|Lieutenant General Frank A. Camm, Jr.|
We spent the night of 8 February 1945 standing by to undertake an assault crossing [of the Roer River], but the order never came. Instead, I received instructions to provide a patrol to inspect the Schwammenauel dam once we reached it. We had to be sure that the Germans had not prepared it for demolition to flood the Roer River valley while our forces were in the midst of crossing it downstream. If the Krauts were to blow the dam, an 18-foot wall of water would crash 36 miles down the Roer across our front. Within four hours, this German-made flood would trap any allied forces that had ventured across the Roer into the Cologne Plain. I designated my company executive officer, Lieutenant Maurice Phelan, to organize and lead the patrol. A sharp and reliable officer, Phelan selected Private First Class Pearl Albough, Private First Class Harold Fisher and Private Kenneth Hart from Bill Monroe's 3rd Platoon and Private Kurt Storkel from Glen Timm's 2nd Platoon to accompany him.
About mid-morning on 9 February 1945, radio operator Joe Grimaldi was with the commander of the 1st Battalion, 311th Infantry, when they reached an exposed hilltop overlooking the dam. He reported that as they were watching their troops assault at the hill on their left, a tremendous explosion erupted near the center of the dam, carrying water and debris up several hundred feet. Shortly thereafter, there was a second, lesser explosion on the dam.
As our 311th Infantry reached the final approaches to the dam on the afternoon of 9 February, the 1st Battalion, 309th Infantry passed through them and slogged down the final way to the dam. The shell torn road behind the advancing doughboys was strewn with burned-out tanks, jeeps, wrecked trucks, and dead horses.
The 1st Battalion, 309th Infantry had spent the previous four days preparing for the final assault on the dam. Lieutenant Phelan and his engineer patrol had worked with them, studying aerial photos and blueprints of the dam. Built in 1934, the earthen dam was 188 feet high, 1000 feet long, and 1000 feet thick at its base. Directly under the road leading across the dam was a massive concrete core. Running lengthwise inside this core was an inspection tunnel that we visualized could be packed with demolitions, with the Germans waiting for the opportune moment to press the button and send it sky high.
One hour before midnight, the leading riflemen of the 1st Battalion, 309th broke out of woods at the bottom of a steep hill, and there was the prize -- the Schwammenauel dam! Enemy flares from the far side of the river lighted up the area. Machine gun fire spattered all around. The crash of mortar shells mingled with the whip-cracking reports of flying lead. Registered-in 88's whined over the dam to burst at knee height among the doughboys. As the battalion drove forward to seize the dam, they heard the unmistakable, dull rumble of demolitions. Fortunately, only the valve house exploded -- not the dam itself. Meantime German resistance at the gatehouse was overcome only after the Krauts had succeeded in damaging the intake valves and jamming them in an open position. The damaged intake gates and blown outlet valves indicated a thorough German demolition plan had been executed!
As the firefight raged unabated at 2300 hours, Lieutenant Phelan's patrol started across the four hundred yard exposed roadway atop the Dam. German flares revealed them almost immediately, and machine gun fire from high ground south of the dam drove them back. It seemed every available enemy weapon was aimed at the dam. Phelan later said, "It was like a ten-minute artillery barrage repeated every ten minutes; between shell explosions, we heard the burp-guns." Dad's division artillery had lined up every piece of artillery within range to support seizure of the dam - approximately forty-three battalions of all calibers. Within a few minutes, thirty of these battalions were firing a "time-on-target" concentration. It was truly impressive to watch it hit along the German side of the river. This intense fire covered the area a half mile east and west of the dam and 200 yards inland to the south, momentarily illuminating the river and dam.