At 0300, Mar 24, the Rhine crossing was on! From Uerdingen, the 561 maintained a volley every three minutes for four hours in support of the XVI Corps on the left which pushed off to cross Germany’s river. As the XIX Corps on the 561’s right pulled around and followed the XVI Corps across, the 17-A/B, newly attached to XIII Corps, made a successful drop on Wesel to form a wedge across the river.
Nine days later, the battalion was relieved by elements of the 15-A and crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge at Wesel to occupy positions four miles west of Munster, current objective of the 17-A/B troopers.Munster surrendered on Apr 4 and the outfit pulled out at 0330, heading east along the autobahn. The Corps Artillery, however, was bogged down by a blown bridge and the 561 turned to Isselhorst for a bivouac. A large cognac distillery was located in this town, unguarded. When the battalion reached Uchtdorf, just south of the Weser River, at 0730 the next day, a makeshift hospital containing 500 wounded Germans were located. The Nazis were promptly ordered to evacuate and go to Rinteln, which had been declared an open city. Thirty minutes after the last German pulled out, enemy shells peppered the battalion area; five men in C Btry were injured. Only the river separated the outfit from the Germans at this point.The 84-ID was on the north side of the river, approaching the enemy from the west. At 0345 on Apr 10, the battalion pulled out, crossed the Weser River at Hameln, and took up positions at Pattensen. A pocket at Arnum nearby had not been cleared and 88-MMs were coming over in large numbers. Once again, along with four other artillery battalions, the 561 was without infantry. The five battalions formed a perimeter defense around the town. No sooner did the outfit take up positions at Lehrte on Apr 12 than CSMO was given. The enemy was retreating rapidly. The battalion now was reinforcing the 5-AD, which was maintaining a breakneck speed to catch up with the fleeing Nazis.
As the battalion moved on to Klotze the next day the recon party pulled out ahead followed by Capt Walter Rogers and a registering gun from C Btry. While en route, the recon group received orders that they were to make further recon east of Osterburg because of 5-AD’s rapid progress. After passing through Klotze, the recon party was ambushed near Zichtau by a portion of the enemy that had been bypassed by the armor. A liaison plane spotted the Germans and attempted to warn the column by diving in front of the lead vehicle, but it was too late. As the column approached a wooded section near the top of a steep grade, Germans opened up with machine guns and Panzerfaust. A shallow ditch was the only protection the men had. Capt Karl O. Holliday, 1/Sgt Andrew V. MacDonald, T/5 Floyd F. Smith, and T/5 Lewis Szakacs, all of HQs Btry, were killed. Some of the personnel in the rear of the column made a break and successfully escaped. Capt Woodling, B Battery, was shot through an arm as he raised his hands to surrender; Pvt John Eagen, Col White, 1/Sgt Ronald Routhier, 1/Sgt Walter Hurford, S/Sgt Arthur Forbes, Cpl Louis Soukey, Cpl William Lackner, and T/4 Don McMannamy were captured. The Nazis took the men that evening to a paratrooper headquarters and later to an airport near Gardeleden.
On a farm outside of this town, teenage German SS troops massacred and burned hundreds of Polish, Soviet and Hungarian slave laborers. The SS troopers herded their victims into a barn and ignited the straw on the floor which had been saturated with gasoline. Meanwhile, the registering gun party was halted after passing through Klotze and ordered to go into action along with a registering gun from the 261-FAB. Soon afterward, Lt Robert Nielsen, piloted by Lt Douglas Lord, registered on a town at a range of only 2000 yards. The gun section was forced to bore sight between trees and occasionally knocked a few treetops off. Capt William McKinzie, having escaped the ambush, stayed with the registering gun that night and helped organize a defense perimeter. When the remainder of the battalion arrived at Klotze it occupied defensive positions at the edge of the town.
The 202-FAG, which had sustained heavy losses in officers and men killed or captured, went out of action the next day and the battalion became attached to the 472-FAG. The same afternoon, the outfit was shoved onto Geinsenslage along the Elbe River. All personnel who were taken prisoner when ambushed were freed on Apr 15 when elements of the 102-ID reduced the enemy pocket. Those not wounded were returned to the battalion. Having lost five peeps, the 561 now found it necessary to requisition civilian cars. The firing was limited to observed targets only as Soviet troops were expected at any time.
The battalion settled down to wait for the Red troops to arrive but the fireworks weren’t over by any means. A Btry was bombed and strafed on Apr 16 at 2105. T/5 James P. Slowey, T/5 Jesse E. Curtis, Pfc Burton Neal, and Pvt Henry H. Hutcherson were killed. Nine other men were wounded. More trouble developed the next day as a German division commanded by Gen von Clausewitz swung down from Corps’ exposed north flank some 50 miles to the battalion’s rear. This move resulted in displacing to the rear two days later in order to reinforce elements of the 5-AD. By Apr 21, the 561 had gone forward to Tarmitz where it fired 700 rounds along the banks of the Elbe. While waiting for the Allied forces to hook up, B Btry moved to Zadrau. The firing was limited to observed fires once more and the river marked the no fire line. Assigned to the 411-FAG on Apr 25, the 561 shifted to Kleiner Gusborn.
The last of the 3260 missions took place at Offensen, on the Elbe on May 6. The Germans unconditionally surrendered two days later. On May 12, every battery took off in a different direction as the battalion was assigned to military government work. However, by Jun 17, the 561 was together again at Kipfenberg where it was put into category 4. In early July, the battalion was en route to Le Havre where it was to settle down and sweat out the return trip to the States. This was the end of the trail – a long and arduous route that brought those Long Toms over four countries and through five major campaigns. The men of the 561st Field Artillery Battalion could well be proud. Those 54.991 rounds the booming 155s fired were one of many shoves that pushed Nazi Germany to defeat for all time.