First to the Rhine River
On November 13, 1944, the 44th went on the offensive and forced a passage through the lower Vosges Mountains. The speed of the entire XV Corp offensive unhinged the German defenses and presented the Allies a golden opportunity: the capture of the important city of Strasbourg and its bridges on the Rhine River. In September 1944, the disastrous Operation Market Garden, made famous in the book and movie 'A Bridge Too Far' failed in its bid to bridge the Rhine. Later in March 1945, the American 9th Armor Division succeeded by the coup de main to capture the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen and cross the Rhine.
Right: Men of the 324th Regiment are the first U.S. troops to reach the Rhine River and to capture a bridge, the Kehl Bridge and with it an open route into Germany, at Strasbourg (Strausbourg), Nov. 23, 1944.
On November 21, the 2nd Bat. of the 324th Reg. was put into divisional reserve and relieved from front line duty at the high ground it captured and occupied in the vicinity of Boise de Rinting, which controlled the bridgehead at the eastern exit of the Eschbourg-Dossehiem Pass. The 2nd Bat. troops 'mounted up' employing divisional motorized transport. On November 22nd, the French 2nd Armor Division was assigned the capture of Strasbourg. The 2nd Bat. of the 324th Regiment reinforced the tankers to provide the needed infantry combined arms support to the French, led by the charismatic General LeClerc. Tanks without infantry support were easy prey for even weak German defenses. The two joined forces in the vicinity of Rauwiller and boldly moved east without delay.
On November 22nd, the reinforced French 2nd A.D. reached the just captured city of Saverne. The next day, the news flashed that at 11:00am, that the 2nd Battalion, 324th Infantry was in Strasbourg and that Captain Delbert O. Barry's E Company was the first American unit to reach the Rhine in World War II. Barry's mortar men mortared the German side of the river. An American patrol is reported to have crossed over the Rhine into German. First to the Rhine and, possibly, first to cross the Rhine in World War II belong to the 44th.
The following day, all hell broke loose. The German's demolished the intact bridge over the Rhine later. Shelling became intense and German resistance stiffened. The soldiers of the 2nd Bat. were relieved to rejoined the 324th Regiment and continue to the Siegfried Line. The supreme Allied military command decided against exploitation of the just captured Rhine bridgehead. The route into Germany it was decided lay to the north.
|Hitler and the Rhine River|
“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility because the broad masses of a nation…in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie. .... It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Hitler in "Mein Kampf"
Hitler believed in the strength of his own words. His rise to power is built on three big lies. Once the German 'Volk' widely came to believe them, Hitler and his Nazi party legally gained political power and control over their fate.
One grand lie is Germany lost the 'Great War' World War I due to high treason and not through military defeat at the hands of the Allies. Traitors on the home front, mostly Jews, "stabbed Germany in the back." The vast suffering and post-war humiliation of this proud nation was not their collective fault. The Germans were victims. An evil world-wide Jewish conspiracy, committed to the destruction of the German race, was guilty. This lie gained wide acceptance in all of Germany in the later stages of the Wiemar Republic, as hatred toward the Jews increased and later became state policy.
Evidence supporting the "stabbed in the back" propaganda involved the Rhine River. The Rhine is the longest river in all of Europe and is much more than an important commercial asset. Possession of the Rhine held great symbolic importance to the German people. The Rhine prevented total conquest by the Roman Legions starting with Caesar. Later the great river served well as a breakwater against the eastern expansion of the French, from the great French kings through Napoleon. Most recently, the First World War concluded with the Rhine River uncontested and in German hands. Hitler’s military fictitious claim that it had “never been defeated in battle” evolved into a foundational truth of the Nazi faith.
General John 'Blackjack' Pershing argued for one option: The unconditional surrender by Germany in 1918. As the Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Force of World War One, Pershing understood the importance of symbolism to achieve an enduring peace in continental Europe. He opposed any negotiated peace settlement. A lasting peace was possible only when the German people knew. . . knew the Prussian military was whipped. The German army teetered on total collapse, its navy in open revolt, riots erupted in Germany cities, the Rhine and all of Germany lay open to capture. The November 1918 armistice denied the Pershing exclamation point, victory on account of an undeniable German military defeat. In 1945, Germany lay in ruin and occupied, the criminal Third Reich's utter defeat a resounding unquestionable fact. Peace remains the dividend 60 years later. Not so in 1918.
In 1944, again the symbolic and militarily significant Rhine loomed large. Hitler held only one option, victory. The Allies stood unified behind unconditional surrender as the only instrument to end the war. Pershing's wisdom was embraced 27 years too late.
Hitler hoped to use the Rhine as a natural defensive obstacle to stop the Americans and British armies. For morale purposes, the perceived safety behind a German held Rhine demanded it be held at all cost. To this day, the WW2 resilience and doggedness of the German people and army are marvels. Each advancing day of the war brought increased misery and death on the home front as the Allied air forces systematically pounded and destroyed the beautiful German cities and workplaces. The news was bad. The state controlled media's 'heroic defender’ head-line stories became to be understood as propaganda euphemisms for lost battles and large-scale surrenders, starting with Stalingrad. The current ‘heroic defenses’ counted among them Warsaw, Rome, Paris and Normandy. Each pointed like daggers closer and closer to the heart of the Reich. And the death rolls ballooned. No family was immune to the consequence of the Reich's catastrophic battlefield casualties. Sorrow and pain grieved every German household. Yet the Germans will to resist continued only to end with the death of Hitler.
Only a few resisted prior to Germany's total destruction. One is the "White Rose", a University of Munich student opposition group led by Hans and Sophie Scholl and Professor Kurt Huber. The following extract from a leaflet published and distributed in the winter of 1943 shortly after the fall of Stalingrad, serves as a remarkable demonstration of courage and conviction.
"Who has counted the dead, Hitler or Goebbels - to be sure neither. In Russia thousands fall daily. It is the time of harvest and the reaper is in full swing among the ripe corn. Grief enters cottages in the homeland and no one is there to wipe dry the tears of the mothers, but Hitler lies to those whose dearest treasure he has robbed and driven to senseless death.
Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. If he says peace, he means war, and if in the most sacrilegious way he uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the stinking gate of hell, and his power is debased."
Speaking the truth in opposition to the Nazis cost Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Kurt Huber their lives. Eyewitnesses at their execution reported each died courageously.
"White Rose" Source: "Himmler", author Peter Padfield, Chapter 12 - page 429