[Lone Sentry: Battle Babies: The Story of the 99th Infantry Division] [Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Photos, Articles, & Research on the European Theater in World War II
[99th Infantry Division Patch]   "Battle Babies:" The Story of the 99th Infantry Division
[ booklet text only ]

[Battle Babies: The Story of the 99th Infantry Division]
"The Story of the 99th Infantry Division" is a small booklet covering the history of the 99th Infantry Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945.

This is one of a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, issued by the Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, ETOUSA... Major General Walter E. Lauer, commanding the 99th Infantry Division, lent his cooperation, and basic material was supplied by his staff.

HIS booklet recounts briefly the highlights of the 99th Infantry Division in combat. Our division has established an enviable record as a fighting team and has taught the German to fear the wearer of the "Checkerboard". All of us—officers and men of the 99th Division—can be proud of our record. To be a member of the 99th Division is an honor. Towards our comrades who have been left on the fields of battle, we feel most gratefully humble. Their sacrifice shall be our ever constant inspiration to do our job—Now, Right, and with Steadfast Determination.

Walter E. Lauer
Major General, Commanding


IEGE by Christmas, Brussels by New Year's" was Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's promise to his soldiers. But his operation backfired. Battle Babies—the men of the 99th Infantry Division—know why.

For two days, Dec. 16 and 17, 1944, doughs of the 99th stood alone at a hot corner of the Battle of the Bulge—in front of Elsenborn, at Krinkelt, Wirtzfeld, Bullingen—while the Wehrmacht's best troops lowered the boom against their thinly-held line.

Spread over a 20-mile front and without reserves, the green troops under Maj. Gen. Walter E. Lauer battled six divisions—the 12th, 246th, 277th and 326th Volksgrenadier, the 3rd Panzer and the 12th SS Panzer Divs., plus elements of paratroop outfits. This display of power called for a show of guts to face it, much less to beat it off.

There was no doubt von Rundstedt was springing the strategy which he believed would decide the outcome of the war. The capture of a Nazi document by the 394th Inf. Regt. on Dec. 16 was complete evidence. The German commander's order read:

Soldiers of the West Front: Your great hour has struck. Strong attacking armies are advancing today against the Anglo-Americans. I don't need to say more to you. You all feel it. Everything is at stake. You bear in yourselves a holy duty to give everything and to achieve the superhuman for our fatherland and our Feuhrer!

To achieve the superhuman is difficult in any man's league. Von Rundstedt didn't get the job done. Approximately 4000 "Supermen" were killed by the 99th alone. History will record von Rundstedt's action as one of the most spectacular military gambles ever made and lost. Checkerboarders of the 99th always will remember the Bulge as the battle in which they proved their mettle as a fighting outfit.

Shortly before midnight, Dec 20, the 393rd Inf. Regt. reported "all quiet". From then on, the entire front north of Butgenbach, Belgium, simmered down as the blows of German armor glanced to the southwest.

The 99th had fought hard and it had thrown the Nazi's do-or-die offensive hopelessly off schedule. Gen. Lauer's star Checkerboarders had been hit by superior numbers of men and equipment, but they had successfully defended a prime enemy objective—the Eupen-Malmedy-Butgenbach-Elsenborn road net—the key route to Liege and the great Allied port of Antwerp. They had delayed what surely was the German supreme push.

When the crisis was over, Gen. Lauer received verbal commendations from Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, 21st Army Group Commander, and Gen. Courtney Hodges, First Army Commander, on the vigorous and effective stand contributed by the 99th. From Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, then V Corps Commander, came the following commendation:

I wish to express to you and the members of your command my appreciation and commendation for the fine job you did in preventing the enemy from carrying out his plans to break through the V Corps sector and push on to the Meuse River. Not only did your command assist in effectively frustrating that particular part of the plan, but it also inflicted such heavy losses on the enemy that he was unable to carry out other contemplated missions in other sectors of the Allied front.

Gen. von Manteuffel, commander of the 5th Panzer Army, stated in the address to his troops prior to the attack that "our ground mission must be continuous; otherwise we will not achieve our goal". Due in part to the 99th Infantry Division, this ground mission has not been continuous, and he will not achieve his goal...

HE 99th Inf. Div. was activated Nov 16, 1942, at Camp Van Dorn, Miss., and when raw recruits arrived in early December, the picture they viewed was far from rosey. Camp Van Dorn, hastily built as the Army mushroomed in every direction, was a tar paper shanty town sprawled across the red mud of southern Mississippi. Men of the division, most of whom came from northern states, not only faced basic training, but one of the most miserable winters in years. Both service clubs burned down by Christmas; there was only one small theater for 20,000 men. Any town of more than 2000 population was 50 miles distant; besides, there were no busses. Then men had to help dig ditches to drain the camp, build walks, paint signs and ready the camp for training, which began Jan. 4, 1943.

The early spring produced more than green grass and blue skies. Men of the 99th began to look like soldiers, to feel the bond that springs from the Checkerboard shoulder patch. Originally planned as a Pennsylvania outfit, the 99th had taken its checkerboard insignia from the city of Pittsburgh's coat of arms.

Meanwhile, the division underwent the various growing pains of an outfit destined for combat. Prior to its departure for Louisiana Maneuvers in the fall of 1943, Gen. Lauer assumed command.

After giving a good account of itself during maneuvers, the 99th moved to Camp Maxey, six miles north of Paris, Tex., and within weekend range of Dallas. Here, Checkerboarders spent nearly a year in putting on the final polish. Brig. Gen. Hugh T. Mayberry, Peekskill, N.Y., who organized and served as first commandant of the Camp Hood Tank Destroyer School, joined the 99th as assistant division commander in February, 1944.

The following month division strength was boosted by the arrival of more than 3000 men released by the Army Specialized Training Program. These men trained as a provisional regiment until absorbed by the 99th three months later in time to take part in the hasty box-building program that began in August.

There was sea spray in the Texas dust and the division entrained for Camp Miles Standish near Boston the second week in September. After two weeks of final preparations, Checkerboarders boarded ships including the Army transport, George W. Goethals; the ex-freighter, Explorer, and the one-time luxury liner, Argentina, and sailed for England, Sept. 29.

Arriving at a number of English ports, the division assembled at Dorsetshire near the city of Dorchester where three weeks were spent in hikes and calisthenics while the job of final staging with its myriad supply problems and last-minute checks was carried on.

Forty-eight hour passes, most of them to London but some to points as far as Scotland, were the rule rather than the exception. There were company and battalion parties at which English girls enjoyed the fresh doughnuts and hot chocolate.

The Checkerboard Division saw war's ravages the first time at Le Havre, France, where it landed on D plus 5 months, between Nov. 3 and 7. The voyage from Southampton was made in various types of craft.

Everybody who could drove trucks and jeeps during the motor march across northwestern France and southwestern Belgium. Destination was Aubel, a small farm town north of Verviers in the easternmost portion of Belgium near the Liege-Aachen Military Highway No. 3.

There were no delays now. With little sleep and few hot meals, elements of the division moved south from the assembly area into the line. Names like Monschau, Elsenborn and Honsfeld meant little to the Checkerboarders in those first few days. But all new as they marched into the Ardennes that the biggest chapter in their lives was about to be written.

99 Days With The Fighting 99th

S part of V Corps, the 99th was alerted for the attack Dec. 12, 1944, and doughs moved out at 0830 the following morning. In deep snow, 1st and 2nd Bns., 395th, and 2nd and 3rd Bns., 393rd, swung northeast to seize objectives in the outer belt of the Siegfried Line. These new positions were strengthened immediately despite intense enemy mortar and artillery fire. It was give and take the next two days as the Germans' stubborn pillbox defenses slowed the progress.

It was a long way from the hot training grounds of the deep south to the misty, snow-hung Ardennes Forest, smack up against Hitler's vaunted West Wall. And it had taken some time, in November and early December, for 99th doughs to become accustomed to the freezing cold of the foxholes and the unmerciful whine of German artillery.

There had been little action in this sector for some time and it was a good spot for a new division to get used to burp guns, snipers and the sounds of different shells.

But, as an active front goes, there was little fighting. Occasionally, a pillbox was cleaned out and frequent patrols probed deep into the Siegfried Line. This was a quiet, strange sort of warfare.

EC. 16, 1944: All hell broke loose!

With lightning speed and savage fury, von Rundstedt's forces rolled forward on the heels of a pulverizing artillery barrage. Using tanks and infantry in battalion spearheads, the fanatic Wehrmacht hurled its full force against the entire arc of the 99th Div. front. Outposts and front-line companies reeled under the blow. The final effort of the Nazi war machine was under way.

Striking in the same place where in 1940 the French and British forces had been driven to defeat, the German's knew every road and hillock of the countryside before them.

Von Rundstedt's plan was simple: to strike a thinly-held line of a green, untried division with an overpowering force. Behind the 99th was the highway to Eupen; paratroopers would drop there in strength. Panzers would follow SS troops, hook up with paratroopers, and strike for Liege before the Americans could shift their forces.

The initial weight of the attack fell on the 393rd Inf., holding the center, and on 1st Bn. 394th, maintaining the right of the division line. The blow was parried but the Germans came on—wave after wave. Each successive thrust was beaten off with greater difficulty. As platoons, companies and battalions faced the terrifying prospect of being cut off and hacked to pieces, many Checkerboarder heroes stepped forward.

When the ring of German steel tightened around Co. C, 393rd, a makeshift relief of cooks, KPs, and Anti-Tank Co.'s mine platoon was sent to the rescue. Enroute, artillery blasted them from their vehicles, pinned them flat in the snow only 200 yards from their goal. Casualties mounted. It was time for inspired action or the situation was helpless.

Lt. Harry Parker, Johnson, Vt., leader of the relief squad, rose to his feet. "Hell, there's no use lying here and getting killed," he said. As the lieutenant advanced, every man moved forward, although no order was given. Bayonets were fixed. Men broke into a run, yelled as they ran.

It was a wild, screaming bayonet charge by desperate men. German infantrymen in the woods ahead couldn't see what was coming, but they could here it. They fled in the opposite direction. The relief squad succeeded in saving what was left of Co. C as well as re-establishing a line from the company CP to the platoons.

Still, the German attacks spread, beating with fury all along the line. Crack ski troops glided silently over the snow in one sector to be cut down by machine gun cross-fire. Half a Nazi company lay dead in the drifts. The Volksgrenadiers charged on. Some were swatted down like flies; others emptied their burp guns and surrendered. By nightfall, every available man in the division was on the line—a line that held.

Before the next morning, panzers were on the rampage in the 394th's area—the same panzers that had been held up 18 hours by that regiment's I&R platoon. Under 1st Lt. Lyle J. Bouck, Jr., St. Louis, the platoon had fought to the last man in staving off the furious attack astride the Losheim road. Clerks dropped their portables and grabbed M-1s when these tanks roared up from Losheim and Lanzerath into towns that were rest areas only a few days before. A frenzied battle raged at Bullingen where the 801st TD Bn. succeeded in piling up German vehicles and foxing the panzers into bypassing the town temporarily.

S/Sgt. Elmer E. Keener, Sanger, Calif., 393rd Unit Personnel Section clerk, was so busy firing at Mark Vs that he was left behind when the remainder of his section, alternately loading service records and firing at Germans, pulled out. Keener then teamed up with two doughs and the trio, blazing away with a bazooka, knocked out three tanks before rejoining a division unit.

While German infantry and armor roared ahead to the Elsenborn-Eupen road where they were to join forces with their paratroopers, Nazis cut off and surrounded the 1st Bns. of both the 393rd and 394th Inf. Regts. The 324th Engr. Bn. was split, nearly trapped. Although most of the artillery planes got off the ground, pilots underwent fire from a German tank at one end of the field. S/Sgt. Richard H. Byers, Cleveland, 371st FA Bn., whisked his artillery survey section out the back door of a house as Krauts entered the front.

Green Troops Build Stone Wall

UT what was happening didn't make sense to the Germans. They slugged this green division unmercifully, yet it still jabbed back. Cut off and surrounded in part, these newcomers to battle were fighting like veterans. The going was bitter, but the division began regaining ground. By Sunday night, Dec. 17, Germans were using every trick in the book to make their last-stand offensive click. English-speaking enemy donned U.S. uniforms, rode in captured vehicles. Division doughs couldn't be sure who was in the next foxhole.

At the extreme northern tip of the line, 3rd Bn., 395th, gave such an account of itself between Saturday and Monday that it was awarded the Distinguished Unit Badge. The citation read:

During the German offensive in the Ardennes, the Third Battalion, 395th Infantry, was assigned the mission of holding the Monschau-Eupin-Liege Road. For four successive days the battalion held this sector against combined German tank and infantry attacks, launched with fanatical determination and supported by heavy artillery. No reserves were available... and the situation was desperate. On at least six different occasions the battalion was forced to place artillery concentrations dangerously close to its own positions in order to repulse penetrations and restore its lines...

The enemy artillery was so intense that communications were generally out. The men carried out missions without orders when their positions were penetrated or infiltrated. They killed Germans coming at them from the front, flanks and rear. Outnumbered five to one, they inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to one. With ammunition supplies dwindling rapidly, the men obtained German weapons and utilized ammunition obtained from casualties to drive off the persistent foe. Despite fatigue, constant enemy shelling, and ever-increasing enemy pressure, the Third Battalion guarded a 6000-yard front and destroyed 75 percent of three German infantry regiments.

Throughout the division, this extraordinary record was duplicated in spirit and to a degree in fact. South of the 395th, two companies of the 324th Engrs., under Lt. Col. Justice R. Neal, Oberlin, Kan., were cut off. Sunday night alone, these companies knocked out 16 self-propelled guns and killed 400 Germans. Then they built a road back to Elsenborn and pulled marooned 99th vehicles out of the snow with their "cats."

The 394th fought on the south flank where it battled strong Nazi patrols and tanks. When his unit was pinned down by machine gun fire from a roundhouse, T/Sgt. Savino Travellini, Mt. Shasta, Calif., picked up a bazooka and crawled towards the German gun. His first bazooka shell silenced the enemy fire. When some of the roundhouse occupants fled, the sergeant dropped them with his M-1. Travellini duplicated the procedure four times, neutralizing the strong-point.

First Bn., 394th, commanded by Lt. Col. Robert H. Douglas, Swarthmore, Pa., also received the Distinguished Unit Badge. The citation read:

The Germans' Ardennes offensive was spearheaded directly at First Battalion, 394th Infantry Regiment, which was defending a front of 3500 yards... The enemy launched its initial attack against the First Battalion with an unprecedented artillery concentration lasting approximately two hours, followed by an attack of six battalions of infantry, supported by tanks, dive bombers, flame throwers and rockets. For two days and nights the battalion was under intense small arms fire and continuous artillery concentration, with little food and water... this battalion... repeatedly beat back the superior numbers of the enemy forces... Many times the men rose out of their foxholes to meet the enemy in fierce hand to hand combat... By its tenacious stand, First Battalion prevented the enemy from penetrating the right flank of an adjacent division, and permitted other friendly forces to reinforce the sector...

HEN the panzers hit Krinkelt, the 393rd's communications were cut off. Lt. Col. Thomas E. Griffin, Brooklyn, regimental executive officer (now 395th CO), drove his C&R to a high terrain point as shells fell on all sides and relayed messages with his radio until an enemy tank drove him away.

The 99th QM Co. entered the battle at Krinkelt when it sent a convoy of trucks into the town to evacuate the wounded. At Elsenborn, the company suddenly found itself in a hot spot during an air raid. While some members of the unit issued clothing over truck tailgates, others manned the ring-mounted machine guns on the front of the 6-x-6s and poured a steady stream of lead into German planes.

Fresh infantry from rest camps and A/T outfits arrived Sunday evening, Dec. 17. Artillery reinforcements pulled in to back up the division's 370th, 371st, 372nd and 924th FA Bns. Time was running out for the Germans as panzers were shoved from Krinkelt and Bullingen.

The 99th drew back to form a defense line east of Elsenborn the next few days as the enemy kept up his terrific artillery spree. But the new line held fast and every German infantry attack was repulsed. All around the Elsenborn corner, Nazis could count the cost of the futile effort.

More than 4000 dead; some 60 tanks and self-propelled guns knocked out. Checkerboard doughs, even when their lines were pierced, had kept on slugging, died on their guns, had neither given way nor given up. After five days and nights of hell, the Germans, tired of beating their heads against the 99ths stone wall, turned south.

Two months later, when the division transferred to VII Corps, Maj. Gen. C.R. Huebner, V Corps Commander wrote Gen. Lauer:

The 99th Infantry Division Arrived in this theater without previous combat experience early in November, 1944. It... was committed to the attack on Dec. 12... Early on the morning of Dec. 16, the German Sixth Panzer Army launched its now historic counter-offensive which struck your command in the direction of Losheim and Honsfeld. This armored spearhead cut across the rear of your division zone with full momentum. During the next several days, notwithstanding extremely heavy losses in men and equipment, the 99th Infantry Division redisposed itself and... succeeded in establishing a line east of Elsenborn. Despite numerous hostile attempts to break through its lines, the 99th Infantry Division continued to hold this position until it was able to pass to the offensive. On Dec. 18, the 3rd Battalion of the 395th Infantry gave a magnificent account of itself in an extremely heavy action against the enemy in the Hofen area and was the main factor in stopping the hostile effort to penetrate the lines of the V Corps in the direction of Monschau...

The 99th Infantry Division received its baptism of fire in the most bitterly contested battle that has been fought since the current campaign on the European continent began... Your organization gave ample proof of the fact that it is a good hard fighting division and one in which you and each and every member of your command can be justly proud...

German prisoners volunteered praise of the 99th's effective work. A Nazi lieutenant colonel said the division was the best American outfit he ever had faced. At the 99th's PW cage in Linz, a German lieutenant asked his interrogator the name of the "elite" American unit that had defended Hofen during the Battle of the Bulge.

This regiment, the 395th, had allowed his company to come within nine feet of its lines before opening up with such terrific small arms and machine gun fire that the Germans couldn't even remove their dead and wounded in their rapid retreat.

The 99th Drives on to Fatherland

FTER the fury of the first week of the breakthrough, men of the 99th hugged their snow-filled foxholes in the open land before Elsenborn, repulsing weakening German thrusts until the division switched to the offensive in late January. Col. Robert B. Warren, Windom, Minn., joined the division as chief of staff.

Limited patrolling, then more and more aggressive forays into the enemy-held woods beyond Elsenborn revealed a thinning Nazi line and signs of withdrawal. The Bulge was becoming a complete bust. Constantly hammered by artillery and bombings, the Bulge was flattened out until it ran parallel to the line so valiantly held by the 99th in front of Elsenborn.

Reinforced by new men from training centers in the States, the 99th received the order to advance at 0300, Jan. 30. In a concerted attack with divisions on either flank, Checkerboarders moved out through hip-deep snow for the Monschau Forest. Their mission: to recover the ground they had so bitterly contested the month previous.

So fast were Germans pulling out of some sectors that a Co. M, 394th, machine gun squad under Sgt. Richard Daugherty, Curwensville, Pa., advanced 8000 yards through waist-deep snow and took its objective without ever spotting the enemy. Daugherty's squad carried a gun, tripod and tool kit weighing a total of 160 pounds but didn't fire a shot.

It wasn't all that easy. The 393rd, moving along a draw towards Krinkelt and then swinging north into the woods, was caught and pinned down by rear guard action of retreating Germans. Only through sheer guts, advancing through murderous small arms fire, did the regiment reach the edge of the woods and clean out the Nazis.

In early February, 1945, the division wheeled across the country through the bitterly-remembered towns of Wirtzfeld, Rocherath, Bullingen, Krinkelt. CPs were set up again. Then, Checkerboarders ripped anew into the Siegfried Line, past Losheim and Hollerath and through the first belt of pillboxes to points in advance of their past drives. Battle Babies probed inner defenses when, after three months of continuous action, the 99th was relieved by the 69th Inf. Div., Feb. 13, 1945.

By the last week in February, all three regiments had arrived at Aubel, which the division previously used as its assembly point before going into combat in November. It was a country of long, soft ridges, sloping pastures and wide valleys. The sun was shining and the grass in the apple orchards already green when the soldiers moved in to rest.

During the 10 days the 99th stayed in the area, it engaged in mild doses of training, principally for the benefit of the reinforcements, and in rehabilitation of equipment. Showers, haircuts, movies and food—pies baked by Belgian farm wives, and eggs "liberated" from farmhouse coops—featured the stay. Meanwhile, the 799th Ord. Bn. had the opportunity to give division vehicles and weapons their first thorough checkup. The pass percentage was increased and men went to the U.K., Paris, Brussels, and the VII Corps "Jayhawk" Rest Camp at Verviers.

"Battle Babies" (so dubbed by U.P. War Correspondent John McDermott) knew that big things were ahead and when the order came, Feb. 27, to move out, they were rested, ready.

Checkerboarders Span the Rhine

INCE the fall of Aachen, there had been no impressive gains on the Western Front. Soldiers under Gen. Hodges sensed that First Army was winding up for a Sunday punch, but there was no assurance that it would smash open the West Wall or that Germany would not defend every inch of ground, as Goebbels had promised, to the last man.

There still was little indication of a walkaway when the jump across the Roer River was made. The spearheading 3rd Armd. Div. threw a bridge across the Erft Canal near Bergheim, whose ancient gates stand astride the road to Cologne. Then the 391th took over the job of enlarging the bridgehead. When it had finished clearing the town and de-Krauting the woods, up went the sign: "You are now entering Bergheim, courtesy of the 395th Infantry Regiment.

Meanwhile, the 393rd and 394th bridged the Erft further downstream, all set to battle their way to the Rhine where it curves northwest from Cologne to Dusseldorf. Goebbels' "last man" also was on the run for the Rhine, and he had a pretty good headstart.

The 393rd, on the division left flank, swung. in a 20-mile arc toward Dusseldorf, spearheaded by Task Force Lueders,a specially designed armored unit commanded by Capt. Roy C. Lueders, Cincinnati, 99th Recon Troop, which included elements of the 786th Tank Bn. and the 629th TD Bn.

As the task force whipped northeast toward the Rhine, Sgt. Cliff "The Chief" Etsitty, Mexican Springs, N.M., herded a column of PWs as he rode on the back of a tank. The sergeant, a veteran of Attu and a member of 2nd Bn., 394th, was without a weapon. He had lost his rifle when an artillery shell landed near the tank and blasted off the other doughs riding on the armor. Because the tank was buttoned up, Etsitty couldn't inform tankers he was unarmed.

Almost before doughs could catch their breath, they had staked out a claim on the Rhine's west bank at Grimlinghausen. Capt. Felix Salmaggi's Co. K, 393rd, filled a bottle with Rhine water and sent it to Gen. Lauer as a memento of his return after 20 years to this world-famed and war-famed river.

It wasn't easy pickings. The 394th, in the center, was slowed up in the woods below Gohr while the 395th put up a stiff scrap before taking Delrath. Artillery changed the Germans' mind about defending the town and the regiments rolled through the ruins.

It was on the Rhine that the big guns of Lt. Col. John R. Brindley's 370th FA Bn., with 1st Lt. Percy J. Pace directing fire, caught two German ferries and a houseboat, sinking the craft for the division's biggest "naval" victory.

Checkerboarders were the first infantry division in First Army to reach the Rhine. They moved so fast that when a phone rang at a coal briquet factory at Neurath with the home office at Dusseldorf calling to find out where the Americans were, a lineman from the 99th Div. Sig. Co. offered first hand information. Beer still was on tap where division headquarters set up its mess at a gasthaus. The Battle Babies approached so fast that Germans had time to plant only a dozen mines between the Erft Canal and the Rhine.

The night was wet, miserable as doughs climbed on trucks and headed southeast. As they reached the hills above Remagen, they could sense history was being made nearby, that an ordeal was ahead.

HE crossing of the Ludendorff Bridge was a nightmare. Every 99th soldier who hiked or rode across this spidery steel framework with its squat brownish towers long will remember this operation. Underfoot were but a few unsteady planks and rails; overhead, nothing. Doughs felt naked in the sights of enemy guns.

First Sgt. Vernon A. Selters, South Sun Francisco, Co. L, 393rd, said: "The closer we got to the bridge the more scared I got. I wanted to run across but couldn't. The captain ahead of me had to walk, and I had to walk, and every man behind me had to walk. I'd heard of foxhole religion. Well, I believe that day I had bridgehead religion."

It was Saturday, March 10, the fourth day of the bridgehead drive, when the 394th led off across the river to relieve the 9th Inf. Div. just south of Linz. Division CP was set up the next day at the Gebrueder Blumenthal winery at Linz. Meanwhile, the 393rd took up the left flank of the division zone and hurled back two counter-attacks within a half hour. The 395th was held in Corps reserve.

Besides caring for the division's casualties at Linz, the 324th Med. Bn. furnished medical supplies and equipment for several hospitals filled with German soldiers and civilians.

As tired Battle Babies plunged on into the hills, they could well recall the perilous hours of forcing a foothold on the east bank of the majestic Rhine, as no invader had done since Napoleon's white-gaitered grenadiers. It had been a harrowing, frightening experience.

N the week that followed, the 99th played a vital part in expanding the bridgehead from a precarious grasp to a broad, firm grip on Festung Germania. The 394th drove south beyond Honningen. Col. James K. Woolnough's 393rd pushed east to the Wied River over the toughest terrain it ever had encountered. In advancing two miles, the regiment covered four miles uphill, another three miles down.

The Wied was no bed of water lilies, either. By midnight, March 22, the three regiments were abreast and after Brig. Gen. Frederick H. Black's artillery unleashed a 30-minute barrage, doughs slid down cliffs and waded the hip-deep river. Taking a brief but heavy shelling as they sloshed up the east bank toward their first objectives, the regiments gained momentum. By dawn, these same Battle Babies reached the Cologne-Frankfurt superhighway. With this last ribbon cut, the prize package of the inner Reich was ripped wide open.

Battle Babies Now Combat Veterans

N 99 days, the 99th Division had learned much, done plenty. It was a green outfit when the last iron-spiked thrust of the Wehrmacht caught it smartly on the chin in Belgium. But even after von Rundstedt's panzers were blasted, the world still wondered when the big crackup would come—the fatal blow to Nazi might and morale.

It was the Rhine crossing that broke the German back; in this important action the 99th took effective part. On March 24, 1945—99 days older and wiser—the Battle Babies were seasoned fighting men who saw before them the demoralized, shriveled forces of their enemy running away.

Disappointed because it wasn't included in the drive to Berlin, the division suddenly faced west and was assigned the important job of helping to liquidate the Ruhr pocket. Spearheaded by the 7th Armd. Div., the regiments roared across the province of Hesse-Nassau, through Wetzlar and Giessen.

Between 25,000 and 150,000 Germans were cut off in the Ruhr pocket. No one bothered to count the number of steep-wooded hills and valleys the Checkerboarders would have to travel to sew them up. Soldiers prayed with Lt. Col. Henry B. Koon, Columbia, S.C., Division Chaplain, at services in Krofdorf.

The 99th's sector in the Ruhr drive followed the twisting Eder River towards its source in the Rothaargebirge (Red Hair Mountains), and wound down the north slope along the Lenne River to the Ruhr. When time permitted, using grenades instead of Royal Coachmen, fish lovers caught trout for breakfast.

It was steady day and night fighting through the mountains; rugged terrain added to the tough going. Because Germans chose to do most of their fighting in towns and on every hillside, doughs had to head straight up fir-clad hills and across crooked ridges. Air and artillery put the "convincer" on such villages as Oberhundem, Altendorf and Bracht before infantry went in to mop up.

The division now set its sights northwest on Iserlohn, largest Ruhr city in the 99th's path. When 7th Armd. right-hooked the middle of Field Marshal Model's Army Group B, the Battle Babies moved on as fast as they could march.

By April 13, PW counts doubled; the Nazi cave-in was under way. More than 1200 PWs were taken that day followed by a 2315 count on Saturday, 9043 more Sunday and a staggering total of 23,884 on Monday. Overwhelming loads of Krauts, many driving their own vehicles, including horse drawn carts, converged on the PW field at Sundwig, outside Iserlohn.

In four days, the division had corraled and processed 36,453 Germans. Monday's catch included three lieutenant generals, eight major generals and a land-locked rear admiral. The famed 130th Panzer Lehr Div., credited with the finest soldiers, equipment and highest morale of any unit in the pocket, surrendered intact to the 393rd. The roundup also included the 22nd AA Div. Luftwaffe), the 338th Volksgrenadier Div. and the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Div., an old enemy from the breakthrough days.

Iserlohn gave up at noon, April 16, when a battery of 128mm "Jagdtiger" self-propelled guns surrendered to Lt. Col. Robert L. Kriz, 2nd Bn. CO, 394th. Unlike other last-ditch artillery units, the "Jagdtigers" still had plenty of ammunition left.

At Hemer, the 99th and 7th Armd. set free more than 20,000 Soviet and Polish PWs, who had gone without food for a week. In a building sheltering the sickest Red troops, Lt. Col. K.T. Miller, Detroit, Division Surgeon, found them three to a bed while two German soldiers shared a room. Col. Miller immediately corrected the situation much to the dismay of the Nazis.

S the Battle of the Ruhr ended, before the division could collect all its prisoners, the 99th was shifted to the farmlands of Bavaria to smother more German resistance. Checkerboarders now came under Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army, leaving Gen. Hodges, under whom the division had trained and maneuvered in Louisiana in 1943, held the shoulder of the Belgian Bulge in 1944 and crossed the Rhine in 1945.

The 99th entered the line again April 21 near Schwabach, with the Austrian border and Salzburg as its objectives. With the 86th Inf. Div. on its right and the 14th Armd. Div. on its left, the 99th was the veteran division in III Corps.

Now came the fast drive across such barriers the Altmuhl River, where the 99th forced a crossing against stiff resistance. Third Bn., 395th, waded the neck-deep river while 2nd Bn., 394th, held the enemy's attention on the opposite bank. Doughs forced another breakthrough and a fast drive across the Ludwig Canal down to the Danube.

As the division neared the Danube, the end of World War II in Europe was near. Far to the north, Red troops had joined hands with the Americans; Berlin was being pounded. To the south lay Munich, and Alpine Berchtesgaden, the heart and home of National Socialism. Time means nothing to the infantry, but men of the 99th were certain time was running out fast for the "Supermen."

Fight and drive... Day and night... No rest for the Germans... No rest for the 99th... Keep going fast... The Nazis were off-balance... Keep them that way... That was the spirit!... Down to the Danube... across the Danube... Landshut was captured... but not without a fight... Moosburg, another big PW camp, cleared... On to the Isar River... Keep hammering... across the Isar... Clean up the area and on to the Inn and the Austrian border.

Then it came. "Halt in place!"

In years to come, men who wear the Checkerboard patch will recall May 8, 1945, the day Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally, as the climax to the titanic European struggle of World War II. Proudly they can recall their individual efforts. The Battle Babies were in on the kill.

[Back] HOME  

Questions and comments welcome: info@lonesentry.com.
Copyright 2003-2006, LoneSentry.com. All Rights Reserved.

Web   LoneSentry.com

Web   LoneSentry.com