The Ardennes Counteroffensive was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. It took place from December 16th 1944 until January 25th 1945. The Germans intended to split the Allied lines, encircle the Americans, and destroy four Allied armies. The Germans desperate surprise attack, although not successful in outflanking the Americans did succeed in bulging the German front lines. While the Germans referred to this offensive as Operation Watch on the Rhine, it came to be popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The Germans, unsuccessful in outflanking the Americans, dug in like a Grizzly bear defending his den from a pack of determined wolves. With all the assets they had at their disposal the Germans assumed an incredibly strong defensive position to keep the Americans from a final advance on Berlin . . .
May 1, 1945
The 76th moved to a position in Reserve near Champlon, Belgium. Their mission was to back up general Patton’s Third Army, then in the process of reducing the Ardennes “Bulge”.
After a short stay in Champlon, the 76th relocated to Luxembourg where it assumed a defensive position along the Sauer river in preparation for an attack upon German defenses on the opposite bank.
As part of a general offensive launched by Patton’s Third Army, the 76th, were the first to reach their objective. They crossed the Sauer River near Echternach and then continued their attack against one of the most formidable sectors of the Siegfried Line. The 76th shattered all counter attacks which the Germans launched. For 36 hours engineers bridged the swollen river, while under attack from hostile weapons of every kind. The engineers of the 76th were called in to produce where other engineers had failed. As the 76th crossed the Sauer the Germans were dug in with one pillbox every 40 yards. To put this in perspective there was one pillbox every 35 yards on the airfields of Iwo Jima. The 76th not only crossed the Sauer under heavy fire from well fortified German positions; but, they inflicted double the casualties on the enemy, as they advanced . . . and most importantly the 76th took and held the bank of the Sauer River.
After gaining control of the final bridgehead over the Sauer River and after going through the Siegfried Line on this front, the 76th pivoted 90 degrees to the east and attacked the Germans as they (the 76th) crossed the Prum and Nims Rivers. The 76th then turned to the south-east and again attacked the Siegfried Line, this time from the rear, and ripped it apart all the way to the north bank of the Moselle River at Trier.
Shortly after Trier fell, the 76th regrouped and dug in along the Kyll River while they prepared to cross the Kyll. This time the 304th drew the assignment of “cracking the ice”. The 304th crossed the Kyll at several places near Preist with negligible casualties, climbed cliffs the enemy believed impassable and captured more than 200 of Adolph’s finest in their bed sacks.
The 76th and the 304th continued to advance across several intermediary rivers until they temporarily halted on the west bank of the Moselle river with Wittlich as the center of operations.
The 304th infantry crossed the Moselle at two places in order to secure and protect bridging operation undertaken at Mulheim.
The 76th then received orders to move 70 miles to the vicinity of St. Goar on the Rhein. The 76th defended along the Rhein while further offensive preparations were being made. Assaulting Divisions passed through the 76th, and then the 76th followed through, once again assuming the offense and this time attacking almost directly east from St. Goar. The 76th advanced several miles beyond Usingen and took all assigned objectives until halted by Corps order and directed to shuttle to an area in the vicinity of Homberg.
The 76th had barely closed at Homberg when it was again committed to the offensive. The 76th when later combined with the 6th Armored Division, formed the spearhead of the Third Army drive which plunged across Germany to within spitting distance of the Czechoslovakian border in less time than it takes to tell the story. During the drive the 76th advanced so rapidly that in one day a distance of 35 miles was covered. The movement was stopped only by a direct order to seize and hold the bridgehead over the Mulde River, in anticipation of a junction with the Russian Armies. Thus halted, the 76th made the deepest penetration into Germany of any allied troops at that time.
The 76th blazed a path of fire across Germany, while Engineers close on the heels of the Infantry ,and sometimes preceding them, bridged river after river and removed with equal dispatch and efficiency countless mines and road blocks.
The 76th was known as the “Onaway” Division because they had trained in a part of Wisconsin where the Chippewas once lived. Onaway was the alert cry of the Chippewa Indians and so it was adopted by the 76th as their War Cry.
The war cry of the 76th was heard from Echternach to Limbach as they advanced 400 miles in a little over two months. Th 76th captured over 25,00 Prisoners of War ranging from Major Generals to Nazi upstarts of the Hitler Jugend, and the number of towns the 76th captured and occupied ran into 4 figures. East of Altenburg, just 100 miles south of Berlin, 120 airplanes including 75 Training Airplanes and FW 190s were captured. Over 5,000 American, British, French, Polish and Serbian soldiers were freed from their captivity, while thousands of suffering souls were liberated from what was then known as slave labor camps, but is now known by the euphemism of concentration camps.
This Memorial Day, I am greatly humbled by the courage of my father who served in the 76th. Many of these young men were literally teenagers . . . eighteen and nineteen years old. They faced down not only pillboxes positioned every forty yards in strategic crossfire positions; but, such German weapons as automatic mortars which launched as many as thirty mortars at a time. They bravely advanced right into the German bulge, into the teeth of the bear, placed a bayonet at the throat of the enemy and helped end the war on the western front. - written by Anthony C.
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