For three months by counterattacks, by desperate delaying actions and by man-made floods the Germans had prevented General Eisenhower's armies from crossing the Roer River. Every once in a while, on clear days during those months, U.S. soldiers on the Roer's west bank could see the towers and chimneys of Cologne.
The great offensive across the Roer, scheduled for Feb. 10, had been postponed when the Germans loosed a flood from the dams in the Roer headwaters. Last week the river was falling, but it was still swift and turbulent and several feet above the normal level. At Düren it was 50 to 60 yards wide, and the current was running at six to seven miles an hour.
Every day Lieut. General Courtney Hodges' First Army recovered further from its winter setback in the Ardennes.
Lieut. General William Simpson's Ninth Army was so fresh and fit that it was almost going stale. Its front was jam-packed with men and supplies. Every day the Germans were strengthening the maze of defenses between the Roer and the Rhine. The Russians were waiting. Eisen hower could not wait any longer.
By Boat & Bridge. At 2:45 a.m. the earth leaped to the thunder of thousands of guns. There were 240-mm monsters, Long Toms. 1055, 755. The guns of tanks and tank destroyers, flak artillery and captured German rockets joined the barrage. A quarter-million shells fell on the German positions. But some Germans lived to answer with mortars and artillery zeroed in on the river crossings.
At 3:30 the barrage lifted; the troops started across the dark, swirling water in rubber and wooden assault boats, ducks, alligators, amphibious tanks. Some boats were smashed by enemy fire, others by plastic mines floated downstream by the Germans, and still others were wrecked by iron spikes and barbed wire set under water. But many boats got safely across.
Some soldiers crossed on foot bridges. The night before, engineer patrols had sneaked steel cables across the river, and these had remained slack, submerged and undetected during the day. Now they were pulled taut, out of the water, and swaying foot bridges were strung across in a matter of minutes.
The Planes Came. With daylight came U.S. planes 1,300 in direct support, others chopping at Nazi rear communications. Jülich fell to the Ninth Army all but a 16th-Century citadel surrounded by a moat 20 feet deep and a wall 14 feet thick and 45 feet high. Next day the Ninth's 29th Division assaulted the cita del with 755 and flamethrowers. When the Yanks finally got in, they found a few German dead. The other defenders had run out, during the night, through a tunnel that led to the woods.
Düren was tougher. The Germans bat tled the First Army from buildings, tow ers, tunnels, vaults. They fought viciously until their plight was hopeless, then sur rendered mildly. They were found hiding in brick kilns and under beds. One group, chased out of an electric plant, ran to an apartment house next door and resumed the battle there. Four Germans were captured in a pillbox on the sixth floor of a paper mill.