COBLENZ WAS DIFFERENT

When the Third Army pulled into town, there were some who remembered the entry in ’18.

By Sgt. Robert McBrinn

YANK Staff Correspondent

WITH THE FOURTH ARMORED IN GERMANY—There was something different about Coblenz.

Of course, there was the same bewildered Germans lining the roads into town; as always, a few children hazarded feeble waves and half-smiles at the passing tanks and men; flags of surrender flew from every window, forming a white canopy over the narrow streets, and there was the usual reports of the women who tried to serve Schnaaps to the passing troops.

But Coblenz was different.



It was the second time in less than 30 years that the U.S. Third Army was entering the German resort on the Rhine, and when the 87th Infantry Division crossed the Moselle and stormed the city, there were some old-timers around who had served with the old Third of 1918 and 1923.

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Under a smoke screen, engineers of the 87th Division ferry tanks across the Moselle river during the Third Army’s drive to the Rhine and beyond.

Under terms of the Armistice ending the last war, the Americans were to march to Coblenz behind the withdrawing German Army. They had plenty of time, then; there was none of the rush of the present Third Army drive.

One division took a month to march  from Sedan to Coblenz, and as one veteran of the occupation army, Gary Sheahan, staff artist of the Chicago Tribune, explained it, “We pushed the caissons up the hills and held them back going down.”

But once inside the town there wasn’t much to remember.

The avenues and streets down to the river front were littered with rubble. The city that was once the social center of the occupation army was ground to brick dust in many places, and the German artillery and mortar from across the river were completing the chaos.

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WWI Doughboys enter Germany in 1918

The shops and beer halls that were hangouts for the dads of a lot of GIs fighting this war were in shambles, there was not much left of one, “The Geiserhof,” but the dingy sign announcing the location. Another civilian correspondent, John M. O’Connell, now of the Bangor, Me., Daily News, and also a veteran of the occupation army, found an ashtray in what had been his favorite suds joint. That was all that remained. O’Connell tried to locate what had been his billet, but all he could find was a twisted piece of plumbing.

The race track and polo field where the EM of the old army used to play the ponies had been converted into an airfield, but when it was captured by the 345th Regiment it was just a series of bomb craters and the grandstands that had been made into hangers were only shells of buildings.

And the most famous landmark in town, the statue of Kaiser Wilhem where the Moselle and Rhine meet, was completely destroyed by artillery.

But some of the women were familiar, as such woman always are. Some of them may have been the daughters of those who made it difficult for the last occupation army not to fraternize, and they were still at work on the GIs of this army. As one fraternization-conscious sergeant explained, “They ask you nothing but $65 questions.” Others of the 87th referred to them as Hitler “V-sex” weapons.



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GIs raise the American flag in Coblenz

There were other memories for the old timers across the river at Fort Ehrenbreistein, where the Jerries were still holding out. In 1918 the fort was the headquarters for the occupation army, and on February 7, 1923 the homesick GIs saw their own flag come down and the French tri-color go up in its place.

As those who were there were anxious to point out, it was a cold but happy day when the old Eighth Infantry Regiment hauled down the flag.

But nobody looked too long or too often at the old fort. There was too much mortar and artillery lobbing across the river. Strangely enough, however, the houses below the fort were flying white flags.

Besides, unlike the Third Army of the last war the new Third couldn’t stop at Coblenz; it hurried on, crushing pockets of resistance all along the Moselle front.

This was not a leisurely drive, and there was nothing of the boredom of the winter campaign. It was more like the Third’s sweep across France late last summer, when it seemed that the war might end any day.

There was confusion along the roads, what with the conglomerate convoys of men and armor and the thousands of Germans who were giving up sooner than the armor men could handle them. Small detachments would trickle out of the woods with their hands in the air and try to give up to anyone who came along. One group tried to surrender to a jeep full of unarmed correspondents. Others just walked down the road to the rear carrying small pieces of white cloth. When a vehicle approached, they would thrust their hands in the air. Some wandered around in a daze looking for a PW cage where they expected to get their first meal in days.

In addition, hundreds of Russians, Poles, Czechs and French—forced workers liberated by the drive were trudging to the rear, some crippled, many needing medical attention, but all of them yelling and waving at every vehicle. One little Russian stood by the side of the road and saluted every American vehicle as it passed.

Another reminder of the drive across France last summer was the lack of mine fields. The drive had been too fast for Jerry to lay mines. Again as in the late summer push, the doughs rested their dogs. Many of them rode to battle in this operation.coblenz

Finally, the roads were cluttered with abandoned and destroyed German equipment. Combat commands came upon supply dumps loaded with material, and during the first leg of the dash one command found 400 German vehicles. Some were still burning when division headquarters moved forward to catch up with the rushing tank columns. Many of the weapons found were still coated with cosmoline.

All told, the drive to and beyond Coblenz was very satisfying to the men of the Third, but the city itself was just another, slightly larger heap of rubble. The only thing was, the Third had been there before. But the differences now were greater than the similarities. Last time, the Third followed the Germans in; this time they chased them into and beyond Coblenz, and kept on going.

The day later it fell, Coblenz was history. The war was moving too fast for post mortems.



For More on the Battle for Germany Check Out:

Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945


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