Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater, issued by the Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, ETOUSA... Major General Norman D. Cota, commanding the 28th Infantry Division, lent his cooperation and basic material was supplied by his staff.
The Story of the 28th Infantry Division
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt used the best divisions at his call. He planned to employ tactics reminiscent of the 1940 campaigns—a quick thrust, a breakthrough.
German forces pointed to Sedan, to Antwerp, to points beyond. They hoped to split Allied armies in half, sever communications and supply lines. The offensive might even gain enough momentum to sweep to the sea.
Men of the veteran 28th Infantry Division planned differently as they faced east along a 25-mile defensive line. Their guns blazed defiantly when they absorbed the full fury of the German attack.
Doughs spoke with blood as they fought and died in place—still facing east.
Keystone men fought for time. Strategic points, planned as first or second day objectives, were not reached until the Allies had time to speed needed reinforcements to the rescue.
But the 28th was equipped to do the job. It had stormed across three countries, had pushed through the Siegfried Line into Germany. Names like Gathemo, Hurtgen, Wiltz have meaning for Keystone men.
As troops moved to their first mainland assembly area near Colombieres, they saw the frantic activity necessary to unload the vast number of troop and supply ships coming to the continent. Under First Army s control, the Keystone Division, too, was fully prepared for the big drive when it came.
The 28th's preparation reached further back than unloading ships on a beachhead. In February, 1941, when war clouds hung heavy over the world, Pennsylvania National Guard units assembled at Indiantown Gap to consolidate into an infantry division. Training in 1942 and 1943 was thorough and rigid.
Basic exercises gave way to tactical maneuvers. To acquaint itself with all the tactics adaptable to modern warfare, the division trained in many states—the Carolinas, Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Florida. Basic principles of fire and movement developed into highly-specialized big-scale operations: shore-to-shore, ship-to-shore, mountain, general assault training.
Then came the staging area, the trip across the Atlantic, debarking at south Wales in mid-October, ut 1943. The friendliness and hospitality of the people put 28th troops very much at home in the six months spent in Wales. Three months in England also were interesting and enjoyable. But D-Day had come and passed. Men were fighting in France. Eager to join that fight, 28th doughs left the British Isles for Normandy battlefields.
Sounds of battle drew nearer and nearer as the division moved to a new assembly area northwest of St. Lo after disembarking. As July faded, the 28th reached the din's source and jumped off in its initial attack.
Fighting in Normandy centered about hedgerows that squared off the countryside in a checkerboard pattern. Hard-packed, root-filled walls of earth, overgrown with thick hedges and trees, formed the outline of enemy defense lines. German rifles and automatic weapons behind the first row were backed by mortars.
The enemy didn't always follow a form as rigidly set as a diagram. From hidden positions in flanking hedge-rows Krauts opened up with deadly crossfire from automatic weapons. Snipers and burp guns popped out of nowhere.
This was the opposition as Col. Theodore Seely's 110th and Col. Henry Hodes' 112th Inf. Regts. slashed south in an attack below St. Lo. Troopers learned at the outset that battle was rough as they struck near Percy. To batter hedgerow defenses was no easy matter. Careful planning, skillful manipulation, team-work were necessary.
Lt. William Hall, Owensboro, Ky., platoon leader, Co. C, 112th, helped his, battalion to take Hill 210 when he worked up from the rear to knock out a machine gun nest that held up the advance of his men.
Pvt. Claude Griggs, Gainesville, Ga., waited near a hedgerow as eight unsuspecting Krauts passed by one at a time. When they got in a huddle, Griggs fired a rifle grenade into their midst, eliminated them all with the single round.
On Aug. 4, the 110th Inf. Regt.—the "Fighting 10th" of Philippine Insurrection fame—struck into the forests of St. Sever with a 10-mile stab to the west. The 109th Inf., under Col. William Blanton, came out of reserve the following day to continue mopping-up operations. Meanwhile, the 112th held along the railroad running northeast of St. Sever de Calvados.
A new attack jumped off at 0600, Aug. 7, after the division had passed through an armored unit the previous evening. Working its way along the Vire-Gathemo road, the 112th had secured an important ridge by dark. Heading toward Gathemo, 109th doughs learned that taking their objective was no easy job. Task Force A worked with men of Col. Blanton. The city finally fell after four days of fierce battle.
Continuing south, the 110th and 112th passed west of Sourdeval. Task Force A, pivoting on the latter's flank after pushing through Sourdeval, continued east toward Ger. Automatically pinched out by this maneuver, the 112th moved back to division reserve.
Another thrust of approximately 10 miles Aug 14, gained Corps' final objectives east of the Egrenne River next day.
During this phase, the 28th had three commanding generals in as many days. Succeeding Gen. (then Maj. Gen.) Omar N. Bradley, who took over II Corps in Tunisia, Maj. Gen. Lloyd Brown commanded the 28th Inf. Div. from Feb" 1943, until Aug., 1944.
Brig. Gen. James E. Wharton was commanding general for one day. While visiting a regiment a few hours after taking command, he was fatally wounded.
Maj. Gen. (then Brig. Gen,) Norman D. Cota, Chelsea, Mass., assumed command Aug. 14. A veteran of the North African campaign, Gen. Cota had landed in France on D-Day as Asst. CG., 29th Inf. Div. Wounded at St. Lo, he was back in action.
"Bloody Bucket" is Fighting Fury
Accomplishments of the Keystone Division after it arrived in France in late Spring, 1918, are recorded both in Washington archives and German history. From June 28 to July 14, while attached to the French, the 28th held the Marne River near Chateau-Thierry. Forcing crossings of the Ourcq River during the Aisne-Marne offensive the division pushed ahead to score gains in the Oise-Aisne offensive which began Aug. 18. After helping rescue the "Lost Battalion" of the 77th Div. in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Keystone men were in the Thiaucourt sector when the Armistice was signed.
The famous episode of the "Lost Battalion" occurred in the depths of the Argonne Forest as the 28th pressed on with the 77th. Six companies had penetrated German lines to reach their objective near Charleveaux Mill. Surrounded by the enemy, the isolated units suffered innumerable attacks. The 28th contributed to the rescue of the stranded and battered battalion by an outflanking move.
Each division unit from regiments down possesses a proud history of its own. The 109th Inf. Regt. (originally from Scranton) had its baptism of battle when it was thrown into the path of the German juggernaut at the Marne where Cos. L and M had fought as isolated combat groups in early July, 1918. From a wheat field turned into a bloody shambles, and past Surmelin, the 109th pounded through Fismes, pushed across the Vesle, stormed through the Aire River valley, kept battling to the last days at Bois de Dampvitoux and Xammes.
Southwestern Pennsylvania men of the 110th Inf. wrote the regiment's first pages of history in World War I when Cos. B and C, with outposts along the Marne, were to bear the full brunt of Ludendorff's "Peace Storm," a desperate enemy bid to break through and capture Paris. From then on—through the sharp, bitter fighting at Grimpettes Wood, across the Vesle, at Apremont, at Chatel-Chehery—the 110th fought hard, vicious battles.
Initial combat for Northwestern Pennsylvania's 112th Regt. fell on July 5, 1918, when men of each company charged over the top with the French at Hill 204 near Chateau-Thierry. Later Cos. G and H were cut off at Fismette. The few survivors still remember the fury of two companies being attacked by 1000 crack German troops. Other units, the 103rd Medics, the 103rd Combat Engrs., also fought in the last war.
Div Arty has many chapters in its history. Btry. B, 107th FA, served through the Civil War. The 108th—"the battalion with the big guns"—dates back to 1840, the first unit to use the name "National Guard," an adaptation of Napoleon's Garde Nationale. The 109th FA had three companies supporting Gen. George Washington's Continental Army.
Allied might was plunging ahead, punching holes into the enemy defense line along the front. Spearheads crashed east through the gaps.
The rapid advances that followed at first were unusual for Keystone troops. For three weeks they had interpreted advances in terms of yards. Taking a city meant strenuous street fighting; passing a forest meant flushing out Nazis. Cities like Percy and Gathemo, forests like St. Sever, all were advances made at a crawling pace.
Now the division moved in motor marches that began Aug. 20, 1944. Rolling down smooth highways of France, doughs saw Normandy hedgerows disappear, give way to cheering crowds jamming roadsides. Americans were welcomed with showers of fruit, wine, and shouts of "Boche kaput—Vive les Americains!"
But Keystone men didn't ride for long. Jumping off on Aug. 21, the 110th and 112th Regts. advanced as many as 18 miles a day. Verneuill, Breteuil, Damville, were towns buttoned up by the swift 28th. Meantime, 109th was in Corps reserve.
Next day, more towns were added to the fast growing list of the liberated: Nogent-le-Sec, Bonneville, Conches, Cleville, Boquipuis. Toward the end of August Allied forces were clamping pincers on a sizeable chunk of the Wehrmacht. The British driving south from Caen and the First U.S. Army smashing east had trapped most of Field Marshal von Kluge's Seventh Army in the Falaise pocket.
The job of defending road blocks to prevent German units trapped west of the Seine from escaping fell to the 110th and 112th Regts. until they were relieved by the British Aug. 25.
Meantime, under command of Brig. Gen. George A. Davis, Boston, Mass., Asst. Div. CG, Task Force D, comprising 1st Bn., 109th; 107th FA; Co. C, 630th TD Bn., and a small tank unit stormed towards Le Neubourg. The struggle was savage, but the town was captured Aug. 24.
Next objective was Elbeuf, key town situated on the banks of the Seine, desperately needed by Germans as a key escape route across the river. Motorized elements of the 109th plunged into the town. Intense fighting raged in the eastern part, but the attack was pushed energetically. Before dark, Elbeuf was clinched; more than 500 PWs were taken.
The Race to the Reich Begins
This day, Old Glory floated alongside the French Tricolor. Hundreds of thousands of jubilant Parisians jam-packed the streets. Gen. Bradley, Gen. Courtney H. Hodges and Gen. Charles de Gaulle were waiting in a reviewing stand on the Champs Elysées.
Then the 56-piece Keystone band sounded off. The 28th Inf. Div. stepped off on its grand march through Paris, first United Nations' capital to be liberated.
Leading in jeeps were the Division Commander and General Staff. After the M-8s of the 28th Recon Trp. came the 110th and 112th Regts., marching in massed battalions, 24 men abreast. Attached tank destroyer, anti-aircraft, field artillery, chemical engineer and medical units followed in their vehicles; the 109th Regt. was behind. Div Arty and other tank destroyer and field artillery units were next; guns massed at the head, vehicles in columns of four.
Language proved no barrier to the exuberant Parisians. It was a great day for 28th troops. None suspected that the triumphant march also had been a tactical move.
The parade was but a shift from one assembly area to another. While the band played and the crowds cheered, V Corps was formulating more attacks for the Keystone Division.
Meanwhile, the racing 110th and 112th covered approximately 30 miles as they swung through Chantilly, Creil, Pont St. Maxence, Senlis, Montpilloy, Brasseuse, Ravoy, Villeneuve-sur-Verberies in a drive which launched Co. L, 110th, across the Oire River.
Occupation of St. Quentin was considered an easy task for 110th on Sept. 2 until assault elements bumped into the enemy's rear guard.
Two days later the divisions' race to the Reich got underway. By Sept. 6, the 109th had jumped the Meuse River to start a steady stream of Allied traffic over bridges left standing by retreating Germans or newly constructed by 103rd Engrs. Sporadic resistance was encountered, but the terrific speed of the advance was maintained.
Crossing the Belgian border, the division, joined by Prince Consort Felix of Luxembourg, fanned out, three regiments abreast, and swept on a north-south line into Luxembourg. Average daily advances were 17 miles, as Martelange, Ravigne, Wiltz, Bastogne, Longvilly, Arlon were liberated Sept. 10. Three months later some of these same towns were to figure again in the development of the war.
Meanwhile, the division took up positions in an assembly area near Binsfeld, Sept. 11. The dash across France, Belgium and Luxembourg had ended. The Keystone was set for the home stretch.
To hard-fighting 28th doughs, the "sacred soil" of Germany appeared no different from any other farm land. Cattle grazed. Large fields were lined with grain shocks from the late summer harvest.
But the land bristled with German guns. From OPs, COs on reconnaissance noted unnatural blotches along the landscape. Heavily camouflaged, topped by thick coatings of earth and streaked with green and yellow paint on exposed fronts, pillboxes glared in the September sun. These were the "impregnable" bulwarks of the Siegfried Line—the vaunted German defense wall.
Men had to learn for themselves how to capture this type of fortification. As a preliminary move, patrols were sent across the Our River. Germany was entered at 2100 hours, Sept. 11.
Next day, 1st Bn., 109th, secured a bridge intact, was followed across the border by 1st and 2nd Bns., 110th. Remaining elements followed Sept. 13. Although other units may have sent the first patrols into the Reich or occupied the first German towns, official records should confirm the 28th's claim of being the first division to cross into Germany in force.
Heroes Won the Hurtgen Forest
When one of the pillboxes refused to quit, Pfc Lawrence Gentry, Oklahoma, twice ran a 25-yard gauntlet of heavy fire, carrying two 35-pound TNT pole charges. Both charges were defective. He tried hand grenades, anti-tank grenades, finally neutralized the pillbox by lighting the charge fuzes with a match.
The division hacked away at the Line for 10 days. Artillery, TDs, tanks, engineers destroyed pillboxes without pause. It was brutal, back-breaking work. But, fire and maneuver, teamwork, sometimes courage alone, accounted for 143 of the "super" structures.
Meanwhile, with the 5th Armd. Div., elements of the 112th Combat Team had been battering their way into another portion of the pillbox defenses. Some of the deepest penetrations into the Siegfried Line at that time were made by this team as it hacked into Bitburg. Wallendorf and "Purple Hill" (Hill 407) are unforgettable names to the regiment. Sept. 26 the 112th returned to the division.
Pillbox country brought another change. Advances slowed down to a tempo measured by only yards of severe, bitter fighting. Service units grabbed the opportunity to supply forward elements.
Gen. George Marshall visited the division CP Oct. 11, praised the Keystone's combat record. "You are doing excellent work over here," he said, "and people back home arc aware of it."
For Gen. Marshall, this visit to the 28th marked the return to his old outfit. As a lieutenant, the general had served in one of the 28th's units in 1906-1907.
But the 28th was destined to move again, destined for another job. In its push to Germany the division had to breach many obstacles—hedgerows of Normandy, rivers of France, savagely defended cities. Latest obstacle was little known before it became one of the roughest phases of the war. Gloomy Hurtgen Forest is southeast of Aachen. Even if there had been no defending Germans, entrance would have been difficult. Entrenched Nazis, however, made entry doubly forbidding.
D-Day was Nov. 2, 1944. H-Hour, 0900. After five comparatively quiet days of preparation the three regiments struck at the forest. Snow blanketed the fields. Keystone men stormed through the forest, through Vossenack, Kommerscheidt, Schmidt.
Paced by 2nd Bn, the 112th, now led by Lt. Col. Carl Peterson, smashed growing resistance to crash into Vossenack and Germeter the first day. Next day, 1st Bn. sewed up Kommerscheidt while 3rd Bn. pushed through to seal Schmidt. Later, when the German Wehrmacht unleashed the full fury of an all-out counter-attack, 3rd Bn. had to fall back, rejoin 1st Bn. at Kommerscheidt.
Meanwhile, 109th and 110th struggled ahead slowly, absorbed bitter shelling, intense small arms fire. The 109th wheeled west and north, 110th turned south and east. The battalions continued to exert pressure while fighting throughout the entire sector grew more intense.
Odds did not favor the 28th. Terrain and weather made proper support from heavier weapons impossible. Casualties were heavy; withdrawals necessary. Men who did return through Kall Valley left Kommerscheidt and Schmidt to the enemy.
The 28th had entered Germany despite "Eintritt Verboten" signs. It had fought so fiercely, Kraut commanders ordered their troops: "Restore the original line at all costs with all possible artillery and tanks in support." The line was not restored. Keystone men had plunged forward and held against crushing blows. Vital ground remained Allied territory. Nearly 1100 PWs were taken. Only when the whole story of World War II is written will the full effect of the fighting of the Hurtgen heroes be revealed.
Colmar Key Goal for Keystone
Occasional artillery or mortar shells hardly disturbed the prevailing peace. The line of pillboxes on the opposing ridge seemed lifeless.
But contact with Germans for more than four months had taught Keystone men not to relax their defenses. Positions were established with more care than ever before, manned with vigilance comparable to Hurtgen Forest defenses. Foxholes for fighting were next to sleeping type dugouts. Wire entanglements were laid; mines planted. Patrols probed regularly.
Contrasted to Hurtgen, this was almost a rest area. So quiet, so peaceful but ominous...
Five crack enemy divisions—Panzer, Infantry, Volksgrenadier—hurled across the Our River the first day of the assault. Second Bn., 109th; 1st and 3rd Bns., 110th; 1st Bn., 112th, rocked most severely under the first blows, lashed back to ward off attacks, caused many enemy casualties. But Germans struck again and again. Enemy reserves from the east threw their weight behind the steamrolling push. Germans pounded American lines continuously. Enemy tanks rolled up in support of Nazi infantry.
The day wore on. Division lines snapped under excessive pressure. Units were isolated, surrounded. Co. B, 110th, was encircled, lost contact with battalion. Doughs fought and died in their places. Co. I, 110th, pinned down at Weiler, hacked its way out of encirclement at night, joined its battalion in Clervaux.
Clervaux had been the division rest area for a month. Now it was a roaring battlefield as resting doughs scrambled to form hasty defenses.
Nine enemy divisions were identified in the striking force that kept hammering 28th troopers. Keystone men were outnumbered, overrun, cut off. But they refused to panic. The 28th fought, delayed, and fought.
The 112th plugged the line for two days before pulling north to join the 106th Inf. Div. as a combat team. Route of the regiment from the time it lost contact with the 28th was a path from Luxembourg to Belgium: Weiswampach, Huldange, Beiler, Rogery, Veilsalm, Mormont.
For three days the 109th held fast, then set up positions on a hill northeast of Diekirch. Next day, it moved to screen the left flank of the 9th Armd. Div. to which it later was attached. Christmas Eve brought not good cheer to Nazis but another attack. The regiment shifted its lines to the high ground between Ettelbruck and Mostroff. Two days later, it rejoined the 28th at Neufchateau.
Meantime, the 110th was weathering staggering blows. Wiltz was the division CP location since mid-November. The town was a vital transportation hub. It was also one of the first objectives of the German breakthrough.
The 110th, near Wiltz, suffered severe attacks all along its front. But the battered regiment was not alone in its defense. Division troops pitched in; MPs, postal and finance clerks, QM and Div. Hq. personnel, band men formed a provisional defense battalion to block the German blow.
From Dec. 16 to Christmas Day it was everybody's fight. Outstanding acts of bravery became routine. Morley Cassidy, war correspondent, in a nation-wide broadcast to America, said: "The 28th Division has performed one of the greatest feats in the history of the American Army. Against nine divisions it has held so firmly that the German timetable has been thrown off completely."
The German breakthrough had struck at the 28th in all its violence. The division had reeled under its impact, suffered the crush but warded off disastrous defeat. Keystone men pulled back to an area where they could recover from the shock, where they could prepare to avenge and slash back at the enemy.
Early 1945 was spent near Charleville where the 28th—less the 112th Combat Team—defended the Meuse River from Givet to Verdun. Troops manned outposts at road junctions and bridges in key cities: Sedan, Verdun, Rocroi, Charleville, Stenay, Buzancy.
The 112th CT returned to the division Jan. 13 after almost four weeks of continuous contact with the enemy in the Ardennes area "somewhere in Belgium." Four days later, the division moved southeast to Sixth Army Group's sector.
The same Keystone division that the German radio had declared "wiped out" now was ready again. In September, 1944, a division slogan contest netted the following motto: "28th Roll On." Hard hit in the Hurtgen Forest, harder hit in the Ardennes breakthrough, Keystone men still personified their division slogan. The 28th was to smash through the enemy once more, was to continue to live up to its slogan and Roll On!
Attack orders came suddenly. Division CP shifted to Kayersberg. The 110th, having driven the enemy from Black Mountain in the hazardous Vosges terrain, moved into Corps reserve. Gen. Cota's message to Col. James Rudder, Eden, Tex., 109th CO, was short in text, powerful in content: "We go to Colmar."
28th Rolls On To Future Glory
Three battalions striking simultaneously, the 109th began its push at 2100, Feb. 1. Driving southward along the west bank of the Ill River, it clamped down on the initial objective early next morning. In a coordinated thrust with the French CC4 (under 28th control) doughs penetrated the city, mopped up what remained of the opposition. Captured by neat application of speed and surprise, Colmar seemed a prize easily won—easier than its defenses had indicated. In recognition, 109th, men were awarded the French Army's Croix de Guerre.
Meantime, Col. Gustin Nelson, Philadelphia, led his 112th Regt, in an attack along the division's right flank, jumping off at 2300. Third Bn. sewed up Niedermoschwihr and Katzenthal, 1st Bn. took over Ingersheim; 2nd Bn. protected the regiment's right flank.
The drizzle of resistance soon developed into a storm. Keystone men swung through the Fecht River Valley to prevent enemy escape attempts to the east. Turkheim and Katzenthal firmly in Keystone hands, doughs pounded farther into Walbach. Until later relieved, the regiment blocked the Vosges exits in positions all along the valley.
The 109th plunged ahead, not pausing to celebrate its entry into Colmar. Instead, it multiplied its good work. Striding south along the Ill, it cleared the "Bois de Colmar," occupied Sundhoffen and St. Croix en Plaine.
The 110th snapped out of Corps reserve to snatch four more towns further south.
The Rhine had become a familiar word in the GI vocabulary. The river was the last hope of the German. It was the spinal cord of the West Wall. As the 109th halted its advance at Dessenheim, the 110th under Col. Daniel B. Strickler, Lancaster, Pa., continued the offensive.
A 3rd Bn. patrol led by S/Sgt. Willie Smith, Abingdon, Ill., crossed the Rhine-Rhone canal Feb. 6. Next day the canal was crossed in force. Balgau and Nambsheim fell to the regiment with lightning speed. A Co. I 24-man patrol under T/Sgt. Wilbur Myers, Oak Hill, Ohio, accomplished the mission that brought to a swift completion the 28th's "Roll to the Rhine." Germans now had conclusive proof that the 28th Div. was not wiped out as they had claimed.
Commendations from Gen. Jacob L. Devers, commanding Sixth Army Group, and First French Army Commander Gen. de Tassigny, reflected the significance of the Colmar campaign. In his closing remarks, Gen. Devers said:
"For your operations, I say "Fine Work." I congratulate each and every man of the 28th Inf. Div. I am proud of you. Whatever new tasks may confront you, I am confident you will meet them with the courage and determination to insure success."
Keystone men soon were given the opportunity to demonstrate that the general's confidence was well placed. Shifted to the First U.S. Army, the division took up positions Feb. 23 along the Olef River near Schleiden, Germany.
Early on March 6, the 110th and 112th Combat Teams worked from the north, swung southeast to storm through several towns including Schleiden and Kali to strike at the Ahr River.
March 16 the division passed from V Corps to Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. Two days later the Keystone again was at the Rhine in a sector between the mouths of the Moselle and Ahr rivers.
PWs said they were terrified most by the constant day and night bombardments by Div Arty. The 107th under Lt. Col. James C. Rosborough, Upper Darby Delco, Pa.; the 108th under Lt. Col. Bernhard Major, Metheun, Mass.; 109th under Maj. Henry Thouron, Wilmington, Del.; 229th under Lt. Col. John C. Fairchild, Philadelphia—all contributed to the terror of the Germans.
The 103rd Combat Engrs., led by Lt. Col. Sieg and Lt. Col. Joseph Graff, kept the division rolling. Engineers built bridges and roads, handled mines, destroyed pillboxes, fought as infantry. Their missions: all accomplished.
Forward or rear, the 103rd Medics—medical aid men on the line, technicians at aid stations—conquered in another kind of battle. Keystone men never suffered from lack of proper medical attention.
The 28th Recon Trp., cannon companies, anti-tankers, Headquarters Special Troops, clerical personnel, 28th Signal Co., 28th QM Co., 28th MP Platoon, 728th Ord. Co., the band—they are all Keystone men, every man a soldier.
With the division since England, the 630th TD Bn. fought continuously with front line Joes. The 447th AAA Bn., one of the first ack-ack units to hit France, D plus 1, greeted the 28th on the continent, fights with the division now. The 707th Tank Bn., commanded by Lt. Col. Ripple, joined the 28th at Hurtgen, left it at Wiltz, contributed many pages to the division story.