Chaffees at Rheinberg 1945

5 March 1945: After Action Report Rheinberg, 36 Tank Battalion, Company D

Interviewer : 1st Lt. Howard L. Oleck

Place and date : Venlo, Holland, 1500 hours, 15 March 1945


SGT ROBERT W. MORRIS, #5 tank, 1st Platoon
SGT WILLARD M. HORINE, #5 tank, 3rd Platoon.

Every officer of Company D, was killed or severely wounded in the action at Rheinberg on 5 March 1945.

Company D of the 36th Tk Bn was in reserve in Aldekerk on the morning of 5 March 1945. They were up all night awaiting orders to move into Lintfort. Orders came at 1130 hours and the column moved ahead very slow.

On that morning the following officers were with the company:
Captain Arthur C. Erdman, CO (WIA)
1st Lt. Kenneth R. Robinson, 1st Platoon (KIA)
2nd Lt. Thomas H. Ryan, 2nd Platoon (WIA)
1st Lt. Frank Rich, 3rd Platoon (KIA)

The company moved northeast toward Lintfort, suffering one casualty from sniper fire, (of which they had been warned) enroute, (T/4 Samson C. Willoughby). They passed through Lintfort from west to east with only an occasional sniper fire along the way and came out on the northeast edge of the town, still in column. CCB trains came with them, in fact all the way to just northeast of Lintfort. Battalion trains also came with them, in fact moving ahead of the tank column until they were clear of the northeast edge of Lintfort. Here the trains were passed and the tank column turned northeast toward Rossenray (Yellow dot on maps below).

The column moved across an open field toward a patch of woods just north of Rossenray. Heavy small arms fire began to come from the woods. Trains halted in place and the tanks passed on to north of Rossenray where they moved around the southeastern corner of the woods, firing into the woods as they passed. Enemy machine guns fire from the woods was silenced and the crews and infantry flushed out the woods and driven north. One platoon of the 809th TD Battalion was located there in line south to north, firing west into the eastern edge of the woods. Major Gurney’s tank came up about this time and he, seeing the situation, ordered Company D to retrace its way back and advance from Lintfort directly north.

The company was in the order of: 3rd Platoon leading followed by 1st and 2nd platoons. While turning around, the platoons got slightly mixed and tanks were out of their proper numerical order in the column. This was to have disastrous effects later. The column went back through Lintfort and turned north on the road leading to the Fossa Canal road. They passed some of the 49th Armored Infantry Battalion (AIB) mopping up the northern edge of town. The column reached the canal road and turned northeast (Today B510) .

When the column had cleared the road crossing, an enemy infantry company dug in just north of the intersection, opened fire with small arms and machine guns, firing into the rear of the column. Before any Company D tanks were able to react, two tanks of the 784th Tank Battalion, which were working with the 49th AIB, came up from the south and drove north into the German infantry positions, driving the enemy off to the north. Never the less, two tanks of Company D were left behind to cover the intersection as a rear guard.

Along the canal road, artillery fire from the northwest began to fall on the column, including many air bursts and timed fire. Lt. Ryan was leading the column, and Major Gurney’s tank was in the column. At 1600 hours, the column reached the bend to the north along the canal road just southwest of Rheinberg.

Here, Lt. Ryan’s tank ran into a cable stretched across the road, injuring him and stopping his tank. He called on the radio to his second section leader, S/Sgt Hollis M. Towry to take the lead. Sgt. Towry’s tank had gotten out of proper order in the town as mentioned above and was too far back to pass the column so Sgt Harry W. McRae, first section leader led the column (he was not the best qualified man to lead the entire company, with all due respects to his qualities.) The column became jammed at this point as no signals were passed back from the leading tank. One tank stalled, half blocking the road, but the column passed by onto the next intersection and then turned north when fire from the east began to come in.

In an open field to the east, two 88’s entirely uncamouflaged, and one (later found to be well camouflaged) began firing. The column had turned north and several tanks returned fire. Sgt. McRae and Lt. Robinson (2 tanks) had turned. The rest of the column was still along the canal road.

The guns were silenced but more fire was coming from the east, and without any express order, the balance of the tanks backed down the canal road to a point just east of the woods which were along the north side of the road. At that point there was a semi-circular excavated area which afforded cover and concealment. The tanks entered that area and used it as a rallying point. Sgt. McRae and Lt. Robinson knocked out another anti-tank gun and one SP gun in a field to the northeast, before returning. Having rallied, the whole company returned southwest to the factory at the intersection north of Lintfort, bringing their wounded along on their tanks. A storm of fire was falling over the rally area and all along the road, coming from anti-tank guns in an arc from the south, swinging west and up to the north. The tanks moved back, firing at every possible gun location but the enemy fire did not slacken.

While withdrawing, several more tanks were hit and left in positions. Lt. Robinson’s tank was hit and burning. Sgt. McRae’s gun had jammed and he remained in the woods trying to repair it. Lt. Ryan’s tank had been stopped by the cable across the road. Lt. Robinson’s tank was hit by an enemy bazooka. Sgt James A Geiger’s tank was hit. Sgt Alonza Larkin’s tank was hit by an 88 as was that of Sgt Edward A. Wargo. Sgt Vernon G. Carr’s tank struck a mine. The road was lined with blazing tanks, artillery was bursting all along the route, and the remaining tanks backing away were firing desperately at very few visible targets. The remaining tanks reached the factory to find no medics to give them assistance, except one medic from the colored tank company who could evacuate only one man on his peep (in Armored Divisions a jeep was called a ‘peep’). Six casualties were loaded on the back of one tank and evacuated.

Captain Erdmann led the 7 remaining tanks up the road again toward the rallying area. Enroute, S/Sgt Lewis J. Sullivan had his hand smashed, and dropped out to return with his tank to the factory. Now there were 6 tanks ready for action at the rallying area (the excavated area mentioned above). Lt. Rich led the tanks out in line across a field to the northeast of the rally area, in assault toward the western edge of Rheinberg. An anti-tank gun, well camouflaged along side a house to the north, was knocked out. Three tanks continued northeast in line (those of Sgt Towry, Sgt Marcell O. Saborn and Sgt Horine).

Two of the tanks, those of Lt. Rich and Capt. Erdmann, turned south to the road and moved east along the road to the railroad station. Every tank was firing rapidly with all guns. Capt. Erdmann’s and Lt. Rich’s tanks were hit and knocked out at the railroad station where the canal road crossed the railroad. The other 3 tanks to the north were under heavy fire and Sgt Towry’s tank was hit and began burning. Sgt Horine and Sgt Sayborn finding themselves thus alone, put their tanks into reverse, still firing, and got behind some houses. Sgt Sayborn’s machine guns were jammed and he was working on clearing them. Sgt. Horine’s tank, alone, could continue to fire. This was about 1700 hours.

Sgts Horine and Sayborn withdrew to the canal road. There they met Major Gurney, Col. Kimball and Lt. Robinson with the anti-tank platoon of Company C of the 49th AIB. Lt. Robinson mounted the back of Sgt Horine’s tank and fired the .50 caliber machine gun over the turret. The infantry platoon deployed along both sides of the road and they began to move up toward Rheinberg again in the ditches. At this time all the heavy guns (anti-tank) had been silenced and only sporadic small arms fire was being received from the town. The fire from the right flank (southeast) began to increase. The tanks fired smoke mortars from their turrets, smoking the south side of the road. There was enemy infantry to the north and machine guns firing from the south. An anit-tank gun opened up again from the east.

Sgt Horine’s tank was hit. Lt. Robinson and those that did escape landed in a nearby ditch. It was then that Lt. Robinson told his men that he was going to get some infantry to help them. That was the last the men saw of him. The next morning they learned that while Lt. Robinson tried to contact the infantry he was killed by a shot in the head.

Sgt. Sayborn, in the only remaining tank, backed up, turned, picked up some dismounted tankers and returned to the north edge of Lintfort. As he was leaving, some of our armored infantry came up, joining the few who already were moving toward Rheinberg, and they all moved into Rheinberg against only light small arms fire.

On March 6th, the 88th Cavalry Squadron cleared the pocket which had been the original objective, in a few hours, taking 60 prisoners and suffered no serious casualties what so ever. The 88th Cavalry Squadron came into position to attack the pocket by swinging somewhat south and east of the 8th Armored Division CP at Grefrath and then northeast into the pocket on the right flank of CCB.

The final tally of the battle for Rheinberg show not only the determination of the CCB men of the 8th Armored to accomplish their mission, but also the fanatic defense put up by the Germans in an attempt to hold open an escape route to Wesel. The 49th AIB suffered 68 casualties, while the 36th had 131 either wounded or killed in action. From the German ranks, 512 prisoners were taken and 350 killed. The 36th Tank Battalion lost a total of 41 tanks. Company B had lost all but six tanks. Company A fared somewhat better, but a final count showed 11 of its tanks knocked out. Company D, which had been ordered to attack from the southwest, left 17 of its 18 tanks along the road and the remaining tank had to be withdrawn.

On the left, is a WWII map overlay of the battle area. On the right is a Google map of the area today with Company D route marked in red. The yellow dots indicate the location of Rossenray.

Interview: The Battle of Rheinberg (March, 1945) MASTER 17A