254th Infantry Regiment- Page 5
JEBSHEIM, FRANCE.-"A place of pain and pride, where they nobly fought and nobly died."
Just before midnight on 24 January 1945, the first elements of the 28th Infantry Division arrived to relieve us on position. By noon the
following day, the entire regiment was assembled in an area in the Colmar Forest northeast of Ostheim, France. The First Battalion
was greatly understrength, A company having only 120 line troops, B company depleted to 80, C company to about 120 and the
machine gun platoons of D Company were less than half of their full strength. The Third Battalion had also sustained a large number of
casualties on Hill 216 and only the Second Battalion remained in good operational strength. Our stay in the Colmar Forest was
destined to be a short one, however, for another mission lay ahead of the regiment. The 15th Infantry (3rd Div) had, the previous day,
cleared the area east of the Ill River, pushing toward Reidwihr in its southward drive, leaving isolated groups of enemy in its wake.
The route from the west toward the town of Jebsheim was now clear.
It had become apparent as the month of January drew to a close that the hub of resistance, the key, to the entire Colmar Pocket was
the well fortified town of Jebsheim, France. The village itself is laid out in a way highly advantageous to the defender. The principal
artery of the town is a north-south street with stone buildings on either side. Branching off at both ends of the main street are two
parallel ones leading west. Weapons located in the houses along these streets can effectively cover with cross-fire almost all the area
to the west of the town. The Germans had skillfully supplemented Jebsheim's natural defensive virtues. Along the street and road
leading northwest, heavy concrete bunkers had been built. In an arc, extending above the northwest street, a row of pillboxes
defended to the north, while other steel reinforced emplacements at the southern end completed the strong defensive system.
On the night of 23 January, while the attack on Hill 216 was still in progress, the tanks and tank destroyers attached to the regiment
had been released. Now, they were attached once more. Operation Instruction Number 8 specified that elements of the
Reconnaissance Company and a platoon of C Company, 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion were to maintain contact with the lst DMI,
follow the Second Battalion, and stand ready to reduce such strong points as might be encountered. A light tank platoon of C
Company 756th Tank Battalion, was to follow the tank destroyers, protecting the rear and assisting the battalions by fire. A chemical
mortar platoon and a AAA/AW platoon remained attached as before. So swiftly had come the decision for the regiment to attack
Jebsheim, that when the regimental staff and battalion commanders returned from Third Division Headquarters, it was already the hour
set to launch the attack, 1600. There was time for only the barest briefing possible to the company commanders. As we moved out of
the Colmar Forest, most of us knew only that the First and Second Battalions were to be employed initally with the First Battalion on
the right maintaining contact with the 15th Infantry (3rd Div) driving south below Riedwihr with the Second Battalion on the left linked
itself with the 1st DMI by reconnaissance elements. The third Battalion had been designated as regimental reserve, to be used on
Third Division order only.
At 1600 the two battalions moved out, each maintaining a two company front--the First on the right side of the northwest road, the
Second on the left side. We had supposed that the operations of the 15th Infantry insured us an easy approach to the line of
departure. This proved untrue. Shortly after crossing the Ill River, more than fifteen hundred yards short of the line of departure, we
received fire from machine guns and small arms in the northern end of the Bois de Jebsheim as well as heavy artillery fire from the
vicinity of Jebsheim. Sub-zero temperature combined with a fierce north wind which whipped the deep snow into a frenzy of blinding
ice partricles slowed our advance to a painful crawl as we fought our way through artillery and rocket barrages to the line of depature.
This was reached at about 2100, and already the effect of the cold and exertion began to show on us; the First Battalion especially
suffered, their complete lack of sleep and rest for so many hours made their resistance very low.
Because of the difficulty which the Blind River presented, our formation was changed at the line of departure to a column of
companies, in each battalion. Upon traversing the road west of the Blind River, the advance became even more difficult under the
machine gun, rifle, and pistol fire. We found that a detachment of French troops had taken the burning buildings of Jebsheim Mills.
Even though we realized the danger of falling debris, shells directed on the Mills, and the perfect outline our bodies made against the
bright flames, many of us were more than willing to take the chance as we huddled for a few minutes as close to the fire as possibe.
This was reportedly one of the coldest nights of the entire winter; warmth seemed more important than safety. At about 2230 G
Company, leading the Second Battalion, crossed the Blind River. With two platoons abreast, one either side of the road, the unit
moved toward the town. After advancing a few hundred yards, the company lost contact with the First Battalion on the right and
The First Battalion meanwhile was running into difficult obstacles. A Company, leading, waded across the icy, swift-flowing river.
Emerging on the west bank, the company was pinned down by accurate heavy machine gun fire. Contact was lost as the men of A,
soaked from the waist down, crawled through the deep snow. B Company inched its way from behind and finally contacted G. Both
companies then moved along the northwestern approach to the town. After another hour of slow advance the two companies came
within 400 yards of the outlying bunkers. Here they were competely pinned down as fire rained on them from three directions; the
Bois de Jebsheim to the south, the vicinity of Grussenheim to the north, and the bunkers of Jebsheim to the east. Mortar fire was
placed on the bunkers, but was ineffective; a patrol sent southwestward to silence the machine guns in the Bois de Jebsheim met with
failure as frozen weapons failed to work for their frozen owners. So intense was the small arms and artillery fire brought to bear on us
that even after a fifteen minute barrage by four battalions of field artillery, the resistance was still so heavy that we could advance not
further. At 0430 the two leading companies began a withdrawal toward the Blind river. The Second Battalion formed a defensive arc
around the eastern side of Jebsheim Mills while the First Battalion took positions in a ditch several yards west of the north-south
Undoubtedly, this night was the most miserable the regiment ever experienced. Each man had carried only one blanket into the attack,
and most of these had been soaked when we crossed the Blind. All of our clothing was wet either from the stream or from the snow
melted by our body heat as we lay in it. The clothing had now frozen to our skin. No fires could be lit. Those of us not on guard slept.
Somehow, the night finally ended. The following morning we counted our casualties, and met a new enemy, one who accounted for
five times as many men as the Germans- the dreaded trenchfoot. Men who could hardly walk hobbled back to aid stations to be
evacuated to hospitals. The First Battalion suddenly fell to less than company strength. the Second Battalion, which had not been
committed on Hill 216, fared much better, although it too, had a share of frozen hands and trenchfoot. Meanwhile, plans were being
made to attack Jebsheim again that evening. The volume of fire which had come from the Bois de Jebsheim indicated that the clearing
of this forest would require considerable attention. Therefore, while the First and Second Battalions continued their attack on
Jebsheim, the Third Battalion would pass through Reidwihr and reduce the enemy holding in the Bois de Jebsheim. this done, the third
Battalion was to advance eastward and assist in the taking of Jebsheim by and attack from the South.
THE BATTLE OF JEBSHEIM(CONTINUED) PAGE 6
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15 Oct 13