Day by Day in the Ruhr Pocket ...
8 April 1945
Shortly after dawn, I Company jumped off again, moving over the same ground they had covered the day before and picking up prisoners as they went. It was a crisp cool morning and the freshness of the air helped clean the haze out of the fogged minds of the tired GIs as they marched down the slope toward Steeg. The company column swung left before reaching Steeg and began moving northwest.
A patrol was sent off to the left flank and found 13 unarmed Germans and about 150 Russian and Polish slave-laborers. A little later, engineers, coming up behind the company to establish a two-way road chain, ran into a dozen Germans who had slipped into a farmhouse after the company had moved through. Two were killed and the others took off on the run toward Steeg.
The advancing GIs passed newly laid German communication wire and cut it before the Wehrmacht ever got a chance to use it.
While Item's first and third platoons were nearing their objective to the northwest, Company L moved out of Alzen to meet three tanks and a tank destroyer that had been released by K Company. When the armor arrived a half-hour later, L Company advanced into the wooded hills overlooking Morsbach and waited there for orders to attack. As usual the troops had dug in and were partially protected from the intermittent enemy shellfire.
Morsbach lay clustered around the road junction in a triangular hollow below L Company's position. The forward observers moved up to high spots along the edge of the forest and began to pick out targets. In a few minutes M Company's mortars and the 903rd FA'S 105 howitzers were blasting holes in the town.
An enemy tank was spotted and its location relayed to the TD commander. He brought his Tank Destroyer up with only the barrel of the gun pointing out of the green shadow of the trees. Eight rounds were fired and five connected. The tank began to burn and the Jerries hauled it away under cover of a smoke screen. Later in the day the knocked-out tank was captured about 580 yards south of Ober Warnsbach. The Germans had salvaged the ammunition and destroyed the gun.
Orders finally came for Company L to attack and the riflemen started down the slope toward town with M Company's mortars and heavy machine guns covering their advance from fixed positions. The second platoon, with light machine guns attached, moved under cover of the woods to the road junction. The trees were so dense as to make observation impossible and a two-wire team went with the platoon for communications.
The third platoon climbed onto the three tanks and the TD and traveled down the road to hit the enemy from the west flank in a coordinated push with the second platoon. They moved through Lt. Hibbard's men, dismounted at the road junction, and began clearing the houses one by one.
Contact between platoons was maintained by "536" radio. The second platoon was clearing the high ground on the West Side of town. It ran into two buildings filled with Germans and there was a short but vicious exchange of fire in which the GIs used bazookas, rifle grenades and mortars as well as small arms. Ten Germans were killed and ten captured.
With Morsbach cleared, the company climbed into the hills north of town and began the approach march on Birzel. The armor had to crawl up a narrow dirt road and one squad went with it as protection. The second platoon was traveling on the left side of the road with the other two clearing the high ground on the right.
Contact with the enemy came just before the lead scouts reached Birzel. The advance was held up while mortars and artillery threw shells over the GIs' heads into' the German positions.
Engineers had come up behind the infantry to get the road in shape for use as a supply route. They discovered German plastic mines in front of the company and dug out eight of them so that the advance could continue.
There was a house filled with German soldiers a few hundred yards from town and the tanks opened up on it. Krauts could be seen scurrying out of the house and diving for cover. The tanks held their fire while Company L's riflemen stormed into the house and killed a few Germans who had stayed behind.
Heavy fire, from the woods behind the house forced the GIs to get out and the Germans returned.
Again the Blue Infantrymen poured bazooka and machine gun fire into the rapidly deteriorating building and regained it this time for keeps. The Germans had enough. White flags appeared and about a hundred prisoners were taken.
The 4.2 and 81-mm mortars then laid a terrific barrage into the town itself and 180 more Krauts came out with their hands in the air. The little village of Birzel was now in American hands.
As the company moved into town, and artillery liaison plane swooped in low, dipping its wings. It circled back and the pilot dropped a note saying there were two Germans tanks 1500 yards to the north and that one of them was apparently disabled. The pilot's information proved to be completely accurate.
The second platoon led the advance on Ober Warnsbach while Captain Barzelay and the rest of the company remained in the woods. The disabled German tank was found by the GIs just before they reached the town.
Resistance in Ober Warnsbach was light. Seven PWs were taken and the entire company moved in with orders to dig in and hold.
Company K had waited until Company L crossed the Auburn phase line at Morsbach before beginning its attack. Up to that time, K's CP was used as an observation post for directing mortar and artillery fire on possible enemy strong points and on actual German traffic around the autobahn.
When the jump-off came at 1650, the company was without its armor and moved out on, foot. They left Stentenbach once more and cleared the woods to the northeast. German patrols had been reported in the area but none were contacted.
The first mission, establishment of a road block on the Steeg-Morsbach highway, was accomplished under fire. Two Germans were killed and eleven captured.
Machine-guns, riflemen, and one anti-tank gun were left at the road block and the remainder of the company followed the first platoon into Wasser. There was some resisting machine-gun and semi-automatic fire as the company passed through and the first platoon stayed behind to clean up the place while the others infiltrated into Steeg under cover of darkness.
The platoon in Wasser suffered a few casualties before silencing the enemy weapons but accomplished its mission and remained there until ordered to rejoin the rest of K Company. The few scattered houses designated on the map as the town of Hammer offered little resistance. While going through the buildings, the GIs found wounded soldiers who had been left behind when Company I was driven back the day before. The Germans had given them neither trouble nor assistance.
One GI had had a leg shot off and was treated by the Germans and left to die. For 16 hours, he lay in the farmhouse keeping himself alive by pure guts until K Company picked him up.
A squad was placed in Hammer to maintain a road block, and the force that had established the other road block earlier in the day came up the main road on foot to rejoin the main body of the company in Steeg. Tanks which had joined Company K at Wasser followed along behind the foot troops.
It was quite dark by this time and Steeg was not actually cleared of Germans until the following morning. A perimeter defense was set up and the GIs sweated out the night, getting what sleep they could while cautiously awaiting the dawn.
I Company, in Ober Warnsbach, had sent a patrol back to contact the 309th's G Company in Morsbach. Contact was made and Lt. Wright of the 309th returned with the patrol. Shortly after dusk, Lieutenant Ochs, leading I Company in its advance to the northwest contacted Captain Barzelay, and informed him that Company I was going to move through the town. At 2210 the company came walking in and stopped just long enough to have chow before proceeding on to Kappenstein. There were supposed to be enemy tanks between Ober Warnsbach and Kappenstein so one tank and one TD left L and followed I Company up the road. However, the armor was blocked by another vehicle and the infantry had to continue alone.
The night was dark and eight of the enemy stumbled through the company's lines and were captured by the second platoon which was spread out through the'w6ods flanking the road on either side.
A lone German sentry tried to stop the company's advance about 25 yards from the first building in Kappenstein. He was killed.
Immediately, the silent darkness was shattered by the sharp popping of small arms fire as the Krauts opened up from houses on both side of the road. The company advanced into the fire and took fifty prisoners of whom a dozen were officers.
The Krauts had plenty of weapons and ammo but were caught napping, and I Company took the town with only one casualty.
The third day in the Ruhr Pocket ended with the situation much brighter than it had been the night before. The battalion had covered a lot of ground with casualties relatively light, and the Jerries were being driven back toward the center of the pocket where they would be forced to surrender or be completely wiped out by the American troops that were relentlessly closing in from all sides.