World War II record of Joseph F. McCullough Sr. 142 Regiment 36th Infantry Division 5th Army Italy, 7th Army France, Germany, Austria 1st Lt. Battlefield promotion Monte Casino, Italy . (1942-1945) http://obozowewspomnienia.blogspot.com/
[The Story of the 36th Infantry Division]
“The Story of the 36th Infantry Division” is a small booklet covering the history of the 36th 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, Hq., TSFET. Major General John E. Dahlquist, commanding the 36th Infantry Division, lent his cooperation and basic material was supplied by his staff.
HE following pages tell very briefly the story of our division during its twenty months of combat. The heroism and courage of the individuals of the division have been recounted in the thousands of citations which they won. Greater than any individual feat, however, was the division spirit which kept it a fighting outfit from Salerno to Austria in spite of overwhelming odds, bitter weather conditions, seemingly interminable campaigns, and heavy losses. It was a great outfit. I am proud that I had the privilege of wearing the T-Patch.
John E. Dahlquist
Major General, Commanding
THE STORY OF THE 36th INFANTRY DIVISION
EC. 13, 1944: The 36th Infantry Division, fighting desperately in the Colmar Pocket, was cut off.
A fierce, fanatical enemy had smashed back the point of the Texas Division’s lines, sliced hard through the flanks, cut rear communications.
First Bn., 142nd Regt., holding the left bank in Selestat, withstood vicious assaults of two Russia-hardened enemy divisions, sent them reeling back with heavy casualties.
Five hundred Germans struck at the center of the line, infiltrated back as far as the 141st Regt.’s CP in Riquewihr. Cook, clerks, other rear echelon troops had to be called to help drive them out.
An enemy assault battalion of officer candidates slashed in from the south, cut the supply lines of the 3rd Bn., 143rd Regt. Meanwhile, German engineers slipped through to artillery positions, blew up a howitzer, mined and blocked a road to the rear. The ring around the T-Patchers was sealed.
Swiftly and efficiently the 36th fought back. At the division CP in Ribeauville, every available man guarded road blocks. Anti-tank obstacles were hastily manned. MP and engineer patrols lashed out to clear the road. The 143rd, cutting across a ridge to the rear of the infiltrating Germans, smashed strong reserves coming up for the kill.
The 36th held, slowly pushed back the stubborn Kraut thrusts, finally broke the steel trap. On Dec. 19, its lines straightened, the 36th resumed its traditional role as attacker.
The Germans hated and feared the 36th. They had met it before in the Vosges and the Riviera, at Cassino and Salerno, on the Marne in 1918. They had never been able to crush it; they never would. A proud division, the 36th boasted a history dating back to 1835 and the Alamo, to 1899 and the Rough Riders, to World War I.
Originally composed of Texas National Guardsmen, the 36th was mobilized into the Army of the United States Nov. 25, 1940, at Camp Bowie, Tex., in the fiercest ice storm in Texas’ history.
In the next three years, with replacements from every state, the division maneuvered in the Carolinas and Louisiana, “invaded” Martha’s Vineyard, trained at Massachusetts’ Camp Edwards and Florida’s Camp Blanding. It reached fighting trim in Africa, at Arzew and Rabat.
Road to Rome Via Salerno, Cassino
EPT. 9, 1943: In the pre-dawn blackness, T-Patchers tumbled off the ropes into small landing craft bobbing on Salerno Bay. They were eager and ready for their first combat mission. The threat of invasion had forced Italy’s surrender, and the announcement, made just nine hours before the jump-off, had spread rapidly throughout the ships. Some men thought the invasion would be cancelled but the operation went ahead. Confident, tough, doughs hit the deck.
“It’ll be a cinch,” the sergeant said. “Won’t last a month.” He hunched his pack higher on his shoulders and counted off his squad.
Salerno was a fierce baptism of fire for the 36th. The small landing boats bucked the surf, grounded on the beach. Men charged ashore, cut paths through mine fields and barbed wire. An enemy outpost marked them with machine gun tracers. Krauts were waiting —waiting with 88s on the ridges, with tanks on the flats.
The landing barely had been accomplished when the Germans launched their first armored attack. On the right flank, Nazis barreled through to the beaches, where 3rd Bn., 141st, in a bloody man-to-tank action, threw them back. For this action, the battalion received the first Presidential Citation awarded a 36th unit.
On the left flank, two more armored spearheads slashed at the lines. One assault nearly reached the division CP. A hastily-unlimbered 105, firing point-blank into the formation, destroyed five of 13 tanks. The others fled. A self-propelled 75 and a 37 stoodoff a second attack. Bazooka teams held the flanks. The original landings had withstood every counter-blow the enemy could muster.
Altavilla was taken, the forces in it trapped and scattered. But the Germans regrouped and punched their way back into the town. When an attack to retake the town by seizing vital Hill 424 failed, the division pulled back its defense along the rim of the landing area.
Every man who could be spared from field ranges, typewriters and trucks was in the line Sept. 13. Striking hard far to the left, the Germans had breached the Sele-Calore corridor. U.S. paratroop units were dropped along the defense perimeter, rushed into position before the enemy could exploit his tactical advantage.
Guts, firepower and teamwork decided the battle of Salerno that day. T-Patchers sealed off the Nazis along little La Cosa creek and drove off the lumbering panzers. Covered by naval and land guns, doughs rolled the enemy back into the hills. Altavilla was retaken.
Four 36th Div. men won the Congressional Medal of Honor at Salerno. T/Sgt. Charles E. “Commando” Kelly, Pittsburgh, held off the Germans alone by throwing mortar shells when there were no more grenades. On Hill 424, Pvt. William Crawford, Pueblo, Colo., grenaded several machine gun nests, captured another machine gun position and fought the enemy until he was captured. Lt. Arnold Bjorklund, Seattle, Wash., grabbed an enemy rifle, destroyed two German machine guns with it. T/Sgt. James Logan, Luling, Tex., single-handedly wiped out machine gun nests which held up an entire battalion, advanced alone to rout snipers which covered his unit’s positions.
The 36th pulled back to establish defensive positions and detached 3rd Bn., 143rd; Btry. A, 155th FA, and the 133rd FA to join Rangers in a sea-borne end-run that seized Naples and drove the Germans several miles beyond, freeing the main Fifth Army supply port.
With large numbers of reinforcements, the 36th went back into the lines Nov. 15, in the lower Liri Valley just north of Venafro, to begin one of the most grueling and vicious campaigns in the history of modern warfare.
Wrote Maj. Gen. Fred L. Walker, Division CG at the close of the campaign:
While subject to hardships that have never before been exceeded by any troops anywhere, you drove the enemy from well-organized and stoutly-defended positions in the hill masses of Camino and Sammucro, from Maggiore, Mount Rotundo, and San Pietro. You punished him severely.
Hardships: knee-deep and wheel-deep mud, foxhole-engulfing mud; insufficient winter equipment; rain and snow, cold and sleet. Howitzer trails that couldn’t be dug in. One round fired and the guns buried themselves. Trucks that bogged down in soupy ground. Machine gun barrels that froze. Shoes that wore out in one day on sharp rocks jutting up through the snow.
To understand that winter’s campaign, picture a wine bottle. The cork was at Cassino, and the lower Liri Valley was the long neck reaching up to the stopper. The 36th had to advance along the sides of the neck—the mountains and craggy masses.
Mount Maggiore came first. It was named “Million Dollar Mountain” after the pulverizing barrage which devastated its slopes.
In a masterly-coordinated night attack, the 142nd grabbed strategic Mount Longo.
Massed artillery was turned on San Pietro, key to the German mountain-crest line. The first infantry assaults had been beaten back; tanks trying to bull their way up the narrow roads had been annihilated. San Pietro was nearly blown off the earth; it seemed that no German could survive the bombardment. Yet, Germans lived under the stunning blows, hid in the rubble, stood off the infantry that followed on the heels of the barrage. Only after doughs had come down from Longo and Hill 1205 on the flanks were the Nazis finally eliminated.
The Italian village of San Pietro—population 1400—had been liberated. There was one American casualty for every freed Italian.
The Rapido River, skirting Cassino, was the retaining band on the cork. Fifth Army elected to crack it by a frontal assault in an S-bend opposite Cassino. If ever the Germans were prepared to meet an attack, it was then and there. The 141st on the right and 143rd on the left drove gallantly into the strongest defenses of the line, were thrown reeling back. Squads reformed from companies led by sergeants and launched another violent attack. Enemy mines were too thick; observation too good; machine guns firing almost from the rear, from the flanks and chopping down Yank assault elements. Attack after attack was ripped apart by the wicked cross-fire.
S/Sgt. Thomas McCall, Viedersburgh, Ind., led one attempted crossing of the Rapido. The young squad leader got across, formed his small group to make a determined stand in an untenable position. Although taken prisoner, he later was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The 36th remained in the line for a month after the futile smashes into the Rapido River positions. The men dug into the cold, barren slopes of Mount Cairo, behind Cassino, and Castellone Ridge which fringed it.
The freezing winter seemed an eternity. Doughs advanced a yard one day, five yards another, paying in blood for every gain. Mule trains were the sole source of supply in those hills, and where the mules wouldn’t go, frightened by the incessant nebelwerfer and artillery fire, the men had to carry rations, ammunition and wire, and packboard it through the mine fields themselves.
He was six feet four; he carried four blankets, two bulging medical pouches and anything else be could sling on his back. He carried one end of a litter himself and wore out three relays at the other end. Sgt. Joe Vodvarka, “The Terrible Czech,” evacuated a wounded man off Cairo in three hours one night. It took the mule trains eight.
One by one, division units trickled off the lines for rest and retraining in late February through April.
Brig. Gen. Walter W. Hess’ Div Arty went into action in early May on the Garigliano River, and on May 25, the entire Texas Division, reformed on the Anzio beachhead, kicked off on the northward drive to break the stalemate. The sustained drive carried all the way to Velletri, key bastion in the German line defending Rome, another cork in another bottle. The 36th pulled the cork.
Both the 141st and the 143rd hurled themselves directly against Velletri. During the night, the 142nd took to the densely-wooded hills on the flank and infiltrated behind the town. Not a shot was fired as the 142nd crept around and over the top of Mount Artemisio, to trap the German garrison. The 143rd pulled out to follow it. In hard, close in-fighting, the 141st took Velletri.
Eric Sevareid, commentator for the Columbia Broadcasting System, wrote: “This action… turned the key to the city of Rome and handed it to Gen. Mark Clark.”
The 36th entered Rome.
The division followed this major success by rampaging 240 miles up the Italian peninsula, slamming aside German defenders at Magliano and Grossetto in short, sharp, decisive battles. Through the heavy Italian dust, tank-riding doughs pressed forward, artillery close behind. The Germans threw out rear guards, mostly short, puzzled Mongolians.
Magliano was different; first-rate enemy troops were encountered. S/Sgt. Homer Wise, Baton Rouge, La., earned the division’s sixth Congressional Medal of Honor at Magliano, smashing a strong enemy position with tommy gun, rifle, grenades, and BAR, leaping on a tank to clear a jammed machine gun and rake the Germans from his exposed position.
When the 36th finally came off the lines near Piombino, June 29, after spearheading the entire Fifth Army, Associated Press’ Ken Dixon, wrote: “It seemed right and just that the 36th would be the men to chalk up these achievements.”
The division withdrew to Paestum, and on the same beaches that had witnessed their battle baptism, the troops paraded in farewell to Gen. Walker. Maj. Gen. John E. Dahlquist took command as the 36th prepared for its second invasion.
Eleven months of Italian warfare had changed the Texas Division. The ranks of National Guardsmen slowly had been thinned. Of 11,000 casualties, 2000 were Texans; at Salerno alone: 1900 casualties, 750 from Texas.
But the 36th had made the Germans pay heavily, too—6000 prisoners in addition to enormous numbers killed and wounded.
T-Patch Blitz Opens Rhone Valley
“I know what you want,” said the mayor of Draguinan. He led the colonel to a beautiful, walled garden, quiet and shaded. “You want a cemetery. All the people of my town have contributed to give you this land. It is the gift of the people of Draguinan to their liberators.”
UG. 15, 1944, 0800 hours: First Bn., 141st, scrambled ashore on Blue Beach. Unlike Salerno, the way had been paved by overwhelming naval and aerial bombardment. As a covering rocket barrage lifted, 2nd and 3rd Bns. landed on Green Beach, near the tiny village of Dramont.
For rooting the Germans from the slopes overlooking the beaches, 1st Bn., 141st, was awarded a Presidential Citation.
Following the 141st onto Green Beach, the 143rd swung left toward St. Raphael and Red Beach, to trap the defenders there as the 142nd came in for a landing. But when naval demolition boats failed to knock out the obstacles lining Red Beach, the 142nd put about and landed on Green Beach. All guns, men, trucks, TDs, and tons of supplies were landed on shallow Green Beach, barely 250 yards wide.
By D plus 1, however, supplies could flow steadily; Frejus was taken by the 142nd; St. Raphael by the 143rd. Meanwhile, the 141st pounded east toward Cannes and blocked German reinforcements advancing west. All three regiments battled savagely but skillful tactics, based on hard training and aggressiveness, kept casualty lists low.
The only serious setback was the sinking of an ammunition and artillery-laden LST by a single low-flying plane in the channel off Green Beach.
On D plus 3, T-Patch, the division newspaper, printed a banner head: FIRST YANKEE RAG ON RIVIERA! With landings consolidated along the entire Seventh Army front, the 36th began a lightning blitz that blew sky-high German plans for defense or even an orderly withdrawal.
A task force consisting of 3rd Bn., 143rd, elements of the 636th TD Bn., 753rd Tank Bn., and 111th Medics, along with ordnance and reconnaissance units, pounded north towards Lyon while the remainder of the division sprang forward to Draguinan, Digne and Sisteron. The 143rd RCT, 636th TDs, 36th Cav. Recon Troop, and other Texas units under Brig. Gen. Robert I. Stack, Asst. CG, spearheaded the drive up the Route Napoleon.
In one day, the division extended its lines 100 miles, raced to trap the German Nineteenth Army before the Nazis could reach the Moselle River. Grenoble was captured by the 143rd.
The dash up the Rhone River Valley to cut off the enemy retreat was a dangerous gamble. Provisional trucking units were formed to augment the overworked 36th QM Co. Heavily reinforced by automatic weapons from the 443rd AAA Bn., the long columns slashed deeper and deeper, disrupting the enemy’s rear areas as the jaws of the trap snapped shut.
Lacking full organic support, the 36th reached Montelimar, traveling the 250 miles eight days after it had stormed the beaches. The German Nineteenth Army was pushed into the gun-studded lap of the 36th the same day.
Before the division could assemble its full strength, panzer columns attacked to the north where a single company of the 141st had set up a road block. Although the 36th had nearly encircled the 11th Panzer and the 198th Inf. Divs., strong German units were hacking at the thin line.
Finally encircled, the Nazis tore down one road block only to be pinned in place by intense artillery fire. During the eight days of battle, Div Arty poured in more than 75,000 rounds as the outnumbered infantry men slugged it out with German tanks and foot troops.
At one point, enemy forces hammered close enough to menace the artillery. Doughs of the 142nd barely beat them back. Rushed into the line as infantry, engineers held the panzers at one road block; cavalry recon troops manned another. Fighting was furious and desperate along the entire perimeter as the trapped enemy fought to free himself. The 36th’s grip was firm.
Lt. Stephen Gregg, Bayonne, N.J., charged the enemy, firing his machine gun from the hip to cover a medic. Krauts infiltrated behind him, attempting to seize some mortars. Gregg lobbed grenades, swung the mortars on other Krauts. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, seventh in the 36th, second for Co. L, 143rd.
It was a bitter last-ditch struggle. Enemy casualties: 11,000, including Maj. Gen. Richter, 198th Div. CO; 2100 vehicles, 1500 horses, all artillery, including six “Anzio Annies”—huge railroad guns. Yet, the stubborn Krauts fought to the end. On the last day of battle, they mounted a last furious assault, quit when it was beaten down.
The battle of Montelimar over, the Rhone River Valley lay open. The 36th resumed its chase of the Germans, catching and destroying remnants before they could cross the Moselle River.
Heroes Blast Path Through Rugged Vosges
YON by-passed… Doubs River spanned by the 111th Engineers, a 124-foot timber trestle bridge, built under fire in 24 hours… Louhans, Arbois and Besancon captured… Vesoul taken after a delaying force was decimated… the push to the Moselle continued. Resistance grew stiffer. At Remiremont, where lay the Germans’ sole escape route over the last intact bridge across the Moselle, the 142nd had a fight on its hands. While it traded blows with a stubborn enemy, the 141st swept up on its left with the orders: “Cross the Moselle.”
To reach the Moselle, the 141st needed a guide. None could be found until the Mayor of Raon appeared. He was 90, but he had the agility of a youth and he knew the way through the trackless foret. Alone, he made a reconnaissance, returned to lead the 141st to the fords.
Remembering the bloody Rapido, T-Patchers employed another tactic. While 2nd Bn. staged a diversionary action in the river’s elbow opposite Eloyes, 1st and 3rd Bns. forded the swirling waters a mile upstream.
The enemy was not long fooled. Germans were in favorable positions and boasted they would maintain defenses all winter behind their water barrier. Their massed mortars chopped at the single rope with which doughs were pulling themselves across, hit it. Another rope was slung in a more sheltered area. Riflemen, machine gunners, ammunition carriers worked their way across, fighting the turbulent river while German mortars opened up. The 143rd followed, drove left into Eloyes, while the 141st swung toward Remiremont. The 142nd had fought through most of the town when resistance suddenly crumbled. Germans withdrew across the river, blowing the remaining bridge.
But even with the entire 36th concentrated on the crossings, the situation was precarious. Only one temporary bridge spanned the Moselle, and seasonal rains had turned the river into a raging flood. Winter was not far away, and equipment was the same as that used in Italy during the past summer. Supporting units were just catching up with the swift advance.
The division swung north, exposing its flank to the river, marshalling its greatest strength at the point to ward off counter-attacks, which increased in fury. At Tendon, the 142nd’s frontal assaults in a valley were thrown back; the regiment went into the hills on either side to wage a battle that raged more than two weeks.
Casualties were high, 1700 in September; nearly 2000 in October. Despite the lack of reserves and rest, the rugged and resourceful 36th had cracked the Moselle River Line and spearheaded Seventh Army to the Vosges Mountains.
There was no break. The terrain grew rougher, the winter colder. The rainy season was as bad if not worse than the Italian winter.
Every yard of the Vosges had to be wrenched from the obstinate enemy; in the Vosges he pressed every advantage. Difficult patrol warfare by T-Patchers replaced frontal assaults. Hillside forests were studded with mines and burp guns. Fierce clashes, firefights lasted for hours when patrols met. German observers slipped forward, drew out American patrols, then vanished into thickets while Nazi artillery poured down deadly tree bursts on unprotected Yanks.
Capture of Bruyeres marked the end of the first phase of the Vosges campaign. A systematic, ruthless house-wrecking battle all but destroyed this vital road center, which fell after a harrowing fight through factories and barracks. Doughs next dashed into Belmont, advanced wearily up the slopes of the Foret Domaniale.
“Do you know what I kept thinking?” said Pvt. William Murphy, Chicago. “I kept thinking how wonderful it would be back on my old job as street-car conductor. And I kept thinking that now I finally had something to tell my three kids when they grow up. Y’see, I’ve never been in combat before. I’m a replacement. This was my first time, But I’ll tell you something funny. I wasn’t scared, honest I wasn’t.”
“Send us food, ammunition, medical supplies, and radio batteries,” came the weak voice. Caught in an advance, 1st Bn., 141st, was surrounded. For five days doughs nursed scanty stocks they had carried until P-47s dropped provisions and supplies. There was little water; both Germans and Yanks fought for the nearest water hole. Some supplies were shot by base ejection shells. For six days and nights the “Lost Battalion” threw back successive attacks, conserving ammunition, killing Germans, five or more for every one of its own casualties. The men fought on, not knowing when relief would come. Then, one day…
A bearded, grimy 141st sergeant stared down the hill waiting for another German attack. He saw something stir in the bushes, then come closer. He brought up his rifle, watched and waited as the helmeted figure crept closer. Then he dropped his rifle, yelled like a crazy man, jumped from his foxhole and raced down the slope, dancing and crying. There, he met Pfc Matt Sakomuko, 442nd Japanese American RCT. “Say,” Sakomuko asked, “do you need any cigarettes?”
After an advance of a half-mile in a week-long battle, Sakomuko’s 442nd had lifted the siege.
Battle-Tried Veterans Do the Impossible
T was a wearing, grueling war in the hills and forests of the Vosges. Then, in a sudden burst of power, the division drove across the Corcieux Plain, across the earth scorched by retreating Germans, the burnt remains of St. Leonard and once-thriving St. Die, across the Meurthe River, and into the Ste. Marie Pass.
The Ste. Marie Pass never before had been breached by an army. Highly defensible and heavily-defended, the Pass was taken, however, in a swift move for which the 3rd Bn., 142nd, received a Presidential Citation. It stated, in part:
As a result of the determination and aggressiveness displayed by every man, the 3rd Bn. opened the way through the Vosges to the Rhine River Valley, and by this action accomplished what had previously been considered impossible.
Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, Seventh Army Commander, commending the 36th, wrote:
In the Vosges foothills, you dislodged a desperate and skillful foe from positions which gave him every natural advantage. You fought for weeks… to pave the way for a breakthrough. Despite unfavorable weather, terrain and savage resistance, you pushed on with tenacious courage.
Maj. Gen. Edward H. Brooks, VI Corps Commander, wrote:
I want to express my appreciation for the part played by the 36th Division in clearing the enemy from his strong positions in the Vosges Mountains… This was all done without fuss or feathers, and in a manner worthy of the splendid Americans under your command.
Tired by its long, arduous campaign, the 36th still had punch enough to seize Ste. Marie and St. Croix, burst into the Alsace Plain, capture the important towns of Ribeauville and Selestat.
Then came the unexpected climax. Germans switched suddenly from the defensive to strike with all their might at both flanks of the Texans’ line. On that bloody Dec. 13, the 36th was surrounded.
No single day of the fall and winter battles was without lengthy casualty lists. In the Vosges and southern Alsatian campaigns, there were more than 6000 casualties.
For the fighting in the Colmar Pocket, both 1st Bn., 142nd, in Selestat, and 2nd Bn., 141st, which held the far right flank of the line, were awarded Presidential Citations.
Gen. de Monsabert of the French II Corps, under which the 36th fought, paid this tribute to the division:
It was for me the signal honor of my career to have under my orders such companions in arms. I shall never forget it.
For this campaign, three additional T-Patchers received the Congressional Medal of Honor: Pfc Gerald S. Gordon, St. Joseph, Mo., a medic who tore off his arm band to help stem the advancing enemy near Ribeauville; Sgt. Ellis Weicht, Everett, Pa., who was killed at St. Hippolyte while cleaning out enemy machine gun nests and smashing powerful cannon emplacements; T/Sgt. Charles Coolidge, Signal Mountain, Tenn., who dueled two enemy tanks with a carbine and advanced alone to blast a German attack which threatened to turn his battalion’s flank.
The division was withdrawn to a less active sector near Strasbourg, and after Christmas, prepared to pull back for a rest near Sarrebourg. That rest never materialized. Before all units were off the line, came an urgent summons: German troops were attacking to the north, threatened to turn a flank. The 141st RCT hastily was committed; shortly after, the entire 36th went back into action.
The three regiments alternated. While one engaged the enemy, another dug field emplacements along a switch line in case Krauts should penetrate too deeply; the third was in reserve, prepared to repulse German columns which had driven across the Rhine and established a sizeable bridgehead just north of Strasbourg. The only reserve force in Seventh Army, the 36th was prepared for immediate action in any sector.
While the 141st was in the line, the 142nd covered an exchange of sectors to the south. Then came the call: Germans had rolled over the plains to threaten Strasbourg and the important rail center of Saverne. The 143rd raced to the defense of VI Corps’ right flank.
The 143rd, supported by the 753rd Tank Bn. and 636th TDs, had just jockeyed into position when the 10th Panzer Div. slammed squarely into the center of the defensive arc, extending from Weyersheim to Bischwiller. Twenty-five enemy tanks, supported by large numbers of infantry, were hurled back. Gunners of two platoons from the 636th, outnumbered five to one, knocked out seven tanks. Fighting along a brush line, doughs captured their 20,000th Kraut in France.
The northern Alsatian campaign which began with three regiments spread out in VI, XXI and XV Corps, produced some of the toughest battles in the 36th’s history. Rohrwiller fell to 1st Bn., 143rd, in an overnight attack across flooded land, which some veterans boasted was the best-timed, best-conceived, best-coordinated action they’d ever fought.
Bloody Haguenau, defended by the 141st, was an unforgettable scene. The German Moder River defense line coiled through the town. On one side were Texans, and on the other, Germans. A single platoon grabbed 11 houses on the German bank, held them.
“We held three houses, then eight houses, then three houses,” said S/Sgt. Roy Chiatovich, Bishop, Calif. “It was crazy. We held half of one house, the Krauts the other half. It was crazy, mad, drunk. No sober Germans ever fought like that.”
But in Oberhoffen, taken by the 142nd after several days’ pitched battle with King Tiger tanks and SS troopers, T-Patchers faced the most savage fighting of their careers. So strongly was Oberhoffen defended and so dogged and costly was the fighting that seasoned veterans still recall their victory there with amazement.
Oberhoffen was the key to the Moder River Line. It almost fell to the Texans at the beginning of the assault. Then Germans stormed through the town, heavy tanks grinding down the main street, smashing houses left and right. Nazis cut the 142nd in two, broke through the town, were cut off, attacked again. In six days, the 257th Volksgrenadier Div. lost two battalion commanders and a third of its combat strength. It also lost Oberhoffen.
The respect held by the Germans for the 36th’s stand in the Colmar Pocket was shown in Heinrich Himmler’s order at this time to the forces holding out in Sigolsheim. “What the Americans did in Selestat,” he cried, “you must do here!” But they didn’t. The town fell.
The 36th never faltered in its advance. Against SS troops, the old and young of the Volkssturm, T-Patchers pounded through Oberhoffen, Rohrwiller, Haguenau, Offendorf and Bischwiller and a dozen other towns. The enemy bridgehead across the Rhine was slashed to ribbons. In January, February, and March the threat to Saverne and Strasbourg was neutralized and the enemy rolled back to his Moder River Line.
The last big drive through France began at the Moder. It was a swift knockout blow, designed to penetrate the Siegfried Line in the vicinity of Wissembourg, and drive into Germany to the Rhine River. The knockout force had everything: special engineer bridge trains, searchlights for night fighting, a tremendous mass of supporting artillery. After the slugging, unrewarding grind of previous months of defensive warfare, spirited T-Patchers were buoyed up for the swift march into Germany.
On the left flank, a strong column of the 143rd broke away after crossing the Moder, smashed straight ahead. On the far right, a 141st task force crossed the river in Haguenau to enlarge its painfully-held bridgehead. In the center, the 142nd plowed through half-mile deep mine fields and battered across the river.
Co. K, 143rd, won a Presidential Citation for cleaning out the first important German stronghold of Bitschoffen astride the only first rate supply route for the 36th.
Resistance crumbled, and long, armored columns pressed rapidly on Wissembourg, a Siegfried Line outpost and last large French town in German hands.
Two regiments marched straight into the Line’s dragon’s teeth defenses and breached the pillbox ranks in canny, slow fighting. Special demolition squads advanced from pillbox to pillbox. While automatic weapons and riflemen gave covering fire, a dough crept up to one pillbox and destroyed it with a beehive charge placed in a gun port or ventilation slot.
Enemy fire was heavy as the 142nd stormed the high ground north of Schweigen. The 141st pushed ahead nearly 1000 yards, probing for cavities in the dragon’s teeth. It was met by a furious sustained barrage—nebelwerfer, tanks, artillery.
As interlocking sections of their defense line were knocked out, Germans inside the concrete and steel fortifications wavered. White flags appeared. Resistance collapsed completely. Led by a special mobile unit from the 143rd, a long column of armored infantry streamed for the Rhine. Bergzabern was stormed as the last pillboxes were shattered.
On March 22, the artillery fired 198 missions; March 23, it fired only 10. That day, infantry cleared the remaining small towns and closed on the Rhine.
Two more Medals of Honor were awarded wearers of the T-Patch for the northern Alsace battles. Lt. Edward Dahlgren, Portland, Me., single-handedly broke up one of the large German attacks through the center of Oberhoffen when T-Patch lines were split. Pfc Silvestre Herrera, Glendale, Ariz., advanced through an enemy mine field on the Moder River, had his feet blown off, but continued to fight off the Germans while his platoon flanked its positions.
Victory — And a New Job for the 36th
N the days that followed, the 36th enjoyed its first rest since Italy, policing in the vicinity of Kaiserslautern. While Seventh Army thundered into Bavaria, the 36th stood guard in the Saar.
Nine days before the war’s end, the 36th went to bat for its last licks against the Nazis, near Kunzelsau, in the so-called National Redoubt.
From Kunzelsau to Kitzbuhel in Austria’s Tyrol, the division fought rear guards. Fiercest resistance came at Bad Tolz, where Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, German military master-brain, was captured.
There were other, equally important prisoners: Air Marshal Sperlle, foremost exponent of dive bombing and director of the London blitz; Air Marshal Ritter von Greim, successor to Goering as chief of the Luftwaffe; Reichminister Frank, Poland’s No. 1 war criminal; Max Amann, third member of the Nazi party and publisher of Mein Kampf; Leni Reifenstahl, directress of the German film industry; Admiral Horthy, regent of Hungary; Air Marshal Hermann Goering. Liberated by the 36th were French Generals Weygand and Gamelin, Premiers Daladier and Reynaud.
With war’s end in the ETO came a new assignment for the 36th—policing of defeated Germany.
After 400 days of combat, five campaigns in Italy and France, Germany and Austria, two major amphibious operations, the men of the 36th Infantry Division—the Texas Division—could look back with pride on a skein of victories woven with hardship and heroism. They could point to a record of 175,806 enemy captured, 12 Congressional Medals of Honor, six Presidential Citations, 12 Distinguished Service Plaques, a host of other commendations, medals and awards. But they could not forget that their casualty list was third highest in the ETO: 27,343, of whom 3974 were killed, 19,052 wounded, and 4317 missing in action.
The 36th was ready for its new job in the Army of Occupation. Its veterans knew what Germany had done to the world. They would do their part to see that it wouldn’t happen again.
Printed by Desfosses-Neogravure, Paris
Photos: U.S. Signal Corps, LIFE
About this entry
You’re currently reading “World War II record of Joseph F. McCullough Sr. 142 Regiment 36th Infantry Division 5th Army Italy, 7th Army France, Germany, Austria 1st Lt. Battlefield promotion Monte Casino, Italy . (1942-1945) http://obozowewspomnienia.blogspot.com/,” an entry on Architecture & Environmental Design
- August 20, 2015 / 8:18 pm