On the opposite page, at the top, L and M Companies of the 407th Infantry, dig in
just outside Gevenich. Center right, Colonel Hurless, CO of the 406th Infantry.
Center left, the demolished Rhine bridge at Uerdingen. At the bottom, Ozark troops
harass Mundelheim, across the Rhine.
outfits. That it was committed to defend the southwest approach to the Ruhr industrial
district, and the Uerdingen-Duisberg sector in particular, indicates the great
consternation with which the menacing position and the reputation of the Ozark Division
was viewed by the German high command. Other indications of the enemy's nervous concern
over this probable crossing site was evident in several futile bombing sorties by the
near-defunct GAF, in the intense artillery fire directed at likely assembly areas near
Friemersheim and Nierst, and finally in the long-range heavy caliber shelling of the
Krefeld marshalling yards. Several enemy patrols, markedly aggressive in nature, were
engaged along the west bank of the river. Although the front-line Joes agreed that the
wide Rhine was less of a hazard in itself than the torrential Roer, our own patrols had
a tough time. The chief danger lay in being caught in midstream under flares and sunk by
fire. Pfc. Mario di Leonardo of Providence, R. I., tells a hair-raising story of the fate
of one sixteen-man patrol: "We had almost reached the east bank when the river lit up
just like daylight. Then machine guns and burp guns opened up. There wasn't anything
we could do but jump under the water and stay there. Bullets aren't supposed to do
much harm under water. We found it out the hard way -- and it worked."
At least it worked for di Leonardo and his friend Pfc. Edward Smith of Crossville,
Tenn. They don't know if it worked for the other fourteen men because they never
saw them again. They tried to swim back despite the swift current but couldn't make
it. Smith headed for a barge on the German side, clambered aboard and hid inside,
followed by di Leonardo. With a trench knife and a forty-five as their only weapons
they holed up in the barge cabin, shoving a couch and table against the door.
There they sweated it out until the next midnight while our artillery unknowingly tossed shells all around them.
Twenty-four hours later, a whole day without food, water or a smoke, the two decided that they couldn't stay there forever and that now was as good a time as any to make a break for their own shore. So they sneaked out, crawled down the wrecked railroad bridge, found a boat and rowed back.
"When we were stopped by an artillery officer, one of our own, I could have kissed him," di Leonardo said. "By the way," he added, "yesterday was my first wedding anniversary. What a hell of a way to celebrate the day!”
Another patrol, a three-man task-force including Sgt. Chester MacLain of Peabody, Mass, Pfc. John Latter, Chicago, and Pfc. John Wilbur, of Norwich, Conn, fared better. Their chief difficulty in this hot sector was bringing back a prisoner. Not that he was a tough character, for once they'd trapped him he was only too willing to come along. It was just that there wasn't enough room in the 3-man rubber boat. These ex-ASTP engineers, members of the 407th Infantry, solved their problem very neatly, however, with typical Ozark ingenuity. They simply laid their Nazi prize out in the bottom of the boat, sat on him, and paddled back. He was worth their trouble too, for he was the first to give evidence that 2d Para Regiment was in the vicinity.
On March 30, the Division extended its sector taking over from the 84th Division on the north and 11th Cavalry Group on the south. The Ozarks now held an eighteen mile front from Homberg south nearly to Dusseldorf. That it could defend so large a zone without apprehension indicated the extent of the German collapse in the West. This was a critical time, however, for now came the big task of crossing the Rhine. The Allies were prepared for the last round against the foe.
Once again the Ozarks were selected to play the part of deception, to hold the crack 2d Paratroop Division south of the Ruhr while Ninth Army made an end-run further north. Patrols were intensified. Artillery thundered day and night. A great store of captured German rockets were turned against the enemy. In rear areas our troops moved to and fro in seemingly aimless confusion. But it was all part of a plan. Too late the Nazis discovered that we had no intention of crossing at Uerdingen. By the time 2d Paratroop Division became convinced that our tactics were only a ruse, Ninth Army had secured the Wesel crossing, and the Ruhr was as good as lost.