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Then Mollica ordered “Fix bayonets!” We began slowly
advancing in a line with leveled bayonets.

Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry

by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. and William L. Schaible

Attacking Across the Roer and to the Rhine (excerpt)

During the first week in February we learned that the 407th Infantry had been chosen to spearhead the assault across the Roer, “Operation Grenade, ” which at that time was scheduled to begin in the early hours of 10 February. We moved once more into Linnich, where we went through preparatory training for crossing in assault boats. The First Squad, Second Platoon, Company K had the honor of being assigned Boat No. 1. The other two squads had similar assignments in the first wave. Ten infantrymen, complete with weapons and equipment, and two combat engineers were to be crowded into each boat. After we unloaded, the engineers would bring the boat back for a second load.

Reist tells about final preparations. “On 9 February we turned in our overcoats and any extra gear not needed. We were issued extra ammunition and rations and told we should be ready to go at 0230 hours. We were to meet the engineers at the boats. These were away from the river some distance to partially protect them from enemy artillery. Each twelve-man boat load was to drag the boat to the dike, up over the top, down the other side and then to the river's edge. At a predetermined signal, all boats were to be launched and paddled across the river, then at its normal width. All of this to be done in the pitch black and cold of a winter night.

“The last hours of daylight on 9 February were spent in writing letters to loved ones, cleaning weapons, eating K-Rations and especially praying, each in his own way. With darkness we lay down on straw to sleep in the basement of the abandoned hospital building where we had our command post. Sleep, if you could call it that, with much apprehension concerning the impending battle.

“The scheduled departure time of 0230 came and went without orders to move out and man our boats. At approximately 0430 we finally learned that the assault had been indefinitely postponed. The river had risen four feet during the night and was now impassable because of the swift current.” Reist remembers climbing to the upper floor of the hospital building after daylight and observing that the river was now “nearly a mile wide instead of the 100 to 150 feet it had been the day before.”

When we realized that the big battle was postponed and we wouldn't be crossing right away, our relief was indescribable: we had received a reprieve, albeit temporary. Still, in contrast, it was a letdown. We knew that we would have to go through the whole buildup again. We needed to get on with whatever we had to do. We didn’t know it at the time, but as it turned out, this delay resulted in some changes in assignments that turned out to be very fortunate for us.


These paragraphs open Chapter 8 of Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry. Buy this book today to read the entire first-person account of Company K’s journey from basic training, through the European Theater of Operations, and (for some, at least) home again.

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr.