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Montelimar and the Pursuit North

 
We made our last attack at Montélimar as the situation broke on the 30th, and by midnight the same day we were rolling north in two columns; the 1st and 3rd Battalions through Crest toward Bourg De Peage, and the 2nd Battalion swinging right up into the foothills of the Dauphine Alps, stronghold of the FFI, and crossing the Doubs River on a bridge seized by the FFI to encircle Romans from the north.

Chabeuil and Valence fell to the 3rd Battalion as the whole regiment assembled at Romans and prepared to push on north to France's third largest city, Lyon. Two days later we stood at the outskirts of Lyon, but due to a political situation within the city we never entered. The FFI and the Vichy Police, the Melice, were carrying on a lively battle in parts of the city.

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From the 3rd of September until we reached the Moselle River line on the 21st of September, the war moved rapidly and we met Jerry in one sharp clash after another. Only once did the enemy stop his retreat long enough to fight. After passing the 3rd Division at Besançon, we stopped at Vesoul while the 1st and 3rd Battalions joined forces with the 3rd Battalion of the 115th Infantry to attack a strong German force that stood and slugged it out for six hours before it turned and fled leaving burning trucks, 88's and dead behind. But mostly the towns and rivers and villages we took are very vague in our minds — Flacy, Mailleroncourt, Faverney, Fougerolles, Luxeuil Les Bains, Corbenay are just passing names. Mostly we remember the good things about those days from Montelimar to the Moselle. If Jerry had any artillery we were moving too fast for him to use it. The French people were fine, genuine people who welcomed us into their homes whenever we had a moment to stop. If there weren't as many flags and flowers as there had been in Southern France, there was just as wholesome a kind of people that reminded us of the folks back home in Texas and Ohio. One thing about the people of France is that the welcome is in direct proportion to the amount of artillery you have to use to drive the Germans out of their towns. Later, in the Vosges, where a lot of us fought our hearts out to take a town, we found a cold and icy attitude among the people.

We crossed the Moselle River the same day we reached it, taking from the Germans the first terrain feature in France that they had hoped to hold indefinitely. With the regiment assembling in Raon Aux Bois, our Regimental Commander went forward with a patrol and from the forested heights on the river bank looked down on the unsuspecting John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945Germans at Eloyes busily engaged in constructing trenches and hasty fortifications on the far side of the river. His recommendation's that an immediate, hastily planned crossing against uncompleted German defenses would be better than a delayed and better planned operation against completed defenses were accepted and before midnight on the 20th of September the regiment was moving forward from Raon Aux Bois.

The 1st Battalion was selected to make the crossing, closely followed by the 3rd Battalion. A decision was made to cross midway between Eloyes and St. Nabord where little activity had been observed and where civilians had reported the location of a fording site.

Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion was ordered to make an earlier, diversionary attack on Eloyes in order to pull as many of the enemy forces as possible away from the actual crossing. After being led through the dense forest by the 70 year old mayor of Raon Aux Bois during the night of the 21st, the 2nd Battalion reached the high ground just above Eloyes by 0500 hours the following morning. During the first moments of daylight a dense fog hung over the Moselle and E and G Companies entered the town without a shot being fired. Just as the last platoon of E Company reached the first houses at the edge of town the fog lifted abruptly and German machine guns from both flanks began to spray the town.

Shortly after the Germans in Eloyes had been alerted, the actual crossing began. The 1st Battalion, having reached the river a few kilometers south of the town, waded through the icy water, four to five feet deep, and gained the far side of the river before the crossing was discovered. By noon the bridgehead was firmly established. Less fortunate had been the crossings a little farther to the right by the 3rd Battalion. In the lifting fog, I Company, with the battalion command group, crossed the river apparently unopposed and were advancing toward the tree line when the Germans opened up from a dozen machine gun positions within 300 yards of the company and the entire first platoon was killed, captured or wounded. Caught in the murderous cross fire, the second platoon tried to withdraw to the river bank to gain cover but many of the men were wounded before this could be accomplished. The 3rd Battalion Commander was wounded and captured with the first platoon. The Operations Officer, a Captain, was killed. The crossing at this point was abandoned and the battalion moved to the left and crossed behind the 1st Battalion.

We were the first Seventh Army Troops across the Moselle. The 143rd Infantry followed us across at the St. Nabord site and the 142nd Infantry entered Remiremont from the south only after our 1st Battalion made the defense of the town impossible for the Germans by cutting south from our bridgehead to take the high ground north of the town. At this time the 3rd Infantry Division was still engaged to our right rear, and the 45th Division was launching an attack across the Moselle at Epinal against heavy opposition.

Our operations in Southern France were completed. Ahead of us, behind misty grey curtains of rain and fog, rose the formidable Vosges Mountains, which no army had ever before managed to penetrate in force.

 

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