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Winter in Northern Alsace

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945Two days later we moved out and relieved the 114th Infantry southeast of Haguenau.

The remaining two weeks stay in the Moder River area was marked by consistently warm days. Fighting became heavy patrolling for the most part, sweating out the frequent shellings, and manning outposts and defensive positions around such beaten places as Bischwiller, Kaltenhaus, Rohrwiller and once again, Herrlisheim.

Perhaps this semi-lull could be called the period of "night lights", for it was here the nervous enemy kept the sky aglow with his ambered colored flares. One patrol of ours was actually fired on by flares. Our contribution to the illumination was the weird "artifical moonlight". First tried in Italy and found successful, it made daytime a matter of 24 hours in the February days in the Rhine Valley land. At first sight of these huge beams, starting apparently from nowhere and hugging the earth deep into the enemy lines, many of us thought that Aurora Borealis was performing out of season, or that divine intervention was lighting the way for something supernatural.. Actually these giant shafts were the products of eight million candle power searchlights set up some ten miles behind us and directed at the sky for reflection on cloudy nights, and at the ground in general when the skies were clear. It did make seeing an easier task, both for our front line watch and for blackout drivers, but when our own patrols headed out across the river or across the flatlands it was better to turn them off.

This was also a period of unit restlessness. Two days in one place, just sufficient time to plug a hole in a roof or effect a meager cover for a dugout, and then down the line to newer and wetter positions to take up the watch again.

In one of these moves we ended up in Herrlisheim and surroundings, the town itself having been entered quietly by other troops one day after our disasterous attack. The Germans had withdrawn and were now defending along a line marked by pillboxes and heavy woods. To the north Drusenheim continued to be the center of activity. The 143rd Infantry had long been locked in rugged battle in and around this hub. On the tenth of the month three of their companies were badly hit by counterattacks from the east and were temporarily driven out of the town, an experience similar to our Herrlisheim fight of a week before. To bolster this sector, the 2nd Battalion was taken from us, placed with the 143rd Infantry to work over the dug in positions and pillboxes located southeast of Drusenheim and near the river. Such operations were hampered by fire delivered from the German side of the Rhine.

At the same time the 1st Battalion closed into Rohrwiller with its mines and booby-traps, and the 3rd Battalion, along with the regimental command post, was trucked into Herrlisheim. By now the only thing that remained untouched in this beaten town was a simple stork's nest that perched high and defiant on top of the ruined church.

Though the following week could hardly be called quiet, what with long range machine gun fire spattering around, and with every conceivable type of enemy HE singing in, still it wasn't a bad deal compared to previous experiences. There was a lot of patrolling to be done (someone is always demanding fresh prisoners to question), and small positions to clean up, and the nights were invariably filled with some sort of trouble or other. The Rhine began to feel the burden of the early thaw, flooding all but a few of the outposts dug near her banks.

It was here that we got our first glimpse of a jet-propelled plane, and discovered new Deutsch devilment in undetectable glass land mines. The loudest noise of the year also came at this time. One thousand mines, stacked in a cemetery near Rohrwiller, blew up leaving a 50 foot crater, a few soldier and civilian casualties, several flattened houses, and a very startled USO Show that was playing in the Rathaus two miles over in Herrlisheim. Incidentally it is believed that this troupe brought the USO banner closer to the front lines than ever before.

On the 21st of the month the French made their appearance and informed us that they were taking over our ponds and booby-traps. Our new destination, we learned, was the glorious rear.

For the duration of February and four days of March we trained and paraded and used our headlights at night in the country area around Hohatzenheim about ten miles in back of Brumath. The weather cleared for the most part and stayed warm. It was nice to know that a barrage shaking a hillside a few fields over was merely Charlie Company fulfilling the S-3's demand for 0930 — 1030 hours.

There were movies almost every night, and if they didn't appear or if the generator went on the bum, there were parties, beer assemblies and small jam sessions. In addition to our training during the day we were honored with the presentation of individual awards for outstanding heroism during the past periods of combat.

Probably the most unique and thoroughly enjoyable part of the interlude was the accuracy in the estimation of time allowed for these things. Most of our previous programs of rest and training were suddenly interrupted by an unexpected thrust of the Germans or a hasty full strength attack that would carry us, blankets flying and kitchens trailing, back into the lines. But this was slated to last ten days, and happily enough it was ten full days. On schedule, March 4th, we moved into Haguenau and opened another chapter in the regiment's long history.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945

 

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