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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

Sweeping from the Rhine to the Elbe (excerpt)

The Ozark Division’s turn to cross the Rhine finally came on 4 April 1945. When the Second Platoon packed up and loaded trucks that day we had only a hazy notion of where we were going and what it would be like when we got there. For the next three weeks this was generally the case. With our limited knowledge of German geography and no access to wide area maps, we seldom knew where we were relative to any city that we had ever heard of.

Being in the dark about our whereabouts relative to the big picture was nothing new — riflemen (and rifle companies’ officers, for that matter) were, as a rule, not well informed about the big picture. What was unusual now was that for even high-level commanders, the disposition of enemy forces and what kind of fighting we would have to do were extraordinarily uncertain. After the historic Rhine barrier was breached, the structure of both civil and military authority in the Third Reich had begun to crumble. More and more the Wehrmacht and SS forces were split up by our spearheads. There was no continuous front. Some smaller units were trying to retreat to the east; some were holing up in the hills and forests to resist to the end. The German high command must not have known where all their troops were—much less did ours. No military history textbook and no current intelligence information enabled our strategists to predict where the retreating Wehrmacht forces would go and how much fight was left in them as they began to be squeezed between our armies on the west and the Russians on the east. Forewarnings, if any, from our higher command were usually rather general; they didn’t know much more than we did about who would be hiding along our path. We learned of the enemy’s situation mostly first-hand when our passage through forest or village was greeted with either gunfire or white flags.


These paragraphs open Chapter 9 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.