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Welcome to the official site of the 35th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II

1945 March 24 - April 12

It is March 26, 1945 and the entire division, infantry, artillery, engineers, with our attached tank, tank destroyer, and anti-aircraft battalions, have now crossed the Rhine River and moved some six miles into the front lines. Four miles behind us is the little town of Dinslaken where the division C.P. is now located. It is just two miles from the floating bridge at Rheinberg. The 134th infantry, after one day of attack while attached to the 79th Division, has been relieved and returned to the 35th Division control.

We look out to the South and southeast slightly rolling wooded terrain, dotted with small villages and in the distance high smokestacks which mark the locations of factories and iron and steel mills, and the North edge of the Pittsburgh-like industrial heart of Germany known as the Ruhr. Hidden to our front, guarding strategic points, roadblocks, fortified buildings, factories, slag piles, mines, railroad lines, are two German Divisions, REM’s 180th Division to our right, and the Hamburg Division to our left. Scattered out there are numerous air defense and Luftwaffe units equipped with flak guns, 88's and small groups of tanks. A few miles beyond that and parallel to the Autobahn are two large canals, the Emscher and the Rheinherne Canals which provide excellent defense positions for the Germans. Eleven miles to the East and one of our objectives is the large city, Recklinhousen. Four miles to our right and southwest of us is the City of Essen, known for its steel production.

Music appreciation

We were now part of the U.S. XVI Corps of the Ninth Army. Along with the 79th Division to our right, and the 8th Armored Division and the 30th Infantry Division on our left. The grand strategy of the Allies was for the encirclement of the Ruhr and capture of 300,000 German defenders, with the first U.S. Army under Gen. Bradley’s control to attack from the South, and the Ninth Army to attack from the North, surrounding the Ruhr and cutting off any hope of German escape to the East. Ninth Army opened a new major offensive next morning, March 27th, at 6:00 a.m. Thus began another major battle for the 35th Division. It would not yet be the last! But this one was different.

Our high command was concerned that the Germans might still launch a surprise counter-offensive out of the Ruhr Valley, similar to that launched in the Ardennes last December 26th, and so there was an element of caution in our attack, as we watched for such a maneuver to develop. Small ones did occur, but nothing really big. The result however was to reduce our casualties substantially from that of previous offensive. Our continuous attacks might be described more as deliberate and careful aggressiveness. Heavy artillery and tank and T.D. direct fire helped to locate and reduce German strong points. Frontal assaults were used only when absolutely necessary and most infantry and tank maneuvers were by infiltration, and good fire support reducing casualties to a minimum.

Moving through the wooded areas, we reached and crossed the Autobahn, overran the Town of Gladbech, and moved block by block against machine gun nests, tank and flak gun positions through Rentford, where we found 6,500 civilians hiding deep in a coal mine. We took the towns of Buer, Ekjen and by March 30th we had taken and cleared Bottrop, a pre-war city of 89,000, with its huge Rheinbaden factory. Ahead, smoke pouring from chimney stacks indicated that some German factories were still operating as usual, some only a few blocks behind the German front lines. Many factories were well dug in below the ground level and untouched by aerial bombing!

In crossing the Autobahn, the 320th Infantry had help from a heavy smoke screen laid down by the 60th Engineers who then brought up equipment to clear huge concrete slabs off the pavement. Continuing on, the regiment crossed the Emscher Canal, fought through a large factory area, bitterly defended by Jerry, cleared the famous Prosper Coal Mine, and waged a hard fight over a huge, fortified slag pile, taking Emscher, Karn Ap, and Horst, and liberated over 8,000 German and foreign workers who had been kept underground by armed guards in mine shafts and buildings.

Also keeping their casualties low, the 137th Infantry, eliminating snipers and machine gun nests and direct fire gun crews, by April 1st had taken and cleared Recklinghausen Sud, and with the 320th Infantry reached the North Bank of the Rhein-Herne Canal, our primary objective.

These two regiments secured the North side of the canal and found the Germans solidly defending the South side. Artillery and mortar duels kept both sides from freely moving in the streets in the daytime and snipers made us all careful against incoming fire from positions one-half mile away and further. Night patrolling was attempted across the canal but burning slag piles made it difficult for patrols to avoid detection by the enemy. German mortars were indiscriminatingly used as fire was directed against German civilians to the surprise of G.I.’s who could not comprehend German soldiers killing their own people.

With direct hits!

The 134th Infantry cleared Hochlar, Recklinhausen, Herten and Suderwick. Targets were so close at times that our division artillery were able to lob shells on to the Germans using charge No. 1. The regular Wehrmacht troops were using Volksturm (civilians like our militia) to help fill their ranks and defend many positions, but resistance still continued heavy. Our G.I.’s found it hard to understand why so many Germans would fight so tenaciously when it seemed to us so obvious that they had no chance to win. Some German prisoners still believed Hitler’s promises of new weapons which Germany was about to unleash on the Allies. Years of Nazi dominance with its propaganda still convinced the German people of their invincibility. The canals and the Ruhr River seemed to be the main line of resistance for the Germans and here came some of the toughest fights. Meanwhile the noose fastened tighter on the enemy. The U.S. 75th Division came up on our left and to its left came the 95th Division as the 35th Division closed to the Rhein-Herne Canal, then held fast while maintaining active patrols into the German lines.

On April 4th, 1945, the Ninth Army, commanded by our own Gen. Simpson, was officially relieved from Gen. Montgomery’s 21st Army group and returned to the command of U.S. Gen. Bradley and his 12th Army group. The area behind us and over to the Rhine River was assigned to the newly formed 15th U.S. Army which took over these rear echelon areas. Rapidly behind the front lines, military government officers were moving into captured towns and villages, establishing new civil administrations and beginning the daunting task of taking care of thousands of freed P.O.W.’s from the Allied countries who had been released by the rapidly advancing Allied Armies, including slave workers, and displaced civilians of all nationalities, many of whom were sick, wounded, emaciated and short of food and medicines of all kinds. American soldiers were often besieged by these persons and especially little children with whom they frequently shared their rations including candy.

On April 4th, the Ninth U.S. Army, now under Gen. Bradley, launched a new attack eastward and also southward into the Ruhr ever deeper, inserting a second Corps near us. The 75th Division was part of that attack, and needing reinforcement, was given our 320th Infantry to assist in its assault eastward through Holthausen and into the outskirts of Dortmund.

On April 9th, the remainder of the 35th Division was ordered to cross the Rhein-Herne Canal and attack two miles across the German main line of resistance into the City of Gelsenkirchen, a pre-war city of 300,000. Our 60th Engineers were able to convert a railway bridge over the Emscher Canal to handle vehicular traffic and also built two treadway bridges over the Rhein-Herne Canal to support the new offensive. On April 10th, the 134th and 137th Infantry Regiments attacking southward reached the North bend of the Ruhr River where the first U.S. Army was to link up with the Ninth Army, thus effectively cutting the Ruhr defenses in half. The 320th Infantry Regiment, still with the 75th Division, linked up with the 95th U.S. Division which was driving down from the northeast near Lunen. By the 11th of April, 1945, the Ruhr pocket had been reduced over one-half of its original size as the twelve U.S. Army Divisions from both of the Ninth and First Armies tightened the noose around the Germans ever tighter. Three days later the pocket was further reduced to one tenth of its original 5,500 square miles leaving just two small defended pockets each of these completely surrounded by American troops.

On April 12, 1945, the 35th Division began extricating itself from the Ruhr, as it was once again needed to bolster the new American front which was being aimed at the Elbe River and the Berlin sector forty miles East of the Elbe. Advance American units such as the 83rd Division were part of the new American blitz to the East some 200 miles away.

Looking back over the past eighteen day campaign, the men of the 35th Division, from the old timers who had come over to Europe with the Division, to the newest replacements who were now outnumbering the “originals”, there was a buoyancy and excitement that the end of the war was now in sight. For the older ones who had seen the most fighting, it was getting too hard to remember one day from the rest, or what happened, and when – the days had begun to run together. Now suddenly memories began to sharpen and each day became more precious, more meaningful. The cloudy, wet and rainy days of March had faded away and the sun came out for good on the 7th of April. We could smell the fragrance of the flowers of Spring. During our 18 days, the division had captured 3,779 prisoners, freed innumerable P.O.W.’s. The weakening of German resistance was evidenced by the 16 year olds in Volksturm uniforms, happy to be no longer a part of the resistance. Some German cities like Duisberg and Essen (site of the famous Krupp Steel Works) were viciously defended by the Germans. Others, like Dortmund, yielded as scattering Germans gave in after token resistance. The presence or absence of S.S. troops would often determine the degree of tenacity of German resistance. Wherever the S.S. was present, we rarely saw the white flags that Burgomeisters were want to come out with to “save” their villages. As overcast skies and light rain gave way to warm and sunny skies, the IX and XXIX Tactical Air Commands joined the ground Allied attacks on columns of German foot troops and horse drawn and motor vehicles as they retreated eastward or shifted positions. The rationing of artillery shells had been raised during those days to 259,061 rounds. During April, Ninth Army reported 341 KIA’s, 121 MIA’s (missing) and 2,000 wounded.

On April 12, the 35th Division was ordered to move by truck to the new XIX Corps sector near the Elbe River. As the two and a half ton trucks raced down the Autobahn toward Berlin, filled with 35th Division men, we left behind 317,000 German prisoners – that many less to fight at the Elbe River.

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By Maj. Norman C. Carey, Company A-320th Inf. Regt.

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