The 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry spear leading the attack, from their revere position, jumped off in a column of companies at 2100, 13 April, attacking to the south, moving parallel with the Elbe River. This Bn was to be followed by the 3d then 1st Battalions, 41st Armored Infantry, according to instructions. All during this time, armor and anti-tank guns were faithfully being promised these units.
Col Stewart's plan of attack was to by-pass Grunewalde and let the following two units clean it out. As the 3d Bn, 119th Inf, reached a point slightly short of the Grunewalde-Elbenau road, swinging then northeast, Company I was to advance on the left and abreast of Co. L, which was to the right of the road. Co K, being in reserve and following Co L, was ordered to thoroughly
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comb this wooded sector. Opposition to all units, on this move, was negligible but in the darkness, many enemy were by-passed.1
This plan was carried out without a mishap; yet due to darkness it wasn't until 0400, 14 April, that I & L Companies entered the town. Having reached their objective unopposed both outposted the town on the far side and began the tedious task of cleaning out all the houses. Company L was responsible for the eastern sector of the town as was Company I for the western sector. K Company, all this time, was completely combing out the wooded area south of Elbenau; and upon reaching position (D754893), started digging in.2
The 3d Battalion, 41st AIR in an assembly area (D712920), followed the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry as they passed by on their southern drive. Having moved out at 2200, the Bn followed the spearheading elements upstream to (D752887); at which point the 3d Battalion 41st went into a semi-forward assembly area.
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"This march was very uneventful except the men were out on their feet, and if they sat down for a moment they were snoring" quoted Lt Fitzhugh.3
Lt. Parkins, CO, Company I, 3d Battalion, 41st AIR, during this period in the forward assembly area, had gone to the Battalion CP and discussed his situation with the Battalion Commander. With only four officers and 60 men, he informed Col Anderson that he did not have enough men to cover his proposed front, for having been in all previous engagements, a terrific toll had been taken. Capt Morrow, Company G, present at the time, talked Col Anderson into letting Lt Parkins have one of his platoons.4
Shortly thereafter, 0315, Cal Anderson received word that the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry was in position and his battalion was alerted, moving out minutes later with H Company leading. Initially Company H was to tie into the left flank of the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry, at the windmill (D752904) and extend to the left, to the
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Alte-Elbe River; and Company I, plus one platoon of Company G attached, was to tie in on the left flank of Company H and extend to the left to the factory on the Elbe River at (D727903).5 Contact between the two battalions at the windmill never materialized, however, for it was never located by H Company, but contest was established at (D754903).
I Company, followed H Company very closely, for it was extremely dark and contact was of the utmost importance. Lt Parkins said, "I Just followed Company H positions along to see that there would not be any gap in our lines and then started placing our platoons." The 1st Platoon was in contact with the left platoon of Company H at (D740904), then came the 2d Platoon, 3d Platoon, and 3d Platoon of Company G, which had been previously attached. The men started digging in immediately for it was beginning to get light.6 G Company, less one platoon, leaving the assembly area, moved about 1,000 yards north swinging due west at this point
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for about 700 yards. There they dug in on a straight line on the far side of the wooded area (D747897). Being in reserve, very tired, and feeling confident that they would not become engaged with the enemy, the men didn't dig in as they should have.
Shooting had been heard and in the town of Elbenau through the light of burning buildings, soldiers were noted moving about, giving all the men confidence, for it was thought to be the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry. The 1st Platoon of Company H, having organized their positions, was instructed to send a three man patrol into town and contact the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry. This same patrol returning shortly after departure informed the platoon sergeant that the soldiers seen in Elbenau were Jerries. The platoon sergeant reported this to Lt. Fitzhugh immediately sending the patrol back with direct orders to contest the 119th. The patrol moved back and upon reaching the western outskirts of the town at 0515, were met by a German attack consisting
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of three tanks, one wave of infantry mounted on the tanks and two waves of infantry following said tanks. At once the patrol returned telling at the forthcoming attack.7
The 1st Battalion, 41st AIR, acting as rear guard, followed the 3d Battalion along the river in the southern drive, until the leading two battalions peeled off to the northeast; at which time, the 1st Battalion continued its drive on Grunewalde. Moderate resistance was met upon entering the town, consisting of panzerfausts, machine guns and small arms fire. Col Finnel stated, "We cleared down to the river rapidly and established a place where we could evacuate. By daylight there was still resistance in the eastern part of Grunewalde. Company A held the Northern part of the town; Company B held the base of the bridgehead down to the river; and Company C was centrally located mopping up. A platoon of heady machine guns was on the left flank (D748885) covering the woods to the north."8
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At 0300, Combat Command B received an order from the 2d Armored Division CP to leave a covering force on the east bank of the river at the abandoned bridge site, although all elements of the command had already been displaced to the south upon receipt. However, one squad of Company D, 17th Armored Engineer Battalion was ordered to cross the river and establish that security, although unable to cross the river because the enemy already held the east bank.9
The engineers were ready to start construction of a pontoon bridge at the net proposed site (D735891) me soon as practical. This plan shortly proved impossible for the enemy had retaken the river area at the proposed site after the bridgehead troops had cleared it. At 0640, the town of Grunewalde being cleared, construction of a ferry site (D749881) was begun at once by the 82d Engineer Battalion.
The banks of the river at the second site were gently sloping and necessitated the construction of an approach on the south bank
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and work with a bulldozer on the north bank, to permit the ferry to reach either shore for loading purposes. An approach was constructed by dumping several truck loads of rubble into the river at the water's edge to form a loading ramp, although construction of the ferry and approach was constantly interrupted and delayed by artillery fire. Prior to noon, the guide cable was damaged by an incoming shell and necessitated repair.10
Major James R. McCartney stated, "The reaction from the enemy on XIX Corps bridgehead over the Elbe was determined and heavy. The enemy, made up of Task Force Ringelheim, launched a well-coordinated attack against the 2 Armored Division bridgehead and forced our troops across the river."11
The beginning of this mighty assault was initially felt by the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry, but moments later the 3d Battalion, 41st AIR, also received a terrible blow.
Col Stewart received word from Company I about 0500 that tanks
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had struck on their right, and having no anti-tank weapons, outside of bazookas, they were powerless under the weight of the German attack.12 At the same time, L Company reported at least six German tanks, two 20mm flak wagons, and about a battalion of infantry counterattacking from the east and northeast. The 1st Platoon of Company L, on the extreme east edge of the town, caused one column of the attack force to deploy and they swung northwest attacking from the north, overrunning the company.13
Upon hearing this, Col Stewart ordered his leading companies to fall back on K Company, which was now in the woods south of the town. The order came too late, for L Company already had been cut off and unable to fall back, and I Comply was also split and elements captured. Six men were able to work back to K Company. The Bn Command Post group and all other available personnel, were displaced forward to give added support. Col Stewart said, "I had at no time received an order to hold, fight or withdraw."14
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All in all, eight tanks were seen. M Company could direct fire on three, K Company two, and the Command Post group three. The tanks kept moving around to prevent being bracketed by the intense fire. Col Stewart said, "We were having a tough time of it, but the enemy was having it just as tough."15 Col Stewart's rear elements finally made contact with Gen Hinds and he assured Col Stewart that tanks would be on the way to help.
Capt Stamford related, "The majority of our men hid in the cellars which the Jerries did not search. I contacted Col Stewart on the radio and suggested that artillery fire be placed on our positions as we were in cellars and it would prevent the Jerries from digging our boys out. I destroyed all my maps and prepared to wreck the radio. We remained in the cellar and occasionally we could see the feet of the Jerries as they passed by the windows. At the time we did not know of the general situation, for our communications had gone out."16
The German onslaught descended upon the 3d Battalion, 41st AIR,
shortly after the patrol that was sent to contact the 119th Infantry in Elbenau returned, being well coordinated with the attack of Elbenau. When Lt Fitzhugh received this report and saw the enemy approaching, he immediately sought the Company Commander. As he reached the CO, who was at (D752903), the first wave of tanks was approximately 75 yards east of their position, having already run through the 3d Battalion 119th Infantry. Having no time to inform the platoon leaders of the other two platoons, he and the Commanding Officer gathered all the men they could and hit for the woods located in the of the bend of the Alt-Elbe creek (D7439l3). A considerable number of H Company men were scattered about the woods. Capt Pearcy and Lt Fitzhugh rounded them up and found that they had the majority of their 1st and 3d Platoons, about 60 men in all, and at once roughly organized in case they became engaged. Their original plan was to cross the canal going to the town of Randau and then work their way back to the Elbe the same way they had done the afternoon before. However, finding the depth of the canal over their heads, and no boats available, they decided to work to the east around Elbenau
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and then south to the river. This is exactly what they did, with the greater percentage of them crossing the river under the cover of darkness.17
Minutes after 0500, Lt Parkins, Company I, received word from his 2d Platoon that three Mark V tanks with German infantry were coming up the line cleaning up everything as they moved. The attached 3d Platoon of G Company, being on the left flank of Company I, was ordered to drop back and build up a line along the levee, immediately, facing the threat. As the tanks approached, each seemed to have a platoon of infantry in support. The attackers had reached a point 150 yards from the levee when I Company opened up with every available weapon. Lt Parkins, thinking back, said, "I saw two bazookas each fire three rounds of American bazooka ammunition at the Mark V tanks. Of the six fired, I personally saw four hits merely ricochet off. We had no way to stop them, for they had American prisoners of war marching in front of the tanks and they were firing machine guns and tank guns right through them."18
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Having one of two alternatives, being captured or killed, Lt Parkins ordered his men to fall back through the anti-tank ditch or levee, a natural route of withdrawal to the river. Orders were also sent to all platoons to leave covering forces, which would pull back by bounds thus preventing the enemy from gaining momentum and completely surprising our disorganized troops.19
The fact was later brought out that although I Company lost 25 to 30 men, they were the smartest of any other outfit. Elements of the Co kept the German tanks from swarming all over them with panzerfausts and bazookas while S/A fire kept the enemy infantry close to the ground, this permitting the larger portion of the company to "shag."
Col Anderson, not having to be informed of the critical situation, for he could see and hear it, immediately stated yelling for help. All available artillery was called for, but the counterattack having hit so fast, the maximum effect of the artillery was lost. Shortly after, having lost contact with his companies, Col
Anderson said, "Once I lost contact with my companies I didn't know what the score was." He could see G Company overrun, some of the men running to the woods to the right of the command post and also to the woods to the left of the command post, as 15 others joined him.20
G Company, although in reserve, was experiencing its own share of this counterattack, although one small point should be remembered. The previous night was very dark and the manner in which the battalion moved into position, left the area to the front of G Company unswept; thus it is possible that those elements of the enemy force had been there all the time.
During the early hours, 0500, S/Sgt Kramer was awakened by a guard and told that a German tank was close by moving across their front and Germans could be heard jabbering. 15 minutes later, it getting lighter all the time, a man was seen crawling into the turret of a tank. This was an entirely different tank, for the other was still heard further to the left moving. As it grew lighter, infantrymen
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could be seen moving around the tank, which was to the platoon's front. Sgt Kramer gave his platoon orders to hold their fire, for the enemy had armor which was more than they could take care of. Unfortunately, soon thereafter, a fight started and the Jerries began their slow, deliberate advance on G Company's positions. Sgt. Kramer's own words were "Then is when we opened up. We had one light machine gun on line and they tried to keep sneaking men up with panzerfausts to knock it out. We kept picking them off as soon as they would show up, and we were doing all right there, holding our own with small arms fire. The tank then pulled out of a small patch of woods to our front, keeping out of bazooka range, and the gunner opened up, with his fist round landing about 10 yards from the machine gun. He could see where every hole was and he just went down the line firing direct fire at each one. The men, being so tired from the night before, had failed to dig in properly, and were just below the level of the ground. The tank kept firing as the infantry built up a line and both were putting plenty of fire down on us. We waited for orders to arrive but never got word so
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we stayed there as long as we could. I gave the order for the 2d Platoon to pull out, our signal to take off and would be immediately after the tank fired his next round and was reloading, for he certainly was taking his time and deliberate aim. After that round was fired, 16 of us pulled out and took off for the river, running into Col Anderson, by chance, about 0730. The Jerries worked on the remainder of the 2d Platoon and then started on the 1st. They just kept working on each hole. The Commanding Officer, Capt Morrow, was dug in with the mortar squad of the 2d Platoon and no one from that squad or the headquarters section that was with them, has been heard from since."21
The situation became more fluid throughout the bridgehead area as the minutes ticked by, being no physical contact between battalions or companies. The Commanding General, 2d Armored Division, visited the command post and discussed the situation with the Commanding Officer of CC B between 0800 and 0900, 14 April. The CG informed the CO, CC B that the 83d Infantry Division had established a small bridge-
head and bridge to the south and that preliminary arrangements had been completed to send Combat Command Reserve across this bridge with a view of moving down the river on the east bank to counterattack and relieve the pressure on Combat Command B.22
During the same time this conference was taking place, between 50 and 100 enemy infantry, who had occupied the east side of the proposed bridgesite, attacked southeast along the river and cam into the left rear of the 3d Battalion, 41st AIR, Headquarters Command Group, consisting of apprximately 20 officers and men. A defence was immediately established with all the odds and ends floating around the CP, plus four heavy machine guns and one 81mm mortar. A terrific volume of fire was laid down by the command post group which shortly drove this enemy force back into the wooded area north of Grunewalde.23
Col Anderson, not wanting to put his situation over the radio, left Lt Stockwell, I&R Platoon leader, in charge of the of post and started down the river's edge. He ran as fast as he could,
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got a DUKW to take him to the other side, and then went immediately to the Combat Command B command post, arriving at 1050. He wished to talk to General Hinds, but his not being there, he told Col Herkness, Executive Officer of CC B, the seriousness of the situation. Anderson went back to his battalion without being told the plan; however, upon meeting the general on the east bank of the Elbe, he was told they were going to withdraw.24
General, then Colonel, Hinds, Commanding Officer of Combat Command B crossed the river via DUKW to Gruenewalde to get first hand information of the situation, at 1115. With failure of the ferry operation, he ordered evacuation of the bridgehead and approved the plan to be used by Col Finnel. His plan approved, Col Finnel ordered the remnants of the 3d Battalion, 41st AIR, the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry to fall back into he perimeter defense of Gruenewalde, holding there.25
By 1130, the Armored Infantry, fighting without anti-tank
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weapons, other than bazookas, disintegrated into isolated groups and were no longer an effective fighting force.26
The 82d Engineer Battalion, all this time, had been feverishly working against time on the damaged cable and ramp. At 1205, the construction and repair work had been completed and the dozer, needed for construction of a ramp on the far shore, was loaded. In spite of the approach ramp on the near bank, the river was still too shallow to float the ferry when loaded and was grounded unable to pull off under its own power. With external force it was freed and began its first trip with progress very slow because of the swift current. A DUKW driven to the ferry by Capt Youngblood, CO, Company D, 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, was lashed to the floats to increase the propelling power. Progress immediately improved, but yards before reaching the east bank, an artillery barrage came in and cut the guide cable. The swiftness of the river and the absence of the guide cable made it impossible to control the ferry with the
power of two outboard motors and the DUKW, thus the ferry drifted downstream lodging against the debris of the old blown bridge. More artillery began to fall in the vicinity of the bridge and upon Capt Youngblood's orders, the DUKW was cut loose and all personnel of the ferry and the bulldozer were evacuated.27
At 1255, the Commanding General, 2d Armored Division, called requesting advisability of reinforcing the bridgehead with more infantry and the possibility of building another ferry, to which the reply came a short time later. The CG, Combat Command B returned at 1305 from the east bank of the Elbe River and called the Chief of Staff, 2d Armored Division, telling him of the seriousness of the situation and that they could not hold the bridgehead without tanks and anti-tank guns. The addition of more infantry alone would be of no help: and he had issued instructions to evacuate the bridgehead using the DUKWs which remained operative. The Commanding General 2d Armored Division, visited the command post at 1400 and discussed
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the situation with the Commanding Officer of Combat Command B. He was informed of Colonel Hinds' order of evacuation because of the inability to conduct further bridging or ferrying operations due to heavy enemy artillery fire and due to the impossibility of providing the infantry with necessary anti-tank means to sustain themselves. The Commanding General approved the order and issued orders amending their original mission and directing them to secure a line east of the river from (D8687) - (D9487) to protect the left flank of the 83d Division bridgehead pending further orders.28
Remnants of the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry, and 1st Bn 41st AIR, withdrew from the vicinity south of Elbnenau and north of Grunewalde, respectively, passing into the perimeter defense of the 1st Battalion, 41st AIR, at Grunewalde. When Col Finnel ordered evacuation of the bridgehead, the order of evacuation was, 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry, 3d Battalion then 1st Battalion, 41st AIR. Under protective fires of tanks and tank destroyers, in position of
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the west bank, the 3d Battalion, 119th Infantry, and 3d Battalion, 41st AIR, were evacuated by DUKWs, the 1st Battalion, Armored Infantry, provided a rear guard and was the last to cross. The evacuation was completed at approximately 1600, in good order.
Riflemen were withdrawn first, their movement being covered by machine guns and bazookas from the perimeter defense and by tanks and assault guns from the weat bank. The movement was made in an orderly manner, without confusion, which was a credit to both officers and men. A covering force and one DUKW was also left on the west band for the evacuation of any stragglers.29
Although thought captured or killed, L Company, 119th Infantry was still playing a cunning game with the Jerries. About 1500 a volunteer three man patrol had cone out to reconnoiter for a covered route out of town. Upon returning, a half hour later, they reported having located elements of the Third Platoon in another cellar, positions of a 20mm flak wagon, two half-tracks, and a tank. About 1530, the artillery F. O. managed to got his radio operating and contacted
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a cub liaison plane that happened to be in the vicinity. Learning that most of the elements of Combat Command B had been withdrawn across the river Elbe, the artillery officer contacted his Commanding Officer, by relay, and requested a 15 minute smoke concentration be placed on the town of Elbenau at 1545, as an attempt to escape would be made at 1600. Capt Stanford related, "About 1600, taking advantage of the smoke, we made a break after contacting all the men possible, about 55, in all. Fortunately, someone had contacted our fighter planes and they coordinated beautifully. Heading for the main road south of the town we lost several men as we hurriedly withdrew along the edge of the woods from direct tank fire. One of our planes knocked out the tank when we were about half way through the woods. We also captured a German officer and brought him along. We by-passed Grunewalde to the east, arriving at the Elbe about 1930, and found engineers with boats waiting for us."30
Later that evening, three men from Company L volunteered to again cross the river to see if they might find any more of the missing
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men. This was readily agreed to, their arriving back shortly with 10 of our men and 6 prisoners. Others, that had hidden away when overrun, came in by ones and two's, swimming the river under the cover of darkness.31
During the bridgehead operations, casualties surmounted by the 2d Armored Div, and the 119th Inf (30th Div) were as follows:
Losses to the 2d Armored Division were: 6 killed, 23 wounded, 147 missing.
Losses to the 30th Infantry Division were: 1 killed, 9 wounded, 90 missing.32
The losses in vehicles numbed ten.
"When the 2d Armored was forced to withdraw from their bridgehead, east of the Elbe on 14 April, we had practical no plans to give them for support. They just were not available because the air strips had not been moved forward with the same rapidity as the advance of the armor and infantry. There were captured enemy bases in the area and it
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seems as though it would have been a simple job to move the fields forward, but it was not done. On that particular day the 2d Armored was forced to withdraw, it was perfect for flying, clear, and unlimited," said Major Jensen.33
On the west side of the Elbe the strongly defended city of Magdeburg still remained to be reduced. The plan called for the 30th Infantry Diction to attack from the north and the 2d Armored to reduce it from the south. Prior to that attack, an air strike was to operate against the city.34 On 17 April, between 1100 and 1445, 11 groups of medium bombers, that numbered approximately 350 planes, attacked the city.35 Immediately following, the infantry attacked and by nightfall the city had fallen, thus finishing the eventful drive for the 2d Armored Division.
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(1) 119th Inf (30th Div) Int/w CO, 3d Bn.
(2) 119th Inf (30th Div) Int/w CO, CO. L, et al.
(3) 4lst Armd Inf (2d Armd Div) Int/w Plt Cdr. Co. H.
(4) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div) Int/w CO, Co D.
(7) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div) Int/w Plt Ldr. Co H.
(8) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div) Int/w, Co, 1st Bn.
(9) 2d Armd Div, A/A Rpt. April '45.
(11) XIX Corps, Int/w. Asst - G - 2
(12) 119th Inf (30th Div), Int/w. CO. Co I, et al.
(13) 119th Inf (30th Div), Int/w. CO. Co L, et al.
(14) 119th Inf (30th Div), Int/w. CO. 3d Bn.
(16) 119th Inf (30th Div), Int/w. CO. Co. L, et al.
(17) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div), Int/w. Plt Ldr. Co.H.
(18) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div), Int/w. CO, Co I.
(20) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div), Int/w CO, 3d Bn.
(21) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div), Int/w Sq. Ldr, 2d Plt., Co. I.
(22) 2d Armd Div, A/A Rpt, April '45.
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(24) 41st Armd Inf (2d Armd Div), Int/w, CO, 3d
(25) 2d Armd Div, A/A Rpt, April '45.
(26) 2d Armd Div, G-3 Per Rpt, April '45.
(27) 2d Armd Div, A/A Rpt., April '45.
(29) 2d Armd Div, A/A Rpt, April '45.
(30) 119th Inf (30th Div), Int/w CO, Co L.
(32) XIX Corps, Int/w C.G., XIX Corps.
(33) XIX Corps, Int/w G - 3 Air Officer
(34) XIX Corps, Ltr. of Inst., April '45.
(35) XIX Corps, Int/w Asst. G-3.
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