Yank Weekly: Navy On The Rhine - 1945-04-27
By Sgt. Ed Cunningham YANK Staff Correspondent
With the U. S. Navy on the Rhine—The day the Ninth Army crossed the Rhine River was the screwiest 24 hours of the 20 years that CWO John (Chips) Dauphinais has served in the U. S. Navy.
First off, there was the strictly unnautical experience of riding in a boat that was being carted on an Army truck over dusty, shell-pitted roads that were zeroed in by German 88s. Then came a two-hour heave-to in a blasted German village, waiting for an ammo dump that had been ignited by enemy artillery to burn itself out so Chips’ boats could be trucked over the Rhine dykes Without silhouetting them to enemy guns across the river. Next came the sacrilegious breaching of Naval procedure in the way the LCMs and LCVPs had to be launched on the Rhine.
Instead of being let down gently from a ship’s davits v.in approved Navy style, the boats were dropped by cranes operated by the Army Engineers or batted in by bulldozers. Amid all this were frequent trips to nearby foxholes while Jerry mortars and 88s splattered the west bank. The final blow was the precedent-breaking experience of taking naval craft into action on a river that was no more than 350 yards wide and 200 miles from the nearest ocean.
Although not steeped in naval tradition like his trip on Old Ironsides when it made its fareweu tour of the U. S., or his service on a destroyer in the South Pacific during the critical days of 1942, the Rhine crossing was still a day that Chips can dwell upon long, if not longingly, when he tells his grandchildren back in Nashua, N. H., about his 20 years in the Navy.
Chips and other members of Comdr. William D. J. Whitesides’ Naval Task Group, which operated with the First, Third and Ninth Armies in their successful crossing of the Rhine, were not in the largest combined operation of the war but they were certainly in a unique one. Never before have Uj S. naval units gone into action with the Army 200 miles from ah ocean. Likewise this was the first time in history that the Army had called on the Navy to support an inland-river crossing.
Three hours after the first assault troops hit the east bank of the Rhine in the Ninth Army sector, the Navy was delivering tanks and TDs to them to knock out the enemy strongholds that were holding up the advance. German moitars and air bursts were blanketing the river and beaches when Coxswain G. Jaryzisky of Bowling Green, Ohio, guided his 50-foot LCM No. 33 onto the far bank of the Rhine with a Sherman tank. Only a few minutes after shoving off from the west bank he was back to pick up a TD for which the Army had sent an urgent request.
After making his second trip across with the Sailors lived in barracks and launched an amphibious operation 200 miles from the nearest ocean.
TD, Jaryzisky turned his 26-tori cfaTf downstream toward a site where U. S. troops on the far bank needed armor ferried to them. While he was in midstream a German 88 opened up on him. The first shell was high, but the next two were near misses on the port quarter and sprayed the LCM with shrapnel. The boat’s two .50-caliber machine-gunners and signalman were injured and had to be evacuated. Lt. (jg) Richard Kennedy of Los Angeles, Calif., who was in command at the ferry site, also was aboard. He got a superficial chin wound but did not require hospitalization. Jaryzisky and his engioaer, Richard Graham Sic of Elmwood, Wis., escaped unhurt and continued to ferry supplies and troops across for the next two days of the operation at that site.
Another LCM was hit by an 88 at the beach site just as it was to be unloaded from its trailer. The shell ripped a hole in the bow ramp but caused no further damage. Half an hour later the LCM was in operation as a Rhine ferry with Coxswain William D. J. Murray of Bayonne, N. J., at the helm. Once the build-up of supplies and men had been completed on the Ninth Army front, the Navy craft switched over to help the Combat Engineers construct treadway and ponton bridges. They towed bridge sections in place and held them fast while engineers put in their upstream anchors. After that the LCMs and LCVPs patrolled the Rhine to protect the newly constructed bridges from floating mines and debris.
For five months preceding the inland naval operation, the Navy’s small-boat crews lived and dressed as soldiers to maintain the secrecy which covered the preparations for the Rhine crossing. They trained with combat engineers, to whom they were attached, on rivers in Holland and Belgium, perfecting the new amphibious technique which the peculiar nature pf their assign- ~ ment demanded. Instead of guiding their boats through tossing waves and rolling surf as they had done in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, the small-boat men had to learn to maneuver their craft to and from pinpoint landing spots in swift sidewise currents in which they had never had to operate before.
While the initial plans were being made for the crossing, the Allied High Command decided on a combined air, sea and land operation as the most practical method of storming Germany’s age-old defensive barrier to invasion. Parachute and glider troops were to be used to secure the east bank of the Rhine and its approaches, so that the Infantry assault troops could get ashore without having to meet the all-out defenses of the Germans. These plans were somewhat modified by the unexpected capture of the bridge at ' Remagen. This took the initial brunt of the burden off the airborne troops. Several bridgeheads were planned, but the problem of supplying initial assault troops loomed as a major threat to the success of the operation. The width and current of the Rhine were expected to make construction of bridges very difficult.
So, as originally planned, naval craft were counted on to build up the force on the east bank between the initial crossings and the completion of the bridges. The bow-ramp construction of the LCMs and LCVPs made them ideal for quick transportation, permitting loaded vehicles to be driven on and off without the necessity of reloading. The Engineers stated that without naval craft a crossing of the Rhine could not be made until mid-June when the spring thaws were over. That’s why the Navy got the assignment of ferrying the Army across the Rhine.
German prisoners were carried back to the west bank of the Rhine in landing boats. Prisoners on this boat fish some comrades out of the
The Navy unit assigned to the First Army was the first to arrive on the Continent. Its personnel went into training last October at localities in Belgium whose terrain approximated the probable Rhine crossing sites. They practiced daily with engineers on the Manse River, launching boats, and loading and unloading all types of cargo.
CWO John (Chips) Dauphinais wears Army fatigues.
Among the tough problems the Navy had to beat were the freezing conditions that existed in river navigation. The cooling systems of their boat engines were designed for salt water, which, of course, never freezes. So a new cooling system had to be worked out. Ice in the river was another headache, and guards had to be improvised to protect the screws.
But the biggest headache came when the crews started to move their craft toward the Rhine over hundreds of miles of blasted roads. On its truck carrier, an LCM is 77 feet long (equivalent to the height of a seven-story building), 14 feet wide and nearly 20 feet high. That made moving them over shelled roads and narrow village streets a tough problem.
While passing through one German town the LCMs reached a narrow street where they didn’t have room to turn a corner. Ironically enough, one of the few relatively undamaged houses in the village was situated right on that corner, blocking the boats’ passage. There was no alternative route through or around the village. So the Army convoy officer with the Navy crews did the inevitable. He knocked on the door of the house that was holding up the Navy. When its rather timid German owner answered, the Army officer said: “How do you do? I just came to tell you you’ll have to evacuate immediately. We gotta blow up your house.” Shortly afterward, a combination of dynamite and a bulldozer cleared a “channel” for the Navy.
When the Germans launched their Ardennes offensive in December, the First Army sailors had to fall back along with the soldiers. During the break-through they had plans ready to destroy their boats if they were trapped. Daily drills were staged so no time would be lost if a “scorched sea” policy became necessary. The LCVPs, which are made largely of plywood, were to be drenched with gasoline and burned, and the all-steel LCMs were to be burned out and sunk.
These drastic measures were not necessary, as the Germans never got that close. They did, however, force the Navy to evacuate several of its billeting sites. During the hectic weeks of the Ardennes campaign the sailors were quartered successively in a bombed-out factory, a town hall, a restaurant, a theater, a grammar school and private houses.
Living as soldiers and dressing in ODs, helmets and GI shoes didn’t make doughfeet out of the sailors but it did bring about a slight change in their vocabularies. Instead of using such Navy terms as “head” and “quarterdeck,” the land- based sailors often found themselves slipping up and unconsciously referring to “latrines” and “CPs." But the language change worked both ways, as several Army engineers working with the Navy soon discovered. GIs started speaking of “floors” as “decks” and using “topside” for “upstairs.”
Although conforming to Army life in dress and speech, the Navy men remained conscientious objectors to Army chow. They ate C-rations and K-rations when nothing else was available. But whenever possible they sent out a detail to the nearest U. S. Navy advance base to draw certain Cooking lunch in front of their boot are (I. to r.) Coxswains Frank Potyrolo and Harry Atkins and James Pizzano GM3c—all in on the Rhine crossing.
delicacies never found on the Army’s menus.
The Old Navy CPOs’ regard for Navy tradition took a hell of a beating undfcr the Army life. Their chief objection was to the drab OD uniforms and the reversed-calf shoes they had to wear instead of their spotless blue uniforms and shiny black shoes. Another affront to their pride was the way even their boats became GI, with their hulls painted olive drab.
But the story which the Old Navy men themselves will never be able to live down is the way one of their select circle got the Purple Heart hundreds of miles from an ocean and not even close to a good river. Chief Machinist James L. Trammell of Beaumont, Tex., was in Aachen, trying to find spare parts for his boats when Jerry artillery started shelling the town. Trammell had stretched out under an Army jeep when a piece of shrapnel hit him in the hand. He got the Purple Heart for his wounds, but he didn’t keep it long. Abashed by the circumstances of his decoration, he later gave the medal to a little Belgian girl who had been injured wh&n ^ buzz-bomb hit her home.
There was another incident that showed the Navy would never put too much faith in the Army. On the night the Ninth Army jumped off, axonvoy sites was halted on a narrow German road. The of LCMs and LCVPs being trucked to their ferry boats were still half a mile from the Rhine and about the same distance in front of a battery of American heavy artillery. The convoy was to wait there until 0200, when it would proceed to beaches under cover of the artillery barrage scheduled to start at that time. One LCM crewman decided to bed down in his boat for a couple of hours’ sleep, but before doing so he carefully set his alarm clock for the exact time the Army was to launch its greatest artillery barrage of the war.
EVERY detail of the new amphibious technique had been perfected when the unexpected capture of the Remagen bridge took the edge off the combined operation set up by the Allied High Command for storming the Rhine. But the Army still needed the Navy to provide the quick buildup of troops, weapons and supplies to support the first elements of the 9th Armored Infantry that had crossed the Rhine at Remagen. So the Navy task unit assigned to the First Army went into action ferrying men and vehicles across the river in LCVPs while ponton and treadway bridges were being constructed to ease the traffic load on the captured bridge.
Instead of being lowered from their mother ships, landing craft were dunked in the Rhine by cranes
The first U. S. naval vessel ever to cross the Rhine touched on the east bank at 1140 hours on March 9, with reinforcements for the First Army troops then fighting to extend their bridgehead. It was a 36-foot LCVP manned by Roy L. Stull Sic of Bergoo, W. Va.; Gordon T. Simmons Sic of Turlock, Calif.; Theodore M. Stratton Sic of Long Beach, Calif., and J. C. Alger Sic of Boonville, N. Y.
While ferrying the 1st Infantry Division across the Rhine in the First Army bridgehead sector, some of the crews of the Navy small boats recognized men of the “Red One” Division whom they had taken into Omaha Beach on D-Day. All the Navy crewmen taking part in the Rhine operations were veterans of at least one am-phibious-assault landing and some had operated landing craft in all four major landings in the ETO—North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Normandy.
During the crucial days of the Remagen bridgehead, they flushed out two members of the German “Gamma” swimmers who had been sent out to blow the Rhine spans being used by the Americans.
The “Gamma” swimmers, equipped with oxygen helmets, rubber suits and duck feet, could swim underwater indefinitely. But they were forced to the surface where they were cap-tured by the Army guards. Intense artillery fire which the Germans leveled on the Remagen bridge failed to stop the Navy’s regular patrol of the Rhine. Nor did it stop the patrol from doing a little shooting of its own. One LCVP crew was credited by the Army with shooting down a Focke-Wolfe 190 which attacked the bridge. Manning the boat’s .50-caliber machine gun at the time was 19-year-old Calvin Davenport Sic of Rocky Mount, N. C.
With him on the boat were Coxswain Philip E. Sullivan of Suffolk, Va.; Donald C. Weaver MoMM3c of Indianapolis, Ind., and Irving T. Sanford Sic of Greensboro, N. C.
Navy LCMs and LCVPs were also used in the Third Army’s crossing of the Rhine which came unexpectedly the day before the Ninth Arnjy jumped off. The Third Army’s naval unit, which had trained on the Moselle River, was quartered in an old French cavalry barracks during its pre-invasion maneuvers. German soldiers, who had previously occupied the barracks, had painted a sign “Adolf Hitler Kaserne” over the front entrance. When the U. S. Navy steamed in, the sailors rechristened it the “USS Blood and Guts."