Invasion of Germany

As a result of the limited objective attacks of the 94th front lines were advanced until they ran approximately from Nennig to Tettingen, thence south giving the Germans the Campholz Woods and Oberleuken, then east to the finger in the Saar above Merzig. The Group Headquarters moved its Command Post into Germany for the third time to the town of Perl on the 3rd of February. During this period single guns of the 558th were used for direct fire missions on pillboxes. The self-propelled 155’s with their high velocity, heavy projectile, concrete piercing fuse, and mobility were found a most effective weapon for attacking concrete fortifications.

The attack to clear the Saar / Moselle triangle began early on the 19th of February with a terrific artillery barrage by the Group and the 94th Division Artillery. By noon the infantry had accomplished a complete breakthrough and on the morning of the 20th the 10th Armored Division was committed. The Group received the additional mission of supporting the armor for its initial jump off. By the 21st the triangle was cleared except for scattered pockets and the 94th made plans to establish a bridgehead the next morning without artillery preparation. However the artillery went into position for support and the Group moved its Command Post to Freudenberg with its battalions in the vicinity. The bridgehead was established with comparative ease, but because the Germans still held the commanding high ground the bridge site was kept hot most of the time with artillery and mortar fire.

The 5th Ranger Battalion was assigned the mission of crossing the river farther south, coming up on the enemy’s rear, and securing a road junction and high ground east of lrsch. The Group’s 284th was placed in direct support of the Rangers. The Rangers reached their objective, but were cut off and surrounded. Time and again vicious attacks on their position were broken up by the 284th aided by the medium and heavy battalions of the Group. Cubs from the Group flew in ammunition, radio batteries, and rations. One of the Group pilots being wounded and his plane damaged during the operation. The infantry of the 94th contacted the Rangers on the 27th of February. Also on this day, the bridge having been completed, the Group Command Post crossed the river and set up in Beurig.

The XX Corps plan called for an attack with four infantry divisions abreast from, left to right the 94th, 80th, 26th and 65th, driving generally east on toward the Rhine. The attack, with the Group supporting the 80th and 26th began on the 13rd of March, but progressed very slowly. However by the 16th opposition was lessening, and on the 21st the Rhine was reached and contact made with the XII Crops troops on the left and 7th Army troops on the right.

The new Group mission was to support the 80th Infantry Division in establishing a bridgehead across the Rhine at Mainz and so moved into position on the 27th. The crossing was made without opposition and the forward echelon of the Group Headquarters crossed the longest European pontoon bridge on the 29th, followed by the remainder on the 30th.

The 6th Armored Division was advancing fast on Kassel, by-passing Frankfurt. The 80th Division was motorized to keep up with the advance, and for this purpose called on the Group for nearly all its trucks, which left it immobile.

On the 1st of April all trucks were returned and the Group marched to positions for the support of the assault on Kassel by the 80th. The mission of the Group was changed on the 6th to support of the 76th Infantry Division, with the 284th in direct support of the 3rd Cavalry Group on a different mission, and moved southeast, first to Abterode and on the 8th to Eschwege. While here the Group was alerted for support of the 4th Armored Division, lost the 736th, 284th, and picked up the 177th and 58th. On the 10th the Group assembled in the vicinity of Gotha in preparation for the 4th Armored drive on Chemnitz.

The 4th Armored jumped off on the morning of the 11th with the Group Headquarters, the 177th and the 22nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Armored Division Artillery comprising the artillery of Combat Command B: the 58th supported Combat Command R, while the 943rd joined the Division Artillery with Combat Command A. The tanks rolled east all day, passing Erfurt and liberating the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Ed. note: Click here for newly discovered photos from this action The night was spent in the vicinity of Grosskromsdorf just north of Weimar. On the 12th march was resumed until noon when blown bridges across the Salle River held up the advance. By the next morning Engineers had completed a pontoon bridge and once again the tankers jumped off. On this day we traveled 72 miles passing Jena, Eisenerg, Gera, and Altenburg, and not stopping until a bridge over the Mulde River was secured intact at Kaufungen. This great advance was made possible by its speed, giving the Germans no chance to destroy bridges.

On the 14th the 4th Armored ,was ordered to expand the bridgehead over the Mulde but not to continue its drive to the east. When this was done the Group Command Post was in Muhlau, only a few miles from Chemnitz. On the 16th the Infantry of the 80th caught up and relieved the armor.

The mission of the XX Corps was changed to an attack to and across the Danube, shifting from the left to the right flank of the Third Army. On the 17th and 18th the Group moved to an assembly area north of Bamberg to await the arrival of the 13th Armored Division which the Group was to support on its drive across the Danube, passing through the bridgehead of the 71st or 65th Infantry Division. Having exchanged the 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion for the 58th, the Group operating as it had with the 4th Armored Division acted as division artillery with Combat Command B.

The Division with the Group crossed the Danube on the night of 27-28 April and in the morning jumped off meeting only light resistance until the Isar River where all bridges were blown. The Group Command Post set up in Plattling, a few hundred yards from the river. On the 29th a bridgehead was established and by evening of the 30th a pontoon bridge was completed. The Division began crossing immediately and continued to advance all night and the next day against light opposition. Again blown bridges stopped the armor, this time at the Inn at Neuotting. The Group Headquarters moved into Reischach to support establishing of a bridgehead, although no bridge was constructed. Prisoners were captured or surrendered by ones, twos or hundreds. VE Day found the Group in Reischach.

Going Home

William J. Wiltz   5th Field Artillery Group - Tunisian, Sicilian, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe,  Bronze Star for meritorious service in connection with military operations against the enemy in France and Germany between 1 November 1944 and 17 April 1945. Photo courtesy Mike Wiltz

William J. Wiltz 5th Field Artillery Group – Tunisian, Sicilian, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe,
Bronze Star for meritorious service in connection with military operations against the enemy in France and Germany
between 1 November 1944 and 17 April 1945. Photo courtesy Mike Wiltz

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