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[78th Infantry Division Patch]  "Lightning" - WWII Unit History 78th Infantry Division

[Lightning: The Story of the 78th Infantry Division]
"Lightning: The Story of the 78th Infantry Division" is a small booklet covering the history of the 78th Infantry Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1945.

This is one in a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air, and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, issued by the Orientation Section, Information and Education Division, ETOUSA. Major General Edwin P. Parker commanding the 78th Infantry Division, lent his cooperation to the preparation of the pamphlet; basic material was supplied to the editors by his staff.

Photos: U.S. Signal Corps - Printed by Curial-Archereau, Paris
[Passed by Censor]

[78th Infantry, General Parker]  

HIS story of the 78th Lightning Division is but a brief account of our battles against the enemy here in Germany. There is not room in these few pages to record the countless instances of courage and valor, the num- berless occasions of quick thinking and bold action, the endless examples of resolute determination; nor can these pages mirror the con- tant hardships, the physical exhaustion, the heartbreak and the fear of battle.

These things, however, as displayed and endured by the individuals within this division are responsible for our great successes and magnificent accomplishments.

This story is not finished. How many more pages are yet to be written no one knows. We of the Lightning Division fighting here east of the Rhine will, with God's help, carry our battle forward until we reach that place -- somewhere out to the front -- where lies VICTORY.

        [78th Infantry, General Parker]
Major General, Commanding

[The Story of the 78th Infantry Division]

ARCH 8, 1945: Forty-five miles inside Germany, doughs of the 78th strained unbelieving eyes in the early morning mist, then embarked on the nightmare crossing of the Ludendorf Bridge. Tracer bullets ripped the air in wild, zig-zag patterns; shells splashed on the bridge, dropped into the rushing water; flying metal ricocheted against steel girders. The men finally reached the opposite shore and became the first infantry division troops to span the Rhine.

It was indeed fitting that the 78th -- the division which, by its capture of Schwammenauel Dam, had made possible the great drive to the Rhine -- was the first infantry division to cross that river.
[78th Inf Div halftrack]

The crossing itself marked an important turning point in the war against Germany. The "impregnable" Siegfried Line defenses had been torn open; the German defense line along the Boer River had been smashed, and now the last remaining natural obstacle -- the Rhine -- had been crossed. The stage was set for the final, crushing blow of the offensive. Nazi Germany -- its back to the wall, its vitals exposed -- was ripe for the kill.

It had not been an easy job. The 78th's Lightning men had driven a disorganized enemy from the Roer River to the Rhine, but this same enemy, fighting from the Siegfried Line, had to be routed out of his fixed positions. That was back in December, 1944.
[78th Infantry barbed wire]

N late September 1944, the 78th had moved from Camp Pickett, Va., to Camp Kilmer, N.J., to undergo pre-embarkation processing.

On Oct. 13, straining under the weight of duffle bags, Lightning soldiers, filed up the gangplank. Next evening they hung over the railing and watched the lights of Manhattan slip slowly into the night.

Days later, after a safe ocean crossing, anchor was dropped at the south coast of England. Troops disembarked and piled into trains, climbing off again at Bournemouth. Here, on the coast, the division remained until the third week in November when the men boarded LSTs and crossed the Channel to France.

Part of the division docked at a French port where the Yanks got their first glimpse of the ravages of war on the continent. Assembling at the small town of Yvetot, the 78th jumped to Tongres, Belgium.

In early December, the 78th Division rolled across the border to Rotgen where it set up its first headquarters on German soil.

[First Mission: Cracking the Siegfried]

N the thickly wooded hills of Germany, just over the Belgian border, in the pre-dawn dark of that cold December morning, 78th Lightning Division doughs crouched in their foxholes, awaiting the order that would hurl them into their first combat action. The division sector, a three-mile stretch, lay just south and east of a small town called Lammersdorf, about nine miles southeast of Aachen, first large German city to be taken by the Allies. Out in front, paralleling the Roer River, rose the vaunted Siegfried Line.

Germany had long proclaimed this line to be impregnable. Not a line at all, but a belt of defenses from three to five miles deep running just inside the German border from the Netherlands south to Switzerland, it represented a formidable barrier.

Rows of dragons' teeth stretched in an unbroken chain as far as the eye could see. Ingeniously concealed concrete pillboxes guarded every square yard of ground, firing slits covered all approaches. The ground surrounding these 16-foot thick monsters was sown with deadly anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Concertina wire entanglements spiraled across the countryside. Intricate networks of ground entrenchments afforded the enemy movement and cover for forward firing positions. The entire diabolical
[78th Lightning Div destroyed ruins]
system was completely registered in by artillery and mortar units, which couid.lay down a murderous barrage on any threatened point.

Doughs of the 78th Lightning Division, in their foxholes outside of Lammersdorf, stared into the darkness and were quiet. It was Dec. 13. H-hour was 0600. At H-hour, Lightning was going to strike the Siegfried Line!

FTER their rapid sweep through France, Allied forces on the Western Front were poised just inside the German border. North of the 78th, elements of the American First and Ninth, the British Second, and the Canadian First Armies had pushed to the west bank of the Roer River. The next move would be crossing the Roer and striking east over the Cologne Plain into the Rhineland.
[78th Inf Div German dams]

Several German-held dams near the source of the Roer controlled the flow of its waters north from Monschau and posed a serious threat to the success of a river-crossing operation. The largest and most important of these was Schwammenauel Dam, which lay opposite the division sector. The 78th was given the mission of capturing and securing it. Immediate objective of the division, however, on the morning of Dec. 13, was to break into the Siegfried Line an capture the towns of Bickerath, Rollesbroich, Simmerath, Witzerath and Kesternich -- all lying within the belt of fortifications.

Doughs stared at their GI watches. Slowly, the glowing hands straightened into 0600. Bayonets fixed, the men slipped from their foxholes and edged forward.

The plan of operations called for a surprise attack; a surprise attack it was. Many a German soldier, manning a forward outpost, was awakened by a Lightning bayonet against his ribs. Stunned prisoners, their eyes still puffed with sleep, were quickly herded to the rear. Awakening to the realization that their positions were being challenged, Germans began to pour on everything they had.

As doughs scrambled across the minefields, enemy pillboxes spewed automatic weapons' fire. Mortars and 88s pounded the earth; jagged hits of killing shrapnel exploded in the air.
[Map: Kesternich, Rotgen, Dam]

Joes inched closer to the enemy. Overhead the air crackled as 78th's Div Arty hammered positions ahead. A 105 slammed into an entrenchment, tore a hole in the barbed wire, clearing a path for the infantry to follow.

While one group engaged a pillbox in a fire fight from the front, others crept around to its flank with dynamite. A 1000-pound charge was placed, the fuse lit. Doughs dived for cover as the concrete monster blew up. This was the way the 78th removed the pillbox menace.

HE pattern of advance was slow. Minefields were detected and by-passed. Machine guns chattered, rifles cracked incessantly. There always was low, grazing fire.

Aid men scurried about the battlefield, braving sudden death. From the start they won the respect and admiration of every Lightning soldier. Instances of their individual heroism would fill volumes.

One aid man of the 309th Medics exposed himself to artillery and mortar fire, walked into a minefield to administer morphine and successfully amputate the leg of a badly injured dough.

While treating a wounded man, another medic of the 309th was hit in the leg by shrapnel. He continued working, then returned to the CP for assistance in evacuating the casualty before treating his own injury.

A 310th medic crawled 100 yards across an open field to reach four wounded men who were pinned down by machine gun fire. Although seriously wounded himself when he reached the injured men, he administered first aid to his comrades.
[78ID, bazooka fires at bunker]

The going was rough, but the Lightning bolt struck again and again.

The 311th Inf. Regt., attached to the 8th Inf. Div., had moved north to the Hurtgen Forest sector where it had been assigned a diversionary mission in support of the big attack. Third Bn., 310th, set out for Rollesbroich, reaching the outskirts by 0730. First Bn., 309th, smashed into Simmerath. At the same time, 1st Bn., 310th, struck for the crossroad at Witzerath; 3rd Bn., 309th, swung down towards Bickerath; 2nd Bn., 309th, pushed past Simmerath towards Kesternich.

Y nightfall, Rollesbroich, Simmerath, Bickerath had fallen. Thirty-five pillboxes had been destroyed; the enemy had been thrown back 2500 yards. A big chunk had been bitten out of the Siegfried Line.

The town of Kesternich, however, still remained in the German's grip. Struggle for its possession raged during the next three days. From hedgerows skirting the town, from cellars and buildings of the town itself, the enemy resisted furiously. Combined infantry-tank assault teams repeatedly battered their way into the town but were repulsed by heavy fire from enemy positions on the high ground beyond. Constant mortar and artillery fire pounded and blasted the buildings to rubble, as the fighting, bitter as any on the Western Front, continued.

Finally, 2nd Bn., 310th, drove through to the far eastern edge of town. An unexpected enemy counter-attack trapped the elements farthest forward, cut them off from the battalion. The courage with which these men, comprising almost a full company, continued to fight for six days without food, water, or communications until rescued is a tribute to the tenacity of 78th doughs.

HE 78th, holding the western tip of Kesternich, was preparing another attack to complete its capture Dec. 16 when von Rundstedt launched his mighty counter-offensive in the Monschau area, five miles to the south. Ordered to the defensive, the division was instructed to hold its gains at all costs.

It was Christmas in Germany. There was turkey for dinner, and the Christmas spirit found its way to the man in the foxhole. Gen. Parker, in a message to the troops, expressed the spirit in these words:
[78 I.D., winter uniform]

On this particular day our hearts go homeward, just as our people at home are thinking of us. By our very presence here, amid the misfortunes that are war, we have made and are making possible a peaceful Christmas in a free land for our families back in America. We know that this cannot be a Merry Christmas, in a true sense of the word, for us. Yet, the same world ills which brought the Star of Bethlehem into Being give us inspiration for successfully completing the duty before us. I join with you this day in what Christmas means to each of us. Best wishes and good luck.

[Lightning Strikes in the West]

OR the second time in two generations, soldiers wearing the Lightning patch looked back on their achievements, knowing that theirs had been a difficult assignment and that they had performed it well.

It was during World War I that the 78th Division first made a name for itself. Originally activated at Camp Dix, N.J., Aug. 27, 1917, the division was made up mainly of men from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island and Illinois. Following a nine months' training period at Ft. Dix, the 78th -- a square division of approximately 20,000 men -- embarked for overseas duty, arriving in France May 6, 1918.

Moved into reserve for the St. Mihiel drive, the 78th relieved the 2nd and 5th Divisions in the Limey sector, Sept. 15. Here it was given the mission of conducting a number of raids and limited objective attacks to divert enemy attention from Allied preparations for the coming Meuse-Argonne offensive.

The 78th was relieved by the 89th Division, Oct. 3. It started immediately on a forced march into the Argonne. At dawn, Oct. 16, the great Meuse-Argonne offensive was launched with the 78th in the forefront. By meeting and rolling back remnants of nine German divisions, the 78th won its place among the outstanding divisions of the first World War. Later it was described as "the point in the wedge" of the final offensive which knocked Germany out of the war.

Six days before the Armistice, the 78th was relieved by the 42nd "Rainbow" Division. It headed for ports of embarkation April 23, 1919, and by June 15 all units had returned to Camp Dix for demobilization.

The 78th Division of World War I left its offspring, the current Lightning Division, a proud heritage -- one which it has upheld.

HE 78th Division of World War II was reactivated at Camp Butner, N.C., Aug. 15, 1942, under the command of Maj. Gen. Edwin P. Parker, Jr., Wytheville, Va. Streamlined to triangular proportions, the new division totaled about 15,000 men.

[78 I.D., winter uniform]

First mission was turning out reinforcements for combat. By late 1943, the 78th had won a well-earned reputation for training fighting men, with some, 60,000 in all theaters of war.

Mid-November, 1943, the 78th was moved to South Carolina for 3 weeks of field exercises after which it returned to its home station at Camp Butner. In January, 1944, the division moved to the Tennessee Maneuver Area for eight weeks of simulated combat. Throughout the maneuvers the Lightning Division took each problem confidently and established an enviable record for smooth operation.

From Tennessee the division moved to its new home, Camp Pickett, Va., where from April until September preparations for combat were completed. During its training the 78th received commendations from Under-Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson and Lt. Gen. Ben Lear.

HE 78th's performance in its first combat action of World War II had spoken well of its training. The Wehrmacht, leaning on the security of its Siegfried Line defenses, had been startled into the recognition of a new and potent force on the Western Front.

Throughout the rest of December, 1944, and most of January, while the First and Third U.S. Armies hammered at the Bulge from three sides, the 78th held and improved the salient it had thrust into the German defenses. Positions were organized in great depth; raids were carried out to destroy a fringe of pillboxes which menaced the security of the sector.

[Sparky To Boat]  

The 311th, having launched two fierce night attacks in conjunction with the main assault of the 78th, was returned to division control.

Rain and mud of December gave way to the snow and bitter cold of January, 1945. Thick snow draped the hills and valleys and hung from fir trees in a picture-card beauty that belied the horror of war.
[78 Inf Div, GIs push truck]

By the end of January the German Bulge ceased to be a threat. Von Rundstedt had gambled and lost. Remnants of his forces had withdrawn from Belgium under cover of bad flying weather for the Allies, and were licking their wounds behind the protection of German border fortifications. It was time for Allied armies to strike.

Schwammenauel Dam still was in enemy hands. Its 22 billion gallons of water, once unleashed by German demolitions, would be sufficient not only to submerge completely and destroy all the towns along the Roer from Heimbach to Doermund, but to sweep away like matchsticks men and equipment in a river crossing operation. Its capture was imperative.

The Lightning Division, already poking more than two miles into Siegfried defenses, was given the signal to resume the vital task of capturing the Dam.

The mercury had taken a sudden drop. A biting wind drove the cold through overcoats. Men moved about in muffled silence. A 310th platoon leader was making a last check before the attack when he noticed a private trying to attract his attention.
"What's the matter?" whispered the lieutenant.
"Sir, my fingers are so cold I can't move 'em," replied the dough.
"Well, do you want me to send you to the rear?" asked the officer.
"No, just unlock my piece!"

[Captured: Schwammenauel's 22 Billion Gallons]

[78 Inf Div: Generals Parker, Rice, Camm; Dragons Teeth in Winter; Battle Awards]

S the massed guns of division and corps artillery threw up a supporting umbrella of fire, doughs moved out in the dawn.

While the 309th held the north flank, the 310th and 311th, ploughing through waist-deep snowdrifts, pressed to the east and the south from their positions near Simmerath and Kesternich.

The action was swift, strong. Lightning doughs rushed in 100 yards behind the artillery to smack the enemy reeling from the concussion. At Konzen, 3rd Bn., 310th, captured the town's entire defense garrison. Fortified positions and pillboxes at Am Gericht and Imgenbroich were blown sky-high, ripped to shreds. Everywhere, the enemy poured from shelters, helmets off, hands in the air.

[The 78th's Drive Inside Germany: WW2 route map]

[78 Inf Div: Remagen, Germany; Past the Remagen Bridge, Across the Rhine]

At Kesternich, it was different. Once again this town became the scene of bitter, painful fighting. From hedgerow to hedgerow, from cellar to cellar, rubble heap to rubble heap, Germans resisted the advance of the 311th doughs. The attack slowed, then halted.

Each of the town's 112 buildings then were plotted and their systematic destruction begun. Houses were seized one at a time after radio-carrying infantrymen moved from building to building to call back house numbers to tanks and artillery. The big guns of the 307th FA Bn. zeroed in and let fly a barrage which cleared the way for the next advance.

T was slow, arduous work, but it brought results. By Feb. 2, Kesternich -- a town no longer, but a name which never will be forgotten by the 78th Division -- was captured and cleared of Germans.

To the south, Konzen, Am Gericht, Huppenbroich and Eicherscheid already had fallen. Treacherous minefields, veiled by heavy snow, took their toll, but Lightning soldiers would not be stopped. Hammer, on the Roer, was seized.

Next, Co. C, 311th, struck out for Dedenborn, a small town across a crook in the river, approximately two miles southeast of Kesternich. The swift stream was a formidable obstacle, but a water crossing was effected. Hanging onto a cable strung from one bank to the other, the company stumbled and swam
[78 Infantry river crossing Germany]
across. Swarming up the opposite shore, doughs rushed the town. After a short, furious battle, German defenders were overcome. Dedenborn belonged to the 78th.

Next morning, Feb. 4, the 311th continued the attack straight east from Kesternich toward Ruhrberg. When that town was buttoned up before dark, all the area south and east of Simmerath was clear. With its south flank secure, the division turned northeast toward Schmidt and the Schwammenauel Dam.

The much-attacked, never-captured stronghold of Schmidt lay on the high ground three miles north of Ruhrberg, overlooking the river. A mile and a half below, just around a bend in the Roer, stood the key to the Allied offensive in the north -- Schwammenauel Dam.

Guarding the approaches to Schmidt from the southeast were the fortified areas of Strauch and Steckenborn. To its southeast was a two-mile mass of rough, hilly, heart-breaking terrain, diabolically sprinkled with pillboxes and mines.

The goal which had seemed so far away in December now was within striking distance. Weariness had to be thrust aside. There was no time for rest. The enemy was cracking, and the attack to batter down his remaining defenses and capture Schmidt already was underway.

The 311th struck northeast from Ruhrberg. The 310th attacked northeast from Simmerath. The 309th plunged over the wild, heavily wooded countryside to the north to block enemy withdrawal from the pocket.

Wofflesbach, Strauch and Steckenborn were captured Feb. 5. Strong enemy counter-attacks were beaten off. A 310th bazookaman who had taken a position inside a building when Germans attacked one town, told how rocket guns helped repulse the armor: "After three hits, the leading tank burst into flames. One of the crew who dived out of the tank was on fire from head to foot."

Across open ground under a hail of withering artillery, mortar and small arms fire, through deadly minefields in the face of enemy automatic weapons' fire, doughs advanced -- running, crawling, creeping, scrambling up slopes and rolling down ravines.

Pinned down by machine gun fire, one man would flank an enemy position, knock it out, and his squad would resume its advance. When platoon leaders were wounded, other men would step forward to assume command.

Two doughs took over a 310th platoon when their lieutenant dropped out. The unit, along with four tanks, had been assigned the mission of knocking out three particularly troublesome pillboxes. The pair led the assault team into an action which netted five pillboxes, a troop shelter and 136 prisoners.

Advancing in rushes, assaulting each objective in turn -- a hill, bunker, emplacement, building -- the 78th stormed into Schmidt defenses. The assault continued three days as the regiments advanced abreast to close in on their objective.

The 309th peeled off and battered into Kommerscheidt. The 311th, riding tanks, pushed straight ahead toward Schmidt. Forced to dismount by anti-tank fire, doughs gritted their teeth, went in afoot. The stronger pockets of resistance were by-passed as infantry moved through mountainous heaps of debris which once had been houses.
[78 Infantry Div artillery position]

A sergeant who volunteered to lead a 78th Sig. Co. wire team into Schmidt, said: "We rode into town, dismounted and started laying wire. Boy, was it hot! We dodged shells all the way."

The 310th plunged into the heavily defended northern end of town, cleaning it out and advancing beyond after a bitter fight. Schmidt was captured. Destruction was complete. Hardly a wall stood upright. Aachen is larger and better known, but the most devastating picture was Schmidt, Feb 8, 1945.
[Sherman tank with jeeps]

Remnants of six enemy divisions scrambled to pull back from the Lightning blitz. More than 2500 prisoners had been taken since the drive started on Jan. 30. Sixteen towns had been captured. Thirty-five square miles of German-soil had been secured.

While the 310th went through Schmidt and on to capture Harscheidt, the 311th moved toward the Dam, following the curving north shore line of the reservoir.

On the afternoon of Feb. 9 as the 310th and 903rd FA protected its north flank, the 309th passed through the 311th and slogged down the last leg of the exhausting journey which had started 12 days before at Simmerath. The shell-torn road behind advancing doughs was strewn with burned-out tanks, wrecked trucks, jeeps and dead horses.

Just before midnight, leading riflemen of the 1st Bn., 309th, broke out of the woods at the bottom of the steep hill. There was the prize -- Schwammenauel Dam!

[Bridging the Roer with Courage]

HE area is weirdly lit up by enemy flares from the far side of the river. Machine gun fire splattered all around. The crash of bursting mortar shells mingled with the whip-cracking reports of flying lead. Registered-in 88s whined over the Dam to burst at knee height among the doughs.

While the fire fight raged unabated, a specially trained 303rd Engrs. team set about the grim work of exploring the Dam for demolitions. One group searched control houses on the near shore; another crawled cautiously over the face of the Dam. A third checked the structure from the inside.

Built in 1934 primarily for defense purposes, Schwammenauel Dam is 188 feet high and 1000 feet across. A reinforced concrete core supports the five-tiered earthen staircase which is more than 1000 feet thick at the base.

Engineers groped their way through the inspection tunnel in the very bowels of the Dam with the knowledge that 22 billion gallons of water were straining against the structure and that even as they pursued their search an already lighted fuse might be burning closer to the charge. It was a ticklish job, but it had to be done.

Three hours later these engineers returned to the 1st Bn. CP. The Dam was safe. No demolitions had been touched off. A bridge across the sluiceway had been blown. The control houses had been demol- ished. The control to the penstock tunnel had been destroyed. Water was flowing through the penstock and into the river. The reservoir was emptying and the water level of the river would rise. But the threat of destruction and flood was removed.

Schwammenauel Dam no longer was a menace to the Allied forces in the north.

OLLOWING the seizure of the Dam, the division received a commendation from Maj. Gen. C.R. Huebner, V Corps Commander, which stressed the strategic importance of the accomplishment "without which further contemplated winter operations against the enemy on the northern front would have been impossible...
[78th Inf Div GIs ruined town]

"Although the 78th Infantry DiVision is relatively new in combat, you have given ample proof that in future operations you will add new honors to those you have already achieved in this..."

The 9th Inf. Div. had established a bridgehead at Nideggan north of the 78th sector. On Feb. 28, the 311th crossed the river and attacked south toward Hausen. As soon as the town had been secured, the 303rd Engr. Bn. started construction of a bridge across the Roer. By nightfall, the span was completed and 309th infantry poured across.

After capturing Hausen, the 311th continued its attack south over the steep rocky hills and cliffs leading to Heimbach. Advancing in the face of direct enemy self-propelled artillery fire, the 311th overran the town. Meanwhile, 2nd Bn., 310th crossed the Roer over a footbridge at Schwammenauel Dam. Seizing the high ground east of the Dam, the battalion joined forces with the 311th, which drove down from the north.

HIS threat removed, First and Ninth Armies launched their great offensive toward the Rhine, Feb. 23. The 78th joined the attack five days later with the mission of protecting the south flank of the drive.

Almost three weeks of active patrolling on both sides of the Roer had preceded the actual crossing. One of the reconnaissance units went across the river time and time again to bring back vital information. Div Arty lobbed shells over the river to harass Germans attempting to organize defenses.

The division bridgehead across the Roer was established, secured.

The way to the Rhine now lay open, stretching for 35 miies over rolling, open ground dotted with little towns. There were no permanent defenses, no pillboxes, few minefields. Hastily constructed earth entrenchments and dug-in gun positions were the Germans' only means of checking the powerful blows to come. Battle for control of the Rhine's west bank was to be a race. Could the Germans, staggering back from the whipping they had laken along the Roer, reorganize and occupy these positions before Lightning men hit them?

The 309th led off. While the remainder of the division crossed the Roer, that regiment lashed out to the east. Advancing rapidly at first, the doughs ran smack into a stiff fight near Vlatten. With all the force and determination they could scrape together, Germans defended the approaches to the town. It took the combined efforts of the dogged infantrymen
[Map: Remagen, Erpel, Nideggan]
and the booming guns of the 308th FA to break through this crust of resistance.

House-to-house fighting raged inside the town. The Germans were shoved out, block by block. Before dark, the job was complete. The 309th had advanced five miles and won the first leg of the race toward the Rhine.

The battle swept on at a rapid pace throughout the next five days. The 309th and 311th alternately smashed forward for large gains. Tanks of the 774th Bn. and 893rd TDs added impetus to each thrust. Stunned and surprised, the enemy was on the run.

HIS was new, wide-open, fast-moving combat, a far cry from the bitter yard-by-yard struggles of Kesternich and the Siegfried Line. Taking full advantage of the shattered enemy resistance, the 78th kept punching forward.

South of Rheinbach, the 78th Recon Troop overran a panzer ammunition dump. More than 1500 tons of ammunition and a convoy of trucks were captured intact. At Schweinheim, Kalenborn and Holzweiler, the Germans fought back furiously with self-propelled artillery and mortars. Nazis collected forces for a stubborn defense at Stazvey.

A liaison officer racing along in his jeep, took a wrong turn and arrived at Hertgarten -- a town not only out of the division zone but also beyond front lines. The lieutenant found civilians waving white sheets, a German officer and seven enlisted men waiting to surrender the town.

[Lightning Flashes Across the Rhine]

N other towns along the division sector, white flags and deserted streets greeted the Lightning men. From second story windows, flagpoles, and balconies hung bed sheets, towels -- anything that was white. Ignored was Hitler's order to defend to the last. With their Wehrmacht in undisguised rout, the Herrenvolk in the towns had decided to call it quits in the face of the Lightning juggernaut rolling in high gear.

The end of the drive toward the Rhine now was in sight. The 309th and 311th had reached the Ahr River where they captured five bridges intact to pave the way for a link-up with Third Army forces coming up north of the Moselle.

In eight days the two regiments advanced 35 miles. More than 1500 prisoners and 47 towns were captured. More than 87 square miles of German ground was cleared. The German army west of the Rhine ceased to exist.

Meanwhile, the 310th, working with the 9th Armd. Div., had been motorized for most of its race Rhine- ward. Mounted on open-top trucks and preceded by tanks, the 310th troops captured many German towns without even dismounting. Firing BARs, M-1s and grease guns from the sides of the trucks, they rolled through town after town, wiping out snipers and overpowering the already demoralized enemy. By March 7, the 310th had seized more than 2300 prisoners and 35 towns, including Euskirchen, Rheinbach and Bad Neuenahr.

The 310th infantrymen were fighting in the towns of Mehlem and Lannesdorf March 7 when word was flashed that the Ludendorf Railway Bridge over the Rhine still was intact.

1st Bn. was ordered to move immediately for the Rhine crossing. Doughs rushed to Remagen aboard trucks. At 0430 March 8, the battalion crossed the Ludendorf Bridge from Remagen to Erpel -- the first infantry battalion of an infantry division to span the Rhine. Later the same day, the 311th crossed over. Within the next two days, the entire 78th Division had closed on the east bank.
[Map: Remagen Bridge]

Mustering the remnants of a once powerful Luftwaffe, the Germans tried everything to bomb out the bridge. Anti-aircraft artillery batteries, among them the 552nd AAA (AW), were rushed in and Nazi raiders paid a terrific price.

Enemy guns, skillfully directed by observers hidden in the steep hills overlooking the river flats near Erpel, incessantly pounded the bridge and the columns of men and vehicles moving in the tiny bridgehead area. Massed along the west bank of the Rhine, Long Toms and six-inchers disintegrated these German firing positions with a deluge of counter-battery fire.

For the Germans, it was do or die. If they failed to stem the flow of men and materials across the bridge and wipe out the bridgehead, their entire Rhine River defensive position was lost. For the Allies, this small patch of land across the Rhine was the most critical spot on the entire front. Seizure of the bridge had been unexpected gravy. Now, if forces fighting
[78 Inf Div, jeep repair]
east of the Rhine could be sustained, reinforced and bolstered, the great Rhine River crossing operation would be speeded up immeasurably and many lives spared.

The 78th struck out to enlarge the bridgehead. First smashing south from Erpel, the division concentrated rifles, grenades, machine guns, mortars and howitzers to pry Germans from the hills. Slowly, the tiny bridgehead expanded. Linz and Dattenberg were cleared.

EN and materiel continued to pour across the Ludendorf Bridge. New spans were thrown across the river. Relieved in the southern sector, the 78th turned north. Past Erpel, into Honnef, it stormed then beyond Honnef to the northeast.
[78 Inf Div, ski troops]

As the doughs moved along the east bank of the river, VII Corps engineers, working under the concealment of man-made fog, threw up other bridges.

First Bn., 309th, cut the Autobahn, famed four-lane super-highway linking the industrial Ruhr with Frankfurt-am-Main. Konigswinter was captured. Prisoners were herded to the rear by the thousands.

In frantic efforts to stem the inexorable tide of the advance, Germans shoved into battle a conglomeration of forces without regard to unity or organization.

By March 17, the bridgehead had been expanded into an area of 100 square miles. Enemy artillery no longer could bring effective fire on the main crossing sites. The bridgehead was secure.
[78 Inf Div, jeep column]

This was the climax of the 35-mile, eight-day drive from the Roer to the Rhine -- the aftermath of the capture of many towns and the seizure of a dam. The First and Ninth Armies had hurtled forward across the Rhineland with a speed and force comparable to the St. Lo breakthrough in July, 1944. Cologne and Bonn, on the west bank of the Rhine, both were in American hands.

The spectacular crossing at Remagen and the securing of the first Rhine River bridgehead marked the beginning of the final phase in the Allied annihilation of Nazi Germany.

HE men of the 78th Lightning Division are understandably proud of the part they played in bringing about the collapse of the Wehrmacht.
[78 Inf Div, truck tows artillery]

It took men to accomplish what they did -- all sorts of men, performing all sorts of jobs. The 78th is one big team -- Gen. Parker, the buck privates, platoon leaders, commanding officers, riflemen, machine gunners, engineers, medics, technicians, cooks, truck drivers, clerks -- all joined in one common purpose. Every man in the division has contributed to its story. Every man in the division has shared in its triumphs.

Some of these men were with the division since its activation; others joined as reinforcements. The 303rd Medics, the 303rd Engineers, the men of the 78th Signal Co., 78th Quartermaster Co., 778th Ordnance Co., 78th Recon Troop and Division Hq. Co. -- all have a place in this story.

[Inside rear cover: The Team]
[Rear cover: On the Move, Near Rafflesbrand, Germany]

This small supplement describing the 78th's role in the battle
of the Ruhr Pocket was stapled to the main booklet.

[Stop the Presses, Front Cover]

At the time "THE STORY OF THE 78TH INFANTRY DIVISION" went to press, the Division, extended on a 30-mile front along the south bank of the Sieg River, was still at grips with the enemy. The story was thus left hanging in mid-air, the inevitable climax just beyond reach. This is an account of the history-making days that followed.

oward the end of March, while the 78th con- tinued to hold and strengthen its position along the Sieg River line, First and Ninth Army units began to pour across the Rhine. Two prongs shot out across the map in a giant pincer aimed at the complete encirclement of the vital Ruhr industrial area. The 78th guarded the left flank of the First Army Drive as it pushed eastward, lobbing artillery and mortar fire into the German defenses across the Sieg. 78th patrols, on spine-chilling missions deep into enemy territory, travelled back and forth across the river.

On April 1st, units of the Ninth Army, driving around from the north, established contact with units of the First Army, coming up from the south. The entire Ruhr area was thus encircled. The two Armies then pushed on to the Elbe River, leaving behind a huge pocket, covering an area of over 5,000 square miles, in which over 300,000 German troops were completely cut off. Included in this pocket, were the large industrial cities of Dusseldorf Dortmund, Hamm, Essen, and Wuppertal.

On April 6th from its position along the southern lining of the pocket, the Division crossed the Sieg and drove into the Ruhr area. It was a coordinated squeeze, the 78th pushing northward; other First and Ninth Army units pressing in from the east and north. Throughout the next eleven days, while Allied spearheads probed to within 50 miles of Berlin, the 78th smashed up into the Ruhr in daily gains that varied from 6000 yards up to 11 miles over rough, hilly terrain.

blitz . . .

The pocket was heavily defended by SS, Panzer, Parachute and Infantry troops, together with numerous flak batteries and miscellaneous units of all descriptions, pressed into service as Infantry. The Germans employed everything they could lay their hands on -- tanks, self-propelled guns, anti-aircraft, rockets -- to hold back the advancing doughs. But the Lightning men would not be stopped.

Cut off and demoralized by the relentless Lightning advances, rear guard forces threw down their arms and gave themselves up. Whole garrisons were overrun. Prisoners were herded to the rear by the thousands, and the PW count soared to a record high of 9,186 for a single day.

This was blitzhreig - Yankee fashion.

The 78th doughboys pushed forward from one town to the next, leaving a trail of white surrender fags in their wake. German soldiers in civilian clothes were ferretted out and sent to the cage to share the fate of their Kamerads. A steady stream of 6x6's, their bows bulging with the weight of countless disillusioned supermen, poured out of the ever-diminishing pocket.
[Stop the Presses, Ruhr Pocket Map]

Thousands of slave-workers - Russians, French, Czechs, Dutch, Poles - liberated by the 78th, roamed the streets and trudged along the roadsides still dazed by the sudden turn of events that had set them free after five years of slavery.

On the 15th of April the Mayor of Wuppertal received a phone call. At the other end of the wire was a Lightning officer, demanding the immediate surrender of the city. Within a few hours, Wuppertal, which had boasted a pre-war population of 400,000, surrendered to the 78th Division.

finis . . .

Two days later the Pocket had virtually ceased to exist. General Parker summed up the action in a message to the troops.
". . . In eleven days you advanced more than 50 miles against the enemy. You captured 47,581 prisoners, including 7 General Officers. You captured some 120 towns and villages. You cleared over 300 square miles of enemy territory... The courage, fighting heart, and aggressive spirit which broke the Seigfried Line, wrested Schwammenauel Dam from the enemy, and secured the now famous Remagen bridgehead, are still with you."

On April 17th, after 128 days of continuous front-line duty, the Lightning Division was taken off the line and put into reserve for a well-earned rest.

The story of the Ruhr Pocket (since named the "Rose" Pocket in memory of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose) will go down as one of the dramatic highlights of this war - one of the great milestones on the road to victory in Europe.

[Stop the Presses, Rear Cover]
[78th Division Lightning]

"TO EVERY MEMBER OF THE AEF: The battle of the Ruhr has ended with complete success... The rapidity and determination with which this brilliant action was executed tore asunder the divisions of Field Marshal Model and enabled all Army Groups without pause to continue their drive eastward into the heart of Germany. This victory of Allied aims is a fitting prelude to the final battles to crush the remnants of Hitler's armies of the west, now tottering on the threshold of defeat."

20 April 1945

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