THE 78th INFANTRY DIVISION AND THE “RUHR POCKET”

Posted on October 9th, 2016 by:

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THE 78th INFANTRY DIVISION AND THE “RUHR POCKET”

Toward the end of March, while the 78th continued to hold and strengthen its position along the Sieg River line, First and Ninth Army units began to pour across the Rhine. Two prongs shot out across the map in a giant pincer aimed at the complete encirclement of the vital Ruhr industrial area. The 78th guarded the left flank of the First Army Drive as it pushed eastward, lobbing artillery and mortar fire into the German defenses across the Sieg. 78th patrols, on spine-chilling missions deep into enemy territory, travelled back and forth across the river.



On April 1st, units of the Ninth Army driving around from the north, established contact with units of the First Army, coming up from the south. The entire Ruhr area was thus encircled. The two Armies then pushed on to the Elbe River, leaving behind a huge pocket, covering an area of over 5,000 square miles, in which over 300,000 German troops were completely cut off. Included in this pocket, were the large industrial cities of Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Hamm, Essen, and Wuppertal.

78th infantry division

Shoulder insignia of the 78th Infantry Division

On April 6th from its positions along the southern lining of the pocket, the Division crossed the Sieg and drove into the Ruhr area. It was a coordinated squeeze, the 78th pushing northward; the other First and Ninth Army units pressing in from the east and north. Throughout the next eleven days, while Allied spearheads probed to within 50 miles of Berlin, the 78th smashed up into the Ruhr in daily gains that varied from 6000 yards up to 11 miles over rough, hilly terrain.

Blitz…

The pocket was heavily defended by SS, Panzer, Parachute and Infantry troops, together with numerous flak batteries and miscellaneous units of all descriptions, pressed into service as infantry. The Germans employed everything they could lay their hands on—tanks, self-propelled guns, anti-aircraft, rockets—to hold back the advancing doughs. But the Lightning men would not be stopped.78th infantry division ruhr pocket

Cut off and demoralized by the relentless Lightning advances, read guard forces threw down their arms and gave themselves up. Whole garrisons were overrun. Prisoners were herded to the rear by the thousands, and the PW count soared to a record high of 9,186 for a single day.

This was blitzkrieg—Yankee fashion.

The 78th doughboys pushed forward from one town to the next, leaving a trail of white surrender flags in their wake. German soldiers in civilian clothes were ferreted out and sent to the cage to share the fate of their Kamerads. A steady stream of 6×6’s, their bows bulging with the weight of the countless disillusioned supermen, poured out of the ever-diminishing pocket.

Thousands of slave-workers—Russians, French, Czechs, Dutch, Poles—liberated by the 78th, roamed the streets and trudged along the roadsides, still dazed by the sudden turn of events that had set them free after five years of slavery.

78th infantry division-kesternich

GIs of 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th “Lightning” Division in the Belgian town of Kesternich, on January 31, 1945.



On the 15th of April the Mayor of Wuppertal received a phone call. At the other end of the wire was a Lightning officer, demanding the immediate surrender of the city. Within a few hours, Wuppertal, which had boasted a pre-war population of 400,000 surrendered to the 78th Division.

Finis…

78th infantry dvision-kesternich

 A GI of the 78th Division guards two German soldiers

Two days later the Pocket had virtually ceased to exist. General Parker summed up the action in a message to the troops.

“…In eleven days you advanced more than 50 miles against the enemy. You captured 47,581 prisoners, including 7 General Officers. You captured some 120 towns and villages. You cleared over 300 square miles of enemy territory…The courage, fighting heart, and aggressive spirit which broke the Seigfried Line, wrested the Schwammenauel Dam from the enemy, and secured the now famous Remagen bridgehead, are still with you.”

On April 17th, after 128 days of continuous frontline duty, the Lightning Division was taken off the line and put into reserve for a well-earned rest.

The story of the Ruhr Pocket (since named the “Rose” Pocket in memory of Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose) will go down as one of the dramatic highlights of this war – one of the great milestones on the road to victory in Europe.



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