WT Block Jr -- Ruhr Area
By W. T. Block
First published in Beaumont Enterprise on Saturday xxx, 2000.
NEDERLAND—During the Memorial Day weekend of 2000, I did what I have done on several such weekends - watch a lot of war movies. One black and white documentary that I became intrigued with retraced every step I had trod during 5 months of World War II - the Bulge battle, the rat race across the Rhineland, and the 78th Division’s crossing of the captured Ludendorf Bridge over the Rhine River on Mar. 7, 1945.
In the Remagen Bridgehead, the division fought an enemy that was often invisible - German tanks and artillery stalled on the perimeter for lack of fuel, but who poured an incessant volume of exploding shells into our ranks. The documentary was fairly accurate until April 1, 1945, by which time the division had fought its way north to the Sieg River. By that date, Germany’s industrial Ruhr area had been surrounded by 2 pincer movements that had encircled more than 300,000 German troops.
That Allied headquarters sent our lone division into the Ruhr Pocket from the south, and a single British division from the north attests to the fact that the Allies knew that the German army in the Ruhr area was no longer a viable fighting force. However, the documentary showed the two divisions as enduring stiff resistance and a ‘blood bath’ of casualties up until the last day of battle on Apr. 14th. Hence it became obvious that Army photographers did not accompany us during the 2 weeks battle in the Ruhr, and that they filled in the blanks with battle scenes taken elsewhere. What resulted was a piece of propaganda that did justice to Hitler’s henchman Joseph Goebels.
What comprised the Germany “army” in the Ruhr were a few German boys, ages 12-14, and the other 95% were old men, 65 and beyond, who had been World War I veterans, mostly in civilian clothes. By American standards, some would have been too old even for World War I. In 2 weeks time, the only German resistance I saw was 2 gun crews of 12-year-old boys, using Bofors anti-aircraft guns as field artillery. The bodies of about 12 boys surrounded the guns.
Almost from the day we crossed the Sieg River on Apr. 1, old men, who had thrown their weapons away, and whose arms were clasped behind their heads, besieged us. We motioned to them to keep walking to the rear.
We were traveling in a small convoy, comprised of HQ Co. vehicles, of 309th Infantry Regiment. Once our truck broke down for 30 minutes, and the convoy left, stranding us amid hundreds of Germans wanting to surrender. One German helped us get the engine started, and then asked in English if we had some food. We gave him some raw potatoes and then drove away.
Everyone that we passed held fingers to an open mouth, and one German told us they had had nothing to eat for 5 days. We had no more food, and could only motion for them to keep walking toward the rear. On one occasion, the 309th supply officer left to get enough K-rations for 5,000 prisoners, and while he was gone, 10,000 more surrendered.
Our truck drove in convoy for 2 weeks and 100 miles before finally reaching the large industrial town of Wuppertal, where we met the British division advancing from the north. During those 2 weeks, the 78th Division captured about 155,000 prisoners. And during that period, we had seen the once mighty and haughty German army disintegrate into a rabble of old men and starving stomachs.
By the time we reached Wuppertal, America’s armored divisions had swept 200 miles eastward to the Elbe River, where they held up to await the Russians. Heavens knows that our division had suffered a lot, 1,700 killed and 7,000 wounded and missing in 5 months time; but I thought I would set the record straight about the “blood bath” we did NOT experience while cleaning up the Ruhr Pocket.