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Haguenau-Siegfried Offensive

On the 14th of March came the unforgettable Seventh Army order that sprung us from the banks of the black Moder, through the last remaining miles of France, and into the battered German frontier. Already the other Armies were gaining impetus in the drive to fracture the backbone of the German Westwall, and our successes were soon to bring the pressure necessary for the cave-in of the Southern defenses.

According to the order . . . and the French civilians . . . the push would begin early March 15th, preceded by an unequaled concentration of artillery all along the line.

Preparations were made to construct two bridges across the river, both sturdy enough to support our tanks. Other lumber and steel would be hauled conspicuously further down stream to mislead the Germans while one of our unengaged units pulled a phony attack on the left flank for the same purpose.

Our immediate mission was to seize the main highway cutting through the dense Haguenau Forest in order to insure a good supply route for the VI Corps. The French on our right, travelling in the same direction most of the time, were to destroy the opposition in their immediate sector and proceed through the same forest closer to the Rhine.

The long barrage that was promised began late in the evening. Like the expressive overture to a great opera it grew in intensity, then subsided, then grew again to a trembling, climactic finish as the curtain was raised. Each of us had listened to the reading of the order that promised to make the Wehrmacht and its Nazi overseers just another dirty chapter in history, and our hopes were high as we began the drive.

The 1st Battalion crossed the Moder with but meager opposition, established a strong bridgehead, then proceeded north cutting the highway running from Marxenhausen to Camp D'Oberhoffen. After daylight the 2nd Battalion crossed their new bridge, cracked the resistance around Marxenhausen and prepared for the push through the woods. By noon the 1st Battalion was well on its way to the positions around the beaten German barracks just outside of town, and the 2nd Battalion was simultaneously cleaning up remaining resistance around Marxenhausen and North Haguenau. That afternoon Jerry disproved the rumor that he was low on ammunition. The next morning the 1st and 3rd Battalions were well started on their dash through the dangerous Haguenau Forest. It was known that the Germans were withdrawing as rapidly as possible in hopes of reorganizing at another line — perhaps the Siegfried. Those that lingered in their old familiar haunts were properly handled by the 2nd Battalion who remained for that purpose.

Even with tanks by our side, and only an occasional sniper to pop at us, it wasn't very comfortable. Footless Germans, maimed in their flight by the mines they had planted for our feet, were sprawled throughout the spongy floor of the woods, and served as fearful warning as to what to expect.

Despite these delays, the two battalions pushed on, the 1st skirting the woods on the left and the 3rd sweeping past numerous road blocks on the main highway. By late afternoon on the 17th of March little remained of the German resistance, except a few scattered, unitless Supermen, many of whom were looking for a new and peaceful home.

From Surbourg at the north end of the forest, the two lead battalions mounted two-and-a-halves driven by our own mud splitting Nighthawks and began a fitful but pleasant "rat-race" to the German border. In the course of this dash, a comparatively short hop to the veterans of Southern France, we passed the "Monster" sitting on the outskirts of Soultz, bloated by a direct hit from a bomb. A few of our stragglers, absent on wine reconnaissance, were left in the rush, but these cases were rare and our 2nd Battalion arrived intact at Riedseltz about dusk that night. The bridges along the route were either destroyed or badly damaged, but luck was with us on the bypasses. Had this not been so the delay would have meant more time for the retreating enemy and added expenses in moving through his new defenses. On the other side of Riedseltz, fire from machine guns and self-propelled cannon indicated that the dog had turned again to fight. The 1st Battalion stopped that night at Ingolsheim and waited for counter batteries to be placed on the enemy armor. John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945
". . . I understand it's got a built-in library, an elevator, and bath . . ."

Escaped Russian and Polish prisoners reported that they had been forced to work on gun emplacements just this side of visible Wissembourg the day before. This border town seemed to be our last barrier to the Fatherland.

The next morning the 2nd Battalion started out again, brushed past minor delaying forces, cut the Wissembourg-Altenstadt road about a mile from Wissembourg, and finally fought their way across the border. After one and a half years of kicking the German out of places he didn't belong, we were finally set to deliver the clincher in his own front yard.

For sake of bets, Fox Company was the first unit of the regiment, and for that matter the 36th Division, to invade Germany.

Artillery became heavier and deadlier as our advances brought us within range of Siegfried guns. Some four miles across the border, in the vicinity of Neider Otterbach, small arms began to mingle with the concussion of angry shells and our forward elements knew they had touched the sensitive tentacles of the Westwall. A futile attack brought us to the edge of the much publicized dragon's teeth, but no farther. It was time to take it easy and assemble all strength for the job that lay ahead.

During our brief stay before and among the formidable fortresses we became acquainted with new evidence of German deviltry. On later examination of the Siegfried pillboxes we found the reasons for such well placed automatic fire, and for such terrific volumes of mortar and artillery fire. The defenses were so patterned that one pillbox covered another, sometimes for a mile in depth, and therefore anyone approaching the blind side of a block could be handled by a neighbor. Machine guns were mounted above ground and were remotely fired from below by a gunner who observed the area through a periscope. Fifteen of these were firing at one time at the forward elements of one of our leading companies. A few of the pillboxes contained a device that would put to shame our best 60 mm. mortar crews. This was an automatic mortar, clip fed, and capable of literally filling the air with HE. All the fortifications were expertly camouflaged, unbelievably thick, and interiorally as comfortable as a Fifth Avenue penthouse.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945 ". . . There will be a slight pause for Nation Identification . . ."

 

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