Symphony in B-Flak
Fourth Movement: FINALE (GERMANY)
BRONZE STAR FOR 5TH CAMPAIGN
Those portions of France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany east of the line: Franco-Belgian frontier to 4 degrees east longitude, thence south along that meridian to 47 degrees latitude, thence east along that parallel to 5 degrees east longitude, thence south along that meridian to the Mediterranean coast.
15 September, 1944, to 21 March, 1945.
ON the 3rd of March we were the first Battery of this Battalion to set up a position in the "Father-land". Our position, among a group of pillboxes near Ernzen in the Rhineland, was bordered on two sides by a line of dragon teeth, part of the "Impregnable Siegfried Line". The torn terrain was evidence that the Germans had fought a fierce but losing battle here.
Our time was taken up with "evening stand-to", "searching" and "Trial Fire", still without activity for the 90's. The watchdog radar crew "took a bit of ribbing" because wereas there simply were not any targets available still it searched the skies all night. Over the "Hot Loop" communication line such expressions could be heard as: "Hey, Radar! Is anyone awake over there? What are you searching for? birds?" or, "Have you got anything besides window and pigeons?" The wires would soon be "hot" with counter-accusations. After it was all over, someone would open his microphone switch and we'd listen to one of the crews harmonizing or to Ragazzo promoting a boxing match. We were often bored, but that wasn't the opinion of five lucky fellows, at least for the three days they spent in Paris. They came back with wonderful stories of sight-seeing, good food, soft beds with clean sheets, Red Cross hospitality, amusements and dates with pretty girls. They substantiated stories about the stately beauty and splendor of the Queen of European cities, surpassing the most vivid imagination.
To return to our position (the lucky five hated to), life was unchanged. It might be called "Souvenir Hunters Paradise", for there was plenty of wrecked German equipment as well as dead here. Other GI's had gone through the pillboxes while we were sitting across the river, but we found enough junk in them to make "March Order" more burdensome than ever. The order came after two weeks to travel 102 miles to Bretzenheim. We were glad to hear it because in spite of all the work involved, we always enjoyed convoys. Of course we missed the jubilant French crowds, but there was still the scenery and each move brought us nearer Berlin and eventual victory.
Our luck for having bad weather during movements ran true to form as we pulled out in the afternoon of the 17th of March. Heavy traffic over glorified cowpaths made progress slow. We passed whole German convoys which had fallen victim to our strafing Thunderbolts and were glad that we had supremacy of the air. It was late, and there was still much distance to cover, so another overnight stop was necessary. Most of us pulled into a field and slept beneath and around the vehicles, although a few of the more energetic set up tents.
The condition of the elements was much improved the next morning as we came down out of the mountains into Cochem. It was a large modern city on the Moselle River, badly damaged and apparently deserted except for a few GI's. Many of the better buildings displayed the flag of truce.
This was the Moselle valley, famous for its wine and beautiful scenery. It was certainly a well-earned reputation, for it left us with an impression which we will long remember. The road, circling down the mountainside, afforded an excellent view overlooking the city, now calm in its crippled magnificence. It was bounded by vineyard-covered mountains, an indication of its principal industry. We were conscious of a real scenic wonder as the morning light crept through a series of mist clouds rising from the river.
As we rounded a turn, we were struck by the majestic beauty of a castle just across the gorge. It glistened in the sun with its white flag high above it. "Look! It's not the least bit damaged; they must have put the flag up in time."
The river seemed like a ribbon as it made its way through the mountains into the distance. We followed it for several miles and finally crossed over a pontoon bridge. The highways became better and the towns less damaged. From each house in the town white flags replaced the now outlawed swastika banner. People stood by the side of the road waving anything white to make it plain that they did not want to fight any longer. We were often the first to follow behind the armored columns, and in a few towns the first Americans to enter after the Wehrmacht fled.
As we passed through Stromberg, we noted a wide variety of reactions among the inhabitants. Many faces reflected disbelief and surprise. Some were awe-stricken at the sight of so much heavy equipment, and practically all were afraid of our "Cats" and Guns. Some appeared to be glad to see us while others openly wept -- they knew not what to expect after all the Nazi propaganda. Their city was undamaged, but many had to leave their homes because our troops gathered them into one section of the town. This was in progress as we passed through. On a general scale they were in better health, and they were better clothed and fed than the poor French. Perhaps their prosperity could best be compared to that of a leech sucking the lifeblood from others.
That afternoon while we were rolling along a flight of 8 FW's passed over. We easily recognized them, but they were out of range of our mounted 50's. "Baby, if we'd only been set up!" Ahead of us they were strafing and dive-bombing. We continued on our journey and pulled into a field outside of Bretzenheim. It turned out to be a "field day" for our machine-gunners because many more FW 190's and ME 109's came in shortly after we were emplaced. We expended 5818 rounds of .50 cal. and any of the machine-gunners will tell you: "I put a lot of holes in them, and you didn't see any of them returning for more!"
We learned that our Battalion was now attached to Combat Command "A" of the famous 4th Armored Division. We had had two days of hit-and-run raids when we were ordered by the Division to cross the Nahe River before the bridges in Bad Kreuznach could be knocked out.
This movement on the 19th of March was only four miles, but it brought us nearer to the objective we were defending, the MSR (Main Supply Route) with its Engineer bridge across the Nahe. We were hardly set up when it became apparent that this was as near to being on a bomb run as could be possible. Our first encounter with the "jets" came that day, and we met them during all four days spent there. They came in at varying altitudes and from all directions, but generally from the East. The jets had a definite advantage in their lightning-like acceleration to speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour and their silent approach, but both the 50's and the 90's gave them a run for their money. The Heinies never received a clear shot at the bridge, which suffered no damage, and their direct attacks on AA positions were positive proof that we troubled them "plenty". Our firing, which altogether consisted of 179 rounds of 90mm and 3466 rounds of .50 cal., was very effective. We shared the commendation which the AAA Section of 3rd Army bestowed on our Battalion for its work in dispelling the threat of German jets at the Nahe River crosssing.
Men at "Action Stations" always stand fast at their equipment and "shoot out" any engagement. Men who are caught in the open, however, when a low-flying Heinie roars over usually head for the nearest foxhole. This latter practise was a safety measure that "paid off" several times here. One plane released its bomb as it approached us. Every-one thought that it was meant for us, and everyone wasn't "very far from wrong". Looking up from our holes we found that it had passed over us all right, but that it had exploded only a hundred yards from the nearest gun.
"Boy, it's a good thing I had my leggings on!"
There were other near misses and one dud landed directly in the area. We all joked about it after-ward and agreed that most of us could fall in a sewer and come up with hands full of gold. Battery B's lucky horse-shoe was worn very thin now. Some of the fellows received a good look at Bad Kreuznach while out on details and wire patrols. It was a large, former health resort city but had suffered considerable damage both from our Air Corps and later from the Luftwaffe.
The 4th Armored had planned to cross the Rhine at Bingen provided a bridge was found intact, and we were primed to give them the necessary heavy ack-ack protection. When all bridges were discovered blown, a similar plan was adopted for Mainz. Then when this plan also failed, it was decided to make an assault crossing of the Rhine.