Other Books by the Author
The Battle of Berlin 1945 Berlin: Then and Now Farewell to Spandau Zhukov at the Oder: The Decisive Battle for Berlin Race for the Reichstag: The 1945 Battle for Berlin With Our Backs to Berlin: The German Army in Retreat, 1945 Death Was Our Companion: The Final Days of the Third Reich The Third Reich: Then and Now Slaughter at Halbe: Hitler’s Ninth Army in the Spreewald Pocket, April 1945
Translation Helmut Altner’s Berlin Dance of Death
The 94th US Infantry Division at the Siegfried Line
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS
Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0380 All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America
Typeface: ACaslon and Gill Sans
The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences–Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Le Tissier, Tony, 1932– Patton’s pawns : the 94th US Infantry Division at the Siegfried Line / Tony Le Tissier. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-8173-1557-3 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-8173-1557-8 (alk. paper) 1. United States. Army. Infantry Division, 94th. 2. World War, 1939–1945— Regimental histories—United States. 3. World War, 1939–1945— Campaigns—Germany. 4. Siegfried Line (Germany) I. Title. D769.394th .L4 2007
Photo credits: 1–27 courtesy of US Army, 28–33 are used by the permission of the author.
List of Illustrations vii Preface ix 1. The Division Moves into the Line 1 2. The Division Goes into Action 14 3. Disaster at Orscholz 51 4. Action on the Left Flank 64 5. The Second Battle of Sinz 93 6. The Division Unleashed 117 7. Clearing the Triangle 134 8. Crossing the Saar 147 9. Establishing the Bridgehead 190 10. Developing the Bridgehead 217 11. Taking Trier 240 12. The Battle of Lampaden Ridge 264 13. The Race for the Rhine 290 Epilogue 297 Appendix A: HQ 94th Infantry Division 305 Appendix B: 301st Infantry Regiment 307 Appendix C: 302nd Infantry Regiment 309
vi / Contents
Appendix D: 376th Infantry Regiment 311 Appendix E: Selected Telephone Conversations between HQ XX Corps and HQ 94th Infantry Division 313 Notes 329 Bibliography 341 Index 345 Armed Forces Index 359
Photographs to follow page 176
MAPS AND DRAWINGS
1. Some Westwall Pillboxes & Bunkers 8–9
2. The Area of Operations—7 Jan/21 Feb 45 10
3. The German Defenses on the West Flank of the Orscholz Switch 17
4. Battle of Tettingen-Butzdorf—15 Jan 45 19
5. The Nennig-Berg-Wies Battleground 29
6. Battle of Tettingen-Butzdorf—18 Jan 45 39
7. Disaster at Orscholz 56
8. The Sinz Battleground—26/28 Jan 45 75
9. The Campholz Woods Complex 88
10. The Sinz and Bannholz Woods Battleground—7/11 Feb 45 95
11. Break-Out—19/21 Feb 45 119
12. Beyond Münzingen Ridge 127
13. The Serrig Bridgehead—Night 22 Feb 45 166
14. The Ayl Bridgehead—Night 23 Feb 45 193
15. German Fortress Engineers’ Design for the Ockfen-Irsch Defenses 198
16. The Serrig Bridgehead—Night 23 Feb 45 200
viii / Illustrations
17. The Ayl Bridgehead—Night 24 Feb 45 207
18. The Serrig Bridgehead—Night 24 Feb 45 211
19. The Combined Bridgehead—Night 25 Feb 45 224
20. The Southern Flank—25/26 Feb 45 229
21. Area of Operations—376th Infantry Regiment—26/28 Feb 45 236
22. The Advance on Zerf—26 Feb 45 238
23. Redeployment—27 Feb/2 Mar 45 243
24. The Taking of Trier by the 10th Armored Division—26 Feb/1 Mar 45 252
25. The Battle of Lampaden Ridge—3/7 Mar 45 269
26. Race for the Rhine 292
Photographs Following Page 176
In entering into this project, I was fully aware that I was treading on ground already well covered by Nathan N. Prefer (Patton’s Ghost Corps) and the of¤cial History of the 94th Infantry Division by Lt. Laurence G. Byrnes. Nevertheless, I believed that the story of the 94th U.S. Infantry Division’s role in World War II was worth investigating further, that any new book could only help promote fresh interest in this historical event, and that this book might even throw some new light on the subject.
Some may think it odd that I, as a British military historian specializing in the battle of Berlin, should interest myself in such a theme. My fascination with the 94th Infantry Division’s efforts at the Siegfried Line came about as a result of my work in Berlin conducting city and battle¤eld tours, which in 1999 brought me into contact with American veterans associations and the invitation to lead veterans of the 94th on a visit to their old stomping grounds. This was followed by a repeat performance in 2001 as well as one veteran’s private family tour in 2000. The spectacular terrain of the Saar-Moselle Triangle seen in summertime, veterans’ accounts of their experiences, and the extremely friendly reception given by the local inhabitants, who used the term “liberators” for the invaders and conquerors, were all intriguing.
My efforts have been greatly encouraged by veterans Robert P. Kingsbury (E376) and Robert E. Trefzger (C376) (both gave invaluable help in correcting the text) and Sgt. Robert K. Adair (I376), for their most generous contributions of material, as well as William A. Foley Jr. (G302), T. Jerome French (B376), and Jim Burns (E302), editor of The 94 Attack, the 94th Infantry Division Association’s of¤cial publication. Thanks are also due to
x / Preface
Dr. Gilbert E. Kinyon (F302), Maj. Albert R. Hoffman (Engrs), my longtime friend Oberst (Colonel) Dr. Winfried Heinemann of the Federal German Military Archives in Potsdam for assistance with my research, Ernst J. Kronenberger of Halfway House for background information on that part of the Saarland and its inhabitants, and Werner Kortenhaus for material on the 21st Panzer Division.
I would also like to thank the 94th Infantry Division Association for permission to quote several witness statements from Lt. Lawrence Byrnes’s The History of the 94th Infantry Division in World War II; Robin Neillands for permission to quote a statement from his book, The Conquest of the Reich; Charles Whiting for permission to quote a statement from his book, The West Wall: The Battle for Hitler’s Siegfried Line; Ernst Heinkel for permission to use his account of the fall of Schloss Thorn; Nathan N. Prefer, PhD, for his encouragement and assistance; and my friend Col. Dr. Steve Bowman (U.S. Army Ret.) for his advice.
I owe special thanks to Jürgen Ludwig of the Landesamt für Kataster-, Vermessungs-und Kartenwesen (State Cartography Of¤ce) in Saarbrücken, who most generously provided copies of overlaid maps showing the German defenses that were discovered during a postwar survey of the Orscholz Switch area. Unfortunately, the other map of¤ce concerned, the Landesamt für Vermessung und Geobasisinformation Rheinland-Pfalz (State Cartography Of¤ce), in Koblenz, was unable to provide similar maps covering the main defenses of the Westwall along the Saar River. Nevertheless, the maps covering the Orscholz Switch area are still not 100 percent reliable, as they omit items such as antitank ditches and bunkers that were not found at the time of the survey, and some of the woodland shown as mine¤elds turns out not to be completely so from the survivors’ accounts. Consequently, I have had to guess the location of the ¤rst antitank ditch at the western end of the Unterste Büsch Woods. Sebastian Kirch also kindly provided a map showing some of the Orscholz Switch defenses, as did British historian Neil Short. My overlays incorporate all the available information, including that obtained from the sketches in the division’s of¤cial history.
The reader is reminded that the contours on the current German maps of 1945 used as a background for my drawings relate to meters rather than feet. The scale is shown by the one-kilometer squares of the grid. Surprisingly, the grids on the Rheinland-P®az and Saar maps do not coincide, and the grid references given in some quotations in the text, using the Allied
Preface / xi
forces’ system, do not correspond with those on the maps I have used, so I have not attempted to include them.
A visit to the battle¤eld today provides some fantastic, spectacular scenery. There have been some changes, of course, but none suf¤cient to mar the historically oriented visitor’s quest. The Saar River now has low dams with navigation locks near Hamm and Schoden, slowing down the pace of the raging river of 1945, and a broad highway now runs along the eastern bank, with a new bridge at the Taben crossing point and another connecting with Ayl farther north. The heights of Hocker Hill and the Auf der Hütte cliffs remain as awe-inspiring as ever.
What the men of the 94th achieved under the appalling conditions of that winter of early 1945 hardly seems credible today, and I have great admiration for them. The unique Peace Monument, on the B 406 (E 29) highway where it crosses the Münzingen Ridge between Sinz and Oberleuken, serves as a ¤tting memorial to all the men in the 94th Infantry Division.
I have concluded this presentation with what became an award-winning address by the association’s chaplain, the Reverend Charles H. Manning (H301), to their 47th Annual Memorial Service in 1996. Having had the pleasure of meeting him on the 1999 and 2001 tours, it was hard to imagine that this man, who now has dif¤culty with breathing and walking, was a company runner in 1945, but his spirit outshone his dif¤culties, and his style of address could not have been more apt for his audience. It is only right that he should have the last word.
Tony Le Tissier
In Belgium’s Ardennes region the Battle of the Bulge was in full spate, and all attention and resources were focused in that direction when the 94th
U.S. Infantry Division arrived at the front to relieve the more experienced 90th Infantry Division.1
Between January 7 and 10, 1945, the 94th Infantry Division moved out of France into the southwest corner of Germany and deployed in the forward line of the XX Corps of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army. The sector assigned to it was the base of the Saar-Moselle Triangle on the left ®ank of Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker’s XX Corps, whose front extended eastward beyond Saarlautern.
The Saar-Moselle Triangle was formed by the con®uence of Germany’s Saar and Moselle Rivers immediately south of the important communications center of the ancient city of Trier, the east-west base of the triangle being about thirteen miles long and the distance from base to tip about sixteen miles. The main German line of defense, the Westwall, was known to the Western Allies as the Siegfried Line. This line followed the east bank of the Saar River to the Moselle, from where it continued northward along the east bank of the Sauer River. As an additional protective belt for Trier, the Germans had built a spur of the main defensive line, known as the Orscholz Switch, across the base of the triangle, which abutted the independent country of Luxembourg, occupied at the time by the 2nd Cavalry Group of the American XII Corps.
The 94th had been activated at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan, on September 15, 1942, as part of the massive expansion of the United States armed forces to meet the requirements of World War II. With such vast growth, it was inevitable that some of those men who were given command appointments would prove inadequate to the task and that this evolution would lead to frequent changes in personnel.
The entire enlisted and of¤cer cadres below regimental rank for the 94th came from the 77th U.S. Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the junior of¤cer strength was topped off with Reserve Of¤cer Training Corps lieutenants and newly commissioned Of¤cer Candidate School graduates from Fort Benning, Georgia. All would have completed special-to-arms courses, the enlisted men having gone through up to seventeen weeks of basic training at a Replacement Training Center. According to the program laid down by the War Department, the division then had one year to prepare itself for active service. The guidelines allowed thirteen weeks for individual training, ¤ve weeks for unit training, four weeks for combined training, seven weeks for maneuvers, and a further six weeks for postmaneuver training, with pro¤ciency tests being carried out at every stage.
Because Fort Custer proved inadequate for its requirements, in November 1942 the 94th Infantry Division moved to Camp Phillips, Kansas, where training was conducted in extreme climatic conditions of snow, mud, and dust storms throughout the ensuing winter, spring, and summer of 1943. Then, at the end of August 1943, the division moved again to the Army Maneuver Area in central Tennessee, where it was immediately drained of ¤fteen hundred personnel who were urgently required as overseas replacements.2 That November there was another move to Camp Forrest, near Tullahoma, Tennessee, where the division lost one hundred men from each of its battalions and much of its equipment to the 8th Infantry Division, which had been alerted for a move overseas, before moving again at the end of the month to complete its training at Fort McCain in Grenada, Mississippi. Shortly afterward the 94th was brought up to full strength after the collapse of the Army Specialized Training Program. Draftees with an adequate educational background had been able to apply for the program upon completion of their thirteen-week basic infantry training. This entailed at-tending intensi¤ed university courses in certain subjects under military supervision before resuming their military training for commissioned or specialized roles. However, the program came to an abrupt end when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower asked for an extra ¤fty-¤ve thousand troops for the invasion of Europe, and the 94th Infantry Division was one of those whose
Division Moves into the Line / 3
ranks were boosted by the intake of these better-than-average-educated soldiers in February 1944.
The 94th Infantry Division was eventually alerted for overseas service on May 26, 1944, by which time the standards of training achieved were such that despite the constant upheaval of personnel and equipment changes, the following day several of its units were awarded Expert Infantry Company streamers, and the following month the 376th Infantry Regiment quali¤ed as the ¤rst Expert Infantry Regiment in the U.S. Army, with the 94th In-fantry Division qualifying as the ¤rst Expert Infantry Division. Sadly, these standards were later allowed to slip, and every soldier who survived training camp was given the quali¤cation badge.
The division then moved to Fort Shanks, New York, to prepare for embarking for overseas service, and on August 5 they were taken aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth for a fast voyage to Greenock, near Glasgow, Scotland. The men were then moved down by rail to Wiltshire, where the units were accommodated within the Devizes-Melksham-Trowbridge area while awaiting transfer to France. Here the division drew its establishment of vehicles and was joined by an air support group, a photo interpretation team, a prisoner-of-war interrogation team, a military intelligence interpretation group, an Order of Battle team, and a civil affairs section. The division then sailed in several small ships from Southampton and landed on Utah Beach on September 6, appropriately ninety-four days after D-Day.3
On September 12, 1944, the division took over from the 10th Armored Division the task of containing the German units that were in the separate pocket at Lorient in southern Brittany defending their submarine bases. The orders from VIII Corps, Ninth Army, to which the 94th Infantry Di-vision was now assigned, were speci¤cally to contain, not attack, the enemy, for the corps’ previous assault on Brest with three divisions had proved far too expensive in terms of casualties. The enemy garrison at Lorient was estimated as being between twenty-one and twenty-¤ve thousand troops. Shortly afterward the 94th’s responsibility was extended to include the Saint Nazaire pocket with an additional thirty-¤ve thousand enemy troops, and it took over from the 83rd Infantry Division in that area. Consequently, the 94th’s experience in Brittany was mainly that of skirmishing, except for one attack organized by Brig. Gen. Louis J. Fortier, the divisional artillery commander, on December 8, using the 3rd Battalion, 301st Infantry, together with engineers and artillery to capture nine bunkers among the defenses covering the foot of the Quiberon Peninsula and taking ¤fty-nine prisoners with minimal casualties.4 Frustrated as he was by his division’s role in Brittany, Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony used the chance to practice elements of the division in patrolling, infantry-tank cooperation, infantry-artillery cooperation, and battle indoctrination in general.
On Christmas Eve the torpedoing of a transport carrying elements of the 66th U.S. Infantry Division across the English Channel led to the sad loss of 14 of¤cers and 784 enlisted men. This division was already scheduled to relieve the 94th Infantry Division for more active duty on the Western Front, where the Battle of the Bulge was pressing. Fortunately, by this time most of the containment of the enemy garrisons was in the hands of French Forces of the Interior units under the control of the 94th, so it was still practical to have the depleted 66th take over as planned.5
Handover was completed on New Year’s Day, and the 94th set off by rail for the Reims staging area to become the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) Reserve, but this was changed to the division being reassigned to the Third Army while it was still on the move.
During its spell of duty in Brittany, the 94th could claim to have successfully contained a force of some 60,000 enemy troops, in®icting some 2,700 casualties and capturing 566 prisoners, for a loss of 100 dead, 618 wounded, and one man missing in action.6
Like other U.S. Army infantry divisions of World War II, the 94th was designed as the smallest military formation capable of operating independently, although it could detach one of its regiments with appropriate supporting elements as a task force. Triangular in structure and dispensing with the intermediary brigade level, the division consisted of three ri®e regiments (the 301st, 302nd, and 376th Infantry), each consisting of three battalions, and each of those including three ri®e companies, as well as additional heavy weapons companies at regimental and battalion level. The division also comprised an artillery element of one medium (390th) and three light ¤eld artillery battalions (301st, 356th, and 919th), with a light aircraft air-spotter section, the 319th Medical Battalion, the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion, the 94th Signal Company, the 94th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, the 94th Quartermaster Company, the 94th Reconnaissance Troop, and a military police platoon. The overall strength was set at 14,253. Additional units, such as antiaircraft artillery, tank, tank destroyer, and chemical warfare battalions, could be attached when appropri
Division Moves into the Line / 5
ate, bringing the command to well over 15,000 men. The additional units, as of January 7, 1945, consisted of the 774th Tank Destroyer and the 465th AAA Automatic Weapons Battalions. The 778th Tank Battalion was to be attached on February 16 and the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion on January 23 until replaced by the 691st Tank Destroyer Battalion on March 4.7
Upon assignment to XX Corps, the 94th Division, under Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony, was augmented by the attachment of the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion, which was in fact a heavy mortar battalion equipped with 4.2-inch mortars. It should be noted here that the standard tank destroyer was the M18 Hellcat, which was armed with a 76.2-mm gun and usually supplemented by a .50caliber machine gun mounted on the open turret, which left it vulnerable to snipers in built-up areas. The M18 Hellcat had the same hull and engine as the standard Sherman tank in its M4A1 through M4A4 versions, which were armed with either a 75- or 76-mm gun and .30-caliber machine guns, also with a .50-caliber machine gun mounted externally on the turret. Both vehicles had ¤ve-man crews. The Sherman was mechanically reliable, but its gasoline engine made it highly in®ammable. Neither its armor nor its ¤repower matched that of the German Mark IVs, Panthers, and Tigers, but it remained highly successful in the close infantry support role.
The initial orders for the 94th Infantry Division were to “prepare a plan for limited-objective attacks in battalion strength to shorten and straighten division front lines.” The stated purpose of this plan makes little sense when one considers that the division was confronted with a well-established forti¤ed line of defense in depth. However, further orders arrived on January 12 for “a series of limited-objective attacks involving not more than one battalion.”8
With the Battle of the Bulge still the center of attention and drawing all available resources, little could be spared for this sector of the front. While this situation continued, the role of XX Corps was to keep the Germans tied down and prevent them from switching resources to the densely forested Ardennes. However, the limited scale of the American attacks would mean that the Germans could counter them individually with more powerful reserves, against which the Americans would have to rely on their artillery, providing suf¤cient ammunition was available.
Although Walker and Malony had been classmates at West Point in 1908, there was little rapport between them. Previously in his career, Malony had held posts senior to Walker, but in the spring of 1942 Malony had apparently fallen foul of his superiors on the Munitions Assignments Board of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and had been given command of the 94th Infantry Division as a way out of the predicament. So now the senior position was held by Walker, who was a fervent disciple of General Patton and his aggressive style of waging war.9
During the “Phony War” period of 1939–1940, before the Germans invaded Western Europe, the German defenses along the country’s western border had been dubbed the “Siegfried Line” by the British, who disparaged it with the popular ditty:
We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
Have you any dirty washing, mother dear?
We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
’cos the washing day is here.
Whether the weather may be wet or ¤ne,
We’ll rub along without a care.
We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line,
If the Siegfried Line’s still there.
However, the Siegfried Line was no joking matter and was very much still there. Designated the Westwall by the Germans, it had been constructed between 1938 and 1940 as a counter to the formidable French Maginot and Belgian Wegand Lines and extended some 630 kilometers from the Swiss border opposite Basel in the south to just beyond Aachen in the north. It had cost 3.5 billion reichsmarks and consumed 4.5 million reichsmarks of materials to build fourteen thousand bunkers, ¤ghting positions, shelters, and antitank defenses.10
The German concept of defense was entirely different from that of their neighbors. The Westwall was not intended as a fortress as such, but was meant to provide a defensive position that could be manned by normal ¤eld formations as a temporary measure until a counterthrust could be mounted. According to the nature of the terrain, the line was apportioned into sectors designated “forti¤ed” (Festungsbau), where a strong defense was necessary;
Division Moves into the Line / 7
“defended” (Stellungsbau), where an interlocking net of machine-gun posts would suf¤ce; and “barricaded” (Sperrbau), where an antitank ditch or dragon’s teeth (Höckerlinie) served as the prime defensive measure.
The small corps of German fortress engineers produced standard patterns for the various installations to be built and supervised their siting and construction. The majority, 93 percent, of these installations fell into the three B subcategories that were capable of withstanding bombardment by anything between 105-mm and 210-mm artillery, or direct hits from heavier guns, and had walls and ceilings of between 0.8 and 2 meters of reinforced concrete. Another 2 percent of the A category had walls and ceilings that were 2 meters thick and could withstand even heavier punishment, while the remaining 5 percent of the C and D categories were meant to be only splinter or machine-gun proof. In every case, the actual ¤ring position was protected by a thick steel plate.
Bunker models 502 and 504 were particularly predominant on the Orscholz Switch, as were shelter bunker models 51, 51a, and 395. Some installations were entered by way of a gas-proof lock that incorporated a decontamination niche where a dry toilet could be installed. The gas-proo¤ng was further backed by an air conditioning plant that also helped force out fumes from the machine guns. The entrances to these bunkers were often covered both internally and externally by ¤ring slits, and in some of the structures there was also an escape route that the occupants could dig out in an emergency. Other variations incorporated steel turrets with either three or six loopholes for a machine-gun mounting, and some models were equipped with the all-around 50-mm M-19 automatic fortress mortar (50to 600-meter range, up to 120 rounds per minute) or ®amethrowers (75meter range), while others were equipped as artillery observation posts.
The layout of these installations met the deployment requirements of a standard infantry division of three regiments, each of three battalions, and was fully linked by underground telephone cable systems. The exposed earth from the excavations was then concealed from the air by planting bushes and other vegetation with the advice of landscape gardeners.
Finally, the dragon’s teeth obstacle consisted of rows of teethlike projections from a concrete base. These pyramid-shaped forti¤cations were lower at the front than at the rear and were intended to cause a tank attempting to cross to rear up and shed its tracks, thus immobilizing it.11
Some Westwall Pillboxes and Bunkers Some Westwall Pillboxes and Bunkers (continued)
After the collapse of the German front in Normandy, Hitler ordered a survey of the Westwall, which revealed how it had declined through neglect during the past four years. In some cases ¤elds of ¤re had been obstructed, and mines and barbed wire had been removed. Then, on September 1, 1944, Hitler issued the following speci¤c orders for the preparation and use of the Westwall:
Division Moves into the Line / 11
can be engaged, and an enemy attempt to bypass or attack the ®anks
and rear of the bunker can be repelled. The protective position is to be
at least a hand grenade throw from the bunker and protected with it
by barbed wire entanglements.
All of this, the German forces found, was easier said than done. Above all, men and equipment were lacking, and the increasing Allied domination of the air hindered the regular supply of vital items for rearming the bunkers and completing obstacles. Nevertheless, a massive construction program was implemented, with the introduction of positions of a more modern pattern, including the concrete-lined Tobruk foxhole and the use of tank turrets, while Hitler ordered the German forces in the west to “deny every inch of ground with the enemy by stubborn delaying action.”
But problems remained in that the basic regimental structure had been changed to one of only two battalions. Some of the weapons, such as the MG 42, no longer ¤tted the prewar mountings, and many of the new artillery and antitank pieces were too large for the bunkers. Despite these problems, the Westwall was still highly effective, as was demonstrated all too well with the horri¤c casualties in®icted upon the Americans in the Hürtgen Forest during September 1944.13
The Orscholz Switch had been attacked ¤rst on November 21, 1944, by Combat Command A of Gen. William H. H. Morris Jr.’s 10th Armored Division while General Patton’s costly battle for the city of Metz was still in progress.14 Virtually nothing was known of the Switch at the time, and the division’s armored infantry had to locate the individual pillboxes by exposing themselves to the inevitable cross¤re coming from them while at the same time being heavily bombarded by the German artillery. Dragon’s teeth hampered support from the tanks in some places, and one task force could not even cross its line of departure for the attack. After two days, only a single breach had been achieved in the enemy lines at considerable cost in men and armor.
Nevertheless, this attack was seen as a potential threat to the city of Trier and caused some alarm at Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt’s headquarters. Reinforcements in the form of the 404th Volks Artillery Corps, 21st Panzer Division, and 719th Infantry Division were consequently ordered to the immediate support of the 416th Infantry Division, which was responsible for the defense of the Orscholz Switch.15
General Walker had then attached the 358th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division to General Morris’s command and ordered single battalion attacks on Tettingen and Borg. Consequently, on the morning of November 23, in dense fog, which prevented air support but served to screen the attacking forces, the 3rd/358th launched an attack on Campholz Woods that achieved complete surprise. When the troops came up against an antitank ditch, General Morris had a bulldozer brought up to bridge it, and it was not until the men entered the woods that they encountered enemy ¤re. Coordination proved dif¤cult in the fog and dense woods, but the leading I and K Companies took eighty-four prisoners that day. Next morning the Germans counterattacked with about forty troops, only to lose eighteen as prisoners. K and I Companies were then directed upon Butzdorf and Tettingen respectively. I Company made a successful pell-mell dash to get through the enemy machine-gun and artillery ¤re to get into Butzdorf, but K Company came up against a number of pillboxes that delayed their penetration of Tettingen until nightfall.
Meanwhile, as the 2nd Battalion headed uphill in its approach to Borg,
Division Moves into the Line / 13
it had encountered deep mud, bogging down its supporting armor, and consequently made little progress on November 23. Then it took most of the next day to reduce a large bunker, only to have the battalion checked yet again when it came under heavy artillery ¤re from the direction of Oberleuken. The 1st Battalion was then committed in support and fought its way into the village, where ¤ghting continued throughout the night.
Back in Tettingen, where K Company came under heavy counterattack and was closely surrounded in three houses by enemy infantry and tanks using machine guns and ®amethrowers, the ¤ghting continued all night long, during which the company commander was killed and one of the houses lost. At dawn I Company directed artillery ¤re on the houses in Tettingen that were not occupied by K Company, and charged down from Butzdorf to join the K Company survivors in Tettingen under cover of smoke. L Company was then ordered in to reinforce Tettingen and retake Butzdorf.
This second attack on Butzdorf by one platoon of L Company was massively supported by ¤ghter-bombers of the XIXth Tactical Air Force and artillery from both the 90th Infantry and 10th Armored Divisions, plus two tanks from the latter’s Combat Command A. The platoon took 21 German prisoners and recovered 4 men of K Company previously taken by them. Meanwhile, the 35 survivors of I and K Companies joined in clearing Tettingen, and the commander had the remains of his battalion deploy to cover the two villages until it could be relieved by armored infantry at dawn the next day, the twenty-sixth. This action had cost the 3rd/358th 7 of¤cers and 148 enlisted men, and earned three Distinguished Service Crosses.
German counterattacks against the armored infantry of Combat Command A forced a gradual withdrawal, and by December 18, when the 10th Armored and 90th Infantry Divisions were diverted to deal with the German offensive in the Ardennes, the American front line had reverted to where it had been a month earlier. However, the bunkers that covered the dragon’s teeth on the approach to Tettingen were destroyed before the American soldiers left.16
While the Battle of the Bulge raged, the 3rd Cavalry Group had the task of holding the line facing the Orscholz Switch with its 3rd and 43rd Reconnaissance Squadrons until the 94th Infantry Division took over on the left of the corps’ line.17
The 94th Infantry Division settled into its new role by sending out probing
patrols to learn something of the terrain in which it was to operate. It had
yet to receive any winter warfare clothing to counter the bitter cold, and the
men had to improvise snowsuits from sheets and tablecloths taken from
German homes.1 Robert Adair of the 2nd Platoon, I Company, 376th Infantry Regiment,
described how he survived the conditions:
Like the rest of the company, we lost men to the savage conditions. During this time, the temperature ranged from as low as zero one night to as much as 40 degrees during the day. At times we faced rain and wet snow in our face from the north. With the constant shell¤re, we were forced to stay in the trenches where the low spots were always ¤lled with water, iced over sometimes during the day and always at night.
However, I made out rather well. I gathered pine boughs and ¤lled the bottom of my six feet or so of trench with the boughs and stood and slept insulated a bit from the ice and frozen earth. By then I had begun the procedures I practiced until the end of my infantry career. I carried extra socks stuffed under my shirt[,] and regularly, I took off my shoes, took off the three—later more—pairs of socks, and replaced the innermost layer with a warm dry set from my chest store. When possible, I tried to dry my shoes over tiny ¤res of paraf¤n tablets given us to heat our C-rations. Since we had to be prepared for
Division Goes into Action / 15
an attack at any time, we couldn’t remove our shoes to sleep. I also was dressed warmly, and differently than many, as I wore ¤ve sets of winter underwear tops—later seven!—almost like light sweat shirts, below my wool OD [olive drab] shirt, a heavy sweater, and my quilted ¤eld jacket, and I kept a warm knitted cap on my head. I used my overcoat only as a mattress, the warmth-to-weight ratio for the overcoat was inadequate. So I was only mildly miserable when others suffered severely—particularly with trench foot.2
Col. Earle A. Johnson’s 302nd Infantry Regiment, as corps reserve, reconnoitered the whole of the corps sector against the possibility of a German attack, and even prepared ¤ve lines of defense in the rear of the 94th Division’s sector to meet such an eventuality. Mine¤elds were laid across possible tank approach routes, bridges were prepared for demolition, and trees were dropped across roads to act as barriers.3
Manning the Germans’ Orscholz Switch defenses opposite the 94th was Lt. Gen. Kurt P®ieger’s 416th Infantry Division, with its headquarters in Mettlach-Keuchingen, the suburb on the west bank of the Saar. The division consisted of Lieutenant Colonel Hoelscher’s Grenadier Regiment 712, Colonel Hachenberger’s Grenadier Regiment 713, Major Kraft’s Field Training and Replacement Battalion 416, Fusilier Company 416, and Major Albrecht’s Artillery Regiment 416, which had been brought up to 60 percent effective strength at the beginning of January by the transfer of Luftwaffe personnel into its ranks. Only its engineer, assault gun, and antiaircraft units were at full strength. However, as a result of having been employed on garrison duty in Denmark for most of the war, the divisional components were rated by their superior LXXXII Corps as only “conditionally ¤t for combat.” The average age for the men was between thirty-two and thirtyfour, and many of them were convalescents or subject to stomach complaints.
Upon arrival in the Triangle at the beginning of October 1944, the 416th Infantry Division was reinforced by Major Knadt’s Grenadier Regiment 714, consisting of a Luftwaffe parachute battalion, Major Friedrich’s Fortress Infantry Battalion “Merzig,” and Fortress Artillery Battalions 1024 and 1025, bringing the division’s total strength to nine thousand men.
16 / Division Goes into Action
In taking over this sector of the Westwall, the 416th Infantry Division had to man a predetermined system of defense that failed to match either its structure or some of its weaponry. The east bank of the Orscholz Switch was securely based on the sheer cliffs of the Saar River at the Saarschleuse bend. However, the west ®ank, on the Moselle River opposite Luxembourg, was already out®anked by American troops, albeit few in number.4
Dragon’s teeth in open terrain and an antitank ditch in the wooded areas, being extensively supported by mine¤elds, generally delineated the forward line of defense. In the center, the Münzingen Ridge provided a dominating overview of the Switch. Other antitank ditches that were set at right angles to the main line of defense appeared to be intended to split the more obvious lines of approach, compartmentalizing the battle¤eld, while the main road between Remich in Luxembourg and Mettlach on the Saar provided the necessary lateral maneuverability for the defense. A cluster of shelter bunkers in the Unter den Eichen Woods between Oberleuken and Orscholz appear to have been intended to accommodate a reserve force.
General Malony decided to employ Lt. Col. Russell M. Miner’s 1st Battalion, 376th Infantry, for the ¤rst attack, which would take place at 0730 on January 14. For assistance, Miner was allocated a platoon each from B Company, 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and C Company, 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion, which ¤red a 4.2-inch round, heavier than the standard infantry mortar, and he could also call on support from the regiment’s heavy weapons.
Prior reconnaissance revealed the presence of extensive mine¤elds, both German and American, and antitank obstacles in the form of either ditches or dragon’s teeth backed by pillboxes, bunkers, and entrenchments in depth. There was more than a foot of snow covering the ground, completely concealing all trace of the antipersonnel mines, the most common of which, the Schü-mine, had a wooden casing that was impervious to metal mine detectors.
The plan was for Capt. Carl J. Shetler’s A Company and Capt. Edwin
F. Duckworth’s C Company to lead the attack, passing through the lines of B Company, which would then follow up as battalion reserve. The 3rd Battalion would then take over the 1st Battalion’s defensive positions.5
18 / Division Goes into Action
The 919th Field Artillery Battalion commenced laying a twenty-minute bombardment at 0700 before the infantry advanced with A Company on the right and C Company on the left. At the same time, Lt. Claude W. Baker’s heavy machine-gun platoon sprayed Campholz Woods and the pillboxes in the high ground east of the village from the forward edge of Der Heidlich Hill. The antitank dragon’s teeth were crossed quickly, with Company A losing some casualties to mortar ¤re. The troops entered Tettingen and deployed according to plan. The companies spread out, handgrenading the individual buildings before clearing them out, and capturing twenty-three prisoners in the process. By 0815 hours the village was secure, and Company A then sent a squad out on the east ®ank to reconnoiter the hillside. These men found several skillfully camou®aged pillboxes and bunkers, one of which was detected only when they heard voices coming from beneath them, but they had neither the equipment nor the numbers to tackle them.
From the observation post on Der Heidlich Hill, east of Wochern, Brig. Gen. Henry B. Cheadle, the assistant division commander, accompanied by the divisional G-2 (staff of¤cer for intelligence), Lt. Col. Robert L. Love; the divisional G-3 (staff of¤cer for operations), Lt. Col. Rollin B. Durbin; and the divisional engineer, Lt. Col. Noel H. Ellis, together with Col. Harold C. McClune of the 376th, had watched the successful attack and decided on the spur of the moment that it should be pursued by taking Butzdorf.
Lieutenant Colonel Miner was informed at 0840, and Captain Shetler’s A Company was detailed for the task. His artillery liaison of¤cer, Capt. Larry A. Blakely, then arranged for a ten-minute barrage by the 919th Field Artillery Battalion at 0950 to precede the infantry attack at 1000, and Miner moved his battalion command post forward into a house opposite the church in Tettingen, where he was followed by Lieutenant Baker and his machine-gun platoon.6
Meanwhile, supported by a battery of 81-mm mortars near Sinz, a battery of 88-mm dual-purpose antiaircraft/antitank guns, and reinforced by men from a fortress battalion, Major Becker commanding the Germans’ ¤ve-hundred-strong 1st Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 713, was already planning the obligatory counterattack in accordance with standard German battle¤eld practice. Mortar and artillery ¤re was pouring in on Tettingen, and American casualties were mounting.7
20 / Division Goes into Action
Captain Shetler recalled his reconnaissance patrol and prepared his platoon commanders for the forthcoming attack. Lt. Tom Hodges’s platoon would lead and seize the prominent house halfway between the two villages on the right-hand side of the road, thereafter known as Halfway House, while Lt. Richard L. Creighton’s platoon would advance on the left. Lt. George L. Dumville’s platoon would provide support from the northern edge of Tettingen. As Lieutenant Baker’s machine-gun platoon from D Company was unable to ¤nd suitable covering positions for the advance, it was ordered to follow Hodges’s platoon into Butzdorf.
The reconnaissance patrol reported that the pillboxes east of the villages could bring in en¤lade ¤re on any advance and would need to be reduced if the attack were to succeed. Enemy ¤re on Tettingen was now so ¤erce that Captain Shetler requested a postponement of the attack. Lieutenant Colonel Miner denied his request, and with only ¤ve minutes to go, Shetler detailed Lieutenant Creighton as to his platoon’s role in the attack.
Meanwhile, Lt. Ben R. Chalkley’s support platoon from C Company moved forward to take over the defense of the northeast sector of Tettingen, and Sergeants Kornistan and Douglas, along with six ri®emen and four engineers carrying explosives, set off to deal with the nearby pillboxes.
It was 1007 before Lieutenant Hodges could get his men moving. Enemy artillery and mortar ¤re was still falling heavily on the area, but the smallarms ¤re coming from Butzdorf had been all but silenced by the American bombardment. Hodges’s platoon had already gone about two hundred yards before Lieutenant Creighton’s platoon set off. Captain Shetler and his radio operator and messengers then followed behind Hodges’s platoon and had reached just beyond Halfway House when an artillery strike descended on the advancing troops. Captain Shetler and ¤fteen others were hit by enemy artillery ¤re, but Creighton’s platoon charged forward into the comparative shelter of the village, followed by the survivors of Hodges’s platoon.8
1st Lt. David F. Stafford, the company executive of¤cer, immediately came forward and took over the command. The company’s radio operator had been killed and his set smashed, and communication with the battalion could now be conducted only by runner. The forward artillery observation of¤cer, Lt. William C. Woodward, had remained in his observation post in Tettingen, so Stafford had no means of calling for direct artillery support. Meanwhile, medical aid men moved the wounded into Halfway House,
Division Goes into Action / 21
and by 1113 the 1st and 2nd Platoons had cleared Butzdorf of the enemy and taken a few prisoners.
Lieutenant Dumville’s platoon was then ordered to occupy Halfway House and a row of buildings on the southern edge of Butzdorf, while Lieutenant Baker sited his machine guns to cover likely avenues of attack. However, the position remained vulnerable, for this reinforced company now found itself isolated one thousand meters into the enemy defenses.
At approximately 1300 a group of about ¤fty German soldiers were seen leaving Campholz Woods in column of twos. At ¤rst they were taken to be prisoners of C Company, but when it was discovered that they were instead free German soldiers, this counterattack was driven back by artillery ¤re and ten of the enemy were killed. Another counterattack from Campholz Woods occurred shortly afterward, this time in V formation and led by an of¤cer in a light-colored coat, but this too was driven back.
At 1335 hours Lieutenant Colonel Miner called forward B Company from where it had been waiting in Wochern. As the company marched up to Tettingen, it came under sporadic artillery and mortar ¤re. The bulk of the company then took up positions in Tettingen, while the 1st Platoon went on to reinforce the troops in Butzdorf.9
Apart from enemy artillery and mortar ¤re, the afternoon passed uneventfully, but serious trouble was in store. Gen. Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzer Division had been on the move from Trier to the Rhine when the attack on Butzdorf occurred and was identi¤ed as a direct threat to Trier. The division was promptly diverted to the Saar-Moselle Triangle with orders to restore the original line of defense at any price. It had just been re¤tted in the Bitburg area, and its Panzer Regiment 15 now had nearly one hundred tanks, the 1st Battalion having four companies of Panthers and the 2nd Battalion four companies of Mark IVs, but the division was so desperately short of fuel that it had to leave ¤fty Panthers behind. Panzergrenadier Regiment 110, which had suffered heavy casualties in the battle for Metz, had been brought back up to strength, as had Panzergrenadier Regiment 111.
The other units in the division were Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 11, Panzer Artillery Regiment 119 (three battalions), Army Flak Battalion 277 (three batteries), Panzer Signals Battalion 89, Panzer Engineer Battalion 209, Tank Hunting Battalion 61, and Panzer Field Training and Replacement Battalion 61 (six companies).10
22 / Division Goes into Action
The 11th Panzer Division’s historian commented:
Divisional Headquarters did all it could to prevent being engaged here against all arguments. It was unfortunately unsuccessful and was placed under LXXXII Corps, which had no understanding about the use of armored troops, and whose in®exibility led to an especially unpleasant combat situation with little success. The division, which was unusually well refreshed for this period, could have achieved a great deal under the right conditions, but this tried and tested formation was to lose many men, especially in the panzergrenadier regiments.
The terrain in the Saar-Moselle-Orscholz Switch Triangle was strongly cut up, and in any weather the roads and tracks, bridges and ditches became badly affected, so that even good reconnaissance was soon outdated. The Orscholz Switch was only of value as long as its right ®ank rested against a neutral Luxembourg, but now the Americans were occupying the heights on the west bank of the Moselle and out®anked any attack to the southwest with good observation opportunities.
The shattered 416th Division, which was supporting us, was of no real value in the attack that had been ordered. There was only one bridge across the Saar for supplies, upon which and from which everything depended, and should it be destroyed by the overwhelming enemy air force, the fate of the whole division would be linked to this single, narrow escape route.11
The 416th Infantry Division responded to the situation by bringing forward Grenadier Regiment 714, which had been manning the main Westwall defenses on the far side of the Saar, to assist Grenadier Regiments 712 and 713 in the defense of the Triangle. In addition, Major Kraft’s Field Replacement and Training Battalion 416 was dispatched to assist Major Becker’s 1st Battalion at Tettingen.
During the night the wounded were evacuated from Halfway House and supplies brought forward to Butzdorf, while patrols checked the surrounding area. The German mortar teams that had been operating east of Butzdorf appeared to have withdrawn, but considerable activity was reported in the woods to the northwest of the village.
The German artillery preparation (artillery ¤red before an attack to in
Division Goes into Action / 23
terrupt communications and muddle the enemy’s defense) began at 0440 on January 15 and was followed by a company of Major Kraft’s battalion charging downhill into the villages from the woods, where its presence had been detected earlier on. Butzdorf was surrounded and penetrations were made into Tettingen despite all the artillery, mortar, machine-gun, and small-arms ¤re the Americans could raise. After two hours of this ¤re¤ght, the machine-gun ammunition was running so low that Cpl. Donald W. Krieger, the transportation NCO (noncommissioned of¤cer) of D Company, volunteered to run back to Wochern to collect some more. He returned safely with sixty-four thousand rounds loaded on his vehicle, being the ¤rst soldier to make the journey between the two villages on a road presumably now clear of mines.
The ¤ring eased off with daybreak, by which time the supporting mortars in Wochern had ¤red off four thousand rounds, and by 0755 all ¤ring had ceased. The snow around the villages was dotted with the bodies of dead and wounded. Medical aid man Pvt. Milton A. Welsch went forward to investigate and found some thirty to thirty-¤ve German soldiers still alive but bleeding and freezing to death. These men were hastily evacuated for treatment. Patrols then rounded up another sixty prisoners from the surrounding area. It was estimated that the German battalion had lost three-quarters of its strength in the attack.12
C Company veterans then-Privates First Class Robert Trefzger of the 3rd Platoon and Herman Thornton of the 4th Platoon later put together the following account of their part in this action at the western end of Tettingen. Bob Trefzger starts off:
The attack on Tettingen on January 14, 1945, by the 1st Battalion of the 376th Infantry Regiment found the town to be virtually undefended. There were very few casualties.
The west end of Tettingen consisted of a single road along a very broad-crested, east-west trending ridge. There were houses on both sides of the road[,] and the 3d Squad was assigned to occupy and defend the last house at the west end of town, a short distance from the northeast corner of the woods (Monkey Wrench Woods). Like most of the houses in Tettingen, it was a two-storey, stone masonry farmhouse with space for farm equipment and stable/barn areas for farm animals on the ground ®oor. Everything had been removed, in
24 / Division Goes into Action
cluding the windows and the wooden window frames. Only the rec
tangular window openings in the masonry walls remained.
Inside the house we all felt pretty secure, as it was like a two-storey fort, and it would have taken a direct hit for artillery to hurt us. We had a great view of the snowy ¤elds to the south, to the dragon’s teeth and the woods beyond. Across the road to the northeast we could see the southeast corner of a large apple orchard, which extended at least a few hundred feet to the north and west. Beyond the orchard, to the north and northwest, we could see open, snow-covered ¤elds, and beyond the ¤elds was a large clump of woods, about 1,000 yards to the north-northwest.
A light machine-gun squad from the 4th Platoon then took up position on the eastern edge of the northern part of the apple orchard, about sixty feet west of one of the houses fronting a north-trending side road. Herman Thornton, who was in the 4th Platoon’s light machine-gun section, takes up the tale:
Sergeant Wiser got us started digging in as quickly as possible, but we soon realized that it wouldn’t be an easy job. The ground was frozen solid. As soon as we could chip through a little of the surface of the ground, we started to employ our blocks of TNT, extras of which had been brought forward in anticipation of the problem. Every few minutes someone would give the shout: “Fire in the hole!” that was re-quired before setting off a charge. The deeper we got[,] the more effective each half-pound block was. We didn’t need anyone to prod us on, as just after we started digging, mortar ¤re and 88-mm artillery started raining down on the town. The 88s came in rapidly and could be heard coming, but the mortar shells gave no warning until, just before impacting, a slight whishing sound could be heard. Most shells were directed into the town, but a few hit among our positions. One or two guys received wounds, but in most respects, we got through the day pretty well. We were in the back yard of a farmhouse protected from view by the apple orchard to the west and a row of trees to the north. The east side was protected from view by the closeness of the houses. By late afternoon we had our positions dug and prepared, as we were told to expect a counterattack that night.
Division Goes into Action / 25
The night was cold out in our positions, but the weather remained partially cloudy with no new snow anticipated. We were able to change off once in a while and go back for a little warmth into the cellar of a house about 60 feet back from our foxhole. About 4 a.m. we were driven to alertness by a massive artillery and mortar attack on our positions and the town. The expected counterattack had begun.
Bob Trefzger, who was sound asleep in the farm equipment storage area on the ground ®oor of the house, continues:
Suddenly there was a burst of very nearby gun¤re, presumably from the 3d Squad GIs guarding the front (north side) of the house. Instantly wide awake, I grabbed my M-1 ri®e and hurried up the nearby stairs leading to the second storey rooms. A lot of shooting could be heard some distance away. As I entered the northwest room, I could see bright pink (friendly) tracer bullets from a machine gun going from right to left across the orchard. It was soon obvious that the tracers were coming from the east edge of the orchard at the location where I had seen some GIs digging in the previous morning. The tracers were going several hundred feet across the orchard in a northwesterly direction, apparently without hitting anything—“grazing ¤re” I thought.
Herman Thornton continues: “Firing began from positions to our left,
and in a few moments we saw shadowy movements in the orchard to our
front. Directly to the north the ground dropped off quite steeply, providing
pretty good protection from that direction, but the orchard tapered off
gradually to lower ground.” Bob Trefzger resumes the account:
On reaching the window opening, I looked out and to my amazement could clearly see an enemy soldat [soldier] lying in the snow about 30 feet from our 3d Squad house. There was a bipod-mounted MG-42 in front of him, pointed at the house. As he was not ¤ring or moving, it seemed probable that he had been shot by our 3d Squad guards—probably the nearby ¤ring that had awakened me.
The enemy attack plan at western Tettingen appear[s] to have
26 / Division Goes into Action
been to very quietly approach the town from the north across the snow-covered orchard in order to surprise the defenders. Unfortunately for the soldaten, the machine gunner, pushing his MG-42 ahead of him, had crawled in the snow hundreds of feet ahead of the other attackers to within 30 feet of the Third Squad house. The initial burst of small arms ¤re apparently caused the remaining soldaten to get up on their feet and attempt to charge toward the houses at the top of the apple orchard slope. They were immediately ¤red on by the heavy machine gun (D376) near the southeast corner of the orchard and the light machine gun further to the northeast (Herman Thornton’s location).
Herman Thornton goes on with the story: “Within a few moments all hell had broken loose from our line. The machine gun with all of the ammunition we had brought forward was in front and to the left of my foxhole; therefore, all I had to do was to make use of my carbine. I ¤red at shadowy ¤gures that appeared from behind a log of an old apple tree that was about 15 yards away.”
Bob Trefzger once again picks up the account:
Soon artillery and mortar shells began exploding in the central part of the orchard. The smaller shell-bursts, the mortar shells, traversed back and forth, methodically decimating the enemy soldaten. As the friendly machine-gun ¤re was often nearly continuous and of long duration, I concluded that it must be a water-cooled, heavy machine gun from Company D.
The machine-gun ¤re and shelling by the mortars and artillery continued off and on until it started to become light. It seemed like a very long time.
When it had become quite light and visibility was good, our squad was ordered to abandon our house and go to the 3d Platoon command post in the next house to the east. We did not ask why, we just followed orders and ran to the command post. We were ordered to leave the house because someone (we never learned who) thought they saw enemy soldaten approaching from the woods west of the
Division Goes into Action / 27
house. As there were no west-facing windows, the defenders (us)
could not see them coming.
After a while we were ordered to retake the abandoned house. The few enemy soldaten in the house did not ¤ght, but willingly surrendered; lucky for us! I especially remember the ¤rst live soldat I ever saw. He was quite short, wearing a paratrooper’s jumpsuit and a white paratroopers helmet. He and the others looked pretty scared, since they were not sure that we would not shoot them in cold blood.
When we looked out from the second ®oor of the recaptured house, we could see that some of the wounded or half-frozen soldaten in the orchard indicated that they wanted to surrender. Our medics cautiously went into the orchard and tended to them. The walking wounded were helped out of the orchard; the more seriously wounded were carried out on litters.
Herman Thornton concludes the account:
When we looked out in front of us as daylight came to the area, we saw a terrible sight. Bodies were strewn all over the place. When it was quite evident that it was safe to leave our holes, we walked out into the orchard. Medics were on the scene administering to the wounded and taking them to the rear. That was probably the reason the enemy threw no artillery at us while in the orchard. There were very few who were just wounded. Most of the attackers had died with the possibility of a few escaping back to their own lines.
By the time I got out there, the bodies had already frozen in that miserably cold weather and had taken on the appearance of wax dummies. Those who checked the bodies discovered that most them had schnapps instead of water in their canteens.13
The day continued with the usual enemy artillery and mortar ¤re ensuring that the men of the 1st Battalion kept under cover, although it was found possible to distribute ten-meals-in-one ration packs for the ¤rst time since they had crossed the English Channel. The isolated detachment in Butzdorf improved its position by blowing mouse holes (passages) between adjoining buildings, but found that the only water available was from melting snow.14
28 / Division Goes into Action
NENNIG, BERG, WIES
Meanwhile, the previous afternoon, January 14, Lt. Col. Benjamin E. Thurston’s 3rd/376th had received orders to prepare to take the village of Nennig and the hamlets of Berg and Wies that lay in a corner of lower ground of the Moselle valley and to secure the western end of the Orscholz Switch.
Thurston was able to make a brief reconnaissance late that afternoon from an observation post in the riverside village of Besch, where a lieutenant of the 3rd Cavalry Group, which was responsible for the surveillance of this area, informed him that the German soldiers across the way numbered about four hundred and showed no inclination to patrol aggressively but responded quickly with artillery and mortars to any sign of movement. The double-track railroad and highway running toward Thurston’s objectives were known to be mined and covered by enemy ¤re from ¤ve pillboxes located some seven hundred yards south of Nennig at a point where a previous American attack had been checked.
The original proposal was to attack from the east, but Thurston decided there were too many unknown factors on that ®ank and decided instead to attack from the west. An alternative approach route was chosen across the open expanse to the railroad tracks opposite Nennig that would form the line of departure, the whole route being covered by smoke to avoid the troops being exposed against the snow-covered ground. This route started northwest to intersect the Moselle River opposite Nennig, then doubled back south and east to meet the railroad tracks across from the village. To clear and mark this almost two-mile approach to his objectives, which would have to be traversed in single ¤le, Thurston sent forward Lt. Charles
R. Palmer of the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion with a mine-clearing team at 0300 on January 15. Another engineer team laid antitank mines across the Besch-Nennig road to prevent any armored counterattack on this route.
The battalion assembled in Besch during the night along with a platoon of the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion and Company A, 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion, that were under command for the operation. Lt. Inman E. Mallard and Staff Sergeant (SSgt.) Gladwin J. Flory, the battalion intelligence sergeant, crossed the Moselle on a ferry operated by the divisional engineers below Besch and set up an observation post in Remich for Sergeant Flory to man. The high ground there gave good observation
30 / Division Goes into Action
of the ground from Schloss Thorn, the castle on the German west ®ank, across to Sinz and down to Tettingen, with all movement in Nennig being clearly visible. This post proved invaluable for collecting intelligence and directing artillery ¤re over the next few days.
The task of clearing and marking the battalion route had taken longer than expected, delaying the launching of the attack by thirty minutes. The news came through too late to withhold the accompanying artillery preparation, which the artillery was unable to extend due to a shortage of ammunition. Fortunately, the chemical warfare mortar platoon offered to take up the preparation when the artillery ceased, and there was no shortage of shells for their 4.2-inch mortars, which had an even heavier impact than the shell¤re.
Capt. Julian M. Way’s K Company, with a platoon of heavy machine guns and a mortar section from M Company, led the way at 0745 with the task of taking Nennig. They were followed by Capt. William A. Brightman’s L Company, with the other heavy machine-gun platoon, which was to bypass Nennig and go on to take Wies, while I Company remained in Besch as battalion reserve. The approach march between the engineers’ tape was hampered by subzero temperatures, ice, and a snowstorm and was made even more unpleasant by the men’s having to wade through several streams, the circumstances eventually leading to several cases of frostbite and trench foot.
The smoke covering the advance was so dense that some of the troops became confused. Some of K Company, including Lt. Dwight M. Morse’s 2nd Platoon and a section of mortars from M Company, missed Nennig altogether and went on to Wies, while Captain Way eventually found himself approaching his objective from the north instead of the west as he had intended. Nevertheless, the Germans were taken completely by surprise, and K Company was able to take the village in barely twenty minutes for only three casualties, including the fatally injured Lt. James H. McCoy of the 3rd Platoon, who had been the ¤rst to cross the line of departure. The enemy survivors ®ed toward Sinz, leaving twenty-three prisoners and ninety-¤ve casualties behind. It appeared that the Germans were confused by the smoke and thought the attack was coming from across the Moselle, because at 0900 they launched a massive and futile barrage on both banks of the river opposite Berg.15
The troops approaching Wies were not so lucky. Machine guns con
Division Goes into Action / 31
cealed in the hamlet pinned the men down before they could get anywhere near. Some members of the 2nd Platoon attempted an out®anking maneuver, but when they were caught out on an open hillside in a clear killing ground from machine guns located in a line of buildings on the Remich-Sinz road that included Schloss Bübingen, they started taking heavy casualties. An attempt by the mortar team to cover the men with smoke failed because of an adverse wind, and mortaring proved to have no effect on the volume of ¤re being directed at them.
Captain Brightman then arrived to assess the situation before deploying his company. He sent Lt. William M. Goldensweig’s platoon to relieve the trapped troops, but the platoon was driven back by the Germans, who had no intention of letting their prey get away. Eventually a German of¤cer, accompanied by a medical aid man, appeared under a Red Cross ®ag and offered to let the wounded be returned to the American lines if the others would surrender. The men on the ground agreed to the plan, and American medical aid men were then able to retrieve the wounded, while the others were led off into captivity. Battalion was informed at 1530 that part of K Company’s 2nd Platoon had been captured.16
Lt. Raymond G. Fox of I Company was sent forward with his platoon to reinforce K Company during the course of the morning. He was then instructed to take a patrol and establish contact with the 1st Battalion on the right. The patrol was joined by Lt. Thomas A. Daly, who wanted to reconnoiter the terrain over which his platoon on the eastern side of Nennig might be attacked. The patrol followed the course of a stream to the higher ground north of Lateswald Wood, where it encountered a group of about ¤fty Germans and exchanged ¤re. Daly crawled forward along a shallow ditch to tackle one of the two machine guns the Germans were using and managed to wipe out the crew with a grenade and his pistol before returning to the patrol with the captured machine gun. Contact with the enemy was then broken off and the incident reported to Captain Way, who ordered the patrol to return. (Lieutenant Daly was later awarded a Silver Star for his part in this action.)17
Meanwhile, a speci¤c time and location for making contact with the 1st Battalion had been received, and that afternoon Technical Sergeant (TSgt.) Frank M. Fields led a patrol to the rendezvous, which was near a German pillbox about halfway between Nennig and Tettingen. However, the patrol came under ¤re from the pillbox and there was no sign of the 1st Battalion
32 / Division Goes into Action
contact, so Fields brought his men back. The ten-man patrol sent by C Company to meet them had encountered enemy machine-gun ¤re twice on the way and had been obliged to make detours, but they got to within ¤fty yards of the designated pillbox when it came under intense mortar ¤re and ¤nally withdrew, unaware that Sergeant Field’s patrol was so close.
Lieutenant Fox made another attempt to break through to the pillbox, but his platoon became involved in a thirty-minute exchange of ¤re without making any headway before he was recalled to Nennig.18
Late in the afternoon a platoon from Company L secured the hamlet of Berg together with its forti¤ed medieval castle (Schloss Berg) about six hundred yards north of Nennig. Wies was also eventually secured, despite the constant harassing machine-gun ¤re that had decimated the 2nd Platoon earlier in the day.19
The 3rd Battalion’s objectives remained under constant artillery, mortar, and machine-gun ¤re, and in Nennig they continued house-to-house ¤ghting, which K Company was not strong enough to control by itself. The wires for the ¤eld telephones, upon which the bulk of communication depended, were constantly being cut by shell¤re.
The remainder of I Company, which had been held back in reserve at Besch, was ordered forward at 2130 and arrived soon after dusk, taking over the defense of the southern and western parts of the village.
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston then led into Nennig a forty-man team carrying supplies to sustain his unit. Later he reported the battalion’s casualties for that day as eight dead and twelve seriously wounded, but he did not mention the Red Cross incident in his account of this action.
There was a curious event in Nennig that night when a group of Germans rushed in noisily to where SSgt. Fred Grossi was on guard duty with a machine gun. His gun jammed after ¤ring only two shots, so he used his ri®e, and some others joined in with their ri®es. Next morning it was discovered that fourteen Germans had been killed in this confrontation, twelve of whom were of¤cers. (Grossi was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for this action.)20
It was discovered that the German prisoners taken at Nennig that day were not from the 416th Infantry Division as expected, but from Maj. Gen. Gerhard Franz’s 256th Volksgrenadier Division. This was a new formation that had been raised the previous summer to replace the former and now extinct 256th Infantry Division. The division consisted of the two-battalion
Division Goes into Action / 33
Grenadier Regiments 456, 457, and 458; the four-battalion Artillery Regiment 256; Fusilier Company 256; Engineer Battalion 256; Field Training and Replacement Battalion 256; and Tank Hunting Battalion 256, which in turn consisted of a motorized antiaircraft artillery battery, a motorized tank-hunting battery, and an assault gun battery.21
Early the next morning, January 16, the Germans launched an attack on Schloss Berg, where one of the heavy machine guns attached to 2nd Lt. Dale E. Bowyer’s platoon was lost and a ri®e squad was captured. However, this squad later escaped unharmed, and the Germans were beaten back, with sixty of their men dead.
A German attack on Nennig followed an hour later, after being preceded by a heavy mortar and artillery concentration, and came down the draw from Sinz, the same route that Lieutenant Daly had reconnoitered the previous day. Daly’s men were prepared for the attack, opening ¤re only at the last minute, and Lieutenant King blocked the enemy escape route with a mortar concentration. Those Germans that survived then surrendered.
Another attack on Nennig came from the same direction shortly after daybreak, again preceded by a heavy mortar and artillery concentration, but the gunners were spotted by both Staff Sergeant Flory in his observation post across the river at Remich and SSgt. Leroy McPherson’s heavy machine-gun section from its position on the high ground north of the village. The heavy machine guns succeeded in breaking up the attack and drove the survivors into the cover of Lateswald Wood. However, one enemy machine-gun team managed to break into the village and got to within ¤fty yards of the battalion command post, ¤ring down the main street. Lieutenant Colonel Thurston killed the machine gunner with his M1 and also wounded a German soldier, who was armed with a Panzerfaust and was trying to get at one of the two tank destroyers that had moved up to join the defense during the night.22
MONKEY WRENCH WOODS
Orders were then received from Regiment on January 15 for Lt. Col. Olivius
C. Martin’s 2nd Battalion to clear the woods southwest of Tettingen, known to the troops as Monkey Wrench Woods because of their shape on the map, and thus connect the two narrow breaches in the Orscholz Switch that had
34 / Division Goes into Action
already been established by the 1st and 3rd Battalions at Tettingen and Nennig. The 3rd Battalion was ordered to extend its right ®ank eastward to link up with the 2nd Battalion, so I Company left Nennig at 1330 and started occupying the German communication trenches extending in that direction with Lieutenant Fox’s 3rd Platoon on the far ®ank digging into an orchard about halfway between the two villages. However, there were still some enemy-occupied pillboxes to the rear of I Company, which began taking casualties from shell¤re that was clearly directed from these pillboxes. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion’s attack, with F and G Companies leading, made good progress through the densely wooded, rough terrain, and by noon most of the area had been cleared of the enemy.23
Capt. George P. Whitman of F Company described in his memoirs how the previous day Lieutenant Colonel Martin had briefed him on an attack on the woods just northwest of Tettingen that Martin’s company was to make at 0700 hours on January 16. By this time both men were aware that the 1st Battalion of the 376th Infantry Regiment had made the initial penetration of the German defensive line at Tettingen and Butzdorf and had been ¤ghting for two days to hold their position. The woods northwest of and adjacent to Tettingen posed a danger to their left ®ank and had to be taken, which was F Company’s mission. Whitman was also told that Lt. Thomas Fairchild of Company G would be making a preliminary reconnaissance of the area and would report to him upon his arrival in Wochern.
The company executive of¤cer, Lt. Richard A. Hawley, had the task of guiding the company from Perl, but lost his way in the knee-high snow, and the company arrived dead tired late in the afternoon. Meanwhile, Captain Whitman had driven forward in his jeep to ¤nd Lieutenant Fairchild, who reported that there was an antitank ditch, ten feet wide by ten feet deep, in Monkey Wrench Woods.
Next morning at 0700 hours, F Company set off through the woods beyond Perl. The 1st Platoon, under Lt. Wilfred Wilson, came to the deep antitank ditch, which the Germans used in wooded areas instead of the cement dragon’s teeth they used in open areas. Captain Whitman sent Lt. Stanley C. Mason and his 3rd Platoon to follow the ditch and cross it when they could. Lt. Gordon A. Weston’s 2nd Platoon was sent after them in support.
Division Goes into Action / 35
The 1st Platoon crossed the ditch in single ¤le with Captain Whitman following. On the other side they came to a mine¤eld in which antipersonnel mines were attached to every tree with trip wires just one inch above the snow. The lead scout, Sgt. Michael Alba, called forward Captain Whitman and quietly pointed out the moving head of a German soldier reading a book. They had stumbled upon the German command post. Whitman then worked his way back to the rear, carefully stepping over the trip wires, to brief Lieutenant Wilson on his plan of attack.
The Germans were caught completely by surprise in one of the most successful engagements in the attempts to breach the Orscholz Switch. Many Germans were killed, sixty-two were taken prisoner, twelve machinegun nests were reduced, and a three-story hospital bunker was captured. American casualties amounted to four men killed and a few wounded.
One of the Americans killed was eighteen-year-old medical aid William
L. Cleary, who, despite his clearly marked helmet, was shot while attending to a wounded man. This so incensed Captain Whitman that he had Cleary’s body left there for several hours so that every man in the company could appreciate what they were up against. Sgt. William D. Van Dusen, one of the squad leaders, saw Cleary lying dead, turned to ¤nd two Germans approaching to surrender with their hands above their heads, and killed them both. (Sergeant Van Dusen was himself to be killed three weeks later in Bannholz Woods.)24
Allen Howenstine of Michigan City, Indiana, also took part in this attack. His account mistakenly gives the date as January 14, when it was in fact January 16:
At this time I was twenty years old, a mortar gunner in H Company, 2d Battalion, 376th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division. On the morning of 14 January 1945, the 2d Battalion of the 376th jumped off from Wochern in Germany into the Siegfried Switch, a very well forti¤ed part of the Siegfried Line. My assignment was to order ¤re for our two 81-mm mortars, and I traveled with a ri®e platoon of F Company.
Late in the day of the 14th, the ri®e company had pretty well cleared Monkey-Wrench Woods, so called because its shape resembled the well-known wrench with its jaws open. A squad of German soldiers
36 / Division Goes into Action
came out of a pillbox and our machine-gunner decimated them. Four were killed outright and ¤ve or six more were wounded, and I think a couple got away across the draw, which separated Monkey-Wrench Woods from a wood which the Germans still controlled.
We gathered the wounded and took them back to the pillbox, which we immediately took over as our headquarters; a place to get warm. The pillbox, as I recall, was about ¤fteen to twenty feet underground. It was equipped as a hospital bunker, with probably twenty to thirty bunks built into the walls. When the ¤rst guys got into the pillbox they discovered a German doctor there. He had medicine and instruments in his pack, and a Red Cross armband. He had evidently been getting ready to depart when we came in but immediately began to assist the wounded. One German was critically wounded, shot through the upper body and lungs, and died during the night.
We probably should have carried the wounded German back to our battalion aid station, about two miles to the rear, but by the time we were in a position to do so it was dark, we weren’t absolutely sure the woods were cleared, and the area was heavily mined. No one was willing to run the risk of injury or death for a wounded enemy. Also, the Germans had not endeared themselves to us. Earlier in the afternoon Jamie, one of my friends, was taking two German prisoners to the rear when one kicked the trip wire of a booby trap or mine. Both Germans hit the ground, the mine went off and wounded the guard. Jamie was only super¤cially wounded and was able to shoot both the Germans as they attempted to escape.
The German doctor, who could speak fairly ®uent English, did what he could to make his patients comfortable. The next morning the wounded prisoners were taken to the rear, and the German doctor put on his pack and indicated that he was going to rejoin his comrades in the wooded area across the draw from where the pillbox was located. He said that according to international law we had no right to hold him and that he was free to go. A few ri®es pointed in his direction changed his mind, and he was taken to the rear.25
Contact was eventually established between the battalions during the
afternoon when a member of G Company crawled into Lieutenant Fox’s
position in the orchard.26
Division Goes into Action / 37
The Germans made two small-scale attacks on Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th during the evening of January 15. The ¤rst, against B Company, involved about ¤fty enemy soldiers and was repulsed without dif¤culty. The second, against C Company, was supported by four Mark IV tanks, two of which were damaged by bazookas and withdrew on ¤re, while the other pair withdrew when they lost their escorting infantry to American ¤re.
That night Lieutenant Chalkley sent out a patrol under Sergeant Soka to check out the area east of his position. The patrol found some bunkers and a pillbox covering Butzdorf, all of which were occupied, so Lt. James
W. Cornelius took out a patrol with Sgt. Jesse R. Towers of the 319th Field Engineers to destroy them. They found the pillbox unoccupied and demolished it with explosives. Only one of the bunkers was now found to be occupied, and the door of that was blown off with a satchel charge, but the patrol then came under intense mortar ¤re and was obliged to withdraw.27 Next morning a German medical aid man and another soldier appeared under a white ®ag, requesting permission to remove the wounded. This was granted, but the medical aid man’s companion was detained. Shortly afterward a German halftrack came down the hill and removed seven wounded from the bunker.28
About noon on January 16, Capt. Harry C. Bowden’s B Company left Tettingen and relieved F Company in the woods west of the village. The company now had a one-thousand-yard front with all the platoons deployed in line. Fifteen hundred yards off to the left were the ¤ve pillboxes still occupied by the enemy, while about ¤ve hundred yards to the northwest Lieutenant Fox’s platoon of I Company was still holding the orchard.29
Elements of the 11th Panzer Division were now known to be in the vicinity, for aerial reconnaissance had picked up traces of the armor crossing at Saarburg and alerted the 94th Infantry. Poor weather prevented further reconnaissance, but now the tanks could be heard all along the 376th’s front. More bazooka ammunition was brought forward and issued out, while Lieutenant Palmer and his engineers laid mines on the road leading into Butzdorf from Sinz and also laid a belt of them along the eastern edge of Tettingen. Pole and satchel charges, as well as daisy chains, were prepared to meet an armored attack.
Tanks were heard in Campholz Woods at about midnight, and at 0300
38 / Division Goes into Action
on January 18 a patrol from A Company returned with two prisoners who were readily identi¤ed as belonging to the 11th Panzer Division.30 In fact, General Wietersheim’s 11th Panzer Division had assumed command of the Orscholz Switch sector late on January 14, relieving the 416th Infantry Di-vision but retaining the fortress machine-gun battalion. In addition, Lieutenant Reudiger’s 2nd Battalion of Grenadier Regiment 714 had been brought forward across the Saar and occupied the ridge south of Sinz. General Wietersheim intended to clear Butzdorf and Tettingen with Panzergrenadier Regiment 110 and to clear Wies and Nennig with Panzergrenadier Regiment 111, both regiments having been recently brought back up to strength. They would be supported by the full weight of the divisional and corps artillery.31
Dawn of January 18 brought an extremely heavy bombardment on Butzdorf, Tettingen, and Wochern. At 0740 the din of the German artillery preparation subsided to be replaced by that of approaching tanks. The 1st Battalion of Panzergrenadier Regiment 110, led by its 10th Engineer Company mounted on halftracks, swarmed down the valley from Sinz. The attack was supported by four self-propelled 75-mm assault guns of Tank Hunting Battalion 61 and several tanks of the 7th Company, Panzer Regiment 15. The Germans advanced in a wide arc in the face of the American defensive barrage with their right ®ank on Butzdorf and their left on Tettingen.
It appears that the Germans must have bridged or ¤lled in the antitank trench across the Sinz road to make this advance, for the accompanying map shows that their approach was seriously hampered by the static obstacles of mine¤elds and this trench, which only had a gap on the track leading eastward out of Butzdorf up to the Münzingen Ridge.
An assault gun hit a mine just outside Butzdorf and stopped there. Two halftracks loaded with infantry tried to bypass it and were knocked out by bazookas as First Lieutenant Stafford’s A Company went into action. Another assault gun pushed its muzzle into a building and was knocked out. The crew was then captured and bundled into a cellar. However, German infantry managed to occupy two buildings in the village.
Captain Duckworth’s C Company in Tettingen was the next to go into action as two tanks, an assault gun, and four halftracks approached its position. One of the halftracks hit a mine, and although one of the tanks was disabled by a bazooka hitting its tracks, it was able to continue to use its
Division Goes into Action / 39
gun. The other tank took shelter behind the church, then blasted a hole through to ¤re on the buildings beyond. The approaching halftracks were ¤red on by bazookas, none of which exploded, and then stopped broadside opposite the American positions, from where Pvt. James C. Hobbs and Pvt. Charles F. Croan opened up their heavy machine guns with devastating effect as the German infantry dismounted.
Fire from the disabled tank forced Lieutenant Chalkley and his messenger to quit their command post and reestablish themselves in a barn across the street, only to come under ¤re from the second tank behind the church.
40 / Division Goes into Action
Lieutenant Peters and his platoon sergeant, Joseph J. Quentz, were wounded by an 88-mm gun and had to be evacuated. Sgt. Charles Foxgrover then had his antitank gun crew get their 57-mm gun ¤ring on the tank behind the church at a range of three hundred yards, and they succeeded in knocking it out before it could turn its turret. However, a mortar shell then hit the crew as they were changing position, wounding most of the men and jamming the trails of the gun.
Meanwhile, German infantry had taken the Halfway House between the villages and also three or four buildings in Tettingen. German tanks had penetrated Butzdorf and were ¤ring at point-blank range into the buildings still occupied by A Company, which was engaging them separately with satchel charges and bazookas while blasting away with small-arms ¤re. Pfc. Richard J. Kamins, a bazooka man of the 2nd Platoon, gives the following account of this action:
I stood in the doorway and saw the ¤rst tank go by me. I ¤red at the second and yelled, “I got the sonuvabitch!” [Pfc.] Lindsay reloaded. The next tank came down the street toward me. I hit him in the track. He saw me. I turned and ran down the hall. A spray of machine-gun bullets chased me, ricocheting from where I’d been standing at the door. After that I ¤red from a window.
A fourth came and a ¤fth. It was too dark to use my sights but I couldn’t miss. They were only 50 yards away. I hit them in the tracks but still they kept coming. I hit one on the turret and the round bounced off like a tennis ball. I set one on ¤re and he withdrew in a sheet of ®ame.
Pop Houston crouched in a doorway. Some concrete dust blasted from the walls got in his eyes. Nevertheless, old Pop ¤red every ri®e grenade he had. He hit tank after tank and watched rounds glance off. His language was lovely to hear.
The 1st Squad was across the street. Jack Zebin and Wylie of the 3d Platoon were attached to them as a bazooka team. Zebin had a tank graveyard in front of his position. He got credit for ¤ve. Dick Schweig and Whiz Wicentowski were to my left and “The Reverend” [SSgt. W. T.] Pillow and Howard Curler were down to my right. We had a nice box formation. One tank that I’d hit in the tread went down to be mousetrapped by Pillow. Pillow scared him back to me.
Division Goes into Action / 41
He was in reverse swinging his gun toward the 1st Squad’s building. Simultaneously, Zebin and I shot him. My round tore a three-by-four hole in the rear armor. It was a long-range shot . . . all of ¤ve yards. The driver and gunner lay dead in the tank. A third was hanging out of the turret like a tablecloth. A fourth had started to run. Cross¤re from three buildings hit him. With every burst his body would jump, making us think he was still alive. Other bursts followed. McIntyre came running up with a satchel charge and dropped it in the tank. The explosion was terri¤c. Later we examined the smoking hulk. There was no sign of any bodies.32
Soon after 0900 the attack petered out. The German infantry withdrew to reorganize but had considerable dif¤culty in doing so because of the harassing ¤re from several American artillery battalions. An attempt at a repeat attack by the 2nd Battalion, Panzergrenadier Regiment 110, at 1045 was stopped dead in its tracks by artillery ¤re, and the 7th Company, Panzer Regiment 15, was held in check by the 105- and 155-mm guns for the rest of the day. During the pause in the ¤ghting, A Company recovered all the buildings it had lost in Butzdorf, and C Company retook Halfway House, taking sixteen prisoners.
The second major attack took place at 1130 when the 2nd Company of Panzer Regiment 15, which had about ten Panthers, swept down from Sinz. Four tanks took up positions behind the trees and haystacks opposite Butzdorf and began pounding the buildings with high-explosive and armorpiercing shells while the rest of the tanks assumed hull-down positions for the same purpose opposite Tettingen.
In Butzdorf, A Company kept one man in each building on watch above, while the remainder took shelter in the cellars. The American artillery brought down defensive ¤re, joined by Lieutenant Nielson’s cannon company from Tettingen, which alone ¤red nineteen tons of shells that day. Lt. Col. George F. Miller tried to get his supporting tank destroyers into more effective ¤ring positions, but sniper ¤re, the narrow streets, and low silhouettes of the targets seriously diminished their effectiveness.
The third and ¤nal major attack of the day came at 1430, when the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Panzergrenadier Regiment 110 and Field Replacement and Training Battalion 256, supported by the 2nd Company, Panzer Regiment 15, converged on Butzdorf. Led by infantry on foot backed by
42 / Division Goes into Action
¤fteen widely dispersed halftracks, the attack was met by a defensive barrage when the men were still two hundred yards from the village, but although many casualties were in®icted, it did not stop the advance. The in-fantry in the halftracks dismounted and joined in the assault until the murderous small-arms ¤re drove them to take cover behind their vehicles once more, the performance being repeated several times. Meanwhile, tanks drove into the village, ¤ring into the various buildings at point-blank range, but they failed to quell the resistance. Private Kamins resumes his account:
We were lucky. Zinny and Craig had blasted holes in the walls of every building in our block. We could withdraw without going into the open. One “Tiger” ¤red two rounds at us. The living room became un¤t to live in, but no one was hurt. We ran across the street to the platoon CP [command post]. Joe DeLibero was the last man in. A piece of shrapnel tore his thigh. Two men dragged him inside.
Two machine-gun squads set up in the barn. “The Reverend” Pillow was giving the boys hell. Never have I seen more inspiring leadership. He talked like a movie hero, only he meant it. Pillow’s loader, Howard Curler, was pretty comical. His glasses were broken and he was using binoculars in their stead. He’d squint in myopic glory through the ¤eld glasses at tanks that were no more than 150 yards away. To everyone but Curler their 88s looked like telephone poles.
Over in the 1st Platoon, Tom Wilson was pretty comical too. His squad leader pointed to a tank about 15 yards away with its gun leveled at their building and asked, “What do you think of that?” Laconically Wilson replied, “Dirty bore.”
Then came the order for us to withdraw as best as we could. Speaking as though he were talking about the weather, Joe DeLibero asked Smith, our acting platoon sergeant, if he was to be left behind. Smitty and Peck, the platoon runner, were the last men to leave the building. They had Joe with them. We all took off like birds.
At the company CP a machine gun was set up in each door. We counted noses. In the 1st Squad only one man was uninjured. Klein was gone, Walters gone, Derickson gone, Burdzy gone. Kovac was hit in the thigh, but continued to laugh and hobble around. Fite got a nasty piece of shrapnel through his hand. Joe DeLibero lay looking up at the ceiling. Some guys stepped on him; he didn’t say anything.33
Division Goes into Action / 43
While these actions were going on, three men of D Company volunteered to take supplies to Butzdorf in a jeep. With the driver, Pfc. Virgil E. Hamilton, were Cpl. Bernie H. Heck, the company transportation NCO, and Cpl. Earl N. Vulgamore, the mail clerk. Halfway along they had to hide behind a barn to avoid some approaching enemy tanks. Although none of them had ever handled a bazooka before, they decided to try to use one that they had brought in the jeep for A Company. With Hamilton aiming and the other two men loading, they succeeded in setting the ¤rst tank on ¤re, then by chance got their second round into the opening hatch of the second tank. The third tank took ¤ve rounds to knock out, by which time the fourth tank was beating a retreat, but was eliminated in turn at a range of 150 yards.
The struggle for possession of Butzdorf continued all afternoon. Sgt. William McQuade of D Company destroyed a tank with a pole charge, and when three tanks tried to converge on the remaining heavy machine-gun section, Cpl. Earle F. Mousaw, despite being wounded, managed to fend them off with a bazooka. But by 1700 First Lieutenant Stafford’s A Company was reduced to holding only ¤ve buildings in the southern part of the village, and a Panther was parked right outside his command post. They were out of bazooka ammunition and other antitank devices, and only one heavy machine gun of Lieutenant Baker’s platoon was still operating. He had thirty wounded in his command post, as well as a number of prisoners, and his only means of communication was Lieutenant Morrison’s artillery radio, which could send but no longer receive.34
From Tettingen, Lieutenant Colonel Miner could see the enemy tanks patrolling the streets of Butzdorf, but at least part of A Company still seemed to be holding out. He then received word that the 2nd Battalion would relieve him that night, and shortly afterward Lieutenant Colonel Martin arrived with F Company following close behind.
Brigadier General Cheadle was monitoring the situation for General Malony and reported to him that between twelve and eighteen tanks were coming in from all sides of Butzdorf and that A Company had been overrun by them. Malony passed this information on to XX Corps before going forward to see for himself. He then saw that A Company was still engaged in Butzdorf and corrected his previous message to XX Corps. A light tank company of the 3rd Cavalry Group that had been brought forward to support the defense was then sent back, since it would be of little use in such
44 / Division Goes into Action
a situation. Malony decided that Butzdorf would have to be evacuated that night.
While the two battalion commanders discussed the handover, Lieutenant Chalkley was instructed to take some men of F Company and clear Butzdorf of snipers. Then at about 1700 two squads under Sergeant Soka and Sgt. Harold B. Price stormed the building on the eastern edge of Butzdorf that had previously housed the command post and recovered Sergeant Dury and several other men who had been wounded and taken prisoner. Two other squads retook the building next door.
With the village cleared of snipers, the tank destroyers were better able to engage the enemy. An assault gun near Butzdorf was hit and blew up in a spectacular display. Two tanks northeast of that village were set on ¤re, and at least one of the hull-down tanks on the ridge was damaged. In ad-dition, three Panthers were hit while attempting to cross the antitank ditch east of Tettingen. Later, under cover of darkness, German recovery vehicles managed to tow away three of the damaged tanks before they could be set alight.
The evacuation of Butzdorf then began in conditions of intense darkness and falling sleet. With the aid of Lieutenant Morrison and his oneway radio, Lieutenant Chalkley called for ¤re support, which was provided by the 248th and 919th Field Artilleries. House doors were ripped off to serve as litters for the wounded. Checking his men by touch, Lt. Tom Hodges discovered a fully armed German unwittingly lined up among them. The enemy soldier was promptly disarmed and taken prisoner.
By 2200 on January 18 the whole of the 1st Battalion, less B Company, was back in Wochern. Captain Bowden’s company had to spend another miserable night in the sleet and mud of the woods, during which a fortystrong German patrol penetrated its lines and was driven out only at daybreak, leaving behind ¤fteen dead. B Company was relieved the night of January 19 and rejoined the battalion in its reserve location at Veckring.35
The performance of Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st Battalion in the ¤ghting for Tettingen and Butzdorf between January 14 and January 18, 1945, was recognized one year later with the sole Battle Honor award being made to a unit of the 94th Infantry Division. In the citation the battalion was credited with having “killed approximately 850 Germans and captured 150, and destroyed 8 tanks and 11 half-tracks. The unconquerable spirit displayed by
Division Goes into Action / 45
these men in the face of superior odds, and their self-sacri¤cing devotion to duty are worthy of the highest emulation.”36
NENNIG, BERG, WIES
Meanwhile, the heavy machine guns that had been dug in on the ridge north of Nennig were receiving considerable attention from the enemy artillery and came under infantry attack on six occasions, each time proving able to drive the Germans back.
There were problems with communications back to Regiment, so SSgt. James L. Jennings took a wire team from Perl to lay a cable across the river south of Besch at the ferry point and up the western bank to opposite Nennig, where the engineers ferried them back to the east bank under ¤re. The line was successfully connected, but by the time the wire team returned to Perl the next morning, it had been cut again. SSgt. Delbert A. Larson and Technician Fourth Grade (Tech-4) Mervin L. Moore then tried laying a line straight up the railroad tracks with the rails protecting the line from the constant mortar and shell¤re, a technique that proved successful.
On January 17, Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th received orders to eliminate the enemy positions that were still operating behind I Company. Lt. Pablo Arenaz’s 2nd Platoon was detailed, but after an initial reconnaissance, he reported that his platoon, now down to only eighteen men, was inadequate for the task, so the assignment was given to Lt. Ravnel
V. Burgamy’s 1st Platoon. The platoon set off at 2030 having been split into two assault groups and given all the ®amethrowers and pole and satchel charges available. Having successfully traversed some eight hundred yards of open ground to reach a deep draw one hundred yards short of the pillbox, the troops then discovered that their light machine guns had iced up and the only automatic weapon still functioning was a Browning automatic ri®e (BAR). Lieutenant Burgamy and Pfc. John Mauro Jr. went on alone toward the pillbox until the sight of trip wires made them stop. The rest of the platoon opened ¤re as planned, and their ¤re was returned from men in several positions around the pillbox, who sent up signal ®ares calling down artillery and mortar ¤re on the platoon’s position. The platoon then withdrew, covered by Pfc. Ray Sweeney’s BAR. After investigating the matter, Lieutenant Colonel Thurston instructed Lieutenant Burgamy to pursue the pillbox no further.
46 / Division Goes into Action
Enemy patrols remained active along the 3rd Battalion’s front all night, and an attack on Berg just before midnight was checked with artillery assistance, killing twenty of the enemy.
At about 0500 on January 17, a large patrol coming from the northeast attempted to enter Berg but was stopped by Lieutenant Bowyer’s platoon.
Early in the morning an enemy column was spotted approaching in twos across some open ground in front of Lieutenant Fox’s orchard, seemingly on the way to the positions behind and unaware of the American presence. The 3rd Platoon withheld ¤re until the Germans were within ¤fty yards, then opened ¤re with devastating effect. The Germans reacted with a frontal assault that cost them even more casualties. They then began a series of assaults with about twenty-¤ve men at a time, simply varying the line of approach, that went on until 1100 the next day, but failed to get within grenade range. Some Germans in¤ltrated through the thin strip of woods between the 3rd and neighboring 4th Platoons, setting up machine guns to blast away at Lieutenant Fox’s men, effectively isolating them. Their telephone line was cut, and one man was killed and another was injured in an ineffectual attempt at repair. Then late in the afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Thurston and his driver, Technician Fifth Grade (Tech-5) Thomas M. Clausi, crawled in dragging a half-¤lled box of C rations. Thurston told Fox that under no circumstances was he to yield his position to the enemy, and gave him his bandolier of spare ammunition before leaving.37
There was another attack on Nennig at about 1000 with some twenty Germans coming down the usual draw from the northeast. Lieutenant Colonel Thurston described the draw as being the bed of a long dried-up stream that had cut a channel with almost vertical sides through the chalk up to ¤fteen feet deep, so that access and exit were possible only at either end, making it an ideal trap. On this occasion the German advance was stopped by Lieutenant Daly’s platoon yet again, but some Germans managed to get into a couple of unoccupied buildings until one of the tank destroyers forced them out again by ¤ring at point-blank range. Thurston eventually had one of the tank destroyers posted at the near end of the draw, for the Germans persisted in using it.
Aggressive enemy patrolling, particularly at night, together with frequent artillery and mortar bombardment, continued to harass the American defense of the Nennig sector. In Wies, Captain Brightman ordered his men to stay indoors at night so that any movement outside could be clearly identi¤ed as that of the enemy. In Nennig the number of German dead
Division Goes into Action / 47
accumulating was proving quite a problem. There was no means of evacuating them, so they were collected and laid out neatly in one of the barns. (This was later to prove a bit of an embarrassment when the Germans recaptured the village and in their reports their propaganda ministry increased the number of dead found fourfold, ascribing their deaths to murder. “Berlin Sally,” broadcasting in English, dubbed the 94th “Roosevelt’s Butchers.”)38
On the night of January 17 the weather changed to near-freezing rain and a sharp wind, bringing out enemy patrols all along the battalion front. It was particularly miserable for the men of I Company, who occupied the water-¤lled communication trench and foxholes.
On January 18 Lt. Edward G. Litka led an eighteen-man assault team from G Company to tackle two of the pillboxes that had checked I Company. An antitank ditch enabled the men to get within a hundred yards of their objectives unseen, then two light machine guns and the BARs were set up on the edge of the ditch to provide covering ¤re as two of the men carrying satchel charges moved forward. However, they had gone only twenty-¤ve yards when extremely accurate heavy mortar ¤re crashed down all around them and in the antitank ditch, forcing an immediate withdrawal and killing one man as well as wounding nine others.
Reports kept coming in during the day of tanks being in the area, and the observation post in Remich reported the presence of large numbers of troops to the north. They had also spotted wire parties laying line to observation posts from pillboxes.
Then at about 1430 Wies and Berg were hit by an artillery concentration that was estimated as being ¤red from at least four battalions. This was followed by a battalion-sized attack on the two villages. Because all lines had been cut and the artillery observer’s radio had been destroyed, Captain Brightman used an SCR-300 radio to communicate his artillery requirements to the Remich observation post for relay to the artillery liaison of¤cer in Besch. This method was so effective that the Germans were cut down in large numbers and the immediate defense was able to deal with the survivors. In his after-action report, Lieutenant Colonel Thurston said: “By 1700 the last living German had loped back across the ridges and the attack had failed . . . some three hundred dead or wounded remained on the snow-covered ¤elds when the last shot had been ¤red. Moans and cries of the wounded were plainly audible from both towns.”39
Sgt. Bob Adair, who was with the 2nd Platoon of I Company, reported:
48 / Division Goes into Action
“The very cold evening of the 18th, I was sent into Nennig as a kind of one-man contact patrol with information for Battalion Headquarters there. I was depressed by Nennig. Dead bodies were stacked neatly on one side of the snow-covered main street. There must have been well over a hundred, all frozen. Most were German[,] but I thought (perhaps incorrectly) that American dead were also laid out there. Curiously, [as I was] cold myself, it bothered me that they were cold. Even death had not been an escape from the cold.”40
By nightfall it seemed that both sides were equally exhausted. The 3rd Battalion was reaching the end of its endurance; the men were exhausted, and many were suffering from either frostbite or trench foot. Evacuation of the wounded to Besch proved so slow that Capt. John J. Ryan, the battalion surgeon, moved an aid station into Nennig. That night the ¤rst truck to use the road from Besch arrived with ammunition and was loaded with wounded for the return journey. Others were carried on litters as far as the river and then pushed back to Besch on wheeled litters along the track the battalion had originally used. They were evacuated by road to the collecting station in Sierck, then on to the casualty clearing company in Veckring.41
The 11th Panzer Division’s historian wrote about this period of time from the German perspective: “The ¤ghting began on January 18, 1945, under the unfavorable circumstances described, bringing some local successes at ¤rst, but the operation goal of Perl could not be reached. The division’s main ¤ghting force, the tank regiment, was only partly available due to lack of fuel, and this part got stuck in a German antitank ditch. Now the division, under strict orders from Corps, became engaged in expensive infantry operations. Schloss Berg changed hands several times. Some parts of the Orscholz Switch were taken, only to be lost once more.”42
Meanwhile, General Malony had become convinced that the division was wasting its time with battalion-sized attacks. He therefore asked General Walker for permission to “exploit what he had gained.” Walker said he would ask General Patton’s permission to increase the size of the attacks in the Triangle and would also ask for some assistance for the division. However, shortly afterward Walker’s chief of staff complained to Col. Earl C. Bergquist, the division’s chief of staff, about the amount of ammunition the division was consuming. Bergquist countered that the division had just had to repel ¤ve enemy counterattacks but would be more careful about its ammunition expenditure in the future. General Walker later telephoned back
Division Goes into Action / 49
to say that he had spoken to General Patton, who had given preliminary permission for an increase in the size of attacks, and pending formal approval from the Third Army, Walker authorized Maloney to “shoot the works.”
Patton decided to release one of the combat commands of Maj. Gen. John M. Devine’s newly arrived 8th Armored Division from his army reserve to enable it to get some practical combat training, but the other two combat commands of this division were to remain intact in reserve. Consequently, General Devine saw the chief of staff of XX Corps, Brig. Gen. William A. Collier, on January 18 and was briefed on General Patton’s instructions. Devine then detailed Brig. Gen. Charles R. Colson’s Combat Command A for temporary attachment to the 94th Infantry Division, and that same night Colson reported in to General Malony.
By this time Malony had had second thoughts on increasing the size of his attacks, but General Walker told him: “Its your show and I am going to leave it to you,” giving him formal permission to use up to a regiment at a time with a combat command in support.
Next day, January 19, General Devine called on General Malony and discussed the use of Combat Team A with him, although it would not arrive until January 21 or 22. The icy roads made conditions for tanks extremely dif¤cult, but if the Germans could use theirs, so could the Americans. Nevertheless, Malony was not impressed with the idea of indoctrinating this unit “in one of the most strongly forti¤ed areas in the theater and under such weather conditions.”43
On the night of January 18, the 302nd Infantry changed status from corps reserve to division reserve, and Lt. Col. Silas W. Hosea’s 1st Battalion moved up to Perl in anticipation of the regiment relieving the 376th.
Then, early on the afternoon of January 19, Capt. Altus L. Woods Jr.’s B Company launched an attack on the ¤ve enemy pillboxes commanding the Besch-Nennig road from south of Nennig. The ¤rst pillbox had been taken, together with twelve prisoners, when it was discovered that the accompanying tank destroyer had run out of ammunition and the troops had insuf¤cient demolition material to continue. The company was obliged to withdraw.
The attack was repeated the next day, for Division was anxious to have this enemy position eliminated without further delay, especially because a
50 / Division Goes into Action
counterattack on Nennig on the scale already experienced at Tettingen-Butzdorf was expected. The B Company assault group was augmented by two platoons from B Company of the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion, a section of tank destroyers from the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and an improvised heavy machine-gun section. To ensure that the ammunition did not run out this time, A Company provided two platoons as carrying parties as well as a third platoon to cover the right ®ank.
The attack began at 0912 on two of the German pillboxes, while the rest were blanketed with ¤re from the supporting weapons. The enemy troops responded with intense artillery and mortar ¤re, but the ¤rst two boxes were taken with the aid of ®amethrowers manned by the engineers. Immediate interrogation of the prisoners taken by Pfc. Morris H. Wasserman of the battalion intelligence section revealed that there were several enemy artillery emplacements south of Schloss Thorn, and these positions were then subjected to counter-battery ¤re.
The assault on the remaining pillboxes continued, each being packed with explosives and destroyed as they were taken. Heavy enemy artillery ¤re continued throughout the operation and in®icted many casualties, but by 1405 the last of the pillboxes had been taken, together with 108 prisoners.
A and B Companies then turned to clearing Monkey Wrench Woods as the engineers ¤nished demolishing the pillboxes. Capt. Robert A. Woodburn’s A Company tackled the northern section, while B Company cleared the southern part. They then returned to Besch as instructed.
The following morning, January 21, when B Company returned to take up positions in the woods, they were met with a hail of ¤re coming from the area of the demolished pillboxes and sustained heavy casualties. The Germans had in¤ltrated back during the night and set up machine guns in the ruins. The men of B Company were so badly hit that they had to return to Besch. A Company took over and assumed positions in the southwest corner of the upper jaw of Monkey Wrench Woods.
On January 22 B Company took over A Company’s positions, and the latter used an artillery concentration to help clear the upper jaw before assuming a defensive position across the northern edge of the woods. B Company came under heavy shell¤re all through the night of January 22– 23, then found the next morning that the German machine gunners had retreated from the demolished pillboxes. That night A Company moved forward to the line of the antitank ditch.44
Within the limitations imposed on him, Major General Malony decided that his basic strategy would now be a double envelopment of the Orscholz Switch. Operations on the left ®ank had gone reasonably well, despite the ¤erce reaction experienced at Tettingen with the arrival of the 11th Panzer Division, and now he turned his attention to the right ®ank and the small town of Orscholz, nominating the 301st Infantry for the task.
Immediately east of Orscholz the cliffs dropped a sheer seven hundred feet to a hairpin bend in the Saar River below, providing a view of astonishing beauty. Just south of this bend a deep cleft or ravine cut across to a point due south of the town at the hamlet of Steinmühle. There a curve of dragon’s teeth backed by a formidable array of pillboxes and bunkers barred the gently sloping, open southern approaches as far as the dense Schwarzbruch part of the Saarburg State Forest, sometimes referred to as the Forêt de Saarburg.
Col. Roy N. Hagerty’s 301st Infantry started their initiative by sending reconnaissance patrols drawn from the regimental intelligence and reconnaissance section and Lt. Col. George F. Miller’s 1st Battalion into the Schwarzbruch to search for enemy installations. Although some exchanges of ¤re occurred, nothing of signi¤cance was discovered. Some patrols reached as far as the antitank ditch without being detected. As a precaution, no further patrols were sent beyond the ditch until two days before the assault, when a small, carefully selected group was dispatched to try to determine the strength of the enemy in Orscholz. The men in this group were never seen again.
In preparation for the attack, the division’s right boundary was altered to come into line with the hairpin bend in the Saar, releasing the 3rd Battal
52 / Disaster at Orscholz
ion, which then took over the 1st Battalion’s front as the 3rd Cavalry Group moved up to ¤ll the gap, and the 2nd Battalion covered the regiment’s left ®ank. The 301st Field Artillery was detailed to provide ¤re support, and A Company of the 319th Engineers was to check the trails through the woods for mines.
On the night of January 19–20 the 1st Battalion set off from Ober-Tünsdorf in single ¤le at 2400. It was bitterly cold with over a foot of snow on the ground and more falling thickly in what was to become a blinding snowstorm. TSgt. Ernest W. Halle of the regimental intelligence and reconnaissance platoon led the way for the battalion, which moved along behind in the following order: Capt. Herman C. Straub’s B Company, Lt. Robert W. Jonscher’s 1st Platoon of D Company, Capt. Charles B. Colgan’s A Company, D Company’s 2nd Platoon, Lieutenant Colonel Miller and his battalion headquarters group, Capt. Gilbert S. Woodrill of D Company with the mortar platoon, and Capt. Cleo B. Smith’s C Company as battalion reserve.
The troops had four thousand yards to go to reach the line of departure. It was dif¤cult going for the heavily laden men, and frequent rest halts had to be made. Pvt. A. Cleveland Harrison, a former Army Specialized Training Program man serving as a ri®eman with B Company, described his experiences in his book Unsung Valor. Carrying extra ammunition on a backpack under his improvised camou®age cape, he had the impression that their route through the woods in the dark was uncertain, often changing course and even doubling back on itself. However, by 0330 the head of the column had reached the forward assembly area within a few hundred yards of the line of departure, where H-hour (when the attack would begin) was set for 0600. Patrols and listening posts were sent out to protect the assembly area, while Captains Straub and Colgan made a last-minute reconnaissance.
The Merlbach, a small stream running just behind a row of dragon’s teeth, had been designated as the line of departure. Just behind this was a small clump of buildings that were thought to be camou®aged pillboxes, so the leaders of A Company had organized a special assault squad to precede them and deal with this problem. At the point where the stream crossed under the Oberleuken-Orscholz road, the dragon’s teeth changed to an antitank ditch running through the woods south of the road as far as Oberleuken.
At 0500 A and B Companies moved forward from the assembly area to
Disaster at Orscholz / 53
the line of departure, but visibility and conditions were so bad that they soon lost contact with each other, and Lieutenant Colonel Miller decided to delay the attack. It was 0725 before contact was reestablished and the attack could be launched. No artillery preparation was used.
Harrison reports that the long single ¤le of his company extended for several hundred yards ahead of him. As the troops left the woods and discerned a gravel track under the snow beneath them, the head of the column had reached the intersection with the main road when suddenly some 88mm shells burst overhead. The soldiers had in fact successfully penetrated the lines of the Germans’ 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 712. The column then split, taking cover on either side of the road. Harrison saw Lieutenant Colonel Miller and an aide hurry past toward the intersection, and the head of the column began turning right onto the road leading to Orscholz. To the left of the road was a steep, heavily wooded slope, and on the right was a fairly level open ¤eld with dragon’s teeth just visible against the undergrowth at the far end. German artillery ¤re intensi¤ed as Harrison approached the intersection, and machine-gun ¤re from bunkers hidden in the trees started sweeping the open ground, forcing the men to scatter. There was no cover to be had; it was a perfect killing ground. It was only by being assumed already dead that Harrison and fourteen others were able to survive the day without being seriously wounded.
Meanwhile, the head of the column overran some enemy machine-gun positions, killing some of the enemy and taking others prisoner. Having reached the edge of the woods leading to Orscholz, Captain Straub’s group settled down to await the arrival of the rest of the battalion for the planned left-hook assault on Orscholz.
However, no sooner than A Company had moved beyond the dragon’s teeth, the right-hand platoon found itself in an antipersonnel mine¤eld, with the Schü-mines and tangles of barbed wire concealed by the snow leading to heavy casualties. An attempt to veer to the right brought about further explosions. Only a few men got through the dragon’s teeth unscathed.
Back at the line of departure, the remainder of the battalion began moving through the dragon’s teeth on B Company’s route, but as soon as the leading elements crossed half of the open ground beyond, they came under withering machine-gun ¤re. The 1st Platoon of A Company, which had yet to cross the dragon’s teeth, then provided covering ¤re to allow the others to withdraw. Clearly the Germans were now fully alerted to the American
54 / Disaster at Orscholz
incursion. The artillery troops were now called to bring down ¤re on the German positions in the woods, which were skillfully concealed under tangles of felled trees. German artillery then joined in to add to the carnage.
Lieutenant Colonel Miller came forward to try to resolve the situation, but was killed outright by shell¤re, as was Lt. Adrian B. DePutron shortly after. Maj. Arthur W. Hodges, the battalion executive of¤cer, took over command and withdrew the survivors deeper into the woods to prepare for another attack.
Informed of the situation, Regiment sent forward I Company as reinforcements at 1000. The attack was renewed at 1500 with the aid of a heavy artillery preparation, but again it foundered on hidden antipersonnel mines and machine-gun ¤re coming from concealed pillboxes. Casualties mounted to such an extent, one company sustaining sixty casualties from mines alone, that the battalion was again obliged to withdraw.
Regiment then sent Lt. Col. Donald C. Hardin, who had previously commanded the battalion, to take over temporary command, and at 1755, shortly before nightfall, he launched another attack farther to the left than had previously been made in a vain attempt to avoid the antipersonnel mine¤elds. But the battalion ended up being badly mauled and was forced to withdraw yet again. B Company remained isolated and unreachable.
In the meantime, Lieutenant General P®ieger, commanding the Germans’ 416th Infantry Division, had rallied all available troops, including the divisional battle school at Trassem and the regimental signal and engineer companies of Grenadier Regiment 712, to surround the American penetration and prevent a breach developing in his lines.
Early on January 20, as the 1st Battalion attacked, the 2nd Battalion had wheeled right into the woods toward the attack with a view to preventing enemy interference from Oberleuken. With the 2nd Battalion went A Company of the 748th Tank Battalion, which was prepared to join in the assault on Orscholz once the antitank ditch had been cleared and bridged, but the opportunity failed to arise.
Meanwhile, Captain Straub’s group was coming under increasing enemy attention and moved back south of the road to adopt a position of allaround defense. Forward observers from the 301st Field Artillery and the regimental cannon company ensured that a ring of protective ¤re was brought down when required.
With dusk, the ¤fteen or so survivors around Harrison got together and discussed what to do. One of the soldiers, Pvt. George Holbrook, said he
Disaster at Orscholz / 55
thought he knew how to get back through the mine¤eld, and eight men elected to go with him. By treading carefully in one another’s footsteps they managed to get through, but Harrison stumbled and set off a mine that wounded him and several others, although he managed to stay upright by using his ri®e as a crutch. They found the area beyond the mine¤eld deserted, and it took them another eight and a half hours to reach the regiment’s lines.
Enemy artillery ¤re pounded the troops in the woods throughout the night of January 20–21, with treetop bursts adding to the lethal explosions, and casualties continued to mount. Attempts to recover the wounded from the open ground were repeatedly driven back by enemy machine-gun ¤re. Patrols were sent forward to try to ¤nd a way through to B Company, but their efforts proved unsuccessful. Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Hardin informed Colonel Hagerty that it would take at least a regiment to force a way through, whereupon Hagerty reluctantly gave permission to abandon the attack on Orscholz.
After conferring with Lt. Col. Samuel L. Morrow of the 301st Field Artillery on January 21, Colonel Hagerty decided to lay a smoke screen between Orscholz and the Forêt de Saarburg to provide cover for B Company’s withdrawal. Hagerty then went up to the battalion’s forward positions to brief Captain Straub on this plan by radio, but Straub told him that the plan would be impossible to execute: his men’s ammunition was almost exhausted, they themselves were exhausted and freezing to death, their lo-cation was known to the enemy, and the only way back was through mine¤elds. For the sake of his surviving men, Straub would have to surrender. However, when the smoke arrived, he passed the word for the men to try to break out by mingling with their prisoners in order to confuse the enemy. One group reached a pillbox, where they found the frozen bodies of several of their comrades who had died during the night and six or eight badly wounded men lying on the cold concrete ®oor, but there was no escape— there were Germans all around them. When the men learned that Lieutenant Jonscher had been killed in the trench, they opted to surrender. In all, 10 of¤cers and 230 men were reported to have gone into German captivity.
The 1st Battalion then pulled back through the woods that afternoon. They recovered and evacuated as many of the wounded as they could under cover of smoke. The 2nd Battalion covered the withdrawal, the regiment returning to its original lines with the shattered 1st Battalion going into reserve.
56 / Disaster at Orscholz
Of the nearly 1,000 men with whom the 1st Battalion had started the attack on Orscholz, only 19 of¤cers and 415 enlisted men remained. Major Hodges was now formally appointed battalion commander, with Maj. William E. McBride as his executive of¤cer, and Lt. Joseph E. Cancilla was appointed commander of B Company, which he would have to rebuild from scratch.
This attack on Orscholz had proved a sorry affair, and when General Patton eventually learned about it, he expressed his anger about the conduct of the attack and the surrender of B Company in no uncertain terms.1
NENNIG, BERG, WIES
On January 19, Lt. Col. Otto B. Cloudt Jr.’s 3rd Battalion of the 302nd Infantry received orders to relieve the 3rd/376th on the division’s left ®ank, so he and his of¤cers down to platoon level drove by jeep to a point midway
Disaster at Orscholz / 57
between Besch and Nennig, from where they had to walk and crawl their way forward. They came under mortar and machine-gun ¤re near the railroad but sustained no casualties. They were then briefed on the situation by Lieutenant Colonel Thurston and his staff. Thurston was not impressed by Cloudt and his team, whom he regarded as dangerously careless and sloppy in their attitude.
Cloudt assigned Capt. Allan R. Williams’s I Company to Wies and Berg, and Lt. Carl W. Seeby’s K Company to the defense of Nennig. Capt. John N. Smith’s L Company was to take over the right ®ank positions ex-tending some ¤fteen hundred yards east of the village. As usual, Capt. Francis M. Hurst’s M Company was divided, with one heavy machine-gun platoon each going to I and K Companies, while Lt. Douglas LaRue Smith’s mortar platoon was to cross the Moselle and provide covering ¤re from the higher ground in Luxembourg.
Later in the afternoon the battalion executive of¤cer, Maj. Earl L. Myers, brought the rest of the battalion up from Sierck to the woods north of Perl. He then had Lt. Robert A. Edwards, the executive of¤cer of I Company, lead I and K Companies with the 1st Platoon of L Company under cover of darkness to Besch, where they were picked up by a guide from the 3rd/376th, who took them on to Nennig. The company commanders were waiting for them at the railroad tracks west of Nennig to lead them to their assigned locations. It was a cold, clear night and the handover went without a hitch.
The 3rd/376th assembled in Besch, where the battalion had arranged warm rooms and hot meals for the troops coming out of the line. Once they were refreshed, they were taken by truck to the little French village of Monneren for a well-earned rest. However, they lost the valued services of Captain Ryan, the battalion surgeon, who had to be evacuated after suffering from extreme fatigue.
By midnight I Company had taken over Wies, and Lt. William J. Doherty’s 2nd Platoon had taken over Berg. One heavy machine-gun section went to Wies and the other went into Schloss Berg with two ri®e squads, while the third ri®e squad was placed in a house in Berg overlooking a draw that approached the hamlet from the east.
Lieutenant Seeby deployed the 1st and part of the 2nd Platoons to defend the village but had TSgt. Frank O’Hara’s 3rd Platoon and the attached heavy machine-gun platoon occupy the communication trenches at the
58 / Disaster at Orscholz
edge of the woods on the ridge overlooking Nennig. There they were joined by the forward artillery observer from the 356th Field Artillery. Extending this line of defense along the communication trenches came L Company and elements of K Company, with Lt. John R. Travers’s 1st Platoon relieving Lieutenant Fox in the orchard. Fox and his men left, carrying their dead with them.
Sergeant O’Hara’s platoon and the neighboring squad from L Company were ¤ercely attacked soon after they had moved into their positions and were forced back into Nennig. When they tried to regain their positions, they were repulsed by heavy ¤re. Lieutenant Seeby then ordered the men back onto the ridge to the right of Lt. Henry J. Fink’s 2nd Platoon, which was defending the eastern edge of the village.
Meanwhile, the rest of L Company moved out westward from Tettingen to ¤ll the gap to the east of the orchard. TSgt. Chester E. Markowski’s 3rd Platoon occupied the area north of the Nennig-Tettingen road next to Lieutenant Travers’s men in the orchard, while TSgt. John Karl’s 2nd Platoon took position on the extreme right between Markowski and Tettingen in a series of communication trenches south of the road. The weapons platoon was divided between them.
Lieutenant Travers’s men ¤rst made contact with the enemy at 0400 the next day, January 20, when a three-man patrol entered their lines and was shot down. Two hours later a forty-man German patrol approached the orchard in column of twos and stopped for a break only ¤fty yards away. The 1st Platoon opened ¤re, killing and wounding about half of the patrol as the rest scattered. Later, enemy activity heard in the area indicated that the platoon was being surrounded.
With daylight a heavy artillery concentration on the 2nd and 3rd Platoons heralded an attack by Panzergrenadier Regiment 111, which drove back Sergeant Karl’s men to the ¤ring trench at the rear of their position. Sergeant Markowski’s men held fast but were in danger of being out®anked. Lt. William Burke, forward observer from the 356th Field Artillery, had joined the 3rd Platoon during the night and was now able to ar-range ¤re support through the use of Captain Smith’s SCR-300 radio, which was used to make contact with the 2nd Battalion’s command post in Wochern. Captain Smith then had to rely on runners getting messages through to Wochern for relay to his own battalion’s command post in Besch. He ordered the 2nd Platoon to attack and regain their old positions
Disaster at Orscholz / 59
immediately, but the understrength platoon encountered such heavy infantry ¤re that the men were forced back to the communication trench. They were later joined by ¤ve men who had managed to work their way back from the 3rd Platoon’s position having run out of ammunition after killing twenty-¤ve of the enemy. They had no idea what had happened to the rest of their platoon.
Captain Smith sent a messenger to Wochern to report the situation, and to request reinforcements and another radio, but the messenger returned with a patrol from F Company led by Lt. Joe D. Alvarado, who had been tasked with establishing contact with the 1st Battalion troops working on the pillboxes south of the Nennig-Tettingen road. Smith then sent Lt. Anthony Czerboskas of L Company to Wochern to emphasize the seriousness of the situation. Smith was down to forty men and was receiving constant heavy rocket and artillery ¤re. He expected to be overrun at any moment.
Meanwhile, it became obvious to Lieutenant Travers that the Germans had bypassed his position in the orchard and were now at his rear. He had no radio, so with two volunteers he set off to inform the battalion. As the battalion command post was located in Besch, Travers ¤rst headed due south, avoiding interception and enemy mine¤elds. Reaching the Nennig-Tettingen road, he was surprised to encounter Lt. Col. John W. Gaddis, the regimental executive of¤cer, at the northern edge of Monkey Wrench Woods. Gaddis took Travers on to the battalion command post in Besch and then to the regimental command post in Perl to make his report. But by now the whole of the regimental front was under heavy attack and there were no reserves available.2
On the night of January 19, Lt. Col. Frank B. Norman’s 2nd Battalion began relieving the 2nd/376th, which had replaced the 1st/376th at Tettingen the day before. Capt. James W. Butler’s E Company moved into Borg, Capt. James W. Grif¤n’s G Company took over Tettingen, and Capt. Herman Kops Jr.’s F Company occupied Wochern and Der Heidlich Hill. Capt. Orville M. Owings had his H Company 81-mm mortar platoon deploy in the cemetery west of Wochern and sent one machine gun to Wochern and the other to Borg.
60 / Disaster at Orscholz
At 2000 the next day, January 20, G Company in Tettingen came under attack from three sides by what appeared to be a reinforced company. After three hours of hard ¤ghting, the Germans were driven back.3
MONKEY WRENCH WOODS
On that same day Lieutenant Colonel Hosea’s 1st/302nd, less C Company, were employed in clearing ¤ve pillboxes that dominated the supply route into Nennig from Besch but that the 376th had had neither the time nor resources to clear. The task was given to Captain Woods’s B Company, supported by a Hellcat. One pillbox was taken, together with a dozen prisoners, before the Hellcat exhausted its ammunition and the explosives needed for tackling the remaining pillboxes. Attempts to resupply the company proved unsuccessful, and the attack had to be called off. However, it was resumed the next day, with B Company being substantially reinforced by A Company, a heavy machine-gun section, two platoons of B Company, the 319th Engineers, and several tank destroyers of the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion with 90-mm guns. It still took six hours of intense ¤ghting to subdue the remaining pillboxes, which yielded another 108 prisoners. During this action A Company was mainly employed in carrying parties to keep the attacking troops fully supplied with ammunition and explosives.
Meanwhile, Capt. Norman C. Marek’s C Company had moved into Wochern as regimental reserve, and Marek took his platoon commanders forward on reconnaissance, calling on Captain Smith for a brie¤ng. While they were together, a radio message was received from Lieutenant Colonel Norman assigning Captain Marek’s company, which had been brie®y attached to the 2nd Battalion, to Captain Smith’s command, which had also come under Norman’s control. Marek sent for his men and along with Smith decided they should mount an immediate counterattack to restore L Company’s original line and reestablish contact with the 3rd Platoon. Captain Smith then promoted Sergeant Karl to ¤rst sergeant and gave the command of the 2nd Platoon to SSgt. Anthony S. Ewasko.
As C Company arrived the men were deployed in the ¤ring trench occupied by L Company’s 2nd Platoon, only to be greeted by a heavy artillery barrage on their positions. Lt. Johan A. Wilson, the 356th Field Artillery observer with C Company, then arranged a ¤ve-minute preparation on the woods in front of them, after which the troops moved forward to the anti
Disaster at Orscholz / 61
tank ditch and slid down its sides. The ice in the bottom of the ditch broke, immersing the men almost hip-deep. Lt. Donald L. Renck’s platoon was momentarily delayed by this turn of events, but Sergeant Ewasko’s and Lt. Carl D. Richards’s platoons went on. A burst of machine-gun ¤re from the wooden bunker that had previously been used by Captain Smith as his command post killed Lieutenant Renck and injured several others as they emerged from the antitank ditch. The rest of the platoon managed to overwhelm the Germans who were defending this bunker, capturing twelve prisoners and two machine guns. The position then came under rocket and artillery ¤re, as well as machine-gun ¤re from pillboxes north of the Nennig-Tettingen road, pinning down the troops, and only those on the right ®ank were able to reach the old positions.
Following close behind the attacking platoons, Captains Smith and Marek encountered several Germans, killing two and capturing eight, thus encouraging other Germans to surrender in turn. Because the area was far from being cleared, Captain Smith sent a runner to ¤nd the left-hand platoon, but the runner returned saying he had been unable to ¤nd anyone. Captain Smith went himself and found the platoon close to the antitank ditch, where it had been pinned down, and reorganized the survivors under SSgt. Francis J. Kelly, the platoon guide. Captain Marek meanwhile took a small group to eliminate the machine gun that had been causing the trouble. The combined forces then dug in facing the Nennig-Tettingen road and the two pillboxes that had checked their advance. The enemy kept the men under heavy rocket and artillery ¤re all night, in®icting many casualties. Technician 3rd Grade (Tech-3) John F. Risky, a medical aid man attached to L Company, worked day and night tending the wounded. He ignored automatic ¤re and bombardments and stayed behind with the wounded when the unit was forced to withdraw, thus earning a Distinguished Service Cross for his outstanding efforts.
Freezing conditions added to the toll, with ¤fteen casualties from trench foot and frostbite, so that by the time all the casualties had been evacuated, L Company was down to eighteen men, and when Lieutenant Colonel Norman came to visit the unit at 1000 next day, he ordered Captain Smith and his remaining men back into reserve at Wochern.
Captain Marek remained with his C Company and that afternoon of January 21 was joined by a patrol from A Company, which had worked its way east along the northern jaw of Monkey Wrench Woods, thus estab
62 / Disaster at Orscholz
lishing a tenuous link with the main line of resistance. There was still no sign of L Company’s missing platoon.4
On January 22 the skies were at last clear enough for ®ying activity, and German 120-mm mortar and artillery positions in the villages of Kreuzweiler and Beuren were bombed by eighteen B-24 Liberators “with good effect.” The following day three ®ights of P-47 Thunderbolts bombed and strafed the village of Sinz and Bannholz Woods beyond, where enemy ar-mor was known to be sheltering. Numerous ¤res indicated some success from this mission.5
On the morning of January 23, Lieutenant Colonel Norman and his G-3 (staff of¤cer for operations), Capt. Burgess G. Hodges, reported to regimental headquarters and were ordered by Colonel Johnson to take the pillboxes that had stopped the combined attacks of C and L Companies and had previously been captured by F Company but retaken by the Germans. Lieutenant Colonel Norman then called his executive of¤cer, Maj. Harold
V. Maixner, and ordered him to have the elements of F Company holding Der Heidlich Hill relieved by the remnants of L Company and then form two assault teams from F Company. A squad of engineers equipped with satchel charges, ®amethrowers, and explosives was attached to F Company to assist with the task, and Captain Marek was told that his C Company would be responsible for securing F Company’s left ®ank as it attacked. F Company then formed up for the attack behind C Company, which was expected to move forward afterward to occupy the new line.
The attack was launched at 1645 after a brief artillery preparation, and a diversionary attack was also made on Campholz Woods, but to no apparent effect. As the company advanced it was met by a devastating barrage of rockets and artillery ¤re, with intense and accurate automatic ¤re cutting in from the ®ank. The number of casualties rapidly increased. What happened next is best described in TSgt. Nicholas Oresko’s citation for the Medal of Honor:
Master Sergeant Nicholas Oresko (then Technical Sergeant) was platoon leader with Company C, 302d Infantry, on 23 January 1945 near Tettingen, Germany, in an attack against strong enemy positions. Deadly automatic ¤re from the ®anks pinned down his unit. Realiz
Disaster at Orscholz / 63
ing that a machine gun in a nearby bunker must be eliminated, he swiftly worked ahead alone, braving bullets which struck him, until close enough to throw a grenade into the German position. He rushed the bunker and, with point-blank ri®e ¤re, killed all the hostile occupants who survived the grenade blast. Another machine gun opened up on him, knocking him down and seriously wounding him in the hip. Refusing to withdraw from battle, he placed himself at the head of his platoon to continue the assault. As withering machine-gun and ri®e ¤re swept the area, he struck out alone in advance of his men to a second bunker. With a grenade, he crippled the dug-in machine gun defending this position and then wiped out the troops manning it with his ri®e, completing his second self-imposed, one-man attack. Although weak from loss of blood, he refused to be evacuated until assured the mission was successfully accomplished. Through quick thinking, indomitable courage and unswerving devotion to the attack in the face of bitter resistance and while wounded, Sergeant Oresko killed twelve Germans, prevented a delay in the assault and made it possible for Company C to obtain its objective with minimum casualties.6
Pvt. James F. Cousineau also distinguished himself in this action by charging a German machine-gun position, knocking it out with grenades and then cutting down eleven of the enemy with his M1 ri®e. Later on, while trying to evacuate wounded comrades from in front of the ¤ring line, he and another soldier were surrounded by Germans but managed to ¤ght their way back to the company. (For these actions Cousineau was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.)
Despite all of their efforts, the continuous hail of ear-splitting rockets and artillery ¤re on the position rendered it untenable, and at 1730 Lieutenant Colonel Norman ordered the remaining men of F Company back into Wochern.7
NENNIG, BERG, WIES
Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd was now drawing considerable attention from the 11th Panzer Division. At about 1000 on January 20, ¤ve German tanks loaded with infantry tried to storm Nennig from the north and were beaten back by intense small-arms ¤re and a defensive artillery barrage. A few enemy soldiers managed to get into the village but were soon eliminated.
The tanks were heard again that evening at 2045, and soon afterward an attack came from a hill to the east of the village. The American 60-mm mortars ¤red illuminating shells to expose hordes of infantry, supported by four tanks, sweeping down on the village. Lt. David H. Devonald’s K Company stood its ground, beating off the enemy, and again those few Germans who managed to get as far as the village were soon eliminated.
The next day, an intensely cold one, passed relatively quietly, apart from the usual harassing rocket, mortar, and artillery ¤re. Suddenly, at 2100 the Germans laid a terri¤c artillery preparation on the northern part of the village, then switched to battering Wies and Besch. Again tanks and infantry swarmed down on Nennig, but the guns of the 356th Field Artillery laid down their own barrage and were joined by other artillery battalions within range, as did M Company’s mortars from across the Moselle, paying no attention to ammunition expenditure limitations. The Germans, too, pushed on regardless and took several buildings. One German tank fought its way through to the command post in the center of the village, knocking out a
Action on the Left Flank / 65
57-mm gun and two machine guns. By midnight the situation within the village was utterly chaotic.
Using the artillery radio, Lieutenant Seeby summoned Lieutenant Fink, whose platoon was occupying an open position on a ridge east of the village, and had him report back to the command post. Upon arrival Fink was given ¤fteen men and told to clear the enemy out of the buildings they had occupied. The men cleared the enemy soldiers out of the church but were then held up by ¤re coming from a former observation post. Appreciating that they were not really strong enough for their task, the men reported back to the company command post.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Carpenter and some men of the 1st Platoon had become isolated in a house on the northeast corner of Nennig. A German tank commander called on them to surrender, a suggestion they rejected, so the commander laid siege to the building. Carpenter and his men continued to hold out (as we shall see later).
By morning the enemy had driven K Company back to the southern edge of Nennig, where the company now had three tanks. They launched a bitter counterattack on the Germans at 0800 and regained some ground, but the overall pressure was too great and Lieutenant Seeby ordered a withdrawal to the line of the small stream running east to west in the southern part of the village.
At the same time, Schloss Berg was also under siege. The open ground between the Schloss and the rest of I Company in Wies was swept by machine-gun ¤re, making it impossible to cross in daylight, but after dark on January 20, Pfc. James V. Collins, a 2nd Platoon runner, got through to Wies and reported to Captain Williams that enemy tanks were ¤ring through holes that they had blasted in the Schloss at point-blank range and were giving the defense a hard time. Bazooka rounds, the only means the troops had of holding the tanks off, were running out, and more were urgently needed. A carrying party was quickly formed with Private Collins to lead it back to the Schloss, but the men repeatedly came under enemy ¤re and were unable to get through. A six-man combat patrol was then formed to ¤ght their way through, but they abandoned the attempt after four of them had been killed.
Inevitably, the gallant defense of Schloss Berg, consisting of two squads of the 2nd Platoon and a machine-gun section, succumbed to the enemy
66 / Action on the Left Flank
assault, one of the captured machine guns later being turned against the Americans. The remaining squad under SSgt. Thomas W. Fontaine found itself cut off from both its platoon and company, so Sergeant Fontaine led his men by a circuitous route to Besch and then back to Wies.1
On the morning of January 22 the Germans began in¤ltrating the southern part of Nennig, despite all attempts by Lieutenant Seeby’s men to drive them back. General Malony called XX Corps and told Brigadier General Collier, the chief of staff, “We are having a helluva time holding Nennig this morning.” Collier offered Malony the use of the 8th Armored Division’s Combat Command A, which had yet to experience combat, but only for two days.
Brigadier General Cheadle brought the combat command’s commander, Brigadier General Colson, to have a look at the terrain, which Colson declared unsuitable for armor. Nevertheless, General Malony was determined to use the armor without delay. The original intention was for the armor to provide support for an attack by the 2nd/376th, but Lieutenant Colonel Martin protested that his men were exhausted and the battalion far too understrength to be able to accomplish the task, so with Malony’s approval it was decided to use the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion instead.
Colson’s command was split into two task forces. He ordered Task Force Poinier, under Lt. Col. Arthur D. Poinier, with his 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, C Company of the 18th Tank Battalion, and a detachment from A Troop, 88th Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron, to seize and hold Nennig.
Capt. Joseph Finlay’s A Company of the 7th Armored Infantry, supported by an assault gun platoon, was then ordered to assist the 302nd’s K Company in clearing the northern part of the village. Outside on the ridge Lieutenant Fink’s men were also recalled to assist in this operation. Slow but steady progress was made through the village, and a machine gun taken by the Germans from Schloss Berg was recaptured; however, much of the village still remained in German hands as the ¤ghting continued at nightfall. A German counterattack then drove the Americans back to their start point, eliminating all the gains of the day, and some of A Company were left behind hiding under the altar in the village church. While this was going on, a sixteen-man carrying party under Lieutenant Edwards, the executive of¤cer of I Company, 3rd/302nd, arrived from Wies, having followed the railroad tracks to a point south of Nennig, and reported to Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt at his command post in the village.
Action on the Left Flank / 67
General Malony reported to XX Corps that the situation was “red hot” in Nennig and at last told Corps the bad news of the 301st Infantry’s debacle at Orscholz two days earlier.2
The ¤ghting on January 22 had also cost the Germans’ 3rd Battalion, Panzergrenadier Regiment 110, dearly. The battalion had sustained so many casualties that it was disbanded and the survivors distributed among the other battalions of the regiment.
Lieutenant Reudiger’s 1st Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 714, was also brought in from across the Saar to reinforce the German counterattack. By this time Panzer Regiment 15 was desperately short of fuel. Against its operational requirement of ninety-one cubic meters of fuel per day, it was receiving only twelve.3
By the morning of January 23 the situation had deteriorated to the extent that Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th had to be called forward from its reserve position in Monneren. It was another bitterly cold day with blinding snowstorms.
The 2nd Battalion, led by Capt. Simon D. Darrah’s E Company, moved up along the railroad to a point opposite Nennig, which was again used as the line of departure for an attack on Nennig and Berg. After a strong artillery preparation, the company attacked with the 2nd Platoon heading for Berg, only to be pinned down by heavy machine-gun ¤re coming from three directions within the ¤rst three hundred yards.
Lt. Gus E. Wilkins’s 1st Platoon, together with SSgt. David H. Godfrey’s 60-mm mortar squad, pushed into the northwestern corner of Nennig, encountering little resistance, and had taken four houses and twenty-seven prisoners when three German Mark IV tanks appeared. TSgt. Nathaniel Isaacman and Pvt. John F. Pietrzah climbed up to the rooftops and made their way forward under sniper ¤re until Pietrzah could ¤re his bazooka at the leading tank. With his second round he scored a direct hit and the tank burst into ®ames. He then engaged the last tank and set it on ¤re with a single round, trapping the second tank, which was then put out of action with a ri®e grenade ¤red by Pvt. Albert J. Beardsley. The tankers trying to escape on foot from this carnage were cut down by ri®e ¤re.
By noon E Company’s 1st Platoon was in possession of several buildings in Nennig, but the 2nd Platoon was still pinned down only three hundred
68 / Action on the Left Flank
yards from its line of departure. Lt. Bernard F. Simuro’s 3rd Platoon, which had been providing infantry escort for some supporting tanks, all but one of which had been knocked out during the attack, was now split between the other two platoons with the task of silencing the machine guns in the cemetery midway between Nennig and Wies. A squad under SSgt. Anthony
S. Rao accomplished this task, but accurate mortar and artillery ¤re soon drove them out again.
Capt. John D. Heath’s G Company moved through Wies and on to the northeast as far as the antitank ditch, where machine-gun ¤re from Schloss Berg forced the troops to retire. F Company was then inserted between G and E Companies to prevent any enemy in¤ltration. Late that afternoon Captain Darrah worked his way from Wies to Nennig and reestablished contact with his 1st Platoon. At 2000 the rest of E Company moved into Nennig to reinforce the defense.
During the night Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt and Lieutenant Fink worked their way forward to within twenty-¤ve yards of the building in which Lieutenant Carpenter and his men were still isolated, but enemy machine guns still prevented closer access to them. However, the two lieutenants managed to shout messages of encouragement to the trapped men, promising an early release.
Again the Germans had suffered badly that day. Five Mark IV tanks had been knocked out in Nennig in the assaults conducted by the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Panzergrenadier Regiment 111, and also later by the 1st Battalion, Panzergrenadier Regiment 110. Both regiments were reduced to half the strength with which they had entered the Saar-Moselle Triangle. With orders to take Nennig at all costs, they had singularly failed.
At 0700 on January 24, the 1st Platoon of E Company and a composite platoon from the 3rd Battalion made a concerted attack to clear the last buildings that were still in German hands, and by 1030 Lieutenant Carpenter and his men had been released and the entire village was back in American hands.
The next objective was the hamlet of Berg, particularly Schloss Berg, whose commanding position still held as much value as when it had been built in medieval times. An attack was planned by which G Company would advance southeast from Wies while F Company thrust north from Nennig. At 1330 a Hellcat ¤red several rounds into the nearest building in Berg as Lieutenant Simuro’s 3rd Platoon dashed toward it across the inter
Action on the Left Flank / 69
vening one hundred yards of open ground. Simuro was wounded in the charge but continued to lead his men. Just as he and his men got inside, a Mark IV tank opened ¤re on them as the enemy started concentrating mortar, artillery, and machine-gun ¤re on them.
Trying to relieve the pressure, a squad of the 2nd Platoon under Sgt. Ray Ketner then seized a second building in the hamlet, and one of the supporting tank destroyers knocked out the Mark IV tank. The ¤re concentration was so intense that Captain Darrah ordered his men to withdraw. Only seventeen of the forty men who were involved in the assault made it back.
G Company, on the right ®ank, also ran into trouble. Racing toward Schloss Berg across open ground, the 3rd Platoon was raked with machinegun ¤re from the castle and hit by mortar ¤re. The troops took cover in the antitank ditch one hundred yards short of the castle, where they found themselves in a most uncomfortable trap. The ice in the ditch broke under their weight, soaking them in icy water up to their hips, as machine-gun ¤re clipped the edges of the trench, which was impassable in one direction and led deep into the enemy lines in the other. A radioed appeal for help led to the 1st Platoon, on the right, making another attempt to break into Berg, but this was checked by artillery and machine-gun ¤re. Back in the ditch it was so cold that the men’s canteens and their radio froze. At nightfall the aid man decided to attempt the evacuation of one of the wounded and managed to reach Wies. He returned an hour later with the news that a smoke screen was about to be laid to cover their withdrawal to Wies. As soon as the smoke arrived, the men made off.4
With the attachment of the 8th Armored Division’s Combat Command A limited to only forty-eight hours, General Malony was eager to make the most of this opportunity. He therefore proposed a combined attack to clear the Nennig-Berg-Wies area once and for all, and to create a strong defense to ensure that he could retain his gains. As a diversion and an attempt to exploit any weakness in the enemy that might arise out of the main attack, he also proposed a combined attack on Butzdorf and Sinz.
Consequently, on the evening of January 24 Brigadier General Cheadle, the assistant divisional commander of the 94th, and Brigadier General Colson of Combat Command A, visited the command post of the 2nd/376th in Wies, where Cheadle told Lieutenant Colonel Martin, “I have orders that our battalion will attack at 0300 to establish a bridgehead for the ar
70 / Action on the Left Flank
mor, which will then pass through you and continue the attack.” Martin replied that his men were exhausted and far too understrength to carry out such a task. While Martin was prepared to obey the order if so demanded, he suggested that a fresh battalion be employed in a night attack. After some discussion, the matter was raised with Division, where it was decided that the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion would carry out this attack at 0600.
Under cover of darkness Lieutenant Colonel Poinier sent Lt. James P. A. Carr’s platoon of the 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron to protect A Company of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion as the latter attempted to make three breaches in the antitank ditch that previously had prevented the American armor from supporting the infantry. The men of Combat Command A, experiencing their ¤rst night under combat conditions, were subjected to the usual harassment from “Screaming Meemies” (German rockets) and artillery ¤re.
The attack went ahead according to schedule and was observed by Major Generals Malony and Devine. The armored infantry had no winter camou®age out¤ts and stood out in their olive drab against the snow, making easy targets. As the daylong battle relentlessly continued, the 7th Armored Infantry and supporting C Company, 18th Tank Battalion, suffered severe casualties. The tank company commander and most of his platoon commanders fell, and the battalion operations of¤cer took over brie®y before he was killed himself. Lieutenant Colonel Poinier was wounded by mortar ¤re, as was his executive of¤cer, Maj. Richard Moushegian, leaving the battalion intelligence of¤cer, Capt. Harry Craddock, to take over the command. Major General Devine and Brigadier General Colson went forward to encourage their men during the battle, and Colson had a very close call when he lost the star from his helmet by artillery ¤re. Capt. Grover B. Herman’s B Company, supported by the tanks of the 3rd Platoon of C Company, 18th Tank Battalion, bypassed Schloss Berg and reached the high ground behind, but in attacking the last enemy position Captain Herman was killed and 2nd Lt. Arthur J. Fisher, the last of¤cer remaining, led the ¤nal assault.
Despite these heavy losses, leaving private soldiers to lead squads, and in some cases platoons, Berg was cleared by midday. Only the castle remained in enemy hands, seemingly impervious to everything thrown at it. Brigadier General Colson now ordered Lt. Andrew T. Boggs’s 3rd Platoon, supported
Action on the Left Flank / 71
by Lt. John D. Stinson’s assault gun platoon, to move forward and ¤re directly on the castle. The 105-mm guns of the assault gun platoon, with the cooperation of the 390th Field Artillery Battalion, brought about some slackening of ¤re from the castle, and B Company of the 7th Armored Infantry advanced as far as the antitank ditch surrounding the building, where they were obliged to take cover from machine-gun ¤re, only to ¤nd themselves hopelessly up to their hips in freezing water as their predecessors of the 94th had done, and rapidly withdrew.
Another attempt was made on the castle that afternoon by Lt. Peter F. Godwin’s platoon of A Troop, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. This time the attempt was successful; the platoon stormed the castle and took thirty-three prisoners. Once inside they realized why the position had been held so strongly, as the garrison had warm rooms, food, and liquor— unbelievable luxuries for troops used to existing for days on C rations that were so frozen that only the biscuits and candy were edible.
Task Force Poinier had destroyed ¤ve Mark IV tanks and taken seventytwo prisoners for a loss of three M-4 tanks and four halftracks, but casualties on both sides had been severe.5
Throughout the day Major General Malony had been under pressure for a speedy result from XX Corps, where Major General Walker re®ected the impatience of his superior, General Patton, who was hoping for a quick breakthrough somewhere on his front. Now that the Battle of the Bulge was over, Patton was losing experienced formations such as the 101st Airborne and 10th Armored Divisions to the Sixth Army Group, which was having problems to the south, and receiving instead combat-weary formations in what he vaingloriously believed was a plot to deprive him of his rightful place in the forefront of a victorious campaign.
However, Walker told Malony that he was lifting all restrictions off the use of the 94th’s resources and attached units, but before Malony could make use of this, Schloss Berg was reported to be in American hands. Other good news that day was the reported arrival of shoepacs (felt-lined, waterproof boots) for the troops, as frostbite and trench foot were continuing to exact a heavy toll.6
In anticipation of the relief of its 1st Battalion by the 1st/376th on the night of January 25, and its 2nd Battalion by its 1st Battalion early on January 26,
72 / Action on the Left Flank
some readjustment took place within the 302nd Infantry on the morning of January 24. L Company was returned to the 3rd Battalion and C Company to the 1st Battalion. One platoon from F Company took over Der Heidlich Hill, while the other two moved brie®y into the line west of C Company before being replaced by A and B Companies.7
THE FIRST BATTLE OF SINZ
On the morning of January 25 General Malony issued his orders for the attack on Sinz, about a mile up the road from Butzdorf, so as to relieve the pressure on the Nennig-Berg area. To accomplish such relief, he needed to control both the village of Sinz and the Münzingen Ridge.
Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry, less the 3rd Battalion, were to support this operation from their position on the division’s right ®ank while maintaining contact with the 3rd Cavalry Group on the right and the 1st/302nd on the left. The latter unit was placed under divisional control and tasked with providing direct support for the main assault. This was to be conducted by Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry, who were to seize and hold the objective while maintaining contact with the 1st/302nd before being relieved by the 2nd/302nd. Meanwhile, the men of Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry were to launch an attack on the left ®ank to clear a bridgehead for Combat Command A while covering the division’s left ®ank on the Moselle and maintaining contact with both the 376th Infantry on the right and the 2nd Cavalry of XII Corps across the river. The armor was to pass through the 302nd Infantry and destroy all enemy tanks and installations on its way to Sinz while being prepared to repel counterattacks from the north and east. Lt. Col. William A. McNulty’s 3rd/301st was to be motorized and held in reserve to meet any counterattacks.
To conduct the main assault, Colonel McClune would have his own 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 376th, plus the 2nd/302nd after their relief that night. He explained to his battalion commanders that his plan was to push through the clearing and woods to the northwest of Butzdorf with the 2nd/302nd on the right, the 3rd/376th on the left, and the 1st/376th in reserve in Monkey Wrench Woods. Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd was to take Sinz, while Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th crossed the Remich-Sinz highway and secured the woods of Unterste Büsch (misspelled “Untersie Busch” in most accounts) and the high ground of Rosenberg Hill beyond.
Action on the Left Flank / 73
Lieutenant Colonel Miner then had his 1st/376th company commanders reconnoiter Monkey Wrench Woods and the antitank ditch just north of the upper jaw, where B and C Companies were to line up that night, while A Company occupied the southwest corner of the lower jaw. At dusk the battalion executive of¤cer, Maj. Benjamin S. Roper, brought the troops by truck up to Besch, from where they moved off into the woods. The two assault battalions then moved into the upper jaw of Monkey Wrench Woods behind B and C Companies. During the course of the day, General Malony modi¤ed his orders for the assault, changing the objective from Sinz to the edge of the woods immediately south of the Remich-Sinz road.
The attack on Sinz was launched in a blizzard at daybreak on January
26. A platoon of the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion laid smoke on Campholz Woods, the Butzdorf-Sinz road, and Sinz itself. Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th launched its attack from the line of an antitank ditch. The engineers were supposed to have supplied ladders for the men to negotiate the ditch during the night, but neither had appeared, so the men improvised their own means with timber taken from nearby buildings. The battalion advanced in order of companies, L, K, and I. The leading elements encountered some searching artillery and mortar ¤re, but it was not suf¤cient to impede their advance. Then, as they crossed the brow of some high ground about half a mile from the line of departure, they came across a dense mine¤eld of Schü-mines extending right across their front and ®anks and were attacked by machine-gun ¤re that scattered the men, detonating some of the mines. The Germans then began a systematic artillery bombardment of the exposed battalion. SSgt. Salvatore Vastola selected a small team of men to accompany him as he crawled forward through the mine¤eld to deal with a troublesome machine gun and succeeded in destroying it.
Second Lieutenant Bowyer, leading his 3rd Platoon of I Company, headed Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th on the left ®ank. As he reached the ¤rst phase line, there was a violent explosion and he fell, having lost both feet. When others rushed to take care of him, the movement set off more Schü-mines, blowing off the men’s feet or badly injuring them. Lt. Joseph Klutsch of the 2nd Platoon was similarly injured. Both of¤cers then refused aid and directed the evacuation of the wounded from where they lay, then crawled out of the mine¤eld and back to the forward aid station in the antitank ditch. (Bowyer was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.)
74 / Action on the Left Flank
Mine detectors and Primacord detonating cord were used unsuccessfully in an attempt to ¤nd a way through, but the battalion was trapped. A request to Regiment for tanks to clear a way through for the infantry could not be met, but Colonel McClune accepted the situation and ordered the battalion to reassemble in an area about half a mile behind its line of departure, where it would form the regimental reserve.
Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd, on the right ®ank, attacked with E Company on the right and F Company on the left, and G Company followed six hundred yards behind. E Company’s advance was slowed by machine-gun and ri®e ¤re coming from the woods in front but, using marching ¤re (a continual ¤ring of ri®es as troops advance), was the ¤rst to reach the ¤rst phase line. F Company ran into the same mine¤eld as their neighbors and experienced some casualties. The company executive of¤cer, Lt. Maurice S. Dodge, came forward to see what was holding them up, only to step on a mine himself. Pvt. Jennings B. Petry, approaching with a prisoner, tried to rescue Dodge but detonated another mine, which temporarily blinded him, killed the German prisoner, and mortally wounded Dodge.
The engineers then brought up some Primacord to blast a way through the mine¤eld. F Company reorganized and moved on to draw up alongside E Company, which had already reached the far edge of the woods. Artillery, mortar, and small-arms ¤re was now falling on the advancing troops, so the regimental cannon company was ordered to bombard the pillboxes northwest of Campholz Woods once every ¤ve minutes, as long-range automatic ¤re and artillery ¤re was clearly being directed from these positions.
As E Company drew up to the second phase line, it was ordered to dig in and await the rest of the battalion. Marching ¤re had proved most effective in its advance, and the woods behind were strewn with dead Germans. The rest of the battalion soon caught up and began digging positions in the frozen ground. Lieutenant Colonel Norman tried to contact the armor by radio, but failed to do so.
The blocking of the 3rd/376th’s advance by the mine¤eld had dangerously exposed the 2nd/302nd’s left ®ank, so Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th was ordered to take over the left ®ank, going through or past Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s battalion. As it approached the mine¤eld, the 1st/376th came under heavy artillery ¤re, causing the men to veer off to the right and follow the 2nd/302nd’s route.
Meanwhile, E and F Companies of the 2nd/302nd had spread out
76 / Action on the Left Flank
through the woods facing Sinz to await the arrival of the others. When three tanks were seen approaching, the poor visibility caused by the snow and undergrowth led the men to assume they were American, and the tanks were nearly on top of them before it was realized that they were German. The tanks opened ¤re and infantry were seen advancing with them, so the American troops pulled back to the reverse slope to avoid the direct ¤re. Sgt. Gilbert E. Kinyon of F Company remained, however, and ¤red his carbine at the leading tank. The tank operators buttoned up, thus limiting their vision, which allowed Pfc. Laverne Sinclair of E Company to disable one of its tracks with a single round at a range of twenty-¤ve yards.
Tanks were seen in Sinz at dusk and the word was passed back. When it was con¤rmed that no American tanks had reached that far, the full weight of the divisional artillery was directed on the village.
Captain Grif¤n ran up to ¤nd his G Company withdrawing, so he ordered his men to hold their ground and sent for his bazooka teams. He then directed the ¤re of these teams, which resulted in one of the tanks catching ¤re and the third withdrawing. Artillery ¤re helped disperse the German infantry. The companies had to dig in under the trees, where German artillery ¤re brought many casualties from tree bursts.8
The retaking of Butzdorf was part of the overall plan and was conducted by A Company of the 1st/302nd with the support of tank destroyers. The attack was launched from the woods southwest of Tettingen and proved costly across the clear ground in full view of the German pillboxes up on Münzingen Ridge. Fire also came from Halfway House until the tank destroyers intervened with high explosive and white phosphorous shells. Lt. Samuel G. Norquist, the company’s acting executive of¤cer, greatly distinguished himself by his disregard for personal safety in the conduct of this attack and was subsequently awarded a Silver Star. Lieutenant Colonel Love, the divisional G-2, and Capt. Luis J. Flanagan, the battalion S-3 (staff of¤cer for operations), were both wounded in front of the company command post.9
During these attacks, Capt. Chester B. Dadisman’s A Company of the 1st/376th remained in reserve in the antitank ditch in Monkey Wrench Woods. With a view to establishing a satisfactory supply and evacuation route for his battalion, Dadisman sent out a patrol consisting of Sgt. Joseph
Action on the Left Flank / 77
Sanniac and four men to check the Nennig-Tettingen road for mines. Sergeant Sanniac spotted several ¤gures in GI overcoats on the north side of the road and sent Pfc. K. O. Kettler across a gully and into a clearing beyond to investigate. When Kettler called out, “Who is it?” the reply came back, “L Company! Get out—Germans are on three sides!” The patrol withdrew and the matter was reported to the battalion S-3, Capt. Frank Malinski, with the result that a stronger patrol was organized, accompanied by Capt. Edwin Brehio. Having identi¤ed the men through binoculars as Americans, four BAR men went forward to cover their withdrawal. Four of the L Company men had to be carried. Back at A Company, the L Company men were fed and then sent on to the aid station in Besch.
TSgt. Arnold A. Petry recounted what had happened in the seven days since Lieutenant Travers had left the orchard for Besch on the twentieth to obtain aid. The men of L Company had soon realized that Lieutenant Travers could not have made it through, but were ¤rmly resolved not to give in, despite their hunger and thirst and constant harassment, including mortar and shell¤re. The men had just one can of C rations each, the only additional food found being a thick slice of black bread, a bag of biscuits, and a can of meat taken from two dead Germans. The only way the men could obtain water was by sitting on a helmet full of snow until it melted or by moving in small groups at night to re¤ll their water bottles at a nearby brook. Pfc. Earl Freeman had been killed by shell¤re on one such detail.
They held a council of war on the third night, deciding on a breakout attempt toward Nennig. The two scouts, Pfcs. Johan A. Dresser and James
E. Meneses, repeatedly came up against German outposts, so ¤nally the group returned to its position in the orchard. Thereafter three-man patrols were sent out every night to try to ¤nd a way out, but without success. (Sergeant Petry was subsequently awarded a Silver Star.)10
The attack on the left ®ank on January 26 was launched at 0700 by Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry, which had only its 3rd Battalion and the 2nd/376th under command. They were supported by Task Force Goodrich, consisting of the remains of the 7th Armored Infantry and Capt. Odin Brendengen’s A Company of the 18th Tank Battalion. During the night A Company of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, supported by A Troop of the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron, had gone forward to bridge two identi¤ed antitank ditches that lay across the line of advance and to clear mines on the
78 / Action on the Left Flank
approach route. Only the ¤rst ditch had been bridged and the route to it cleared before the attack began. Consequently, when Task Force Goodrich attacked, its advance was held up by the second antitank ditch and forced to halt under heavy artillery and mortar ¤re along with Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s accompanying 3rd/302nd.
After repelling a brief counterattack by enemy tanks, Task Force Goodrich withdrew at nightfall to Nennig for the tanks to replenish their supplies of fuel and ammunition in preparation for resuming the attack the next morning, leaving the 3rd/302nd to hold the line. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th attacked from the line of Wies-Berg to the Remich-Sinz highway, but Captain Heath’s G Company, on the far left, was checked by heavy ¤re coming from the direction of Schloss Bübingen and forced back into Wies. Captain Darrah’s E Company, on the battalion’s right, hit an antipersonnel mine¤eld after progressing only one hundred yards. When his men hesitated, Lt. Arthur Dodson called on them to follow him and led them through safely. As E Company approached an opentopped hill, it came under ¤re from several machine guns, forcing the company to halt with both ®anks exposed. Sgt. Gerald W. Jende spotted another machine-gun team setting up behind them and killed both gunners with two well-aimed shots from his ri®e. E Company remained pinned down until Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd, which had had a dif¤cult time breaking through heavy enemy resistance east of Nennig, caught up on E Company’s right and came under the same machine-gun ¤re. E Company then made a desperate and costly rush for the enemy positions ahead of it, which resulted in the capture of two machine guns and twenty-nine prisoners.
As E Company reached the Remich-Sinz road, three German tanks appeared, prompting the company to drop back 150 yards to line up with the 3rd/302nd. Artillery support was called for but fell on the American positions in error, resulting in many casualties. The troops were then told to dig in for the night.11
In Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry’s central sector on January 27, Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th attacked in conjunction with Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd to occupy the Unterste Büsch Woods and the high ground around it. As B and C Companies of the 1st/376th moved off, A Company occupied their vacated positions to protect the attack’s left ®ank. E and G Companies of the 2nd/302nd bypassed F Company and
Action on the Left Flank / 79
pushed forward to the far edge of the woods, where they came under enemy sniper and artillery ¤re, which took a heavy toll.
Lieutenant Thurston’s 3rd/376th moved up to an alert position behind their 1st Battalion. The battalion then deployed into three separate company locations in such a way as to be able to meet enemy attacks from any direction. While occupying these positions, and during the coldest night they had experienced, the battalion was instructed to absorb one hundred replacements who were already on their way. Thurston protested at the impracticality of taking on these men in such circumstances but was overruled. Within thirty-six hours all but forty of them had been either killed or evacuated for various reasons.
Meanwhile, B and C Companies of the 1st/376th came up to some barbed-wire entanglements two hundred yards south of the Remich-Sinz highway. Lieutenant Colonel Miner then realized that the assault companies of Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd had yet to appear, leaving his right ®ank exposed. Miner therefore ordered Captain Dadisman to bring his A Company up to the right rear to cover against any possible counterattack from that direction as the assault companies continued to work their way forward, mopping up as they went.
When the assault companies reached the highway, they each delegated a squad to go forward into Unterste Büsch Woods, where they were met by ferocious enemy ¤re coming from three concealed tanks and their escorting infantry. Lt. William Bendure of B Company and Sergeant Ackerman of C Company were hit. One squad got so close to a concealed tank that it could not depress its main gun suf¤ciently to engage them. Lt. William Ring, also with the leading troops, ¤red six bazooka rounds at one tank, all of which were de®ected by the dense undergrowth. The survivors were obliged to withdraw across the road, and the companies pulled back behind a slight fold in the ground that provided them with some protection from the automatic ¤re, but not from the heavy mortar, rocket, and artillery ¤re that was directed on them as they awaited the arrival of the tanks from Nennig. Lieutenant Cornelius took over B Company when Captain Duckworth was hit.12
The attack from Nennig was launched at 0915 that day ( January 27), with Lt. Col. William A. McNulty’s 3rd/301st passing through Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd in a vigorous attack backed by Capt. Russell D. Miller’s B Company of the 18th Tank Battalion. The engineers had erected
80 / Action on the Left Flank
a bridge across the second antitank ditch during the night, but the Germans had placed an antitank gun to block it. The ¤rst tank to approach the bridge was knocked out by this 88-mm gun, and another got stuck in the ditch. When Captain Miller sought an alternate passage, he found ¤fteen German tanks lying in ambush. A tank battle then ensued in which the novice American tankers knocked out four Mark IV tanks, the antitank gun at the bridge, and an antiaircraft gun engaged against them. By noon the Remich-Sinz highway had been crossed, and the tanks and 7th Armored Infantry of Combat Command A were able to follow through up the main axis on Sinz.
The converging attack on Sinz from the south did not go as planned, as Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th clashed with a simultaneous German counterattack, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd to go on alone. As they emerged from the woods, Captain Grif¤n of G Company was hit by enemy shell¤re, so the company executive of¤cer, Lt. Peter R. Kelly, took over the command, but was killed almost immediately. Lieutenant Colonel Norman was also wounded and was relieved by his executive of¤cer, Major Maixner. The leading elements paused at the antitank ditch to enable the others to catch up and then continued on using marching ¤re.
At about 1300 the leading tanks were seen approaching the open ground south of the highway from the woods southwest of Sinz. Lieutenant Colonel Miner then ordered his A Company to move to the left and attack Unterste Büsch Woods and Sinz in conjunction with the tanks. The whole 1st/376th crossed into the Unterste Büsch Woods, where the Germans who were hiding there either surrendered or ®ed back to Sinz. The battalion then took up a perimeter defense of the woods with C Company on the left and B Company facing Sinz. A Company detached a platoon to C Company to enable the latter to extend their line to Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd on the far side of the clearing from Unterste Büsch Woods, but otherwise remained in reserve in the woods south of the highway.
The order then arrived for the 1st/376th to attack Sinz from their present position in conjunction with an attack from the south by Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd. Lieutenant Colonel Miner organized his battalion for the forthcoming attack with B Company on the left and A Company on the right and liaised with the tanks.
The attack planned on Sinz was to be given maximum support from the divisional artillery. The high ground of the Münzinger Ridge above the town would be smoked out to deprive the enemy artillery observers and
Action on the Left Flank / 81
machine gunners of their view, while Sinz and the pillboxes southeast of the village would receive a ten-minute preparation immediately before the attack. A battery would then ¤re on the pillboxes every two minutes. However, by early afternoon the tanks were running out of ammunition and gasoline, so Colonel Goodrich sent in A Company to take over the battle. A Company pushed forward to the edge of the woods overlooking Sinz and provided supporting ¤re for the 2nd/302nd’s attack, until it too began running out of fuel and ammunition and was replaced by Capt. Paul R. Halderson’s D Company.
The Germans counterattacked with tanks and infantry. A and B Companies moved back to the antitank ditch and joined in the heavy ¤re coming from the Sherman tanks on the highway, eventually forcing the Germans to withdraw. The battalion’s next task was to sweep the Unterste Büsch Woods clear of the enemy, which was accomplished without dif¤culty.
Lt. James P. Bolinger then led D Company of the 18th Tank Battalion into Sinz, where he destroyed a Mark IV tank, only to have his own tank knocked out by a Panzerfaust. He then transferred to another tank to continue the ¤ght. By nightfall the 18th Tank Battalion had had six Shermans destroyed and another four disabled. The men of the 7th Armored Infantry were then called forward to help clear Sinz.
An American tank that had been ¤ring up the main street in Sinz mistook some men of G Company, 2nd/302nd, for the enemy and in®icted several casualties before TSgt. Edward P. Regan could reach the tank and bang on the turret with his ri®e butt to attract the crew’s attention. Meanwhile, E Company crawled up the ditch alongside the highway to get to suitable positions from where the men could ¤re on the nearest buildings. Pvt. James Guerrier responded to sniper ¤re coming from a barn by standing up and ¤ring a light machine gun from the hip, his tracers setting ¤re to the hay in the barn. When his ammunition ran out, he obtained two more belts from a tank and ¤red at the Germans who were trying to escape from the burning barn. (Guerrier was later awarded a Silver Star for this exploit.)
A tank hidden inside a haystack held up G Company until Pfc. Edward
D. Yewell set the hay on ¤re with a bazooka round ¤red at close range. Pvt. Clifford R. Macumber was the ¤rst man into Sinz. He tossed a grenade into the nearest house, then took eleven prisoners from it. SSgt. Michael Wichic tackled the second house, using a phosphorous grenade to quell
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the ¤re coming from a second-storey window, thus killing one sniper and wounding another. He then led his squad into the village and was killed by a burst of machine-gun ¤re. (Wichic, too, received a Silver Star.)
Lt. Harry J. Lewies of E Company, 2nd/302nd, took charge in Sinz, but had no radio or wire communication back to the battalion command post, so two volunteers, Pfcs. Mark D. Atchinson and Orleane A. Jacobson, donned snowsuits taken from the prisoners and headed back at dusk, noting the location of the wounded as they went. After reporting on the situation in Sinz, they returned with litter parties and assisted with the evacuation of the wounded, Jacobson himself becoming wounded in the process.
Major Maixner now found that his two companies in Sinz were both down to half strength, and his reserve company had been reduced to sixty effectives (able-bodied soldiers). He reported this to Colonel McClune, who had ri®es issued to the regimental antitank company and sent them forward as reinforcements. McClune also sent some halftracks to help evacuate the wounded from Sinz. The news then came through that the 1st/376th would be relieved that evening by Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th. This relief was completed by 2100, but the 1st/376th came under heavy artillery ¤re as it moved out and suffered more casualties.
Plans were also under way for the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, which had been placed under the temporary command of the 376th Infantry, to cooperate with the 2nd Battalion in an attack to secure the whole of Sinz the next day. However, early on January 28 the loan of the 8th Armored Division’s Combat Command A to the 94th Infantry Division came to an end and the armor and their escorting infantry were withdrawn.
It was clear that Sinz could not be held without armored support, so Lieutenant Colonel Norman’s 2nd/302nd was instructed to pull back into the woods southwest of the village and organize a new defensive position before daybreak. Meanwhile, B Company of the 7th Armored Infantry provided protection for the disabled American armor until it could be recovered from the village, and spent the morning of the twenty-eighth fending off German counterattacks with the 2nd/302nd. In this attack on Sinz Combat Command A had suffered 23 men killed and 268 wounded, most of them from the 7th Armored Infantry, in just two days of combat.13
General Walker now ordered the 94th Infantry Division to rest and reorganize, but also to maintain battalion-sized attacks to keep the enemy
Action on the Left Flank / 83
pinned down. General Malony instructed his regimental commanders to hold and consolidate the ground they had gained while planning how they would continue the offensive once the newly arrived reinforcements had been integrated into their units. He also used the opportunity to untangle the various battalions from attachments to other regiments. So by January 30 the division was redeployed with the 301st Infantry on the left ®ank and the 302nd on the right, each with its battalions in the order 1st, 3rd, 2nd, and with the 376th Infantry in reserve.
While the division’s reshuf®e was still incomplete, on January 29 Captain Woods’s B Company of the 1st/302nd was ordered to seize the southeastern tip of Campholz Woods. The task was executed by Lt. Edwin R. Bloom’s 2nd Platoon without dif¤culty, and the position, together with Borg, Butzdorf, and Tettingen, was taken over by the 2nd/302nd.14
In the meantime, General Patton was going through a period of intense frustration. He was unable to persuade his superiors, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, of the need to push on despite the fatigue and understrength state of the American ground forces at this stage. In addition, his plan for an attack by XII Corps on Trier in early February was squashed when Bradley refused to provide any armored support. Patton then set off on a tour of his subordinate formations, and on January 30 General Walker told General Malony to get “as many senior of¤cers and unit commanders down to noncoms of each company that could be assembled without too much trouble” at the reserve position in Veckring by 1430 that day.15
Patton ¤rst called on the division’s headquarters in Sierck-les-Bains, France, with Walker and told Malony and his staff that the 94th was the only division in his army whose nonbattle casualties exceeded its battle casualties. This was not in fact correct, and the failure to provide adequate shoepacs and other winter clothing and equipment was the responsibility of his Third Army staff, but these were matters that one could hardly address with Patton in person.
Patton and Walker went on to visit the of¤cers and NCOs assembled at Veckring, where Patton began by complimenting them on doing a good job. However, he then attacked them on the subject of nonbattle casualties and the number of prisoners lost to the enemy, saying, “This division has had the dishonor of having more men surrender than either of the First and
84 / Action on the Left Flank
Third Armies which I have commanded.” At one point during his visit to the division, Patton threatened General Malony with relieving him of his post, but then, before leaving, he said: “You’re doing ¤ne otherwise—but Goddammit, do something about those slackers.” Patton also rebuked Lieutenant Colonel Miner for having dirt on the badge of rank on his helmet. (Patton insisted that all of¤cers and NCOs in his army wear badges of rank on their helmets, thus clearly identifying them to enemy snipers.)16
Battalion rest areas were now established in order to give the troops a chance to wash and get warm. For example, Pillingerhof, near Borg, was where the 1st/302nd provided a place for its men to relax out of the line, as Lieutenant Colonel Thurston had previously done at Besch. But conditions remained harsh in the line with the continuing cold, wet weather, and the clothing of many of the men was in tatters after so much hard use. The water level was barely three inches below the surface in the sector occupied by the 3rd/301st, so the trenches and foxholes were constantly ¤lling with water. XX Corps now ordered a resumption of limited-objective attacks in which the forces employed were not to exceed one regimental combat team.17
Schloss Bübingen was selected as the ¤rst objective under the new rules of engagement. Located close to where the Remich-Sinz highway crossed with the Moselle valley highway immediately north of Wies, the Schloss had long been suspected of providing a major artillery observer post and forming-up position for enemy attacks. The task of taking the castle was given to the reconstituted 1st/301st’s A Company, which was given a selfpropelled 155-mm gun from XX Corps’s 558th Field Artillery Battalion for close support.
After the usual artillery preparation, Lt. Harrison H. Walker led A Company’s 2nd Platoon into the attack from Wies. The 155-mm gun advanced to within 150 yards of the castle before beginning to ¤re at its massive stone walls. Lieutenant Walker took his platoon to assault the castle gate on the right, while TSgt. George Montgomery took the 1st Platoon to the left. Walker and his men were met by a hail of automatic ¤re, wounding him and holding up most of the platoon, but ¤ve men managed to get in and were then trapped in a room by enemy soldiers who were holding the building.
Action on the Left Flank / 85
The 1st Platoon also came under heavy machine-gun ¤re and had to take cover against a blank wall of the castle, which they decided to breach. Explosives were sent for, and while they were waiting the men tried using the satchel charge, two beehive charges,18 and even a bazooka, but to no effect. Eventually Sgt. Joseph C. Castanzo of A Company, 319th Field Engineers, appeared and supervised the setting of the selected charge. Because this group was under intense ¤re, it took about four hours before the charge could be detonated. The blast caused the castle wall to buckle and collapse, trapping several enemy soldiers in the castle cellars. Armed respectively with an M1 ri®e, a ®amethrower, and a BAR, Sgt. Harry Schmidt, Pfc.
B. D. Tabel, and Pfc. A. Bullard stormed in, surprising and overwhelming a machine-gun crew. They then moved on from room to room, killing or capturing the enemy as they went. A radio operator was killed at his set and forty-two prisoners were taken. The presence of other Germans in the cellars was then detected, and when they refused to surrender, a bangalore torpedo was thrust through a basement window to ¤nish them off.19 A Company then secured the castle in anticipation of a counterattack, which came shortly afterward and was repulsed.20
The next objective was Campholz Woods, whose prominent position on the forward brow of the Münzingen Ridge dominated the front between Tettingen and Oberleuken and the Perl-Saarburg highway and was now occupied by panzergrenadiers of the 11th Panzer Division.
Lt. Col. Francis H. Dohs’s 2nd Battalion of the 301st Infantry Regiment now had two platoons of G Company in Butzdorf and its 3rd Platoon in Tettingen, from where they were under close observation from the German pillboxes on the ridge to the northeast and constantly subject to mortar ¤re. Lt. Richard H. Myers’s 1st Platoon was subsequently detailed to destroy these enemy positions. Their ¤rst attempt failed when the platoon ran into a mine¤eld in the dark, and Myers and four men were injured. In a second attempt the following night, under TSgt. Tom R. Parkinson, the platoon and some men of A Company, 319th Combat Engineer Battalion, managed to approach the blind side of the main bunker undetected under cover of a mortar bombardment. Once they were in striking distance, they directed machine-gun ¤re at the bunker’s observation slits to keep them closed,
86 / Action on the Left Flank
while the engineers put a sixty-foot bangalore torpedo into position to clear a path through the mine¤eld. The position was then taken using satchel charges and grenades.
However, the main enemy positions on the Münzingen Ridge in and around Campholz Woods remained a constant threat and obstacle. On the night of January 31 Lt. Joseph E. Glover of the battalion’s intelligence and reconnaissance section led a party of eleven men to try to locate the mine¤elds that were known to be contained in that area. They got as far as the antitank ditch running through the center of the woods without encountering any mines, but on their return journey they bumped into an enemy patrol. Tech-5 John J. Centrello was killed and four others were captured before the remaining men were able to disengage and return to their own lines.
Lieutenant Robinson’s C Company, which had been resting at Pillingerhof, was then delegated the task of taking Campholz Woods. The company marched to Borg, where the men picked up prepared demolition charges and then set off in single ¤le with Captain Woodburn and 1st Sgt. Jerome Eisler of A Company leading. The company crossed the open ground to the woods without incident and then formed up for the assault with the 2nd Platoon on the left, the light machine-gun section in the center, and the 3rd Platoon on the right, while the 1st Platoon took up the reserve position in the rear.
The company moved off at 0800, and within minutes TSgt. James L. King rounded up ¤ve German prisoners, including an of¤cer. This was an artillery observation group that had been occupying a large foxhole and was equipped with two radios. The company soon discovered that the woods were heavily mined and took some casualties. By 1000 the company reached a communication trench running parallel to the track that cut across the center of the woods. Offering the only cover, the trench was only three feet deep and had a foot of water in it. The company then came under a ¤erce rocket, artillery, and mortar bombardment, which was to continue all day and into the night. Casualties were heavy, especially from tree bursts (shells exploding in treetops), and four men were killed by direct hits. That night B Company arrived and took over the eastern half of the woods south of the communication trench.
It was planned to continue the attack to take the rest of the woods the
Action on the Left Flank / 87
next morning, February 2, so Lt. Charles F. Ehrenberg of the 301st Field Artillery arranged for a ten-minute preparation on the antitank ditch, beginning at 0850. As the infantry waited for the signal to advance, German mortar and artillery ¤re continued to fall on and behind them.
The antitank ditch proved a formidable obstacle for the infantry, being about twelve feet across and twenty feet deep, with a muddy bottom. In emerging from the ditch, SSgt. Jack Cox came face-to-face with one of four machine guns that had been hastily set up to confront the attack. He promptly shot one of the machine gunners, wounded another, and took the third one prisoner.
B Company’s 3rd Platoon swung to the right to take a large pillbox, then hesitated when the leading NCO was killed. Captain Woods found the platoon deployed around this pillbox but making no headway, so he had the men seal the ¤ring ports and had a beehive charge detonated on one of them. A white phosphorous grenade was then introduced through the hole, and shortly afterward a German captain and the other ¤fteen occupants surrendered. This six-room pillbox was then taken over as B Company’s command post.
The 1st and 3rd Platoons continued their advance to the northern edge of the woods, and SSgt. Stanley K. Jurek’s 2nd Platoon was brought up from reserve position to ¤ll the line between them. Meanwhile, as C Company cleared the northwestern portion of the woods, they encountered many antipersonnel mines that slowed progress, but by 1200 the men had taken two pillboxes and seventy-¤ve prisoners to add to the ¤fty taken by B Company. These prisoners were then used as litter bearers to evacuate the wounded.
A Company moved up under cover of darkness to relieve C Company, a task that was not completed until 0400 on February 3. Because of an oversight, a captured bunker that the Germans had been using as an observation post over the Tettingen-Pillingerhof area was omitted from the handover, and the Germans reoccupied it before daylight.
Lt. Carl J. Baumgaertner and a patrol of four men managed to take another bunker some three hundred yards northwest of the woods during the early hours, tracing it through the fog and darkness by the sound of voices coming from it. The patrol closed up to the bunker and threw a grenade, after which Baumgaertner called out in perfect German to tell the men inside that they were surrounded and should surrender, or a ®amethrower
Action on the Left Flank / 89
would be used. In fact the patrol had no ®amethrower, but thirteen German soldiers surrendered without further ado.
A and B Companies held the position throughout February 3. Captain Wood’s command post pillbox was surrounded by mines and was so close to a German mortar position that the Germans lobbed a bomb across every time they heard the metal bunker door being used, on one occasion actually getting a bomb inside. However, the mortar position gave itself away with the muzzle ®ash and was eliminated by an artillery barrage. On the night of February 3 there was a report of a wounded man in a mine¤eld near the antitank ditch. The soldier sent from the command post to assist the medics in evacuating the wounded man stepped on a Schü-mine and was killed, and the man who was already wounded was injured yet again along with three others. Tech-3 John Asmussen called for more help and managed to get all four wounded to the pillbox, where he treated them by candlelight, saving the lives of the two who were the worst wounded. (Asmussen was later awarded the Silver Star for this action.)
C Company returned to relieve B Company on February 4. Despite the battalion’s success in taking Campholz Woods, Lieutenant Colonel Hosea was relieved of his command that day and was replaced by Maj. Warren F. Stanion. Captain Woods became battalion executive of¤cer, and Lt. Joseph Wancio took over B Company.
Lieutenant Baumgaertner was in action again at 2300 that night with a team from A Company to retake the important observation post bunker that the Germans had reoccupied. This bunker was so sited that it was impossible to approach unobserved, and the patrol was easily beaten back. When Baumgaertner returned to report his lack of success, he was informed that he would have to try again at 0400 with his whole platoon, even though the company was due to be relieved that night. The second attack was supported by a heavy artillery preparation, followed by a vicious exchange of hand grenades at ten yards, but the platoon was still unable to break in and had to withdraw with its wounded, leaving the dead behind.
The battalion supply of¤cer, Lt. Joseph F. Concannon, and his assistant, Sgt. Robert H. Fluch, borrowed some halftracks from the 465th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion to enable them to resupply the forward companies in Campholz Woods from Borg by day. This was risky business, as the route was under enemy observation and ¤re. At night they used a Weasel (a small tracked supply vehicle) to bring up hot food for the troops.
90 / Action on the Left Flank
Another attempt was made on the observation post bunker at 1700 on February 5, this time by C Company after they had exchanged positions with B Company and with the support of some men of B Company, 319th Engineer Combat Battalion. The 301st Field Artillery began by providing a ¤fteen-minute preparation, but after ¤ve minutes this had to be lifted as it was so concentrated and so close to their own attacking troops that it was beginning to affect them. Again the enemy resistance was ferocious, and freshly laid Schü-mines hampered the attack, in®icting so many casualties that the attempt was called off and the men withdrew to the woods.
That night Major Stanion’s exhausted 1st/302nd was relieved by Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd, who, after suffering a mauling in the battle for Sinz, had been recuperating on the division’s extreme right ®ank with their command post in Wehingen and companies deployed in the villages of Nohn and Unter-Tünsdorf. From there the battalion’s E and G Companies had carried out unsuccessful attempts to take pillboxes in front of Orscholz in such extreme weather conditions that on one occasion their ri®es had frozen up and refused to function.
Major Maixner now deployed his battalion, with E Company on the left and G Company on the right. He placed H Company’s heavy machine guns in the woods in support of the forward companies and the 81-mm mortars in support of Butzdorf. He also had engineers clear and mark more paths through the woods. His most important task was to secure the observation post bunker that had resisted all previous attempts to retake it. For this he decided to use two assault teams. Lt. Charles A. Hunter of F Company was to take fourteen men and make a feint from Tettingen, while a group from F Company would attack west from the edge of Campholz Woods.
The attack was launched early on February 7, but F Company was immediately checked by a heavy bombardment on its position. Lieutenant Hunter’s platoon started off at 0645 in a fast advance that surprised the defenders of the ¤rst bunker (see map 9) and took thirty-three prisoners. The prisoners were sent back under guard, and another two men were left to hold the captured bunker as the rest pushed on, only to come up against ¤erce resistance. When a shell killed two and wounded four of the small group, they decided to withdraw but then stumbled upon another bunker that yielded a further thirteen prisoners.
When Major Maixner, who was in Tettingen with his artillery liaison
Action on the Left Flank / 91
of¤cer, Capt. Clair H. Stevens, was informed of how the two bunkers had been taken, he ordered part of E Company to leave Campholz Woods and join him in Tettingen as soon as possible. E Company brought their platoons by truck to Wochern and marched the rest of the way. They then worked their platoons forward to the newly captured bunkers. The expected artillery preparation failed to materialize, so they pushed on without it and by nightfall had taken yet another bunker. A patrol was sent back to establish wire communications with Battalion, and they were told they would be relieved by F Company and were then to return to Borg.
The Germans had now been in reoccupation of the observation post bunker for ¤ve days, and Division was adamant that it had to be taken at all costs. Major Maixner decided to use C Company for the next attempt, so he relieved them in Campholz Woods, with Lieutenant Lewies’s platoon and the battalion ammunition and pioneer platoon armed as ri®emen.
Captain James W. Grif¤n had only thirty-four men left in G Company, but was joined by a few engineers equipped with ®amethrowers and demolition charges. Lt. Ralph E. Ginsburg’s 1st Platoon was to circle the objective and attack it from the north, while elements of the 2nd Platoon under SSgt. Arthur Ernst were to approach from the east by means of the communication trench that connected the woods with the observation post. The remaining men of the 2nd Platoon, together with the 3rd Platoon, were to move farther west and tackle the other enemy positions supporting the observation post bunker.
Lt. Douglas A. Barrow, commanding the H Company mortar platoon, suggested that he put a two- to three-minute preparation down on the known enemy mortar positions, followed by a one-minute pause and another three-minute preparation, because the enemy were known to take shelter in their bunkers as soon as they were shelled and would return as soon as the shelling ceased. Barrow’s suggestion was adopted and used successfully.
G Company’s attack went according to plan on February 8. Sgt. James E. Clark led his 1st Platoon in the ¤nal rush to take the objective, which yielded only four uninjured prisoners, but the view from the bunker showed how valuable the position had been to the enemy and how important it was to neutralize it. The group operating farther out to the west captured one pillbox without a ¤ght, and the 3rd Platoon’s objective turned out to be an unoccupied gun position. Lt. Oliver K. Smith took out a patrol to recon
92 / Action on the Left Flank
noiter the area, including the draw to the north that led down toward Butzdorf, but found no enemy. G Company then dug in and consolidated its position around the captured bunkers.
Lt. James W. Porter of B Company, 319th Combat Engineers, arrived late that afternoon with some of his men to demolish the newly captured positions, but his group stumbled on an antipersonnel mine¤eld and tripped a Schü-mine that injured three of the engineers. Tech-5 Robert Cole led a rescue party to their assistance, and a second mine went off, temporarily blinding Cole and wounding an aid man and Private First Class Curi. When the men called for help, Lieutenant Porter led a second party to their aid and removed three of the wounded from the mine¤eld, including Cole, without further incident. Lieutenant Porter, Pfc. Weldon J. McCormack, and an aid man went back into the mine¤eld in the gathering gloom and placed another wounded man on a litter, but the aid man inadvertently detonated another mine, killing himself and wounding Lieutenant Porter and another man who had volunteered to help. Although he was nearly exhausted, McCormack then carried these two wounded men to safety before going back for Curi and carrying him out some ¤fty yards to a cleared path where litter bearers were waiting. (McCormack was later awarded a Silver Star for this deed.)
When General Malony informed General Walker that Campholz Woods was now securely in American hands, Walker congratulated him and asked him to “congratulate your people down there for me too.”21
General Malony remained frustrated by the failure to crack the Orscholz Switch, so he called a conference of his staff and regimental commanders on February 3 to discuss plans for future operations within the limitation of regimental size imposed upon him by General Walker. The result of this conference was the issue of Field Order Number 10 (as outlined below). The defeat at Sinz still rankled, so the next objective was set as Sinz and the adjacent Bannholz Woods. If this strike succeeded, it would be followed by another regimental-sized attack on Münzingen Ridge and the hamlet of Münzingen, coupled with an attack on the village of Oberleuken, thus providing an opportunity to roll up the eastern end of the Orscholz Switch. Starting on February 7 the 301st Infantry would take on the Sinz-Bannholz attack, the 376th Infantry would conduct the Münzingen Ridge attack, and the 302nd Infantry would handle the Oberleuken attack.
General Walker visited the 94th Infantry Division headquarters on February 5 and approved the plan. Shortly afterward, however, General Malony discovered that the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion was being taken from him on February 8, leaving him only the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion in support and seriously weakening his striking ability for the forthcoming attacks. Checking on this situation, Brigadier General Collier, the XX Corps chief of staff, said that the 704th was being moved on Patton’s orders but that its departure could be delayed until February 9 or 10 and that the 748th Tank Destroyer Battalion would be replacing the 704th.
The beginning of February was a particularly miserable time for the troops in the line. It started raining on February 2 and continued doing so for the next ten days, turning their foxholes into icy-cold mud baths. For
94 / Second Battle of Sinz
many their clothes were in tatters, and there was still a dearth of shoepacs, so trench foot was prevalent.
During the period of relative quiet from January 31 to February 6, Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry held the line from Schloss Bübingen to Tettingen-Butzdorf and took the opportunity to make a detailed study of the ground in front of the battalion positions for the forthcoming attack on Sinz and Bannholz Woods. Hagerty’s plan involved using all three battalions in line for the assault. On the left ®ank, Major Hodges’s 1st Battalion was to seize the high ground seven hundred yards beyond its present position. In the center, Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd Battalion was to secure the Remich-Sinz highway as the main supply route to Sinz by pushing farther north, while on the right Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s 2nd Battalion was to push through and secure both Sinz and the Bannholz Woods beyond.
Sinz, a village of about one hundred buildings, lay in a hollow below the Münzingen Ridge, with Bannholz Woods crowning the high ground to the immediate north. The nearest covered approaches ended some one thousand yards from the village, either in the Unterste Büsch Woods due west, or southwest in the woods north of Butzdorf. The draw in which the village lay hooked around to the west and north toward Unterste Büsch Woods, where it became marshy with occasional clumps of shrubs, but otherwise the landscape was bare and shorn of cover.
The artillery ¤re plan for the operation was based on a series of progressive phase lines, on which the forward observers with the infantry could call for ¤re as they advanced. Once the ¤nal phase line had been crossed, the forward observers could call for protective barrages and emergency concentrations.
Lt. Col. Hal S. Whitely’s 356th Field Artillery was to cover Sinz and the Remich-Sinz highway, and Lieutenant Colonel Morrow’s 301st Field Artillery would be responsible for speci¤cally timed ¤re on Sinz. Lt. Col. James M. Caviness’s 919th Field Artillery was to engage Adenholz Woods, while Lt. Col. Robert G. Crandall’s 390th Field Artillery would crater Bannholz Woods with delayed-fuse shells. The 301st Infantry’s own cannon company would lay ¤re on the southern edge of Bannholz Woods, and the 376th’s cannon company would engage the pillboxes southeast of Sinz. B Company of the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion was to provide smoke south of Bannholz Woods before H-hour, then shift to the north
96 / Second Battle of Sinz
west of the woods. The chemical mortars were also to ¤re white phosphorus bombs at the Münzingen Ridge east of Sinz.
The 301st Infantry’s attack was launched at 0700 on February 7. On the left ®ank, Major Hodges’s 1st Battalion had no problem gaining its objective by 0802, and Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd Battalion also gained its objective by 0945, despite Capt. Charles W. Donovan’s I Company losing some casualties to a mine¤eld. The Remich-Sinz highway was thus secured as the main line of supply and communication. The dif¤culties arose on the right ®ank.
Lieutenant Colonel Dohs proposed using F and G Companies for his assault on Sinz and Bannholz Woods, with E Company in reserve. G Company would provide a section of heavy machine guns for each of the assault companies, who would also have the battalion’s 81-mm mortars at their disposal. Lt. William W. Scho¤eld’s antitank platoon was earmarked for the defense of Bannholz Woods, and a special “commando” team formed from the intelligence and reconnaissance platoon was to assist G Company in clearing up Sinz. E Company would hold itself ready to assist either of the assault companies on order. In addition, a platoon of A Company, 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the 2nd Platoon of the regimental antitank company were available to deal with any enemy armor that might be encountered.
The 2nd/301st had left Wochern early on the morning of February 7 by truck for Nennig via Besch. From there the assault companies marched to their forward assembly areas through a pitch-black night. Capt. Charles H. Sinclair’s F Company headed for Unterste Büsch Woods, while Lt. Knox L. Scales’s G Company, with part of the Headquarters Company, moved east from Nennig in column of twos along a muddy trail, each man holding on to the person in front of him under a steady fall of rain.
With a misty dawn came the thunderous crash of the artillery preparation, and the infantry moved forward. The engineers had set up two footbridges across the antitank ditch in front of G Company’s position. TSgt. Tom Parkinson led his 1st Platoon straight for Sinz, while TSgt. George E. Babcock led his 2nd Platoon north, parallel to the antitank ditch at ¤rst, to hit the highway near the ¤rst house in the village. Lt. Arthur A. Christiansen’s 3rd Platoon followed up in close reserve. These platoons had just crossed the footbridges when a heavy German barrage fell on their line of
Second Battle of Sinz / 97
departure behind them, in®icting numerous casualties on the weapons platoon and the commandos, seven of whom were lost to one tree burst alone.
Sergeant Parkinson’s platoon came under ¤re while still seventy-¤ve yards from the village but continued using marching ¤re. A mine¤eld was encountered and easily avoided as the mines had been exposed by the rain and thaw. Then came an enemy artillery barrage. The platoon took its ¤rst building, but further progress was blocked by heavy machine-gun ¤re. Sgt. Joseph Rencavage then took his squad in a ®anking movement to subdue the machine guns, which was achieved with the use of grenades and bazookas, enabling the platoon to continue its advance.
Sergeant Babcock’s platoon moved forward rapidly to reach the village’s main street, taking three casualties from a sniper behind them, who was killed soon after by the commandos coming up from the rear. The silencing of the German machine guns enabled the platoon to continue down the left-hand side of the street until two men were killed by submachine-gun ¤re from across the street and more ¤re came from a large building in front, checking the advance. Lieutenant Scales then arrived with his artillery forward observer, 2nd Lt. Sylvester M. Beyer of the 356th Field Artillery. Beyer called for a concentration on the building in question, which was then stormed, yielding about thirty prisoners, and its cellar was taken over as the company command post. The accuracy of the American artillery ¤re was demonstrated here as Lieutenant Beyer stayed up with the infantry, calling for ¤re on each house in turn as they came to it. The 2nd Platoon went on to clear its section of the village and took another forty prisoners in the process.
Captain Sinclair’s F Company, with the 1st and 2nd Platoons leading, moved off on Bannholz Woods at 0700 in order to prevent the enemy from reinforcing Sinz from that direction. As Sinclair’s men approached the woods, they came under German artillery ¤re. The 2nd Platoon, with the attached heavy machine-gun section, took up positions on the western corner of the woods, while the 1st Platoon moved to the eastern ®ank and the 3rd Platoon, accompanied by Sinclair and Lt. Henry J. Smythe, the forward observer from the 356th Field Artillery, passed through the middle to occupy the northern part. Smythe called for the ¤re to be lifted on his second phase line, only to be told that it was not his guns that were ¤ring—it was German artillery ¤re.
98 / Second Battle of Sinz
Visibility in the woods was poor as a result of the smoke laid by the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion coming down off the Münzingen Ridge and ¤ltering through the dense undergrowth. The 3rd Platoon stumbled upon two tanks of the 4th Panzer Company hidden in the undergrowth, and a bazooka team consisting of Pfcs. Curtis C. Darnell and Ernest Atencio worked forward to within thirty yards of the nearest tank before opening ¤re. The ¤rst round was a hit, and the tank started to withdraw. The second round was also a hit, but the tank kept moving, and then the second tank started raking the area with machine-gun ¤re in support, wounding Atencio in the neck. Pfc. Stanley Bock took his place as loader, and as Darnell aimed at the second tank, the muzzle of the 75-mm assault gun swung toward him. Both Panther and bazooka ¤red simultaneously. It was again a hit for the bazooka but caused no damage. The tree behind the bazooka team was blown to pieces, showering the men with debris before they withdrew.
The 2nd Platoon and heavy machine-gun section were digging in on the western edge of the woods when the smoke lifted momentarily to reveal a German tank moving through the Adenholz Woods northwest of their position. A second tank appeared, and both tanks moved out into the open ground and began spraying Bannholz Woods with machine-gun ¤re. The men requested artillery ¤re, but none was available, since the guns were being engaged in support of G Company in Sinz, so the group moved farther back into the woods.
Panzergrenadiers then appeared in support of the Panthers all along F Company’s front, preventing the bazooka teams from getting within range of the advancing tanks and forcing a withdrawal. Lieutenant Smythe could not call for artillery ¤re on the woods, because it would endanger the American troops as much as the enemy. Captain Sinclair informed Lieutenant Colonel Dohs of the situation by radio and received permission to withdraw to the line of departure. However, the word did not reach the 2nd Platoon and the heavy machine-gun section in the western part of the woods, so they remained in place. Lt. John G. Truels of the weapons platoon, who had been wounded, saw German infantry coming down the road from Adenholz Woods and prepared to engage them with his machine gunners and about thirteen ri®emen, but the Germans turned left short of Bannholz Woods to move northeast along a track just outside the woods.
The remainder of the company returned safely to the line of departure
Second Battle of Sinz / 99
and reported that the only Americans remaining in the woods were dead. The divisional artillery then gave a savage pounding to the woods, where twenty-one Americans, three of whom were already wounded, lay in the mud and icy water, not daring to move as the shells crashed down and German tanks and infantry milled around. At one stage some Germans held a conference only ¤fty yards from them.
The survivors in Bannholz Woods huddled on the wet ground and prayed to survive until nightfall, when they silently and carefully made their way out. To make their escape, they had to abandon their equipment and then crawl past an enemy outpost, but eventually they got back safely to Unterste Büsch Woods.
Lieutenant Colonel Dohs and his G-3, Capt. John Flanagan, had watched the progress of the attack from an observation post on the edge of the Unterste Büsch Woods, then moved the battalion command post from the woods into a cellar in Sinz as soon as G Company had established itself in the village. When F Company withdrew, Dohs ordered up his antitank guns. Lieutenant Scho¤eld then deployed his platoon south of the Remich-Sinz highway, but Lt. James E. Prior’s 2nd Platoon of the antitank company had to wait for the engineers to bridge the antitank ditch so as to move its guns forward. Dohs also ordered Capt. Walter J. Stockstad to take his E Company to join up with G Company and resume the attack on Bannholz Woods.
Stockstad’s attack had reached a point where E Company’s right ®ank was level with the ¤rst buildings in Sinz when it suddenly came under intense mortar and artillery ¤re coming from the north, and four tanks could be seen on the high ground on the right ¤ring down into the village. Orders then came for the company to assist Lieutenant Scales’s G Company, which was having trouble clearing the northern half of the village. Captain Stockstad made his way with dif¤culty to the battalion command post, where he coordinated plans for clearing the village with Lieutenant Scales and Captain Flanagan, the battalion S-3.
It was about 1100 when E Company’s 1st and 2nd Platoons moved into the village. They quickly overcame light resistance from the nearest buildings and took twenty-two prisoners. But when they started on the buildings in the northern part of the village, they came under intensive artillery, mortar, and machine-gun ¤re and sustained many casualties, including both platoon leaders, Lts. Edmund G. Reuter and John S. Fisher. The re
100 / Second Battle of Sinz
maining men from these two platoons, together with the 3rd and Weapons Platoons, were then pooled and divided into two assault teams, while Lieutenant Scales conferred at the battalion command post. As soon as he returned, the attack was resumed. Again 2nd Lieutenant Beyer of the 356th Field Artillery provided invaluable support by targeting each of his batteries on a separate house and then having the whole battalion ¤re together for effect.
Captain Stockstad’s E Company was the ¤rst to arrive at the street junction from where the coordinated attacks were to be launched. His men had suffered so many casualties that he requested a postponement until he could get reinforcements, but Dohs denied his request and the attack went ahead with the 1st Platoon moving down the left side of the street and the 2nd Platoon down the right. The lead scout of the 2nd Platoon was killed by ri®e ¤re, and then from the village outskirts four enemy machine guns started ¤ring on the men, pressing them back against the walls. SSgt. J. W. Green’s squad of the 1st Platoon took cover behind a house but found themselves against a blank wall and unable to enter. TSgt. Raymond E. Collins, the acting platoon leader, saw this and sent another squad with a bazooka to assist Green’s men. Some twenty bazooka rounds were ¤red at a house at the end of the street from where machine-gun ¤re was coming. The house was then sprayed with light machine-gun ¤re, enabling the two squads to rush it, only to discover that the German machine gunners had left. Meanwhile, TSgt. Elmer W. Griffords’s 2nd Platoon had taken all but the last house on the other side of the street. With E Company’s task all but complete, the enemy soldiers who were facing G Company surrendered after offering only a token resistance.1
During this activity a group from Butzdorf that was taken mainly from the 2nd Platoon, F Company, 2nd/302nd, under Lieutenant Alverado, was supposed to have escorted six combat engineers under the command of Lt. T. J. Wellom to sweep the road of mines between Butzdorf to Sinz that morning to enable armored support to get through safely if necessary. The men tried three times, but were beaten back each time by artillery ¤re directed from observation posts on Münzingen Ridge. They then decided to wait until late afternoon, when approaching dusk would hamper enemy visibility, and the task was completed just before nightfall.
Second Battle of Sinz / 101
Lieutenant Prior and his 2nd Platoon from the regimental antitank company arrived before nightfall and deployed in the northern part of Sinz, losing a prime mover and several casualties to enemy artillery ¤re in the process. They were followed at about 1800 by the battalion antitank platoon, which deployed in the southern part of the village. Further reinforcements arrived in the form of F Company and the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, L Company, on attachment from the 3rd/301st, and a platoon of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion. L Company deployed abreast of G Company, while F Company’s 1st and 2nd Platoons occupied buildings on the western side of the village. The 3rd Platoon positioned themselves in the woods outside and were eventually joined by those who had been left behind in Bannholz Woods after they had worked their way back under cover of darkness. E Company’s 3rd Platoon also dug in outside the village on the high ground above the west side of the draw.
Back in Sinz it was now dark and the last house had still to be taken. Just as the 1st Platoon of E Company was about to assault the building under a hail of ¤re, the Germans opened heavy ¤re from it. A panzerfaust crashed through the wall of the American-occupied house into a room, killing three occupants and knocking the remaining six unconscious. Returning with medical help, Sergeant Green met the rest of his platoon as they were leaving the house after being ordered to do so by Lt. Dale Reynolds, who was con¤dent that his heavy machine-gun team could hold it.
Toward midnight the artillery, mortar, and rocket ¤re on Sinz eased off, with just intermittent ¤re occurring until 0230, when it resumed with a vengeance until 0400, causing several ¤res. The American troops used the cellars of the houses to good advantage, but E Company’s 3rd Platoon took heavy casualties on the open ground above the village. Urgent orders came for the last German-held house to be taken at all costs, and an attack on it was planned for 0500. A tank destroyer of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion was to open the attack by ¤ring several rounds point-blank at it, and the noise of the tank destroyers’ approach would be drowned by Lieutenant Reynolds’s machine guns and the weapons of E Company’s 1st Platoon, who would then carry out the attack. Sergeant Green had only six men left, but they were all armed with BARs, and Lieutenant Reynolds increased their number with ¤ve of his own men and a bazooka team. The attack went ahead as planned, but the troops quickly discovered that the enemy
102 / Second Battle of Sinz
soldiers, some ¤fteen strong, had vacated the house just ten minutes earlier. Sinz was now completely in American hands and had yielded 208 prisoners.2
The German positions on the Münzingen Ridge overlooking Sinz remained a problem, so Lieutenant Colonel Dohs assigned Capt. Paul E. Frierson’s L Company to eliminate a group of bunkers there that had proved extremely troublesome during the battle. Reconnaissance patrols were sent out during the night to check the terrain, while Frierson and Lt. Glenn H. Gass, commanding the 1st Platoon, studied the aerial photographs of the area in the battalion command post and Lt. Carl Schaefer of the 356th Field Artillery Battalion planned time-¤re on the individual bunkers for the assault.
At 0800 Lieutenants Gass and John R. Fraboni led their platoons forward through the eastern part of Sinz. Fraboni had ¤rst to eliminate two German machine-gun nests before he could get to the bunkers assigned to him. Using time-¤re to keep the enemy machine gunners’ heads down, his platoon closed up to them by a route de¤laded by BAR ¤re. Pfc. Eugene Crenshaw circled around and caught the ¤rst machine-gun crew by surprise, while Pfc. Warren Dunn eliminated the second crew. Enemy infantry and a panzerfaust team located between these positions were also eliminated.
Lieutenant Gass’s platoon’s ¤rst objective proved to be just a pile of rocks, but Lieutenant Schaefer was with it and adjusted the time-¤re accordingly to two known enemy positions. When Lieutenant Fraboni’s platoon called on the enemy to surrender at their ¤rst objective, thirteen Germans emerged in a frightened state. Before they could be moved to the rear, one of the prisoners was killed by time-¤re. At the second objective a hand grenade was dropped down a smoking stovepipe, causing the stove to explode. One of the two engineers with the platoon rushed forward with a satchel charge and blew the bunker door in, which yielded another eighteen prisoners. The last bunker was taken by Lieutenant Gass’s men after an unopposed approach. Called upon to surrender, the enemy refused, whereupon the use of a ®amethrower led to a change of mind and an of¤cer and about ten men gave themselves up.
The whole operation had taken less than thirty minutes. The two platoons then secured the high ground to the north and east of the bunkers
Second Battle of Sinz / 103
and began digging in. Lieutenant Gass’s last bunker became a command post. Sometime afterward a telephone in the bunker started ringing, but as no one spoke German it was left unanswered. But the position was under observation from higher up the ridge, and enemy artillery ¤re was soon crashing down, causing numerous casualties.
The men of the two platoons had dug down only about a foot when they spotted a lone tank barely two hundred yards away. The tank came on and was within twenty yards of one of the sergeants when he engaged it with a bazooka. The round simply bounced off the tank turret, drawing the crew’s attention to him. Two of the company’s machine gunners then ¤red on the tank to keep it buttoned up while Lieutenant Schaefer called for artillery support, but both American machine guns were eliminated, and it was only when smoke began blinding the tank crew that they withdrew back up the hill to Das Lee Woods, where enemy tanks and infantry had been seen earlier and checked with artillery ¤re. At 1400 friendly artillery ¤re provided cover for the evacuation of the wounded as the survivors continued to dig in.
By noon that day, February 8, all the units in Sinz found themselves greatly reduced in strength. Not only were the casualties in dead and wounded considerable, but also the constant artillery and mortar ¤re falling on the village was leading to cases of combat exhaustion. F Company was brought deeper into the village and used to plug gaps in G Company’s defenses, but the crews of the tank destroyers that had been ordered forward by Brigadier General Cheadle found themselves helpless in the circumstances, being outgunned and outranged. Only the ¤eld artillery was capable of providing effective defensive ¤re as the 88-mms and tanks on the high ground near Das Lee Woods blasted away at the new defenders of Sinz and Unterste Büsch.3
THE SECOND BATTLE OF BANNHOLZ WOODS
The enemy occupation of Bannholz Woods posed a direct threat to the American occupation of Sinz, so Lieutenant Colonel Dohs planned an immediate assault. Four teams of twenty-¤ve men each, drawn from the 3rd Platoons of E and G Companies and the commandos, were to leave Sinz shortly after midnight on February 8 to penetrate the woods, where they were to destroy any tanks they might come across and to dig in before the
104 / Second Battle of Sinz
arrival of other elements of the 2nd/301st later in the day. Once these teams were established, they were to send back guides to lead in some supporting tank destroyers so that they could be concealed before daybreak. These were fast but lightly armored M18 Hellcats, armed with 75-mm guns, from B Company of Lt. Col. James W. Bidwell’s combat-experienced 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, which had been with the 94th Infantry Division since January 7. Lieutenant Reynolds would command the E Company men; Lieutenants William S. Sollenberger and Christiansen, the G Company men; and Sgt. Harry J. Poynter, the commandos.
However, none of the teams could muster the required strength, and the men were already exhausted from the previous ¤ghting. It was 0200 before they could move off, and it took another hour and a half for them to reach Bannholz Woods, by which time Sergeant Poynter’s commandos were down to ten in all. The teams deployed with the commandos on the left, Lieutenant Reynolds’s team in the center, and Lieutenant Sollenberger’s on the right, while Lieutenant Christiansen took his team through to the northern part of the woods.
As they were digging in, the commandos were suddenly illuminated by a German ®are, but by keeping still they escaped detection. Enemy soldiers could be heard shouting to one another deeper in the woods. The guides went back for the tank destroyers, which were deployed with one destroyer on the edge of the woods facing northwest and the other one echeloned about ¤fty yards farther back, deeper in the woods.
Enemy artillery and rockets began to fall in the area before dawn, while ri®e and machine-gun ¤re heard in the woods indicated the presence of German infantry. A small patrol sent by Sergeant Poynter to contact Lieutenant Reynolds’s team bumped into some of the enemy and was forced to return. Then the commandos’ radio began to fail with the coming of daylight, only occasionally functioning suf¤ciently to either send or receive, but Reynolds managed to summon the support of two Hellcats from the 1st Platoon, B Company, of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
A mortar shell hit the rearmost Hellcat, jamming the turret and wounding one of the crew. Two of the crew then took their wounded comrade back to Sinz, while the others joined the crew of the undamaged tank destroyer. Soon after, three German tanks were seen moving slowly south between Adenholz and Geisbusch Woods. Artillery ¤re was called for, but none came.
Second Battle of Sinz / 105
Sergeant Poynter tried to repair his vital radio set and was working on it when a sudden burst of submachine-gun ¤re destroyed it between his legs. The ¤re had come from a German in the abandoned Hellcat behind him. Just then the NCO in charge of the other Hellcat shouted that German tanks were moving south to encircle the American position. The remaining Hellcat then drove off with ¤ve of the commandos clinging to its sides, spraying the undergrowth with its .50-caliber machine gun, and returned safely to Sinz. Deciding that his position was now hopeless, Sergeant Poynter withdrew with his remaining four men some nine hundred yards back to the Remich-Sinz highway. On the right, Lieutenant Sollenberger’s team had no problem moving into the designated position and dug in on the eastern edge of the woods.
The two Hellcats that were supposed to support Lieutenant Christiansen’s team just to the north of Sollenberger’s did not arrive until after daybreak. They came across three German tanks in the woods that they were told had been knocked out. The leading Hellcat was abreast of two Panthers when it was ¤red upon by a panzerfaust, which only scored the turret. However, it was then ¤red on by a Panther, which was knocked out with the ¤rst shot of armor-piercing shell. As the Hellcats moved on, they were shot at and destroyed by the Panthers coming to life behind them, but the crews managed to get away and walk back to Sinz.
The tanks could then be heard crashing around in the woods. Christiansen reported to Battalion by radio that a tank was ¤ring into his foxholes and that his position was untenable. Artillery ¤re was brought to bear, driving off the enemy tank, but it soon returned with a companion. Again Christiansen reported his position untenable and was instructed to sideslip to avoid the tanks and remain in the northern part of the woods.
In the late morning these two Panthers advanced methodically, reducing the American positions before them by spraying the undergrowth with machine guns and blasting the men out of their foxholes with their 75-mm guns. A few men got away. One soldier with a bazooka was cut down before he could ¤re it. Lieutenant Sollenberger’s runner was killed and the platoon radio he was carrying was destroyed. Sergeant Babcock was wounded in the legs and side by splinters from an 88-mm shell, but managed to get away. The 3rd Squad at the southern end of the 2nd Platoon’s position was cut down to a man.
When Lieutenant Reynolds’s team from E Company entered Bannholz
106 / Second Battle of Sinz
Woods, nothing but many dead Germans was found. The two Hellcats allocated to the team’s support arrived without incident and took up position. After daylight, patrols were sent out to look for any hidden German armor. Firing could be heard from the direction of Lieutenant Christiansen’s position to the north, and from the south. Just before 0900 some German infantry approached the team’s right ®ank in what appeared to be platoon column formation. Lieutenant Reynolds and SSgt. Robert G. Lehman ordered their men to open ¤re. The Germans began to out®ank the position, so a withdrawal was ordered. The Hellcats were abandoned and the men made their way back to Sinz.
Back at the battalion command post, Lieutenant Reynolds heard that Lieutenant Christiansen and his team were still in the woods and offered to go to their rescue. But then he overheard Christiansen’s ¤nal radio message—“The tanks are moving down the line, with infantry, ¤ring into each foxhole”—and realized that it was too late to do anything.
This counterattack on February 9 by the 4th Panzer Company and its supporting panzergrenadiers of the 11th Panzer Division had been highly successful, taking twenty prisoners and destroying ¤ve tank destroyers. The division was about to be withdrawn for reallocation to the German First Army after repeated complaints from Lieutenant General von Wietersheim that his valuable division was being bled to death in terrain that was unsuitable for tanks. However, elements of Panzer Regiment 15 would remain for another forty-eight hours to provide a strong counterattack force should there be an American breakthrough. Advance parties from the 256th Volksgrenadier Division, which was due to arrive that night and take over the sector between Sinz and the Moselle from the 11th Panzer and 416th Infantry Divisions, had already arrived in the Saar-Moselle Triangle.
For Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s 2nd/301st and B Company of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion the attack had been an unmitigated disaster. The infantry and supporting artillery were utterly exhausted. The 356th Field Artillery Battalion alone had ¤red seven thousand rounds of 105-mm ammunition in support of the operations in the last three days.4
THE THIRD BATTLE OF BANNHOLZ WOODS
On the afternoon of February 9 the decision was made to replace Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s exhausted 2nd/301st with Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s
Second Battle of Sinz / 107
2nd/376th for an attack to be launched the next day. General Malony believed that one more push would result in a complete breach of the Orscholz Switch and would provide an opportunity to roll it up from the rear.
The attack plan was to make a frontal assault with Captain Whitman’s F Company and Captain Heath’s G Company, with the heavy machinegun platoons of Capt. Robert Q. Smith’s H Company attached, as well as additional bazooka teams from the regimental antitank company. Once the attack was well under way, Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st would seize Adenholz Woods to cover the west ®ank. Captains Blakely and William C. Jones of the 919th Field Artillery Battalion were assigned as forward observers.
A reconnaissance party from F Company set off shortly after nightfall on February 9 for Unterste Büsch Woods, but an enemy artillery and mortar barrage, coupled with the darkness, effectively nulli¤ed the mission, and both Lt. Richard A. Hawley, the company executive of¤cer, and Sgt. Otto H. Fikjs, the company communications sergeant, were wounded.
At about 0100 on February 10, the 2nd/376th dismounted from trucks in Nennig and marched off east along the Remich-Sinz highway as far as the southern edge of Unterste Büsch Woods. They then followed taped paths through the mine¤elds to the line of departure.
Captain Heath’s G Company advanced with Lt. Adolph A. Janulis’s 2nd and TSgt. William Johnston’s 3rd Platoons leading, and reached the southern edge of Bannholz Woods by dawn. They were met by small-arms ¤re but continued their advance into the woods with marching ¤re, overrunning the enemy positions they encountered. Sergeant Johnston was wounded and SSgt. Henry Johnson took over the 3rd Platoon. The troops then dug positions in the western part of the woods. At 0800 Lieutenant Janulis radioed Captain Heath to express his concern about his exposed left ®ank, so SSgt. William B. Malloy’s 1st Platoon was ordered up to ¤ll the gap. With full daylight, enemy tanks could be seen in Geisbusch Woods to the north, and machine-gun ¤re periodically raked the exposed southwest approaches to Bannholz Woods.
As Sergeant Malloy’s men moved forward, they came under ¤re from the tanks in Geisbusch Woods, and machine-gun ¤re soon started hitting the ground around them. Malloy ordered his men to run for the trees, but only seventeen of his forty men made it to the woods. The survivors then
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deployed and dug in on the western edge of the woods, and by the time Captain Heath arrived at 1000 the men were well entrenched.
Captain Whitman’s F Company left the line of departure a little after G Company because of a delay in sorting out the attached bazooka teams. The company moved with Lieutenant Weston’s 2nd and Lieutenant Mason’s 3rd Platoons in the lead. The progress of the 2nd Platoon was slowed down by the presence of heavy, tangled undergrowth, and they had to veer to the left. Because of this slight detour, they entered the woods in G Company’s area, joining Sergeant Malloy’s group.
Lieutenant Mason’s platoon came under enemy machine-gun ¤re while still one hundred yards from the woods, and the men dashed forward for the cover of the trees. In this dash TSgt. Mariano Scopoli and two squads of the 3rd Platoon veered left of the others and immediately lost contact as they came under artillery and mortar ¤re, which also pinned down Lt. George B. Wilson’s support platoon in the open and resulted in many casualties. Two Panthers concealed in the southeast corner of the woods then opened up with their 88-mm guns to bring tree bursts raining down on the scattered pockets of troops.
Lieutenant Mason and his bazooka teams set out to engage the enemy armor. Pfcs. Leonard L. Neff and Otis L. King, bazooka man and loader respectively, ¤red repeatedly at one of the Panthers, but caused no damage, although the Panther eventually began to withdraw. A mortar round then landed almost on top of them, mortally wounding Neff. King stayed with his dying comrade, ¤ring round after round until Neff died. Lieutenant Mason kept the tanks buttoned down by ¤ring his M1 at them until he was seriously wounded by a shell burst.
When the retreating tanks reached the corner of the woods, one of them turned around and engaged the 1st Platoon, which was still out in the open in front of the woods together with the heavy machine-gun platoon, the 60-mm mortar section, most of the company command group, and two litter teams. Casualties from the ensuing mortar and tank ¤re were severe.
Captain Blakely and his radio operator, Tech-4 Adolph Singer, arrived separately and set up their forward observation post for the 919th Field Artillery with G Company’s 2nd and 3rd Platoon positions, from where they had good views to the north and west. Shortly after their arrival, two tanks were seen on the near edge of Geisbusch Woods. Artillery ¤re was directed on the tanks but did not appear to deter them, apart from keep
Second Battle of Sinz / 109
ing them buttoned up. When the bazooka teams attempted to engage the tanks at long range, the blast of the bazookas gave their positions away and the tanks immediately responded with heavy ¤re. It so happened that the enemy tanks had just been equipped with new bazooka skirts, and as these proved effective, the con¤dence of the tank crews grew in facing bazookaarmed infantry that day. Also, as long as the tanks kept moving, the constant artillery ¤re directed at them did not pose much of a problem.
Captain Whitman was already inside the woods with his radio operator and runner, and at about 0815 the three men found Technical Sergeant Scopoli and the two squads of Lieutenant Mason’s 3rd Platoon. Whitman then ordered the troops to sweep north through the woods along the eastern edge, and as they moved off, the enemy artillery ¤re slackened. Once the men had gone, Captain Whitman took stock of the situation, which was confused to say the least. He was out of touch with Lieutenants Mason, Weston, and Wilson, and he did not know where his bazooka teams were. He reasoned that Weston had moved forward on the left of the company’s sector, so he decided to go to the site he had previously determined for his command post. There he found Lt. Robert C. Pierce, the platoon commander of the heavy machine guns attached to his company. Whitman and Pierce moved on northward through the woods together, virtually parallel to Sergeant Scopoli’s route on the right, and encountered Scopoli as they approached the northeastern corner of the woods. Sergeant Scopoli’s men were busy digging in, having heard tanks in the vicinity, but Scopoli had seen nothing of Lieutenant Weston on his way.
Still convinced that the 2nd Platoon was farther to the north, Captain Whitman ordered the group forward again. He and Lieutenant Pierce then started back to G Company, which they reached at 1000, both having been wounded by mortar ¤re on the way. Locating Lieutenant Weston, Captain Whitman ordered him to take his 2nd Platoon to reinforce Sergeant Scopoli’s group. Meanwhile, pushing north, Scopoli’s group came to a traverse track about 150 yards short of the far end of the woods, where it was engaged by German infantry in well-prepared positions and armed with captured BARs and M1s. The Germans were too strong for their small group, and when a tank joined in, they withdrew in good order, encountering Lieutenant Weston and his platoon on the way back. Captain Whitman then had Weston’s platoon deploy in what was really F Company’s sector. There was still no news of either Lieutenant Mason or Lieutenant
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Wilson, and the strength of G Company was down to about forty men, many of whom were wounded.
Lieutenant Colonel Martin now had no communication with his forward units, the only working radio being Captain Blakely’s, which was needed for directing essential artillery support coming from the 248th, 390th, and 919th Battalions. The battalion communications of¤cer, Lt. James C. McCullough Jr., tried ¤ve times to get communication line teams into the woods, but each time they were pinned down in the open and took casualties. The stream of wounded men returning from the woods was the only source of information available.
There were so many injured soldiers coming back that the battalion medical of¤cer, Lt. Percy Heidelberger, took a jeep forward to Sinz and went forward on foot to within three hundred yards of the German tanks southeast of the woods waving his red cross–marked helmet to attract attention. A German tank commander came forward, who allowed Heidelberger to go ahead and treat the wounded as long as he agreed to treat both Germans and Americans. Heidelberger thus managed to save the lives of several men from both sides and was thanked by the German tank commander upon his return. However, his group of wounded then came under ¤re for a while from a Hellcat trying to get at the German tanks, but eventually they got through to Sinz without sustaining further casualties. (Lieutenant Heidelberger was later awarded the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.)
The basic problem the troops faced was the lack of armor to assist the infantry, since the Hellcats were not really up to the task, although they did try; they scored an occasional hit, and one German tank was damaged, although not put out of action. Then heavy rain, which created mud everywhere, made the situation more dif¤cult for everyone. Captain Blakely estimated there were twelve tanks in front of his position. Two of them were hit by phosphorus shells and went off trailing smoke, but the rest appeared to be unaffected by the ¤re he called down on them.
With the enemy tanks sniping at individual soldiers with their 88-mm guns from barely twenty-¤ve yards, and German infantry in¤ltrating their position from the east, at 1130 Captains Whitman and Heath sent a message via Captain Blakely’s radio requesting smoke to cover their withdrawal. Their request was refused, however, and they were told that reinforcements were coming. As the situation continued to deteriorate, Lt.
Second Battle of Sinz / 111
Edward G. Litka, G Company weapons platoon leader, volunteered to go back and emphasize the seriousness of the situation, but he was wounded before he had gone very far and had to crawl back into the woods. He later managed to reach Unterste Büsch Woods. At 1530 Whitman radioed a second request to withdraw. His company was being engaged by at least ten tanks and was under accurate 120-mm mortar ¤re. Again his request was refused, and again he was told that reinforcements were on the way.
At 1615, having been wounded seven hours earlier and now hardly able to walk, Captain Whitman handed over the remaining men of his company to Captain Heath. Whitman was about to set off to meet E Company, who were supposed to be coming up to reinforce them, when Sgt. Manuel M. Delagoes arrived trailing a wire from Unterste Büsch, thus providing the day’s ¤rst contact between Lieutenant Wilson’s platoon and Captain Whitman. Sergeant Delagoes told Whitman how the platoon had got trapped in the open and suffered many casualties. Captain Whitman then telephoned Maj. John R. Dossenbach, the battalion executive of¤cer, to brief him on the situation in Bannholz Woods and arranged to meet Captain Darrah on his way back. As Captain Whitman and Sergeant Scopoli hobbled back to Unterste Büsch Woods, they were overtaken by several soldiers running back. G Company’s forward positions had been overrun by a German counterattack involving ¤ve tanks and a company of panzergrenadiers, and more enemy infantry could be seen preparing to attack.
Lieutenant Colonel Martin was with Captain Darrah’s E Company advancing up the draw leading to Bannholz Woods when he met the battered and exhausted survivors of F and G Companies making their way back at 1655. The men all withdrew to Unterste Büsch Woods, where E and H Companies formed a new line north of the Remich-Sinz highway, while the remains of F and G Companies made their way back to Wies to reorganize. Lack of reliable communications had led to the decimation of the battalion. G Company was now down to 78 men out of the 124 who had entered Bannholz Woods that morning, and F Company had been reduced to 1 of¤cer and 50 men.
At 1147 that day, February 10, I and K Companies of Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st met with only light resistance as they advanced, as planned, to cover the 2nd/376th’s left ®ank in their attack on Bannholz Woods. Capt. William C. Warren’s K Company placed a roadblock across the road leading from Adenholz to Bannholz Woods and laid antitank
112 / Second Battle of Sinz
mines, but they were too far away to be able to see clearly what was going on. When the 2nd/376th were eventually driven out that afternoon, the 3rd/301st were ordered back, but continued to occupy the northernmost tip of Adenholz Woods and the roadblock until the next morning.5
Meanwhile, Major General Franz’s 256th Volksgrenadier Division took over the sector that had previously been occupied by the 11th Panzer Division on February 10, linking up with Grenadier Regiment 713 east of Sinz. However, one tank company of the 11th Panzer Division remained in support of its successors.6
On February 11 Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry took over the left of the division’s line from the 301st Infantry, establishing its headquarters in Wies. Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th relieved Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s battalion and had E and H Companies of the 2nd/376th attached, while Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th relieved the 2nd/301st at Sinz. Major Stanion’s 1st/302nd remained on the division’s extreme left ®ank under command of the 376th.
According to Thurston, McNulty’s battalion suffered several unnecessary casualties during their daytime handover when McNulty sent a convoy of trucks up to Nennig to collect his men, thereby attracting the attention of the enemy artillery. Thurston had expected this and sent his own men marching well dispersed from Besch. When he saw the convoy on the highway, he hastily had his battalion make a detour.
By February 12 all of Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry were recuperating and reorganizing in reserve at Veckring. In response to a request made to XX Corps two days earlier, the men of Lt. Col. Richard P. Sullivan’s 5th Ranger Battalion were transferred from the 26th Infantry Division on the right ®ank to come under the command of the 302nd Infantry and take over a section of the line in a nonoffensive role so as to release the 1st/302nd and 3rd/302nd for operational purposes. Using aggressive patrolling, the 5th Rangers were able to give an impression of greater strength than they actually had, while the battalions they had relieved went into divisional and regimental reserve respectively, the 1st/302nd moving to the town of Apach.
While the 301st Infantry and the two battalions of the 302nd Infantry were out of the line, considerable attention was given to reviewing lessons learned in the previous ¤ghting, particularly the need for better cooperation
Second Battle of Sinz / 113
between the infantry and the tank destroyers. A Mark IV German tank that had been abandoned in Nennig was found by Maj. Samuel H. Hayes, the Assistant G-3 at Division Headquarters, to be still in working order and was used both as a training aid and for experimental purposes.7
General Malony was eager to resume the offensive as outlined in his Division Field Order Number 10. He assumed that since the latest ¤ghting had taken place on his left ®ank, the Germans would have moved most of their resources to the same area, so now would be a good time to strike a blow on the right. As objectives he selected the group of bunkers and pillboxes east of Campholz Woods and west of the Perl-Saarburg highway. Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd was assigned the task for February 15.
Between February 9 and 14, activities in the Campholz Woods were con¤ned to minor skirmishing that resulted from patrolling and holding the positions that had been taken previously. B Company of the 319th Engineers destroyed the bunkers taken west of the woods with explosives. The enemy continued to bring down accurate artillery and mortar ¤re, adding to the misery of life in the muddy woods, where antipersonnel mines still claimed the occasional victim.
In preparation for the attack, a sand table model was constructed at the battalion command post in Borg to enable the of¤cers and NCOs involved to study the terrain in some detail, and the company commanders were even ®own over the area in artillery-spotter aircraft. The main objectives were three pillboxes capped with steel machine-gun cupolas, numbered 151, 152, and 153, surrounded by several other bunkers for accommodating the German infantry who were manning the defenses and surrounding trenches. The whole area was dominated by the higher ground of the Münzingen Ridge to the north.
Major Maixner decided to use E and F Companies for the assault. Captain Kops’s F Company was to thrust forward from the northeast corner of Campholz Woods to secure the high ground around Pillbox 151 and reduce Pillboxes 151 and 153 and three other nearby emplacements to the south. Two platoons of Lt. John D. Anderson’s E Company were to thrust directly east to take Pillbox 152 along with four other emplacements to the south and east of it. They would be supported by Lt. Joseph F. Cody’s heavy machine-gun platoon. E Company’s remaining platoon, under Lt. Oliver K. Smith, was to strike northeast from Borg and seize Pillbox 94. The whole
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operation would be supported by the 301st Field Artillery and C Company, 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion. The 3rd/302nd would continue to hold Campholz Woods during the attack, and diversionary attacks would be mounted to the east by the 5th Rangers and to the west by the 376th Infantry. F Company was driven up to Borg at midnight on February 14, from where Captain Kops’s men marched up to Campholz Woods and were in their forward assembly areas by 0300, followed in turn by E and H Companies.
The men of Lieutenant Alvarado’s assault groups were crouching in the communication trenches marking their line of departure when an intense mortar and artillery concentration descended on the eastern part of the woods, prompting many of the newly arrived and untested replacements to take to their heels. A captured German artilleryman later revealed that the enemy ¤re plan called for six box concentrations on the northern part of the woods that were ¤red at the least suspicion of American activity.8 This bombardment resulted in many casualties to F Company, and it was well into the afternoon before it could reorganize and mount its attack.
On the other hand, E Company got away just before dawn and the 3rd Platoon took Pillbox 152 completely by surprise. A phosphorous grenade thrown into the pillbox set ¤re to some ammunition, and the twenty-¤ve occupants quickly surrendered. Lieutenant Butler’s 1st Platoon seized its objectives with little trouble, and Lieutenant Smith’s platoon was equally successful with Pillbox 94. By 0730, E Company had completed its mission and set up its command post in Pillbox 152. Lieutenant Lewies then provided one of his squads to assist Lieutenant Butler in the defense of the newly won positions. Unfortunately, neither the telephone line nor the radio E Company had brought with them would work, but the company commander, Lieutenant Anderson, and Lt. L. A. Meyer, the artillery ob-server from the 301st Field Artillery, brought fresh batteries with them through a gauntlet of enemy ¤re to reach Pillbox 152.
H Company took a pounding in the woods from the enemy ¤re, during which Lieutenant Cody displayed extraordinary courage in moving about among his men, encouraging them to hold their ground. (For these actions he later received the Silver Star.)
When Lieutenant Alvarado’s assault group from F Company eventually got away, creeping along a series of communication trenches, they found the German defenders of Pillboxes 151 and 153 fully alerted to the situation
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after the fall of Pillbox 152. There was no cover, and a bazooka round ¤red at one of the cupolas simply ricocheted off. The expected tank destroyer support failed to materialize. The men had to dig in under enemy ¤re and wait for nightfall, when it was proposed that the attack should be renewed. Then at about 2000, enemy tanks were heard advancing toward them and they withdrew into the woods once more. Lt. Charles P. Davis was wounded during the withdrawal and became lost in the darkness. Later TSgt. Howard J. Morton of the 2nd Platoon went back with a medic, Tech4 Oscar E. Summerford, found Davis, and brought him in.
The men of E Company also heard the tanks, which came right up to their positions, but a ¤re call from Lieutenant Meyer drove them away again. E Company’s position had previously been held by the 2nd Company of the Germans’ Grenadier Regiment 713, whose commander was now responsible for retaking it. At midnight on February 16, a short mortar and artillery barrage was followed by an attack from about one hundred German infantry supported by ten tanks and self-propelled guns, which approached from the east via a draw running parallel to the east of the highway.
Flares revealed enemy armor swarming all over the area, and Lieutenant Meyer had to call artillery ¤re down on the company position. Lieutenant Smith evacuated the bunker he was occupying east of the main position, but was ordered back in and complied. Pfc. Wayne N. Woolman took a panzerfaust and knocked out a tank between Pillboxes 152 and 10, but TSgt. Tommy Nettles and the men with him were forced to surrender when the barrel of an 88-mm gun was thrust into their bunker. Despite the 301st Field Artillery Battalion’s efforts, the Germans recaptured one small pillbox and three bunkers from E Company.
The Germans attacked again at 0200, concentrating on Pillbox 152, but the ¤re put up by the defense held them in check and they were driven back with heavy losses. Lieutenant Anderson now had only eleven effectives left in Pillbox 152. He informed Battalion that he was evacuating his position, and they headed back to the woods carrying their ¤ve wounded. Once more the lack of armored support had brought failure and heavy casualties to the infantry.9
While this was going on, Lt. Joseph P. Castor III of G Company had been manning a listening post on the outskirts of Oberleuken to warn of any
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enemy attack coming from the direction of Kirf. He had been reporting enemy movements and directing the ¤re of the 301st Field Artillery, which had successfully destroyed several self-propelled guns and in®icted heavy casualties on the German infantry. During the early hours of that same morning SSgt. William R. Moon led a patrol from Lieutenant Castor’s listening post to successfully demolish a troublesome 120-mm mortar position, taking advantage of the Germans’ habit of leaving their mortars to take cover in shelter bunkers during artillery bombardments. On their way back the patrol encountered and took prisoner a three-man mine-laying detail.
The German attack posed a threat to Borg, and Major Maixner recalled F Company from the woods at 0400 to dig in east of the woods, just south of the German pillboxes. He also had some tank destroyers of the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion and one of his own battalion’s antitank guns brought up to safeguard the crossroads north of Borg.10
The previous afternoon the weather had started to clear, and by the morning of February 15 it was cold and bright. Four squadrons of P-47s from the XIXth Tactical Air Command dropped twenty-four tons of high-explosive and phosphorus bombs on Beuren, Das Lee Woods, Bannholz Woods, Kirf, and the woods to the east of Kreuzweiler before stra¤ng Kreuzweiler, Dilmar, Orscholz, and Bannholz Woods, damaging two enemy tanks.11
The lack of armored support for the 94th Infantry Division’s operations was a problem recognized by Major General Walker at XX Corps. It was clear that the division had little chance of breaching the Orscholz Switch without armor. He appealed to General Patton, noting that the 10th Armored Division was resting and stocking up in his area, but General Eisenhower refused to release this reserve until the 94th Infantry Division had proved itself by breaching the Orscholz Switch. Consequently, Walker met General Malony at the 2nd/302nd’s command post in Borg on February 15 to confer. He stressed the need for an early breakthrough and agreed that the successful execution of Malony’s plan to take the Münzingen Ridge should be enough to convince Eisenhower that a breach had been achieved. However, there was only one tank company available. The remainder of the 778th Tank Battalion, whose B Company was already with the 94th, would not arrive before March 16. Malony asked Walker for permission to use the full weight of his division in the next attack, and Walker replied, “All right, shoot the works!”
Meanwhile, Major General Walker at XX Corps had been working on Field Order Number 16, his plan for clearing the Saar-Moselle Triangle. The plan included the use of Major General Morris’s 10th Armored Division, which was now standing by in the Metz area. The division had been fully replenished after its experiences in the Battle of the Bulge and a later attachment to the Seventh Army, in which it had been involved in repelling a German counterattack. It now had two combat commands on call to assist the 94th Infantry Division from February 20.1
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Walker’s unleashing of the 94th Infantry Division resulted in Malony’s Field Order Number 11, calling for a full-scale attack by all three regiments on February 19. Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry was to make the main assault on Münzingen Ridge from Sinz, Butzdorf, and Tettingen with the objectives of Münzingen and Faha. Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry was to attack from Campholz Woods with Orscholz as its main objective. Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry was to seize Bannholz Woods and then secure the division’s left ®ank by supporting the attack on Münzingen Ridge and occupying Der Langen Woods at the northern end, while retaining one battalion of men on trucks as divisional reserve.
The artillery ¤re plan was carefully coordinated by Brigadier General Fortier and Brig. Gen. Julius E. Slack of XX Corps. The corps artillery would engage targets beyond an arbitrary line drawn ¤ve thousand yards from the existing front line. To obtain maximum surprise there would be no ¤ring before H-hour. The corps artillery would begin with ¤fteen minutes of ¤re on German command posts so as to disrupt communications and control. The enemy artillery positions would be engaged for the next thirty minutes with a maximum volume of ¤re, after which neutralization of these positions would continue for a further hour. Then all known and suspected enemy lines of communication would be engaged for the next ten hours. In view of the narrowness of the battle¤eld, it was thought that interdiction on all focal points, such as crossroads and townships, might not only prevent any reinforcement, but might also cause abandonment of vehicles and heavy equipment in case of a retreat. The plan also allowed ®exibility for engaging any targets of opportunity that arose.
The divisional artillery, including the cannon companies of the 301st and 302nd Infantry, would concentrate on the enemy defenses, command posts, and lines of communication within the ¤ve-thousand-yard belt of operations, ¤ring at the maximum sustained rate for thirty minutes after H-hour, thereafter switching to neutralization and on-call requests. The 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion was also given a role in this ¤re plan.
Part of the ¤re plan was a bombing attack by nine squadrons of the U.S. Army Air Force, but because of low, broken clouds on the morning of February 19, their participation in the attack was postponed until the afternoon. All units were urged to carry out detailed reconnaissance. One patrol made it to the crest of Münzingen Ridge and was able to plot the enemy positions there, while another, under Sgt. Frederick J. Ramondini of the 301st’s intel
120 / Division Unleashed
ligence and reconnaissance platoon, actually got into Münzingen, where it found tanks concealed among the buildings. This patrol information was plotted on sand table models so that the troops could be thoroughly briefed beforehand. Meanwhile, the units stocked up with replacements of men and equipment.
On the evening of February 18 the entire division began moving up to its forward assembly areas as the artillery readied themselves to ¤re a devastating ¤fteen-thousand-round preparation.2
Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st, which had Das Lee Woods as its primary objective, left Sinz at 0200 and began climbing the Münzingen Ridge with Captain Frierson’s L Company leading. On the way up, L Company unexpectedly overran a German mortar position and was able to capture the team without attracting attention. The crest of the ridge formed the line of departure, where L Company deployed with Captain Devonald’s K Company on its right. Das Lee Woods could be seen silhouetted against the skyline some six hundred yards away.
The beginning of the artillery preparation at 0400 was the signal to attack, and the two companies moved forward using marching ¤re into the darkness. L Company came across a mine¤eld, but found a lane through it that had been cleared by the enemy tanks, and this allowed the company safe passage. K Company had to blast its way through the same mine¤eld with Primacord. Only minimal enemy resistance was encountered. The troops cleared the woods and dug in on the eastern edge, having taken twenty-six prisoners. Then artillery, rocket, and mortar ¤re began to fall on their positions.
Major Hodge’s 1st/301st, which was to storm the ridge south of Das Lee Woods, marched out of Butzdorf up the Sinz road and turned off of it just short of the village to go up a small draw with Captain Drenzek’s C Company on the left and Lieutenant Cancilla’s B Company on the right.
As C Company moved off at 0400 it immediately encountered mines and came under mortar ¤re. Lt. Walter M. Stempak’s 1st Platoon suffered many casualties, including Stempak himself, so Captain Drenzek withdrew the company to detour around the mine¤eld. The company then pushed forward rapidly to reach its objective before daylight. Drenzek then discovered that he had veered to the north, so he swung his company south, sweeping the top of the ridge to reach their assigned objective, and the
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company dug in. When Drenzek was wounded during the approach, Lt. Howard Johnson took over the command. There were some enemy trenches in front of the company position, so Lieutenant Johnson went ahead with Private First Class Dionne to investigate. He found the trenches occupied by troops who were determined to defend them, but Johnson called for mortar ¤re, which brought a rapid change of mind.
Lieutenant Cancilla’s B Company moved off with the 1st Platoon on the left and Lt. Arthur A. Shocksnyder’s 2nd Platoon on the right. The 2nd Platoon came under misplaced American mortar ¤re and suffered ¤fteen casualties in as many minutes. The men of the 2nd Platoon went on to encircle a German bunker, one of whose occupants was killed and the rest went toward the 1st Platoon to surrender, but ran into the same mine¤eld that was beginning to create havoc. As SSgt. John R. Koellhopper later reported:
Suddenly a mine went off, killing the scout, and the platoon leader set two men to probing for the edge of the ¤eld. No sooner had they started than they were blown up. The explosions alerted the Krauts in a bunker not ¤fty yards away and their machine gun opened up at point-blank range. Men hit the ground setting off more mines as they landed. Legs and feet were blown away. Men began screaming. Others cried, “Medic! Medic!” The men were trapped. They couldn’t move a hand or foot for fear of hitting a Schü-mine. The enemy was throwing mortars and 88s and that machine gun was adding to the hell. The lieutenant was badly wounded. One of the men who had lost both legs was crying, “Get me out of here. God! Oh God! Get me out of here!” The platoon sergeant [TSgt. Henry E. Crandall] was desperately trying to make a path through the mine¤eld. Another man trying to move set off another mine. As this man looked down on what was left of his two feet he started crying like a baby—not screaming, but crying. He didn’t seem to be in pain, the shock must have been too much just then. Another Yank lay there, his bottom half a hell of a shape. All he kept doing was begging his buddy to shoot him. “Shoot me. Please shoot me. Damn it, can’t you see I’m no good any more?” Still another man who was badly wounded was begging his buddy for his overcoat. “I’m cold. Damn I’m cold! Give me your overcoat, won’t you? Oh please . . . please give me your coat?”
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“The bastards! The dirty bastards! Won’t they ever stop?” cried another voice as more and more mortar shells came pouring in. The machine gun ¤ring from the bunker had stopped and the Krauts were shouting something in German. One Yank could understand them. They were hollering, “It hurts, doesn’t it? It hurts!” The platoon sergeant had heroically blasted a path through the mine¤eld and was leading the platoon to the far edge of the ¤eld. More men were lost by the time the platoon had cleared the ¤eld. Now they were able to get at those bunkers. But, no! As the platoon moved up to the bunkers, the Krauts quit. The objective had been reached and there were sixteen men left.
Captain Colgan’s A Company, which was in reserve, had the task of clearing the remaining pillboxes south of the Sinz-Orscholz highway and maintaining contact with the 302nd Infantry on the right. The 1st Platoon occupied positions on the ridge between Butzdorf and Campholz Woods, while the rest of the company was organized into assault teams under Lt. Robert H. Wolf. The assault teams moved east out of Butzdorf up a draw. As they came out into the open, they were caught in a vicious cross¤re from two machine guns. SSgt. Ichiro Matsuzawa managed to crawl unnoticed in the half-light to the nearest one and threw in a grenade and charged. Two Germans were killed by his grenade, and the remaining three were wounded. When they surrendered, Matsuzawa then advanced on the second position and secured its surrender. (He was awarded a Silver Star for this exploit.)
The 2nd Platoon pushed on to clear the bunkers in its path with the aid of the 3rd Platoon, encountering little resistance, and secured the ridge in their assigned sector.3
Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry had its 2nd Battalion holding Campholz Woods, its 1st Battalion in Perl, and the 3rd in Eft. In preparation for the attack, Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd Battalion moved up to the northeast corner of Campholz Woods, collecting ®amethrowers, pole and satchel charges, and other demolition material from stockpiles on the way. Major Stanion’s 1st Battalion followed suit, taking up position just south of the 3rd Battalion. Major Maixner’s 2nd Battalion then withdrew into divisional reserve at Eft. Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan had volunteered his 5th Ranger
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Battalion to assist in the assault, so they were placed under command of the 302nd Infantry with the task of taking the village of Oberleuken.
As the assault companies moved off at 0400, the Germans deluged the area of advance with ®ares. Despite the American artillery preparation, enemy small-arms, machine-gun, and mortar ¤re checked the advance. The Germans continued to use ®ares until daylight so as to prevent any surprise movement. The 2nd Platoon of Captain Williams’s I Company ran into a mine¤eld and suffered several casualties. All attempts to rescue the wounded were driven back by machine-gun ¤re. However, just before dawn, TSgt. James E. Hudson managed to get his assault group through the mine¤eld to storm and take the ¤rst bunker.
As soon as dawn broke, the tanks of B Company, 778th Tank Battalion, moved out from Tettingen on the Sinz road, turning right on the Sinz-Orscholz highway to climb steeply up to the crest of Münzingen Ridge. A tank toward the rear struck a mine, and another bogged down trying to overtake it, but the remaining tanks found some hard ground and followed through. These tanks turned south from the point where the Peace Monument now stands and came to the support of I Company along a track cleared by the 319th Engineers during the night.
The tankers were then briefed on the situation and began tackling the most troublesome pillboxes and bunkers with their 75-mm guns. This had the immediate effect of reducing the enemy machine-gun ¤re and visibility of their mortar observers. Sergeant Hudson’s assault group now pushed on to a second pillbox and placed demolition charges against its apertures. Lieutenant Edwards, the company executive of¤cer, who had assumed command of the company shortly after the beginning of the attack, left Pfc. Ernest L. Buffalini with ¤ve others to ®ush out this position while he led the rest of the company forward.
Pillbox 153 was the northernmost of the complex and the most important, for it incorporated a command post with underground telephone communications and excellent observation facilities. Lieutenant Edwards and TSgt. Edward Cardell used the cover of the tank ¤re support to get their assault groups forward to attack this position. Pfcs. Alvin Cohen and Joseph J. Truss worked their way up to the entrance of the pillbox, where Truss rigged a demolition charge that blew in the door. Cohen then ¤red his BAR into the doorway as Sergeant Cardell and Private Truss threw in fragmentation and phosphorous grenades. The occupants, including Ger
124 / Division Unleashed
man artillery observer Leutnant (2nd Lieutenant) Beikert, who had just been ordering a defensive barrage, surrendered. The barrage then arrived, which drove the Americans and their prisoners back into the pillbox until it was over.
With the reduction of all the pillboxes and bunkers in their sector complete, the men of I Company set up a machine gun to cover their left ®ank. A German machine-gun position was then located in a ditch to the north. The I Company machine gun kept this German position neutralized all day until it was overrun by the 301st Infantry, which advanced from the north and took thirty-eight prisoners.
Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company had an experience that was similar to that of I Company. They hit the same mine¤eld and came under the same heavy ¤re, so that little progress was made until the tanks turned up. Some of the tanks mistook K Company for Germans and started ¤ring at it until Pfc. Ernest E. Climes had the courage to stand up in full view of the enemy and identify himself as American. The tanks then assisted in the systematic reduction of the pillboxes and bunkers in K Company’s sector. Teams led by Sgts. Roy G. Watson and Sgt. Clarence Raffesberger cleared the last two pillboxes, enabling the company to close up to the Perl-Saarburg highway.
Major Stanion’s 1st Battalion to the south encountered similar dif¤culties. Capt. Jack P. Haggart was wounded at the beginning of the attack, leaving Lieutenant Norquist to take over A Company, but the arrival of the tanks enabled the battalion to continue its advance so that by 0900 A and B Companies had also reached the highway. The move had been so fast that some of the enemy positions had been bypassed unnoticed. For example, Pfcs. James Linerich and Tyrone Tywoneck of A Company discovered one bunker that yielded eleven prisoners when they realized it was occupied and attacked it. Sgt. James A. Graham of B Company found another occupied bunker and took ¤ve prisoners. American troops now occupied the whole of the Münzingen Ridge, the key and backbone to the Orscholz Switch, so they could make a valid claim to having breached the Siegfried Line.4
On the division’s left ®ank, Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry was deployed with the 3rd Battalion some two hundred yards north of the Remich-Sinz highway halfway between Nennig and Sinz, and with the 1st Battalion facing Bannholz Woods, less the 3rd Platoon of C Company, which was left
Division Unleashed / 125
to guard Sinz. The remaining line to the Moselle was covered by the 94th Reconnaissance Troop.
During the night of February 18–19, the company commander of one of the German antitank companies mistakenly drove down the road from Kreuzweiler to just outside Sinz, where his vehicle struck an American mine and caught ¤re. The incident proved that Germans had not mined the road in their sector and that it therefore could be used by American armor in support of the attack on Bannholz Woods if necessary.
Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st Battalion moved off at H-hour, with A and B Companies leading on the left and right respectively. Because of the identi¤ed mine¤elds, Captain Dadisman’s A Company advanced on a fairly narrow front. When it reached its objective and started digging in, the company came under raking ¤re from 20-mm antiaircraft guns from Geisbusch Woods and artillery ¤re from the direction of Kreuzweiler. With daylight, groups of Germans who had been bypassed in the woods began to surrender.
Captain Bowden’s B Company also reached its objective with little loss of time and then sent patrols back in daylight to ensure that the woods were clear of enemy soldiers. One patrol came across a disabled German tank being used by two artillery observers as an observation post. With their capture, shelling of the battalion positions was reduced considerably.
Lieutenant Cornelius’s C Company left the line of departure at 0430 using marching ¤re to reach its objective on the northern edge of Bannholz Woods, where it came under intensive mortar ¤re. Pfc. Thomas H. Goggins spotted several of the 20-mm mortar positions ¤ring from Geisbusch Woods, which the accompanying tank destroyers were then able to engage. By 0815 hours the Bannholz Woods were securely in American hands.
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd Battalion advanced from the line of departure north of the highway in Unterste Büsch Woods with K Company, now under the temporary command of Lieutenant Daly, heading for Adenholz Woods, and Captain Brightman’s L Company for Geisbusch Woods. A narrow path had been cleared through a known mine¤eld about four hundred yards ahead on K Company’s route during the previous night, but when the troops started passing through in single ¤le, they were met by heavy machine-gun ¤re. When the men scattered, they inadvertently set off the mines and incurred heavy casualties. After the ¤re lifted, Lieutenant Daly organized the evacuation of the wounded and pulled back his com
126 / Division Unleashed
pany to reorganize. Although wounded himself, Daly continued to lead his company until late afternoon.
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston then added I Company’s 1st Platoon to K Company and ordered them to avoid the mine¤eld by following L Company’s route. Although Captain Brightman’s L Company had been hit by the same barrage, they used marching ¤re as they pushed ahead running across the one thousand yards of open ground to reach Geisbusch Woods.
Lieutenant Daly’s command attacked Adenholz Woods from the south and, supported by tanks, cleared the western half. Daly then passed the armor to Lt. Cecil G. Dansby of I Company to clear the remainder of the woods, which yielded his 1st Platoon some eighty prisoners. (Lieutenant Daly was later awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross for his performance that day, having been previously awarded one for his service in Brittany.)
With the exception of Oberleuken, where an electronically controlled mine¤eld had proved the better of the 5th Ranger Battalion, all the division’s objectives had been taken, but the day was not yet over.5
At 1000 all units were noti¤ed by Division that the attack would be resumed at 1230 to take the ¤nal objectives listed in Field Order Number 11. A ¤fteen-minute artillery preparation commencing at 1215 would be the signal for the attack. This artillery preparation was still in progress when at 1223 General Walker telephoned Colonel Bergquist at the 94th Infantry Division headquarters to inform him that the 10th Armored Division “ought to be on the way in two hours.”6
The 1st Battalion of Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry had suffered heavily in the initial attack, so he ordered the 2nd Battalion to pass through the 1st Battalion and take up the advance on Faha. Lieutenant Colonel Dohs promptly moved his command post out of Wochern up to Münzingen Ridge.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd Battalion prepared to attack the hamlet of Münzingen from the ridge. At H-hour four Shermans and three Hellcats raced out of the cover of Das Lee Woods and down the hillside, crossed the Perl-Saarburg highway north of Münzingen, and climbed the slopes of their objective, a hill referred to as Height 387. Captain Frierson’s L Company did its best to keep up with the armor,
128 / Division Unleashed
eliminating several enemy groups who were trying to engage the armor with panzerfausts. Simultaneously, Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company swept across the highway south of Münzingen, wheeled right, and moved north to join the armor on Height 387. Captain Donovan’s I Company then had the task of reducing the hamlet. A penetration was achieved in the southeast corner, leading to a ferocious battle in which the German tanks that had been previously reported in the hamlet joined in. I Company kept up the pressure as they worked from the south, reducing one building after another, while the rest of the battalion on Height 387 prevented any breakout. One German tank tried to shoot its way out but was checked by the Hellcats from hull-down positions on the hill and destroyed. By 1620 Münzingen was safely in American hands.
K and L Companies on Height 387 could hear Germans in Das Brüch Woods east of them, so TSgt. Elmer H. Kinateder’s 3rd Platoon of L Company was sent to investigate. They returned shortly with thirty prisoners who had been about to launch a counterattack.
The two assault companies of Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s 2nd/301st formed up on the reverse slope of Münzingen Ridge and then swept across through the 1st Battalion at H-hour and down across about twenty-¤ve hundred yards of open ground to reach the little village of Faha. Artillery ¤re fell on them as they advanced, but the troops kept going, reached their objective, and began ¤ghting for its possession. By 1630 more than half the village had been taken and its conquest assured, so G Company was sent off to seize Height 406, the Alterberg, that dominated the village from the north. By 1830 the village had been taken, and G Company linked up with the 3rd Battalion to the northeast.7
On Height 406 was a German artillery observation post, which had been manned since January 29 by a small team under Staff Sergeant Schaewen of the 4th Battalion, Artillery Regiment 416. Schaewen’s logbook was discovered several years later, and his entry for this day read:
Suddenly at 0400 hours an abrupt heavy barrage of salvoes fell on Oberleuken, the line of bunkers and the northern corner of the Das Lee copse. It was as if the maws of hell had opened. Half an hour later the artillery hammered Kirf. At 0555 hours phosphor shells fell on Kirf and Freudenburg. At the same time the artillery ¤re jumped over
Division Unleashed / 129
the rear area with a barrage on Trassem. Towards 0630 hours individual ®ares rose over the waterworks area, the Münzingen and Faha parish water tower in the Das Lee copse. There were several bursts of machine-gun ¤re in the direction of Borg[,] and ri®e ¤re from the direction of Das Lee copse could be heard. Shortly after daybreak, at about 0815 hours, the ¤rst smoke shells landed with a thump right on the observation post.
0830–0930 hours, seven tanks in the direction of Potsdamer Platz with 20–25 men.8 1030 hours, sounds of combat from direction of Potsdamer Platz-Oberleuken. 1215 hours, tanks in the waterworks area. 1222 hours, heavy barrage on Münzingen, 200 shots. 1227 hours, barrage on the Alterberg. 1248 hours, infantry attacking between Das Lee copse and waterworks, among them a lot of men with raised arms. 1300 hours, tanks breaking through to the Kirf road. 1315 hours, enemy in company strength on Münzingen-Faha road.9
Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry had to modify their plans as a result of the 5th Ranger Battalion’s failed attack earlier in the day. The 1st Battalion, which had originally been given the mission of taking Kesslingen, was switched to taking Oberleuken, and the 3rd Battalion was assigned to Kesslingen in its place.
To reach Oberleuken, Major Stanion’s 1st Battalion had ¤rst to take Height 388, which overlooked the village from the west and was well forti¤ed. A and B Companies crossed the Perl-Saarburg highway with some tanks of the 778th Tank Battalion and moved rapidly up Height 388, taking pillboxes and bunkers in quick succession. Enemy artillery and mortar ¤re fell on the hill, but mainly on the rear elements, with the assault companies suffering few casualties. The bald hilltop offered no cover to the heavy machine-gun ¤re coming from the pillboxes around Oberleuken, so it was decided to withdraw to the reverse slope, leaving only a few observers on the crest.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Robinson’s C Company had moved out of Borg with the intention of attacking Kesslingen in accordance with the original plan, and it was not until he arrived at Height 388 that Robinson learned about the change of plan. The platoon of tanks that were to accompany his company were already in position on the northern foot of the hill, ready to attack Kesslingen, so Pfc. Bernard Piotrzkowski was sent forward to inform
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the tankers of the change. By banging with his ri®e butt on the turret of the ¤rst tank, the lieutenant was able to attract the attention of its crew and get the message passed by radio to the others. The tanks then changed position and started ¤ring at the pillboxes that were defending Oberleuken.
C Company then advanced over the hill as the 302nd’s cannon company and the 301st Field Artillery Battalion bombarded the village. Pfc. Edward C. Burnshaw, a member of a forward observation team, continued directing the artillery ¤re despite being badly wounded by an exploding mine. (For his devotion to duty while in intense pain he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.)
The ¤re was lifted as the infantry approached, and SSgt. Frederick R. Darby led the infantrymen in, ¤ring a light machine gun from the hip. Once the infantry had gained a foothold, they were followed in by two tanks to provide close support, while the remainder of the platoon provided covering ¤re. By 1630 the village had been cleared and 110 prisoners and seven 120-mm mortars had been taken.
Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd Battalion, with I and K Companies in the lead, stormed forward some two thousand yards to Height 376, the Kesslinger Berg, northwest of Kesslingen, and took it quickly, despite coming under artillery and mortar ¤re on the way. Fire was also directed at the accompanying tanks from Oberhardt Woods, north of the hill. The tanks returned ¤re, and four BAR men from Captain Williams’s I Company— Pfcs. Alvin Cohen, James M. Bender, and Kyle Thompson, and Pvt. Edward May¤eld—were sent to check out the woods, which they did by encircling from the north. To their surprise, the only enemy they encountered were two women manning an antitank gun.
The men of Lieutenant Travers’s L Company were then brought forward from reserve to Height 376 to complete the battalion mission by taking the village. An artillery preparation was arranged, and Lt. Charles C. Misner’s 2nd Platoon charged down the hill under cover of ¤re from the tanks. The platoon met ¤erce resistance. TSgt. Francis E. Kelly, the platoon sergeant, was badly wounded in the neck from an exploding mine, but refused to be evacuated. Lieutenant Misner went back alone to guide the tanks in, then rejoined his platoon to display some inspiring leadership, while Sergeant Kelly directed the tank ¤re at the worst points of resistance. The ¤erce struggle for the town continued until 1730, after which Misner and Kelly supervised the evacuation of the numerous wounded. (Lieuten
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ant Misner was later awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for this action, and Sergeant Kelly received a Silver Star.)
At nightfall Captain Woods’s B Company moved down from Height 388 into the Unter den Eichen Woods between Kesslingen and Oberleuken to link the new locations of the 302nd Infantry’s 1st and 3rd Battalions. T5g. Robert Hoots and Pfc. William B. McElwee were sent forward to man a machine-gun post at the junction of the Kesslingen road with the Remich-Orscholz highway and found a German machine-gun team already occupying the site. They captured the German team and also its relief who arrived the next morning to take over.10
Behind the 301st and 302nd Infantry, the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion had had a busy day blowing up German installations and clearing the roads of mines, as well as bridging the antitank ditches on the Perl-Saarburg highway and Borg-Oberleuken road.11
Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry, on the left ®ank, also helped increase the size of the breach in the Orscholz Switch that afternoon. At 1100 Lieutenant Colonel Miner was recalled to Sinz to be given ¤nal instructions on the taking of Der Langen Woods northeast of Sinz and Height 398, the Ehringer Berg, beyond it.
Regiment allocated A Company, 708th Tank Destroyer Battalion, to support the 1st/376th with six Hellcats, and the 3rd Platoon of C Company, which had been detached to guard Sinz that morning, was returned to the battalion. E Company of the 2nd Battalion was ordered to replace the 1st Battalion in Bannholz Woods.
Lieutenant Colonel Miner had all the heavy machine guns of D Company deployed on the northeastern edge of Bannholz Woods to assist with ¤re support for the assault by A and B Companies. It was 1300 before they could move off under their own covering ¤re, with Captain Bowden’s B Company on the left and Captain Dadisman’s A Company on the right, while the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion provided a smoke screen to block enemy observation from the north between Moscholz Woods and the Münzingen Ridge. The troops advanced in squad columns until they reached within two hundred yards of their objectives. They then formed skirmish lines as the ¤re cover lifted.
B Company came under a very heavy artillery and mortar concentration as they approached Der Langen Woods. The 1st Platoon was pinned down
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for almost an hour by en¤lade ¤re coming from 20-mm guns in Moscholz Woods, but the remainder of the company reached Der Langen Woods. SSgts. Charles H. Nichols and Robert E. Burnett led their squads through a series of communication trenches that encircled the woods, eliminating the Germans they encountered.
The Hellcats then moved forward to close up with the infantry, but three of them were knocked out in quick succession by an 88-mm gun concealed in Moscholz Woods. The remaining Hellcats then continued to Der Langen Woods by a less exposed route, only to have the leading vehicle knocked out by an 88-mm gun concealed in the southeast corner, which in turn was attacked and captured by the infantry. Staff Sergeant Brewster of the 919th Field Artillery then called for a concentration on the enemy guns in Moscholz Woods. In the end, it took several concentrations to subdue the enemy artillery here.
A Company discovered a whole network of trenches south of Der Langen Woods. Private First Class Kamins came across a German soldier crying in one of these trenches. When called upon to surrender, the German pointed silently to a nearby position, and Kamins was able to take another ¤fteen prisoners. By 1400 the whole of the area was securely in American hands. That evening the battalion was informed that reserve troops would take over as soon as the 10th Armored Division passed through the next morning.12
The day’s operations had yielded seven square miles of dominating ground, with the capture of 5 pillboxes, 23 bunkers, and 827 prisoners, and the destruction of 4 enemy tanks. The way was now open for the 10th Armored Division to enter the fray, and all through the night of February 19–20 the vehicles of that division moved forward into the 94th Infantry Division’s
General of Infantry Walther Hahn’s LXXXII Corps had both the 416th Infantry and the 256th Volksgrenadier Divisions engaged. The American artillery ¤re had prevented the redeployment of reserves earlier in the day, and by day’s end there were no troops available to mount counterattacks to regain any of the lost ground. Serious consideration was given to withdrawing into the main Westwall defenses across the Saar while it was still possible to move the artillery and heavy equipment, but Army Group G would
Division Unleashed / 133
not accept this. Instead they ordered the standard counterattack to regain lost ground for such a situation and the release of those surrounded bunker crews who were still in touch on the fortress underground network. Consequently, two companies of infantry were alerted and some self-propelled guns were ordered forward from their harbor area near Saarburg. The fortress artillery batteries sited near Mettlach were ordered to provide support.
The attack at daybreak achieved surprise and contact was made with some of the surrounded bunkers, but American artillery supremacy soon brought an end to this enterprise.14
At 1800 hours on February 19 the men of Colonel McClune’s 376th Infantry were transferred lock, stock, and barrel to Major General Morris’s 10th Armored Division, together with one company of the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion, to form Task Force 376. The reason for this transfer was that the structure of an American armored division at that time did not provide suf¤cient infantry to allow it to operate satisfactorily in an area like the Saar-Moselle Triangle with its many towns and villages. However, as we shall see, the result was that the brunt of the infantry work during the next phase of operations would fall to the 376th in order to preserve the integral armored infantry battalions for future operations.
The 10th Armored Division consisted basically of three tank battalions, three armored infantry battalions, and three ¤eld artillery battalions that were split between three combat commands—A, B, and R—commanded by Brig. Gen. Edwin W. Piburn, Col. William L. Roberts, and Col. Wade C. Gatchell respectively. These combat commands were then normally divided into two combat teams, all of which remained highly ®exible in composition to meet varying operational demands.1
The 376th had a temporary attachment of Capt. Scott T. Ashton’s 94th Reconnaissance Troop and the Division Headquarters defense platoon, the latter having volunteered to get some action as a change from guard duties. General Walker tasked the remainder of the 94th Infantry Division with clearing the eastern part of the Triangle between the Leuk Branch and the Saar River. The 10th Armored Division’s mission was to attack the northeast and make every effort to seize intact the bridges at Wiltingen and Kanzem and establish a bridgehead to protect them. These bridges would
Clearing the Triangle / 135
give access to Trier, Patton’s main objective, but the 10th Armored Division’s initial objectives were given as, ¤rst, the high ground between Wincheringen on the Moselle and Saarburg and, second, the northern tip of the Triangle.
On the left ®ank the action started with an attack on Schloss Thorn and the huddle of houses around it by Lt. Frank A. Penn’s Headquarters defense platoon. Supported by two light and two medium tanks, the troops delivered a ¤ve-minute artillery preparation. The attack was launched at 0700 on February 20 and immediately came under heavy mortar and artillery ¤re. Densely positioned antipersonnel mine¤elds protected the troops’ approaches, and one of the tanks was disabled by an antitank mine. Its crew dismounted and joined in as infantry, but the tank commander and a corporal were killed by enemy ¤re. Leaving one tank to secure the valley road, the other two tanks provided close support for the attacking infantry.2
A German view of the attack is provided by Ernest Henkel, then serving with Regiment 481 of the 256th Volksgrenadier Division, who was in the castle as a forward observer for a mortar platoon equipped with 80-mm mortars:
I woke at dawn on the 20th February to unusual sounds. I went through the small stairwell up to the big corner room, from where one had the best view of the gully and the road leading up from the Moselle. I leaned out of the window with a stick grenade. I caught my breath. The little road was buzzing with activity. American infantry, with the occasional Jeep, were making their way up.
I hurried back to the cellar. A corporal from a section of infantry occupying a cellar outside our yard burst in from the inner courtyard, took an assault ri®e and left the cellar again by the outside steps. I told them in the cellar what was happening and slipped back up again.
In the castle courtyard, seen quite close from the landing, an American tank drove in with a man on the back behind a heavy machine gun or quick-¤ring cannon. He was not being heroic, just damn stupid. Only the fact that I had left my ri®e in the cellar saved his life. So back to the cellar, grab my ri®e and back up again, but the tank had gone. Even today, after several post-war visits to the castle, I still cannot understand how he got in and then vanished again. He could
136 / Clearing the Triangle
not have come in through the arched gateway, as it was too narrow. But through the gateway I could see a Sherman tank with its gun pointing toward us.
I turned round again, crossed the corridor and went down the narrow steps, stopping at the intermediate landing. Through the arrowslit I had a good view of the road and the hilly ground beyond. American infantry were coming through a narrow gap in this hilly ground and jumping down on to the roadway. That was what we had heard the night before. Sheltered by the hills, the Americans had dug a communications trench parallel to the Moselle riverbank road and made the last cutting during the night. The ¤rst steep difference in height had to be covered with a two-meter jump down, the remaining four or six meters by sliding down as best as one could. Strangely enough, the GIs were not even looking at the castle where their enemy was. They saw their problem as being the ¤rst jump.
Without hesitation, I set my sights at 100 meters and took aim at the ¤rst one. He looked down, jumped, and I squeezed the trigger. Hit as he jumped, he bent his knees and slid down on his stomach down to the roadway, where he lay still on his stomach. I reloaded and already the next candidate was preparing to jump. He was a small, fat chap. I squeezed the trigger and he slid down on top of his comrade. A third man had already appeared. The game was repeated, he jumped and I ¤red.
Now some medical orderlies appeared. At the same time a Jeep drove up the road and an of¤cer in the front passenger seat started giving instructions with many gestures. From the white stripe on his helmet I could easily see that he was a lieutenant. After my shot he slumped forward and slid down. Because of the medical orderlies that attended to him straight away, I held my ¤re. Apart from this, I could hear the crunch of footsteps from outside. If the Americans were already there and one of them threw a hand grenade through the arrow-slit, that would be my lot. Despite these thoughts, I still tried to bring a machine gun into position, but the slit was too narrow. I could not set up the bipod properly, nor could I lean forward into it enough to take the recoil. My attempt failed miserably. The recoil ripped into my right shoulder and the machine gun fell clattering to
Clearing the Triangle / 137
the ground. Now I had had enough. I went down into the cellar, where the lads looked at me questioningly. I gave a brief account and came to the conclusion: “We are sitting like rats in a trap!”
The artillery forward observer told me that he had ordered ¤re on our own position. I do not know whether we as forward observers for the mortars had given a similar order with Very Lights [signal rockets ¤red from a special pistol]. It is unlikely, for the ¤ring position must have been experiencing the same as ourselves. Schloss Thorn was being raked by our own weapons, and there was also heavy ¤re on the American infantry advancing on Kreuzweiler.
After a short discussion we came to the decision to give ourselves up, otherwise we would be smoked out. One of us would have to go outside. Nobody wanted to be the one to go, but the lads picked on me as apparently I had once casually said something about speaking a little English. I opened the cellar door and climbed over the corpse of the corporal that had collected an assault ri®e from us. He had been shot in the head by a sniper from the other side of the Moselle. The damaged screen that had sheltered us from view from the other side of the Moselle had fallen down, and we had not found it necessary to put it up again last night. No one had felt responsible, and this poor devil died because of it.
My main problem was now the sniper across the way, for as I climbed the steps he would have me in his sights. Would the same thing happen to me as to the poor devil on the cellar steps? I knew from my own experience how great the urge is to squeeze the trigger when one has one’s enemy in one’s sights. I raised my hands as high as they would go, climbed the ¤rst step and shouted out aloud: “American soldiers, we surrender!”3
Once the castle and the surrounding buildings had been taken, yielding twenty-¤ve prisoners, the 1st Platoon of Captain Ashton’s 94th Reconnaissance Troop secured the area, but then at 2200 the castle was bombarded by 120-mm mortars, wounding ¤fteen men of the platoon. This composite force was supposed to revert to its parent division when the armor passed through, but the tanks had top priority on the roads for their move forward, so it took until the following day for the change to occur.4
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Farther to the right, Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th advanced on Kreuzweiler, as described by Capt. Frederic D. Standish III of F Company:
The Line of Departure was the edge of a deep draw to the south of the village, just east of the Thorn-Sinz road. With Companies F and G leading, the attack left the Line of Departure at 0600 and led across an open ¤eld toward the woods immediately south of the village. Following an artillery barrage on the edge of the woods, which lit up the ¤eld with a cold light in white ®ashes, the foot troops advanced at a slow run, protected on both ®anks of the narrow attacking column by heavy machine guns of Company H. Just inside the edge of the woods, the men who were new to combat, some 120 in all in the two advance companies, momentarily froze. The plan of attack called for a marching ¤re operation to carve a swathe through the woods, and probably the intense bedlam of noise caused the men fear. However, this was but a momentary reaction, and again the columns swept forward, literally tearing the trees and undergrowth to shreds by a continual hail of ¤re.
It was impossible during the advance to give orders or signal, or do anything but shoot and run forward. Almost before anyone knew it, the far edge of the woods was reached, and then it became apparent that it would be quite a task to actually ¤nd the village of Kreuzweiler. Fog and smoke had obliterated any trace of civilization. But Captain [Arthur] Dodson and myself agreed that the column had swung too far to the right in order to get a straight shot at the village. As soon as the fog and smoke cleared, the companies entered the village and cleared it, but even before the last houses had been searched, a task force of the 10th Armored Division rolled through the town. Tanks, half-tracks, two-and-a-halfs and even jeeps. Strangely enough, while snipers were still shooting down the streets, there appeared the armored division commander in his jeep, followed by the corps commander in his, followed by another general in his. Surely now the Siegfried Line had been cracked, and the whole XX Corps could pour through.5
Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th attacked Kreuzweiler at 0805, and by 1000 half the village had been cleared and ninety-six prisoners
Clearing the Triangle / 139
taken, every building having to be fought for, so platoons were passed one through the other to keep up the pressure on the Germans. At about 1300 a counterattacking force of four tanks and about one hundred infantry was seen moving south from the village of Dilmar on the road into Kreuzweiler. When it reached a road junction at the halfway point that had already been registered by the 919th Field Artillery, it was stopped cold by a devastating barrage.
Combat Command R started passing through Kreuzweiler at 1335, a blown bridge on the riverside road having caused this detour from the riverside route. The tanks passed through the still enemy-occupied parts of the village with their guns blazing and moved on through Dilmar. Kreuzweiler was completely cleared within the next half hour, with a total bag of one hundred prisoners. The battalion then had to clear the woods in the area.
Farther east Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd Battalion moved northward and eastward in the wake of the 10th Armored, meeting with no opposition as formidable as that they had encountered during the early days of the attack on the Switch. By 1100 the battalion had reached Bilzingen, where they were ordered to wait. They used the time to regroup and then moved on again at 1700 to Mannebach, where the 376th Infantry’s command post, moving ahead on wheels, was already established.
The 10th Armored Division’s plan of attack deployed Combat Command R on the left, A on the right, and B in reserve. Once Schloss Thorn and Kreuzweiler were taken, Combat Command R had a clear run to Wincheringen, which was already in American hands after an assault by the XII Corps’ 2nd Cavalry Group across the Moselle that morning.
Combat Command A was split into Task Force Chamberlain advancing on the left and Task Force Richardson on the right. Task Force Chamberlain was deployed between Merschweiler and Eft by 0100, and the team commanders were then given their orders for the attack. This task force was to advance via Tettingen and Sinz to seize the high ground between Bilzingen and Körrig in the ¤rst phase, and then along the Fischönsdorf-Fellerick axis to seize the high ground near Tawern at the northern tip of the Triangle. Teams Shaddeau, O’Grady, and Holehouse were to move up to the line of departure in that order. Team Holehouse, which contained most of the infantry, would remain initially as reserve in Sinz.
The columns moved off at 0600, but were then delayed by a traf¤c jam
140 / Clearing the Triangle
resulting from having to trace an unmapped American mine¤eld that had taken out the leading tank as it approached the line of departure. There was also uncertainty about the location of the 376th Infantry’s front line.
The line of departure was eventually crossed at 0855 by Team Shaddeau. Team O’Grady had been ordered to wait in Sinz, where it could oversee Team Shaddeau’s progress cross-country and so avoid the enemy mine¤elds and numerous antitank positions. Team Shaddeau ®ushed twenty Germans out of their foxholes in Moscholz Woods on the left and thirty-¤ve more from the Waldtresch Woods northeast of the village of Beuren, where an artillery position with ¤ve 75-mm guns and three half-tracks was destroyed. Occasional enemy small-arms, artillery, and mortar ¤re was encountered, but Team Shaddeau was able to make good progress and reached the high ground dominating the village of Dittlingen by 1400 without much dif¤culty, although they had lost four tanks.
Team O’Grady then took over the lead with Team Holehouse following to mop up the ground that had already been cleared by the tanks and to prepare the road for their supply trains. Contact was established with the 2nd Cavalry Group from across the Moselle near Söst. Further progress was slowed down by enemy artillery ¤re, numerous craters, roadblocks, and the hilly ground, but by 1700 Teams O’Grady and Shaddeau had reached their day’s objective—the high ground near Tawern. However, there appears to have been a lack of urgency at this point, for the orders to go on and seize the vital bridges across the Saar at Kanzem and Wiltingen were not issued until 1220 the next day, with the inevitable result that the enemy was able to blow the bridges as late as the early hours of February 22.
Meanwhile, Team Holehouse had cleared Dittlingen in a two-hour ¤ght that yielded forty-¤ve prisoners. The team then went on to clear Merzkirchen village and took an additional thirty prisoners. The supply trains, attached tank destroyers, and supporting ¤eld artillery battalions closed in on Dittlingen by early evening.
The men of Task Force Richardson, taking the Perl-Saarburg highway, made contact with the enemy just before reaching the village of Kirf, where they ran into a mine¤eld. The engineers cleared a passage for the tanks, but shortly afterward the column was hit by ¤re from assault guns and machine guns coming from the approaches to the village. This resistance was quickly overcome and the tanks moved into the village.
Team Billet was then ordered cross-country left of Kirf to attack the
Clearing the Triangle / 141
next village, Meurich, from the west. But they ran into antitank ¤re and were held up for thirty minutes until the mortars of Headquarters Company were able to silence the enemy positions. Meurich then fell without further resistance.
The remainder of Task Force Richardson then turned north off the highway for the village of Kelsen, where the command post of Regiment 456 of the 256th Volksgrenadier Division was overrun and some ninety prisoners taken.6
Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s 2nd/301st set off for Freudenburg at 0715, crossing the Leuk Branch, whose bridges had been blown, so the supporting tanks and tank destroyers had to wait until the engineers ¤nished constructing a bridge. There was a steep climb up to the town from the branch. Resistance was slight and a battery of Russian 76.2-mm guns was surprised and captured, but only after enemy gunners had destroyed the guns.
Captain Sinclair’s F Company fought its way into the southwest corner of the town shortly before noon and encountered strong resistance. Captain Stockstadt’s E Company joined in, but progress was slow until Lieutenant Christiansen’s G Company was committed from reserve in the midafternoon, and the town was then secured by nightfall.
Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st did not start off toward Kollesleuken until 0800, moving out in column of companies with Captain Frierson’s L Company leading. Part of this unit lost their direction in Das Brüch Woods and emerged in the 2nd Battalion’s sector. Advised of this circumstance, the troops went back into the woods and came across their supporting tanks, which they mounted and then moved due east down the open ridge toward the Leuk Branch. However, as they emerged on the crest overlooking Kollesleuken, they came under ¤re from the north and the advance came to a halt. They pulled back to reorganize when they realized that the ¤re was coming from German units that had been forced out of Kirf by Combat Command A’s advance. The tanks and infantry then deployed to engage the enemy in the valley below, forcing them back into the woods north of the Kirf-Kollesleuken road.
The 1st Platoon of L Company set off to out®ank the German column, but were held in check by a German machine gun when they got close to the strip of woodland on the nearside of the stream separating the main woods from the road. The 2nd and 3rd Platoons then provided covering
142 / Clearing the Triangle
¤re, which failed to relieve the pressure on the 1st Platoon. Communications with Battalion were out, so the tanks and heavy machine guns that were with the company lined up along the crest and were ¤red in lieu of artillery, enabling L Company’s 2nd and 3rd Platoons, together with Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company, to charge down the hill and across the stream into the woods beyond. K Company cleared the woods, while L Company turned east into Kollesleuken, where there was some bitter ¤ghting before the village was secured at 1500.
Captain Donovan’s I Company then occupied Kollesleuken with the task of maintaining contact with Combat Command A in Kirf. The remainder of the battalion then moved on across the Leuk Branch. The bridge across the stream had been burned, but the tanks and tank destroyers were able to use a ford. The men of Company L’s 2nd Platoon were then detailed as tank escorts, swiftly overtaking their comrades on foot as the track vehicles drove straight up the Eiderberg overlooking the northern tip of Freudenburg. Four pillboxes on the southern edge of this hill quickly surrendered.7
Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd moved off at 0700 on February 20, heading for the village of Weiten with I Company on the left, L Company on the right, and K Company in reserve. Halfway to their objective, the assault companies came under ¤re from two heavy machine guns on Height 366 in front of them. Pfc. Peter Maculawicz and two other men out®anked the enemy from the right and charged the nearest gun, taking the crew prisoner. The second enemy machine gun then succumbed to the combined ¤re coming from the assault companies.
As the battalion continued across the hill and down the far side, they saw that the bridge across the Leuk Branch below was still intact. As they got nearer, a lone German soldier was seen racing through the woods for the bridge and was pinned down by ri®e ¤re, while the leading elements of Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company made a dash for the bridge, which the Germans had fully prepared for demolition. The demolition wires were cut and all the troops crossed on dry foot, except for those of Captain Williams’s I Company, on the left, who had to wade the stream.
The battalion then waited in the woods west of Weiten for their armored support. A Battery of the 465th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion was
Clearing the Triangle / 143
the ¤rst to arrive and used its quadruple .50-caliber machine guns to rake the village. The tanks drove straight for the village, but were engaged by a German antitank gun as they emerged into the open. Lt. Carmen L. Ramirez of L Company took the 2nd Platoon to out®ank the gun, which was knocked out by Pfcs. Raymond H. Laabs and William F. Eggers.
The tanks moved forward once more, ¤ring at the buildings at the western end of the village, then at 1415 I and L Companies attacked both sides of the Faha road. After the leading platoons had reached the center of the village, SSgt. James E. Capps led the 4th Platoon and Company Headquarters to mop up behind the assault. In one house they found the command post of Grenadier Regiment 713 with several German staff of¤cers, who told them that the attack had been totally unexpected. Several armored vehicles and some antitank weapons were discovered intact under camou®age netting. It seemed that the disruption of German communications had been complete. The village was secured by nightfall.
Major Stanion’s 1st/302nd moved off from its overnight positions near Oberleuken on the morning of February 20 and began the lengthy process of clearing the Unter den Eichen Woods on the way to Orscholz. They reduced six enemy-held pillboxes that day.8
Task Force Gaddis was formed from Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd and Lieutenant Colonel Miller’s 1st/301st under Lt. Col. John W. Gaddis, the executive of¤cer of the 302nd Infantry, for the purpose of taking the large village of Orscholz at the eastern end of the Switch. The task force assembled in Kesslingen on the night of February 19 and set off the following morning with the 2nd/302nd following some four hundred yards behind the 3rd/302nd as it advanced on Weiten.
Gaddis had selected a position in the woods ¤ve hundred yards northwest of Orscholz for his forward assembly area. The advance was led by G Company, followed in turn by E and F Companies, with the 1st/301st four hundred yards farther back. The lead scout, Pfc. Robert S. Karlix, took the initiative as they approached the assembly area at 1150, capturing nineteen prisoners with three horse-drawn carts. The plan was to attack south using the Weiten road as the boundary between the 1st/301st on the right and the 2nd/302nd on the left. The 301st Field Artillery provided artillery support for the operation, having observers with both battalions. H Company’s
144 / Clearing the Triangle
mortars were also in the forward assembly area, as were a platoon each of light and medium tanks. These tanks had problems crossing the Leuk Branch, so the attack was postponed until they were in position.
Meanwhile, a patrol led by Sgt. Simond J. Sendric was sent off toward Weiten to check whether the area behind the task force was clear of the enemy and to establish contact with the 3rd/302nd. While this was happening, Captain Butler’s E Company, which had been designated as battalion reserve, dug in to foil any enemy attempt at a counterattack.
With the armor ¤nally in place, the attack was launched at 1400, too late to arrange an artillery preparation, so the tanks provided covering ¤re. Sgt. Joseph A. Romanowski’s heavy machine-gun section backed Captain Kops’s F Company on the far left as it advanced and came under ¤re from enemy machine guns in Orscholz. F Company then charged straight in. Captain Grif¤n’s G Company negotiated some mine¤elds north of the village and began clearing their section of the village without too much dif¤culty. Once in the village, which had been shattered by bombing and previous bombardments, Pfc. James Heard of H Company set up his heavy machine gun to cover the main street and prevent any enemy crossing. One of his crew was hit by sniper ¤re, but the sniper threw down his ri®e and surrendered as other infantrymen closed in on him. By 1800 the battalion had completed clearing their part of the village. The battalion command post then moved into the village and began planning operations to clear the area to the south the next day.
The 1st/301st, whose B and C Companies had been seriously depleted in the attack on Münzingen Ridge the day before, used Capt. Charles B. Colgan’s A Company for the assault, with the others mopping up behind. The battalion experienced little dif¤culty taking their part of the village house by house.9
February 20 had been an extremely successful day for the 10th Armored and 94th Infantry Divisions, and General Walker at XX Corps was quite pleased. That same morning he presented General Malony with the Bronze Star for the 94th’s success of the previous day.
Final clearance of the Triangle was now obviously in sight, a matter of hours perhaps. That afternoon all German troops that were not needed for the ¤ghting west of the Saar were ordered to withdraw to the east bank of the river. The defense of the Saar-Moselle Triangle had cost the Germans
Clearing the Triangle / 145
1,024 soldiers killed, 1,592 wounded, and 2,390 prisoners. The German artillery had lost nineteen guns to air attack and artillery ¤re, and a further sixteen pieces had been overrun and captured intact.
The 94th U.S. Infantry Division had lost just over 1,000 soldiers. According to the regimental history, during these ¤rst three days of its attachment to the 10th Armored Division, the 376th Infantry sustained 176 battle and 34 nonbattle casualties.10
At 0900 on February 21, Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th and Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th began a massive sweep of the western part of the Triangle from just north of Kreuzweiler, each battalion with three companies abreast. They met with virtually no resistance and came across evidence of the formidable force of the American artillery and bombing attacks on German artillery positions. The only mishap occurred when G Company emerged from the northern edge of Loschenkopf Woods and was ¤red on by elements of the 10th Armored Division. Captain Dodson then went forward with an improvised white ®ag and identi¤ed himself.
At 1800 the 2nd/376th assembled at Wincheringen, where they were told to proceed to Mannebach immediately. The 3rd/376th reached Bilzingen a half hour later and was given the same instructions, while the 1st/376th, which had been motorized and placed in regimental reserve before the attack of February 19, was also ordered forward to Mannebach.11
With the 301st Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Dohs’s 2nd Battalion continued their advance from Freudenburg in the morning, encountering no resistance, and by 1100 the men of Captain Sinclair’s F Company were looking down on the Saar River. Similarly, Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd Battalion pushed on to reach the village of Kastel on the heights overlooking the Saar. Although the battalion encountered some resistance, the village was secured by 1025.
Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd pushed on due east out of Weiten to take the villages of Taben, Rodt, and Hamm by the middle of the afternoon, while Major Stanion’s 1st/302nd completed clearing the highway and woods up to Orscholz from Oberleuken.
Major Hodges’s 1st/301st remained in Orscholz all day, while B Company’s 2nd Platoon was sent to investigate the pillboxes south of the village, most of which were unoccupied. 1st Sgt. William M. Kelley, one of the
146 / Clearing the Triangle
survivors of the disastrous ¤rst attack on Orscholz, volunteered to accompany the patrol, as it would be passing through the area where the company had been isolated. He found several items of clothing bearing serial numbers he recognized, and he also came across the graves of some of the men whom the Germans had buried south of the village.
Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd’s E and G Companies also searched the area south of the village in their respective sector. A roadblock at the southern end of the village had to be blown to allow the accompanying armor to pass through. At the ¤rst bunker they came to they saw a German soldier sitting at the entrance calmly reading a newspaper. He told them that nearly all the German soldiers had ®ed during the night, and he was one of only two prisoners taken by the American soldiers. As Lieutenant Butler of E Company led his men to the last bunker near Nohn, contact was established with the 5th Ranger Battalion covering that ®ank.
That evening Lieutenant Hunter of F Company’s 1st Platoon took a combat patrol, augmented by one light and two medium tanks and a mortar squad, to check out the village of Keuchlingen, which lies at the bottom of the Saar valley opposite the town of Mettlach. They made a thorough search of the village, which took them twelve hours, and were then relieved by elements of the 5th Ranger Battalion.12
With the clearance of the Triangle almost complete, General Patton called on General Walker at the 10th Armored Division’s command post on February 21 to check on progress. Satis¤ed with the situation, Patton turned to Walker and said: “Johnnie, cross the Saar and take Trier.”13
General Walker returned to XX Corps headquarters and had Field Order Number 17 drawn up, implementing Patton’s orders for the 10th Armored Division. Walker also extended the order for crossing the Saar to the 94th Infantry, ordering them to cross between Saarburg and Hamm on the night of February 21–22, with the aim of establishing a bridgehead and being “prepared to continue the advance to the northeast on Corps order.” In doing so, the men of the 94th were to maintain contact with both the 10th Armored on the left and the 3rd Cavalry on the right. Meanwhile, the other division under command, the 26th Infantry, and the 3rd Cavalry Group, to which the 5th Ranger Battalion was attached, were to maintain their defensive positions.
Patton’s desire to take Trier, the ancient Roman city that was now the German communications center and the main gateway to the Rhine at Koblenz along the winding path of the Moselle, was tactically sound, and the 10th Armored Division was the instrument that could secure it for him. After their decisive defeat in the Triangle, the Germans might well be caught unprepared by this immediate follow-up. However, Patton was expecting the exhausted and depleted 94th Infantry Division, whose troops had no experience of river crossings, to negotiate a swollen, icy river that was in full ®ood from the melting snow and rains of the past two months. Further, he was sending the troops straight into the main Westwall defenses on the dominating east bank without adequate reconnaissance or intelligence of what to expect. The whole operation was nothing but a reckless gamble.
Bearing in mind that these decisions and orders were made on Febru
148 / Crossing the Saar
ary 21, it remains puzzling that more emphasis was not given to rushing the bridges across the Saar at Kanzem and Wiltingen, which were still standing and would have provided the armor more direct access to Trier. But as previously mentioned, Task Force Chamberlain, which had reached the vicinity of Tawern by the evening of February 20, did not move against these bridges until the following day. This may have been because of delays in refueling or a lack of belief that the bridges would still be standing. However, as the troops approached Wiltingen, they found that the route was blocked by a substantial mine¤eld, and just as a way through had been cleared, the Germans blew the bridge, followed shortly after by another explosion at Kanzem.
Spirits rose among the troops as the 94th Infantry Division closed up to the Saar River during the afternoon of February 21, 1945. The ¤nal drive through the Saar-Moselle Triangle had been spectacular as the enemy withdrew over the Saar, blowing the few bridges, and the corps commander himself had indicated that the troops could now expect to enjoy a wellearned rest once they had completed this task and set up outposts along the river.1
As Major Harold F. Howard, S-3 of the 301st Infantry, later recorded: “The 301st Infantry continued the advance to the Saar River line on 21 February. The enemy was cleared from the zone and the towns of Kastel and Staadt were taken. The companies however were by this time down to an average strength of 120 men, and the men were extremely tired from the hard going.”2
Capt. John S. Young, S-2 (staff of¤cer for intelligence) of the 302nd In-fantry, recorded: “On the morning of the 21st orders were received to push on to the river and secure the towns of Taben and Hamm. The 3d Battalion, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Otto B. Cloudt, mounted the in-fantry on tanks and tank destroyers and rode right down into the towns of Taben and Hamm. The enemy at this time was thoroughly disorganized and rapid progress was made against relatively no opposition. The 2d Battalion also mounted up on tanks, tank destroyers and other available vehicles and moved into Keuchlingen. The entire river line was in our hands by the evening of 21 February.”3
The 94th Division’s ¤rst intimation of this development came at 1400 that afternoon when one of its liaison of¤cers at the XX Corps command
Crossing the Saar / 149
post, Lt. Harold J. Donkers, called Division Headquarters in Freudenburg, saying, “Back here they’re talking about a river crossing, and if it’s made, we’ll be making it!” Although the idea of an immediate crossing hardly seemed credible, the divisional commander had the commanders of the 301st and 302nd Infantry Regiments and the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion alerted so that preliminary preparations could start immediately. Time available for reconnaissance and planning was negligible, and it seemed highly improbable that the necessary equipment and supplies for such an operation could be found and delivered at such short notice. The divisional artillery commander, Brigadier General Fortier, ordered an aerial reconnaissance along the Saar River from Merzig to Trier by one of the Tiger Cub spotter aircraft available to him, while the regimental commanders sent out patrols to investigate the west bank of the river for possible crossing sites and likely observation posts.
Intelligence could provide very little information on enemy dispositions on the far side of the Saar, but it was assumed that the Germans would still be confused and disorganized from the events of the previous three days. Nevertheless, the main defenses of the Siegfried Line would be encountered, providing the enemy with good observation and clear ¤elds of ¤re from well-constructed pillboxes and bunkers, all protected by mines and wire, linked by good underground communications, and backed by wellsited artillery positions. Unfortunately, nothing was known of these positions, as the corps’ 7th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was too far from the river to obtain accurate plots on the German battery positions.4
XX Corps Field Order Number 11 was delivered to Division Headquarters by Lieutenant Donkers at 1804: “The XX Corps attacks 22 February to exploit their breakthrough, seize Trier, and expand the bridgehead to the line Pfalzel to Hamm and will be prepared to continue the attack to the northeast or north on Army Order . . . The 10th Armored Division (attached 376th Combat Team) attacks to the northeast to seize Trier . . . The 94th Infantry Division attacks across the Saar between Saarburg and Hamm on the night of the 21st–22d of February to establish the line Geizenburg south to the river bend at Hamm, and will be prepared to continue the attack to the northeast on Corps order.”5
This order also named certain units to be attached to the division for this operation: the 778th Tank Battalion (less Company C); the 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less Company C); the 465th Antiaircraft Artillery
150 / Crossing the Saar
Battalion; the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion; and Company C of the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion. Backed by the 1139th Engineer Combat Group, direct support would also be provided by the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, whose A Company was tasked with building a treadway bridge, B Company to road maintenance, and C Company to assist the division’s own 319th Engineers at the crossing sites.
The division’s remaining 301st, 356th, and 390th Field Artillery Battalions had to be assigned new positions from the map, as there was no time to carry out a proper reconnaissance. However, the XX Corps Artillery assigned its 5th Field Artillery Group of several battalions to reinforce the 94th Division Artillery with its 105- to 155-mm guns, and also allocated general support (to be shared with the 3rd Cavalry) by the heavier 195th Field Artillery Group, with howitzers of up to 240-mm caliber.
As General Morris had the 376th Combat Team of the 94th Infantry under command, he proposed conserving his armored infantry for the assault on Trier and using the 376th for the river crossing. Thus the entire river crossing operation would be conducted by elements of the 94th Infantry Division. Morris ordered the tank destroyers of Combat Command B to provide heavy covering ¤re for the river crossing and to be ready to pass through the bridgehead as soon as a bridge had been constructed. Combat Command A was also ordered to provide covering ¤re for the crossing, and Combat Command R was to remain in reserve. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Cornelius A. Lichirie’s 90th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was to provide a counter-reconnaissance screen, maintain patrols, and liaison with friendly forces along the line between Saarburg and Mertert on the Moselle.6
An appreciation made at Fort Knox in 1949 on the 10th Armored Division’s operations in the Triangle reads:
The western approaches to the Saar River gave commanding observation to the enemy located on the high ridges which formed the eastern bank. At almost all points this dominating terrain was reinforced by the forti¤cations of the Siegfried Line. Like the Switch Line at the base of the Triangle, the concrete pillboxes were positioned to insure [sic] mutual support and to cover the likely avenues of approach to the western bank. The Germans had carefully considered these natural avenues before constructing their defensive instal
Crossing the Saar / 151
lations. Where the river and the ridge together were not considered to be of suf¤cient strength additional concrete defensive works had been added. Ockfen was an example, for there the defenses were approximately three kilometers in depth, forming a formidable obstacle to any attempted crossings.
However, in the vicinity of Taben and Serrig, where the eastern banks of the Saar River formed an almost perpendicular cliff, the Germans believed additional ¤eld forti¤cations unnecessary. The river was from 120 to 150 feet wide in the vicinity of both crossing sites. The steep eastern banks made fording impossible. German pillboxes were able to cover the river by direct small arms and machine gun ¤re, and observed artillery ¤re. Along the western bank the terrain was open with some scattered wooded areas which did not provide suf¤cient concealment to prevent enemy observation. In addition, there was considerable marshy ground which would con¤ne all vehicular movement to the roads.
The 10th Armored and 94th Divisions had little time for detailed planning of the attack or for reconnaissance of the terrain surrounding the crossing sites, as had been the case in the initial penetration and breakthrough.
A study of the situation confronting the 10th Armored Division at Ockfen will set the picture of its proposed crossing. The German defenses at this point were manned by three fortress battalions in addition to the remains of the two divisions[,] which had been badly battered in the Triangle but had been able to make their way back across the Saar in small groups. There were also many hastily improvised formations of service and supporting troops, along with the Saarburg Volkssturm. Although they were not ¤rst-class troops, their primary mission—sitting in pillboxes and keeping machine guns trained on the river—did not require highly trained personnel. It was apparent that speed would be the essential element of the proposed crossing in order to deny the Germans time to man and possibly to reinforce the already well-forti¤ed Saar River line.7
Detailed plans had now to be formulated and coordinated, crossing sites
selected, infantry and artillery units deployed into new positions, and addi
tional engineers and river-crossing equipment obtained and brought to the
152 / Crossing the Saar
crossing sites. Food, ammunition, and fuel was to be moved forward from supply dumps, which in some instances had been left forty and more miles to the rear by the rapid advance of the past three days.
During the afternoon of February 21, General Walker called Major General Malony, exclaiming that this was the “opportunity of a lifetime” for the 94th Infantry, the corps, and the Third Army. He telephoned again that evening to warn Malony that he could expect a visit from General Patton the following afternoon. Again he stressed that this was the “opportunity of a lifetime,” but he must have had some misgivings about the feasibility of the project, for he added that if the division proved unable to accomplish the task, he was “not going to blame you, because you carried out the most wonderful masterpiece, and the Boss (Patton) appreciated it, and I do too.” As the 94th was being sent in blind to tackle the main defenses of the Siegfried Line in this sector, some apprehension on Walker’s part was fully justi¤ed.
By 2000 the plans had been made and approved, and a division ¤eld order was issued barely eight hours before the crossing was due to begin at 0400 next day. The 301st Infantry’s orders were to establish a bridgehead from Serrig northward to a point opposite Krutweiler (just south of Saarburg), continue the advance, and gain the 94th Infantry Division’s initial objective, a chain of hills some six thousand yards east of Serrig, while maintaining contact with the 10th Armored Division on the left and the 302nd Infantry on the right. Similarly, the men of the 302nd were to secure a bridgehead from Serrig southward to the river bend at Hamm, push eastward, and also seize part of the chain of hills east of Serrig. They were to protect the 301st’s southern ®ank and maintain contact with the 5th Ranger Battalion farther south on the west bank of the Saar.
Having established a suitable bridgehead across the Saar, the division’s next task would be to advance eastward along the Beurig-Irsch-Zerf road. The only roads leading down to possible crossing sites on the division’s front were at Saarburg, Krutweiler, Staadt, and Hamm, but the ¤rst two locations had yet to be cleared of the enemy and it was already dark.
Reconnaissance of the Staadt and Hamm sites was made by the infantry and engineers. The engineers found a suitable site at Staadt next to a disused ferry directly opposite the east-bank village of Serrig. They also looked for a possible ford, but without success. Hamm was on a ®at peninsula that
Crossing the Saar / 153
was completely overlooked by enemy positions on the high ground surrounding the sharp bend. The area was found to be too exposed and had no road leading up to the river, so the 302nd Infantry’s suggestion of using the site of a blown bridge below the village of Taben farther south was checked by the engineers and approved. This too was dominated by enemy-held high ground, but the site was in such a deep de¤le that it was sheltered from de¤lade artillery ¤re. Military police reconnaissance of the routes leading to the two chosen sites at Staadt and Taben con¤rmed suitability for two-way traf¤c. The selection of these crossing sites thus made the large east-bank village of Serrig a primary objective for these two infantry regiments.
The 319th Engineer Combat Battalion had only twelve assault boats on hand, so another ¤fty were requisitioned from the 1139th Engineer Combat Group, which had only sixty assault boats and ¤ve motorboats left at its disposal, as most of the Third Army’s crossing equipment had been sent off to support the First and Ninth Armies farther north during the Battle of the Bulge. XX Corps also allocated the 135th Combat Engineer Battalion in support of the 94th Infantry Division.
The convoy conveying the boats failed to arrive by 2230, so the operations of¤cer of the 319th Engineers in Freudenburg, Maj. Albert F. Hoffman, set off to look for it. He found the convoy two miles to the south, where the drivers had pulled off the road to settle down for the night. Upon arrival at Freudenburg the convoy was then split to enable each crossing site to receive thirty-one boats each. The Staadt allotment was further delayed by a supply column having mistakenly taken the turn out of Freudenburg to Kastel, where its individual vehicles had to make three-point turns to get back, only to have the assault boat convoy arrive and try to force its way through as this traf¤c mishap was going on. One of the assault boat trailers ditched and overturned in this confusion and was abandoned. Consequently, the boats did not arrive at the launching sites until between 0400 and 0500. A proper traf¤c control system using eight military police checkpoints and priority allocations was not established by Division until later in the day.
A similar incident occurred with the 376th Infantry’s boats. The 10th Armored’s engineer, Lt. Col. Wadsworth P. Clapp, set off for Tawern to rendezvous with the pontoon bridge–carrying convoy that was bringing the necessary boats and bridging equipment allocated to them by the 1139th
154 / Crossing the Saar
Engineer Group. However, Clapp returned with only three trucks still following him, the remainder having got lost on the way.8
General Patton arrived at XX Corps late the next morning, February 22, with his usual train of war correspondents and photographers in attendance, expecting to go on to a grandstand view of the operation. However, General Walker informed Patton that because of the missing convoy, the 10th Armored would be unable to cross until the next day. Patton immediately ®ew into a violent rage, demanding that the attack go ahead regardless. He drove on to the 10th Armored Division’s command post in Ayl, where he vented his rage quite openly, as Pvt. Russell Bryant, a replacement with B Company, reported:
February 22 we were milling around Ayl, when General Patton pulled up in a Jeep with the rest of his entourage. He’s talking with his various commanders about crossing the Saar River. Some 20 or 30 of us enlisted men were close enough to hear their discussion. Some of his direct subordinates were cautioning him against a direct assault across the river.
I heard him say loud enough for all to hear: “I don’t care if it takes a bushel basket full of dog tags, we’re crossing the river right here!” There was a gasp from all us enlisted men. If Patton heard it, he ignored it.9
Patton’s attitude toward casualties no doubt re®ected the fact that his Third Army had already lost 47,000 men since leaving Normandy, with 2,190 killed in the ¤ghting for Metz alone. His feelings about the Siegfried Line defenses were aptly summarized by historian Charles Whiting in re-lation to the earlier attacks across the Sauer River to the north:
After inspecting a captured bunker (it had been taken through the back door), he ponti¤cated that it showed “the utter futility of ¤xed defenses . . . In war the only sure defense is offense[,] and the ef¤ciency of offense depends on the warlike souls of those conducting it.”
It was evident that Patton had learned nothing from the last half year of frontal attacks on the Siegfried Line. He adhered to the
Crossing the Saar / 155
theory of attack, attack and attack again, which was already outdated
by the time of the Civil War nearly a century earlier, and which had
caused so many young American lives to be needlessly thrown away.10
Another account of the scene at Ayl comes from T. Jerome French of B Company, who was then a private: “By noon the boats had not come, the Germans had not seen us because we all got inside and stayed there. The latest was that we would wait for night before venturing outside. Then a high-ranking of¤cer came on the scene and started throwing a tantrum, ordering an immediate crossing as soon as the boats came. . . . The bigshot got in his Jeep and went away.”11 Patton, with the extra-large stars on his helmet, would have been morti¤ed at not being recognized for who he was!
Patton later told Walker at Headquarters XX Corps that “Morris had let his train get lost, and therefore was not across at Saarburg, and that, at a late hour in the afternoon when I met him, he was being held up by small arms ¤re from the far side of the river.” He then told Walker: “You should have seen that it was in place. So should I. We have all three fallen down on the job.” By the time Patton left, he was blustering: “General Morris will lead his division across the river in the ¤rst boat, or, if necessary, swim.” This irrational display of temper, typical of Patton, demonstrates how he chose to ignore the reality of the situation.12
THE AYL CROSSING—FEBRUARY 22
The 376th had been assembling at Mannebach during the afternoon of February 21 when late in the day Colonel McClune, the regimental commander, received orders from the 10th Armored Division calling for an assault crossing of the Saar at 0400 next morning. He summoned an immediate conference of his various subordinate commanders to discuss the issue. By the time the conference was over, it was already dark. None of the 376th Infantry had yet seen the river or the bunker-studded hills to the east, for the 10th’s armored infantry were still engaged in clearing the area west of the Saar from which the crossing would have to be made, and a study of the map proved far from encouraging.
The selected crossing site was outside the village of Ayl on a tilted plain about a mile long and 1,200 feet wide that gave an easy approach to the
156 / Crossing the Saar
water’s edge. Across the river, the village of Ockfen extended along a narrow valley that was ®anked on the left by a steep, vine-covered hill. Capping the hill was the Irminer Wald, rising some 740 feet above the Saar River. On the right, the gentler slope of another, unnamed hill rose about 340 feet, while behind this hill and the village rose the even higher regimental objective of the Scharfenberg Ridge, some 900 feet above the river and about 2,200 yards east of Ockfen.
Colonel McClune decided to employ two battalions abreast for the op-eration. The 3rd Battalion would cross directly east of Ayl to seize the steep ridge north of Ockfen, while the 1st Battalion would cross one thousand yards upstream to take the high ground south of the village. Once these dominant pieces of terrain were secure, the 2nd Battalion would cross at the northern site and take Ockfen. With the entire regiment across and its initial objectives seized, the two ®ank battalions were to push east to the ¤nal objective. With these three pieces of high ground in American hands, the armor would have a secure bridgehead through the Siegfried Line’s defenses. It was hoped that the Saar could then be bridged and the tank columns driven eastward, deep into the enemy rear.
McClune’s meeting with his commanders to make these plans ended at about 2100, leaving only seven hours in which to prepare. The regimental ¤eld kitchens arrived in Mannebach after dark, but orders came for the troops to march off to Ayl before most of them could be fed. The men’s only chance of the ¤rst hot meals in days, and for days to come, had to be abandoned. They smashed their stolen plates on the cobbles as they marched off in disgust.
Colonel McClune then decided to examine the crossing site himself, dark though it was. To his surprise, his jeep encountered German troops when entering Ayl, and he was lucky to escape. When he reported this incident to the 10th Armored Division headquarters, he was assured that the armored infantry were about to take the village.13
It was midnight before the leading elements of the 1st Battalion entered Ayl, prepared for any eventuality, but soon they encountered the armored infantrymen who had taken the village only a little while before. The 3rd Battalion followed them in, while the 2nd Battalion camped outside in the woods behind the village. No assault boats had yet arrived, so Colonel McClune again consulted the 10th Armored Division and was assured that the boats were on the way and would arrive in time for the crossing.
Crossing the Saar / 157
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston and his 3rd Battalion waited about a half mile or so to the northeast of Ayl. He later reported that an occasional round clattered down on Ayl and that there was an occasional burst of German machine-gun ¤re in the distance, but generally all was quiet for nearly six hours. At about 1300 the regimental command post was set up in Ayl, and about an hour later the 10th Armored Division also set up its command post in the village only a few doors away.
Then, in the middle of the afternoon, a smoke-generator company drove through Thurston’s assembly area and started setting up its equipment a half mile from the riverbank and in full view of the enemy, who made no attempt to intervene. It took almost thirty minutes to set up the equipment, but the company then dispersed without having generated any smoke, much to Thurston’s annoyance. After another thirty minutes passed, the convoy with the assault boats arrived, the engineers onloaded them with a lot of noise, and the trucks left. At last the Germans responded with an artillery concentration that smashed every one of the boats and wrecked the smoke-generating equipment.
Then, as a result of General Patton’s visit to the command post of the 10th Armored Division that afternoon, at 1625 the 1st and 3rd Battalions received orders to “cross at once,” although they were still without boats. The battalions began moving forward along the narrow road leading to the Saar while it was still daylight. Fortunately, the German artillery failed to intervene, but enemy snipers who were concealed in the small cemetery at the junction of the Ayl and Konz-Saarburg roads opened ¤re, killing Captain Brightman, the commander of L Company, and wounding Lt. James Cornelius, the of¤cer commanding C Company, who had to be replaced by the sole remaining of¤cer in the company, Lieutenant Chalkley.14
When the 10th Armored Division headquarters had been told of the destruction of the assault boats, Colonel McClune was asked to estimate the earliest possible time at which he could resume crossing, to which he had replied, “One hour after I receive suf¤cient boats.” More craft were promised. At 2130 the second shipment of assault boats began to arrive at Ayl, and the crossing was then scheduled for 2300. The boat convoy slipped through the village and east to the junction with the road paralleling the river. There the boats were divided, with each of the assault battalions receiving half of the shipment, about a dozen each.
Acting on his own initiative, Lieutenant Colonel Thurston took his 3rd
158 / Crossing the Saar
Battalion along the road leading north until it reached the small stream running into the Saar northeast of Ayl, half a mile farther downstream than had been planned. All the while the men moved under the strictest silence so as not to attract enemy attention. The boats were carried to the riverbank, where the men who were to man them waited anxiously for the order to launch. On the order, the heavily laden men climbed cautiously into the fragile craft and paddled furiously into the fast-moving stream. For the most part they were inexperienced in handling assault craft, and it took considerable time to negotiate the swiftly ®owing river.
The 3rd Battalion’s crossing went smoothly, and the incredibly loud sounds of the protective barrage being laid by the tank destroyers for the 1st Battalion farther upstream appeared to have effectively distracted the enemy opposite the 3rd, for it encountered no opposition. The assault squads of Lt. William R. Jacques’s I Company pushed forward rapidly in what amounted to a mass in¤ltration to reach the battalion’s primary objective, the top of the hill capped by the Irminer Wald.15
Sgt. Robert K. Adair, one of this company’s squad leaders, later recorded his experience:
By then it was about 5:00 p.m. I got a little to eat and tried to get some sleep before 11:00 p.m., when we were supposed to start out. But I was so scared that I couldn’t sleep much. I kept wondering how we could possibly make it against what seemed to be excessive odds.
Then 11:00 and we were off. Busy getting everybody together, checking that everyone knew what he was to do, I no longer had any time to worry. We joined the engineers with the boats in a concealed position perhaps two hundred yards from shore. There was to be a squad—I had eight in my squad at that time—in each boat, each man with a paddle, plus two engineers. The engineers were to steer the boats across and the two of them then take the boats back for another load.
About 11:30 we grabbed the heavy twenty-foot-long plywood boats, dragged them down to the water, and started across the two hundred feet of water to the other side. We paddled hard, quartering against the spring-time current, and I would guess that it took us less than ¤ve minutes to cross but we felt very much exposed. . . . But nobody shot at us.
Crossing the Saar / 159
We got out of the boats on the far shore with no dif¤culty. There were Schü mines spread on the bank, but we could see them fairly well and were careful not to step on them, and there was also some barbed wire. Cutting the wire, we crossed the railroad tracks that ran along the east bank of the river and started up the steep hill with the three Second Platoon squads abreast and leading the company. Again I was much too busy seeing that everyone was there, spread out properly and keeping roughly in line, to worry much. Still nothing happened. It turned out that the only “pillbox” in my squad’s zone of responsibility was not a pillbox but an unoccupied old stone tower. There were a few startled Germans in one position to our left who promptly surrendered to the First Squad. After about thirty minutes of climbing the steep, brush covered hill, we were at the top, and no one had even shot at us.
I collected and reformed my squad at the top and started down a path ®anked on both sides by artillery carts and guns. But no Germans. Then we heard some noise and a man came out of the woods carrying what turned out to be a large can of stew. He was astonished to see us and surrendered with no dif¤culty. We waited for the men who were to eat the stew, but they had left their supper as well as the guns.16
It hardly seemed possible, but the 3rd Battalion had achieved complete surprise, and in an amazingly short time I Company was on top of the sheer rise of the Irminer Wald, some 740 feet above the river. 1st Lt. Cecil G. Dansby’s 1st Platoon, bringing up the rear of I Company, came under spasmodic ¤re from some bypassed bunkers on the northern slopes, and K and L Companies similarly encountered resistance from these bunkers as they followed behind, but all got through without dif¤culty.17
The engineers had laid out their assault boats for the 1st Battalion along the sandy beach at the water’s edge and they were ready for launching. Lieutenant Colonel Miner had elected C Company to lead the assault under Lieutenant Chalkley, all of his platoon commanders now being NCOs. He was given a heavy machine-gun section from D Company and two ri®e squads from B Company to augment his numbers. As previously mentioned, covering ¤re was provided by a tank destroyer battalion from the 10th Armored Division, using a lot of tracers.
160 / Crossing the Saar
Just as C Company closed up to the riverbank, Colonel McClune was
badly wounded by shrapnel in both thighs as he went forward to check the
progress of the operation, and was wounded again in the chest before he
could be evacuated. The executive of¤cer, Lt. Col. Raynor E. Anderson,
then assumed command of the 376th Infantry Regiment.18 Bob Trefzger, then assistant squad leader of the 3rd Squad of the 3rd
Platoon, C Company, reports:
Leaving Ayl under cover of darkness, we proceeded to the west edge of the Saar River. The plywood assault boats were there along the shoreline, having been trucked into position, also under cover of darkness. Each boat was supposed to carry twelve men: ten infantrymen with their equipment and two combat engineers. The engineers’ job was to guide the boats across the river and then bring them back to the friendly side for another load of infantrymen.
We were quickly assigned to our boats; the combat engineers told us that there was a paddle for each man (they were very similar to canoe paddles) and that we were to paddle as though our lives depended on it. Good idea!
Shortly before H-Hour an incredibly spectacular covering barrage of vivid pink tracer shells and bullets started up from the west side of the valley, passing well over our heads. The shells were larger, single tracers from some sort of cannon. The machine gun tracers were in long chains, probably from .50-caliber machine guns. We had no idea who were [sic] providing this very welcome barrage, but we were very impressed and very grateful. The noise of the “friendly ¤re” was indescribable!
At H-Hour, on the tracer-illuminated shore of the river, we had little problem launching and climbing into our boat. Paddling quickly across the river, we could see and feel the swiftness of the current. No enemy ¤re was visible, either muzzle ®ashes or machine gun tracers, and we were very thankful for the continuing covering barrage of pink tracers. The swift current and unfamiliarity with paddling an assault boat made it seem as though the Saar was very wide.
Our boat stopped several feet from the east shore when it ran into submerged barbed wire entanglements. The ten heavily loaded infantrymen struggled into the bow so as to get out of the boat where the water was shallower, about knee deep. As we tried to disentangle
Crossing the Saar / 161
ourselves from the submerged wire, the friendly covering barrage of pink tracers stopped. Almost instantly, while I was still in the water, an enemy machine gun began ¤ring pale yellowish tracers from a large concrete forti¤cation just downstream from our landing. The machine gun ¤re came from an aperture 12 to 15 feet above river level, so it was no immediate threat to us. We were frustrated, however, as there was nothing we could do to stop it.
Once on shore we struggled up a very steep bank next to the vertical south edge of the concrete forti¤cation. At the top of the bank, to our amazement, we came upon a wide, double set of railroad tracks. The night was very dark and very quiet except for enemy machine guns ¤ring across the river from the concrete forti¤cations. Even in the dark, it soon became obvious that there was no hill to assault where we were and no other C Company GIs in sight. Where did they all go?19
Marshall Miller, a squad leader in B Company’s 3rd Platoon, reports:
At 2300 the attack commenced. The Saar River is only about 100 feet wide at Ayl. Since it was winter, the river was swift and icy. The Germans poured mortar and machine-gun ¤re from pillboxes and trenches in the hills on the east bank. The engineers lit smoke pots to try to hide our movements. They dragged the boats to the river’s edge. We waited behind a stone fence about 100 yards uphill from the water. Every ten men were counted and, when given a signal, ran to the river in single ¤le. It was complete confusion. Smoke was everywhere, shells were coming in, but were not very accurate. Ten of us scrambled into a boat, and with two engineers, pushed off. We were told to grab a wooden paddle from the bottom of the boat and start paddling.
We had never practiced a river crossing. We paddled furiously, but we were not coordinated. The swift current caught the boat and turned us around and we sped stern ¤rst northward towards Trier. We were unable to turn the boat around, nor could we paddle towards the enemy’s east bank. Approximately a mile down river we crashed into the supports of a demolished wooden bridge. Two or three other boats were wedged into the timbers when we struck them. It was very dark and cloudy. The moon occasionally broke through the clouds.
162 / Crossing the Saar
This was our good fortune. The Germans could not see us. We were about 30 feet from their side of the river. I could hear the noise of the battle back at the crossing site. It was quiet at the bridge.
Another boat struck our wedged ®otilla. The soldiers were starting to panic. Some started to talk, a few were moaning. It was so dark that I could not recognize anyone, nor tell from what units they were, or even if there was an of¤cer among the 40 to 50 soldiers mired in the mass of boats. I admonished everyone to keep completely quiet and, if the moon broke through the clouds, to remain motionless. We were “sitting ducks” if the Germans saw us.
One fellow decided he would swim back to our side of the river and jumped in. I doubt if he made it since the river was cold and the current fast, and with all of his gear he could not possibly swim. It was about four in the morning and I realized in 60 to 90 minutes it would be light enough for the Germans to spot us. If that happened we would all be killed.
I persuaded the soldiers in the last boat that became wedged to use their oars and push against the pilings and our boat to free themselves. Pushing with great effort, they broke free and were back out into the current. My boat was next, and we managed to clear the bridge and were able to row back to our side of the Saar before it became light. It had to be a horrible night. At some time during the preceding six hours I had been hit in the right hand by a small fragment and a medic removed it with a knife. I had received my “million dollar” wound and a Purple Heart. Another piece of shrapnel also pierced my pants and was stopped by a silver metal cigarette case I had liberated from a German soldier.20
It is not known how many assault boats were lost as a result of the swift
current and the soldiers’ total lack of training in their use, nor is it known
how many of the 1st Battalion’s boats made a successful crossing, probably
six or seven. Pvt. Jerry French of B Company stated: “Some B Company men crossed
the river in the ¤rst wave. There were more boats than C Company needed.
I distinctly remember when I jumped out of the boat into the water, be
cause the boat was hung up on barbed wire, the boat engineer said, ‘I hope
my luck holds next trip!’ All the ¤ring was over our heads from the machine
Crossing the Saar / 163
guns on the friendly side! We could see the tracers come from behind and hit the railroad track up the hill from us.”21
When the tank destroyers lifted their covering ¤re, the ¤rst wave of men found that cloud cover was making it quite dark. Each boatload of men had to struggle up the steep, often slippery slope between the river’s edge and the railroad tracks. They could not see the concrete pillboxes along and above the tracks, nor could the Germans inside these defenses see them. No machine-gun ¤re came from along or across the tracks; only the machine guns in the pillboxes situated along the water’s edge were ¤ring across the river.
Pvt. George Jaeger of D Company reported: “I still remember that climb up the hill to the crest where we stumbled on a trench about ¤ve feet deep and about half a mile long where we set up our heavy 30-caliber machine guns at each end to wait for a counterattack that never came.”22
At least two of the ¤rst-wave boats successfully crossed the river but landed too far downstream. The men did not realize that they had landed on the side of the twenty- to thirty-foot railroad embankment running across the mouth of the Okfen valley, and when they reached the tracks, they found there was no hill beyond to assault as they had expected.
Lieutenant Chalkley was in the ¤rst boat to land too far downstream. For some inexplicable reason this group headed north along the tracks in the opposite direction from the hill south of Ockfen that they were supposed to capture. They continued until they came to where the railroad went through a cutting at the foot of the Irminer Wald Ridge. They then started climbing the steep slope above them, but were checked a third of the way up by machine-gun ¤re and a shower of grenades. Lieutenant Chalkley was wounded, and the company communications sergeant was killed. The survivors then dropped back to a German communication trench that followed the contours.
Bob Trefzger’s boatload landed a few minutes after the lead boat. He later gave this description of events:
Our leader took our ten-man group north along the tracks; I was bringing up the rear, somewhat slowed by the BAR and the heavy belt of ammunition. About 100 yards from where we came to the railroad tracks, I noticed an open doorway on the west side, probably the back door of a concrete forti¤cation. As I was at the back end of our group,
164 / Crossing the Saar
I decided it would be a good idea (and safe too) to toss a grenade through the doorway, just in case enemy Soldaten were hiding there. The grenade explosion itself was not remarkable. However, it started a spectacular ¤re, probably burning ammunition and supplies in a storage room.
As we continued north along the tracks we could discern, even in the dark, that the slope along the east side of the tracks was getting higher and steeper, as though we were approaching the south side of a hill. There had been no nearby shooting at all while we progressed along the tracks.
When we had climbed up the side of the valley a ways, we caught up with some other Company C GIs in a communication trench parallel to the hill slope contours. They told us that there were enemy Soldaten up the slope from us and that they had been machinegunning and throwing grenades down the slope. They also told us that Sergeant [Orville] Strong, the Company C communications sergeant[,] had been killed by a grenade and that Lieutenant Chalkley, our CO and our last of¤cer, had been wounded.
As we were not interested in making a suicide charge up the steep slope in the dark, into the teeth of enemy machine gunners and Soldaten throwing and rolling grenades, we set up a defensive perimeter and waited for daylight.23
TSgt. Tom D. Huthnance, who was later to receive a battle¤eld commission, reported: “Meanwhile the Second Platoon, losing contact with the Third, had dug in in a vineyard with part of the First. One squad of the First Platoon, under Staff Sergeant Harold Price, was engaging a pillbox by the railroad tracks, which ran next to the river. This box was made to look like a shack. It had a mortar on the top, and the embrasures through which the mortar ¤red were very rusty and screeched every time they opened. It was well defended and Sergeant Price’s squad was unable to crack it. It eventually fell to A Company.”24
THE STAADT CROSSING—FEBRUARY 22
On the intimation of the impending crossing, Major Harold F. Howard, S-3 of the 301st Infantry, reported:
Crossing the Saar / 165
At 1900 the regiment received its orders: “94 Division attack across
Saar between Saarburg and Naha the night of 21–22 February. 301
Infantry crosses river at 220100 and will hold bridgehead with a force
of not less than a battalion. Prepare to continue advance to northeast
on Division order. . . . ”
Colonel Hagerty replied at 1917, 21 February: “Reconnaissance
troops not able to enter Krutweiler. Battalion unable to get down to
river to prepare for crossing there; only other possible crossing site
within this sector at ferry between Staadt and Serrig; high cliffs one
side or other of river at other points make ferrying impossible.”
The reconnaissance platoon from I Company had selected the crossing site at Staadt. There were high hills on each side of the river at this point, and the enemy from its side possessed observation of the crossing. The above message makes it clear that no other crossing place was available in the 301st Infantry zone, and it proved to be hazardous and costly to the units that crossed.25
Because Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st were the ¤rst troops to arrive at Kastel above Staadt, they became the natural choice to lead the assault crossing, and the battalion’s I and K Companies were chosen to cross abreast in the ¤rst wave. As the boats arrived at the crossing site, they were unloaded and carried to the water’s edge. All seemed ready for the crossing, but it was discovered that the two previously briefed companies had deployed in reverse order in the fog and darkness. Furthermore, the loss of the trailer load in Kastel had resulted in a shortage of assault craft. Lieutenant Colonel McNulty therefore decided to have the battalion cross in column of companies instead, with I Company leading.
The noise of the leading company moving the boats down the last few yards to the water’s edge alerted the enemy, for the fog in the valley bottom acted as a sound conductor, and machine-gun ¤re began to whip across the river. The men took cover and it took some time to get them going again when the ¤re lifted. Boats were then rushed to the water’s edge and the assault troops piled into them.
As they pulled away into the turbulent river, in which they had to contend with a seven-mile-an-hour current, the American artillery let go with their prearranged ¤re plan. The mortars of H and M Companies in Kastel added the weight of their support, and the battalion’s heavy machine guns
Crossing the Saar / 167
along the road paralleling the river also opened ¤re. Even though the men were ¤ring blindly into the heavy fog, they hoped to keep the enemy down while the boats of the assault wave battled their way across the swollen stream.
By 0750, after many dif¤culties, Captain Donovan’s I Company was across. The swift current and the inexperience of most of the troops in handling assault craft resulted in the company being irregularly scattered along a wide frontage of the far bank. Many of the boats encountered low wire entanglements at the water’s edge, and the main barbed-wire obstacles were found to be too close to the river to permit the safe use of the bangalore torpedoes and Primacord ropes with which the engineers were equipped, so the wire had to be cut by hand. While this work was in progress, the area was raked by ¤re from enemy bunkers along the riverfront. Fortunately, the dense fog limited the enemy’s observation to only a few feet.
Near Serrig some men of I Company became isolated and pinned down in an antitank ditch. Pfc. Robert L. Chapman jumped out of the ditch and charged the nearest pillbox with his BAR. He then worked his way around to the rear of the pillbox, where he captured a prisoner and persuaded him to talk his comrades into surrendering. Chapman’s squad joined him in the pillbox, but were forced to return to the antitank ditch when the Germans made a counterattack. Chapman, who was covering their withdrawal with his BAR, was knocked down by a concussion grenade that threw him into the ditch, where he was wounded in the shoulder. Nevertheless, he regained his feet and killed the enemy soldiers who were threatening his squad. (For this action he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.)
Meanwhile, the engineers manning the assault craft had started back to the west bank of the river for the second wave. Several of the undermanned craft were swept downstream and had to be dragged back by the engineers. One boat ended up on the east bank, where one of the crew was killed and the other had to hide for three days before being rescued when the area was ¤nally cleared. Of the sixteen boats that had made the ¤rst crossing, only six returned, and only one of those had suf¤cient paddles, since many of the inexperienced troops had taken their paddles ashore with them. A detail was sent back to salvage the boats and paddles on the upturned trailer in Kastel, and an urgent request was dispatched for outboard-motor boats to
168 / Crossing the Saar
speed up the crossing operations. At 0825 word was received that the motors were on their way.
There were no more attempts to make the crossing in waves. Instead, the three companies were being fed in as fast as possible under the enemy ¤re, which grew increasingly more accurate even though the enemy could not see the crossing site through the fog. Some snipers who the previous day had been bypassed in the rugged terrain on the American side of the river began harassing the steep road leading down from Kastel to Staadt, so a patrol was sent to clear them out. By 0930 German artillery and mortar ¤re began landing on Staadt, which added to the confusion.
The fog dispelled as the sun’s rays fell into the valley, thus improving the enemy’s ability to observe the American troops. To counteract this increased vulnerability, B Company of the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion dropped white phosphorous shells across the river to screen the vision of the German gunners and observation posts. Smoke pots were also brought forward and ignited.
Enemy mortar and artillery ¤re, which at ¤rst had been sporadic, began to increase in tempo and some of the few remaining assault boats were hit, the shortage of craft making it impossible to send Captain Warren’s K Company over in a single wave. At 1140 an artillery concentration sank two of the boats and punctured several more. When the outboard motors arrived at about noon, only one of the original boats was left undamaged.
The storm boats and their 22-horsepower motors were quickly unloaded, but as the motors were unpacked, it was discovered that they were new and had never been serviced. The noise produced as the engineers began to service the engines only drew additional and more accurate enemy ¤re, resulting in two of the storm boats and three of the operators being hit, so the servicing was then conducted in the basements of nearby buildings, where the outboards were tested in barrels of water. Since there were no replacements available for the wounded boat operators, it became necessary to draft inexperienced men to take over their jobs. While these activities were going on, more assault boats arrived. Although the Germans could not see the crossing site through the fog, they continued to spray the general area with incessant machine-gun ¤re.
At 1415 the remainder of K Company crossed, together with the battalion commander and his command team, which included an artillery liaison of
Crossing the Saar / 169
¤cer, Capt. Donald Aschermann, cannon company observer Lt. Rodney A. Goodling, and Capt. Emanuel P. Snyder of M Company. Captain Donovan was waiting to receive them on the east bank and lead them into Serrig.
Most of K Company was concentrated in the immediate area and constituted a large enough force to start pushing into the village. But before the advance could begin, it was necessary to eliminate the enemy machine guns ¤ring down the streets and between the buildings. Lieutenant Colonel McNulty decided they would have to dispense with smoke-screening the crossing in order to locate them. When the air ¤nally cleared, the infantrymen had their ¤rst good look at the main Siegfried Line defenses facing them.
However, as the smoke lifted, the Germans also gained an unobstructed view of the crossing site, and their artillery and automatic weapons began to accurately engage the boats along the river’s edge. A radio jeep parked on the road in Staadt was riddled by a ten-minute machine-gun burst, and a 20-mm gun on the high ground behind Serrig blasted away at the hotel in Kastel that was being used as a command post and general assembly area, making it suicidal for the occupants to step out of doors. Attempts were then made to move forward a tank destroyer to engage these enemy weapons, but each time a motor started up the Germans threw over a terri¤c artillery concentration. It became obvious that any further attempt at crossing the river before nightfall would be unsuccessful. Activity at the river was therefore halted, and when darkness settled on the valley, the terrible intensity of the enemy ¤re began to ease off. But even after nightfall, the slightest noise in the vicinity of the crossing site brought instant and accurate reaction from the German artillery.26
Between dawn and the late afternoon of February 22 the Germans supplemented the local defense Volkssturm battalions in this part of the Westwall with those remnants of the 256th Volksgrenadier Division who had managed to cross the Saar at Kanzem and Wiltingen before the last bridges were blown. To meet the American threat, General Hahn’s LXXXII Corps’ southern boundary was altered northward to coincide roughly with the eastern end of the Orscholz Switch, thereby releasing one regiment of the 416th Infantry Division for redeployment. He also still had a panzergrenadier battalion of the 11th Panzer Division under command.27
170 / Crossing the Saar
Across the river, I and K Companies proceeded with the task of clearing the northern portion of Serrig. Captain Frierson’s L Company managed to cross early in the evening with only minor casualties, but as the moon rose the advancing companies encountered a steady volume of small-arms ¤re. They made a request for smoke, and as it was not known exactly how far the 1st Battalion had penetrated the village, the chemical warfare mortar company decided to place their white phosphorous rounds between the railway tracks on the far bank and the river, thus providing smoke without endangering either of the attacking forces.
Tech-5 Michael Petri of K Company, who spoke reasonable German, found a local inhabitant who claimed to know the location of all the pillboxes in the vicinity. Using a ¤eld telephone in one of the captured pillboxes, Petri managed to persuade the occupants of another pillbox to surrender. However, when he approached the pillbox in question, he was ¤red on and retaliated with a bazooka round, which killed the German machine gunner and resulted in the surrender of the other occupants. Repeating this method, Petri and his squad cleared eleven pillboxes and took 247 prisoners, an action that gained Petri a Silver Star.
For Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd Battalion the day had been one of close, hard ¤ghting. By late in the afternoon ammunition had run so low that it became necessary to collect rounds from the wounded. Three radio operators in I Company had been hit, but miraculously their radio escaped unharmed. Throughout the day the 94th Reconnaissance Troop was employed clearing Saarburg and the surrounding area of any remaining German troops.28
THE TABEN CROSSING—FEBRUARY 22
The commander of the 1st Battalion, 302nd Infantry, Major Stanion, later recorded:
At 212200 the 1st Battalion was ordered to make a crossing of the Saar River at 220400 February. The battalion was ordered to make the crossing at any point they desired, and to secure the southern part of the town of Serrig and the high ground to the east. From the G-2 information the battalion gathered that there was a possibility of underwater mines on the other shore of the river and also there was a
Crossing the Saar / 171
destroyed bridge as shown on the map. It was decided by the Battalion Commander and company commanders of the 1st Battalion that they would cross at a point just below this wrecked bridge. The Battalion Commander, accompanied by the company commanders of his battalion[,] made a hasty reconnaissance of the situation at 212400, while his executive of¤cer was bringing the troops from Oberleuken to Taben in trucks.29
C Company, which had been designated to lead the crossing, arrived in Taben ¤rst. At this time there was little enemy ¤re falling on the village, but the engineers reported that the corps boats had not yet arrived. Eventually at about 0500, one hour after the designated time of crossing, the corps boats arrived in Taben. The leading engineer vehicle was quickly unloaded, and six assault boats, each of which weighed one thousand pounds, were transported down the steep, twisting road to the river, manhandled by the infantrymen who were to make the assault crossing. In the river valley the fog was as thick as milk. Chemical smoke could not have provided better concealment, but sound traveled extremely well in the damp air. After an hour and ¤ve minutes of backbreaking work, the ¤rst boat reached the water’s edge, leaving the men who had sweated and strained to get it into position utterly exhausted.
The time consumed in this process led Lieutenant Colonel Ellis, the commanding of¤cer of the 319th Engineers, to order the drivers of the unloaded boat trucks to cut their motors and coast down the hill to a point about three hundred yards from the riverbank. The remaining boats were soon in place at the crossing site. At the water’s edge, the troops discovered it was impossible to see the far bank through the fog. From recent thaws, the river was swollen and turbulent, and the rush of the stream tended to cover the little noise made by the men of Lieutenant Robinson’s C Company as they prepared to cross. They were crossing blind into enemy-held territory. The maps showed a road and railroad following the line of the river on the far side below cliffs, with a steep hillside towering about a thousand feet above.
The ¤rst boat, under SSgt. John F. Smith, set off in the strong current at 0650 and reached the opposite bank without incident. There the squad encountered a twelve-foot retaining wall at the water’s edge, but a breach in the wall and a ladder that the Germans had left in place enabled them to
172 / Crossing the Saar
scramble up to the road, where they surprised two Germans standing outside a bunker and took them prisoner. Seven more prisoners were taken from this same bunker without a struggle.
By this time, most of the 2nd Platoon had arrived, and a search began of the area to the left of the landing site. Fifty yards from the ¤rst bunker, a German soldier was spotted walking around a second forti¤cation. He was shot and the leading squad pushed farther north. Soon afterward the platoon came under sniper ¤re, which checked them until they were able to out®ank the opposition and push on downstream, where they encountered a third bunker and took its occupants prisoner. They then decided to return to the crossing site, and on their way back they rounded up the four snipers they had previously bypassed.
Back at the crossing, Sergeant Smith reported to Major Stanion, who then instructed him to move south and eliminate any enemy to the right of the slender bridgehead. Eighteen more prisoners were captured from another bunker 250 yards upriver, and a German-speaking NCO took one of the prisoners with him to assist in clearing the other forti¤cations in the vicinity, which resulted in the capture of another forty-seven Germans. Several more bunkers were located and searched as well. The rest of the battalion followed across in short order, and the only mishap in the operation occurred when one of the assault boats capsized and four men were drowned.
In accordance with the battalion plan, after the crossing point was secured, C Company, augmented by the heavy machine guns of D Company, which was led by TSgt. James Cousineau, climbed up the steep, elevenhundred-odd feet to the summit of the Höckerberg, which came to be known as Hocker Hill. Captain Woodburn’s A Company and Captain Wancio’s B Company followed. As A and B Companies rested from their exhausting climb, Lieutenant Robinson sent a patrol to reconnoiter the path that led from west of the summit of Hocker Hill above the Auf der Hütte cliffs down to the road into Serrig. The patrol proceeded only a short distance before returning to report that they had seen no Germans.
A and B Companies moved off for Serrig at about noon. The 1st Platoon of C Company was then ordered to cross over Hocker Hill and out®ank the enemy positions that were occupying the high ground above the path. This maneuver proved successful, for the enemy withdrew as the troops advanced, and on its way the platoon seized three unmanned artillery pieces of small caliber. At the point where the path followed by A and B Compa
Crossing the Saar / 173
nies joined the converging road into Serrig, the Germans had built a bunker in the semblance of a small brick house. To the left of the bunker, the terrain fell away sharply to the river far below, while to the right, the ground rose still higher. A Company, in the lead and marching in single ¤le, passed this point unopposed, but as B Company reached the junction, enemy bunkers to the east opened ¤re. B Company managed to ¤lter through, but the arrival of the attached platoon from C Company brought more enemy ¤re. Lieutenant Robinson reacted by sending Lieutenant Richards with a squad from the 3rd Platoon up the hill to silence some snipers, while Technical Sergeant Cousineau was detailed by radio to take the 1st Platoon to out®ank the enemy positions over Hocker Hill.
When A Company spotted a group of about one hundred Germans some nine hundred yards ahead in the valley below, the artillery liaison of¤cer who was with them, Captain Bruhl, called down artillery ¤re as the company’s machine guns opened up. Practically all of the enemy troops were either killed or wounded in the ensuing carnage. The advance on Serrig was then continued without interruption until the troops came under ¤re from a small orchard outside the town. The company employed marching ¤re as they overran this position, in which they found twenty-seven dead Germans.
On the left, Captain Wancio’s B Company, which had been augmented by the 2nd Platoon of C Company, was having trouble with some bunkers near the railroad tracks. After capturing three of these forti¤cations, further advance was stalled by heavy machine-gun ¤re until the Germans were out®anked. The advance continued and more bunkers were taken, some troops being left behind to garrison these positions. The troops had entered the village at 1900, having been led through a series of mine¤elds by two liberated Russian slave laborers, while to the right A Company had also arrived in Serrig. Although the 3rd/301st was known to be in the northern portion of the village, no contact was made that night. Meanwhile, C Company, less the aforementioned platoon, occupied a position for the night on the high ground due east of the town and north of the Auf der Hütte cliffs. Just after dark the 3rd Platoon of this company had to repulse a violent enemy counterattack.30
The uncertainty of the situation on the ground led Lieutenant Colonel Brimmer, the artillery operations of¤cer back at Division, to establish a “No Fire Line” east of Serrig for the night.31 The rest of the night passed quietly,
174 / Crossing the Saar
but with the coming of dawn there was another German assault, which was driven back only after an hour of hard ¤ghting. With their supply route cut, the next day the 1st/302nd, in the southern part of Serrig, radioed a request for medical supplies, blood plasma, food, and radio batteries, which were dropped by the division’s Cub aircraft.
With the Taben crossing secure, General Walker of XX Corps decided to disrupt the enemy’s main line of communication by establishing a roadblock on the Saarburg-Zerf highway. He therefore arranged for the replacement of the 5th Ranger Battalion covering the 94th Infantry Division’s right ®ank on the west bank of the Saar and had them move into Taben, from where they could cross the river and strike off through the wooded hills to a suitable location for the roadblock. As this roadblock would obviously come under considerable pressure, General Walker planned to relieve the rangers by an armored thrust out of the bridgehead.32
Shortly before noon Lt. Col. Richard P. Sullivan, commanding the 5th Rangers, received instructions to report to Colonel Bergquist, from whom he learned of his in¤ltration mission but could obtain little information. At that time he had two of his six companies in Orscholz, two in Weiten, and two already in Taben. He ordered his battalion to assemble in Taben while he proceeded with a small escort to climb Hocker Hill to confer with Lieutenant Colonel Gaddis, the 302nd’s executive of¤cer, and discovered that the 302nd Infantry was having dif¤culty holding its bridgehead. He then sent back for his battalion, which lost six men killed and eighteen wounded of Capt. Charles E. Parker’s A Company from enemy ¤re while passing though the 302nd’s lines.
Enemy artillery ¤re on Taben had increased in intensity and some machine-gun ¤re was being received from the cliffs across the river. However, it was still little more than harassing ¤re, which continued throughout the afternoon. With Captain Smith’s L Company leading, Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd began its crossing soon after 1300. The boat carrying the mortar section of K Company capsized and all its equipment was lost, but by 2200 all elements of the battalion had crossed the river and started the long haul to the top of Hocker Hill, where the three ri®e companies set up a perimeter defense. Only Captain Hurst’s M Company remained in Taben to support the other companies if necessary.
That night there was considerable confusion on Hocker Hill as the 3rd
Crossing the Saar / 175
Battalion tried to set up a perimeter defense without allowing suf¤cient
time for a proper reconnaissance. A soldier behind a light machine gun of
L Company killed several Germans who had not realized that the Ameri
cans had taken over the hill. Meanwhile, Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd in Keuchlingen had been
alerted to follow the 3rd/302nd across at Taben. Once over the river, it
would be their task to clear the river road leading into Serrig and the cliffs
paralleling it, which were harboring many snipers.33
Lt. Col. Albrecht Roeschen, who was later captured in Trier, described events that day from the German side.
The defenses were far from completely occupied when the 301st and 302d Infantry struck across the Saar. The river and hills were blanketed under a thick morning fog, which hung on the river until nearly 1000. Artillery and mortar concentrations thundered down on Serrig, the noise echoing around the hills many times magni¤ed by the fog. Men in the pillboxes seemed so isolated, unable to see anything or know what was going on. Then the men in Serrig could hear the splashing of paddles and voices out on the river and the splutter of an outboard engine. Nervously they opened up, ¤ring wildly at the sounds, hoping they could hit what they couldn’t see. At Taben the ¤rst indication of the American attack were [sic] men banging on the doors of the pillboxes and the sight of a long ¤le of men struggling up the hill and across the plateau west of Hocker Hill. No one could have expected that the Americans would attack across this steep country, but they did. By afternoon the Germans in Serrig who had lost some houses west of the railroad tracks to the attack of the 3rd Battalion, 301st Infantry, were dazed by the sight of Americans attacking down the hill from the east, from their rear. The 1st Battalion, 302d, swept down into Serrig, seizing part of the town before dark slowed down operations. At Ayl the defenders were amazed at mid-afternoon to see the 376th Infantry advance across the open meadows toward the river and push their boats out into the water in the very face of artillery and mortar ¤re adjusted from the hilltops and machine gun ¤re from the pillboxes along the base of the hill. If there was any doubt about the American intention to cross the river, it was
176 / Crossing the Saar
dissipated by dark. They were coming across in force. The main crossing sites seemed to be at Serrig, Taben and Ayl. At Serrig the 94th Division had a foothold, but the crossing site was dominated by the observation on the hills around the town. The Ayl crossing had been repulsed, but the crossing at Taben, deep down in the river gorge, couldn’t be reached by ®at-trajectory weapons. The best that could be done was to try to interdict and harass the road leading to the crossing.34
Maj. Gen. Harry J. Malony, Commanding General of the 94th Infantry Division, and his aide, Capt. John C. Gehrig.
An infantryman of the 1st Battalion, 376th Infantry, dashes through the orchard outside Tettingen. Heavy ¤re was falling on this area as the picture was taken.
Casualties in men and materiel were frequent on Nennig’s ¤re-swept streets.
Nennig was littered with dead Germans.
Wearing improvised snowsuits, a patrol moves into the woods in the Wochern-Tettingen area.
Well dispersed, a relief party moves into the woods west of Tettingen.
TSgt. Arnold A. Petry and some of his men after being rescued from the orchard between Nennig and Tettingen.
Dragon’s teeth and blown pillbox north of Borg.
Carefully treading a path cleared by the engineers, a relief party moves toward the northern edge of Campholz Woods.
A 94th Division Weasel crosses a tank ditch near Sinz. “Sinz” . . . even the name was ominous.
Before making a fast dash to the rear, medics strap a casualty to the litter rack of their jeep.
A knocked-out German Mark IV tank with part of its bazooka skirt still in place.
Saarburg on the Saar River.
As enemy shells burst near them, men of the 376th Infantry cross open ground as they prepare to move into the bridgehead.
Cases of K rations destined for the 3rd Battalion, 376th Infantry, are lashed to packboards by members of a carrying party.
Treadway bridge at Taben. The center pontoon, which has been hit and de®ated, was repaired shortly after this picture was taken.
Camou®aged pillbox in the vicinity of Serrig. Stinking compost piles and fresh German cadavers line the muddy streets of Irsch.
Throughout the ¤ghting east of the Saar River, prisoners of war were used extensively as litter bearers as they moved to the rear.
A German Mark V tank knocked out east of Irsch.
For gallantry in action, Lt. Perry Heidelberger Jr., receives the Silver Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster from the division commander.
Lampaden after the attack of the 6th SS Mountain Division.
SS prisoners being collected in the courtyard of a château north of Lampaden.
9 Establishing the Bridgehead
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 23
The men of Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th, charged with the taking of Ockfen, followed the 3rd Battalion across at the northern crossing site and were met by some harassing machine-gun ¤re and a few rounds of artillery, which exacted some casualties in Company E while still on the west bank, but by 0400 all the troops were across. From the riverbank the battalion had ¤rst to move down the railroad tracks to opposite Ockfen, descending to move up to the village. The whole area was now covered in dense early morning fog. Lieutenant Maness’s F Company, in the lead, waited two hours for Captain Standish’s F Company to arrive with the heavy machine-gun platoons of Capt. Robert Q. Smith’s H Company, then led the advance on the village, while Captain Dodson’s G Company, in reserve, moved partway up the vine-covered slope of the 3rd Battalion’s hill to get above the smoke level and cover the left ®ank.
The heavy machine-gun platoons took the wrong route and were lost for a while until they found their way back to the railroad underpass. The attacking companies captured a few surprised Germans before daybreak, and then cautiously advanced across some four hundred yards of ®at marshland leading to the village that was ®anked by the steep hills on either side. The leading platoon of E Company and the ¤rst two platoons of F Company had just checked the ¤rst ¤ve houses when at 0945 sixteen enemy tanks supported by infantry began counterattacking from the other end of the village. The murk was so dense that the bazooka men could not pick out the tanks ¤ring at the American-occupied buildings at point-blank range,
Establishing the Bridgehead / 191
and the troops were obliged to withdraw in haste up the slopes of the ad
jacent vineyard.1 Describing their efforts to take Ockfen, Captain Smith reported:
We were expecting the engineers to start building a bridge at any time to bring the armor across, and apparently the chemical boys were too. All night and day they kept laying in heavy smoke screens. And every time the smoke would roll across the Saar and up the valley around Ockfen. It kept us blinded all day and we cursed it plenty. But one time we were glad it was there. It saved us many casualties. I was up on the high bluff to the left of Ockfen overlooking the river when E and F Companies pulled back out of the town. I had just placed a heavy machine gun section above the dense cloud of smoke so they could ¤re on any movement in the far end of town. Imagine my surprise when I started down to see the whole battalion swarming up the side of this steep—and I do mean steep—hill. Later in his report over the radio, Colonel Martin really hit the nail on the head when asked if his battalion was in any danger. “Nothing,” he said, “but mountain goats or scared infantrymen could ever climb this hill, and my whole damned battalion is up here.”
The Germans very obligingly had built some excellent trenches on this hill, and we reorganized the battalion there without the loss of a man under cover of the same dense smoke. For a couple of hours the Colonel and I took turns adjusting artillery and cannon ¤re on targets that were very clearly visible from our roost on top of the world. Finally, about 1300, Colonel Martin said: “Well, Smith, I guess they’ll want us to take that town, so I guess we’d better do it.” Then he gave me a quick outline of his plan and sent me to contact Captain Standish while he went to orient Lieutenant Maness, commanding Company E.
The time of the attack was to be 1415. Well, at 1350 I was still frantically trying to ¤nd Standish . . . Finally I went back to tell Colonel Martin he’d have to delay the attack until I could ¤nd him. Imagine my chagrin when I found that the colonel himself had seen both company commanders and had arranged for a heavy artillery preparation while I was still lost in the smoke. But that TOT [time-ontarget] ¤re the colonel had called for!
Never in my life have I seen anything so exciting or as pretty as that! Imagine if you can the ¤rst rounds of eight artillery battalions plus our Cannon Company all exploding at exactly the same second on an objective the size of a very small town. It looked as if the town just blew up. And it was wonderful the way E and F Companies crawled in under the barrage and were right there at the ¤rst houses when it lifted. They stormed into town, running, shouting and shooting, taking one house after another, just as if it had been rehearsed. Inside of an hour they had cleared the town, put up a defense with heavy machine guns all round it, and Lieutenant Murphy had his Mine Platoon with about ten German prisoner “volunteers” putting in a mine¤eld to prevent another tank counterattack.2
By 1630 Ockfen was safely in American hands, although the bunkers around it were still enemy occupied. The eight-battalion barrage described by Captain Smith above had been intended as a ten-minute action, but after half that time had elapsed it became necessary to issue a cease-¤re order, for the shelling had begun to affect the troops of the 2nd Battalion ¤ve hundred yards away.
Clearing the village proved a simple matter, for the artillerymen had done their work well. Ockfen was a shambles and several of the ruined buildings had started to burn. Of the enemy soldiers who remained alive, most were too shocked and dazed to have any ¤ght left in them. The enemy tanks that had survived the bombardment could be heard withdrawing up the valley to the east. The mine platoon of the regiment’s antitank company followed the infantry into Ockfen and laid mines along the eastern approaches to the village. Heavy ¤re continued to come from pillboxes southeast of Ockfen, and enemy snipers also remained troublesome. That evening the battalion command post received a direct hit that wounded three of the battalion’s staff of¤cers.
Captain Heath’s G Company then took the castle-like Ockfener Domäne halfway up the hill above the village. Having witnessed the bombardment of Ockfen, the German defenders surrendered readily, and the company continued up to the top of the Irminer Wald Ridge to take up position alongside the 3rd Battalion. G Company was so depleted that its foxholes were sometimes up to one hundred yards apart. Food was scarce and cap
tured German rations were put to good use. There were no blankets and the nights were still extremely cold.3
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd Battalion’s three ri®e companies, with the heavy supporting weapons of M Company, spent the day digging in on top of the Irminer Wald Ridge. Although they expected at any moment to come under enemy shell¤re, they remained undisturbed by the enemy. Several bunkers were found unoccupied but well stocked with food and ammunition.
That afternoon the men had a grandstand view of the 2nd Battalion’s ¤ghting in Ockfen below them and were able to contribute some machinegun and even artillery ¤re to the fray, as Sergeant Adair describes in his account:
As the sun rose on a clear day, Ockfen[,] six hundred feet below our hill to the south, was covered by a ground fog with only the church steeple occasionally emerging into our view.
As the fog dissipated we could see the town clearly. A few men ¤red their ri®es at the town but there were few reasonable targets. Several enterprising (to my mind, fool hardy) men found some ammunition for one of the German ¤eld pieces and bore-sighting the gun, actually ¤red one or two rounds at the town. They were more successful than I feared—they probably harmed no Germans but they didn’t blow themselves up.
Then the town exploded. It seems that all the artillery that could be mustered by the combat team (I heard that there were eight battalions) ¤red TOT (time-on-target) at Ockfen. That is they timed the ®ight of the shells so all of the shells—perhaps a hundred—landed on the small town at the same instant. They did this a number of times and left the defendants so in shock that the Second Battalion was able to move into the town with little opposition.4
Then the battalion received orders to move on and take the Scharfenberg Ridge, the main regimental objective. The men set off at 1600 in single ¤le with K Company leading and by dusk had reached the foot of the Backsteinfels Ridge, where a dirt road connected Ockfen with the hinterland. At that moment a column of troops approached, chattering noisily, that
Establishing the Bridgehead / 195
could only be German. Thurston had two BAR teams mount an immediate ambush that resulted in every one of the enemy being killed, wounded, or captured. More than thirty Germans were killed and were buried by the Americans the next day.
Capt. Ralph T. Brown’s K Company troops were then sent up the Scharfenberg Ridge to establish an all-around defense about half a mile from the road. The men of K Company were to form the point of a triangle, with the other two companies closer to the road. As L Company’s troops were ar-riving, the rear of the column was hit by artillery ¤re, wounding several men, including Lieutenant Foster, who had been in command for only one day. Appreciating that the enemy ¤re was concentrating on the road, Thurston had his men move uphill and so avoided further casualties.5
It is not known how many assault boats returned to the west bank to bring over the 1st Battalion’s B Company. At least four boats, including Marshall Miller’s, had lost control and drifted downstream from the ¤rst wave. The second wave came under enemy ¤re, and some failed to make the crossing.6
TSgt. Ralph Reichley, the platoon sergeant of the 2nd Platoon, B Company, was in this second wave:
There was much confusion, which resulted in several casualties, including engineers. There were no boats available and there was a lot of ¤ring from across the river. I laid [sic] down behind an engineer that I assumed to be dead and a few other men jumped into a low area that offered some protection. Finally we found a boat and six or seven of us crossed the river on February 23rd. Two or three soldiers were hit in the arm or shoulder. I never knew their names, as they were replacements from the day before. As I remember, the current was very swift. Once out of the boat, we had to climb over barbed wire and then cross a railroad.
This group noted that the machine-gun ¤re along and across the tracks was sporadic, as the bunker occupants could not see them and were ¤ring blindly. They were thus able to cross the tracks between bursts but did not climb the 1st Battalion’s objective hill until after dawn.
Pvt. Russell Bryant, who was also in Sergeant Reichley’s platoon, reported that his eight-man squad came under machine-gun and 20-mm armor-piercing shell¤re as their boat crossed. Two men were killed and Bryant was wounded. The boat drifted downstream until it came up against the destroyed bridge, where the squad leader ordered the men out. Bryant was pinned down by the fatally wounded men and was unable to get out, but the boat drifted across to the west bank, where he was able to get assistance.7
With the departure of the second wave, a third of B Company and all of A Company remained on the west bank without boats and were taking heavy casualties from the mortar and artillery ¤re falling in the area, as the only cover available was some water-¤lled ditches alongside the road. Unable to cross here, Lieutenant Colonel Miner then ordered the remainder of his battalion to head for the 3rd Battalion’s crossing point, which they reached at 0500. The fog was thick here, and they were able to use ®ashlights to guide in the assault boats to pick them up. By dawn most of the 376th’s troops were successfully across the river. Once Captain Dadisman’s A Company and the remainder of B Company had completed the crossing, they moved south along the railroad tracks to rejoin the battalion.
Bob Trefzger, then sergeant and assistant squad leader of C Company, recounted:
As dawn approached, it turned out to be very foggy. Before long our battalion commanding of¤cer, Lieutenant Colonel Miner, arrived to confer with the acting company commander, Technical Sergeant Huthnance, the platoon sergeant of our First Platoon. They were just up the hill from us, looking at a map and what could be seen of the terrain in the dense fog (very little). After a short while, they determined that we were on the wrong hill! If we had turned right (south) when we got on the tracks, we would have found the hill we were supposed to assault.
So we went down the hill to the tracks and moved south along the tracks to a point a few hundred yards beyond where we landed and joined up with the others from C Company.
The 1st Battalion quickly reorganized and at 0730 began its ascent of the hill slopes south of Ockfen with B Company on the left, C Company on the right, and A Company in reserve along and near the railroad tracks. As it was still very foggy and the bunker occupants could not see the advancing
Establishing the Bridgehead / 197
troops, there was little to no opposition, and the top of the steep part of the slope was reached quickly. The advancing men came to the long northsouth communication trench that had been occupied by the D Company heavy machine-gun section since midnight. Continuing on about another ¤ve hundred yards, they then came under heavy machine-gun ¤re raking through the fog, forcing them to either dig in or withdraw to the shelter of the communication trench. The fog soon dispersed to reveal four huge, mutually supporting bunkers some four hundred yards away across their front. Clearing them would require the close support of heavy ®at-trajectory gun¤re, but there was no armor yet across the river. Unable to attack, the 1st Battalion used the existing communication trench system to establish a strong defense against possible counterattack. This stalemate on the 1st Battalion’s hill obliged a change in plan, and it was now ordered to change direction and strike south along the river toward Beurig.
Although the 376th had secured Ockfen, the Irminer Wald Ridge north of it, the northern part of the Scharfenberg Ridge beyond it, and most of the hill to the south, the Germans still had observation of the Ayl bridge site from a large number of bypassed bunkers along the river’s edge, the railroad track, and on the steep slopes above on either ®ank, particularly from south of the village of Schoden. Once the early morning fog and any smoke had cleared, the Germans maintained an almost continuous rain of machinegun ¤re that punctured pontoons and riddled the bridging equipment as fast as the engineers could haul it to the river. German artillery also helped to render the area untenable. Every attempt by the engineers to erect a bridge met with failure and heavy casualties. The situation was such that on the next day the 10th Armored Division was constrained to detail an armored infantry company to attack toward Schoden. With much dif¤culty a ferry was maintained in operation and was used to transport a small number of vehicles across the river. For the most part, though, supplies were sent over by assault boats and moved on to the companies by carrying parties.8
THE STAADT BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 23
It had taken all day and most of the night to get Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st across the Saar and penetrate part of the main Siegfried Line. But by 0400 on February 23 the riverfront had been cleared,
Establishing the Bridgehead / 199
nineteen houses on the outskirts of Serrig taken, and the battalion was pushing south. Contact was soon established with the 1st Battalion of the 302nd Infantry, and joint plans were made for clearing the village, which was accomplished by 1820 despite constant harassment by enemy artillery and mortar ¤re. The battalions then adopted defensive positions for the night.
The situation at the Staadt crossing point failed to improve on the second day of operations. Enemy small-arms ¤re had ceased during the previous night, but artillery ¤re increased in intensity throughout the day until it became more deadly than the direct ¤re had been. There was a heavy demand on counter-battery ¤re. During the course of the day, liaison aircraft spotted more and more enemy batteries. Of particular menace were the highly mobile enemy rocket batteries.9
That morning Captain Ashton’s 94th Reconnaissance Troop was ordered to clear Krutweiler and the west bank of the Saar north of Staadt of any enemy troops. To assist him in his task he was allocated B Company of the 778th Tank Battalion and a platoon from the 81st Chemical Warfare Mortar Battalion. After a preparation by the 4.2-inch mortars, two of his platoons attacked at 1600 and, despite the antipersonnel mine¤eld encountered and heavy ¤re coming from across the river, took Krutweiler within forty-¤ve minutes.10
C Company of the 319th Engineers replaced A Company and stretched a rope across the river to facilitate ferrying. However, the rope came apart as the ¤rst boatload of men attempted to haul their craft across, and the backbreaking job of paddling had to be resumed. In a determined effort to get the 2nd Battalion across before daylight, Colonel Hagerty, the commander of the 301st Infantry, decided to revert to the use of the storm boats and accept the resulting casualties. Motorboats moved the ¤rst two platoons of G Company to the far shore before the Germans were able to react, but soon mortar and artillery ¤re was pouring into the area on what seemed a far greater scale than ever before. Throughout the latter hours of darkness and the early morning, the 2nd Battalion and the engineers took heavy losses.
Shortly after daybreak crossing operations had all but reached a standstill, and Lieutenant Colonel Dohs came forward personally to take charge. As the boats were about to push into the stream again, a tremendous concentration hit the launching site, again in®icting heavy casualties. Many of the infantry and engineers lay wounded, dead, and dying, including Dohs
Establishing the Bridgehead / 201
and some of his staff, as well as Captain Sinclair of F Company, who was mortally wounded. Not one of the boats escaped the weight of the murderous barrage, and more assault craft were needed before there could be any continuation of the operation. Undoubtedly one of the greatest problems for the engineers during this period was the inadequate number of assault boats. The enemy was shooting them up almost as soon as they arrived. More than two hundred craft were used during the entire operation, but only twenty-seven of them remained in operation once the infantry had successfully crossed the river.
By the time the replacement battalion commander, Maj. George W. Brumley (formerly the regimental operations of¤cer) arrived in Staadt at 1100, a limited number of additional assault boats had been obtained. Fifty minutes later, the next boat was sent across loaded with medical supplies, blankets, and radio batteries, all of which were urgently needed by the 3rd Battalion on the far side. This craft having made the round trip safely, it was decided to try to get the remainder of the 2nd Battalion across, but Division cancelled the move just before it could be implemented. The battalion was now to move back to Freudenburg, where it would become divisional reserve. As the 2nd Battalion withdrew back up the hill to Kastel, it was shelled by the German artillery, but to little effect.
By nightfall ¤re on the abandoned crossing site had practically ceased, so it was decided to keep a motor ferry in operation for the resupply of the 3rd Battalion, which so far had received only the one boatload of medical items and some ammunition that had been dropped by liaison planes. Neither food nor drink was a major problem, as the German civilians in their hasty withdrawal had left ample provisions behind and the bunkers captured were also found to contain stocks of food. In addition, Schloss Saarfels outside Serrig, which had been captured by I Company, was found to contain thousands of bottles of wine, much to the delight of the conquerors.
By 1930 all the wounded on the far side of the river had been evacuated, and supplies were moving over in a steady stream. Shortly thereafter attempts were made to string a telephone wire across the river. This line held, and for the ¤rst time in forty-eight hours there was telephone communication between the 3rd Battalion and Regiment. The battalion aid station, the battalion antitank platoon, and the regimental antitank company stood by to cross at this site during the night of February 23, for the Germans were now paying little heed to the Staadt area. Meanwhile, during the day Major Hodges’s 1st Battalion had been moved up by truck from Orscholz to Trassem and was standing by waiting for its turn to cross the river.11
THE TABEN BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 23
At 0200 Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan’s 5th Ranger Battalion moved out from the 302nd Infantry’s lines on Hocker Hill on a compass bearing for their objective on the Irsch-Zerf highway. The battalion moved in two columns with ¤fty yards between companies. In the ¤rst echelon were Capt. Jack A. Snyder’s C Company in the left-hand column and Capt. George R. Miller’s D Company on the right.
Almost immediately 1st Lt. James E. Greene Jr.’s E Company and Capt. Bernard M. Pepper’s B Company in the second echelon were hit by an artillery barrage and small-arms ¤re. The forward artillery observation party attached to the battalion was knocked out, and B Company suffered several casualties. This barrage had temporarily split the battalion, and it took half an hour for them to reorganize. Somehow Lt. Louis J. Gambosi’s 2nd Platoon of B Company remained separated from the rest and were left behind when the battalion moved on. Later in the day radio contact was established, and the men were told to report to the Serrig beachhead.
The battalion continued to come under ¤re as they advanced in the dark, their presence being betrayed by the rattling of the antitank mines that the men were carrying, but nothing could be done about the situation, as the mines were needed at their objective. The battalion then came across a large group of Germans, whom they quickly captured. At daybreak the troops found a suitable location for a rest and an opportunity to reconnoiter the next stage of the route. They then continued in a box formation, keeping as far as possible to wooded areas and using artillery-spotting rounds to maintain direction. Three pillboxes were encountered and yielded another thirty prisoners.
Shortly afterward the battalion was attacked by about ¤fty Germans, who had mistakenly taken them for only a patrol and attacked across open ground at their own cost. This brought the number of prisoners up to nearly one hundred, so B Company, which had meanwhile taken some casualties and was now down to only sixteen men, was detailed to guard them.
Establishing the Bridgehead / 203
All day the battalion kept on encountering German troops, so it became necessary to change course from time to time to avoid betraying their objective. At one point a German ambulance and doctor were captured, the doctor exclaiming: “this is 4,000 yards behind the lines—no, no—you can’t be here!” The doctor then attended the wounded of both sides as the number of prisoners increased.12
Major Stanion, who was commanding the 1st/302nd at Serrig, later recorded: “All the day of the 23d the battalion remained in the same position and began to receive intense small arms ¤re from the hill at 179085. The battalion supply route had been severed by the enemy by this time and the river road was being used. Even this was dangerous as snipers were active in the high ground overlooking the road and the river. The battalion requested blood plasma, food and radio batteries, which were dropped in the A and B Company sectors by Cub planes. The battalion aid station was still in Taben. This request was successfully ful¤lled.”13
By 0655 the men of Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd were completely across the Saar. Movement had begun shortly after midnight and was harassed only by occasional artillery ¤re that caused little damage. As elements of Captain Butler’s E Company reached the far side of the river and scaled the retaining wall, they ran into a twelve-man German patrol that had slipped through the beachhead defenses in the darkness. The enemy soldiers seemed as completely surprised as the Americans they encountered, and a small ¤re¤ght developed that resulted in a speedy surrender by the Germans. A thorough search of the area was then made and the perimeter was strengthened. Crossing operations were resumed, and the remainder of the battalion was brought across without further interruption.
In order to accomplish the battalion’s task of clearing the river road, it would also be necessary to eliminate those enemy forces emplaced in the rugged cliffs above it. The decision was made to scale these heights and move the battalion along a path running across the face of the Auf der Hütte cliffs, while a strong patrol moved along the river road abreast of the remainder of the battalion above. This patrol started downstream toward Serrig, checking the numerous bunkers embedded beneath the railroad tracks that paralleled the river road at a slightly higher level. Most were empty and the patrol advanced as far as the south side of the hairpin bend opposite Hamm, where late in the afternoon they met a party from their 1st Battalion, which had worked its way upstream from Serrig. The road was now clear of enemy soldiers, and the only obstacle to the passage of wheeled vehicles was a huge crater on the Hamm bend.
Meanwhile, the rest of the battalion had moved up Hocker Hill and along a path beyond it that led just below the top of the Auf der Hütte Ridge to the vineyards that terraced the cliff opposite Hamm. Suddenly, Captain Kops’s F Company, which was leading the battalion, was hit by a hail of machine-gun ¤re, which forced the advance elements to fall back to better cover. Several attempts were made to renew the advance, but these were stopped cold.
The battalion had been caught in an impossible position by the 2nd Battalion of Panzergrenadier Regiment 111, which had been detached from its parent 11th Panzer Division and was entrenched high in the cliff of Auf der Hütte on the north side of the hairpin turn. On the left of the path the terrain fell away almost vertically some four hundred feet to the river, while on the right the almost vertical cliff rose to terminate in an overhanging ledge. The terrain was completely exposed and there was no room for maneuver. Attempts to push forward along the rock wall on the right of the path were stalled by volleys of grenades that the Germans dropped from above. A wire-mesh fence along the left of the path provided the enemy above with a perfect backboard for bouncing grenades under the overhanging ledge. Fortunately, the Germans seemed to possess only concussion grenades. Potato-mashers (German grenades) employed in the same way would have made the position completely untenable.
The enemy on the heights soon realized that the rest of the battalion was stretched out along the path behind F Company, and as there was no overhanging ledge topping the cliff above the other companies, the Germans started using their mortars. Enemy shells bursting up and down the path tightened the trap even further as the troops frantically tried to dig in among the rocks. A heavy machine gun was set up on a small ledge to the left of the path, and the gunner sprayed the cliff on the far side of the hairpin bend in an effort to neutralize some of the ¤re being directed against the battalion. Time and again enemy mortar barrages were thrown over the hill in an effort to knock out this weapon, but without success. The battalion remained unable to advance, and even the coming of darkness did not improve matters. Unknown to the Americans, German troops had been pouring into this area for the past twenty-four hours, for it was appreciated
Establishing the Bridgehead / 205
that while the Ayl and Staadt crossing sites could be contained by artillery ¤re, the key to containing the awkward Taben site was control of the Auf der Hütte cliffs in order to prevent access to Serrig from Hocker Hill and to dominate the riverside road below.14
Because of the dif¤culties his regiment had experienced from the very outset at Staadt and the comparative ease with which the 302nd Infantry was crossing the Saar at Taben, Colonel Johnson suggested to Division that his 1st Battalion, which had yet to cross, be attached to the 302nd Infantry, an idea that was approved.
Although enemy ¤re in the vicinity of the 302nd’s crossing increased with the coming of daylight, most of the artillery ¤re was directed against Taben itself and against a point on the riverbank several hundred yards from where the crossing was being made. The heights of Hocker Hill provided protection from en¤lade ¤re for the actual crossing site.15
Major Hodges, commanding the 1st/301st, reported to the 302nd Infantry’s command post in Taben and was instructed to cross the Saar as soon as possible. It was estimated that it would take at least six hours to move the battalion to Taben and complete the crossing, during which time the situation on the far bank could have changed, so up-to-date orders would best be given upon arrival on that bank.
The 1st/301st was brought forward from Trassem by trucks. After unloading in the village, one of the companies failed to contact their guide and set off down the main road to the crossing, only to come under enemy machine-gun ¤re from the high ground above Saarhausen. An ambulance and an engineer truck coming up the hill also came under machine-gun ¤re, and the truck driver was wounded, as was Lieutenant Wolf by shell¤re. The company then pulled back into Taben, from where it proceeded down to the river over the path used by the rest of the battalion.
At the bridging site, Major Hoffman of the 319th Engineers and his men were assembling a footbridge, so Major Hodges offered the assistance of B Company in manhandling the boats to support it. The bridge was completed at 1730 and the battalion crossed to the east bank. They were then ordered to relieve the 3rd/302nd on Hocker Hill after dark that night.16
Captain Smith, then commanding L Company of the 3rd/302nd, later recorded: “At 1800 on the night of 23 February, the 1st Battalion of the 301st Infantry relieved the battalion and it moved back down the hill to prepare to move up behind the 2d Battalion of the 302d Infantry. As the 2d Battalion was held up and could not advance, the order was changed and the 3d Battalion moved up into the area of Serrig just before dawn using the river road as its route of approach. No ¤re was received during this move and about one hour later anyone that tried to come up the same route was pinned down.”17
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 24
The men of Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th were still digging in on the side of the Scharfenberg Ridge during the night when orders were radioed from Regiment to send a company back to secure their crossing place. Both the 3rd and 2nd Battalions had used the same crossing point, but Regiment had made no effort to secure it until German troops had begun ¤ltering back. Despite the fact that other units were much closer, the acting regimental commander insisted on compliance. Consequently, Lt. Jesse W. Hodges’s L Company had to make a trek of more than three miles back across the hills to the river in complete darkness. The trip was conducted cautiously, but the company encountered no enemy either on the way or at the crossing site.
The remainder of the battalion had to endure a night of harassing artillery ¤re and the occasional seemingly random ri®e shot. Sentries were posted at the roadside with instruction to capture anyone going past, whether soldiers or civilians, a move that yielded a number of surprised prisoners, and a prisoner-of-war cage had to be improvised in a small ravine. Lieutenant Daly was killed in an unfortunate incident when he gave chase in an encounter with a German soldier who hid in a foxhole and shot Daly in the back as he went past.
Daylight revealed that the battalion position was enclosed on three sides by about a dozen well-sited bunkers and pillboxes, all fully manned, but the battalion had no suitable equipment to take them. The 350 men remaining were out of range of their own mortars, and their artillery observer seemed unable to persuade his unit to provide support.
The battalion was now extremely short of food and ammunition, al
though there was plenty of water available from the stream that ®owed past the company positions. Appeals for supplies from Regiment eventually resulted in men from M Company, the battalion Headquarters Company, and other available personnel being formed into two porter teams. One of the teams would load up one-man packboards with the required supplies, then dash to the boats and paddle furiously across the river under accurate machine-gun ¤re. They then had to carry their loads up the Irminer Wald hill, from where the second team would take the loads to the battalion on the Scharfenberg Ridge.
On the ¤rst night, the Germans spotted the unpainted ration boxes gleaming in the darkness and ¤red at the team with automatic weapons, forcing the men to take cover and camou®age their loads. That night a party of stretcher bearers arrived with their equipment and some food and ammunition. The prisoners and walking wounded were then detailed in parties of eight per stretcher for the journey back, because the route was so dif¤cult to negotiate. The men were ¤red on from time to time, causing some confusion, but managed to get through. For some unaccountable reason, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson then forbade the further use of German prisoners for carrying wounded. At one stage the Germans in¤ltrated a machine gun and sniper team between the K and I Company positions, threatening to isolate them from each other until Captain Brown of K Company tracked down the enemy team and eliminated it with a wellaimed ri®e grenade.18
A Company of Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th started working their way upstream along the banks of the Saar and destroying the bunkers they encountered, while B and C Companies safeguarded the end of the hill that they had taken the previous day. There were bunkers all along Captain Dadisman’s A Company’s route, and many more were seen on the higher ground to the east, their machine guns being ¤red incessantly whether or not the gunners could see anything. Nevertheless, A Company, backed by ®amethrower teams, took eight bunkers and about one hundred prisoners that day, but the task proved to be such that Lieutenant Colonel Miner ordered Captain Bowden’s B Company to assist A Company the next day.19
Lieutenant Colonel Martin’s 2nd/376th’s Company E remained in occupation of Ockfen, while that afternoon Captain Standish’s Company F was
Establishing the Bridgehead / 209
ordered to move up the vineyard and continue due north through the Irminer Wald to take the high ground above Schoden. Although they followed the order, the company was unable to cross the open ground beyond because of the number of German bunkers on the slopes. At 2100 Captain Standish was ordered to tackle the bunkers near the riverbank that were responsible for holding up the bridging operations, and he detailed two platoons for this task. By midnight, after some on-the-spot training of the new men in the use of satchel and beehive charges, Captain Standish himself led the detail.20
Early on February 24, in order to speed up the operation to take Trier, General Morris was ordered by General Walker at XX Corps to send his armor over the Taben bridge, which was still under construction and not completed until 1350 hours that day. General Patton had been ¤ghting a rearguard action against the return of the 10th Armored Division to General Eisenhower’s reserve, and on February 23 had only managed to obtain a grudging forty-eight-hour extension, so there was no time to waste. Morris then decided to put his armored infantry across the Saar at Ayl to reinforce the 376th Infantry under the overall command of Brigadier General Piburn. The new command structure would become effective at 0850. The armored infantry battalions were to assemble at Ayl and be prepared to cross beginning at 1500, leaving their vehicles behind to await the construction of a bridge. The men were provided with suf¤cient food and ammunition to sustain them without need of resupply for two days.
At 1600 Lt. Col. Jack J. Richardson’s 20th Armored Infantry Battalion began crossing the Saar under cover of a smoke screen and under continuous machine-gun and artillery ¤re. The battalion’s task was to pass through the 376th Regiment and advance along the main road to Irsch, which meant passing through the 1st Battalion’s area. While the 20th Armored Infantry were still crossing, they received an order to seize Irsch.21
THE STAADT BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 24
Ferrying operations progressed satisfactorily throughout the night of February 23–24, but shortly after daylight enemy artillery again began to shell the crossing site. A direct hit was made on a raft that was ferrying a jeep, a 57-mm gun, and a Weasel across the river, but the raft was brought back to shore before it sank, and the gun and vehicles landed. A second raft was then constructed, and as this craft made its initial trip across the river, another artillery concentration crashed down on the ferry site. Soon afterward the men noticed movement on the cliff above the Staadt, and the crew of a .50-caliber machine gun was ordered to rake the cliff at periodic intervals. Several hours later three Germans, who had been manning a radio, surrendered. They admitted that they had been in a concealed position on the cliffs directing artillery ¤re for the past three days.
The previous evening a platoon of Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company had occupied some outbuildings of Schloss Saarfels that turned out to be the actual vinery. Early in the morning, movement was detected near a large opening in the hillside nearby and identi¤ed as that of German soldiers. Believing this to be the rear entrance to a bunker, the platoon crawled along a ditch to a sandpit opposite the entrance and launched a surprise attack that yielded the capture of three of¤cers and ¤fty-four enlisted men of the artillery ¤re-direction center for the Serrig area.
At 1100, at the suggestion of Colonel Hagerty, Division Headquarters announced a temporary transfer of battalions between regiments to rationalize the unusual situation that had arisen. Thus Colonel Hagerty’s 301st Infantry took on the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 302nd to add to its own 3rd Battalion and the two platoons of G Company who had already crossed to Serrig, and Colonel Johnson’s 302nd Infantry took on the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 301st to add to its own 2nd Battalion.22 Colonel Hagerty arrived at Staadt at about midday and was ferried across to take over command of all the troops in the Serrig area, including those who had meanwhile arrived from Taben. He set up his command post in the village.23
Of these new attachments, Major Stanion, commanding the 1st/302nd, reported: “The battalion was ordered to take over Serrig and to patrol along the river road and keep it open. Besides this they were to maintain contact between the 301st and 302d Infantry Regiments, which meant patrolling between points 193084 and 191096. Two different times the battalion attacked downhill to take out the pillbox at 193084, but without success. The terrain was de¤nitely against an attack of this nature. Many casualties were received here.”24
And Captain Smith, commanding L Company of the 3rd/302nd, reported:
Upon arriving at Serrig at about 0800, the battalion came under control of the 301st Infantry Regiment. It was here also that M Company and Battalion Headquarters Company rejoined the battalion. The order was then received to take the three pillboxes in conjunction with the 3d Battalion of the 301st Infantry. These boxes were located at the following points: No. 1 at 170110, No. 2 at 172103, No. 3 at 182103. The battalion plan was for I Company to take pillbox No. 1, and L and K Companies to take Nos. 2 and 3. It was after dark before the attack got under way on these boxes, and K Company ran into trouble. I Company had a comparatively easy job with its, however.
On 25 February, after much reconnaissance, L Company took No. 3 in ten minutes. This proved to be very dominating terrain for the regiment.25
The situation Captain Smith described arose out of a decision to clear the high ground immediately to the north of Serrig. Captain Frierson’s L Company, which had the two stray platoons from G Company attached, advanced on the west ®ank. Lieutenant Christiansen’s G Company platoons were checked by the numerous bunkers encountered along the riverbank, but L Company was able to out®ank these positions and sent a group to attack the ¤rst bunker from the rear, which was duly taken. The advance was continuing to a second bunker when enemy ¤re suddenly came from behind, mortally wounding Lieutenant H. Glass. The enemy had meanwhile reoccupied the ¤rst bunker, which then had to be recaptured and a guard left on it.
The 3rd/302nd continued to make progress all day, with most problems being experienced with the dense forti¤cations along the riverbank, and by late afternoon the high ground north of Serrig had been secured and the battalion command post established in Schloss Saarstein about one thousand yards north of the village. While the men of the 3rd/302nd were thus engaged, those of the 3rd/301st were ordered to press forward another one thousand yards to the line of the stream opposite Krutweiler. This was done with I and K Companies sweeping the woods on either side of the road and a roadblock established where the road crossed the stream.
The armored column arrived in Serrig from Taben at 1800 to be met by Major General Malony. The 3rd/301st then pushed out to the high ground
Establishing the Bridgehead / 213
northeast of the village, clearing the ridge in its area with little dif¤culty until the troops came to the last bunker, whose automatic weapons were sited for grazing ¤re where the top of the ridge was perfectly ®at. After several attempts had been repulsed, a tank was brought up in support, and the position was reduced just before dusk.
A platoon of four tanks was detailed to accompany SSgt. James A. Graham of B Company, 1st/302nd, to occupy a position on the reverse slope of the Auf der Hütte cliffs overnight in the hope that this maneuver would compel the German troops pinning down the 2nd/302nd to withdraw, as indeed turned out to be the case.26
THE TABEN BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 24
The 5th Ranger Battalion continued their advance throughout the night of February 23–24, alternatively marching and resting. At each halt patrols were sent out to check the area and the route ahead. Several bunkers and other forti¤cations were encountered, and the number of prisoners continued to grow.
Shortly before dawn the battalion closed to their objective. The men of F Company were sent forward to reconnoiter and captured some forti¤ed houses, from which another thirty prisoners were extracted. Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan then began organizing his roadblock. B Company came under ¤re as they entered the position, and an enemy attack was expected at any moment. E Company laid mines on the road and then adopted covering positions, while the rest of the battalion formed an outward-facing protective screen. Soon afterward a self-propelled gun came down the road, but its crew jumped out and ran away before the rangers could engage it. The E Company bazooka team failed to destroy the gun, so it was doused with gasoline and set on ¤re. Later, Capt. Charles E. Parker’s A Company was attacked while changing position, and it took two hours of ¤re from the remainder of the battalion to get the situation under control.
Anxious to provide an early relief for the 5th Rangers, General Walker at XX Corps ordered General Malony to push his infantry north from Serrig to secure Beurig and General Morris to send his armor down to cross the new bridge at Taben, which was to be ready by 1600. Together elements of both divisions would then secure Beurig, from where the armored infantry would escort the armor up the main road through Irsch to the 5th Rangers’ roadblock.27
Major Brumley’s depleted 2nd/301st, which had been withdrawn from the Staadt crossing and designated divisional reserve on the previous afternoon, began moving to the Taben crossing point at 0300 on February 24, crossing at 0400. On their way to the crossing site several men of this battalion, including Captain Stockstad of E Company, passed out from sheer exhaustion and had to be evacuated.
The remnants of F and G Companies, numbering only seventy men in all, had been formed into a combined company under Capt. Otto P. Steinen and were followed by Lt. Edmund G. Reuter’s E Company, now down to about ¤fty effectives. The battalion was sent straight up Hocker Hill to take position to the right of Major Hodges’s 1st/301st. As the lead platoon under SSgt. Carl W. Hager reached some open ground on the hilltop, the twelve men came under enemy machine-gun ¤re and Sergeant Hager was concussed from a grenade, so Sgt. James C. Hullender took over. Captain Steinen decided his company was too weak to tackle what appeared to be a major strongpoint and ordered a withdrawal. Then Lt. Kenneth E. Kearns tried to tackle an 88-mm gun position, but was driven back by machine-gun ¤re. Support from the 356th Field Artillery was called for, and the enemy position was inundated.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Reuter, who had no maps, was bringing up E Company on the battalion right when he encountered a patrol from battalion Headquarters Company led by SSgt. John H. Kinnan and came under sniper ¤re. Soon after, they came across another German strongpoint and reported its presence back to Major Brumley. E Company was down to only thirty-eight effectives, so Major Brumley ordered the twenty-twostrong antitank platoon to reinforce them as ri®emen, with SSgt. George F. Fell taking charge of the reinforcements. Lt. Robert E. Trinkline called for another artillery concentration, and the company went into the attack at 1430, taking the position and capturing twenty-¤ve dazed Germans.28
As previously mentioned, when the men of Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s relieved 3rd/302nd reached the foot of Hocker Hill early in the morning, they were sent off north along the riverside road to clear the route to Serrig. They encountered no dif¤culties, even though they had to pass beneath the
Establishing the Bridgehead / 215
still trapped 2nd/302nd on the Auf der Hütte cliffs, and reached Serrig at 1130.29
Up to this point, XX Corps had been able to supply the division with only one M2 treadway bridge and barely enough ®oats to span the river. The original plan was to put this ¤rst vehicular bridge at Staadt, but because of the amount of enemy ¤re directed against this location, General Malony ordered its construction at Taben instead. His infantry urgently needed the armor that had been allocated to him for this operation. This task was carried out by the 135th Combat Engineers assisted by A Company of the 319th, starting at 0230 on February 24 and not completed until 1350 that same day. The length of time needed was due to construction dif¤culties offered by the nature of the site and some enemy interference. The Germans continued to harass Taben with mortar and artillery ¤re from what appeared to be Height 471, but the bridge itself was in de¤lade from the artillery until the enemy moved their guns to give en¤lade ¤re up the river.
The Broadway trucks could move to the crossing only one at a time and had to run a two-hundred-yard gauntlet of long-range German machinegun ¤re to reach the river. Many of these vehicles arrived at the banks of the Saar peppered with holes, but fortunately none of the drivers was hit during the operation and not a single vehicle stalled to block the narrow road. The engineers then had to breach the twelve-foot retaining wall along the east riverbank with explosives and do a great deal of work on the approach to the far bank. This was begun by hand and ¤nished off by an angledozer as soon as the bridge was completed. An armored Caterpillar was then sent ahead along the river road to ¤ll the huge crater on the Hamm bend.
The weight of the ¤rst tank that crossed the bridge caused one of the inshore pontoons to puncture on some sharp rocks on the riverbed, necessitating repair, and the western approach had to be heightened before the remainder of the 778th Tank Battalion’s column crossed. With the passage of the tanks, enemy artillery ¤re increased, continuing into the night. The pontoons were punctured several times, but fortunately the bridge received no direct hits. The engineers who were maintaining the structure repaired the damaged ®oats immediately, and there was no interruption to the ®ow of traf¤c.30
1st Lt. Bertil T. Anderson and Sgt. Clifford G. Bailey of the military police later recorded this joint statement:
At 241600 armor of the 778th Tank Battalion and 774th Tank-Destroyer Battalion crossed the bridge. Shortly thereafter orders came to move across the river a group of 300 POWs that had been collected at Serrig. It was feared by Division that they might be liberated by a counterattack that was developing. The POWs were taken to a ferry site near Hamm, where an engineer captain had the winch of a 2 1/2 ton truck hooked up to the ferry. About 49 POWs were ferried across before the current capsized the raft. By shouting his orders across the river, Major John Schaub, 94th Military Police Platoon commanding of¤cer, had his men march the POWs down the road along the east bank of the Saar and across the bridge at Taben. This road at the time was under sniper ¤re. Trucks could not be brought into Taben due to artillery ¤re. However, they were marched through the town and on to where the trucks were parked.31
Immediately upon completion of the treadway bridge at Taben, plans
were made for a similar construction at Staadt, since another M2 bridge
had become available and there was little enemy ¤re then falling in that
10 Developing the Bridgehead
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 25
On February 25 Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, commanding the 376th In-fantry Regiment, received orders to launch an attack to the south in order to link up with the 3rd/301st near Beurig. This would connect the two bridgeheads and clear the area of German ¤re, thus enabling the construction of a bridge connecting Saarburg and Beurig. This task fell to the 1st/376th, which was covering the southern ®ank. Lt. Col. James O’Hara’s 54th Armored Infantry Battalion crossed the Saar during the night and rested up in Ockfen until dawn, when it assisted in clearing the bunkers along the riverbank leading south to Beurig.1
During the early hours of the twenty-¤fth, Captain Standish and his men of F Company, 2nd/376th, tried to get close to the bunkers that were interfering with the bridging operations, but were unable to do so because of the heavy interlocking cross¤re. Artillery assistance was requested and received in the form of white phosphorus and “time-on-target” barrages. Tank destroyers then assisted from across the river, using direct ¤re through the gaps in the arti¤cial smoke, which was more effective than the efforts of the artillery.
The 61st Armored Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. Miles L. Standish, crossed the river during the morning. That afternoon its B Company and two additional platoons were attached to the 2nd/376th to assist in its task at Schoden. The armored infantry company worked north along the river and, after some heavy ¤ghting, forced its way into the southern edge of the objective, while on the right the F Company group followed the railroad tracks through a more heavily forti¤ed area. As they advanced, their right ®ank was exposed to the ¤re of a series of enemy bunkers on the high ground to the east; progress was slow and the ¤rst bunkers were taken only after some bitter ¤ghting. By early afternoon the objectives had been taken, but B Company then found itself isolated in Schoden.
At about dusk a column of Germans coming down the railroad tracks from the north was taken to be prisoners of war, being moved to the rear by the 61st Armored Infantry. This column was almost on top of the F Company troops deployed around the sole remaining bunker that the engineers had not destroyed, and in which about half the party was resting, before the men realized that the Germans were armed. Fighting developed at close quarters, and the numerically superior enemy surrounded the bunker, preventing all attempts to escape.
The remainder of Captain Standish’s F Company, which had been enjoying a short rest in Ockfen, had been heavily hit by enemy artillery the previous night, and when they got word that their fellow troops were under heavy attack, they set off to the rescue. The relief party succeeded in breaking through the German perimeter and fought its way up a communication trench to the American-held bunker, but found itself trapped against a blank wall and unable to communicate with the occupants. Enemy soldiers eventually placed a large demolition charge in one of the box’s embrasures, and at 0145 hours there was a terri¤c explosion. Finally, at 0300 the relief party was obliged to withdraw after having been out®anked.2
SSgt. Glenn Luckridge of F Company later reported:
The Krauts were resorting to endless means to get in the box. Every
time we would yell to our trapped comrades (who apparently did not
know we were there) we would get a prolonged burst from the ma
chine guns. We were so near and yet so far from them. We had no way
to get at them, as showing our heads above the trench would have
been certain death.
At about midnight the Krauts ¤red a bazooka round at the box in
an effort to get our men out, after which they taunted them. We had
no grenades as we had not been able to replenish our supply. And, not
knowing the true conditions before us, we were afraid to try anything
Developing the Bridgehead / 219
desperate for fear of hurting our own men. Time crept by slowly, a minute seemed an hour, and our nerves were nearly cracked from being in such a helpless position . . . We just sat and prayed.
Finally at two in the morning there was a terri¤c explosion in front of the box. It didn’t take much deduction to ¤gure they had blown a hole in the box, and now our men had little choice. After about ten minutes we went through the most agonizing sensation in the world, hearing our buddies surrender. They had no choice. When we heard them go our hearts all sank. We had done our best but failed at our objective.3
While attempting to observe these operations, both Lieutenant Colonel Martin and Major Dossenbach, the battalion commander and executive of¤cer respectively, were injured and had to be evacuated. Later in the day Captain Standish was found wandering around in a dazed condition and also had to be evacuated, as he was suffering from exhaustion.4
Meanwhile, E Company was under heavy attack in Ockfen, and Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd Battalion remained isolated on the hills beyond.
The remaining troops of the 1st/376th’s A Company were assembled, leaving the rest of the battalion stretched to breaking point along its extended front. Captain Dadisman’s A Company then attacked south along the riverbank, but was met by a hail of machine-gun ¤re from American positions west of the Saar. When the machine gunners realized their mistake and lifted their ¤re, the company continued down the hill toward the enemy-held bunkers in the valley as two platoons of tank destroyers on the west bank provided their ¤re support. To add to the dif¤culty of the situation, the Germans manning the bunkers under attack called for mortar ¤re. However, by nightfall the company had reached the point where the Ockfen-Beurig road crossed the railway tracks, so they dug in.
During the afternoon they were joined by Captain Bowden’s B Company, while Capt. Frank Malinski’s C Company, which had sustained the most casualties in the assault crossing, continued to safeguard the hill behind them. As they advanced, they came under constant harassing ¤re from bunkers farther inland. In spite of the onset of darkness, which made locating enemy positions extremely dif¤cult, the platoon commanders of B Company skillfully directed the supporting 90-mm and 150-mm artillery ¤re on to their targets.5
The supply situation for Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th on the Scharfenberg Ridge was now getting desperate. But circumstances improved somewhat when a hay wain drawn by two oxen came along the road and was found to be full of hams, and while that was being appropriated, another came along loaded with large carboys of local wine.
Meanwhile, Thurston’s pleas for help, which had failed to extract a response from Regiment, had ¤ltered through to the parent 94th Division, and with General Malony’s approval, artillery liaison planes were pressed into service for vertical resupply. The Piper Cubs made trip after trip, dropping food, ammunition, radio batteries, and medical supplies, not all of which fell into the battalion lines. As the planes swooped low over the American positions, the Germans would send up a hail of lead from every available weapon, causing the Cubs to duck and weave. On one occasion two Messerschmitt Me-109s jumped the aerial column, and only the maneuverability and slow airspeed of the tiny planes saved them from the fast German ¤ghters. While most of the twenty Piper Cubs that participated in these operations had scars to prove the accuracy of the enemy’s ¤re, not a single plane was lost.6
According to Lieutenant Colonel Thurston, part of an armored infantry battalion arrived at 2200, armed only with light weapons. Ignoring Thurston’s advice and without making any reconnaissance, the lieutenant colonel who was commanding led his men uphill toward the interlocking line of pillboxes that Thurston did not have the equipment to attack and had therefore kept picketed to prevent an enemy counterattack in a mutually acceptable “live and let live” arrangement. About midnight he and his men heard sustained bursts of machine-gun ¤re, and sometime afterward the armored infantrymen returned carrying their wounded. Apparently their colonel had led them directly into the attack in column of threes. He had been one of those killed, and his second in command had ordered a retreat, leaving Thurston’s men to bury the dead the next day.7
The Fort Knox research report into “The 10th Armored Division in the Saar-Moselle Triangle” describes other events that were going on at the time:
Developing the Bridgehead / 221
Task Force Richardson was continually held up by pillboxes to the south. These pillboxes were located south of Ockfen in a staggered formation. There were eleven in all, of which ten were marked on the infantry’s 1:25,000 maps. Teams were organized before setting out to clear the pillboxes. A detailed plan was devised which called for coordinated assaults on each pillbox. This, in turn, required a wellde¤ned plan of attack. It was decided that Task Force Richardson would clear the pillboxes southeast of Ockfen, while Task Force O’Hara would move east, initially following the path which had been taken by Task Force Standish in its move to Scharfenberg Hill. Task Force O’Hara would then turn south and, ¤ghting abreast of Task Force Riley, clear the pillboxes in its zone along the road leading to Irsch. The attack was to begin at dusk.
The clear-cut plan of attack called for the dismounted infantry to reduce each forti¤cation methodically. Two machine gun sections would set up in partial de¤lade on the ®anks of the pillboxes, and by ¤ring on the embrasures would force the occupants to close them. Bazooka teams would then move forward and blow off the ports. Following that, the engineer teams would crawl up and place their satchel charges. In the meantime, the artillery on the west side of the Saar would be on call to place ¤re on the remaining pillboxes in order to keep them occupied. An almost identical situation had been rehearsed by the infantry while they were training in the Metz area, and this proved extremely helpful.
The 54th Armored Infantry Battalion was assigned the following missions: The ¤rst two pillboxes were to be taken by A Company, the next four by C Company, and the last two again by A Company. At approximately 1830 A Company moved out toward the ¤rst two pillboxes. Very little resistance was offered after artillery and machine gun ¤re had been placed on the boxes. C Company then passed through A Company and moved on to take the next two pillboxes, supported by machine-gun and artillery ¤re. The Germans put up a dogged resistance and ¤red ®ares to light up the area for spotting targets. Friendly artillery ¤re was increased on the pillboxes and two tank-destroyers, which had been ferried across the river during the day, ¤red direct ¤re on the forti¤cations. This was suf¤cient to force the Germans to surrender.
However, the next two pillboxes assigned to C Company were far more dif¤cult to reduce. As the assault team moved up, the Germans brought additional machine guns onto the slope to the east and opened ¤re to deny the approach. In spite of this increased automatic ¤re, the assault teams reached the pillboxes and placed their satchel charges. But even after the charges were detonated, the Germans continued ¤ghting. It was necessary for the company to withdraw so that friendly ¤re and tank-destroyer ¤re could be placed on the boxes. After two hours of this ¤re the Germans surrendered.
The tank-destroyers then further assisted A Company in the reduction of the remaining pillboxes, which, fortunately, quickly surrendered.
This operation had taken most of the night and resulted in 20 enemy killed and 54 prisoners of war taken. C Company only suffered four casualties. It had de¤nitely been proved that pillboxes do not form insurmountable obstacles to armored infantry if the attacks have been carefully planned and carried out with speed and teamwork.8
As we shall see, the armored infantry battalions were to link up with Task Force Riley in Irsch that evening.
That night the commander of the 376th Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, sent a situation report to General Malony, commanding the 94th Division, in the hope that Malony might be able to extend some help, even though the 376th was still attached to, and under command of, the 10th Armored Division. The telexed message read:
Our lines are so extended that we cannot prevent enemy in¤ltration. Enemy occupied pillboxes still exist inside our bridgehead. All troops have been committed since the ¤rst day of the operation. I have no reserve. One company of armored infantry has been attached temporarily.
Except for two platoons of tank-destroyers on the friendly side of the river, we have no support of heavy direct ¤re weapons. It is expected that these two platoons will be withdrawn tomorrow.
Until 1900 this date, all evacuation and supply has been handcarried. One Weasel and seven Jeeps may be able to cross tonight. At
Developing the Bridgehead / 223
present all ferry service is out of order. I expect that all heavy trucks, prime-movers, cannon and artillery weapons will have to cross the Saar at your bridgehead. If so, this will be a critical period for the infantry battalions, and they must be reinforced and supplied by another unit.
If we cross all vehicles here it will take two or three days and place the vehicles in an area getting observed artillery ¤re.
In our beachhead we have captured about sixty percent of the pillboxes, one 88-mm gun, one battery of mountain artillery, and 452 prisoners. Estimated killed 300.
Since 21 February I have lost 14 of¤cers and 161 enlisted men. I am understrength 47 of¤cers and 506 enlisted men. I recommend that this combat command be passed through, if the 94th Division is to continue the attack to the north.
If the 94th Division is to protect the Saarburg crossing, I recommend that this combat team be reinforced to hold its present position. Such reinforcement should include tank destroyers and infantry.9
THE SERRIG BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 25
At 1030 hours on February 25, XX Corps informed Major General Malony that the 94th was to attack north from its bridgehead, while the 376th In-fantry, which was still attached to the 10th Armored Division and had crossed the Saar at Ayl, was to attack south to link the two bridgeheads. Further, the 94th was to clear the road from the Taben site to Beurig and uncover the Saarburg-Beurig-Irsch road so that armor could be committed to the east. As the 10th Armored Division had been unable to put a bridge over the Saar at its crossing site, its tanks were to move south and cross on the 94th’s bridges.10
Clearing the area north of Beurig and securing the lateral route from Saarburg to Irsch before the arrival of the armor in the bridgehead presented a major problem. Since the 3rd Battalions of the 301st and 302nd Infantry were in the best positions to make the sweep north, orders were speedily issued to them for a simultaneous thrust with Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st on the left aiming at Beurig, and Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302d on the right aiming for Irsch.
While waiting for dawn to advance, I Company took cover in some
Developing the Bridgehead / 225
houses on the edge of the woods, but as the troops settled down to rest, they were inundated with an intense concentration of mortar bombs that forced them out again into the woods behind. It was later discovered that this concentration came from a belt-loaded, 50-mm fortress mortar installed in a pillbox that could put as many as twenty-seven bombs into the air before the ¤rst exploded.
In front of McNulty’s 3rd/301st lay about ¤fteen hundred yards of dense woodland shown on the map as the Forêt de Trèves (Trier Forest), and beyond this was the forti¤ed village of Beurig. The ri®e companies swept through these woods, routing out snipers and reducing machine-gun nests until L Company was looking down into Beurig. The exhausted infantrymen had to tackle one pillbox after another without the support of the tank destroyers that were still on the other side of the river. The ground before them was wide open, studded with pillboxes and bunkers, wire entanglements and tank traps, communication trenches and mine¤elds. On the right, facing the Beurig-Irsch road, was also a deserted German army barracks complex.11
Commenting on this episode, Major Howard, operations of¤cer of the 301st Infantry, later wrote: “On 25 February, the 3d Battalion, 301st Infantry, advanced into Beurig after clearing six pillboxes of the enemy along the river line. The Germans were mainly talked out of their pillboxes during the advance, when a T/5 [Tech-5] from K Company and two German POWs approached each pillbox in turn and explained the situation to the men inside. One of the German POWs was killed during one approach, but over 100 of the pillbox occupants emerged waving white surrender ®ags.”12
Meanwhile, on the right ®ank Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company had reached the edge of the woods overlooking the narrow village of Irsch, and even farther east Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd deployed on the high ground on the near side of the stream ®owing north into Irsch. Here they rested until the arrival of the armor.
As the 3rd Battalions of the 301st and 302nd Infantry Regiments moved northward, a gap was created between the regiments, so the 2nd/302nd, which had spent the night on the hill east of Serrig, was tasked with forming an east-facing line along the stream running north into Irsch. At the same time, the right ®ank of this battalion was instructed to link up with the left ®ank of Major Hodges’s 1st/301st on the near side of the Auf der Hütte cliffs. At 1300, as a result of the foregoing deployments, another
reshuf®e took place within the 94th Infantry Division. Colonel Hagerty’s
301st Infantry Regiment was made responsible for the area north of Serrig,
with the 2nd/302nd, 3rd/301st, and 3rd/302nd Battalions under command,
and moved its command post into Schloss Saarfels. Colonel Johnson’s
302nd Infantry Regiment was made responsible for the area south of Serrig,
with the 1st/301st, 1st/302nd, and 2nd/301st Battalions under command. In
essence, the 301st Infantry exchanged the 1st/302nd for the 2nd/302nd after
the previous day’s reorganization.13 The Fort Knox report on the 10th Armored Division resumes:
Lieutenant Colonel Riley of CCB [Combat Command B], like Richardson, received orders to move his tanks and half-tracks to Freudenburg in order to cross on the Taben bridge. Although the bridge was under heavy artillery ¤re, the Task Force crossed with A Company, 21st Tank Battalion (reinforced with a light tank platoon of D Company) leading, followed by Headquarters Company and the empty half-tracks of the infantry.
Serrig by this time was in our hands, and it was here that Riley received orders from CCA [Combat Command A] to attack through the 94th Division bridgehead and push on to Irsch. There he would pick up the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion of Task Force Standish and move east to relieve the 5th Ranger Battalion, and seize the high ground west of Zerf.
While in Serrig, Riley met Lieutenant [Louis J.] Gambosi of the 5th Ranger Battalion, who had with him 24 men and two of¤cers. These troops were loaded into the half-tracks following behind A Company. Riley, with his S-3, Captain R. V. Earkley, moved forward to the head of the column where the 94th Division was still engaged in heavy ¤ghting against enemy small arms, mortars, and machine guns at the limits of the bridgehead near Beurig. In order not to become involved in this action, the armor was forced to take secondary roads, which were impassable except for medium tanks. The light tanks, therefore, were attached by cables to the M4 Sherman tanks and the column continued intact.
With the delay caused by this expedient, it was not until late in the afternoon of February 25th that the column closed upon the town of
Developing the Bridgehead / 227
Irsch from the west, with the 1st Platoon of A Company leading. Lieutenant Colonel Riley believed at that time that Task Force Standish had cleared the town with his 61st Armored Infantry Battalion. This proved a costly mistake since Task Force Standish was still ¤ghting to reach Irsch from its Scharfenberg Hill position.
Lieutenant Hanover, commanding the 1st Platoon of A Company, moved into the center of the town. To his immediate front he observed a roadblock across a fork in the road. The two lead tanks ¤red at the block with 76-mm ¤re. They then bypassed the roadblock to the west and continued through the town.
However, they failed to observe that the roadblock was covered from either side by two German bazooka teams, one groundmounted 88-mm gun, and a Panther tank. When the third tank in Lieutenant Hanover’s column attempted to pass the roadblock, it was ¤red on by the 88-mm gun and set a¤re, blocking the road. The fourth tank was hit by the bazooka team on the right. The ¤fth tank was hit by the other bazooka team, but did not burst into ®ames. Meanwhile the Panther tank covering the roadblock opened up and hit two light tanks of the 2nd Platoon further back in the column.
Captain Eardley, commanding A Company, immediately contacted the men of the Ranger Battalion and organized them as an infantry team in order to clear the obstacle. The Rangers came forward and, upon arrival at the roadblock, they ®ushed the enemy crews into ®ight. The Rangers then proceeded on to contact the two tanks which had succeeded in getting past the roadblock. They reached the tanks, and formed a ®ank guard to prevent further bazooka ¤re from knocking them out while being escorted back to the main column.
At 2030 B Company of Task Force Riley (20th Armored Infantry Battalion) came into Irsch from the northwest. It immediately began clearing the town, taking 290 prisoners of war from the 416th Volksgrenadier Division [sic; the actual title was the 416th Infantry Division]. The action up to this time had cost ¤ve tanks and approximately ¤ve killed and 20 injured.
Captain Holehouse, commanding A Company, 20th Armored In-fantry Battalion, arrived from Ockfen at 2240 and assisted in clearing the town, taking 250 prisoners of war. When a Panther tank to the south of the town opened up, the prisoners of war started to scatter.
One of Company A’s half-tracks covered the prisoners of war, and
when the fracas was over, 15 of them were dead. C Company, 20th
Armored Infantry Battalion, arrived almost on the heels of Captain
The three armored infantry battalions of the 10th Armored Divi
sion had succeeded in reaching Irsch with the assistance of the 376th
RCT [Regimental Combat Team].14
Elements of the 94th Infantry Division also assisted in clearing Irsch. Lieutenant Devonald’s K Company of Maj. Gilbert N. O’Neil’s 3rd/301st moved out from the cover of the woods to help take the village, and half the village had been cleared before the company was withdrawn to prepare for the battalion attack on Beurig the next morning. Task Force Riley had expected to meet their own armored infantrymen in Irsch, but they had yet to arrive, so the task force welcomed this assistance. K Company was replaced that evening by Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd, who then assisted in clearing the rest of the village.
Instructions were received for the newly constituted “Temporary Team A,” consisting of Task Force Riley and the armored infantry, to move on immediately to the relief of the 5th Ranger Battalion. However, as the team started off with two Rangers sitting on each of the tanks and the remainder in the half-tracks, a Panther tank blocked the road ahead and set the two leading Shermans on ¤re, followed by the half-tracks, which the Ranger occupants managed to evacuate just in time. The column had made the fatal error of moving out bumper to bumper within the narrow, twisting con¤nes of the village, and were thus unable to maneuver to engage the Panther, which escaped unharmed. The column then pulled back into Irsch to sort themselves out with a radioed plea to Division that they could not move in darkness without infantry support, but were ordered to move on regardless.
Finally the Rangers were ordered forward to clear the way through the village, which involved clearing another three roadblocks and chasing the Panther off, only to ¤nd a fourth roadblock at the far end of the village covered by yet another Panther tank. The Rangers called for artillery support, but because of an ammunition shortage could get none, so they went ahead anyway and cleared the roadblock, capturing sixty prisoners. Fortunately, the second Panther declined to attack without infantry support.15
Developing the Bridgehead / 229
The troops of Company A of the 319th Engineers were able to begin constructing a Class 40 pontoon bridge at Staadt at 0800, for the ground dominating the crossing point was now entirely in American hands, since the continuing expansion of the bridgehead had forced the withdrawal of the German batteries that had been shelling it. By 1515 the bridge was ready for traf¤c, and Combat Command A of the 10th Armored Division crossed immediately.16
HOCKER HILL—FEBRUARY 25
During the moonlit night of February 24–25, the men of Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd, who had been trapped and isolated on the Auf der Hütte cliff path since the afternoon of the twenty-third, made another attempt to proceed and found that they could do so, as most of the Germans had disappeared. The German withdrawal was presumed to have been caused by the deployment on the back of the hill of four tanks escorted by infantry coming up from Serrig. The battalion encountered only slight resistance before meeting up with troops from the 1st Battalion, to whose location it then proceeded. It was only then discovered that the 2nd Platoon of G Company, which had been covering the battalion’s ®ank on the cliff track from a captured bunker, was missing. The platoon leader and platoon sergeant had both become casualties, and the men in the bunker remained unaware of the battalion’s departure.
This isolated bunker was attacked by German troops during the night, forcing the Americans out. German troops also retook the bunker at the Y-shaped junction at the Serrig end of the footpath, thus cutting the path once more. Consequently, the 2nd Platoon was obliged to scramble down the cliffs to the river road to get to Serrig and rejoin the battalion. Just before dawn a twenty-man patrol from Captain Colgan’s A Company, 1st/301st, recaptured the troublesome Y-junction bunker, killing seven Germans and capturing twenty-three. However, this was not the end of the matter, for just before dawn Lieutenant Cancilla’s B Company of the 1st/ 301st on Hocker Hill was ordered to maintain contact between the battalion and the 2nd/302nd east of Serrig, some three thousand yards away. Cancilla took the same cliff path across the Auf der Hütte cliffs that Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd had taken before, and as Lt. Richard E. Eckstrom’s lead platoon reached the unoccupied bunker at the far end, it came under enemy machine-gun ¤re. Blocked in by the sheer cliff and the enemy deployed across its front, the platoon took cover in the pillbox. The Germans then grenaded the bunker, resulting in several injuries and forcing the men out again. That afternoon Eckstrom and TSgt. Robert O’Hara led their
Developing the Bridgehead / 231
platoons in a coordinated attack following a preparatory concentration organized by Lt. Paul Boland of the 301st Field Artillery. They gained their objective, but the enemy retaliated with mortar, machine-gun, and sniper ¤re. The platoons then received orders to return to Hocker Hill. That afternoon A Company was attacked on Hocker Hill by SS Panzergrenadier Battalion 506, which had just arrived in the area, but the company was able to successfully repel the enemy attack.
At one point in the afternoon the Y-fork bunker was attacked by a tank of the 778th Tank Battalion, whose crew no doubt believed it was occupied by Germans. After ¤ring ¤ve rounds at point-blank range, the tanker crew placed a satchel charge against the door, planning to blow it open. A ¤ring slit in the bunker then opened, and the two men of B Company and three gunners of the 301st Field Artillery who were inside told the tank crew in no uncertain terms what they thought of them. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but this incident serves to demonstrate both the strength of the German positions and the complexity of the situation.
Meanwhile, Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd had set off to the northeast and crossed the Serrig valley and were advancing through a wooded area on the tip of the next hill, when they suddenly came under attack from a large group of Germans just as American artillery began to fall on both groups. Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3nd/302nd had seen the enemy attack forming in the woods and, mistaking their 2nd Battalion for the enemy, had called for artillery ¤re. However, this broke up the enemy attack, and as soon as the ¤re lifted, the 2nd Battalion continued up the ridge, crossed the road running along it, and deployed as ordered.17
XX Corps’ orders to the 94th Infantry Division were interpreted as giving priority to the Taben bridge, so the key position of Hocker Hill had to be held “at all costs.” With the 10th Armored Division having to pass along the 94th’s main supply routes to reach the Taben bridge, strict traf¤c control was necessary. Consequently, a traf¤c control system was established using two-man military police posts at the vital points that were all connected by ¤eld telephone under the direction of Lt. Col. John D. F. Phillips, the divisional G-4 (staff of¤cer for supply/logistics) at Freudenburg. Before a convoy was allowed to enter the controlled area net, it had to telephone ahead the number and type of vehicles. It was then given the exact time it could enter, and its progress had to be reported as it passed through. This allowed for convoys to be halted should an area ahead come under enemy artillery ¤re or be blocked by an accident.18
Company A of the 1st/301st came under attack from the newly arrived SS Panzergrenadier Battalion 506 during the afternoon of February 25. The company stood fast in the ¤erce engagement, but the Germans were able to advance their positions to within seventy-¤ve yards of the Americans.19
Of the occupation of Hocker Hill, Maj. Harold F. Howard later reported:
The 1st Battalion, 301st Infantry, still under control of 302d Infantry, was meantime on Hocker Hill, and when the 2d Battalion, 301st Infantry, had crossed at Taben and taken over the sector between Hocker Hill and the Division right ®ank on the river, the 1st Battalion was ordered to outpost a three-mile line, tying in with the 2d Battalion, 302nd Infantry, to the north. While proceeding northward, B Company struck heavy resistance to the northwest of Hocker Hill in the vicinity of a kind of crevice containing a pillbox. German SS troops were entrenched in this crevice and used the pillbox as a base for their defense. Company B upon attacking the crevice met fanatical resistance, since the SS troops thought their position of great tactical importance evidently, and were bent upon holding it. The pillbox during the ¤ght changed hands several times, and every time the Americans succeeded in regaining it, blew it with demolition charges. Upon making contact with the 2d Battalion, 302nd Infantry, B Company was driven out by the counterattack of the SS troops, and late in the afternoon of 25 February B Company was withdrawn from that area and the battalion mission changed to defend Hocker Hill at all cost, and the enemy continued to hold the crevice. This defense of Hocker Hill by the 1st Battalion, 301st infantry, continued for several days.20
Major Brumley’s 2nd/301st were also engaged. At 1800 Captain Steinen’s company passed through Captain Stockstad’s E Company to launch an attack on the Wackelser Fels hill to the south using marching ¤re, but were only partly successful. The top of the hill remained in the hands of enemy
Developing the Bridgehead / 233
soldiers, who were able to bring down a considerable volume of ¤re from machine guns, artillery, and snipers on the attackers. The situation remained unpredictable here.21
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 26
On the morning of February 26 the ¤rst three tanks to arrive in the 376th Infantry’s bridgehead appeared in the 2nd/376th’s area. They had been ferried across on a raft made out of bridge sections that the engineers had been able to salvage. Lieutenant Colonel Martin then sent the 3rd Platoon of Captain Darrah’s E Company with the tanks to extricate the forty-eight men of F Company who were still ¤ghting for the pillboxes located south of Schoden, where they were virtually cut off.
Two of the tanks failed to reach the designated line of departure in time, so the seventeen remaining men of the 3rd Platoon moved off with just one tank in support. Their ¤rst objective was three mutually supporting pillboxes. The ¤rst one fell easily, but the second pillbox was surrendered only after the enemy soldiers inside poured a heavy volume of small-arms and mortar ¤re on the platoon. Inside this pillbox they found American helmets, M1s and other equipment, and a wounded soldier from F Company. All the rest had been either killed or captured. The men then attacked the third pillbox, during which the American tank became the target of every enemy weapon in the area. The tank commander was wounded and crawled out of his hatch, and the tank stopped ¤ring. The platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Ernest N. Dryland, was mortally wounded and there were many other casualties. At this point Tech-5 Paul E. Ramsey dashed to the tank through a hail of ¤re and administered ¤rst aid to the tank commander, whom he then sent back along a communication trench. Ramsey then climbed up on the tank and literally took charge of the battle, directing the tank’s guns and using the tank’s radio to give a clear and concise report on the situation to the battalion command post. (Ramsey was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his outstanding initiative in this action.)22 Eventually, what was left of F Company and the 3rd Platoon of E Company withdrew to Ockfen to await necessary reinforcement. B Company of the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion were still trapped in Schoden.
Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th set off toward Beurig at 0500 and encountered only slight resistance. Unknown to the men of the battalion, the Germans had retreated during the night after the arrival of the American armored columns in Irsch coming from the Taben crossing point. The advance continued and the battalion pushed into the northern edge of Beurig, searching the village house by house. The battalion rounded up a few Germans, and at about noon they made contact with the 3rd Battalion, 301st Infantry, who had entered Beurig from the south.
The linking of the bridgeheads enabled a brief respite for the troops. Kitchen trucks were brought up, and the men were given their ¤rst hot meal in ¤ve days. Some lucky soldiers even received belated Christmas parcels from home. The 1st Battalion was then ordered to turn around and march back to Ockfen, where it was to pass through the 2nd Battalion and attack northward the next day.23
While Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th on Scharfenberg Ridge was waiting to be passed through by the armored infantry, an enemy patrol approached Captain Brown’s K Company’s area. The men in the patrol were almost upon the company before they realized Germans were occupying the area. The American troops opened ¤re at point-blank range, killing or wounding all of the enemy party. Later the armored infantry arrived and pushed through the woods west of Height 426 on the southern tip of the Scharfenberg Ridge, thus releasing a good deal of pressure on the 3rd/376th. The situation improved further as the armored columns drove east through Irsch. For the ¤rst time in three days the battalion members had only one front with which to concern themselves. In any case, they were about to be relieved, as we shall see.24
THE SERRIG BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 26
At 1000 Lieutenant Colonel McNulty’s 3rd/301st launched their attack on Beurig. The open ground surrounding the town bristled with enemy forti¤cations, and the companies moved forward slowly. Surprisingly, the ¤rst pillboxes were taken with a minimum of effort, and after this there was practically no resistance. The troops advanced cautiously through the silent, deserted village checking houses methodically. As previously mentioned, Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th arrived from the north, thus ¤nally ¤lling the gap between the bridgeheads. By noon the village was ¤rmly in American hands and the Serrig-Beurig-Irsch road had been swept for
Developing the Bridgehead / 235
mines and readied for traf¤c.25 With the clearing of Beurig, the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion began construction of a third pontoon bridge at Saarburg, which was completed by midnight.26
A reorganization took place in the 3rd/301st when Lieutenant Colonel McNulty was appointed regimental executive of¤cer in place of Lieutenant Colonel Hardin, who had been wounded at Staadt on the twenty-second. Major O’Neil took over command, and his place as battalion executive of¤cer was taken over by Captain Frierson, who in turn handed over his L Company to Lt. Samuel T. Minich.
Late in the afternoon XX Corps moved the boundary between the 94th Infantry and the 10th Armored Divisions farther north. This boundary change materially increased the 301st Infantry’s area of responsibility on the left or northern ®ank of the division.27
Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd was ordered to move to the Scharfenberg Ridge and Height 426 on the Ockfener Berg northeast of Irsch, where Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th, on the northern tip, had been resisting a series of strong attacks for days. As Cloudt’s battalion advanced that afternoon, they encountered a network of pillboxes and bunkers. Fortunately, these structures were mainly unoccupied, with what little resistance there was coming from an occasional sniper or machine gun. The troops continued up the steep wooded slope of Height 426 and then down the ridge, sweeping the enemy’s feeble resistance before them. Thurston’s 3rd/376th was encountered as expected, the positions on Height 426 and the Scharfenberg being taken over by Major O’Neil’s 3rd/301st, while Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd moved on to occupy the Irminer Wald hill.
Thurston’s exhausted troops withdrew to Ockfen for a well-earned rest. With them went L Company, who with G Company of Major Dossenbach’s 2nd/376th had endured constant bombardment on the Irminer Wald hill. One position alone had taken an all-night pounding that left half of its twenty-two defenders wounded. On another occasion a two-man team from the G Company machine-gun section trailed and captured a sevenman German patrol.
With Maixner’s 2nd/302nd occupying the ridge south of Irsch, the dispositions of the 301st Infantry that night secured the bridgehead and main supply route that was about to open through Saarburg.
The 94th Infantry Division now held a bridgehead eleven thousand yards wide and ¤ve thousand yards deep. CCB of the 10th Armored had
Developing the Bridgehead / 237
completed crossing at Taben by 0222 hours, and CCA of the same division began its crossing at noon over the new bridge at Serrig, the tanks taking the hill road east for Zerf, where they were to turn north for Trier.28
The newly constituted Temporary Team A of the 10th Armored Division had taken all night to reorganize in Irsch, and it was 0930 before the drive to relieve the 5th Ranger Battalion along Highway 407 resumed. B and C Companies of Lieutenant Colonel Richardson’s 20th Armored Infantry Battalion had gone ahead on foot to clear the ¤rst one and a half miles. However, there was little opposition, and the tanks and infantry half-tracks moved on until an observation plane supporting them reported the presence of some antitank guns up ahead. The armored infantry were able to deal with the guns and captured sixty prisoners. The column then came under intermittent heavy artillery and mortar ¤re being brought down on the highway and either side of it, and the advance continued in ¤ts and starts during the pauses in ¤ring. It took three hours to reach the hamlet of Biedchen, about halfway to Zerf, where the column came under pointblank ¤re that was believed to be coming from a 75-mm gun aimed straight down the road from a point west of Zerf.
The tanks stayed on the road, but the infantry took cover in a parallel draw about one hundred yards from the highway. At this point contact was made with the 5th Rangers, and Lieutenant Gambosi’s platoon split off to rejoin them. A request came back for the transport to remove their wounded, so ¤ve half-tracks were detailed off for the task. This was the third day that Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan’s 5th Rangers had held their roadblock. Before being relieved, they had just ambushed a column of enemy soldiers, capturing 145 men and killing several others. Orders now arrived from the 94th Infantry Division attaching them to the 301st Infantry, whose troops had also been striving to reach them.
The artillery ¤re continued, but a thick fog arose, restricting visibility to about ¤fty yards, and the column was able to make better progress. Just west of Zerf, B Company moved off to the southeast to attack Oberzerf, which was taken at 1700 with little resistance. Lt. Melvin I. Mason’s C Company moved northeast to take Niederzerf, only to spot six Panthers in the village, so they held back from attacking.
Meanwhile, the remainder of Temporary Team A assembled on the high ground overlooking the valley in which these villages lay. Included in the
Developing the Bridgehead / 239
assembly were the tanks of the 21st Tank Battalion, two platoons of B Company, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the half-tracks of the 54th Armored Infantry Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Richardson organized these elements into three teams. One was to take the high ground on either side of Oberzerf, the second was to take Niederzerf and the high ground around it, and the third was to go into Zerf itself and secure the high ground east of it. The attack on Zerf was launched at 1800 but stalled on mine¤elds in front of the village. While these were being cleared, a platoon of Hellcats moved to some commanding ground six hundred yards to the east of the village and shelled it with its 75-mm guns for ten minutes, after which some dismounted infantry moved in. A Panther was seen on the village outskirts, and bazooka teams ¤red at it, scoring a hit, but did not disable it. The tank withdrew and the village was secured by 0100. During the night Temporary Team A was disbanded, having captured more than one hundred prisoners during its brief existence, and its subordinate units reorganized themselves in readiness for pushing on without delay.29
HOCKER HILL—FEBRUARY 26
Enemy artillery ¤re continued to fall on Taben with clocklike precision and surprising accuracy, and the men soon realized that the best time to enter or leave the village was immediately after the German artillerymen had ¤nished a concentration. All supplies for the battalions on Hocker Hill coming through the village had to be brought across the Saar River and then hauled up the steep cliff paths on backpacks by carrying parties formed from rear area personnel, who then brought the wounded back with them. German prisoners of war were also used as litter bearers in this sector.
There was little activity in the 301st Infantry’s area, but Major Brumley’s 2nd/301st sent a platoon to establish a roadblock in the hamlet of Saarhausen, which was upriver from the Taben crossing. On the way there Pfc. Melvin C. Magnuson, who was acting as platoon sergeant, saw a German soldier standing outside a pillbox. He ¤rst grenaded the position, then persuaded the occupants to surrender. An NCO among the prisoners volunteered to negotiate the surrender of a further six pillboxes, as a result of which the platoon took seventy prisoners in all. Once the platoon had set up its roadblock in Saarhausen, it was well fed for the next few days by a local housewife.30
General Patton telephoned General Bradley about retaining the 10th Armored Division, saying that if he could keep it a bit longer, he was certain of taking Trier soon. Bradley, who knew that SHAEF would not intervene at this stage, gave him permission to keep the division.1
DIVISION FIELD ORDER NUMBER 14
On the morning of February 27 Brigadier General Collier, chief of staff to XX Corps, telephoned General Malony, who had previously commented that he needed mountain troops for the next area of operations, saying: “General, you have your wish for mountain troops! The German 2d Mountain Division is now in front of you.”2
The Germans’ Army Group G had allocated Maj. Gen. Hans Degan’s 2nd Mountain Division, consisting of the Mountain Infantry (Gebirgsjäger) Regiments 136 and 137, and Mountain Artillery Regiment 11, Tank Hunting Battalion 55, Mountain Engineer Battalion 82, and divisional support units bearing the number 67, to LXXXII Corps. This division, originally stemming from the Austrian army, had been seriously depleted in the ¤ghting in northern Finland before it was replenished in Denmark with men taken from rear-area units, most of them Austrian. The ¤rst elements of this di-vision to arrive had already been engaged against the 5th Rangers.
General Malony’s comment arose from new orders from XX Corps to increase the side of his bridgehead, as a result of which he issued Division Field Order Number 14 on February 27, nominating eleven hilltops west of the Ruwer River that were to be the next objectives for the 94th Infantry
Taking Trier / 241
Division. The division was thus to be deployed from south to north in the
|2nd/301st||Wäckseler Fels (Height 440)|
|1st/302nd||Hill 1 (Höckerberg) (Height 506)|
|Hill 2 (Height 536)|
|5th Rangers||Hill 3 (Height 502)|
|3rd/301st||Hill 4 (Height 494)|
|Hill 5 (Height 463)|
|Hill 6 (Mühlenberg) (Height 468)|
|2nd/302nd||Hill 7 (Height 472)|
|Hill 8 (Height 468)|
|Baldringen, Hentern, Kummlerhof, Schömerich|
|3rd/302nd||Hill 9 (Height 464)|
|Hill 10 (Height 500)|
|Hill 11 (midway between Niedersehr and|
|Paschel, Lampaden, Obersehr, Niedersehr,|
In order to reach their objectives, Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd and Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd would have to cover a considerable distance through wooded territory that was still not cleared of the enemy.
Major McNulty’s 3rd/301st left Ockfen that same morning and reached Irsch at about noon. Priority of traf¤c on Highway 407 was for the 10th Armored Division, so the infantrymen had to march in extended single ¤le carrying all of their equipment up the long hill. By the time Lieutenant Devonald’s leading K Company turned off the highway at a point opposite Hill 4, with its objective still some ¤fteen hundred yards away, the men were exhausted. K Company advanced in extended order and had gone about ¤ve hundred yards when a sharp command to halt was given. At the same time the distinctive cocking of a machine gun could be heard. Then someone ¤red a ri®e and a ¤re¤ght broke out, but Lt. Robert L. Vinue was certain that the order to halt had been given by an American, so he dashed forward shouting to hold ¤re. K Company had bumped into the 5th Rang
242 / Taking Trier
ers, totally unaware that the Rangers had already been there for four days and had needlessly lost three men killed and seven wounded.
Captain Warren learned from the Rangers that enemy troops were occupying his objective and that there was a line of manned pillboxes across his approach route, so he decided to wait until daylight to make a reconnaissance. Meanwhile, the remainder of the battalion had continued marching to Zerf. Patrols were then sent out to check Hills 5 and 6 to the east of the village. Hill 5, the southernmost, was found to be occupied by the enemy, but the other hill was clear and Captain Donovan’s I Company went on to occupy it, while Lieutenant Minich’s L Company settled down in Zerf to wait for daylight.4
Upon receipt of the new orders of February 27, Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd prepared to move northeast against the Ockfener Berg, the high ground from which Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s 3rd/376th had been so heavily ¤red upon while occupying the northern tip of the Scharfenberg Ridge. Cloudt used as many antiaircraft, tank, and tank destroyer guns as he could muster to cover his attack at 1750. The crest of his objective was so battered by this onslaught that the enemy began surrendering when his battalion was still ¤ve hundred yards away.
While checking the ridge, Captain Smith’s L Company came across four mutually supporting pillboxes and negotiated for their surrender. The senior German NCO in charge agreed to the capitulation, providing the Americans staged a mock battle to save his reputation, so the Americans duly ¤red their weapons into the air and the occupants of three of the pillboxes surrendered. The soldiers in the fourth pillbox refused to comply, so as it was now dark the attack was postponed to the morning.
Meanwhile, K Company had come across some large caves in the side of a hill that were crowded with civilians. The civilians were sent off to Irsch under guard and on the way were attacked by a nine-man German patrol. The American escort engaged the patrol, which then opted for surrender. By 1950 all the battalion’s assigned objectives had been taken.5
Major Maixner also received orders for his 2nd/302nd to move on that afternoon, but because much of the ground in his area on the ridge south of Irsch was open and without protection, he decided to wait for the cover of darkness. The battalion moved off at 1915 and took the ridge across its
244 / Taking Trier
front without dif¤culty. Then, as the men of Captain Kops’s F Company were crossing a bald hill, they came face-to-face with a group of Germans, who opened ¤re on the company with machine guns, raking the area. While under this ¤re, one of the men who could speak a little German managed to communicate with the enemy and gained the impression that they would be prepared to surrender. The word was passed to Captain Kops, a ®uent German-speaker, who crawled forward and met the German captain, who also had been brought forward by his men. After much wrangling, the German captain eventually agreed to surrender, together with the pillboxes commanding the hill.6
Major Stanion’s 1st/302nd also attacked on February 27. Supported by some light tanks, A and B Companies assaulted the high ground to their front and captured four pillboxes. While questioning some of the prisoners, a telephone in one of the pillboxes rang, so Lieutenant Baumgaertner answered it. A German artillery of¤cer was asking if more ¤re was needed to repulse the Americans. Baumgaertner assured him that the action had involved only a small patrol and that the area was now quiet, thus acquiring three artillery-free hours.7
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 27
On February 27 Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th, supported by the regimental cannon company, the 919th Field Artillery, and some tank destroyers on the Saar’s west bank, attacked northward, passing through the 2nd Battalion’s lines, which were held by Captain Standish’s F Company on the riverbank and Captain Heath’s G Company on the hill above.
Captain Dadisman’s A Company was tasked with clearing the pillboxes south and southeast of Schoden, while Captain Bowden’s B Company advanced toward the village along the riverbank. Enemy resistance increased with the advance, and A Company soon ran into dif¤culties. The pillboxes in their area were so well camou®aged that two patrols failed to locate them. Sgt. Leon D. Crutch¤eld of the 2nd Platoon resolved the problem by changing direction to approach the perimeter buildings in the village, which would undoubtedly be covered by ¤re from the hidden pillboxes. The ensuing mortar and machine-gun ¤re soon revealed their locations, which the American tank destroyers across the river then engaged with
Taking Trier / 245
direct ¤re. One by one the pillboxes fell to the aggressive attacks of both companies, and by evening B Company of the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion had been relieved from the positions in which it had been isolated for two days. Forty-two pillboxes had been cleared, with about 250 Germans captured and 38 killed or wounded.8
That morning of February 27, Captain Smith’s L Company of Lieutenant Colonel Cloudt’s 3rd/302nd closed in on the one pillbox whose occupants had refused to surrender the previous evening; however, the German de-fenders had had a change of heart and gave up without a ¤ght. The battalion then received some welcome replacements to share among the companies, but the effective strength was still so low that a platoon each from K Company was attached to I and L Companies to bring them up to reasonable size. The advance was resumed at 1605, and some manned pillboxes were encountered on the next hill. The troops of I Company used their attached K Company platoon to conduct a right ®anking movement while they themselves made a frontal assault. By 1940 all the enemy positions had been taken.
The battalion reorganized before moving off on a compass bearing through the dense woods, aiming for a designated enemy strongpoint. The men had to negotiate a deep ravine in the dark before pushing on. No trace of the objective could be found, so the artillery was asked to drop a smoke shell on the objective’s coordinates, which proved to be one thousand yards back on the route the battalion had already traversed. The bunkers were so well camou®aged that the scouts had walked right over them without detecting them.9
The 135th Engineers constructed another pontoon bridge that day at Niederleuken, between Ayl and Saarburg, which was ready by 1600.10
HOCKER HILL—FEBRUARY 27
The troublesome bunker on the Hamm bend of the ridge road was taken at last on February 27, when Lts. Arthur Shocksnyder and Richard Eckstrom led their 2nd and 3rd Platoons of B Company, 1st/301st, in a twopronged attack that ¤nally cleared the area of the enemy. Major Brumley’s 2nd/301st launched another attack to clear the Wackseler Fels cliffs that day,
246 / Taking Trier
but the enemy’s perfect observation from the heights above and the depleted strength of Captain Steinen’s company prevented an effective result, and the battalion was obliged to return to its original positions. During this action SSgt. Murry W. Forsyth of H Company was hit in the back and both legs by shell¤re, but he continued manning his observation post and directing his company’s 81-mm mortars until he was evacuated later that afternoon.
That night a patrol that included a recent German-speaking replacement, Pvt. David H. Troupe, was challenged by a sentry as they approached a German strongpoint. Troupe replied in German with: “Shut your mouth! What do you want to do, call the of¤cers?” The patrol moved on without further incident.11
THE RUWER VALLEY—FEBRUARY 27
Early on the morning of February 27, leaving Task Force Richardson with the mission of holding Zerf and fending off any enemy counterattacks, the remainder of Combat Command A moved off north on Highway 268 for Trier. Task Force Chamberlain led with the infantry of Captain Eisberg’s A Company, 20th Armored Infantry, in front and on the ®anks of Teams O’Grady and Shaddeau. The nature of the terrain, with its steep, sometimes wooded slopes, obliged the vehicles to remain on the road. At 0200 the column came under direct ¤re from some woods on the left ®ank, starting a two-hour battle to clear the woods and prompting the column to postpone further movement until dawn. A Company set off again at 0545 and immediately ran into a self-propelled 88-mm assault gun and Panther tank lying in wait around a bend in the road. The infantry quickly dealt with this ambush and the column moved on. Progress remained slow, however. Four pillboxes were encountered, and then a heavily defended bunker at Steinbach, all of which had to be stormed and destroyed.
Eventually the column emerged from the wooded area on more suitable ground. The tanks of Team O’Grady deployed ahead of the infantry, who mounted their half-tracks, and swept across country, but soon they ran into a mine¤eld beyond Steinbach that disabled two of the tanks as heavy enemy artillery and mortar ¤re began falling on the column, directed from a ridge ¤ve hundred yards to their front. The infantry dismounted and began working their way around the enemy from the left ®ank, using the
Taking Trier / 247
ditches and roadside foliage for cover and concealment. Attempts to bring the column forward of the ridge were met with heavy direct ¤re. At 1500 Lt. Col. Thomas C. Chamberlain ordered the attached 3rd Platoon of A Company, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion, to clear the three-hundredyard-deep mine¤eld so as to enable his tanks to maneuver their way around. The task was not completed until 0115 the next morning.12
Meanwhile, Task Force O’Hara of Combat Command B had been following Task Force Chamberlain on Highway 407 from Irsch to Zerf and had come under the same gauntlet of shelling. As the column reached a sharp bend in the road west of Zerf, it was ¤red on by an 88-mm gun, and Lt. Col. James O’Hara was killed in his vehicle.
From here this task force continued along a parallel ridge road east of Highway 268 with orders to seize the village of Paschel and Height 508 and then go on to attack Trier. Team Devereauz dismounted short of Paschel at 1630 and took the village without opposition. Capt. John D. Devereauz then took his men on to attack Height 508, which they took after a short ¤re¤ght with a battery of direct ¤re weapons. Here and along the road leading to the hill they rounded up 158 prisoners.13
The experience here was later described as follows: “The operation from Irsch around the hot corner at Zerf and on into Trier was worse than Bastogne. We lost more vehicles and men. The enemy was sitting on the hills where we couldn’t ¤nd them or get at them with artillery. They had their artillery zeroed in on the roads. They would hold their ¤re until we were close[,] and sometimes they would allow the ¤rst column to bypass their position and then open up on the second column. The infantry in the halftracks were vulnerable to the air-burst artillery. There was not enough in-fantry left at the end to ®ush out the hills and clear out the gun positions.”14
That night Combat Command B ordered Maj. Warren B. Haskell, the executive of¤cer of the 54th Armored Infantry, to assume command of the task force, which then took his name.15
THE IRSCH-ZERF HIGHWAY—FEBRUARY 27
Major O’Neil’s 3rd/301st was now scattered over four thousand yards of frontage, and its ri®e companies were focused on Hills 4, 5, and 6, but the area between was subject to enemy in¤ltration, which could only be coun
248 / Taking Trier
tered by patrolling. The bend on Highway 407 above Zerf, where Lieutenant Colonel O’Hara had been killed, was now being dubbed “Dead Man’s Corner,” and the area was still covered by an 88-mm gun sniping at all who passed. The windshield of an escort vehicle to General Malony was lost to gun¤re here.
Captain Warren’s K Company had still to take Hill 4 south of the Irsch-Zerf highway. The company spent all morning reconnoitering for an attack against six well-manned pillboxes that blocked access to its objective. The attack was launched with the assistance of Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan’s 5th Rangers at 1400 in the face of heavy ¤re, but the pillboxes were reduced one by one in an operation that took two hours before the company could deploy on Hill 4.
Back at Zerf, Lieutenant Minich’s L Company attacked Hill 5 at dawn, taking the enemy completely by surprise in a brief action, and dug in on the hilltop. At 1515 the company was hit by a ten-minute artillery concentration, followed by a company-sized infantry attack backed by six tanks coming from the east. This attack by the Germans’ 13th Company, 3rd Battalion, Mountain Infantry Regiment 137, succeeded in knocking out both the company machine guns and the supporting heavy machine guns of M Company. During the action, which continued throughout the night, the ¤ftyfour men remaining in L Company were reinforced by troops ¤ltered through from a battalion reserve in Zerf. After Lieutenant Minich was wounded, Lt. Robert H. Henley took over his command.
The volume of artillery and mortar ¤re on Zerf and its approach roads increased by the hour. German patrols were active, and there were frequent minor counterattacks. The company positions were gradually improved by laying barbed wire, trip wires, antitank mines, and booby traps, while numerous prearranged concentrations were plotted for the artillery and mortars.16
THE AYL BRIDGEHEAD—FEBRUARY 28
By February 28 the strength of Lieutenant Colonel Miner’s 1st/376th was gravely depleted, and Captain Malinksi’s C Company, who so far had been in reserve because of the number of casualties sustained in the river crossing on the night of February 22–23, now took over the lead and advanced northward along the ridge to the east of Schoden. Although they encoun
Taking Trier / 249
tered some stubborn resistance, the company eventually gained the hill overlooking the village of Wiltingen. Captain Bowden’s B Company, which had earlier ¤nished clearing the Schoden area, took over from C Company at 1500 and began digging in on the forward slope of the hill about 1100 yards from Wiltingen.
That evening the battalion received orders for its ¤nal task in the bridgehead: to clear the four pillboxes that lay between the battalion’s forward positions and Wiltingen. These pillboxes had to be taken immediately so that Major Dossenbach’s 2nd/376th could pass through to attack the village the next day. The task was given to Captain Bowden’s B Company and proved less dif¤cult than expected:
The chances for assaulting the pillboxes by daylight were fading rapidly, and ¤nally disappeared altogether, for it soon became as dark as the inside of a hat. The tank-destroyers which were in position on the west bank of the Saar, waiting to support the assault[,] had already radioed that it was too dark to see their targets and were signing off. It looked like ri®es and grenades against concrete and MG 42s.
Knowing that the chances of taking the pillboxes by assault in time for the 2d Battalion jump-off were slim indeed, Captain [Edwin] Brehio, the Battalion S-2, suggested that a prisoner of war who had just been brought in by a patrol be made to lead a small patrol to the key pillbox and attempt to take it by trick. Staff Sergeant [Hans] Vogel of Prisoner of War Team 98 spoke German ®uently and had done some splendid work along this line only a few days before in Beurig, accounting for over 60 prisoners. Major Zimmerman, the Battalion Executive Of¤cer, agreed, and Captain Bowden said that he’d try anything once. Sergeant Vogel persuaded the prisoner to take an active part in the plot, much against his wishes, and ¤nally everything was ready.
The trick worked. It so happened that all the Germans in the complex had assembled in the key pillbox for orders and were captured intact without a shot having been ¤red.
Company A’s strength was now so low that some men of the weapons platoon had been drafted in as ri®emen. When two of these men were captured by a German patrol, SSgt. W. T. Pillow slipped down a commu
250 / Taking Trier
nication trench and overtook the patrol and ambushed it as the rest of his platoon covered him. Not only did he recover his two men, but he also convinced a whole German platoon to surrender. (Staff Sergeant Pillow was subsequently awarded a Silver Star.)17
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston’s now rested 3rd/376th moved forward through Captain Heath’s G Company’s lines to align on the right of the 1st/376th overlooking the Wiltingen-Oberemmel road. Beyond this rose the vineyardcovered slopes of the Scharzberg Ridge, the battalion’s objective, which was to be taken by nightfall. A platoon from Captain Brown’s K Company, supported by a section of heavy machine guns, was detailed for the task. As this group neared the crest of their objective, they came under enemy ¤re. When the American soldiers returned ¤re, a German soldier carrying a load of ®ares exploded in a multicolored blaze of light. After a short exchange the position was taken and all the enemy soldiers were captured, except for one of¤cer, who escaped down the reverse slope. Shortly afterward the position came under a heavy mortar barrage. It was impossible to dig in on the rocky crest, but the troops held their ground, suffering many casualties. Twice artillery observers were sent forward from the battalion to see if they could bring down ¤re to silence the enemy mortars, but in both cases the observers were injured before they could do so.
Lieutenant Colonel Thurston had the wounded evacuated by hay wagon to be cared for by Capt. John J. Ryan, who had just rejoined as battalion surgeon, fully recovered from the stress that had invalided him in January.18
THE IRSCH-ZERF HIGHWAY—FEBRUARY 28
After assisting the 3rd/301st in taking Hill 4, Lieutenant Colonel Sullivan’s 5th Rangers went on to take Hill 3 at 1540 against considerable opposition. The Germans counterattacked at 1745 and were beaten back with heavy casualties and the loss of 150 prisoners.19
THE RUWER VALLEY—FEBRUARY 28
Major Maixner’s 2nd/302nd also received replacements on February 28. At 1425 the battalion advanced rapidly with three ri®e companies abreast, mopping up a few scattered snipers and some machine-gun nests to reach th