Lt. Col. George W. Landis
880th Field Artillery Battalion
Account of the 880th Field Artillery Battalion
From the evening of 30 November 1944, when the 880th Field
Artillery Battalion left Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, until its arrival in
Southampton, the men lived in a new and strange world, a world now only a
matter of disconnected recollections. There
was the ferry that rode the low swells of New York harbor as it bore the
Battalion from Jersey City to Pier 10, Staten Island; the last look at the
majestic skyline of Manhattan in the dusk; the back-breaking weight of
equipment; the doughnuts and coffee served by Red Cross workers at the dock;
the slow loading of the luxurious transport.
A prize-of-war, the S.S. LeJeune, carried the Battalion
overseas. Once the Windhau of the
Deutsch-Afrika line, the ship had been interned in a South American harbor at
the outbreak of the war, seized as a prize, sold to the U.S., refitted as a
naval transport, and renamed for the distinguished American Marine general.
To the landlubbers of the Battalion, the language of the
sea was picturesque. “The
Smoking lamp is lit,” or “The Smoking lamp is out,” “Bulkheads,”
“Sweepers, man your brooms.” Quarters
were cramped – four-tiered berths where one lay surrounded by duffle bags,
carbines, gas masks, musette bags, steel helmets, canteens, pistol belts, and
It was a trip not without adventure – the thrilling
sight of the huge convoy, the submarine scare with the destroyer escorts
dropping depth charges, the storms that shortened the chow line and nearly
threw some men out of their bunks, the clear warm days spent in watching the
waves and hoping for sight of land. And
calisthenics where one had to be careful lest he topple into the sea. And best of all, the cheery sight of busy Southampton waters.
England, to the men of the 880th, meant the courageous
fog-bound island fighting a determined battle and bearing its wounds with
pride. It was the England of tiny
freight cars and not-too-efficient ways of doing things, courteous people
telling you how to get places that “You cawn’t miss,” of rows of houses
and neatly aligned chimney pots.
Housed in Brock Barracks at Reading, home of the famed
Royal Berkshire Regiment, the 880th grappled with the intricacies of British
plumbing and fought a losing battle with antique heating arrangements.
Every clear day, the sky over the city was filled with bombers
converging at a point above the conflux of the Kennet and Thames rivers where
the great air armadas were formed to carry on the attack against the Reich.
There was the morning the V-bomb plopped into an open
field just outside Reading, and the air-raid sirens shrieked.
At evenings, blackout screens had to be in place, and in the strictly
kept blackout, the men on pass groped their way home – and would have been
lost except for the tantalizing odors that came from the Fish and Chips shops
on either side of the barracks.
For recreation, the men visited the pubs – the
“Oatsheaf” and the “Wheatsheaf” and the “Horse and the Groom” –
where they quickly downed foul-tasting beer, but always complained about the
inadequacy of the supply. The
nights that movies weren’t shown in the gym, dances were held, and the ATS
girls proved that for all their reserve and quiet manner, they could jitterbug
with the best of them. Of course,
one will never forget “Regimental Red.”
Stately Oxford lay 20 miles to the north.
Those lucky enough to make the express could get to London in less than
an hour. Passes were plentiful. Christmas,
the band played in the mess hall, and New Year’s Eve, everyone had to be in
the barracks by 11 o’clock.
The English children impressed everyone by their manners,
and shared the meager ration by never forgetting to ask, “Any gum, chum?”
British currency never ceased to be a source of bewilderment, and nearly
proved a disastrous matter, the first night, when the boys accustomed to using
dollar bills in their craps games substituted pound notes.
A lot of serious things had to be done.
Equipment was received and training conducted because the 880th was soon
to be Europe-bound. On the
continent, the Battle of the Bulge was being fought, and the people of Reading
eagerly awaited news of the 101st Airborne that had preceded the 880th into
Brock Barracks. Service Practice
was held one miserably cold night at New Zealand Farms on the windy Salisbury
When the 69th Infantry was alerted to move across the
channel, the people of Reading seemed a little sorry to see the men go.
The last vehicle of the convoy rolled through the gate of
Brock Barracks at 0445 the bleak morning of 21 January 1945.
In the cold, brisk weather, the vehicles rolled through picturesque
English countryside, finally halting at the marshalling yard just outside of
Weymouth. The night was spent in
pyramidal tents. The convoy moved
from the marshalling yard to Portland, where pause was made on a desolate
stretch of stony beach. From a tin
shanty, American Red Cross girls served coffee and doughnuts.
Once the LSTs were loaded, they pulled away from the docks
to await what was known as the “Four o’clock” convoy in the harbor.
Despite record gales of the previous few days, the channel was unusually
smooth. Anchor was dropped at the
mouth of the Seine Estuary at 0400, 23 January, and at daylight, the convoy
proceeded into the harbor of La Havre. The
LSTs slid onto the sand, the ramps lowered, the vehicles were driven on the
beach and into the street of the battered town.
France was cold. France
was muddy. France was a bitter
struggle with the elements. Traveling
in two serials, the Battalion had followed the famed Whitehall highway in the
direction of Forges-les-Eau, after a trip made in the face of a blinding sleet
The Battalion was scattered through this little section of
Normandy. Headquarters Battery led
an idyllic existence in the Chateau La Grippe, deep in a wooded valley near
Nolleval. Service Battery had
quarters in La Haye where the Calvados wasn’t too bad, while the Firing
Batteries and Battalion Headquarters stayed in the village of La Feuille, whose
pretty lady barber tossed her saucy chin in the air when the boys whistled.
Woodcutting details scoured the forests to supplement the meager fuel
ration. Some training was
attempted, but most of the time was given over to maintenance of equipment, as
departure orders were momentarily expected.
Everyone were signs of recent battles – German ammunition dumps,
mine-sown fields and orchards, damaged vehicles along the roadsides, abandoned
enemy gun positions, Teutonic crosses marking the graves of the fallen.
This was only an assembly area. Clearing La Feuille at 0730 the morning of 2 February, the
Battalion rode via Gournay, Beauvais, Compiegne, and Soissons – all cities
indelibly associated with the First World War, all bearing scars of the Second.
Just before reaching Laon, the road branched off, and the Battalion drew
up at a location on the outskirts of the village of Marchais.
Here, on the estate of the Prince of Monaco, squad tents had been put
up. Highlight of the week in this
area was a shuttle service, maintained during a 12-hour period, to the portable
showers set up in the garrison town of Sizonne.
Returning to Sizonne were men from the 82nd Airborne, coming back from
the front, and taking their first showers in nine weeks.
It was a long time before the men of the 880th were again to revel in
such a luxury.
The stay at Marchais was devoted to putting final touches
on the Battalion’s preparation for battle, and on 9 February, march order was
given – and the men knew they were getting closer to the business at hand.
Crossing the Franco-Belgian frontier in early afternoon,
the Battalion found itself admiring the neatness of villages and the superb
hospitality of the people. Strip
maps issued to the drivers indicated Aachen as the destination, but later this
was changed, and eventually the Battalion drew up in Amel, a village midway
between Malmedy and St. Vith.
Malmedy was still a smoking ruin, and even in the
darkness, there was no escape from the horror of its complete devastation.
A sign, “This Road Under Enemy Fire,” brought home the stern reality
of the moment. The night was dark,
cold and wet, the road torn up by incessant use.
As the Battalion approached Amel, rumblings not too far distant,
indicated the front was no longer just a line on the battery orientation map.
Infantry replacements were hurried by in fast-moving trucks.
Amel itself showed the effects of the recent battle.
Houses were damaged; the roadside was thick with the wreckage of German
vehicles. After a day and night in
Amel, the Battalion left in early-morning darkness to take up position as a
C Battery’s guns fired the first of the 880th’s many
rounds against the Siegfried line. At
1050 hours, 11 February 1945, the lanyard was pulled that officially opened the
69th’s participation in the offensive against Nazi military might.
Mud – plain mud – was the keynote of those first days
in the Monschau Forest. The
mine-sown road from Amel to the forest was axle-deep.
The dugouts, which the 371st Field Artillery Battalion had prepared, had
mud floors. The gun positions were
water-soaked. One drove through
mud, one worked in mud, one walked through mud, and many a night, one slept in
Beyond the battery positions stood the serrated Dragon’s
Teeth, and in the concealed folds of the hilly Eifel were concealed enemy
pillboxes; 88s and nebelwerfers kept the infantry on the alert.
For the first few days, the principal enemy remained the
weather. When it wasn’t snowing,
the snow was thawing, or a cold rain was falling.
Dugouts had to be secured against cold and rain.
Old tarps, discarded blankets, shell cases – all became valuable.
Meals were cut down to two per day to take advantage of the short hours
of daylight. Guards were posted
around every dugout. Everyone
stood guard in the cold, black night. No
one was supposed to be abroad after seven o’clock.
And one officer, who did not heed the challenge fast enough, had a shot
fired at him as he emerged from a pine grove.
Each night, the “Bed-Check Charlie,” the Jerry recon
plane, droned overhead, occasionally varying his routine by dropping flares
near the Battery positions. Big
Corps artillery punctuated the night by barking out an angry challenge.
Division Artillery, the first few nights, kept up a steady exercise of
Every afternoon, the big British-based bombers roared
overhead en route to pound industrial targets of the Reich.
Once, a Flying Fortress blew apart overhead, and seven men slowly
parachuted to earth. One was blown
back toward the enemy lines by unfavorable winds and disappeared as black puffs
of enemy ack-ack burst all around him. Now
and then, enemy aircraft appeared, and the attached antiaircraft battery let
loose with a colorful show of power.
The first few nights, the Battalion threw a lot of
firepower against the enemy, at least to let him know who was on the line now.
But as time for the big breakthrough approached, ammunition was
carefully conserved. That didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to do.
The cannoneers were always alerted, in case a good target made its
appearance. Now and then, a
propaganda shell was thrown into the enemy lines just to help them make up
Wire crews fought an unceasing battle of their own –
when enemy shells weren’t damaging the wires.
Engineers working on the roads were tearing them in their efforts to
keep the roads serviceable. Much
of the servicing of the lines was done under fire – and very often, in the
impenetrable blackness of night in the Belgian forests.
Radiomen maintained constant vigilance, supplementing wire communication
when necessary, acting as relay when the distances between Forward Observers
and Fire Direction became too great. Survey
men marked the routes and kept an alert eye for new gun positions.
Fire Direction functioned 24 hours a day without letup.
Liaison crews remained up forward with the infantry.
Motor maintenance kept the vehicles rolling; Supply functioned, bringing
food, ammunition, and equipment through. All
of these jobs had to be done, and many of the jobs had to be done in places and
under circumstances that were none too pleasant.
You did not stop at Purple Heart Corner to admire the beautiful scenery
– that spot was too well named for that.
The Observation Post at Hollerath was where the Battalion suffered its
All this time, big things were in the making; more and
more shells were being piled up, and plans were beginning to take shape.
On either flank, the First Army was edging forward – everyone had that
“this is it” feeling.
The morning of 27 February, things did begin to happen.
At 0400, Corps Artillery started to lay down a barrage of the heavy
stuff. Then came the 69th Division
Artillery’s contribution to the cause. The
howitzers kept barking away until finally, at 0630, fire ceased as the Infantry
set out across the steep slopes to enter the totally wrecked villages on the
Eifel ridges. Buschem and
Dickensheid came into American hands. The
road from Hollerath to Hellenthal was opened.
Not very important towns, never very famous, but they were the gates to
the Rhineland. And then there was
Hill 630, where all hell seemed to break loose.
Shortly after the attack was begun, one of the liaison officers was
killed during a heavy barrage that the Germans laid down.
The Forward Observers gave the enemy no rest.
Gun positions, tanks, pillboxes, even chow lines were pounded.
Even as the Infantry pressed forward against the Eifel
defenses, new artillery positions were being prepared so that, as one line of
German defenses cracked, the howitzers could be quickly moved forward, and the
enemy given no rest. New dugouts
were scooped out of the rocky, frozen soil.
Tall pines were selected and felled to build up the sides of the dugouts
and to be used for the roofs. American
dead still lay in trenches that zigzagged through the area – a sad, mute
memorial to the men who had tried to stay the advance of the Von Rundstedt
offensive. Working here was not
without its hazards. Enemy planes
swooped dangerously close, and one dogfight in the air above sent the men
scurrying into the half-finished dugouts.
All worked furiously so on the fated day, the area would be ready.
On 1 March, the Battalion displaced to these previously
prepared positions up forward, and the battle was continued from this new
portion of the seemingly never-dry forests.
The cold intensified, the snow continued, but the thaws came just
frequently enough to keep the roads in a sodden condition.
The enemy clung tenaciously, with his last dying grip, to his superb
defensive positions, but he could not hold on indefinitely, and on 6 March, the
With the Recon parties going forward through the principal
defenses of the Siegfried Line, a new phase of combat was enjoined.
It was a day and night of complete confusion.
The Artillery just kept right on going, far ahead of the slow-moving
Infantry, taking towns and villages with the greatest of ease.
The next day, the Battalion Command Post was set up in a smoke- and
debris-filled German pillbox that only a few hours previous had been hastily
evacuated by the fleeing German staff. The
walls were of concrete, several feet thick; doors were of steel, the whole well
camouflaged, but far better than anything else were the bunks that lined the
No one knew exactly what was happening.
The howitzers had long since discontinued firing.
The enemy had fled fast and far. On
the morning of 7 March, vehicles of the battalion were still moving up. The German defenses had dissolved, and the American Armies
were racing toward the Rhine. On
the right of the Division was the 87th of the Third Army, on the left was the
28th. At 1620, the 880th moved
into a bivouac in the hills surrounding the town of Dahlem.
The forward party continued to Waldorf and Schmidtheim, far ahead of the
Infantry. People stood on the
streets with white handkerchiefs and tablecloths in their hands.
It was exciting to be in Germany at last, to enter the
enemy’s homeland, to know that the Siegfried defenses had been pierced, and
that the enemy was on the move – back. But
Germany was also cold, damp and muddy. There
was no longer the protection of a well-built dugout.
Some of the batteries housed in pillboxes; others pitched their shelter
The 3rd Army, coming up from the south, had cut off the
69th Division, so Dahlem and Schmidtheim saw training re-established –
dismounted drill, classes, a Combat Post Exchange, an occasional movie, and
general cleanup, including an outdoor shower for the more hardy. But it was also a period of impatience, for it was difficult
to sit and wait when exciting things were happening, and much still remained to
be done, for the war was not yet won.
A bridge once spanned the Rhine at Remagen – an ugly
bridge of not too great importance, but it was a bridge of destiny.
When the 880th came to Remagen, they saw only a mass of twisted girders
that had fallen into the swirling current.
They saw only the barrel-like towers, the alerted, but no longer
necessary, ack-ack batteries, and soldiers fishing in the Rhine from
half-sunken barges. The 9th
Armored Division had seized the bridge, crossed it, and established the
bridgehead east of the Rhine. The
2nd Infantry Division was in position on the west bank. These two divisions, with the 69th, were to spearhead the
First Army into Germany. As the V
Corps, they opened the way from the Rhine to Leipzig and thence to the Elbe.
Soon after the initial Rhine crossing, an advance party of
the Battalion left Dahlem to reconnoiter positions on the west bank.
This move was called off, but within a few days, the 880th was alerted
for its “watch on the Rhine” at Franken, across from Hönningen, then the
southern extremity of the bridgehead. Enroute,
the Battalion moved through some of the most scenic country of Germany, by
castle ruins and ancient villages now flying the white flag of surrender.
Two days in Franken and the enemy had been forced out of range of the
Battalion’s guns, and a new order shifted the 69th Division Artillery to
support of the 8th Infantry Division.
The way led through the picturesque valley of the Ahr with
its terraced vineyards rising high on the mountainsides and castles perched on
inaccessible crags. All along the
way, the people recognized their defeat by raising white flags.
In the dusk, the battered cities of the north German plain were barely
visible. Useless trenches yet
guarded the approaches of Cologne. At
Rondorf, the Battalion tasted luxury. The
Command Post was established in a large, richly furnished manor house, while
the firing batteries were quartered in comfortable homes on the village
outskirts. Above the rubble of
Cologne rose the great bulk and graceful spires of its ancient cathedral, and
beyond, the towers of the demolished Hohenzollern Bridge.
Little resistance came from the east bank of the Rhine.
The enemy seemed to be disintegrating.
Here, for the first time, the Battalion was called upon to do
large-scale civil affairs work. At
noon on 28 March, just as the Battalion was about to pass to the control of the
86th Division, march order was given, and the Division Artillery prepared to
return to its parent organization.
Spring was finally in the air as the Battalion left
Rondorf. The women and children
and old men were working in the field, patiently filling the trenches that had
been so unavailing. Up the valley
of fable and legend, the Rhine, the Battalion rolled – to the university city
of Bonn, which only a few days before had been overwhelmed by the First Army in
a lightning-like move, past the ruined castles of the Robber Barons, past the
recently created ruins of once prosperous and gay cities, past the rock where
the legendary Lorelei lured passing sailors, past barges half-submerged in the
waters. White flags flew from
every house that had escaped ruin, and the roads swarmed with liberated
Displaced Persons rushing homeward.
At Bad Godesberg, where once Hitler himself had come to
dream and plan, the river was reached. At
1650, the convoy crossed Bridge 36, a pontoon built in 16 hours by U.S. Army
engineers in collaboration with the Navy. On to Remagen, where all was quiet now. The bridge was no more, its place taken by a pontoon.
Sharply rising from the river’s edge, the great basalt cliff and the
memorial to the men who died when the bridge finally crashed into the water.
Passing Remagen, one felt the silent presence of an epochal event –
the romantic aura of history so recently made.
Headed westward across the Rhine, at Remagen, were
truckloads of German prisoners, waved to sadly by tearful women who gathered to
watch them pass.
Not one building along the riverbank remained unscarred;
not a city or village that had escaped the fury of the American advance.
Every road showed shell damage, every railroad track was broken; every
bridge across the Rhine had been blown up by the retreating enemy.
Silent men and women watched the Battalion roll on.
Liberated prisoners of war shouted and cheered the passing convoy.
Children were already asking for gum and chocolate.
On what walls remained standing, military government was already pasting
its proclamations to the German people. For
the first time in over a century, the Rhineland witnessed the entry of a
Past the conflux of the Moselle and the Rhine at recently
occupied Koblenz. Past the
massive, seemingly impregnable fortification of Ehrenbreitstein, which the
Infantry of the 69th Division had just overcome.
Until 1923, the American flag had flown over Fort Ehrenbreitstein, the
last piece of German soil to remain in American hands after the First World
War. Then to Niederlahnstein,
where only a few days before, the First and Third U.S. Armies had linked on the
east bank of the Rhine for their final push into Germany. High into rugged hills.
Halt was finally called in the grounds of the
once-handsome Gneisenau Kaserne, home of the 80th German Infantry Regiment, on
a great prominence overlooking the mystical waters of the Rhine.
Recent air-raids and heavy artillery bombardment had smashed all the
windows of the Kaserne and damaged the roofs, but it was still able to offer
comfort to the tired men of the 880th, still able to furnish an infinite
variety of souvenirs. The Germans, in their hasty retreat, had left everything
behind – fancy uniforms, Mausers, Lugers, quantities of Nazi insignia, dress
daggers, Post Exchange supplies, and last, but certainly not least, huge stocks
of Moselle and Rhenish wines. Everyone
enjoyed the Kaserne.
Frightened German soldiers were flushed from the recesses
of the basement. An American
soldier, sole survivor of a 3rd Army patrol, was found in a weakened condition
on the Rhine bank, having concealed himself by hiding by day in the waters of
the river. His was a tale of
In the search of the Kaserne, band instruments were
brought to light. Artillerymen
lugged bull fiddles, pounded drums, and flew on fifes.
Everyone had plenty of trophies to send home. No wonder the Army Post Office became clogged and the mail
clerks’ disposition suffered.
From the Kaserne, the men could look down on the battered
remnants of Koblenz, at the twisted girders of the bridges that once had
spanned the river, and have the satisfaction of knowing the Rhine was to their
Three days at Kaserne, and the Battalion was alerted to
move to the Division assembly area in the vicinity of Limburg.
The 880th drew the village of Ahlbach in the province of
Hesse-Nassau for this new Division rendezvous.
Quarters were obtained with the more-than-willing assistance of the
Burgermeister, avowedly a member of the Nazi party, but now repentant.
Easter Sunday was impressively observed in the old village church, and
the jovial Catholic priest played the organ at the Protestant service,
symbolizing the new spirit that was abroad in the country.
A cherubic-faced German lad pumped the bellows of the wheezy organ and
cast friendly, half-shy glances at the Yankee soldiers who sang strange hymns.
For this precious moment, war and ancient enmities were forgotten in the
observance of a holiday of all Christendom.
This was Easter, the time for mankind’s rejoicing in the promise of a
new world dedicated to the principles of justice and peace.
Life at Ahlbach was quiet, and some of the more optimistic
souls decided the war had really ended, that the 880th’s combat mission was
already completed. A few
frightened prisoners were rounded up on tips furnished by foreign workers, but
the main body of the enemy was far out of reach of the Battalion guns.
And it hardly seemed likely he would ever again come within their range.
Local civil affairs came under Battalion control, and the villagers
swarmed the Command Post with a variety of petitions, as though they too
thought the war had ceased. Their
worries concerned passes to the next Landkreis, and the need of taking a cow to
the neighboring village where it could be slaughtered.
But the war hadn’t ended, and the 880th still had a
mission to perform. The Battalion
was to be called upon to play an important and exciting role in the final
onslaught against the crumbling Nazi regime.
The evening of 2 April, the Battalion cleared the area and made one of
the most strenuous marches of the war, as it helped spring the trap on the Ruhr
pocket. One hundred eleven miles
were traversed in complete blackout along strange and damaged roads.
The night was miserable, rain making the darkness even more
impenetrable. The highway was
obscured, and the drivers had to grope their way, lest they land in the ditch.
Dawn found the convoy entering Riede, another remote Hessian village. Here, enemy planes dove out of the clouds, and the attached
ack-ack batteries opened fire as the marauders strafed engineers working on a
After a day’s pause at Riede, the Battalion moved on to
Balhorn, which had been designated the new divisional assembly area.
Balhorn was astir with activity, all divisional units entering the town,
all seeking billets. Increasing
numbers of Displaced Persons were appearing, in need of food and begging
transportation home. Every race
and nationality seemed to be represented among the liberated workers.
Early on the morning of 5 April, the movement continued, heading
ostensibly for Dürenberg, which was soon passed, and the Battalion continued
on toward Kassel.
The now-famous “rat race” across Germany was getting
in high gear. Three dust-covered,
alert divisions in three long columns quickly moved down what was once the main
street of Kassel toward the sole remaining bridge across the River Fulda.
Kassel, which had surrendered the previous afternoon, had been reduced
to a vast, ugly ruin. Its once-beautiful buildings stood as burnt-out shells.
Rubble and debris littered the streets.
Sixty thousand of its citizens had perished in a single disastrous raid
when the air-raid protective facilities had not functioned.
Tanks took up positions near the bridge.
Infantrymen poked around for any pockets of resistance.
It was not a triumphant entrance, but a businesslike occupation of a
Recon parties located good gun positions, and the 880th
took over the few remaining buildings of the suburban settlement of
Sandershausen, on the outskirts of Kassel.
If the expected German counterattack materialized, these houses too
might become only part of the vast acreage of rubble.
The Battalion closed its new area at 1510.
At 1525, B Battery was receiving counter-battery fire, and at 1551, C
Battery reported two rounds had fallen dangerously close to the guns.
Beyond the hills to the east of the city, the Germans had
dug themselves in. The Infantry
was having the very devil of a time digging them out. The Liaison plane was downed by small-arms fire, so that the
pilot and his observer were forced to walk back to the Command Post.
To give maximum support to the combat team, the Battalion was tied in
with Cannon Company of the 272nd, as well as a battalion of mediums, the 955th
Field Artillery Battalion, which had been one of the first American units into
Paris. All night long, the enemy
positions were pounded in order to dislodge the stubborn defenders.
The next morning, as the guns of the Cannon Company fired a mission, a
barrage of 88s hit the roofs of not-too-distant buildings.
The men not busy at the moment were driven into the safety of nearby
basements. It seemed that what of
Kassel the Allies had left untouched, the Wehrmacht was intent on destroying.
But the German will to fight was lagging, and soon enough,
the way had been cleared for further advance.
In contemplation of a rapid trip across Germany, plans were made to keep
the Battalion firing and moving. And
what a rapid trip it turned out to be, once the stubborn resistance of the next
day or two had been overcome – a few hours in one place, an evening in
another. Each morning, the men
would mount their vehicles and ride forward until stopped by darkness or a
feeble show of enemy resistance. In
preparation for this phase of the battle, the Battalion was reorganized.
The firing batteries were to work as two teams, with a part of
headquarters personnel displacing with one team, and the remainder going up
forward with the other. A third
team consisted of the remaining rear elements.
Such an arrangement was designed to facilitate movement, for this was
becoming a campaign of the roads.
On the afternoon of 6 April, the forward elements of the
Battalion had moved eastward from Sandershausen to the village of Dalheim.
Immediately upon its arrival, the Germans poured on 88s.
One vehicle was badly damaged by shrapnel, one man wounded, and the
Command Post roof was discovered to be blazing merrily away.
While the Fire Direction Controller guided the firing on the enemy in
the area of Klein Almerode, the owner of the Gasthof, which was being used as a
Command Post, patiently carried pail after pail of water to throw on his
blazing roof. By morning, he was
discouraged enough to call in the villagers to help themselves to his food
supply. As the Battalion awaited
orders to move forward, the village street became crowded with the townspeople
rushing back and forth to salvage the food.
The enemy’s positions beyond Dalheim were strong, but
still not strong enough. Several
hundred men had dug themselves in well; their trenches guarded all roads.
Tiger tanks and 88s gave them reassuring support, for a little while.
From Sandershausen, the guns of the 955th Field Artillery Battalion were
moved forward, and they sent their heavy shells crashing into the enemy
positions. Neither counter-battery
fire nor a burning Command Post roof had deterred the 880th from its intention
of clearing the road for the Infantry advance.
While the Battalion remained in Dalheim, the 272nd
Infantry Regiment, with the Tank Destroyers, took the next town of Klein
Almerode. Fighting continued in
the village until noon. When the
forward elements of the Battalion arrived, considerable pertinent information
concerning the disposition of enemy troops was removed from the body of the
commandant of the German combat team that had held the town.
It had been well defended, and on the side of the road that led through
the woods into the town, the Battalion passed still-burning Tiger tanks,
knocked out that morning by the Tank Destroyers.
Word that the enemy was preparing to counter-attack added to the
confusion of the scene, and one of the firing batteries dropped the trails of
its guns and prepared for direct fire down the main street through the town.
After fighting their way through the Infantry jeeps and ambulances, the
batteries were able to go into position in nearby fields.
Because of counter-battery fire, Fire Direction rushed to the nearest
basement to set up, and it found itself sharing quarters with a headless
Radio reports had the 69th Division spearheading the First
Army drive to the Werra River. The
272nd Combat Team was spearheading the 69th.
And there were some rather uneasy moments when the forward parties of
the 880th found themselves right out in front of everything.
The Werra, while not very wide, remained an important
objective. The 9th Armored
Division was waiting to the rear of the 69th to cross the river at Witzenhausen,
and spearhead the drive to Leipzig.
Forward elements and later the entire Battalion pushed on
to Witzenhausen the next day and arrived at a very tense moment.
The enemy was still dropping shells in the town from across the river in
an attempt to prevent the establishment of a bridgehead.
Headquarters battery again found itself reveling in luxury, in a mansion
that had belonged to a Nazi cigar manufacturer.
The walls had Velasquez and Titian paintings, the plumbing actually
worked, the beds were so very soft, and the cellar was exceedingly well
stocked. Unfortunately, this was
no time to tarry. Bridgehead had been established, and the 9th Armored shot
ahead with the 2nd and 69th Divisions close behind.
The forward elements of the Division were moving ahead
with great rapidity, and at the next stop, Hohengandern, little firing was
done. Early in the evening that
same day, the Battalion moved forward once more to Uder. The target was Heiligenstadt, but shortly before the first
round was fired, the Germans declared it an open city and surrendered, since
there were over 4,000 wounded in the hospitals there.
By this time, war seemed to have changed into a battle
between the First and Third Armies to see which would get to Berlin first.
In Uder, the Third Army forced the 6th Armored Division in front of the
69th. Again, forward elements
moved so rapidly that firing was impossible.
No longer able to keep up the rapid pace, the doughboys climbed aboard
the artillery prime movers and rode forward in style.
From Uder, the Battalion went on to Grossgrabe, where a sniper winged
two of Charlie Battery’s boys.
With doughboys riding tanks and tank destroyers, the
Division moved through Ostramondra. Able
Battery’s men took off after an SS major. C Battery found a Jerry tank with motor still running and its
radio still in the net. Headquarters
moved into the Von Krosigk Shloss. The
bridge across the picturesque but smelly moat came in handy when enemy planes
appeared at chow-time and everyone sought cover from the shrapnel.
In the castle library was a framed text of “Jefferson’s Practical
Again forward. In
the afternoon, the Battalion went into rendezvous in a field outside a small
village. March order given at
1600; a fire mission transmitted at 1605.
C Battery immediately returned to firing position, while Able and Baker
Batteries quickly moved another 5,000 yards up the road.
It was a tense five minutes. The
doughboys who were riding the artillery trucks packed shells for the gun crews.
They mixed up the ammunition a little, but enjoyed the whole show
immensely. And they had generous
praise for the speed and precision of the artillery routine.
Target was a roadblock that was being a bit troublesome.
Not only was the roadblock broken, but also a German General Major, who
had organized this token defense, was taken prisoner by the Battalion’s
forward party. A bit on the arrogant side, he finally admitted the artillery
not only had quickly found its mark, but also had raised havoc with his men’s
Night was passed on the western outskirts of Naumberg, and
the next morning, the vehicles rolled on.
In Naumberg, civilians were looting the Wehrmacht warehouses, and the
streets were filled with people rolling hoops of cheese and barrels of butter,
and quarreling over the loot. Out
from Naumberg, the roads were jammed with Americans. The biggest disputes were not between the Germans and the
Americans, but the First and Third American Armies over road priorities.
At 1525, 13 April, the Air Observation Post reported that
88s were shooting at the liaison planes, the bursts so close the observer could
smell the smoke. “A” Battery
made a crash occupation, and in ten minutes was laying shells on the enemy
ack-ack. The Jerries got the
general idea and gave up quick. At
1600, the Battalion entered Jaucha.
Jaucha was a nice, quiet little town, with some very
pretty, new homes that made very nice quarters, surrounded by the large
open-pit coal mines that were in turn surrounded by flak installations.
But things never stopped happening.
The wire crews, in an attempt to use the civilian lines, discovered that
by merely asking the operators, they could find out which neighboring towns
were still in German hands, and which had already been occupied by the
Americans. Enemy planes paid the
Battalion a few inhospitable visits but did little damage, except to those men
who went into shelters a little too fast.
Prisoners were being brought in in ever-increasing numbers, and although
a few thought that they could get through Baker Battery’s position during the
night, they too ended up in with the rest.
On 14 April, a coordinated attack was made on 88 positions
near Zeitz, and it was a bloody show – for the enemy. They lost many men in killed and wounded, and added 476 to
the ever-growing prisoner bag, which was already proving an embarrassment to
the Division. Thirty-six guns were
overrun, four ammunition dumps blown up, and a great threat removed from the
Encirclement of the great German city of Leipzig began on
16 April. The task of taking the
city became the mission of the V Corps. The
2nd Infantry was to attack from the west.
The 9th Armored Division was to spearhead a drive south, and thence
around to the east, with the 69th following and taking up positions on the
further outskirts of the city.
First stop was made at dusk in the suburb of Pommsen.
Battalion had moved 37 miles that day.
The town was in a state of complete confusion.
Tanks, infantry, artillery, all milled around in eerie darkness.
Sleep was a most precious commodity, hard to get that night.
A few bedded down in the fields, some in and on vehicles.
The rumor of large concentrations of SS troops in the woods just outside
of town kept everyone on the alert. Such
was the preliminary of the great battle.
Early the next morning, the Battalion moved to Zweenfurth,
where the guns were trained toward the east.
There was no infantry between the artillery and what Germans remained on
the flank. Later in the day, they
were turned on Leipzig, eight miles away.
One mission was fired on the city; one protecting machine-gun
emplacement was shelled. It was
another day of fantastic happenings. Prisoners
were being captured in great numbers. One
group of men walked into a town and captured 26 prisoners in a machine-gun
emplacement. Still other prisoners
were captured by one of the liaison pilots who flew very low, and by dropping
several hand grenades from his plane, forced them to surrender.
Displaced Persons began to swarm in from their newly liberated prison
camps, and besieged the Command Post for aid.
One of the sections fancied itself quartered in a doll house, until the
discovery was made that the apartment had belonged to a midget – they slept
on miniature beds, ate off miniature tables, and washed their dishes in a sink
that reached to the knees.
As the attack on Leipzig progressed, the Battalion moved
nearer to the city, in a village called Sommerfeld. Here, the DPs were in rebellion, plundering the rich
storehouses that were in the vicinity. Everyone
was walking down the street with a sack of flour.
They were threatening to hang the inspector of the city farm.
In Leipzig, the infantry quickly moved up the streets to
their objectives. The only serious
opposition at that time was sniper fire, and not much of that.
Back in Sommerfeld, the DPs who at one time worked for the owners of the
farm now in use as Battalion Command Post were given a hog to butcher in order
to keep them from tearing the place up. From
the neighboring suburb of Tekla came the few men who had escaped the massacre
at the notorious concentration camp there.
The tale they told gave everyone a moment for sober reflection, and the
Battalion learned first-hand that the reports of Nazi cruelty were not mere
A few miles away, the infantry regiments were closing in
on the last remaining pockets of resistance in the city. A Forward Observer party from the Battalion boldly took the
main railroad station, which had been reported as one of the principal centers
of resistance. Over 150 prisoners,
plus a large quantity of arms, were taken from the building by the four
During the initial stage of fighting in the city, a relay
station was sent to Regiment to facilitate Artillery-Infantry communications.
The machine-gun crew, dispatched to guard the station, were called upon
to help some doughboys and, in the skirmish, were taken prisoner.
As a result, they witnessed the last stand of the Leipzig Volksturm in
the Battle of Nations monument. This
massive structure, commemorating the defeat of Napoleon in 1813 on this very
spot, has a special significance to the Germans. In the Battle of Nations, as this encounter was termed, had
been born the German national spirit. Resistance
in the monument was symbolic and therefore especially bitter.
The German soldiers, anxious to be done with the war,
treated the 880th men with great consideration, fully aware that within a day
or two, their position would be reversed.
While heavy artillery was poured on the monument in effort to reduce it,
the Americans were fed, shown the priceless books stored in the crypt, and told
the story of that earlier battle of Leipzig.
Finally, the Germans could no longer stand the savage
onslaught and, convinced of the futility of their stand, they agreed to
surrender. One man of the 880th
had fallen on the historic Napoleonic battlefield.
Four more witnessed the final capitulation of Germany’s fifth largest
city – Leipzig, the cultural center of Germany and the site of its Supreme
Court, had come into American hands.
With Leipzig in American hands, the 880th moved on to the
suburb of Plaussig, a farming village with manure piles, vengeful Displaced
Persons, complaining Germans. The
Battalion was to rest up and re-equip, but within a few hours after arrival, a
stripped-down Battalion was racing for the region of Eilenburg, on the Mulde,
where American troops had been fired upon after the city had raised a white
flag of surrender. This punitive
expedition poured 12,000 rounds of artillery ammunition into the town, the
880th contributing a large share, and Eilenburg was reduced to a mass of
At Plaussig, there was more excitement.
Every Division from the north of Germany to Czechoslovakia was alerted
for a possible link-up with the Russian armies moving from the east.
The 69th was the closest, only 25 miles separating it from the
westernmost elements of the rapidly moving Red forces.
Once the Americans had forced their way across the Mulde at Eilenburg,
they were able to proceed in the direction of the Elbe.
For several days, everyone lived in an atmosphere of tension and
expectation, lest some other division plunge ahead to effect a link-up.
Finally, on 25 April, a patrol of the 273rd Infantry Regiment made the
epochal crossing of the Elbe River at Torgau, and the two great allies stood
The men of the Battalion received the news several days
before it became official, and they eagerly awaited the broadcasts that would
so dramatically disclose the Division’s whereabouts. The accrued publicity more than made up for the long period
of time that the 69th had been kept in the news blackout.
For several days, the excitement occasioned by the link-up
continued. High-ranking American
officers drove over to Torgau to drink toasts in vodka and to consume
quantities of caviar, and Russian officers returned the visits and drank
quantities of scotch. The
commanding general of the Division and the commanding general of the 69th
Division Artillery both received Russian decorations.
The 69th GIs and the Red Army men got along famously,
although within a few days, the demarcation line was strictly adhered to, and
soldiers of one army did not enter the zone of the other.
Within a week, the 880th had participated in two world-shaking events:
the fall of Leipzig and the meeting with the Russians.
For the First Army, the war in Europe had ended.
The Battalion moved to the southeast of Leipzig to Otterwisch, to take
up occasional duties, since only isolated pockets of German resistance
remained, and none in the First Army area.
Here, the Battalion came under control of the VII Corps.
Battlefield commissions were conferred on three men of the Battalion at
ceremonies attended by General Maraist.
V-E Day came while the Battalion was in Otterwisch.
However wild the scenes of rejoicing in New York, Paris, or London, the
celebration in this Saxon village was extremely quiet.
But there was a difference between war and peace – the lights came on
again. After months in blackout, it was reassuring to see headlights
glowing as a vehicle sped through the darkness, or to have lights pouring from
uncovered windows, and no longer did the feeblest glow cause anxiety.
The newest indoor and outdoor sport became the counting of
points, and announcement of the critical score was eagerly awaited.
A few had 85; the rest had to sweat out the duration and probably six
Officially an occupational battalion, at least for the
present, the 880th moved to Merseburg and Schkopau, to the west of Leipzig.
Once the most heavily defended area, in Germany, Merseburg showed the
effects of the continuous air pounding. To
the south was the great oil refinery of Leuna, and to the north was the famous
synthetic rubber-producing plant, the Bunawerke.
Nearby the Battalion area was the airfield that seemed to have every
startling aircraft development in its ruined hangars: piggy-back planes, new
models of jet-propelled. The
Command Post was located in the Albrecht Dürer Schule and the Oberlyzeum für
Mädchen. All the batteries,
except for Charlie, which had quarters in Schkopau, were in the immediate
Three Displaced Persons camps, with about 10,000 DPs, were
under Battalion control: Camps 52,
46 Weisenfelsstrasse, and Camp de Schkopau.
Thanks to the DP damps, life in Merseburg could never become dull.
There was the night the DPs fired an 88 point-black at a German home,
and the time an international feud resulted in someone squeezing 16 tubes of
shaving cream in the soup at Camp 52, and the Italian girls who started off in
a political argument and ended in a strip-tease.
With 22 nations to keep on peaceful relations, the Battalion learned a
little of the problems facing the United Nations Conference then in session.
Sending the Displaced Persons home resulted in many
poignant scenes. They carried all
their loot with them – newly acquired clothing, sacks of coal, furniture.
They decorated the railroad cars with branches and blossoms and
home-made red flags, and with pictures of Lenin and Stalin.
At Merseburg came the sad word that the Battalion was to
be broken up. After two years of
constant association, the men were to be shifted about – a few home, large
numbers to the 29th Division in the region of the Bremen enclave.
The rest were to remain with the Battalion a while longer and then be
dispersed still further – more to the 29th, others to the 3rd Division.
With the Russians slated to occupy the Merseburg area, the
880th withdrew to the province of Hesse, around Gilferhausen and Iba.
Here, the final arrangements were made to return the 880th to the States
for deactivation. Rounds completed. Mission