29TH DIVISION TAKES JULICH’S SPORTSPALAST – YANK MAGAZINE

TAKING THE SPORTSPALAST

By Sgt. Earl Anderson

YANK Staff Correspondent

WITH THE NINTH ARMY—Anything remotely resembling an ark would have been more than welcome to T/Sgt. Noah J. Carter of St. Augustine, Fla., the day he led his 115th Infantry platoon in the final assault on the Julich Sportspalast, on the mud flats of the Roer River. A mineproof ark would have been doubly welcome. As it was, his men just pushed through mud and minefields toward such improbable military objectives as a fortified swimming pool and a stadium honeycombed with bunkers, where the Germans had been holding out for five days.



The stadium was unlike the state university jobs you see back home. It was built mostly of earth and concrete, forming a seven-foot wall around the playing field, with seats for spectators on the inside slopes. Bunkers had been added and the Jerries were well dug in all around.

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T/Sgt. Noah J. Carter of the 115th Infantry, 29th Division

The swimming pool wasn’t one of those Florida jobs either. It was built above ground and was also banked with earth and bunkered so that it looked more like a building than a pool. There were other spots around this Jerry playing field for machine guns and strong points, the toughest of which, seemed to be an old fort in the same setup. Jerry was run out of there three times before the boys of the 115th could make it stick.

The Sportspalast and another group of buildings known as Husenfeld Gut were on the river flats between two ridges. On the higher ridge, across the river, were Germans. The 29th Division held the lower ridge on the near bank of the river and between the two lay the last German hold west of the Roer. The only approaches were over flat, swampy land, so flat that at some points German machine guns could send grazing fire for 1,000 yards.

It was a tough nut to crack. The 116th Infantry previously had tried to crack it several times and one day Thunderbolts of the 29th TAC laid enough eggs on it to rock Gibraltar.  But the Germans stayed and at night brought in reinforcements by laying stringers over a bridge which our artillery would faithfully demolish each day.

That’s the way it was when the 115th Infantry prepared to attack at 0500, taking advantages of the darkness to get across that stretch of flat land.  Sgt. Carter was both platoon leader and platoon sergeant that day and he wanted to get his men through the mine fields to the stadium before daybreak. At dawn his men were on the outside of the earth and concrete embankment that formed the stadium wall. They were sheltered in abandoned Jerry dugouts, only 10 feet away from the nearest Jerries who were dug in on the inner side of the embankment. Every time a man raised his head over the top of the wall he would draw grenades and fire from machine guns and bazookas.



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Soldiers of the 29th Division during the Battle of Julich

You get the picture. Something had to give. Either the Jerries had to be kicked out of the inside of the stadium or Carter and his men would get the stuffing beat out of them. Lt. Chester B. Slaughter, of Mexia, Tex., CO of B Company, could see Carter’s men from his OP. They’d start to the right around the stadium and just get to the curve at the end when machine gun fire would pin them down like a tray of butterflies in a museum collection. The same thing happened if they moved in the other direction.

Carter sized it up and saw that somehow he had to keep moving in. Lt. Slaughter told him the same thing over the radio. Carter pushed himself up for a look and figured that things would clear up a lot if the two Jerry machine gunners, each flanked by four to six automatic riflemen, could be eliminated from the inner side of the stadium.

He usually carries a carbine, but this time he was using an M1. He asked his platoon guide, Sgt. Floyd Haviland, of Coal City, Ind., for anti-tank grenades. Then he crawled up the muddy embankment, drawing fire as he reached the top. One grenade hit the first machine gunner squarely in the head. It didn’t explode. It didn’t have to. Another exploded and knocked out the second machine gunner. In rapid succession others took care of the four automatic riflemen armed with the MP 44, a German submachine gun resembling our BAR. That broke the backbone of the stadium defense, and Carter and his platoon went on to clean up the Jerries remaining in the arena. Sgt. Haviland flanked the left side of the stadium with his squad, then went right on to the river.

The 115th Infantry practically cleaned up the whole area that day and by noon the next there were no live Germans this side of the Roer River. I Company and one platoon of L Company took 42 prisoners out of Husenfeld Gut, a smaller number came out of the old fort alive, and many more were left dead.

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Scenes like this were common in the Sportspalast area after the fighting. In one company sector alone more than 40 dead Jerries were found the next day.

Everybody likes this guy Carter. He was a character in the 29th Division even before the battle at Julich Stadium. His battlefield commission was already in channels before the Sportspalast job, yet hardly more than a month ago he was a private.

Carter joined the 29th Division at Brest last August and went into the line as a private in a mortar section. It wasn’t long before he became a weapons platoon section leader, and frequently he led a rifle platoon. Then he made Staff. Just like that. His outfit moved up and bypassed Paris. Carter didn’t. Then he was a private again. Just like that. He got his grade back, though, when the 29th Division started its push to the Roer.

Carter looks like the fighter he is. He fits into the front lines like K rations and foxholes. When he came into his company CP a couple of days after the Sportspalast battle he had his carbine slung over a worn field jacket and the mud was caked around his legs until you couldn’t tell where the leggins left off and the shoes began.  He’s 31 years old, weighs 187 and stands five feet 10.

“I’m glad I started as a private and worked up,” he says. “When I ask anybody to do something I know what I’m asking because I’ve done it myself.”

Veterans are made in a hurry in this war, once the education starts. Carter went into the army in December 1942 and shortly found himself in paratrooper training at Fort Benning. He cracked a bone in his foot and couldn’t jump anymore, so then he instructed at Fort Benning a while before being sent to the ETO as an infantry replacement. His experiences as a platoon leader and platoon sergeant have given him some definite ideas about fighting the Germans.

His platoon has had many replacements has had many replacements since Brest. He says most of the new men know how to handle themselves. Men out of the anti-aircraft outfits and men transferred from ASF units, for instance, get along okay in the infantry.



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The 29th Division captures Julich

“Lots of times a new replacement is better than a man who has been wounded once and returned. If the new man gets through the first day without getting hurt he decides facing Jerry isn’t as tough as he thought it would be. Pretty soon, maybe, he gets the feeling that he’s lucky. He doesn’t dig in and stick. He’s ready to move ahead.”

Carter likes to keep his men up close to the enemy. “You know damn well that when you’re within 40 or 50 yards of Jerry his mortars and artillery aren’t going to be dropping on you. Jerry doesn’t like to be hit by his own mortars any more than we do.”

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Men of the 29th Division outside Julich’s main gate

Experience has also taught Carter’s platoon to be in quick for a knockout blow after a bombing attack. They have found Jerries 50 yards from a bomb hit knocked stupid by concussion and shaking so badly that they could hardly hold a rifle.

“I know how they feel,” Carter smiled. “I caught a close one one day and my foxhole twanged like a violin string.”

His platoon usually carries twice the basic load of ammunition because, as he points out, “If you get cut off that extra stuff may come in mighty handy on the second or third day.”

“I’m part of the other man and he’s part of me,” said Carter, who is a strong believer in teamwork. “If he sees a Jerry going after me, he’ll risk his life to get him and I’d do the same for him. In a way we’re all one. Even the new men, most of them, get that feeling fast.”

A couple of days ago they brought Carter back to 19th Corps to sign some papers concerning his commission. They said he blinked a few times when he saw chow served on a table with plates and silverware and that his grey-green eyes twinkled as he told them: “You’d better get me back to the front fast. I could learn to like it here.”



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