Colonel Welborn's column. Attempting a dash for freedom, his vehicle was pinned between a tree and one of the Nazi Panthers.

Accounts vary as to exactly what happened then, but the General was shot down. Major Bellinger and T/4 Shaunce escaped by dashing into nearby cover and crawling, separately, from the scene. They were later rescued by friendly troops.

Bitterly, tankers of Lt. Colonel John Boles' task force, formerly Task Force Doan, cleared the road block which had cut Welborn's column, and went on to take Haxtergrund. Here, Task Force Lovelady also met strong opposition from dug-in infantry and panzerfaust teams.

Although Boles had cleared the offending road block, Panther and Tiger tanks still roamed in the "rear" areas. The morning after General Rose's body was recovered, a section of guns from the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion destroyed two Tiger tanks close to the scene of the tragedy.

Within Combat Command Howze, Task Force Hogan seized Wewer after a sharp fight against tanks, infantry, and a defended mine field in the town. Task Force Richardson met tank and infantry opposition too, but the "Spearhead" still ground forward. Richardson took Nordborchen. The 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion added Dorenhagen and Eggeringhausen to the long list of places captured.

The enemy continued to commit his SS training units from the Paderborn area, plus a GHQ tank battalion and a tank destroyer unit which was reputed to have 128mm guns mounted on a Tiger tank chassis. A number of Hungarian prisoners were taken here, a few with their wives trailing along behind!

The "Spearhead" Meets the "Hell on Wheels"

On April 1, the "Spearhead" had practically accomplished one of the great drives of World War II, but the satisfaction of that victory was soured by the news of General Rose's death and the manner of his dying. There was no slacking off in the 3rd.

Seting the pace for this new month of battle, Task Force Kane drove swiftly to a historic meeting with the 2nd Armored Division of the 9th Army, at Lippstadt. Artillery liaison planes from the two divisions had kept track of ground forces to prevent any chance [of] shooting up friendly forces. The 2nd "Hell on Wheels", had come across the north German plain while the 3rd was making its two-way thrust, first to Herborn and Marburg, from the Remagen bridgehead, then north, in a brilliant crossing of the "T", to seal the industrial Ruhr.

Task Force Kane cleared Geseke in its advance to meet the 2nd Armored Division and in so doing destroyed much equipment and captured a serviceable airfield near the town.

Back at Paderborn, Welborn was first in town, followed by Lovelady and Task Forec Boles. Hogan and Richardson cleared Salzkotten and secured high ground north-west of Nordborchen to cover the attack made by Boles, who drove through tank and infantry fire to clear the factory area and enter the town. General Boudinot entered the town with the lead troops.

A final count of damage inflicted upon the enemy during this period, apart from the inspired sweep which cut off vital Ruhr areas, included the taking of more than 20,000 prisoners of war, including wounded enemy and enemy hospital personnel overrun but not evacuated.

The list of destroyed equipment for this drive included: 35 tanks, 31 self propelled guns, 48 artillery pieces, one railway gun, 40 heavy AA and AT guns, 146 light AA guns, 25 staff cars and sedans, 1,263 trucks, eight aircraft captured on the ground, six railway trains, and 15 assault boats. As the week-long period came to an end, additional ammunition dumps, chemical warfare dumps, warehouses and quartermaster depots were reported taken intact.

The drive was finished, but fanatic Nazis continued to wage a desperate series of disjointed fights. Columns travelling to the rear were subject to attack by entrapped forces seeking to escape the Ruhr, and vehicles, particularly those moving at night, were often harried by bazooka fire or sniper attempts in secluded places. The work of supply personnel, bringing up vital rations and gasoline, was an epic of devotion to duty and high courage during this period. Also commendable was the effort of the 45th Armored Medical Battalion which had maintained six separate treatment sections moving with the task forces.

In recognition of the brilliant drive, the First United States Army named the great trap the Rose pocket. The "Spearhead" general had been killed in his last and most important victory.

On March 31, Brigadier General Doyle O. Hickey, who had been with the division since its desert training in California, assumed command. General Hickey's Combat Command "A" came under the leadership of Colonel L.L. Doan, and Lt.Colonel John Boles assumed command of Task Force X.

As this period ended, the 3rd Armored Division readied itself for the next move. Where, was not at all certain, but men of this big, powerful outfit were looking toward the east, and Berlin.

Next Section - Drive to the Elbe
Back to Spearheading Main Page

 

[Appendix 1 - Units Referenced in this Document]
[
Appendix 2 - Soldiers Referenced in this Document]
[Appendix 3 - Sites Referenced in this Document]

 


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