Spearheading with the Third Armored Division


Drive to the Rhine

Chapter 3 - Across the Roer

Almost it seemed that a cloud of misery had been dissipated as the "Spearhead" rolled out of the Ardennes conflict. The snow disappeared under warm spring sun and the grass was green again. There was a short period of rest and refitting. New tanks, better guns and the latest equipment were issued. One day the inevitable order came down: the 3rd was moving up. It was Germany again.

The "Spearhead" rumbled out of Belgium, back to familiar terrain, the pillbox dotted hills of Stolberg and Breinig, into the shattered towns of bitter memory. At full strength, rested and ready, the 3rd Armored Division tensed for the H-Hour of new combat. This time it was the Rhine.

In the misty half-light of dawn on February 26, the First Army's big steel cutting edge jumped off. In multiple columns, Combat Command Hickey on the right, and Combat Command Boudinot on the left, the "Spearhead" Division crossed the Roer behind Major General Terry Allen's famed "Timberwolves", - shook loose, and began to drive!

Here was no Ardennes of ice and bitter snow, of impossible conditions and a bow to enemy initiative. This was it - the old, pounding, smashing, pursuit: the fortified towns, each with its main street barricaded, vehicles overturned and buildings smoldering in ruin. Before the early sunset on February 26, Task Force Doan had captured Blatzheim and penetrated Bergenhausen despite heavy antitank fire. Task Force Kane, and the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, commanded by leather-lunged Lt. Colonel Prentice E. Yeomans, had cleared Manheim. Combat Command Boudinot's Task Force Welborn reached the edge of Elsdorf while Task Force Lovelady followed swiftly, with Combat Command Howze in reserve.

The Erft and the Scotch

On February 27, Doan's dusty, victorious tankers blasted into Kerpen, on the Erft Canal, less than nine miles from Cologne. Task Force Kane had taken Heppendorf and then buttoned up in Sindorf, north of Colonel Doan's group.

Now it was time to use the reserve. Colonel Howze was ordered to rush fresh troops past Elsdorf, press on to the Erft Canal and secure a bridgehead. His chosen leaders were Lt. Colonel Sam Hogan, and Lt. Colonel Walter B. Richardson, a pair of commanders who had long maintained friendly rivalry. Each commanded the 33rd and 32nd, respectively. Both were Texans and long-time members of the "Spearhead" Division. To speed them on their way, General Rose promised a case of Scotch to the first task force commander across the vital water barrier.

By 2130 that day, Task Force Hogan had pressed infantry over a partially destroyed foot bridge at Glentsch, while at Pattendorf, Richardson's men waded and climbed over a second twisted span. Although Hogan reached the east bank of the key canal first, Task Force Richardson was later to get the first bridge across and thus put the first American tanks on the plain before Cologne. History does not record the fate of the Scotch.

Within 24 hours after crossing the Erft, 3rd Armored Division shells were bursting in Cologne. The 991st Field Artillery Battalion, an attached unit and former New York national guard organization, registered on the city with giant 155mm guns. Cologne had been pricked by the point of the "Spearhead"!

Driving relentlessly, Task Force Lovelady met the Reich's much touted Volkssturm for the first time in Berrendorf. In a Roman Catholic church, 500 civilians had gathered to wait for the arrival of American troops. With them were 77 members of the German "people's army". With invasion at their doorsteps, these reluctant warriors had chosen to wait in the place of worship rather than draw arms at local Nazi party headquarters and fight it out with the Yanks. The Volkssturm was not impressive. These last-ditch soldiers taken at Berrendorf were just tired old men with deadly fear in their eyes. Their attitude indicated the state of German morale. They knew that no defence could stop the drive to the Rhine. The extensive earthworks and trench systems which had been steadily constructed during the past five months, had proved little or no obstacle to advancing tanks and infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division - chiefly because the "Spearhead" attack was swift and enemy troops had no opportunity to properly man their fortifications.

On February 28, Combat Command Howze expanded his bridgehead across the Erft and enough armor was thrown into the line to repel a German tank-infantry attack. Meanwhile, other elements of the division regrouped, preparatory to the assault on Cologne, which was to be from the northwest, instead of frontally. The 325th Regiment of the 99th Division, and the 4th Cavalry Group were attached. The 13th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division had been attached to the "Spearhead" throughout the operation. The stage was set. The bridgehead was adequate. Jerry found his nerves to be extremely jumpy.

Luftwaffe Makes Good Try

During the night of February 28, an estimated 75 German planes attempted to knock out artillery supporting the operation. It was a trying night. Over the "Spearhead" positions there was a constant hum of aircraft, each individual machine sounding as though it was missing on two cylinders. Then there'd be the erie [sic] rising whistle of the bombs and, if they were close, the unbelievably loud crash. Not one gun position was hit, although gunners of the 67th Armored Field Artillery Battalion suffered losses. Jerry lost a number of his precious planes to ack-ack, some of it fired by the 486th Automatic Anti-Aircraft "Anti-anything-Jerry" Battalion. No appreciable slowing of the attack was noted.

Although the Kraut continued to pour artillery, mortar, and rocket fire on the bridgehead area throughout March 1, Bergheim and Kenton fell to the attached 395th RCT. The enemy was also fast losing his grip on those hills, east of the Erft, from which he had been observing American operations.

Objective - Cologne

Again, on March 2, the division plunged into attack. Reconnaissance cleared an area north-west of Niederaussem and Task Force Richardson took the town. Task Force Hogan skirted an anti-tank ditch to clear the small villages of Wiedenfeld and Auenheim, and Combat Command Hickey, in a coordinated drive by Task Force Doan and Task Force Kane, took Oberaussem. The 395th Infantry proceeded to clean up the town of Fortuna and the factory area in that town. This attached infantry was the unit which took Hill 140, a slag pile which was the highest ground in the area.

The enemy was tiring visibly as Doan jumped off at 0400 on the 3rd. Entering Fliesteden against a surprised garrison, his tankers took many prisoners, one of whom was a colonel. Task Force Kane pressed on to Mansteden, and Doan added Geyen and Sinthern, which brought his steel spearhead to four miles from the outskirts of Cologne.

At Busdorf, Task Force Kane had knocked several armored vehicles, including self propelled guns, out of his path. Richardson, Lovelady and Hogan together took Stommeln in the hardest fighting of the day. Here the tired but determined tankers met enemy armor, mines and anti-tank fire. Colonel Welborn's force moved forward to secure the town of Sinnersdorf, approximately four miles from the Rhine and less than five miles from the limits of Cologne. On this day, Task Force Hogan had encountered enemy panzer units in a small place called Monchof. His armor destroyed the enemy, took the town of Rheidt and used Thunderbolt fighter-bombers to clear more Kraut tanks from the routes of advance before pushing on to Stommeln. Now, for the first time, the tankers and armored infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division knew definately that they were going to lunge for Cologne. They'd suspected as much!

Colonel Prentice E. Yeomans' 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, flushed with the opportunity to demonstrate its wares, jumped off during the night of March 3, 4, with the river as its destination. The reconnaissance troopers found the town of Roggendorf, protecting enemy ferry sites, strongly held, so these lightly armored but swift elements of the "Spearhead" turned north toward Hackhausen. Here they captured a battery of 105 guns, still hitched to prime movers, and reached the Rhine at 0400 on March 4, north of Worringen, the first unit of the First Army to reach the great water barrier protecting Hitler's inner fortress. Task Force Lovelady then took Roggendorf and Worringen. Here the two forces repelled a determined counter-attack mounted with infantry and tanks.

The division was now on the Rhine in strength. The 4th Cavalry was engaged in clearing a wooded area north-west of Hackhausen, and the bulk of the "Spearhead" was ready to direct its forces at the defences of Cologne.

Fall of the Big Town

At 0710 on March 5, Colonel L.L. Doan's task force was in Cologne, the first Americans of the First Army to reach that long sought city. Major General Maurice Rose entered the metropolitan district soon afterward.

Doan's forward plunging tankers entered Cologne through the north-west suburbs and were soon in the Binkendorf area. Enemy resistance here was light. Mines were noticeably absent and underpasses had been feebly blocked with trolley cars, but not blown.

After taking the airport, where numbers of dual purpose 88's were knocked out or captured, Task Force Kane also advanced into the city.

Greater resistance was offered to elements of Combat Command Boudinot by German elements who strove to keep his Shermans and Pershings away from the river where ferries were busily engaged in removing whipped troops to the east bank of the Rhine. In spite of this resistance Task Force Welborn took eight outlying towns. Colonel Lovelady's force took three towns, and the 83rd cleared Langel, Rheinkassel and Kasselberg on the river. The recon men captured a Panther tank intact after destroying several others.

As "Spearhead" units moved in for the kill, there was furious tank and anti-tank warfare. German forces using dual purpose ant-aircraft guns and panzerfausts put up a spotty but vicious series of defences. The ruins of the city were at first alive with snipers and machine-gun teams. Systematically the infantry hunted them out. Finally, nothing but an occasional sniper, a few bazooka men and several prowling panter tanks were reported in the city.

On March 6, as our elements probed closer to the river, Jerry blew the great Hohenzollern Bridge across the Rhine. The pillar of black smoke rose up almost between the twin spires of Cologne's famous Dom. An unnatural silence fell over the great metropolis then. Infantrymen of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment mopped up in the ruins. Sporadic mortar fire and artillery crumped loud in the dead stillness, and a few snipers kept tumbling out of the high piled ruins. The great cathedral was cleared, and it seemed that Cologne was swiftly passing into limbo of "rear area." There was, however, a final, convulsive struggle in the defence of the metropolis.

A pair of army photographers, T/3 Leon Rosenman, and T/4 James Bates, shooting motion pictures of a Panther they thought to be knocked out, were shocked when the big enemy vehicle suddenly turned to open fire on an American Sherman. The Sherman was hit and knocked out, but one of the "Spearhead" Pershings accepted the challenge. After a swift exchange of armor piercing rounds, the Nazi panzerwagon burst into flame and burned fiercely in the very shadow of the cathedral. The cameraman got it all - a sequence of battle which ranks high among great war photographs.

Two hours and 15 minutes after the tank dual, Task Force Doan was on the Rhine. To the left, Colonel Kane's forces also reached the river, while further to the left, a pocket of resistance remained.

Task Force Welborn had taken the Ford Motor Plant, north of the city, on the Rhine, as well as a factory area nearby, while Lovelady had cleared the town of Merkenich and pushed on. Fuhlingen also fell to his troops. Colonel Sam Hogan's men, working down the river bank, took Merheim and Miehl before moving into the city. The fighting was in its last stages.

By March 7, Cologne was completely cleared by the 3rd Armored Division and the 104th Infantry Division. It was a dead city, a place of rubble which represented five years of aerial bombardment and final invasion by ground forces. The 3rd had come to the end of another swift drive.

The "Spearhead" had reached the Rhine, first of the heavyweight First Army. Once, these veterans who had come from Omaha Beach, through Normandy and France and Belgium, to pierce the Siegfried line and take the first German town to fall to an invader since Napoleonic days, had believed that the war would end on the "sacred" river. Now they all felt that the battle would go on. Would it be a frontal smash, straight across? An airborne landing to secure bridge heads? The men of the "Spearhead" mopped up conquered Cologne and waited. There was always one more river to cross!

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[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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