5 - 11 February 1945
1st Battalion, 309th Infantry, 78th Division
|Interview:||Lt. Col. Robert H. Schellman, Battalion Commander
Captain George E. Byerly, Executive Officer
Bn CP vicinity SILBERSCHEIDT, Germany, 20 February 1945.
Overlay: See GSGS 4414, sheets 5303, 5304, 5403, 5404.
Also see assault maps of SCHWAMMENAUEL DAM. Maps drawn by S/Sgt. J. M. Topete from material furnished by Lt. Col. Schellman.
Interviewers: M/Sgt. F. C. Pogue and T/3 J. M. Topete (V Corps).
(The main details were given by Col. Schellman who had Captain Byerly check on casualties and exact points in several cases. Col. Schellman indicated that he had submitted a detailed account of the attack on the dam to his regimental commander. At our request he contacted the regiment and they indicated that this statement would be forwarded to us. The report has not reached us, since it was picked up by the Regimental historian who is using it to prepare his regimental after action report and history. This battalion had protested to the Division because it had not received its proper share of credit for the action and for that reason it had both battalion and regimental officers conducting interviews in order to prepare a special report on the attack for the dams. We were told that this would be included with their other reports).
(Unless otherwise noted, information was given by Lt. Col. Shellman)
|Battalion and Company Officers:|
|Company A||Captain John H. Miller|
|Company B||Captain Donald H. Cothard|
|Company C||Captain Rufus Cox, (wounded near SCHMIDT)|
|Company D||Captain Edward J. O'Melia|
|Battalion S-2||Lt. Kurt M. Lassen|
|Battalion S-3||Captain Robert J. Biggart|
|Battalion S-1||Captain Herman L. Kirkpatrick|
|Liaison Officer||Lt. Erwin Wickstrom.|
The regimental commander indicated that the 1st Battalion, 309th, had been held in reserve during the early phases of the attack, because it had special training for the taking of the dam. Lt. Col. Schellman said that there was little special training, although his group was held in reserve. The job, he pointed out, was purely tactical and "right out of the book". The only technical thing was the movement at night, which was the first movement of this type in which the 1st Battalion had engaged.
On 5 February the 1st Battalion was near the barracks area. Prior to that time it had been in defensive positions in ROLLESBROICH. The 1st Battalion followed the 3rd Battalion, 309th, from ROLLESBROICH to the barracks area. They were prepared to attack through the 3rd Battalion. The 310th was supposed to come up on the right; the 311th was held up west of SCHMIDT from making any further advance. This made the 1st Battalion's advance impracticable. These positions were held for two days with the aid of Companies F and G of the 2nd Battalion, 309th.
On the 6th of February the 310th prepared to advance and the 311th was set to move towards the dam. The 3d Battalion, 309th, moved off towards KOMMERSCHEIDT. The 1st Battalion withdrew to an assembly area 311st north and west of the barracks area, (023292 - approximate). They were prepared to exploit gains towards SCHMIDT or KOMMERSCHEIDT. On 7 February the Battalion was moved to an assembly area (039297 - approximate) just west of SCHMIDT and north and east of GERSTENHOF this was about 1300-1400.
The Capture of Schmidt and the Schwammenauel Dam
5-9 February 1945
Click for larger image (external link)
The attack which began on 7 February against SCHMIDT continued on the 8th. At 1300 on 9 February the 1st Battalion was ordered to execute its plan on the dam in conjunction with the 311th and was told to follow the Schmidt - Hasenfeld road to an assembly area (approximately 064295) 2500 yards north of the dam. This movement began about 1730. At SCHMIDT the Battalion received a severe artillery barrage in which Captain Rufus Cox and seven men of Company C were hit. Company C had spent the previous night in the area between KOMMERSCHEIDT and HARSCHEIDT and had been moved down into SCHMIDT to meet the other companies of the Battalion as they came through.
At 1810 the attack continued. C Company didn't have a chance to close with the Battalion before the Battalion continued its advance. The only friendly artillery fire at this time was that fired in support of the 60th Infantry and the 311th Infantry. Companies A and B were advancing abreast, with Company C in reserve, G Company, 60th Infantry, near HASENFELD, prepared to push through that town. The 1st Battalion, 309th, had no direct contact with the 311th. Two men were lost trying to make contact. Companies I and K of the 60th Infantry were abreast of the 1st Battalion, 309th, at this point of advance. Shelling was very heavy, so C Company, 1st Battalion was put in a ditch along the road. Company A went on the right and Company B on the left. The companies were almost abreast as they advanced. The 1st platoon led in both cases.
Captain John H. Miller of A Company reached the dam at 2000. Captain Donald H. Cothard of B Company reached the valve house at 2100. The ensuing mop-up of the dam and the reduction of strong-points took the remaining three and one-half hours of darkness. The engineers were free to carry out their inspection at 2300; They inspected the valve house, gatehouse and tunnel (see engineer interviews and reports). The infantry went along with them for support. Germans were in dug-in positions beyond the dam and on the dam itself. The infantry and engineers met mortar, light artillery and small arms fire from strong-points south of the dam and from the peninsula to the west of the dam. Between 125-130 prisoners were taken from the area between the assembly area and the dam. The Germans were in small bunkers and dug-in positions with connecting trenches. The area was thickly wooded.
The attack towards the Schwammenauel Dam was launched
from the tree covered ridgeline on the far side of the dam.
The powerhouse is visible on the right side of the picture.
The valve house, spillway, and entrance to the dam is visible in the left corner.
Just before the Germans withdrew, they managed to blow up the valves
controlling the spillway of the Schwammenauel Dam,
with the result that the reservoir was almost emptied.
Because of the controversy which arose between the 311th and 309th as to the most advanced point reached by the former, we asked Col. Schellman about his contacts with elements of the 3Hth. He declared: "At no time did we contact anyone of the 311th Infantry. The next day we sent patrols back and found them on the neck of land shown on the overlay. I sent Lt. Wickstrom three times under fire trying to locate them, but he was not successful".
After the dam was taken the troops began to receive severe artillery and mortar fire. B Company had to fight on three levels of ground and had to set up defense on three levels. By 2230 patrols of Company A were over the top of the dam; however they found the bridge out over the sluiceway at the south end of the dam. B Company sent a patrol across the bottom of the dam and found that the dam itself was intact. A patrol from A Company discovered the opening to the tunnel. Lt. Otis Hamlett of Company A led the patrol across the top, while Lt. William J. Biggart led the patrol from B Co.
At 2330 engineers went to the powerhouse and valve house and began technical inspections for demolitions. About 0030 Lt. Hamlett led the engineers over the top of the dam and then down into the tunnel, which they were unable to get into before. The infantry protected the engineers as they made their inspection. The gatehouse gave defensive positions to the Germans. The area was cleared out once, but the Germans came back. When the engineers went to investigate the gatehouse they had to clear it a second time. Not until 0100 were they able to finish their inspection.
It was difficult to set up defensive positions north of the dam. There was no tie in on the right flank. It was necessary for B Company to set up defenses on three levels along the 300 foot dam. Company A had difficulty because it was receiving fire from the peninsula on the west (mortars and machine guns). (The 47th Infantry once planned to take the peninsula, but abandoned the plan). Company C patrolled to the first house in HASENFELD.
The dam was secured at 2400.
On the 10th of February between 0800-0900 Captain Donald Cothard (then Lt) and Lt. Biggart, by themselves, walked across the lower route, crossed the bridge there, and made a visual reconnaissance of the approaches of the dam and the terrain around the nose: they received no fire. (On 15 February another patrol was sent across to see if there was a road anywhere around. The patrol ran into a concussion mine which knocked all the men down and injured two).
The holding of the position north of the dam was awkward. It was not good for the men. They could have gone across the dam that night or the next morning, because the Germans had pulled back their men. By the following night, however, the German guns were zeroed in and the men had to take the fire. Elements of the 1st Battalion remained in the positions there until the 20th of February.
The most difficult part about the operation was maintaining contact between companies through the thick woods at night. Both company commanders were cited for their work in keeping their groups organized.
[At this point we checked again with Col. Schellman concerning the advance of the 311th. He said that before the taking of the dam his Op was set up at NEUNHOF. He was told that friendly troops were in front of the dam. He radioed that information back — it was assumed that the troops were from the 311th — and the regimental commander said for the 309th to go on in. Then the 1st Battalion began to get small arms fire. In the meantime Lt. Wickstrom had returned from the rear CP of the 311th saying that they didn't know where their troops were. There was no report from the 311th anywhere, hot even when the 1st Battalion, 309th, reached the dam].
Supplies had to be hand carried in the last phase of the attack. The men were given food after dark and before daylight.
The Germans pulled all their artillery back just before the 309th reached the dam. They have been getting bolder now. They have brought up 75 mm howitzers. This was the most difficult terrain the Battalion had to go over. Only foot soldiers could get through. There was a very abrupt drop of the land to the water's edge to the west. However, the slope forward was more gentle.
A German prisoner pointed out enemy dugouts near the dam the night of the attack. Thirty-five prisoners were taken near the dam by the 1st Battalion. There was a two-hour fight for the gatehouse. The 3rd Battalion got more prisoners the next morning.
The radios wouldn't work in this attack. The Battalion couldn't keep wire in. Two wiremen out of six were wounded, in the attempt to maintain communications. Casualties for the operation 5-19 February were: 2 Officers and 72 enlisted men wounded; one officer and 16 enlisted men killed. (In speaking of casualties the Col. indicated that the 82d Airborne had lost more men coming through SCHMIDT three days bofore 17 Feb than they had lost in the line over a period of several days. He said that they had come through the town in close order and had been heavily pasted. [Byerly]
The 1st Battalion did not leave its positions until the 20th of February.
T/3 José Manuel Topete