Across the Meuse (again)

  • [XIX PC 10.PD PR7 “321”]
  • Fall Gelb, crossing the Meuse, may 12th 1940

This story really has nothing to do with Panzer – well, it describes the Meuse crossing by 10. PD but that’s about it. It’s a good story, though… Like we probably already know, Fall Gelb was the plan for the German invasion of France. Like in the First World War the Germans attacked in a circular motion through Belgium, but this time supplemented with a strong attack by Panzer through the Ardennes towards Sedan, across several rivers, to Arras and the French coast. On May 12th, XIX Corps’ passed by Sedan (the French had fortified the place) to cross the Meuse near Bazeilles. 10th Panzer, however, had detached nearly all of its artillery to nearby units and the Luftwaffe was busy helping 1st Panzer. The French were well prepared and waiting. This wasn’t goint to be easy.

“A large meadow is before us,” writes Feldwebel Schulze. “On a hill across the river, about 800 meters in front, the enemy entrenched themselves. Initially we were making good progress even though the meadow is wet and we’re in water up to our ankles. Nevertheless, the barbed wire is cut and we’re advancing. Then all hell breaks loose: machine guns spraying bullets, grenades explode all around us. The enemy shoots well and nobody can move ahead. Our smallest movements attract their fire. We’re in the water now, pressing into the ground and are grateful for any clump of grass that hides us from the enemy. ”

That the 10th got to the other side that day was largely because of the efforts of a few men like Feldwebel Rubarth of the Sturmpioniere. Rubarth and his men dragged their three rubber boats to the shore, heavily shot at by the defending French. One of the boats was shot to pieces but in the other two they paddled frantically to the other side, still under a hail of lead and iron. The operation had seemed pretty basic at the briefing that moring but the going got tougher and tougher. Rubarth was not deterred. “We will not take cover. We’ll come through or die here.”, he (apparently) said.

Having arrived on the other side, some French forces opened up from a couple of bunkers and destroyed their remaining two boats. Rubarth and his men blew up the bunkers in turn but for them, there was no way back now. They had lost half their strenght and were now down to four pioniere. When the French reinforcements arrived from nearby Wadelincourt, they decided to take cover in spite of Rubarth’s earlier objections. In the mean time their commander, still on the German side of the river, had followed the actions of his men and now sent the rest of his small force across. Rubarth’s team thus increased to about 30 soldiers.

After a heavy bombardment by Stukas and artillery, the French withdrew and 10.PD used this time to cross the river on a pontoon bride. Guderian, who had first crossed in a boat, was scolded by his colleagues for “joyriding in those silly canoos”, a practice that he had earlier discouraged himself. Anyway, he jumped onto the first available tank and rumbled on to Wadelincourt, where they routed the already retreating French. The generals thus got a nice, healthy bridgehead while Rubarth himself was promoted to Leutnant on the spot. Again, a case where fauly preparation was corrected by the actions on only a few men.

Sources

  • “Panzer Leader”, H. Guderian, Penguin 1996
  • “The Blitzkrieg legend – The 1940 campaign in the west”, Frieser K, Naval Institute Press, 2005
  • “Ueber die Maas, ueber Schelde und Rhein : Frankreichs Niederlage 1940”, Horne A & Werner H, Molden 1969.

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