JUMP-OFF AT THE MODER
Up in the north the American First and Ninth Armies reached the Rhine. The Allies, capitalizing on a fateful German blunder, made the first crossing March 7 over the Rhinespanning Ludendorff at Remagen. Even as the bridgehead was secured, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, replacing von Rundstedt as top enemy commander in the west, watched for follow-up crossings in other army sectors. In early March the American Third Army, after reaching the Rhine turned south, enclosing a large body of Germans in the Saar-Palatinate. On March 15 a general Seventh Army offensive opened in conjunction with the Third Army attacks to destroy all German forces west of the Rhine in the Saar-Palatinate.
The 3rd Battalion led off at 0100, morning of the 15th. To obtain surprise, no artillery preparation was permitted. Lt. ODean Coxs Company K, attacking over terrain offering no concealment or cover and over ground heavily sown with antipersonnel shu mines, captured Bitschoffen and opened the Bitschoffen road early in the morning. Repulsed three times, the company had reformed and captured the town although one third of its men had been killed or wounded. For this action Company K received the Presidential Unit Citation. The Division Commander in presenting it later said, "I know of no action in the war by any unit which so deserved a citation."
36TH BESTS GERMAN 36TH
While K Company was engaged in Bitschoffen, the remainder of the 3rd Battalion had attacked cross-countrv to seize Mietesheim, and the 2nd Battalion was clearing the western edge of the Haguenau Forest. As soon as the 3rd Battalion had won the Bitschoffen road the 1st Battalion was committed to keep the breach open. It forced the Zintel River by wading the stream near an old mill. All night troops over the river fought off counter-attacks, one launched by the reserve battalion of the 36th German Division, led by tanks. Morning found the bridgehead holding firm. Before noon a bridge had been built and Griesbach entered. Without stopping the Battalion raced for Gunstett on the Sauer River, in an effort to capture the bridge intact. But as the leading elements came down the hill before the river the bridge was blown and another fight for a bridgehead became necessary.
One more day of hard struggle passed before Gunstett was cleared. While the 1st Battalion fought from house-to-house (its spearheading drive through Mietesheirn and Gunstett also earned a Presidential Unit Citation), the 2nd Battalion had cleared the western edges of the Haguenau Forest and the 3rd Battalion moved up to cross the Sauer east of Gunstett. By dark the town had been taken and engineers were working on a bridge. With the first of the Divisions missions accomplished, the 14th Armored Division was alerted for its advance.
On the Divisions extreme right the 141st had the task of clearing all of Haguenau and then opening the Haguenau-Soultz road. On March 13 some preliminary stabs were made across the Moder to enlarge the Haguenau bridgehead and to put in a bridge. At 0300 on the 15th the 1st Battalion moved out of the east end of Haguenau while the 2nd cleared the remainder of the town. The 3rd Battalion was held in reserve covering the left flank while the 36th Reconnaissance Troop kept contact with the French on the right. Though progress was slow, all of Haguenau was cleared on the 15th and the defenses in the edge of the Forest breached. Next, the 3rd Battalion was committed on the 16th to clear the roadmainly an engineering job, but a nasty one because of the mined abatis. Early on the morning of the 17th the 1st Battalion was loaded on trucks and left Haguenau, moving through Mertzwiller to make an end run around the Forest and attack the last block in the woods from the flank and rear. That night the Sauer River was crossed and Surbourg taken, opening the main road to Soultz.
The bridge at Gunstett was finished at midnight of the 17th. Immediately the 142nd, mounted on tanks, tank destroyers and artillery trucks, started across and headed due north for Wissembourg. At daylight the leading Combat Command of the 14th Armored followed across the one bridge and turned east toward the Rhine. As soon as they had cleared, the 141st moved into Soultz and started reconnaissance for the Lauter River, the last obstacle before the Siegfried Line. With opposition slight, the columns of the two regiments moved fast. Early the next morning the 1st Battalion, 142nd, entered Wissembourg, throwing rocks into the Lauter River there to make their own crossing. An hour before, the 2nd Battalion, 141st, had forced a crossing several miles to the east. Thus on March 19 the 36th had crossed the last barrier to Germany. By early afternoon both battalions had entered Germany and were face to face with the Siegfried Line.
Pfc. Silvestre S. Herrera, 142nd CMH holder, lost both feet from German laid mines in the Haguenau Forest engagement. As his company sought cover from enemy fire, Herrera dashed toward a German strongpoint and pinned down the enemy crew with grenades and an M-1.
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