Original U.S. Named Anti-Tank Company 271st Infantry Regiment Named Ike Jacket with Reseach
Original Item: One-of-a-kind. Private Richard D. Yeagley from Lebanon, Pennsylvania served in World War Two as a member of the Anti-Tank Company, 271st Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division. he is mentioned numerous times in "A History of the 271st Anti Tank Company - 69th Infantry Division" which can be downloaded at this link. Included in this grouping are the following items:
- WWII Ike jacket with dog tag chain border Seventh United States Army insignia patch to left shoulder, dog tag chain border 69th infantry division insignia patch to right shoulder, enamel distinctive unit insignia lapel pins, unique Combat Infantryman Sterling Badge with 69th ID enamel insignia to center. Medal ribbons: Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War Two Victory Medal, European-Africa-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two campaign stars. Ruptured duck patch and 3 overseas service bars on left shelve for 18+ months served overseas. Jacket is size 34R and named YEAGLEY in ink cross the interior lining by the neck.
- Research Binder with copies of Yeagley's original wartime documents as ell as additional research as well as his obituary and a printed copy of "The Story of Anti Tank Co. 271st Inf".
- Original copy of the 69th Infantry Division Pictorial History book.
Approximate Measurements of IKE jacket:
Collar to shoulder: 10.5"
Shoulder to sleeve: 26.5"
Shoulder to shoulder: 16"
Chest width: 19"
Waist width: 17"
Hip width: 24.5"
Front length: 16"
History of The 271st Infantry Regiment
On 15 May 1943, a new division, the 69th, was activated at Camp Shelby, Miss. One of its regiments, the 271st, was born the same day, and this is its story to date. Every soldier, no matter what his present desire, Army career or civilian life, will long remember the outfit with which he went to war. Perhaps these are some of the things that will come to your mind at the American Legion Convention many years hence, when someone asks you what outfit you were in.
Camp Shelby, Mississippi! Who will ever forget it? That place could get so cold in the winter and so hot in the summer! For over 17 months, we lived and trained there, among the woods and chiggers, in the dust and mud of good old DeSoto National Forest, until many began to think that all the world was Mississippi, and that Hattiesburg was the capital of the world. You could get a good steak in Hattiesburg for about three dollars and a quart of blood, and living space was adequate if you were lucky enough to have a trailer or a tent.
“The 69th will never leave Shelby!” Remember? That byword must have been put out by the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce to give its citizens some good excuse for living there! It reminds you of the man who kept saying to the end: “They can’t do this to me!”
It is a proven fact that no division in the Army got more or better training than we did. A great many of our officers and men have been with the outfit since it was activated. But who is there among us who can forget how we got that old B.B.B. nickname? It seemed that you’d just about be getting used to sleeping in a bunk, and your chigger bites would be healing a bit, when someone would announce that we were getting “garrison bound,” and off we’d go to the woods again. Oh well, in the light of later developments, we were grateful for the experience we’d had.
The time spent in Shelby netted us many lasting friendships and pleasant associations. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the “Southerner” ran through Hattiesburg, and there was always New Orleans. Remember?
It was on 31 October 1944 that we crawled out from under a mountain of equipment and sank down in a Pullman chair for a last look at Camp Shelby. Reactions to the parting were mixed and varied. There were those who had been there so long that they would actually miss such landmarks as Lake Shelby, Highway 49, O.P. 5, Whiskey Creek, the red-scarred hill, and the “lone pine tree.” Some welcomed the move, as the start of a new adventure, the culmination of our extended training. There would be no more “D” Series, no more Biloxi Bounce, nor Hattiesburg bus lines. This was the point at which we were to start the long trek to a fighting front.
But where were we going? The Pullman porter knew, but like all railroad employees, he was the vaguest source of information, and there remained only the usual unimpeachable channels of latrine rumors. It wasn’t long, however, before word started spreading from car to car that we were doing the “Jersey Bounce!” The Yankees in the crowd started immediately to expound on the merits of New Jersey, with assurances to all who had never been there that they were now to see how the “other half” lived. It was true. We were on the way to Camp Kilmer, near New Brunswick, and the prospect was thrilling to those lucky individuals who happened to live in the vicinity. The trip was pleasant, with the usual troop train diversions. Some played cards, others sat and talked; some just sat. The food was good, and the Pullman bunks were clean and comfortable.
The first group of the regiment arrived at Kilmer early the morning of 2 November, and all during the day, the balance of the command arrived. To the accompaniment of some lively music, we marched to the two-story barracks that were to be our home for the next few days. Almost immediately began the overseas orientation schedule, and it was amazing to note the efficiency with which the many details were accomplished. Remember the cargo nets, the lifeboat drill, the lectures on censorship, the procedure in case of capture, the introduction to the Army’s new type of gas mask, etc.? Or who will forget that physical exam, where they passed you by an electric bulb, and if they couldn’t see through you, the seal of approval was put on your forehead, the equivalent of a free ticket for an ocean trip.
Of the many good features of Kilmer, its most appealing was its proximity to New York, just 20-odd miles away. Remember those passes to the big city? Time Square, the Village, the Music Hall, and the way you skidded through the gates in Penn. Station for that 5 a.m. train back to Kilmer…There was so much to do and so little time in which to do it…Take a last look; pour down that last scotch and soda…It may be a long time. It was even harder for those who had been able to get home and had to say the last farewell when the last pass neared its expiration hour. But this was what we had been training for.
On 14 November, we again boarded a train, but this time it was a very short trip; in fact so short that it almost wasn’t worthwhile to get out of the GI harness, since they were soon lining us up to get off. Next a ferry ride, but without the familiar atmosphere of the accordion player and considerably less comfortable. Across the river, amid much speculation as to where we were headed, we finally pulled in at Pier 44, where they added insult to injury by having a band play “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.” The Red Cross was on hand to pass out coffee and sinkers to those who still had strength enough to hold up the cup. Beside us was a large ocean liner, dark and gray in the night. It was at this time that all who had the hot tip on the “Queen Mary” paid off their bets, and we all struggled up the gangplank of the MS John Ericcson. Formerly the Swedish luxury liner Kungsholm, she was to be our home for several days. The ship was spacious and well planned as a trooper, so that there was no confusion as the men were rapidly assigned to their quarters. A new and thrilling experience for most of us, and about this time, we began to wonder if the 69th would ever leave Shelby!
Once assigned and quickly oriented to the need of wearing lifejackets, we put the weary bones to bed on canvas cots, which were in four tiers and strung in every possible place. It was not until 0600 the next morning that we set sail, and in the gray mist of early morning, we saw the familiar and beloved skyline of New York drop from view. Through the Narrows, and out into open water, where we were soon joined by many other ships that were to be in our convoy. One had only to look around at these vessels to be impressed with the stupendous shipping problem that war presented and be struck with the efficiency with which the problem was being met.
Those of us who had been landlubbers all our life were soon tossing coins to decide which was port and which was starboard, and trying hard not to look too lost when someone said something about the “Liberty two points off the port bow.” It wasn’t long before the gulls began to drop back, and we came to realize that the ocean was a pretty large place.
Life aboard ship was fun, although the first few days, there were many subscribers to the idea that all the world should be land. Several green complexions and “I-don’t-care-if-I-die” expressions were noted about the third day out when we hit a rough sea. A lot of those fellows whom you saw bent over the rail were not looking for fish. And you remember how training was conducted for those hardy souls who were still able to sit up. In one corner you’d see a group dutifully listening to the voice that was telling them how much beer they could buy for a shilling, and if you stumbled further down the deck through the mass of humanity, it was common to see a bunch of puzzled faces and unwilling mouths trying to “parlez Francais” in a few not-so-easy lessons.
Then they had Ship’s Inspection each day. There were so many people in the inspecting party that it was hard to tell where today’s inspection ended and tomorrow’s began! You couldn’t stay on deck – they were cleaning it; you couldn’t go below – they were inspecting it; and the crew’s quarters were off limits. That left one alternative, namely jumping overboard. It’s a good thing we were following the southern route; it was easier to swim alongside the ship during an inspection.
This was our first opportunity to buy cigarettes for a nickel a pack, and maybe you think the men didn’t stock up. How many of us shed a sympathetic tear for the civilians at home who couldn’t buy them at any price. Special Service did a fine job on board ship, showing movies, putting on shows, arranging religious services, providing recreational facilities, and in general, making things as pleasant as possible for the men. The food was good, and on Thanksgiving Day, we were pleasantly surprised to find turkey and all the trimmings awaiting the lusty appetites that the salt air had given us. It was a memorable meal.
As for excitement during the trip, there wasn’t any, other than the thrill of standing on deck in the evening and watching the white phosphorus in the cleaved water alongside the ship, or feeling the tang of the sea air against your face. Almost made you understand the mariner’s devotion to the sea. One evening, a brightly lighted hospital ship passed near our convoy, and another time, several depth charges were dropped by the escorting naval vessels, shaking our ship considerably and making the men in the lower deck compartments wonder if their nickname, “Torpedo Junction,” might not be too far from the truth.
The 10th day out, gulls were sighted, and we knew that land could not be too far off. Our destination had already been announced, so that everyone was eager for his first glimpse of England. On the morning of 26 November, land was sighted, and we were soon passing the beautiful Isle of Wight, in southern England. From here on, it was impossible to keep the men from the rails, as no one wanted to miss a moment of it. Remember all those landing barges we saw as we approached Southampton? Could anyone help thinking of all the men who had recently used them to storm the citadel of Hitler’s Europe?
They say that England has two seasons, winter and August. We missed August. It was cold as we debarked at Southampton on 27 November to entrain for our billet area. After being served some very welcome coffee and doughnuts by the Red Cross, we helped each other get through the narrow doors of the railroad coaches, and were carried about 15 miles inland to Winchester, the ancient capital of England. Winchester, rich in story and legend, where the statue of King Alfred looks down the crooked, winding streets, and the solemn majesty of Winchester Cathedral stands quiet guard over the city, able to tell so many stories of the changes it has seen in man’s life.
Most of the regiment was billeted in Winchester Barracks, in the middle of the city, and here one got his first taste of British military tradition on noticing that over each door was inscribed the name of some famous battle in which the Hampshire Regiment had participated. After we cleaned up and got the chill out of the buildings, they turned out to be quite comfortable. The 3rd Battalion went to nearby Arlysford and there received their billets in its vicinity. Headquarters and I Company were at Armsworth House, Companies K and L were at Bighton, and M Company stayed at Bishop’s Sutton.
You will recall the many points of interest in and about Winchester. The Cathedral, built in 1079, the church of St. Cross, the Guildhall, King Arthur’s Roundtable, the Westgate, etc. It was an interesting and informative insight into British history and tradition. Remember too the pubs, the “alf & alf,” fish and chips, and last but not least those passes to London. Many lasting friendships were made in England during the seven weeks we stayed there. Much was done toward working out a more thorough understanding between Americans and Britons. Who could help but marvel at the courage and tenacity of these people upon seeing the havoc wrought in London and other cities by air raids and V-bombings?
On 16 December, we sewed our patched back on our sleeves and were permitted to tell people the identity of our unit. Christmas found us becoming quite British in our manner and having a party for those pink-cheeked English kids, most of them evacuees from bombed areas. Made you a bit homesick, didn’t it?
Also on Christmas day, we received a rush call to furnish riflemen as replacements for the forces in the Ardennes. Eight hundred and thirty-one men were sent to the front, which was saddening to those who remained behind while all this was going on across the Channel.
The holiday week found many companies having private parties in the large gymnasium at Winchester. Music and beer were plentiful, and the English ATS girls and WRENS helped so much to brighten the occasions. Many of our men were surprised to see how well these girls could jitterbug, and equally amazed at their ability to consume bitters.
New Years came and passed quickly. The pubs all closed at 2200 as usual, so that celebrations were in many cases nipped in the bud. Somehow or other, the raucous celebrations of former years would have seemed in bad taste before these people who had been bearing the burden of war for so long.
Training was conducted and numerous checks made of the combat serviceability of our equipment, which had been arriving in large piles. Weapons were zeroed in on the range, and as far as possible, we attempted to complete the finishing touches before going across the Channel. Behind the pleasant scenes at Winchester, there was ever present the sobering thought that soon we would be put to the test.
When the HMS Liangiby Castle left Southampton on 20 January, there were many who were already thinking about overseas stripes and rotational furloughs. This ship was a sister ship of the ill-fated Morro Castle and was very comfortable, having been completely refitted as a trooper. The Channel was safely negotiated, and at sunrise the morning of the 21st, we got our first glimpse of the snow-covered French coast. Since the sea was rough, we had to wait till late next evening before climbing aboard LCIs to go ashore. Who will forget the sensation he got when the nose of that LCI plopped itself down on the dark shore of LeHavre? Or that seemingly endless walk with full equipment through the ruins of the city to the railroad station, where those deluxe coaches awaited us. They were the famed 40-and-8s, and we were soon to learn why our fathers had always spoken of French boxcars as a bad memory. There had been little change since they rode them, except that the cars were 25 years older and more mellow with age. Designed to carry 40 men or 8 horses, it would appear from the odor that they had been concentrating on the latter, and from our later impressions, we all wished that they had been devoted exclusively to horses.
Snow fell all night, and it was bitter cold. We all lay huddled in a shivering mass of humanity, and no one got much sleep. Some humorist suggested setting each other’s clothes on fire, but the supply sergeants expressed a strong veto. Next morning, we saw why Normandy has always been pictured as a place of beauty. The snow had covered most of the scars of war, and the scenery was lovely. The hedgerows and the neatly laid-out farmland, with the fruit orchards in trim rows; it was easy to appreciate the fame of Normandy. Yes, it was beautiful, but God, it was cold!
At 1600 the next day, we arrived at our destination. The organic vehicles had gone ahead in motor convoy, carrying with them the quartering party, so that when we arrived, we were driven with a minimum of confusion to our billets. Schoolhouses, private homes, chateaux and other buildings had been picked for us. We stayed in what was left of a French chateau, since the Jerries had looted the place of everything worthwhile, even tearing out the wiring and fireplaces in their retreat. Regimental CP (Command Post) was at Buchy, and the battalions were spread out in neighboring towns.
With the aid of our GI French books and our high-school French, we soon learned that the French were warm and sincere in their greeting, and that they had suffered much. We also were introduced to two staple items of French life, apple cider and huge loaves of oven-baked bread. There was a spirit of amity and goodwill between us and the Normandy French.
Some training was carried on, but most of the time was devoted to servicing weapons and equipment. We were preparing ourselves mentally and physically for what lay ahead.
On 1 February 1945, we left Buchy enroute to a Marshalling Area. It was Liesse-Gizy, or “Lizzie Gizzie” as it became known, and the regimental CP was set up in the nearby town of Pierrepont. The mud here was so deep that Retreat ceremony had to be cut short, since the men would disappear from sight in a few minutes! You had to take three steps before your shoes could move. However, we were fortunate enough to secure large tents, which were easy to keep warm, and cots upon which to sleep. The place will be remembered by most of us as “Tent City.” People were beginning to wonder if the 69th would ever leave Shelby.
We were getting to be seasoned travelers by this time, so it was with little strain that we packed up and took another train trip on 7 February. After another blissful 24 hours in the boxcars, we detrained at Pepinster, Belgium, and were put aboard trucks. Just as we started, so did the rain, and a miserable few hours were spent in the trucks, cold and very wet. As always, the motors had gone on ahead in motor convoy, and by the grace of someone’s clever planning, we all ended up in the same place, namely the town of Waimes in Belgium. Here again, we saw evidences of the destructive force of war, as the place had been heavily bombed. In spite of what they had suffered in the war, the Belgian people were warmly hospitable. Although our stay was a short one, there were many evidences of goodwill, and even appreciation for their having been freed from German domination.
The 10th of February was the day we entered Germany. That morning, we moved out, combat-loaded, and took up the positions occupied by the 395th Infantry of the 99th Division in the vicinity of Hollerath, just inside the first belt of pillboxes of the infamous Siegfried Line. By 1630, all positions had been taken over, and the battle-green 69th was ready to apply the principles learned in all the months of training.
The men were far from comfortable that first night. With only one blanket and a sleeping bag in the below-freezing weather, not to mention the fact that we were subjected to harassing artillery fire, supplemented by “screaming Meemies” and considerable use of the flares. Extensive patrol activity, aimed at feeling out the strength and disposition of the enemy, was carried out for the following two weeks, and it was not long before most men had become quite used to life at the front. As someone put it: “You don’t have to worry about the ones you can hear!” After a time, you can fairly accurately tell where they will land. Morale of the command was excellent, especially when the kitchens arrived in the area, and it was possible to send up hot food to the men in the line.
During this period, all duffle bags were turned in, so that the units could travel fast and light. Condition of roads in the area was wretched, which seriously accentuated the supply problem. In the 17 days before our first attack, 30 prisoners were taken, of whom 10 were captured by our patrols. In this area too, great emphasis was put on maintaining weapons and equipment as well as much attention to proper sanitation.
After being postponed several times, our first attack was launched at 0600, 27 February. We arose at 0300, had breakfast and spent the remainder of the time in final preparations. The night was very still, and a slight mist hung in the air, an ideal morning for our purpose. It is not boasting to say here that anyone who had come into our area that morning could have accurately predicted that we would measure up to any combat assignment given us. There was no visible nervousness, no confusion, no slackening of morale. Everyone stood ready to perform his assigned tasks as though it were maneuvers at Shelby, secure in the knowledge that whatever exigencies arose, we were ready. To borrow the much-used expression: “This was it!,” and every man in the 271st knew it.
The plan of attack was as follows: The 69th Division, two regiments abreast, with 661st Tank Destroyer Battalion, were to seize and hold the high ground between Honningen and Giescheld inclusive, in order to clear the Hellenthal-Hollerath road for use as a supply route.
The 271st Infantry, with 879 Field Artillery, 880 Field Artillery and Company A of the 269th Engineers in support, would seize and hold its portion of the Division objective, after which it would be prepared to assist by fire the 273rd in the capture of Giescheid. The Second Battalion, with 879 Field Artillery, a platoon of Engineers, a platoon of Company C, 661 Tank Destroyer in support, was on the left; the First Battalion on the right, and the Third Battalion in reserve. The Third was to stand ready to furnish carrying parties to the attacking battalions during the hours of darkness, and also to occupy Dickerscheid with one company, upon call from Second Battalion, when the town was captured.
Cannon Company supported the attack of the regiment, with priority of fire to the Second Battalion. Anti-Tank Company was to provide litter squads, and also have its mine platoon sweep the roads to Dickerscheid and Buschem, after clearing mines in the vicinity of the bridge site. Company A of 269 Engineers was to construct a bridge in Second Battalion sector, and also clear mines and abatis in the First Battalion area. These were the plans, and with them well in mind, the 271st Infantry Regiment went into action the morning of 27 February 1945.
The First and Second Battalions crossed the line of departure on time and advanced towards their objectives. With a few unavoidable exceptions, the regiment reached and held its objective according to plan.
The First Battalion, in the face of stiff resistance, achieved its objective by 1030, with all companies committed. The remainder of the day they spent digging in and consolidating their positions.
Company G of the Second Battalion attacked Dickerscheid and by noon had taken four houses; by 1700 had nearly completed mopping up the town. Company F, attacking Buschem and Honningen, was able to take half of Buschem before being pinned down by fire from nearby Honningen, and was ordered to hold its present position for the night. One platoon of Company E assisted G in mopping up Dickerscheid and clearing the woods east of the town. Company K was then ordered to occupy Dickerscheid, which was accomplished, releasing G Company to close the gap between themselves and F Company.
The Third Battalion was alerted that night, but not committed until next day. Next morning, E Company was committed to assist F Company, and the two companies cleared Buschem and went on to take Honningen. Two counterattacks were repulsed in the area.
At 1400, 28 February, Company B led the First Battalion in its attack on Hahnenberg, moving towards the village from the draw southwest of it. Concurrently, plans were made for the Third Battalion, Company I on the right, Company L on the left, to take Oberreifferscheid, following a five-minute artillery preparation. Company L, however, experienced some delay in the assembly area, and did not cross the line of departure until 1450. Nonetheless, the attack was successful, and positions were consolidated.
In all the advances of these two days, enemy artillery, mortar, nebelwerfer, and machine-gun fire were encountered. However, our artillery countered with good results, causing the enemy artillery to cease firing temporarily.
Throughout the attack, morale remained at its high level. Everyone performed his duties, and many far exceeded the call of duty. It was not a pleasant experience, but through close cooperation and teamwork, all missions were accomplished, and each man emerged more mature, wiser, more aware of the task ahead.
Praise must be given the Medical Detachment of the Regiment. Anyone who heard the cry, “Hey, Medic!,” in the heat of battle, will never forget the manner in which that call was answered. With disregard for personal safety, and themselves suffering casualties, our Medics were outstanding in the performance of their duties. Instances of aid men continuing their ministrations under sniper and mortar fire were common. There is no greater aid to morale than the knowledge to the individual that, if he is hit, there is help close behind. Evacuation of casualties was done expeditiously, to which fact many men today owe their lives.
One hundred and seventy prisoners were taken in those two days, most of them by Company G in the Dickerscheid area. Twenty-four machine guns were destroyed, two captured, eight 80-mm mortars and six 50-mm mortars, and one 7.5 Infantry howitzer were destroyed; one anti-tank gun, four 88-mm self-propelled guns were knocked out and one battery of enemy artillery was silenced.
Casualties in the regiment were reasonably light. One officer and 38 men were killed; one man died of wounds, 19 were seriously wounded. Three officers and 117 men were missing in action, and non-battle casualties included four officers and 107 men. Total casualties for the period were nine officers and 305 enlisted men.
The first day of March found the regiment still advancing. Having captured the village of Wahld shortly before midnight on the 28th, Company B went on to occupy Hescheld. Company C sent a platoon to B as reinforcements, while Company A adjusted its positions to tie up with B. Other company positions in the regiment remained the same; lines were adjusted and straightened, positions consolidated and contact established. Anti-tank weapons were moved well forward and roads were swept of mines. A bridge was erected to provide a continuous road to the First Battalion. Companies G and K changed places, restoring tactical unity to both battalions.
During the first few days of March, our entire front was under sniper and artillery fire. In Buschem, the anti-tank guns had to be moved to new positions after coming under direct fire of 88s. Most of the companies were able to get hot food to their men and to issue them clean, dry clothes, something which had not been seen for many days.
There were several minor skirmishes, which it is believed were aimed at forcing us to disclose the location of our weapons. Occasionally, there were barrages of artillery and mortars, most of which fell in the Third Battalion area. Small-arms fire was limited.
German prisoners taken the morning of 6 March confirmed the fact that the enemy was leaving his positions and pulling back. The obvious reason was the large-scale offensives being launched on both our flanks by the bulk of the First and Third Armies who were close to effecting a function just short of the Rhine. The Krauts were fast deciding that the best way for them to travel was east and fast!
Accordingly, when a large-scale reconnaissance disclosed an almost complete lack of potential resistance in our sector, a plan was formulated whereby we could make a big move to the vicinity of Schmidtheim. This was the plan: At 0800, one reinforced company of the First Battalion would push out on reconnaissance in force to seize and hold the town of Schmidtheim. The remainder of the battalion would move on regimental order to occupy Schmidtheim, clearing up any pockets of resistance in its sector. The Second Battalion was to sweep the area in its sector of the regimental zone and leave a guard of not more than one squad in each town until relieved by the Military Government. Upon regimental order, the battalion would move to Schmidtheim. The Third Battalion was to seize the town of Hecken at dawn, and send one reinforced company to conduct reconnaissance in force and to outpost the regimental sector to the north and east of Schmidtheim. Special units were to support the advance as in previous similar movements.
The advance was made swiftly and almost without event. It was apparent that the enemy was withdrawing faster than our troops could keep up with them.
First Battalion arrived in Schmidtheim at 1330 and then moved on to clear the area to the east at 1715. The Second Battalion completed its mission, clearing the pillboxes in the regimental area. Third Battalion moved out at 0900 and after reaching Schmidtheim, Companies K and L went on to the east at 1500. Four towns and 14 prisoners were taken in this move. When the area east of Schmidtheim was cleared, the regimental Command Post was set up in Blankenheim. Regimental Headquarters Company and Anti-Tank Company set up in Blankenheim, as did the entire Second Battalion. The First and Third Battalions were in Schmidtheim. We learned at this time that we had been pinched out by the junction of the First and Third Armies and must await further developments before being recommitted.
Blankenheim had been dealt heavy blows by our Air Corps, but our stay there was comfortable and gave the men a chance for needed rest, reorganization and servicing of equipment. It was brightened somewhat by the fact that some of our exploring non-coms were able to find and liberate a good supply of wine. A few lucky individuals were able to get passes to Paris. We remained in the Schmidtheim-Blankenheim area for 15 days, during which Special Service provided entertainment, and presentations of awards for heroic achievement and meritorious service were made. Shower facilities were set up, and clean clothes issued.
Our next movement was to an area which had been recently figuring large in the conduct of the war. On the morning of 23 March, we moved out in motor convoy, and after an uneventful trip, arrived at Sinzig, which had, in better times, been a resort town on the Rhine, but which was now the scene of more activity than any sector since the St. Lo breakthrough. Streams of men and equipment were pouring through to cross the Rhine in the area of Remagen. Here we saw the remains of the Ludendorf bridge, which had done so much to facilitate the progress recently made. It was interesting to note the reaction of the German civilians to the tremendous display of men and equipment which was passing in a never-ending stream through their streets. One could see mixed amazement and a hint of resignation to the fact that it could not last much longer.
Regimental Command Post was in Sinzig, as were those of Second Battalion and Service Company. The rest of the regiment were in towns in the immediate vicinity. One of the highlights of our five-day stay was the opportunity for the men to take sulphur baths. Very luxurious for a doughfoot!
Across the Rhine
On 28 March, we crossed the Rhine on Victor Bridge, the longest tactical pontoon bridge in the world, and a tribute to the Engineers who built it. All along the route to our destination were thousands of recently liberated nationals of conquered countries who were outspoken in their demonstrations of appreciation. The distance covered in the move was approximately 50 miles, and the regimental Command Post was set up in the town of Winden, near Nassau.
As the month of March drew to a close, the Regiment was still advancing rapidly without meeting any resistance from the Heinies, who were withdrawing faster than we could follow them. We were all wondering where they would make a determined stand and were not long in finding out.
Easter Sunday found the Regimental Command Post in Grossen Buseck, after having made several long and uninterrupted jaunts since the Rhine crossing. The day had with it an undertone of optimism on the duration of the European phase of the war. The hint of victory was unmistakably in the air, although everyone realized that much fighting remained to be done.
For the next few days, the regiment made successive moves until, averaging about 35 miles a day, we pulled into the ravaged city of Kassell on 5 April. Remember the feeling you got on entering Kassell? Everyone was agreed that Germany was a good place for it to happen! What a mess!
Leaving Kassell on 8 April and moving eastward behind a spearhead of the Ninth Armored Division, the regiment again began making contact with the enemy. Each battalion was charged with the responsibility of mopping up the bypassed resistance in the zone of its advance. Orders were to continue a bold and determined advance until sufficient resistance was met to hold up the column. During this period, the First Battalion was attached to the 273d Regiment and assisted in taking the town of Hann Munden, where stiff resistance was encountered.
Battle of Weissenfels
The regiment’s first large battle began the evening of 12 April. The Second Battalion moved up to take the town of Weissenfels, approximately 25 miles southwest of Leipzig. It was originally believed that the city was not too strongly held, but it turned out to be the major garrison before Leipzig, strongly and bitterly defended.
Entering the city’s outskirts, a firefight of considerable intensity developed, and immediately Companies G and E were committed, supported by the weapons of H Company. It was immediately apparent that this was no small delaying force. Anti-tank guns were rushed to the scene and assisted in neutralizing strong points with point-blank fire. By dusk, only the west part of the city had been cleared after heavy fighting, and in the determination of their defense, the Germans blew up all the bridges across the Saale River, after withdrawing to the east bank. The river coursed through the city, and was a natural defensive barrier.
At 1930, the battalion CP was set up in a paper mill in the cleared part of Weissenfels, and patrols were sent out to estimate the strength of the enemy and reconnoiter for possible assault crossing points. Meantime, Companies E and F moved up into position alongside G Company, poised for the attack in the morning. Assault boats were rushed up and G Company made a bold and costly crossing. In the process, five boats were shot up and sunk, with some casualties, and only two platoons got across. Quickly another crossing point was decided upon, and the remainder of G Company got across under fire from soldiers and civilians alike. Resistance was fanatical. F Company got across at the lower point without too much opposition and were quickly followed by E Company and the attachments of H Company. Fighting of great intensity raged when the bridgehead was made, and the riflemen were able to advance only a few hundred yards into the eastern part of the city. The Engineers had meanwhile started putting in a pontoon bridge, but armored help was urgently and immediately needed. By a round-about route through Naumburg, the aid of medium and light tanks of Task Force Zebra was rushed across the river and sped up to Weissenfels to help the doughboys.
When they arrived, they were immediately split up into three groups, one attached to each rifle company, and the city was likewise divided into three sectors, one per company. The work of clearing the city proceeded amid savage fighting and much interference from civilian snipers, whose special targets seemed to be medical aid men. The riflemen kept plugging ahead until the only Krauts left were dead ones, and the astounding total of 1,500 PWs were taken, among them many SS men and Gestapo agents. Next day, even after the city was considered cleared, there were still fanatical snipers making things uncomfortable for the troops.
One man in the Second Battalion discovered that the telephone lines were still intact; immediately proceeded to call the Weissenfels operator and tell her that if the sniping did not cease, we would withdraw from the town and level it with artillery. It wasn’t long afterward that many snipers turned themselves in to the nearest GI. This same man in a previous town had cleverly extracted some choice military information from an operator, telling her in perfect German that he was lost from his outfit and asking where the German soldiers were. She told him and followed the conversation with an enthusiastic “Heil Hitler!”
It was on 13 April that we received the saddening news of the death of our Commander in Chief, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The only tangible tribute we were able to offer to his memory was the fact that we were helping to bring about the victory for which he had labored and expended his life.
On this same day, the Third Battalion moved into action north of Weissenfels. In attempting to gain a bridgehead, the entire battalion was pinned down by a withering barrage of artillery, mortar, machine-gun and flak fire. It was necessary to remain in this position until darkness when it was possible to move out. Most of the casualties were suffered by Cannon Company, who were caught trying to go into firing positions. The next day, the battalion moved south through Weissenfels, east and then north, back into its own sector, picking up a platoon of tanks and tank destroyers on the way. Their next order was to take the town of Lutzen, and this was done successfully. Four other towns were also taken by them the same day.
After clearing Weissenfels, the Second Battalion was ordered on 14 April to advance to Kreisan and clean up some batteries of dual-purpose 88-mm guns which had been giving our Third Battalion and a neighboring division much trouble. Company E moved to the attack, and by 1900 had completed its mission, overrunning and capturing 32 of the deadly weapons and amassing approximately 500 PWs.
Meanwhile, the First Battalion had been working closely behind Ninth Armored units, spearheading the bold regimental advance. Orders were to bypass resistance if possible. With Company A, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion, and Company A, 777 Tank Battalion attached, the battalion left Birkungen and traveled 71 miles, often out ahead of the armor, to the town of Beichlingen, where sharp fighting ensued on the outskirts and in the castle area. Many snipers were flushed out, several big guns neutralized, and one medium tank was lost when it suffered a direct hit from an 88. From here, the battalion moved ahead to Bernsdorf, again in front of the armor, and at one time were the closest Americans to Berlin. On 12 April, they moved out ahead of the armor and advanced until heavy flak fire was encountered in the vicinity of Pulgar, but in accordance with their mission, the battalion broke away, cutting south to get back on the route of the armor. In so doing, a firefight developed with Volksturm units in the town of Pettstadt, where several PWs were taken. During this fight, the battalion was shelled from its rear by fire which it later learned was being directed by a 17-year-old German girl, supposedly a nurse. First Battalion stayed in Pettstadt that night, moving out next morning through Naumburg and on to the town of Stontzsch. Next day, 15 April, the battalion had the mission of securing a regimental assembly area in the vicinity of Rotha, for the attack on Leipzig, and proceeded to Kiertszch, where a small firefight developed, and 100 PWs were taken.
On 16 April, First Battalion moved on to Rotha, and from there to Espenhain, where they came under severe shelling from AA guns at the head and tail of the long column. Company A was hard hit and incapable of moving, but B Company was able to go back to knock out the guns which were assailing the tail of the column. This was done successfully, and B Company held up in Rotha. C Company meanwhile was sent north to clear up two small towns, which was likewise accomplished. On 18 April, Company A went north and cleaned up the weapons in the vicinity of Magdeborn, which had held up the advance two days earlier. Six batteries of 40-mm and three 150-mm howitzers were captured. First Battalion was then attached to 273d Regiment for the attack on Leipzig.
On 16 April, the Third Battalion pushed off from Pegau, aiming for its final objective, Zwenkau. They got only a mile down the road when heavy resistance was met in the vicinity of Audigast. The battalion was in a column of companies with a platoon of tanks and of tank destroyers attached, when small-arms fire, supported by tank fire, was exchanged for about an hour. K Company, with a platoon of tanks, was ordered to assault and take the town. No artillery fire was met until the town was taken, but after it fell into our hands, the Krauts again cut loose with artillery, anti-tank and flak fire. That night, Company L made a night attack behind a rolling artillery barrage, passed through Audigast and two towns beyond.
In the morning, however, it was discovered that the Krauts had moved back into the two towns which L Company had passed through early that night, and L Company was cut off, in a precarious position. Companies I and K were pinned down by heavy fire and unable to advance to their assistance. The Jerries began moving in from all directions and some got as close as 75 yards before being picked off by our men. Finally, a terrific preparation of our artillery was thrown in, and the Krauts withdrew to the north.
Since the Third Battalion was held up from its original mission of taking Zwenkau, the task was in the meantime given to the Second Battalion. On the morning of the 18th, the Second jumped off from Rotha to hit Zwenkau from the flank. The forward Command Post moved into an observation post at the far edge of Bohlen , where they could have observation of both Zwenkau and the positions on its eastern perimeter. At 0700, Company F moved forward across 3,000 yards of coverless terrain. It received heavy small-arms fire and devastating fire from six-inch guns and 88s. Heavy artillery and our anti-tank guns firing at point-blank range failed to dislodge the enemy from their well-dug-in positions, and F Company was forced to withdraw. Company E, meanwhile, had been sent to clear the small town of Pulgar. This done, Company G was rushed through east to hit Zwenkau from the south. The attack was successful, and Company E was freed to tackle the 12 six-inch guns which had stopped F Company. In a memorable application of the principle of marching fire, E Company moved boldly across the open fields and overran the guns. Any Kraut who showed his head from his foxhole was a dead one.
Next morning at 0700, Company G moved out to take the town of Eythra. It was necessary to cross a bridge to enter the town, and this was covered by machine guns. However, by a stroke of good fortune, the Germans were caught napping, and before they could deliver any fire, they and their weapons were in our hands. The prisoners were used to clear their own roadblock, so that our tanks might pass through. Eythra was soon cleared, and Company G posted itself around the perimeter of the town. Less than 500 yards away, the Germans were pouring artillery on the town, and the guns themselves were visible. It was then decided to withdraw and neutralize them with artillery. This was done; the enemy were silenced and the town secured.
Having regrouped the battalion, night attacks were launched against the towns of Gaucha and Zobigker by E and F Companies. The towns were secured without casualties by 0600, 18 April.
It was near the town of Rotha that members of Regimental Headquarters Company met the enemy on 18 April. A staff officer and his driver came under enemy fire just outside the town, and the driver was captured. The officer escaped, ran back to Regimental Headquarters, and summoned aid. The I and R Platoon was immediately sent out to locate the enemy positions, and in so doing came under enemy machine-gun fire. The aid of the Chemical Mortars Platoon was secured, and the I and R were able to withdraw under cover of a protective smokescreen. This pocket of resistance was later cleared up by Company A. The driver who was captured was freed later when the city of Leipzig fell. Two men were killed and several wounded in this action, which for a time had threatened the Regimental Command Post.
The Battle for Leipzig
Also on 18 April, the First Battalion, which had been following the Ninth Armored spearhead, was again attached to the 273d Regiment, which was attacking Leipzig. The 273d had taken the city with the exception of one last strongpoint, the large Napoleon Monument on the outskirts of the city. Unable to neutralize this point, the 273d committed our First Battalion to the task. The Memorial is a huge stone edifice, visible for miles around, with walls estimated from 10 to 20 feet thick, an ideal citadel. The storm trooper lieutenant in charge had orders to hold at all costs, and a two-month supply of food, water, and ammunition were on hand.
Our artillery blasted the monument, but it was futile, since the shells literally bounced off its walls. The afternoon of 19 April, the order was given for an assault, with C Company making the main effort, and B Company assisting from the left flank. Resistance was so heavy from within that the companies were forced to draw back, and more artillery was thrown at the tower. It is believed that the Napoleon Memorial is the smallest target in the war ever to receive so much artillery pounding, since six battalions were used.
At 1800, a truce was declared so that wounded on both sides could be evacuated, and during this truce, a captured German Major General went up into the monument to explain to the defenders the futility of remaining. The reply was that they would leave if they could be guaranteed safe conduct to their own lines, and this was refused. Fighting continued until, at 0100, 20 April, the garrison capitulated. With this gone, the city of Leipzig, Germany’s fourth largest, was completely in our hands. Fighting had been bitter and casualties high, but First Battalion had the honor of helping win one of the great victories of the war.
Moving on to the northeast, the Regiment went into temporary defensive positions. First and Second Battalions were in the area of Taucha, while Third Battalion held the area around Puchau, defending the west bank of the Mulde River.
During this period, the men were paid in marks for the first time. There are some interesting and enlightening insights into the reactions and spirit of the men in the following quotations from an article titled “Mark Time,” written by one of the men of Company K on payday:
“So they’re paying us in marks this time? I wonder what the Krauts think about our printing. Never was there a payday that meant so little. It takes more than dough to pay for this past couple of weeks. I’ll bet any GI would sell this whole damn country for two-bits and a ticket home. Yes, we’d sell it that cheap, even though it cost us quite a bit. It wasn’t so bad at first. What was the name of that first town? Lutzen, wasn’t it? We caught them asleep that time, but still it was rough on the nerves walking across that open field in front of the town, expecting everything to bust loose in your face. Boy, were we glad to have those ‘J’ platoon boys out in front! They were just attached at first, but it didn’t take us long to take those Negro boys to our hearts and make them part of us. They dug those “Sleeping Beauty” Nazis out of their holes like my dog going after a gopher!
“The trouble is that when you take a town so easily, they find another job for you to do. I’ll never forget that next job either. K Company was out in front of the battalion, and we were all pretty winded from clearing the first town, when it seemed as though Old Lucifer had blown his top! Sniper fire, flak, 88s and mortars all hit us like a ton of bricks. It got a lot of us before we could hit that narrow ditch alongside the road. I could see the boys digging into the sides of the road bank, and the medics were following a million cries all at once. One was knocked down by flak, but he got up and went on again. I saw two legs sheared off below the hips, and wanted to vomit, but couldn’t. We all cried that day, watching our buddies go down, but you couldn’t see it in our eyes because there was too much hatred there!
“We got up off our bellies and took that town. We’ve taken a few more since. I guess old K Company is doing its bit to add emphasis to our division name, the Fighting 69th, but it still feels kind of funny to be paid off in marks, even if we did print them ourselves.”
On 21 April, the First Battalion became attached to the Fifth Corps, while the other two battalions were defending the west bank of the Mulde River, and First Battalion moved out to take the city of Eilenberg. This was probably the most difficult battle the battalion had yet been in, since the town was held by some 1,200 Germans, well dug-in. Also, the natural characteristics of the town definitely favored the defenders. With Company B in front, C Company on the left and A on the right, the battalion moved forward, meeting heavy resistance. Company B, heading down the main street, was finally pinned down by sniper and machine-gun fire, and was temporarily stranded there by itself, since A and C were working along the sides of the town. Having pushed as far as the stream in the center of town, Company B was thrown back by a strong enemy counterattack. They withdrew about 500 yards and reorganized. It was not until the next day that they were again able to advance when five battalions of light and medium artillery started pounding the city continually, at which time all three companies were able to advance to secure the west bank of the Mulde River in the center of town. Company A was successful in establishing a bridgehead, and the remainder of the city was quickly secured. The battalion remained in Eilenberg for several days before continuing to advance.
Like all infantry units, this regiment owes much to its supporting arms. In particular, we are indebted to our comrades-in-arms, the 879th Field Artillery. Without them, our missions would have been costly and often impossible. The close feeling which exists between us has resulted in a well-knit and coordinated team. In our rapid advance from the Rhine to the Mulde, they cooperated to the fullest, even helping to carry our men in their trucks. No one in this regiment can forget the work of our artillery throughout our campaigns, particularly in Eilenberg, where they literally blasted the town into surrender.
We must also voice our appreciation to Company A, 86th Chemical Mortar Battalion, for their splendid support. The praise of all battalion commanders has been lavished upon them for the close-in support they gave us. On one occasion, it was their protective smokescreen which enabled our I and R Platoon to disengage from a heavy firefight in Rotha, and at Eilenberg, their work was outstanding. Third Battalion remembers well the job of Chemical Mortars at Audigast.
Praise also for our own S-4 section. The work they have done in resupply and maintenance of ammunition loads has been in every instance noteworthy. No one but supply personnel themselves can fully appreciate the problems involved in supplying a fast-moving regiment with the thousand-fold necessities of combat. We are proud of the manner in which our supply section has performed these tasks.
Outstanding also was the support rendered by tanks and tank destroyers. In most of our encounters, we were fortunate in having attached Companies A and C, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion, and Company A, 777 Tank Battalion. Each of these units earned the respect of our officers and men, especially for their work in Weissenfels, Beichlingen and Eilenberg. And they in turn were loud in their praise of the aggressive manner in which our men worked with their supporting armor, providing them with close-in protection and enabling the armor to complete their missions of neutralizing strong points and providing defense against enemy armor. Valuable assistance was also given on long moves when our men were carried atop the tanks to help alleviate the transportation problem.
The problems of communication were many and often unorthodox, particularly on our long, rapid moves. These were met in a manner worthy of commendation, by skillful employment of wire, radio and message-center personnel and equipment. Continuous maintenance and service of facilities was accomplished under most trying conditions. Wire and radio personnel were called upon to perform feats which strained ingenuity and resourcefulness, doing so in each instance with distinction.
Our own Anti-Tank Company provided support without which many attacks might have failed and many tactical displacements been impossible. From the very beginning of the campaign, they assisted by clearing mines and roadblocks in the Hellenthal area and furnishing litter-bearers to the Medics. On foot and from leading vehicles, its members sought out mines continuously in the rapid moves from the Rhine to the Mulde.
At Weissenfels, the 57 mm anti-ank guns were one of the main reasons for success. Supporting Second Battalion, which was attacking without artillery or armored support, the guns were brought forward aggressively and brought down devastating fire on the city’s defenders, later protecting a vital crossing of the Saale River by a clever leap-frog system of employment.
At Rotha, it was Anti-Tank men who assisted in defending the threatened Command Post location and helped rescue the I and R platoon which had been pinned down. At Eilenberg, effective fire was delivered on vital targets in the city at the extreme range of 3,000 yards. The value of anti-tank guns as direct support weapons and the aggressive spirit of the men who manned them, both were proven to the grateful doughboys.
We are proud of the record of our Cannon Company. From the time its first round was fired in support of the regiment at 0920, 11 February, until the end of our campaign, over 30 tons of shells passed through its six cannons onto enemy targets. Although credited with knocking out several mortars and machine guns in the Hellenthal area, the highlight of the company’s early activity came when an enemy counterattack against our Third Battalion in Oberreifferscheid was repulsed solely by cannon fire.
A concentrated two-day shelling in the Bohlen area silenced enemy 88s, set an ammunition dump afire, and destroyed several enemy barracks. Next day, their splendid work in shelling enemy gun positions north of Rotha (400 rounds in three hours) inflicted heavy casualties, forcing abandonment of the enemy’s positions and enabled our K and L companies to achieve their objectives, helping to clear the way to Leipzig.
Cannon Company had its final action in the area of Plagwitz, where it neutralized several targets along the Mulde River, knocking out gun positions and scoring a direct hit on a large building housing German troops. Their last combat mission was fired at 1605, 24 April. We salute the skill and courage of our cannoneers, comrades-in-arms whose efforts we deeply appreciate.
Early in the campaign, there became attached to us an officer and enlisted man of the Military Government. Since their attachment, they have aided us immeasurably, playing an increasingly important part in the actions of the regiment. As soon as a town or city was captured, these representatives of Military Government assisted in restoring order, repairing utilities and in many cases helping to obtain billets for our troops. The tasks have been in many cases extremely difficult, and in all instances dispatched with speed and precision. We are indebted to this officer and his assistance for their splendid work during the period of their attachment to the regiment.
The last few days of April were given to maintaining defenses of the Mulde River and extensive patrolling in an effort to contact the Russians who were moving in towards us from the east.
It was on April 26th that a small town in our division zone became famous when a junction was effected there between two of the most powerful armies in history. The 273d made the contact which brought much glory to the division, and told the world that the end of Nazi Germany was close at hand. The Fighting 69th became one of the major topics of conversation and publicity at home, and we became even more proud of the patch we wear.
May 8, 1945...Simultaneously in the capitols of the three major powers, the announcement was made. VE Day! The end of Adolf Hitler’s mad dream, and proof to the world that no one nation can be permitted to dominate the world. The treachery and suffering brought about by the Hitler gang will forever remain a tragic and costly memory.
The European phase of the war has ended. Of the vast amount of men, materiel and events which brought it to a close, much will be written. Historians for generations will be digesting and expounding the magnitude of operations.
Whatever is to be our role in future operations against the enemies of our nation, wherever we are sent from here, of this we are certain: This regiment has proven itself under the most trying circumstances, and has never failed to accomplish a mission. We shall continue to perform our assigned tasks with the same courage and tenacity which has thus far characterized our actions. Each man may feel proud and secure in the knowledge that things have been and will continue to be uncomfortable for our enemies with “Trespass against them!”
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