COMBAT HIGHLIGHTS

Taking stock of Recon in the war, Recon in the records, it is necessary to evaluate the effect of the enemy pressures and joint combat operations that Recon was involved in. It has been shown that America and the Allies had a long upward fight to accomplish their mission of inspiration liberation and cooperation for the peoples of the world. This great upward surge has been participated in by every living human from the starved skeletons in Buchenwald to natives on refueling stops in Africa, Ascension Islands and Iraq. This brief history will demonstrate Recon's small part in this and in the greater whole of combat operations and also in its making of new heroes and new leaders for the horizons of tomorrow. To show how the unconditional surrender of National Socialism was achieved on a large scale and how the various military implications of the last six months were woven into the fabric of victory, it first is necessary to analyze the war in Europe has two separate sieges or invasions. The first being D-Day and the storming of the bastions of the Teuton myth of "Festung Europa" -- Fortress Europe, and the second is the storming of the Siegfried Line, the Rhine and the inner line of Germany's defensive power. This second phase can be called "Gottadamerung" or the twilight of the gods -- the Nordic gods of Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry and the Teutonic god, Wotan of war, trickery, defense and counterattack.
It was in this second phase -- the explosion of Hitler's myths of Nordic superiority, intuition and fear -- that Recon played its part. If Germany wrongfully maintained in 1941 that General Mud, not the Russian Army was stopping their advance, the Americans rightfully could have said in 1944 that General Gas not the Siegfried Line was stopping them. When the 99th Infantry Division arrived on the line early in November the war to come had already been fought in miniature. The Atlantic wall, a much touted defense like the Siegfried line had fallen on D-Day. The Falaise pocket or plan "Liege" as it was called had failed as miserably as the Bulge would later. It had created another "lost battalion" this time from the 30th Infantry Division instead of the 42nd Rainbow Division as in '17-'18. It had raised Merry Harry with the 823rd TD Bn and the 30th Division before it finally failed. But ultimately as inevitably as the Atlantic wall was surmounted, it also was pinched out of existence by the 9th Infantry to the north at Boussel and by the 1st Division to the south toward Mortain and Alencon. The Seine, Somme, Marne, Meuse, Loire fell in almost as fast order as the Erft, Rhine, Isar and Inn rivers. Even as Paris had been a surprise because of the strength of its underground movement -- the FFI -- so also the industrial cities of Germany were equally a surprise for the impotence and apathy of their populations. Even as Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland were at least partly liberated before the Allied juggernaut screeched to a stop at the Siegfried defenses panting for gas so also were Austria and Czechoslovakia freed before Jerry finally cried "uncle" gasping for more potassium cyanide.

12th Volksgrenadier Division Division CP
G-3 16 December 1944
Soldiers of the West front: your great hour has struck. Strong attacking armies are advancing today against the Anglo-Americans. I do not need to say more to you. You all feel that, everything is at stake. You bear in yourselves a holy duty to give everything and to achieve the superhuman for OUR VATERLAND AND OUR FUEHRER!
Commander in Chief West
von Runstedt
Field Marshall

This call to arms is to be made known to all soldiers without exception immediately before the beginning of the attack. (Literal translation of document captured by the 99th Infantry Division on 16 December)

As useless as the very inception of the war itself by Germany so was the Bulge stemming from the order above. It served to do momentarily in a military way what National Socialism had been struggling to do in a political way since its inception. That was to split the opposing forces. The American First and Ninth armies to the north of the Ardennes salient went under the temporary command of the British army for a short period in December. The results of this were another tribute to Anglo-American cooperation. It left General Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group, however, with only the 3d Army and its commander, General Patton. The bloody massacre at Malmedy gave lie to some of its horrors at Dachau and Buchenwald that inside Germany later were to show the product of the Nazi mind. It uselessly killed thousands of men on both sides only to return conditions to the same stalemate that they were in three weeks previous. Just as the German aggression served only to unite all the idealistic democratic nations of the world while it strove to split them into disorganized groups, just as the very illegality of Nazi aggression gave lie to the brutalities within, so did the Bulge achieve these very same results. The Germans may have "felt" their holy duty to be superhuman and heard the hour strike but the Americans "knew" their duty. It was not so holy nor was it so superior to the needs of humanity. But it was far more high-minded and lasting.
General Omar Bradley got his 1st Army back in time to show von Rundstedt he had knocked on the wrong door. Weakened by the loss of men and, even more painful to the Germans, the loss of equipment. Field Marshall Model had taken over the reins of Phaeton's chariot from a disheartened von Rundstedt. They had ridden too close to the sun. They had only been badly burned. Now was the time for the wax wings to melt and all to fall earthward.
Perhaps a short look back into the Ardennes Offensive from the German point of view may throw even more light on the things to come. Taking one enemy operation, a key one, it is possible to draw a rather inaccurate been general picture of the whole. Failure. 1400 Nazi soldiers of the "do or die" variety were alerted for a mission of the highest military importance. Dec. 17th to groups of 53 JU52's each were to fly over enemy lines and drop saboteurs, 1400 of them, at a key point to the enemy rear. Dec. 12th, General Sepp Dietrich, commanding the 6th SS Panzer Army, briefed these men and placed them under command of Lieut. Col. Von der Heide. This special task force became known as the KG Von der Heide paratroopers.
On Dec. 17th in the dark winter blasts at 0400 these men assembled on the bleak field, prepared for their mission. They were formed into seven companies of infantry including one heavy weapons company. That meant 200 men to a company. Their five-day training had been sketchy if that and they had been formed into small combat groups. Their mission was now known to them: to cut the Eupen -- Malmedy road and prevent American reinforcements from getting through on that highway at all costs. In conjunction with their activity, the main drive which had commenced some 20 hours earlier in the same kind of a cold dawn, was heading for Namur and Dinant and would strike to Liege. They were to keep the going "soft". If any of them felt qualms about the haste in their training and in the "planning" they fast put the thought from their minds when they realized that this was their opportunity to make the supreme effort for der Fuehrer, for Vaterland. That could make up for everything. That was "inspiration". Soon after the troops arrival, one by one, loaded JU 52's taxied down the snow-covered runway into the teeth of a 60 km per hour wind. If the men had been wondering a short while earlier whether they had been shivering from fear or from the chilled wind, the comparative warmth of the rattling plane made it clear to them. Huddled and shaking they were now in the hands of Goering's prize Luftwaffe on a mission for der Fuehrer! What inspiration!
Der Fuehrer had made one mistake they were not been aware of. The old JU 52 was archaic, it had no interplane communication system. They were flying through the predawn winter darkness in just this plane! Next Goering had made another error. His bold and accurate Luftwaffe were out of practice in map reading. They had done very little long-range bombing lately and had grown rusty. Besides they had been wary of American AA batteries on the ground for quite some time now and were not too anxious to fly low enough to identify terrain features. Also, in the German army everything is timing. At 0630 they were scheduled to jump. It would be as simple as that. Then General Sepp Dietrich had made a mistake. He would not allow Lieut. Col. Von der Heide to use gliders as he had wished -- too much of an innovation. It must come from above, older men, higher headquarters. Then Col. Von der Heide made a mistake. He had been so busy with preparations, innovations and demolitions he had not contacted the communications officer and arranged for the trifling matter of keeping communications while on the ground. After all the German soldier can always use his inbred battle intuition for that even if on the matter of innovations like gliders he was restricted. Thus the 106 planes roared on and over the Allied lines near Butgenbach, Bulingen and Murringen, huddled in the snow below. One by one the plane doors opened. It was 0630! With the swish of opening chutes and the twinkling of myriad little hand lights the temporarily star filled sky sank steadily earthward. It was all over! It was 0633. The big JU 52's wheeled in big circles and started homeward.
Somewhere to the north of Malmedy in a clearing by the Staats-Monshau Forest was the assembly point. The impatient Nazi colonel waited in the cold while sporadic bursts of fire sounded all around them. Only 420 or so men of his command could be accounted for. The wind that whistled around his ears and almost through his fur jacket gave him one of the answers to the whereabouts of the other 1000 men in his task force. The fast dwindling roar of the last JU 52 as it wheeled noisily homeward had given him the other. Wind, carelessness, and a disorganized formation had scattered his compact little combat groups literally to the four winds and to the three corners of the Malmedy, Monschau, Murringen triangle. Lack of adequate weapons and communications were to complete the job by means of killing and capture during the next week. Lieut. Col. Von der Heide knew well that there was no hope for his mission as he snapped out his orders on the few men left to him. But he had to go on. The Fuehrer had decreed. Any other tactics would be against his pride and honor as Junkers and a soldier. Although many times before his capture on Christmas Eve, he would have liked to have prayed for inspiration and guidance to someone higher than the Fuehrer, still his men were to go about their "nuisance" work of murder and massacre, until by Christmas their task force had become nonexistent. Thus decked out in modern close and modern methods, the old German arrogance and worship of form had failed again, dashing itself to pieces against the rocks of fortune and fate. Had their uncompromising nature bent to reality but for a moment, even although too little and too late, that moment might have spelled a happier defeat for their forces. Had they recognized the shortcomings of certain members of the Luftwaffe such as the JU 52 and repaired them instead of always demanding to build a new model with all the improvements that the older ones still needed, their own formation might have been maintained in some manner of compactness. Had they foreseen the fact that God might blow an anti-German 60 km per hour wind that them that day they might have been able to plan for that too. Had General Sepp Dietrich or Lieut. Col. Von der Heide been willing to delegate authority a little lower or prepare their individual men for exigencies they had not foreseen, the entire plan might have functioned to its futility more smoothly. But after all, they were the same Germans who had to build a "new order" rather than make improvements on the old, the same Germans who could not have foreseen that the U.S. could possibly enter the war against them, and the self same Germans who would rather kill and use a policy of "forced labor" to their occupied lands than cooperate with the existing authorities or stoop to foresee that popular support could, under certain "alien" circumstances, be important even to the Teuton. So when the 3rd Platoon of the 99th Recon on Dec. 22nd had captured six members of this ill-fated task force near Kalterherberg, they rang down in a sense the curtain on the entire myth of Gottadamerung.
On the day after Washington's birthday, some two months later, at half past three in the early morning, another hand-picked task force moved out. American doughboys from General Terry de le Mesa Allen's 104th Infantry Division were crossing the Roer toward Duren -- just another job for them. Further south two regiments of the 8th Infantry Division were doing the same thing. The drive was on!
Under heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire these two divisions forced the bridgehead further out toward the Rhine. The First Army was on the attack. Gen. Omar N. Bradley's 12th Army Group was striking back! With the VII Corps of General "Lightning Joe" Collins' spearheading, big things were in store. On February 26th Gen. Maurice Rose's Third Armored moved up into the bridgehead and "broke out" to the Erft Canal. By March all four divisions of General Collins VII Corps were in the line and pushing. The 99th Infantry had just pulled up from a rest area to complete the score. Lashing out across the plains of Cologne, the 3rd Armored and the 99th raced to the Rhine. The 3rd Armored reached the west bank first, near Cologne at 0420 March 4th, but the 99th won the race by having secured the bank first on a five mile front from Dusseldorf to Delrath by March 5. On March 5th to the south: the 78th Division, the 9th Infantry Division, the 2nd Infantry and the 9th Armored of Gen. Hodges' III Corps began sweeping down to the approaches of the Rhine. Gen. Patton started rolling north again. His 4th Armored and 11th Armored broke out across the Eifel River and started northeast toward Koblenz.
Then on March 7th came the windfall of luck that changed the whole tempo of the race. The 9th Armored had captured Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine and Remagen intact. The next day Gen. Patton started "pocket plucking" as the 11th and 4th Armored joined near Koblenz around an isolated island of enemy. Then March 9th the 11th Armored joined with the 2nd Infantry Division of Gen. Hodges V Corps that Spessart still further north, forming still another pocket. Gen. Patton's pinwheel tactics were beginning to pay off. Then he repeated the same pocket producing armored thrusts to the south in conjunction with Gen. Alexander Patch's 7th Army in two rapid tactical strikes south and west of Speyer. But now the Wehrmacht was losing more men and equipment than it could afford. The Rhine had become a barrier against them instead of for them.
By the 24th, the 99th Infantry Division, now in the III Corps, had led the First Army's three Corps' in to the crossing of the Rhine. The bridgehead had been secured and was now ready for tactical use. Up in the north near Kassel, General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's 21st Army Group had crossed the Rhine, supplemented by General Brereton's First Allied Airborne Army and was ready to capitalize on its airborne operations by driving from Emmerich toward Hamm and Paderborn. Disregarding the 3rd Army's successful southern drive to Speyer by the 12th Armored Gen. Patton turned his 4th Armored and then his 6th Armored east and across the Rhine at Oppenheim below Mainz and Wiesbaden over the northern bridgehead his 5th Infantry Division had secured. Here the Cohen -- Abrams partnership went into operation again as the 5th Infantry's Col. Cohen and Col. Abrams of the 4th Armored were working together. The 4th Armored thrust north to Giessen simultaneously as the 7th Armored of the 1st Army broke out of its bridgehead toward Wetzlar and Giessen. Here another pocket was formed, and still another, as Gen. Hodges sent the 9th Armored along the Reich's Autobahn southward to link with the 3rd Army east of Wiesbaden and north of Mainz. Already the Rhineland had produced 350,000 German prisoners through the Allies pocket producing tactics.
Gen. Bradley then used his two armies of the 12th Army Group to strike north from Giessen to a junction with the three armies of Field Marshall Montgomery's 21st Army Group. They met midway between Paderborn and Hamm forming the Ruhr pocket, enclosing a sea of 400,000 more Germans. Thus more than three-quarters of one million prisoners were taken in less than two months including the entire industrial strength of Western Germany and the bulk of her fighting equipment. With tremendous foresight Gen. Bradley had sent Lieut. Col. Abrams and 4th Armored on a roving raid toward Nuremberg into the much threatened National Redoubt area, while all this was going on. Thus der Fuehrer was chased from Berchtesgaden to Berlin. The Nazi strongholds in Bavaria were being threatened while the party's men and equipment were being engulfed elsewhere. Lt. Gen. Hoyt Stanford Vanndenberg's 9th T.A.C. Air Force not only bombed out roads, railroads, and 10,000 enemy motor vehicles, even Hitler himself out of Berchtesgaden, but also broke the back of the Nazi spirit. These two factors alone more than anything else made for the victory march of the 99th Infantry Division from the Ruhr pocket straight to the Inn River, where Task Force Cummings and the 99th Reconnaissance were brought to a sudden halt by General Surrender.

ANALYSIS

The American First Army lives up to its name. It is probably the most powerful American Army. It was the First to land in France, the First to take Paris, the First to enter Germany. Its Divisions were hand-picked by Gen. Bradley, who turned it over to Lieut. Col. Courtney Hodges. It was again the First which was in the van of the American Armies. It had seized the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen thus forcing the First crossing of the Rhine. From there its spearheads raced north, outflanking the entire Ruhr Valley. (Life 9 April 45)
From to 9th of November 1944, to the 19th of April 1945, the 99th Checkerboard Division was an integral part of that First Army, for in over a half of its stellar accomplishments the 99th was the spearhead infantry division. During the breakthrough at Ardennes, Dec. 16, 1944 -- Jan. 25, 1945, the 99th never had to leave German territory and was among the first outfits to punch back into the Siegfried Line. Soon after the 99th Reconnaissance Troop passed across the Ludendorff Bridge on the 12th of March, 1945, as the last combat unit of the 99th to close into Linz, the 99th became the first entire division in the Allied Army to be completely east of the Rhine. Similarly on the 4th of March, Task Force Lueders had driven a spearhead to within a thousand yards of the Rhine at Derikum. The following day the infantry "jumped off" from here to the Rhine, and on March 6th, consolidating its positions along a five-mile front, the 99th became the first infantry division in the First Army to reach the west bank of the Rhine. On the 23rd of March, the 99th Recon Troop moved into Waldbreitbach with the rear elements of the 393rd Infantry Regiment and secured the town for the regiment to move up. The next night the 99th Recon Troop displaced the 2nd Battalion, 395th Infantry Regiment, at Breischeid and anchored their left flank for the attack that let the 7th Armored break loose into Giessen, Wetzlar, Gemunden, setting up the Ruhr Pocket. Thus joining the First Army more than halfway through its spectacular career, the 99th clearly more than bore its half of the burden and oddly enough Recon was there with the 99th for every turn in the tide through the ocean of success.
"The American 3rd Army is the cockiest of the Armies and the fastest moving. It is colorful, proud and bold. Its motto is speed and more speed. The Third has been one of the smallest U.S. Armies and yet as of March 30, 1945, it had taken 311,000 German prisoners since August 1944, the total second only to that taken by the First Army. Today the history of the Third is studded with armored breakthroughs -- across France, through the Saar, across the Rhine, and into the hills beyond Frankfurt." (Life 9 April 45)
If the 3rd Army of Gen. Patton had had to concede anything to the First Army as of March 30th, by April 19th the First Army had given it reason to forget its concessions. The "Battle Babies" of the First Army, the 99th Infantry Division, went over like veterans to the 3rd Army. They never left the front until V-E Day except for nine days (and this was an accomplishment for the front became very elusive). In that time they captured more than 1220 square miles of Germany, 48,000 prisoners of war, "liberated" well over 102,000 Allied PW's, crossed three rivers and were highly instrumental in giving the 3rd Army the "top" prisoner bag of the American Armies. At Landshut their engineers had thrown a treadway bridge across the Isar River to which Gen. Patton personally came in order to facilitate the movement of vital 3rd Army equipment in the wake of the Checkerboard Division. May 2nd, with the cessation of hostilities, found the 99th Division with Task Force Cummings and strong reconnaissance patrols either near or on the Inn River and almost at the furthest point west of the entire Allied advanced.
Three campaigns -- The Rhineland (Sept. 15, 1944 -- March 21, 1945), The Ardennes (Dec. 16, 1944 -- Jan. 25, 1945), Central Europe (March 22, 1945 -- May 10, 1945). Seven battles -- Defense of Hofen, Germany (Nov. 9 -- 12 Dec. 1944), Defense of Elsenborn sector (19 Dec. 44 -- 4 Feb. 45), Defense of Hollerath, Undenbreth, Losheim, Germany sector (4 Feb. -- 13 Feb. 1945) Erft to Rhine Drive (March 1 to March 8, 1945) the Remagen Bridgehead (11 March to 3 April 1945), Ruhr Pocket (4 April to 16 April, 1945), Danube Valley Drive (24 April to 2 May 45). The first three battles being essentially one gigantic engagement, including the Ardennes counteroffensive, later becoming "the Battle of the Siegfried Line". Thirty German Divisions contacted and 1631 square miles of territory captured, 1742 road miles traveled by the Recon CP alone (59 during the Bulge) (90 around the Remagen Bridgehead) (188 in the Ruhr Pocket) (244 with the 3rd Army in thrusts) (1005 in maneuver movement including 325 to St. Jean Sart, Belgium, from Camp Walditch, England; 250 road miles from Aubel to Elsdorf, 318 from Ihmert to Bamberg and 211 since V-E Day). Among records set in combat speed: 12 air miles to the Rhine from Elsdorf in five days of combat; 110 airline miles out of the Remagen Bridgehead in eight days; 50 airline miles to close of the Ruhr Pocket in 12 days; 5 airline miles in less than an hour of fighting by Recon on Task Force Lueders and so on ad victoriam. QUITE A RECORD! It's Recon on report.
back