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Winter in Northern Alsace

By this time Jerry was fairly disappointed, his desire to visit Sarrebourg being no greater than our desire to visit Bitche, a few roller-coaster miles to the north. He had attacked, expecting to find but little. He met the T-Patch. Mention this insignia to any German and chances are he'll cross himself. Morale was pretty low across the way, according to the few prisoners. To them the war was nearing the close, and besides, our artillery was playing havoc with their general housekeeping. Both the 1st and 3rd Battalions reported much yelling and confusion following a well timed, well placed 81 mm. mortar barrage on a German luncheon, disclosed by the tell-tale rattle of the horse drawn mess carts.

After January 5th Jerry quit coming at us. He merely sat back and shot — an old German occupation.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945
"Frozen ground or no frozen ground--that guy's got it made!"

In addition to knowing that we had handled well a tough job, the offensives launched by our First, Third and Ninth Armies up North, and the nonstop tour of Poland and Eastern Germany conducted by our Red Allies, all served to restir that September hope of an early end to the war. Even the vapour trails that lingered behind the massive fleets of our bombers seemed to be pointing the inevitable way of the Western Allies.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945Following this direction we pulled out of the Bitche area on the night of  January 23rd and moved by truck through the Saverne Gap into a quiet area just east of Saverne itself. We were in VI Corps reserve at the time, a pleasant status, except for the realization that such is only temporary. The heavy snows that had cut our visibility and concealed our numerous patrols in the final days of our previous mission continued to fall.

For three days in the towns of Monswiller, Ernolsheim, Steinbourg and Eckartswiller we continued the training that was so discouragingly interrupted on New Years Day. Reinforcements had joined us. Molding a fighting team, however, is not a matter of three days work. All our efforts along the lines of polishing our tired but battle proven unit seemed to be thwarted by the fact that the war had to be fought almost every day. There was so much to be done, and so little time in which to do it.

This time the interruption came January 29th, when we rejoined the 36th Division in the table lands of the Rhine Valley about 15 miles north of Strasbourg. Here again we were to fight and suffer, and to resume the job of pushing the German soldier back into his proper place in oblivion, or Germany.

Spring made its debut as the month ended. All the snow of January seemed to disappear overnight.

Our new terrain was somewhat similar to that of Riquewihr; flat, dangerously open and pocked with the familiar Alsatian villages, made totally unattractive by the frequent exchanges of war. The countless little streams that crisscrossed this "Jungland" of the Rhine became swollen, swift flowing torrents that spread beyond the confines of their beds and made lakes out of the surrounding bottoms. Roads, too, became streams. Many had to be made passable by logging for long stretches. It was unseasonably warm for February, but much too wet to be  enjoyed, and our foxholes filled to the brim as rapidly as they were dug. Spring was not altogether welcome.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945To begin our work in this area, the 2nd Battalion and Anti-Tank Company which had been attached to the 143rd Infantry for a few days rejoined us and took up positions in the outskirts of the Bois De Langenau, a small patch of woods about a mile from the town of Herrlisheim. We were to hear more of Herrlisheim a little later on. At the same time the 1st Battalion moved into the crowded town of Gries and the 3rd Battalion closed in on the right in Kurtzenhausen.

Again that old feeling of uneasiness returned. We were pretty sure the Germans were back in their defensive rut after their unsuccessful flareup in January, but the comparative quiet across those open expanses that separated us from the Rhine only increased the tension. Up in Oberhoffen our sister regiment, the 142nd Infantry, was in the thick of a hot one, and down toward Strasbourg the French were pressing the very tip of the German holdings on the Allied side of the river. Patrols who waded their way toward the enemy at night were made uncomfortably public on the bare table top by flares from positions near Oberhoffen, Herrlisheim, and Drusenheim, and during the day time it wasn't quite safe to do too much waving, because there was no reason, other than poor eyesight, why an unfriendly machine gunner 1500 yards away couldn't spray the general area.

The Germans seemed to have had their defenses generally along the Moder River, which curled out of Haguenau, through Bischwiller to our north and then joined the smaller Zorn to proceed to the Rhine. The story got about that we were going to cross another river, but this was rather ambiguous since continuing warm weather and now rains had made rivers out of every ditch around us.

We had a lot of Engineers hanging around at the time. Quantities of their bridging equipment were there also. But when the rubber boats appeared we knew what was in store. This was preparation for the attack on Herrlisheim, an offensive that turned into a withdrawal, a march across open ground that actually developed into a swim.

 

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