During the two plus weeks that waters from Schwammenauel Dam continued to flood the Roer River, our 303rd Engineers maintained observation posts on the river to monitor the level of water in the dam and the current and depth of the river.  Meantime, our infantry sent patrols across on rubber rafts to probe enemy dispositions and mislead them concerning our intentions.  When the flooding eased, Corps directed the 9th Infantry Division just north of us to assault across on the Roer River on 27 February, assisted by diversionary fire from our Artillery and a simulated river crossing in our zone.  Once the 9th Division was across, our 311th combat team was to cross also on bridges in the 9th Division sector and attack south across the 78th Division front to seize bridgeheads for remaining division units to cross the river near Blens and Heimbach.[57] (See Seizing Bridgehead map on next page.) 


During the night of 27 February, 311th foot elements marched eighteen miles from Harscheidt to cross the Roer River  on a light bridge at Zerkall, and their vehicles crossed on a heavier bridge near Nidiggen.  The troops married up with their vehicles at Nidiggen to attack south, driving through the German 3rd Parachute Division, self-propelled guns, and minefields to reach Heimbach by the morning of 2 March.  This attack provided a bridgehead across our eight thousand-yard division front.  The rest of our division could readily cross the Roer River to continue attacking to the east.


After we had cleared the bridgehead, our B Company built a seventy-foot “Dogma Charlie” footbridge across the Roer River at Blens.  The raging waters of the river were too fast for the usual floating footbridge, but the thin metal H-frames readily withstood the current!  On 1 March, foot elements of the 309th Infantry and parts of the 310th Infantry crossed[58]  on the footbridge!  Thus, our Division crossed very few casualties the Roer River that had held up the Allied advance for several months!   


Upon reaching Heimbach, we learned that three craters in a road along a hillside would block the 2nd Division’s arrival from the south.  Accordingly, I sent Lieutenant Timm’s platoon to repair the craters from our end of the road.  We spent a day closing the craters and, sure enough, the 2nd Division reached Heimbach just as we finished!  Our efforts expedited their advance a full day!


Immediately upon crossing the Roer, the 309th and 310th Infantry of our division began their drives across the Cologne Plain to the Rhine River, 35 miles away.  Our 311th Infantry began driving east from Enzen on 5 March, to protect the right flank of the division, beginning from assembly areas east of Heimbach in Burvenich (1st Battalion), Sinsenich (2nd Battalion), and Langendorf (3rd Battalion).  By the night of 6 March, they had driven 12 miles, capturing 20 major towns south of the line through Zulpich, Euskirchen, and Reinbach.  These included Ober Gartzem, Firmenich, Veynau, Satsvey, Antweiler, Billig, Rhedar, Kreuzweingarten, Stotzheim, Ndr and Obr Kastenholz, Kircheim, Flammersheim, Ringsheim, Schweinheim, Queckenberg, Waldau, Schlebach, Merzbach, Irlenbusch, and Neukirchen.[59] Our regiment was on the right flank of the Division which, in turn, was on the right flank of First Army.  Though we gave some attention to providing mine blocks on roads leading in from the south, only enemy machine gun and bazooka outposts covered most such roads.  The Germans were too fully preoccupied with their respective fronts to give much attention to their flanks, so nothing occurred to test the precautions.[60]


Compared to the yard by yard fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, this campaign was a high-powered plunge to the Rhine, last large natural barrier before Berlin. There were no more pillboxes, dragon’s teeth or extended mine fields.  We had breached the famous Siegfried Line and were in the open with the German Army on the run.  Ahead of us lay the Cologne Plain.  It was time to attack and attack, giving the German Army no rest and reaching the Rhine River as quickly as possible.[61] The Germans were employing delaying tactics, placing log barricades on approaches to towns, demolishing bridges, and blowing craters in the roads. Defending towns as long as practicable, the Krauts then fell back on the next towns to fight again.  With their Wehrmacht in full flight, the German civilians in many towns often surrendered without a struggle by displaying white flags or sheets on their houses.[62] German soldiers also began surrendering to us in droves. 


We moved ahead rapidly, sleeping in a town for a night, gaining our first taste of German wine and schnapps, then rushing eastward to catch up with the front lines.  We were constantly clearing roads and constructing bypasses.  Using our bulldozers and A-frame hoists to remove log barricades and other obstacles, we became quite adept at clearing the way and were seldom delayed very long. 


Our Tennessee maneuver training in decentralized operations paid off as we supported infantry battalions several miles apart.  My three platoons undertook their general mission of helping their respective infantry battalions to advance, breaching obstacles encountered (mines, barbed wire, craters, blown bridges, and muddy roads), marking safe routes (e.g. ”mines cleared to shoulders”), and emplacing hasty antitank obstacles.  Keeping the platoons aware of where to reach me for help, I’d circulate daily along the avenues of advance of their infantry battalions to reinforce our support where needed.  Our three excellent platoon leaders took the bit in their teeth and ran with it.


In supporting the 311th Infantry, I seldom found it necessary to attend the regiment’s daily issuance of orders to commanders because we had a mutual understanding that we would automatically support the battalions within their zones unless coordinated otherwise.  It usually sufficed to keep track of infantry battalion boundaries and pass them to my platoons.  In determining the boundaries, I usually dropped by regimental headquarters in midmorning to see the S-3 and review overall status.  I’d stop by again late in the evening to get their plans for next day.  The issuance of orders generally took so much time on matters of little concern to me that I found it better to remain out with my men.  My platoon leaders operated the same way with their battalions.  They knew their battalion S-3 people well enough to pick up quickly on what was going on and say, “Yep, I see your boundaries.  I’ll clear the roads to them.  We’ll open this main road first, so you can get your wounded back and your ammunition forward.”  Usually we would have two battalions forward and the third battalion would leapfrog one of the others.  This was S.O.P.  (Standard Operating Procedure)  that we had learned in Tennessee maneuvers.  It was teamwork.  Only when we had a big task would I pull a platoon away from its battalion and direct another platoon to cover two battalions temporarily.


 Meanwhile, I was out checking my platoons and how our infantry battalions were doing.  Upon gaining each objective, my men would install daisy chain antitank mine blocks on roads leading in from the enemy.  Sometimes I’d find the infantry already on their objectives.  When I’d get back to regiment, I’d check in with the S-3 and then visit with the regimental commander.  He was always there, so I’d drop in as a courtesy and let him know how his battalions were doing.  I was one of the few people operating all over his regimental area who saw him frequently.  Sometimes I’d tell him a battalion had already taken its objectives before he had heard received the news.  Apparently the battalions learned that when they reported reaching objectives too early, they’d receive new objectives to attack in the same day, so they waited until mid-afternoon to report being on their objectives.  My repeated visits gave me good insights into the operation of the 311th infantry.  They, of course, were telling me where they were going and I was maintaining their support.  We worked well together.


For the first time we were taking German towns full of civilians.  Before we crossed the Roer River we had seen few German civilians, but now the towns were full of them.  As we moved through a German industrial area, Sergeant DeFriese found a small diesel engine driving an electric generator and mounted it on a two-wheel trailer so we could tow it with us.  We used it to power our CP electric lights when combat had cut off local electricity.  This also powered our company fund-procured radio that kept us in touch with the British Broadcasting Corporation and the world.  Our company communicators connected this company radio to captured German Army sound-power telephones that distributed the radio broadcasts throughout our company.  Every squad had a couple of these telephones.  As soon as we halted for the night, the squads would tie into the company radio.  All phones connected to the radio could talk to everyone listening.  Since everyone wanted to listen to the radio, this arrangement provided a convenient company communication system with minimum effort.


When our company relocated, First Sergeant Titus had the job of selecting where to set up the company CP.  Invariably he picked a beer hall to serve also as company mess hall and provide beer along with meals.  My mess crew prided itself on serving hot meals three times a day and passing hot food out in “marmite cans” to others not able to reach the mess hall   We seldom had to resort to K rations, except for men out on patrol with the infantry.  One day when we stopped for lunch in Flammersheim halfway across the German plain, I found all cooks and the mess sergeant drunker than skunks.  Our men coming in to eat had no chow!  Of course, this incident made me infuriated with our mess sergeant and his cooks, who never had to risk their lives in the front lines with the rest of our men!  I promptly busted them all to private.  They continued in their same jobs, drawing private’s pay for a month or so until we later restored their rank.  We never had a cold meal again.  Company commanders have no such latitude today!   


During combat, I had little opportunity to eat meals in the company because I was usually out checking our progress across the front.  I’d often grab a bit with the nearest infantry or drop by our company kitchen between meals for a fried egg sandwich.  I had learned to like fried egg sandwiches and hot coffee during the Tennessee winter maneuvers.  Before Tennessee, I didn’t drink coffee because my mother had told me as a kid that coffee would stunt my growth.  That’s why I grew tall!  I found in the Tennessee maneuvers that I had to drink coffee to keep warm.  I never worried about where to eat.  My job was the important thing and my stomach seldom bothered me, whether I ate or not.  Ever since then, I tend to feel cold when I drink coffee--probably a conditioned reflex to those cold days!  I don’t drink coffee now unless I’m very cold.


Aside from the disruptions of life due to bombings most Rhinelanders had apparentl suffered few hardships.  They were well fed and well dressed, but bewildered.  Only when we arrived did they realize that Germany wasn’t winning the war.  Such had been the effect of Goebbel’s propaganda on the average citizen.  Suddenly they heard of Allied tanks only a few miles away, and a few moments later the tanks were rumbling and belching fire through their streets.  The Rhinelanders were also angry--angry at Hitler, angry at us, angry at everybody except themselves.  In order to convey to the Germans our disgust of Hitler and his supporters, our Nonfraternization Policy strictly banned us soldiers from being friendly with the German populace.  Fines ranging from $50 to $125 were imposed for engaging in casual conversations with Rhinelanders; so we had little opportunity to judge our unwilling hosts, except from somewhat superficial observations.[63]


We slept in different houses almost every day as we advanced. The houses often contained pictures of Hitler that had been hastily taken down.  When we snarled at Hitler’s picture, the Germans would point at it and say, “Nicht gut!  Nicht gut! (Not good!).”  They certainly showed no loyalty to their leader!


In selecting my bedroom, 1st Sgt. Titus would tell the owners, “This is for der Hauptman (head man).”  The Germans would always make a fresh bed for me and, without fail, place a piece of pie or cake alongside, often with a little flower.  I never understood how they could be so accommodating to an enemy.  Coming from a Southern family whose women repeatedly turned their backs on Yankees to shame them, I expected similar treatment.  Therefore, I suspected the Germans of offering me poisoned food and never ate any of it.  Only later when I got to know the Germans better did I realize that one of their characteristics throughout the centuries has been a readiness to reject losing leaders and accept victors.  I had passed up a lot of good pies and cakes!


            As the papers have announced, we have crossed the Roer River and entered into the Cologne Plain.  What a beautiful countryside!  Great level fields spread out for miles, interrupted here and there by clusters of houses.  Unlike our farmers who live in individual homesteads, the farmers here band together in villages from which their crops fan out.  They grow lots of sugar beets and some rye, but I see no pastures.  I wonder how they feed the cattle that I see in their barns.  Surely the cattle don’t remain in the barns in the summer!


            It is a relief to leave the battered Hurtgen Forest.  Now most houses are whole with all their roofs and windows.  I usually have my C.P. in some house and, of course, sleep in the best bed. These German beds are like double beds--built side by side with wonderfully soft mattresses and beautiful bed clothing.  The bedroom seems to be the best room in the house with fine carvings in the ceilings and pretty landscapes out the windows.  They cast doubt that the German national pastime is really war!


            Unlike the towns in the Hurtgen forest, the ones here are full of civilians--mostly women, children, and old people.  Many houses display white flags or sheets on flagpoles that, no doubt, once bore swastikas.  It is disgusting how the adults kowtow to us, declaring they don’t like Hitler and want the war to end soon.  But we don’t trust them one bit.  Complying with our Nonfraternization Policy, we return their smiles with cold stares.


            You should see how our GI's take over a town once it’s captured.  They investigate each store and scatter its contents.  When they enter a storehouse full of typewriters, they fill the place with active, aspiring typists.  They sport top hats and umbrellas.  They dash madly about on captured cars and motorcycles.  As soon as the shooting stops, they’re just overgrown kids, ready for fun and displaying the typical American disregard for property. 


            Unfortunately, I see much evidence of looting by some of our victorious soldiers.  Some seem to take an almost fiendish glee in searching through stores and homes and tearing them apart.  They break into wine cellars and get gloriously drunk, collecting trophies, only to discard them later for richer ones.  Though we have been taught to hate the Germans, it’s a shame to visit such wanton destruction on them.  (6 Mar 45)


When approaching the Erft Canal near Stotzheim, we learned the Krauts had placed demolitions on the bridge across the canal.  Upon hearing this, Glen Timm’s 2nd Platoon sent Privates First Class Kurt Storkel and James Suddath to ride the lead tank to inspect the road for mines.  Privates First Class Alfred Gray and Charles Shepherd raced on a tank to the bridge and cut the demolition wires before they were blown.  On their way, they were fired on and accompanying doughboys left the tanks to clear the way.  Our engineers stuck to the tanks that dashed onward.  A few hundred yards from the bridge, the Krauts sent a terrific mortar barrage against the tanks.  As the engineers leapt off the tanks, a shell splinter wounded Private First Class Gray’s arm.  Shortly thereafter, the Krauts set off their demolitions, destroying the bridge.[64] Having anticipated this result, I had arranged for two Treadway Bridge trucks to come forward.  They quickly bridged the gap and we raced onward.


In the forest three miles east of Flammersheim, we met what at first seemed to be the most concentrated mass of exploding enemy weapons and firepower ever; however, we quickly realized the Krauts were trying to destroy a huge ammunition and gasoline dump scattered for miles through the woods.  Our foot elements bypassed the dumps, but their vehicles had to run a full gauntlet along the roads, spurred on by gradually diminishing explosions.[65]


In eight days our 309th and 311th Infantry regiments advanced thirty-five miles and captured forty-seven towns and more than 1500 prisoners.  Meanwhile our 310th Infantry was motorized to accompany the 9th Armored Division, which surged through us after we crossed the Erft Canal.  Their column jammed our main route for a full day, causing many frustrating traffic snarls.  Mounted on open-top trucks and preceded by tanks, the 310th captured 2300 prisoners and thirty-five more towns by March 7th, including Euskirchen, Rheinbach, and Bad Neuenahr and advanced toward the Rhine town of Remagen,[66] 25 miles south of Bonn.  


Remagen is a two thousand-year-old city of leather-tanners and wine-makers.  The church and monastery of St. Apollinaris rose within.  Originally a Celtic town, it was later fortified by the Romans, whose presence remains in several ruined walls, a Roman gate, and a Roman road built A.D. 162.  According to legend, Apollinaris, a pupil of the Apostle Paul, was beheaded in Italy.  The martyr’s followers preserved his head in a silver casket that Frederick Barbarossa sent to the Cologne Cathedral in 1164.  On the final stage of its voyage down the Rhine, the boat carrying the casket turned into the shore at Remagen despite the best efforts of the helmsman to continue to Cologne.  Considering this a miracle reflecting a divine will for the relic to remain there, the people of Remagen erected a great church as a shrine to contain the silver casket.  Long reputed to have miracle-working powers of healing, the relic has attracted thousands of pilgrims each year for centuries.[67]


Crossing the Rhine at Remagen was the Ludendorf Bridge.  Built in 1918[68]  by Allied prisoners during World War I, it carried two railway lines and a pedestrian walkway, and it was considered one of the finest steel truss spans over the Rhine. The Krauts planked it over during World War II to carry truck traffic as well as rail. This was one of forty-seven bridges spanning the Rhine that the Germans systematically prepared for destruction to take advantage of the last formidable natural barrier facing the Western Allies before reaching the industrial heartland of Germany.[69]

[57] Lightning History of 78th Inf. Div., Infantry Journal Press, Wash, DC, 1947, pp. 128-129.
[58] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 43.
[59] Combat journal of Timberwolf Regt., 78th Lightning Div., WWII 1944-45, 311 In., p. 38.
[60] Donald W. Adams, “The 310th Field Artillery Bn. WW II, ETO,” The Flash, May 1957.  (RJ p.28.)
[61] “Bits and Pieces About E Company, 310th Infantry,” Rhine Journey, p.58.
[62] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 45.
[63] “War’s Wake in the Rhineland,” The National Geographic Magazine, 1945, p. 3, volume unknown
[64] History, 303rd Engineer (C) Battalion, published in Berlin, 1945, p. 45.
[65] Combat journal of Timberwolf Regt.,78th Lightning Div., WWII 1944-45, 311 Inf., p. 38.
[66] Lightning History of 78th Inf. Div., Infantry Journal Press, Wash, DC, 1947, p. 46.
[67] “War’s Wake in the Rhineland,” The National Geographic Magazine, 1945, p.17, volume unknown.
[68] (AP) Remagen, West Germany, “German Town Sells Stones From Historic WW II Bridge,”  (RJ, p55.)
[69] Dr. Joel Colton, Duke Magazine, Jul-Aug 1995.