Author of Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, and Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy
The Aachen Campaign, September - November 1944
From Brittany to the Reich is the third installment of Joseph Balkoski's history of the 29th Infantry Division in World War II. The 29th Division had already proved its mettle by training for combat over three years, storming Omaha Beach on D-Day, and fighting through the hedgerows of Normandy and Brittany. But in October 1944, it faced a new and more difficult war against a resolute enemy that refused to quit. For the next six weeks the 29th Division endured brutal combat in terrible conditions in a futile effort to help bring Nazi Germany to its knees. It is a story of valor, sacrifice, and heartbreak that every American should know.
Selected Excerpts From From Brittany to the Reich
FROM CHAPTER 1: AN AMERICAN WAY OF WAR
The victors heard them coming long before they came into view. It began with a muffled clomp-clomp-clomp of trudging feet, growing in resonance by the minute as the glum columns of German captives climbed the harborside’s steep hills to the prisoner of war camps in the interior. Only when the multitudes finally crested the hills did the magnitude of the enemy’s capitulation dawn on the triumphant Americans. The days of the goose-steeping automatons, marching with the pounding beat of a jackhammer at a Nazi Nuremberg rally, were over. Instead, the astonishingly long procession of prisoners, including a few disconsolate Frenchwomen who had unwisely cast their hearts with the enemy, shuffled pathetically past their subjugators in a manner that was decidedly unmilitary. One American observer noted “the sorry plight of Hitler’s supermen,” and added that the prisoners all had “a filthy, mole-like color from continuous existence in holes in the ground.” The shabby appearance and despondent behavior of the Germans was indisputably a direct reflection of the totality of their defeat.
FROM CHAPTER 3: SCHIERWALDENRATH
A calamity of epic proportions was about to unfold. It was sparked by a general’s obsession to carry out an attack most 29ers on the scene thought was a terrible idea. Nevertheless, soldiers used to following superiors’ orders without question executed it dutifully and resourcefully; but the results were so spectacularly futile that Company K would shortly cease to exist. It all began at 1 PM on October 3 when the Company K field phone abruptly buzzed at Schmitt’s command post, situated in a dilapidated German dugout behind a wrecked Kreuzrath farmhouse. Schmitt’s operator answered and heard the voice of “Lagoon Blue-3,” the 3rd Battalion’s operations officer, Capt. Dana Tawes, asking urgently for his boss, Millholland, who had moved up to the front to inspect Company K’s positions at Kreuzrath. When Millholland came to the phone, he learned to his astonishment from Tawes that Gerhardt had ordered Smith to seize Schierwaldenrath, and therefore orders were clear “to get Company K going” toward that objective immediately. Millholland discussed the prospect with Schmitt, and both agreed that no option existed except for the obvious one: a direct assault across the open pastures separating Kreuzrath from Schierwaldenrath. Millholland later noted that from the start he viewed such a maneuver as “a very risky undertaking.” He resolved to take steps to stop it and hurried back to Smith’s 115th command post. Here, Millholland thrashed out the matter with Smith for more than an hour and “advised against further advance of the company.” Two weeks later, Millholland recalled Smith’s uncompromising attitude: “The regimental CO agreed that the situation was unhealthy, but said that the advance was ordered by division and that Company K must advance at once and would take the town of Schierwaldenrath.”
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