The First Across The Rhine!
June 4, 2017 joedemadio 4 Comments
The 5th Infantry Division was the first division to cross the Rhine River. On the night of March 22nd 1945, they crossed the river and within 24 hours the whole division was across. They managed to establish a six-mile deep bridgehead and capture 19.000 demoralized German troops. Their crossing was also the first crossing ever since Napoleon Bonaparte’s army set foot on the other side. The 1st Airborne Division was across the Rhine during Operation Market Garden, but they got there by a paradrop. They didn’t manage to establish a bridgehead succesfully.
Edgar Valderrama from C Company of the 11th regiment of the 5th Infantry Division took part in the crossing. The 11th Regiment crossed the river at 22:45 between Nierstein and Oppenheim under fire, but successfully established a bridgehead without much opposition the next day. Their first objective was the town of Geinsheim which they captured early on the 23rd of March. Objective two, the town of Wallerstädten was entered by the 1st battalion at 12:50 and was taken with little resistance.
When Co. C, 11th Infantry, 5th Division reached the Rhine, some strange rumors were circulating among us. The only one I remember hearing was that a woman had been found hanging by the neck in her room.
The famous Remagen crossing, in which the Wehrmacht failed to destroy the bridge and the U.S. Army was able to cross over it, was some miles to the north of us. Our crossing occurred within a day or two of that one, in little hand-paddle powered assault boats in the middle of the night. Our bridge had been destroyed.
By the time my boat reached the enemy held side, our first sergeant, a young hillbilly from Tennessee, was standing on the levee with a little notebook in one hand and a flashlight in the other, taking roll call. I could see the machine gun tracer bullets flying over his head and shoulders. The heavy artillery fire made me nervous enough to jump ship a few yards before we reached the shore. I didn’t want to be branded a coward, so instead of dashing for cover, I “heroically” yanked the boat the last few feet to shore, and then dashed for cover! The sergeant assembled the whole company and we advanced into the first town without opposition.
We occupied a two-story house, and as there were no duties for me to do, I lay down comfortably in a second floor bed room on a thick feather mattress, covered by a feather comforter. I even took my boots off. (I did not have the warrior mentality, as you can surmise) My rest was rudely interrupted by some horrible screeches howling past my window. These were the “Screaming Mimis,” German rockets specifically designed to terrorize the unwary with their unearthly sound and loud, but relatively harmless explosions. The counter attack had begun. I grabbed my boots and ran in the direction of the cellar, where I should have been all along.
We had troops dug in past the town, and several tank destroyers from the magnificent 4th Armored Division were in place expecting just such a contingency. A column of about 10 German tanks was advancing down the road toward us. The officers were shouting to the infantry troops from the tank turrets and the men were staggering forward drunk with schnapps. (This was near the end of the war and most of the first class German troops had been used up.) Our men had orders not to fire, because we wanted the tanks to come closer so they could be picked off by the tank destroyers. When the Germans started to walk over our advanced positions, some of the men panicked and started running toward the town. They reached “our” house just as I was going past the front door on the way to the cellar. I heard the order to shoot them and saw it carried out. (I doubt this was ever in the news.) A few men fell and the rest stopped and turned back toward the enemy. If they hadn’t been stopped, it could have turned into a rout, and we would have all been drowning like rats in the Rhine. As it was, when the German tanks were close enough, the tank destroyers opened fire on the first and last one. The procedure I was told about was to make a hole in the armor with a steel shell, followed by a high explosive shell and lastly a phosphorous bomb to kill everyone. The tanks started to turn back, realizing it was a trap. The counterattack was stopped, and about six or seven tanks -were destroyed.
In the morning I looked at the tanks that had been destroyed. The officers I had heard yelling orders in the night were still there, leaning out of the turrets, but they had been transformed into charred black things by the phosphorous shells.
Our only casualties were the GI’s we stopped dead in their tracks. I was not privy to the number, but it seemed like five or six at the most. A small price to pay for stopping a rout, though I doubt their mothers and wives would feel the same.
Interestingly the 5th Infantry Division’s official history talks about a counterattack after the 1st battalion of the 11th regiment entered objective number two, the town of Wallerstädten. They mention Valderrama’s company, C Company, but explain the involvement of Company A which gives and extra dimension to the story. I do not say Valderrama was talking about the town of Wallerstädten. The story has quite some similarities, but counterattacks happen a lot. To let everything speak for itself I’d like to insert another blockquote:
Meantime Company C had reduced resistance of the pocket west of town. As Company A outposted the town a force of 75 enemy infantrymen, supported by a “Tiger” tank and one self-propelled gun, launched a counterattack. Staff Sgt Marvin B. Summons, a machine gun section sergeant of Company A, immediately set up two machine guns in forward positions and instructed the gunners to withhold their fire until enemy troops came within 75 yards of the position. He then ran down a street through an enemy mortar barrage and a hail of machine gun bullets to summon supporting tank destroyers. The enemy tank and self-propelled gun stopped approximately 300 yards from the company’s position to render support to their attacking infantry. Staff Sergeant Simmons pointed out the tank and self-propelled gun and arranged a coordinated fire plan with the tank destroyer crew. When attacking enemy troops advanced to within 75 yards of the machine gun position, he gave the signal and his machine guns opened fire simultaneously. The enemy self-propelled gun was knocked out and the tank damaged by tank destroyer fire, while Staff Sergeant Simmon’s machine guns killed at least 10 and wounded no less than 30 of the attacking force. The counter attack smashes, the companies occupied positions in Wallerstädten for the night.
 U.S. Army 5th Infantry Division, History of the 5th Infantry Division (1945) 195-202.
 U.S. Army 5th Infantry Division, History of the 5th Infantry Division (1945) 202.