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The Capture of Dillingen Bridge

The following is a transcript of a letter from Leonard Forbes recalling his experiences during the capture of Dillingen Bridge.

I was a member of Company “A” of the “66th”. I was company armorer with my sidekick Al Carr. When the company was on the move I was the .50 caliber machine gunner on the ring mount of Captain Day’s half-track.

I remember that for a few days before the capture of Dillingen we had slept days hidden in the woods and traveled nights all the way from the Main River to the outskirts of Dillingen. That morning, April 22, 1945 we didn’t stop as usual but pulled up on the Autobahn and sailed into the city. The bridge was on the opposite side of the city so we kept going down the main street at 40 miles per hour until the lead tank (the 43rd alternated tank and half-tracks with us in column) stopped at the bridge. It was mined with 6 500 lbs. American Aerial Bombs. As the tank stopped the Germans, caught by surprise, ran for the plunger to blow the bridge. The tank easily cut them down with machine gun fire before they came close to it.

In the meantime we turned off on a side street and into the courtyard of a German barracks. The German soldiers were all lined up for breakfast. They were half-dressed and carried no weapons. All they had were their mess kits. The surprise was so complete all they did was gape at us as we trained .50 caliber, .30 caliber machine guns and rifles on them. Some said things (in German) like “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be a hundred miles north of here!”

The barracks surrendered without a shot being fired. Out in the street a Panzer faust was fired at a tank. It hit a glancing blow and didn’t explode. The tankers very deliberately turned his 75 or 76 mm gun turret until it came to bear and fired one shot into the cellar window it had been fired from. No other shots were fired that I know of until the planes came.

The demolition squads with the help of the Engineers removed the bombs from the bridge and soon had it cleared for two-way traffic. The anti-aircraft units now moved into position to defend the bridge. All we had that would elevate enough to shoot at a plane was the .50 caliber.

That night every time we heard the sound of an airplane approaching, we would hear on the radio, “What is it, ours or German?” Someone would answer him, “Let’s wait and see if the Infantry opens up on it.” The next day German Fockewulf 190’s and Messerschmitt 109’s tried to bomb the bridge. We shot down one ME 109. After it had been hit and was trailing fire and smoke the pilot set the automatic pilot, aimed at the bridge and bailed out. It missed the bridge by about fifty feet and left a crater thirty feet deep. I got a piece of it for a souvenir. I was firing at it along with a dozen others when it got hit. My bullet could have hit a vital spot as well as any other of the others, we will never know or care who hit him.

The pilot parachuted down and was captured the minute he landed. He had a head wound. His captors made him run all the way to the C.P. (command post) where he dropped dead. We were really lucky the German Air Force was practically non-existent at this point in the war or we would never have been able to protect our prize. (the bridge)

Along the Danube River both ways from the bridge was a strip of open field about two hundred yards wide. (A flood plain maybe.) About a hundred yards out in the field to the left of the bridge was an abandoned ammunition truck. Al Carr and I both had German P-38’s (pistols) in shoulder holsters. We waded through the knee-high grass to investigate it looking for P-38 ammunition. We found it and filled our pockets. Al picked up something off the ground and asked what it was. I guess I must have turned white because he said, “What’s the matter?” I told him not to move his feet, that what he was holding was the trip, or trigger, off a German “S” mine. Also called a “bouncing betty” because they were anti-personnel mines set with springs under them. The trigger was four curved prongs about two inches long all attached together at the bottom and painted the same color as the grass. Until that moment I hadn’t given a thought to the fact the field might be mined or booby-trapped. The trip is the only thing above ground – the mine is buried flush with the ground level. When a person steps on the trip he releases, through pressure, the spring and the mine is impelled up to waist high where it explodes when the foot is removed. I explained all this to Al, thanks to my demolition training. I also told him there was a good possibility the field was full of them.

That hundred yards back to the road suddenly became a hundred miles. I told Al I would start back trying to step in the same place we did on the way out. He was to stay at least six feet behind me and step in my tracks as exactly as he could. If he heard a “click” under my feet or his, or I hit the dirt he had better already be there.

It took us about three minutes to walk out from the road. It took us two hours to get back. We did so without incident though. When I arrived at the road I got some white tape from a 43rd tanker and he helped me run it along the edge of the road so everyone would know it was a suspected mine field.

The next morning the demolition squad came out with mine detectors. There were “S” mines over the entire field in a four-foot diamond pattern. It took them three days to clear the field. I could never figure how, without divine help we could have walked, side by side, a hundred yards to the truck and not step on one.

I have a lot of memories like this. Maybe it is because I was so young and foolish I was always doing crazy things. My Guardian Angel must have worked overtime because I had nothing to do with the fact that I came home without a scratch.

Leonard A. Forbes

Formerly T/5 Leonard Forbes
Co. “A” AI BN