'Aggressors' start shield attack with river crossings
KELHEIM, Germany — Trucks, tanks and jeeps moved cautiously through the darkness. Sentries watched quietly from the roadside. An occasional signal flare lit up the sky in the distance.
That was the predawn buildup Thursday as "Aggressor" forces poised on the south bank of the rain-swollen Danube River for the opening thrust of Winter Shield II.
Then, just minutes after midnight, riflemen of the 41st Inf kicked off the attack against defending "NATO" forces. Crossing the river in assault boats at the village of Saal, three miles east of here, they moved to higher ground where they checked the area for "enemy" patrols.
An hour later engineers began their grim battle with the river current. Giant trucks loaded with bridge construction equipment rolled through Saal and down into a muddy meadow where they began assembling a float bridge and an amphibious bridge along with smaller crossing equipment.
Behind the engineers came the tanks and personnel carriers. They clattered over the street in long columns. And then disappeared into the meadow to wait their turn to cross.
As dawn broke, helicopters churned over the meadow to peer at progress of the bridge builders. Shortly after dawn the meadow was doused with heavy smoke to foil enemy aircraft, but the smoke failed to discourage a lone jet fighter which made half a dozen parallel passes at the river.
When the smoke thinned, new charges were set off by crews stationed along the main road between Kelheim and Saal.
As the morning droned on, tank crews huddled around pots of coffee which soon turned cold in the dampness.
By mid-morning a mixture of snow and rain began falling. By afternoon the temperature had risen and the snow had turned to rain.
When the engineers finally completed the main float bridge, traffic began to roll across the river and into "enemy" territory.
The scene at Saal was repeated at four other river crossings, along a 35-mile attacking front by "Aggressor" forces composed of VII Corps, the 4th Armd Div, the German 11th Panzer Grenadier Brig and supporting units.
An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. and German troops were expected to make the crossings at the Danube and Altmuehl river sites.
Crossing operations on the Danube at Saal and to the east at Regensburg, where the German units crossed, were under supervision of the 168th Engr Bn.
Three crossings of the narrower, less treacherous Altmuehl to the west were under supervision of the 237th Engr Bn.