Of doughs and the river: crossing the Roer no fun
Stars and Stripes February 26, 1945
WITH 1ST ARMY TROOPS ON THE ROER, Feb. 23 (delayed) — In the red light of bursting shells the battalion moved out of the shadows and started to cross the Roer. It was 0330 hours. Chemical smoke hung low over the water and spread out the glare of Jerry's mortars as they began to fall among the men of A Company.
The medics came up and went to work while the first wave pushed its motor-boats out into die flood waters. One engine started, the rest never did.
The mortars came faster. The assault troops gave up the engines which wouldn't start and began to paddle against the 12-mile-an-hour current.
"Gotta get there," S/Sgt. Joe Carpiaux heard Capt. Fred Patterson, Valhalla, N.Y., shout. Carpiaux began to paddle and was swept into the current. A handful of the boats got away. The rest were held up by the mortars and the quick bursts of schmeisser fire from buildings 60 yards away on the river's east bank, or were swept out of wounded men's hands by the racing water.
Patterson took eight men out into the river, through the tracers, but the job that was meant to be done by motor-boats couldn't be done with paddles, and the flood waters twisted them in midstream, hurled them spinning through a sluiceway and against the same shoreline they had left. When they tried to crawl out, machine-gun fire cut their number in half.
In the CP, Maj. Lou Dughi, of Westfield, N.J., called the engineers. The engineers went out into the mortars and the 88s and began to build a foot-bridge. The captain was hit. A lieutenant took his place and was hit. They got the bridge finished in the morning, and when it was done, the Jerries zeroed in and blew it to pieces.
Men trickled over through the night to a brick-walled factory on the enemy shore until there were 60 of them when the day came. "What happened to the rest who started across and never got there, we couldn't tell," T/Sgt. Charles Scabery, of Gantril, Iowa, said. By noon they'd rebuilt the foot-bridge. The battalion would figure out one thing and it was no good, so they'd try something else. By all the rules of the book they were stuck. But there were 60 men over there. They had no support. They didn't even have enough rifles.
But the battalion wouldn't quit. Two men came back from the 60, bringing five prisoners. They said, "We haven't got any communications, or food, and not much ammo. But we'll stick. We're going back."
This article appears as it did in the print edition of Stars and Stripes.